Super Robot Taisen Z Walkthrough
by Mark Neidengard (mneideng at ugcs dot caltech dot edu)
Version 1.0


INTRODUCTION
  This is a complete story walkthrough for Banpresto's game Super Robot
Taisen Z, the first installment in what will hopefully be a new long-running
franchise to pick up the torch from the Alpha series.  Featuring the latest
and greatest in turn-based strategy user interface and combat system design,
Z has plenty to interest the newcomer and longtime franchise follower alike.
  The biggest new feature in Z is the Tri system, a variant on the previous
Squad system in which squadrons of three can perform special collective
actions in addition to normal solo or squad actions.  Tri attacks often
gain special bonuses versus enemy barriers or terrain penalties; Tri defense
is proof against certain attack strategies.  It is a very intuitive system
which, when mastered, adds yet another intriguing aspect to the gameplay.
  This guide is meant to convey the import of the game's plot to non-
Japanese speakers, being "one-and-a-half" steps removed from a full dialog
translation.  Many other authors have offered translations of items, attacks,
user interface, etc. as well as strategy notes and other technicalia.  I
commend you to their efforts, in particular:

 http://akurasu.net/wiki/index.php?title=Super_Robot_Wars/Z

  This game has two possible main characters; as of this writing, I have
only played through as one of them (Rand).  I may revisit the game and
fill in details for the other character (Setsuko) at some later date, but
for now this is what I've got.  Please do not spam me with pleas for her
route. 

  Apart from that, feel free to contact me at the above address with questions
or comments.  Enjoy the game!

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GLOSSARY

* INNOCENT
  A scientifically-advanced branch of humanity which lived in domed
cities called "Points".  The Innocent gave Worker Machines to the Civilians,
and in return purchased the Blue Stones they excavated.  Their ancestors were
humans who fled to space to escape the Cataclysm.  Upon their eventual return,
they found the desolated land Zora, whose very air was said to kill after a few
short hours.  Their former home was now a place of limitless peril.  Thus, they
created a new species of Mankind better suited to the Zoran environment, the
Civilians, to be inheritors of their culture.  They successfully ingrained into
the Civilians an economy based on worthless blue stones, and the notion of the
Three Day Rule.  Fear of losing control of Zora led Kashim King to campaign
against the Civilian resistance.  But Jiron and friends won through, eventually
toppling the Innocent regime.

* EXODUS
  The act of leaving an area.  During the construction of the residential units
meant to protect the populace from the ravages of their environment, the people
were forced into clusters of residential units, known as Domepolises.  Many
people realized that this arrangement was somehow orchestrated by the Siberia
Railroad to facilitate its monopolies on trade etc., and struck out with dreams
of better lands before their eyes.  The Siberia Railroad formally forbade
Exodus, and decreed death most foul on those so convicted.  An industry known
as "Exodus contracting" has sprung up around deceiving the Siberian Railroad
guards and delivering willing passengers to their destination.

* SIBERIA RAILROAD
  The sole means of transit in the land of Siberia.  The Siberian Railway
Company (Siberian Rail, for short), led by Kids Munt, oversees its operations.
Headquarters are located in the Riman Megalopolis.  Its position as the
lifeline between Domepolises along its rails has conferred a state of de facto
dictatorship upon Siberian Rail.  Under its aegis are the infamous Siberian
Rail Guards.  It also maintains strong ties with the international police
organization "London IMA".

* OVERMAN BATTLE
  A 3-D fighting game where players control Overman units in battle.  As an
online game, several players can participate at once.  Gainer's "King"
designation connotes a player with an unbroken string of 200 victories.

* MILITIA
  Military forces maintained by Ingressa and Boljarno.  The city affiliation is
commonly prepended, as in "Ingressa Militia".  Prior to contact with the Moon
Race, their only weapons were biplanes, cannons and other gear reminiscent of
the Industrial Revolution era.  After contact with the White Doll and the
Turn-A Gundam, their equipment shifted towards mobile suits, which continue to
be excavated from Mountain Cycles in quantity.

* FORT SEVEN
  An independent city in northern North America, led by mayor Nomoa Long.  The
city boasts a self-defense force centered around Karis Nautilus, an artificial
Newtype of Nomoa's making.  Nomoa is in fact Professor Dolrat of the Space
Revolutionary Army, and Fort Seven was constructed in secret for the repair of
the giant Newtype-specific Mobile Armor "Patoulia".  This mech was to be the
centerpiece of "Operation Lilac", which the Federation Army averted during the
Seventh Space War.  Nomoa intended to use Karis as the Patoulia's pilot, but
his resolve and the heroics of the Freeden brought Nomoa's ambitions to naught.
Since then, Karis has led the people to reorganize Fort Seven into a true
independent city.  Note that a real city by this name exists in Canada.

* UN
  Abbreviation for Universal Network.  Commonly pronounced "Yuu Enn".  An
information pool established by the New Earth Federation to promote
centralization and sharing.  Anyone with a terminal can view or contribute.
While connections to individual households are not uncommon in larger cities,
availability declines with distance from population centers.  The UN is a
crucial infrastructure both for conveying important information to the
residents, and as a medium for entertainment.

* RIVALRY ZONE
  Layer of distortion in the atmosphere of the world after superposition of its
constituent parallel worlds.  Time-space instability within makes passage
impossible, effectively severing commerce between the surface and Space.  These
zones are also responsible for a Greenhouse Effect which raises the surface air
temperature, causing a variety of serious damage.  The term can also refer
inclusively to a world created by a Time-Space Concussion munition.

* TRAPAR
  Contraction of "Transparent light Particle", a mysterious, invisible airborne
particle given off by the Scabs.  Unidentified life forms called "Skyfish" tend
to gather where the Trapars are thickest.  Used as a power source, the Trapars
have already become indispensable to human life.  "Lifboards" are designed to
reflect the particles and thereby become airborne.  However, they are not
always beneficial, and can even be an active detriment to mankind.  The "Summer
of Love" phenomenon, which generated abnormal quantities of Trapars, nearly
destroyed the world.  It was the hero Adrock Thurston who saved the world from
that peril.

* SUMMER OF LOVE
  A worldwide abnormal emission of Trapars, which cost many their lives.  It is
believed that Renton's father Adrock Thurston halted the phenomenon at the cost
of his own life, though the particulars are shrouded in mystery.

* BLUE COSMOS
  A governmental group known for its extremism.  Comprised entirely of
Naturals, their stated aim is the elimination of all Coordinators, behind the
slogan "For the sake of a Pure Blue World".  Though not all Naturals
participate in the Blue Cosmos, many do look on the Coordinators with
unfavorable eyes -- this shows the effectiveness of Blue Cosmos' information
control.  However, the governmental organization is merely a front for a secret
society acting out Logos' policies of total obliteration of the Coordinators.
Its members extend all the way to the core of the Earth Federation and its
army.  After the death of their leader Multa Azrael in the second attack on
Yakin Duue, in the year C.E. 71, their activities ceased temporarily.  But with
the ascension of a new leader, Lode Jibril, the organization once again began
manipulating public opinion through the media and the Atlantic Federation, in a
bid to bring the Earth Federation and Plants into war.

* ORB
  The Orb United Emirates is small nation situated on a small archipelago in
the Pacific Ocean.  An unusual land where Naturals and Coordinators are treated
equally, it has declared itself neutral relative to both the Federation and the
Zaft.  Includes the Morgenleite Corporation.  Also neutral in the previous war,
its lands were put to the torch by the encroaching Federation army.  Though the
essentials for life have been restored, the current regent, Cagalli Yura Asuha
constantly frets over all the human resources washed away by the war.  Cagalli
finds it difficult to exert political control due to her tender years, and
national politics are confounded by the machinations of the five principal
national families.  Among them, the hunger for power runs particularly strong
in Unato of the Seilan family, who plans to marry his son Yuuna to Cagalli to
cement his power.

* MORGENLEITE CORPORATION
  A public corporation of the Orb United Emirates, with dock facilities on
Onogoro Island.  Inventers of the "G" Series (including the Strike and Aegis)
in the previous war.  Creators of the variable-geometry "Murasame" mobile suits
which constitute the bulk of Orb's warpower, their technology is entirely
comparable to the Zaft.  They are also the creators of the Archangel, and
continue to modify and repair the vessel in secret.

* VODALAK
  Religious organization preaching coexistence with the Scab.  Terrorist acts
by a radical minority resulted in the Toshuu Federation labeling them a
terrorist organization, and the common perception is not far off.  Those known
to be believers are instantly held in a negative light.  Their holy land of
Ciudades Del Cielo was once sung of as a beautiful city in the sky.  The SOF
massacre changed that, and after being razed to its very stones, it survives
only as a ruin.

* ALDEBARAN
  S-1's army.  Obedient to Gattler, who staged a revolt against the emperor,
they have embarked on an invasion campaign of Earth in order to find a new land
to settle.  Their supreme commander is Rosa Aphrodia.  Possessing the
capability to freely enter and exit subspace, they bedevil the armies of Earth
by appearing out of nowhere.  Their main base of operations is the subspace
fortress Algol, where many S-1 natives wait in suspended animation.

* KALABA
  An Earth-based support organization for the AEUG, organized by Kobayashi
Hayato.  Uses a Garuda-class ultra-heavy-lift transport called the "Audomura"
as its flagship.  At the AEUG's side, the organization battled the Titans from
North America all the way to East Asia.  Possesses formidable firepower thanks
to One-Year War hero Amuro Rei's invention of the D-J's and other mighty
weapons.

* FAITH
  Short for "Fast Acting Integrate[d] Tactical Headquarters", a Zaft special
forces squadron.  Only the most capable, accomplished warfighters are assigned
to this squadron after endorsements from the Secretary of Defense and the
chairman of the Plant Supreme Council.  The silver badge denoting membership
always commands respect and admiration from those who see it.  Though called a
special forces unit, its members are not attached to any specific chain of
command.  Rather, they are permitted to act and issue orders on their own,
including trumping the ordinary tactical chain of command.

* OVERCOAT
  Literally a large garment worn by Overmen.  Capable of producing various
effects, including amplifying existing Overskills or conferring new ones.
Though thought of as specific to a given Overman, other Overmen may be able to
wear a given Overcoat and unlock its hidden Overskills.

* DINOSAUR EMPIRE
  An underground kingdom ruled by "lizardmen", evolved up from lizards.  Led by
Emperor Goll in the name of the Great Devil Yular, the lizardmen led an assault
on the Surface in the hopes of recapturing it.  The lizardmen indeed ruled the
Surface in the past, until the unexpected arrival of Getter Rays from outer
space drove them deep underground to the magma layer.  This also explains their
deep hatred for Getter Robo, which uses Getter Rays as its power source.  For
their final operation, the lizardmen created the invincible battleship "Dai"
from the greatest of the Mechazauruses.  However, Dai was lost when a
commando-machine raid ignited the cache of explosives in its batteries.  This
led to the death of Emperor Goll himself, and the collapse of the Dinosaur
Empire.

* SCAB CORAL
  Rock made of numerous layers of scab-like deposits of minerals.  Derives its
name from the vivid, colorful coral-like appearance.  Also known simply as
"scab".  Manifests everywhere, and mankind has resorted to embedding large
posts called "pile bunkers" deep into the ground to prevent its spread.  The
archetypes for the LFOs and KLFs are buried beneath the Scab, causing miners to
burrow ever deeper into the Earth to this day.

* SOF
A special-forces unit of the Toushuu government, equipped with distinctive
blue-colored Terminus Type R505's.  Holland, Eureka, Ray and Charles were
former members.  Their participation in the massacre of religious fugitives in
the Vodalak holy land led to Holland fleeing the army.

* WHEEL
A part attached to the underside of Lifboards for balance.  The bigger the
wheel, the slower the board goes, and hence the easier to pull tricks off.
Wheels are one of many ways of customizing a board; others include board length
and shape, and the geometry of the Trapar intake nozzle.

* LOGOS
  A federation of military-industrialists said to have existed from the dawn of
recorded history.  Supposedly possessed of vast influence over government,
capable of manipulating the cycle of war and rebuilding to reap massive
profits.  These merchants of death are the parent organization of the Blue
Cosmos, and manipulated public opinion to foment war between the Earth
Federation and the Coordinators.  Both the Blue Cosmos' former leader Multa
Azrael, and its current leader Lode Jibril, are Logos members.  Logos' primary
motivation in war is prolonging it and thereby extracting maximum profit.  The
Blue Cosmos' attempt to permanently wipe out the Coordinators is more a
reflection of its two leaders' personal prejudices.  Since they field no army
of their own, they utilized the Federation army against the Coordinators in the
previous war.  Afterwards, they created the Phantom Pain as a more direct means
of exerting influence.

* EXTENDED
  A type of fortified human developed by the Union under Blue Cosmos' control.
Utilized in the theft of the Second Stage Series from Armory One.  They
represent an improvement over the previous "Living CPU" fortified humans,
specifically in the areas of psychological stability and combat ability.  They
are in fact able to confront Coordinators on more than equal footing, and were
even imprinted with strong enough cooperativeness to be formable into a team.
However, they are also implanted with a safety system in the form of a "block
word", whose hearing causes their psyche to become extremely unstable.  They
must also undergo maintenance after every battle in a device called a "cradle".

* APRILIUS
  The Plants' capital city, situated at the L5 Point.

* ARTHUR
  Supreme leader of the Innocent, full name is Arthur Rank.  This name is
handed down from leader to leader.  Imprisoned in Point Yope by trusted aide
Kashim King, and subsequently feed by Jiron's party.  Sensing the possibilities
within them, he entrusted them with Zora's future.  Shortly thereafter, he
allowed Kashim's transplanted consciousness to enter him and out of Elchi,
saving her life.  This caused a violent change in his own personality, but with
his final strength, he leapt from the Iron Gear clutching a bomb.

* KASHIM KING
  Most influential of the Innocent, firmly committed to the idea that the
Innocent, not the new strain of humanity, should rule Zora.  This led him to
imprison his lord Arthur, and wield Siberian Rail as his instrument of Zora-
wide domination.  However, his actions were opposed by a group of Siberian
rebels centered around Jiron's team.  This led to the decisive battle at X
point, where Kashim was killed in battle.  This battle marked the practical end
of Innocent rule in Zora.

* JOHN HENRY
  An extremely popular brand of accessories.  Talho is a major enough fan to
have badgered Holland into buying her a replica silver ring, which was crushed
in a subsequent battle.  Nevertheless, the incident strengthened the bonds they
share.

* CONTRISM
  The belief that by humans moving their dwellings to space, a new breed of
humanity called "Newtypes" suited to living there would arise.  This belief,
espoused by Jion Zum Daikun, galvanized the Spacenoids hostile to the Earth
Federation.  To put this belief into practice, Jion founded the independent
United Jion State at Side 3.  However, the effort of uniting the "Elests", who
believed in dwelling in space and saw the Earth as hallowed ground, and the
"Sidists" who believed each side should be its own independent nation, incurred
ever greater wrath from the Earthnoids on the ground.  Eventually the two sides
began to see each other as mutually incompatible and came to the brink of war.
Jion sought to solve the Federation problem with words, but died with
negotiations only half finished.  Afterwards, the Zabi House construed Contrism
to mean "Only the Spacenoids are the Chosen", and the movement's name changed
to "Jionism" as it provided the basis for the One Year War.

* JION ZUM DAIKUN
  A politician who led the Spacenoids under the banner of Contrism.  Founded
the independent United Jion State at Side 3.  Also the father of Quatro Bagina,
a.k.a. Char Aznable.  Having foreseen the birth of the space-suited "Newtypes",
he lobbied intensively for environmental protection for the Earth and renewal
for mankind.  Met with high-pressure tactics from the Federation's own
politicians, he became convinced that a demonstration of the Spacenoid cause
was in order.  At that moment, the nation was sundered by the followers of
Degin Zod Zabi, who reorganized the "United State" into a dictatorship.  His
people initiated a military buildup, and declared war on the Earth Federation.
This has led to growing speculation that it was the Zabi House who was
responsible for Jion's death.

* Rau Le Creuset
  A skilled soldier serving as a Zaft army commander.  Actually a Natural, he
concealed that fact in order to enlist.  Although brought to life as a clone of
Muu's father, Al Da Flaga, he is treated as defective due to foreshortening in
the telomeres that govern life span.  His awareness of this fact spawned a
hatred against the whole world that made things like him.  This led him to many
covert activities intended to make the Zaft and Earth destroy each other,
nearly reaching fruition at the Second Yakin Duue siege.  But he was defeated
in battle with the Freedom, and vanished into the Genesis' light with a final
curse for the world on his lips.  He occasionally evidenced some sort of
side-effects, perhaps from the medication he used to keep old age at bay.  It
is believed that he wore a mask both to hide the effects of advancing age, and
the import of his dark intrigue.

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R A N D   R O U T E
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PROLOGUE

It is an age where the old cultures and environs of Earth have faded, in which
different lands have given rise to different societies, different cultures.
Though mankind has lost much throughout its history, it has always managed to
build anew.

The privileged "Innocent" society, which controlled most of the largest
continent in the Northern hemisphere, has been laid low by a new breed of
humanity of their own making: the "Civilians".  The central government of the
rest of the globe, nearly eradicated fifteen years prior in the Seventh Space
War, has nearly regained its strength.  The same can be said for the central
government's opponent, the Space Liberation Army.  Their tribulations have also
afforded the downtrodden "People of the Moon" the chance to act.

As the world approaches a time of change, the people are consumed with the
struggle for their daily bread, unaware of what their future, or their past,
holds...


R1. Repairman at Large

Mail is chatting with a Breaker, who's gotten a rare bit of buried treasure: a
very special camera from Siberian Rail.  This company's been busily unearthing
pre-Cataclysm stuff in Siberia, repairing it, and selling it to the people.
The Breaker reminds her that every so often they find something really hot, and
although he won't say just how he came by this baby, he figured he'd offer it
to her first before selling it at the bazaar.  Mail's been needing a camera
anyway, and is about to spring for it when a muscular man with colorful hair
shows up.

Mail introduces him as her "hubby", though he prefers to be known as Rand
Travis, Repairman at Large and sub-leader of the Beater Service.  People might
know him as The Heat, though the Breaker's heard another, less complimentary
nickname as well.  In any case, he knows the camera is fake right away: they
spelled the excavators "Civelia", when it should actually be "Siberia" [though
the kana are utterly identical @_@].

Rand so frightens the scammer that he even forgets the camera in his haste to
flee, and tells his diminutive companion to toss the thing already.  Never mind
the fact that "Siberia" is actually spelled right on the thing.  In any case,
he's just dug up something he wants to show her, and Mail vows to pay the poor
Breaker back when she sees him next.  In the meantime, CAMERA GET!

At the bazaar, Garrod is busily drumming up interest in a large object draped
in a sheet behind him.  Its size suggests a Worker Machine or Mobile Suit, and
there's plenty of those rusting away on the American continent.  The fall of
the Innocent has created a thriving trade in "pre-owned" mecha, and Garrod
freely admits he's come from America.  But what he's got to sell is none other
than a top-flight *GUNDAM*.  Everyone's heard stories about how bad-ass these
suckers are, and most of them would freeze the marrow in your bones.

A Gundam is even suspected to be behind the pillar of fire that lit the
southern skies fifteen years ago, and Garrod makes darn sure that this one
doesn't sell for cheap.  But before the deal closes, Rand shows up and starts
checking the machine over.  The "GX" is the genuine article, but in rather poor
repair.  He offers to buy it for a song, prepared to throw in maintenance AND
to take Garrod (who has nowhere to go and no one to hang with) under his wing.

He can tell Garrod was Jumped here, but before Garrod can get a satisfactory
answer who this guy is, the area erupts in explosions.  Seems the Breakers have
decided to pay for the Gundam in hot lead, and Rand figures Garrod won't be
much use against them on a three-day-old empty stomach.  The Heat springs into
action.

Gelaba thinks he can scare "that little brat" into abandoning the Gundam, which
should earn him a major pat on the back from boss-man Holler.  The shock and
awe comes to an abrupt halt when someone has the gall to get up on the mic for
the town PA system.  That someone has a public service announcement for this
great repair service, and adds that anyone who gets in their way will be
politely beaten into teeny tiny little pieces.  ...The agent of which is the
Gunleon, known to some of the miscreants as The Crasher.

For whatever reason, this nickname infuriates Rand beyond belief, and the bad
guys have the bad habit of repeating it time and again.  Seven times at least,
or was it eight?  Six?  Rand has kind of lost track since he has something more
important on his mind: dismantling his opponents' asses.  I've got only three
words for the Gelaba Gang: "Some Assembly Required".

  On turn two, Garrod, the "Blazing Mobile Suit Pilot", comes on the scene.
  The old guy's "wife" has treated Garrod to some emergency rations, so the
  seasoned veteran is ready to rock.  Rand tells Garrod good-naturedly that a)
  he's an adult man, not an "old guy", and b) Mail isn't his "wife".  That's
  cool with Garrod, provided Rand doesn't refer to him as "kid" or "boy"
  either.  Garrod's plan starts with working off the price of the food he just
  ate, and with all the practice he's had taking out Vultures, the Breakers'
  day is about to get even worse.

  Garrod isn't entirely sure why he's here, but one thing's for certain: he
  WILL make it back to Tifa.  Never mind the fact he seemed about to sell his
  GX: now that it's clear how rotten Gelaba is, he's surely not gonna hand over
  his one link to Tifa now.

  Meanwhile, Rand's rage is further inflamed by the knowledge that Gelaba is
  using his hated nickname deliberately (Mail didn't actually realize this...)
  When Rand is through with this guy, all the king's horses and all the king's
  men won't have enough duct tape to reassemble his ass.

Duct tape aside, Rand isn't inclined to actually kill the guy.  Mail is
overjoyed anyway, and Rand tries to keep her from fangirling so much that other
women get frightened off.  During their mirth, Gelaba gathers himself and
decides to destroy the town bazaar as a lesson to those who oppose Holler.
Before he can manage this, a mysterious mech with *serious* sniping skillz
stops him in his tracks.  This gives Rand an opening to finish wrecking
Gelaba's mech, less a "repairman" and more a "destructionman".  Hence, "The
Crasher" -- insulting to the end.

As for the Silhouette Machine with the sniper rifle off in the distance, Rand
guesses its pilot to be the "Black Southern Cross", Gain.  Gain brushes off
Mail's thanks with a smile, saying he'd be up the creek if these hooligans had
managed to trash the only saloon in town.  He finds Rand's nickname "The Heat"
to be quite accurate, in any case.  Mail Beater is actually the head of the
Beater Service, and her childish joke of being Rand's squeeze is getting too
much for Rand to keep denying.

He tells Gain that the bandits they tangled with aren't such a rarity: lots of
people got unemployed when the Innocent fell.  Gain reckons that everywhere not
controlled by Siberian Rail is in the same boat.  As for Gain's nickname, Rand
explains that it comes from the shape formed by his extremely accurate shots.
Rand wonders if Gain is here on Exodus, and Garrod's ignorance of the custom
marks him as coming from America.  The deserts of South America to be precise.
As for how he got here... don't blame him if it sounds impossible.

He was in his GX in the desert one day, fighting, when he heard a strange
ringing in his ears and watched the world begin to warp around him.  He's heard
or seen nothing else of such warpings, but has figured out he must be on the
Galian continent and wants to go home badly enough to consider selling his
Gundam.  Gain figured it was something like that, and is more than happy to
lead Garrod close to his destination, in return for Garrod helping Gain with a
job or two.  For that matter, he could really use someone handy with repairs...


2. Day of Departure

Inside one of Siberia's Domepolises, Mamadu is lecturing the future generations
about the Cataclysm that prompted the construction of this, their home.  Sara
Kodama asks about the Innocent, who she's heard not only survived the Cataclysm
too but set up shop somewhere in the center of the continent.  The Innocent's
self-proclaimed status as the nobility of humanity dates back to before the
Cataclysm, when they styled themselves as inheritors of all of Earth's culture.
Throughout the land they called Zora, they dominated the common man in the name
of "guiding" them... and ended up being toppled by the very people they saw as
their subjects.  Mamadu tells his class that this is an immutable law of
history at work: it's simply not possible to restrain the freedom of the people
forever.  Certainly the Rules with which the Innocent bound the common people
weren't up to the task.

One of those rules was avoiding contact with the Domepolises of Siberia, though
it should be noted that most of the world's cultures were archipelagated at the
time anyway.  None of the Innocents' subjects had been properly informed of the
calamity that struck the southern continent during their childhood, and all of
them grew up believing in the Three Day Rule -- that crimes unpunished for
three days were not crimes at all.

Fortunately, the fall of the Innocent has allowed commerce between the peoples
of Siberia and Zora to resume, and Beroux figures that the Zorans have
effectively achieved Exodus, not exactly a nice word among the Domepolitans.
Before his words start a full-fledged argument, a Siberia Railroad guard named
Adette barges in and asks after Gainer Sanga.  She arrests him on the spot on
suspicion of Exodus, though he has nothing to do with the actual group planning
on Exodizing (which includes Beroux, Sara and Mamadu).  Whatever they're
planning, it's slated to go down tonight.

This Domepolis has visitors: Rand and the crew, who are marveling at what looks
like preparations for a major festival.  Everyone is in a mood to party,
including Rand and his fanboy idolatry of singer Meeya Raujin.  The Meeya
family have been stars for generations, and it's rumored that the first Meeya
was also the first person to ever successfully Exodize.  That makes them the
patron saints of Exodus in some people's eyes.

Rand might even get to attend a live Meeya concert, if not for the job that the
team has come to do.  Gain actually let himself be captured by the police,
claiming that this will let him snag some sort of major treasure.  Rand is sure
the guy will come through, and plans on carrying out his part of the plan in
the meantime.

As for Gainer, his victory over Cynthia for the title of King of the Overman
Battle isn't feeling so triumphant now.  As he ponders his misfortune, the
guards add another prisoner to his cell.  It's Gain, none to happy at the rough
handling he's received so far.  The wanted man wants to know what a kid's doing
shacked up with him, and the guard explains he's one of the large number of
suspected Exodizers rounded up this morning.  In fact, so many people have been
arrested that the regular jail is full -- which explains why Gain and Gainer
are being housed in the dungeon of the private Medaiyu ducal residence.

All this accords with what Gain's own research told him, and he isn't shy about
showing the guard the error of his stuck-up ways.  Gainer now has a choice to
make, and the Domepolitan default would be to stay in prison no matter how
unfair his treatment has been.  But Gainer is made of somewhat sterner stuff
than that, and isn't going to let his chance at Exodus pass.

Outside, Rand is drooling over the holographic projection of Meeya and claiming
it's part of an act to blend in with the festival.  He's actually a better
observer than anyone credits him as, keeping a sharp eye out for the Siberia
Rail guards' mecha.  It seems the Guards have learned about the big Exodus plan
in advance, which would explain the mass arrests.  Of course it's not wise to
actually *discuss* the subject in public with said Guards lurking around, but
Rand manages to make a truly off-color pun out of it and escape suspicion.
Rand explains to Garrod that if people were to simply move about freely, the
Siberia Rail monopoly on transport, and the political power that confers, would
be gone in an instant.  Reason enough for the Guards to be on their witch hunt.

Back in the ducal residence, Gainer has lead Gain into the duke's private
museum, which is brimming with artifacts of all descriptions.  The duke is said
to treasure machines, artwork, books, technology... you name it.  What Gain is
after is one of the duke's mecha: an Overman, and a special one at that.  Even
this museum is protected by the Guards, and Gain orders the kid to boot the
mech up as ominous footsteps approach...

Up above, princess Anna and her custodian Lioubov are startled by the light of
the booting mech.  So much for any plans to see the festival.  Even Anna's trio
of pets are in a tizzy as Gainer expertly sets Gain down in Anna's chambers.
He humbly offers to escort Anna to the festival, and won't take Lioubov
Smettana's "no" for an answer.  An explosion outside tells him that Rand and
friends are holding up their end of the plan, and he orders Gainer to drop him
off at the station.  After that, Anna is to be taken to the five wise men
directing the festival.  He tells the startled groundskeeper that this uproar
is the start of the biggest festival this Dome has ever seen: one called
Exodus.

The Dome's residential unit is underway, with hundreds of people on board.
This is certainly the largest mass Exodus Rand has ever heard of, and a major
credit to Gain's reputation.  A boatload of explosives will make Rand's team's
job easier, though the People left behind might not be so thrilled.  In the
Dome's nerve center, commander Yassaba is none too thrilled to hear that
Kejinan and Enge, who can't even take a shit without instructions, are point
men to try to stop this circus.  Adette is tied up pursuing the Black Southern
Cross.

At least the soldiers are smart enough to know that their commander's pissed,
and pity poor lieutenant Jabbari for having to bear the brunt of it.  Kejinan
thinks that stopping the insurrection will give him a big fat bonus instead of
a lecture.  Garrod, nobody's paycheck fodder, isn't exactly willing to play
along.

  Kejinan certainly wasn't expecting the Southern Cross to have friends.  The
  chaos increases when out of the Domepolis emerges the "treasure" that Gain
  was after.  When asked its name, its young pilot comes up with "Overman King
  Gainer".  Imaginative?  Hell no.  Still gets the chicks?

  Well, it attracted Adette anyway.  Gainer isn't very combative by nature, but
  something about Gain brings out his fighting spirit.  Hard on their heels are
  the Gaury militia, including Gainer's friend Sara.  As Anna points out,
  there's little time to talk, just fight.

  Kejinan is smart enough not to lay down his life for this battle -- hard to
  get promoted from six feet underground.  The same goes for Enge.  Adette
  doesn't want to flee either, but sees only one way to take on a Gundam and
  Overman at once: send out Yassaba himself.  Next time.

With the guards beaten back for now, stage one of the Exodus is clear.  Gaury
has prepared a Silhouette Manmoth to supplement the residential unit's minimal
propulsion systems.  Gainer, Sara, Anna and the crew are now off on their big
adventure...

...And to say that Yassaba isn't happy about it would be the understatement of
the week.  Not only are things in a shambles, but the cowardly Duke Medaiyu
professes no knowledge that an Exodus was being planned.  He does have the good
alibi that his daughter has been, well, kidnapped, which would imply that the
People, along with their Exodus contractor allies, planned this ridiculous
stunt themselves.  Yassaba plans to hunt down and slaughter all the Exodizers,
even calling in a bit of outside help to deal with the contractors.  The long-
haired Overman, however, he plans to personally pulverize with his Rushrod.
Adette is glad Yassaba is shaping up to be the man she thought him to be.

Your crew get to meet the Five Wise Men, the instigators of the whole Exodus
incident and Gain's direct employers.  They are, respectively: Gach Wingel,
Perhah Pei, Citron Bee, and Manman Dutton.  Yes, there's only four of them, but
they deliberately named themselves after the legendary five first Exodizers (of
which Meeya was one).  Gain tells everyone that they've got to put as much
distance between themselves and the Dome as possible ere the Siberia Railroad
pursuers come.  And rest assured: they WILL come, which is why you have Anna as
a very willing "hostage".  And why shouldn't she be, when the only bad bone in
Rand's body is his noggin ^_^

Gain is confident enough in Anna's attitude to let her have free run of the
ship, which suits Rand very well.  It's at about that moment that Gach reveals
a major snag in this great Exodus plan: the towing mech's motor is due to give
out any day now.  Having the Repairman at Large on your team won't be much good
if Siberian Rail forces and bandits get to attack the stationary vehicle
unabated.  Rand will do what he can to effect repairs while your ragtag fleet
lurches forward, and put in a call to some old rough-n-tumble friends of his
for additional pulling power.


3. Rule-Breaking Saviors

Sara and Beroux had Gainer all wrong: he's not a class-cutting, video-gaming
shut-in after all.  He's a MECHA-piloting, class-cutting, video-gaming shut-
in.  He's also not too keen on this whole Exodus business, claiming he'd never
have gotten aboard the Overman had he known Gain was a Contractor.  The simple
fix would be for him to take his whining ass back to the loving embrace of
Siberian Rail, but he refuses to relinquish the mech, or return home, just yet.

Garrod isn't impressed, and Kona the mechanic reckons that dealing with Gainer
is almost as hard as servicing Garrod's Gundam.  She'll certainly do what she
can, but warns Garrod that the right parts can be pretty hard to find on this
continent.  Something about the way she gives her assurances puts a strange
look in Garrod's eye: something about her reminds him of someone he knows.
That person, like Kona, tends to call him the "Gundam kid".  Kona, for all she
warns Garrod not to try falling in love with her or anything, seems rather
upset when he interrupts their conversation to go talk some sense into Gainer.

Gainer is trying to argue that he never showed any indication of wanting to
Exodize while in school, which proves exactly bupkus.  Up comes Gain himself,
having heard Gainer try to claim that he forced Gainer into the Overman.  He
seems sorry enough to hear that Gainer wants to split up their little team, and
moreover disappointed that Gainer turned out to be one more domesticated sheep
for the Man.  Gainer whines back loudly that he'll be more than happy to go
home to his video games once he's repaid his debt to Gain.

Before he can explain what debt that is, alarms herald the arrival of Siberian
Rail pursuers.  As the willing combatants prepare to sortie, Gainer gets the
golden opportunity to sit tight and not endanger his ability to twitch-game any
further.  However, Garrod shows up with the pep talk action, pointing out that
"Exodus" isn't really the point here.  The POINT is showing Sara what a
stud-muffin he is, since it's obvious to Garrod that Gainer's in *love*.  Just
a little word to the wise from the pint-sized Gundam ace...

Gaury reminds his men that failure here means that death will rain down on
Yapan's Ceiling, the adopted name of the residential unit.  Sara and Beroux are
still marveling over how their Contractors include such young kids: younger, in
Garrod's case, than Sara herself.  Garrod says that after the Cataclysm fifteen
years ago, even little kids had to fend for themselves in South America.
Garrod's not sure precisely how he ended up here in Zora, but he doubts it's
mere coincidence.  In fact, figuring out the reason behind it is Rand's main
motivation for traveling in the first place, which tells Gain that it must also
have something to do with Mail.  It's as good an excuse as any to get out and
see the world.

The Siberian Rail folks have hired help from the Breakers, meaning a whole
frigging Landship is with them.  At the helm is Holla, who grandly announces
the beginning of The Hunt.  Adette smirks and tells him that if he keeps posing
with the window open, he's going to freeze his snotty nose solid.  Translation:
"welcome to Siberia" for the desert-dwelling Breakers.  Gelaba asks his "bro"
if he's gonna keep letting their employers talk about him like that, but Holla
is more irritated about not being called "Captain".

This verbal slight gives him the opening he's craved to vent about how crappy
his life has been lately.  He, once a mighty instrument of the Innocent's will,
has been reduced to utter poverty by those... those... dumpling-headed
buffoons!  But here in Siberia, the battlefield belongs to him!  Gelaba
promises his bro that he'll work hard for their return to the top, earning him
another tongue lashing and making both sides wonder just who the heck they're
dealing with.  Rand tells everyone that the Kid Holler posse has made a modest
name for themselves in Zora, and that they've apparently gone fishing for new
masters after the Innocents' downfall.

  Holla thinks he can have revenge on the Gundam that so besmirched his family
  honor, which Adette finds amusing coming from a country bumpkin.  Rand and
  Garrod will take on the Landship, leaving the rest of the goons for Gaury's
  men to tussle with.  Gain notices that Yassaba is nowhere to be seen... yet.

  Even Holla isn't so deluded as to believe that his ancient Buffalo can carry
  the day here.  But since he's fulfilled his contract, it's time for a...
  strategic advance to the rear.  Yassaba has in fact been waiting for just
  this moment, and pounces on Sara with his Overman Rushrod.  He plans to
  massacre everyone, except maybe Sara if she'll accept the invitation to join
  his squad.  Sara would rather die, and just as Yassaba is about to make that
  come true, a silvery blur knocks him entirely out of the way.

  It's Gainer, who won't admit that he's actually trying to save Sara.  Still
  got his debt to repay, don'tchaknow.  Unfortunately, you're not out of the
  woods yet, thanks to phase II of Yassaba's orders to Holla.  Gainer is about
  to be embroiled in a battle of Overman versus Overman, and he advises Sara to
  stand well clear.  He's got his pride as King Gainer on the line!  Gain
  smirks, wondering just how well the kid can hack it.

  The proud Adette finds it detestable that your people could defeat her...
  But things are still according to plan...

  Gainer quickly finds out that Yassaba is one tough cookie.  Yassaba lets slip
  an interesting fact: they're called "Overmen" because they can use
  "Overskills", such as the ability to freeze time temporarily.  Garrod wants
  to know how the hell that works, but nobody has a good explanation for him.
  What's clear is that Gainer is going to be toast when the next blow lands...

  Except that Elchi's fleet rolls up just then, all guns blazing.  It's the
  Iron Gear and its famous ace pilot Jiron.  Holla starts gibbering in fear,
  stammering to Yassaba that these are the outlaws' outlaws whose violent ways
  toppled the Innocent.  The Iron Gear crew can't criticize Holla for traveling
  this far in search of work, since that's what they've been up to as well.
  Bulme finds it a crying shame that such a lofty band of heroes is flat broke
  and driving around in junkers like these, and perhaps the first batch of
  pavement on the road to financial solvency can be made out of these bad guys'
  hide?

  There's still the little matter of Yassaba's duel with Gainer, and Gainer is
  peeved that his grand rescue of Sara got loused up by someone else rescuing
  him.  He too has an Overskill to use: one hell of a blizzard, plus the speed
  to evade all of Yassaba's missiles.  Let this be a lesson to you though:
  confirm your enemy's Overskills, or you could get really shafted.  Speaking
  of which, Yassaba's ambitions to bed his blond subordinate will take a major
  hit if he loses with her watching -- so he powers up.

  But his angst is less than Gainer's angst: turns out there's a reason he's a
  shut-in.  Both his parents were killed by someone who stuck anti-Exodus
  placards in their hands, and he himself did nothing but hide in his room
  gaming for 27 whole days.  That at least explains his hatred of Exodus, as
  well as his hatred for the thought of anyone else dying.

  The Sandrats are very glad to be back in action, as effective on snow as in
  their native badlands.  Holla still doesn't like being smacked around by
  tomboy Ragu, but there's little he can do about it.  He's even more
  aggravated by the sight of Jiron, and the reminder of whose "fault" it is
  that his life is in such a shambles.  Holla's insistence that he's the main
  character for today isn't going to count for much when Jiron points out that
  their TV show ended ages ago.

  Despite the neato explosion his mech makes, Jiron is sure that Holla is too
  tough, and too cursed, to die just yet.  If anyone is likely to die, it might
  actually be Gainer, who's feeling the strain of overusing his Overskillz.
  Some well-timed gunnery from Gain keeps Yassaba from exploiting the opening,
  and Yassaba vows to avenge this disgrace another day.

Things are temporarily patched up between Gainer and Sara, but the militia's
primal grunts of opprobrium disgust Gainer and touch off another round of
arguing.  This gives Adette (ill-concealed in the shadows) the opening she's
been looking for...

Gain and Elchi hit it off right proper, though helmsman Kotoset is a bit more
reserved.  Fatman, laconic as ever, isn't reserved at all as he and Rand engage
in a display of manly... manliness, or something.  Elchi can't stand that kind
of uncultured crap, especially out of her own bodyguard.  She and her crew have
been sailing in this Landship ever since she inherited it from her father,
leading to them becoming the focal point of the anti-Innocent war.  And when
war grips the land, a Repairman (or is it Un-repairman?) like Rand will
naturally get sucked in too.  With introductions out of the way, Gain heads off
for a little errand...

Gainer meanwhile has been hauled to sick bay, after collapsing the moment he
left his cockpit.  His machine must put immense demands on one's vitality, or
something.  What are the odds of having a medic named Medic?  Anyway, Gainer
plans to stick around and help the Exodizers until his debt to Gain is repaid
in full.  This debt, as he tells Gain when he walks in, is Gain saving his life
back in the prison.  Come to that, Gain also saved his life again in today's
battle.  Gainer is quite adamant that he's blowing this gin joint once he
somehow settles accounts, and Gain is looking forward to what Gainer can do
with his mech.

He also gets introduced to Jiron and the Sandrats, who are as happy and healthy
as the last time Rand saw them.  Jiron is quite grateful to Rand for summoning
their aid, lest their financial troubles make starvation a real possibility.
The crowd stampede off to take a full tour of their mobile city, leaving Sara
and Gainer alone (with Medic).  After some hesitation, Sara apologizes for
saying all that stuff without understanding about Gainer's parents.  Adding her
thanks for saving her, she manages to haul Gainer off to be *gasp* sociable.


4. Various Journeys, Various Reasons

There's lots of maintenance to do, and lots of mechanics to cover all the
bases.  Rand is pretty confident that he can fix just about anything, but
Kotoset reminds him that he's still a baby compared to his master, a somewhat
mysterious figure whom neither Kotoset or Rand seem inclined to discuss.  In
any case, defeating the enemy's commander has probably bought a little time,
though everyone expects the commander to come back bearing a grudge.

What they don't expect is an infiltrator aboard the ship this quickly.  The guy
has a vested interest in helping out with Adette's mission...

At the mobile city's high school, Garrod explains to the other kids how he came
to Zora: a dimensional warp of some kind.  The good news is that the city is
headed East, and there ought to be a way back to America from there.  More
precisely, the destination is the legendary island of "Yapan", off the East
coast of the Galian continent.  Before the Cataclysm, it was a place where the
wealthy drove in mechanical giants and fought dragons, tigers, bears, sloths,
spiny echidnas, and damn near everything else too.  In any event, absent air
travel, the trip to Yapan over land is going to take a long time, even without
Siberian Rail interference.

Mail knows this because of the careful notes she's kept from all the places
she's been.  The other kids are shocked to find out exactly how old she is:
sixteen, despite looking at least three years younger.  Most of that time has
been spent looking for clues as to where her father, who is Rand's master, has
gone.  Mail has a pretty positive attitude about the whole thing.

So does Garrod, who politely turns down the invitation to simply settle down in
Yapan once the Exodus is over.  There's a certain girl he wants to see again,
and can't no one stand in his way.  Since everyone else seems to have a reason
for their travels, Gainer wonders what Gain's reason is.  Before everyone
splits up, Beroux recommends they all swing by a certain fortune telling
section of town.

The Siberian Rail officers let Holla in on Yassaba's little stunt.  They all
know how much their commander hates losing, and Jaboli figures Yassaba is
trying to impress Adette.  Kejinan would be just as happy if the commander
never returned, in which case the job would fall to him instead.  Holla is
ready to report that as insurrection, but will listen to Kejinan's plan if he's
got one.

The only fortune teller without a line is Eifa, a young girl whose body bears
the signs of some very harsh treatment.  Garrod gets the ball rolling, and asks
her to foretell if he'll be able to return to Tifa.  Not only is Tifa
super-cute, but she's got the kind of eyes that would make anyone want to
protect her... as Gainer surely understands *WINKWINKNUDGENUDGE choke wheeze*

The fortune comes back thus: "The person awaited shall come somewhere
unforeseen".  Garrod will indeed see Tifa again, in some fashion he doesn't
expect.  Unfortunately, the forecast also calls for dark clouds at their
destination: dangerous tidings for his and Tifa's futures.  Still, that's good
enough for Garrod, who's sure that he and Tifa together can overcome any
conceivable danger.

Gainer can't understand Garrod's seemingly baseless confidence and unending
optimism, and Jiron offers him one pearl of Zoran wisdom.  If you don't know
_how_ something will turn out, why not try assuming the best?  Gainer isn't
convinced.

Mail is next up to bat, asking after the whereabouts of her father, Cielo
Beater.  Not only was he the true leader of the Beater Service, he was also the
Gunleon's original pilot.  He went missing some four years ago, along one of
their journeys.  From Mail's description, it sounds like he was caught in the
same type of warp that Garrod was.  Eifa has to apologize for how the fortune
turns out: "The future you make for yourself".  Ambiguous, and like Jiron Mail
prefers to assume that she and her "darling" can do whatever it takes to find
her father.  Just then, everyone realizes that Anna and her three pets are
missing.  They run off in search of her, not realizing that a possible source
of information is standing right there...

Anna has been snatched by Adette, who's come to return the girl to her father.
After all, so long as there's a hostage on the scene, the Railroad can't mount
an all-out attack.  Adette won't take no for an answer, but just then help
comes from an unexpected source: Lioubov, who has somehow followed Anna all the
way here.  Hard on her heels are Gain and Rand, who've been keeping a close eye
on Anna ever since they discovered Fatman unconscious.

When it's clear escape is out of the picture, Adette tells Gain to simply kill
her.  That would be a major waste, and Gain offers her the chance to be the
mother of his children instead.  How can he think of *that* at a time like
*this*?  Men, says Gain, always think like that.  Yes, ladies and gentlemen,
the shocking truth is out.  Full details in this month's Cosmo.

In any case, before Adette can get escorted anywhere, her benefactor Yassaba
runs to the rescue.  Adette thanks him for being as strong as expected and runs
off.  Gain yells for Rand to take Anna somewhere safe while he handles this
goon, and lest Yassaba think he can somehow overpower Gain, Jiron and friends
run up to help.  Yassaba is about to get a good old-fashioned Zora-style
beating.

Outside, Rand's "instinct" tells him the enemy is coming.  Gainer offers a more
concrete explanation: Yassaba's infiltration must mean the rest of his force
will show up to finish the job.  Sara can't tell if Rand is brilliant or a
complete moron, but the rapid arrival of the bad guys seems to indicate Rand
was on the money.  As your side readies Formation tactics for the first time,
Holla is faced with the harsh reality that he's no longer "Captain" of anything
in particular.  At least this is his chance at a brand new start in life.

  Gelaba may actually be crying as he exits the battle, doomed to be cannon
  fodder no matter where he goes.  The real question is, where's Gain gotten
  to?  The longer the battle lasts, the worse a disadvantage your force are at.

  Inside, Eifa of all people has actually led Yassaba to the hangar, where he
  plans on stealing a mech to make his getaway.  Eifa sees him as a
  fundamentally good person, noting that those who let themselves be led are
  far worse than the leader.  When he finds out that she's a fortune teller
  (though, in her words, not a very good one), he asks her to tell his fortune.
  His birthday is a top secret from his men, but he makes an exception to tell
  her.  He tells Eifa to ask his mom if she needs the exact time of his birth,
  and adds that his dad had already Exodized long before he was born.  Ah ha:
  the original trauma that turned Yassaba into an anti- Exodus zealot.

  Eifa's parents both died long ago, and her current boss is given to beating
  her for her poor earnings.  Yassaba would love to teach that boss a lesson or
  several, but Eifa has no other way to stay as part of the Exodus.  She'd like
  to return to the Indus valley, where her distant ancestors dwelt, and after
  some thought Yassaba says he'll take care of everything.

  Gain, lurking in the shadows, heard it all and isn't buying it.  Sadly for
  Yassaba, it's looking a little too late to turn over a new leaf.  Just then,
  an Overman attacks the Iron Gear, giving Yassaba his chance to flee.  Eifa
  shouts his fortune after him: "Amidst predicament shall a path be opened",
  meaning that he'll get his chance in the middle of a real sticky situation.
  He tells Eifa to come with him and he'll take her to Indus or wherever she
  wants, and Gain leads the others in hot pursuit.

  It becomes quickly clear that this is not an ordinary rescue, but rather a
  mutiny by Kejinan.  All he has to do to become squad leader is bring
  Yassaba's corpse back.  Yassaba hurriedly offers to give him all of the
  considerable wad of cash he carries, and to never show his face in front of
  him again.  Kejinan says to show him the money, and Yassaba takes and throws
  the whole wad of it into the air.  Visions of a balanced ledger are too much
  for Ragu, and she charges into the fray, knocking the Rushrod entirely off
  balance.  That gives Yassaba the chance to regain control, and lecture
  Kejinan that only the strong get to pilot them.

  Kejinan's attempts to blame the whole coup on Holla quickly degenerate into a
  massive blame game.  Yassaba cuts it short, and tells the both of them to
  fight like their lives depend on it (which they do).  The actors are all in
  place, and Yassaba thinks this is where his chance will come from.

  Gelaba knows that even if he ejects, Yassaba is likely to kill him anyway.
  His only chance is to pray that Yassaba never comes back alive.  Holla,
  meanwhile, has perfected the ability to say things like "I'll be back" the
  moment before his mech explodes.

  The concept of losing simply doesn't compute for Yassaba.  Eifa asks why he
  doesn't use his mech to stop time, and he says that he'll definitely stop
  time all right -- stop this entire screwed up reality!  She pleads with him
  to stop and come home, but he no longer has anywhere to go home _to_.  Then
  why not Exodize with her?  Indus has these really huge rivers, with bathing
  elephants and stuff.  Gripping.  And good enough for the aging soldier, who
  somehow shambles off in his busted-ass Overman without taking further fire.

Gain definitely knows what he's doing here, opting to let the guy go rather
than see his hostage cry.  Gainer doesn't get it, and can't bring himself to
join in the victory cry even if Sara is leading it.  He's still not satisfied
with letting Yassaba go (with hostage in tow) after returning to base, and it
falls to Jiron to articulate that maybe Yassaba isn't so different from your
crew, once you get past who he works for.  Besides, Eifa went with him of her
own free will, and since it was clear who won the battle, he felt no need to
take Yassaba's life on top of it all.

Gainer is STILL not convinced, though given it's Jiron we're talking about here
maybe that's not surprising.  The other Sandrats recommend that Gainer not try
to filter everything in life through some sort of rationalization: that's an
essential part of how tough they are.   But make no mistake: the force of will
behind the decisions they make, either through reason or through emotion, is
their greatest asset.  Rand explains that that's how that crew lived through
the fall of the Innocent, which all started from Jiron breaking the Three Day
Rule.

At the time, a breach of Innocent law was unthinkable... but Jiron had parents
to avenge, and the more people came in contact with him, the more people
realized that the Innocents' rules were totally meaningless.  The crusade to
topple the Innocent might have claimed Jiron as its figurehead, but he
certainly didn't start it deliberately.  What Jiron did do over the course of
the crusade was learn how to think certain things through, and Gainer asks if
Rand also believes Yassaba should have been let off.  Rand offers this: "hate
the sin, not the sinner".

Wise words, but since Gainer is the proverbial swine, they only serve to
irritate him.  Mamadu chips in that Yassaba is basically a victim of the Exodus
system, which in its turn claims human lives.  Lives like Gain's own parents...

Rand hears Mamadu out, then goes to find Gain, aka Shalle Felibe, scion of the
Felibe duchy in Domepolis Ubbs.  Said Dome tried and failed to Exodize, and
this is how the first son ended up: an Exodus contractor.  Gain isn't surprised
Gainer isn't satisfied with the explanations he's been given, and notes that
both he and Rand are on journeys forced by someone else.  But hey, live as long
as they have, and you're bound to have a scar or two.  Neither is sure if
Yassaba can actually pull of Exodus, but they're willing to lift a glass or two
in honor of the attempt.  This may be their only chance to go get genuinely
drunk as adults, and not worry about looking after the kids...

Indications are looking good that Yassaba and Eifa *will* in fact make it to
Indus, though they'll have to do it with a busted cockpit hatch.  Best savor
the Siberian cold while they can: where they're going will be decidedly
warmer...


5. Moon Riders

Lioubov is now officially part of the entourage, far from home and determined
to stick with Anna through thick and thin.  Having heard that she's Anna's
tutor, Gain skillfully and politely asks her a favor.  Rand can't figure out
why people say "yes" to Gain so easily, and Garrod guesses he never will,
especially since The Heat has been baked into him for a good 26 years already.
But while Rand and Mail bicker, Gain secures Lioubov's help in locating Rand's
missing master.

The search will start in the Yapan Ceiling's library, focused on learning more
about those mysterious warps.  It turns out that Medaiyu's collector's
instincts included books, and some of his collection was actually part of the
public library.  So long as Rand doesn't fall asleep or drool too much on the
books, odds look good that something will turn up.  Jiron hasn't been reading
any books either, but that's because he's a devotee of Callahan's Law; instead,
he's putting his muscles to good use hauling books around for the others.  This
dovetails nicely with Elchi, whose voracious appetite for print isn't just
about her own curiosity.  Her sacred mission, bequeathed by the Innocent leader
Arthur, is bringing culture back to Zora in every conceivable medium, even
including cooking.

A few possible clues turn up quickly.  The whole Dorothy/tornado/Kansas schtick
doesn't wash, and neither does a certain story about exiting a tunnel into the
nation of snow, with one's parents turned to pigs (some kind of Yapanese fairy
tale or other [^^;;;]).  Lioubov will need more details about the warps to help
narrow the search, and the best Rand can remember is a sort of ringing in his
ears... sort of like the one everyone hears just now.  Garrod's sure another
warp is about to happen nearby, and Rand and Mail are already running to their
mech.

Outside, they find all the snow gone from the ground... and no indication that
it simply melted.  The Gunleon is also detecting some kind of unknown particles
in the air, and Rand tells Mail to write down every last detail of what they're
seeing.  Unless Rand misses his guess, the whole area they're looking at got
Jumped from somewhere else.  Another warp follows in rapid succession,
depositing a huge chunk of land and four very confused vehicles with it.

In one of them, Holland wonders why he's ended up here instead of the Coralian
Zone.  Matthew also notes that it went from day to night, and Talho is having a
lot of trouble determining their position.  On the first chunk of land to be
Jumped is a contingent of Federation army vessels, wondering if this is the
work of a Kute-class Coralian.  They quickly spot the Gekkostate units, members
of an armed anti-government group who broke the Lif Border's shell.
[Somebody's got some 'splanin' to do...]  The army's orders are to capture, or
if impossible, kill them.  Stoner and Hap aren't surprised when the military
guns open up, but the real question is what to do about that unknown orange
mech off to the side.

Rand is *not* happy that the warp brought not only people but their fight with
it.  However, he figures that Holland's side is the lesser of two evils when it
becomes clear the military units mean to eradicate everyone.  Introductions are
hastily made, and Rand promises to fill them in once the battle's over.

  Rand quickly figures out what those strange particles in the air are: the
  newcomers are able to ride on them with their flying surfboards(!)  Maybe
  they're from another world, and not just another part of this one?  The same
  thought begins to occur to all of the Gekkostate forces as they fight.

  The rest of the Iron Gear forces catch up quickly, berating Rand for running
  on ahead.  Mail introduces her new comrades-in-arms as the "Man, Great!", and
  before Talho can finish correcting her the military train their guns on the
  newcomers too.  Instead of just firing back, Gainer thinks his team should
  try talking to the people first, since maybe they got Jumped here like Garrod
  was.  Oops, guess that didn't occur to Rand in the heat of being shot at.  He
  belatedly asks for a cease-fire, and since neither of the Jumped groups can
  figure out where they are, they're willing to take him at his offer...

  ...That is, until someone lurking in the distance starts blasting the
  military, who of course think the cease-fire statement to be a trap now.
  Nothing for it but to continue the fighting, and woe betide whoever screwed
  up Rand's rare attempt at a peaceable settlement.

  Eureka is quite handy with her surfboard thingie, but surprisingly
  tight-lipped when praised for it.  Holland, who says he's something like her
  guardian (for now), accepts Rand's thanks in her stead.

It doesn't take the Gekkostate folk long to realize that for a Repairman, Rand
is awfully good at breaking stuff.  They're going to return to their mothership
and look for somewhere to land, but Eureka realizes that a new foe is coming.
With no time to explain, Rand tells everyone including the newcomers to flee...
but it's already too late.

At the Vicinity Heim Mine on the North American continent, Rolan is gazing up
at his former home, the Moon.  It's been two years since coming here, and the
master, mistresses, and Gwen have all been very kind to him.  And tomorrow will
be his ceremonial passage into adulthood.  He begins laughing in joy, crying to
his long-lost countrymen that the Earth is a wonderful place after all.
Everyone, everyone, come on back!!

People cry to the moon all the time, but seldom do they get their wish so
quickly or so concretely...


6. Night of the Festival

Rolan takes his responsibilities towards his mistresses very seriously, enough
to train himself to be an accomplished chauffeur.  Soshie seems a tad peevish
toward him, but that might be jitters due to tonight's festival.  Rolan will be
participating two years later than normal due to the unusual circumstances of
his arrival, but both he and Soshie's turn has finally come.  They run into
Gwen, who's taking a stroll to help prepare for today's events.  Kiel has some
work to do with Gwen, and will be sitting with him at tonight's event, so she
instructs Rolan not to worry about her and just enjoy the festivities.  As the
two walk off, arm in arm, Rolan muses that Kiel is starting to resemble Lady
Diana more and more every day.  Soshie doesn't approve of him staring in her
sister's direction, but Rolan claims he's merely reflecting on how wonderful it
is that Kiel has become an upstanding member of society.  Soshie's mother has
it that no daughter of the Heim family should deign to _work_, but it's hard to
argue with the society advantages of being secretary to the mayor.

Soshie might well go the same route, but she's not thought that far ahead yet.
For now, all she really wants to do is ride in an airplane with Meshay.  Rolan
hopes she's not planning to join the Militia, but Soshie tells him that the
whole "women should mind the home" bit is way out of date.  She's off to her
lessons, and tells him to come back for her when the time comes.  Until then,
he's free to do whatever he wants, like travel to the mountains like he did the
other night.  Busted! except that Soshie doesn't mind.  Worried, he asks if she
saw anything else, but all she saw was him sneaking out of the mansion.  She is
curious, though, why Gwen refers to Rolan as "Lola"...  In any case, just a few
short hours and Rolan, who came to the Earth as an experiment, will officially
become of one Earth's people.

He passes this along to Keith, adding that from what he's heard he'll be free
to do as he wishes once his two-year mission is over.  The two of them, along
with Fran, have been integrated into Earth society all this time: Keith as a
baker, and Fran as an apprentice reporter for the local newspaper.  Keith
doesn't share Rolan's unbridled enthusiasm for a mass migration from the Moon:
onesies twosies might be integrable into society, but Earthlings aren't going
to accept tens of thousands of people showing up at the door all at once.  War
is the worst-case scenario, though even Keith has to admit that Lady Diana
might find a way to avert that.  Rolan thanks him for giving him so much of the
left-over bread, saying he's got sort of a pet to try to feed.  Keith heads
back to work, saying they should include Fran the next time they discuss future
plans.

As Rolan is about to take the goodies to his new friends, some strangers ask if
this is the way to Bostonia Castle.  They comment on how Rolan appears to be
originally from somewhere other than here, but seem content to let the matter
drop.  After all, they doubt they'll ever see him again anyway.  Rolan wonders
if they, too, were Jumped into this area...

It's a good thing Rolan obliged the Iron Gear's motley crew by bringing food,
though Rand wishes it consisted of more than just bread.  He's still wolfing it
down though, as are everyone except Gainer.  Morose as usual, he finds it hard
to eat given how his unwilling Exodus has somehow turned into an
intercontinental voyage of mayhem.  Elchi had been expecting America to be a
more arid place than this, so Garrod explains that the great deserts are mostly
in the southern part of the continent.  From what Garrod's heard, most of this
part of North America is rustic and under-mechanized, and not much subject to
the predations of the Vultures.  It's said that some kind of "Demon" sleeps in
North America, and Gain at least believes that there must be some kernel of
truth to it to keep so many fortune-seekers at bay.

Given how un-mechanized this place is, the sight of the full fleet would surely
cause a commotion for the people at large.  Odd that Rolan seemed unmoved, and
odder still that he thought the team were part of the "Moon Race".  The thought
of people on the Moon seems almost ludicrous to the Galerians, but Rolan
assures them that plenty of people live in space.  Elchi remembers a comment
Arthur made about the Innocent descending from the Moon, but he was in a highly
privileged position.  Gain will have to ask Rolan, seemingly a simple country
boy, how he knows of the Moon Race, but Gain is sure at least that Rolan won't
spill the beans about the Iron Gear to others.  Something about his pure,
honest eyes.

On the morrow, Gain means to explain the whole thing to the city mayor in
preparation for the Iron Gear moving discreetly elsewhere.  Tonight, however,
is that festival that Rolan mentioned.  The festival involves lots of nudity
(good!) but also lots of leeches sucking people's blood (bad kinda) and drawing
strange markings on each other's back (good-ish?).  Soshie, embarrassed and
probably a bit chilly, explains that the markings are in honor of the mark the
White Doll -- yonder big-ass statue -- has on its back.  Since she and Rolan
are representing all those going through the ceremony, she wants him to make it
quick.

Their intimate rite gets rudely interrupted by a bevy of mobile suits flying
towards town.  A standoff has rapidly developed between an advance military
detachment from the moon, and a platoon of Earth units.  The moon commander Pou
had been led to believe that this area had no mobile suits, meaning that his
foes must be from the central government.  She's been ordered not to fire
first, and especially wants to avoid engaging the central forces in an area
currently outside their jurisdiction.  But when the central troops open fire,
it becomes clear that the local militia's so-called peace negotiations were
just a sham.  Time to show these upstart Earthlings the true power of the Diana
Counter.

Now, who was stupid enough to put Soshie's parents' mansion right in the path
of The Smackdown?  As she and Rolan stare in horror, Pou commands her troops to
suppress the locals and guard against ongoing attack.  Anyone who resists is to
be shot.  As the Moon forces set up their perimeter, they detect something
metal hiding in the forest.  Even Garrod's never seen these new foes before,
but he's sure the Iron Gear squad will be treated as hostiles if they engage
them.  Of course, if they engage first, it'll all be academic.

Soshie tries to grab Rolan and flee, but they pull up short at the sight of the
White Doll crumbling, revealing of all things a robot underneath the rock.  Its
cockpit is open, and Rolan hauls Soshie along as he tries to get it booted up.
The sight of the mustachioed mobile suit draws Pou up short, and unfortunately
Rolan isn't able to disengage the White Doll's autopilot before it takes a
potshot at the lunar commander.  That's the Iron Gear's cue to come out of
hiding, determined to repay Rolan for all that bread he fetched them.  Pou
interprets this to mean that Ingressa's mayor hired both the central government
and forces from Galia to oppose her.  So much for this being the "Promised
Land".

Se orders her men to inform the main forces that "the militia mean to fight
against us", intending to wipe out any opposition before the main force
arrives.  Does Rolan have no choice but to fight, to protect his mistress and
his town?  So it seems, and once the lunar forces retreat Gain urges him to
come with the Iron Gear fleet.  It's certain that more unpleasantness will
beset this place with the coming dawn, and unless Rolan wants to get caught in
it, his best course of action is coming with you.  Rolan ponders a moment, then
lets Soshie off and hops aboard the Iron Gear.

As Soshie marvels, the men Rolan saw in town are grinning at their good fortune
of running into the GX in such a backwater little town.  Shagia is pretty sure
that "he" (Rolan) is piloting the thing, which makes their grins even wider.
Gwen however isn't grinning at all, watching half a year's worth of
negotiations go up in smoke.  He can't believe the Moon Race started shooting
at him, but Shagia assures him his plans include this turn of events.  He and
Olba claim they're here to defend this land against the Moon Race, which
strikes the mayor as fishy to say the least.

It was they who launched the preemptive strike against the lunar forces,
claiming to do so in full accordance with Gwen's wishes.  Supposedly, this will
give Gwen plenty of diplomatic leverage, on the theory that the Moon Race's
negotiators likely never expected Ingressa to pose a serious military threat
before.  Gwen himself certainly didn't ask for the central government to send
these two to "defend" his town's interests, and reckons that today's engagement
was actually a loss for his side.  Olba tells him not to focus on today's
outcome, but on the fact that the Moon Race is now on the defensive.  Besides,
the central government has plenty more firepower to put into the project,
though Gwen sniffs that his city has plenty of ways of defending itself without
their help.

Though his people's forefathers forbade excavation and use of the objects in
the many Mountain Cycles around here, Gwen doesn't plan on putting off progress
any longer.  Shagia has heard the saying "The Promised Land is the Forbidden
Land; let no man touch it", which accounts for the relatively un-mechanized
state of this area.  In the face of the Moon Race's return, Gwen will quite
happily re-mechanize for the sake of his people.  He presumes the mustachioed
mobile suit must have been slumbering in one of the Mountain Cycles, though he
never specifically ordered its excavation.  He also professes no knowledge of
the Galian battleship, and in fact has Militia forces pursuing it now to
ascertain its purpose here.  He hopes to gain its aid, making his town truly
self-sufficient... even from the likes of Shagia and Olba.  Not that he plans
to ignore the feelings of the central government, of course: if they mean to be
part of the solution, he'll happily welcome their aid too.  And with Moon Race
ambassadors already begging for new talks, he figures the time is ripe to show
the lunar folk just what sort of culture the Earth holds.  If Kiel had any
hopes of avoiding this mess, they're gone now.

Elsewhere in the castle, Olba and Shagia are holding an unwilling guest: the
diminutive Tifa Adiel.  Shagia tells her to relax and enjoy scenery far more
pleasant than what she was treated to aboard the Freeden.  He plans to take her
to Central, but has a little business to take care of first.  Her Newtype
abilities have told her that Garrod is nearby, but Olba is sure that her voice
can't reach him from here.  Shagia plans to force her to use her powers for his
sake instead, so that he can tap into the power slumbering within Garrod's
land.  Their plan: revenge against Fate itself.  Sounds dangerous, doesn't it?


7. Goddess of the Moon

The Iron Gear team doesn't bug out immediately.  Instead, they dispatch some of
their people, Rolan included, to survey the state of things in town.  Gaury
calls this a mission that must not fail, with no one to pick up the corpses of
the dead.  While Rolan's detachment is trying not to look suspicious in town,
the rest of the team is hard at work checking out Rolan's mobile suit and the
area it came from.  Gain still plans to parlay with the mayor with Rolan's
help, and it seems likely Garrod will split off as soon as the Iron Gear's new
destination is chosen.  That said, he can't do so just yet without inviting
attack by the lunar forces, who the Ingressans and Galians don't seem to
realize were in a full scale war with the Earth until a scant fifteen years
ago.

The information gap is getting closed thanks to Gwen though.  Fran runs into
Rolan, explaining that the mayor has made the existence of the Moon Race, and
the fact that they're not the enemy, public.  It seems Gwen isn't planning any
throwdown with the lunar folk just yet, but after last night's fracas he may be
the only one in town who feels that way.  About as bad a start for the great
Homecoming as one might fear, and Fran scurries off about her reporterly duties
with scarcely an introduction to the rest of Rolan's friends.

The lunar forces have landed on a nearby hill, and even with the naked eye Gain
can guess that the militia's antiquated armaments won't stand a chance.  The
wild card is the central government's emissaries, servants of the single
largest power on Earth now that the Innocent are toast.  These are the folks
who control most of the Overmen in Siberia, though it seems they rely on mobile
suits in most of the rest of the world.  It appears they're more than just your
average world domination outfit: they want to present a unified Earth front in
battle against the Moon.  Speaking of whom, could it be that Rolan is one of
them too?

You won't get to find out immediately, since Kiel runs over and tells Rolan
that Soshie made it home safe.  Kiel's heard about Rolan's turn as pilot, and
has bad news for him: her father didn't survive their house's decimation.  Gain
smoothly enters the conversation, informing Kiel that his people fought by
Rolan's side last night and requesting an audience with the mayor.  He's hoping
he can be of service, sounding for all the world like some sort of nobleman,
and Kiel supposes that Gwen would indeed find such help useful.  She instructs
Rolan to take his new friends to the castle.

In the nearby mountains, freshly excavated holes are everywhere to behold.
Rand reckons Gwen is seeking more mobile suits like Rolan's, and manages to
pass his crew off as hired miners.  Joseph, the master digger, isn't surprised
that outsiders have been brought in by the over-eager mayor, and upon hearing
that Rand's a repairman takes him to help out with a special job with foreman
Cid.  Who, as it turns out, is busily explaining to Soshie and Meshay that Rome
wasn't excavated in a day, much less built.  Not that the girls don't have
reason to be anxious: unless they manage to dig up more mobile suits like last
night's, more tragedies like Soshie's father are assured.

Rand's crew prove surprisingly enthusiastic workers, especially the
muscle-bound Fatman.  Rand asks if they actually expect to find more mobile
suits like the mustached mobile suit in this mountain, and Cid declares that
the probability seems high.  He and Joseph have certainly found plenty of
mobile suits and mechanical giants in their journeys as mountain-masters
before.  This is the first time they've ever been allowed to dig here though,
thanks to that taboo about the Promised Land.  Nor has Cid heard of anything
especially dangerous being buried here.  But since Gwen wants some strong cards
in hand while negotiating, everyone who can lift a shovel is now digging away.

Jiron wonders if the mecha they're looking for were used in previous wars, like
the ones to the south.  Cid tells him that the Vultures' mecha are a scant
fifteen years old, and the "previous war" was the one just concluded with the
Moon.  Anything buried _here_ could be thousands of years old, and one has to
wonder what the originators of this being the "Promised Land" had in mind.
Maybe you're about to find out, as Fatman's righteous digging unearths
something metallic...

In the meeting with Gwen, Gain formally offers the Iron Gear's services as
mercenary help, with bona fides Gwen witnessed in last night's battle.  Gaury's
men of course want to get back to Yapan's Ceiling as soon as possible, but Gain
knows how much money and materiel that will require.  He wants a sponsor with
pull, and tells Gainer that he doesn't given a damn what the beef between the
Militia and Moon Race is.  Nor is he proud of what he's doing, but it's the
adult thing to do in an emergency to take what chances one is offered.
Speaking of which, where'd Garrod go after everyone entered the castle?

Gwen has decided to accept Gain's offer, citing the pressing need for more
firepower.  He'll require their assistance at least until the Militia's
mechanized forces are up to snuff, but still has some doubts of his own.  To
clear them up, he proposes a test, and not the elimination of the nearby lunar
forces with whom he hopes to negotiate.  Instead, he wants you to send the
Central government's forces home, by whatever means you see fit.  For this
local governor, no fool, the Central government is the real enemy.

Gwen has another request, prepared with a little help from Kiel.  He introduces
"Lola", the purportedly female pilot of the White Doll.  It is of course Rolan,
who's become entangled in an insane scheme to drum up support for the Militia
at a party three days from now.  Rolan demurely begs you all, Gainer
especially, not to stare at him so much, and Gain is starting to realize that
this mayor may be a far bigger handful than he thought...

Let's not forget Garrod.  He's run into an old acquaintance from Fort Seven,
Enil.  Garrod doesn't exactly seem to get along with her, but she's got some
helpful info for him regardless: his precious little friend is in this town.
Turns out she's been trailing Tifa ever since the Frost brothers kidnapped her,
and giving him that info is her way of apologizing for her past misdeeds.  Enil
is one tough cookie, but it gladdens her heart to see Garrod's smile at the
thought that Tifa is so close.  She's also got immense reserves of malice in
her heart, for those who chose Tifa over her...

The big day arrives, and all is in readiness at the big party.  From his mech's
cockpit, Harry notes that the stars shine very differently on Earth than on the
Moon.  So beautiful, his rightful homeland.  Meanwhile, Pou and Phil are
scrutinizing the mustachioed mobile suit, clearly of a different make than the
central government's forces.  Maybe it's pre-Cataclysm, maybe not, but Phil
doubts it can alter the balance of power any.  The mech's pilot emerges: a
woman, or girl, calling herself Lola Rola and welcoming the Moon Race to the
ball.  Harry Ord, captain of the royal guard, responds in kind, and the
demented genius of Gwen's plan becomes clear.  By showing the White Doll's
pilot to be female, he hopes to defuse tensions with the enemy.  Sara is rather
indignant that it seems to have worked on the gold mech's pilot, and Gain just
hopes that your "contingency plans" won't be needed tonight.  The lunar forces
decide to see what Earth manners are like, and the more commotion everyone
makes, the easier a time Garrod will have searching for Tifa.

Gwen makes formal introductions with Phil, and invites the lunar forces to dine
before formal negotiations begin.  Phil wants an explanation for the attack the
other night first, and Gwen explains it as an action undertaken by the central
government forces solely under their own discretion.  Ingressan forces engaged
as well out of self-preservation, but they bear no further grudge.  Phil won't
buy that easily, but Gwen reassures him that Ingressa intends to negotiate with
the Moon Race solely on its own, and without the central government's say-so.
He promises to show proof of this to Phil shortly, and Phil certainly hopes
he's telling the truth.  After all, Diana didn't dispatch his forces here to
fight.

Kiel uneasily watches as the revelry begins.  She's instructed Rolan well in
the ways of well-bred girls, and he's going to need them when Harry comes over
to chat.  Small hint to sunglasses-boy: IT'S A TRAP!!  Though just to prove
that Harry isn't entirely blind, he's also interested in Kiel, whose
resemblance to a certain person dear to him is striking.  Kiel is honored, and
hopes she can meet this person some day.  Harry, a true believer in Diana's
will, is sure that day will come.  Just as Rolan is about to show off his/her
dancing prowess...the lights cut out!  Gwen does his best to calm his guests,
and orders Lola to her mech just in case.

Meanwhile, Garrod has actually managed to locate and rescue Tifa.  He has to
remind himself not to squeeze her slender hand too hard as they flee the
castle, but Tifa doesn't mind too much.  She's believed he'd come for her -- so
touching for everyone _except_ Enil, whose intent to help Garrod only extended
to causing the little blackout and getting him outside the castle.  Her malice
now comes to the fore, as she plans to cause him even greater suffering than
before.

It's all his fault, you see.  That long ago day when they first met?  That was
fate.  They were _made_ for each other, the only people who could dispel each
other's loneliness.  Garrod shouts back that he's not the same as he was back
then, when he did everything without thinking.  He's got a goal now, and that
goal is protecting Tifa!  Enil would be more than happy to lay that goal waste,
if not for Gain shooting her pistol out of her hand.  NOT what Enil had in mind
to be sure, but she shouts that she's told the brothers all about him.  He's
doomed anyway, studly friends or not, and unfortunately it's too late to run.

The brothers greet their longtime nemesis with surprising calm.  It's their job
to collect Newtypes, and none are more enticing than Tifa.  Garrod, however,
they plan to send to where Jamir Neat went using their new Gundams.  Does that
mean that Jamir, Wits and Roaby are all toast?  Rather than try to find out,
Gain yells for Garrod to take Tifa out of here while he holds the brothers off.
His long rifle doesn't look that threatening to the brothers, but the onrushing
White Doll does.  Shagia tells his brother to pull back, reminding him that the
seeming antique _was_ buried in the Promised Land.  This gives everyone a
chance to flee, and Garrod thanks the beauty at the White Doll's controls for
the assist.  Gain smirks and tells Garrod to remember those words later.

Shagia is sure that he and Olba can steal Tifa back any time they wish, now
that Garrod is her only protection.  He's more interested in gathering data
about the enemy mobile suit, and has a bunch of automated help to find out.
Gwen shouts into the radio that these are the forces of oppression, trying to
disrupt the peace talks.  Lola must fight to defend the town's freedom -- this
is the proof of Ingressa's disagreement with the central government that Gwen
spoke of.  Heck, if the lunar folk were _really_ serious about peace, maybe
they'd even lend a hand.  ZOMG, Gwen's plan actually worked, kind of.

  The Iron Gear arrives on turn three, and your pilots hastily sortie.  Now is
  Garrod's time to choke over how much he admired Rolan's ass.  Soshie, popping
  out in a newly-unearthed mech, is less impressed.  Rolan doesn't want to see
  her in danger, but if Rolan can do it, so can she.  She's bent on revenge for
  her father, and the restoration job your mechanics did should give her a
  pretty decent shot.  Soshie yells at Rolan to go change, but first Meshay has
  a weapon from the Mountain Cycle that seems suited to his mech.  Now Elchi
  can fulfill Gwen's wish and get officially on the payroll, a prospect that
  really brightens her smile.  The only possible hitch are those
  nefarious-looking Gundams lurking back there, and Enil, still bent on killing
  Garrod.  Given how big this battle is getting, Rolan has to wonder if he's
  really doing the right thing.

  Maybe not, since the lunar forces come out with all guns blazing in an
  indiscriminate barrage.  Phil tells Harry that it's "unavoidable" that some
  friendlies will get hit on the battlefield.  So much for cooperation with the
  local militia.  Harry has his private doubts about this, but he's definitely
  committed to ensuring *nothing* goes wrong with Diana's advent.  That
  includes excising any fishy aspirations the local militia might have, and
  Rolan won't stand for such a flimsy rationale for what amounts to genocide.
  Elchi sees no choice but to fight *everyone* at once, and Gain says the
  quickest way to quiet the lunar forces would be to take out their battleship.

  Garrod has no desire to kill Enil, but she doesn't want half-kindness.  If
  she can't have him, she'd rather see him dead.  Even Gain is somewhat
  unsettled by her, but Garrod is genuinely sad as she flees.  The same can't
  be said for the Frost brothers, whose shadow will now hang over Garrod until
  he finally sees them D-E-D dead.

The longer the battle wears on, the more random stuff in the city gets trashed.
Rolan can't bear to watch, and with his patience extended beyond the breaking
point, he dashes to the center of town to make an announcement.  He's one of
the Moon Race!  As everything comes to a screeching halt, he admits that he
came here two years ago, and announces his intention to fight both the Moon
Race AND the Earthlings, so long as they fail to cherish human life.  Phil
frantically tries to have Rolan silenced, but a command like the clear tones of
a bell halts him too.

The word came from the austere blue lips of none other than Diana Sorel
herself.  She reminds her men that they haven't come to mother Earth to fight,
and declares that Rolan's resolve is the very essence of her will.  Nice to get
official, on-the-spot support from the Queen every once in a while.  All
hostilities cease, but in the shadows the Frost brothers content themselves
with the knowledge that the Moon's power, too, will soon be theirs.  One can
only hope that the moon's Queen, or perhaps its Goddess, can dispel all your
other difficulties so easily...

Gwen is of course immensely grateful to Elchi for how nicely things turned out.
As always, Elchi gets twitterpated when cultured men compliment her, and she's
all too happy to forget about her circular protector for a moment.  For his
efforts, Rolan gets an entirely different reception from Soshie.  She slaps him
and storms off, and even Kiel doesn't sound exactly thrilled as she goes off to
try to calm her sister down.  Two years of deception tend to strain
relationships, and Rolan has to wonder if he really did the right thing by
letting the cat out of the bag.  Well, it seems there are numerous other
cat-lovers on the squad who congratulate his efforts, including a beaming
Garrod.  In no uncertain terms, the entire bunch tell Rolan that he's every
inch a good guy, and need feel no alienation for merely being born in a
different part of the Earth Sphere from them.

Even Gwen gives Rolan his congratulations, though his disconcerting habit of
referring to him exclusively as "Lola" hasn't slacked any.  He wants to make
Elchi's team, Rolan included, a special branch of the Militia devoted
exclusively to defending peace and freedom.  Not a bad gig for financing your
triumphant(?) return to Siberia, as even Gainer realizes.  Rolan is really
looking forward to serving the people, and Diana and Gwen's, interests.

As Jiron and the crew head to the bazaar, he marvels at all the stone buildings
around.  Elchi tries to keep him from looking like too much of a hick, but
there's nothing really wrong with admiring a different culture.  Garrod is
looking for something nice to welcome Tifa back, and Rolan leads him to a
jeweler.  There he finds an elegant silver necklace, suitable for the finest of
high-society ladies.  He won't hand the necklace over yet, and not because he's
developed a case of nerves.  Rather, he wants to give Tifa time to get over the
shock of hearing that several of their friends have been killed.  Sara praises
Garrod's spirit, and Gainer is realizing he should have bought Sara something
too.


8. Memory of Angels

An interesting snag arises in the lunar talks.  The Moon Race want to move back
into the entire Sun Belt region, which includes Ingressa, on the theory that it
was their ancestral home from of old.  Gwen has a counter-claim: even if the
Moon Race once dwelt there, they abandoned it long before the Cataclysm, and it
was Gwen's forefathers who nursed the land back to its current state.  Minister
Milan says that the Moon Race's withdrawal to the Moon was not an abandonment
at all, just a temporary retreat -- hence the ancient appellation "Promised
Land".  Diana herself does indeed want to return to the Earth, but is hoping to
do so peacefully... in other words, to live alongside the current residents.
Things seem to be at a bit of an impasse, so it's just as well that Gwen's next
appointment shows up.  Both sides need a bit of a break to think things
through, and Diana suggests reconvening in a week's time.  That suits Gwen
well, and he recommends that Diana take the time to experience what the Earth
has to offer.

After Gwen leaves, Diana asks Kiel to join her for a little woman-to-woman
talk.  Both of them are amazed at how much they resemble each other, and Diana
has a favor to ask in the interest of experiencing the Earth.  This involves a
little game of clothing-swapping...

Meanwhile, Rolan has been busy studying the digital owner's manual conveniently
left in the cockpit of his mech.  One has to wonder how long said mech has lain
buried.  Garrod and Tifa come over, impressed at how different Rolan's "Gundam"
looks from their own.  How do they know it's a Gundam?  The two eyes and
antenna are a dead giveaway, though in this case the antenna are more of a
moustache.  Garrod asks if the manual contains anything like a proper name, and
the closest Rolan could find is the "Turn A" symbol, which Tifa explains
implies "for all".  Guess that makes it the Turn A Gundam [yay math].

Rolan asks if the two of them are planning to stay in North America, but Garrod
says that neither of them have a home here any more.  He asks if Rolan has ever
heard of "Newtypes", the people those Frost brothers are going around trying to
collect.  Tifa does have the uncanny ability to predict the near future, but
neither the Frost brothers or anyone else will be allowed to use her as their
tool if Rolan has anything to say about it.

Before his Jump, Garrod had the help of the crew of the Freeden for keeping
Tifa safe, and despite the Frost brothers' claims that the Freeden is toast,
Garrod wants to believe they're still alive.  So does Tifa, which fueled their
decision to stay with the Iron Gear.  Since Rolan helped with Tifa's rescue,
she thought it only fair that he be let in on their circumstances.  She sees
her old self in Rolan, and tells him not to think he's all alone in the world.
Sooner or later, everyone will come to understand him.  Seems hunky dory, until
King Gainer returns from patrol.  The hand-computer Rolan's been using as a
manual suddenly starts reacting to something, displaying an image of a human
figure with wings: an angel?  Not so much, says Tifa.

Over comes Gyaban, leader of the Rujannan "Suicide" squadron.  Rujanna is the
neighboring country and ancient ally of Ingressa, and apparently they're slated
to run a joint training exercise with the Ingressa Militia.  Elchi gets briefed
directly by Lily Borujanno, daughter of the Rujannan mayor.  Elchi sees in Lily
a cultured rival for Gwen's affections, but Gwen is more interested in
discussing how Rujanna, like Ingressa, has been mechanizing with items
excavated from its Mountain Cycles.  Talk of alliance is another of Gwen's
power plays, and the Iron Gear squad has little choice but to play along with
their sponsor.  An interesting wrinkle with this joint exercise is the
inclusion of Moon Race personnel, specifically royal guardsman Harry.  Kiel
also asks to be present, and Gwen appoints her as the official scribe.  Diana
commands Harry to protect Kiel in the event anything untoward happens, and in
fact Kiel and Diana have already traded places and manners completely.  Kiel
realizes that Diana must have been very lonely indeed to think up this little
prank.

The Iron Gear is in for quite a shock when they reach the exercise area,
supposedly a featureless field.  Instead they find a ruined city, which none of
the locals ever heard of before.  Soshie snaps at the others not to blame Rolan
for the mix-up, then snaps at Rolan when he tries to thank her.  Gain knows
what's really going on in Soshie's head, and decides to stay mum to make things
more interesting.  Kiel has never shown an interest in the Militia before, but
under the circumstances she wants to do everything she can to assist Gwen.
Fine, just so long as she stays out of the way.  Gyaban has much the same
opinion of the whole Ingressa Militia, promising the "women and children" that
he'll show them what real battle looks like once the training starts.

Rand and Mail have been putting their time to better use staring at the city.
Unless Rand is mistaken, the whole damn town must have Jumped here, implying a
Warp on a scale that dwarfed the one that brought him here.  He plans to check
the city out before the training begins, and it turns out to not be quite as
deserted as it looks.  Lurking in the rubble are Pierre and Sylvia, on a
mission to track down the "Wings of the Sun".  It's supposed to be the greatest
of the Atlantean heroes, and if Liina's precognitive dream is accurate, it's
got to be around here somewhere.  Of course, if Sylvia is right, the Wings have
been reincarnated as her older brother Sirius, and his memories of his past
life are merely sealed away.  Too painful, too sad for any man to bear no
doubt.

Rand in fact finds several people still alive in town, but none are American.
This place really must have been Jumped here, which is pretty frightening given
that not just people and objects, but the ground underneath came all at once.
The military exercise can hardly proceed at this point, and Rand recommends
having the Moon forces withdrawn.  Jiron meanwhile has caught a lizard while
searching the debris, and converted it into a tasty freshly-cooked meal.  He
prepares to savor it, mouth open wide, but a mysterious object zooms by and
snags it before it touches his lips.  It's a person with red hair, who says
Jiron can have the meat back if he can catch him.  Jiron, a strong devotee of
food etiquette, races off recklessly in pursuit.

Jiron actually manages to corner the guy, and with little other option Apollo
resorts to licking the morsel all over.  No way Jiron wants it back now, and
after a moment's thought Jiron actually offers the guy more food if he follows
them back.  Apparently Apollo's devotion to food has struck a chord with the
strong man, and the result is a barbecue free-for-all back topside.  Apollo's
partner Baron joins in, and between bites they confirm that they got here via a
Warp.  This ruined city wasn't their ideal choice of places to live, but its
bounty of residual food was better than the alternative.  Although poor, Apollo
isn't entirely squeebish, as he demonstrates by spotting Pierre and Sylvia in
their hiding place.

Hard though it seems to believe, Apollo is actually an Element Candidate like
them, and his Aura is rife with higher-dimensional particles.  Like an animal,
Apollo's instincts tell him that they represent something far more dangerous
than regular police.  And like an animal, Sylvia shudders at the thought of
"combining" with him.  However...  They tell the rest of your people to stand
aside, and Sylvia tells Apollo to let her look him over.  He dares her to try,
if she's fast enough, and the two of them note that he's indeed pretty fast...
for a beginner.

To Apollo's amazement, Sylvia handily dodges his punch, and responds with a
punch of her own that shatters a solid concrete wall.  Pierre's kick actually
lights stuff on fire, and the Baron urges everyone to come to Apollo's aid.
Just then, a strange noise rings forth, which Pierre calls "Hypnosound".  A
Fallen Angel is coming, and the first thing it does as it shoots out of the sky
is assimilate Baron.  Apollo jumps on its back, trying to rip Baron free as
Sylvia and Pierre watch aghast.  Both of them will get taken away at this rate,
though Gyaban thinks his proud forces can prevent it.  He's wrong, and getting
close to the Fallen Angel only results in its Mythpower taking physical form.
Diana somehow remembers these abominations, which wipe out the Suicide squad in
a single blow.

Fortunately, Sirius shows up just then, checking to see if his sister is okay
before reminding her that family ties don't matter when they're in the midst of
a mission.  He plans to withhold explanation of what's going on until after the
immediate crop of enemies are defeated, lest he simply cause more confusion.
They can't reach HQ for orders, so Sirius decides to Combine on his own
initiative: that's why they've got Vector Machines, after all.  And if the top
three students in the Element School can't do it, who can?  Reika will be the
lucky(?) recipient of Glen's first Combination, and assures Sirius she's got
the guts to go through with it.  Their combination is codenamed "The Form of
Fate", and Sylvia gets the displeasure of watching her brother Combine with
another woman.  Mecha combining never looked so... intriguing before.

Hooray, it's Aquarion Luna, which will hopefully be up to the task of wiping
out these Cherubim soldiers.  In the meantime, Elchi tells Harry and Gyaban to
guard the Iron Gear while Jiron and the others hustle back.  That's fine with
Harry, who wants to understand this monster's power, and even more so with
Gyaban, who's got a whole passel of subordinates to avenge.  Watching from the
sidelines is a mysterious figure, who's curious to see if this three-person
group can actually evoke Aquarion's full power.  They'd better, since the
artificial angel Aquarion is mankind's last hope.

  Reika is doing her best to fight, but the strain is clearly wearing on her.
  Meanwhile, in the control room of the Earth Restoration Organization "Diva",
  chaos reigns as the techs struggle to locate the missing team.  Liina can
  sense that they've gone far away, as though to another world.  That's right,
  says the mysterious man, the magician with divine speed known as Fudou Gen.
  This is the same man who first excavated Aquarion from the ruins at the
  bottom of the sea, and as a greeting he somehow causes the monitors to
  display Aquarion's current status.

  Jerome is delighted to see Aquarion combined through the efforts of his
  students, and Gen recalls an ancient parable told by a general from the Land
  of the Sun: though a single arrow be weak, three together shall be
  unbreakable.  Jerome is quite the ancient trivia buff, which might explain
  his rhapsodizing about the benefits of three bodies, minds and souls combined
  into the ultimate robot.  Only one problem: there are some things strong
  enough to break even three arrows!

  The Fallen Angel uses a particularly dirty trick, feeding the psyche of the
  people it's captured directly into Reika's mind.  Sylvia runs to the rescue
  just as Jiron and crew show up.  That combining robot is going to need some
  serious help, and it appears that Apollo can provide it.  Not only does he
  know Aquarion's name, he's somehow able to cause Glen's machine to spit him
  out and fly over to him.  Apollo gets to meet his alter ego Apollonius, who
  tells him to chant "Holy Creative Combination".

  This new form is vastly studlier than before, and amazingly, the Turn A has a
  record of this thing's name in its memory banks.  Apollo calls for his
  comrades to lend him their strength, which is odd given he's presumably never
  met them before...

The good news is that the Fallen Angels have been beaten back temporarily.  The
bad news is that Sirius and the others may not be getting back to Diva any time
soon.  At that moment in Atlandia, Otoha is waking her master Touma up from a
little twelve-millennia nap.  In the world below, those pesky wingless humans,
eaters of the fruit of Knowledge, have been busily fucking up the world, and
with it the winged folks' dreams.  On the other hand, their souls are proving
useful for making the Tree of Life blossom, and more are arriving from other
worlds all the time.  There is one other problem: the traitorous Wings of the
Sun has reawakened too, and Touma wants to go see what he's looking like these
days.  Otoha protests that he's in a far distant world, but Touma reminds her
that time and space mean nothing.  Heck, Paradise fell apart fully 100.002
million years ago already, and who's counting that?  If anything peeves Touma,
it's that the battle for Paradise turned Atlandia into one big prison.  He'd
really love to get his world back, and he definitely wouldn't mind help from
the Wings of the Sun, the man with whom he once exchanged love.  Am I dubious?
Otoha looks dubious.  I think I'm dubious too.  Stay tuned.

9. The Day the World Ended

The Aquarion people grapple with being stuck in an alternate world, with no
immediate prospect for returning home.  The lunar forces certainly hadn't heard
of these Warps before, and even Gyaban was unaware of them.  That does answer
for Gyaban how the Iron Gear's motley forces were assembled so quickly, and he
just wishes you'd ended up in his back yard instead of Ingressa's.  Let's not
forget, though, that the people who Jumped here would really like to get back
to their respective real lives ASAP.  Soshie, as expected, is peeved Rolan
didn't tell her any of this, but is willing to relent at Kiel's say-so.

Ideally, someone with a little more tact than Rand would have been the one to
explain all this to the Aquarion folks -- Sirius is far more irritated than
he's willing to admit.  Sylvia is actually taking it fairly well until Apollo
needles her.  To get things back on track, Gain suggests a round of
introductions.  Okay... meet Sirius Alicia, Element assigned to the Earth
Restoration Organization "Diva".  An "Element" is one with special qualities
that led them to be selected as an Aquarion pilot, and in Sirius' case, he's
also the prince of the Alicia kingdom.  Or rather, he _would_ be if said
kingdom were still in one piece.

Sylvia Do Alicia is Sirius' little sister in this life, though twelve thousand
years ago (who's counting?) she was actually his lover.  THAT is going to take
some explaining.  Back then, in a place called Atlandia, a never-ending war
raged between the humans and the Fallen Angels, much like the one you saw
yesterday.  At the climax of the war, the Fallen Angels' greatest hero,
Apollonius aka "The Wings of the Sun", sided with the humans and managed to
seal Atlandia away in another dimension.  This betrayal was supposedly
occasioned by Apollonius falling in love with the human Celian, with whom he
piloted the mechanical Angel Aquarion in battle.

Like the White Doll, the Aquarion slumbered in ancient ruins for all the
intervening centuries, recently unearthed.  As for Celian, it turns out that
Sylvia has inherited her memories as part of her "past life".  As the Alicia
royalty are Celian's direct descendants, it seems Sylvia is Celian reincarnate.
Sylvia hopes that her brother is Apollonius' reincarnation, but Sirius has no
memory of his past lives.  As such, Apollonius could well be someone else.

Finding whoever it is is what brought Pierre Viera to the ruined city.  He's a
soccer player, ladies' man, and pretty dangerous in combat, and Soshie warns
her sister to watch out for him.  Reika and Glen are both asleep, and Medic
explains that Glen is in pretty bad shape.  While Medic has emergency
facilities here, he'll need a full-fledged hospital if the man is to be saved
permanently.  Knox City probably has some of what he needs, but Sirius wants to
stay in the city in case it gets Jumped again.

On the third hand, staying here might leave them open to more attacks from
those skeletal monsters, "Cherubim soldiers" in the service of the Fallen
Angels.  After the Upheaval eleven years ago, the Fallen Angels awakened and
began forays into the world of men.  Aquarion and the Elements are Diva's means
of fighting back, fueled by the Elements' reawakened special abilities.
Besides Pierre's pyrokinesis, those abilities include Sylvia's telekinesis and
Sirius' swordsmanship.  Apollo for one isn't impressed, blaming Baron's
abduction on these incompetent fools running around playing giant robot.
Sirius won't deny that, but also won't suffer anyone to insult the way Reika
and Glen risked their lives in battle.  Apollo is more than happy to fight over
it, and if there's one thing Sirius is sure of, it's that Apollo is neither the
reincarnation of Apollonius, nor any comrade of his.

The two are about to head outside for some throwdown when the sound of
Hypnosong rings through the air.  A lesser squad would flee for safer ground,
but Kiel fears even wider-spread damage if you don't do your Militia-ly duty
and stop it here.  Her commanding presence really reminds Harry of his queen
for SOME UNKNOWN REASON.  As most of the crew race to their mecha, Rand is
unusually still.  Could it be that the team is about to run headlong into some
really serious shit?  He's not worried about the stupid flying monster, but
about the Warps: after four years of seeking clues about his boss with no luck,
this last month has seen a whole rash of Warps.  The fact that they're only
building in size suggests that they're a buildup to something, and about the
best Rand can assure Mail is that he'll keep her safe through it.

Reika would really love to help her comrades fight back, but her sensitive
psyche has been badly traumatized in the previous battle.  Pierre is supposed
to take her place in the Vector Sol so they can sortie, but Apollo walks over
and elbows him aside.  There's something different about his eyes and voice,
and REALLY different about how he tells Celian he's coming for her.  

As they wait for Pierre to launch, Sylvia asks her brother what it was like the
first time he Combined.  It was like... the coming of the New World, like
greeting the dawn with his beloved at his side, surrounded by ten thousand
white roses.  It was a fragrant light, as though from some other-worldly
paradise.  Like, _hello_, embarrassing and stuff!  Sirius certainly experienced
that while Combining with Gren and Reika (Reika?!?), and tells his sister that
that's the ultimate light that the Alicia family has always sought.  Perhaps
its the light of Creation that will lead the world to a state of total peace?

If so, it's a far cry from what he experienced the _second_ time, a sensation
of total, violent abandon.  He's man enough to admit it terrified him, and he
is quite certain that that's not how Combination is supposed to be.  Brother
and sister alike are both still deluded that Apollo can't be the Wings of the
Sun, though Sirius at least has the respect to tell Sylvia not to speak of the
Wings so lightly.

Apollo finally makes it aloft, telling the two to quit sightseeing and start
fighting.  Your opponents are more of what you got yesterday, plus some new
critters Sirius calls Mythbeasts.  Rand wants to know how the Fallen Angels are
sending all these goons into his world, but Apollo doesn't really care.  His
only interest is kicking their ass and forcing out of them Baron's whereabouts.
He actually doesn't even remember how he got into the cockpit, but detailed
questioning gets silenced when Tifa murmurs that these are beasts of Darkness.
Somehow, that phrase popped into her head when looking at him.

With no other choice, Sirius orders Apollo into a formation where he won't be
the Head.  Combining into Aquarion Mars goes pretty smoothly, all things
considered, and Apollo looks forward to seeing just how much the "shitty
prince" can hack it.  "Kiel" is still bugged by this mechanical angel, a
distant memory nagging at her.  Fudou, watching from the sidelines, is also
quite curious how well Aquarion can do.

  A new enemy shows up on turn two, and Apollo thinks he can take it down in
  one punch.  Wrong.  If it's any consolation, Apollo isn't the only one whose
  targeting is off: even the ace gunnery of Gain fails to score a hit.  Otoha,
  watching from somewhere or other, praises her lord for drawing on the unseen
  power of the Moon.  What will the Wings of the Sun do now?  Apparently keep
  trying until a blow lands, in what could scarcely be called a strategy but
  which might work anyway.  Fudou has to admire the "you never know till you
  try" spirit, so close to the truth.  But it'll take more than that to win...

  As the fighting commences, it seems there's something almost too smooth about
  King Gainer's movements.  But what?  Meanwhile, Apollo seems to flicker in
  and out of memories of his past life.  Is he Apollonius after all?

  Take out one of the lackeys and Sylvia will note that they're still not any
  closer to dispatching the leader.  Apollo shouts back that if she gives up
  now, it's _guaranteed_ she'll never hit.  THAT'S RIGHT, shouts Gen, suddenly
  revealing himself on a nearby rooftop.  Sirius tries to tell him to evacuate,
  but Gen sneers that no immature pup incapable of dealing with his own foe has
  any business ordering others around.  He says that Apollo has the right idea:
  distance and timing are but illusions that sow doubt in the human heart.
  Defeat the doubt, or else!  Apollo realizes he doesn't have time to doubt
  given how busy he is trying to find Baron, and gets closer to hitting his
  target.  What's missing is part of the Moon, one of the souls embroiled in
  this fight.  No one who can't break their own shell is fit for combat, and by
  that he means Sirius.

  Sirius suddenly realizes that the previous mess was his fault for doubting.
  Though every individual is an incomplete moon, fitting them together as a
  team will make the disc complete, a full moon!  That's Apollo's lesson, and
  Pierre helps drive it home.  He was actually a soccer star until one of his
  teammates was kidnapped by the bad guys.  The only choice now is to get
  stronger and fight, or perish.

  Sylvia and Sirius unite their power in Apollo, not to smite the Cherubim
  Soldier, but the moon itself that lies far across the misty skies.  Staking
  his life on this one punch, Apollo attacks the retreating figure with...  one
  LONG ASS PUNCH.  Apparently getting pummeled into another heavenly body isn't
  enough to dispatch these things.  Another hit should do it.

  Unfortunately, the bad guys have reserves in store, and ones with incredible
  Mythpower too.  It's enough to make Sirius wonder if he's facing a Fallen
  Angel in the flesh, and if the reactions of the White Doll and King Gainer
  are to be believed, he's all too right.

  Touma is downright consternated that his old buddy Wings has gotten so weak.
  Apollo recognizes the guy, and confronts him head on.  _Something_ starts
  occurring between the two mechanical giants, and Apollo's poor copilots begin
  to get that old familiar feeling like their souls are being sucked into
  eternal darkness.  Yikes.  Touma wants more of Wings' light, that Light of
  Lights that destroyed the world with its betrayal.  He also wants Wings to
  experience the new cycle of destruction and creation afoot in a certain far
  distant world.

  ...In said world, Kei is about to detonate a Time-Space Concussion munition
  and destroy the orbital elevator, rather than let the Atlantic Union have it.
  He's going to have to step on it if he doesn't want to get caught in the
  blast himself.  He wants to know why his enemies are screwing around like
  this when Junius Seven is in the process of falling from the heavens.  This
  proves to be one question too long as he and a number of other people get
  caught in the blast.

  Whatever is going on, Rand somehow got to hear and see it too.  Touma wants
  Apollo's help to destroy the walls separating the worlds from each other, and
  it would appear that he got his wish, since the helpful narrating text claims
  that the world was destroyed on the spot.  Well, that's a wrap then.
  Except...


10. Break the World

A new world begins!  And there was much rejoicing.

Somewhere aboard the Glomar, Slay is macking on Mimsy.  There's actually a good
reason for this: sometime within the year, she's due to lose her functionality
as a woman (eek!).  Mimsy is rather overwhelmed by it all, and can't say why
the prospect of "quality time" with Slay isn't appealing.  Typical, Slay says,
and reminds her that however the world may have changed, both of them are still
Emarnians.

On the bridge, Jabby notifies Shaia that another Transfer is coming.  This
would be symptomatic of how unstable the world's gotten, except that this is no
mere Teleportation.  It's a Singularity.

And it's fortunate that Kei is special as a pilot, since any lesser man than he
would have totally gone down in flames just now.  Not that he's immodest or
anything.  The scenery of the South American orbital elevator and onrushing
Atlantic Union troops has abruptly given way to somewhere totally unfamiliar.
All his guidance systems are toast, and all information about Junius Seven has
dried up.  Should that sucker actually come crashing down, Earth itself might
be destroyed.

Shaia and the crew come over to investigate, spotting Kei's super obsolete
Gerwalk-type mech.  The Tilam abandoned those things long ago, and Gove wonders
if it might be worth something on the antique market.  Sadly that won't fly, it
being a Singularity and all, and Shaia frets over what to do in this unforeseen
circumstance.  Mimsy recommends contacting the pilot, and Kei is infatuated
with the vice-commander on the spot.  She gives her name and affiliation with
Emarn, a country Kei's never heard of.  Mimsy will be happy to fill him in
leisurely-like, hastily adding that she's not trying to take him prisoner or
anything.  Kei might actually like that, which aggravates Slay no end.

Kei agrees to come aboard so long as nobody pulls any funny business, but it's
at that moment that the Device forces of Chiram roll up.  The last thing they
want is for this Singularity to fall into the hands of the Emarn, and the
Chiram commander tries diplomacy first.  Rick isn't surprised the Chiram are
holding their fire, since the two sides aren't officially at war.

The Chiram demand that the Emarn hand over the Singularity they're trying to
snag, but Mimsy points out that such a transaction will have "consequences".
After all, unlike the military state of Chiram, Emarn is a nation of commerce:
they need to get *paid* for handing stuff over.  Especially important stuff,
like a Singularity.  The Chiram are more than happy to pay with bullets, but
there's still the small problem of actually getting Kei to cooperate.

Seems Kei doesn't like bullies much.  He also notes that where the Emarn tried
to offer him shelter, the Chiram just want to kidnap him -- the choice is
obvious.  One good turn deserves another, and the Emarn scramble to defend
their new ally.  The Chiram commander tells his men to kill everyone except the
Singularity himself, but evidence suggests they've badly underestimated the
brash flyboy.

  Kei can walk the talk with a vengeance, especially impressive given his
  outmoded equipment.  However, the battle is just getting started, as a new
  group of adversaries no one has seen before close in.  A second group, the
  "Phantom Pain" squadron of the New Earth Federation army, show up to assist
  the Emarn ship in the name of order on Earth.  Neo has no idea where the
  crow-like enemies have come from, but he suspects they're from one of the
  newly-manifested worlds.  The crows mean to attack, so it's pretty obvious
  the Feds and the Emarn have to fight back.  Owl doesn't much like battling
  unfamiliar foes for an unfamiliar cause, but as Sting points out, at least
  he's not slaving away for the Titans any more.  Neo adds that a victory here
  would go a long way to shutting up a certain other "elite" group of rival
  soldiers, and if he'll fight, so will Stella.

When the last of the crows is shot down, Neo deliberately does not try to
investigate the wreckage.  His orders are only to shoot them down, and tells
his dubious subordinates that nothing will get done if they second-guess every
order they receive.  He brushes off Shaia's thanks with a "just doing my job,
ma'am" and withdraws his troops, mentioning nothing of the Singularity.  If
Rick had to guess, he suspects the Feds are so busy trying to cope with their
suddenly multi-dimensional world that they haven't had the time to research
spacetime control.  As Kei prepares to set down and hear Mimsy's explanation,
he wonders where his friend Orson is, and begins to suspect that he's really
put his foot in it this time.

At New Earth Federation HQ, Eidel thanks Road Jibril for the loan of some of
his men.  He's only too happy to help return order to the Earth swiftly, and if
anything wants her to move faster to unseat Jamitov Heiman.  He can assure her
the support of the old Earth's military forces, and notes that if order is to
be truly restored, she'll have to solve the Coordinator problem, permanently,
sooner or later.  Road leaves to attend a meeting, and Eidel has to ask herself
if she really wants assistance from someone this thoroughly bigoted.  On the
other hand, Road is on the executive council that controls the New Earth
Federation -- the only hope for law and order on Earth.

Kei has a lot to come to grips with, not the least of which is the very _odd_
looking gentleman named Jabby.  Even some of the seemingly normal women have...
tendrils coming out of their backs, proof that they're Emarn.  Shaia starts
from the beginning, an incident five months ago that people now call "Break the
World".  By "breaking" the world, she means that the walls separating the
various worlds from each other all collapsed at once.  This resulted in the
mashing up of this Earth with other times and places, giving birth to a new,
multi-dimensional Earth.


  The massive Time-Space Concussion, created in one world at one point in time,
  demolished the dimensional walls between worlds and times and gave rise to a
  new, commingled world.

  Yet mankind did not perish.

  Rather, it attempted to build a new order in the "Multi-dimensional World"
  created by the dimensional collapse known as the "Break the World" event.

  The Earth Federation, Earth Union, Central Government, and Toushuu Federation
  merged their peoples and organizations into a unified nation called the "New
  Earth Federation", in whose name all of mankind was to be governed.
  Declaring itself as the world's policeman, the New Earth Federation took an
  active role in local conflicts worldwide, and assimilated one small nation
  after another into its ranks.  Though this provoked resistance from Chiram,
  one of the nations that predated the Multi-Dimensional World, both eventually
  recognized each other as allies and opted to coexist as neighbors.  As a
  result, the New Earth Federation and Chiram's sphere of influence radiated
  from the American continent to include fully 70% of the Earth, and 75% of its
  population.

  The other regions developed independent cultures quite distinct from the
  Earth Federation.  The largest of these, integrated into the
  Multi-Dimensional World at the same time as Chiram, is Emarn.  Situated in
  the Southeastern portion of the Galian continent, Emarn is a critical
  junction for efficient commerce in both goods and information.  As a result,
  Emarn has dispatched Caravans of its citizens to barter in those goods
  throughout the world.

  Through the actions of the Emarn, and the "Information Centralization and
  Distribution" System (aka "UN") centered in the New Earth Federation, mankind
  has slowly begun to understand the Multi-Dimensional World, accept and adapt
  to it, and reestablish the basic pillars of daily life.

  However, the world is still too mysterious and unstable for mankind.

  In the atmosphere exist dimensional barriers called "Rivalry Zones", which
  restrict commerce between the Earth and space to the Galian continent and
  certain special regions of the Pacific Ocean.  There the barriers are
  weakest.  Moreover, small-scale Time-Space Concussions continue to occur to
  this day, and nobody caught in one has ever returned.

  Irreparable anxiety has driven mankind in pursuit of transitory pleasures,
  and the whole of the Multi-Dimensional World is anything but stable.

  Some continue to follow the wave of Trapars around the world.  Others have
  joined the Emarn caravans in search of fame and fortune.  Yet others have
  sharpened their claws for a bid to win the lordship of the entire unsettled
  realm.

  It is the inaugural year of the Multi-Dimensional World Calendar, MC 00.
  Half a year removed from the Break the World incident, something unseen by
  the masses is slowly, but surely, stretching forth its hand into this new
  world.


11. Paradigm Shift

Rand is reliving one of his worst moments ever, where Cielo forced him to get
off the Gunleon.  Things are in one hell of a mess, and Cielo shouts that he'll
fix everything, adding that Rand better get ready to totally restart his
training from scratch when they get home.  Whatever the fix is, even Cielo
doesn't seem to expect that return to be anytime soon, and leaves Rand the
Gunleon with strict instructions to keep his hands off Mail.  After all, she's
gonna grow into one fine woman...

Rand sits bolt upright in bed, screaming at the top of his lungs.  Two
impeccably dressed folks have been keeping watch, and a butler named Norman
informs Rand that he's in Paradigm City.  Rand initially mishears him as
"paradise", but Norman repeats himself and says this is neither heaven nor
hell.  Round Minus One, don't fight.

Rand's been unconscious for days, ever since Norman's master found him lying in
the rain and brought him here.  It's clear something terrible has happened when
Rand tries to give his usual hot-blooded introduction and falters after his
proper name.  Apart from that, he has no idea who he is or what he's doing
here.  Bashing his head against the table a few times doesn't fix the problem,
and Normal says that that's more likely to break something.  That brought a
flicker of recognition, but little more.

