The Battlefield, My Monastery
Author's notes: Yes, the poem is mine, No, I dont own any Gundam Wing
paraphenalia. The story takes place somewhat differently than from the
And warfare is my faith
The crumbled temples' stillness
The harvest of our swathe
The sanctity is killing
For everything they've done
And someday over our broken skulls,
Victory will come.
We are the soldiers
The chill wind rattled the metallic plate outside. "Someone oughta fix that thing" thought the tall man, sitting hunched over in the bunker of the 72nd Brigade base. That "someone" was taking the form of an omnipresent all-responsible deity. Someone should fix proper strategy. Someone should save the earth from warfare. And he knew it was up to the common people. He looked across the room at a sleeping man, still, one arm hanging down from the bed. Like death from exhaustion...
"Liutenant!" A young solider ran in huffing and puffing. "The commander wants you in his office, sir."
"Hmm" said the liutenant. "Mm" he repeated, looking at the sky, pulling his trenchcoat on."What time is it, Wheeler?"
"Seventeen-thirty hours sir. It has just stopped snowing."
The liutenant nodded and walked towards the command building. A light layer of snow covered the base, the fighters, tanks and mobile suits, hundreds of tons of military equipment. Beyond the foothill and the high plateau streches a burning red-and orange sky in winter sunset.
"Yes sir," replied the man, looking at his commanding officer for a second out of respect before turning his gaze once more to the flaming horizon. What was on that horizon? Peace? Or just another Romefeller/Barton division of mobile suit units?
"As you know, our unit will be moving closer to Novosibirsk to intercept enemy troops there and drive them out of the city. The way there however may be littered with enemies. I want you to take a flying unit, prefferably a stealth fighter and recconnaisance nav points iota through omikron..."
"If that is okay sir, I'd like to take a mobile suit."
The commanding officer looked at him quizzicaly, being interrupted and he looked at the line of Aries flyers lined up against the side of a hangar.
"Very well then, use an Aries... unless you want..." He looked then at the much larger figure of Tallgeese, standing at it's full, intimidating stature.
"How much enemy resistance is expected in the area, sir?" the liutenant asked, catching the CO's gaze. The choice of commander was between him and this currently installed major. The major got it because the other man did not want to... though he was far more qualified.
"Hard to tell. Anywhere from a few to a division. But if you take big guns over there, you will also have to destroy the enemy units as well... huh?"
The tall liutenant already saluted and was walking to his suit. "Strange fellow" mumbled the major before walking back to his cup of coffee.
A technician in a disappropriately Hawaiian shirt for Siberia's winter climate was tinkering with one of the suits when he saw the man walking to the Tallgeese. "Hey," he waved and stumbled, losing his footing and falling into a pile of snow. "Damn platform" He uttered several oaths, putting the mobile suit's builder's ancestry in doubt.
"You got a job?"
"Yeah" the liutenant replied, pressing a button to lower the winch. "Recon iota-omicron."
"The path to Novosibirsk? But you cant fly there alone," the technician said casually, taking a swig from his liquor flask.
"What are you saying Howard?" The cable was coming down and the man prepared to grab on to it. How kind Howard was. He couldn't fly there alone he said. A remembrance of someone even more concerned alighted on his face.
"They have three lances of conventional hover armor and maybe suits patrolling 100 kilometers from each other. Shoot people down, you know, I had the..."
"So what you're saying is that due to the existence of enemy retaliation, my assignment is quite risky? Go tell that to the commander," said the liutenant, rising with the cable. Sarcasm. In fact, he was not concerned at all about that. No... something entirely different has been plaguing him. The war itself and not the deaths of individuals. Treize used to enjoy the warfare, saying that if conducted right it was beautiful and sad. Ha! It was neighter beautiful nor sad. It had no rules. It was a greater, hungry entity which pulled a shroud of hardy silence and despair over the populace. It was so to speak the incarnation of King Peacecraft's worst concern.
He sighed and pressed a sequence of keys. The cockpit of the large white suit greeted him with a pale glow of the monitors and sensor systems. He made a few steps, then clear for launch, unfurled the primordial but superior verniers, and was off into the burning sky.
"He'll wipe them through the snow," Howard concluded looking up, and resumed his work.
"AAAAAHHHHH!" "OOOOOO...ssshhhhh" The end part of that was static after a mobile suit pilot's interrupted scream of death as his suit plunged downwards into oblivion. She was alone.
"Ookay..." said the woman soldier to herself, deftly manuevering. Looks like I bought it this time, she thought. No, that was a lie. She didn't think anything at all. That's the funny thing about combat, it seemed to make one's mind a complete blank. The sun had by now set and the lonely blue aries suit was locked in a ring by at least 18 projectors. That, and a ring of flashes from antiaircraft fire. The tracing rounds seemed to glide up slowly from the bottom but when they shot past they were like lightnings.
Noin felt like she tread upon some desloate swamp and stirred it's occupants who now hurled thunder and lightning at her. At several hundred rounds per second. A flash! missiles! She veered crazily to the side, trying to get up a good strafing setup shot. All of a sudden the suit shook violently... she waited for it to break up, explode, turn into a million fragments of fiery dust but...no, it was still obeying control. This was only one hit out of a lavine of them. And she couldn't surrender either. The enemy didnt even want to hear communication from Alliance suits.
Another hit and another. This was not a string of death, but rather of rebirth after every shot proved futile to destroy her. Some pilots described this state of euphoria as being "battle-drunk", omnipotent, like Duo Maxwell for example. Where was he now? This thought lying dormant, the Aries streaked in a swoop, depositing all of it's firepower onto a few antiaircraft turrets. They instantly shut up and blossomed orange, people running from them. The rest kept firing...
