Author's note: Others own the rights to the G-Gundam characters. All other characters are my creations. Please do not use them without my permission.

Shadow Life – Part 23

By: Diane Maher

The next morning, Karla and Niklas went to the dock to meet the people from Neo-France. They boarded the boat without incident and Raymond took the boat out to sea.

Marie Louise came out of her cabin shortly after they pulled away from land. Raymond introduced them to her. She asked, "Why aren't you fighting in this battle?"

"The new Neo-Austrian President informed me that I am not being allowed to fight," Karla replied.

"Doesn't that bother you?" Marie Louise asked.

"No," Karla replied, looking over at Niklas. She then sat down on the deck and closed her eyes.

"What are you...?" Marie Louise began.

Niklas touched her shoulder. When Marie Louise looked at him, he shook his head.

"I don't understand. Why did Karla suddenly sit down and close her eyes?" Marie Louise asked.

"Karla is trying to use her ninjutsu abilities to find out what is happening on Lantau Island. Don't disturb her," Niklas replied.

"What do you mean?" Marie Louise asked, concerned. "Will my George be in danger?"

"I think that we must all keep our guard up," Niklas replied. "Karla believes that the fighters will face their fiercest battles on the island."

"Oh dear!" Marie Louise fretted.

The emcee introduced the fighters taking part in the Battle Royale as they zoomed past the onlookers in the boats. Soon, Raymond stopped the boat and dropped anchor.

Karla focused her mind towards Lantau Island. At first, there was only the land. As her consciousness made its way up the mountain, she sensed a dark presence. Then, her mind reached downwards into the earth itself. She felt the presence of something enormous buried beneath the island. As she pushed forward, she felt a weak human presence there. It was inside the dark presence.

This must be the Dark Gundam, Karla thought. The human presence I feel must be Kyoji Kasshu. She felt a terrible grief emanating from him. She tried to reach out further with her mind, but suddenly met an impenetrable mental wall. The next thing she knew, her mind was shoved away from Kyoji and the Dark Gundam and her consciousness slammed back into her body.

Karla gasped, but found her mouth filled with water. She opened her eyes and started swimming towards the surface. Something hit her head from above. Her limp body began to sink.

On the physical plane, a huge wave rocked the boat shortly after the Battle Royale began on the island. Niklas didn't know whether Karla was aware of what was happening around her. He tried to see what happened to her body as an immense wave drowned the boat.

"AAAHHHH!" Marie Louise screamed as she was thrown into the water along with Raymond.

Niklas and Karla were flung overboard by the force of the wave. He struggled to get to the surface. When he opened his eyes, he looked for Karla in the water nearby, but didn't see her. He knew that he couldn't hold his breath much longer.

Niklas felt something metallic scoop him up. A moment later, he was above the surface. He looked around and saw the half submerged face of Shadow Gundam.

"Schwarz! Did you see Karla down below?" Niklas asked.

Shadow Gundam's other hand broke the surface of the water, and soon Niklas was able to cross to where Karla lay unconscious. He saw a bloody gash on Karla's head.

Niklas shook her shoulders and exclaimed, "Karla!"

Karla lay unconscious. Niklas checked for a pulse and found a weak one. She wasn't breathing so he administered first aid. Once she was breathing again, Schwarz said, "I'll take you close to the boat that picked up the other survivors. They can pull you out of the water."

"But..." Niklas stuttered.

"I must investigate something below the surface, Niklas. It's important, or else I wouldn't do it," Schwarz replied.

Niklas held Karla as Shadow Gundam submerged beneath them. Niklas started swimming and pulling Karla towards the nearby wooden boat. He called out to get their attention. Someone on board noticed them in the water. A ladder was flung over the side of the boat and Niklas was able to grab hold of the ladder.

"She's injured, I need help to bring her aboard," Niklas said.

"Okay, I'll come down and help," Raymond called. A few minutes later, Karla was aboard and Niklas climbed over the rail and went to where Karla was being tended to by several ladies.

"Thank you," Niklas said. "We appreciate your help."

"It's no problem. I'm Nastasha from Neo-Russia," Nastasha replied as she looked up from cleaning the wound on Karla's forehead.

"I'm Bunny and that's Janet, we're from Neo-America," Bunny replied. Janet was kneeling on the other side of Karla.

