Missed was perhaps the incorrect word. His aim was correct, however he misjudged the volume of his particle reserve and as a result the 00 Raiser's attack fell just short of inflicting critical damage on the satellite weapon.
He allowed himself one heartfelt outburst of rage and disgust at himself for not calculating properly and thus costing at least the tens of thousands of people on Break Pillar their lives, and possibly more on the ground.
With no particles remaining to sustain propulsion, the 00 Raiser began a free fall while the twin solar reactors powering the unit began their recharge cycle. He had no doubt that the output would be able to store enough particles to regain manoeuvrability within a few short moments, but with no way of knowing the situation below he decided to remain in free fall as long as possible.
It somehow seemed fitting, a falling angel unable to do anything. Saji Crossroad's anguished cries accompanied them down, and he felt he was in no position to ask for his silence.
During freefall smoke from the disintegrating wall structures began to cloud the view into space. He thought it seemed rather controlled for a collapsing megastructure and voiced his opinion to Saji Crossroad. This appeared to bring the young Japanese man out of his stupor, as it certainly silenced the cries. After a few moments Saji Crossroad ventured the opinion that the bombardment was not a direct hit, citing no observable snap of the tether. Additionally the 00 Raiser's long range sensors indicated that the mass of the space elevator ballast was in roughly the correct position as opposed to being ballistically launched into space. Instead there appeared to be a balance problem and the safety interlocks of the elevator were performing balancing operations by purging selected masses from the pillar.
By his observation, it appeared that the selected masses appeared to be almost all the protective plating the pillar had. As 00 plummeted towards the lower atmospheric regions he began to notice that the plating was not burning up anymore and more than likely was going to start raining death upon millions of civilians clustered around the base of the pillar. Unsure of whether contact with the Ptolemaios was feasible at this distance but knowing for certain that the full ability of his suit was going to be required on the surface, he spent a few small movements to reach a more aerodynamic falling position.
Normally tracking objects was not a problem for the Ptolemy's computer, and initially the tracking computer handled trajectorising and categorising the danger of falling debris smartly and efficiently. However, soon there were thousands, then tens of thousands of falling objects clogging the sensors, all demanding precious cycles. The situation was desperate and becoming messier by the second, but like all of the crew members she was used to desperate. The first trick up her sleeve was to repurpose cycles from the heat sensors that were being fogged by all the explosions and put them towards motion tracking. This bought her the precious few moments she required to hack together a quick algorithm to narrow the tracking area based on atmospheric conditions.
That was only half the problem. Seconds before they first observed Break Pillar's auto purge transmission from 00 was terminated and she had lost it's tracking signal. Obviously it didn't take a genius to determine that atmospheric ionisation caused by the satellite's beam disrupted the optical connection from Ptolemy to the 00 Raiser. Under normal conditions re-acquiring the signal would take less than a few seconds, but at the extreme range of the 00, punching a new optical beam through an atmosphere filled with smoke and falling debris was a nigh impossible task. Regardless, she kept scanning using a spare optical camera dedicated to the task and constantly kept scanning the e-sensor for long distance contacts when she could afford a spare half second.
There was one all too real second possibility regarding the reason they had lost contact with the 00 Raiser. It didn't help that they needed to maintain satellite camouflage, effectively destroying any possibility that Setsuna would be able to contact them first.
Suddenly, there it was. A ghost of a reading on the e-sensor, coming from almost three thousand kilometres up and then gone. A few tapped commands focussed the scanning optical camera in the region where the reading was observed, but the camera was unable to discern anything apart from falling debris. Regardless, she allows a brief smile to display her relief and reports the contact to Miss Sumeragi before switching her concentration back to tracking the falling debris.
Her eyes widen as the tracking computer updates the size of a recently released chunk of plating. It's big. Very big.
As the Gundam dives to the surface, he rips out a painkiller injection from the field medical kit behind the seat and forcibly injects it to banish the distracting pain from his shoulder. Saji Crossroad's voice cuts in over the internal communication channel, highlighting an oversized chunk of plating that was dislodged just below them. He quickly scans his system, noting that the particle charge is already reaching fifty percent, an operable charge. However, as it stands there is little reason to believe his weapons could do much more than scrape a few chunks off the plating.
He adjusts his fall angle yet again to bring them closer to the falling chunk and waits for his teammate Tieria to give him the opportunity required to do something.
It was not a long wait.