The sky was empty... so was the ground. Where was the populace? At the altitude he was at, they were not even microscopic anymore. Nothing could exactly be seen except for land formations, maybe larger settlements. Fire could not be seen from this altitude either. Just smoke, rising, billowing, spreading ever so slowly, like a disease, the stench and infection of war itself. No concern over the goodwill of man. They all had to play this little game now of "who outperforms their foes in stuff on the field." Ever since Dekim's army had thrown a challenge to the Alliance and ruined what they have been striving for the whole time. He was spreading war for it's own sake! This thought made the pilot want to personally rip Dekim Barton asunder with his bare hands. Or in this case, arm actuators.
"Being a soldier is not the acceptance of honor, or position, or even battle. Being a soldier is the acceptance of death at a certain time." The rest did not matter.
The more he thought about war, the more it did not make sense to him: why do people consider it such a grand and dramatically tragic event. Like an opera, which Treize liked so much. People declared war and used force as the only method of achieving their goal because there was no other way. Right. But they needed thousands of people to actually go through with the war, to man the weapons and advance, attack and defend. And the majority of those people didnt even care about something like war but got drafter because of an enigmatic leader's decision. Why? And then they died of course and people made it a dramatic tragedy of heightened feelings and hero figures! Heroes and villains! Later, historians would record the incidents ensued as a group of important people, ones making decisions, the others doing foul deeds, still others prforming honorable and beautiful missions and still others as traitors. And from this whole little caricature sketch, they would think they had a war figured out.
"I guess people like me have to show them how miserable war really is" he mumbled. But what can one person do? Even if he's really good... really really good. Maybe blow up a few factories right near civillian dwellings or shoot down a pacifist transport. Or go revamp some half-destroyed kingdom and organize a peace-minded institution, becoming someone who the whole world recognizes. No, one person DOES have influence, he concluded to himself, considering the things some of his acquaintances once did. History was after all made by individuals. He did not want to be recognized in history like Treize. He just wanted people to realize the simple fact that he held to be entirely true.
"There is nothing beautiful in warfare...huh?" Flashes to the north-northwest instantly put him out of a philosophical mindset. He revved up the verniers to full power and flipped the arm with the gun forward.
The remaining artillery units were very surprised to see a large white suit dive out of the heavens as three of them blew up one by one as the migty blast of the dobergun hit them. The white suit zoomed overhead catching sight of an air unit. He locked on to an Aries... a blue Aries. Which meant an Alliance Specials Aries. Allies were usually good. He was getting this guy out of here, whoever it was. He shot several more times, zoomed aside to avoid missiles and dropped in a freefall to stop at the ground and jet right back up again. He saw the Aries then doing the same. Only it didn't stop in mid-air but crashed, grinding into the earth. A blast of static cut forth in response to the signal from Tallgeese who was vigorously firing. "He didn't make it... damn." The Tallgeese pilot hit a switch and a pale red beam saber extended from the arm. "Now then..." Dash forth, horizontal slash, escape upwards, back, left, right, back, freefall, forward, STRIKE. It was like a dance almost. The first of the Leos was soon to go, then the other. The serpent was presenting a bit of a problem as it was armed with beams. "Where did they get these things?" the Liutenant wondered as he came all of a sudden from the side and neatly decapitated his last remanining foe, then jetted out of the explosion's way.
Tallgeese came down and dropped to one knee as the tall liutenant made his way down and trudged over to the stricken Aries. The hatch was open, a little fire was burning on the ground in front of the cockpit entrance, and a bruised but otherwise intact woman sat on the ground, staring at it. She heard the footsteps and raised her eyes, widening them.
"Zechs!" She quickly got up and strided over to him. A look of concern was in her eyes even though she was the one being pounded by the turrets for over twenty minutes. "You...you.. made it that time..."
"How many are still in the area?", he asked, seemingly unrelated to her statement. Same old Zechs, though he did hide an existing concern. And something beyond concern even...
"We got rid of most of them," she brought herself to reply, motioning with her arm towards the general direction of Novosibirsk. "Our unit was supposed to provide a pathway for the 72nd battalion who were supposed to join up with us."
"You were supposed to provide... But I'm from the 72nd and my commander asked me..." This is what happens when there is inadequate communications systems, a technical thought flew past. They stood there and looked at each other. The coincidence was all too strange. Lucrezia Noin edged closer.
"Tell me... how is it that you... " she knew how to repress an overly emotional response, but this was the best old friend and more, all the way back from the student days. Who shared all the twists and turns of combat life, and who she personally saw vanish within a blinding flash of light and fire.
"I...fell. It's a long story." he replied, staring at the ground. a story that was difficult to tell as he retained a most unpleasurable expreience getting out of a common grave. "I'll tell you sometime, Noin. right now, we have to get you to our unit." As he said that, all her strength seemed to vanish and she looked very forlorn and beat up as well as helpless all of a sudden as her battle-euphoria faded away.
"Oh Zechs" she spoke gently, leaning on him for support as they walked to the Tallgeese, "I'm so tired..."
He moved from dark spot to dark spot, shadow to shadow. A pile of crates here, or an obscure obstruction there; ethereal were his motions, almost to the point of invisibility. It was missions like these that Heero Yui knew best of all... though in all out cosmic battle over the blue-green earth he also proved to be the best fighter. And if not the best, then one of, for certain. But for now he was an infiltrator and saboteur avoiding detection.
Trowa's approach was different. Trowa went in and got the enemy to believe that he was one of THEM, that he was a superior soldier for their cause. Wouldn't work with Heero. One look at his cold, merciless eyes and they would know all. Two soldiers walked by, talking about unrelated garbage. He dove, rolled on the ground and grabbed an overhead pipe, swinging his feet up. They didn't suspect a thing, or at least he thought so in that calculating mind of his.
Aha, edge over the pipe, swing over to the doorway, unbar it... he held the switch in his teeth as he performed all these activities. Then blow it up and go home. He was about to throw the switch...
