Chapter Eleven
Beta Posted 08/15/2007

Author's Note
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Ah... I lied. It's three days after the latest projected date of release.

I truly apologize for how horrible Chapter 10 was and the delay in this fanfic's update. I actually had this chapter completed and ready for posting more than a week ago, but it just didn't seem right. After a good bit of time spent editing and rewriting certain parts, I hope you find the released product worth the wait.

This chapter spells the end of the movie and is almost entirely anime exclusive. The manga does little to explain this part of the story but nonetheless, I'll mention the differences once I finish the fic.

Please note that this is NOT the end of Through the Years and Far Away.

- Free Corp Knight -

- - - - - - - - - -
- Chapter 11 -
- - - - - - - - - -

Month: March
Year: 2056

"So cold..." A young man mumbled, shivering despite the fact that he wore a large brown overcoat.

Noboru was standing outside his apartment, fumbling for his keys. He wore thick wooly mittens but while his hands stayed warm, they were far from nimble. Getting the small piece of metal became a challenge. A moment later, he finally fished the key out of his pockets and unlocked the door. Unoiled hinges squealed loudly in protest but the noise didn't faze Noboru. He was already used to it after living here for three months. Quickly stepping in, he stopped at the entrance to change shoes. While doing so, a stack of magazines caught his eye.

The Latest Space Technology Discourse
It's coming into view: The practical use of super light speed communications!
Milky Way Network Shortcuts
The Latest Anchor Maps
Next Generation Tracer Development Plan

The issue was over a month old but for some reason, he couldn't bring himself to throw them away. Because of that, a pile was growing at his doorstep. In the near future, he might have to recycle them. They were starting to take up too much space.

After slipping on more comfortable footwear, Noboru moved inside. Flipping a switch, the lights flickered on. His footsteps trailed into the kitchen and stopped. The sight of dirty plates and dishes greeted him. Sighing, he decided to clean the mess now instead of later, knowing that he might forget in the evening. As he began to them, Noboru came across the morning paper. His dark brown eyes immediately softened.

News from 2047
Battle at Sirius 8 Years Ago: Victory!
Seriously Damaged: The Possibility of the Lysithea's Return
Tentative List of Survivors Inside

The pages were wrinkled with use. He had spent most of the morning reading the paper. When he got to the survivor's list, Noboru scanned the names many times for the one that meant the most to him. Sadly, it wasn't there.

Mikako Nagamine was not listed as a survivor...

- - -

That summer day, I remembered when eight years seemed like an eternity...

Leaning over a balcony, Noboru looked into the distance, staring at nothing in particular. Lately, he's been doing that often, just letting his mind wander while he stood in the waning afternoon light. Yet, his thoughts would eventually settle upon memories of better days, thinking of a time nine years ago when he and another were too young to know what true love and sorrow really is. Today was no exception.

Back then, I didn't think I had a choice... but I was wrong.

A dull roar broke through his thoughts. A plane or some other aircraft was flying overhead. Looking up, Noboru saw several Tracers. Without a doubt, they were heading to the nearby base.

Although I haven't lived my life without indecision since then, the goal I decided upon that day hadn't changed...

Hearing the latest about the fleet's situation, people around the world pressed for a rescue mission. As a result, the U.N. Space Defense Force had been scrambling to make it possible. Everyone related the space program was called up for duty, even those in training. He belonged to the latter.

I decided that I will live in my own time... and starting next month, it's the armada duty that I've been hoping for.

In his bedroom, a uniform hung in the far wall, the white suit ironed and ready for wear. Most of his belongings were still unpacked and remain in boxes hidden in a closet. That just made it easier for him to leave. Noboru had received the order two days ago but already, he was prepared. In other words...

Noboru was ready to see Mikako again...

- - -

Bzzzt! Bzzzt!

His cell phone vibrated. Noboru hurried back inside and picked it up. He stared at the screen for a moment.

You have one new message!

He wondered when was the last time he received a text message. In the past, he knew of two people who would email him, Mikako and Wakana. The former he hadn't heard from for eight long years and from the latest news, for many more years to come. As for Wakana, ever since their breakup, they've been trying to keep their distance. On the surface, they were still friends. Many would consider them close friends but that would be a mistake. In fact, the last time they've been together was two months ago at a school reunion. Maybe she wanted to get together again or something.

Noboru shook his head, dismissing such thoughts. It's useless thinking about it. Pressing one last button, he opened the inbox. As the text loaded on the screen, his mind froze.

"Mikako..." He whispered, reading her name. "It's from Mikako..."

- - -

Month: September
Year: 2047

Hello to the 24 year-old Noboru!

