People sometimes ask me what I love most in the world. If I had to give an honest answer, it would be the company of friends and loved ones. Occasionally I am asked what I hate most in the world. Some are shocked that such a question is even conceivable, for all too many see me as a saint, an angel incapable of something so crude, so human, as to hate or dislike.
I am not a goddess, nor an angel, nor a perfect being. I am a human woman, and I am capable of hatred. This is not to say that I approve of hatred; it is a vice to be sought out within ourselves, and resisted whenever it rears its head. With reason I unpick my feelings, and with my heart I accept and understand them, as best as I am able.
But yes, there is something that elicits anger and hate in me. I fight it, and overcome it, but it never completely goes away, for I see it so very often. I try my best not to hate those who commit these deeds, but I cannot help but hate the deeds themselves.
It is bad enough when people take advantage of one-another by manipulating their negative feelings; their anger, their fear, their suffering. It is all too easy to enslave others by stirring up their fear, by nurturing anger, by blaming their pain on that which you wish to destroy. But it is worse, a thousand times worse, to manipulate others through their better natures. To control someone through their love, their compassion, by making a wicked deed seem a benevolent act; I can think of nothing more evil, more hateful.
Euphemus, Jupiter, March 5th CE 24
He was free.
Space loomed vast around him, bright with the light of distant stars. The touch of a pedal could make him go faster. The twitch of a joystick could set him on any course he wished.
He was free.
And for George Glenn, such freedom was a pleasure to be savoured. It was the first real taste of it they had permitted him since he had met Solomon Zeus, and been taken into his service. Even if it was only for that service that he had been allowed to fly the battlepod, it felt good to do it.
The viewscreens stretched out around him, covering the cockpit roof from around level with his head right down to the dashboard. George raised his head, taking in the view. Europa was clearly visible, its white surface marred with brown blotches and rust-red streaks, snaking and curving across the ice, putting him in mind of a giant, bloodshot eye.
Almost a hundred years ago the Europans' ancestors had reached that cold, unwelcoming moon. George could not help but be mystified by the fact, and a little hurt. Could that beautiful blue Earth, for which his heart so longed, have been so terrible a place back then? What could have possessed those people to leave it behind for somewhere like Europa? How could a life spent in space suits, or in cramped underground habitats, have compared to open air, green trees, and cool blue water?
He wasn't old enough to remember much of the Reconstruction Wars. Reliable information was sketchy, since so many records had been lost. The period had become a new dark age, a fifty-year blip in humanity's recent history.
But he knew what others had told him. He knew from his parents and others of their generation, those who had grown to adulthood in those times. He had seen the faces of the old men and women who had endured it for far longer.
He would not soon forget their faces, or their tears.
George glanced down at the dashboard, at a gauge he had been keeping a close eye on ever since the flight began.
It was high. Worryingly so.
George drew the joysticks gently to the right, easing down the pedals as the battlepod turned back towards Euphemus. The asteroid loomed larger and larger as he accelerated towards it, a mass of grey rock pock-marked with impact craters. As he drew closer, he could make out the sealed hatches, some small, some large, marking the asteroid's true nature.
One of the larger hatches was open, waiting for him. George eased the battlepod alongside the asteroid, drawing closer and closer until the curvature of its surface was barely perceptible. The HUD beeped, and a reticule flashed on his screen, surrounding the buoy as it drifted in space ahead of him. It was a simple matter for an experienced astronaut like George to manoeuvre the battlepod up and around the buoy until facing straight down, then slot the nose into the buoy.
The HUD informed him that the mag-locks were secure, and that berthing was underway. There was nothing more for George to do but wait, as the buoy was slowly wheeled in, hauling the battlepod down, from his perspective, and into the hangar. The round hatch seemed to grow larger with every passing moment, like a giant mouth opening to swallow him whole. George felt his stomach clench. He began to control his breathing, mastering himself against the atavism.
He felt the clunk as the battlepod was secured in place. After a few moments, the HUD informed him that the atmosphere outside was breathable. With a clunk the cockpit hatch swung up, revealing a narrow, bony face atop a lean, blue-suited body looking superciliously at him from the gantry.
"Is there a problem, Mister Glenn?"
George had to resist the urge to plant his balled fist right in Lian Costello's smug face.
"Problem?" he retorted, swinging out of the battlepod's cockpit. "Oh no problem at all, Chief Engineer Costello." He took hold of the handrail and eased himself down onto the gantry, his magnetic boots pulling him down with a clunk.
"Not unless," he went on, "you count my dying of radiation poisoning."
"We were confident your…unusual physiology would be capable of resisting it," Costello replied mildly. "Especially after such a short flight." He ran a small hand-held scanner over George, and chuckled. "You're barely even sparkling."
"I'm sure." George didn't bother to conceal his sarcasm. He had encountered enough characters like Costello to know the type.
"Of course." Costello's smile widened into a smirk. "Some pilots manage as many as four combat missions before the radiation damage becomes debilitating. The current record is six."
"Refreshingly honest of you." The revelation was not much of a surprise, but it still made him want to spit. After a year spent working for House Zeus on their secret Euphemus base, he had learnt a great deal about what Europa's ruling elite was capable of.
"Have I not always been honest with you Mister Glenn? Has the Master not always been honest about the situation here?"
"Then I'll be honest with you, Chief Engineer. This," George jabbed an accusing finger at the battlepod, "is a death trap."
"Of course it is," Costello retorted sourly. "The Assembly doesn't want to pay any more than it has to, at least not for the defence forces. House Guards get the real money, surely you know that." He gave a cynical chuckle, which vanished as George strode forward and grabbed him by the front of his pale blue tunic. The Coordinator leaned in close, eyes blazing, heart burning.
"How many have died because of it?!" he demanded. "How many are still dying because of it?!"
"Don't act righteous with me." Costello's tone was sour, his countenance cold as the void outside. "Those pilots came from the same place I did."
Though fury burned in his heart, George made himself let go of Costello's tunic. Beating the wretched man to a pulp would be satisfying, but it would gain him nothing.
And he might just have been telling the truth.
"If we can be civilized about this," Costello said tersely. "Did you get any other useful impressions from your flight?" He turned and walked towards the hatch. George fell in beside him, their magnetic boots clunking on the gantry below them.
"The basic concept is fine," George said, as they stepped through the hatch and into the corridor beyond. The corridors walls, floor, and ceiling were all of metal, the cold light coming from the illumination strips in the ceiling giving it a sterile feeling. "And though it sickens me to admit it, I understand the logic of using human pilots."
