A/N: At last we reach the last chapter to overhaul. Here we'll cover the aftermath of the battle in the previous chapter and some tying up some loose ends.
Special Thanks to Greatkingrat88 for fixing and overall improving the chapter as well as writing the opening scene.
There was a flicker in the holo device, as four figures manifested in luminous blue, displayed from head to shoulder. Lelouch sat at the head of a conference table in the Excalibur's briefing room, still wearing his zero costume. He had removed the mechanical mask he usually wore, leaving him only with the face mask covering the lower half of his face. His geass was still concealed, naturally; there was only so much he was willing to reveal.
"Jeremiah Gottwald of the Excalibur, present."
Jeremiah, like the other captains, still sat on the captain's throne of his ship, ready to give orders. Looking at the old man's withered face, Lelouch felt reassured in his faith in the captain. Despite his lack of experience commandeering a vessel, he had kept his nerve and made the right decisions. He wore his uniform well, and by now it was clear he had earned it.
"Eustace Kenway of the Oberon, present."
Kenway, Lelouch reflected, had quite possibly been the most vital addition to his burgeoning fleet. He had reddish hair, more grey than not, and chiselled features marked by the wrinkles of a man not quite ready to retire yet.
As a veteran with decades of service on his back, his experience and advise of their strategy had been invaluable. A Ceran native dissatisfied with his government's inaction, he had left behind a stable career in the navy as a well-respected captain to volunteer for the Black Knights, and he had passed every test that he had been given with flying colours. The fact that his ship was still alive after the punishment it took was testament enough to his skills as a commander.
"Rosarita Cisneros of the Dominion, present."
If there had been any one among them Lelouch had been hesitant to promote, it had been her. She was a natural, but the vetting process had revealed a blood-soaked past. She struck an intimidating figure, her long black hair framing an elegant face that would have been attractive, if she hadn't looked like she might rip your throat out with her teeth.
She had been at war since she was fifteen, more than half her life, fighting in a colonial militia. Pushed against the wall with few resources, her organization had been brutal and ruthless, almost to the point where they seemed no different than the pirates they chased. Every after-action report had painted a bloody picture of ruthless efficiency, with more than a few bystander casualties. Although her specialty had been ground combat, Cisneros had shown considerable aptitude for space warfare as well, as if she was destined to master any type of violent combat. When the three new ships were ready, it was undeniable she had been qualified. Ultimately, Lelouch had looked to his own past, and decided he was in no position to judge those who did what they had to.
"Isadora Sergeyevna of the Avalon, present."
She was quite a contrast compared to the veterans around her. She was pretty, and in many ways looked more like the girls Lelouch remembered from the academy than she did a hardened naval captain. She kept her long blond hair in a ponytail, her lithe frame giving her a graceful look further bolstered by the seriousness of her bearing and face. She took her duties very seriously, at the very least.
Not even halfway through her twenties, Sergeyevna had enlisted off of a backwater colony, chasing something bigger. She had found it with the Black Knights, but her lack of experience had been telling. She had excelled at every simulation she had been given, but this had been her first engagement. She had done well, downing two ironhogs and a carrier, but Lelouch suspected there was quite a bit of room for improvement in her performance. This would be a valuable experience for her, because no training could substitute for the real thing.
"Admiral Zero, present," said Lelouch smoothly.
"I would hear the details soon enough," he continued, crossing his fingers as he leaned forward, leaning his elbows on the table, "but first of all, let me congratulate you. This was your baptism of fire. Only the Excalibur has seen real combat before, and while you all performed well in training, a real battle is quite a different beast. We took on a fleet ten times our size, and we came out triumphant. The pirates, once supreme rulers of this space, have had their back broken, and the legendary Miguel Kidd is in our custody along with his flagship. This is as solid a victory as I could have asked for. Well done, my captains."
Isadora's mask of seriousness briefly broke, as she puffed her chest and smiled. Realizing her error, she saluted sharply and almost shouted,
"Sir! It was our pleasure, sir!"
"Relax, kid," said Kenway with a smile, "this isn't boot camp. Still… I can't deny it felt good to get some real action for once. Taking down Kidd? It's what I've begged the navy to do for years."
"Indeed," said Cisneros, a slight smile passing over her dark, impassive face. Somehow, it made her look even scarier.
"This is exactly what I have craved. Justice for the dead, and a swift death to the pirate scum who took their lives. You've done me a great service, Zero. When will we hunt them again?"
"In time," said Lelouch, making sure not to give her any promises he couldn't keep.
"Moreover," said Jeremiah, "I believe neither you nor Kenway is in any state to do much hunting at the moment."
"Yes, yes," said Lelouch, "which brings me to the details. I would like to know the state of your ships, and your casualties. It's been a few hours, and I assume you all have damage reports by now."
"I'll start, since it's obvious," said Kenway with a sigh, "we're still dead in the water. I've had to seal off parts of the ship, because I can't be sure they can maintain integrity against the void. We lost all of our ryders, depleted our ammunition, and we're still running on a bare minimum of power. Kidd and his mate on the Hawk targeted us down fast. It's honestly a miracle we're still alive."
