Evil Inspiration: All Christy's fault
Authors: Mel & Christy
Co-conspirators: Jay, Dan, and Asuka
Warnings: Weird humour, language, violence, and bad jokes. (Flee Christy's boxer shorts!)
Life was good.
The various Principalities, Kingdoms, Republics and Empires were at peace. Tentative steps were being taken towards establishing colonies on the moon and Mars. There were rumours that a couple of scientific groups were close to being able to produce zero gravity in a laboratory environment, which brought up all sorts of exciting possibilities.
...And then the Theodorian Empire got serious about being an Empire. They'd always had a national philosophy of "Eventual World Domination", but they were pretty laid back about it. The emphasis was on eventual. After all, it was their destiny to-- eventually-- rule the world. It would happen sooner or later, without any need for war or bloodshed; the Theodorians weren't really sure how it would happen, but their leading philosophers generally agreed that the other nations would See The Wisdom Of The Idea and join up voluntarily.
Then the old Emperor died, and the new one had new ideas.
Ten Years Later...
...Not your average soldiers...
"Yo! 'Scuse us... could you give us a hand? We're kinda lost."
Lieutenant Valeri turned and nearly choked. Strolling casually towards him were five of the most unmilitary-looking people he'd ever seen. In the lead was a tall teenaged girl with long brown hair in a plait, wearing cutoff jeans, flipflops and a t-shirt that read "Peace Through Superior Firepower". Right behind her was a short teenaged girl wearing black jeans, motorcycle boots and a tank top; her auburn braid was nearly as long as the first girl's, and she had a long black leather coat draped over her arm. Lieutenant Valeri would have wondered why she was bothering to carry the coat, since it would be far too hot to wear in the base's usual daytime temperatures, if he hadn't been boggling at the very non-regulation sniper rifle casually slung over her shoulder. Three more teens were trailing along behind the first two, looking around at the base's buildings with a general air of being on some sort of sight-seeing tour, but the lieutenant's assessment of them got to 'not in uniform' and stalled there.
"Well?" the shorter girl asked impatiently. "Can you help us out or not? We're looking for our barracks or rooms or wherever we're supposed to be staying. Mel, did you bring the e-mail?"
"Well, duh," the other girl said, rolling her eyes, "of course I did. 'Be prepared' is my motto, after all."
"I thought it was 'Never put off until tomorrow what you can postpone to next week'?"
"One of my mottos," Mel said, digging into a pocket and pulling out a battered piece of paper. "I have several. What's yours, Christy? 'Die, scum, die!'?"
"I hadn't thought of that one! That's a good one; I'll have to put it right up there with 'Close only counts with horse shoes, hand grenades and thermo-nuclear explosions'," Christy replied, smirking evilly.
"Riiiight. Anyway, we're supposed to be finding barracks--"
"Wha-- wha-- where the HELL do you think you are? ATTEN-SHUN!" the lieutenant roared.
"Eh?" The two girls blinked at him.
"I say old bean, does that gentleman think we're grunts, what?" one of the other teenagers called in an extremely fake Albion accent.
"SHOW SOME RESPECT WHEN YOU'RE SPEAKING TO A SUPERIOR OFFICER!"
Mel snorted. "Who stuck the hair up your ass?"
"That does it! I'm putting you on a charge!" Valeri sputtered, pointing a shaking finger. "Name and number, soldier, now!"
"Superior officer? Name and number?" the shorter girl said derisively. "Well, my name is Cristina Stepanopolous, and we only answer to Madame Garnier and General Petrenkovich."
"I don't have time for this!" Lieutenant Valeri yelled. "You're all on a charge! That'll get you lot into a cell and out of the way until after we've got everything ready for the Gundam pilots. I don't have to take insubordinate behaviour from a bunch of wet-behind-the-ears puppies when we're about to welcome the most important... warriors... of..." He trailed off, eyes widening as he belatedly processed what he'd just heard.
"That would be us," one of the two males in the group put in helpfully, smiling calmly behind his glasses.
* * * * *
PILOT 01 - GUNDAM STARTHRASHER
HEIGHT: 5'8" (173cm)
ORIGIN: GREATER GAUL
ABILITIES: ADVANCED MARTIAL ARTS, HACKING, FURTHER ABILITIES UNKNOWN.
SPECIAL NOTES: EXTREMELY PROTECTIVE, HIDES BEHIND A HARMLESS FACADE. DO NOT UNDERESTIMATE.
Dan adjusted his glasses once again. His hands shoved in the pockets of his khaki pants, and he regretted wearing his customary long sleeved hunter pullover.
"Good afternoon Sir," a young officer saluted the Gundam pilot. The man's eyes were wide in awe of actually meeting one of the five pilots. He shifted nervously before saluting the Gundam Pilot. Ross wondered which one of the Gundams was piloted by the boy.
"Gah!! Sir? Please don't call me sir, I'm not old enough," the young pilot replied, going into all sorts of hysterics. "Just call me Dan," he said while pushing up the wire glasses. His antics had worked in relaxing the young officer. In fact, he was glad to be interrupted from his wandering around the base. He didn't have anything to do. So he burned his time checking over the base's security, which was lacking. He was about to ask the officer if they had a library when a loud shout pierced the air.
"DAMN IT, STEPANOPOLOUS!"
Dan chuckled to himself as he heard Valeri yelling at Christy, he shook his head in amusement. "Looks like she's up to it again." He smiled as he imagined what the other pilot was doing to piss off Valeri.
"Sorry, she's a bit of a handful. Watch out for that one, and I thought I told you not to call me sir," Dan mildly scolded the older man. Brown eyes were shining with repressed laughter as the officer began to sputter and apologize. "It's okay, I was only joking. Carry on." With a casual wink, Dan left the furiously blushing officer.
"Mommy... can I have one?
"Baby, I don't know."
The little boy looked up at his mother with wide eyes, he really wanted one. It was the first time he ever saw a dog like that, it was cute. Soft brown eyes filled with tears, but he knew he couldn't have a pet. They couldn't afford one.
"It's okay mommy, I don't want it after all."
The child sniffled and fought the tears, when he finally looked up at his mother he was wearing a smile. "Let's go see something else?"
She looked into his eyes, and knew what he was doing. Slowly she knelt before him. "I know what you're trying to do. I'm sorry that we can't give you what you want..."
"It's my fault, mommy. I shouldn't be so selfish."
"Dan, you're just a child. We should be able to give you everything you want, I'm sorry that we can't..."
"Mommy, I have you and daddy. That's all I need."
"After all this time..." Dan whispered to himself as he stared at the sky. He smiled, sadly, from the memory. A five year old child he was, and he knew about the hardships of life.
"Can I help you with something, Sir?"
What is it with these grunts and calling me SIR?? They're older than I am. The pilot turned to the speaker and noticed it was a Lieutenant. "I'm fine," he replied shortly before walking towards his designated bunk.
Nice going, just bite his head off. Calm down... Dan told himself, but it didn't help much. He had a feeling in the pit of his stomach.
Two figures ran through the rain, trying their hardest to make it on time. The sound of snapping twigs told them their pursuers were catching up.
"Keep running, baby. We're almost there..."
"Mommy... why are they chasing us?" the boy panted. He was scared that they would hurt him and his mother. She told him everything would be all right, that nothing would happen to him.
"There it is! Hurry, we'll be safe on the helicopter..." The boy's mother ran faster, trying to get her son to safety. He was all that mattered, he had to survive. They had already killed her husband, shot him through the heart in front of their eyes. In that instant they both ran, the helicopter was waiting for them to take them back home.
I won't cry, she thought to herself, not in front of her son.
"Hurry son, get into the helicopter!"
Just as the boy got into the lifting helicopter, he reached out for his mother. Only then did he notice that the bad men had caught up. "Mommy!! Hurry up...!!"
"I'm sorry baby," she whispered before tossing a necklace to him and a final kiss.
"No!" he screamed as his mother turned around and pulled out a gun, giving the helicopter time to lift off. The tears fell down his cheeks as the men attacked his mother, he saw as she was forced to the ground. The boy wiped the tears away, knowing they wouldn't give back his mother.
"Mommy, I'll find you again. I swear," he vowed to himself.
I've spent everyday since then hiding who I was. Now I wear this facade, he thought while staring at his reflection. Slightly callused hands removed the nonprescription glasses and laid them on the small dresser. Gundam Pilot 01 stared at himself even more, smiling bitterly. He had done a little too well in creating a harmless image. The light gleamed off the dragon pendant around his neck, his hand rose to his chest and closed over his prized possession. It was the only thing he had to remember his parents, the only proof that he had a family.
