GUNBUSTER: AMULET OF THE SUN
written by Corvus

Part Two: Shadows Fall

Following what the doctor was saying was difficult for Kazumi.
When her shock and grief had abated, the fuse on an explosive
rage had finally burned down. Only the physician's timely
arrival had kept her from physically attacking Edward, whose only
crime had been to sit silently by her while they waited.

She couldn't begin to comprehend the enormity of what Aegis had
done. Twelve millennia of manipulation from the shadows,
holding humanity's destiny in an invisible but unyielding
grasp... What kind of people could conceive of such monstrosity?
Worse, who could tolerate it long enough to not only advance the
scheme, but do so in order to keep human kind isolated within its
home system, relying only on traditional warp drives to maintain
an agonizingly slow contact with its few colonies? Kazumi had
tried to reason with herself -- and found that she could not.
Reason could not deal with this. She was left with a fury as far
beyond outrage as the sun was beyond a candle. Of course, if it
had only been the human race as a generality that was threatened,
Kazumi might have been able to calm down. But it wasn't just the
abstract of "Homo sapiens".

Because of these people, her best friend's life, her *little
sister's* life, was in immediate, soul-tearing jeopardy.

Somewhere underneath the burning hate and anger Kazumi was, she
supposed, elated to know that Jung Freud was still alive. But
that didn't help Noriko at all. Kazumi had long ago dealt with
what she had known, then, to be the irretrievable loss of the
rival she had come to depend on as a comrade and, eventually, a
friend as well. That could only be changed for the better, as it
just had. This was the present -- and she didn't want to lose
Noriko, even if there might be some impossibly small chance to
get her back.

But she was powerless... and it was all *their* fault.

Akira had been examined, and it was pronounced that he would
regain control and sensation in his hand over time. He was
simply lucky. Noriko, on the other hand...

"I can't explain it," the doctor was saying, though for some
reason he was smiling. Kazumi shook herself out of her stormy
brooding when she half-noticed that incongruity. "By modern
science, it's patently impossible. Somehow, Miss Takaya's
nervous system not only survived what should have been a fatal
disruption long enough for us to stabilize it, but it's beginning
to regenerate. The proof is right in front of us," he said,
waving a hand at the three-dimensional image of the trunk and
branches of Noriko's brain and nerves. "I can't make a prognosis
at this point as to whether her recovery will be full or only
partial. I simply don't have the knowledge. But she will live."

Regeneration? Stupifying shock clamped down on Kazumi's anger
long enough for her to look at Gerald, then Edward. Both of the
men were obviously as surprised as she. Erde's face was coldly
neutral, as always, and Martin was beginning to grin. The shock
let go, and she hated them all once more.

It wasn't fair to Edward, really, but apparently his father was
cooperating with Aegis, and that was enough to make him a target
by association.

"Any idea when she'll be able to come out of her coma?" Gerald
asked, his voice low and rough from unshed tears.

The doctor shook his head, and the gleam left his dark brown eyes
as his lips settled in a firm line. "The regeneration is slow.
If she does make a full recovery, it could take up to a year.
It'll be some time before she's able to wake, for certain. We
just can't tell how much yet." He looked back at the hologram.
"She's stabilized and has one foot on the road back. There
isn't much more we can do for her right now. All we can do is
watch... and wait."

"I want to see her," Kazumi said.

"I'm afraid that's impossible," the doctor said, probably about
to launch into a perfectly reasonable explanation of why it was
so, but Kazumi cut him off sharply.

"I want to see her, and I will see her." She intended to stop
there, but her mouth kept moving, words boiling out of her.
"Your life is in my hands. All of your lives are in my hands.
If I'm going to save your asses from a mess of your own making,
you'll do what I tell you. Now take me to see her." She
advanced a step, one hand beginning to rise.

The doctor, having absolutely no idea what the Pilot was talking
about, looked to Gerald for an explanation. Edward stepped
between Kazumi and her target. "This isn't going to help.
They've probably got Noriko in an isolation tank--"

The sharp crack of Kazumi's backhand across Edward's face
reminded a small part of her mind, way in the back, of the report
of a pistol on the firing range. The Avalonian staggered a pace.
"Bloody Hell," he cursed. "Are you out of your mind, woman?"

"If I had known what you were all doing while Noriko and I were
trying so hard to get home," Kazumi replied in a vicious hiss, "I
would have gladly stayed out there. You disgust me!"

"That's enough," Erde said, speaking for the first time since
they had left the shuttle. Kazumi rounded on the brunette, the
last of her temper shattering, and aimed an unthinking punch at
Erde's nose; it was blocked by a well-placed palm. "I
understand you're angry beyond words, Kazumi," Erde continued,
her hand and Kazumi's fist remaining where they were, "and I
understand that you're absolutely right. But we are the heirs to
a minor evil twelve thousand years old, dedicated to protecting
humanity from a much greater evil. If you want to hit somebody,
go back in time and hit the people who started it. We couldn't
change it even if we wanted to."

Martin looked distinctly uncomfortable as he reached up and
placed an open hand over Erde and Kazumi's. "Ladies, this isn't
going to solve anything. Gerald, I think perhaps the good doctor
deserves an explanation. He's already heard too much, the
cover's blown... and the entire world is about to know anyway.
Could you help him?" The dark Canamerican nodded, and the doctor
followed him from the room after turning off the hologram.
Martin turned his mismatched eyes back on the two women, still
looking very ill at ease. "We're not your enemies, Kazumi.
We're as in over our heads as you are. And I think you, Jung and
especially Noriko deserve some payback. Think you'd like to meet
the people in control of this whole mess?"

Erde gasped, her eyes flicking to Martin. Her calm faltered.
"You can't be serious!"

"I'm deadly serious, Erde. She deserves her shot at Aegis Prime
and I, for one, can't wait to see the look on that asshole
Schwartzwald's face when she tears into him. He's had it
coming." Lifting his other hand to join the first, he pushed
down with a slow firmness, then separated Erde's hand and
Kazumi's fist, clasping both gently. "You were right, Kazumi.
We do owe you our lives. Not once, but twice. Without you none
of us would ever have been born, and if you do this for us, we'll
all be able to go on living. I can't begin to imagine being able
to make up for that, but if you give us a chance, we'll do
everything we can to try. You have my word on that."

Kazumi looked from face to face. Martin's was open and honest,
his odd eyes level with hers. Erde's cool calm had returned,
and she nodded without hesitation when Kazumi's eyes met hers.
Edward was rubbing a rapidly purpling bruise on his cheek and he
looked more than a little put out, but he too nodded without a
pause.