"As expected," said Lelouch, "We will take some time to perform emergency repairs until we can find a suitable dock to restore your ship to its full glory."
"Appreciated, sir," said Kenway with a nod.
"The Dominion fared only a little better," said Cisneros, shaking her head, "two of our main engines are malfunctioning, and we're going at half capacity. We have several severe hull breaches, we're almost out of ammunition, and two of our ryders are gone as well. The one that returned was all but unusable, and the pilot is in critical condition. We need serious repairs sooner rather than later."
"Oh, yes!" said Sergeyevna quickly, the moment her ship's name came up, "We- we sustained some damage in our chase, but luckily, the pirates are not good shots. Our ryders are safe. We are close to full capacity."
"Ours are not," said Jeremiah, "out of the twelve we came here with, seven were destroyed or damaged beyond repair. Five of the pilots have died. This was a victory, but it came at a cost."
"That is the way of war," said Cisneros.
"We will honour their sacrifice," said Lelouch diplomatically, "across all ships, we will hold a ceremony in memory of the lost."
"Good," said Kenway, "I don't know about you, but my crew is a bit shaken. Something for morale would be good."
"What's our next move?" said Cisneros.
"Avalon will remain here, guarding the Oberon and Dominion," said Lelouch, "while the Excalibur will hunt down Kidd's safe house. We recovered vital intelligence aboard his ship, including where he keeps his ill-gotten gains. It will make for a vital boost to our cause."
"A raid, eh?" said Cisneros, sounding intrigued.
"Yes, if necessary," said Lelouch, "I doubt it will be undefended. Once that is handled, we will take the Queen Anne's Revenge, along with Kidd, and hand both over to the Solar Alliance."
"I understand Kidd," said Kenway, "but that ship is worth quite a lot of money. Are you sure we're in position to just give a ship like that up?"
"I understand your concern," said Lelouch, "but imagine how much an alliance with the Solar government would be worth to us. A good faith gesture will be necessary to prove that we are more than bounty hunters with a flair for the dramatic. Kidd has been a stain on their record for decades, and to return him and the ship he stole will buy us quite a bit of goodwill."
"A fair point," said Jeremiah, "We must look to the future. We will be opposing PACT in the coming years, and we will need to build support if we are to stand a chance."
"We will of course take the bounty, and any of the money he stole in his time. Heroics can't pay for fuel, ammunitions or food."
"Makes sense," said Sergeyevna keenly.
"One more thing," said Cisneros, "we ought to compile some footage of this battle. This is an excellent opportunity to bolster popular support for our cause with some well-edited propaganda."
"Already ahead of you," Lelouch reassured her, "everyone will know what we have done here. Every news station across the rim will have evidence of our sacrifices."
Cisneros nodded approvingly.
"Very well then," said Lelouch, "you all have ships to tend to. For now, treat the wounded and patch up your ships. I will call on you when there is something to report. Zero, out."
The holograms faded, and Lelouch slumped back in his chair. Five dead pilots. Probably quite a few more crewmen killed in the battle. Good men and women had once again trusted him to guide their will, and met their deaths doing so. Even at his most deranged, when he had abused his geass, the impact of it had never gone away. These people's deaths were on him. It had been necessary, yes… but that didn't make it easier. He would give a speech himself, he decided, to make sure their deaths had some meaning. The die had been cast, and many more still would die before the journey was done. It was as unfortunate as it was unavoidable.
Hours had passed since the battle between the Black Knights and Captain Kidd's pirate fleet.
Before word of Kidd's defeat could spread, the Excalibur had taken off. Following the coordinates they had found on Kidd's ship, Jeremiah and Icari had taken a contingent of Black Knight infantry to Ilo, where Kidd's safe house was located. According to the information Icari had extracted from his private computer, combined with details Lelouch extracted from Captain Kidd, the pirate king held full access to secret bank accounts from the computer terminal inside the safe house, which was not included in his private computer on his ship.
It had been almost a full day since the battle by the time they arrived, and time was of the essence.
Icari stood with Jeremiah and a squad of Black Knight members equipped and armed with tactical combat gear and assault weapons. Presently the group was inside a sewer system that ran below the safe house in question, which was a four-story apartment building.
Icari was attempting to bypass the keypad lock leading to a secret passageway into the underground complex below the apartment itself, built to be a potential escape route should the safe house be compromised.
"I am almost in," Icari said as Jeremiah kept watch, "just give me a few more seconds."
"I am not picking up anyone, so keep going."
A clicking sound was heard, and the door opened to reveal a hidden passageway leading into a long hallway, descending down into the underground complex. This was the true safe house, the building above a mere decoy.
"Nicely done." Jeremiah said as he headed into the passageway, followed by Icari, after he signaled for the rest of the Black Knights in their company that the path was clear.
Icari brushed the comment off. "Save the compliments for later. This was the easy part."
"Maybe so. I wonder how Captain Cisneros is doing?"