< < Red alert, > > a calm female voice announced. < < Red alert. All personnel to battle stations. Unidentified mobile suits approaching from the east, visual contact only; no radar, no scanner returns, no response to our demand for identification. Assumed hostile until further notice. I repeat-- > >
Dan moved quickly, grabbing his glasses off the dresser. He ran down the halls and was approaching the rear of the hanger. He threw the door open and ran to his gundam. His fingers flew over the keys of his wrist-unit, "Starthrasher, Online." He threw the door open and ran to his Gundam.
The pilot grabbed onto the lift wire and was lifted to the open hatch. Dan climbed into the cockpit and buckled his safety-harness. "Activate weapon systems," he commanded. If only Christy had finished with the rest of the upgrade...
You're fucking with the wrong person, he thought while the hatch closed.
* * * * *
PILOT 02 - GUNDAM HADES
HEIGHT: 5'1" (155cm)
ORIGIN: ATLANTEAN EMPIRE OF THERA
ABILITIES: SHARPSHOOTER, ASSASSIN, ENGINEERING, MECHANICS, PROGRAMMING.
SPECIAL NOTES: MULTIPLE PERSONALITY. MAY BE VIOLENT. APPROACH WITH CAUTION.
"...and of course the base commander will be more than happy to welcome you," Lieutenant Valeri said smoothly, smiling at the woman sitting next to him in the back of the Jeep.
"I understand that the Gundam pilots have been based here for the last few months, since they started working together," she said, leaning forward slightly, recorder at the ready.
"Er, well, yes..." he said uncomfortably. "That's, ah, that fact isn't classified."
"My producer would really appreciate it if I got an interview with them. And I would too, of course," she purred.
"I'm afraid that won't be possible," he said quickly. "They don't, ah, speak publicly. And even if they did, you wouldn't be able to broadcast anything that might give a clue to their identity."
"But surely just a few words--"
"Sir! Gundam pilot at two o'clock!" the driver yelped, slamming on the brakes.
"Which one?!" the lieutenant screeched, spinning around to look just as a blurred figure jumped onto the Jeep's hood, clattered across, and then rollerbladed away across the ashphalt.
"...Which one do you think, sir?" the driver asked weakly.
"DAMN IT, STEPANOPOLOUS!" Valeri roared, standing upright and clutching the roll bar. "IF ANYONE ELSE PULLED HALF THE CRAP YOU DO, THEY'D BE DISCHARGED!"
"They're Gundam pilots, sir," the driver pointed out, putting the Jeep back into gear. "It's not like we've got spares..."
"...Stepanopolous, is it?" the reporter muttered under her breath. "That's... A member of the Theran Imperial family is a Gundam pilot?!"
As they moved off again, the driver glanced back at the reporter, a worried expression on his face. "Uh, sir... I don't think you should have--"
"Just shut up and drive, Corporal Seau," Valeri snapped, sitting down and folding his arms in a huff.
"Damn stick-up-the-ass jerk," Christy snorted, swooping around a corner. "I'm not 'anyone else', I'm your fucking sacrificial lamb... Oh look, an obstacle course!" Grinning, she wove between the soldiers drilling on the practice ground, throwing their formation into chaos as they jumped and ducked away from her.
"HOLD FORMATION, damn you!" the drill sergeant bellowed. "If she runs over your lily-white toes, just suck it up and stay in step! Hey, Toots, come back in five minutes; I'll be making them do a wheel."
"Sorry, Sarge," she called back over her shoulder, waving. "Maybe next time. You know how it is; places to go, people to bother..."
The smile faded as she rolled away.
"Can we get on with it?" the five-year-old girl complained, slowly skating around the courtyard. "I have places to go and people to bother, you know."
"We can't start until you come over here and sit down, Christina," her tutor said, exasperated.
"Yes we can!" she insisted. "It's not like you need to wire me to anything, and it's an oral test. 'Sides, I'm s'posed to practice multi-tasking, right?"
"Rollerblading and mathematics are not two skills you'll have to combine in the future--"
"So?" The little girl sighed heavily, waving one finger in a blatant imitation of her tutor's most annoying mannerism. "Mr. Coniff, I'm surprised at you. It doesn't matter what the skills are, so long as it's a physical activity and one or more cer-- cerbr-- cerebral exercises. Mother said so," she finished, pulling out the clinching argument.
Her tutor sighed. "I suppose so. What is the cube root of--"
Christina grinned at him. "You ask a question about cube roots first one-third of the time, and when you do, four-fifths of the time it's the cube root of twenty-seven. You're very predictable, Mr. Coniff."
"Stick up the aaaaa~ass," Christy whispered, smirking slightly as she picked up speed, approaching the motor pool. "Way too many people around here have sticks up their asses... I think it's time for me to pull something really outrageous again. Shake them all up a bit." She waved to a cluster of soldiers working on a truck's engine, smirk growing wider as she mused. "Maybe Mel and I can get together to market that 'Lieutenant-on-a-stick' lollipop she was talking about? Or I could roller-blade naked... that'd be a good start!"
Behind her, there was a coughing rumble as the truck started up, then a loud *BANG!* as it backfired; the next instant, she was crouched behind another truck, scanning the area with cold, hard eyes, gun in hand.
"Um... oops," a nervous voice called from the group around the truck. "Er... sorry, Two-- I mean, Christy-- I mean, uh, ma'am!"
Christy closed her eyes briefly, a shiver running through her, and when she opened them again they were back to normal. "Sounds like it needs a little more work, guys," she called, sliding the automatic back into the holster snugged against her spine (under the 'BITE ME!' Tasmanian Devil boxer shorts).
"...Yeah," the private called back, sounding relieved. "We'll, um, keep at it."
Blading away again, Christy laughed, a little shakily. "Took me by surprise there," she muttered. "You expect bangs in a battle... it's a bit different when you're somewhere that's supposed to be safe."
"Christina?! Christina, quickly, come here!"
"Mother? What's happening?" The eleven-year-old Christy looked up at her parents as they hurried her out of the building, eyes wide and scared. She could hear explosions, and the base's alarms were all going off...
"The Theodorians are attacking," her father explained quickly, "so we have to get to the shelters and get out of the soldiers' way. You remember the emergency plan, don't you, honey?"
"Of course I remember," she grumbled, swallowing nervously but trying not to show it. "Are they here because of your project?"
"They might be," her mother admitted, holding her back as her father checked around a corner before beckoning them on. "We've made some major breakthroughs recently, and if they found out--"
The building beside them exploded.
Christina screamed in shock as something ripped diagonally across her back, slashing through skin and muscle before it ricocheted off the ashphalt and bounced away. She found herself on hands and knees, watching blood patter onto the path beneath her, vaguely surprised that it didn't hurt.
"Mother?" she said muzzily, lifting her head to look around. Why weren't her parents helping her? "Fa--"
Then she saw them.
I'm... in shock? she thought with a strange sort of detached curiosity, staring at the bodies of her parents through the cold frost that seemed to have settled on her. Yes... it's the usual response. Apparently. The first aid textbook said... um. First aid isn't going to help, is it?
She inched forward to press bloody fingers against her mother's neck, checking for a pulse, then sat back. It was rather obvious that she didn't need to check her father, but she did anyway, just in case.
No. It's not going to do any good.
There was a tremor through the ground beneath her, and she looked up at the mobile suit standing in the burning wreckage of the building. She watched, quite calmly, as its head swivelled to point its main camera directly at her; then it stepped forward, one foot coming down barely inches behind her, and walked away.
When she woke up, she was in a hospital, and the nurses wouldn't tell her anything, so she simply ignored them all until someone she knew she could trust turned up.
"Hello, Uncle Janus."
"Ah... hello, Christina," the Emperor said, blinking as he sat down. He'd expected a traumatised, withdrawn child who would have to be coaxed to respond, and then he'd expected a flood of tears and hysteria. He was prepared for tears and hysteria.
He wasn't prepared for a girl who looked at him out of flat, dead eyes and spoke in a perfectly calm, expressionless voice.
"Where are my parents' bodies?"
"Ah-- I, um--"
"I do know they're dead, Uncle Janus. You don't have to break the news to me."
