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FAQ/Walkthrough by MNeidengard

Version: 1.0 | Updated: 12/31/09

Super Robot Taisen K
Walkthrough by Mark Neidengard
mneideng at ugcs dot caltech dot edu
Version 1.0

INTRODUCTION

Welcome to Super Robot Wars K, as of this writing the latest installment of
this playable cross-over (official) fanfiction franchise.  This guide is
intended to be one-and-a-half steps removed from a full dialog translation,
intended to allow those not fluent in Japanese to grasp the story that
surrounds the inter-series combat.  Those looking for strategy guides, menu
translations and the like are referred to other documents on GameFAQs or
similar sites.

Those familiar with other SRW games may find the "Partner Unit" system of
some interest.  It is a scaled-down version of the Squad System, permitting a
maximum of two mecha per squadron.  Also of note is that this game heavily
emphasizes terrain and size-based modifiers in combat, and that it uses
"Skill Parts" to confer new pilot abilities instead of the familiar Pilot
Points purchasing mechanism.

Please send all comments or questions to the address listed above.  Now with
no further ado, on to the game!

---------------------


1. The Wedding Bell Tolls for Battle

One very confused Mist wakes up in the hospital.  Has he "missed" anything?
Hard to say, given the game's only a minute or so old, but at least someone's
here to fill our poor main character in.  That someone is Rin, who hastily
summons Shigusa and the principal(!) over.  Shigusa has a broad grin as he
tells Mist he's lucky to be alive, after collapsing on the side of the road and
whatnot.  Lucky for him the principal found him and brought him here, "here"
being none other than Japan's first line of defense against the "Mimetic
Beasts": Dannar Base!

How's that again?  Hayashimoto describes it as a cross between the police and
the fire department, except that they don't get dispatched for crimes or stuff
burning down.  Dannar Base is all about the Mimetic Beasts, end of story.
Oookay...  Mist is more baffled than before, but also less unconscious, which
reassures the principal enough that he's headed back to his school.  He
admonishes Mist never to let life get him down, no matter what, and leaves him
in Shigusa's capable hands.

Mist can't readily remember _why_ he collapsed alongside the road, though it
may have something to do with not having eaten for three whole days.  The
reason: no wallet.  Mist seems to recall what actually happened to the
erstwhile billfold, but instead of speaking the (embarrassing?) truth, he 
instinctively lies that he's an amnesiac.  The sort of amnesiac who at least
remembers his own name: Mist Rex.  Incredibly, Mist's hosts buy this load of
malarkey, and Shigusa tells Fuyuko to bring a big bowl of food on the double.

As she hurries off to grab the food, Professor Kiriko steps onto the scene.
She sounds rather skeptical at this tale of her guest wandering in an aimless
stupor until felled by malnutrition, but quickly comes up with a suggestion for
what Mist can do with his life.  The mechanics have been needing an all-purpose
gofer, and Mist is grateful for any sort of employment.  As of now, Mist is
officially on the payroll as Dannar Base apprentice staff, and Kiriko tells him
to go out and bust ass in return for a roof over his head and three square
meals a day.

  STORYTIME!  "Several hundred years after the fall of human civ-"  Wait,
  where was I?  Oh yes *ahem*:

  It was a time roughly one hundred years into the future, shortly after the
  inauguration of the "Stellar Calendar".  Mankind had just awakened from its
  old cultures, having progressed to building metropolises in space.  Optimism
  about Earth's future was universal.

  It was at that moment that the Earth was plunged into the depths of a lengthy
  war.  Mankind had already faced the onslaught of empress Himika's "Great Jama
  Empire" some fifty years previous, followed a decade or so later by the
  invasion of the "Mimetic Beasts".  These creatures, foretold by Professor
  Aoi Tatsuya, were accompanied by a rash of disappearances and abductions --
  more than enough to instill fear and distrust of the unknown in mankind.  It
  was during these decades that the schism between the genetically optimized
  "Coordinators" and unmodified "Naturals" grew too large for society to
  ignore.

  The Great Jama Empire's advance was halted that half-century ago by
  mysterious barriers called "Zones", which trapped the Jama on Kyuushuu.  The
  Mimetic Beasts also disappeared at the climax of the five-year War of the
  Titans.  With these menaces past and Earth's cities rebuilt, everyone assumed
  peace had returned to the world.

  Yet in the shadow of the recovery, relations between Naturals and
  Coordinators had worsened to the brink of open warfare.  That war finally
  erupted between the Earth Federation Army and the Zaft, secretly spurred on
  by the evil Doctor Hell's machinations toward world domination.  It took two
  years, and the death of the ringleaders on all sides, to quell the fighting.

  A half year has passed since peace returned, and the scars of war are still
  fresh upon mankind.  The people are doing their utmost to hang onto their
  peace, so hard won, and spending their days quietly.  It is Stellar Calendar
  year 105, and no one has realized that a new terror is approaching head-on...

In the two months since darkening Dannar Base's doorstep, Mist has been
following Kiriko's admonition to a "T".  Portraying himself as a cheerfully
dense strong-man, he now specializes in hauling stuff.  Now, if he would just
haul the _correct_ stuff, he wouldn't get yelled at as much by the "old man".
Who isn't, in fact, old at all - it's just a term of endearment, sort of like
the "master" of a pub or the "general" of a sushi joint.  Shigusa had been
chewing Mist out for not cleaning up after everyone' scrap metal, but a new job
presents itself when Kiriko phones him about a pearl necklace she left behind.

This is a very unusual request, largely because of where she wants the necklace
brought: the Eastern chapel.  That building is only used for weddings or
funerals these days, and the thought of weddings has Rin all aflutter.  Like,
doesn't every girl dream of wearing a white wedding dress and walking the
"virgin road"?  To quote Hans Zarkov, "Let me think a moment."  Result: NO!
Shigusa doesn't take this blather for long, ordering everyone back to their
places if they value their paychecks.

In fact, Kiriko is _not_ getting married in the school chapel.  The wedding is
her daughter Anna's, and given Anna's still in high school one has to assume
she's in a major hurry.  Kiriko and Anna both badger Sayaka (good-naturedly)
about tying the knot with her boyfriend Kouji, celebrated warrior and defeater
of the nefarious Doctor Hell.  Mind, he didn't do that alone: plenty of people
chipped in, busting their butts to mop up after the war with the Plants.

Their discussion is interrupted by Shinobu, who's come looking for Gou.  He's
quite dazzled by the sight of Anna in her wedding dress, but Kiriko hustles him
outside in short order.  She figures Gou's busy visiting a certain grave, and
assures Shinobu that he'll be back shortly.  Shinobu heads off to look for the
erstwhile Gou, just as Mist arrives with the necklace.  Mist's inner monologue
now reveals him as not the moron he claims to be, with plans of his own for
what to do with this place once he gets a moment's peace.

For the time being, he's got a wedding to navigate on the way to the good
doctor.  Kouji spies him wandering around and calls him out of the line of
fire, giving him directions to the bridal prep room.  He figures out fast
that Mist must be the new Dannar Base recruit, and tells Mist not to forget
the name "Kabuto Kouji".  Good advice methinks.

While the makeup continues, Anna tells Sayaka about all the fun she's been
having in her school's robot club.  Piloting a mech has been her lifelong
dream, and her mom assures Sayaka that the only thing Anna's lacking is
experience.  That'll change as soon as she graduates and enters Dannar Base
for real.  Speaking of whom: Mist shows up with necklace in hand... in two
hands actually, both totally covered in grime from the machine shop.  Good
thing the necklace was in a case, or else it too would be covered in the
goo Mist didn't think to wash off before heading over here.  Anna still
thanks him for taking the trouble to bring it over anyway, cause she's a good
kid.

Mist is blown away when he realizes who Anna is, and that she's getting married
as a high schooler to the "much" elder Gou.  He quickly apologizes for blurting
this out, but Kiriko admits that there's some truth to it: Gou's newbie days
are now a good five years in the past.  The spaced-out man he appears to be now
wouldn't be recognized as one of the heroes of the War of the Titans by anyone
who doesn't know him personally.  Never mind the fact that he directly saved
Anna's life.

Mist hasn't heard of this War of the Titans, or of the Mimetic Beasts it was
waged against.  He nearly lets it slip that this "planet's" history eludes him,
but he quickly changes that to "the past few years'" history.  Anna marrying
her savior is like a "crane's repayment", an Earth colloquialism which eludes
Mist completely.  At least he realizes how clued out he is, and figures he'd
better redouble his studies of Earth before the jig is up entirely.

That's the point when Shinobu returns with Gou.  Kiriko tells Anna it's time to
go get married, admonishing her that a wedding is like a war.  She's got to
"shoot" her groom-to-be before he "shoots" her.  Whether it's peace on Earth
or peace at home, first impressions matter.

At about that time, the Dannar Base command center gets an emergency call from
Cosmo Base.  Twelve Mimetic Beasts have appeared, for the first time in five
years, and their signature has reached all the way to Earth.  Kagemaru orders
the G-Gunner made ready for battle, though Gou is nowhere to be seen.  Kouji
wonders if they really ought to face the Mimetic Beasts without him, but
Shizuru doesn't want to rely on his help on today of all days.

Meanwhile, Boss is grousing to his lackeys about not receiving a wedding
invite, which he assumes must have been due to some sort of postal error.  His
teensy little brain has concocted a brilliant plan to win Anna's favor: crash
her wedding in his Borot!  Knowing her robot mania, he figures he can at least
parlay his walking scrap-heap into an introduction to one of Anna's cute
friends.  Fortunately, this plan gets disrupted by one of the Mimetic Beasts
falling right into Boss's path.

Boss tries to show how bad-ass he is, and in a way he succeeds: zero coolness
points, and zero success against the alien menace.  Kouji and Shizuru will
surely fare better, but as they're getting ready to fire they suddenly I.D.
their foe: the Club Mariner, vanished five years ago along with its pilot.
Parasitized by the enemy as it is, there's no telling if the Club Mariner's
pilot is alive or dead.  Nevertheless, Kagemaru orders the two to protect the
city no matter what.

As Kouji and Shizuru throw down with their unwanted guest, Mist has somehow
gotten himself roped into attending Gou and Anna's wedding.  He wonders aloud
if shacking up with a high-schooler is a jailable offense, as Kouji (Mazinger,
not Godannar) mumbles that he hasn't even gone out with anyone for real yet,
much less made plans for knot-tying.  What is Sayaka, chopped liver?  Ayup.
Well _that_ doesn't go over well with Kouji's long-time partner.

Now, there's a reason people are asked to silence their cell phones in church,
and that goes double if you're the reason the church service is being held.
Gou apparently didn't get the memo, which is why he gets interrupted by a call
from Shizuru right before can complete his wedding vows.  His pleas to save it
for later quickly dry up when Shizuru shows him what has become of the Club
Mariner.  Kiriko gets a similar report on _her_ cel phone, and the stampede is
on to return to base.  Anna tries to get Gou to finish his sentence, but her
own mother tells her that this kind of thing goes with the territory for any
aspiring mecha pilot.

Now, Mist isn't any sort of aspiring pilot, so Kiriko tells him he's got the
rest of the day off.  As he gapes at all this, Anna indeed steels her resolve
to be a mecha pilot's bride... not by waiting patiently at the altar, but by
running after her man to join in the fray herself!  This involves absconding
with Shinobu's bike, natch.  Kouji's thanking his lucky stars he rolled up to
the wedding in Mazinger Z (!), and hurries off with Sayaka to make sure Gou
doesn't do anything stupid.  This leaves Mist and Shinobu to watch the battle
from the church...

Said battle isn't going so smoothly.  The enemy has the pesky habit of getting
too close for the Dannar Base pilots to safely use their Strong Buster.  In
fact, they narrowly miss catching Anna in the crossfire, but her scrambles for
cover turns out to be a stroke of luck: she spies a robot lurking in the
base's... umm... basement.  Lucky indeed, since the Mimetic Beast manages to
cripple the Dannar Base's unit with its next long-range strike.  Shizuru tries
to hold out until Gou arrives, but her Core Gunner is badly outmatched.

Still, Gou's got a talent for arriving just in the nick of time.  Shizuru's dry
wit is about the last thing still intact, so Gou tells her to take Kouji and
leave this monster to him.  That doesn't work so well, and Anna realizes she's
got to do something fast.  That something means firing up a mech that's under
permanent mothball orders: the Neo-Okusar.  Kiriko quickly orders her daughter
into battle, but Gou just as quickly orders her amateur butt to get off the
battlefield.  Nothing doing, see: remember that "in sickness and in health"
bit?  Marriage = serious business.

M-m-married?  That's news to Gou's colleagues, and would be a severe shock if
there were time to get shocked.  But since there ain't even time to bleed,
Kagemaru orders Gou to let Anna help.  He's every bit as stubborn as she is,
and tries to settle things on his own.

  The last thing he's going to allow is for the Club Mariner to lay waste to
  the city and the people it once helped defend.  And the last thing Anna will
  do is let her husband come to harm.

  The next round, the Mimetic Beast's friends show up, reducing the situation
  from "dire" to "totally hopeless".  That is, until the Mazingers show up.
  They're not sure how rusty Gou is, but he assures them in no uncertain terms
  that he's still got what it takes.

  Kouji's pretty sure that no beast, Mechanical or Mimetic, can mess with his
  uncle's robotic masterpiece.  Sayaka is more playing the part of the jilted
  wedding-goer.  Both of them make good inroads against the new invaders, but
  unfortunately they haven't seen the bottom of the enemy's cannon-fodder
  reserves yet.  Kiriko orders Gou and Anna to combine, but Gou is dead-set
  against it.  He initially objects that Anna's a beginner, but what he's
  really worried about is her being put in danger.  _That_ was never part of
  the master plan.

Watching from the sidelines, Mist knows full well that the entire crew are
about to get their asses annihilated.  Muttering to himself about breaking his
vow of never fighting again, he rushes off to go save his friends.  He makes
off with Shinobu's bicycle to do so, leaving the kid totally stranded.  He
boots up his Revlias and disengages its camouflage, creating quite a stir when
he arrives at the battlefield.  Wasting no time, he demonstrates an Attack
Combo sequence, earning him at least the temporary trust of Kouji and the crew.

  He won't stand for seeing any _more_ of his companions die.  And for a while
  it looks like he won't have to, after the bitch-smacking his mech deals out.
  He's about to break down and tell Kouji his real name when one of the Mimetic
  Beasts revives and beats him to within an inch of his life.  Kagemaru repeats
  the order for Gou to combine, but he shouts back that he never wants to lose
  someone he loves again!  He throws a full-blown temper tantrum until Anna
  tells him to grow some balls and consider using his mech to defend more than
  just himself.

  That seems to get his attention, and he cries out for Godannar to combine.
  The results are, in a word, spectacular.

Mist tells everyone that he'll reveal his name when they all "return" to base.
Meaning at the least that that's where he's from.  He's figured out that he's
not the only one on this planet who doesn't want to repeat a past loss, and
reckons he might as well help out.  Lurking in the bushes is a boy named Daiya,
who's been eagerly waiting for an "armored" monster to appear.  He just knows
it'll happen sooner or later...

Predictably, Mist's big reveal causes a major commotion.  Not only does he
claim to be an amnesiac still, but an amnesiac with a robot of unknown origin,
which he's obviously highly skilled at piloting.  Of course this is suspicious
in the extreme, but Mist manages to deflect the conversation onto Gou and his
cradle-robbing ways.  Kouji and crew can't decide what to harp on more: the age
gap, or the fact that he didn't even tell most of the Dannar Base folks in
advance.  And by the looks of it, he's going to take shit from them about it
for quite some time to come.

Mist has his reasons for keeping his identity hidden, and he's got his work cut
out for him keeping it hidden when Kiriko starts questioning him.  Meanwhile,
the other Kouji is back to his usual fiery self in sick-bay.  Shizuru tells him
to get some rest for now, adding the report that Gou went and got himself
married.  To whom, Kouji wonders, someone cute?  Shizuru thinks a second and
rates the bride as an "S" on the cuteness scale.  "S-class cuteness" plus "high
school girl" equals "Kouji is SO THERE", or would be if he could stand up
without stabbing pain all over.

This wasn't the only big event to occur after he left the battle, but Shizuru's
briefing gets cut short by Shigusa.  He tells a much-relieved Kouji that the
G-Gunner can be repaired after all, but that it's being converted into a
single-pilot unit at Kiriko's recommendation.  Tatsuya'll get to pilot that,
while Shizuru's Core Gunner will be fortified and made pilotable by her alone
as well.  This means more overall warpower for Dannar Base, which as today's
fracas showed is desperately needed.  This suits both pilots fine, and as
Shigusa leaves Shizuru follows him out, cutting short her socializing before
Kouji's mild flirtation actually makes her start falling for him.

Now, about that grilling Mist was in for.  All things considered, Kiriko barely
pushes at all -- she reckons Mist must have a pretty good reason for not
leveling with her.  She does tell him in no uncertain terms that he's just
promoted himself to Dannar Base pilot, and that his mech is now her people's
responsibility.  Of course, he'll still be on lackey patrol in addition to his
pilot duties, but that's what any rookie would have to go through.  Mist sighs
to himself that he must be fated to have to fight, and decides to put the best
face on it he can.  It wouldn't do to lose the Earth now, after all it's given
him.  Kiriko then gets a summons to the medical room, and sends Mist off to
help with maintenance in the hangar.  She knows full well that no call to the
medical room can portend anything good...

How right she is.  From the cockpit of the former Club Mariner were extracted
the bodies of Mira and Max, comatose but apparently alive.  Testing all the
way down to the genetic level has revealed nothing amiss, but their presence
here raises plenty of questions all by itself.  Such as: how did Mira get from
the cockpit of the Go-Okusar to the cockpit of the Club Mariner sometime in the
past five years?  For that matter, how did the two _survive_ over those past
five years?  Kiriko wants to wait for them to wake up on their own in the hopes
they know something about the enemy, and strictly tells Kagemaru not to let Gou
know his two former comrades are here.  After all: Gou just got married --
letting him know the woman he once loved and since gave up on is alive might
be... disruptive.  And might result in the titan they just woke up going back
to sleep.  Kagemaru clearly isn't happy with that, but will follow the
directive if it's Kiriko's order.

For what it's worth, she apologizes to him before he returns to the bridge, but
privately Kiriko admits that she's not doing this for Gou at all: she's doing
it for Anna.  Bad though the decision might be from a command sense, she can't
bear the thought of her daughter's expression if she found out about her new
husband's attachment to another woman.  Besides, there could be something dire
behind these two reappearing _now_ specifically...


2. Visitor From Another World

Daiya may be good at lurking in the bushes, but he's not enough of a ninja to
escape his mom's scrutiny without making her worry.  And worry she does,
according to Daiya's friend Naoto.  Who informs his intrepid friend that he
needn't have schlepped to Dannar Base to see the Mimetic Beasts: they're all
over the news.  Naoto's also understandably skeptical that Daiya's "armored"
monster even exists, and asks if it might not have been just another kind of
Mimetic Beast.  Daiya doesn't care what it is -- he just wants it to show up so
he can get another look at the mechanical dragon that saved his life.

Mechanical... dragon?  Yeah, and he even got a memento from it.  He's shown it
to a parade of experts, and none of them can tell what it was actually built
for, or even _how_ it was built.  To Naoto's amazement, Daiya tells him that he
actually received the trinket from one of the dragon's crewmen, after the
dragon saved him and his father from a monster assault on the high seas five
years ago.  He was even taken _aboard_ the dragon when he and his father became
separated, and the crewman in question promised him that the day would come
when he too would become a warrior and fight those obnoxious aliens^Wmonsters.

Plausible?  Hell no, and Naoto isn't shy saying so.  But since we're on the
subject of unbelievable stuff anyway, Naoto suddenly notices that the trinket
has suddenly grown hot.  This turns out to be a presage of the bad guys showing
up, which is the boys' cue to head home at long last.

Already planning to head home are Kouji and Sayaka, who are in the Dannar Base
command center saying their goodbyes.  Kiriko doesn't want to mix them up in
fending off the Mimetic Beasts, and even when the alarms sound it seems she
won't have to today: the newly-minted enemy aren't Mimetic Beasts at all, but a
different kind of mecha-critter that Kiriko recalls are from the Darius Army.
The Mazinger pilots think they can help trounce them, but Kiriko orders the
'Zinger pilots to stick to their original plan of returning to the Photon Power
lab.  No more borrowing their services without their boss Yumi's permission.
Why not, Kouji asks, just call up Yumi and _ask_ for permission?  Good idea...

Yumi's already tracking the new beast incursion from his end, and has concluded
that it and the Mimetic Beast incident are proof of a major new menace
threatening the Earth.  And how better to combat it than to have the Mazingers
join Dannar Base's forces?  How conveeeeenient for them.  And lest Kouji and
Sayaka worry about leaving their boss in the lurch, he tells them that he's
already made other arrangements with Representative Asuha from Orb for the
Photon Power Lab's safety.

When Kagemaru orders everyone to head to the scene, he means _everyone_,
including Anna.  How else, Kiriko tells a scandalized Gou, is Anna supposed to
build real-world experience?  Everyone also includes Kouji, still convalescent
but apparently healthy enough to fly solo.  Mist is also present, though his
teammates are a bit hesitant to count on him and his unproven track record.
Still, there are bad guys to fend off, and their leader Suspage doesn't seem
terribly worried.  Her forces are burdened with a "Steel Beast", but she
reckons it should at least serve as a sacrificial pawn.

  Daiya and his mom both recognize these beasties: they're identical to the
  ones that sunk Daiya's dad's ship.  Naoto's now got his incontrovertible
  proof that armored creatures do exist, and Daiya yells that he's been saying
  that all along.  He's bound and determined to be the one who reduces these
  menaces to so much scrap metal, and tells Naoto to take his mom with him and
  skedaddle.  Just how he plans to fight the several story-tall critters is a
  separate question...

  On the very next round, the Daikuu Maryuu shows up.  Kouji wonders if the
  thing is another one of Dr. Hell's flying fortresses, but captain Garis
  informs the "surface warriors" that he too is fighting against the Darius
  armies.  Gou and the troops aren't sure what to make of this, but Kiriko is
  an old friend of the good captain and quickly promises him that her troops
  will help him make short work of the bad guys.  Kagemaru's orders are good
  enough to dispel any immediate doubts the troops have, and Mist is privately
  amazed at the diversity of mecha he's seen on Earth already.  Of course,
  Daiya is overjoyed at getting exactly what he wanted...

  Daiya is all urging the dragon to let him fight by its side when a blurry
  voice of reason is beamed at him in return.  The voice tells him to get
  the heck out of Dodge before he gets caught in the crossfire, and Daiya
  recognizes it as belonging to a girl he met the last time, with eyes like
  the deep ocean [which he nearly drowned in, come to think of it.  Plus there
  are sharks and poisonous snails and Portuguese men-of-war.  That's like,
  scary and stuff.]  Daiya may not be smart enough to be scared, shouting back
  to the girl that there's no way in hell he'd flee at a time like this.  Not
  with all the mysteries of the last five episodes^Wyears about to be revealed!
  Such as, what's her measurements^Wname, anyway?

  This is so important to him that it looks like he spontaneously combusts.
  No, seriously: you flick, you flame, UASH and whatnot.  Charbroiled brat is
  a staple of the draconis diet, so Garis has the girl _eat_ Daiya with the
  Daikuu Maryuu.  In a twinkling, Daiya finds himself in some kind of cockpit,
  elected as the dragon-chosen who gets to pilot the Fire Giant.  Also known as
  Gaiking, the bit of the dragon battleship that until a moment ago was its
  head.

  Suspage is now starting to get worried, but a colleague of his phones up
  new orders.  The Daikuu Maryuu can be defeated any old time, but Suspage's
  real mission can't afford any delays.  To soften Suspage's disappointment,
  the mystery man sends in a little present to keep the Federation forces busy.
  Bringing up the rear is normally Suspage's job [;)] but he'll have to make an
  exception here.

  The new arrivals display a Mimetic signature, but it doesn't really matter
  what type of enemy they are: no menace to society is welcome in these parts.
  Garis sends in Pulia and Lee, and reluctantly adds Yanma and friends in their
  rickety Crab Bunker.  The first words out of Pulia's mouth are to tell Daiya
  to shape up his shoddy piloting.

The end of the battle finds Daiya marveling over how much ass his mech just
kicked.  He tells Garis that he's waited for this day a long, long time [also
defined as "five years"], and Garis tells him to carve the names of the Daikuu
Maryuu and Gaiking into his heart.  Figuratively speaking.  He then tells the
baffled Dannar Base crew that his ship is not of the Surface, but rather from
another land within the Earth's center called "Darius".  Full details will
have to wait until the Daikuu Maryuu is led back to base, and Daiya re-docked
with his new mothership.

It's even harder to believe in Otherworlders from within the Earth's center
than it would be if they were just garden-variety aliens.  But Garis and
co. are indeed from this inner world called Darius, whose armies are now
raising hell all over Earth.  Seems they made their way through something
called a Deathcross Point in India, which the bad guys can open nearly at will.
Dannar Kouji makes the intuitive leap that these Points could let Surface
folk travel the other direction and assail Darius, which Garis calls "harder
than it sounds" but not impossible.  He'll be happy to take the team to Darius
whenever they want, except that they first need a plan.

Turns out that the Daikuu Maryuu has busting ass for quite some time keeping
the Darius army from pestering the Surface.  For whatever reason, the army's
gotten frisky lately, and Garis' crew are slowly losing their grip on the
situation.  If the Darius armies were to mount an all-out assault, the Surface
folk would bear the brunt of it, and Garis is hoping for a plan to head that
off at the pass.

Gou whines about having yet more enemies to deal with, though Kiriko points out
to him that _he_ hasn't been fighting squat for the past five years.  Doh.  In
any case, Kiriko reveals that she's one of only a few people on the Surface who
had been informed of Darius and the Daikuu Maryuu's existence.  Many of those
people are colleagues of Garis, and as one of them Kiriko pledges her forces
to help hunt down the Darius Army forces that escaped.

As Garis prepares to return to his ship, Kouji, Mist and most of the rest of
the pilots plead with him and Kiriko to go and sightsee.  Kiriko doesn't want
her forces acting like a bunch of sixth-graders, but Garis is more than happy
to show off his baby.  Mist is especially glad of the chance to do some more
fact finding, but one person who won't be joining the field trip is Anna.  Gou
has something very important to discuss with her.  That leaves bridge bunnies
Momoko and Konami to deliberate about why no one asked about Garis and his
mask.  Is it merely a question of good breeding not to pry into a man's
presumptive dark past, or fear of what the guy might do?

Daiya finally gets to reunite with the sea-eyed girl: Lulu by name.  Shizuka,
in charge of the Daikuu Maryuu's hangar, tells Daiya that Lulu's going to be
his precious partner from now on, assisting him from the bridge during combat.
Shizuka adds that everyone aboard the Daikuu Maryuu has been waiting for Daiya
to show up for a veeeeeeery long time [longer than five years, one hopes].  She
hopes he's up to being the Savior, cause that's what his special linkage with
Gaiking makes him.  Daiya was BORN READY for that kind of mission, and ready
to rock'n'roll ever since the boating fiasco five years prior.  He's still got
the weird doohickey Lulu gave him, which she calls a "Flame Greeter".  It's
kind of like a walkie-talkie that can only be used by people with strong
fire powers, and the thought of it reuniting him with her has fuelled his whole
life.

Well, that and the hope that he can save his father, who did _not_ die but
instead got captured by their beastly assailants.  Lulu will tell him what
their deal is, only after warning him that once he finds out there'll be no
turning back.  "Back" isn't even in Daiya's dictionary, so Garis steps in for
the big reveal.  Before that, he foists the tour group from Dannar Base off
on Shizuka.  Let storytime commence...

Suspage's new orders are to head Southwest into the heart of one of the Zones,
giant barrier areas dotting the Earth.  There's someone inside the Zone that
Suspage's superior wants as an ally for the invasion of Earth, and Suspage is
to join forces with them.  The superior tells Suspage to phone home when he
reaches the Zone for more orders, and if there's one thing Suspage can't stand,
it's being bossed around -- especially by an "outsider".

Garis isn't surprised at the notion of Daiya's father being hauled off as a
source of info on the Surface.  He's careful to remind Daiya that a "non-zero"
probability of his father being alive does _not_ equal a 100% chance that he
can be safely rescued once the Darius Army is defeated.  He'd rather steel
Daiya for the worst-case scenario up front than have the kid blindsided down
the road, and adds another heavy thought to the mix for good measure: to fight
the Darius Army, Daiya will have to leave the Surface.

NOW we have a problem: after his father's disappearance, he's been living alone
with his mother... he's all she's got left.  Pulia has been listening in, and
isn't impressed with some little brat who sounds like he's still nursing his
mom's tits.  Daiya recognizes her voice as the one that berated him during the
battle, and she tells him grandly that _she_ is the pilot of the Daikuu
Maryuu's *main* weapon, the Stinger.  She can't believe a little kid like
him is Gaiking's pilot, and her lackey friends are quick to agree.  Daiya
fires back that there's nothing wrong with a kid having concern for his
parents, and Garis concurs.  He gives Daiya three hours to go talk things over
with his mom, during which point his people will try to locate the fugitive
Darius Army units.  Daiya doesn't need to be told twice, and hustles straight
off home.

Gou's brought Anna back to the church for a little true confession session.
He tells her plainly that his strident objections to her fighting were born
from fear of losing her.  But seeing her fight, seeing her unwillingness to
give up just reminded him all the more why he decided to spend the rest of his
life with her.  _He_ might as well have been the one to die five years ago,
but now he wants only to fight by her side.  He makes her promise him this one
thing: that under NO circumstances will she die before him.  You betcha!  She
vows to stick by his side even when she's old and gray, and he tells her it's
time to truly combine.  He extends a wedding ring, saying that he expects that
they'll probably fight each other and even make each other cry at times.  But
he will _never_ betray her -- he, Saruwatari Gou, pledges to her his lifelong 
love.  BETTER LATE THAN NEVER, one supposes.  The priest, watching from the
sidelines, is most glad of the sight of the two of them kissing -- humans are
not the sort of creature meant to fight alone.

Daiya delivers his mom and Naoto the news of his decision to fight aboard the
dragon.  Of course his mom isn't initially inclined to let him, but Daiya
reiterates his belief that his father wasn't killed at sea back when.  So uh,
take care and keep the home fires burning!  With promises to return one day,
Daiya bails and heads back towards the ship.  Lulu phones up and asks if he
had a proper conversation with his mom, and while "proper" may not be the word,
Daiya tells her that he said everything there was to say.

As he runs across town, the Dannar command crew fret over those pesky Darius
forces, still nowhere to be seen.  Kagemaru worries they may have dived under
the waves, in which case they might not be detectable until they surface
again.  But just then, an unsolicited message comes in from Build Base...


3. Build Up!  The Legend Reborn

The tour group finally reaches the Daikuu Maryuu's bridge, and Anna's group
rejoins just in time to take in the vast open space.  It's nothing like her
mom's command center, and nothing like any culture's tech that Mist is familiar
with.  Shizuka slyly introduces First Officer Rosa as a terrifying figure,
which may not be that far from the truth for those she can order to swab the
deck.  Very much like Kiriko, as Anna would be the first to admit.  In any
case, Kouji is especially interested in the ship's power source and armor
composition, part of a long-range project to raise himself from knucklehead to
first-rate mecha engineer like his father.  While his teammates debate what
kind of magic mushrooms he must be on, Shizuka tells him that the Daikuu Maryuu
and Gaiking run on a type of fire-based energy called Hydriude, and are armored
with an alloy called Zolmanium.

None of the Dannar folks have heard of these before, but then again amnesia-boy
Mist hadn't heard of the fabled Ultra-Alloy Z or Photon Power either.  He sure
has a funny kind of amnesia if he can remember his own mech's name but not its
power source...  Before anyone can grill him on this point, Kiriko phones up
and recalls the team to base -- something urgent has come up, and nothing to do
with the Darius Army.  Mist bails at warp speed, a sure sign to even a dunce
like Boss that he's hiding something.  Kouji doesn't particularly care what,
and apologizes to Shizuka for skipping out mid-tour.

Kiriko tells Mist that he and the others are to fly with Gou to Kyuushuu, due
to an emergency call from Professor Shiba of Build Base.  This facility, in
Nagasaki, is devoted to studying the Zone that encircles all of Kyuushuu.
Zone? asks Mist.  Kind of like a thick cloud of energy, which has kept Kyuushuu
effectively cut off from the outside world for the past fifty years.  Something
has been stirring over the past few days that leads some to suspect that the
half-century exile of the Great Jama Empire is about to end.  That's the last
thing Kouji wants to hear when he catches up to Mist, and just as quickly as he
came, he turns around and dashes to the hangar.  Anna follows in short order,
cutting off whatever Gou was going to tell her about combination fighting.
Kiriko has just enough time to tell Mist who this Professor Shiba is: an
archaeologist and leading mecha authority.  He's also one of the top two
scientists in Japan, and Kiriko sternly warns Mist against disrespecting the
guy.

As a somewhat dazed-looking Mist runs off, a call comes in from Selene McGriff
of the DSSD.  She's an old friend of Kiriko's, and currently in charge of
shuttle launch operations.  With so much that could go wrong, she's
understandably nervous about the reports of Mimetic Beasts on the loose.
Kiriko asks her to sight tight while Cosmo Base checks out the area around the
launch pad.  She has the launch coordinates sent to Rue, who reports utterly no
Mimetic activity in the vicinity.  Kiriko hopes the tests on the "401" go
smoothly, completed AI or not.  This is the GSX-401FW, a mobile suit created
for deep-space exploration and equipped with a solar-wind-driven "Voiture
Unit".  This is supposedly capable of endless acceleration and arbitrarily long
range... if it works.