Aside from Jeremiah and Icari, Lelouch had also dispatched Captain Rosarita Cisneros of the Dominion with a group of her best men to raid the apartment complex itself, and eliminate all of Kidd's men. Thus they would not only eliminate any possibility of escape, but they would ensure the men guarding the underground complex below couldn't receive reinforcements.
Inside one of the rooms on the fourth floor of the apartment above the underground complex, one of Captain Kidd's Lieutueants had just finished shaving in his bathroom. He was cleaning himself up, while one of his subordinates was watching live security feed from dozens of hidden cameras throughout the apartment.
There was nothing unusual to report, other than the sight of a pizza delivery girl who was making her way up to the fourth floor.
Knocking on the door, the pirate had thought it was odd someone would bring pizza, but ordering for food to be delivered wasn't unusual, after all. She carried a black case, large enough for several pizzas. The pirate readied his sidearm just in case, before deciding to answer the door.
Upon opening the door, the pizza girl punched the pirate in the face, before shoving her way into the apartment, where she quickly slammed him against the nearest wall. Drawing a knife, the pizza delivery girl stabbed the pirate in the stomach before covering his mouth with one hand, before shoving the knife into his neck. She only released her hold over the pirate's mouth once she was sure he was dead.
"Mitch?" the lieutenant called out from the bathroom, but he only saw the Pizza Delivery Girl's fist coming at him. Slugged squarely in the jaw, the lieutenant was sent reeling. Throwing off the hat she had been wearing revealed, Rosarita Cisneros grinned wickedly.
The Lieutenant tried to recover to fight back, but before he could stand up straight after left staggering with Rosarita's first punch, Rosarita slammed her fist into his midsection. The pirate bent over, gasping for air. Rosarita pulled him up, twisted his arm behind his back and put him in a chokehold.
"How many men are currently inside the underground complex? Is it still thirty?" Rosarita asked.
"Fuck you," the lieutenant had struggled to say, but that response had only earned him Rosarita smashing his head into the side of the bathroom sink, breaking it.
"Listen here, you little shit," Rosarita hissed menacingly, clamping her arm over his windpipe, "I'm the one they call the blood hound. Do you know what I do to people like you? You can give me what I want, or you, me and my knife can explore the alternatives."
The pirate gargled, Rosarita allowing for only the faintest bit of air to pass down his throat. A bead of sweat trailed down his forehead, as he weighed his options. Finally he nodded, and the pressure eased up enough to let him speak.
"Y-yes. There are thirty of us down there."
"Good boy," Rosarita replied. She grabbed his skull with both hands, and in a quick motion twisted it around, snapping his neck.
Making her way over to the security monitors in the living room, Rosarita used her radio to communicate with her men, who were hiding inside the pizza delivery truck.
"I have taken control of their security room. Begin the operation." Rosarita ordered, before using the pirate's own security system to direct her men to carry out the systematic elimination of the pirates living in the apartments without raising the alarm.
Armed with silenced weapons and with Rosarita's guidance, her men quietly dispatched the remaining pirates. Once they were finished, they made their way down to the stairwell leading into the underground complex.
After using a breaching charge to blast their way into the underground complex, Jeremiah and his group began their own advance, emerging from the secret escape route. They stopped around the corner of the first corridor, hearing voices. The charge seemed to have drawn some attention. Jeremiah gestured to the four members of the kill team, who levelled their weapons, neat little sub-machine guns with silencers, built for stealth. As the guards walked around the corner, they faced a firing squad. A single burst of fire, and they went down before they even had a chance to react.
"Think we'll run into anyone else, or will Captain Super Serious draw them all to her?" Icari asked.
"Let's move on the assumption that we'll be seeing more resistance up ahead," Jeremiah said, before he nodded to one of the Black Knights accompanying him to hand Icari her preferred weapons of choice- a katana and a wakizashi. Icari quickly shouldered the assault rifle over her left shoulder, before taking her favorite blades into her hands.
"Fair enough!" Icari replied before joining Jeremiah in taking point, knowing that ahead, some of their opposition could be carrying personal energy shields of their own. The prevalence of guns had long been dominant, but as technology marched on, so did people's means of protecting themselves. If you had the money, as Kidd's men most certainly did, then the pirates might also have energy shields, capable of sustaining quite a few rounds from a normal gun. This techological development had led to a resurgence of swords being used as a preferred combat weapon for some, since energy shields could not defect melee weapons. Icari was uniquely gifted with a sword, preferring them over guns most of the time.
The group made their way through the hallway, which began to lead deeper underground into a more extensive complex. As expected, they ran into more armed resistance along the way. Just as Icari had anticipated, most of them were equipped with personal energy shields, making bullets useless against them- but less so against the blades Icari and Jeremiah carried.
With the Black Knight soldiers providing cover fire, Jeremiah and Icari rushed their opposition, dodging gunfire along the way. Jeremiah used himself to shield Icari's approach, his armored clothing and cyborg physiology providing ideal protection against bullets. Once they were in range, Jeremiah cut down two at once, slashing open their throats. Icari joined in attacking the armed gunmen with an impressive feat of swordplay and agility, dodging her enemy's attempts to shoot her.
