Feldt absolutely detested stage fright.
How on earth did others handle it without feeling the desperate need to flee and hide? The nervousness was choking her like an iron fist, draining her sanity away. Feldt couldn't really think straight - not with thousands of eyes focused on the stage. She felt like an animal entering the slaughterhouse, or a seafarer walking the plank.
No. Ohnononono. She couldn't go up there. Feldt didn't want to. It was impossible – there was no way she could take a stroll on that massive platform, talking and gesturing like some seasoned speaker. She would stutter. She would forget what to say. She would stand there, mouth agape like some tropical fish, and nothing would come out from her. She would mess the entire event up and everything they had hoped for would be over.
Some plan this is, Feldt thought angrily, wiping her sweaty palms over the crisp pencil skirt. This wasn't going to go well. She couldn't – she could never –
"Feldt." The whisper from her side was calm, reassuring. "You'll be fine."
"How can I be fine," she hissed in reply, "when the entire world is going to be watching me? They'll be looking out for any mistakes I make! It's going to be a nightmare!"
There was a comforting pat on her back. "I know, I know – it's unnerving, isn't it?"
"Unnerving is an understatement, Neil."
"Alright then, I suppose it's terrifying."
Feldt merely shuddered in response.
"You won't be alone," Neil said soothingly. "We're here. If something happens, we'll get you out of there. I'll help, and so will Tieria. Besides, Setsuna would protect you."
Despite the anxiety, hearing Setsuna's name brought a familiar warmth to Feldt's heart. She willed herself to think of nothing else but Setsuna. Setsuna, with his russet-colored eyes; Setsuna, who had saved her life on more occasions than she could count; Setsuna, who comforted her with minimal words and gestures -
Neil took a quick peek out of the curtains. "It's time."
Feldt was grim. "Yes, it is."
"Good luck, Feldt."
"Thanks." She plastered what she hoped was a natural smile on her face and took a deep, steady breath. "Let's do this."
"You have an idea?" Tieria asked venomously.
"Yep," Neil said, a jovial smile still on his face. "The main issue now is to figure out how much influence Ribbons has over the government, right? Since loyalty towards a person or cause can't be determined by electronic records alone, this means that Tieria – our best hacker here – is at a disadvantage."
Neil ignored him and said, "Which means that we have no choice but to find out by talking to them."
"I don't think walking up and asking 'Hey, are you loyal to Ribbons and his little army of murderers?' would work," Marie said slowly.
Allelujah, however, looked thoughtful. "We'd have to worm this sort of information out in the most subtle way possible – probably at a major event where we could question the higher-ups and their motives without attracting too much attention."
Neil beamed, satisfied that Allelujah was catching on quickly.
"An event?" Feldt asked. "But we don't have an…" Just then, her eyes widened in realization. "Oh. Oh…are you meaning the…"
There was a quick nod from Neil in response - and that was when Feldt knew.
The Earth Sphere Federation University was a university that prided itself in showcasing the talents and skills of its students. Its yearly University Festival involved talks and demonstrations of outstanding breakthroughs from students of all departments, no matter how flamboyant or outlandish they could be. Government officials and world leaders were always present, scouting out new discoveries that could benefit them.
Feldt's mind was spinning. She understood just how much weight the University Festival carried across the world. Only the brightest students with the most potential had the chance to show the world what they had. It was a chance which everyone would die to have.
Tieria narrowed his eyes. "What exactly are you proposing?"
"I suggest that Feldt and Setsuna present their discoveries to the world," Neil said.
There was a moment of silence, then –
"No. Absolutely not!"
"Neil, you have to understand that a lot of this is supposed to be classified information."
"We're only offering ourselves to the Union to be slaughtered! Is that part of your brilliant idea?"
Neil sighed. He had expected this. "Calm down. I haven't finished."
"What's there to finish?" Tieria snarled, throwing Neil a dirty look. "I knew I would be surprised, but this was not what I had in mind!"