As Gou and the others race towards Build Base, the situation on Kyuushuu is
deteriorating rapidly.  Shiba issues orders to all observation personnel to run
one final diagnostic on the autonomous observation system and then hightail it
away from the Zone.  He also phones up Hester to check if all the civilians
have been evacuated (they have) and if the army is on the way (they are).
Hester reminds Shiba that Build Base has been given full authority concerning
the Zone so that they can keep a lid on it, and tells him to call back if
anything changes.

Shiba tells a worried Cagalli that the Zone may in fact be about to expand
again, and might swallow Build Base itself if his worst fears are right.  Her
companion "Alex" tells her that they've got to leave before that happens, lest
they get stuck at the Base and leave Orb in the lurch.  Cagalli protests that
Festoom may be inside the Zone, and if it is it's got to be stopped before it
can wreak another tragedy like the one Orb's neighboring nation suffered.  Alex
is about to protest when Mist arrives on the scene...

...and promptly mistakes the grizzled Professor Shiba for some kind of monster.
When he realizes his mistake, he then falls all over himself trying to
apologize, making himself look more the fool but less the insolent whelp to the
old bird.  Luckily, Mist is the only idiot in the Dannar Base lineup, and
moreover Shiba knows most of the rest of the pilots from their past exploits.
This many stalwarts will sure come in handy when the Jama break free, which
Shiba reckons is merely a matter of time.

Mist is still waiting to hear what this Great Jama Empire is all about, and
Shiba peevishly explains that they're a crew of demons who poured out of
Kyuushuu fifty years ago.  They're all about the usual domination of mankind
stuff, but lucky for the world they never got the chance to fully execute their
plans.  Sometime during the battle, a strange mist began to boil out of one of
Kyuushuu's mountains, trapping the whole evil posse on Kyuushuu with no hope of
escape.  The same can be said of the hapless people who were actually living on
Kyuushuu, whose fate is now unknown.

The Dannar folks are shocked to realize that Orb's princess is among Shiba's
guests, given how dangerous this place is.  To Alex's relief, Shiba reminds
Cagalli that he's detected no sign of the Festoom and sends her packing before
she can get underfoot.  No sooner do Alex and Cagalli leave the bridge than
word arrives of some sort of vessels approaching the Zone.  Those vessels turn
out to be from the Darius Army, which Shiba remembers all too well.  What no
one is prepared for is the Darius battleship _entering_ the Zone through a hole
that just appeared.  Shiba realizes this must be due to the Darius' control of
Deathcross Point tech.

Once inside the Zone and away from prying eyes, Suspage is confronted by
Empress Himika, who disconcertingly knows his name.  Seems a certain mutual
acquaintance who awoke Himika from her slumber has clued her in on recent world
events, telling her to join forces with the forthcoming General from another
world if she wants to make the world hers.  Himika's loyal servant Ikima isn't
having it, sure that his power alone is sufficient to slaughter mankind.
That's quite a boast, and Himika tells him to take the Haniwa Phantoms and
Magura and show her what he's got.

Outside the Zone are those aforementioned troops, apparently quite unprepared
to face the impending menace from their textbooks.  Mudy isn't even enthused
for battle if it doesn't involve the Coordinators, but she gets motivated
quickly enough by the sight of most of her battalion getting blown away in
one shot.  Michio is quick to order a retreat, given the obvious lack of
firepower and disparity of information.  He's also mindful of his instructions
to let Build Base handle things if worse comes to worse, and Sven certainly
thinks he's making the right decision.  Ikima certainly thinks he's won, and
orders his men to lay waste to all the human civilians in sight.

Meanwhile, Kyou has called Kenji out to Team Shiba's test track for a little
contest.  Their team owner has said that one one of them can represent the
team in the next race, and told them to figure out among themselves who that
rider will be.  Kenji has no objections to a little showdown action, but it
appears that Kyou has the edge in discipline.  Which makes it odd that Kyou
stops cold after taking the lead, until he explains that he just felt an
earthquake.  Kenji can feel it too in short order, and they needn't wait long
until the source of it comes into view.  It's a Haniwa Phantom, and it's headed
straight for Tsubaki's shrine.

Kenji races off to the rescue, but Tsubaki's nowhere to be found at the
shrine.  Instead, he runs into an older lady named Michi, who leads him
deep underground to a cavern containing a monstrous motorcycle.  Michi gives
him a little handbag and tells him to hop on, promptly vanishing from sight.
Good thing it's a hot-ass bike, since he's got those Haniwa critters shooting
at him from all directions.  His missing girlfriend radios in and tells him
to head straight for a certain cliff up ahead, and once there to "Build Up".
This requires help from Tsubaki and Yagyuu Mitsuko, both flying in in the
nick of time.

Kyou watches from a distance as the tableau unfolds.  He thinks to himself
that Kenji really _is_ a phenomenal rider if he can handle the "Raikoba" cycle
so well his first time out.  Tsubaki flies up and has him put his two fists
together, initiating his cycle's transformation into the core of the Steel
Jeeg.  Kenji can be excused for feeling a tad confused at all this, but give
him credit for being quick on the uptake: when Shiba phones up and yells for
him to become the Defender of the land, he doesn't hesitate to start raising
hell.


  Tsubaki isn't going to leave Kenji to duke it out alone in this fight, which
  echoes the fracas from fifty years ago.  Kyou has a head for history, and
  doesn't plan on it repeating.  Tsubaki's also more than happy to represent
  the Build Angels and their fabled aerobatic prowess.

  Kenji doesn't actually do badly himself, especially for a first-timer.
  That's not to say he isn't glad when reinforcements show up.  The Dannar Base
  crew marvel at seeing the legendary Jeeg on the field of battle again, noting
  in passing that little details seem to have changed.  The new arrivals don't
  do anything for Ikima's mood, especially when Mimashi, Amaso and even
  Suspage start taunting him.  Suspage tells Ikima to let him take him back
  to Himika to regroup, and the disgruntled warrior grudgingly complies.

  Shiba radios in to notify the troops that the remaining Darius Army forces
  aren't to be underestimated.  Kenji reckons he can pummel this sorry lot
  regardless, but Mitsuko reminds her enthusiastic charge not to get _too_
  carried away.  After all, as Gou points out the main goal here isn't bad-
  guy stomping, but rather protecting the city.  And _this_ time, Mist is
  determined not to fail.

Back at Build Base, Shiba is very nonplussed when Cagalli (and Alex) rush into
the command center and demand to know what's going on.  Can't they see the
20-foot screen up front?  It's showing a full panoramic view of the Darius
Army, a group every bit as bent on world domination as the Jama crew are.  The
battle has moved into the downtown area, which is not quite as thoroughly
evacuated as one might have hoped.  Wouldn't you know it, those pesky bad guys
just _had_ to take a pot shot at them... and Mist throws himself recklessly in
the line of fire to defend them.  He manages not to get totally blown away, but
the situation is still grim.

Even the combined might of Jeeg and Mazinger Z may not be enough to protect
the civilians, so "Alex" steps up to the plate, not as an Orb representative
but as an individual warrior.  Cagalli doesn't sound convinced, but there's
no time to debate semantics just at the moment.  His Murasame makes a very
grand entrance as he trashes the closest of the demonbeasts, though Cagalli
warns him not to be overconfident.  Alex knows very well that his interference
in the battle will probably have repercussions later, but he can't bear to
sit idly by when he's got the power to help save people.  He quickly gets
integrated into the rest of the formation, with the reminders that there
are repair and reprovisioning mecha handy.  Oh, and let's not forget the
Transform command either.  That would be bad.  And just to make things more
lopsided yet, the Daikuu Maryuu joins the fray.

  Alex has to wonder how a simple fact-finding mission turned into all-out
  throwdown.  Vexing, but not as vexing as Anna's realization that all this
  warfare has kiboshed any hope of a real honeymoon for her and Gou.  Hey,
  them's the breaks when you're a mecha pilot.  Mist thinks this is his chance
  to "burnish" the bad name he's earned for himself, to which Shiba snaps
  that it's _good_ names that get "burnished", and bad names that get 
  "banished"  -- has this guy even got two functioning brain cells?

  Answers to this and other pressing questions await back at Build Base, which
  is why Shiba wants Captain Garis to head there before staging an ill-
  informed assault on the Jama home base.  The good news is that the Jama
  and Darius forces aren't likely to go anywhere, what with the Zone all
  around them.  Garis agrees, and as he recalls his forces Kenji spies Kyou
  near the battlefield.  Kyou congratulates him on fighting so well, and
  promises some serious explaining once back at base.

Before Mist can return to the ship, he gets a personal call from... Angelica!
He's astounded to learn that she's working as an operator for Build Base,
and she's equally astounded to see him here _and_ fighting in the Revlias.
Seems the two of them have plenty of catching up to do, and Angelica tells 
Mist to get his butt back to base this instant so they can begin.

Back at base, Gou launches into a belated lecture for Anna on combination
fighting (no, he hasn't forgotten).  Unlike ordinary battle formations, this
entails two units acting as one joint squadron: one in front and one as
support.  The supporting unit can assist with attack and defense, and the
chief benefit to the combination squad is that it's harder for both of them
to get damaged.  There's also the side benefit that, _specifically_ during
squad motion, the supporting unit gets to move as the primary unit does,
including the ability to fly over obstacles.  A ground-bound support unit
can't actually aid a flying squad leader in battle.  Units in the same squad
can, of course, also combine any old time they want, but they can _not_ use
Attack Combos.  Unfortunately for Kouji, the pilots themselves don't get to
pick who they get paired up with: only the commander has that right -- hot
combat by Shizuru's side may have to wait.

Elsewhere, Tsubaki apologizes for not getting the chance to explain everything
to Kenji before having him pilot Jeeg.  Kenji wants to know what's up with
those "Haniwa Phantom" thingies that weird old geezer mentioned over the
radio.  Monko shows up and yells at him not to disrespect the good doctor,
and when Kenji asks who the hell let the gorilla chick in, she decks him
squarely in the jaw.  Any normal human would need an ambulance and neck brace
after such a hit, but Kenji only blinks and goes "Hey, what was that for?"
Tatsuko, also walking onto the scene, is suitably impressed with Kenji's
durability, and the brewing fight between Kenji and Monko is abruptly stopped
by Mitsuko's arrival.

Kenji's rather shocked to learn that the musclebound Monko is actually a
fighter pilot, but the real shock comes when Kyou explains about the Haniwa
Phantoms.  These are the servants of the Great Jama Empire that caused such
a fuss a half-century ago, and Build Base has been, well, building defenses
against their return ever since.  Kyou's history lesson gets interrupted by
Kouji coming on the scene and mistaking him for Jeeg's pilot.  Kouji's glad to
see that Jeeg's piloted by someone as good looking as he (thinks he) is, which
makes it all the more appropriate that the actual pilot is the more
knuckleheaded Kenji.

Kouji and Sayaka both apologize for his old punk-style vocal habits, but Kenji
tells them not to sweat it.  He's been called knucklehead, jackass, pervert,
and far worse before.  He does take it a bit personally when Kouji introduces
himself as the pilot of the _invincible_ Mazinger Z: Kouji doubts any 50-year
old antique, legendary or otherwise, can stand up to his father's handiwork.
Au contraire, says Kyou: the original Jeeg actually vanished during the final
battle back when -- Kenji's mech is an upgraded copy made with the very latest
in technology.  New doesn't automatically equal strong, and Kenji and Kouji
have to be physically restrained before launching into a battle for superiority
on the spot.  It's like they're brothers or something.  Daiya then trots up,
calling everyone to a staff meeting while smoothly deflecting Kouji and Kenji's
ire.

Mist is probably going to be a bit late to that staff meeting.  Neither he nor
Angelica can believe that they've bumped into each other all the way on Earth.
She arrived one year ago, the same day as the final attack on their home.  Her
mech had become disabled, and was left behind when her father and Mist rushed
off after the enemy commander.  She remembers being surrounded by a great white
light and passing out, regaining consciousness on Earth.  A far easier journey
it seems than the one Mist had, which took him fully ten months longer to reach
Earth.

Instead of Earth, Mist got thrown to a planet called Bezzard, where he was
trying to live a peaceful life while preparing the residents in case "they"
attacked again.  "They" did, and Mist's preparations were for naught: neither
did he defeat the enemy leader, nor was the planet itself salvageable.  Once
again, a white light surrounded him after the defeat, and when he regained
consciousness he found himself on Earth.  If this is coincidence that's 
brought them back together, it's a _massively_ huge one; in any case, God be
praised for His providence.  There's more that Angelica should probably say,
but Mist is already late enough for the meeting as it is.  She sends him on
his way for now, revealing that she too has been playing amnesiac.  No one
else must know the truth, at least for now...


4.

Rosa is none too pleased with Mist being late, and even less pleased when Boss
brags that Mist ain't got nothing on him in the lateness department.  Kenji
mutters to himself that he'd better not get on this old lady's bad side, and
discovers that her hearing is quite acute too.  Who's he calling "old"?!
Yikes.  Double yikes when he finds out that Tsubaki's mom is actually 
commander of the base's military.  Shiba has had the Orb folks join the
meeting thanks to their "exploits" in the previous battle, exploits that are
good for the people of Nagasaki but bad for Orb, which makes a big deal of
not using its military for anything besides self-defense.  Break that stricture
even once and it could give numerous other nations an excuse to attack Orb,
which seems kind of stupid if you take the bigger view that the Darius forces
are all Earth's common enemy.  Cagalli defends Aslan^WAlex's actions, but
the fact remains that her nation is now less secure than it was an hour
earlier.

Further proof that Kenji's not an idiot comes when he notices that this Alex
guy, whoever he is, must be pretty hot stuff if he can refer to the leader
of Orb without any honorifics.  No mere pilot, he.  In any case, the main
point of the meeting is the Darius-Jama alliance, which seems quite
unheralded in Shiba's decades of studying the Jama.  Garis hadn't heard of
any prior contact between the two either, but in some sense the point is moot:
now that they _have_ joined forces, both the Surface and the Darius world
are both in great danger.

The Feds don't know what this unholy alliance is up to inside the Zone, but
it's safe to assume they'll be mounting some kind of offensive before too long.
The obvious counter to this is the old eye-for-an-eye ploy: if the bad guys
can form an alliance, the valiant forces of Earth can do the same.  Kouji and
his friends sign up voluntarily, but Shiba is quick to volunteer Kenji's help
without his consent.  His theory is that Kenji would be dead if not for Jeeg's
armor plating, which he designed -- therefore, he gets to order around the
person whose life he saved however he sees fit.

The Dannar Base folks present are mere pilots, and don't have the authority
to sign up for the Darius/Jama mission on their own.  Gou is worried about
the Mimetic Beasts causing more trouble in his team's absence, but Kiriko
phones up at that very moment and tells him not to worry.  She can always
summon help from other Bases throughout the world, including Silicon Base in
the US, Vega Base in Russia, or even Dino Base in China.  (Build Base sounds
like it should be part of the same organization, but it actually isn't.  Go
figure.)  In any case, Kiriko doesn't mind a short term loan of her people
for a good cause, but admonishes Gou to take care of business and get back
fast.

Unfortunately, Orb won't be able to help right away on the mission, no matter
how much Cagalli might personally like to.  Instead, she's going back home
to try to persuade the Senate to stand up against Earth's common enemies.
The only silver lining is that Shizuka will have that many fewer mechs to try
to cram into the Daikuu Maryuu.  As Shizuka, never one to complain, gets
cracking, Garis orders the pilots to gather their gear and head to their new
flagship, while Cagalli and Alex hurry back to Orb.

Meanwhile, Himika is holding court in her infernal throne room.  Seems she
felt the ringing of the Bronze Bell during the last battle, which might be
somehow connected to the humans' new Jeeg-like mecha that participated in the
fight.  Himika isn't at all pleased that the specter of Jeeg may be rising
again, and vows to claim the power of the Bronze Bell for herself this time.
Since Suspage and the crew are now organized, she sends Mimashi into battle
with a new Haniwa Phantom: the Mazura and instructions to level Build Base.
Suspage is privately sick of taking orders from these monsters already, but
he'll be happy to put up with it so long as it gets the Daikuu Maryuu shot
down faster.

Back aboard the Daikuu Maryuu, Daiya is leading the pilots through the
labyrinth of corridors along what he claims is a shortcut to the hangar.  Kenji
is already starving from all the hiking around, but his stomach is forgotten
when the party runs across Lee, practicing some very impressive-looking
Karate.  His doing so in the darkened bowels of the ship isn't because he's
got some super-secret technique he can't let others see: it's just a form of
pre-battle exercise.  Given how radical his "exercise" is, one has to assume
that his actual combat prowess is even greater.  The poor guy gets bombarded
by requests from Daiya to teach him karate so he can become stronger too, which
harkens back to his younger brother Shinn asking him the same thing.  After
some thought, he agrees to teach Daiya karate, warning that Daiya'll have to
get up pretty early in the mornings for practice.

Mist meanwhile has been lurking around Build Base, trying to squeeze a little
fact-finding in around his part of Shizuka's busy maintenance schedule.  He
runs into Angelica, who as he feared asks what happened to her father, their
squadron commander back when.  Mist was the last person together with him, and
she asks if her father was teleported the same place Mist was.  Before he
has to answer, the alarms go off and Michi reports that the enemy has emerged
from the Zone.  Mist tells Angelica that talk of her father will have to wait,
inwardly apologizing to her over whatever dark secret lurks in that part of
his past.  Whatever happened, Mist blames himself for it...

Mimashi is glad to see the new Jeeg, and vows to steal the Bronze Bell back
this time around.  Kenji naturally has no idea what the hell Mimashi is talking
about, but Kyou certainly does.  Suspage has no clue either, for that matter,
and Mimashi isn't willing to tell an "outsider" the truth, settling for
ordering the guy to get busy wrecking the base.  Mist wishes that a certain
mech were on hand to help with the area defense, and he gets his wish in
short order: Angelica is at the controls of the Celius, with which Mist has
one heck of a combo attack.

The sight has Anna fired up, and she wants to try a combination attack with
"Gou-chan" (a name he hates her saying over open radio channels).  He has to
wonder if he and Anna can combine as successfully as he and Mira once did.  The
more immediate question is what an operator is doing on the battlefield, but
that explanation will have to wait.  Angelica then mildly berates Mist for
being a little slow: hasn't he been training this past year?  In fact, he's
been busy with other stuff, and would totally get chewed out if their old squad
leader could see him now.  In any case, nothing for it but to let her and Mist
help fend off the bad guys.

  Suspage is smart enough to stage a strategic retreat when damaged enough,
  much to Mimashi's aggravation.  There's a brief moment of jubilation among
  the good guys until a massive dimensional gate forms and swallows them all.
  This causes an argument between two onlookers, one of whom apparently 
  triggered the Gate in violation of an agreement with one of the others.  The
  Gate initiator can't believe his luck at finding the Revlias and Celius here
  on this backwater planet.  If he can just unlock their secrets, his dreams
  will finally come true!  He instructs his companion to leave those two mecha
  up to him, and to focus on his mission.  The companion snorts, and tells
  him to keep things with Himika moving.

The Daikuu Maryuu manages to survive its little voyage, as have all its
combat units.  The problem is that no one is sure where they ended up: none of
the land masses look at all familiar(!).  As Garis calls everyone back to the
mothership, it rapidly becomes apparent that this is not Earth as they know it.
Nor is it the Darius world.  The best guess as to what's happened comes from
Mist of all people, who reckons the ship has been sent to an entirely different
planet.  This sounds highly implausible to some of the crew, but Daiya yells
at them not to be so quick to dismiss people with strange ideas.  Looking
sheepish, he adds that he's had a similar experience in the past.

Mist explains that he's been through this light, this teleportation, twice in
the past.  The fact of the matter is that he, and Angelica, are _aliens_.
SAY WHAT?!?  Anna is about to go all X-Files fandom without Gou to rein her
in, but all Shizuru wants to know is this: is she seeing the aliens' real
bodies, or are they actually all eight-legged and whatnot?  Fear not, for these
visitors from Planet Atreem are wearing no disguise *whew!*  Neither of them
know where Atreem is relative to Earth, since they came via dimensional gate
(in the heat of battle no less) and not by any conventional propulsion.

Mist explains that the term "dimensional gate" is shorthand for the dimensional
transfer device used by the forces that invaded Atreem.  It allowed them to
gate in vast amounts of warpower from thin air, and the distinctive light the
Gate produces is almost surely identical to what the Daikuu Maryuu just
experienced.  The best efforts of Atreem's defense forces (Mist and Angelica
included) were of no use against the invaders, though as the team has seen the
teamwork among the Atreem pilots still holds water today.

The Dannar Base folks are a little sad that Mist and Angelica were so afraid
of their reaction to having aliens in their midst.  Remember: this is an age
where mankind is already living permanently in space; a few genuine
outworlders more or less wouldn't matter any.  This seems like some sort of
revelation to Kyou, but bad jokes aside Gou and the others are more than
happy to keep fighting alongside their alien comrades.

A "Doctor Sakon" has been listening in on all this, and comments over the
loudspeaker that the planet they're looking at is almost certainly somewhere
other than Earth.  The good doctor narrowly avoided being buried under all
his precarious bookshelves when the ship was jolted by the Gate, but insists
on cleaning up by himself.  He recommends to Garis that they try to gather
some info on this planet, whose oxygen levels he judges to be safe for
humans.  In the meantime, he'll be concentrating on understanding this Gate
stuff, with a particular eye toward returning to the Earth.  When Mist asks,
Rosa explains that Sakon is the guy who designed the ship itself and most of
the mecha on it.  His wisdom has been indispensable in keeping the Daikuu
Maryuu alive this long, though he seems to have a few personality quirks that
make it best that he not show himself on the bridge.  That doesn't stop Shizuka
from fretting over the guy, and running off to check on him.

Kouji can't wait to start exploring, seemingly heedless of the dangers this
strange new world might pose.  Anna's in a similar boat, calling this the most
exciting honeymoon ever.  Gou will be damned if this is all the honeymoon
they get, which starts Mucha fuming anew over the prospect of an older guy
boffing a high school student, married or no.  [Dude, the national age of
consent in Japan is 13.  Look it up.]  Poor Gou for having to take all this
guff, especially from morons like them.  Neither Mist nor Angelica can guess
where they've been gated to, and although the Gate user could conceivably be
just about anyone, Mist is worried that their old nemesis did it as part of
some truly nefarious scheme or other.  As someone who's withstood _two_
assaults from that nemesis, Mist is probably in a good position to know.

That second attack was on Bezzard, a peaceful planet with a peaceful populace.
One of whom (a girl) is responsible for dragging Mist from his damaged mech
and getting him to a hospital in time to save his life.  Bezzard is now in
ruins, and if Mist's worries are right, the Earth might be next on the chopping
block.  He doesn't want to spill the beans about his nemesis just yet, wanting
to wait and see a bit longer before inciting outright panic.  This much is
certain though: if it really is _them_, both Mist and Angelica will do
everything in their power to protect the Earth.


5. Overman Battle

Mist's mech takes a very long time to service, unlike Angelica's efficient
mass-production Celius.  The Celius' designers kept field maintenance and
modification high on their priority list, and it really shows.  Mind you, she's
made a few what she calls "minor" modifications along the way, such as
installing a semi-perpetual motion drive(!).  Kouji wishes Mazinger was as
easy to service all that, since it took quite a pounding in the fight with
Doctor Hell and hasn't had a full dose of TLC since.  Even its Super-Alloy Z
armor is approaching the expiration date, and its power output is way off spec.
Oh well, nothing to be done about that just now.

Mist's Revlias is _not_ a mass-pro unit, based instead on a mobile weapon
excavated from a certain ancient ruin.  Several were in fact made and
distributed to the armed forces, but Mist doesn't know who's responsible.
Whoa, hold the phone -- _ruins_?  He explains that Atreem went through a period
in its past where all high tech stuff was sealed away, and notes that the
mechanical lineages between those mecha and the modern-day ones are so close
that any given modern designer is as like as not to discover that their problem
area was solved two millennia ago.

Angelica adds that the ruins seems to hold two kinds of mecha.  One kind serves
as the basis for units like the Revlias, while the other is harder to analyze
and is still stuck at the experimental stage.  The Celius and its ilk are
partial copies of this second kind of mech, which seems somehow designed to
mesh well together with the first type.  In any case, Atreem's self-defense
forces were heavily staffed by these recreations, and given that the ancient
tech proved to be superior to Atreem's modern-day stuff, everyone came out
ahead.  Mist's surprise at seeing all these legacy mecha anchoring the
self-defense forces is pretty understandable.

As it happens, both Mist and Angelica are riding mecha with customized
powerplants relative to their contemporaries -- and neither of them had a
chance to ask what the modifications were for in the heat of battle.  Even a
_mostly_ perpetual motion machine is a fairly staggering concept, implying
freedom from wasting fuel and a host of other plusses.  Shizuka wants Sakon
to see what he can make of the mecha's power sources, insisting that she's not
just coming up with excuses to spend time with the guy.

As for this mysterious planet the team finds themselves on, the view from
the mothership is nothing but icy fields as far as the eye can see.  Gou
and the crew are due to head back any minute, just as repairs on the next
wave of mecha to sortie are finishing up.  Rosa tells the pilots that their
number one priority is finding something edible: despite all the Daikuu
Maryuu's preparations, the crew never anticipated a prolonged stay away from
the comforts of civilization.  Mist's previous two teleportings took him to  
civilized planets, and he's sure that people are living somewhere on this
world as well.  Rosa notes that two is an awfully small sample size, but
there's certainly no point in giving up before the search has even started.

...And now, for something _completely_ different.  We take you to a classroom
inside Yapan's Ceiling, where Mamadu is recounting ancient Earth history.
The culture of Man had advanced too far, leading to war and great upheaval
that left many humans dead.  The survivors created the London IMA to observe
and supervise humanity, with the ultimate goal of reviving the devastated
climate.  Plants and animals were donated to the remaining temperate zones,
while mankind itself moved to the tundras and deserts, cloistered inside
Domepolises for hundreds of years until the present...

All of this is very fascinating, unless you stayed up all night gaming, which
Gainer does habitually.  Badgering from his classmate Sara won't change
Gainer's view that study is useless, even as Mamadu's lecture gets to the
important part.  It's only natural that some of the Dome dwellers would get
it into their heads to leave the Domes in search of those temperate regions,
a trip known as an "Exodus".  Anything the students may have heard denouncing
Exodizers as solipsists or cowards is merely London IMA propaganda.  In which
case, what _is_ an Exodus anyway?

Mamadu calls on Sara, who replies that it's the flouting of London IMA
authority in the interest of living by one's own strength in the Promised Land.
It is, in short, a battle to seize one's future, and the teacher wants all his
students to do everything in their power to help bring their Exodus to a
successful conclusion.  With that, the lecture is over and Mamadu leaves, but
not everyone seems bought into his message.

Gainer in particular ridicules the notion that Exodus has some deeper meaning,
telling Sara plainly that he's not along on this little jaunt because he chose
to.  If not for Gain threatening him, he'd still be safely ensconced back
home, twitch-gaming [and one-handed-web-surfing, no doubt] all night long.  He
does have some justification though: both his parents were killed by pro-
Exodus elements.  In any case, he's in the unenviable position of being
unable to turn back (leaving the girl he cares about, and facing certain
execution as an Exodizer by the Siberian Rail authorities) and yet unable to
stand moving forward.

To his credit, he's buying the right to bitch by risking his ass as Overman
King Gainer's pilot, protecting this sorry lot of refugees.  He's still not
sure what they plan to do once they actually get to Yapan, but Sara tells him
they all mean to take up agriculture, growing rice and other staples that Sara
is sure will taste better than London IMA's artificially-grown fodder.  Fodder
which, thanks to London and its tyrannical Siberian enforcers, has been in
storage for at least four years.  Gainer _rather_ doubts a bunch of Dome-
raised folk can suddenly morph into farmhands, whether or not Yapan's Ceiling's
self-defense forces can keep the trade routes open.  She plans to have Gainer
tilling fields in his mech, but before that can get added to the argument,
Berou tells both of them to head over stat for a briefing.

When Gain asks where the two of them were, Gainer testily replies that they
were having a high-minded discourse on the rightful direction for their
Exodus.  That comes as news to Gain, who knows full-well that Gainer would
rather be anywhere but here if not for Sara.  In any case, the meeting was
called because one of the magi, Gach, has found the city of Miya.  Now, Meer
is named in honor of one of the five original Magi who were part of the first
ever Exodus.  The stone pillars visible dead ahead are just like the ones in
Meer's writings on the ideal homeland, though what they're doing _here_ is
anyone's guess.  The kids are sallying forth to find out, and Gain makes sure
they've got some adults looking out for them on the trip.

The site of the supposed city just looks like more rock and ice, though in an
impressive shape that Sara wants to build a model of when everyone finally
reaches Yapan.  There is one special feature though: it resembles a monstrous
dinosaur, whose identity Gain suspects he knows: the Overman "Brunhilde".
Gaury has at least heard that name, in legends about a "wandering Overman".
Those same legends claim that it's the Overman that Meer himself used in his
very first Exodus, and that it lost an arm in the process.  That arm is now
incorporated into Gain's Gachinko, and Gain means to use this opportunity
to make the rest of the Brunhilde his.  A reckless plan, but not only is Gain
intending to carry it out, he intends to force Gainer to help him as well!
Just so long as Meer's city itself doesn't get trashed.

At about this time, life signs start registering on Angelica's sensors: looks
like her recon squad won't have to go back empty handed.  Mist's insistence
that the life signs are human remains to be proven, but there's no reason
to not see where the life signs lead.  Wouldn't you know it: they lead right
to the Yapan squadron, resulting in an awkward First Contact staredown and
chat.  Mist is no good at this kind of negotiation, but fortunately Gain
the Black Southern Cross doesn't seem especially suspicious of the newcomers.
Gain's answers to Kouji's questions make it obvious that all the Exodizers
are local, but before Kouji can ask what _planet_ this is, Yapan's Ceiling
radios in to say it's under attack by Saint Reagan mecha.

These are the running dogs of the IMA, and there's no reason they should be
this far into the interior of the continent.  There's also no time to lose
in getting back to base and thwarting their attack, and that means Gain will
have to give up on the Brunhilde, at least for now.  It wouldn't do for his
professional reputation as Exodus Contractor if Yapan's Ceiling failed now.
Gain tells Mist to follow him back if he wants to talk some more, but that
plan seems quite DOA: a bevy of Siberian mecha show up to try to keep Gain
and the crew tied up here.  Among them are the macho commander Yassaba, and
the admiration-filled Adette.

The bad guys have four Overmen, the rumored Golems that belong to Saint Reagan.
Who, if appearances are to be believed, are on very good terms with Siberian
Rail.  All in all, these represent a major threat, and Gain now tells Mist and
friends to flee for now unless they intend to die here.  Adette doesn't wait
for the Daikuu Maryuu units to decide, opening fire on them on sheer feminine
intuition of them being Exodus sympathizers.  Yassaba can't decide whether to
be disgusted or turned on by his subordinate's passionate devotion to her job.
As for Mist and the crew, it's not as though they're exactly defenseless, and
both Kouji and Pulia are more than happy to rush in where angels fear to tread.
Mist can only have Angelica radio back to their mothership and hope
reinforcements arrive in time...

  Adette has a pretty simple plan: pulverize the opposition, defeat the Black
  Southern Cross once and for all, and finally make Yassaba a man (in that
  order).  Sounds good to Japoli, but secretly Kejinan has other ideas -- he
  means to surpass his commander one day soon.  At the moment he's the squad
  whipping boy, but Enge will be behind him 100% when his chance finally comes.

  Things get more interesting on turn 3, when the vengeful Artham shows up with
  a plan to punish Gain's womanizing ways.  He tells Gain to surrender
  peacefully so everything can end quietly, including for Karin and her child.
  WHOA, since when was there a child in the picture?!  A daughter in fact, and
  Artham initially means to drag Gain back to his apparent mate by force.
  Zacky protests that Gain ought to simply be killed, but Artham furiously
  tells him to shut up and follow orders.  Gain is stunned by news of his
  offspring, but recovers quickly and announces that he's in the middle of an
  Exodus -- he won't simply throw in the towel now.

  Unfortunately, all this uproar has awakened Brunhilde, which is apparently
  not in a good mood.  Sara wants to pull back and avoid further damage to
  Meer's city, but Gain tells her it's too late: left unchecked, Brunhilde
  has the capacity for immense mayhem.  Speaking of mayhem, the Daikuu Maryuu
  shows up, with little choice but to join the fray now that diplomacy seems
  to have fallen by the wayside.  Garis hates having to pick sides with so
  little information, but sometimes them's the breaks.

  Artham certainly isn't going to take Gain down with his crappy Power Golem.
  He can feel good about one thing though: he and his men have brought the
  Yapan's Ceiling to a standstill.  This will make it ever so much easier to
  come back and harass the crew again.  None of Yassaba's main commanders
  fare any better, nor Yassaba himself for that matter.

  Once the team starts pounding on the Brunhilde in earnest, Gain notices
  something strange about it.  A vortex of black energy forms, and Gain hollers
  for everyone to get as far away as possible.  In fact, the energy seems to
  resemble nothing so much as a black hole, and if it actually were, no one on
  the team would stand a chance.

Fortunately, it wasn't a real black hole as such, just a means for the
Brunhilde to clear out of these noisy environs and get back to sleep.  Gain
seems sure it's still out there, somewhere, but the more immediate concern is
the historic ruins which are now, well, ruined.  At least Mist and friends
won't bear much of the blame, since they weren't the ones who fired first.
Sara invites everyone back to Yapan's Ceiling with promises of tasty food, and
Rosa might even have hope of gathering info on this planet after all.

There's one not-so-little fly in the ointment though.  One of the enemy
Overmen -- probably Artham's -- has knocked over the mobile residential unit
for Yapan's Ceiling, making the whole caravan quite immobile.  Gainer isn't
sure that his Overman has the oomph to set the thing back upright, and Gain
sets about figuring ways to try to tow the thing upright.  There's still time
for Rosa to make introductions, and she finds herself hitting it off right
away with Anna, daughter of Duke Medaiyu of the Ulgsk Domepolis.