She stabbed one in the stomach with her sword before slashing open the throat of another with her wakizashi, before skillfully using both blades to cut down another pirate.
"I hope that is it for them," Icari said after killing the last soldier.
"We should hurry and find Kidd's office," Jeremiah said as he and the rest of their group hurried through the rest of the underground bunker. With Icari's help, they bypassed the security doors that sealed away Captain Kidd's private chambers, allowing them full access.
As one would expect of such a pirate of Miguel Kidd's reputation, he had a well-decorated room and an office filled with the most exquisite things credits could buy- or steal, considering his occupation.
"What a tacky office," Icari commented, shaking his head at the bright red wallpaper and the gold-trimmed stylish furniture around them.
"We'll guard the door," Jeremiah said as Icari went to the computer at the desk to begin typing in the password Zero had extracted from Kidd during his interrogations. "That computer should hold much more information about his finances and dealings with PACT and other groups than what the computer on his flagship did."
"Ok, I am in," Icari said after typing in the password.
Jeremiah and the Black Knights guarded the door. They could hear gunfire in the distance, which was no doubt from Rosarita and her group engaging the complex's defenders head-on.
"Damn, there is a lot more information here, and we even have more of Kidd's financial records and account access keys. It's all here," Icari said triumphantly as she began downloading everything on the computer to a separate device she had brought.
Combined with the information Icari collected from Kidd's computer on his flagship, they would have everything they needed to begin hunting down those involved in PACT's efforts to weaken the Neutral Rim or at least work on neutralizing them.
Ten tense minutes passed before Icari disconnected her portable device with a big grin on her face.
"I got everything. And I thought what I got from his personal computer was staggering! There was a lot more stored here from everything from paid off officials, blackmail material, assassinations, threats, the list goes on. And it's not limited to those PACT wanted out of the way. I got stuff on rivals and his enemies too."
"Master Zero is going to have a field day with this information," Jeremiah replied with a smirk on his face, pleased with the success of the mission so far. "But we should leave before the authorities come along. I am sure the pirates probably paid them off to leave this area alone, but someone will come once word gets out about what happened to Captain Kidd."
"Right. Let's get the hell out of here."
Lelouch had been waiting in his office for C.C. to contact him. Ever since the incident with the strange girl, he had been in deep thought, processing events that had transpired while suspecting there was more that the green-haired immortal hadn't told him about what had happened within Compact before its transition into PACT.
Or maybe some things that happened that C.C. didn't know about.
At present, Lelouch was talking to the ship's doctor in his cabin. The medical officer had just finished a long and extensive medical examination of the captive pilot, known as L7NN.
The Excalibur's chief medical officer, Stephen Franklin, was a man with a mocha skin complexion and black hair, with brown eyes. He wore glasses and a white coat, similar to the Black Knight's uniform but tailor made for members of the organization's medical staff.
"So, what have you found, doctor?" Lelouch asked.
Dr. Franklin brought up a holographic display of the young woman in question, showing her vitals and antomy.
"The prisoner is fine, considering she is in a coma. I did examine the prisoner as ordered, and… at first glance, she appears to be an ordinary human," Stephen began to explain. "However, a more in-depth analysis reveals extensive genetic engineering performed on her DNA."
"So this woman was genetically modified?"
"Not modified," Dr. Franklin replied, "she was created from the ground up to be like this. I am not a biologist, but if I had to guess, I would say she was artificially created and rapidly aged, putting her physically in her early twenties at most. I can't say for sure, but considering how she referred to herself, I doubt she is the only one."
"Yes, I fear as much," Lelouch said. This wasn't painting a pretty picture for him. "Can you tell me anything else?"
"I conducted a scan of her brain and found something interesting," Dr. Franklin answered, and the holographic display changed into an image of L7NN's brain.
"Her brain has been more extensively modified genetically than any part of her, which I dare say is more advanced in the way it can process information, while augmented in such a way as to vastly increase intelligence."
"I see. What of her body? Should we expect her to be superhuman?"
Dr. Franklin shook his head, "We shouldn't have to worry about her possessing superhuman strength, or anything like that. Granted, her body's internal workings like her lungs, heart, and muscles were genetically enhanced as well in a way that her body functions far more efficiently than your average human. It would be like comparing your average car to a high-performance sports vehicle."
Lelouch placed both hands on his desk in quiet contemplation before asking,
"Any suggestions as to who or where someone could create someone like her?"
"No one comes to mind, but the only places with the resources it would take to perform science this advanced might be the Solar Alliance. I can't imagine PACT having the resources, given the state the New Empire was in when they overthrew it." Dr. Franklin said, but Lelouch had a suspicion about one other place.
"Thank you, Dr. Franklin. Return to the medical lab and keep working. See if you can't find out what exactly happened to her, but make sure the guards watch her and her restraints are secured," Lelouch commanded.
