Gundam SEED: Bloodlines (COMPLETE 10/26/16)

Your own tale of two mecha.
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rebel_cheese
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Re: Gundam SEED: Bloodlines (Chapter 28 3/20/12)

Post by rebel_cheese » Mon May 14, 2012 12:55 pm

I'm not fully back yet but I can post this one chapter.

I did self-publish a book on the Kindle and the Kindle PC App if you're interested in reading something original from me. It's $2.99, not a bank-breaker. http://www.amazon.com/dp/B007N61X4Q

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Chapter Twenty-Nine: Fractured (Everything I Said Was True)

It took a while to sink in. Tassil was gone. The enemy pilot, this Asta Joule, had called in an orbital bombardment to destroy the place, to kill all of those civilians and resistance fighters. Nothing had been left, nothing was left standing other than her Duel GUNDAM, waiting for me to come so she can kill me.

All of those lives just for an attempt at vengeance?

How far would she go to kill me?

How many more people would have to die?

This wasn't just war anymore. This was a vendetta. Against me. I was the only target and everyone else were just obstacles or pawns.

When I returned to the Archangel, I didn't really speak to anyone about what had happened, other than what I had to. Ramius and Badgiruel, of course, were highly interested in the upgraded Duel, and I had to say my piece on that. But other than that, I didn't want to talk to anyone or get involved in anything. Even Flay, clearly exhausted but with this manic energy in her eyes, wasn't a concern to me.

I just wanted to be by myself and think.

That's what killing Yzak Joule had gotten me. A town full of dead people, the Orb civilians and hodgepodge Earth Alliance soldiers winding up in the middle of the desert, a night of hell, and an angry older sister out to murder me. What a penalty, what a price. It was not worth it.

Then again, what do I know? Yzak was trying to ram the Archangel's bridge. If I hadn't done that, would there even be an Archangel? I'd be a ZAFT prisoner right now, most likely. Or even still inside Tassil, running for my life or perhaps fighting with Ashman's group all by myself, the Strike nothing more than a memory for me. Compared to that, this was an improvement, right?

But even that rationale wasn't good enough for me. All I could think about was that someone was living just to kill me. That was frightening. Every time I was out there, someone was gunning for me and exclusively me.

The only way to end this was to kill her too.

Also not something I was looking forward to. Another bad memory that would never leave my mind, and I was going to rob a mother of another child.

Then again, even if I killed this Joule, who said that yet another Joule kid wouldn't come crawling out of the woodwork? Or maybe one or both of the parents? What if I had to obliterate an entire family in this war? Or after it, long after I let my guard down?

I wasn't looking forward to the rest of my life, that was for sure.

I spent the night in a closet in the kitchen, well away from people, even away from Melanie. I didn't want to talk to anyone, or discuss the danger I had put everyone in. I knew they were looking for me and I didn't care. I couldn't face them. Or maybe not. Maybe what I couldn't face was myself in the mirror.

All those civilians . . . all those resistance fighters . . . they were all dead because of this vendetta against me.

Kira was right in that I was changing. But maybe not into a monster. I was withdrawing from the world, little by little. Maybe what I was becoming was a ghost. Maybe soon I would be invisible, except for when I was needed to go kill something.

I couldn't even bring myself to cry over the civilians and the fighters that were all dead. I felt isolated and cut off from everyone and everything that night. Like I wasn't even here. I was just a phantom everyone else was trying to find.

With that lovely thought haunting me throughout the night, I managed to get a little bit of sleep. But after waking up multiple times, I gave up at six a.m. and rested for a little while.

And got thoroughly pissed at myself.

Why? Why was I feeling sorry for myself and hiding away like a coward? I was running from my responsibility and running from the people I was protecting! How could did it look for the one person capable of flying the machine everyone depended on to run and hide after a battle just because she was rattled? Some hero I was! I wasn't any better than Flay! Maybe even worse. Cowardice is pathetic.

If I was going to survive this desert and survive this new Joule who somehow had a better Duel than her brother, I couldn't be a coward. I couldn't hide away. And I couldn't waste my time crying, even though I couldn't help a few tears sliding down my cheeks as I realized my mistakes.

I'm not built to hide away. I'm built to walk up to whoever's wronging me and kicking his or her ass.

I've killed people. Nothing will let me forget that. Killed pilots with the Strike, killed soldiers with a gun. But I wasn't going to let those deaths and the nightmares they were giving me defeat me. Even with the battles burned into my memory like scars, I couldn't just give up.

I rubbed my eyes and got up and marched right out of the closet, and walked out of the kitchen and into the hallway. My neck was killing me and so was my back from my highly uncomfortable sleeping position, and I had a headache from a cold hard floor without a pillow, but none of that mattered.

I wasn't going to run anymore.

Unfortunately, the last person I wanted to see wound up showing up right in the hallway, speaking behind me.

"Aren't you showing a little purpose in your step, Ensign?"

Hilda Harken's voice. Once again, she had snuck up behind me without me ever realizing it. I froze for a second, as a eerie chill was sent down my spine. Why? Why did I always tense up when she was near me? Whenever she would do this?

I turned around, slowly, carefully. I didn't know why I was nervous and scared and suspicious all at once, but I knew better than to doubt those feelings. "I'm sick of hiding from everybody. I've been through hell but that doesn't mean everyone here doesn't need me. They need me to keep functioning and keep living."

"Oh, I agree," Hilda said, a small smirk on her face. "They do need you."

Damn it, there was something in her voice, something about that thin little smirk, the knowing look in her eyes, that was really making me feel uneasy. I wasn't even sure if she was trying to do that on purpose. Maybe this woman was just oddly creepy, or perhaps she was terrible at acting natural or decent.

That was the thought that triggered the realization. Acting.

This woman had been doing nothing but acting funny ever since she had joined us . . .

"Is something wrong?" Hilda asked, her head cocking to the side just slightly.

"Nothing. I think I need to speak to the captain immediately. I never debriefed her," I said, feeling possessed more and more by this need to get away.

"Why? It's six in the morning. I highly doubt she needs to be bothered by you," Hilda said.

"Well, I am the Strike's pilot. She'll make an exception for me," I said.

"Oh, I bet she would. But maybe it's not the best idea," Hilda said.

The realization spread throughout my brain. Hilda was acting because she's a fake. She was not who she said she was. She was a liar, an infiltrator.

An . . .

"I'm pretty sure it's a good idea," I said, trying to walk away without taking my full attention off of her. I was trying to walk backwards and forwards at the same time, and it came off as this weird sidestep movement. "If I wait any longer Badgiruel will kill me."

"Would she?" That damn smile widened across Hilda's face. "Maybe Badgiruel isn't the one you should be worried about. Maybe the one you should be worrying about is me."

And out came the gun in her right hand.

"Don't run, Cagalli Yamato," Hilda said firmly. "You run I will kill you right here and now."

I thought about running anyway. Was there any door I could try to make a break to? Run and hide or perhaps try to surprise her if she tried busting through the door?

While there were a few, there was no guarantee I could make any of them before she'd shoot me. Plus, Hilda was definitely a Coordinator if she was a ZAFT agent. She had quicker reflexes, and steadier control over that pistol than a Natural could. Hilda would hit her mark.

Hilda's voice suggested supreme confidence. "I need you alive for the Strike's passcode. Try as I could I couldn't get access to this "Kira" who keeps maintaining your Strike. A rather handsome young man, if I should say so. Bears an alarming similarity to the Prince of Orb."

She knew that too. This woman was not ordinary, though I shouldn't have expected her to. No spy would ever be ordinary.

I didn't run, but I realized something else was off. Well, something other than this whole situation to begin with. Killing me was not her primary objective. Her objective was the Strike. She was here to steal the Strike and the only way she could do that was to use me or Kira and our knowledge of the password.

"You're here to make sure the Strike isn't used against ZAFT," I said.

"One way or another," Hilda said.

I had to keep her talking. Buy time. Pray someone else passes by and sees this. "You put up a good facade, you know. You passed the captain's clearance."

"That's because everything I said was true," Hilda replied. "I actually was doing time in the Earth Forces. I've killed Coordinators to maintain my cover. I actually was shot down recently. And I just waited. Waited until it was time."

She began to approach me, slowly, carefully. "I'm not going to waste any more time telling you my orders or my strategy. I know you just want to keep me talking. It's not going to work."

It was pretty clear what my choices were. Either I give up and hand Hilda the Strike, or I sacrifice myself and keep the Strike on the Archangel. Neither choice was particularly appealing and both would leave the Archangel in dire circumstances, as the defenses were crippled either way.

But there was an intangible that made one choice more logical than the others.

Kira. And his programming skills.

He could probably redesign the Strike's operating system for a Natural, probably La Flaga. Any revision would be far less than perfect, but it would give the Archangel a fighting chance, far more if I lived but there was no Strike.

A shock went down my spine and my stomach felt like it was contracting into my lungs. The best way to protect the Archangel was to die.

No. I couldn't just do that. I hadn't come all this way just to die. I couldn't sacrifice myself, could I? There had to be another option. A third way.

Hilda was almost on top of me. I had to make up my mind right then or Hilda was going to decide for me.

And then, as she was about on top of me, I realized my third option.

Resistance.

I pivoted my right foot and charged forward right into Hilda's chest, leading with my shoulder. Hilda grunted in surprise and in pain, and, my legs churning as fast as I could, I ran over her.

I couldn't stop running. I had to get back into the kitchen. Before-

Bang. Bang. Bang.

The bullets smacked metal right by me as I frantically ran through the doors. Something seemed to pull at my side as I ran behind the nearest corner, and I opened up all of the drawers until I found the knives, and yanked out the first one that looked sharp.

I heard a distant, male voice. "What the hell was-oh my God-"

Bang.

A grunt, and then a flop. Definitely a kill shot.

I could hear Hilda. "You had to do this the hard way, Yamato? I'm not playing this game! You can die with the rest of-"

Before she could finish, a charging cry interrupted her. It was high-pitched, shrill, and desperate. The voice was cracking so much I could barely make out who it was, but, at the tail end, I realized it could only be . . .

No way.

I turned around the corner just as Hilda, standing in-between the doors, was attacked by Flay Allster.

Hilda had spun around just in time to see Flay coming, but Flay was working on pure adrenaline. As her left hand swung upwards, I realized Flay had a knife of her own. It was coming to slash upwards, right at Hilda's face.

At Hilda's right eye.

It wasn't like a movie or a cartoon with a dramatic "slash" sound followed by blood gushing out of Hilda like a geyser. I didn't even hear the noise from where I was standing. But Flay connected. The clue was Hilda's anguished scream.

Flay repositioned herself, clearly aiming to stab Hilda in the stomach, but Hilda, despite her obvious agony, kneed Flay in the gut, and then kicked Flay in the face, sending the girl to the ground.

I heard another male voice. "We got a man down-UGH!"

Hilda shot that man dead too. I peeked around, just in time to see Hilda vanish down the nearest hallway.

I waited. Was Hilda going to come back? Or was her only concern getting away? Could she do that? All by herself? With an obviously horrific wound?

But she didn't emerge, and I slowly walked towards the door, where Flay was still laying on the ground, clutching her face with her right hand. Her hair was a total mangled mess, and her clothes looked like they had been worn way too long without a wash.

"Flay," I dared to say.

Flay's eyes looked up to me, and they were so piercing I backed away a step. They were possessed by something feral, something hateful, something determined. The combination made her seem like some repressed beast was lurking beneath her human veneer, and was trying to get out.

But then her eyes calmed, just enough to seem human again. But when she spoke, it was with an edge, a slight undertone of a need for something I didn't want to know. "Cagalli. You're bleeding."

"Huh?" I remembered the pulling sensation on my right side. I looked down and pressed my hand against it, and realized there was blood.

Oh my God. I couldn't be . . .

No, I was fine. As I checked I realized it was just a scratch, nothing life-threatening. But now it hurt.

"It's just a scratch," I said. I stared at Flay for a second, and she never looked away from me, not even to adjust her disheveled hair.

"Thank you," I said finally, after a long pause. "We need to tell Captain Ramius about this. Before she gets away."

"I'm sure the entire ship is going to go on alert any second," Flay said. A slight grin spread across her face. "I'm just glad I finally got to hurt one of them."

"Flay?"

"You're right, I ought to be fighting, Cagalli. That's what I should be doing. Before all of this happened, I'd tell you that war is terrible. That it should hurry up and end. But now I don't want it to. Not until I get in the fight. This wasn't enough. Far from it."

"Flay, uh . . ." I tried to search for a way to tell her she was sounding insane and creepy without telling her she was sounding insane and creepy.

She finally stood up. "I couldn't let her kill you. You're the only reason why we're still here. Why I have a chance to get revenge for what they did to me. When I get out there in that Skygrasper, Cagalli, you can bet that I'll protect you. As long as you kill them I'll protect you no matter what they send against us."

"Look, Flay . . ." Number one, I was wounded, and needed to get my wound treated. Number two, the last thing I needed was to hear crazy. Number three, Flay was doing some serious jumping to conclusions. Number four, the terrifying and likely real thought that I had put Flay on a road to insanity was entering my mind and it was not good, to be concise.

But I couldn't get any of that out. Not before she spoke again. "I owe you everything, Cagalli. Don't you get it?"

"I think you need a nice long rest and think about your life," I said, before I finally got the courage to walk past her.

"Life," Flay said softly as I walked down the hallway, following the path that Hilda had taken. It was a dangerous route, but the medical bay was in this direction. At long last, a general alarm went off and a loudspeaker began proclaiming the presence of an infiltrator. Finally everyone was going to look for Hilda, and hopefully stop her.

"That's right, your life," I said. I didn't like the cryptic way she had spoken that word at all, and I was dreading her response.

Flay just chuckled bitterly. "What life? I don't have a life that's worth living. The only satisfaction I'm going to be able to get is to end other lives. That's all I can live for anymore."

I braced myself for an insane smile, but Flay didn't give me that. Instead, when she looked at me, I saw something else, an abyss of despair that was swallowing her up from the inside. Her eyes were filled with so much hurt and agony, and her voice was so hollow and broken, that I couldn't imagine how such a person could still be alive.

"I have nothing, Cagalli. I don't have anybody or anything. No one who loves me, no one who understands me. I don't mean anything meaningful to anybody. I could die tomorrow, and that's that."

"Sai," I said, almost without hesitation.

"Him?" She paused. "No. Not even him. I'm just a pretty face to him, a pretty face that's falling apart. He'll abandon me soon, I know it. No, he's already abandoned me, he's just not ready to go through the motions yet."

I really didn't want to hear this right now, but a small part of me told me that I had to stay. Flay was actually confiding to me. Walking away from her when she was practically begging me for help would be an evil thing. Not even Flay deserved that. She was just a girl. A girl on the cusp of going psychotic, but still a girl.

"That's not true," I said, as I checked my side to make sure the bleeding wasn't getting worse.

"It's true. He doesn't understand at all. Why I have to keep doing the simulator. There's nothing else I can do."

"Flay-"

"I hate this. I wish that woman had killed me. I can't take it anymore."

There was a solemn, resigned sound in her voice, something that resonated far more than an anguished cry of despair would have. Well, that and Flay had sort of revealed she had a death wish, which, on top of her other problems, was just another thread waiting to unravel.

I couldn't take it anymore. I marched over and grabbed Flay by the hand and dragged her down the hallway.

"Cagalli!" Finally, Flay's voice had some strength in it, and she sounded a bit throatier than she usually did too. She halfheartedly tried to struggle but she was no athlete, she couldn't break free. "Let me go! What are you-"

"I need medical attention, and frankly so do you," I said. "We're marching right into the medical bay and we're staying there until the doctor says we can leave. Got it?"

Flay was silent. Then she grabbed me, and I nearly elbowed her, stopping just short as I realized she was hugging me, not trying to hurt or fight me.

"Please don't hate me anymore," Flay whispered. "If you don't want to be my friend I don't care but don't hate me anymore. Just help me get my revenge."

Just like Yzak's older sister, here was another person who desired vengeance above all else. I briefly visualized the gory results of Asta and Flay encountering each other, and then I refocused back on Flay.

"Flay, right now, you need to be locked at. Hilda hit you pretty hard. I wouldn't be surprised if she knocked out a few teeth."

"She did knock out a tooth," Flay said softly. "My mouth is bleeding and I have to keep swallowing it."

That explained the throaty sound in her voice a minute ago. "Do you still have it? They can get it back on like nothing happened."

"I think I swallowed it too."

Why did that not surprise me? "Okay, then I'm sure they have a false one that'll fit you. Now come on."

Flay didn't respond immediately again as I walked her down the hall. I didn't look back at her, so I didn't know what kind of expression she had on her face. Was she trying to manipulate me? Or was she genuinely expressing the emotions I thought she was. She seemed too honest to be lying or acting, at least to me. Flay, if this was all an act, had put on an Oscar-worthy performance.

But, finally, she said "Thank you for not hating me anymore."

"Huh?" was my intelligent response.

"If you hated me, you wouldn't have asked if I was okay," Flay said softly. "Thank you."

"Don't worry about it," I replied, not knowing what else to say. I pitied Flay more than hated her, ever since this whole incident started on Heliopolis.

But did Flay hate me? Why would she warm up to a Coordinator, someone she had shown explicit prejudice to?

I was going to need to find this out before I let Flay get too close, not just to me, but to my friends, and Melanie as well.

But first, medical bay. And catching Hilda, one way or another.

I had a feeling that Hilda wouldn't let herself be found until she wanted to be. And the moment she would reveal herself would be when I last expected it . . .
MURRUE: Infallible accuracy?? I thought you just usually shot all your weapons at random and they just happened to hit stuff.

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

Rob DS Zeta
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Re: Gundam SEED: Bloodlines (Chapter 29 5/14/12)

Post by Rob DS Zeta » Mon May 14, 2012 3:57 pm

I crapped bricks.

This story always helps me get inspired. It's probably my favorite read right now, which is saying a lot (is reading about 6 different things right now).

Good stuff, as usual. Can't wait for more!
*insert witty eyecatch here*

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The Green Flame
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Re: Gundam SEED: Bloodlines (Chapter 29 5/14/12)

Post by The Green Flame » Sat May 19, 2012 8:57 pm

Wow .__.

Had a feeling Hilda was a spy. But wow Flay .__.

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Vent Noir
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Re: Gundam SEED: Bloodlines (Chapter 29 5/14/12)

Post by Vent Noir » Thu May 24, 2012 7:43 pm

Not quite caught up with this yet, I'm currently three chapters behind. But I'm really enjoying this, so much so that I decided to make a TV Tropes page for it. (any help filling it out would be appreciated).
Vent Noir

@AJDynon on Twitter

April 7, 1979: The first episode of Mobile Suit Gundam premieres. Fanboys declare Gundam "Ruined FOREVER".