If there's anything good to be said for being a total amnesiac, it's that Rand
isn't alone: Paradigm City is in fact the land of the memorily challenged.
He's still in physically good shape, able to quickly work himself back to a
morning regimen of 300 pushups.  As such, he reckons he can make a living for
himself out in the city with what few memories he has left, which is precisely
what led Norman to his current job.

He can tell Rand that nobody seems to know when Paradigm City was founded or
first inhabited.  However, most believe it was some time in the forty years
after the mysterious event that destroyed the world.  Although Normal was
presumably alive before that, he and everyone else in town have no memories
past that forty year point.  No one has tried to leave either: those born in
the city tend to stay in the city.  Not all that convincing....

Rand is also interested in where Dorothy's been going these past few days.  It
seems the master of the house, Roger, is absent, and although that's nothing
entirely new, this absence is longer than most.  His job as a Negotiator brings
him in contact with all sorts of folks, and he's very good at what he does.
But this time, he's been called in by the first victim in a string of killings.
Maybe Rand can help?

It's possible, so he tags along with Dorothy as a "bodyguard".  Rand finds
Paradigm City pretty dreary: the kind of place where anything can happen.
Dorothy seems skeptical, but Rand seems to remember that he's pretty good at
breaking stuff.  She doesn't seem to mind when he calls her "Boss", but does
mind when he jokes she should call him her "Darling".  He then asks about the
enormous dome that dominates the skyline, which belongs to the city's rulers,
the Paradigm Corporation.  Rand really really hopes there are thugs lurking in
the shadows for him to beat up, which makes him "the worst" in Dorothy's book,
although in a different way than her master.

Dorothy doesn't have many details about Roger's case, other than that there's
someone in town who's killed several townsfolk already.  The first victim
actually contacted Roger by phone before their death, and it's possible Roger
is out for revenge.  Or not, says Dorothy, who professes not to understand how
her master's mind works.  The only reason she's acting as a trusted maid for
him is to pay off a Negotiation Roger did for her.  That sounds like the work
of a pretty nice guy, but Dorothy is adamant that Roger is one rotten dude,
especially when it comes to fashion sense.

The circles under Dorothy's eyes make Rand wonder if she's getting enough
sleep, but Dorothy is more than alert enough to keep Rand out of harm's way.
Harm has a name in this case: Davu and T-Bone, two thugs interested in using
Dorothy as bait to lure out her boss.  Note that no girl capable of uprooting a
lamppost bare-handed is likely to make a good hostage.  Can't say the thugs'
boss didn't warn them.

As they do the smart thing and flee, Dorothy tells Rand that she's an android.
Intimidating enough that an ally, also lurking in the shadows, didn't need to
intervene.  The beauty introduces herself cryptically as Angel and says that
she too is looking for Roger.  Their last meeting was three days ago, and she's
got a message for Dorothy to pass along: don't stick your nose where it doesn't
belong.  Dorothy passes along a message from Norman in return: what does she
want for dinner tonight?  Good question, and likely moot unless she somehow
manages to see Norman again.

Dorothy's next contact, Big Ear, hasn't seen Roger in a week.  Dorothy isn't
going to press, but Rand certainly will.  Big Ear ponders a moment, then gives
a name: Michael Zerbach.  This recalls to mind a case from Paradigm Corporation
from a month ago, when Roger was pursuing an unpublished article by a reporter
by that name.  Michael appeared before Roger as a grotesque mummy, and vanished
with his article into a sea of flames.  Big Ear isn't positive this has to do
with the rash of murders, but he wonders if it didn't open a dangerous door
within Roger.

Dorothy doesn't seem to know what to make of this trail of clues.  Perhaps Dan
Daston of the military police, one of Roger's old friends, can help?  Not
unless an official missing-persons report is filed: his office has its hands
full chasing escaped prisoners.  However, he's heard reports of a man answering
to Roger's description towards the agricultural region of Islesberry.  He
doesn't have much info about the serial killings, other than that the culprit
is described as a woman...

Dorothy and Rand trek out to see Gordon Rosewater, who informs them they're
slightly too late.  Roger has already returned to the city, but his coming and
going was fated, just as his guests' visit is.  He claims that Roger came to
hear the continuation of a novel Gordon's been working on.  Maybe Roger was
interested in this illusion called "the truth", about Paradigm City and indeed
about the world at large.  Rand is wondering by this point if the old man needs
his afternoon nap, but Gordon sniffs that a wild tomato like Rand can't be
expected to understand.  All a tomato knows is that it's together with others
in a basket: that becomes its truth.

Roger may be a tomato too, but at least he stopped to think about who picked
him off the vine-- just like the serial killer's victims.  Gordon will tell
Rand what he told Roger: don't get picked at the wrong time.  He thinks Rand
must surely be able to find his answer, and retires just as Angel comes walking
over.  She's come as an emissary of Paradigm Corporation's president, with
orders to lead them to corporate HQ.

The president is none other than Alex Rosewater, Gordon's son.  Even he, the de
facto mayor, doesn't know where Roger is.  He wouldn't be surprised, though, if
Roger simply disappeared for knowing too much.  His interest in Rand and
Dorothy has nothing to do with Roger, and everything to do with their memories.
Rand has no memories worth handing over, and doesn't seem too willing to pitch
in even if he had.  Alex asks them to promise to give their memories to him if
they do recover them, threatening them with vague menace if they refuse.  On
the theory that you can't pour out non-existent oil, Rand opts to simply depart
and not get further involved with the square-jawed businessman than necessary.
As Alex dispatches Angel to send Rand and Dorothy home, he cautions that from
what he's heard, the serial killer waits until someone recovers their
forty-year old memories before killing them.

Why would some rich dude want Rand's memories?  Who knows.  After a moment,
Dorothy asks if Rand's getting tired, and after a joke of his falls flat he
does admit that today's been a pretty busy day.  The parade of characters and
clue's he's seen is like some kind of play, and Dorothy says that the long-
awaited climax, where Roger turns up, is surely right around the corner.  As
Dorothy summons a taxi, Rand vaguely recalls traveling together with someone
like this once before -- someone he had to protect at all costs.

Just then, "Dorothy" returns in a red coat that TOTALLY clashes with her skin.
The figure's voice is also quite different from Dorothy's as it names itself
R.D. and informs Rand that he's fated to die.  She means to kill him before his
memories return completely, which would be a great shame as far as Roger is
concerned.

The man with the impeccable suit and improbable hairdo arrives in the nick of
time.  He knows that the killer has been going after memories, and thinks it's
rather unfair that the victims died without even knowing the reason.  It would
take a special android indeed to be capable of harming humans, and it seems
R.D. was ordered to do so by her master.  It's also an interesting question why
R.D. resembles Dorothy so closely.  All R.D. herself knows is that she heard
the order to kill at the moment she came into being, and to her killing is as
natural as extending an umbrella to another person in the rain.  Come to find
out it's "R.D." for "Red Destiny".

That she's some kind of agent of "destiny" made Roger mad, and R.D. asks him on
whose orders he pilots his Megadeus.  Such vehicles are the seat of God, and
all who pilot them must do so on someone's orders.  And if Roger can't say the
same, he's got to die too!  Roger isn't the sort to go around armed, so he and
Rand make a run for it, heading for a rendezvous point with Dorothy.  Before
they can make it, a hideously colored giant robot bursts out of a nearby
building.

At the controls is Jason Beck, a man whose twisted personality Roger knows only
by reputation.  Not worthy to be called an actual professional criminal, this
guy is essentially a street punk who's out of jail and out for revenge.  He
even blasts R.D. for obstructing said revenge, and the rest of the nearby city
for good measure.  This is Davu and T-Bone's boss, who's suitably grateful that
they sprung him from the slammer.  His plans to extract vengeance on the crow
who put him there get substantially derailed when Roger summons his Megadeus,
the Big O.  How will it measure up to the Beck Victory Deluxe?  Swimmingly no
doubt, although Roger isn't planning to kill the man who accidentally saved his
life.

  Beck gets a hard lesson in how a real pro operates, and extra punishment
  besides for dissing Roger's fashion sense.  Roger's a bit unhappy with
  himself though, Negotiator that he is resorting to violence.  A certain
  bandaged figure agrees and then some: Roger doesn't deserve to exist!

  Looks like Michael Zerbach is back, still digging for the truth he couldn't
  touch as a mere reporter in this town.  The fact is that no one in the city
  is even trying to remember what he needs to know, as he noted in that final
  article.  But now he's found out, which occasions his return.  He declares
  that Roger, lapdog of the decaying metropolis, will be the first recipient of
  that truth.  Roger sneers that for a reporter Schwartz's humor is sorely
  lacking, but he's got real problems to deal with.  Beneath the city is a vast
  labyrinth filled with Megadeus archetypes.

  Just like a mummy to go digging up a graveyard.  Rand is worried that even
  the suave Roger is too badly outmatched, so Dorothy recommends Rand get in
  his "Megadeus" and fight too.  The mech was originally found by his side, so
  she assumes he knows how to pilot it.  The sight gives Rand severe pain
  throughout his body, pain that Schwarz is sure Rand will try to run from just
  like all the other fools.  Schwarz is sure he's the only one who can overcome
  that pain, or so he thinks.  Little does he know that Rand gets more pain
  from his Boss flicking him with his little finger than anything Schwarz could
  inflict.

  Rand is *back* in the saddle, reintroducing himself hastily as The Heat.
  Schwarz is impressed, but figures the world is only big enough for one Big.
  His, of course.  Roger never liked reporters who try to make themselves
  larger than their readership, but Schwarz seems quite determined to end his
  and Rand's life before they learn the truth.

Roger of course has other ideas.  While he praises Schwarz's curiosity, he
won't stand for the guy wrecking the town.  Schwarz warns him that this isn't
the end, but just the beginning of the truth.  He detonates his bandages to
reveal a RED Big-O underneath, loving the sight of Roger's surprised face.
Rather than continue their duel, Schwarz means to show all the people of this
town the truth that was buried forty years ago under the false roof they call a
Dome.  That's what his Big Duo is for.

The truth is out there.  Out beyond the city walls, or at least so Rand thinks.
Norman has given Dorothy a message for Rand: "Apologies for the late repairs to
your Megadeus."  Who'd imagine that the Repairman at Large would need someone
else to repair his mech?  He tells her to tell him back that he did a great
job, adding that he had a lot of fun hanging out with her, even if she isn't
his type.  He's remembered his "fiancee", and needs to figure out where she's
gone.  No doubt he and Roger will see each other again, trading repairs for
Negotiation.

Roger's glad that at least one person appreciates his fashion sense, and more
glad that this current case has been solved.  Dorothy thinks it's too bad all
Roger's hard work over the last few weeks has gone to waste, but Roger figures
that if you want to break an omelet, a few broken eggs go with the territory.
Luckily, Rand was around to provide the final piece to the puzzle.  When Norman
calls about dinner, Roger tells him that the three of them are going to be
going on a bit of a trip tomorrow.  He means to leave the city, or as he puts
it, "widen the scope of his operations" a bit.  No menacing words of Schwarz
will deter him now.  He makes sure that all the clothes Dorothy brings are
black: that's one rule anyone who wants to live with him has to follow.

In his office, Alex reckons Roger means to break one of Paradigm City's rules,
and is therefore unfit as a Dominus.  Angel finds herself wondering what Roger
will seek outside the city.  Roger muses to himself that it's okay if some
people walking in the rain won't extend their umbrella to others.  That's part
of what it means to be free.


12. Blue Sky Fish

A minor disagreement has broken out aboard the Gekko, currently sailing
somewhere in the Galian continent.  Holland has decided he doesn't want to go
to Belforest, probably on account of the mess that this world's become.  He's
always been a pretty selfish guy, but this time he's dragged a whole ship full
of comrades with him: changing his mind now would accomplish nothing more than
further extending the red ink in the budget.  Faced with the ire of the whole
bridge crew, Holland grudgingly relents and mutters that "that" damn thing
should have just disappeared if the world was gonna get screwed up this badly.

At their destination, a boy named Renton is contemplating his fourteenth
birthday very seriously.  Fourteen years since birth, and every single day part
of a never-ending string of *nada*, zilch, bupkus et cetera.  Not only has
nothing happened, nothing has even tried to happen.  Boredomization for that
ass.  You get the picture.

In fact, even with the world thrown into total chaos half a year ago, Renton's
little corner of it has been left alone, or as he likes to think of it, left
behind.  He knows he'll be eating weaksauce all three meals of every day he
remains here, and so did his elder sister Dianne, which might explain why she
got the flunk out of Dodge.

Renton seems resigned to just flunk, but when he returns to his grandpa's
garage, something entirely unexpected awaits: Rand, looking for all the world
like some species of marauding barbarian.  When Rand makes his usual
introduction, it's all "Oh sister, my life, it is so stifling, I fear that I
can no longer breathe".  Grandpa Axel directs Renton to escort Rand, who's
running low on parts for his mech, to the local UN terminal.  Seeing that this
outlander Rand is a nice guy, Renton begins to hope that maybe his monochrome
life is about to change for the better.

Rand is sure to thank Renton for taking time out of Lif'ing to help him use the
UN terminal.  Renton is all too happy to extol the virtues of the UN, though he
laments that his backwater town only has one central terminal center.  Rand
observes that "backwaters" can be relative, since the world he's from had
scarcely any habitations at all dotting the vast badlands.  Oh, the wildness,
the instinctiveness, the MANLINESS that Rand possesses!  Renton is in ecstasy
or something.

Rand's heard that this whole area, relatively unaffected by the Break the World
fiasco, was Jumped here from a world called Promised Land.  He tells Renton
that there's a place in North America also known by that name.  The difference
is that Renton's Promised Land used to be on a whole different planet,
colonized by the Earth long ago.  Renton remembers everyone having considerable
trouble when the "Scabs" acted up and destroyed buildings there.  The Scab
Coral was the ground upon which Promised Land stood, and only a small amount of
it remains.

Renton might crave excitement, but Rand can tell him stories of all the tragedy
and loss most of the other residents of the various worlds have experienced.
Even tragic stories from the Repairman at Large would gladden Renton's ears,
and Rand is happy to oblige as payment for being shown how to work the UN
terminal.  He's got stories of Siberian refugees, seeking their freedom.  And
Fallen Angels harvesting souls in the ruins of a burnt-out city.  And lots
more, but first he's got to track down the parts he needs.  At least the city
hasn't been caught up in the battles between Earth and Space going on to the
West.

That would be "thanks" to the Rivalry Zones, which confine all commerce between
the surface and the stars to a precious few areas.  The area to the West
happens to be one of them, where the thinness of the Rivalry Zone has allowed
the Zaft to build a forward base.  Renton says he hates the Zaft, or rather the
Coordinators who comprise it, based on Federation supposition from the UN that
an attempted Zaft asteroid bombardment of the Earth released the Break the
World energy.  And of course, anything on Teh Intarwebz must be true.

Since the Rivalry Zone is thin here, Rand wonders if the Trapars are plentiful
in this area too.  That seems to be how it always works, though to Renton's
sorrow, his city can't seem to muster decent Lifsport to exploit their good
fortune.  Renton's greatest heroes are a group of Lif'ers led by the
charismatic Holland, the Gekkostate.  All they do is travel around the world in
search of the perfect Lif waves: the very image of freedom.  Of course Rand
knows who these guys are, but he hadn't realized they were quite this famous.
Just their single meeting makes Rand a hero in Renton's eyes.

Maybe the army hates Gekkostate, but their indie magazine Ray Out is
indispensable reading to disaffected suburban kids like Renton.  In fact,
Renton's highest ambition in life (so he says) is perfecting the Cutback Drop
Turn, the most difficult of all Lif'ing moves and one which Holland supposedly
could do at age fourteen.  That'll be his ticket into membership in the
Gekkostate when they happen to visit one day!

Just then a message comes in on the Compac Drive, the standard man-machine
interface used in Promised Land.  The message is "Eureka", a code Renton sees a
lot.  Maybe it's from the military, maybe from Gekkostate, maybe from some
bored trucker, but when you're 14 you can afford to think big.  Rand is
thinking "missing persons", and in the interest of time spares Renton the full
details of his relationship with his fiancee Mail.  All the more romantic for
Renton, who is genuinely beginning to see in Rand the Savior of this one-horse
town.

When the UN proved of little use, Rand set about verbally asking around town.
Renton got sent home with a smile, somewhat bursting the bubble he had going.
At least he's got Rand's mech to gaze at, and maybe even help repair.  Heck, if
he does a good enough job, maybe he'll become a famous mechanic, and even leave
the city in pursuit of the Gekkostate-  But no, sadly his grandpa won't hear of
him living anywhere but this town.  Just look at how nothing changes here, even
with Renton's father dying a hero and his sister leaving in pursuit of her
dreams.  Apparently the *ordinariness* of this place has killed Axel's ability
to dream.  A plummeting LFO might kill the rest of him, and Renton besides, if
they don't flee in terror.

The mech, which Renton's never seen before, is a Nirvash Type Zero, the most
ancient type of LFO there is.  Its pilot is the slender Eureka, who's hoping to
get her ailing mech repaired.  It is of course a ruse to contact "the target",
and Matthew has to wonder why they're going to this much trouble.  Apparently
this has something to do with Holland not wanting to directly face the old man.
Matthew wants the full dirt, but Holland growls at him to keep watch on their
surroundings instead.  The military aren't the only rats sniffing around at
their trail...

Rand wants to help out with the repairs, seeing something special about this
particular machine.  Axel tries several different ways to give him the cold
shoulder, including announcing that Rand's mech -- seemingly better suited to
destruction than repair -- is done.  Axel is also smart enough to notice that
part of the mech's functions have been deliberately sealed.  He recommends Rand
get out of town sooner rather than later, for unless he misses his guess this
city's calm is about to be shattered.  Both of them know that Eureka is
connected to the Gekkostate.

Axel's final request is that Rand leave town quietly, so Renton doesn't know.
Rand mildly suggests that this might be about the right age for Renton to get
out and see the world, but Axel is adamant that he wants to give the kid the
quiet life that he couldn't give certain other relatives of his.

Renton meanwhile is puzzling over Eureka's Nirvash, wondering how she's able to
pilot it without a Compac Drive.  Eureka isn't interested, since the thing
never had one in the first place, but Renton wants to try installing one, just
as an experiment.  He quickly starts babbling about how he's enough of a pro to
know that all machines have a heart, and when this gets an "Of course they do"
from Eureka, his heart is all pitter-patter again.

Oddly enough, the Compac Drive doesn't appear to work, and Eureka tells him to
uninstall it again.  After all, she never needed such things before, and
doesn't want something she doesn't trust interfering.  Too much trust isn't
always a good thing: it can get you hurt, she says, showing emotion for the
first time.  That's Axel's cue to come in with a little "gift" for Eureka, or
rather for Holland.  It's the Amita Drive, for which Axel's household has been
destroyed.  He yells for her to take it and never show her face in front of him
or his again.  Renton has no clue what's come over his grandpa all of a sudden,
but it's already too late to find out.

The army is on the scene, and Jurgens' first move is to fire missiles in the
direction of the Type Zero.  Dominic can't approve such stuff as the ship's
intelligence officer, but Jurgens is adamant that the Gekkostate must go down
NOW, lest their antics further embolden the Titans.  He tells the younger man
to shut his mouth and remember what they taught him in the academy, that the
discretion of the battlefield commander takes precedence.  This lowlife does
succeed at one thing: pissing Rand off immensely.  The feds reach deep into
their database archives to find Rand listed as a criminal Exodizer.  Old
ideology to be sure, but now that the Central Government is part of the New
Earth Federation the way seems clear.  Eureka is a pretty independent sort, but
she's willing to join forces with Rand against the Man.

  As the Nirvash and Gunleon battle the army, Axel gives Renton the Amita Drive
  to give to Eureka.  Once attached, it'll open the path to Enlightenment and
  make her LFO's true power available... or at least that's what Renton's
  father said.  Grandpa may have been a pacifist before, but he now yells for
  Renton to use the gadget and kick ALL the bad guys' asses.

  As the Gekkostate reacquaints itself with The Heat, Renton runs onto the
  battlefield, not so much because of his grandpa's say-so, but in order to
  tell Eureka what he didn't manage to say before.  Unlike his grandpa, he
  believes in something his sister once told him: believe in something, and
  that belief will come true.

  Not only can he fly, but he pulls off the Cutback Drop Turn, and all thanks
  to his love for Eureka!  (said what?)  Not the words one expects in the
  middle of a dogfight, but there's no denying that his words bring a rare
  smile to Eureka's face.  Holland realizes that Renton must be Dianne's little
  brother, and orders his men to help Eureka out.  Both Eureka and Nirvash
  welcome Renton to the fold.

  The ongoing battle attracts a squad of Titans, whose commander Jerrid orders
  the army regulars to withdraw.  Jurgens won't pull out the Izumo squad for
  Jamitov's private army, but even he has to admit that his forces are wearing
  pretty thin.  Dominic also reminds his commander what their mission is: to
  _investigate_ the Nirvash, which they can do just as easily away from the
  front lines of battle.  Once the Izumo are gone, Jerrid prepares for a better
  fight than the Zaft were able to put up.

  Holland is preparing to do whatever it takes to let Eureka run, when yet
  another new group of ships arrives.  They immediately start protecting the
  Gekkostate, especially since they're fighting the Titans.  Lunamaria isn't
  quite clear on why a special military squad is supposed to protect a bunch of
  itinerant Lif'ers, but the order came directly from Director Durandal.  To
  the extent that Rand's unknown mech is fighting on the Gekkostate's side, he
  gets classified as a friendly too.  The battle, already heated, gets hotter
  still when Jerrid spots Camille, who he blames for Lilah's death.

  Camille senses his rival too, but Shin warns him not to let his premonitions
  imprison him.  Camille knows all about that, and tells Shin to be careful
  too.  Strange that Quatro did not feel said presence.  All Holland knows is
  that this has gotten really messy really fast, and he orders his people to
  bail as soon as the immediate battle is over.

  It turns out Camille wasn't just sensing Jerrid: a far more serious problem
  appears in the form of Scirocco and the variable-geometry Mobile Armor
  Messala.  Powerful enough to escape Jupiter's gravity, it has no problem
  acting in the Earth's atmosphere.  However, something about the Earth's
  gravity makes Scirocco feel like he's covered in sweat, and he's not happy
  one bit.  Not everyone recognizes his menacing Pressure yet, but they will.

  Jerrid is your run of the mill obsessed villain.  But Scirocco can sense that
  Camille not only feels his Pressure, he's trying to push back.  Almost a
  shame he has to die.  Quatro finds this foe equally formidable with Amuro,
  but far deeper and darker.

  Scirocco finds out that the team isn't entirely to be brushed aside, and the
  lesson will make him late for his meeting with Jamitov.  He still thinks he
  can waste Camille and friends any time he feels like it, letting him withdraw
  in good conscience.

  It so happens that Izumo's withdrawal was just a ruse, and this time the
  commander agrees to cripple, not kill, the Nirvash.  The Izumo forces have
  the AEUG and Gekkostate badly outnumbered, and things look grim until Renton
  remembers the Amita Drive.  As Holland wonders how the hell the kid got a
  hold of it, Renton hastily hooks the thing up, all the while bellowing about
  how he's gonna protect Eureka and whatnot.

  The Nirvash comes to a dead stop, and the military think they've won.
  Holland, knowing otherwise, screams at everyone to flee if they value their
  lives.  A massive buildup of Trapars begins, prelude to the Sevenswell!

Everything caught in the burst of light is rendered totally inoperative.  A
hard lesson, but one that proves to Dominic that his leader was right.  Axel is
more fatalistic: not only has his son's legacy just hosed his grandson, it's
also illuminated Axel's own death.  'Course, it is kind of pretty...

Actually, death isn't as fatal as it used to be.  Renton's unconscious but
otherwise fine.  The Nirvash however appears to have become a pillar of salt,
just as was the case with Holland's master, Renton's dad.  Since stuff like
this keeps happening every time Holland shows up, one can kind of understand
why Axel wants him gone post-haste.  However, if Holland came back after
promising never to again, there must be a good reason.  And Holland's going to
have to take responsibility now.

Axel repeats the old tired saw about just wanting to give Renton a normal,
peaceful life, but Holland knows full well that Renton himself Does Not Want.
The older man shouts that Renton will learn which side (his) is right in time,
but that doesn't explain why he gave the kid the Amita Drive and sent him onto
a frigging *battlefield* with it.  Axel's bluster only hides what he really
believes in, though he stoutly maintains that the only reason he got involved,
the only reason he even kept the Amita engine, is because it was his son's
fault it was made in the first place.  Only he or Renton have the right to use
it, says Axel, but under the circumstances he guesses he'll have to leave it in
Holland's care.

Holland will only push the guy so far, and leaves one more apology as he heads
for the door.  Renton then walks in with a lot of questions, like why his dad
built the thing in the first place, and why his grandfather hid it.  Holland
tells Renton that only he can decide what to do next, what to believe in next.
Whatever he chooses, it's his responsibility alone, or as every true Lif'er
knows, it's up to you whether you ride the wave.  Of course, Renton's already
showed himself capable of the pinnacle of Lif'ing, so the answer is probably
already clear.  As Holland's master once said, believe and it shall be granted
unto you.

Axel tries in vain to stop Holland from opening Renton's eyes to the truth, and
Eureka enters the conversation too.  She finds Renton very interesting, and
says that Nirvash likes him too.  It's been a long time since she met someone
like him, and doesn't want to leave him behind now.  There's a really good wave
coming...

The Gekkostaters were kind of expecting someone extraordinary to make Eureka
smile, but all of them are hyper-bummed by how... ordinary he is.  Since
Holland is sort of responsible for him "running away from home", he'll have to
take him on board as a member of the crew for now.  Rand is happier with his
feet on the ground, but he would like a lift to the middle of the Pacific.
That wouldn't be in Holland's nature, but he's in a good enough mood from
today's work that he'll make an exception, especially in light of all the help
Rand offered.  The question is, how quickly can Renton blend in with the
Gekkostate's unique cast of characters...

Aboard the Argama, Torres has confirmed that all the KLF's who didn't flee were
destroyed by whatever that LFO did.  Any mobile suits caught in the blast were
either neutralized or suffered internal explosions.  This phenomenon, known as
Sevenswell, is what happens when the polarity of a Trapar field is reversed.
At this rate, no one would be surprised if the Summer of Love were repeated,
least of all Durandal.

When the Summer struck Promised Land, where most tech was based on Trapars, the
result was widespread instances of machinery going out of control and lifelines
failing.  Naturally, societal order was severely strained shortly after,
bringing the world to the brink of total chaos.  It's pretty clear that the
Gekkostate must have had some good reason for visiting the town where Adrock's
family dwells.  That must be why the Zaft sent the AEUG here: just one more
shadowy sponsor of war whose help Bright and the others must borrow.  Bright is
happy to go along with it for now in the interest of eliminating those who seek
to warp the New Earth Federation, meaning the Titans and Blue Cosmos.  This
latter foe has grown in influence as an indirect result of the AEUG's exploits
in the past, and are well on their way to stirring up anti-Zaft sentiment
again.  Since the public can't be trusted to see through to the truth, the AEUG
will have to use force and at least sow confusion in the Blue Cosmos' and
Titans' ranks.  At least pursuing the Gekkostate provides good cover for that
real aim.

Quatro then summons Camille in, telling him that he's going to use both their
combat data in the construction of "that" machine.  Both of them will need to
prepare for solo combat if things get bad... say, if Durandal turns out to be a
genuinely bad guy.  As Quatro knows well, the smartest people are often
possessed of more than one side...

Meanwhile, Kuzemi, Kouda and Braya now have their proof that Adrock's theories
were right about the Sevenswell.  Braya approves rebuilding "that man"'s squad,
and Kouda tells Jamitov that if they keep spinning their wheels, the world is
headed for calamity.  To help head that off, they've called in Dewey Novak, the
supposed inheritor of Adrock's will.  Jamitov tells him to do whatever he deems
necessary, including mustering troops if need be.  Jamitov wants to take care
of the mess on Earth first before worrying too much about the Coordinators, but
he's brought in some help too, in the person of Scirocco.  The guy may not be a
regular Titan, but he's studly enough to have withstood the Sevenswell at close
range.  The Wise Men think they're helping bring peace to this confused land,
but Scirocco has his own nefarious plans.  And as for Holland, Dewey means to
show him that the King is back in town...


13. Rise, Warriors of Outer Space!

In the middle of the Pacific Ocean floats Trinity City, a center for research
into Trinity Energy.  Chief scientist Kazami reports to Marchino that progress
is slow, with only one prototype mech currently outfitted with a Charge System.
The sponsors are getting antsy, and Marchino himself wants to make sure that
he's not wasting his money.  He wants a demonstration, which ought to be
feasible so long as Kazami leaves fighting the spacemen to the Federation army.

Kazami's assistant Julie isn't impressed with people who only want Trinity
Energy to sell: this stuff is so cool that it could alter the course of human
history.  Assuming someone can learn to control it of course.  Kazami isn't one
to bite the hand that finances him, and Getsuei just wishes Blue Fixer was well
financed enough to chip in.  In fact, the international anti-alien forces have
helped out quite a bit already with the authority the New Earth Federation
granted them.  This is mostly thanks to Mr. Sandman, who hasn't been
contactable since he returned to his castle in Japan and "the incident"
occurred.  From what Queenstein's heard, he must be busy using his private
channels to see how things are going beyond the Earth's surface.  From the
ongoing attacks on the Earth, Heizaemon guesses that there must be a forward
base somewhere on Earth.  For the aliens to take on all the formidable forces
in space, plus the occasional Earth battalion, the aliens must be really
badass.

That doesn't even count the report from a certain boy who's recently returned
from Io.  His report mentions a terrible foe who could really screw things up
on Earth more if it tried.  All of this explains why the scientists have
assembled the crack team of Super Robots, to... well, crack open the heads of
any invaders.  It's a job that the regular army is ill-suited for, and even the
likes of Kabuto Kouji won't be able to hold the fort forever.  That's the
urgency that drives the scientists of Trinity City forward, and the reason why
Queenstein wants to power-up the Cataranger and Baltiprize.  Not just power-up,
she corrects, but something more: something that surpasses what today's
technology is capable of.

Rand's been dropped off on this remarkable city, and quickly runs into the man
from Io, Toshiya.  He was an industrial mech pilot in his former life, and is
naturally curious about Rand's rescue-bot.  Rand is thrilled that someone
appreciates the Gunleon, and manages to not totally alienate Toshiya with his
stifling intro.  Turns out that Toshiya is less a resident of this city and
more like one of its squad members, helping defend the place from the "aliens":
the Gaizock and Vegans, to name a few.  Whenever the aliens start a fight, his
Toshiya's crew's job to stop it.  One of his crew members is Kappei, a
pint-sized dynamo who like everyone else has noticed that Rand seems better
suited to breaking stuff than repairing it.

Kouji is also on the scene, reckoning that the Gunleon is less a service mech
and more of a bona fide Super Robot.  That's got a nice ring to it, but there's
a downside to getting Rand's blood up.  Poor little Ril is wilting, and has to
be protected by Tachibana Mizuki.  She's one of the Gran Knights pilots, as is
Luna: warriors chosen by Sandman to defend the Earth.  Their clothing is
clearly from the "lower armor class means better protected" school, and their
sponsor is a mysterious philanthropist interested in world peace.

Though poor Ril might not agree, Rand's already performed one service to the
Gran Knights' team: demonstrating to Touga that not all adults are all
intellectual and calm.  Eiji tells Rand not to sweat his clueless comrade's
revelation, as Rand takes inventory of this unusual set of warriors.  He only
counts five, but it turns out they've got a sixth member, Eina the maid ^^;;;
For further reinforcements, the team can turn to Kappei's dog Sendaikin... or
better yet, to Kappei's cousin Uchuuta and family from the King Beal team.  The
whole family isn't exactly fighting for the fun of it, and Uchuuta would rather
tell Rand their reason up front than get misunderstood later.  They're the
descendants of residents of the planet Beal, which got handily blown away by
one of Earth's current invaders, the Gaizock.  King Beal is a handy hand-me-
down from those first fugitive Bealians, intended specifically for this task.

Rand is almost shockingly okay with having teammates with alien blood in their
veins.  As he puts it, those who worry about small details become small people.
Wise words.  Unfortunately, all this witty banter has made Toshiya forget that
he's supposed to be helping run a Trinity test today.  Minako Marchino happily
introduces herself as Toshiya's lover (to be).  There's also Julie (who
strongly resembles a certain navigator Rand knows) and Kiryo Kensaki, or
Kiraken for short.  Kiraken and Toshiya were friends way back in the Io days,
which in the world they came from was well along at being colonized by the
Earth.  Their families were part of the first wave of colonists, but Toshiya
had returned to Earth on business prior to Break the World.  Kiraken hadn't
returned until a couple months ago, managing to force his way through the
Rivalry Zones with a very important message.

Space colonists everywhere lament: the Io colony has been wiped out by unknown
alien assault.  Maybe UFOs did it.  Maybe the same UFOs that are in the process
of assailing Trinity City right now.  "Assail" is too strong a word in this
case, since the ship that appears out of nowhere appears to be on automatic
pilot and requesting landing clearance.  A few fighters are sent out to escort
it in, with no indication whether the pilot is alive, and as they're towing the
apparently derelict ship back to base, a whole bevy of UFOs show up.

*They* are indeed the scourges of Io, and they're apparently in the mood for
seconds.  As the self-defense forces pour out, Eiji once again wonders why the
normally carefree Touga gets so serious the moment he boards the Gran Kaiser.
Mizuki reminds the troops to follow Touga's lead until orders to Fuse come in
from Sandman, and Kouji and Maria don't plan to be left behind.  Maria's got
her brother's legacy of loving the Earth to protect.

  Kappei seems like a normal happy kid, but once he gets into battle all that
  angst comes out.  It's not that he's lost his family to marauding aliens.
  It's not even that he's been called one of them thanks to his ancestor's
  blood.  It's that these unknown goons had the gall to start the cycle all
  over again.  Kouji just hopes that Duke Freed comes back to Earth soon to
  help battle these new invaders, and vows to protect Maria until then.

  Touga tells the team to start by attacking in Gran Kaiser mode, and they'll
  Fuse into God Gravion when need be later.  Eiji is impressed that Sandman can
  give those orders when the rest of Japan has been entirely sealed off, but
  the suddenly bossy Touga tells them to save it for later.

  Rand knew there were people living on the moon, but he hadn't expected there
  to be life much farther out in space.  Nice of them to drop by, but not so
  nice for them to barge in the front door uninvited.  This is the first chance
  he's had in a while for a good, no-holds barred brawl, and he means to make
  the best of it.

  As battle progresses, some see-through UFOs appear out of thin air and start
  attacking Trinity City.  Kazami and the other scientists think they may be
  somehow connected to an Unknown they just collected.  Sadly, they don't
  respond to hailing frequencies, and there's no choice but to blow them up
  before they do the same to you.

  And the bad guys aren't done with reinforcements yet.  Blow away both the
  larger representatives of the first enemies, and a second batch will arrive.
  Their leader is Reats, and he's on the trail of Trinity Energy.  Realizing he
  can't be too careful after watching his troops be smacked around, he sends in
  the Jellogelas to take Toshiya down.  Overmatched and unable to shake the
  thing, it looks like Toshiya is toast, until Oliver and Raita fly out in
  mecha that are still under construction.  They were, in fact, Blue Fixer
  pilots, and with this many adversaries the only way to survive is all hands
  on deck.  Kazami is confident that his people's SCIENCE will carry the day,
  now that the other two parts of God Sigma are ready.

  With this super robot, the full potential of Trinity Energy can finally be
  realized.  Unfortunately, that makes Reats realize that it's the enemy he's
  been sent here to defeat.  God Sigma has the ability to Sigma (re)Charge once
  per combat, meaning Toshiya can forget all about the gas mileage.

  Reats's fears about the dangers of Earthlings are well-founded indeed.  He
  flees to report this to Lord Teral, as Kiraken and Toshiya congratulate
  themselves on an easy victory.  Julie knows that this is only the first wave,
  and if the bad guys are after Trinity Energy itself, they could be in for a
  looong fight...

From the retreating flagship's transmissions, the scientists have caught the
word "Eldar" repeated several times, perhaps the name of a planet or
organization the bad guys represented.  On the other hand, the see-through UFOs
were apparently unmanned, and nothing useful could be learned from them.  Maybe
the pilot of that first mech, still unconscious, can say?  In any case, both
the creator and pilots of God Sigma figure that mankind is safe as long as
they're around.  Toshiya won't let what happened to Io happen again here.

In a dream, Marin has encountered a mysterious girl, staring out over a vast,
dead ocean.  He can't figure out who the woman is, but she looms larger, and
LARGER, AND...  He sits bolt upright in bed, screaming.  He looks
indistinguishable from an Earthling, but he's never heard of the place before.
He tells everyone he's Marin Raygun, from the planet S-1.  He's greatly
dismayed to hear that the see-through UFOs of the Aldebaran Army have come to
this planet too.  Oliver and Raita are curiously quick to assume that he's one
of the actual invaders, and Queenstein tells him that they've got a lot of
questions for him.  And depending on his answers, he might not see the light of
day for a very long time.

Jiela passes along Reats' report to Teral, stating that he's found Trinity
Energy and a robot which utilizes it on Earth, and that he's been defeated by
Earthling resistance.  These Earthlings must be a dangerous race indeed if they
could have given his poorly-animated^W^H^Wcardboard-and-
duct-tape^W^H^W^H^W^H^Wmighty forces such a crushing defeat.  Oh so crushing.
Shouldn't there be some intergalactic Surgeon General's Warning against
invading the Earth by now?  Even status as the third biggest Classic Blunder?

In any case, Teral is a cautious guy, and doesn't want to send more warpower
against all the unknowns in the area (see-through UFOs included).  Instead, he
wants to solidify their footing and figure out what to do with the prisoner
they captured aboard "that" satellite.  He orders his ship to head to the moon
to rendezvous with the Gaizock, a potentially even more dangerous force than
these Earthlings.  Teral tells Jiela that if they're to have any future at all,
they'll have to try to fight fire with fire, or poison with poison.  All the
Eldar forces are to join the flagship in the bid to either obtain or neutralize
all Trinity Energy in the area.  Teral remembers his dear friend(?) Teral (yup,
same name), at whose side the terrified little Lif died long ago.  Now he's a
proud warrior, and silently implores the other Teral to watch over him.

From Saint-Germain Castle, Sandman congratulates Kazami on his success.  It's a
victory tempered by the knowledge that not one, but two new groups of aliens
seem to have chosen now of all times to invade.  Sandman supposes that the Feds
will leave cleaning up the mess to Blue Fixer, and Kazami is laying plans for
King Beal to go on the offensive.  Sandman wants to help, but with Japan
formally prohibited from contact with the outside world, he can't do much on
his own except keep forwarding useful data.  Oh, and pay the money needed to
finish God Sigma, instead of Mr. Marchino.  No further worries about keeping
the irascible sponsor happy now.  He passes along best wishes to the rest of
the team and hangs up, with Twill and Marinia fangirling over how awesome the
guy is.

Tesela observes that circumstances might be a bit different this time, and
Sandman doesn't need Raven to remind him that he's just cost himself his
castle.  After all, he's just had to pay double to keep the greedy Marchino
quiet, plus promised aid to The Storm.  Sandman tells him that he doesn't like
loans among friends... all he wants is to see God Sigma take flight.  Even
Raven has nothing to say in the face of aestheticism like this.  Sandman's
group of servants are going to miss their home, though it's not like they could
find much in Japan to keep it homey anyway.  What happens now, now that Japan's
last link to the outside is gone?

Meanwhile, Rand prepares to take his leave, never staying in one place for
long.  Especially after the battle, everyone has trouble picturing him as a
"repair" man, but they don't try to stop his search for Mail.  He figures he's
more cut out for fighting for a single girl, than for the whole world,
lamenting only that said girl is totally not into puberty yet.  Maria and Kouji
have a request as he goes: if he runs into someone named Duke Freed, or Makiba
Hikaru, tell them that Maria and Kouji are doing fine.  Julie has his own
memories of searching for a little girl, his sister, which he doubts Minako
would understand.  He just hopes Jane is okay, whatever world she's in.

Fortunately, Rand will have some company.  The King Beal will take him where he
needs to go, and the Gran Knights (who've been ordered to take their act
worldwide) will be along for the ride.  Since Rand's gotten sick of staring at
the ocean, he decides to head to North America.  As his new band of comrades
makes ready to go, all smiles, Rand thinks to his absent master that as he gets
older, seeing others happy like that seems to mean more and more to him.  He
hopes the day will come when Mail can smile with all her heart like they do.
Maybe _that_ is what he really needs to fix.

Before shipping out, Kouji wants to swing by the junkyard, since the junkmen
always seem to get interesting tidbits after a big battle.  In case anyone
forgot, Kouji reminds Maria that he represents a third generation of
Evil^H^H^H^Hscientific knowhow, and was actually studying at the space academy
before things went all sideways.  As expected, the Bazaar has some fascinating
trinkets, including a bit of the Double Spacer's wing that broke off in battle.
It's made out of the precious Super Alloy Nu-Z, which also means it's very hard
to machine without the proper facilities and know-how.

There's also a patented Sleep Learning Device, if you have the money to spring
for it.

Julie recognizes at a glance how valuable the fragment is, noting (as he puts
it) "realistically" that even the Break the World didn't break the hegemony of
the almighty Dollar.  Kouji's got plans for this thing, not as an armor plate
but as some other nifty component.  Just you wait, for Kabuto Kouji, scientist
extraordinaire, will show the world what he's made of!


14. Gathering Outsiders

Contrary to previous smoke signals from the Frost brothers, the Freeden is
entirely entrailus intactus and sailing in search of payback.  Wits and Roaby
are checking into what the Moon Race are up to, and have discovered a Diana
Counter base camp some forty klicks west of Fort Seven.  Jamir knows that Diana
herself wants to pursue peaceful negotiations with the Earth, but under the
current circumstances Diana's forces may have no other choice to use force.
That said, it's not like picking on a free city like Fort Seven constitutes
opposition to the New Earth Federation.  Karis is adamant that any fight to
maintain freedom is his fight, so he'll be more than happy to help keep Fort
Seven independent.  Not that he was always this warm, but Garrod and Tifa have
had a very positive influence on him.  The artificial Newtype has recovered his
heart, and along with the powered up Gundams that Wits and Roaby pilot, he
hopes to help recover Garrod and Tifa as well.  Jamir is also hoping to make
contact with the Moon Race, based on something Tifa told him long before the
Breaking of the World: "One day, you and the Queen of the Moon shall touch the
truth together, and the Moth shall fly towards the future."

The Queen would be Diana Sorel, but no clue what the Moth refers to.  He can't
think of a more likely place to find Tifa than near Diana, since he knows that
the Frost brothers would have likely taken Tifa under the New Earth Federation
government's fold if they could.  Sara and the rest of the crew would dearly
love to know what the Frost brothers intend to do with all their gathered
Newtypes, and Karis silently implores Garrod to return.  If there was ever a
time they needed his strength, it's now.

Little surprise that Diana didn't directly authorize Phil to establish that
base camp.  He claims it's in the interest of "on-the-spot" judgment and was
done to ensure peaceable negotiations with the Fort Seven residents.  Diana is
sure that it will only provoke an unfavorable reaction, but the sad fact is
that the Feds have lumped all the various organizations in space into one big
enemy pot.  The nuances behind the Moon Race's return to Earth are impossible
to convey with the dialogue in its current state, and with the Feds in firm
control of the Sun Belt, the Moon Race has no choice but to look elsewhere.
Diana doesn't like "looking" the same way the Federation does, but time and men
are running short.  If things continue like this, they'll have to mobilize
Ginganan on the moon...

Diana is quite firm: she wants negotiations, not war.  Anything won by force is
destined to be lost to greater force, and she will not see her people mired in
a world of endless war.  Phil privately fumes that he'll be damned if he pulls
back after coming this far, and even Milan is prepared to defect to Phil's
viewpoint if Diana keeps insisting on such idealism.  Meanwhile, Harry has been
searching for the Ingressa Militia, who along with Gwen are still nowhere to be
found.  After the Break the World event, Ingressa has been long since taken
over by the Federation, and Gwen no doubt branded an outlaw by those who fear
his competence.  Diana would like Harry to keep up the search, in an effort to
thank those who defended the Promised Land.

Of course, "Diana" is actually Kiel, who's been stuck in role-reversal for
months.  She's managed to learn enough from the Soreiyu's libraries to keep up
the ruse, but knows that the jig will be up sooner or later.  She can only pray
that Diana returns safe and sound before that day arrives...

Phil is a good Hawk but a bad listener. He's ordered all his forces to invade
Fort Seven, and Pou tells the men that their pride is riding on success.
Failure is not an option!  Pou's plan is to put Koren in charge of the local
conscripts, a man who she's heard was released from a military cryoprison just
for the return to Earth.  His subordinates include, of all people, Rand and
Enil.  Hard to more polar opposites than the hulking warmth of Rand and the icy
beauty of Enil.  The unit are to act as raiders, and tactics are up to Koren.
But Koren better remember that he's part of the Diana Counter now.  And Rand,
who opposed the Counter back in Knox, should consider himself shot in the back
if he pulls anything funny.

Koren tells Rand that their job is simple: squash anything that comes near.
Except, of course, "It", which is Koren's prey alone.  "It" being the Gundam
supposedly lurking in this city.  After Koren walks off, Rand has a word with
Enil, whose voice he remembers from the mess in Ingressa.  He assures her he
doesn't intend to meddle with the guy-girl stuff between her and Garrod, which
actually gets her to smile.  Rand is a pretty good looking guy after all.  He
says it's a shame she's not his type, and tells her that he and Garrod got
split up in the Break the World mess.  He's working for the Moon Race to raise
the funds he needs to continue his journeys, and adds that he has nothing
against the Queen of the Moon either.  Enil doesn't sound impressed, so Rand
hastily adds that the Moon Race also have some info he wants a look at.  He's
looking for -- in oversimplified terms -- his fiancee, which doesn't clarify
that much.  Enil herself isn't exactly doing this because it's easy or even
fun, but because she and warfare somehow seem to gravitate together.  She could
even have worked for the Fort Seven security forces if not for an unpleasant
incident that makes her persona non grata there.  She owns up to it being her
own fault, and Rand sounds sure she'll see Garrod sooner or later if she lives
through this.

Wits and Roaby are looking forward to kicking the lunar forces right back where
they came from.  They'd better, since they're the only thing standing between
the Diana Counter and Fort Seven.  Karis is the only member of Seven's
defenders who can help them.  As the moon forces show up, the Freeden's
warriors marvel over all the different units arrayed against them, including
what must be mercenaries.  Enil points out to her sergeant that there are
Gundams on the scene, but Koren protests loudly that all Gundams are white.
This is when the Gundams of his day would always show up, and seeing none at
hand he gets officially bored and withdraws.  Cowardice in the face of the
enemy?  Hard to say.  Enil sure doesn't know what to make of running into the
Freeden here...

  Rand supposes that it's only natural that people fight to take things from
  each other, but he's still sad that Diana adopted such unfortunate tactics.
  Pou on the other hand thinks she's doing Diana and the rest of the Moon Race
  a favor by trying to shorten Diana's interminable negotiations.

  In a stunning turn of events on turn 3, the Iron Gear shows up, with Garrod
  and Tifa aboard.  He's overjoyed to see his old comrades not only alive, but
  immortal so long as money and beautiful women rule the world (if Roaby is to
  be believed).  Karis was certainly never expecting to greet Garrod again,
  much less as the head of Fort Seven's security forces.  Gwen and Rolan are on
  the scene too, and much less than pleased to see that the Moon Race seems to
  have chosen bullying free cities instead of negotiating with the main
  government.  Rolan is of course of the Moon Race himself, but he'll fight his
  flesh and blood so long as they try to take the Earth by force.  Kiel thinks
  that's wonderful, and an infuriated Soshie tells Rolan not to get so close to
  her sister like that.  Hard to avoid touching something or other when Kiel
  jumped into Rolan's cramped cockpit at the last moment, claiming she wants a
  firsthand look at what battle is like.  Even Gyaban is here, disenfranchised
  by the Federation but still determined not to hand over one grain of sand to
  the Moon Race.

  Diana had hoped to slip aboard the Soreiyu and change places back with Kiel,
  but the fact the Soreiyu isn't here must mean that this battle is happening
  against "Diana"'s orders.  Meanwhile, Rand's old comrades heartily greet the
  long-lost mechanic, and Pou demands to know if Rand is in fact one of the
  enemy.  Rand ponders a moment, and recommends to the lieutenant that she
  withdraw and regroup if he doesn't want to get embroiled in a stalemate.  Pou
  gets all hysterical and starts blasting Rand for being a spy, screaming that
  he'd better show what kind of destructive demon he is if he wants to get one
  red cent.

  At that, Rand announces he's blowing this popsicle stand.  Enil sounds like
  she doesn't want to see him get shot from behind, knowing that he doesn't
  like their superior's orders and figuring him not cut out for this line of
  work.  She tells him to get his ass out of here before she changes her mind,
  and he tells her he owes her one (if not more).  Gain quickly accepts him
  into the ranks, telling him to save the tale of his great adventures until
  tonight's drinking binge.

  Garrod and Karis happily team up, and Jamir orders Wits and Roaby to assume
  combat formation too.  Everything seems according to plan until Koren lumbers
  back onto the battlefield, with not one but two Gundams to dismember.
  "Kiel", aghast, wants to know who the hell released this guy from prison.
  Enil tells him to keep his mitts off the GX, but before Garrod can get into
  combat Rand gives him some unsolicited advice: don't fight her.  A frustrated
  Garrod says that he himself doesn't want to fight her, and says he's going to
  try talking instead, even if it doesn't work out.

  To make matters worse, some Federation army forces show up amidst the battle.
  The Frost brothers are among them, Olba having fought in snow precisely four
  times before... in simulation.  That's more than Shagia has had, but that
  won't stop him from trying to steal both Fort Seven's Newtype research notes
  and Tifa in the process.  Karis warns the Feds that their actions will be
  interpreted as a strategic offensive, or as interference in Fort Seven's
  self-governance.  In fact they're both, and the Feds duly start shooting
  everywhere.  No helping this three-sided battle, but one thing's clear:
  Garrod will never let anyone steal Tifa.

  Enil plans to kill Garrod as punishment for rejecting her, but Garrod shouts
  back that he's never rejected her at all.  Garrod demands to know what good
  killing him will do: will it somehow satisfy her?

  Somewhere in Koren's scrambled brains is the memory of being humiliated by a
  Gundam, and he plans revenge.  But Kiel orders Rolan to get close to him, and
  tells him that Koren Nandar's duty is over.  After all, Gundams don't have
  mustaches, do they?  She repeats that his duty is over, and tells him that
  she'll execute him herself if he doesn't do what she says.  Protesting that
  he's done all this for the sake of the Queen of the Moon, he retreats.  She
  then tells Rolan a convenient little lie about how the "real" Diana told her
  about this guy back in Ingressa.  Isn't it handy that she looked enough like
  Diana to confuse the guy?  Good enough to fool Rolan, for that matter.

  Pou can only mope about how incompetent and emo she is.  She'll never be able
  to explain this to Phil.  Soshie is all militant about how she'll beat the
  Moon Race back no matter how often the attack, but "Kiel" laments losing the
  last chance to contact the Soreiyu now.

  Shagia is a patient enough guy to realize that it'll take some time to
  perfect his chosen steed.  Rather than get wiped out here, he tells Olba to
  withdraw and leaves Tifa with Garrod for now.  Jamir still wants to know what
  the Feds want with Newtypes...

Garrod is ecstatic that he could help Karis keep his city safe.  Kiel however
is glum, thinking about the man who referred to the White Doll as a "Gundam".
Weird guy, Rolan says, but the real "real Diana" is thinking that she hasn't
got much time left if Koren was released by who she thinks he was.  If it is,
the entire Earth could become a battlefield.

The not-quite-so-real-but-still-convincing Diana gets the word that the forces
sent to Fort Seven were all destroyed, supposedly by a preemptive strike by the
Fort Seven security force with help from the Federation.  Diana asks, just out
of curiosity, if her forces didn't act first, and Phil swears that that wasn't
the case.  Diana then unveils new orders: not to attack, but to shift the whole
operation to Galia.  Remember all that Promised Land stuff?  Well, if the world
changed when it was Broken, then the Moon Race needs to do likewise.  Galia is
far from the New Earth Federation's control, and there shouldn't be anyone to
bump into when establishing a new life there.  Milan's heard that it's pretty
rough terrain, but Diana tells him it's a cinch compared to the state of the
Earth when their forbearers left it.

Phil is now determined to stage a full-scale military coup, but Diana has
bought the Earthlings some time without Moon Race assault.  She knows she needs
to use that time to find the real Diana, and Harry conveniently shows up to
report that the Ingressa Militia were part of the Fort Seven battle.  Rolan was
there, as was Gwen's secretary, both in apparently good health (minus the
bullets flying in their direction).  (Not) coincidentally, the Ingressa Militia
are heading to Galia too, and Diana asks Harry to keep her personally informed
of their movements.

Garrod's old comrades welcome him home, having been held up in Fort Seven after
their last run-in with the Frost brothers.  Kid didn't think Gundam-boy would
have died, but he never expected him to have Tifa in tow.  When ribbed about if
he's getting along well with Tifa, he stammers that he hasn't had time to do
"much" with the world in this bad a state.  Jamir thanks Garrod for all he's
done for Tifa, and as Sara regards her captain with admiration, Roaby tells her
that one day he'll make her look at him that way.  For real.  Garrod's presence
has even helped stabilize Tifa's psyche.

The Ingressa Militia will be splitting off from the Freeden here.  While the
Ingressans head back toward Galia, Jamir plans to head elsewhere in part to
check on the Federation military, and in part to safeguard Tifa.  Gwen hopes
that in Galia he can amass the warpower needed to regain his lands from the
Feds.  This will even let Gainer and friends rejoin the Exodus.  Just hope the
Yapan's Ceiling is okay after all this hullabaloo.  Unfortunately, the Iron
Gear will have to take a separate path, and Gainer asks Garrod and the others
to drop him some email once in a while.

What about Rand?  Might as well ask the clouds where the wind is taking them.
With the Diana Counter's info unavailable to him, he'll have to start from
scratch again.  Tifa thinks Rand will see Mail again soon, and her precog
dreams are never wrong.  That's good enough news that Rand will join the Iron
Gear, just for the time being, and help keep everything in good repair.


15. Towards an Unseen Tomorrow

Kei is experiencing for the first time what a real common Market is like,
situated conveniently on an island between Galia and North America.  Besides
the obvious mountains of shipping containers, these places are also teeming
with less-obvious information not carried by the UN.  Mimsy, strong daughter of
one of the first nations in this mixed-up world, has already had two decades to
get used to the hubbub.  Interestingly, the other ingredients in the composite
world didn't all arrive at the same time -- like Kei, who's only been here for
half of the six months since the Break the World.  Kei has to wonder if his
crew is to blame for the Break, what with their Spacetime Concussion Munition
stunt and all... but don't blame him, since nobody told him that the thing had
even been invented until it was too late.

Mimsy wonders if Kei would go back to his own country and countrymen if they
turned up, but Kei assures her that he's pretty fond of his new life here.
Especially since she's part of it.  Flattery, perhaps.  But it's true enough
that he isn't planning to go anywhere for the time being, including changing
his wardrobe to match the other members of Shaia's "Factory".  The only bump in
the road would be Slay, Mimsy's self-styled significant other and keeper of one
huge green-eyed monster where she and Kei are concerned.

Shopping is almost done, save for a new anti-grav core he's having trouble
finding.  It seems some of the merchants are on edge due to rumors of the
"Blackman", a black-clad figure driving predatorily hard bargains at one Market
after another.  Kei won't let that stop him from completing his new mech, a
fusion of his Gerwalk-type with the Emarn Dryphand's.  Kei's heard plenty of
suggestions of what to call it (including Valhalla), but he's settled on the
name of the God of Battle from Jabil's world.

Just then, a little girl comes over and asks him to buy her too.  She claims to
be a nurse who can also cook and clean, among other capabilities.  One thing
Kei *can't* stand is the thought of little girls being sold as property, but
Mimsy informs him that the girl, named Mome, is a robot.  She's from a country
called Muu composed entirely of robots, but that country is now lost thanks to
Break the World.  Robot or otherwise, Kei isn't about to see this girl stay
homeless, and even threatens to leave the Factory if Mimsy doesn't cough up the
dough.

Mimsy sighs and goes to pay, leaving a grateful Mome to thank her new "lord".
He gets her to cut it short to "Master Kei", just before a commotion starts off
to the side.  Some Chiram soldiers are in hot pursuit of... Rand!  They reckon
he's a Singularity, and have no time for his attempts at humor or even
self-introduction.  Rand would like to know what gives Chiran soldiers the
right to abduct people off the street, and soldier Henry will only growl that
gathering Singularities is one of their strategic objectives.

Kei just can't stop himself from intervening, quickly setting off the Chiran
Singularity-meter and getting himself and his two companions into a heap of
trouble.  If Rand was bugged by the Chiran shakedown attempt, he's bugged even
more by Kei's total irresponsibility in bailing after making the Chirans mad.
The Factory trio barely make it back to the ship before the Chirans rush over.
As Leeg frantically tries to install the new anti-grav core, Rand follows the
Chirans and announces himself to the Emarn.  They know of Rand only by his
reputation as a one-man wrecking crew, and recommend that he help take out
their common Chiran foe.

Kei won't be sitting this one out, either.  His new mech is ready and raring to
go, and its name shall be "Orguss".  Henry now has two major problems on his
hands, and orders his men to wreck the Singularities' mecha so they can pry the
occupants out.

  [I don't usually give strategy notes, but this battle bears special mention.
  There are four waves of enemies, each of whom only sticks around for a
  maximum number of turns.  This means it's actually hard to kill all the
  various bosses and major underlings if you start with the lackeys at each
  wave.  The first wave's boss can be rapidly dispatched, and in the second
  wave I recommend taking on the closest two Gundams, plus Neo.  In the third
  wave, take on Teral because he's closer, and be prepared for the fact that
  he'll leave quickly.  I suspect that on a second run through, it should be
  possible to bag the fourth Gundam in time as well...]

  Henry's meager force is totally outclassed, and he does the smart thing and
  heads for the hills before getting killed entirely.  However, the Factory
  gets a new set of guests in short order: Holland and the Gekkostate, with the
  Feds hot on their tail.  Sting is clearly unimpressed by a bunch of
  sky-surfing hip hoppers, thinking that the Titans must be pretty sad to get
  beaten by these guys.  Owl and their commander Neo take the opposite view:
  the fact Gekkostate make it all the way from Belforest means they're a force
  to be reckoned with.

  Another force to be reckoned with follows in short order.  Quatro's men have
  also been pursuing the Gekkostate for reasons of their own, and they're not
  pleased to run into the same Federation forces who stole Zaft equipment from
  Armory One.  Quatro is sure things are going to turn out just like they did
  at Belforest, and orders his men to attack.  This would be a good time for
  Kei and the Emarn to slip out the back door, except for the order Neo just
  received to capture them.  He and Kei both find irony in the fact that
  today's allies are tomorrow's enemy.

  The true wildcard here is Rand, who bellows greetings to the Gekkostate and
  proposes to him and the other forces to band together against the rotten
  Federation.  Bright can't think of a better idea, and Holland tells his men
  to pitch in too.  Even Renton is ready to go, barf-bag in hand in
  anticipation of Eureka's mad aerobatical skillz.  Neo isn't fazed by his
  rag-tag foe, especially given that his own government was thrown together in
  much the same fashion.

  Neo too sees the light, and leaves without even losing too many of his men.
  Unfortunately, his men are hauling around the stolen Second Stage series, and
  Shin isn't letting them get away with that.  He'd have dashed right after
  them if not for yet another group of bad guys, this time from out of this
  world.  No, literally.  Teral has called in some very brutal reinforcements
  in his quest to vanquish his enemies, and their plan is to slaughter the
  current combatants as a means to lure those enemies out.

  That proves unnecessary as the King Beal and Gravion crews show up of their
  own accord.  Heizaemon announces his group as protectors of mankind from
  those pesky aliens, and asks everyone who shares his wishes to fight by his
  side, even be they of Coordinator origin.  That makes perfect sense to
  Toshiya, given that to the aliens both Coordinator and Natural are still
  "Earthlings".

  Butcher and his Gaizock men couldn't ask for more, since they allied
  themselves with the Eldar and Vegans exclusively out of love of battle.
  Teral is frankly sick of these barbarians already, but he's determined to put
  up with their antics for now to serve the greater good of his empire.

  Kouji's mad at himself that he and Duke Freed didn't totally demolish Emperor
  Vega the last time.  Won't make that mistake twice.  The God Sigma team have
  to wonder why aliens keep showing up everywhere they go.  At least prospects
  look bright for defeating them.  Japan may be in danger too at this rate
  (isn't it always), but with Sandman on the job it likely won't get trashed
  too badly just yet.

  Teral gets an eyeful and a half of just how bad-ass Trinity Energy is, and
  bugs out before he never sees anything again.  This irritates Butcher no end,
  but he's willing to pull his men out for now as well.  Anyone who teams up
  with the Gaizock is to be feared, and the King Beal team know they need to
  sort this out with Getsuei as soon as possible.

However, that trip may have to wait a bit.  Sensors begin to detect something
like a Warp, as well as a distress call from the Moon Race.  Talia wants to
know how that could be, given that they supposedly put down in North America.
It's the Soreiyu, fleeing at full speed from some monsters.  The monsters
notice the battle and lose interest in the Soreiyu, letting it beat a hasty
retreat.  Those monsters are the Fallen Angels' troops, and where they are, so
is the Aquarion.  To make things more absurd, the Iron Gear also shows up,
supposedly led by Tifa's intuition.  Jamir doesn't know *what* Tifa forecast,
only that it's very important.  Uh huh.

  In any case, this has thoroughly fuxored Holland's timing to get his people
  out of here, and now that the Fallen Angels are targeting the souls of
  everyone present, there's nothing for it but to help with the Angel hunt.

  As though there weren't enough people in this clusterfuck already, a mystery
  dude in black shows up just as Rand's mech begins experiencing mechanical
  difficulties.  Said dude has been hauling around Mail, who is simply
  overjoyed to see her beloved again.  As Rand and Mail hug happily, Asakim
  tells Rand not to sweat it: there's a thread or two of Fate involved.  He's
  even willing to help take out the Fallen Angels.

We now know two things.  One: these battles can be FUCKING LONG.  Two: Aquarion
isn't the only one who can go toe-to-toe with the Fallen Angels.  Oh, and
three: the stylishly-attired Asakim has other errands to attend to.  He just
hopes the next time he sees Rand he'll have as much cause to smile, which isn't
like, ominous or anything.

It would be the polite thing to do for Apollo and friends to fill the rest of
the combatants in about what precisely the Fallen Angels' deal is.  But
politeness has never been Apollo's strong suit, and he hustles his teammates
back to base in hopes of avoiding another lecture from their commander.  Julie
is left scratching his head and wondering how such an uncooperative guy could
be a combining-mech pilot.  Jiron and Garrod tell the others that Apollo is a
nicer guy than he sounds as Stoner busily takes as many photos as he can.  How
often do you get this many disparate mecha together in one place?

Good thing Stoner is fast on the draw, since Holland gets his crew hustled away
quickly.  Before Bright can get a fix and follow, a new mobile suit comes on
the scene, piloted by one Raven Gheneral, captain of the New Earth Federation
Chimera squadron.  He's been ordered to come seek the disparate forces'
cooperation, and Jamir for one is willing to hear him out.  The fact that he
comes aboard unarmed says that he's either supremely stupid or supremely
confident.  Heizaemon has heard of the Chimeras, as well as the one rumored to
hold their leash.

It's taken a very high level of secrecy for Raven to be able to meet with this
group of the Federation's enemies.  Gain half-jokingly asks if Raven is trying
to enlist you to help stage a coup, and Raven (nervously shying away from the
girls in attendance) tells him he's not entirely wrong.  The job he has in mind
recalls the AEUG's mission to thwart the Titan's perverse designs for the old
Federation.  As everyone here knows, the New Earth Federation is in the throes
of a fierce power struggle, with governance of the new combined world at stake.
Conditions are so bad that they'd ordinarily favor a fracturing of the
Federation, followed by civil war... if not for the common threat presented by
offworld forces.  There's the former colonists, the old revolutionary army of
the space colonies, the Moon Race's return home, inveiglements with the
founding nations of Chiram and Emarn... and the fragging aliens, Fallen Angels,
and whoever else couldn't fit on Raven's cue cards.

The proposition is pretty painless, actually: continue fighting the forces that
are driving the Federation army part, but add the aliens and other external
threats to the shitlist.  The result is sort of a fusion of the AEUG and King
Beal's mission, and the net result will be, in Raven's words, "world order".
Far be it from this group to disdain a goal like that, but Quatro is quite
curious why the army would go out of its way to "hire" everyone for the task.
Raven, who seems to know Quatro's real past, doesn't try to beat around the
bush.

He says that influences like the Titans have turned the military away from its
rightful goal of defending the people.  The upper brass are prepared to hang
the Spacenoids, Coordinators, and even certain regions of the Earth itself out
to dry if conditions warrant.  It's those people that Raven's boss wants saved,
and whoever he is, he's prepared to provide you with as much money,
information, and supplies as he can.  The commanders give Raven their
conditional approval for now, but final clearance will have to come from
Durandal: assuring peace among the Colonies is currently job one for the Zaft.
Everyone stands to gain from the give-and-take, including Gwen's ambitions to
reclaim his land someday.  This Grand Glorious Gathering(tm) is pretty
historic, maybe even enough so to explain Tifa's prophetic dream.

Mail doesn't actually remember being rescued by Asakim as such.  All she knows
about her mysterious benefactor is that he's part of some kind of organization
with solid ways of gathering information.  Mail teases Rand a bit about his
stifling smile, knowing all the while how much he must have been busting butt
to try to find her.  She even offers to sleep at his side as a special thanks,
but he happily teases back to try that line on him once she's actually
developed a figure.

And what massive fragdown would be complete without interesting stuff ending up
at the Bazaar?  Kei is the one showing people around the amazing market this
time, amazingly quick as always to assimilate himself into the Emarn culture.
That explains how he was able to fuse Emarnian tech into his Orguss.  Kouji's
noticed that both the Emarn and Chiram seem to have inertial control tech, a
subject he was researching back when, and asks if he can get more detailed
info.  Mimsy recommends checking with Leeg for a basic explanation, and Kouji
sounds confident he can take it from there.  In fact, some textbooks on the
theory are on sale at a nearby booth!  Just what is he planning on using the
inertial control gadget for?

Whatever it is, Leeg's glad to help out, eager like any engineer to get hands-
on with tech from another world.  It also helps pass the time during Shaia's
endless meetings.  What Kouji's made is essentially a flying saucer, whose
inertial control system incorporates that Super-Alloy Nu-Z fragment from
before.  He is careful to explain to Kouta that this isn't a UFO, but rather a
"TFO".  It won't be of much combat use in its current state, but Leeg has a
plan to fix that.  Kouji vows to Maria that this one is going to be FAAAR
cooler than the last one he built. 


16.

  A new world had given birth to new conflicts.  Arising as they had from a
  multidimensional world, these conflicts were marked by complicated aspects
  and elevated levels of chaos.

  The New Earth Federation had regarded those living in space as the enemy, and
  adopted a hostile posture toward the Plants and the Moon Race.  Though hopes
  were initially high for a peaceable settlement, the aggression of the
  Federation left them with little option but to respond in kind.

  However, mankind's enemies were not only within.  The Gaizock, Zeravaia,
  Eldar, Aldebaran and Fallen Angels -- all external foes -- represented a
  threat to be guarded against.  Even greater foes lurked in the shadows of the
  world as well.

  Amidst it all, some perceived the flow of world events, and made preparations
  for their next moves.  Among them were New Earth Federation, the Zaft, the
  Moon Race, the Chiram, the Emarn, and...

  In this world of chaos, human life stood poised on the edge of a knife.  To
  see tomorrow, one must first survive today.  It was to preserve today's lives
  for that tomorrow for which they all fought.

Bright passes on the agreement with the Chimera to his men, who are generally
pleased at the thought that they're not the only ones with revolutionary
leanings.  The group's immediate objective is in the South Pacific, aiding the
Zaft's strategic goals and kicking some alien and Titan tail.  That area is
rich in Trapars, and Durandal is hastening attempts to enlist the Gekkostate's
cooperation.  That little Sevenswell incident got a lot of people's attention,
especially as it recalled the catastrophic Summer of Love.  Even the residents
of Promised Land don't know what button Adrock pushed to quell it and save the
world, and Durandal wants to gather as much information as he can about all the
Trapar-using tech.  The orders for the Minerva and Argama are to form a joint
task force with the God Sigma team and the Gran Knights, which will keep Arthur
plenty busy with all the logistical demands.  Shin muses that a mission to the
South Pacific might take the task force near Orb...

Even marshalling the mechanics to service such a diverse array of mecha is no
mean feat.  Mizuki assures the Gran Knights that their mecha are in good hands,
reminding them of Sandman's instructions to visit Trinity City (in the Pacific)
on the way.  Ril is mightily concerned about their boss, but Eiji and Touga
both assure her that the guy is impervious to anything the Japanese government
might try.  In any case, there are more than enough willing and able maids to
keep the Gran Knights living in style aboard the Freeden, though it might be
easy to forget their presence given all the non-stop fighting...

About the only group not part of the task force are the Iron Gear squad, whose
gasoline-powered mecha aren't well suited for flying, or worse fighting, on the
high seas.  Jamir has another reason for sticking with the Argama as well: he's
heard that it too came from a world with "Newtypes".  He's not yet sure what
connection there might be, but it's hard to imagine it's a mere coincidence...

The Iron Gear is now loaded with plenty of provisions to help the Yapan's
Ceiling finish its Exodus... assuming they can ever locate the thing.  Mimsy's
Emarnian sources have reported a group answering to that description crossing
Siberia as they speak.  Kouji finds it interesting how his native Japan has
become the object of such wanderlust in some of the alternate worlds, and it
seems that the Siberians tell ancient tales of how wonderful traditional
Japanese life is.  Kappei wants to return to his homeland (such as it's
become), and looks forward to hauling the Yapan's Ceiling with the King Beal.
He assures Mimsy and her tail that Japan's closed border won't stop him,
blowing off Kei's recommendation to be smoother with the ladies.

Gwen's interest in the Galian operation is restarting negotiations with the
Moon Race, with an eventual eye to reclaiming Ingressa.  Cid and his
mountaineers are already hard at work scouting the Galian territory, watching
warily as the Siberian Railroad make ready their own excavation parties.  Gwen
can only hope Cid digs up something decisive before the Siberians do.  "Kiel"
is just glad that she'll have another chance to trade places with "Diana" when
the ship finally contacts the Moon Race again.  As preparations continue for a
final night's stay before setting out, Heizaemon apologizes for his grandson's
"tail" crack, and Shaia assures him that she's not one to get hung up on small
details when the world has gotten so big.

Rand is going to have to decide where to take Mail next.  Gainer reckons that
his best bet is to stick with one of the two teams if he wants the best shot at
finding more info about his erstwhile Boss.  Rand recalls the old saying that
one should obey their kids when they grow old, though Gainer protests that he's
not one of Rand's children.  In any case, you've got to pick between a jaunt to
the South Pacific or a return to the badlands of Galia.

  The Pacific route starts at 16P.  The Galia route is 16G.

  * Choose the former and The Heat will admit to Chiru that he tends to catch
  cold easily.  The tropics are much more his speed.  Gainer won't admit to
  being lonely with Rand gone (temporarily, they both hope), instead claiming
  he's got debts to repay and all.  Rand won't hear of that, telling the kid
  that no one knows what tomorrow brings -- there'll be none of this "I'll
  repay you next time" nonsense.  The best advice he can give Gainer is to make
  his move like a real man, and not some moping otaku cretin, when the time
  comes.... though given Sara's level of animosity it seems unlikely anything
  will have changed by the time Rand rejoins the group.  Gain knows how to give
  a proper goodbye, vowing to have some first-rate booze ready to celebrate
  their next reunion.

  * Choose the Galian route and it's back to the original plan of helping
  the Exodus.  This makes the Iron Gear crew mighty happy, and Gainer is doing
  his inarticulate best to share in the joy as well.  He's slowly getting
  Gainer to admit that he's not in this fight to pay Gain back or any B.S.
  reason like that.  See above for the peptalk about what to do with Sara when
  the time comes.  This time, Rand gets to partake of Gain's send-off party.
  Studmeister Kei gets to join too.
  
Far above the heroes' departure, in the Plant metropolis of Aprilius, Durandal
is briefing Wong on the Minerva and Gradis' laboriously gathered information.
Wong rightly wonders if Raven can be trusted: he could well be a double-agent
sent to sniff out the revolutionaries' activities.  Brecks suspects that Raven
is on the level, using the AEUG's existence as an example, but concedes that
they can't put their full trust in him yet.  Durandal opines that the real
question mark is whoever is giving Raven his orders, and he's willing to take
the risk of contacting that someone directly.  Brecks thinks some of his old
Federation contacts might help track that someone down, though he plans to
tread very carefully.  The various powers in space need to band together just
like the terrestrial nations did, especially if they want any say in the fate
of the world to come.

Speaking of the world's fate, a certain young man has just arrived from Orb,
more fatigued by the effort of penetrating the Pacific Rivalry Zones than he
lets on.  There's also the fact that he's resigned his position as the
Princess' bodyguard to return to the Plants, and Durandal knows he can expect
great things from "Alex Dean", also known as Aslan Zala.

Meanwhile, the Japanese government have sent Sandman a missive repeating their
demands that he hand over his lands and property.  It's hard to understand why
the new government would take that tack so soon after declaring independence
from the rest of the world, emergency or otherwise.  There are dark rumors of
dissidents being rounded up and sent _somewhere_, possibly as part of a plan to
amass the warpower to bring the fight to the New Federation.  Given its belated
response to the rash of "demon" attacks ravaging the country, Japan's
government ought to remove the beam from its own eye first, probably.  All the
same, Sandman stoutly refuses to recall the Gran Knights, saying that there are
things they must see and do before their return.  His entourage, and the people
of Saotome Laboratory, will have to ride out this crisis on their own.  And
when the time comes, his people will wipe out the darkness corrupting Japan
with a single swift stroke.  This amuses an old friend of Sandman's, who is
able to enter the castle undetected.

Fudou knew Klein Sandman back when he was styled "Count Saint-Germain", and the
Japanese border guards could no more stop his coming and going than one could
hold water in the palm of their hand.  Watching the sakura bloom, sake in hand,
will have to wait for next year.  This year is bearing witness to all those
"demons", which are about to have a fight on their hands thanks to Saotome's
latest invention.  Gen passes a message along for the good doctor: "Diva's
chick begs to be taught."  Sooner or later, that unbreakable trio of arrows
will fell both the Fallen Angels and the Demons...


16P. Intersecting Resolves

Raven makes good on his word to leak the Federation's anti-Gekkostate plans, or
as much of them as he can decrypt anyway.  Who knew that skate^H^H^H^H^Hlif
boarding was a major enough crime to merit a military detachment assigned
specifically to the case?  This may or may not have to do with the Summer of
Love, but the structure of that detachment certainly makes it seem like that's
what the Feds fear.  This so-called "Ageha Battalion" is led by one Dewey
Novak, and is already closing in on the Gekkostate's last known position.
Let's just hope you can get there first...

Despite all that's happened and how much time has elapsed, Renton still makes
mental notes to his sister.  The Gekkostate's proven to be a much more
complicated bunch than he thought.  He's still being treated like a new kid on
the block who can neither sing nor dance, relegating him to sleeping in the
hangar.  This also means he ends up helping Jobs (the hardware) and Woz (the
software) with their mechanic duties, and getting teased mercilessly by the
three little brats who call Eureka "mama".  He knows they're jealous, and
Eureka's humoring the kids isn't helping.  To the extent that the kids' pranks
often send Renton to sick bay for treatment, he may even be worthy of some
sympathy.

He's seen enough of Misha, the ship's doctor, to have figured out that there's
something wrong with Eureka.  She spends far more time in sick bay than he
does, and Misha's observed her changing slowly for the better since Renton came
aboard.  Misha won't let on what Eureka's issues are, except to say that it's
not an illness _as_such_.  Misha is counting on him (for what, she doesn't
say), and the rosy view would be that Misha is helping matchmake between him
and Eureka.  Now, if it wasn't for those damn kids and their dog...

And Talho, who seems pretty amused by Renton's lovestruck boy routine, and is
determined to extort some kind of favor out of him in return for not spilling
the beans.  Renton can only sigh about the gorgeous helmswoman, even hotter in
person than in ray=out's swimsuit edition.  She's also an over-the-top, hard-
drinking prankster, and he fervently wishes she didn't have quite this much
dirt on him.  With even more inscrutable people than her hanging around, one
wonders what will become of him...

His biggest worry should be the Zaft, who've managed to get ahead of the Gekko
as it follows one of the leylines.  Holland sees no choice but to bust through,
and decides to keep Eureka in reserve while he and the other pilots try to
handle business on their own.  Talho doesn't much approve of how delicately he
handles Eureka, but Holland tells her to shut up as he blasts off.  Should
Eureka and Renton be launched, there's indications that the barf bag will be
needed again: Renton's looking pale already, perhaps on account of Gonzy's
suspicious tea.

Actually, maybe the Zaft shouldn't worry them so much after all, given that
it's the Argama and Freeden.  At least that's Renton's stance, but an irate
Holland tells the kid to shut his yap.  He acknowledges that these Spacenoids
helped out once or twice in the past.  What pisses him off is how they always
seem to show up where the best waves are and start shooting.  He isn't willing
to start the throwdown unilaterally, but those damn kids certainly are.  They
manage to activate one of the Gekko's missile launchers from within the hangar,
and the bridge can't override it in time.

Seeing that the Gekkostate mean to force their way through, and not respond to
hailing, Bright has no choice but to sortie the troops.  Eureka sorties as
well, telling Holland that she's got to take responsibility for what her "kids"
just did.  The abrupt change from friend to foe has many of the Zaft
detachment's people riled up, Rand included, but Quatro orders them to remember
that the LFO's have the upper hand here.  Also, do note that the goal is to
_stop_ them, not _destroy_ them....

  Renton tells Eureka to avoid shooting at the Zaft's cockpits or powerplants,
  in deference to all the help they offered before.  Eureka tells him that now,
  they're the enemy - and enemies must be defeated.

  The Gekkostate may have a maneuverability advantage with all the Trapars in
  the air, but they're up against seasoned troops who have a numerical edge.
  Renton seems to be the only one to realize that they shouldn't even be having
  to fight this battle, and resolves that he's the one who has to stop it.  He
  starts yelling his fool head off about how the first missile firing was his
  own fault for getting startled, resorting to begging in a surprisingly
  convincing manner.

  This much groveling from one little kid can't help but soften hearts on both
  sides of the battle.  That includes Holland's, though his way of showing it
  will be one hell of a lecture when he and Renton return to the ship.  Even
  Mizuki is getting somewhat "intrigued" by Renton's antics, and the commanders
  agree to a ceasefire and actual negotiations...

  ...Which is right about the time the Ageha Battalion show up.  Talia orders
  everyone to defend the Gekkostate, but Holland won't hear of merely sitting
  back and being defended.  Good waves are here, and the best apology is a
  display of Lif'ing that will knock the Feds' socks off.  The videos of this
  are totally going to rock the UN.

  The Ageha don't offer much resistance, and with the Orb border close at hand
  their reinforcements won't be able to pursue too far.  Things look set for
  some nice, leisurely talks with the Gekkostate when...  A bunch of new
  enemies pop out of thin air.  Toshiya recognizes the see-through flying
  saucers as the same ones that attacked Trinity City, belonging to God-knows
  what hostile aliens.  This is precisely the kind of protracted fracas that
  Holland loathes.

  As everyone prepares to meet this new menace, a civilian transport flies into
  the fray, with "Maria Barnes" at the controls.  She claims to be having
  engine trouble and requests aid, as ever more of the alien foes crowd the
  area.  Things look grim until a strangely familiar mobile suit zooms in and
  lays waste to everything near the transport.  Maria seems to know its pilot,
  and tells him to be careful as she retreats along the path he opened.  Quatro
  reckons that this newcomer isn't an enemy, but puzzles over the aura he
  projects.  Is it rage?  Sorrow?  Whatever it is, it smells like ass- kicking
  to Camille.

  The see-through saucers aren't endless, thankfully.  With a little time to
  breathe, Talia IDs the mystery mech: the Freedom, probably based out of the
  Orb.  Holland is also digesting the fact that Bright referred to the anti-
  Gekkostate detachment as the Ageha, and wants as much information as the Zaft
  has.  He's willing to parlay, but warns that any attempt to capture his
  people will be met with... considerable resistance.  Talia tells him that his
  people's safety and freedom are assured, but Holland has reason to be wary of
  how the military does things.

The rugrats are shaking in their undersized boots after the battle, wondering
if their mama is going to throw them away.  Renton reminds them what to do
whenever they suffer recriminations: apologize.  Case closed.  The whole thing
reminds Renton of himself as a little kid, wanting to help out his grandpa and
instead getting underfoot.  That said, he's not going to shield them twice:
next time, they're to consult him or Eureka before doing something stupid.

As the kids go off to apologize to their mama next, Talho confronts Renton and
asks if he's trying to use debts to the kids to horn in on Eureka.  Renton is
just being his usual transparent self, and Talho acknowledges as much.  But
he's still got his little debt from before the battle to her...

Talia's given Holland plenty of food for thought about his pursuers.  She's
read in his file that he's not only a Lif'ing champion, but also an ace pilot
from a military special forces unit.  He actually fled the military and formed
the Gekkostate as a sort of anti-government movement.  Arthur asks Holland what
the truth about the Summer of Love incident is, but Holland advises him to use
the UN since the government went to so much trouble to build it.  Talia wants
deeper info than that, like what he was doing in Belforest.  Sighing, Holland
tells her that all he was doing was visiting his master Adrock's grave.  That
Adrock's son happened to end up in the Gekkostate is mere happenstance.  Or
something.

Talia then asks why the military is after him, to the extent of organizing a
dedicated special forces unit to take him out.  Not the sort of treatment given
to just any anti-government group.  Holland figures they're out to save face
after his theft of the Gekko and Nirvash, which they presumably don't like
seeing in the hands of a radical.  Seeing as how the Nirvash is the prototype
of all LFOs and all.  Talia knows full well that Holland knows more than he's
letting on, and also that it's pointless to press him on it.  He asks one
question of her before leaving: who's running that Ageha unit?  He's not
surprised to hear the name Dewey Novak.

Arthur protests that the Zaft are trying to protect him, but the last thing
Holland wants is to be someone's pet dog.  Not that he has a problem with
working with people if their objectives happen to align.  That gives Talia an
idea: contracting Holland to carry a certain object to a certain location.  He
can do nothing at that point but smile and give in, seeing as how the reward
will be considerable.

The Minerva will be heading to Orb, though from what Lunamaria's heard the
original plan had been to stop by Trinity City first.  The Freeden and super
robots will be up to something else, but the Minerva will get to see firsthand
what a nation that refused entry into the New Earth Federation looks like.  In
fact, it was pretty famous in Lunamaria's world as the scene of a major battle.
Shin was one of the witnesses to that battle, and just discussing the topic is
more than he can easily stand.  After Shin storms out, Ray tells Camille to
give Shin a little time to cool his head.

Lunamaria sighs and says it's her fault for getting carried away at the sight
of the Freedom.  Ray explains how this Zaft-manufactured mech followed a
torturous path away from its makers, eventually joining a power beyond Earth or
Plant and ending the war between them.  That third power was centered in Orb,
which has rapidly rebuilt and risen further in influence in the two years since
the war.  It's not hard to imagine that Durandal hopes to enlist Orb's help in
this new fight against the New Federation, which -- if the Freedom's pilot is
the same as it was two years ago -- would include one Yamato Kira, the greatest
of the Coordinators.  That might explain the Freedom's hotdog flying.  The
Minerva would also want one of its former crewmembers' help: Kira's partner
Aslan Zala, aka Alex Dean, part of Orb's leader's bodyguard.  Should Camille
and the others be worried about going to a land where such titans abound, a
land that Shin hates from the depths of his heart?

The civilian pilots are faring better, touring the fabled Gekko and marveling
at how the rebels have rebuilt the former battleship into the ultimate slacker
crash space.  Both the Minerva and Argama have peeled off already to rush to
Orb, leaving the civilians to keep an eye on^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H assist
the Gekkostaters and to haul their super robots to Trinity City.  Quite the
unusual assignment, even for the Gekkostate.  The Gran Knights find a dejected
Renton minding the on-board store, punishment from Holland for trying to shoot
down the people who saved his life.  Better than polishing the ship's deck
plates, or so it would seem... until everyone starts ordering egregious amounts
of food all at once.  About the only bright spot is a kind word from Eina,
who's amazed that his groveling managed to stop the fighting.  Best not to let
Eureka see his mind "wandering".  Oops, too late.

This transparency, to the point of idiocy, reminds Eiji of one of his crewmates
who's currently on the Freeden.  Rand thinks Renton is doing a great job, and
notes that he seems far better as a short-order chef than as a mechanic or
rider.  Ahhh, the old adding injury to injury ploy.  At least Rand gets a bit
of comeuppance when Mail happily introduces herself as Rand's honeybunchkins.
THIS is the "fiancee" that Rand was looking for, and Renton is glad to see some
people who seem to actually love each other (age and size discrepancies
aside...)  Eureka sees his face as he gets carried away with dreams of loving
her, calling him "odd" and triggering another round of furious denials.  But
hey, at least he's found a way to be of use to everyone, though it be three
steps forward and two steps back...


16G. Singularity

Shaia has hit on an "ingenious" plan for replenishing her stores of blue stones
and ammo: open a market with all the produce she's carrying.  Heizaemon readily
admits that this isn't his specialty, and leaves it to the ladies.  He tells a
puzzled Gwen that while wasting the aliens is still job one, staying alive is a
Close Fucking Second(tm).  There's also the good works angle, in the sense that
many of the Galians are refugees from various wars carried out on the
Federation's watch.  Such people are free... including, free to starve without
a little help from people like Heizaemon's crew.  He might not be able to save
all the people all the time, but he can do a damn sight better than what the
Galians are currently getting.  Of course, Heizaemon also has the perspective
of age on his side: the womenfolk are more interested in turning a quick buck
(and maybe cleaning out their closets) than in humanitarian causes.  Still,
business is how these women know how to fight, and Gwen knows he could do worse
than to have some of their vitality rub off on him.

In fact, the best saleswomen seem to be Kappei's relatives, whose hearty voices
and rustic manner really click with the Galians.  "Kiel" also gets drafted into
helping out, and she discovers she actually likes shouting to the crowd and
negotiating sales.  Among the customers they attract is Meeya, who is so happy
with the rare American fruit she's bought that she wants to sing a song on the
spot.  Her manager Ruble nixes that idea and tells her to save it for the big
stage, but Kiel tells the singer that she looks forward to hearing her songs
sometime soon.  At Kiel's example, the rest of the girls get into the act
too... all except Soshie, who wants to go shopping herself and accepts Gyaban's
escort.  That leaves Rolan to ponder the prospect of Gyaban actually...
marrying her at some point.

Meanwhile, Kei and Mimsy have been assigned to the shopping detail.  They're
after the small stuff, while Jiron and his walker machine will haul home the
larger items.  Kappei's a bit surprised at all the tall people he's seen, which
Mimsy says is thanks to the fact that the crowds have come from far and wide
for this rare market opportunity.  Ample testament to how firmly Siberian Rail
is throttling the common man in these parts.  It isn't all smooth sailing for
the Railroad however: besides the odd Exodizer, the Vodalak have become a major
issue.  Even the Moon Race wants Siberian Rail neutralized, and they seem to be
getting some help from local pirates hereabouts.  They're called the
"Blackmen", and don't seem related to the "Blackman" who's been disrupting
bazaars worldwide.  The Blackmen's MO is using Siberia Rail's own train tracks
to send their trains all over, which sounds great to this group of rebels.

Blackman may be nowhere to be seen, but someone else steps up to disturb the
peace.  It's another Muu robot, by the name "Captain", who wants to be a
bodyguard for this market and won't take "no" for an answer.  Unlike the
medically-oriented Mome, the Captain is definitely built for battle -- just the
sort of thing Rand would love to take apart to see how it works.  He even
promises not to lose too many pieces in the process, which doesn't exactly
inspire confidence in the Repairman at Large.  Of course, he has already
"serviced" Mome without incident, and Mail is peeved to say the least that her
hubby-to-be had his hands all over the girl (robot or otherwise).

The Captain isn't shy about bragging how much better he is than your motley
crew, offending everyone from Jabby to Rand.  He refuses however to put his
skills to the test in anti-personnel combat, and things appear deadlocked until
Mome and Kei show up.  As Mome's "master", Kei is the perfect person to get
negotiation duty foisted off on.  Whatever kind of reunion the two Muu robots
can expect gets rudely interrupted by some bandits, who REALLY picked the wrong
market to burglarize.

To the team's astonishment, the bandits appear to be led by the Moon Race,
assisted by a makeshift force of Galian Walker Machines.  The once-mighty Moon
Race seem to be in a pretty sorry state, and "Kiel" has to wonder if the
attacks here and at Fort Seven are by "Diana"'s will, or by Milan and Phil's.
The Captain sniffs that this enemy force is too puny to waste his large-scale
destructive prowess on -- gotta save his precious energy chips for the right
time and place.  Whatever.  Time for the real masters of destruction to take
the field.

Elchi and Jiron plan to show the Moon Race how things are done here in their
hood.  Rolan is a bit less enthusiastic, but his instincts to protect the weak
from having their stuff ganked by the strong wins out.  He just hopes Diana
didn't order the raids herself.

  The Moon Race's makeshift force doesn't stand a chance.  Yeah, maybe they
  need to put food on the table too, but Rolan just can't forgive doing so at
  the expense of others.  However, they're not the only interlopers.  A Chiran
  force, led by Robert, shows up next to continue the Singularity hunt.  Robert
  seems quite unimpressed that the Emarn have hired bodyguards for their
  target, growling that money isn't the only thing that makes the world go
  round.  [Gravity!  Why did it have to be gravity?!]  Never mind the fact that
  attacking an Emarn business function would constitute a grave breach of
  contract: any soldier who refuses to do their duty should consider themselves
  shot in the back the moment they retreat.  And they'd better kill _all_ the
  witnesses so there won't be trouble later.  That shows how badly the Chiram
  want the Singularity, and Heizaemon has no choice but to fight back against
  his fellow humans.

  On the next round, a single Chiram reinforcement arrives.  Gainer uses video
  game logic to conclude that it must be some kind of boss or whatnot,
  especially given how its design differs from the others.  Kei suspects he's
  right, and in fact the mech is from the Chiram special forces, with a
  mysterious female pilot at the controls.

  Kei recognizes the girl's technique from somewhere... but where?  The girl,
  apparently named Atena Henderson, is ordered by her superior to withdraw
  before getting too badly damaged.  The superior knows that the Singularity
  isn't a foe to be taken lightly, and has Plans(tm) for how to deal with him
  in due time.  Gainer isn't entirely thrilled to be praised for his gaming
  nerd assessment being right...

  Kei isn't going to surrender to anyone in the world, except maybe the most
  beautiful girl in it.  Who, it should be assumed, isn't at Robert's beck and
  call.  Such are the hardships of being a Singularity.

The Captain has done one useful service: captured a DC trooper.  This seems
unwarranted, given that there's not actually a war going on as such, but "Kiel"
seizes upon the opportunity to question the guy and maybe find out where the
Moon Race are operating from.

Robert better get used to the special forces ordering him around: his whole
fleet is being placed under their direct control.  Capturing that pesky
Singularity has become the military's top priority, as in, the very survival of
the Chiram depends on it.  That doesn't faze Henry one bit: he's more hung up
on special forces stealing his men's glory for spotting the Singularities in
the first place.  Robert plans to cooperate at least superficially, and it
doesn't hurt that the special forces' general is leaving him in front line
command.

The general knows full well that Robert isn't going to cooperate fully, and
further that it's beyond Robert's means to actually capture the Singularity.
This he knows firsthand, but he stresses to Atena that his past relationship to
the Singularity means nothing now.  Beyond capturing Kei himself, he's also
worried about the faint Singularity readings coming from Kei's companions.
General Orson orders Atena to investigate, still marveling over meeting Kei
again under such circumstances...

The DC (meaning Diana Counter in this game, at least) goes all "name, rank and
serial number" on your crew and demands to be treated according to the relevant
conventions.  Seeing as how his side were the aggressors, and that Jiron and
friends aren't military, those conventions don't apply.  Gaury is in fact
getting ready to torture the guy, but Kiel won't have any of that.  The soldier
is astounded to see someone who looks like his queen, and readily owns up to
the attack being ordered by Phil, and not Diana herself.  Her words are more
than enough to fill the soldier with remorse.

The upshot is that the Moon Race's military power, and Diana Sorel's influence
over it, are both getting weak fast.  With that info in hand, the DC soldier is
sent packing, having learned a healthy respect for the team.  Kei muses about
how typical this is: even if individuals in the army are good guys, the
organization as a whole can still be bad.  As he knows firsthand, from his
former career.  As for the Captain, his martial schtick speaks loudly enough to
the man in Rand that he convinces Kei to hire the old junkpile onto the team.
Mail offers Kei a reward in Rand's stead, but Kei smiles and tells her to try
offering in about four years.

Shaia reports in to Raven about the battle, though Mimsy furiously whispers to
her not to let on that Kei's Singularity is what must have motivated the Chiran
assault.  Lucky for Mimsy, Raven is bad with girls and hence easily distracted
from pursuing that line of thought.  Fortunately, Raven does remember something
else: the precise location of the Yapan's Ceiling...

As for the bazaar, the Emarn remain undaunted by all the combat.  Gove tells
Slay to help Gainer find some kind of present a girl would like: one unrequited
lovester assisting another.  This is a sore spot with Slay, since Mimsy is his
fiancee and merely a pipe dream like Gainer's love is for him.  He stalks off,
leaving Gainer to look for a present for Sara alone.  Given Kei's facility with
women, Gainer is starting to suspect that he might have to fight for his love
just like Slay...  Maybe a nice, rare copy of the Gekkostate's ray=out
countercultural magazine would help give him some pointers on fashion?  Not an
issue that old, surely, but Beroux tells Gainer that if it's the thought that
counts, he's counting for a lot already.  Both he and Sara have totally
upgraded their estimation of him after all his good work...


17P. The Blue Exile

Trinomius 3, emperor of S-1, is having a really bad evening.  Gattler is
staging a coup de ville^Wetat, tired of waiting for the scientists to figure
out a way to settle the environment down.  He favors attacking another world,
and won't hear of their current emperor standing in the way.  Aphrodia plans to
pin the regicide on those very same scientists, completing the nefarious plan.
Gattler orders his faithful vassal to head to the laboratory to ensure that her
brother Milan is holding up his side of things.  The Aldebaran are about to
enter a glorious new chapter of their history, and anyone who stands in the way
gets to take the short bus straight to jail.

Renton must be a pretty capable cook, since he's been left in charge of the
"Bon Marche" convenience store for the entire ride to Trinity City.  He gets a
swift lesson in why "tachiyomi" (reading a book by the shelf instead of buying
and taking it home) is actually likely to get customers to buy other stuff in
the store.  Except if that customer is Toshiya...  Tex and Julie start playing
one of the store's arcade games, adding an extra wager for some extra spice.
As they play, Tex tells Julie that he reminds him of Wits, an ace pilot who's
working to raise money for his far-distant family at home.  Not what Julie
would have expected given Wits' cavalier exterior, and the thought is enough to
slightly disturb his play.  The two go off for another round, leaving Renton to
ponder how everyone -- not just the Gekkostate -- thinks he's a goof-off.

Garrod is probably the exception, as is Eureka, who drops by on orders from
Holland to report if Renton is slacking off.  Just the thought she's paying
attention to him is enough to make his purgatory worthwhile.  Garrod had been
told that he and Renton are alike, and that probably has to do with their
significant others.  Garrod is characteristically encouraging towards the
beleaguered shopkeeper, and Renton begins to have hope for an actual friendship
after all.  Tifa meanwhile has sensed the wings of the moth hovering around
Eureka, though before she can grill her about it Gonzy shows up and offers tea.

Meanwhile, Duke Frood^WFreed had come to Trinity City in the hopes of talking
with Marin.  He's been traveling the land with Hikaru ever since the Breaking
in search of a reason to fight, which they've now found.  He means to reveal
his true identity, despite the upheaval it might cause, and Queenstein is
willing to support him based on the time they've spent fighting together.
Marin is watching the ocean as is his wont, pondering how the seas of his own
planet S-1 died in the long-ago war.  Marin was helping his father and the
leading scientists to find a way to remove the radiation that tainted the land
and the waters, with the full cooperation of the Emperor.

Then Gattler, leader of the Aldebaran, fucked things up right as the research
was about to be complete.  After the coup, Gattler led the remaining 320
million S-1 residents on a quest for a second S-1.  Marin was trying to fight
back in the Pulsar Burn after his father was killed, but he got caught in the
Aldebaran fortress' subspace engine field and was thrown to Earth for his
pains.  He knows that the transparent UFOs appearing worldwide are recon troops
in advance of a BIG invasion.

Unfortunately, Raita and Oliver aren't inclined to trust their "guest"'s
explanation, figuring him for some kind of spy.  It doesn't help that S-1 isn't
visible anywhere in the known sky, which might or might not be due to it simply
not being discovered yet.  The two tell Marin in no uncertain terms that they
think he's a filthy spy and not to be trusted, despite Queenstein giving him
permission to be on the loose.  Marin is prepared to use that freedom to punch
their lights out, and Jemy isn't really able to intervene.  Raita's got his
grudge against the aliens, and Marin would like nothing better than to get his
spacecraft back and leave these short-sighted pissants behind.

That's about the time Daisuke (aka Freed) intervenes, and Raita grudgingly
agrees to walk off in deference to the aid Daisuke rendered them before.  But
not before dropping another "filthy alien" line.  Marin is understandably not
very receptive to Daisuke's attempts to sympathize, but before Daisuke can
fully reveal his secret, the air raid sirens blare.  He does get out the "Duke
Freed" part, and promises to tell Marin the whole story after the battle.

At least the newly developed subspace radar gave everyone some advance warning
of the Aldebaran this time.  Trinity City's defenses alone won't be enough, but
Duke Freed and his Grendizer are on the scene to help.  While he can see the
S-1-ians wanting a new home, he won't stand for them *stealing* it.

  Help arrives on turn 2, and Renton's hours of short-order cooking have given
  him new resolve to help support Eureka.  He plans to unlock the Amita Drive
  limiter on the Satellite System, or at least so he's told Garrod and friends.
  Everyone but Eureka seems to know he's acting in order to get on Eureka's
  good side, but everyone is also pulling for him to succeed.  Holland has gone
  back to swearing under his breath about all the fighting he's gotten mixed up
  in while hanging with the Zaft, but realizes he can't turn away from the
  battle now.  As hasty "welcome home"s are shared with Duke Freed, Rand
  delivers Maria the message that someone's waiting for her to come back alive.

  There's plenty more where the first batch of bad guys came from.  The new
  Aldebaran units are far huger than the dinky see-through UFOs, and include
  the vengeful Aphrodia's flagship.  Oliver and Raita sortie when it becomes
  clear Trinity City's automated defenses stand no chance, and Getsuei
  reluctantly lets them participate in the fight.  Aphrodia is fixing to make
  one big example out of all her adversaries, especially the God Sigma team.

  She's packing some big-ass subspace octopi, which "blink" around the
  battlefield raising havoc.  The Earthlings have nothing like this in their
  arsenal, and even subspace radar can't lock on instantly.  Holland orders
  everyone to scatter lest they get blown away en masse, but at this rate
  defeat is still just a matter of time.  Maybe this is Queenstein's cue to
  launch the just-completed New Pulsar Burn?  Only if she's willing to risk
  Marin's life in an untested vehicle...

  Marin is understandably upset to get called to the hangar at a time like
  this, and even more peeved when he sees what the scientists have done to his
  ship.  His rage turns to shock when Queenstein formally hires him, on behalf
  of all Earthlings, to pilot the ship.  She tells him he's got the right to
  choose whether or not to accept the dangerous assignment, especially given
  how he's under no obligation to help the Earth.  She's well aware that he
  might betray her, but she's betting his hatred of the Aldebaran is stronger
  than his hatred of the Earthlings.  Those seem like long odds, when even the
  Earthlings themselves can't be trusted to stop wrecking the (Earth) Sphere,
  but Queenstein seems all too acquainted with the motivational power of
  revenge...

  Oliver and Raita haven't magically decided to accept Marin's existence, and
  Marin is more than fine with pressing the attack on his own.  Duke Freed
  can't stand it any more, and finally cries out that he, too, is an alien.  At
  least he's got a proven track record and a very feisty Hikaru willing to bust
  heads to defend his honor.  Marin's plenty willing to stake his life on
  taking the Aldebaran down, and with endorsements from the rest of the team,
  Raita and Oliver have no real choice but to let him lead them into battle.

  What this actually means is that their mecha *combine*, and by combining they
  gain access to the same kind of subspace attacks as the Aldebaran.  This new
  super robot, the "Baldios", may just carry the day yet.  Of course, things
  don't get any easier when the Eldar show up, belittling Aphrodia's forces and
  offering help as a fellow "Skull Moon" alliance member.  The Eldar commander,
  Rits, tells her to use these forces from Teral well and withdraws lest his
  presence embarrass her.

  The Earthlings get to face the harsh truth that the aliens are far more ept
  when it comes to cooperation than they are.  Marin isn't surprised that
  Gattler would stoop this low to get what he wants, which is the theft of the
  whole Earth for his people.  As Freed points out, only by cooperating
  themselves can the Earthlings (and friends) stand a chance of winning.

  One thing Marin hadn't expected to face is Aphrodia, who blames him for her
  little brother's death.  Marin tells her to stuff it after pointing out that
  it was her and the rest of the Aldebaran who were responsible for his
  father's death.

Aphrodia isn't too daunted by her flagship getting shot out from under her.
Marin tells Freed that he won't thank him for the good word, nor does Freed
want any thanks.  He wants Marin to resolve his situation in his own way, and
tells the rest of the team that he means to keep fighting by their side so long
as they accept his alien help.  He's got other errands to run for now, but
leaves everyone with this solemn reminder: rage can become strength in battle,
but hatred can only lead to destruction -- regardless of who it's aimed at.
Seeing Kouji and Maria again will have to wait until fortune (or the writers)
allow it.  As Freed flies off, Marin would dearly love to know what he earned
for himself by coming all this way to defend the Earth.  Can Marin, one day,
believe in the people of this planet the way Duke Freed does?

Gattler shrugs off the defeat to the other alliance commanders, calling it an
"exploratory raid" and citing certain outside interference.  Teral doesn't hold
it against him (what a nice guy), instead fretting over the Earthlings'
increasing firepower.  Butcher supposes that the Spacetime demolition on Earth
has heightened this warlike race's already formidable battle instincts, and
Emperor Vega knows what that means.  Strike now, with full force, while victory
still seems assured.  Unfortunately for him, the other commanders aren't so
bright.  They prefer a piecemeal approach, taking out the obstacles to massing
their force on the moon one at a time.  That's fine with Gattler, so long as
everyone in the alliance avoids stepping on each other's toes.  He recommends
the Gaizock focus on destroying Earth's culture, while the Eldar physically
occupy the place and Vega conducts his personal revenge.  Just so long as his
Aldebaran have something left to turn into their new homeland once all the dust
has settled.  He and Teral have the most in common, and neither they nor Vega
appreciate Butcher's playful approach to their spaceborne enemies.  As he tries
to devise a fun game to play with the Earthlings, Teral furiously wonders how
this hulking pig has come to possess such advanced technology...

Kazami and Rie will be joining the squad, in order to personally supervise the
practical use of Trinity Energy.  That means Minako will be coming along too,
providing a formidable romantic rival for Rie if Toshiya ever figures out how
to deal with women.  There's no time for long goodbyes however, as Jamir has
received reports of Federation forces massing near the Orb border.  The Minerva
and Argama are about to be in deep shit without some serious backup...

Marin has decided not only to stick around, but to serve as the Baldios' chief
mechanic as well as its main pilot.  Who better than he, who actually knows he
the heck subspace tech works?  Jamie will be by his side taking notes.  Raita
makes a first attempt to make pax with the guy, but Marin just hastens off to
start servicing the mech.  Not really surprising, as even Oliver realizes.
Queenstein can congratulate herself on getting Freed and Marin together, and
will continue to hold out hope for the human heart that beats within Marin's
breast.

Garrod gives Renton a few words of encouragement as they part, and tells him to
tell Eureka that Tifa wants to chat again sometime.  Holland and his crew can't
quite see their way clear to hang around, finding the prospect of fighting as
part of someone else's unit hard to stomach.  Better they continue fighting for
themselves as they travel in search of good waves, words that somehow convey
the gravity of the Gekkostate's battles to Renton.  Mail and Rand make sure to
tell Renton not to push himself too hard, or to act all bad-ass by spouting
technobabble like he did during the last battle.  Renton knows they're right on
the money, and also sees the weight of Holland's words reflected in Freed and
Marin.  And, he guesses, in Eureka herself.


17G. The Marathon From Hell

Adette is having a pretty rough time against the Saint Reagan, but she'll be
damned if she returns to a pack of whipped dogs like them.  Besides, she only
likes *strong* men.  Her former teammates' wheedling words don't seem very
convincing, even given the fact that her commanding officer has fallen prey to
Kejinan's schemes.  Yapan's Ceiling looks to be in dire straits, under constant
bombardment from Kejinan's forces and with Adette's mech unable to hold out
forever...

Lucky for them the Iron Gear and friends show up in the nick of time.  This is
apparently what the Siberian Rail forces were waiting for, and they beat a
hasty retreat to inform their commander.  This rendezvous with the Exodizers
has been a *very* long time in coming, but strangely little has changed.  Any
respite the Breaking of the world gave the Exodizers was short-lived, and
Siberian Rail has been hard on their heels almost the whole time.  There was
still time enough for Lioubov and Mamadu to strike up a romance at least.

Gain isn't pleased that the Saint Reagan, the central government's anti-
Siberian Rail forces, have joined the Exodus hunt.  What bothers him most is
how Yapan's Ceiling *hasn't* folded under the combined Saint Reagan/Siberian
Rail assault.  The only conclusion can be that they've been playing with the
Exodizers, and that they're about to kick off their real plan now that the Iron
Gear has arrived.  Adette's done an admirable job of holding the fort in the
meanwhile, having ended up as a bodyguard of sorts.  She's either impressed or
amused that the mighty Overman King Gainer's pilot is some callow bespectacled
kid, and assures Sara that she has no plans to "eat" him or anything.  The two
quickly get to quarreling, and Gain tells everyone to let them be.  Far better
for companions to vent all their grievances up front, lest they fester down the
road.

Unfortunately, the unrest isn't confined to the bridge.  The ordinary citizens
have started widespread chaos as festivities for the Black Southern Cross'
return got out of hand.  If the enemy were to attack now, this excessive
elation could turn to panic in an instant, yet the leaders have no good way to
quell the chaos.  But Gain does...

His proposal is a marathon, which will both focus and burn off the people's
excess energy.  The result will be a huge party, but at least some of the team
are taking things very seriously.  Both Adette and Sara want the mighty Rand to
complete their 12-person teams, and whichever side doesn't get him will get
Joseph.

  [pick a side.  I took Adette: age _and_ beauty before komusume-factor].

Adette smiles and notes that it takes a good man to recognize a good woman.
Sara on the other hand now sees Rand as her mortal enemy, setting the stage for
one helluva fragdown.  As Rand suspected, Adette's team is comprised mostly of
guys lured in by Adette's feminine wiles.  All except Gaury, who claims to be
keeping an eye on the "female ninja", and Jiron, who's curious why Adette
betrayed Siberian Rail.  Especially interesting are Kappei's teammates, who
feel he's been rather too full of himself lately, and picked the opposite team
from him to remind him how valuable they are.  That assumes victory of course,
and Adette isn't about to let that slip through her fingers.  Who's going to
crush the opposition?  Adette.  Who's going to have the last laugh?  Adette.
Who's the leader?  "Let me think a moment".

Gain and Gainer kick off the festivities, which really seem to have captured
the crowd's attention.  Not just the spectators, but the pilots themselves are
getting in a righteous round of blowing off steam regarding their teammates.
The final leg is about to begin when the bad guys start shelling the racetrack.
It doesn't take long for a command mech from the Saint Reagan to show up, with
Artham Boone at the controls.  He's waited a long time to throw down with the
Black Southern Cross, and challenges him to a one-on-one duel.

