The Sum of Our Choices

A Code Geass fanfiction by Juubi Karakuchi

Chapter One: The Banality of Glory

On August 10, 2010 ATB, the Holy Empire of Britannia launched a full-scale invasion of the sovereign nation of Japan. The war was violent but brief, culminating in the unconditional surrender of Japan. The country became a dominion of the Empire, dubbed 'Area 11', in so doing stripped of its dignity and its very identity.

Though the Japanese armed forces were relatively strong, the economy vibrant and with a highly advanced technological base, the country was nonetheless without allies, having alienated her neighbours with mercantilist economic policies, driving them into the arms of the Chinese Federation. To the rest of the world, Japan was a self-obsessed, vindictive, and unfriendly little country, drunk with the economic power afforded by the mineral Sakuradite.

Vital to the creation of superconductors and clean-energy technologies, Sakuradite was both a blessing and a curse to Japan, within the borders of which lay 70% of the world's supply. When Britannia invaded and took control of this treasure, it was ostensibly to properly regulate the extraction and distribution of Sakuradite to the world. Britannia, its propagandists claimed, was the one true superpower, the only nation with the ability and the right to do so. But there were many who disagreed.

The European Ultra-Union, or EU, found itself under attack even as Britannian warships sailed into Japanese waters. A supra-national economic union encompassing Europe, Russia and Africa, the EU was Britannia's most persistent and most hated enemy. Though born of the same stock, these two powers had embraced radically different political, economic, and social ideologies, becoming as mutually incomprehensible as Rome and Persia. For seven years they refought their old conflict, leaving the world devastated in their wake.

But it was in that broken and despised nation, once called Japan, that the balance would shift. From among the downtrodden 'Elevens', rose a rebel leader of incredible skill and daring. The self-styled 'Zero', sought to liberate Japan and bring down the Britannian Empire. Behind him was a new elite force sworn to fight injustice and protect the helpless. They were the Order of the Black Knights.

Thus in the year 2017 ATB, after seven long years of occupation and mistreatment, the nation of Japan was liberated in a brief but gruesome bout of violence known ever afterwards as the Black Rebellion. This event would prove critical in the conflict that engulfed the world at that time. Japan had been not only a critical economic resource, but a fortress protecting Britannia's flank from potential Chinese interference. The fall of this most vital colony shattered the already-tarnished myth of Britannian invincibility. It gave hope to the embattled peoples of the EU, who had endured terrible sacrifice to hold the Imperial forces back in Russia and Africa. It gave hope to the 'numbers', the oppressed subject races of the Empire, making what had seemed an impossible dream a reality.

Now it is the year 2018 ATB. Japan has been free for less than a year, but the provisional government established by Zero and his Black Knights is faced with many challenges. It faces threats from within and without, along with the most painful of truths; that Japan's freedom and prosperity is ultimately dependent on the goodwill and aspirations of the Great Powers.

For Zero, this is simply not acceptable.

For Zero has other plans.

Now

Pendragon, Capital of the Holy Empire of Britannia, June 22nd 2018 ATB

The lights were turned down low, casting long shadows. Any observer would have thought the chamber empty, populated only by statues, lifeless and unmoving.

The door opened with a low clunk, allowing a cloaked figure to enter. Along the rich carpet it moved with silent tread, between the lines of tall pillars, a single white-uniformed statue standing in front of each one. The figure stopped a few metres from the end of the chamber, where there stood another statue, back to the door, as rigid and unmoving as any of the others. The figure stepped into the light, dropping to one knee, the cloak sliding around him, hiding his form.

"I will speak with Prince Faramond alone," said the statue. "Guards, leave us." The remaining statues brought their ceremonial rifles to their shoulders, turned on their heels, and marched out, snapping and cracking like iron puppets. Within a few moments they were gone.

"Rise, grandson." Charles di Britannia, ninety-sixth Emperor of the Holy Empire of Britannia, spoke in a low growl. "Come and stand next to me." His grandson did as he was bidden. He stood next to his Emperor, but a few paces away as protocol dictated, his cowled head lowered, hands clasped in front like a monk.