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Vent Noir
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Re: Gundam SEED: Bloodlines (Chapter 29 5/14/12)

Post by Vent Noir » Wed May 30, 2012 4:08 am

Okay, I'm caught up now, and eagerly awaiting more. I know it's a while off if you do end up doing it, but are you planning on just doing Seed or going into Destiny?
Vent Noir

@AJDynon on Twitter

April 7, 1979: The first episode of Mobile Suit Gundam premieres. Fanboys declare Gundam "Ruined FOREVER".

rebel_cheese
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Re: Gundam SEED: Bloodlines (Chapter 29 5/14/12)

Post by rebel_cheese » Tue Jun 12, 2012 6:34 pm

Vent Noir wrote:Okay, I'm caught up now, and eagerly awaiting more. I know it's a while off if you do end up doing it, but are you planning on just doing Seed or going into Destiny?
The ending I have in mind is meant to send the series off on a note with a lot of closure in case I don't write one. If the inspiration and time is there I'll go into Destiny but right now I'm just going to do SEED and worry about Destiny when I end this.

I was wondering where that TVTropes page came from. XD Thanks for it. I'm not going to submit tropes to it, though. It's not right for the author to edit an entry based on his work.

I'll try to get you guys a post within a few days.
MURRUE: Infallible accuracy?? I thought you just usually shot all your weapons at random and they just happened to hit stuff.

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

rebel_cheese
Posts: 305
Joined: Wed May 02, 2007 7:43 pm
Location: Illinois, USA

Re: Gundam SEED: Bloodlines (Chapter 29 5/14/12)

Post by rebel_cheese » Mon Jul 23, 2012 1:35 am

I'm trying to finish part two before I post more chapters but I felt I should post this one so you guys know I'm still working on it.

Mechatalk gets a brief exclusive, FF.net won't get it until sometime tomorrow.
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Chapter Thirty: In the Wake of Determination

The medical bay wasn't crowded, and thankfully Hilda wasn't in it. Though, according to the nurse who took care of Flay and I, she had spotted Hilda stealing some bandages and other things. The orders of noncombatant personnel were basically to run in the opposite direction if they saw Hilda, and it was an order the nurse had been all too happy to follow.

Her name was Jacqueline Grumman. She was one of the Artemis personnel that had wound up staying on the Archangel. She spoke with a German accent but her command of the language of business, English, well enough to be clearly understood. Although I could've spoken German, I knew I'd be locking Flay out of any conversation that way. That wouldn't be fair to her. Plus, considering Flay's clear damage, I wasn't in the mood to say or do anything that could set her off. Anything could, really.

Jacqueline sighed as she bandaged my side. "You're lucky this is just a scratch, Ensign. This could have been a lot worse."

She looked at both Flay and I. "You both are incredibly lucky, for that matter. She could have still killed you both."

"She panicked. After all her right eye got sliced open," I said.

Flay seemed to shrink just a little bit on the medical table she was sitting on.

Jacqueline sighed. "I suppose that would make sense."

She looked at Flay. "We're going to need to give you an emergency operation over your tooth. Mr. Drexler has dental training, he will help you."

"Okay," Flay said.

Jacqueline looked back at me then. "You are free to go, but be damned careful where you go. I would suggest going back to the dormitories and staying there. Hilda hasn't been spotted in that place to my knowledge. Please come back here in six hours so I can check on your wound."

"Got it, thank you," I said.

Jacqueline smiled. "Good. Nice to have patients who listen to me for a change."

She left then, leaving me with Flay alone. The girl had calmed somewhat, but she still had a wild look about her. It was likely because Flay's appearance was completely disheveled, but I couldn't help but think there was something else going on. Just too many things had happened. There was an edge in this girl that just wouldn't settle down.

"I want to get stronger," Flay said softly after a moment.

That was a totally random statement to make. But it made sense after a moment. "How so?"

"Mentally and physically. I need to get tougher. I won't pass the simulator if I don't get stronger."

This reminds me of bad cartoons from my childhood. "Flay, right now I would just concentrate on getting your mouth fixed. Literally. And if you're afraid of Sai leaving you, just take a look in the mirror. You look like a total wreck."

"I haven't been able to sleep lately," Flay replied. "All I can think about is the simulator."

"Take a break from it," I said.

"Yeah, that's the obvious answer isn't it?" Flay asked with a sigh.

"Pretty much. You just need a day off from that thing and cool off a little. You're letting this eat at you and that's not going to end well for you or everyone else."

Flay's lips trembled a little, and her eyes seemed to shimmer as she looked at me. "Damn it. I just can't hate you anymore. Not even Sai talks to me the way you do."

"I-wha?" That had been a totally unexpected thing for Flay to say.

"It was so easy to call you a 'boy' and 'amazon' and everything else back on Heliopolis," Flay said, still keeping her gaze on me. "But that strength that I found stupid is why you haven't cracked. And why you still care."

"Well, I thought you were just a stupid bitch," I replied, trying to smile so Flay would think I wasn't being completely serious. "You're not."

Flay just chuckled. "That makes me feel better."

I wasn't sure what to say to that, but I didn't have to. Flay spoke again after a moment, wringing her hands.

"I need to take this into my own hands," Flay said. "You're right. You've been right all along. I shouldn't try to force people to do what I want them to. I need to take care of it myself."

The look in her eyes now resembled something steely and formidable, and it just made my misjudgment of Flay even clearer than it already was. Putting her in that Skygrasper sim had woken something up in her. Something she probably had no clue she had. It was like a warrior was starting to peer out from her girlish shell, and it was terrifying, hateful, and determined.

Flay's shell was going to crack, I realized. In the days to come it was going to fall apart piece by piece and a totally new Flay was going to emerge.

No, I was wrong. It already had started coming apart. The old Flay never would have rushed Hilda with a knife. The warrior was already trying to break out of the shell and the shell wasn't taking it very well.

Flay's voice took on a deeper tenor as she continued to speak. "It's all their fault. They didn't need to do any of this. Heliopolis, the neutron jammer, all of it. I wouldn't even be surprised if they bombed Junius Seven themselves so they could finally wipe out the Naturals and take their so-called 'rightful place' as the new humanity."

That was a theory passed around by radicals in the Earth Alliance, that PLANT had arranged for the Bloody Valentine in order to start a war against the Earth. I found it ludicrous, but Flay obviously didn't. It reminded me that Flay was still a radical and I needed to keep her away from Melanie.

"I'm going to kill them all before they do it to us," Flay said. "I can do it. I know I can do it."

Flay was really starting to creep me out and I wanted her to stop, so I interrupted her. "Look, just go wherever you need to go, and get your mouth fixed, okay?"

"Yeah, you're probably right," Flay said, her voice returning to something resembling her normal pitch. She got off her table and walked over to the door.

She smiled at me. "I owe you this, Cagalli."

And then she was gone. It took me a moment to realize I was shivering and it felt like something cold was shooting down my spine.

Flay shouldn't have scared me like that. How could she do that? Just her words? Or was it her voice?

Suddenly, I remembered Kira mentioning that I sounded soulless in our brief conversation when I was fleeing Tassil. Was that what I sounded like? Did Flay sound like I had?

Holy crap. No wonder Kira was scared.

There is no "what have I done" type of realization here. I know what I did. Putting Flay in the Skygrasper simulation was a big mistake. Even if she never gets good enough to fly it didn't do what I intended the simulator to do.

I just hope I don't pay for it later.
***
The moment I left the office, I was immediately approached by a pair of armed guards. Judging by their accents, they were North American Federation. "Ensign Yamato, ma'am, you are to be escorted to your quarters immediately."

"Really?" I ask, somewhat surprised. It took me a moment before it hit me, and one of the guards explained it to me immediately.

"Captain Ramius want you locked down and under guard until Harken is either killed or otherwise subjugated, ma'am. I can bring her on the line if you wish."

"No, it isn't necessary . . . Sergeant," I said, noticing the pins on his collar as I spoke. "Just take me there."

"Understood, ma'am. Your line is active so if you need additional medical treatment we will send a doctor or nurse to you."

"Thank you, Sergeant."

The sergeant immediately took the lead and lead me down the corridors, with his underling following me. It took me a moment to see that they were trying to subtly shield me as much as they could, as if Harken could pop out from any space at any given moment. Which is understandable. I had no clue where she could be, and I doubted these guys knew either.

I tried asking anyway. "Does anyone have any idea where she went?"

"No. We just know she could be after high-profile targets. Petty Officer Athha is inside the hangar which is on full lockdown to prevent any sort of sabotage. The officers are all on the bridge which is also on lockdown. You are the only high-profile human target left who is not locked down."

Great. So if Harken is blundering around the ship with her one good eye looking to kill somebody, it'll wind up being me. Just what I needed.

"We are really vulnerable to attack like this, Sergeant," I say.

"That's why we have teams sweeping the entire ship, and guarding every possible exit," the sergeant said. "We'll most likely catch her before long."

The fact that she had evaded capture this long already despite have her eye slashed open by Flay told otherwise. Hilda Harken was really good at this, and she had probably spent time scoping the whole ship out in case something like this happened. That may have even been what she had been doing when she spotted me and decided to take matters into her own hands.

But that assumed that Hilda wanted to live. Who knew how much of a diehard she was?

Who said she wouldn't sacrifice herself to kill me?

As we walked down the hallway, I felt worse and worse as a pressure built up in my stomach, a pressure that reminded me of Tassill. A sense of feeling so vulnerable and scared that I was sweating just by the mere thought of sudden movement. But around each corner, nothing happened. The hallways were curiously empty except for occasionally another patrol of armed men and women.

I could imagine what would happen if the ZAFT chose to attack now. Total panic. And we'd lose. Easily.

But as we approached my room, I relaxed. Slightly. Sure, there was nothing reporting that Hilda had been found, but now I was in my lockdown area. Now I was going to be protected around the clock until Hilda was caught. Not ideal but I felt a lot better.

The guard in front of me went in front of my door and it slid open. I was about to follow him inside when I heard gunfire.

Oh my God.

I dove to the right as the guard was riddled with bullets, and the man behind me took cover to the left. I could hear a little girl's voice scream in terror and fear, and I realized who that voice belonged to.

Melanie.

Oh, that bitch.

The guard in front of me fell backwards, his gun falling out of his hand backwards. The muzzle of the gun was just enough protected that I was able to grab it without risking getting shot. I shouldered his rifle, and realized his safety was off. A sickening feeling compounded the pressure in my stomach, making me want to throw up. If the guard had pulled the trigger, I would've been shot for sure.

Hilda's voice. "I don't want to hurt or kill anyone else! All I want is you, Cagalli Yamato! Give yourself up!"

Melanie, sobbing and crying. She sounded like she was trying to say something, but she couldn't manage it.

The surviving guard was quick on the com. "All units, all units, Hilda's been found! Location: Ensign Yamato's room! Requesting reinforcements immediately! Repeat, requesting reinforcements immediately!"

Hilda began shouting again. "I know you're out there, Cagalli Yamato! Give yourself up! I want your hands in the air and approaching me in sixty seconds or this girl dies!"

She's really going there? Threatening to kill a little girl? My little girl? Who I've been taking care of since her mother was murdered? This woman was just going to march in here and murder this innocent little girl who just wants to go home?

"You're pathetic," I spat. "She's a child. Leave her out of this!"

"Aren't you a child as well, Cagalli Yamato?" Hilda asked. "And yet you kill my allies, my friends. Do you deserve the same consideration?"

"She's not even ten years old!"

"I doubt if she's even seven," Hilda says.

"Then let her go!"

"I am not getting captured or killed without accomplishing my objective!" Hilda shouted. "Either you sacrifice yourself for this girl's sake, or you sit and allow her to die! And you know how guilty you'll feel for letting this girl die! It'll eat at you steadily until you have nothing left but despair! How long will you be able to fight after this girl dies?"

"Cagalli, help me," Melanie sobbed. Damn it, that sob was already eating at me.

"Please, it's not worth it," I said. I felt pathetic for already begging, but I didn't know what to say to her. We both knew I wouldn't let Melanie die.

"I know how much this girl means to you," Hilda said. "I heard the whole sad story. I know you won't let her die. So stop this drama and give yourself to me so I'll let her live!"

The guard looks at me. "You know you can't do this-"

"No one speaks other than Cagalli and I!" Hilda shouted. "Any other words spoken, the girl dies now!"

Melanie's cries grew louder, and then she screamed in sudden pain.

"Stop it!" I shouted. "What are you doing?"

"I just placed the gun muzzle onto her forehead. It just happened to be a little hot," Hilda says.

I wanted to kill her. I mean that. I felt this primal desire to take her head and smash it against the Archangel's walls until there was nothing left but pulp. It was possessing me, and it was taking all of my self control to not lean into that room and shoot Hilda immediately.

More people, running down the hall, at long last.

"No one else interferes!" Hilda shouted. "Stop them now or she dies!"

Immediately, I yell "Stop! Everybody! Don't come any closer!"

There's grunts of confusion from everybody coming, but they're smart enough to stop.

"If you come any closer, there's a civilian who's going to die," I say. "Stop."

"Good. You can follow one instruction," Hilda says. "Now follow the main one. Surrender yourself."

How can I get out of this? Isn't there any way I can trick her into screwing up so I can kill or otherwise stop her and save Melanie?

"Release her and I'll give up."

"I'm not falling for that trick!" Hilda shouted. Again, I heard Melanie shriek in pain and the only thing I could do in response is punch the floor multiple times until my left fist began to bleed from the knuckles. There was so much raw aggression filling in me I felt more like an animal than a human.

But there wasn't a seed. That brown seed I had seen in the Strike's cockpit wasn't showing up. Why? Why wasn't it appearing?

"Cagalli, Cagalli, help me, please help me," Melanie sobbed. "I don't want to die. I don't want to die like Mommy. Please."

That repressed my anger somewhat. Now I just felt like crying. What could I do? There was so much anger and sadness swirling inside me that I couldn't decide what to do. What to take all of this emotion out on. I needed to release it and there was no outlet.

I looked at the guard. The guard emphatically shook his head. No. The message was clear. Don't sacrifice myself.

"Ten seconds, Cagalli Yamato. I'm not giving you any more time to decide!" Hilda shouted.

"Nine, eight, seven, six."

Melanie's screaming now. "Cagalli, please! Help me! Help me, please!"

"Shut up!" Hilda shouted, and Melanie screams a third time.

Make it stop. Make it stop.

"Five, four, three, two-"

"Stop!" I finally shout.

"What?" Hilda yelled.

"I give up! Don't shoot her! I'm going to give up!"

The guard stared at me. "Don't do-"

"Silence or she dies!" Hilda yelled.

The guard looked in the direction of my room, then back to me. He shook his head, almost in a pleading manner.

"I can't do it," I said. "I can't do it. I can't let her die. She's my responsibility."

I must have sounded like the most broken woman in the whole planet right there, considering the way the guard stared at me. I got up, and stared at the rifle from the dead guard. Was there any way to shoot Hilda without harming Melanie?

Hilda must've heard me get up because she began barking instructions. "I know you're armed, Cagalli Yamato! Leave the gun!"

"Release Melanie, and I'll drop the gun!" I shout back.

"You're not in the position to negotiate!" Hilda yelled.

I knew she was right. In frustration, I threw the gun across the hall and it bounced off the wall and clattered to the ground. In hindsight, that was obscenely stupid, considering the safety was off. It could've gone off, easily, and harmed me or everyone else around here. I was lucky it didn't.

"I'm peeking inside! But I won't give myself up fully unless you let go of Melanie!" I yell.

"I said-"

"Give me a break, Hilda! You can't seriously want to kill Melanie!"

"The last thing I want to do is kill her!" Hilda yelled back. "But I have to do my duty. I'm a soldier, dammit! I was assigned a mission and I will complete it one way or another."

"And if you don't complete it, you're going to kill an innocent child?"

"If I have to." But Hilda's saying that with a bit less conviction in her voice.

"What can you possibly gain by killing a child and then being shot?" I asked. "What? All you're doing is securing yourself a place in hell!"

"We're a nation of atheists, we don't believe in a heaven and hell!" Hilda shouted. "This life is all we have! Death is equal!"

"And you want to end it right now, in this way?" I asked.

"What?"

I couldn't believe she had never thought of this. "You want your entire life to lead up to this final moment, when you murder an innocent child and then get gunned down? That's why you were born? That's why you're here? That's what you blew your cover for?"

Silence. She was wavering. I just knew. Her response sounded desperate and shaky. "Damn it, don't talk to me like that! This is the only option I have left!"

"No matter who wins this war, Hilda, life is going to go on. Do you just want to be yet another battlefield casualty, and drag a little girl down with you, or do you want to be a P.O.W. with a chance of restarting your life when this war ends?"

"Shut up!" Hilda shrieked.

"Put the gun down and end this! Everyone will be a lot better off if you just give up, you included! If this is the only life we have, and there's no afterlife, why do you want to throw it away? Life is never worth throwing away, Hilda!"

Hilda didn't respond, but then I heard Melanie. "Cagalli! Cagalli!"

Much to my surprise, Melanie rounded the corner and I barely let go of the rifle in time to catch Melanie as she embraced me.

"Cagalli, Cagalli," the girl sobbed.

"Melanie," was all I could say, soft, surprised, barely able to fathom what just happened.

I peeked around the corner, and there was Hilda, her hands on her face, tears pouring out of her remaining eye, her sobs audible despite her mouth trying to cover up the noise.

She just plain couldn't do it anymore. Somehow, some way, I had managed to break her without even peeking around the corner or threatening her at all.

Realizing something was no longer off, both my remaining bodyguard and the reinforcements marched in there, and pulled Hilda away. She did not resist, she didn't even try to walk under her own power. She just rested, totally limp, as she was dragged away, presumably into the brig to be questioned.

All she did was turn her head to look at me, tears still pouring out of her only remaining eye. Her sobs were soft, almost silent, and she turned her head away from me, as of in shame.

Looking at her, I wonder if she would ever try to fight again, even if she was given an opportunity too. She just plain looked done.

"Cagalli," Melanie sobbed.

I couldn't worry about Hilda then any longer. Just the little girl. That's all that mattered now. Somehow, I had managed to save her life without any violence.

"Did she hurt you?" I asked.

"She . . . s-he put her gun against my head. It hurt," Melanie sobbed.

That's what Hilda said she did. "Did she do anything else to you?"

"N-No."

I breathed a big sigh of relief. "Good. You're all right now. Nobody will ever hurt you again, okay? Never again."

I held the girl there for a while, just let her try to breathe and calm down. She needed to go to the infirmary to have any burn injuries she had looked at, but she was clearly not up to moving. Not right now.