It's now clear what the enemy forces have been waiting for all this time.  Gain
and Artham go _way_ back, and Artham even agrees to withdraw his forces... in
the unlikely event that Gain wins.  Artham is staking his victory on Karin and
her daughter, and...  Wait, _daughter_!?!  In any case, the spectators have
something new to cheer about, and Gain is left with no chance to ask about this
new development.

  Artham is so consumed by his desire to "punish" Gain that he cares not for
  his duty to stop the Exodus... or his pledge to pull out his troops if beaten
  fair and square.  Holler and Gelaba are among the enemy troops who pour into
  the area, and with a new Landship in hand Holler is back to "call me
  captain!" mode.  Artham explains this breach of duelist etiquette with the
  excuse he's acting in his professional capacity now instead of the personal
  capacity under which he instigated the duel.

  If that strikes you as unfair, you're not alone.  Roger rolls up on a
  frigging *train* and deploys the Big O, greeting Rand smartly in the process.
  Joseph could swear he's seen a mechanical giant like that somewhere before,
  probably in the Lost Mountain during his explorations with Cid.  The Siberian
  Rail folks take Roger for one of the Blackmen, but Norman points out that
  their train's been modified to be perfectly capable of running without rails.
  Now _that_ is freedom if Roger's ever heard of it, and means among other
  things that his unpaid use of Siberia's rails is mere coincidence instead of
  fair delinquency.

  Yapan's Ceiling hired the guy for "Negotiations" during Gain's absence, and
  that's good enough for Artham to have his men fire on the Big O.  This means
  in essence that negotiations have failed before even beginning, though Roger
  makes it clear that the other side bears the majority of the blame.  He has
  Norman take Dorothy out of danger, giving his trusty butler instructions to
  try something different for dinner.  And as for Artham's men, they should
  consider themselves very unlucky to face Roger when he's following a
  duly-signed contract.  He's cleverly bought the Iron Gear time to sortie its
  members, including Sara and Adette who rush to extract vengeance.  In fact,
  this could be considered an extension of the previous marathon, with Roger
  acting as judge.  Artham won't hear of being defeated by people playing
  around like this, but Gain warns him that if he thinks the Iron Gear are
  playing, he's in for a MAJOR surprise.

  Artham sees himself as trying to defend his sister's honor, though it's a tad
  or several too late given that her bun in the oven has already finished
  baking.  Jabori has far more down to earth motives, like staying alive.
  Holler may have a new Landship, but his new hotness is still old and busted.
  At least he knows when to quit.  The best Artham can muster is the standard
  "I'll get you next time!".

  Roger formally declares Adette the winner of the battle, though Sara still
  wants to settle the marathon with one final sprint.  Maybe the two of them
  are just too similar to get along?

All the Yapan's Ceiling folks know of Roger is footage from the UN, in which he
wrecks shit in a major way.  Roger makes a point of emphasizing to them that he
prefers to use words rather than brute force, lamenting how the UN's ease of
use also leads to unsubstantiated rumors and trash talk [hmm, where have I
heard that before...]  Dorothy doesn't help by pointing out that "where there's
smoke, there's fire", but Roger is still happy to be hired on as a Negotiator.
If nothing else, the would-be Exodizers are infinitely more lively than the
inhabitants of his home Dome.

Outside, the marathon is drawing to its final conclusion, and Adette and Sara
are doing everything in their power to keep each other from finishing.  It's
gotten way beyond personal, but at the last minute, Fatman runs out of nowhere
and claims first place.  As the crowd cheers, both Adette and Sara realize
their thunder has been entirely stolen...

Gainer now gets to sleep in his own room for the first time in who knows how
long... that is, in the room he *thought* was his.  It now belongs to Adette,
who needed somewhere to sleep herself.  She doesn't seem at all inclined to
kick the kid out, instead opting for a brazen display of unzipping her supple
flight suit on the way to the shower.  Gainer finds himself at a total loss.
What would Brian Boitano do, if he was here right now?  I'm sure he'd
kick^H^H^H^Hfondle an ass or two, that's what Brian Boitano'd do. [;) ;)]


18P. Blood-Drenched Eyes

The Orb's government isn't willing to accept the Plants' request for
cooperation, still clinging to its scrupulous facade of neutrality.  Bright
points out to minister Yuuna that the Federation has a proven track record of
dragging neutral powers into the fold by force.  Besides, it's not as if
Durandal wants Orb throwing down with the Feds directly; rather, he wants the
use of their docks and resupply when needed.  Yuuna loves to hear himself
making grand speeches about protecting the fate of "his" country, as though
being the scion of one of Orb's five noble houses made him its king.  Cagalli
does nothing to put him in his place, and Talia has to wonder what happened to
the once-volatile blonde after returning to her homeland.

Yuuna and his dad Unato say that they only allowed Bright and Talia to dock
this time as a special favor for looking after Cagalli during the previous war.
Now that negotiations are deadlocked, they want the Zaft forces to scram, like
posthaste.  Talia asks where Alex is, surprised to hear that he's left
Cagalli's bodyguard and is no longer affiliated with Orb.  As Bright and Talia
leave, Yuuna tells them to be on the lookout for some festivities to
commemorate a very happy (and very secret) event.

Whatever Yuuna and Unato have cooked up in the privy council, it involves
controverting the very principles their nation is founded on.  They'd rather
see that than watch the country burn, as it did under Cagalli's father's watch.
Cagalli is, to say the least, not convinced, but Yuuna presumes that won't
matter.  That is, once he's married her and announced Orb's alliance with the
Federation.  Unato doubts very highly the former AEUG troops will live long
enough to see that day, and Cagalli wishes she knew where Aslan is -- things
have gotten far outside her control...

Talia runs into "Maria", who commends her on prioritizing repairs to her ship
over keeping its upgraded specs a secret from the Orb.  Maria also has a
message for Talia, reading "The pawn surrounded by black pieces will be knocked
over and become black itself.  Escape while you still can, Minerva." Maria
claims not to know who the message is from, but she was also told to drop a
certain name if Talia doubted its veracity: "Andrew Bartfeld".  That would be
the fabled Desert Tiger, one-time commander of the Zaft's Africa troops and
later a staunch defender of the Orb.  Ominous words, underscoring the intrigue
that threatens this idyllic island nation.

Speaking of which, Quatro is learning from an informant that Axis has come from
the asteroid belt all the way to the Earth.  There's no telling exactly how
Hamarn will react, but given that she's in charge of the only home the
surviving Jion have left it's likely she won't want to play ball with the New
Earth Federation.  There's one other piece of news: Axis' science division has
discovered some sort of structure adrift in space that's radically advanced
their Psycommu research.  For all anyone knows, it came from one of the other
worlds, where people with ideas similar to Quatro's had the time to bring them
to fruition.  With the Psychoframe's completion drawing near, Quatro asks about
a private matter he's had this informant investigate.  Someone matching the
description does indeed exist in this world, but like the rest of the Newtypes
seems to have been apprehended by the Federation and slated for a battery of
hideous experiments.  Quatro scowls and notes that the mingling of the worlds
seems to have stolen what little morals the Federation once possessed.  He
tells the informant to get more precise information, since he may well end up
busting this someone out of whatever prison they're in.  The informant "yes
sir"s the "colonel", and Quatro thinks to himself that neither he, nor "that
man", seem able to escape the curse of the One Year War...

There's no sign of Shin, who Ray thinks must be off stewing somewhere.  Orb is
the both the land of his birth, and the land of his parents' deaths.  As
Camille and the others ponder what to do next, an Orb soldier named Todaka
shows up and says that he's seen someone in a Zaft uniform like theirs by the
memorial at the beach.  As the others rush off, Emma and Reccoa stay to explain
to Todaka why a Zaft officer would be visiting a memorial for Orb's war dead.
Hearing that "Shin" was supposedly born in Orb confuses Todaka, who thought
Shin was the spitting image of a certain other someone.

Todaka has problems of his own to deal with, in the form of a persistent guy
named Kai.  Kai wants to know what the status of Cagalli and the young master
(meaning Yuuna) is, and Todaka irritably tells him to wait for the official
announcement in a couple days.  Kai, like the self-respecting reporter he is,
won't give it a rest -- just the way Reccoa remembers him.  The best advice he
can give the girls is: get the hell out of this country before it becomes a
warzone.

Shin is communing with his departed parents and sister at the war memorial,
telling them about his fight to keep further wars from happening.  He's met
there by someone who looks an *awful* lot like him.  They watch how the ocean
tide has withered all the flowers planted around the memorial: a fitting, or at
least obvious, metaphor for the horrors of war.  Shin snaps out of his reverie
and runs off, leaving Kira to tell Lacus that Shin's heart was crying.

With both ships hearing rumblings about their safety, Talia has greatly
accelerated plans to put Orb behind her.  Bright's old friend Kai's info is
what really sealed the deal, and given how important Bright was in his former
world, it stands to reason that a friend of his is worth listening to.  In
fact, the parallels between Bright's old command and the Archangel are almost
overwhelming, right down to the under-age ace pilot factor...

Just as the small armada clears Orb space, a detachment of Federation forces
attack.  It figures they'd send airborne units to attack you over the ocean,
and it's immediately clear how serious they're taking things from the presence
of a new mobile armor.  Bran tells his troops that they'd _better_ win given
all their advance preparations, and tells the AEUG not to take this personally.
It's not to his men they're about to lose to, but to the government itself.
Shin claims he's good to go, but his teammates know he's more on edge than he
should be...

  As though the team didn't have enough problems, a detachment of Orb soldiers
  appears and starts blasting the Minerva.  Todaka isn't entirely a fan of
  turning on the ship that did it's damndest to save Orb's bacon during the
  last war.  He calls it "ungrateful", a word not in most politicians'
  dictionaries, and directs his men not to shoot out the Zaft's cockpits or
  powerplants, and damn the political consequences.  It's now clear to Talia
  what all the warnings meant: Orb has abandoned its principles and sided with
  the Feds.  The Minerva fleet has been tapped as the sacrificial lamb, and
  there's surely no way to pull back now.  Instead, Talia orders the Tanhauser
  positron cannon fired up, so she can blast a path for a strategic retreat to
  the front [^_^].

  Bran's got a counter to that, a Mobile Armor meant to help fend off the
  aliens as well as the Zaft and AEUG.  That, plus the superior maneuverability
  of his Ashmar, should make them invincible... or so the story goes.  Then
  again, these are former Jion people, test-firing former Federation gear,
  which might not be karmically good.  Still, with the "Phantom Pain" being
  reconstituted, maybe these guys are due for some good luck.

  At the very least, the Mobile Armor seems more than a match for the Tanhauser
  cannon.  And unless the team can defeat it, there's no way any of them are
  getting out of here alive.

  Things are going nowhere painfully slowly, and Bran orders the Zamzazar to
  prepare for the final blow.  Shin tries desperately to get inside its
  barrier, but it's also got point defenses that cost him dearly for his haste.
  In that instant however, a new combatant blows away the Zamzazar's positron
  reflector with a pinpoint strike.  The Kalaba unit is piloted by none other
  than the legendary Amuro Rei, who's got a very rattled Katsu along for the
  ride.  He yells to Shin to use this chance to escape, but Shin doesn't want
  to depend on anyone else's protection while fighting.

  Luckily for him, he's got a hidden advantage.  As his SEED powers activate,
  he manages to dodge the Mobile Armor's second barrage, and rapidly tells the
  Minerva to support him with extra armaments.  Amuro can tell that something
  about Shin has changed, and quickly joins up with the Zaft forces.  There
  will be plenty of time for introductions with the famous ace later, assuming
  that anyone lives through this.

  Mobile Armor or no, it's no match for Shin's aroused SEED abilities.  Bran
  knows when he's beat, and orders what's left of his and the Orb forces to
  withdraw.  That's not quite good enough for Shin, who won't let the
  aggressors just *walk* (or fly, or swim, or pogo-stick, or whatever) away
  from this one.  Amuro realizes he means to obliterate the Zamzazar, and zooms
  over to deflect the fatal blow.  He yells to Shin that the enemy pilot had
  already lost the will to fight and turned tail: does Shin want to become a
  murderer?!

  No time to ponder that one, as a brand-new contingent of foes arrive.  These
  are of alien origin, exploiting the Pacific's thin Rivalry Zones.  In hot
  pursuit come Toshiya and the crew, Marin determined as always to wreck these
  aliens and Raita equally determined to denounce him as one of them.  Aphrodia
  doesn't care that there's more Earthlings than planned for, and orders her
  troops to mount a full assault.

  Despite all her bluster, Aphrodia realizes that the Earthlings are becoming a
  force to be reckoned with, just as Gattler foretold.  She'll get them next
  time for SURE!  Like, for real, even.  Get lost.

The Freeden will be joining up with these forces shortly, and with the Orb
hostile to them the narrow lifelines that support the Forces Of Good(tm) have
gotten a lot narrower yet.  At least you've got Shin, whose feats of ass-
kicking are less due to his mech than to his own powers.  Durandal must have
suspected as much, having given Shin a better mech than the ordinarily superior
pilot Rey.  After all, Durandal is an expert in DNA analysis...  In any case,
Shin isn't in terribly good shape after seeing his homeland's hypocrisy laid
bare.  When he cries out in anguish, Amuro can feel his very soul in the
reverberations.

Word of Orb's defection reaches a shocked Aslan, showing that Cagalli wasn't
able to hold the Seilan family back.  This change of heart from the mightiest
of the unaligned nations on Earth can only act to accelerate the chaos gripping
the world, with other unaligned nations sure to be affected in the very near
future.  Aslan begs the chairman to keep the world from degenerating into
nothing but profitless battle.  He remembers how his father Patrick said that
the criminals who dropped Junius 7 to the Earth were in the right, and is sure
that such tactics will only leave the world more full of hatred than before.

Durandal reminds Aslan that both Patrick and the terrorists initially had the
same thought in mind: to protect the Plants.  It's their methods that were
faulty, and Durandal is determined to protect both the Plants and the world at
large in other ways.  He tells Aslan not to be burdened by his father's
identity: he's responsible for himself alone.  Aslan's return to the Plants,
determined to stop the flames of war from becoming a full-fledged inferno,
should be a happy occasion.  Durandal's just a crazy idealist like that.  The
only problem is... "Lacus".  The real article has gone missing, so Durandal saw
fit to introduce a body double in the interest of keeping the Plants' morale
high.

In fact, the double, Meer Campbell, looks almost _too_ much like the woman
Aslan was once betrothed to.  Meer is living the dream of one of Lacus'
hardcore fans, and is satisfied with holding the fort until the real Lacus
returns.  Her efforts on behalf of the Plants aren't so different from Aslan's:
both have given up their past in the interest of the future.

Bright is glad to have Amuro back, and gladder still that Hayato has become
wise enough to relinquish him from the guerilla lifestyle.  Even Katsu himself,
once the crybaby of the White Base, has grown up enough to be a useful pilot.
Amuro is currently off talking with "Quatro", and Camille is sent to summon him
to the bridge... though Bright tells him to take his time en route to his idol.
Bright's received word about Quatro's probable background, and knows that Amuro
will have recognized his old nemesis.  As Camille heads off, Katsu gives Bright
a very old-fashioned paper letter with a message from Mirai and the rest of the
Kalaba...

Amuro and Char staring at each other is among the most uncomfortable pauses in
history.  Quatro certainly has plenty of things to say pent up over these last
seven years, but none of them come to mind.  Amuro expects Char to deride him
for not doing anything to change the world in the meantime, and is prepared to
accept it.  That's about the furthest thing from Quatro's mind, especially
given how Amuro fought today.  What Quatro wants to know is how Amuro came to
be here, given how he's heard the New Earth Federation treats Newtypes.

Amuro tells him that however bad he's heard, it's worse.  He was slated to be
used as a guinea pig for helping create artificial Newtypes, and to be shipped
to the moon for low-gravity experiments.  What saved him was a voice calling
his name that woke him out of a sound slumber, just in time for the base
holding him to be destroyed in a raid.  Though it was the Kalaba who saved him,
the base's defenses were wiped out by someone else.  Amuro's found no leads
about his mysterious (and violent) benefactor, but he's already inclined to
thank them just for letting him see Char again.  He plans to hold up his end of
the combat operations, though he notes ironically that that kid from today
might be more use than him in his somewhat rusty state.  Amuro's even man
enough to admit to Char that he felt fear looking in Shin's bottomless eyes,
eyes that viewed everything and everyone as his enemy.  Such a way of fighting
could only result in Shin's own eventual destruction, and Char says that any
true top pilot can't be too sensitive.  Well, with perhaps one exception that
Amuro knows of.

Enter Camille, whose name Amuro has heard.  Quatro tells Camille to head to the
Minerva while he escorts Amuro to the bridge.  After all, Rey and Lunamaria
have been looking for him.  Quatro sounds reassured that Amuro too has his eyes
on the young pilot, and both of them hope he'll be able to tread the path
neither of them were able to find.  At the very least, he's good for delivering
a pep talk to Shin, who still doubts his own strength.  Camille tells him that
today's victory is entirely thanks to him, and that the captain has even put in
to the Plants for a commendation in his name.  Becoming strong is what Shin has
craved so badly for so long, and he prays to his departed sister to watch over
him as he tries to end this war...

Rey thanks Camille for interceding on their behalf.  He would have gone himself
if not for his knowledge about Shin's past association with Orb -- he didn't
want any awkwardness to arise.  Camille says that Shin is lucky to have such
good friends, and is pretty self-effacing when told of the captain's praise for
him.  He still feels he's in the shadow, or at least footsteps, of the
legendary ace Char Aznable, the Red Comet, and his rival Amuro Rei.  Shin might
be on the fast track to that level of notoriety, but he's still a softie who
actually longs to hear "good job" from his friends.  Mizuki wonders if she
should pat the kid on the head, or maybe have some of the younger girls give
him a congratulatory kiss.  As everyone dithers over how to handle Shin, the
guy shows up in the flesh.  He's not shy about admitting that he doesn't know
himself how he made the leap to super-ace status.  All he knew was that the Orb
had betrayed everyone, and that Amuro had saved his bacon.  In the instant he
knew he couldn't forgive himself for being so weak, he had what alcoholics call
a moment of clarity.  No telling what that portends, but if it lets him and his
friends live to see tomorrow -- especially in this mixed up world -- it can't
be all bad.

Meanwhile, the "Desert Tiger" has sent a message to the Gekkostate, using a
code supposedly only known to Lif'ers.  It's an unusual mode of communication
to say the least, but Holland is at least willing to hear this "Tiger" out...


18G. Farewell, My Friend

Things are almost back to normal at Yapan's Ceiling after the marathon and
ensuing fracas yesterday.  All the kids are in school, including a "sleep-
deprived" Gainer and the Zanbot 3 kids.  Uchuuta and friends may be young, but
sleep-study devices helped them master their mech in no time flat.  That might
have been a convenient way to master other academic subjects as well, but such
tactics would have deprived them of the fun of studying together with their
classmates in school.  Speaking of which, there's a new sherriff^W teacher in
town, and her name's Adette.  What Gainer can't figure out is how Adette
managed to not only beat him out the door this morning, but change into this
fetching teacher getup without his knowing.

Adette opts to lecture the kids on the current state of Galia, which has become
a veritable dumping ground for the rest of the world.  Exodizers, cultists,
refugees, even moon people are scattered across the land, either contorting
themselves to fit into the Domepolis lifestyle or else devoting themselves to
nomadism.  Apart from the Saint Reagan, the New Earth Federation couldn't give
a damn what happens to any of them, including the fact that the land itself may
be their worst enemy.

The lecture gets interrupted by the massive shuddering of the whole block
slamming on the brakes.  That can mean only one thing: emergency sortie time.
Seems there's a refugee caravan who mean to force their way aboard, and they
won't take no for an answer.  The leaders are trying to negotiate peacefully,
but in case that fails, the pilots are all ordered to wait in their mecha.
Rolan has to wonder if these refugees are in fact from the Moon Race.

The caravan representative, Tiptree, claims her people only want passage to the
next Domepolis.  Roger recognizes her dress as Vodalak, though she claims that
the believers are in the minority of the people seeking entrance.
Discrimination against a harmless(?) nature-loving religion hardly seems the
done thing, and with provisions to spare for bartering, Roger sees no reason to
deny them admission.  Quite the opposite in fact: taking in the Vodalak will
help expand Yapan's reputation as an anti-Federation rallying point, and stick
it to the Saint Reagan in the process.  Roger does emphasize though that these
newcomers are only welcome until the next Domepolis: overstaying their welcome
would be in neither their nor the Yapan's Ceiling's best interests.  Gain's
certainly seen plenty of Exoduses fail from internal conflict before, and to
help avoid that fate here, Roger volunteers to negotiate for the caravan's
smooth integration into the next Domepolis when it's within range.  Call it
recompense for using the Vodalak's presence for political gain.  See, Roger's
quite good at this, and hopes that Gain is equally good at keeping this Exodus
on track.

This all is good news for Rolan, who's really big on racial diversity given his
heritage as a member of the Moon Race.  He's also rather more fortunate than
the Kami Family, who were driven out of their hometown on suspicion of being
involved with the aliens.  This point gets swiftly driven home when some of
Kappei's old friends turn up among the caravan, still blaming his family for
being kicked out of town too.  These bumpkins don't seem to realize that the
Gaizock meant to lay the Earth waste regardless of the mecha the Kami family
unearthed, though they may have a partial excuse given what they've been
through to get to this point.  Turns out that an unknown enemy, and *not* the
Gaizock, wiped out their refugee camp in Japan, and the kids watched the
Japanese government haul away the newly homeless by force.  How any of this is
the Kami family's fault remains quite unclear, but Kagetsu and Heimon warn
Kappei to never show his face in front of them again, else they round up the
posse of similarly idiotic folk from the caravan and try to lynch him.

As the spiteful bunch trudge off in search of somewhere to sleep for the night,
one of them lingers behind, a lad named Topp who's never seen his elder-
brother figure Kagetsu this mad.  He's heard on the UN that Zanbot 3 was left
on the Earth by some ancient alien dudes, and that the people piloting it now
are also aliens.  Kappei testily tells him not to believe that shit, but a
mysterious man strides onto the scene and tells him to lay off the bluffing.
Some call him The Storm, others call him the emissary of the Sun, but what his
real name is Kappei doesn't yet deserve to know.  Banjou [oops, just debagged
the cat] tells Kappei that he'll throw down with him if Kappei really wants,
but that it won't make him feel any better.  He's got to find the Light if he's
going to overcome the darkness within, and stuff.  That doesn't make much sense
to the irritable kid, but fortunately the actual Gaizock show up for him to
vent his frustrations on.  Topp still wants to know who this guy with the faboo
clothing and hair is, and Banjou will only say that he's an itinerant busybody.
Inwardly though, he hopes that Kappei will figure out soon that he's got far
more light than Banjou ever had...

Kappei is in such high dudgeon that he doesn't even wait for his teammates,
much less the rest of the Exodus defenders, to sortie.  He thinks he and his
dog are match enough for the recon Gaizock, but evidence suggests he's being a
tad too brash...

  His ill-conceived plan has two parts.  One: show his detractors how badly
  their asses would have been mauled had he and his family not fought the
  aliens.  And two: show how hard *he's* working by defeating the bad guys all
  by himself.  Getting his own ass smacked around only serves to make him bored
  waiting for the main enemy force to arrive, and his teammates have had enough
  out of him.  Gengoro knows Kappei's run into Kagetsu, and can pretty much
  guess what happened between them.  Clearly his son's bad habit of getting
  bothered by little stuff hasn't been fixed, and he sure as hell won't let
  someone like that pilot Zanbot-3.  He orders the other team members to stay
  put aboard the King Beal, making Kappei feel twice as misunderstood as
  before.  Gain isn't interested in getting mixed up in family disputes, only
  in taking the Gaizock down. 

  Just when the end appears nigh for the Gaizock, the sound of distant choirs
  heralds the arrival of a new menace: a Fallen Angel.  To Roger's
  astonishment, Big O's monitors flashed information about these new enemies:
  it must have somehow encountered them before.  No doubt the Fallen Angel
  wants to harvest the sizeable population of Yapan's Ceiling, and Heizaemon
  hurries to map out a line beyond which the Angels will become unstoppable.

  On the next round, some new foes with extremely heavy armor appear.  The Iron
  Gear's artillery is useless against them, but a new ally appears: the
  Aquarion team.  Apollo's got a couple new recruits in tow, who've been
  trained by Fudou but have never actually combined in combat before.  One of
  them, Tsugumi, is so nervous it feels like her heart will burst right out of
  her chest.  One of the Fallens makes a run for it, and the only thing in its
  way is a severely out-gunned Kappei.  He knows very well that he's no match
  for this foe, but he's still determined to protect those he holds dear.

  So what up then, asks a familiar voice.  Whatchoo gonna dooo, when the Fallen
  Angels are comin' for yoooo!?!  Beg for help, obviously, and about goddamn
  time too.  Gengoro sorties the rest of Zanbot-3, and Kappei's teammates don't
  hesitate to point out that he's not the only one with a reason to fight here.
  Zanbot combines in a very impressive show of force, which is just what Fudou
  has been preaching all along: people derive power from having something to
  protect.  Jun implores Tsugumi to combine with him and Apollo, having thought
  up a way to defeat these new Fallens.  Tsugumi still has a lot of trouble
  dealing with the daunting power of her own building sensations, but she
  finally opts to give it a try rather than stay on the sidelines forever.
  Their combined form is Formation 49: The First Form, Aquarion Luna.  The
  bliss is almost more than Tsugumi can stand, but Jun's remote-imaging
  abilities allow her to see well enough to destroy the target (and cum like
  nobody's business in the process).

  Has piloting a robot ever been this fun?  Hard to tell for the rest of the
  somewhat astonished team.  At least the Zanbot team is back to functioning
  like a *team*, offering some hope of actually winning this battle...

Pesky though they may be, the enemies aren't invincible.  Gain thanks Apollo
for saving the day, but Apollo doesn't need anyone to thank him for doing his
Fallen Angel-hunting job.  He and his team just came from Japan, and he's got a
word of warning for the Exodizers heading there: Japan Is Hell(tm).  What's
happening in this small island nation?  Apollo tells Kouji and friends to go
see for themselves before unhelpfully jetting off.  With his departure, Kappei
notices someone else missing too: that sunny guy who gave him advice during the
battle.  Kappei sure would like to thank him for helping open his eyes, but
he'll probably get his chance later.

The fact that aliens and Fallen Angels are overrunning even the plains of
Siberia is a vivid reminder that this is no time for man to be fighting against
man.  "Kiel" really really needs to get back home and try to set things to
rights within the Diana Counter.

Geezer presents his findings on the so-called Fallen Angels to Butcher.
They've been popping up all over the Earth and kidnapping humans, and that
gives Butcher an idea for a really fun game to play while the Aldebaran and
Eldar are messing around in the Pacific.  He doesn't care what the Fallens are
doing with the humans, and isn't trying to ally himself with them either per
se.  He won't say precisely what this new plan is, but he orders Geezer to
gather as many humans as he can...

It's time for the caravan to split off again and make for a nearby Domepolis,
and Roger politely insists on sticking with them long enough to ensure they're
allowed inside.  Topp's totally revised his views on Kappei, and even gives him
a nice parting gift.  Michi and Aki also make sure to say their goodbyes,
apologizing that Kagetsu and Heimon elected not to come too.  Kappei knows how
the boys must feel, and the girls at least have a slightly better idea how
Kappei feels too as he fights to keep their butts intact.  The girls head off
with the caravan, but Topp is actually headed elsewhere in pursuit of his
grand(iose) dreams.  Kouji and Maria can only watch and hope that one day, all
the kids can get together and laugh the way they once did.  Rolan holds out
similar hopes for the Earthlings and the Moon Race, and "Kiel" tells him to
come to her room later for a personal favor.

At long last, she reveals her secret to him: she is the real Diana Sorel.
Rolan admits he felt something out of place all this time, but can't believe it
didn't click for him despite being so close to both women for so long.  She
tells him that his beloved Kiel is likely in mortal danger aboard the Soreiyu,
noting that the current stalemate between all the parties trying to invade the
Earth can't continue.  She needs his help, on behalf of both the Moon and the
Earth...

Gainer heads to Yapan's Ceiling's bazaar, noting how the residential unit has
changed while he's been gone.  Not really surprising, given how much the world
itself has changed.  Adette's with him, and Kona runs over to her to show her
something interesting the caravan dropped off.  It seems to be the wreckage of
an Overman: too badly damaged to use right away, but possibly useful for spare
parts given the talented group of mechanics assembled here.  When the thing is
hauled back to the hangar, Kotoset tells the younger mechanic that it's so
badly damaged it likely won't even serve as spare parts for King Gainer... but
rather than just toss it entirely, it might be worth a try to restore it
anyway.  Of course, to do that, she'd have to figure out what it looked like in
the first place.  Adette frowns at the wreck, finding something about it
strangely familiar.  Sara makes a snide comment about "senior moments" and
drives the recollection out of Adette's mind, but she promises Kona to let her
know if it comes to her later.  She makes quite a show of hauling Gainer off,
though Gainer manages to hide the fact that Adette is living *with* him...


19P. Reawakening Wings

Aslan's put his Zaft uniform back on, sobered by a visit to the graves of his
friends and comrades who perished in the previous war.  He knows he's got the
power to help, and can't bear to remain idle now.  That's what Durandal was
counting on when he sent the uniform to him, and he's got a little something to
help Aslan act on his newfound convictions: a FAITH badge.  Aslan need not
swear allegiance to the military or even the Plants, but only to his own
convictions, an incredibly good deal to say the very least.  Durandal is sure
Aslan will know when the time is right to fight for peace between the Earth and
Plants, and backs his conviction up with another gift: the ZGMF-X23S Saber.
Developed around the same time as the Chaos, Gaia and Avis, it should make a
formidable steed for him on his good works.  Works like, disrupting Cagalli's
impending marriage for instance.  Arrangements have been made for him to join
the Minerva at Trinity City, a ship Durandal hopes will be every bit as
valorous as the Archangel once was.  As Aslan heads off, Durandal thinks that
if his people keep doing their job, his "Lacus Klein" will soon become the one
and only genuine article...

Cagalli has let herself get railroaded to the very threshold of her wedding.
Is she doing the right thing?  Not the sort of deliberation one should defer
until one's wedding dress is already on, but there's all those cowering
citizens to think of -- or at least, that's Yuuna's line.  He tells her that
her childish resistance must end today, unless she wants the citizens to get
sick of her.  They're both Naturals, right?  The alliance with the Federation
is already signed, right?  So what's with that ring she got from Alex she's
holding onto so tightly?  Does she intend to cancel the wedding and side with
the Plants against the Federation?  To bail on her country and her family name?
Not that he like, hates the Coordinators or anything: he just can't stand the
thought of Alex or that Kira Yamato dude being near her given her current
stature.  Smirking, he tells her to try to practice smiling in the short time
left before the wedding begins...

At Onogoro Island's secret dock, Bartfeld is admiring the swell of Trapars
gracing the area today.  Couldn't ask for better Lif'ing conditions, really.
This is the last morning he's going to be able to drink coffee here, and he's
gone all out in roasting the morning's pot.  Maria takes a sip, noting that
yesterday's pot was better for being more moderate, proving the old maxim that
"Less is More".  What applies to coffee applies to governments too, but
Bartfeld isn't going to blame an eighteen year-old girl like Cagalli for
striking out in the governmental arena.

The question is what he, Kira and Lacus are going to do now.  Bartfeld's sure
the Federation still holds many people sympathetic to the old Blue Cosmos'
ideals, meaning any of Orb's ambitions to bring Coordinators and Naturals
together are destined to fail.  There's nowhere left in these parts where
people can go to grow old and die in peace any more, so Maria's prepared to
look elsewhere.  She won't be going it alone either: her entire crew have her
ship waiting.  All they need is Kira and Lacus to show up, and it's bon voyage.
Just where are those two, anyway?

They're saying their goodbyes to the house they lived in, and the whole nation
of Orb besides.  Neither can say why it's so hard to find a way to live in
peace, but neither of them plans to give up the search yet.  Unfortunately,
they'll have to live through an assassination attempt first, and Kira
immediately recognizes that their assailants are Coordinators.  Kira manages to
get Lacus safely to Bartfeld, but she loses sight of him along the way.

More bad news arrives in the form of Mobile Suits and a KLF: quite a force to
take out a single person.  They've only got one hurdle to clear before getting
a clean shot at Lacus, and that hurdle is Kira's Freedom.  Lacus hadn't wanted
Kira to be forced back into fighting, but the thought of not protecting those
he holds dear would hurt Kira even more.  The Coordinator assassins may be good
at their job, but they're about to face the baddest-ass product of their own
genetically-engineered system.

  After the wreckage of the last enemy mech plummets into the sea, Kira wonders
  who sent all these Coordinators after Lacus.  Bartfeld radios in to say that
  their schedule's been moved up, and Kira zooms out of the area.

Meanwhile, the sound of gunfire has thoroughly disrupted the marriage ceremony.
Just what are the Federation forces stationed as guards shooting at, anyway?
Todaka tries to get Yuuna and Cagalli somewhere safe, but out of nowhere
appears the Freedom.  It sets down right next to the chapel, scooping up
Cagalli in its hand.  Yuuna yells for Todaka to get Cagalli back, but nobody
dare shoot for fear of hitting her.  Kira compliments Cagalli on her neato
dress, and whisks her to the nearby Archangel.  Neither Kira nor
Maria^H^H^H^H^HMaryuu had any real choice but to pull this stunt, and Kira
tells his sister that nothing good could come of staying silent at a time like
this.  He already knows too well what heartache that leads to.

Of course the Orb and Federation forces won't let the Archangel go quietly, so
Kira and Bartfeld will need to use a little violence to open the road.  And to
help out, the Desert Tiger's hired the Gekkostate.  The Lif'ers find it more
than a little odd that mecha are involved in what was supposed to be a simple
wedding disruption, but Stoner's already salivating at the footage he's going
to shoot.  Holland's mood takes a turn for the worse when he sees Rand and
friends step on the scene, harbingers of yet another mess for him and his crew.
Rand's squadron was actually just here on recon, but now that they're caught in
the fracas, there's little choice but to pay Orb back for what they did to the
Minerva.

  Mail is sure that she's striking a blow for maidens' hearts everywhere, but
  Rand points out that Cagalli would have had to approve this marriage for it
  to have gotten this far.  Mail's sure that no woman in the world would
  voluntarily wed a smug bastard like Yuuna, and Rand can only swallow his
  sympathy for the guy having his wedding wrecked before it even got underway.

  Maryuu's had two years of peace since the last war, but she's not one to sit
  still when the dark clouds of war return.  Neither is Bartfeld, who feels
  it's his duty to keep Kira from shouldering the entire burden himself.

When the defenders fall silent, the Archangel goes to full throttle to get out
of Dodge.  Kira apologizes for not staying to say hi, but he's got places to go
and stuff to do.  Bartfeld makes sure the Gekkostate get every penny of their
appearance fee, and Holland doesn't intend to stick around one second longer
than necessary lest more Orb forces show up.  Rand and friends make like
bananas too, leaving a stunned, disheveled Yuuna standing at the altar.  He
furiously orders Todaka to contact all Federation units in the area to keep the
Archangel from escaping, but Todaka informs him that almost all of them have
been wiped out while skirmishing with the Minerva.  What Yuuna hears next is
the sound of a million eggs all heading for Orb's face as seen from the rest of
the world's politicians.  Of course, to Todaka it sounds like a new beginning
for peace on Earth, but maybe his hearing's been damaged from fighting so many
battles ;)

Aboard the speeding Archangel, Cagalli shouts at the entire command crew,
pointing out to them that stealing a head of state from her own wedding is an
international crime, not to mention completely insane.  Completely unavoidable
too, in Kira's words, given the consequences if Cagalli had gone through with
her own, equally insane, wedding.  Kira knows that Cagalli knows that the
wedding with Yuuna and the alliance with the Federation aren't in Orb's best
interests.  Maybe Orb itself would be spared the torch, but what about the next
country in line?  Did Cagalli want her own countrymen to be the torchbearers?
Cagalli's father once said that there are some things that must be protected,
even at the cost of the country itself, and Kira thinks there's still time to
make amends.  After all she's been through, it's only natural that Cagalli will
need time to come around to his way of looking at it...

All Talia needs to see is Aslan's uniform to know he's been back to the Zaft.
He acts on Durandal's behalf to make Talia a member of FAITH too, and Talia
wonders just how much cleaning Durandal intends her to do on Earth.  The
Archangel's whereabouts are currently unknown, but its exploits are already the
talk of the UN.  Aslan trusts his old friend to do the right thing.  As for the
Minerva, Durandal wants them to figure out what the Moon Race are up to in
Galia and then head for Japan.  They've been isolated ever since the Breaking,
and Durandal is sure that Japanese industrial and technological might has the
potential to alter the course of human events.  The trick will be getting the
isolationist government to let everyone in, and Bright hopes to influence your
chances by joining up with the King Beal and Iron Gear.  The reduced Federation
presence in Galia should make traveling a bit easier, and also set the stage to
see Raven again.

Certainly the Blue Fixer folks remember what happened the last time a radical
minority took over the Federation.  What happened with the Titans is about to
happen again, and those gathering aboard the Minerva may be the last best hope
to stop it.  That's what Durandal wants, right?

The Zaft maintenance staff explain to Rand and friends about Aslan's unique
background.  The son of the leader of the Plant's hawk faction, Aslan ended up
fighting as part of a neutral third force that ended the Zaft-Earth war.  The
strain that caused with the Zaft is probably what prompted Aslan to live in Orb
in the two intervening years.  Rumors claim that he and Cagalli were lovers,
which lends more credence to the notion that this marriage was more out of
political maneuvering than out of Cagalli's own will.  Shin for one isn't
surprised that an Asuha didn't live up to their high-sounding principles, but
Rand tells him that there's always a gap between ideals and reality.  Relying
on his "older and wiser" act, he points out that Orb must have become pretty
warped by the appearance of that wedding.  He doesn't pretend to understand how
someone could use marrying a young girl as a political tool -- or stealing her
away by force either, for that matter.  But he does know this: if Shin really
hates the Orb that much, he needs to stop caring what happens there if he
values his health.

Aslan then walks over, being put in charge of the Minerva's Mobile Suits by
Quatro.  Lunamaria is glad to see him back in the saddle, finding it an honor
to fly by the side of such a noted ace.  Shin is pleasantly surprised when
Aslan passes along commendations from Durandal and tells him he's counting on
him too.  The return of this noted ace reminds Camille of Amuro, but Amuro
knows that Aslan displayed far more resolve than him in his decision to return
to the front lines.  That's all well and good as far as weakening the
Federation goes, but Quatro is sure that this makeshift army will need more
firepower.  Maybe some of that will be available from Japan's super robot
builders, if this world is like the one Quatro hails from... or so Durandal
seems to hope.  Amuro sees the growing power of the Minerva and Archangel as a
polarizing force for the world stage: people must either side with the
Federation, or with the Zaft.  One thing's for sure: the world map won't be the
same after his forces are done with it...


19G. Blizzard on Founding Day

Gainer's just met an old friend in the Overman Battle arena: a girl with truly
egregious pigtails named Cynthia.  Online gaming = good.  IRL meetups = not so
good for Gainer, who's divulged his location and gotten asked out on a date.
Meanwhile, Domepolis Polichef has sent Artham a new Overman.  It, and its
matching Overcoat are ready to rock and roll.  Enge has also sent a certain
three-person team to infiltrate Cadez, and arrangements with the Moon Race are
set too.  Artham may have his personal doubts about his new helpers, but their
massive mech will prove invaluable in leveling the playing field against his
nemeses, especially that Negotiator guy with whom the hired help seems to hold
a grudge.  Apparently it takes one vengeful person to trust another, and Artham
is long past the point of being choosy where defeating Gain is concerned.
Kejinan is almost wishing he had his old commander back, but as he whispers to
Enge, it's too late for even him to weasel out now.  Zakky has to wonder if the
vengeful Artham realizes that they're out of second chances if this operation
fails.

Meanwhile, all the water cooler gossip among the civilians has turned to the
news from Orb, which has just signed away its neutrality out of the blue.  The
bigger shock yet is that it sided with the Federation, despite its ties to the
colonies.  That would be news enough, but what took the story over the top is
how Orb's queen-like figure Cagalli Asuha was abducted from her own wedding by
someone using a Gundam with wings.  You don't suppose the Minerva could be
involved...

It also turns out that Roger's negotiations to get the caravan admitted to
Cadez failed, largely due to the arrival of the Moon Race nearby.  Far from
accepting refugees, Cadez is preparing for an all-out siege.  This is yet
another reminder of how urgently Rolan needs to get Diana back to her ship.
Roger and Gwen are both trying to avert an armed confrontation, and in the
meantime the young folk want to go over to Gainer's room and try out this
Overman Battle game on his UN connection.  Gainer stammers that the net's been
acting up lately, but Kouji and the others realize that he just doesn't want
them coming over.  Kouji tells him that no one here, except maybe Sara, has a
problem with him living with Adette, but Gainer mumbles something about an
appointment and tells them to come tomorrow.  He dashes off, obviously hiding
something that Kouji reckons has something to do with a woman.  Sara is quite
confident that Gainer couldn't get a date if his life depended on it, but Chiru
saw Gainer go to Kei's room the other day.  Beroux figures he went for some
romantic advice from the legendary womanizer, and an indignant Sara marches off
to get their squad leader to "fix Gainer's secretive attitude".

Milan's heard Roger and Gwen state the People of Cadez's case, and isn't going
to honor their request for repayment for the "use" of their city.  The Moon
Race not only want to occupy it, but they want to do so for free.  Milan thinks
the Cadez folk are trying to gouge him, but Roger tells him to consider it a
premium for showing up out of the blue and deciding to barge in uninvited.
Roger's being deliberately provocative in the interest of learning the Moon
Race's true intentions, and from their reactions he and Gwen can tell that the
occupation is mainly Milan and Phil's plan... not Diana's.

Milan declares the talks at an impasse, which is fine with Roger.  He looks
forward to future talks that are a bit more realistic, and tells Milan that the
People of Cadez have a Plan B in case the Moon Race continues to regard their
price as illegal.  Phil figures they'll go crying to the Federation, but Roger
tells him that they've got the power to defend themselves without military aid.
Whether or not they've got a chance of winning.  See, outlaws can't run from
the law forever, and even if the Moon Race should win by force and gain a
toehold here, the other Earthlings won't stand for it for long.  Not that Roger
believes the lofty Queen of the Moon would wish such a conflict in the first
place.

Just then Angel shows up with a list of things the Moon Race would want from
the Cadez folk.  Roger is quite surprised to see her here, and she cautions him
that she didn't follow him from Paradigm City or anything.  Roger's not that
conceited, but neither does he believe in coincidence.

Gainer's got himself all dolled up for his date with Cynthia, and the gaggle of
his teammates watching from the shadows can barely contain their laughter.
Gainer is too absorbed in wondering what Cynthia is like to notice, imagining
from their chats that she's an older intellectual woman.  The suit and hairdo
are all Kei's doing, though he insists that he only did it at Gainer's request.
Maybe it's best Gainer went to Kei and not Rand, whose advice might have led
him to look like some old codger.  Poor Rand gets no respect.

This whole farce is leading an indignant Sara to want to withdraw, despite the
fact that tailing Gainer was her idea in the first place.  Just then, a "woman"
approaches Gainer.  It's Rolan, cross-dressing again for a "mission" to show
Kiel around Cadez.  Thoughtful of him to take the queen of the Moon to an
arcade, huh?  Anyway, the female schtick is a return to the concept of putting
the Diana Counter off their guard in case they like, show up and challenge
him/her to Guilty Gear Quadruple X Ragnarok Infinity or something. [^_^]

All the banter dies down when a commotion starts on the other side of the room.
Several anonymous people are complaining that their vehicles were stolen, and
with no subtlety at all T-Bone says that the *Moon Race* must have done it.
Because hey, the Moon Race have special thievery powers as everyone knows.  No
doubt they're feeling all impoverished after getting kicked out of North
America, or so says Davu.  It's all a plot to stir up anti-Moon Race sentiment
(again, in an _arcade_) and hopefully get the Crow and Yapan's Ceiling mixed up
in it.

The only sane voices in the room belong to Keith the baker, and a very irate
Kiel.  She's realized right off that these three are trying to foment war
between the Domes and the Moon Race, and is so commanding that Davu confesses
on the spot.  Gelaba curses as his plan starts crumbling, and decides to
silence his interlocutors on the spot.  "Lola" won't let these lowlifes lay a
finger on "Kiel", and Gelaba decides to save the beating up women for later.
He's about to annihilate the nearest guy in sight, which is Gainer, when an
eight-sided shuriken flies through the air.

Believe it or not, Gaury is a Yapanese ninja (or at least an otaku of the
same...) and sworn to protect Gainer.  Even more astonishing is the fact that
he's good enough to actually deflect bullets from T-Bone's gun with his sword.
Gelaba and the others flee before Gaury busts out his Blazing Wheel technique,
counting on Artham to close the deal.  The day's been saved for the moment at
least, but the scene in the arcade now resembles a cosplay event gone horribly
awry.  Good thing Mail's got her camera...

The Diana Counter has been suffering a rash of thefts ever since making camp
here, which Phil thinks must be due to these thieving Cadez rats.  Said rats
are about to mount an armed uprising, and Phil can't stand it any more.  He
orders the army out for "self-defense", stationing Harry to guard the Soreiyu
itself.  Roger isn't happy that Phil is mounting a preemptive strike, but he
tells Dorothy that he hasn't actually failed yet.  His contract was to keep the
People and the Moon Race from direct conflict, and he means to do that by
intervening physically himself.  He's counting on Norman and Dorothy to smoke
out the rodents behind this in the meantime.  Pou orders the troops to keep the
damage to the Dome to the minimum, since they're planning to live there before
all is said and done.

Roger announces to the Moon Race that armed incursion wouldn't be fair with
negotiations still ongoing.  Pou derides his order to withdraw, but Roger's
used to dealing with unfair people like her.

  Shortly after battle is joined, Rolan rushes out with word that the Diana
  Counter's losses were a plot by someone.  He doesn't know precisely who, but
  he suspects it's someone trying to stop the Yapan Ceiling's Exodus.  Sounds
  perfectly reasonable to Roger, but he also knows that the Moon Race won't
  stop now that they've got their blood up.  Their only choice is to take away
  the Moon Race's warpower first, and Rolan's happy to help out in the interest
  of peace with the Moon.  Roger's a big fan of black, but he has to admire how
  well the white of Rolan's Gundam suits him.  Unbeknownst to anyone else,
  "Kiel" is aboard Rolan's mech too.  He hopes he can get her to the Soreiyu,
  but she tells him to concentrate on stopping the fight first.

  The rest of the team follow in short order, even Gainer whose poorly
  concealed date is wrecked.  Even Sara's got no time to chew Gainer out with
  the Moon Race staring them in the face.  Gwen tells everyone not to shoot at
  the Soreiyu itself, but they've got a new problem.  Artham has decided to
  play with your people a bit, and somehow manages to swipe the Turn A's
  armaments in an instant.  The team doesn't know who did it, but it's clearly
  the same person who's been stealing stuff from both the Moon Race and Cadez
  residents.  Gain and Gainer both suspect an Overman, but their only option
  for now is concentrating on the enemy they can see.

  The unseen assailant keeps up their assault, and it's clear what their
  purpose is: making the team fight the Moon Race.  Pou is her usual hopeless
  self, while Harry suspects his defeat is as much due to his doubts as to the
  Exodizers' prowess.  That said, perhaps now it'll become clear who the real
  Diana is.

  With both the advance troops and the royal guard toasted, Phil angrily orders
  an attack on the Dome itself.  "Diana" has had enough, and addresses every
  living being on the battlefield.  She says that she does not wish this fight,
  and asks that everyone lay down their arms.  She recalls the time when the
  Earth was so tainted that the living were forced to flee, and the barren
  frost of Siberia still bears testament to the Black History's scars.  It is
  the sad nature of humanity to forget that which is most painful, but she and
  her people never forgot over all the years of waiting for the Earth to
  regenerate.  It is the Moon Race's wish to help rebuild the Earth, that the
  same mistakes not be made again.  The journalists in attendance start
  furiously taking notes as "Kiel" tells Rolan that Kiel is saying it even
  better than she could.

  The Moon Race only gained the power of regeneration by sealing the Black
  History away, but it was never her wish that history be rewritten (as
  Paradigm City has done).  The plain fact is that the Moon Race are part of
  the human race, and she had only come to Siberia to rebuild her country with
  the hope that she could do so in harmony with those already dwelling here.
  Since that's not the case, she will withdraw from Cadez, leaving behind the
  reminder that it is the Earthlings' own kin who seek to come home.  The real
  Diana thinks she can leave her people in Kiel's hands a while longer while
  she studies the Earthlings' ways.

  For once, even Phil and Milan can't contradict their queen, and Diana's whole
  armada pulls out.  Even Beck's henchmen were moved by the speech, but Beck's
  plans are now ruined.  Norman and Dorothy are very glad to hear that, and the
  machine gun-toting butler isn't about to let them get away.  Artham tries to
  sneak over and rescue his cohorts, but Gain is on to him and orders everyone
  to shoot at a specific area.  So much for his invisibility cloak, and his
  Thievery Overskill.  There's no end to how low Artham is willing to go, and
  in his malice he's called in not only Holler's Landship, but Beck and his
  Megadeus.  Maybe it's better that Beck eluded Norman's grasp, since this way
  Roger gets to pummel him directly.

  Artham merely wants Beck to keep the Big O out of his way so he can focus on
  killing Gain.  Roger is prepared to punish the punks in the local fashion,
  meaning with brute force, and Gain has similar plans for Artham.  This looks
  to be the final battle between the two sides, and boy it'll be a doozy.

  Why can't Holler seem to beat Jiron?  He can't figure it out, but Jiron's got
  the real answer: Elchi hates droopy-eyed guys like him.  The realization acts
  as the final straw, and although Holler managed to eject, it's doubtful he'll
  recover any time soon...  Things seem so grim for Gelaba that he actually
  cries as he flees the battlefield.

  Enge had hoped that siding with Saint Reagan would improve his fortunes...
  not so much, and he isn't willing to lay down his life here.  Japoli is his
  usual #feeble self, praying that he didn't disappoint Artham too badly this
  time.  Kejinan has no better graces, disgusted with these Saint Reagan
  "elites" and himself for getting thrashed this badly.

  Beck's henchpeople beg for mercy as they flee.  Beck himself can't believe
  he's been defeated twice (three times, counting his initial capture) by the
  Crow, and vows to return stronger than ever.  Unlikely, kinda.

  Artham's Jinba isn't suited for head-on combat, and it shows.  Artham has no
  choice but to admit defeat today.  But mark his words, he'll be back.  Now
  get to da choppah already.

After the dust settles, Gain finally reveals why Artham wants his ass so badly.
Karin is Artham's sister and an old acquaintance of Gain's, though Gain says
they weren't actually an item.  In any case, it seems the Black Southern Cross
doesn't miss at night either, given how Karin seems to have had his baby.  In
the final analysis, this is a problem he, Karin and Artham have to settle among
themselves.  Gain is more interested in discussing Gainer's date, and Sara vows
to extract the truth when they get back to base.  Gainer knows he has to
apologize to Cynthia, but she's actually been watching from the shadows.  Now,
more than ever, she finds Gainer a most intriguing guy.  Angel's also been
watching, and wondering if it's mere coincidence that's brought all these
warring factions together in this frozen land.

Harry informs his queen that Milan and Phil are plotting their next move in
their chambers.  Diana's words today will force the Moon Race to head south to
Zora, a land in its own way every bit as harsh as Siberia.  He warns Kiel that
ideals alone won't quell the military, and that the real Diana wouldn't be this
naive.  Kiel still keeps up the charade, though Harry's quite sure he's got it
right.  Just then, a message comes in directly from Durandal...

Rolan is encouraged that Keith has found a job as a baker and Fran as a UN
reporter.  Surely the rest of the Moon Race can live here too.  In fact, the
caravan's been let into Cadez after all now that their excuse of the Moon Race
has been rendered moot.  Roger's negotiations were crucial to the deal, but you
won't get to see any more of them firsthand for a while.  He's leaving now that
the Saint Reagan and Moon Race are out of the picture, and that some friends of
yours are on the way.  The less he has to fight (out of "self- defense"), the
happier he'll be.  Lest you get too lonely without him, he's also arranged for
Tiptree, the leader of the Vodalak, to accompany the Exodus.

Mome's done her best to teach Dorothy how to be a maid, and tells her not to
forget the smile part too.  Dorothy neither expects nor seeks Roger's approval
that way.  Still, it's sad that Dorothy has to leave her new friend so soon.
Rand and Roger are looking forward to seeing each other again, but something's
bothering Mail.  She remembers Asakim mentioning Roger's home town, Paradigm
City, though just like Rand she initially mistook the name for "Paradise City".
What's the connection?  Well, no time to think about it now.

Everyone catches up on events from the other path.

At last, the Grand Glorious Gathering(tm) of all the different flagships comes
to pass, even including the Gekkostate.  Holland had only hoped to do a little
shopping, but Fate, or something, seems to have other plans.  The two paths
catch each other up on what they've been up to, and make ready for the final
stage of the Exodus.  Japan awaits!

The bazaar also awaits, where Garrod and friends run into Talho.  She's got
some fashion advice for Garrod, and thinks that the accessory he got for Tifa
may be a bit much.  Maybe something a bit more casual would work, and Rolan can
suggest a store that Kiel and Soshie frequent as a place to get it.  As he runs
off to swap jewelry, Talho likes what she sees and wishes the men on her ship
would take a few lessons... especially Renton.

Garrod ends up with a rather impressive cosmetics set, which Toniya at least
would love to have.  The only problem is, Tifa doesn't wear makeup (doh!)
Garrod was so caught up in taking the storekeeper's advice, that he kind of
forgot who he was buying for.  Tex is quick to tell Garrod not to get
depressed: surely a time will come when Tifa'll want this sort of present.
Garrod will just hang onto it until then, which Toniya suspects is Tex's sly
ploy to delay Garrod's advances.  No doubt Garrod will come up with some other
way to appeal to Tifa anyway, persistent little guy that he is.

[I kept the Galia route: loads more Blue Stones and bazaar events!]


20. A World Without Lies

Holland wants to buy some Reflection Film from Shaia: tasty for Skyfish, and
useful for catching Trapar waves.  His crew's mecha have taken quite a pounding
hanging with Shaia's violent friends, and without new coatings of Film, they'll
all be grounded soon.  Not in the best of moods to begin with, he quickly tires
of Shaia's stalling tactics.  Luckily, Adette steps in and tells him to leave
everything to her.

Outside, Lunamaria is reveling in the fact that Siberia is, in fact, as cold as
advertised.  Her wonder isn't so unreasonable for someone born and raised in
the climate control of the Plants, and although she's freezing her tush off in
her short-short skirt, at least she's doing it of her own free will.  Meilin
suspects she's also doing it to show off how thin her waist is, finding herself
a bit jealous of the redhead's energy.  She's going to have to put up with the
snowman-building and snowball-fighting for a while though, since the commanders
of this ragtag force need a long time to hammer out logistics.  [You *do* have
all your squads re-minimaxed, don't you? ;)]  There's a very real chance that
no common ground can be found for this many misfits, in which case the various
flagships might go their separate ways rather than go along with the voyage to
Japan at the Zaft's behest.

Now that Orb's sided with the Federation, the eyes of the whole world are bound
to turn to the Land of the Rising Sun.  Aslan has deliberately recused himself
from the deliberations despite his FAITH standing, admitting that Shin's
accusations of him shutting himself away in Orb for two years are well-
founded.  He thinks Durandal sent him here to the front lines to learn a thing
or two, and the last thing he intends to do is pull rank without having a damn
good idea what he's doing.  That's a better answer than Shin expected, and
although it's going to take Shin time to develop confidence in his new squad
leader, at least there seems hope that they can work as a team after all.
Amuro can only hope that the two can heal the wounds in each other's hearts in
time [oh, the fanficability...]

Speaking of that snowball fight, the more easygoing members of the brigade are
already hard at work.  Fatman, bare chest and all, is pwning people left and
right with his massive snowballs.  Some of the crew, like Garrod and Renton and
their significant others, are having lots of fun.  Others, like Slay, are
trying to vent their personal grievances and largely failing.  Even the various
pets get into the act, showing just how chaotic things can get now that the
World is Broken.

Two notables who aren't getting pelted with snow are Rand and Gain, using their
down-time to actually relax and leave the running around the kids.  Their idea
of a good time is kicking back with a good bottle of winter sake, at least
until an errant snowball gets Rand's blood up.  Of course, the fact he got hit
means he's "out" before he ever got "in" [kind of like cricket, actually...],
and the engagement soon ends with Garrod's team the victors.  But a new
challenger appears in the form of the Zaft pilots, and it's game on again.

Garrod and Renton are working amazingly well together, seemingly having a lot
in common... including introverted girlfriends whose hearts they stand a good
chance of actually winning.  By contrast, Gainer isn't doing so hot with Sara,
and is also having trouble finding other potential friends to actually stay
indoors and game with him.  Renton doesn't help by getting a bit too full of
himself and rhapsodizing about Lif'ing, but Sara of all people helps cheer him
up by telling him that he's too good to get all depressive over a few words
like this.  An even unlikelier ally trudges over with a chance to hone his
manhood: it's Adette, who also wants Gainer to prove he can walk the talk he
spouted just now.  What's she up to now?

Skyfish-ing, that's what.  Siberia's Trapar levels are known to be high and its
Rivalry Zones thin, setting the perfect stage for Skyfish to show up.  Adette's
plan is to get the Reflect Film from the hapless(?) critters, and sell it to
Shaia at a substantial markup so Shaia won't have to leave Holland hanging.
Gain's even come along to watch Gainer do the manhood-honing thing [oh, the
fanficability *shudder*], as have Rand and Mail [double-*shudder*].  It's also
Renton's big LFO debut, and the kid can't keep the nervousness entirely out of
his voice.  Eureka just hopes he doesn't hurl all over the cockpit again.

Perhaps to take his mind off it, Gain asks Renton what the Gekkostate is doing
in the frozen Siberian wastes.  Even with all the Trapars, the ice can't be
that good for Lif'ing.  All Renton knows is that Holland's come here in search
of someone, and Gain wonders if Holland realizes just how big Siberia is.  In
any case, no Skyfish have shown up yet, and Adette resorts to a folk method for
summoning them.  It's said that they gather where large groups of people are
having fun, so Adette orders everyone to think of fun stuff.

That seems like a good idea until all the "fun" stuff the crew are thinking
about become apparent to everyone else.  Some are more embarrassing than
others, but the fact that *everyone* experienced *everyone's* thoughts says
that something very strange (and not in a good way) is going on here.  It seems
Rand's tastes include the anatomy of some of the more mature women in the
fleet, and the underaged Mail is less than thrilled.  Renton can only yell at
Eureka to pay no mind to what ladies' man Kei might be thinking.

Suddenly it occurs to Adette who might be responsible.  She orders everyone to
start firing into their surroundings to smoke out the perpetrator, scoffing at
the idea that the massive barrage is overkill.  If it's who she's thinking of,
even massive overkill would be massively underkill.  As it turns out, the perp
*is* one ugly motherfucker, but lacks the invisibility armor and dreadlocks.
Any hopes Kashimar and his Overman Planetta hold of making a dramatic entrance
are spoiled in seconds by a catastrophically dreadful pun by the Xabungle team.
Adette assures them that this ruthless man is no joke, and the reason why
becomes quickly apparent.

His Overskill allows him to repeat his opponents' thoughts over a wide area,
letting him anticipate and avoid any attack.  This is the first so-called
Psycho Overman Gain's faced, and even Kashimar isn't stupid enough to face the
team alone.  He hides behind a wall of lackeys, including a newly- reassigned
Kejinan.  The Saint Reagan team failed once too often, and Kejinan managed to
parlay things into an Overman of his very own.  Renton sure didn't want his
debut LFO battle to be against an enemy this dangerous, but Gainer of all
people tells him not to be afraid, lest the enemy sense it.  Kashimar feels
pretty certain Renton poses no threat, and tells his troops to pulverize all
the Exodizers before reinforcements arrive.  Kejinan is especially eager to
prove to Adette just how buff his new Mexblade is...

  Kejinan is kind of a weasel, but he's a very fierce weasel when cornered.
  Adette yells at him to retire already, but he's got other ideas.  As the two
  former teammates grapple, Adette yells at Gainer not to intervene: what kind
  of teacher has to get saved by her students?  Especially from someone who's
  wholly relying on their mech instead of himself?

  Kejinan unveils his mech's Overskill: creating illusions, in this case
  ultra-tasteless ones of himself as a tanned hunk.  The effect is ghastly, and
  he demands Adette marry him in return for having her life spared.  His love
  poetry would gag a proverbial yak, but the effort of trying to bend Adette to
  his will leaves him vulnerable.  Kashimar blasts Gain before he can
  intervene, but Gainer knows he can't attack physically.  Instead, he gets the
  bright idea of using Kashimar's ability against him and Kejinan.  He mounts
  what may be the world's most heart-felt, over-the-top love confession ever,
  totally overwhelming anything Kejinan can come up with.

  The tirade can be heard all the way back at the flagships, and although Sara
  is mighty embarrassed the rest of her teammates only egg her on.  This is
  apparently Garrod's cue to confess his love for Tifa, and everyone else to go
  back to thinking happy thoughts.  Jiron wants a big fat grilled lizard, while
  Kei wants to date all the women of the world at once, starting with Mimsy.
  Mail wants curvier proportions, but Rand just wants to up and destroy
  something with a clear conscience for once.  Kashimar can't stand it anymore
  and cuts the Overskill, noticing suddenly that he can't sense Gain's thoughts
  anymore.

  That's just what Gain was waiting for, and scores a timely hit on the Overman
  with the time Gainer bought him.  Gainer's honed his manhood in at least two
  ways with his latest gambit, and helped disable Kashimar's pesky Overskill in
  the process.  The irate officer thinks he can still crush everyone with a
  frontal assault, but that gets a lot harder once more "everyone" arrive on
  the scene.  Though the different groups represented have different reasons
  for being here, there's one thing they can all agree on: the outlaw Siberian
  Rail has got to go.  Actually, everyone also agrees that Gainer is
  (temporarily) the Man, even a very embarrassed Sara.

  Kashimar isn't done yet though: he's got reinforcements on tap too, including
  Jiron's old nemesis Timp.  Most people would consider it a career step
  backward to go from the Innocent's employ to Siberian Rail, but Timp's got a
  *special* assignment that he claims makes it all worth it.  The good guys
  quickly regroup to meet the new menace, leaving Kejinan's marriage proposal
  in tatters.  His Overskill is still functional however, and Gain cautions
  that there's no telling what it might yet do.

  Adette makes sure to tell Kejinan that Gainer's confession of love was
  infinitely more stimulating than his crappy magic show.  This princess ain't
  kissing no frogs, no how.

  Interestingly, Kashimar figures out that Rand is hiding something from Mail.
  Rand cuts him off before he can say another word with a venom he's never
  shown before.  There are some things that have to be protected at all costs.
  When he goes down, of *course* the boys are to blame for messing up his
  otherwise perfect plan.  He leaves Timp in charge, which is pretty much par
  for the course: Timp is used to being the one to do the actual work.

  To say that Timp and Jiron hate each other's guts is a major understatement.
  It got started with Timp killing Jiron's parents, but now the grudge is even
  more personal.  Timp figures the one mistake he ever made was getting hung up
  on Jiron, yet here he goes repeating said mistake with the very next breath.

Skyfishing seems pretty much a bust, but Gainer's whole spiel was so
entertaining even Julie doesn't care.  Emphasis on "seems", since just after
the battle finishes a giant school of them arrive.  Reflect Film get!

Unfortunately, Gain's Gachiko is a total loss: he won't be entering combat for
a while.  Today's enemy was rough, but Gainer's going to have it even rougher
dealing with Sara.  She was obviously flattered, but it's going to take plenty
more heavy lifting to break through her embarrassment.  Still, Renton and
Garrod now have to play catch up in their respective relationships, based on
Gainer's example.

Meanwhile, Eureka sits fretting in the hangar.  Something feels distinctly
wrong after Nirvash lent Renton its strength.  As the kids come over to try to
cheer her up, the Vodalak priestess approaches and notes that Eureka seems to
be finally able to smile.  Holland comes running over at that point, yelling
that he won't let the Vodalak lay so much as one finger on her.  He doesn't
stop her from talking both to Eureka and to Renton, who's partially responsible
for the changes in Eureka.  The rest is, she says, due to Del Cielo, the
Vodalak's lost holy land, and she's on a journey to find it.  It's not that she
sought the team out, since she bears no grudge against the red-eyed witch or
the white demon (Eureka and Nirvash) -- it's that she, like Holland, is trying
to find out where Norv went.  She does tell Holland that he needs to study the
world more if he intends to pass through the Gate of Choice with Eureka, as
Norv would no doubt say if he were here.

All the different teams are agreed, for their own reasons, to finish the Exodus
to Japan.  Holland thinks he can do his world-studying among such a violent
crew as this, and Gwen thinks he's got himself his own private army for when
the time comes to regain control of Ingressa.  The union also allows Shaia to
spirit Kei to the Emarn in safety.  In a feat of astonishingly bad acronymics,
Heizaemon christens the team the "Z Emergency Union of Terrestrial Human", or
ZEUTH for short.  Why "Z"?  Because it's not "X" or "Y", but rather some third
entity, as befits(??) your party.  One can think of various other meanings as
well, but...  Anyway, with the name decided, it's time to work on repairs and
contact Raven.

Now that Gainer's made his huge confession, he figures he's got to get Sara
some kind of present... something he knows almost nothing about.  The ideal
scenario would be to hit the bazaar with an expert in tow, but he's got to
settle for Renton and some of the other young folk.  He's planning to part with
his rare issue of ray=out -- still a paper & press publication thanks to the
Gekkostate's distrust of electronic media -- in exchange for something Sara
would like.

What his advisors come up with is a pre-Breaking CD by Lacus Klein, complete
with a signature that may or may not actually be hers.  In terms of rarity,
this is somewhere between "Y Kant Tori Read" and a T206 Honus Wagner card, and
the ZEUTH members from the Plants are totally drooling over themselves.  Sara,
on the other hand, couldn't be more disinterested: the Lacus Klein she's seen
on the UN seems like a hussy with a microphone.  Oh, well then.  At least
Gainer can make himself useful, and Sara happy in the process, helping with
some upgrades to Yapan's Ceiling.  Youran explains to Vino that Lacus' recent
image change has really dented her popularity, though he himself is still on
the bandwagon.  Vino would be *driving* the bandwagon if he could, on the
strength of Lacus' "powered up" proportions alone.  Apparently Lacus-mania is
still going strong in the Plants themselves, and both of them would far rather
be yelling their heads off at a Lacus concert than shoveling snow here in
Siberia...


21. Memories of a Father

Renton's just dug up some unsettling data on Del Cielo, that is "Ciudades del
Cielo", or "Cities of the Sky".  These, the Vodalak holy land, were supposedly
destroyed by the Toshuu Federation's special forces in a debacle that somehow
involves Tiptree, Holland _and_ Eureka.  Renton asks Eureka about why Holland
thinks Tiptree would mean her harm, and Eureka tells him she killed many, many
people in Del Cielo.  In fact, she and Holland were both part of said special
forces unit, dubbed "SOF", which spawned the Gekkostate.  The famous Lif'ers,
whose motto seems to be "while there's life, there's hope" are in fact founded
on taking the lives of others.  Eureka, for her part, had no reason for
carrying out the order to slaughter the Del Cielenos, other than the fact that
executing orders was the only way she could justify her existence... and that
she believed implicitly in anything Holland said.

Eureka knows all too well the consequences of the war she's helping fight.  She
also knows that Renton doesn't yet fully appreciate his role in all the
bloodshed.  One way or the other, she plans to make up for what she's done, and
in order to do that, she and the rest of the Gekkostate have to live on,
stopping at nothing.  That's why, she says, she took Renton from Belforest: his
presence somehow stabilizes Nirvash.  Of course he's not pleased to hear that,
but Renton's also sure that there's more to Eureka than her mission: more of
the same spirit that lead her to disobey orders and save Morris and the others
during the Del Cielo raid.  Eureka, stunned, asks if she's changed, and Renton
reminds her that Tiptree said as much already.  And if so, is Renton the cause?

Eureka dashes off with a thunderstricken look on her face, leaving Renton to
ponder how he can help her.  The only thing he can think of for starters is to
run off after her, reminding Rand of when he was young.  Wait, wasn't he some
old fart since birth?  Nope: Rand assures everyone that he was once all hot-
blooded and full of dreams like Renton.  Mail huffs that he sounds like he's
all unsatisfied with his current lot in life, which includes a certain
wonderful bride and whatnot.  Rand smiles and tells her he won't waste his time
trying to rebut that, instead settling down to use the UN terminal for a
missing persons search.  Isn't teh 1nt4rw3bz wonderful?

Well, not in everyone's book.  Wits wonders why Renton and Eureka came all the
way to the Freeden to use the UN when they could have used it aboard the Gekko.
Turns out many of the Gekkostate hate the UN, despite how much it could help
them and their ray=out magazine.  Mail has no such qualms, and doesn't have
many other options for looking for her father, especially since even Tifa's
abilities haven't turned up anything.  While searching, she shows the Freeden's
crew her careful diaries from her journeys.  Complete with photos and
immaculate footnotes, the documents are already publication worthy and might
easily sell.  She's on volume seven now, but way back in volume one she
chronicled how Rand first met her father and slowly turned from an irate punk
into the mostly grinning man he is today.  In fact, Rand's "heat smile" was one
of the most important things he learned, intended to get Mail to stop crying
after Rand had another of his arguments with her dad.

Rand's had his face buried in the UN for a while, but all the dirt on his youth
brought him back up long enough to tell everyone to shut their pieholes.
That's the kind of proclamation best made after finding a clue, but it appears
all Rand's found is that the UN is for pr0n.  Of course, Gainer was right there
with him, earning him a stern talking to from Sara.  Mail, blushing furiously,
yells at Rand to go marry a cow if he likes breasts that big, and it's unclear
whether Tifa's morose expression is because of Rand's hobby or Mail's reaction
to it.  A thin smile comes to Tex's lips, as he inwardly commiserates with Rand
for his manly instincts being so misunderstood by all these pubescent girls.
The UN isn't *just* for pr0n however: the argument is cut quite short by an SOS
call from Asakim.

Rand rushes to the rescue, planning to repay him for saving Mail's life.  The
first units he runs into are a bunch of Chiram, still searching for their
Singularity.  Their commander isn't fazed by running into Rand first, planning
to destroy his mech as a means to lure the Singularity out of hiding.  That
suits Rand and Mail fine, and they plan to take the Chiram down before Asakim
arrives.

  These Chirans don't stand a chance against Rand's wrath.  The carnage reminds
  Mail of what Rand was like around the time he met her father, but Rand claims
  he's forgotten about his old life.  After all, he's now The Crasher^WHeat!
  The real question is, where'd Asakim get to?  A group of new arrivals doesn't
  shed any light on the issue: it's a large group of Federation forces.  Just
  how much trouble is Asakim in, anyway?

  One thing's for certain, Rand can't dodge *all* the Federation units at once.
  Then again, maybe he doesn't have to: the more fired up Rand gets, the
  stronger the Gunleon becomes.  Asakim finally arrives, liking what he sees
  from Rand and his mech.  He apologizes for mixing up Rand in his affairs, but
  Rand's fiercely loyal to his friends: for them, Rand would eat not only the
  poison but the plate it was served on.

  But before he and Asakim can charge the Federation troops, reinforcements
  arrive, led here by Raven.  Maybe Rand is doing this strictly for Asakim's
  sake, but as Jiron puts it, a friend in need is a friend indeed.  Eureka
  plans to pilot Nirvash, testily telling Renton to fly navigator and not to
  worry about her.  Uh huh.  Raven's in a brand-new, untested machine, and the
  unmanned Federation forces look like they'll make great targets.  Asakim
  compliments Rand on having such wonderful comrades, and Rand replies that
  Asakim's one of them.  "Comrade", huh?  Not a bad sound, and one that reminds
  Asakim of the old days...

  Things get confusing, however, when Setsuko shows up with a plan to make
  Asakim feel her rage and sadness.  Say what??  Rand quickly acts to protect
  Asakim, getting seriously trounced for his pains.  Worse, Setsuko's attack
  injures Mail, and Setsuko screams at Rand and asks why he interfered.  Just
  then, a wailing sound hits everyone's ears, just as Mail remembered from when
  her father disappeared.  Then, like now, Rand was in Gunleon fighting with an
  unfamiliar Breaker, when the Gunleon took major damage.  This time, Rand
  gathers himself and causes the Gunleon to self-repair, abruptly ceasing the
  noise.

  Setsuko doesn't know who Rand is, but won't hesitate to hose him if he stays
  in her way.  That suits Rand just fine, and Asakim warns him that she's one
  tough opponent.  He asks Rand to leave her alive so he can find out why she's
  after him.

  Asakim wants to know why Setsuko is still on his tail, but she insists that
  it's the other way around.  Asakim smiles and says she seems to have some
  kind of misunderstanding.  Rand is interested in Setsuko's Balgora, saying he
  likes people who keep their mecha in good repair.  Unfortunately for her,
  she's on the wrong side.  She isn't able to defeat Rand, but won't let her
  precious mech be lost here either.  She flees before all is lost.

  Rolan is able to confirm that all the Federation mecha were unmanned.  Easier
  on the conscience, Soshie remarks: rather _too_ easy.  Raven figures the
  Federation mecha are part of the border guards, unmanned due to an acute
  personnel shortage.  As for Asakim's pursuers, he confirms that the Chiram
  are after him, but can't give the reason here.  He claims not to know the
  girl who's after him, supposing that she must have him mixed up with someone
  else.  As before, he can't stay around, apologizing for "using" Rand's team
  to save his bacon.  And he's not the only one with secrets: Rand knows more
  about the moment his master disappeared than he's prepared to let on now...

Raven's brought tidings of the special Federation force assembled to take
Bright's fleet down.  You can expect some old Titans, old Federation forces and
other reheated nemeses from the freezer section.  Think of this new menace as
the anti-ZEUTH: code-name, "Phantom Pain".  Quatro doesn't like how thoroughly
it sounds like the Feds have thought this through, and he and Bright both fear
that Phantom Pain will become a real thorn in their side.  Defeating them might
be good for a morale reversal for the Federation rank and file, but that's a
distant goal at best.  Oh, and one other piece of "good" news: the illustrious
leader of the Phantom Pain is none other than Paptimas Scirocco, returned
lately from Jupiter.  Quatro's not heard of him, but he's instantly wary of
anyone who's grown up on such a heavy gravity world.  Holland is also worried
about the ruthless Dewey Novak and the Ageha, joining in the ZEUTH hunt.  This
much is clear: unless ZEUTH gets Japan's help soon, they'll be in a world of
hurt.

Speaking of hurting, Raven isn't doing so well with all these women close by.
That includes Shaia, who's past age 18 and hence lost her capabilities "as a
woman".  Still looks plenty womanly to Raven, which is a flattering side effect
of bringing people from different worlds together.  Raven and his Chimera squad
will keep feeding information when they can, using their shady manufacturing
connections to build enough weapons to physically assist one day.  After some
reluctance, he gives in to the questions about the Chimera's leader and reveals
her to be Brigadier General Eidel Bernal.  One of the key figures in the New
Earth Federation army, she's in charge not only of front-line tactics, but also
supply line logistics.  The promotion to flag rank was her reward for
installing the UN, ample testament to her formidable skills.  This is a great
person to have backing the ZEUTH, and Raven assures everyone that the general
will want to meet them in person sometime soon.

Meanwhile, Mail has been fretting about Rand's keeping secrets.  She knows full
well that it'd take a serious reason for the normally transparent guy to hide
things from her.  She also knows full well that it wouldn't do her any good to
ask him directly: he always treats her like a child, and quite frankly, she
doesn't seem to be his type anyway.  She actually thought that could change as
she grew taller and fuller-figured, but she's exactly the same size she was
four years ago.  Gain tells her she'd darn well better be patient another four
years then, or forty if that's what it takes.  He knows it can't have been easy
for Rand to keep whatever it is under his hat, and tells her why adults tend to
keep their agony inside.  Let it out, and it'll devour them in an instant.

Sara argues that it'd be better to just let it all out and have done, but Gain
points out that that would just catch those around in the crossfire: something
only children do.  Beneath Rand's stifling, smiling exterior lie many darker
things.  Gain smirks when asked what his dark things are, merely saying that
anyone his age has a few skeletons in their closet.  And skeletons have a bad
habit of emerging when you most want to forget they're there.  Between the
ZEUTH leadership, there's probably enough skeletons to populate a whole Romero
movie, but now Mail is berating herself for her childish pouting without
understanding what Rand is really going through.  Gainer tells her not to sweat
it: better for children to stay children, while they still can.

When Rand shows up, he doesn't do much to reinforce Gain's picture of inner
angst, instead inviting Gainer to help him troll for more UN pr0n.  Unclear
just how much he's kidding, but he's also brought help for Mail's parent search
-- Raven will do what he can to gather info.  The plan is to look into
instances of teleportation that predated the Breaking, and everyone is grateful
for his help.  Rand just has to wonder whether he'll find his master, or
whether Mail will grow, first.  If she does, he'll have no choice but to tell
her, and he has to wonder if he'll ever be able to laugh together with her
again...


22. Your Own Personal Exodus

Kid is totally fired up to be fiddling with the insides of an Overman, and he's
got everyone in the vicinity helping out.  And after he's done with that, he
plans to repair the GX's Satellite Cannon.  Garrod needs to be sure to "Equip"
it so he can use its staggering power, and "Kiel" almost wishes he wouldn't.
This conjures bad memories of the central government hacking into the power
transfer facility on the moon during the last war, a place forbidden to the
Moon Race themselves.  Meanwhile, Gain's Gachiko has been reborn as a totally
different machine, doubly impressive given all the random spare parts it used.
Kona makes sure to transfer the "Brunhilde's Arm", whose name comes from the
Overman used by the founder of the Meeya family.  The first successful Exodizer
is also the ancestor of the current Meeya, popular songstress.

Eiji asks the very intelligent question of what happens once an Exodus is over:
won't Siberian Rail just keep on attacking?  Apparently the original Meeya was
so cool that Siberian Rail will traditionally cease its attacks any time an
Exodus actually succeeds.  There's also the fact that Siberian Rail would
rather trade capital with the newly settled folk, than bullets forever.  Now,
that might make it sound like Siberian Rail still wins in the end, but the
ideological value of choosing one's own place to live shouldn't be
underestimated.  Jiron and friends know what that's like, having defeated the
Innocent and experienced more internal than external changes in their lives.

One person not looking forward to these inner benefits is Gainer, still
ambivalent about the whole Exodus thing after his parents were killed as anti-
Exodus sympathizers.  They had good reason to fear: should an Exodus fail,
punishment often falls on more than just the ringleaders.  He believes his
parents were killed by people who wanted the Exodus to succeed, and by this
point just wants to be able to put the whole rotten business behind him.
Before that can happen though, Yapan's Ceiling still has one final push left.
One final chance for Siberian Rail to redeem themselves, which means an attack
on a scale not felt before.  Is Gainer ready and raring to face the challenge?
Uhhh...

As it turns out, the final Siberian assault comes sooner than even Gain
expected, meaning his mech isn't quite ready to roll yet.  The rest of ZEUTH
will have to hold off Kashimar and his troops, who know that they can't return
to Siberian Rail if they fail here.  Timp relishes his role as enforcer, though
Kejinan and his compadres are understandably less thrilled.  Thanks to Gain's
sharpshooting last battle, Kashimar's Overskill is still out of commission, and
he orders everyone to prevail through brute force alone.

Both sides have fielded massive forces, and it would be easy for anyone to be
swallowed by the enemy if they aren't careful.  Gaury takes Gain's place
backing Gainer up, and Gainer senses that he's been acting funny ever since
Cadez.  He couldn't be like, hiding something or whatnot, right?  Holland will
just be glad to have done with helping Yapan's Ceiling sneak around, though
when pressed he admits that striking a blow against the tyranny of the
railroads is for the common good.  Sara shouts that there's no way Siberian
Rail will stop her folks' Exodus, leaving Gainer to wonder if "her folks"
really includes him...

  [This battle is all kinds of throwdown, and if you want the Skill Point,
  especially on Hard and on the first play through, you'll need to be extremely
  efficient about how you do it.]

  After a bit of battling, a new Overman shows up: the Dominator, piloted by
  the Jewel of Kids Munt.  This must mean that Kashimar's boss is pissed, and
  Kashimar figures his only option is to win the day and redeem himself.  His
  Overskill may be useless over a wide area, but he can still selectively
  target individuals, and he figures that Gaury is someone with something to
  hide.  Wouldn't you know it: that "something" is the fact that Gaury is
  responsible for Gainer's parents' death!  He figured it was the only way to
  make the Exodus succeed, and doesn't intend to make excuses for his actions
  to Gainer.  Kashimar gleefully thinks he can make the Exodus collapse from
  within, but Gain hasn't come this far just to fail.  His new mech
  "Emperanzer" is up and running, and more than good enough to take Kashimar
  down with his trademark Southern Cross sniping.

  He tells Gainer and Gaury that the time to talk will be later, and orders,
  not asks, them to form up on him.  That is, if Gainer wants to live long
  enough to settle the score with this Exodus.  Gainer growls back that this
  will even the score with Gain, which is precisely what Gain wanted to hear.
  Kashimar isn't completely toast yet, and while Gain understands the desire to
  win by any means necessary, he's also personally pissed off at the Siberian
  commander.  Gainer's pissed off in general, and his anger is moving him
  beyond where his usual passive-aggressive nature could.  That's precisely
  what the Dominator's pilot hoped for too, else there would be no point in her
  coming.

  Kashimar tries to insist that Gainer must avenge his parents' death before
  fighting him, but fortunately Gainer isn't quite that stupid.

  Timp's landship is a formidable target, and Timp is an even more formidable
  pilot.  From the wreckage of his vessel rises a black Walker Machine, and
  Timp's now determined to kill his arch-nemesis for all the trouble he's
  caused.  Or so he says at first, until Jiron pulverizes his shiny Walker
  Machine too.  Timp then smirks and says that any man worth his salt never
  *actually* shows the enemy the true depths of their ability.  At least Timp's
  ability to spout cool sounding lines seems intact, and Renton predictably
  can't help but admire the Clint Eastwood-imitating guy.

  Kashimar is one tough bastard, but eventually he succumbs to the might of the
  good guys.  He manages to eject of course, and with the Exodus almost at an
  end Gain rather doubts any of ZEUTH will ever see him again.  What are the
  chances?

  Gainer somehow recognizes the Dominator's moves.  What's more, the
  Dominator's pilot calls Gainer by his handle King.

  When you defeat her, or on the start of turn six, it seems almost like she's
  playing with Gainer.  Before she can get "serious", her mech tells her that
  "they're" coming and she decides to head home.  Kashimar tells her she can't
  pull out now, but she just laughs and tells him to handle the ZEUTH himself
  if he wants them that badly.

  "They" turn out to be the Fallen Angels, and Quatro wonders how the hell the
  girl in the Overman managed to detect them in advance.  Gainer has about had
  enough of people trying to block the damn Exodus, and activates his own
  Overskill.  The Turn A starts reacting to both the Fallen Angels and King
  Gainer, and it's as though Gainer's Overman is pulling him along for the
  ride.  It reveals a new weapon which he uses without heeding Gain's cries to
  hold on.  The weapon works pretty darn well, but now Gain knows for sure that
  the Overman is trying to make all the ZEUTH do something.  The longer they
  stay here, the worse this is going to get, so Gain tells everyone to wrap
  this up and fast.  Renton admires Gainer's newfound bravado, but Gain knows
  better: it's as though the rage and sorrow in Gainer's heart have been frozen
  in ice.
  
  ZEUTH is settling in for another lengthy throwdown with the Fallen Angels
  when three fighter jets zoom on the scene.  Everyone is expecting the
  Aquarion crew, but a very different combiner breaks through the clouds:
  Getter Robo!  Actually, it's cooler-looking and a *lot* bigger than Getter
  Robo, and Ryouma explains that this Getter's reborn form: Getter Dragon.
  Kouji is looking forward to seeing Ryouma, Hayato and Musashi again, but
  Hayato has some terrible news: Musashi was killed in the final battle with
  the Dinosaur Empire.  His replacement, Benkei, seems determined to pick up
  the slack, and Ryouma vows that Getter will never know defeat... even to the
  Fallen Angels.  Since this won't be a joyous occasion, at least it promises
  to be a satisfyingly violent one.

Praise doesn't always come easy to Hayato, but he definitely finds Benkei's
skills up to snuff now.  Benkei laughs and says that after all the special
training Hayato put him through, he'd have a harder time *not* learning a thing
or two.  All levity aside, Ryouma explains that he's come to lead ZEUTH into
Japan, to save it from the clutches of Evil(tm).  That's cool and all, but what
about the Exodus that just succeeded?  The common People may be celebrating,
but Gainer and friends are feeling just a tad preoccupied...

Cynthia radios the news to Kids, noting that Kashimar and Timp were facing some
pretty stiff odds.  Kids mulls that over, and agrees to declare the Exodus a
success.  Though the People are no longer subject to getting blown away, Kids
wants the Black Southern Cross and his entourage wasted to restore some of
Siberian Rail's good name.  Cynthia will help if it means she gets to battle
King some more, and she just hopes there won't be too much more interference by
the Fallen Angels.  Kids guesses that Gainer's Overman somehow worries the
Fallen Angels, and triggered their attack today, and tells Cynthia to figure
out how to capture Gainer's mech once she's got her new squad organized.  And
first, she's to drag Kashimar's effeminate ass back to base for a little "chat"
with his commander.  After hanging up, Kids muses that he's got to hurry now
that the Overman's archenemies (the Fallens) are acting up, and tells Artham
that he'll have to battle them as well as his nemesis Gain.  That's fine with
Artham, and Angel tells Kids it's time to go and spread Siberian Rail's tracks
over the whole world with the power of their new Overman.

The People are indeed whooping it up, glad to put the travails of the road as
far behind them as possible.  The residential unit doesn't actually float, so
the Exodizers won't actually set foot on Yapanese soil as such; instead,
they'll live as close to it as possible on the shore.  The rest of ZEUTH are
getting ready to cross that channel, but Gain sees no reason to go with them,
Exodus contractor that he is.  He'll journey in search of new clientele,
leaving Gaury and his men to handle security.  Speaking of Gaury, he's got
something to discuss with the elders...

Gaury is also on Gainer's mind as he gazes out to sea.  Sara asks why he didn't
shoot the man, and Gainer says that it's certainly not out of forgiveness,
something he cannot and never wants to muster.  But Gainer knows that Gaury too
is burdened by what he's done to him, among the many other things he must carry
along his struggle to live.  That's what Gain, and Gaury, had hoped to hear,
and Gaury has enough recriminations already that he wants Gainer to deck him on
the spot.  Gain smoothly intercedes and delivers the blow instead, asking if
Gaury's satisfied.  When he growls in the affirmative around a busted lip,
Adette starts laughing, not out of derision, but admiration for the manhood in
Gaury's resolve.  Luvings at first sight?

At the sight of this new stage of life beginning for Gaury, Gainer finally
finds the anger he couldn't grasp before.  Why can't *he* start anew by someone
punching him in the face?  Why is a whole city of people celebrating when none
of his doubts or fears have been settled?  Cue the sense-talking brigade, who
tell him that if this isn't his goal, he should just keep going until he finds
it.  His own private Goal, his own personal iPhone^WJesus^WExodus.  Like, whoa.
And it's okay if he doesn't even know what his Goal is: he'll have plenty of
time to ponder if he keeps journeying.  And if Gainer plans to stick with the
ZEUTH, the whole menagerie of his acquaintances will be going along too
(including Gaury, who isn't quite as essential to Yapan Ceiling's defenses as
once thought).

All very well and good, but the real Slim Shady^W^WDiana Sorel knows enough to
be gravely worried about the link between the Fallen Angels, Overmen and the
White Doll.  Is this ugly feeling inside a prelude of worse things to come?
Okay, when is it NOT a prelude of worse things to come when someone up and
thinks it?  In any case, Japan and the wide world beyond await!

Amidst the festivities, the People have opened up their own bazaar - a bit off
the beaten trade routes to be sure, but free of Siberian Rail tariffs.  The
hardy merchants are already flocking in, and among the rare items they've
brought is an Overcoat.  The seller is a huge man covered in scars, seen
singing one of Meeya's songs with a teeny little girl.  That rings a bell for
Adette and the others, who race off.

The Overcoat is purple, with something like a transmitter visible on the
outside.  It belonged to none other than Yassaba's Rushrod, which is apparently
now so much scrap metal.  Apparently Yassaba himself and his little fortune-
telling friend are well underway with their Exodus, selling everything not
utterly essential to raise funds.  Adette might normally consider riding in the
Overman of her former flame, but since she's got a new man that doesn't sit
quite right with her.  Gaury, for his part, stammers that Adette should do what
she sees fit, and not worry on his account, which Adette purrs is further proof
of how big a man he is.  Thanks to Kona's hard work, the Rushrod is now ready
to rock.


23. The Hundred Demons' Challenge

Part of Gainer's journey must include video games, and the friends with which
he plays them.  The next time he chats with Cynthia, he apologizes for the mess
at Catez keeping them from hanging out.  He's overjoyed when she doesn't hold
it against him, and is in the process of explaining the whole Personal
Exodus(tm) business when Adette yells at him from the other room to get his ass
off the UN and onto the transport.  Cynthia is roundly amused by the thought of
another woman living under King's roof (no doubt knowing that Gainer hasn't the
foggiest idea what to do with one), and wishes him well on his journey.  Or, as
they say in Gainer's world, "ttyl".

The ZEUTH fleet has only been in Galia for two weeks, but it feels like an
eternity for the Zaft forces.  They know they've got to succeed in the
negotiations with Japan for military aid, if they're to have any hope of
stopping the Federation's excesses.  Bright's wise enough to know that ZEUTH in
itself won't stay together forever: many of its current members aren't entirely
aligned with Zaft's objectives.  Some just want to return to their homeland and
live in peace, while others like Holland and Jamir know they have pretty big
fish to fry already.  For now though, everyone gets a grand send-off from those
staying with Yapan's Ceiling.  One question nags though: where did Anna go?

She too is all caught up in the Personal Exodus(tm) mystique, having finished
her whole "hostage" bit with the end of the Exodus.  She's serious about not
going home, and Gain for one is happy to have her along.  What he can't figure
out is why she and everyone else are so happy to go to Japan, when from what
he's heard it's hell...

Some evidence for this comes in the tale of Musashi's heroic sacrifice against
the Dinosaur Empire.  Never before has such manly sadness emanated from
Ryouma's noble face as he tells the tale of the original Getter Robo's defeat,
around the same time that Kouji and the others were swept away by the
Teleportation.  To save his friends, Musashi staged a kamikaze raid on the
enemy's main mobile fortress, taking it with him to the grave.  Kouji badly
wishes there was something he could have done, but neither his nor Ryouma's
regrets will bring their comrade back.  Tetsuya, who had been helping the
Getter team against the lizardmen, must have felt the same powerlessness, and
has disappeared ever since the final battle.

Getter Dragon was finished after the Breaking, and the new third pilot is
Benkei.  He's got a good attitude, and he's needed every ounce as the Getter
team's struggles began anew.  For instance, Japan actually joined the so-called
Federation briefly after the Breaking, but since there are so many people
tugging the Federation in so many ways, it's hard to refer to it as a single
entity.  But the Japanese government abruptly declared independence and began
to restrict ingress and egress.  Isolationism is a pretty moldy concept, but it
does have its uses.

The worrisome part are the rumors, whispered tales of a nameless dread^H^H^H
homeless people being rounded up and never being heard from again.  Combine
that with the martial law and isolationist declarations, and you get a very bad
picture.  The picture got even worse with the appearance of a new foe, coming
and going like the wind and targeting Japan's energy facilities.  All anyone
knows about them is the name they call themselves: the Hundred Demon Empire.
And while the Saotome lab has arranged for protection, the sooner Ryouma and
the rest get back, the better.

Believe it or not, Saotome is being visited by Roger of all people, on behalf
of the Japanese government.  He claims that the government wants to acquire the
rights to the Getter Rays Saotome is researching, while naming him chief
researcher and allowing him to continue his current research.  Saotome isn't
having any of it, saying that dictated terms for research amount to selling the
whole kit'n'kaboodle to the government.  Roger also stresses that the
government isn't prepared to hand over an arbitrarily large sum as payment, and
guesses that if Saotome isn't prepared to sell out, the government will likely
try to take his technology by force in the name of the national interest.
That's called "highway robbery" in the world Saotome hails from, and Saotome
demands to know what happened to his nation since it declared independence from
the Federation.  Roger of course has no answer for that, saying only that he as
a Negotiator would prefer to conduct this business with as little
unpleasantness as possible.  Saotome digests that a moment, and tells Roger to
leave and never show his face again so long as the demands remain the same.
Roger will only guarantee obeying the first part.  Saotome isn't the only one
getting these requests.  The Photon Power Lab and Space Sciences Lab have
received similar "requests", and Saotome really does have to wonder just what
the government is up to.

Dorothy asks if the negotiations failed again, and Roger tells her he was
merely checking up on things, not trying to close the deal for real.  His
employer, a mysterious one-eyed man, is certainly getting impatient, but Roger
tells him that Professor Saotome is a man brimming with a sense of scientific
duty.  His professional opinion is that these negotiations be allowed to
percolate gradually, but his employer finds this to be a bald-faced excuse.  He
orders Roger never to call himself a "skilled Negotiator" again, and further
orders him to use "other methods" since talking doesn't seem to work.  Roger
doubts that any proper government official would say stuff like that,
especially after practically extorting huge sums of money from the citizens.
Furious, the man demands to know if Roger is turning against his employer, and
yells at him to get lost if he's not going to be of any use.

Well, that's torn it, and after all the trouble Roger went through to sneak
into Japan too...  Roger won't let this result stand, but first orders a
certain punk who's been listening in to come out and identify himself.  This
Apollo does, and wants to know what the heck a "Negotiator" is.  Roger doesn't
want to waste time on an explanation that would go right over the head of
someone like Apollo, lurking barefoot near a high-security laboratory.  Apollo
protests that Fudou's the one making him do this as some kind of special
training.  Roger wonders if that makes him part of the rumored Getter Team, but
Apollo tells him he's one of Diva's Elements.  Suddenly Roger remembers where
he's seen this guy before, but just then Sylvia runs over to haul Apollo back
to the lab.  Something terrible is happening, and as Sylvia hauls Apollo off by
his ear, Roger fumes that the government seems to have already decided to use
force after dumping him.

Michiru has been on recon duty in her Lady Command, and she's spotted a large
government force to the Southeast.  Attack seems imminent.  Roger Smith's
warning seems quite prophetic, and this is exactly the chance Fudou has been
waiting for to root out the darkness strangling Japan's government.  Saotome
doesn't pull his punches when the one-eyed man radios in: the only purpose
Saotome can see for Japan's military buildup is a war against the rest of the
world.  And that's one thing he won't see his life's work used for.  Apollo
wants Reika to trade places with him so he can wipe these turkeys out with one
fell swoop, but Fudou isn't having it.  He knows full well that Reika isn't in
combat shape just now, but he also knows that she herself can't say whether she
_can't_ fight, or _won't_ fight.  Nothing for it but to try, even though she
and the team will be up against other humans and not Fallen Angels.  Liina
notes that these aren't actually people any more, adding that her words will
become clear quite soon.

Saotome closes his lab's dome against the oncoming attack, leaving Reika and
the other defenders to face the music outside.  She knows she's got to pull
through here, for Glen's sake if not for her own.

  Saotome's got a hunch about the enemy pilots, and orders Michiru to round
  them up for study at the lab.  Reika is struggling to remain in control, the
  pain she's feeling now nothing compared to what Glen must be going through.
  Pierre tells Jun about Glen's dire run-in with the Fallen Angels on his first
  sortie.  Reika blames both that, and the trouble the Aquarion is having today
  with dodging, on how she "calls misfortune".  Meaning... what exactly?

  No time to find out as a ghostly song heralds the arrival of some Fallen
  Angels.  No doubt Reika's difficulties are music to their ears, but the one-
  eyed man is aghast.  He makes to summon the "main force" before the lab gets
  completely trashed, but Roger steps in the way and asks if the "main force"
  is in fact human.  He's been doing a bit of checking, and what he's found is
  beyond his worst fears.  This man is going to pay for trying to use Roger for
  such a rat-bastard scheme, but first his true identity as a non-human must be
  revealed.  Just then Schwarz shows up, saying that revealings under the moon
  are his domain.

  In fact, the one-eyed man is a one-eyed demon, and none too pleased to have
  his identity revealed.  He runs off to summon his personal troops, but
  Schwarz tells Roger not to follow.  There's nowhere for the demon to run
  anyway.  Roger isn't interested in mincing words with his nemesis from
  Paradigm City, which doesn't improve Schwarz's mood any.  Still, both of them
  are interested in the truth, and there ought to be a sliver of that on
  display tonight.

  The demon is now officially done screwing around, and orders his men both to
  take out the Fallen Angels and to grab the lab.  Before they can move a
  muscle, however, Schwarz and his immense bandaged Megadeus show up.  The
  Fallen Angels actually seem afraid of him, and Fudou senses that this man has
  touched Taiji, the essence of the world itself.  He commands the "poor, lost
  dolls" to heed his orders, lest he consign them to the prison of the karmic
  cycle.  The order: show the fools a sliver of their destructive might.  If he
  thinks Roger will bow before this destruction, this truth that will remake
  the world, he hasn't been paying very close attention.

  Good thing Roger brought along the Big O, huh?  Schwarz can't understand how
  Roger could deny the truth when he too is a Dominus, but Roger points out
  that indiscriminate attacks can't truly be the truth.  He plans to settle
  this by his own rules, and everyone on the good guys' side is applauding his
  well-pitched speech.  Everyone that is except Reika, who's still worried
  about making everyone around here unfortunate if she fights.  Apollo is
  getting sick of it, and yells that her idea of "unfortunate" must be pretty
  puny, and reminds her that the Getter team went on fighting even after one of
  their own *died*.  They won't let the world turn out like this mummy clown
  says, and neither should she.  Maybe the true misfortune comes if she doesn't
  fight, huh?  Or MAYBE, it's misfortune that she can channel and hit only her
  foes over the head with!

  So much misfortune from one woman is quite a sight to see, even if Fudou's
  way of describing it is a bit creepy.  Fortunately, Roger is free to handle
  his part of the battle with his usual aplomb, and that means wreaking havoc
  on the people who tried to use him for their own unfair, twisted ends.

  Help is fast at hand, though there's little time for (re)introductions with
  this many enemies on the field.

  The initial round of demons are easily driven off, but the problem is who's
  backing them.  You've got zero info on that, and that's a major worry.
  Schwarz isn't any help, telling Roger to use his own eyes and ears if he
  wants to know the truth and learn what it truly means to be a Dominus.  This
  "truth" of his was enough to cow the Fallen Angels, at least temporarily, as
  well as apparently drive him insane.

Not quite the start to the Japan mission ZEUTH had in mind, especially since
they had to tangle with the JSDF just to reach the lab.  Have they lost the
chance to gain Japan's aid before they even started?  Not according to Sandman,
whose style and aesthetics may be forever beyond the comprehension of punks
like Apollo.  He promises to explain what's going on in Japan, and everyone is
heading into the lab for a civilized chat when Boss shows up, far more badly
damaged than usual.  Very bad news: the Hundred Demons have taken over the
Photon Power Lab!!

After hasty introductions and assurances that ZEUTH are the good guys, Saotome
weighs in on these Hundred Demons dudes.  He suspects they're a different
species from humanity, lurking in the margins of history since time immemorial.
The Japanese "ogre" tales may well refer to them, for instance.  Kouji wants to
find their home base and crush them on the double, but these Hundred Demons
have mounted a far more insidious campaign.  The soldiers who attacked the base
have been modified from humans into demons themselves, subject to the will of
their true Demon masters.   The Demons have done no less than infiltrating
human society, with the objective of bringing it down from within.  At the very
least, it seems they hold the reins over Japan's military chain of command, and
suddenly it makes sense why the Japanese government declared martial law and
isolation: it was all to consolidate their power base.

There's no way one battalion could take on the whole of the Japanese government
and army, even if every soldier and politician were Demonized (which they're
not).  A good start will be liberating the Photon Power Lab and the precious
people it contains, and Roger plans to help in the interest of paying the
Demons back.

Formal introductions between ZEUTH and Diva play out, including the backstory
of Sylvia and Sirius being lovers in their former lives 10.002 million years
ago.  See, there was this battle with Atlandia and the Fallen Angels who dwelt
there, which the hero known as the Wings of the Sun, Apollonius, ended by
sealing the Fallen Angels away.  Apollonius was a Fallen Angel himself, but he
fell in love with the human Celian and betrayed his own kind, fighting with his
beloved against the other Fallens in the mechanical angel Aquarion.  Yup, the
same Aquarion that was just on Angel-trashing duty, salvaged from ruins at the
bottom of the ocean.  In a way, it's just like Rolan's White Doll... and don't
forget that the Turn A seems to contain records of the Fallen Angels.  How
could that be, when he and Apollo are from different worlds?

Sylvia is Celian reincarnated, and keeps hoping that Sirius is the
reincarnation of her former lover.  Sirius isn't so thrilled, especially since
he has no clear memories like hers of a past life.  It could be someone else...
though there's no way it's as simple as Apollo = Apollonius, right?  ...Right?
I can't hear you.  Anyway, Apollo's friend Baron gave him the name, though
Baron's currently being pwned up the ass or something by the Fallens, providing
Apollo with a good reason to pilot Aquarion and try to get him back.  All of
Aquarion's pilots have special powers like telekinesis, and in theory they're
all supposed to have altruistic reasons for fighting on behalf of all mankind.

At the very least, Diva's leader Fudou Gen seems to specialize in getting
results.  He had his pilots training for combination with the Getter team,
honing both sides' skills.  However, he also has the Elements running around
barefoot, playing hide and seek with each other, trying to read each other's
hearts from afar, and so on, without giving a straight explanation as to why.
Gen appears out of nowhere and says that Apollo's lack of understanding shows
that he's still immature.  He thanks Ryouma for helping some of his "chicks"
learn to fly a little, but Shin observes that "chicks" in this case refers to
little chickens, which don't actually, you know, fly.  Fudou favors him with a
somber stare that actually gets even Shin to apologize in no time flat.

It seems that training time is over now that real battle's arrived, and Fudou
warns Apollo and the others that it's going to be even harder.  His pupils
sound ready to go, so he tells them to prove their mettle as members of ZEUTH.
And specifically ZEUTH, not the Zaft or the AEUG as such.  The seven Elements
will trade off piloting the various Vector machines, with the common thread
being Apollo.  Fudou has some advice for all ZEUTH's members, lest they get too
full of themselves with their new firepower.  The enemies they should fear most
are within each of their own hearts...


24. Operation: Reclaim the Photon Power Lab

Here come ZEUTH!  Dokuganki (that one-eyed guy) is scared shitless, but
Tekkouki assures him the lab's defenses are impenetrable.  All seems outwardly
quiet as ZEUTH rolls up, but Kouji knows what the bad guys are planning and
zooms on ahead.  Talia orders her ship to follow at flank speed, but the Demons
activate the lab's shields and defense systems first.  Hidler praises Tekkouki
for his idea of using the Photon Power Lab as a base, but Tekkouki snorts that
anyone could have come up with as much.  All "praise" ought to be directed at
Yumi for fortifying the barrier this much, and Tekkouki is waiting for Getter
Robo to figure out how to breach the barrier.  That's when the real battle will
begin....

After the hasty retreat, Kouji comes up with a plan for defeating the barrier:
flit around in his TFO and take out the barrier generators while avoiding the
defense system.  It's damn dangerous, but Kouji's willing to risk his life
every bit as much as Boss did.  Kouji's only request of Maria is that she keep
watch on his stricken comrade.  Meanwhile, Julie has put his head together with
Kazami, and calculated that it would take the entire firepower of ZEUTH,
concentrated in a one meter-diameter circle, to overload the barrier.  That
surprises Benkei, who's always heard that the Photon Power Lab's barrier
couldn't stop a strong breeze, but Hayato says that a lot has changed since the
battle with the Mikeene.

Kouji's tuned the TFO so it'll be even faster than the Double Spacer for a
short burst.  As he's bolting everything closed, Marin comes over and, for a
rarity, starts a conversation from his side.  He's pretty sure Kouji's plan is
doomed to failure, which Kouji himself can't deny.  But he's doing it anyway,
for the sake of the people inside the lab who were so good to him back when
(including his brother Shirou).  He's not just rushing in half-cocked though:
he tells Marin that in the event he *does* get shot down, the defense system
will focus on him and leave other areas temporarily under-protected.  Kouji
knows Marin was considering breaching the barrier using dimensional
teleportation, and tells him that spacetime around the barrier is way too
unstable: likely Marin would never make it back to real space.  If someone's
got to do something reckless, Kouji figures it's best he do it alone and spare
Marin the risk.  Marin doesn't like hearing that and comes back with a
sarcastic rejoinder, but Kouji's not fazed one bit.  He heads off to look in on
Boss, and although Marin's crewmates might not believe it, Marin understands
very well how firm Kouji's resolve to save his friends must be.  Raita and
Oliver may not believe him, but Marin plans to stake his own life on making
this operation succeed.

With all hope seemingly lost for rescue, Hidler tries to force Professor Yumi
to divulge Mazinger Z's whereabouts.  Hidler knows that if he can control both
Photon Power and Getter Rays, the world is as good as his, which doesn't
exactly make Yumi any more likely to talk.  Hidler, Field Marshal over all the
Hundred Demons' armies, is fairly impressed with a human who could stand up to
him -- after all, this is the guy who once repulsed Dr. Hell's best efforts to
steal the lab.  Maybe putting the screws to the kids will soften him up, but
the kids for their part tell the good doctor not to worry about them.  Hidler
plans to make an example out of Sayaka, but Tekkouki intervenes, pointing out
that hostages aren't of any use dead.  He tells Hidler that it's only a matter
of days until he's figured out everything there is to know about the Lab,
including Mazinger's whereabouts, and Hidler somewhat stuffily gives him the
responsibility.  Tekkouki scoffs at Sayaka's thanks for saving her life,
telling her and the spunky little Shirou in no uncertain terms that he no
longer has a human heart.  He has but one goal: using his Hundred Demon robot
to destroy Getter Robo.

Kouji's plan swings into action, and it looks like he might not make it despite
all the good wishes from his comrades.  But then out of left field zooms
Tetsuya, ramming the barrier at top speed using his Great Booster.  That thing
must have one ridiculously high energy density to be able to break the barrier,
but even so there's no way the pilot could survive unscathed.  Kouji uses the
time Tetsuya bought to slip inside the base, whose defenses are now totally
offline from the shock to the barrier.  Hidler orders Dokuganki to confront
ZEUTH the old-fashioned way, but he's going to be facing a swarm of seriously
fired-up folks.  That would include Marin, who's moved in a manly way by
Tetsuya's selfless act.  Time for some severe payback for what the Hundred
Demons have done to Japan!

  Dokuganki seems incensed that ZEUTH is trying to steal the Lab, but Ryouma
  points out that the Hundred Demons stole it first.  Dokuganki definitely
  won't go down without a fight, and Maria can only hope that Kouji hurries.
  Kouji has in fact made it all the way to the control room, where Hidler is
  holed up with the hostages.  Of course he doesn't just free the base when
  Kouji orders him to, but Kouji isn't going to let this Nazi impersonator
  trample the life's work of Yumi (and Saotome) for the sake of his twisted
  ends.  And as for freeing the hostages, Kouji didn't just march in here
  without a plan.

  That plan involves Boss bodily ramming the command building, giving Kouji
  enough time to free the hostages.  Hidler at least wants to end Kouji's life,
  but Kouji's pilot suit keeps the first shot from killing him outright.  He's
  got another round, and before he fires it Sayaka is willing to reveal the
  location of Mazinger's hangar, valuing Kouji's life even above all the
  research Yumi's done.  That something is more important than research is a
  serious shock to Tekkouki, but the infuriated Hidler isn't willing to parlay
  any more.  After making an example out of Kouji, he plans to extract the data
  from Sayaka's brain directly, even if he needs an electric blender to do it.