"Wait, Tieria, just hear me out – "
"We are in a desperate situation, Lockon Stratos, and this was the best you could come up with?" Tieria asked, his voice scathing. "This idea of yours is clearly..."
"Let him explain."
The purple-haired man stopped short. Setsuna was sending Tieria a gaze so harsh that even he backed down, a silent curse on his lips. It wasn't often that Setsuna asserted his opinions.
"Thanks," Neil said gratefully, and Setsuna gave a nod in response. "Seriously, though, please listen to what I have to say. When I mentioned presenting Feldt and Setsuna's discoveries, I didn't mean every single one."
Not every single one? What? Feldt was more lost than ever. Neil, however, responded to the pink-haired girl's unasked question with a triumphant smirk.
"We're going to bait the world in…and see where it stands."
"Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, and thank you for coming. My name is Feldt Grace – this is my partner, Setsuna F. Seiei." At this, Feldt graciously gestured towards the dark-haired man by her side. "We are both from the Earth Sphere Federation University's robotics engineering division."
Green eyes scanned the audience beneath her, observing them from what little lighting there was. Some of them were attentive; others impatient and expectant. There were also at least a dozen broadcasters streaming the event live, their recording devices whirring and clicking. Good - that meant everything said tonight would be heard by the world. The green-eyed girl felt shaky, still, but at the very least she had not fainted of stage fright.
Just then, Setsuna caught her eye. He wasn't smiling in encouragement, but those dark eyes were ablaze with faith and trust.
He believed in her.
"Tonight," she said, "we will show you something that would change your life."
"You want me to talk about the Flag coding I programmed?" Feldt asked incredulously. "Well, it was supposed to be a military secret."
Neil didn't seem fazed. "Ah, but the citizens have a right to know what the military is dealing with. If the government has nothing to hide, transparency shouldn't be an issue. "
Feldt was ecstatic. "This means they have no right to stop me from presenting my findings at the festival!"
"The government may insist secrecy in order to protect its citizens," Setsuna stated flatly. "Revealing excess information may result in the opposite effect of war-fanatics out there triggering a war."
Trust Setsuna to point out a loophole, Feldt thought, her excitement dying away.
"Well, there are countries and organizations out there determined to tear the Earth Sphere Federation apart. Terrorists and madmen - the usual." Marie's tone was brusque. "Although the Union and the A-Laws are a joint force, there's been a revolution springing from the Middle East that's been giving them trouble. It started out with a couple of factions – all with different motives, apparently."
At one point, Marie, who was unfamiliar with the workings of mobile suits, had not participated in the conversation. However, now she spoke with such sharp conviction that everyone paused to look at her.
"Where did you hear that from?" Neil asked carefully.
She shrugged. "It's not that big of a secret, that's all."
"Information like this was never released to the press. How can you be so certain about it?"
Feldt glanced up, alarmed. She had no idea how, but all of a sudden the gazes towards Marie had changed. The atmosphere around them was tense. Neil spoke politely, but it had lost its warmth. Setsuna's eyes, on the other hand, were filled with cold calculation. Feldt didn't understand this sudden hostility. Had Marie done something wrong that Feldt wasn't aware of?
"Stop it." Allelujah was immediately by Marie's side, his arms protectively around her. "She's not a spy."
"Then how is it that she seems to know things that only government officials know about?"
The normally docile man's eyes narrowed, and his grip on Marie tightened. "There are reasons. Whatever she learned about was not by choice."
"Allelujah, it's alright." Marie swept some hair away from her face, looking resigned. "It was only a matter of time before everyone had to know."
Feldt shuddered. Apparently she hadn't been the only one keeping secrets from others. It was strange - she and Marie had been friends for years and yet they knew so little about each other. "Know what?"
"About my father." At this, Marie frowned. "You see, he is…from the A-Laws."
"From the dawn and evolution of humanity, we have adapted and treated technology as a part of us, integrating it into our very own lifestyles. A few centuries ago, the concept of mobile suits was dismissed as an idea that could only be used in fiction. However, that soon changed." The fear dissipated as Feldt spoke. "Mankind took a large step forwards when Aeolia Schenberg developed the first generation of mobile suits."