As the standard camera began to resolve the pinpoints that are various mobile suits, one particularly large pinpoint of light began to form, glowing with the characteristic purple of the Seravee's Hyper Bazooka charge. The release was fast enough for him to realise that Tieria had activated his Trans-Am system. Compressed particles met plating in a crash of smoke and fire, splitting it in two and providing him with the opportunity required. He activated his combat systems and begins to feed particles into his range weapons. Once charged, he releases heavy bursts from his GN rifle, targeting the joints connecting the armoured panels together.
A large hit on the e-sensor above the largest chunk grabs her attention. The computer positively identifies the contact as the 00 Raiser, and she quickly taps the commands in to restore optical communication. Reporting the find to Miss Sumeragi, she grimaces as the tracking laser struggles to lock through the clouds of smoke caused by the Seravee's strike. In the scantest of seconds however, the communications computer finds a lock and patches the 00 Raiser back into their communication network.
His voice bursts through the communications network, pleading for help to finish off the separated plating. A small burst of relief spikes through him as he watches his friends and fellow Meisters active their Trans-Am systems and speed over to clear out the falling debris in a flurry of particle blasts.
Although the immediate danger has passed, he realises that the battle is not yet over and arrests the fall of his Gundam. Turning to face a sky raining metal, he prepares himself to face his failure.
Saji Crossroad reaffirms his dedication to the cause over the comm and signs off with some words of support and the statement that he'll handle the incoming tracking data from the Ptolemy, allowing him to concentrate on piloting and shooting. For the next hour he does just this until finally the most far flung debris has either safely landed or been destroyed.
Mentally, the last hour had been hell on earth for her. Maintaining the debris tracking, keeping track of the Gundam's locations, as well as the movements of the other three forces in the area was tricky enough, but having to relay this information to Miss Sumeragi and then relay her orders out to the field every thirty seconds or so was starting to work negatively on her concentration.
Things had started to slow down in the last twenty minutes, as the panels caught in the upper atmospheric winds finally finished their descent much further to the west than where they began, but as the operation finished Miss Sumeragi began to pick up the pace in order to extract themselves from the situation without being followed out by fresh A-Laws pilots.
Judging from the movement orders she was relaying it appeared their retreat would be a fairly standard randomised pickup, by sending the Gundams on random paths until the Ptolemy would pick them up.
The first unit to land was the GN Archer. At Allelujah's request they allowed Marie Parfacy to cover an area near a customised Tieren unit, but on approach two A-Laws units appeared to arrive from further afield to take advantage of the chaotic situation. Miss Sumeragi quickly gave orders for Arios to deviate off it's random path for support but as they watched on the cameras it was too late.
She had been aware of the past relationship between Marie's other self and Colonel Smirnov. After apologising for her poor behaviour earlier, she had found the girl quite likeable and deep down thought the way she and Allelujah were kind of cute. During some free time they'd gotten together and talked out their differences and over time had become comfortable enough with each other to
share their pasts.
Marie's tortured cry as the Tieren went down cut at her soul but there was precious little that could be done about it. In order to retrieve Marie's unit Allelujah had to force a docking and bring in the combined Archer Arios. She thoughts she heard Marie raise her voice over the communication network but put it to the back of her mind as she relayed the information for pickup of the Dynames unit.
Despite the painkillers, constant heavy motion began to cause his shoulder to ache. For him though, the expended effort had been worth it, as information from Feldt Grace onboard the Ptolemy indicated that not a single chunk of debris landed on the city areas in the impact zone. With the area safe from falling debris, he guides the Gundam 00 along the path given from his mothership, reflecting on the good and evil done by humankind today.
As he remembers the combined efforts of all the different forces in action today, he feels a warm glow permeate his body. The dream that he is fighting for may become a reality sooner than expected. As his retreat orders were clarified he sighed as he noted he still had roughly an hour remaining until pickup and was expected to make his way to a point over the Indian Ocean north of Madagascar. As he acknowledged the receipt of orders, he passed their expected course back to Saji in the 00 Raiser module. He was also forced to acknowledge that he was losing concentration as a result of tiredness. Normally such extended relocation manoeuvres would not have caused the touch of frustration associated with this one. He adjusted power to the engines and took off to the north east.
With the pickup of 00 the initial extraction phase was complete. She knew better than to believe it was all over though. Their optical camouflage could only take them so far, and it was now a well established fact that A-Laws had low earth orbit covered in e-sensors so they were facing a 100% detection possibility within 400km.
It was fortunate that A-Laws had expended a large number of units to deal with the coup d'etat, she reflected. That would weaken the ability of their space forces to pursue the Ptolemy when it was detected. Taking advantage of this, Miss Sumeragi had set them to climb in a polar orientation. Within minutes the Ptolemaios was leaving the scrambled A-Laws forces well behind as they broke orbit above Antarctica, launching themselves below the plane of the solar system.