"Ah. I... see. Your..." He swallowed and quickly rearranged his thoughts, discarding the comforting words he'd agonised over. "Your parents are lying in state in the Palace chapel. The funeral will be in three days."
"Thank you. For not trying to shelter me," she added. "I don't want to be sheltered."
"I understand, Christina."
"I don't think you do, Uncle Janus, but you will. He ignored me, you know," she said calmly.
"The Theodorian who killed my parents," she explained, still in that deadpan voice. "He walked straight past and ignored me, because I wasn't a threat.
She looked up at the Emperor, eyes glittering with cold determination.
"I want to be a threat. I won't let them ignore me next time."
Christy ran on autopilot for a while, blading slowly (for her) around the base with a faint, surface smile on her face; then she blinked and shook herself, smirking for real as she heard Lieutenant Valeri screeching about something in the distance.
When the noise didn't stop after the first couple of sentences, she picked up speed and cruised in that direction, curious. Sounds like someone really pissed him off... and that's his 'something awful has happened to my dignity' squawk, not the 'dressing someone down' one. I might as well find out who did what, and congratulate them--
Alarms started to howl all over the base, and a nearby loudspeaker crackled to life.
< < Red alert, > > a calm female voice announced. < < Red alert. All personnel to battle stations. Unidentified mobile suits approaching from the east, visual contact only; no radar, no scanner returns, no response to our demand for identification. Assumed hostile until further notice. I repeat-- > >
Christy was halfway to her Gundam and accelerating when the message started to repeat, stabbing at buttons on her wrist unit. "Hades, prep for combat," she snapped into it. "Hades, cockpit open."
Skidding to a halt between her Gundam's feet, she grabbed the dangling lift wire and was hauled up. Clattering into the cockpit -- still wearing her rollerblades -- she threw herself into the pilot's seat and grinned, wriggling her arms into the waldo controls as the hatch closed and sealed.
"Ignore this, you bastards," she whispered, then raised her voice. "Hades! Cloak!
* * * * *
PILOT 03 - GUNDAM MORKELEB
ASUKA (no family name)
HEIGHT: 5'5" (165 cm)
ABILITIES: KNIFE-THROWING, CLOSE-COMBAT, INFILTRATION, DEMOLITION.
SPECIAL NOTES: SOMETIMES DISOBEDIENT. TOTALLY ERRATIC AND UNPREDICTABLE. APPROACH WITH CAUTION. NEVER SURPRISE.
The chestnut-haired teenager blinked slowly twice or thrice before putting on his shades. The light was so intense here, he was nearly blinded. The heat too bothered him a little. After all, while he had undergone training to learn to bear extreme conditions, his homeland wasn't a country where the general temperature was really high... He remembered that people were surprised if it didn't snow or freeze at least 200 to 250 days per year.
He'd gone out of his room because he had suddenly realised that he was so bored he was thinking of actually DOING the exercises on trajectory calculus his professor gave him before their departure. The second he realised what he had thought, he was in the corridor, intending on finding something, anything to do. But... In a military complex... Besides watching the trainees running in circles around the base, and be baked by the sun, there wasn't much to do. At least in his room, they had air-conditioning. Well, sort of.
He hid in the shadows of one of the hangars and amused himself by counting the number of trainees he actually saw in his position and how much sniper bullets he needed to kill them all. He wasn't near as good as the pilot 02 with a rifle (something to do with the patience needed to aim correctly at a moving target), but imagining the trajectories (and the resulting bloodshed) was fun. One bullet at exactly the right time and the right location and he could hit at least five of them before the bullet lost its speed. It was mentally interesting, but in a real combat situation, to save bullets wasn't his forte... and he definitely preferred blades, anyway.
Furthermore, he wasn't authorised to shoot at the trainees. Never mind that he, too, needed to train. It nearly made him pout.
He cursed mentally at this bloody heat that made him sweat so much, and redid the knot that kept the black pullover on his hips. Hell forbid that he lose this, even if it wasn't really needed at the moment. He would kill to keep it.
Even if because of it, his butt was a little too hot... And not the good kind of hot, sadly.
The little chestnut-haired boy tried to keep his balance on the chair's back to look through the window at the children playing in the snow, between swings and a slide he had never used in all the time he lived here. He wanted to go out too, to bury himself under this white coat, to make himself a little igloo, to catch snowflakes, things like that. Not necessarily with the others, after all he was used to playing alone, but...
But today, his mother hadn't even let him go out in the secluded garden where he could play. He didn't know why.
It wasn't as if his mother thought it was important that he knew beforehand. She didn't know how and even if it would work out. She observed the child from afar, not knowing what to do with him.
A light knock on the door surprised the child, who nearly lost his balance on the chair's back but regained it at the last second, before the chair could topple entirely. The woman didn't even try to warn him or scold him for this. He had a catlike grace and could walk on tightrope at four; she'd seen him go out of his room by the window more than once, climbing on the roof and running on the edge. Luckily, even if trying to forbid him this kind of exercise or any other thing was a dead end, the only instruction he followed was to go unnoticed.
Leaving the room, she opened the front door, and a man in his early fifties stepped in the house. She didn't greet him, only stared at him and nodded curtly; their affair had been terminated long ago and all her illusions of romantic love with it, the same second she told him, so happy, that she carried his baby.
"Karen..." saluted the man, a little nervous under the too-clear cold stare of the woman. She shrugged before turning again to look at the room the boy was in, but the man held her back.
"Hem... How is he?" asked the man while playing nervously with the collar of his black pullover.
"Correct," she said evenly.
"It wasn't what I meant," he tried to say.
"I know," she answered, voice flat. "Strange? Is that what you want to know? Yes, he is. But after all it's hardly surprising, with the kind of life he leads. Always moving, never authorised to play, without father..."
"A lot of children grow without a father!! And you know why I can't be his!!" protested the man, not realising that his voice had risen and that the boy could hear him now.
"A lot, yeah... But if you were dead, I could say it to him and then find another husband to replace you. Now, I can't even have a boyfriend. I can't even find someone who could take him if something happened to me. I can't even let him play with other children. Because their parents could ask about him. Because, officially, he doesn't even exist," she added venomously.
The boy dropped his hand off the doorknob and silently returned to the window. He didn't hear the man who was his father protest, "But I would take care of him!!! I can't really keep him with me, but I could find him something... Mathilda would help too."
"How kind of her," the woman answered back.
"...she knows it isn't his fault."
"She knows it would lead to a scandal. Her husband sowing illegitimate children everywhere."
The man sighed loudly. He didn't know why he tried, Karen would never forgive him. Even if he divorced to marry her... Which he couldn't do even if he had wanted. Sometimes he wondered why he had had an affair with her. Had she always been that cold and bitter? ...No, she was much more innocent, then, much more kind and happy.
"Enough, please. Can I see him?"
When they entered the room, the window was open, the curtains flapping in the cold wind, snowflakes slowly falling to the wooden floor.
The boy was nowhere in sight.
"A-kun?" called his mother.
"Asuka?" called his father, suddenly afraid.
The pilot unconsciously caressed the pullover he wore around the hips, remembering vaguely the day his father followed him onto the roof. He had been sitting under the chimney, staring at the snow fields, when the man climbed after him.
When Asuka told him he'd heard, he had talked to him, not like at a boy, but at an adult, explained to him the why and the how. With simple words, but the real reasons. He'd been grateful for that. A little bit.
For the pullover his father had put on him while they were talking too. Hell forbid he complain about the cold, and he put all his energy not to show his problem, but it had been kind of the old man.
And while they were 'bonding' on the roof, the assassin paid by the opposition who had been following the husband of the ruler of Glacis all day, waiting for an opportunity, was torturing Karen to death to punish her for not admitting where his target had gone.
A blur of colours passed through the training field and the recruits he was facing and the chestnut-haired boy started slightly, his memories fading and returning to the back of his mind.
Christy was visibly trying to beat her own slalom-at-top-speed record and her scaring-poor-recruits-to-death record. She was totally psycho. He liked her.
He shrugged and went to the hangar where his Gundam was stored. A bunch of mechanics were currently working on it... He had been a little careless the last time he trained in it. Leaning against the hangar door, he turned again to the exterior. He had thought that maybe under the building it would be cooler but he forgot about the motors. Shit.
Hell, he was so hot. Looking remotely at the psycho girl and cursing mentally at this bloody heat, he tried to decide if he should take off his red tanktop or his jeans first. The tanktop was lighter than the jeans so it would be a lesser benefit, but the jeans, unfortunately, had nothing under them. To flash everybody or not to flash everybody? The first answer seemed to become more and more interesting now that he thought of the reactions he could provoke in the poor mechanics and recruits...