"The logic is more than proven, Mister Glenn. It was proven at the Battle of Metis, five years ago. Humans can out-think any AI cheap enough to be put in a drone, and our electronic countermeasures could degrade any datalink even back then." Costello gave George a sideways smile. "With your help this past year, our ECM capabilities have improved substantially. Even Callisto's vaunted machines won't be able to stop us."
"So that's what this is about." George sighed through gritted teeth. "You want my help to beat Callisto. Isn't your boss thinking a little far ahead?"
"Is it that much of a problem?"
"What's Callisto ever done to me that I should help you defeat them? And your boss doesn't even have control of Europa yet." They stopped in the empty corridor. "That is what he's planning, isn't it?"
There was a pause. Costello sighed, and gave George a patient look.
"Do not put your hopes in Callisto, Mister Glenn," he said. "Nor in Ganymede. They follow the Founders' Order much as Europa does, though they are better organised. Only Io has truly escaped, and you really don't want to go there."
"Then why are you here?" George asked, irritated. "What's so special about Solomon Zeus compared to all of them? Is he not a Founder too?"
Costello looked him in the eyes, and George saw that they were hard and cold, more so than he had ever seen them.
"The Master allowed me to be more than I could ever be anywhere else." His voice was cold and hard. "The life I lead here is better than anything I could have hoped for. Most importantly, he allowed me to discover my full potential, and to make use of it. If only for that, he has earned my loyalty."
"Well he hasn't earned mine!" George growled back. Costello sighed, as if he were dealing with a difficult child.
"You've been very helpful, Mister Glenn. But your attitude still leaves a lot to be desired. Is the service of House Zeus that hard to bear?"
George did not reply straight away. For a few moments the only sound was the hum of the lights.
"I could say that your society is an affront to everything I believe," he growled. "But that would be empty posturing. Besides," he deflated somewhat, "I didn't have to come to Jupiter to find something like that."
"Well then," Costello said, in a more business-like manner. Perhaps you'd care to know why we sent you out on that flight."
Costello gestured along the corridor, and they set off again.
"The Master suggested it," Costello explained. "He thought that it would help you to understand what this project is all about."
"I see," George mused. "And you of course want to know how I would improve it."
"Radiation shielding is a priority, before you ask. The radiation protection systems on your Tsiolkovsky are quite impressive. I'm sure you can scale one or two of them down."
"I might," George admitted, his anger and sorrow fading as his creative aspect swung into action. "But I'll need to see your plans before I can contribute anything."
"I can do better than that, Mister Glenn." Costello's thin face split into a reptilian smile. "I can show you what we're working with."
Intrigued, George followed Costello through a series of corridors, eventually reaching a security door guarded by two Zeus House Guard troopers in blue. The guards snapped to attention as they approached, standing statue-still as Costello ran his ID card through the reader, typed in his code, and pressed his palm to the scanner. The heavy doors slid open.
George stepped through, staring up at the monolith in the centre of the chamber beyond.
It was quite large, about sixteen metres tall as it stood before him, and coloured bronze. The shape was vaguely human, but with broad, flaring legs around wide feet and a short, fat torso. Its arms extended from spherical shoulders, ending in fat-fingered hands. The head was short and squat, barely rising above the torso, its only feature an enormous camera lens in the middle.
"What is this?" George asked, awestruck.
"A perfectly normal Atlas labour mech," Costello replied, smiling. "Many thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of these machines can be found all across Europa and her colonies. What do you think of it?"
"You're planning to make a new battlepod out of this?" George looked at Costello as if he was wearing his underpants on his head.
"You think it can't work?"
"Well…" George strode in a circle around the Atlas, taking in every detail. As his eyes scanned over the joints, the servomotors, the exposed cables, his thoughts turned to the past, to happier times back on Earth.
"We built such wonderful things back then."
Despite his resentment, despite his guilt, the old instincts were still sharp. He pictured the mech in his mind's eye, effortlessly overlaying the battlepod on it. His imagination could compare them easily; the broadly humaniform Atlas with the vague oval of the battlepod, the arms and legs with the articulated gunpods and the variable-geometry thrusters. To these visions he added the relevant details; the effects of gravity, the delta-V requirement, the effect of additional armour, of weapons. For a few moments, he rediscovered that same transcendent joy of invention he had known back on Earth, of which the Tsiolkovsky had been the ultimate expression.
Anger and remorse flooded through him. Had it been his idea to tempt him with the joy of creation? Or was it Solomon Zeus? Could that old fossil really have seen right through him?
Was there any point in resisting?
"Your verdict?" Costello asked, as George returned.
"As it is it won't work, but we both knew that. It needs a lot more thrust, a lot more armour, and some decent weaponry."
"But it could work?"
"It might work," George allowed cautiously. "It depends on what you have in mind."
"We intend to change its nature," Costello replied, with a fervour in his tone that George hadn't thought him capable of. "Just as we will change Europa, and all of Jupiter. The Founders named it Atlas, for in his punishment they see themselves, making his agony their virtue. With your help, we shall make it Talos, the gift of Zeus to Europa. And like Zeus, we shall cast down the Titans, and begin the new age."
George stared up at the machine, wondering if Costello's new age was something he wanted any part of.
ZAFT Carpentaria Base, November 10th CE 73.
Shinn Asuka had never been to Carpentaria before.
The view as the Minerva came in to dock had impressed him greatly. The main feature was a long runway, reaching out into the bay on an artificial plateau, with piers and transit platforms extending out from it like the branches of a tree. Like the onshore buildings, they had been dropped from orbit early in the Bloody Valentine war. Thanks to that, the base had been brought online in less than two months, a feat of military engineering unmatched in history.
And the welcome! Shinn had expected the battered Minerva to limp into Carpentaria under cover of darkness, hidden in shame. But instead the entire base had turned out to greet them, or so it had seemed. Vosgulov class submarines had lain alongside frigates of the Oceania Union Navy to form a guard of honour, their crews lining the decks to salute and give three cheers as the wounded Minerva had sailed proudly past. He could see the base personnel, a sea of green and red and white and black, lined up to greet the conquering heroes.
Conquering heroes? It hadn't seemed that way at the time. More like fighting for their lives.
Shinn still wasn't sure what to think about that battle. In a way it was an epiphany, a clearing of the way. Orb had shown its true colours, and he had fought to protect his ship, and his true comrades. Whatever debt he might have owed Orb was null and void in the face of their treachery. The bonds had finally been broken.
So why had he felt so depressed that night?
