The story used to start with Act 1.1, and this entire Act Zero was added about 2 and a half years after we started writing it. So if you read this story on ff.net before, chances are you haven't read Act Zero yet. Act Zero is a prologue to the main SnK story, taking place anywhere from 15 years from before the war to just up to the starting point of Act 1. Act Zero focuses on Treize Khushrenada: the man he was, his legacy which he left after his death, and his impact on all of the main characters in the Gundam Wing universe. Act 1.1 then begins in AC 197 and the rest of SnK proceeds chronologically from there.
Also, fanfiction.net apparently does not recognize table tags. This is why all of the formatting of the story on these pages is now completely screwed up. We're slowly fixing this problem, but it will be a while before all the chapters' formatting is fixed. Sorry for the wait.
Thanks, and enjoy reading.
Gundam Wing is property of Sotsu Agency, Bandai Studios, and TV Asahi. Sainan no Kekka and all original characters and plot copyright 2000-2003 by Quicksilver and Gerald Tarrant. Please ask permission before reposting.
SAINAN NO KEKKA
SHIN KIDOU SENKI GUNDAM WING
ACT ZERO, PART I
SAINAN NO KEKKA
Manazashi ga soko ni areba
Hito wa minna ikite yukeru
Mayowazu ni jiyuu ni
Ayamachi o koete
Kizuku hontou no yasashisa
Anata to mitsuketa kara
Ai to yoberu tsuyosa o
I believe your dream
Itoshisa o inori ni kaete
Kono kodou o tsutaetai yo
Atsuku hageshiku so far away
If we could communicate with a gaze
Better than we could with words
People would all live
Freely without losing our way
Overcoming our faults
We realize true kindness
Because with you
I found a strength called love
I believe your dream
Feelings that get stronger
Turning love into prayers
I want to let you hear my heart beating
Passionately, fiercely, so far away
--Gundam Wing, "Last Impression"
Scene I: Towards the Future, Across the Stars
It is only when facing an enemy and risking one's own precious life that,
amidst all the sorrow, a warrior's soul will shine with nobility."
--Treize Khushrenada, Gundam Wing
Her name was Lucrezia Noin, and she was just a soldier.
True, she had been more than that - much more than that - in her lifetime, or so everyone said, but she still preferred to think of herself as a common soldier. Greatness was a relative thing, and so was being common. She had been brought up to believe otherwise - that greatness was a thing that one was born to, and the common people were those who could not ascend to the level of greatness that some had the right to by birth. Through her own observation, she had proved that proposition false.
It seemed very foolish, to her, to think that the world was painted in black and white, good and evil.
She had been nine years old when her life had changed, nine years old, just a child, but precocious for her age. All her relatives had always remarked on what a precocious little child she was, how intelligent and how cute and really, how could her grandfather allow her to be this serious all the time? That was the adjective they used most often, more than the rest. She was such a serious child. Serious and precocious. Her grandfather needed to let her see other children more often or she'd grow up to be a little old lady much too quickly.
It was true that she had few friends, for she had a private tutor at home so she had never needed to go to school. She knew had a half-brother somewhere who was seven years older, but she didn't know much about him. Her grandparents were wealthy enough to afford a few servants just for her care, and she was well taken care of. It was never stated, but it was implied that those who mattered expected her to grow up to be a fine lady, to marry a good man and to settle down to the life of an upper-class married woman. She wasn't sure what she thought of that, so she buried her nose in books and scrawled away her thoughts in diaries in her awkward child's handwriting. She'd found an old telescope in the attic, and every so often, she would pull it out and spend the nights stargazing when everyone thought she was asleep.
Her grandfather had found her one night, and she was afraid he would rebuke her and tell her to go to bed, but to her surprise, he'd sat down with her at the windowsill and pointed out all the different constellations and star names to her. That was the only real conversation she ever had with him.
She had never known her parents. She wasn't even sure if the man and woman she called grandfather and grandmother were her real grandparents, but they were kind to her. Her grandmother was there as often as she could be, but she was an aging woman and was not in the best of health. Her grandfather was often away. She'd hear snatches of conversation behind closed doors sometime of politics and war, and she knew her grandfather was involved in something, but precocious as she was, she had been too young to realize that he had been one of the heads of the Federation. When she was old enough to know, it was too late, because he died just after her ninth birthday.
It had been at her grandfather's funeral, a solemn affair in which they'd driven to an elegant funeral home outside the town, where the black-draped casket was set up in the middle of the great vaulted room and the men looked very sad in their black suits and ladies sniffled into little black-laced edged handkerchiefs. She'd held her grandmother's hand while her grandmother cried, sat by her during the funeral and patted her shoulder while the black-suited priest read the funeral rites in a monotone, droning voice. Her grandfather had been Roman Catholic, like all good Italians were.
Lucrezia did not cry.
Afterwards after the burial, the guests milled about in the little antechamber outside, taking tiny sips of wine from fluted glasses and speaking in hushed tones about her grandfather and "Cinq" and "the Federation." Their voices would drop to a whisper whenever she passed by, as if they were trying to protect her from such things. She was not scornful of the fact, but she thought it odd that they were trying to keep information from her that she already knew.
There would be a war, she knew. Even though she was just nine years old, it was obvious that the world was not a happy place, no matter how many happy things people tried to surround her with.
Bored with the conversation, she had left the room and gone wandering through the old funeral home. She had always been an inquisitive child without being overly obnoxious, and she did not believe in supernatural things, or ghosts. Still, the darkened hallways of the building and the fact that a funeral had just taken place here made her spine tingle. She wasn't sure what exactly she would do if she were to be confronted by a ghost, and the thought at once intrigued her and frightened her, in an exciting, anticipating kind of way.
The corridor split in two at the end of a long passage and she paused, glancing both down the right and the left. Which one should she choose? They both looked rather dark and spooky, both prospective homes for ghosts that might haunt this place. She recalled an old poem about two roads, diverging in a wood, and felt the shiver up her spine again.
After a few minutes of intense deliberation, much more than it would seem to take for a mere decision regarding which hallway to take on a tour of a funeral home, she chose the hallway to the right.
The hallway was short, and before she knew it, it had opened up into a small room cloaked in heavy draperies. She stopped at the doorway, one hand clinging to the frame, almost afraid to go in for fear of what she would find there, but at last the voice of reason overcame her fear and she took a cautious step into the room.