Some explanation is in order about Saint Reagan and the Exodus they're so busy
trying to disrupt.  Just like the dictionary definition, an "exodus" is a
migration en masse.  The difference is that such things are against the law,
and both the Saint Reagan and London IMA seek to punish anyone who dares
attempt one.  London IMA are the maintainers of the world's Domepolises, and
have basically absolute power over the populace.  One of the organs of that
power is Saint Reagan, and armed mobile infantry unit.

The prohibition against Exoduses comes from London IMA's worries over the
environment, which isn't fully repaired yet.  Letting people out of their Domes
to trash it anew is counter to their strategy, and is hence illegal.  All this
is stuff that anyone who knows even a little "Earth" history should know.
Except of course for the fact that Rosa is _from_ the Earth... just in the
past.  As they talk, Gainer wonders if the team might not enlist the Daikuu
Maryuu's help to right the residential unit.  This is a remarkably simple idea,
and is pretty much guaranteed to work...

Elsewhere, Yassaba is a total wreck over the news that Adette is nowhere to be
found.  The hard-ass commander isn't looking so hard now.  Artham interrupts
the pity party with word that his men have been assigned to the Yapan's
ceiling case by London central.  Artham makes it perfectly clear that he
cares for neither Yassaba's men, nor the populace of Yapan's Ceiling at large.
He's only here for Gain, without whom he reckons the Exodus is doomed anyway.
Calling the Siberian Rail agents worthless to their faces, Artham warns them
all to stay out of his way during the period of time he's forced to act 
alongside them.  You can imagine how well that goes over...

The Daikuu Maryuu folks have an improvised harness rigged up in no time flat.
Righting the residential unit is a trivial test of the Daikuu Maryuu's power,
so Rosa has plenty of time to ask questions.  The residential unit is a
dwelling constructed from parts of its respective Domepolis, essentially
becoming a little city on wheels.  When asked, Rosa admits that the Daikuu
Maryuu isn't a ship of this Earth.

While the commanders worry about the larger questions, some of the pilots are
off stuffing their faces with that aforementioned Yapan's Ceiling food.  Anna
loves it enough that she vows to make it for Gou when they get a moment's
peace, snuggling up to him in a PDA that embarrasses him greatly.  Coming to
his senses though, Gou realizes something crucial: the food everyone is
scarfing on is _Russian_cooking_.  Russia only exists on _Earth_.  Sara
interjects at this point, noting that this is, in fact, Earth, which opens the
floodgates for the team.  Kenji's about the only one not worried about the
inability to locate Build Base or any of those facilities (he reckons the
radio's just busted).

Not only that, but Kenji's got a little surprise up his sleeve.  It occurred
to him that the same ingredients for Russian food could be used to make
Japanese food, and he had Tsubaki try with some borrowed goods from Sara.  It
turned out just great, earning him Sara's eternal reverence for actually
being able to prepare Yapanese food without ruining it.  Not that it isn't
hella delicious, but Gou knows he'd better head back to the Daikuu Maryuu on
the double to report this whole turn of events.

Rosa, Gain and the others have already been deliberating, and the only
conclusion Rosa can reach is that there are two different Earths going on
here.  It would be too fishy a coincidence for them to share only a name, but
what their real relation is to each other is unknown at this point.  The
good news is that there is hope for getting the Daikuu Maryuu repaired along
the Exodus route, at a major city called Zonnet.  It would be great if the
Daikuu Maryuu would head there, since it will solve the "little" issue of
the previous towing mechanism for the residential unit now being out of
commission thanks to those Saint Reagan bastards.  Towing the thing, and having
the Yapan's Ceiling folks handling all the food preparation and such along
the way sounds like a good deal to Rosa.

There will be at least one uninvited guest along the voyage: Adette, who got
lost in the process of fleeing the previous battle.  The silver lining for
her is that she gets to infiltrate Yapan's Ceiling and try to take out Gain,
the lynchpin of the Exodus.

Mist and Angelica get a little time to themselves, marveling over the vitality
of the people of this world that impels them to tow entire cities all over the
countryside.  Contrast that with Angelica's dad, who was killed before Mist's
very eyes trying to defend their world.  Angelica takes the whole thing very
well, having steeled herself for this possibility the moment she joined the
self-defense forces.  Indeed, she supposes her dad would have wanted to go out
in just that way.  Which is all very well and good, but even steeling herself
doesn't keep the tears entirely at bay...


6. The Dumbass in the Tuxedo

Daiya, good as his word, is taking the whole karate kid business very
seriously.  Lee makes for a tough but compassionate instructor, training the
kid hard for what will surely be hard battles to come.  During a break in the
drilling, Daiya asks him about the "brother" he mentioned some time back.
While Lee has no blood siblings, there was a guy named "Shin" from his
days in the orphanage who might as well have been.  Uh oh, PAST TENSE!!  You
guessed it, Shinn got massacred along with the rest of the stragglers when
the Darius Army attacked Lee's village.  Vengeance is what drove Lee to
volunteer for Daikuu Maryuu duty, and he hasn't yet collected.  Now normally,
this would turn an instructor psychotic as he tries to build his unsuspecting
pupil into an instrument of paybackage, but Daiya is actually happy to fill
those shoes of his own free will.  What a guy.

Back in the control room, Garis is still wrapping his brain around using his
mammoth dragonoid ship like a John Deere tractor.  Gou, ever the straight
shooter, is fretting over the fact that aiding and abetting Exodus is a serious
crime in this world... Unfortunately, so is fighting on behalf of Exodizers, or
breaking bread with them, or any of a number of things the team has done
already.  What's more, the nearby waypoint of Zonnet City was supposedly formed
by a previously successful Exodus from Siberian Rail and its closed
Domepolises, which probably doesn't endear its people to railroads much.  In
any case, the Yapan's Ceiling folks want to reach Yapan and freedom so badly
they broke off and dragged around a whole chunk of their Dome to do it --
either an act of extreme heroism, or from the standpoint of their former
masters, of extreme treason.

Garis takes the view that the quest for freedom is the nobler argument, and
has everyone get cracking on the towing arrangements.  Watching as the cables
are hooked up, Gain doesn't seem entirely impressed.  He's of the opinion that
the Yapan's Ceiling folks could have straightened out their own predicament
without the Daikuu Maryuu's help, and notes that they never _asked_ the dragon
to intervene.  Sure he was willing to act grateful in front of his newfound
benefactors, but he also suspects that the only real reason they're helping
is to get food in return.

In any case, none of the Yapan's Ceiling folks are entirely sure what to make
of the claim that the dragon is from another world.  Certainly it's not from
these parts, but Anna is wondering if it might be from the mysterious Area Zi.
Hemmed in by the world's tallest mountain range AND an electromagnetic storm to
boot, Area Zi is the subject of rumors about aniform mecha called Zoids...
rumors that can't be evaluated until one of these Zoids actually turns up for
inspection.  Gaury's heard another rumor that Ahri Meer himself tried to reach
Area Zi, only to give up and withdraw due to that storm.  Kona adds to the
rumor mill that Siberian Rail seem to be tunneling *through* the mountains
to reach the mysterious destination, unable to simply lay tracks over them.
All this serves to fuel Gainer's curiosity, and luckily his Overman should be
able to take him there once the Exodus is done... after the farm work finishes,
whenever that is.

We turn our attention elsewhere, to a very distraught Van.  He's frantically
searching for Elena, without whom their ceremony can't go anywhere.  Instead
he happens upon a gravely wounded Gadved, who moans that a "taloned-man" did
this to him.  Said man is close by, holding the missing Elena, whose
beautiful dress is now stained a beautiful, blood red.  The man holding her
says absently that he merely wanted to be Elena's friend, and that he might
have accidentally squeezed her a little too hard.  Humans are so fragile,
aren't they?  He then asks Van, who's homicidal by this point, if he wants to
be friends, and Van screams Elena's name as he...

...wakes up in a cold sweat, Wendy by his side.  She tells him that he lost
consciousness after fighting a group of adversaries, and she apparently
dragged him all the way from the battlefield by tractor.  Pathetic way to go,
made more pathetic by the fact that his collapse was brought on by extreme
hunger.  Wendy offers to treat him to something for saving her from those
mechanical people, foes of unknown origin who started attacking this city of
Evergreen three days ago.  They seem to have a fondness for stealing energy and
menfolk, of whom the city now houses several dozen less.  Among the abducted
is Wendy's brother, and her quest to find him is what brought her in the line
of fire.  

Van, looking glum as all get out in his black tux and long face, settles on a
steak and every conceivable condiment the restaurant has.  He buries the
meat under a mountain of sauces and salad dressings, but seemingly loves the
results.  All the milk was taken by the bandits, so Van chooses water over
wine.  He and Wendy are trying to introduce themselves when in bursts Joshua,
amazed to see Van the Derelict, Eat-and-Run Van, HELL'S OWN CRYBABY VAN in
the flesh.  He's been looking for someone strong like him for a very long
time, but all his nervous energy isn't making it any easier for Van to eat in
peace.  Joshua gets bundled out the door, and Wendy muses that she can't
remember anyone that hyper in this town before.  Unlike Joshua, she's content
to let Van eat in silence, but does have something she would like to ask
after he's done...

In a less peaceable corner of the multiverse, mystery entity A has tracked
down enemy commander B after a long string of battles.  B is about to make
A pay when mystery superior dude C shows up and tells "Ispell" to withdraw.
B does this with a crisp salute, and C muses to no one in particular that the
source of the "waves" that drew him to the battlefield is now clear.  A is
bumming that reinforcements arrived just before he could finish B off,
especially one as strong as this.  B shouts to Mist that the only way for
anyone to live through this is for him to force a way through the enemy
defenses.  He orders Mist to pull back, saying that he intends for his
Revlias to keep him alive through what comes next, and even C is impressed at
how much of the Crystal Heart's power A is able to draw upon.  It's nowhere
near enough for A to be victorious, but that's not his goal.

His goal is mutual annihilation, and for a second there it looks like he almost
achieves it.  Unfortunately, C is still alive and able to wax philosophical
about all the damage he just sustained.  Maybe these Atreemian folk aren't
quite as puny as he thought, though that doesn't mean he'll go easy on them
now.  A's last act is to apologize to Mist for not being strong enough, and
the whole scene vanishes into a conflagration of green light.

That's about the point where Kouji wakes a badly disoriented Mist up.  Kouji
and several others are going to see the inside of Yapan's Ceiling, and he
wants Mist to come along too.  It's not an entirely recreational trip though:
there are already many questions to answer about this world, such as why its
inhabitants seem to have Russian cuisine down to a science.  The captain's
already given his permission and Angelica is already part of the party, so
there's no reason why Mist can't go along too.

Since Yapan's Ceiling is even bigger than the dragon dragging it, it's not
readily clear where to start looking for clues.  Maybe that woman all
passed out over yonder would make for a good start: a mature, blonde bombshell
that pushes all the right buttons for Kouji.  Coming around, Adette mumbles
about looking around for Gain so long that she fainted from hunger, which
Anna offers to fix with _chocolate_!  While munching away, Adette asks if any
of the crew know where Gain got off to.  You know, that Exodus contractor guy?
She can't believe none of them have heard of the guy, especially when their
excuse is that they just arrived from another planet.  Seeing no further use
hanging around, she gets ready to hightail it, answering Kouji's plea for a
name with "Adette Kisler, Siberian Rail Agent^W^W^Wmysterious babe at large".

No sooner has Adette left than Sara shows up, reintroducing herself as one of
the pilots in the Gaury squadron.  The Daikuu Maryuu folk claim to be here to
investigate all the "tasty food" that must be available around these parts,
as well as all the other strange similarities to their own world.  Sara is
still all after-glowy from eating real "Yapanese" food, and offers to play
tour guide to keep anyone from getting lost.

The place does have arcades, though none of the titles are familiar to the
Daikuu folk.  One game of especial interest is "Overman Battle", which Sara
has heard can be played city-to-city over the net.  Whoever's at the controls
right now has quite an audience built up, which would mean that it's none
other than Gainer Sanga, Overman King Gainer's pilot.  The guy is the current
champ with an unbroken string of 200 victories, a record which Kouji grandly
announces he's about to stop.  Fortunately for his ego, an incoming message
arrives for Gainer from a "Cynthia", a long-time acquaintance of his from his
gaming with whom he hasn't spoken in a while.  Turns out she's in Zonnet, and
Gainer would love to hang out together if possible.  What he doesn't know is
when he's due to arrive, and communications aren't any easier with Sara being
the jealous girlfriend over his shoulder.

Anna takes one look and declares that Gainer would look pretty cute without
his glasses, though Angelica fusses that his hairstyle is SO otaku-lame.
Gainer, who'd been preparing to argue with Sara about leaving his post for
the arcade, is astounded by all the new faces.  He's not sure what their
little tour group might find educational in an arcade, but Mazinger Kouji
tells him that the arcade itself, so identical to the ones on Earth, is already
food for thought.  Thoughts like, could Daiya's friend and video game prodigy
Naoto beat Gainer?  Well, since he's not here, the other Kouji steps up with
a flourish and gets promptly schooled.  He should probably feel good that
Gainer says that he makes a very talented n00b, and fares better than Kouji's
overly linear style.  Anna, who never loses to her male classmates, actually
gives Gainer a bit of a challenge.  A bit, but nowhere near what Cynthia's
capable of.

Angelica tells Mist to try his hand, high school gaming champ that he was.
Kouji adds his pleas for Mist to help avenge his defeat, and Mist finally
agrees, asking Gainer to go easy on him.  That's one thing Gainer can't do,
but as the game unfolds, he's amazed to see Mist keeping pace with his swift
movements.  Mist tells him that he was watching how Gainer moved during the
battle with Anna, which doesn't begin to explain how he could exploit the
knowledge gained so quickly.  He actually manages to get to Gainer's back, but
before he can strike the final blow, the game seemingly starts malfunctioning.

Through the pixelation, a voice can be heard asking Command to "please
rescue them".  Another voice says it's about to start crying, and that wouldn't
be right, would it?  The interference fades away, leaving the battle
unresolved.  Gainer asks Mist to go another round, but Mist isn't interested
in trying, especially since he knows that Gainer too can now read his moves.
Still, it was a very honorable exchange, and over just in time for Gainer to
get a call to head to the hangar: someone has to go check out a city called
"Evergreen", one of the waypoints along the way to Zonnet.  Whatever is going
on there, it's got Beroux very flustered.  As Sara and Gainer start to dash
off, Mazinger Kouji offers to go along and help with whatever incident is
unfolding.

The main reason for Beroux's panic is the fact that all communication with
Evergreen has just been lost.  Since Siberian Rail's tracks don't extend there,
Gaury thinks they aren't behind it... but Gain points out that they know as
well as Gaury does that it's the only place where the Exodizers can resupply.
On the third hand, that also means that Siberian would have to expect the
Exodizers to be on the alert for an ambush.  If so, there must be some other
explanation, and Gain can rattle off a long list of candidates [though he
omits "meteor strike"] based on Yapanese legends.  Sure enough, the list
parallels a real Japanese saying about the Four Perils ("Earthquake, thunder,
fire, fathers"), the last of which is actually a cute corruption of "mountain
wind".  Gaury seems to have an unusual store of Yapanese knowledge compared to
his compatriots.  Whatever happened in Evergreen, it can't be anything good,
and that's all the pilots need to know to sortie.

In Evergreen, Wendy is pleading with Van to save the abducted townfolk, her
brother included.  She goes so far as to say it would be "unfair" of him to
not use his strength for the cause, but he tells her it's not unfair in the
slightest.  He has the right to determine what he does on whose behalf, and he
has neither time nor reason to get mixed up in this city's troubles.  He tells
her to think of something she can do on her own, and what she comes up with
is... becoming his wife!  Totally floored for a moment, he demands to know if
she understands what she's saying (about halfway, she concedes, but she's a
quick study!) and tells her to knock off the puppy dog eyes.  Joshua interrupts
the scene with news that some giant flying armors have appeared in town.

Joshua wonders how they're able to fly like that, but Van is mainly bugged
about their terrible fashion sense.  That is, until they open fire on the city.
Turns out these troops belong to Suspage, who means to repay Van for how badly
he trashed Suspage's droids.  As the barrage continues, he explains that the
hostages have been pressed into service repairing his ship, which is now in
very tip-top shape.  Unfortunately for Anna, he has no plans to let the 
laborers free... or to leave her or the city intact either.  It looks like the
end is nigh until Van does something fancy with his sword and a giant spire
shoots from space into the middle of town.  Van somehow merges into its
giant armored bulk, telling Suspage that while he owes the city no protection,
he can't abide Suspage's tactics either.

Since one hidden robot deserves another, Suspage busts out his reserve troops
and outnumbers Van N to 1.  Unfair?  Absolutely.  Effective? 

  Not entirely.  Help arrives on turn 3, and it's unclear whether a natural
  disaster would have been preferable to the Darius onslaught in progress.
  The one new twist is the white mech trying to fend them off, which Gain
  figures the locals would call an Armor.  The newcomers quickly hail Van and
  ask to let them help, but Van tells them flatly that he sides with no one --
  if they want to fight, it's entirely their affair.  That peeves Mazinger
  Kouji greatly, but this is totally the wrong time for infighting.

  Anna pauses long enough to ask Gou if he thinks these guys know the way back
  to Earth.  If they did, Gou reasons, they'd be back on Earth invading it
  instead of hanging out here.  That's good enough for Anna, who tells her
  hubby to let the bad guys have it.  Kenji also realizes that if the Darius
  army came here, the Jama probably did too.  Better they come out now so he
  can settle everything at once... at least in his view.  The rest of the
  crew has pretty much the standard indignation at facing the murderous
  transvestite all the way on someone else's planet.

  Suspage certainly wasn't prepared to face a force this determined, even if
  his ship was fully crewed and in good repair.  In fact, even his supply of
  slave labor has dwindled, thanks to some dude with talons on his right hand
  who arranged for all the slaves to be set free.  With no further choice,
  Suspage has to call a general retreat.  The Exodizers can't really claim
  victory though, with the town in shambles and resupply seemingly out of the
  question.  Fending off the Siberian forces was bad enough, but now there are
  whole additional alien armies in the picture.  Sucks to be you.

The report about the talon-handed man managed to reach the good guys' radios
as well as Suspage's, and Kouji is wondering what it could mean when Van
rushes over, still decked out in a full tuxedo.  With no manners to speak of
and a double dose of aggression, he demands that Kouji spit out everything he
knows about the man.  Nothing Kouji, or the other Kouji, or even Gou say
seem to get it through to the blockheaded Van that they Do. Not. Know. Who.
The. Fuck. He. Is. Searching. For.  Wendy finally gets him to give up, and
Gain's memory is finally jogged who this guy might be.  According to rumor,
he's Called-Homerun Van, or Hundred-Man Hitter Van, but the man himself
mutters that that was all in the past.

As Wendy wonders just how many nicknames her tuxedoed friend has, Joshua runs
up with news about her brother Mihael.  Without her even asking, he went and
polled the just-freed captives, who told him of their rescue by the
increasingly popular talon-handed guy.  It seems Mihael ended up joining the
man's entourage as it left town, which touches off another round of violent
inquisitions by Van.  Daiya manages to get Van to stop throttling the poor
Joshua before he passes out entirely, which would make the new nickname
Van the Darius-Hunter all go to waste...  In any case, there's something weird
going on, as the taloned guy seemingly knew about Mihael before even reaching
the city, and the two of them had a long and apparently pleasant chat after
the rescue.  What Joshua heard is that the taloned man has friends in Zonnet,
which is all Van needed to hear.  He takes off at a run, with Wendy trailing
behind in hopes of bringing her brother back.  This leaves Joshua somewhat
in the lurch, and with little choice he runs off after them.

The irony of course is that the Daikuu Maryuu would have happily given them a
lift if they'd stuck around five more minutes.  Mazinger Kouji, who had been
initially inclined to pound some respect into Van, is now marveling at someone
being even shorter-tempered and more stressed out than he is.  Gainer is more
interested in Van's Armor, whose superhuman movements rather resemble an
Overman.

Sara managed to get some of the mayor's time, and as feared there's nothing to
spare for the Exodizers.  In fact, many of the folks who just lost everything
would be more than happy to join in the Exodus, and Gain sees little choice but
to let them.  Food supplies should be okay, but water and medicine will get
increasingly tight.  A course alteration, to head for the nearest major city,
is no longer optional, but required for survival.

Sakon is fairly well convinced that the Darius Army got sucked into this world
by accident, just as the Daikuu Maryuu itself was.  The worrying part is that
they seemingly attacked this city in search of provisions, suggesting that
their plight is similar to the Daikuu's own.  It also means that they may well
attack other cities, and everyone on this planet would be better off if the
Darius army gets obliterated first.  Sakon leaves the bridge crew to debate
the point and hangs up, leaving Daiya wondering why he's so reluctant to show
his face.  Is he some eight-legged alien monstrosity, or slime creature from
outer space, or even a hundred-foot tall brainiac spaceman?  Kyou stays
pointedly silent, but Kenji shrugs such thinking off as too much manga reading.
CLEARLY Sakon will actually dissolve in broad daylight!  Actually, says Rosa,
all it is is that the good doctor is working around the clock, sacrificing
sleep and food to understand how the Gates work.  She promises that Sakon will
show himself once his research finally bears fruit, and asks that imaginations
not run wild in the meantime.  Daiya can hardly wait to find out what this
mysterious figure is really like.

Taking aboard the Evergreen refugees is a slow process, and at the borders of
it is Adette.  She sees her chance to mingle with the crowd and finally take
Gain out, but it's going to be a while before she can get that close.  As she
tries, Sara explains to Gainer that all these people will be tending to Yapan's
Ceiling's agricultural facilities, allowing food production to scale with
population.  Nifty.  It should even allow faster ramp up of farming once the
Exodus reaches its end, a passion of Sara's that has something to do with
wanting tasty food to eat.

As Adette nears her quarry, Sara accosts her as "middle-aged" and demands to
know if she's ever tilled a field.  Like hell: Adette (claiming she's a
native Evergreenian) huffs that she's had a proper upbringing and would never
deign to something like that.  That's about what Sara figured from looking
at Adette's figure and clothing, and asks if she's an adult entertainer or
something.  That perturbs Adette enough to almost spill the beans about her
true employer, but she manages to correct herself and say that she's been
living quietly in Evergreen ever since Siberian Rail destroyed her hometown.
That means she's unemployed, and Sara's going to pound all kinds of
agricultural stuff into her in due course.

By this point, Gain and Gainer have come over to see what all the fuss is
about.  Adette's thoroughly sick of being called over-the-hill by some
brat with a Johnny Appleseed complex, and announces what her profession
aboard the Yapan's Ceiling will be: teacher!  Especially of impolite little
brats like her.  Gainer plainly doubts the wisdom of this, but Adette seems
focused on properly (re)educating her new pupils, and Gain thinks that an
"unconventional" instructor would make a good complement to Mamadu's usual
fare.  Sara orders Beroux to take the old bag off to have Mamadu test her
teacherly aptitude, and by this point Adette is ready to start flailing
people with a whip.  She does however head off to get tested, recalling back
to her days as a genius student.  It's only after she's tromped off in a huff
that she vaguely recalls this isn't why she came in the first place...  Sara's
sure that she'll fail and be at her mercy in the fields, leaving Gain to shake
his head at feminine grudges.

Mist calls Angelica aside in an attempt to discuss a deep concern he has about
all the Gating, but Angelica seems less than inclined to listen.  She says
that he's always building elaborate theories based on the scantest of 
circumstantial evidence, and often dulling his own reactions in battle doing
it.  Yes it's important to think of contingencies, but the fact that the Darius
Army is here doesn't automatically stem from some nefarious plot of Atreem's
destroyers.  She rather pointedly tells Mist to stop worrying about what
might be going on and to start thinking about what to do about it, a message
that is apparently exactly what he needed to hear.  He starts to tell her he's
glad they chatted, but she starts smiling at the memory of something her
father once said about him.  "Prone to deep worrying yet too stupid to do so
effectively.  There's more to life than a strong sense of justice..."  Ouchies.
Fortunately there's more: "...but he reminds me of me when I was his age.
I'm gonna pound everything I know into him."  Angelica's father had very high
hopes for Mist, and when Angelica goes back to servicing her mech, Mist goes
back to wondering if he can meet those expectations...


7. Drunk Hero / Swift Girl

The fracas at Evergreen has necessitated a change of plans, and a change of
course.  Sara recommends that the Daikuu Maryuu head for Gloria for their 
overdue resupply stop, before returning course to Zonnet.  One would think
that Gloria -- no Domepolis -- would be free of Siberian Rail's depredations,
but the sad fact is that most commerce still goes via rail.  Siberian has many
ways of keeping successful Exodizers oppressed, and the result is a series of
armed city-states that have been tapping into the Exodus Contractor labor pool
for extra hired hands.  Rumors are that Gloria is getting ready to mount an
armed counter-offensive, and that's given Gain an idea.

Pulia is quick to run and tell her fellow pilots that they're headed straight
into a Siberian Rail hornet's nest, which might be pitching it a bit high.
Daiya tells her that she'd be cuter if she wasn't talking so big all the time,
touching off an argument that nearly ends in them both having to swab the deck.
Something about Daiya's face always makes Pulia want to throw things, or kick
things like Kouji when he theorizes that Pulia's in lurv.  Maybe Kouji even
deserved the kicking, but that doesn't make Pulia less of a psycho.

Evidently psychopathy is helpful for reconnaissance, as Rosa taps Pulia as one
of the advance team headed to Gloria.  Rosa plans to personally lead the team
on a mission to find out just how many Siberian forces are already in Gloria,
helping judge whether it's safe for the whole Yapan's Ceiling entourage to
roll up.  She's selected only members who the Siberians don't yet recognize in
the hopes of keeping a low profile, and plans to travel only using her Track.
No airplanes or giant robots that would stick out like a sore thumb.  Mist and
Angelica get to camouflage their machines as Armors and head to Gloria along a
different route.

As the team prepares to head out, Shizuka pulls Rosa aside and gives her a
shopping list.  The stuff needed to outfit the Daikuu Maryuu for dimensional
travel can't just be found at your neighborhood Home Despot, even back on Earth
as they know it, but Rosa can at least see if the items are even available at
all in this world.  It should be noted that the Daikuu Maryuu team has none of
this world's currency, and Mist seemingly has an idea about fixing that.
Hopefully it's a good idea, given the number of refugees who want _stuff_ from
Gloria.  About the only person who doesn't want something is Kona, who'd just
as soon not arouse suspicions by putting in an order for mechanic stuff.

Siberian Rail at least maintains offices in Gloria, and in one of them Kejinan
is having a disagreement with one of his hired hands, Rei.  Rei's policy is to
only fight strong opponents, regardless of how much he's getting paid, and
Kejinan is pissed about that.  Japoli comes in with a message for Yassaba, who
is unfortunately pining away for Adette by himself in another room.  Instead
she gets to listen to Kejinan bitch about Rei and how he hasn't done squat for
the past week.  Even if it is Kids Munt paying Rei's salary, Enge is openly
doubting whether they'll ever take over Gloria at this rate.

The Siberian agents aren't the only ones in Gloria having a bad day.  Nero
and Jose are at their local watering hole, busily arguing about whose efforts
are more essential to keeping the city safe.  Few people are in the mood to
hear them "reminiscing", least of all Pario and Franco.  Franco is busy
trying to persuade Pario (and Carlos, who is sound asleep) to meet Siberian
Rail's escalating pressure head on, when the pub door opens.  It's Joshua and
Wendy, dragging in an unconscious Van in total disobedience of the "We're
Closed" sign.

Among the other patrons of the darkened bar is an old friend of Van's, not
surprised to see Sleep-Anywhere Van passed out again.  Van mumbles that he
hasn't gone by that name in a long time, as Yukiko the waitress offers the
poor guy some grub.  He orders the cheapest thing she's got, plus all the
condiments in the house.  Here we go again...

Elsewhere, Mist and Angelica have blended into the throngs of tourists
jockeying for a glimpse at Gloria's historical ruins.  It seems doubtful that
Siberian Rail would be after something so petty as Gloria's sightseeing
proceeds -- Mist thinks the answer may lie in where the ruins came from.
The brochure he snagged says that this world was once subject to the
nightmarish rule of the evil Zaurus Empire, against whom a certain hero
struggled and eventually restored peace to the land.  The ruins commemorate
his heroism, but they're no mere window dressing: when the Zaurus Empire tried
to restore itself several decades ago, the very same hero actually emerged
from the ruins and fought again.  You'd think this would be major world news,
but at the time Siberian Rail's tracks came nowhere near this area, so the
incident went largely ignored.  As almost all of the eyewitnesses have passed
away, the truth may never be fully known.

Interestingly enough, both Mist and Angelica have the feeling they've seen
these ruins before: the Zaran Ruins in the mountains of their homeworld.  These
were famous enough to appear in every school kid's history textbook, and
Angelica has to assume that the former occupants of this land had similar
aesthetics to the Zarans.  Ahh space, so mysterious!  In any case, the main
train station with its decorative fountain is nearby, and Angelica wants to
just hang out quietly near it until Rosa arrives.  Mist, however, catches
sight of a poster for the "B-1 Grand Prix", inviting all comers to try to break
current champ Brownie's unbroken string of victories.

Mist sees this as the answer to their money problems, though Angelica is
aghast at the thought of attracting that much attention on their supposedly
secret mission.  Mist counters that the best place to hide a tree is a forest:
stand out _that_ much, and no one will notice after all.  Angelica is hardly
convinced, but Mist is determined to help out the Daikuu Maryuu's financial
plight and help everyone get home, and rushes off to register before Angelica
can restrain him.

With Van's stamina somewhat rebuilt, Carmen 99 isn't surprised to hear that
Van's still on the trail of the taloned man.  She and Wendy don't get off to
the warmest of greetings, especially when Wendy realizes that the "99" is
the info merchant's bust measurement in centimeters.  Van explains that the
taloned man is headed for Zonnet, and may be trying to catch the train here.
Carmen wonders what this little girl is doing in Van's company, and Wendy
stiffly explains that she's after her brother, supposedly traveling with
this taloned man as well.  Joshua's still hanging around, being soundly
ignored by all.

(Try as she might, Angelica can't dissuade Mist from entering the race.
Guys: can't live with 'em, can't shoot 'em.)

As for what Carmen's doing here, she came to warn this town's renowned boy
leader of a certain impending danger.  Before she can say what, the old geezer
squad come over to the table and introduce themselves.  Upon hearing Van
introduce himself as the Darius Hunter, they immediately start shaking his
hand and heaping tacos onto his plate.  To Wendy's astonishment, these guys
claim to be the very same Armor pilots that fended off the Zaurus Empire
and their aniform Armors back in the day.  This draws a strong reaction from
Franco, who's convinced that these old farts couldn't possibly be Armor pilots,
and Yukiko has to plead with all of them to simmer down.  Carmen lights up
at Franco's name, finally having found the man she's been searching for...

Before long, the final bout of the Kids Munt B-1 Grand Prix arrives.  On one
side we have the mysterious last-minute challenger, winner of five previous
fights, the Revlias.  Opposing him is Team Sister-Mama, and its mech Brownie!
From the stands, Angelica can only sigh and marvel at the same time over Mist's
determination to win.  Of course he's the talk of the town, and of course
Rosa and crew are on hand to watch the match as well.  Rosa is seriously
steamed, and vows to have Mist cleaning latrines for a month once all this
foolishness is over.  Unfortunately, it's over quicker than Mist would like, 
as the Brownie's agility proves utterly unlike anything else in this tourney.
Defeated, Mist can only swear in frustration.

Carmen's message is a dire one: Siberian Rail is planning an armed takeover of
Gloria in the very near future.  She tells Franco that the Gloria city
councilmen who went for a meeting with Kids Munt were all killed, save one who
lived just long enough to give Carmen the news.  The ultimate proof of their
intentions can be seen in all the container trains that have passed through
lately: all adding weapons to the Siberian stockpile.  Franco knows there's no
time to prepare any sort of defense, but Palio and his croneys say they've just
remembered a little "errand" they have to run.  No one knows what they're up
to, but Carmen has a great idea for Franco: why not hire a bodyguard, one
with a tux and an appetite for strange flavor combinations?

Mist can't believe he lost, and Angelica consoles(?) him with a proverb she's
heard: leather shoes in a painting go nowhere.  That's no proverb Rosa's ever
heard of, which provides a good opening for her to start tearing Mist a new
one.  The money he was hoping to borrow for the ship's sake can just as easily
be borrowed from the Yapan's Ceiling folk, and she has to wonder what he
planned to do if the Siberian forces struck.  Fight them off by himself, with
some help from Angelica!  Man, this guy is a total space cadet, and by the time
Rosa gets through with him he's going to be a parboiled space cadet souffle.
Or something.  About the only silver lining is that Angelica _doesn't_ think
Mist weak for not being able to scratch the Brownie.  Rather, its pilot must be
one heck of a talent...

Van isn't the world's most enthusiastic would-be bodyguard, to say the least.
He's not shy about expressing his dislike for getting mixed up in other
people's problems, though those problems seem to keep finding him first.  With
a big explosion to get everyone's attention, Yassaba announces to the people of
Gloria that their town has just become Siberian property.  Franco isn't having
that, and after a single warning shot Yassaba is more than happy to end
Franco's rebellion on the spot.  Before he can do that, the old geezers show
up in "El Dora IV", the 5-in-1 combiner built specifically to defend this city.
Franco is astonished to see that the old guys' stories of Armor piloting are
true, and Yukiko recalls how her grandmother was supposed to be the fifth
team member that made this invincible robot go.  Of course, in those days, it
was known as "El Dora V".

