Author's Note/forward do-hickey-ma-bober: Hello everyone! This has been a story that I've been wanting to write for many years. I'm really excited to actually sit down and work on it. There are a few others (namely, Stitchedmoon and 100 Series) who have told wonderful stories of what happened after the end of Xenosaga III (especially involving these characters), and have excellent takes on their version of the story. This is something like my own take on it. I haven't gone into details with some parts (such as the technical details of the new network, how it was re-established, what it was like for MOMO growing up). Instead, this story is more about the family dynamics of Ziggy, MOMO and Juli as I have imagined them having been developed and furthered.
Namely what exists in this story was something that started in 2005-2007 with a Xenosaga roleplay that I was involved in over Livejournal. I played Ziggy, and I had experimented with some concepts that will be brought out in this story. They never really managed to come full circle as the group fell apart. But I really have to say thanks to Explixi, Joh, Eliza, Psyche, Dizzilly, and the-demon-yuber for being awesome all those years ago. I also want to say thank you to Stitchedmoon for inspiring me to get off my butt and get this story out, even if it's not *quite* how I wanted to do with it in the end.
I may not be the best writer, but I hope that everyone who reads this will enjoy it, and perhaps take a little something special with them.
For death is but a passing phase of Life;
A change of dress, a disrobing;
A birth into the unborn again;
A commencing where we ended;
A starting where we stopped to rest;
A crossroad of Eternity;
A giving up of something, to possess all things.
The end of the unreal, the beginning of the real.
- EDWIN LEIBFREED, "The Song of the Soul"
Chapter 1: That which we fear
A blast of frigid air rushed through the long, almost tunnel-like hallway as the door slid open. Stepping inside, he observed his surroundings. He could hear the door sliding closed him, abruptly ending the rush of cold air. He was now surrounded by almost perpetual darkness, save for the tiny green lights leading down the passageway. Without any further hesitation, he moved forward, with an ever-quickening pace.
He tried to keep his mind off the events that had transpired in the last twenty-four hours. Doing so, would only result in failing the mission that he had set out to do. Yet, with every minute that passed, and each turn the passageway took, every flight of iron steps he raced over, he felt himself growing more and more sick with worry. It would have been nauseating, but he no longer had the capabilities to feel that way, a small blessing at least.
He had went to sleep the night before in his maintenance chair. Yet for some strange reason, he did not wake up at the time he had programmed. Instead, upon awaking, he found that the controls had been tampered with some time in the middle of the night. Not sensing anyone on his sensors, he rushed into the main room, seeing a clear sign of a struggle. The sliding glass door leading out to the back yard had been broken, leaving the curtains to waft in the breeze. Shattered glass lay strewn across the carpet. A brownish substance had seeped into the fibers. Instantly, he recognized it for what it was. He hoped that it belonged to whoever had managed to break in.
He followed the trail, leading to Juli's bedroom. The door had been flung open, objects were strewn across the floor, a few had been smashed to pieces. His heart racing, he quickly made his way down the hallway toward MOMO's room. It was much the same. The door was wide open, and everything was strewn about. Most noticeably, her pink dresser had been shoved over. There were several burn marks on the wall behind him, looking as if the wall had been pelted with the arrows her her bow.
Ziggy felt weak, as if he'd fall to his knees at any moment. If it weren't for his heavy steel legs, he would have. He had no clue where to look, where to start. He only had a giant mess on his hands. He'd have to investigate further to find any substantial clues. A tiny, faint whimper broke him from his thoughts. Alby.
The cyborg carefully waded over the mess, being sure not to disturb anything or ruin any evidence of the struggle that had occurred. Behind the tipped-over dresser lay the familiar form of MOMO's dog. He looked injured, frightened, but none-the-less, alive. The small dog thumped his tail upon the carpet when he came near.
"What happened, Alby?" He asked softly, knowing fully that the dog wouldn't respond. "Who did this?" He carefully stroked the dog's' head.
The small dog lifted his head and whimpered. Underneath him lay a torn piece of cloth. It seemed like nothing at first, but as he gingerly picked Alby up, he noticed what appeared to be half a logo embroidered upon the piece of fabric. It didn't seem to be the logo of a clothing company. Instead, it looked oddly familiar.