  To do that, however, he'll need to survive a gunshot wound of his own,
  courtesy of a VERY pissed off Tetsuya.  The Demons skedaddle, and Tetsuya
  races outside to finish the hunt, leaving no time to tell Kouji where he's
  been.  Kouji's got to sortie himself in Mazinger, torn pilot suit or no.
  Lucky for him Shirou's been polishing his trademark helmet every day he's
  been gone.

  Kouji hops in the Jet Pilder, but is going to have a hell of a time docking
  with Mazinger under the heavy enemy fire.  For the "reborn" Tetsuya, failure
  is not an option, and he uses his rugged mech to shield Kouji for the time he
  needs.  He yells to Kouji that his own stupid jealousy led to Kouji's father
  -- and his own father figure -- dying.  He also failed to keep Musashi alive
  against the Dinosaur Empire, and never forgave himself.  But he's refashioned
  himself into a new man, one worthy to call himself a Mazinger pilot!  No
  puny-ass barrage is going to stop him, nor should it stop Kouji from
  unleashing the fire that is Mazinger's soul.

  Yeah, it comes up out of the swimming pool.  Anyone with half a brain should
  have seen that coming, though Dokuganki isn't very afraid of the antique
  super robot.  But he will be.  Right before getting reduced to cinders.  See,
  the scientists of the Photon Power Lab have spent all the time Mazinger
  wasn't in the field making upgrades, and the Mazinger Z currently on the
  field is far studlier than the old one ever was.  And with Tetsuya by his
  side, plus their respective significant others, the bad guys are in for one
  heaping helping of hurting.  The girls even team up with Boss, as a one-time
  reward for putting his ass on the line so much.

  There's still the small matter of Tekkouki's robots though, which the Demon
  scientist slaved over night and day in the hopes of taking out Getter Robo.
  And this has nothing to do with revenge: Tekkouki just wants to prove that
  his technology is the best.  Ryouma will take that challenge standing up, but
  Sayaka is wavering ever so slightly over the fact that this Demon also saved
  her life.

  Well, so much for German^WDemon engineering.  Tekkouki will live to lose
  another day, and the Getter team has to be impressed with how all the
  Mecha-Tekkouki's weapons are perfectly calculated to counter Getter's own.
  One thing Tekkouki doesn't have though, is the power of three souls working
  in unison.  And another thing he doesn't have is Kouji and Tetsuya, fighting
  along side in manly harmony.  Hopefully Professor Kabuto is watching all this
  from Heaven, so he can be proud of how his two sons are doing.

The victory earns the team a brief respite, and a chance to ponder what to do
next.  Seems like everyone's bent on world domination these days, so one more
band of fiends menacing Japan shouldn't be that big of a problem.  In theory.
It doesn't hurt that Sandman and his entourage have been busily compiling a
list of all the people the Hundred Demons have replaced, during which Raven has
developed a healthy fear of the enemy's subtlety.  Rather than directly
tackling the people in power, the Demons have gone for trusted aides in a bid
to keep their actions secret.  Kouji, always one for the direct approach, wants
to just go down the list and eliminate the moles, but Raven kiboshes that idea
fast.

Suppose the Demons' gambit became public knowledge.  Suddenly everyone in Japan
would start doubting their neighbor, demolishing society in very short order.
Quietly assassinating the moles would take too long, but Sandman sounds
confident that the Hundred Demons won't keep their low profile now that the
ZEUTH are here.  Best prepare for the next battle as though the fate of all
Japan depends on it.

Hidler phones up his boss, Grand Emperor Brai, with the bad news.  He's quick
to blame the whole mess on forward commander Tekkouki, but Brai is more
interested in the might of ZEUTH.  Hidler is sure that both labs can be
captured for good if Brai sends more troops, but Brai reminds him that the
super-energy sources are merely one of the many means to world domination.
Since the ZEUTH seem to be on to some of the moles, Brai is inclined to have
Hidler meet ZEUTH head on.  Hidler, aghast, asks if Brai has just issued
Hidler's death warrant, but Brai is confident that Hidler can win using the
Mecha Fortress Demon he's sending his way.  Hidler will sure give it the old
college try.

Brai then calls Glar to task for his student Tekkouki's seemingly rash act.
The brighter the student, the more unpredictable, right?  Brai cautions Glar
that his Mecha Fortress Demon may not fare well under Hidler's control, but
Glar has no complaints: the Hundred Demons live only to serve their emperor.
Now, as for that alternate energy source he's been researching -- though Glar
isn't even sure that "energy source" is the right term.  More like "dimensional
force", which is capable of annihilating spacetime if detonated.  This weird,
powerful stuff manifests every time the Fallen Angels appear, and Glar lacks
sufficient data to actually harness it yet.  Brai orders Glar to observe
Aquarion in the upcoming battle with Hidler: if the Fallen Angels show up, he
should get plenty of data to chew on.  Brai's even willing to give up on Japan
if it means garnering a mightier means to take over the world.


25. The Whereabouts of Darkness

Johannes, the Elder controlling the darkness that is Truth, tells Touma to fess
up what he's been dreaming about lately.  Holy stuff, natch.  Some of his
comrades, all of whose names contain the kanji for "wing", are worried that the
dude is going to doze off again for a few millennia, but Touma assures them
that he will not rest (again) until the Wings of the Sun is brought back to
them.  That's what he's been dreaming about: taking the planet back from all
those wingless baboons who've trashed it, and remaking it as a paradise for the
wingful folk.  His plan revolves around using the Wings of the Sun's power to
evolve the Tree of Life and give rise to a new species, which he's sure will
finally give the Atlandians the power to stage their long-awaited jailbreak.

One little snag though: Moroha for one isn't willing to leave this crucial task
to Touma alone.  Seems his twelve-millennia-long exile, not to mention the loss
of numerous friends and comrades to the Wings of the Sun's treachery, have
given him an itchy trigger finger.  He's already got Renshi working on a new
Cherubim, which Renshi vows will be truly worthy of the unparalleled combat
angel.  And if Renshi, said to have the touch of God Himself, is that
confident, Shiruha's willing to give it a go.  Touma is too, ceding the rights
to the next sortie to Moroha.  Moroha tells him not to bitch if Touma's beloved
Wings of the Sun gets a tad jacked up in the process, but odds are good that
Moroha will have problems of his own to worry about -- including all those
pesky demons.

With such dire counsel in progress, what are the good guys up to?  Nothing
short of Japan's fabled... radio gymnastics.  The beauty of which is, anyone
within earshot can be forced to participate by a heavy-handed instructor, of
which there are several in ZEUTH.  One of them is Raita, who apparently got his
hardened-ass attitude as a military academy instructor.  Tetsuya probably
doesn't enjoy riding herd on a bunch of kids doing jumping jacks, but he's
doing it as a favor for Fudou, who he met in the wilderness during his self-
improvement jag.  Fudou himself is currently off on Lord-knows what business,
after throwing one hell of a party for the adults to celebrate the last battle.

The smell of the top-class sake he furnished, plus Sandman's superb wine
selections, still wrinkles the little kids' noses.  Though the younger adults
give the now hung-over older adults hell for drinking too much, it should be
noted that Rand and his cohorts *are* still managing to keep up the exercises.
That is, until Mail comes over and pushes Rand's abdomen to make him breathe
deeper, which results in him hurling with gusto.  That earns him a silent and
very disappointed stare from Eureka, and poor Renton is left wondering why
adult men seem to come with an on/off switch.  One person not sweating it out
is Roger, whose cool facade and snazzy shades hide eyes every bit as bloodshot
as the other partygoers.  Oh, and that crashing sound?  That's Renton's
admiration for adults shattering into about a billion bits.

Roger isn't the only one skipping out on the exercises: Apollo and Sirius are
nowhere to be seen either.  The Getter team is off looking for them, and at the
thought that they're deliberately skipping out on his training, a wrathful
Tetsuya joins the search too.  He's full of pep after his wandering in the
wilderness, but Sayaka seems somehow distracted...

Sirius is off in the Saotome Lab's rose garden reciting wistful poetry, having
declared for himself that further physical conditioning is unnecessary.  In
other words, he's cutting class too.  Apollo thinks Saotome's wife's carefully-
tended roses make an ideal backdrop for the dandified prince, but Sirius sets
him straight.  Roses are fragile and require loads of care to reach maturity
like this, but the aesthetics are totally lost on Apollo.  Surely, SURELY he
can't actually be the reincarnation of Apollonius, right?  Sirius is actually
reconsidering the peace he made with Apollo being part of Diva, but before he
can actually do anything about it, Tetsuya shows up.

He's willing to let Apollo off the hook if he puts in a full hundred laps
around the base, and only smiles a menacing smile when Apollo asks what would
happen if he simply didn't come back.  That's all the prodding Apollo needs,
and Sirius smirks at how easily the "wild beast" was cowed by Tetsuya's
superior emotional intensity.  That's not how Tetsuya sees it, especially given
the malice Sirius was just projecting in Apollo's direction.  Tetsuya knows
full well how jealous Sirius is, given how he was once debilitated by the same
emotion.  He tells Sirius to admit it and get over it, or it'll come back to
haunt him in ways he won't be able to fix.  Not surprisingly, Sirius isn't one
to accept such criticism.

Just then, Sylvia runs over to tell her brother that the plan to take out the
Hundred Demons has just taken shape.  Sylvia wants to sortie in tandem with
him, and Sirius thinks this is his chance to show both the Demons and the wild
beast just how strong the Alicia family is...

Dokuganki has plans of his own, involving spreading the lie that ZEUTH has come
as part of a Zaft plan to force Japan to join the Plants.  He's gathered many
of the Demon moles together in one place, to serve as ZEUTH bait.  When ZEUTH
attacks, they'll broadcast the "slaughter" to the government and whole country,
and gain a decisive PR victory for their great leader.  With the remaining
time, Dokuganki proposes a toast, and a mysterious wait staff hastens to pour
it.

ZEUTH's older and wiser heads are completely on to Dokuganki's plan, which
includes an official-sounding declaration of hostilities from a co-opted
government minister.  He's prepared a truly impressive number of troops, all of
whom are already Demonized and can no longer be saved.  The team will have to
rein in any sympathy they might have long enough to fight this battle and
liberate Japan.

  The pod-Vice Minister of Defense thinks his forces are about to crush the
  ZEUTH in short order, and when some pretty women walk up and claim to be
  escorts, he grandly tells them to settle in and watch the show.

  The show doesn't go quite according to plan, as the humans' weaponry proves
  rather ineffective against ZEUTH.  An infuriated Dokuganki orders Tekkouki's
  forces into action, telling him that failure with all these reinforcements
  will truly be unforgivable.  Tekkouki remains derisive of everything except
  his own personal mecha, and Sayaka is back to alternatingly moping about her
  savior and wishing him dead as an enemy of mankind.  So...  confusing...

  All this fussing and fighting has attracted the Fallen Angel troops,
  including one Cherubim Soldier that's got one of the actual Fallen Angels
  aboard.  Apollo can somehow tell by smell that it's not Touma from the
  Breaking incident, and the combat angel Moroha proudly introduces himself to
  the wingless.  Apollo and Sirius are hardly in sync, and it's clear to
  everyone but them that they can't win in a head-on fight.

  Getting his ass kicked isn't enough for Apollo to let Sirius take over, and
  Sirius yells back that this wild dog has no idea what the fuck's going on.
  Ryouma yells that *neither* of them get what's going on, and Sylvia's aura
  suddenly goes very faint.  Was she somehow damaged?  By Sirius' own
  self-blindness?  To Tetsuya's horror, the thought that Sirius' own mistake
  harmed his beloved sister makes Sirius nearly catatonic, and Apollo certainly
  can't work Aquarion by himself.  Moroha won't even have to lift a finger as
  more Demon reinforcements arrive in a gigantic moving fortress.

  Even Tekkouki is shocked when he sees several duplicates of his supposedly-
  unique mecha emerge.  Hidler proudly announces the fact that he "borrowed"
  Tekkouki's plans, angrily reminding the scientist that he has no right to be
  upset when all is to grant the emperor's wishes.  Now Tekkouki knows what
  Yumi and Saotome were feeling when he threatened their work.  He's pissed
  enough to confront Hidler, who gleefully shouts that both Glar and Brai
  figured he'd try something this dumb.  Tekkouki responds by declaring a truce
  with Getter Robo, long enough to see Hidler's ass well and truly kicked.
  Sayaka is overjoyed, but Tekkouki angrily reminds her that it's not out of
  liking her, it's purely for the sake of revenge.  Ryouma figures the Demon's
  rage is real enough to trust for now, leaving Moroha disgusted with both the
  humans *and* the Demons.

  The only choice now is to fight off all the foes at once while protecting the
  Aquarion.  Moroha doesn't wait long to show how rough that's going to be,
  healing himself fully and making many among the ZEUTH leadership start to
  waver.  Tekkouki isn't fazed though, and Apollo notes that it's pretty
  pathetic if the *enemy* has more gumption than the good guys.

  THAT'S RIGHT, bellows Fudou.  He and Tetsuya both order Sirius to find a way
  to turn his jealousy into strength to fight on, as Tekkouki is doing.  Love
  is what happens when people find in another what their own soul is lacking,
  and jealousy is what happens when it becomes clear that that thing will never
  be solely their own.  As something arising from the spirit, that jealousy can
  become energy.

  Apollo asks who Sirius is jealous of, and gets lambasted for being so much of
  an idiot as to not grasp what's going on.  Fudou cries forth in an invocation
  for all things to be revealed to Aquarion.  And this time, Apollo lets Sirius
  take the lead as the two of them channel their auras into Sylvia.  At long
  last the two guys are on the same page: Sirius who didn't stop to look down
  at his own feet, and Apollo who didn't stop to regard the skies above.  The
  results are, well, staggering, even if the jealousy-powered fists don't
  precisely spring from teamwork as such.  The good news is that Sylvia is back
  on the scene too.

  Interestingly, the Fallen Angel knows Turn A from back when, calling it the
  "Moth of Destruction".  WTF?  Anyway, Moroha can't cut the mustard, blaming
  it on his Cherubim Soldier just like a human would.  Enraged, he vows to make
  the Wings of the Sun bow to the ground and become one with the Tree of Life
  before all is said and done.  Nobody's quite sure what that means, but it
  sounds pretty important.  Otoha remarks to Touma that his beloved seems to
  have gotten the best of them again, but Touma thinks that the small "seed"
  they planted today will be of value later.

  Kouji has more than just the raid on the Photon Power Lab to pay Hidler back
  for: he really loved the pilot suit that Hidler shot full of holes.  The
  Getter Team have a more straightforward reason: kicking him and his evil kind
  out of Japan.  Hidler quickly realizes that his irreplaceable mobile fortress
  doesn't stand much of a chance against the good guys and flees, leaving
  Dokuganki in charge.

  The Hundred Demons aren't feeling so bad-ass when they see the historic
  levels of beatdown ZEUTH administers to their troops.  Surely there's no way
  mere _humans_ could beat them, right?  Wrong, quoth a snazzily dressed guy in
  a tux.  This guy isn't in the habit of giving out his name to the bad guys
  [go figure], and the party guests don't have time to inquire much anyway,
  what with all the gaffling down by the wait staff.  Of course, this is a lot
  easier thanks to the sleeping pills they mixed into the wine they served
  everyone.  Dokuganki and his immediate subordinates are going to try to make
  a run for it, but Mr. Snazzy [aka Haran Banjou, duh] doubts he'll get far.

  Back outside, the bad guys are stacked like cordwood.  All except for
  Tekkouki, who knows he can't very well head home now.  That leaves one
  option: settle the score with Getter.  Since he went to all the trouble to
  defect and such just to get his one shot, the Getter team agrees to his
  challenge and tells everyone else to stay out back.  They do, but Sayaka has
  to get in her two cents first: thanks for the rescue.  That's the second and
  only time he's heard "thanks" in his life, and he's rather grateful to the
  human woman for all she's taught him.  Which, frankly, wasn't all that much
  in absolute terms, but when your whole life revolves around building the
  strongest robot in the world (as Tekkouki's does), you take what you can get.

  What he gets is an ass-handing by another scientist's life's work, piloted by
  people with loftier things to protect.  Tekkouki fails both as a warrior and
  as a scientist, but all isn't lost yet.  He can still make a life for himself
  apart from the Hundred Demons, and maybe even tune up his Mecha-Tekkouki
  along the way.  And, since this means coming along with Getter and ZEUTH,
  maybe even getting further acquainted [*winkwink*] with Sayaka.  Kouji's
  always got Maria to hang out with after all...

Well, the liberation of Japan is now well underway, though it might be hard to
get too much assistance from them until the rest of the Demons are dealt with.
In fact, it might be harder than you think, since Japan's best bet to stem all
the chaos is rejoining the Federation.  Just like the chairman wanted, right?
Holland for one doesn't like it one bit...

Meanwhile, Dokuganki has fled in such haste that his pawn the Vice-Minister got
left behind.  He gets cornered by the "unsociable maid" he saw during the
banquet, but quickly learns that she's neither a maid, or even human.  Seeing
as how the Vice-Minister is a Demon, that makes them even.  Banjou announces
that the Hundred Demons' reign of terror is at an end, but the Demon opts to
blow himself up rather than be captured.  Even Banjou is startled by this show
of resolve.

Dorothy isn't injured, and Roger comes over to explain why (namely, that she's
an android).  He's heard of "The Storm", aka "the man with the circle of the
sun", AKA Haran Banjou, scourge of the underworld.  The orchestrators of the
demon capture can all congratulate themselves, especially Sandman for recalling
the Japanese legend that ogres have a weakness for strong drink.  Roger's glad
that Sandman's people taught Dorothy so much about how to be a maid, and she
dryly informs him of something else she learned: how much better Sandman's
fashion sense is than his.  In any case, the Demons' undoing was focusing too
much on ZEUTH and not enough on self-preservation.

Even with the battle won, the Demons don't go gracefully.  As soon as each one
recovered from the sedative, they immediately committed suicide, crying out
their allegiance to Brai at the end.  No human military unit's discipline is
that ironclad, that's for sure.  Since Brai's stronghold can move around, it
seems Japan will have to stay on the defensive for now.  The Chimera battalion
will help with that, bolstered by the arrival of Raven's fellow commander
Shuran.  Shuran doesn't seem to think quelling local trouble throughout Japan,
once the common people learn they're rejoining the Feds, should be much of a
problem.  ZEUTH meanwhile will hang onto the Mazinger and Getter teams, and
head off to their next port of call with a bit of financial thanks from Chimera
to sweeten the deal.

Or... so Talia and the others thought.  Jamir and Holland aren't liking the
arrangement, and they're not alone.  Rand is also planning to depart, unwilling
to directly help either side of the Plant/Federation struggle for world
hegemony.  Rolan believes Durandal and Gwen have ways of avoiding status quo
when one side eventually wins, and Rand can only hope he's right.  Getter will
be going along with this free unit, the better to track down Brai's fortress
without being subject to someone else's timetable.  The same goes for the
Aquarion team and their Fallen Angel hunting, though Apollo would prefer
sticking with Minerva in the hopes of bringing the fight to *all* the bad guys
faster.

Kouji's sticking with the Minerva because he likes Durandal's way of ensuring
that everyone, Natural or Coordinator, can live together in peace.  Renton's on
the same page, though he also knows that Holland somehow doesn't like Durandal.
Gainer can't much stomach outright war, so he and his people will be tagging
along with the Gekkostate.  Everyone else has similar reasons for choosing one
side or the other, and it's clear this will only be a temporary parting of
ways.  Rey asks Aslan if he's really okay with letting the team split up, in
apparent contradiction of Durandal's orders, but Aslan figures that this is the
best way to accommodate everyone's personality.  Plus, he's already cleared it
with Durandal.

Roger Smith isn't going with either side.  The Zaft/AEUG force is crossing
Galia to reach Gibraltar, while the freedom-loving folk are heading into the
South Pacific with no fixed destination.  Hence, Roger will head squarely down
the middle, in the hopes of ascertaining the whereabouts of the truth with his
own eyes.  Dorothy calls that a mere excuse for wandering around aimlessly, but
that's fine with Roger, so long as he's doing it under his own power.

Jamir has one question for Amuro before parting ways: what is the significance
of Newtypes in Amuro's world, and what does he think the meaning of Tifa's
powers is?  Jamir's heard that the Feds are rounding up Newtypes for some kind
of research, and means to keep Tifa's powers from being abused at all costs.
Amuro asks if that's how he means to make up for his part in the war that
devastated the Southern Hemisphere fifteen years ago.  Jamir was part of the
central government forces opposing the space-based revolutionaries, and used
the GX's Satellite Cannon to try to stop their colony drops.  Unfortunately,
that just made the space rebels drop *more* colonies, devastating the whole
Southern hemisphere.  Jamir blames himself for precipitating the whole mess,
but Amuro tells him in no uncertain terms that that was an accident.  As for
the "meaning" of Newtypes... Amuro says there is none.

Roger sneaks away quick enough to avoid the overblown farewell.  Jamir's
reached the conclusion that, although it might be safer with the Zaft, he needs
the freedom to find his own answers amidst this mixed-up world.  Holland
concurs, though his gut tells him that little good will come of it.  What's
clear to Holland is that he's had enough of running around on someone else's
orders, especially someone he's never met.  With hopes high as possible, the
two halves of ZEUTH fly off into what Liina forecasts are very dark clouds.
Jerome protests that she should have given them some kind of advice if she
foresaw danger, but Sandman has other ideas.  The clouds become a storm, and
the rain lashes the ground, but the winds renew the air and the rain nourishes
the land beneath.  In other words, misfortune isn't guaranteed (though neither
is good fortune).  In any case, let the warriors dance as their hearts command!

Meanwhile, Jibril has informed Eidel that Jamitov has tapped her for a new
role, alongside the three sages of the Promised Land.  This puts her in a
position to chart the course of the whole world, and Jibril tells her she'll be
counted upon quite heavily when it's time for the old guys on the council to
"retire".  She knows being on the council is both a big chance and a big risk.
Jiei tells her to think positive, reporting the split in ZEUTH.  Jamitov will
be sending the Phantom Pain and Ageha squads after the two halves, and she
orders information about the two squads sent to ZEUTH at once.  Jiei would have
more fun keeping them in the dark, but won't oppose the general.  She opts to
keep him happy and tells him to go back to his research.  She can only hope
that ZEUTH wins through, long enough to help better the world...


26. Into the Nature

Anemone is in a very bad mood, despite (or because of?) the person she's been
waiting for so long showing up.  Dominic tries to coax her to come, but she's
so afraid of approaching that she decks the poor guy, saying that it feels like
something is leaking out of her head.  She tries pleading with him to give her
more drugs, heedless of his warning that the more she uses, the more she'll
suffer later.  Apparently he relents, since she's able to smile for the man
she's not seen in three years.  Dewey went from lieutenant to full colonel in
the interim, and is very good at persuading the girl to do his bidding.  In
this case, that means suiting up for immediate sortie, taking her pet Gulliver
with her.  Dominic gets the unenviable task of carrying the critter, which gets
magically heavier when it's in a bad mood.

After Anemone runs off to change, Dewey hears Dominic's report about the
Gekkostate's travels with half of ZEUTH.  Dewey asks for his estimate of their
unit strength, and Dominic estimates that even half of ZEUTH makes for a
formidable force -- one no unit in the Federation can currently oppose.  Dewey
smiles and says he's got to thank the Gekkostate and friends for granting him
this much freedom.  And by "thank", he means "shoot in the forehead", using
Anemone and Dominic.  The main Ageha force isn't actually devoted to wiping the
Gekkostate out after all, and their real mission is what Dewey wants to spend
his energy on.  In the meantime, he seems almost curious to see just how much
of a fight Holland can put up.

Meanwhile, Renton is pondering Holland's reasons for leaving the military,
which he reckons must have something to do with Eureka.  He finds himself
wishing he could somehow ease Eureka's fretting about her past, and faced with
the reality of just how little he really knows of Eureka, Holland, or the world
in general.  Unfortunately, his mental "diary" entries addressed to his absent
sister also make him look like some kind of headcase to outside observers.
Gidget asks if he's fantasizing about all the stuff he could be doing with
Eureka, which provokes a predictable flurry of blushing and denials (well,
mostly denials anyway...)

It doesn't help that he's in the middle of a meeting, the purpose of which is
to figure out how the rag-tag fleet is supposed to make some money.  Their
decision to shun the military has left them without the hand that fed them,
though Kei and the Emarn are used to providing for themselves at least.
Ryouma's worried about finding all the enemies on the list, but the fact of the
matter is that the enemies will probably come looking for the crew on their
own, leaving the crew free to look for work.  Raita thinks Marin's also working
on spying on the team, and everyone from Gain on down is getting pretty sick of
hearing from him.  Oliver, frowning, guesses that Raita's vindictiveness is
probably at least half pride by this point: to drop the schtick would be to
admit that he's been wrong all this time.  Oliver himself says there's nothing
wrong with being cautious where Marin is concerned, which could be said for
most of the team regarding most of the rest of the team...

Setting the quarrels aside, Rand and Mail propose that everyone set themselves
up as "repairmen".  He doesn't like being reminded of his popular role as a
"disrepair"-man one bit.  No support will be forthcoming from Diva, after Fudou
said to think of self-sufficiency as a type of "training".  There's always the
option to simply steal stuff, but that wouldn't be very civilized.  All the
special abilities the team boasts could make for a pretty formidable circus,
but not all their owners are exactly thrilled about putting themselves on
display.  The increasingly contentious discussion gets broken up by the arrival
of a Trapar swell, and the Gekkostate's plans to teach everyone to Lif.  Eureka
doesn't look quite so enthused, but Tifa tells her she's got to go to the gate
awaiting her...

The Trapar wave turns out to emanate from a Coralian, an object at the center
of a mass of clouds dead ahead.  This is a chance that Holland knows may never
come again, and he asks what Eureka's status is.  Physically, she's just fine,
though she seems to be having some emotional issues just now.  It's not that
she's fragile, but as Misha says, that she's tired from battling her own
personal demons.  That explains why she hasn't been able to properly link with
Nirvash, and the solution to that seems to be Renton.  Holland tells Renton to
sortie with Eureka, adding without a trace of humor that he'll kill him if
anything happens to her.

Jamir sees the Gekkostate sortie, and sends out his own people as well.  The
huge cloud formation seems likely to be dangerous, but this is also a chance to
find out more about what the Gekkostate are really up to.  Tifa has a word of
warning though: the Moth is about to unfold its wings.  These moth prophecies
don't even make sense to her, and she just hopes that Eureka is careful.

The clouds look ever more ominous the closer the team approaches.  Stoner makes
sure Mail takes lots of pictures, coaching her in photography as his way of
thanking her and Rand for all their help.  As for what they're up against, none
of the Gekkostate seem to know, except that it's got the gnarliest Trapar waves
they've ever seen, and that the last time they ran into this thing, they got
caught up in a Teleportation.  Stoner calls it the resting place of God, the
next step in the evolution of human consciousness -- which doesn't help at all.
On a private channel to Talho, Holland admits that he wants nothing more in
this universe than to run away, to the other side of the galaxy if he could.
As badly as he wants to forget what he experienced the last time, it seems his
nemesis has caught up with him even in another world.  And if he can't forget,
he'd rather confront his fears head on.  Or rather, have Eureka confront them,
which she's willing to do since she implicitly trusts him.

Before she can get into the Zone with Renton in tow, some interference shows
up: the Federation army.  Holland feared that they were after the thing, though
he won't say why when Jamir asks.  Instead, he tells Eureka to go ahead while
the rest of the team holds the Feds off.  That sounds more than a little fishy,
but when Holland bows his head to the ground and begs for assistance on his
say-so alone the only fleeting objection is from Ryouma, who doesn't want to
get right back into a tussle with the army.  When everyone finally agrees to
help, Holland tells them they've got a screw loose somewhere, just like
everyone in his crew.  Eureka and Renton make ready to press ahead to their
destination when Marin warns them of a reading his subspace sensors just
registered: the dimensional walls around here are very unstable.  Whatever
they're gonna do, they'd better do it quick before God-knows-what happens.

  Dominic's entourage roll up in short order, and Dominic quickly gets into a
  disagreement with the ranking officer about whether to attack.  The "Kute"-
  class vessel nearby could do darn-near anything, but Dominic prods the
  commander by questioning his confidence.  The commander, Jurgens, isn't happy
  in the slightest about having these kids bossing him around, but Anemone
  could care less.  She's more interested in how lame a name "Kute" is, and in
  wiping out the mech that looks so much like hers.  Dominic doesn't like the
  tension in her voice, but knows that without the large quantities of drug he
  administered, she'd be even more of a basket case *and* immobile.  The black
  Nirvash is coming after the silver one, and it looks to be a major grudge
  match...

  As if things weren't bad enough, the Coralian somehow manages to create a
  dimensional bridge to the infinite prison, allowing a few Fallen Angels to
  leak through. The Feds will have to try to fend their indiscriminate attacks
  off as well.  Eureka is still willing to try to reach her goal, and that
  keeps Anemone interested as well.

  Jurgens gets badly damaged first, and Anemone proudly announces that she
  doesn't need him hanging around to be able to fight.  She does threaten
  mayhem if anything happens to Gulliver though.  Dominic agrees to pull out,
  and for once he and Jurgens agree.

  Eureka knocks Anemone back long enough to make a run for the clouds, though
  Anemone tries to catch up fast.  As Anemone tries to fire her deathray and
  melt her twin mech, the flagships detect a Teleportation about to occur.
  Renton does his best to save Eureka somehow when a vision comes to him.  A
  very helpful voice tells him that the Ageha moth can see at wavelengths
  humans can't.  Different creatures see the world in different ways; or put
  differently, live in different worlds even as they reside in the same
  physical spot.  For example, humans can't see Trapars, but Skyfish can...

  Jiron meanwhile is getting bugged by a vision of Timp, who accuses him of
  never growing beyond chasing his ass all over time and space.  That's an
  unkind description of Jiron's chosen way of life, which is always running
  ahead.  Likewise, Ryouma is menaced by visions of his friends replaced by
  Demons, bragging about how stealthily they've infiltrated human society.
  Marin is getting the similar treatment from visions of his human friends and
  foes alike, all accusing him of being an enemy alien.  In Gainer's case, it's
  the threat of his friends leaving him after his Overman has changed him.  Kei
  even gets visited by Orson, who's being torn between the real(?) and a fake
  copy of Kei.

  In Rand's case, it's Mail, who claims to now know what happened when her
  father was sucked into the dimensional distortion.  How he screamed as the
  Gunleon and her father were--  Rand cries out that he's The Heat!  He'd never
  let the pain beat him!  He'll never let the Gunleon beat him!!  Even more
  interesting is Apollo and Sylvia, who see in each other a vision of
  Apollonius and Celian.  They both tell each other they never should have met,
  so Apollonius could have remained an angel of slaughter.  But they did meet,
  bringing both pain and joy, and love, and war against the angels whose
  feathers Apollonius once wore.

  Garrod's got a bit more help in the form of Tifa's voice, a lifeline amidst
  the deep dark he finds himself in.  Tifa manages to tell him that everyone is
  okay except Eureka when she suddenly screams, her voice cut off.  That can't
  be good.

  Renton is still being chased around by Anemone.  Lots of her.  But just then,
  he gets the feeling he saw a moth, and then a vision of Eureka and he alone
  together.  Somehow, they both manage to return... to a place about 100 klicks
  south of where the Coralian used to be.  Everyone seems to have made the
  jump, except Tifa, who's somehow vanished right off of the Freeden.  The only
  explanation is that someone, somehow, kidnapped her...

That someone would be the Frost Brothers, who were helping the Ageha out.
Shagia is very grateful to Dominic for the info that let the kidnapping
succeed, but Dominic isn't nearly as forthcoming with info about how Anemone
fared after the incident, apologizing for having to be so tight-lipped.  He's
amazed that the Frost Brothers were able to actually act under the
circumstances.  Shagia explains how he did it: his brother guided him, thanks
to their ability to feel each other's presence at any range.  In any case,
they'll be heading to Zondarepter, and Dominic wishes them well.

Dominic's boss though, the brothers aren't so certain about.  They're playing
cooperative in the hopes of setting Dewey and his lackeys off their guard.  In
any case, they're very glad to have Tifa back, noting that her eyes look a lot
stronger than before.  They still plan to use her in some kind of revenge
against fate plot, and for starters they plan to take her to the Sea of
Lorelai.  A ghost from fifteen years ago is waiting for her...


27. The Fifteen-Year Ghost

The search is on for Tifa's whereabouts, and clues are proving very hard to
come by.  Garrod's worried sick that the Frost Brothers are going to use Tifa's
powers for evil, but he himself isn't sure precisely what that might mean.  He
does know from talking to Jamir that Tifa's Newtype powers seem to be a bit
different from Amuro and Camille's supernatural piloting skillz.  And Jamir
should know, as a former Newtype himself who can no longer pilot a mobile suit.
Garrod knows the reason why, but won't divulge the tragic details to Gainer and
the others -- he recommends they ask Jamir themselves.

After comparing notes, the searchers split up again, leaving Renton and Eureka
alone together.  She's still suffering some kind of headache, but assures him
it'll pass soon.  Still, she's willing to take him up on the offer for her to
return to the ship and rest, leaving Renton to ponder what he could possibly do
to cheer her and Nirvash up.  Nearby, Dominic is fretting over his busted
motorcycle while Anemone berates him for wrecking their little trip to the
coast.  

Renton tries to be the good neighbor and help fix the bike, and Dominic pulls
his gun on him for his pains.  Renton isn't very good at following the "shut
your mouth" directive, demanding to know why the Nirvash looks so much like the
mech this girl flies, and why for that matter the girl is wearing a very
similar choker.  Does the military know something about this whole Coralian
thingie?!  Dominic demands to know how Renton knows what it's called, or else
he'll shoot.  Not that that would get his outworlder bike fixed any faster.
Against the odds, Renton gets Dominic to lower his gun and ask nicely for the
bike to be fixed...

Elsewhere, Wits and Toniya aren't getting along very well.  He's sure that she
only wants to go downtown to shop, and storms off.  Enil, of all people,
watched the exchange and congratulates Toniya on her own invective.  She tells
Toniya that she got here a few days ago, and is willing to help Toniya in her
quest to gather a little information.  After Toniya treats her to lunch that
is.

Renton fixes the bike in good order, putting all his grandpa's training to good
use.  Now Dominic won't have to face Anemone's wrath at least.  Dominic still
won't give Renton a straight answer about what the Coralian is, but is quite
interested to hear that Renton met both Eureka and Anemone's apparitions while
in the Zone.  He smiles and tells Renton that they've both fallen for helluva
troublesome girls.  Fixing the bike must have really fixed his mood, since he
even tells Renton where the girl he's seeking is: Zondarepter.  Leaking the
info seems like disobeying orders, but this is actually Dominic's way of
keeping tabs on the Frost brothers, as directed.  If he can get the Gekkostate
to go after them, maybe he'll figure out a bit what they're really after.  When
Anemone returns from shading herself under a nearby tree, Dominic tells her
there's much he doesn't know about this world.  But one thing he does know:
they've met their real enemy now.  Anemone doesn't want to hear his
philosophizing, but she's pretty jazzed about him (accidentally) pulling a
wheelie on the newly-tuned up bike.

Enil's been explaining the reason behind her own journeys to Toniya.  She stops
short of calling it "revenge", and admits to doubting sometimes whether her
journey will actually bring her happiness.  Toniya can only recommend to Enil
that she accept everything that comes about by her own will, the good with the
bad.  If she takes the credit due her, and accepts the blame due her, no one
could ever complain.  This is a lesson Toniya learned from her companions, and
to Enil's surprise she asks her to try journeying together with them.  That
almost sounds nice until Enil realizes that Toniya's companions are the crew of
the Freeden.  Rand comes over at that point, telling Toniya of Wits' grumbling
and passing along the good news of Renton's find.  He has Toniya return to the
ship while he takes care of a little errand.

Rand of course arranged things so Enil's identity wouldn't get found out,
thanks for helping out back in Fort Seven.  He doesn't blame her for keeping
after Garrod, telling her to keep up the search if that's what she really
wants.  But he also tells her that certain things can get broken beyond repair,
after which point it's far too late for regrets.  He bids her farewell, adding
that neither he nor Garrod actually want to fight her.

The Sea of Lorelai is the name for the area near Zondarepter, derived from a
legend of a female apparition whose songs led sailors astray.  Gain's familiar
enough with the original poem to recite it, but just because it's a legend
doesn't mean it's not true.  To wit: several modern-day ships have vanished in
the area, after reporting hearing some kind of song.  Of course, it isn't
likely that ghosts actually exist, or thanks to the woeful events of the past
they'd likely outnumber the living.

Tex explains how in his world, the various continents each possessed their own
cultures.  Galia featured Siberia and Zora; North America had the machine-
fearing culture Rolan came from; and the Southern Hemisphere contained the
remnants of the former mechanized culture that feuded with the space colonists.
This feud ended fifteen years ago in the war where Garrod's Gundam saw action.
Gainer asks if Jamir used to pilot a mobile suit before that war's climactic
colony drop, and all Tex will say is that Jamir is one of the many survivors
whose hearts still bear scars from that day.

Garrod and Renton are too young to bear such scars, which might explain why
they hurried off ahead to the Sea of Lorelai without permission.  Garrod calls
it "advance recon", and Eureka for one won't protest about trying to get her
friend back sooner.  Renton surely won't turn back now either, knowing his
presence is needed for keeping Nirvash aloft.  Just then an old guy named
Katock comes over to dissuade the kids from putting out to sea.  Garrod
politely accepts his warning, but means to go anyhow.  Katock likes the resolve
he sees in Garrod's eyes, but he's got his own job to do - one that Garrod
won't much like...

And whaddya know, there's a federation base in the area.  Tifa's got to be in
there, but to Renton's surprise, Garrod opts *not* to charge right in.  He's
committed to the idea of this just being a surveillance mission, but the bad
guys have other ideas.  They've been tipped off in advance to Garrod's arrival,
and their leader Abel means to show Garrod just how special his special forces
are.

  Turns out these are all pilots selected by Eimzatt for their Newtype
  potential, though not all of them have Awakened yet.  Eimzatt had them
  sortied on the theory that many previous Newtypes have Awakened during
  battle.  That means there's no telling whether or not they'll be able to use
  their Flash Systems this time, but if the girl Shagia brought can link with a
  certain other System, it'll all be moot and Tifa will get sent to the Moon at
  once.  What the Frost brothers want Tifa to do is nothing short of
  reawakening the ghost of fifteen years ago.
  
  The awakening doesn't seem to come this battle, and Abel is ordered to
  retreat before his mech is utterly wrecked.  That gives Garrod and Renton a
  chance to flee, but before they can Eimzatt has no choice but to fire up the
  Flash System.  This immobilizes the GX and the world's first LFO, and Eimzatt
  orders his men to handle them with care.

  The Freeden shows up to the rescue, but the rest of the squad is getting
  their asses handed to them by unknown adversaries.  To make matters worse,
  the fisherman who guided them here is really a soldier.  Katock remembers the
  days when Jamir was called a hero, and he was a fifteen year-old Newtype,
  looked up to by the rest of the army.  That is, until the colony drop...

Katock would really loved to have put a bullet in Jamir, but his orders were to
take him alive.  Eimzatt is hoping that some vestiges of Jamir's Newtype
abilities remain, which is about Katock's third least favorite subject after
his dead wife and alcohol.  He's pretty sure Eimzatt wouldn't be so eagerly
seeking Newtypes if he'd been around for the last war.  Eimzatt isn't going to
debate the point, but as a form of thanks he'll allow Katock to watch the
experiment that should prove precisely how much value Newtypes really have.

The news isn't good for the captives.  Dewey is coming to collect Eureka, and
the rest of the crew have been thrown in the clink.  Jamir recognizes the
Mobile Suit-like units whose robotic precision laid the GX low: the Flash
System.  Garrod remembers the name from registering the GX's Satellite Cannon,
but little else.  Jamir explains that it's a Newtype weapon designed to control
numerous "G-bits" for long-range operations.  Meaning that the Newtype
controlling them, whoever that is, is somewhere in this base.

Katock then shows up to have a few words with Jamir, not apologetic in the
slightest for tricking Garrod and letting the base know he was coming.  He
can't help but place the blame for the colony drop on Jamir's shoulders, given
how his wife and kid were in one of the colonies in question.  Katock's been
looking for somewhere to die ever since, but wants to blow some Newtype or
other away first.  Jamir's protection of the Newtype Tifa strikes him as ironic
at best and rather hypocritical at worst.

The best revenge he can get for now is hauling the kids along to watch what's
going to happen to Jamir next.  Jamir repeats the story about how he's lost all
his Newtype powers, including the ability to sense a certain woman who was most
precious to him back when.  It's Lucille, or what's left of her.  For the past
fifteen years, Einzatt's made her the core of the Flash System after she lost
her bodily functions.  She's also apparently lost her own personality, merely
acting as a conduit for Einzatt's orders to reach the G-bits.  Tex dryly doubts
that anyone with a shred of human heart could bear to do this to another
person, but Einzatt considers himself merely one of a long line of such
"researchers" from the many worlds.  Anyways, Jamir gets to take a good look at
what's left of his former commander.

The odd part is, Jamir heard her mind was totally destroyed by the Flash System
at the end of the war.  The problem is that her brain still retained its
Newtype abilities, even without a mind to guide them.  Once, Lucille abhorred
war, and it pains Jamir greatly to see her used as one of its tools.  He's also
none too pleased to see the Feds' new Gundam, the Double X.  It's based on the
DX that Jamir once piloted, and that can't mean much good.  Einzatt orders Abel
to log onto the Satellite System, given that the moon's out tonight.

That won't work given Abel's incomplete Awakening, and explains why Einzatt's
been rounding up Newtypes all the while.  Only the genuine article, not any of
the manmade facsimiles, can make the Satellite System work right.  In a way,
what he and Jamir have been up to for the past fifteen years are two sides of
the same coin: neither of them can flee from the curse of Newtypes.  Well, not
if a certain otherworlder Jamir met has anything to say about it: according to
that person, "Newtype" is meaningless.  And while Jamir doesn't know what he
meant, he's been journeying in search of the answer.

The Frost brothers then bring Tifa over, to whom Einzatt makes a rather modest
proposal.  Help him access the Satellite System, and he'll think about letting
Jamir and the others go.  Garrod for one isn't having it: what kind of adult
holds a grudge against the wrong person, screws with other people's lives, and
then tramples someone else's heart?!  Katock better be satisfied, cause Garrod
sure isn't.  Some "revenge against Newtypes", huh?  Katock can't handle the
truth and resorts to decking Garrod instead, but that doesn't really solve
much.

That's about the time when the rest of the ZEUTH finally break through.
Einzatt has the hostages and Lucille both moved to safe locations.  Tifa tells
Katock that she's seen a dream that she'll never see her friends, or him for
that matter, again.  And her Newtype dreams always come true.  She asks him to
find a way to live on, for the sake of his kind memories of his family, and to
remember what it's like to believe in others.

Holland insists on infiltrating the base alone, saying that the fewer people
with him, the easier he'll be able to move.  Rand and the others warn him not
to get too caught up in the search and waste his life, lest all the rebel youth
of the world get something to cry about.  He's not so sure about that, and
knows he's got a very tight schedule to keep.

  Abel quickly learns that being a Newtype doesn't mean dick if you can't use
  your powers well.  At least he's bright enough to not just let himself get
  killed off on the spot.

  As Holland makes it inside the base's perimeter, he finds a nasty surprise
  awaiting: the same Mobile Armor the Freeden tangled with in Fort Seven.
  Seeing as how these Feds are willing to pull out every dirty trick in the
  book, it probably isn't surprising that they'd stoop to using one of the
  Revolutionary Army's weapons.  The odd part is, that Mobile Armor requires a
  Newtype to pilot it.  And that Newtype is Lucille.

  Holland managed to dodge what looked like a direct hit, but he has no clue
  where to actually find Eureka once he's inside the base.  His luck gets worse
  when he runs into Katock, unusually handy with a gun for soldiers these days.
  Katock sees that Holland's pretty bad-ass from all the guards he's wasted
  already, and reckons the LFO-rider is looking for Eureka.  In deference to
  his departed wife, he actually wants to do something to help the good guys
  for a change.  Better than turning out the way that Newtype girlie claimed.

  He leads Holland to where Jamir and the others are imprisoned, letting them
  out and giving them the chance to change the future, as it were.  Contrarian
  that he is, hearing Tifa say "never again" has really got his blood up, and
  with a smirk that may just be good-natured, he tells Jamir that he's only
  helping to prove that Newtypes can get things wrong too.

  Jamir doesn't waste the chance, telling Garrod to see to Tifa's recovery
  while he borrows the GX.  Lost powers or otherwise, Jamir says he's got to
  stop Lucille for more reasons than he could put into words, lest the emotion
  behind them vanish along with his former lover.  As the Freeden folk spring
  into action, Holland heads in a different direction to protect his own future
  the only way he knows how.  The often non-committal Lif'er is deadly serious,
  and Katock is glad he ran into someone who actually believes in his future
  that much before kicking the bucket.  Renton wants to come along too, but
  Holland yells at the kid to stay out of the way until he learns how to make
  himself useful.

  Nirvash and the GX both emerge from the base just as everyone is pondering
  how to take on the monstrous Mobile Armor.  To everyone's surprise, Jamir is
  piloting the GX, and to everyone's BIGGER surprise, Renton is piloting
  Nirvash.  Holland may not want Renton interfering with his fight inside the
  base, but Renton still wants to help out however he can.  And he's damn well
  aware that it'll take more than just guts to survive this battle, which is
  why he implores the Nirvash for help.  Jamir tells everyone to concentrate
  their fire on the Mobile Armor.

  While the ZEUTH forces hack away at the MA, Garrod's managed to get to Tifa
  through a hail of bullets.  Katock is counting his blessings that the guards
  around here sucked, but Garrod's worried sick about where the Frost brothers
  got to.  Tifa hasn't seen them since the fighting started...  The three make
  their way to the hangar, where Katock tells Garrod to steal the biggest mech
  he can find.  He plans to play decoy, and runs off before Garrod can even
  protest.

  He does worse to the guards than they do to him, but his bravado still gets
  him riddled with bullets.  He's also out of bourbon, and he could *really*
  use a drink right about now.  Too bad he can't drink the stuff anymore
  anyway.  As his eyelids grow heavy, he says that he can think of worse places
  to die than this, now that he's already invalidated half of Tifa's prophecy.
  He tells Tifa to take good care of Garrod, and tells Garrod that adults are
  good for more than just causing trouble for kids like him.  Just look at how
  bad-ass Holland and Jamir turned out to be.  He's sure a liar like him could
  never be cool like that, and can only offer Garrod two last pieces of advice.
  Don't let the weapons of the previous generation's war wield him, and never
  make the same mistake twice.

  Garrod wants Tifa to wait in this relatively safe(?) sealed hangar while he
  goes and fights, but she wants to stay at his side.  She tells him not to be
  surprised at what is to come, and to believe in her.  They hop into the
  Double-X and charge out onto the field, just as Lucille deploys a massive
  swarm of G-bits.  But Tifa's got a plan, and it involves channeling Jamir's
  long-lost love.  She tells Jamir that she's being forced to keep the Mobile
  Armor moving, and can't stop by herself.  Jamir's got to stop her instead, by
  destroying the mech and what little is left of her with it.  She's been
  nothing but a ghost these past fifteen years, after all.

  Ah, but she's talking to the never-say-die brigade, and their advice to Jamir
  is: avoid shooting the cockpit.  Given how frigging enormous the Armor is,
  that shouldn't be too hard.  First, something has to be done about the
  G-bits, and Garrod figures they can all be taken out with the Satellite
  Cannon.  That would only work if the G-bits stay still, and Lucille tells
  Jamir to take control of the Flash System himself.  It's not that his powers
  are lost: they're just slumbering, and she can help him reawaken them.  It's
  an incredible strain, but Jamir stretches his spirit forth to become one with
  his true love once more.  In a moment of clarity, the G-bits all fall into
  perfect formation as the clouds roll aside, revealing the full moon.

  After an almighty explosion, the final obstacle to Lucille's liberation is
  gone.  To no one in ZEUTH's surprise, Jamir is able to shoot down Lucille
  without harming her (any further).  Eimzatt is plenty surprised though, as
  it's starting to sink in that he just lost both the DX and all his
  laboriously-gathered Newtypes.  In the background, the Frost brothers are
  pleased as punch to see Tifa starting to actively use her power: just as
  they've planned all along.

As the exhaust plumes of the fleeing army vessel fade, word comes in from
Holland that he, Eureka, and the rest of the Freeden's crew are safe.  Garrod
tells Jamir of Katock's sacrifice, and Jamir replies that the only way to avoid
the mistakes and ghosts of the past is to confront and accept them head on.

As he and Garrod prepare to get their heading on, the Frost brothers get to the
next phase of their master plan: gunslinging revenge.  Notice how they can't
seem to do anything without their hands down each others pants?  Anyway,
Shagia's got some incoherent grievance about being branded as second-class
goods ("Category F", in technical terms) and plans to see his second-class ilk
become leaders of a New Era(tm).  Don't need no stinkin' Newtypes, no sirree
bob.  Eimzatt's only real contribution was helping awaken Tifa's precognitive
powers, which will really help awaken "that" from its slumber.  And when they
do, the man that twisted their fates better watch his back...

Things get stranger yet when Renton goes to try to give Eureka a welcome-back
hug.  Holland actually decks him in the face, screaming that no shitty-assed
kid has the right to be dragging Eureka all over the place.  He'll do fucking
*ANYTHING* to keep her safe, he rages, and the carnage all around seems to lend
some credence to the ranting.  The big question is, just why is Holland *this*
hung up on the girl, that he'd trash his own body and that of everyone around
at the thought of her being threatened?  Kei's certain it's no ordinary
guy-girl thing, and whatever the reason is, it goes right to the heart of
Gekkostate's actual objective.  Poor Renton, meanwhile, is feeling as miserable
as he's ever felt in his life, seeing all his efforts to try to help Eureka and
Holland out trashed like so much used toilet paper.  Holland's more than ten
times more resolved than he is, but he sighs and supposes that's just the
difference between kids and adults at work.

Then there's Lucille, who can now finally rest in peace after seeing Jamir
again.  She's used up the last of her power, and tells Jamir to send her to the
bottom of the sea, where she's found true tranquility.  As the darkness comes
for her, it feels surprisingly good, almost as though she's dreaming.  Maybe
Jamir couldn't save her at the end, but at least he sent her off happy.  Garrod
swears to Lucille and to Katock not to let the past's mistake repeat.  Jamir
walks off to grieve alone, not wanting to show his crew his tears, and Sara
frets intensely over her captain's woes.  Roaby in turn wants to comfort her,
saying he's far more worried about the living than the dead.  Besides, if Jamir
is getting back in the saddle, it makes her the new captain of the Freeden --
and he assures her she can count on him.

After collecting himself, Jamir tells Holland of Katock's past, and of his
sacrifice for the sake of the younger generations.  The gesture is by no means
lost on Holland, but the Lif'er says in no uncertain terms that he ain't old
enough to pass the baton just yet.  Tex smirks and wryly observes that it must
be hard being the Alpha dog all the time, just as Rand and Gain come and join
the not-yet-old-fogies club.  Rand proposes a toast, offering to drink Katock's
portion since the guy hated alcohol.  Tex notes that too much booze isn't
precisely good for the body, but in due season it can be good for the soul.
And there's a lot of soul-healing needed all around, especially if Jamir is
willing to actually take off his sunglasses to do it.

On the way to the bazaar, the Iron Gear folks mull over the massive damage the
Iron Gear sustained on the way to the base.  Kotoset'll have his hands full
making repairs, that's for sure.  They run into Fatman, who's received some
money from Kotoset to go buy himself something *for* himself for a change.
Well heck, if it's gonna be something recreational, Ragu says that they should
get something *really* wacky and out there, something totally incomprehensible.

That turns out to be "Black Box F", believed to be some kind of transmitter
that only works under *very* specific circumstances, which no one's been able
to identify.  Not at all what Kotoset had in mind, but the engineer in him is
already perking up at the thought of prying apart the box's secrets.  Nobody
expected Kotoset to actually like the gadget, and Daiku wonders if maybe it's
Kotoset's brain that's actually in need of repairs.


28. Cosplayer of Spirits

Kind of sucks that joining the Elements on their training exercises led to a
throwdown with the Feds, consuming precious time that Ryouma would really
rather spend on combating the Hundred Demons threat.  Every moment he delays
might mean another human invaded by the body snatchers.  Apollo thinks the army
is just a bunch of evil jerkoffs and suggests just blowing the whole crew away.
Of course, the real problem is at the top, and can't be fixed by wasting the
rank'n'file.  Sylvia tells him to get a clue, and when Apollo remembers the
vision the Coralian showed him, he stammers and can't find a snappy comeback.
Sylvia recalls the vision too, and is starting to question whether her dear
brother really is her past-life love stud.  Ryouma tells everyone to render the
enemy inert and bug out as fast as they can, sounding too leader-ly for
Apollo's tastes.  Hayato tells Apollo to try pulling his own weight if he wants
to shut Ryouma up.

  The last of the bad guys attempts to flee, and Apollo isn't about to let him.
  He claims that all he wants to do is trash the machine so the pilot won't be
  able to warn his buddies, and Sirius demands that Apollo let him drive at
  least long enough to execute the delicate task without wasting the pilot too.
  This quickly touches off an argument between the three pilots, knocking their
  Auras out of sync and splitting Aquarion up... just in time for enemy
  reinforcements to arrive.  Seeing the danger, Benkei seizes control of Getter
  long enough to act as a shield for the Divas, which Ryouma is none too
  thrilled by.  Hayato tells everyone it's time to bail, and there's no
  disagreement there.  The Federation pilots crow about how super robots are no
  match for their teamwork, while a secret agent of the Hundred Demons quietly
  radios in the Getter and Aquarion sighting and asks for the main fleet to be
  dispatched.

Back at the Glomar, Ryouma isn't going to let Apollo's selfish actions slide.
While Sirius admits that Apollo's actions put everyone in danger, he tells
Ryouma to leave Diva matters to the Diva team leader, namely him.  Sylvia
predictably finds her brother ideally suited for such a job, but Pierre for one
isn't having it.  Things rapidly degenerate into an N-sided argument, with
Apollo not caring *who* the leader is and vowing to fight anyone who gets in
his way.  Ryouma rapidly loses what little patience he had and tells them all
to shut their pieholes.  He's realized a fundamental fact about this half of
ZEUTH: there's no unifying element behind their teamwork; that is, they have no
appreciable amount of teamwork at all.  Kei tells the poor guy to relax his
shoulders and not take everything so seriously, which clearly doesn't help
anything.

Before Ryouma starts trying to bust the Elements' heads, Hayato comes in with
orders from Fudou.  "Show me you can become your enemy."  What does that mean?
The best Jun can think of to start would be by emulating them in appearance and
action.  In other words, to cosplay them right down to their spirit.  As an
avid anime convention photographer, this is something he knows a lot about.  It
falls to Pierre to demonstrate, staging an all-too convincing portrait of
Sylvia.  Goofy?  You bet.  Unavoidable too, given it's Fudou's orders.  The
Xabungle crew start getting into the act too, starting with a rather submissive
Elchi impersonation by Jiron.  Ragu laughs and asks if Jiron's acting out his
fantasy after getting the cold shoulder (in bed) by their commander, and his
denial sounds at least somewhat half-hearted...

The psychology behind all this is pretty clear to the medical staffers.  By
imitating others, one's own hidden desires come to the fore.  As an added
bonus, the play-acting should hone in on precisely where any hidden problems
with the person being imitated lie.  This won't work for everyone though: Raita
and Marin, for instance, are too much alike *and* already hate each other's
guts.  Gidget wants to see if that applies to Matthew and Oliver's hair styles,
and an amused Tex says that the only way this kind of training will achieve
anything is to imitate someone totally unlike yourself.  Such as Slay and Kei,
for instance.

Slay's lack of confidence becomes apparent almost immediately when he picks
little Anna to try to hit on.  Rand has much better luck imitating Roger's
negotiating tactics and Apollo's nose for dinner.  Adette smirks and says he
can do better than that, so Rand pulls out all the stops with an impersonation
no one can immediately place.  His stern words about how there's more to combat
than a mobile suit's specs reminds Gaury of Quatro, but Rand says that he's
actually imitating the legendary ace Char Aznable, known as the Red Comet.
Eeenteresting.  Rand learned of Char from his searches for his boss on the UN,
which Gainer helped with.  Gainer found other rumors about Char, but he decides
to keep them to himself for now.

The ultimate comeuppance for Ryouma comes when Sirius and Apollo both confront
him with an imitation of his own serious style.  He growls that he doesn't have
time for levity like this, adding to Rand that he doesn't have the benefit of
age that Rand has.  Rand tells him that time for enjoying life isn't something
one gets naturally: it must be learned.  He and Gain both have to coach Ryouma
how to imitate Hayato and Benkei, and it proves to be a real struggle.  Seeing
as how Ryouma's also underage, Rand sadly won't have alcohol available to help
loosen the guy up.

A good part of what's eating Ryouma is Getter's ultimate weapon, something
Professor Yumi said Ryouma didn't need to use if he didn't want to.  Tekkouki's
amazed that Getter has even more firepower hidden away, but Hayato explains
that the weapon is nearly as dangerous to its users as to the enemies.  Unless
the three pilots act in *perfect* unison, Getter itself will suffer immense
damage... and so far anyway, Getter's been more than capable without resorting
to it.  Ryouma's been thinking ahead, perhaps too far ahead, and Hayato tells
his leader that he's as much to blame for lapses in teamwork as anyone.  This
rings true to him, but it's clear from his anguish that he doesn't know what to
do about it.

Meanwhile, Apollo has started spouting poetry about why people get so hungry,
while Sirius has begun fiercely sniffing around the room and proclaiming his
nose to be infallible.  Reika's got her Sylvia on, fretting about her
"brother", while Sylvia's aping Reika's obsession with "misfortune".  Just then
a familiar female voice says she can't bear to watch any longer.  The Elements
think Lina is finally up and about, but it's really Fudou himself, showing what
imitation really looks like.  S-C-A-R-Y!!!  Mail is so traumatized that she
tries an exorcism on the spot, though Fudou says that the shock is part of his
training regimen.

The Diva folks' own reaction to Fudou, who doesn't actually look or sound or
even act anything like the real Lina, proves that they were somehow doing the
cosplay wrong.  Apollo asks if Fudou hypnotized everyone, and Fudou thunders
back that a frog's child *is* a frog -- no frog's child ever tries to *become*
a frog.  Renton stammers and asks why he doesn't just call it a "tadpole", and
Fudou gives him one of his trademark smirks.  Renton himself is still a
tadpole, not yet having sprouted arms or legs.

Neither Renton, nor Apollo for that matter, can puzzle out these riddles, and
Fudou vanishes as suddenly as he appeared.  In his place runs Moondoggy,
breathless with a report of a challenge issued by the ogres for the Getter Team
itself.  Ryouma figures it's the manly thing to answer such a challenge, trap
or no, in the interest of striking down the Hundred Demons for good.  He
apologizes to Benkei for all the harsh things he said, and is still clearly
worried about something else.

Greeting Getter is Gyuukenki, an elderly demon who once claimed the title of
Hero of the Skies.  Now old, he's no longer interested in glory in battle, only
in stealing back his one and only treasure from Getter.  He won't stay his hand
long enough to explain what the treasure is, and since the demon is a flyboy
Ryouma gets to lead the counterattack.

  Gyuukenki is planning to make this his last battle one way or the other, and
  says he owes it to the souls of all the other heroes Getter has slain to
  return the favor.  He quickly realizes how robust a foe Getter is, and
  demands to know why Getter had to be so unfair as to steal his only treasure,
  his son, away.  He heard that Getter shot the kid in the back in Tokyo,
  *after* the remaining demons surrendered.  Of course, Ryouma did no such
  thing, but the old guy hates him for it anyway.

  This is Ryouma's one real weakness, and Hayato realizes just how bad the
  damage could get.  He yells into the intercom, reminding Ryouma that they're
  facing the enemies of all mankind and telling Ryouma to let him take over.
  That won't work with the old guy at such close quarters: they don't have
  enough space to split up.

  As if things weren't bad enough, some Fallen Angels show up.  Gyuukenki isn't
  going to let them spoil his revenge, and slices the nearest one in half with
  a single stroke.  Since he doesn't want anyone interfering, Fudou is only too
  happy to take that worry away by dispatching the rest of the team.  He tells
  the demon not to worry: he's not planning on disrupting the duel or anything.
  Of course, Gyuukenki isn't very sympathetic to Tekkouki's new way of life.

  As Getter and Gyuukenki square off to finish their duel, another menace shows
  up as though to ensure Aquarion won't get to spectate.  It seems the Fallens
  have decided to copy the Aquarion's abilities, by cooking up imitations of
  the three main Aquarion configurations together.  Sirius is still in Apollo
  mode, and tells his teammates to show the bad guys what their new training
  taught them.  Apollo and Sylvia are still in character too, and even Gain has
  no idea if this will actually help or not.  Fudou's optimistic, telling Tex
  that children always seem to master new skills faster than their parents
  expect.  And his kids are about to touch on the "three unbreakable arrows"
  principle, if they can hang on long enough to avoid the individual arrows
  breaking...

  Just as the team thinks they've taken down the first false Aquarion, they get
  a nasty shock.  Not only does it regenerate, it gets with its buddies and
  prepares for some kind of serial attack.  There doesn't seem to be anywhere
  to run, and Fudou tells his team to drop the play-acting bit already.  He
  shouts that a frog's child is a frog, a hawk's child is a hawk, and a wolf's
  child is a wolf.  About the best that Apollo and Sylvia can make of this is
  that they're no one but themselves, no matter how hard they try to be
  otherwise.  That's what Sirius, who was a bit faster to learn this lesson,
  was waiting for.

  Aquarion's pilots are now back on the level and ready to wreck ass,
  unleashing a massive new smackdown on their hapless foe.  Marin's jaw is on
  the floor, marveling at how one form of Aquarion was able to use the
  abilities of the other two.  Everyone else has much the same reaction, so
  Fudou gives out today's lesson: even three aligned arrows can be broken by a
  strong enough force.  But when they recognize their mutual differences and
  point in their own respective directions, they become truly unbreakable.  And
  if all those directions reconverge for a common purpose, coming from
  front-to-back, left-to-right, and up-to-down... you get a 3-D solid!  Like,
  geometry and shit!  Who knew?

  That's how the three-dimensional world works anyway, and it's up to the
  youngsters to create it.  That is, unless you ask Gyuukenki, still bitter
  over losing his son.  Plenty of ZEUTH members are sick of hearing that
  already, pointing out that his actions cost plenty of humans their children
  too.  Hayato puts it best: why even mention "revenge" when the two sides are
  trying to obliterate each other anyway?

  Gyuukenki doesn't actually need the reminder; he's still a warrior and well
  knows what caliber of men are piloting Getter.  Nor does he actually believe
  they treacherously killed his son; dollars to donuts it's all one of Hidler's
  lies meant to get his blood up.  That said, he can't stop the battle now: as
  a father, he's got to have revenge on *somebody*.  This is the kind of
  Humanity(tm) that Ryouma most hates fighting against.  Gyuukenki tells Ryouma
  to keep up the bloodshed like a man, but Ryouma yells back that it's that
  kind of thinking that sent Gyuukenki's son to his death in the first place.
  What starts as a righteous speech becomes a full-blown rant, words pouring
  from Ryouma's mouth as what's actually been bothering him all this time
  emerges.  In the final analysis, the one responsible for the kid's death is
  Gyuukenki himself, and the demons' way of life.

  Give Gyuukenki this much credit: he's not swayed by the power of Ryouma's
  words.  As Hayato notes, a stronger power yet will be needed to make the old
  geezer shut up: Shine Spark.  Ryouma hesitates, knowing that Benkei is still
  injured from covering for the Aquarion folks last sortie (which no one but
  he, the born leader, noticed).  He tells Benkei that it doesn't have to be
  all or nothing: unlike the demons, humans can choose to run away.  What's
  really going on is that Ryouma doesn't want to lose another comrade.

  Now we've come to it.  Fudou's got news for Ryouma: sure it's true that three
  arrows together can be broken if plied with enough force.  But how much worse
  is it if the person putting the arrows together doesn't even have faith at
  the outset?  Both his teammates are with him by their own will, and are
  counting on him to make the team complete.  Benkei's back-breaking training
  pays off bigtime as Getter Robo, the grand dame of super robots, executes
  Shine Spark perfectly.

  Hand it to Gyuukenki again for not simply evaporating.  It's the demon way to
  fight to the very bitter end, and if the resurgent Fallen Angels are any
  indication, they're not the only ones.

  Gyuukenki finally gets sent to wherever his son is, a demon to the last.
  Ryouma's now seen what he's really fighting against: a way of life that
  demands nothing but total devotion to spilling others' blood.  If indeed the
  demons' way of life killed Gyuukenki's son, as Ryouma claims, then Tekkouki
  figures it also just killed Gyuukenki himself.  It would be easy to call the
  old guy a victim, but things aren't that simple.  Examples where inimical
  beings fight are everywhere, even between human and human, and Marin has to
  wonder if the S-1-ians and Earthlings are destined for a similar fate.  Then
  again, Ryouma is idealistic enough to believe that there have to be some
  demons with enough humanity to coexist with actual humans, and unexpectedly
  Holland mumbles the same.

In any case, Ryouma's rededicating himself to protecting the world, wanting to
meet more of its residents as part of ZEUTH.  He's certainly got the leadership
to know how his teammates are thinking and feeling, and as he smirks to Hayato,
he also shares their interests (like a fine pair of breasts, a reference
ALLLLLLL the way back to episode 1 of the original Getter Robo TV series @_@).

Back in Atlandia, Touma isn't impressed at this battle's outcome: that level of
Mythbeast wouldn't even have required half of the Wings of the Sun's original
power.  Otoha thinks they'd better hurry before the Door opens and more souls
than the world can support pour out.  If that happens, the tempest might just
destroy the entire prison and them in it, instead of merely breaking its
chains.  Touma agrees to send a few of their reincarnated friends to stir the
pot.

Hidler takes the first chance he can to diss his failed pawn, reveling in
Brai's praise for at least collecting some data on the Fallen Angels in the
process.  If he gets an opening, Hidler plans to crush the ZEUTH and snag all
the super-energy sources they protect.  And that opening might come from a
popular uprising that Brai's spies say is in the works.  Glar has already
discovered something interesting in the Fallen data: it seems the humans have
actually fought the Fallens once before in the distant past.  Brai's heard that
before, but what he hadn't seen before was a picture found in scripture from an
archaeological site dating back to that conflict.  Depicted are some of the
very same machines being used by ZEUTH now.  The scripture dates back twelve
millennia, to a time known as the "Black History", and Brai can appreciate the
interest in having machines from back then somehow resurrected to fight again
today.  The Black History is now Glar's full-time assignment, especially the
army of giants that, like immense judges, burn all in their path.  And the man
shown opposing them - didn't Dokuganki run into him before?

Fudou is taking off again, leaving Lina behind to help the squad deal with some
items she's foreseen: moth's wings and a blackened history.  What he doesn't
leave is any cash, claiming with authority that he's flat broke.  Instead, he
gives Elchi and Apollo some words to ponder: put your hands flat together, and
there's still something between.  Deep stuff, though it won't help the
worsening financial crisis much.  Increasing sales of ray=out won't help
either: Holland's got some kind of agenda behind the magazine that doesn't
involve mass commercial success.  The best bet is actually going to nearby
Emarn, and Jamir's willing to take Shaia up on her offer of hospitality.  At
long last, the Singularity is going to make it to the homeland.  Kei still
doesn't know what's actually going on, and Gorv fears that he might defect to
the Chiram were he to learn the truth.  Mimsy doesn't like keeping her
boyfriend in the dark, but thinks it's unavoidable under the circumstances: and
those circumstances are that as a Singularity, he may just be able to repair
the dimensional walls...!


29. Outsider

Emarn might be close by, but damn if the Chiram are going to give ZEUTH free
passage.  As the team prepares to counterattack, Mimsy frantically tells Kei
not to sortie.  He knows the Chiram are after him for some reason, and wants to
play decoy to let everyone else escape.  With no way to sugar-coat it, Mimsy
insists that he, the Singularity, go to Emarn... who, happily, send a full-
blown military detachment to help out.  The Chiram have to swallow their pride
and retreat, lest they swallow some high explosives instead, but they're sure
to remind Kei that he's still their prey.

Leading the Emarn offensive is Shaia's younger sister Maneesha, leader of the
prominent Torb House.  This puzzles Kei: shouldn't the *elder* sister be the
head of a family?  Good question indeed.  Kei's willing to complete the journey
to Mimsy's homeland, but he tells her he wants answers once they arrive.
That's what she was planning to do anyway.

Emarn was blessed(?) by appearing in this multi-dimensional world a good twenty
years earlier than most everyone else, apparently suffering time-slippage as
well as spatial displacement.  This is a hard concept for some of the crew to
wrap their heads around, but they'll have time to ponder while Mr. VIP Kei gets
taken to a meeting with Maneesha.  Roaby and Pierre hope he gets back soon so
the three of them can go pick up chicks in Emarn's renowned singles scene.

The real question is, what's this whole "Singularity" business.  People like
Hayato who paid attention in school have heard the term used in math and
physics, and Rand says that it can also apply to humans... like him himself.
Gain grabs his wrist and tells him to keep his voice down -- whatever the term
connotes, it's serious enough to bring Emarn and Chiram to the brink of war.
Rand better watch out if he doesn't want that kind of attention himself.  That
sobers Rand up fast, and he's not the only one suddenly aware of an air of
danger around them.  The revelation comes a bit too late, though, as a
detachment of Emarn soldiers encircle the crew and start to take them into
custody.  They warn of dire consequences should any of the ZEUTH resist...

Maneesha introduces herself as the leader of Emarn's Time-Space Repair
Operation, and quickly fills Kei in on his role in the plan.  As the name
suggests, the Emarn want nothing short of returning the multi-dimensional world
to its former state.  As do the Chiram.  Kei, a Singularity, is essential to
this somehow or other, and to explain how a bit of science is necessary.
Maneesha wants her sister and Mimsy, as a representative of the Lars House, to
listen closely.  By rights, the various parallel universes should have their
own timelines, never intersecting.  It took a Great Singularity to change that,
and the most the Emarn know is that that event took place somewhere near the
Chiram's orbital elevator.  That, and the fact that any people situated in the
center of this region during the event are themselves Singularities.

Kei's now sure that that mysterious Time-Space Concussion munition is what
Broke the worlds, and that even if unintentionally, _he's_ the one who pulled
the trigger.  Over a hundred parallel worlds are currently fused together, and
an ongoing series of Time-Space Teleports keeps the whole mess unstable.  The
Emarn theorize that this is due to the Great Singularity being unstable, and
expect that the world itself will stabilize when the Great Singularity does.
Not that there's any guarantee of things returning to their previous state...

Kei turns out to be one of the lesser Singularities, scattered across the land.
Maneesha tells him that he's able to control the process of repairing the
dimensional morass by becoming one with the Great Singularity, and to exert
great influence over the nature of the new world that will emerge.  She asks
Kei to lend the Emarn his aid and wish for a world where they will not have
vanished entirely.  Whoa, what?  She tells him frankly that some of the
parallel universes are expected to vanish in the turbulence when everything is
reconstituted, and would really like his guarantee that her own world won't be
among them.

This is a lot to digest, even for the normally-unflappable flyboy.  Maneesha's
prepared a room for him, and asks Mimsy to guide him there.  After they exit,
Maneesha admits to her sister that there's not much time left.  The Chiram have
at least one Singularity of their own, of similar magnitude to Kei, but the
Emarn haven't been able to learn what he, or any of the other, smaller
Singularities, are doing.  In any case, what the Chiram are up to is small
potatoes compared to the result the Emarn scientists predict: accelerating
collapse of the dimensional walls.  This won't just fuse more worlds together,
it'll reduce them _all_ to nothingness, and not in the far distant future
either.  Eek.  Maneesha is determined to prevent that at all costs, including
brainwashing Kei into helping if he won't do so of his own volition.  After
all, it's not like Maneesha wanted to be head of her family, but Shaia just had
to foist the job on her and go gallivanting all over the world, didn't she?
True, and Shaia apologizes for it.  But she won't stand for Kei or any other
human having their heart and soul trampled on by others.

Unfortunately, it's a bit late for that.  Maneesha's put Kei in custody, as
well as the rest of ZEUTH.  She figures they'll make good bargaining chips for
dealing with certain parties who hate meddlers like them.  Any pride Maneesha
has now relates to keeping her own people afloat, regardless of the cost to
anyone else.

The ZEUTH captives figure out their situation quickly enough, and doubt those
who remained behind on the flagships can mount a rescue.  Things seem grim, for
everyone except Rand that is.  As he tries to single-handedly break down the
bars of their holding cell, Rand reminds his comrades how much reckless shit
they've already lived through.  One thing Rand vowed never to do again is cry,
and the pain of bashing against steel is nothing compared to what he once
faced.  Rand's words are turning even the doubting Thomases among the group
into believers, but before a mass bar-breaking can commence, an unfamiliar
figure opens the lock.

She, too, finds Rand's words and machismo appealing, and introduces herself as
Tsiine Espio.  If looks could kill, her fashion sense alone might account for
why no guards are interrupting her rescue attempt, but it'll take more than a
great body to put the captives at ease.  Dropping Asakim's name makes Rand a
believer at least, and the more Tsiine sees of Rand's beaming smile, the more
she likes... O_O

The ZEUTH make a break for the dock, where it seems Tsiine has knocked _all_
the guards unconscious.  She tells Rand she had all kinds of fun doing it,
which might account for the severe wounds some of the guards sustained at the
hands of her Eliphas.  Gosh, but that thing just doesn't know when to quit.  A
bit like its pilot's figure, actually.  Someone else who doesn't know when to
quit are the Emarn themselves, perhaps understandably irate at their bargaining
chips flying the coop.  Deliberations about Shaia's role in this mess will have
to wait; for now, it's all about the excessive self defense action.

At least the Emarn soldiers know they alone are no match for the ZEUTH.  If
they can just slow you down, though, they expect reinforcements to arrive.
That makes ZEUTH sound like the bad guys this time around, which suits a
smirking Gain just fine.  He never swore to uphold any kind of Ally of Justice
code to begin with, and even the paladinical Ryouma (yup, I said it) is pissed
off enough to get into the act.  Let this be a lesson to all paladin-tormentors
in the audience: get them mad enough and they explode.

  Tsiine's grateful for the opportunity to hang out with such interesting
  people and forget "him" for a moment.  Seems she's seen Hell somewhere along
  the way, and is just itching to share the love.  Eek again.  The rest of the
  crew are rather grimmer, especially the vengeful Holland.  This may be the
  only time Marin and Raita agree, that the bad guys get pummeled mercilessly.

  Unfortunately for Kei, ZEUTH is too busy trying to bash their way out of
  Emarn to try to rescue him too.  At least Shaia, visiting him in his guarded
  quarters, is willing to level with him.  Mimsy is horrified at Maneesha's
  approach, but Slay is predictably happy to see his rival boxed into a corner.
  This upsets Mimsy even further, and she announces that she's prepared to let
  the Chiram know Kei's whereabouts if no one returns to their senses.  She
  finally reveals to Kei why the Chiram want him so badly: they're the
  descendants of the residents of Kei's own world.  She apologizes for keeping
  this from him, fearing that he'd have run back to them had he known.

  Fortunately for her, she needn't have worried.  Kei doesn't consider himself
  a Chiran... or an Emarn for that matter.  His one and only home is the
  Factory, whose crew was willing to take him in when he had no other home.
  They're his family now, and Gorv knows his mistress well enough to know how
  much this moves her.  She's gathered her crew together for a reason, and that
  reason is blowing this popsicle stand permanently.  She won't force anyone to
  go, and tells all the native Emarnians to think very carefully before casting
  off their homeland...

  They don't deliberate very long, dashing out onto the battlefield to join in
  the fleeing process.  Slay can't believe he's doing this for Kei's sake, but
  Kei's got some high praise for him: he and Mimsy make a great couple after
  all.  Kei reckons that there's no way an outworlder like him could be with
  Mimsy forever anyway.  The sight of Kei brings Tsiine up short: this is the
  man on whom everyone's fate depends.

  Of course Maneesha follows the crew in short order, apparently itching to get
  lectured on the error of her ways by her sister.  Shaia isn't trying to
  destroy her own people; rather, she wants to find a way to help everyone.
  Maneesha never liked her sister's idealism, and doesn't trust her not to hand
  Kei over to the Chiram.  Ordering Kei to come back makes him want to resist
  all the more, and that's music to Gain's ears.

  Maneesha doesn't have the moxie to prevail, but she's not giving up either.
  It's a real shame that she and her sister can't agree on how to defend the
  people they love.  ZEUTH isn't out of the woods yet, though: the "help" the
  Emarn were counting on shows up in rapid succession.  It's a Zaft battalion,
  led by a suspiciously clean-faced Yzak.  ZEUTH's jubilation at his approach
  quickly turns to horror as he announces that he's going to arrest the whole
  lawless lot of them.  About the best the ZEUTH's cooperation with the Zaft
  will buy them is relatively mild treatment, provided they surrender
  immediately.  Holland expected this all along, figuring the Zaft higher-ups
  don't like half of ZEUTH gallivanting around on their own.  He's all too
  familiar with the military way of dividing people into only "friendly" and
  "enemy".

  It seems it's already too late to keep the Zaft off the list of enemies, but
  they too are being hunted... by the Chiram, who fear that they want the
  Singularity either to capture or to kill.  Atena is aghast that the Zaft
  might destroy the only way of healing spacetime, but Orson knows of a Plan B
  gadget if it comes to that.  And he suspects that the Feds and probably the
  Plants are working on the same.  He orders his men to follow him and capture
  the Singularity while fending off the Zaft.  This three-sided chaos is good
  for the ZEUTH: shoot down the squadron leaders and the troops should flee.
  Jamir warns his men not to tangle with the Zaft more than absolutely
  necessary until they figure out what's actually going on with their one-time
  sponsor.  Orson was hoping not to meet his old friend under such violent
  circumstances, but is determined to bring him back and save their motherland.

  [Shoot down Yzak but not any of his men for 2 ZEUTH points.  Or at least
  leave three platoons of Zaft around when Yzak goes down for 1 ZEUTH point.]

  One thing Yzak doesn't want to do is go home empty-handed after all the
  trouble of breaching the Rivalry Zones to get here.  Though surprised by
  ZEUTH's prowess, the seasoned veteran of the previous war isn't going down
  without a fight.  That changes when Dearka radios in with news that the
  "Legged" mecha's turned up.  With little choice, Yzak puts his ZEUTH duel on
  hold and rushes off to join the hunt.

  Robert is especially stubborn, determined to at least take down the Factory
  before perishing himself.  Slay lives up to Kei's directive to protect Mimsy,
  showing himself to be a man at the last by bodily deflecting Robert's
  suicidal charge.  Kei is griefstricken, and more determined than ever to keep
  Slay's heroics from being in vain.

  Atena has her own axe to grind with Kei: apparently she's convinced he's her
  father, and isn't happy about that fact one bit.  She's also no match for him
  in the air, and Orson orders her to retreat before she gets herself killed --
  after all, it's not like their mission is over today or something.

Between Slay's heroics and the hard work of the rest of ZEUTH, an opening to
escape finally arrives.  Tsiine seems more than a little sad at the thought of
Slay laying down his life for his friends, earning her Rand's thanks.  She
pulls herself together quickly and gets ready to leave, telling Rand that
Asakim's as busy as ever.  She warns him to watch out for what the other half
of ZEUTH is up to as she flies off... an ill omen indeed.

As soon as battle stations are lifted, Mimsy shuts herself up in her room and
won't open the door for anyone.  Slay's sacrifice is all the more poignant for
the fact that he knew he couldn't expect Mimsy to reciprocate his feelings.
The best thing to do for her is leave her be for now, and figure out what to do
next.  Whatever that turns out to be, Kei's importance to saving the world at
large is now crystal clear.  Especially since the process might save only
*some* of the worlds depending on Kei's state of mind.

Kei himself, like Shaia, isn't really sure what to make of all of this.  That's
reassuring in the sense that it means he isn't egomaniacal enough to easily
decide whose worlds get to die off: he's painfully aware that *people* live in
all of them.  And since no decision is immediately forthcoming, Shaia
recommends continuing the world tour, in the hopes of some kind of inspiration
coming up.  That suits Holland fine, since the last thing he wants to see is
one man forced to decide the world's fate in a vacuum.  The best Jamir can
think of to help inform the decision is to get a hold of Raven, figuring he can
be trusted and hoping to notify Eidel through him.  The Plants ought to be
informed too, which should be possible through the other half of ZEUTH.  It
might also help to have them figure out why Zaft has cut this half loose.

Gainer's being unusually quiet, apparently having realized something he can't
bring himself to share.  Still, the prospect of being one small battalion
against the world daunts neither him nor any of the ZEUTH, including their
alien comrade Marin.  Even Raita is starting to realize that there's no way
Marin's a spy, but Marin actually tells them not to go soft on his account:
their bagging on him helps get him mad enough to fight the real bad guys.

One question Kei has: what's the deal with Rand being a Singularity too?
Especially since he wasn't anywhere near the Orbital Elevator?  Rand's got no
clue, knowing only that he's got no plans to kowtow to the Chiram.  That's
plenty good enough for Kei.

Orson reports about the Singularity's break with the Emarn, at which his boss
Wesley changes his orders.  No longer is Orson to capture the Singularity: he's
to kill him instead.  Wesley can only tell him over this insecure channel that
their nation won't need the Singularity before long, thanks to the D Project.
In which case, it's best to keep other nations from using Kei first.  Orson
points out that he himself is a Singularity, and asks if Wesley intends the
same fate for him.  His oath of fealty to Chiram, and value as an insurance
policy, are supposed to keep him safe.  Yeah right.  He knows that the Chiram
are really planning to try to fix spacetime using another Concussion munition,
and judging by Wesley's tone, neither he nor Kei are long for this world....

Meanwhile, Jamitov's used the hotline to request Chiram's cooperation as a
"fellow citizen of the world".  He wants nothing short of Chiram divulging all
its spacetime tech to the Federation, apparently aware of the fate looming
ahead and determined to "help".  Hmm... 


30. Acperience

It should come as no real surprise that the Chiram aren't sharing their
time-space manipulation tech with the Federation, confident as they are in
their D Project.  Should they succeed, that puts them in the drivers' seat for
the new world order -- which was their original plan before the world got
Broken in the first place.  Kuzemi's heard that the Chiram are descended from a
former enemy of the Pacific Federation, but whoever they are, they've certainly
used their two-decade lead on the rest of this world to gain a major technical
advantage.

Jibril is furious with Jamitov's unsuccessful negotiations, but Jamitov tells
him to cool his jets: it's not like the Chiram *actually* have a completed
time-space control gadget just yet.  And even if they complete the thing,
there's no guarantee it'll work as designed -- given how neither the Chiram nor
the Emarn can seem to keep a hold of the Singularities.  One thing Jibril and
Jamitov can agree on is that the Singularities should probably just be disposed
of: no one person, without a view of the bigger picture, ought to be allowed to
remake the world by himself.  That's what this council is for.

Coda is adamant that the Kudan limit, which could destroy the order of this
world, must be avoided at all costs.  That was the whole idea behind putting a
certain guy back on his feet after all.  Of course, if the Ageha battalion
would just take down Gekkostate and their companions, they wouldn't be having
this conversation.  On the other hand, the Ageha have more than just the
Gekkostate on their plate... but Kei is too important to just leave on the
loose.  Jamitov orders Dewey to step up efforts to capture the guy, or kill him
if that proves hard.  He'll have to go to lawless South America to do it:
that's where the Gekkostate and friends are holed up in a bid to flee the
Emarn.  That means the Chiram will be distracted too, and Jibril wants to send
his new mecha in to simply invade the place.

Eidel doesn't like that, insisting that a peaceful way be found to merge their
time-space tech with the Federation's own.  Jamitov tells her that either the
Singularity, or the Ageha battalion, are the way to make that happen, and won't
tolerate any backtalk from her.  Neither will Kuzemi or Coda, but Jibril is
privately eager for the old guard's eventual ouster.  After all, who in their
right mind would actually believe Jamitov's assurances that the world will
continue to exist solely thanks to this council's leadership of the people in
new, better directions?  He certainly isn't going to let Durandal have the
reins.  Eidel is starting to seriously despair over this ruling cadre, who seem
to be pushing the world into darkness as fast as anyone.

Meanwhile, ZEUTH is getting pretty good at running away from people.  Yesterday
it was the Feds, today the Chiram... and maybe the Zaft tomorrow at this rate.
The good news is that South America is a pretty rugged place, and should
provide pretty good cover once the team can actually get out of sight.  The
strain is starting to get to some of the crew, but fortunately a big cave
presents itself some thirty klicks away -- good enough to hide in for now.

The cave seems to come from the Gekkostate's world, encrusted with plenty of
Scab coral.  This cave is nothing less than a dig site for LFOs, or at least
their skeletons (called "Archetypes").  All it takes for people to be able to
pilot them is a little added machinery, and Eureka's Nirvash was the first LFO
in the world to have the procedure done.  Eureka isn't listening to the history
lesson, instead asking Renton if Nirvash is feeling okay.  He's not sure how to
answer that, knowing that she's been voluntarily avoiding her former mount.  He
offers to pilot it for her, recalling how he wasn't doing half badly back at
Zondarepter.  He jokingly says that maybe Nirvash likes him better than her,
and after a moment of indignation crosses her face, Eureka sighs deeply and
says that he may be right.  After all, she's incapable of doing anything right
now, right?!  Telling him she'll get Holland to let him pilot Nirvash, she
walks off.  Renton had thought that Nirvash was what was bothering her and had
hoped to cheer her up, but failed spectacularly... again.  He can probably be
excused for feeling a bit misunderstood though, given all the effort he's
expending on Eureka's behalf.

Meanwhile, Holland asks Misha for her medical opinion of Eureka's condition.
She can tell little other than that something about this cave is stressing the
girl out, though Nirvash itself may have some hand in it as well.  She does
suspect it's the first time since Eureka was born that she's voluntarily
distanced herself from Nirvash.  She asks if Holland's ever thought about why
LFOs are humanoid, and he tells her he never stops thinking about it when
riding the waves.  Adrock might have had the answer...

Fortunately, not everyone on the team is this gloomy.  The Xabungle folks, for
example, are cheerfully chiseling away at the cave walls in the hopes of
unearthing one of those Archetype thingies.  This comes naturally to Jiron,
whose dad was a Blue Stone miner.  Fatman's making good progress, but things
might go even faster if the group's mecha get involved.  Liger looks ideally
suited for the task, but Hayato makes it quite clear Getter isn't some piece of
construction equipment.

Rand's willing to give it a shot alongside the Galian Walker Machines, but
Hayato tells him to hold off unless he wants the leaders glaring at him.  By
this he means Holland, who's looked pissed off ever since leaving Japan, or
more precisely since the run-in with the Coralian.  In any case, there's plenty
of useful stuff buried underground, including the mecha several ZEUTH members
pilot every day.  Even the Gunleon is former buried treasure, tidied up and put
into service as a repair-bot by Rand's master.  Many of the buried mecha date
back to the period before the Cataclysm, which the Innocent sage Arthur called
the "Black History".

Garrod recalls Liina mentioning that, but Apollo tells him not to sweat it:
she's every bit as nonsensical (quote quote) as Fudou is.  Kei's got more
immediate worries, like the Chiram's Singularity sensors.  There's nowhere he
can hide forever.  Marin meanwhile has a question for Jabby, who he's heard can
sense dimensional teleportation somehow.  He asks Jabby what he thinks of this
"Coralian" thingie, saying that his S-1 mode mech is sensing dimensional
distortion in the Coralian's vicinity.  Put that together with what the team
went through when the faced the Coralian, and he's plenty worried.  When faced
with such a direct question, Jabby gives him a direct answer: he's scared
shitless of the Coralian.  He thinks the clouds surrounding it are some kind of
Gate to another dimension or another world, which accords with Marin's
suspicions.  He shudders to think what might happen if many of them, or if one
really big one, were to appear at once.  Jabby can't say whether all this is
related to the advancing collapse of the multiverse's dimensional walls, but he
knows this much: he felt the presence of "something" inside those clouds, and
that something frightened him badly.  Kei speaks for everyone when he expresses
hope that whatever it is is friendly...

Time for some therapy for Eureka.  Tifa and Liina know she's afraid of
something, and tell her to accept the change that that something is going to
bring about.  People always have to give something up to gain something else,
to go from a child to an adult, from a caterpillar to a Moth.  When Eureka
protests that it felt like she was going crazy, the girls caution her that her
uncertainty is affecting the kids in her care too.  Said kids actually leave
her alone for a bit, and Liina lays it out for her.  Accept the change, or face
slow obliteration in stasis.  Tifa offers to help, but the frightened Eureka
runs off instead.

As Kei feared, the team doesn't stay hidden for long.  Marin assures him that
no one is going to blame him for the Chiram finding the team.  It's just how
the cookie crumbles when friends look out for friends.  Anyway, the Chiram have
somehow sent a heck of a lot of troops for such a narrow cave, but they aren't
the only problem.  Eureka's sortied in the Nirvash, mumbling about how she's
going crazy and is probably going to have all the kids hating her as much as
her mech already does.  Ignoring Holland and the others, she mutters that she
never should have changed as she flies off.  Neither Holland nor Renton are
going to have an easy time getting her back with all the Chiram in the way, but
they've got to try anyhow.

  As the battle rages, Shaia observes to Mimsy that the Chiram's attacks seem
  to be getting more vicious.  It dawns on her and the rest of her crew that
  the Chiram seem to have decided that they don't need Kei after all: their own
  Singularity will be enough.  As though to underscore the point, the the Ageha
  show up, Anemone's black The End featuring prominently.  She demands to know
  where the heck her alter ego is, and is (un)pleasantly surprised when Dominic
  allows her to concentrate on it instead of on their mission.  Dominic would
  like to do much more for her, but about the best he can do besides looking
  after her pet is to pray for her safety.  Jurgens meanwhile sics his men on
  ZEUTH, telling them not to lay a finger on the Chiram.

  Close on the heels of these unwanted guests comes the Archangel, offering
  aid.  Bartfeld doesn't care if Talho insists on seeing it as returning the
  favor from the fight in Orb, but Maryuu knows what's really going on: there's
  no way she can let the target of the Federation's most suspicious activities
  fall here.  The Orb forces' hasty arrival was facilitated by a certain
  knowledgeable guide: Enil!  The lengthy reunion will have to wait though, and
  Garrod lets it suffice to say for now that he's counting on Enil's help.
  That's enough to bring a smile to her face: she seems to have made it in time
  to avert things getting broken beyond repair.  Bartfeld had hoped to buy time
  for the ZEUTH to flee, but there'll be no fleeing while Eureka is still
  missing.  In which case, ZEUTH's opponents are Kira's opponents, and that
  spells major ass-brokenness in the immediate future.

  Kira has sworn not to kill again, fighting only to deprive others of the
  power to fight back.  Enil is curious how long that will last.  [Avoid having
  Kira or Maryuu actually kill anyone for a ZEUTH point.]

Sadly, the first batch of bad guys is only the beginning.  As the battle rages
on, Renton's been busy trying to find Eureka.  He cries out that he wants to
apologize to her, knowing he hurt her when his offer of piloting Nirvash was an
attempt to help her instead.  He's starting to suspect that his so-called
ability to know how machines feel may be just self-delusion; whereas Eureka may
*actually* feel what Nirvash feels.  He has just as little sense of what
Eureka's actually feeling, despite being with her all this time.  And that's
what he wants to fix most.  He finally spots Nirvash, but where's Eureka?

...Frantically searching for a book.  If she can't find it, the bus will leave.
If she can't find it, the sun will set.  If she doesn't hurry, the night will
melt her away.  At last she finds it: the book that is her.  A book without
words, or any writing of any kind.  She's nothing, null and void, unable to
find herself.  She's melting away after all, and dreadfully afraid.  She pleads
for someone to save her, Renton perhaps, and amazingly his voice answers back.

Eureka may in fact be dissolving for real, possibly as some sort of punishment
or other.  Renton pleads with her to come back with him to everyone else.  He
promises to protect her this time, apologizing time and time again to her for
how selfish he's been.  It's now crystal clear how serious Eureka was being
when she was ready to let him pilot Nirvash, and he now calls upon its power to
keep them both safe.  And newbie pilot or otherwise, Nirvash now allows him to
handily outfly the bad guys.  The Amita Engine begins to power up, and Holland
knows what that means: time to get the fuzunken out of Dodge!  Nothing else
matters as the Sevenswell bursts forth...

Some time later, Enil thanks Maryuu for all her help.  Maryuu's the one who
should be saying thanks for all the handy info Enil provided about her many
enemies.  She's also glad she's seen the famous ZEUTH in action, correcting
many misconceptions stoked by the UN.  The problem is that the Orb forces got
lost fleeing from the strange light, but Enil tells them not to sweat it too
much: she's not sure how she can face Garrod after all that's happened.
Bartfeld smiles with his one good eye and tells her there aren't many men who
could stay mad at someone as beautiful as her.  Sadly for her, she knows she
isn't the owner of Garrod's heart.

Maryuu and Bartfeld will be heading for the Zaft stronghold at Gibraltar now
that they know what the Feds are up to.  Enil heard that they fought the other
half of ZEUTH in Galia, though Maryuu assures her it wasn't by choice.  And the
trip to Gibraltar isn't about cooperating with the Plants unreservedly either:
both sides are steering the world wrong.  Kira is absolutely convinced he and
his friends can set things right, sounding almost like a prophet or even a
saint.  Enil has a word of caution for him though, as the veteran of far too
much fighting herself.  As far as she's seen, the only one who can do good in
this world without getting his hands dirty is God himself.  Kira managed not to
kill anyone this time around, but he may not have the choice next time.  She
"prays" that their battles go well as she heads out the door, being ironically
non-ironic as she does so.  Kira's still pretty firm in his convictions, but
he'd dearly love to see Aslan again and try to find out if he's doing anything
wrong.

It comes as little surprise that Holland doesn't take Eureka's somewhat
gooified condition well.  Renton answers the rage as best as he can, telling
him truthfully that she was like that when he found her and that she lost
consciousness the moment he put her in Nirvash.  Holland's agitation increases
fourfold when he realizes that Renton must have triggered the Sevenswell by
himself, but Misha cuts in and announces that she's taking Eureka to sickbay.
For whatever good that might do.  She then tells him to go to the bridge, where
a message from Raven is waiting.

That the rest of (this half of) ZEUTH are okay falls on totally deaf ears: all
Holland cares about is this message from Raven.  Ignoring Talho's protests, he
orders Gidget to put Raven on.  He's got a request for the Chimera officer,
something that needs the Federation army's assistance.  He suspects Raven's
close, and tells him he'll give him the full details when he sees him in
person.  That suits Raven well, since he's got a guest who wanted to meet the
ZEUTH folk too: General Eidel.  That's only okay with Holland to the extent
that it might make his request more likely to be granted.  He orders Talho to
tell the other ships to meet up, not exactly asking or caring for their
permission, saying he'll go alone if he has to.  Talho's had about enough of
Holland's "Eureka, Eureka" fixation, but there's little she can do about it
now.  There's only one thing on Holland's mind: help Eureka by any means
necessary.


31. Shredded Past

Holland's manners don't improve in the time it takes to reach the rendezvous
with Raven.  He knows the Feds have the Vodalak marked, and wants to see a man
named "Norv" if the Feds know his whereabouts.  This guy is a high-ranking monk
or some such.  The Vodalak aren't really the Chimera's department, but Holland
doesn't want excuses.  He's desperate enough to even get past his habitual
anger into actual pleading such as most other ZEUTH members have never seen
before.  From the sidelines, Stoner explains why the Feds would be tracking the
Vodalak: some of their religious extremists have resorted to terrorism against
the government.  Sara asks which came first: the terrorism, or the governmental
repression?  After a pause Stoner says that it no longer matters.

After some reflection, Raven agrees to help Holland by having Shuran break into
the Feds' internal database.  Holland says he'll do anything in return for
meeting this "Norv" guy, and Raven asks everyone to make themselves at home in
the Chimera base while his people get to work.  This would constitute a
pleasant break, if not for Jamir's lingering doubts about why the Chimera's
commander wants to meet them all herself.

Garrod's gone to sick bay to ask after Eureka, and isn't buying for a moment
that the goo covering her was mere mud from the cave.  No mere coating of mud
would have Renton this depressed and Holland this ballistic, that's for sure.
Tex gets Garrod to keep his voice down while Tifa tries to keep the kiddies
from all crying en masse.  They want to know why they can't see their "mama",
and Liina says that Eureka has merely gone back to where she was born for a
little while.  Adding (in absentia) to Renton's woes is the kiddies' absolute
conviction that Renton could never be a strong adult like Holland who could
protect Eureka -- never minding the fact that Renton and Holland have been
roughly comparable in that respect ever since Renton joined the Gekkostate.
Liina and Tifa at least are both positive that Renton will one day have the
traction to become Eureka's protector for real.

Elsewhere, Gainer's making the most of Raven's gift of UN use to look up more
data on the Vodalak.  Certainly, Tiptree didn't seem like that bad a woman back
in Galia.  The problem Gainer's run into is a glaring lack of info, possibly
due to the incomplete state of the UN itself.  Jamie recalls that the Chimera
commander Eidel is the one to thank for UN construction even making it this
far.  It still seems a bit far-fetched that one of the new crop of Federation
heavyweights would want to meet a widely reviled crew like ZEUTH, but Rand
isn't one to turn down a date request from a woman as beautiful as her.  Gainer
showed him a picture of their benefactor from the UN, which is precisely the
sort of thing Eidel wants.  Her whole goal in building the UN was stabilizing
people's everyday lives by bringing them information, which is pretty smart
when you think about it.  Raven's praise for his commander starts wavering a
bit as some of the pretty girls draw near: his fear of women is as bad as ever.
Rather than take womanizing lessons from Kei and his cohorts, he asks if the
other half of the team is doing okay.  Renton says that it doesn't seem like
email is reaching them, and Raven recommends using the UN to see if anyone's
seen them lately.  Given what ZEUTH does for a living, it's almost impossible
that people *wouldn't* have seen them.

Someone has indeed uploaded some ZEUTH-related data to the UN, and the news
ain't good.  ZEUTH, a "Zaft special-forces squadron", destroyed the Galnahan
base, attacking civilians stationed inside the base as well.  At least, that's
what the footage appears to show.  Renton is sure the other half of the team
wouldn't do something like that, but Holland tells the kid to shut up.  Renton
isn't the only one doubting this, but the next article paints an even grimmer
picture: ZEUTH slaughtering aliens who were starting to settle on the Earth.
And it goes beyond simple slaughter: some of the aliens are even being used in
some kind of scientific experiments, brought to the lab by none other than
ZEUTH.  If the UN is to be believed, the other half of ZEUTH has become
thoroughly assimilated into the Army, and is busy doing the Army's dirty work:
something Holland left the army to avoid.  Most of this side of ZEUTH now want
to give the other side a severe beating, suspecting that they may actually have
to fight the Plants if the other ZEUTH are acting on Zaft orders.

The news gets worse yet.  Shuran can't find any information about this "Norv"
guy.  Either the Feds actually don't know where he is, or the information is
hidden so deep that even he can't find it.  He was, however, able to find info
on where other high-ranking Vodalak are: imprisoned by a certain group of
Chiram who plan to take them back to the motherland tomorrow.  Shuran would
like the ZEUTH to rescue them, which is fine with Holland so long as he gets to
quiz them about Norv first.  He warns the other commanders that he'll take the
job alone if he has to, but none of the other commanders are going to turn
their back on him now.

One thing bothers Renton about all this: in aiding the Federation army, isn't
this half of ZEUTH just as bad as the other half that's doing what Zaft tells
them to?  What's the point of running errands for the army when they could be
trying to take Eureka to a hospital or something?  Holland tells him to shut
his kid's mouth and decks him in the face, but Renton's finally had enough this
time.  He tells Holland to go fuck himself and knock off the "kid, kid"
bullshit every time Renton voices his opinion.  Which, as a full-blown member
of ZEUTH and capable pilot of Nirvash, he's entitled to.  Eureka even said he's
better off piloting the damn thing, and Holland pummels him again.  He screams
that this is the only way to put stuck up kids in their place, but Gainer yells
back that all Holland's doing is letting his emotions get the better of him.
Gain steps over, a dangerous note in his voice as he tells Holland that if
*Gainer* can pinpoint what Holland's doing wrong, Holland's really hit rock
bottom.  Holland fires back, telling them all not to sound so fucking smug, but
Rand tells him that everyone's just about out of patience with his pissed-off
act.

Renton tells Rand to get out of the way, and yells at Holland that he's not
such hot shit just cause he's the leader.  He's determined to become Eureka's
knight, which is what Holland calls childish in the first place.  Tex and Rand
tell the others to stand back: this day has been a looong time coming.
Instead, Rand steers Mail toward the UN console: he's found a classified ad for
repair service with a smile: a smile that was beaten into him by none other
than Cielo Beater himself.

The Chiram do indeed have a Vodalak monk in tow, bringing him to the Chiran
leaders to tell them about the Coralians.  Chiran spacetime research has
figured out that the Coralians are important somehow, and are considering if
the Coralians have to be destroyed.  If so, they'll use any means they have to
to get helpful information from the monk.  First, though, they'll have to make
it past the ZEUTH.  Hap pinpoints the monk's location, and tells everyone to
cover him while he storms the ship's bridge.  This is Renton's big chance to
prove to Holland that he isn't all talk, and the rest of the team are pulling
for him.  Rand and Mail want to finish this off as soon as possible so they can
get back to looking for Cielo.

  Judging from how much fight the Chiram are putting up, the monk must be
  really important to them.  Luckily, a reinforcement is at hand: Asakim, who
  is still either being chased by (or chasing; he's cagey about which) the
  Chiram.  He claims it's mere happy coincidence he bumped into the ZEUTH here,
  and is happy to help out in the battle.

  Renton makes it to the enemy flagship first, but he's got no clue how to
  actually recover the priest.  Holland *blasts* rather than shoves Renton out
  of the way, showering the enemy ship with bullets and promising a direct hit
  against the bridge if they don't hand the monk over *now*.  This is basically
  piracy, and no different from what Renton's heard the other ZEUTH accused of.
  As Holland takes the monk aboard, the monk agrees to help Eureka.  One of the
  Chiram soldiers would rather see the monk dead than in the hands of the
  enemy, but Holland shoots him before he can shoot the monk: punishment as it
  were for ignoring Holland's order not to move.  He screams off at top speed,
  determined to get back to Eureka without a second to waste and get her cured.
  Jamir tells the Chiram commander that he intends no further combat so long as
  the Chiram leave now.  The Chiram commander is less than thrilled to have
  someone kidnapped from his ship, and vows that vengeance will befall these
  criminals one day.

Ryouma can manage to make peace with the thought of kidnapping as a job, given
how the monk was likely going to face all kinds of grief at the Chirans' hands,
but what he doesn't like is Holland's attitude.  Clearly to him, the rest of
ZEUTH are merely pawns.  Elchi demands to know what the deal is from Hap, and
all he can offer is some lame-sounding line about how Holland's their leader
anyway.  Not much of a leader it seems, acting like he's the only one worried
about Eureka and slugging Renton along the way.  Renton is back to fretting how
Holland understands Eureka better than him, as evidenced by his determination
to rescue(?) the monk.  He's not sure he could shoot a person like Holland did,
even for Eureka's sake.

But the surprises aren't over.  Onto the battlefield flies someone clearly
looking to collect some scrap: none other than the long-lost Cielo!  Cue the
tearful reunion, and the twin stiflingly-hot smiles.  The Beater Service folks
are in the midst of thanking Asakim for all his help when Setsuko flies in at
top speed, determined to finish Asakim off this time.  Cielo gets in the way,
determined to pay Asakim back for helping protect his little girl.  His mech
plummets from the sky and Rand stops just long enough to let Mail out to try to
find the crash site.  He then heads off in pursuit of Setsuko, who clearly
didn't intend for things to turn out this way.  She's about to face the entire
wrath of ZEUTH (minus Holland and the still-gooey Eureka) as Mail reaches her
father's side.

The guy is one tough cookie, and it'll take more than a crash-landing or two to
dampen his smile.  Even the previous mess that separated them wouldn't have
been a big deal if not for what he calls Rand's stupidity.  In fact, he thinks
Rand's responsible for what happened to her too, though she doesn't remember a
thing.  He's astounded that she doesn't know -- that she *died* that day,
blasted from the sky by attacking pirates.  He tells her that her life right
now is counterfeit, and that she's no longer human.  The proof: she hasn't aged
a day in four years.

Egads.  Mail staggers backward, stunned, as Cielo calls Rand an unfair bastard
for never letting her know.  Best he never picked Rand up in the first place
for all the trouble he's caused.  Rand too is staggered, and his horrified
expression is what Asakim's been waiting all this time for.  His attack is that
of an angel fallen to Earth and far below, consigning Rand to Hell
immeasurable.  Rand's cry of pain and despair causes the Gunleon to start
resonating, and Asakim tells Mail to get a look at Rand succumbing to the
agony.  And as he does, the Sphere inside her will react: the power she gained
in return for her lost humanity.  Cielo looks at himself, marveling at how old
and crusty he looks, and in a flash of light Cielo's visage is replaced by
Tsiine.  It takes so little to fool the human eye, unlike him and his highly
evolved Shurouga.

This mess has been a long time in the planning, and all the more effective for
it.  What better way could there be to destroy a man's heart than to give and
then take away one's aid.  Setsuko realizes that this is going to be a repeat
of what happened on her side at this rate, and there's only one way to stop it.
She knocks Rand unconscious, causing the building dimensional rift to abruptly
vanish.  She tells the rest of the team to get Asakim while she takes Rand and
Mail to safety, apologizing to Mail for not getting here sooner.  Tsiine asks
if she should go after the fleeing mecha, but Asakim is quite sure that Rand
and Mail are finished, lacking the mutual strength to ever recover from the
shock they've suffered -- the "wounded lion has awakened".  Ignoring threats of
dire reprisals from ZEUTH, Asakim tells Tsiine to summon Eliphas, giving her
the chance for some much-needed playtime.

With Tsiine's mech come a bunch of crow-like mecha ZEUTH has tangled with
before.  It's now clear just how long these bad people have had their eye on
the team, though Tsiine points out that ZEUTH *is* rather hard to miss.  She
notes that she had no choice but to play her part as observer, and rather
doubts she's due any sympathy from ZEUTH... meaning she's ready to defend
herself.  Nor do any of the ZEUTH have the right to criticize her either.  The
real question is, can they even slow her down?

  Garrod means to make Tsiine pay for what she's done to Rand and Mail, but
  Tsiine says he's a good hundred years or so too young to have any grudges
  worth giving tongue to.  Perhaps she can show him what it looks like to curse
  everything and everyone in the world outside yourself.   Tsiine's also got
  advice for Ryouma, the self-avowed ally of justice: study this mixed up world
  more.  Does justice even exist?  As for Renton, he'll need to prove to Tsiine
  he's a man by shutting her up by force.

  Chip the expensive paintjob on her mech a bit and Raven will show up, his own
  mech finally out of maintenance and ready for battle.  Tsiine doesn't know
  who the heck this guy is, but she doubts one more mech is going to make much
  difference in battle.  He warns her not to underestimate his Chaos Leo,
  pinnacle of all the Chimera's technology.

  ZEUTH's rage propels them to a temporary victory over Tsiine, who likes to
  see that everyone is this worked up over their friends' welfare.  She
  withdraws without any further unpleasantries, just in time for Rand to return
  to the field.  Mail's asleep, and Setsuko off again in pursuit of Asakim, and
  with the Gunleon this badly damaged, it's best if everyone returns to base
  and awaits Eidel's arrival.  Thos won't be a pleasant wait, since the fist
  thing Mail does is blame Rand for hiding her inhumanity from her all this
  time, demanding her life and her father back.

In fact, she's so badly off that Medic gives her a sedative to help her settle
down.  Rand's been hit uncharacteristically hard by the whole debacle, and
now's as good a time as any to set forth the whole truth that Tsiine touched
on.  He admits that none of this might have happened had he told Mail any time
in the past four years, and winds back the clock to the time his boss got
caught in a Warp.  The three of them were on one of their usual repair company
trips when they were attacked by pirates.  Mail indeed perished in the attack,
during which Cielo was the Gunleon's main pilot with Rand as subpilot.  In his
own words, he sucked back then, and was more of a hindrance than a help to his
boss.  It was his error that let the pirates live long enough to focus their
fire on the maintenance trailer that Mail, all of twelve years old, was
piloting.