Once in free space, the control room debriefing was quick. Miss Sumeragi thanked them all for a job well done – but the mood was sober. Only two pilots joined them; Allelujah was attempting to calm down a raging Marie and Setsuna had volunteered for standby in case of unexpected pursuit. She had wondered about the sense in that decision – his shoulder was heavily injured and he had to be reaching his limits – but his decisions were his to make, as were hers. She volunteered for the first bridge duty, and her first action upon sitting down at her terminal was to dig out the stimulants from her personal bridge kit and pop them down.
The stimulants were a special Celestial Being developed medication containing traditional chemical stimulants as well as chemical messages to the nanites in her system to boost their activity. They didn't impair concentration as badly as those commercially available on Earth, and simply popping the counter medication returned the nanites to their usual activity levels and cleaned up the remains of the chemical stimulants in the system. All in all, a well designed tool for the people living on the ship, but that didn't mean she enjoyed requiring to take them.
The rest of the shift passed uneventfully – a small amount of air was jettisoned after four hours, allowing for a silent course change. Lasse took over at the end of her duty cycle, nodding in sympathy as she takes the counter medication. The last thing she hears on the way out of the bridge is a muffled acknowledgement of the change of shift in the Gundam container bays, but the growing fog in her head doesn't allow her to hear the details.
Lockon's all clear sounded through the cockpit of the 00, and he responded in acknowledgement. The cockpit hatch on the 00 opened with a dull metallic thunk and he launched himself in a straight line towards the portal separating the Meister ready room and the container bays. The mixture of stimulants and painkillers in his system combined with the fact that he had spent the last 48 hours awake were taking it's toll on him – towards the end of his shift a biting pain had manifested in his frontal lobes. Constant self doubt over his inability to save the people on the pillar didn't help either, and he had plenty of time to brood about that.
He stopped briefly in the ready room to fish through the medical supplies for the stimulant counter medication. As the nanites in his body begin to slow down and break up the chemical stimulants, a welcome wave of lassitude takes over his body and the headache begins to abate. He pushes out into the open corridors of the ship and lethargically makes his way towards the crew quarters.
Suddenly a blur of pink enters his peripheral vision as he crosses a T junction in the corridor. Slowly, far to slowly, he turns his head to assess the situation. Before his fogged brain can even reach a conclusion regarding what was there, it had already collided with him in a tangle of limbs.
Adrenaline rushes through his system as well honed zero G reflexes kick in and he forcefully grabs what he collided with. Blankly realising he's gripping an arm, he twists his centre of mass using the grabbed arm as leverage, resulting in him colliding back first into the wall, but saving his unexpected passenger from any injury.
His heart rate slows down as he assesses the situation – currently curled up against his chest is a slightly dishevelled Feldt Grace. He knows she has been on combat duty for almost as long as him and it shows – as he gives her a once over for injuries their eyes meet. They are dull and slow to focus, classic symptoms of someone in desperate need of rest.
Setsuna's voice is hollow, tired. She stares back at him, struggling to maintain the momentary alertness afforded by her rapidly depleting adrenaline. His eyes betray his mental state – barely functioning and in great need of a shutdown. The rest of his body seems to be faring little better – a slight tinge of red under the shoulder of his uniform indicate that the collision with the wall has slightly re-opened the gunshot wound. And as strange as it is for her to notice at a time like this, but his odor is a horrible mix of dried blood and sweat.
She opens her mouth to speak...
"Are you uninjured?"
But Setsuna beats her to it. She replies in the affirmative before asking him a very similar question as she disentangles herself.
She notices the slight hesitation but does not press the issue. Instead, she pushes a smile onto her face through tired muscles and suggests they head back to their rooms for some much needed sleep. Setsuna nods in reply, and they push off down the corridor towards the crew quarters.
A yanking motion on the back of his neck blows the sleep from mind and his eyes open less than ten centimetres from a steel wall. Startled, he throws a hand ahead to steady himself, using the wall to push his feet back onto the floor. The pressure is released from his collar and he turns around into the apologetic face of Feldt Grace. She mumbles an explanation as to why they passed his room without her noticing he was asleep, but the words barely reached his ears, and he could feel himself slipping into sleep again.
He's only vaguely aware as Feldt puts a hand on his shoulders and doggedly gives him another once over. He does notice the dark rings of black forming under her eyes, and although her eyes are glazed and barely focussing, he can see an emotion in her eyes, one that he can't quite determine. Her hand slides down his arm to grip his wrist and he doesn't fight as she pulls him through the portal to her room.
