AUTHOR'S NOTE: Well gang, this is at last the end. It has been a long project, but I have had a lot of fun writing it, personally. I hope you all have enjoyed reading it.
Here is a little bit of a final note, just to put the finishing touches on the story and wrap up the select few loose ends that are remaining. A lot of original stuff, a bit drawn from FINAL PLUS. Enjoy.
EPILOGUE: To a New Tomorrow
December 24, C.E. 75
Eileen Canaver entered the great room that served as the primary meeting place of the PLANT Supreme Council, and surveyed the enormous round table.
She saw only three vacant chairs – that of the Council Chairman and the two seats occupied by the representatives of the Diplomatic Committee, including the one she herself had occupied in her former position as its Chair.
The nine people currently seated at the table stood as she approached and sat in her place, the seat only so recently occupied by the late Gilbert Durendal. Before that, Patrick Zala, and before him her good friend and colleague, Siegel Clyne.
The remaining members of the Supreme Council had just taken their seats when two people strode through the still-open doors.
The first to enter was Taras Kazaevski, of Februarius City, who had been elected to the Supreme Council to fill the void left by the expulsion of Durendal, who had been the Representative from Februarius City as well as the Supreme Council Chairman. Behind him came the new Chairman of the Diplomatic Committee, who had replaced another old friend and colleague of Eileen's, Richard Schreiber, who had retired.
Both men wore the same long, dark blue overcoat and dress pants, white shirt, and red tie as the other ten individuals assembled.
But the latter was far younger than his colleague, and indeed than any of his peers; he was perhaps, Eileen reflected, the youngest person to have ever been appointed to the Supreme Council.
But when he had been appointed to Eileen's former post over the more senior Kazaevski, many were surprised. Eileen, however, was not.
The two men greeted the table respectfully, then moved to their assigned seats.
- "Chairman Zala, Representative Kazaevski." Eileen Canaver stated, "You both are very nearly late."
- "Forgive me, Chairwoman Canaver." Athrun Zala replied deferentially. "I was speaking with President Marshall and took a little longer than expected."
It was the first time the Council met since Athrun's controversial appointment, and he had been given the onerous task of serving as the point man on the negotiations between the PLANTs, Orb, and the Alliance in the wake of the recently-ended war.
Eileen Canaver herself had also been very closely involved, for which Athrun was grateful. But Athrun's unique experience with both the PLANTs and Orb – and to a lesser extent the Alliance, having led forces from all three nations in battle – meant that he was in a peculiarly effective position to coordinate between the parties involved, because he was known and trusted by, among others, President Marshall as well as several of the Alliance's most senior military officers.
- "Very well then. Since we are now all present, I can call this meeting to order." Canaver said. "The reason we are here is, of course, the matter of the negotiations with Orb and the Alliance. And I propose that Chairman Zala update us on the most recent developments in the negotiations."
Athrun stood, withdrawing a thick sheaf of documents from the leather briefcase he carried.
- "Presidents Marshall and Rodgers have been in contact, and have formalized reconciliation between their two nations along the lines envisioned by the late President Baum." Athrun reported. "At the same time, both President Marshall and Representative Athha of Orb have been putting pressure on President Rodgers as well as Prime Minister Zhang Yunsheng of the Republic of East Asia, and the Diplomatic Committee has been in contact with both."
- "Well done." Eileen replied impassively, though she was impressed.
- "Thank you." Athrun replied. Then he handed each of them a thick, bound document. "This is the most recent draft copy of the treaty that the Diplomatic Committee has received. We have assurances from the USSA, African Community, and South African Union that they will support the treaty, and Representative Athha and President Marshall have done so as well."
The assembled council read through the document.
- "Very impressive." Ezalia Joule commented aloud as she did so, and many of the others nodded approvingly.
- "I agree." Chairwoman Canaver replied.
- "At this time, I would like to bring this matter to a formal vote before the Supreme Council; the ratification of the treaty as it stands." Athrun requested once all twelve assembled members of the Council had read the document.
- "Very well." Chairwoman Canaver granted. And when she asked the room at large whether they would ratify the treaty, eleven hands rose in assent, then Athrun raised his own hand as well. The vote was unanimous.
Night was falling across the sparsely populated agricultural colony of Junius Three, one of eleven colonies in the sixth City in the PLANTs, dedicated to growing the food the nation needs to feed itself.
On the porch of a small single-story house on the edge of one of the many artificial streams that provide the colony with its critical water supply, a pale, dark-haired young man sits in contemplative quietude, watching the sun disappear over the horizon.