Of course, Mail looks pretty lively for someone who's four years past their
expiration date. Rand says that they took her breathless body and put it in the
Gunleon's cockpit, whereupon something appeared from within the Gunleon and
fused itself to her body.  Rand doesn't know what "it" was, other than that it
looked like an orb of light and that when it fused with her body, her wounds
instantly healed and her heart immediately resumed beating.  Cielo was crying
tears of joy at the sight, but Rand owns up to being scared shitless.  The
nasty part is that the pirates weren't finished, returning in larger numbers to
finish off the ragged threesome.  Rand was wounded in the onslaught, and
pathetic though it sounds, he screamed in agony, just like today.

...And just like today, as though answering his scream, a Warp arose and
swallowed both Cielo and the pirates... leaving him and Mail behind, with the
Gunleon.  While the mech itself contains a number of parts whose purpose Rand
can't fathom, he doubts the Warp was attributable to the Gunleon.  Nor has that
tableau repeated once these past four years.  Mail has no memories of what
happened to her, or to her father, and even under the closest medical scrutiny
her body appears normal.  The fact that she hasn't aged a day these past four
years bears testament that it all actually happened, as though time itself
stood still.  Rand couldn't bring himself to tell his young companion that
she's no longer human, instead throwing himself into the worldwide search both
for Mail's father, and for a cure.  Call it penance if you want, but Rand
decided long ago that he'd rather stay Mail's side, even if it means taking her
blame for what happened to her father.  He's also decided that if they and
Cielo should ever be reunited, and Mail's body mended, he'll quit the repair
business and go back to his former Crasher persona full-time.  But after today,
it's clear that Asakim knows something both about Mail and about the Gunleon,
and until Rand beats that something out of him, he won't let up.  He tells
everyone else to go see how Eureka's doing while he worries about fixing the
Gunleon for the next run-in with Asakim and waiting for word from Setsuko.
Rand doesn't know exactly what her grudge with Asakim is, but he does know that
she and he are in the same boat.

Gain and Jamir take the hint, and steer all the younger folk out of the hangar
and towards Eureka and down-in-the-dumps Renton.  Rand's smile holds up until
he's sure he's alone, abruptly melting into the most alarming scowl Rand's ever
made.  His sturdy fist slams into the Gunleon's frame full-force, and he
demands to know just what the hell its deal is, anway.  Is the Gunleon
responsible for what happened to Mail, and for Rand's boss being ejected?  He
vows that if he doesn't like the answer, he'll dismantle the Gunleon so
thoroughly that no one will ever be able to put two of its screws back together
again.  A cackling voice from the shadows tells him that he'll regret treating
his precious mech that way, and Rand's scowl deepens even further, if that's
possible, as he whirls around to address the speaker.  It's Jiei, "genius
scientist" extraordinaire, and he asks Rand to let him have at the mech for a
bit.  He can give Rand all the power he wants, turning him into a demon or even
the Devil Himself if that's what he desires.  Um...


32. So That I Can Be Me

A long period of chanting and ablutions at Eureka's beside finally ends, and it
seems Holland's faith in the Vodalak monk was not misplaced: the Scab covering
her sloughed right off under his care.  Powerful stuff, is Vodalak holy water.
The monk explains to Holland that what befell Eureka matches the description of
those drawn back from the ends of the Eighth Plane to this world, the Third
Plane.  Gasping, Holland asks if Eureka has touched the End of the World, and
the monk makes no answer.  All he will say is that he's performed the Dragon
Tree rite as given by Norv, and that the guidance of Eureka's soul is now in
Vodalak's hands.  That means it's time to enter into Chimeran custody, which
Shuran swears is better than what he'd expect from the main Federation (or the
Chiram, for that matter).  The monk isn't exactly thrilled at the prospect, but
he's grateful to Holland for saving him from a far worse fate.  His last advice
to Holland is to keep Eureka away from whatever caused her condition.
Holland's sure that means Renton, though Misha looks skeptical to say the
least.

Holland isn't going to refuse Eidel's request for a meeting after all the
Chimera have done.  However, that doesn't mean his cynicism is diminished one
ounce, making him by far the sourest apple among the four commanders gathered.
Eidel isn't fazed by his distrust of government, pointing out the lack of
guards in this room as a sign of her good faith.  Jamir knows that if word of
her visit were to get out, she'd probably be executed, which is why it's so
handy that they can meet at a Chimera-only base.

One thing she does *not* intend to do is try to steal Kei from you, Singularity
or not.  Her people are doing their own research on the dimensional collapse in
any case.  What she wants to see, with her own eyes, is if ZEUTH and she are
really on the same page ideal-wise.  She's deeply concerned about where this
world is going, made up of so many people who didn't want to be squashed
together with their neighbors.  The Federation, as the new world order's
greatest power, is furthering the process, and Eidel is in full agreement with
the notion of joining people together to make everyone stronger.  The problem
is that a small minority of people have hijacked the Federation and have
twisted it to their own ends, and Eidel means to do everything in her power to
fight that from the inside.  That includes secret negotiations with the Plants,
though Eidel is as disturbed as this half of the ZEUTH are about what the other
half of ZEUTH has been asked to do.  She intends to go meet directly with
Durandal after this meeting is over to ascertain the truth, and is prepared to
fight him too if that's what it takes.

Of course she'd want ZEUTH's help in such a conflict, but she doesn't intend to
force them to become part of the Chimera as such.  Far better they stay
independent and self-guided, a symbol of freedom that others can look up to.
That also would avoid trouble from any of the organizations who might want to
use Kei, Tifa, or Eureka for their own ends.  In short, Eidel wants to use
ZEUTH's independence, and Holland finds that a far more trustworthy arrangement
than any he's heard to date.  Ideally, "using' and "being used" wouldn't even
enter into it, but this world isn't so nice a place at present.  Jamir is still
marveling at seeing a Federation heavy who still cares about the world -- she
actually does seem to be the real thing.

Mail's still severely depressed, and claims she doesn't want any breakfast
until her tummy rumbles and betrays her.  She can't understand why she still
gets hungry when she's not human, and admits that she knew something strange
was going on all this time.  I mean, here she is, age 16, and with breasts
still flat as a pancake and hips about as curvy as a yardstick.  She thought
she was just ill somehow, but never expected she was *terminally* ill.  Her
friends stumble for what to say to that, but Gainer manages it best: she's
still her, despite the revelation.

Of course she is, duh!  Her amazing recuperative powers are seemingly undimmed,
and she assures everyone that she'll go on being the Mail they've come to know
and love.  The difference is Rand, who she doesn't see herself being able to
forgive.  Fortunately Ryouma's on hand to talk sense: Rand kept quiet about
what he'd done(?) and kept up the Beater Service as his way of taking
responsibility.  Garrod reminds her that Rand looked all over the world for her
when she went missing, and Gain weighs in as well: she's got to eat breakfast
before it gets cold.  In fact, it's cooled off some already, and Toniya
scrambles to reheat it.  Gain tells Mail that potatoes au gratin aren't au
gratin when cold, and neither is Rand "The Heat" if he grows cold either.  Mail
doesn't get what he means, and he tells her to ponder it for herself while
chowing down.  After all, it's not like her head stopped maturing all these
years...

In the hangar, Rand's accepted some of Jiei's help with the Gunleon.  He
doesn't want to adopt Jiei's master plan however, which would utterly overhaul
the mech beyond recognition.  I mean, a one *meter*-wide cannon?  A beam rifle
the size of the pyramids?  And a CITY-Cleaving Sword?  Gunleon is, at least in
theory, a repair-bot, though Rand has to admit that he's doing more breaking
than repairing these days.  His boss once said that breaking and fixing are two
sides of the same coin, and that he'd only been living his life on one side.
Cielo taught him how to repair, but also taught him that some things can only
be repaired by breaking other things.  And when that time comes, Rand was to go
back to being The Crasher full bore.  Maybe that's where Rand is now, but he
doesn't plan to stay that way forever, which is why he wants to keep the
Gunleon repair-oriented.  He's removed the "seal" his Boss put in place only as
a temporary measure.  Jiei smirks a bit, finding it rather odd that Rand would
favor his own aesthetics over Jiei's giga-scale retrofit plan.  Rand gets the
gleam back in his eye and his trademark smile on his lips as he tells Kier that
Jiei's got plenty of oddness going for himself too.  Kier thanks him, and
explains that he's all too happy to help fix the visitors' mecha as a way of
avoiding the boring, impenetrable government-speak the leaders are indulging
in.  The first, second, and fifth and only things he knows how to do are
research, research, and more research.  ("Five!"  "Three, sire!"  "Three!")

Raven then walks over, dismayed to see Chimera's "slightly" volatile genius
scientist wandering around on the loose.  Rand gets this flabbergasted look on
his face, demanding to know how Jiei is "slightly" touched in the head.  Raven
hastily changes that to "extensively", to both Jiei and Rand's delight.  Eidel
comes over to see how things are going, and when Rand asks who she is, Jiei
proclaims in the formalest of tones that this is the lofty Chimeran general.
Rand goes along with the formal tone for a moment, then reverts to his normal
smile.  If further proof of Eidel's awesomeness was needed, Rand gets it when
she returns his Heat Smile with her "Madonna" Smile.  And gets it some more
when she scolds her errant scientist and then slaps him when he threatens to
get too fresh with her.  Raven can only watch the scene unfold in dismay --
dismay he swears isn't because the Beauty and the Beast (Rand) seem to be
getting along so well.  The scene doesn't last long though: Shuran shows up and
gives Rand an emergency dispatch from Setsuko...

Setsuko's mixing it up with Asakim, and not faring too well.  Asakim taunts her
with Rand not making it in time, demanding that she cry her tears of
patheticness for him.  Nothing doing there.  Asakim's about to strike what
might be the final blow when Rand shows up, NOT in the Gunleon.  Rand knows
full well that that might be what Asakim is really after, and isn't going to
play into the guy's hands.  Too bad the only available mech was a measly
Dagger.  Asakim commends him momentarily on reading things right, and then
flashes his "you're so dead" face in a rather serious faltering of supervillain
etiquette.  Asakim then smirks and tells Rand that he wears many masks, as much
as daring him to try to break them all.

Rand's handling today as The Crasher, and roars out as he rushes forward...
only to draw up somehow short.  A puzzled Rand says that his shouting has hit
some kind of wall, which Asakim says is proof that Rand is broken inside
somehow.  His endurance broken, all Rand can do is scream in pain -- he thinks.
And those screams won't reach the Gunleon from here.  Asakim will just have to
wait to see the wounded lion vanish until next time, but Rand is still
determined to find out what's really going on with Mail's body before all is
lost.  Asakim refuses, but before he can blow Rand away Setsuko flies over and
shields him, staking her own pride on keeping him alive.  *That*'s got Asakim
unhappy, and he notes that this reincarnation seems to have failed as well.
That leaves him only one option: collect Rand's soul with his Shurouga, for the
sake of Kingdom Come.

Before any Coming can occur, the rest of ZEUTH show up, advised of the showdown
with Asakim by Raven.  Yeah, Raven promised Rand he wouldn't tell, but he's
also the one who recommended Rand take the POS Dagger in the first place.  Not
that Rand could pilot a Mobile Suit if he wanted to.  Since help is at hand,
Rand and Setsuko temporarily withdraw to the flagship and let Gain and the crew
take Asakim on.  Well, Asakim AND Tsiine and a bunch of goons.  That sounds
like a tough nut to crack, but everyone's determined to try.  One person not on
the battlefield is Renton, who Roaby figures must be at Eureka's side or
something.  That thought pisses Holland off, but Jamir orders him to
concentrate on the enemies in front of his face first.  The "goons" are
actually Federation mecha under remote control, and Asakim doesn't seem to
worried about losing, given how highly evolved he is and whatnot...

  On turn 3, Asakim wonders if Mail is around somewhere, and decides to go say
  "hi".  He tells his mech to give the ZEUTH a display of what real power looks
  like, and as stuff starts getting blowed up, Oliver has to admit that
  Asakim's snooty attitude isn't entirely unjustified.  This are looking grim
  enough that Rand sees no choice but to sortie the Gunleon.  Mail shouts no,
  telling Rand that that's Beater Service property and not some plaything of
  his.  He tells her that it's been a very long time since she called him by
  his actual name, and she accuses him, The Crasher, of wrecking her and her
  father's home.  He asks if she's finished yet, and apologizes for his
  decision to keep her in the dark turning out wrong.  But that doesn't change
  the fact that he, no, THEY have to go.  The only way he can deck Asakim
  something fierce is with her help.

  Of course this is what Asakim's been waiting for: to make Rand suffer, get
  the Sphere to react, and awaken the Wounded Lion.  He shouts in glee that the
  two of them are the ultimate sacrifice, and seems quite certain there's
  nothing Rand can do about it in his broken state.  What he forgot is that
  Rand is a repairman: someone specializing in mending not just broken
  machines, but broken hearts too!  The past is water under the bridge: what's
  important is to put things back together better than they were before.  Mail
  remembers her father telling them that, and Rand yells that he ain't going to
  sugar coat what he once did -- he's going to going to fix it, as The Heat!

  His companions can only marvel at his resilience, but Rand tells Gainer to
  save the psychoanalysis for later.  Mail recounts all the painful, sad things
  she's been through since losing her father, but somehow her "Darling" always
  saw her through with that stifling smile of his.  Rand tells her that he
  never wants to lose the inner fire that makes him _him_, and that she is
  _her_ too, no matter what.  Mail finally smiles and nods, and Rand says it's
  time for the first public demonstration of Ultra-Motivated Mode!!

  Power washes Mail and the Gunleon, and Rand unleashes the limiter he's placed
  on his own heart to bring forth his Pain Shouter attack.  Asakim actually
  sounds happy that Rand's figured out how to control the Wounded Lion, though
  Mail insists that Rand refer to it by its proper name: Magna Mode.  She
  definitely agrees with Rand pummeling Asakim until he cries for forgiveness,
  her "lover's quarrel" with Rand (as Gain calls it) over.  Asakim still thinks
  he can faze Rand with ultimate suffering and his sinful past, but even Mail
  isn't having that anymore.  There's a very simple principle at work here:
  anyone feels pain when you hit them.  Asakim just hasn't gotten the memo yet.

  Rand freely admits that Asakim's trap for him worked so well precisely
  because he's got such a strong sense of duty, but also notes that he's pissed
  off enough to override that.  Asakim makes an interesting observation about
  the color of Marin's heart: sad blue.  Marin says it's the same reaction any
  being with a heart would have over what Asakim's done.  Heart, huh?  Well,
  anyone who's a sinner gets to look forward to the infinite prison of hell,
  trapped between dimensions for all time.

  Tsiine quickly gets pissed off too when it become clear that fighting the
  ZEUTH is the polar opposite of a walk in the park.  Asakim tells her to make
  tracks and leave the rest to him, and while she's pretty sure he'll be okay,
  she VERY FETCHINGLY tells him to be careful.  Almsot scary how much devotion
  she seems to have for the black-cloaked evildoer.

  The Gunleon actually starts *crying* when Rand and Mail trounce Asakim: tears
  of surprise, and reminiscence at the old days from the Wounded Lion, as
  Asakim puts it.  He's revised his opinion of Rand upward somewhat, but won't
  spill the beans on what Gunleon's real deal is this time around.  He assures
  Rand there will be a next time though, since fate draws them together.

Asakim seems to care nothing for any of the ZEUTH but Rand and Mail.  Mail's
not exactly thrilled to see her one-time knight in shining armor turn out to be
Public Enemy Number somethingorother, but she's got her Darling to help her
carry on at least.  Thank gawd that's over.  Gentlemen!  All your base are
return to you.

Asakim's made time for survival, reunited with Tsiine and carrying a massive
shit-eating grin on his face.  Rather at odds with his whole Operation Rand
Whimpering business, but he tells Tsiine that he's decided to enjoy his time
with Rand a bit more.  It's the Wounded Lion's power that he needs to free his
cursed body from the chains of Karma, and he finds it ironic that he's got to
go and grab that power himself.  He asks if Tsiine is going to report all this
to her master, though with a look like that on her face it seems doubtful.
Indeed, she tells him he's her only master: body, soul, and destiny.  She lost
it all when her world was destroyed and the chains of Karma fastened around her
neck, and figures that only he, who's known the same agony, can save her soul
now.  As such, she asks permission to hunt Rand and extract that scream from
him -- and Asakim knows that she too has felt Rand's attraction.  Quite a guy,
really, and worthy of being the Wounded Lion's pilot.

While Asakim makes his preparations, Tsiine has one other mission to attend to:
the Chiram, who foolishly insist on trying to open the path to the Ultimate
through human hands.  She tells him not to worry, since even the Federation has
laid its plans to oppose them.  All she has to do is tell the Feds what the D
Project actually entails, and they should start moving in no time.  Asakim
likes the thought of all the chaos that will cause, as convenient as anything
for the cursed path he must walk.  And for him to remain "him", all the similar
beings along that path to the Ultimate must perish...

Setsuko finds it hard to talk about her reason for pursuing Asakim, telling
Rand that she doesn't know _who_ he is or what he's really up to.  But all her
pride as a person is invested in defeating him, and it doesn't take a Newtype's
intuition to see that the pain in her eyes is sincere.  She plans to leave
alone and continue her pursuit of Asakim, saying that unlike Rand she's got
nothing else to live for.  Rand apologizes for not being more help, but she
tells him he already helped out quite a bit today.  She's glad to see him and
Mail on the same page, and promises to contact him as soon as she finds
anything out.  Her callsign will be "Glory Star", something precious in her
life.

Rand hopes Setsuko'll be okay, but he's got more immediate problems: _everyone_
is now calling him "darling"... except for the women at the top of his sexy
list, who are sadly absent from the hangar.  Jiei is overjoyed when he meets
Rand's diminutive significant other, figuring Rand for a lolita lover like
himself.  Both peeved and aghast, Rand stoutly denies this, and the women
sternly order the kids to stay away.  Maybe they needn't worry, since "lolita"
to Kier only extends to his own age minus fifty(!!).  He'll take up to plus
fifty too(!!!), and even the most inveterate womanizers on the team are
starting to edge away.  That his most beloved woman is Eidel is hardly cause
for her to celebrate.

Yup, here's the high-ranking general in the hangar, trying to rub elbows with
the rank and file.  Not as an officer, but a fellow "person".  Just watching
all these people, brought together from so many different worlds, getting along
together encourages her greatly, and she tells Rand that she too means to fight
as a "repairwoman", to bring the world back on track.  No doubt ZEUTH and she
will be great allies in the future, and for now she's provided a token of
supplies and cash to keep ZEUTH in the black.  Oh, and personnel: Raven will be
traveling with you for now.  Kei's looking forward to finally curing Raven of
his fear of women, and Kier tells him to send lots of pictures and souvenirs.

Mail then asks Rand about his old line about telling her about her father when
she's taller than him.  He actually thought it might be possible once he found
a way to fix her body, but she indignantly tells him that no woman on Earth
could get taller than his hulking body.  Rand ruefully agrees to lower the bar
some, and says that once her hair grows down to her shoulders... She'll marry
him!, exclaims Mail, and Rand can only wail and run off at that point.  Mail's
undaunted though, determined to one day carry half Rand's baggage as Gain once
told her.  After all, au gratin really is best eaten hot.

With everyone off in the hangar, Renton's paying a visit to Eureka, despite
both of them being told that having him near her destabilizes her.  This seems
to be true, since her heartrate's gone up just in the past few seconds.  He
simply wants her to know that he'll do anything to protect her, even if he
can't do as much as Holland or the other adults can.  He tries to go and hug
her, but she recoils and tells him to stay back.  Renton can do nothing at that
point but grit his teeth and run off, and Eureka thinks the reason they can't
be together is that he makes her different than she used to be...


33 Route Split

Gonzy saw Renton running away from home, his last words being for everyone to
take care.  Talho can't believe that Renton's still causing such kid-like
trouble, but Holland says that it saves him the trouble of kicking the
worthless kid out himself.  Since Renton didn't take the Nirvash with him,
Holland's got no interest in pursuing the kid any further, and you can guess
how well that goes over with some of the other ZEUTH.  No one's ever approved
of how harsh Holland's been on the kid, and even Gainer has lost enough
patience to say so to Holland's face.  Jiron tells him he was willing to accept
his leadership all this time, but something's been wrong with him lately: wrong
enough that Renton, who once idolized him, has lost faith.  Holland tries the
"don't act like you know what's going on" tactic, but Gainer throws it right
back in his face by pointing out that Holland's the one building walls around
the truth here.  Garrod for one isn't willing to participate in the private
army of a man who won't tell his supposed comrades what's really going on.
Holland tells Garrod to get the fuck out if he doesn't like it, just like
Renton, and Kei fires the same line right back at him.

Holland figures he'll do just that, branding himself an outsider among
outsiders.  Now even his own people speak up, realizing just how foolish it
would be to go off on their own with all the enemies looking for them.  Holland
tells them that they were just fine on their own before, and can be that way
again... which finally tips the scales for Jamir and Gain.  What could be more
stupid than having an argument over someone who isn't even here.  Gain
recommends at least waiting until Renton returns before having it out,
proposing sending a small detachment to find the hapless kid.  Jiron volunteers
at once, preferring looking for his friend over arguing with a certain someone
around here.  Kei'll go too, sure that the Chiram and Emarn won't expect their
precious Singularity to be wandering around on his own.  Sign Garrod and Gainer
up too, who'll do the talking once they actually find Renton.  Not so fast,
says Gain: he tells Gainer to keep Holland company while he handles the missing
persons search -- it should prove "educational" to learn from a young,
_widely_admired_ man.  

  If you want Rand to join the Renton hunt, go to 33R.  Rand'd rather be moving
  his body than drinking with an ill-tempered leader, and has been interested
  in Renton's welfare ever since he left his grandpa's place.  He tells Raven
  to come along too and experience life outside the military.

  If you'd rather have Rand guarding the ships, go to 33G.  He's sure that Gain
  can see the search through, and figures that Jamir might have trouble keeping
  Holland safe on his own.

Dewey has just placed a call to Ray and Charles, breaking into their comm
network to do it.  The two of them have been more or less enjoying the carefree
life as bodyguards, and the last thing they want to do is return to Dewey's
regimented army.  What Dewey's got in mind involves them settling the score at
last with Holland, which gets him Charles' full attention.  Ray doesn't seem
nearly so sure...

Gainer's availed himself of the UN to contact Cynthia and set up some net
gaming.  He still can't see her face, which he insists on attributing to poor
reception, but he needn't worry: Cynthia's actually in South America, just like
Gainer himself.  She definitely hopes they can see more of each other this
time.


33R. Lonely Runaway

Renton didn't have a plan when he left, only the desire to get as far away from
home as possible. He's now learned something important: when he was with ZEUTH,
he wasn't alone.  He's got no idea what to do now, but one possible solution
appears in the form of the VERY stout Greta Karas, who assures him that one or
two more kids will make no difference to her.  Renton flees in terror, assuring
her that cooking and eating him would bring nothing but indigestion.  Of
course, for all he knows she might have actually been nice, in which case he's
just done her a great disservice.  Oh, the indecision.

Who he runs into (literally) next is someone far more pleasing to the eye:
Enil.  Pleasing to the touch too, as he discovered during the brief collision.
Enil figures almost instantly that the poor hormonal kid is a runaway, and
treats him to lunch.  What she doesn't do is give him the answer to his
problems: only some advice on what questions to ask.  If she gave him the
answer, his running away wouldn't be worth much, would it?  As long as he looks
at life like a kid, he'll never be able to accomplish much.  Or did he want her
to assure him that everyone would welcome him back if he went straight home?
Nope, that's genuine anger in his eyes, and Enil's glad to see it.  Renton asks
why she bothered talking to him in the first place, and Enil muses it must be
some mixture of boredom, curiosity, and pure happenstance.  This makes Renton
even more mad since he was being sincere when confiding in her, and she
apologizes.  Much of her old self she sees in him, and though she won't go into
details, she tells him not to turn out like she did.  She addresses him by his
name before walking off, and Renton could swear he never mentioned it to her...

Just then his reverie is broken by an outburst of feedback from the park's PA
system.  Charles apologizes, and explains that he's helping run an outdoor
dance event.  A little fresh air, a little rhythm... good times.  He then
switches tracks to a song called "Meeya's Festival" that Renton heard Rand
playing, obscure enough hereabouts that Charles commends him for knowing it.
Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to have clicked with the crowd here today.
Charles asks where Renton's from, and he replies that he's just traveling here
and there on his board.  Ooh, a "Sentimental Journey" is it?  Ah, youth.
Charles teases the kid a little bit, but Renton doesn't mind: it's been an
awful long time since he heard someone sound happy.

Garrod runs over just then, telling Renton to come back home and ignore
whatever Holland might say about it.  That gets Charles' attention, but Renton
tells Garrod that it'd be too pathetic for him to get hauled back home just
now.  He hasn't even accomplished anything on his own yet.  Sure, he first ran
away because of the mess with Eureka, but he feels he's got to somehow make
more out of it.  Charles praises the kid for his spunk, brushing aside Garrod's
protest that this doesn't concern him.  Charles leaves them be for a second and
goes to check on a developing argument between Paula and some Breakers trying
to hit on her.  Paula tells them to take her to the Argama if they're that
eager to help, which neither of the disorderly louts has ever heard of.  Ray
steps on the scene and tells them to get lost, as part organizer of this event.
While people hitting on people is par for the course at a place like this,
lowlifes like them are strictly persona non grata.  That her words are on the
money makes them even madder, but before they can take it out on Ray, her
husband shows up and tells them to get lost.  Getting lost isn't part of the
Breaker vocabulary, and Charles yells to Paula to flee.

The closest Breaker lunges for her, only to get pummeled by the righteous
Garrod Ran.  If they can't have Paula, they'll settle for Ray, but a maniacal
Renton manages to tackle the other Breaker before he can take more than three
steps.  Thwarted, the Breakers deliver a perfectly sniveling "We'll be back"
and skedaddle, as the crowd applauds their departure.  Poor Paula would have
normally be able to handle punks like that herself, but the gravity is a bit
much for her.  She cheerfully tells Garrod that she's just arrived on Earth,
having made it through the Rivalry zones.

Renton on the other hand is now quite sore, having overdone it a notch or
several in fending off the bad guys.  Charles thanks him for saving his wife
anyway, but the idyll is short-lived.  The Breakers have actually fetched their
Walker Machines and come back for revenge.  This makes Charles mad, and you
wouldn't like Charles when he's mad.

One of the Breakers is actually having pangs of conscience about taking their
grudge this far, but his mate says that anything goes in this jacked-up world.
Surely he won't complain then if Rand kicks his ass, right?  Renton's stalwart
friends are on the scene, and tell Garrod and Renton to stand back.  Paula's
already fled the scene, leaving the Breakers to face anything but your average
everyday allies of justice.  In fact, the public at large are convinced that
ZEUTH is the opposite, much to Raven's dismay.  In any case, the Breakers gave
up their right to leniency the moment they started burning down the city.

  On turn two, Paula shows up in a fighter jet no one's seen before: she didn't
  run away, but rather ran for armaments.  Garrod's fetched his Gundam too, and
  Paula's delighted to see that it's of the same type used by the central
  government.  This means she can *combine* with it, and she explains that her
  "G-Falcon" was made for precisely that purpose for the war fifteen years ago.
  As for why she's flying such a thing -- let's just say for now that she's a
  AEUG member.  She also tells Garrod that the Falcon will act like an energy
  pack of the Satellite Cannon, shortening its charge time.  Kick ass!

  After a bit of throwdown, a bunch of new miscreants come on the scene.  Among
  them are some Dorans, which the Xabungle crew hasn't seen since the fall of
  the Innocent.  That's 'cause Greta Karas is at the controls, causing Jiron to
  cry out that the Widow's come again.  She's got Kejinan in tow, who isn't
  looking forward to eating lead before even joining up with the main force.
  Greta tells him to grow some balls and figures on crushing the ZEUTH before
  the main force even need get involved.  She starts by striking at Garrod and
  Paula, showing off that her Walker Machine can actually *fly*.  Paula tells
  the old cow that she's really done it this time, and Greta is about to visit
  a passionate woman's vengeance on her when an even more passionate woman
  steps on the scene.  Enil and Garrod are happy to see each other again,
  though Enil still can't bring herself to feel like his friend.  Greta is sick
  of all these little girls messing with her, but Enil tells her in no
  uncertain terms that she's well past the "little girl" stage.  Nor has she
  wasted year after year like Greta.  Garrod tells everyone to welcome Enil,
  and a friend of Garrod's is a friend to all the ZEUTH.  As Greta orders a
  full assault, Kejinan tries to tell himself and Enge that there *will* be
  good things in their life, someday.

  Greta has one more problem to deal with: Ray and Charles and their prides and
  joys, KLF's called "Spearheads".  Greta's about ready to blow a gasket, and
  Rand tells Kei the massive woman's all his.  Kei doesn't mind the older sort,
  but says "no thank you" to the hysterics on general principle.  He tells Gain
  to deal with her, but Gain says his rifle isn't designed for hitting women
  like that.  Rand reminds him that his nighttime sniping's been pretty
  successful so far, and with a wonderful grin Gain tells Rand that he's more
  of a gourmet than he looks.  Raven suggests that it might not be such a good
  idea to provoke the enemy this much, but Jiron assures him it's all part of
  how this crew does battle.

  [If you want to recruit Ray and Charles, have them kill at least ten enemies
  between them.  Doing this *and* getting the Skill Point is tricky, but not by
  any means impossible. ^_^]

The bad guys got what they deserved, but the dance is still wrecked.  No
problem, Charles tells Ray: as long as there's music and Lif'ing in the world,
their journey won't be over.  Rand compliments them on their skills, which are
entirely up to mercenary snuff as far as Gain can tell.  Charles calls it a
love of ad-libbing, and says he owes the crew one for today.  Garrod tells them
not to sweat it, and the two fly off, having found new "brothers" (and
sisters).  That kind of easygoing attitude is what Boarders are *supposed* to
be like, Holland to the contrary.  Speaking of Holland, Renton seems to have
run off again in all the chaos...

Paula isn't happy to hear of the atrocities the Argama seems to be mixed up in.
None of the ZEUTH assembled here want to believe what they saw on the UN, but
the 1nt4w3bz0rz are just too darn believable.  Paula feared this would happen,
and tells of her fight against the space revolutionaries as part of a group
called Satellicon.  These are the same revolutionaries that battled the central
government fifteen years ago, and it seems the only real lesson they learned is
that they can't win a head-to-head war with the Earth.  Instead, they've taken
their act underground where it can grow more dangerous and terroristic.  Paula
has no love for the New Earth Federation, but she fears that letting the
revolutionaries run riot could be even worse -- as events fifteen years ago
proved.  That's why she joined the AEUG, and she was supposed to be headed to
the Argama as reinforcements when she got caught up in a high-altitude battle
and lost sight of the ship.  If the Argama really has become Zaft's tool, she
figures there's no further point in trying to reach it: her superiors have
worried about the Zaft trying to spread the conflict for years.  Garrod's more
than happy to give her and her handy mech a place to stay.

The real question now is Renton, who Garrod says is going to take some serious
persuasion to get back.  He explains that Renton left the Gekko to search for
something, and as Garrod knows from personal experience, he'll never be at
peace back home until he finds it.  Gain recommends leaving him alone in that
case, since it sounds like he's actually got a decent reason for running away.
If it was just fear of Holland, he'd have dragged Renton home even if it meant
a rope around his neck.  Jiron likes it, hopeful that Renton can find his
something and come back a big enough man to stick it to Holland.  Kei makes
Mail promise to take a picture if the day comes for Holland to apologize to the
kid, and Rand figures that everyone should enjoy their stint of freedom a bit
longer before returning.  Paula's surprised that the group is this seemingly
unfocused, but Raven tells her that that's just how it goes.  What Kei and Gain
find interesting is that Garrod now has at least three women vying for his
attention: Enil, Paula, and Tifa.  Garrod's attention, though, is elsewhere
with Renton: he really hopes that he can find what he's looking for and not
just end up a defeated dog.

As for Renton, he's done what every runaway since the dawn of Pac Man has done:
head to the arcade.  Charles finds him there and invites him to his house so
Ray can say thank you in person.  He knows Renton must be getting sick of
Circle K food, and promises that Ray's cooking is the best in the universe.  It
doesn't take too much convincing for Renton to agree.

Enge and Kejinan face a much colder reception from Timp, who isn't happy to
hear about the warpower they wasted on the way to the rendezvous.  At least
they can blame it on Greta in good conscience, but Timp tells them to make
their excuses to Kashimar, whose vicious inquiries they've already experienced
several times over.   At this rate, their pay will be cut so low they won't
even have money for food.  They get aid from an unlikely source: Greta, who
actually accepts responsibility for the mess and promises to make up for the
reduced firepower herself.

Timp likes her attitude, which is why he scouted her in the first place.  She
asks if he wants the pleasure of ending Jiron's roly-poly life himself, but he
claims he doesn't get hangups like that.  Kids told him to crush those
responsible for the Yapan's Ceiling's exodus, and he plans to do it by striking
the main ZEUTH force.  Jiron and his buddies will be Artham and Greta's
responsibility.  Artham seems to have lost what little was left of his sense of
humor in his quest to kill Gain, and Greta's always had a weakness for
passionate men.  Just then Holler brings in some of Artham's additional help:
Beck, glad to be reunited with his like-minded commander.  He's brought a brand
spanking new item with which to "welcome" their guests, and Timp tells Artham
he'd be a real laughingstock if he blew it with a lineup this strong.  Artham
vows to stake everything on the next battle, and Timp wishes the _former_ elite
good luck as he returns to his Agate Crystal.

33G. To My Distant Friend

Raita and Oliver are planning something covert, though it's not immediately
clear what that something is. Ooookay...

Meanwhile, Negros informs his boss Gattler that someone has been sending
strange transmissions at regular intervals from the Skull Moon Base to Earth.
A very special code protects the contents, which Negros' people haven't been
able to crack.  Nor have they been able to pinpoint who's responsible, and
given all the Gaizock, Eldar, Vegans and Aldebaran forces the base holds, it
could be nearly anyone.  Negros guesses that the Aldebaran are the only ones
who've noticed so far, and asks for instructions.  Gattler tells him to do
nothing that could arouse the transmitter's suspicions.  Nor does Gattler think
that having a spy in the base is necessarily all bad.  Anything that sucks for
the other Skull Moon residents rules for him, given the precarious balance
holding the Skull alliance together.  Aphrodia is most worried about the
Gaizock, whose true intentions she can't read and who've already shown a
penchant for extreme tactics like human bombs.  She recalls that the Eldar's
Teral was terribly upset after that fiasco, and Gattler tells her that the
Gaizock want nothing but destruction.  He doubts they'd hesitate to make
enemies of the rest of the alliance if it suited their twisted ends.

Still, he's got the welfare of three hundred million souls back on S-1 to worry
about, and very little leeway to be choosy with his allies.  Aphrodia asks what
to do with the traitor when found, but she needn't have bothered.  Gattler has
her recite the Aldebaran penal code: death to those acting selfishly, death to
all who show the enemy their back, death to those showing or being shown mercy
by the enemy, death to those sowing disorder in the ranks.  Pretty simple, and
quite unbreakable, as Negros' older brother learned when he showed the enemy
his back as the Aldebaran lost the battle in Siberia.  Gattler will make no
exceptions, and tells Aphrodia to get busy with her investigation.  She already
has a prime suspect: Karin Freak, graduate of the UF Museon, S-1's highest
school.  The Museon was a noted pacifist think-tank and opposed abandoning the
planet to the very end, and Karin was known to be Marin's friend in those days.
She's found no proof that Karin is the one behind the transmissions, but the
mere threat of him upsetting the Aldebaran's balance is enough for Gattler to
order Aphrodia to dispose of him.

Rubina greets Aphrodia as she returns to the control room.  Nothing's changed
except the arrival of flowers from Gattler, which Rubina has arranged around
the room.  Aphrodia muses that she's got to send Gattler her thanks, and
apologizes for making the daughter of Emperor Vega perform like a low-level
functionary.  Rubina tells her not to worry about it, since it was her own
request to try her hand at secretarial work.  Nor does Rubina want to be
anywhere near her father these days.  The wheels start turning in Aphrodia's
head: Rubina has access to plenty of inside information in her secretarial
role, and princess or not, she's got to go on her suspect list.

She passes her distracted look off as just being tired, but tells Rubina that
she needs no rest.  She and her brother are utterly devoted to the man who
raised them after they lost their parents (Gattler) and to the people of S-1
whose fate they hold in their hands.  And for their sake, she will fight, and
kill.  Speaking of which, Karin shows up to receive orders that exploit what
Aphrodia calls his "special skills".  She's giving his a new mech and sending
him to destroy Baldios and its pilot, Marin Raygun.  He might have been Karin's
friend once, but he stoutly professes that that was in the past: now Marin is
nothing to him but one more traitor.  She reminds him that those showing or
being shown mercy by the enemy get shot, and he swears that he's fighting for
S-1's future.  Aphrodia tells him to go get ready, and Rubina asks her
commander to reconsider the cruelty of sending friends to kill each other.
Aphrodia tells her that this is rightful punishment against a traitor, and a
strategic maneuver on top of that.  She's heard of Rubina's love for Duke Freed
and all the mess that entailed, and tells her that she too loves her people.
Why that justifies mass murder of the Earthlings and Marin is less clear.
Aphrodia makes a show of leaving Rubina in charge of the control room and going
to rest.  Poor Rubina, apparently fated to destroy and/or be destroyed by her
beloved.  If the war can't be stopped, then perhaps she can at least save some
innocent lives... including a certain peace-loving chap she knows.

Eureka seems to be doing much better, except for her funny hat.  Liina says
it's just fine if she takes her time changing as she moves into the future.
Just then Gidget and her cohorts burst in and tell them to cease all the
difficult talk at once.  How can they call themselves young women, all cooped
up inside like this?  It's time for a girls-only tea party, with all the
squealing and whatnot that entails.  For starters, Gidget's always wanted an
opening to have an actual conversation with Eureka, who's been -- at best --
difficult to approach.  Tifa gives her okay, along with her winning smile that
smote Garrod with one glance.  Sylvia of course wants someone a bit more
intellectual like her brother, but Gidget likes guys with a goofy streak.  Guys
like Renton, who's definitely changed Eureka for the better.  For starters, she
can actually smile now.  Gidget's own preference is for Doggy, whose smile
makes her want to smile back.  Eureka haltingly says that she's got a lot she
wants to tell Renton, but she's terrified of seeing him right now.  And her
chest hurts sometimes, and all the other classical symptoms of... LOVE.  Tifa
tells Eureka to warm that feeling up while waiting for Renton to come back with
Garrod and the others.

Elsewhere, Marin's tinkering with Baldios, asking the mechanically disinclined
Jamie for help.  Marin is very eager for these mods to succeed, giving the mech
15% more power and letting him use all the weaponry they've had to omit until
now.  Marin's been reluctant to let anyone but him service the mech thusfar,
but it's really hard to deny that all the mechanical knowhow gathered here
would be of great help.  Marin isn't keeping everyone at bay out of distrust,
but before he can say what it is due to Oliver and Raita barge in and demand,
nicely, to help out too.  It seems that, finally, Marin's teammates are
starting to accept him, and Stoner has Mail take a picture to commemorate the
occasion.  Maybe she should get a picture of everyone, but it won't be
"everyone" without Renton.  Hap asks if they really think Renton'll come back,
hastily adding that he's strictly neutral on the issue.  Matthew can't think of
much he'd lose if Renton didn't come back except having someone to man the
convenience store; Eureka, however, he's not so sure about.  Or Holland too,
for that matter.

At any rate, the mechanics are all amazed at Marin's extensive knowledge of
subspace technology despite his tender years.  Marin credits it to his studies
at the UF Museon, S-1's most influential school, and the ZEUTH can only imagine
what the romantic life on campus must have been like.  Marin has to disappoint
them a bit when he says that he was too wrapped up in his research to find a
girlfriend, not to mention keeping up a friendly academic competition with a
rival of his.  Not just a rival, but a friend, and probably the main impetus
for Marin to achieve what he did.  Not, Marin says with a small sigh, that he
could beat him in the end.  Just then the klaxons go off, and Ryouma runs in
with news of a Hundred Demons raid nearby.  Though this isn't strictly this
half of ZEUTH's responsibility, Rand and the others are happy to fight for the
side of right.  The tell the Baldios team to delay their sortie until their
mech is fully powered up, and Raita and Marin are both happy to take them up on
it.  Oliver is a bit more pensive, wondering just how Queenstein was able to
master the difficult S-1 technology fast enough to create Baldios in the first
place.  Raita ascribes it to how brilliant she is, and Oliver can only immerse
himself in the modifications for now...

Glar was definitely not expecting ZEUTH to notice his activities this fast, and
orders Dokuganki to sortie and meet them.  Ragu is surprised to see an
Innocent-style Dome all the way out here, and Raven tells her the Innocent had
settlements all over the world.  This Dome seems to have been long abandoned,
and probably over halfway modified into a Hundred Demons base.  Glar tells
Dokuganki to protect the Mecha Fortress Demon with his life while he hurries
his research data back to Science Fortress Island.  Tekkouki recognizes right
away who's aboard the Mecha Fortress Demon: Glar, a pivotal scientist from the
Hundred Demons' academy of sciences.  He isn't the sort that Tekkouki expects
to see on the front lines, and Hayato figures he must have been checking
something in the Dome out.  Whatever that something is, Jamir doesn't want any
info getting back to the main force, and wrecking the Fortress should be just
the thing for CERTAIN PEOPLE who've been pissy lately.  Since some of the crew
is off elsewhere, those left here will just have to be that much more awesome.

  Glar recognizes the power he sees in the Gunleon, and it frightens him
  immensely.  Of course, he won't say way... nor will he give Ryouma a straight
  answer what he's doing here.  All he shouts is that he's too busy decoding
  the secrets of the Black History, and of the immense power whose advent
  signaled its end.

  Glar had a fairly hefty detachment of men with him, but the terrifying ZEUTH
  obliterate them in moments.  It's not all wine and roses for the good guys
  though, as a group of Aldebaran mecha warp in from subspace.  Glar gets while
  the getting's good, just as the Baldios takes the field.  Marin says that
  while the modifications aren't totally finished, there's no way his team can
  stay on the sidelines with their enemies at hand.  Karin's been waiting a
  long time for this moment, and not to fight him either.  He vows to fight on
  the side of Earth, and as proof says that he'll take on the companions he
  just came here with.  Shoot him in the back if you don't believe him.
  Jamir's willing to roll the dice, saying that the ability to believe in
  others is what makes this group of outsiders so strong.  Karin is in fact
  fighting on behalf of S-1, just not of its army.

  The battle is interrupted by the arrival of more Aldebaran ships, peculiarly
  situated at the corners of the map.  Aphrodia orders them all to overload
  their subspace engines and force a time-space distortion.  Everything is
  sucked into subspace, and not any regular subspace either.  The dimensional
  walls around this one are totally sealed, as Aphrodia wastes no time in
  gloating.  It'll take more than that to dampen Marin's fighting spirit: he
  tells everyone to focus their attacks on a single point, which will cause
  another dimensional breach.

  Sadly, no effect.  Aphrodia tells Karin that all this happened because he
  acted how she expected him to.  Either he would execute Marin, or distract
  him long enough for her to do the job.  She was just following the rules,
  after all: kill anything suspicious.  Marin's got about two minutes left
  until this whole place collapses.  Karin then yells out that he doesn't want
  to die, and she tells him that she'll fish his ass out if he kills Baldios
  first.

  Karin's pledge of fealty to the Earth has changed pretty fast, just as his
  relationship with Marin once did.  Marin really doesn't want to fight his
  friend, but he also knows that Oliver, Raita and the rest of ZEUTH are
  depending on him.  Jamir tells everyone to go down fighting, even if there's
  no way out, and Karin warns Marin that he'd better defeat him if he wants to
  save his friends.

  Karin forces Marin to fight him to the bitter end, telling him he'll have to
  _utterly_ _obliterate_ the Jolar to end the battle.  That gets Marin's
  attention, and with no real choice he does exactly that.  Karin of course
  knows that even if he'd been rescued, he'd have just been executed right away
  for his treachery, and made sure that Marin would wreck his mech on purpose.
  He cautions his old friend that there are some inside the Skull Moon who want
  peace, and that he mustn't let hatred drive him in battle.

  The blast reopens the way to regular space, and Marin now has plenty of
  reason to send Aphrodia and the whole Aldebaran army to Davy Jones.  Aphrodia
  orders a hasty retreat, but a certain familiar voice says he won't let her.
  It's Grendizer, whose first volley takes out Aphrodia's power plant.  Marin
  finishes the job with such thoroughness that even her escape pod is damaged.

Marin finds her on foot in short order, seeing her face to face for the first
time since their father was killed in the coup d'etat.  She fires back that
that was the day he killed her only brother.  Her brother was a soldier, and
both he and Marin were prepared to die in battle just fine -- unlike Marin's
father, a researcher busting ass trying to figure out how to reverse S-1's
environmental woes.  Aphrodia says he deserved death anyway for opposing
Gattler's evacuation plan, but then again what precisely has Gattler actually
done lately, anyway?  Oh that's right: he killed all the pacifists among his
own people, then tossed those who were left out into space, AND picked a fight
with the Earth.  Like hell Marin's gonna let him control S-1's future.

Aphrodia wants him to kill her before she has to listen to another stupid word,
adding that he'll never stop the Aldebaran's advance.  Marin's got a far better
idea though: she's going to bring his declaration of war on the Aldebaran back
to her beloved Gattler, not willing to shoot an unarmed person like she and her
kind are.  Besides, as Karin said with his last breath, Marin isn't going to
let hatred drive his fight.  She'd better get going quick, before that hatred
gets the better of him.  Oh, she yells, oh, is he going to RUE THE DAY, and for
this, the people of his city shall pay.  Next time they meet, she'll show him
ultimate fear, and all that other super-villainous stuff.  She runs off shortly
before Oliver and Raita catch up, finding Marin about ready to shoot *himself*
out of all the conflict in his soul.  MAN how he wished he could have simply
offed that bitch.

When Raita punches him, it's not because he's an enemy alien, but because Marin
hasn't completely abandoned his hatred as Karin, a veritable saint, asked him
to.  Duke Freed, aka Daisuke, walks over too, apologizing for not being in time
to avert the debacle.  Freed knew of Karin by reputation from a mutual
acquaintance: he was a true patriot determined to topple the Aldebaran from
within.  That mutual acquaintance is Vega's daughter Rubina, who's also told
him that Gattler's hauled the entire remaining populace of S-1 to Earth's moon
in coldsleep.  If the animosity between Earth and Aldebaran continues unabated,
those hundreds of millions of lives will be jeopardized.  Of course that's
easier said than done, especially where people who've already lost loved ones
in battle are concerned.  But Marin and his teammates have crossed that wall,
and Duke Freed wants to fight at their side.  And to die at their side
defending the people of both planets, if need be, just as Karin did.

Daisuke isn't joining the team empty-handed either.  He and Hikaru ran into the
other half of ZEUTH in Galia, but Daisuke's words seemed not to stir their
hearts.  In their defense, the other half of ZEUTH was in the midst of shock
and grief after the human bombing incident.  Wait, what human bombing incident?
Seems the Gaizock abducted a bunch of people, planted bombs in them, then sent
them back, resulting in a string of indiscriminate terrorist bombings.  What
makes it even worse is that the Gaizock did it half in jest, and worse still
that one of Kappei's personal friends was among the bomb-ees.

Raven wonders if the whole mess was in revenge for the ZEUTH's alien massacre
in Galia, in which case it'd serve as a decent if unpleasant example of how
hatred breeds hatred.  Ryouma doesn't want to think overlong about what the
other half of ZEUTH is doing: their path is different from this half, and best
to leave it at that.  The good news is that this side just got a couple very
stalwart allies to help with the outsiders of justice act.

Rand wonders what the demons were up to in the abandoned Dome in the first
place, and Hayato has no clue.  Nothing about it seems to plug into the Hundred
Demons' goals of world domination, doppelganger creation, or acquisition of
super-energy sources.  They also seem interested in the Fallen Angels, and
maybe that's what the Innocent were involved with here.  One way to be sure is
to keep following them, though until Renton comes back Rand recommends
hunkering down here for a while and thinking some more.  Come what may, ZEUTH
can't afford to lose.


34R. Strange Contact

Ray and Charles' love nest is more impressive than most: the battleship
Shiratori.  Renton tries to pay it a proper compliment, but Charles tells him
to talk like a kid, while he's still blessed with the ability to be one.  He's
got little option but to accept their hospitality and chow down.  Afterwards,
Charles says he's got something to show him, and a little man-to-man talk to
do.

In a memory, Atena asks her mother why she has no father.  Her mother Tiina
says that her father's on a trip to somewhere far, far away, a very free spirit
who never seems able to stay in one place.  His name is Katsuragi Kei, and
Tiina says he's a wonderful person.

Rand and the crew are definitely enjoying their freedom from the routine of
ZEUTH.  Even that group of outsiders has rules that need to be obeyed, and
Raven can't figure out where he went so wrong as to fall in with this group of
outsider outsiders.  As the group is trying to figure out what to do with all
this freedom, a funny thing happens: they can't actually come up with anything
concrete to do.  Seems they've been too busy just trying to make a living,
though Rand notes that that's got its own joys after a fashion.  He tries to
propose something to combat people's boredom, but no one's exactly falling over
themselves to follow his lead (and he knows it).

Raven then asks if it's really so safe to be wandering around town with a
person who can be tracked by the Chiram's sensors.  Kei's quite confident he
can flee any danger, which strikes a certain black-clad man as either very
brave or very stupid.  It's Roger Smith, who Raven's heard barely manages a 50%
success rate as a freelance negotiator.  Roger complains that popular rumor is
a very irresponsible medium, leaving the truth obscured.  In any case, he's
been asked to bring Kei to a certain location, and Kei isn't allowed to know
where, who asked him, or bring along anyone else.  Whoever Roger's employer is
has something very important to say to him, and guarantees Kei's wellbeing.
And knowing Kei wasn't likely to just say yes to such fishy conditions, the
person gave Roger the following name to drop: Tiina Henderson.

Yeah, that did it.  Roger tells Kei to be in the park at 2200 hours, alone.
Kei tells the team that Tiina was his lover, before the Breaking, and doubts
that the name is being used as a mere prank.  He tells Gain not to try to form
some kind of rear guard, and Gain accedes, with a warning to be very careful.
Is it actually Tiina herself, or...?

Roger in turn runs into a familiar face: Angel, who's at the same factory he
stopped at for some maintenance on the Big O.  She's busy looking into a
certain old man's son and grandson, on orders from the head of Siberian Rail.
She says he's every bit as attractive as Alex Rosewater, and Roger says it's a
shame he's too busy to invite her to tea.  She's sure they'll have other
chances to chat, given how they keep bumping into each other like this and how
she's got a piece of the truth he's after.  Riddles, is it?  Not so much: she
says that a relic from the Black History is about to reawaken, and when it
does, the truth will come with it.  That gets Roger to stop what he's doing,
but Angel's already out the door, sending her regards to Roger's unsmiling doll
as well.

That gives Roger a lot to chew on, as someone named Vera watches from the
shadows.  With him is Alan, who reckons Roger's actually worth cutting to
ribbons.  Vera tells "Unit 271" to wait: Roger's status as a Dominus makes him
more valuable alive.  The bigger problem he sees is "Unit 340", who seems to be
straying from her mission.  Is she somehow bewitching both them and Kids AND
Alex?  He decides to find out, and tells Alan that if she proves to be
traitorous, she needs to be eliminated.  It's all in the name of finding out
the Truth, which is why Alan heads back to Paradigm Incorporated to continue
his mission.

Kei reaches the meeting spot, and Roger says it's only polite to leave Kei
alone to chat with his employer.  Kei says goodbye, adding that Mome would love
to see Dorothy again.  Roger promises to pass that along and walks off, leaving
Kei to wonder who he's here to meet.  Good that it's a girl, bad that it's a
Chiran who's trying to haul him off somewhere.  Kei wrestles her to the ground,
preparing to flee, when a picture falls out of her pocket: a picture of Tiina.
Atena yells at him not to touch it, cursing the Singularity's very existence,
but just then her "uncle" steps over and tells her to knock it off.  He
realizes she overheard him setting up the meeting with Roger, and tells her to
get lost without another word.  When she protests, he tells her that that's an
order from a superior officer, leaving her no choice but to slink off.

Kei's a bit sad that the true meeting isn't with a cute girl, but prefers the
older guy to a *murderous* cute girl like he just tangled with.  It comes as
quite a relief to the man that Kei hasn't changed, though he has to sigh a
little at the guy's womanizing ways.  It's no real surprise that Kei doesn't
recognize his old partner Orson, but once the shades come off everything falls
into place.  Orson has a fairly good reason for why he couldn't contact Kei
sooner: he's now officially a brigadier general in the Chiran special forces,
with orders to capture -- well, "kill" as of this morning -- Singularities.  He
assures Kei that he has no plans to actually *do* that, or he'd have done it
long before now.  He's actually used his authority to temporarily suspend even
looking for Kei, which explains why the Chiram have been so quiet lately.

There's another good reason Kei didn't recognize Orson: what's only been a year
since the battle at the orbital elevator was five years for Orson.  Kei's heard
from the Emarn how he's the key to repairing the dimensional walls, and that
Chiram is the remains of their own country.  That speeds things up for Orson,
who asks Kei to come back with him, as the best course of action.  Kei doesn't
want any part of deciding who remains and who gets destroyed during the
dimensional repair, but Orson tells him there's more to it than that.  Chiram
isn't just their motherland: it's also the motherland of Kei's daughter.

WHOA, hold the phone!  And what happened to Tiina?!  Orson relates that the
Spacetime Concussion munition tossed her a good twenty years into this world's
past, where she lived out her days as a Chiran citizen.  She died several years
ago, leaving a daughter behind, the same girl that just tried to shoot Kei
dead.  And her name's Atena.

Just then a Chiran force led by Robert appears on the scene, in disobedience of
Orson's orders.  Apparently Robert's decided that Orson's an informer, and
elects to wipe out *both* of the Superfluous Singularities.  Orson tells Kei to
run while he backs him up with his Nikick.  Luckily for them, Roger is still on
the case, still honoring the promise to keep Kei safe.  To no one's real
surprise, the Chiram ignore his warning, and Orson tells Kei to get out of here
while he tries to hold down the fort here.  Kei agrees, telling his old friend
not to die.

  Off a bit of the cannon-fodder and Orson makes it onto the field, once more
  ordering his men to retreat.  When they don't, Orson sends Atena back to HQ
  while he punishes the insubordination himself.  She won't hear that order,
  desiring instead to watch her uncle's back.  They'll have a bit more help
  from Kei, whose Orguss was nearby.  As Orson knows well, Kei was never the
  sort to run away from a fight.  Kei's also impressed by Roger's sense of duty
  in keeping up the fight, and is determined to show the Chiram what happens
  when you mess with the two top aces from the Bronco squadron.

  Kei's friends show up in short order, taking their time only because they
  honored his request for privacy.  Rand's got to sympathize with the
  Negotiator for being forced into battle: he himself hasn't been doing that
  many repairs lately.

  Robert gets his ass handed to him, but he's too devoted a soldier to take it
  home and eat it for dinner.  He's ready to hurl it at you as his last act of
  defiance when a new foe approaches, so he hauls it back to HQ instead, vowing
  to write the most damning of reports ever filed about Orson.  MISTER sour
  grapes, in fact.  Before Kei can ask after his erstwhile flesh and blood,
  Siberian Rail and their hired Breaker help tromp onto the scene.  Artham
  announces that he's here to settle the score with Gain, and Gain figures out
  right away that Artham must have gotten laid off of Saint Reagan if he's
  hanging with the Siberians.  He's _that_ committed to killing Gain, though
  his subordinates like Zacky aren't.

  Impressively, Artham isn't the only one with a score to settle with the ZEUTH
  folk.  Holler and Greta are here too, having made the trip all the way to
  South America.  These goons are nothing if not persistent, and incapable of
  spouting anything but the same standard-issue villain-speak time after time
  after time.  Artham tells Garrod why: Kids is personally pissed off that
  ZEUTH helped the Exodus succeed, and determined to save face by seeing them
  die messily.  Even Roger gets a fated rival to play with: Beck, and his Beck
  The Great RX3!  This outsized Megadeus is a triple-combiner like Getter Robo,
  and Beck warns Roger that he's going to regret it if he treats this new
  monstrosity as a mere toy.  It's too late for Orson to leave the battle now,
  but he's got no qualms about flying alongside his old wingman.  Atena's never
  seen her uncle so happy.

  The next round, Charles and Renton come on the scene.  Charles had just been
  trying to give Renton a demo of his Spearhead, but he's found himself a
  battle to participate in.  He tells Renton that there's no rule against mercs
  getting into fights just for the hell of it, and wants to pay Renton's
  friends back for the help they offered.  He'll even keep Renton's presence a
  secret.

  As Charles heads into battle, he cranks up the tunes, telling Renton that
  music isn't something you can see, but rather something you have to feel with
  your skin.  Trapars are the same way: you can't see them, but you have to
  feel them with your heart if you want to "ride" them.  Everything in the
  world comes down to who experiences the better pleasure, which is precisely
  the principle that brought Renton to the Gekkostate in the first place.  Not
  the *only* thing, mind, but that's about all he's got time to realize.

  Roger's aesthetics are destined to clash with Beck's as long as Beck is
  alive, though Roger allows that at least Beck spent a bit more money on his
  latest monstrosity.  He even admits that its power is better than before, but
  just then Big O inputs some kind of information directly into his brain.
  Roger learns of two more of Big O's hidden weapons, the O Thunder and Plasma
  Gimmick.  Roger would dearly love to know why this happened: is some kind of
  enemy approaching that he *must* use these weapons on?

  Greta still professes to be in the prime of her life, saying that as long as
  the fragrance of womanhood lingers within her, she'll never grow old.  That
  kind of vitality is worth learning from in Enil's book, but Garrod just hopes
  that Tifa won't look like that when she's Greta's age.

  Gelaba gets trounced soundly, and is crying again as he flees the field
  "sooner than his brother".  Holler fumes at the implication he's going to
  lose too, and Rand and the others are really starting to sympathize with the
  perennial loser.  Holler in turn blames his own failure on not having a
  studly enough Walker Machine, though Jiron doesn't seem particularly worried
  as Holler scuttles off.

  Zacky pulls out before the ZEUTH's onslaught costs him his life, and Artham
  fumes at how "little" it took.  Gain tells him not to think that he can just
  move people around like pawns.  Artham also vows to return with renewed
  strength and renewed vengeance.  He's always been like this: serious to a
  fault.

  It's simply Beck's fate to lose miserably to Roger, and he advises Beck to
  accept it without any more fuss.  Beck tells him not to act so hot just
  'cause he's a Dominus, and Roger demands to know how he knows that word.
  Beck has no clue: it just popped into his memory.  He vows to win next time
  (yeah right), leaving Roger to ponder why Beck's missing memories contain
  information about Roger himself.  What is this hidden Truth that Schwarz
  spoke of?

With the battle over, Charles heads home, telling ZEUTH not to sweat the
Friends' ATM Network of battle favors.  He still reckons that they've given him
and Ray more than they got back, though he won't say what he means by that.
Orson and Atena leave too, and Atena tells Kei in no uncertain terms that
she'll never accept him as her father.  This saddens Kei no small amount, since
even her little habits as a pilot mirror his own.  Orson apologizes to his old
friend, telling him that Atena's belief that Kei made her mother unhappy is the
one thing he wasn't able to break her of in all these years.  Kei tells him
it's not his fault, fessing up to not being anywhere near an ideal partner for
Tiina.  Orson says that if he cares about Atena, he should consider his offer,
but Kei reminds him that he's never been the sort to enjoy himself at the
expense of others.  Orson might want to reconsider how much allegiance he
thinks he owes Chiram, since he was never like that before either.

Just then, the Glomar flies up with terrible news: Kids' main force is
attacking the main ZEUTH detachment.  That suddenly makes sense, given that
Timp and Kashimar weren't present.  Apparently some kind of monstrous relics
from the Black History have even gotten into the act, and everyone piles aboard
the Glomar and rushes to the scene.  That includes Roger, wondering if the
Truth Angel mentioned awaits there...

As expected, Wesley confronts Orson with the report Robert filed.  Orson's got
his own version of events, and requests suitable punishment for Robert's act of
insubordination.  Wesley tells Orson that whatever else happened, it's true
that he let a chance to eliminate the Singularity escape, and that he's demoted
to Colonel.  He's also ordered to return to the homeland at once, with the
threat of immediate execution as a traitor awaiting should he refuse.  He
promises to return, though he knows that what awaits him is likely a long stint
in prison.  Then again, he actually does have another option -- perhaps Kei,
every bit his old self, is actually treading the better path...


34G. Wrath of the Railroad King

Jun and Tsugumi are supposed to be running errands, but Jun's stopped by the
arcade and discovered he has a talent for Overman Battle.  He makes it all the
way to the fifth opponent, which soundly kicks his ass and earns him some
derision from a nearby girl.  Jun can't deny that he lost, but he tells her
that his older friend would totally hand her butt to her.  Bring him on, she
says, so she can visit a butt-handing on him instead.  Gainer and the crew
actually do walk over, but only to haul Jun back to the ship before Hilda gets
mad at them.  The girl asks if Gainer is running away, but Sara hotly informs
her that they're in the middle of something far more important than gaming.
The girl grins and asks what Sara is to Gainer, and after some hemming and
hawing she says that she's his "comrade".  Only a comrade?  Crushing.

However, all isn't lost: the girl suggests that Gainer come with her to the
photo booth for a memorial photo: how often do the King and the Queen get
together?  Whoa, hold the phone.  She introduces herself at last: Cynthia Rehn,
Gainer's great rival for the top of the Overman Battle world.  Sara insists on
the spot on accompanying the two on their impromptu date, in her words to keep
Gainer out of "trouble".  That's fine with Cynthia, who says "the more, the
merrier".

Artham's crew have sent word that they're on the trail of the Black Southern
Cross, and Kids tells Angel to let them do whatever they want, wanting to use
Artham's resolve while it's still intact.  It all plays into Kids' massive plan
to save Siberian face by crushing the ZEUTH.  Timp and _former_ transport
battalion commander Kashimar are being sent to deal with the main fleet, and
Kashimar really wants his old job back should he succeed.  That's fine with
Kids too, and he tells Kashimar not to push himself too hard: Kids came in
person for more reasons than just overseeing the ZEUTH business.  He won't
clarify that, except to say that it'll begin Siberian Rail's domination of all
the world's continents.

Cynthia returns at that moment from her fun outing, and Kids tells her to get
ready to sortie right away: it's time for the Agate Crystal to visit divine
punishment on the ZEUTH!

In fact, Gainer and Sara got seriously chewed out for foisting the shopping off
onto Jun and the others.  Rand's kind of pleased though, wanting to toast
Gainer for being a big enough man to shirk his duty to drag his girl all over
town.  Doesn't take much for Rand to hit the bottle, it seems, and pointing
that out sarcastically doesn't faze him one bit.  That kind of tranquility only
comes from making it past 25, but the drinking part is a bit gloomier for
Gain's absence.  At least there's still Gaury and Adette to guzzle with;
Holland's in way too foul a mood to make good company.

Suddenly, Elchi has an epiphany, of sorts.  She's been pondering why the
Hundred Demons would be checking out the Innocent Dome, and suddenly concludes
that they're trying to learn from their culture.  This sounds like total bunk,
and raises the question why they'd be after the Innocent culture in particular
with so many other world cultures to choose from.  Elchi points out proudly
that the Innocent are the descendants of a much older culture that was
destroyed in the past, and that their devotion to that past must have captured
the demon's hearts.  Unlikely they're romantic, but in a way it reminds Anna of
her father's avid antiquities collecting.  Those antiquities, including
Gainer's mech, date all the way back to the Black History and the original
Meeya's exodus some twelve millennia ago.  Elchi finds plenty of romance in the
notion of a distant age, shrouded in mystery and shadow, but Rand doubts those
shadows hide anything too romantic.

All further talk is interrupted by a giant object plummeting from the sky, damn
near squashing everyone.  This is Kids' "Agate Gravity" attack, proof that the
Agate Crystal and Kids have come in person.  Yes, that giant mass _is_ the
Agate Crystal, sort of a mobile fortress for Siberian Rail.  Kids doesn't let
ZEUTH put too much distance between themselves and him, and sends out a massive
force to vent his rage.  He's got the money to buy as many troops as he wants,
but numbers aren't, contrary to Enge's thinking, everything.  ZEUTH will have
to deal with the mystery Overman they fought back in Yapan: the Dominator.
Jamir sends the Glomar off to pick up Garrod and friends while he and the
others hold the fort here.  Kids finds ZEUTH's confidence almost funny, and
destined to end once the relic of the Black History revives.

  Cynthia vows to squish anyone who gets in the way of her playing with
  Gainer... unless they can make things even more fun for her.  Gainer finally
  recognizes her voice and tells her to stop the jokes: this isn't a game!  He
  doesn't want to fight her, and says there's plenty of other ways of having
  fun together besides blowing each other's brains out.  He doesn't want to
  fight his friend (to Holland's intense disgust), and Marin tells him that if
  he's that determined, he'd better turn that determination into action.  He'd
  better come up with something if he doesn't want to feel the crushing regret
  Marin himself is feeling.  Holland can't believe anyone's talking about
  finesse during a battle like this, but as the most reckless guy in the whole
  bunch he's hardly in a position to talk.  What Gainer decides, with input
  from Sara, is that Cynthia doesn't understand what "fighting" really means,
  and needs to learn a hard lesson.

  As he fights her, he quickly realizes that her bloodlust is genuine enough:
  is it because she can't distinguish games from reality that she can kill so
  easily?  In any case, when beaten down the first time, she says it's time for
  round two, hoping Kids is watching.  Adette remembers rumors of this strange
  girl who is Kids' secret weapon, which means that Kids must be making Cynthia
  fight from inside his fortress.  That's all the reason she needs to charge
  inside, with Cynthia in hot pursuit.

  There don't appear to be any enemies left outside the fortress, but that
  changes rapidly when some Fallen Angels appear.  Sylvia fumes that they
  always seem to appear at just this kind of time, but Liina says that this
  time they're not here after you.  Instead, they're after what Tifa calls the
  Water Devil, which is about to awaken...

Gainer and Sara find themselves in a frozen wonderland inside the Agate
Crystal, seemingly a different world from the heat outside.  As they look
around in puzzlement, they hear a howl that could literally freeze the blood.
A mass of ice in the center of the chamber shivers and begins to move, as
Marchino appears out of the water and demands to know what idiot is moving the
Overdevil.  Cynthia catches up then, and tells Gainer to come outside where
they can finish the game.  Gainer yells back that fighting isn't a game, but
Cynthia can't think of anything else that stirs her blood.  Her mother, and her
other mother, were both great Overman pilots, which she says explains why she
has so much fun piloting too.  The howl comes again, and Gainer tells Sara that
they'd better flee fast.  Cynthia's glad to see that Gainer's getting serious,
since it isn't fun playing with him unless he is.

Gainer rushes back out, telling everyone that some terrible danger is about to
overshadow this place.  His and Cynthia's Overmen both start glowing,
confirming Kids' theory that they're kin to the Overdevil.  Cynthia loves
having her Overskill powered up, but Gainer's sick of being pushed around by
some power he doesn't understand.  Cynthia seizes the opportunity and smacks
him around, declaring herself the victor.  She's in the midst of telling him
that he'd be pretty good with more practice when Sara notices that Gainer is
bleeding badly.  Cynthia draws up in shock, realizing for the first time that
this is *her* fault.  Cynthia never expected this to happen, so caught up in
the fun of fighting with King, but Sara yells at her to think like an adult for
a change: there are *real people* in *real* Overmen!  Rand shouts to Sara to
grab King Gainer and pull out *now*, as Jamir orders a flank-speed retreat.

Before they can, the Overdevil bursts from the fortress and immediately comes
under fire from the Fallen Angels.  Liina can sense that the Fallens fear this
thing's reawakening, and given how quickly they get annihilated, it's small
wonder.  Kids revels in seeing the mortal enemies fight, thinking that if he
can control this thing, the world is his.

Gain and friends show up at that point, and Gain isn't happy to see an ancient
Ahri-Overman menacing everyone.  If this is the truth of the Black History
Angel mentioned, Roger might have preferred not to see it.  ZEUTH do the
sensible thing and bail without delay, leaving Kids to gloat and Cynthia to
regret what she's done to both Gainer and Sara.

Garrod relates his decision to leave Renton alone until he's found his own
answers, which relieves Tex greatly.  He was worried Renton's only motivation
was the animosity with Holland, but Renton's got more going on in his head than
that.  Tifa is looking forward to both Renton and Eureka changing.  Instead of
a Renton, Garrod's brought a Paula; see the other side for all her background
info.  Enil also came along, having finally tired of clinging to her pride and
determined to live honestly to herself from now on.  The two girls are more
than welcome, but man did they pick a bad time to arrive: that Overdevil is far
beyond ZEUTH's ken.  The crew isn't so fortunate that they could just leave the
Overdevil and Fallen Angels to kick each others' ass, are they?

As for Gainer, the poor guy bled like a stuck pig but isn't in danger of his
life.  Sara's keeping watch on him now.  Over comes Holland of all people,
having heard about Renton's decision from Gain.  He's got a question for
Garrod: is it true that the mercs he met were named "Charles" and "Ray"?
Garrod totally wasn't expecting that question, and answers in the affirmative:
a husband-wife combo that struck him like a tanuki and a fox.  That's what
Holland feared, and he tells Jamir that the Gekkostate are going their own way:
not to leave the rest of the team behind as bait, but to settle a growing set
of scores in their own fashion.  If Garrod really met the Charles and Ray he
knows, they'll be coming sooner or later anyway, as his and Eureka's enemies.
Jamir, well-practiced at seeing deep into people's eyes despite his sunglasses
and the iffy lighting in the hangar, can tell that Holland's finally gained
some measure of introspection.  Or maybe that's just Jamir's Newtype powers
talking?  In any case, Holland's seen both the alien and game-boy stake their
ass on what they believe in, utterly unconcerned with failure.  The least
Holland can do is do likewise, and Jamir isn't the sort to press him for
details.  He tells Holland to go handle his business and not worry about the
team here, and Rand says he better whoop some serious ass.  Holland finally
gets something of a smile on his face, and tells the repairman that this is the
sort of time when he never misses.  He assures Rand that when he gets back
he'll buy him a drink, in return for giving him an earful of all kinds of
boring stuff...

Gainer soon recovers enough to see a few guests, who all tell him not to worry
about the Siberian Rail business and rest.  Adette shoos everyone out to give
Gainer some quality time with Sara, but Ryouma worries to his teammates that
Gainer's heart still needs a lot of healing before anything positive happens.
Benkei's not surprised, given Gainer was hurt by a friend who, to be sure,
seems to have received quite a shock herself.  Sara asks Gainer if he wants to
eat something before taking a nap, but Gainer's thoughts are far away, on the
month before the Exodus...  The month when his parents were killed and he never
left his room.  It was then that Cynthia befriended him, and he's concluded
that it's his turn -- as her friend -- to do something for her.  He wants to
tell her what's right and what's wrong, and Sara soberly says that Cynthia must
be very much like Gainer used to be.  Sara guesses that Cynthia must be
terribly lonely, as someone who's been very lonely herself.  She wants to be
with Gainer when they go meet her again, and Gainer couldn't be more grateful.
For that to work out, she tells Gainer to concentrate on healing himself,
bidding him good night.  In the darkness after her footsteps fade, Gainer
ponders his Overman's, and Cynthia's Overman's, response to the Overdevil.  He
knows he'll have to get much stronger to save her: stronger than she is,
stronger than Gain, stronger than the Overdevil and even stronger than King
Gainer itself.


35R. Morning Glory

Flash back to a heartbreaking scene in a hospital, where Ray's just gotten
terrible news: she can no longer have children, thanks to the massive Trapar
flux she's endured.  She breaks down and cries on the shoulder of the man she
loves, who tells his "honey bunny" that he wants to marry her.  She can't
believe he'd actually want her, but in fact he wants no one else.  Perhaps that
light took their future away, but he feels like he can find a different one if
she's by his side, children or no children.  She can only smile and nod happily
at that point...

Charles is filling Renton in on the Overdevil rampage in the area, caused as
the name implies by a type of Overman.  From what Ray's heard, it was awakened
by Kids Muntz to get revenge on a certain group who helped an Exodus, a group
called "ZEUTH".  Charles has even heard the Gekkostate are among them, but
Renton temporizes while privately aghast at all that's happened since he left.
Charles notices his expression and asks if he's into the Gekkostate, which
Renton is somewhat surprised he's heard of.  Charles laughs and says he's been
a boarder since the day he was born, specializing in the bigger-wheeled boards.
Renton protests that the bigger wheels cut down the number of tricks you can
do, but Charles tells him to ignore all the magazines that say real boarders
don't use wheels at all.  What matters when Lif'ing is that you have fun,
regardless of what others say, and Renton sees the truth of it at once.
Charles then asks a much bigger question: is Renton willing to call him and Ray
"papa" and "mama"?  Renton can't respond immediately, and not because he isn't
flattered.  What he is worried about how to go from being a dependent child to
at least a semblance of an adult.  He offers to start with "father" and
"mother" and go from there, since he never even referred to his own parents as
"papa" and "mama".

Charles digests that a bit, and with a more serious look on his face, asks if
Renton Thurston, "former" member of the Gekkostate, doesn't actually want to
return to his crew.  Renton is shocked that he knows his name, and Charles
tells him that his real job is freelance contractor to the Federation commando
forces.  In fact, he's in the middle of a mission to capture Eureka and the
Type Zero, and wipe out the Gekkostate.  Who, as it turns out, are traveling
apart from the main ZEUTH force in the area.  Renton's shock turns into
downright anguish, and he half yells, half pleads with Charles to say that this
is some kind of lie or joke.  Not at all.  Charles knows Holland's a sharp guy,
and suspects he's actually figured out he and Ray are here, and is inviting
their attack.

They've decided to take Holland up on his offer, but before they do they want
to know what Renton really feels.  He feels awful, saying he'll practice day
and night for the "papa" and "mama" bit if this all could just be a lie.
Charles tells him he's got to choose: return to the Gekkostate, stay here with
them, or even run away from both.  One thing Renton can't control is Charles
fighting Holland and the Gekkostate, but he can decide his own fate with the
assurances that Charles will honor it.  Renton thinks a long moment, and asks
whether Charles got close to him in the first place because he knew Renton was
from the Gekkostate.  Ray, who's struggling to keep her emotions in check,
starts to say "of course that's why, otherwise who'd take in a kid like...
like..." and has to choke back her tears.  Renton tells them he's going, and
Charles tells Renton something Renton's real father used to say.  "Don't ask,
do, and ye shall receive."  He asks Renton if there's someone he wants to be
with, even if the end of the world comes, saying that such people are lucky
indeed.  Or in reverse: perhaps life is the search for that person.  Renton
thanks them both with a deep nod of his head and runs off, Charles calling him
his son in spirit if not in blood.  He wonders if Renton will go back to the
Gekkostate, and Ray's sure he'll make it through -- sure because he's their
son.

Holland stops by the convenience store, startled to see Eureka (still with
silly hat) minding the counter.  He tells her to leave that to Renton before
realizing that Renton isn't actually there at the moment.  She tells Holland
that she's feeling a lot better now, and asks when Renton will be home.
Holland guesstimates another two or three days, and Eureka asks if it's really
a good idea to be off on their own with that Overdevil lurking around.  Holland
says to leave that to Jamir and the others while Gekkostate sees to its own
business.  He adds that he'll return to the rest of ZEUTH once that business is
done, but Eureka wonders whether Renton will really be back by then.

Meanwhile, Talho gets a very startling question from Misha, on Eureka's behalf:
what is love.  This is an even more serious turn than when Eureka became the
little kiddies' foster mother, though Misha is quick to point out that Eureka
having an interest in love does not equal Eureka *being* in love.  Of course
the first thing the crew does is mention this to Holland, who's got a lot more
on his mind right now.  He growls that there'd be no point in telling Eureka
that Renton ran away, reminding the crew what it means to have Ray and Charles
on their tail.  The crew know Ray and Charles as implacable, relentless foes
always sniffing for an opening, and are just glad that Garrod gave them advance
warning this time.

Holland's willing to stake everything on a decisive battle, which explains the
Gekkostate's solo act.  Hap says Holland should be happy Jamir praised his
"introspection", and Holland doesn't sound like he likes being psychoanalyzed
by someone who's had problems of their own, even if they're tided over now.
Kengou tells him that Jamir grew much stronger by shedding his outer skin: now
it's Holland's turn.  It's inevitable that Eureka will find out about Renton's
departure sooner or later, and highly likely that she's actually in love with
the kid.  The bridge crew debate how to lure the kid back until Holland can't
stand it any more, yelling at them all to shut the fuck up.  He growls that
Renton, kid though he might be, ain't just wandering around like some dumb fuck
with his dick out -- he's actually got something real on his mind that made him
leave.

Holland's so worked up about this that he failed to notice Eureka walking up
behind him, and of course hearing the whole thing.  She runs off, and Holland
after her, and the bridge crew realizes that, in his way, Holland was actually
caring about Renton.  The crew is now feeling pretty bad, especially since
their normally accurate gauge of how Holland's feeling turned out to be way
off.

As though adding insult to injury, even the little kids knew Renton had run
away, though Holland told them not to tell.  Eureka tells them to leave
everything to her, saying they must be pretty bored with Renton gone.  Holland,
having finally located her, runs over.  She asks him if Renton left because of
something she did, and why Holland hates him so much.  Holland says that it's
just that it's because Renton's so much a little kid, but Eureka asks if that's
a reason to hit him and kick him.  Is that why Holland's not going to look for
him?  At least that there's a somewhat good reason for: Charles is coming, and
she knows how dangerous he is.  And there's one other reason: he's the one
person who treasures her even more than Renton does.  She digests that, and
after a moment says that the feeling isn't mutual.  Before Holland can reply,
the alarm sounds and Matthew tells Holland that the enemy's here.  They haven't
clearly sighted the Shiratori, but there's plenty of Federation soldiers at
least.  Holland curses having fallen into Charles' trap, and tells Eureka to
look after the kids while he goes out to fight.  After he runs off, Eureka
tells the kids to go hide, and they wish her luck for what they know she's
about to do.  Eureka knows the Nirvash won't work well for her, and she can't
count on Holland, so she's got one option left.  She's got no time for tea with
Gonzy this time, determined to do for Renton what Renton's done for her so
often.

The Feds are coming fast and furious, and it's pretty clear that Charles is
going to swoop in *after* the Gekkostate's been weakened.  Little or no help
can be expected from the rest of ZEUTH, who're busy fighting the water monster.
Holland tells them that they're the Gekkostate, and need no one's help, which
makes him pretty much exactly like Renton.  Just as Renton ran away from the
Gekkostate, so did Holland run from the rest of ZEUTH.  Not the Gekkostate,
Holland specifically.  But, as Holland also said, Renton's out there somewhere
giving it his all -- and the rest of Gekkostate has to follow his lead and show
themselves worthy of all Renton's admiration for them.  Now that Holland can
agree with.

He tells his people that they've got to force their way out of here one way or
another, and admonishes them not to die.  Talho returns the admonition, as
Holland ponders the life he's led.  Turning as far away as possible, running as
far as possible: it's all he's had!

  Bad news on turn 1.5, Eureka seems to have taken a Board and gone off to
  search for Renton, in disobedience of Holland's orders.  Holland's coming to
  terms with just how important Renton is to Eureka...

  Renton flies into the area on turn 3, but he doesn't expect to be able to
  just walk back into the Gekkostate.  The only reason he's come back is to see
  Eureka, and Holland finally smiles and says that NOW he's talking.  This is
  about the same time that the Shiratori shows up, and the first thing on Ray's
  list is blowing Eureka, a "monster", away with her mothership.  Charles asks
  if she's willing to sacrifice the Shiratori to pull this off, and she says
  that with Renton gone she doesn't need a "home".  Charles tells her that they
  can build a new one after they win.

  They eject and fling the Shiratori at the Gekko, knowing that the Gekko might
  be able to dodge, but Eureka cannot.  Renton blasts off in the Nirvash,
  urging it to go to Eureka and saving her by the narrowest of margins.
  They've got a lot to say to each other, but for now Nirvash says via Eureka
  welcome back to Renton.  Ray didn't expect Renton to save Eureka's bacon,
  that's for sure.  As she monitors the Amita engine, Misha tells Holland that
  it requires *both* of them to work: neither can do it alone.  What they're
  witnessing isn't Sevenswell, but something much more important.  Holland
  can't, or won't, admit it, and also can't figure out what the feeling washing
  over him is.

  Dewey's sent in a bunch of unasked-for "help", but Ray doesn't care about
  them or Holland anymore.  She just wants to talk to Renton again, and he's
  right there in the Type Zero.  She wants to tell him about the "monster"
  before it's too late, though she promises Charles that she'll help take out
  both Eureka and Holland too.  Before any more women like her are made...

  ZEUTH then zooms on the scene, having defeated the Overdevil in large part
  due to Gainer's heroics.  Jamir tells Holland to concentrate on his battle
  while the rest of ZEUTH holds off the interlopers, his thanks for all he
  learned watching Holland back in Zondarepter.  Is that why Jamir thinks
  Holland should reexamine his past too?  Jamir says that everything done here
  is for the sake of the future.  Both Holland and Renton seem to have found
  their respective answers, but there's still Charles and Ray to deal with.
  Holland still has leadership qualities, and he isn't going to let the two of
  them just take him out without a fight.  Renton tells Eureka that he may take
  someone's life if he keeps fighting, but he'll do that if that's what it
  takes to protect what he loves.  He'll fight even if it makes him a sinner:
  that's how he can be himself.

  Have Renton Persuade Ray.  He asks if any of this would have happened if he'd
  have stayed aboard the Shiratori and become their son: could he have actually
  made them happy?  She won't give him a straight answer, instead telling him
  to get off Nirvash so she can destroy the person next to him, who ought not
  to exist.  How could that be, when Eureka's such a nice person that she's
  even become a mother to some little kids?  "Mother"?!  Uh-oh, that really
  gets Ray's goat.  This "mama" sitting next to him has actually stolen the
  future of all mothers away, and now it's Ray's turn to steal Eureka's future
  in return.

  Also have Renton Persuade Charles, with whom he of course doesn't want to
  fight.  Charles doesn't want to fight him either, and tells him to withdraw,
  but Renton can't bear to watch his friends killing each other senselessly.
  Since Renton sided with the Gekkostate, Charles tells him that he needs to
  see it through to the very end.  Everything one acquires in this world comes
  at the price of losing something else.  He tells Renton to prove that he can
  defend what's most important to him, as both his and Adrock's son.

  Charles and Holland were once the top two Heads in the SOF, and Charles has
  to hand it to Dewey for bringing them back together.  Holland still hates
  Dewey's guts, and Charles tells him that that sense of attachment makes
  Holland weak.  And he knows Holland knows it.  Charles realized when he met
  Dewey who the rightful inheritor of the Kingship and the royal golden scepter
  is, and it ain't Holland.  Holland's more than happy to let the guy have it,
  not interested in kingship or anything like it, though he won't outright say
  what it is he's fighting for.

  Ray tells Holland that she'll never accept the "monster"'s existence, but
  Holland yells that it wasn't Eureka's fault and tells her to drop the
  misplaced grudge already.  She means to take out both Eureka and Holland, her
  protector, and become Renton's mother for real.  Then have Renton
  (reluctantly) shoot her down, tormented as she was by thoughts of the family
  she couldn't have.  This inflames Charles, who shrugs off Renton's pleas not
  to fight anymore by saying that everyone's got to find meaning for themselves
  in how they live their lives.

  Charles tells Renton that freedom is a big responsibility: you can do
  anything you want, and you get to pay the consequences just as easily.  He'd
  better make sure he's prepared.  Renton shoots him down too, with no other
  choice, and Holland tells the departing guy that there's no hard feelings.

This was a battle that no one could have averted, sadly.  Renton tells Eureka
that he ran into these two while he was away from home, two of those who helped
him figure out what really matters in life.  Eureka feels like she learned
something about that too from her confidants.  In any case, Renton and Eureka
now have the time to tell each other all the things they've been holding
inside.  Renton's presence means more to the whole Gekkostate than perhaps they
realized at first, Holland included: he starts laughing, thinking to Dianne
that it's now clear what he's got to do with his life.

Renton gets a briefing on what the main fleet had to deal with when tangling
with that Overdevil, a creature created to fight the Fallen Angels.  Now,
Aquarion and Gainer are of course from different universes, but according to a
vision-dream Liina had, the two worlds have been in conflict at least once
before.  Everything revolves around the "Black History" mystery, from whose
depths the Overdevil came.  Only through Gainer's superlative efforts were
ZEUTH able to defeat it, and Gainer credits the rest of the team for helping
him train.  Strong though he's become, he still hasn't been able to thaw
Cynthia's heart, raised as it was under Kids' icy shadow.  It seems both the
main ZEUTH force and the Renton search party have gained a lot during their
time apart.

Holland then comes over, letting Renton start their long-overdue face-to-face
talk.  Renton asks if there was any way to avert the fight with Ray and
Charles, and Holland tells him that they, like he and Eureka, were both part of
the SOF.  Ray and Charles wanted to start a family together, but Ray was
sterilized by the Summer Of Love incident.  She believes Eureka's to blame for
its occurrence, which is why she strove so hard to end Eureka's life.  He tells
Renton that he'll stake his own life on protecting both Renton and Eureka, but
if anything should happen to him, he wants Renton to promise he'll protect
Eureka in his stead.  He says he fought Charles and Ray because that's the only
thing he knows how to do -- but Renton's been chosen.

Rand then runs over, telling Holland the rest of the talk will have to wait.
The Feds have just launched a full-scale offensive against the Chiram.  Raven
hadn't heard a word about it, which must mean that the Titans or Blue Cosmos
are in direct control.  The news came from the Archangel, and Jamir and Shaia
want to head to Chiram and see for themselves.  Rand asks what Holland wants to
do, and Holland's plenty worried about what the Feds are up to now.  He tells
Renton that the world is about to start really moving now, and that he and
Eureka are at the center of it all.  Holland's betting on the two of them
seeing everyone through.  As everyone runs to their stations, Gainer has to
wonder if defeating the Overdevil has really put a stop to all that mess.
Maybe he's just worried because King Gainer is akin to the Overdevil's family?

So much for Kids' invincible plan to rule the world.  If only it weren't for
that darn dreadlocked Overman and its sensible pilot!  No, Oversensible.  Kids
asks Malchio if he's even more powerful than Cynthia, Malchio's grand-
daughter, which Malchio doesn't dignify with an answer.  Kids tries telling her
that Cynthia's got a big thing for family, and that he'd love to tell her that
her grandmother is still alive, but Malchio doubts Cynthia would want to hear
that her grandmother's been frozen inside the Agate Crystal while her mother
was killed by the Overdevil.

Artham then bursts in, demanding to know what the deal was with that weak-sauce
"Devil" Overman.  Kids tells him that that was only one of the Overdevils, and
not an especially big one either.  Guess Artham should have done a bit more
homework, especially if he wants to actually pilot an Overdevil someday.  Kids
saw in one of Medaiyu's books an image of the Fallen Angels and Overdevils
fighting it out, only to have the whole mess ended by the advent of the mighty
Angels.  He tells Artham that an even mightier Overdevil slumbers within the
Agate Crystal, and that the Fallen Angels are sure to awaken it at the rate
they're going.  Ignoring Malchio's dire warnings, he's determined to put the
strongest Oversense-bearer into it and make the mightiest power in the world.

That's all Artham needs to hear, and he demands that Kids get out of the way so
he can have that Overdevil for himself.  He tries knocking Kids' block off when
he won't move, but his punch -- supposedly conditioned by years of the finest
martial arts -- does exactly jack shit.  Kids' counterattack staggers Artham
badly, and as they fight, the true Overdevil awakens.  Artham can sense its
immense devilish power, laughing in joy.  However, the Overdevil won't accept
him, since his Sense isn't strong enough.  He cries out in disbelief just as
Cynthia and Kashimar return, and he immediately starts arguing with the girl.
He only gave her any respect because he thought she was worth using, but seeing
as how Gainer beat her there's no more point in that.  This pisses her off, and
the Overdevil seems to respond and come after her.  Kashimar tries to
intervene, but gets frozen solid for his pains.  The Overdevil is trying to
make her into the Queen of Ice, as in times of old, and she's unwilling to say
the least.

Not that she has any say in the matter.  It seems Artham is destined to get
*none* of what he wants, including Karin's heart or Gain's power.  He screams
out at the top of his lungs, offering it his despair-filled soul, making such
an impassioned plea that the Overdevil seems to respond.  He wants to
Overfreeze the whole world, and Kids hastily orders everyone to retreat and
abandon the Agate Crystal.  As his ship tears off, he orders messages sent to
Siberian forces the world over.  Angel is observing the whole mess, watching
the world move one step closer to its end.  The truth, the great power, will be
the last thing to show up.  And for all that Artham wants to freeze the whole
world, Cynthia just wants Gainer to somehow warm her up, before she freezes
entirely...

After the battle, Gainer makes a quick trip to the Bazaar to buy a welcome-home
present for Renton.  His plan is to sell off his rare autographed disc, seeing
as how he no longer needs it himself.  He and Garrod are especially sensitive
to how painful it must be for Renton, having actually lived with Ray and
Charles for a while.  What he comes up with is a one-of-a-kind big wheel
attachment for Renton's Lif board.  Made for tricks, it's fallen out of fashion
with the current crowd because it reduces board speed... but it still has
numerous hard-core fans among those in the know.  Hand-made items such as this
are traded among boarders as the rarest of the rare items.

The wheel reminds Renton all the more of Charles' words, but he's determined
not to let the memory be a bad one.  Renton promises Gainer he'll treasure this
wheel, planning to get good at big-wheel tricks like Charles when everything
settles down.  He'll never forget the way of life his "mama" and "papa" taught
him.

[This is the route I kept.]


35G. Over Battle

Kids is entirely unconcerned that the Overdevil is rampaging throughout the
countryside, writing it off to mere happiness at being awake again after so
long.  When the time comes to rein it in, someone with heightened Oversense
will get to combine with it and bring forth its true powers.  That's where
Cynthia comes in.  Still, it's a shame to waste the Overdevil's playfulness
entirely, so Kids orders Kashimar and Timp to lead the Overdevil to ZEUTH.
Kashimar plans to use the failure-prone Breakers as possible cannon fodder for
this dangerous mission.  Angel then reports that a certain elderly woman has
arrived at the Agate Crystal, and Kids tells her to see she's treated well.
After all, she's got a lot of work ahead of her.

Cynthia meanwhile thinks about all the Overman gamers Kids brought into his
stables, and how each one would disappear once he lost.  But Gainer's the one
person who never disappeared, always the only one keeping her company.  Artham
asks her why she's so down when she's done so well in battle, and she tells him
she's having second thoughts about her motivation to make Kids happy.  Artham
tells her her nerves are on edge from her Oversense, and says that letting
herself cry will make her stronger.  Timp watches the scene with a jaundiced
smile from the sidelines, reckoning Artham's gone from an incestuous sister
obsession to full-blown lolita-philia.  That is, unless it's some twisted part
of his master plan to take Gain down...

Word of the Overdevil rampage reaches the ZEUTH.  Since this is a lawless area,
the Feds won't be coming to try to quell it either.  Adette doubts that this is
the avaricious Kids' idea of world domination; more likely, it's akin to a
child playing with a new toy.  She figures that once he gets tired of watching
it, he'll use its presence as a threat and force the world to let Siberian
tracks cross the globe... cornering the world market on transport and commerce
as a side effect.  Kids' main motivation is just seeing how far his tracks can
go, like some overgrown spoiled kid.  As for why Roger's coming along, he tells
Rand that "Angel", who he remembers from Paradigm city, has now become Kids'
personal secretary.  She told Roger that a relic from the Black History is
about to awaken, and with it, the Truth that mummy-man Schwarz was babbling
about.  Whatever this "Truth" is, it doesn't sound very safe to Rand, and Roger
fully expects it to portend some kind of ruin, wreckage, destructification and
generalized fragdown.  He's about had it up to here with the negativity, and is
determined to show that the rampage the Overdevil is on can't really be the
world's Truth.  ZEUTH is ready to roll as soon as they get a fix on the
Overdevil's position, but the real question is Gainer.  Who, it turns out, has
been videogaming nonstop as soon as he got out of bed.

Gainer has vowed to surpass himself, and regain the moniker of King that he
lost when Cynthia defeated him.  To do that, he's had King Gainer connected
directly to the UN, and is accepting all challengers in a bid to become even
mightier than the mech itself.  Several ZEUTH pilots show up and volunteer to
be his opponents: who better than people with actual combat experience?  And a
vast array of expertise?  Apollo's gotten trained by Fudou often enough, and is
looking forward to doing the training for a change.  Gainer's grateful, and
looking forward to bettering himself just as Renton is doing, somewhere out
there.

The ZEUTH eventually make it to the battle area, where all the Breakers wait.
Holler's even got a ship to command again, though he's nowhere near satisfied
with the broken-down relic.  Still, it's the best he can get in time for his
last chance for vengeance on Jiron -- last chance because even the resilient
Jiron isn't expected to survive this.  Kids is already envisioning prospective
Exodizers shivering in their boots when footage of the carnage gets out, and
already planning what to do when he rules the world.  He tells Cynthia to show
him her superlative Oversense.

Gainer won't know if all the training worked until he tries, but he _does_
intend to try and is optimistic about his chances.  Now all he's got to do is
execute, and pass 100 "kills".  Rand and the others tell Gainer to concentrate
on throwdown with Cynthia while they take on the big Angel-killing beastie.
Artham actually sounds like he wants Gain to live through the encounter, if
only so he can have the pleasure of killing him personally later.

  When Rand first tangles with the Overdevil, he tells Mail to take plenty of
  pictures.  Once footage of the Beater Service doing monster extermination
  gets out on the Net, they'll be celebrities for sure.  The problem is the
  monster's howl, which produces a cold akin to one's soul perishing.  Tifa
  says that it's actually a song: one whose purpose is to freeze.  As though
  answering in kind, a horde of Fallen Angels appear.  Liina now sees what's
  going on: in the distant past, when men used the mechanical angel Aquarion to
  face the Fallens, they also created several forbidden powers, of which the
  Overdevil is one.  Wait, how could that be when Aquarion and Gainer are from
  two different worlds?  Liina can't say, but notes that the Black History
  seems to hold the key.  At that word, new information flows from the Big O
  into Roger's head, reawakening memories of new weapons hidden within it.
  Does this mean that the Big O, too, is from the Black History?  If so, just
  what _is_ Paradigm City, and what value would it serve for a whole city full
  of people to have lost their memories?  In any case, even if King Gainer used
  to be one of the Overdevil's comrades, it's now on the good guys' side.

  Cynthia doesn't want to fight Gain if it means hurting him, and he tells her
  to go back to just playing games.  The problem is that Kids would be unhappy
  with her, and Gainer demands to know why his words don't reach her.  Is her
  heart frozen?  If so, he'll just have to stop her by force, overcoming
  himself in the process.  That's what Overskill is!

  This time Cynthia loses, but Gainer doesn't plan to take her life.  Instead,
  he asks her to play some more UN games with him.  Cynthia says she can't,
  since everyone who loses has to leave the dorms.  And that means she'll never
  find out about her mother.  In tears, she runs off, her heart frozen beyond
  what Gainer and Sara can melt.

  In due course, even the great Overdevil falls to the might of ZEUTH.  It's
  almost dawn, and around time to go pick up Holland and maybe enjoy that
  toast.  One thing that worries Gainer is that his mech seems to have grown
  stronger as the fight with the Overdevil proceeded: is it because King Gainer
  remembers it?  And will King Gainer eventually usurp his own will if things
  continue?

See the other path for the aftermath of the showdown with Ray and Charles, and
the mess with the true Overdevil.


36. Tomorrow Revealed

Jamir gets a status report on the Chiram war from Maryuu: North American
Federation forces are heading south, having already wiped out most of the
Chiran border guards.  Composed as it is of the premiere governments of the
various ingredients of this multi-dimensional world, the Feds are a force too
great for any one nation to stand up to.  The Archangel has been busy in Galia,
but it's been keeping tabs on the war through various journalists world-wide,
one of whom has been feeding real-time reports even faster than the UN.  Sara
asks if there's even a point in ZEUTH trying to intervene, since it sounds like
the Chiram cities may fall before ZEUTH could get there, and Maryuu tells her
that Zaft has already sent some troops to slow the Federation advance.

That said, they haven't been doing much more than observing so far.  Raven
suspects that Durandal is considering trying to merge the plants with Chiram,
which would be an odd move for someone who claims to want to end the fighting
as soon as possible.  Perhaps he's waiting for both sides to weaken each other
before proposing an alliance?  That would avoid much Zaft blood being shed
while still ending him up with a terrestrial toehold against the full
Federation might.  Probably an effective strategy, but no less harmful to the
overall course of world events in both Maryuu and Jamir's view.

Jamir's not sure how much his group of lawless resolutes can do to help resist,
but he intends to try.  His and Maryuu's forces plan to meet in Chiram's
capitol and prepare for what promises to be one hell of a battle.

Wesley has no good news for the Chiram leader: the Federation's new weapons are
crushing wave after wave of their soldiers.  At this rate, they'll reach the
capitol in two days' time, and the leader orders his men to prepare to pull
out, taking the time-space repair device with him.  He's sure that's what the
Feds are actually after, willing to burn Chiram to the ground to get it.
Wesley bristles at the thought, but the leader points out that that's just an
indicator of how important it and the D Project are.  Ironic that this would
result from the fools finally realizing how dire the world's predicament is.
Wesley can't say he's surprised, since the New Earth Federation includes the
always-antagonistic Atlantic Federation, cradle of the Blue Cosmos.  The leader
plans to keep both the world, and Chiram in it, intact with the D Project.

Interestingly, Orson has complied with the order to return to the capitol, and
the leader puts him in charge of the capitol guard.  He adds that Orson's death
is impermissible, telling him to sacrifice whatever must be sacrificed to live
through this mess.  While he doesn't doubt his country's technology per se, he
says that the spacetime repair device is merely a partial redeployment of the
spacetime concussion munition that Broke the world in the first place.  And we
know how well *that* went.  Best to have a Plan B, and in case the D Project
fails, it will fall to Orson and Kei to repair spacetime.  The leader believes
that the two of them won't let Chiram perish entirely.

The Federation advance continues unabated, and the Chiram leader actually has
to evacuate the capitol (and the repair device).  The capitol guards, heedless
of Orson's orders to keep their distance, charge the oncoming Federation weapon
and get summarily blown to smithereens.  Even its pilot, Stella, told them to
stay out of the way, but audibility must be bad in Chiram or something.  Large
chunks of the city have also been torched by Stella's indiscriminate barrage:
not bad for Jibril's little toy and the remnants of the Phantom Pain.  Basque
hopes that Scirocco takes a good look at how war ought to be waged, though
Sting privately sniffs that even he could easily do this much damage if he was
the Destroy's pilot.

Neo tells him not to undervalue his familiarity with his own mech, and Sting
asks where he managed to dig Stella up: she looks awfully familiar.  Neo
doesn't give him a straight answer, saying only that the orders came from above
and need not concern him.  Neo recalls privately how Sting had to have his
psychology readjusted just to stabilize him after the death of Owl, and that
Stella was so debilitated by becoming an enemy prisoner that they had to
recondition her too.  She was made into Destroy's pilot, and it's probably just
as well that they don't remember each other any more... given what's to come.
He's sorry he had to break his promise to the Zaft kid, who set Stella free in
the first place, never to force her to fight again.

What Basque doesn't expect is the _other_ half of ZEUTH to show up.  Greeting
them is a level of destruction way out of hand for any war, and all wrought by
the giant black Gundam facing them across the field.  It certainly looks the
part of an Angel of Destruction.  Kei may not have decided to return to Chiram
for good, but there's no way he or the rest of ZEUTH can just sit by and watch
this kind of carnage.  Holland's unhappy to see the army still up to its usual
dirty tricks, and Kei yells to Orson that ZEUTH fights for no country, only for
living people.  He tells Orson and Atena to help in the fight, but Orson orders
Atena to retreat with him and guard the spacetime repair device.  Countries can
be rebuilt, but only if the world is still around for them to be rebuilt _in_.
Orson now sees clearly what Kei's feelings are, and now asks Kei to give him
some time to think.  That's no problem for Kei, who's had Orson save his butt
countless times since their academy days.  Kei'll fill Mimsy and the others in
on the details later, but for now there are far bigger fish to fry.

Interestingly, Kira smells somehow irresolute to Apollo.  Hayato smirks and
attributes it to how disreputable the ZEUTH look, as the team quickly marvels
at how Cagalli is on the scene as well.  Kira doesn't really want to bust heads
here, but he's even less willing to see the tragedy of the previous war
repeated -- what Enil thinks is about one paper's width too much kindness on
his part.

  Things get unpleasant when a new set of forces show up: the other half of
  ZEUTH.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, animosity ensues, as both sides accuse each
  other of becoming rotten in their respective ways.  Aslan and Amuro have to
  tell their men to concentrate on the Federation enemies at hand, and Jamir
  figures that they won't be trying to attack his side of ZEUTH if their stated
  objective is stopping the Feds.  Holland adds that if the other ZEUTH try
  anything funny, they shouldn't hold back -- better pray that doesn't happen.
  Kira and Cagalli can't figure out why Aslan doesn't understand...

  Stella is way out of control, and Shin demands to know why she wants to kill
  this badly.  As he prepares to charge in, Neo yells at him to stop and tells
  him who's aboard it.  Camille yells out that unless Shin can stop her, this
  fight will never end.  Luckily, her machine is so huge that there's plenty of
  places to shoot without actually hitting the cockpit.  Shin doubts there's
  time for that, but Camille tells him that if he doesn't, it'll be like the
  mess with Four all over again.  Jamir's side of ZEUTH can only watch and
  wonder what Shin's up to.

  The other side of ZEUTH seem united in their cries to the Federation to stop
  mixing others up in their wars.

  Roger remembers this scene of a giant black figure towering over a sea of
  flame... or is it Big O who remembers?

  In the end, Neo couldn't save Sting, Owl *or* Stella.  Still, as commander of
  the Phantom Pain, he still thinks he can have revenge.  Poor misguided dude.
  He gets demolished in short order, which *really* sets Stella on the warpath.

  Basque knows not to overstay his welcome, with his objective more or less
  achieved anyway.

  Having Shin fight Stella is worth one Zeuth Point.  Arranging things so he
  finishes her machine off is worth two more.  The girl is terrified of dying,
  and utterly out of control.  Just as it seems she recognizes Shin, Kira
  swoops in and immobilizes her mech.  A bit too immobile, in fact.  She has
  about enough time to thank him for protecting her before the darn thing blows
  up.  Definitely not Kira had in mind, not that he had much other choice...

Any remaining Feds pull out at the sight of their trump card going kablooie.
The other side have no intention of talking with you, since they reckon you're
now part of the forces upsetting the world order.  Bright just hopes he doesn't
have to fight you directly, and Aslan asks Kira not to appear in front of him
again.  Raven's sure this is all somehow part of Zaft's master plan, whether it
be to beat back the Feds, just make the world more unstable, or even get the
Chiram in their debt.  In any case, there's no point in hanging around here any
longer.  Rand can't tell Mail whether they'll ever get to see Rolan and the
others again, but the odds don't feel any better as he surveys the carnage
around them...

Shin meanwhile is having about the worst day of his life, saying goodbye to
Stella who's now beyond the range of anyone who wants to torment her or scare
her ever again.  Camille comes by to commiserate: both of them have every
reason never to forgive those who foment war, and both had a woman they love
victimized by the system.

The sage heads among the ZEUTH try to puzzle out why the Feds would attack the
Chiram, with whom they were at least superficially on good terms.  Roger agrees
with Kei that the most likely link is dimensional repair, at which the Chiram
are far more advanced than the Feds.  However, he rather doubts that the Feds
were interested in stealing the Chiran device, given how their attack seemed
gauged to inflict maximum destruction.  The logical conclusion is that the Feds
must have their own way of repairing spacetime, independent from the
Singularities or the Chiran tech.  Holland's got a nasty suspicion at the
bottom of his gut, something from his darkest days that he doesn't have enough
proof to air out for the others yet.  He suspects the key is in the way the
Ageha are structured: Dewey's up to something for sure.

Just then, Norman comes in to inform everyone of a message from Durandal to the
world, beamed by UN.  Even for a broadcast protesting the Federation invasion
into Chiram, this seems a bit over-scaled.  As the team begins to gather to
hear the broadcast, introductions are made between the Archangel's crew and the
rest of ZEUTH, many of whom have never seen each other face to face once since
the flight from Orb.  The Desert Tiger isn't among them, though, having an
errand that's brought him to space.  Whatever that errand is must be pretty
important, for him to risk the Rivalry Zones.  Maryuu's also tied up, visiting
a certain Federation soldier The Storm brought: known to the world as Neo
Roanoke, but known to longtime Archangel folks as Muu La Flaga.  Apparently he
wasn't quite as dead in the battle of Yakin Duue as everyone thought...

Kira doesn't know what Durandal's about to say, but he's sure that whatever it
is is going to shake the world.  Enil then walks over, telling him to show at
least a bit more confidence after wiping out the enemy's trump card.  Cagalli
tells her to leave him alone, saying that neither of them is fighting because
they want to.  Rather a naive viewpoint, given the fact that the whole world is
at war -- did Kira think he can accomplish anything without getting his hands
dirty?  Cagalli warns Enil one more time to stop trying to lead Kira astray,
and Enil feigns an apology to the princess.  See, in the world she came from,
everyone was doing anything and everything they could in a desperate struggle
just to stay alive... even killing others if need be.  To be clear, she says,
she's not blaming Kira at all: indeed, he had no other choice.  But so long as
he wavers like this, he's destined to die when he faces the first opponent
who's genuinely staking their life on their fight.  So saying, she walks out
and prepares to hear the broadcast.

Gilbert Durandal introduces himself, asking people's pardon for interrupting
the war between Earth and the Plants.  He feels it's important for everyone to
know why the world's gotten this bad, and why the flames of war have yet to
vanish.  He's sure many won't yet be aware, due to the unevenness of
information reaching certain world nations, but the Federation today attacked
their allies the Chiram.  Their massive expeditionary force, bolstered by a new
weapon, laid waste to the Chiran capital and obliterated all civilians within
before they had a chance to flee.  Attempts by his people to stem the carnage
could not prevent many needless sacrifices, but before he explains how this
could happen, he wants people to recognize the following fact.  The New Earth
Federation, supreme body for unifying the will of the various worlds' residents
in their newly fused world, are the perpetrators of this atrocity.

Certainly, people from diverse backgrounds are likely to have disagreements.
But the Federation has chosen to seal those away with force: how can that
represent a union of mankind?  How could they do this?  Why discard discourse
in favor of a gun?!  Just who decreed that peace was impermissible, and warfare
the only option?  He then brings Lacus on to make an impassioned plea for
everyone to stop shooting each other.  Hasn't everyone had enough of the
endless cycle of hatred imprisoning everyone?  Why not wipe the tears from your
eyes, and listen to what your opponents have to say?  And build a world of
peace, and light?

Why not?  Well, turns out there's some bad guys lurking in the world's shadows,
forcing everyone to fight for the sake of their own egotism and burying the
truth in darkness.  Clearly, it is they who lurk behind the Federation's
display of violence.  They, the Blue Cosmos who point their misguided hatred at
the Coordinators; and behind them, the death-merchants of Logos.  Was everyone
aware that the Titans and their ideology of demonizing all space colonists are
also backed by Logos?  Ultimately, it is the Council of Magi who are the true
enemies of Mankind!!

Oh snap!  Jamitov is aghast that Durandal is aware of the council's existence,
and Kuzemi fears that he's about to start naming names.  Jibril wants all UN
links cut, demanding to know what Eidel is doing at a time like this.  Durandal
continues all the while, saying that this chaotic world is facing its greatest
threat, one that can only be met by people joining hands.  Hence, he here
declares war against those who oppose that, the Council of Magi!

Certainly the speech has made quite an impression on the rank and file, what
with Lacus' cameo and all.  Except, as Milly knows, that's not the real Lacus
at all, just a doppelganger he made for purposes such as this.  The real Lacus
is in space with Bartfeld.  Sara knows what chaos this broadcast will cause,
given that the Council's servants are all mainstays of government, economy, and
military the world over.  Daisuke for one isn't a fan: even if what Durandal's
saying is right, his methods seem hardly in the best interest of the world as a
whole.  Holland concurs: surely the Zaft, who just happen to occupy the whole
southern hemisphere, could have done more to stop the Feds if they wanted to.
Indeed, the information from Maryuu says that the Zaft merely watched as the
Feds invaded Chiram.