"You have examined the documents I sent you?" The Emperor did not speak directly to his grandson, but at the wall in front of him. It was decorated with an elaborate frieze, brought back by his late son Clovis from one of his archaeological digs many years earlier.

"I have, my Emperor." The boy's voice croaked from lack of use.

"And what is your conclusion?"

"The Dark Knight stealth fighter is a flawed concept, my Emperor. It is overly expensive, and its stealth features are inadequate in the face of present technology."

"Really?" Charles humoured his grandson. "Considerable amounts of money have been spent in its development. Are you really telling me that it was for nothing?"

"According to the data you provided me with, my Emperor," Faramond fought down his nerves, "the Dark Knight's performance is little better than the White Knight. Also, the stealth features do not conceal it from the EU's latest radars."

"Strange that the developers did not take such a circumstance into account." The Emperor was enjoying the exchange. He found such analysis to be dull and unreliable, but it was a useful way of testing his grandson.

"It…it would not be right for me to comment, my Emperor." Faramond lowered his head in embarrassment. The Emperor was a figure of awe and terror to Faramond. Though aging, he was tall and powerfully built, dressed in a blue coat and white breeches, a mane of white hair fashioned into a series of long rolls. It made him look like a glorified magistrate, one with a predilection for the black silk handkerchief. His face was harsh, his eyes narrow and hard. Here was a man who had survived many decades on a throne his own children might kill him for, and it would not have offended him much.

"It's all right, Faramond." The Emperor's grandson shivered at the child's voice from the nearby shadows. "You can say it out loud. Your grandfather doesn't like arms contractors taking his money."

"Now now, VV," Charles admonished, as his mysterious companion stepped into the light. Blond hair cascaded around his shoulders and down his back. His eyes were large and disconcerting to look at. "Don't frighten him."

"He's not frightened of me, Charles," VV retorted, stopping at the boy's shoulder. "He is my precious grand-nephew." He leaned forward and kissed Faramond on the cheek, making him shiver even more.

"Your conclusion, Faramond," the Emperor went on, "is the same as my own. I thought this would be a good test of your ability to think."

"Thank you, my Lord Emperor."

"I have decided that you shall accompany your uncle Schniezel on his next diplomatic venture." The Emperor half-turned to regard his grandson. "Your task will be to make sure your uncle does not embarrass himself as he did in China."

"If…if your Majesty wishes it so." Faramond tried and failed to conceal his dismay.

"I know you wish to return to your solitude," Charles offered his nephew a thin smile. "But it will be good for you."

"He should have a title," VV commented. "Strategos, perhaps?"

"That sounds about right," the Emperor returned his attention to the frieze. "You may go, grandson. You will leave to join your uncle tomorrow morning. He is looking forward to seeing you."

"As you command, your Imperial Majesty." Faramond bowed low and backed away in the direction he had come. In a masterpiece of courtly manners, he somehow reached the door without stumbling.

"Is this such a good idea, Charles?" VV wondered aloud as the door clunked shut. "He's been in seclusion for so many years. Can he handle the real world?"

"I should think so," the Emperor's smile widened. "He's cleverer than his father by half, and Schniezel will take good care of him."

"Poor Odysseus," VV shook his head in apparent sympathy. "You never did have much use for him, did you?"

"I found a use for him," Charles retorted. "But now she's with Zero."

"Tian-Shi is about Faramond's age," VV mused. "Were you planning a Tristan and Isoulde scenario, Charles?"

"You have a dirty mind, big brother." Charles focussed on the frieze, gazing long at the central image. It looked like the spread wings of a bird. He knew it well.

"Ragnarok approaches, Charles," VV whispered. "The legend draws to its conclusion."

"Memento mori, brother."


Tokyo, Capital of Free Japan, June 22nd 2018 ATB

Deep inside the Headquarters of the Order of the Black Knights, a meeting was taking place. The vast structure had once been the centre of the Britannian occupation. Now, with the Imperial flag painted over and replaced with the sword-and-spread-wings emblem of the Black Knights, it served as the centre of government for the newly-liberated nation, and the headquarters for the force that had liberated it.