It was quite empty, she discovered, as her eyes adjusted to the dimmer light. The walls were covered with black drapes….velvet? Perhaps it was a private room for the higher-ranked dead, or a viewing room. She shivered again at the thought that she might be standing where a coffin would once have been, lid open, dead face of the deceased laid bare for relatives and friends to pay their last respects.
She stood there for a moment more then realized that the room was not entirely dark, as she had thought. There was a light at the far end, and she walked towards it curiously to discover that it was not a light after all, but only the moonlight shining through a window in a door that led outside. She put her hand to the handle and was delighted to find that it was not locked.
Closing the door softly behind her, she padded out onto the balcony. A delicious breeze was blowing and this side of the funeral home overlooked a beautiful part of the Italian rural countryside. She gazed over the fields for a moment, noting the small wood that clustered at the edge of her vision to the left, and the winding river, sparkling silver, snaking across the fields to the horizon.
"Buona sera," said a low, pleasant voice.
She jumped, clutching at the balcony, and whirled around. She hadn't noticed that anyone was out here on the balcony with her. Was it a ghost? Her heart beat faster at the thought.
But no…there was someone there, leaning on the wall at the far side of the balcony. He - it was a man, by the sound of his voice - was almost entirely shadowed, and all she could see of him were the beginnings of black trousers tucked into the tops of elegant boots. For a second, she blinked, and then wondered how she could not have noticed him before - he had such a powerful presence. Some people were like that, she remembered her grandfather saying. Larger than life.
"Hello," she ventured. "Do I know you?" Though that was a foolish question, because if she did know him, she knew that there was no way she could ever have forgotten.
She could hear a slight smile in his voice. "Hello to you too. No, I don't believe we've met…I'm sorry - I didn't mean to startle you."
"Yes you did," she said solemnly.
There was a pause. "Did I?"
"Well," she said, "if you hadn't meant to startle me, you would have talked to me when I had first come out here, wouldn't you? And you wouldn't be standing in the shadows like that. Why don't you come out?"
The almost-laughter again. "Perhaps I'm more comfortable talking to you when you don't know who I am."
She found this odd. "Why would I know who you are?"
"You're a smart girl," he said. "You notice things. I've watched you. You like people - well, perhaps like is too strong a word. You enjoy watching them, I think."
"I suppose," she said dubiously. "But I don't have any friends. Or even acquaintances, except for my grandmother's friends, and they are all far too old to be you. Are you here for my grandfather's funeral?"
Usually after she said something like that, the adults would coo and say something about how precocious she was. But he didn't do that. Instead, she saw the briefest sign of a nod through the dark shadows that covered his face. "I never knew him personally, but he was an acquaintance. Someone I admired greatly. His loss is greater than you know."
"You're from the Federation then," she said, matter-of-factly. "I know he was a general. A very high-placed one."
"Indeed. He was." The voice took on a curious tone. "Did he tell you this?"
"No one tells me anything," she said. "I usually figure it out by myself."
Another pause. "I see."
The conversation seemed to be halted, so she turned back to her landscape gazing. The stars were out tonight and for a brief moment she wished she had her telescope. It was always nice to look at the stars away from the city lights, which made them look faint and far away.
"Do you like the stars?" he said.
She shrugged. "I suppose. It's a hobby, among other things."
"Interesting. It's also a hobby of mine."
She perked up. "Really? My grandfather showed me some of the names of the stars once. I don't have much experience in stargazing, since I don't have access to any reference materials. I suppose I enjoy it, though."
"That's too bad," he said. "It's much more exciting when you can identify their names. Each star has a history, you know. Each unique. Each beautiful."
"You seem to know a lot about the subject."
This time he did laugh. "I suppose I could consider myself an amateur stargazer. Though the stars are much more beautiful up close, in space."
That caught her attention. "You've been to space?"
"A few times." His tone was dismissive. "Not as much as I would like."
"I've always wondered what it would be like," she said quietly, surprising herself as she said the words. She'd never given the subject much thought, but now that it had been brought up, she was startled to feel an overwhelming curiosity.
"I would try to describe it for you…but my words would do it no justice. Though I will say that it is very beautiful, as you probably have already guessed."
"I would imagine," she said. "Are you a Federation soldier? Is that why you can go up in space?"
"You could say that."
He chuckled. "It makes you feel small, the stars, when you are out in the blackness of space and they're burning around you. It makes you think of perspective - how very insignificant humans are in the grand scale of the universe. How small our petty quarrels are in the light of these stars, which have existed since the beginning of time."
"It sounds all very grand," she said. "And exciting."
"Oh, it's much more than that." His voice grew deeper, a minute fluctuation of tone that she would have missed if she was not listening carefully. A shiver of excitement ran through her. "It's…how should I say it? Epic? Spiritual? Perhaps…that it completes the soul."
She cocked her head, thinking. "They've always seemed very peaceful to me. The stars, I mean. Though I suppose they could be epic as well."
"Peaceful…perhaps." He paused. "Perhaps if all humans had the chance to experience their light, they would understand the nature of the conflict within them."
She thought about this for a moment. "Are you saying that if all humans could go to the stars, then there would be no more war?"
"I am no judge of that," he said, sounding regretful. "Maybe that would be the case. But all human beings will not have the chance to go to the stars. It is up to those of us who do go to show them the innate nobility within each one of us."
His words were beginning to give her a headache. "I don't understand."
His tone was strangely gentle. "It's all right. I didn't either until recently. It's a hard concept to grasp, even for those many years older than you and who deem themselves wiser."
"I'm not wise," she said stoutly. "I'm just precocious."
At that, he laughed again. "Is that what they call you?"
"Being precocious," he said, "is just a term that adults use for children who possess wisdom beyond their years."
"I'm only ten years old," she persisted. "I can't be wise."
She heard him sigh. "One day, child…you will learn that there is nothing certain in this world. That nothing is as black and white as it seems. That sometimes the only thing you can believe is that you are doing what you think is right."
"What do you mean?" she whispered, feeling suddenly as if she were caught up in some sort of wonderful and fantastic dream that was drawing to its great climax.
He smiled, an almost imperceptible curving of his lips in the dark, and for some reason, this time when he paused, she expected there to be some kind of fanfare. Some kind of grand orchestral accompaniment for him when he spoke again, to herald the arrival of his words. But there was only the wind, the wind and the trees and the river and the stars, burning above them with a heavenly fire. She was not cold, but she shivered.