She waved a hand and the hologram of a mobile suit bloomed into appearance, its dull edges flickering in the light.
"This is a VMS-15 Union Realdo, a first generation mobile suit," Feldt said softly. "Up until today, we have been seeing a lot of this in the skies. It has truly been a capable unit with its 20mm machine gun, defence rod, linear rifle, and sonic blade." At Feldt's words, each part of the image flashed in correspondence. "However…what I present to you next…is something that will put this to shame."
The crowd tittered excitedly at Feldt's bold statement, their voices raising in volume.
"What else could put something as advanced as this to shame? The Union Realdo is a beauty!"
"She's only a little girl!"
"Why hasn't the man next to her done anything yet?"
Feldt wished they had a little more patience. Were these people sitting before her honestly government officials, men from the highest of ranks? How did they even ascend to such positions when they were so rude?
It was then when the pink-haired girl spotted a familiar face at the front row. There was barely any lighting amongst the guests, but Feldt would never forget that despicable face. Ribbons Almark was smirking up at her deviously, his arms folded.
Feldt forced herself to continue smiling, irritated that she felt so much anger for him. Of course Ribbons would be here. Of course. He was the Proctor – an event of such importance would definitely require his attendance. As much as Feldt wanted to hop off the stage and give him a piece of her mind, now was not the time.
"Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you…the SVMS-01 Union Flag."
Feldt watched the holographic image spring to life and heard the crowd gasp in amazement. The pink-haired girl began her explanations on the Flag's programming, detailing on how some tweaks could allow better functioning of its systems. Even though her work was far from perfect in comparison to Setsuna's, it was still a milestone of advancement. The navy mobile suit was much slimmer compared to its predecessor, its lighter frame structure giving it a sleek appearance.
Feldt fought the overwhelming feeling of pride within herself – this was what she had worked on for so long. The death of her parents had killed Feldt inside, but it had thrown her into a legacy that connected her to reality. In the end, though, Feldt knew who she truly relied on. Weeks ago, Setsuna was nothing more than a role model who she could never approach.
Now they were in this together.
Finishing up, she said, "If you all were impressed, then you truly must listen to what Setsuna has to say."
The gazes shifted to the sturdy man with dark hair, taking in his calm expression and confident posture. Feldt had done her part, and now it was his turn.
Setsuna met Ribbons' gaze squarely before he began.
"You want him to talk about the GN particles?" Tieria exclaimed furiously. "That is exactly the sort of thing we have to avoid! Having Feldt up there is more than enough. We don't want to be revealing all the aces up our sleeves."
"There's no point in hiding it," Feldt said with a sigh. "They already know."
It was true. Things had taken a turn for the worse when she and Setsuna had flown in his mobile suit, and that was when the pink-haired girl witnessed Setsuna's true capabilities. It had been him who had eliminated their pursuers, sliced and shot through their suits with skills unrivalled to even most military pilots –
"The GN particles were dispersed long enough for it to be recorded and transmitted," Setsuna said.
Tieria, who had been opposing Neil's plans up until now, looked thoughtful. The base would have recorded everything down – it was probably stored in a high-security database away from prying eyes. Most of the time evidences were a burden, but if they wanted to play a manipulative game of psychology, then evidences could be used against the enemies themselves.
The hacker smiled in satisfaction. Perhaps something good would come out of this ridiculous situation after all.
"What I discovered," Setsuna intoned, "has no name for itself. It does not speak, nor does it have a mind on its own. However, it is powerful - powerful beyond anything that you could ever imagine."
Feldt tried her best not to feel uneasy. Under that polished façade of hers, the green-eyed girl was beginning to panic. It was just her nature to worry.
Deep breaths. Deeeeeeep breaths.
The lights around her dimmed even further and a sudden hush fell. Shimmering green particles seemed to float around the stage, sparkling with an indecipherable beauty. There were inaudible gasps, widened eyes, and excited whispers. The people couldn't experiencing what Feldt and Setsuna had been through since it was merely a display, but Feldt could tell that they were captivated by the ethereal scene.