A mechanic that was running arms full of pieces without looking nearly bumped into him, and he shot him a glare fit to kill all by itself.
"Sorry, I... *gulp*" the sturdy man choked when he recognised the small, lithe teenager as pilot 03. Three was a psychopath, it was a well-known fact. They made bets on him; like, if he hadn't become a Gundam pilot, would he have become a serial killer or a hitman?
Asuka lowered his shades and stared at him in silence, not showing how much it amused him to see a man twice his weight nearly wet himself in face of his frost-blue eyes.
The man ran. Asuka smirked, before following him inside and stopping in front of his Gundam. He admired the suit for a few minutes, terrorising the poor technicians who were currently working on it as they wondered if he was searching for errors in their repairs or scratches in the paint so that he could kill them for it.
"Is it finished?" he asked curtly, not looking at anybody save his Gundam.
"Yessir," came a trembling voice.
The teenager nodded imperceptibly and climbed to the cockpit, and closed the door behind him. Maybe he could put on the air-conditioning.
He turned on the hi-fi and let it shout. His favourite CD was in; a group of hard-rockish sort with gothic kind of lyrics. Evil warlords, dragons, dying unicorns and bloodied knights in quests for a refused peace. He had a hidden interest for this kind of stuff. The more blatant example was his Gundam, named Morkeleb after a black dragon in a
heroic-fantasy book he read at twelve.
The ruler of Glacis and her staff were discussing the choice of the pilot for the Gundam they were secretly working on. Their country was neutral in theory and hadn't that much political influence in the world area -- not that they wanted the influence at all, they were happy as long as they were being left in peace -- but with these bloody Theodorians better ten times safe than sorry, even if the current joke in the government said that the Theodorian's army would be seen here only if their Emperor took a shine to ice-skating. The project had been decided on ten months ago by the ruler herself, helped with some of her council that were faithful to her, and the mecha was nearly finished. It was a secret project; most of the population, mostly self-sufficient, didn't see the need at all and wasn't interested in even thinking of the other countries' problems. Well, a Gundam wasn't so expensive for an entire state after all. They lost much more money in other stupidities.
Asuka was wandering in the base where the man his father had put him with -- an ancient school friend who was being paid to pass as his father -- was currently working as a technician. Logically the boy had absolutely no right to do so, but he had always been a master at sneaking around and hadn't needed more than three days to learn the complete layout of the base off by heart.
But there was one sector the boy didn't know what was in two weeks after his arrival and he was curious. The security was so high he had needed all this time to find a way in, it had to be for something really interesting.
He kept totally silent and discreet while he was sneaking in, paying attention big time to the wanderings of the security and of the techs... until he nearly bumped nose first into something blood red and metallic.
He looked up... and up... and up...
"HEY KID!!!! WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING HERE?!??" shouted one of the guards who had never thought he would find a ten-year old skinny boy in front of the biggest weapon of mass destruction never built.
...And Asuka fell in love.
After he was captured and sent to his father's wife, he just had to push a few buttons (namely his own existence in the world) to obtain the right to be put on the Gundam-pilots-to-be list. After that, it didn't take long before he was the only candidate left.
< < Red alert, > > a calm female voice announced, jerking him out of his semi-sleep state. < < Red alert. All personnel to battle stations. Unidentified mobile suits approaching from the east, visual contact only; no radar, no scanner returns, no response to our demand for identification. Assumed hostile until further notice. I repeat-- > >
Smirking slightly, Asuka brought the Gundam's systems on line, roaring the engines. The controls were cold under his hands, but he didn't even feel them under his gloves.
The music blared in his ears.
"I can hear the war cry over the hills
while dragons fill the sun
Rage in the wind at the touch of steel
blindness in their evil eyes
Another war another fight
to defend my kingdom
from the evil lords.
Eternal Glory you are my aim
ride in my heart again angel of revenge"
"Here we go, Morkeleb..."
* * * * *
PILOT 04 - GUNDAM DYSCALCULIA
HEIGHT: 5’4” (163cm)
ORIGIN: VATERA KINGDOM.
ABILITIES: WEAPONS & EXPLOSIVES SPECIALIST, DIPLOMACY, UNKNOWN ABILITY (CLASS IV)
SPECIAL NOTES: VOLATILE. CEREBRAL ANOMALY. UNDER MEDICAL INSPECTION. PREV. RECORDS SEALED. POTENTIAL SECURITY HAZARD.
Jay ignored the slightly fazed stares from the soldiers on the base as she strolled through the halls, apparently aimlessly. She had to smirk at the image she presented, however: a petite Vaterean -- but she looked like a Mongol -- with smudged glasses and mussed hair, walking sedately along the corridors of what was probably the world’s most important strategic military base in a bathrobe that might have been worthy of even Emerigo’s most infamous purveyor of ‘adult entertainment.’
It was only worse when she stopped to talk.
“Ahoy, you there!” She waved at a uniformed man that seemed to be undergoing facial ataxia. “You look like a rather sporting chap, someone who would help a damsel in distress,” Jay said cheerfully, the (painfully fake) Albion accent touching the first words but not the last. “Where’s the mess hall?”
“M-m-m-mess hall,” she repeated, mimicking his stutter and making vague motions with her hands. “Where a girl can get some fodder of the caffeinated sort. I seem to have mislaid our canteen, and I want coffee.”
One of the female pilots, he thought to himself. I don’t know if she’s the schizo, the assassin, or the--
“Choice c,” she said promptly, as if answering his question. “Now, about this elusive mess hall--”
The young man started and then looked at her with a growing incredulity. 04.
“Very pleased to meet you.” Jay’s eyes gleamed behind her glasses; it was almost friendly.
The man was not comforted.
Karida Vencedor rapped on the door of her daughter’s room, fingers twisting her shirtsleeves awkwardly. The sun streamed over her bronzed features from a nearby window, hiding the brightness of her eyes in lines of shadow. Her skin was slightly sticky, as always, from the humid heat of Vatera.
She winced at the sound of the voice that was distinctly his, despite the feminine lilt. She never even smiled at the Albion accent that touched Jarvia’s -- a product of her tutor, she supposed.
The door clicked open, and she entered the massive chamber. Jay lay on her bed, dwarfed again by the vastness of the mattress. At the age of seven, it seemed like she would drown in the sheets. Karida was about to speak, but her voice caught in her throat.
Taro’s shotels were out, set down carefully beside his daughter. Her tiny hands tapped on the blades as the light winked mercilessly on the metal. The same sunlight reflected on the liquid pools that shimmered over Jay’s irises, stubbornly cohering and refusing to break from her eyes. Karida’s shoulders crumpled for a moment.
“Of course you know,” she murmured.
“Papa lost the duel,” Jay answered. Her voice trembled a little, but held its ground. She added, “He thought -- he thought of you. Of forgiveness. And -- honor.” She was silent afterwards, only staring at the gleaming shotels, comforted and mesmerized by the razor-keen edges.
She had walked alongside her father as a ghost, sensing both that inner serenity and outer storm. His mind had been in a perfect calm, but the world had swirled around him like a maelstrom. She had felt the touch of cold steel against callused fingers as he lifted the rapier, and what followed was that fatal ballet of feints and thrusts. She could feel the sweat running down the back of his neck, see the glare of the sun in his eyes...
She had felt the slash across his right hand, just below the wrist, felt the rapier clatter to the ground. She closed her eyes, pressing against the pain in her temples.
She had felt him reach for the familiar shotels, felt his hands grasping nothing. There was a moment of lancing despair in his poise.
When he died, something snapped in her head. The visions that had once been so clear, so lucid, now blurred into overlapping shapes of the undefined. What remained was sensation and fragmented thought. Forgiveness. Honor. Despair.
When she looked up to tell her mother, she found herself looking at empty space.
The door was still ajar.
“I can do this,” Jay muttered. She was standing at the fork of two halls, staring blankly down each. Her forehead creased in brief annoyance. “This is absurd,” she said aloud. Stuffing her hands into the bathrobe, she strode down the hall to the right.
And promptly collided with a mechanic; the parts in his hands went flying over the floor, ricocheting off the walls. As she picked herself up, she found herself staring into an extremely panicked face. The man gulped.
I hope she’s not crazy.
“Only on alternating Sundays,” she responded.