"You will go to the stars," he said.
She frowned. "Me?"
She saw him nod again. "Some people say that destinies can be read in the stars."
"Have you read mine, then?"
"Perhaps." She heard him smiling again, but it was a kind smile, one that for some reason brought tears to her eyes. "You have a warrior's soul and a noble spirit. Someday…you will go to the stars. Your destiny lies there."
"Me?" she said again, this time whispering it, as if the silence was so fragile that a single word from her lips would break it open and send it tumbling into the void of time.
"Lucrezia Noin," he murmured. "One day, you will be great."
"What do you mean?" she demanded, shaken.
But he simply bowed to her, and she heard the click of his boots and the clanking of a dress sword in its scabbard and the whoosh of the door closing behind him as he left the balcony. The air was still thick with the force of his presence, and when she took a deep breath, she imagined she could still smell the scent of him, clean, pure, burning with a dark brightness that surpassed even the light of the stars.
She closed her eyes for a moment, trying to steady herself, and when she opened them again, it was just the Italian countryside - quaint and lovely in the silver moonlight. That was all.
"Lucrezia? Thank goodness! "
That was her grandmother's voice. She turned as the old lady shuffled through the door, and felt a jolt, as if she had been upside down and the world had suddenly whirled around her and righted itself. There was relief on the wrinkled face. "I've been looking for you everywhere...you didn't tell me where you'd gone! I would have never found you if it hadn't been for that young man."
Her pulse quickened. "What young man?"
Her grandmother took her hand. "A very nice young man…I didn't know his name. He was a soldier by the looks of him, though he wasn't wearing the uniform. You can always tell by the way they carry themselves, those soldiers. Your grandfather was like that…" The words trailed off into a choked whisper.
Lucrezia squeezed her grandmother's hand. "Don't cry, nonna," she whispered. "Don't cry. It's all right. Grandfather…he is in a better place now."
He is with the stars.
She had only been nine years old then, but she had known with all certainty as the stranger spoke those words on the balcony that night, that they would change her life. She had never desired to be great, but that was the night she discovered that there was a longing in her heart for much more - that greatness was simply a matter of perspective, and even the most common soldier could be great, in the end, if that soldier had a warrior's soul and a noble spirit. Because she had always considered herself a common soldier, just as they were all common soldiers that had somehow found their destinies in the stars.
And it had been the stars, in the end, that made them great.
Her, Lucrezia Noin.
And Treize Khushrenada, the man that the world would one day know both as its destroyer and its savior, but who for her would always remain the nameless boy who had given her the future one night underneath the stars.
Scene II: Cousins by Birth and Destiny
Let's think of a game to play now the grownups have all gone away."
--The Who, Cousin Kevin
When she was little, Dorothy tried to memorize her family tree. The Catalonia family tree was intricately entwined with her mother's family, so closely tied that she sometimes wasn't sure if someone was a cousin on both sides or not.
Not that it really mattered, seeing as how most of her family was dead. The Khushrenadas were renowned for dying violent and sudden deaths at young ages, while the Catalonias were a military family that tended to get themselves killed gloriously in war. When she was little, she had believed her mother, who swore up and down that dying in battle was one of the stupidest thing a person could do. Emily had loved Leon as much as she loved anyone, and he had died in the line of duty… which she never forgave him for.
Dorothy almost bought it - but when she was seven, she met one of her cousins who was both a Khushrenada and Catalonia.
Dorothy lived with her grandfather, Duke León Alejandro Philippe Catalonia Dermail, on a high cliff in a castle by the sea. He was not a kind man, or a gentle one, but he did care for her deeply, and she knew it. Emily visited when she remembered to, always stressing social dramas and being a lady. Dorothy knew, somehow, that her mother did not love her.
Duke Dermail did, and he tried to make her part of his plans. He had wondrous plans for the world and she, with her keen intellect, could be a part of it. Not for her was the family's traditional military path; no, she was destined for greater things. He would smile and whisper of his dreams and goals, and she would nod and listen as he promised her a world to inherent. She was a Catalonia, he told her, and the world had always been theirs to rule. It was time for her to start learning about power.
Still, even the most precocious seven-year-old girl would ignore that and be attracted to her mother's vibrant personality. Whenever her mother came, life lit the castle, and balls and soirees filled the vacant house. Dorothy wasn't allowed to attend these, of course, but she always crept downstairs to spy on the beautiful ladies in their expensive gowns. The ladies and gentlemen would dance, and she wanted to be a part of it, to be one of those beautiful people.
It was at one of those functions that she met her cousin.
She was supposed to be in bed, of course, but the rules didn't bother her. Rules were made to be broken, and if someone found you breaking them, you accepted the punishment with good grace, making a mental note not to get caught again…at least, not the same way. It was like playing chess, a game which her grandfather adored and which she was learning as well. She was well on her way to being one of the youngest grandmasters in the decade.
Dorothy padded downstairs wearing her long blue nightgown. The light blue silk fell to her feet, and though the floors were cold, she hadn't worn slippers, finding it easier to move soundlessly and slip back into bed should there be close calls. Wearing slippers in bed had gotten her in trouble once, evidence of one of her nights out.
She ducked into the corner of the ballroom, watching the ladies in their fine dresses and men in their dress gloves and suits offering to escort them to the dance floor. She already knew how to dance, and enjoyed it whenever she got the chance… it was a challenge, something physical. Most of what she did was mental, but her grandfather was determined that she be well rounded. She enjoyed the dancing lessons most of all, sometimes even to the point of neglecting her other lessons, including fencing. Trying to convince her to enjoy the art, her fencing instructor had once tried to point out how fencing really was just one form of dance. It had, to his surprise, worked.
A dance which could be deadly… she thought a bit in fear, sometimes. That fear was the only thing that truly kept her from excelling at fencing the way her coach claimed she had the talent to. She had the instinct, but her mother's hatred for the Catalonia's military heritage ruled her.
She shut her eyes as she listened to the music, humming softly as the fourteen-piece orchestra played a few waltzes she recognized. Her long nightgown was almost like a dress, and if she shut her eyes, she could pretend…
A quiet voice disturbed her fantasies, "You're Dorothy, aren't you?"
