Tieria had higher privileges in Veda than Regene did, and so even after he made the mistake of inviting Regene in, it was only a matter of time afterwards before he kicked him out again, restricting his access to the lonely fringes. Something about prying too deeply in Tieria's head--as if Regene could be expected to do anything else. Before he was thrown out, though, his rummaging through Tieria's quantum brain and its strange and unexpected connections to Veda turned up something even Regene had not been expecting.
It intrigued him. What he found spreading out of Tieria's mind into realms untold should have been impossible. But something about what Tieria had become allowed it. That strange combination of Innovade body and brain and human spirit (whatever that was) turned out to have some uses after all.
Regene decided to find himself a new vessel in the analog world and set a plan into motion.
And that was how the old purple Haro returned to the Ptolemaios and its crew, its connection to whatever was left of Ribbons gleefully severed, now bearing a new passenger from the outskirts of Veda's network.
* * *
Although of course he didn't come to the Ptolemaios until he was sure he could control the basic functions of the Haro, particularly speech, it took Regene almost a week afterward to be sure that he had mastered the other functions necessary for his plan. Also, by this point he could direct the Haro as it followed Mileina Vashti more gracefully, which suited him far better. It was almost time for the second phase of his plan to begin.
He mentioned to Mileina, quite casually: "Tieria has been very bored since I disrupted Veda's sleep program and refused to put it back in place."
She glared at him. "Then why did you do that? He was perfectly happy to sleep! And he left us very nice goodbyes."
"I was bored, too," Regene explained.
"That's not an excuse," she said.
"I have an idea," Regene said, "for making it a little better. Tieria likes human things, doesn't he?"
Mileina didn't confirm or deny, instead jumping straight to the defensive, although she was less prickly about it than some Regene had known. He enjoyed that about her, although he enjoyed the prickly ones too, in a different way. "It's because he's one of us," she said, "and we're human."
"Would he like to see the human world?" Regene wondered. "Earth, I mean. Its landmarks, its famous places."
Mileina stopped and pointed demandingly. "If you take him on a tour of them, you have to make recordings for me!"
It was settled, then, although Regene was tempted to press her about just what kind of recordings she would like. He did not. He had bigger plans.
* * *
Tieria was highly skeptical of the idea. "Surely there are better things I could be doing with this time," he told the purple Haro through a communications screen.
"You were just going to sleep," Regene said. "Isn't this a much better idea?"
"I'll show you how to grow another body just for you," Regene said.
"A body is only a shell," Tieria said. "I'm not particularly interested."
"I wouldn't say that," Regene said. "This Haro is a shell, but if you tweak it just right, a body lets you do so many things."
"I don't regret the exchange I made," Tieria said. "This won't tempt me."
"What if we visited the places that your companions in Celestial Being are from?" This had been what Regene was planning on suggesting from the start, of course, but he'd enjoyed toying with Tieria a little bit first. "You could learn things about their human pasts."
Tieria hesitated, and Regene knew he had him hooked, as the human saying went. "That might be a worthy use of my time," Tieria admitted.
"Excellent," Regene said. "Why don't we get ready?"
When Tieria had returned his attention to Veda, Regene sought out Mileina. She had her own part to play in his plan. He believed she would be only too happy to help.
* * *
Naturally, when he saw the body Tieria had grown for the trip, Regene was more than a little intrigued. "Why not a male body, or a neuter one, like you're used to?" he wondered.
Tieria adjusted the straps of the bra he needed for this new body. "The easiest pattern to find in our genetic code was for a female body," he said. "I am still unfamiliar with some of the protocols of Veda, so I chose to accept that. It makes no difference."
"I suppose I'll have to say you're my sister," Regene said.
"What?" Tieria said. "Regene, you are a Haro now."
And there in the corridor of the Ptolemy, the purple Haro gave what looked for all the world like a little wink, and flashed something in front of it. Once, twice, three times, and then it solidified into...Regene, or at least an extremely convincing hologram of him.
"I see," Tieria said.
"I'll be a perfect gentleman," Regene said.
"Perhaps," Tieria said. "But if you keep looking at my breasts like that, you shouldn't claim to be my brother."