The man went dangerously still.
Jay chuckled. “Relax, it’s Monday. At least, I think it is.”
The man never responded; he merely stared at her, face draining of all color.
“Um, I’m going to find my coffee now. But--” She paused. “Hitman. Serial killer seems much too blasé, don’t you think?”
The mechanic, finally gathering his wits, managed a feeble, “Ma’am?”
“03. I’d be inclined to say hitman. Serial killing doesn’t really pay the bills, know what I mean?” She shook her head, musing, and then continued. “Anyway-- is there an officers’ lounge anywhere around here?”
He opened his mouth and then snapped it shut. After a long pause, he pointed down the corridor. His hand was shaking.
“Thanks, old sport.” The Albion accent was back with a vengeance.
“Explain this to me, Lucas.” Karida’s voice was icy and proud.
She had gone down the dozen flights of rickety stairs that creaked ominously under the pressure of her weight, her hands clasping the rails like lifelines. Down, down, down, it wove its way into the earth. The air smelled different here.
“Mother, you know as well as I know that the peace will not last forever.” Lucas Vencedor pinched his nose wearily, his dark eyes shadowed with frustration. His bronze skin was sallow in the lights.
Jay sat, her legs swinging, on the edge of a platform; for the moment, she remained unobtrusive and completely ignored. The air was crisp down here and chilled, and there was a perpetual humming in the background that she couldn’t place...
“If war comes, we will remain neutral. The Vaterean Matriarch will ensure that we will not be involved in any sort of strike.”
“Lucas, we are pacifists, we will not condone violence through the preparation of defense.”
“And father? What was he?” Lucas’ voice was bitter and condemning. “Could you have loved him, mother? Or is that why you couldn’t stand to birth us yourself, because you could not bear the children of a man of heated blood.”
There was the swift sound of air parting before the back of her hand struck his mouth. He staggered backwards, stunned for a moment. Karida drew herself up.
“You will destroy the Gundam,” she said. Her voice was sharp, but detached. “Tomorrow. Sunrise. God help you if that machine still stands.”
She had to clamber up the stairs as quickly and silently as she could; her mother was walking away now, her mouth a tight silence. Lucas only stood alone, his fists clenched, eyes downwards. Jay tentatively reached out and instantly recoiled at the cacophony of feeling that crackled in the humming air. It made her dizzy, like she was on the edge of some great vertigo.
When the Vencedor household was largely asleep, she had slipped through out of her room, down the red cushioned halls, and into the library. Her fingers had pressed the cracked leather binding of the book on the far right end of the third shelf on the left wall, and she watched as the bookcase turned with seamless ease. Again, she descended the stairs, shivered as the cold air washed over her skin. The humming was still there.
It seemed to emanate from beyond a metal wall. Jay stared at it for a long time, and then tentatively pressed her hands to it. She moved across the wall, fingers feathering over the smooth surface, searching for some unknown catch. There was a small depression on the right side, and she pressed her ear to it.
The humming was louder.
Suddenly, her eyes narrowed; there was a barely perceptible line down the center of the wall.
Jay closed her eyes. Her brother, Lucas... He was one of her favorites, always more of his father’s son than his mother’s. He had the same innate ability with weapons, though Karida had forbidden their instruction to him. He loved the stories their father told them, about bandits and thieves in the desert, riding horses and screaming war cries. There was one story that he had memorized, about a magic cave that...
Her voice was unhesitating: “Open sesame.”
The metal slid open like an invitation.
It was obsidian black and glittering gold, looming over her, impassive. More gold decorated the top, like a crown over what looked like the face. She circled it, fascinated by both its size and undoubted ability for... Here, she shuddered. One hand reached out to pat the luminous metal. In the wrong hands, a handful of machines like this could destroy what humanity had built for the last dozen centuries.
Still-- the awe was there. Its hands were by its side, tight fisted. She tried to imagine it if it were functional and could only think of the eyes, glowing from the dead green that they were now.
There was a platform that wound itself around it, and Jay walked up the stairs eagerly. By a set of computers, there was a handwritten note. She recognized Lucas’ slanted, narrow scratch.
She grinned at the wry humor, clucking her tongue.
What made her stop was the choice of weapons, though. There, hanging from its back, were a pair of shotels, like the ones she kept in her room-- like her father’s. The pounding of her heart was almost unbearably loud.
The entrance to the cockpit was open, tempting and seductive. Her bare feet smacked against the metal floor, and she peered into it. The seat looked inviting. The entire compartment could not have seated a grown man; it seemed suited for a smaller frame-- for a child’s. She hadn’t realized that she’d climbed in until the hatch closed and the lights started flashing.
Mesmerized, she touched the monitor, feeling the hum snapping in her bones; it took away all the ambient white noise in her head.
Jay’s smile glowed blood red as the glowing modules fed off the static.
Everyone else had his or her own mug.
It would have been a mite too wistful to ask for her own personalized mug to be brought over from the pilots’ canteen, but all the same, Jay was dreadfully disappointed with the Styrofoam cup that was presently busy poisoning her coffee. Her reflection stared back at her in the black liquid, and she sighed. Taking a long gulp of the house brew, she eyed the table in the center of the room. Several magazines were scattered over it, but one caught her eye; a strikingly lean young man in army fatigues stared out at her. Blond hair spilled out of the helmet, his eyes were a frigid blue... and his nails were perfectly manicured.
The name on the subscription for that month’s issue of ‘Terrorist Chic’ magazine was LT. VALERI.
Chuckling, Jay scooped up the magazine and with her nose buried in the ‘Mission Mecha Makeover!’ article, began strolling through the halls again. She had to stop now and again to patiently go through checkpoint after checkpoint-- retina scans (access approved), fingerprint scans (access approved), alphanumeric keypads (0413JAYV1391-gd, access approved), until she was finally at the hangars.
Entering from our end of the hangar is much easier, she thought vaguely. Of course, no-one in their right mind would try to sneak in through our quarters...
Mechanics and recruits milled around her, and for the moment, she was not the object of intense scrutiny: that was reserved for the Gundams.
Still flipping through the magazine, Jay began walking towards Dyscalculia. She passed Asuka’s Morkeleb and paused for a moment; at fifty feet below, she could still hear the music, thin and tinny. It was the only mecha not surrounded by an obscene amount of people, and she attributed that to 03’s... reputation.
Hitman. Definitely, her mind supplied dryly.
< < Red alert, > > a calm female voice announced. < < Red alert. All personnel to battle stations. Unidentified mobile suits approaching from the east, visual contact only; no radar, no scanner returns, no response to our demand for identification. Assumed hostile until further notice. I repeat-- > >
For a moment, Jay couldn’t understand the words, the blaring alarm, or the flashing red lights. She stood, still clutching her now-lukewarm cup of coffee, and watched impassively as utter chaos took hold of the hangars.
Suddenly, her fingers were pressing into her wrist unit. “Dyscalculia, online, open hatch.” The voice was detached and calm. It reminded her of her father’s, in some strange way. She was still wondering why the alarm was so bloody loud.
The black and gold Gundam in front of her roared to life, its green eyes glowing with a primordial fire. Distantly, she could hear other machines doing the same.
The coffee slipped from her fingers, splashing at her feet just as she wound herself around a lift wire and was suddenly propelled upwards. She belatedly realized that her left hand still fisted around Valeri’s magazine, and she dropped it just as she reached the open cockpit.
Jay’s hands hovered over the controls. “Monitors online. Scan northeast, southeast, display coordinates and visuals.” One eye skimmed the scrolling data on her rightmost screen.
The funny thing was that there was nothing at all in her head; no static, not even the humming.
* * * * *
PILOT 05 - GUNDAM TANIWHA
HEIGHT: 5'11" (181cm)
ORIGIN: PRINCIPALITY OF AOTEAROA.
ABILITIES: CLOSE COMBAT, HAND-TO-HAND, DEMOLITIONS, SABOTAGE, HACKING/EW.
SPECIAL NOTES: EFFICIENT BUT LAZY, MERCENARY. MAY BE CORRUPTIBLE. WATCH WITH CARE.
Lying back on her banana lounge, shaded by a broad, fringed umbrella, Mel sighed contentedly and reached for another chilled strawberry. No missions, no training exercises, no interruptions...
...except for the sound of a pair of heavy boots marching towards her from behind.