Quickly, he went into action researching whatever information he could find, in hopes to find the logo. Within a matter of minutes, he discovered it. The logo was tied to the Hyams organization, which was also a part of Ormus. Alby was given to the care of a neighbor, while he went out to find them. He knew that by the time the police arrived and an investigation was started, it would be too late. This was something he had to do himself.
Some time had passed, and he was not sure how long it had been. It was either by his own determination, or just dumb luck, that he managed to find it. He quickly barred through the passageways. The area seemed fairly straightforward, despite the winding hallways and ever-lowering elevation. It appeared to be some sort of abandoned research laboratory. Judging from the looks of it, the place had been abandoned for at least twenty years. As he rounded another corner, a rather large steel stairwell led downward. Without any other options, he began to head downward.
As he came closer, he detected life signs somewhere below. It was faint, but definitely there. He hurried downward as quickly and quietly as his heavy body would allow him.
When he came around the corner, a sickening sight greeted him. Dozens of bodies lay strewn across the floor as if they had been gunned down by some unknown force. He walked by one body lying limp at the base of the titanium staircase. His face was twisted in some kind of gruesome expression, as if his last moments were met with agonizing pain. He quickly took his eyes away from the face, he had to continue on.
Then, that's when he saw her. Immediately, he recognized the familiar form lying slumped on the floor in a pool of red. He could tell already that there were no signs of life. Still, he stumbled forward, nearly falling over his own footsteps as he came close to her.
He couldn't find the strength to speak her name. Instead, his mouth had become dry, and his eyes suddenly stung. He slowly moved his shaking hand to her shoulder and pulled her toward him. Her body was limp and slumped over, drenched hair covering half of her face, washing it in red. He could tell that she had sustained a horrible wound.
He sat there, for what seemed like an eternity. He couldn't look away, but at the same time, he couldn't register the sight before him. Trembling, he finally stood up and made his way forward. He needed to find MOMO. He knew she had to be ahead somewhere. Perhaps she had managed to escape. He knew she was a capable of defending herself.
Another passageway followed, this time, there was a trail of red leading forward. He ran, trying to keep all remaining composure he had left. He needed to find her. After what seemed like a lifetime, the passageway finally morphed into an expansive room. It looked as if some huge battle had occured here, judging by the damage done to the walls and various structures positioned throughout the space. However, his sights were set immediately to the center of the room. It was her, and she was alive. Although from the looks of the situation, just barely. Half running, half staggering, the cyborg rushed to her side.
She was lying on her side, sobbing quietly and clutching her stomach. His steel knees hit the floor with a hard thud.
"MOMO." He finally found the strength to speak.
She looked up at him, her large golden eyes brimming with tears. "Ziggy... I'm so sorry. I... I couldn't save Mommy. I..."
He shook his head. "It's... alright. I... understand." He reached down, gingerly pulling her closer to him. He could tell she was badly wounded. Her pulse was weakening, and her breathing was shallow. He carefully pulled her into his lap, making sure not to hurt her further. She turned into him, tears streaming down her cheeks. He thought for a moment he would be doing the same, but he held it back. He had to be strong for her. His gloved hand rested on the back of her head. "Save your strength. I'll get you out of here."
"I... I don't think I can make it." She whispered weakly.
He didn't think she would either, but he had to try. He had to. "Please hold on, just a little longer." Please... He bit his lip, as a heavy lump formed in the back of his throat. He carefully picked her up, cradling the young realian in his arms. She was shivering, almost violently. He knew that wasn't a good sign. The cyborg continued on, running as fast as he could. The passageways were long, and there was no way he could get her to safety in time.
His heart was throbbing in his chest, his right arm was shaking, it felt weak and limp. He didn't know how to continue. Should he give up? He decided to continue forward, that was, until her wavering voice brought him out of his thoughts.
"Ziggy." She whispered.
He stopped in his tracks then. "What is it?" He glanced down at her, noticing that she had grown more pale, almost sickly.
"Thank you." She weakly gripped the fabric of his shirt, and looked up at him, smiling through the tears that soaked her face. "Thank you for always being there for me, and for always looking out for me. I'm sorry... I- I can't look out for you anymore but..."
"Stop." He told her. almost too sternly. "Don't say that."