"Why?" she asked all of a sudden. "Why can't the Coordinators be like you?"

"What?" I asked, perplexed by the question.

"Why can't the other Coordinators just be nice?" Melanie wailed.

What a loaded question. How to answer that one?

"Because . . . it's war. Nobody can be nice in war," I said. "Natural or Coordinator."

"War is stupid," Melanie replied.

"Yeah . . ." I said softly. "War is stupid."

And yet, it seems it has become a necessary thing in our society.

How sad is that?

I don't think anyone, on either side of this conflict, is going to want to answer that one.

It just can't be answered. War is the absolute worst option anyone can take to settle differences. And yet, throughout history, there have been invasions and surprise assaults and assassinations and terrorist attacks that all trigger conflicts that takes years to resolve and have murdered millions of people combined.

It seems that too many people, war is the only option.

And that's the saddest part of all.
MURRUE: Infallible accuracy?? I thought you just usually shot all your weapons at random and they just happened to hit stuff.

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

rebel_cheese
Posts: 305
Joined: Wed May 02, 2007 7:43 pm
Location: Illinois, USA

Re: Gundam SEED: Bloodlines (Chapter 30 7/23/12)

Post by rebel_cheese » Tue Aug 07, 2012 1:38 pm

I figured that since it may still be a while until the next update, I figured I would spill some non-spoilerific beans regarding the fic.

Andrew Waltfeld and Cagalli's inevitable meeting will be under different circumstances with different surrounding characters.

That fossil from Jupiter than Waltfeld brings up in canon will be expanded upon much more.

A character from the later part of SEED will make his first appearance much earlier.

There will be more Skygrasper pilots than who you might think.

Asta Joule's existence when she did not exist in canon will be explained.

Cagalli is not as good of a pilot as Kira was in canon. Athrun and Asta are both superior to her in raw skill, Athrun being the best pilot period. This will affect the storyline significantly.

There is a reason why Cagalli and Kira have been switched, it's not just arbitrary. You will find out why in the final arc.

Cagalli and Athrun will not have a private meeting on the island.

One of the characters' pasts will tie into why and how Kira and Cagalli have switched places.

One of the bad guys will exit the fic faster than in canon.

At least one of the characters who died in canon will not die in this fic.
MURRUE: Infallible accuracy?? I thought you just usually shot all your weapons at random and they just happened to hit stuff.

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

rebel_cheese
Posts: 305
Joined: Wed May 02, 2007 7:43 pm
Location: Illinois, USA

Re: Gundam SEED: Bloodlines (Chapter 30 7/23/12)

Post by rebel_cheese » Thu Sep 06, 2012 8:41 pm

Tomorrow, I'm going to put up Chapter 31 of the story, and hopefully from that point on we'll keep going once a week until Andrew Waltfeld and Cagalli have their final showdown in the desert.
MURRUE: Infallible accuracy?? I thought you just usually shot all your weapons at random and they just happened to hit stuff.

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

rebel_cheese
Posts: 305
Joined: Wed May 02, 2007 7:43 pm
Location: Illinois, USA

Re: Gundam SEED: Bloodlines (Chapter 30 7/23/12)

Post by rebel_cheese » Sat Sep 08, 2012 12:09 pm

Okay took me a bit longer than a day but it's worth it, right? XD
______________________________________________________________________________________

Chapter Thirty-One: Walk

Melanie clung to me for the rest of the day, not that I was surprised by that. Even when she was being treated for the mild burn to her head by Hilda's gun, she didn't want me to let go of her hand.

"No, don't let go of me! Don't leave me here alone! Cagalli, please!"

Her voice was so heartbreaking that I stayed right there, holding her hand, as Melanie was treated and eventually released.

What a poor girl. How much suffering could a young girl take before it was just too much? I had a feeling that the thing that would push Melanie over was my own death. As long as I stayed alive, Melanie would be okay. At least until we finally, somehow, got back to Orb.

I didn't know what would happen to Melanie after that. I assumed that she had relatives of some kind that had to still be alive. She would probably go live with them. But who knew? Maybe she'd demand to live with me and my parents. That wouldn't surprise me at all, though, I doubt it would be possible if Melanie didn't have extended family willing to take her in.

As we left Jacqueline Grumman's office again, Melanie maintained her death grip on my left hand. She didn't say a word to me, but I knew what she felt like. And I, being her savior and basically her caretaker, was the only person left who could protect her.

"Feeling better?" I asked, finally.

"No," Melanie replied. "Not inside."

"I know. It's-"

"Cagalli, please. I don't want to talk about it."

"I'm just trying to-"

"I don't want to talk about it!"

She would want to. In time, she would want to. She was just a little kid. But I knew better than to push her on this. After all, I didn't want to talk about things either.

"All right. It's okay, Melanie. I won't let anything like this happen to you again."

"Please," was all Melanie said to that.

I knew she wouldn't want to go back to our old room. Not after what just happened. I was going to need to see the captain about a new place to sleep. One, perhaps, closer to the bridge or to the hangar, if possible. Where there were more people around. Where Melanie would always be surrounded by people even if I was not around.

I started walking towards the bridge, but then I saw Murrue Ramius herself.

She was glancing at a datapad, using a stylus to navigate some holographic display as we walked up to each other, but she wasn;'t so immersed that she forgot to look up. She spotted me as we were only a few feet apart and smiled. "Cagalli. I'm so glad you're safe."

"I've had a rough day," I managed.

Ramius pocketed the datapad and stylus. "I know. You and Melanie there."

Melanie's weight was shifting, and I realized she was hiding behind me, just a little. When even Murrue Ramius was scaring the girl, I knew this was not ordinary fear. This was trauma. And it was going to affect Melanie for a long time.

Damn Hilda.

"I just . . . I just wish there wouldn't have to be any more fighting," I said. "I'm done with it all."

"Like it or not, the war's going to continue," Ramius replied. "Lieutenant Badgiruel was talking about going with the resistance fighters to purchase supplies off the black market so the Archangel as well as Desert Dawn stay supplied."

"Count me out of that mission," I said.

"I wasn't even going to ask you," Ramius replied.

I thought about Badgiruel and that made me chuckle out loud. "Badgiruel wouldn't let me come along even if I wanted to anyway. I'm too valuable. What happened today proves it. I'm a target."

"Probably the target," Ramius replied. "So yes, I would think you wouldn't participate in anything requiring stealth or infiltration. You're just too valuable to put at risk in those kinds of situations."

"Nice to know I still mean something," I said.

Ramius sighed. "Cagalli, I'm honestly amazed you haven't broken down after everything you've been through. Just try to stay positive if you can. We are the difference-makers in this conflict. If anyone can defeat the Desert Tiger, it's us."

"The only way I think we can beat him is force him into direct combat and blow him up," I say.

Ramius chuckled. "Easier said than done, I'm afraid."

"I don't want to hear this anymore," Melanie said softly behind me.

Ramius sighed again. "I understand Melanie's feelings. Just keep her by your friends for right now, Cagalli. We are in the process of re-arranging your sleeping quarters right now."

"Thank you," I said, gratified that I was finally going to have time for myself.

But as Ramius walked past me, she put an arm on my shoulder. "You are working incredibly hard, Cagalli. Trust me, I understand this. I understand what you've been through. Just don't give up. I'm here if you need to talk about something. Anything."

"Okay," I said, kind of surprised she would say something like that. Murrue Ramius was no ordinary captain.

"Thank you. For that and for everything you've done so far," Ramius replied, and she walked away.

We were alone in the hallway, with nothing but complete silence. Finally, Melanie spoke. "She's a nice lady. Why can't more people be like her?"

How can I explain this to a little kid?

"Because every person is different," I finally say. "Some are like Captain Ramius, and other people are not. It's what makes the world the way it is."

"Okay," Melanie says, with a tone that suggests she doesn't want me to talk about this anymore either. It's something I'm happy to oblige.

But someday, I'm not going to be able to avoid the tough discussions with Melanie, or anyone else for that matter.

What will I say then?
***
The old phrase "war is boredom broken up by moments of terror" proved true for the next few days. The front quieted down, ZAFT wasn't making many moves, and we were all too happy to stand pat and try to figure out what to do next. Every time I was on the bridge, Ramius, La Flaga, and Badgiruel were all pouring over their battle plans with Sahib Ashman. There were not a lot of offensive plans being drawn up. Mostly, it was defensive, to try to find a way to trap the Desert Tiger and destroy him. I wasn't invited to take part, and honestly, I didn't want to. I didn't want to think of the war despite my uniform and environment, I was all too happy to take in these days of relative peace after all of the violence I had been through.

Flay continued to obsess over the training simulator, and I noticed she was starting to earn "C" ranks. She wasn't just getting the "D" rank for merely surviving a mission or completing an objective and getting shot down. She was starting to achieve mission objectives and landing her Mobile Armor successfully. She was developing her skills, and on one hand, that was admirable. On the other hand, it was scaring me. The old Flay, the facetious Flay, in all of her superfluous obsession over materialism and boys, was continuing to fade with each moment I saw her. It was getting to the point where she and Sai seemed to be spending more time apart than together.

My friends and I shared some small talk, but nothing truly involving. I must have seemed different to them, in some way. I wasn't the same person I was before this whole thing started. Kira was right. The Tassill fighting had changed me. I had some darker, edgier persona or something, or perhaps I had finally gotten the fabled "thousand-yard stare". I don't know. I couldn't see it on my face when I looked in the mirror. But maybe it's something that I was blind to, willingly or unwillingly.

Miriallia, for her part, was willing to keep an eye on Melanie when I simply could not keep an eye on her anymore. Petty Officer Kojiro Murdoch made it clear he didn't want Melanie running around the hangar with all of its machinery, and that meant whenever I needed to meet with Kira, Melanie had to stay behind.

Kira, for his part, was mostly doing small adjustments. He had managed to configure the settings well enough that I was in a comfort zone when I did simulated missions. The young man was a miracle worker, in my honest opinion. I would have been lost without his help.

But after five days, I was growing restless. The boredom part of the battlefield lull was leaving, and I was only getting stress in place of the boredom. I knew this wasn't going to last forever. I knew that at some point the Desert Tiger and I were going to have to face each other. Likely personally. I had a strong feeling that I was goin gto have to be the pilot who took care of the Tiger once and for all.

But then, my thoughts began turning to a person. The person surprised even me.

Hilda.

I wanted to see Hilda.

I knew she was being interrogated. Why wouldn't she? She had to know what the Tiger's battle plans were. But Hilda was maintaining a stern silence. It was only a matter of time before the techniques were going to get coercive, and there was an easy target of opportunity: Hilda's right eye. She had to know it too.

I wanted to talk to her. I didn't know why. Maybe it was because she was the only Coordinator on this ship other than me. Maybe it was because she just seemed to know something that I didn't. Like, maybe about me. Her interest in me before she had tried to kill me had been creepy before, and now seemed to set off alarm bells now.

Why? Why had she been interested in me?

I ran over to Captain Ramius the moment this popped into my head. Thankfully, it was a moment of solitude on the bridge. She was just sitting in her seat, staring at the midday sky, looking like she was a million miles away mentally.

"Captain Ramius," I said.

She stood up and turned towards me, and smiled. "Ensign Yamato. You've been scarce lately."

"I, uh, needed to be scarce," I said, feeling my face heat up as I spoke. I immediately felt embarrassed, small, in comparison to this woman. And I knew why.

"You shouldn't be ashamed," Ramius said, a kind smile etching itself across her face. "I understand why."

"It doesn't make it right," I said. "But this isn't about me. It's about Hilda Harken."

The smile faded. "What about her?"

"I need to talk to her."

Ramius' eyes hardened. "I think that is a very risky idea, Ensign."

"I-I know. But . . . I think I can get her to say something. About why she was here. What the ZAFT's plans are. I'm a Coordinator, remember?"

Ramius sighs. "Cagalli, if there's one thing I know you're not capable of, it is maintaining a masquerade. You are not a good liar. Your emotions and intentions show on your face and voice far too easily. She will never buy it, not in a million years."

Oh boy, she used my first name. She did that on purpose. She was letting me know that she knew me all too well. And I knew it too.

"I'm not talking about deceiving her or trying to seem sympathetic," I say. "I'm talking about just being myself. Up close, direct, and personal. No games."

Ramius raises an eyebrow. "Okay?"

"I know it seems weird, but I think I might be able to get her to say something, even if it's just a token, by just talking to her directly and not doing typical interrogation tactics. Remember, I made Hilda give up, Captain."

"You did. I'm still amazed that you succeeded," Ramius said.

"I think I can do it again, Captain," I said. "Just by appealing to her emotions and morals and whatever, just like I did over Melanie. It's not going to help that Sahib Ashman and his people are looming over her head."

Ramius sighs. "She has an almost irrational fear of them. I can understand up to the point. ZAFT has not won themselves many favors from Ashman's forces. The cultural differences don't help either."

"Then that's our ploy," I say. "Have the guards watching over her casually mention that some of Ashman's men are coming to interrogate her, give her a little while to sweat, but then I come in. She'll be nice and freaked out."

A smirk must have crossed my face, because Ramius' response wasn't what I was expecting. "Natarle Badgiruel would be proud, Ensign."

"Huh?"

Ramius' smile looked almost sad, as if I was some old friend about to walk away forever. "That's something like she would suggest. But in this case it would probably work, wouldn't it? I'll have the instructions passed down."

What was that supposed to mean? Before I could ask, Ramius sat back down in her chair. "You're excused, Ensign. Someone or I will let you know when it's time to execute your phase."

"Uh . . . yes, Captain Ramius." I couldn't help but feel like I had said or done something really wrong with my suggestion, but when I left the room, I realized why.

Badgiruel and Ramius did not get along. They were very different people. Ramius was honest, straightforward, and trustworthy. Badgiruel was ruthless, manipulative, and forceful. What I had done was suggest something out of Badgiruel's playbook to Ramius. Worse, I had said it so convincingly that Ramius couldn't come up with a good response to it.

I had studied human behavior extensively in my studies. It had never occurred to me how good of a manipulator I could be before.

And this was an example of how easily I could twist and bend people to suit my own plans.

For the first time since my initial space sickness, I felt bile rise in my throat and I nearly vomited right in front of the door to the bridge.

What was I turning into? Hilda . . . Hilda was a human being. What I had suggested doing to her was nothing more than torture. Psychological torture.

Badgiruel would be proud, all right.

No, I told myself. No. You're not going to turn into this person. You can't.

I wanted to march back onto that bridge and tell Ramius I had changed my mind, I didn't want to do it anymore. But my legs couldn't move.

The realization that what I had done was the only way to figure out why ZAFT wanted me so bad was stronger than the moral arguments.

No more, I thought. No more. This is the only time I'm going to do this. Ever.

I walked away from the bridge, hoping that the idle chatter I had suggested would be interpreted by Hilda as idle chatter, and nothing more.
***
That night, I was summoned by a couple of the soldiers who had been on Artemis, judging by their accents and different insignia. I was brought down into the brig, which held just one person, Hilda Harken. The brig was not a large facility, but there being only one occupant made the place seem bigger, and more eerie, than it should have seemed.

One of the guards told me "We have a recording device installed above her cell. You don't need to wear a wire. Just go in, do what you can. She has no concept of time in there, and don't give her any. We'll decide when to pull you out if you don't pull out by your own decision."

"Okay," I say, feeling sick to my stomach. The only thing that was keeping me from wanting to throw up was my self-assurance that Hilda was a soldier. A special-forces type. She wouldn't be broken so easily, would she?

"Good luck."

I walked out into the brig, and made a beeline for Hilda's cell.

There she was, staring into space. Confirming my worst fears, despair was etched on her face, a solemn resignation that made it seem like she was ready to burst into tears at any moment. Her only good eye turned and looked at me, and her lips trembling as she saw me made me realize that my hopes were useless. Hilda was already broken, by me. Doing what I had done had just made it worse.

"Ensign Yamato," she said, her voice soft, distant.

"Hi," I said. That sounded lame even to myself. "At least they've managed to keep your bandages clean."

"Yes, they have," Hilda said. "Luckily, my retina was not cut. My eyesight can be restored if I have emergency surgery. Unfortunately, my eye has been damaged for so long that there's no way to restore it unless I wind up under PLANT care. They have the technology to save my eye, Earth doesn't."

"I'm glad," I say. "That means you have hope."

"Hope?" Hilda asked, her voice growing even more softer. "What hope? I have no hope here."

"Ashman?" I asked.

"ZAFT, before Waltfeld came in and knocked some order into the troops, did not treat the locals here with much respect. Disdain at best, utter loathing at worst. The troops don't understand the Islam religion these people follow, they fear it, but then most of PLANT is-"

"'A nation of atheists', right?" I interrupted.

"Yes," Hilda said with a soft sigh. "I . . . I wish that Waltfeld had been in command from the start. If he had, perhaps Northern Africa would have followed the rest of Africa in supporting PLANT."

Most of Africa had opted to ally itself with the Coordinators. The reason was simple: Power. Africa lacked it. The Coordinators promised it. Africa was finally looking forward to rising, while the Western and Eastern worlds were looking to take an epic fall if PLANT won the war.

"I don't think what happened to Tassill will help any," I say.

"No. I don't think so," Hilda replies.

"What's Waltfeld planning?" I ask. "He has to have something up this sleeve to put Tassill behind him."

Hilda sighs. "You have a wire on you, don't you?"

"I don't. I am just worried. Worried that-"

"Then you have something in the ceiling listening in," Hilda says.

Before I can reply, she chuckles. "But it's okay. I don't know what Waltfeld is planning. I was not part of his unit, and not acting on his orders. My orders came from the highest echelons of PLANT itself."

"Wait, what?" I ask. "That far up?"

"You have no idea how badly PLANT wants you out of this war. You have not only destroyed a lot of expensive vehicles and killed some top pilots, but you are a public relations disaster waiting to happen, Cagalli Yamato."

I briefly wondered how PLANT would know who I was, and then I remembered. Athrun. Even if he didn't intend to leak the information out, his wingmates definitely knew who I was, and neither Yzak or Dearka had seemed like nice people and could've done a report behind Athrun's back. Or even if they hadn't, either their commander Rau Le Creuset or someone associated with him could have done it. This all stemmed from Athrun knowing who I was and blabbing it on public channels. ZAFT basically controlled PLANT at this point so it would take little time and effort for anything ZAFT knew to reach what essentially is a puppet government at this point, no matter how Siegel Clyne tried to persuade people otherwise.

"I break their 'unifed front' message, don't I?" I asked.

"You do," Hilda says. "Patrick Zala is really not pleased."

"Patrick Zala?" He was on the PLANT Supreme Council, a rival to Siegel Clyne. And Athrun's father.

Hilda looks at me sympathetically. "He is . . . let's just say unhappy with his son."