Martin added his own nod. "Good. No regrets, no what-ifs.
Let's just put this behind us and focus on what we have to do."
Kazumi's fist relaxed, and he squeezed her hand once before
letting go. "Edward, I think you should see about getting a cold
pack for that."

The Avalonian mumbled something and left the room. Had Kazumi
not been so twisted and turned around she might have laughed.
She'd have to find the time to apologize when she was finally
able to calm down. He really hadn't deserved that.

"Didn't know you could do that," Martin remarked to Erde in an
aside.

"You never asked," the brunette said in a deadpan voice. "Are
you certain taking her to see Aegis Prime is the best course of
action?"

"Hell no," said Martin with a snorted laugh. "The best course of
action got thrown out about twelve thousand years ago. I just
think she's got the right to confront the people at the top."

Something about the way the two were talking about her like she
wasn't even in the room sent a cold chill up Kazumi's spine.
(At least they're not talking about me in the past tense like I'm
already dead,) she thought. "Who is Aegis Prime?"

"Prime controls the entire organization," Martin began, flopping
down in a chair. "There are three members. Aegis Alpha, the top
dog, is a woman by the name of Lily St. Croix. Her right and
left hands are two men named Jani Schwarzwald and Takashima
Mindao, respectively Aegis Beta and Aegis Gamma. Beta and Gamma
approve the next Alpha when it's time for a changeover, and Alpha
chooses the next Beta and Gamma. It's a screwy system, but it's
worked this long." He shrugged expressively. "Alpha is always
chosen from long-time members of Aegis, usually a successful
independent agent with a spotless record. Beta and Gamma are
usually in-house as well, but there have been times someone has
been brought into the fold and put at the head right away. One
of those times it almost knocked the entire house of cards down,
but that's ancient history."

Erde picked up the instant Martin trailed off. "St. Croix tapped
Schwartzwald and Takashima almost the moment she took over as
Alpha. The previous Beta and Gamma were doing just fine, but
Alpha has the right to demand a new set of hands. Nobody's ever
been able to figure out what St. Croix didn't like about the
previous Beta and Gamma. Whatever else she is, she's human, and
she probably had schemes she wanted to advance. You might be
interested to know that Takashima's predecessor was none other
than Gerald Hanes."

Gerald... Aegis Gamma? Keeping his membership in Aegis secret
from her had to have been torment enough, but hiding the fact
that he had once been part of its leadership... She regretted
every second of the few hours she had despised him so. "How long
ago was this?"

"St. Croix became Alpha two years before you appeared in orbit,"
Martin said. "It would make a nice neat conspiracy theory to be
able to say she demoted Gerald just so he could get to you and
Noriko, but he got kicked back out into the field before you
ever showed up. His record was as perfect as ever, and that's
probably why they directed him to watch over you."

Kazumi wanted to meet this Lily St. Croix very much. She held a
very sharp weapon, and putting it at Aegis Prime's throat might
enable her to find a way to help Noriko. "What about Beta and
Gamma? What do you know about them?"

"Not a blessed thing beyond impeccable service records," Martin
told her, rolling his eyes. "Having met Gerald I believe he's a
saint, but Schwartzwald and Takashima? If their records weren't
doctored then I'm heterosexual."

Erde sighed the sigh of a woman much put-upon. "A crude
statement, but effective. Gerald Hanes is as good as he looks.
Jani Schwartzwald and Takashima Mindao are, without a doubt, not,
but so far they've done nothing they shouldn't have."

(Damn. Being able to put them over a barrel along with St. Croix
would really have helped. Guess I'll have to hope my ace card
is enough.) "All right. I'll meet them. I've got a very large
piece of my mind with their names on it, and I intend to make
them take it and like it," Kazumi said. "When can you get me to
them?"

Martin said, "Assuming Aegis Prime are all still on Aurora
Station, we can take an Otherspace shuttle right there. They've
pretty much given Erde and me unrestricted access to them since
the Cytherian Amulet died on us, so we can stroll right on in and
say hello. We'll just fail to remember to mention you're coming
along for the party."

Kazumi hesitated. She didn't want to leave Noriko, no matter how
much she did want to confront Aegis Prime. But there was truly
nothing she could do at this place and time. There were two
things she did need to do before leaving Europa, though. "Okay.
I'm in. Just give me a few minutes, and I'll be ready to go."

She left the room, followed by Erde and Martin, and found Gerald
still with the doctor. The physician wore a look that in
Kazumi's time was still called "shellshock". (Yeah...
Horrifying, isn't it.) She could come back to them after she'd
talked with Edward. "Gerald, have you seen Edward?" she asked.

Gerald simply pointed to where the Avalonian sat slumped on a
bench against one wall, pressing a light-blue packet to his
downturned face. Kazumi approached Edward without saying a word,
waiting for his eyes to lift to her from the floor. The only
word she could think of to describe his posture was "dejected".
(It's not his fault... I might want it to be, but it's not his
fault.) Edward showed no signs of looking up, so she sat next to
him instead.

"That's a wicked backhand you've got," he said softly. "You play
tennis?"

"Not if I can help it," Kazumi whispered, unsure of her voice
amidst the growing regret she felt. "I'm sorry, Edward."

"Sorry for what?" he asked her bitterly. "I should've known not
to stick my face between you and the doctor. I don't usually
make a habit out of letting myself get clobbered by women I've
just met, you know, this was a one-time thing. You caught me
being stupid."

Could it be? (He's sulking!) "Edward, look at me. Please."

"Why, so you can hit me again?" He did turn his face, however.
Then, to her surprise, he said in perfectly intelligible
Japanese, not Hango, "I know I probably don't have any right, but
I'm as upset about this as you are. I only spoke with Noriko for
a few minutes but that was more than enough for me to see just
how wonderful she is. I envy you, being her best friend. She
must have kept you going when things got tough."

"She did."

"So I mean it when I say that I understand how badly you're
hurting. And I'd like to help you through this, for her. I know
we've only just met and my reputation isn't exactly the best,
but... Please."

What was he trying to say? That he wanted to be her friend?
Kazumi didn't have any problems with that -- she'd come to
apologize, after all -- but something was unduly awkward here.
"I have a feeling we're going to get to know each other very well
by the time this is over, Edward," she told him. "And I don't
have any clue about your reputation one way or the other. All I
know is that you stepped in and put yourself in danger to help us
on the Cloud Angel, and again to keep me from assaulting that
poor doctor, and I smacked you for it. If you can forgive me for
that, I think we're already well on our way to being friends.
Even *if* we have just met." She smiled at him and offered her
hand.