It had been a few weeks since the Second Battle of Daedalus ended what was now being called the Second Junius War. For his accomplishments in the battle, Shinn Asuka had been awarded the Order of the Nebula – his second one. The coveted medal hung, with his other decorations, in a little alcove in the living room, along with the two cracked halves of a seashell, hung on tattered strings, and an old pink mobile phone.
Most prominent in the alcove was a photograph several years old now, showing a group of young cadets fresh out of ZAFT's military academy, still holding the scrolls they had been given at their graduation.
Through the open door of the house a big black lab padded out of the house and laid its big head on its master's knee. Without looking at the dog, he absently scratched behind its ear.
Then, the dog raised its head and let out a gruff bark, looking past him at the road that passed by the house as a long black car pulled up.
He stood, and walked around to meet the car as its sole occupant stepped out.
At the same time, a young woman in a simple, two-tone blue dressed stepped out of the little house. The dying sunlight glinted off a gold ring on her finger.
The new arrival was taller and formally dressed, with a long dark blue coat over a white shirt, red tie, and dark blue trousers.
"Chairman Zala." Shinn addressed the new arrival, who shook his head.
- "Am I going to have to tell you again, Shinn? It's Athrun."
Shinn Asuka smiled at his friend and former commander, who now occupied the exalted position of Chairman of the Supreme Council's Diplomatic Committee.
- "It's good to see you again, Athrun."
- "Likewise." Athrun replied, looking from Shinn to Stella. "It's good seeing you both. You seem to be doing well."
- "So're you." Shinn said with a grin. "Been keeping busy, I hear."
- "Never busier." He said. "Chairwoman Canaver's put me in charge of the negotiations with Orb and the Alliance. I've been in touch with Cagalli in Orb, as well as Presidents Marshall and Rodgers. But the good news is, the treaty's been finalized."
- "Good." Stella said softly, and Shinn nodded.
- "Has it been signed yet?" Shinn asked. Athrun shook his head.
- "Next week, in Orb." he replied. "The Alliance is sending a delegation, as is the PLANTs. I have to go, of course. But I'd like you to come with me as part of the delegation. Both of you."
Shinn looked at Stella, who nodded. Then he turned back to Athrun.
- "Sure thing." He replied. "I can get the neighbors to take care of Sam when we're away. When do we leave?"
- "In three days." Athrun replied. "Shuttle takes off from Aprilius, straight to Orb."
- "We'll be there." Shinn promised.
The long-range diplomatic shuttle from the PLANTs arrived on schedule, landing on the runway nearest the mass driver and taxiing to a stop next to a similar shuttle, which had arrived the previous day from Paris bearing the delegation from the Earth Alliance.
Waiting for the shuttle's occupants was Representative Athha, flanked as ever by the hulking Colonel Ledonir Kisaka, and Rondo Mina Sahaku as well as Prime Minister Yano.
Also present was the lanky President of the Eurasian Federation, Brennan Marshall, and his opposite number from the Atlantic Federation. The rest of the delegation waited at the quarters provided to them in Orb's main government building.
First to disembark from the shuttle was PLANT Supreme Council Chairwoman Eileen Canaver, closely followed by Diplomatic Committee Chairman Zala, then a number of representatives from the Diplomatic and Legislative Committees.
Behind them followed Shinn and Stella, both in full uniform. Then a young woman in a conservatively elegant dark blue dress, with ash-blonde hair tied into a long, straight plait down her back. Looking at her, Cagalli thought she looked vaguely familiar, but did not comment.
"Chairwoman Canaver, it's an honor to see you." Cagalli said by way of greeting.
She then nodded to Athrun. "Chairman Zala."
- "Representative Athha, it is good to see you." Eileen Canaver replied. She then greeted the other diplomats, and the group slowly made its way to a group of waiting limousines.
Chairwoman Canaver rode with Cagalli, Mina, and the two Presidents from the Alliance. A second car held the other politicians, while Athrun rode with the other guests from the PLANTs in a third car.
All of them were led to quarters that had been prepared for them, and were informed that a formal reception was scheduled for that evening during which the treaty would be officially signed.
That evening, all of the members of the delegations from the Atlantic Federation, Eurasian Federation, including several diplomats from the United States of South America, Republic of East Asia, African Community and South African Union gathered in a great reception hall in the Orb government building, along with the delegation from the PLANTs as well as a number of prominent diplomats from Orb, which hosted the gathering.
The Second Treaty of Junius Seven was as historic a document as that signed amidst the ruins of Junius Seven itself at the end of the First Junius War, as the Bloody Valentine Conflict would thereafter be known.
And it was perhaps of greater significance.