In a planet far away, in a time that was not his, a young girl fought desperately for her life. Her enemy was too close. As she tried to distance herself, the machine moved too slow and several shots landed. The pilot gripped the controls tighter as the cockpit shook violently. Once her bearings were fixed, she fired her jets, boosting backwards.

This is the 15-year old Mikako...

Covering her retreat, several bursts from her main weapon were fired at the Tarsian. It returned the favor as the two continued their battle to the death. Blue and orange orbs of energy flew haphazardly about, sometimes exploding with a successful hit but mostly missing.

The mail from Mikako had only two sentences.

After they trading many shots, they found the energy attacks too ineffective, their armor too strong to damage. The two realized that a change of tactics was needed. Before the alien could prepare its attack, Mikako launched a barrage of missiles. Seeing the threat, the Tarsian dived toward the ground, just barely ahead of the homing explosives. Gliding above the surface of lake, the alien evaded all of them, flying between geysers of water made by their explosions.

The rest was just noise.

It would have escaped if a Tracer didn't land on its back, driving it into the ground. After crashing onto the shoreline, the Tarsian weakly raised its arms in a feeble attempt to attack, but the battle was over. Mikako wasted no time by raising her left arm and firing at point blank range. Massive rounds from the built-in machine gun tore holes through the alien. Fountains of blood sprayed upwards, painting everything red. Soon, the body was an unrecognizable mess.

But even so, I think it's a miracle... to hear from her all this time...

Though winning the fight, a cold chill ran through her body. Tears started to fall and she quivered in her seat. Her breath was uneven, her heartbeats loud and fast. Mikako tried hugging herself to calm down but seeing the bloody corpse before her, she couldn't help but shudder, knowing that their positions could easily be switched.


She wondered if... she would survive...

- - -

Say... Mikako, you know... I...

Looking outside, Noboru watched as snow began to fall. Their white flakes looked so pure and innocent, just like how he and Mikako were years ago. Maybe they were still pure and innocent but only older. He would find out soon enough.

Say... Noboru-kun, you know I have a lot of things to think about. After all, I have nothing here. For example, you know...

An urgent call snapped Mikako back to reality. The fleet was in danger. All Tracers were ordered to return to orbit at once. Taking off immediately, she shot into the sky. As she flew against the backdrop of Agharta's moon, she made a wish. "Please..." She whispered while tears blurred her vision. "Please let me see Noboru just one more time..."

For example, things like summer clouds and the cold rain... Things like the smell of a fall breeze...

With a resounding click, Noboru locked his door and walked outside. It was still snowing and the streets looked as if a big white blanket covered them. Feeling a chill, he drew his coat closer and began the slow trek to his old school, the place where so many happy memories were created.

Like the sound of rain drops hitting an umbrella... Like the softness of the spring soil... Like the feeling of peace at the convenience store in the middle of the night...

Noboru briefly stopped outside of the 24-hour store where the two of them used to visit. Ghosts of a younger boy and girl taking shelter from the rain came to mind. He wondered if they would ever relive those days.

And then, you know, like the cool wind after school...

He finally reached the school's front gates. It was empty as expected. Even the most studious of students had left, a wise decision considering the current weather. Still, Noboru felt a connection to this place. Even now, he wished for the impossible. He wished that he could turn back time.

Like the smell of chalkboard erasers...

Back in those days, he and Mikako were together almost all the time. If one of them was seen, the other was bound to be nearby. Even with other matters such as afterschool cleaning duties, he and Mikako were paired up. His classmates often made fun of them by drawing an umbrella over their names, a symbol of courtship. "Maybe..." He thought out loud. "They saw how we truly felt about each other before either of us did."

Like the sound of a truck passing by in the middle of the night...

Noboru stepped away from the streets as a truck rumbled by. As the heavyset vehicle fought its way through the snow-covered streets, its tires kicked up slush. Fortunately, none splattered on him.

Like the smell of asphalt in the rain. Noboru, things like that, I have all this time...

Looking around, Noboru saw that he was alone. Nobody was as foolish as him to wander around outside. He should head back unless he wanted to catch a cold. Sighing, he spared one last look at the school before turning around.

All this time, I wanted to experience these things with you, Mikako.

The Tarsian was too fast and too close. There was no time to evade.

Boom! Ka-BOOM!!!

The creature rammed into her machines right shoulder, breaking through the joints and separating the arm from the body. The limb floated away for a moment before exploding. The sudden light blinded Mikako for a moment but it also exposed the alien's second approach. Dodging to the side, she activated her remaining arm's energy blade and sliced into the enemy. It split apart into two pieces and blew up a good distance away. Gritting her teeth, the schoolgirl pressed onward.

Noboru-kun, time is so generous to us... and yet, time is such a cruel thief.