It occurred to Kazumi as he took the proffered hand and clasped
it that she didn't have any idea just how old Edward was. She
didn't know *anything* about him. In this era of extended
lifespans... (What a stupid thing to be thinking about,) she
chastized herself.

"I'm afraid we're going to have to part company for the time
being," Kazumi continued. "I'm going with Erde and Martin to put
the screws to their bosses."

"Give 'em Hell," he said, grinning. She nodded her agreement --
she would most certainly do just that -- and approached Gerald,
who was now standing alone against the wall of the corridor.

Her adoptive uncle met her gaze unwaveringly, but she could see
he was wrestling with his feelings, trying to find something to
say. Kazumi fumbled a couple times with her own words, then gave
up and threw her arms around him, burying her face in his
shoulder. Gerald held her close for a long minute, then pushed
her back gently so he could look at her. "I don't know where to
begin asking forgiveness," he said bluntly.

"Don't. I shouldn't have acted like that. I was out of control.
Erde and Martin told me, Gerald. It must have been hard keeping
secrets from Noriko and me, because I know you've always been
completely honest with us."

"Except about that," Gerald said sadly. "I was under orders, but
that really doesn't excuse it."

Kazumi shrugged. "Maybe not, but the fault is with Aegis Prime,
not you. And I'm going to make them understand that."

"How?"

"I'm going with Erde and Martin to Aurora Station, and I'm going
to rub their noses in it."

His face hardened. She knew the look -- the expression of an
elder about to deliver a warning. "That's a very bad idea,
Kazumi."

"It was a very bad idea to do what Aegis did."

"Two wrongs have never made a right, even in all the time you
were missing in space," Gerald admonished.

"Maybe not," Kazumi returned, "but they need me. No matter what,
they can't ignore that."

"I can't change your mind?"

She shook her head. "Sorry. Not this time. Keep an eye on
Akira, okay? The boy's obviously smitten with Noriko and he's
going to need some guidance and support."

Gerald frowned. "Maybe, but what about you?"

"I don't have time to crumble now. I'll let you know when I do,
okay?" Kazumi kissed his dark brown cheek noisily. "I love
you."

"I love you too, sweetie. Don't do anything stupid out there."
His eyes were suddenly gleaming in the light from overhead.

"I can't afford to do anything stupid. I've got the entire human
race counting on me." She kissed Gerald's other cheek, then
disentangled herself from his arms. Erde had returned to let
Kazumi know the shuttle was ready. "Time to go."

Kazumi didn't like the sensation of abandoning Gerald, Edward and
Akira that she was feeling deep inside, but she had to do this.
For herself and Noriko, she had to face Aegis Prime. (The boys
will just have to take care of themselves.) Erde was silent as
they walked toward the exit, where a groundcar was waiting to
take them across the landing field to the shuttle. Yet another
person Kazumi knew nothing about, but had nonetheless come to
depend on in the past few hours despite her flaring emotions.
(That was a damned nice catch she made. She's probably a lot
more dangerous than she looks.)

Martin had already plotted their course to the LaGrange-point
space station while he waited. The shuttle lifted from the icy
face of Europa and drove into space, throwing open a swirling
blue gate into the parallel dimension that was Otherspace and
racing into its warped, distorted world. Soon, she would stand
face-to-face with the only people she could truly hold
accountable for what had happened to Noriko. And when she did,
God had better take pity on them, because Amano Kazumi most
certainly would not.

------------------------------------------

It was cold. The chill seeped through her skin, solidifying her
blood and turning her bones into brittle shards of ice. Her
breath was a cloud of jagged crystals which tore at her lungs and
glowed faintly in the space before her. She was naked, for there
was nothing to wear, nothing to protect her.

Beneath her was a white metal plain stretching off to some
indeterminate distance, then stopping suddenly. This truncated
world curved along one axis but not the other. The sky was a
shifting aurora of searing radiation and light that did nothing
to thaw the stygian freeze that gripped her. She stood alone on
that plain, watching points of brighter luminescence within the
storm slide past. She was the only thing alive.

She did not know how long she stood there watching the uncaring,
long-lived stars. She did not know her name, did not know that
she had once had a name. She had left names behind, left behind
so many things, cast away everything that had made her what she
was. Now she was reduced to her essential core, nothing more,
stripped of all the layers that had once shielded that inner
essence.

A ghost came to her then, a soul that was not herself. She
recognized it as a man, knew what a man was when she saw him.
Unlike her he was not naked; he was protected from the universe.
He stood next to her and though she could not remember his
features from one second to the next she could tell his face was
turned down, bereaved. He did not speak, nor did he look at her.

Now the first uncertainty appeared. She felt that she knew this
man, this other, but she could not remember who he was and how
she knew him. That uncertainty made her feel afraid and she
realized that her one final shield, her ignorance, had now been
taken away from her.

She opened her mouth and tried to speak, to demand the man's
identity, his purpose, but there was no sound in this place. She
lifted her arm to touch him, but no matter how far she reached
out, she could not make contact. He turned to face her as if
sensing her efforts, but his expression did not change except to
grow ever more sad. He had once been important to her. She
could almost remember his visage. But like his body, his face
remained just outside her reach.

Now there was another presence, and in the man's arms appeared a
tiny newborn child, slick with the fluid of the womb, trailing
into space the bluish and pink umbilical that gave it life,
silently screaming against the outrage of this universe. An
instant of hope flared in the man's eyes, but when he looked from
the infant to her, that hope was dashed.

The stars overhead began to hurry, as if fleeing some cosmic
catastrophe, and her fear redoubled and redoubled again. She
knew she would not be able to turn away from what was to come in
the next instants. The fleeing stars became streaks of rainbow
light, distorted and disturbed.

Before her, the man began to age, that undefinable face becoming
first grizzled, then wrinkled. Still the child in his arms
wailed soundlessly into the void. The man's flesh turned
paper-thin and his eyes sank into his skull, lips pulling back in
the leering grin of death. Skeletal arms clutched the infant.
All the while she stood immobilized, unable to turn away, unable
to protect herself from the horror. The skeleton lifted one
accusing finger, pointed straight at her heart, and then it and
the child were blown away as a cloud of dust, and once again she
was alone.

