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

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rebel_cheese
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Re: Gundam SEED: Bloodlines (Chapter 35 9/29/12)

Post by rebel_cheese » Sat Oct 06, 2012 10:23 am

Chapter Thirty-Six: Push It

I was surprised to hear the ship's engines firing when I woke up the next morning. In fact, it was the launching of the engines themselves that woke up me up. That and Elle noticing as I came to.

"Cagalli, we're moving." She was tugging at me. "We're moving, we're moving."

"We are?" That's when I heard the noise. We definitely were. And Miriallia was not here. She must have been already summoned to the bridge. Then why wasn't I woken up?

I stumbled out of the room to immediately see Mu La Flaga, just about to knock on the door. I felt kinda embarrassed for a moment to let him see me so disheveled, but I forced myself to ignore it. "Lieutenant-Commander, what's-"

"Slow down, princess!" La Flaga replied, looking kinda bemused. "You can take your time. We have an hour or so before you and I have to be ready to launch. I was just going to wake you up so you have enough time to shower and eat beforehand."

"Are you ever going to stop . . . wait, we're going out into battle?"

"The battle plan's being decided upon. We'll stop the ship briefly in about forty-five minutes so Sahib Ashman and his personnel onboard can exit so they can lead the Desert Dawn forces. If you hurry you can make the officers' meeting. You are allowed to participate, remember, 'Ensign'," La Flaga said.

"Oh . . . sure. Yeah, I'll be there ASAP," I replied.

"Sounds good. Also, I would do something about that hair of yours. It looks like it needs to be cut," La Flaga said.

"I'll keep that in mind," I replied. "Like maybe after I don't die in the middle of the desert."

La Flaga sighed. "Yeah, I figured you'd say that. I'll see you in the meeting room." He turned and walked away.

I growled as I stomped to the mirror in my room. My hair couldn't be interfering that much, could it? Then again, it had been over a month since this whole ordeal began, and I hadn't trimmed one strand of it.

I stared at myself. Yeah, my hair was starting to get on the long side. Ever since my last attempt to grow my hair out in middle school (which still didn't stop the "boy" jokes, I should add), I've never let my hair get to my shoulder blades. But now . . . the tips were starting to touch my shoulders, even when I wasn't looking up. And my bangs were definitely starting to fall in front of my eyes.

The hair was going to start bothering me if I let it go much further than this. I didn't want to admit it but La Flaga was probably right about this.

Elle spoke up then. I had momentarily forgotten she was still in the room. She had heard everything. "Cagalli, you're going to fight again, aren't you?"

"It's what I have to do," I replied. "It's how I protect everyone and this ship."

Elle looked away from me. "I wish we were in Orb so you wouldn't have to do this anymore."

"I wish that too, Elle, but it can't be helped." It was really hard to act kind and stuff towards Elle. She was just a young girl, but offering her reassurance, while knowing that was a good possibility that what I was saying could turn out to be a lie, was just as difficult as pulling the trigger in battle. Perhaps even more so, after all of the killing I've had to do, as hard as it might be to believe.

"Are you going to cut your hair too?" Elle asked.

Totally unexpected question, but on the other hand La Flaga had brought that up too in front of her, so . . . "Probably after this battle, yeah. Nothing drastic, like probably I'll make it like the way it was right before the Heliopolis attack, but I need it to not interfere with me when I have my helmet on."

"Once we make it back home . . . when you and I see your mom and Dad . . . could you grow it long? So I know you won't be fighting again?" Melanie asked.

Oh boy. I knew I was going to regret my answer. "Yeah, sure, I will."

"I want it really long. All the way down your back."

Knew it. "O-Okay."

"I think you would look pretty and then you wouldn't have to fight anymore so we'll all be happy," Elle said, with a small, hopeful smile. She closed her eyes, and I realized a small tear was coming from her eye. Damn it, so much hope.

And I could say no to this kid's face. Heck, I couldn't even keep myself from rubbing her face softly with the tip of my hand. "A-All right, Elle. I'll do that for you."

"Promise?" Knew that was coming too. "Y-Yeah, sure. I . . . I'll grow it long, just for you. I promise."

"Thank you." Then she hugged me. "Thank you, Cagalli."

I knew my face was turning pink right then from embarrassment. Me, with hair that long? Even when I had experimented with growing my hair long it never had gone past my shoulders. And I had found that too much of a pain in the ass to care for, much less what Elle was asking for. What was I getting myself into? I just had to hope Elle would forget about it. It was such a tiny thing, and little kids don't have the longest attention spans. She would forget, wouldn't she?

At the same time, I knew why Elle had asked me this. What La Flaga had inadvertedly told her was that the longer my hair was, the more difficult it would be to fly. So if my hair was really long, like, say, down my back, maybe I couldn't fly at all. That's not how the world works, that's not how anything works, but Elle didn't understand that yet. To Elle, if I had long hair, that would mean peace.

I didn't want to take that away from her. I just plain couldn't.
***
The officer's room was understandably full, with Ashman, La Flaga, Murrue, and Badgiruel all inside. La Flaga gave me a curious look. "Well, at least you came in time to hear your role in this. What took you?"

I was promising Elle that I'm going to grow my hair out was probably not the answer he was looking for. I just said "I'm exhausted. I had a really long day yesterday."

"That's understandable," Murrue said, in a tone that suggested finality. "You were taken hostage yesterday, after all. I'd have to imagine you're not exactly thrilled about the prospect of fighting Waltfeld."

"No, I'm not. But it's something that has to be done," I replied.

"Glad to see you're willing to fight," Ashman said. "Many people would try to avoid battle at all cost in your position."

"I said, there's no other way. We need to win this battle or we're all dead or captured. If I don't fight, it just means Waltfeld has a much higher chance of victory. He has multiple GUNDAM machines after all."

"Actually, what we were going to discuss with you are the GUNDAMs," Ashman replied. "I sent a force up our left flank yesterday to scout it out for a possible escape route. It was mauled by the GUNDAM known as the Aegis."

Athrun. So he was definitely here at the front. "I assume you want me to engage him if he is involved in this battle as well, then."

"That's right," Badgiruel said. "The Aegis' ability to transform into a Mobile Armor lends it a strategic advantage over the other GUNDAM Mobile Suits. It doesn't need to adjust to desert settings because it can fly around like a Skygrasper or other Mobile Armors. Granted, this means it can't go into Mobile Suit mode without sinking into the sand dunes, but it can still cause catastrophic damage."

I had been on the receiving end of its Mobile Armor form in space. I had visions of Athrun ramming me and then using the Aegis' claws to imprison me and try to bring me back to ZAFT. I couldn't help but wonder if Athrun was going to try the same tactic. It had to be impossible, though. The Strike weighed nothing in space, but on Earth? Aegis surely couldn't have enough thrust to make the Strike budge, much less carry it.

Athrun's only shot was to destroy me, and I doubted he wanted to do that, especially after making sure I was going to live in the first place.

But then I was reminded of the other time Athrun had used the Aegis' Mobile Armor form on me. It had been to save me, as I was falling into the atmosphere. The Aegis was the only reason I was still alive, and now I'm being ordered to destroy it, and kill Athrun?

I couldn't show the deliberation inside my head. I couldn't. If I did, everyone else was going to wonder what's up. I had to be steely.

"I understand. My priority is to engage the Aegis, followed by any other GUNDAM Mobile Suits."

"Correct," Murrue said. "Of course, if the GUNDAMs do not engage, you are free to move as you like. Whatever it takes to make sure we can ram our way through Waltfeld's forces."

"What's the route we're taking?" I asked.

"There's a route by an abandoned factory," Ashman replied. "We're going to charge right through Waltfeld's forces and cut them into two pieces. It's the only way for us to have a chance of victory."

"It's a risky plan," I said. "We might outnumber Waltfeld but he has a lot more heavy equipment than we do. Everything is centered on the Archangel for us, but . . ."

"He has three ships," Badgiruel replied. "The flagship is the Lesseps."

"Three against one, huh?" I asked.

La Flaga looked at me, raising an eyebrow. "Nothing different than space, princess."

"Please, for the love of God, don't call me 'princess'. At least not in the middle of an officer's meeting," I snapped.

Murrue and Badgiruel were giving La Flaga the evil eye and, for his part, he just scratched the back of his head and chuckled softly.

"You're underestimating my forces' capabilities," Ashman replied, ignoring the awkwardness from us. "We are highly mobile. As long as the Aegis and this 'Duel Assault Shroud' is kept away from us, we should be able to hold our own with, of course, the Archangel's support."

That still means you're reliant on us, Sahib Ashman. I knew better than to tell him that, though. I did say "You're lucky we are still willing to help you after what some of your men tried to do to me."

"Cagalli," Murrue said, raising her hands. I wasn't going to let her stop me. Not this time.

"Your men kidnapped me, put me unconscious, hit me in the face and were incredibly close to murdering me and I'd be dead right now if it wasn't for Lieutenant-Commander Badgiruel. I demand an apology from you for what happened or your forces won't get any help from me. I can't stop Captain Ramius from helping you but I certainly won't."

It was as if I had thrown a visible layer of stress and terror over everyone. Badgiruel's face was turning purple, Murrue and La Flaga's eyes were widened, and Ashman's face just turned red.

Finally, Ashman spoke. "You are a very . . . outspoken young woman. But I understand your emotions. My men did kidnap you and I do apologize for that. But I won't apologize for having them in my unit. In this war, my war, I can't afford to waste time on background checks, I can only ensure that my recruits are capable of fighting."

I didn't want to accept that answer, but now that I had gotten my point out there, I knew I had to let it go. Especially with Badgiruel looking like her head was going to explode volcano-style. "I accept your apology then. Consider it lucky that your men didn't violate me. If they had, I would not help at all, no matter what my orders."

With that, I left the room. I knew Badgiruel was going to give me a serious tongue-lashing for it, but I didn't care. There was no way I was going to let Ashman get off the hook before the battle, just in case he wound up dying. It was a nice little reminder to him to keep better control of his forces, and how lucky he was that certain things didn't transpire.

Lastly, it told him that I was not some pawn he could move whenever he felt like it. I was my own being, and there were some things I could not tolerate.

And what happened the previous night was one of them.
***
"Wow," La Flaga said, almost casually, as we were in the pilot's room getting suited up. "Pretty strong words there, princess."

I really was getting sick of being called that. It was like La Flaga's personal nickname for me and I didn't find it flattering. It was marginally better than being called a "boy" but it seemed to suggest something entitled or prissy about me, and that implication was driving me crazy.

"I had to say it," I said, biting back any insult or angry remark that could have come instead. "Ashman and his people could be dead after this battle. He had to know how I felt. I wasn't going to let him walk away without knowing."

La Flaga sighed. "You could've blown the whole alliance," he said. "Lieutenant-Commander Badgiruel especially was unhappy about it."

"She saw what happened first-hand when she came to rescue me," I said. "She's got no reason to be mad."

"Oh, Badgiruel is pissed about what happened to you. She doesn't like Desert Dawn very much, never did. But she's furious over your lack of tact. If Ashman was not as reasonable as he is, we could be in a situation where Dawn is as much an enemy as the Desert Tiger."

"I fail to see where Dawn regards us as allies on equal terms. They threatened to fight us if we did not help them," I replied. "We're effectively mercenaries cajoled into their service. I don't approve of that either."

La Flaga sighed. "I'm just saying, princess, more tact and thought of the consequences would be nice."

"Speak for yourself, calling me a 'princess' all the damn time," I replied.

La Flaga lightly chuckled. "You women are not letting me off easily, are you?"

I saw he had a kebab with him. "Going to eat that before we launch, I assume?"

"You can't go into battle on an empty stomach," La Flaga replied. "You need the energy. We've got just enough time for me to digest this before we go out there. Plus, I managed to get my hands on some yogurt sauce. Takes some of the kick off these local eats."

Yogurt sauce . . . why did La Flaga have to like yogurt sauce? He made me think of Waltfeld in that instance. In fact, La Flaga and Waltfeld were alike in a few ways, with their casual demeanors and friendly asides. And, I guess, they adored yogurt sauce on spicy food.

"Something wrong?" La Flaga asked as he stuffed about a quarter of the kebab into his mouth.

"General Waltfeld liked yogurt sauce on his kebabs as well," I replied.

"Oh." La Flaga chewed and swallowed. "I almost forgot that you met him personally. It's always more difficult to kill someone if you got to meet him face to face first. You know the guy, and you know that in the end one of you is going to have to die so the other can survive. I can't imagine it's easy for you."

"It's something I have to do," I replied. "It's something I accept. Waltfeld has to die, not just for my own survival, but everyone else's. If my friends and everyone else from Orb want to go home again, I need to make sure that Waltfeld is dead."

"And do you think the same of your old ZAFT boyfriend?" La Flaga asked me.

That was a much more difficult question to answer. And it had only gotten more difficult to think about considering Athrun had saved my life. I chose to brush it off. "What have I done this whole time but fight Athrun? There's no choice."

"Damn, you're cold," La Flaga chuckled as he continued eating.

"I am not cold! You think I honestly want to kill people I know?" I shouted at him. "Of course not! But I've killed a lot of people in space and in this desert to make sure we get to Orb and that's something I absolutely have to do!"

"I was just joking, princess," La Flaga said, looking befuddled.

"Stop calling me 'princess', jackass! What the hell do you mean by that, anyway?"

"You just called your superior officer 'jackass'," La Flaga replied, almost singsong.

The realization I had done so brought nothing but waves of embarrassment. If that had been Badgiruel I had been insulting, I could have been toast in an instant. She had no problems with brig time regarding me. She had already done so over me punching Lacus Clyne in the face.

"And I don't have to answer that either," La Flaga replied. "I know you're going through a lot right now, but you need to calm down and relax. You can't blow up over the smallest things. If you do, you're going to overdo something. And if that's on the battlefield, you could get killed."

"I'm having troubles relaxing right now. I think I might wind up having to kill my childhood friend in order for us to live," I replied. "He saved me, Lieutenant-Commander. I was plunging into the atmosphere and he sacrificed an easy ticket back into space and onboard a ship in order to make sure I lived. You have no idea how hard it is knowing that I'm going to have to kill him, but . . ."

I lost my train of thought for a second. I searched for the right words to say. Whatever could get close to the meaning I was striving for.

"I know I'm going to have to. Not unless he stops confronting me, stops trying to bring me over to his side, whatever. It's not going to happen. I'm bringing my friends and the civilians back home to Orb. And if I have to kill him, so be it."

Saying those words out loud hurt much more than I had expected. Killing Athrun? All I could think about was that long-haired boy in prep school who was my best friend. All of those experiences, all of the times playing together, even that kiss he gave me right after graduation . . . I was going to kill him? Especially after saving his life too?

I could tell, just by how quickly my eyes were watering, that if I did it, I would spend hours, maybe even days, crying over it. But I knew I would, too. There was a part of me just hard enough that told me that I could kill him.

I forced my tears down, and sniffed and coughed a couple of times to cover it up. "Look, I'm going to head out towards the Strike and speak to Kira. I want to know of any more surprises Kira could've put into that machine."

"That boy is a genius," La Flaga said. "I can only imagine what kind of programming he'd be capable of if he was a Coordinator like you."

"We'd be better off," I replied. "Then the Strike would be a one-person job, not two."

"Now that I think about it, what would you be doing, if you were the Natural and Kira was the Coordinator?" La Flaga asked.

Part of me wanted to think about it, but I knew that so close to the battle . . .

"There's no point in thinking about it. I have no idea what I'd be if I was a Natural with birth parents. Especially if I were in Kira's position, and if he was in mine. I can't imagine what it's like being Kira, the prince of Orb, with a father like Kira's who is so famous and so important. I mean, the only thing I can think of without babbling is that Kira and my adoptive parents have some similarities so maybe Kira wouldn't realize that he was adopted. I look absolutely nothing like my adoptive parents so I figured it out pretty early in my life . . . and I think it's better that way, anyway. I know that my adoptive parents love me and my birth parents are dead or couldn't give a rat's ass. No mystery, no hidden tension."

"Well, other than your gender is apparently a mystery to a lot of people," La Flaga said.

I knew he was saying that to try and joke again. I sensed that what I had just laid into La Flaga was too heavy for his liking. He had probably expected a light answer in response, not something so personal, direct, and somewhat thought-provoking. I can joke sometimes, but not right then. Not right before a battle.

"Well, Elle wants me to grow my hair really long, so maybe with super-long hair people won't call me a boy anymore," I replied.

La Flaga raised an eyebrow.

"Once we get back to Orb, I mean," I replied, feeling a small amount of heat rushing to my cheeks. The embarrassment again. Damn Elle and her damn adorable-ness.

La Flaga sighed. "That sounds better." He walked over to the com.

"Just checking on whether you're getting a second Skygrasper ready to go," he said.

Murdoch's voice. "You're really serious about this, huh?"

"Damn it, Petty Officer Murdoch! How many times do I need to make this clear? If I run out of ammunition, it'll be much quicker to change aircraft than just sit around waiting for a reload!" La Flaga snapped back.

Petty Officer Kojiro Murdoch responded with an expletive-heavy rant. La Flaga put his hand over the speaker, as if censoring the expletives from me meant anything at this point. He gave me an awkwardly pleasant smile. "Might as well go to Prince Kira. I have a feeling this will take awhile."

Now this was funny. "Sounds good to me, have fun with that."

"Yeah . . . I will."

I left La Flaga to his expletive-heavy argument over the merits of preparing a second Skygrasper, and I went into the hangar to talk with possibly the last human I'd ever meet face to face.
***
"Geez, somebody set Murdoch off. He's saltier than the Indian Ocean," Kira said as I approached him.

"Yeah, it's Lieutenant-Commander La Flaga. He wants another Skygrasper prepared in case he runs out of ammunition."

"Or gets hit," Kira said.

I hadn't thought of that. "Yeah, that too."

I looked into Kira's violet eyes, and what La Flaga had asked me went through my mind. What if? I didn't know why it resonated with me so much, and why it seemed to matter. It was as if something really weird and surreal was pointed out to me, and if I scratched at the surface, maybe I would discover it.

"Speaking of La Flaga, he asked me an interesting question just now. What if you were the Coordinator and I was the Natural?"

Kira raised an eyebrow. "That's a weird question."

"I know, right? One thing's for sure, I'm useless with programming, so if our roles were reversed, the Strike would fall flat on its face."

"You're not useless, trust me," Kira said with a laugh.

Kira looked out at the hangar bay doors, which were closed but would open soon. "I feel that I'm missing some context here, but I think that wondering about this kind of thing is ultimately pointless. I mean, we could go on all day on what could have been, have you trade places with everybody on board. In the end, I think it's random and just doesn't do anyone any good."

"That simple, huh?" I asked him.

"Pretty much," Kira said with a smile.

I was getting used to that warm smile and I was going to regret it. I knew I was never going to see him again after we returned to Orb. He was the prince, after all. How far were we away from returning? Weeks? Months? After a while, it was just going to be crystal clear we would never see each other again.

If only this didn't come with the terror of fighting a war. If only.

"So, what would you recommend for the battle?" I asked him.

"The Aile Pack, which you used in the last one," Kira said without hesitation. "You're going to need a balanced attack for this battle. I don't see any other way to face the Aegis or the other GUNDAMs in this type of environment, plus the BuCUEs and whatever else Waltfeld has up his sleeve."

That reminded me of what Ahmed had said just a couple of days ago. Thinking about him made me wonder if he was okay, but it was far too late to ask that question. Kira wouldn't know.

"I was told that Waltfeld has a special BuCUE-like machine. The LaGOWE. Know anything about it?"

Kira sighed. "No, but if I were to guess it's probably some kind of super-BuCUE. Capable of a lot more damage, and probably was really expensive to make."

"Like a GUNDAM compared to a GINN."

"Basically."

Once again, I am completely reassured by Kira's counsel. Not. "Thanks. I'll keep that in mind when I face it."

"What makes you so sure?" Kira asked, visibly surprised.

"I'm his 'worthy opponent'," I replied. "He told me so himself. He thinks I'm the one person who can stop him, so I'm expecting him to come and face me personally before I can derail his chances of victory."

Murrue's voice over the intercom. "All hands, Level One battle stations! We are approaching ZAFT forces! I repeat, all hands, Level One battle stations!"

"Sounds like it's my cue to get out of the way," Kira said, and he stepped aside. "Good luck."

"I'm gonna need it, so thanks," I replied.

Within a minute, I was loaded and ready to launch, and Miriallia's face came up on my monitor. "All set, Caga-er, 'Ensign'?"

I was never going to get used to the military rank in front of my name. "As ready as I'll ever be. I'm ready to launch."

The countdown began.

Waltfeld, I know you're out there. I'm sorry, but I have no choice. My friends and everyone else is counting on me. I have a little girl who just wants to go home. You defeating me means none of us will ever see Orb again.

I was all set to fight Waltfeld. I knew what had to be done, no matter how likable he was. But Athrun . . . I could still see the Aegis reaching its claws out and grabbing me as we began falling through the atmosphere, Athrun risking it all just to save me.

Fighting him was going to be much, much tougher. Our first fight since space. Since he saved me.

But in the end, if I had to kill him . . .

I told myself I would. I just hoped it was the truth and not a lie. If it was a lie, then Athrun could destroy the Archangel, or capture it. I couldn't allow that either. So the truth, harsh as it was . . .

I had to kill Athrun too.

Sorry, I thought as the countdown approached zero. But this is what I have to do, Athrun. I have no choice. Not until we get to Orb.

The countdown hit zero.

"This is Ensign Cagalli Yamato, Strike GUNDAM, launching!"

I accelerated and blasted out into 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?

Rob DS Zeta
Posts: 314
Joined: Fri Jul 16, 2010 10:55 pm
Location: over there

Re: Gundam SEED: Bloodlines (Chapter 36 10/6/12)

Post by Rob DS Zeta » Sun Oct 07, 2012 10:11 am

Everyone's going to die.

...I think.
*insert witty eyecatch here*

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

Re: Gundam SEED: Bloodlines (Chapter 36 10/6/12)

Post by rebel_cheese » Tue Oct 09, 2012 8:28 pm

lol, you WOULD say that wouldn't you?

Next chapter has a lot of action in it. I'm sure it's semi-predictable what's going to happen, but I wouldn't bet on everything happening like it did in canon.
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 36 10/6/12)

Post by rebel_cheese » Sat Oct 13, 2012 10:30 am

Chapter Thirty-Seven: Lights Out

"All right, what's the current situation regarding enemy forces?" I said as I flew alongside the Archangel.

"We have the enemy flagship, the Lesseps, right on our tail, and a large force of mechanized units coming from the right side," Miriallia replied.

"The Lesseps?" I asked. "You want me to take care of them?"

"The Lesseps is my concern, princess, not yours," Mu La Flaga replied. "You just make sure those BuCUEs don't attack the Archangel or Desert Dawn."

"So we get all of the hard stuff, that's how it is?" I asked. This was unfair, though not a total surprise. Desert Dawn had no way to wipe out any of those ships. We were their only real shot at doing so.

"Yes, Ensign," Natarle Badgiruel said coolly. "Desert Dawn only gets the enviable assignment of leading the way for us. Now engage the BuCUE units. Sensors indicate there might be five of them. Seaman Haw will be guiding you from here, I need to make sure the Lesseps doesn't get any closer to us."

"Sounds good to me," I muttered as I turned to face the charging ZAFT units. Nothing like helicopters and wolf-like giant robots to start my day off right.

Miriallia. "There's no sign of the Aegis or the Duel Assault Shroud. You're cleared to engage."

It felt odd that neither one was charging us. What were they waiting for? Or were the BuCUEs some kind of trap, and if I bit, would one or both of the GUNDAMs suddenly spring out of nowhere and attack? Both were incredibly fast, and especially Athrun with that colossal cannon of his . . . the cannon that the Aegis had access to in Mobile Armor mode could cause serious damage to the Archangel. In space, that cannon was possibly lethal thanks to lovely side-effects such as depressurization.