She spun around, preparing to dart away, but she had been recognized. The person would probably mention her presence to her mother, who would fly into a rage at having her party disturbed, or her grandfather, who would be disappointed in her for being discovered. With Duke Dermail, it was a game about whether or not she was caught… and this time, she was. So she decided to bear up under good grace, turning a brilliantly sweet and childlike smile on her captor. "Yes," she said, looking up at him shyly through her lashes. She curtseyed with deliberate clumsiness, playing up the cute child angel for all she was worth. "I just wanted to watch…"
The man laughed, and stepped a bit more into the light. Her quick eyes studied him, recognizing the insignia of a Federation lieutenant. He was young, which meant he hadn't screwed up, and since he was here, he was either a family member or a member of some VIP's party. "I'm sure," he said. "I've been wanting to meet you for a while… I have so few family members left."
She blinked slowly as he confirmed the first, her agile mind running through the possibilities of who he was. Male, young… she tried to fit the relative to the name, but he could be an uncle or cousin on either side, easily, or some forgotten branch. Fifth degree cousins liked to claim relation to the Catalonia family, especially those in the military. Dorothy's father had once been the leader of the Federation military, after all. "I always thought the family was big," she said shyly, hoping her pretense would keep him from reporting her to a nearby adult who would haul her upstairs and assign her extra lessons, "since she had the time to get into trouble."
"The extended family is, yes," the man said, smiling at her. "But those of us who are Khushrenada and Catalonias both, and whose blood is undiluted by other lines… we're rarer. A dying breed, I'd think many people would say, but I don't like to think so. We burn brightly…" He held out his hand for her to take, and she did so shyly. To her surprise, he bent down to brush a polite social kiss across her knuckles, and from his eyes, she knew that he wasn't mocking her.
Despite her age, he was taking her seriously. "Who are you?" she demanded, abandoning her pose of demureness.
He smiled slightly. "Treize Khushrenada."
Her mind flickered over the family tree she had tried to memorize. "You're my cousin… one of the ones who's a real cousin, not a poser," she realized, blushing a bit when he raised an eyebrow. Her remark had been tactless, something her grandfather had tried, and failed, to get her to work on. She always spoke without thinking.
"Yes," he agreed. "I'm the real thing." There was a slight bit of pride there, but a desperate sorrow that she didn't - and never would be able to - understand in his rich voice. "And so are you, my lady."
"Are you going to tell on me?" she demanded, sensing that he liked her boldness more than her faked manners.
Her pretended to think on it before answering. "Not if you'll play me in a game of chess. I've been led to understand that you're a very good player, and it's been a while since I've had a game with a worthy opponent."
Dorothy's breath quickened. She loved chess, the game and the matching of wits. She was a good player, and her grandfather was better. It was a Catalonia tradition to learn young, to hone the wits for the battlefield, and apparently this Treize has inherited the same love for it. "The nearest set is in the library," she said softly. "No one goes there for during these balls… but will you be missed?"
He shrugged. "I'm just a minor personage. No one should come looking for me… and since it sounds like you should be in bed…" He said, arcing an eyebrow.
She blushed a bit. "This way," she said, indicating a small side door with her hand. "If I'm caught, they'll set me a bunch of punishment homework."
"Essays," Treize said with sympathy and a bit of exasperation, and she rolled her eyes in agreement. "They did the same to me - said the traditional 500 sentences of 'I will learn to behave and listen to my elders because they know what is right for me,' was useless. They always said you should learn something from a punishment, not just repeat rote lines that wouldn't sink in."
"Did you learn anything?" Dorothy asked curiously as she led him through one of the narrow servant's hallways to the library.
"Oh, yes. Not to get caught."
She liked this Treize. Most adults would have praised the assigned essays for the history they imparted, but his honesty with her was refreshing. Only her grandfather ever treated her like she had a brain worth something, but he was often busy with politics or would sometimes just look at her, and not really see her, but more of an echo from the past. She wondered about that, sometimes. It would take years for her to understand that Duke Dermail saw his own deceased daughter in her face every time she challenged him or asked him a question.
"I can't seem to avoid getting caught," she muttered a bit as she can to the large library doors. Like most of the formal rooms in the house, they were oversized and heavy, but so well maintained that the swung open on silent hinges when she nudged them.
"But do you do they catch you doing the same thing twice?" Treize asked, as his eyes scanned the elegantly appointed room. They lingered on the leather-bound books, and she heard his slight sigh of satisfaction.
"Never!" she said, blushing a bit as she realized how quickly she had spat that answer out.
"Then it's all good," he murmured. He walked over to the shelves and brushed his white gloves across the titles… Macbeth, Ulysses, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, The Lord of the Rings, The Three Musketeers, Beowulf, The Art of War… "I'm glad to see your grandfather maintains an adequate book collection. Most people use electronic books nowadays…"
She smiled slightly. "My mother thinks it's stupid," she informed him softly as she went over to shift the ivory chess set onto the main table. She pulled out the box and deftly begin to set up the pieces, smiling slightly as Treize walked over to her.
"Real books are special," he said. "In this age of modern technology, they are a tie to our past. Hold one sometime - one of the older ones here… and imagine who has read it before, who held the same book in their hands, and who they thought. A hardcopy book has more texture and history then an electronic copy."
"I never thought of it like that," Dorothy admitted. "White or black?"
"Black. Most people don't." He took the seat across from her, shifting his dress uniform's cloak back with an refined thoughtlessness that only breeding could instill.
She watched, wondering if her own breeding would ever become so clear. Her mother was working with her on her grace, but sometimes, the only thing Dorothy felt she could do right was screw up. Emily was impatient with her. With a shake of her head, she focused her attention onto the board, and it because about the black and white squares that danced before her eyes.
Treize was a good player, she realized immediately. Her aggressive style was countered immediately, move for move, and she was delighted at his laid-back and almost understated manner. It was very different than battling her grandfather, who played with the same kill-or-be-killed style she favored. Meeting people on a chess board was truly a way to get to know them.
The game was evenly matched, and she lost track of time as they moved their pieces around, trying to find an advantage. She felt the sweat start to bead on her face as her competitive nature engaged. The only person who regularly defeated her was her grandfather.
Finally, it came, and Treize was the first to make a minor mistake that only an experienced player would notice. He left his queen open; taking it would cost her the knight, but if she got rid of his queen, it would only be a matter of time before she managed to have him in check. She shifted her knight, taking his queen in a brilliant stroke - or so she thought.