Beneath her the metal plain began to change, the pristine white
being fouled with pockmarks and rents as the metal aged and
succumbed to some unknowable stress. The fleeing rainbow streaks
began to flare into blinding brilliance, then disappear. Each
one that vanished left a portion of the storming aurora black,
empty, and soon there was nothing above her. Great panels of the
white plane were lifted away and torn to oblivion. She was left
standing on a single shred of white in the middle of an endless
void, and soon that shred faded to black.

All was nothingness.

Jung Freud awoke, screaming as she had never screamed before,
giving vent to the soul-atomizing terror which had filled her.
Her hands clutched at something which shrouded her, something
real, something other than herself. Her eyes were squeezed shut,
protection against further violation. She trembled
uncontrollably. There was a hiss, and the sound of feet striking
a hard floor, approaching her. But she could not open her eyes,
could not make herself risk watching this world be stripped away
like the last. The cold had left her aching in every muscle,
tendon and bone, and her lungs were on fire.

Voices babbled softly in a language she could almost understand,
reassuring her a tiny fraction of this world's reality. A warm
touch brushed the fingers of her left hand, but it still was not
enough. Any moment now, the stars would flee, sensing that the
universe was about to be destroyed, and she would be left in that
horrid void once more.

That was when one of the voices, warm and paternal, spoke her
name. "Jung Freud."

Still fearing the inevitable, she slowly opened her eyes. Soft
light came from an indeterminate source in the ceiling above her,
a ceiling that was white like that pristine plain on which she
had stood. Around her stood living, breathing human beings, men
and women in white and pale greenish-blue. Doctors and nurses.

She was in a hospital.

The one who had spoken to her was a bald man with a
neatly-trimmed, gray-shot brown beard and kindly eyes decorated
with crow's-feet and glasses. When their eyes met the man
smiled. He spoke again in that language Jung could almost
understand. It sounded somewhat like Japanese. In fact, he said
a few words that she knew amid the babble. "...welcome...
world... living."

His accent was as strange as the mixed tongue he spoke, and that
incongruity made Jung feel the fear begin to rise within herself
again. "I don't understand," she whispered in Japanese, hoping
he would recognize what she was saying. The sound of her own
voice, however faint, was like a talisman against the fear, and
she focused her efforts, raising her voice -- a voice which, she
now remembered, she had not used in a very long time. "I don't
understand what you're saying to me," she told the man.

He did not respond immediately, instead consulting the wall over
her head for some unfathomable reason, then speaking to his
cohorts. The others began filing out of the room, their gazes
lingering on Jung for as long as possible. Only when the door
slid back into place did the man speak. Of what he said, the
only word Jung recognized was "healthy". She couldn't tell if he
was saying that she was healthy, or that they would get her that
way eventually. Seeing her confusion, the doctor frowned in
thought, then squeezed her left hand gently and gave her a
universal gesture -- a thumb extended upward from a clenched
fist.

Her fear broke with a giggle.

The doctor continued to babble, adding a great deal of
gesticulation to his words. He pointed to the door, and she
gathered he meant those who had just left; from the
downward-pointed wiggle of two fingers she understood him to be
speaking of someone going somewhere; he waved as if inviting
someone into the room, then waved his hand between his mouth and
this invisible third-party, then from that person to Jung's ears.
Then his hand traveled from her mouth to the imaginary visitor
and back to his own ears. (An interpreter. Someone's going to
get an interpreter.) She nodded her understanding and tried not
to think about the all-consuming ache she felt.

The doctor fell silent, becoming a simple, reassuring presence
that allowed Jung to face what she had experienced in her
nightmare-universe. That white metal plain she recognized almost
instantly: the hull of Eltreum. She had stood atop the white
goddess of humanity's hope and gazed on the core of the galaxy.

The man who had appeared could have only been... Something new
stabbed at Jung's heart. Regret. (Andrei.) Now that she could
give him a name, his face solidified from the shifting vagueness.
It had been Andrei, the man she had almost married, the man with
whom she had brought a new life into the world in the year 3062,
two years after the Eltreum had finally returned to Earth. In
his arms he had held their little girl, Irina. Andrei and Irina,
the lover and daughter she had abandoned, had returned to condemn
her in this unknown future. Putting names to their ghosts
dispelled the horror of the vision of Andrei's body decaying as
time separated them, but it could not assuage her guilt. (I left
them because I could not live without two others. I left them
because I loved another more than I loved them.)

But it could not be changed. She had done everything she could
to provide for them when she made her deal with the devil, and by
now they were probably long dead. Jung considered asking God to
forgive her, but growing up in a mostly atheist society made it
hard to believe that any being grand enough to create the
universe would care about one single human being. Besides, now
that she was awake, there was surely work to be done. That was
the stipulation.

To see Noriko and Kazumi again, Jung had sold her soul.

There were no tears. She had cried herself out when she had made
her decision, cast her lot. She had no tears left, not after
Andrei's shock at her betrayal. Not after Irina's wailing as her
father took her away from her mother for the last time. No,
there were no tears left to cry. Now there was only the
certainty that someone had invoked the contract she had made.

Clearly she remembered the conversation with the men from some
arcane cabal calling itself Aegis, after Zeus's impenetrable
shield. She would be frozen, and in exchange, Andrei and Irina
would be taken care of for the rest of their lives and the lives
of their descendants. At some unforseeable date in the future,
one of two things would happen, and Jung Freud would wake --
either Amano Kazumi and Takaya Noriko would reappear, to be
greeted with a message spanning the face of the globe welcoming
them home, or the Earth would be faced with a threat that would
require the one remaining Gunbuster pilot to face it.

She didn't dare believe that she had been awakened just because
Kazumi and Noriko had returned; not after what she had done.

The doctor shifted where he stood next to the bed on which Jung
lay, but he did not speak. She glanced at him and he smiled
reassuringly; for some reason she felt as if she were in the
presence of her grandfather. He kept watching something over her
head. Curiosity made Jung raise and turn her head in an effort
to catch a glimpse of what was so interesting. Without sitting
up, she could just barely make out a flat display panel and
colored lights of readouts. (Some sort of monitor, probably
tuned to me.) She relaxed and sighed softly. It was comforting
to know she was being watched even should the man turn his eyes
away. (After that dream, I'll never complain about a lack of
privacy again.)

She wished she could ask the man what year it was. She wished
she could ask him if the two women for whom she had given up
everything had returned from the depths of space. She wished she
could--

Her stomach growled. (I wish I could get something to eat.) The
sheer mundanity of her physical need interrupted her
soul-searching. She laughed at herself and the ridiculousness of
her situation. (If my father had known what would happen to me,
he never would have let me run off to Archangel to enlist at the
Cosmo Battle School. I wonder what my life would have been like.
Boring as Hell, probably. I wouldn't have gotten as far as
Helsinki, never mind the core of the galaxy.)