Several of its provisions were carried over from the previous treaty, including the Lindemann restrictions on the level of military force allowed to each member nation, as well as the ban on military applications of Mirage Colloid and nuclear technologies, including provisions for the dismantling of any remaining stockpiled nuclear weapons.
The Treaty also formally declared illegal the organization Blue Cosmos and its backers, and mandated the excision from the governments of all member nations of all known supporters of the terrorist group – after the model already established by the late President Baum.
Finally, the most significant contribution of the treaty was the formal creation of a Coalition that united the governments of Orb, the PLANTs, and the Earth Alliance, in order to ensure continued peaceful relations between the nations and to prevent wars on the scale of the Junius Wars from ever taking place again.
The finalized treaty was read aloud, and then each member of the delegations signed it, one by one, to the applause of everyone present.
Then Presidents Marshall and Rodgers stood to speak, and the room fell silent.
"With the formation of this Coalition," Marshall began to speak, "The era of the global wars that have hitherto plagued the Earth is ended. President Rodgers and I both believe that lasting peace is possible, as long as reason and a genuine commitment to open dialog prevails over the hateful rhetoric of the past two decades. And in token of this, there is one more announcement which we wish to make."
At that moment, the older Rodgers stepped forward.
- "President Marshall and I have been in communication with our colleagues in the Alliance, and have all come to agree on this proposal." He said. "Even as we speak, preparations are under way for the construction, at Lagrange Point Five, of a thirteenth cluster of Colonies, nine in number, to replace those lost in the wars of the past half-decade."
Athrun's expression of blank shock was mirrored in the faces of Shinn, Stella, and nearly every other individual present. Only Cagalli and Chairwoman Canaver, who had known of this in advance – Orb would contribute its own considerable technological expertise to the project, which would be funded jointly by the Alliance and the PLANTs – were not surprised. The idea, of course, had been Marshall's.
But Chairwoman Canaver had insisted that the colonies be grouped in a separate, thirteenth group, rather than added back in to the existing cities of Januarius, Junius, and December - Pax would be its name.
- "On behalf of the Supreme Council and of the people of the PLANTs," Canaver began to say, "I want to thank you all. And I would like to state that we all share the same commitment to ensuring that this peace that we have wrought is not merely for our time, but that it last for all time."
The room rang once again with thunderous applause.
After the reception ended, Shinn and Stella left quietly, and soon stood in a wide park, on a cliff overlooking the sea. The park had been badly damaged in the attack on Orb, and repairs were visibly under way in several areas.
It was the second time Shinn had visited this place, which stood on the ground where his family had been taken from him.
On that day, his childhood had ended.
But the somber young man who stood now was not the same angry youth who had stood in the same place all those months ago. And he was no longer alone.
"It's beautiful." Stella said softly as she looked around.
- "Yes, it is." Shinn replied.
He glanced out towards the cracked memorial at the edge of the cliff, and farther along the road, on a similar outcropping he saw something else.
He stepped towards it, with Stella behind him.
As they drew near he saw that it was a tomb, made of what looked like white marble. Unlike the memorial or the park, it had survived the battle completely unscathed, or else had already been repaired so expertly that any damage it had taken was invisible.
The marble seemed to glow in the pale light of the moon, and as they drew near and Shinn saw the name etched on the grave, he stopped.
He had brought flowers to lay at the memorial - the closest thing there was to a grave for his family. Instead, he stepped forward and set them down at the foot of the gravestone. Then as he stepped back, he heard footsteps, and he turned around.
After the reception, a restless Athrun had decided to pay a visit to Lacus's grave, which he had not had the time to do the last time he was in Orb. He slipped out of his room and knocked at the door to another room some distance down the hall.
"Come with me." He said to the occupant, who followed a short while later.
The two of them drove to the park, stopping the car at its entrance. They crossed slowly on foot, all too aware of its solemn, sorrowful beauty, and of the devastation the battle had wrought. They saw a memorial and his companion, who carried a great bouquet of flowers, made to step towards it, but Athrun shook his head.
"Athrun." A familiar voice suddenly called his name, and Athrun turned around to face the speaker.
Kira Yamato's face looked drawn, careworn, much as he had the last time Athrun had seen him. But this time he sat immobile in a wheelchair, which Cagalli, who stood behind him, was pushing.
The ubiquitous two-tone bird sat on Kira's shoulder, and in his lap was a single, pink Haro, and an enormous bouquet of flowers.
- "Kira. Cagalli." Athrun replied. "It's good to see you both again."
- "Good to see you too, Athrun." Kira replied.
Athrun turned away for a moment, and he contemplated the last time the two best friends had spoken.