"Tryin' to escape are you..." suddenly the man doubled over in pain as a harsh blow had been delivered to his stomach. Heero grabbed his gun away and looked around, distracted for a moment from blowing the facility to high heavens. "It's a prisoner sector," he thought. "Where they keep political hostages so it seems..." He looked at the man on the ground trying to press a button on a comlink, and put him out of his misery for several hours at least. The man must have thought he was one of them. The doors... they lacked any holes. Apparently they had ventillation systems then. If he could get to them... he would deal the foundation a major blow by stealing away several hostages. "Mission accepted," he said to himself, following something he had just thought of. Dispensing of the man in a shady corner, and relieving him of his security keycard, he stepped up to the first door and performed the necessary manipulations.
The dimly lit room contained all the necessities for living, he ascertained from first glance. It could even be called comfortable, though by his standards, a cold metallic floor was comfy enough. The bed was soft, and someone was sleeping on it, with long blonde hair. Releena? No, it can't be, he corrected himself. Releena is in the unified nation headquarters in Italy. Then who was...
The person rolled over onto her back and sighed in her uneasy sleep. It was all Heero could do to keep a steady grip on the gun. It was her! Her! And suddenly a snakelike tendril of memory snapped at him, reducing the great soldier and saboteur to an abject pulp. He staggered back a few steps, the event still blazing before his eyes. The sound he made ws excessive with his steps and this person was a light sleeper. She gasped a little and raised her head.
"Why it's you," she said in disbelief. "You're that Gundam pilot."
"This is Wind calling. Respond 72nd assault. Preventer Wind..."
"...f......g..s...ty second base...come in preventer wind!..."
"Mission complete. I'm returning to base with Tallgeese"
"..yeap...Roger that Zechs. Set waypoint home. Teakettle's boiling for ya..." Zechs put down the receiver and looked at Noin.
"You refer to yourself as a preventer?" she asked.
"I'm not a regular soldier and they can see that. It seems clear to me that if I say I was a member of the preventers, they'd believe that better than if under some other circumstance."
"The preventers were dismantled" stated Noin with a quiet sigh. They turned to watch the burning remnants of the enemy weaponry, in contrast to the stars awakening for the evening. Then they found themselves staring at each other again, out of sheer surprise that they had met once more. Each seemed to think of an outcome entirely otherwise. "He's just the same," she thought. "The same as I always knew him, whatever he called himself." And behind the inconstant persona, there was the same man, who knew more burden than most others. He broke the reverie.
"Come..." he said, climbing into the cockpit. "We'll have to make room."
"But we're flying, aren't we?"
"Yeah," he said, rotating the seat a little and adjusting the straps.
"Well in that case how... oh...I guess thats the only alternative to bouncing around."
"And we'll have none of that in your state. Come." Zechs pulled Noin somewhat awkwardly halfway across the seat, halfway across his lap to be strapped to the seat along with him. Not too dangerous if they didn't run into any firefights. They glanced sheepishly at each other and both gave a nervous laugh, being now in a weird and unusual, but not uncomfortable position. Zechs hit the boosters, sending Tallgeese up, and towards the base. He felt a comfortable warmth, partially coming from the cockpit heating system, partially from Noin. She always tried to be second...
"I thank you, dear friend" she mumbled in a gentle and sleepy voice before her eyes shut. Tallgeese flew on, the moonlight glinting off the white armor, shining armor, though nobody believed in that image. The boosters left a trail of vapor which would probably blossom into a cyrus cloud at daybreak.
It was a crisp and bright, sunny morning in Novosibirsk. Everything was at peace it seemed to someone just waking up... except the ominous wall of mobile suits standing behind some civillian buildings. There were mostly Leos here, some Aries and a few Tragos artillery units. The war came more easily to the civvies. Mainly it was an object of journalistic attention, and lance commander Sally Po had been interviewed many times. Others did not care. Still others feared for their fragile lives, and then there was the one guy who was apparently happy of the fact that he was about to be blown away every next moment. That guy was Duo.
"Ahhh!" Duo streched cheerfully as he walked outside. "The sun is up, the air is fresh and the hills are alive with the sounds of strafing!" He yawned and checked his watch. 07:00 hours. "Good day to die," he concluded with a big smile on his face.
"You're the most optimistic one of us all, Duo Maxwell," a female voice came from behind. Sally walked up and placed her hand on his shoulder. "How is that?"
"Ah, I don't know" said Duo, squinting his eyes from the bright light of the sun glancing off the new snow. "You guys just need to lighten up and drink some c... hey, are they serving breakfast yet?" Sally checked her watch.
"I think so, why... hey..." she watched as Duo ran off to get his daily dose of caffeine. "Funny kid" she said to herself, looking over the objects of her command as well as the people manning those objects. Duo helped them out in the war effort, particlarly because of his skill as a pilot... and his Deathscythe which now stood with it's active cloak down, away from the other suits. Technically Duo was supposed to be considered a mercenary, but he stuck to barely the most minimal pay, taking mostly salvage rights and food out of their rations. Duo's daily consumption rivalled his work on the field of battle when he sliced up the enemy like wheat. His codename was of course his usual "God of Death." People in the squad considered him a total nutjob.
Sally shook her head again. "The world's gone insane and I've gone with it."
Today was the day when the 72nd was supposed to rendezvous and join up with the 183rd assault battalion, for "better strategic advantage." They had to hold Novosibirsk and gain control of the rail lines. After that they would be free to use the trans-Siberian railroad almost up to Vladivostok, where a bulk of the invading force was tied up. Another vast pocket was in Brussels.
The liberation of the earth was proceeding very slowly. They wanted minimal casualties during this one. The public must not lose hope in the Earth Sphere Unified Nation and their military Alliance. But it was hard, direly, exhaustingly hard. Sally walked by her suits, observing absent mindedly the people working on them. They shouted comments to each other like:
"Hey throw me a wrench here. No, not that one, I already told you, it's too small"
"Where are those cockpit computers?! Hey!.."
"You know, I heard ten thousand people died..."
"You're an imbecile!"