But that wasn't the whole of it. His mind kept returning to the battle, to those strange moments when the world had seemed to fall away. There had been no fear, no hate, no regret. There had been no life, no death, no existence. There was only the targets, only the fight. Never in all the testing, all the training, all the battles, had he felt anything like it.
He only hoped it would return when he needed it. If he was honest, he was enjoying being the hero. In the blink of an eye he had gone from being the Minerva's embarrassment to its pride. He had seen it in the eyes his fellow crew members, in the looks on their faces. He had heard it in their whispered conversations, and the giggles.
If only he had been there.
Shinn still wasn't sure why, but he had wanted to see Prince Daniel. The Captain had said that he was going to be fine, but Shinn had wanted to see him awake and well. The image of him laid on the gurney, his face covered in blood, had lingered him ever since that day.
But why did he even care? He was glad that the Prince was okay, but surely that was just human compassion. It wasn't as if they were friends, or that they would even see each other again. Why did it matter so much?
The voice startled Shinn from his reverie. He glanced up, and saw Rey za Burrell standing next to him, staring through the viewport at the pier beyond. Shinn squinted at the mass of officers and dignitaries, wondering who had caught his friend's attention.
Then he saw.
"Hey you're right," commented Lunamaria Hawke, stepping up at his other side. "To think the Chairman would come here in person. And check out those crowds!"
Shinn followed her line of sight, and saw what she meant. Out beyond the base perimeter he could see the people. They thronged at the fence, waving flags and carrying banners. The flags were the green and red of ZAFT, but also the purple of Jupiter, and he could make out messages of welcome and joy on the banners and signs.
He was a little surprised. ZAFT had not come to Carpentaria under the best of circumstances after all. Then again, Chairman Durandal had gone out of his way to improve relations with the Oceania Union and the African Community, ZAFT's only allies on the surface. His diplomacy and generosity must have borne fruit after all, at least in this city.
"Here they come," Lunamaria hissed. Shinn looked up, wondering for a moment what she meant. He snapped to attention, forming a neat line with his fellow pilots, as Captain Gladys approached.
"Ah, pilots," she said, smiling proudly as she and her party came to a halt in front of the redcoat trio. "Before we face the media circus, one of our esteemed guests has something to say." Shinn's heart skipped a beat as he saw the blue-uniformed Jovians standing behind her and Arthur Trine.
For among them was Prince Daniel. His uniform had been cleaned and pressed, but his face was pale and drawn. Despite it there was a smile on his face.
"Pilots." He paused, as if choosing his words. "I wanted to…that is to say…" He trailed off. The atmosphere was getting awkward.
"The Captain has told me," Daniel went on, seeming to find himself, "that were it not for your efforts, this ship would have been sunk. As such, we owe you our lives." He lowered his head, with an apparent humility that Shinn had thought impossible for one of his status.
"Pilots…my friends…I am profoundly grateful."
"Your Royal Highness need not bow to us," Rey replied elegantly, returning the gesture with a formal bow of his own. "We did only as duty and honour required. We are all of us glad to be of help."
"All the same, I thank you." Shinn's heart froze again as those green eyes met his own.
"Pilot Shinn Asuka," Daniel said, turning to face him directly. "Captain Gladys tells me your efforts were the greatest on that day. I only wish I was awake to see you in action."
"I, uh…" Shinn's voice died in his throat. "I…I did what I had to do…uh, your highness."
Shinn wished the deck would swallow him up. Behind Daniel he could see Arthur Trine, in the early stages of a panic attack. He could see the Prince's three bodyguards too; the older two were making a great show of looking away, while the young girl looked about to burst out laughing.
"I understand if you had other reasons." Daniel pulled the glove from his right hand and held it out. "But all the same, I thank you."
Shinn couldn't move. He saw only sincerity in Daniel's eyes, despite his flowery words, but his limbs had turned to lead. It took all his will to bring up his hand and close it around the Prince's.
"Oh, forgive me." Daniel's smile faltered. "I've made you uncomfortable."
"Perhaps we should be getting on, your highness," ambassador Brand interjected. As if on cue, gunfire reverberated across the bay as the salute began.
"Yes, of course." Daniel stood back from Shinn, acknowledged each of them with a nod, and followed after the Captain. Talia shot Shinn a sympathetic smile as she stepped through the hatch, and Ninin followed up with a giggle. As the last of them stepped through the hatch, Shinn could hear the barked commands and the clatter of rifles coming to present arms. He turned to watch the ceremony through the viewport, as the notes of Holst's Jupiter carried through the open hatch.
"Someday my prince will come…" Lunamaria trilled, grinning from ear to ear.
"Shut up Luna!"
Giga Float, Indian Ocean, November 12th
As the door of the communications suite slid closed, Cagalli drew in a breath.
She was taking a risk, a big risk. The administrator had promised her complete privacy and confidentiality, but instinct and experience told her that such promises counted for very little. Governments and companies alike did their utmost to keep their communications secure, but they'd been fighting a losing battle for almost two centuries. There was always the chance that someone would be listening, if not at this end, then somewhere else. And where there were walls, there was someone willing and able to drill a hole and take a peek.
Cagalli sighed, willing herself to calm down. She was about as a secure as she could be anywhere, at least for the moment. Fashioned from a chunk of colony wall dropped from orbit for the purpose, the Giga Float was primarily a giant floating mass driver. It had been constructed for the Earth Alliance, but in practice it was administrated by the Junk Guild. Constantly moving through international waters, it belonged to everyone, and could be used by anyone, so long as they could pay the fees.
It was also a hotbed of espionage and shady goings-on. If they could not control the Giga Float, the governments of the Earth Sphere were determined to know who was passing through, going where, and doing what. Spies aside, it was a very convenient place to engage in semi or entirely illegal transactions. There were certain things the Junk Guild would not tolerate, such as human trafficking, but otherwise they looked the other way.
Cagalli wasn't entirely comfortable with it, but it was one of very places on Earth where she could do what she needed to do. For one, it was the only place where the Junk Guild could tune up the ship and stock it with ammunition for the battles to come. Berthed in one of the internal docks, the Archangel was invisible to the Atlantic Federation's satellites in any case. By the time their spies managed to get a message out, the Archangel would be long gone, as would any evidence of its being there.
Realising that she was procrastinating, Cagalli sat down in the chair facing the comm screen. It was a matter of a few moments to bring up planetary communication, key in the secret code, and send the request. The reply would not be long in coming, not with a request on that channel.
Sure enough, the reply came. Cagalli keyed to open the channel, and the face of a young woman appeared on the screen.