Her shuddering worsened, and she cried out in pain. Ziggy dropped to the floor cradling her. "Hold on... please." He could feel himself choking up. Hold on for me.
"I.. I can't." She coughed, and a stream of blood dripped from the corner of her mouth. "I'm sorry."
"No..." The words barely escaped his lips, as the realization hit him hard. She began to shudder in his arms uncontrollably, until she suddenly feel entirely limp, letting out a weak gasp. His sensors detected no signs of life, only a fleeting warmth, growing ever more cold as each second ticked by. He pulled her closer, but knowing that nothing he could do would bring her back. Everything important to him was gone now. He had failed them, and once again, he had to continue living. He wanted to cry out in agony, yet he couldn't. He didn't have the strength or the resolve. Beyond the numbness and dull ache in the back of his throat, he felt nothing.
He could still hear her calling out to him.
He felt his body shake. Was the emotion he was holding back escaping finally?
"Ziggy! Come on, wake up!"
Her voice seems... different somehow.
"ZIGGY!" She shouted at him. "I'm sorry but..."
Suddenly everything turned black, and his eyes were almost forced open. If it weren't for the dim light of the control panels by his maintenance bed, he'd be in complete darkness.. Before him was a blurry, yet familiar face, looking at him squarely in the eyes.
"Ziggy? Are you alright?"
The cyborg groaned, rubbing at his eyes. His heart was still pounding and his biological half was covered in a cold sweat.
"...Yeah." He caught his breath and then looked over at her, as his vision came into focus.
"I'm sorry, I used the emergency cut off procedure on your maintenance program. I... I got up to get a drink of water. When I went by your room, something seemed wrong, and... I'm so sorry to wake you! I was just really worried about you."
Ziggy shook his head. "No, It's alright. Thank you, MOMO." He offered her a faint, but almost forced smile. He was still disturbed by the images flashing through his mind earlier. He realized then that the MOMO he had seen in his dream was her younger self. She was older now, he remembered. It was two ago when she had undergone the transferal to an adult form. Despite being nineteen years old, not much else had changed about her. She stood next to him looking down at her feet shyly. She was wearing her favorite pajamas, an oversized shirt which read "Bunnie University" with the iconic character printed on the front, along with matching pink pants. She was barefoot, and half of her hair was pulled into a messy ponytail, the rest fell loose in short curled tendrils around her neck.
"I didn't want to disturb you or anything, but... I was worried." She looked up at him. "Were you having another nightmare?" Despite her older appearance, she still had the same childlike innocence about her.
Ziggy nodded. "Yes, I suppose so." He frowned again, thinking the events over again in his mind. He had been having more of these nightmares recently. Five years ago after they had returned from Michtam, he still had the occasional nightmare of reliving his final moments. Slowly but surely, they began to subside. Outside of the one or two rare brief ones every few months, they had almost disappeared entirely. It wasn't until recently, the subject matter of those dreams began to change.
Initially, it was difficult to begin picking up the pieces in a world that had become so broken. With Scientia and help from Vector, with MOMO and Juli working day and night, the new network had begun construction. Although it was nearly five years to the date, it was still not complete, and it would take many more years before it had been perfected.
As an experiment, they had managed with assistance to reconnect with the Elsa. For two years, MOMO had sent text and radio-based messages and updates to them, along with upgrade instructions. They were nowhere near ready to send data and video conferencing. Yet with two former Vector engineers on board, it was not hard to get some form of communication working and improving upon it. They had secretly kept it open, and later able to send messages toward the Elsa, including upgrades. Working between the two groups, they were able to create the first gate column on the new network based on the two locations. However, it remained for the most part unused.
MOMO had expressed concern for wanting to see everyone again. Yet, she knew the dangers of doing so. She hesitated still, it was only herself, MOMO, Juli, Doctus, Miyuki, Togashi, and the those on board the Elsa that knew that this column existed.
What remained of Ormus was slowly beginning to reorganize. Many followers had left the organization four years prior after all hell had broken loose and the dust had begun to settle. Still, there were many remaining who felt the desire to assert themselves to the top of the ranks. Small and rather insignificant at first, the group was beginning to pose a threat, having regained access to weaponry and equipment. It was only a matter of time before the situation grew to a larger threat. It was then that the suspicions regarding the existence of such a column began arising. Knowing this fully, MOMO had sent out a final message to the Elsa, hoping to one day regain contact. The column was closed, locked, and encrypted.