A few seconds later, Mikako was finally in orbit and the fleet was in view. Even from the distance of several hundred kilometers, flashes of light could be seen concentrated around the ships. Her engines fired off again as she raced toward the battle. There was no time to spare.

I just wish... it didn't steal you, Mikako...

The Lysithea, Himalia, Leda, and Elara all fired their lasers, dozens of energy bolts lancing toward the alien formation. Three Tarsians were in the way but disappeared, vaporized instantly. The beams continued to devastate until impacting another object far away. It was another Tarsian, but this one was the same size as their ships. Unfazed, the four mammoth beings opened some vents, making them move faster. Their target was obvious, the four ships that dared to attack them.

Minutes later, the first of the giant Tarsians broke through their defenses and rammed into the Elara, one of the sister ships. Crackling bolts of energy appeared as the two met. For a moment, it appeared as if the Elara's shields would hold and stop the beast. That hope was short-lived.

The shields disappeared seconds later, overloaded and unable to handle the stress. With the resistance suddenly gone, the giant Tarsian suddenly reappeared in the middle of the ship. Its limbs closed sadly as if accepting its fate. There was a bright orange glow before everything turned white. The Elara was no more. The Himalia and Leda soon followed, suffering the same fate. Only one ship remained.

"Oh no! The fleet is sinking!" Too far from the action, Mikako watched helplessly as the explosions subsided. Firm resolve began to settle in. "I have to defend the Lysithea!"

Say Noboru-kun... We are far... very far... so very far apart...

Most of the smaller targets have been defeated. There was only one threat left, a giant Tarsian that was rapidly speeding toward the last ship.

Attention all Tracers! Defending the Lysithea is now the priority! I repeat, defend the Lysithea!

Mikako and the other remaining Tracers gathered in front of the Lysithea. This would be their one last stand. In unison, all of them launched their remaining missiles. A storm of rockets was unleashed. Quickly following, the Lysithea fired one more round of lasers.

But maybe thoughts can overcome time and distance.

Their missiles were intercepted by the remaining Tarsians, sacrificing themselves so that their final attack would be successful. The lasers once again proved ineffective, doing nothing but erasing the smaller targets. There seemed to be no hope left.

Then, one of the Tracers boosted forward. Even though it was missing an arm, the pilot decided to charge forth even if her foe was more than a thousand times her size. Inspired, the other Tracers followed.

Noboru, have you thought about something like that?

Mikako ignored what's left of the small Tarsians, dodging them instead of fighting each one by one. Occasionally, a stray would block her path but her energy blade quickly took care of them, her speed not slowing down the slightest bit. "Noboru-kun..."

If...if for even one instant something like that could happen, what would I think?

A roadside bulletin stood outside Noboru's apartment. One of the flyers pinned on it called for volunteers. The Space Self Defense Force was still recruiting. If he weren't enrolled already, he would have called the numbers posted.

What would Mikako think?

Noboru looked up into the skies, catching a glimpse of the sun as it broke through the clouds. The snow had stopped and the last golden rays of light pierced through the clouds, eradicating the gloomy atmosphere, just like hope breaking through despair. "Mikako..."

Say... there is probably one thing we would think. Noboru...

Only a few Tracers made it through. Mikako began the attack by switching her energy blade to full power. Her weapon was now easily ten times its normal size. Yet, there was a drawback for this tactic. More power meant that energy elsewhere had to be diverted. That meant that the machine would be completely drained afterwards. Still, if they fail here, whatever slim chance they had at surviving would be cut to zero. Losing the Lysithea meant losing their way back home, to Earth. Either way, their lives would be put on the line.

With one last boost, she dove forward, the blade pointing at the large Tarsian's body. Her comrades quickly followed.

One thought...

A dozen or so Tracers slashed out and stopped, feeling resistance as their weapons met armor. With one final thrust, they all used the last of their jets and pushed through. Blood-red lines streaked down the alien's body as the robots continued, cutting along its side. Even after passing through, the giant creature kept moving.

Just when they thought their attack failed, it split apart into two pieces, bisected neatly down the middle. A huge explosion of flesh and blood marked the end of the behemoth. The battle was over. They had won but with heavy losses. The brave pilots who had dealt the deadly blow were now without power. They had no means to return.

One thought... What would it be?

A short distance away, a solitary Tracer drifted into view, battered and barely intact. Its jets gave one last sputter before dying out. Lights went out as each system was forced to shut down one by one. Even life support was barely operable.

It would be...

The pilot inside opened her eyes slowly, glad to be alive but also sad. She was so close to going back home and now, so very far. Yet, there was only one thought her mind at that moment.

Another person shared that one thought, but in a different time and different place. He stared up into the skies, into space, and smiled.

One thought that transcends both time and space...

I am here.