Disclaimer: I do not own G Gundam, although I do lay claim to any of the original characters or mobile suits/fighters/what-have-you that may or may not appear in this story. Consider this disclaimer valid for the whole thing.
Foreword: Minor-AU ahead! Some ages, dates and events have been changed. Domon and Rain are not the focus of this story, and the right music to listen to while reading it(if you do that sorta thing) is below.
Evanescence - Eternal(Instrumental)
Prologue: Past Dealings I
An explosion ripped through the hull of the Kiev IV, shattering the already tensed quiet that had settled through the now-darkened corridors of the pirate vessel. Beams continued tearing through the externals of the structure, and the crew - formerly numbering in at something like fifty or sixty - was now huddled up together in a single hallway that had somehow come through things unscathed, filing towards escape pods that theyd always known they would have to use someday. Several of the men were yelling out for others to hurry, but the process was still slow - they wanted to make sure that the pods were working, even as Neo Russian space frigates bombarded the crashed vessel with lasers and pulse cannons.
One scene in particular though, roared out above the frantic yells and damnable explosions that filled the background as two men basically fought a personal tug-of-war, one of them impossibly outmatched as the other practically yanked him off of his arm.
"Im going, and that's final! If there are survivors, I can't let them just die!" Came a loud shout as another explosion rocked the already disintegrating hull.
"Captain! I can't let you die, either! We came in together and god damn it, were getting out together!"
Lethal quiet. For a moment, the vastly smaller crewman's pleas seemed to seep through, and the explosions almost vanished from perception as the larger man considered his options and words.
"And besides, if the hull of the station's been breached, what good can one man do?! We don't have any other suits and no one's willing to go!"
Another pause. Finally, a reply.
"You always had a good head on your shoulders, Mikhail, but your heart's not quite in the right place," Argo Gulskii said, and mean't it, only to sucker punch his vastly smaller subordinate in the gut before he could respond. At that, artificial gravity gave out and the custom-made space suit's magnetic boots activated, locking him into place. Another moment passed and Mikhail's slightly overweight form flew through newly draining atmosphere, freeing Argo to reach up and pull his helmet on, locking it into place automatically.
"Get out of here! Everyone off the ship, NOW!" The giant of a man barked out, his imposing presence sounding angry enough that it jolted more fear into the escaping crewmen than any gun or missile ever could. Airlocks slammed shut, he paused for a moment in reflection and then watched as his crew deserted him to save their own lives - though there was nothing cowardly about it. He had ordered them, after all, and if he hadnt, they wouldve all willingly gone to their graves for him.
"I wonder if Jason was ever as confident in his crew as I am in mine?" Argo mused for a split second, giving himself a grim smile before turning and bolting down the corridor as quickly as he could in the heavy, restrictive suit he was wearing, every step leaving a clank to echo through in the increasingly thin air. He didn't need to see to find his way around the Kiev IV, a blessing since all the lights promptly went out with one last burst of gunfire, but he was still thankful that his helmet boasted a light just above the visors anyway, he would need it if the stations power had gone out.
A few minutes brought him the rest of the way across the ship from its broadside, stopping with a linegun in hand - hed gotten it somewhere during his run. There was a hole in the hull, it ran straight through to a room in plain sight, and he almost thought, for a moment, that he could hear screaming. No time to wait and think though, he drew back and fired the cable straight into the floor, the impact causing spikes to jut out from the bottom and root it in place long enough for him to mount it and slide down into a room that boasted draining atmosphere and two lone occupants, a man and a woman.
"NORMA!!!" The man cried out as Argo felt his boots lock down to the metal grating of the floor, the vacuum effect of space suddenly shifting his weight around as the cable strained and groaned, matching the metallic shrieks echoing all over the room. Blindly at first, he reached out a hand from where one of the voices was coming from, turning away from the ponytailed man and setting his eyes onto the blonde woman he was screaming about.
"ANDY!!!" She yelled back at the top of her lungs, struggling to hold on to the piece of flooring that she had rooted herself too. "Hang on!" Argo yelled out, though his voice was muffled by the suit and the decreasing supply of air to carry his words around. His left hand extended out, and his other remained clasped almost painfully to the line that kept him from being sucked out as well, the metallic wiring threatening to shrivel and tear under the pressure of his fingers.
"Take my hand!" He yelled out again, and this time she heard him, responding if not to the words, then to the gesture. One hand tightened onto the grating of the floor, the other reached out to seek the virtual lifeline that the pirate was trying to give her, and for a moment it seemed as if everything would be alright. Argo smiled imperceptably behind the visor of his helmet, still straining against the suit's make just to try and reach her. "You're almost there!" He shouted.
"Just a little further!"
And then floor broke away as one final explosion rocked the station, leaving Norma Graham to promptly take on a look of damning resignation, burning holes through the otherwise iron giant's soul with one final scream as she was sucked out into space.