"Understood," Dr. Franklin replied before leaving Lelouch's cabin.
Once he was gone, Lelouch removed his mask, using his desk's built-in communicator to reach out to the only person he knew had been to the one place in the galaxy that might've had the technology to create someone like L7NN.
"Well, hello Lelouch. I wasn't expecting a call from you," Lloyd said casually, as his holographic avatar materialized on Lelouch's desk.
"I wanted to ask you something, Lloyd. We captured an enemy pilot who, according to my chief medical officer, was genetically engineered. As in, created from the bottom up to be some sort of superhuman thing, artificially aged. She was piloting a rather formidable, brand new Ryder when we captured her. I believe she was sent by PACT to spy on us."
"Really now," Lloyd said, showing interest, "I trust you have captured the machine she was in?"
"Of course… what's left of it, at least. But on to the matter at hand. Given how extensive her genetic modifications are, I can't think of many places in the galaxy that could've created her."
"Ah. So you believe she came from Diode?"
"Unless you know somewhere else she could have been created," Lelouch said, before showing Lloyd an image of L7NN's face.
Lloyd seemed surprised at this. "Oh. That looks like Dr. Alice Ashada."
"Dr. Alice Ashada. She was one of the researchers at Diode, and a key scientist working together with her father on the Paradox Project."
"What can you tell me about her?" Lelouch asked, resting his chin on his hands after propping his elbows onto his desk.
"She was truly a genius in every sense of the word. I know the scientists behind the Paradox Project had been struggling for years to produce a breakthrough, and even using the most advanced supercomputers, and artificial intelligence had all failed." Lloyd answered. "However, Alice was exceptionally gifted as a scientist. She was able to translocate molecules for fractions of a second before she even turned sixteen, a feat none of the other researchers had ever accomplished."
"I see," Lelouch answered, "so why would our prisoner look identical to her?"
"I think I can answer that one, although I didn't think any of them could've survived the Diode Catastrophe," Lloyd noted before explaining. "Alice Ashada was actually an artificial human designed to be far more intelligent than your average human. A prototype of sorts if you will, because I guess the researchers planned on making more, with all of their efforts aimed at creating a single perfect human."
"Why would they create someone like her?"
"Because the Paradox Project's goal was to develop a time machine. But all of their efforts, including using the most advanced supercomputers and artificial intelligence to aid them, failed to produce results. So they reasoned that to create technology beyond the comprehension of humanity, they needed to create a new breed of humans superior to them in every way."
"And Alice was able to achieve the results they wanted?"
Lloyd nodded his head, "Yes. One of the researchers showed me the Alpha Prototype they were creating along with mass-produced clones of Alice. I am guessing your prisoner must be one of her clones."
"They were mass-producing clones of her," Lelouch asked, trying to wrap his mind around the reasoning behind such an action, "and an Alpha Prototype?"
"The Alpha Prototype can generate a hive mind connecting others like her using Hyper Brain Waves, which leads me to believe that the intention was to create a Hive Mind Think Tank. I told them it was a bad idea."
"So Alice was unaware of her origins?"
"I started getting the cold shoulder at Diode before I was kicked out. Given what happened later, that was probably a good thing. But I can safely guess what likely happened," said Lloyd. "Still, given the black hole that consumed most of the planet, I thought no one survived."
"Apparently someone did," Lelouch replied, noticing an alert on his phone. A coded transmission was being received, and he recognized who it was coming from.
"I'll call you back, Lloyd. I have to speak with the admiral," Lelouch said.
"That's fine. But please, bring back that new machine you mentioned as soon as possible."
With a nod, Lelouch ended the transmission. He pushed a button, watching as the holographic avatar of Admiral Grey of the Solar Alliance materialize before him. It wasn't their first meeting, as C.C. and Garibaldi had introduced him weeks after reuniting with Lloyd and Jeremiah, but despite Grey being one of his biggest supporters in rebuilding the Black Knights, Lelouch nevertheless remained wary of the man.
For now their goals were aligned, but Lelouch knew the Admiral would always put the interests of the Solar Alliance above everything else. Lelouch couldn't fully trust Admiral Grey's motives, especially the day the threat of PACT had been eliminated.
"Greetings, Admiral," Lelouch offered politely.
"Greetings. I trust Captain Kidd has been dealt with?" Admiral Grey asked, foregoing the pleasantries.
"He has," Lelouch replied before pushing a button on his desk to provide Admiral Grey with a picture of the Queen Anne's Revenge having been captured. "We have captured both him and his ship. All I need to ask where you would like them dropped off?"
Admiral Grey looked stunned, momentarily at least.
"So, you managed to take him alive and capture his ship, despite the forces he brought to bear against you? Kidd amassed a huge pirate fleet, I was told." Grey said. The admiral couldn't quite hide how impressed he was.
"We took considerable damage and some casualties, but we were victorious in the end. But I have something that might make your day even better."