The sucker is huge, but it's also undermanned and its remaining pilots are
either out of practice or outright asleep.  Their ass appears to be grass until
Van, who's snuck out the back, summons Dann.  He tosses them Pink Amigo,
completing El Dora V and making the old guys think Chizuru has come back to
them at last.  Van's more than happy to help them now, though they still remain
outnumbered.  This improves somewhat when Priscilla shows up in her Brownie and
starts laying the smack down.  Who cares about all the prize money she's won
from Siberian Rail: defending her town comes first!  In fact, a goodly chunk of
her winnings have gone into upgrading her mech's armaments, a fact that Yassaba
now deeply regrets.  The question now is whether the three of them can drive
all the Siberian forces out of town...

  Mist and Angelica join the fray on the next round.  Mist is all doling out
  some agonized apology about being unable to stand by and watch while the
  city is in jeopardy.  Rosa is initially of the view that this town should
  solve its problems on its own, but when Daiya and even Pulia want to join in
  the fracas, she decides to take the plunge and call in the Daikuu Maryuu's
  reinforcements.

  Remember holier-than-thou warrior Rei, still somehow on the Siberian
  payroll?  This is why: he finally sees in Dann a foe worthy of his energies.
  Joshua recognizes Rei's, his brother's, Volcane, and tries to attract Rei's
  attention.  As Carmen hustles Joshua off somewhere safe, Rei mentally tells
  his brother that the old him is dead and gone, all that's left is the fight.

  Reinforcements arrive from the Daikuu Maryuu the next round, only to run into
  Artham's detachment.  Artham still wants to hogtie Gain and drag him home,
  and his sympathetic assistant Sakki tries to impress on Gain just how much
  shit Artham is taking for neglecting his duties for this vendetta.

  Yassaba can't believe his foolproof stratagem for taking over Gloria has
  come to naught, and of course vows revenge.  Kejinan has other ideas though:
  if he can blame the debacle solely on his commander, that could open the
  door for Kejinan himself to become squad leader!  All of which will have to
  wait for another day though.  Rei meanwhile is quite impressed with Van's
  skills, wondering just who the heck the guy is -- plainly not one of _his_
  entourage.  Artham just gets to whine some more about not bringing Gain to
  ground.

  After all these hooligans get trounced, a new player steps on the scene.
  She ridicules the defeated Siberian forces for their inability to capture
  one little city despite all their numbers.  Her Overman is apparently
  called the "Dominator", and she wants to have a little fun...

  If you're going to dine with the Devil, you're going to need a _long_
  spoon... which the Dominator's mystery pilot lacks.  She decides to call it
  a day and flies off, leaving Gainer thinking that he's seen its style of
  fighting somewhere before...

If there's one thing to say for the Siberian Rail forces, it's that they're
_universally_ loathed.  If there's another thing to say for them, it's that
their ability to flee in terror is second to none.  Van starts grousing
immediately that he should have captured one of them and extracted the taloned
man's whereabouts.   It seems unlikely Siberian Rail will try anything funny
for a while, after how badly they just got thrashed, but the El Dora pilots are
certain they can handle it if they should try.  They think Van's part of their
team now, and plan to teach him how to be a _proper_ Armor pilot starting
tomorrow.

Priscilla is interested in Van's mech, "Dann of Thursday".  She's never seen
anything like it before, and can tell at a glance how strong it is.  Mist tells
her she'll recognize its pilot immediately by his tuxedo, and has to wonder
what her reaction will be.  Gain and Gainer are having similar thoughts about
the red Overman they fought at the end -- both know that if they have to fight
it for real, it could spell real trouble.

Franco tries to pay Van for saving the city, but Van thinks he did nothing of
the sort and won't accept a cent.  Franco calls Van a real nice guy, and Van's
glum expression briefly twitches into a bitter smile: "Wouldn't that be nice."
Joshua then bursts in, hyped up over seeing his brother's mech on the 
battlefield.  Van's ears perk up when Joshua tells him that his brother, like
Van himself, is after the taloned man.  Seems the taloned man killed
Joshua's sister-in-law Shino, turning his brother from a peaceful man into one
consumed by vengeance.  Joshua feels he's got to stop his brother, on the
grounds that even successful vengeance won't cure the original wound, and Van
does _not_ want to hear shitty rhetoric like that, or see the person who
uttered it, again.  Wendy comes to Joshua's defense, saying that it's only
right for someone to care about their brother.  Besides, not everyone is as
strong as Van is...

The scene is disrupted by Anna running in, saying hi to Wendy again and then
thanking Mr. Tuxedo for all he's done.  No no no, it's "Van the Nice Guy".
Carmen asks who these new faces are, finding their Daikuu Maryuu ("Great
Heavenly Demon-Dragon") to be extremely well-named.  An astonished Kenji finds
"Carmen 99" equally well-named, earning him a bit of a slapping from Tsubaki.
Carmen quickly figures out that Yapan's Ceiling is headed for Zonnet, and
has little trouble persuading Van to join her aboard the Daikuu Maryuu for a
while: heck, he might even be able to get more info on the taloned man en
route!  Van does have enough dry wit to recommend bugging out before getting
waylayed by those old guys again.

Priscilla flags down Mist and asks about this "Van" guy.  Mist points out the
tall tuxedoed figure, earning him a sincere "thanks" from her as she heads
over to chat.  Angelica then pops out, "praising" Mist for being Mr. Popularity
and making a point to say that she _doesn't_mind_in_the_slightest_ who Mist
goes and _makes_friends_with_.  She flounces off, leaving a flummoxed Mist to
chase after her and try to find out why she's so mad.  Priscilla meanwhile
introduces herself to Van, who's quite impressed by her swift piloting.
Interestingly, Van manages to remember her name, a feat he often fails at with
Wendy and even Carmen.  Priscilla then asks him to have a match with her to
see who's Armor is better, but Van's in a hurry to join the Exodus and clear
out from those old guys' grasp.  Priscilla can't stop him, but is determined
that they have a (friendly) showdown the next time they meet.

Said old guys take a long time to get El Dora V back to base, and miss 
seeing the Daikuu Maryuu's departure.  They're very impressed with Van's
Armor piloting skills, though they aren't quite ready to retire and pass the
torch for good yet.  Just then, Carlos finally wakes up, telling of a wonderful
dream he just had.  In it, he and the guys, and Chizuru, piloted their mech
again and got rid of the bad guys.  Guess what: it's not a dream!


8. Fate Terminal

For a wonderment, Siberian Rail doesn't actually have any ambushes planned
along the rest of Yapan's Ceiling's way to Zonnet.  That makes for smooth
travel for the guests, though not so for the pilots busy with maintenance and
patrol.  And especially not so for Mist, who has in fact been cleaning toilets
nonstop.  Although the caravan's food and fuel supplies got topped off in
Gloria, reachable range remains an issue.  The hope is that Zonnet, the center
of so much commerce, will have something similar to Hydriude that the Daikuu
Maryuu can use.  As with Gloria, the caravan itself will have to wait outside
the city while someone goes to do the shopping... and Mist knows he'll likely
not be part of provisioning detail this time.

Van hasn't been idle during the voyage, but he hasn't exactly found the info
he's been seeking either.  In fact, all he's managed to do is whip both
himself, and many of the citizens of Yapan's Ceiling, into a very bad mood
with all the questioning.  Rosa, quick to anger herself, confines Van to the
Daikuu Maryuu for now.  Kouji asks Van who this taloned guy is that Van
wants him so badly, and Van growls that he's the man who killed Elena, his
bride-to-be.  Right before the wedding ceremony, no less.  Van means to chase
the taloned man to the ends of the world if need be in order to end his life.

The rest of the team, especially Gou, think they understand where Van is coming
from, but Rosa is adamant that Van, a full-blown adult, doesn't have the
right to violently harass the public at large as part of his quest.  When Van
bristles at anyone telling him what to do, Rosa threatens to throw him into
the brig.  Wendy frantically tries to prevent things from escalating to an
actual fight -- Van's a _good_ person!  Honest.  That's not what's in dispute
here, but before Rosa can finish having her say, Garis gets on the PA to
announce the imminent arrival at Zonnet.  He summons everyone to the briefing
room, which Van takes as his cue to leave the ship, regardless of Rosa's
order supposedly restricting his movements.  She's not the boss of him!
Joshua hastens off after Van, despite being told he's underfoot, and Wendy
rushes off in pursuit.  Carmen apologizes for all the fuss and does likewise.

Suspage gets a rather discouraging message from a mysterious collaborator: his
being teleported to this world was an outright mistake... a targeting error
during the attempt to wipe out the Daikuu Maryuu.  The collaborator has friends
in Area Zi who should be able to help get Suspage back home, and will put in a
good word while Suspage is en route.  The collaborator says that the campaign
on Earth is going well thanks to the efforts of the Jama, but adds that the
strength of the Earthlings must never be underestimated.  Orb has formed a
feisty resistance movement, but its days are numbered.  The collaborator smirks
and says that Suspage won't get a chance to act if he doesn't get back soon.

Things are looking up somewhat for the Daikuu Maryuu's chances of returning to
Earth.  The scientists are actually hard at work on trans-dimensional drive,
though they'll need some of the items on the shopping list to make forward
progress.  This time, only Pulia and Angelica are being sent for shopping duty,
in the interest of avoiding notice.  To Mist's surprise, he's also being given
a chance to make up for the incident in Gloria, by joining the detail as their
porter.  To prevent any funny business, Rosa is sending the three of them in an
ordinary truck -- no mecha for anyone to jump into at a rash moment's notice.
Sakon hopes to use the time to research Mist and Angelica's mecha's power
sources, in the hopes of learning something useful for the trans-dimensional
drive.  Looking at the length of the shopping list, it really would be too much
for Mist alone to manage, so Yanma and his cronies are allowed to go along too.
Everyone else is to stand by in their mecha in case the Darius or Siberian
forces strike.  Kyou asks for an exception, hoping to chat with Sakon a bit
more about this world.  Garis has Shizuka guide him; she warns that Sakon
hasn't bathed in a week.

Meanwhile, Ana and Sara are chatting about the prospect of the Daikuu Maryuu
splitting off from Yapan's Ceiling after their stay in Zonnet is over.  Ana
would certainly like to keep the caravan together, which would be just great
with Sara.  Ana is especially hopeful that the Daikuu Maryuu could take her
to Area Zi, which has fascinated her ever since she heard of it from her
father.  As she thinks back to all the books she's read on the subject, Kona
comes over with a request for Gainer, some special items for the Silhouette
Mammoth that weren't available back in Gloria.  Sara all but insists on coming
along, and Gainer promises not to attract Siberian attention.

Sakon's personal laboratory is in a foreboding, disused portion of the ship
that is normally closed to all outsiders.  This keeps them away from Sakon,
and Sakon away from them.  When he gets into his research, food, bathing, and
even elimination tend to fall by the wayside -- a singleminded focus Kyou has
only ever seen in Professor Shiba.  Shizuka says that someone's got to look in
on Sakon every once in a while to ensure that nothing terrible has happened,
and gets on the intercomm to announce their presence.  Sakon makes no reply,
and Shizuka quickly concludes that Sakon is trying to hide from her and the
prospect of a forcible bath.  That thought makes Shizuka spitting, screaming
mad, and Kyou can only stand helplessly by and gape.

Van is adamant that the taloned man be found, but he doesn't exactly have any
concrete idea of how to go about it.  Carmen suggests going somewhere where a
lot of people gather, like the train station.  They already know that the
taloned man is trying to get to Zonnet, and arrival by train would be most
probable.  A dude with talons on his hands ought to stand out, right?  With
her advice given, Carmen splits off to attend to an errand of her own,
promising to meet back up in the station's central courtyard.  As Joshua
struggles to keep pace with Van, Wendy has to wonder if her brother is really
somewhere in this city.

Mist and company arrive at the marketplace, and somewhat to the Earthlings'
surprise, the find an assortment of the exact same vegetables that would 
populate the shelves of Earth.  And, _far_ more shockingly, the shelves of
Atreem, as Mist and Angelica quickly notice.  How the hell Atreemian "panelo"
made its way here, when Atreem itself was wiped out, is a very intriguing
question there may not be time to answer.

Van and friends rapidly discover that just being near masses of people doesn't
equate to automatically finding clues.  Joshua is trying the "town crier"
approach, and getting avoided like a SARS patient.  Perhaps lowering his voice
and querying the station attendants might work better?  He goes off to try, as
a resigned Van starts actively searching himself.  He only takes a few steps
when a few voices out of the crowd make him and Wendy draw up short.  Wendy
hears her brother's voice, while Van hears an old acquaintance: Gadved.
Gadved wants to chat with Van alone, and tells him to follow (which Van,
startled, does).  That leaves Wendy alone with Mihael...

Elsewhere, Kejinan's crew have actually managed to sight the Yapan's Ceiling
contingent (meaning Gainer and Sara).  Is the Goddess of Luck on their side,
or what?  Gainer and Sara of course don't intend to be captured easily, but
Kejinan's theoretical promotion is riding on their capture.  With little other
option, Gainer leads Sara to the arcade to hide, and since they're there,
Gainer figures they might as well blend in and game.  They quickly notice a
commotion as a new "game queen" is crowned at the end of a string of 200
victories.  That queen happens to be Cynthia, and Gainer quickly introduces
himself to her.  Sara is predictably unhappy at seeing Gainer's nervous joy
at finally meeting his longtime online friend, especially given that the arcade
is now surrounded by Siberian forces.  Upon hearing of the little game of tag
going on, Cynthia quickly takes them out the back door.

Mihael wants to know why Wendy didn't keep her promise and stay in their
hometown.  She tells him that she came to save him, and he quickly realizes
that his letter to her to not worry about him must have crossed paths with
her en route.  Wendy quickly finds out that her brother has now become one of
the taloned man's comrades, and never plans to return to their home again.  He
even admits that the taloned man may have once been responsible for Shino and
Elena's deaths, but says that things are different now: in the taloned man,
he's found his reason for living.  He tells her for her own good to go home and
live the quiet life -- and never try to follow him again.

The more the Yapan's Ceiling folk look, the more Atreemian items they find.
Put that together with the eerily similar ruins, and the widespread
availability of Earth items, and you've got one hell of a mystery.  But for a
rarity, Mist is the one smart enough to realize that it can't be solved here.
Their best course of action is to finish their shopping _fast_ and get back to
base to report.

Carmen's research has finally yielded some data, hard though it was to pry
from her contacts.  As she's walking back toward the rendezvous, she's stopped
by a strange, enchanting woman with a staff.  Although smiling, the woman
asks Carmen to give back the files she just received quietly.  Refusal would
mean certain death, and the woman takes Carmen just out of the crowd's line of
sight.  She delivers a sound drubbing, and warns Carmen not to stick her head
any further into things than she already has.  Carmen is too stunned by the
blow to give chase when the woman heads off into the crowd, and an unfamiliar
man with _astonishingly_ gaudy taste in clothes tries to come to her aid...

Van has plenty of questions for Gadved, things like whether he found the
taloned man, or if he actually saved Wendy's brother from him, or where
the taloned man is now.  Gadved tells his old friend not to rush things, since
it's been what, three years since Elena's bloody tragedy?  Back then, it was
Gadved and Elena who operated and saved Van's life, granting him Dann in the
process.  They saved his life, but at least in Elena's case Van couldn't
return the favor.  The least he wants to do is to kill the taloned man off,
so he'll have some hope of facing Elena in the afterlife.  He begs Gadved to
tell him where the taloned man is, but Gadved responds with a heavy sigh.

He tells Van that Van has yet to grasp _why_ Elena helped save his life back
when.  Van's always had this habit of living as though death was his only
destination.  Well, Gadved plans to save Van once again, by offering him a
chance to become one of his comrades and join the quest for building an ideal
world.  Van's really dialed in on the whole revenge thing, and couldn't
care less about ideal worlds -- a level of myopia that doesn't begin to put
Van in the same weight class as Gadved's comrades.  All of whom work for the
taloned man.  So let's get this straight: the taloned man is the guy who
plunged Van into hell, right?  Right.  And Gadved went and joined forces
with Elena's killer, right?  Right.  And now he wants Van to do the same?
DAMN STRAIGHT.

Van comes unhinged at this point, doing his best to pummel Gadved into at least
telling where the taloned man is.  Gadved is totally unmoved, and tells Van
as much: it'll take something other than brute force to stir his heart.  Van
apparently doesn't buy this, and decides to apply a greater amount of brute
force using his Armor.

Meanwhile, Gainer and Sara have finally eluded the Siberian forces with
Cynthia's help.  When Gainer summons his Overman and tells Sara and Cynthia
to get in, Cynthia is overjoyed as she runs away and hops into her own
Overman: she now has proof positive that the two of them really are fated
rivals.

Before combat begins in earnest, Van wants to know one thing: what was it about
the taloned man that made Gadved open his heart to him?  Gadved replies that
his comrade isn't as unusual a person as Van thinks he is.  He's by turns
strong, weak, cruel, kind, and above all _human_.  What it takes to motivate
people is not the past, but the future, and Gadved wants Van to have a part in
forging that future.  Van's gotten quite sick of that kind of rhetoric, and
intends to show by main force what he thinks of the future.  Insofar as it took
the efforts of two people to save his life in the first place, he's got a lot
to prove...

Gainer's got his newfound rival to confront as well, and despite Cynthia's
claims to the contrary, this will be no mere game.  Gainer tells Sara to hide,
and all she can reply is to tell him not to lose.  All the commotion rapidly
draws Siberian Rail's attention, though Cynthia quickly tells Yassaba and
goons to buzz off and let her battle Gainer in peace.  Yassaba isn't having
any of that, considering a retreat at this point to be tantamount to cowardice
in the face of the enemy.  Cynthia finally agrees to let Yassaba's men join
the battle, so long as they stay out of her way.  Poor Gainer is going to have
to hold the fort by himself at this rate, at least until Daikuu Maryuu
reinforcements arrive...

  [Be sure to have Van defeat Gadved at least once in the interest of later
  character recruitment.]

  It's two one-on-one battles for the price of... Anyway, have Van take Gadved
  down a notch, and Gadved demands to know whether he did the right thing
  when he saved Van's life, given that that life is now being used in the
  pursuit of another one of his comrades.  Who, upsettingly, caused the
  tragedy that kicked off the whole mess in the first place.  He's trying to
  get the outside perspective on the whole morass, and simply wants to know:
  was he right when he granted Dann, a symbol of order and one of the Original
  Seven, to Van?  Van doesn't really answer that except by ramming his sword
  through Gadved's mech, and Gadved declares that if he was in the wrong, this
  is how he'll make his penance -- by falling right here and now!
  Gainer meanwhile is trying in vain to persuade Cynthia to find some other
  friendly game besides messing around in a lethal mech.  Something isn't
  quite computing for her...

  Kouji and friends show up on turn 3, normally a joyous event.  Unfortunately
  in this case, all the new faces break Gainer's concentration and earn him a
  severe blasting from Cynthia.  Cynthia revels in being the best at real
  Overman battle, but Gain knows that Gainer is about ready to kick the bucket
  and urges Garis to recover King Gainer as fast as possible.  Gainer can move
  just enough to help haul his carcass back to the ship, and the infuriated
  Gain vows payback.  That doesn't especially faze Artham's Golems, but Gain
  insists that he's especially pissed today and looking for things to break.

  Gadved isn't an easy nut to crack, but when the end draws near, he renews his
  demand that Van face him in a final stroke, determining which of them is
  right and wrong.  Van doesn't give a shit, only wanting to know where the
  taloned man is.  The resulting clash knocks Gadved's Armor into the air, and
  Van alertly sends his own Armor back to orbit in flying sword mode... right
  through Gadved.  Oh Snap!  Gadved's life, and his past sins, seem to be
  seeping away in a spreading pool of red around him, right as his mech
  explodes.  That certainly won't help Van get any closer to the taloned man,
  but Carmen has something that might, if he'll head back to the Daikuu
  Maryuu...

As the dust is settling, an infuriated Yassaba is rehashing his latest failure
when Kejinan comes over with an ultimatum.  He's got blackmail material on
Yassaba, which in Kejinan's book means he's stronger.  Or is it that he's
stronger and therefore can blackmail Yassaba?  In any case, Yassaba's
captaining days are over as Kejinan commands him to eat shit and die.  Enge's
help seals the deal, and although not dead or scatophiliac yet, Yassaba ends
up unconscious on the ground.  Enge is now free to choose his own commander,
and although his homey Kejinan has been jockeying for the job, they both have
to admit a certain charm in the thought of following Cynthia and her cute
little ass around.  When asked what to do with Yassaba, Kejinan makes his
first major error in just leaving him there to rot.  Rot from what, exactly,
air itself?

Elsewhere in the outskirts of town, Mist retrieves Sara, alive and unspoiled
and concerned about Gainer.  The gaming whiz hasn't sustained any life-
threatening injuries, but he's been order to some bedrest after the first aid
folks were done with him.  On the way back to the Daikuu Maryuu, guess who
Mist should run across, but Yassaba and his busted-ass Overman, lying there
on the ground!  In his former life in the Atreemian self-defense forces, he
was always taught that lifesaving, even of the enemy, was paramount, and Sara
can't really disagree.  Hence, Yassaba and his entire mech get duly carted back
to base.  Yeah, rot.  Good one, dumbass.

Aboard the Daikuu Maryuu, Sakon has finally shown himself in person to
announce the results of his work.  After all the drama, he cuts a
disappointingly normal figure -- not the tentacly blob or brain-only menace
that Daiya was expecting.  Compared to the typical super robot scientist, this
guy is quite youthful and, dare Anna say it, even attractive.  And taken,
given how fiercely protective Shizuka is of him (not that happy newlywed Anna
has any actual designs on him).  Sakon's fashion sense, however, is quarantine
worthy.

All that aside, Sakon has good news for the team: after a marathon session,
Shizuka and Daimon have gotten the Daikuu Maryuu's trans-dimensional drive back
online.  That alone won't get the team back home: there's still the matter of
actually creating the Gate through which to travel, and Mist's recollections
have only been good for a hint into that process.  What Sakon needs is more
data, and he's invented just the sensors with which to gather it.  He has them
attached to everyone's mecha, in the hopes that if they ever undergo a similar
teleportation attack again, they'll be properly prepared to observe.  As for
the drive system in Mist and Angelica's mecha, Sakon has only been able to
deduce so far that they receive and amplify energy at a certain wavelength.  He
tells Mist and Angelica to "lengthen their necks" a while, by which he simply
means to wait patiently.  Angelica however thinks he's referring to those
African tribes with the neck-stretching rings, and can't quite figure out where
she got the idiom wrong.  Yet one more reason for Mist to cower in terror.

One more problem: even if a suitable Gate can be found, there's not enough
Hydriude to run the engines.  Sakon's been busily trying to find alternatives
to eventually running out of power and being stuck here forever, and has
located just the thing.  It's called "Reggel", and wouldn't you know it: it's
located in Area Zi.  The stuff is a fluid so rich in energy that a single cup
can power one of the Serpent-style Zoids.  Garis announces that the Daikuu
Maryuu will be splitting up from Yapan's Ceiling at this point, and cruising
off in search of this new fuel source, as of tomorrow morning.

Gainer's been transported back to Yapan's Ceiling with Sara.  He lost quite a
bit of blood, but his injuries are basically superficial and should heal
soon according to Dr. Franklin.  Which is all nice and whatnot, but Van has
been impatiently waiting to hear about this info of Carmen's.  What she's
heard is that there's something to do with the taloned man in Area Zi.  This
goes back to an incident around three months ago (which Van's already forgotten
about) where he took down a dragon-shaped Armor deep in the mountains.  Van
had asked her for help trying to decode the dragon's databanks, and the only
bit she's extracted so far is a map that squares with Area Zi.  Carmen
doesn't know what lies there, but does know that it will bring them closer to
the taloned man.  Yes, "them" -- she's now added a "private" stake to the
search in addition to her professional data-merchant stuff.  Believe her when
she says she'll get back at "that woman" one of these days.  Van now owes
Carmen bigtime, but one unanswered question remains: where are Wendy and
Joshua?  Back at the station all this time?!?

Gainer eventually wakes up, in pain but out of immediate danger.  His biggest
lament is that Cynthia finally turned out to be a Siberian mech pilot, and
there's little Sara can say to soften that blow.  Suddenly, Adette busts in
and demands to know if her student is okay.  Turns out she passed that little
test of Mamadu's with flying colors, reigniting the feud between the woman
and woman-child with a vengeance.  The escalating yelling is cut short when
Gain, the world, and its dog come to see how Gainer's doing.  Gain stays
long enough to hear that Gainer's slated to be back to normal in two or three
days, and then jets for the Daikuu Maryuu.  Seems the person Mist recovered
is none other than the Siberian platoon commander Yassaba Jin!  Upon hearing
of Yassaba's sorry state, and his betrayal by Kejinan and company, Adette
rushes off ahead of everyone else.

Upon hearing that the Daikuu Maryuu will be heading to Area Zi, Ana ignores
Lioubov's objections and convinces Gain to take her to the Daikuu Maryuu for
the adventure of her family's life.  Gainer, wounded though he is, desperately
wants to go along too: he knows he needs to get stronger, and hanging with the
posse of skilled outworlders is the best way he knows to do it.  He doesn't
want to _defeat_ Cynthia eventually, he wants to _save_ her.  Against what
is probably her better judgement, Sara agrees to take Gainer along too.

Yassaba is awake now too, and furiously demanding that someone undo this
goddamn rope that's got him tied up.  Daiya and friends would love to do just
that, except it was Shizuka who tied it (apparently with a lot of practice),
and she's apparently the strongest person aboard the ship (even including
the gorilla-like Angel pilot).  At this point, Adette bursts into the room
for one of those slow-motion, sparkly-filled long-lost reunions with her
beloved suggardaddy^Wsquadron leader.  Gain is close behind, wondering what
the hell is going on.  Yassaba, upon seeing his longtime nemesis, challenges
him to a duel on the spot, on the theory that Gain's head can get him back
in good graces at Siberian Rail and maybe even give him a shot at breaking
Kejinan's traitor ass.

Adette and Gain both have to tell him to calm down: there _is_ no going back to
Siberian Rail, and even if there was, nothing good could come of being at
Kids' beck and call.  Adette makes an impassioned plea to her man to come
and live quietly with her in Yapan's Ceiling, which an intrigued Gain will
have to inquire about later.  For now, it seems Yassaba is actually willing
to behave, and Gain assigns Adette to look after him back aboard Yapan's
Ceiling.  He's the first to admit just how strong a woman she is.  Another
strong woman (to be) comes in at this point: _Princess_ Ana wants to meet
the captain, and doesn't brook the "aww, how cute" stuff from the unsuspecting
pilots hanging around.

Garis is happy to have his curious little charge aboard for the journey to
Area Zi, and wouldn't mind Gainer's extra firepower either.  But what about
those Exodizers?  Gainer knows he won't be of much use to them or himself until
he gets stronger, and also wants to keep on protecting Ana, as Yapan's
Ceiling's willing "insurance policy" against Siberian interference.  Sara
doubts the Exodus' protection can be left up to Gainer alone, especially given
how bad of shape he's in, and insists on coming along too.  The trip to and
from Area Zi will only take a few days, during which point Gain is sure he
and the Gaury squadron can hold the fort.  Gain phrases this pretty harshly,
deliberately trying to get Gainer away from Yapan's Ceiling so his spirit can
have a chance to heal before his next showdown with the red enemy Overman.  In
any event, the mysteries of Area Zi await!


9. Showdown in Area Zi

Carmen and Anna rush back to the station to find Wendy, even resorting to
making a public address announcement to find her.  And find her they do, far
more downcast than her usual sunny self.  She relates the conversation she
had with her brother: his instructions to her to return home while he
accompanies the taloned man to wherever.  Much like Gadved, Mihael sees the
taloned man as a comrade and source for inspiration -- in summary, a great
man.  This is about the last thing Wendy might have expected to hear from her
brother, and she's completely at a loss for what to do now.  Carmen recalls
Gadved's invitation to Van to help build an "ideal" world, clues to which will
surely lie in Area Zi.  Since Van and Carmen are already planning to head in
that direction, perhaps Wendy would like to come along too?  And, sigh,
Joshua as well...

Suspage gets to the rendezvous point, and before long gets a message from
his mysterious benefactor's contact.  It's hardly a pleasant chat, as the
contact bristles at having to identify herself and accuses Suspage of getting
himself into this mess by not getting out of the way fast enough.  Suspage's
main benefactor is in on the conference call, and smoothly accepts the blame.
If that's the case, why's he involving his contact in fixing it?  Said contact
seems to have a very short fuse, and after the main benefactor hangs up,
insists that Suspage do something about the Daikuu Maryuu before getting 
Gated back home.  That'll make life easier for the contact, and surely sit
Suspage well with his own superiors.  He can even use the Gate to summon more
reinforcements from the Darius realm, which sounds like a pretty sure thing...

Yes, Joshua will be going along to Area Zi too.  He's after his brother, his
brother is after the taloned man, and there's only one destination for the
whole kit'n'kaboodle.  At length, Wendy makes up her mind to go too: not out
of a desire to keep pursuing her brother, but of a desire to figure out what
the truth really is.  Should her brother be in the wrong, it's the least she
can do as the sister to stop him!  Sounds tough, but it's as good a rationale
as any.

Gainer gets a chance to show how manly he is on this little jaunt, though Gain
isn't so confident in his protege's skills with the women (namely Sara).  At
least from Gaury's perspective, the loss to his squad's own warpower almost
seems like the bigger loss, and he's understandably concerned about sending
_his_ protege off to a land no one has ever managed to reach.  At least maybe
she'll snag some cool souvenirs for her classmates.  Or not, given there's a
five-kilometer-tall mountain range and electromagnetic storms in the way.
Still, if the Daikuu Maryuu can't do it, no one can... not even Siberian Rail,
who can't have very many Overmen in the same weight class as Gainer's.

Somewhere Else(tm) is a group of villagers, dredging up something from the sea.
The something is very large and turns out to be a mech of some kind, and Raaji
tells his people Ruuji and Faaji to fuel it up with Reggel.  You'd never know
this thing has been submerged for millennia: the finest Zoid Raaji can remember
bringing into the light.  Faaji wants to know what this Zoid's name is, but
Ruuji has no way of knowing just at present.  Apparently, the name just pops
into the head of whoever's at the controls when a Zoid is first powered up.  It
also happens that the larger the Zoid, the fewer are the people who can
actually make it go, and this Zoid doesn't seem to respond to Raaji's commands.
That sadly means they'll have to try and sell it.  Faaji wonders if Ruuji might
be able to make it go, but after years of failures with numerous other Zoids,
Ruuji isn't in the mood to try.

Apparently Somewhere Else(tm) is in fact Area Zi, as proven by the Daikuu
Maryuu's arrival there.  This scatters all the natives, including a very
puzzled Raaji who wonders how the massive dragon can fly without wings.  The
Daikuu folks quickly note the relatively primitive cultural level of the place,
and Ana is beside herself wanting to see a Zoid.  Which, if the previous
paragraph is any indication, shouldn't take that long.  For the time being,
Rosa handles negotiations with Raaji Familon, chief of Milode Village.  Her
requests for fuel are periodically interrupted by Ana's enthusiasm to touch
the fascinating mechanical critter Raaji has just unearthed...

It should come as no surprise that Suspage's fleet has been hanging out in Area
Zi.  Word comes to Suspage that the Daikuu Maryuu has shown up, and he doesn't
know if they've been following him or not.  It doesn't really matter at this
point, and now he doesn't have to go track it down.  The Darius reinforcements
have just arrived, and all should be in readiness for him to get his revenge.

Raaji knows that the Daikuu Maryuu must want Reggel pretty darn badly if they'd
cross the Mountains of Death just to get it.  He's certainly got the fuel, but
handing it over is a bit delicate.  There's a rival country named Digald with
designs on the village, although Raaji doubts they'd just _ask_ for Reggel.
Still, it's hard to justify just giving Reggel, which his village produces with
its Generators, to a bunch of folks who literally appear out of the blue.
Carmen proposes a trade of outside goods for the fuel, hoping to make the
villagers' lives more convenient -- which would be easier if Raaji actually
felt like his life was inconvenient to begin with (which he doesn't).

Negotiations are interrupted when a detachment of Digald Zoids arrive, led by
Zailin's silver mech.  Digald's stock-in-trade is forceful oppression, and
the Daikuu team are more than used to dealing with that.  Gainer is given
strict orders to continue resting (Sara is posted as a guard), while the rest
of the crew go and lay the smack down.  Gaiking and its companions will have
to wait slightly while Sakon finishes servicing their armaments, but at least
Van is willing to join the fray and follow orders.  Garis knows that Van wants
to try to capture anyone who might have info on the taloned man, and won't
get in the way.  Zailin doesn't know who these rebels are, but anyone who
opposes his country should be prepared for death.

  These Zoid thingies aren't taking as much damage as they're supposed to.
  The writers^W^WKouji frets that the Zoids have too much armor and that this
  is going to be really rough going, a sentiment echoed [quite unfoundedly]
  by Zailin.  Zailin then notices a blue Zoid off to the side that appears
  to be a "Raigar" type.  Though it's immobile, he still sees it as a threat
  and orders some of his concealed men to trash it.  From their position, they
  have an unobstructed shot at the village, which largely takes the Daikuu
  folks out of the fight.  But not Ruuji: he knows if he can turn the tables if
  he gets astronomically lucky and this Zoid finally moves for him.  Now, how
  likely would _that_ be?

  Uh, duh.  The "Murasame Raigar" responds to his every touch, but Ruuji
  quickly finds out the difference between "hey, it moves!" and actually being
  able to defend himself.  The latter proposition requires aid, such as... that
  conveniently-oversized giant sword that's been passed down from his
  ancestors, handily stashed nearby.  Wouldn't you know, the sword actually
  _belonged_ to this Zoid in days of yore, and it sure enough comes in handy in
  these more modern days of gore.