"Cagalli?" Her eyes widened in surprise. "Is that you?"
"Charlotte." Cagalli felt herself relax a little. The face staring out of the screen at her was familiar, though somewhat older than she remembered. That was no surprise, for she hadn't seen her old classmate for three years. "How are you?"
"Well…" The question seemed to catch her off-guard. It was only then that Cagalli saw the stress-lines around her eyes. "About as well as can be expected. But I never expected to hear from you."
"I'm sorry if I'm interrupting anything," Cagalli said diplomatically. "You're probably very busy right now."
"Just a bit," Charlotte snarked mildly, making Cagalli squirm. "But I know you wouldn't be calling me unless it was important."
Cagalli sighed. Though they had attended the same Swiss finishing school for several years, she and the King of Great Britain's youngest daughter had not exactly been friends, despite a certainly family tie. Cagalli had been rebellious and bad-tempered, hating the frilly, flouncy uniform and constantly having to behave like a lady. Charlotte had been prim and hard-nosed, never putting a foot wrong yet always ready with a waspish comment. Cagalli had been the class troublemaker; Charlotte had been the student council morals officer.
Such a combination did not make for cordial relations, let alone friendship. Yet on the day the school was closed, and the other girls had wept, twittered, and hugged, she had been the only one Cagalli felt like saying goodbye to. Charlotte had been the nearest thing she had to a friend.
And vice versa.
"It is important," Cagalli admitted. "We're talking fate of the world important."
"I take it that's why you almost married that greasy little man," Charlotte said sourly. "Good God Cagalli, what the hell were you thinking? Father worried himself half to death, and if Elana were alive…"
"Don't lecture me!" Cagalli snapped. "You think I don't know?! You think I can't see what I almost did?! And don't you dare bring my aunt into this!"
There was an awkward pause. Cagalli slumped as the anger faded; she was too tired to sustain it.
"I'm sorry Charlotte."
"No, I'm sorry." The reply took Cagalli by surprise. It was probably the nicest thing Charlotte had said to her since they were seven. "I know you've been through hell, what with all this wretched warmongering going on. No one else seems interested in stopping it."
"That's actually why I'm calling, Charlotte." Cagalli braced herself. "Even if all I have is the Archangel and my friends, I have to keep on trying."
"What exactly do you want me to do?"
"Just tell me what's going on. How is the government reacting? The public? Anything you can tell me."
Charlotte sighed, and Cagalli began to dread her answer.
"Not long after your wedding, a rumour got out that the Federation was reinforcing Iceland. It caused a terrible stir. People have started leaving."
"What are the government doing about it?" Cagalli felt her heart sink. If the Atlantic Federation was moving additional forces to Iceland, that meant only one thing.
"Getting more and more obstinate," Charlotte replied. "They seem determined to go through with the secession."
"I can't believe it!" Cagalli exclaimed. "The whole government?"
"Not all of them, but enough. Half the House of Commons are screaming for unconditional surrender, but the government has the armed forces and the PMCs on side, or so I heard the Prime Minister boasting last week. If they decide to go, there's no one who can stop them."
"What about your father, the King?" Cagalli pleaded desperately. "If he spoke out, people would listen!"
"Cagalli, you know that's not how things are done." Charlotte sighed. "Besides, I'm not sure the public cares either way."
"If they don't care," Cagalli retorted, "then who were those people on the news?"
She had seen a news broadcast during the voyage from Orb. She had seen the crowds parading in the streets, with their placards and banners. Most proclaimed secession, while one or two held slogans in support of the PLANTs, Eurasia, and even Orb. The reports had also shown counter-demonstrations by pro-Atlantic Federation groups, apparently for the entertainment value.
"You've been watching the news, Cagalli." Charlotte gave her a patient look. "Did they bother to do any interviews, or ask who they were?"
"You're saying those demonstrations were fake?"
"No they were real, but a lot of the demonstrators were in the country on tourist visas."
Cagalli was surprised, and worried. She had known that people were getting involved, but not on that kind of scale. To any casual onlooker, it would seem as if thousands, maybe tens of thousands, of people from all over the world had travelled to Britain because they wanted it to secede from the Atlantic Federation.
It made no sense. Britain was a forgotten backwater, a minor state that kept itself solvent selling weapons and providing mercenaries. There were plenty of small countries in that situation, but their means of survival did not make them popular with the chattering classes. To her annoyance, even Orb was sometimes lumped in with the so-called 'warmonger states' in the court of public opinion.
Whatever had brought those people there, it couldn't have been sympathy. The sort of people who tried to change the world by parading around waving placards would not have much truck with a country like Britain.
So what was it? And why was the government so convinced that it could win?
Or that it had no choice?
Cagalli swallowed, as a cold lump formed in the bottom of her stomach.
"Charlotte," she said. "Who are those people?"
"Please Charlotte!" Cagalli wailed, though she feared she already knew. "If you know something, anything, I have to know!"
"Cagalli…" Charlotte was visibly trying to master herself. "Cagalli, people took considerable risks in telling me what I know. If their identities were to be known…"
"Please!" Cagalli felt tears prick at her eyes. Charlotte sighed, and Cagalli saw fear and shame in her eyes.
"Some of them…are soldiers, Cagalli." Her voice was hoarse. "Special forces."
Cagalli felt her entire being drop like a stone. She had feared it, suspected it, but somehow hearing it from her lips made it ten times worse.
"Who?" she forced herself to ask. "Who sent them? Where are they from?"
"I don't know, Cagalli." Charlotte looked miserable. "I honestly don't know. I'm not entirely sure the government knows. But they daren't let the Atlantic Federation occupy this country. They know what'll happen to them if they're found out."
"Yes, you're right."
Cagalli felt sick. The most likely source of the secret troops was Eurasia, but that just meant they had been involved all along. There were other powers with scores to settle, notably South America, but a humiliated and raging Atlantic Federation was not in their interests. That left only one likely candidate.
"Charlotte, I need you to do something for me." She knew now what she had to do.
"Tell your father, tell the Prime Minister, tell anyone you can. Ask them to hold off on the secession until I arrive."
"Well…" Charlotte looked dubious. "How long will that take?"
"A week, maybe two."
"That's not good Cagalli. They waited a month when you offered Orb's fleet. What have you this time?"
"Tell them…" Cagalli drew herself up. "Tell them I'm bringing the Archangel and the Freedom."