Lelouch pushed another button on his desk. It prompted his computer to forward files to Admiral Grey, providing the aged military officer with a list of traitors and collaborators who weren't only working for Captain Kidd as informants and the like, along with traitors working for PACT.
The admiral spent a few moments reviewing the files before his eyes widened briefly at the impressive findings Lelouch had given him.
"I feel saying 'good work' will not quite suffice for what you have accomplished. With this information, we can seal some serious leaks in our intelligence network. I can personally assure you we will take care of the double agents and traitors on our end. But once again, excellent work. Thank you for bringing Kidd to justice," Grey complimented with a smile.
"Just name the place and time, so we can drop them both off to you with a bow on his head."
"Give me a day or so at least to make some arrangements. Was there anything else?"
"Yes, there is actually…" Lelouch said, thinking of the Prototype and what Lloyd had told him.
Around the same time, the vessel carrying Jeremiah and the rest of the Black Knights had left the planet of Ilo behind them. Some were resting, while some tended to the piloting of the transport shuttle they used to travel to the planet. Jeremiah was speaking to Icari in the lounge of the vessel they were using.
"Are you sure you won't reconsider?" Jeremiah asked, watching Icari drink a full glass of beer.
"Yes. But that being said, I am fine working with you guys part-time, especially if I can hit PACT in any way I can."
"Part-time?" Jeremiah asked.
"Why not? If I say as a mercenary, then I can probably pick up on an interesting rumor or two here and there and pass it along." Icari replied before taking another drink of the beverage before her.
"I suppose that is true," Jeremiah acknowledged seeing her logic.
"And better yet, if you call on me to take on PACT, I'll even give you guys a discount for my services," Icari offered with a smile after wiping some of her drink off of her mouth.
Jeremiah chuckled, "I am sure Zero will appreciate that."
Another hour would pass before Lelouch received the word that L7NN had awakened. As he got word of it, Lelouch made his way down to the infirmary where the Prototype was being kept prisoner under armed watch. Having donned the mask of Zero once more, Lelouch entered the infirmary of the Excalibur to find the Prototype tied down to a bed. But instead of the smug and prideful arrogance L7NN had displayed earlier, it had been replaced with confusion and fear.
"I see you are awake now," Lelouch said to the clone as he approached her.
"Who are you?!"
"You don't remember?" Lelouch asked. Although surprised, he recalled what happened before L7NN passed out.
Using his holo, Lelouch brought up a security recording of their last meeting in the brig before she passed out before presenting it to L7NN.
L7NN watched the recording before watching herself fall back, clutching her head.
"Is that me?" the captive pilot asked.
"It is, and I need to check something," Lelouch said before the slit of his mask opened, revealing his Geass. "You will answer my questions."
L7NN was ensnared by Lelouch's Geass within seconds.
Good to know my Geass works on her, and likely the others like her if we run into them, Lelouch thought to himself.
"Do you remember anything before you woke up here?" Lelouch asked.
"No." L7NN replied.
"Do you remember your name?"
"I do not."
"Do you know where you were born, or who created you?"
"No." At this point, Lelouch was hardly surprised by that response.
Lelouch stopped, and let the slit in his helmet close up. A few seconds later, the geass stopped taking affect. A confused L7NN looked around.
"What happened?" she said, staring at him.
"I asked you a few questions, that is all. The reason we have restrained you is that you attacked and killed some of my men before we captured you," Lelouch answered.
"I killed someone?" L7NN asked, seeming to struggle desperately to remember.
"But… I can't even remember who I am!"
"You told us your name was L7NN."
"What kind of name is that?" L7NN snapped angrily.
"Fair point," Lelouch said. "If that's not to your liking… how about Lynn Ashada?"
"Yes, because you are…" Lelouch said before briefly considering his response, "related to an Alice Ashada. I believe the name would fit you."
Lynn wasn't sure how to respond but seeing he wasn't likely to get anything out of her.
"You'll be returned to your cell for the time being until I decide what to do with you. If you cooperate and don't cause trouble, you'll be treated well."
The captive pilot had nothing to say, but she was likely trying to grapple with the loss of memory and identity. However, Lelouch had a thought in mind. Although the girl had lost all of her memory, Lelouch recognized that someone of Lynn's capabilities could be useful to him, with the right conditioning.
Especially if PACT had more people like her hiding in the shadows.
Lelouch's thoughts continued to swirl about as he made his way back to his cabin.
Once he was inside his cabin, Lelouch removed his mask to massage his temples. He was reeling from the revelation that aside from PACT, he was going to have to potentially deal with a small army of genetically engineered human beings. He also knew that PACT would likely conduct its invasion of the Neutral Rim much sooner now. Veniczar S. Arcadius knew now that the Black Knights were more formidable than the rest of the Neutral Rim believed. It wouldn't be a stretch to think that Arcadius would likely be acting on the assumption that they would keep growing stronger.
My only saving grace is that PACT has been dealing with civil unrest among its more critically essential worlds needed for the production and development of new weapons.
According to reports he had gotten about the overall state, the part of the galaxy where PACT dominated had been plagued by growing civil unrest, as some worlds had been left in severe poverty and worse since the New Empire was overthrown.