I checked my sensors one more time. Still no sign of either GUNDAM coming into the picture. Was Waltfeld being conservative here, or was there another reason why neither GUNDAM was attacking?

I couldn't afford to sit around and think anymore. I accelerated right towards the BuCUE in the front, as it was about to engage a few jeeps and technicals from Desert Dawn. I could already tell the Dawn forces stood no chance.

I wondered briefly who the Dawn soldiers were as I moved in. Were any of them part of the group that had kidnapped me? There was no way to know for sure. I had to save them. For this battle, they were my allies.

I aimed my beam rifle at the BuCUE, which seemed unaware I was coming from above. Just as I locked on, the BuCUE's head turned and looked at me, but I already knew it was too late.

I fired and a shot went right through the BuCUE's head, and the machine collapsed in a heap just a few moments later, the head smoking.

One down, four to go. I slammed into the ground, right in front of the Dawn forces, to see another BuCUE charge straight at me, its beam saber in its mouth. I immediately aimed my rifle and fired it, and fired the Igelstellung machine-gun turrets from my GUNDAM's head as well for good measure. The rifle shots missed, but the machine-gun fire surprisingly didn't, and caused a few dents.

The BuCUE was still trying to charge me. Keeping up the machine-gun fire, I switched to my beam sword right as it made its lunge. I gave the BuCUE a forward kick and slammed it backwards, and then accelerated right towards it, jumping into the air at the last moment and stabbed it from above.

The BuCUE immediately began to spark and I jumped away just in time to see it explode into several pieces. Before I could take that kill in too a third BuCUE charged in from behind, firing lasers and also attempting to make a charge with its beam saber. I spun around and kicked the BuCUE in the head with the Strike's left leg, and then stabbed the BuCUE in the neck with the beam sword. Just like with the second BuCUE, I had to jump away to avoid damage as the BuCUE self-destructed.

I switched back to the rifle, and found myself gasping for air. I realized after a moment that I had held my breath the whole time during that exchange.

Miriallia. "Cagalli, are you all right?"

As she said that, here came two helicopters twelve o'clock. I blasted them both down in the next five seconds, and took the time to respond as their fiery remnants fell to earth. "Now I am."

"Keep it up. We're making good progress so far. There's two remaining BuCUEs trying to attack us from the the right flank."

"Starboard," Badgiruel interrupted.

"R-Right. Starboard flank," Miriallia said.

"Lieutenant-Commander La Flaga, how're you doing?" I asked.

"Well, I found the Duel Assault Shroud and the Buster. They're on top of the Lesseps and they aren't moving. The Duel doesn't even have its launcher pack attached to it."

"Why wouldn't they?" I wondered aloud. Maybe it was adrenaline, or just enough time with Kira, but I quickly realized a potential answer. "You think Waltfeld doesn't have the tech to recharge the Duel's launcher?"

"It's possible, and right now I'll take it," La Flaga replied. "I can't get in very close though. Both the Duel and the Buster are putting up heavy flak. I need some help."

The worrisome part of this whole deal was that La Flaga hadn't brought up the Aegis at all. That meant it had launched and was lurking around somewhere, waiting to attack when the time was right. Was Waltfeld planning some kind of ambush?

As I approached the two remaining BuCUE, I knew I had to voice it now. "Captain Ramius, I think they might be setting an ambush. The Aegis is not by La Flaga which means it's lying in wait somewhere."

"We have no choice, Ensign," Murrue replied. "If there's an ambush we need to plow right through it. Just finish off the BuCUEs."

"I'm already on it," I said, right before I divebombed the next BuCUE in line. It saw me and jumped out of the way, but I quickly repositioned myself, and after having my shield eat a shot from its laser, I returned fire and blew a hole in the midsection. It collapsed and exploded.

The other BuCUE wasn't going to go down the way its partners did. It was moving quickly, almost in a circular pattern, trying to keep ahead of my machine and its targeting. I had to hide the Strike behind the shield before the Phase Shift could take too many blows, but even that was a stalling tactic that wasn't going to work for too long.

Suddenly, explosions erupted all over the northwest corner of my screen, right by the Archangel. "Murru-uh, Captain Ramius! What's going on?"

Miriallia, sounding extremely panicked. "Cagalli, we have a minefield!"

Murrue spoke up next. "Desert Dawn ran right into a minefield. They can't move forward, and we're caught on something! We can't move either!"

A brief pause. "Ensign, we have the Henry Carter coming right at us! And the Aegis is on radar! It's coming right for us!"

Ambush. Just as I had thought. But it was worse than that. Waltfeld had put one of his three ships directly in front of the Archangel, and while it wasn't quite point-blank, it was damn close. The minefield and whatever was restraining the Archangel meant that the Archangel couldn't move without receiving heavy damage to the engines that allowed it to hover in the air. And, as the coup de grace, there was Athrun, who was completely mobile, and ready to dive-bomb the bridge and end the fight as quickly as it had started.

There was no time to waste. I took my shield and chucked it right at the last BuCUE, and I cleaved it right in half. I had no time to go and fetch my shield, or even register what I had just done. All I could do was take off and charge right for the Aegis' position. I knew that if Athrun was on my sensors, I was on his. He had to know it was me.

The Aegis changed direction away from the Archangel in the next few seconds, and I immediately got a hail on the public channel. Yep, Athrun knew I was here. And I knew why he was hailing me too. He was going to try yet again to make me switch sides.

I had many too many promises to too many people to take him up on it. I wasn't even going to deal with that right now. I was going to rebuff him and just shoot him down, and let the battlefield chaos sort everything out from there. I was sure Athrun would have plenty of time to catch up with me while he was stuck in the brig.

"Cagalli?" was the first thing I heard him say.

"Athrun?" I immediately realized what a big mistake that was to say, so I quickly shook it off to get to my point.

"Look, Athrun, I'm glad you survived our fall through the Earth's atmosphere too. What you did to save me means a lot. Really."

No response. I wasn't sure how to interpret that. Athrun usually answered.

"But it's just like I told you before! I have people onboard the Archangel that I have to protect! I am not going to join with you no matter what you say!"

Athrun finally responded. His voice was soft but strong. "I know."

"Huh?" I'll admit, not my smartest response, but the only one I could come up with.

"The only way to save you is to defeat you."

"Athrun?" The realization slowly began to hit me that Athrun was every bit of determined to shoot me down as I was. And it sent a chill down my spine.

"I'm sorry."

Suddenly, this colossal wave of light came charging right at me and I barely got out of the way in time. Crying out both from fright and exertion, I forced myself to keep from plowing into the sand as I tried to get some kind of angle on the Aegis.

Athrun began ranting then, his voice edgy and shaky. "You've given me no choice, Cagalli! There's too much at stake here now!"

I tried to shoot him, but he was just too fast. It didn't help that what he had said was completely, utterly confusing.

"What the hell are you talking about? "

"It doesn't matter! You've made it pretty clear that my words don't matter!"

Wonderful. I had pissed him off.

As that lovely thought crossed through my mind, another shot from his cannon came right at me, and I had to halt the Strike in mid-air and stall it in order for the shot to fly right in front of me. Of course, halting the Strike means that I have a zillion tons immediately falling right to Earth, and I barely managed to take back off and keep from crash-landing.

"Athrun, you almost hit me there! You mean it, don't you?" It was hard to believe. Athrun was actually attacking me with the intention to shoot me down. That had never happened before in all of our previous fights. And he sounded desperate. Really desperate.

"You told me it yourself, in the park when we were kids, that I can't just sit around and feel sorry for myself. That I have to take action."

I knew what he was talking about. That was the day before he kissed me. He had gotten some serious bullying over his long hair that day, and had been in tears, and I had been trying to motivate him. I had not known that I had inadvertently motivated him to kiss me. Who knew that telling Athrun to get off his ass and do something about his situation would result in my first kiss? Really, who would?

Athrun still. "Well, I'm taking action right now, Cagalli! I'm sorry but there's no other choice!"

He was looping right for me. No time to dodge. I was bracing myself for the inevitable collision. "Of course, now you finally grow a backbone," I growled as I tried to draw the beam sword in time.

No dice. He slammed right into me and drove me back several feet. I tried to use the Strike's hands to pry the vise-like grip the Aegis had with its claws, but I wasn't making any kind of progress. He had grabbed me right below the cockpit, around the Strike's torso, and I could tell there was nothing I could do to get free.

"I won't let you die here! Not like this, not here, not anywhere!"

Dammit, Athrun, I thought. Don't even start with this right now. Please.

"You can't escape the Aegis when it's wrapped around you! The war ends for you right here!"

It was right then when I noticed the cannon was beginning to charge, and when it opened fire, it would be right at my mid-section.

"Athrun!" I cried in alarm, in surprise, in fear. I couldn't believe it. He was really trying to destroy the Strike. He finally had summoned the courage to do it. To destroy this machine and knock me out of the war by force.

"It's over. Forgive me, Cagalli," he said.

The cannon in the Aegis' midsection looked fully charged. It could shoot any second and annihiliate the Strike and end the war. So surreal.

"I'm going to shoot the Scylla now!" Athrun shouted. "It's aimed at your waist, below the cockpit. The Strike will be blown in half but you'll survive."

He was really going to do it. I could hear it in his voice. How long had he been psyching himself up to seriously try to shoot me down? What had given him the final push to go all-out on me?

"You can't mean this!" I shouted as I continued to try to pry the Aegis off of me in desperation. I wasn't making a lot of progress. The Aegis' grip was strong. Really strong.

I heard Miriallia. "Cagalli, we just had a stolen Skygrasper launch out of the bay! It's coming right at you! Watch yourself, it's-"

"Not now, Miri, I'm trying not to get a hole blasted through me," I growled back to Miriallia, but Athrun, as if he hadn't heard a thing, continued to rant at me.

"Too much is riding on this, Cagalli! More than you know!"

My intelligent response again. "Huh?"

But Athrun was through with words, through with talking, through with convincing me. He was going to bring me back to ZAFT and the PLANTs by force. "See you soon, Cagalli."

He was going to fire. He really was. There was no way for him to miss. Nothing.

But just as he was about to fire, came a flurry of missiles from my left, Athrun's right, where the Archangel was still struggling to progress.

I realized it was the second Skygrasper, and so did Athrun.

Athrun immediately let go of me and tried to blast off, but the missiles slammed into the Aegis just a few seconds later, before he could try any emergency manuevers.

Athrun's cries as he was hit made it feel like my heart was taking a fist to it, and I realized right then and there that once again, Athrun had protected me. Those missiles could have hit me as well, at least from the explosion range, or, more sinisterly, Athrun could have tried to turn me into the missiles so I would become a shield.

But he had done neither. He had taken the path that would result in the most damage to him and the least to me.

"Athrun!" I couldn't help but cry.

The Aegis was smoking. Immediately, the Aegis blasted away from me, and Athrun would not answer. I yelled his name again, and there was still no answer. But at least he was still alive. If he was dead the Aegis would've crashed into the ground.

I switched back to the encrypted channel. "The Aegis was hit by the stolen Skygrasper, he's withdrawing. Miri, what's going on?"

"We can't get free!" Miriallia wailed in response.

I flew in the Archangel's direction and saw that it was leaning in a peculiar way right next to the old factory. I realized immediately that this was yet another part of Waltfeld's trap. I couldn't see what had ensnared the Archangel, but it was enough to keep the Archangel from moving. And the ship was rapidly becoming surrounded, all three ships were rapidly closing in.

I had half of my power left, and no shield. I knew I had to do something, though.

Why wasn't the stolen Skygrasper operator responding? I sent out a generic hail towards the stolen Skygrasper. I was going to need this person's help in order to protect the Archangel.

When the channel opened up, I breathed a sigh of relief, and then got to work. "Skygrasper 2, identify yourself. This is Ensign Cagalli Yamato in the Strike GUNDAM."

A soft chuckle confirmed the person's identity before any words were said, and it made my heart pound as the person spoke. "Seaman Second Class Flay Allster."

Dammit, Flay. My worst nightmare, my ultimate unintended consequence of shoving Flay into the Skygrasper simulator. It had come to life.

Wait a minute, this shouldn't have even been possible in the first place. "How the heck did you escape from the brig?"

"We lost power briefly when the Archangel was caught," Flay replied. "I escaped then. I have a pressure suit on so I can take the G forces. Just tell me what to do, Cagalli."

Natarle Badgiruel. spoke before I could. "Land the Skygrasper immediately, Seaman Allster! You are not authorized to fly that Mobile Armor! You are facing a-"

Murrue. "Natarle, enough. Seaman Allster, follow my orders to the letter or I will let the lieutenant-commander have her way with you. Clear?"

A pause. Then a soft "Clear."

"Good," Murrue said. "Lieutenant-Commander La Flaga is trying to keep the Lesseps from attacking us point blank. The Henry Carter is directly in front of us, and we're stuck on something. Ensign Yamato, engage the Carter. Seaman Allster, cut us loose and then engage the Carter as well."

Something beeped on my sensors. "What if Waltfeld is attacking us? I have a command-type BuCUE approaching, it must be his LaGOWE."

"Waltfeld gets priority over the Carter, Ensign. Engage him. Allster, your orders are unchanged."

"You got it, ma'am." I blasted right towards the command-type BuCUE, and I saw it within seconds. It was bright orange, and seemed highly advanced, almost prideful, in its appearance. I left the Henry Carter alone, and the ship seemed content in letting me go as it engaged the Archangel directly.

As much as I wanted to worry about Flay, and what path I had put her on, I knew I had to concentrate on one thing and one thing only: fighting Waltfeld. I didn't have much time to beat him, not when my power was already getting low.

There was the LaGOWE, its twin saber in its mouth. I reactivated the public channel. "I assume we're having a duel of some kind considering the Henry Carter isn't trying to kill me."

I heard Andrew Waltfeld laugh. "The truth is that the Archangel is keeping the Carter's hands full, Ensign Cagalli Yamato. But that's fine. I want it this way."

"Is that why the Duel hasn't attacked?"

Another chuckle. "I warned her that I didn't have the equipment to recharge that specialized pack she brought with her, and she wasted it attacking you outside the ruins of Tassil. That's all there is to it, kid. Again, you assume I am bound by some code of medieval honor when the truth is merely circumstances."

Missile flurry, coming my direction. I forced myself to zigzag out of their way, and tried to get an angle on Waltfeld. The LaGOWE was surprisingly quick, quicker than the BuCUEs, and I was having a rough time trying to get the edge.

"I think we have the upper hand, Waltfeld," I said. "Are you sure you don't want to surrender?"

"The battle isn't over with!" Waltfeld replied. "Never assume you've won the battle! After what you did with my BuCUEs and to the Aegis, I doubt you have much power left anyway! All I have to do is outlast you!"

He had a point. My power was down to about forty percent at that point, and it was going down with each shot I fired at the LaGOWE. I had to end this and quickly before I ran out of power, or Phase Shift, or both.

I could hear Aisha chuckling as we continued to charge around each other, trading fire. "You're not bad!"

The sensors were going crazy around the Henry Carter's location. I heard Flay laughing on the com. "That's right! That's right! How does it feel to be the ones terrified and helpless, huh? Now you know how my daddy felt when he died! No, now you know how I feel! How I feel every single damn day!"

Waltfeld sighed, and I realized he had heard Flay's rant. She probably wasn't tuned to the public channel, but I was. So I, and Waltfeld by extension, could hear her, but Flay couldn't hear Waltfeld. "Sounds like you have another Asta Joule in your midst."

Again with the pilot of the Duel Assault Shroud. "How does this have to matter with anything, Waltfeld?"

"Her hatred will burn her out from the inside. She will become a symptom of this war and its harshest motivations unless you do something, kid . . . assuming you survive this battle of course."

"If you're so critical about this war, why are you fighting me? Why are you risking your life? Answer me that!"

"It's my duty! In war, you fire at the enemy no matter who he or she is! There can be no hesitation!"

So, Waltfeld's "duty" was going to decide whether my friends, whether Elle, would live or die.

I knew that I had no choice.

"I guess this means that I have to kill you now," I said.

Waltfeld chuckled. "Feeling's mutual, kid."

I discarded the beam rifle. I was down to a quarter of my power left. I drew the beam sword, and here came Waltfeld, charging in.

Missile barrage coming from right in front of me. I immediately activated the thrusters and sent the Strike high into the air, as massive explosions erupted directly underneath, blowing up much of the sand. I moved the Strike forward, and then immediately plunged down.

Waltfeld saw it coming. He immediately got out of the way and I crashed into sand, causing a sand plume to erupt in my spot and temporarily blind my vision. I doubled back, trying to get out of it, when suddenly the LaGOWE lunged right at me, leaping in the air as part of its twin saber aimed for my cockpit.

In desperation, I sliced upwards.

I cleaved a gaping hole in the underside of the LaGOWE and, using my beam sword's momentum, I sent it crashing into the sand in a heap.

It sparked several times, and then died. All of it. The twin saber vanished, as did the glowing red eye on the LaGOWE's head. It was like roadkill at the side of the road, motionless, silent. Pointless.

I walked over to the fallen LaGOWE, and I switched my channel back to exclusively the Archangel. The battle was going well. The Duel and Buster were forced to abandon the Lesseps, or had chosen to, and now were floundering in the desert. La Flaga was causing a lot of damage, and so had Flay after she had freed the Archangel from whatever had ensnared it. She still had not been shot down, and she was racking up the kills, mostly picking on the helicopters and the archaic Mobile Suits on top of the Henry Carter.

We were going to win.

Still no sign of Waltfeld or his lover Aisha. I marched right next to the fallen LaGOWE, and nothing was moving. I wondered if I had killed them.

The thought was unnerving. Although they hadn't saved my life in the same dramatic way Athrun had, Aisha had disarmed Asta Joule and prevented my death. And she was operating under Waltfeld's orders, making him my indirect savior as well. And this is how I repaid them? By killing them?

Battlefield or no battlefield, that just seemed horrifically wrong.

I switched off the Strike and lowered myself down on a hook, my pistol in my free hand as I got on the ground and ran towards the fallen, cracked LaGOWE.

Was this a preview of the end with Athrun? Where I would have no choice but to attack him this way? That I would have to risk killing him? Back up in space, when Athrun had just seemed to be like a stalker, the choice seemed easy. But down here, nowhere even close.

When I reached the fissure I had left in the LaGOWE, I could hear Aisha's soft, mildly husky voice. "Andy. Andy."

It was a lament, full of emotional pain, not physical pain. I crawled my way inside, and I saw Waltfeld's two-person cockpit, and there was Aisha, kneeling in front of Waltfeld, a sizable shard of metal or something else in Waltfeld's left leg.

He saw me, and managed a weak smile. "Not bad, kid."

Aisha spun around. "Cagalli."

I raised my pistol. "As of right now, you're both my prisoners."

Aisha stared at me, and then Waltfeld just chuckled. "Kid, it's just gonna be Aisha." "Andy!" Aisha exclaimed.

"You know as well as I do that I've had an artery cut," Waltfeld said. "Nothing is going to save me."

I walked closer to where Aisha was kneeling, and where Waltfeld was sitting, and I could see dark liquid around where the metal shard had embedded in Waltfeld's leg. It looked like the cockpit had partically caved in, and the way the LaGOWE had crashed, along with the damage from the Strike, had caused the cockpit to invert itself, it was facing the rest of the LaGOWE's body.

Waltfeld groaned as he tried to straighten up in his seat. "Kid, I've already issued my forces the order to retreat . . . what you need to do is get Aisha out of here. Get her somewhere safe. She's had enough violence."

"Andy, don't say that! Please!" Aisha pleaded.

"Aisha, don't be stupid!" Waltfeld replied. "I won't let you die out here. It's better that your life is on hold than it being permanently over."

"Andy . . ." Aisha threw off her helmet, revealing her long hair in a bun, and she held Waltfeld's hands. "Andy, I . . . I'll do it . . . okay?"

"You . . . promise?" Waltfeld asked.

"Yes, of course. Of course I promise, Andy," Aisha replied.

She was starting to cry. "I love you."

"I know." Waltfeld was fading, his head was beginning to dip to the side, and his breathing was getting shallower.

"Goodbye," Aisha managed through her choked up voice, and she kissed Waltfeld on the mouth, still holding his hands. A couple of seconds later, Waltfeld's grip began to slack, and Aisha separated.

Tears pouring from her blue eyes, Aisha whispered "I love you. I always will."

Waltfeld did not respond.

It felt like to me like the man named "Wilson" I had killed in Tassil by shooting him with my pistol. It was one thing to kill pilots hiding inside gigantic machinery. But watching him die in front my eyes felt hollow and inhuman, like I had committed some savage act. Which I had. The was act was called murder.

Aisha whimpered a few times, and finally she let go of Waltfeld's slack hands. She raised her arms above her head. "T-The last thing that goes away . . . is people's hearing. He needed to hear me . . . one last time . . ."

"I didn't know that." Which was the truth. My path through college didn't involve many medical classes. "But I understand. Now please, I'm going to take you back to the Archangel. Don't force me to kill you too."

"I'm not breaking my promise to Andy," Aisha said through her tears, and then she walked back towards the gaping hole, and I followed her.

Some would think I would be feeling joy in what I had done. I had beaten a top-level ZAFT officer. Smashed his forces, sent them retreating in disarray, and killed the officer personally. I had struck a big blow in terms of ending the war and crippling ZAFT's forces.

But as I escorted Aisha out of the fallen LaGOWE, and directed her with my free hand towards the Strike, I didn't feel any sense of victory or jubiliation.

All I had done was do mercenary work for a rebel organization that ZAFT probably regarded as terrorists. That's all this was. Making matters worse, I had spoken with Waltfeld and Aisha. They had saved me from Asta Joule. I had gotten to know them both. And this was their reward for it all. Waltfeld was dead, and I had just made Aisha a P.O.W.

Something was not right with this picture.

But it made me feel like crying too. All this reminded me was that there were people inside all of the metal contraptions I had destroyed since Heliopolis. People who had lovers and families, all of whom would be broken forever because of me.

And Aisha was the first one I had not killed out of the people I had shot down. And she was still Waltfeld's lover or girlfriend or something, and she had to watch Waltfeld slowly die in front of her eyes.

What a horrific survival rate.

What a horrific war.

Athrun . . . there was no way I was going to beat him without killing him, was there? The chances were just too low.

And then I would just be like Aisha, crying in plain view but in reality all alone because there would be no one who would understand.

It made me realize something I had never thought about before.

All I had done was think about how I suffered from the war, and how I could not escape it. Even when thinking of Flay, Sai, or others that were struggling, it all revolved around me, from my perspective, from what I had done or not done. Not from their own perspectives or how their choices had resulted in their own suffering.

The truth was that war is this pandemic that affects every single person that's caught in it.

War is inescapable for everyone, no matter who is caught in 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
Joined: Wed May 02, 2007 7:43 pm
Location: Illinois, USA

Re: Gundam SEED: Bloodlines (Chapter 36 10/6/12)

Post by rebel_cheese » Sat Oct 13, 2012 1:16 pm

I would also like to mention that I altered the fight with Miguel all the way back in chapter 5. It's not much of a change, mostly cosmetic, but I wanted to bring that up.
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 37 10/13/12)

Post by rebel_cheese » Fri Oct 19, 2012 11:34 pm

I decided to post this a little early given it's doubtful I'll have much PC time tomorrow.
______________________________________________________________________________________

Chapter Thirty-Eight: Winds of Change

I had beaten Waltfeld with enough power to take the Strike and fly it back to the Archangel. Aisha sat coolly by my side, and made no moves, and didn't say a word to me. She didn't need to. I knew how she felt. I had killed the person she loved, after all.

The temptation to try to kill me had to be pretty strong. Maybe that's why Waltfeld had said what he said. So Aisha wouldn't pull a stunt that would involve her own self-destruction. I didn't know if Aisha was the type of person to do such a thing, but a grieving person is capable of things they normally wouldn't do. Desperate, self-destructive things.