Well, if I were Athrun's father, I wouldn't be happy either. Athrun had done a multitude of crazy, unprofessional things trying to bring me over to his side. If I were the father, I'd kick Athrun's ass! But at the same time, from my own perspective, Athrun's actions did have some merit. Who wanted to fight someone he so deeply cared about?

"But it's more than that," Hilda continued. "Patrick Zala is eyeing Chairmanship. He's trying to usurp Siegel Clyne right now. The fact that his son has been trying to romance you back is well-known on the Council. You can imagine how embarrassing that is for Patrick Zala, especially with him taking the lead in forcing the marriage between his son and Lacus Clyne."

What Hilda was seeming to imply hit me all at once. "You're saying that Patrick Zala personally is trying to have me killed?"

"Chances are pretty high," Hilda said. "Either him or an ally on the Council. You represent a crack in the hard-liners' narrative, of all Coordinators uniting as a whole against the Naturals. Even before Zala began trying to take over the Council, it was a powerful narrative, one that Siegel Clyne adapted himself. Even Coordinators who had lived on Earth their whole lives, served in the Earth Forces, they have gone to the PLANTs almost as one besides some anti-war neutrals. Blood is stronger than planet, I suppose."

But then Hilda leaned in, almost so she was touching the force field between her and I. "But it's not just your political consequences, Cagalli Yamato. Zala in particular is scared of you. You've pulled off some incredible feats. Especially in your escape from Tassill. You gave everyone on the Supreme Council a collective heart attack, rhetorically speaking."

"So what?" I asked.

"You have no idea how special you are, Cagalli Yamato," Hilda says. "But then, neither do I. I only have an inkling."

"How much do you know?" I asked. "What are you talking about? "

"I said, that's all I know," Hilda says. "But don't think I'll be the last one to try to remove you by subterfuge means. I would be very careful until this war is over, even if this ship makes it to Orb."

It was all hitting me all at once. All of Hilda's odd behavior and mannerisms around me before she revealed who she was. The way Athrun had seemed to be getting more desperate by the encounter to get me over onto ZAFT's side. I was a priority target. One of the greatest threats to ZAFT in the whole war. And Athrun knew it, but didn't want to tell me so. He liked me, even loved me, but wasn't at the point of martyring himself for me.

"This explains everything," I said. "You've been waiting to kill me ever since you got onboard this ship."

"Well, my orders were that if I could convince a betrayal out of you, or at least get you out of the Strike, that would take precedence over outright killing you," Hilda says. But she shakes her head. "But I saw immediately that you don't have an ounce of treachery in you. You're too fiercely loyal to your beliefs and your friendships, to what you believe are your responsibilities. I respect that. I honestly do."

Her remaining good eye shimmered for a second. "I wish I was like you, to be honest. I did not want to betray the Earth Forces, but I felt that our kind was going to ultimately win the war. I knew there would be nothing for a blood traitor in the new Coordinator-dominated world, the same way Neanderthals were gradually exterminated when the type of humans now known as Naturals took over the Earth. So I gave up everything to show our kind, our race, that I deserve a spot in the new world."

The admission was moving, in a way. But also infuriating. Here was a woman who had compromised her entire life for a belief she didn't wholeheartedly agree with. No wonder she failed!

It also helped me connect the dots even further. It was clear now how Hilda had managed to infiltrate the North American Federation. She had been a member of it all along.

"So you tried to kill me instead," I said.

"Yes. Or try to get my hands on Prince Kira Yeley Athha," Hilda replied.

"Is the Supreme Council aware that he's on this ship?" I asked.

"No," Hilda said. "I was unable to report it to them."

She was telling the truth. There was nothing wavering or careful about her response. At least that was one bit of good news.

But it was clear I was not going to get anything out of her regarding Waltfeld. "So . . . this was all about me, wasn't it? What do you mean by 'special'?"

"I don't know. It was something offhand I heard during my debriefing. Something about your birth parents and how you were born."

This was the first time I had heard an inkling about my birth parents. Ever. They had been a total mystery to me my whole life. They gave me apparently nothing but my first name. Even my family name was based off of my adoptive parents'. I didn't know their names, what they looked like, what they did for a living, none of it.

All of a sudden, I wanted to know everything. It's natural, I guess, when you know you're adopted, to want to know where you come from.

"How much did you hear? What about my birth parents? How are they involved in this? Are they even still alive? Hilda!"

"I told you everything I know," Hilda said. "I'm sorry. I mean it when I say it's just an offhanded remark."

So PLANT was more aware of my past than I was. And that had unfortunate implications. Horrifying ones.

"They've been spying on me my whole life, haven't they?" I asked. "Watching me. Because I'm 'special', whatever the hell that's supposed to mean."

"I wouldn't be shocked," Hilda said. "That's what I mean when I say 'be careful'. I will likely not be the last infiltrator. I wouldn't even be shocked if PLANT has an agent who's been watching you the whole time, and is watching you right now."

The thought was sobering, and more realistic than you'd expect. ZAFT, after all, knew about what was going on at Heliopolis. The agent, or agents, they used to spy on Morgenroete's construction of the GUNDAM machines, and the manufacturing of the Archangel, could've been used on me too. Maybe one of them was on this ship too, just watching, waiting.

"What the hell am I?" I asked, not to anyone in particular.

"I don't know. You could be an ordinary Coordinator for all I know, but the Council sure seems to think you're not. Though it could all come down to your independent line in the end," Hilda said.

No. I'm not ordinary. I wish I was but I'm not. The seed was proof enough. It was not something anyone normal, whether Natural or Coordinator, could see. I was the only one.

Damn it, I just wanted to collapse in front of Hilda's cell. It took everything I had to turn and just start walking away.

"Thank you," I managed.

"Please . . . I hope it's enough to keep Ashman's men away from me," Hilda says.

"I hope it is," I say, not particularly caring that I was confirming Hilda's assumptions right then and there.

I forced myself to walk away, feeling worse than I had before this whole conversation started.

"Special". I was "special".

The seed. That had something to do with it, wasn't it? Was it some kind of program put into me? What if my birth parents weren't ordinary people, or had given me to people who were anything but? What if something was done to me?

The only gratifying part about all of this was that I was no ticking time bomb. If I was, I should've gone off by now. It only made sense.

But that was a small thing, that barely healed any of the wounds Hilda had just inflicted on me without meaning to.

Now all I was left with was questions about myself, about what I was.

Because, in the end . . .

There was no telling who or what I truly was.

But I knew one thing. I was going to find out eventually, whether I found out tomorrow or if it took decades. It was inevitable now.

And I had a feeling I was not going to like it.
MURRUE: Infallible accuracy?? I thought you just usually shot all your weapons at random and they just happened to hit stuff.

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

rebel_cheese
Posts: 305
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Location: Illinois, USA

Re: Gundam SEED: Bloodlines (Chapter 31 9/3/12)

Post by rebel_cheese » Sat Sep 15, 2012 7:55 pm

Chapter Thirty-Two: Smoke & Mirrors

The next day started with the first battle in nearly a week. I barely had any time in the morning to shower and dress before the alarms sounded. Hunger is something quickly forgotten in battle situations, I've noticed.

"There's four BuCUEs and a couple of squadrons of battle helicopters," Miriallia said to me right before I launched. "It looks like they're going to probe the southwest sector. Ashman's forces are going to join you, careful about friendly fire."

"You mean 'don't step on them'," I replied.

"Yeah, that."

Murrue Ramius. "Lieutenant-Commander La Flaga is going to ensure that there isn't a flanking manuever being made on us from other sector. Our anti-air will worry about the helicopters unless they get in your way. Just take out the BuCUEs, and let Ashman's forces engage any infantry or mechanized units until the BuCUEs are eliminated."

"Sounds good, Captain. Ensign Yamato, launching."

It was amazing how casual I made this all sound. Like I was ordering a sandwich.

As I took the Strike out and flew it towards the battle zone, I said "How much you want to be this is some kind of probing manuever?"

Natarle Badgiruel. "That's exactly what I think it is, unless it's setting up an ambush."

"I don't see how it could be an ambush, we have all of the cover, they just have sand."

Badgiruel's voice came in sounding more severe than ever. "You saw how fast that rebuilt Duel came at you, Ensign? I don't think that cover means anything with a GUNDAM that fast."

I knew she was right. It was scaring me how often I was finding her right these days. "I get it."

With the Archangel tailing behind me, I saw the battle zone, and Ashman's forces seemed to have jumped the gun. They were neck-deep in a fight against a few mechanized tank-like vehicles and a squadron of helicopters.

Badgiruel confirmed my thoughts a few seconds later. "Idiots! Don't they realize how difficult they've made it for us to engage now?"

"I'll clear a path for us," I said, and I aimed my gun at one of the helicopters. It was flying close enough to two others that I could eliminate a quarter of the squadron in just a few seconds. That would at least get the helicopters off of Ashman's back and force them to engage us, where they were at more of a disadvantage than picking on Ashman's fairly underequipped forces.

I aimed and fired, and then fired rapidly at the two others. They all exploded, and then I aimed at another helicopter and blew that up too. After that, the helicopters began to scatter and do far more random maneuvers. I had scattered them and made them panic, and that was enough for me.

"All right, where's the BuCUEs?" I asked. "They don't seem to be here."

"They're around here according to Ashman's communications," Miriallia said. "I think they're waiting for you."

"Lovely."

As I said that, I emerged from the rocky side where we had been hiding, and immediately my radar screen lit up.

So it was an ambush. Of me.

"They're right at the edge of the mountains! Don't come out!" I shouted as I quickly ditched my rifle and yanked out the beam sword. The Aile Pack's versatility really came in handy for situations like these.

One BuCUE attempted to charge me from the left, but I got the sword out in time to cleave it in half. Before I could even register the kill, another BuCUE tried the same thing from my right. I gave it a similar lethal punishment and then tried to reset myself.

The other pair of BuCUEs weren't going to make the same mistake their comrades had. They immediately blasted around the sand, one of them making an Ashman jeep flip wildly in the air after a collision, and they shot at me.

They were nuisance shots, but were going to add up if I kept taking the abuse for too long. I had landed, and despite Kira's modifications, the Strike was not as fast as the BuCUEs. It just was not mobile enough on the ground to be able to match the BuCUEs in speed, so I was just a walking titan, an easy target.

I immediately ran back to my rifle and snatched it up from the ground. The Strike was not a quick draw, but I got it up fast enough to blast one of the two remaining BuCUEs and left it with a big gaping hole in its left side, and it collapsed to the ground unceremoniously.

Miriallia. "Cagalli, the other squadron of helicopters is coming right for you."

"Keep them off of me while I fight the last BuCUE. It's the only one left."

Badgiruel. "We'll do what we can, but wipe out the last BuCUE quickly, our flak is not enough to keep them busy for very long."

"I won't need long." I accelerated the Strike then and charged right at the BuCUE, blasting away. At the same time, I tried to move it away from Ashman's forces, to prevent any other vehicles being crushed or flipped into the air, but despite my efforts another one was slammed into and it did about a half-dozen flips in the air before it crashed to the ground and exploded.

Why did Ashman's forces feel like they had to take the lead on this? They just didn't have the size or power to do much against ZAFT. We were by far the strongest element in their force, so why weren't we the centerpiece of the battle plan, instead of the support?

"The helicopters are making a beeline for you, Cagalli!" Miriallia yelled. "Hurry!"

"I'm trying! This last pilot is pretty good!"

I grazed the rear of the machine once, and the BuCUE did one last circle around me before it suddenly blasted away from me, and away from the battle. The pilot had clearly decided that one close call was enough.

I took aim at the fleeing BuCUE, and contemplated shooting it, but before I could make up my mind the BuCUE vanished behind a sand dune, and I relaxed a bit. Even now, after all this fighting, I still couldn't pull the trigger on a fleeing enemy. I guess that meant I hadn't gone full soldier yet, despite it all. I was still willing to show a tiny amount of leniency.

The helicopters, seven of them, came right at me then, but they didn't stand a chance. Not against me. Without much of a sweat, I shot them all down, and as the Archangel moved in, the remaining ZAFT vehicles withdrew, and things quieted down within minutes.

"That easy, huh?" I asked.

"Not easy at all," Murrue Ramius said, sounding solemn. "Take a look at what happened to that Ashman unit that engaged."

I did, and quickly realized there was a lot more dead and destroyed than anything else. The desert sands looked more like an unorganized scrapyard more than anything else, and if ten percent of that unit remained, that was a small miracle.

"Damn it," I hissed. Even though I had won an easy victory for myself, with my power level not even below seventy percent, I had still lost.

I still could not protect these people.
***
Ashman, of course, was furious. But not necessarily at us. "I knew he was too impulsive, but he had a charisma about him, he was a leader," he said of that unit commander. "But that's the last time I put somebody younger than twenty-five in that kind of position. He was way too confident in what his forces could do."

"What was his name?" I asked.

Ashman sighs. "He's dead. It honestly doesn't matter."

"The dead have names," I said. "I'd like to know his name."

Ashman gave me a look. "You do not dictate to me. If you wish to know his name, we will give a funeral service to him and all of the men who died in the battle as soon as we can, if you want to attend."

Murrue Ramius looked at me. "Ensign, please."

I was getting pissed off, and I couldn't figure out why. "I think the initial battle plan was too risky to begin with. I think all that's happening is that Ashman's forces are going to get killed no matter who's in charge. They just don't have the weaponry."

Ashman looked furious, but Ramius stepped in immediately. "Ensign, please don't make me ask you to leave. Be respectful."

Ashman sighed. "I actually have a plan to obtain the weaponry and supplies we need for more engagements. We're going to need to go out into the black market. It's booming right now, lots of sellers. A lot of pure terrorists and black operations going on against the Desert Tiger and they get their stuff from the sellers. I'm not proud of using these dishonorable people, but I know that us and you all need more supplies."

"We'll need to infiltrate the front lines in order to pull it off," Natarle Badgiruel says, surprisingly not arguing. "We'll need a distraction in the meantime so some of us can get into the cities Waltfeld has occupied."

"Let me guess, I'll be the distraction?" I asked.

"You're the best one we have," Badgiruel says. "I don't agree with this on a personal level, but I don't see another way. We expended a lot of ammunition on those helicopters."

Mu La Flaga sighed. "Not to mention that every couple of days or so we have some Earth Alliance soldier or two filter in from somewhere. That's cutting into the supplies little by little and it adds up."

Ashman frowned. "That's more potential Harkens."

"We're being much more thorough on the background checks," Ramius replied. "No more Hilda Harkens. Also, none of them have been pilots. Just special-ops types."

Ashman grunted, like he was skeptical of the notion, but he ultimately didn't say anything.

"Most were part of the unit sent to try to bring Ensign Yamato back to us, I've been able to vouch for their legitimacy," Badgiruel says. "I'm amazed they were able to survive the destruction of Tassill and work their way over here the way they have. There's no telling how many more of them could still be alive."

That fact shocked me. The truth was that I hadn't been paying any attention in regards to new faces popping up in the ship. Yet again, the Archangel was getting an even more diverse crew. Now, I guess, we were slowly getting an actual security force put together.

I wondered how many of those guards that I was starting to see walk around the ship were actual special-ops types. Maybe the two guards who had been protecting me from Hilda had been among those dropped onto Tassil.

"I guess I should really speak to them, huh," I said.

"We can arrange for that to happen if you want," Badgiruel says. "But for right now, we need to focus on the task at hand. We need supplies, and we need to figure out what our next move should be."

Badgiruel sighed. "And we have to consider the possibility that the battle may not have been an attempt to destroy the Archangel or the Strike, but to wipe out as much of your forces as possible, Sahib Ashman."

Ashman's eyes widened, and La Flaga threw in his two cents. "That's what I was thinking too. They only deployed the helicopters and BuCUE machines to keep the Strike and Archangel busy, I think. Despite all of the destruction, ultimately your forces took more casualties than ZAFT did."

Ashman punched his fist onto the closest console. "Damn it. That would be a strategy deployed by the Tiger."

Just as he said that, somebody charged onto the bridge. It was Ahmed, the teenaged soldier who had driven me here to the Archangel. "Sir! We have a messenger from the ZAFT forces who came under the white flag! They want to negotiate a prisoner swap!"

"What?" Natarle asked, stunned.

I think everyone else's reactions were precisely the same.
***
I followed everyone else outside, and quickly regretted it. The person at the head of the tiny delegation was the soldier who had tried to capture me at Tassil: the young man named DeCosta.

Seeing him made me freeze, and I knew he saw me as well. I thought about hiding, but as Murrue Ramius walked down the steps and towards DeCosta, I knew there was no way I could do that. Not at this point. Not when I had already blown his cover.

He did not address me, though. He faced Ramius first. "I am Colonel Martin DeCosta of the ZAFT forces in this sector. I believe you are the commander of the Earth Forces in this sector?"

Ramius seemed almost embarrassed. "Technically, Sahib Ashman is."

"Desert Dawn is its own entity," DeCosta replied. "They are a paramilitary unit at best, terrorists at worst. I'm describing official, ranked forces."

"I suppose by that standard that would be me. I am Captain Murrue Ramius," Ramius replied.

DeCosta sighed. "I am surprised you are letting Desert Dawn control the war effort for you. Then again, I am sure they threatened you with mutually assured destruction if you did not assist."

Ashman had been looking ready to boil over since DeCosta had started speaking, and now he finally had enough. "Get to your point, Colonel, before you are glad you will return back to your base in one piece."

DeCosta sighed again. "General Waltfeld wants a forty-eight hour ceasefire so we can negotiate a prisoner swap between our forces."

"You know we have Hilda Harken, then," Ramius replied.

"Yes. I see our suspicions are confirmed," DeCosta says with a sigh. "The city of Banadiya has not been damaged in this war. Waltfeld has a mansion by the city, he would like to meet with the commander of the Earth forces in this sector, i.e., you, Captain Ramius, along with one other representative. Desert Dawn is free to send a representative if they'd like as long as that representative is unarmed."

"You insult us," Ashman growled.

"We have no reason to trust you," DeCosta replied.

"Yet you trust the woman," Ashman replied.

"Not necessarily, but I believe she will follow military decorum," DeCosta replied.

"If this is about honor, I have not authorized any of the suicide bombings against your forces. Those are from unaffiliated groups," Ashman replied.

"So you say, but we have no reason to believe that either," DeCosta replied.

Murrue Ramius stepped in before Ashman could reply. "He's right. There's probably dozens of groups fighting him. Yours might be the strongest and you fight as guerrillas rather than as terrorists, but I have noted that some of the bombers claim to be from Desert Dawn."

"They are not. Not if they throw their lives away and kill our own civilians to kill the Tiger's forces," Ashman spat. "They're no better than the dog you're speaking to."