  Zailin is officially through feeling smug, infuriated instead that someone
  got to the Zi Metal sword before him _and_ used it to trash one of his
  Bioraptors.  He wastes no time in blasting the Murasame Raigar, but before
  he can completely destroy it, some new Zoids spring to Ruuji's aid.  It's the
  Swordwolf and Lancetagg, belonging to La Kan.  One of the pilots sounds like
  a young girl, and an impatient one at that as she orders Ruuji to get his
  ass out of her way and off the battlefield.  The other pilot, an old man,
  tells her not to harsh on Ruuji that much: he's doing the best he can under
  the circumstances.  The old guy turns out to be La Kan, and the loud-mouth
  his niece Le Mii: both fighters against the Digald.  He quickly informs
  Ruuji that normal weapons barely work on the silver Zoids: one has to use
  Lio Weaponry, like his sword, Le Mii's lance, and that big blade he just
  wielded.

  La Kan has an old mistake he's trying to make up for, but the immediacy of
  battle will keep that on the back burner for now.  It's not a long fight,
  thanks to a smackdown from the Daikuu folks that Zailin's squadron is totally
  unprepared for.  With the battle going south faster than the Toukaidou
  Shinkansen, Zailin makes a dash for the Generator.  Ruuji gets in his way
  and manages to withstand another barrage, impressing the Digald commander
  enough to ask for Ruuji's name.  Under other circumstances, Zailin would
  love to see how this kid matures... but as it stands, he'd rather he just
  die on the spot.

  That would be easier if Zailin could aim worth shit; fortunately, he can't.
  He up and blasts the Generator instead, which proves distracting enough
  that Ruuji actually manages to get hit by Zailin's next shot.  La Kan and
  niece have to intervene to keep Ruuji alive, but it's already too late
  for the poor Generator.  Zailin manages to crawl away from the battlefield,
  but his Zoid is badly damaged enough that he'll have to sit tight in the
  nearby forest and wait for assistance.

  Without the Generator, the whole village is likely done for.  But the
  lamentation for that fact stops almost before it starts, thanks to the
  arrival of a bunch of Darius soldiers.  At least Gaiking and its support
  vehicles are ready to make up for lost time.  Suspage of course wants the
  team to die a miserable death far from Earth, and his strange turtle-like
  mech might just do the trick for Van (who has a fear of turtles, oddly).

  Actually, it's worse than that.  The turtle mech is the same one that killed
  Lee's brother Shin, the very thing he joined the Daikuu Maryuu crew to
  fight.  He even got to pilot Gaiking for a while in a bid to get his
  revenge, but he never managed it.  Including his brother's immolation, and
  his initial abortive attempt today, he's lost to the turtle a total of
  three times.  There's just something about the turtle's face, and the
  black flames nearby, that robs him of his rationality.  Hey, no big deal,
  pipes up Mist, who's currently failed to protect two planets and is working
  on a third.  Dubious encouragement to be sure, but with a few more good
  words from Daiya and Gou finally restore him to his senses.

  And just as battle is about to resume, another new face appears.  Whoever it
  is was on the trail of the Digald "Biozoids" until just now, and wonders
  what the deal with all these other (non?) Zoids fighting each other.  Her
  course of action becomes clear when Suspage orders his men to try to shoot
  her bird-like Zoid out of the sky.  She radios into whoever's the boss of
  that big dragon thingie, and says she wants to help demolish Suspage and
  his uber-garish flagship.  Belatedly, the new pilot introduces herself as
  Kotona Elegance.

  Turns out Lee's uncharacteristically cravenly outburst isn't entirely
  unjustified: the turtle mecha are surprisingly hard to defeat.  There seems
  to be only one hope: during that delay sortying Gaiking, Sakon enabled Lee's
  mech to combine with it.  The result is "Buster Gaiking", only one example of
  the combinations now possible.  As the two pilots join up, Lee tells Daiya to
  ram home the firepower Lee's about to unleash.  He then adds, mostly to
  himself, that it's not the turtles that scare him: it's the prospect of
  himself continuing to lose.  Sakon has done his work well, and at VERY long
  last, Shin's death can now be avenged.

  Even with all his additional firepower, Suspage stands no chance against
  the Daikuu Maryuu.  His only choices are dying on the spot, or turning tail
  and fleeing through the Gate back to the Darius-verse.  He wisely chooses
  the latter, and Garis orders everyone to regroup for repairs.  Zailin finds
  himself wondering just who the hell handed his ass to him, even as he curses
  himself for wrecking the very Generator he was sent here to capture.

The most positive spin anyone can put on this battle is that no one actually
*died*.  Treating the wounded and fighting the fires in the village has taken
plenty of time, during which the villagers have begun lamenting their sorry
lot in life.  It is said from of old that no village whose Generator fails can
survive.  Ruuji has also had time to start blaming himself for dodging the
lethal blow, and letting the Generator get hit instead.  Mii is more than
happy to blame him for that too, at first not realizing, and then not
believing, that this was his first time piloting a Zoid.  She's every bit as
fierce when she's mad as Sayaka or Tsubaki, in fact...

La Kan is more forgiving, as are the other pilots stationed aboard the Daikuu
Maryuu.  Seems everyone's got a sad tale to tell of their first time jumping
into the cockpit unprepared.  Mist is no exception of course.  Kotona shows
up during the deliberations, having examined the wreckage of the Generator
and proclaiming it unsalvagable.  That leaves the villagers with a harsh choice
to make, as La Kan can confirm for them that the loss of a Generator means
a loss of the entire ecosystem that supports a village (not just the loss
of Reggel production, in other words).

The villagers are understandably reluctant to leave the only home they've ever
known, grasping at the fact that their doom isn't 100% certain.  Ana knows
she isn't in a position to force her own Exodus mentality on them, especially
since her royal title means nothing here.  Gainer, too, espouses letting the
villagers do as they wish; he's now healed enough to be up and about.  Gainer
does think these folks should just Exodize, but Sara insists that an Exodus is
something people do voluntarily.  Where Sara talks principles, Gainer keeps
seeing practica: both voluntary and involuntary relocations are still that --
relocations.  In any case, the villagers are dead-set against world travel,
which leaves only one possible remedy: fix the damn Generator.

La Kan has heard of a wise man somewhere in this world who can do just that,
but it's going to take some time to find him.  Life isn't so convenient that
Sakon and Shizuka can fix it: Sakon tells Shizuka that the Generators likely
weren't made by this world's tech in the first place.  He reckons both they
and the Zoids are relics of a previous culture that flourished in this area:
the current residents might be able to use the tech, but not create or fix it.
So what would a do-gooding bunch of mecha pilots, out of their technical depth,
do at a time like this?  Help look for this wise guy^Wman of course!  With
Reggel as their reward!  Neat.

...And, futile.  Shizuka has also learned that while Reggel can power the
team's conventional drive systems just fine, it can't be adapted to power the
warp engines after all.  Sakon says the Daikuu Maryuu would need at least one
Zeus Missile to make its way back home.  This is a munition that can create a
Death Cross Point out of nothing, a capability dangerous enough that Sakon
hasn't even written down any schematics for it.  But even if one could be
built in this world, Hydriude or an equivalent power source would be needed to
run the engines.  Might as well go looking for such a power source _and_ the
wise dude then, with help from Carmen's renowned info-gathering technique...

Suspage gets a major dressing down for failing _again_ to take down the
Daikuu Maryuu.  He maintains that he's got a plan to level the playing field,
which requires him to return to the Darius-verse for setup.  He promises his
local benefactor that he'll return, but after he hangs up his orders to his
men certainly don't sound that way...

La Kan is convinced that the Daikuu Maryuu can help the search, especially
given that travel by air is a lot faster than he and his niece could manage
on the ground.  Mii is a bit peeved that Kotona sees herself as part of the
team... given that they've just met and all.  But the Darius forces are the
common enemy, and the sooner this wise man is found, the sooner that enemy
can be dispatched.  Harayard will be the first place to look for clues, and
La Kan already has high hopes for Carmen 99's business acumen.  Le Mii already
has a severe _inferiority_ complex where chest-related issues are concerned...

Don't forget about Zailin by the way.  He's still lurking around, trying to
figure out how to get some juicy intelligence to let him return home without
feeling like a total n00b.

Meanwhile, Raaji urges Ruuji to join the wise man hunt: best if someone from
this village is part of fixing the village's problems.  His mom Min is so on
board that she's packed his bags already, which probably says more about her
wanting some private time alone with Raaji than anything else.  To help Ruuji
on his quest for maturity and maybe even redemption, Raaji gives him a set of
binoculars, a family heirloom that might come in handy if this game contains
an onsen episode. *coughcough* And for seeing the wide world with his own eyes,
of course.

Ruuji joins the Daikuu Maryuu just as it's getting ready to set sail.  Garis
isn't happy about keeping Gainer away from the Yapan's Ceiling for this long,
but as there's no way to send him back either... kinda SOL.  Somehow, the
Daikuu fails to notice Zailin latch onto its underbelly.  He thinks the Daikuu
will lead him back to its base, meaning he's in for an extended amount of
boredom.  That is, until a new menace shows up at twelve o'clock -- Mist
identifies it as one of the mecha that attacked Bezzard.  It starts emitting
a massive amount of energy whose signature matches that of a dimensional gate.
Mist knows that "their" mecha must be on the other side of it, and concludes
that "they" were behind this whole mess all along, just as he thought.  The
ship can't avoid being sucked into the vortex of light.

Turns out whoever Suspage was collaborating with got rid of the troublesome
dragon by sending it to the Darius-verse.  She is a bit concerned about all
this Gate usage, and decides to phone up the Moon to report.

Garis is astounded to find himself back in the Darius-verse, but quickly
decides that it's a lucky break.  While some of the pilots marvel that the
enemy can do any-to-any dimensional travel with their Gates, Garis marshalls
the rest of the crew and has them set down in a nearby valley, with their
Illusion Protect system on.  Rosa gets to explain to the newfound guests what
just happened: so many worlds, in so little time.  The crew will be dreaming
about this fantastic voyage for a long time to come (dream, as in "nightmare").
What has Mist worried the most is that, unless his eyes deceived him, the
same people who wiped out Bezzard are now clearly(?) after Earth as well.  But
if so, why go about it in such a roundabout fashion?  The talking-to Angelica
gave him before has enabled him to think more rationally about this unknown
menace, and Angelica herself is now a believer that Mist's theory of Earth
invasion is true.  The only way to gather more info is to wait for the enemy,
whose name they don't even know, to make the next move.  At least, confiding
all this to Garis will make Mist feel better.  Angelica makes him feel better
too when she confirms that his moves in combat were fully up to speed.


10. The General of Black Flame

Getting abruptly sent to another dimension doesn't sit well with many of the
pilots, some of whom have pressing errands they're trying to run.  It takes
Ana and Gainer to point out that acting like it's Rosa's fault won't get
anyone home any faster.  Bunch of children.  Somewhat cowed for the time being,
Van and the rest promise to help out in the search for a way back home.  Kotona
is among them, though she personally is happier not having a way back... No
point in spoiling the hate-turned-love fest though.  Now, as for what this
Darius-verse is all about...

Garis tells Mist and the others on his bridge that Sakon and Kyou aren't likely
to find a way home soon.  So, since everyone's stranded in the Darius-verse
anyway, he figures they might as well carry out the Daikuu Maryuu's original
mission to monkey-wrench the Darius' army's invasion of Earth.  That won't
directly hurt the Darius forces already there, or their cohorts the Jama, but
it might keep things from getting any worse than they already are.  Mist then
mentions seeing one of "their" mecha right before the teleportation -- "they"
being the people who creamed Atreem and blew away Bezzard.  "They" were never
polite enough to answer Atreemian queries as to their objective, and if "they"
are capable of wiping out entire planets, it's doubtful the Daikuu Maryuu could
face them alone.  All the same, Garis agrees that Sakon should analyze Mist
and Angelica's combat data in search of clues.

Just then, Rosa, La Kan, and several of the other guest fighters march onto the
bridge.  All this talk of mystery invaders being behind the string of
teleportations has got them thinking: find the invaders, and a ticket home
can't be far behind.  Van's got the simplest plan for how to track the
invaders down, which is also the most compatible with the game's writers:
keep fighting and they'll show up eventually.  Elegant, almost, and good enough
for La Kan and friends to join Garis' burgeoning little army.  The thought of
all this cooperation between people from so many different worlds has Mist
ready to bawl his eyes out for joy...

No sooner has Garis issued the order to locate the Darius armies than Lulu
starts having visions, images of some sort of flaming power.   And not just any
flaming power at that: _CREEPY_ flaming power.  Almost as terrifyingly flaming
as a Gregg Araki marathon in fact.  Pulia claims this happens all the time
thanks to Lulu's precognition abilities, and the first thing Lee wants to
know is where the terrifyingly horrifyingly creepy flaming power is coming
from.  Presumably so he can go karate chop it or something.  Turns out it's
conveniently located in the mountains to the north, and Lee certainly won't
refuse two beautiful women (info-pro Carmen and stealth-meister Kotona) coming
along to help.  The thundering mechanical herd of Daiya, Kenji and Kouji will
have to stay in the paddock for now.

(Zailin is still hanging around too, having just regained consciousness and
checked that his Zoid is functioning okay.  His first task is to find someone
to pump for information.)

Suspage gives his report to Proist, relating all the trouble he had in these
alternate worlds.  Norza sniffs that the air was far cleaner with Suspage
gone -- no doubt the feeling is quite mutual.  Suspage did hope to see
Vestarnne, but Norza has no clue where she's gone.  Proist's news of the Jama
alliance isn't good: they're running around wrecking so much stuff that they
may be doing the Darius cause more harm than good.  Looks like it's time for a
surge of Darius troops, but first Suspage wants to settle the Daikuu Maryuu's
hash once and for all.

Which, conveniently enough, has just been sent to their front doorstep by
Suspage's one-time mystery collaborator!  She repeats that the Daikuu Maryuu
was getting in the way of her job, and isn't buying for a moment that Suspage
meant to actually return to clean things up.  So now, the cleanup job is in
his court.  Norza is amused at how nobody seems to trust Suspage, and asks if
the Daikuu Maryuu is really that big a threat.  Sho'nuff, what with its "fire
giant" and all the other mecha tagging along.  Norza's got a fire giant
fixation, and resolves to lure the Daikuu Maryuu out of hiding in order for
some throwdown...

Lee's time alone with the two beauties is short-lived, since the trio had to
split up for more efficient information gathering.  While trying to contain his
disappointment, Lee stumbles across some kind of excavation site, and quickly
sights another beautiful woman, surrounded by robot soldiers.  Said robots seem
quite willing to shoot her, and Lee can't help charging in and saving her
curvaceous ass.  So much for the stealth approach to info gathering.
Recognizing him as a Surface dweller, she's not exactly grateful at first, but
passing out from blood loss quickly brings her protestations to a halt.

When Vestarnne regains consciousness, she finds that Lee has staunched the
bleeding and brought her out of immediate danger.  He tells her to go find a
doctor, and asks why her own comrades would be trying to blow her away.  Very
good question: Vestarnne knows that the robots should under no circumstances be
capable of firing on a commander.  When he sees her pondering, Lee says he
isn't one to pry... but Vestarnne is!  Just what the hell is a Surfacer doing
here anyway?  "Everybody knows that" All Surfacers are crafty bastards who
happily crush others to extract the last ounce of profit for themselves!
_Especially_ the Daikuu Maryuu's crew!  Lee doesn't try to stop the torrent of
verbal abuse, merely cautioning her to keep her voice down so other robot
soldiers don't hear.  Pausing a moment, Vestarnne thanks him for saving her
life and tells him to skedaddle before she reconsiders letting him live.  He
duly skedaddles, bidding farewell to the beautiful soldier on the way out of
sight.

Vestarnne starts to calm down, pondering what that Surfacer's deal was anyway.
Her reverie is broken by Norza radioing in, telling her he's about to create a
Death Cross Point at Arkholland.  He tells her to come and see an interesting
sight he's prepared, but she refuses on grounds that she's busy with a...
mission she's on.  Bummer.  She then asks him if he knows what the army is
digging up in Minsbarel, and unfortunately he has no clue.  This can only mean
that Proist is up to something underhanded...

Nearby, Lee has heard the whole exchange; he wasn't _trying_ to spy, honest!
Kotona then appears out of nowhere, startling Lee badly.  She saw Vestarnne
even before Lee did, and was far more quiet about observing her.  As was
Carmen, who wants to know what the "Arkholland" and "Death Cross Point" are.
Lee has to lament having his every action watched [hopefully for his sake he
didn't feel Vestarnne up too much while bandaging her...].  Arkholland is the
Darius army's main base, and a Death Cross Point is a hole through dimensions.
This is huge news, given the Daikuu Maryuu's current plight, and the recon
team radios in right away.

The Daikuu Maryuu has detected four enormous battleships lining up to go
through the Point, making it look like the real Darius invasion is about to
start.  The question is what is making the Darius army hurry this much, but
there's no way to answer that now.  As Garis sets course for Arkholland, the
recon team report their findings: a whole lot of nuffing, unless you count
that strange excavation site [and that couldn't possibly be important, could
it?]  Oh well.  For now, stopping the Point formation is job 1.

Gainer is once again fit for duty, and both Van and the Zoid pilots are
determined to earn their keep.  They'll have to, as something moves in on
the Daikuu Maryuu from Point Red.  Lulu starts babbling about massive black
flames, which can only mean one thing: Garis' old nemesis Norza.  Garis
explains quickly that this is Darius' General of the North, thinking to himself
that this showdown is happening far too soon.  Norza is plainly surprised that
Garis took the bait he prepared so easily (to be fair: using the monstrous
Grotector battleships takes serious balls).  Norza's whole rationale behind
the fake Point formation is meeting Garis' red warrior of flame.

That would be Daiya, who ignores Garis' warning that he's not ready yet.
Daiya actually manages to scratch Norza's paintjob, which is more than most
people could manage.  But he's a long way from an actual match for the
Northman, as Norza demonstrates with a single mighty stroke of his sword.
Knowing how overmatched Daiya is, Garis orders the troops to support him: all
this one-on-one duel stuff is so last millennium.  Norza's subordinate Cain
grasps that quite well, and moves to support his commander in turn.  To his
credit, Daiya still wants to fight Norza himself, but promises Kouji he'll
let him know if he needs help.

  Norza sure enough needs help before long, and Suspage loves gloating while
  offering it.  He tells Norza that the Emperor Himself(tm) has commanded him
  to take out the Daikuu Maryuu, and in the process break his losing streak and
  restore some commanderly prestige.  As much as Norza wants Suspage to piss
  off, even he can't refuse the Emperor's orders.  Oblivious to the enemy
  drama, Mist and Angelica have noticed something in Suspage's batch of
  reinforcements: a mech that looks identical to the Celius (except for the
  paint job).  Mist remembers fixing that very mech during his time in Bezzard,
  and is pretty certain who its pilot is: Sheldia Rouge!  He doesn't know how
  she was teleported to the Darius-verse, but he tells everyone to leave her
  and her Celius II to him.

  Sheldia recognizes his voice right away, wondering what the heck he's doing
  here.  Both she and Mist have a lot of catching up to do, but for now
  Sheldia settles for quitting the Darius army before her debut battle has
  even begun.  What treachery is this, Suspage demands to know, and Sheldia
  tells him flat out that she only joined to have a roof over her head.
  Unfortunately, her triumphant return to Mist's side is short-lived, since
  Suspage took the precaution of having a remote control override installed in
  her mech.  I mean, how many people volunteer themselves *and* their mech for
  duty in an evil empire's army?  And mean it?  That's right, zero!

  Mist barely starts lamenting having to fight his comrade when Sakon gets on
  the radio and tells him to do just that: "fight", not "shoot down".  In the
  process, the location of the transmitter should become clear, enabling him
  to target it with a pinpoint strike.  This sounds easier than it is, but with
  all the troops committed, there's little choice but to go along with the
  plan.

  Only after getting beaten down does Norza finally get serious, venting his
  wounded pride on Daiya for starters.  With no other option to protect Daiya,
  Garis has the Daikuu Maryuu try to ram Norza... getting the whole enormous-
  ass battleship _swatted_ _aside_ for his pains.  Seeing his friends pummeled
  that badly doesn't sit well with Daiya, whose pissed-off-ness fuels his
  mech's resurgence.  There's one technique Gaiking has held in reserve, which
  he was told not to use yet.  There's no telling if he can pull it off, since
  he's never tried it before, but his desire to protect Lulu and company is
  potent enough to give it a try (despite Lulu's pleas that it's too soon).
  Norza can't believe a puny Surfacer can fan their flames this high, but his
  disbelief won't stop Daiya from ROYALLY kicking his ass.  He's got just
  enough ass left to hobble back home, vowing dire vengeance for this disgrace.

  As the battle proceeds, Sakon is able to isolate where the transmitter is.
  Mist enlists Angelica to grab the Celius II while he carries out that
  pinpoint attack.  He mumbles that he's not very confident in his aim, but
  he's right on target.  Sheldia regains control of her mech, and isn't even
  singed herself.  Her mech's seen better days, but she can't rest until she
  kicks Suspage's ass.  Angelica is already feeling the first pangs of
  jealousy, as Shizuru notices immediately.

Suspage's grand, gloating plan to get back in good graces with the Emperor goes
over like a lead balloon.  Daiya is really glad to see that that the battle's
over, since he's... feeling kinda... sleepy....  Unconsciousness sets in, so
he and the rest of the crew are taken back into the hangar.  Sheldia is the
topic of much suspicion for having arrived as part of the Darius army, but
Mist assures everyone -- having lived with her a year ago on Bezzard -- that
she's no spy.  Whoa, hold up, _lived_with_?  STRICTLY PLATONIC, Mist insists,
and when Sheldia says he doesn't have to deny it _that_ vehemently, he tells
her in very familiar terms not to make things worse with his teammates.  Gainer
could never bring himself to tell Sara to "shut up" so explicitly, but there's
a fine line between being conciliatory and being a milksop in front of one's
lady.  Tough times ahead for the would-be romantic, it seems.

The whole scene is farcical enough that the other pilots lack the willpower to
hold their suspicions for long.  That lets Mist head off to report to Garis,
while Angelica vaguely wonders what has just happened.  Meanwhile, Daiya's
unconsciousness is likely to persist for some time, thanks to his use of that
Face Open attack.  The drain on the Flame Power of the user is massive, and
Daiya is still at best an adolescent on that power scale.  Pulia of all people
insists that Daiya has the gumption to pull through, and Lulu and the others
can only hope she's right.

Speaking of Daiya's plight, Garis and Rosa are deep in deliberations on how to
give the poor kid more support.  Garis has in mind a squad formation that uses
the Stinger, Serpent, Crab Bunker, and one other, undisclosed trump card.  Rosa
doesn't get his drift, and Garis tells her to look after the ship for a while.
He means to journey to Zanguile to retrieve Deke, a dangerous man who Rosa by
no means wants to see again.  Rosa points out that there are plenty of other
gifted pilots available for whatever he has in mind, including both Koujis,
Shizuru, etc. etc.  Garis grants that today's battle would have been lost
without such assistance, but insists that none of them can take Deke's place.

Sheldia is _very_ glad to see Mist again, jumping onto him in a fierce embrace.
As a scandalized Angelica looks on, Mist yelps at her to get down, and asks
what the heck she's doing in the Darius-verse.  She harkens back to their
days on Bezzard, a bunch of guerilla fighters facing torrents of enemy fire
and orbital bombardment besides.  The surviving warriors made their way to
space to try to plan their next move, only to see their planet enveloped in a
bright light.  Mist ended up on Earth, while Sheldia ended up in the Darius-
verse instead.  While Mist hasn't seen any other Bezzardians yet, the fact
Sheldia's still alive and well should give him some hope.  And the fact that
Sheldia bumped into Mist when Suspage activated her unit on short notice must
mean that the two of them are truly joined by fate.

That's a bit of a leap of logic, especially given that she's been clinging to
Mist all this time.  Before Mist can even _speak_ "My god, how long have you
been there?!?", Kenji, Shizuka and the rest of the massive crowd in the hangar
tell him to A) get a clue, B) get a life, C) get a _room_, and D) get the hell
out of the way of the mecha maintenance.  As Mist manages to pry her off,
Angelica calmly asks for an introduction.  Somewhat _too_ calmly, in fact: as
Mist repeats his brief explanation that Sheldia saved his life back on Bezzard,
Ana's pet minks are quivering like jelly.  Angelica doesn't want a "brief"
explanation: she wants a "thorough" explanation, and the only explanation that
Van can come up with is that she must be hungry.  OBVIOUSLY that's it in
Joshua's book: everyone knows that hunger makes people grumpy!  On behalf of
you the audience, Carmen heaves a _massive_ sigh [easier when you have a
massive chest to heave it from ^^;;;]

Mist introduces Angelica to Sheldia next, and it turns out that both women
are now orphans.  In Angelica's case, that's due to her father's (failed)
suicide attack, counting on Mist to see the day through, a fact which Mist
confided to Sheldia during his initial convalescence on Bezzard.  It doesn't
help to have Sheldia recount the incident, with a "gosh, that sucks" tacked on
at the end.  Turns out Mist left out that detail when telling Angelica of her
father's demise, and what Mist gets is a slap across the face and a
proclamation that she never wants to see his lying face again.  Angelica rushes
off, and Mist rushes off after her, leaving the other pilots to wonder just how
clueless about social graces someone has to be to utter what Sheldia did.
Carmen is probably right when she notes that there's nothing worse than the
whole "out of the mouths of babes" phenomenon.  Sheldia doesn't like the
"babes" bit -- she indignantly states that she's all of 17.  That comes as a
shock to Wendy, who figured Sheldia to be around her age (13).  Shocked, 
Sheldia asks if she really looks that much like a little kid.  Lee won't swear
to the "little" moniker, but he doesn't figure her for 17 in any case: I mean,
just look at Tsubaki.  Or better yet, look at Anna.  Rather than take all
this verbal abuse, Sheldia runs off in a huff, as someone maybe 14 might.  One
thing seems certain: Mist's already arduous life just got a lot more arduous
yet.  Kotona actually wants to place bets on which girl ends up closer to him,
a somewhat cruel notion that not all the women are averse to joining.  Anna
muses about the possibility of a love triangle, then says happily that that's
got nothing to do with her and her hubby Gou.  Which totally isn't
foreshadowing of any kind.  Nor is it when she says she _totally_ wouldn't 
forgive him if there was another woman in his life, and he _totally_ says
there's no need to worry.  Subtlety, what's that?

Let's change channels away from Days of Our Lives and see how Norza is doing.
Sucky.  Even in short spurts, Gaiking's true power is far more than Norza's
Dorman can handle.  He orders Cain to research every last angle about what they
saw today, and figure out a way to outfit him with even greater power himself.
Surely, SURELY vengeance will be his!!


11A. No Hope for Gaiking, Part 1

Mist manages to chase Angelica down, desperately trying to explain himself.
His previous account of her father's gallant death isn't wrong as such: it
all happened right when they had the enemy commander cornered.  A new
challenger appeared, whose strength was immediately obvious to the seasoned
commander.  Realizing that the two of them stood no chance, the commander made
a fateful decision to redline his mech and press ahead alone.  Mist lost
consciousness soon after, but the last things he saw were a) the commander
failing to take the enemy down, and b) the commander giving it a damn good
shot anyway.  She thinks this to be a lie, since the Revlias has no known
mechanism to build up enough energy to self-destruct.  Mist thought he
recalled the enemy saying something about that, but Angelica's main objection
is that her father would never go and try to get himself killed.  Mist knows
that every bit as well as she does, after all the training the guy
administered, and tells Angelica plainly he has no idea why her father did what
he did.

Angelica thinks she's heard enough, but Carmen a.k.a. the Voice of Reason(tm)
disagrees.  She points out that Mist is far too flustered to be putting one
over on her, and firmly hauls Sheldia away before she can interrupt.  Angelica
deigns to hear Mist out in deference to the older woman, warning him sternly
that depending on what he has to say, she may well never forgive him.  In very
subdued tones for him, Mist says that he's not seeking her forgiveness.  He
owns up to not telling her of her father's (apparent) suicide attack when she
first asked him, fearful that the revelation would abruptly turn their
reunion into enmity.  I mean heck, can Angelica really tell him with a straight
face that she wouldn't have been pissed like now?  No, actually she can't.

What she can do now is ask about that enemy her father sought to face: 
something so unlike any mech Mist ever saw that he suspects that it was
biological.  He tells Angelica that he had prepared himself to die, when her
father said that the Revlias had the power to defeat the thing.  What he
screamed at the enemy next Mist didn't catch, but Mist clearly saw the Revlias
surrounded by a golden aura as it charged in.  Nothing in the Revlias' specs
can account for the power output it displayed, but the effect didn't last
long enough to finish the foe off.  Scared though it was temporarily, the foe
regained its composure, and the last thing Mist remembered before waking up in
a Bezzard hospital was being surrounded by a white light.

In short, Mist didn't actually witness her father die as such.  On the other
hand, it seems doubtful he could have survived long after all the damage his
mech sustained.  All this happened a year ago, and Mist apologizes for not
coming out with it sooner.  Angelica has a lot to digest, and the part about
her father knowingly doing something suicidal doesn't click for her.  But
Mist was correct all along when he described her father as gallant to the end.
She asks Mist to leave her alone for a while to think, to try to understand
what was going through her father's head, and to ponder what it was he could
have been yelling.  Mist honors her wish and leaves.

From just out of sight, Carmen has been listening in on the whole exchange.
Sheldia pouts that Carmen told her to leave the two of them alone, and Carmen
admits that she can't _not_ listen in on private chit-chat.  Being an info
merchant for long will do that to you, she guesses.  Sheldia isn't going to
call the kettle black where it comes to violating other people's privacy,
and there may be a friendship in the works between the two ladies.  The problem
will be relations between Mist and Angelica, and what will happen if Sheldia
tries hard enough to re-team up with her former partner.  Though you wouldn't
know it by looking at her, she and Mist have racked up quite a kill count
together.

Back at the dining hall, Ana is wondering what all the fuss was about.
Lioubov tries to hint that Ana wouldn't understand until she grows up, only to
find out that Ana has learned _plenty_ of grown-up stuff while living among the
common people of Yapan's Ceiling.  It's likely Lioubov who doesn't know what
she's talking about, though Ana and her retinue of lynxes don't exactly
resemble the Voice of Experience(tm).  The Zoid pilots introduce themselves
after La Kan gets his niece to simmer down, and Ana notes that they and she got
thrown together with the Daikuu Maryuu under very similar circumstances.  After
La Kan excuses them all, Lioubov huffs over Mii's lack of respect for
authority.  Ana however is mature enough to know that titles like hers count
for nothing here.  Oh, how magnificent!  Plus, that La Kan guy seems to have
tickled Lioubov's fancy...

Le Mii certainly doesn't make for the most devoted mechanic when she's in a
bad mood.  Ruuji tells her her uncle will be peeved when he hears she's
skipping out on work, and she shouts back that he's got another think coming
if he thinks La Kan's name is enough to make her do something.  She is in fact
far pissier than usual, and a somewhat startled Ruuji asks her what the deal
is.  She snaps back that it's none of his business, and warns that if he
keeps following her around, she's gonna fix him so he physically can't.  At
about this point, Daiya sticks his head out into the hall and tells them to
pipe down in the public hallway.

Daiya is now the Voice of Reason(tm), though it takes him a moment to remember
the Zoid pilots' names.  He gets Le Mii to explain why she's so mad: Ana is
_waaaaay_ too put together for a little girl, and Mii got called "rude" in
front of her by her uncle.  Well EXCUSE MII if she wasn't raised well like a
princess and shit.  Hmph!  Well, what's wrong with that, Daiya asks -- Mii
shouldn't try to be Ana, but rather herself.  This is a major revelation of
some kind, even though Mii admits that she didn't follow half of Daiya's little
speech.  Maybe it's the confidence and conviction in Daiya's words that did
the trick; if so, Ruuji now knows who he has to be more like if he wants any
chance with his volatile girlfriend.

Back to the bad guys.  Just who does Proist think he is, ordering Norza to
put in an appearance like some bag boy at Safeway.  Same goes for Suspage,
who would rather be futzing with his mecha in preparation for the next round
with Daikuu Maryuu.  Proist says outright that he's about to go wipe out
Gaiking, sparking immediate ridicule from the other commanders.  Norza
maintains that only he can extinguish Gaiking's flames, but what if those
flames could be neutralized instead?  That's what Emperor Darius XVII is
talking about, and tells Proist to reveal his masterpiece: Rougelude!  This
mysterious stone, capable of sealing Gaiking's flames away, is what he's
been so busily digging up (in secret, no less).  The plan requires the
addition of Magnetic Force to fly, and that's where a mysterious collaborator
comes in.  Proist seems very very confident as he heads off to battle, and
Vestarnne has to wonder precisely what it is he means to do.

Back at the ranch, Rosa isn't the only one dismayed that Garis is going to
fetch Deke.  Pulia is aghast, Lulu is terrified, and Kouji is confused as
hell.  Just who is this dude anyway?  Pulia says that the bastard ought to be
left forever with the monster Machines in Zanguile.  But before she can
elaborate, Daiya shows up, apparently recovered after his little unscheduled
nap.  He wants to know what all the fuss is about (again), and Lee explains
that Deke Alkein is a very gifted, very unstable pilot.  The guy is a noted
womanizer and inveterate gambler, and in general has given the rest of the
Daikuu Maryuu crew nothing but trouble.  Pulia also maintains that he's the
Grim Reaper, and wouldn't hesitate to shoot a friend in the back.

Who should step on the scene at that moment but Deke himself.  For the record,
that shot he took at Pulia was aimed at a bad guy who was about to ream her
over.  He says he knew her capabilities well enough to trust her to dodge.
Pulia is now out for blood, and orders Deke to stand still so she can rearrange
his face -- which gets kiboshed by Rosa and Garis stepping on the scene.  As
Deke marvels over all the pretty new faces, Kenji mutters that Deke's aura
certainly doesn't seem all that safe to be around.  He isn't, in fact, as
evidenced by how he starts hitting on everything without a "Y" chromosome in
sight... even including the musclebound Saotome, who actually buys it.
Shizuru's Cool And Nihilistic(tm) powers are strong, and she takes a rather dim
view of such superficial womanizing... as do both Koujis.  Gou maintains that a
real man should be reserved and let the stature of his back speak for him, but
Anna thinks to herself that a girl can get awfully lonely if a guy's back is
all she sees of him.  (A girl like her, for instance: her expression is
downcast enough that Milly notices easily).