Same tone of voice, just like that. Computers. Imbecile. Ten thousand lives. What time is it? Sally sighed and walked back to HQ for orders.
"It's you. You're that Gundam pilot," the attractive hostage repeated, looking at Heero with surprise. She stood on the floor. "What are you doing here?" Heero stumbled with words as he forced the memory from his mind. Concentrate on the mission at hand. But nevertheless, it was something he never forgave himself for. He looked up...
"Miss Noventa..." he uttered quietly.
"Huh?" She took one step back. "Did they get you too? Or are you..." Heero just held out his remote detonation switch and she understood everything.
"Why did you come inside? To kill me?" She raised her eyebrows a bit but there was no fear on her face.
Heero grimly and desperately shook his head. Thats all she expected from him now. Ever since that fateful day... He was independent from all, a loner, a self-sufficient soldier, holding no debts, nor owing any. But this was the one person he owed, and a great deal too.
"Miss Noventa... we have to get you out of here," he said.
"But...I... why? They said that I'd have to speak to the military leaders. Maybe I can..."
"There are no military leaders here. There is only a firebase and a suit factory. You can help much more if you're free and outside," Heero logically reasoned. "Are you alone here?"
"Yes," she replied after a moment of thought. "They never keep more than one person in one place I think."
Heero nodded. "Makes sense." He padded over to the door and looked out. The coast was clear for now. He motioned her to come and she hesitantly stepped out. He shut the door and looked around again cautiously.
"I don't recall your name, but I remember you," she said. She called him a coward that time. That he was inside alone said something about his "cowardice", but she still didn't get it. "Why are you trying to save me?"
He was just about to respond... Suddenly an alarm blared out as the door did not shut all the way, and a few beams on intersecting photoelectric lasers came into view. Heero sprang forth, grabbing Sylvia by the arm and she shrieked a bit as the sound of machine gun fire opened behind them. Great... they were spotted. "How the hell did it happen?", burned through his mind as he picked up pace, dragging her along. "I thought I did everything right."
What he did not know is that the man was not quite unconscious when he left him on the floor.
Heero retaliated as he ran. Guards were all over the place, and the two young people had a hell of a time dodging bullets, especially Sylvia who although grew up beside soldiers, never had herself in a combat predicament. Heero was doing all the work. He slammed his fist against an electronic locking keypad and a big hangar door lowered behind them. Ahead... ahead they went past the threatening figures of unmanned mobile suits, past the startled engineers, past everything. Sylvia was living in a blur. Her legs felt precisely like heavy iron rods, her vision was off. All she saw was the figure of Heero running ahead of her, tugging her along. Thats all that existed, Heero, and what was in front of Heero. And in front of him was... a ladder.
"Climb," he ordered.
She grabbed onto the nearest rung and began to climb with dire clumsiness. Heero meanwhile stepped back and returned everyone's favor by spraying the hangar with semiautomatic fire. He then tossed the rifle and something else in the general direction of the nearest group of soldiers as he began climbing up himself. Vaulting was the more appropriate word, vaulting atop a wall, above some sort of jeep. Heero turned back and pressed the red button. A cacophonous roar tore through the facility as objects suddenly burst apart with smoke and flame. Sylvia's face froze in horror as she started to fall... falling and falling for an eternity, watching the base riddled with flames, smoke, booms and screams. Heero's bony, knotty frame did little to cushion the fall. He slung her over his shoulder and ran for the vehicle as projectors activated, darting back and forth. Too late, they locked on to a speeding jeep, tearing away from the base at an insane speed. In vain, their shots pelted the ground as Heero and Sylvia disappeared over the hilltop.
"Base number 473 near Samarkand has gone offline," a soldier reported. A grizzled, old face leaned forth.
"What! Was it the saboteurs?"
The soldier nodded, his unusual hair covering his green, understanding eyes.
Sylvia Noventa opened her eyes. It was now early dawn and the sun was still below the horizon. The crescent moon and the morning star made something akin to an age-old banner of one of the Arabian countries, before the advent of the colonies. She was lying on a patch of grass in some sort of valley meadow, next to a dusty jeep. Heero was sitting cross legged, typing. It was quite warm in this climate even in wintertime, nevertheless she shivered from the damp morning breeze. She got up and trudged over to Heero, staring at what he was doing, still half-dazed.
"You woke up" said Heero over his shoulder as he typed. He pressed some "execute" key and a long list was displayed in front of him along with a map. He traced a route with his finger, clicking occasionally.
"Wh...where are we?" she asked with a big yawn. Her bruises from the escape were letting themselves be known, and there was an unpleasant feeling in her stomach. Heero continued typing for at least a minute and a half before he turned around and responded, giving the appopriate name of the region. He then walked up to the jeep and unslung a big sack of provisions which he got god knows where.
"Eat a cookie" he said.
"A cookie. Sweets. It'll give you some energy." With that, he got up and walked over some hill, leaving her and the stuff behind.
"Oh..." she looked at the bag and hesitantly pulled out a few apples, some bread, jerked meat, cookies, and a thermos. She ate slowly at first, but hunger took over, and when Heero was coming back, she had finished the meal and was now studying the map on his laptop computer. She looked at him with question in her eyes. Explain yourself, Heero Yui.
"Why did you rescue me?" She was almost as direct and straightforward as he was after the whole hostage nightmare. Her emotions were somewhat dulled temporarily due to all the excesses. In a few days, she would be back to her old self.
He sat down and stared at the ground, unable for some reason again to lift his gaze to meet hers. All the emotions have not yet been beaten out of him, and now he felt someting that Wu Fei far too often did. Guilt. Shame. Dejection. And all because he has mistakenly executed this girl's grandfather in battle.
"Your name is... Heero... right?"
He looked up slowly, meeting her inquiring eyes with his painful visage. Then he nodded just as slowly.