Yup, the implication is clear: the supposed allies of Justice of Zaft
deliberately let the Feds run riot until they could maximize their own PR.
Then why did the Minerva show up at all, if not to protect Chiram?  Perhaps it
was meant as a demonstration of the Plants' sincerity?  If so, Kappei and Shin
and the whole crew are being used as pawns... as are everyone gathered here
too.  Cagalli is beside herself at the news that Orb's Seilan family are part
of this Council, meaning they've got collaborators the world over.  Just what's
the point of bringing that to light now?  Kira tells her that if Holland and
the others are right, Durandal's even more dangerous than they thought.

Daisuke and Roger have some questions for Kira, hero of the previous war who
managed to bring the Natural-Coordinator conflict to an end.  How is it that he
was stirred from his quiet life in Orb to return to the battlefield, stealing
Orb's princess from her own wedding in the process?  Jamir's very worried about
Durandal himself, and wants to hear Kira's thoughts.  Kira pauses a long
moment, and asks everyone to wait just a little longer.  Kira's pretty sure
Durandal is in the wrong, but he's not yet positive what he and his friends are
doing is right either.  As such, he doesn't want to get the rest of ZEUTH mixed
up in it full-bore.  Jamir can accept that, planning to travel with him until
they can find an answer for themselves.  Cagalli meanwhile wonders just what it
is that's making Kira hesitate -- was it him defeating that black mech that did
it?

Dewey was also watching the broadcast, figuring it'll go down in history as one
of the most important speeches evar.  Scirocco figures that it's just the thing
the unwashed masses are suckers for, but it at least outlines a concrete enemy.
And as a revolutionary, Dewey wants to see that concrete enemy out of the way,
so that *he* can have the throne instead.  Scirocco says that final
preparations are now underway, now that this broadcast has raised the banquet's
curtain.  Operation Crescent will be the fight that saves the world.  Or
something...


37. Cathartic Storm

"Neo" is still asleep, having only regained consciousness once when the medical
staff changed his clothes.  At that point, he named himself "Neo Roanoke" of
the 88th independent mobile squadron -- but his medical data is a 100% match
with the Archangel's own database on Muu La Flaga.  That is, his *physical*
data matches anyway.  Jamir figures out pretty quickly that this guy was
someone special to Maryuu during his stint as a former crewmember.  When Neo
wakes up and professes no knowledge whatsoever of Maryuu, she runs out of the
room.  It seems quite likely that the Feds have implanted false memories in the
guy...

The Chiram leader has to hand it to Durandal for picking his timing to topple
the Federation from within.  Wesley figures the world-wide UN proved their
undoing, and wouldn't be surprised if infighting fragments the Federation
almost at once.  Word comes in that the Federation forces assailing the capitol
have retreated, which is totally understandable under the circumstances.  The
leader isn't feeling too much gratitude to Durandal though: he knows full well
that his people are just one more part in Durandal's master plan.  He's got no
proof though, and doesn't want to invite further calamity by being openly
hostile to the Plants -- given how they're all Teh 0wl3yz Uf j00$t1z(tm) and
all right now.  Since the spacetime repair device is still intact, he orders
everyone back to the capitol for rebuilding and resumption of the D Project.
He *will* be the one to lead the spacetime healing, and no mistake!

Oops, a mistake.  A mysterious pursuer shows up, and not from the Federation
either.  Nope, it's Asakim, out to keep the road to ultimate evolution clear of
unqualified folk like the Chiram.  Who, as it turns out, are nowhere near fast
enough to keep him from blasting the device.  No saving the world now, or so it
would seem.  He zooms off just as Setsuko, Atena and Orson show up: late
_again_.  She thinks to Rand that she's got to go on ahead, before things
really *do* become irretrievable.  She's got no time to explain to Atena who
Asakim is, telling her to ask Rand of the ZEUTH.  Atena wonders who the heck
the girl that led them here is, but this isn't the time for that now.  Orson
realizes that with the machine's destruction, the D Project is finished, and
the brass will want to try to directly manipulate the Singularities again.
He's begun to doubt whether it's actually for the best to capture Kei and play
along with that plan, and wants to see Kei once more before making up his mind.
She wants to come along too, but he tells her she's got to stay in Chiram and
gather information.  He needs information on this Asakim guy, and on the mess
in the Federation.  He flies off, and Atena can only wish him well as he
vanishes from view...

As predicted, riots are already underway against the Magi's collaborators, and
the "cure" seems almost worse than the disease, if the number of burning
buildings is any indication.  Axel can only hope that Renton hasn't abandoned
himself to anger the way Axel's fellow townsfolk have.  Interestingly, he's had
Dominic help him mind the store.  Dominic, himself a Federation soldier (after
a fashion) foresaw the uproar Durandal's broadcast would cause.  He'll have to
return to his post eventually, but for now he's Axel's guest on the basis of
his friendship with Renton.

A visitor has dropped by while Axel was in town: Kobayashi Hayato, who says
he's got a rather large job for the fabled mechanic.  Not so fabled to Renton
in Axel's eyes, and even Axel himself is starting to believe that he's just
some tinkering old fart in an out-of-the-way town.  Still, any work is good
work in this mixed-up world... at least for him.  Many of the common people
seem to be losing their will to live and their ability to judge, in what a
journalist friend of Hayato has dubbed "Lost Syndrome".  Given how many lives
were lost in the Breaking alone, and how many are still jeopardized by random
spacetime teleportations, the darkness threatening people's hearts isn't that
surprising.  But one mustn't give in, Axel says, lest the machinery in one's
head stop altogether and one be forced to live out their days as other people's
puppet.

In fact, that's what Hayato thinks this worldwide mess is intended to produce.
Dewey said as much to Dominic, as well as predicting what would come next.
Again, Axel really hopes that Renton isn't one of the mindless masses.

Speaking of Dewey, he and the military rebels are closing in on the Magi's
council chamber fast.  It hadn't seemed possible that Dewey could be so easily
used by Durandal -- and the timing is too perfect.  There's a reason for that,
Dewey says as he strides in: it's because the Magi tried to hide the truth.
Braya points out that just spilling the truth out for the public to see isn't
automatically a good thing: in fact, it can sometimes be the opposite.  Kuzemi
says that it was too late when Ageha was reported and the world plunged into
chaos: the world was already overpopulated.  Far more people than could fit
onto the Ark that brought people to this world in the first place.  Dewey pulls
out a gun, announcing he's going to remove these people from this era's stage.
That would be a sort of freedom, Kuzemi says, from the pain of concealing the
truth from the world's people -- a burden that Dewey would have to inherit if
he kills them.  Hell, even Scirocco could manage that.  Yuuda sort of figured
this would happen when she set Dewey free from prison, and wants to know what
he plans to do now.  Oh, just a bit of annihilation, as the only way to truly
live on.  That would be directed at the Coralians, for whom the Kute-class are
merely the gateway.  Sooner or later, the actual articles will appear and wipe
mankind off the face of the Earth.  It's kill or be killed, with rulership of
the planet at stake, though Yuuda says that those without power shouldn't dare
to speak of "rulers".  That said, she actually pledges her loyalty to him...

Scirocco has turned Jamitov's failings to his advantage, already driving
Basque's faction out of the land.  What a pleasure to join forces with Jamitov,
his long-time adversary.  They both know that the hawkish faction out there
will continue their struggle for world domination, never thinking of more than
their own profit, and Jamitov is faintly impressed that Scirocco thought that
through enough to leave Jamitov's former subordinates alive.  Scirocco smirks
that a new age demands a new genius, and he's got the gun in hand to prove it.
As Jamitov collapses to the floor, things don't look so good for Copeland, the
"glorious" first president of the New Earth Federation.  Without the Magi and
Logos to support him, it seems it's time for him to "retire" as well, but
Scirocco has one final job for him: calming the people's fear.

ZEUTH are certainly impressed -- and not in a positive way -- with Durandal's
prescient strategy.  No doubt he has his own ideas already for what the world
ought to be like, and that vision doesn't seem to include a place for the ZEUTH
after what the Emarn tried to pull.  Gainer guesses the Zaft are afraid of the
military threat you pose, which is ironic given that your team might have
actually been willing to help them if they asked nicely.  Too late now though,
given how this side of ZEUTH has grasped what Durandal is really up to.  It
really is a shame that the breach with the other side of ZEUTH seems
irreparable.

The question now is, how will conflict between the Plants and the Federation
play out.  Raven guesses that the Feds will have a wave of infighting before
war breaks out with the Plants, as those opposed to the Magi try to oust those
loyal to them.  The Chimera want no part of any such purge, since Eidel's
policy all along has been to solve things peacefully.  Really, the odds are
good that all the coup will accomplish is shift the reins from the Magi to some
other power.  Eidel herself is incommunicado, and quite possibly being held
somewhere for her role as chief of information.  Mail's sure she's okay
wherever she is, but Raven isn't so sure.  Just then, word comes in that the
Feds are staging their own UN broadcast.  Rand has a hard time mustering much
enthusiasm, since it seems the higher ups don't give a damn about people on the
ground like ZEUTH.

Joseph Copeland introduces himself and says he has no intention of sugar-
coating the truth that Durandal brought to light.  He apologizes for the
council, and his part on it, for operating above the law.  The members of that
council have either been arrested or executed, and the world stands on the
brink of a revolution.  He plans to submit himself to judgment, taking
responsibility as president for the things he's done.  He's appointed Fix
Bradman as temporary leader in the meantime, giving him all authority in the
hopes of restoring order as soon as possible.  Bradman takes the mic, promising
to make the Council answer for what they've done, also proclaiming that the
incursion into Chiram was done at the Magi's behest and does not represent the
will of the Federation as a whole.  In fact, his anti-Magi faction even sent
some soldiers to Chiram to try to avert the mess, those being...

...the ZEUTH?!  Bradman quickly tries to take credit for the Federation for all
the good works ZEUTH has done.  Supposedly the Archangel were the ones taking
the lead, though of course Kira's heard nothing about it.  This is information
manipulation, pure and simple, meant to counter Durandal's masterstroke.  He
declares that the Federation will stand strong against alien invasion, the
Plants, and all other things that menace the Earth.  And that includes the
Logos faction, who must be smote with the hammer of Justice.  Yeah, Justice.
Roger's sure the uniformed man on the net isn't the real ringleader here: it's
got to be someone supremely accomplished in political "aikidou".  Whoever that
person is, they're now running the greatest government on Earth...

Basque doesn't like being the hunted, and Jibril can't believe who got made the
interim president.  One thing's for sure: Basque isn't going to let Scirocco
and Dewey get away with this.  Friendly forces are already gathering at
Heavens' Base in the North Atlantic, and have their own trump card ready.
Jibril expects "them" to be very helpful, since they know what's really going
on in the world.  As Basque's fleet get ready to head to Heavens' Base, a pair
calling themselves the Frost brothers radios in with what they call some
valuable information.  Basque figures that these good-for-nothing Category F
Newtypes were too late to side with Scirocco, and agrees to let them rendezvous
with his fleet.

Yuuna demands to know what he's supposed to do now that Orb's Seilan family's
name has been put on the blacklist.  Jibril yells at him to shut up, go home,
and get Orb's army ready.  He's adamant that the battle isn't lost yet, and
says that he'll need Orb's power if victory is to be theirs.  He vows to crush
both Dewey/Scirocco AND Durandal before all is done.

You can imagine how well Holland is taking all this.  Misha sighs at how easily
people can be manipulated in this unstable world, just by showing them an enemy
they never knew they had.  It's safe to assume the new Federation regime has at
least one more trick up its sleeve, and almost as safe to assume that Dewey's
involved in the regime change somehow.  Holland had thought that Dewey was just
dicking around, naming his team after Ageha, but there's no doubt that he's
acting for real this time.  Deliberations are cut short by the arrival of...
somebody.  Whoever it is, there's little doubt they're hostile.

Outside, it's snowing despite the sweltering heat nearby.  Such anomalous
weather patterns are happening the world over: fuck global warming, this is
about dimensional collapse!  The enemy turns out to be the Federation Army,
though it isn't immediately clear which side they're on.  Yazan's looking
forward to tangling with the mighty ZEUTH, but Shagia tells him not to forget
their objective.  Yazan replies that he's got to have fun in order to do his
work, and the Frost brothers look for the first good excuse to slip out of this
battle.  Eureka certainly doesn't like the look of this snake-like pair, but
Renton assures her that Nirvash won't lose to the likes of them.  Misha thinks
it's almost as though Nirvash is maturing along with its two pilots, and they
may have to actually execute on the plan that Jobs and Woz have come up with...
Holland just wants to get this over with, before whatever trap has been set for
ZEUTH is sprung.

  They get their chance soon enough, thanks to ZEUTH's furious onslaught.
  Shagia tells Tifa he'll see her and ZEUTH again, and Garrod warns ZEUTH not
  to think this is the Frost brothers at full strength.  Whatever that means.

  Yazan's squadron isn't very studly, made up as it is of all sorts of refugees
  from different backgrounds.  At least Scirocco will be giving them new
  equipment, and he looks forward to paying the ZEUTH back with it when the
  time comes.  The ZEUTH are a bit surprised at the enemy's lack of backbone,
  and sense that danger of some sort is coming.  Everyone hightails it back to
  the flagships to flee the scene, but before you do the other half of the
  ZEUTH show up.

A fight looks inevitable...

38. Preplanned Deathmatch

Oh, it doesn't just *look* inevitable, it *is* inevitable.  When the Minerva
side sorties their people, there's little choice but for the Freeden side to
sortie its people too.  Talia tells her counterpart to disarm at once and
surrender, and Elchi demands to know what gives her the right -- is that the
Zaft's orders?  It is, and the rationale is preservation of the peace.  They
and Durandal have judged you to be a threat to the world order: pretty big talk
from people who've been doing quite a number on world order themselves.  The
commanders on both sides are doing their best to contain their troops, and
Bright promises to do what he can to minimize punishment if Jamir and company
heave to now.  How's that, when Ryouma and the others don't remember doing
anything approaching "disturbing the peace"?  Tetsuya says they don't like how
your allegiance seems to shift from day to day, not to mention how the Freeden
crew are doing what amounts to piracy.

Amuro and Quatro tell everyone that they'll direct ZEUTH's destructive power in
the right direction if they join up, but if that means fighting for the Plants,
you can count Apollo out.  And as for the Freeden ZEUTH causing more war, any
reports they've heard are merely Federation spin-doctoring, as Duke Freed tries
to tell Kouji.  The other side tries to argue that that's only possible because
the Freeden ZEUTH keep flitting all over the place, but Roger points out that
it's all too convenient for them not to turn that analysis on their own
actions.  Kappei doesn't like hearing that, and Eiji finally says that his side
aren't acting on Zaft orders, but because they're pissed off at the other side.
Gee, that feeling seems to be mutual.

With the other side so dead-set against the Freeden ZEUTH, armed conflict seems
to be the only way.  Just then, Shin breaks ranks and attacks the Freedom,
pointing out that at the very least, they've got orders to strike the Archangel
down.  He means to start with the Freedom, and Rey has calculated that he
should be capable of it.  Of course, he's still pissed off about the Stella
debacle, shouting that Stella never wanted to fight anyone.  Holland shouts
right back and demands to know what else they were supposed to have done.  He
doesn't get a very good answer, and Talia sighs and issues her last warning.

Nothing doing.  Holland cuts off Renton's impassioned plea for these comrades
not to fight each other by pointing out something Renton's already learned:
there are times when even siblings have to fight each other.  This is going to
be a battle between domesticated dogs and wolves, but Rand as The Heat isn't
planning on taking any lives: only knocking a few people unconscious.

  Shin claims he's taking revenge for all the people who've died until this
  point, which seems to flip a switch in Kira's mind.

  End the battle by taking Shin down for a ZEUTH point.  Shin is a stubborn kid
  who doesn't go down easily, driven by his grief over Stella.  He manages to
  catch Kira with a direct hit, knocking Kira from the skies.  As Aslan watches
  aghast, the Archangel hastens to the spot Kira was shot down to try to rescue
  him.  Talia follows, firing her main guns and blasting the Archangel.  At
  that moment, more Zaft arrive, and Jamir thinks that surrender may be the
  only option after all.  Holland isn't having that: he reminds Jamir how hard
  everyone's fought to overcome their past.  Kei agrees, preferring to fight to
  his last rather than become a lackey of the Zaft.

  Orson appears then, telling him not to be so hasty.  He's prepared to lead
  the ZEUTH out of the area, as a Federation detachment chasing a gigantic
  aircraft approaches.  Unfortunately, there's no time to worry about any
  survivors of the Archangel now, and the Freeden ZEUTH bitterly bail.  That
  aircraft is piloted by none other than Haran Banjou, who's come to help the
  ZEUTH out.  The Minerva ZEUTH aren't sure they'll ever be able to rejoin
  their former comrades now, though Eiji says it depends really on if they
  change their mind.  Amuro however isn't happy at all, and tells Char to
  postpone talk about it until after the Feds are dealt with.  Camille has to
  wonder which of the two ZEUTH are correct... or if _both_ sides have lost
  their way.

Kei thanks Orson for helping save everyone's bacon, and asks if he's here to
try once again to take him back to Chiram.  Or kill him, as his previous orders
had been.  Mimsy asks why the Chiram would want to kill someone necessary to
the spacetime repairs, and Orson tells her that Chiram _had_ had another
alternative: the D Project.  Its goal was to create an artificial spacetime
shockwave and thereby stabilize the collapsing dimensional walls.
Unfortunately, Asakim wrecked the main repair device.  Hence, as Roger deduces,
Chiram's Singularity hunt is back on.  Bingo, and compliments from The Storm.
That The Storm would lead the Feds in just to mix up the battle scene shows
what a hell of a guy he is.

Since Kei is determined not to return to Chiram, Orson decides to join the
ZEUTH instead.  He's not abandoning his homeland, but rather the thought
processes that say that anything and everything can be sacrificed to meet the
final goal.  He's been looking for someone with a better way, and that someone
is the ZEUTH.  Welcome to the jungle, brother man.

The troubling part is the Zaft, who've adopted very harsh tactics in trying to
rein this side of the ZEUTH in.  The fact that the other ZEUTH heeded their
orders to attack you shows that they seem to think you're in the wrong.  Why
are they that mad at you?  Orson's got an explanation.  First: did you receive
a new weapon from the Feds at Zondarepter?  That would be the DX, which you
*stole* from the Feds.  Did you kill a Vodalak monk on Federation orders?
Nope, you *saved* him from being killed.  And was it true you were
investigating the Coralian on Federation orders?  Of course not, especially
where Holland and the Coralians are concerned.

Wouldn't you know it, teh 1nt0rw3b has lied about you behind your back.  All it
took was real footage, with a fake explanation behind it, just like the Feds'
revisionist account of why the ZEUTH were in Chiram.  These are the UN "rumors"
that Maryuu mentioned to Enil, and more than adequate to turn the ZEUTH's
former comrades into enemies.  But wait!  What if all the tales of the other
ZEUTH performing atrocities were all cooked up too?  Oh crap, someone out there
ensured that the best of friends became the worst of enemies.

Now hold up though: why is it that when Gainer looked for info on the other
ZEUTH, he found none of this bad stuff about his side?  Was it a simple
oversight?  Anyway, the situation is now clear enough, including the
possibility that this ZEUTH has Durandal all wrong.  After all, Kira's pretty
stubborn when he gets something into his head.  Speaking of Kira, Ryouma's
positive that he wouldn't have died this easily -- at least, that's what he
wants to hope.  It was The Storm that made Orson aware of this whole
conspiracy, a famous billionaire whose world-wide exploits are the talk of the
underworld.

Mimsy's even heard of him on Emarn's private networks: a man who the Feds keep
trying to put tabs on and keep missing.  Roger knows his real name: Haran
Banjou, the man with the Circle of the Sun.  From traveling with him a bit
while departing Japan, Roger learned that Banjou was looking into the
Federation's activities, but he never expected him to have this wide a reach.
Gentleman, indeed.  Even he hasn't been able to figure out who's turning the
ZEUTH against one another, and given the list of potential enemies and the fact
that anyone can access the UN, there may be no telling.

Holland, however, has a guess: a schemer skilled in information warfare with a
pre-existing grudge against the Gekkostate.  His name is Dewey Novak, and
Holland expects he's one of the ringleaders behind the Federation coup.  A
personal grudge seems a bit unlikely to motivate a plan this broad, but Dewey
_is_ after all a member of the Federation: reason enough to crush the outlaw
ZEUTH.  Talho can't stand it anymore, and snaps at Holland to tell everyone the
real reason Dewey's after the Gekkostate.  She figures Renton should know too,
since Holland's officially accepted him into the fold.

Holland doesn't try to stop her as she tells Renton that it was his father,
Adrock Thurston, who started the fight.  Adrock, a military scientist, advanced
the theory that other intelligent life forms dwelt near their world, Promised
Land.  They manifested as Scab Coral, and the beings themselves became known as
Coralians.  Holland reluctantly explains that the big mass of clouds the group
ran into before was not only a type of Coralian, but a Gate for other Coralians
to come through.

The investigative team Adrock led was decimated by what was believed to be the
Coralian's influence, and the military decided that the Coralians must be
eliminated.  Adrock disagreed, unshakable in his belief that the Coralians were
intelligent life forms and determined to coexist with them.  What happened next
was the appearance of a humanoid Coralian.  Named Eureka.  Oh.

Ryouma asks if the clouds they saw indicated that the Coralians are coming to
this world too.  Kei asks about the people who were hurt last time: does that
mean that the Coralians are the enemies of mankind?  Holland believes, as
Adrock did, that the answer is "no".  Then what _are_ the Coralians, and what
are they after?  Since you've heard this much, Holland says he'll lead everyone
to the Trezoa lab, where he'll fill in the rest of the details.

Poor Eureka was never told to hide what she is from Renton; in fact, she was
told she had to tell him herself.  She just couldn't manage it, deathly afraid
that he would hate her for it.  Renton smiles and says that she's always been
special to him, always "her" and no one else.


39. Start It Up

Renton's unclear on the whole Eureka = Coralian bit; she seems to him to be an
ordinary girl.  He briefly considered taking her and running away, just the two
of them, from all the mess in the world and settling down quietly to live.  He
concluded however, that that would be a mistake.  Just then Marin and Tekkouki
come in, in an attempt to say thanks.  Marin owns up to strong curiosity when
he heard that Eureka was a Coralian, despite all the problems he himself has
had by being different from others.  But not Renton: he was probably the only
one who never once considered anything about Eureka to have changed just by
hearing her origins.  This lesson, taught anew, is something Marin treasures,
as does Tekkouki: the more he sees of humans' bonds, their strength, the more
he marvels.

In fact, the whole gang got the same lesson from Renton, who's a bit
overwhelmed at the sudden burst of attention.  The little kids are especially
happy to learn that Eureka being a Coralian doesn't mean she has to leave them
behind.  Looking at all the good feelings, Ryouma thinks he finally grasps what
Fudou meant about there being something between two hands clapped together.
Take those hands to mean different ingredients, and it's clear that the whole
can be more than the sum of its parts.  Unfortunately, that whole can be either
good or bad, as some of the more unpleasant alien contacts have shown
(apologies to Marin).  The question becomes bigger: does that massive
cloud-covered Coralian actually have thoughts and feelings like Eureka?
Ryouma's optimistic, especially after seeing that even demons like Tekkouki and
Gyuukenki have feelings.  Oh, he'll fight the Coralian if it turns out to be
the enemy, but maybe... just maybe... he won't have to.

Anyways, Renton and Eureka have lots of fans among the ZEUTH.  The question now
is what awaits at this Trezoa laboratory, a multi-disciplinary facility where
Holland plans to have the Nirvash modified.  Jobs says that both Renton and
Eureka say that Nirvash wants to grow up, almost as though it's alive or
something.  Holland probably would have gone sooner if not for the fact that
he's on bad terms with the head of the lab.  One has to wonder if any lab on
Earth would greet the universally reviled ZEUTH, but Rand's sure that their
engineers' curiosity will outweigh any reservations they might have.  All the
more so since it seems Nirvash was born there in the first place.  Marin lowers
his voice and says that Jobs and Woz seem to have sent some of Nirvash's data
ahead to the lab, and that seems to have been enough to get the OK to visit.
Renton for one sure hopes Nirvash can grow up at the lab, so it and he can do
that much better a job of protecting Eureka.  That's the essence of the promise
he made to Charles: to win through, no matter what.

An Ageha member reports that the AFX and its payload of Orange have reached the
specified altitude.  Dewey tells him that the plan hasn't changed, and none of
the sensors show any distortion of the dimensional horizon: the Coralians are
all hiding.  Just as well, or it wouldn't have been worth dropping the Orange.
He tells his men to make one big-ass crater, certain that "they" will come
running.  Do so repeatedly, and the location of their nucleus and of their
precincts within this world will become clear.  The countdown starts, and it's
time to begin the fight to save the world...

The citizens of a nearby town have a ringing in their ears after an arrow of
light descended from the sky to the west.  It's not another alien weapon, is
it?  Strange clouds are gathering in the area in any case, and they're rapidly
followed by immense floating thingies with huuuge eyeballs.  The huge eyebally
things promptly go on the rampage and the town is, well...

The first thing that happens after the ZEUTH reach the lab is that Holland and
the chief scientist Morita get into a staring contest.  Hap says that Morita
never liked Holland taking Eureka and Nirvash away from the lab.  Seems the
facility had a lot invested in researching the world's first LFO and its Rider.
At length, Morita says that he's looked over the data from Holland's mechanics,
but that's not why he's agreed to let Holland stop by.  He's got other
collaborators, sponsors really, who've told him about the Gekkostate's
exploits, and asked him to take care of the outlaw crew.  Most of all, he did
it because the Nirvash is the joint property of all mankind, not just Holland
personally.  Holland's not a fan of the rhetoric, but since his and Morita's
objectives happen to align, there's not much he can legitimately complain about
for now.

Jamir tells Morita he's heard that they're researching Eureka and the
Coralians.  Holland isn't terribly complimentary in words about the rest of
ZEUTH, but Morita knows him well enough to know that he must trust them plenty
if he told them even part of the Coralian story.  He tells the team to carry
Nirvash to the lab, after which he'll discuss the Coralian question.  He asks
after Nirvash's rider, astounded to learn it's the grandson of Axel and son of
Adrock.  His engineer's blood is now boiling, and he makes an abrupt PA
announcement that work is now to proceed around the clock.  Misha notes that
Morita is as enthusiastic as ever, perhaps spurred on by Holland's own resolve
and perhaps feeling a sense of responsibility himself for the results.  She
tells Talho to worry about looking after Eureka, but Talho's still having
trouble taking everything in.  Her biggest worry was Holland running away from
the truth and not because she wanted to take responsibility either.  It's just
that she wanted Holland to stay as he is.  If so, maybe she'd better do
something about her outfit, which may not be sending the message she wants.
Holland's always been a bit dense, and she guesses it's time to ramp things up.

Just then, Sonya runs over and says that the Feds have an important broadcast
about a danger facing all mankind.  The broadcaster: Dewey Novak.  As the
commanders scramble to round up the crew, Sonia says hi to Eureka.  Not only is
she the head of R&D for the lab, she's also the one who extracted Eureka from
the scab coral and brought her here.  She tells Eureka and Renton that they too
should go listen to the broadcast, which might just pertain to them.

Dewey quickly introduces himself and gets right to the point: sometimes reality
bites.  For example, it's reality that a bunch of big goony monsters just bit
the heads and guts and everything else out of the citizens of a certain city.
What a _tragedy_, what a _calamity_, and oh by the way it's been going on for
years.  One more thing those darn Magi hid from the public, in this case
because they didn't have the means to control the Coralian threat.  Don't
expect _him_ to sit there waiting to die because he sucks donkey schlong
instead of doing his job.  Power!  Power's what you need if you want to get
things done nowadays, things like murdering the space colonists, committing
worse atrocities than the invading aliens, creating even more fascist regimes
than the Magi, and -- oh wait, did I say that out loud?  Anyway, it's POWER
that will guarantee a future for mankind, and that's what the people can expect
from the Federation, its saviors the Ageha squad, and its beautiful goddess of
war, Anemone!  [Well, somewhat hot in a psychotic lolita kind of way, but oh
well].

It was not _he_ who started the anti-Coralian planning.  Nope, it was that
heroic Adrock guy who set up the Ageha squad in anticipation of the Coralian
attack.  Bradman then comes on and assures everyone that this broadcast is
totally true, and that the Feds promise that everyone's future is secure.  Only
the New Earth Federation can guide mankind into a secure, prosperous tomorrow.

So umm, what _was_ the deal with the city attacked by what looked like several
Macy's Parades' worth of balloon monsters?  Holland knows what Dewey's done,
and he's nearly purple with rage.  Even in the world the Gekkostate came from,
information about the Coralians was top secret.  Revealing it all in one fell
swoop is yet another bid to gain influence over the increasingly credible
masses, and at this rate the Gekkostate's ray=out will be utterly overwhelmed
by the information war.  Stoner is now in despair, contemplating leaving the
Gekkostate now that Holland's goal of telling the people the truth seems
unreachable.  Then again, the truth is still out there, even if it's just
gotten harder to publish.  Instead, he'll turn his attentions from ray=out to
recording ZEUTH's valor in battle, sure that it will help correct public
opinion one day.  Holland can't guarantee a battlefield photographer's safety,
but he certainly likes Stoner's resolve to choose the place and manner of his
own likely death.

Garrod is still waiting to hear what the deal was with those balloon monsters.
He apologizes for using the term "monster" about the Coralians with Eureka and
all, but she's the first to admit that the critters just caused numerous human
deaths.  What she wants to know is what she should - what she _can_ do now.
So, are she, the big cloud-thingie, and the attack-balloons all Coralians?
Yup, says a man named Greg who has just appeared on the Gekko.  He honestly
resembles an oversized stuffed teddybear, and is in fact commonly known as
Doctor Bear.

He's the lead researcher on Archetypes, and given to fits of locking himself in
his lab for days at a time.  His publications are top class though, though Jobs
has to admit that very few people can actually understand what he publishes
_about_.  Jobs must be unusually taken with this guy's results, since he
bristles at even the slightest insult directed at Greg.  Greg's amazed that the
Federation would forcibly awaken the Antibodies -- yes, the medical term for a
body's defense system.  He's going to explain himself, but first he says hi to
his *wife* Misha and to Eureka.  Holland wants him to explain now, but he'd
really like a bit more time to finish his research into the scab coral's
relation to the dimensional horizon.  Whoa, hold it -- how does the stuff that
makes up the ground have anything to do with dimensional horizons?!  Greg tells
Kei and the others not to rush, and to give him a bit more time to wrap things
up.  He says they can use the time to modify Nirvash, and promises them some
sort of accounting by the time they're done.  Holland resigns himself to
waiting when Morita tells him to gather the ZEUTH leaders and come to his
office.  If he's correct, the means the Feds used to awaken the Antibodies is a
spacetime concussion munition.

The Ageha are at it again, detecting no distortions in the dimensional horizon.
Five minutes until the AFX begins its ascent with its Orange cargo.  Jurgens
wants to know what the hell an "Orange" is, but Dominic tells him it's a
military secret and not something he can discuss.  Jurgens has good reason to
protest: every time he's seen one of these things launched, Coralians haven't
been far behind, and in *their* wake, tens of thousands of people have died.
Dominic reminds him that their orders are to guard the AFX and to investigate
any Coralians that appear.  Screw that: Jurgens is convinced that the purpose
of this "Orange" stuff is nothing other than making Coralians appear.

Dominic can't discuss it with the military commander, but he can with his
assistants.  He's in fact quite _unhappy_ with this way of doing things, and
rather doubts that the lives sacrificed when the Antibodies appear are
unavoidable.  His squadmembers are quite sure that Dewey is right when he says
that a city or two are a small price to pay for saving the world.  Or does
Dominic have any better way of finding the Coralians' Core?  He of course
doesn't, and the squad members tell him he'd better shut his mouth then.  Great
way to run an army, really.  But hey, if it makes him feel any better, there
aren't any cities nearby the detonation site this time.  At least Anemone isn't
afraid to voice her displeasure at Dewey keeping these weirdos on his payroll.

The ZEUTH then roll up, finding exactly the unmanned bomber that Morita
expected.  Its payload is designed to cause a localized spacetime concussion,
though it's not clear what that's got to do with the Coralians.  Ryouma
remembers the dimensional distortion around the big cloud-like Coralian, though
no one but Doctor Bear knows the connection just yet.  Dominic and Jurgens'
forces have to hold off the ZEUTH until the operation begins, and Dominic tells
Anemone that she can fight to her heart's content today.  She's looking forward
to showing off her new battle technique, even without her evil twin to use it
on.  Renton can only fidget on the sidelines while the version-upped Nirvash
gets its Lif-board delivered by a "trustworthy" source.

Meanwhile, Orson checks out his Orguss II, and loves the hybrid of Emarn and
Chiran tech.  Time for the return of the bucking Bronco duo.

  On turn 3, the Federation forces get ready to pull out, but not before
  Anemone decides to wreak havoc on the Gekko.  Talho can't entirely dodge the
  onslaught, and even Garrod isn't sure he can keep pace with the black Nirvash
  look-alike.  Just then, a transport ship rushes in with a message for Renton:
  his grandpa has sent him a present he can use *now*.  Anemone wants to kill
  off everyone who'd interfere with her Dewey's plans, but she wasn't ready for
  the Spec 2 Lif-board and the power of Renton and Eureka's love.

  And powerful love it is, as The End gets knocked clean out of the sky.
  Jurgens scrambles his men to retrieve the mech and tears off at top speed.
  Renton's a bit out of breath, and no wonder: the new Nirvash is variable
  geometry and can actually fly -- just as it and its pilots wanted.

  It isn't over yet though: a small spacetime disturbance appears some twenty
  klicks to the north, along with the cloud formation the ZEUTH have seen
  before.  Something's fallen nearby this spot that's causing a spacetime
  concussion: the Orange.  Eureka senses "their" approach: Antibodies, who seem
  inclined to instinctively attack everything nearby.  Hayato then hails the
  team, indicating that he's operating under a different chain of command from
  the Argama, under General Breck's orders.  He plans to hurry to the lab and
  report on what's just happened, while Jamir and the crew hold the fort here.
  And hold it they must, lest these Antibodies disperse and cause even more
  damage.

  No one on the team really knows what these things are, but they're determined
  to protect mankind from them.  The most interesting reaction comes from Mail,
  who feels somehow ill around these creatures.  It's not quite pain, not quite
  sadness, but something in between.  Hmmm....

  The Antibodies aren't individually that tough, but there's a *lot* of them.
  So many in fact that when the first batch go down, a whole other set arrive.
  ZEUTH knows their strength isn't infinite, but if they fail here the tragedy
  broadcast on the UN will appear.  Just as they're girding their loins for a
  truly unpleasant battle, Eureka senses something, immediately after which the
  Antibodies explode.  Liina says they didn't self-destruct; rather, they ran
  out of energy.  This goes back to that video, which never showed how the
  first batch of Antibodies were dealt with -- apparently, they've got a time
  limit.  Eureka, shivering badly, asks Renton to hold her hand tightly...

After the battle, Holland calls a formal all-hands meeting.  He reiterates that
Eureka is a humanoid Coralian, a fact he learned while in the military.  He was
also told by his mentor Adrock that the Coralians are intelligent, and created
the Gekkostate for one purpose: carrying on Adrock's will and protecting the
one and only means of accessing the Coralians: Eureka.  The fragdown with the
Antibodies today was caused by the military under Dewey's direction, using the
so-called Orange to force them to manifest.  He tells the team that Dewey and
his Ageha battalion see the intelligent Coralians as a threat to mankind, and
are doing what all militaries do under those circumstances.

Gekkostate *had* been trying to halt the military's annihilation plan and make
contact with the Coralians on more positive terms, but now that the Coralians
have been revealed to all the world, and in such a negative light, they have to
be very careful or they'll turn the entire world against them.  Holland
honestly doesn't know if it's possible to coexist with the Coralians as a
whole.  But he wants to believe, or more accurately he *said* he wants to
believe, and thinks he can hold true to that so long as Eureka's here.  Quite
the dreamer he's turned out to be.

Call him that if you want -- if the rest of ZEUTH doesn't share that dream,
he'll strike out on his own again.  Up until this point, he's used so many
people and so many things to reach for his objective: forming the Gekkostate,
exploiting Lif'ing and counterculture... and ZEUTH themselves.  All the while,
never realizing that all that using was hurting the very thing he was supposed
to protect.  That especially includes Renton and Rand, and he gives them a
straight apology for it (Kei realizes that this isn't the time for levity about
that either).  He's of a mind to stop using others, but Rand tells him not to
sweat it: after all, ZEUTH's benefited from his and his crew's popularity and
skill in battle too.  In fact, everyone's got an agenda -- but that's not
necessarily a bad thing.  Nobody's going to blame Holland for what he did, and
at least for Jamir's part, he intends to support Holland's dream.  Same goes
for the rest of the team, even the somewhat less connected Roger.  He smiles
and tells Rand that if nothing else can be said about him: he's thorough -- and
he's not going to pull his head out of this hole now that he's stuck it in this
far.

The question now is the other side of ZEUTH, who certainly have some hard-
headed folks aboard.  It might be difficult to fully clear the
misunderstandings that have dogged both teams up until now, but there's no way
to find out except to try talking to them.  Holland's on board with that, and
finally says "thanks", the first time anyone including his own crew have heard
the word from his mouth.  Greg then comes in, his research *almost* done.
Watching ZEUTH act has proven at least one thing: the Scab Coral *itself* is
intelligent, and the Coralians are actually just assemblages of it sent forth
to perform some sort of task.  It's not surprising everyone mistakes the Scab
Coral for part of the ground, since its biological processes are so different
from every other known form of life.  That means that Eureka too was sent for
some purpose, though even she has no idea what that purpose might be.  That
fact itself is her purpose: Greg thinks she was deliberately sent as a tabula
rasa, as a message from the Scab Coral that it knows nothing about mankind.

And in fact, Eureka is also mankind's message to the Scab Coral, says the
suddenly appearing Fudou.  It's a question of what humans imprint onto her, and
if the humans want to be friends with the Scab Coral, they need to have Eureka
with them on all sorts of different tasks.  What's more, back in Promised Land,
the Scab Coral wasn't infinite in extent, and the Antibodies not infinite in
time limit: if war proves to be the only option, the Scab Coral is sure to lose
to the humans.  Or, so Kengou thought: turns out the Scab Coral exists in vast
quantities in a dimension beyond human vision.  It surrounds this world
entirely, and has transcended beyond the concept of individual beings.  Should
*all* of the Scab Coral awaken into this world at once, the sum total of life
in the world would pass any conceivable information theoretic limit.  Greg
guesses that that would cause a spacetime concussion infinitely stronger than
the one that Broke the world.

In fact, the accelerating dimensional collapse is already being caused by the
awakening of the Coralians.  That's the most he can say for now without more
data, since he's only had a chance to study Eureka directly.  Stoner guesses
that the only other data repository would be with the military, but Holland has
another idea: find Norv and his cabal of outlaw monks.

Durandal is meeting with a masked guy that has a certain familiar uniform.  He
gets the report that Dewey is using small spacetime concussion submunitions
called Oranges.  Not very dangerous, but enough to provoke the Coralians on the
other side of the wall.  Durandal is surprised that the Feds have that much
spacetime tech, but the masked man isn't: seeing as how he's the one that gave
it to them.  All part of his grand plan, huh?  Something like that...  The
masked man also knows that Durandal secretly wants him dead, and that he's got
his own plans cooking in the shadows of the masked man's little pranks.
Durandal says he's grateful to the guy for pointing out the distortions in the
dimensional horizon, but the masked man says he needs no thanks: he's already
gotten more than enough return on his investment in the form of Plant tech.
He's impressed that someone would take it into their head to build upon the
Bloody Valentine incident and invent the Neutron Stampeder, which accelerates
nuclear fission and causes any nearby atomic weapon to spontaneously explode.

The masked guy plans to put that to good use, and in thanks shows Durandal
something far more advanced than Dewey's little Oranges.  He calls those the
sort of failure needed to reach a bigger success... at least if the world is to
remain interesting.  Durandal isn't so thrilled about having to fail to
succeed, or sacrificing to achieve a greater good, but that's what it means to
be the Man In Charge(tm).  The masked man tells him not to be so morose, and
promises that mankind will have a future with his help.  Boy, Durandal would
sure love to believe him...  Durandal then asks what name he should call this
guy by, after they've seen so much of each other for so long.  A "Messianic
Warrior"?  A "traveler to the ultimate"?  A "Defender of the Law"?  "Guardian
of Karma"?  "Cursed Wanderer"?  Whatever.  Durandal goes with "Black Charisma",
which the masked figure actually thinks is somehow more theatrical than any of
his suggestions.  Black Charisma assures Durandal that the world will be a very
different place the next time they meet.


40. Prelude to Collapse

Kira(!) is recuperating aboard the Archangel(!) after the debacle with Shin.
Cagalli is glad the crew found him when they did, or even he might have been in
danger of his life.  Kira's more worried about the Freedom, a mech with a dark
secret that he was sworn to protect in the previous war.  Now's not the time
for that though: in walks in Muu/Neo, his memories still not returned.  He
tells Kira it serves him right, losing to the Impulse Gundam and its
one-track-minded, determined young prodigy pilot.  Neo met him once already,
though he doubts things will be so pleasant the next time they meet.  What Neo
wants to know is what the hell the deal with the Archangel is, reviled by both
the Federation and the Zaft, with their allies the ZEUTH quarreling among
themselves.  Kira has no idea either.

The Archangel is headed to Orb for some much-needed repairs; an odd move,
considering the circumstances under which Cagalli left.  She tells Neo that Orb
is in an uproar after the Seilan family's collaboration with the Magi, and that
she's got a job to do there.  Not that she's going to say what that job is to a
man who insists he's a Federation operative.  Shucks, and here he thought she
was just a princess for show: maybe she does know what she's doing after all.
Having thus irritated her, he leaves her alone with Kira.

Kira's still thinking about Shin and how he never forgave Kira for taking out
his friend in the black Federation mech.  Unavoidable or otherwise, Shin's
unforgiveness gave him immense power -- a chain of hatred Kira had thought he
must avoid as he fights.  He's now thinking that maybe he was just afraid of
getting enmeshed, after the horrible time he and Aslan had after taking each
other's friends lives and reaping the whirlwind.  Kira thought he'd be able to
never take another life again, but to the extent that people indirectly died as
a consequence of his actions, he failed.  And he's going to fail again so long
as he keeps fighting.  What should he do?

Neo runs into Maryuu in the hallway, having somewhat failed in his attempts at
a serious visit to Kira.  Somehow, just the sight of the kid makes Neo want to
tease him, which set Cagalli off, and got him kicked out.  He then asks Maryuu
what this Muu La Flaga was to her, and after a long and very painful pause, she
says that he was an... irreplaceable... comrade-in-arms of hers, who's now
gone.  Neo apologizes for asking, turning the name over in his mind...

Bradman has phoned up the Chiram leader to repeat the formal apology from the
UN broadcast, wanting to go back to their former favorable status now that the
Federation has been reorganized.  In return, the Feds do *not* want Chiran
spacetime repair tech -- Bradman says that the Feds have their own way of
dealing with the dimensional collapse.  He tells the Chiran that the Feds
already have a prototype spacetime concussion device with which to stabilize
the dimensional horizon, and is willing to show it to the Chiram as part of a
technology exchange.  More minds = faster completion, right?  To the Chiram
leader's surprise, Bradman is sounding magnanimous and offering to set national
borders aside in the interest of the greater good.  After pausing to think, the
Chiran agrees to his proposal, with final details of the exchange to be worked
out later.

Wesley is now in a panic, saying that there isn't a moment to lose.  Orson and
Kei must be captured, brainwashed, and used to repair the dimensions before the
Feds execute their own plan.  He thinks it's the only way to save Chiram, but
the leader tells him that he's wrong: other methods exist.  One of which would
be to enter the Federation umbrella, exploiting the Federation desire to add
firepower for their upcoming showdown with the Plants.  Indeed, the Feds are
likely hoping for a bloodless union through their show of dimensional tech
prowess... which might even have figured into the Feds' destruction of the
Chiram device.  He tells Wesley that this prolonged war with the Feds isn't in
the best interests of the nation, or of the world as the stalemate continues to
ravage it.  He won't pull the trigger on the deal just yet, but if he doesn't
find another likely means to save the world... surrendering to the Federation
will be his only option.

For starters, they should see what the Feds have tech-wise.  He has Wesley
organize a detachment, thinking that he was wrong to place his trust in Orson.
It's his responsibility alone to do what's best for Chiram...

Hayato tells Renton of how deep Morita's respect for Axel runs.  Hayato got to
play transportation for the board requisition, and has brought a letter from
Axel for Renton as well.  Axel writes that Hayato's heard of Gekkostate's
exploits from Hayato, and that he guesses everything's still up in the air
despite how far Renton's come.  He tells Renton to give it his all until he
reaches his goal, and tells him he'll be waiting in Belforest for Renton to
bring that lovely young lady home one day.  Heartening words, and what better
ally could Renton and Eureka ask for?

Hayato remarks that family is a wonderful thing, telling Renton that his son is
among the other side of ZEUTH.  Adopted son, that is, named Katsu, and Hayato
asks Renton to tell Katsu that Hayato's doing fine if he runs into him.  Hayato
and the Kalaba are going to search for the missing Norv, and wishes Renton's
people good hunting.  Just then, a certain shadowy figure walks up and tells
Renton to gather everyone aboard the Gekkostate.  She's got something to tell
them.  Renton is shocked to his core and scrambles to comply.

Everyone's abuzz over what Talho's new outfit might portend: whatever it is,
says El, it must be something pretty fundamental.  Eureka marvels at Talho
changing, but she tells Eureka it's not so much a change as a "return" to her
former self.  For all her angst over trying to change, nothing fundamental
about her really did.  Eureka does think she's changed, but not in a bad way:
and as Tifa and Liina insist, change isn't something to be scared about.

Contrary to what some people are worried about, she's not retiring from the
Gekkostate, only from being the Gekko's main pilot.  The reason is the future
that Holland's given her, growing within her belly.  Holland's child.  The
normally resolute leader is, for once, speechless.  The self-proclaimed
bachelors' club tell Holland it was nice knowing him.  Just imagine the
headlines: supermodel pregnant by world-renowned Lifboarder Mr. H.  Gainer
briefly wonders how Gain can get so into the teasing when he's got a child
himself, as Jamir delivers the first straightforward congratulations of the
group.  Both of them have a lot of people looking up to them for direction into
the future, and both look up to the challenge.

The ladies are more complimentary and less sarcastic in congratulating Talho,
and lucky for her Papty has her own recent pregnancy experience for Talho to
draw upon.  Holland then walks over, wanting Talho to leave the ship and stay
somewhere safe.  She points out that there *is* nowhere safe in this world:
given that, she'd rather protect her own child as well as all the other
children already present on the Gekko.  Both she and he now have that much more
obligation to live on and protect the world from anyone who would destroy their
ability to Lif in freedom.

The only question now is who will pilot the ship, which flies by Trapar just
like the Lifboards.  Moon Doggie steps up to the plate, saying he's got a
license and eager to finally do something during the battles besides cower in
his bunk.  Certainly, the guy's a gifted Lif'er, and has Gidget's full support.
The crew will give him a shot, telling him to be prepared for plenty of serious
on-the-job training.

All this talk of children has Kei thinking about Atena: he too is a father,
though it doesn't feel like it.  Orson then walks in with word from Kei's
daughter.  The Feds are planning a spacetime control device test in North
America.  Oh crap!

All is in readiness for the experiment, with three divisions on standby just in
case.  Bradman assumes direct control of the experiment, determined not to let
Dewey and Scirocco have all the glory.  Robert's on hand as an observer, fuming
over how the Feds burned down his country and _then_ got all cozy.  And what's
up with inviting them to a spacetime device test?  Henry asks if they should
just blow it away, and as much as Robert wants to himself, he knows that would
be a Bad Thing.  Henry's wondering what will become of their homeland now, but
Robert has privately vowed to live on even if said homeland should fall.

Bradman is quite confident that the sight of the Federation's lofty spacetime
control device will cause the Chiram to give in in an instant.  To do that,
he'll have to survive the ZEUTH onslaught.  The Chiram are amazed to see the
Singularities appear before them, and the ZEUTH are equally amazed to see the
Federation president here.  Given that the Feds are using their spacetime tech
to awaken the Coralians, nothing good could come from leaving the experimental
device intact.  Jamir figures the Feds know of the failure of the Chiran D
Project, and reckons that they're trying to unify the world behind their own
device.  Gain would rather put his faith in Doctor Bear's research than in the
Federation's version of spacetime repair, and Rand points out that if worse
*really* comes to worse, ZEUTH always has the Singularity combo.  If ZEUTH is
going to wreck the device, they'd better do it fast before reinforcements
arrive.  Talho tells Moon Doggy to show everyone what he's got.

  On turn 2, an actual Fallen Angel (and not just its puppets) arrives: it's
  Touma.  Touma sounds almost pleased that the Wings of the Sun also hates the
  power the Federation has prepared: the same power that sealed them into the
  infinite prison in the first place.  He says it's time for those darn
  wingless humans to suffer suitable punishment for touching a portion of that
  power... and that goes for the demons following him around too.

  That would be the Hundred Demons, with Glar heading up the detachment.  He
  recalls the intelligence they received, that the spacetime control device is
  meant to produce localized spacetime concussions.  Since the route the info
  came from is an unknown quantity, he tells Hidler that there's nothing wrong
  with being a bit careful... but with the ZEUTH *and* the Fallens active,
  there's little room for doubt.

  Their benefactor(?) is Black Charisma, who wants this battle to be as messy
  as possible for his own amusement.  Touma can sense the man's scrutiny, but
  Apollo vows to get Baron back from him today.  Maybe unlikely, but you never
  know.  ZEUTH will have to fend off all these adversaries while making for the
  spacetime control device, and Black Charisma wishes them luck: especially
  since he's got other guests waiting in the wings.

  When you fight the Fallen Angels, new unwanted guests appear from the skies
  above: the Alien Alliance.  Butcher loves watching the various forces
  fighting, but Teral can't believe that part of the mightiest armies on Earth,
  the ZEUTH, are here.  Whoever informed the Skull Moon Base about this shindig
  seems to want the ZEUTH destroyed, and the Gaizock at least are the sort of
  folks who lay waste to everything they can see in battle.  The Feds shouldn't
  expect any reinforcements -- all the troops nearby are locked in battle with
  the demons and aliens.  Gosh, that would leave the spacetime control device
  in peril, wouldn't it?  Maybe Black Charisma should call some help?  Help
  like Tsiine, who's always glad to fight for the sake of the man she loves.
  In this case, that means keeping the device safe.  Rand tells her to tell
  Asakim to get his butt out here like a man and knock off all the dirty
  tricks.  That time will come soon enough; for now, she's supposed to fight
  the Fallens and the aliens only.  What Bradman wants to know is why so many
  different organizations know about the device, which is *supposed* to be
  top-secret.  Black Charisma tells him silently to keep it together, since
  he's the key to today's festivities.

  Ryouma really wants to know what the Demons are up to, trailing the Fallen
  Angels and snooping around in long-abandoned Domes.

  Touma remembers sunsets twelve thousand years ago when he and Apollonius
  would watch prominences rise from a sunspot below, surrounded by clouds that
  even reached high Heaven.  Or dawns when they would strain their ears to hear
  tales of rain abandoning itself to its love of the Earth and falling, graven
  in a single drop.  Oh, the days spent under the Tree of Life, as the after-
  knells of the Creation crossed their bodies....  Oh, teh gh3yitudes, at least
  in Apollo's book.

  Touma laments that he played around too much, but fully regenerates anyway.
  Apollo demands to have Baron back, and Touma proposes a trade: Baron, for the
  sacrifice of Sirius and Cynthia.  Apollo certainly can't do that, but Touma
  wonders if he can say as much were he to know their true identity.  No one
  else is sure what they're talking about, and Bradman furiously orders the
  spacetime control device detonated here and now rather than have it get
  stolen.  He assures his subordinate that only the immediate vicinity will be
  affected, and orders him to set the timer *now*.

  The Freeden watch in disbelief as the Federation president abandons the
  device, but just then the other side of ZEUTH fly in: Banjou's informant's
  information was right on the money.  Luckily for Banjou, there are those in
  the Federation who don't like Bradman's style, among them being Mizuki.  Both
  sides quickly apologize for the mutual misunderstanding, but Bradman has
  already set his plan in motion.

  There's no time, and no point, in running away: the "prototype" device is
  creating a big enough warp that the whole world is about to be affected.
  Mail falls silent, as Black Charisma notes that the Wounded Lion's sphere is
  reacting to the primordial power.  Yes, there's a person standing on the
  transport's bridge.  He welcomes ZEUTH to the party he's prepared for them,
  as Mail calls to Rand to save her: the thing that happened with her father is
  happening again.  Black Charisma cries out triumphantly that the world is
  about to be enveloped once more in chaos, with all muddled together as one.
  He disappears, telling ZEUTH that they're the center of the world.

Uh, what just happened?  Touma tells Apollo this is a world Between, a corridor
to the infinite prison that opened at the moment the primordial power once
again mingled light and darkness.  Apollo doesn't really care what's going on,
and demands Baron back.  Baron's spirit is there, as are Sylvia and Sirius'.
Sylvia remembers that Touma is the Fallen Angel who trapped Apollonius and
Celian back when: a memory that will never fade no matter how many times Celian
reincarnates.  Touma repeats his offer to Apollo, demonstrating that the
descendants of Celian have the same wings as the Fallen Angels.  Touma claims
they aren't "people" and that there should be no problem sacrificing them.
Should Apollo save his friend?  Baron yells out no, since Sirius and Celian are
clearly his friends too.  Besides, Baron's already dead, his life sucked out by
the bad guys.  Better he think about the living than the dead -- and isn't he
supposed to be the sun and all?

That settles it: whatever else Sirius and Sylvia are, they're Apollo's friends.
Baron's toast, but at least he says thanks to Apollo before vanishing entirely.
Touma tells Apollo that he's condemned to drown in the ocean of Regret, and
that it's time for him to go.  But thanks to the wingless dude who's sided with
the Fallens, the door to the endless prison will open.  Whereat they'll meet
each other again...

Black Charisma sees Shuran, or at least a pattern of him that ZEUTH left in the
world.  Now all the ZEUTH will be Singularities, though Shuran points out that
there were two Singularities already from the previous spacetime concussion.
That much firepower gathered together is going to be mighty dangerous, but
Black Charisma says he wouldn't want to get too bored for want of a little
uncertainty.  Shuran is... unconvinced.  Black Charisma is looking forward to
seeing who does what next, listing off the various possibilities.  Among them
are the Coralians, who Shuran is quite worried about: they could actually
destroy the world if they aren't careful.  Black Charisma is leaving them to
Dewey, confident that Scirocco can handle the Earth-vs-space war.  That gives
him that much more time to enjoy this wonderfully fucked up world.


41. Cross Point

The good news is that everyone in ZEUTH is okay, and were only teleported a
short distance away from the previous battlefield.  The bad news is that the
spacetime concussion has changed the whole world in some fashion that Jabby
can't fully quantify.  The ZEUTH commanders will start the discovery process by
working together to solve the misunderstandings that created such a rift in the
team.

Number one: "Kiel" was actually Diana, having traded places with Gwen's
secretary shortly before the Breaking and gotten stuck that way.  Shaia
realizes that she made the Queen of the Moon sell stuff like a common street
vendor, but from what Rolan's told Gwen, Diana greatly enjoyed learning how
Earth folk live.  Kiel herself did an impressive job of running the Moon Race
in Diana's absence, but Diana has now traded places back and returned to the
Diana Counter.  Unfortunately, the Diana Counter has suffered a coup, the hawks
deciding to create a new Moon Race homeland by force.  Diana is now imprisoned,
and the Zaft had no choice but to watch in silence to avoid all-out war between
the Moon and the Plants.  Fortunately, ZEUTH has its own chain of command, and
decided to stage a rescue for the good of eventual coexistence between the Moon
and the Earth's peoples.  That's what Holland likes to hear, but even with
Harry's help the operation failed and Diana was spirited away to space.

Harry and Kiel, with help from the Archangel, have headed into space after her.
The Archangel and the Minerva ZEUTH have had a very strange back-and-forth
ally/adversary relationship, and Jamir says his side wasn't together with the
Archangel long enough to figure out what their real deal is.  He does know that
Kira was conflicted about something, but wasn't able to find out what before
parting ways.  Kira's not the only one conflicted: Bright, Quatro and Amuro
have nameless doubts about Durandal as well, and it's anyone's guess where
they'll lead.

Holland's glad the other ZEUTH aren't part of the Zaft, having acquired a
pretty thorough distrust of all militaries everywhere along the line.  Talia
still considers herself enough of a Zaft member to fight any enemy of the
Plants, but before that she's a human being and inclined to help the other
ZEUTH in their fight to coexist with the Coralians and to prevent dimensional
repairs that would favor some people over others.  Bright's also glad to help,
and plans to offer the same decision to everyone in the squad, but Heizaemon
doubts there'll be many naysayers: none of them want to see the rulership of
the world monopolized.  In essence, the ZEUTH are becoming one again.

Now that that's settled, the question becomes what to do about the unseen
enemies who stand in the way, the same people who tried to get the ZEUTH to
eliminate each other.  Aslan suspects the guy who appeared just before the
spacetime concussion is involved: "Black Charisma" or whatever the fuck his
name is.  His or her, since the synthesized voice makes it impossible to know
the speaker's gender.  What does seem clear is that it was he(?) who brought
all the different opponents together, specifically including the ZEUTH.  He's
one of the big danger areas for the team... and another is the age that spawned
the Overdevil: the Black History.

The pilots meanwhile are discussing what the Minerva did after leaving Japan: a
whole lot of fighting with the Phantom Pain.  This unit was composed of hapless
people conditioned to fight by drugs and mind-control, including Shin's friend
Stella.  The Phantom Pain commander even promised Shin that Stella wouldn't
have to fight, after they rescued her once from her black mech.  The problem
was that Stella, as an Extended, required constant medical care that the
Minerva couldn't provide.  When they returned her to the Federation, Neo gave
his word that he wouldn't make her fight again, but breaking that word resulted
in the Freedom ending her life.  The other side's pilots certainly felt Shin's
grief when he went after the Freedom.

Pilots from both sides are united in the idea that Stella's death, as well as
Shin's act of revenge, were both unavoidable.  Shin doesn't like hearing that,
especially since the Freedom has a habit of confusing the battlefield and is
responsible for Heine's death as well.  That fact is why Camille was willing to
help take the Freedom down, believing then as now that it was necessary.  He
nevertheless implores Shin not to let hatred drive his fighting, as someone
who's already gone through Shin's pain himself with Murasame Four.  About the
best that can be said about Four's death in battle is that they broke her mind
control first.

Paula is glad to see that her old friend Fa has used the experience to help
support Camille.  Four's not the only casualty either: Reccoa apparently
perished under enemy fire in the assault on Gibraltar, her mech so thoroughly
destroyed that no one could even tell whether her ejection system had even
fired.  Amuro personally wants to believe that she's still alive, to the extent
that no body was ever found.  Speaking of which, where are Mizuki and Ril?
Eiji hesitates to say, but Banjou tells him everyone has to find out sooner or
later.  After briefly introducing himself and apologizing for not stopping the
needless fight between ZEUTH and ZEUTH sooner, he explains that Mizuki was a
Federation spy.  Her mission was to infiltrate Sandman's Gravion team and
extract the data needed for the Federation to mass-produce the Grantroopers.
Her mission complete, she's gone.

As for Ril, Banjou starts by explaining a bit more about Sandman and Zeravaia.
The latter are the enemies from space that Gravion was designed to fend off.
Sandman is really named Sieg Erikmeyer, and is an alien himself.  That explains
his prediction of Zeravaian assault, and why he had the technology to design
the Gravion... and Daisuke can't say he's surprised.  He met Sandman long
before the Breaking, and the utter lack of doubt or even curiosity in Sandman's
eyes is what tipped him off.  The Zeravaia's proper name is the Genocidron
System, weapons developed hundreds of years ago by Sandman's home planet
Ranvias for a war with its neighbor Celias.  Their inventor was Sandman's
brother-in-law, Hugi Zeravaia, and Sandman was extremely opposed to their use.
In the ensuing argument, the Genocidron's control device was broken and the
Genocidrons sent on an murderous rampage that wiped out the population of both
planets.  Sandman fled to Earth and fell in with Kappei's Beal ancestors,
creating the God Gravion against the possibility the Genocidrons would
eventually follow him.

The fact Sandman doesn't look a day over thirty when he's in fact hundreds of
years old is due to the G Factor in his body that constantly renews him.  He is
in fact effectively immortal, but he gave his life to protect the Earth, still
imprisoned by guilt at the time.  That's why he never owned up to being Ril's
father; the two of them lived apart on Ranvias, so she never found out then.
She actually escaped the day of the Genocidron rampage, but a warp malfunction
in her escape pod meant that she only reached Earth a few years ago... having
lost all her past memories in the process.  A bit of her memory has returned
via the battle against the Zeravaia, but it's been so painful that Eiji thinks
she might be better off still in the dark.  That's probably why Sandman never
told her the truth, but Touga told her... and she became so stupefied that
she's still in a coma to this day.  Apparently Touga meant it as an honest
attempt to cheer Ril up, but it was way too much for Ril to handle.  Touga in
turn was so stricken by what he'd done that he stays locked up in his room,
with Eina by his side, at all times when he's not in battle.

Eiji and Luna can't yet bring themselves to forgive what Touga did, though they
know full well the whole mess was an accident.  Gravion is really the only
thing holding their team together, and they've got something called the Phantom
System that lets them use God Gravion mode with just the two of them, and all
that Eiji knows how to do is to fight hard enough to make up for Mizuki and
Ril's absence.

Just then, the alarm interrupts the conversation: the Emarn have sent a huge
force to try to snatch Kei and Orson.  No doubt the Federation's little stunt
has lit the fire under them.  Given all the high-minded ideals ZEUTH has,
there's no way you can let the Emarn win here.  Apollo wants to know what
Fudou's up to, and from what Sirius has heard he's trying to make contact with
the remains of Diva inside the Federation.  Apollo really really wanted to ask
him about what happened in subspace, which all three of the Aquarion pilots
know wasn't a dream.  Sirius promises to kill Apollo if he breathes a word
about his and Sylvia's wings, but that's the last thing on Apollo's agenda now.
Sylvia offers to have someone else pilot in his stead, but he says that's not
like her at all.  He doesn't care whether she and her brother have wings or
not: they are still themselves after all.

The rejoined ZEUTH are quite a sight, and woe betide the misguided Emarn once
the team is through with them.  Shaia's a bit sad at fighting her countrymen,
but as a citizen of the world she's willing to do what it takes to save it.
Banjou's most happy to fight alongside such a splendid person, but she tells
him that flattering an old woman won't get him anything.  The other girls on
the team ponder what it must be like to lose one's womanly capabilities at age
eighteen [here's a hint: IT SUCKS!].  Anyway, Maneesha's cohort arrive with
their demand to hand over the Singularities at once.  Roger offers to
Negotiate, but Shaia knows she's got to answer his sister directly.  The answer
is "no", and Maneesha starts recounting her childhood grievances with Shaia
always being the less inhibited of the two, running off on her own and all.
Holland asks if Maneesha only came here to relive her childhood, and if so
Tetsuya tells her to scram and let ZEUTH get back to work.  Even Renton tells
her to postpone the sisterly argument so ZEUTH can start saving the world.
Nothing doing, and Shaia knows that she's got to grit her teeth and teach her
impudent sister a thing or several.  The best ZEUTH can do is focus its
firepower on the flagship and thereby limit the damage.

  Earn an Ending Point by not shooting down any Emarn lackeys until after the
  Chiram reinforcements arrive.  Maneesha keeps ratcheting up her rhetoric
  against her sister, even calling her a turncoat and a traitor before Mimsy
  finally tells her to stuff her spoiled brat act where the sun don't shine.
  Shaia only left Maneesha in charge of their household because she felt
  Maneesha was up to the task.  She also reckons Maneesha must not know about
  her husband Launch, and presses ahead despite Shaia's terrified pleas to
  stop.  Mimsy is in the middle of saying that Launch loves Shaia more than
  Maneesha, when the Chiram arrive.

  Orson recognizes the indiscriminate attack as the work of Robert, who plans
  to injure the two traitorous Singularities to the point of death before
  hauling them back to Chiram.  Whatever better judgment Robert might have had
  seems totally submerged in his personal feud with Kei, and that means only
  one thing: total dismantlement time!  Shaia orders Maneesha to get out of
  here and let her fight, in the interest of protecting the whole world.  And
  in case Maneesha needs it spelled out for her, that includes Emarn's people
  too, especially her beloved sister.  A stunned Maneesha complies, as Henry
  instructs Atena not to get any funny ideas about her beloved uncle.  Robert
  is clearer: show one ounce of mercy and he'll execute her as a traitor on the
  spot.  He hopes she'll provide a battle worthy of the lofty Henderson name,
  which takes Atena back to her mother.  Orson doesn't want to see his adopted
  daughter branded a traitor too, but Kei doubts she'll be any happier for it.
  Besides, he owes his daughter one, and now's as good a time as any to repay
  her.

  As the battle wears on, a bunch of the Crow mecha appear, just as they did
  during Black Charisma's little stunt.  Gainer also recalls seeing these
  around in conjunction with Asakim: could he be Black Charisma after all?
  NAW, SURELY NOT! *thud*

  Kei tries to Persuade his daughter to come over to the good guys' side, but
  she'll only listen to Orson.  Orson says that if she's determined to fight
  him, he's determined to shoot her down in the interest of protecting the
  world.  That's the kind of resolve she wanted to hear, and she immediately
  joins her uncle's side of the battle, though she still hasn't acknowledged
  Kei as her father.  This is also worth an Ending Point.

  Robert doesn't think he's the kind of man who could fall in a place like
  this.  He is, as usual, sadly mistaken.  Orson and Kei know they now have a
  big bullseye on their foreheads after the Feds demonstrated their spacetime
  tech, but before too much discussion occurs, the main Chiran fleet shows up.
  The Chiran leader orders all Chiran soldiers to pull out immediately, and
  asks the ZEUTH for parlay.  It's not clear if this guy should be trusted, but
  Shaia knows that if the world is ever going to get truly healed, the trust
  has to start somewhere.

Maneesha starts by asking what her sister is fighting for: is it really to save
the world?  Shaia asks if that's really such a strange-sounding notion, and
Maneesha yells that this world is all screwed up: all these different people
from all these different places, Earthlings even living in space... The place
needs to be fixed!  Fixed, at the cost of everyone else's lives?  Uhh...  Shaia
agrees that the world is messed up, and immersed in unending conflict.  But
even more numerous than the disagreements are the new meetings, new friendships
that have resulted.  Shaia for one loves all the residents of the world, and is
counting on Kei, Orson and ZEUTH to find a way to save everybody.  Kei is in
some sense a dunce: too stupid to be bound by the mores of his world.  But it's
precisely that spirit which gives him, and ZEUTH, a chance to win.  That
duncehood could also be called "purity", impartiality that she really wants to
have in play when the world is repaired.  Maneesha demands to know what she'll
do if Emarn is annihilated, but Shaia points out that the entire world is at
risk: now's not the time to worry about individual nations.

Maneesha knows how serious Shaia is, and finally decides to try believing in
her way of doing things.  When she stops and admits it, Shaia's always been
looking out for her and everyone else around her anyway.  And as for Launch, he
chose Shaia of his own free will.  Maneesha will head back to the homeland and
get the old folks on board with ZEUTH's plan, and the Chiram leader, having
come early to the meeting alone, likes what he's heard.  We finally get his
real name: Jeffrey White.

What he wants to know is what exactly ZEUTH is, made up of so many disparate
components from so many disparate worlds.  Shaia answers as best as she can:
ZEUTH are beholden to no one but themselves.  Are they Yapanese?  No, they are
universal citizens.  This is the overarching principle that guides their
action: to work for the good of the world as a whole.  That's pretty much what
he wanted to hear, noting that he has no stomach for trying to keep all the
Singularities in ZEUTH under control anyhow.  Chiram no longer has the spare
firepower to maintain itself as an independent nation, so he figures he might
as well bet on outsiders like ZEUTH.

Wait, what's this about numerous Singularities?  Well, any spacetime concussion
device strong enough to break spacetime barriers will cause all people in its
vicinity to become Singularities.  And guess what ZEUTH just experienced?
Well, at least now it's clear what Black Charisma meant when he said ZEUTH was
now the center of the world...

Meanwhile, Killer the Butcher is welcoming Gagarn from the Eldar to the Skull
Moon Base.  He's the new head of the Eldar armies, something that Teral, Jiela
and Reats feared for some time.  Teral knows this guy as a cold, cruel man
whose own allies fear him more than they fear the enemy.  He sarcastically
tells Teral not to worry: he may have the former commander fly a lowly Harpy or
something, and Reats bristles on Teral's behalf.  Dalton and Mesa point out
that this group of incompetents is lucky they weren't executed already for
their incompetence: they're every bit as loyal to Gagarn as Teral's men are to
him.  Gagarn says that Teral ran out of luck as soon as the dimensional horizon
around this solar system distorted again: that's what let his crew perform
their second timewarp.

Err, _time_ warp?  Seems that Teral neglected to mention that his people come
from the far-distant future, for the sole purpose of stealing Trinity Energy
before it can become a threat.  Of course Gattler wouldn't know this, but if
left unchecked, Earth will become a great power who plunges the whole galaxy
into war.  The power of their source will be Trinity Energy, at whose use the
Earthlings of this age are still amateurs.  If his people can either steal or
destroy the Trinity Energy at this stage, history will be changed and all will
be well in his own country.  Butcher finds this immensely entertaining, getting
along well already with this steely man.  Aphrodia on the other hand is
increasingly terrified of allying her own people with this murderous bunch.
Gattler doesn't mind if Gagarn takes out the Earthlings, but he's quite sure
that Gagarn will turn against the Aldebaran shortly after.  He's got to somehow
gain control of the invasion of Earth, by any means necessary.

Teral cautions Gagarn not to underestimate the Earthlings, who've proved far
stronger than anyone thought.  Gagarn tells the incompetent fool not to worry:
he's made a few friends on his way here, who should be arriving shortly.  He
then orders Teral to attack the Earth in celebration of their, and Gagarn's
own, arrival.  Should he succeed completely, Gagarn will make Teral his
second-in-command.  Teral has no real choice but to comply, staking his pride
on the result.  And let's not forget: the fate of the Eldar is riding on this
too.

Black Charisma has detected a wormhole in nearby space, no doubt an indication
of some group or other's arrival.  Call it a trick of the Second Breaking.  One
thing he hadn't planned on is both Emarn and Chiram siding with ZEUTH, but
Black Charisma would rather have ZEUTH shaking things up, as good Singularities
should, rather than sitting on their butts doing nothing.  He tells Shuran and
Tsiine to enjoy this new world while they can.  And when they get bored, just
roll the dice with another spacetime concussion: eventually things will arrive
at the form he truly wants...

"In the midst of the war, the dimensional walls were broken once again by the
newly-developed spacetime concussion munition.  This spacetime destruction,
which would become known as the 'Second Breaking', changed not only the
political order of the world -- so close to stabilizing -- but even the shape
of the continents and the paths of the stars.

The people had no choice but to recognize anew that they lived in a transitory
place with no certainties.  Their anxiety exploded into rioting, news of which
mingled with irresponsible rumors on the UN to incite even greater anxiety yet.

Though the New Earth Federation, recently reorganized via a coup d'etat,
dispatched troops to quell the rioting, they could not quell the underlying
anxiety and terror which clung to the bottom of the people's hearts.

Moreover, the Second Breaking affected the nature of the Rivalry Zones
separating the Earth from space.  Rivalry zones the world over weakened,
accompanied by increased levels in Trapars.  This increased the severity of the
Alien Union's attacks, fanned the flames of the war between Earth's residents
and the space colonists, and provoked increased activity by the Coralian
Antibodies.

The people at large, with no means to alter their own fate, cowered in
anticipation of the end of the world, all the while nursed by a stream of
suspect information from the UN.

As the world itself faced the end of its existence, the final battle between
its would-be rulers and inheritors was about to begin...


42. The Final Chapter Begins

Teral pays a visit to the brig, finding far fewer prisoners than he expected.
Apparently the Earthlings staged a jailbreak the other day, and the only people
left are those who weren't in time to flee... Or so the guard says: the actual
prisoners have a different account -- they actually stayed behind in order to
help their weakened comrades.  Taichirou tells Teral to put all the blame for
the escape on him and him alone, forbidding any of his remaining comrades from
dying until they've accomplished their appointed task.  Kagetsu demands to know
if Teral is looking for more human bombs, but Teral tells him that only the
Gaizock love such cruelty.  The proud Eldar would never stoop that low, or at
least wouldn't, until today.  It seems the motherland has decided to stop the
Mr. Nice Guy act, and the Eldar's noble war is about to degenerate into a
demon's riot.  He wants to free at least the women and children before Gagarn
has his nefarious way with the prisoners.  Who mostly don't believe him until
Jane speaks up, believing the pride she sees in his eyes.  Pathetic to have
prisoners who understand you better than your own fellow soldiers, isn't it?

Aphrodia then walks up, asking if Teral is really serious.  He's so serious
that he wants her to actually transport the women and children to Earth.  He'd
have his own subordinates handle it, except they all have to sortie along with
him.  Aphrodia tells him that as an Aldebaran soldier, the very thought of
transporting enemy prisoners gives her the creeps.  She refuses at first, but
Teral tells her to be more honest with herself: she isn't really this cold a
woman.  It's her blind obedience to Gattler that's made her that way.

She takes that as an insult and starts reciting the military code, but he draws
his sword and knocks her cap off, saying he wants her to remember the
gentleness she once had again.  For motivation, he tells her the story of a man
and a woman on a certain planet who promised their futures to each other.  The
man was killed in a war, leaving the woman alone.  To be one with the man for
all eternity, the woman voluntarily changed her body into that of a male,
swearing revenge on the entire planet who killed the man.  A man's body with a
woman's will... thus did the woman fight to survive as a man, and as a soldier,
being slowly crushed under the futility and sorrow of war.  He implores her not
to lose the gentleness inside her too, and that if she loves the people of her
world at all, she should give them peace.

She protests that that's Gattler's job as leader, but Teral doubts that true
peace can come from violence.  After a long pause, Aphrodia takes off her
shades and tells Teral that she's taking him up on his ideals.  She'll do the
prisoner transfer, leaving Teral with no regrets.  Not that he means to die --
he means to win, and ensure Eldar has a future.  Taichirou tells his comrades
not to worry about him, and to search for Aki when they get back to Earth.
Kagetsu tells him to hold out hope for Kappei and Toshiya to come rescue him,
and Taichirou gives him a message for Toshiya: believe in victory.  Kagetsu can
only hope that when they find Aki, she doesn't have a star-shaped scar on her
back indicating a bomb inside...

Meanwhile, Axis has arrived at the L5 point.  Mineba has heard the wishes of
the troops, and places everything in Hamarn's capable hands.  Brecks knows that
Hamarn is the power behind the throne and de facto ruler of all the Jion
survivors who fled to the asteroid belt.  Her sway over the last of the Zabi
family gives her legitimacy, though her tender years don't sit well with Wong
Lee.  She can tell as much from the look on his face, which pleases the
delegate from the Revolutionary Army, Zeidel.  Zeidel's been rallying his
troops under the banner of leadership by Newtypes, and Hamarn asks him what he
thinks Newtypes are.  He asserts that they're a new type of mankind, which will
begin a new page in history, but she smirks and says that the man taking notes
behind him is closer to the truth.

But this isn't a meeting about revolutionizing mankind: it's about the
reorganization of the Plants, AEUG, and the Revolutionary Army that Brecks
proposes.  She and her group of refugees from the One Year War are willing to
throw in their lot with the plan, and commit Axis' resources to the Spacenoid
Allied Forces, soon to be known as the Aprilius Allied Army once talks with the
Plants conclude.  Zeidel is looking forward to dropping the hammer on the
foolish Earthnoids, as is Durandal.  Hamarn finds the purge unavoidable but
doesn't seem troubled -- the only one who is is Brecks, who knows that
prolonged conflict will put all mankind in jeopardy.  Durandal's charisma,
Hamarn's strategy, and Zeidel's twisted justice make for a serious downward
spiral that the moderates may never extricate themselves from...

Hamarn wants to know about the AEUG member named Quatro Bagina, currently
acting as a forward commander.  Hamarn asks Brecks to have Quatro come to space
for a chat, which Brecks was meaning to get around to anyway.  Hamarn is sure
that everything will start moving once Char comes back to her, while Brecks is
hastily working on contingency plans should something happen to him.

Harry is getting a tour of the Eternal, Bartfeld's new ship.  She saw action in
the previous war, and is still in pretty good shape.  Luckily for Bartfeld,
he's got collaborators in the Plants, a sign that Durandal's grip on them isn't
perfect.  Word has come in that the shuttle with Diana aboard didn't go
straight to the moon, but instead headed to Side 7, worrisome given that that
is Federation territory.  Harry tries to head in alone for a rescue, but
Bartfeld tells him not to be so unsociable: he'll head to Side 7 just as soon
as the repairs to the Eternal are done.  That's why Lacus has come after all:
to save the future both of the Moon and the Plants.  They plan to meet up with
Kira, who's heading from Orb to space, at Side 7, and Lacus tells Kiel that
she'll shed as much of her own blood as needed to bring about peace.

The pilots are fretting over the stuff from the scrolling text about the
spaceborn enemies having an easier time accessing Earth.  Infighting among
humans seems stupid with the threat of Coralian awakening so imminent, but it's
human nature to focus on small comprehensible problems and ignore bigger,
incomprehensible ones.  Trezoa is trying to calculate from the elevated Trapar
levels when that awakening might be, but if the Feds keep blasting Oranges off,
there's no way anyone could make any meaningful predictions.  Kazami has been
busily researching something related to all of this, but he's been in the lab
so often that Julie hasn't heard what the specific topic is.  Julie reckons he
could learn from such singleminded devotion to research, and Marin knows that
Kazami actually has a chance to get real results with the almighty Trinity
Energy.

The most drastic change anyone's heard of so far is Mercury, Venus and Pluto
vanishing into another dimension.  Unfortunately, the UN version is that they
were eaten by a HUGE space monster.  Other stories have it that under the
melting Siberian ice are salted humans, or that a scarred demon is hunting
aliens in space.  Roger's distaste for a medium that spreads such irresponsible
rumors is understandable, but at least Gainer's been able to figure out who's
responsible for most of the bogus info: Black Charisma.  This comes as
something of a shock, since no one can picture the grandiose masked man typing
away at a terminal until all hours of the night, coffee mug in hand.  Still,
Raven thinks it's worth having Gainer pursue mister B.C.'s traces over the UN
while he asks Shuran to do the same.  One thing Raven hates is to see Eidel's
tool for calming the multitudes used for exactly the opposite effect.
Hopefully Eidel will turn up sooner rather than later.

Atena has now officially joined the ZEUTH, made possible by Chiram's decision
to help.  Kei tells her to drop the formal title when referring to Orson, maybe
even calling him by his first name for a change.  She hotly tells him that her
role here is also to ensure that ZEUTH doesn't betray Chiram, and not to forget
that he's no longer needed to repair spacetime now that everyone in ZEUTH have
become Singularities.  Kei's happier that way actually, since it means he
doesn't have to shoulder as much responsibility himself.  Orson ponders how
everyone seems to have their own way of dealing with the impending Coralian
awakening.  Chiram and Emarn are supporting ZEUTH, the Federation is going with
Dewey Novak's plan, and the Plants have some top-secret plan of their own from
what Bright's heard.  Given how high the Plants' tech is, this trump card is
probably something truly spectacular.

Kappei then asks Orson to explain just what it is the Singularities are
supposed to do to save the world.  It starts with having a concrete image in
mind, such as Kei firmly imagining a world where Emarn still exists.  See, the
multiverse is made up of numerous parallel universes, some where Emarn exists
and some where it doesn't.  Dimensional healing amounts to creating a new
parallel universe, and if different Singularities have different visions in
mind, multiple parallel universes will result.  The important part is that the
Singularities have to consciously create the image of what they want.  Just a
vague "let the whole world exist" runs the risk of the whole world NOT
existing.  Besides the practical impossibility of getting all the Singularities
to think about the same thing, there's also the matter of needing to connect to
a Greater Singularity to do anything.  That's a location where
spacetime-shaking energy is gathered, and the connection must be physical.

Nobody knows where the Greater Singularity is, but the Emarn and Chiram are now
searching feverishly for it.  Kei says it's a major emergency, though no one
would know it from his easygoing manner.  Atena then takes Kappei off to see a
certain someone: Aki.  Atena had heard there was one of the refugees that knew
Kappei, and thought it would be a good time to reunite them.  From Kappei's
reaction, she was right on the money.  Watching the two of them, Orson's glad
that Tiina's daughter finally met her real father.  It might take some time for
them to become a true family, but Orson believes she'll watch over them until
that happens.

Aki apologizes for all the trouble she's caused, dating back to Cadez.  Kappei
couldn't care less, just happy to see her back again.  Their idyll doesn't last
long though: the aliens send in a major invasion force that Kappei needs to
fend off.  Aki will pray for him to win and come back soon, since she's got so
much to talk with him about.  After he leaves, she notices a stain on her
pajamas and temporarily borrows a pair of Kappei's.  As she turns around, we
see the dreaded star-shaped scar on her back...

Teral orders his troops to strike down all who resist, and there's very little
resistance the humans can offer.  Bradman's presidential guard is wiped out
almost in an instant, and even if Dewey and Scirocco have troops on the way,
they won't make it in time.  Bradman doesn't want the people to see the
president of the Federation fleeing before the aliens, and Fitzgerald can only
hope that Fei's squad arrives soon.  Reats has realized that the Earthlings for
whatever reason don't seem interested in protecting their capital city, but
Teral tells him that the real enemy hasn't arrived yet.

That changes with ZEUTH's arrival.  Kappei's all pumped up for the battle,
happy that his friend (not his _girlfriend_) is back.  Banjou's happy to help
out, grateful for all the cheerfulness Kappei spreads.  Teral tells his foes
that they're about to get a full dose of Eldar pride: only one side is going to
walk out of this alive.  Shin has to wonder if they wouldn't have been better
off letting the aliens destroy the Federation government for them, but Aslan
admonishes that any attack by the aliens goes above the Earth-vs-Plant level.
Shin isn't so sure, and Quatro knows that he hasn't yet clearly sorted out in
his mind what he's fighting for.  Not really surprising, considering how he got
into the fight in the first place...

  Kappei is in a super good mood, and Aki is in the middle of supporting him
  over the radio when an explosion shakes the King Beal.  It's not a big blast,
  but it came from Kappei's room.  That can only mean one thing: Aki was made
  into a human bomb too.  This really gets Kappei's goat: not only Hamamoto,
  but even Aki have received the cruelest treatment by the bad guys.  This is
  doubly bad news for Teral, who Toshiya only let live after he promised to
  stop the bombings.  It's kind of beside the point that Aki was sent before
  that promise was made, at least as far as Kappei goes.  No one knows what to
  say to the guy, and the only choice is to help him vent his fury on the
  aliens.

  Teral knows if he falls here, no one will be left to stop Gagarn's rampage.
  Just then a group of Zeravaia show up from overhead: the help that Gagarn has
  enlisted.  Just how the hell did he manage to control these supposedly
  uncontrollable killing machines?  That's the beauty of whoever it is Gagarn
  has befriended, and he tells Teral to use them for Eldar's glory.  These
  things are tough, but fighting them is what God Gravion is for.  And
  defeating them is the only thing Touga can do for Ril and Sandman now.
  Banjou realizes that Touga's psychological balance is breaking down: can he
  keep up the fight?

  Teral knows there's no point in retreating: all that awaits back at the Skull
  Moon Base is execution.  Given that, he'd rather give his very last breath to
  the Eldar cause, meaning Kappei and Banjou have to take the guy down.  This
  they do in truly grand fashion, and the stricken Teral tells Reats and Jeila
  to escape.  Toshiya realizes that Teral deliberately didn't try to dodge the
  blow, asking why.  Teral swears on his pride as an Eldar that he stopped
  Butcher's human bombings.  He's taking responsibility for the fact that there
  were some left over, feeling that all is futility.  His men can only marvel
  at his end, retreating for today but vowing to go greet him one day soon.
  This isn't exactly what Kappei had in mind...

  One of the Zeravaia starts draining Gravion's gravitational energy, and when
  Kouji says he'll come help, Touga tells him to stay back.  The Zeravaia is
  full of gravitons, and if provoked it'll explode and take out everything
  nearby.  His plan is to push Gravion's engines right up to the redline and
  force it to separate, creating a shock that will (safely) detonate the bad
  guy.  The problem is that Touga himself won't survive, and Eiji yells at the
  poor defeated guy that he needs him as a friend, even if not as a fellow
  pilot.  Eina has another idea for channeling the Gravion's energy through the
  G Driller right after separation: she can do that, since she's a Proto
  Grandiva that Sandman made.  There's no time to explain, and it seems Eina
  has opted to sacrifice her life instead of Touga's.

  The Gran Knights have all withdrawn, with Fei arriving slightly too late.
  She plans to use her Gran Trooper in Gravion's stead to protect the Earth,
  and indications are that it won't be easy...

  With the bad guys defeated, all Bradman can think about is where the rest of
  his troops are: once they arrive, they could take out the ZEUTH at once.
  Mizuki can only watch the battle sadly.  Though ZEUTH won, the price was
  heavy indeed.  Touga has been recovered, but Luna has not.  They did however
  find the leader of the Eldar, who's badly enough wounded that he had to be
  rushed straight into surgery.  There's no point in waiting here any longer
  for the Feds to get you, so ZEUTH withdraws to lick its wounds.  Fei is at
  least hoping that Sandman is watching her exploits: her, who he ought to have
  chosen.

Banjou tells Kappei to cry as much as he wants tonight, but to wipe his tears
tomorrow like the man he's become.  Kappei protests pathetically that he can't
be strong like Banjou: the Moon can only shine when the Sun's light hits it,
after all.  In blatant disregard of basic astronomy, Banjou points out that the
moon still shines on the darkest of nights, showing otherwise lost people the
way.  He's got to become that saving moonlight.  It takes a while, but as
Banjou had hoped, Kappei pulls himself together, vowing to Aki to restore peace
to the land.

As though things weren't bad enough, the Zaft have issued orders to head to
Gibraltar and answer for defending the enemy Federation's government.  Since
it's a Zaft matter, only the Minerva and its crew are being summoned, during
which time the rest of ZEUTH will try to get in all the healing they can.  The
best place to do that is probably Trinity City, where more data might be
forthcoming on the alien invasion anyway. Bright can only hope that the inquiry
is a mere formality and not something more serious...  Jamir is quite worried
about Durandal and Zaft becoming ZEUTH's enemy.  More bad news then comes in:
Touga has vanished from the hospital, apparently crushed by the shock of Eina
and Luna's disappearance.

Elsewhere, Medaiyu is thanking Cid for looking after his daughter Anna.  He's
also come to talk about some of the rare items Cid's been gathering from the
world over, as one antiquities collector to another.  Apparently there's been a
bandaged man making the rounds of antiquities too: he came to Medaiyu and read
only one of his books before leaving.  To both Cid and Medaiyu's surprise, Gwen
has sent a letter threatening Anna's life if Medaiyu doesn't open his
collection to Gwen's scrutiny.  More precisely, one specific book, which would
be the same one that that bandaged guy read: that book is apparently *really*
important to Gwen.  Just what's so important about this book, and who's the guy
looking for it?


43. Fate and Freedom

Banjou's report on the status of the troops is anything but good news for
Raven, and for Sandman himself (wasn't he supposed to be dead?  Ehh, check the
other route).  Sandman marvels at Eina using her Protodiva powers, and Banjou
tells him that ZEUTH has recovered the badly-damaged G Driller.  They'll do
what they can to repair it on their end.  Banjou's worried about the apparent
Zeravaian cooperation with the Skull Moon forces, and tells Sandman that ZEUTH
is headed to Trinity City.  He asks Sandman to come there too to talk about the
Zeravaia, telling him to steel his resolve when he senses Sandman hesitating.
After Banjou hangs up, the normally unflappable Sandman starts quaking in his
boots, moaning about how his brother has come to kill him at last.  He's sure
that the only person capable of draining Gravion's gravitons and detonating it
could be his brother Hugi.  All the aesthetics, all the hope for the future:
lost in darkness eternal!  OH WOE IS ME!!!!111!!1!!!  The huge manatee, it is
killing me.

The commanders brief Getsuei on the link between the Coralians and the
dimensional collapse.  Bright tells him that the indie ZEUTH would love to see
Bradman's regime toppled and the power of mankind joined into one, though he's
not entirely comfortable with Durandal being the standard-bearer for the
movement.  At least "for the moment", says Heizaemon: he has to admit that
Durandal's warpower is indispensable in taking out the Alien Union.  He just
hopes that Durandal doesn't use it for other less benevolent ends as well.
That's good enough for Getsuei, who plans to throw his full support behind
ZEUTH.  Queenstein is looking forward to reviewing Doctor Bear's results once
they're ready for peer review, and coming up with some countermeasure against
the Coralians.  Holland reminds her that the Coralians are every bit as alive
as the humans, though even he concedes that if it's their lives or mankind's,
some hard choices will have to be made.

Getsuei will also try to figure out how to actually enable the Singularities to
repair spacetime, i.e. figuring out how to image the whole world and what to do
once the Greater Singularity is actually located.  Kazami meanwhile is all
locked away in his room researching something, and the only person to see him
is Rie when she brings him his food.  That ends abruptly as Kazami strides onto
the scene, almost ready with new results about the dimensional collapse.  He
tells Queenstein to leave it to him, and Getsuei tells Bright to have his
mentally wounded troops rest while he reprovisions and resupplies their ships.

Eiji and the maids have stayed behind in Ingressa to look for Touga, with Eiji
thinking that Touga's condition is all his fault.  What happened to Eina and
Luna is nobody's fault really, but Eiji must be really empathizing with Touga,
as a former runaway himself.  Really, there's nothing else for it but to trust
that Eiji can somehow bring Touga back, though it's unclear what the Gran
Knights could do if reassembled given the bustedness of their mech.  And even
if it was repaired, the Phantom System is a poor substitute for a full crew.
If only the missing Mizuki and the unconscious Ril would come back together...
Who can grant Sandman's wishes if they fail here?

Just then, a man named David Wayne comes on the scene, looking for Marin.
Queenstein summoned this academy-mate of Oliver's to Trinity City... as
Baldios' new pilot.  Whoa, what?!  He claims to have learned all sorts of
subspace tech from Queenstein, as well as how to pilot Baldios.  He tells the
crew that after all, it's the Earthlings' job to protect their planet, and
Oliver and Raita don't exactly offer their wholehearted support.  Queenstein
wants to talk to Marin about all this, and he'll be happy to go chat with her
-- and tell her that the Pulsar Burn is his.  That's fine with David, who's
confident he's got the skills to become Baldios' main pilot by his own merits.
Marin is as baffled as anyone else at why Queenstein seemingly doesn't trust
him anymore...

Hayato has brought Amuro a new Gundam, made by the AEUG as part of their
independent armament campaign as insurance against the Zaft.  He asks for
Quatro's opinion of Durandal's methods, and Quatro would prefer not to say.
Doubts have a way of morphing into certainties and coming back to bite those
who give them tongue.  That's enough for Hayato, who tells Amuro that Anaheim
sent him more than just the mech.  They also sent a white pilot suit from a
passionate fan of his, who insists that white is his color.  Beltorchika isn't
so sure she approves of other women sending Amuro presents, but he assures her
he has no idea who this "fan" even is.  What he wants to know is what he did to
merit his own special mech, and Hayato tells him that it's got some
experimental Newtype-only weapons based on his old Newtype data.  Quatro is
privately glad to see that Anaheim is putting the Psychoframe he sent them to
good use.  Amuro's not exactly thrilled that his personal data has been
circulated all over, but the engineer personally assured Hayato that he would
like the results.  Amuro will give it his best, saying that mecha themselves
bear no guilt.

Hayato will be heading to Trezoa to drop off some other cargo, deliberately
avoiding his son Katsu.  He asks Amuro to pass along the message to not make
his mother cry, which tells Amuro that Hayato is still living up to his
parental duties.  Quatro figures that Brecks must be ratcheting up his
defensive stance against Durandal, and knows that Axis should have reached
Earth around now.  Depending on what Durandal does about that, the AEUG may
have to cut ties with their sponsor.  He knows of Amuro's worries too, and
tells him that they should wait for the Minerva's return for now.  The
"inquiry" could be considered sour grapes against the ZEUTH, and Quatro says
they've got to beware both of Durandal's actions, and of Axis'.

At Gibraltar, the inquiry has ended with no punishment for the Minerva.
Durandal apologizes for putting them through the wringer, saying that normally
the Minerva's captain should have been above such things due to her FAITH
status.  Still, there are so many in the Plant government worried about the
Minerva's collaboration with ZEUTH that he had no choice but to put it to a
trial.  Shin tells Durandal that he was very moved by his message the other
day, but Durandal repeats what he said earlier: that was merely a means to end
the war sooner.  Though, it does seem to have backfired a bit.  Shin is
positive it's better than leaving the Magi to do more nefarious stuff, and
Durandal tells him his unwavering conviction helps give him strength.

Maybe he can return the favor, with two new mecha: the Destiny and Legend.  He
and Rey are getting the very latest and greatest he can offer technology- wise,
better in every way than their previous machines.  This should enable Shin to
continue to evolve, and is his birthright: he and Kira were both born to be
soldiers.  Durandal tells him that no one in this world knows who they truly
are or what their power is truly to be used for, which is in essence why
everyone's always fighting all the time.  He tells Shin that he actually feels
something like sympathy for Kira and his sad fate: he's got plenty of power if
only he'd use it by living as a warrior.  He laments that there's no telling
how much Kira could do if he'd just apply himself correctly.  Durandal
certainly has no idea why Kira split up with Lacus, appearing randomly on the
battlefield and kidnapping the Orb princess.  Oh, how BLESSED he would have
been if he'd only have put his power to GOOD USE.

Even Shin is getting suspicious now.  "Blessed", huh?  Sure: what could be more
fulfilling than living up to one's own abilities?  That's the kind of world
Durandal wants to create once this war is over, where everyone can lead a
blessed existence without any impetus for war.  Sure sounds great, but getting
there will require Shin and others like him to do their part.  Durandal is
counting on the kids to drink the Koolaid and not start thinking on their own,
like Kira did...

Meer has called Aslan out in the middle of the night, begging him to apologize
to Durandal.  She's heard that Durandal intends to execute him for meeting
Kira, news of which somehow got out from their secret meeting at Port Talkeus.
Meer's sure that Durandal is going to become Aslan's foe sooner or later so
long as Aslan still has regard for Kira, and she's worried sick.  He thanks
her, and tells her that Durandal's the sort of man who can always come up with
excuses for discarding things that don't do what he wants them to, rightfully
or otherwise.  It's now abundantly clear from Durandal's words to the world,
and his use of Meer as Lacus' double, that the good chairman is not to be
trusted.  One thing Aslan won't become is Durandal's fighting puppet, no matter
how "right" his words might sound.

Durandal has no use for people who don't fulfill their assigned roles.  He
wants a compliant "Lacus", and an obedient mobile suit pilot, and in all
honesty neither he nor Meer can keep up that act forever.  Rather than have her
wait to be killed too, Aslan asks her to come along with him.  She frantically
tells him that she's better off as Lacus, and pleads with him to accept his
part too.  Just then the warning klaxons go off: no doubt the troops are
looking for Aslan.  Meilin finds them first, telling Aslan that one of the
police force came looking for him.  Seems Aslan's been kicked out of the Zaft
already, for no reason at all.  Meilin thinks a second or two and tells Aslan a
way to go to avoid the police.  Meilin knows they've got guns, and would rather
see Aslan flee than just get killed.  Meer begs him not to go, but he bids
farewell to "Lacus" and runs off into the night.

He's sorry to have gotten Meilin mixed up in things, but she believes in him
and has no regrets.  Just then, two mecha catch up with him -- and there aren't
many machines in the inventory that can catch a Saber.  It's Shin and Rey in
their new mecha, and Rey tells Shin their orders are to kill Aslan.  Even if he
were brought back to base, he'd just get executed there anyway, but Shin
doesn't like the idea of firing with Meilin aboard Aslan's mech.  Shin wants a
better reason, but Rey tells him that the world is about to be united thanks to
Durandal's hard work: does Shin intend to waste the belief of all the people
who want to see that happen?  Rey continues that Aslan betrayed not just
Durandal, but everyone in ZEUTH as well, and orders Shin to pull himself
together to settle the score.

Aslan rebuts, telling him that Durandal and Rey's honeyed words will actually
kill the world in the long run.  And if he won't listen, Aslan asks him to at
least let him set Meilin down.  Rey says that she's a fellow criminal whose
existence is already meaningless.  Whoa, what?  Rey repeats: these are the
enemy: will Shin just let them betray him and Durandal and trample on their
feelings?!  Shin's really overwrought now, and starts yelling about how it's
all Aslan's fault for betraying everyone.

  Just because Rey is being a fascist psycho doesn't mean Shin has to be.  Have
  him sit on his ass until turn 4, when Rey takes matters into his own hands
  and blasts Aslan with his new Funnels.  Thus concludes their mission to
  strike down the traitors, and Rey tells Shin to head home.

Word reaches Talia and Durandal that the Saber has been shot down, and saying
Talia isn't happy is a major understatement.  Durandal claims to be saddened by
the whole debacle, after bringing Aslan back and making him a FAITH and
whatnot.  Talia requests a better explanation for just what the police were
doing, and Durandal intends to do just that... once Talia's brought Meilin's
sister here.  Though the Archangel's whereabouts are still unknown, Durandal
thinks he may have just achieved checkmate with Kira's Freedom shot down.  No,
there's still the white Queen to worry about, though even Lacus Klein won't
have any friends left momentarily.

Midgard has brought Diana to a spot in the middle of nowhere so she can fulfill
her duty as Queen of the Moon, as it were.  She knows better than that, and
demands he tell her what he's getting in return for selling her to the
Federation.  Is this Agrippa Maintainer's orders, or maybe Gim Ginganam's?
Midgard won't say, but notes that the person who wants her has assured him that
the Moon will be allowed self-governance and independence as a result of her
becoming the "queen of the whole world".  Now what the heck does *that* mean?

Just then a bunch of troops under Sara's command show up, with orders to keep
the ship with Diana safe.  Reccoa's among them, and Sara doesn't like Reccoa
reminding her of her business.  Sara still can't figure out why Scirocco would
send her here with a former AEUG operative under her command.  Reccoa meanwhile
remembers how Scirocco said he would show her the world after rescuing her from
her damaged mech.  She wants someone to value her, and as such will fight for
Scirocco's ends.  Their deliberations are interrupted by the arrival of the
Eternal, complete with royal guardsman Harry.  Bartfeld had hoped to pick up
Kira before staging the rescue, but that ain't going to happen now.  Lacus
addresses all the bad guys, saying she won't permit them to use Diana for their
own selfish ends.  Of course they ignore her directive to get lost, and it's
time for Harry and Dacosta to earn their paychecks.  Lacus is determined to
rescue Diana for the whole world's sake.

  On turn two, a menacing new mobile suit shows up, piloted by Gim Ginganam.
  He's come to test out his new Turn X, and maybe off a few scurrying little
  rats in the process.  About the only thing he agrees with Harry on is that
  Midgard isn't fit to protect the queen.  He feels it should be the Ginganam
  house's responsibility.  This dude is the commander of the Moon's armies, and
  a noted martial artist who lives only for the pleasure of battle.  He
  intends, in his twisted way, to "save" Diana with his little souvenir from
  the Moon's Mountain Cycles.

  As though there weren't enough problems, Yzak and his men show up a short
  time later, in pursuit of "terrorists" who turn out to be the Eternal.  Yzak
  tells his men to leave the Feds alone and focus fire on Lacus Klein's ship,
  and things look pretty grim.  But then Kira shows up in the Strike, which
  stirs very bad memories for Yzak.  His plan is to shoot all the terrorists
  down as revenge, but Kira isn't hesitating any longer.  Lacus quickly greets
  him and gives him his new mech.  After quick reminiscences for his past two
  trusty steeds, Kira goes out to fight the good fight so all his friends can
  be back together.  His new mech is called, appropriately enough, the Strike
  Freedom, and Bartfeld tells him to use it to hold off the Zaft while he goes
  and saves Diana.  Gim doubts some guileless kid like Kira will be much use in
  battle, but Kira's got the strength of his feelings for his friends to power
  him.

  Kira doesn't recognize Yzak when he fights him, but knows somehow that
  they've fought before.  Yzak has no clue who the terrorists really are, but
  when Kira shoots him down he vows to come back and follow them to the ends of
  the world.  Kira is now starting to vaguely remember who Yzak, one of Aslan's
  friends, is...

  Sara is really mad she couldn't carry out the mission Scirocco gave her, but
  Reccoa is more curious just what Scirocco meant to do with Diana.  When
  Midgard realizes that there's no escape, he decides to take all punishment on
  himself and spare Diana from being exploded -- somewhat to Ginganam's sorrow.
  Harry is happy to take him up on his offer, and executes him for what he's
  done.  He then requests Ginganam to return quietly to the moon, unless he
  intends to turn on Diana herself?  Ginganam sniffs that the whole mess with
  Midgard has ruined his appetite, but he reiterates that it's his family's
  rightful job to protect the queen.  Harry isn't having it, but Diana quiets
  his objections, slowly agreeing to return to the moon to reveal the full
  truth to all.  By this, she means the Black History, whose pointless
  calamities she's determined to prevent this time around.

  To do this, she means to contact the D.O.M.E., and *that* has Ginganam's
  interest piqued.  He's willing to take her safely to the moon if she really
  means to spill the Black History beans, and Diana has Harry take a message to
  Kiel instead.  But luckily Kiel's right here, and able to hear Diana tell her
  to carry on her ideals.  She entrusts Harry with keeping Kiel safe, and tells
  Lacus that in the brief time she's watched her she's come to believe in the
  power of Lacus' songs of peace.  From where Ginganam stands, Lacus' so-called
  "peace" songs will do nothing but bring more war -- a criticism Lacus long
  ago steeled herself for.  Ginganam takes Diana and speeds off toward the
  Black History stuff.

  Just then a message comes in from Kai, the journalist.  Word is that Brecks,
  head of the AEUG, has been assassinated.  This might well result in AEUG's
  total disbanding, and Lacus knows that her band has to hurry if they want
  Diana's ideals of peace to take root.  Even with doubts in their mind,
  they've got to forge ahead..

Kira would have arrived even sooner if not for a maintenance error in the
booster he used to reach orbit in Cagalli's borrowed Strike Rouge.  He tells
Bartfeld that the Archangel is now safely moored at a secret dock in Orb that
Uzumi's followers had prepared in secret.  Aslan's headed there too, having
been fished out of the water by Kisaka while on a mission to investigate what
Durandal is really up to.  Aslan was wounded when the Zaft forces shot him
down, and while Bartfeld is sure that Aslan won't succumb to his injuries, he
has to wonder just who the Zaft have who's good enough to actually score that
hit.

Also interesting is space itself, which is now bathed in a constant aurora
effect due to the overall instability of spacetime.  That's one consequence of
the Second Breaking -- another is a giant asteroid on the dark side of the
moon, believed to be an alien fortress.  Lacus means to hurry to the surface
and divulge the truth, in the hopes of uniting mankind against its common
adversaries, and she'll have plenty of help.  What worries Bartfeld most is the
news of Brecks' death: at this rate, the leaderless AEUG might just get
absorbed into the Zaft itself.  Full details will have to wait until the
meeting with Kai, after which point Lacus and Kira will head to Earth.

Harry introduces himself to Kira, and asks about Kira's unusual fighting style.
He knows that Kira goes far out of his way to avoid hitting the enemies'
cockpits.  He's pretty certain that Kira is going to get himself and his
friends killed if he keeps that up, and tells him that if he's doing it out of
some misguided sense of justice, he's better off avoiding battle altogether.
He stresses that he's saying this for Kira's own good, but Kira asks if it
really doesn't bother him taking other people's lives, Diana's kidnapper
included.  Does Harry just see it all as part of his duty?  Harry won't answer
that, instead giving Kira the following saying: right or wrong, people have to
do what they have to do.  So said Camille of the ZEUTH, and though Harry hates
to admit it, those words cleared up his own doubts.  He's Diana's captain of
the guard, and for her sake, Harry is prepared to endure any pain and any
disgrace, not just as his duty, but because that's what he believes in.

Some doubt is good, lest one fall into blind obedience.  But too much doubt, as
Kira currently has, will kill.  The point isn't to shut down one's own heart
and become mechanical, it's to find the answer that lies at the other side of
the doubt.  Tough one, for Kira at least.

Meanwhile, Gagarn introduces Hugi to the others at Skull Moon Base.  Hugi
presents himself as a "complete life form", and has at his side his little
sister Rufilla.  Butcher thinks she's pretty like a little doll, which doesn't
make Hugi very happy.  Butcher then tells him to summarize why he's here in
fifty characters or less.  To show the incomplete lifeforms how foolish they
are, to bring unity and tranquility to those suffering, and to grant them
eternity [hey, it's exactly 46 characters in Japanese].  That's cryptic, but
suffice it to say Hugi wants the Earthlings dead.  As Butcher welcomes him to
Skull Moon, Hugi says that destruction is fate: he's but an instrument of that.
What but Fate could have led him to such a dimensionally unstable starsystem as
this?

Sounds good for unsticking the stuck invasion of Earth, at least to Gagarn.  He
will not order any search for the missing Teral, who he claims ought to return
under his own power if he's going to return at all.  After, Teral _is_ a former
Eldar commander.  Reats can't stand Gagarn's attitude and attacks, getting
blasted for his pains.  Hugi likes the look of Reats' devastated carcass, and
supposes that Jiela is next.  Sure, if Hugi wants: it'd make a decent enough
way to welcome him into the fold.  Butcher even recommends making it a game,
with different points for hitting different parts of her body (max points for
tagging her breasts), and even Emperor Vega -- who's done some rather
unpleasant things in his time -- thinks in horror that he'd never go so far as
to turn killing a subordinate into a pastime.  Gattler is also starting to
realize that having lunatics like this in charge of the Earth invasion could
well result in Earth itself being destroyed before his people get a chance to
settle it.  As such, he tells Butcher to save carpet-bombing the whole planet
for later, and start with the plan he proposes: Operation Earth Flood!

Meanwhile, Sandman is contemplating suicide over the deaths of Eina and Luna,
and Ril's prolonged coma.  Raven finds him, asking if he really intends to try
to flee from his fate.  If so, he'll take his own mask off, showing "him" to
actually be a her: Ayaka.  She shouts that she didn't inherit this mask for his
sake, and demands to know what he fought for up until now.  That was to keep
the Earth, the planet they all live on, from suffering the same fate as his own
world.  Maybe so, but that earns him a slap across his face anyway.  Ayaka
knows there's more to it: this fight, that he started with his own hands, is
also his to stop.  She tells him to stay trembling there if he has to, while
she goes and takes her place on the battlefield.  That gets his attention, and
he apologizes to her: he can never take his eyes off the fate in front of him.
When she goes back to the battlefield, he'll be leading the way towards victory
and freedom for both their souls.


44. Descending Sun

Touga is well and truly missing, and the concerted efforts of all the Gran
Knights combined don't turn him up.  It might help if the Saint-Germain
Castle's maid contingent could go join the search, but they don't have
Sandman's permission.  He's cloistered himself away in his room for something
or other, and it's anyone's guess what will be come of the Earthgeiz and Gran
Knights at this rate.  The anxiety doesn't last long, as Sandman makes his
truly grand reentrance.  The maids are all squealing, but Raven seems more
irritable than usual.  She demands a situation report, and unless their sources
are mistaken, the maids report that the aliens are gearing up for a truly
unprecedented assault on the Earth.  Sandman announces that it's time to go
find Touga before darkness envelops the world.  Note that the Gravion is still
pretty badly dinged up, but Sandman reckons he can use the power of the sun to
sweep such clouds away.