"You can have a shower and rest here until you can make it back down the corridor without falling asleep", she says loudly, as though he wouldn't understand her. He processes the words then nods mutely in reply. She drags open a cupboard and passes him a towel and an oversized pair of plain pyjamas, which he takes with him into the shower room.
The shower is like all aboard the Ptolemaios, more a sponge bath followed by a blast of water to rinse which was sucked away under a light vacuum. His re-opened shoulder wound stung a little as he cleaned it out, but it was nothing unbearable. Despite that, he felt refreshed and slightly more awake as he pulled on the baggy pyjamas.
Since Setsuna had disappeared into the shower, she had quickly changed into some more comfortable clothes (she guessed the sweat stench didn't entirely belong to Setsuna) and had retrieved her first aid kit. She was just setting the drink dispenser to reheat it's contents when the shower door slid open and Setsuna floated towards her, passing an unvoiced question to her through eye contact. She put out and arm and he gently grabbed it, using the leverage to manoeuvre into a sitting position on the floor.
She grabs the first aid kit, momentarily wondering how he seems so graceful while half asleep, and offers it to him with the suggestion of changing the bandages on his shoulder. Setsuna takes the kit with verbal thanks and begins to lift his shirt as she turns back to the drink dispenser. She fills two capped bottles with the steaming liquid.
A spike of pleasure bursts through her lassitude as she hands him a bottle and informs him that the drink is lemon tea. It is usually a treat for herself – prepare it before a mission and come back to enjoy it upon successful completion – but today it feels nice being able to share it with another person who has given his all to complete their last mission. He smiles in thanks, but she belatedly realises his eyes still show pain, and she resolves to help in any way she can.
He sipped gingerly from the bottle, aware from touch that the contents were hot. The warm, sweet sensation was relaxing – it seemed to simply melt knots out of his muscles and filled his stomach with a general warmth he couldn't identify. He sat there in silence with Feldt, who had joined him on the floor, slowly savouring their tea and drifting blissfully further away from the waking world.
He was about to take a final gulp and leave when Feldt gently touched him on the shoulder. He lethargically turned to look at her, and she posed the same question she asked when they collided earlier.
"Are you alright?"
Instinctively, he almost immediately answered in the affirmative. He was injured, but not seriously, therefore he would be fine to make it back to his room now. He could feel his mouth open and the tongue line up the syllables, but his tired eyes finally found focus on hers and they were radiating understanding. So full of understanding that he began to doubt what he believed about his condition. So he shut his mouth again and thought. Was he not alright? Here was a person who seemed to understand and wanted to help him. Could he understand her reason for this? Could he come to understand her? If, given enough time could he come to understand everyone in the world? Could they come to understand him? Understand each other?
Setsuna talked about his failed assault on the orbital platform, the thousands of people he let down. Of the blame he put on himself, the guilt he felt.
It was understandable, yet heart wrenching for him to put such a burden on himself. But that was not how she saw it, and although not eloquent and suffering well from sleep deprivation, she gave him some advice.
"But you tried. You made the decision to go based on the information you had at the time and we all backed you in thinking it was the right decision. You gave those people a chance where before they had none and no-one will tell you you did the wrong thing, so don't feel guilty about it."
He smiled. The words sounded slightly condescending but he knew that wasn't the intent. Maybe to start understanding everyone you have to start by simply understanding someone. He looked once more at Feldt's face, trying hard to focus but failing miserably. A fuzzy smile was all he could discern as he drifted back into a warm, relaxing sleep.
Fighting through drooping eyelids, she saw that brilliant last smile, and for a second saw his eyes glow with a warm orange and red pattern. Dismissing it as a trick of her sleep deprived mind, she couldn't help but chuckle as those eyes closed and his breathing almost immediately became steady and heavier.
Despite knowing deep down that they should not be sleeping in space while unrestrained, all she could do was sigh, shut her eyes and roll her head onto the shoulder of the young pilot now sleeping soundly next to her, before she too joined him in a well deserved rest.
This one started as an overarching idea for a couple of fics spanning the time space between the fall of Break Pillar and where the series next picked up, focusing on how Setsuna would begin to develop his innovator abilities and how Feldt began to change the way she saw his character. As usual, after an explosive start it hit the backburner as I got distracted by various other things. Eventually I came back to it a couple of times when I was bored in the lab and it somehow managed to finish itself, a rarity for me. Hope you enjoyed it :)