The slight smile on his lips raised her awareness as he moved a piece, murmuring, "Checkmate."
"Huh?" she exclaimed, unable to think of anything more intelligent to say. She stared at him as he shifted a pawn forward, utterly changing the total layout of the game. "The queen sacrifice," she murmured after a moment. She had known of the technique, of course, but she never used it herself. It went against the grain for her, and her grandfather hated it as well. If an opponent saw it and countered, it meant almost certain loss. Dorothy hated the idea.
Treize didn't seem at all bothered by the risk he had taken. "Think on this, Dorothy. No one likes to think outside the box - one of the hardest things for a chess player to do is to sacrifice their queen, since she's their most powerful tool… but when I did, I assured myself of victory. A pawn can be underestimated; a queen can be sacrificed. No piece on the board should be left unutilized… because the name of the game is to win."
She looked at him, nibbling on her lower lip a bit as she realized that he wasn't talking just about chess. "You have ambitions, don't you?"
He gave her a nod after a moment's hesitation. "It's something that both sides of our family are born with. You and I, being both Catalonia and Khushrenada, are doubly cursed. We're at war with ourselves and the world, but it's not for ourselves that we fight… we fight because we genuinely believe that we can make a difference, and that it's our destiny and duty to make it so."
She thought on that for a moment, her fingers idly picking up the queen he had sacrificed to bring about her defeat. "If… that happens, we may not always be on the same side," she said softly.
"Probably. But I'll know that whatever side you chose, you chose it because you believe… and because you understand. People have probably told you that you have a great future - I'm not going to. You have a great present. Now is the time, Dorothy. Now is the time to start deciding what you want, because within the next decade, the world will shift beyond our recognition."
She toyed with a loose strand of her hair before holding up the queen to the light. "And… what's your sacrifice?" she asked after a moment. Outside the room, the hallway clock chimed midnight.
"Any piece on the board - up to and including the king," he returned softly.
Dorothy blinked. "If you lose the king, you lose the game!"
Treize's answering smile was somehow both brilliant and sorrowful. "Chess analogies fail here… but sometimes, it's not about winning. It's about how well you play the game."
Scene III: Silence of the Holy Place
I am outside…give me peace…
Heaven holds a sense of wonder."
--Sarah McLachlan, Silence
He was on the steps of the old church when he saw them coming around the corner.
The abandoned church was his haunt, his hideout, his home, really, among the mice and rats and dead insects that inhabited the place. He didn't mind living amidst the insects and the rodents - they didn't bother him and he didn't bother them. He rarely had guests. It wasn't wise to make friends in places like the slums of L1, called the Breaks by those who knew it best, and besides, he didn't know what he would have done with friends. He worked alone.
Anyone who saw him wouldn't have given him a passing glance. He was the same as all the other street orphans that haunted the crumbling streets of the Breaks: skinny, dirty, pale, rank with the odor of unwashed hair and body and human excrement. The only thing that might have gotten him a closer glance was the pair of dark, gem-brilliant blue eyes that peered out from under bangs too long uncut. But no one had ever gotten close enough to even notice the way the light seemed to glance off the blueness of his eyes, seemed to reflect and be absorbed at the same time just like light reflects and is absorbed by cold polished marble.
He had no name.
The others he came in contact with referred to him as Zero, because he was nothing. He didn't mind the name. It was a good name for street work, the drug running that he did for the smaller cartels, and he was content to remain anonymous. He met other boys and girls once in a while, runners all of them, with names like Devil and Snakeskin and Hex. He preferred Zero. It was complex in its simplicity, implying nothing and everything at once. He couldn't remember who had given him the title, just that he had adopted it.
The light was fading rapidly as he backed away into the entryway of the church, backing up until he could feel the sharp poking of the crumbled arch against the bones of his back. There he stood silently, watching the strangers come nearer. They were talking, though he couldn't hear them. He knew they were strangers, because he knew every living thing that usually crossed these parts around this time of day, and they were new.
The church had had a steeple once, but it was long gone. Hacked off as a cruel joke or struck by lightning he didn't know, but all that was left was a jagged stone stump where the crucifix once was. The stones of the inside walls were falling into ruin and water leaked from between the molding roof tiles whenever it rained. The wooden pews were almost all gone, stolen by those who couldn't afford to buy their own wood. There were bloodstains on the front steps, almost all washed away by the rain but not quite, and sometimes he'd squat for hours just staring at them, wondering where they had come from.
It was an odd place to build a church, really, in the middle of the Breaks. As if someone had really believed that God could spare an eye on this place and its people, the lowliest of the lowly, and offer them deliverance.
Perhaps that was why the church stood empty now. Because God hadn't deemed it necessary. Because He had decided it wasn't worth it.
He didn't believe in God.
As the strangers drew nearer, he could see that they weren't dressed like assassins or drug runners or dealers or any of the regular people who inhabited the areas near the church. In fact, their clothes looked fairly new, though the one on the left had a long, tattered-looking overcoat drawn over what was obviously a fine quality suit. The dress shoes gave it away. His brain did a double-turn on itself, and he shuffled forward just to peer at the man's clothing, wondering who in their right mind would wear clothes like that in a place like this.
He wondered how much the clothing was worth.
The man on the right was much more shabbily dressed, but still not down to Breaks standards. He was a strange one, a little stoop-shouldered, walking as though he wasn't sure which way he was going, his long, gray hair flowing back over his shoulders and a little drooping mustache hanging down over the corners of his mouth. But it was the contraption over his eyes that intrigued the boy most - a machine-like device that he'd never seen before. Maybe everyone who didn't live in the Breaks wore something like that over their eyes, and he would have had one too if he didn't live here.
What an odd man, his eyes said to his brain in fascination, and his brain replied, I wonder how much we could get for those shoes his partner's wearing?
His stomach rumbled and he drew back hastily, trying to remain very still and hoping they would pass him by quickly so he could dart out and finish the job. Those shoes could mean dinner tonight. He fingered the long knife he wore tucked into his boot, trying to decide which of the two men was more dangerous and if they both had weapons. He didn't have a gun. Guns were expensive, and the cartel did not let any of their runners carry guns on the job. That hadn't stopped several runners he knew from trying to acquire them anyway, but the cartel always found out. And when the cartel found out, that was the end of you.
He didn't need a gun anyway. He was as good with a knife, perhaps even better, than many of those cowards who relied on their guns for defense.