In the bowels of Skull Moon, Aphrodia's doubts are simmering full force, and
Rubina knows it.  This Operation Earth Flood is far beyond the pale, even in
time of war, and is going to cost *billions* of innocent lives if carried out
in full.  Aphrodia tells her that not only is the plan necessary for the
invasion of Earth, but it's not Rubina's place to voice complaints about it:
personal secretary or otherwise.  Besides, Aphrodia sounds sure that Rubina,
whose feelings for Duke Freed led her to defy her father once, couldn't
possibly understand how crucial her mission on behalf of the S-1'ians is.
Aphrodia says she'll become the Devil Herself if need be, but Rubina sees right
through that and asks her to stop lying to herself.  Rubina plans to talk to
her father and have the operation stopped, but Aphrodia says that won't work.
The plan came from Gattler, and even if it were somehow averted, the Gaizock,
Eldar and Zeravaia would just do something even worse.  Those guys haven't the
faintest concept of morality or justice, and it should tell Rubina how
desperate the war has become that her people are resorting to them for aid.

All the same, Rubina knows that Aphrodia doesn't like it, and Aphrodia has to
admit it at last.  Once, she never would have given an order from a superior a
second thought, but now the thought of the impending slaughter is paining her
in the female part of her heart.  Rubina supposes Teral is to thank for that,
though the former commander still hasn't returned.  She tells Aphrodia to make
up her mind if she's still wavering: at this rate, her own people will be laid
low by all this fighting.  The S-1'ians should have opted for a method besides
war if they really wanted a new homeland.  Aphrodia digests that a moment, and
tells Rubina that she's been ordered to execute whoever the traitor is who's
been transmitting something out of Skull Moon Base.  Rubina owns up to it
readily: she's been feeding Duke Freed all the information she's got, with help
from Karin.

Finally letting a frown cross her placid features, Rubina tells Aphrodia to
shoot her if she's going to: her life was laid down long ago for the sake of
peace.  So why did Rubina tell Aphrodia now: does she somehow believe that
Aphrodia is too little a woman to fire?  No: rather, Rubina hopes that Aphrodia
can now understand why she's done what she did.  More than that, she invites
Aphrodia to flee with her to Earth, and to look to Duke Freed for the future of
both the worlds' peoples.  Aphrodia asks her if she's telling her to tread the
same path as the traitorous Marin, and Rubina says this isn't about Marin at
all: it's about the future of S-1's people.  Sadly, Aphrodia just can't bring
herself to betray Gattler, who's been like a father to her and her brother ever
since taking them in as children.  She tells Rubina to forget what she's heard
today, in return for Aphrodia forgetting what Rubina's told her.  She'll even
entrust Rubina to handle transporting those prisoners Teral wanted freed to
Earth.  This'll be Rubina's one chance to flee to Earth, and Aphrodia intends
to help her as much as she can.  Rubina says thank you and goodbye, hoping that
one day Aphrodia too will be able to be honest with herself.

Touga's all wandering around aimlessly, managing to bump into some drunken
Breakers (literally).  They plan to Break his face, but Fei strikes first,
leveling the inebriated nuisance to society with one punch.  His buddy gets
decked too for trying to make an obscene joke about her, and the two clear out
when they realize Fei's a Federation soldier, vowing to kick her ass once the
Federation is wiped out.  Seeing her up close seems to snap Touga out of his
reverie somewhat, and he asks if it's really the Fei he knows.  Yup, the very
same: the one who grew up with him in the facility full of orphans.  Their
benefactor, and father figure, was Sandman.

Fei tells him that Sandman was supposed to take her, with her strong G Factor,
off to live in his castle.  But he changed his mind and picked the other G
Factor bearer, Touga, to be the Gran Knights' main pilot.  Fei thinks that was
a mistake, given how Touga lost to the Zeravaia.  She tells him it's his
responsibility that the G Driller's pilot has died and another of the copilots
has gone missing, and is far from impressed when he pleads with her to stop.
No way his comrades' deaths will amount to anything with him being such a
weakling.  On the other hand, she tells him she can help him use his powers
fully if he comes and becomes her subordinate.  He won't have to think, or
feel, just follow her orders like when they were kids.  She's sure that having
him will let her Grantrooper become even more powerful than Gravion...

...but that's about the time Eiji finds them.  Touga's all traumatized, wanting
to forget all about Gravion, the Gran Knights, and ZEUTH.  He just wants to be
a monster, like Eiji said he'd become one day, and stop feeling pain and doubt.
Eiji's not having it for a second, reminding Touga just how much stuff he's
done that he'd be forgetting.  He, like Fei, can't stand the thought of Eina
and Luna dying for the sake of someone that pathetic, and Touga even tries to
punch him to get him to shut up.  No way in hell that'll work: Eiji's grown
super strong after training with Tetsuya and the Elements all this time.  Hell,
the way Touga is now, he couldn't even beat Renton, or Eureka's kids for that
matter.

Touga's cries become wilder, and he delivers a punch that Eiji rates as
somewhere around Gainer-level.  Good enough to respond to in kind, and as Touga
is staggered backwards, Eiji reminds Touga that Touga's not somehow fighting
this battle alone.  Nor is he the only one smarting from Eina and Luna's loss:
he easily rattles off a long list of all the people who shed their tears.
Touga shouts back that Eina was by his side since they were little kids, and
Luna trained beside him the whole way.  They why doesn't he fucking stop making
them worry for once.  Touga says he never asked anyone to worry about him, but
worry they do anyway.  Eiji assures him that all these worried people are going
to give him a piece or five of their mind when he comes home.  And he'd damn
well better come home, since everyone's waiting for him... not the least of
whom is Ril.  Maybe if Touga feels so bad, he ought to try sitting at her side
for a while.

Just then Fei's pager goes off: a massive alien force has appeared at the South
Pole.  Eiji tells Touga that they're heading back to ZEUTH, but Touga isn't
sure how to do that with Gravion all busted.  Someone even more busted than
Gravion shows up just then [H_-;;] and tells him to worry about that later.
With Mizuki is Luna, and Sandman himself.  Touga isn't sure what to say to his
benefactor, but Sandman tells him he doesn't have to say a thing.  Ril is
waiting...

Queenstein is briefing Marin and the others about what the aliens have sent to
the South Pole: a thermal device which might as well be called an artificial
sun.  The aliens are guarding the thing as it melts its way through the polar
ice, eventually changing the world's sea level and producing massive flooding.
Massive flooding that will mostly affect nations not part of the Federation,
which is why the Feds haven't acted yet.  Some of the Feds are just cold-
hearted enough to reckon that this development is actually a plus.  Orb and
Emarn are in the low-lying path of the floods, and it seems to be an indication
of how closely Orb was aligned with the Magi that they're being left out to
(anti-)dry now.  Camille wants to know what the Zaft Carpenteria base, near the
South Pole, is up to: getting their asses demolished, from the latest reports.
Either that means the polar enemy is that strong, or the Zaft deliberately sent
a light force.

ZEUTH will be mounting their counter-offensive with help from the Minerva,
though the reported shootings-down of Kira, Aslan, and Meilin don't rest easy
with the pilots.  Though those were done under orders and presumably not of
Shin and Rey's free will, it's more fuel for the concept that the army isn't a
good place to hang one's hat.  If Aslan and the rest are still alive, they
might have joined the Archangel.  When Talia arrives, Jamir asks her what the
deal was with shooting down Aslan.  She quotes the report, that Aslan and
Meilin were found to be sending Zaft secrets to some unknown party and shot
down for it.  The police claim to have found corroborating evidence in Aslan's
room, and Meilin is treated as an accessory to it.  As for what the information
was, that's Zaft-confidential and cannot be disclosed here.  That's a pretty
flimsy rationale for shooting down her own comrades, and Holland *sure* hopes
that Talia understands that not everything in life goes according to the
military's rules.  She nods sadly, and Shaia supposes that Talia's the one with
the *most* doubts about the incident here.

As for Shin, he takes one look at Camille and bursts out that he had no choice,
what with Aslan provoking him and Durandal ordering him and all.  Camille tells
him not to say any more about it, Amuro adding that no one thinks Shin did it
because he wanted to.  Shin's still blaming himself even if the others aren't,
and Rey tells him he's got no time for sorrow.  They have a mission to fulfill,
as members of Zaft and of ZEUTH.  As they head off, Marin tells Queenstein that
he wants an explanation about the Baldios piloting thing when he gets back.
She was planning to do that anyway, there being some connection with the
operation the aliens have pulled this time.  She won't say what that connection
is now, but vows to tell him everything if Earth is still around tomorrow,
adding instructions to come home safely.  Marin doesn't need her to tell him
that, gritting his teeth as he stalks off.  Queenstein's got a guess as to
what's going on, but David breaks her reverie by saying that he's going to
launch in Fixer 1.  That mech was designed for emergencies, and this is a
pretty big emergency.  He learned subspace tech and a love of humanity from her
once, but he's no longer her student: he's a man, and he means to protect her
like one.  He can't die for the sake of Earth, but for her sake...
negotiable...

Dalton commends Aphrodia for wiping out the Earthlings' pathetic little band so
easily.  She responds that they were merely observers: the real threat is yet
to show itself.  Dalton isn't afraid of ZEUTH breaching his front lines, but he
really ought to be given what they did to Teral.  What, that effeminate
incompetent?  PLEASE.  Anyway, the ZEUTH show up and see the artificial sun
contraption still warming up.  Aphrodia assures them they can't topple it, the
epitome of Aldebaran tech, and Marin demands to know how she can still call
herself a person and go along with an operation like this.  She's beyond being
choosy about what she does to ensure a future for the S-1'ians.  Banjou,
something of an expert in solar matters, says it's impermissible for the Sun to
fall, and if he says as much, you know the rest of ZEUTH won't be far behind.
As the charge is about to begin, something catches Apollo's attention
momentarily.  He thinks it's just his imagination, but in fact someone on the
sidelines is looking forward to seeing whether the Wingless ones or the
visitors to this planet will win.  Liina senses the innocent eyes watching:
eyes all the more dangerous for their innocence...

  When Aphrodia gets into combat for the first time, she releases Rubina in her
  Midifour.  Rubina wastes no time in radioing in to the ZEUTH and telling them
  of her humanitarian cargo.  She requests cover long enough to make it off the
  battlefield, and Kagetsu's endorsement removes any doubt there might be.
  Aphrodia puts out an enraged-sounding broadcast, ordering her men to
  concentrate on their main mission.  Negros is on to her unfortunately, having
  hidden a microphone in her quarters and figured out the whole thing.  He's
  doubly peeved because it was none other than Aphrodia herself who *wrote* the
  whole military code about who all to execute.  His own brother was executed
  under that code, but Aphrodia always seemed to evade punishment due to her
  favorable position with the commander.

  He's not planning to execute her, as that would only bring the thunder down
  on his own head.  Instead, he's come to make sure that she fights for the
  Aldebaran, and that's just fine with her.  She's always planned to fight for
  a future for the people of S-1, with or without Negros keeping tabs.  The
  ZEUTH still need to shoot down that artificial sun, but now they've got to
  defend the saucer too.

  Let Rubina get to the edge of the map, or shoot down Aphrodia or Negros, and
  she'll join after the map.  Aphrodia goes down the easiest, and unfortunately
  it seems that someone has fiddled with her ship's escape pods.  Is this
  Negros' doing?  Believe it or not, Aphrodia survives her ship crashing to the
  ground with nothing more than a concussion.  Hoping to get some info about
  the enemy, Heizaemon orders her recovered.  The momentary disruption in the
  Aldebaran chain of command gives Rubina the chance to flee, but in her wake
  come the Zeravaia.  One heads straight for Rubina's ship, and all seems lost
  until the Gran Knights burst onto the scene.  Sandman orders his troops to
  flap their wounded wings, and he doesn't have to tell Touga twice.  Luna and
  Mizuki are back too, Mizuki claiming to find the secret agent lifestyle
  rather boring.  Eiji's managed the rather impressive feat of bringing all
  four Gran Knights together -- five, if you count the unconscious Ril in the G
  Shadow.  Sandman tells everyone that Touga is taking responsibility for Ril,
  and asks that they let her fight as one of the Gran Knights.  He tells Banjou
  that the Goddess of Victory has opened his once-clouded eyes.

  Fei is still mumbling about wanting to prove that her Gran Trooper is better
  than God Gravion, but her wingman Alex knows she just wants to fight
  alongside the already-legendary super robot posse... or at least, she'd
  rather hang with some real good guys and not the selfish Federation.  Sandman
  adds that he's counting on her, and Fei tells him he'd better prepare to be
  surprised.  The Gravion isn't fully repaired, but Eiji and the rest are sure
  they can make up for it with skill.  All the support from the rest of ZEUTH
  helps convince Touga that he's no monster, just one of the crew.

  Kill enough bad guys and Apollo's suspicion about Futaba hiding in the bushes
  will become reality.  When he calls her out, she agrees to leave off the
  hide'n'seek.  She's clearly a Fallen Angel, but also one that looks like a
  kid.  She's impressed that Apollo could spot her despite being one of the
  Wingless... unless he's that "Wings of the Sun" guy that Touma keeps talking
  about.

  Speaking of whom, he's rather peeved that Futaba's snuck out of Atlandia.
  More proof of how the door to the endless prison is opening.  Johannes
  remembers the good old days, when the kids would merrily hunt the Wingless
  until the sun would set.  Touma has a less sentimental view: what the Fallens
  think of as childlike innocence is likely to strike the Wingless as a threat:
  she hasn't learned yet to separate the pleasures of hunting from actual war.
  Moroha's worried that Futaba will kill too many humans -- valuable sources of
  Prana -- and make things harder for the Fallens as a whole.  Johannes is
  sweet as always on the little Fallen, but points out to his men that the fact
  she made it to the Wingless' battlefield is proof enough that they'll all be
  free soon.  And when that happens, they've got to use the powers of the Tree
  of Life to sweep their world clean of the abominable energies gripping it,
  before they suffer a second Paradise Collapse.  Following all that?  Good.
  Touma inwardly tells Futaba to "play" to her heart's content and stir up the
  world...

  Apollo's teammates hesitate a bit at the thought of smacking around a child
  Fallen Angel, but Apollo himself has no hesitation whatsoever.  The memory of
  what happened to Baron is still painfully fresh within, and strong enough
  that Eureka can sense it as though it was touching her skin.  It seems the
  Fallens mean to attack both ZEUTH and the aliens.

  You find out the first time you try to scratch the artificial sun that it's
  protected by a subspace field.  Physical attacks simply won't reach it, and
  if worse comes to worse Heizaemon is prepared to ram his ship into it and use
  the explosion of his ion engines to simply overpower the field.  With
  billions of lives on the line, how could he do anything less?

  As battle wears on, a shitload of additional Zeravaia show up: surely the
  core of the Genocidron System must have come to Earth to result in this many.
  Hugi introduces himself and invites his puny younger brother to show him and
  his beautiful Zeravaian army what this so-called power of humanity is.  The
  Gran Knights intend to oblige him, even though they're badly outnumbered.
  Banjou knows what the Sun should look like, and it now shines upon Gravion,
  turning it into the awesomely powerful Sol Gravion.  Into it Sandman has put
  Gran Sigma, aka Eina.  Turns out there's a good reason you couldn't find her:
  she was thrown all the way to the Moon in the previous explosion.  She has a
  lot of trouble explaining what happened to change her appearance so much,
  mumbling something about her memory coming back on the Moon.  Touga's just
  glad she's back, and she promises to be with him always.  And as long as
  she's here as a Proto Gran Diva, Gravion will be invincible!  The more
  psychically attuned people on the team feel a human warmth wash over them:
  the Gran Diva system is amplifying and broadcasting her emotions to everyone,
  including Ril.

  One person who's not a fan is Hugi, who's been up late at night crying from
  all the pain of the people on Ranvias who died thanks to his brother.  But if
  he can just settle the score here, that'll end!  He brings forth more
  Zeravaia.  No matter, now that Sol Gravion is here.  Eiji gets to ride in the
  Geo Mirage, which will be the new mech's core.  Banjou thinks that Sandman's
  own battle will soon begin now that Gran Sigma has awakened.  All these good
  vibrations have weakened the field around the artificial sun, giving you
  three turns to wreck it.

  Futaba gets bored when the battle doesn't go his way, and tries to head home.
  Apollo isn't going to let him get away that easily after all the havoc he's
  wreaked.  His teammates try to restrain him, but Apollo demands to know if
  just being a kid is enough license to get away with murder.  Sylvia puts it
  to him differently: they've got to try telling the kid with words what's
  right and wrong, and if and only if that doesn't work, the child is to be
  scolded.  There's a huge difference between that and simply abandoning
  oneself to anger, and suddenly Apollo is reminded of Baron's statement that
  those who have people to scold them are the lucky ones.  His version of
  scolding the kid is hitting the button labeled "extend that good" and
  infinite-range bitch-slapping the kid hard enough to make him lose
  consciousness.  Losing no time however is Heizaemon, who orders the kid
  Fallen Angel recovered for analysis.  Do this with Apollo for an Ending
  Point.

  Negros contents his busted-ass self with the fact that Aphrodia has been
  captured by the humans: there's no way she can return now.  That is, the
  leadership of the invasion is *his*.

  When you get in combat with the artificial sun without its shield, in will
  fly the Fixer 1, with David at the Controls.  Marin thanks him for the
  assist, but David says he needs no thanks: he's come here for his own
  objective, whatever that is.  In any case, he's determined to show Marin his
  mad skillz.

  The artificial sun is equipped with serious self-healing tech, and it's going
  to be nearly impossible to destroy at this rate.  That is, until Marin tells
  him teammates it's time to use the Balderoiser.  The thing's never been
  tested yet, but even if it fails Marin knows they can still sacrifice Baldios
  itself to take the artificial sun with it.  Raita's on board with that,
  finding it pretty cheap to sacrifice their three lives to save billions.
  Fortunately for them, it works.

A magnificent victory to be sure, but Heizaemon knows that the only way to keep
this from turning into a war of attrition is to go to the Moon and take out the
aliens at their source.  Fortunately, the Rivalry Zones are thinner now.

Cue the fond reunion between Rubina and Duke Freed, each of whom was each
other's strength during the difficult days past.  Rubina still feels
responsible for her father's reprehensible actions, and wants to fight
alongside the Earthlings if they'll have her.  Not just _for_ the Earthlings,
but for the sake of peace throughout space.  One thing she won't do, however,
is simply concede the good duke to Maria.  It's to be a friendly rivalry then.

Kappei has to give Kagetsu the sad news about the human bombs.  Kagetsu's seen
an awful lot of people die, and thought long and hard about Kappei and crew.
He wants to apologize for what he's said, and moreover wants to help Kappei
fight the real bad guys.  So does Jane, Julie's younger sister, who was
captured by the Eldar while working to colonize Io.  She's got a message for
Toshiya: his father is still being held prisoner at the aliens' moon base.  She
and Kagetsu relate how Teral let them all go before the new commander Gagarn
could kill them all off.  Hopefully, ZEUTH will be in time to save all the
remaining hostages, including Kiraken's own father.

Queenstein and the other scientists at Trinity City get word of the successful
end to Operation Earth Flood, as well as the capture of the Fallen Angel child.
Among them is Kazami, who tells the other scientists that there's not a moment
to lose in studying the child for a hint on how to stop the dimensional
collapse, whether or not Fudou's permission can be secured right away.  Getsuei
will go along with the request, but makes a point of reminding Kazami that he
will be working with an intelligent life form -- enemy or not -- that should be
treated with respect.  Kazami sniffs that he's enough of a scientist to grasp
that much and hurries off, his mind full of nothing but his research.  As for
Queenstein, she's gotten proof of her own theories today, and must now tell
Marin the terrible truth that may just shift the whole battle in another
direction...


45. Inheritors of the Legacy

Teral regains consciousness in Kazami's lab, groggy and wondering why his
attempted suicidal charge did not, in fact, result in his death.  Confronting
him is the man the Aldebaran were sent backwards in time to destroy: the chief
scientist studying Trinity Energy and constructor of God Sigma.  Kazami is
well-enough aware of the timewarp implications of his chosen research, and
deduced the Eldar's origins from watching what the Eldar did after the Second
Breaking.  Teral admits that Kazami's a massive intellect, but demands to know
if Kazami's aware of just how much warfare his precious research has caused
throughout the galaxy.  Eldar itself wavers like a torch in the wind that is
the Earth's violence, all thanks to what Kazami's done!  Tough beans.  Kazami
tells Teral to shut up and let him concentrate on saving the present-day Earth,
which might have something to do with the unconscious Aphrodia...

Meanwhile, Queenstein has summoned all the ZEUTH to an important announcement.
Nobody seems to know what she wants to talk about, except possibly David, who
says that the team ought to hear it from her lips directly.  He does tell Marin
that what he's about to hear will come as a major shock, which presumably links
back to Marin's pending dismissal as Baldios' main pilot.  On that score, David
tells him he shouldn't worry: David's giving up on that of his own accord after
witnessing firsthand how integral Marin is to his team.  Raita wouldn't have
expected that out of the proud pilot, but David smirks and says that anyone man
enough to get the stone-headed Raita to change his mind is due a little
respect.  He promises to support Marin and co. as Queenstein's assistant.

Fei's also turned cooperative, though in her team's case it's more a function
of having nowhere to return to after violating Federation orders by sortying.
Still, she hasn't lost sight of the real goal of the Gran Troopers, which is
protecting the Earth.  Her teammate Alex Smith is even happier than she is to
finally become part of the mighty Super Robot Army, defenders of the weak,
pulverizers of bad guys and all-around Studmuffins of Justice.  In fact, he's
so pumped that some of the veterans wonder if he really knows what he's in for.

He finds out quickly when Queenstein steps on the scene, with some info she
calls indispensable to the battling to come.  She tells them up front it may
make them lose heart -- as in, dimensional collapse unstoppable, go cry emo kid
lose heart.  But let's go in order, starting with data salvaged from Marin's
Pulsar Burn.  She puts up a map of the world after the Second Breaking, and
superimposes the area that would have been soaked had Operation Earth Flood
succeeded.  Marin nearly stops breathing at the sight: a *precise* map of the
planet S-1.

Queenstein now has irrefutable proof that S-1 is nothing short of the future of
Earth itself, and that the S-1'ians have come all the way across time just to
invade their own world.  Of course this can't be believed without some
corroborating evidence... like the fact that the Earth is now the "1"'th planet
in its system now that Mercury and Venus have gone missing.  Or the suspicious
similarities between Marin's religion and folklore to Earth's own.  Or the fact
that S-1 physiology and technology so closely matches Earth's own.  What must
have happened when the S-1'ians set out to cross space, is that they crossed
time instead due to the spacetime concussion.  As such, the Aldebaran probably
had no idea about the Second Breaking before they arrived.

This brings up a problem.  The various components of this multi-dimensional
world originally started out as separate, parallel universes.  The timeline
that led to Earth changing its name to S-1 would have to be the future of the
fused world... in which the great flood just got prevented by the ZEUTH.  In
fact, the S-1 world is simply an alternate future, which would have come about
had ZEUTH failed.  The standard SF line about going into the past, screwing
something up and obliterating the future comes from obsolete one-dimensional
thinking.  The reality is a vast web of inflection points, in which no future
ever gets destroyed -- only new ones created.  In other words, ZEUTH just
created a parallel future in which the great flood of S-1 didn't happen.

This also explains the fight with the Fallen Angels and the Overdevil: all
those worlds used to be one with "this" world at least until the Black History
events took place.  What Queenstein doubts is that each and every little detail
is sufficient to give rise to true parallel universes.  It's got to be
something drastic like the spacetime concussion munition, which taps all the
way into the most fundamental forces of nature.  A great outpouring of this
so-called "dimensional power" must have occurred at the end of the Black
History.  Sadly, former Innocent leader Arthur mentioned nothing of the sort
when telling Zora's history to Jiron's party.  In fact, it turned out that
Arthur is still alive, despite all the punishment he soaked up.

Now Gwen's getting agitated: obviously the Fallen Angels, the White Doll, and
the Overdevil play some pivotal part in this Black History business.  He
apologizes for yelling at Jiron for not mentioning all this sooner, but the
fact remains that there's not a moment to lose in investigating this
dimensional power stuff.  It might be able to repair spacetime... or not, but
as Garrod and Banjou point out, it's better to assume the positive.  Mind,
nobody actually knows where Arthur is just now, otherwise Jiron's crew would be
listening to his stories till they were blue in the face.  Even the oft
impatient Holland has to respect that logic.

Part of why Queenstein called the meeting is that a clue to Arthur's
whereabouts has surfaced, in the form of a message delivered to Trinity City
promising the whereabouts of one connected to the Black History.  With so
little to go on, there's scant time to doubt the message... despite the fact
that it came from Black Charisma.  That likely makes it a trap, and sweetening
the deal seems to be the additional promise of Norv being on the scene.  The
nature-loving Vodalak is likely not the terrorist that the UN makes him out to
be, demonized by the government instead for the sin of wanting coexistence with
the Coralians.  Holland knows how badly the Feds want Norv and his buddies shut
up, since he participated in the Del Cielo massacre firsthand.  In any case,
trap or otherwise, the team's got to go and that's that.

Destination: Heaven's Base, North Atlantic stronghold of the surviving Logos
loyalists.  A momentary grimace crosses Roger's face as he recalls the images
of the Fallen Angels stored inside Big O -- Paradigm City too must have been
fused with the other worlds up until the Black History.  Why then have they
lost their memories of it?  Maybe if he can solve the riddle of the Black
History, the truth he seeks will become clear as well...

Sure enough, Jibril and his goons have Norv and Arthur in their grip.  Arthur
isn't inclined to help the Logos wield history like a sword at the huddled
masses of the world, which Jibril thinks is the only way to unify everyone.  He
wants to keep the truth from them, as Kashim did, and thinks he can avoid
Kashim's mistake of underestimating the riff-raff.  It doesn't seem his views
on ultimate power have done him much good so far, but Jibril is determined to
turn the tables with Arthur's information.  He specifically wants help dredging
up the mighty weapons that existed back in the Black History days, and Arthur
tells him they slumber in the Promised Land, which no man dare touch.  Jibril
irritably growls that they already know where that "Promised Land" really is:
Ingressa, where the Moon Race tried to land.  And if power is coming to him, he
doesn't give a damn what kind of taboos he has to break.

Questioning is cut short by Shagia wandering in with news of an enemy force
approaching, of medium size.  Jibril doesn't yet know who they are, but doesn't
care either -- he returns to the control center and orders Basque sent out.
And when he gets back, Arthur and Norv had better spill their guts...  or else!
After the door slams, Norv sighs and laments how much they have to listen to
the weakest dog's loud barking.  Arthur's assistants are getting pretty sick of
it too, so good at their job that Norv offers them the humorous chance to come
work for him instead.  That might have to wait until he gets over his reticence
over bathing, which at last count extended at least forty years.  Luckily,
Arthur's had all the necessary operations for surviving in the open, and can
convince himself that body odor is just one more part of the joyous pattern of
nature.

He explains to Norv how the Innocent stayed hidden among their creations,
following the ancient directive to be moderators of the world.  That certainly
isn't being served by them being locked up in this base, but Norv tells him not
to worry: the wind has just switched, and with it a change is about to come to
their prison...

Basque honestly believes that this base will be the start of the Logos revival,
and that he can smite anyone who darkens its doors.  He's got so many soldiers
that Jibril doubts he'll even need his trump card, whatever that is.  And if
worse _really_ comes to worse, he's got his trump card, designed for the
assault on the Plants.  The Newtypes gear up for battle, including Abel who's
bound and determined not to repeat his disgrace from Zondarepter.  Shagia is
sure that this guy is destined for a nice home six feet under whether or not he
awakens his Newtype abilities, and Olba will be happy if Abel could at least
soak up a few bullets for him along the way.

Imagine their surprise when their enemy turns out to be the ZEUTH!  Heaven's
Base is frigging enormous, and finding the captives would be hard if not for
Eureka's ability to sense something like a Trapar wave calling her.  It's gotta
be Norv giving off "biological Trapars", something similar to the real thing
but emitted by life forms.  These waves are reportedly able to convey such
things as emotional state from one person to another, which might explain why
the Skyfish gather for large happy crowds.  Anyway, she's able to give Holland
and Jiron a specific place to go to look for the captives -- provided Elchi and
Ragu can stop arguing long enough about who gets to save Arthur first.  Rey
knows that Durandal, too, wants the Logos gone, making him happy to help out
this time at least.  Basque and his men are deadly serious about keeping ZEUTH
away from their precious information sources, but Jiron bets Holland that he
can make it to the rescue first  -- sounds preposterous, but you never know
until you try.

  Abel of course has no chance of activating the Flash System.  Maybe next
  time?

  Before finishing off a Frost brother, have Jiron or Holland get to the
  designated point for an Ending Point.  This will be the "rebel army"'s cue to
  zoom in and attack their former Logos comrades.  Fei demands an explanation
  from Jerrid, though he tells her she's not entitled to one after abandoning
  her army post.  At the least, the army isn't going to start static with the
  ZEUTH if the ZEUTH don't start static with them, though Jerrid badly wants to
  go after Camille.  It's especially galling that Scirocco is making them do
  his dirty work while he gets ready to head off to space.

  A furious Jibril sorties the Psycho Gundam, along with the Destroy, mecha
  that ought not to exist.  Camille and Shin are more than eager to take them
  down.

  If you attack Olba, Garrod berates him for stooping to aid the Logos stooges,
  and Olba tries to retort that Garrod's incapable of comprehending the Frost
  brothers' great plan.  Shagia advises him to let Garrod rant; his impudence
  will be repaid in other ways soon enough.  He and Shagia both pull out with
  great fanfare: too great, in fact.

  As the fighting rages, Jiron and friends make their way to the captives.
  Arthur is super popular with the Xabungle ladies, but he's got to apologize
  for Norv getting carted off by the white-haired Logos general Dewey.  Holland
  races off in pursuit, telling Jiron to get his people out first.

  Dewey's having delusions of grandeur, and Norv tells him to knock off the
  Orange foolishness unless he wants the world to collapse.  Dewey doesn't care
  if the Scab Coral doesn't want to see him, prepared to simply destroy its
  will if he has to.  He then blames his use of extreme tactics on Norv not
  letting him just meet the Scab Coral in the first place.  Not, Norv retorts,
  that Dewey is capable of conversing with the Coral even with his help.
  Dewey's uncaring attitude certainly didn't help him back in Del Cielo, and
  Norv has to wonder how many more failures it'll take to get through to this
  guy.

  Dewey tells Norv that he's the one who failed, by trying to chat with the
  humanoid Coralian and getting all the people he loved killed.  Norv still
  believes that conversation is possible, trusting the world's fate to Holland.
  Who, as it turns out, is Dewey's younger brother!  Dewey's even willing to be
  condescending enough to hand Norv over, confident that Holland can never find
  the proper match for Eureka.  That makes Holland smile, and he promises Norv
  he's got a little surprise for him.  That's gotten Dewey mad, and he yells
  that Holland never could catch up to him, despite his becoming a Lif'er and
  joining the army.  Hell, Dewey even had Talho before Holland did!  He goes on
  to claim that ray=out was a total waste of time, and that what it takes to
  move the masses isn't the truth, but the loudest, most radical voice.

  Holland lets him run his mouth a while longer, then smiles even more when
  telling him he's disappointed in how far behind him Dewey is.  Hasn't Dewey
  noticed yet how much Nirvash has changed?  Oh, snap!  And on that note, he
  and Norv bail, leaving an apoplectic Dewey behind.

  Jiron and Holland and friends reappear on the battlefield.  Jiron's rigged up
  a little something in the hangar, set to fire on remote control from the
  Galia.  Chiru just hopes it's a good idea to detonate such a large bomb...
  In any case, it looks like it should suffice to take down the Destroy and
  blow this gin joint, but just then something large and black descends from
  the sky: Big Duo.  Schwarz knows that the Truth is approaching, and demands
  that ZEUTH fight him.  Whatever he's really up to, Roger is determined to
  deny the brand of "truth" Schwarz preaches.

  Roger and Schwarz are getting sick of chatting with each other, each akin to
  a brick wall from the other's viewpoint.  When Schwarz gets beaten down, he
  starts babbling about the world being engulfed in flames, and from it a new
  world being born.  That is the Truth, the Great Advent, and he's led ZEUTH to
  it.  Time for him to leave the stage, by exploding.  Gosh, some "Truth" --
  certainly nothing that Roger is content to let stand.

  Basque has no choice but to command from the ground when his flagship gets
  shot down.

  Sting is dazed as his mech begins to fragment, wondering where Owl and Stella
  went.  He'll find out soon enough...

  Keep any of the reinforcements from being shot down for an Ending Point.
  Jibril, desperate, decides to use the nukes he was saving for the assault on
  the Plants.  Unfortunately, *that* was the bomb that Jiron now has control
  over.  Wait, WHAT?!?!  At Basque's insistence, the survivors flee to Orb,
  their final stronghold.  The Fed forces have no plans to pursue for now,
  preferring to let ZEUTH take out their trash.  Dewey meanwhile is still
  trying to tell himself that Holland can't do anything, and that it will be
  *he* who saves this planet...

Arthur confirms the suspicions that it was a spacetime concussion munition that
ended the Black History, at least from the knowledge handed down among the
Innocent.  Unfortunately, the Innocent sealed away many of the details of their
own past, in the interest of keeping focused on creating a new future.  He
guesses his kin, the Moon Race, are in the same boat, telling how the humans
who survived the Cataclysm were forced to flee the denuded land to the moon.
The Moon Race is said to have employed some artificial means of accelerating
the Earth's recovery, but it was still an unimaginably long process.  Over
time, two factions of the Moon Race broke with the ruling Sorel faction and
left, impatient with the Sorel claim that it should be the next generation who
repopulates the Earth.  

One faction sought entirely new places to live, a few of them venturing into
outer space.  The majority went to live in the space colonies, paving the way
for the space revolution.  The other faction believed they should return to the
Earth at once, fragmenting further into a retro culture in the Northern
hemisphere and a mechanized culture in the Southern.  And the Northerners
subdivided even further over time, developing different subcultures on the
different continents.  One thing Arthur doesn't know is what it is about the
"Promised Land" area that makes it so taboo... but whatever it is must be
pretty major, as in some sort of relic from the Black History.  Not that such
relics are exclusively buried there.

The best way to figure out what the Black History was all about is to access
some of the handy recording devices from that era.  Those are situated directly
beneath the Moon's oldest power station, the Satellite System's power source
called D.O.M.E.  Everything you want to know is in that facility, which is
supposedly under the Queen of the Moon's control.  From what Arthur's heard,
the will of a so-called "Newtype" is also sealed there, which definitely perks
up the ears of the Newtypes on this team.

Arthur will give his full cooperation to helping stop the dimensional collapse,
but for the immediate term there's an emergency message from Durandal to worry
about.  The Zaft are sending forces to Orb to wipe out the Logos, and he wants
the Minerva to split off from the ZEUTH and help.

Renton isn't sure what to make of the Vodalak priest and his intense B.O.  Norv
tells him he's gonna thoroughly check him over, seeing as how he's the man
(boy?) Holland's hanging everyone's hopes on.  Before that, he's gotta make up
for all the food he didn't eat while imprisoned, and that means pizza with
loads and loads of mayonnaise.  He knows full well that he's not quite the
lofty figure the Gekkostate were expecting, so he decides to get some mystique
back by showing them a little something.  There's a green gem embedded in his
chest -- a Compac Drive!  This is what happened to him when he failed to become
a partner for Eureka...

All has not been quiet in Paradigm City though: word of Schwarz' defeat reaches
the mayor via Alan.  The mayor simply can't conceive of why anyone would want
to leave this nice quiet city and fling themselves to the vagaries of the world
outside.  In fact, it's been so quiet since Roger left that it's almost as
though the author of a story forgot all about its characters.  That's actually
how Alex prefers it, and warns Alan not to rock the boat if he wants to hang
around long.  If worse comes to worse, he's got power he can use, just as he
did at the end of the Black History... as The Big's true Dominus...


46. Justice Amid Chaos

The order for the Minerva to go to Orb came directly from Durandal himself, so
even FAITH member Talia can't refuse it.  The question is: what about the rest
of ZEUTH?  The AEUG at least are effectively obligated by treaty to help out,
lest relations with the Zaft deteriorate, and the rest of ZEUTH have received
quite a bit of Zaft aid along the way too...  Shin doesn't see why there should
be any hesitation at all to go strike down Logos, the folks responsible for all
the war, but of course it's not that simple.  What about all the civilians who
can't evacuate?  Apparently the Orb government isn't even trying to evacuate
anyone, using their very presence as a shield for the Logos fugitives -- which
makes Shin all the more convinced that Orb needs to go down.  Rey is perfectly
happy to kill as many civilians as necessary to carry out his orders, which is
the type of thinking that split ZEUTH up in the first place.

ZEUTH is back together now, but its members still act under their own volition.
Ryouma and the rest of the Getter Team won't participate in any plan to invade
Orb, though that opens the question of how to get rid of Logos without
fighting.  The discussion suddenly gets cut short by something like an electric
shock running through Sylvia and Sirius.  They feel like someone's calling
their name -- the sound of wings...

In Kazami's laboratory, Futaba is cowering in fear, enclosed inside a high-
dimensional field.  Kazami tells her to scream as much as she wants: no one
will hear her in this audio-sealed lab.  He plans to give her a greater
stimulus than anything she's faced before in order to get the final data on the
Fallen Angels, not caring that he's molesting a little(?) kid to do it.  He's
already learned that the Fallen Angels have the limited ability to cross
dimensions -- if he can replicate the effect using Trinity Energy, he'll have
complete control of spacetime.  How convenient, Teral scowls, that Kazami has
the excuse of "saving mankind" to hide his fiendish "research" behind.  Kazami
informs him that morals are no impediment to a true scientist, and says that he
and Aphrodia are up next for data gathering.  With a little luck, Kazami
figures he can create biochemical weapons that will only work on Eldar and
S-1'ians.

His ranting is interrupted by the Diva folks breaking down the laboratory door.
The ZEUTH folks immediately demand an explanation for what he's doing with
Aphrodia, Teral and Futaba.  Things are about to get really nasty between the
scientist and the pilots when Julie intervenes.  He's rather unimpressed with
Kazami's plans to "save humanity with his science", and tells Kazami that ZEUTH
is taking away his captives effective immediately.  Can't he see that what he's
doing is entirely inhuman, whether or not his test subjects are the enemy?
Kazami is foaming at the mouth over his research being interrupted, but a more
sober face-off unfolds between the Baldios team and Aphrodia.  Oliver grimly
wonders how someone as beautiful as her could order the whole Earth to be
flooded, and all she can do is resort to reciting the Aldebaran military code,
as much as demanding to be executed.  Marin tells her that, unlike Kazami, he
doesn't mistreat prisoners, and wounded ones at that.  She doesn't want to
believe someone who's sided with humans, but he tells her that humans and
S-1'ians aren't supposed to have met in the first place.  Duke Freed won't tell
her why until she's healed, and she hisses at him not to expect any thanks.
Marin ponders just how unfortunate Aphrodia's situation is, and realizes that
Queenstein saved him from a similar fate by telling him the truth about S-1.
He tells Aphrodia to try looking at the sea: ample proof of how meaningless
everything they've done really is.  It embodies everything they've lost.

Teral meanwhile is glad to see that the hostages he freed made it safely to
Earth.  He doesn't want to hear Kappei apologizing for "misunderstanding" him,
owning up readily to fighting the Earth as its enemy.  He still believes he and
the Eldar are in the right, which makes Toshiya smile.  He hopes Teral heals
quickly so the two of them can chat.  Handling Futaba will be a bit trickier,
but Sirius has faith that Fudou will know how best to handle her.  Jun wonders
why only Sirius and Sylvia could hear Futaba's cries, and Sirius is still
worried about Apollo spilling the beans about their Fallen Angel blood.  Apollo
simply brushes Jun off by telling him to hurry up and call Fudou already.

They don't have to wait long at all for Fudou to pull one of his unexpected
entrances.  He tells the pilots that ZEUTH has decided to advance on Orb, and
orders his team to head to the briefing while he takes care of things here.
Kazami hates having yet another person invading his laboratory, but Fudou tells
him that humans and the Fallen Angels are in the same boat: given there are
charity-impoverished humans in this world *coughcough*, there might be
charitable Fallens too.  He orders Kazami to go cool his head while he takes
Futaba away.

Why, oh why does no one understand Kazami's research?!  Well, one shadowy
figure does, somehow calling directly into Kazami's lab and requesting a
demonstration.  After all, Kazami wants to save the world, right?

Aslan's wounds have basically healed, as have Meilin's.  She doesn't want him
apologizing for mixing her up in all this, now that she's heard why he and the
Archangel left the Zaft.  Her only regret is that she didn't find out sooner:
maybe they wouldn't have had to fight at all.  Aslan ruefully tells her that
all of them have made that mistake far more often than they like to admit.
Maryuu then walks over, telling them that Orb is about to become a war zone
over Durandal's ultimatum about handing over Jibril.  The current Orb rulers,
part of the Seilan family, said "no way in hell", preferring to see their
nation burn than to get rid of the last best seeds of Logos.  This is Aslan's
only chance to flee, and he doesn't take it -- better he fight as part of the
Archangel's crew to stop Durandal's warped version of a "peaceful future".  And
not just him: there are mankind's common enemies to think about too.

The shame is that he can't return to ZEUTH, lest he worsen their position with
their backer Durandal.  Neither can Maryuu or Kira, and he and Meilin both plan
to join their team instead.  Maryuu is certainly glad for the new faces and
their youthful resolve, but the question becomes what Muu/Neo will do.  Maryuu
doesn't feel she can ask him to stay, since he insists he isn't her former
boyfriend...

Jibril is deluded enough to call the loss of Heaven's Base mere bad luck,
thinking that he can become unstoppable if he can just rendezvous with the
forces on the Moon.  Neither the Plants nor the "rebel" army will stand a
chance.  And once they're gone, he just has to release the Requiem for victory
to be complete.  Whatever that is.  What he doesn't expect is an attack this
soon, more proof of how unfair Durandal is... except, it's the ZEUTH.  The plan
is this: capture the Logos heavies before the Feds even show up.  Even Talia
can't be brought up on order disobedience this way, and there won't have to be
any civilian losses.

There might not be any fighting at all, if Orb's government has any sense.
It's pretty clear they don't, calling ZEUTH the idiot squad.  This is hard to
dispute, but as Kouji points out, his people are the idiot squad of JUSTICE.
Talia tells everyone that in return for having Jibril handed over, she'll try
to guarantee him a public trial, instead of the surreptitious gatting he's
likely to face at the Feds' hands.  Jibril tells Yuuna to tell ZEUTH to fuck
off, sure they can win with Orb's reserves added to the battle, but Yuuna
blunders his way through denying that Jibril is even in Orb.  ZEUTH isn't
buying it for an instant, and the best remedy for such idiocy is ending this
battle quickly.  Shin's disillusionment with Orb grows, but Camille reminds him
that ZEUTH is here to arrest Jibril, not burn the whole place down.

Yuuna can't understand why his lie didn't work, and Basque furiously tells him
to resign himself to battle and stop bringing further dishonor on himself.  But
he did it to protect his country!  Whine whine.

  The Frost Brothers are nowhere to be found: have they abandoned Jibril?  Just
  then, a Murasame that Bartfeld once used flies onto the battlefield, with
  Aslan at the controls.  He doesn't answer ZEUTH hailing, but is still glad to
  see they're trying to minimize the damage to Orb itself.  He knows he doesn't
  have to reveal his identity to help out.  Cagalli recognizes his fighting
  style, and wants to sortie too.  But Kisaka tells her there's a different
  battle only she can fight, and leads her off to convey some of her father's
  words.

  Take out 12 enemy squads by turn 4 for an Ending Point.  This makes it clear
  to Jibril just how badly overmatched Orb is, and he orders Yuuna to dispatch
  all Orb's remaining troops to buy him a bit more time.  He's fleeing to the
  Moon, and Yuuna has no choice but to obey his father and comply with Jibril's
  plan.  Do the Orb reinforcements really want to die that badly, Shin demands
  to know, and the Orb soldiers more or less know they've been made into
  sacrificial lambs.  But someone on the scene hates mutton: it's Cagalli, with
  a new mech left to her by her father: the golden Akatsuki ["Dawn"].  Uzumi
  left the mech as a sword to defend Orb, along with his fondest wish that the
  day for its use would never come.  If it is foolish to perish for want of
  strength, it is equally foolish to perish from its excess.  How Cagalli uses
  this strength, having heard her father's words, is up to her.

  Yuuna, never the least retarded commuter at the back of the short bus, is
  overjoyed to see his "honey" back safe and sound.  She asks if he
  acknowledges her as the real Cagalli, and the rightful ruler of Orb, and he
  does both in about 4 seconds flat.  It takes her about as long to order the
  soldiers to arrest Yuuna for high treason, which they're all too happy to
  comply with.  The Logos fugitives are stunned at this turn of events, as
  Cagalli flies over to prevent Yuuna's escape.  She yells that there's plenty
  of blame to go around here, especially on herself for her failure at her duty
  to counterbalance Unato's and his and the council's words with her own.
  However, she at least expected him to agree on defending their nation, and
  demands to know where Jibril is.  He is... busy sneaking out the back, having
  gotten plenty of mileage out of using Yuuna as his decoy.  Talia orders the
  troops to capture the shuttle, or shoot it down if they can't.

  Sadly, they aren't in time.  As the Logos troops flee, Shin goes nuts and
  attacks Cagalli for all the people who died due to her failures.  All she can
  do at this point is apologize with words, which doesn't exactly calm Shin
  down.  Just then, a new Mobile Suit arrives from overhead -- one that Rolan's
  Turn A recognizes.  King Gainer and the Aquarion also have records of this
  bogey, which must mean it dates back to the Black History.  It's the Turn X,
  and its pilot is thrilled to see so many worthy opponents on the scene.  He
  starts by giving Shin the Shining Finger, impressed that it doesn't utterly
  destroy Shin's mech outright.  Saving the coup de grace for later, he next
  turns to Cagalli's golden mech, whose color offends his aesthetics or
  whatnot.

  Aslan rushes to the rescue, getting substantially damaged just from one hit.
  Who the hell could do that?!  Yuuna thinks this is his chance to flee, but
  showing his back to Ginganam only makes the Lunar pilot mad.  And Yuuna and
  his father very very dead.  Ginganam is about to turn back to Cagalli when a
  new mech comes on the scene: the Strike Freedom.  Kira tells Ginganam that if
  he insists on indiscriminate destruction, he'll be glad to take him on.  Kira
  tells Cagalli to pull back and evacuate the islanders.

  It's obvious Ginganam didn't come to help, but to fight.  He's brought some
  friends from the revolutionary army too, who wipe out the Orb defenders in no
  time.  Seems they've begun their assault on the Earth at last.  Their plan is
  to take over Orb before the Zaft get here as a demonstration of their power,
  helping in their negotiations with the Zaft later on.  Lancelow doesn't seem
  entirely thrilled with that, but Quatro is even less thrilled to see Axis
  Mobile Suits among the troops.  Lancelow orders his troops to take out any
  resistance fast, but to leave the Moon Race mech alone unless they want their
  coalition to lose about half its strength.

  ZEUTH has no choice but to take these guys on, but at least they'll have the
  Archangel and Kira's help.  Even Shin knows he can't afford to worry about
  them now when there's the Orb to defend.  Ah, teamwork.  Ginganam sneers that
  "spring" seems to have come a bit early to this area, and yells that the "X"
  on his mech's chest is itching him something terrible.  It wants him to wipe
  out all the rest of the Turn-types.

  Lancelow and Jamir seem to recognize each other.  After they fight, the
  newly-promoted Harry shows up in his glittering golden mech.  With him is
  Lacus, who he tells to reach the Archangel while he's mixing things up in
  battle.  Despite Lacus' stated lack of confidence, she makes it in easily.
  Harry tells Ginganam that sooner or later, his way of valuing life only
  through the prism of battle is going to lay the Moon Race low -- better he go
  down before that happens.  Battling him suits Ginganam fine, and the crazed
  warrior plans to bring his head back to Diana as a souvenir.

  While trying to coordinate escape efforts, Cagalli demands to know what the
  hell is up with that Turn X mech that's menacing her friends.  Neo then runs
  over and basically borrows her mech, saying that he owes her friends one and
  vowing to defend Orb with it.  Meanwhile, Lacus and Aslan are reunited thanks
  to her piloting the Justice this far.  She asks how Aslan's doing, meaning
  his heart and not body, and Aslan tells her both are fine.  She tells him
  that the Justice is his, adding that it's up to him whether that makes him
  nothing more than a mere soldier.  To be afraid is to be closed down, locked
  away, and power is just that - power.  But Aslan's more than that, right?
  Damn straight he is.

  Neo and Aslan both head to the battlefield, shocking many of the people who
  assumed Aslan was dead.  Shin has to come to grips with the fact that not
  only two people he thought he killed are still kicking, but he's also
  fighting to protect a country he thought he hates.  Like, whoa.

  If you take Lancelow down, it'll prove to him just how terrifying ZEUTH
  really is.  He orders the rest of his men to pull out, leaving an amused
  Ginganam deciding to retreat too.  He's gotten tired of battling today, now
  that he's said "hi" to his Turn X's sibling mech.

  If you take Ginganam down first, much the same happens except you get some
  serious loot.

After the battle proper finishes, Aslan tells ZEUTH that he and his friends
have no intention of fighting them.  Rey and Lunamaria don't plan to listen to
him after what's happened, but Aslan tells them they simply don't know the
truth.  Rey calls him a goddamn zombie, and a traitorous one at that, but at
that moment, the Zaft arrive with no prior warning from the ZEUTH battleships
on guard.  They demand an explanation from Talia, who says that her forces have
been fighting to capture Jibril.  Who, sadly, fled to space.  Oops, does that
mean that Talia actually just got in the Zaft's way?  Back to being the plain
old idiot squad, at least in the Zaft's eyes.  The Minerva and Argama are
ordered to heave to immediately and answer to an inquiry into their actions,
and the Archangel is ordered to unconditionally surrender at once for actions
against the Plants.

It seems Durandal's finally kicked his plans into high gear with Logos gone,
but there's a fly in the ointment.  Banjou points out that Orb's just undergone
a regime change, with the Logos collaborators out on their ear.  Does Zaft
still mean to press its attack?  Just then, a message starts beaming from Orb
to the whole world, which Harry's been expecting.  He recommends to Bright to
evacuate the area, if he wants to retain the ability to act in the global
interest.  That's good enough for Talia, who orders everyone to clear out.  Now
what?

"What" is a broadcast from Cagalli, addressed as her answer to Durandal for
sending troops and a demand to hand over Jibril.  She recalls the appeal of
Durandal's message several days ago concerning the Council.  Strike them down,
ensure a peaceful world: powerful words to her both as a politician and as an
individual.

  Some of the ZEUTH pilots aren't too happy that the Archangel's stuck its head
  up after what seems like a string of terrorist activity with some kind of
  counter-broadside to Durandal.  Shin, predictably, isn't expecting anything
  good from a group of people he feels are impotent and prone to causing more
  suffering in the common man than they solve.  Shin actually planned to level
  Orb along with the traitors Aslan and Kira if only given the order.  Before
  anyone can respond, a counter-message starts coming from the Plants.  Time to
  see what Durandal's really made of.

Durandal's put "Lacus" on the mic, in a stroke Mizuki figures Cagalli can't
counter.  She asks why Orb would side with Jibril, whose crimes against
humanity are now well known.  Why would Orb even fight to keep him safe?
Sadly, the Zaft forces haven't been able to capture him yet.

  Whoa, no mention of the fact that it was the Seilan, not Orb as a whole, who
  was responsible.  Zaft is in fact trying to kill Orb's credibility once and
  for all.

The Zaft are great.  The Zaft are wonderful.  The Zaft want a conflict-free
world.  Great.  After all, they've sort of been helping the ZEUTH bring that
about after all.  What can Cagalli do to counter this three-quarters truth?
'Caint truss it, says Cagalli.

That would be because... the *real* Lacus Klein is in Orb!  The real Lacus
stands up, and says that while she knows someone with the same name, voice and
face is hanging with Durandal, she's the one who fought by the Archangel's side
in the last war.  And just like the last war, she's with that ship and with Orb
now.  But let's focus on how Lacus and her imposter differ: the real Lacus
doesn't endorse Durandal's message.

  As Meer stammers, the broadcast from the Plants suddenly cuts off -- ultimate
  proof that Orb seems to really have the real Lacus.  Shin gapes in
  astonishment as...

...Lacus recalls Durandal's words that both combatants and non-combatants are
blameless, that only the Council who made the fighting is culpable.  Oh really?
IT'S A TRAP to be lulled into absolving oneself of blame that easily.  Not that
Jibril or the current Federation are in the right.  But neither is Durandal,
given the true nature of the world he wants.  And if you can't take it from
her, take it from her guest star, appearing by satellite: the one, the only --

DI-ANA SOOOREEEEELLLL!  What with the hair and all.  Actually, it's Kiel, but
the real Diana has already trusted her to say what Diana herself is feeling.
Harry tells the team to think of this as the genuine article, and if he's
willing to go that far, who can gainsay it?  Anyhow, Diana tells everyone
everywhere that it's time to take another long hard look at where they're
really headed, and for those headed in the same direction to bless each other's
journey by joining hands.

Cagalli gets back on the mic, saying that the point of this broadcast is not to
*oppose* the Plants.  It's to get everyone to try to take stock amidst this
chaotic world, and to choose of their own volition -- instead of acting on
others' orders -- where they want to go.  Za endo.

These words might or might not be "platitudes" as Shin had feared, but they're
pretty good words nonetheless.  Shin's clock cycles are being sapped as he
struggles to parse all this, while clearer heads realize that having the rug
pulled out from under Durandal's legitimacy is going to cause a lot more chaos.
For example, it's just dawned on Eiji that Durandal's been playing the ZEUTH
like a piano all this time.  Any piano in a storm, like, and ZEUTH was the
first instrument that came to Durandal's hands.

Yeah but.  But, Durandal does still have quite a track record, including
revealing the Council and all.  The real problem is that neither Durandal nor
the Orb have the most spotless track record of honesty and forthrightness.
Orson tells Kei that there's more to this mess than a binary decision about
which side to believe.  After all, this is ZEUTH: just because they can't fully
trust Durandal doesn't mean they have to burn all bridges to him at once.
Really, what's needed is more information than just this latest broadcast,
which contained as its very thesis the self-declaiming idea that public speech
is suspect.  The pivotal people in all this will be the Zaft and the AEUG, who
deal directly with Durandal.

This is a larger issue than the pilots can encompass, and a bit of consultation
with the brass is in order.  However, that's going to be a problem, as Kai
shows up to notify the team of.  Brecks, leader of the AEUG, has been
assassinated, and Kai's got a message for Quatro regarding the incident.  It's
time for "him" to act, the message says.

Meanwhile, the Freeden and Iron Gear are incommunicado, and Garrod's got a
really bad feeling about it.  Just then a message comes in from Karis in Fort
Seven: the missing flagships have been badly damaged, and Tifa abducted.
Though they were already gone by the time Karis' people arrived, he knows who's
responsible: the Frost brothers.  Karis is with the two ailing ships, heading
ZEUTH's way with more details.  Two guesses how Garrod feels about Tifa being
stolen while he was away, and the first one don't count...


47. Where We're Headed

Medaiyu informs Gwen that he's given "the item" to Gwen's servant, and expects
it to reach him in a few days' time.  Having thus kept his promise, Medaiyu
expects Gwen to keep his.  Gwen assures him that he'll keep Anna safe, and
Medaiyu leaves him with one final warning: whatever Gwen intends to do with
that book, too much ambition is unhealthy.  Gwen claims he knows his rightful
place in the world, which is hardly reassuring.  Medaiyu just hopes he hasn't
done something dreadful in his anxiety over his daughter.  We hope so too.

It's a testament to how messed up the world is how long the commanders have
been cloistered away, deliberating.  The order for Bright and Talia to stand
trial seems to have fallen by the wayside with the whole Lacus uproar, though
Durandal seems to be simply waiting for the furor to die down instead of
issuing some rash denial.  But from what Garrison's gathered from the UN, the
chaos is only getting worse, not better.  As before, the culprit is Black
Charisma.

Among the rumors: Durandal's Lacus is from a parallel universe and therefore
authentic, or a clone made during the previous war.  Or that Durandal is using
the Coordinators' genetic engineering tech to try to take over the world.  It
almost seems like this Black Charisma is trying to take over the world instead,
as well as dissing the ZEUTH and generally making a nuisance of himself.  The
thing is, he's got no army, since either the Feds or the Zaft would notice
right away.  But if world domination isn't his game, there's not enough info to
say what is.  Banjou for one would really love to know what this guy hopes to
achieve by pissing ZEUTH off...

And then there's Shin, who has to deal with Jibril having made it to the Moon.
It's likely he's got a sizeable force up there, including various Titans
members and sympathetic Spacenoids.  But why would they want to muster their
forces so close to the Moon Race, not to mention the aliens?  It all comes down
to the D.O.M.E. and the Black History artifacts its contains.  Harry's a bit
surprised that ZEUTH has heard of this forbidden land from Arthur, and explains
that the real Diana has headed to the D.O.M.E. to try to unseal the truth about
the Black History, lest it repeat itself.  It's obviously dangerous to have the
Logos in control of the D.O.M.E. and the immense energy it can generate, but
Harry says that that energy is, fortunately, sealed away.  The facility is said
by the Moon Race to be "alive", animated by the will of a long-ago Newtype
called the "forerunner" of a new species of man.

That's all very well and good, until another Newtype comes along who can unseal
it.  What was that about Tifa getting abducted?  Yeah: the Frost brothers said
something about it being time for Tifa's powers to be used.  Suddenly, all the
Frost brothers' actions involving Newtypes become clear: Tifa is being taken to
the moon to try to make contact with the ancient Newtype.  Tifa's dream about
seeing the truth with the Queen of the Moon, and the Moth spreading its wings,
seems about to become true.

Sadly, this is just one of numerous problems the team must face (and Char
specifically, thinks Amuro).  However, Rand's and Holland's teams are nowhere
on board, having instead gone shopping in the Gunleon.  This is no ordinary
errand though: it's for Talho.  Renton's advocating getting her something by
John Henry, even offering to purchase something for Eureka as well.  Eureka is
happy just with the thought, which makes Renton pretty happy in turn.  The only
problem is that John Henry stuff costs, as in three months of Renton's meager
earnings.  Wow, that sounds just like the dollar amount for an engagement ring
as decided by one of the parallel worlds, and Rand wants to march right over to
whoever made that rule and deck them in the jaw.

Holland won't be beholden to other people's ideas of what to give the love of
his life, but he does admit that some kind of present is required.  Still, he
has to wonder what all these people are doing tagging along on *his* shopping
trip.  Research for when the time comes to pop the question themselves, for
some of the folks -- and amused sightseeing for others.  And then there's
Raven, who is definitely *not* romantically involved with Shuran as some of the
team members thought.  They've just been very good friends over the several
years since the New Earth Federation's founding -- for all of which Raven's had
his fear of women.  Holland reckons Raven must have been badly betrayed by a
female somewhere along the line, and is right on the money.  Gain recommends
finding a new love to erase memories of the old one, but Raven can hardly get
into that mood with Eidel's whereabouts still unknown.

It really is a shame about the Tifa business, or Jamir and Garrod would be here
too.  At the mention of them, Rand suddenly feigns a stomach ache and sends
everyone on ahead to get those John Henry goods before they sell out.  Last to
leave is Gain, whose smile gives way to a frown as he tells Rand to be careful.
The Black Southern Cross was sharp enough to notice the same thing Rand did:
Asakim.

Rand leads him to a nearby bar, surprised to see Asakim seemingly hesitate over
drinking with their long overdue chat.  He shows Asakim how to heft his mug,
but Asakim supplies the toast: to the two of them, and to the Sphere.  Asakim
frowns a bit at the "odd" taste of the beer, saying that at the least, it's the
first time he's had alcohol "here".  Rand admits that he's most put out over
Asakim having Tsiine impersonate his boss, and spilling the beans to Mail.
However, since the whole mess really started with Rand himself, Rand has no
intention of actually berating Asakim over it.  Hell, in a way Asakim actually
helped him break through the impasse of how to tell Mail gently.  Rand hastens
to add that that's not to say he's grateful -- from everything that's happened
with Setsuko, it's clear that Asakim isn't one of the good guys.  What Rand
doesn't know yet is whether he actually needs to fight Asakim as such: he can't
move forward in any direction while there's some stuff still bothering him.
That's why Rand wanted to try having a drink with Asakim once, and is even
footing the bill to boot.

Asakim has to thank Rand: he hasn't felt this way in a very long time.  The
scene gets disrupted by a commotion in the street outside: some Federation
soldiers are kicking some poor kid like common street thugs.  One of the other
patrons tells Rand that it's common for the peace-keepers around here to abuse
their authority.  Rand tells Asakim to sit tight while he goes out and plies
his "repair-man" skills to repairing the messed up state of this town.

Of all the potential kids to pick on, they went and selected Renton and crew.
They've swiped their newly-released John Henry trinket, which (presumably)
Holland left in their care.  One of the soldiers tells them to get on the
ground and bark like a dog if they want it back, as punishment for bumping into
them.  Eureka tells them it was they who bumped into her and friends, and
Renton has to intervene when the soldiers try to touch her and pull her hat
off.  He gets knocked to the ground, and the soldiers gloat that this is what
happens to anyone who messes with the Law hereabouts.  Some "law", Gainer
retorts, stealing from random passers-by and all.  He's pissed, and instead of
apologizing starts berating the actions of the Federation soldiers louder and
louder.  His tirade almost earns him a knuckle sandwich until Rand intervenes,
leveling one of the soldiers with a well-aimed fist between the eyes.

The stricken soldier asks if Rand realizes he's in the army, which Rand could
care less about.  He makes sure the soldiers know his name: The Heat.  The
remaining soldiers try to grab him en masse, but pull up short when the
remaining adults arrive.  Unlike Rand, the soldiers recognize Gain and Holland
right away, which Raven thinks is hardly the problem.  Raven warns the soldiers
that if they keep it up, he'll report them to the chain of command, quoting his
rank and position.  If they've got any complaints, they'd better air them out
right now.  The soldiers quickly give back the item and flee, cowed by Raven's
title.  Maybe if Rand had called himself "The Crasher", they'd have taken the
hint?

Meanwhile Renton is feeling massively lame, having just learned anew that he's
still an incapable kid when he's not at Nirvash's controls.  Holland doesn't
see it that way, and thanks Renton for helping protect both Talho's present and
Eureka herself.  Gain commends Gainer as well, and Rand tells him that the
muscles will come naturally with experience.  It's the gumption that can't be
learned, and the two of them just demonstrated that they're well ahead in that
department.  Won't be long at this rate until they'll be fit for Rand's
drinking buddies.

Asakim then walks over, commending Rand on how "free" his soul is.  Rand
manages to restrain the kids from attacking Asakim on the spot, but they've got
bigger problems.  Those soldier punks are back with their mecha, and it looks
like there might not be time for Rand and the others to respond in kind.  But
then Asakim shows up in his mech, vowing not to let these punks lay a finger on
Rand.  Call it thanks for the booze if need be.  The punks think they've got
him badly outnumbered, and plan to show him what happens to those who oppose
them in this town -- something Asakim heard a lot in the old days.  The only
question now is what these guys will bring Asakim: pleasure, like Rand, or...?

  Mail and Raven show up shortly, rushing (unsteadily) to Rand's aid.  Rand
  says that Mail is about 0.8 of a full-fledged pilot, and tells her that
  they'll try to extract info from Asakim *after* the Federation punks are
  dealt with.

  That happens quickly.  Mail asks why Asakim's got to fight her people: was
  all the gentleness he showed when he saved her just a lie?  Rand asks too,
  both for Asakim to tell about himself, and about Rand and Mail.  Suddenly,
  Raven attacks Rand out of the blue, only to have his attempts to show Rand
  who the "real" lion is rebuffed entirely.  The infuriated Raven realizes that
  Rand deliberately let him attack, and Asakim tells him that he's blown his
  chance.

  Mail doesn't know what's going on here, and Rand tells her that what she sees
  is what she gets: Raven's the enemy.  Rand admits to Raven that he doesn't
  know who Raven really is, or what he's after, but he was well enough aware of
  the slivers of malice Raven showed from time to time.  Was that reason enough
  for Rand to not let down his guard all this time?!  Hey, Rand tells Raven,
  it's not like Rand wanted things to turn out this way.  That's why Rand never
  told anyone else his doubts.  He'll even go to the trouble of explaining
  Raven's absence if Raven goes away *now* and never comes back.  Raven sees no
  need to run, but Tsiine shows up and berates him for blowing the setup Asakim
  worked so hard to create.  Raven yells back that nothing's over, and that
  he's fully prepared to give his life for the Chimera that Eidel created.

  Rand can only shake his head at the fact that both Raven *and* Shuran are on
  the take.  Mail asks if that means Eidel is one of the bad guys too, and
  Raven screams at her for daring to pronounce Eidel's name with her foul,
  undersized mouth.  An excruciating death is the only apology that will do for
  this offense, completing the transformation from serious, straight- laced boy
  to raving psychopath.  It's all for Eidel's sake, the one and only person fit
  to govern the world.  Rand tells him that all the raving and rolling of eyes
  is fine and whatever, but Raven really is starting to talk too much.

  With all the ZEUTH assembled, Tsiine figures now is as good a time as any for
  a formal declaration of war: after all, it is their job to dispose of ZEUTH.
  Out come a bunch of the crow mecha, fortified by Federation units.  The
  Chimera reintroduce themselves, and Raven commends everyone on how good a job
  they've done taking on the aliens and Logos, but says that that's all at an
  end now that Eidel seems to have decided ZEUTH needs to go.  Amuro now has
  his answer for who's behind the information doctoring that set ZEUTH at each
  other's throats.  The theory would now be that Eidel isn't a victim of the
  coup d'etat, but its ringleader -- an exploit easy enough to manage given her
  jurisdiction over all the information on the UN.

  ZEUTH were supposed to kill each other off after the coup, but they not only
  survived, they reunified.  Shuran says dryly that such little hiccups can be
  easily corrected, as today's battle will prove.  As for Tsiine, she's first
  and foremost a member of the Chimera -- she also just happens to be the
  liaison with Asakim.  He doesn't seem quite so thrilled to hear that, but she
  tells him that she's been recalled to full-time Chimera duty.  Still, she
  promises that her heart is with him, and that she will help set him free one
  day.  That will let her be free too, from all the pain and anguish she
  suffered on the day the world broke.  Hey, if he can make her forget the pain
  of all the subordinates she lost, awesome.

  Asakim wants to start by letting her hear Rand scream, thereby awakening the
  Wounded Lion for good.  He tells Mail that the Sphere that imprisons her is
  starting to change her physical makeup: maybe if he feeds her soul to his
  mech now, he'll finally get what he's been seeking.  He tells Rand that this
  is goodbye: he might go see Rand again some time, but Rand won't be able to
  see him of his own accord.  Yeah yeah, all very well and good, but they'll
  actually have to take Rand down first -- and he's NOT a very fragile guy.  In
  fact, that resilience is why Rand's the only guy in this world who's any fun
  for Asakim.  Rand would just as soon ignore Raven completely (to Raven's ever
  mounting fury), but if Raven insists on getting an ass-handing, Rand will be
  glad to oblige.

  As the battle continues, Yassaba of all people shows up, apparently
  successful in his own Exodus.  He's dragged his old subordinates along for
  the ride, and means to help the ZEUTH out against their current antagonists.
  It'll be interesting to see how Adette reacts with her old flame on hand.

  You've got to take down a Chimera commander, and Tsiine happens to be
  closest.  Rand pays her a light-hearted compliment on how busy she's been
  keeping herself, but she unexpectedly snaps back at him and tells him to shut
  it.  She's been fighting to destroy her own warped fate, and the last thing
  she needs is compliments from someone who lives blissfully by the seat of his
  pants all the time.  Rand snaps right back, telling her to drop the whole
  victim act if she's gonna spread her woes to others.  Mail agrees, ready to
  smack this woman down if she insists on keeping up this fight.

  Tsiine is pissed in the extreme to get taken down by this lot, and Shuran
  tells her to withdraw for now: he and Raven will _handle_ the rest.  Yeah, I
  *bet* they will.  Raven bets so too, slobbering that together the two of them
  are invincible.  Maybe, but Tsiine figures this is enough rough-housing for
  one day -- after all, ZEUTH is prone to sticking their neck in enough danger
  even without the Chimera's help.  She wishes everyone a great, unrewarding
  battle before they die, and promises that it'll be apparent soon enough how
  futile all their actions are.

  There's still one adversary left: Asakim.  Who is apparently overjoyed that
  he's left, so he can enjoy fighting Rand some more.  That is the workings of
  a diseased intellect in Rand's book, but Asakim tells him to think of it as
  Asakim's search for the "Key" to freedom.  To reach it, he's got to eliminate
  the Sphere's bearer, which happens to be Mail.  No worries: he'll be back
  soon enough.

What _is_ that guy's deal, anyway?  For that matter, what's up with Yassaba and
his goons?  They're here on a mission from Kids, who wants to have a word with
Arthur.  Turns out that the Overdevil you defeated was incomplete: like a baby
compared to what the Overdevils are really like.  Kids explains that Cynthia
and her massive Oversense were originally intended to *control* the Overdevil,
not get absorbed by it.  The fact that Kids is here asking for help is the
closest to an admission he screwed up as anyone could expect.  Still, the
Overdevil can't be left on the loose, lest it become truly complete and use its
Overskill to freeze the world solid.  And it's not just matter it freezes, but
human emotions as well.  Gainer knows that Cynthia has already been victimized
by this particular ability.

The Overdevil is hanging out and building its power, served by the fanatical
Artham and a group of Kids' former subordinates that are growing into an army.
Gain knows he can't just let Artham run riot, but Ryouma's got that look on his
face that means he's thinking about something.  He recalls how the Hundred
Demons were rooting around in the old Innocent Dome, and wonders if they too
are after relics from the Black History.  Possible.  VERY possible.

Gwen wants to report the Overdevil mess to the Plants and Federation, but Kids
protests that Kids would be blamed for the whole mess and utterly lose any
standing he has.  That's why he and his men came to the ZEUTH first, but Gwen
points out correctly that matters have gone beyond personal saving of face:
this Black History fossil could destroy all mankind if left unchecked.  Kids
has no real option but to agree, realizing full well that if he *can't* control
the Overdevil, it's better destroyed than left running riot.  Kids and his men
will track down the Overdevil's exact whereabouts, believed to be in North
America, and call in the ZEUTH to finish it off.  As of this battle, ZEUTH's
long list of problems just got longer by two major items: the Overdevil, and
Eidel's Chimera.

Yassaba says hi to Adette, neither having any illusions of restarting the old
romance now that each of them has a new partner.  Yassaba's S.O. has been as
good an Exodus guide as anyone could want, but with the world in such an uproar
there's no time to actually settle down somewhere quiet.  Better he join the
fight for what he believes in, and if Adette likes it here with the ZEUTH, he
presumes he will too.  Gaury has no objections as such, and Yassaba quickly
pegs him as Adette's new squeeze.  Looks like the two commanders might actually
get along, and Yassaba can even use his old Rushrod if he wants to.  Amazing
how what goes around, comes around.

Back at Trinity City, the commanders have to digest the latest news of Eidel's
treachery.  From everything they've gathered, the three real powers behind the
Federation throne are Paptimas Scirocco, Dewey Novak, and Eidel Bernal.  Then
there's the Plants/Axis/Revolutionary Army alliance, and then the remains of
Logos.  The battle for mankind is to be a triangular one, and the question
becomes what Bright and Talia plan to do next.  Bright says that he's not the
one to decide what the Argama and the rest of AEUG do: that's up to Quatro,
according to Brecks' last communique.

Quatro announces that the AEUG is going to sever its ties with the Zaft and act
independently from now on.  Arthur, surprised, asks if that means Quatro
intends to fight the Zaft instead, and Quatro puts it that he will "if he has
to".  That is to say, he doesn't trust what Durandal is up to, but also has no
reason to actually initiate hostilities.  The same can't be said for Axis and
the Revolutionary Army, whose hostile intent towards the Earth has already been
demonstrated in the Orb mess.  That force seems to have some kind of
arrangement with the Plants, and since the Plants control the Zaft, Quatro
can't countenance being part of the same organization anymore.

Talia has to decide the Minerva's course of action next.  If she sides with the
ZEUTH, go to 47Z.  If she decides to stay with the Zaft, go to 47D.  This
choice is only available if you have enough ZEUTH Points.

[For now I only have the ZEUTH route covered]

If she picks the ZEUTH, she says that while she doesn't know what's right and
what's wrong in the world, she wants to try to find out as part of the ZEUTH.
To the extent that there's no official summons for her ship at the moment,
she's relying on her authority as a FAITH -- meaning that this isn't an overtly
anti-Plant move.  As for where to head next, Holland's got an idea: journey
with Norv to the seat of the Vodalak: the Vodala Pavilion.  Norv claims there's
a hint there for how to converse with the Coralians.  You'll have Kiel along,
whose duty has shifted from giving Diana's message to serving as Diana's eyes
and ears.  Protecting her will be Koren, who has finally recalled his true duty
to prevent history from repeating itself, thanks to Kiel's words.

He was actually frozen by the Moon Race even before the Black History occurred,
and his last memories of the calamity were of the sky covered with flying
moths.  That's what he fights now to stop, and he's happy to work with even a
third-hand mech made out of spare parts.  He happily sets about helping to set
one up, and Jamir has a very bad feeling that he's talking about the same moths
as in Tifa's dreams.  He prays that Tifa can hang on until the ZEUTH can make
it to the Moon.

Renton goes to give Holland's present to Talho.  She knows at once that he
picked out the design for the ring, and also knows how badly Holland must be
blushing right now.  She knows almost everything about him, given how long
they've been together -- including how he's never forgotten about Renton's
elder sister Dianne.  That's the kind of guy Holland is sometimes: lame and
stupid, awkward, and sometimes incapable of relating to someone other than
risking his body physically for them.  He'd never forget a woman who sacrificed
herself, but sadly he doesn't know where Dianne might be now.  Renton isn't mad
or anything though: Holland is still his hero, and Talho the only one who can
support him.  It's a love fest all around.

...And when Renton gets to the hangar, he sees a new LFO Trezoa just sent, the
Terminus 303 "Devilfish".  It's essentially the negative legacy of the first
humanoid mobile weapons, totally lacking in limiters.  So great is the strain
it puts on its pilots that drugs are needed for the pilot and mech to reach
their full, otherworldly potential.  Holland's the one who asked Morita to send
it, knowing full well the risks associated with riding it.  This is his version
of doing his utmost to win this war, and he assures Renton that he has no plans
to die before seeing his child.  Besides, he's still got a few things to teach
a certain Gekkostyle rookie.  Gently, but firmly, he tells Renton that he's
gotta gather his resolve too: Don't ask, do, and ye shall receive.  Holland's
never forgotten that for an instant, and neither will Renton.

Okay, so what about this Eidel lady everyone's talking about?  She's in her
office, listening to Scirocco tell her that he's headed to space to spectate on
Jibril's imminent doom.  Eidel lets him handle the fight with the space
colonists, and asks how Dewey's Ageha squad is doing.  They're about 75% of the
way through their program of Orange bombings, and Dewey expects to find the
Coral nucleus any day now.  And when he does, he expects a swift and decisive
war, which ought to preempt any further dimensional collapse and stabilize the
world.  And when that happens, Scirocco and Dewey figure Eidel is the best
choice to lead mankind (at least, that's what they claim).  With Bradman soon
to die honorably in battle, the plan is to subjugate the Plants and then
present a united front against the aliens.  Dewey is content to leave all the
spin-doctoring up to Eidel, but warns her sternly that there must not be a
Third Breaking that destroys all they've worked so hard to build.

Jiei consoles Eidel on the rigors of having to deal with two bossy men such as
they, reckoning that it's only thanks to Eidel and Durandal that the coup
succeeded.  For that matter, Dewey wouldn't have his Oranges if not for Jiei's
spacetime control tech.  Suddenly Eidel goes all psycho on him, smacking his
ass and heaping every word of abuse that comes to mind.  Her gripe seems to be
that it was his spacetime concussion munition that caused the Second Break.
Sounding suspiciously like Raven when he snapped, she berates him for putting
her in a worse position, and as she keeps striking him demands that he die
heinously to apologize.  If not for him and his foul mouth, she'd never be
indebted to those two men.

What makes this scene even more unsettling is that Jiei is actually getting off
on Eidel abusing him.  More unsettling yet is when he tells her "stop" and she
abruptly shifts back into calm and placid mode.  She asks where Raven and the
others are, and Jiei tells her that Raven, Shuran and Tsiine are due to arrive
tomorrow.  He crows that the "declaration of war" went perfectly for making the
ZEUTH wary of the Feds -- just as Eidel planned.  She smirks and says that
she's never wrong.

Jiei then asks if it's really for the best that Tsiine be recalled away from
Asakim.  Asakim and the Chimera have both been using each other and trading
tech, but Jiei fears Asakim might become their enemy one day.  That danger is
precisely why Eidel is distancing her people from him.  She tells Jiei to hurry
up and finish Lemures, her ultimate trump card.  Jiei really does want to make
more spacetime concussion munitions, but Eidel reminds him that that piece of
"insurance" backfired rather spectacularly.  Dimensional power is just too
great for man to control, and when Jiei protests that it was just a little
oopsie, Eidel starts getting greatly aggrieved again (no wonder, considering
that Earth's geography got rewritten and two of its neighboring *planets*
vanished...)  Even Jiei is cowed by her tone, and she tells him to be grateful
that his position is being underwritten by no less than the soon-to-be ruler of
the world.  She's even made a list of all the people she _won't_ give the world
to: Scirocco, Dewey, Diana, Durandal, and anything related to the Black
History.  Good to see she's been doing her homework, given that the whole
purpose of her existence is to rule over all.  And stuff.

Use what free time the squad has to head to the Bazaar, where Garrod means to
sell off that makeup set he bought a while ago.  It's not that he's given up on
seeing Tifa again: rather, he wants to get something nice to help welcome her
back.  The makeup kit might be a bit early for her at her age, so Garrod wants
something she can enjoy right now.  One thing he isn't going to be is all
depressive, since he knows better than anyone that that's the last thing that
could bring her back safe.  Even Enil, frustrating though it might be for her,
is willing to help Garrod pick out a present -- it's worth it for getting to
see Garrod smile.

Garrod and crew settle for a beautiful bouquet of flowers, based on roses of
various colors.  This is an especially rare present for those in space, where
cramped conditions make growing flowers a costly luxury.  Even better, the
technology exists to keep the flowers fresh for as long as it will take to get
them to Tifa in person -- which hopefully means not that long.  Garrod's also
working on what to say when he hands the flowers over, and the other pilots can
only sigh and wish they had a romance this... romantic.


48. Exiles from Paradise

Word has reached Diva HQ that the Feds have just finished a mass-production
Aquarion with which to fight the Fallen Angels, using data Jerome provided in
return for keeping his team autonomous.  Fudou is suspiciously silent on the
concept, and Sophia wonders what they're planning to do about pilots: have the
Feds actually figured out how to raise Elements?  And worse, what happens if
these mecha get used to battle other humans?  Fudou says he has a suspicion who
the pilots will be, and heads off to check.

Meanwhile, Dewey is briefing Dominic that the world is indeed approaching the
information theoretic limit, right on the edge in fact.  He tells Dominic that
whether the world has a future or not depends on what they do next.  He expects
that the Scab Coral will copy everything in the material world into information
that can survive beyond the event horizon, as written in the final section of
Adrock's the Ageha Apocalypse.  Of course, there'll be no singularity if the
Scab Coral is gone.  That Scab Coral has been with mankind ever since its
mother nucleus happened to land on Promised Land, where mankind fled to avoid
the disaster befalling their own homeworld.

Dewey cares nothing for that, except the part about the Coral being foreign
invaders.  He sees no reason to strive for coexistence with an invader that
never even apologized for barging in, and would rather smash the vessel that
brought humans here rather than let the invaders have a ride too.  Even if that
means extensive damage to humanity and the world itself?  Of course!  What kind
of megalomaniac would Dewey be if he showed pity to the Coral now?  He's even
prepared to use that "thing" for his nefarious ends, though he laughs and
concedes that he shouldn't call Anemone a "thing" given that she's got her own
personality.  He gives Dominic the latest and greatest mech available, and
tells him to take his men and get rid of Gekkostate and ZEUTH once and for all.
While Dominic is doing that, Dewey expects to finish his Galaxy ship and
pinpoint the Coral nucleus, whereat the final fight for the world's future will
begin in earnest.

Garrod is ill at ease during the trip to the Vodala Pavilion, even though he
knows it's the right thing to prioritize.  He's worried that Tifa's having a
terrible time at the hands of her captors, but has a better grip than to run
off after her as he once might have.  Sirius sure hopes that's true, saying
that it's precisely this kind of precarious situation that calls for the most
rational action.  Sirius is in fact very much on edge himself, though he'd be
the last to admit it.  That is, until Apollo calls him on it and gets him to
apologize to Reika.

Norv watches the drama from the sidelines, scarfing down pizza with prowess
utterly unlike any monk Matthew's heard of.  Norv tells him that young people
grow by working through their own problems, though he has to admit when Gainer
asks that he also doesn't want to go to the trouble of intervening.  That
doesn't sound much like the words of a "holy" monk, but Holland assures the
doubters that Norv is indeed monastic.  He tells Holland that, as the name
implies, they're going to the nucleus of the Vodalak faith -- reduced to a husk
of its former self by world events.  Hap adds that it stands where the Great
Wall once did, an impenetrable barrier of clouds enfolding a huge area.  The
Great Wall vanished in the Breaking, and Norv is more than a little vague on
what lies inside... except to say that Renton and Eureka should be able to
unlock what ZEUTH is seeking.  This will require Norv introducing Eureka and
Renton to someone named Sakuya, who turns out to be Norv's first love.  That's
pretty mysterious, but Norv won't say anything more lest he spoil the surprise.

Ryouma is next up on the worry-wart carousel, fearful of what all the non-
human foes besides the Coralians are up to while your people journey to Vodala.
Queenstein's been trying to extract info from Teral and Aphrodia about the
aliens' future plans, using the non-invasive expedient of hypnosis, but so far
she's gotten no results.  The problem isn't their willpower: it's that they
genuinely don't know what their superiors are planning.  It isn't fun to wait
around for the bad guys to act first, but Kazami walks in just then to tell
them there's another option.  He's supposed to be back in Trinity City, but he
sniffs that Kagetsu and Queenstein have turned the place into their own
personal fiefdom.  Besides, he'd rather be present for any new info about the
Coralians.

Toshiya and Rie tell the guy he ought to give himself a bit of a break, lest
his health fail him before the dimensional collapse has a chance to do him in.
He snaps at them that his body and his research are his own business, and with
perfectly understated exaggerated politeness (yes, that's not a typo) Hayato
asks what this other option entails.  He says there's no need to wonder what
the aliens are up to: there's no way they'd leave ZEUTH alone now that all its
members are Singularities.  ZEUTH, with all its firepower and all its tech,
will be pivotal in the coming war -- and hence is due for a showdown with its
rivals in the none-too distant future.  Like the REALLY none-too distant
future!  Both the Hundred Demons and the Fallen Angels have shown up near the
Vodala Pavilion, and it's probably too much to ask for for them to kill each
other off without wrecking the Pavilion in the process.  As the pilots race off
to sortie, Kazami is looking forward to ZEUTH becoming the center of all the
world's battles...

Sirius has decided that Reika, not Sylvia, should pilot the Luna -- he had a
dream about an incredibly beautiful rose blooming in the pale moonlight.  Its
petals formed a pathway of crimson, though what that means Sirius certainly
can't say.  He does suspect it has something to do with their fate, the fate of
their bloodline, and Sirius wants her to wait on standby just in case.  Apollo
comes over to tell Sirius to hurry, and Sirius asks Apollo how he "smells" to
him.  Just as quickly, he cancels his own request and jogs off to his cockpit,
promising to stake his life on making the world beautiful again.

Hidler orders his troops to kick the Fallen Angels' asses, and they're actually
doing well enough to have Ryouma worried.  Glar has managed to power up the
Demon soldiers, and finds the Fallen Angels the perfect test subjects.  He's
gathering huge amounts of data on dimensional power from them, and once he
combines that with the readings he's taking from the nearby tower, his research
will be almost complete.  Glar means to build a device to control gravitational
power at will, granting the Hundred Demons undisputed control over the world.
Taking out the Fallen Angels would be a great start, but they'll have to face
ZEUTH first.

Koren shows again that he came from the Black History when he immediately
recognizes the threat the Fallen Angels pose: harbingers of DOOM(tm).  Moroha
in turn tells the Wingless ones to go down with the damn demons for using their
"evil" power.  What that's supposed to mean, ZEUTH will have to ask the Demons,
as Moroha pulls his forces out.  Hidler is no help at all, telling ZEUTH that
they'll learn the answer to the riddle with their own bodies, and Glar shouts
for him to release his special anti-ZEUTH weapon.  It's a frigging
muge-tastical robot, but Banjou advises Hidler to save the grandiose speeches
until it actually defeats them.

  When you clash with the new giant mecha, some of the weaker spirits on the
  team *ahemTetsuyaahem* get demoralized by their might.  Hidler gloats that
  ZEUTH brought this upon themselves.  See, it was human tech used to fortify
  these robot soldiers, just as the humans have already been doing to each
  other for quite some time.  He rattles off the standard list of genetically
  altered or otherwise body-hacked humans, pointing out that man is even trying
  to use the power of the Fallen Angels as though it were their own.  Just look
  what poor Futaba's been put through.  Wait, does that mean Fudou's been doing
  more of what Kazami was trying?  Oh, the seeds of doubt are being sown, and
  Hidler boasts that he's even got a secret agent inside ZEUTH itself!  It's
  this person who leaked Futaba's data, plus all the other info on human
  modification that made these soldiers possible.

  Of course, there's a bit of a flaw in the logic here.  If humans are bad for
  using "evil" power, the Hundred Demons must be super-bad for using even more
  of it.  Pot, meet the motherfucking *kettle*.  Kei vows to take down any
  human caught trying to weaponize Futaba himself, and to do that, the ZEUTH
  can't very well falter here.  Really, all Hidler's done is piss the team off,
  except maybe Sirius.  Apollo yells at him to snap out of it for now: there'll
  be plenty of time to question Fudou after the battle.

  Despite his big mouth and bad mustache, Hidler is no more successful in this
  battle than any that came before it.  He yells to Glar to flee so he can
  finish his great work, the gravity control device.  Glar tries to flee in a
  small escape pod, and Apollo rushes over to grab the guy for a lengthy
  interrogation.  Hidler sacrifices his life by piloting the giant mecha
  fortress into the way, going down with the ship when it explodes.

  Apollo and the crew are somewhat singed after the blast, largely thanks to
  Sirius being distracted for some reason or other.  Apollo tells him to let
  Pierre have his spot if he doesn't have his heart in the battle, but there's
  no time to act on that: a bunch of Federation troops pick that moment to show
  up.  Among them is the black Nirvash, which Holland reckons is Dewey's way of
  keeping ZEUTH away from Sakuya.

  Dominic is hesitating to launch his new mecha, but he finally realizes he's
  got no choice and sorties them.  Reika is horrified to see that one of the
  three assault Aquarions is piloted by Glen, a fellow Element who's supposed
  to have been in a coma all this time.  The wing mark on his face is the sign
  of the Fallen Angels, and it now becomes clear what Hidler was talking about
  with the weaponizing of Fallen Angel power.  Even Jurgens isn't so happy to
  see these things actually used in combat, and Dominic can barely stand it.
  Anemone for her part plans to show she's far more dependable than these
  abominations, and Dominic silently laments how her psyche is going to
  collapse under the strain of all these battles sooner or later.

  Glen has no personality of his own left, the fruits of man dabbling into
  realms forbidden to them.  This evil power, this unpardonable sin, this cruel
  world...  Luckily Apollo isn't all about the angst, and yells to his copilots
  that it's their job to stop their former colleague's rampage.

  As though things weren't bad enough, a detachment of Paradigm City forces
  arrives a bit later, with the Big Duo in the lead.  At its controls is Alan
  Gabriel, telling Roger that he won't have to worry about Schwarz ever again.
  He's come with a message of death from his lord, and his "apology" for
  interrupting Roger's prior battle only serves to peeve the black-clothed
  Dominus.  Alan couldn't care less, and says that such unpredictable folk as
  ZEUTH mustn't be allowed to wield such immense power.  They need to learn
  that they were kicked out of Paradise for a reason!

  Alan has customized Schwarz's mech, repairing that foolish man's mistakes in
  the process.  Alan can't believe Schwarz was so depressed by the Truth that
  he traveled the world over just to make everyone else equally depressed.  He
  has it that great power brings forth truth -- and that great power is his.
  As to what that power is, it's the very fundament of the universe, and not
  something the likes of Roger deserves to know about.  Too bad for him he
  sucks, though he passes it off as Big Duo just not being used to him yet.  He
  takes off for now, promising Roger he'll be back in good time.  Roger can
  guess who this bozo works for, but not what they're after... yet.  Taking out
  Alan is also worth an Ending Point.

  Glen meanwhile looks to be another victim of the evil powers, and only
  Aquarion can stop him (in theory).

  Anemone doesn't want to back down, even when it's clear she's badly
  overmatched, but Dominic assures her that Dewey still needs her, and told him
  as much.  He tells her not to make the good colonel sad, and at that Anemone
  pulls out.  Dominic doesn't have to wait until the morning to hate himself
  for manipulating her like this, and Jurgens offers the opinion that Anemone
  won't be good for any more combat after this.  The real question is whether
  she'll be forced to do so anyway, as Dewey's puppet...  Renton realizes who's
  in command of the Federation flag ship, and inwardly implores Dominic to
  think about what really matters.

  Speaking of which, Jurgens does know when it's time for him to quit, and he
  gets no argument from Dominic.  Instead, Dominic wonders to himself why he
  has to keep on fighting like this, under the circumstances...

  Save Glen's Aquarion until after the other two in order to get the Aquarion
  Alpha.

  Putting the hurting on Glen causes his Aquarion to de-combine, and he flies
  off without a word.  That's about the time Touma shows up, to "pick up"
  Apollo.  Liina quotes a prophecy that the black apostle will shew forth a
  seven-colored light and guide the Wings of the Sun, which Apollo sure doesn't
  want to go along with.  On the other hand, Sirius points out that the humans
  have stolen one of the Fallen Angels' children.  Uh, DUH, so what! points out
  Kouji, recalling the uncountable number of human children the Fallens stole
  first.  Sirius says that it's not a question of numbers when both sides are
  guilty, finding this whole state of affairs quite counter to the world of
  beautiful ideals he was fighting to create.  He would ideally be Touma's
  ass-istant, if Touma's summoning him is any indication.

  Touma rings some kind of bell, and out from Sirius' arm sprouts a Fallen
  Angel-style wing.  Reika, who had rushed off to help Sirius, draws up in
  alarm, and he tells her that he had wanted so badly to believe that she'd
  accept him as he is.  Instead, he goes to Touma for some ass-istance, telling
  Sylvia that neither of them had a chance at the life they wanted in this
  world anyway.  But in the Fallens' world, he can finally see his ideals
  realized.  Off he and Touma go for some quality proctology, leaving Apollo
  and the rest of ZEUTH stunned in their wake.

  Another bevy of Fallens show up, perhaps to take revenge for Futaba.  Sylvia
  then springs into action, rallying Apollo and Reika.  It's an impressive
  sight, but there's still a lot of bad guys to deal with.  Holland thinks a
  second and then tells Renton to head to the Vodala Pavilion in the Nirvash.
  Talho drops Norv off for Renton and Eureka to take inside, and Holland yells
  for everyone to defend the place with their lives until the threesome return.

In the deepest recesses of the Vodala Pavilion is a giant flower bud: Sakuya's
resting place.  In fact, the flower IS Sakuya, and Eureka can sense that she's
been waiting for her as well as for Norv.  Norv asks Renton how much he knows
about the Great Wall, and what he thinks lay behind it.  Some forty years ago,
the Scab Coral which became the ground of Promised Land brought forth a means
to converse with the humans: Sakuya.  Her role then was the same as Eureka's
now, and Norv was the one chosen as her partner -- as Renton has been this
time.  He tells Eureka to get the rest of the story from Sakuya directly, and
Eureka walks into the flower, telling Renton not to fear.

Norv tells the apprehensive Renton that, according to legend, mankind once lost
its homeworld and ventured among the stars, naming the new planet they found
the Promised Land.  This legend is in fact wrong: what mankind did is _return_
to their homeworld, calling it the Promised Land anew after seeing the changes
wrought by its layer of Scab Coral.  In fact, the name upon mankind's return
had been decided before man ever left.  In other words, Norv has realized that
the Promised Landers are in fact humanity from a time vastly later than the
calamity called the Black History.

Sakuya is really glad to meet Eureka, only the second person to ever touch her
heart and the first to visit in forty years.  They've got a lot to catch up on,
so Norv and Renton continue their own chat.  Norv and Sakuya's mission forty
years ago was to cross the Great Wall, a task forced on them by the
high-ranking priests.  The idea was to cross into paradise and convey the
wishes of the people to the gods, and free the world from the chains of
negativity connected to the ground.  By that, they meant the Scab Coral, and
they said that the "true" Promised Land was what really lay across the Great
Wall.  Renton wonders what he's supposed to do now that the Great Wall has
vanished entirely, and Norv says that he needn't do anything special.  All he
and Eureka have to do is live together happily, since they're already in the
true Promised Land.

Eureka and Sakuya are chatting like two old friends, and Sakuya kind of wishes
she had lots of companions like Eureka does.  Still, she's overjoyed that there
was a moment when she fell in love with Norv, whipping boy of all the older
monks.  It was Norv who actually taught her how to smile, though unfortunately
she couldn't stay with him in body after their failure to cross the Great Wall.
That failure left Sakuya as a flower, and the Compac Drive embedded in Norv's
chest.  Norv now suspects that what he would have found, had he made it across
the Wall, is another world buried under the Coral: the rich, vibrant Earth
itself.  And what's more, the Scab Coral *wants* mankind to make it to the real
Earth, or so Norv is convinced.  Renton and Eureka's life together is the very
embodiment of man and Coral conversing.

Sakuya did learn one thing from her failure: that Eureka was going to be born
in her stead.  That thought makes Eureka sad, but Sakuya tells her not to be.
The day she and Norv tried to cross the Wall was the first time he called her
by her name, and the first time they became one.  She tells Eureka that she's
one lucky girl, with all her friends and her partner and even Nirvash.  Eureka
isn't so sure, somewhat traumatized from today's battle, but Sakuya tells her
not to be put off by the fact that not all humans are kind.  So long as she's
got friends who are kind to her, she'll truly be in the Promised Land.  She
tells Eureka not to fear becoming one, especially with someone as infatuated
with her as Renton.  She tells Eureka to have a happy life, and offers to
remove the scar from Eureka's face.  Eureka wants to keep it as proof of the
life she's led until now, and Sakuya admires her strength.  But she insists on
helping out just a bit, and wishes Eureka good luck with Renton.

Eureka emerges from the flower, minus the doofy hat.  Norv asks what Sakuya
told her, and Eureka repeats the instruction to "be happy".  Not only did
Sakuya help grow her hair, she's also promised to get rid of the fierce battle
outside.  Sakuya's power has already been acting as a barrier around the tower,
but the fact that the reverberation of combat can now be felt must mean that
Sakuya has decided to use her power for something else.  Norv tells Renton and
Eureka to get going, glad to have met them.  This makes it sound like they'll
never meet again, but Norv tells Renton that meetings, growings, and partings
are a natural part of life.  Rather than lamenting this, he should embrace it:
he and Eureka will always have a path before them, even if it be through the
darkest night.

ZEUTH aren't having an easy time of it, but they don't have to wait that long
for Eureka and Renton to rejoin them.  Inside the Pavilion, Norv can once again
call Sakuya by her name.  They begin the ancient rite, not just for their own
sakes, but for their young counterparts as well.  Orson's sensor begins to
register a dimensional transfer, as all the Fallens gather in one place.
Sakuya is sad for the winged ones in their eternal prison, but she's sure
they'll be set free soon enough.  And until then...

*POOF* go the Fallens in a very impressive display of power.  Unfortunately,
Alan is still around to see it, standing ON the Gekko.  He swipes Dorothy and
jumps off the ship, N stories in the air.  Norman finally recognizes Alan for
what he is: a half-human Boogey.  Alan tells Roger that he'd better come to
Paradigm City if he wants to know what the real deal is, assuming he's
qualified.  Just what the hell's so special about Paradigm City, anyway?

Glar relays the news of Hidler's sacrifice, calling Hidler an honorable warrior
to the very last.  Glar says it's his turn next to stake his life in battle,
his life's work on the dimensional power controller almost complete.  The first
demonstration of its power will be turning their island fortress into a flying
fortress, peanuts compared to what's to come.  The hint he needs to keep
advancing the research will come from the one spot on earth where dimensional
energy is released on a regular schedule.  That would be a city that forbids
outsiders, as it were the dimensional power holy land.  Take it over, and
control of dimensional power is as good as theirs.  Glar's work has come to the
point where he thinks he can pierce the city's barrier, and of course that city
is none other than Paradigm City.  Brai orders the full army mobilized as soon
as the island is ready to fly.

After the battle, Sylvia locks herself in her room and won't come out.  All the
sniffling in the world won't bring Sirius back, but given that no one knows
what to say to her, the only real option is to leave her alone.  Heck, the rest
of Diva needs time for the mess to sink in too.  The good news is that the
military's Vector Omega seems capable of filling in for the absent Vector Mars,
resulting in the somewhat oddly-named Aquarion Angel.  Apart from the Omega,
the Delta was also salvageable, but the Alpha's missing.  Hey, maybe someone
else found it first and is trying to sell it at the Bazaar?

What were the chances?  Seeing as how only special people can actually operate
the thing, Jun was able to buy it for a song.  The remaining Diva pilots will
be able to mount a full Aquarion force with it, but Liina cautions that not all
combinations of pilots and mecha will result in the strongest Aquarion being
available.  Those pilots include Sylvia, who Apollo will drag out of her room
on a leash if he has to.  Inwardly though, he implores her to realize that her
grief won't solve anything.


49. Illusory Metropolis

Beck reports to Alex that his job is finished, having put Alex's Megadeus
Interface to good use in copying "its" memory circuits.  "It" is Dorothy.  Alex
feigns an apology for calling Beck back to Paradigm City and pays him as
promised, though Beck feels that the summons was little short of a kidnapping.
Alan tells the "punk" to watch his mouth, though Beck's level of acumen seems
to have gradually risen past that level.  Beck's willing to let the mess slide
though, since it did get him his chance to get back at Roger and his uppity
little android.  He's actually quite skilled at fiddling with Megadeus
Interfaces, though he doesn't know where the knowledge came from.  Alex tells
him that everyone in Paradigm City has lost their memories, but retained their
skills -- as though God Himself had given them each a part to play.  Sounds
like Alex is claiming divine mandate for running Paradigm City, but Beck
doesn't care so long as he gets to see "that" Megadeus operate at its full
capacity.  At least in theory, the Dominus of the Big Fau ought to be able to
rule the world.

Beck does have to wonder if Alex means the world inside Paradigm City, or
outside it.  Alex sniffs that anyone who rules Paradigm City needn't worry
about the lesser world outside: something that Schwarz and Roger never figured
out.  He plans to reset Paradigm City again once the coming battle has been
tided over, though this time he aims to avoid such unreliable means as just
erasing everyone's memories.  Beck sounds less than convinced, and is all too
happy to take his money and scram instead of staying on as Alex's bodyguard.
Seems Beck has problems with authority...

ZEUTH's pilots are still marveling over the convergence between Renton's world
and the rest of the Gundam-verses.  At latest count, this means that the events
at the end of the Black History created at least four parallel worlds: Gain and
Garrod's world, Apollo and the Fallen Angels' world, the world where the Earth
became S-1, and the world with the Scab Coral.  Gwen is dying to know what
other legacies remain from that time, and he cheerfully brushes off Kiel's
caution with the platitude that power itself is neither good nor bad: only the
people who use it.  Kiel is especially worried about man's attempts to harness
the Fallen Angels' power, figuring that the Black History likely contains more
of the same.  Unfortunately, the Black History period also contains the only
clues to surviving this latest mess, and as such the investigations will have
to continue.

The trip to the Vodala shrine didn't yield much concrete about conversing with
the Scab Coral, but the positive change in Renton and Eureka shows that all
wasn't in vain.  Unfortunately, the trip also saw Sirius' defection to the
Fallen Angels, spurred on by mankind's folly.  Banjou doubts that Fudou is the
one responsible for leaking Futaba's data, which might well mean that there's a
spy within Diva itself.  While Diva's internal affairs folks get busy, Sylvia
remains locked in her room, deep in shock over her brother.  Between her woes
and Dorothy's (and Tifa's) kidnapping, it looks like Kazami's dire prophecy is
coming true.  This difficult road is the only one that can lead to victory
though, as the world's conflicts all seem to be drawing to a head.

Reika's fretting that she might have been able to stop Sirius had she been able
to accept his wing.  Apollo tells her not to sweat it: it was Sirius' fault all
along for not spitting out his secret when he had the chance.  The other pilots
are amazed at how blase he is about Sirius' bloodline, and Jiron and Renton
have to hand it to him: not making a big deal about differences in background
is the *right* response for this mixed-up world.  Renton's already had his
revelation, and it's time Reika had hers.  Reika declares that unfortunate
people make their own misfortune, with herself being no exception.  As such,
she means to cut that misfortune off at the roots, and find a way to apologize
to Sirius for not understanding him.

All very well and good, but Tetsuya is more worried about what the Hundred
Demons are up to.  This spacetime control stuff sounds pretty gnarly, recalling
to mind the massive spacetime concussion that supposedly concluded the Black
History (and with it the Fallen Angels' pan-dimensional invasion).  Orson
assures Atena that it's too early to panic just yet: even if the Hundred Demons
came up with a spacetime control gadget, they'd still need to contact the
Greater Singularity to actually affect the fabric of the world.  Only the
energy concentrated at that rift in the fabric of reality can power what they'd
want to do.

Spacetime control really amounts to "outcome control", at least in theory.
Orson uses the example of turning Kei into a woman: one would have to locate
one of the infinite parallel universes in which Kei's counterpart was female,
and then physically swap that person with Kei himself.  Since the two beings
are of the same origin, that swap wouldn't cause any significant disturbance,
so *poof* done.  Assuming, of course, that such a convenient parallel world did
*in fact* exist.  Really, anyone with a spacetime control device wouldn't have
to go to the trouble of repairing spacetime: they'd have enough dimensional
energy at their disposal to do pretty much anything anyway.

As for that Greater Singularity, Roger actually has an idea where it might be:
none other than Paradigm City.  Gosh, you don't think a city where everyone has
been systematically mind-wiped might hold a secret or two?  Going there to
check would be a great idea except for the fact that it's impossible, or at
least really really hard.  Roger tried it himself, finding only blighted land
where the city ought to stand.  The best guess is that the city, located on
North America's Eastern Seaboard, is actually tucked away in another dimension,
that only certain people have the ability to enter.

If that doesn't sound like a Greater Singularity, who knows what does?  In
fact, the Hundred Demons are sure convinced, heading straight there to break
down the door from what Maneesha's heard and passed along to ZEUTH.  If the
Demons can really control spacetime, the last place ZEUTH want them taking over
is Paradigm City, and it's a mad dash to try to stop them and their massive
fortress... which turns out to be a whole frigging island.  Before ZEUTH can
even deploy to confront this menace, spacetime begins to distort, taking
everything in a wide radius with it.

Roger wakes up on Gordon's farm, supposedly having fallen asleep in the middle
of another of Gordon's stories.  Roger remembers heading for Paradigm City to
stop the Hundred Demons, but Gordon tells him that a tomato is just a tomato,
unless it's not, in which case all it can do is rot.  That is, unless Roger
thinks he's become a different kind of vegetable?  Roger says that he's the one
and only person who decides who he is, and doesn't remember what kind of
promise Gordon is trying to hold him to.  Gordon says that that's just as well,
as Angel walks over to serve as Roger's guide.

She reckons that the Hundred Demons are still stumbling around between
dimensions, preemptively teleported to keep Paradigm City itself free from
riff-raff.  Roger starts rapid-firing questions, like why only he made it here
among all the ZEUTH, and why Alan is working for Alex, what Angel knows and,
for that matter, who she really is.  After playing coy a moment, she admits
that even she doesn't know everything.  The fact that he's here means that he's
been "chosen", just like... Rand and Mail!  Rand went through this kind of
thing during the First Breaking, and Angel can only tell Roger that destiny has
brought him back here as a Megadeus Dominus.  Roger doesn't believe in destiny,
though he will admit that something in his unrecovered memories led him to meet
Big O.  It's up to him now where to go from here, even if he was originally
born for someone else's purposes.

That's certainly how Angel wanted to live her life, but it's gotten harder
lately.  She tells Roger that this place probably isn't the Greater Singularity
after all, separated though it might be from the regular world.  It's more like
a cloistered waypoint on the road to the Ultimate.  That's got Mail thinking:
if Roger is here because of Big O, does that mean they're here because of
Gunleon?  Yes, according to Angel's subconscious memories.  She doesn't even
know who she is anymore, though a sinister figure in pinstripes can at least
remind her of her real name: Number 340.

Alan's impressed that Rand, emissary of the Great Power, has made his way
through the barrier.  Yes, what some call "dimensional power", and others the
"Ultimate Power" (the term Asakim used).  Mail suddenly feels that sphere
inside her begin to speak, telling her that its purpose is to tap into that
ultimate power -- which must be what Asakim is after.  By any name, that power
is the law of the world, and its focal point -- anything and everything, in
Alan's book.  He tells Roger that everyone in this city is here because they
were Chosen, and Angel demands of "Number 271" if he means to kill Roger.  He
chides her for using that number, when he's no longer a member of the Union.
Not that she is either, but hey.

What's the Union, you ask?  Well, when the Great Power selected the people it
wanted to dwell within Paradigm City, it also left a few chosen folk outside.
Paradigm City was granted eternal peace and quiet, but those outside got
nothing.  That made those bereft few want to grab the Power for themselves:
calling themselves the Union in the process.  Alan has betrayed the group and
sided with Alex Rosewater, justifying it by saying that Alex is the person
currently closest to said Power.  Alan's reward is the Big Duo, and he means to
pulverize Roger with it.

This feels great to Alan, who gave up more than half his human body to be able
to do what he does.  Unfortunately for him, that means that Big Duo has now
insinuated itself into his mind, and is actually what's calling the shots.
Fortunately for our heroes, Norman has somehow also ended up in Paradigm City,
ready as always to fulfill his butlerly duties and send out Big O on a moment's
notice.  Roger orders Alan to go and tell Alex to give Dorothy back, and the
furious cyborg vows to show Roger how illusory his confidence really is.  Since
words won't work, it's to be a death match instead.

  Alan insists that he won't fool around like he did before, and just kill
  Roger off.  All that perverse joy in killing marks Alan as one busted-ass
  robot, albeit a misunderstood one if Alan's ranting is to be believed.  How
  could Roger understand how much joy Alan's mechanical bits have brought him:
  he's literally trembling from the sensation of trying to rend Roger to bits.

  Daston is watching the brewing battle from a not-entirely safe distance,
  aghast that the black Megadeus has resurfaced.  Rand and Mail ask him
  frantically if he's seen Angel, and sadly he hasn't.  Someone who has is
  around though...

  As the battle continues, Alex radios Roger and offers to stop the fight if
  Roger wants.  Roger isn't going to have tea with someone who kidnaps people
  and sends in broken robots to cover his ass anytime soon, adding that there's
  no point in negotiating with someone who can't be negotiated _with_.  That
  being the case, Alex leaves it up to Alan, who damages Roger's interface with
  a direct hit.  Alan is sure he can finish Roger off with the next hit, but
  Beck then shows up and tells him to can it.  He's given Rand and Mail Dorothy
  and a disk to reload her operating system.  This won't restore her memories,
  however.  This is one time when Beck's punk disregard for authority figures
  comes in very handy, taunting Alan with the fact that he's not the only
  "chosen" one here.

  By this he means the ZEUTH, including a fired-up Sylvia.  Too bad for Alan
  that Singularities can pass through his precious Dimensional Wall... unless
  this means that the Power has chosen them specifically.  Alex sorties the
  "welcoming party" to meet ZEUTH, Alex's private army of subterranean ghosts
  and mass-production versions of the Union's Megadeuses.  He and Alan think
  the Great Power is on their side and absolving all their sins, but Roger has
  other ideas.  As does Dorothy, who miraculously retains her memories after
  all.  As she puts it, that's not so strange given that even Roger's empty
  head had something left in it.  As Dorothy sets Big O to rights, Beck tells
  Roger he owes him bigtime for this.  In any case, Alan needs to be stopped,
  and stopped pronto.