Charlotte looked impressed. The Archangel alone was not to be sneezed at, but the Freedom too would be enough to convince anyone. She didn't bother to mention the Strike Rouge, or the other mobile suit they were picking up on the Giga Float. It would merely detract from the effect.
"I'll tell them Cagalli. I can't promise anything, but it might be enough to convince them. If not, I'll hold them as long as I can."
"Thank you, Lola." Cagalli felt tears rising as the old nickname slipped out. Charlotte chuckled.
"It's the least I can do, Lali."
Aprilius One PLANT, Lagrange 5
"Excellent," Gilbert Durandal thought, as the open-topped limousine glided along the boulevard. "If I say so myself."
It had gone very well. Very well indeed. A part of him had feared that something would go wrong, considering how quickly everything had been organised and prepared. But the welcome ceremonies had thus far gone without a hitch.
As the motorcade proceeded along the main boulevard, Durandal glanced at the crowds thronging the streets to his left. A sea of smiling faces greeted him, mouths open to cheer and shout greetings. The citizens waved flags, some the green and red of the PLANTs, others the purple of Jupiter. Some carried placards and banners, emblazoned with messages of welcome. Some of them were rather…explicit.
If the young man seated next to him had noticed, he made no show of it. Durandal acknowledged the cheering crowds with a wave, then glanced to his right. Prince Daniel was holding up well, remarkably well for one so young, as he smiled and waved at the happy throng.
"Very good," Durandal thought, allow his smile to widen just a little. That had been another potential problem. He had feared that the PLANT public might not take too well to their royal visitor, or that someone might pull a stunt. His fears had, thankfully, been for naught.
"I trust your highness enjoyed the city's welcome?" he said, not too unctuously. "It was the best we could do at such short notice."
"If it there was short notice, the fault was entirely mine," Daniel replied, smiling. "Your people honour me with their greeting."
"Thank you for your kind words."
It was the usual spiel, an occasionally irritating but generally harmless necessity. Besides, he couldn't just say what he wanted to say straight off. Such things required careful timing, and the time was just…about…right.
"Your highness may recall our meeting in Carpentaria," he said, keeping up the tempo of glancing, smiling, and waving. "Have you given thought to our request?"
"I have." Daniel did likewise. "I would be pleased to grant your request."
"I am very glad to hear it." Durandal gave Daniel a wide smile. "As it happens, I'm holding a gathering for a few, shall we say, friends tonight. I was wondering if you would give us an exclusive preview. Your entourage is invited, of course."
"I would be happy to." If Daniel was in any way unsettled or suspicious, he made no show of it. Not that he had anything to be suspicious about. Nothing much, anyway.
"Regarding that, your highness." Now was the time. "I wonder if you would care to join me in…a small intrigue?"
"A small intrigue, Chairman?"
"A…rather special guestwill be present at the event tonight," Durandal explained, his inner smile widening. "She has been absent from the PLANTs for some time, and has only just returned. The other guests are aware of this, but we're keeping this hush-hush for the moment. I would be most grateful if you and your party could do likewise until our preparations are complete."
"By all means, Chairman." Daniel's smile was that of an innocent young boy. "Please be assured of our discretion."
"I am most grateful, your highness."
Durandal relaxed in his seat, resisting the urge to grin like the Cheshire cat.
"Very good. Very good indeed."
All at once the motorcade had reached the Supreme Council building. Chairman and Prince stepped out of their limousine as it drew in front of the main entrance, then paused a few moments to greet a deputation from the Supreme Council itself. Once the greetings were done, and the other cars had deposited the rest of their respective entourages, Durandal led Daniel into the building. A formation of honour guards snapped to attention, their rifles held at present arms, as they passed.
"You must be tired after your journey, your highness," Durandal said fulsomely, as soon as they had passed the honour guard. "We have a little time before dinner, so I wondered if you and your companions would accept my hospitality in my private chambers?"
"I would be happy to, Chairman."
Smiling, Durandal led Daniel and his three companions away from the main group. Behind them, Ricardo Orff and Takao Schreiber took charge of the other guests, leading them into the main lounge where refreshments awaited. Durandal knew he was risking a faux-pas by taking Daniel aside so early in the proceedings, but he wasn't concerned. He was the chief host, but the Supreme Council members were more than important enough to cover for him. Besides, Daniel was the guest of honour, so it wasn't exactly rude to take him aside for a while.
Besides, any loss of face was nothing compared to the coup that awaited him in the chambers a little way along the corridor.
Daniel felt himself relax.
The arrival seemed to have gone well, at least as far as he could tell. The crowds had been brimming over with enthusiasm, and the PLANT dignitaries had been suitably welcoming. He was particularly touched by the attention of Gilbert Durandal, especially after what had happened in Orb.
He had been worried about that. It had haunted him, from when he had woken up on board the Minerva to their arrival in Carpentaria. He certainly hadn't expected a formal welcome there, or for Durandal to be so…forgiving.
There had been no alternative, of course. Durandal would have wanted an explanation sooner or later, and he was never going to believe that the Orb government had simply double-crossed them, not after making a declaration of friendship. Besides, the Chairman had pretty much figured it out on his own. That, or he had some very well-placed spies inside the Orb government and Morgenroete.
"I must confess, mister Chairman, I was worried," he said, glancing up at the much taller Durandal. "I was afraid the people might have learned of our…conduct in Orb."
"Even if they did, there is no cause for concern," Durandal replied warmly. "Politics and diplomacy, nothing more."
"Even so," Daniel went on. For all the comfort Durandal offered, he just couldn't bring himself to let go of the guilt he felt. "After what we gave them."
"At the moment, Orb isn't exactly an enemy," Durandal explained. "And besides, they double-crossed you first, which gets you the sympathy vote."
"I suppose." Daniel could hear the footsteps of his friends behind him. He felt their concentration, their suspicion. He felt a twinge of guilt over the pain he had caused them, over the risks they had taken to protect him, to bring him to the Minerva. He wished there had been more time on the journey from Carpentaria; time to talk, time to apologise, time to remind them of what they meant to him.
Of what they had always meant to him.
"And here we are." They reached a wood-panelled double-door at the end of the corridor, flanked by green-uniformed ZAFT guards. The two men snapped to attention and saluted as the party approached. Durandal acknowledged them with a nod, and they opened the doors.
The room beyond was large, and sparsely but tastefully furnished. A long desk dominated the opposite end of the room, while a sofa and a pair of armchairs stood either side of a narrow coffee table in the centre. The walls were decorated with paintings and vid-screens, and a series of plinths were arranged here and there around the room. Upon each stood some sort of four-legged machine, contained in a transparent cell that reached up to the ceiling.