I couldn't come up with anything to say to her either. There was nothing that would alleviate her pain. Not from the person who had killed Andrew Waltfeld.

I only felt a wave of relief when I finally docked the Strike inside the Archangel, and a few guards came and led a still-silent Aisha away. It occurred to me that I didn't even know Aisha's last name, or whether she was even engaged or married to Andrew Waltfeld. Who knew how deep the connection could go?

I thought about just resting inside the Strike cockpit for a while, but I knew I couldn't do that. I needed to go inside the ship. It would be much more comfortable sleeping in my bunk than in here. I took my helmet off and walked outside, giving one last look at Aisha as she walked down the stairway towards ground floor, still being cooperative, but not giving her newfound captors any more attention than necessary.

Damn it, what had I done? It just didn't feel right. None of this. No wonder so many people can't take war. Not only the feeling of being killed, but knowing that you were murdering people just like you.

"Cagalli!" Kira shouted from behind me.

I turned around and saw him. He was gleaming brightly, and I knew why. I had to smile for him, as hollow as I felt. "Hi. Your advice worked well."

"Yeah, it did! I can't believe it, you did so great out there!" Kira peered inside the cockpit excitedly as he spoke, and then came back out. "Seriously, you were incredible out there! I mean, we're going to need to fish the shield out of the sands, but otherwise . . ."

"Thank you," I said.

Kira's smile faded just a bit. "I forgot. You got to know Andrew Waltfeld."

"He was an enemy, Kira, and he had to die. If he survived, you would probably be dead or captured right about now," I replied.

Kira's face finally fell completely. "I know. You have a lot of responsibility on your shoulders. I'm sorry."

"No, you have every right to be happy. This stupid desert campaign is finally over. I killed the Desert Tiger. Now we can finally go home," I replied.

Kira scratched the back of his head and had an awkward expression on his face. That bugged me. "What?" I asked.

"Well, we gotta cross the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean and pass by ZAFT's Carpentaria Base which is located in Australia. All before we make it to Orb waters. We're about three weeks away from home, Cagalli," Kira replied.

"Yeah. And the 'ZAFT Carpentaria Base' part doesn't sound too good," I replied.

"No. Even if we avoid battle in the Red Sea and Indian Ocean I bet that ZAFT will try to intercept us somewhere after the Strait of Malacca in Indonesia," Kira replied.

"Then I guess I'll enjoy the peace and quiet while I still can," I said, as I noticed that Flay's stolen Skygrasper was in the hangar. In fact, she had landed before I had, but it looked like she was still in the Skygrasper unit.

"What's up with Flay?" I asked.

"She'll probably disturb the peace and quiet before it even starts," Kira replied.

I glared at him.

Kira awkwardly chuckled. "Well . . . I think she's scared to come out, y'know . . . plus Murdoch is really embarrassed that he let Flay barge in here and take the Skygrasper on him too. Nobody's happy with Flay even though she brought it home intact."

"Yeah, I know. Badgiruel's going to have Flay's head," I replied. "C'mon. Let's see if Flay's gone crazy or not."

"You really think so?" Kira asked as he followed me.

"No, but I doubt she's doing well. You didn't hear the stuff she was spewing during the battle," I replied as I went towards the stairs. "She was venting. A lot."

"Oh boy," Kira sighed as he followed me to ground level.

We walked over to the Skygrasper. Yup, Flay was still in there. She had her helmet off and her eyes closed, as if she was sleeping or meditating.

Well, it was better than her laughing insanely or making some kind of creepy facial expression.

You can probably tell I wasn't asking for a whole lot.

"Do we dare open the cockpit from the outside?" Kira asked.

"It's not like she's been demonically possessed or anything," I replied.

"Yeah, but Skygraspers have a pistol inside. She could freak out and pull it on us," Kira replied.

"I highly doubt Flay's that far gone," I replied.

It was then that the cockpit's seal vanished with a hiss, and then a thin buzzing noise as a motor opened the canopy. Flay took her helmet off as the canopy opened completely, and she turned to look at us. Her face was impassive. "Cagalli. Prince Kira."

"Uh, hi," Kira managed with a nervous little smile on his face.

"I did it," she said, opening and closing her right fist. "I did it. I killed them. Killed the Coordinators. Avenged my daddy."

Tears began forming in her eyes. "Do you think . . . Daddy would be proud of me? Daddy would, right? I'm stronger, I fought his enemies, I killed them, you know? But then . . . then he . . . sent me to Orb . . . so I wouldn't fight . . . so . . . maybe he's angry wherever he is now. Maybe he hates me."

She put her hands to her face. "What have I done? Oh my God, what have I done? Daddy, I'm sorry! I'm sorry!"

Flay's fall from emotionless to a total sobbing wreck was stunning to watch, and I found myself struggling for words. Just like with Waltfeld, all I could feel was responsibility for this. This was my fault. Flay's emotional damage was her and her alone, but I had turned her towards this path. I had put her in the simulator, and she had learned how to fly, how to kill.

I had sorely underestimated this girl in every way possible.

I slowly reached my hand out, ready to withdraw at the first indication that Flay would lash out. When she didn't seem to pay me any attention, I slowly placed my hand on her right shoulder. "Flay."

Her head didn't turn towards me, but her hands moved away from her eyes, and they looked right at me. "What do you want?"

My throat felt constricted. I truly had no idea what to say. I started to talk anyway, hoping I could improvise something out of thin air. "Flay, I-"

It didn't matter. "Why don't I feel better, Cagalli? Why don't I? I don't feel better at all! Just worse. All I feel is worse!"

Every response I thought of sounded worse and worse. All it would do would stun her, enrage her, drive her further into despair. And it would be because of me. Because I was the one ultimately responsible for this. I made her go into the Skygrasper.

"It's my fault," I finally said. "I did this to you. I put you into the Skygrasper simulator and started all of this."

A new voice from behind. "God damn it, Ensign! Enough with your guilt! You may have put her in the simulator but it was Seaman Allster's choice to do what she did afterwards!"

It was Natarle Badgiruel. Kira slowly, nervously, backed away as Natarle approached the Skygrasper. "And now, I need you to step away. Seaman Allster stole military equipment she was not qualified to operate. You know the term 'throw the book at you'? That's what Allster qualifies for after this stunt."

"B-But-"

"Step away. Now," Badgiruel said.

She meant it. I looked from her, and back to Flay, who looked like she was going to fall into pieces from both terror and despair.

What Badgiruel had said made sense. It was Flay's choice. But, I still was the one who put her on the path to make her choices. I couldn't help but feel but somehow this was ultimately my fault and something I had to own up to.

So I moved myself inbetween Badgiruel and Flay.

Kira's eyes widened. "Cagalli, please."

"I can't, Kira. I just can't sit here and let Flay be punished for something I ultimately pushed her to do. If she's going to be punished, I'll be punished with her."

Badgiruel's eyes narrowed, but before she could speak I heard Murrue's voice in the distance, breathless. "Stop, all of you, stop!"

"Captain Ramius," Badgiruel said, clearly surprised.

It looked like Ramius had run the whole way from the bridge. "We're settling this in the officer's room, Natarle. All of it. Now, 2nd Lieutenant Yamato, step out of Lieutenant-Commander Badgiruel's way. That's an direct order."

"Wait, what?" I asked.

"You defeated the commander of the ZAFT forces in this theater, I think it warrants a battlefield promotion," Murrue replied. "But you need to follow orders. All five of us are going into the officer's room to settle this. You, Lieutenant-Commander La Flaga, Lieutenant-Commander Badgiruel and Seaman Second Class Allster. I will not tolerate rogue behavior of any kind, whether it's from you, 2nd Lieutenant, you, Seaman Allster, or you, Natarle. That's something all three of you are guilty of, and you all must see that."

Silence was all that greeted Murrue's remarks.

"Now come on. The sooner we get this settled, the sooner we can make preparations to depart. I'd like to leave within two or three days if we can manage it," Murrue said.

I didn't see any reason to argue with her, so I walked away from the Skygrasper. Badgiruel gave me a glare, but nothing other than that other than a scoff. She had calmed down enough to not lash out at me any further, probably because she knew she was just as guilty of rogue behavior as the rest of us.

As I began following Badgiruel and Murrue, I felt hands on my back. It took me a moment to realize they were Flay's, as she made a sort of weird half-hug. "Thank you," she whispered. "Thank you."

"Y-Yeah," I said. But it didn't make me feel any better, not even after getting a "good luck" nod from Kira as I left him in the hangar.

I could not help but feel that everything that had transpired was directly because of me. Like I was the root cause of everything that had gone wrong onboard this ship.

Like it truly was all my fault.
***
"Lieutenant-Commander Badgiruel is absolutely right that the book can be thrown at you for what you did, Seaman Second Class Allster," Murrue said as we were all sitting down at the table in the officer's room. "What you did constituted theft of military property, but also breaking out of the brig, which technically made you a fugitive as well."

"When the power went out, I thought we were all gonna die, so I made a break for it," Flay replied, her head down, her hands twitching and fidgeting. "When the power came back on, I was out of my cell, and the guards were disoriented, so I ran past them and ran straight to the hangar. I knew that there was some big battle going on. I could tell from what I was hearing all around me, and when I saw the second Skygrasper, fully-equipped and ready to go, I . . ."

She sighed and looked Murrue right in the eye. "I knew I could fly it. I knew I could fight them. All I could think about was what happened to my daddy in space and that happening again right here! That's why I suited up! That's why I took the Skygrasper! I didn't want my daddy's death to happen all over again!"

Flay sniffed and moaned as she tried desperately to keep from falling into a sobbing mess right in front of Murrue. I knew this was no act. Flay's emotion was real. Far too real.

Murrue folded her hands in front of her. "I understand your motivations. And . . ."

She took a long time to think. All of us stared at her intently. "My inclination is to throw you right back into the brig, because honestly the ends do not justify your means, Seaman Allster. But . . . I saw what you did out there. You helped turn the tide against the Tiger in that battle by your mere presence."

Murrue sighed again. "I am giving you a conditional battlefield commission, Ensign Flay Allster."

Flay gasped in surprise.

Mu looked dumbstruck.

I probably looked the same because I sure felt that way. I had never expected Murrue to give Flay so much slack, not in a million years.

Badgiruel's mouth fell open and was the only one who could speak. "What?"

Murrue held up her hand before Badgiruel could speak. "But I mean conditional, Ensign Allster. You are to follow your orders, to the letter, from your superior officers without question. That is part of the reason why I promoted 2nd Lieutenant Yamato, she is your superior officer now in addition to the three of us. If she gives you orders, you will follow them, just like you would from the three of us."

"I . . . I understand," Flay managed, her lips trembling, her eyes still wide in shock.

"If you disobey orders for any reason or you demonstrate poor behavior of any kind, your commission will be revoked, you will be busted all the way down to Seaman 2nd Class, you will not leave the brig and Lieutenant-Commander Badgiruel will be permitted to do what she feels is right regarding you," Murrue said. "Clear?"

"Clear," Flay said.

"Captain Ramius, I feel that this is a huge mistake," Badgiruel said, her eyes as wide as dinner plates.

"Your objection is noted, and like I said I agree with you on Ensign Allster's conduct. But the fact of the matter is that we need pilots," Murrue said.

"Even if Allster was a model soldier, she still hasn't completed the Skygrasper simulator. She only has one 'A' ranking in a row," Badgiruel replied.

"We are going to leave the desert and go across the Indian Ocean and likely battle more than one ZAFT unit on our way to Orb," Murrue said. "La Flaga and Yamato can't do this alone. If Allster can reform her act, and consistently give us results like she did just hours ago, we will be in a much better position."

La Flaga scratched the back of his head. "I guess once we set off for the Red Sea I can begin training her. The simulator's busted anyway after what that Argyle kid did to it, we aren't getting any other pilot trainees until we can get it fixed. If we can get it fixed."

"You're all buying into this, aren't you?" Badgiruel moaned as she facepalmed.

"I won't screw up," Flay said, her voice shaky. "I won't. I promise."

"Good, because like I said, Lieutenant-Commander Badgiruel will have free reign with punishing you," Murrue replied.

"I won't disobey orders, ma'am. I won't. I won't mouth off, or whatever else. I just . . . I just don't want to be locked up anymore. I want to do something," Flay said. Her arms were visibly trembling, and I wanted to place a hand on her shoulder to calm her down.

"And you have your chance," Murrue said. "Please stand while I walk over to you."

Flay did so, as Murrue walked around the table. Murrue pinned a pair of yellow stripes on Flay's collar. "Here you go. Just remember your newfound responsibility, Ensign."

"Y-Yes . . ." Flay seemed to be completely frozen in time for just a few seconds, then, like she had returned to our plane of existence, managed a "Ma'am."

Murrue turned to me. "Normally, your promotion to 2nd Lieutenant means you'll get a white uniform like the three of us. But we don't have any other white officers' uniforms onboard. Unless you want to stick with the Atlantic Federation, you're stuck with your current uniform and you'll just receive a pair of silver bars. We do have those laying around."

"That's okay. I don't care that my uniform is still purple," I said.

Murrue smiled. "Sounds good, Lieutenant. Now you and Ensign Allster are dismissed."

"Actually, I have one more question," I said.

"Yes?" Murrue asked.

"There's a young man who was badly hurt by the people who captured me," I said. "I just want permission to leave the ship to tell him goodbye."

Murrue smiled. "That sounds acceptable to me. And would make a good first assignment for you, Ensign Allster. Protect 2nd Lieutenant Yamato while she gives her farewells."

"Uh, yes, ma'am," Flay replied.

"Good. Get to it immediately. The sooner you two are finished and back inside the ship, the better," Murrue said.

"We're on it, ma'am," I said, and the two of us left.
***
"We have the nicest captain in the world," Flay said as we walked outside. "I thought she was going to kill me, and after she killed me Daddy would kill me in heaven or wherever we go when we die."

This reminded me of that peculiar conversation with Ahmed after leaving Tassil. Not the same subject, but it was kinda eerie in its similarities. "How can you be killed if you're already dead?"

"I dunno. Maybe there's an after-afterlife," Flay said.

"That's a new concept," I said. The Desert Dawn camp was already in the phase of being dismantled, and the various stuff the Archangel crew had strewn about this place was being packaged up and being moved into the ship. It looked like some supplies were also being moved onto the ship, probably food and other provisions that we would need.

"I thought it was all over," Flay said. "All over. And instead I have an officer's stripes and she is even letting me carry a gun. Why? Why does it feel like I'm being rewarded for doing something wrong?"

"She's not rewarding you," I said. "Trust me. All she's done is put a crapload of responsibility on you. You've been empowered, sure, but you could lose it all in an instant. She told you so."

Flay bit her lip and didn't say anything more about the subject. Instead, she changed it. "Why do we need to say goodbye to this 'Ahmed' person, anyway? Isn't he the guy who opened his mouth and got you captured by the Blue Cosmos people in the first place?"

"I just wanted to show him that I'm okay," I replied. "That we're all okay. He helped me get out of Tassil, he was with me to meet Waltfeld. In a way, he's been with me ever since I got stuck in this desert. I think I should tell him goodbye."

"I see," Flay said softly. "You're not blaming him."

"There's no point. It all turned out well in the end," I replied.

"But you could've been killed."

"But I wasn't," I replied. "I'm not going to say anything more until we actually talk to Ahmed. You'll know why I feel this way then."

"O-kay," Flay said, clearly not convinced. But she didn't need to me. I knew I would convince her soon enough, and anyway she was still stunned by the recent turn of developments regarding her. It probably didn't seem real to her.

When I found Ahmed, he was conscious, though much of his body was either in bandages or casts. The rogue, Blue Cosmos-following soldiers had done a clear number to him. He even still needed an IV hooked up to him.

Only one eye, the right one, was exposed, the left eye was under a bandage. When Ahmed saw me, that right eye looked away from me. "Oh no."

"It's all right, Ahmed," I replied. "I just came here to tell you that I'm okay and I will be departing on the Archangel."

"It's my fault," Ahmed said softly. "I didn't make sure the coast was clear before I told Sahib. And I know you were really furious . . . Sahib was blustering about the way you snapped at him just an hour ago. He's kind of glad that you and the ship can depart now."

"Sahib's responsibility was to control his men," I replied. "The buck stops with him. If word did get out, his job was to make sure his men didn't do a self-destructive measure like that. Where they murder the person who gives them the best chance of victory and survival. He failed to do that, and it fell onto one of my superior officers to save me."

"So you forgive me?" Ahmed asked.

"Yes, I forgive you," I replied. "I just want to make sure you're all right before we leave. We have a lot of the more advanced medical technology, so if we need to leave anything behind for you to make sure you're okay, please let us know."

"I think I'm fine." Ahmed managed to smile. "I'm just glad that the Tiger's been beaten. Now all we have to do is take back our land, while ZAFT is reeling over the loss of their commander. I know I won't be participating in any more battles for a while, but . . ."

"But?" I asked.

"But I'm just glad we have hope finally. For so long, all we did was run and lose. But now . . . we can win. You gave us a chance to do that. Now we need to seize it and make the best out of it."

"I hope you will. Just don't die out here," I said.

"I don't think I will as long as I'm in these casts and bandages," Ahmed said. "By the time I'm back on my feet, this war will probably be over."

"I would hope so," I said. "I keep thinking that at some point it has to end."

"When it ends," Ahmed said, "I'm going to write about it. Write about all of the running, all of the ambushes, all of the great machines and robots deployed against us. How we, as mostly foot soldiers fought for survival until your ship and your GUNDAM came crashing down from the heavens and suddenly gave us a real shot to win. To give us freedom again. How one single ship changed the course of our cause and this war . . . and of course you, the girl who flew the GUNDAM machine that defeated the Tiger."

The thought of being used as an biographical piece felt both flattering and embarrassing, and it made me feel extremely awkward. "Thank you, Ahmed."

It gave me an idea though. "Maybe I'll do the same thing. About my ship's own journey."

"That would be amazing," Ahmed said. "I'd love to read about space, and what you guys did before you came to us . . . and what you people did after you left us."

"Yeah sure," I said. "Now I need to be going. Good luck, Ahmed."

"Good luck to you too, Cagalli." Ahmed held out his right arm, wrapped thickly in a cast, and I lightly shook it, careful to not squeeze too tightly or jerk his arm around. Ahmed, from his flat, semi-loopy tone, was high on painkillers, but if I did anything reckless he sure wouldn't feel that way for long.

Not a single grimace of pain came from his face as we shook hands.
***
When I returned to the ship, I thought about Ahmed. About how his optimism wasn't broken, and the ambition of what he wanted to do.

It's a hidden, forgotten story in this war. ZAFT didn't provide Waltfeld with the troops or machinery to decisively win the theater, other than the GUNDAMs and that was because of me. And Desert Dawn? When it is a worldwide war, a group like Dawn who isn't officially aligned with the Earth Alliance isn't going to make headlines. Somebody needed to write about them. Tell their story. Tell what they did during this war.

Was that our fate too? We were just one ship, a cutting-edge ship, natch, with a cutting-edge Mobile Suit onboard piloted by perhaps the one Coordinator willing to fight against ZAFT. That was a story. A big story. But compared to massive battles waging around the world and in space, it probably didn't matter a whole lot. A ship was a ship, a Mobile Suit was a Mobile Suit, and me was just . . . me.

And then there was Flay, who was seeming to change more and more, and show a deeper layer by the day.

Flay looked at me. "Now I see what you mean. Why you took responsibility for me even though I'm the one who did so many crazy things. You're looking at it from the big picture, as opposed to just the events by themselves."

"That's right," I said.

Flay chuckled softly. "You're so stubborn."

"I have to be. It's how I stay alive," I replied.

"I'm going to go and sleep forever," Flay said. "I'll just find one of the empty rooms somewhere on the ship."

"You sure you don't want to share a room?" I asked. "There's four beds in my room, but Elle almost always sleeps with me and Miriallia takes the top bunk above me. So that leaves two beds."

Flay shook her head. "I don't think anyone wants me to share a room with them. I'm crazy, remember?"

"Flay-"

"I think I want to be alone right now anyway," Flay said.

"Uh, all right. But let me know if you change your mind."

"I don't think I will. It's best for everybody that I'm alone," Flay said, almost mournfully. "No one's willing to be friends with me or even just say hi. Nobody visited me when I was thrown into the brig. All this shows is that I have no friends anymore. Maybe I never did."

Just when I thought Flay was mentally somewhere close to okay, this always seemed to happen. Self-loathing, strong emotion, a general sense of something being off. She was not okay.

"You shouldn't say that. What-"

"Cagalli, not right now. I just want to be alone." She started walking away, down a random corridor, but suddenly stopped after a few paces.

"You're seriously considering doing what Ahmed talked about, aren't you?" Flay asked. "Writing about our journey?"

"Yeah."

Flay sighed. "I thought so." Then she walked away.

What was that about? I couldn't guess what. Maybe she thought of writing her own account of what happened. But there was no way to know what she actually meant.

All I knew was that the more I got to know Flay, the more mysterious she became.

And as the mystery got deeper, the more I realized I didn't really know Flay at all.

And I still wasn't sure whether I wanted to.
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 38 10/19/12)

Post by rebel_cheese » Sat Oct 27, 2012 1:30 pm

Chapter Thirty-Nine: Broken Hearts, Torn Up Letters, And The Story Of A Lonely Girl

We left the desert in the middle of the next day. Murrue announced that the intention was indeed to try to make it to Orb to finally discharge and drop off the Orb citizens onboard before the remainder of the personnel take the Archangel to the Alaska airbase. It was really nice for Murrue to do that, considering that we were virtually all enlisted in the Earth Forces at this point. She didn't have to let us go.

And me? I got a silver bar to pin on both of my collars, right on the yellow stripe. My reward for murder. While I felt a small amount of pride in getting the promotion at first, when I thought about what I had done to get it, the hollow feeling inside me just seemed to expand. It was like a whirlpool, a black hole, inside me, slowly sucking the rest of me down.

I was sick of it. Sick of the war, sick of the stress, sick of having to kill people.

The few times I saw Aisha, she was very calm and well-behaved in the brig. I was amazed in how she kept herself dignified, keeping herself presentable and pleasant no matter who came in to talk to her. She was a good person, I was glad I hadn't killed her too. But underneath the generic pleasantness, I knew she was hurting. And I didn't really hang around her, after all, I was responsible for where she was right now, and for the death of the man she loved. I knew she didn't want to see me. All it did was remind her of what happened even more.

Mu La Flaga took Flay and they began flying together around the Archangel for daily practice runs and mock dogfights, which La Flaga always won. The hope was that Flay, being schooled by one of the best pilots in the Earth Alliance, would be dramatically improved and be able to take on any ZAFT forces. Flay was just frustrated, I saw her break her helmet on her locker after one particularly brutal practice run. She was angry, and after her words from a few days before, I knew she felt lonely. But I couldn't come up with anything to really say to her that seemed remotely sympathetic. At least, anything that wouldn't accidentally hurt her feelings.

But mostly, I just felt restless. I wanted to be at Orb already. I wanted to be home. I wanted to be out of this war and return to my own life.

I knew Athrun was out there, ready to interfere. Where would they deploy him after what happened in North Africa? Would they keep him on our tail? Or would they put him elsewhere? Same with the other GUNDAM machines and their pilots.

You would think there would be other battles they could fight. And yet they seemed to collide with the Archangel over and over again.

I knew why. Me. Me and the Strike. But what made me so important that four GUNDAMs that could probably win ZAFT important battles all over various fronts needed to be sent after me? Who was I? And what was the full extent of the Strike's capabilities? What made me and the Strike worth it?

It haunted me those next few days.

It was a surprise, then, when Murrue announced that we were going to take rotating breaks while we were in the Indian Ocean.