The doctor pushed up one sleeve and consulted a wristwatch. (At
least that much hasn't changed.) He frowned, not liking what he
saw, and mimed taking a bite of a sandwich. (My hero.) Jung
nodded her agreement. (That's assuming I can even handle solid
food after what I've been through. With my luck I'll be eating
paste like the first cosmonauts for months.) The doctor left her
side only to cross the room and press something on a panel next
to the sliding door and speak; Jung caught only the word "eat",
but she had no trouble catching his annoyance when he added a
second sentence. He muttered to himself as he broke the
connection, and Jung stifled another laugh. (He really does
strike me as a grandfather.)

When he returned to her side, he began helping her sit up,
supporting her and propping the pillows up behind her back. (I
wonder how long I'm going to hurt like this,) Jung thought as she
grit her teeth against the ache. For something to take her mind
off the pain, she tapped herself lightly and said, "Jung Freud."
Then she extended her hand invitingly to the doctor.

He frowned for a moment, then caught on and laughed at himself.
"Jaromir. Jaromir Karyo." Then Jaromir took her hand and bowed
over it extravagantly.

(That name... Czech, I think. That would probably explain the
accent. I must have sounded similar when I was first learning
Japanese.) At least the man wasn't behaving like a fawning
idiot. When the fleet had returned to Earth in 3060 the
survivors of Operation Calnedias, herself in particular, had been
subjected to a merciless onslaught of attention and adoration.
(Between the utter lack of personal space and the way the world
had left only a few lingering traces of what we used to know...
That must have been what killed poor old Admiral Tashiro.) The
suicide rate in the first year had been shocking. (It might have
even killed me, in the end. For all intents and purposes it
did.)

Hoping against hope that Jaromir wouldn't understand her question
and tell her something she didn't really want to hear, Jung asked
the bald doctor, "Year?"

He just frowned and shook his head.

(I probably shouldn't ask that when the interpreter gets here. I
don't know if I can handle finding out how much time has passed.)
Her mouth quirked wryly. (Of course, I'll have to find out some
time, and I really doubt only a couple decades have passed.
Everyone is long gone, so it doesn't really matter how many
centuries it's been.)

Jaromir checked his watch again and was about to cross back to
the panel next to the door to complain when the door slid open to
admit an orderly pushing a wheeled cart carrying two trays.
Jaromir thanked the man profusely, took the cart and shooed him
from the room. He said something to Jung that she wished she
could have understood, because it was probably rather funny; she
could tell from his manner that Jaromir must be quite the wit.
He pushed the cart over to the bed and lifted one of the trays
from it. He extended small legs from the bottom of this tray,
then placed it quite carefully over Jung's lap.

(Well, I'll be. Breakfast in bed.)

Before her sat a simple peanut butter sandwich on plain white
bread. It wasn't a four star French dinner, but at that very
moment that simple little sandwich looked like manna from Heaven.
(I haven't had one of these since I was a kid. Well, nothing
left but to try it. Here goes.) With great care Jung lifted a
triangular half of the sandwich from the tray and brought it to
her suddenly watering mouth. She took one small, cautious bite.

It was the most delicious thing she'd ever tasted. Before she
could stop herself she tore into the sandwich, devouring it at a
rate which took Jaromir quite aback. He watched her with his own
untouched sandwich in his hands, his jaw slightly slack. After
she swallowed the last bite and took a gulp from the cup of milk
that sat next to the crumbs which were all that remained, Jung
looked at Jaromir and smiled sheepishly, a faint blush heating
her cheeks. "Sorry. Guess I was hungrier than I thought," she
said aloud. The doctor's mouth closed with a faint clack of
teeth.

(Well, that's one question answered. I can eat solid food.) She
took up a white linen napkin from the tray and wiped her mouth,
then set it down and beamed. (Things are looking up already.)
At that moment the door opened again and a handsome, tall blond
man in what appeared to be a relative of a business suit entered.
Jaromir asked him a question, then sighed in relief. After a
brief exchange, the newcomer looked at Jung and spoke in
intelligible, if strangely-accented, Russian.

"I'm sorry for the delay, Miss Freud. My shuttle was late, and I
had just touched down when they came looking for me to tell me
you were awake. My name is Philip Campbell. I'm to be your
interpreter until you can learn one or more of the languages of
today."

Jung considered this Philip Campbell closely. His name sounded
American, or perhaps Canadian. His accent was neither, however;
she couldn't place it. (It's entirely possible neither America
nor Canada exist any more.) "Nice to meet you, Philip."

"Dr. Karyo assures me that you've recovered well from your
cryostasis."

"That remains to be seen," Jung told him, "but at least I can eat
a sandwich. I hurt all over."

Philip said something to Jaromir, who replied at length. "That's
to be expected," Philip translated, "from the extended duration
of your sleep. The stimulators that kept your body from
atrophying around you were basically running electric currents
through you the whole time. You should be fine with some
exercise and normal rest."

"I can handle that." She couldn't avoid it any longer; she had
to know. "I want to know what year it is."

Again Philip conferred with Jaromir; this time, both men were
frowning. Eventually, Philip said, "I hope you will understand,
Miss Freud, when I tell you that I am reluctant to answer that
question at this time."

"I have a right to know," Jung asserted.

"Yes," Philip agreed, "you do indeed, but are you certain you
will be able to handle the answer? You have just been through
the only successful cryostasis sleep in human history, and I've
read all about what happened when you returned to Earth in 3060.
I have studied the psychological impact that a thousand-year
transposition in time had on you and your fellows. I'd feel
very, very bad if I were the one responsible for making the
legendary Jung Freud go insane just after she woke up." He could
have been concerned only with his reputation, but Jung could tell
that he was honestly concerned for her well-being. She decided
to return to the question of dates later.

"I assume you know about the people I made a deal with," she
said.

Philip nodded. "I work for Aegis, which is why I was selected to
be your pet linguist."

Jung laughed, and when Philip explained the joke to the confused
Jaromir, the doctor joined her. "If you work for Aegis, then you
must know the details of my contract with them."

Another nod. "I do."

"So you'll tell me why they woke me up?" Her heart started
pounding in her chest.

Philip looked uncomfortable. "I... am not at liberty to discuss
that with you at this time."

"You won't tell me when I am. You won't tell me why I'm awake.
What use are you?" Jung thought she might leap out of the bed
and strangle the linguist. (So much for liking this guy.)