"I forgot to say," the Chairman said, as he stepped inside and bade his guests follow. "A certain someone will be joining us."
Daniel was momentarily confused as he stepped past Durandal into the room, wondering what he meant.
Then he saw her.
She was seated on the sofa, side-on to the door. Her hair was very long, and to Daniel's surprise it was bright pink. He was still growing accustomed to the strange hair colours that were so common in the Earth Sphere. She turned her head as they entered, and their eyes met.
Daniel was entranced. He knew he was staring at her, but he couldn't help himself. Those wide blue eyes, that gentle, startled air, that face…
"Your royal highness." Durandal's smile was positively vulpine as the young girl stood up. Her figure was a perfect, wide-hipped hourglass, complimented by the flowing purple skirt of her gown. The bodice was white, with a high, wide collar reaching her chin, which had the curious effect of drawing attention to her face. Her hands were clasped demurely in front, emerging from the purple frills that decorated her cuffs. A golden ornament in the shape of a star decorated her hairline above her left eye.
"I have the pleasure to present one of our most prominent citizens," Durandal said. "Miss Lacus Clyne."
Was this the voice that had soothed his troubled heart on all those lonely nights? Had those angelic words come from that soft, delicate throat? Had her eyes sparkled as she sang them, the way they sparkled now?
"Your highness." The angel half-bowed, in the same fashion as he had seen in Orb. "I'm so glad to meet you at last."
It was her. It was her voice. He had found her at last.
"Miss Clyne," Durandal continued. "I present…"
"Daniel Scirocco." It took all of his self-control to match her bow in the proper way. "I..." The words caught in his throat. Daniel felt the blood rush to his head as he tried to clear his mind. Sentences ran through his mind, each one sounding ever more stupid and pathetic than the last.
"I mean to say," he went on, trying desperately to sound gracious. "I have wanted to meet you…for a very long time."
Deep inside, he screamed in utter despair. He could think of nothing that sounded more dull, awkward, indelicate, tasteless even. He was making a fool of himself, and it could only get worse.
He forced himself to look up, to look her in the face and bear the embarrassment. Would she laugh at him? Would she be angry? Disgusted?
She was none of those things. Daniel's heart skipped a beat as he saw the pink cheeks, those beautiful eyes cast downward, that awkward, nervous smile.
"Forgive me," he managed to say, finding a little of his courage. "I've made you uncomfortable."
"Oh no, not at all!" The nympth's face reddened as she brought her hands to her mouth. "I fear I'm the one making you uncomfortable, your highness."
Behind Daniel, Hannon, Ninin, and Damien looked at one-another in stunned disbelief.
Later that night
Athrun was nervous.
He hadn't expected to be invited to the Chairman's private event. He hadn't even known it was happening until one of his flunkies had shown up with the invitation. He hadn't particularly wanted to go either. He had spent a hard day testing the Saviour, and a night spent surrounded by Durandal's political and military allies was bound to be awkward.
Especially since he would be there.
But it was a formal invitation, in the Chairman's own hand and carrying his signature. He could hardly refuse.
And so there he was, wearing an uncomfortable formal suit, trying to ignore the supposedly atmospheric music playing in the background, his stomach looping the loop every few seconds, in the presence of Evidence 01.
He would never get used to that thing. Not like this. Not standing on the gleaming floor of the chamber, the massive slab of rock looming over him like a carved shard of creation. He had grown and changed, and not entirely for the better, since last he had seen it. But every time he gazed up at that great edifice, he became that little boy standing beside his mother, seeing it for the first time.
There wasn't another like it in the Earth Sphere, nor in all human knowledge. It was the treasure of the PLANTs, the trophy brought back by George Glenn from the moons of Jupiter. They called it the winged whale, for its skeleton looked vaguely like that of a whale, with two long appendages that might be called wings. It was the first, and thus far only, proof of any kind of multicellular life beyond the Earth.
Athrun almost wanted to burst out laughing, in spite of the old awe. The pride and hope of the Coordinators, the symbol of the destiny his father had chosen for them, all of it a lie.
Well, not entirely a lie. Just because he had neglected to mention the Jovians, that didn't mean the fossil itself was fake. Did it? Surely that truth could remain, couldn't it?
Perhaps it could. Perhaps that was why Durandal had chosen to hold his little get-together in the Evidence 01 chamber. Perhaps he had another revelation waiting to impress his guests.
And what guests. Wandering among the clusters of expensively-dressed higher-ups, Athrun had marvelled at the array of fashions and styles on display. PLANT fashions tended towards the conservative, at least among the elite. Most of the men were in uniform, that of ZAFT or the administration, as were many of the women. It was the women not in uniform who stood out, in those long, flowing hoop skirts that were so popular among high-status women throughout the Earth Sphere.
Seeing them reminded him of Lacus, back during the war, when she was still his fiancée. He pictured her gliding across the mirror-polished floor, her gown barely rustling, her soft, white hands clasped demurely in front. He could see her moving from cluster to cluster, meeting, greeting, and conversing with that effortless grace that had captured countless hearts. She would have been so at home at an event like this.
Would it have been that way if the Jovians had come sooner, back when the war was still on? Would she have graced that same floor, charming Jovian guests while his father poured poison in their ears? Would he have been there, in his proud red coat, his arm linked with hers?
The melancholy thoughts were put aside, as Athrun took in the others present. This was not just a PLANT gathering; a veritable cornucopia of fashions vied for his attention around the chamber. He saw flowing robes, embroidered caftans, gossamer silks, elaborate head-dresses, glittering ornaments. Some of them he recognized as coming from the African Community and the Oceania Federation; their presence was no great surprise. But there were others he had never seen in the PLANTs before, though he recognized them.
"Eurasia…" he thought. "They're here already."
Whatever Durandal's plan was, it was accelerating. If the Atlantic Federation found out that Eurasian representatives had attended a private event in Aprilius One, there would be the devil to pay. Athrun couldn't shake the horrible feeling that it was exactly what the Chairman wanted.
Deciding that he should introduced himself, Athrun glanced around for Durandal. After a few moments he spotted the Chairman, surrounded by a loose cluster of flunkies and guests. He saw the Jovians there too, in their distinctive dark blue uniforms. As he drew closer he could make out the senior officers of the Jovian Dawn, Captain Juno Moneta chief among them. He saw Daniel in the middle of a conversation with Durandal, with a young woman on his arm.
Athrun's breath caught in his throat as he saw her. For a moment he thought he was mistaken, but it was definitely Meer Campbell, standing right next to Daniel, her right arm hooked through his left.