"We've all been through a lot together," Murrue said. "It is probably difficult to believe, but it has been over a month since Heliopolis. While the Indian Ocean still has a significant ZAFT presence, I think that after the lengthy campaign we had in the desert, that we will take rotating breaks while in the Indian Ocean. We're not going to downgrade our alert status, but I think that R&R is frankly necessary for all of us."

She had a holographic display of the ship, and highlighted a few areas. "There's a few spots on the exterior of the Archangel that can work as observation decks. You can break here or anywhere in the ship. I know many of you have never been on Earth before or have never seen the ocean. If you want to have something unrelated to the war to take back home with you, now's the chance to experience it."

Natarle stepped in. "We've come up with a rotating break system. We're distributing copies of the list all over the ship, please look at it and memorize the dates and times so you know when you can take your R&R. Once we pass through the Strait of Malacca, the rest breaks will be over. We'll be too close to ZAFT's Carpentaria Base."

When I found out my first break was at the same time as my friends', I took the opportunity to join them on the top observation deck, Elle as usual tagging along beside me.

Tolle. "The air feels so good!"

Miriallia was smiling. "It does feel nice, doesn't it?"

Kuzzey. "The water looks deep."

"Duh, it's the ocean, of course it's gonna be deep!" Tolle replied.

"I've never been on Earth before," Kuzzey said defensively. "Much less have seen the ocean. I'm a little freaked out, okay?"

"The water does look deep," Elle said. "Looks like it can go down for miles and miles."

Kuzzey looked even sicker after hearing that. Somebody was afraid of falling into the drink.

"Should someone pretend to push Kuzzey or would that be going too far?" I asked.

Kuzzey responded to that by backing away from the railing and walking to the middle of the observation deck.

Tolle laughed. "Kuzzey, get a grip."

"I am getting a grip. By staying right here. Forever," Kuzzey replied.

"Geez," Miriallia sighed, and she looked down at the water. "Hard to believe there's so much water so close to the desert, isn't it?"

"Well, it is the Red Sea," Tolle replied. "I guess it's such a large body of water that no amount of sun can evaporate it all. Plus it's always getting water from the Indian Ocean or the Suez."

"Does it really matter how?" asked a voice from behind us.

I turned around. "Sai."

He still had a couple of bandages on his face, but in general his face looked like it was healing pretty well, though there was still some discoloration and obvious tenderness.

"We could've used you in the last battle, man," Tolle said. "We stuck some new guy in your spot and he totally panicked and couldn't figure out what he should be doing."

"Nice to know I'm important," Sai grumbled as he walked up to the railing.

He eyed me but didn't turn to look at me. "I find it kind of surprising you would be up here."

"Why?" I asked.

"Why are you here, Cagalli? Why are you still pretending that nothing has changed?"

"What are you talking about, Sai?" I asked. Elle moaned softly, and I realized I had begun squeezing her hand really tightly. Already, I was on the verge of blowing up, and I couldn't do that in front of Elle, or hurt her because of some immature, rash anger.

"He's just being a jerk," Miriallia said. "He says he thinks we're all keeping you at arm's length because of your thousand-yard stare. He's only been walking around for a day, I don't see how he knows anything."

Miriallia's words were probably meant for reassurance, but I heard that one specific part of her reply, and that resonated more than anything else. "Do I really have a thousand-yard stare, Miriallia?"

Miriallia blinked, and then her eyes widened, as if she had said something she shouldn't have said.

Tolle stepped in. "You . . . drift off a lot nowadays, Cagalli. You're not the same person you were before the desert. Before you came back."

I knew Elle was standing right next to me, hearing all of this. I wondered if she was thinking the same thing too, or whether she could comprehend it. "How am I different?"

"You act depressed, Cagalli. There's no other way to say it!" Miriallia replied.

"Depressed?" I asked, probably sounding like a dense moron in the process.

"Yes! You act like there's some part of you that isn't here anymore, Cagalli! Like maybe only seventy-five or eighty percent of you or something is here! Like you lost the rest or like it's elsewhere! You're always distant, your smiles look forced, you don't even crack a joke unless we practically force you to . . . you just don't act like our friend from Heliopolis anymore!"

The barrage from Miriallia was mind-numbing, but I knew she was right. All of it. She didn't even need to tell me, I knew I was different. I knew that Tassil had done something to me. No, it was more than just Tassil. It was the whole sequence, from the moment I killed Yzak to the moment Ahmed drove me to the Archangel. All of that, together, had changed me.

"I'm sorry," I said. "I don't know what you want me to do."

"You cry when you sleep," Elle said from beside me.

"I what?" I asked, turning to her.

Elle didn't look up at me. "You cry and keep saying you're sorry."

Hearing that was a total shock. I didn't remember my dreams, or if I did, only for a few seconds after I awoke, and I'd forget about them before long. Dreams, more than anything else, were ephemeral, practically mirages that were there one second and vanished the next.

I let go of Elle's hand, knowing full well there was no way I'd avoid clenching my fists. I wanted to blow up. Hearing all of this, all of this questioning and concern and horror, made me want to scream and collapse. Why? Why were they telling me this? Couldn't they understand? Why? Why wouldn't they understand?

"I have seen war from the ground level," I said. "I killed an enemy soldier with a gun. I saw Andrew Waltfeld bleed to death in front of me. I saw people die on both sides trying to capture me. And then there's everything else. All of the Mobile Suits I've destroyed. People were in all of them! How do you think that makes me feel?"

Nobody dared to respond.

"How do you think it makes me feel, knowing that people, who had loved ones, who had lived for who-knows-how-long, maybe even had kids of their own, were killed by me? People have to be told that some man or woman, who could be a son, or daughter, or husband, or wife, or mother, or father, or something else, was killed in action. And guess what? It was because of me!"

Nobody still dared to respond.

"And it gets easier each and every time I do it! It gets easier to pull the trigger and kill them, and it hurts more and more after each battle because it's only then that I realize what I've done! It's even worse when it's someone I got to know, like Waltfeld! I don't want to kill anymore but when I fight I don't even think for a second about trying to find a way to disable my opponent without killing them! Because I just can't! There's no time, trying to disable could get me shot down, and those pilots will probably just hop into another Mobile Suit or Armor or whatever and try to kill us!

"That's right! Us! I made a promise to protect this ship and everyone onboard, okay? And the only way to do that is to kill the stupid bastards who keep coming after us! What do you expect me to do? And how do you expect me to feel? What do you people want from me?"

By that point I was in tears myself. Tolle walked up to me. "Cagalli, I-"

"Just leave me alone!"

I ran away.
***
The rear observation deck had a crappy view, but it was deserted. I sat there next to the door, crying into my knees.

It wasn't just the thought of all the people I killed, and how it was becoming increasingly clear I was becoming isolated from my friends, and possibly even from Elle. I felt pathetic.

But I couldn't keep the thoughts of all of the Mobile Suits, all of the BuCUEs and helicopters I had destroyed. Waltfeld, Yzak, everybody whose names I did not know, who had faces I had never seen, I had killed. And then there were Asta and Aisha, reminders of the aftershocks from what I had done.

Asta, possessed by this burning desire to kill me no matter what the cost because of her brother, and likely on borrowed time if Aisha's testimony at the palace was to be believed. She was dying, apparently. And she had been forcing herself to live for her brother, who was now gone. It was no wonder she was enraged.

And then Aisha, who, oddly, reminded me a lot of . . . me, with the way she stared off into space so much. The resemblance to me was so uncanny that every time that I couldn't bear to approach her when the guards would escort her around the ship so she didn't go crazy from being locked up. She would try to appear dignified and graceful, just like she did at the palace, but there was an obvious emptiness inside her now, just like with me.

And then there was when I saw the seed in my mind's eye shatter. In which I didn't care about my enemies' survival at all. Where I didn't care about anything at all, other than destroying my enemies as mercilessly as possible. In which I was basically a killing machine. What if that happened against Athrun? Would I even kill him?

And thinking of Athrun made me think of Tolle. I didn't want to think of the distance growing between us. And I'm sure he wasn't thrilled about hearing me shout Athrun's name the way I had when Flay attacked him, if he had heard me. I was afraid to ask if he had.

So all I could do was cry.

When I heard footsteps from behind me, I immediately felt embarrassed. Terrified. It was bad enough that people were saying, and likely gossiping, that I was growing distant from them. If I was found crying, how would they take that? They'd just think I was weak and breaking, that's what. How safe would they feel if I, their best protection, was falling apart?

I wiped my eyes with my sleeve frantically and ran over to the railing, getting as far from the door as possible. I heard Kira's voice, though, and I knew he would immediately notice something was wrong.

"Cagalli, you're here too? I thought I'd be by myself out here. Kinda odd that Elle wouldn't be by you," Kira asked.

"Everything's fine," I said, but as I spoke, I immediately heard the trembling in my voice, and I knew Kira was going to notice.

There was a brief pause. "You were crying, weren't you? What's wrong?"

"It doesn't matter," I said, and I tried to get away from him. The only thing I could think of now was to head back to my room.

Kira grabbed my arm. "Cagalli, wait!"

"Let go of me!" I shouted as I shook his hand off of me.

Kira responded by hugging me.

And it gave me the oddest feeling I had ever had. All I knew was that I didn't want him to let go of me.

"It's all right," Kira said. "It's all right. I'm here for you."

Hearing those words brought the tears right back to my eyes, and my throat choked up in an instant. I tried to say something, I don't know what, but it came out as a kind of pathetic, soft croak, and finally I just sobbed into his shoulder.

He didn't budge one bit.
***
Kira eventually led me to the wall by the door, and we both sat down by there. "I was held like that when I cried as a little kid," Kira said. "Somehow it always made me feel better."

"It did," I said. "Thanks."

He sighed. "I'm sorry. I know that part of this has to be my fault. I said that you sounded like a monster out there in the desert. I know that has to be weighing on you."

"It didn't help," I replied.

"Has the 'seed' thing happened again?" Kira asked.

"No. It didn't happen at all against Waltfeld. Though I killed him anyway."

"Now I get it," Kira replied. "You got to know him."

"I'm not fighting for any other reason other than to protect my friends and everyone onboard this ship. People I brought onboard, I should add."

"They would have died if you did not bring them here," Kira replied. "You shouldn't feel guilty for it. They had taken damage, their air was leaking, and their engines weren't working. If you hadn't done that, they would have died, Cagalli."

"I brought them into the war," I said. "If I don't fight, everyone here will die. My friends, all of the civilians, I have to protect them, Kira. And I still didn't save everyone. Elle's mother was murdered, and there was that time we took damage from a ZAFT ship and that got a couple of civilians killed too. I've spent all this time killing people to save them. It gets hard to take after a while."

"You're not fighting on your own, though," Kira replied. "Virtually all of those Orb civilians have Earth Alliance military ranks right now because they have become an integral part of what keeps this ship operating. Heck, look at me, I keep optimizing the Strike for you so you can use it to its full potential. If I wasn't around, the Strike would be much more difficult for you to operate."

"So?" I asked.

"You can't blame yourself for everything. You're not shouldering this alone. We are all fighting alongside you, Cagalli."

"It doesn't feel like it," I replied.

Kira sighed. "There's an old saying that for one front-line soldier, there are eight people who are working to supply and support that one soldier. Cagalli, you may be that front-line soldier, but you have an entire crew of people who maintain, recharge, and repair that Strike. You have people on the Archangel who direct you on your objectives and give you battle updates. You have people who are cooking what we all agree is slop but is still necessary for keeping you going each day. You're not alone in this war."

Kira's words made sense. They truly did. But Kira was missing the important difference between me and everyone else.

"We all may be soldiers, Kira, but I'm the one who does the killing. There's no escaping that."

"I've killed people too," said a new voice.

I looked to my left, past Kira, and there was Flay, standing in the doorway. "I've killed a whole bunch."

"Were you eavesdropping, Flay?" I asked.

"Not for very long," Flay said. "Just for what Kira told you, that's all."

I did not trust Flay at all. Some part of me said that she had been listening for much longer than that. She could've seen me cry, which was the worst thing of all. The last thing I wanted to show Flay was tears.

She sat down at the edge of the doorway, leaning against the edge. "It's nice to know I'm not wrong for feeling horrible about killing. I was wondering if something was wrong with me."

Unexpected words, especially from Flay. Kira seemed surprised too, he said "What do you mean?"

"I felt elated at first, when I attacked the Henry Carter and the units protecting it. I've had this hate for Coordinators that I haven't been able to shake, not since Daddy's death when the Montgomery exploded. When I took that Skygrasper and attacked them, all I felt was this perverted joy knowing they were dying too, just like Daddy did. That I was avenging his death."

Flay paused, and then she folded her arms around her knees. "But then . . . I remembered why I was in Orb in the first place. Daddy wanted me to stay out of the war. And now I know why. I could've died out there. If Daddy was still alive he'd be so worried about me, and he'd be angry too, angry that I'm risking my life. Instead, I made other people die. And they have people who care about them, don't they, just like Daddy loved me."

Flay buried her head in her knees, and her voice sounded increasingly choked. "It's nice to know that . . . that I'm not alone in feeling bad . . . or crying . . ."

Kira rubbed Flay's shoulder. "You're being very brave, going out there to protect this ship."

"That should be my goal, shouldn't it?" Flay asked inbetween sniffs. "I shouldn't think about a-avenging my daddy. A-All that does . . . is make me feel worse. M-Maybe if I-I can . . . c-can just protect this ship . . ."

Kira just rubbed her right shoulder more, and Flay rubbed her eyes. "I don't want to be alone anymore. I can't stand it. It sucks! I don't have anybody I want to fight for!"

"You do have people to fight for. Every man, woman, or child on this ship," Kira said. "What you have done is become their front-line of defense so everyone onboard can make it home, Flay. They're all relying on you. That's why you're being brave. Not everyone is cut out to become that person who everyone needs to rely on."

Flay looked at Kira. "W-Wait a minute . . . you're the prince. Prince Kira!"

Flay's face turned red. "I-I'm sorry!"

Kira seemed flummoxed. "What do you have to be sorry for?"

"I-I don't know," Flay managed. Words failed to describe the combination of despair and yet girlish embarrassment on her face and body language. "I . . . I just . . . didn't recognize you right away . . . my prince."

"My prince"? Really, Flay? It's not like you're some kind of medieval knight here. Or in some really cheesy fantasy movie either.

Kira crossed the line from confusion to embarrassment at being called that. "You d-don't have to-"

"But you are. You are my prince," Flay said. She looked away from him, still blushing heavily, her lips trembling.

"I don't want to be alone anymore. My whole life, I've been sheltered, hidden away. I've just been shallow and . . . and stupid. I can't be that way anymore. My friends weren't really my friends, they were just a way for me to feel popular and cool and stuff. And Sai . . . Sai, if he really wanted to be my boyfriend, he w-would've made me feel better, or at least done something else rather than break the stupid simulator. I think I've been alone this entire time, my whole life, until now."

Flay, with tears still in her eyes, stood up and looked at both of us. "I'll fight for the both of you. My prince, and you, Cagalli, the only person willing to be my friend."

You can imagine how well that went over in my brain. Me, Flay's friend all of a sudden? What was this, had I suddenly plunged into some kind of bizarro-land?

But at the same time, in this cruel way, Flay was right. I had been showing concern for her, showing some kind of understanding and comfort. Those were signs of friendship. And now here she was, pledging to be stronger and better for me. Embarrassing, but if Flay was really done with being "shallow" as she had put it, I knew that being Flay's friend would not mean what it once did.

Kira seemed even more embarrassed than I was. "L-Look, it's flattering, but the 'my prince' talk isn't necessary, I promise."

"It is," Flay said with finality. "You don't have to take the time to help us because you're the prince, but here you are. Helping us. Helping Cagalli protect us. You're amazing and wonderful, my prince."

She hugged him, and Kira's eyes turned to me. Help me seemed to be the unsaid plea.

"Uh, Flay," I said. "If you're feeling better, my offer still stands."

Flay separated from Kira, who looked exceptionally embarrassed. "Yeah, I'll take you up on it, if your other roommates will let me. Like I said, I'm sick and tired of being alone."

"All right, go get your things. We'll talk with Miriallia and Elle as soon as possible, okay?"

"Sounds good, Cagalli. I'll see you later. And you two, my prince." Flay walked away then, a noticeable bounce of energy in her step.

"'My prince', huh?" I asked him.

Kira just blushed and mumbled something.
***
"I'm not going to cause any trouble or disturbances, I just don't want to sleep alone in a bunk anymore," Flay said to Miriallia when she made it to the room I shared.

"I said no," Miriallia said. "I don't need you freaking out one day, and doing to one of us what you did to Sai. That was scary, Flay. Beyond scary. I didn't know you were capable of doing that and I'd rather not be around you now that I know that you are."

"I'm not crazy," Flay replied. "Maybe I was at the time but I've gotten over it."

"Sure you have," Miriallia snapped back.

"I'm not out for revenge anymore. I'm going to fight to protect, just like Cagalli is right here. The least you can do is let me sleep in the room I'd like to sleep in, please," Flay said, her voice on the borderline of begging. "I'll take the bunks not being used right now on the other side of the room, I don't care which one. I just don't want to be alone anymore."

Miriallia just looked at me. "Why are you forcing this on me, Cagalli? Or on Elle? Haven't I made it pretty clear that I don't want Flay here?"

"I'm trying to help her," I replied. "I'm sorry. I should've told you before I extended the offer to Flay again."

"Please," Flay pleaded, her hands folded in front of her. "I promise there'll be no trouble. I just want to share a room. You can search my bags first, or search me, I don't care."

"Flay's different," Elle said softly.

Miriallia looked at Elle. "In what way?"

"She's not as scary now," Elle replied.

Miriallia facepalmed. "Fine. But you're taking the bunk on the other side of the room, and if you give me one hint of trouble, I don't care about Cagalli's sympathy for you, you're gone."

"It's not anything different from what Captain Ramius told me," Flay said. "That's fine with me."

"Go ahead," Miriallia said, waving Flay to the other bunk. As Flay walked over, Miriallia gave me the evil eye. "One incident, Cagalli, and I don't care how minor it is . . ."

"I get it, Miri. I swear!"

"You've got a lot of nerve, running away from me and Elle in tears like that and coming back here with Flay. You do something like that again I'll kick you out too. And I'll take custody of Elle. I don't think Elle's caregiver should be falling apart."

"No!" Elle cried. "I'd rather be with Cagalli, Miri. Cagalli's always there for me. And I know Cagalli didn't kill my mom. I trust her."

Miriallia sighed and closed her eyes, as if meditating.

"I promise there'll be no more trouble," I said. "Kira helped me get over myself, at least a little."

"Fine. If you say so, Cagalli. Now I'm going to flop on the top bunk and get some beauty rest. You do whatever you want."

Miriallia did exactly as she said, and Flay seemed to be preparing the top bunk on her side of the room for herself. What had I done to deserve the bottom bunk?

But when Elle walked up to me and hugged me, I knew why. Elle couldn't climb the ladder.

It was amazing as it was that Elle was still willing to be by my side, and treat me like I hadn't crumbled to pieces in front of her just hours ago. But it made sense, now that Elle had come out and said it. I was the only person on this ship guaranteed to not have killed her mom. I was the only person left to trust.

And I couldn't keep violating that trust by falling apart in front of Elle.

I hugged her and walked over to the bed. It was the end of a long day, and I was, for once, looking forward to sleeping.

I hoped I wouldn't cry in my sleep. I had cried enough that day. I was through with crying. At least for the moment . . .
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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Location: Illinois, USA

Re: Gundam SEED: Bloodlines (Chapter 39 10/27/12)

Post by rebel_cheese » Fri Nov 02, 2012 3:39 pm

This is the last chapter that follows the Gundam SEED storyline. After this, while some events and locales visited in the original SEED may be revisited, they will be from drastically different perspectives and situations and even have different conclusions.
___________________________________________________________________________________

Chapter Forty: The Illusion of Safety

I spent the first hour of the next morning playing with Elle and playing with Elle's cat, who I had somewhat forgotten about since our arrival in the desert, but Miriallia seemed to have taken care of it in the meantime. I guess Miriallia's prediction of being the "crazy cat lady" all the way back in space was turning into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Tori was still flying around all over the ship, annoying people. I had finally caught the blasted robo-bird and brought it into my room, and then I learned why Tori didn't want to be in my room anymore. Elle's cat thought Tori made the perfect toy. It took only a few minutes for me to let Tori fly out of the room and start wandering the ship all over again. It was better than the poor thing being bullied by a cat.

I felt better. I still didn't feel like my old self, but I felt closer to that person than I had since Tassil. And I would take that.

When Miriallia and I traded places being Elle's caretaker, I had specific plans in store. I hadn't been onboard the Strike since killing Waltfeld. I needed to get back in the cockpit, and run a simulation. Get some practice in. I was a Coordinator but even Coordinators needed practice. Letting my fear control me was not going to help anybody in this situation.

When I went to get my slop that passed for breakfast, I found myself unexpectedly bumping into Murrue. "Oh, hi Captain!" I managed after barely getting out of her way in time.

Murrue chuckled. "It's all right, Lieutenant. How are you this morning?"

"Just trying to get the courage to enjoy this absolutely wonderful mystery slop. Want some?"

Murrue chuckled again. "Nice to see your sense of humor's back as well. But it's okay. I'm going to get my own portion."

Murrue paused for a second before continuing. "We can eat in the officer's room if you like. I get the sense there's a lot you want to talk to me about. I know there's some things I'd like to say to you as well."

I wasn't sure if that was a good thing or a bad thing, but Murrue's demeanor was comforting enough to make me feel I wasn't in trouble.

"Yes, ma'am," I said, still trying to process the various scenarios in my head as I spoke.

Murrue's smile stayed. "You're not in trouble. Just meet me there, okay? It won't take long."

"Uh, all right."

I watched Murrue walk towards the cafeteria to get served her regularly-scheduled slop, then turned and walked out the door, heading to the officers' room.

I could only wonder what possibly Murrue wanted to talk to me about.
***
Murrue chuckled. "Cagalli, there's nothing to be concerned about. You don't need to keep wearing that ridiculous facial expression that brings to mind a deer in headlights. I promise, you're not in trouble."

"I'm sorry ma-uh, Murrue," I said. It took me a moment to remember Murrue had given me permission to call her by first-name basis in private.

"You were busy yesterday," Murrue said. "I've heard you've been talking with Flay Allster a lot. I understand you have her sharing a room with you, Miriallia, and Elle now, if Miriallia is to be believed."

"I . . . I just want to help Flay. That's all," I replied. "I know Flay is doing better now. She's not as angry as she once was. She's trying to change. She's trying to be a better person. She needs to know that she's doing the right thing."

"I'm happy you're choosing to help Ensign Allster find her way," Murrue replied. "A lot of us had written Ensign Allster off as a lost cause in every sense of the term. But you've managed to get the ensign far enough along that she's back from the brink. That's a lot of faith on your part, and a lot of hard work. And because of that, we have another pilot onboard this ship. It's reassuring to know it's not just you and Lieutenant-Commander La Flaga anymore."

"Don't congratulate me yet, we don't know how the Flay-as-pilot experiment is going to end, Murrue," I replied. "The whole thing was an accident anyway, practically done on a whim, because Flay was poisoning Elle with her anti-Coordinator rants. I wanted to distract Flay, and have her channel her anger into the simulator. I never thought she would become good enough to fly the Skygrasper for real."

"If it means anything, Ensign Allster's been a model soldier since her promotion," Murrue said. "Do you think she's gotten over her prejudice at all?"

"I would hope so. She's acting like she has, or is trying to," I replied. "She didn't like how she felt after the battle. I don't blame her. Realizing that all your hatred won't get you anywhere is tough to take."

Murrue nodded solemnly. "I agree. It's something more people should realize. I wonder what made Flay realize it, though, when so many other people don't."

Like Asta, I thought upon hearing that. "It's her love for her father."

Murrue raised an eyebrow. "Really?"