  Big Duo will start busily absorbing Alan when you beat it down the first
  time.  Alan cries out in ecstasy, telling all the fools to tremble in fear
  before him: his dream won't be over until all of them are dead!  Dorothy
  knows how to put the thing out of its misery, having heard from the guy with
  the disgustingly bad haircut.  Roger knows he has no time to debate this, and
  rushes over to send Alan to dreamland forever.  Roger uses his Final Stage
  attack, delivering a fearsome blowing up to the demented cyborg.  As Alan's
  life flashes before his eyes, he sees a vision of Schwarz, dissing him
  further for embracing the stupidities of both man and machine.  Only the
  chosen few are worthy to wield the power of the artificial god: and Alan
  ain't worthy!  Such are the wages of sin.

  Keep Beck alive for an Ending Point.  He's done helping and has his own
  agenda to see to, just as glad not to hear a straight "thank you" from Roger
  anyway.  Roger smirks as Beck's mech fades from view, having to hand it to
  the guy for staying true to his punk's aesthetic code through all of this.
  Angel is certainly glad to see that Roger won, somewhat too glad for Vera
  Ronstat (aka Number 12)'s liking.  Angel wants to know what the leader of the
  Union is doing in Paradigm City, and he tells her it's to get his hands on
  the Great Power... as well as punishing a few traitors along the way.

  Alex still insists he's a pacifist, not interested in continuing the fight as
  such.  He lets it slip that the Greater Singularity is the _other_ area
  brimming with the Great Power, recounting how his city of peace and quiet was
  created in its own world by said Power after the black calamity.  Alex's own
  father was left in charge, and he admires the man from the bottom of his
  heart.  Admires him enough to depose him, in the interest of ruling this
  world.  Gwen recognizes Alex's words, and the very image of this city in the
  book he borrowed.  Alex advises the intruders to get their asses off his
  hallowed ground, but it doesn't stay hallowed for long.

  Don't forget, those Hundred Demon dudes are still lurking around.  Brai means
  to kill two birds with one stone: take over the city and its spacetime energy
  generator, and wipe out the annoying ZEUTH in the process.  Of course, his
  zeal for settling the score personally makes him personally vulnerable to
  Getter Robo demolishing his ass.  Roger tells Alex to take a good look as
  ZEUTH fight: control of the Great Power isn't nearly enough to guarantee
  victory!

  Brai has a pretty hard job, what with all the slain Demons he's got to try to
  avenge.  That includes Dokuganki (who goes out like a bitch, and an anonymous
  one at that), plus Hidler.  He's got plenty of power, but no moral compass
  with which to guide it.  The grudge match is strongest with Getter Robo,
  which personally killed many of the fallen Demons.  As badly as Brai wants
  them dead, they want him dead even worse.  Just the thought of finally seeing
  his face has been keeping Hayato up at night, and the Getter Team relishes
  the thought of finally putting this guy out of their misery.

  Some of Brai's boasts may be justified: his giant fortress is capable of
  actual regeneration, thanks to its spacetime powerplant.  Glar explains it as
  taking matter from parallel universes to create stuff where stuff didn't
  exist before: a power as convenient as it is inexhaustible.  One could rule
  the Universe with it.  That is, except for ZEUTH and their latest, greatest
  combo attack: Final Dynamic Special.  The thunderstruck Brai's last words are
  that humans are scary.

All in all, this battle sobered everyone except Kazami, who's overcome with
glee at the power of Science.  Guess he wasn't awake for the part where ZEUTH
defeated Science, huh?  Roger points out to Alex that this is what'll happen to
him if he manages to control dimensional power and try to use it for evil.
This pisses Alex off, but before anyone has a chance to say more, the Overdevil
shows up.  It's now in its complete form, and looking for some payback against
the Great Power.

Gainer immediately springs into action and tries to rescue Cynthia from the
Overdevil's icy grasp.  Instead, he gets _absorbed_ because of his superior
Oversense, and Heizaemon orders everyone back to the ships so they can give
chase.  The problem is that Gwen seems to have disappeared, though the crew
urges Heizaemon to leave him be if he left of his own will.  Heizaemon has no
choice but to leave Gwen behind, while Alex fumes that he's going to get Roger
back for insulting him one of these days.

Gwen meanwhile has met the person who called him off the ship: Black Charisma.
He wants the book Gwen has, the latter half of "Metropolis" in which is
recorded the gospel truth about the Black History.  Combining it with the
former half, which is here in Paradigm City, is sure to unlock the secrets of
the Great Power.  Gwen is actually dumb enough to believe he can become
partners with the menacing figure, and hands the book over.

Angel doesn't really know what she's doing anymore: unable to return to the
Union, and wandering alone in the labyrinth under Paradigm City.  She had
believed that finding her memory would make her happy, but that isn't turning
out so well.  If only she could just find it, and get back to her mother who
once called her an angel.  For now, she's just a step away from the deepest
level of Paradigm City, a place no one has ever set foot in before.  Surely
within lies what she seeks...

She's not prepared for what lies inside though: an immense cosmic light, and...
Asakim.  He welcomes her as a servant of the Ultimate, and tells her that he is
one of the Cursed, doomed to languish in the infinite prison for his past
cardinal sin.  His wings and soul stained the deepest black, he now bears the
shackles of Karma.  He tells her he must search for the "Key", and for the
being most alike to what he once was.  He directs her, as one who has redone
everything anew, to show him her power so he can find the Factor he's missing.


50. A Human's Heart, an Angel's Dream

Sirius likes the looks of Atlandia, capitol city of froufrou^Wbeautiful stuff.
Sirius, now known as Shiha, hears the sound of the chains that became a part of
human lives echoing off the walls that have the history of the world engraved
on them... which probably means he needs his hearing examined, if not his head.
It hasn't taken mister satellite radio boy long to go native, and he seems to
like it in his ancient birthplace.  Touma's rather coy about *who* Sirius was
born as though (most likely *not* as the Wings of the Sun, as Sirius hopes).
Otoha seems rather bent out of shape at all the time Touma is spending with
Shiha, and not her, growling to Moroha that Atlandia needs no evil wind such as
this.  Johannes tells her to leave them be and concentrate instead on the door
to their prison, which will be opening any day now.  She asks what he plans to
do if the critters nesting between dimensions wake up and destroy the world.
At that point, the Great Power will manifest once again, just like it did back
when when it wrecked paradise.

Of course, rather than taking this like a man and resigning themselves to their
apparently prettified prison life (after all, their prison is supposed to be
infinite in extent), they're pissy and looking for revenge on the hapless
humans, the turning of whose world they've glowered at from the shadows.  Every
time they wake up and try to fight the humans, the Fallens get their ass handed
to them, like the bunch of clowns they are playing a part in some recurring
play.

Paradise turned into a warzone again 9.999 million years after the original
debacle, during which point Touma was supposed to have encountered the Wings of
the Sun.  Not only did the Power appear, but it stuffed them in this prison
_and_ erased their memories.  But it's been another 12 millennia, and the winds
of change are a'blowin' thanks to that little spacetime concussion opening a
crack in the prison wall.  That's the pathway to their salvation, provided they
can make the fruit of the Tree of Life bloom before its blossoms fall.
Speaking of which, Touma tells Shiha to gaze on the human world, which the
humans are busy polluting by spilling each others' blood.  Even the beautiful
Moon is becoming a battlefield...

That would be those damn Logos fugitives, finally going to ground on the Moon
with the Zaft in hot pursuit.  If Jibril thought Tifa could break into the
D.O.M.E. in no time flat, he's got another think coming.  The Frost Brothers
claim they've got her mind under their control, and that the energy charge will
be done shortly.  Jibril wants to make Durandal his first victim, and aims the
Requiem at the Plant capital of Aprilius.

Meanwhile, the Archangel's forces are watching a nearby colony making subtle
course corrections, aligning itself with the massive beam from the moon.  The
colony manages to *bend* the beam, towards a certain manned colony...

A voice is speaking to Tifa's mind, commending her for keeping up her
subconscious struggle and telling her it's not her fault that her powers hurt
so many.  Tifa asks the voice why it doesn't lend its strength to mankind.
That's not the D.O.M.E.'s place: it only watches mankind's struggles, not
participates in them...

Luckily for Aprilius, it seems the Requiem output is ever so slightly less than
expected.  In fact, the colony is basically unscratched, though the Zaft have
pulled all their forces back in a major panic.  Jibril fumes that it won't be a
victory until Durandal breathes his last, and orders them to prepare a second
shot.  Shagia tells him that that would imperil Tifa in her current state, and
Olba adds that overusing her could well destroy her usefulness as the linkage
to the D.O.M.E.  But not to worry: after all the data they just collected,
Shagia feels confident they'll be able to use the D.O.M.E. without Newtype help
soon enough.  He wants ten days, but Jibril orders him to pull it off in seven.
After that week of terror, Jibril wants to play the real requiem for Durandal
once and for all.  And after that, Scirocco, and Dewey, and Eidel!  As he rants
and raves, the brothers are planning for *their* true battle to begin once that
week elapses.  Thanks be to Black Charisma, and to this multi-dimensional world
for giving them the chance to get back at the man who fucked up their
destinies.

Durandal's assessment of Aprilius as basically undamaged turns out to be rather
optimistic: the Plants are in pretty sorry shape after all.  Januarius 1
through 4 suffered a direct hit, and December 7 and 8 got smashed by Januarius
4's wreckage.  That's six colonies destroyed, and over a million dead.  Hamarn
has to hand it to Logos for their little "field generator in an 'abandoned'
colony" ploy.  Though Logos doesn't appear to be capable of rapid fire,
Durandal knows he's got to hurry if he doesn't want to suffer the eventual
second volley.  It won't be an easy task, what with the AEUG having defected,
and Durandal plans to head to the front lines himself in his Messiah.  That
should distract Jibril a bit as the pivotal moment draws near: only he, Logos
or the Federation will own the future of mankind once it's over.

Should he win, he's got a plan to ensure this foolishness never occurs again.
Hamarn hesitates, but finally agrees to have Zeidel's revolutionary forces act
first.  Durandal smirks and thanks her for siding with him, and she smirks
right back and says she's doing what she feels is best for mankind.  She walks
off, leaving Meer fretting over the huge battle to come.  Durandal says it'll
also be the final battle, and thanks her for everything she's done until now.
Since the fate of the world is in the hands of the soldiers now, he asks her to
go rest easy away from the battle -- as in the apartment he's prepared for her
in the lunar city of Copernicus.  He privately thinks that their separation
will become "permanent" not too long after.  He figures he can get Talia, Rey
and the others back and put them to use on his plan, which may or may not be
truly true.

Shiha has been watching this debacle with increasing distaste, now reckoning
that such foul creatures as humans shouldn't be allowed to exist at all.  Touma
tells him that the fruit of the Tree of Life will free Atlandia from the cycle
of Karma, bringing about the birth of a new world.  Only beautiful souls must
be allowed to see that new dawn, and of course Shiha figures humans aren't
worthy.  If only they and their pesky Aquarions hadn't been fighting back these
twelve thousand years...  Oh, and don't forget about the Overdevil.

Artham revels in his lackeydom, and Cynthia doesn't seem to have much will left
apart from the Overdevil.  Holler and his posse have decided to throw their lot
in with the Overdevil, receiving command of the Gear Gear now that Timp's been
demoted.  Timp might actually realize that he's about to become a Timpcicle,
but none of the rest of them do.  Faced with the prospect of hurting Gainer by
hurting the Overdevil, ZEUTH hesitates a bit until Sara struts right over and
demands that the Overdevil give Gainer and Cynthia back.  The Overdevil
obliges, spewing forth a giganticized Gainer with an Overcoat on.

Gainer scornfully tells the taken-aback Sara that she's no better than Reika
for discriminating just after someone's shape changes a bit.  He professes that
he's himself alone, and not being controlled by the Overdevil one little bit.
Advancing on Sara, he sounds confident that what ZEUTH really wants is his
powers and his mech, not him.  DAMN STRAIGHT^W^WWhere'd he get that idea from?
Through him, the Overdevil supposes that ZEUTH just want King Gainer to fight
the Fallen Angels with.  Sara tries to set the record straight, saying that
everyone's come to rescue him.  He informs her that he won't be swayed by
honeyed words anymore, which is the rest of ZEUTH's cue to start berating him
for the nimrod he is.  Back to being the shut-in twitch gaming nerd, huh?  SUCK
IT, Trebeck!  Suck it long, and suck. it. hard.  The only chink in ZEUTH's
rhetoric is Sara, who Gainer accuses of using him by always getting his hopes
up and dashing them back down.

Gainer is going to force Sara to come along with him as penalty for not
understanding how he and Cynthia feel.  Gaury rushes over to try to make the
Overdevil leave Gainer alone, but "Cynthia" intervenes and says it's time for
him to pay for killing Gainer's parents.  *Poof* go the entire crew, leaving a
furious Kids behind.  Artham's taunt is still ringing in everyone's ears, and
Gain says nothing will get done chasing the dark clouds.  Everyone has to
regroup.

Cue the earnest exchange where Sara is like "oh, I'll melt your ice, you'll
see" and Gainer is all "I'm not falling for _that_ again".  She recounts all
the proofs of how ZEUTH genuinely values Gainer's company.  Cynthia tells her
to go back to her other boyfriends and leave one for her, but Sara counters
that by her own logic there's only one Gainer.  Oh, in that case, let Gainer
kiss her, and chill her all the way to her soul.  If she really loves him, that
is.  Okaaaay...

As though the Overdevil itself weren't bad enough, its immense power has
attracted loads of followers.  On the scene is Malchio Rain, who Kids
introduces as Cynthia's grandmother.  Malchio tells him to stuff the beating
around the bush, and corrects the introduction to "former Overdevil absorbee".
Her legs are still frozen to this day from the ordeal, the so-called Overfreeze
effect.  Malchio doesn't think the Overdevil will relinquish someone with such
incredible Oversense as Gainer, but she and Kids are astonished to learn that
Gainer actually *taught* himself that Sense via video gaming.  That the guy can
use gaming to forge his spirit (or whatever) is rather impressive, and Malchio
can only hope that Rand and the others' faith in Gainer's durability is well
founded.

As for all the poisonous stuff Gainercicle was saying, the vast majority of it
was actually the truth.  The Overdevil doesn't totally take over its victims'
personalities, just freeze things to alter their balance a bit.  Kei describes
Gainer's tirade as little more than one person in love whining to their
would-be partner: a lover's quarrel.  What the Overdevil must have done is
exploit Gainer's lack of confidence, and the person most able to restore that
confidence (Sara) is unfortunately also captive.  Maybe friendship or something
would work instead?  If not, there's always Gain's rifle -- Gain is after all
the one who invited Gainer on this whole crazy Exodus in the first place:
better he finish Gainer off himself than leave him as a lackey of the Man.
Rand and the others will just have to bust ass so Gain won't have to.  And, lo
and behold, the Overdevil's whereabouts have just become clear.

As the pilots rush off to their mecha, Liina pulls Apollo aside.  She tells him
Sirius will appear during this next battle.  Wait, what?!

Well, as Artham spouts his usual histrionics, out come Gainer, Sara and Gaury,
all frozen and heedless of any words from ZEUTH.  To get them back, they must
first be stopped.  Cynthia whines that people always take away what matters to
her most like this, but Gainer assures her that they'll have plenty of new
companions soon.  Gainer is looking forward to settling the score with Gain,
but Apollo doesn't want to give him that chance: he'll deck Gainer himself if
that's what it takes to talk sense into him.  The real question is why Sylvia
isn't being allowed to sortie, and it's a question Apollo glosses over
answering.

  Partway through the battle, Shuran and his Chimera forces show up.  While he
  may not be on ZEUTH's side as such, he declares that the Overdevil is every
  bit as troublesome as ZEUTH itself: hence, he plans take both it and the
  ZEUTH out here and now.  Henry's special forces squadron is getting in on the
  act too, trying to take revenge on ZEUTH for Henry's death, despite the fact
  that their nation is officially endorsing ZEUTH's activities.  He's given up
  on Chiram repairing the dimensional wall, counting instead on the Ageha squad
  to set things to rights.  And even if they should fail, Henry would rather
  see the world *and* ZEUTH gone, than worry about how to fix things himself.

  This is how humans are: unpardonably sinful, at least according to Sirius.
  He wants the humans to experience at least one iota of the pain he feels, and
  to that end, sucks everyone into subspace.  His new mech is the "Cherubim
  Mars", and Sirius is in a major hurry to judge all mankind by the actions of
  a few of them.  Shiha, who insists on mispronouncing his name kanji as
  "Sirius" still, tells Ryouma not to speak his name with his filthy lips.  He
  claims to be over 100 million years old, and says that Gainer's black
  passions make it clear how hopeless mankind is.

  To underscore the point, Shuran tells ZEUTH just how many Plant residents
  died when Logos fired their lunar weapon.  The death toll, while impressive,
  is irrelevant just now: both ZEUTH and the Overdevil's forces have been
  sucked into subspace, and that subspace is collapsing fast.  Julie calculates
  that you've got three turns before everyone is squished, and the only way out
  is to kick the Fallen Angels' asses -- which includes Sirius.  Shuran refuses
  to help though, preferring to be destroyed here if that truly is his destiny.
  This disregard for his own life explains why he can do such cruel things for
  his day job.

  Timp blames Jiron for his demotion, which is in fact his own damn fault.
  Jiron tells him where he can stick his demotion, and dispatches him in good
  order.  Timp at least knows when to run away, saying he'll see Jiron
  somewhere, sometime, and Jiron can only hope that no one finishes Timp off
  before he does.

  Wipe out Moroha as a demonstration to Sirius who really wears the pants in
  this family.  Moroha is a bit harder to kill than everyone thought, so Glen
  rushes over to finish the job.  Sirius in turn tells Glen that the greatest
  kindness he can show him at this point is killing him quickly.  Reika cries
  out in anguish, asking why the two of them have to fight each other.  If it's
  her fault that Sirius because a Fallen Angel, she'll accept whatever
  punishment she has to, if it will make him stop.  Gainer is sick of this type
  of "farce", wanting everyone to perish here no matter what as proof of how
  futile it all is.  Sirius figures Gainer's got it right, judging from Glen's
  emotionless puppet state -- the product of human evilness and all.  Reika
  proves him wrong by getting through to Glen by crying to him, but before Glen
  gets a chance to do much, Moroha blasts him for his impudence.  Not quite
  dead yet, Glen does the only thing he can do to fight on Reika's behalf:
  seizes Moroha in anticipation of self-destructing.  Glen entrusts Reika and
  her friends with the future of the world before the blast, proving to Sirius
  perhaps that humans can be selfless too.

  [this is also worth an Ending Point]

  Tsugumi asks Sirius if he knows why Glen's heart didn't give in to the evil
  power.  It was his feelings for Reika that carried the day, and for that
  matter, Tsugumi cares for Reika that much too [ooh].  The power of her love
  has suffused Aquarion with energy, increasing without bound and actually
  returning everyone to normal space.  And more than that: her cries have
  stirred Gaury's frozen heart, creating enough of a breach for Adette's shouts
  to come back to reach their mark.  That he could regain his own will is a
  testament to his strength, just as Adette's always said.  Sara follows in
  short order, as ZEUTH implores her to help them unfreeze Gainer's heart.
  Gainer and Cynthia aren't thrilled, but Sara no longer cares for the
  Overdevil's treacherous words from their lips.

  Kids then rushes onto the scene, determined to fuse with the Overdevil
  himself.  For his long-time faithful service, he appoints Kejinan the next
  head of Siberian Rail, putting Enge second in command and giving Japoli the
  post as the next CEO of the company.  A nice gesture, but none of them want
  the job: after all, Siberian Rail is about to be finished.  They at least
  have come to their senses: who cares about Siberian Rail if the whole
  frigging world is frozen?  And if Kids still insists on siding with the
  Overdevil, Kejinan plans to pay him back for all the years of mistreatment.
  This raises the trio a bit in Adette's estimation, and offers further proof
  of how resilient, how *hopeful* humans are.

  Sirius isn't buying it, but his opinion doesn't count for much anymore.
  ZEUTH plans to start with Gainer, kicking his ass inside out for the sake of
  brotherly love.

  Holler's Gear Gear isn't going down without a fight.  As the damage mounts,
  Holler has the thing transform into humanoid form, as much as daring Elchi to
  follow suit.

  Apollo has to ask his old comrade one question: Why so Sirius?  Sylvia has a
  better question: does he intend to destroy the world in the interest of
  taking out all the "fools" inhabiting it?  Oh, not to worry: the world won't
  be destroyed, it will be gloriously reborn thanks to the pollination of the
  Tree of Life.  If that's supposed to make Apollo sympathetic to the cause, it
  fails utterly.  Sirius seems easy to defeat, but in fact his regeneration is
  massive.  Sylvia, who's left the ship, implores her brother to stop this, but
  he's got persuasive words of his own.  He tells his sister to join together
  with him again: she's got the other wing of the set that will let them do
  anything.

  Apollo tells him to put a sock in it, reminding everyone of Fudou's words: it
  doesn't matter what someone was born as, but rather what they want to be.
  Shin predictably finds this revelatory, but not Renton: he's already living
  according to his dreams and not his birthplace in Podunk, Nowhereland.
  Sirius himself ought to know this by now, but he orders Sylvia not to listen,
  and instead to take his hand so they may soar to the heavens above.  But
  demons of sin fly on the wings of Blackening, and Apollo reckons he doesn't
  need that to seize his dreams.  That almost makes Sirius laugh, but it
  strikes a deadly serious chord in Sylvia.  She's finally figured out that her
  hands aren't made to join with her brother, but with who's truly important to
  her.  The Aquarion team rushes over to pick her up, and she tells her brother
  that she'd rather crawl with the humans than fly with him.

  Having his beloved sister not understand him hurts poor Sirius' feelings
  [awwwww], and he reacts by trying to kill said sister to make it stop.  She
  instead comes up with a nifty new technique that stabs the traitor in the
  back (oh, the irony).  That's good enough to drive him away for now, but he
  vows one day to bring her to Atlandia by hook or by crook.

  Greta isn't afraid of the Overdevil freezing her heart: she's sure she'll
  find a new husband anyway after Jiron and company go down.  Impressive heat
  from the massive woman, though there's no way she can prevail against ZEUTH.
  Though she doesn't like hearing Elchi say it, she had to admit that it's high
  time she left the Breaker lifestyle behind and opened a bar somewhere
  instead.  That's music to Jiron's ears: far better they part on good terms
  than fighting to the death.  All Rand can hope is that he never sees Big Mama
  staring at him across a cold one some day.

  Henry's a predictably bad loser, vowing to wipe out the Singularities
  regardless of the cost to the world.  So long as people like him are around,
  it's going to be pretty darn tough setting things to rights.

  Holler certainly doesn't fare very well with his new Landship, forced to bail
  out right before it explodes.  Not very captainly of him to not go down with
  the ship, but you knew that already.

  Shuran finds ZEUTH very interesting, since they keep generating more power
  than he calculates.  That might sound like sour grapes, but he seems to be
  serious.  He's also serious when he tells Rand that Eidel is genuinely
  interested in the wellbeing of the world, as its next ruler at least.  He
  doesn't stick around long enough to put himself in danger, but his very
  presence demonstrates that Eidel, Scirocco and Dewey have kicked things into
  high gear.  Defeat them, or the fighting will never cease.

  What Artham wants to know is why he always gets his ass invaded by the ZEUTH
  instead of emerging victorious.  The Overdevil certainly doesn't have any
  answers, and his reliance on it presumably hastened his downfall.  Artham
  shouts out to "Charlay Felibe" before his mech explodes, but Gain -- his old
  partner -- knows it'll take more than that to kill Artham off.

  Kids has finally reached his expiration date, but he's determined not to die
  until he sees the world the Overdevil means to create.  Rather than kick the
  bucket, he rushes over and gives himself to the Overdevil.  Kids is probably
  happy, but he's just sealed the fate of Siberian Rail once and for all.

  Add Gainer to the long list of would-be archcriminals who can't figure out
  how ZEUTH can beat them.  I mean, he's supposed to be the Overman champ,
  right?  More like Underdog Knave Loser in his current frozen state, and
  that's coming from a man who reckons Gainer can be even hotter than him: Rand
  himself.  He'd better get his head out of his little otaku world and back to
  the real one and show what he's actually made of, and after extensive
  persuasion he does exactly that.

  It's time for the real Exodus, and Gainer rushes over and pulls Cynthia out
  of the Overdevil's clutches.  Since he can't beat the thing by Freezing it,
  he's got to try something else.  And that something else is one hell of an
  attack: call it Overheat.  He means to repay ZEUTH for helping him out by
  laying waste to the remains of the Overdevil.  After all, as cold a place as
  this world might be, there's no way it should be Overfrozen.

The Overdevil is one *feisty* customer, but like Sampras said to Becker, All.
Will. Be. Served.  Somewhat more cryptic is the victory dance at the end of it
all, but one thing's clear: this is the beginning of Gainer's true Exodus at
last.

At long last, the former Siberian Rail trio have found their metier working for
the good guys.  They lead Gain to the fuming Artham, not to laugh at his old
friend, but to wish him well on his new journey.  Artham is temporarily
disarmed by Gain's magnanimity, but quick to recall how bad Gain was to his
sister.  Or, so he's always thought: said sister is actually on the scene at
last, having come all this way to drag her brother and his penchant for not
listening back home.  But... but... what about Gain?  A mere night's pleasure
with the rough-and-tumble gent, nothing more angstful than that.  Artham
totally loses it at this point as Karin starts dragging him back to London.
Seeing that this will be quite a chore, she offers to employ the Siberian folks
for the journey: perfect, since Siberian Rail itself just got restructured out
of existence.  "Even in Hell, there is a Buddha".  And as for Gain, Karin tells
him she'll pray all the harder for his wellbeing.  As for his child, she will
say only that "her" child is growing up just fine.  Pretty cold, but nowhere
near the coldest story ever told (see the battle that just ended for what cold
is like).  As such, Gain can start a new chapter in his life with no regrets:
Exodi aplenty!

Gainer figured something out while everyone was screaming at his frozen ass:
he's definitely no "champ" or "king" yet.  But he wants to be, for Sara's sake,
even if he can't just out and say it without intensive prompting from the rest
of the gang.  Cynthia can see how much Gainer has grown, from the small kid
with the small championship inside the computer.  If that's what Exodizing has
done for him, Cynthia reckons she ought to try it too, at Gainer and Sara's
side.  She'll be joining ZEUTH and working on further polishing her Oversense
while protecting the world.  The job starts pronto, as the day to head to the
Moon has finally arrived.  Time to smite the remains of Logos once and for all,
and hopefully get Tifa back in the process.

At about this time, formal recall orders reach the Minerva.  They're to return
to the Zaft as quickly as possible, effectively splitting off from the ZEUTH.
There's more to them as well, but Talia wants time to ponder their meaning
before sharing the full contents with Arthur.  ZEUTH itself is getting ready to
head to space, leaving the Iron Gear and Freeden on Earth to search for the
Greater Singularity.  Talia knows full well how much ZEUTH could tip the
balance of the war, and wonders if she has it in her to shoot them from
behind...

Meanwhile, Renton is heading to the bazaar to cash in his Wheels for more Blue
Stones.  He won't be doing any Lif'ing in space for a while, but he tells his
friends he wants to keep the sensation of the Trapars forever in his heart.
Pretty poetic, in fact.  Just then, a dude rushes over and asks to look at the
Wheels, which turn out to be an ultra-rare limited collaboration between a
leading sports brand and leading fashion magazine.  Seeing the man's obvious
knowledge and enthusiasm for the subject, he decides to simply give him the
Wheels as a gift.  The man is overcome with gratitude, giving Renton the only
thing he's got on hand in return.  It's a cute little round robot, though its
electronics seem to need some help.  As the man walks off with his new
treasure, Renton finds hope in the prospect of retaining his passion even as he
ages.  Gidget finds herself staring at the little robot, wondering suddenly if
there's a lot more to it than meets the eye.  Maybe it can be a mech subpilot,
or grow to enormous size to eat the enemy.  Unlikely, but at least the odds are
good that Amuro or Camille could fix it.  It is in fact a Haro, so yeah. ^_^


51. Separation

Getsuei informs Teral that ZEUTH has just left to space after minimal
reprovisioning; Toshiya left Teral his regards.  They left few other words for
their Earth-bound comrades, probably an indication that they're prepared to die
on this mission if need be.  And given that the enemies include the Logos moon
base and the Skull Moon Alliance, that's not entirely out of the question.
They hope to find some clue to saving the world among the Black History relics
inside the D.O.M.E.  Getsuei has deliberately not told ZEUTH of the "future"
fight between Earth and the Eldar, believing that the Earth's future can be
steered in another direction.  To the extent that the Earth Flood Operation was
averted, Queenstein has it that this world is already a parallel universe to
the one Teral is from.  Should the high ideals of ZEUTH continue to carry the
day, one can even imagine that the Trinity Energy-powered invasion of other
planets in the future can be avoided.

Teral now wants to end the pointless fighting between Earth and S-1, but
Aphrodia is still hesitating, worried about finding a home for all her
countrymen.  Getsuei says there's still ample time for her to deliberate, and
tells them both he intends to notify the Skull Moon Alliance about the Earth's
(past) future.  Teral and Aphrodia are the ideal messengers, and Queenstein is
counting on them to convey the message of rationality to their respective
peoples.  Teral tells Aphrodia that there's no point in fighting it anymore:
they lost not because of power, but because of the strength of the human heart.
Besides, she's still got something that Teral can never have again, and he asks
her to hang onto it.

Fudou then bursts in, looking for ZEUTH and finding out quickly that he's
slightly too late.  He's learned that there's a wolf among their flock of
sheep, one which is imperiling the whole team...

Back in Requiem control, Scirocco strolls in with the Frost brothers flanking
him.  Jibril is apoplectic to see these folks, but Shagia warns him not to try
any funny business... unless he wants to experience somewhat better
"ventilation" than before.  The trio compliment Jibril on all the great stuff
he managed as Logos' leader, and add that it's the least he could do to allow
his refugee forces to serve one final purpose.  And heck, if Jibril and his men
decide they want to play ball, Scirocco's even got room for them in his new
organization.

Scirocco wants Basque to lead his forces against the Aprilius Alliance army.
Dewey's Ageha squad is also expected to cause serious damage to the Earth,
possibly even rendering it uninhabitable.  That makes for a good opportunity to
free a few souls from the Earth's gravity, which is why Scirocco wants to see
the Colonies brought under his control.  Jibril is willing to endure the
humiliation of working for Scirocco if it means a shot at Durandal and his
Coordinators, and a shot he'll get as Durandal plans to personally lead the
expeditionary force headed for the Moon.  Until they arrive, Scirocco has Sara
lead Jibril and Basque to their rooms, and Basque honestly thinks he'll get a
chance to squish his new boss once the Plants and Axis are dealt with.  Jibril
thinks he can avoid Bradman's fate, but Scirocco clearly has other ideas.

He congratulates the Frost brothers on their good work so far, and tells them
to hurry up refining their control over the lunar generator.  He wants to be
able to rapid-fire Requiem ASAP, and Shagia assures him it should be possible.
The harder task is getting to all the Black History loot, which even Tifa can't
enable.  The only choice is to get one of the Sorels to help, and Scirocco had
been planning to "invite" Diana here anyway on the theory that a woman should
govern society from now on.  He tells the Frost brothers to hurry with their
task, infuriating the Newtype-hating Olba.  Shagia counsels him to be patient
just a bit longer: the day for their revenge against a world that labeled them
as rejects is nearly at hand.

The ZEUTH pilots digest the reports about the Requiem blast, evidence that the
bad guys must have somehow mind-controlled Tifa and taken control of the
D.O.M.E.  The system must be stopped, obviously, but the plan is *not* to
charge in headlong and possibly come under Skull Moon attack off the bat.
Instead, the commanders plan to destroy Requiem's relay stations, or at least
the ones closest to useful targeting angles to the Plants.  Requiem itself must
be put out of commission sooner or later, and judging from the all- pervasive
auroras throughout space -- proof of the distorted dimensional walls -- it had
better be "sooner".

Elchi is a bit disappointed that the blackness of space isn't really black at
the moment, but she's still determined to do her part as a Walker Machine
pilot.  These don't look like a good match for space, but the mechanics assure
her and the other Xabungle folk that they'll only need a few mods to be
perfectly spaceworthy.  One might even imagine that this versatility was by
design, the Innocent forecasting the day when they might be called upon for
space action.  Jiron's confident that they can operate anywhere, running as
they do on "guts".  Whether or not Elchi was officially designated by Arthur as
the Black History observer, at least it means she gets to stick by her beloved
Jiron's side.

More surprising is Sara coming to space, but she's determined to stick by
Jamir's side come hell or high water.  Enil notes that the two of them don't
seem to be making much "progress", which is fine by Roaby (who has private
designs of his own on Sara).  Of the two, Kei would have to root for Roaby to
win her heart...  Meanwhile, Rey tells Shin and Lunamaria that it's about time
they steel themselves for their imminent separation from ZEUTH, now that Zaft
is acting in full force.

Henken's AEUG forces aren't getting any support from the Zaft, and are getting
smacked around pretty bad by Gady's fleet.  Yazan sniffs that this is a total
waste of his new Hammurabi, earning him a reprimand from Reccoa for not taking
their mission to defend the colony seriously.  Ramses tells her she's not in
any position to talk after Scirocco gave her a new mech as well, but all the
banter ceases when a new challenger appears.

Yazan is tickled pink to see ZEUTH in space, though he might be less so if he
knew that Camille is packing some new heat.  ZEUTH quickly notice that they're
not fighting regular Logos units, but rather Federation Army forces.  What this
means must be deliberated later: the important thing is to trash the relay
station and all its guardians.  Camille suddenly recognizes Reccoa's presence,
as does Quatro, but there's little to be done about that just yet.  Shin is
also fretting about the decision he must make, though he's got to figure out
how to put that behind him if he's to survive today.

  As the battle wears on, the Revolutionary Army shows up, but not to blow up
  the relay station as expected.  Talia contacts them and asks them to stop
  firing, and when the commander responds back, Jamir recognizes one of his old
  rivals from fifteen years ago: Lancelow Darwell.  He tells Talia that ZEUTH
  is on his target list as well, and advises her to get lost if she doesn't
  want to get fired upon herself.  He knows both Zeidel and Durandal regard the
  ZEUTH as dangerous, and figures they're trying to take them out before their
  threat becomes unstoppable.

  It looks to be another pincer attack that ZEUTH can't elude until more
  reinforcements show up, led by Lacus.  She's not here to return the favor for
  what ZEUTH did in Orb, but rather to root out the cause of all the fighting
  among the Earthlings.  The Minerva and Argama crew aren't very thrilled to
  see these folks trying to help, to say the least.  Lunamaria is in the
  process of trying to blame Aslan for Meilin's death when Meilin herself
  speaks up, telling the Minerva folk there's no reason to fight among
  themselves.  Quatro then gets on the mic, ordering the ZEUTH forces to accept
  the Orb army's help while keeping their guard up.  The Orb army can't do much
  to change how others see them at this point, but they can still fight in the
  interest of their own ideals.  Shin can't figure out what he should do now,
  but Camille's advice is to concentrate on the enemies immediately in front of
  him.

  Have one of Reccoa's old friends fight her.  After the encounter, Camille
  asks if it's really her.  It is, and she's pretty conflicted right now.  She
  won't say how she ended up among the Titans just now, but she does say that
  there was no place for her in ZEUTH.  There wasn't in the Titans either as
  such, but there was at Scirocco's side.  Quatro yells at Camille to cut the
  chatter: Reccoa's their enemy.  Camille fires back that Quatro's attitude is
  what drove Reccoa away in the first place, but Reccoa tells him that Quatro's
  got it right: she's the enemy now, fighting for someone who needs her.
  Camille isn't having it, so have him Persuade her next.  [Just having the
  fight happen and having both combatants survive is worth an Ending Point.]

  He demands to know why they've got to fight, and she tells him he wouldn't
  understand 'cause he's a guy.  Uh, that won't fly here.  Neither can she, but
  before she leaves she tells Camille that she's going back to where she
  belongs -- and that doesn't mean ZEUTH.

  Keep fighting some more and a bunch of Chimera show up, led by Raven.  He's
  not here to defend the Requiem system as such, confident that the Chimera can
  win without it.  Their real secret weapon is... Raven's unwavering devotion
  to Eidel!!!  That would sound utterly comical if not for the fact that the
  psycho reject from LoGH actually means to kill the team off.  He's even
  inverted his fear of women into hatred of them, and by rights he ought to be
  institutionalized.

  Yazan has heard about Camille from Jerrid, and sees him as the best prey on
  the battlefield.  Camille is totally exasperated by this point, wondering if
  all the Titans are is a bunch of gun-happy lunatics hiding behind a lofty-
  sounding mission statement.  Have Camille vent his frustration by blasting
  Yazan: this makes Yazan enjoy himself all the more.  Camille's fury boils
  over, screaming at Yazan not to treat war like a game.  The Zeta Gundam's
  Biosensor reacts to Camille's wrath, and the resulting uber beam saber attack
  slices Yazan's mech cleanly in half.  Trying to catch his breath, Camille
  mutters that mankind is going to destroy itself before the crumbling world
  gets the chance.

  Lancelow has despaired of ever being able to stop Teh F31t1ngZ, as his
  ongoing tiff with Jamir emblemizes.  Not so convincing with the fate of the
  world uncertain, but Jamir can't change the guy's mind in an instant.

  When Rand fights Raven, Raven accuses the "repairman" of being a "disrepair
  man" for wanting to come break the space station.  Mail tells Rand to get
  hyper-pissed off at this, but Rand is actually taking it philosophically.  He
  had been willing to give Raven this much benefit of the doubt: perhaps the
  world that Eidel wants to create is a just one.  However, since she and her
  people insist on shooting people for no reason at all, Justice can't be on
  their side.  As such, Raven is going *DOWN*.

  Raven rages at the thought of Eidel's beautiful face clouded over by his
  inability to swat a few flies.  ZEUTH can't believe he can say that kind of
  stuff with a straight face, much less work for someone who tries to take over
  the world by corrupting its information streams.  There aren't enough insults
  in Japanese for how poorly Raven thinks of ZEUTH, and he finally leaves in a
  huff.

With all the bad guys gone, ZEUTH concentrates their fire on the space station,
permanently trashing it.  However, that doesn't entirely end the hostilities:
there's still the question of the Archangel.  Maryuu tells ZEUTH that she
doesn't intend to try to justify what her people have done with words.
However, she believes the world her people want is the same as what ZEUTH
wants.  Kira echoes the sentiment when Harry asks, presuming that those who
lost people close to them won't forgive him for what he's done.  However, he's
not going to let fear of being hated stop him from moving forward by his
friends' side.

Just then, a whole new fleet shows up, led by Hamarn's Gwadan.  She quickly
introduces herself, and says she didn't come to fight.  Instead, in Mineba
Zabi's name, she requests permission to fight on ZEUTH and the AEUG's side.
She's also heard that Quatro is on the scene, and wants to chat with him
specifically.  Talia realizes that Axis must have broken its alliance with the
Plants, and that the Zaft won't sit still.  She orders Arthur to head for the
Plants at once, raising her voice and repeating herself when he goes "what?"

Holland asks where she's going, and she tells him she's rejoining the Zaft main
army at Durandal's orders.  She also informs ZEUTH that she's got orders to
fire on them, which surprises everyone except Hamarn.  She's delayed executing
those orders this far, but it's time to return to her own people and her own
army.  She tells her pilots to decide for themselves which side they want to be
on, not as Coordinators or whatever, but as individuals with their own will.
Rey heads to Talia without a moment's hesitation, faithful Zaft that he is, but
Shin is frozen in place, confused by all the options, all the moral questions,
and probably by the question of whether it's an African or European swallow.
He specifically doesn't know whether what Durandal proclaims as "justice" to be
justice in fact, but he does know one thing: ZEUTH are in the right.  Lunamaria
is with him, and that's good enough for Talia to set her course.

As she leaves, she relays one final request: for ZEUTH to listen to what the
Archangel and Axis forces have to say.  Perhaps humans are really the cruel and
stupid lifeforms Sirius now accuses them of being, but humans also have
feelings that can propel them past any difficulty.  Better to exchange words
now, than to cross swords after it's too late -- they might even learn that
they never needed to fight the Archangel in the first place.  Quatro agrees to
try, and Talia tells Maryuu that their paths lead in separate ways.  Bright
orders everyone to salute the departing Minerva, and the last words it leaves
behind are Rey telling Shin he'll never forgive him.  Bummer, but at least it
seems Shin has finally decided to press on regardless.

Quatro takes it that Hamarn doesn't agree with Zeidel or Durandal's way of
doing things.  Hamarn sniffs that Zeidel has utterly no clue what the real
meaning of Newtypehood is, and since "Newtype-ism" is a central part of the
Revolutionary ideology, that decided their course of action for them.  Jamir
explains that "Newtype-ism" is a belief system in which Newtypes are the
forerunners of a new breed of humanity, and that all mankind ought to become
Newtypes eventually.  Unfortunately, you can't just go to the gym (or, in
Gainer's case, arcade) to learn to be a Newtype: the scientific establishment
has very little clue how Awakening actually works.  And though Newtypes are
said to have superior intuition and the ability to join their consciousnesses
together, no one has been able to pin down a concrete definition.

Tifa's precognition is an example of Newtype power too, but Quatro stresses
that it doesn't matter precisely what form the abilities take.  What matters is
that those powers exist, and that a number of people seem to have them.  Zeidel
means to use those people in forming his powerbase, which explains in Quatro's
mind why Hamarn hates Zeidel so much.  Wong explains how he ended up on Axis as
a natural reaction after Brecks' assassination, and says that while there's no
*proof* of Durandal's hand in the general's death, it's *sure* interesting how
quickly the AEUG was assimilated into the Zaft after it happened.

Hamarn is glad to see that Char hasn't lost his edge, correcting herself and
calling him by his current name Quatro.  Holland for one is quite surprised
that the legendary ace pilot has been among the ZEUTH all this time.  Quatro
tells Holland that he's currently just Quatro, no more and no less, and
abruptly removes his sunglasses.  He tells Hamarn he doubts she came here to
diss him, and wants to know the real reason she left Durandal's side.  Still
smiling, she hesitates to say for now, telling him that he'll find out soon
enough.  What she will say is that in her estimation, no man fettered by his
own ego or his own past is fit to set the world straight.  Does that mean him,
Quatro asks, and she tells him to take it however he wants.  All depends on how
dark he thinks his own past is.

Holland doesn't want any part of their little lovers' quarrel, but Hamarn tells
him not to presume anything about either of them: Quatro parted ways with Axis
long ago.  As for this Durandal guy, even Hamarn can't figure out what he's
really thinking, and tells ZEUTH to trust the evidence of their own eyes and
ears.  Not tremendously helpful, one has to admit.

Now it's Maryuu and Lacus' turn.  Maryuu admits up front that she has no
concrete proof of Durandal's culpability.  Though many of the things he's done
have been excessive, he's also attracted a lot of believers.  Even the Lacus
impersonator could be excused on the grounds of political standard operating
procedure.  So why doubt the guy?  Well, for one thing, the public hasn't been
told that the real Lacus was targeted by a Coordinator assassin: circumstantial
evidence for what that's worth.  Bartfeld says that suspicion grows fast around
Durandal once planted, and points to the long list of Durandal's potential
enemies who have somehow turned up dead before becoming genuine threats.
Lacus, and Aslan, came *this* close to joining that list.

Lacus knows it's not much for others to go on, but she can't dismiss their
premonition as mere overactive imagining.  And that applies not only to
Durandal, but to the Federation too.  Hamarn has been regarding the girl as she
speaks, and senses *something* that Durandal must have been quite afraid of.
Dangerous to Hamarn herself, perhaps.  Anyway, the inability to trust either
the Feds or the Plants led the Archangel on its seemingly nonsensical quest,
and although it's true there's no *concrete* proof of malfeasance, Heizaemon
finds Maryuu's doubts resonating with his own.  Perhaps the strongest proof yet
of his ill will is his orders to Talia to wipe the ZEUTH out.  And ZEUTH aren't
people to let themselves be wiped out easily, regardless of whatever anyone
else says.

Ah ha! says Hamarn.  That willingness to go it alone is precisely why Durandal
fears ZEUTH so much: ZEUTH has proved to be a far bigger fish than he thought.
ZEUTH earned his enmity as soon as they became more than a convenient pawn for
him to move around, and his recall of the Minerva is as good as a declaration
that the gloves are off.  The Archangel has been in that state for quite a
while, and Maryuu would really prefer helping out ZEUTH in their fight for
freedom, justice and the American Way^W^W^Wliberty for all mankind.

Whatever the past may have held, the commanders all know that now's a perfect
time to join hands going forward.  Holland is man enough to admit that Talia's
words cut him to the quick, making him realize that he was more willing to bury
the hatchet with the aliens and Coralians than his own fellow humans.  It seems
a bit silly for Talia, who grasped this first, to insist on loyalty to the Zaft
at this late date, but Quatro suspects Talia is being more personally loyal to
Durandal himself.  Hamarn is amused that Char would show that much insight into
the workings of the heart, and after staring at her for a moment he admits that
he doesn't deserve to talk about hearts just at the moment.  *coughReccoacough*
Still, Hamarn states that she doesn't plan to let her little inveiglements with
Char distract her from being Axis' representative.

Should ZEUTH accept her offer, she says that Axis will specifically not engage
in a face-to-face war of attrition.  What they can do is help take down the
ringleaders of the two sides of the conflict: Durandal, Scirocco, Dewey and
Eidel.  And as for Logos, on their last gasp, Hamarn recommends ZEUTH staging a
central assault while the Axis forces keep any hostiles from joining the fun
from outside.  And if it helps prove her good will, she plans to be part of the
ZEUTH raid in person.  Quatro knows very well what kind of pilot she is, and
she even volunteers to act as rank-and-file instead of a commander.  Holland
and the others shouldn't expect her to take verbal guff though.

All of this is good enough for Bright, who agrees that they all join forces.
Holland is glad to be finally fighting alongside the famed Desert Tiger, and
Bartfeld feels likewise.  The question now are the regular pilots, but Lacus is
sure that everyone will pull together now that they're traveling towards the
same goal.  And for now, that goal is the Moon given the threat of the Requiem
system is temporarily past.

Shin remembers Mayu's cel phone, which he left behind on the Minerva.  He
supposes he'll never hear her voice again, though he assures Camille he doesn't
regret siding with ZEUTH.  He even believes that Rey will understand one day,
though until that day comes he'll fight him on the battlefield if need be.
That's what Aslan wants to hear, and he congratulates Shin on how strong he's
become -- if he and Kira has only had that strength from the beginning, none of
this beating around the bush would have been necessary.  Meilin and Lunamaria
are certainly glad to see each other again, leaving Camille to wonder if he'll
ever have the chance to laugh together with Reccoa like this.

Kira makes a point of coming over to say hi to Camille, thanking him for his
statement that, right or wrong, a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do (to
paraphrase only slightly).  Though Camille told that to Shin, Kira's pondered
the words long and hard, and finally figured out what it is he's gotta do.  He
tells the irate Shin that that anger is justified: he's done many things that
hurt others while approaching the war as he saw fit.  And being war, there's no
point and no way to apologize for the damage caused.  But for all that, he's
still going to press forward towards what he believes in, treasuring all the
pain of hating and being hated in his heart.  That gets through to Shin, who
finally sees Kira as a "person" who feels pain like he does.  So odd that this
ability to understand each other eluded him while they were actually fighting.

This is what Talia was talking about, about feelings conferring strength.  It
might be an illusion to suppose that all people can understand each other, but
if no one even tries, mankind's fate would already be sealed.  Kira's got a
proposal for Shin, regarding all those pretty flowers he blew away back in Orb.
Let them replant the flowers together, as often as it takes until they grow
roots.  Count Aslan in too.  Neo then walks over, attempting to apologize to
Shin.  Shin *really* doesn't like it that Neo broke his promise and let Stella
fight to her death, but he won't strike people in anger.  Shin tells him what
it will mean for him not to forgive Neo ever: Neo will have to carry the pain
until his dying day, just like he and Kira do themselves.  After all, there
must be people out there who don't forgive Shin for all the mistakes he's
made...  Neo agrees to this, and Shin vows to Stella that one day, he and his
friends will make a world where tragedies like hers never need be repeated.

Meanwhile, Diana has told Agrippa that she's accepting Scirocco's invitation to
the D.O.M.E., whose seal he wants to break.  She disagrees with most of what
the man does, but can concur on one point: the truth of the Black History must
be revealed.  Agrippa tells her she mustn't do it, unless she wants to plunge
the world into even more dire warfare.  What else could come of provoking the
people's fighting instinct?  Just look at what became of Ginganam after he got
his hands on the Turn X!  Diana tells her general that people aren't that
stupid, as she learned in spades on Earth.  By ringing the warning bell about
the Black History, she intends to bring everyone back to their senses.

This is exactly what Agrippa feared.  Returning to Earth has not only awakened
the long-buried emotions in the people, but Diana even means to fan those
emotions by her own hand.  Diana means to head to the D.O.M.E. as soon as she's
contacted ZEUTH, and informs Agrippa -- custodian of the Moon Race's cold sleep
facilities -- that he's coming with.  Agrippa *had* tried to guarantee peace
for the Moon Race by selling Diana to Scirocco, but never expected the rogue to
try to break the D.O.M.E.'s seal.  He steels himself for "emergency measures",
in the interest of eternal peace for the Moon Race...


52. The Truth About the Black History

Teral and Aphrodia are preparing to return to their respective peoples.
Aphrodia has returned her hair to the severe military style, saying that she's
still got a job to do.  That job is finding somewhere for all the S-1 people to
live, but space is a pretty big place, with numerous habitable worlds.  At the
very least, she's not enough of a comedian to pull off the farce that would
come of people from the same planet in different times fighting each other.
She intends to fill Gattler in on the whole story and let him decide.  They'll
have a dangerous journey to the Moon, clouded over as it is by humans fighting
each other.  Teral is confident that ZEUTH can keep the Black History from
repeating, and Aphrodia finds herself badly wanting to see Marin again, to get
help dispelling this dreadful unrest in her heart.  Ahh, Marin's eyes, so clear
and direct... if only she could gaze into them again...

Diana meets Scirocco, and it's immediately clear that he's aware of her former
trading-places stunt.  He explains to her that the radicals of Logos have all
been dealt with, and the New Earth Federation has now brought everyone together
on the same page to protect them.  Requiem is a pretty big gun for a
"protective" government to wield, but Scirocco claims it's essential for
"sorting" the populace.  He apparently wants even greater power by breaking
D.O.M.E.'s seal, and Agrippa implores him to reconsider before he destroys
mankind itself.  Scirocco tells the keeper of the Moon Race's cold storage that
he understands why Agrippa seeks peace and quiet, but asks if Agrippa -- who
stops at nothing to achieve his aims -- is really in a position to question
Scirocco's methods.

That's as much as an admission that it was Agrippa who tried to sell Diana, but
Agrippa presses his case, reminding all that the Black History is a history of
war.  What good could there be in dragging all that up again and provoking the
fighting spirit of men?  Perhaps Agrippa has some other method in mind for
striking all mankind's other enemies?  Agrippa wants to do it with what current
strength they have, but Scirocco says far more strength is needed to guide the
world properly, and to vanquish its enemies: be they alien, or human.  Agrippa
despairs at this point, figuring that Scirocco is already lost to his fighting
instincts.

Diana notes that the D.O.M.E. can only be accessed by a certain type of person,
who if she's heard right was abducted from ZEUTH.  That would be Tifa, who
Scirocco's used hypnosis on to make her compliant.  He assures Diana that
nothing worse has been done, since he needs both Tifa and Diana healthy to act
out their roles as rulers of the world to come.  That's a surprise, but before
he can elaborate, Bradman comes over with news that ZEUTH are headed this way.
Jibril and Basque are already on their way to intercept, and Scirocco figures
he'll be ready for a second Requiem shot by the time the combat finishes.  Take
out the Plants, and mankind is as good as theirs.  Diana is less than thrilled
with Bradman's attitude, and when he tells her to butt out and go back to sleep
forever with her people, she reminds him what came of the Moon Race staying out
of the last war: the Southern Hemisphere trashed.  She means to see that that
never happens again by revealing the truth of the Black History, which puts her
in partial agreement with Scirocco.  Scirocco is confident that he's the right
person to rule the world, and Diana is equally as confident that the world
isn't as stupid as Scirocco seems to think.  She's also confident that ZEUTH
will stop Requiem, and Scirocco agrees to postpone breaking the Seal until
after the Plants are dealt with.  It should be clear enough who the rightful
ruler of the world is once ZEUTH falls.

Basque's been entrusted with a pretty huge force, but it's hardly a show of
support by Scirocco.  Rather, it's a ploy to make Basque and his men grateful
and reduce them to kept dogs.  But hey, while there's life, there's hope
according to Jibril.  He still thinks he can personally upset the balance
between Scirocco, Dewey and Eidel, and squeeze himself in.  To do that, he'll
have to live long enough, and it's anyone's guess whether he'll get to play a
requiem for Durandal or not.

Koren is outraged to see the Forbidden Land marred by the massive Requiem
aperture.  Diana has come in person to break the D.O.M.E. seal, and Tifa is
nearby as well, awaiting rescue.  Requiem is slated to fire in three turns, and
Quatro orders everyone to concentrate their fire on the flagships: wipe them
out, and the footsoldiers will scatter.

  Abel is a helluva 'fraidy cat... so much so that his fear of dying actually
  causes him to awaken as a Newtype.  He immediately starts using the Flash
  System: a very interesting application of Newtype tech, in Hamarn's view...
  That is, if it can be brought under control...  Olba reckons the timing
  couldn't be worse for the guy to awaken, but Shagia doesn't mind so long as
  it buys some time.  Predictably, it doesn't buy much time.  As Abel goes down
  in flames, it's clear that he thought of Newtype power as merely a tool for
  war.  Jamir really wants to believe it's more than that.

  Jibril is determined to get ZEUTH back for the mess at Heaven's Gate.  Good
  luck with *that*.  Likewise, Basque still seems convinced his version of
  Federation government can unite the world.  Jibril's captain Ian knows when
  the time has come to throw in the towel, even if Jibril himself doesn't.  I
  mean, Jibril can't die here, right?  There's still Durandal, ZEUTH and even
  Scirocco to defeat!  Scirocco commends the guy on buying at least a little
  time, and assures him that he'll do the Durandal elimination job for him.

  Basque is even less eloquent, screaming "OH SHIIIIIT!!!!" at the top of his
  blowhard's lungs before crashing and burning.  Scirocco smirks and tells his
  departing spirit that he'll finish what he and General Jamitov started.

  With the bad guys out of the way, Garrod rushes towards Requiem at top speed,
  screaming out Tifa's name.  Scirocco gloats that it's already too late to
  stop the beam firing, but Tifa's sudden recognition of Garrod's voice
  indicates otherwise.  Also known as shit-outta-lucksville for Scirocco's
  plans of mass destruction.  Tifa says that the D.O.M.E. itself stopped
  Requiem from firing, which gives the Revolutionary Army the opening they need
  to rush the installation.  Zeidel bellows that the goddess of Victory will
  smile on whoever controls the moon, leading his troops from the front for a
  change.

  This leaves ZEUTH stuck in the middle of the war between the Feds and the
  Revolutionary forces... as usual.  Before anyone starts shooting, Diana
  announces that she's breaking the D.O.M.E.'s seal and revealing the truth of
  the Black History.  If they want to know, they'd best put aside their arms
  and walk in.  Rather than continue this war of attrition, Bright tells ZEUTH
  to take her up on her offer.  Scirocco's cool with it too, saying there's
  someone within ZEUTH he badly wants to say "hi" to.  Let the truth be
  revealed!

Garrod and Tifa get to have their joyful reunion at long last.  Tifa explains
that the D.O.M.E. finally responded to her voice and stopped the weapon, saying
that the full truth about the ancient Newtype consciousness will become clear
momentarily.  For now, she leads ZEUTH deep within the base.  Waiting within is
a room covered at all angles by images of the past, what Scirocco presumes are
from the Black History period.  He recognizes the boy he met at Gibraltar, and
tells Camille that this is his chance to figure out how to properly direct his
power.  He mustn't let his talent rot like certain other fools on the scene, by
which he means Hamarn and Quatro.  "Proper", as in dominating humanity and
moving them at his whim, snaps Hamarn, and he smoothly says that the huddled
masses need someone to show them the path: that's the role of a true "leader".

His claims of being a mere witness to history ring quite hollow in Amuro's
ears, and Hamarn informs Scirocco that he and Durandal are cut from the same
cloth.  The only difference is that Scirocco is even more virulent for his
unwillingness to accept responsibility for his actions.  That finally breaks
his smug smile, and he growls that he won't lay a finger on her in front of
Diana, adding dangerously that they seem incapable of "mutual understanding".
Quatro, inscrutable behind his shades, says recognizing Scirocco as his enemy
is already worth the trip here -- big talk from what Scirocoo calls a "failed"
Newtype who never managed to become the world-changing genius he strove to be.
Camille has Scirocco's swollen ego pegged as the source of this war, and
Scirocco "laments" the fact that Camille can't understand him either.

Lancelow takes the time to greet Jamir, their first ever face-to-face meeting.
Zeidel is outraged to see the man "responsible" for the Seventh Space War, but
for once Bradman does something useful by pointing out that it was the
Revolutionary Army that actually performed the colony drops.  Zeidel yells at
Bradman to shut up, adding that the Earth deserved it for trying to turn
Newtype power into a weapon.  The D.O.M.E. is another example of such
stupidity: morons who feared human renewal dismantled the First Newtype down to
his genetic level before incorporating him into this base.  Bradman counters
that the D.O.M.E.'s founders were trying to prevent people from blindly
idolizing Newtypes like him, by making Newyptes as taboo as the Black History
itself.  Raising his voice still further, Zeidel screams at Bradman to accept
that Newtypes are a revolutionary form of mankind, purified by space.

Roger observes flatly that neither lofty leader of the Federation or the
Revolution is showing an ounce of rationality: a barking contest between
purebreds is quite unbearable to listen to.  The real question is what it means
to be a "Newtype", and what happens to the people who for whatever reason don't
make the cut.  Dregs of society, in the version of Newtypeism that Zeidel
espouses, and one has to wonder if Zeidel is himself a Newtype.  Camille says
that that doesn't matter: what matters is that Zeidel has it wrong.  Hamarn
praises his insight, and cautions him not to let his talents go to waste with
the wrong companions.  A bit overwhelmed by the (slightly) older and (vastly)
more stylish woman, Camille can only muster an "O-okay..."

Bradman demands to know why, if Newtypes are the future of humanity, there are
none in the Revolutionary Army.  He's well aware that not a single person in
the fifteen years since the last war has Awakened in Zeidel's forces, but
Zeidel counters that plenty will awaken once he's struck down the sub-humans
infesting the Earth.  Jamir suddenly yells for both of them to shut up, saying
that he's been seeking the answer to the question of who he is all his life.
He hasn't found that answer yet, but one thing he does know is this: Newtypes
are _not_ gods, and _not_ something to build an ideology or religion around.
And they're ESPECIALLY not some tool for others to manipulate.  That's what
Amuro's talking about: he says there's neither meaning or substance in the
difference between Newtype and non-Newtype.  Or at the very least, there's no
difference worth accounting for in a person's value.

Scirocco asks if Amuro intends to waste his power, letting the ignorant chart
the fate of the world in his stead.  Amuro tells him that there are other
powers to keep that from happening, and Diana tells him that it will be
apparent shortly.  The Black History was the battle that ended the world, and
the truth of it should be enough to show everyone how foolish they've been.
And for those interested in what "Newtype" means, the D.O.M.E. can furnish the
ultimate proof.  Agrippa shouts frantically for everyone to stop: knowledge
isn't the answer to everything in this world!  Sometimes it can even make
things worse, and he says that those already ruled by their fighting instincts
won't even be able to comprehend what the Black History is really about.  He
figures it's already too late for the people assembled here.

Okay, so maybe ZEUTH does contain several people with pretty strong fighting
instincts.  But that's far better, in Holland's view, than being a coward who
withdraws into his own rhetoric at the first sign of possible danger.  Let the
history lesson begin!

All the monitors begin to show images of war.  Among the carnage are visible
the God Sigma and Baldios, and the Gekko and Nirvash!  In fact, all of ZEUTH
are being shown -- as though this were ESPN and not ESPN Classic.  Gain's sharp
eyes begin to pick out subtle differences, and Sylvia suddenly realizes that
Aquarion is shown fighting on the side of the Fallen Angels at the Overdevil's
side.  That's just like the legend said, and presumably the Wings of the Sun is
at Aquarion's controls.  Pierre has to wonder who the heck is piloting King
Gainer, and even Boss starts to notice something weird about the Borot.  Kouji
catches sight of a Mazinger he doesn't recognize, as does Ryouma with a
monstrous new Getter Robo.

Diana doesn't have an explanation for any of this.  The images merely _are_,
taken 12,000 years ago in a battle that spanned hundreds of years.  A real
voice is heard by all, accompanied by the sensation of countless human wills
behind it.  The voice introduces itself as D.O.M.E., observer of history and
former Newtype.  Tifa explains that the D.O.M.E. is absolutely impartial, which
Orson figures is why it consented to power the Requiem.  As a pure power
source, it passes no value judgments on how its power is channeled.

However, it was willing to twist that prime directive when Tifa asked:
neutrality is lower priority than protecting human life.  The D.O.M.E.
observes that it may be getting tired of watching people fight, and says that
its job is to explain the Black History to all the qualified people gathered
here.  Some twelve millennia ago, spacetime became fractured, and a new world
was born in an event people called the "Breaking of the World".  Whoa, hold up,
that's the term used in the creation of the modern-day multidimensional world.
The D.O.M.E. explains that everyone is seeing images from the long battle that
occurred after the Breaking.

It's finally understood upon meeting these guests that the Black History is the
result of their fighting.  People called "ZEUTH" were present at the outbreak
of the war, leading eventually to the cataclysmic event that again destroyed
spacetime.  What this means finally dawns on Marin: the apparent paradox of
ZEUTH in the presence and the past is due to a time loop, the same reason why
S-1 is actually a future Earth.  Kazami figured this out already, saying that
the spacetime concussion has merged not just different worlds to create this
one, but different points in their respective timelines.  In other words, if
the battle keeps going, the Black History will occur in this timeline, followed
by fracturing into the various worlds that made it up in the first place, in an
endless loop with a *very* long circumference.

Kazami finds it a delicious irony that Diana's plan to show people the past has
actually shown them the future instead.  He revels in the notion that the world
is already caught in the Black History, and Agrippa despairs that things are
past the point of no return.  Oh, except for one thing: the future can be
altered.  Altered in principle, Kazami sniffs, but what about in practice: just
check out all the people arguing with each other here.  How could the Black
History *not* happen?  Scirocco aims to prevent that by being a strong leader,
but Aslan points out that that kind of domination is precisely the kind of
thing that causes wars in the first place.

Scirocco fumes that ZEUTH, or a parallel version of them, are the people who
started the Black History in the first place, and thus in no position to talk
to him.  Quatro counters that humans are always capable of fixing mistakes: and
in particular they're not so stupid as to walk into the jaws of destruction
once they see them open.  Unfortunately, there is to be no reconciling of the
different viewpoints of how to save the world here.  That includes Zeidel's
plans to wage war in the name of Newtypeism.  Garrod, Amuro and even the
D.O.M.E. itself call this incredibly stupid. 

Jamir asks, once and for all, what the meaning of Newtypes is: are they really
a new type of human?  Many have revered Newtypes as gods, or feared and
manipulated them.  Some once had their power, others still do, and all have
pulled the trigger that begets war.  All of them, chasing the illusion that is
"new" humanity.  Wait, "Newtypes" are an illusion?  What about the power that
led the D.O.M.E., or rather all the individual personalities that comprise it,
to be chosen for their role?  At the very least, those super- human abilities
do not represent a new stage of humanity itself.  The D.O.M.E.  lost its
ability to judge long ago, but its parts were born out of an eternity of
unending war.  It doesn't know itself where its special powers came from:
perhaps nothing more than a spontaneous mutation born from the age it lived in.
But its existence, and the term "Newtype" that referred to it, gave hope to a
tired people -- and that hope became the lash that impelled them into war.

Remember: Newtypes aren't gods: they can't magically create "the future" by
themselves.  Then again, neither can people who use power only as a means to
wage war.  Zeidel announces that he can't give up his belief in Newtypes no
matter what anyone says, which is precisely why he has no future in the
D.O.M.E.'s view.  Jamir cries out that he was a boy fifteen years ago, fighting
under the belief that he was a Newtype.  He *saw* time.  He *felt* the future.
Was that all just an illusion?!  Yes, the D.O.M.E. says levelly: whatever
future he might have seen, it's meaningless unless someone acts to make it
happen.  It tells everyone gathered here to stop questing for Newtypes, and to
start creating a new future.  Right on: stop worrying about the Black "History"
and start worrying about a whiter future.  Lest anyone forget: Garrod's already
changed the future Tifa forecast many times.  It was his strong wish to protect
Tifa, more than any special supernatural ability, that let him create a new
path.  Everyone has the same opportunity, and it's up to them to decide whether
or not they can capitalize on it.

One more question, now that the motivational speaking has done its magic on
ZEUTH.  What about the big spacetime concussion that ended the Black History:
was that caused by the Coralians' awakening?  The manifestation of the Great
Power is something even beyond the D.O.M.E.'s comprehension, so it simply shows
everyone what it looked like.  Rainbow-colored lights in all directions, and
behind them a _consciousness_ that D.O.M.E. felt.  Hard to say if someone was
"controlling" the Power as such, but the D.O.M.E. does know that the Power
manifested right before the world itself was utterly destroyed, rebirthing the
world with new natural laws and setting it in motion once more.

The military commanders want concrete answers as to what to do now, what to
believe in now that all faith in man and God has been shaken.  Lancelow tells
Zeidel to calm himself, realizing that the future is now in everyone's own
hands.  Unfortunately, a few people don't seem to agree, and they've
appropriated part of the power the D.O.M.E.'s been guarding.  Said people are
now attacking Requiem, regardless of the fact that the top Revolutionary Army
brass is inside.  ZEUTH race back to their mecha, and Tifa tells Garrod to take
the power of her feelings with him, so that they can both create their new
future together.

Figures it's Shagia and Olba, who've taken control of the D.O.M.E.'s self-
defense mechanism: the G-bits.  They played at being domesticated animals to
elude Bradman's notice, and aren't very pleased at their designation as
Category F's: those unable to become Newtypes.  It's high time they took
revenge on those who bestowed that moniker on them, wiping out both those who
believe in Newtypes and those who use them for their own ends.  It's their era
now, or at least that's what they believe, and Bradman and Zeidel aren't in
much position to disagree.

It seems they've even got access to the Satellite Cannon, the only "ally" they
need.  If their motive to kill is revenge on those who used them and denied
their power as Newtypes, that makes them equally fettered by Newtypeism.  They
don't care, actually wanting to accelerate the world towards the Black History.
Tifa clearly feels the malice in their hearts, enough to actually make good on
their threat to destroy the world.  Who they really blame is Durandal, who
through the magic of circular chronology is indirectly responsible for the
Frost brothers' being oh-so-denied since before birth.

It was his creation, handed down via the Black History, that did it: the
"Destiny Plan" for genetically controlling society.  The Plan sought to control
what could be called the "destiny" of everyone born, steering them towards
their ideal role in life -- a utopia without war or poverty [except when C.J.
Cherryh sues the whole lot of them for copyright infringement ;)].
Unfortunately, such a world also lacks individual freedom.  The Central
Government got their hands on the documents, and decided to try it out in the
interest of decoding what makes Newtypes, Newtypes.

Make no mistake: the Frost brothers have the power to unite their
consciousness, but as they grew up it became clear that they weren't suited to
linking with the Flash System.  As a result, they got teh Scarlet F and all the
stigma it brings, damned by the Destiny Plan and Newtypes in general.  Hamarn
still can't believe that Durandal not only concocted such a plan, but that
partial results of it are even on display.  She knows that Durandal has already
made ready to carry out the Destiny Plan once the Federation is overthrown,
which is what caused Axis to defect.  After all, it should be quite clear from
looking at the Frost brothers how dangerous such a genetically programmed
society would be.

In the final analysis, the Frost brothers are the emo kids who should have gone
to cry, but didn't.  Instead, they mean to destroy the world, starting with the
D.O.M.E. and the Newtype consciousness within it (after all, there are other
microwave generators).  Diana is still in there, and Rolan rushes over to stop
them, but Shagia thinks he can fire before the Turn Type awakens.

Like so many other things in life, Shagia is sadly, SADLY mistaken.  Somehow
the wings of a Moth sprout from the Turn A's back -- yes, THAT moth from the
prophecy.  Rolan manages to neutralize Shagia's beam, using what Shagia calls
the "demonic" Moonlight Moth System.  Koren finally remembers why he hates
Gundams: that light is the light that shone at the end of the Black History!

You betcha! shouts Ginganam, who's been waiting for his sibling mech to awaken
for a long time.  He plans to make the Turn A's power his, and tells Marybell
that they've got to fight both sides.  After all, he wants to see the Black
History come true himself, having patiently sat out the previous war at Diana's
orders.  So many warmongers, so little reason for the ZEUTH not to kick all
their asses and try to avert the Black History.  Rolan has to hope that the
Moonlight Moth gives its power to him and not to Ginganam.  Luckily, Tifa's
with Garrod in spirit as he and ZEUTH prepare to take on the Frost brothers.

  Rolan definitely doesn't want to fight Ginganam -- after all, his family
  defended the Sorel family this many years.  Ginganam snaps back that the Turn
  A is a taboo mech, and that his crushing it *is* protecting Diana.  That
  "taboo" sounds like it reflects back to the taboos of the Promised Land, and
  Ginganam even throws in more info: the Turn X failed to defeat the Turn A
  once before.  That's where the cross-shaped scar on the mech's breast came
  from, and it's telling Ginganam to defeat Rolan now.

  Marybell seems to be having a grand old time fighting the ZEUTH, and is
  looking forward to the next fragdown.  Her mech is one Harry never saw
  before, meaning it must have been excavated from one of the Moon's Mountain
  Cycles.  Ginganam can say the same, commending ZEUTH on having powered
  themselves up since the fight in Orb.  He tells the vengeful ZEUTH not to
  hurry to their final showdown: the Black History has just begun.

  He does intend to take a souvenir though: the data in Rolan's Turn A to fully
  reawaken his own mech.  Koren is aghast, but before Ginganam can live up to
  his nefarious designs, Agrippa rushes the scene.  He cries out that the
  rainbow colors visible at the end of the D.O.M.E.'s movie was the
  nanomachines that make up the Moonlight Moth System.  These virus-size
  powerhouses were programmed to obliterate all human culture, reducing
  everything to sand and desertizing the whole of the Earth.  Afterwards, the
  Great Power came and reset time, and the Turn A went to sleep in Ingressa.

  Oh cripes, that means the whole taboos about Ingressa being a forbidden land
  must have been about the Turn A.  And the Turn X was assigned to watch over
  it, as its "older brother".  Agrippa cries that all he wanted was a peaceful
  life for the Moon Race, and that this mess is all the Queen's fault.  Diana
  fires back that he's too stupid to even realize how stupid he is for turning
  his eyes from the world and trying to lead a peaceful life on his own.  He
  tells her that her fighting instincts have already awakened, and it's his job
  to wipe out all such people to defend the peace.  That was his rationale for
  trying to sell Diana to the Feds, and Ginganam has enough loyalty to the
  throne to slaughter his ass for it.

  Ginganam seems to have gotten his Moth on, and leaves ZEUTH to lament his
  extremely poor attitude.  The Frost brothers, unbelievably, reckon they could
  turn this guy to their own ends and use his Turn Type to end the world.
  Rolan has other ideas: if Gundam warriors can fight to end the world, they
  can also fight to protect it.

  Oh, and taking Ginganam to <50% of his HP is worth an Ending Point.

  The Frost brothers are quite talkative when confronted by the ZEUTH.  In
  addition to the general badmouthing about how the ZEUTH suck in various ways,
  they have special invective for Amuro.  They say a collaborator of theirs
  informs them that lots of people have an inferiority complex about Amuro, and
  that will cause further bloodshed.  Plenty of the ZEUTH tell them to stuff
  their victim complex up their incestuous butt-buddy asses.

  Take both brothers down simultaneously for an Ending Point.  This should be
  ridiculously easy at this point.  Garrod chews their sorry asses out further
  for pretending that the whole world has turned its back on them, when in fact
  it is _they_ who turned their back on the world instead.  The brothers
  haven't given up yet, and Garrod vows to stop this war they want from
  occurring.

Scirocco is lamentably undamaged from the attack on the D.O.M.E.  He isn't
going to tangle with ZEUTH just now, having realized that the Black History can
only be averted by a strong ruler.  That task is too heavy for a dreamer like
Durandal, and when Quatro asks if he plans to fill the bill instead, Scirocco
says that at the least, he won't leave the world to someone whose vision is as
vague as Quatro's.  Supercilious to the last, he tells ZEUTH to give it their
best shot - while they still can.  Amuro growls that this guy is as dangerous
as Durandal, but in a different way.  Lacus is as magnanimous as she can be,
saying that both Scirocco and Durandal might in fact be genuinely concerned
about the fate of the world.  But she doesn't want to accept any one person in
control of everybody's lives.

Pretty pathetic, says Black Charisma, who's been in the D.O.M.E. all this time
and now snuck aboard the King Beal.  He isn't planning on letting today be the
big fragdown, instead having come to collect his accomplice, Kazami.  Black
Charisma offers to take the good [and by good, I mean rotten like the mountain
of corpses in Apocalypto] doctor anywhere he wishes.  Toshiya tells Kazami
he'll be there to rescue him in a jiffy, but Kazami yells at him to save his
pathetic goody-two-shoes routine.  He's going where his brain will actually be
valued, perhaps somewhere like the Federation that valued his Fallen Angel data
so highly.  Since he's been so frustrated by ZEUTH for so long, Kazami decides
it's high time for a little monologuing.  He bets ZEUTH didn't know that after
the Black History, some of the survivors decided to use Trinity Energy to take
over the universe.  That's why the Eldar came back from the future to try to
stop them, or so he gathered from Teral.  He tells Black Charisma to head to
Skull Moon Base, intending to sever his final ties with mankind.  That suits
Black Charisma just fine, since he's got a delivery to make there too.  Ohh,
the betrayal...

All this time, Diana's been chatting up the D.O.M.E.  She informs it that she
and her posse intend to go on fighting the people who intend to go on fighting
regardless of the truth of the Black History.  Wait, that's confusing.  Insert
tab A into slot B and...  Oh, ZEUTH are the good guys and all the other
warmongering bastards are the bad guys.  The D.O.M.E. decrees that Diana gets
to be the new advocate of the Black History, saying that the day has finally
come when it can rest.  It entrusts the fate of the world to this new
generation with its new power.  Lancelow tells Jamir that he intends to
accompany him, preferring that to getting absorbed into the Zaft along with the
rest of Zeidel's forces.  Since ZEUTH means to avert the Black History anyway,
why not help them avert the Destiny Plan too?

Jamir welcomes his old acquaintance, saying that they may have lost most of
their Newtype abilities, but they're still both more than able to protect the
world's future.  The D.O.M.E. then tells Char that all that stuff it spoke
about the meaning of Newtypes was merely its opinion, not quite the gospel
truth it might have sounded like.  Indeed, the fact that it sounded like gospel
truth to the Newtypeists is proof of how hidebound they've become.  Hamarn
agrees, resolved to follow her own path regardless of what anyone else might
say.  Indeed, the D.O.M.E. says, those who are truly unfettered and walk their
own path with confidence may well be the real Newtypes here.  It certainly
seems to have done the trick to Tifa, who's finally come into her power through
her spiritual union with Garrod.  She even wants to become stronger now, so
that the world she and he will live in won't have to be a sad one.  The
D.O.M.E.'s last words are that it believes in mankind, and its ability to avoid
becoming another Black History down the line.

Forensic evidence shows that Kazami has been leaking ZEUTH data for a very long
time now, including notes on how your mecha work and what ZEUTH's strategy will
be.  The Feds are the principal beneficiaries, making it odd that he didn't try
to flee to them.  Marin knows what's really going on: Kazami has become so
immersed in his research that he's gone mad, and decided that mankind as a
whole deserve to perish.  The reality of the impending dimensional collapse,
and the Black History, probably accelerated his despair, and he's probably
trying to assuage that despair the only way he knows how: through ever greater
scientific knowledge.  This betrayal, not just of ZEUTH but of fundamental
scientific ethics, deserves to be repaid with death in Julie's view.  This is
coming from the man who used to be Kazami's greatest admirer.  Julie puts it
plainly: Kazami has just taken all the data on ZEUTH to Skull Moon base: the
only way to stop him is to stop the flow of oxygen to his corrupted brain.

This is convenient in a way, given that the Skull Moon is ZEUTH's next waypoint
now that Requiem is disabled.  The longer ZEUTH delays, the greater the damage
from Kazami's defection will be.  Toshiya recalls Teral saying that Ionians,
including his father, are imprisoned at Skull Moon: must he fight Kazami to set
them free?  Julie's greatest ambition had been to become a greater scientist
than Kazami, and nobody likes to have their ideals smashed to bits...

While rummaging around the base, the team find loads of spare G-bits,
apparently ready to function as the D.O.M.E.'s defenses.  They've no doubt been
messed with by the Frost brothers, but should still be usable by someone who
can use the Flash System.  The GX and DX are hard-wired for the Satellite
Cannon, but Kid's gotten a gadget from Kotoset that may allow him to mod them
to connect to the Flash System as well.  That mystery box from Zondarepter
turns out to be a Flash System control module, and even if Garrod himself can't
use them, Tifa can.  LUCKY!


53. Final Battle on the Lunar Surface

Teral delivers his report to Gagarn, concluding with the recommendation to pull
out the army.  He notes quite reasonably that even if the Eldar achieve their
aim, the best they can do is create a parallel universe, not somehow fix their
own.  He's still willing to fight the Earthlings, but wants to do it with the
Eldar's current military in their native spacetime continuum.  As he probably
feared, Gagarn meets the proposal with derision.  He's not so sure that this
fight won't affect their home universe, since the Earthlings are absolutely
going to project their power galaxy-wide.  The main difference is that he plans
to be the one in command, figuring that Trinity Energy is as much as his thanks
to Kazami's input.

Gagarn was as surprised as Teral is now when Kazami first made his request.
But Kazami's "rat fleeing the sinking ship" routine is convincing, and Gagarn
now means to take over the Earth as his base from which to stage his Trinity-
powered conquest of the universe.  ZEUTH must be eliminated first however,
especially God Sigma which is Kazami's Trinity Energy rival.  Gagarn loans
Kazami some troops and tells him to go settle the score himself.  Isn't it
interesting that this fight started in the name of Eldar will actually be the
starting point for the very conflict that Eldar was trying to quash?  Gagarn
even reckons that the elders of Eldar deserve it for foisting this dangerous
mission off on him in the first place.

He has Teral thrown in prison, and Jiela tells him to accept
*winkwinknudgenudge* his punishment peaceably.  Gagarn interprets the exchange
as Teral losing his last ally, but Teral tells all present to remember this
moment when ZEUTH defeats their asses inside out and proves how stupid they're
being.  Gagarn does tell Kazami to be careful while out there beating on ZEUTH;
he's got to come back safely above all else.  Kazami is sure he can't lose with
all his knowledge of how ZEUTH operates.

Aphrodia gets a somewhat les supercilious reception, but no better results in
terms of having her people pull out of the Skull Moon Alliance.  Gattler
himself began to suspect the link between Earth and S-1 the moment he started
simulations for the Earth Flood Operation.  The harsh truth that Aphrodia
hadn't been told is that their ship is running out of energy fast, jeopardizing
the whole cold sleep facility.  The Algol lacks even the energy needed for
subspace jump, and Gattler sees only one possibility left: take over the Earth
as soon as possible.  And even if he personally wanted to avoid combat with his
own ancestors, the Alliance has already begun final attack preparations,
spurred by Butcher's impatience of their impotence so far.

He assures her that he's got the means to make all the Earthlings surrender,
though he hopes to hold that in reserve as his last resort.  Aphrodia is very
impassioned as she asks where he got such a method, as she has been this entire
conversation, and Gattler asks who changed her this much since he saw her last.
He can pretty much guess that it's Marin who melted the ice around her heart,
though she stoutly denies that being a woman makes her unfit for command.  She
claims she stopped being a woman the moment her brother was killed, and while
it's true she's fought more than any man under Gattler's command, he reckons
it's time she resumes being a woman at last.

He's already appointed Negros to fill her command spot, but rather than execute
her for the enemy taking pity on her, he tells her that he can't let her die.
Rather, he asks her to be his woman.  She'll always see him as her commander
and her father figure, but he wants more than that.  He tells her to forget
about ZEUTH and about Marin, who will all be dead shortly anyway.  And once
that happens, the S-1-ians will leave Skull Moon Base and begin their own
preparations to take over the Earth.  He wants her to see that day come within
his arms...

Vega is prepared to sacrifice the Skull Moon Base in the upcoming battle,
ordering all his troops to fight to their last breath.  If he can slay his
hated enemy Duke Freed with this plan of his, he won't fret over losing a base
or two.  Interestingly, Gagarn has stayed aboard the base "as a witness to
Vegan greatness" -- which really means he wants to keep an eye on Kazami.
Kazami plans to give him quite an eyeful with his powered-up Cosmozaurus.

When the ZEUTH arrive, no Gaizock, Aldebaran or Zeravaia forces can be seen.
They have in fact already moved on, leaving Kazami to hold the fort with his
Vegan cohorts.  He seems quite convinced that his knowledge makes him
unbeatable, and Julie doubts this is entirely a bluff.  That said, he plans to
take his former mentor down himself, and the whole God Sigma team is down with
the program.  Maybe Kazami is the one who made it, but Toshiya and friends are
the people who make it *rock*.

It's hard to understand why Vega is literally throwing himself into harm's way
when his part of the Alliance is already decimated.  Vega is so furious that
he's disowned his own daughter (who, to be fair, is all hitting the hay with
Vega's archest of enemies).  The amazingly patient Rubina has finally had
enough of her warmongering dad, and shouts that she disowns him and his toadies
too!

  The prisoners in the dungeon are wondering what's going on outside -- Teral
  guesses that ZEUTH must be here by now.  Toshiya's father Taichirou tells
  Teral not to give up hope: Toshiya will surely bust in here any minute now
  and save them all.  Teral wants to believe, but he has to wonder why the
  Gaizock and the rest of the main force aren't here.  Could it be that this
  whole battle is merely a trap for the ZEUTH?  Yes indeedy, says a voice from
  the shadows.

  The Cosmozauruses are especially mean, fortified with all the ZEUTH data
  Kazami stole.  Julie is adamant that Kazami mustn't be allowed to read what
  ZEUTH's pilots will do: they ought to die rather than let him win.  After
  all, a loss here will mean that Trinity Energy will become a power for evil:
  he's realized that Kazami himself is the origin of the Trinity-powered
  invasion of the galaxy that began on Earth.  And the last thing Toshiya wants
  to happen is for God Sigma to become an implement of that invasion.  That's
  the spirit, shouts Teral, who tells ZEUTH that this base is rigged to become
  their grave.  Jiela of course let him out of the brig, and his warning is
  certainly a timely one... but Vega doesn't plan on letting ZEUTH flee the
  area now.

  Since the only way out is through Vega and Kazami, ZEUTH plans to concentrate
  fire on them.  However, the Zeravaia have other ideas.  According to Hugi's
  big-ass hologram, his ship is about to unleash its massive powers of hatred
  and sadness to crush everyone.  This sounds dire, but Diana speaks up and
  tells everyone not to be dismayed.  If it's a challenge Hugi poses, it's a
  challenge mankind will answer.  And among its defenders is Sandman and his
  whole retinue from the Earth Cradle.

  Kazami rather doubts a single transport ship can change anything, but Fudou
  tells him to shut his piehole about things he has no comprehension of.
  Belief, emotions, resolve -- all these things confer strength.  As proof,
  Sandman sorties in the Gran Sigma, his golden hair proof of his revived G
  Factor.  This comes at the price of his immortality, but he reckons that's a
  small price indeed for defending the world.  Fei realizes how great his
  resolve is compared to hers, but a few words from Sandman has her encouraged
  again.

  The fate of the world is riding, as usual, on ZEUTH's broad shoulders.  The
  final encouragement comes from Toshiya's dad, but he's cut off by Kazami's
  fury that Sandman would get in his way.  Sandman recalls once admiring Kazami
  as a scientist, which is why he lent him the money to build God Sigma.  But
  now that Kazami's strayed from the path and become as one of the dead,
  Sandman and his God Sigma Gravion will be equally swift in kicking his ass.
  How can Sandman fight for mankind, Kazami demands, when he knows they have no
  future?!  Sandman's already seen what hell looks like, and he isn't going to
  let the sight repeat.

  Kazami isn't easy to defeat, since he's got Dimensional Power working for him
  to regenerate any damage.  Now that he's got an idea of how to use Trinity
  Energy, it's easy to extract dimensional energy from the environment.  It
  seems like the guy is truly invincible, but he's also truly sick and tired of
  playing around with ZEUTH.  He figures the time has come to detonate the
  base...

...while inside, Jiela and Teral scramble to disable the base's self- destruct
mechanism.  Gagarn and his men rush over to stop this.  The prisoners are all
on the loose, since they and the base are slated for termination anyway, and
none of them are happy with Gagarn and his arrogant-ass attitude.  Teral means
to defend them, Gagarn means to terminate him, and Jiela gets in the way of the
raygun blast.  That makes all the prisoners rush Gagarn's party all at once,
and with no other choice, Gagarn flees the scene.

Jiela explains her sacrifice by saying it's her punishment for betraying Teral,
even if only temporarily.  He cries to her that after Reats was killed, she's
all he has left.  Not true actually: there's lots of Eldar still looking to
him.  He'll lead them in her memory, and vows to take out Gagarn with his own
hands!

ZEUTH will sure have an easy time now that they know the base won't explode
underneath them.  A fuming Kazami makes to crush people by brute force, but the
God Sigma team spring into action with a way of using God Sigma he's never
seen.  FAILURE GALORE for the once-eminent scientist, who just learned that
power is magnified many times over depending on who's using it.  The
self-sacrificing attack the God Sigma team cooked up exceeded both Kazami's
science and his imagination.

Unfortunately, he's not actually dead yet, having ejected just before the
explosion.  Worse, Gagarn and his crew emerge from the base just then.  Gagarn
himself is heading to rejoin the main force at Gorma, and orders Dalton and
Mesa to strike down God Sigma and learn the secrets of Trinity Energy.  He
promises he'll take on ZEUTH if they make it all the way to Gorma.  Oh, and
they'll definitely do that, by wiping out all the stooges in the way.

  Even Vega knows that his "emperorhood" is a hollow title now that his entire
  empire is laid waste.  Still, vengeance is good enough to keep ol' Bat Ears
  kicking: vengeance on the formidable Duke that's foiled all his plans like
  Alcoa.  He's more than happy to sacrifice his spiffy base, and his spiffy
  daughter, to see that happen -- but all that makes him is a bad real estate
  investor _and_ a bad father.  He believes his own legend of rulership right
  up until the point he explodes in a pile of gore.  What the universe needs
  right now isn't rulership, but rather camaraderie to help face the road
  ahead.

  Gandar finally gets his ass kicked once and for all.  One can only hope he
  stays dead this time.

The battle of Skull Moon Base isn't quite over with the fall of the last
combatant outside.  Kazami has fled into the base, and Julie leads his people
in hot pursuit.  Kazami is frothing at the mouth in his desire for vengeance,
but knows he's got to get off the Moon and rendezvous with the main fleet at
Gorma first.  That'll be hard with the God Sigma team holding him at bay: Julie
asks him one last time to surrender and face the music for what he's done.  The
infuriated doctor doesn't want to get lectured by his mere assistant and pulls
out a blaster and starts firing.  Toshiya in particular can't bring himself to
shoot Kazami, and Kazami shouts in glee that that's the team's weakness: they
can't shoot humans, especially humans they know.  There's no way such hidebound
people can achieve any true scientific breakthrough!!  That's not a very good
reason for him to sell his soul to the devil, but he's adamant that he, the
greatest genius in the universe, could give a fuck less about devils or
whatnot.

That seems to have finally spurred the team to action, and as they clamor over
who gets to blow Kazami's vaunted brains out, Julie insists that he do the deed
himself.  Kazami thinks he can at least take Julie with him to hell, but Teral
slips in from the shadows and impales him from behind.  It's enough that one
person go to Hell today, sleeping forever alongside his unfulfilled dreams.
It's hard to tell what's the greater nightmare: the specter of Trinity-powered
war that Kazami sought, or the sight of the once-gentle man lying in a pool of
his own blood on the floor.

The only even partially satisfactory explanation for how the man who took Rie
in as an orphan could have come to this is that it's the war's fault, for
twisting Kazami's science-blinded heart.  Geometric Fail.  Just like Hugi,
whose science ran amok once it lost its moorings as a tool for human progress.
The cost of stopping people like Kazami is apparent from Kiraken's eyes and
anguished cries when Taichirou tells him that his family didn't make it.
Teral's not doing so hot either, confronted by all the misery of lost comrades
and devastated Earthlings from his people's decision to break the taboo against
time travel.  Toshiya, reading the look on his face, tells him that it's not
his fault: what happened to Kazami and to the Eldar can be blamed on but one
thing: war itself.  Both of them are determined to stop this war as soon as
possible, and that means a final fragdown at the mobile Zeravaia fortress.  It
won't bring the dead back to life, but perhaps it can offer Teral an ounce or
two of closure.

Fudou tells Sandman that Hugi's words were broadcast to the whole world:
everyone knows that the Skull Moon Alliance has declared war.  The resulting
panic is affecting both Earth and the colonies, and there's a real possibility
that mankind might self-destruct before the aliens even strike.  Black Charisma
is feeding off this in spades through his manipulation of the UN, but Diana
believes that the panic can be quelled through an appeal to human reason.  She
recommends returning first to the lunar capital of Genganam and then mounting a
counter-broadcast.

She tells the world of the lesson she wants to take from the dreadful Black
History: the fact that everyone is on the verge of repeating it.  That may be
the fate of the world, but she still wants to believe that that fate can be
averted by everyone's efforts.  This will require joining hands, as fellow
citizens of the Earth, and presenting a united front to the alien menace.  It
will be by overcoming this trial that everyone can truly call themselves
residents of a multidimensional world, and forgers of a new era.

Even Hamarn was impressed by the speech, though she finds it hard not to sound
sarcastic when saying so.  None of the world leaders will want to be in the
political doghouse for opposing this united front when everyone now knows of
the alien menace, but Quatro's pessimistic that that united front will really
reach all the way to the roots.  At the very least, Durandal and Scirocco are
surely plotting their next moves, perhaps even aided by the alien distraction.
Kira can't believe there are people out there who could only think of
themselves at a time like this, but Hamarn tells him that that's the way the
majority of people operate.  To Lacus' mind, that may be the saddest truth of
all.

In any case, with panic among the general public somewhat quelled, the only
thing left to do is vanquish the aliens' asses.  Fail there, and the rest of
the ideological debate is moot.  The good news for Harry is that he's been able
to protect all the wonderful ladies who've got mankind this far.  He is of
course still faithful to a T as captain of Diana's guard, but he's really got
his eye on someone else in this mansion.  Precisely who that is is hard to see
under those shades of his, which is probably the same for all the sunglasses
dudes on the team.  Hamarn smiles and tells the younger girls that they'd
better be careful around men who don't show their true feelings.

In Orb, some of the DC soldiers are having serious second thoughts in the wake
of the broadcast.  Are they really doing their part as citizens of the world by
going and occupying other people's lands?  Just then Meeya shows up and
suggests to the soldiers that they and the rest of the Diana Counter ought to
go back to their queen and help her stage a true Exodus for the people.  This
works out so well that Meeya decides to start singing, in part in memory of the
orange-selling girl who turns out to be so central to mankind's future.

The lunar city has its own Bazaar amazingly enough, and the crew mount a bit of
a shopping trip.  Garrod's hauling around his preserved bouquet, nervously
trying to find the right moment to give it to Tifa.  Roaby tells him not to
sweat it, since a *certain* person was pretty nervous when he gave Toniya a
ring before the space launch.  In fact, just about everyone saw Wits' bungling
proposal.  He's still doing better than Roaby, whose playboy ways haven't
actually brought him love as such.

Just then, a little girl walks up, mesmerized at the sight of real flowers.
Many Spacenoids never see genuine flowers in their lifetime, and upon seeing
how happy the girl is, Garrod simply gives her the flowers and sends her off
with a smile.  After all, he means to spend the rest of his life with Tifa, so
there'll be plenty of chances to give some to her.  Diana walks over and
commends his attitude, prepared to give him a present in turn on behalf of the
Moon Race.  He'll gladly accept whatever the Queen of the Moon might offer, and
she smiles when she says he might just find it useful in battle.


54. Victory March of the Soul

Phil and Milan have decided to pull their whole army out and return to the moon
and their ruler Diana.  They've finally realized just how stupid all the strife
they started on Earth was, and now know that unity is the only real path
forward.  Cagalli tells them not to sweat it too much -- not like Orb's got a
much better track record itself.  She offers to negotiate with ZEUTH and
perhaps even Diana to have their sins pardoned, and asks them to head in the
meanwhile for the lunar free city of Copernicus.  They can't thank her enough
for how magnanimous she's been to them.

Gorma is currently in lunar orbit according to advance recon, and it is
_Xbox_huge_.  Given that it *is* the Genocidron System, it ought to be.
Besides Hugi himself, there's also the Gaizock, the Eldar, and the main
Aldebaran force to contend with.  Other reports have it that almost the entire
Skull Moon Alliance forces are now concentrated at this one fortress, which is
gradually approaching the Earth.  To be sure, the combined armies of the Earth
and the Plants should be able to repulse this force, but there's a small
problem: both those armies are waiting for the other to fire the first shot.
This is due in part to wanting the other side to expend more warpower, though
both sides will *eventually* open fire.  Just not until the last minute, which
is pretty dumb given that no one knows what superweapons the enemy might hold.

The answer is pretty obvious: ZEUTH can fire the first shot, on behalf of all
mankind.  Sandman loves to see all these brave members shouldering the fate of
mankind, and knows that he's got a part in determining that fate as well.  But
he can't promise Banjou he'll be around to do that in the flesh: he's fully
prepared to give his life to defeat his brother if need be.  The commanders
announce that the fighting will commence in two hours, and tell everyone that
they only want the most determined pilots to sortie.  After all, ZEUTH may not
be able to count on any help.  Since all the ZEUTH members were "determined"
long ago, that doesn't cause any headcount lossage.

Rand for one is fired up at the thought of fixing the world's problems, in this
case through a little (okay, a *lot*) of well-timed destruction.  If there was
ever a time he needed The Crasher mode, this is it.  One ship not part of the
battle plan is the Eternal, which has another errand to run.  Maryuu tells
Bartfeld to be careful, since the Zaft surely have the Eternal marked.  The
errand is actually going and picking up Diana, who wants to help lead mankind
from the front lines.  This is yet one more demonstration of their faith in
mankind, and Kira intends to ensure that that faith isn't misplaced.

Butcher's forces are the farthest front on the front lines, and Butcher's not
happy about it.  His men try to console him by saying that that gives him more
room to fight as he pleases, but even Butcher's bright enough to know that the
god of Gaizock is mad at him for his repeated failures.  Butcher's lieutenants
never heard of a "god of Gaizock", and Butcher angrily tells them they don't
need to know.  Anyways, they've all got to fight like their lives depend on it,
especially since their first opponent turns out to be ZEUTH.

First, and last as Banjou would have it.  In "layman's terms", Roger explains
that this is because Butcher is going down here, and for once Butcher doesn't
have a humorous comeback.  Teral knows that this shows how Butcher's gotten
serious, and Sandman warns everyone that other commander-class foes are sure to
pop out at some (in)convenient point.

  Sure enough, Gattler and lackeys show up after a few bad guys have been
  trounced.  Of especial concern is Hugi's mech, which contains the combined
  energy output of two whole planets -- Celias and Ranvias -- sealed within.
  Hugi greets the ZEUTH, especially the "sun" that is the Sol Gravion, capable
  of scorching whole planets, and his younger step-brother Sieg.  As Hugi and
  Gattler are all too happy to describe, the bad guys' plan is this: "repair"
  Earth's soiled environment with the Genocidron System, and then let the S-1
  folk live there instead.  Gattler yells to Marin to try to stop him if he
  doesn't like that, and Teral needs no encouragement for wanting to see Gagarn
  dead.  That also goes for the rest of the God Sigma team, who know the only
  way to make Gagarn regret the fate of the Ionians is to make him share it.

  Hugi commends his brother on finding a like-minded bunch of idiots on Earth,
  before vowing to show him the sight of his new homeland burning down to ash.
  At least the indications are that the enemy doesn't have any more tricks up
  their sleeve: for once, it's a straightforward fragdown.

  Hugi exchanges the usual villainous sounding banter with Sandman and the Gran
  Knights, who shout the usual heroic stuff right back.  You'd think Hugi was
  the only megalomaniac with a floating suit of armor atop a glowing torso:
  hasn't this guy ever played Soul Calibur?  Given the haste with which he
  rushes back into the Gorma after getting his ass handed to him, maybe that's
  what he plans to do next.  Or maybe he plans to toast the Earth, and that's
  why Sandman's in such a hurry to stop him.  Sandman means to lay down his
  life stopping his brother, and the rest of the Gran Knights can only pray
  that that won't be necessary.

  As Bitcher^WButcher feels the painfulness biting into his flesh, Kappei and
  co. discover that there's less flesh than there should be: the fiendish blob
  is at least half machine!  Butcher wants to know one thing: just why did the
  Kami family fight him so hard anyway?  Peace on Earth, duh!  But who will
  thank them for it?  Who'll be grateful they did it?  Hell, the Earth's gonna
  be toast sooner or later, right?!  He goes up in a massive explosion,
  laughing all the while.  This *really* upsets Kappei.

  Gagarn is the kind of person who never believes he can lose, even after
  having Rand's oversized wrench wrenched in where the sun don't shine.  He's
  still mobile enough to make a mad dash for the base, with Teral in hot
  pursuit.  Toshiya rushes after, depriving me of another unit with which to
  get the Skill Point.

  Marin demands that Gattler stop this pointless fighting: is Gattler
  deliberately trying to destroy the people of S-1?  Gattler peevishly snaps
  back a "congratulations" for Marin making it this far with his one-man
  revolt.  Marin retorts that he's got plenty of stalwart friends from Earth,
  but Gattler tells him that he'd be working at his side if he actually cared
  about S-1 at all.  He'll even pardon Marin's many transgressions if he just
  switches sides, which of course ain't gonna happen now.  Marin no longer
  cares what planet someone was born on, only whether they do what's right or
  not.  He means to protect both the S-1-ians *and* the Earthlings, and that
  means getting Gattler out of the way.

  Gattler too manages to eject in time and flee into the base, and Marin heads
  off in hot pursuit.  The rest of ZEUTH can only hope that the Baldios team
  carries the day.

With all other opponents gone, Gorma must be stopped and fast.  The team hopes
that the combatants inside it finish quickly.  Ril's fretting about Hugi and
Sandman fighting alone inside, and so the rest of the Gran Knights head in to
welcome Sandman back (they hope).  Fei's more than a little worried, but her
teammate gets her to put a brave face on it.

Gagarn rushes into the Algol's control room, ordering Gattler to sit at the
controls.  Supposedly, the control room is warp-capable even if the rest of the
place is toast, which would of course entail Gattler abandoning all the
S-1'ians in cold sleep.  Gagarn hastily promises to give him Eldar science and
that he'll be able to start over, but insists that Gattler use the Neutron
Stampeders he got from Black Charisma to destroy the Earth.  Apparently Black
Charisma told Gagarn about this little secret item, and also told him to force
Gattler to use it if the time comes.  He's heard the Aldebaran have planted
them all over the Earth, and shouts that neither he nor Gattler are the kind of
men to let this be the end.

Gagarn wants to see all the nukes world-wide blow up, and Gattler's finger be
the one to pull the trigger on Earth becoming a dead planet.  Gattler then
fills him in on a little secret: that's the very decision that turns the Earth
into S-1 in the first place.  That's about the time Teral runs in, vowing
vengeance on anyone deranged enough to commit mass-murder for the sake of their
own twisted ends.  Gagarn doesn't go down easily, trying next to blame this
whole mess on Teral for screwing up and demanding his presence in the first
place: all thanks to him being a woman.

Whoa, what, asks Gattler.  That's right: the real Teral is long dead: who they
see before them is Teral's lover Lila, merely borrowing his body.  Teral/Lila
doesn't deny it: (s)he hated the Earthlings and their Trinity Energy that much
for taking the life of his/her beloved.  But he/she now knows that wars like
this bring about nothing, and flatly denies Gagarn's accusation that he means
to ally himself with the Earthlings to take over Eldar.  All Teral wants is
peace in space, something that is surely beyond Gagarn's over-testerosterized
imagination.  It is love that will fulfill the Earth and all of space!

Especially now that the allies of justice have just shown up as reinforcements,
easily more than a match for the two enemy generals.  There's one little snag
however, as Gagarn threatens to blow up the Algol's computer, and with it any
chance of the S-1'ians in cold sleep ever waking up again.  Will Marin
sacrifice one people to save another?!  Before he has to decide, Gattler blows
Gagarn away, perhaps predictably announcing that he's not going to let Gagarn
murder his whole society.  And since one laser blast wasn't enough to actually
kill him, the team chimes in with a volley of additional shots, on behalf of
everyone he's sent to a miserable death.

Now comes the final reckoning with Gattler, and Marin asks everyone to let him
handle it personally.  He wants to be the one to kill this guy at the very end
of Aldebaran's evisceration, and the rest of the crew give him permission so
long as he promises to come back to Blue Fixer afterwards.  Gattler snorts at
this duel between two now-homeless men, and snorts further that Marin's new
homeland was actually supposed to have become his old one.  Make no mistake:
Gattler didn't *want* the Earth turned into S-1, and he genuinely fought for
his people because he believed he was doing the right thing.

Marin doesn't buy the "genuine" part one bit, insisting that Gattler did it
because of his own boundless ambition.  Maybe that's fate too: the people in
S-1's future made it to Earth, and the Earth approached S-1 too.  It doesn't
matter whether he pressed the button or not: somehow, someone somewhere made
S-1.  Ahh, but that doesn't have to be the future of this timeline, and Marin
for one will do everything in his power to keep that future from coming to pass
again.  Perhaps the best proof of Gattler's ungenuineness is how he too tries
to use the S-1'ians as hostages to get Marin out of his way.  Claiming the
people can't live without him, he means to recharge the ship and go off
somewhere else in space where the S-1'ians can rest in peace.

That's where Aphrodia, sans Nazi hat, steps on the scene.  Teral dropped her
off here because Teral understands her (feminine intuition?), and Gattler tells
her to help him prepare for a new journey... and a new cycle of invasion.  He
yells to Marin that no one can say that his objective is wrong: *his*
objective, as the man with S-1's future in his hands.  Hell, he's practically a
god!  Gods don't get defeated!  Unless they're a sad-sack, weak-sauce,
run-down, chicken-shit mofo like him, who wouldn't even know what a peaceful
future looks like if it shot him in the face.  Repeatedly.

Gattler then tells Aphrodia to shoot Marin in revenge for her brother, and that
whole tired routine.  He insists that she fire, in fact, and that afterwards
she become his woman for good.  Uhh dude, when was that *ever* in the history
of mankind a good thing to say to a chick with a blaster in hand?  Suffice it
to say that it wasn't a good enough shot, since Gattler manages to stagger off
down the hall rather than let Marin see him die.  As much as Aphrodia hates
Marin, she needs him even more, but a series of explosions reminds them that
they can always get a room later.

For now, Sandman has caught up with his nemesis at the core of the Gorma.  Hugi
is bent on punishing and indeed eradicating humanity for its many sins, but
Sandman says that it's not Hugi who's actually polluted here, but rather the
Genocidron System.  Humans aren't as bad as he thinks they are!  Hugi demands
to know how Sandman can say that in Lufira's presence, but Lufira merely turns
out to be an android that looks like her.  Sandman takes that as proof that
Hugi hasn't entirely lost his human heart, but Hugi screams that Sandman must
not have loved his sister enough.  Had he, he'd have noticed her illness in
time to do something about it: it's all Sieg's fault she's dead!!!

Nope, the fact that Hugi's so bent out of shape about his sister just proves
that Hugi is, himself, still human.  In a rage, Hugi prepares to annihilate
mankind, Sandman prepares to try to stop him, and robo-Lufira speaks up of her
own volition and tells Hugi not to hurt the white-clad gentleman.  Hugi never
expected a copy of Lufira's memories to actually have a personality to match,
but Sandman tells him that Lufira's long years at his side have caused a human
soul to take up residence within.

That's when Ril runs up, and Hugi's reaction is even more proof that he still
cares about people (sort of).  His final act of denial is to insist that Sieg
kill him if he wants him stopped, and Sandman does exactly that.  Hugi's body
begins to change as it lies on the floor, his hair changing to a fine blond as
the Genocidron System's influence wanes.  Perhaps he's been waiting for this
moment for many, many long years.  That's worth a thank-you to Sandman, and a
"good-luck" to the warriors of Elgo.  Both he and robo-Lufira vanish, as the
Gorma begins to break apart.

This might be a good time to blow this gin joint.  Marin yells for Aphrodia to
pilot the Algol out of here as everyone wonders what's keeping the Gran
Knights.  The Sol Gravion emerges, but Sandman has stayed behind, finally
finding the peaceful rest he's longed for all these millennia.  He hears
Thanatos' call, apparently much more loudly than all the other ZEUTH screaming
his name.

The Eternal manages to make it to the Moon in one piece, and Bartfeld tells
Dacosta to hurry loading Diana aboard.  The Aprilius Allied armies won't stay
quiet for long.  Lacus has actually set foot on the Moon herself, with an
errand to run from Cagalli.  Unfortunately, Durandal's assassins are lurking
even here, and it looks like Lacus is going to be shot for sure.  That is,
until Meer intervenes...


55. Shine Forever, Our Planet

The assassins after Lacus have all pulled out, all the trouble they went to to
sneak in during the Skull Moon fracas apparently rewarded.  If not for Meer's
intervention, Durandal would have totally gotten his way.  As it is, Meer is
now hemmhoraging fast after deliberately taking the bullet meant for Lacus.
Seems she overheard her guards talking about Durandal's order to take Lacus out
when she came to Copernicus, and couldn't just sit still and let it happen.
She wasn't trying to apologize to the woman she wanted so desperately to become
-- who she realized long ago she couldn't begin to replace.  She simply
couldn't bear the thought of the real Lacus and all she represents dying.  Meer
knows that her days were numbered anyway, and has only one request, to do
something for this world she's lied to for so long.

The Gorma isn't toast yet, having shapeshifted into a _mondo_ Zeravaia.  It
starts spitting out little ones, apparently out of control and on the warpath.
With all the power it contains, there's no hope of merely stopping it: it must
be utterly destroyed... and Sandman's still inside.  But since he's in there of
his own will, Fudou says there's nothing to gain by pulling punches.
Protecting the Earth comes first, and if the Gorma passes the indicated line
there'll be no further way to intercept it.

  Life gets more complicated on turn 3, when a bunch of Fallen Angels show up.
  Hot on their heels are the Frost brothers, who oh-so solicitously offer to
  put ZEUTH out of their misery.  Garrod shouts that he doesn't have time to
  mix it up with the psychotic duo, but Ginganam shows up too and tells him not
  to be so unsociable.  All _he_ wants to do is fight, and he doesn't care who.
  All these bastards are like a pack of hyenas circling around you, and one
  more shows up to taunt the Earthlings' foolishness: Butcher!

  There certainly weren't any life signs from the ship, but here it is and
  blasting shit indiscriminately.  Kappei rushes over to stop it, telling
  everyone else to concentrate on the Gorma.  They then stage what appears to
  be a sacrificial attack, and all the rest of ZEUTH can do is press forward.
  Banjou calls for Sandman to open his eyes: the fight's not over yet!  The
  Gran Knights all implore him in their own ways, and the most persuasive call
  comes from Raven, who needs him *personally* as well as comrade-in-arms- ly.

  Sandman gets his head back together and rejoins the fray, encouragement for
  the rest of the team to keep fighting.  Apollo knows Sirius is watching the
  "stupid, cruel" humans from somewhere around here, and plans to show him what
  true intestinal fortitude looks like.  Same for Garrod, who certainly isn't
  going to give up despite the seemingly overwhelming odds.

  Shagia insists that he won't die until he sees the end of the world, and his
  impressive regeneration abilities lend some credence to the claim.  Olba also
  has the u