The strange pair was passing the steps of the church now and just for a moment, the false setting sun flared, dyeing them in a rich, crimson red. And in that moment, the man with the contraption on his eye stopped, glancing towards the church. The boy had the strangest feeling that he was looking straight at him, a long, measured, calculating look that was full of…what?
And in that moment, he knew that the small, stoop-shouldered man was dangerous.
The sun slipped lower and the man's companion was turning, frowning. The man himself had turned away. Maybe he hadn't seen him after all. If he was going to kill them, now was the time to do it. He tensed, ready to leap out of his hiding place.
He didn't even see the man move, but suddenly he was facing the church again, feet planted firmly and in his outstretched hand was a gun. The boy froze.
"I know you're there," the man said. The gun didn't waver. Its bright, polished surface shone dull metallic red in the light of the sunset, and he swallowed, suddenly afraid. It was a strange feeling - he couldn't remember the last time he had been afraid. But there was something about this man.
"I know you're there," the man said again, this time his voice softer, but the gun held steady. "Come out, and you will not be harmed."
He could have scoffed at the threat, leapt out and tried his chances on the man and his companion, ignored the weapon in the man's hand. He'd done it before and survived, with the scars to prove it. But somehow this man was different, and he hesitated only a moment before slipping the knife back into his boot and stepping out from the shadows to the top of the steps.
"What do you want?" he called out defiantly.
To his surprise, the man's face softened into something that resembled a smile, and the gun mysteriously vanished. He blinked. He hadn't seen the man put it away, but it was no longer there. "Come down," the man called. "I won't hurt you."
He cautiously descended the front steps, feeling a strange sense of weightlessness come over him, as if he were floating through the air, flowing down each stone step like rainwater, swirling and joining the roaring current until it reached the sea, never stopping, never ceasing. He blinked, and the feeling subsided, though he could still feel it not-quite-there in a corner of his mind, settling over the crumbled buildings and ruined church and lifting the haze from the smoky air.
The man had seemed short from a distance, but the boy was surprised to find that he was actually considerably taller than he'd looked, though perhaps any man of normal height was tall to a small child. The contraption over his eyes made clicking noises that he could only imagine were its inner gears as the man focused his gaze on him.
They stood there for a minute like that. The man's companion was silent, a mass of black coat and indistinguishable features in the shadows.
"How old are you?"
"I don't know," he replied truthfully, surprising himself as he did so, trying not to stare at the man's eyes. He didn't know why he had replied at all. The rushing feeling was still there, pounding against his skull. He felt dizzy.
"I see." There was another silence. '"Do you live here?"
He gave the man a hard stare, but it seemed to be a straightforward question. He opened his mouth to ask why he would even want to know, to ask who the man was and how he could believe he wasn't a spy for some rival cartel.
"Yes," he said instead. Then blinked.
He expected the man to laugh, but he didn't. Instead, he said gravely, "You seem strong."
Not you seem strong for your age or you seem strong for such a young child. But simple, straightforward, man to man.
"What's it to you?" he shot back, uncomfortable with the questions and the pressure in his chest that was his heart beating fast and the pressing feeling in his mind. "Who are you?"
The man did laugh at this, but it wasn't a condescending laugh like the cartel members who gave him his orders, or a nasty laugh like the street children who made their home in the alleyway by the abandoned factory, or a drunk laugh like the ones he'd hear out of bars at night. It was more understanding than anything else, and for a second he could do nothing more than to stare openmouthed at the man's face, strange glasses and all, hoping that he would laugh like that again.
"I work for…an organization around here," the man said at last. "I was actually on my way home when I spotted you."
"I was hiding," he said defensively. "How'd you see me?"
In answer, the man pointed to the contraption around his eyes, which gave another whir. "I can see things with these that most cannot," he said softly. "They led me to you. I wonder…?" He trailed off and glanced at his companion, who said nothing. Sighing, he turned back to the boy, regarding him silently.
The sun had nearly set now but he thought he could see a golden light growing from a distance, creeping little by little towards him. He blinked, but it was still there, growing steadily brighter, forming around the head of the man in front of him like a halo of fire and sunlight. He gasped, taking two unsteady steps backwards, tripped over something and lost his balance.
He felt a hand helping him up, and he blinked rapidly several more times as he regained his footing, looking up at his savior. The light was gone, but he could still see the echoes of it in his vision, bright blank spots that wouldn't go away no matter how hard he blinked. He pushed the man's hands away, standing unsteadily and feeling the comfortable presence of the knife in his boot, knowing for some reason that everything that he had ever thought was true was about to change tonight.
"Are you God?" he whispered fearfully.
There was a long pause while the night stretched long into the infinity of space beyond.
"No," the man replied at last, and he heard a small chuckle escape. "No, I'm not God. I'm…just a messenger."
And the dam broke and he felt himself floating away and knew that whatever was beginning now had taken him and borne him away in the tides, and there was no going back.
"I'm coming with you," he said. As though it had been asked, as though this meeting was at once the starting point and the culmination of a long journey.
There was no surprise in the man's voice, no question of how or what. He saw the bearded face nod, saw the white hair ripple in the rank breeze that carried with it the scent of garbage and of rotting things from somewhere close by. "I thought you would," said the man.
"I…" he said, then not quite knowing what else to say, stopped. "My name is Zero," he said at last. "It's not my real name, but I don't remember what my real name is. And everyone needs a name, I suppose." Not knowing why he did so, he held out one grimy hand.
The man regarded him again for another grave second before suddenly sinking to his knees on the filthy ground, reaching out his hand and grasping the small one firmly in his. His grip was strong, solid, a promise of something.
"I'm pleased to meet you, Zero," he said. "My name is Doctor J."
Scene IV: Messiahs He Never Knew
Affecting almost everything."
-- Red Hot Chili Peppers, Savior
Duo had never thought much about Treize Khushrenada, when given a choice.
He was more of a battlefield soldier, at least so he liked to believe. Go barreling in with Deathscythe and kill the bastards. At least, that's what he told himself. He let himself be convinced that he really was the cocky, somewhat bubble-brained L2 terrorist some people would have liked him to be, a brainless destroyer who laughed as he killed because he was insane. People liked to put things into boxes, Duo had learned, and they always twisted things around so they fits into their existing conceptions. Duo was a terrorist; therefore he had to be a radical fanatic who only thought of killing because he was told to. Someone higher up did his thinking for him; he was the sacrificial lamb, a child playing at being a man.