"Now I completely remember you. You came to me that time OZ was attacking. You were the one..." Her voice broke a little as she continued. "You wanted me to kill you." Heero remained silent, looking down. Finally he tried:
"It would be a major blow to the Alliance to lose you, enough to lower moralle significantly. But..." This was already too long of a speech for him, but he persisted, driven by the feeling that he owed her a life, or at least an explanation. "but...I could not...live with another...I mean, I thought this would make up a little for Marshall Noventa's death." He said the truth. But he logically knew that nothing would make up for it. He was binded this time, binded by an internal obligation. An internal MORAL obligation. An unusual thing for Heero Yui, the perfect soldier to have.
"That's why you rescued me?" she whispered. "And you've been living with the guilt this whole time?" But Heero said nothing this time. He let his head hang. He didn't close his eyes however. They stared at the ground like in a Zero trance.
"Listen...Heero. Heero, please listen" she repeated, thinking he wasn't. "I have heard about the OZ scheme. I heard what you people did in space. You saved the lives of millions, you and the other Gundam pilots. If anything, my grandfather would have been pleased that such good came out of something so bad. Did not grandmother tell you how you should look to the future instead?"
Heero lifted his head "Huh? Are you talking about Mrs. Noventa's letter?" Mild surprise on his face. He was incapable of a higher degree of surprise for now.
Sylvia's face brightened: "That's the one. Did you read it?"
"Yeah." he looked over at the horizon where a segment of the sun had begun to rise.
"Oh..." "There he goes again" she thought. "This guy is a machine. Looks like he's been trained for one thing since birth. Does he know anything of humanity at all? But he has morals... and responsible." She could not understand yet fully the world of a soldier with it's mines and trenches of sanity, infernos of emotion and almost stellar coldness of the end product.
A cut-and-dry disposable hero. Heero.
"I'm sorry I couldn't do anything more" he said, getting up. "But we have to get to my Gundam. Then I can get you back to the Alliance base in Italy."
"Where is your gundam?" she asked a bit quizically
"Fifty miles from here." he replied, getting his stuff together.
"Why?" she asked incredulously
"Patrols" he replied shortly, hopping behind the wheel. "Come with me.." and then he uttered a word he hardly ever uttered before. "...Miss Noventa please." She gave a light, but tired smile as she got into the other seat.
"Call me Sylvia."
"Here they come," voiced Duo, looking through a pair of binoculars. The faint specks of a convoy and several carriers showed in the distance against the irridescent snow.
"Yup," a sergeant Craig Luciano responded having himself another look-see. "What do you think?"
"What do I think?!" replied Duo enthusiastically, putting his hands behind his head. "We're really gonna kick ass now! AND those guys have a Tallgeese model I heard..."
"No. What do you think about the squad we sent out?"
"Eh? Oh, the squad." Duo scratched his head, shaking the hoar-frost from his braid. "Well, at least one of 'em made it. I heard it over the comlink this morning in the commander's bunker."
"Think so. Hell, if anyone of us outsurvives everyone else, it's gonna be that lady." By "one of us" and "everyone else" Duo of course meant the company of Gundam pilots and acquaintances he was involved with during the gruelling events leading up to the eve wars, but he did not say this out loud. The last thing he needed was rumors to spread. Everyone already knew he was a gundam pilot, due to the presense of it, but nobody made a big thing about it with Duo. Some even thought a guy like him was not even one of the original gundam pilots, but somehow acquired the suit from scrap, or bought it. He lacked the deathly mercilessness of Heero Yui, the cool lack of emotion of Trowa Barton, the empatchic qualities and a Manguanac force of Quatre Winner, and the hotheaded idealism of Wu Fei. Despite Duo's theological sophisms (God of death this, Great destroyer that), he was basically down-to-earth as the rest of them were when regarding this war.
Unlike some people.
"...approaching destination...72nd...set guidance coordinates..."
"...roger...proceed according to listed instructions..."
They heard the incoming radio transmissions and watched as the immense dropship carriers flew overhead and eased downward onto the landing pad. Duo came out of reclining and sauntered off to take a look at the new people.
"...watch your speed...landing gear deployed...setting down. Welcome home." The carriers landed successfully as the hatches opened and people and machinery started coming out.
"Hey! There's the Tallgeese! I wonder who the poor and lucky sob is that pilots it" Duo thought aloud, to no one in particular. The large suit definitely stood out from the others. He watched the mobile suits got into the proper positions and then shut down, their pilots coming down. 'Some guy, some guy, some guy, Noin, and...'
"So this is your unit," said Zechs, adressing Noin. He looked around and nodded with approval. "Not bad. I like what your commander has done here."
"We try," she gave somewhat the equivalent of a grin. Turning around, she saw a very surprised Duo.
"Zechs?!" the young gundam pilot stated as if he suddenly turned into a big spider. The masked man looked back at Duo.
"02" he finally said.
"Hey, let's cut the formalities. We're on the same side, right? I'm Duo Maxwell."
Zechs just nodded.
"So how are you here? Aren't you supposed to be vaporized in space or something?" Duo plowed on, asking undelicate questions.
"Maybe I am" said Zechs in a husky grunt.
"Sheesh! You and Heero and Trowa and the rest of the bloody..." Duo walked off to heed an urgent voice calling his name, while exclaiming other things about grim, untalkative gundam pilots. Noin looked at Zechs with an inquisitive stare.
"You know, you did promise to tell me how is it that you made it."
"I did and I will. This evening, when the protocol clears."
"Right." And they went about their duties, calmly. Duo found Howard smoking an immense cigar and instantly convinced him to work on the gundam as before. The wintry afternoon scene of men and machines boiled on, preparing for what would be among their final battles.
"Quatre, can you hear me?"
"Yes. Prepare to move in at exactly 02:35. I should have the defenses down by then. If anything goes wrong, tell one of your men to grab Heavyarms and get out of the area."
"The land-arm gundam is strategically important to this war. We can't lose it to the enemy. I don't matter... can't talk anymore. Over and out." The transmission shut off as Quatre stared at the voice-only communications link in his tent. "Well, Trowa was on the inside, and he knows better," he thought. "Better do what Trowa says."