"Regardless, my commander has made up his mind on these terms," DeCosta says.

"What would be in it for us if we agreed to your cease-fire terms?" Ramius asked.

"You are free to move as you like for the forty-eight hours as long as there is no hostile action against our forces," DeCosta replied. "Resupply, rest, manuever around, so be it. But the moment anyone, including from Dawn, fires a shot against us, it's over."

DeCosta looked at Ashman. "Desert Dawn prisoners are also on the table here for Hilda Harken, so I would think twice about causing a disruption if you want any of those men and women back, Sahib Ashman."

Ashman growled again but ultimately said nothing. He knew he had little respect from DeCosta, or perhaps DeCosta was just pretending to have no respect to rile Ashman and Desert Dawn up a little.

All of this for one woman. Desert Dawn and Earth Forces alike. How important was Hilda Harken to them? Especially regarding she was just a Lieutenant? Though, just because she was a lieutenant in our forces didn't mean she wasn't of a higher rank in ZAFT's forces.

"What is the other representative that your commander officer wishes to meet?" Ramius asks.

DeCosta then eyed me, and my heart skipped a beat. I knew exactly what he was going to say. "General Waltfeld wishes to meet the pilot of the Strike." Needless to say, that didn't go over very well.
***
"We are not putting Ensign Yamato in such obvious danger!" Natarle Badgiruel shouted.

"A two-day ceasefire would allow us to get supplies from those black market places Sahib Ashman spoke of," Murrue Ramius replied.

"You're considering this. I can't believe it," Badgiruel said, her eyes wide with shock and anger.

"I've been looking at the layout of Banadiya," Ramius replied, her voice surprisingly calm. "I think Desert Dawn has a decent chance of infiltrating the city. If something were to go down, they could get Ensign Yamato out of the city and out of harm's way quickly if we coordinate well enough."

"But what about you?" Badgiruel asked.

"Unlike Ensign Yamato," Ramius replied, "We have a capable backup for me. You are more than able to command this ship if something were to happen to me."

Badgiruel's eyes widened again, not from anger like before but total surprise. "R-Really?"

I had never seen Badgiruel flustered like this before. If the situation wasn't so serious I would have found it amusing, and wanted to take a picture.

"Yes," Ramius replied. "I believe you are more than capable of commanding a ship in the Earth Alliance, Lieutenant-Commander Badgiruel. As a result, Ensign Yamato will have higher priority than me if something is to happen."

Ramius fidgeted with the pistol at her side, a pistol I wasn't aware had been at her side this whole time. "I will give my life to make sure Ensign Yamato returns, if it comes to that. And I'll take as many of Waltfeld's forces with me as I can."

She sounded so sure of herself, and when she turned and smiled at me, I realized she meant every word. I gave me a funny feeling throughout my whole body to realize that I meant more to Murrue Ramius than her own life.

"T-Thank you, ma'am," I replied, not knowing what else to say.

"I guess there's no persuading you, is there?" Badgiruel replied, sighing.

"I guess I'm a trusting fool to the end, Lieutenant-Commander Badgiruel," Murrue said, a soft chuckle after her sentence.

Mu La Flaga simply sighed. "I noticed I'm not under consideration to take over the ship."

"You don't want the job," Ramius replied.

"It was a joke," La Flaga replied, his eyes looking away.

"Please," Ramius said to Badgiruel, "Inform Colonel DeCosta that we accept the terms of the cease-fire, and that we will meet with Waltfeld in Banadiya tomorrow afternoon, under the condition that we bring a small guard along to keep an eye on Harken during the negotiations."

"At least you're showing a tiny amount of reason," Badgiruel said, sighing. "Not much, but at least it's better than nothing."

"Again," Ramius said, "If I am taken as a fool, I will make sure Ensign Yamato returns to this ship."

"I'm surprised we're not considering the possibility that Waltfeld could order a strike on the Archangel while her captain and chief protector are away," La Flaga said.

"Remember that their commander is away too, and will be vulnerable. Either Ensign Yamato or I can kill Waltfeld if it becomes clear there's been a violation," Ramius replied.

"I suppose so," La Flaga sighed.

"Then it's settled. Let's make our arrangements so Hilda Harken can be brought to Banadiya with us. Lieutenant-Commander Badgiruel, you are in charge of the ship and the resupply operation while I am away. Do whatever it takes to make sure we have enough to face Waltfeld head-on. That will probably be what it takes to end this," Ramius said.

"I understand, ma'am," Badgiruel replied, shaking her head.

And I was left wondering about what my day was going to be like tomorrow.
***
"You meant every word you said, didn't you, Captain?" I asked her when we had a moment in private.

"Yes, Cagalli," Ramius said, surprisingly using my first name. "I dragged you into this war and it's my responsbility to make sure you live through it. You deserve to go home."

"Captain Ramius, I . . ."

"It's all right, Cagalli. And you can call me 'Murrue' in private, if you wish," Ramius replied.

"Really?" I asked.

"Really," Murrue replied, smiling warmly at me.

She hugged me then. "I feel like I have done so many cruel things to you. I know you've turned into a different person, especially after what you've been through in Tassil. But I hope enough of the old you is left to know that I sincerely care about you and that I will make sure you and all of your friends return to Orb, no matter what happens to me."

"I . . . thank you, Murrue," I managed, feeling like my throat was being choked shut. It took me a moment to realize that I was starting to cry.

Murrue smiled at me as she separated but kept her hands on my shoulders. "It's okay, Cagalli. Is there anything you need to say to me before we get ready for tomorrow?"

"No, I . . ." It was so hard to talk, or even think, at that moment. It felt like the words were at the tip of my tongue but the tip was refusing to respond. "I'm just glad that . . . you're the captain."

Murrue chuckled. "I'm glad you're the Strike's pilot. Now please, get some rest. We have a long day tomorrow, Cagalli."

Possibly my last one, seemed to be her unsaid conclusion.

"Yes, Captain . . . Murrue."

Murrue just chuckled again. "You'll get it right eventually. You're dismissed."

"Yes Ca . . . Murrue, ma'am." I felt like such a little girl in that instant.

"See you later." Murrue left the bridge then, and I was along, staring at the locked-down, half-active instruments, thinking about tomorrow.

Why? Why did Waltfeld want to meet me? Why was that a condition for a cease-fire and negotiating a prisoner swap? What was his plan?

Did he consider me a prisoner too? The thought literally popped into my mind, as Hilda's words about how rare I was came to mind. What if ZAFT considered me an Earth Alliance POW as well, like maybe I was being forced to fight against my will?

That didn't make sense. Not if they heard my conversations with Athrun, which I was sure they had at that point. But maybe someone or something had convinced them it was a ruse or something? Or was I just coming up with a crazy theory that had no basis in reality?

All I knew was that Waltfeld had to have some reason in wanting to see me. Whether it was using me as prisoner swap bait, or to encourage me to defect, or some kind of "honorable, worthy opponent" drivel, I was going to find out soon enough.

And I had a feeling Waltfeld was going to be more naunced than I was imagining him to be.

It just seemed to be the most accurate thing about him.
MURRUE: Infallible accuracy?? I thought you just usually shot all your weapons at random and they just happened to hit stuff.

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

rebel_cheese
Posts: 305
Joined: Wed May 02, 2007 7:43 pm
Location: Illinois, USA

Re: Gundam SEED: Bloodlines (Chapter 32 9/15/12)

Post by rebel_cheese » Sat Sep 22, 2012 9:53 pm

Chapter 33 is being delayed a day because I seriously messed up Gundam SEED history which is discussed by the characters, and I am working to fix it right now.
MURRUE: Infallible accuracy?? I thought you just usually shot all your weapons at random and they just happened to hit stuff.

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

rebel_cheese
Posts: 305
Joined: Wed May 02, 2007 7:43 pm
Location: Illinois, USA

Re: Gundam SEED: Bloodlines (Chapter 32 9/15/12)

Post by rebel_cheese » Sun Sep 23, 2012 9:36 am

Chapter Thirty-Three: Eye of the Tiger

It was the most peculiar thing to see Murrue Ramius in street clothes. I was shocked we even had street clothes on board, though I guess we had some left over from the Orb civilians that by now were close to indistinguishable from the rest of the actual military personnel. No, they were indistinguishable. They all had military ranks at this point, just like everyone else. We were all soldiers.

Murrue seemed almost embarrassed when she saw me. "I haven't seen you wear those clothes since Heliopolis."

I was wearing the exact same outfit I had worn that fateful day. I hadn't even thought of that. "You want me to go get changed real fast?"

Murrue sighed. "No. We need to get outside and into one of Ashman's jeeps. His representative will be Ahmed."

"Ahmed?" I was shocked. The teenage boy, of all people? Why would Ashman put a kid at risk?

"Yes, I was surprised too," Murrue replied. "But it makes sense. No one could have survived Tassil if what I was told about it was true unless they were a serious fighter. I bet Ashman is thinking that Ahmed will look nonthreatening and unassuming to Waltfeld, so if Waltfeld pulls something, Ahmed will make him pay."

I hadn't thought of that. "I think that makes sense, that is, if Ahmed truly is a serious fighter."

"Let's hope so. We're both sticking our necks out here, seriously," Murrue says.

"I agree, and I think this is really risky," Kira's voice said from behind me.

I turned around. "Oh. Hi."

Kira sighed. "Both of you are not expendable in my opinion. I don't see why you need to travel all the way out to Banadiya and risk yourselves for a prisoner swap. Hilda has gathered valuable information about this ship. She knows I'm on it. I am sure that ZAFT has to know I'm onboard by this point anyway but in the off chance they don't we could have a major diplomatic incident."

"I actually have no plans on giving Hilda up," Murrue says.

Kira's eyes widened. "Really?"

"I am hoping to gather intelligence on Waltfeld. I am sure he wants to do the same with me and Ensign Yamato. Unless Waltfeld gives me a really favorable prisoner deal, which is a possibility, I intend on returning to the Archangel with Hilda and her knowledge well away from ZAFT."

I was shocked by Murrue's admission. "I've never seen you so devious before," I said.

Murrue chuckled. "I don't know how successful any intelligence gathering could be, but it's worth a shot. It depends how good my negotiation skills are . . . and yours."

"Mine?" I asked.

"You are a political science major, correct?"

Oh boy. "Yes, but I haven't used those skills this entire time."

"Yes, I'm aware of that. For example, you knocking out two of Garcia's teeth on Artemis."

I am sure Murrue intended to be funny, but being reminded of that just made me think about me letting Nicol go by to destroy the base. And considering that I did not laugh, or even smile, at that comment, Murrue quickly realized she had trod on dark ground.

"I'm sorry," she said. "I shouldn't be joking about those things, even in a graveyard way."

"You're right," I replied. "I'm not who I once was. I remember provoking Yzak Joule and the other pilots I faced by taunting them. If I had never crashed in Tassil, who knows? Maybe I'd find it funny. But I don't. I can't."

It was the closest I had come to talking about Tassil to anybody. "I killed people in Tassil, Murrue. Killed with a gun. I spent the whole time running and hiding in fear. I can't get it out of my mind, Murrue."

I felt a hand on my shoulder. Kira. "It's all right, Cagalli. You can talk about it with us."

I wanted to. So badly. But I knew I couldn't. "No. It has to wait until I come back. If I talk about it now I'll just fall apart. I can tell."

Murrue smiles at me gently. "I understand. C'mon, Ahmed is waiting at the jeep for us, he'll be driving us into town. Hilda is being transported by other Desert Dawn members who will keep an eye on her until we are done negotiating."

I was almost looking forward to meeting Waltfeld at this point. "All right. Goodbye, Kira."

Kira nods. "Goodbye. See you soon, all right?"

"I will, Kira," I said, and then I followed Murrue outside to where the jeep was. Ahmed gave me a casual wave, and I managed to wave back, but from the uncomfortable look Ahmed gave me, the smile I tried to show must have looked really fake and weird.

Not good. Not good at all.

It took me right until I was at the jeep before I realized something important.

I had never said goodbye to Tolle.

"Is something wrong, Cagalli? Did you forget something?" Murrue asked me as she got into the jeep.

"Yes," I said. "I forgot to say goodbye to someone. Tolle."

"Do you want to?" Murrue asked. "I know he should be up at the bridge right now, but I don't know for sure."

I thought about it. I really did. My heart pounded against my chest, and I realized that even if it risked the entire cease-fire and negotiations that I would regret it if I left without saying goodbye.

"I'll be right back," I managed, and I sprinted back inside the Archangel before Murrue could reply.
***
The extra fifteen minutes to say goodbye to not just Tolle, but to the rest of my friends and Melanie as well, took a big weight off my chest and shoulders as we drove right for the city. It wasn't like anything fancy was said between any of us. But it was something that I needed to do. I could not lose my friends. Not a single one of them. This war was not going to cost me that.

The worrisome part was Sai Argyle's absence from that, he was nowhere to be found. Neither was Flay. That made me dread whether bad things were happening between them, or whether Flay's obsession with the simulator was making Sai depressed and pout everywhere. No matter what the case, it was clear something was wrong.

I couldn't worry about it though. I really couldn't. There was no time to. I had my own problems to worry about. At least I had the back of the jeep to myself so it was easy to get lost in thought.

Ahmed was driving. He seemed remarkably cheerful despite everything. "I wasn't sure what to think about the ceasefire, but Ashman and your Lieutenant-Commander Badgiruel are planning a serious resupply operation. We're talking about getting supplies from the middle of ZAFT territory. We needed those things desperately."

"So you're saying it's a good idea," Murrue replied.

"Hopefully, as long as ZAFT doesn't sneak anybody into the mountains," Ahmed replied.

"What's Banadiya like?" I asked.

"It's mostly escaped the war," Ahmed said. "But if you go down certain streets you'll see that Banadiya did have a taste of it. We're probably not going to go down those streets, though. We're going to worry about just making it to Waltfeld and hope this isn't some sort of elaborate trick."

"So far, it doesn't look like a trick," Murrue replied. "I know Lieutenant-Commander Badgiruel is making things absolutely certain before she leaves, though."

Ahmed sighed. "The Tiger seems to be somewhat honorable unlike the rest of his brethren. Sahib has been tempted to take advantage of that in the past, but he never goes through with it. He is nervous that the Tiger will discard his honorable ways of doing battle if Desert Dawn does something."

"'Something' being what?" I asked.

Ahmed sighed. "Sahib doesn't want our land and our citizens to be completely annihiliated. We've already had Tassil destroyed last week. No more beyond that."

The implications made sense. "Okay," I said. "But what is Desert Dawn's plans once the Tiger is taken out of the war? How will you manage to take control and hold onto it? It's not just ZAFT you'll be fighting. I know the majority of Africa has taken ZAFT's side."

"That is something we'll worry about when the Tiger is eliminated," Ahmed said, his voice firm. "It's that simple."

"I don't know about that," I said. "The war is not going to end because the Tiger is dead. They'll find a replacement for him. The Archangel will be gone."

"We'll do what we've been doing the whole war," Ahmed said. "Fight harder."

Murrue turned to me. "What can I say? The kid's got his objectives."

I could tell she was joking, but it didn't seem very amusing. "I'm just worried about the future once the immediate conflict is over."

"We have to take it one step at a time," Ahmed said. "Can't get ahead of ourselves. If we do we're going to die. The only way to win is to beat the Tiger, then beat any replacement commander that arrives, and keep repeating it all over and over."

It sounded like to me like a recipe for endless war. I couldn't bring myself to say that to Ahmed, though. He had sounded so confident in that moment. Not cocky, either. Just confident in what he was saying. It must have been something Sahib Ashman must have said.

But I couldn't say that to Ahmed. "Well, let's beat the Tiger first and see what happens."

"Sounds like a plan to me," Ahmed said, grinning as he hit the accelerator.

I spent the rest of the trip hoping that Ahmed wouldn't flip the jeep over as we blasted through the desert.
***
"Mansion" was not the right word to describe the building where we were to meet Waltfeld. "Palace" was a far more accurate description. It looked like something from a long-ago, lost empire from Anno Domini that had nevertheless created something beautiful, lasting, and permanent.

"This is a building left over from the Ottoman Empire era," Ahmed explained. "Suleiman the Magnificent, actually. This was where he housed his African administration."

"That was a long time ago," Murrue said, caught up in awe at the tall, gorgeous temple-like structure that seemed to stand taller than any office building, no matter how tall the office building could possibly be.

"It was," I said. "But when you get down to it, Cosmic Era is young. It's only seventy-one years old. The oldest people on this Earth were still born during Anno Domini."

"There's not many left, and most of them were too young to fight in the Reconstruction War," Ahmed said. "We have one man, an imam, who did fight. He's sickly and borderline senile. Something unleashed in that war caused a massive sickness among those who fought, apparently, and infected them all. The symptoms are weaker in others, though."

"I wonder what infected them," Murrue said softly.

"I don't know. Everything from biological warfare to aliens to killer robots, you name it," Ahmed said.

The mystery of what caused the end of Anno Domini remains a great mystery to this day, and a lot of information regarding it is either lost or sealed away. I have the feeling that the truth is out there but somebody doesn't want us to know. As paranoid as that sounds, it's a fairly mainstream thought. Anyone who does a moderate amount of research into Anno Domini finds fairly consistent records up to the year 2307. Then things get sketchy, scattered, nonsensical, incomplete.

But it's clear something happened.

"Come on," Ahmed said. "Might as well head inside. We know we have Hilda secure. They may not allow me to keep a gun inside, but they didn't say anything about a radio so my friends can't listen in and tell me what's up."

"Smart thinking," Murrue said. "Follow me. I'll lead."

Trying not to feel small and insignificant in front of this small palace/large mansion, I followed Murrue up the stairs and to the front door.

That's when something went wrong.

A shriek from behind. A very familiar shriek. "It's you!"

I spun around to see the same girl who attacked me outside the ruins of Tassil.

There stood Asta Joule, and she was raising her pistol.

No time to react. No time to run. No time to do anything. I was helpless.

But just as she put her pistol in firing position, a woman with orange highlights in her dark hair and a stylish blue dress stepped in front of her, almost out of nowhere, and twisted Asta's right hand until the pistol fell to the ground.

"What's this?" Murrue asked, looking both shocked and confused as she had her own pistol out.

Asta was moaning in pain. "Aisha! Stop it! Stop it now! She has to die!"

"We are not breaking the cease-fire deal, Asta!" the woman replied.

"She killed my brother! She has to die! She has to-" All of a sudden, Asta began to cough into her left hand.

It sounded sick. Gooey. Like something seriously gross and substantial was behind it. The woman Asta had called "Aisha" backed away, as Asta covered her mouth as the violent coughs continued. Aisha stepped back, picked up the pistol, and nonchalantly ejected the clip and the bullet in the chamber as if it was a toy.