"When Kira and I approached her in the cockpit after that battle in the desert, she was thinking of her father. I think that made her wake up. I think that made her realize that all of us, whether ally or enemy, have loved ones, not just her."

Murrue nodded. "That makes sense. It's difficult to think about, and a lot of us just don't think about it because if we do, it makes it difficult to fight. At the same time, if we don't fight, we will die."

"You can count on me to keep fighting until we make it to Orb, Murrue," I said. "Maybe I'll even help you until Alaska if there's a way to keep me from being conscripted into the Earth Alliance forces permanently."

Murrue's eyes widened. "Would you really stay onboard until Alaska?"

"It might be the only way to keep the rest of you alive," I said. "Just because you're military doesn't mean I can just watch you leave Orb to meet certain death at the hands of those GUNDAM machines."

Part of me couldn't believe what I was saying. Staying onboard until Alaska? Keep fighting Athrun, ZAFT, my fellow Coordinators? Why would I want to keep doing that?

But Murrue was why. Mu La Flaga was why. All of the military personnel onboard this ship was why. They were a big part of the reason why I was still alive. Abandoning them after Orb just didn't sit right with me. They deserved to make it to safety too.

"If you do this, thank you, Cagalli," Murrue said with a warm smile. "I will do my very best to make sure you are flown to Orb instead of somewhere in the Atlantic Federation once we are safe in Alaska."

"I hope so. I'm already sick of this war. Part of the reason why I didn't join so many of the other Coordinators on Earth and join the fight as part of ZAFT is because I didn't want any part of this. But now I do, and I'm going to make sure as many people as possible make it to safety, whether it's here or Alaska."

It was then when the alarm blared. Murrue jumped out of her seat and ran to the intercom. "Bridge, this is Captain Ramius! What's going on?"

Romero Pal's voice. "We have strange readings approaching us at high speed underwater! They're moving far too fast to be sea creatures, ma'am!"

"I understand. I'm on my way," Murrue said.

"Thank you. I'll try to get confirmation on the forces," Pal said, and then Murrue clicked off the intercom.

"Cagalli, go," Murrue said firmly.

I knew what she meant without even thinking about it. "I'm on my way, ma'am!"

Murrue and I charged out of the room and ran in opposite directions.
***
Kira was still tinkering with the Strike when I ran up to him. "What are you doing now?"

"I'm trying to make adjustments to the Strike," Kira said.

"Well yeah, I know that, but-"

"Lieutenant-Commander La Flaga is taking the Launcher Pack with him. You're gonna be stuck on the ship. I'm trying to adjust the aim on this thing so you can fire on any targets underwater, but I can't get the setting right!"

"Wait, what's going on?" I nudged up against Kira and turned on the com. "Captain, what the hell's going on here?"

Murrue's voice. "Lieutenant-Commander La Flaga is going after the flagship these underwater units have to be operating under, and Ensign Allster is going to escort him. La Flaga needs your Launcher Pack in order for this to work, Cagalli."

"How does he even know where this 'flagship' is?" I asked.

"We're using the wake of the enemy units to calculate the distance," Murrue replied. "In any case, your mission is to protect us from the edge of the launch bay. Effectively, you're the last line of defense."

Great. I'm being assigned guard duty. "Why couldn't I be told about this while I was suiting up or something?"

Natarle Badgiruel. "There was no time, Lieutenant. In any event, you aren't equipped to fight underwater. Beam weapons won't work, all you'll have are the Igelstellung machine-guns."

"Can't I have some depth charges or something?" I shouted back.

"The Strike can't be equipped with depth charges, Lieutenant," Badgiruel replied. "We only have a few anyway. La Flaga and Allster are taking them all on their sortie."

Being told this was so frustrating that I punched the side of the cockpit. "So effectively I'm useless, huh?"

"I'm sorry, Lieutenant. Please, like I said, protect us from the edge of the launch bay and do what you can."

Murrue's voice was even and should have been mollifying, but it still felt like an insult. I knew it wasn't intentional, they had to be right that the Strike couldn't fight underwater, but it didn't make me feel better. It didn't take away this feeling of uselessness.

"I understand, ma'am. I'll deploy, whatever much that means, once La Flaga and Allster launch," I replied, and I turned off the com.

Kira looked sympathetic. "I'm sorry."

"No. It's nice to not be the center of the action," I lied.

The truth was that I was so used to being the centerpiece of every battle plan that it was odd to basically be reduced to a small role. I should've relished it, but now all I felt was on edge. Like I should have been doing so much more. It made me want to punch a lot more than just the side of my cockpit.

Kira sighed. "If it means anything, beam weapons aren't necessarily useless underwater." "What are you talking about?" I asked.

Kira's eyes turned serious, and his voice was firm. "If you do fall underwater, you'll be able to do damage with your beam sword. But the catch is that the beam sword is useless unless you have the sword connect with the ship's body and then turn it on."

That made sense in an odd way. "It sounds risky, though."

"Well, there's that and you can always try to steal the enemy's weapons and use it on them," Kira added, back to his usual, easygoing self.

"Sounds like I'm still useless," I grumbled.

I saw the two Skygraspers get in line to launch. "Kira, get going. It's time we all got set to launch."

Kira nodded, and he squeezed past me and out of the cockpit. "See you soon, okay?"

"It's not like I'm going very far, but I will," I said.

Kira chuckled. "There we go. That's a taste of the old you."

He shut the cockpit on me then, and I just sighed. I wasn't even trying to be funny there, but it didn't surprise me overall. Everybody had made it clear that they wanted the old me back. I guess saying that had unintentionally helped in some way.

"All right," I said. "Get the Skygraspers out of the way. Let's do this."
***
I marched the Strike to the edge of the launch bay, and I heard Mu La Flaga on the radio. "I think we're up against the Marco Morassim unit. He's basically the Andrew Waltfeld of the sea, or at least that's who he's compared to. I would be careful and watch for any signs of trickery."

"That sounds fun," I muttered.

The plan for Allster and I are to use depth charges to force Morassim's flagship to surface and then I'm going to use the extra weaponry I have to blow it out of the water," La Flaga said. "No pun intended."

"I wish I could joke about this," Flay said. "These are all the depth charges we have? There's no margin for error!"

"It's simple. We don't screw up," La Flaga said. "Now follow me, Ensign."

"I'm right behind you, Lieutenant-Commander."

"And you, princess," La Flaga said, "Good luck."

"If I ever get promoted higher than you," I replied. "I'm going to find out some way to get revenge for all the times you-"

Miriallia's voice. "Cagalli! Something's coming right towards your position! I think it's going to rise from the water!"

"What?" I shouted, but before I could say anything else, a plume of water erupted before my eyes, and I suddenly saw a hideous violet Mobile Suit emerge from the water, aiming a gun right at me.

I did the natural thing and fired right at the Mobile Suit's midsection.

It exploded and the smoking remnant fell right back into the water where it had come from.

"What the hell was that?" I shouted.

"I think that was a DINN," replied Romero Pal. "It's a Mobile Suit configured for both naval and airborne warfare. Basically a GINN modified for use in the Earth's atmosphere though it can operate in limited capacity underwater."

I saw targets on my radar, all circling below the Archangel. I tried to get a read on them, and tried firing a few shots, but they seemed to do absolutely nothing. "And what else is below us?"

"]GOOHNs, in all likelihood," Pal replied. "Think of them as Mobile Suits except they operate like submarines."

Explosions rocked the ship, and for a moment, I felt like the Strike was going to topple over into the water. "Now what?"

"The GOOHNs or whatever they are are firing at us from below the sea!" Miriallia shouted.

I aimed at the water, and used my targeting computer to try to track the GOOHNs, but they were moving way too fast for me to be an accurate shot. They were dodging me far too easily.

"I don't think the GOOHNs will be stupid enough to surface like that DINN was," I replied.

"Just do what you can! At least keep them busy!" Murrue yelled.

"I'm trying!" I said, but I was basically firing blind, I was hardly being effective as covering fire, much less being an actual threat.

I leaned over the side, trying to hit one of the GOOHNs the best I could with the rifle. Even with the leverage, even with the targeting system, I still couldn't hit them. I might as well have been firing at absolutely nothing.

"Tell Allster and La Flaga to hurry up and kill Morassim's flagship, because I'm not doing a hell of a lot!" I shouted.

"Just keep shooting! Do what you can, Lieutenant!" Murrue yelled.

"I don't know if I-"

More explosions rocked the ship, and all of a sudden the water was a hell of a lot closer than it had been.

In fact, I was at a weird angle. The G forces were skyrocketing. I felt heavier than a mountain.

Then the realization hit, right as the water seemed closer than ever.

I had fallen off the Archangel.

All of a sudden, the entire world was nothing but water. The cockpit automatically activated its pressure seal so no water got inside, but that was small consolation. Immediately, I could see both of the GOOHN units leer at me, and all of a sudden, I realized I was the primary target right now.

"Uh, Archangel. Help. Please. Somehow."

"Did you fall into the water?" Badgiruel shouted.

"Yes," I managed as one of the GOOHNs immediately accelerated at me.

Whatever Badgiruel or Murrue or anyone else was gonna say was immediately cut off as the GOOHN rammed me hard and sent me out of control. It felt like the entire world was ending as I was jostled throughout the cockpit, and before I could reset myself, I was hit again.

I was hit two more times before I was able to get myself reset, and it was just in time to see one of the two GOOHNs bearing down at me again.

I was not in the mood to be rammed yet again.

I could hear Badgiruel. "Lieutenant, I believe they're equipped with shotguns but they're not using them. I think they want to take the Strike intact. Use that against them!"

"What do you think I'm doing?" I shouted through gritted teeth as I forced the Strike to face the GOOHN that was about to hit me. I could vaguely taste blood in my mouth, and my tongue was in a lot of pain, I had probably bitten it, but I didn't care.

I had lost my rifle after all of the ramming, but I reached out the Strike's hands and grabbed the GOOHN as it rammed me once more. The jostling was still borderline dizzying, but it was tolerable this time. I turned on the Igelstellungs, and basically "spray n' prayed", as Kira had once put my fighting style.

At first, it looked like the machine-guns were doing nothing, but then I saw bubbles rapidly shoot out of the GOOHN. I had depressurized the machine. I quickly backed off and watched as the GOOHN imploded on itself, its debris beginning to fall to the ocean floor below.

I saw the shotgun Badgiruel had mentioned in the midst of the destroyed GOOHN's debris, and quickly forced the Strike into the debris and grabbed the weapon. As I did so, some of the debris blocked a small missile barrage from the other GOOHN.

"It looks like taking me alive is no longer in their plans," I said as I got the Strike's hands in position to fire the shotgun. It was an awkward fit, I immediately saw that I could not aim the weapon to the right all the way, but it would have to do. I was just going to have to adjust how I aimed and fired, and hope that the GOOHN wouldn't notice my sort-of blind spot.

"Lieutenant, please be careful. I don't know how far the Strike can sink in the ocean before you have trouble," Murrue said.

"Then let's just hope I don't find out," I said as I accelerated towards the GOOHN, the stolen shotgun in hand.

It felt almost like being in outer space again, at least in how I could manuever the Strike. Unfortunately, that had a disadvantage. Kira had modified the Strike to fight in the atmosphere. Returning back to conditions somewhat reminiscent of space made the Strike feel awkward, though maybe it was just because I was fighting underwater which was an entirely new environment of its own.

"Come on," I whispered as I charged the GOOHN. "Accelerate and ram me again. I dare you."

At first, I thought I had gotten my wish. The GOOHN was charging right at me, and I readied the shotgun, putting myself at an angle so I could get a good shot.

Then I realized something.

The GOOHN had equipped its shotgun, too.

It wasn't going to ram me, it was going to shoot me.

If a Mobile Suit's shotgun worked in any way similar to a handheld shotgun . . .

I was going to die. Horrifically.

It aimed its own shotgun right at me, and I desperately pushed the controls to their maximum as I tried to avoid the incoming blast. The shotgun fired and it seemed to miss me by mere inches, heading to my left, just missing the Strike's torso.

The GOOHN was a much bigger target, and there was no way I would miss at this range. In fact, with the GOOHN still accelerating towards me, it was borderline point-blank.

I fired the shotgun right into its left side as it was going to start passing me by. Instant depressurization, and suddenly I felt a massive force blast me away.

The world no longer made any sense. It was all a blur, gyrating around at rapid speed.

It felt like I was hitting something. I didn't know what. But I was hitting something, or being grabbed by something.

By that point, I was so dizzy and sick I felt asleep and didn't care.

I needed a break from the nonsensical world, and despite my conscious efforts to stay awake, my body would no longer listen.

The body had beaten the mind.
***
I felt myself waking up, and I realized I was no longer under the sea. But this wasn't the friendly confines of the Archangel's hangar either. Gazing out from my cockpit, it was clear that this place I had been dragged into was far too white, far too sterile, to be the Archangel and its lively hangar.

This didn't look like ZAFT territory either. It just felt like something else entirely. A total mystery.

Beeping. Coming from my right. With my right hand, I reached for my pistol. I didn't know where I was, but until I knew, I had to be safe. I was going to blast my way out of here if I had to. The only thing I could think of doing was turning the Strike on after I beat off this intruder and charge right out of here again.

The beeping stopped, and the cockpit opened up in front of my eyes, and suddenly I saw a young girl who looked like she could be my sister. She had brown eyes and blonde hair, just like me, but her hair was styled a little differently, it seemed wavy. She wore white clothes, as if she was a patient in a hospital, but that was not a surgical gown she had on. No, they looked like military fatigues, except in pure white.

And, in her right hand, was a knife.

"I'm scared of dying," she said softly.

Underneath the softness of her youthful voice, which sounded stuck between a child's and a teenager's, was an underlying intensity that seemed inhuman. Her eyes were wide, and seemed almost feral.

"I'm scared of dying too," I said, unsure of how quickly I should draw my pistol. It didn't help this girl couldn't be older than thirteen or fourteen. I couldn't quite come to grips with the idea of murdering a child to ensure my own survival.

"I don't want to die. But Doctor Malcolm says if I don't kill the Coordinators I'll die. Auel, Sting, me, everybody. Everybody will die."

Okay. This didn't sound like a ZAFT thing to me, but this wasn't typical Earth Alliance either. In fact, it sounded almost Blue Cosmos-ish.

Which was a death sentence for me anyway, I realized to my horror.

Out of all the places to wash up, it had to be a Blue Cosmos facility. And it had a psychotic kid waiting to gut me like a fish that had come up too far from the shallows.

"Kid, please, put the knife down. Put it down. Don't make me kill you," I said.

That was exactly the wrong thing to say. Her mud-brown irises seemed to widen upon hearing that. "You'll kill me?"

All of a sudden, those youthful eyes narrowed. Her voice became cold, merciless. "No. I'll kill you. I don't want to die. You will die instead."

She raised her knife, and I knew there was no way out of it. I wasn't going to let myself be murdered by this girl, uncomfortable similarities with me or not.

I aimed my pistol at her forehead as the knife went up in the air, and I put my finger on the trigger.

I was a second away from killing a girl.
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 39 10/27/12)

Post by The Green Flame » Fri Nov 02, 2012 4:46 pm

Stellaaaaaaaaaaaa! Stellaaaaaaaaaaaaa!

And huh, I always thought GOOhn hands were too stubby to hold weapons but the lineart proved me wrong. Fun chapter all around though.

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

Re: Gundam SEED: Bloodlines (Chapter 39 10/27/12)

Post by rebel_cheese » Sat Nov 10, 2012 1:46 am

The Green Flame wrote:Stellaaaaaaaaaaaa! Stellaaaaaaaaaaaaa!

And huh, I always thought GOOhn hands were too stubby to hold weapons but the lineart proved me wrong. Fun chapter all around though.
Yes. Stellaaaaaaaaaaaaa is here. XD Remind me to have someone yell her name that way just for old times' sake. XD

Believe it or not, GOOHNs can carry weapons. They're lumbering beasts but they do have self-defense weapons at their disposal when missile barrages don't work. I thought it could be cool to show that.

New chapter in a minute or so.
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 40 11/2/12)

Post by rebel_cheese » Sat Nov 10, 2012 1:54 am

Chapter Forty-One: Someone, Somewhere

Just as my finger had started pushing the trigger, giving the young blonde girl a half-second to live, I heard a teenaged, feminine voice scream "Stellar! Stop, stop right now! That's an order!"

The girl's knife froze midway through the stabbing motion. "Joan. She's a Coordinator. Doctor Malcolm says we'll all die if she lives. I have to kill her first."

The cold, hollow tone seemed more horrifying than the knife she held in her right hand. I couldn't keep my eyes off it, and I couldn't relax my grip on my pistol, not even for a second. I had no clue if this "Joan" girl would accidentally say something that would set off the blonde girl who was apparently called "Stellar".

Another girl appeared behind Stellar. She was tall, and seemed as old as I was, with straight, red-gold hair and green eyes. Her voice was a little on the deep side, but was smooth, with none of the husky cracks that my voice had. "Stellar. Look at her uniform. Remember your training. What are you, a child or an Extended?"

Stellar's eyes widened just a little. "It's an Earth Alliance uniform. Atlantic Federation. Her rank is that of a 2nd Lieutenant."

"She is not here to kill you, Stellar. She is an ally."

"But she is flying a GUNDAM. Only Coordinators are flying GUNDAMs. We'll die because of the Coordinators, Joan."

This kid was obsessed with death. It would be the most uncomfortable thing about her, if it wasn't for that creepy voice she had put on, the knife in her hand, her resemblance to me, and her willingness to murder me.

"You won't die. You're safe, Stellar." Joan grabbed Stellar from behind and locked Stellar in a bear hug. "You're safe. Calm down. You know I'll keep you safe."

"I'm safe?" Stellar's voice softened, and all of a sudden her eyes turned into something resembling normalcy, with none of the cold intensity they had had when she was about to kill me. "I'm safe. I'm safe. We're all safe."

"That's right," Joan whispered. "You're safe."

Stellar's knees buckled then, and Joan maintained her grip on her. The knife fell out of Stellar's right hand. Stellar muttered "I'm safe," one more time, and, after a moment, she looked right at me.

And then she smiled, her eyes wide with awe.

"You're on our side. What's your name? My name is Stellar. Stellar Louissier. We don't get many visitors here."

"I can only wonder why," I snapped back.

Stellar cocked her head to the left, like a confused puppy. "I don't understand."

"What I don't understand is what you just tried to do," I replied.

Another voice. This one male, but judging from his pitch he sounded like he was Stellar's age. "Sarcasm is one of the things lost on Stellar."

I looked to my left, peering out of my cockpit just a little, and here came a boy with narrow eyes and sea-green hair. He was taller than Stellar, but not as tall as Joan, and he had a lanky body. "There's a lot of things that escapes Stellar's notice. She's not like Joan or myself."

"I don't understand," Stellar repeated, basically confirming the boy's comments right then and there.

"Sting, please don't insult Stellar," Joan said. "She can't help it. Her mind's been messed with, like Auel's."

"If she and Auel would obey orders naturally, their minds wouldn't need to be messed with, would they?" the boy named "Sting" snapped.

Before anyone could say anymore, I heard a jovical, medium-pitched male voice. "Well hello there, Earth Alliance pilot! Your name is Cagalli Yamato, correct?"

Joan had backed Stellar up a little bit, giving me room to step out. I did, but I kept my pistol at the ready. I wasn't ready to let my guard down. This place was too eerie, too messed-up, and seemed a lot like a place Blue Cosmos would have its fingers in. I wasn't going to let myself walk into a trap or allow myself to be disarmed.

"I apologize for Stellar's behavior," said the man. He seemed to be in his early forties, with a brunette hairline that was beginning to recede and a salt-and-pepper mustache. "She's a little too enthusiastic. She's also growing into an expert hacker. A true savant at her craft."

"And who are you?" I asked.

The man chuckled as he walked past Sting. "My name is Jarvis Malcolm. I run this facility. Unfortunately, 2nd Lieutenant, you have happened upon something highly classified."

"Well, jolly gee, I couldn't guess that. This place just looks absolutely welcoming. Makes me all warm and fuzzy and non-secretive," I snapped back. I couldn't keep the sarcasm from pouring out of my voice. I wished my friends who thought I was turning humorless could've heard me. They would've thought I was a riot.

Malcolm let out a soft, humorless chuckle. He clearly did not find me funny. "You are the pilot of the Strike GUNDAM. I was told you might pass by, but I never dreamed you would wash up inside my base. When I saw you drifting through the sea, I had to pull you in. My superiors will be pleased."

"Lovely," I said. "Now call the Archangel so I can get the hell out of here. I don't give a damn what this place is, I just want out of here. Either that or I'm going to hop right back into the cockpit and blast out of here myself. I'll swim to the Archangel if I have to."

"Unfortunately for you, my superiors, as well as myself, give a damn what you are. I can't let that happen," Malcolm said.

All of a sudden, he yanked out a gun and he aimed it right at me.

Joan. "Doctor Malcolm, what are you doing?"

"Something that needs to be done," he said.

I should've figured he was going to shoot me. I raised my pistol right at him. "Like hell!"

But he pulled the trigger first.

Instantly, it felt like my body was falling limp. I looked down towards my chest, where he had shot me, and I saw a needle.

A dart.

That was all I could register before the gun fell out of my hand, before my legs buckled and all I could feel was the cold steel floor.

And then I felt nothing at all.
***
When I woke up, I was still in my pilot's uniform, and I was inside a small cell. "Wha?" I managed, and I sat up on a plain cot.

Then I remembered everything.

"Okay, what the hell!"

I marched up to the door and tried to open it, but it was locked. I started pounding on it. "What's going on here? Why are you locking me inside here? I'm a soldier for the Atlantic Federation, you morons!"

Through the door's thin window, I saw Malcolm's face. "Well, I figured I would know you were awake, but I wasn't expecting it to be so dramatic."

"What's going on, you bastard? Why are you doing this to me?"

"Why do you think?" Malcolm asked, his eyebrow raised. "You're a Coordinator who's stumbled onto a facility that is grooming people to kill your kind. You can't expect us to just let you go."

"What?" I asked. Wonderful, just wonderful. No wonder the kids here weren't all right. They were trained killers, all of them. Or at least killers-in-training. "If you had just let me go, I wouldn't have known what this place was!"

"I couldn't take the chance that Stellar, Joan, or Sting had said something revealing," Malcolm said. "And I can't have your friends over here either. Which is what would inevitably happen if you had escaped. You would lead the Archangel right to here because of your conscience or whatnot. Which might happen anyway, but they'll be off balance if they arrive here. They'll be concerned about you, not about children being trained to kill your kind."

"How do you know I'm a Coordinator?" I asked. "I'm fighting for the Earth Alliance."

"You really don't think that Blue Cosmos wouldn't know?" Malcolm replied. "You were identified by some of our field operatives in the Sahara, after all. And the moment you became a commissioned officer, a file on you was created. Anyone in the right position in the Earth forces can open your file at any time."

Well, that explained a lot. And that explained the rude welcome, too. "Then why haven't you killed me? Your goal is to kill the Coordinators, isn't it?"

"My superior seems to want you alive," Malcolm replied. "He's beyond Blue Cosmos. Until he gives me clearance, I'm not allowed to kill you."

Well, that was a mild relief. At least I wasn't going to die yet. But now . . . the fact that Blue Cosmos, or some aspect of it, wanted me alive suggested something truly insidious. They likely wanted to use me.

I didn't want to say any of that, though, and tempt him into killing me anyway. All I said was a tentative, neutral "I see."

I wanted to change the subject. "Who were those kids? Why were they the first to 'greet' me when I woke up?"

Malcolm chuckled. "You really expect me to tell you that? Though I will explain why Stellar Louissier greeted you first. I and the other personnel were discussing what to do with you, and Stellar overheard that you were a Coordinator. She ran to the hangar and hacked her way through the hangar doors and through your GUNDAM machine. She is showing great skill with her hacking abilities, I could see her hijacking a GUNDAM or any other kind of Mobile Suit someday."