All "socializing" aside, it's Daiya that Deke really wants to see: the one and
only man Garis ever entrusted the Gaiking to.  That, and he's got a "regret"
aboard the Daikuu Maryuu, which may have something to do with Lulu.  Garis
orders Lulu to process Deke's reinstatement, and to unlock the Killjagger's
armaments.  When she hesitates, Deke asks if she's still mad at him, adding
almost as an afterthought that it's not like a single kiss will kill her.

Garis has his work cut out for him getting his very individualistic pilots to
agree to team battle formations.  He assures them all that unless they hang
together and ready themselves for the impending Jama showdown, they will
most definitely hang separately.  Lee agrees, saying that there are perils
coming down the pike that individual superstardom won't beat.  Deke never
thought he'd hear that out of Lee's mouth.  Gainer asks to be part of this
team practice, having hit upon tactical inspiration of his own while 
recuperating.  Kyou also tells Kenji to participate: his current skills aren't
going to be enough to use the new weapons waiting back at Build Base (whoa,
what new weapons??)  Fortunately Kenji doesn't mind practice, and the thought
of getting stronger sits well enough with him.  Faster combination attacks
will make a good start.  Ruuji will also get to hone his skills, as will
Sheldia under Mist's tutelage (she wants to get good enough to support him
as fast as possible).  Other units aside, Rosa is sure that Deke in the
cockpit spells trouble -- trouble that Garis sees as worth betting on.

The training consists of team-on-team battle.  Lee is one of the leaders, and
is ordered to think of the other team as though they were real Darius forces.
No sooner does Lee order his forces into formation flight than Deke disrupts
the formation, which he claims isn't suited to his Killjagger.  The whole
thing rapidly gets into a terrible jumble, not helped any by the fact that
Daiya and Pulia aren't (yet) the world's greatest pilots.  Rosa is forced to
halt the exercise, as Pulia fumes that she'll never be able to team up with
this guy.  Daiya has a better approach, asking why Deke isn't cooperating
with the rest of the squad.

Deke says that there are plenty of times where forcing people to try to get
along just doesn't work.  What matters is making it through an actual battle...
and a little frission among teammates may actually help motivate the team.
He sees battle entirely as a game, and voluntarily came to the Darius-verse
for the sorts of thrills he can't get on the Surface.  That's just crazy talk
in Daiya's view, but Deke tells Daiya that he seems equally odd to him.  Like,
what's the point of tagging along behind your father so faithfully that you
go to war over it?  Parents and children are separate beings, _especially_
fathers and sons.  The kind of family that Daiya must have is a far more
alien world to Deke than the Darius-verse.  By this point, even Daiya can't
bring himself to fight alongside this guy.  Deke seemed to expect this all
along, and Tatsuya is tired enough of hearing Deke run his mouth that he's
prepared to deck him on Daiya's behalf.  Until...

...the Darius army show up.  Kenji looks like he'll have trouble remaining
in control, and Pulia is bound and determined to show just how well she can
fight without some crummy teamwork.  Deke actually sounds entertained by that.
Garis grants permission to fight, but warns everyone not to push it until
the Daikuu Maryuu itself catches up.

  Proist allows the fracas to continue briefly before springing his trap: the
  Graneps!  This studly looking monster is a "Hyper-Ironbeast", created by
  analyzing how all the previous ones fared.  Daiya thinks this is some kind
  of trick, but something about it catches Deke's eye.  He hastily radios in
  to Lulu and asks if she can feel anything strange about the new foe, and
  upon reflection she recognizes something similar to that flaming power she
  felt before.  Only this time, it's not flames she feels: it's fear itself!
  She shouts for everyone, especially Daiya, to flee away from the Ironbeast,
  and he agrees when Pulia announces she can shoot the thing down herself.
  Deke is... unimpressed.

  The Daikuu Maryuu arrives on the scene at about that point, but Angelica
  doesn't sortie.  Rosa explains that she's been placed on standby due to
  "mental instability".  The bad feeling Lulu is having doesn't lessen when all
  the reinforcements are in position, and Garis can only hope that something
  really bad isn't about to happen.  Something really bad?  Happen?  What would
  the odds of _that_ be?

  Unity.  Proist dispatches more of his goons to glomp Gaiking, giving the
  Graneps time to zap Daiya with... something.  Whatever it is freezes Gaiking
  on the spot, shutting down all its systems so Proist can conveniently cart
  the mech back home (with Daiya still aboard, of course).  Until there's a
  plan to counter this fearsome new foe, there's no point in simply charging
  off in hot pursuit, as Garis and Sakon point out to the troops.  Oh, the
  angst!

Proist certainly earned some brownie points with the Emperor, though he's
happy to admit that the lion's share of the credit goes to his shadowy
accomplice.  Aww, it was nothing.  The Emperor orders Proist to show Norza and
the others their true master.  Proist is all too happy to remove his damn
mask, having chafed under its weight and under the ruse of rear-echelon
commander for far too long.  To the other commanders' utter shock, it turns
out that Proist is neither a Droid, nor even a man!  Not even a woman either
strictly speaking: Proist sniffs to Norza that she's long since surpassed
sexual differences.  This girl turns out to be the Emperor's own daughter, and
the successor to the throne to boot.  The Emperor orders his commanders to
show her the same loyalty they show him.  Vestarnne and Suspage readily
accede, but Norza is privately having none of this girl(?) being his new
master.

Proist orders Vestarnne to carry Gaiking to Golgothia Hill, where it and its
pilot will be publicly executed tomorrow at dawn.  There's no better place
for the hero of the rebels to meet his end, or for her to gloat about it.
Vestarnne is the cautious one of the bunch, and suggests that they destroy the
immobilized Gaiking right now, lest it have the chance to, like, stage some
heroic comeback.  Proist tells her that she's plenty beautiful enough, but
that she lacks a sense of aesthetics.  Suspage is overjoyed that someone sees
things "his" way, but at that Proist flies into a rage: how the fuck is
anything about his piece of shit ass comparable to her?!?  Even the shady
accomplice seems taken aback by her change of demeanor, and she vows that one
more word out of Suspage will get him chopped into pieces and fed to the
Ironbeasts.  Subsiding as abruptly as she erupted, she tells Vestarnne to
carry out her mission stat.

Back aboard the Daikuu Maryuu, it's time for the blame game.  Deke _warned_
Pulia and the others to stay away, but did they listen?  Nope, and at least
Lee is man enough to admit it.  The team doesn't have to wonder long where
Gaiking has been taken to: the Darius army is broadcasting the execution
announcement to the whole world.  Lee, Kotona and Carmen are surprised to see
just how important the woman Lee let live turns out to be.  Saving Daiya will
require all deliberate speed: rushing in will get everyone killed, but
dawdling will bring dawn all too soon.  Garis and Sakon better come up with
something good, fast.


11B. No Hope for Gaiking, Part 2

The big reveal about Proist has left many questions, but the one Norza wants
answered most is, is she really the Emperor's successor?  Apparently unafraid
of the outburst Suspage faced, he asks the question to her face, and none too
deferentially either.  She takes his doubts remarkably well, and tells him to
come with her for a little sightseeing.  She leads him to an area normally
off limits even to the Four Generals, and opens the door to a large chamber.
Inside, he sees... himself.  It turns out that he was created by copying
Proist's physical body, as a sort of spare parts collection.  The idea is
that, in the event something should happen to Proist, Norza's body will have
its brain removed and be used to host her instead.  As far as she's concerned,
that's the only reason he exists at all.  Norza takes this quite well, by
screaming like a baby.

Garis and Kyou emerge from seclusion with a plan to save Daiya... but it will
only work if all the impatient pilots learn to hold their damn horses.  Sakon
joins them, and explains the plan.  Whatever attack immobilized Daiya must
be formed from two kinds of energy.  One to halt the functioning of the
Hydriude, and the other a powerful magnetic field.  And that's where Jeeg comes
in.  The plan also requires Deke, Lee and Pulia to finally get their teamwork
working, and some help from an eager Ruuji to pierce the defenses that are
sure to encircle the killing grounds.

Before the mission, Lulu pulls Deke aside, and makes him promise her that he'll
rescue Daiya no matter what.  He'll promise that, but with a condition
attached.  It was she who was Deke's other reason for returning to the Daikuu
Maryuu, and he makes her promise in return that if he manages to save Daiya's
bacon, she'll kiss him again.  Deal.

Execution time arrives, and Proist orders Norza to destroy the helpless 
Gaiking.  Norza complies with a shocked meekness that his men have never seen
before, as Proist goes back into psycho hosebeast mode and tells all the
rebels listening that this is what happens when you fuck with her.  All the
nicer then when the Daikuu Maryuu squad crashes the party, vowing to save
Daiya from a fate equalling death.  Lee almost pleads with Deke to work with
the rest of the team, fearing that none of them will live to see tomorrow
otherwise.  This is a major change from Lee's formerly brash persona, and Lee
credits it all to Daiya's influence.  Maybe if they all live through this,
Deke can try being influenced by it too, huh?

Sakon repeats the plan for the benefit of... the player, mainly.  Step one:
fly over to Gaiking and Spin Storm it, disrupting the magnetic field holding
it prisoner.  Step two: the three support planes fly by in rapid succession and
shoot Hydriude Arrows into Gaiking, thereby replenishing its energy.  Angelica
is back in action, ready once more to keep her erstwhile partner from getting
distracted.  Speaking of which, Norza is so totally pussy-whipped that he
doesn't even react to his archnemeses closing in.  His only focus is destroying
Gaiking...

  You can carry out the plan by simply getting Jeeg into position, but that
  would be too boring.  Why not take out Norza before he can take out Gaiking?
  In any case, the Spin Storm works like a charm, and it's the support planes'
  turn.  By this point, Deke is helluva curious about the kid who changed
  Lee's disposition, and vows to make the rescue succeed.  And indeed Gaiking
  gets re-mobilized in no time flat, but the rescue is far from complete.
  Proist _had_ been willing to kill Daiya off quickly and painlessly, but now
  she's going to make him drown in his own blood, the last sounds he hears
  being his own bones snapping.

  She orders Norza into battle, but this time he starts laughing heartily.
  When he regains his breath, he compliments Gaiking on being such a damned
  awesome arch-enemy.  Spare parts or otherwise, he's still a warrior, and
  he's got a newly-developed mech made specifically for Gaiking-whomping. 
  Daiya is only too happy to go for a little payback.

  The payback is going smoothly until Zailin shows up, on the run from the
  Darius forces and amazed to see that Raigar-Type Zoid from way back at the
  village.  Time to steal its Reggel once and for all!  Ruuji is still no
  match for the guy in combat, even with his Metal Zi sword.  La Kan has to
  intervene to keep Ruuji from being slaughtered on the spot, and gets his
  mech immobilized for his pains.  It looks like it's curtains for the old guy,
  but just then Ruuji discovers a power-up, converting his mech into "Hayate
  Raigar" mode.  It's vastly faster than before, and perfect for making Zailin
  rue the day he stuck his nose into Ruuji's village.

  Neither Norza nor Zailin have good excuses for why all their boasting comes
  to exactly bupkis.  At least Zailin is smart enough to realize that he's
  going to need some help if he's to have a prayer of defeating Ruuji.  Daiya
  is very grateful to his rescuers, though Deke tells him the only thanks he
  wants is some stimulation (!!).  And for the record, he was joking about that
  kiss from Lulu -- he doesn't want one under duress, but tells her he'll
  get one by her own will someday.  Daiya wants to know what they're talking
  about, and Lulu, blushing, hustles him back aboard the Daikuu Maryuu.
  Ruuji makes his way back to the ship as well, as confused as everyone else
  about how he transformed his mech under duress.  Even the name "Hayate" just
  kind of popped into his head on the spur of the moment...

Proist certainly isn't daunted that her little plan went awry: she's got lots
more where that came from!  As she orders her subordinates to follow, both
of them fret about this nasty turn of events.  Vestarnne is scared to death
because she can't figure out what Proist is thinking, while Suspage is scared
to death because Proist seems to like Vestarnne better than him.  Norza is
just generally pissed with her.

Thanks all around for the Daiya rescue, which among other things has brought
the team closer together than ever.  Ruuji hasn't gained any insight into his
mech's mysterious transformation and color change in the last five minutes.
He knows full well that he's got a lot of work to do before he can control
such changes at will, and looks forward to La Kan training him hard.  La Kan
privately suspects that Ruuji's skills will surpass his own in short order,
and can only hope that an even better teacher will turn up in time.

It doesn't take long for fallout from the failed execution to hit the airwaves.
The picture shows Norza kneeling in front of a winged girl who is named
Darius XVII's successor.  She announces that the army will be sortying for
Earth presently, thanks to technology from an Outworlder collaborator of hers.
They now have interdimensional gate technology, something far more powerful
than Death Cross Points.  She concludes the broadcast by daring the Daikuu
Maryuu to come and try to stop her, and no sooner is the broadcast over than
Lulu detects a massive outpouring of ships from Arkholland.  They're headed
for a big energy distortion, presumably the Gate, and the Daikuu Maryuu has to
head off in hot pursuit lest all these forces have an unobstructed path to
Earth...

...which seemingly is what the bad guys want, as they create another
dimensional gate right in the Daikuu Maryuu's path.  Can't avoid it, gotta
drive right through it.  The ship appears on the other side more or less
intact (unless you count Mist bumping his head).  Believe it or not, the Daikuu
Maryuu has actually made it back to Earth, kind of.  More precisely, it's on
the Moon's surface.  To the extent that this is the same dimension as the
invading Darius army is headed for, this actually gives the Daikuu Maryuu a
chance to intervene.... which seems odd if the bad guys are the ones calling
the dimensional transfer shots.  What are they thinking, anyway?  And why the
_Moon_ of all places?


12A. Wriggling "Shadow", part 1

Apart from a few bumps and bruises, the Daikuu Maryuu and its passengers are
still in one piece.  The Otherworlders tagging along for the ride are 
evidently in some kind of uproar over being on the Moon, since despite having
_mecha_ they apparently lack anything akin to Kennedy-era space technology.
Sayaka and friends have their hands full quelling the panic, leaving Garis
and the calmer heads to plot their next move.  OF COURSE there's lots of
EM interference, so it's impossible to tell if this Moon matches up with the
original Earth by simply contacting Dannar Base.  Lulu can't swear that the
interference is deliberate jamming, but whatever the cause, the entire Moon
seems to be enveloped in EM fields strong enough to isolate it radio-wise from
the outside world.  The effect is so severe that Lulu can't even pinpoint
where it's coming from, but there's general agreement that whoever's generating
this kind of noise must be up to no good.

Never fear though: Angelica's Celius should be shielded well enough to track
down the transmitter.  That means Mist going along for support, and Sheldia
tagging along... just 'cause.  Most of the other mecha aren't really airtight,
so they won't be going anywhere for a while... a fact which takes Kenji quite
some time to comprehend.  And even if made airtight, formidable mechs like the
Godannar won't measure up to specifically spacefaring mecha like Cosmobase's
Cosmodriver.  Only a few other units, such as King Gainer and Dann, could
conceivably join in right away, and Dann is contingent on Van deciding he's
in the mood (which in turn relies on him not wandering around without
permission -- there's dangerous stuff aboard this ship!)  Shizuru is fast on
the gossip circuit, and wonders if it's really best to let Mist and his two
would-be girlfriends sortie on the same mission, and Garis says he believes
Mist and Angelica, at least, aren't the sort to let personal emotions interfere
with their missions.  Sheldia is more of a wild card, but with his usual skill
Garis has "delegated" responsibility for her to Mist.  Heck of a way to weasel
out, huh?

Back in the Darius-verse, mysterious lackey is in touch with mysterious
commander guy, and the news is _not_ good.  Lackey can't believe the Daikuu
Maryuu ended up on the Moon: it certainly wasn't _his_ doing.  As Commander
ought to know, a rookie like him isn't allowed to operate the Gates.
Conversely, Lackey must be well aware of the general plan to have the Darius
Army dispose of the Daikuu Maryuu: there's no way the Commander or his
Assistant would pull something like this.  Neither side of the teleconference
quite believes the other disavowing responsibility, but the Commander is
starting to think it might just be an accident.  A _what_?  Yeah, an accident:
the Gate device has been acting up lately, what with all the mass teleportation
of Darius troops.  The Lackey is now more dubious than before, but seems
satisfied enough that the Moon will hold the Daikuu Maryuu... at least long
enough for the Darius and Jama forces to take over the Earth.  He's also
confident that the Daikuu Maryuu can't threaten the lunar base: if they even
find it, his people will be forced to take the Daikuu Maryuu out personally.
Can't have the evil master plan disrupted, now can we?  Phase 2 is slated to
begin immediately once the Earth is taken over, and that means the Commander
better fix that damn Gate device pronto.

Back to the Daikuu Maryuu's mess hall, where Fry Me To The Moon isn't cutting
the mustard so well.  In the world where the Overmen are from, lunar travel
is something that only the very well-read, like Ana, would even glimpse in
the surviving history texts from before the Cataclysm.  In "modern" times,
spaceflight is basically unthinkable.  But that's nothing compared to Dann,
which always seems to come when Van calls it from its satellite cradle...
_even_in_the_Darius-verse_.  Gadved once explained to Van how that works, but
he's long since forgotten.  In any case, it falls once again to Ana to keep
everyone calm about the spaceworthiness of the Daikuu Maryuu and the status
of plans to return them all home.

At least there's something the pilots can do besides sitting around and getting
on each other's nerves: mod their mecha for space.  The prospect of Zero-G
combat has brought Gainer out of his room in a positively excited state: just
imagine the new gaming techniques he could discover by fighting weightless!
Unlike the dour Sara, Gainer's got the faux positive thinking going: no way
would any of them be experiencing this had they not joined the Exodus.  He's
actually worried about how to rescue Cynthia, and thinks being positive is the
only way to make that happen.  Carmen pledges that she and the others will
sit still and have some tea, though when Joshua says he can't visualize her
doing that, she offers to slug him instead.  The kid will probably never get a
clue for the rest of his life.

Apparently that "Commander" guy is named Espair, so named by one of his
subordinates who informs him that the Ziggurat is ready to be transported.
Espair tells him to get on with it: that thing should enable the invaders to
topple Earth in three days flat.  The subordinate asks if he should like, you
know, _test_ the thing first, and after a moment Espair hits upon "testing"
it by executing this Virtualoid spy MARZ had snooping around his base.  As
the subordinate trots off to get things ready, Espair does have to wonder what
a Virtualoid is doing in this world -- as far as he knows, only a certain
three people cooperating with him are able to freely come and go from MARZ's
home plane.  And "that" item is also under his people's total control.  Weird
stuff keeps happening near his most sensitive bases...

It's taking some time for Angelica to pinpoint the emission source, which seems
to be moving around at random.  At least her mech's avionics themselves are
functioning properly.  In due course, she spots the telltale signature of
something using a Stealth System to hide its presence, much like the Daikuu
Maryuu's Illusion Protect.  While Angelica tries to figure out where it's
coming from (somewhere close by is the initial read), Sheldia pouts that Mist
never taught her enough to be helpful in a situation like this.  All he taught
her was what it feels like to fight, and to be ga-ga over someone.  Both Mist
and Angelica tell her to quit joking around while on duty, and explain that
Angelica is normally in tactical command when she and Mist are working
together.

It takes a team effort to keep Angelica and Sheldia from going for each other's
throats, even given that Angelica knows full well how much Sheldia provokes
her.  Mist patiently explains this Stealth System stuff in, as Sheldia herself
puts it, small words so she can understand.  The signature Angelica detected
means that someone, somewhere nearby is trying to hide something.  Now,
suppose that someone is the same entity responsible for the Daikuu Maryuu
getting unceremoniously teleported here.  Why would they teleport their
enemies right next to something they obviously don't want their enemies to
find?  And even if the enemy wanted to set some kind of trap to make the
Daikuu Maryuu let down their guard, there's no point in using _this_ stealthy
a Stealth System.  Never mind the fact that this Moon-wide EM interference is
suspicious in its own right: why deliberately use stealth and then paint a
big neon sign saying ABNORMALITY over top of it?

It points to the deployer of the stealth and the deployer of the EM field
being different people... and for all Angelica knows, the teleporter of the
Daikuu Maryuu may be neither of them.  Or perhaps they're the same
organization, but with a traitor... or some kind of malfunction...  One can
imagine many scenarios, but there's no data for now to pick among them.

Just then dimensional distortion appears at 12 o'clock.  There's a flash of
light, revealing a platoon of the same mecha that savaged Atreem.  They've
got a Sergeant Hatter chained up and are busy blowing the shit out of him...
and apparently doing little more than causing some minor pain.  Sheldia can't
stand the sight of this robot being tormented, and heedless of Angelica and
Mist's admonitions to hold her horses, she charges from cover and yells for
the bad guys to stop.  She gets blasted by the Ziggurat's massive main gun,
and if not rescued quickly is going to be demolished in short order.

  [Mist can either rush over on his own to rescue her, or he can cooperate
  with Angelica.  Among other things, this determines which batch of Hirai
  Hisashi-designed characters you unlock.  Angelica is Gundam Seed and
  Sheldia is Fafner.  I opted for the Angelica.]

Sheldia's mech is far more damaged than she's willing to admit, so she gets
sent back to the Daikuu Maryuu to summon reinforcements.  She asks what to
do if the bad guys attack, and he tells her to focus on defending herself as
much as possible.  As for Espair's forces, they're about to get a full dose
of Mist's vengeance.

  Assistance is not long in coming.  As the team gets used to their first
  battle in space, Mist explains that these are the very same people who
  trashed his homeworld.  Garis decides that a frontal assault is about the
  only way to make progress under the circumstances.  He also decides to roll
  the dice on rescuing Hatter, warning the troops that the sort of foes who
  could destroy whole planets probably have a trick or two up their sleeves.

  The Ziggurat can't be all that bad-ass, since the Daikuu Maryuu squadron
  demolishes it in a matter of minutes.  The enemy commander, who Mist really
  wants, is nowhere to be found, and there's no time to try to pursue the
  retreating foe.  Sheldia rushes over to repair Hatter, who's extremely
  grateful for the assist.  Hatter warns that the bad guys are likely to be
  back soon, and Garis orders the Daikuu Maryuu to fall back to a valley he
  passed on the way here: a good place to hide out.

Hatter introduces himself as a MARZ agent and a Virtualoid, neither of which
anyone has heard of before.  Indications are that he's from some other world,
but he didn't get here in a puff of white light.  Even weirder is that Hatter
isn't willing to "leave" his mech, citing extra-special top secrecy as the
reason why.  Maybe he's some kind of AI, or brain-in-a-jar, but the Daikuu
Maryuu crew aren't likely to find out any time soon.  Though Hatter's speech is
hard to understand, Lulu and the others eventually pry out that he has indeed
seen some kind of flash of light after all, revealing a bunch of bad guys with
weapons Hatter heard are destined to be teleported to the Earth.

This must have happened at the nearby enemy base, and although the team's first
impulse is to level the place, saner heads prevail and the mission is
confirmed to be taking the base over, and maybe using its trans-dimensional
gadgetry to send the visitors home.  Hatter is very happy to help, but since
his radio transmitter is busted, he'll have to have the Daikuu Maryuu follow
physically.


12B. Wriggling "Shadow", part 2

Espair is beside himself when he hears of the Ziggurat's destruction and
Hatter's escape.  Why the hell didn't his men _tell_ him any of this was
happening, so he could order them to withdraw before it was too late?  They
claim they couldn't get a hold of him, which is very weird given that the
hotline which would have interrupted his secret research is, theoretically,
still active.  In any case, there's now a very real danger that the Daikuu
Maryuu will discover the lunar base, and that must be prevented at all costs.
Teleporting the pesky dragon away would be an option if the Darius army wasn't
hogging the teleporter right now: cancelling their transit would have
disastrous consequences of its own.  Audibly panicked, Espair orders troops
dispatched to keep the Daikuu Maryuu at bay at least until the current
teleportation is over.

Just then, Espair notices some people lurking in the shadows, some
"collaborators" of his who don't see a need to honor his or anyone else's
privacy.  Their previous mission ended in a big hurry, and they're of a mind
to use that convenient "Hole in the Moon" to go back to their own world and
their master Amber.  Espair distrusts this at once, demanding to know what
they're really sniffing around for.  His people are only cooperating with
their people because their people know about The Item, see?  No, actually.
These collaborators aren't especially impressed and doubt Espair has any
remedy should their alliance dissolve, but Espair reminds them that _his_
people are the ones in control of both the Gate and the Hole in the Moon.
_Maybe_ it's only a matter of time until his people figure out how to control
the rest of It.

The leader of these collaborators tells Deborah and Jennifer to knock it off.
She actually came to talk about going and getting rid of Hatter, lapdog of
the hated MARZ.  They've got some aid they can call on, since the Hole in the
Moon connects to the Moongate.  The collaborator says ominously that there are
plenty of blood-starved undead waiting to wander through, maybe so many that
the collaborators won't have to lift a finger.  They head off for battle, and
Espair figures he can at least use them to buy time to retask the Gate.  A
good plan, but what worries him is that bit about "wandering in" through the
Hole... one which is supposed to be shut to all commerce unless his people
specifically open it.  Strange things afoot at the Circle K...

Hatter explains to the Daikuu pilots that MARZ is a special forces squadron
created to keep the peace on the Martian Front.  See, the Martian Front had
been the site of a sort of limited war, carried out for amusement in the age of
cybernetics.  Unfortunately, the Jovian Successor War wreaked havoc on order on
the Martian Front, and vicious criminals seized their opening for mayhem.
Closing that opening is what MARZ does, at the risk of their own metal necks.

From all the data gathered so far, the blinding flash of light that ushered
Hatter here is different from the light Mist and friends saw during their
dimensional travels.  Sakon is starting to wonder if there's a portal from
the Moon to wherever Hatter came from, given the Death Cross Points and
Zones the Daikuu Maryuu has already encountered.  The correct order of
operations seems to be: 1) destroy the enemy base, then 2) track down the
dimensional distortion that leads back to Hatter's world.  And maybe 0) fend
off the unknown adversaries who are heading in 12 o'clock.  The closest thing
Lulu has ever seen to their signature is... Hatter.

They are in fact Virtualoids, and Hatter heads out to inquire what organization
they're from.  It's pretty clear from how they smack him around that they're
not from MARZ, and probably instead from SHADOW -- a shady criminal outfit
who uses Virtualoids to perpetrate all kinds of violence.  Hatter warns that
these folks are a lot stronger than they look...

  The enemy Virtualoids seemingly have no pilots, which creeps Ruuji out a
  lot.  La Kan tells him to remind him to fill him in about so-called "wild
  Zoids" when they get back home.

  Several members of the team report feeling "sick" while fighting these foes.
  This surprises Hatter, who presumes there's no danger of Contamination
  without a Converter, but before he can explain the three collaborators
  show up.  Defeating the Shadows raises the Daikuu Maryuu squad a bit in their
  estimation.  They introduce themselves as the Three Rose Sisters: their
  leader Sylvie Fang, Deborah Bite and Jennifer Poison.  Gosh, with names like
  that, there's no they could be, oh I dunno, *dangerous* or anything.  This
  "brood of vipers" are the last people Hatter wanted to run into, but now
  they're here Hatter is brave enough to meet their challenge head-on.

  It becomes quickly evident that the Sisters can't battle the Daikuu mob all
  at once.  They refocus their attack on Hatter, and despite his defiance it
  appears his days are numbered.  That is, until the Dangaioh shows up(!!).
  Its pilot Roll introduces himself and his mech, and he and Mia ask to be
  allowed to fight by the Daikuu team's side.  The Earth is in peril!  It's
  not clear what to make of this, until the Godannar folks spy the Cosmodiver,
  piloted by none other than Rue.  Gou and Shizuru hastily tell the young
  girl to retreat inside that big dragon-shaped thingie where it's safe, and
  she complies quietly.

  Unbeknownst to the Daikuu squad, Sylvie and sisters aren't actually fighting
  for real -- they're fighting for show, to keep certain "allies" of theirs
  from suspecting what they're really up to.  Sylvie's already garnered most
  of the interesting info from the base: what she still hasn't found is the
  location of a certain Missing Object from cyberspace.  And, since the Sisters
  were outnumbered before, they're even more outnumbered now -- time for a
  strategic advance to the (armor-plated) rear.  No sooner do they bail than
  Gil Berg comes out of hiding on a mission to send Mia to Hell.  Wait, who's
  this guy again?  Gil won't let anyone say they've forgotten him, yet _also_
  won't explain what he's doing here now.

  ...Which is not to say he's operating with a free hand.  Getting here from
  the Darius-verse required using the Gate, and _that_ means lousing up the
  teleportation of the main army.  An immensely pissed-off Espair gets on the
  horn and informs him that a whole cohort of Darius forces just got lost
  somewhere in the space between dimensions.  Tough shit, Gil fires back,
  and then hangs up on the pointy-toothed guy before he can get chewed out any
  further.  Gil has been visualizing this moment through years of neglect,
  humiliation, and generally getting done up the ass by the Universe.  Think
  of Mike Tyson's first punch back in the ring, except if Mike Tyson didn't
  even have a video game about him.

  Also remember that Mike Tyson went from global icon to Bolivion in a very
  short and violent period.  Gil is headed down the same path thanks to the
  hurting the Daikuu team puts on him.  Yet he's not only still smiling, he
  opines that the Dangaioh wouldn't be worth eviscerating if it wasn't this
  strong.  He also has "good" news for Mia: his invasion of Earth is well
  underway... and not as part of the Bunker, which no longer even exists.  He's
  joined another, equally evil, criminal syndicate in a bid for vengeance.
  He's itching to see Mia's face at what's happening to her homeworld, and
  Pai orders him to shut his pervert piehole stat.  Gil's real objective is
  to lay waste to the Earth, and then kill Mia after she's gotten a good look
  at the results.

Tough sell.  Gil summarily vanishes into thin air, and it takes a moment
before Hatter realizes he should be chasing the Sisters if he wants to find
his way home.  He also needs to get word of the Ziggurat, the Shadow, and the
Sisters to command.  What the hell is happening on the Moon, anyway?  So
saying, he rushes off with a final word of thanks to his new comrades.  The
Dangaioh team then explain what they were doing with Rue: they found her
adrift in space and rescued her.  Gou invites the Dangaioh crew back to the
Daikuu Maryuu to say proper thanks and to find out more about them.  Goodness
knows the Dangaioh pilots would love the chance to stretch their legs...

For those not old-school enough to remember, Roll explains that Dangaioh is
a 4-unit combiner mech.  It's currently in bad repair and can't properly
fight when split up, but that's hardly a limitation given the cumulative might
of its four pilots.  Espers all, they actually provide Dangaioh's real
propulsion, which would seem really neato if not for the fact that the
Daikuu squad already features aliens and other-dimensional folk.  Okay, what
about aliens _with_ Esper powers?  Now _that_ is cool, especially given all
the spandex apparently involved ^_^  Okay, so technically Mia isn't an alien
since, as previously mentioned, she's from Earth.

So, uh, what's an Earthling Esper doing with alien Espers, in a ginormous AND
busted-ass mech?  In space?  'K, so this scientist called Tarsan, right,
invents all these deathweapons and sells them galaxy-wide, right?  And like
there's these space pirates called "Bunker", who like bought all the Espers...
Whoa, hold up: Space. Pirates.  That's like as in, Captain Harlock and Queen
Emeraldas kind of space pirates, right?  Wrong.  But lest you think that a
cosmos-trotting weapons merchant must be a bad guy, bust out your copy of 
Iron Man and remember that some people just need the right life-threatening
situation to discover their innate goodness.  Tarsan in fact sacrificed his
own life to save the Dangaioh crew, who he only kidnapped in the first place
because of Bunker pressure.

The Bunker were reportedly a massive outfit, so even Dangaioh's defeating
Admiral Garimos shouldn't have entirely pulled the rug out from under them.
If so, how is it that the Bunker no longer exists?  Gil probably betrayed the
whole lot of them, and if the Bunker really are gone, the Dangaioh team are
going to feel pretty stupid about all the sneaking around they've been doing
to avoid reprisal.  Oh, and since Kouji and Gou asked, Pai explains that Roll
is somewhat schizophrenic: mild-mannered and kind of puny in person, fearsome
and psychotic when in the cockpit.  _Manly_ when in the cockpit, is Mia's
view, though Gou tells him he'd best keep his wits about him if he doesn't want
to commit some sort of grievous error in battle.  Roll will try to remember
that.

Now, some might be wondering what the Dangaioh was doing near the moon.  Mia
sensed that the Earth Was In Danger(tm), seeing a vision of a vast shadow
swallowing the Earth.  She does seem to have some precognitive abilities, 
though like Lulu she can't entirely control them.  Could the voices of
billions of people, crying out for help, have somehow reached Mia's mind?
Good question.  The prospect of aliens piloting mechanical giants has Kyou
pensive as he stares at Kenji.  That couldn't mean anything, now could it.
Anyway, Dangaioh hasn't made it to Earth yet (due to rescuing Rue), but Gil
is a scary enough dude that his enmity alone might just be able to trash the
place.

Garis has to decide what his ship should do next, and a lot seems to be
riding on the decision.  To help inform the decision, Mist, Angelica and
Sheldia get sent out again to look for the enemy base, the apparent key to
saving everyone's bacon.  Everyone else is ordered to get some rest, which
calls to mind Rue.  She's been taken to sickbay, suffering from intense
physical and mental exhaustion.