"I'm Niklas Bruder. Nice to meet you both," Niklas said. "What is Karla's condition?"

"I'm not a doctor, but from what I can see, she may have a concussion. I thought that she would be conscious by now," Nastasha replied. "This wound must be more serious than it looks. I lost my communicator in the water or else I'd contact my ship to come pick us up. We have a medical unit on board."

"Is there somewhere below that Karla can rest?" Niklas asked.

"Janet, let's see if we can take her below," Bunny replied.

Niklas said, "Thank you. I'll help too." He went and found a stretcher and brought it back to where Karla lay. With the help of Bunny and Janet, Karla was soon lying on a cot below decks.

Nastasha said, "Why don't you two go back above? I'll stay here with Karla."

Bunny and Janet nodded, and when Niklas didn't move, she said, "Niklas, Nastasha will take care of her. You need to rest too. Follow me."

Niklas glanced over his shoulder at Karla before turning and following Janet. They went above and Janet draped a blanket over his shoulders and Bunny brought him a cup of warm tea. Niklas sipped the tea and felt its warmth slowly suffuse through him. Looking around, he saw all of the Shuffle Alliance members' crews were on board.

"You're from Neo-Austria, right?" Janet asked.

"We are the Neo-Austrian team," Niklas whispered.

"That didn't answer my question. You said your last name is Bruder. Are you related to Schwarz?" Janet asked.

"Yes," Niklas replied. Looking into the cup he held, he added, "I am his son."

"I don't understand. How come you are with the Neo-Austrian team? Shouldn't you be with the Neo-Germany team?" Janet asked.

"It's true that I am a citizen of Neo-Germany, but my training is in the field of gundam mechanics. The Neo-German team didn't need a gundam mechanic. I was approached by the Neo-Austrians to become the new mechanic for their team," Niklas replied.

"Why did you accept?" Janet asked. "Didn't your national pride mean anything to you?"

"I accepted because I needed the job. National pride doesn't dictate my actions," Niklas replied.

Janet gasped. "I can't imagine not caring about national pride."

"It's not that I don't care about it, but I have a job to do and I'm glad I took the job. Otherwise, I might never have met Karla," Niklas said, closing his eyes and smiling.

"But why isn't Karla fighting in the Battle Royale?" Janet asked.

Niklas opened his eyes and looked towards the island. "The new President of Neo-Austria informed Karla that she would not be participating in the Battle Royale under any circumstances."

"She only lost one battle and that was to Schwarz!" Janet exclaimed.

Niklas shrugged. "It could be that is the exact reason he ordered Karla not to fight. Neo-Austria and Neo-Germany have had political problems lately and Karla has been stuck in the middle of it as an expendable pawn to both sides."

"How terrible!" a man said from in front of them. "I couldn't help but overhear. I am Keiun, of the Neo-China team."

"Niklas Bruder," Niklas said. "It is terrible that Karla is thought of as an expendable chess piece. However, my feelings toward her are quite different. I..."

An explosion on Lantau Island drew everyone's attention and drowned out Niklas' final words.

Nastasha heard the rumble of the explosion and saw that Karla was still unconscious. Looking around, she spied a bag with an antenna sticking out of it. She crossed the room to it, opened the bag and found a small communications device. Pulling it out, she tried to contact her ship.

A man answered, "Ma'am, we were wondering what happened to you, we've been trying to contact you for a while."

"I almost drowned and lost my communications device in the sea. Bring the ship out to my position. We have a person here who needs medical attention," Nastasha replied.

"We aren't being allowed to go near the ship," the man replied.

"What? By whose authority?" Nastasha demanded.

"They claim to be the Prime Minister's men," the man replied.

Nastasha closed her eyes for a moment before replying, "Stand down, but don't stray from the ship. At the first opening in their ranks, get into the ship and bring it out here."

"Yes ma'am," the man replied.

Nastasha turned off the device and slammed her fist on the table in frustration.

"What is it?" Niklas asked from the far side of the room.

Nastasha turned and replied, "My men are being prevented from bringing my ship out here. I have better medical facilities there and could give Karla a thorough examination if we were on board.

"That...won'," Karla said weakly as she pushed herself up on her elbows.