That didn't really help, it just added to the mystery of who those kids were.

"So what are you going to do about me?" I asked.

"I'm going to go find out right now. Sit tight in the meantime. Don't force us to kill you," Malcolm said, and he vanished from my sight in the next instant.

"You really expect me to just sit tight in a Blue Cosmos place?" I shouted, but he did not reply.

I leaned against the door for a moment, trying to figure out my options. I looked up at the vent. It looked just big enough for me to squeeze through, surprisingly enough. Why did they manufacture a vent large enough for a human to crawl through? Especially a human intended to be a prisoner?

Wait. This place was a training facility, wasn't it? Perhaps this cell was also a training room, training how to move around in vents or escaping stealthily from behind enemy lines or some junk.

This meant that this entire place was basically a battle school. And if I wasn't careful, I could become part of "classroom activities". The extracurricular kind.

I didn't have any other choice. The vent, however, was just a bit too high for me to reach, and the cot turned out to be bolted in place.

Of course it wouldn't be that easy.

I heard footsteps, and I immediately scrambled back to sitting on the cot. I saw a pair of green eyes appear from behind the door, and I recognized them.

"You're Joan," I said.

"Joan Memphis," the girl replied.

"Why are you standing outside my door?"

"I want to talk to you."

All of a sudden, the door opened, and Joan entered the room, but only partially, keeping her right foot in a spot to keep the door from closing.

"Why?" I asked.

"I've never seen a Coordinator before. I may never see one again until I'm put on a battlefield," Joan said softly.

"Well, I want to talk to somebody too. Who are you? What's with that schizo girl who wanted to stab me? What is this place?"

"This is the Extended Production Facility, Indian Ocean Branch," Joan replied. "I am what's called an Extended. We're being trained to kill your kind. I have been in nonstop training since I was five years old."

All of a sudden, Joan pulled out a knife. "I want to see if I'm ready. If I'm ready to finally go out into battle. Doctor Malcolm says we're the most ambitious and laborious anti-Coordinator project ever attempted. I must prove I'm worth it. I'm eighteen years old and haven't graduated to the main facility yet. If I don't prove myself, I'll be eliminated."

I didn't fully understand what she was talking about. What I did understand was that she was going to kill me.

In addition to the knife in her left hand was a Taser in a holster on her left hip. In an instant, I saw the only way I was going to get out of this alive.

Joan rushed me, the blade of the knife aimed right for my neck. I grabbed her left forearm and we crashed to the floor, her on top of me, the knife just inches away from my face.

"I . . . I must win . . . I must prove I'm a worthy Extended!" Joan managed through clenched teeth.

With my left hand barely keeping the knife from touching my face, I kneed Joan in the gut and she gagged. With her off balance, I reached with my right hand and yanked the Taser from the holster.

"Good luck proving it now," I said.

I Tased her in the chest and Joan let out a short scream, and then I kicked her so she would fall backwards instead of on top of me. She twitched all over the floor, a manic, soft "I-I-I-I-I-I" escaping her mouth as she thrashed about.

She had dropped her knife, which I pocketed, and I walked past her and tried the door. It seemed Joan's unlocking job had been permanent, I swung the door open with ease.

Joan was only going to be down for a few minutes. Just to buy myself a little bit of extra time, I zapped Joan again, and left her to twitch in my cell as I ran.

My only goal now was to get out.
***
The Taser was a repeater, about five shots, and I had wasted two of them on Joan. There was no sign of any alarm as I raced through the halls, and ducked inside the first vent I could find, but perhaps a silent alarm had been triggered instead. They would want me off balance, or assuming that they weren't on to me yet. Those were mistakes I could not afford to make.

The vent was not a good fit, but I was able to make it work. Eventually, I wound up above a room, and I heard a very familiar voice.

"Lord Djibril." It was Doctor Malcolm's voice.

A deep, smooth, cultured voice answered. I assumed that was "Lord Djibril". "Doctor Malcolm, I assume that Cagalli Yamato's condition is still stable?"

"Well . . . yes, Lord Djibril. However, one of my Extended candidates apparently decided to try and kill her, and Yamato instead defeated and disarmed her and is on the run. We haven't had the opportunity to chip Yamato yet, we don't know her whereabouts in the facility."

So, they knew I had escaped. I had already expected that, but it made my options much easier.

I stayed silent, scarcely dared to breathe as I remained in the vent.

"Have you checked the ventilation systems?" Djibril asked. "That is a classic manuever."

"I was going to begin that once we were finished with this conversation," Malcolm replied.

Djibril sighed. "Good enough, I suppose."

A pause. "Doctor Malcolm, by all means, take Yamato alive. I'm going to need her for the 'For All' Project."

"The 'For All' Project?" Doctor Malcolm asked. "A Coordinator like Yamato?"

"The 'For All' Project is based off of Project 612, which, I shouldn't have to mention, was taken by the Coordinators twenty years ago," Djibril replied. "You have no idea how important Yamato is, and for right now, I'd prefer if you didn't know.

Once again, it's brought up that I'm really important. Hilda Harken had told me I was important. And now this "Djibril" was saying I was important as well. I was getting sick of people vastly more powerful than me knowing more about me than I did. It didn't help that I didn't know any of these people either.

"Well, what do you want me to do?" Malcolm asked.

"Tell the guards and all the Extended that Yamato must be kept alive unless there is absolutely no choice," Djibril said. "In the meantime, Doctor, I need you to fashion out a life's worth of memories for Cagalli Yamato. I want her completely remade from the ground up. I need her remade. I wouldn't even have invested in this additional facility if I didn't know people like her existed."

Okay. Now they had crossed the line from mysterious to disturbing. It made me want to bust through the vent and kill Malcolm.

"We've never done brainwashing that extensive before!" Malcolm whined.

"Well, you're going to have to. Muruta Azrael won't understand if there's failure, he's too simple of a man to understand something as layered as failure," Djibril replied, his voice still even. "I want Cagalli Yamato believing she is an Extended, and transferred to the main Extended facility at Lodonia in the Mediterranean once she settles down. She is going to be the pilot of the 'For All' Project and obliterate her own kind with it, and never be the wiser."

"And then you'll just have her killed when it's convenient," Malcolm replied.

"It goes without saying, Doctor. After the Coordinators are cleansed off this Earth, we won't have any need for the 'For All' Project, and certainly no need for the last remaining Coordinator. We can simply have controllable, profitable, brushfire wars from that point onward, as it should be . . . and as it always should've been. No innovative society, and no PLANTs."

"Understood, Lord Djibril," Malcolm said.

"Excellent. Now, keep Yamato confined until you have her new life ready for her. Sedate her if you must. Just keep her in the dark as long as possible, and keep the Extended from slitting her throat. Djibril out."

I heard Malcolm sigh, and then he walked away. I knew what was going to happen next. He was going to have people searching the vents for me. I needed to get out of the vents and into the halls. Perhaps I would have to knock out a guard and steal a uniform in order to have any real chance of making it to the Strike and blasting out of here.

Whatever the case, I wasn't going to stay.

I was not going to be drugged up and then transformed into whatever monster this 'Djibril' wanted me to be.

I would die first.

But not without taking as many of these bastards with me as possible.
***
I crawled out of a vent, and began running down the hall. I knew there had to be security cameras everywhere, and they would immediately spot me, but as long as I kept moving, there was a chance I could stay ahead of the security patrols until I could either get a disguise or otherwise make it to the Strike.

The problem was that I didn't know where I was going.

I made a random right into lockers, and I realized I was in a female locker room, where there was white Extended clothing everywhere.

Well, if they planned on having me believe I was Extended anyway, I might as well pretend to be one. Irony.

I was going to need hair dye or something. Plus give my hair some kind of rushed restyling. Anything to sell the idea that I was not myself, and that I was just a random Extended.

But as I grabbed a bunch of random clothes that looked like they could fit me, as I began moving I saw a familiar girl appear in front of me. Like she had simply emanated into existence.

Stellar Louissier.

"You hurt Joan. You could have made Joan die," Stellar said.

She was back to being eerie and murderous. Wonderful. Something told me that orders to take me alive didn't matter much to Stellar right then and there. Something about the word "die" seemed to set her off.

"You could make Joan, Auel and Sting die. My friends. My unit. I have to protect my unit," Stellar said, and I saw that instead of a knife or a Taser, she had procured herself an actual pistol.

I had not come this far to be murdered by a psychotic girl only two or three years younger than I was!

"Damn it, don't you see that this is some kind of stupid battle school? They're making you people kill each other to find out who's the best! You stay here, you'll die!"

The moment I said that last word, I literally gasped. There I went, making the situation worse again. But instead of her eyes narrowing, Stellar's eyes, stunningly, began to soften. "I will die if I stay here?"

Suddenly, I saw an opening. Stellar was simpleminded in some odd ways, and she could be easily manipulated. I wondered if she had been manipulated from team to team her whole life based on people telling her about her chances of survival.

"Yes. Yes, you will die if you stay here. And so will Joan, and so will Sting, and so will Auel," I said. I had dropped the Extended clothes I intended to put on, but I didn't reach for my Taser or my knife. Doing either one would likely result in Stellar attacking me, and then there would be no reasoning with her even if I won.

"I'm scared of dying. I don't want to die. No. I don't," Stellar said. Tears were forming in her eyes. "I don't want to die, and I don't want my unit to die. I want to protect them."

Suddenly, Stellar didn't appear to be a vicious killer or a soldier, but just a scared girl. It didn't help that by sharing the same eye and hair colors as me, she looked almost like a theoretical little sister. Considering all that I heard, the idea popped into my head that Stellar could be a clone of some kind, but Stellar's facial structure was too different for that to be true.

Just like with Hilda, I was going to beat her with words. But maybe more. Maybe I could turn her towards my side, not just break her.

Maybe she would be my ticket out of there.

Maybe . . . all she needed was a hug. I doubted she had too many hugs in this place. Joan was able to calm Stellar down with a hug before, so . . .

So that's what I did. I hugged her. All the while thinking Please don't shoot me please don't stab me please don't shoot me.

"I can bring you and your friends to a place where you'll all be safe. It's called Orb. You won't have to fight anymore. You'll be safe, and you'll live in peace."

Please don't shoot me.

"S-Safe?" Stellar whispered.

"I can promise that you'll be safe," I said. "It's a beautiful, peaceful country. You will be safe."

It was the truth and nothing but the truth. Orb was a peaceful country. They were neutral. It would be the safest place for re-cooperating child soldiers.

"I . . . I want to be safe," Stellar said softly.

Boots. I looked up, and I saw a pair of security guards appear. One of them quickly marched up to Stellar and I. "What the hell are you doing, Extended Louissier? Out of the way! We need to-"

"I want to be safe!" Stellar shrieked, and she turned right around and opened fire.

The lead guard's head had blood briefly erupt from his skull, and before he fell to the ground Stellar had taken off towards the other guard. She aimed and popped the other guard in the head too, and he fell backwards, completely limp.

Two bullets, two headshots, two deaths, and my ears were ringing.

Stellar Louissier was terrifying.

Stellar waited a couple of seconds for anyone else to appear around the corner, then she relaxed. "Please. Bring me to where it is safe, Cagalli Yamato."

I nearly asked how she knew my name, but then again, she had probably heard it either in her orders or offhand or some other way. It would be difficult for her not to know.

I got up, and avoided looking at the dead guards so I wouldn't blanch. "Yes, I will. Show me the way to the hangar."

"Why?" Stellar asked.

"Because in there is how I got into this place," I replied. "And that is how we'll get out of here, and how you'll get to where it's safe."

A small smile came to Stellar's face. "I understand. Please follow me, Cagalli."

She began walking away, stopping only briefly to grab an ammunition belt and submachine-gun from one of the dead guards. She was ready for war to get to this place called "safety".

I just had to hope that she would be focused enough on that task that she couldn't be manipulated away from me.

Because if she was . . .

My fate would be the exact same as the guards she had just shot.

Just a random someone from somewhere, laying with my head split open on the floor.
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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Re: Gundam SEED: Bloodlines (Chapter 41 11/9/12)

Post by Vent Noir » Sat Nov 10, 2012 7:58 pm

Wow, really enjoying this and curious to see how the story goes from here. Good job.
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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 41 11/9/12)

Post by rebel_cheese » Thu Nov 15, 2012 1:23 am

Thank you very much, though I'm pretty sure opinions could change pretty fast considering what happens in the upcoming chapter. Something controversial is going to happen.
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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Re: Gundam SEED: Bloodlines (Chapter 41 11/9/12)

Post by rebel_cheese » Fri Nov 16, 2012 10:20 pm

Chapter Forty-Two: The Hero Dies In This One

Stellar Louissier was fast. This facility was a total maze to me, but she moved across it like she had lived here her entire life. And she was an absolute professional with that submachine-gun. The moment she saw a guard, or even an opposing Extended, she would shoulder the gun and fire in a controlled burst, hitting the target in the chest, neck, or head every single time.

She had the skill of a special forces soldier at a much younger age than what you'd expect.

After the second of these mercifully brief, one-sided skirmishes, I had this weird thought we were going around in circles, or taking a really weird way to the hangar. "Where are we going, Stellar? I'm getting kind of confused here."

"I need to get my unit. I need to get Joan, Sting, and Auel. I have to protect my unit. My unit needs to be safe too," Stellar replied.

I wanted to tell her that she was being extremely stupid, but I immediately realized that doing so was a double-edged sword. It would be contradicting how I had won her over in the first place.

I had made my bed, and now I had to lie in it.

Damn it.

"Okay, but try not to get too long. We're going to have everyone in this place after us."

One thing I was getting used to was avoiding the use of "die" and "kill" around Stellar. I kept emphasizing the word "safe", or something related to it, like "safety" or "shelter" or "protect", to keep Stellar warming up to me, to make her want to be with me. Warm words, as opposed to cold words. Or, as perhaps Stellar would call it, life words versus death words.

"That will not happen," Stellar said, confidence in her voice. "We have more than one fight going on right now. People are trying to break in. They won't be after us so much."

"More than one fight?" I asked.

"Yes. A ship landed in the dock about double-oh fifteen ago. They started talking, and then they began arguing," Stellar replied. "After that they began shooting."

The Archangel. Just like with the desert, it had come after me. If things had progressed to violence in less than fifteen minutes after docking . . . Murrue was really determined to take me back no matter what the cost. I had never had anyone willing to fight for me like that before, other than my parents, obviously.

Murrue Ramius was the most amazing woman on the face of the planet in that moment. I knew immediately that the moment I saw her again I was going to give her the biggest hug she would ever receive in her life.

"That ship is called the Archangel," I replied. "It's where I launched from. It was taking me to Orb."

"I understand," Stellar said. "Then that's where we'll go."

She took off again, blasting a half-dressed guard stumbling out of a random door and continuing on like nothing had happened.

What a girl. Who knew that saving somebody would mean the deaths of so many more people?

It made me feel like I had made a deal with the devil.

That was a highly uncomfortable feeling. More uncomfortable than anything I had done involving Flay.

A couple of more lefts, and then Stellar stopped. "Joan, Sting, and Auel will be here in a few seconds. Don't expose yourself completely."

I wondered how the hell she knew that. She hadn't gotten on radio or anything. Did she have ESP or something similar going on, or did she just know her teammates that well?

A few seconds later, there they were. I recognized Joan and Sting immediately, and some kid with blue hair I assumed was Auel. It was interesting, seeing Naturals with such odd hair colors, but maybe whatever turned them into Extended messed with their hair, turning them unnatural colors reminiscent of Coordinators..

Why this had happened to Sting and Auel and not Joan or Stellar was something I couldn't figure out though.

Joan immediately aimed at me, and Stellar raised her hands. "No, Joan! Don't shoot!"

I ducked a little bit more behind cover, and I heard Joan ask "Why, Stellar?"

"Because she said she would make me safe!" Stellar replied. "The ship that's here . . . that's where she's from. The ship was taking her to a safe place! I want to go there. I don't want to die. Dying is bad."

I could hear Joan's growl even from where I was. "Damn it, Stellar! Why are you believing her? She's an absolute stranger! You really think she wants to help you?"

"She does!" Stellar replied. I was personally amazed to see, and hear, Stellar stand up to her commander just like that.

Judging by the looks on the two guys' faces, Sting and Auel, they were amazed as well.

"Why?" Joan asked.

"She hugged me," Stellar replied, her tone softer. "No one's ever hugged me like she did. Not even your hugs are like her's, Joan."

Joan was struggling not to laugh. "You can't be serious! You turned against your fellow Extended and Doctor Malcolm, and me, over one single hug?"

"She made me feel safe," Stellar replied. "I want that feeling again. I want to feel safe all the time."

I leaned out, and Stellar had her submachine-gun aimed right at Joan. "Please Joan. Let's all go to where it's safe. Let's go to Cagalli's ship."

The green-haired boy, Sting, made a growling sound and aimed his gun at Stellar. "You idiot! Didn't you imprint on Joan or some crap? Why are you so willing to kill her?"

"Dying is bad," Stellar replied. "But . . . I want to go to where there's no dying. I am sick of the dying! I want to be safe!"

The blue-haired boy then aimed his pistol at Sting. "No offense, but we've got a predicament here, and I'm siding with Stellar. I like the idea of being safe."

"Have you lost it, Auel?" Sting asked, his narrow eyes seeming much wider. "Do I need to remind you of-"

"You will not mention Auel's block word here!" Joan shouted. "It is far more dangerous than Stellar's."

"Stellar's block word isn't even working, Joan!" Sting replied.

"That's how determined Stellar is to follow through on what she's doing," Joan said. "I don't think any of us can talk her out of it."

She paused for a second, and then lowered her weapon. "Oh, to hell with it. The unit stays together. That's what we're trained to do. Sting, don't argue with me here."

Sting sighed. "Fine. Unit stays together."

Auel stopped aiming at Sting. "Good. I didn't want to spray your brains or lack thereof all over me."

Sting growled at that, and Joan interrupted. "Enough chatter."

Stellar lowered her own weapon. "Joan . . . thank you."

"I hope we don't regret this, Stellar," Joan said as she walked past Stellar and towards me.

Meeting Joan again was not something I was looking forward to doing. She had already tried to kill me once already. I did not take my eyes off of her as she approached.

"Come on, Lieutenant. Follow us. We're leaving," Joan said.

"You're really going to do this? Why?" I asked.

"My sense of self-preservation is too strong," Joan said. "Stellar Louissier is the best soldier out of the younger Extended. I'll take her against everybody here. Including myself."

Strong praise, but considering how unstoppable Stellar had been so far, I guess I shouldn't have been surprised at hearing that. "All right. Lead the way. Where's the Archangel?"

"Follow me. I know where it landed. It's not too far from where the Strike GUNDAM is," Joan replied.

She turned around and began walking away then, and then I followed my strange bedfellows.

It felt, in a way, like Tassil all over again.

But this time, it didn't feel anywhere near as desperate or hopeless.

Having allies, however uneasy they were, helped with that.
***
We eventually stopped in a room, an armory poached of a lot of stuff but there were still some ammunition and unused guns strewn all over the place. Joan sighed as she sat down on the bench and began reloading her rifle clips bullet by bullet. "I've never seen anyone convince Stellar so permanently before, not without the imprintment procedure."

"What are you talking about?" I asked.

"All of us Extended are hooked onto drugs before long. The goal is to enhance us so we are physically and mentally on the levels of Coordinators, if not better," Joan replied. "I've been on the bottom rung of those who pass for years. Though I suppose my competition is being murdered right now, so that helps my chances."

I decided I would interpret that as gallows humor. "What's this 'imprintment'?"

"It's a bonding procedure with brilliant but troubled Extended, to ensure that these mentally deficient Extended stay loyal and follow their orders. The block words are another way to ensure control," Joan replied. "The bonding procedure is mental, and places me as a type of older sibling figure in Auel's and Stellar's minds. They automatically think of me as family and will do whatever I say as a result. Seeing Stellar resist that was absolutely incredible."

"So there is some level of ESP at work here," I replied, amazed. Even after so much scientific enhancement, I hadn't heard of anything regarding telepathy or anything similar before. This was incredible.

"It's sort of like that," Joan said. "The ESP connection was because of a side effect in the drugs we take. It's like a short, sharp needle in your brain when you connect with somebody for the first time. Still happens when you encounter another human that has hostile intent towards you, and you have this sense of life around you too. I think in the effort to improve Naturals, I think what the Blue Cosmos people did was create a new type of human being. Us."

Joan finished loading her clip and slammed it into her rifle. "But you connected with Stellar on some deep level, even though you are not an Extended. But I can sense why, being near you. I can sense your warmth, your honesty."

"Say what?" I asked. This went beyond telepathy now, and into something that seemed even more impossible.

"It's something special that they did to us here in this facility. It's something that no one who was sent directly to the main facility in the Mediterranean can do. We can sense your feelings, the feelings of everyone around us. Including when they die."

"That's just crazy," I replied.

"It's not crazy. It's real. And it's because of you that they made this extra facility, at least, that's what I've overheard Doctor Malcolm saying to the people he talks to, or vice versa. Your existence, Cagalli."

"That's even crazier! What the hell am I that makes me so special, huh? Why would some crazy anti-Coordinator organization spend so much money and do all of this to children just because of me?"

Joan sighed. "I believe Doctor Malcolm has just entered the armory. I believe he may have some of the answers."

"He's what?" I asked.

"You're perceptive, Joan," Malcolm said.

I got up, and there stood, Malcolm, armed with his own submachine-gun. Auel and Stellar, who had been talking to each other nearby, quickly ran over and aimed their guns at Malcolm, who stood impassively. Sting, for his part, didn't raise his weapon at anybody, he just stood there, like a cool observer, still debating what side he wanted to choose.

"You have heard of the first Coordinator, George Glenn, correct?" Malcolm asked.

"Who hasn't?" I replied. "He found that fossil at Jupiter. He went the farthest into space anyone has since the AD era."

"Oh, that's not all he did. He found other things," Malcolm said. "He found a machine, and he brought it back to Earth. We have yet to figure out how to run it, though perhaps the PLANTs have. Those Coordinator bastards stole the ZOINKS thing twenty years ago-"

All of a sudden, Stellar opened fire, and Malcolm's head went up in a red haze, and his body crumpled to the floor.

It was a stunning sight, and I couldn't believe Stellar had just done that. I turned to her. "Why did you do that? He was saying something important to us!"

"He's why this place is so unsafe," Stellar said, her voice surprisingly shaky, tears forming in her eyes. "There's so much . . . so much hate coming from him. I didn't want to hear his voice anymore."

Hearing Stellar's words, in the context that Joan had given me, made cruel sense. Despite the mystery of what Doctor Jarvis Malcolm was going to say, and as much as I wanted to get angry at Stellar for what she had done, I knew I couldn't. Who knew what had been done to Stellar here at this man's orders. Malcolm, personally or by proxy, could have rendered Stellar's life a living hell any time he wanted.

Auel whistled. "Now that's my kind of girl! Get right to the point! Bang!"

Sting sighed. "Can we just leave now? I've already got all of the ammo I need. We're not too far from where that ship docked."

"You're right," Joan said. "Everyone, follow me, staggered formation. Sting, watch the rear. Cagalli, you get in the middle between us. Stellar, you take point with me. Let's move it."

And that's what we did, leaving the corpse of Jarvis Malcolm behind, and all of the information the man could have given us.

I thought of searching the body for the info, but didn't. And neither did anyone else.

This comes off as wimpy, probably, but I didn't want to take an up-close look at the bullet holes in the man's head from Stellar's burst.

I had seen enough death. I didn't want to see the aftereffects yet again.

Perhaps, just like Stellar, all I wanted was to be safe.

To be in peace.
***
There was only one more firefight between us and the Archangel. I just stood aside and let Joan's team do the work, which they did, quickly and efficiently. None of the four Extended had a scratch on them as we moved towards where there was more gunfire, and I realized that we were approaching the front line. Where the Archangel personnel must've hit a roadblock with the facility personnel.