"Everything allright Master Quatre?" spoke the immense Rasid, climbing into the tent.
"Yes. I just received instructions for when we should process our attack. Rasid, you go tell the others, and have everyone ready their mobile suits for the strike at oh-two-thirty-five hours. I'm going to do the same."
"Very good, Master Quatre. Rely on us." With that, Manguanac leader went off to tend to his duties. Quatre paused a minute, looking after him.
"I am always relying on you guys" he voiced. Then he clambered off to Sandrock, lying covered with camouflage netting. The Foundation was about to suffer yet another crushing blow.
Trowa cut the transmission, as he heard approaching footsteps. Someone stuck their head into the dark room.
"What's going on?" the voice asked.
"Scouts report no enemy in the area as of yet," replied Trowa with his calm, dead voice.
"Oh." The man meandered on, as Trowa stuck his head out into the brightly lit hallway and proceeded down towards the command war room. The slightest faltering would probably get him to be shot on sight, and get Quatre's force riddled by pillboxers. Nevertheless, so far everything was going according to plan.
"Who goes there?!"
"Click. BOOM! Aaauugghh!..."
"ATTACK!" About twenty hover-equipped suits glided out of the pathetic little excuse for a grove and sped, strafing, firing singular cannons towards the Foundation base. Smoke billowed out from some parts. Spotlights activated on the towers right away, but immediately shut down right afterward. The base stood dark, turrets inactive despite the commotion inside. Confused Leos ran around firing flares into the air. The manguanac assault had been a complete surprise, Trowa's mission a success. But only for a short time. They had to get the place destroyed before reinforcements came and undermined their entire effort by quite frankly, putting several tons worth of projectiles in each of the suits. Especially that 'cursed gundam, the symbol of defiance.
"Abdul! Move east and wipe out those signal suits! Mahmed, protect master Quatre! All units in my charge, concentrate on offense!"
"Rashid, fill my place! I have a rendezvous to make." Sandrock sped forward, cutting three to the left, cleaving three to the right. He jetted upwards and ahead, then boosters pulsing, hovered down where Trowa said he would be coming from? What was taking him?
"Hurry up, let's blow this and get out. Hurry!" Similar screams over the message comlinks inside every suit. Manguanacs, not especially known for subtlety in combat did their best against the disoriented mass of enemy armor before them. Several died in the course of the action, frantically shooting, hacking away at suits before they could respond. One Foundation opportunist managed to get on top of a structure and release an unusually bright flare directly skywards.
"Here they come!" someone yelled. Several masses loomed in the sky, all rolling into one black THING that crept up from the dark heavens.
"Here they come! Master Quatre, did you hear that? We have to get out of here!"
"I promised to wait for Trowa, Rashid. You guys can go. You've done well," replied Quatre in his usual kind, slightly tired voice, though internally bracing for another round of intense fighting where mistakes were unforgiven.
"But Master Quatre!" For some reason Rashid and the rest of them, usually so eager to risk their lives, could not understand this tendency in the fourth Gundam pilot.
"Trowa, what's taking you?" Quatre thought, as the first wave of suits dropped from the carriers. "Did we really only come here for your suit?" His blades glowed red, in contrast to the gundam's eyes which gleamed green. A fierce machine, not like it's pilot: the noble in the desert.
"The suuiitt! Somebody get the suuuiiittt!
Slash, horizontal, diagonal, vertical. The first wave went exclusively for the Gundam.
"Why are we fighting? We're men after all." Quatre thought miserably as he did his duty and fought the fight. From a strategian's point of view, attacking an establishment of that power, and staying around for reinforcements was among the craziest ideas, next to Heero facing down a legion of Virgos in a Leo that time. Why were they then attacking? Because the human spirit never rests, and beats at the breast of the form who holds it, forocing it to do unimaginable things. Because the most a single human being could give is himself and his life. Because they would give much more if they only could. In vain. No matter how good the engineering and construction of the Sandrock 04 was, no matter how extensive it's armor capabilities were, an end comes to all things. Some of the Manguanac's suits' armor was beginning to equal toilet paper in thickness and consistency. There was simply too much enemy. And yet Quatre stayed because he trusted Trowa, believed in him. and the rest stayed because they believed in Quatre. And the world fought on, because it trusted in it's respective abilities.
"What now?" asked Sylvia, her eyes roaming bewilderedly over the patrolling Leos, and the Serpent standing there, gun trained on the road. A line of foot soldiers, and guard posts streched before them. Somewhere, coyotes were howling in ones and twos. "He got through all this?!" she thought to herself. "He's not human. He's like some sort of demon that sweeps from the sky, and passes without a trace, destroying." She looked at Heero's dliberant, waiting face, and began to consider that maybe "demon" was too harsh, even for one who killed so many. He simply did not know better. The fact that a normal, flawed human being can be programmed up to such a perfection of murderous accuracy made her almsot recoil in horrid fascination. She did not think it was possible, but Heero was living proof.
"And yet he has some human qualities. No, he has all of them. They are just dormant and...
Without so much as a warning, her arm was grabbed and dragged forward, as Heero, who spotted a small gap in between the soldiers, hurriedly pushed her into a small thicket, and dove in afterwards. Somebody's muzzle peeped inside and swung about several times before departing. "How did I ever let him convince me into being here?" she thought, the earlier train of thought interrupted. But then she remembered that she was not convinced. It was the only means to survive. Here was a chance to experience the war firsthand, to know Death breathing down your neck with an assault rifle.
"I'll be right back" said Heero once again, and mysteriously dematerialized into thin air. She did not even have a chance to respond, as he materialized again, grim look foretelling things.