* * *
Lasse Aeon came from a city known as New York, and it was there that Tieria started. He had arranged for a carefully organized circumnavigation of the globe, starting on the eastern coast of North America and continuing westwards from there. But New York might not have been the best place to start. Tieria could not begin to comprehend how humans could live in such a place: tied down not just by gravity, but by the pull of the crowds on all sides. There were too many people, and it made him wonder how he could possibly take on the task he had given himself. How could he protect them all?
From the dresser of their hotel room, Regene's Haro blinked at him. "Would you rather go somewhere without any people, Tieria? There are still a few places like that left on Earth. They might suit you."
Tieria looked in the mirror, at the face that was still his despite the longer hair that framed it, despite the changed body beneath it. "No," he said. "Too many people is better than no people at all."
* * *
Sumeragi's one-time home in Argentina was what was known as a backwater: a small town overlooking the country. After the rush of New York, Tieria was grateful for that. He was even momentarily grateful to Sumeragi for being from here, although it was a completely irrational emotion.
The quaintness of it seemed a strange contrast with Sumeragi's charmingly urbane manner. It made Tieria wonder about her. Even when he was harsh to her, she'd always seemed fond of him. Was that why it had been so easy for him to start trusting her and looking up to her when she returned? Or had it been something else, perhaps the recognition that something was broken in both of them even if they'd gotten better in so many ways?
He might have pondered that more, but one morning as Tieria rose in his little hotel room, he found the hologram of Regene greeting him with a smug look and a question prepared. Tieria sighed wearily and prepared for another set of mindgames.
"Have you noticed something?" Regene asked. "The language in this country is even more gendered than the language in the last. It's going to be difficult, figuring out what to do with you."
"In public, you should of course use feminine language to refer to me," Tieria said. He wasn't bothered by this. It seemed obvious enough, and he'd never been particularly upset by what gender he needed to present as. Still, while he had no problems with the body he wore (except an occasional bewilderment at how normal human women managed to get by without back pain), somehow thinking of himself as a woman seemed even stranger than thinking of himself as a man.
Regene, it seemed, had picked up on that. "What about in private, Tieria?"
"There's no need to use Spanish to speak to me in private," Tieria said. "It may be an awkward language, but we have grown accustomed to English. And its second-person pronouns are neutral."
"Like us," Regene agreed. "But what if I do want to use Spanish?"
Tieria gave up. Regene wanted his answer, and he was learning that it wasn't much use resisting. "In private, I would prefer the masculine forms."
"Yet it doesn't bother you..." Regene lifted a hand and grabbed at Tieria's breasts. Of course, the hologram went right through without touching, but Tieria found himself jumping back with a start anyway. Regene laughed. "That body doesn't bother you."
"What body I wear is irrelevant," Tieria said. "However..." He hesitated. Then he said, "For ten years now, the other members of Celestial Being have used male pronouns to speak of me. It didn't matter at first, but somehow, it's become what I am used to. I am not exactly male, or a man, but I am more a he than a she."
"You could be an it," Regene said.
"No," Tieria said. "I couldn't. Not anymore."
* * *
When they arrived in Texas, Regene was curious about whose home this was.
"Although Dr. Moreno was a traveler before he came to Celestial Being," Tieria said, "this was where his family came from originally."
Regene made an impatient noise. "So we're traveling to the homes of your dead crew members as well. Is that really necessary?"
"Yes," Tieria said without hesitation. "They are a part of what made me human as well."
* * *
Tieria could appreciate the aesthetic appeal of the lovely gardens that still took pride of place in Victoria, at the far west of the North American continent. But as he gazed out from the window of his small hotel at them, he realized that something was missing. He thought of a time when the Ptolemaios had hidden in a forest clearing on Earth, and how Feldt had taken Mileina out and, with the help of a Haro, introduced her to the names of all the flowers.
Of course, he thought, it was appropriate that he should feel that Mileina needed to be here to make the gardens seem alive. It wasn't just that she could make anything seem alive, even the near-empty halls of the Ptolemaios during those long four years he had been almost alone there. This was where her mother was from, after all; Linda Vashti had once been an unassuming resident of quiet Vancouver Island.
He did not tell this to Regene, though, and later he realized why. It was really a terribly irrational thing to think.