As the new network was becoming available to an increasing amount of colonies and planets, rumors had begun circulating. Juli had been involved in the creation of the network, alongside of MOMO, and the events that had happened during the Miltian conflict were still fresh in some people's minds, despite it having happened nearly years ago. The gnosis had seemingly invaded en-masse while whole planets were disappearing. People began linking the more recent events with the Miltian conflict, where it had all begun, and the Mizrahi's involvement. The populace had become suspicious about a new network having been created in part by the same family that had allegedly started the conflict. Juli had been on the receiving end of a great deal of gossip and defamation for a very long time. Yet she had never experienced it this badly.
"Were you having trouble sleeping?" Ziggy asked her. It was unusual for her to be awake at this hour of the night. Though, given the situation they were facing, it wasn't out of the question.
The realian nodded slowly. "I'm just worried about Mommy." She took a seat across from him on a folding chair they had kept in the room. "I know I probably shouldn't be. She's... been through things like this before. But it doesn't keep me from worrying." Her eyes met his, with a hint of sadness.
He stood up then and took a step forward. He then placed his right hand on her shoulder and gave it a gentle squeeze. "I'm sure she'll do fine." It was typical of her to be more concerned for others than herself. She had an important role to play tomorrow as well, having been one of the major figureheads in the creation of the new network.
"If something happens to Mommy tomorrow, what will happen to us?" She tugged at the hem of her shirt, wrinkling the fabric in her palms.
It was something that he didn't like to think about. Admittedly, the thought did occasionally cross his mind. He knew that he would likely go back into custody of the government. With that, every purpose he had to go on living would be gone. Who knew what would happen to MOMO? She was grown now, and could fight for herself, but she could never live a normal life. "I... I don't know." He told her, finally. "But don't concern yourself with it, unless it becomes a very real possibility. Right now, what we're dealing with are merely rumors and acquisitions. That's not enough to separate us. If such a situation does ever arise, we can try to figure out a solution. But for right now, don't cause yourself any undue stress." He kneeled down to eye level, and looked her in the eyes. "Just focus on tomorrow for now, alright? I'll be there to support both of you."
She smiled at him, and it was reciprocated. She found him smiling more often over the last few years. Although, at first, it was just a small loosening at the corners of his mouth. Now, it was a little more. Sometimes, she'd even be lucky enough to catch a light chuckle. Whatever it was, she could tell he was a lot happier now than he had ever been since she'd known him. "Thank you, Ziggy." She said, wrapping her arms around his shoulders.
He returned the embrace, and patted her on the back gently. He realized he needed the affection just as much as she did. He was just glad that his nightmare wasn't a reality. MOMO was the closest thing he'd ever have to a daughter, yet their relationship was different than that. They shared a very close friendship and level of understanding. Every day that passed, their bond grew stronger. Not just between the two, but all three.
He thought about Juli then, and traced her location to her bedroom. She was likely sleeping at this hour, she he didn't want to disturb her. He was a bit worried for her too, knowing how these sorts of situations were taxing on her. She'd never readily admit it, but he could tell, and MOMO could too. She had become a little more distant the last few weeks when this situation began to arise.
One night, just shortly after the story hit the news, he'd went to check on her. She was sitting on her bed, files spread out before her, and her connection gear was tossed aside. She looked like she had been engrossed in her work for several hours. He stood at the doorway feeling almost as if he was intruding, despite knowing otherwise.
"Juli." He spoke her name so quietly, it was barely decipherable above the hum of electricity.
She didn't look up at him, but seemed to acknowledge his presence. Her head hang lower and she seemed to retract within when she heard his voice.
He didn't move from his position, but he spoke a little louder this time. "Are you... alright?"
She looked over at him then, her eyes were red-rimmed and puffy. "Does it look like I'm alright, Jan?" She asked him. Her words may have seemed sharp to anyone else, but the soft tone of her voice told otherwise.
"No." He told her, taking a step inside the room. He watched as she buried her face in her hands. "Is there... anything I can do for you?" He offered, finally. She'd been distant from both of them the entire day, and they knew why. He'd decided the best option would be to allow her space. It was what he needed after all when he was troubled... time to sort it all out in his mind. At least, that's what he thought she needed. He had trouble with these kinds of things. There was no strategy or calculations that could dictate victory or failure. This was foreign territory. He decided that checking up on her wouldn't be a bad idea at this point.