"Intended path is no good. We have to take a roundabout." A roundabout meant taking a longer time to get to the machine, meaning a delayed transport to the Alliance HQ, a belated ressuply, and a longer time that alliance troops are without the benefit of a Gundam. He understood all this, but frustration was not in his dictionary. And even though "leading a happy life" is "acting on your emotions," in war, emotions get you killed. Heero Yui in no way could say that according to his definition, he was leading a happy life. "I" was simply not part of the equation, something that individualized people could never understand.
"Come on." He led her past the thicket, in the pale glow of the moon, hanging low towards horizon. If it was at zenith...
"Deus ex Machina," Sylvia thought.
"It's all I can do," thought Heero, dropping a soldier unconscious, and dragging him into the bushes. The coyotes were howling again...
"Master Quatre, you can still escape with 03. We will cover your path!" Meaning of course they would all die. Quatre sadly shook his head and prepared to answer, when a bright flash of something illuminated the fight. An extended barrage of missiles to be precise, followed by a roar of four autocannons.
"Trowa reporting. Process the retreat. I'll hold them for now."
"Go Quatre. They follow you." Trowa turned, and staying in one place, cooly, with offhand fluency began to disembowel suit by suit.
"Rashid, everyone, let's go!" Quatre started moving back, shooting out of his secondary weapons at the head of his team... were the done dealing damage for the night? Were they done taking Gundam back from the foundation? A pair of dark brown eyes opened somewhere, and a larger pair of sensor eyes followed suit. Through the smoke and debris, an extendo-arm shot forth, knocking Heavyarms precisely in the chest. Trowa collapsed backwards, chest weapons blaring away. He sensibly gunned the jets back to avoid an unsavory trident aimed straight for him. Without pausing to consider the circumstance, he shot all of his missiles into the spot where the trident came from, but the gundam was already gone. Somehow both Trowa and Wu Fei knew that these preliminary attacks would deal no damage at all.
"What's going on Trowa?" Quatre nervously asked, squinting into the screen. Naturally Trowa did not answer, but another familiar voice came crackling through the speakers.
"Gundam pilots. I challenge you to a fight. If you wish it, our respective units will stand down. Now we shall see whose way is correct."
Trowa shook his head. Mindless. As if they had a choice. Wu Fei was now their enemy, purely out of principle.
"Wuu Feeeiii!" Quatre tried, "Wuuu Feeeiii! What is going on?"
"Combat," Wu Fei briefly replied. "The heart of the battlefield. Forever shall it be my sanctuary. You as I are unfit to lead a peaceful life! Aaahhrrrr!" With a defiant yell, he sprang forth in his desperate feeling. If Trowa could feel anything for the pilot, it would be pity, something Quatre all too-often felt. Heero and perhaps Duo would retaliate in full.
03: the Heavyarms, the Trickster, the steel-cool mercenary clown reasoned differently. His guns raked the enemy units, deliberately avoiding much of Wu Fei, using evasive manuevers, enjoying his long range advantage to stay out of Wu-Fei's way, which was not easy. Quatre tried desperately to reason with them, but was forced to interrupt his own speech in favor of defending himself against the waves of onslaught in serpents and tauruses. The rest of the Manguanac force doggedly and resignedly resumed doing the same.
"Quatre," Trowa's voice upon the speakers. "Set Sandrock to self-detonation and try to get inside. I will do the same." Quatre sighed and was about to do just that.
"Cowards!" shouted Wu-Fei as if he was posessed. He was in fact...technically speaking. "Stand down! It's between me and them." he screamed to his units.
"Who the hell are you to give us orders?!"
"Fine then. We shall meet some other day and settle it. The heart of the battlefield shall have us all!" And not wishing his "foes" to destruct just yet, with great reluctance, did Nataku lift off and speed away. That was the chance..
"The... the Flares!" Someone set them off. Firing as they retreated, the attacking Manguanac troop moved back and vanished. Trowa shot a bunch of his missiles, and turning, covered the rear, as he disappeared too. The dying light abated revealing a field covered in burning husks, with no signs of the Gundams.
They looked at each other and sighed, though with a faint smile. Zechs cradled his coffee cup after taking a sip.
"It was like this:", he began...
"I've given Heero his buster rifle!" echoed on the speakers which were tuned to a common frequency. Zechs stared helplessly at his undone work, and summoning the last of his strength, pressed a pedal somewhere in the distant beyond below him. The beat-up Epyon groaned with displeasure and lifted off, while rapidly flashing the insanest of images. It felt like LSD-25 ...actually it felt worse. Not only were his senses muddled, but he literally felt like he was in a slow fire, cooking, while the world raged around him, and he was helpless. He watched in a childlike trance at the initially slow, but rapidly accelerating flash. It encompassed him in the radius, and remembering vaguely about the computer warning of an incoming shockwave, he seemed to drift off in a delirium. The blast tore off the remaining arm and both legs, as the chunk of Epyon flung around orbit, falling in towards earth...
Zechs remembered extreme heat, tremendous shock, then nothing. And then he woke up.
A mild wave washed some chunks of metal ashore. Zechs found himself lying in a very awkward position cramped inside the suit facing the sky, cockpit open, air streaming in. His body parts were numb as hell, and when he tried to move, it was tremendously painful to do so. Knowing it was broken ribs, he climbed out, not exactly sure who he was, what happened or how he got there. All he knew was that he was standing on some sandy shoreline, with a gentle slope that led up to a cliff, from which tumbled a waterfall into the sea. The sky was mauve in sunset. He stared obliquely at the wreck of Epyon, and the metal pieces of various sort stewn all over the place, and meekly as a cow, headed up the slope, still not remembering. The sound of the waterfall increased as he went along, stumbling over rock and metal. One specific piece caught his attention and he stooped painfully to pick it up, squinting at it.
It was his mask.