The bright and airy conference chamber was still decorated as it had been before the rebellion. It still contained the long horseshoe table, lined with high-backed chairs. But it was not the Imperial overlords of a conquered nation who sat there.

"So," Zero laid down the dossier. "Schniezel has done it again."

"So it would appear," agreed Diethard Ried, the Black Knights Chief of Intelligence. "The negotiations with the Central Hemicycle should begin in Brussels in one week, and we expect them to take at least a month, maybe two. They are to discuss a negotiated end to the conflict. In other words, the EU's unconditional surrender."

"With Schniezel, I doubt it would be unconditional," Zero replied. "As with China, he's probably bought off the governments in some fashion."

"He couldn't beat the EU by force," commented Tohdoh Kyoshiro, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. "So he beats them by diplomacy. How like him."

As much as it galled many of those present, the invasion and conquest of Japan by Britannia had only been a side-show to the main event. Britannia had thrown the best part of two million troops, almost its entire strength, at the European Ultra-Union. There was no other way, as that peculiar institution included not only the whole of Europe and Russia, but enjoyed the allegiance of the African states too. Perhaps half of those men and women were now dead, wounded, or maimed. Little wonder that Schniezel had tried a different tack.

It was paying off handsomely. Spain, France and Russia, which had borne the brunt of years of war, had finally backed down, throwing the union into chaos. Britannian troops were now on their soil, pushing on to the remaining member states which chose to continue fighting. Two massive salients had been pushed into Africa, one in the north and one in the south. Already, most of the surviving African states, along with Poland and Italy, had expressed interest in joining forces with the masked liberator, though they had given nothing in writing. Yet.

"The big question being," Diethard went on. "What are we to do about it?"

"I see no reason to do anything," commented Li Xing-ke, Supreme Commander of the Chinese Federation's armed forces, and its de-facto ruler. The taciturn warrior's finely-sculpted face was as expressionless as ever. "If that self-satisfied clique can't hold itself together, then let it collapse."

"He has a point," Diethard added cautiously. "We can always hoover up the pieces later."

"The EU is a natural ally," Tohdoh interjected. "They've resisted Britannia more consistently than some I could care to name."

"If you wish to say something, say it plainly." Xing-ke's eyes narrowed. Zero felt a twinge of discomfort. He really did not want to have to slap the two warriors down. They might slap back.

Concealed behind his trademark mask, Zero's eyes surveyed the gathering around the conference table. Most of them he knew well. Tohdoh and Xing-ke sat opposite one-another, exchanging dark glances. Further down the table was Diethard, along with Ougi Kaname, the Minister of Public Safety, and Shinichiro Tamaki, Minister of Finance, two leftovers from the Shinjuku resistance cell. On the other side was Kallen Kozuki, Leader of the Elite Zero Squadron and by far his favourite subordinate. Next to her was Kaguya Sumeragi, a scion of one of Japan's wealthiest families, and his self-appointed fiancee. Laksharta Chaula, the head of his Research and Development team, had also turned up.

"Much of what we've achieved would not have been possible without the EU," Tohdoh went on, his voice harsh. "They've kept Britannia busy for all these years, keeping them overstretched. We have near-complete freedom of action because of that."

"Tohdoh is quite right," Zero commented. "Continue, Diethard."

"The Japanese government-in-exile", Diethard went on, "has been quite vocal in protesting any kind of deal that doesn't involve a guarantee of Japanese independence."

"Another one?" Tamaki was incredulous. "I thought that guy Sawasaki was the government-in-exile?"

"Along with the Kururugi leftovers in China," Tohdoh commented, "and the radicals holed up in Australia, that makes three governments-in-exile. And that's only the ones we know about."

"They're represented by this man, Masakado Daidoji." Diethard pressed a button on the console in front of him, and a picture appeared on the main screen. It showed a lean, well-built man with black hair in a somewhat conservative cut and blue-running-to-purple eyes. Even in the picture, he had an air of quiet dignity and nobility about him.