* * *
Tokyo was almost a mistake. It was worse than New York City. The crowds at the center of the city left Tieria drained and breathless. But he ventured outwards to the satellite city he'd been directed to and found a better experience. It was a university town, sleek and new without being too crowded, and students gathered all around it, talking about new knowledge. Tieria was surprised at this. He'd never expended to find a place so welcoming here on Earth, grounded by gravity, but there it was. He was glad he'd come after all.
"Isn't it nice you enjoyed this place so much?" Regene asked as they prepared for their next destination. "I saw you weren't even certain whether or not to come. I wonder, whose home is it?"
Tieria tried not to glare. Regene already knew, of course, but he wanted to see how Tieria said it. "It's Saji Crossroad's home," he said stiffly. "In the end, I decided he represented a member of the crew as well."
* * *
Ian Vashti had come from the southeastern cities of Australia. It was a strange place. The entire continent had suffered a terrible drought hundreds of years ago, and even now there were fewer frivolous wastes of water than Tieria had seen in other places. Oddly, he found himself missing the pretty symmetries of those fountains, although they served no useful purpose. Even here, though, where there was a fountain, people threw coins into it for no reason that he could tell. That pointless gesture both irritated and pleased Tieria. He had learned to accept contradictions like that, though. It was part of what he had become.
He and Regene sat on the edge of one of the rare fountains in Sydney. This one had been built shortly after the technology to end the drought had been developed, so it was a historic landmark, and exceptionally extravagant. This was intended to represent the triumph of the human spirit, and Tieria believed he could understand that now, even if Regene couldn't.
Tieria sat with the Haro on his lap, and Regene had carefully arranged his hologram next to him so as to not sink through the stone. He had been good at that sort of delicate physical manipulation from the start of their journey, but every now and then he still walked through some unsuspecting person just to see their reaction. It was difficult to explain, afterward.
"Why did you really choose a female body?" Regene asked, quite suddenly.
"I told you," Tieria said. "The pattern was easier to find."
"You could have found another one," Regene said, "if you'd looked hard enough."
"Then you've already determined there's another reason," Tieria said wearily.
"Yes," Regene said. "I have."
Tieria said nothing for a little while. Finally, he admitted, "Once, Mileina Vashti told me that I was like an older sister to her. The statement...stayed with me, over the time we had together. When I found the pattern for this body, I thought it would be more fitting."
"Humans are so strange," Regene said.
* * *
It was only autumn still, and yet it was already snowing in Novosibirsk. "It's a good thing Feldt Grace doesn't know where her mother comes from," Regene observed. "She might be disillusioned about the Earth. Or maybe it would only reinforce her preference for space."
Tieria said nothing; he only looked at the ground, where the snow formed only the lightest of dustings.
"You're thinking of telling her," Regene said. "How human of you, Tieria: imparting confidential information to someone who has no need of it."
Tieria remembered the first time Feldt, then only ten, told him she was going to start dying her hair so she could look more like she belonged in space. More like him. He had scoffed at the idea at the time. "She has need of it," he said. "Even if you don't understand why."
* * *
Somehow, Tieria was uninterested in seeing the location itself in Kazakhstan, Allelujah's long-forgotten home. The people drew him more. So instead, he and Regene followed Allelujah and Marie from a distance for a little while, observing their journey. Tieria was fascinated by the bond they had, although he couldn't exactly say why.
Something strange happened as Tieria and Regene returned to the nearest city to prepare for their next destination, though. A message from the Ptolemaios came through. This was the first time since he'd been on Earth that they'd contacted him, so Tieria assumed it must be important.
But it was only the new Lockon Stratos (someday, Tieria thought, he would have to train himself out of adding the new in front of the name; it had already been a year, after all) with a question.
"You took a Haro with you, didn't you?" he asked.
"Yes," Tieria said. "It's where Regene's mind currently resides." He held up the purple Haro to the screen to demonstrate.
"That's all?" Lockon asked. "Because I'm missing my Haro."
"I would not have taken Cherudim's Haro," Tieria assured him. His initial instinct was to scold Lockon for losing such an important part of his Gundam's operating system, but he knew better now. Surely Lockon would not have been careless with his Haro. He could trust him in that. "At the next opportunity, I will devote some of Veda's processing power to searching for it."