"It is this," Setsuna said vaguely, "that will change the world."
"How many know about the GN particles?" Tieria asked, a calculating glint in his garnet eyes.
Setsuna seemed to contemplate the question. "Very few. I was asked to hush it up."
"Indeed. If Ribbons is interested in keeping this a secret, it must mean that he wants to avoid unnecessary problems."
Problems? What problems? Feldt was confused. She cast the purple-haired man a questioning look, surprised to see a small smile on his face.
"If we can move the people, then we can move mountains."
The green particles disappeared just as quickly as it came. Feldt watched the crowd titter in disappointment, wondering what would happen if they had been exposed to genuine GN particles. Thousands of minds, thousands of voices blended together – perhaps it would have been easier to just thrust everyone into it and see what came out of their minds. Still, there would be too many of them - deciphering the thoughts of every single person would be impossible.
"A few weeks ago, Ms. Grace and I were testing a mobile suit with this new source when we were attacked."
There was a low whirr and the display sprang into life, featuring the footage that Tieria had obtained after some skilled hacking. Feldt stared at the crowd resolutely, knowing that night would never escape her mind. The sensations were still clear to her – the fear, the nausea, the way her heart ached when she held Setsuna's hand...
Setsuna continued speaking, revealing everything that had happened. Feldt hadn't understood why it was necessary, but now she did. If you wanted to find out where the individuals stood, you had to tell them the truth.
"We, as civilians, were hunted down – pursued relentlessly by forces we suspected were from the government," Setsuna said tonelessly.
Multi-coloured lights that flashed from the mobile suit's dashboard, indicating figures too complicated for the normal human mind...
"We had no choice but to fight back - to which we were forced into hiding for quite some time, for fear of our lives."
The sensation of spinning in the air, unsure which was the right way up…
"We had a lot of questions, but there were no answers."
The fear that clawed at her heart - twisting, burning...
"The two of us have been attacked once, and we could easily have been killed," Feldt said stepping up to Setsuna's side. She felt her hand brush his, felt the tingles that went up her spine. Perhaps her words were going to come out too forceful, but she didn't care. "The world has been involved in far too many mobile suit wars, but do we know the true hows and whys behind it? We continue inventing, marching forward with each passing year. We move on and advance, not stopping once to look back on what our creations have done. Progress is making us lose our humanity with it - now your life can easily be taken away for merely knowing far too much."
"We have the technology, but we don't know what they are for. If they merely were for defence, then why the secrecy?" Setsuna spoke quietly, but everyone heard. "We were to be silenced, for perhaps our work was meant to be a secret – but when there are secrets, there will also be abuse."
Silenced, Feldt thought, fighting back tears. Her parents had been killed by Ribbons – but why? Were they killed in a fight with him, or were they...silenced? Silenced, just like how Feldt herself was to be? It was a new possibility, one that she had never explored.
Setsuna discreetly twined his fingers around hers and she relaxed at his touch, resisting the urge to lean into him right there and then. He spoke once more, words ringing in the air.
"Perhaps the question we should ask ourselves now is this - have we forgotten the value of life?"
A moment of stillness. And then...
...the thunderous uproar began.
Please review. I'd appreciate it.
Confused? To be honest, so am I. To clarify a little, the chapter swings between the past and present, showing what happens in the festival thingy and how they came up with their plan some time ago. Before any sci-fi experts come at me with a hammer, we're in the timeline where Flags are still epic (think of Season One, Ep One) and where GN-powered mobile suits are still unheard of. Setsuna's mobile suit in this story will be the first one to be GN-powered. I'm basically starting them off from scratch. As you can tell, this will probably be a long story.
As for the philosophy? I have no idea where that came from. I had a lot of trouble with the entire chapter, to be honest, and have a baaaad headache now. ._. I apologize for any awkward phrases or forced interpretations.
Thanks for reading, and I hope all of you stick with me for what's to come.