If that's Valeri, I swear, I'm going to stuff this strawberry straight up his left nostril, she thought, frowning slightly; then she looked at the strawberry in question and changed her mind, popping it into her mouth instead. Far too good to suffer such an ignominious fate. Perhaps a grape instead? One of the ones that's going a little mushy at the stem end...
"What are you doing, Five?"
Mel tipped her head back and smiled happily. "Why, Sergeant Palmer, how nice to see you! Grape?"
The drill sergeant scowled, but her eyes were twinkling. "No thanks, that bunch looks a little mushy. Got any blueberries?"
"You're right," Mel said, dropping the grapes onto the table and digging through the fruit and ice in the bowl, looking for blueberries. "I'll save them in case Valeri comes by... ah, here."
"You're going to give grapes to him?" Palmer asked, one eyebrow raised as she accepted the fruit. "Even mushy ones?"
"No, I was thinking of insertion," the pilot mused, hiding a smirk as the sergeant nearly snorted a berry out her nose. "Did you want something? Apart from my fruit bowl?"
"Yes, actually; I want to know what you're doing here."
Mel blinked, looking surprised. "I thought it was obvious. This is a banana lounge; I'm lying on it. This ingenious invention is an umbrella, which I'm lying under, and I'm eating this fruit out of this bowl on this table. I also have a jug of home-made lemonade. It's called relaxation, Sergeant, you should try it some time."
"Drill sergeants who relax turn into officers, so we don't. I can see what you're doing," Palmer said, mock-patiently. "What I meant was, why are you doing it here?"
"Space. It's in the sun, and well away from the surrounding buildings, so there's actually a bit of a breeze. It's the perfect spot for me to set up."
"On a drill field?"
"Well, the other one was in use." Mel pouted slightly, looking up at the sergeant out of big green-brown eyes. "You're not going to ask me to move, are you? I had a huge lunch, I need some time to digest it."
Palmer smirked. "Actually, a little gentle exercise is supposed to be the best thing for the digestion--"
"Oh, ick." Mel shuddered theatrically. "Don't even say the e-word, please. I'm lazy, Palmer, you know that."
"All right, all right, I'm not asking you to move... but is it all right with you if we play through?"
Twisting to look over her shoulder, Mel raised an eyebrow as she saw the advanced drill squad waiting patiently. "Welllllllll... okay. Just don't let them step on my fruit bowl."
Running inside from the garden, the little girl giggled as she felt the large fuzzy spider tickling her hands as she held it, careful not to harm it. The only question now was whether she should show it to Aunt Ngaire, who hated spiders, or see how long she could hide it in her room.
Pattering quietly down the corridor, keeping an eye out for anyone who might stop her and ask what she was carrying -- which was everyone, since she had quite a reputation -- Melanie was brought up short when she heard raised voices.
Mama? And Daddy, and someone I don't know, and-- oh, ick, Aunt Ngaire. What's going on?
Being a firm adherent of the theory that states 'Grown-Ups Never Tell Kids The Good Stuff', Melanie carefully dropped her spider friend into a flower arrangement and let herself into the room next to the one where the argument was happening. Corridor walls were built to take part of the weight of the roof, so they were always thicker (and more soundproof) than walls between rooms...
"...told you it was a mistake to marry a Pakeha," Aunt Ngaire's voice said with a strange sort of sour triumph.
"I have never regretted marrying Adrian. Never! It was not a mistake!"
Mama sounds really mad!
"And see what it's got you! A daughter so white she doesn't even look like a Tangaroa, and a constitutional crisis."
"It hasn't got to that point--"
"Yet. It will, and it's all your fault for not facing up to your duty six years ago."
"And what sort of child would I have got if I'd married him? If my baby had taken after him? Alcoholic, violent--"
"You'd have a child who could inherit, not that milky Pakeha whelp--"
"Shut UP!" Melanie's father roared. "Ngaire, just shut up. We are supposed to be here to discuss the problem -- rationally -- not so you can insult my wife and child!"
In the icy pause that followed, Melanie blinked, pressing her ear closer to the wall. What can't I inherit? Why is it a problem? Inherit... that's when somebody dies and their kids get stuff, right?
Ngaire sniffed haughtily. "I don't see why you're here. You're not a Tangaroa."
"No, but I married a Tangaroa and I fathered a Tangaroa, and damned if I'm going to let you decide my daughter's future without my input!"
Somebody coughed. "If we could get back to the problem at hand...?" the stranger's voice said. "Princess Whina has not, as yet, been able to bear a living child, and although she is again pregnant, her current illness makes it even less likely that she will produce an heir. Therefore, when she dies, the throne must pass down to her next sister, Princess Ngaire. However-- ah--"
"Ngaire is definitely barren," Melanie's mother said coldly.
"Thank you so much for putting it that way, Hinemoa," Ngaire hissed.
"Facts must be faced, Ngaire. Even more so than duties."
"Therefore, the throne will eventually pass to Princess Hinemoa, assuming both of her sisters predecease her. Unfortunately, her sole child, Melanie, although a Tangaroa princess, is less than one-third Maori and consequently cannot inherit the throne. There are no more heirs in the direct line, and the issue of who is next in line of succession is... ah... tangled."
"Bloody impossible to work out, you mean," Adrian sighed.
"And if you'd just married someone who was at least one-sixth Maori, you would have had a suitable heir!"
"Ngaire, when I married Adrian, Whina had just become pregnant for the first time. Everything was going well, and nobody thought I needed to produce an heir to the throne. Even you agreed that if I wasn't going to marry a Maori, someone from the Austral Territories was a good choice, to bind them closer to Aotearoa. And if your candidate was the best choice from the other Maori tribes, I shudder to think what the worst choice would have been!"
"His was the best bloodline. Character was immaterial."
"Not to me it wasn't. If you liked his bloodline so much, you should have married him."
"He didn't want me," Ngaire said bitterly.
"...Then I'm sorry."
"What are the alternatives, anyway?" Adrian cut in, changing the subject. "You said there were three obvious options."
"Well." The stranger coughed again, and Melanie thought she could hear papers rustling. "The simplest solution would be for Princess Hinemoa to divorce Mr. Whitfield, marry someone with sufficient Maori blood, and--"
"Not acceptable," Melanie's mother said coldly. "Even ignoring my personal motives, I can think of several reasons why not. One, we'd be sending the Austral Territories a very clear message that they're 'not good enough' for us. Two, what would it do to the children? It would be like telling Melanie that she wasn't good enough, and the future heir to the throne would grow up knowing that he or she wasn't really wanted, just needed. It's not going to happen."
"...Very well. The second option is a little trickier. There is precedent for succession 'skipping' a generation when a candidate is, ah, 'unsuitable' for some reason but their child is not. This would, of course, require Princess Melanie to marry someone with sufficient Maori blood for her children to be one-third Maori, and is also dependant on her producing children before the question of succession arises. This is an, ah, uncertain method of ensuring the succession; while you will almost certainly survive to see your grandchildren, we have to keep in mind the possibility that you will not. Also--"
"I don't want to put restrictions on who Melanie can marry. She might fall in love with someone who fills the requirements, but... Besides, she's only five! There's over a decade before she should have to think about marriage. What's the third option?"
"Constitutional reform. Alter the law so that Princess Melanie can inherit, by dropping the bloodline requirement to one-quarter Maori."
"And we all know what that would cause..." Adrian groaned.
Hinemoa started listing objections again, and the listening girl could imagine her mother ticking them off on her fingers. "The Pakeha would like it; the bloodline restriction irritates a lot of them, and any relaxation would be welcomed. Everybody who's between one-quarter and one-third Maori would adore it. Unfortunately, a lot of people who are more than one-third Maori -- especially all our Tangaroa cousins who would be one step further from the throne, and all the pure-Maori anti-Pakeha activists -- would hate it. It would cause the crisis we want to avoid!"
"Not to mention that it would start the Austral Territories activists up again, arguing that it should be 'Maori or Koori blood', or that the restriction should be lifted completely. Nobody over there is one-third Maori, and the whole 'minority rule' question would come up again."
"Nevertheless," the stranger said regretfully, "these are the questions that are coming up. Princess Whina's inability to bring a child to term, and its possible consequences, worries a large percentage of the population. The Aotearoan royal line has been stable for centuries -- no serious disputes over succession, no attempts to usurp the throne, no civil wars... people have come to depend on that stability. The possibility that it might end frightens them, and frightened people act irrationally. There has been... talk. Rumours."
"Such as?" Ngaire snapped.