"Thanks, Tieria," Lockon said. He'd become more apt to show people such niceties over the past few months, since the final battle. Although Tieria could not quite articulate it, he was glad. Being thanked for performing a routine duty such as that pleased him.
* * *
One of the few things Tieria was accustomed to doing on Earth was visiting a cemetery, so Regene, knowing this, suggested that they visit some in Azadistan. "So many humans died here," he said.
"That isn't funny," Tieria snapped. From the balcony of the palace room in which Marina Ismail had quietly and gratefully arranged for the two of them to reside, he looked out across the capital, feeling oddly warmed inside by the sight of its slow but steady rebuilding. "We shouldn't talk of death here. This is Setsuna's home. I will follow his example and look to the future."
"Can there really be much of one in a place like this?"
"Yes," Tieria said firmly. "So long as there are people like Marina Ismail working for it." He still wasn't sure what made her so suited to be the queen of this country. But Setsuna spoke of her in special tones, and Tieria trusted Setsuna's judgment as he trusted that of few others. That was why he was here.
* * *
Tieria thought he had the purple Haro and all it could do for Regene figured out, but he was wrong. At all times, Regene maintained a connection to the Ptolemaios, keeping watch on the progress on his project. He still thought of it as his, of course, because he had come up with the idea, even if Mileina and Feldt had been eager to help, and they were doing most of the actual work.
In the past week or so, as it began to approach the testing phase, both girls had grown increasingly agitated, especially Feldt. Regene was mystified. If anything, they should be intensifying their efforts, not fretting and fidgeting. He contacted Mileina.
"Why have you become so disorganized?" he asked.
"Because we're almost finished!" She seemed almost indignant that he had to ask. "This is very important for Feldt too, you know. It will be for everyone here."
"Of course," Regene said. "And it fascinates me as well. I wouldn't do it only for Tieria."
"That's not true! You have a secret, special bond with him. I can tell these things."
Regene shut off the communications channel for now.
* * *
In Italy, they planned to see an opera. It was an ancient form of entertainment, but some places still kept the old ways alive. As there had been a handful of carefully preserved theaters running musicals on the street known as "Broadway" in New York, in Rome there were still operas. Tieria approved in principle, even if everything he'd read about the form of theater known as opera seemed nonsensical to him.
More nonsensical yet was the fact that Regene insisted on picking out a fine evening gown for him. It was a pale pink, with the hem trailing low around his ankles and the collar swooping even lower on his breasts. It required a great deal of lacing up at his back. The Haro took care of that while Regene's hologram (from which he somehow could look out as well as he could from the Haro; Tieria had not yet ascertained the details) studied him smugly from the front.
"I'll have the best date at this opera," he said. He was in a tuxedo, wearing it as if he were born to it. "Everyone will be jealous."
"You're supposed to be my brother," Tieria reminded him.
Regene shrugged lightly. "Incest is a common theme in theater, isn't it?" He reached out to flutter his holographic fingers through Tieria's breasts again, but this time, Tieria did not react. Regene enjoyed making the gesture, and Tieria had grown used to it.
As they walked to the opera house, Tieria careful but practiced in high heels, Regene had another question. "Whose home is this?"
"Two crew members," Tieria said. "They did not know it, but Christina Sierra and Lichtendal Tsery both had origins in Italy."
"Is that appropriate, somehow?"
Tieria looked back at Regene. "Why are you asking?"
"There was something about the way you said it," Regene said. "Besides, you think it is, don't you? You can't hide these things from me."
Tieria forced himself not to scowl. "Yes. It is appropriate. They were close, although they had little chance to realize it."
Regene made an impatient noise. "At least this time, the homes of dead crew members are only adding one destination to our tour."
"Regene," Tieria said sharply. "You'll stop saying such things about the dead. Even if you never knew them, they were important to me."
For a while, Regene said nothing more. Tieria held the Haro and watched in silence as Regene artfully maneuvered around obstacles that he would have passed right through. He was taken aback when Regene spoke again. "Our next stop is Ireland, isn't it?"
"Yes," Tieria said. "Yes, it is."