Arcadius will need to deal with his internal issues back home before he can commit all of PACT to full-scale invasion, or constant problems such as uprisings and other domesticissues will slow down his attack. That is why he was using pirates and criminals to cause havoc and weaken the Neutral Rim worlds while he prepared.
Even though Arcadius would likely begin his invasion as soon as internal issues within PACT's corner of the galaxy were resolved, Lelouch estimated he had at least eight months to a year to prepare if he was lucky.
I need at least a year, preferably more. It will depend on how quickly Arcadius deals with his internal issues and completes his invasion preparations.
Lelouch's thoughts shifted back to the Prototype he had sitting in a cell within the brig.
Despite the problems associated with that one, there are ways I could make use of her.
The former Emperor knew his enemy. The genetically engineered Prototypes would no doubt prove to be a problem to deal with when PACT invaded the Neutral Rim. It was unlikely they would be seen on the front lines; more likely they would be reserved for covert operations such as sabotage or intelligence. Arcadius struck him as the type would send more expendable people to their demise and reserve such formidable pawns for something else. It's what he would have done.
The Prototypes will also be likely to be careful to avoid allowing me to capture one of their own, especially if they fear my Geass could affect every unit connected to their hive mind.
Not to mention Arcadius probably would not want the Solar Alliance to hear how PACT had genetically engineered Ryder pilots with powerful machines. That could push the Alliance into becoming involved with the conflict before Arcadius could complete his conquest of the Neutral Rim.
Using Lynn might help even the odds a little, especially if we end up facing a lot more like her, and I'll need to talk to Lloyd about producing new machines that can compete against the one Lynn was piloting.
For now, Lelouch needed to warp up matters surrounding Captain Kidd and his ship before he could address that issue, but even more than before, it was critical Lelouch required to accelerate the build-up of the Black Knights.
There was so much to contemplate and plan for, but either way, Lelouch needed to speak with C.C. and get clarification on a few things.
Within the royal palace of New Eden, the leaders of PACT were sitting at a rectangle-shaped dinner table. Suzaku and Fontana were present, facing Arcadius. Suzaku kept a neutral expression, but he had some suspicious as to the purpose he was summoned to New Eden for, so suddenly after news of Captain Kidd was killed by Zero. He wasn't sure if Arcadius suspected him, but Suzaku could think of no other reason for being summoned.
Suzaku took a moment to gaze around the royal dining room. It was one of many within the palace, but this room was usually used by the Emperor and his family. Suzaku remembered the dining rooms at the Pendragon Palace in Britannia, but the grandeur and ornate furniture paled in comparison to what the New Eden Royal Dining Room possessed. Like in some of the other rooms, the walls had been painted blood red. Gold lines every door arch, the frame of every painting, the legs of every chair. Exquisite, undoubtedly priceless works of art decorated the walls. Busts of former emperors and heroes could be seen in the corners of the room, and great diamond-clad chandeliers hung over the dining table. If a particularly bright light hit the room, Suzaku expected he would be blinded.
This would have been awe-inspiring, if you had a taste for excess and glamour, except for the fact that the only occupants in the room were Suzaku, Fontana, and Arcadius. Heavily armed guards stood outside of the meeting room beyond the doors, while equally heavily armed patrols were guarding the hallway.
"Kururugi," Arcadius said, suddenly snapping Suzaku out of his thoughts, "do you know why we have summoned you to New Eden?"
"I was not informed, Veniczar," Suzaku replied respectfully.
"We recall that you were from a planet called Earth, which has been claimed to be the true cradle of humanity before it was rediscovered and conquered by the New Empire," Arcadius began. The veniczar stopped for a moment, to allow an uneasy silence to fill the room.
"It is also the same world where Zero first appeared."
Fontana seemed surprised by this information, but he kept silent, listening intently to the on-going conversation between Suzaku and the veniczar.
"Yes, although I admit I was surprised someone would don the mantle, seeing that I personally killed the first and original Zero. For a time, I even posed as the second Zero," Suzaku admitted. The PACT leader was always well informed, and a good judge of character. Attempting to hide the truth would do him no good. He had feared something like this would happen, even though very few people in PACT knew the story of Zero with Arcadius being among those who weren't supposed to know, but it seemed Arcadius did.
So… you told her, didn't you? Suzaku thought in annoyance as he knew who had likely told Arcadius of Zero, although the former Knight of the Round reasoned that there was no way he could have known what Arcadius was going to become.
"Yes, we are aware of the details of your past connection to Zero," said Arcadius dismissively, "that is in fact why I summoned you. Being the only living person among us to have known the original Zero, I would like to know your opinion of this new one."
Suzaku weighed his options carefully. He had to approach this carefully; Arcadius was an astute leader, and would sense any hesitation in his voice. Speaking slowly and calmly, he said,
"He is certainly a remarkably convincing copycat, I'll grant that much. It is strikingly similar, down to the speech patterns and rhetorical style. Whoever the impostor is, he has done his research. So far, he also displays a similar kind of cunning in terms of tactics as well."