"Such as... Princess Hinemoa deliberately had a child who was less than one-third Maori, to force constitutional change as part of a Pakeha-rights movement. Such as, Princess Whina's miscarriages and illness are due to her being poisoned by members of the other tribes who wish to see the throne pass out of Tangaroa hands. Such as, Princess Melanie is already showing signs of high intelligence and is therefore a better candidate for the throne, so the Constitution should be changed, and she should inherit directly from Princess Whina. Suitably advised, of course, since she will probably be very young when Princess Whina dies... assuming Whina is not, ah, 'persuaded' to abdicate in her favour."
"I will not have my daughter used as a pawn in some political game! And the idea that I'd do it myself -- oh, gods..."
"Who is saying this?!"
"Members of various tribes. Anonymous letters to the press. Rumours, Princess Ngaire, that we haven't been able to pin down. Yet."
No decisions were made that day; Melanie's mother, Princess Hinemoa, insisted that no decision could be made until Princess Whina was well enough to join in the discussions, and they needed more information on the rumours. They had a lot to think about.
So did Melanie. She might have been only five, but she was very intelligent, and she had some reading habits that would have amazed her tutors. They thought she was still reading Enid Blyton. So, she thought about what she had heard, and decided two things.
One: Aunt Ngaire was going to become very well acquainted with Melanie's eight-legged furry friend.
And two: She had to do more research.
Thanks to that research -- conducted late at night in the family library when everyone thought she was asleep -- Melanie expanded her vocabulary, gained a much greater appreciation of the lengths to which people would go to get their hands on any inheritance, let alone one that involved a title, and developed an addiction to murder mysteries. Murder mysteries and thrillers were fun, and the best characters were the ones who were always being underestimated, like Lord Peter Wimsey and the Scarlet Pimpernel.
The idea of an ineffectual false front over a competent core appealed to Melanie. Or, as she put it to herself late one night, "If you look like you're no good at anything, the bad guys get really surprised when it turns out you can do everything. And they lose."
In the end, there was no constitutional crisis. Princess Whina recovered, and gave birth to a healthy son. Rumours persisted for a while, saying that little Prince Hohepa was sickly and possibly retarded, but they were squashed for good when the then seven-year-old Melanie told a reporter that her cousin was already starting to say his first words. In almost the same breath, she announced that she was glad she couldn't inherit, because she wanted to be a dilettante. Ruling was too much like work.
Some years later, when she thrashed a visiting Han prince (one of her best friends) at every game of skill he could think of (including Go, chess, and five-card stud), he looked at her in frustration.
"You act like a useless layabout most of the time, only interested in fun and money, and then you do this! Why pretend?"
Melanie smiled at her fifteen-year-old opponent, shuffling the cards again. "I Ching, hexagram 36, Ming I. 'Concealment of illumination in a basket is beneficial if correct'."
He snorted. "Hexagram 44, Kau."
"Well, that's a shame," she said calmly, starting to deal. "I'd rather like to marry you."
Tzu nearly snorked his tea. "Me?! Why?!"
"I like you. We get along together. You're only three years older than me, which is a good age difference in a marriage. Your parents are discussing alliance against the Theodorians with my aunt, and a marriage would strengthen that. You're a younger son and I'm not in the line of succession, so it wouldn't cause internal political problems, and it would take my children even further out of consideration for the Aotearoan throne." She propped her chin on one hand, smiling slightly at his rather boggled expression. "The throne's in good hands, Tzu. I don't want it; I don't want people considering me for it. I've been working since I was five years old on not getting considered for it."
"Well... that's a good reason, yes... but doesn't it mean that you can't openly serve your country?" he said earnestly.
Melanie kept her face straight with an effort. "I serve my country best by not being the cause of a constitutional crisis. Besides, there's a lot I can do behind the scenes..." Like piloting a Gundam. Taniwha should be operational next year; if the alliance works out, I might even be allowed to tell you about it by then. She giggled. "Oh, don't look so worried, Tzu! I'm not about to march up to your parents and demand your hand in marriage. I'm only twelve!"
"Right," he said, then paused. "Of course... that's not to say I object to the idea," he said tentatively, picking up his cards.
"You're quite right. We do get along. And as the youngest son, I'm going to be married off to strengthen an alliance anyway..."
"So... if you feel the same way when you're sixteen... we could talk to our parents. If you like," he said quietly, concentrating on his cards very hard.
"Sounds like a good idea to me," Melanie replied, looking fixedly at her own hand.
"Good. Hexagram 44 be damned. I much prefer 37. Or even 31..."
Three years after that conversation, the remnants of Tzu's family arrived in Aotearoa as refugees. His youngest sister sought out Melanie to pass on a message... and a gift.
"My brother wished me to tell you that he regretted his inability to fulfil the agreement you had entered into. He wished you to have this." Bowing, she carefully passed over a large silk-wrapped box. "It is a family heirloom, a treasure of our country, something that should not be given away... but our country is gone and what remains of our family is scattered, and before he died our father agreed that it was best to send it to someone who would cherish it. Besides, as my brother's betrothed, you are a member of our family, even if the marriage can never..." She swallowed, blinking away tears.
Mel looked up from her examination of the silk. "I didn't know he'd told you..."
"He had to. Two years ago, there was talk of an arranged marriage for Tzu; he went to our parents and explained. Father was angry, but Mother said she had met you during the alliance talks, and she thought you were... deceptive, but honourable. She believed you would do much for our country."
"I regret... that I did not get the chance." Taniwha could have made all the difference to that battle if I'd just been there, not half the world away! "I would have liked to become better acquainted with your parents."
"Father thought Tzu had made a bad choice, but he relented when Mother took Tzu's side; and later, he changed his mind. I don't know why, but he would have welcomed you."
"Thank you." Probably because he was told of the Gundam project...
Once she was alone again, Mel carefully unwrapped and opened the box. There was a bundle of scrolls, fragile with age; a bundle of thin, dry sticks, tied with ribbon; and a small pouch. Opening the pouch, Mel tipped three gold coins into her palm, and looked at them for a moment before setting them aside. Then she gently unrolled a few inches of one scroll and looked at the faded characters.
"I'll have to learn to read Han," she mused softly, looking at the ancient copy of the I Ching. "Ancient Han, at that. And learn the yarrow-stalks method of casting hexagrams..."
Picking up the coins again, she cast them several times, noting how they fell. "Hexagram 33. Tun: Retreat. Well... it won't be forever."
 Hexagram 44, Kau: 'Kau shows a female who is bold and strong. It will not be good to marry such a female.'
 Hexagram 37, Chien Jo'e'n: 'The Family. The perseverance of the woman furthers.' Hexagram 31, Hsien: 'Influence. Success. Perseverance furthers. To take a maiden to wife brings good fortune.'
Yawning, Mel eyed the drill squad as they marched and counter-marched around her, sometimes heading straight for her banana lounge until a bellowed command from Sergeant Palmer split their formation and sent them past on either side. Fishing a last strawberry out of the melting ice in the bowl, she grinned at one of the soldiers and flicked it at his face.
"Hey Brenton! Think fast-- ooh, nice catch. I bet you practice with popcorn."
Chewing happily, he made a smart about-face and marched away, both hands still firmly on his rifle.
"Don't distract my soldiers," the sergeant growled, stalking past and snitching some more blueberries; Mel pouted.
"But playing with them is so much fun," she whined, fighting to keep the smirk off her face. "And he stayed in step--" She was cut off by a huge yawn.
"I do hope we're not keeping you awake," Palmer said sarcastically.
"No, no, really. I find the marching noises and whatnot quite soothing," Mel assured her, stretching. "Rhythmic. I've been dozing--"
"DAMN IT, STEPANOPOLOUS! IF ANYONE ELSE PULLED HALF THE CRAP YOU DO, THEY'D BE DISCHARGED!"
Sergeant Palmer grimaced at the bellow. "That's not soothing. You can probably hear him all over the base. Not to mention that we're not meant to use your names! Hell, we're not even supposed to know them..."
"I Ching, hexagram 41: Sun, Decrease," Mel quoted primly. "'At the foot of the mountain, the lake. The image of Decrease. Thus the superior man controls his anger, and restrains his instincts'... and doesn't disturb the serenity of my digestive pause. Valeri is definitely not a superior man. I will have to make my displeasure clear. You can have the rest of the blueberries," she added as an afterthought, getting up and strolling off in the direction the yell had come from.