* * *
It was early December, and in this place the preparations for the coming holiday were already well under way. Strings of bright white lights formed lettering across the streets, and at night they lit up, promising the city's inhabitants a merry Christmas. Most of them were in English, as it was the language spoken here, but a few, especially on the quainter side streets, were in some arcane language for which even Tieria's memory banks could not summon a translation.
Instead he asked a local.
"Huh?" said the young woman. "Oh, I guess it means merry Christmas. I wouldn't know for sure. Nobody actually speaks Gaelic anymore. It's just tradition."
As she walked away, Tieria hugged Regene's Haro close to his chest. He felt cold, suddenly. It wasn't snowing yet, but the faintest of cool drizzles fell on his eyelashes, blurring his vision. The Gaelic words on the sign melted together into a blur of sparkling light.
"You should be as interested as anyone else in moving into the future," Regene observed from next to him. "Why should it bother you what humans forget of the past?"
Tieria blinked, clearing the damp away from his lashes. "I've learned that sometimes you should carry the past into the future with you," he said. "For some reason, the thought of leaving it behind saddens me." He had become freer in admitting such things to Regene, since their journey through the human world had started. There wasn't any point in hiding most of them, now. But he did keep another thought locked up in his head where Regene would have to reach in and pry to get it: It saddens me, especially here.
"If we go now," Regene said, "we can take the supposedly charmingly antique train to that port town with the impossible name. That's their home, isn't it?"
"Dun Laoghaire," Tieria said. He had spelled it that way on the travel itinerary, at least. But in most of the signs he'd seen here, it was spelled Dunleary now. He wondered if it was all right to change the way he spelled it. He was sure both men who'd worn the name Lockon Stratos would say that it was, but here of all places he wanted to be faithful to the past. "Yes. Let's go now."
He did not mention to Regene, although he knew the other Innovade was aware, that he had been there before. The cemetery was on its outskirts, after all, and Tieria had visited that grave. Even when the irrationality of such a gesture had confused him, even when going there had hurt him somewhere in the center of his chest, it had still felt right.
* * *
Dun Laoghaire was prettier than it had any right to be, but Tieria was aware now that he was biased. It wasn't his first time there, but it was his first time seeing it in broad daylight, without a cloud in the sky. He thought the port spreading out in front of him could encompass both the future and the past, although he had no real reason to believe so.
To his surprise, Regene was insistent on leading him directly to the hotel. Tieria felt a spark of anger at this. "Regene, here of all places there are things I would like to see."
"Here of all places?" The hologram gave him an amused smirk. "You're so sentimental, Tieria. Besides, their house is gone. There's only one thing here now with ties to him."
"I've been to the cemetery," Tieria said as he approached their hotel room. "This time, I wish--"
Regene cut him off with a dismissive gesture. "I wasn't talking about the cemetery. That isn't really connected to him, either." He opened the door.
Tieria blinked. For a moment, he simply could not make sense of the scene before him. Though he still held the purple Haro in his arms, as he had for so much of this journey, the orange one lay in wait upon the bed. "Regene. Operation of Cherudim Gundam depends on this Haro. You should return it immediately."
"He'll get another Haro for that," Regene said. "Eventually. My plan is more important."
"Your plan?" Tieria began to ask, but he was cut off as the orange Haro flapped its pseudo-ears in excitement.
"Opening channels! Opening channels!" Haro's eyes lit up: not with their usual glow but with a rainbow iridescence.
"What have you done to this Haro?" Tieria demanded of Regene.
"In a sense, it's what have you done," Regene said. "The connection we tapped into was found in your mind. I didn't realize that the quantum brain waves of an Innovade could reach what lies beyond--what humans, and I suppose now you, would call the afterlife. This is only the beginning; I wonder what channels could be opened with the help of Setsuna F. Seiei's brain?"
Tieria barely heard him. He was staring at the orange Haro with its glimmering rainbow eyes.
"Transmission received! Transmission received!" Just as Regene's purple Haro had, the orange one now began to project a hologram.
Tieria felt like he should say something composed, intelligent, and profound; some meditation on the nature of mortality, or at least a meaningful summary of the ways he had changed in the past five years. But it was suddenly very difficult. "Lockon Stratos!"
"Yo, Tieria." The hologram waved. "What's up?"