Everything went silent, but the truth was that Argo couldn't even hear anything for a number of seconds before he finally turned around to see if the man had somehow died yet, an unknown humidity starting to seep into his skin and run down his cheeks. For a moment, that silence held. It was deafening, suffocating and condemning all at once, damning both of them to knowing that they had utterly failed. For Argo, it was like a pit had just formed in his chest, and for the man identified as Andrew, words couldn't quite describe it.
"You... You killed her..."
Argo didn't - couldn't - respond. Andrew's eyes were starting to water as shock and horror turned to outright hatred and anger.
"You killed her," the smaller man said for the second time in a row, the emotion boiling beneath the surface but showing through in his voice. He sounded like he was about to either go on a rampage or throw up, seemingly oblivious to the fact that all of the oxygen in the room was blowing out. Oblivious to the fact that he would probably die in a matter of a minute unless help arrived or he could find a space suit.
"YOU KILLED HER!!!" He finally screamed in accusation, so loudly that it threatened to ripple through even the vacuum of space itself. Almost pathetically, the scrawnily built Canadian threw himself from the grating of the floor and lunged at Argo with obvious intent to kill him, though the suction of the air and the lack of gravity cut his attempt short by critical inches as his fingers missed the Russian space pirates helmet, leaving him to flail around for a few fractions of a second before a vicelike grip clamped down on his ankle.
Screaming and sobbing despite himself, Andrew fought tooth and nail with his larger savior only to find himself pulled closely to where the two were within arms reach of each other, a gigantic fist crashing across his left temple with enough force to render him completely unconscious as a result. Almost lifelessly, he found himself slung over Argo's shoulder, where he remained as the black suited Russian trudged relentlessly towards the nearest exit, unaware of the fact that he himself was crying as well.
Some time later, be it a few seconds or a few minutes, a metallic, inches-thick door slipped shut under failing power reserves, leaving Argo to finally let go of the unconscious Andrew, who drifted up into the ceiling and stayed there, held by the whims of no gravity, in the same pose hed been in when held over the larger man's shoulder. At that, Gulskii lifted a hand up and popped his helmet off, swinging it back and staring blankly at the wall across from him.
They would be coming for him soon. Theyd probably already taken his crew, but they would be coming for him soon. He wouldn't fight back though, not this time. A woman had died because of him, after all, he deserved to go to the harshest prison that the Neo Russian government could throw him into.
With resignation obvious across his already grim face, the giant of a man sat down on the floor and waited, tethered in place by his boots.
The trial proceedings were swift. It had taken all of a day and a half for the prosecution to finish going through the decade long criminal streak of piracy that had become something akin to a modern-day legend in Neo Russian society - one that was referenced in rap and rock songs, one that pop artists played off of for added celebrity.
New Moscow's highest court had done the job of handling the trials, which were for little more than show. It had all started with lower ranked men from the surviving fifteen or sixteen members of the Kiev's fifty-five man crew. Half had pled guilty, the other half, no contest to the charges levelled against them. They weren't even granted the illusion of defense attorneys - no lawyer in his or her right mind would take up a case as hopeless as the one against these men, even with the kind of publicity it would bring.
But finally, it had come down to the big one - both metaphorically and literally. At 7'2" and possessed of a naturally tremendous build, the thirty-one year old Argo Gulskii had the look that he couldve probably broken free at any time he wanted and the dozens of guards wouldn't have had the slightest chance on Earth, or the colony, of stopping him. Clad in a prison uniform, he stood at least a head above every single man and woman in the packed court room, and was almost able to look at the judge eye-to-eye, were his desk a little lower or Argo a little taller.
The shackles on his wrists weighed at least a hundred pounds each - theyd both been made out of small excesses of the material used for making Gundams, and each also housed a pair of beam emitters. No one trusted ordinary steel chains to hold a man as notorious as Argo, and they didn't trust guns to stop him either, as evidenced by the jolter strapped to his chest. Under normal conditions, a jolter was a 'clean execution device,' though its power could be lowered by bits to ensure that the wearer wasn't instantly fried to death, making it useful for work groups. In his case, they had a bomb waiting for him for when he was convicted.
Bombs were just more intimidating, after all.
"Argo Gulskii!" The judge's voice boomed. Almost instantly, the huge prisoner's eyes glanced around and sought out the loudspeakers that had been so perfectly concealed. Imposing authority was a Russian tradition, after all.
"You have been accused of roughly fifty-eight counts of grand piracy in the frontier regions of deep space, as well as a single count of first degree murder! What do you say to this?!" He demanded, leaning forward and tilting his head to the side as if to better hear the accused. Like he really needed to...