He cleared his throat. This wasn't something he could turn away from, not now.
"Ah!" Gilbert Durandal proclaimed, with apparent happiness, as he saw Athrun draw near. "So good of you to come." He gestured for Athrun to come closer, while spreading his other hand to present Daniel and Meer.
"I'm so glad you came, Athrun!" Meer was smiling, apparently pleased to see him. "Prince, this is Athrun Zala, whom you last met as Alex Dino."
"Miss Clyne has explained the situation to me," Daniel said, also smiling, as he extended his right hand.
"I am most relieved, your highness," Athrun replied decorously, bowing his head as he shook the proffered hand. He had only just arrived, but the formal speech was already starting to irritate him. A flash of gold drew his attention to Daniel's left hand, held up over his belt.
His heart skipped a beat as he saw the signet ring upon the little finger, and the symbol upon it.
"Is something wrong?" Daniel asked, noticing his reaction.
"That ring…" Athrun blurted out, before he could stop himself. He glanced at Meer, saw the quizzical look on her face. It was only then that he saw what she was wearing.
"No!" a voice inside him screamed. "That's Lacus' dress! Why are you wearing it!? You fraud!"
"Oh, yes." Daniel raised his hand to examine the ring, a strangely melancholy look in his eyes. "I thought you had heard."
"Oh yes," Athrun growled. "I heard all right." He could hear the mutterings around him, but he was too bitter, too angry, to be respectful. He was bitter at Cagalli for dumping him without so much as a Dear John letter. He was angry with the two interlopersin front of him for riding roughshod over his life.
Angry with himself with following without a word.
"Mister Athrun." Athrun's anger faded a little as he saw the shame in Daniel's eyes. "Please understand…" He faltered.
"I fear there may have been a misunderstanding," Durandal interjected, with perfect timing. "Athrun has been engaged in secret work ever since the formal announcement. It's possible he hasn't heard of recent events."
That was true. Since he had signed up as a test pilot, just over a fortnight earlier, Athrun had spent his entire time with the Saviour, at one of ZAFT's secure testing stations. He had put the machine through its paces, subjecting it to every trick, every trial he could think of. It had outperformed his expectations, in every way. SO much so, he had begun to worry about how much he was enjoying the work.
The upshot had been that he was out of circulation. Communications with the secure areas were strictly controlled, meaning he hadn't had an opportunity to catch up on what was going on out in the Earth Sphere. At the time, he hadn't even wanted to.
"Oh no wonder!" Meer giggled behind her free hand. The sound sucked the anger out of Athrun, and replaced it with embarrassment. It made him feel like a clumsy, awkward schoolboy trying to talk to the cheer captain, with the entire squad looking on.
"What…exactly happened?" he asked, trying to master himself.
"It was so exciting!" proclaimed a giddy Meer. "The Freedom flew in and stole her away!"
"It what!?" Athrun's mouth dropped open. The Freedom? Kira? What was going on?
"You sure nothing's going on?!" Damien snarled, his eyes fixed on Athrun. "Even I felt that last one!"
"It's okay," Ninin insisted, her eyes closed in concentration. "He's not gonna do anything. He's just really, really angry."
"With Prince Daniel?" Hannon asked suspiciously.
"A little. But…there's something else." Ninin's brow furrowed, and Damien and Hannon both shivered as they felt her power rise. "He's sad…so very sad."
"In what way?" asked Captain Juno Moneta. Like the other officers she was clustered around the trio, eyes fixed on Ninin. They knew of her power, and knew to keep it hidden. To any outside observer they would seem to be conspiring in a group, just like everyone else.
"It feels like…he lost someone," Ninin went on. "Someone precious to him. There's…betrayal, and fear too."
"Betrayal," Juno mused. "So…he and the Chief Representative were lovers after all."
"So what!?" Damien growled. "That's no reason to blame it on Daniel!"
"Isn't it?" Hannon interjected, his countenance dark. "He did almost give her away."
"Enough," Juno ordered, her voice quiet, but enough to end the argument. "Ensign Pulu-Lemo, what else do you sense?"
"Oh, the usual." Ninin visibly relaxed. "Suspicion, avarice, curiosity, lust; as I said, the usual."
"I meant from…that girl." Juno's eyes were hard and suspicious. Damien was surprised by it. Moneta was a fighting officer, a survivor of the Ionian War. She had been captain of a warship in the year he and Hannon were born. As a captain she had a reputation as the firm-but-fair type, and she had kept a tight ship on the Jovian Dawn. Damien had been on the receiving end of her discipline more than once, and knew how unyielding it could be.
But this wasn't like her. Damien had never seen her so on edge. Come to think of it, she had been like that ever since they had briefly returned to the Jovian Dawn the day before. It couldn't have been leftover stress from the crisis with Orb; she had dealt with far worse in her time.
Was she…worried about Daniel? Did she have something against that mysterious girl who claimed to be Lacus Clyne?
"Her?" Ninin shrugged. "She's hiding something. Just like everyone else in here."
"Kindly refrain from facetiousness, Ensign Pulu-Lemo," the captain growled.
"She's definitely worried," Damien thought. Her eyes were hard and guarded, more so than he had ever seen them. But his eyes were inexorably drawn to those high cheekbones, that finely-tapering chin, the small, slightly turned-up nose, those round green eyes.
So familiar. So very familiar.
Daniel's heart hammered in his chest as he followed Durandal up the dais steps. On the floor below, the rumble of conversation faded as the guests noticed. He could feel their eyes upon him as he took up position alongside the Chairman. Lacus was at his side, her proximity making him even more nervous.
Soon it would be his…no, their turn. The creation he was about to display was as much her work as his. In truth, all he had done was provide the archive footage and oversee the graphics team provided by Durandal. Their enthusiasm had been as infectious as their artistry was inspiring.
But it would have been nothing without the music Lacus had provided. Her music.
"May I have your attention?" Durandal's voice, amplified by the hidden microphones set into the podium, carried easily around the vast chamber. The last mutterings of conversation fell silent as all eyes turned to him. Daniel took a breath, slowing his heart as he had been taught.
"Members of the Diplomatic Corps, distinguished colleagues, honoured guests. It is with great pride and joy that I welcome you all to this place." The words came out as smooth as silk, yet heavy with gravitas.
"Some of you may wonder why I chose this place to host our gathering. For so many years, this place was all but forbidden, a place kept by those of small mind and fearful heart for the Coordinators of the PLANTs only. To do so, I firmly believe, was to degrade and obscure this place's true meaning." He paused for effect.