We crouched behind what looked like the facility personnel's defensive line. Joan looked at her team. "Sting, you and Auel cook some grenades. Frag 'em. Stellar, you and I clear the hall. Cagalli . . . after we clear, you lead the way towards the other line so your people don't shoot us too."

"Yeah. Get it started then," I replied.

Auel had a demented grin on his face. "This is gonna be the best part. They won't know what hit them."

"Stay focused, you idiot," Sting snapped.

"I am being focused," Auel replied haughtily. "I'm focused on turning those idiots into a bunch of bloody smithereens!"

With that, he pulled the pin from his grenade, and Sting did the same. They both froze for what seemed like an eternity but likely only for a second or two, then threw them right where the facility guards were taking cover. The guards noticed the grenades far too late, and they exploded, and I ducked away before the images of them being blown apart would be ingrained on my mind.

Joan and Stellar immediately moved in, and there was a bunch of machine-gun fire, then silence.

Then Joan. "Cagalli, get your ass out there so your people don't shoot us!"

"Uh, all right!" I replied.

I couldn't believe it. Just like that. It was over.

I walked out, my hands in the air. "I am 2nd Lieutenant Cagalli Yamato! Pilot of the Strike GUNDAM. I have four of the Extended child soldiers with me, they have chosen to fight with me! Don't shoot them!"

I walked forward with my hands in the air. "I repeat, I'm-"

"Cagalli?" I knew that voice anywhere.

"Murrue? Murrue!" I shouted.

I saw Murrue Ramius, with her brunette hair looking a bit sweaty and messy, lean out from behind one of the corners. "Cagalli! You're all right!"

Seeing Murrue standing there, a pistol in her hand and a grenade in her belt, joining the battle for me personally, made me feel I was not worthy of being saved. It made Murrue look like an angel. I ran forward. "Murrue!"

I dropped my gun and ran forward and hugged her. I didn't care about rank or anything else like that in that moment. All I cared about was Murrue, and what she represented.

"Thank you," I said, my voice muffled due to being buried in her shoulder. "Thank you, Murrue."

"There'll be time for thank yous and you're welcomes later," Murrue said. "But I'm glad to see you're safe."

Murrue looked out past me, and I turned towards Joan, Stellar, Sting, and Auel, who were approaching Murrue and I cautiously. "Are you the four Extended who've sided with Cagalli?"

Joan sighed. "Yes, we are. Dunno if we're gonna regret it, but we are."

"Then you're coming with us and out of this hellish place." Murrue pulled out her radio. "Natarle! Natarle, listen to me! We've acquired our primary objective! 2nd Lieutenant Yamato is safe and in my hands! We're withdrawing immediately!"

I didn't hear Badgiruel's response, but Murrue wasn't taking no for an answer. "I don't give a damn about documents or files or flash drives! That's not what we came here for! The most valuable thing is human life, and what's what we have! Take what you can carry if you want, but we're leaving the rest behind! We're withdrawing, Natarle, and that is a direct order! "

Murrue sighed. "The Lieutenant-Commander says that we've stumbled upon scandalous territory here regarding the Earth Alliance. She warned me that by confronting the facility like this we'll be a rogue ship, we'll never be able to go to Alaska without facing the death penalty . . . but I didn't care. Not when they were being so obstinate. Not when I saw one of those kids like you four over there. It was just so wrong."

Murrue's lips quivered, and then she sighed. "Come on. We need to hurry. The facility has plenty of reinforcements, we only have a temporary reprieve right now."

"You got it, Murrue," I replied.

"Everyone, fall back!" Murrue shouted, and she ran down the hallway, and I followed.

It was a relief. A pure, bona-fide relief.

There was one person I could believe in besides myself, and that was Murrue Ramius.

I felt ready to follow her into hell.
***
Badgiruel sighed. "We had La Flaga and Allster clear the airspace, not like the facility had much in the way of air defenses besides ground-to-air weaponry. I think their intention was to stay as under the radar as possible. That's why ZAFT hasn't already targeted this place, they didn't know about it."

"Well, they probably know about it now," Murrue said. "I wish them luck on getting this place evacuated before ZAFT blows it to hell."

"Let's get out of here first before ZAFT decides that would be a good idea," Badgiruel replied curtly.

We had withdrawn to the final defensive line, the top walkway, which led to the Strike GUNDAM and the Archangel. I knew which way I was getting out of here, I wasn't going to get on the ship. Somebody had to get the Strike out of here, and that was going to be me.

There was a hallway that extended to one of the Archangel's doors, it was a few stories up, and below it was nothing but water. A vicious fall for sure.

"Get across, Natarle," Murrue said. "I want to make sure Cagalli can make it to the Strike before I cross. It's the captain's responsibility to make sure her crew is safe."

"You sure about this Captain?" Badgiruel asked.

"Yes, I am! Now go!!" Murrue replied.

Badgiruel sighed, and she turned and ran down the tunnel.

I looked at Stellar. "You get onboard right now! You and the other Extended! You've all had enough fighting!"

"I'm staying," Joan said. "You need at least one elite soldier holding them off until everyone's going. I know you people have special-ops types here for some reason, it's not standard for a ship to have them, is there?"

"The special forces soldiers you saw were initially deployed in a town called Tassil, they were meant to extract Cagalli in a similar situation to this one," Murrue said. "They made it to the Archangel, and I'm glad they did."

"Are you sure, Cagalli?" Stellar asked.

"I ain't waiting for her permission! I'm outta here!" Auel shouted and he took off down the hallway.

Sting shrugged. "What can you do?" He followed Auel.

"Go," I said. "Get out of here. I'll head for the Strike and get out that way. Joan will be right behind you, got it?"

Stellar nodded. "Okay. When the Captain goes."

By this point, all that was left of us that hadn't evacuated were two spec-ops types with Joan, Murrue, Stellar, and I. As Stellar responded, one of the two spec-ops soldiers fell, shot in the head, and tumbled down the stairs.

"I think they're finally sending the Extended in full force on us," Joan said. "We're not going to hold them off."

"Let me help then so no one else has to-" Stellar was interrupted by Murrue, who grabbed Stellar's shoulder.

"We're leaving," Murrue said. She turned to me. "Get to the Strike. Get it out of here. Understand?"

"Yes, Murrue," I replied. It took me a second to realize something. "You've been calling me by my first name this whole time."

"Special circumstances," Murrue said with a smile. "I'll see you on the ship."

"You got it, Murrue," I replied.

Murrue and Stellar took off down the collapsible hallway, and I turned around. It was time to head to the Strike. It was time I escaped this nightmare. It was time I-

My thoughts were interrupted by a loud whistling sound.

And then Joan. "RPG!"

I had heard enough of those shouts, and enough of those sounds, to immediately know what that meant.

Rocket-propelled-grenade. And it didn't take a genius to know what the Extended would be targeting with that RPG.

And when the explosion erupted behind me, in the collapsible hallway that led to the Archangel, I instantly thought the worst.

I spun around. "Murrue! Murrue! Stellar!"

There was a huge gaping hole in the hallway. No human, not even a Coordinator like me, stood a chance of jumping that gap. Joan, myself, and the remaining special-ops soldier were all stuck here, our only escape being the Strike.

Through the smoke and the wreckage, was Stellar, laying prone on the other side of the gap, clearly knocked unconscious. Sting and Auel were running out to grab her and pull her inside the Archangel.

But Murrue. Where was Murrue?

I screamed her name and suddenly I saw her.

Her back was turned to me, and she was hanging onto the edge of a bent, snapped supporting railing with one of her hands. The midsection of her uniform was increasingly turning dark red.

No, I thought. No, no, no.

Murrue Ramius, my guardian, the person who had guided me throughout my journey, who had come time and time again to rescue me. The person who reassured me. The one person I could unquestionably describe as my hero. The person who, by dragging me into the Strike GUNDAM in the first place, inadvertently gave me the right to survive.

She was hurt. She was dangling, hanging on to dear life with just one hand. And there was nothing I could do to help her.

Please climb up. Please, somehow, some way, get the strength to climb up.

I screamed her name again.

It was as if the world was slowing down. It was surreal. Murrue's head turned towards me, and I saw a bleeding slash across her beautiful, reassuring face. She smiled at me briefly, and for a second, I dared to think everything would be okay. Because that's how everything always ended. No matter what went wrong, one thing was constant, and that was Murrue Ramius, her being captain of the Archangel, her being the crucial stabilizing, moderate force that guided us all.

She would be okay because her being okay was the clearest way we were still alive.

It would not be.

I saw a bullet strike her in the chest. A small amount of blood spewed out, and the momentum propelled Murrue away. Her hand let go and all of a sudden, she was falling.

She seemed to fall forever.

Then she was gone.
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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Re: Gundam SEED: Bloodlines (Chapter 42 11/16/12)

Post by Vent Noir » Sat Nov 17, 2012 3:46 am

Didn't see that coming.

I like Murrue, but not with the same passion as I do certain other characters. And with her down, that puts Natarle in command, which is going to... take some adjusting to.

Good chapter, and I'll definitely keep on reading.
Vent Noir

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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 42 11/16/12)

Post by rebel_cheese » Fri Nov 23, 2012 10:49 am

I actually thought that the chapter was pretty predictable, and I kept thinking about changing the chapter title as well. But I'm glad that some element of surprise stayed in there.

Thank you for reading. I hope the future chapters prove enjoyable.
____________________________________________________________________________________
Chapter Forty-Three: Time After Time

The world seemed to stop when I saw Murrue vanish into the water. I could not accept the reality. I could not accept that Murrue Ramius had just been killed in front of my eyes. I refused to believe it. That literally did not just happen. I must have been seeing things. I must have been imagining it.

But I knew. I knew.

I screamed her name at the top of my lungs, shredding my vocal cords in the process, tears suppressed by adrenaline all of a sudden pouring out of my eyes.

She was not just my captain. She was a friend. It had not been until she had come to save me, again, from this wretched, hellish place, that I had realized it completely. That she was my friend. That she considered me her friend. That she considered the ship worth risking in order to save me.

And I never had the chance to tell her how much that meant to me.

I hoped against hope that I would see Murrue swim to the surface somewhere. Because she could not be dead. She had not been shot in the head. She had been shot above her right breast, almost clipped in the shoulder. That should not have killed her. The Murrue Ramius I knew would survive that shot because she was just that strong.

But she never reappeared.

I was shutting down and I did not care. Nothing meant anything to me anymore. How was I worth the death of this woman, who commanded an entire ship full of people, the woman who had guided this motley crew of people from a zillion nations? There was no way that I was worth it, no matter what these mysterious people from nefarious shadow organizations loved to overtly hint about me. There was no way.

Why? Why couldn't that have been me instead? Why couldn't I have died instead?

I felt a hand grab me and all of a sudden I was pulled from the edge. I looked up and there was Joan. "Snap out of it!"

She slapped me across the face.

And then things returned to reality and normal speed.

I was still in war. I was still in danger. There were still bullets flying everywhere.

And a little voice in the back of my head was telling me that the only way that Murrue's death could be remotely justified was if I survived.

I had to survive.

"What the hell is wrong with you?" Joan shouted. "We're out of time! You need to go!"

"I'm sorry . . ." I literally couldn't come up with anything better to say. My voice sounded like a shadow of its usual self, so worn out it was the vocal version of sandpaper.

Joan shook her head. "You don't have to say anything. She was your captain. I get it. But she's gone. Now if you want to live we're getting your ass over to the Strike."

"Okay." I still did not feel completely here. I felt like a piece of me had been ripped out and had fallen into the water after Murrue Ramius. I felt empty, only partially connected to this pane of existence. It reminded me of how I felt when I was plummeting through Earth's atmosphere, when I started watching myself fall, like I had become an observer of my own demise. I wasn't quite at that point yet, but I felt really close.

We retreated to the edge of the walkway. Joan peeked out and fired a few more rounds. "We need to go now! They're realizing how few in numbers we really are!"

"Just run to the Strike right now?"

"We don't have much of a choice!" Joan took off at a run, running off the destroyed walkway and making a hard left, and I realized she was heading right for the Strike.

I knew immediately that I had to follow.

As I took off after her, I heard the dying grunt of the last soldier besides Joan and I as he was hit in the head. I couldn't turn around to look at him, not even pause. I knew the moment I stopped moving I would be dead.

Joan was incredibly fast, or I was just so exhausted physically and spiritually I was slower than usual.

Up another flight of stairs. I barely made it to the top as more bullets flew past me, I was just barely out of their range thanks to the height advantage. Joan was waiting for me, and she seemed to be setting up something.

"Get to the cockpit, I'm almost done with this!" It took me a moment to realize she was arranging a tripwire. That would definitely buy a few seconds to boot up the Strike and blast out of here.

So I kept running.

When I made it to the cockpit, entering it from the side with the most cover, the right, Joan caught up to me. "All right. That should be enough time."

"It's going to be a cramped fit," I said. "But it's workable. I've piloted the Strike with more than one person inside before."

"No, Cagalli. I'm here to give you some instructions. I'm staying."

"You're what?"

Just as I said that, the tripwire went off, and there was a lot of screaming and sounds of people falling off the stairs and crashing to the ground. If the blast didn't kill them, the fall would. Not all of the screams sounded like adults, which made me feel sick to my stomach.

"There's something I have to tell you. Sting, Auel, and Stellar are going to get incredibly sick. One of the things they use to control us, Cagalli, is to hook us on the drugs. We need them to survive."

"You must be joking!" I shouted. Immediately, all I could think of was that I had inadvertently killed those three kids. Stellar, Sting, and Auel. No wonder Sting had been so reluctant. He knew. He knew what was going to happen. And he went along with it anyway.

"I'm not joking, Cagalli! There's no way I'd survive if I came with you! But Sting, Stellar, and Auel? They have a chance! They're younger! Their bodies aren't as addicted as mine!"

"What are you talking about? This isn't making any sense!"

A gunshot ricocheted off of the Strike then, and Joan immediately leaned out and fired a couple more shots around the Strike, and I could hear the grunt of the bullets finding a target.

Joan then turned and shoved me into the cockpit. "Sting is self-sufficient! His willpower will be enough! But Auel, and Stellar? They're going to need someone to imprint on, Cagalli! Otherwise I don't think either one will be strong enough to survive withdrawal!"

"Imprinting? How is that supposed to work?"

"Someone needs to take my place in their minds, Cagalli! It can be you or someone else or two douchebags who guard crates all day, I don't care! But they each need somebody to live for!"

Joan leaned out again, and fired another burst, and then Joan shrieked and fell backwards in front of my vision, and I saw red spreading all over her right shoulder.

"Joan! C'mon, you can't-"

"Stop being stupid and get out of here! I can't hold them off for much longer!"

Just as she said that, I heard something roll on the walk, and Joan grunted as she kicked it away. The explosion told me all I needed to know; Joan had kicked a live grenade away.

"Why?" I asked. "Why did you do this, knowing that you'd die?"

Joan paused, and then she smiled. It bore an eerie resemblance to Murrue's smile just minutes before on the walkway. "Because I can't bet against my Extended. I'm just going to have to take my chances here, and try to kill everybody else, so no one else knows what happened here but me. Chances are slim to none that I'll survive, but it's better than no chance. I have too much self-preservation in me, Cagalli."

"You can't seriously believe a word you just said! You're crazy!"

Joan placed her hand on the cockpit door. In her other hand was that machine-gun she had on her. She looked like she was preparing for a last stand.

"Get out of here. Give my Extended unit the lives they want."

And then she slammed it shut.

I knew immediately that I didn't have any more time. When I imput my lock code on the Strike, the radar immediately displayed dozens upon dozens of people swarming around the GUNDAM. I didn't even have time to try to yank Joan from her position and pull her back in.

So I powered the Strike on.

The radar suggested total chaos outside. Now I knew why Joan figured she had a chance, even though it was just a slim one. The chaos of my takeoff around these people could give her an opportunity to either escape or wage a one-woman war on her fellow Extended, their guards, and the scientists.

I couldn't tell which human figure was Joan, and I guess it didn't matter. I was getting out of here, and it was too late to try to grab her and bring her into the cockpit by force. Not like she'd let me do it anyway.

So I marched the Strike out of its docking station, and turned on the Phase Shift. The Strike reverberated from multiple RPGs slamming into the giant machine, but they hardly did any damage. The GUNDAM wasn't quite immune to the handheld rockets, but it put up good resistance against that type of damage.

I took aim where most of the RPG fire was coming from and then let loose with the Igelstellungs. A few seconds of that spraying everywhere, and no one was shooting at me anymore.

That made me feel even more numb than I already did.

The Strike hadn't been recharged since I had ended up here. I had enough power to walk out of here and fly back to the Archangel, but that was it.

I opened communications as I walked right out of the docking station, entering the open air. "This is 2nd Lieutenant Cagalli Yamato. I have the Strike GUNDAM. Can someone fly me my launcher so I can take off and return to base?"

A pause. Then Miriallia. "You're still alive, Cagalli?"

"Yes, I am, whatever that's worth."

"I'll tell Flay to fly you the launcher! Just hang on! Get to a zone that isn't as hot!"

"Sounds good to me."

It didn't really matter. I was still breathing, but with Murrue dead, I couldn't bring myself to want to do anything. I was just on autopilot at this point, doing what my instincts said. I just could not bring myself to believe it. That Murrue was gone.

Not even the knowledge of Natarle Badgiruel's inevitable wrath meant anything to me even as it consciously hit me that she was going to kick my ass for this one.

I had never thought of Murrue Ramius as a friend, not until she had come to rescue me. And that had been a colossal mistake. She had been there for me the whole time and I had never realized it.

And now, my negligence, my failure as a pilot, had gotten her killed.

That was when I started to cry. When I finally told myself to stop denying the truth.

She was not going to be waiting for me on the Archangel or anywhere else. And she wasn't going to hear me say how much everything she had done, and all of the risks she had taken, ultimately meant to me.

The water inside the hangar might as well have been the barrier from Earth to heaven.

Murrue Ramius was dead.
***
The first thing I heard when I docked was that I was being summoned to the bridge. It was exactly what I had expected. Natarle was captain now, and she was going to give me what I deserved. Whether I was going to get busted down to Seaman, or be thrown in the brig, receive a tongue-lashing, or whatever else she had in mind for me, she was going to give to me, right now, on the spot.

It hardly seemed to matter.

Everyone was staring at me as I walked out of the Strike. Flay stared at me as I changed into my regular uniform in the pilots' room. Various other people, some I knew, others I didn't, stared at me as I walked down the hallways towards the bridge.

Nobody said a word.

I don't think there was anything anyone could say to me.

Or maybe they were trying to talk to me and I was just ignoring them.

I was lost in my own little world.

When I finally made it to the bridge, it was only then that I felt an emotion besides this empty despair that had taken me over.

Fear.

I was not so completely gone that I wasn't afraid of Natarle Badgiruel.

Now the world truly did feel like it was about to end.

"Please. Come over here." Her voice was stern, no-nonsense, terse. She was clearly sitting in the captain's chair, Murrue Ramius' chair, and I could not see her from my angle.

"Yes, ma'am." I walked over gingerly, as if Natarle would suddenly leap from the chair at any second, slam me into the ground, and put a pistol at my head.

I felt tears coming to my eyes again, and I bit back the urge to grovel. I would not grovel. It did not matter how pathetic I felt, I was not going to grovel to her. I was not going to beg for forgiveness or sob that I was sorry, or plead to keep my rank and GUNDAM privileges. I was not going to be that weak. Not in front of Badgiruel.

She finally stood up and looked at me with those cold violet eyes, just for a moment. Then she sighed and removed her officer's cap, wiping her brow. "God damn it, you look like a kicked puppy. Do I really scare you that much?"

"No. It's not that. It's . . . it's everything."

Badgiruel nodded. She walked over to me, and seemed to size me up. "You're not the only one who feels responsibility over what happened to Captain Ramius. I did everything short of seizing command to force her to stay on this ship but she wanted to find you personally. Perhaps that is what I should have done."

"I'm the one who fell into the stupid ocean. Everything that happened is my fault," I replied. I sniffed, and wiped my eyes before any tears could come from them. I was not going to cry. Not in front of her.

She hadn't earned the right to see me cry.

Badgiruel sighed again and walked a few pieces away, staring outside the windows, looking out at the clear blue sky and the ocean. "Time after time, Murrue Ramius made decisions I disagreed with. She was far too loose, in my opinion. But, time after time, what she did seemed to work, in some odd way. I didn't realize it until I became captain why her methods worked."

Badgiruel's hands clenched into fists and then they opened and relaxed again. "It's the only way to command this ship. When we have a language barrier with many of the people who were from Artemis. When we have so many civilians onboard who have gotten good at pretending they're military but only that, pretending. When we rely on a child such as yourself to protect us all. This ship can't be commanded like a regular military vessel."

Another pause. "2nd Lieutenant, originally, I was going to scream at you. I was going to bust you down to Seaman and have you spend the night in the brig. But that wouldn't solve anything at all. You're still just a child and all I'd be doing is venting at you."

She walked back over to me. Despite her words, I didn't feel any relief at all, any loosening of the tension. I was just waiting for the ax to fall. I knew there had to be one. There was always one with her.

Badgiruel paused as she stood in front of me. "Are you going to keep standing there with that kicked-dog expression or are you going to say something?"

"I-I have nothing to say, ma'am," I replied.

Badgiruel just gave me a look. "God damn it, 2nd Lieutenant."

Then she walked up to me and embraced me.

The shock of such uncharacteristic behavior from Badgiruel was so much that the tears I had been trying to suppress spilled out in an instant. "I . . . wha?"

Badgiruel's words were in-character, at least, so it wasn't like I had dropped into a bizarro world. "Look, you need to cry. I get it. Let it out."

"B-But . . . uh . . ." My capability to talk was pretty much gone. I was still having trouble registering what had just happened.

"Look, you're a child, you need to cry, fine. Go ahead. Keeping it all in is just going to cause more problems later."

"I . . . I . . ." I finally couldn't keep it all in. I did.

What Badgiruel had given me was permission. Permission that I could falter for a few moments in her presence. I accepted it, and I cried into her shoulder for what seemed like forever.

After a while, Badgiruel started talking. "Now, 2nd Lieutenant, I need you to put yourself back together. We're not out of the woods yet."

I sniffed and rubbed my nose. "What do you mean?"

Badgiruel let go of me and looked at me right in the eye. "What Captain Ramius did was attack an Earth Alliance base. Right before you landed, I had already received a communication from the Earth Alliance demanding us to dock in the nearest port. You don't need to know the details, but essentially, we've committed treason. We're a rogue ship."

"What? Really? But what about everything that was going on there? Those experiments! Those kids! What they were going to do with me! They were going to brainwash me!"

"They don't care about any of that," Badgiruel said. "Essentially, we have five days to turn ourselves in to the nearest port, which is, incidentally, in Corregidor."

"Corregie-wha?"

"Corregidor. It's a small island in the Philippines, and a naval outpost for the Alliance that is the forefront of the Alliance's Pacific naval headquarters. Which, as you should know, is in the city of Manila, on the nearby, significantly larger, island of Luxon."

That information, useless and unknown to me, was dizzying by itself and I didn't want Badgiruel to continue. "Okay? What's your plan? Are we going there?"

Badgiruel sighed. "No. If I were to divert the ship away from Orb's direction, I'd face a mutiny. Also, committing treason in the Earth Alliance in wartime is considered worth the death penalty. We're not going there, I'm not stupid."

"The death penalty? I thought that the Earth Alliance outlawed the death penalty as part of its charter when it first formed. Everyone, the Atlantic Federation, East Asia, they had to sign it! That's part of the reason why Oceania never joined, because they refused to do away with the death penalty!"

"The death penalty can be reinstated in wartime if there is action considered treasonous, and Captain Ramius, because of her decision to open fire on the base in order to rescue you, committed a clearly treasonous action," Badgiruel replied. Her stern, serious, unwavering tone was getting on my nerves. I wanted Murrue's softer, more thoughtful inflection. Badgiruel always sounded like she was barking orders.