For a moment, he considered. He was convicted already, everyone knew that and there wasn't really a point in defending himself and there wasn't really a point in trying to defend his crew, however much he wanted to. All of them - even skullheaded Sergei - deserved better than what they were getting, and whatever he said would probably be censored by the government if it went for too long. For that moment, two phrases came to mind.
Guilty as charged or not, he had a political message to get out, one that he deeply wanted to get around. Norma Graham - he now knew her name from when they were throwing charges at him left and right - would probably not have forgiven him anyway, and an apology to her and her husband wouldve been twisted by the media or the government, or both, into something else entirely. A slow nod to himself, and a very subtle smirk that only barely showed on his grim face as he lifted his head up and stared the judge right in the eyes without so much as a single ounce of defeat.
"Free Mars. Id do it all over again if I had the chance," he said, and meant it, though he knew that censors had turned off the microphones the very instant he had finished the second word. The judge was unamused, to say the least.
"Is that all?"
"If I said more, Id be electrocuted."
The crowds silenced even more than before. Guards tensed, the judge sighed and sat back in his chair, one hand pressed against his face, as if he was trying to hide from the glare he was having thrown at him.
Prison followed. If there was anything Argo hated more than the very concept of going to prison, it was the knowledge that he wasn't going into it alone, nor was he going into it with any chance of getting out. The bomb currently strapped to his chest had ensured that much, but what made it all the worse was that - for some reason - a visitor had been allowed. Who it was, he didnt know, and he didn't particularly care very much either.
At least, he hadn't cared until his handler herded him into the room and walked out, leaving him to stand there with a look that rested somewhere between mortified shock and an utter lack of surprise. That was because, of all people hed expected to see again in his lifetime, his mother wasn't one of them.
"I don't suppose you're here to tell me about Elena getting married and having children, are you?" He asked, in obvious reference to his younger sister. His mother was unamused, giving him the same look that had often sent he and his sister both running to the bedroom they had shared right up until their early teens.
"No," Rashida Gulskii said with a voice as cold as ice and as hard as a diamond. "Though youd be pleased to know that you're an uncle of four little boys and girls who now don't know what to think of you," she added, still having the same tone as she watched her only son nonchalantly roll his eyes in that way he would only do in her presence. No one could bring out the defiance in someone quite like their mother, especially since Argo's father had never been that forceful of a man to begin with.
"They can think of me as a dangerous political revolutionary, a legendary pirate or a guilty murderer. I don't really care," he said, doing his best to maintain an expression to match his voice. Rashida was unimpressed, standing up from her seat and regarding him quite clearly with the grim impression that most considered his trademark.
"They don't know you well enough to judge you. Yet. You should try to send them letters sometime, assuming this place even allows that."
"Is there any specific reason you came here, mother?" Argo asked coldly, finally managing to maintain the look to match his tone.
From then on, they stood there for a number of moments.
How long it was, neither really knew. At roughly 6'1", Rashida was a tall woman, possessed of an aged-but-feminine build, and a surprisingly young appearance for someone in her mid-sixties. She wore the same yellow dress that had always been her trademark, sleeveless and covered by an almost-black cape - though this one lacked the over-embelished neckpiece her favorite sported, and her hair was still done up in the same quasi-ridiculous style she always kept it in.
"No, Argo. Nothing at all," she finally replied, narrowing her eyes briefly.
"Youll be the death of me someday, my boy. I just know it," she said before turning and rapping on the door twice to be lead away. Argo only snorted impassively and cracked his neck from side to side as the other door - the one hed come in through - slipped open and the usual handler stepped inside.
The next time he saw his mother, she would be donning the moniker of the Black Joker.
A year dredged by. He and his crew settled into a routine - solitary confinement for Argo, shared cells for everyone else. Work ten hours of the day, get two free to wander around in the enclosed yard that housed a single basketball court and an outdoor gym, little else. Food came in three meals a day, each of which was only barely enough for any of them, though Argo tended to share his own since he was granted more than the others. Why did he get more? He didn't know, but he put it to use as best he could.
Bathing was the biggest challenge though, everyone only got ten minutes a week with a heated, indoor water hose in a dimly lit room, overseen constantly by a guard with a gun. They had one minute to dry out and they had to do it properly or chances were high that theyd catch a cold, pneumonia, become hypothermic, possibly lose a limb to frostbite...
It had all been quite humbling for the majority of Argo's crew, those that survived, anyway. Ivan had been the first to go, hed never been that strong to begin with and the cold had taken him during their first few weeks at the prison, several others had followed. Of a crew once numbering at fifty-five, only eight remained, including Argo. Skullheaded Sergei, his cousin Andre, Mikhail, Alexi, Pavel and Wayne. Every last one of them had gone through several degrees of hell over the past year, ranging from guard ordered 'initiations' into prison society - which often involved slugging it out with other inmates until one either dropped, gave up or died - to flat-out beatings whenever a rule, real or imagined, was broken.