The truth was, he thought long and hard on the war he was fighting, and considered the ramifications of his actions. Duo wasn't an idiot; far from it. An idiot couldn't fly a Gundam; the powerful machines required brains and instincts, reflexes and strength, and a certain something that no one really understood. People able to fly those amazing creations were few and far between, and Duo was one of them.
He wondered how he was one of those legendary beings, at times, especially after meeting Quatre and Heero early in the war. Two people that were more different he couldn't imagine, yet there was something about them that made them that was dreadfully similar. A look in the eye, a terrible knowledge of destiny and fate. I am one of the chosen…. I have fate's hand upon me, their faces seemed to say. When he met Trowa and Wufei, they shared it, and he wondered if that was part of the pilot's curse- that knowledge inside.
I can't be one of them, he thought repeatedly, but then he'd catch sight of his reflection in the mirror or in Deathscythe's shining armor, and his blue violet eyes seemed to carry the same message. It was like there was a hidden power within him that he didn't understand, but kept him going. He needed that, especially after being separated from the others at the moonbase. He had his new Deathscythe, but aside from that, he was alone in the universe… and back on L2. L2 held many memories for him, and very few of them ended happily.
It was night out, the perfectly timed eight hours of darkness the colonies experienced from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. Duo had thought the odd rhythm of the sun strange when he had been on Earth, but he had enjoyed it. There was nothing artificial about it, and now that he had returned to space, he felt just a bit disillusioned with that aspect of colony life. He loved being on the colony, certainly, but the very lack of spontaneity did grate a bit on his nerves.
He wondered where the other pilots were, now that they were scattered. He hadn't stopped fighting, but he hadn't heard any world that the others were still in space. He was free to work without G's instructions, but it was frightening. He had no clue what to do or where to go.
Duo swung his duffel bag a bit as he walked through the streets, a bag which contained all his worldly possessions, except Deathscythe. He knew he had the resources to get money if he needed it, but right now he was alone, a frightening thought. If there was one thing he hated, it was being alone.
"Hello, stranger," a soft voice called, and he swung around, expecting one of the streetwalkers to be offering him some quality time. He wasn't into that scene, but usually the girls knew more about what was going on than most, and she might be able to give him a some idea where a good place to flop might be. He didn't think C-Side would be a safe since most people would sell their own mothers for ten credits, and the rest of the colony was unfamiliar to him.
"Yo, jouchan!" he said, and he smiled charmingly, preparing to wheedle out some information. "I was -" His jaw dropped as he moved close enough to see who it was. "Hilde!"
The shorthaired girl was leaning against a wall, smiling at him with amusement. "Hey," she said. Her smile was a bit teasing and her dark clothing blended well into the lower middle class neighborhood they were in. "I'd say it was a surprise, but I was actually out looking for you. You're a popular person right now," she informed him, holding up a wanted poster.
He blinked as he took it from her. "I'm getting a sense of déjà vu here… well, least it's a better picture!" he told her cheerfully.
Hilde rolled her eyes at the way he shrugged it off. "You've got Oz and the Federation after you, as well as some of the colonies' forces. You need to get under, and quick!" she said.
"I was getting to it," he said a bit defensively. "It's a bit hard to hide in my usual haunts right now, so I'm trying to find somewhere else…"
"This neighborhood is residential. You're not going to find anyplace without going to a realty agent," Hilde said. "You need to go to a commercial district where there's some hotels," she informed him a bit sharply.
"I knew that!" Duo replied defensively, glancing around at the locale, realizing that she was right. "Um, Hilde? Not to be rude or anything, but what are you doing out here?"
"If I was being melodramatic, I'd say something about fate drawing the two of us together. Actually, one of my employees saw you and let me know you were in the area. I just wandered around and luck was on my side."
"Your… employees?" he asked. His eyes traced her worn blue coverall, and he wondered if she was with one of the cartels. He sure as hell couldn't think of any other explanation for her having employees that would be able to follow him. Besides, wasn't she supposed to be in trouble with Oz? That takes a lot of pull to get out of…
Hilde held up her hands, and he noticed that they were covered with oilstains. "Run a junkyard. It's a pretty lucrative business right now, what with all the mobile suit debris we're getting sent." She coughed a bit. "My aunt abandoned the place, but it's only taken me a couple of weeks to drag the books out of the red. I employ five people… you just happened to walk right by one, and he had the brains to know I'd be interested." She moved even closer so she was standing two feet away and glaring up at him a bit challengingly.
"Didn't I get you in enough trouble already?" Duo asked, starting to feel the stirrings of hope through his confusion. Maybe…
"Hell yes!" she spat. "You managed to take my nice secure principles and shake them to the core! After meeting you, I didn't know which way was up!"
He wasn't able to contain a smirk, and that was a mistake. Duo had forgotten she was a soldier. She was so much smaller than he was, but that didn't make her weak.
Hilde's fist launch at him, squarely launching on his chin. He went reeling backwards from the blow in shock before regaining his balance a second later. He hadn't sensed any threat from her, and had let his guard down…something a pilot never did.
Great going, Duo, he thought. A pair of pretty eyes is going to be your downfall. Well, act now!
His training kicked in, and he threw his duffel in her face, using the instant she had to take to deflect it to draw his gun. He targeted her heart, not wanted to destroy her face. Call me sentimental, he thought with a bit of an inward chuckle at himself. "I thought you finally understood!" he declared.
"I did!" she shot back. "The colonies I'm fighting to protect cannot be protected through Oz!"
He was thoroughly confused and starting to think she didn't mean him any serious harm, but didn't put the gun up. She had caught him off guard once already, and no one got the drop on Duo Maxwell twice.
Hilde's eyes were flashing and she seemed undaunted at having a weapon aimed at her by one of the most wanted men in known space.
"Why did you attack me?" he asked in a level voice, one which he tended to use right before blowing someone's brains out.
"I'm not mad at you about THAT!" she declared, and the defiance in the set of her head fascinated him.
If all colonists were as proud as she was, then Oz would have no foothold, he realized.
"I'm mad at you because you were smirking at me!" she announced, folding her arms under her breasts. "No one likes to be laughed at!"
"Um…" he said, and then he did something he hasn't done in years. He blushed, and hoped that the darkness would hide it.