Arcadius gave him a scrutinizing look.
"Do you suspect somebody who knew Zero as well as you did could be behind this… impostor?"
"It is not unlikely," said Suzaku, "and we both know only two others who possess that knowledge."
"C.C. or Jeremiah," said the veniczar thoughtfully.
"One, or even both. I can think of no other explanation. Reviving a dead legend to revitalize resistance against our forces, to give people something to rally under… it's quite effective propaganda."
Suzaku kept his composure, but underneath his mask of calm, he felt more than a little concerned. Had the veniczar seen through his deception? Arcadius seemed deep in thought for a moment, fingers locked as the PACT leader leaned forward, appearing to consider what he had said.
"We concur with your assessment," Arcadius said at last, and Suzaku breathed a sigh of relief inwardly, "and in light of this development, you will be reassigned here to New Eden. You will act as our advisor in dealing with this imposter, given Jeremiah and C.C's possible involvement.
"Of course, veniczar," said Suzaku respectfully. Although he was relieved to not have been exposed, he realized what this new assignment meant.
You're keeping me close to home so you can watch my movements more carefully.
A few days later, upon the planet Cera.
Kayto Shields was enjoying some shore leave to visit his family, which also included his younger sister Maray. She had begun her first year in college already. Maray had grown into a beautiful young adult, with her hair now hanging free and having grown to her waist-line wearing a brown pleated skirt and a light blue collared shirt.
Kayto himself hadn't changed much. He had gotten older, and his military training had given him a more athletic build, but he was much the same as he had been before. He wore a black uniform with the rank of Lieutenant commander now, an impressive feat for his age.
However, it was part of a training regime he was being put through.
He recalled how after graduating from the military academy, he had been summoned to a meeting. To his surprise, it had consisted of admirals, including Grand Admiral Kenta Nishimura, the head of the Ceran Space Navy. Even after that meeting, Kayto could remember every moment he met with the admiral and his fellows of a similar rank.
"Your test scores at the academy caught our eye, cadet," Admiral Nishimura began, examining documents revealing Kayto's test scores using a holo.
"While you were fairly average for a cadet in both the academy and in our officer school, you have displayed impressive problem solving and quick-thinking for difficult situations in both simulators and in war games we have conducted to test promising officers." The Admiral explained as Kayto quietly listened.
"Most notably, how you handled a rescue scenario in the simulator dubbed the Kobayashi Maru. A no-win scenario we designed to test the character of a promising captain depending on how they respond to the simulator and the situations they face." The Grand Admiral replied before glancing at Kayto before a smirk appeared on his face. "You tried the simulation three times, but on the third time, you reprogrammed the scenario making it possible for you to rescue the stranded transport."
The test had been designed to test the character of a captain by seeing how he or she would act in the face of death in a no-win scenario.
"Yes sir," Kayto replied modestly, "and I was awarded a commendation for original thinking."
The Grand Admiral smiled, "and that is why you are here, cadet. The Top Brass and I are working on fielding a brand new type of warship, an Assault Carrier, should we get through all of the political roadblocks."
"Am I to be part of its crew, sir?"
"No cadet, we intend for you to be its captain, should it see the light of day," Admiral Nishimura replied flatly. "Instead of potentially wasting time committing a veteran crew and captain to a ship that may never get produced, we are instead training a select group of cadets from the academy to be her crew, and one we are choosing to be her captain."
Kayto would learn the new Assault Carrier would be crewed by new recruits from the academy, but there was another reason behind Kayto's selection as a captain. Due to the armaments and role of the new Assault Carrier, a versatile ship fulfilling a wide range of combat roles, the Grand Admiral believed too many of its current captains were too fixed on relying on old combat tactics and wished for the captain of the Sunrider to be someone who can think more outside the box to make the most use of her.
That person would end up being Kayto, which still surprised him, all things considered.
"So Maray, how is college treating you?" Kayto asked after cleaning up his dish following dinner.
"Kinda borning," Maray replied. "But next week, we'll be taking a field trip to study Space Whales in their natural habitat."
Maray was a talented pianist and had even earned a scholarship for college, but she was also pursuing a major in Astrobiology.
"Heh well, I can't say life has been too exciting for me either," Kayto acknowledged while Maray turned on the television when the following report appeared on the holographic screen.
"Breaking news: the infamous pirate hunter "Zero" has recently entered Alliance space, returning the long-lost cruiser Queen Anne's Revenge. With him is notorious outlaw and pirate Miguel Kidd, supposedly offered to the Alliance's legal system for justice. More at 10."
A/N: There you have it, Lelouch just pulled off a big win, and instead of wiping out Captain Kidd he captured both him and his flagship before giving them to the Alliance with a big bow on top.
Coming up next Lelouch will be taking some time off with some attention on Cera coming, and in the chapters to come I am planning on having Kayto prove he is the best choice to captain the Sunrider.
Thank you all for reading and I thank you in advance for your reviews.