All of this made it even more absurd, in Argo's mind, for the same government he had fought so hard to bring down, the same government that had so brutalized he and his remaining friends and the same government he despised more than anything else in the known universe to now come asking for his help.
"What kinda joke is this?" He asked from where he sat on the cell bed, the only lighting in the room being that of the early morning sunrise. The shackles weighed a bit heavier than usual on his forearms, and the beam-chain that bound them together seemed a bit dimmer than it usually did, though those were the least of his worries. The overweight man in front of him narrowed his eyes, a recorder in hand, taping the whole conversation.
"This isn't a joke, Gulskii," he stated in reply, his voice sounding a bit strained. From fear or contempt, Argo didn't know. He still had quite a reputation for being dangerous though, that much was for certain, and a part of him almost liked that fact.
"This is an offer from the great hand of the Neo Russian government - you can fight for us in the coming Gundam Tournament and win the freedom of yourself and your friends, or you can stay here and rot for the rest of your miserable life."
"Why me?" Argo asked suspiciously, still staring at the concrete floor he had come to know so well through the past year. That seemed to gain a more favorable response from the officer, who perked up almost instantly.
"Because you're the only man available with the proper mixture of reputation, size and raw power to stand up to Neo Greece's Marcilot Cronos, the favorite to win the next tournament," he stated plainly, as if trying to feed the apparent inkling of an ego that Argo supposedly had, a rumor that had been created, spread and overly hyped by the government controlled media. It was a futile effort, earning no response for a short series of moments, during which, Argo could almost hear the visitors teeth rattling.
"What happened to the previous fighter if you had to come to me?"
"Guri Drosdov died during the initial Final Eight of the last tournament, in England. Typhoon Gundam died with him."
"Then Im your only alternative and you don't even have a Gundam built for me. How utterly amusing," Argo bluffed, dragging the man towards a favorable deal. They wouldve been better off sending in a hostage negotiator over this twit.
"Actually, officials are going to be putting together a customized Gundam for you - should you accept the offer," came the reply, sounding like a rather delicate cord had been struck. Oh well, no point in trying to lure him in anymore.
"Ill do it on several conditions," Argo began, picking his words carefully and looking up from the floor, finally meeting the visitor eye-to-eye in the process. He didn't stand up though, he wouldn't have to play the card of his imposing size just yet.
"One: My Gundam will be built here, and it will be built to my specifications, no one elses," he continued before the other could gather the guts to try and interrupt him. "Two: I will not be seperated from my friends during the construction. Three: You will fire and replace every single guard and soldier here with someone better suited to handle the job."
The man paled. Argo kept on.
"And four: When I win the Gundam Fight, you will release my friends and I, as well as providing permanent immunity from charges of piracy."
He knew the last half of the fourth condition wouldn't be followed, but it was more than worth the shot at it. At that though, the man seemed to pause and switch off the recorder, looking over his shoulder with a slow, almost terrified nod, one that Argo thought was fearful because of him, though it mostly certainly wasnt.
The door flipped open and a new voice, accompanied by a new visitor, cracked into Argo's ears. It sounded naturally annoyed, haughty and a bit high strung, and was also that of a woman.
"The deal is accepted then," she stated with absolutely no room for arguement, walking into the cell in a full military uniform and holding what looked like the kind of gear a horse jock would use to urge his steed on a bit faster. Almost instantly, a singular thought whipped through Argo Gulskii's psyche, even as the woman introduced herself with all of the politeness of a vindictive bull in a china shop.
"My name is Nastasha Zabigov..."
"What the hell did I just get myself into?"
"As of right now, I am God."
End Prologue I
Author's Note: Just a few minor edits for this chapter, but for new readers, allow me to explain a few things:
The Shuffle Alliance(Argo, Sai, George and Chibodee) are going to be the main focus of this fic, and the story will mostly follow their actions during the time when the series was going gaga for Domon. The prologues will each focus on one each, in the order of Argo, Sai, George and then Chibodee. Sai and Argo's ages have been changed, Argo will be about 35 by the time of the Gundam Fight and Sai will be around 11 or 12. If you dislike that, sorry, but it isn't my concern.
As for Rashida Gulskii being the Black Joker, it's my take on a common plot device usually reserved for original characters. Not many people seem to bother with Argo too often, let alone give him any connection to the previous crestholder(then again, the same can probably be said for everyone but Domon), so there you have my reasoning. The names for Argo's crew, with exception of Sergei and Mikhail, were all made up, and if you're wondering why I listed a guy named Andre as Argo's cousin: There was a member of Argo's crew in the last episodes who struck me as looking like a shorter, thicker Argo with a different nose and hairstyle.
That said, onto the next chapter!