Gou and Shizuru go to check up on her, and although Dr. Franklin would love to
have Rue rest uninterrupted, he knows that she's possibly the only clue that
the team has about the Earth's condition.  He gives Gou and Shizuru five
minutes, and it takes maybe ten seconds to find out that things are far worse
than anyone could have guessed.  Cosmo Base has been annihilated under a
combined assault of Mimetic Beasts and Darius mecha.  Her father put her into
the Cosmodiver and let her escape, and at that thought Rue sits bolt upright
in bed.  Her father is fighting all alone, and she's got to go save him!!
As her frenzy rises and Gou tries to keep her calm, the ship's alarms sound.

Gil's mech has reappeared near the Daikuu Maryuu, making good on a threat to
invite Mia to see the mess his new friends have made of her home.  He opens a
Gate that swallows the Daikuu Maryuu, and as we've seen so many times already,
the Daikuu Maryuu is off to... the Earth.  It ends up floating in the ocean,
a watery return made more watery when Boss's lackeys start crying happy tears.
Reika calls up at once, and tells the Daikuu Maryuu to get back to Dannar
Base on the double.  The world is in serious danger of going kaput.  Hoooo
crapola, not good...


13. Degenerated Earth

Define "crapola".  How about, the green mountains and plains of Japan, turned
into mountains of ash?  Gou, who experienced the War of the Titans at close
range, states flatly that things now are even worse off than they were right
after that War ended.  Saotome growls that even at their most depraved, the
Jama didn't mess things up this badly fifty years ago, sounding like she saw it
firsthand.  When Kenji points this out, she stammers that she just watches a
lot of TV.  Before Kiriko can explain who's responsible, Gil breaks into the
conversation for some quality gloating.  Unusually for archvillains, he only
takes credit for half the death and destruction on behalf of his army of
minions, lackeys, and shadowy co-conspirators.  The other half of the mess the
Earthlings created themselves, when some terrorists dumped the derelict Junius
7 onto the surface.  Disturbing the peace would have been interesting enough
had the Earthlings presented a united front against the invaders, but the fact
that they did most of his work for him has Gil in hysterics.  He makes a grand
show of leaving Mia alive for today to soak up all the angst, vowing again to
spill her guts once they're good and pickled.

Lamentably, Kiriko confirms Gil's grim tale: terrorists were indeed behind the
colony drop, which has resulted in the Federation and Zaft going to war.  The
indiscriminate barrage leveled by the Zaft's mecha army has proved more
damaging yet than the colony itself, and in many cities all known Coordinators
are being publicly executed.  Throw in hordes of desperate, wounded refugees
storming other towns in search of food and you've got one hell of a mess,
going on in the shadow of an impending invasion many people don't even believe
is coming (thanks to a bit of spin doctoring in the media).

Cosmo Base has in fact fallen to the Darius and Mimetic forces, with no (known)
survivors.  Boy does it suck to be Rue right now, and Gou tells Kiriko that
he'll have Franklin try to break the news to her gently.  But there's no
sparing the current crew a certain broadcast by one Gilbert Durandal, supreme
leader of the plants.  With idol sensation Lacus Clyne at his side, he
announces what he calls the real reason why the flames of war aren't subsiding.
Sure, some rogue Coordinators kicked off the whole mess, but the continuing
hatred is being fanned by an ancient cabal of weapons merchants, a pseudo-
governmental group whose exploits include creation of the anti-Coordinator
cult "Blue Cosmos".  This cabal is called Logos, and Durandal vows that they
shall be utterly eliminated by his hand.

Whatever his intent for broadcasting that was, the net result has been massive
splintering of faith in government in general.  It doesn't help that the
list of Logos members includes top politicians from all walks of life, even
including stuff like food production.  In simple terms, no one knows who they
can trust anymore, and many people from Durandal's list have been executed on
the same gallows as the Coordinators.  With little hope of stopping the war
from the Earth side, the next logical stage would be the Coordinators
resorting to weapons like Cyclops and Genesis, which would save the alien
invaders the trouble of killing any more Earthlings themselves.

Mist can't believe how stupid the Earthlings are being, but Shizuru has a more
tangible worry: what's Lacus of all people doing endorsing the Coordinators'
version of the war?  She's been missing ever since joining the Resistance in
a bid to stop the last Earth-Plant war: a war hero of sorts and an idol star
to boot.  Kouji has none of her CDs mainly because he was too busy turning
Dr. Hell's ass inside out at the time, though that's a tale too long to
recount now.  Lacus' former approach was singing songs of peace, staying
strictly neutral and trying to end the fighting as efficiently as possible.
One possible interpretation of her being with Durandal is that she believes
that taking out Logos is the best way to achieve those goals this time around.
Or perhaps her thinking has changed along with her style and musical
sensibilities, around the time she had her "comeback" two years ago.  Or at
least, that's what Tsubaki and Anna's classmates say.  Shizuru finds that
more than a little fishy, but whatever is really going on, the fact is that
Lacus is a powerful amplifier for Durandal's message.

Anyone who stops and thinks for thirty seconds would know that killing off
Logos won't actually end the fighting, but that's thirty seconds the fatigued
hearts of man lack just now.  Mist tries to say that everyone on Earth is a
good person, and they just need a little time to calm down, but the actual
Earthlings assure him that's not the case.  Frankly, there's nothing the
Dannar Base folks can do to stop the Earthlings fighting each other.  Instead,
what they can and _must_ do is fend off the aliens instead.

Full explanation of where the Daikuu Maryuu has been will have to wait, but
with Gou back there's at least some hope of reestablishing Japan's defenses.
Even the best efforts of Japan's government won't maintain order long
otherwise.  Unfortunately, there are also plenty of Earthlings who just want
the Daikuu Maryuu's firepower as grist for their own warmongering, and one
of them has been monitoring Kiriko's transmissions.  He makes it clear to
Kiriko that her excuse for not helping his ass, that she's low on warpower,
just disappeared.  He demands that all that warpower join up with the
"Federation", but Kiriko sees that as a transparent lie to incorporate them
into Logos.  So what if it is, asks Road Jibril: Logos and the Feds are both
about protecting the Pure Blue Earth(tm) from Zaft invasion.  To her credit,
Kiriko has no intention of buying the insane rhetoric Road and Hester pile up
about why the Coordinators should be targeted with at least as much vigor as
the real aliens.  She'll gladly help fend off actual invaders, but she'll be
damned if she assists in Logos' Coordinator witchhunt.  And if that means
being put on the Federation's shitlist, she's willing to do that too.

Rather than raging against these childlike-morons in control of the Federation,
who won't listen to anyone's opinion but their own, she finds herself almost
pitying them.  There's no way the Federation can be salvaged with its guiding
intellectual processes on pause like this.  All the same, it does mean the
Daikuu Maryuu might get attacked by the regular army, or Jibril's private
militia the Phantom Pain.  Anna asks her mom to cook up some tasty stuff for a
big welcome-home party, and although the world teeters on the brink of ruin,
Kiriko muses that there's probably at least a little time for that.  In any
case, it all depends on the Daikuu Maryuu making it back to base first, and
hopefully when they get there they can do something to lift Rue's spirits.
She hasn't emerged from the infirmary since hearing the news of her father's
demise, and she seems like the kind of person to take that awful hard....
Le Mii went through the same thing herself, so maybe she'll make a helpful
conversation partner...

In the mess hall, Princess Ana is allowing herself a small sigh, admitting to
Gainer that she misses her father dreadfully.  It's all very well to encourage
others to keep a stiff upper lip, but practicing what one preaches can be all
too hard at times like this.  Gainer tells her she's well within her rights to
shed a tear or several, and assures her she'll see her father again one day
(if he's still alive, that is).  Rue has been listening in on the
conversation, but instead of bemoaning her own situation, she presses Ana to
tell her about her father.  Duke Medaiyu is the ruler of Ulgsk Domepolis, and
a noted antiquities collector.  As Ana starts going into detail, Sara shows up
and tells Gainer that she's glad Ana and Rue are hitting it off this well.
She asks if Gainer himself is pained by all this talk of family, but two
months has been enough for Gainer to finish grieving over his parents' deaths.
Mind you, the first of those two months (well, 27 days anyway) was spent locked
away in his room playing video games, but something productive came out of even
that: Gainer meeting Cynthia.

There's no point in Gainer trying to hide how hung up he is on Cynthia: it
seems like all the pilots in this outfit have some kind of obsession or other.
Sara saying that Gainer's face now resembles the other pilots is a somewhat
backhanded compliment on how he's matured, but he'll take what he can get
these days.  Rue is interested in hearing Gainer's tale in full, hoping to
learn from how he rebounded.  Recap: parents killed by Exodus partisans,
3^3 days spent glued to the screen, comforted by Cynthia and other online
pals.  Gainer figures it's his turn to save Cynthia from a life of fighting
Siberian Rail's battles, without even really realizing what she's doing.  Ana
feigns being wounded that Gainer is fighting for someone other than her,
coaxing a smile from Rue in the process.  It's the first smile she's broken
in ages, and she now knows who her role models are if she's going to get
stronger.

The only one with the short end of the stick here is Le Mii, whose plans to
be the one to comfort Rue have just proven unnecessary.  Drat that Ana anyway!
Daiya shows up and immediately figures out why Le Mii is pouting, getting
Mii to acknowledge that Rue cheering up is the most important thing.  For
now, they'd both better head to the hangar to prepare for the possibility of
Earth Federation attack.  Facing assault by your planet's own government is a
pretty messy subject, and Daiya isn't comfortable talking about it.  He
recommends Ruuji get the full details from Gou later and runs off.  Ruuji has
no clue what's going on on this mixed-up planet, but he does know what to do
when the alarm sounds.

The Federation's mobile suits are wasting no time opening up hostilities, and
Garis reckons that they'd only chase if he tried to flee.  Better to mount a
frontal assault and get it over with.  As it turns out, the Feds aren't looking
for the Daikuu Maryuu per se, but for Dragon Pavilion Island -- which is
hidden under a veil of optical and electromagnetic cloaking.  Moody suggests
opening fire on the countryside and seeing what pops up, and Shamus can't think
of any better approach at this point.  One thing his huge detachment can't
do is go home empty-handed.  Fortunately for the surrounding landscape, the
Daikuu Maryuu shows up at that precise moment.  Unfortunately, Hester phones
up his Phantom Pain troops simultaneously, ordering them to postpone the
Dragon Pavilion search in the interest of downing the dragon airship.  Shamus
is all for shooting something down, but Michio warns him not to get too
carried away out there.

The Phantom Pain troops are unmoved by appeals to attack the alien invaders
before one's fellow man: the aliens are someone else's problem.  The Phantom
Pain is after the Coordinators and their collaborators, and although the Daikuu
Maryuu pilots can't exactly recall becoming the Coordinators' bed buddies, the
only practical way to reach Dannar Base is through Michio's troops.  Mist is
beside himself with how wrong it is for Earthlings to be fighting each other
like this, but Van has the most realistic take on this mess: whoever is in the
right here, he personally doesn't like how the stuck-up Phantom Pain troops
are doing things.  Reason enough to crush them.

  More bad guys show up on turn 2, catching the Daikuu Maryuu in a pincer
  attack that looks much more threatening than it actually is.  Help comes from
  an unexpected source: Kira, who seems to hate the concept of humans fighting
  even more than Mist does.  He dishes out a massive barrage of beam weaponry,
  at once intriguing and alarming the Phantom Pain.  Some of them know Kira for
  what he is: a Super Coordinator, the most dangerous breed of monster in the
  enemy's arsenal.  At Kira's back is the Archangel, a former Federation ship
  now offering to help save the Daikuu Maryuu's bacon.  Captain Maryuu's got
  Cagalli with her, who isn't entirely thrilled to see the klutzy Mist on the
  battlefield.  Trying to defuse the fight takes priority though, and Cagalli
  tries to use her Orb clout to get the Phantom Pain to stop.  She gets utterly
  dissed in about five seconds, and Kira tells her there's no way she can get
  through to the enemy soldiers at present.  The only option is to prevail by
  force.

  One thing the Phantom Pain excel at is taking a long time to get their ass
  handed to them.  No sooner have the Daikuu Maryuu squad mashed the first
  wave than a second appears, followed by a mystery golden mech that moves more
  like an animal or Overman.  It doesn't really look that fearsome, but
  both Kira and Maryuu cry out for everyone to flee the area.  The golden
  thing is a "Festoom", which the Daikuu squad has no way to combat at present,
  according to Maryuu.  Any doubting Thomases in the crew get rapidly hushed
  up as the Festoom obliterates the nearest Phantom Pain mech, and with no
  real alternative the good guys bail at top speed.  The other Phantom Pain
  units... not so much.

The Festoom are specters from the past, known only to anyone under thirty as
frightening images in a textbook.  History records that the last time they
showed up, they delivered the Earth so severe an ass-handing that a sizeable
portion of Japan's land mass no longer exists (nor, of course, any of the
people situated there at the time).  Apparently some survived the heroic purge
led by the Federation of the day, and are back for more throwdown.  In any
case, the Archangel turns out to have been hiding in Orb for the past two
years, and only recently resurfaced in response to rumors that the Festoom
were rearming.  Explaining further over the radio will take far too long,
especially with how people keep interrupting, so an impatient Cagalli grabs
Maryuu and Kira and hauls them over to the Daikuu Maryuu.


14.

Cue the introductions for Maryuu, Cagalli, and Kira.  Godannar Kouji starts
totally fanboying over the uber-ace Kira, who (as Shizuru tells Gou) deserves
as much of the credit as anyone for stopping the Zaft/Federation war two years
ago.  No one's seen him since he destroyed the Genesis weapon, thanks to him
hiding out in Orb and helping with the Festoom hunt.  The Festoom turn out to
be a silicon-based alien life form bent on assimilating humanity... and by
the way that's "silicon" as in "sand", not "silicone" as in "breast expansion".
They're about as alien as aliens get, and they're hostile: even a self-avowed
dunce like Kenji can grasp that much.  And the fact that Kyou can explain
all this at the drop of a hat is _of_course_ due to his love of book-learning,
and not any kind of first-hand experience or whatnot.  Let's just get that
clear. ^^;;;

No one is quite sure what brought the Festoom back from the brink of ruin, but
it seems to have something to do with the Mimetic Beasts kicking into gear
five years ago.  The residents of Dragon Pavilion Island believe that the
Mimetic Beasts, Dr. Hell's revolt, and the Zaft/Federation war are all
correlated with increased Festoom activity.  Whether the Festoom are cause,
effect, or common-cause remains a mystery.  Now as for this "assimilation"
business: Sakon's read a paper on the subject, and summarizes that Festoom have
the ability to take over other life forms by invading their intellectual
processes.  If that succeeds, the Festoom replaces the host's flesh and blood
with a silicon body, making assimilation complete.  If Anna or anyone else
has any hope of resisting, it lies in making their mind illegible to the 
Festoom.  How, you ask?  That's where the Dragon Pavilion Island team's
"Fafner" mecha come in.

Discussion about those gets cut off by a distress call relayed from the
Archangel: Federation forces are invading Orb from central Eurasia.  They've
destroyed three cities already, and are busy wiping out any civilians they
see on suspicion of involvement with the Zaft.  Mist can barely stand it
any more, and asks if the fact that Earth's representative military engages
in murder reflects the united will of Earth's people condoning murder.
Atreem had a united government like Earth, but there's no way in hell they
would have condoned this... Bezzard too, for that matter, for whose countries
internecine war was but an ancient legend.  Any minor trade squabbles or
whatnot are trivial compared to the Earthlings' wholesale and _habitual_
slaughter of each other, and Mist for one doesn't plan to be made a pawn in it.

Deke cuts in at this point and tells Mist where he can stuff all the nonsense
he's been spouting.  The ultimate goal of any battle is survival, be the
enemy an alien, an Earthling, a friend or even a family member.  The true
meaning of battle is killing the hell out of anyone who seeks to take your
life first.  Mist can't believe a Daikuu Maryuu crew member would say that,
but Deke repeats that in a real battle, with one's life on the line, family
and friendship don't matter a goddamn bit, and Mist's childlike assertions
to the contrary are about to make him puke.  Sheldia yells at Deke to stop
confusing Mist, and with a sardonic farewell Deke strolls off the bridge.

The hamster wheel that is Mist's intellect has apparently shifted gears,
though even Angelica can't tell in what direction.  The more pressing
concern is heading to Orb and stopping the Federation rampage, but as Maryuu
is about to head back to her ship a distress call comes in from Dragon
Pavilion Island -- it's about to come under Festoom attack!  And all this
while the Daikuu Maryuu was supposed to be heading back to Dannar Base...
Luckily, Kiriko phones up at that moment and quickly gets the gist of the
two-headed emergency in progress.  She had hoped that the Daikuu Maryuu
could bolster Japan's defenses sooner rather than later, but both the
Eurasian and Pavilion-ian menaces take precedence.  Kiriko knows Maryuu will be
shorthanded, and offers some of her pilots to help shore up the Archangel's
arsenal.

The division of pilots is announced, and it turns out Angelica gets to go with
the Archangel.  Her hope is to find some ruins in Eurasia that might shed more
light on Earth's culture, assuming she can get shore leave after the fighting
ends.  Maybe she can even find something to settle Mist down.  Meanwhile,
Gou will have to come to terms with having another young girl wanting to fight
by his side -- there's no dissuading Rue given how many other kids on the
team are already combat veterans.  Kyou is also looking forward to learning
more about the Festoom: he tells Kenji there are some things one has to
experience firsthand, not from a textbook.  Secretly, he thinks that the
Festoom he saw today is very different from ones he's familiar with: he must
find out if these silicon life forms are actually capable of independent
evolution...

Mist finds himself in an awkward situation when it turns out his name isn't
on either list.  He tells an overenthusiastic Sheldia that it's the captain's
job to do personnel assignments, and Garis gets to pick which route Mist goes
on.

[You can head to Berlin if you want lots of Gundam stuffs with Angelica (14A),
or to the Dragon Pavilion for Fafner stuff with Sheldia (14B).]

If Mist heads to the Pavilion, Kira and Maryuu tell the team to be sure to
listen to Makabe and Minashiro's advice on fighting the Festoom.  In either
case, someone from the Archangel has to come along for the Daikuu Maryuu to
enter the Pavilion, and Cagalli nominates herself for the role.  The Festoom
must be stopped, and the infighting among the Earthlings must also be
stopped...  Mist just hopes he's able to contribute...


14A. The Light of Separation, Part 1

Shinn and Stella have history together, and part of it is a scene in which
Stella -- utterly unable to swim -- is dancing atop a high cliff overlooking
the sea.  Shinn asks if she's got a deathwish or something, and at the mention
of the word "death" Stella goes all apeshit.  She's deathly afraid of dying
(imagine that), and the only way Shinn can think of to calm her down is to
promise to shield her from this whole dying business.  And the only way to do
_that_, as it turned out much later in their lives, was to give her back to the
very people Shinn initially took her away from: Neo Roanoke and his Federation
men.  In return for handing her over quietly, Shinn extracts a promise that
Stella never be exposed to war or mobile suits or whatnot ever again.

All this comes back to him in a dream, which he has during a nap when he's
supposed to be listening to a briefing on the Minerva's next mission.  Which is
to interdict a bunch of Federation hooligans who are blasting everything in
sight in Berlin.  Rei heard Shinn mumbling Stella's name, and Shinn tells Rei
of his dream: the first time he and Stella met.  Back then, he had no idea she
was a Federation pilot, which he later found out when he saw her lying in the
cockpit of a mech he'd just shot down.  The shock was enough to damn near stop
his heart.

Bold of him to bring an enemy pilot back to the Minerva.  And beyond bold, into
idiocy, to then help her return to the Federation when she bolted.  Rei was
at least silently complicit in the flight, unwilling to see Stella subject to
battery after battery of nefarious experiments.  If not for Durandal's
intervention, both Rei and Shinn would have faced a firing squad; instead,
they're now the star pilots for their battle group, and fellow pilots like
Heine are fairly grateful for it.  Sure, the Coordinators have been fiddling
around with genetics for a while, but Stella and other so-called "Extendeds" --
warriors drugged up and conditioned into faithful supersoldiers -- represent
far crueller treatment yet.  The discussion gets interrupted by Aslan showing
up with a summons for his commanding officer to the bridge.  That would be
Heine, who doesn't like standing on ceremony as the ignorant pack-animals of
the Federation do.

After Heine leaves, Shinn grouses to Rei about how bad a person Aslan is,
having hidden out in Orb ever since the Yakin Duue incident.  Shinn thinks
Aslan jumps down his throat for ever single little thing, but that's actually
Shinn's role in life.  Rei reminds Shinn that Aslan was made a FAITH
immediately on returning to Orb, indicating that Aslan like his father before
him is someone not to be trifled with.

Meanwhile, the new arrivals aboard the Archangel are getting acquainted with
the maintenance crew.  Chief Mardock finds it nifty to see all these famous new
robots, but isn't especially concerned about keeping them up and running.  A
robot is a robot is a robot to him, except for Kira's Freedom: _that_ he's not
allowed to touch for other reasons.  In any case, he vows to have everyone's
gear in tip-top shape by the time Maryuu is done explaining the plan.

Maryuu explains the Gundam Seed backstory, and says that her current mission to
Eurasia is to stop the profitless slaughter between Zaft and the Feds.  For
those who don't know what "Coordinators" are, Kira and his comrades recount
how they're a genetically engineered super-strain of humanity.  Better, faster,
stronger, more emo, et cetera.  After some reflection, even a relative
innocent like Ruuji can understand how supermen could engender envy in the
mundanes (aka "Naturals").  Going out and fighting as a way to stop people
from fighting isn't exactly ideal, but Maryuu thinks it's better than sitting
around moping.

Meanwhile, Aslan explains to Heine what brought him out of retirement in Orb:
the Junius 7 colony drop.  Aslan had to wonder what was going on up in the
Plants, and resolved to do whatever he could to help... as the son of the man
who set this whole mess in motion.  That was right around the time the Feds
staged a nuclear attack... the second the Plants had endured at the hands of
the Naturals.  Durandal told Aslan to his face he saw no way of preventing a
global war, hatred versus hatred in the same profitless bloodletting that
Patrick Zara once initiated.

At that time, Durandal told Aslan that even his father didn't start out as 
that bad a guy.  All he initially wanted was to protect the Plants, and things
simply got... a little out of hand.  Besides, even had his message remained
pure, not everyone would have taken it in that spirit.  Durandal counseled
Aslan to stop blaming himself for the whole mess, and to simply think of what
is within his power -- as one man -- to do about it now.  This was enough to
motivate Aslan both as a Zaft soldier and as a member of Durandal's cult of
personality, though what happened to Yzak and Dearka contributed as well.

All very well and good, but there's one little thing Aslan needs to get
straight.  Sure he doesn't want to fight against the Orb... but everyone mixed
up in this world war has _some_ special place that they may well have to
confront eventually.  "Eventually" in this case means a couple lines of
dialog, as the Orb forces close in.  Heine's last words to Aslan are that
hesitation will prove fatal.

Apparently the Archangel is still in a different timezone, since it's still
storytime there.  Gainer wants to pick Kira's brain about what it's like to
fight one's friend, presumably in preparation for the showdown with Cynthia.
Kira is sure that _if_ Gainer can get through to her, she'll stop fighting...
the questions are _how_ and _whether_ he can truly get through.  That he wants
to contact her is an important first step and something to hang onto when the
going gets rough.  If there is one thing he's learned from nearly killing and
being killed by his best friend, it's that it's very hard to have enough room
in one's heart for friendship and fighting at the same time.  Had he been a big
enough man to do that, many of his and Aslan's friends might still be alive
today.  The winning strategy seems to be: get so strong that you can walk all
over the opposition and have enough time to actually _talk_ with them.

Meanwhile, Angelica wants to know what Mia thinks about her homeworld.  A great
place, really, if you can get past all the idiots and warmongers.  That's
something Mist isn't likely to believe just from word of mouth: he'll really
have to see it for himself.  Roll recommends that Angelica keep her peace until
Mist comes around, to give Mist time for that crucial step of integrating the
good with the bad.  Angelica's role should be to support Mist and keep him from
straying too far off the path to understanding.  That's what Mia did for Roll
through all his travails.

Back to the battle.  Yuuna gives very clear orders to his troops: keep the
Minerva occupied by any means necessary, including shooting it down.  He
inwardly knows that if he doesn't make himself useful here, his sugar daddies
are liable to cut him off for his past failures.  He blames Cagalli's
do-gooding for making the Feds less happy with him than they should be, totally
disregarding Orb's long-cherished neutrality policies in the process.  From
across the battlefield, that's the part that pisses Shinn off the most.  Never
mind that Cagalli wouldn't have let things get this bad if she were still in
Orb, or so Aslan tries to insist.  Shinn says he doesn't believe him, but his
supposed anger towards the whole ruling Asuha family is more a function of the
tragedy that claimed his parents on Onogoro Island, than any real issue with
Orb itself.

That's when the Archangel shows up, with Kira in advance.  He tells the Orb
forces that they've got to stop fighting and withdraw this instant.  He is
sure that Cagalli wouldn't want her army to side with the Feds against the
Zaft, but Yuuna sees it differently: everything would be so peaceful for him if
it wasn't for all the trouble the Archangel has caused.  He orders his men to
shoot it down too, giving Kira a chance to show off some fancy shooting.  None
of the Orb soldiers die, but all get their main sensor arrays shot out.  Kira
hails Aslan and announces where the Archangel is going: to stop the Feds who
are trashing Berlin.  Aslan replies that that makes their objectives in
common, and tells his captain Talia that there's no reason the two ships can't
cooperate.  Shinn is generally pissy on the idea, and Rei says there's no way
they can cooperate with a vessel associated with Orb during the previous war.
Associated, yes; owned by, no.  Talia is weighing the pluses and minuses of a
temporary alliance when orders come in to wipe the Archangel out as a
strategically destabilizing, war spreading force that refuses to reveal its
intentions.  All her troops except Aslan are eager to obey, and the Archangel
has no choice but to sortie in response.

Mist isn't happy, but he tells Angelica he'll fight if this will truly
protect Earth as a whole.  Aslan meanwhile has refused to sortie, the answer
he's reached being to neither fight the Orb nor the Archangel.  He tells the
other pilots outright that he sees no point to this battle and that he's
exercising his FAITH prerogative to not participate.  That will get him
written up in the post-battle paperwork, but nothing worse (for now anyway).

  The Zaft leaders are fairly pragmatic about getting their asses beat down
  by the same people who not five minutes ago helped drive off the Feds: it's
  strictly business for everyone except Shinn.  He's not happy to see the
  Freedom, whose pilot ordered everyone to stop fighting, fighting itself.
  Kira replies that he's fighting to prevent others from doing the same, not
  to eradicate them or anything.  Shinn equates that with the same kind of
  high-falutin' lies that the Asuhas use, and isn't going to stand for it at
  all.  He thinks.

It's not long before the Minerva soaks up enough damage to be in immediate
peril.  Talia is forced to withdraw her troops, and Kira catches nary a glimpse
of his friend Aslan.  Kira believes Aslan understands how futile such fights
are, especially given how both the Archangel and Minerva are currently on
identical missions, but Aslan's superiors don't seem to be on the same page...

The news Talia receives about her ship's battle damage isn't good: there's
precious little hope of making Berlin in time to do any good.  Her ship's
complement of mecha is in similarly bad shape, save for the Impulse Gundam
which can get by with only a few part swaps.  Talia has Shinn stand by in
his cockpit, planning to sortie him alone if need be.  Better than doing
nothing at all, at any rate.  Talia finds herself wondering who all those
mystery giant robots fighting alongside the Archangel are...

In a dream, Shinn recalls back to the day his family perished, a Federation
raid that sent everyone in the city scrambling for the nearest military
shelter.  During the mad dash, Shinn's sister Mayu dropped her cel phone and
stopped to retrieve it... at the worst possible moment.  Aslan was right on the
money when he guessed Shinn's reason for hating Orb: he actually hates the
Asuha family for Orb's failure to protect his family.

While Shinn tries to shake off his nightmare, Rei is reporting to Durandal
about the latest battle.  Durandal promises to look into where all those
heretofore unknown mecha came from, noting that at least one of them comes from
Japan's Photon Power Laboratory.  Even the perspicacious Durandal never
expected the stalwarts who overthrew Dr. Hell to side with the Archangel,
though he did expect Aslan's reluctance to fight the Archangel crowd.  Durandal
would frankly rather have Aslan act like the mere solider he is than getting
strange ideas in his head: such things prevent him from using his newfound
powers fully.  All of which is _obviously_ Kira's fault, and Rei vows to
_personally_ take Kira down, by any means necessary.  This smacks of some
personal vendetta, and Durandal cautions Rei not to get overly zealous in
tangling with this most dangerous foe.

The Archangel is in much better shape than the Minerva, and Murdock declares
that all repairs should be finished by the time the team reaches Berlin.  All
that is, except to Mazinger Z: the thing is currently held together with
chewing gum and duct tape and could break down at any time.  Kouji doesn't
blame the guy at all, knowing full-well that the mechanical giant is long
overdue for a full overhaul.  He'll just have to make up for the mechanical
issues with guts and glory in the meantime.

The real question is what would cause Orb to abandon its strict doctrine of
neutrality and side with the Federation.  Even had Cagalli been present, Maryuu
doubts she could have prevented the Orb government from forging the alliance:
yet another testament to how badly off the Earth is right now.  Mist wonders
aloud if _forcing_ people to stop fighting can really bring about a permanent 
solution to Earth's problems.  Is it really the death-merchants of Logos who
are to blame?  If so, the Archangel is really up the creek now that its
former home base Orb has sided with the Logos-ridden Federation.  Though Mist
worries that helping out in Berlin won't solve the underlying problem, he
agrees with La Kan that helping those Berliners in immediate need is about all
the team can do at present.


14B. Loneliness -- Battle

Cagalli doesn't know the exact location of the Dragon Pavilion Island, largely
because it _has_ no fixed location.  It's a movable island, and it's probably
headed for the Sea of Japan right around now.  It is of course man-made,
housing around two thousand people as it travels the globe, hidden from all
normal means of detection by something called the Camouflage Mirror system.
Cagalli will try to hail the Island when the Daikuu Maryuu nears Japan, which
calls to mind all the folks the Jeeg crew have left minding the fort.  Cagalli
assures them that Shiba and the others are just fine, and under the protection
of an Orb detachment that she sent.  This isn't pure humanitarianism: Cagalli
admits that the Orb has a bit of covert stuff going on with the Island and
with Build Base: anything bad happening there would damage Orb's interests in
turn.  That's her excuse, anyway, and although Mist buys it hook, line and
sinker, Rosa wonders why Cagalli couldn't come up with something better.

Cagalli is committed enough to have brought her own pink-colored mobile suit,
the Strike Rouge.  It sounds like Orb's famous neutrality is falling entirely
by the wayside for reasons Cagalli doesn't seem interested in discussing.
While Cagalli orders Shizuka to have her mech ready to sortie at any time,
Rue comes in and again implores Gou to teach her how to pilot a mech.  As
before, Gou is dead-set against it, and finally Rue shouts "fine, I won't
ask you again" and runs off.

As Gou runs off after her, Shizuka explains that Rue wants to learn to pilot
to get revenge for her father's death, a pitiable motive for a little girl
like her.  Deke gets a look in his eye and ambles off, leaving the rest of the
adults to discuss why the Dragon Pavilion roams the world.  Cagalli says
they're on the run from the Festoom, tasked with nurturing the seeds of
mankind from the oncoming Festoom invasion.  They function as a sort of Noah's
Ark, theoretically capable of repopulating the world even if the Festoom gain
full sway.

All this makes sense... so why does Cagalli know all about such a secretive
site?  Well, seems the Dragon Pavilion completed construction of their
so-called "Fafner" mecha, but were a wee bit short on pilots.  Cagalli
furnished a few, yet another example of a wide philanthropic portfolio that
her father Uzumi was pursuing.  Cagalli tires quickly of all the questions
about the Dragon Pavilion, ordering the team to ask in person when they arrive.
Out of patience, she flounces off and shows the fact that, while she may be
a national leader, she's still just a kid.  Still better than Pulia though.

Rue has no better luck asking Anna for training, since Gou told her not to
and since she's still a student herself.  Anna offers to teach Rue to cook
instead, but Rue has no interest in that.  Rue then tries Sheldia, who hems
and haws long enough for Gou to catch up.  He apologizes to Sheldia for any
inconvenience Rue may have caused, and orders Rue to apologize too.  Rue
won't of course, and runs off again leaving a baffled Sheldia behind.

Rue is wondering why Gou doesn't understand her when she runs into Deke, who
asks for a moment of her time.  He claims to have been smitten by the purity
of her desire for revenge for her father, and offers to teach her to pilot.
He warns her that his training will be rough, but she's prepared to do
whatever it takes.  Deke leads her away right before Gou can catch up, and
although Gou is anxious to find her, he can't entirely ignore a strange unease
in his chest.  Is it just his imagination?

Duh, HELLO!  It seems the Festoom have finally spotted the Pavilion, and are
sending in some "Sphinx"-type assault units.  Makabe orders a Red-Out, has
the base's self-defense systems activated, and prepares to launch the
interceptors.  This will require disengaging the cloaking system, and all
civilians are to be evacuated at once.  That includes the gaggle of classmates
of the Fafner pilots, who have no clue what an island-wide evacuation even
means.  And their teacher isn't inclined to spend the time to spell it out,
telling them to cut the chit-chat and follow her.

The Pavilion's defenses fall in short order under the Festoom assault,
including the intercept troops (among whom is one of the bridge bunnies',
Tomi's, husband).  The only hope is to scramble the Fafners before the Festoom
manage to destroy them, and the first pilot Soushi tries to send to the
launchpad gets cut off by the enemy assault.  Soushi wants to go himself, but
Makabe reminds him that he's the only one who can use the Siegfried System.  He
decides to send Kazuki instead, who has to be called away from his other
classmates in the shelter.