Philip drew back a centimeter or so from the scowl on her face.
"I'm sorry that I have to keep you in the dark, but it's only for
a little bit. Once we're sure that you're perfectly recovered
and ready to hear about such things, I'll be perfectly happy to
tell you anything you want to know. Right now I'm supposed to
interpret for you so that you and the doctors can communicate,
and I'm supposed to tutor you in a language of your choice."

"Oh? And what are my choices?"

"The easiest languages for you to learn would be Hango or
Canamerican. Hango, because you are fluent in Japanese, one of
its major forefathers, and Canamerican likewise because you are
fluent in English, which was its primary basis."

"Which would be easier for you?"

"Canamerican is my native language, but I have extensive fluency
in Hango as well as several other languages. It's my career,
after all."

"Do I have any other options?" Jung asked.

"Canamerican and Hango would be your best choices, since they're
the two most prevalent languages in our society. It would be
easiest for me to help you learn either of those two."

Jung turned a sneer on the linguist. "I'm not interested in
making things easy for you. You wanna give me a hard time?
Fine, I'll give you one. See if you like it."

Philip looked at Jaromir. The doctor had an expression of
concern on his face. He obviously didn't understand a word of
what was being said, but Jung's attitude was obvious. The two
men spoke again in what must have been that Hango that Philip had
told her about. (Why would an American and a Czech be speaking
in an Asian language?) she wondered privately.

At length Philip turned back to Jung. "I can see you're still
not one hundred percent. We can start later, when you're feeling
better. I'm looking forward to working with you," he told her.
Jung thought he was lying. "If you'll please excuse me, I have a
few calls I have to make. I won't be gone long." With that the
linguist strode from the room.

When the door hissed closed, Jung picked up her glass of milk and
her napkin, handed them calmly to the still-confused Jaromir, and
then picked up her tray and threw it at the door with a shriek of
frustration. "I wish *you* would turn into a skeleton and blow
away!" she shouted.

------------------------------------------

Left alone with her thoughts, Kazumi found herself thinking about
her husband. Neither of them had really given serious thought to
having children. The alien threat and their dedication to
defending humanity had pretty much ruled that out from the start,
but if she forced herself to be honest, Kazumi had to admit that
other things had held her back -- like the fact that she knew she
would be widowed young. It wouldn't be fair to bring a child
into the world knowing that its father would be gone early in its
life. Bearing a child just to keep a piece of Koichiro had
always struck Kazumi as selfish anyway.

Had they had children, things certainly would have turned out
differently. Kazumi never would have left Earth to take Buster
Machine Three to the galactic core for Operation Calnedias, and
she never would have seen Noriko again. Again forcing herself to
be honest, Kazumi admitted that she probably would not have been
able to survive that loss. There was more to that "something
special" about Noriko that Koichiro had always sensed than just
an ability to make Gunbuster -- a weapon system designed around
Kazumi herself -- perform perfectly on her own. Noriko reached
deep into the hearts of those she met and, fight it though they
might, she somehow made them come to love her.

No, she would not have survived losing both Koichiro and Noriko.
It was indeed best that Amano Kazumi had never borne a child.

Kazumi wondered what Koichiro would say if he knew she had become
Earth's primary defender. Knowing her husband as well as she
did, he would just nod with that faint smile of his and say, "As
it should be." She'd done it once before, after all, why not
twice? Perhaps he was love-blind where it came to his wife, but
Kazumi certainly wasn't going to complain. The very fact that he
loved her that much had always kept her going during the tough
times.

It suddenly occurred to Kazumi that she was anxiously awaiting
the day when she would be able to see what Aegis would make from
her husband's life's work. Would they try to keep the original
blueprint? Gunbuster's frame was a mangled mess. She couldn't
see any way that they could use it as the core of the new
Gunbuster. What they would probably wind up doing was ripping
out and cannibalizing anything they could salvage, including the
surviving collapser engine. (*Especially* the surviving
collapser engine.)

After that, the question was: would they construct a single unit,
or keep to the design of the original Gunbuster and build two
separate machine weapons which could then unify into the giant
humanoid? It had seemed integral to Aegis's plan, as laid out to
Kazumi, that there be two Pilots, so it made sense that they
would be basing the design on the original two-machine scheme.
But that meant one of two things. Either one of the new Buster
Machines would be built without a collapser engine, severely
reducing its power, or Aegis would attempt to duplicate the
collapser. (Building a collapser from scratch would take long
enough. Retroengineering one twelve thousand years after the
fact and then building it, with the only model being a collapser
that very well might never function again, would take far longer
than we supposedly have. So that pretty much rules out option
number two. But a Buster Machine without a collapser isn't much
of a Buster Machine.

(So what the hell are they going to do?)

Kazumi considered asking Erde, but the other woman was apparently
asleep, and Martin was busy piloting the shuttle. They would
arrive at the station soon enough, anyway, and she would have the
opportunity to demand the information from the masterminds of the
entire scheme.

Unable to answer her own question, Kazumi turned her thoughts to
speculating what the new Gunbuster would look like. She had
never voiced the thought to anyone, but she'd always felt that
the original looked a bit like the Tin Woodsman from that old
American movie, "The Wizard of Oz". The fact that one of the
original design plans had called for Gunbuster to carry a
battle-axe of enormous proportions didn't help the image much.
Love Gunbuster though she did, Kazumi still believed she would
have shaped it quite differently.

Gunbuster's shape had been simplistic, predicated upon ultimate
function contained within an easily-built, rounded form. It was
odd to Kazumi that the same minds that had taken such a practical
route with humanity's ultimate weapon had put such effort into
the aesthetic appeal of humanity's ultimate starships, Exelion
and Eltreum. Built to resemble those giant-scale birds of prey,
Gunbuster would have been as elegant as it was deadly. That was
more how Kazumi would have built it, perhaps with a shining pair
of energy-scattering wings to serve as a shield instead of--

She couldn't help but laugh. The Buster Shield, which had
protected her against enemy assaults of frightening magnitude,
looked like nothing so much as a cape Bela Lugosi would wear when
playing Dracula.

No, the shield definitely would not have been a cape. Wings that
enfolded Gunbuster to serve the same purpose, yes, that was it.
The body itself, the Buster Machines which made it up, would have
resembled more closely something from an old mecha animation.

Perhaps it was the influence of her grandfather, who had for
years been a concept artist for video games, that led Kazumi to
such thoughts. Grandpa Yoshi had always had some new sketch or
watercolor to show her when she went to visit, and before she had
decided to join the Space Force, Kazumi had thought she might
follow in his footsteps. Maybe a bit of his vision was lurking
in her blood. The thought was a pleasant one.