"I'm not sure." Juli replied, not meeting his eyes.
A long moment passed before he finally spoke up again."If you'd like me to leave you alone, I will. MOMO and I were concerned. You've been in your room all day."
She looked up at him then, and feigned a smile. "Thank you, but... please, don't leave. To be honest, I'm feeling a little lonely. I could use some company right now."
He nodded, and then took a seat on one of the chairs in the corner of the room. It wasn't that he needed to sit, but he felt more awkward standing around given the situation.
She spoke up again after a long moment. "You know, it's crazy. We do everything we can to try to put this world back together, yet... we don't even get a 'thank you'. Instead, people are too busy wallowing in the past. I don't understand it." She rubbed at her eyes. "How can they accuse me of this, accuse us?"
"Juli..." He said quietly. He didn't know what to say, given the unsteady nature of her voice. He would have had the words normally, but her emotional state troubled him. "People... they are too quick to point fingers at others instead of accepting their own responsibility. It's not your fault, or anything that we've done." He paused for a long moment, and looked over at her. "Please... don't take it out on yourself." There was more he wanted to tell her, but he wasn't sure how to articulate it.
She looked up, and their eyes met. Her expression softened, finding solace in his presence. She found herself drifting towards him. When she was within just a few feet away from him, he reached over and took her hands in his. "We'll make it through this, I'm sure." He told her, attempting to offer some level of comfort.
She drew closer, and bent over, she pressed her forehead against his and closed her eyes. "Thank you." Her voice had hushed to a whisper. His hands moved slowly, wrapping them around her waist. She moved her hands to his shoulders. He stood then, and she quickly found herself pulled into an embrace. Juli smiled finally, as she rested her head on his shoulder.
Affection like this wasn't something that exactly came quickly or easily. He had been extremely hesitant during the first year, even as they grew closer. Little by little, he had begun opening up to Juli, letting her in. There was no doubt that he cared for her. Yet, now... he had slowly begun letting it become more obvious. A slight lingering touch of his hand, an arm around her shoulder, if only for a brief moment, a different tone in his voice and look in his eyes were signs of the changes going on within him. Yet, part of him still wished to keep her at a distance. It was one thing to take on the role he had for MOMO. It was another... entirely to willingly enter into a relationship such as this with her.
She knew why he had been hesitant, and she never questioned it. She never expected more than what he was able to give. However, it came as a bit of a surprise when he had finally mentioned it to her two years prior.
"Juli?" He had asked that morning so long ago in her memory. He was standing by the entrance to the kitchen area. She was sitting at the table looking over her connection gear. It was late at night, and MOMO had already gone to bed.
There was a certain tone in his voice that was apparent when he felt as if he was about to ask for something when he didn't feel he had the right to do so. She couldn't tell sometimes if he honestly felt that way, or if it was some sort of forced habit that he hadn't let go of. She looked up at him and sat down her connection gear. She didn't say anything, but the slight knowing smile she wore was enough to let him know she was listening.
He took a step closer and then glanced downward, hesitating. He always had difficulty with these kinds of discussions. "I... Uh..." He stammered. "There's something I've been wanting to talk to you about but... you see, I..." He frowned and then scratched the back of his neck with his right hand nervously. Under normal circumstances, he would never let on that something troubled him, but he knew that he could let his guard down with her. "I'm sorry." He stated finally. "I'm not entirely sure how to state what it is I want to say."
Juli tilted her head slightly. "Is something wrong, Jan?" He frowned slightly and didn't meet her eyes. By now, she was learning to decipher his body language. At this, she felt her heart sink a little. She stood up and walked to him, a deep look of concern in her eyes. "Did I do something wrong?"
He shook his head. "No." He told her, trying to calm her fears. "You've done nothing wrong. I suppose the problem is that I'm... worried." He finally admitted after a long moment. He looked away from her again, trying to mask the guilt that was seeping through. "I'm worried because we both know that I don't have a lifetime to spend with you. Neither of us know exactly how long it will be. I... I don't want to see you or MOMO suffer because of me."