Emerging from between two buildings in time to see the Jeep pull up in front of the main admin building, Mel raised an eyebrow as she saw Valeri ushering a woman inside. "That's right, he was supposed to be escorting someone today," she muttered quietly. "A reporter, yet. And he says we're security risks? I think I will go ahead with the 'Lieutenant-on-a-stick' project." She smirked, strolling towards her quarters to fetch something. "But first..."
"This is Valeri's personal Jeep, isn't it?" a cheerful voice asked; Corporal Seau wasn't sure whether to grin or salute when he saw who it was. He settled for the grin, since it felt a bit strange to salute someone who was wearing scandalously short ragged cutoff jeans and a slogan T-shirt that proclaimed 'THEY DON'T PAY ME TO CARE'.
"Yes'm, it is."
"Good!" Mel said, grinning evilly as she pulled something out of a plastic bag and started shaking it. "You might not want to be a witness for this; I'd hate to cause a conflict of loyalties."
"Uh... I see," he said, eyeing the contents of the bag. "Or rather, I don't see. I don't see anything, and I'm not going to, because I think I'm about to go for a long latrine break. That fruit I ate with breakfast must've been a bit green or something..."
His grin was even wider than hers as he jogged off.
After ushering the reporter into the base commander's office, Valeri ducked around the corner to General Petrenkovich's office and asked the staff officer on duty to request an appointment for him.
"Just a moment," the major said, one hand going up to touch his headset; then he looked sharply up at Valeri. "He's here now, sir, asking to see you," he said into the microphone. "...Yessir. Go right in, Lieutenant, he's expecting you."
Blinking in shock, Valeri automatically straightened his uniform jacket and marched past the staff officer's desk without another thought. A mere lieutenant didn't keep a general waiting, after all!
It wasn't until he was closing the door behind him that he actually wondered why the General wanted to see him.
"Vot the bloody hell you think you vere doing?" the General snarled dangerously as Valeri turned to salute. "Yelling Two's real name in front of reporter! You have any idea how many favours ve need to call in to keep it kviet?" Petrenkovich was from Tatarstan, and his accent always got thicker when he was angry. Right now, he sounded very angry.
Valeri gulped and slammed to attention, thinking frantically. Did I-- oh shit, I did. "Sorry, sir!" he barked, eyes fixed on the wall above the General's head. "At the time, I didn't realise I'd done it, sir!"
"Schtupid reason," he growled, glaring and running one hand through his rumpled ginger hair.
"You lack self-control, Lieutenant," Madame Garnier said coldly from her seat to one side. "Cultivate it."
"I deal vith your schtupidity later," Petrenkovich snapped, waving one hand dismissively. "Ve handle damage control first, see chust how schtupid you have been. So! You vanted to see me. Vhat for?"
Valeri swallowed again, starting to feel even more panicked. "Ah, actually, sir, this may not be the best time -- I'm, er, supposed to be available to escort Ms. Yamamoto--"
"After that outburst, you're not going anywhere near that reporter," Madame Garnier snapped. "Someone else will be assigned."
"Schpit it out, man."
"Uh-- actually, sir--" Valeri bit the bullet. "I intended to make a formal complaint about Pilot Two. About all the pilots, in fact, sir, but mainly Two. She's undisciplined, insubordinate, has no respect for rank or regulations -- if she were a normal soldier, sir, she would've been dishonourably discharged within a week of enlisting!"
Petrenkovich laughed out loud. "Very stupid," he said scornfully, his accent almost disappearing. "The pilots are not soldiers, they are civilians. Therefore, they are not required to abide by military regulations."
Madame Garnier sniffed. "Also, if their status was converted to military rank, they would be at least colonels; more likely brigadier-generals. They don't respect rank because they have it, and don't care. They don't think of themselves as soldiers. Five calls herself a 'consultant'; Two prefers the term 'terrorist'."
"But, sir," Valeri protested, "even taking that into account, Two often doesn't seem stable! Why is she permitted to pilot a Gundam?"
"Because she can," Petrenkovich pointed out acidly. "Believe me when I say that ve can build more Gundams far more easily than ve can find more pilots."
"Two is actually doing very well, considering her mental problems," another voice put in cheerfully.
"Mental... problems?" Valeri choked, turning slowly to stare at the speaker. He hadn't even noticed the small, thin man sitting inconspicuously next to Madame Garnier until he spoke. "So she is unstable?!"
"Oh, more than that," the man said calmly. "She's a full-fledged split personality case. Two distinct personalities -- three, actually, if you take into account the fact that Personality B is considerably more... shall we say, intense, when she's in her Gundam."
"So she's insane."
"If you must use that term, yes," he said disapprovingly. "Due to childhood trauma."
"Then why is she piloting?!"
"Oh, it's not a problem! All her personalities are quite rational and competent."
"I'm surprised you haven't noticed before now," Madame Garnier said, eyes glittering with cold amusement behind her glasses. "Most of the base personnel seem to have drawn their own conclusions, and decided it doesn't matter so long as she does her job. Which she does."
"None of the pilots are what you could call stable," Petrenkovich said impatiently, "but they all do their jobs, and they are the only people who can. For that, they can be forgiven almost anything. They do not have to get along vith you, Lieutenant; you must make allowances for them. This is an order. I vould transfer you to another base if I could, but because you know so much about them I can not. I can, however, lock you up if you breach security again; and I vill. Is this clear, Valeri?"
"Yes, sir," Valeri said miserably.
"Oh, and Lieutenant?" the small man called as he turned to go. "Do be careful around Two. You don't want Personality B to take an interest in you."
Walking out of the building into the sunshine, Lieutenant Valeri took a deep breath and straightened his shoulders.
I can do this. I can keep my temper under control and be polite to the pilots. I can't honestly say they don't do their job, after all; it's just the way they do it that--
He stopped short as he saw his Jeep. His Jeep, his personal, shiny, new, perfect Jeep, was almost invisible under a tangle of six different colours of Silly String... except for one side that had been carefully left bare to display the piece of spraypaint art that had been perpetrated on it.
'WELCOME TO HELL', it proclaimed in large letters, and there was a small but detailed cartoon of Valeri desperately running away from a pitchfork-wielding devil that had a definite resemblance to Christina Stepanopolous.
Totally forgetting his earlier resolve, Lieutenant Valeri took a deep breath and started screeching.
Watching from around the corner of a building, Mel snickered as Valeri circled his Jeep, raking away handfuls of Silly String and ranting at the top of his voice. Glancing behind her as she heard someone approaching at speed, she smirked as she saw Corporal Seau.
"Goodness," she said in a shocked voice, backing away from the corner and leaning against the wall, "it seems that some evil person has vandalised the good Lieutenant's Jeep. I wonder who could have done such a heinous thing?"
"Don't ask me," Seau said, taking her place and peering around the corner. "I wasn't there... Silly String?"
"Seems to be. I think spraypaint might have been involved, as well. And--" A loud 'pop!' and a splattering noise came from around the corner, and she grinned. "--I do believe that sounded like a paint bomb going off. Did it get him?"
"Oh, yes," Seau said, staring fascinated. "Bright green."
"Oh, my," she said primly. "That means--" Another 'pop!', and Valeri's voice went up half an octave. "You know, some people would stop tugging at the Silly String after they set off the first paint bomb. What colour was that one?"
"Oh, dear. That'll clash. I wonder if there are any more?"
"Blue!" The corporal was starting to snigger.
"He's definitely a slow learner, isn't he?" Mel shook her head sadly, then jerked upright as klaxons went off all over the base.
< < Red alert. Red alert. All personnel to battle stations. Unidentified mobile suits approaching from the east, visual contact only; no radar, no scanner returns, no response to our demand for identification. Assumed hostile until further notice. I repeat-- > >
Mel bolted for her Gundam, yelling into her wrist unit as she went. "Taniwha, prep for combat! Hatch open! Active scan for hostiles!" Bouncing up an access ladder and throwing herself into the cockpit, she started trying to refine the scan as the Gundam moved out of the hangar.
Patchy returns... very patchy, even with the new upgrades, she thought as faint blips wavered on her screen. Three? Four? Can't tell... they've got better jamming and ECM than we've seen from Theos before now, that's for sure.
"Thought you'd catch us unawares, huh?" she muttered. "Hexagram 1, Chi'en: 'In the third line, undivided, we see the superior man active and vigilant all the day and in the evening still careful and apprehensive. The position is dangerous, but there will be no mistake'!"
End WM Chapter 1
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