Still chuckling to herself, Kazumi added, (Maybe I can make a few
modifications to their blueprints. And I definitely must insist
on the skinsuit covering more of my body. The old ones *must*
have been designed by a man.)

Aesthetics and skin covering aside, it had been four years since
Kazumi had even given thought to piloting so much as a car. She
was bound to be more than a bit rusty. These super-modern people
would doubtless have simulators, but simulation wasn't reality.
She would have to secure flight time somehow, probably with
multiple weapon systems. (They don't have anything resembling
the RX in this century and I doubt they have anything that
handles close to a Buster Machine. This is going to be rough.)

And then there was... (Edward.) It was high time she started
thinking about dating again, if for nothing more than social
contact beyond adoring crowds and hounding media. Edward seemed
to be a nice enough guy. Gerald had had a hovering look about
him throughout dinner, though, and Kazumi trusted her uncle's
judgement implicitly. She didn't think Gerald was the kind who
would glower at any man coming into range of his neice, so he
must have known or sensed something about Edward... (Maybe it
was the way Edward looked so poleaxed when he saw me. It was
flattering in the extreme, but honestly.)

It was still a little difficult for Kazumi to judge people's
relative maturity in this era. People lived twice as long, but
children still physically aged at about the same rate. Somewhere
in late adolescence things slowed down, but it was hard to tell
precisely when. One moment Edward had seemed to have years of
experience in the fine art of social interaction, and the next
he'd have that stunned expression as if he'd never had simple
dinner conversation at a formal gathering before. (But only when
he was looking at me. He handled Noriko, Gerald, even Akira
without so much as a blink. Of course, Akira seems to have the
same reaction to Noriko that Edward does to me. Odd.)

Poor Akira. Just last week he was nothing more than an extreme
sportsman, and now he was sitting in a hospital with his hand
numbed by an illegal neural disruptor during a firefight between
terrorists and agents of a worldwide conspiracy. And the
apparent object of his affection was hovering just this side of
the line between life and death, gunned down by those same
terrorists with those same weapons. Kazumi's heart skipped a
beat as she thought of Noriko, but she thrust her emotions aside.
Noriko would recover. Kazumi had complete faith in her young
friend, her sister. She had to, or life wasn't really worth
living.

She looked down at the gown she wore and sighed softly. (I left
everything back on the Cloud Angel, and I seriously doubt they'll
shuttle me down to the planet just to change clothes. Maybe I
can borrow something to wear.)

Kazumi closed her eyes and let her head fall back against the
soft seat. There was one other thing she needed to ask Aegis
Prime when they arrived at the station. The bespectacled face of
the man who had shot Noriko in the back and paid the ultimate
price for his crime appeared in her mind's eye. Who was he? Why
had he done it? What possible reason did he have to want Noriko
dead? It did no good to speculate, but Kazumi could not stop
herself from asking: did the man somehow know about Noriko's
strange ability to regenerate her nervous system, was he just
testing her somehow? Or was it just coincidence that the man had
tried to kill Noriko with the one weapon that could not do the
job?

(The one weapon that could not do the job... I don't know if
anything can kill Noriko. She's survived alien assaults, a
direct hit from a weapon that's far more lethal to anyone else
than a simple bullet or laser, even despair that would have made
someone else waste away to nothing. I'm beginning to think she's
more than human, somehow. Well, maybe not more than human.
Just... more human than the rest of us. Some kind of expression
of a more fully-realized potential. I wonder if we'll ever
know.)

Meanwhile, mere mortals like Amano Kazumi had been through a very
rough day, and dinner had been several hours ago. Deciding that
the universe wouldn't fall apart just yet, she let go of her
conscious control of her thoughts and drifted off into a light
doze.

------------------------------------------

Edward pressed his hands firmly against his temples in an effort
to mitigate the astonishing pain that throbbed through his skull,
to no avail. It never worked, no matter how many times he tried.
Mostly it was his father's fault; after all, the harangues that
Avalonian President Charles Peter Windsor-Mountbatten was capable
of delivering were legendary, and usually directed at his son.
Just like now.

"I didn't want you going in the first place. I finally go
against my better judgement and let you go blundering off to
Saturn, risking complete political disaster should you decide to
turn the event into another of your little 'fishing trips', and
instead you get the most prestigious cruise liner in the solar
system destroyed. Couldn't you contain your predilection for
disaster to females? Did you have to blow up an entire *ship*?"

It wouldn't help to explain that the destruction of Cloud Angel
hadn't been Edward's fault. It had nothing to do with him. The
target, if any single human being could be said to be the target,
had apparently been Takaya Noriko. Okay, so Edward's natural
tendency to approach beautiful young women had led him into
contact with Takaya. Well, that and the fact that he knew if
Takaya was present, Amano would be nearby. It still wasn't his
fault that he just happened to be there. Unless one believed in
fate or divine intervention, that is.

As for Kazumi-- (One dinner and already I'm thinking about her on
a personal-name basis? Presumptous, Edward.) --there had simply
been no way for him to prepare himself for her mind-stunning
beauty, both outer and inner.

(I made an even more complete fool of myself than usual.)

"Edward!"

"Yes, sir?"

"What the hell is the matter with you?"

(Oh, nothing. I just got shot at, nearly blown up, carted off to
Europa and clobbered by the most beautiful woman in the
universe.) "I'm sorry." (Sorry I'm such an idiot.)

"You always are. I don't know how you got onto an SLDF military
base, but I want you back here. Now."

Edward squeezed harder, wondered if perhaps he could just crush
his own head and get it over with. "Yes, sir."

The connection with Earth was broken without so much as a
fare-thee-well. Edward had no idea why he tolerated his father's
abuse. It was probably because the man was the most powerful in
all of Avalon, but there was always the possibility that Jayne
had been right when she'd said, "You're sick. You like hurting
yourself and others." That had been right after Jayne had
learned about Gabriella, and right before she'd walked out the
door forever.

He leaned back in the chair and wondered if he could get one of
the SLDF officers to shoot him. It would be better than the
headache, better than the dread of his father's renewed and
escalated wrath, better than the embarrassment. He had acted
just like a child, eagerly volunteering to take his father's
place on the list of esteemed guests aboard Cloud Angel the
moment he'd learned that Kazumi was also invited. Charles Peter
had little patience for frivolous social functions, but Charles
Edward thrived on them, so it didn't take too much of a Herculean
effort for the son to convince the father of the idea's worth.