Unsure of how exactly to react on this, he just held it in his hands like a child holds a small toy, as memories started creeping back. Arms outstreched, holding the mask, he came up on top like a man in a trance. The sun had just crossed the horizon, and the earth breathed with evening life, floating through space like a great, living ship. He remembered and understood what he wanted to destroy, what he almost did destroy, had it not been for... no. The memory specifically blocked the name. Too much remembrance at one time was bad. His hands gingerly gripped the mask, and brought it slowly to his face... stopped midway. And with an eternal gesture, tossed the mask off the cliff, into the ocean.
"Time to start anew," he said glancing one last time at the evening sky before he turned and limping, made it up the slope, holding on to his chest. He had a lot to think about.
"Zechs...I..." Noin's eyes were wider and rounder than usual. She listened intently, smiling only once, when he related the story of the mask. Zechs regarded her with a warm look and continued.
An odd man entered the Novastar Industries mobile suit factory. Bits of blonde hair strayed this way and that out from his hat. The factory was undergoing some sort of "tests" with an "improved, experimental model." It was big, white, and hidden in the hangar.
"Hey, who is that guy?" asked one of the techs, smoking outside.
"Zechs? The "hermit"? Just some weirdo working here I guess. Doesn't really talk to anybody."
"You think he's one of the soldiers in the... you know." The man raised his eyebrows hintingly.
"Naah, naah. There's no such thing anymore. The hell with that guy."
"The hell with him," the conversant agreed. Zechs entered the hangar meanwhile and grabbed a cord, lifting himself up, eye level with the huge mobile suit's head.
"So we meet again Tallgeese." The suit stood cold, a testament to the age of today's warriors.
"I heard they were experimenting with Zero system on you." Zechs continued.
"I guess I'll just have to volunteer for test pilot if it messes up one of the designated men. Seems that I'll never be anything more than a mere soldier. But I won't let any more grudges get in the way of the world."
"I am Zechs Marquise" he said at lengths. "An exile from life." As if introducing himself to the suit. The large mag-rail based beam cannon was taken off and replaced by a ground-type sniper dobergun. Intriguing. Sleek arms, secondary weapons, sloped interlocking torso plating, a very good design. Too good.
"Why must humanity throw it's efforts into building more and more superior weapons? Weapons lead to dominance and dominance leads to war. Do they really hide agression under the guise of protection and lie to themselves?"
And as if in answer to his query, a tremendous artillery warhead landed outside, digging a hole in the base, sending bits of manflesh and machine parts every which way.
"What?! I thought the war ended with me." He contemplated running outside, but a more powerful idea seized him. He vaulted into the hatch of the yet-untested suit and hit the controls. The monitors came online with a light glow, and the arm cocked slightly. "All systems nominal." it read. Good. Not noticing how the suit felt to control, with very natural gestures, he maoevred it up to the damaged hangar opening and peered out. Several suits attacked the base, of an unknown construction, something he has never seen before. They looked a bit like Gundam 03, but... . Who were they?
Something slipped inside. Here he was heading into battle again, unchanged, still the killer, the annihilator, the scourging nemesis (the symbol of which Epyon painted so well.) There was no time. A series of concentric rings focused around the chest of one of them and locked on. Zechs fought with himself a moment more, as the suit saw him and started turning. He narrowed his eyes and fired.
Fired one more shot. And he knew from then on, he could never redeem himself for all the damage he's caused to the world. The dobergun shell blasted almost through the serpent and it fell, a crippled heap. The other two noticed Zechs and angry missiles swarmed him like bees. Following instinct, he tried to go up, but couldn't quite make the roof of the hangar as the missiles exploded inside with him, doing the job instead. The other two serpents were ver surprised however when he came out of the smoke still battle-worthy. With a sigh, he coiled the whiplike chain around the leg of one and destroyed the head sensor as he whipped around and fired with the dobergun several times at the other one. It was over quickly. Feeling an infinite disgust with himself, Zechs slid down and opened the hatch of the sole-surviving serpent. The pilot was unconscious; Zechs rummaged through his pockets, coming up with an ID. Barton foundation...operation meteor, the burning of the base a prelude of the fires to come. A smack in the face to the bewildered and grim Milliardo Peacecraft.
"So then I found Lady Une, and the preventer factions, joining them as Wind. I fought there until... well, you know. The turnover left me alone once more and the immediate proximal position was this side of the Ural. And that's how I joined with the 72nd," Zechs concluded, staring into his empty cup. That was an extremely long speech.
"Oh Zechs." Noin would release a string of words and sentences but that would be useless. Instead she just spoke the familiar, sighing. They were cursed as soldiers and had no choice.
"What about you Noin?" he said, not looking up.
"Oh... I... went to Earth and visited in my homeland for a few weeks, until Lady Une gave me a call and told me about the preventer faction. Naturally I joined, and we've had a few relatively easy assignments involving terrorists and stragglers. Until this came... we were supposed to fly to L3, but it was a diversion. The core of the attack was here, ready to descend." She smiled.
"I'm afraid that's not much detail, huh."
"No Noin, it's plenty. You're just tired, that's all." he managed.
"You seem infinitely more tired, Zechs," she said with sympathy. Paler than before, with bloodshot eyes, and a resoultely hopeless look. She didn't look much better either.
"As all soldiers are" he mumbled. Deep down, he still could not forgive himself for almost destroying the earth, but he was still intending to show humanity the futility of war. It was the only way... the Gundam pilots must have realized this as well.
"At least the colonies don't have to fight," Noin continued thoughtfully. "I'm just so grateful that Une managed to sweep and declare them neutral in time. The main target of the Barton army is currently Earth. But Une's force is not enough, we must end the battle here."
"End the battle, but what of warfare? Heero Yui was right. History cannot be allowed to repeat."
"Which Heero Yui?"
"Both of them."
They were silent for awhile.
"Listen Zechs, we are here now. And whatever grievance lies ahead, we can do this. I believe in you for one. Do you believe in me?" She looked at him, doubtless of the answer.
"Yes." he said, and a shadow of a smile appeared on his face. "But it will not be us who end the wars. It will be the people. We are just background characters who incidentally know how to fight."