"This is stupid! She did that to save me!" I replied. "They're the ones committing the war crimes here! I don't see how-"

"They have the power," Badgiruel interrupted. "And that is what matters. Now you need to listen to me."

Great. More orders. Just what I wanted to hear. But I knew better than to show any sign of disobedience or questioning. Badgiruel was not Murrue. "Yes, ma'am?"

"We are going to pass through the Straight of Malacca in roughly two days," Badgiruel said. "We could come under assault not just from ZAFT forces from Carpentaria, but from the Alliance forces in the Philippines and what islands in the Indonesian islands still under Alliance control. I have terabytes of condemning, scandalous files in my possession and I know that Blue Cosmos or the Alliance under Blue Cosmos' orders will do everything possible to make sure the information is at the bottom of the ocean."

"What does this have to do with me, ma'am?" I asked.

"I need you to snap out of your doldrums, 2nd Lieutenant. You've had your cry, now you need to pull yourself together. You're the best hope we have of making it to the Orb Union. I know how strong you are, now show me some of that strength instead of your weakness. Got it?"

"I understand, ma'am." Part of it was knowing Badgiruel wouldn't accept "no" as an answer, and the other part was knowing she was right. In her cruel, upfront way, she was right.

"Good. You're dismissed. Get some rest. We'll hold a service for Captain Ramius tomorrow morning. After that, you'll be on full alert until we make it into Orb waters."

"All right. Thank you." I nearly turned to walk away, but then I remembered something Badgiruel had said earlier in the conversation.

"What about those files? What are you going to do with them?" I asked.

Badgiruel smiled, and it was the most devious smile I had ever seen in my life. "I'm going to leak them. Slowly but surely, in a deliberate attack pattern. The public is going to know what is seizing control of the Alliance, and they're not going to like it. Not one bit."

"And should I know anything about-"

"There is nothing in those files you should be concerned about, for your own good." Badgiruel had a good poker face and poker voice, but she sounded just a little defensive in her inflections. That pretty much confirmed that something involving me had been found in her files and she wasn't going to tell me what it could be.

Before I could reply, Badgiruel stopped me. "You're dismissed, 2nd Lieutenant. That's an order."

"All right, ma'am. See you later."

I walked out of the bridge, and into my new, Murrue Ramius-less reality.

My life more transformed and ever more mysterious than before.
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 43 11/23/12)

Post by Vent Noir » Fri Nov 23, 2012 6:28 pm

Well, I'm not exactly known for my mystical powers of foresight. I generally take the story as it comes rather than trying to figure out where it's going.
Vent Noir

@AJDynon on Twitter

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

rebel_cheese
Posts: 305
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Re: Gundam SEED: Bloodlines (Chapter 43 11/23/12)

Post by rebel_cheese » Fri Dec 14, 2012 12:45 am

Lol, I understand.

I used up my buffer in November, I am working on new entries but it will likely be January 2013 before I am able to start posting again. But Part Two will continue and finish very soon.
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 43 11/23/12)

Post by rebel_cheese » Mon Dec 24, 2012 3:07 pm

Merry Christmas.
___________________________________________________________________________________
Chapter Forty-Four: Awakening

I don't remember any of the funeral service for Murrue Ramius. I know that sounds awful, but I really don't. I was completely lost in my own little world, staring into space. I just could not process what was happening, whether it was listening to Natarle Badgiruel eulogize my captain, or any of the honors or even just the recording of the trumpet playing some sad song that was likely "Taps", the Anno Domini "classic".

I just remember thinking about Murrue, and then trying not to think about her because that would just make me cry. Over and over and over, the cycle repeated itself, and I forced myself to forget only to recall something else. I can only regret that Murrue cared for me in a way that went deeper than captain and subordinate, and I never realized it until the day she was gone.

And now she was dead because of me. Badgiruel could volunteer to take responsibility as much as she wanted, but I couldn't let Badgiruel do that. If I hadn't gotten pulled onto that island in the first place, Murrue never would have needed to rescue me, and then she'd still be here. She'd still be alive.

Everything had changed.

After Murrue's funeral, I returned to my quarters and just sat down on my bed. Tori was in the room, and it flew to my shoulder, and I shooed it away with my hand. It just flapped to the dresser and sat down, looking at me quizzically. I didn't give it a second glance after I saw it cock its head to the side in confusion. A robotic pet didn't mean very much to me.

How long was the ship going to hold together under Badgiruel? Badgiruel, unlike Murrue, seemed to inspire only fear in everyone. When Murrue was here, people could act a little looser. But now?

And then there was the reality that we had become a rogue ship too. Everyone was going to come after us. The ZAFT would definitely launch an attack, they would view us as an easy mark since we had nowhere to run. And the Earth Alliance, if they could, would likely scramble who they could to try to kill us.

It was just an unsettling feeling.

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, Elle walked inside the room. "Cagalli?"

I didn't want to see her either. I didn't want to see anybody. But I couldn't lash out at Elle. Not her.

"Elle."

Elle walked to my bed and sat down next to me. "I heard . . . someone say Murrue died to save you, didn't she?"

"She did," I replied.

"She was . . . nice," Elle said.

"She was. Very nice," I replied.

"Are we going to be okay? Without her?" Elle asked.

I turned to look at her, and Elle's eyes were shimmering. She was scared, she was on the verge of crying, she was asking me for any kind of reassurance.

"Yes. We'll be okay," I replied.

"How?" Elle asked.

I felt something growing inside me in that moment. It felt like right before I saw the brown seed, but different. I was angry. I was sick and tired of the war. I was sick of killing people, and sick of seeing people die. I wanted the Archangel to make it to Orb so I could be done with this for good.

I didn't feel like crying anymore. All I could think about was how I had let Murrue down with my stupid mistakes and temper tantrums and ultimately failing to protect her and everyone else on this ship. I couldn't let that happen again. I had already almost died twice and had to be bailed out by someone else. And this second time, my rescuer had died in the process.

Damn it. I wasn't going to let that happen again. I wasn't going to lose anymore.

"I'll protect everyone," I said. "No one else dies."

I thought about Athrun and his squad of soldiers who seemed solely dedicated to destroying us. I didn't want to kill Athrun. He had saved my life when I was falling through the atmosphere. I would not be here if it wasn't for him.

But he and his squad were definitely going to make one more try at destroying us. I could not let him succeed. Even if it meant that he and the rest of his squad died to ensure that everyone else lived.

"No one else dies," I said.

I folded my hands to keep them from clenching up in front of Elle. She was just a kid. I didn't want to scare her.

But that effort wasn't enough. "Cagalli, don't talk like that, you're scaring me."

"I'm not trying to scare you. There's nothing to be scared of. We're all going to Orb. You're going to be safe. I don't care what gets in my way, or who tries to stop me, but this ship is making it to Orb without anyone else dying. I swear it."

"Cagalli, please! You're really scaring me!" Elle shook my shoulder hard and I turn to look at her.

That's when it hit me.

It was my voice. My voice had gotten low, dangerous. Of course that would scare her. And my choice of words. They suggested violence, anger, hatred. That would frighten her too.

I forced my voice to relax and soften despite how thin my nerves were. I did my very best to smile in the calmest, most gentle way I could. "I'm sorry, Elle."

I wrapped my arm around her and brought her close. "I'm sorry. I won't talk like that anymore."

"Please don't," Elle said.

"I won't."

After that, I forced myself to only think of gentle, beautiful things. They seemed so pointless to me, but it was the only way to keep that kind persona Elle needed to see from me.

And it just felt wrong. All of it.

I couldn't let myself believe that, though. If I let that happen, the Cagalli I had been would finally be eradicated and be replaced by this soldier. What would Elle, Tolle, or any of my friends think of me if I let that happen? They were scared of me already. I was already on the verge of losing them all.

I would be no better than Natarle Badgiruel if I let that happen to me. I didn't want to be like her. Friendless, calculating, brutal.

No. I couldn't let that happen.

Was I losing my capacity to care? Not from a holistic standpoint. Like how I wanted to get close to people, love them, laugh with them.

I couldn't figure out how to stop that from happening.

I spent the whole day with Elle, talking with her, smiling, playing some stupid games with Elle's cat. Elle looked up to me a lot, smiling, and I kept up that kind face. I think I even believed in it for a while. But it just wasn't me.

I had no idea what I was anymore.

I just knew what I didn't want to be, even though I kept edging in that direction.

I didn't want to be Natarle Badgiruel.

I was not going to wind up like her.
***
"They're getting pretty bad."

That's what Jacqueline told us in the lobby outside sick bay. The Extended had been kept isolated from all of the other wounded onboard, given their own rooms.

It had been just two days since I had escaped from the base. Just one day after Murrue Ramius' memorial service. I wasn't ready to face this. To watch the children I rescued start to die.

I had promised myself that no one else would die. How I was going to maintain it if Sting, Auel, and Stellar were all to die, with us helpless to stop it?

"What our their symptoms?" Natarle Badgiruel asked.

Jacqueline shakes her head. "It reminds me of drug addicts after they quit cold turkey. They're feverish, sweating. I think the blue-haired one has turned delusional, he's screaming all the time and he's convulsing on and off. Not quite like he's having seizures, but close. The girl is almost as bad. The only one who seems to have any hope of recovery is the green-haired boy."

Just like Joan had predicted. Sting was the only one capable of pulling through. Auel and Stellar were fading fast.

"What are they screaming about?" Badgiruel asked.

"With the blue-haired boy, it seems to happen every time I mention the word 'mother'," Jacqueline says. "He then begins thrashing around and we had to restrain him, and then we restrained the others just to be safe. The girl just seems to be crying for this 'Joan'. The blue-haired boy too, when he's calmer."

Also just like Joan had predicted. The accuracy of Joan's predictions were uncanny. It just made me wonder about the true nature of the Extended, and what they exactly were.

Badgiruel sighed and she looked at me. "You brought them here. You have any idea how to help? 'Cause if you don't, I don't want these kids to suffer for much longer."

"They had a leader," I replied. "Her name was Joan. She said that the two kids, Auel and Stellar, imprinted on her."

"Imprinted?" Jacqueline's eyes widen. "Like a baby bird does with its mother?"

"That's not what Joan said but at this point I wouldn't be surprised if it was like that," I said.

"Damn it," Badgiruel growled.

"Joan told me there was a way to change the imprintment," I said. "Someone needs to take Joan's place in their minds. Not Sting's, he wasn't imprinted on her or anyone."

Badgiruel scoffed. "How does that help exactly?"

"Joan said it might give Auel and Stellar enough will to pull through their pain from the drug withdrawal," I said. "The Extended are not like us, ma'am. Joan said they were a 'new type' of human being. I don't know what's different about them, but they seem to have some kind of ESP."

Badgiruel facepalmed. "Give me a ZOINKS break."

"I'm just going by what Joan told me," I said.

Badgiruel shook her head. "All right. It doesn't really contradict any of the information I've read so far. It's just difficult to believe. Doctor Grumman, is there any chance you could try to let one of the children imprint on you, however it's possible?"

Jacqueline's blue eyes stared blankly. "Really?"

"I don't have any better ideas. It's either that or we euthanize them," Badgiruel said, her voice sharp. "I will not have these children slowly die in agony on my ship, Doctor. Either do this 'imprintment' or-"

"I'll do it," I said, surprising myself in the process.

Badgiruel spun to look at me. "Ensign?"

"I'll have the girl, Stellar, imprint on me," I said. "She kind of looks like me anyway. If she starts looking up to me like a sister it wouldn't look strange to people who wouldn't know."

I didn't know what possessed me to say that. Maybe it was my promise? Or maybe it was Stellar's uncanny resemblance to me, with just enough differences in her face and body that she couldn't be my clone. Or, finally, it was just Joan entrusting the Extended to me. I'd be letting Joan down if I let Auel and Stellar die.

"Fine," Badgiruel sighed. "Grumman, have the boy imprint on you. He seems to want a mother anyway. There's a place to start."

"What do you mean, 'a place to start'?" Jacqueline asks, her eyes fearful and confused at the same time.

"I don't know! Act maternal or something to the stupid boy!" Badgiruel shouted.

Jacqueline just looked away. "I don't even know where to start with that."

"Well, figure it out. That's an order," Badgiruel said.

"M-Maybe we should ask the third child? S-Sting Oakley," Jacqueline says, clearly terrified. "He might have some idea of what to do."

"Then do that," Badgiruel says. "Ensign, if you don't figure out how to make the Stellar girl imprint on you within an hour, I'm finding a substitute. I still need you on full alert, I can't have you wasting your time in sick bay."

"Yes, ma'am," I replied.

Badgiruel scoffed and walked away shaking her head. She was clearly dismayed at what was happening, and had no idea how to stop it. She had to feel completely powerless.

"What the hell do we do?" Jacqueline asked me.

"Ask Sting. That's all I have," I replied.

Jacqueline just groaned.
***
Sting looked like hell, but he at least recognized us. "You know, brilliant idea on springing us out of there, Cagalli. No wait, that was Stellar's idea. Remind me to kick her ass once I'm outta here. This . . . this whole thing just . . . just completely, totally, sucks."

"She won't be alive to have her ass kicked unless we can figure out how to help her," I replied.

Sting groaned, not from pain, but from dismay. "Damn it. It's not that hard! I've seen it happen myself!"

"We never saw 'it' happen, Sting," Jacqueline replies. "Both of your friends are fading fast. I'm sure they will begin going into seizures soon."

"Ah, seizures. Lovely things to see, aren't they," Sting growls. "Especially Stellar's. Girls moaning are hot."

I'm sure he was saying that just to piss me off because he felt miserable himself. I didn't care, though. I just whacked him on his sweaty head and made him moan for a second.

"Yeah, I deserved that," Sting groaned.

"How can we get them to imprint on us so they have a chance to live?" I asked as I wiped my hand on one of Sting's sheets.

Sting just shook his head. "You're going to have to convince them that you care for them. You need to make them think of you as family, and convince them to let go of Joan and latch onto you instead. Like a sister or mother. Shouldn't be too hard for Stellar, she got convinced like six or seven times at the base. Auel is the one who'll be tough. He was with Joan a lot longer than Stellar was."

"Wunderbar," Jacqueline grumbles.

"That simple, huh?" I ask.

"Pretty much," Sting groans.

"Then that's what I'm going to do. Thanks," I said as I stood up.

"You sure you're ready for this?" Sting asked as I was about to reach the door.

"Yes," I said.

Sting just chuckled. "Well then, there's nothing else to say. Good luck to the both of ya."

I should've stayed, and questioned Sting further, especially on the cryptic way he left off. If I had, I would've known what I was getting into. I could've had someone else, someone older, someone more prepared for the consequences, take my place. There is no way I would've let what did happen, well, happen to me if I had known.

Or, at least, I could've enjoyed a few more minutes of my life.

It just never occurred to me that when I would enter Stellar's room, I would exit the room different.

Why would it?

It was just supposed to be an imprintment procedure.

I never thought of the consequences to myself.

And the consequences were enormous. Far greater than I ever thought.
***
Stellar was restrained by three brown belts, wrapped around her chest, stomach, and legs. Two smaller brown belts were wrapped around her wrists. Like she was an insane mental patient. Her mouth was clenched, and she was trying her best to twist and turn, like she was caught in a horrific nightmare. She was sweating worse than Sting was, her hair and pillow were both soaked, and every breath she took came out as a low, pained moan, like it hurt just to breathe.

She was looked up to an IV, that was putting fluid into her so she wouldn't become completely dehydrated. But the fluid was a poor substitute for the zillions of drugs that had likely been pumped into her daily at the Blue Cosmos island base. It wasn't going to be enough to save her.

As I leaned over her bed, Stellar's eyes opened slowly. "J-Joan?"

"It's Cagalli," I said.

"C-Cagalli?" Stellar closed her eyes and let out a soft cry of a pain. "C-Cagalli, where . . ." She swallows. "Where is Joan?"

"Joan didn't make it," I said softly.

"No," Stellar moaned. "No. No. No. Not Joan. I need her."

She was starting to get more frantic. I reached over and grabbed her left hand. "Stellar. I need you to focus. Joan's not going to be here for you anymore. I will be."

"C-Cagalli?"

"I'll be here for you from now on, Stellar," I said, gripping her disgustingly sweaty hand the best I could while still trying to look into her eyes. "I'm here for you. You can trust me, Stellar."

"T-Trust you? I don't . . ." Stellar's teeth clenched as she suppressed another cry of pain.

"That's right. I need you to trust me. I'm here for you."

"I . . . I don't u-understand. Joan . . . I need Joan!"

Hearing that made me want to kick Stellar's ass for being so obtuse, but I forced the emotions down. Stellar moaned as I suppressed the aggressive anger I had felt, and it took me a moment to remember that Stellar had ESP. She could sense that I was getting angry with her, and she didn't know what she was doing wrong. So she was getting frightened and confused, and that wasn't going to help me save her.

It reminded me of Elle from the day before.

"Stellar," I said, in the kindest voice I could muster, "I saved you from the base, remember? You're on the ship. We're taking you to safety."

"Safety?"

"That's right. You're going to be safe. You're going to live a wonderful, peaceful life, Stellar," I said. "Come on. Don't let this beat you. You're stronger than this."

"C-Cagalli, I . . ." Stellar's teeth clenched again and she let out another cry.

"Stellar, look at me in the eyes!" I pleaded.

Stellar's eyes re-opened, and I forced myself not to look away.

Her eyes, similar in eerie ways to my own, were desperate, begging. Stellar was sensing that she was dying, and she didn't know why. She just wanted Joan, and Joan wasn't here.

With my other hand, my right, I reached over and rubbed her cheek. It was an awkward position, my left hand holding Stellar's left while I was doing that, testing the absolute range of my wingspan, and it made both of my arms ache in their sockets in seconds. But I didn't know what else to do.

"Stellar," I said, removing my left hand from Stellar's before my arms felt like they were going to rip right off, "I've gotten you this far. The rest of this is up to you. You need to live, Stellar. You can't die here."

"D-Die?" Stellar's eyes widened.

Damn it. I'm such an idiot.

"Stellar, don't do this to me! That's not what's going to happen here! I won't let you die, understand? I'm here for you!"

"I won't . . . I won't die?"

I was seriously going to destroy all of Blue Cosmos for messing with this girl and all of those other kids so much. "No. You won't. You won't. I'll protect you. I'll be like your big sister, okay?"

"B-Big sister?" That seemed to trigger something in Stellar, as her pupils suddenly began to widen, like they were dilated.

I had no idea what was happening, and whether it was good or bad, but it seemed to suggest something. I had to take the risk and hope it was a good thing, like Stellar was ready to imprint. "That's right. I'll be your big sister, okay, Stellar? I'll keep you safe. I'll always keep you safe."

"B-Big sister . . . Cagalli," Stellar mumbled, and then she twitched in her bed, like she was trying to get up and break out of her restraints, but the restraints held and she felt back into bed.

"That's right. Big sister Cagalli. That's me," I said as calm as I could.

Stellar just responded to that by crying out.

Was she seizing up? Should I call for Jacqueline to get in here? I didn't know what to do. Was this normal?

I sensed pressure in the room all of a sudden. No. Not in the room. My body didn't feel any different.

It was all in my head.

What was Stellar doing?

"Big sister Cagalli," Stellar moaned as her head thrashed back and forth.

"That's right," I managed to say, wondering whether I should run for my life or stay here.

Suddenly, Stellar's head centered on the pillow, and she opened her eyes, and all I could see were her pupils, like her irises had vanished from existence.

"Cagalli," was all she said.

And then it was like a needle went right into my brain.

Everything became white.

Then black.

Then I felt cold.

Then I felt pain. Lots of it. All in my head. Like a migraine. No. Worst than a migraine. I could hardly open my eyes, everything was so bright.

I felt warmth.

So much warmth, a beautiful radiance so close by.

Why? Why did I feel warm when my body wanted to shiver like it was cold?

It didn't make sense.

And the pain . . . it wasn't lessening. I could feel my hands grab my head in a vain effort to stop the pain, but it wasn't helping at all.

The comforting warmth seemed to reach out to me. Like it was asking if I was okay.

How did I know this?

I thought I heard a voice. Distant. I forced my eyes open, and all I could see were blurs, but I could tell that I was staring at the underside of a hospital bed, and I was on the floor.

The pain in my head lessened, just enough that everything didn't look so bright.

I reached my hand to the top of the bed, and forced myself to try to stand up. That just made the pain worse all over again. I felt so many things, all in my head, that didn't make sense. I sensed fear and pain close by, along with another beacon of warmth. I sensed something dark, but not evil, also close by. More like a malicious amusement.

How was I feeling this?

I staggered to my feet and instead leaned against the wall, trying to ignore the sensations I was feeling.

The warmth. The warmth was to my left. So close by.

I turned my head, and there was Stellar, staring at me, still sweating but giving me the sweetest smile I had ever seen in my life.

The warmth turned into a blaze, and I felt myself being wrapped up in it, like it was a blanket. It gave me comfort, and dulled the pain in my head, and I just wanted to be lost in it even though I couldn't understand it.

That's when it hit me.

Stellar was the warmth.

What I was feeling . . . had to be her trust. And her love.

How did I know this? What just happened?

Stellar had clearly done something to me. What it was, I didn't know, and I couldn't understand.

No. I knew. I just didn't want to admit it.

"Stellar?" I asked.

"Big sister Cagalli," she said.

She didn't need to say anything else. The warmth felt so strong. It was pulling me towards her. She was alive. She had pulled through her withdrawal, and now she was asking me to free her from her restraints. They weren't needed anymore.

The warmth felt so wonderful that I wanted to free her. I could not bring myself even to question my actions.

I ran around the bed, undoing all of the restraints one by one, until Stellar could finally sit up on her bed. It was only then that I realized what I had done, but I didn't feel like I had done anything wrong at all.

"Stellar," I said.

Stellar stood up, and looked at me with that same adoring, honest smile. Tears were forming in her eyes. "Thank you, Cagalli."

The raw joy I felt from her brought tears to my own eyes. I didn't feel like I was dying inside anymore. It was like Stellar reaching out to me was comforting me, healing me.

I ran up to her and hugged her, and she returned the embrace instantly. I don't know how long we were locked together like that in that room, but the swell of emotion I felt from Stellar was so amazing that I was afraid to let it end. The emotion made me feel happy. I didn't want to let it go. I needed this. I needed this happiness as long as possible.

"What did you do to me?" I finally asked.

"You're my big sister now," Stellar replied.

"What am I feeling?" I asked.

"Everything. You're like me now. My big sister should be like me, right?"

In anything but her happy, innocent tone of voice, those words would be eerie, condemning, horrifying, like she had somehow gotten control over me. But it didn't feel that way to me at all. I just felt . . . connected.

"What happens now?" I finally asked.

Stellar giggled, yes, giggled next to me, and I found it endearing for some odd reason. "Whatever we want. We're going to be safe, right, Cagalli?"

I found myself giggling too. I just felt so wonderful in that moment that I didn't care how girlish I was acting. "That's right. We're going to be safe. All of us."

I held my new little sister tighter, and it was like we were one gigantic fire, warming up the whole room. "We're all going to be safe."

For the first time in a long time, I really believed in myself. I believed in what I was saying.

"We're all going to be safe, Stellar."
____________________________________________________________________________________

Gundam SEED: Bloodlines will resume regular updates in January/February 2013.

And yes, Cagalli has gone Newtype. I'm surprised no one picked up on the Extended=Newtypes thing earlier.
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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Re: Gundam SEED: Bloodlines (Chapter 44 12/24/12)

Post by Arbiter GUNDAM » Tue Feb 05, 2013 10:39 pm

So you shot Murrue and brought in the Destiny Druggies? Gotta say man, you got some Big Brass Ones. I approve. :)
I can fly if I ride the wind! Gori gori!

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