"Jan..." Juli reached up and placed her hand on his cheek. He quickly jerked away from her touch.
Juli pulled her hand back, almost as if she had been injured. She clutched her arm and stepped backward, looking only to the floor.
"I'm sorry." He told her, still avoiding eye contact.
Another long few moments passed, and Juli stood there, wondering what to say. She was crestfallen. Tugging at her coat, she slipped back into her chair. "Is this really what you want?" She asked him. "If so... I understand, but to be honest, it hurts me to hear you say that." She ran her fingertips across the cold glass surface of the table, as if by doing so, it would somehow mask the insecurity in her own voice.
"No... It's not what I want." He told her, finally. "It's that... I don't know what it is I want." He almost continued, but opted to keep the rest of his thoughts to himself.
"Well..." Juli spoke up, after a long hesitation. "If you don't know what you want... what are you feeling?" She looked away again, her eyes drifting toward the floor. "Sometimes, when I'm unsure of what to do in any given situation, I try to consider how I feel."
A long few minutes passed as he contemplated what she asked him. "I can't remember a time when I've been this happy, at least since I've been in this form." He came up beside her, and placed his right hand on her shoulder, barely touching her. "You're both extremely important to me... not just because I have a duty to carry out here. I love both of you. I suppose, because of that, I'm afraid." It wasn't the first time he had admitted it to her, it had finally bubbled to the surface some time ago. By now, it was no secret. Yet, those were words he rarely said. On one hand, he should tell them more often, if only because he knew his time was short. Yet... she knew, and at least in MOMO's case, it was obvious. There was no need to state the obvious. Yet, when he told her this, she visibly relaxed and her smile had returned. For that, at least, he was thankful.
"Even if you were no longer with us in a few years, even a few weeks or... heaven forbid tomorrow, I am thankful that we've been able to spend what time we have together." She reached up and rested her hand against his. "Of course, it will hurt when you're gone. There's no way to avoid that pain. But had we never come to this point, I think... the pain would only be that much more unbearable. I need you, we need you, and... I know you need us. Please, don't let your fears push us away." She looked up at him then, almost pleading with her eyes.
It was if at that moment, she had given him the permission he needed to continue. Little by little, one step at a time, they moved forward, sometimes taking a step or two backwards, other times great leaps until they had finally arrived where they stood two years later, arms wrapped around one another finding comfort and strength in each other's presence.
MOMO pulled away after a long moment. "I feel better now, I think."
"Good." The cyborg replied. "We should probably both get some rest. We have a long day ahead of us tomorrow."
"Right." She stood up then, and nodded at him. "Thanks, Ziggy! You're the best!"
"No, Thank you." He told her, his expression relaxing. "Sleep well."
"Same to you." She giggled, as she headed toward the door. Ziggy turned and took a seat in his maintenance bed. Before he could configure the controls, he noticed that MOMO was still standing at the door, hesitating to leave. His steel blue eyes met hers, appearing cold and grey in the dim light.
"Goodnight, Ziggy." She smiled, but there was a hint of sadness present in her voice. Something neither could entirely pinpoint. It seemed as if it were almost mutual, volumes of words that could not be expressed that neither dared to tread.
"I..." MOMO paused then, briefly before shaking her head, as if she had suddenly changed her mind. She could read the concern in his stoic expression and feigned a smile, as if she had suddenly put on some sort of mask. "I...I love you, Ziggy."
It was something she had begun saying more openly, especially as the weeks turned to months, and had grown into years. Every moment they spent together was on borrowed time, another's watch. Yet, somehow, she felt the dire need to make it more and more obvious how important he was to her, how thankful she was that he had decided to remain with them for a little while longer. Maybe this was what was truly keeping her from sleep, her reasoning for checking on him on nights like this.
He smiled at her, a faint upturn on the corners of his mouth and a relaxation of his brow. "I love you too." His voice was quiet but gone was the mild gruffness as he responded. He didn't have to respond, as both never needed to affirm any of this. Still, he understood what she meant without saying it, and with his response, he told her everything he wanted to say without saying it. In the end, it was all either needed to know.
MOMO returned the smile as she closed the door behind her. She lingered there for a short moment, back resting against the door, gripping her left arm with her right. The realian exhaled before heading down the hallway toward her room.