"To me, my friends, this is a place for both past and future, for hope and for remembrance, for friends both old and new. This great relic," he gestured up at the giant fossil "was brought to us by George Glenn, in a time of great hope, but also of great upheaval. For we who were born Coordinators, this relic will always carry a special significance, for it was in those times that our kind first came into being." Another pause.
"But we cannot monopolise it any longer," he went on. "George Glenn intended his legacy to be the treasure of all humanity, not merely of the genetically enhanced. It is my profound hope that this gathering, of old friends and new, will mark the beginning of a new era."
The audience broke into thunderous applause. Daniel found himself applauding along with them, touched to the heart by the conviction in his words.
"But there is another, more specific reason why I have chosen this place as our venue tonight. The arrival of our Jovian cousins has raised many profound questions regarding the legacy of George Glenn. To answer them, I present our guest of honour." He gestured to Daniel. "His Royal Highness, Prince Daniel."
There was more applause as Durandal stepped away from the podium. His legs turning to jelly, Daniel glanced back at Lacus. She was smiling, her eyes full of hope and expectation. The sight of her was the nudge he needed, but it took all his willpower to make himself stride to the podium.
"In these last weeks upon the Earth," he began, enunciating carefully so as to give himself time to think, "I have met with representatives of many governments and organisations. Some have been welcoming, others less so." He paused, scanning his eyes over the guests for their reactions. He sensed discontent, though whether it was aimed at him he could not say.
"In many of the private letters and correspondences that have come to me, one question stands out above all others. They ask me, why didn't George Glenn tell us about your people? Why did he lie?" He paused again, and he could sense the shift in the atmosphere. His words were unsettling to them, but what he took to be their desire to hear the answer was far stronger. He only hoped he was interpreting them correctly.
"This question I must answer here and now. George Glenn concealed our existence from you because we asked it of him." A rumble from the audience.
"I am sorry to say that in those times, our isolation in the void had made us fearful. It was the fear of our people that some terrible power had arisen to dominate the Earth, and that they would seek to destroy us. It was for that reason that my grandfather, Solomon Zeus, made his request. In return for his promise, and in gratitude for his many assistances to us, Solomon gave George Glenn this relic, a treasure of his house. It was their shared hope that our people would one day find their strength, and that they would be able to seek out the Earth and meet with its people, to stand beside them as equals, and as friends. To stand here before you, to be welcomed among you, is proof to me that their hope is very much alive. To all of you, and all the peoples you represent, I thank you with all my heart."
Daniel felt warm satisfaction as the guests applauded. Durandal had been right, a little flattery never hurt.
But then he glanced sideways, driven by some unanswerable compulsion. He saw Lacus' face as she clapped, the admiration and joy emanating from it like golden sunlight. All the adulation of all the world could not have compared to it.
"As a show of our ardent hope, I have, with the kind help of Miss Lacus Clyne and Chairman Durandal, overseen the creation of a special presentation. I dedicate it to them, to all of you, and to all the peoples of the Earth Sphere." There was more applause as Daniel glanced down at the podium. The controls were as the technicians had described, thank heaven.
With the touch of a button, the lights turned down, lowering the chamber gently into darkness. The air above the guests began to shimmer, like sunlight shone through water. Daniel felt a shiver of excitement as he saw it, amazed both by the sophistication of the hologram technology and the skill of the technicians who operated it. Durandal had promised the best, and had evidently given the best.
An instrumental version of Lacus' Mizu no Akashi began to play, the music melding perfectly with the visual effects. It was better than he could have thought possible.
"The fossil before you was found in the depths of Europa's oceans, over a hundred years ago, by a mining operation." He didn't know if the guests could hear a single word, but it didn't matter. "It is a distant relation to the modern Europan whale."
Right on cue, as the music began its main movement, an enormous shape emerged from Evidence 01. A gasp went up from the crowd as the holographic whale slid out into the empty air, its distinctive 'wings' undulating as it cut through the illusionary waters.
"We have identified twelve distinct species of whale," Daniel went on, his nerves tingling with excitement. "And we have learnt much of their behaviour and natures. They have a great deal in common with Terran whales. One of the first things we learnt was that they were broadly mammalian."
As he spoke, a smaller whale emerged from the fossil and swam towards the first whale, which was 'swimming' through the air over the crowd.
"Like Terran whales, Europan whales give birth to live young, and nurse them for a long time." An ohhhh went up from the guests as the calf nuzzled up to its mother. Daniel could feel their excitement, their wonder, their joy. It was enough to make him forget the trials he had endured, the pain he had suffered, the worry he had caused his friends. He felt warm inside as he remembered the first time he'd ever seen a whale, in a diving capsule with his father, so many years ago. He remembered seeing that very same mother whale and her calf, and the strange feeling the sight had elicited in his child self.
"Europan whales are also social, at times moving in large packs and at other times alone. They communicate through sound." He pressed a button, and a long, keening cry cut through the sounds of the chamber. Daniel took the opportunity to glance at Lacus again. She was gazing up at the whale, hands clasped over her substantial bosom, bright with almost child-like joy.
And on his other side, Gilbert Durandal watched with a broad smile on his face.
"Very good. Very good indeed."
Wow, that took some doing.
I understand if you're starting to get bored with all this talk. If this chapter seems to be rushing things, that's pretty much why. I need to get this stuff done in order to set up some character development later, but I confess I'm longing for some action scenes.
A couple of small points. Firstly, I decided to retcon that part about the King of GB being Cagalli's uncle. It seemed a bit much, and I realised that it didn't quite fit the timeframe. To clear that up, her aunt Elana was the older sister of her adoptive father Uzumi nara Athha, and she married Charlotte's eldest brother.
Secondly, regarding Evidence 01. When I first planned this fic, I knew I would have to explain the whale fossil sooner or later. The idea I eventually lighted on was of it being a fossil of a creature that lived under Europa's ice. I thought it reasonable to call it a whale because it is referred-to as such by characters in the series, meaning that the colonists who first encountered these creatures would likely reach the same conclusion. As for its biology, I understand that I'm taking a risk by adding the distinctly mammalian features of live birth and nursing, but it didn't seem unreasonable.
For the next chapter, I'm hoping to be able to get to the war you all know is coming (it wouldn't be Gundam otherwise). Though Athrun and Cagalli are thousands of miles apart, they will both be caught up in it, for reasons that are not so different. In the face of treachery, and of desperate courage, Daniel will face the hardest test of his life.