Edward had been preparing for years to meet Amano Kazumi.
Studying every biographical detail. Forcing himself to endure
the torturous lessons in an ancient language which bore only a
passing resemblance to Hango. Hating the greedy media for
invading her privacy because she obviously would not let herself
hate them. (If she had any idea the effort I've put forth in the
past four years, she'd have me arrested and locked up for the
rest of my life as a stalker, probably. What was I thinking,
anyway?)

In a way, the welt on his cheek was a kind of... liberation.
Kazumi had no compunction restraining her from hauling off and
levelling him. (She probably has no idea just how much I
deserved that drubbing.) So as he sat in this quiet, private
room in the hospital wing of a Saturn Local Defense Force base on
the icy surface of Europa, his head threatening to explode in a
noxious mess at any moment, dreading his ordered return to
London, Charles Edward Windsor-Mountbatten found he truly admired
Amano Kazumi more than he would have ever thought possible. No
starry-eyed hero-worship, this, no base-level desire. (She's so
much more than I could ever be. I wouldn't stand a chance.)

The door hissed open to admit a bleary-eyed Gerald Hanes. Edward
greeted the dark Canamerican with a simple grunt of
acknowledgement, then closed his own eyes for a brief moment.
Just moving his eyeballs hurt. Maybe he could get something for
the pain from one of the doctors...

"You look like Hell," Hanes said bluntly.

"I feel like Dante's ninth circle at the moment," Edward agreed
as amiably as he could. "My father just got done chewing the
left half of my ass off, and he's ordered me back to London for
the second course."

"After all the crap we've been through tonight, I don't think
anybody deserves that."

Edward shrugged, then regretted it. "I'm used to it. What's the
word on Akira?"

"They had to sedate him. Everything got to be too much and he
snapped. Started throwing everything he could get his one
functioning hand on." Gerald shook his head ruefully. "I think
he could have handled everything that happened if only Noriko
hadn't been attacked."

"He does seem rather enamored of the young lady," Edward
observed. Akira's liking of Noriko was indeed patently obvious,
had been the entire time they'd sat together at dinner.

Edward expected Hanes to draw a parallel with his own attraction
to Kazumi, but the Canamerican simply nodded his agreement. "I'm
worried about him. He's going to need somebody around that he
can hang on to for a while, make sure he gets back on his feet.
With what he's seen and heard, he can't just go back to his old
life, and I don't know who I can trust to keep an eye on him.
Unfortunately I won't be able to do it myself."

"Unfortunately?"

"He's a good kid, and it was my idea to bring him 'into the
fold,' so to speak. I know I can trust him around Noriko."

(Unlike me with Kazumi?) Edward sighed in his mind. (Still, I
don't think he's asking me to watch over the boy. Which means...
Dear God, male bonding. Hell just froze over.) "Anyone who
makes a hobby of jumping out of orbital shuttles has to have
either nerves of steel or brains of pudding. Maybe both. Akira
doesn't strike me as the brainless type. Don't worry, he'll make
it. Any idea how long until he can use that hand again?"

"I asked about that. Doctor tells me that he should regain most
of his hand's ability within a month. If something should go
wrong, they could always use bionic implants, but implants have
never functioned very well." Hanes closed his mouth to stop what
Edward guessed would have been a stream of self-recrimination,
from the tone of the Canamerican's voice. Hanes seemed to be
holding together well, but if Edward was having trouble, he
couldn't even begin to guess how difficult things were for
Gerald. Hanes looked the very picture of weariness as he sat
slowly on the room's single bed. "All told, this has been one
bad day."

(Just who is this man?) Edward found himself wondering as the
room lapsed into silence again. (Every time I get a glimpse of
him, there's always something lurking in the shadows behind it.)
"Maybe you should get some sleep."

"I'll sleep when I'm dead," said Hanes. "What I really need is
an extra-strong cup of really hot coffee. Unfortunately, I've
got a lot of things I need to handle and they all involve me
heading back to Earth. I hate leaving Noriko here, but I just
can't help it. Which means," he said as he rubbed his eyes,
"that I feel like I'm abandoning both Noriko and Akira."

"Why doesn't Aegis move Noriko back?" Edward asked him.

Hanes scowled a thunderhead in Edward's general direction.
"You've seen and heard a lot of things tonight that you probably
shouldn't have." The Canamerican was silent after that, but
Edward caught his meaning. Edward would need to keep his lips
firmly sealed regarding everything that he had learned tonight,
or the consequences would of necessity be dire. At Edward's nod
of acknowledgement, Hanes continued, "But to answer your
question, Aegis will be moving Noriko when we're sure she can
survive the trip. Right now she stays here, under guard and out
of harm's way."

It did make sense. Europa was the best-defended moon in the
Saturn system and they were in the middle of the strongest
military base on that moon. Anyone Noriko would want to see
would already have clearance to get in, and no one who shouldn't
know what had happened -- or where she was -- would be able to
get through. The solution to Hanes's other problem presented
itself at that moment, and Edward said, "Why not keep Akira here
with her? He's not doing so well himself, being near her would
help him out, it would keep someone Noriko knows and can trust
nearby should she come out of her coma before you can return, and
it would most certainly keep Akira out of trouble."

Hanes ruminated on this for a bit. Then he licked his lips. "I
don't like keeping him from his family, but you're right. He
could get in a lot of trouble right now, and we need to keep him
with people who can help him. I might have to make it an order,
but if I do, he'll obey it. Not like he'd have much choice. I
doubt he can pilot anything more advanced than an orbital
shuttle. When we leave, he's stuck. Thanks."

"You saved my life tonight," Edward told him. "It was the least
I could do. When are you leaving?"

"Immediately, if not sooner."

"I might as well catch a ride with you, then," said Edward.

"Sounds like a plan. I'll go doublecheck on Akira one last time
and leave his orders, then arrange for a shuttle."

"I'll see if I can get something for my head. Meet you at the
landing field?"

"Right." Hanes stood from the bed and crossed to the door, then
turned and looked at Edward. "I've got a feeling that you'll get
a chance to pay me back that favor before this is all over."
With that, he was gone.

(Yes, I'll get something for my head,) Edward repeated to
himself, (like a bomb.)

------------------------------------------

Author's Notes:

This is the current limit of progress on Amulet of the Sun, but
since I have returned from exile (no phone, therefore no internet
access) I have been able to restart work. More should be coming
soon.

The same Special Thanks apply as for Part One.