Finally, Asta's coughing fit ended, and she stared at her left hand for just a split second, before looking at Aisha. "Damn you, Aisha."

"This is why the general has not redeployed you on another mission," Aisha said. "Now, return to base. Immediately. Don't make me tell the general."

Asta glared at her, and glared at me. If looks would kill, I'd be hit with the force of a nuclear explosion. She was that enraged.

At the risk of speaking the obvious, negotiations with her weren't going to go anywhere.

Asta gave me a long, hard look. "You're dead, Cagalli Yamato. You just don't know it yet. You hear me? You're never getting out of this desert!"

"I can't wait to prove you wrong," I snapped back.

Asta looked ready to move right to starting a fistfight, but the moment she stepped forward, Aisha stepped inbetween her and the three of us. "Don't make me flip you like you made me do yesterday," Aisha said.

Asta scoffed. "You've made the general soft and that'll get you both killed."

Aisha chuckled briefly. "Hon, this is how the general has always been. Live with it."

Asta spun around and stomped away, her long silver hair swishing in the hot breeze. She did flip me off as she walked away. "This isn't over, Yamato! Believe it!"

After Asta crossed the street, and showed no intention of trying to get through Aisha, it was like a collective pressure had evaporated from around us. Even Aisha relaxed, and she sighed as she turned around to face us. "Go ahead, put your gun away, it's over. I'm sorry. She has been a handful, very difficult to keep in line."

Aisha looked mournfully down at her dress. "Unfortunately, I had to stop her, which means the dress I had carefully chosen for today's been ruined. Oh well."

It took me a moment to see that Aisha had torn a gash in her dress. I wondered how far she had to run to stop Asta before she violated the ceasefire . . . and killed me. This woman may have just saved my life.

"I owe you," I managed to say as Aisha walked past us.

"No. Andy owes me," Aisha laughs. "He's the one who wants to see you, after all!"

She paused. "Anyway, I'm Aisha. I'm essentially General Waltfeld's assistant, among other things. I'll guide you to his room where the negotiations take place. I know who you are, Cagalli Yamato. An oddly feminine name for someone who looks so boyish."

This again? I could not keep my teeth from clenching when I replied "My name is feminine because I'm a girl."

"Oh." Aisha blinked. "Awkward. Besides the whole screaming girl nearly killing you thing."

"You think?" I asked in turn.

Aisha sighed and turned to Murrue. "And you are . . .?"

"Captain Murrue Ramius of the Archangel, and I'd appreciate it if your soldiers showed more discipline. I was a couple seconds away from shooting your pilot," Murrue replied as she finally holstered her pistol.

"They all show discipline, besides Asta. I do not understand why we are stuck with her, unless the PLANT Supreme Council has a dark sense of humor," Aisha replied. She looked at Ahmed. "And I assume you are Desert Dawn's representative."

"That's right. I'm Ahmed."

"No last name?"

"I have family who live in occupied territory. You think I'd risk reprisals for my actions?" Ahmed asked.

Aisha sighed. "You think Andy and I far too cruel, though I understand your thought process."

"It's not about you and the Tiger. It's beyond that," Ahmed said.

"Confident little man, huh?" Aisha said, a knowing smile on her face. "I like that."

"I'm sure you would," Ahmed said, and I realized he was being dead serious. He didn't view this as an ordinary conversation. He views her as an enemy one-hundred-percent and doesn't want to waste time with pleasantries. Which is something I personally like. Cut through the bull and get to the point.

Perhaps sensing this, Aisha sighed and walked past us to the entrance and opened the door. "All right, come inside and follow me. Feel free to look around, but don't start wandering. You get lost, you're gonna be a P.O.W., no offense."

"None taken," Murrue replied. "We have no intention of straying from the path."

"That's good," Aisha said, and she began walking through the halls, and I followed her.

"What Asta's story?" I asked.

Aisha sighed. "She's a very sickly girl, though she's good at hiding it. Apparently she wasn't supposed to live past ten, but she's nineteen right now. Just has a weak body and immune system and a hideous cough from what I know."

"And you people let her fly," I replied.

Aisha shrugged. "Not my call. Apparently she passed all of the aptitude and fitness tests and there's nothing wrong with her eyes. I've seen her wash blood from her helmet visor, though. I think that whatever she was supposed to die from is catching up to her."

Now Asta's desperation to kill me was starting to make sense. This was beyond just avenging her brother. Asta was on a time limit. If she didn't kill me soon, she never would, and she would die and I could conceivably live for decades longer. I could imagine just how she felt, seeing a golden opportunity to kill me and having it be taken away by her own side.

"That explains why she wants to kill me so bad," I said.

"You don't know the half of it," Aisha replied. "The girl apparently promised her brother she would live to see him turn eighteen or something. Well, her brother's KIA all of a sudden. I don't like what she's doing, but I can understand it."

Great. Just great. Like I needed to be reminded that Yzak Joule is dead. He would've been dead regardless of destroying the Archangel or not, but I wound up killing him. And here was his sister, aiming to get revenge on me by destroying my machine in war.

So many, many ways she could try to kill me over the next few days. I was going to need to survive her somehow, survive this desert, and set off for home long before Asta Joule got her hands on me.

Aisha just shook her head. "Well, what can you do?"

Apparently, nothing other than killing her too. With that lovely thought echoing in my mind, we followed her, almost in silence.

We came upon a set of archaic wooden double doors, and Aisha knocked on them. "Andy? Your visitors are here!"

"Send them in! I've prepared kebabs and coffee," the strangely even, perhaps even affable, voice of what had to be Andrew Waltfeld, said from that room.

Aisha opened the doors and waved us inside. "Go on."

"I'll lead," Murrue said. I could see her arm getting somewhat close to that pistol she had. She was ready to shoot at the first sign of a trick. She meant it when she said she was ready to make sure I would get out of here one way or another.

Once I could finally move past Murrue and into the room, I saw a table with three plates and cups situated in front of us. And there, in surprisingly casual clothing, blue jeans and a red shirt with yellow short sleeves, was Andrew Waltfeld. Blue-eyed, brown-haired, undoubtedly handsome in a casual, almost slacker-ish type of way.

I admit it, I found him somewhat attractive.

"Ah, hello there," Waltfeld said, his voice still even and casual. "I assume you are my requested guests? You are Captain Murrue Ramius, correct?"

"Yes," Murrue said. "And you are the famous 'Desert Tiger'."

Waltfeld chuckled. "In the flesh."

He eyed me. "And you are Strike's pilot."

I felt serious deja vu going on. "Yes, I am."

"Your voice has a strange pitch. Sounds just a bit feminine. Not what I'd expect from a young man at all."

This time it was beyond clenched teeth, my fists were completely clenched shut as well. "That's because I am a girl, you dumbass!"

Murrue looked at me like the world was going to end. "Cagalli, please!"

But Waltfeld and Aisha's reactions were not anything normal. Instead, they just stared for a second, and they both started laughing. Uncontrollably. Like all of a sudden I was the most brilliant comedy act in the world.

"What? What's so funny?" I asked.

Waltfeld sighed and managed to get himself under control while Aisha was clutching her sides. "I can't believe it. It's true, just like the rumors say. There is a way to push your buttons."

"Huh?" I asked.

Waltfeld looked surprisingly devious the next second, and I realized that this was the real Desert Tiger. "Showing your weakness to an enemy is a grave mistake, Ensign Yamato. Like you just did right now. Unfortunately, I doubt it has any real application on the battlefield, but keep that in mind for future reference."

"How?" I asked. "How did you know?"

"Eh, just overheard something Lieutenant Zala said to someone else," Waltfeld said. "You know who he is, isn't you?"

I knew there wasn't any beating around the bush with that one. "Of course. He's okay, then?"

"Had some mild injuries but nothing dehabiliating," Waltfeld said. "I had to help him smooth things over with PLANT, though. I helped him make it seem that his goal was to recover the Strike more than rescue you. It worked, to put it succinctly."

"Wait a minute," Ahmed said, looked shocked. "You know a Coordinator?"

I realized that Ahmed and none of Desert Dawn had to know I was a Coordinator. And before I could reply, Waltfeld said "Kid, this girl, who is likely the only reason why Desert Dawn still exists at this point, is a Coordinator."

Ahmed looked at me, wide-eyed, and just sat down, looking like he was staring into space.

I realized immediately that Waltfeld had trapped us. Desert Dawn's trust in me could easily evaporate once word spread among them that I was a Coordinator. There was no way Ahmed would keep that a secret. If he went to Sahib Ashman first, there was a chance word wouldn't spread, Ashman seemed too practical to distrust me just because of my genetics. But if he went to someone else first? Possible total chaos.

"I will continue to fight for the Archangel," I said. Thoughts were spinning through my head as to how to minimize any damage. "Don't even waste your time trying to get me to defect. It's not happening."

"I'm aware of it. I didn't call you in here because I wanted to encourage a defection," Waltfeld said coolly.

"Oh yeah?" I asked, skeptical.

Waltfeld's eyes lit up, and it was a look I was quickly relating to his image as the Desert Tiger. "I wanted to see you because I wanted to get a good look at you. It's been a long time since a soldier as talented as you are faced my forces. You are my first worthy opponent since I knocked Eurasia out of the African front. That means something."

"I'm a 'worthy opponent', huh?" I asked.

"That's right. And now I have a confirmed way to get under your skin, boy," Waltfeld said, putting just a little bit of mocking venom underneath the last word.

Even knowing that he was purposefully taunting me, I still had to fight an urge to deck him. But I forced myself to keep the violent emotions down. Not give him the satisfaction of knowing that he and Aisha combined had infuriated me for the third time in about ten minutes.

Murrue, perhaps sensing I was struggling not to blow, intervened. "We are here for business, General. It is time we began talking."

"Yes," Waltfeld said, and he sat down behind the table. "Here. The kebabs are finished, complete with delicious yogurt sauce, along with my special blend of coffee. We can-"

"Can you guarantee they're not drugged?" I asked.

Waltfeld stared.

"Prepare the food again, in front of us. There's no way to tell that the food's been drugged or poisoned or what," I said.

Waltfeld now almost looked like he was pouting. "You don't trust me?"

"You're the enemy, General," I said. "It would be the easiest way to remove Captain Ramius here and I from the war and violate the cease-fire and knock both Dawn and the Archangel out in no time flat. I'm sorry, but my trust level is rather low, all things considering."

Aisha whistled from behind me. "She's got ya there, Andy."

"These are cold times, aren't they?" Waltfeld asked wistfully. He sighed. "Fine. I'll start over again. Happy?"

"Yes," I said. "And I want red sauce."

"You can't be serious, red sauce?" Waltfeld asked, his face stricken.

So, I had found a button to push with him too. "Yes. Red sauce. We're talking spicy marinara here. Not of that crappy yogurt sauce with me."

"Damn it, you are missing some important taste buds," Waltfeld said, and for a moment, we didn't seem like enemy soldiers. Almost like we were at some party or something.

But it was just for a moment.

But I was shocked that I found myself wishing that the moment could last forever.
***
Waltfeld dutifully gave his food away to some of his guards, and restarted. It wasn't long, though, before I saw something on one of his shelves. "Isn't that the fossil that George Glenn, the first Coordinator, found all those years ago?"

Waltfeld chuckled. "It is. Proof of alien life. Incredible, isn't it?"

"It is," I said.

Murrue folded her arms. "I have always wondered why the fossil didn't trigger more interplanetary exploration."

Waltfeld shook his head. "It could be for anything. It's said, though, that there's a reason why we haven't gone back to Jupiter. I've been hearing a few things."

"Like what?" I asked.

"Did you know that the GUNDAM you're flying is not the first one ever made?" Waltfeld asked.

"What?" I replied.

"Well, that's one of the rumors. GUNDAMs, or something similar to them, have existed for a long time, or did, anyway. But they vanished. Or were destroyed. During that lost period from before the Reconstruction War or during it, they vanished. But like the cyclical creatures we are, we inevitably rebuilt from our old ideas."

"Those are rumors, theories," Murrue said. "There's a lot of them. They're conspiracy theories at best."

"Are they?" Waltfeld asked, presumably rhetorically. "There's a lot of what happened that we just plain don't know about ourselves anymore, Murrue. But let me ask you this. You know of the Type S2 influenza that broke out years ago, in the wake of George Glenn's assassination, correct?"

"Yes," Murrue said. "A lot of Naturals died. It could only infect Naturals, not Coordinators."

"But the Type S2 was not the first one of its kind. It's a mutant strain that infected Naturals and Naturals alone. There was an earlier influenza, the Type S. Who did the Type S infect?"

"I don't get your point," Murrue replied.

Waltfeld sighed. "Perhaps I am too bored sitting here in this mansion, but I have always wondered from the rumors about the Type S influenza that broke out during and after the Reconstruction War. If the Type S2 could only infect Naturals, who did the Type S infect? Why was the first Coordinator born so soon after the Type S influenza pandemic? And why have we never gone back to Jupiter?"

"You can't be going with the 'aliens' theory again," I said.

"There's rumors that we did come in extraterrestial contact of some kind," Waltfeld said. "And that something happened. That we became an 'innovative society'. But the 'innovative society' all of a sudden ceased to exist, and we slaughtered ourselves in a senseless war that concluded in nuclear warefare. I think that humanity was changing. That there was a precursor to Coordinators, based on this 'innovative society'. But something happened to them . . . perhaps the same thing that happened to this alien race that left this fossil behind on one of Jupiter's moons."

Waltfeld just chuckled. "But it's all theories when you get down to it, I agree."

I couldn't take any more of the gibberish. "Why do you buy into this stuff?"

"Just because I find it interesting doesn't mean I buy into it," Waltfeld said. "But it's fun to think about once in a while. And scary. When you think about it, I'm implying we're all being played like puppeteers right now."

"Well, how about this?" Murrue asked. "How about we get started on the negotiations, and we'll see who's playing whom here. I'm not worried about this theories you're spouting."

"I did not think you would," Waltfeld said. "Fine. Let's get it over with. As long as we have dinner."

Murrue proceeded to do exactly that.
***
It was over fairly quickly. Thirty people, ten Earth Alliance, twenty Desert Dawn, for Hilda. With the handshake deal, we prepared to depart, but Waltfeld had some parting words . . . and an action.

"You may think that what I said when I was remaking dinner to be wild conspiracy theories," he said. "And that's all they may be. My point was the never-ending cycle of war and destruction. We have already done something calamitous to ourselves, and that much is confirmed. Do we want to do it all over again?"

"You think this war may be as bad as the Reconstruction War?" Murrue asked.

"It potentially could, yes."

Waltfeld then pulled out a gun and aimed it right at Murrue. I nearly did the same but Murrue shouted "Wait!" and I stopped automatically, without thinking.

Waltfeld continued talking. "For example, I could make this war much worse by pulling the trigger right now. It would be following the military creed. Kill the enemy whenever you see him . . . or in this case, her."

There was a brief pause. Waltfeld's grip was strong, there was no sign of any wavering. He had shot and killed people before. There was experience in his eyes and in his stance.

Murrue sounded just a little nervous as she edged slowly in front of me. "But you're not."

"No. Sometimes I wonder if there's a better way," Waltfeld said. "That is my point."

He pulled the gun down. "Get out of here. I will honor my end of the agreement until the cease-fire expires. I have gotten what I aimed to do, and thirty prisoners are now free, and they will be transported to the edge of the location DeCosta spoke to you at. I will see the three of you on the battlefield, and it will be different there. That much I can promise you."

Murrue nodded, in this quick, edgy fashion. "I understand. Come on Cagalli, Ahmed."

"Okay, I said, and I followed her out the door. Ahmed, who had been silent the whole time, just listening, stayed so as he walked out behind us.

He could have taken us prisoner. He could have killed us. He could have done a multitude of things. But he had held up an honorable agreement and it gave us thirty people back on our combined side. He was a strange soldier.

There weren't many like him anymore.

And I had the feeling that there weren't going to be much more like him. Not if his implied prediction of this turning into another Reconstruction War panned out.

But he and his implied predictions were about to die, or I and my friends would die instead.

Given the choice of the known versus the unknown, I will choose the known. That's my friends, that's my GUNDAM, that's the Archangel and every living soul on that ship.

And that meant one thing: that the Desert Tiger was going to have to die.
________________________________________________________________

I would really appreciate some feedback here. It's been silent here for the last few postings.
MURRUE: Infallible accuracy?? I thought you just usually shot all your weapons at random and they just happened to hit stuff.

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

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Vent Noir
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Re: Gundam SEED: Bloodlines (Chapter 33 9/23/12)

Post by Vent Noir » Mon Sep 24, 2012 6:46 am

I like it. You're a better writer than me (and faster too).

Wish I could offer more constructive criticism than just that.
Vent Noir

@AJDynon on Twitter

April 7, 1979: The first episode of Mobile Suit Gundam premieres. Fanboys declare Gundam "Ruined FOREVER".

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Re: Gundam SEED: Bloodlines (Chapter 33 9/23/12)

Post by rebel_cheese » Mon Sep 24, 2012 11:35 am

Vent Noir wrote:I like it. You're a better writer than me (and faster too).

Wish I could offer more constructive criticism than just that.
It's okay. I'm looking for constructive criticism not just from a writing perspective, but from a Gundam perspective, and whether some drama has been essential or needless, etc.

I'm trying to go pro, and I should say that a lot of these chapters are already written. I've been establishing a buffer in the previous months.

Anyway, we all love birthdays. You get stuff. Well, today's my birthday. I'm 25, but I'll do the gift-giving. Here's the next chapter of Bloodlines.
______________________________________________________________________________________

Chapter Thirty-Four: Overexposed

It was twilight when we returned to the Archangel. Tomorrow, the cease-fire was effectively over. I had a strong feeling that Waltfeld was going to want to finish the battle and quickly, before we could have a chance for our re-supplying operation and re-organization to have any kind of tangible effect. It would not surprise me at all if Waltfeld struck the minute after the cease-fire's expiration.

A few minutes out, our collective silence was broken all of a sudden by Murrue. "Ahmed, I'm going to need to ask you to keep silent about Cagalli being a Coordinator. I know there are heavy anti-Coordinator elements in Desert Dawn. But if Cagalli dies, that hurts our ability to both attack and defend."

"I'm going to tell Sahib," Ahmed said.

"Ahmed, please-"

"He has to know. I'm sure he's figured it out at this point anyway but he deserves to know for sure," Ahmed said firmly. "I won't tell anyone else but I have to tell Sahib."

As much as I hated to admit it, that seemed as good of a compromise as any. Sahib Ashman didn't seem to be that much of a radical when you got down to it. He was more interested in fighting a traditional guerrilla war, basing his ideals in lofty subjects like freedom and justice, not in hatred and genetic racism. He probably would do exactly nothing about me being a Coordinator. He could look at me differently and treat me differently, but fundamentally, he would do nothing. He knew I was too valuable.