"Hey, I remember that guy," Tamaki spoke up again. "Wasn't he the Ambassador to Britannia?"

"He was," Ougi confirmed. "He got recalled about a month before the war started. Some kind of bust-up with Kururugi's clique."

"From what I can find out, they were against him for opposing the late Prime Minister's policies." Diethard opened another dossier. "He seemed to think that baiting Britannia was distinctly unsafe."

"Whatever could have given him that idea?" Laksharta drawled, drawing rueful chuckles.

"This represents a problem." Zero steepled his fingers. "The Kururugi-remnant and the Radicals are irrelevant, but this faction enjoys considerable support among the exile communities, potentially more than we do."

"That can't be right!" Kallen protested. "We liberated Japan! Why would they choose a bunch of blow-hards over us?"

"Because they're rich and selfish, that's why," Tamaki groused. "They cleared out at the first sign of trouble, and spent the last seven years living it up in Europe!"

"That's not fair," Ougi stated, irritated by his old comrade's attitude. "We can't blame them for wanting to escape."

"Yeah we can," Tamaki retorted bitterly, shifting in his seat. "What did they do while we were starving and fighting?"

"Actually," Diethard interjected, a little more forcefully than was necessary. "Our media analysis suggests they're under a lot of pressure from ordinary exiles. We have a lot of support from Europeans as well."

"Media analysis?" Tamaki snorted. "We'll need more than that."

"I agree," Zero cut in. "We need to canvass the exile communities more directly. They could be a good source of recruits."

"Europeans as well?" Kallen cocked an eyebrow. "I mean, we shouldn't just turn them away if they want to join too."

"Europeans too," Zero agreed.

"We should persuade the exiles to return." Ougi spoke up. "Tamaki was right that sense. The exiles in Europe are practically our educated elite."

"Exactly the sort of people we need to rebuild Japan's economy and infrastructure," Zero commented. "Your future subordinates, Tamaki."

"All I'm saying is it won't be easy." Tamaki shifted in his seat. He could be infuriatingly casual at times. "People will see them as a bunch of sneakaways who only care about themselves. It's…you know, public confidence."

"Public confidence isn't your concern," Diethard interjected.

"The hell it isn't!" Tamaki snapped back. "My ministry's already full of ex-collaborators and Britannian hangers-on! What's gonna happen when the blood-and-honour brigade takes notice!"

"We have to give them something," Ougi insisted. "If not democracy, then we have to make the people feel as though their opinions matter."

"Any such measure would divide the country when unity is most needed!" Zero snapped, cutting off the nascent row. The chamber seemed very cold all of a sudden. "The people must accept our leadership if Japan is to be rebuilt."

"Do we resort to repression then?" Ougi wondered aloud, making no effort to hide his distaste. "I've barely enough Riot Police for Tokyo, let alone Honshu."

"Are you saying we have a public order problem?" Zero allowed just a hint of threat into his tone.

"Well, not really," Ougi was caught off balance. "We're keeping up food supply, and the rebuilding's on schedule. Tohdoh's garrisons are enough to keep the population in check for now…but…" he trailed off.

"But what?"

"I…I would recommend against using forceful repression. Even after the occupation, there's still a hundred million people in this country. A thousand Black Knights and two-hundred-thousand troops can't hold them down by force alone."

"And most of mine are only cadets," Tohdoh added. "They're good for garrison duty because that doesn't take much skill. But if I am to defend Japan I will need as many of my troops available as possible, and additional weaponry."

"Oh don't start this again!" Tamaki griped. "You've had your budget increased twice since we started!"

"Be that as it may, our armaments are still insufficient. We barely have enough Knightmare frames for the regular army, let alone APCs, tanks or artillery. Worse, we have no air force, no air-defence system and practically no navy. We need fighter jets, surface-to-air missile systems, anti-ship missile systems and radar arrays. It would also give us an opportunity to diversify our small-arms and knightmares."

"What's wrong? Are my creations not good enough?" Laksharta feigned offence.