"I had to plead mental instability to get away from Oz," she told him. "I wouldn't have, but there was no way I could do anything from inside a prison. Being a martyr for a cause is well and good, but it unknown martyrs accomplish nothing, and the colonies can't lose anyone who love them right now," she explained softly before regaining her steam. "Anyway, I just wanted to let you know that people have seen you. You need to go under, and go quick!" she said, repeating her earlier message, turning and stalking off into the night.
He watched her retreat, and the germ of an idea that had been growing since first seeing her took deep root. It would be dangerous, but it would be the best chance he'd have of not falling out of the fight. He needed supplies to keep Shinigami running, and that would cost money… the kind of money that he couldn't get without fencing the spoils of his inevitable victories.
And he knew just the girl to fence them.
The next day when Hilde came home, she was surprised to see Duo Maxwell on her couch, sprawled out across the entire length, looking like he belonged there. She moved over to shake him awake and demand and explanation, but something in her hesitated. She left him alone and went to make dinner. Answers she could get later.
Duo slept on, only to be awakened by the smell of cooking. He opened sleepy eyes, feeling the unaccustomed sensation of actually having enough rest. It was odd to sleep for more than three or four hours at a go, and pleasant. He could get used to it.
"Wash up for supper," Hilde called from the kitchen. "I'm making hamburgers," she told him. "You get to do the dishes. Schbeiker family rule: the person who cooks doesn't have to do the clean-up."
He nodded, seeing the inherent fairness in that, and wandered over to the bathroom to clean up. He'd taken a shower on arrival, relieved to wash the grunge of days away, knowing that even if Hilde threw him out, he'd at least be cleaner for the stop. When he returned, Hilde was setting out the burgers next to salads, and he nodded. "Thanks."
"You're welcome," she said neutrally, sliding into the chair across from him. "Do you say grace?" she asked, her eyes falling to the cross.
"I'll sit through it, if you want, but I'm not particularly religious," he answered, and politely kept from digging in. Some people were picky about eating before offering thanks.
"No, no… just trying to be respectful of your faith," Hilde said hastily, averting her gaze from the priest's collar he was wearing. She picked up her hamburger and bit down without adding any condiments.
Duo started adding ketchup with glee. He loved the stuff. Hilde watched him with hooded eyes as she ate, before setting her food down to run a hand through her slightly too-long bangs, which just fell right back into her eyes. "Duo… were you born to be this exasperating, or did you learn how?"
"Huh?" He picked up his food and started to munch on it, and was well-satisfied with the Hilde's culinary skills. It was true that making a burger wasn't particularly difficult, but Hilde had added lettuce and tomatoes and onions… He started to space out in happy food dreams, though he kept half his attention on her. The bruise that was starting to turn a deep purple on his jaw was a good reminder that she wasn't just a pretty face.
She blinked a bit, and then seemed to come to a decision. "Nothing. I'm assuming that you're going to bring in some salvage for me in a few days?" she asked.
He met her eyes, and suddenly he realized that she did understand. "Sure. Gotta earn my keep somehow! I don't suppose you know where I could… recover some prime material, do you?"
Hilde rose, and Duo watched her vanish into the living room. A moment later she was back with a laptop. "I have a map of L2 space on this baby. I can suggest a few areas where some Oz suits might be, though you might have to do some serious recovery work to get them to me," she said.
He finished off his food, pushing the plate aside. "Hilde, now's the chance to turn back," he said, feeling compelled to warn her.
"I may not wear a uniform anymore, but I'm still a soldier," she said firmly. She opened the screen and started entering her access information. "I'll fight the war in my own way."
Duo murmured something encouraging, and leaned over as the map appeared. She was right: they were still at war, and no way was Shinigami going to miss the battle. He knew that something big was brewing, and though he might be on the sidelines for now, he understood that he had to be ready for when the storm broke. He would be needed then.
And right now, he needed to use every resource at his disposal, especially one girl who'd given up her career for her colonies… all because of him. If he wasn't careful, he'd get her killed. He casually placed his hand on her shoulder, wishing that he could protect her. Hilde was a grown woman, though, and she knew the risks. Like him, she would fight for what she believed.
It still didn't make it any easier to sleep that night.
Hilde had retrieved a pile of blankets for him, and he was snuggled up in them, but even the warm milk she had given him (a luxury that attested to how well her business was doing) didn't help him settle down. He had the opportunity to walk away, with no one the wiser, and he was again waiting to go headfirst into the furnace. He really was nuts, and he'd get the people around him killed.
He wanted to protect the colonies.
That was his goal. He wanted to make sure no one else had to face Oz, or know what real death was. He was a pilot, fighting against impossible odds, because he believed. He believed that through the death and the darkness, someone would show the way. He believed that the leadership of the other side was corrupt, and in their own greed, they would fall. They would feed upon each other, until only the most vile remained… and then he and the others would kill them. He remembered hearing of General Septum's death, and he had secretly rejoiced, knowing the man had gotten what was coming to him. Dr. G's files on him had been most explicit.
Noventa… well, that had been a tragedy, but sometimes good people died. Une would probably end up getting killed in battle, and Zechs… well, Duo wouldn't mind taking Zechs out himself. He really thought it was a race, to see who managed to kill the Lightning Baron first; that or be killed by him. It would be an exciting battle, one worth watching, and definitely worth fighting.
He never really factored in Treize Khushrenada, for Treize was outside of his realm.
He thought about war and dying, he didn't really think about Treize… because Treize wasn't his objective. Duo was simply there to protect the colonies, and that meant fighting against those members of Oz who were corrupt. Treize wasn't corrupt. Treize was outside of Duo's understanding; Treize was a part of some grand scheme that Duo couldn't compete with. Treize was Heero's opposite, not Duo's.
Duo didn't believe in God - God had died with Solo, and all hope of resurrections had flown when Sister Helen and Father Maxwell had been destroyed by Oz. But he believed in messiahs… after all, a messiah was a liberator, one who would save mankind from itself. Treize had announced himself, but Heero's actions proclaimed him.
It was an odd feeling to know that. The few times he turned his thoughts towards Treize, they automatically wandered towards Heero. Heero and Treize would someday fight, Duo believed. They were darkness and light, and one of them would have to die for the universe to continue. They could not both exist on the Earth, for their very existences were anathema to the other.
The question was, which messiah would win? In the end, only one could exist…