Murrue, perhaps thinking the same thing I was, sighed in defeat. "I understand. But again-"

"Cagalli is too valuable, I know," Ahmed said. "I saw her fight. As much as Sahib would like to be the one to do it, I think Cagalli's the only person capable of defeating the Tiger."

"You mean face-to-face, not in strategy, I assume," I replied.

"Exactly. I have seen the Tiger fight personally. He uses a special machine called the LaGOWE. It is a terrifying machine, it slaughtered the Eurasian forces when they tried to assist us last year. I think you have a good chance at beating it though. But only you."

His grip on the steering wheel got tighter. "I know you're our best hope. You two are idiots if you think I would jeopardize that. I'm just saying that my commander, who has gotten us this far and has resisted and sacrificed so much, deserves to know."

"I get it, Ahmed," I said. "I get it. Just pay attention to where you're going. I don't want to flip over on a sand dune."

Ahmed chuckled softly. "Yeah, that would be bad, wouldn't it? What an anti-climactic way to go, wouldn't it?"

"'Anti-climactic' would be an understatement," I replied.

"I would prefer not to talk about our demises, anti-climactic or not, right now," Murrue said.

Ahmed sighed. "Yeah. Neither would I."

Murrue shook her head. "Waltfeld is very likely looking to sow some kind of discord in our ranks by saying what he did. That includes telling you, Ahmed, that Cagalli is a Coordinator. That includes the conspiracy theories too. Suggesting that the Earth Alliance was hiding the full extent of the Reconstruction War, and any previous existing GUNDAMs, from us . . ."

"For all we know, he could have been telling a story of pure fiction," I said.

"That's right. He's the enemy. Keep that in mind," Murrue said.

Ahmed looked down. "But he was telling the truth about Cagalli being a Coordinator, wasn't he?"

"He is, but he's hoping that you'll tell it to unsavory individuals who will want Cagalli dead in spite of her being their best hope for victory," Murrue said. "That's what I'm talking about here."

"I'll be careful," Ahmed said softly. "I promise."

I don't know whether Ahmed was telling the truth or not myself. All I could do was try and trust him. Trust that he'd do the right thing.

If I could not do that . . . what would that mean for me? For us?

Nothing good, that was for sure.
***
I was shocked to see Tolle in the hangar bay when we pulled up, and everyone was looking at the Skygrasper simulator, which had some dents in it that hadn't been there before.

"You're back!" Tolle said. "How'd it go?"

"We got thirty prisoners in exchange for Hilda," I said. "Not a bad haul, I think. They're all Eurasian and Desert Dawn though. I wouldn't be surprised if I have to play translator for the Eurasian prisoners."

"Well, that's good, I guess. I hope they can do important ship-type stuff," Tolle said, a goofy little smile crossing his lips.

"All I know is that they're not pilots," I said. "Waltfeld was adamant about not trading us pilots. He didn't care if they were other officers."

"So it's just you and La Flaga still, huh," Tolle said, looking past me for a second, at the Strike.

"Yeah, for now." I looked beyond Tolle then, and saw Kuzzey just staring at the dented simulator.

"Uh, what happened there?" I asked.

Kuzzey looked at me. "Oh. You're back."

"Have been for the last few minutes. What's up?" I asked.

"Well," Tolle started scratching the back of his head again.

Suddenly, it hit me. "It involves Flay, doesn't it?"

Kuzzey and Tolle both laughed uncomfortably, and Kuzzey spoke next. "Yeah. Flay got an "A" ranking on a mission, and when Sai heard about that he didn't take it very well. He came stomping to the simulator while Flay was still on the machine and started whacking it like a crazy dude."

"Oh geez," I said. So Sai and Flay had a pretty nasty breakup over a broken simulator. Why were Kuzzey and Tolle acting so funny? It's just a breakup, right?

Wrong. "Flay started screaming at Sai to stop, and Sai wouldn't stop, and then Flay tackled him and starting pounding the crap out of him. We're talking complete epic beatdown," Kuzzey said.

"Yeah. One-sided, I should add. She put Sai in the doctor's office," Tolle said. "Flay's been thrown into the brig, obviously."

"She's gotten really scary. It looks like she's been working out too, her arms have some definition," Kuzzey said, his voice trembling. It took me a moment to realize he was scared. Scared of Flay. "The old Flay wasn't able to just beat someone up."

"Yeah, she wouldn't even think about doing that before," Tolle added.

Okay. This was officially going out of control. This was far beyond anything I ever expected out of Flay. And Sai probably hated me beyond belief right now too. After all, I had done this to Flay. I was the one who put her in the simulator in the first place!

Damn it, all I wanted was to keep Melanie away from Flay's dark, prejudiced words. And instead, I had this. Somehow, it was even worse.

"Are you all right?" Tolle asked me.

"No. This is all my fault. I put Flay on this stupid machine."

Tolle put a hand on my shoulder. "There's no way you could've known."

"It doesn't matter! I'm still the one who's responsible for this! I have to stop it now!" I said.

"Geez, don't meltdown too!" Kuzzey said, scurrying away from me a bit crab-walk style.

"Sorry," I managed, and I forced myself to take a deep breath and exhale. "All right . . . take me to Flay. Please."

"You're serious?" Tolle asked.

"I need to talk her out of this. This isn't the first time she's turned violent. I dunno if either of you know this, but you know about Hilda Harken? How she only had one eye after being outed as a traitor? Flay slashed her other eye."

Kuzzey gave me a frightened look. "Eee! Just keep her away from me, man!"

"You think you can stop her?" Tolle asked.

"I don't know. But I have to try. It's my fault," I said.

"Well, if it means anything, Flay's always struck me as like the first girl at college who'd go nuts if something big went down," Kuzzey said, with a weird little chuckle. "Maybe it was inevitable maybe sorta."

"I'm the one who put her in a position to fly a Skygrasper," I said. "And if she has an "A" ranking after just two weeks on that simulator, clearly she has potential to actually qualify for training. Do you want to someone who's 'nuts' flying a Skygrasper?"

"That wouldn't be cool," Kuzzey said, in yet another understatement of the day.

"No. It wouldn't." I turned back at Tolle. "Take me to the brig."

"Uh, okay?" Tolle said, looking mighty uncomfortable. I didn't blame him.

I was going to need to take him out on a date, even if that meant just lounging around the Strike eating meal bars. Anything to loosen the tension that had to be building.

Last thing I wanted was for me and Tolle to wind up like Sai and Flay.

Well, besides all of us dying, anyway.
***
"I am getting so sick of walking inside the brig," I said as Tolle and I came up on it.

"I'm just glad there's no guards around. They must be kinda busy doing something else."

"Just keep watch, and bang a bell or something if somebody's coming," I said. "Some way to give me a warning. I don't want to get in trouble with the captain or Badgiruel for doing this."

"Well, I don't want to get in trouble either, but I'll try," Tolle said.

"That's all I can ask for." Perhaps it was too calculated of me, but I kissed him on the cheek. I hadn't shown Tolle much affection since I had rejoined the crew a couple of weeks ago, and I knew I had to remind him where my heart was. That Athrun hadn't stolen it, and that Tassil hadn't corrupted it.

He was my boyfriend, and that couldn't change. Not for any reason.

"Thank you," I said, after my quick kiss, and I took off into the brig just as Tolle's face started turning red from embarrassment.

It didn't take me long to find Flay. Unlike Hilda, who looked disoriented and unnerved, Flay looked oddly calm, still. Almost at peace.

One of her uniform sleeves were torn completely off, and I saw what Kuzzey had seen. She had built up her arms. It wasn't a dramatic change, but it was a noticeable difference from how she once was at borderline-skin-and-bones. Still, there was no way she should have made even this amount of development in just two weeks.

She had to have taken something. A drug. I don't know if it came from Dawn or somewhere on the ship. But that would explain it.

Flay looked at me, and her disheveled bangs covered up the eye closest to me as she cocked her head just a bit. She smiled ever so slightly. "Hello."

Okay. As far as "Hellos" go, that was moderately creepy. "Flay, what did you do? I've been hearing that you really beat Sai up."

"Sai?" Flay chuckled briefly. "He was trying to hold me back. Stop me from getting my revenge on the Coordinators. He could've just said something, but no, he just started attacking the machine ranting about god-knows-what. I had to stop him before he broke the machine, so that's what I did. I stopped him."

"You beat him up pretty bad," I said.

"He deserved it," Flay said. She got up and stared right at me. "He truly didn't understand. He didn't want to understand. He wants to control me. He wants to manipulate me. I'm not going to let him do it, and I'm not going to let you do it either."

Not good. Not good at all. "Flay, please-"

"I know what you're going to say. 'Stop trying to train'. 'Stop what you're doing'. 'Just try to go back to normal'. Well, guess what, wonder girl? I can't!"

I could only stare as Flay began to scream at me from behind the bars, tears starting to roll down her face as she continued. "I can't go back to normal! I can't, I can't, I can't! This is all I have left to live for, Cagalli! Avenging my daddy! Avenging all of the Naturals those monsters at ZAFT and PLANT have massacred for forever! You've given me the only way I can get justice for my daddy and now all of a sudden it's a bad thing? Tell me, tell me, how the hell does that make sense? Huh? What do you want from me?"

"Flay, calm down," I said. I actually backed away a step, even though there was no way Flay could reach out and grab me. But Flay was being so forceful that she was actually scaring me. "This isn't going to help you. But you need to take a break before-"

"I can't!" Flay shrieked. "I have to do this, Cagalli! I have to! There's no other way for me! I am not going to sit here and scrub toilets forever! I'm going to go out there and . . . and . . ."

She fell onto her hands and knees, and her voice lost a lot of strength. As tears continued to pour from her eyes, her words became increasingly difficult to understand. "P-Please, Cagalli . . . p-please . . . please . . . I have nothing left. Nothing. I-I don't even think I can . . . it's all . . . just absolutely . . . absolutely . . . nothing. T-There's no one . . . no one here . . . t-they all . . ."

I looked at the button that would open the door. Damn it. I knew what I was going to have to do.

Flay just put her hands to her face and began sobbing as she started to curl up into a ball.

There was no way I could let her do that. Not even Flay deserved to cry alone. I opened the brig doors, grabbed her, and hugged her.

"W-Wha?" was all Flay could say as I embraced her.

"You need to let it go," I said. "Please. Take a break from the stupid simulator and think about your life for a while. Look at what you just did. You put your boyfriend in the hospital, basically."

Flay's only response was to sob into my shoulder.

How the hell did this happen? Since when would Flay cry to me, the girl she mocked so relentlessly on Heliopolis?

But I knew the answer, and I realized it as Flay continued to wordlessly cry. I made it happen. All of it.

Moments later, I heard footsteps. They did not sound like Tolle's. He was unable to give me a warning, then. Not that I could blame him.

I heard the guard's masculine, rumbling voice behind me. "Step away from her."

I looked, and while he didn't have his gun out, he sure looked ready to.

"She needs a shoulder to cry on. Do you mind?" I asked.

The guard gave me the weirdest look I've ever seen on a man's face.
***
"Unbelievable. Twenty minutes back on the ship and you're pulling stunts like this," Badgiruel said as she marched around Tolle and I.

"Look . . . you can't exactly blame Cagalli, can you?" Tolle asked.

"Yes, I can," Badgiruel snapped. "Ensign Yamato may have introduced Seaman Allster to the simulator, certainly. But Seaman Allster didn't need to turn Seaman Argyle into a human punching bag, either. That is not Ensign Yamato's fault. That was Seaman Allster's choice and her's alone."

"That's not the point, ma'am," I said. I wasn't comfortable with military protocol at all, but Badgiruel was a real stickler about it. I knew better than to speak informally to her. "What I did directly led to what Seaman Allster did. So it is my fault."

Badgiruel sighed. "Last I checked, Seaman Allster has free will. You haven't done any kind of brainwashing or direct mind control over her, have you?"

"Is that even possible, ma'am?" I asked.

"No," Badgiruel said. "So you know what, it is Seaman Allster's fault she has been thrown into the brig and could very well face a court-martial if the captain wills it. And the both of you ought to receive some kind of punishment for breaking into the brig and, even worse, disengaging the barrier that keeps the prisoners inside the cells without permission. If she had attempted to escape, the both of you would be aiding and abetting a fugitive even if that was not your intention."

Everything Badgiruel was saying was making my head feel like it was spinning.

I was able to clear my head enough to say "Look, I have to help Flay. I don't think we have any therapists onboard, do we?"

"What I think is that you're exposing yourself way too much risk lately," Badgiruel replied. "I don't know your full history with Seaman Allster, but from what I have seen you two don't get along so well. Then there's the whole meeting with Waltfeld earlier today, and I'm still half-amazed you returned from that. Then there's the potentially messy issue that could happen any day, a.k.a. if Desert Dawn finds out you are a Coordinator. It's too much all at once."

"In other words, you think I'm pushing my luck."

"Finally, you understand. Thank you!" Badgiruel exclaimed in this theatrical way I had not seen from her before. "Yes, that's exactly it! Ensign Yamato, you are the most valuable soldier we have onboard and you have not been conducting yourself that way. It's time you stopped pretending that you're some ordinary pilot. You're not."

"That doesn't mean I should just let Flay rot in a cell, ma'am!" I replied.

"Maybe once she cools off and realizes the flaws behind her actions, we'll let her out. Though the simulator is off-limits to her from this point onwards," Badgiruel said. "A shame, too. An "A" ranking so quickly . . . she could have been a brilliant pilot."

Something told me that Badgiruel was prepared to soften her stance if Flay actually proved she could fly. Badgiruel was by-the-book but she wasn't impractical, in the sense she was going to do what it took to win battles and eventually the war.

"I just didn't want to see her cry anymore. She's in a lot of pain and I felt that if . . ."

"Your sympathy is noted, Ensign Yamato." Badgiruel sighed, and looked at the both of us. "Damn it. If the situation wasn't so serious, I'd throw the book at both of you, metaphorically speaking. But I can't. We're in an emergency situation, even with the resupply op. We will be as long as we're stuck in this desert."

"So just a warning?" Tolle asked hopefully.

Badgiruel sighed again. "Yes."

"Whoo-hoo!" Tolle exclaimed jumping from his seat.

Badgiruel cocked an eyebrow. Tolle's grin turned embarrassed as he sat back down. "Oops."

"Yes," Badgiruel seemingly deadpanned. She looked away from us. "You both are dismissed. But I mean it, Ensign Yamato. You're overexposing yourself."

"I'll be careful, ma'am," I said as we both left.

But the truth was that overexposing myself was the last thing I was thinking about.

The one and only thing on my mind was surviving the upcoming battle that could happen any day now . . .

That and saving Flay from herself.

The latter seemed more difficult than the war, and that did not seem right. And yet, it was the reality.

And I was going to face it head-on.

It's the only way I knew how to live . . . at the risk of "overexposure" or not . . .

But that was my choice.

My one choice.

And no one was going to take that away from me, not when all of the lives onboard were at stake.

Unfortunately, Badgiruel, being the most important soldier onboard means I have to put myself at risk for everyone else. And I decided right then and there, in silence, that that's what I was going to have to do.

I didn't realize that I was already going to be tested on that belief tomorrow . . .
MURRUE: Infallible accuracy?? I thought you just usually shot all your weapons at random and they just happened to hit stuff.

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

rebel_cheese
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Re: Gundam SEED: Bloodlines (BONUS Chapter 34 9/24/12)

Post by rebel_cheese » Sat Sep 29, 2012 2:48 pm

Chapter Thirty-Five: Lost in the Echo

Waltfeld and his forces did not strike the next morning when the ceasefire expired, and as it became clear that enemy attack was not imminent, the Archangel and Desert Dawn slowly began to calm down visibly, but everyone was still on edge. It was all too obvious, in the way everyone was walking stiffly and seeming to keep everyone at arm's length.

I was not allowed to go in and talk to Flay again. Not after what had happened the previous day.

It didn't surprise me. Even though I could not just sit there and watch Flay cry, Badgiruel had been right. I had violated some serious protocol. I was sure Murrue had given me some leniency because in spite of my rank I had been a civilian up until a few weeks ago and had zero military training or any sense of military discipline. In general, the worst they had done to any of the Orb civilians were a few days in the brig or putting us on cleaning duty. No court-martials. And, thank God, no executions. Not that Murrue would ever execute anyone, but I had read Earth Alliance protocol and it did allow for it in "extreme" situations, and the captain did have the authority to carry it out.

Badgiruel, if she were captain, however . . . not that she'd abuse the privilege, but I think she definitely would consider harsher punishments for people being out of line, Orb civilian or not.

However, what had happened to Flay made it feel if there was this vise-like grip around my whole body, squeezing it tightly and making it feel like I could barely breathe. You could dress it up any way you want to, but in the end, despite everything Badgiruel said, I could not escape the feeling that it was my fault. All of it.

I was fearful of meeting Sai again, because I knew he had to blame me. I began thinking that was the source of this invisible pressure I had to be feeling. That I was putting off something inevitable, something I absolutely had to do. It was either that or Ahmed blabbing about my genetic identity to the wrong people in Desert Dawn. It made me not want to leave the ship for any reason. Desert Dawn people could not come and go on the Archangel as they pleased, so as long as I stayed onboard, nothing would happen to me even if Dawn as a whole found out. That was my thought process.

Of course, Desert Dawn outnumbered us and we had very few people trained specifically for infantry combat. Not to mention that Dawn had enough firepower to severely damage the Archangel. So if they wanted to, they could assault us just to get me, if they really felt like it.

With those lovely thoughts swirling throughout my head, I managed to focus with enough clarity to go see Sai in the medical bay.

The bay didn't have many people in it this time. It had already been a few days since Hilda's rampage, and she had killed more people than wounded, so the bay was almost completely devoid of patients when I went to Sai's room. When I peeked inside, I saw that he was covered in white, wraparound bandages, mainly around his face. Flay had done a number on him.

I wondered momentarily if Flay had ripped Sai's wrench or whatever he had been hitting the machine with from his hands and smacked him with it. There's no way Flay's fists could've done this alone, could there?

If this had all been done by Flay, without any instruments or tools . . .

I slowly opened the door, hoping to not startle Sai so he wouldn't make his injuries more severe. I was careful with my voice too, keeping it even and gentle. "Sai, it's Cagalli."

Sai did not react violently, but he did make a growling noise as he turned his head towards me. "What do you want?"

"I wanted to see you, that's why."

"What, you're going to say you're sorry for turning my ex-girlfriend into a psycho?"

"Flay is not psychotic. I hope not, anyway," I said.