"That was not my meaning. I understand why the Lord Regent wishes the Gekka and Akatsuki to be reserved for the Black Knights, but the regular forces need better than the Burai if they're to perform up to standard."

There was a pause. Zero sat where he was, fingers steepled, making neither sound nor movement. All assembled watched him closely, the atmosphere growing ever tense.

"We cannot allow the EU to drop out of the war," he said eventually. "Our forces are not yet sufficient to withstand a Britannian counter-attack. As such, we must not allow Britannia to end the war by negotiation." He stood up, all did likewise, except Tianzi as she was too important. "Tohdoh, sent lists of your requirements to myself and Diethard." He turned his head to Ougi. "Do whatever is necessary to maintain public order, but use force only as a last resort. Coordinate with the army where necessary." He straightened, looking straight down the twin tables. "We will reconvene tomorrow to make our preparations."

With the meeting broken up, they assembled persons filed out through the main doors, with the exception of Zero and Kallen. He headed out a side door, Kallen at his shoulder. They stopped on an observation balcony, giving them a panoramic view of the capital.

After a nod from Kallen, Zero reached one hand up to his mask. The back plates retracted, and he slipped it off. Lelouch Lamperouge blinked as his eyes adapted to the sunlight.

"So then," he turned his head to regard Kallen. "How is respectability treating you?"

"Well enough," she replied, her expression neutral. It had taken considerable effort on her part to get over the fact that her miraculous leader, and her cynical, apathetic former classmate, had been one and the same. Sometimes she wasn't sure whether to feel proud or betrayed.

"What I mean is," Lelouch looked her in the eyes. "What do you think?" Kallen paused, choosing her words.

"I…think a lot of things," she admitted. "I mean…we're free now, we got our country back, but at the same time…" she trailed off.

"You miss the old days?"

"Yeah," she nodded. "Things were so much simpler back then. Now it's just one complication after another."

"That's politics for you," Lelouch smiled. "Our little revolution was never going to stay pure for long. Things have to get done." They watched the city for a while. It extended for miles, beyond the occupation authority buildings, out into the widening circles of the Towkyow concession, and beyond that the ghettoes. They could barely be seen, the ruined buildings having been torn down. Reconstruction was continuing at a rapid rate, to provide homes and jobs for the newly –liberated Japanese.

And for those few Britannians who had remained, whether by choice or circumstance.

"I wish Naoto was here" Kallen said eventually. "He'd be so pumped up about all this. I…I know he'd have given anything to meet you."

"We'll rebuild the country," Lelouch stated, resolute. "We'll do it for him, and all the others who were sacrificed."

"Considering what's coming," he thought sourly, "it's the least I can do."


50 Miles East of Wadi-Haifa, Sudan, North-African Front, June 23rd 2018 ATB

Sir Marcus Coverdale squeezed the trigger. The assault rifle juddered, spitting 30mm bullets at the EU Knightmare as it crested the sand dune in to his left. The bullets raked across the frame's twin heads, causing them to explode in a shower of sparks and glittering fragments. The enemy faltered, though only temporarily blinded, leaving him his opportunity. He lined up the rifle again, the factsphere locking on, switching the fire mode with a touch of a button.

He fired, this time a much heavier 122mm round, such as what a tank might use. His knightmare's rifle could not manage the same range as a tank's main gun, but it didn't matter. He fired again and again, planting the shots cleanly into the most likely weak points. The desert-painted Panzer Hummel shuddered and collapsed sideways, smoke rising in billowing clouds.

But Marcus was already turning away, his left screen dimming to protect his eyes from the flash as the enemy knightmare blew up. He could see another of its type in front of him, rounding the dune on which its comrade lay, already levelling its main guns to fire.

Theoretically the Panzer Hummel was a match for the Britannian Gloucester. It was less versatile, with guns instead of the prehensile arms and hands that allowed Britannian knightmares to handle a wide variety of weapons. It was profoundly ugly, with crooked legs and two flat heads, lacking the purity and nobility of Britannia's humanoid mecha. But it was well-armoured, well-armed, and agile, capable of doing considerable damage in the right hands.