- "I guess you get to say 'I told you so'." Athrun said. Kira shook his head.
- "No, I don't think so." He said with a wry sort of smile. "Are you…?"
Athrun answered the unspoken question with a nod.
- "I haven't had the chance to until now. And I guess it only fits that we should all go."
- "Right." Kira said, and Cagalli nodded.
Cagalli glanced at the somber young woman who stood behind Athrun, but said nothing.
It was the same young woman who had been with the delegation that arrived from the PLANTs. Again as she looked at the sad young face, she was struck by a nagging sense of familiarity, but the exact reason eluded her. She too carried a large bouquet of flowers.
Athrun saw her looking.
- "This is Meer Campbell." Athrun simply said. "She came down with us from the PLANTs."
- "It's a pleasure to meet you." Cagalli replied, and Kira smiled.
- "Thank you." Meer replied softly, without looking at either of them.
Kira started at the sound of her voice. Cagalli gaped. 'It couldn't be…' She thought, and turned towards Athrun.
But Athrun's attention as the group bypassed the weathered memorial and exited the far end of the park was fixed on the white marble tomb on its promontory overlooking the sea.
Cagalli looked over at the grave, and she saw as Athrun had that there were two people already there.
From a distance neither Athrun nor Cagalli could not tell who they were. But as they neared and Athrun saw the young woman's short, golden hair, he knew.
Then the young man, who had been kneeling in front of the grave, stood and turned towards them, and Athrun found himself facing Shinn.
Shinn saw Athrun, Cagalli, and a blonde woman he did not recognize. But his attention was on the man in the wheelchair, whom he remembered having met once before. Kira Yamato, his name had been.
Shinn, thinking back to conversations he had with Athrun, now realized the truth of who he was.
Kira handed the flowers to Cagalli with a sad expression on his face, and Shinn realized that he was crippled. He felt a pang of guilt, realizing that it was he who had done that to him.
Cagalli stepped towards the grave and set the flowers down, next to those laid by Shinn.
Then behind her Meer walked up and laid the flowers that she carried in front of the grave too, and Cagalli saw with some surprise that tears rimmed her bright blue eyes.
She stepped back and stood beside Athrun, while Cagalli returned to stand next to her twin brother.
Shinn was looking straight at the pair, and for a moment Athrun thought he was looking at Cagalli, and wondered what he would say.
Then Kira spoke.
"A lot of things have happened since the last time we met." He said, and to Athrun's surprise, Shinn nodded. And he looked back towards the damaged park, and the small cenotaph.
- "You know, I've always hated this place. But even so, I couldn't ever forget it." He said. "And now..."
He turned back to face Kira and Cagalli, looking first at her, then him.
"I'm so sorry." He said, and felt tears flowing down his face.
Kira shook his head, with a pained sort of expression.
"Do you remember what you said last time?" He asked, and Shinn nodded.
Kira then raised his hand and held it out.
"Well, no matter how bad things get," Kira said, "even if there are those who would wipe them out - they'll always grow again. We'll make sure of it."
And at that moment, Shinn knew that Kira held him blameless, which made him feel even worse about what he had done, for a moment. He stepped forward, and he shook the older man's hand.
- "Now you know." Athrun said, from behind them. "The kind of battle that we fight."
And he thought about how much he had seen Shinn change since they had met, almost a year earlier.
- "Yeah." Shinn replied. It was the same as the Second Battle of Daedalus. Now, Shinn understood.
- "My fighting days are over." Kira said, and there was no bitterness in his tone, as he turned to face the grave of his dear Lacus. "But what we have accomplished - this peace that we've been able to achieve...I think this is what she would have wanted."
- "And she would have been glad to know that there are those who will fight to protect it." Cagalli added. "Like Athrun, and me."
- "What about you?" Kira asked Shinn. "Will you fight with us?"
There was a short pause. Then Shinn nodded.
"Yes." He said firmly.
- "Thank you." Kira replied.
The group fell silent, and Shinn looked out past the edge of the cliff at the sea.
He sighed, and as he contemplated the words he had heard, felt as if a great weight were lifted from his shoulders.
Saying good-bye to the assembled group, he turned to leave, walking back towards the park.
Stella followed, and as they walked out of the park, he left behind the burden of grief and guilt he had borne since that fateful day, a burden that had gotten only heavier in the past year.
And as he looked to Stella, walking by his side, he knew that a part of his life was over. He glanced at his watch, and saw that it was just past midnight.
The year Cosmic Era Seventy-Five had ended. A new year had begun.
And it was up to them now to build a new life, in a new era…