"But you're still going to say you're sorry."

"That's right, I am. What, you're not gonna accept it?"

"No, I'm not."

"Then get a frickin' life, Sai. It's my fault and I'm sorry this happened to you and I'm going to do what I can to get Flay back to normal as possible."

"Whatever. I don't even care."

He wasn't even looking at me anymore, he had turned his head so he was looking at the blank wall. And that was pissing me off.

"Look at me when I'm talking to you. At least give me eye contact."

"I don't even want to hear you right now."

"Sai, don't pull this crap on me."

"Go away!"

Okay. He was beyond pissing me off now. I marched right towards the bed and walked around so I was between him and the blank wall. Sai responded by turning his head back towards the door, and I immediately marched back to where I had been standing.

"I'll do this all day, Sai! I will! At least let me talk to you so I can tell you how I'm going to make this better!" I said.

"You've already done enough," Sai said, and his voice suggested that he was starting to choke up, he was struggling not to cry. "I don't want to know what brilliant ideas you're coming up with, okay?"

"I was trying to protect Melanie from Flay, and now I have to protect Flay from herself. I'm trying to tell you that so you know that Flay isn't going to go back on that simulator anymore. I don't care if I have to be her therapist as long as we're on this ship. I'll do what it takes for your girlfriend to come back, Sai!"

"How many times do I have to tell you that it doesn't matter!" Sai screamed at me.

That was not the reaction I wanted. I looked out the door, wondering if any doctors or nurses were going to come charging in here. It didn't sound like it. The place had been somewhat deserted when I had come here . . . it was lunch hour.

"It does matter! She's your-"

"She is not my girlfriend! Not anymore! This stupid war took her away and then you finished her off! That bitch who attacked me and beat me half to death is not Flay. Not the one I knew. She's someone else."

"Sai, please, I can-"

"And I don't want to see your stupid face, Cagalli, okay? No offense. You made this worse by sticking her in the stupid simulator. You want to go all half-cocked as a therapist or whatever to her, I don't care. It's over. It doesn't matter to me. Just go out and blow crap up. That's what you're good at."

I briefly entertained the thought of adding a few extra injuries on top of what Flay had done, but I suppressed those urges. "Sai, you're my friend, and I screwed up. I'm taking responsibility and I'm going to-"

"We're not friends, Cagalli. You're just some girl who fixed Professor Kato's papers. That's all you were," Sai interrupted.

"Dammit, Sai, don't lie to yourself! We saw each other almost every single damn day on Heliopolis! I consider you a friend and I'm going to make it up to you because this shouldn't have happened to you!"

"So you treat your friends like garbage and you kill your enemies. I hate to see what you'll do to Tolle," Sai snapped.

I knew he had said that just to rile me up so I'd have to leave or risk completely losing it. And, to make matters worse, it worked. I could not stand there anymore. "Screw you, Sai. I love Tolle. He's the only guy who has ever unconditionally accepted me as who I am. He means the world to me."

"Do you really believe that? I could've sworn you had something for that guy in ZAFT instead. Though, knowing you, I bet you'll find some way to get them both killed and then it won't matter," Sai replied.

That did it. Last straw. I stomped right out of the room after screaming "Go to hell!"

Jerk.
***
I didn't know where I was going on the Archangel and I didn't much care. I needed to blow off some serious steam after that little argument in the medical bay, and to make matters worse, I wanted to hurt something. I was, for a moment, glad Tori was nowhere near around. Nor that Haro that Lacus Clyne had. I would have strongly considered smashing them.

I knew Sai was angry for good reason. But he didn't need to be that cruel, did he? Maybe he was so busy rolling around full of self-pity and self-loathing that he had yelled at me just so he could feel worse. I don't know how that works, wanting to be depressed. That just does not make a lick of sense to me.

After pacing all around the Archangel, I realized I was extremely thirsty for some reason. I had passed by the kitchen, and I turned around and peeked inside, and there was Miriallia and Melanie. I was kind of surprised, then I realized that Miriallia kind of was taking care of Melanie when I wasn't around. I had originally given that duty to Prince Kira, but Melanie wasn't exactly supposed to hang around the hangar bay, and Miriallia was my roommate, so it made sense that backup caregiver had to be her.

I wondered how the investigation into the murder of Melanie's mother was going. Was Miriallia still a suspect? Did I really want Dorothy Eliarez's possible murderer hanging around her child?

I forced myself to think that Miriallia wasn't capable of that. She couldn't be. She didn't have it in her. Not only that, she was my best friend. Other than Tolle, I could trust her with anything. That's how it should work, anyway.

When I peeked inside, Melanie saw me right away. She smiled at me brightly. "Cagalli!"

I walked inside the kitchen, smiled, and bent down at Melanie's level. "Hi there!"

She ran towards me and hugged me. "How are you?"

"Miriallia's showing me stuff! Where you've been?"

"Just walking around the ship, looking for something to do."

"That's weird."

"You'll understand someday."

Miriallia walked over to us, but remained standing. "I'm not showing her anything dangerous, Cagalli, I promise. I was just letting her have a quick look at how the kitchen works. We have some new food that's gotta be prepared differently, you know?"

"Oh really?" I asked.

"It seems the cuisine has been 'localized' to a degree," Miriallia replied. "It's better than the junk we've been swallowing."

"It's spicy, even with yogurt sauce," Melanie chimed in.

That immediately made me think of Waltfeld, with his own obsession with yogurt sauce on the local cuisine. I was going to have to kill that man soon, and that uncomfortable reminder made me drift off for just a second.

But I forced myself to return to Earth. I was getting sick and tired of confusing Melanie with all of my drifting. "I like chili sauce on the food, personally."

"That makes it even hotter!" Melanie exclaimed, looking shocked.

"What can I say? I like hot and spicy food. Nothing's too hot for me. I'll even have habanero peppers on my food if I can have them. Hottest peppers humans can eat raw."

"Oh wow," Melanie said softly, her eyes looking shocked.

Miriallia just sighed. "Seriously? I can't even stomach jalepenos much less those."

I chuckled. "What I can say? I'm hot stuff."

Miriallia just gave me a look. "I'm gonna pretend you didn't say that."

I laughed. "What, that remind you of Tolle?"

"Remind me of Tolle? Cagalli, that basically was Tolle."

"I guess I have a terminal case of Tolle-ness going on right now."

"Among other things."

It was a simple moment, a funny moment, something I badly needed, especially after what had happened with Sai. I felt like my old self in that instance, despite the military uniform I had on and the metallic, drab surroundings on the kitchen. It reminded me of the life I once had, a life that was so far away but seemed so tantalizingly close now that I was reminded of it.

It was just like that little discussion with Waltfeld the previous day. A reminder of a simpler, friendlier time.

And moments like those were rapidly becoming all that I wanted.
***
"No way," Miriallia replied, when I pressed a certain point. "No. Flay is not moving in next to us or with us, no matter for any reason. I know you're in bleeding-heart mode, Cagalli, but I saw her go psycho on Sai too. I don't want her near me."

"I don't want her near me either," Melanie said, confirming that I had managed to accomplish my goal of Melanie not wanting anything to do with Flay. Unfortunately, it was something I had accomplished too well.

"I don't know what else I can do to keep Flay from going off the deep end. You have any better ideas?" I asked.

"Yeah. Keep her locked up so it won't matter if she goes 'off the deep end'," Miriallia replied.

It took me a moment to remember that Miriallia didn't like Flay either on Heliopolis, though Miriallia did have a tendency to get dragged into Flay's gossip. Appearances were deceiving, especially on Heliopolis. Tolle was the only person who hadn't revealed something odd since Heliopolis by that point. I'm a Coordinator, Miriallia may or may not be a murderer, Flay's potentially psychotic, Sai's emo, and Kuzzey . . . huh, I guess Kuzzey could be grouped with Tolle.

I pick my peers well. Yessiree.

"I want to take responsibility," I said. "I think that as long Flay has people around her, and she stays away from the simulator, she can be brought back to her old self . . . well, somewhat."

Miriallia raised an eyebrow. "I don't know about this, Cagalli. Seriously. You did not see her lose it when Sai decided to beat on the simulator."

"I got a pretty good idea when I saw her in the brig," I replied.

There was a brief pause. "I just don't know," I added. "Everyone tells me to leave her alone, but I can tell she needs someone to help her. She's practically crying for help, Miri."

I looked at Melanie. I smiled at her and rubbed her head a little. "I can't help but want to be there for people, Miri. Especially for Melanie here."

Miriallia sighed. "I get it."

It reminded me, though, that there was something else I needed to do. "I haven't talked with Tolle since the brig incident. I'm going to go find him. Can you keep an eye on Melanie for a while longer?"

"Yeah, I got another hour or so to kill before my shift on the bridge starts."

"Thank you," I said. "I'll be right back, Melanie, okay?"

"Okay, Cagalli."

The way Melanie looked at me reminded me of the way she looked at her mother, a little. Somehow, I had proven myself to be the only person she could trust. That wasn't good. She needed other people. I was hoping Miriallia could be that person, but she was still a suspect in murdering Melanie's mother in the first place. I just kept telling myself that it couldn't be Miriallia. It couldn't be.

Of course, those thoughts soon left my mind.

The moment I rounded the corner, just thirty or so seconds after I left my sleeping quarters, I bumped into a muscular man. He towered over me, and when I looked up, I saw a triumphant smile on his face.

Then it hit me. Oh crap-

Instantly, I felt the blow to the back of my head. Oddly, I couldn't think of anything other than Ahmed as darkness overcame me.

It was Badgiruel's warning come true . . . Desert Dawn had come for me. And they were ready for me.
***
When I woke up, I was in a dark cave with a few scattered wooden boxes strewn everywhere, some intact, some with pieces missing, and others smashed outright. It smelled terrible in here too. Smelled almost like death itself.

Then I realized I was smelling blood. And that there was a great big ache in the back of my head.

I panicked for a moment, looking frantically around both myself and around me, for any sign of where I was, and whether I was the one who was bleeding. As I looked left, I saw a young man, his face looking like it had slammed headfirst into brick, with bruises, cuts, and wlets all over his face.

Ahmed.

"Ahmed, Ahmed, are you okay? What happened?" I hissed to him.

But someone was here in this cave, and he overheard me, and understood my language. I heard his footsteps approach, in this cave, with its echoes, it sounded louder, gigantic, intimidating, that made me shiver just a little bit.

"He thought he could keep a secret from us, that's what happened," said a man in a fairly strong accent, though he was understandable.

I realized what it was in an instant. Ahmed had told Sahib Ashman. But, clearly, the talk hadn't been private. Not at all.

"Little Ahmed here forgot how far sound travels in caves," the man said, nudging Ahmed with his foot. Much to my horror, Ahmed's body fell over immediately, and the man sighed in dismay.

"He still hasn't regained consciousness? I wonder what Sahib has so much faith in this child. He clearly doesn't have the strength to weather much of anything. He obviously doesn't have the guts to help create a pure, blue world."

I recognized those buzzwords in an instant. The Earth Alliance liked to pretend that it didn't exist, but every Coordinator, whether through experience or hearsay, knew all about that organization.

"You're from Blue Cosmos, huh?" I asked.

The man chuckled. "Yes, Coordinator infidel. I am. So are others in Desert Dawn."

"Why?" I asked.

"Because Blue Cosmos is the only organization still fighting for the world when it was pure!" the man shouted. I flinched for a second, thinking he was going to hit me, but he refrained. "You're are an impurity worse than the Zionists! You are a result of humans thinking they should do Allah's work! All of you should be exterminated and the world returned to what it should be!"

I heard him yank his gun from his holster, and while his visage wasn't clear in the darkness, I knew he had to be pointing it at me. "I am not alone in my thoughts. Sahib Ashman likes to pretend that we don't feel this way, but we do. Many of us would rather die than be protected by a Coordinator."

I could not stop myself from snapping back. Maybe it was adrenaline, or maybe I just wanted to get the whole "dying" thing over with. "I betcha you won't feel that way when the Tiger comes along and has one his BuCUEs stomp you flat. You'll just realize that maybe, just maybe, you don't want to die."

"Silence!" No gunshot, just a whack to the face. A whack that hurt. Badly. I immediately knew I was going to get a welt on my face over that one, that is, if I didn't die here.

"How can you know what we feel?" the man shouted. "That this whole time, we were being deceived by the Atlantic Federation over you! The entire ship will be destroyed for this, for bringing an impurity down to Earth!"

"The Archangel is what keeps you people alive too," I replied. "Killing them will just mean you'll die faster. That's why Sahib formed an alliance with us."

"Again, I'd rather die than be 'saved' by you," the man said.

"I'm sure Blue Cosmos would like you to die too," I replied. "Saves less clean-up work for them."

Before the man could respond, I heard shouts of surprise, and then a metallic clink as something rolled around the floor in front of me. A couple of gunshots went off in the distance as I stared at the canister as it stopped a few feet in front of me.

Wait a minute, is that a flashbang-

A loud noise, my vision being lost in white, and an incessant ringing confirmed my analysis.
***
It felt like forever before the white faded from my eyes, and the ringing began to fade like white noise being overtaken by life. As it did, I realized I was actually moving, that I was being supported by someone. I looked to my right, and I saw a familiar face.

"Badgiruel?" I asked.

"Took you long enough," Badgiruel said coolly.

"I can stand, you can let me go," I said.

"Just stop shouting in my ear," Badgiruel replied.

There was still a ringing in my ears as I separated from her. I was barely able to keep from falling down but I caught myself. It took me a moment to realize that we were at the entrance to the cave, that the desert was in front of us. It was gleaming brightly, and it looked like the most beautiful thing in the world to me at that instant.

"You saved me, huh?" I asked.

"I didn't work alone, I had a couple of those special-ops types who survived Tassil come and help," Badgiruel said. She sighed. "But you shouldn't be talking to me, I should be talking to you."

Uh oh.

"Remember how I told you that you're overexposed, Ensign?" she asked me.

"Yes," I said. "I wasn't going to leave the ship, but I was abducted while onboard. I have no idea how they snuck me out here to be honest."

"They stuffed you into a crate and got you out that way," Badgiruel replied. "And that's not my point."

"Yes, I know. I'm the most valuable soldier onboard and I should conduct myself that way," I said.

"If that man had been more willing to get to the point instead of rant his creed at you, you would have been dead long before we could've saved you. You could've been killed on the ship even," Badgiruel replied. "As it is, did he violate you?"

That sickening thought charged through my mind for about five seconds before I realized the truth.

"No, no one did. I'd know," I replied.

Badgiruel sighed with relief. "Well, that is good news. Though I suppose they didn't want to prostrate themselves on an 'impurity' like you."

"Yeah, lucky me," I replied sarcastically. "They only wanted to kill me."

"The man was hypocritical," Badgiruel said. "If he didn't truly care about his life, he would have killed you on the ship where you were and been gunned down. You read people surprisingly well, Ensign."

"I am a political science major," I replied. "Reading people is part of it."

Badgiruel sighed. "You keep reminding us of this and you keep . . . never mind. I'll chew you out tomorrow over this. Get back to the ship, back to your room, and stay there. That's an order, Ensign."

I realized that there was no arguing with Badgiruel here. "Yes, ma'am. I'm leaving."

"And don't listen to anything loud either," Badgiruel added as I began walking away. "I don't want you to have any permanent hearing damage. And I'm going to get you some ice packs for those blows to the head you took."

If the situation wasn't so serious I would have laughed at Badgiruel seeming to care for my well-being. But I knew why she did. She was a pragmatic person, always looking to use me because she knew I was her outlet for survival. If it wasn't for that I'd just be another soldier for her to chew out.

But, as I stopped briefly at the cave entrance and turned around to see Badgiruel vanish back into the cave's darkness, I wondered if her special-ops "connections", part of the reason why I remained alive, had been formed through networking . . . or through the field?

Yet another mysterious aspect of a person I was only just starting to know, lost in the echoes of everyone else's little skeletons and mysteries they never want people to see.

I was looking forward to be back on the Archangel and deal with those secrets. Compared to the secrets of Desert Dawn, with those soldiers following Blue Cosmos, Flay going crazy, Sai going emo, and Miriallia possibly being a murderer seemed like bliss.

I was almost looking forward to dealing with all of that again.

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

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

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The Green Flame
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Re: Gundam SEED: Bloodlines (Chapter 35 9/29/12)

Post by The Green Flame » Sat Sep 29, 2012 4:25 pm

Just another day on the Archangel. Just another day.

Great chapters as usual rebel_cheese.

rebel_cheese
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Location: Illinois, USA

Re: Gundam SEED: Bloodlines (Chapter 35 9/29/12)

Post by rebel_cheese » Sun Sep 30, 2012 4:41 pm

Yup, it was Tuesday for the Archangel. Thank you. XD
MURRUE: Infallible accuracy?? I thought you just usually shot all your weapons at random and they just happened to hit stuff.

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

Rob DS Zeta
Posts: 314
Joined: Fri Jul 16, 2010 10:55 pm
Location: over there

Re: Gundam SEED: Bloodlines (Chapter 35 9/29/12)

Post by Rob DS Zeta » Tue Oct 02, 2012 9:23 am

Squeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee- *shot*

Finally caught back up. Again. Still amazingly good stuff, and I really like the subtle tie-ins with 00.

Keep on keeping on. At this rate, you might actually make me start writing Gundam again.
*insert witty eyecatch here*

rebel_cheese
Posts: 305
Joined: Wed May 02, 2007 7:43 pm
Location: Illinois, USA

Re: Gundam SEED: Bloodlines (Chapter 35 9/29/12)

Post by rebel_cheese » Sat Oct 06, 2012 12:02 am

I'm really glad you enjoyed it. I admit i have a bit too much fun with the idea of having SEED be a distant sequel/finale to Gundam 00 but I'm not going to have that take the forefront of this battle. But basically, the Type S influenza infected all Innovators and killed them, or so the theory goes in its most obvious.

Anyway, starting with Chapter 36, you will notice a significant change in a character's name. There will be a little girl named "Elle" starting with the next chapter as opposed to "Melanie". Melanie has been renamed to "Elle" because she was intended to be the same character as the little girl Kira met onboard the Archangel and I got her name wrong. The mistake has finally been corrected in the FF.net version but will not be retroactively fixed for the mechatalk version.

Part of it is laziness, but the other thing is I like the thought of FF.net getting like a slick studio recording while mechatalk.net gets a "live acoustic" version of the story, flubs and all. mechatalk has always gotten this story first anyway as well, so it adds to the "rawness" of the story posted on here.

But yeah. Melanie is now "Elle", the girl she was always intended to be. A canon character now given an increased role, as opposed to an OC.
MURRUE: Infallible accuracy?? I thought you just usually shot all your weapons at random and they just happened to hit stuff.

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

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