This pilot was faster than his late comrade. Marcus had to haul on the stick, slewing his Gloucester sideways to avoid the volley of cannon shells. The factsphere was on the job, the targeting solution ready as he brought up the rifle to fire. A burst of 122mm shells ripped through the Panzer Hummel's torso. It exploded with a bright flash.

"There's no challenge here, Sir Marcus!" Marcus suppressed a snigger at the eager voice from his comm. "Second-rate pilots and the frames aren't much better!"

"Don't get too cocky, Sir John," he admonished, glancing between the screens and his factsphere display. "We're not done yet."

"Looks like the last of them," Sir Simon Jekyll called from atop one of the dunes. "Not much of a show. Why do we have to do these recon missions anyway?"

"They keep shooting down our spy planes." Sir Marcus allowed his knights a brief chuckle. "Our Air Force comrades have so little to do these days." This brought a bark of laughter over the comm.

"A shame the EU can't build knightmares the way they build SAMs," Sir John Fallow commented. "I wanted to see this Orlando we've been hearing so much about."

"Why bother?" scoffed Sir Richard Warrick, the fourth member of his Group. "It's only a Gloucester ripoff any…wait, incoming!"

An instant later the factsphere beeped a warning, and Sir Marcus turned his knightmare to see the incoming threat.

It was a Knightmare, but unlike anything he had previously seen. It looked vaguely like a Gloucester or a Vincent in desert colours, but with a different head and short wings extending from its back. On one arm was a heavy kite-shaped shield. A heavy black cloak hung from its shoulders, billowing as it descended.

"Sir Marcus, what is it?" It was Sir John, no longer quite so cocky.

"Let's get him!" Sir Simon yelled, his Knightmare racing towards the newcomer. "There's only one!"

"Sir Simon! Come back here!" But Sir Marcus could only grit his teeth in frustration as his subordinate ignored him. The young fool charged, gun blazing and lance couched. The newcomer turned, with little apparent urgency, pointing its shield arm at the oncoming Gloucester. Sir Marcus could see something drop from under the curve of the shield, a slight flash, and a white pencil line heading straight for Sir Simon.

"Missiles under the shield" Sir Marcus thought, as Sir Simon slewed his knightmare sideways in a vain attempt to dodge. "Nice touch." The pencil line curved as the missile homed in on the unfortunate Sir Simon, blowing his knightmare apart. As it did, the strange knightmare turned its head towards Sir Marcus.

"Jammer online!" Sir Marcus snapped, praying inwardly that the VO was working properly. Outside, the factsphere unit clicked open as the enemy fired off another missile. Sir Marcus hauled on the controls, bringing his knightmare to the right, the landspinners screeching. But some god somewhere was with him, as the missile flew past, through the empty space he had occupied only a few moments earlier.

"Flank him!" He turned his knightmare towards the enemy, gun blazing, though the shots seemed to have little effect. Sir John was coming in from another direction, and the enemy turned to face him. It brought up its right arm, muzzle-flashes erupting from the forearm bulges. Sir John's knightmare came apart in a shower of wreckage and flame. Sir Marcus snarled in frustration and couched his lance, coming closer and closer. He was approaching from its right-hand side. It was open.

He saw it reach its hand under its shoulder. He saw it come up, a sword in hand. He saw the sword glow an angry red.

"Maser Sword?"

All this he saw in the passing of a moment, and though he tried to turn, his hands would not obey. The enemy turned and brought the sword up in a wide arc, slicing through his knightmare's arm and into the torso. The flash of the blade was the last thing Sir Marcus Coverdale would see before his viewscreens shorted out and his consoles began to explode.

The knightmare stood still, as its final target collapsed and exploded. The force of the blast made its cloak billow.

"Command to Hyperion. Sitrep. Over."

"Hyperion to Command. Enemy scouts KIA. Four Gloucesters. Patrol Troop KIA. Over."

"Understood. RTB."

"Will comply."