Kazuki has no clue what's going on at first, but Soushi leads him to Fafner,
named in honor of the legendary dragon that protected the dearest of treasures.
It's a mecha engineered to fend off the Festoom, which are space invaders, and
Kazuki's got to pilot it to save the island.  Much like Shinji before him,
Kazuki rather doubts he can just up and do any such thing, but Soushi tells him
his body should remember how to combine with the Fafner.  Soushi would go
himself "if he could", and Kazuki recalls how it's his fault that Soushi is
blind in his left eye.  Can he really do this after all?  Soushi tells him to
believe in him, and that's good enough for Kazuki to give it the old college
try.

Soushi returns to the bridge and gets into the Siegfried System, giving Kazuki
the instructions he needs to get his mech going.  Booting the thing causes
Kazuki considerable pain, but he soon gets distracted when a direct neural
projection of Soushi appears in his mind.  The two are now intimately linked,
and Fafner has become an extension of Kazuki's own body.

The Festoom make an imposing sight, and Kazuki is especially surprised when
they try to _talk_ to him.  Soushi tells him not to answer lest his personality
be eaten by them, and although Kazuki catches on fast how to pilot, the Festoom
is faster.  It tries to grapple the Fafner and assimilate it, and it's all
Kazuki can do at first to keep his distance.  There's no telling how much
longer he'll be able to go on fighting, but he's got little other alternative
now...

  Kazuki turns out to be more Kira and less Shinji, and pretty fond of bonding
  body and soul with his best friend.  This enables him to SLASH at the
  enemies with admirable results.  But no sooner has he defeated the first
  Festoom than a bevy of Mimetic Beasts show up as reinforcements.  Kazuki is
  surprised to find out that his father is in command of this whole operation,
  but once again Kazuki confronts the new foes with surprising alacrity.

  Now, alacrity is great, but combat experience is greater.  That's what the
  Daikuu Maryuu's pilots can bring to the table, and when they find out it's
  Kazuki's first time in battle they hasten to the rescue.  That includes
  Cagalli, who intends to do what she personally can to defend peace on Earth,
  and damn whatever anyone else might think about a head of state manning a
  mech.

Helping save the day earns the Daikuu Maryuu landing clearance, and Makabe's
hearty thanks.  Kazuki won't be greeting the new arrivals for a while, due a 
thorough physical after his exploits.  As the Daikuu Maryuu heads in for a
landing, its crew comment on how _normal_ the island seems: hardly the fortress
one might expect from its anti-Festoom mission.  From what Cagalli's heard,
the civilians living on the surface haven't even been told what their island's
mission is.  They've certainly _seen_ the enemy by now though: Kazuki's
classmates have a lot to ponder.  One wonders what their reaction will be when
they find out who's been driving the giant robot....

The damage report is pretty grim: extensive damage to the outlying islands,
complete non-functionality of the self-defense system, and nearly thirty
people missing from the main island itself.  That, and the fact that the
previous Fafner pilot is confirmed dead: pretty rotten way to go for a pilot
not to even make it to his mech.  Soushi takes that news with little visible
emotion, blowing off his reunion with Cagalli to go check on Kazuki.  Makabe is
sure the guy is actually crushed over losing his sister-in-law, though he's
not prone to showing it.  It's a long trip to sickbay, and that's a good thing:
it will take the Daikuu Maryuu folks a long time to fill Makabe in on what's
been going on in their lives...

Kazuki takes his anal probing like a man, containing his surprise at finding a
full-fledged hospital buried _under_ his hometown.  He accedes to his nurse's
instruction to save all questions for his father, promising to get plenty of
rest tonight.  Behind his back, the medical staff confers about the changes
Kazuki underwent during combat, including an altered state of consciousness and
chromosomal changes.  The staffers know where that metamorphosis will take
him, and it doesn't sound all that good...

When Soushi catches up with Kazuki, Kazuki seems even more blase about piloting
Fafner than Soushi was about his sister-in-law's death.  He does finally
evince surprise when Soushi tells him there's more bad guys where today's bunch
came from.  Speaking of which, Kyou wonders why the Mimetic Beasts showed up
at this supposedly stealthy island -- isn't it a bit too coincidental?  If so,
it means that someone was able to _direct_ the Mimetic Beasts, a feat thought
impossible the previous time Gou tangled with them.  Perhaps something has
changed... perhaps whoever is behind the Darius and Jama assault has enough
clout to bend the Mimetic Beasts to his will?  If it's the same people who
trashed Mist's homeworld, it's already known how effective their Gate tech can
be.  Whoever's responsible, the Daikuu Maryuu needs to get back to Build Base
and figure out what to do about the Mimetic Beasts, which will require some
repairs and refuelling courtesy of Makabe's men.

During the refuelling, Gou secures permission for the pilots to tour the
island, which somehow fills him with a sense of peace.  It's like a throwback
to what Japan was like a decade or so before, which was deliberate on the part
of the island's designers.  All those living on the island have known peace,
false though it may be -- peace that is now at an end, thanks to the onslaught
of the Festoom and probably the Federation too in short order...


14A2. The Light of Separation, Part 2

It doesn't take long before images of Berlin start flooding in, and the place
hasn't looked this bad since immediately after World War II.  Horrified, Gainer
says that even at their most depraved, Siberian Rail and London IMA never
trash a city half this badly.  Most of the carnage seems due to a single
monstrous mobile suit, equipped with more firepower than anyone from La Kan's
world could even fathom.  The MS's barrage isn't directed at the Zaft, or
anyone else in particular: Logos' minion just seems content to wipe out
_everything_ within range.  The very thought has the team steaming mad, and
Roll recommends channeling all that vexation up Logos' ass.  Sounds like a
plan to me.

Turns out that someone familiar is at the controls of the monstrous mech: poor
little Stella, quite delusional and being egged on by Neo.  He murmurs into the
commlink that if she doesn't fight, the Scary Things(tm) are going to come and
kill her and all her friends.  Stella screams back that she doesn't want to
die, opening fire on all the Scary Things(tm) in a barrage that Sting finds
laughable.  He plans to show that sane manslaughter beats insane manslaughter
any day of the year, unwilling to accept Neo's data stating Stella's combat
superiority.  He wants Neo to let him use Stella's new superior linksuit for
his next mission, so he can better protect Stella, Neo... and someone else he
can't recall at the moment.  Surveying the carnage, Neo frowns behind his mask
and realizes that augmenting Stella and making her the Destroy's pilot wasn't
any better than letting her die on the sidelines.  He reckons that Sting
needs more "adjustments" after this battle if either he _or_ Stella are going
to live much longer...

Jibril phones up at that point, commending Neo on the Destroy's firepower.
Neo asks how much Jibril wants destroyed, and Jibril tells him to destroy
_everything_ so long as the Zaft are around.  This is supposed to constitute
proof of how different Naturals and Coordinators are, but the only immediate
result of the strategy is summoning the Archangel.  Jibril wants to see how
well the Destroy fares against the famed Kira, and orders Neo to destroy
the pesky Coordinator.  All Stella wants to know is if the Freedom is one of
the Scary Things(tm), and when Neo tells her it is she starts blasting with
abandon.  It's clear that puny attacks won't work on the Destroy, and the
safest thing would be to keep strafing it until it ran out of energy for its
Barrier... but given how many civilians are dying each minute, there's no
time for the safe approach.  Maryuu orders everyone in at top speed, which
shows Mist that she, at least, cares about saving lives.  Whatever the rest 
of the Earth's armies are up to, it seems clear that Mist's comrades aren't
part of the problem.  Any moralizing beyond that will have to wait until the
bad guys aren't breathing down the team's necks.

  Sven and his team show up on round two, insisting on offering Neo some
  unwanted "help".  Their orders are to take out the Archangel, which tells Neo
  that Jibril doesn't trust him to get the job done.  Though these folks
  mean more of a headache for the Archangel, the top priority remains taking
  out the Destroy -- the other bad guys can get mopped up later.

  Take out either Neo or Stella and the fear of death will spur Stella to
  new heights of madness.  That's about the time Shinn shows up, and he has to
  decide fast what to attack: the big black mech that's fragging down the
  city, or the Archangel.  With little time to think, he rashly decides to
  take out _both_ before the Minerva arrives.  He gets in one good shot on
  Stella, driving her to fire randomly in all directions.  Kira demands to know
  why she wants to kill people so badly, and rushes in to finish the job.
  Neo leaps to her defense and gets shot out of the sky, and as he falls Kira
  thinks he recognizes the man behind the mask.

  At the sight of her beloved Neo crashing and burning, Stella's madness
  deepens yet further, putting her well beyond the reach of Shinn's pleas to
  stop shooting.  Kira knows the only way to stop the carnage is to disable her
  mech once and for all, and sensing his loss of control Jibril orders all
  the [nonexistent] remaining troops to pull back and leave the Destroy to,
  umm, destroy stuff until it falls over.

  Shinn starts to coax Stella out of her mania, but she's still dangerously
  unstable.  And since Shinn doesn't bother to tell anyone else what he's
  trying to do, Kira seizes the opportunity to put paid to Stella's mech once
  and for all.  So of course Shinn blames Kira for killing his would-be
  girlfriend, and lashes out with a strike that fortunately misses.  Kira
  orders him to stop this pointless fighting, and Shinn manages only a single
  accusation of murder before Talia shows up and orders Shinn back to the
  ship.  New orders have come from the top brass, who seems to have plans for
  the Archangel, and Talia will not hear of Shinn disobeying now.

After the Minerva withdraws, Kira asks Maryuu to turn her ship's cameras on
where the Wyndham Gundam fell.  Maryuu too is shocked at the identity of its
pilot, and rushes off to recover him herself.  Kira explains for the benefit
of everyone else that said pilot is apparently Muu La Flaga, a man who two
years ago exchanged his life for the Archangel's safety.  And no, no body was
ever found back then.  Kira counsels pulling out of Berlin as soon as Muu is
recovered, lest more troops from either Zaft or the Feds show up.  Surveying
the damage that Earthling has done to Earthling, Mist can only hope that he's
on the right side of the conflict...

From what the psychic Dangaioh pilots can tell, the main damage in the previous
battle was done by enemies fighting not for duty, but for hatred's sake.  That
sounds like a return to the conditions of two years ago, and nobody needs
a rerun of that.  Least of all Mist, who's very sensitive to infighting among
supposed comrades.  Lanba suspects that all planets, to a greater or lesser
extent, have similar issues, and all Pai (prodigal daughter of space pirates)
can recommend is not trying to overthink it.  Mist isn't buying that.

Le Mii and Ruuji are pondering these Coordinators that the Feds seem to hate
so much.  Sure it'd be great to be all smart and stylish and whatnot, but from
what Ruuji's heard, the only way to become a Coordinator is to be born one.
How does that work, Mii wants to know, and all Ruuji can offer is that there's
some kind of "genetic engineering" involved.  He doesn't entirely know what
that even means, but he adds a tidbit Kira told him that it's very tough for
Coordinators to have children.  In short: "Coordinator = Pluses and Minuses".
Ruuji innocently figures that Mii would want to have kids, and gets a slapping
that mystifies him before Mii runs off.

Neo is comatose after treatment, and 100% certain to be the artist formerly
known as Muu.  At the time of his apparent death, he was a Commander, but as
Neo he now holds the rank of Colonel, and wakes up enough to tell Maryuu and
friends not to demote him just yet.  Either he's a very VERY convincing liar,
or he truly has amnesia about his former best buds, and former lover...

In the final analysis, it's as though Muu's former personality has been
somehow overwritten.  This sounds like sci-fi, but the Dangaioh crew can
assure everyone else it's already been done in real life.  This is going to
be especially hard on Maryuu, with whom Muu did "adult stuff" that Gainer
probably wouldn't understand just yet.  Or Kouji, or Ruuji.  The theory is that
none of the male pilots are bright enough to parse what's going on [which is
selling them rather short in my view], but the pilots don't have long to
deliberate.


15B. Taking Flight in Sadness (part 1)

Those pilots who take the opportunity to wander around the island find a
rustic idyll that reminds them of the home towns they hail from... or at least
contrasts nicely to those homes.  Anna prefers a slightly more urban setting,
while Rue has really never known anything but the inside of Cosmo Base.
Something about Anna's lack of appreciation really gets on Gou's nerves, but
before they can have too violent a lovers' quarrel, Daiya manages to restore
everyone to their senses.  In any case, it's a shame about those stuck behind
minding the ship, having lost out when everyone drew lots.

Van was one of those who drew the right to venture out, but typically, he
declares that that's too much bother and promptly went to nap.  For that
matter, Rue doesn't stay with the sightseeing party long herself, slipping away
for an "appointment" during Anna and Gou's little spat.  This leaves the
remaining pilots to wonder why the anti-Festoom fortress is covered with a
layer of ordinary countryside, whose residents moreover apparently know nothing
of the base lurking below.  Maybe the residents of that nearby school can
help?  Without stopping for thought and in defiance of Gou's shouts, Anna
dashes off to find out.  Carmen tells Gou that he'd better learn to exert some
control over his bride or his marriage will be a very rocky one indeed.  The
rest of the crew decide to follow suit, perhaps thinking of their own
classmates waiting back in Japan.

Indeed, the folks back aboard the Daikuu Maryuu are busy fretting, though not
all over the same things.  Mist can't believe anyone is taking even a second
away from the campaign to halt the Earthlings' infighting: pretty unforgivable
in his [very short, and in very large type] book.  It comes out that many of
those who stayed behind actually hit the little lottery, but deliberately gave
their passes to others...including Sheldia, who let Anna go in her stead.
Sheldia's been working overtime on figuring out how to read other people's
emotions, intending to use the knowledge to be a better helpmeet for Mist, and
couldn't think of a better use for her new skill than letting Anna be together
with her new hubby.  Great work, but her zeal to help Mist doesn't yet
extend to knowing when _not_ to "help" him carry heavy stuff.  Crash, and
Zolmanium scrap ends up all over the place.  An infuriated Mist yells at her
to get the hell out of his way, and of course she runs off in a wounded huff.
Mitsuko and Lee both recommend that Mist go apologize, but Mist grumbles that
if anyone ought to apologize, it's her.  Not going to woo many girls with
that kind of simple-minded logic.  VERY large type, I'm telling you.  Even
Daimon can only shake his head at how immature Mist is.

Of course, Rue's appointment was with Deke, who's putting her through her
paces in the combat simulator.  Rue's already mastered the basics of the
controls, but she won't be fit for combat until she gets at least an A rank
in mock combat.  To her credit, initial failures don't daunt her one bit, and
Deke is more than happy to keep up the simulation work.  Rue's obsession with
avenging her father's death is either an immense boon, or a trainwreck waiting
to happen...

It turns out that having commander Makabe's son piloting a Fafner isn't as
coincidental as it might sound.  All the kids on this island are "fated" to
sit in the cockpit, thanks to a secret fortification program not so dissimilar
from what the Coordinators use.  Which, as Cagalli asks, includes genetic
engineering.  It's fortunate that _all_ the kids got the treatment, since
Kazuki is going to need plenty of help as the war progresses.  Makabe instructs
Chizuru to pick more promising candidates from among Kazuki's classmates, and
near the top of the list is her own daughter.  Though she has to feel motherly
worry about putting her own child in harm's way, she's even more committed to
wiping the Festoom out.  Makabe reckons that it's better to break the shocking
news to the kids sooner rather than later, and sends for them at once.

Back at the school, which appears to be unguarded against unauthorized persons,
the pilots are marveling at the huge grounds and well lived-in look of the
buildings.  Daiya challenges Kenji to a footrace, and Kyou's smart enough not
to try his luck against his comrade on foot.  Kenji intends to show that he
can beat him on a bike as well, but for now he and Daiya wager a huge bowl of
ramen on whoever comes out first.  The two take off at a prodigious clip, but
get interrupted soon enough by Yukie and a gaggle of her students.

Yukie is understandably wondering what off-islanders are doing jogging around
her track.  Upon finding out that they're part of the mecha pilot team that
just saved the day, the students are dumbfounded.  All the more so for the fact
that Daiya turns out to be the same age as them: middle school, despite his
very tender looks.  Yukie scolds the pilots for raising such a ruckus (all
the cheering on of the race), and asks them to try not to do it again.  She
and her students troop off, leaving the pilots to wonder whether this teacher
is this strict with everyone.  From the looks on the students' faces, it seems
they're going somewhere they don't entirely want to, and Carmen decides to
sneak off in pursuit to find out where.  She promises to disable whatever
security may be guarding the destination, and tells the rest of the pilots
they can follow along if they give her a bit of time first.

As it turns out, this is the delegation of future Fafner pilots, and Yukie has
taken them to rejoin Soushi and Kazuki.  Soushi tells them how they've been
living all this time in what is essentially a bit of elaborate camouflage for
the base.  He's actually known for a long time, since he's had to study the
Siegfried System intensively to be able to use it.  Kazuki only just found out,
and is still plenty confused himself.  Kenji asks why the two of them kept this
amazing stuff secret, and Yukie snaps that children are supposed to worry only
about their studies... under ordinary circumstances anyway.  Her
short-temperedness is unusual, but makes some sense in that she's about to send
her students into battle against the Festoom.  Which will require a lot of
explanation...

Turns out Carmen's subterfuge plans were all for naught, given how the students
were just taken back into the base (which the pilots already have access to).
Turning these little kids into pilots doesn't sound like an easy task, and
in Gou's professional opinion no amount of training could enable their bodies
to withstand the cockpit at their age.  As if on cue, Makabe shows up and
says that the Fafners' pilots require neither stamina nor athleticism.  He
rightly chastens the pilots for sneaking around like spies, and says they
need only ask questions directly to him.  Gou apologizes on behalf of the
group, but Carmen knows inwardly that the appearance of sneaking around is
actually her fault -- she makes a mental note to apologize to the pilots in
private later.

When Kyou asks, Makabe explains that what determines success as a Fafner pilot
is one's Synergetic Code count, which impacts the way Fafner's neural interface
behaves.  Even the terminally ill can pilot a Fafner with a high enough count;
and even the strongest person in the land couldn't make a Fafner move an inch
with a low count.  The interface system is very unique, and apparently holds
tragic consequences for all who become pilots, but Makabe won't get to finish
his explanation.  A call comes in from the Feds, who apparently have figured
out where the island is, and Makabe has to go figure out how to deal with
them.  It's not immediately clear to the Daikuu Maryuu pilots what the Feds
might want with the island, but what is clear is that bad stuff is about to
happen.  As they head back to the Daikuu Maryuu, Cagalli heads there too to
avoid being seen on the island by the Feds.

Hester is very "glad" to finally get to chat with the residents of the Dragon
Pavilion, though he doesn't like the fact that Makabe is very different from
what Federation intelligence reported.  He all but demands that the Dragon
Pavilion forces help in the fight against the Zaft, especially after all the
Fed losses in Berlin.  When Makabe temporizes that he's got his hands full
just protecting his island, Hester tells him to at least hand over the
Northung Models, which are supposedly capable of resisting the Festoom's
mind reading abilities.  Should Makabe refuse, Hester tells him that the
Alvin organization will be declared the enemy of mankind, just like Dannar
Base was.

That's Gou's cue to walk in, unimpressed that Hester thinks he's got a monopoly
on justice.  In fact, the Feds have killed far more than their fair share of
civilians in Eurasia, and the Daikuu Maryuu pilots aren't shy about calling
Hester on it.  Hester demands to know what Daikuu Maryuu forces are doing
there, and if Makabe has in fact allied himself with them.  Makabe says that
he has not, and to prove it he pledges his support for the Feds.  Hester says
he'll be sending transports to pick up the Northungs right away, and hangs up.

The Daikuu Maryuu pilots can't believe Makabe would side with the Feds, but
Makabe has a very good reason: his island certainly can't stand on its own.
When Daiya offers to protect the place, and boot out the Feds on top of it,
Makabe asks just how many fellow humans he's willing to sacrifice.  Once
started, internecine war is almost impossible to stop until one side lies
dead.  In those terms, sharing a bit of his technology with the Feds is very
cheap if it averts bloodshed.  (Or so he judges: he privately suspects that
former commander Minashiro Kouzou might have reached a different conclusion).
He doesn't expect any of his people to be directly asked to participate in
the Feds' Logos-fuelled bloodshed, and tells the Daikuu Maryuu crew that he
has one objective only: seeing the Arcadian Project through to completion.
Anything and everything else is secondary, and he won't hear outsiders
second-guessing his call.

At that, the Daikuu Maryuu pilots have little to do but mutter under their
breath and trudge back to their ship.  Makabe shares their doubts, but sees no
other choice at present.  He heads to Fafnerberg, telling his resentful men
to prepare the Mark Zechs for handing over.  Never mind how many years it took
to develop.  What they should concentrate on is training the kids, and getting
the Marks Drei and Vier ready for action.

The first round of training doesn't go well, since Kazuki's new teammates are
anything but mentally focused.  Perhaps this has something to do with Shouko,
who's been taken to the hospital immediately after the exercise completed.
Yukie doesn't seem impressed with the new recruits, but Soushi tells her that
they're doing just fine, given their inexperience and relatively low levels
of Synergetic Code.  Not everyone can hit the ground running like Kazuki did.
Shouko's current ailment seems to be mild anemia, but Chizuru worries that
she won't be durable enough to survive long on the team.  Yukie won't hear of
dismissing her, unwilling to say whether that's her or Makabe's orders.  She
stiffly reminds the other woman about how many people have died to get the
Arcadian Project this far, and seems more than happy to sacrifice a few more
if that's what it takes...

Kazuki and Shouko's mom have been attending her bedside until she regained
consciousness.  Shouko wonders if she'll ever be able to pilot a Fafner like
Kazuki can, and her mother assures her that the day will come when she's
healthy enough to.  After all, she chose the name "Shouko" (winged child) so
that her daughter would want to take flight one day.  Air raid sirens
interrupt the conversation, as it seems the Festoom are back for more.  Shouko
makes Kazuki promise to come back to the island in one piece, vowing in return
to assist him from now on.

Seems the Festoom are laying into the Federation forces en route to the island.
Soushi wants to let the Feds fry so no Fafner tech will have to get handed
over, but Makabe doesn't suppose they can just ignore the Federation distress
calls.  He orders the Mark Elf sortied, and the Daikuu Maryuu radios in that
they're going to the rescue as well.  The Feds may be the enemy, but the
common threat posed by the Festoom is one they won't ignore.

Unfortunately, neither contingent arrive in time to save the Federation troops.
Soushi is glad that this buys at least some time to not hand over the Fafner
tech, but even best buddy Kazuki is more fixated on the fact that several
people just died: he sees nothing to be happy about.  Unfortunately, Rue is all
too eager to get into the revenge business, and sorties.  When she ignores
Gou's directive to get back to the ship, Deke says that he told her she wasn't
ready for combat "yet".  Gou catches the implication there, but Rue ignores
them both and rushes the Festoom, getting smacked around for her pains.  Looks
like rescuing her petite little ass will have to share time with beating the
Festoom down...

  The solitary Festoom goes down in pretty short order, with no harm done to
  Rue's pretty little head.  Gou vows to grill her and Deke after the mission
  as to what the hell she's doing on the battlefield, and before Deke can get
  one sentence into a snappy comeback, a whole flotilla of new Festoom arrive.
  Gou hastily orders Rue to retreat before she gets in the way any more than
  she already has, and she seemingly knows that this isn't the time to press
  her case.

  These new Festoom appear different from the previous one, and Mist wants to
  know why.  Sheldia doesn't know why of course, and answers Mist in perfectly
  civil tones until Mist yells that he's positive she's still mad from before.
  Lee shakes his head anew at Mist's ineptitude with the ladies, and Gou
  bellows at Mist to shut the hell up and CONCENTRATE.  Sakon warns that this
  new enemy may not succumb to the same tactics the team used previously, and
  both Kazuki and the rest of the team are warned not to be drawn too far in by
  the bad guys...

  Kazuki isn't quite sure he's up to the challenge posed by the new foes, but
  Soushi tells him that the knowledge he needs to destroy their Cores is
  already in his memory.  Kazuki pauses, and suddenly recalls the incident in
  which he blinded his friend in one eye.  Apparently that's the grip he needs
  to use on his weaponry this time as well.  Meanwhile, Kenji warns the
  gold-plated bad guys that the only thing they'll find in his head if they try
  to read it is pr0n...LOTS and lots of pr0n.

  Sure enough, word comes in from after the battle that another Festoom is
  headed for the heart of Dragon Pavilion Island, where the team is currently
  _not_.  By the looks of that, it seems the Festoom may actually be learning
  by fighting the Earthlings, improving both their combat capabilities and
  their strategy.  In fact, part of that new strategy seems to be to cut off
  the Daikuu Maryuu from returning to help, and that means hacking through
  the reinforcements in a mad dash to help Soushi and the others survive.

The new Festoom seems almost impossibly fast, breaching the base's defenses in
a strike from above that the base is simply not equipped to handle.  As Soushi
pleads with Kazuki to hurry back, Makabe is cursing his own incompetence as
commander in allowing his base to be breached like this...


15A. Angel Down

Shinn is fit to be tied after being pulled away from pursuing the Freedom,
what with how Stella just met her inglorious end.  Never fear though: Durandal
has launched the "Angel Down" operation, aimed specifically at getting the
Archangel out of commission once and for all.  The plan is in fact very
rudimentary, consisting of an advance squadron to erode the Archangel's
defenses, and the Minerva to strike the final blow.  Shinn is going to fight
the Freedom again, whether he wants to or not.  The Minerva will set out as
soon as repairs and resupply are complete, and in the meanwhile, Rei has a
little something to discuss with Shinn.

He isn't going to tell Shinn to forget all about Stella, but he does find it
odd that their captain would be so concerned about the death of a Federation
Extended -- a being who is technically the enemy.  Sure, Rei helped Shinn
return Stella to the Feds, but she was nearly dead at the time, and seemed
unlikely to be capable of sitting up in bed, much less piloting ever again.
His thinking was: better to let Stella die in her homeland than in a Zaft
laboratory.  In any case, the cruelty of the Federation isn't what Rei really
wants to talk about; rather, he has an idea for how to take the Freedom down.

He's cooked up a simulation of the Freedom's combat abilities, showcasing its
fearsome maneuverability and the pilot's skill.  Aslan walks in as Shinn
surveys the results, shocked to see the Freedom and its pilot Kira being
treated as the enemy.  Of course, Kira has been designated as such by high
command, and there's little Aslan can do but leave his teammates to their
simulation work.  And if Rei's simulation is correct, the best chance for
victory is to exploit the fact that the Freedom never aims at its opponents'
cockpits...

All the while, the Archangel is making its way slowly toward Dannar Base.
Kouji is especially worried about the Daikuu Maryuu team remaining
incommunicado, wishing he were with the other team to help.  It's doubtful
whether any one pilot could swing the outcome of whatever battle the other
team is fighting, especially given the unknown capabilities of the Festoom.
The message that no one can prevail alone rings especially true for Gainer,
whose living this long owes much to Gain and his other friends from Yapan's
Ceiling.  In any case, the other team has enough stalwarts of its own calling
the shots that Kouji needn't worry about them.  La Kan seems like a natural
leader for this side of the team, but due to some incident in his past, La
Can himself claims to have no right to lead anyone.

Mist finds himself torn over worrying about Sheldia: he's not her babysitter,
but she _does_ have a history of even rasher acts than he himself.  Gulp.  The
only way she can survive as a pilot is by having incredibly good reflexes that
kick in even before she can mentally jump the gun.  Or something.  Mist seems
to have gotten the idea that he's now the ultimate judge of piloting ability,
telling Angelica that she needs his steady backing to keep her from her old
habit of panicking during battle.  This doesn't exactly impress her, and she
calls him on his half-baked judgement and tendencies to get stuck in infinite
loops worrying about stupid stuff.  Where does he think he'd be without her to
snap him out of it?

Nowhere good, Mist admits.  Showing that he might actually be improving
somewhat, he apologizes for not consulting her first before going into
problem-solving mode.  What he's trying to do is not burden everyone with
his problems for a change, and he knows he's not very good at that yet.  Mist
remembers how good a team they made back at Atreem, and asks if Angelica would
take him back, even though he's likely to have more worrying troubles again
in the future.  She replies that she never once declared their partnership
over, making Mist apologize again for yet one more conclusion he jumped to.
At least he's sounding like his old self, and Angelica crisply declares that
all the angst is over: partnership restored, period!  Mist privately thinks
that he wasn't entirely wrong to doubt the Earthlings, but reckons he's got
ample time to gather more data before reaching any final conclusions.  After
all, Roll and his friends believe enough in the Earth and its people to stake
their lives on defending it...

All this drama is, unfortunately, going on in plain earshot of the rest of the
team, not all of whom appreciate having lovey-dovey angst shoved down their ear
canals.  Ana is the most tolerant, having learned far more about romance from
her book studies than Lioubov suspected.  She hits upon the idea of sharing
those books with the rest of the pilots as a way of better explaining her
homeworld.  Lanba, dreaming of princes on white horses, hopes that those books
include some shoujo manga.  In Pai's book, on the other hand, the only prince
worth having is the one you hunt down yourself -- something Lioubov could
stand to learn from.

For now, the main concern is fending off the pesky Zaft mobile suits.  They've
got the Archangel surrounded, and aren't going to let it reach the sea without
one hell of a fight.  It takes long enough to scramble the team that the
Archangel sustains major damage to its engines.

  In short order, the Minerva appears in the Archangel's path.  Shinn is out
  in front, ready and raring to show what he's learned from Rei's simulation.
  He especially wants to stick it to Aslan, who he thinks isn't worthy of his
  command rank.  Heine tells Shinn to quit grandstanding and just worry about
  carrying out his mission, while Aslan is worried about the orders to attack
  the Archangel directly -- it sounds too unsubtle for Durandal.  Why in this
  particular instance does Durandal want the Archangel sunk without any
  attempt at parlay?  Surely something deeper is going on, but the question
  is: how to figure out what that something is?

  Not that Maryuu cares about any of this.  Minerva or not, the Archangel's
  safe passage is assured if it can reach the shore.  That means its pilot
  retinue should continue running interference.  La Kan tells the troops
  to focus on dividing the enemy's strength, creating a soft spot the Archangel
  can slip through.

  On the next turn, Talia phones up Maryuu with an announcement.  Though she's
  been ordered to shoot the Archangel down, she offers to cease the attack if
  the Archangel's forces cease hostilities at once.  This offer will only be
  extended once.  Of course, the Archangel still has work to do, and can't
  afford to step off the stage here.  Nothing for it but a good old fashioned
  shootout.

  [Avoid actually shooting down the named Minerva mecha, even if they richly
  deserve it, in order to recruit them later.]

  No point in pursuing pointless bloodletting when the Archangel can simply
  power its way to the coast and flee.  Shinn isn't going to let that happen
  if he has anything to say about it, and Kira has to linger to fend him off.
  Shinn avoids the initial attack, all too happy to gloat over the weakness in
  Kira's attack patterns.  He manages to cut Kira out of the air just as the
  Archangel submerges and leaves the area.

Shinn's insane laughter at the moment of victory is short lived.  He seems
rather reserved about his victory upon returning to the Minerva, and at least
one of its crew members isn't happy at all to see him.  So Shinn likes
revenge, huh?  Likes killing people who weren't trying to kill him back?  Rei
intervenes, admitting that Shinn's attitude needs work but pointing out that
the Archangel and Freedom have been duly designated as enemies by the Plants.
As such, Aslan has no place berating those who strike down those enemies.  Rei
doesn't stick around for any rebuttal that Aslan might make, and Aslan is
left to wonder if Kira has really been slain.

Rei goes straight to his room and phones up Durandal to report on Aslan's
conduct.  He's sure that Aslan won't change as a result of the battle's
outcome, to the extent that Kira still lives on in his heart.  Durandal finds
all this to be quite a bother, but decides to talk to Aslan directly once more
before reaching a final decision.  Rei agrees with Durandal that bumping off
Kira is a major accomplishment, but he's keeping his eye on the main prize
at the end of Durandal's plan.

In fact, Kira is very much alive, though badly dinged up and currently confined
to the Archangel's sickbay.  It's a miracle he wasn't obliterated in the
explosion that followed Shinn's attack, an explosion that Kira figures has
permanently ruined the Freedom.  La Kan and the others tell him not to worry
about fighting for the time being: the best thing he can do is heal even a
day earlier.  All this is totally incomprehensible to Neo, who is also
literally confined to sickbay (being tied to the bed) while his own injuries
heal.  How is it, he wonders, that the Archangel can make enemies of both the
Feds _and_ the Zaft?  Well, it all has to do with making the world a less
warlike place, see?  ...Nope.

Kira has begun fretting in earnest about losing his means to contribute to the
fighting, and doesn't want to impose on anyone else by borrowing their mech.
Moreover, he knows he'll have to figure out what to do when he faces Shinn
next time.  Until then, the Archangel will finish its voyage back to Dannar
Base, to rendezvous with the Daikuu Maryuu and advance to the next stage of
saving the world.


15B2. Taking Flight in Sadness (part 2)

The explosions rocking the base do not escape Shouko's notice.  Pulling herself
out of bed, she manages to switch on an external monitor and witness the
Festoom that's trashing the place.  For whatever good it'll do, she cries out
to the thing to stop wrecking Kazuki's island.  On the bridge, analysis of the
attack pattern has helped Makabe figure out what it's after: the so-called
"Valkyrie's Grotto".  This fact is interesting, but won't amount to much unless
the Sphinx-type Festoom can be halted somehow.

Shouko may have something to say about that.  She's gotten into her flight
suit and headed to the hangar, where she runs into her mother.  Her mother is
initially dead-set against letting her frail daughter go in harm's way, even
for the island's sake, but Shouko tells her she wants to do it for Kazuki.  She
knows very well that she and all the other children have been predestined to
pilot a Fafner since before birth, and also knows that her "mother" isn't
actually related to her at all.  Isn't it the least Youko could do to let
Shouko fight under her own power?

Without waiting for an answer, Shouko charges onto the battlefield.  Youko
pleads with Soushi to stop her, but Soushi points out that all of their job is
the defense of the island... and as Youko should know better than anyone,
Shouko is the best person for the job.  Besides, it's not as though there's
time to halt the battle now.

  [Here's a rare strategic note from me.  If you want to save Shouko, she has
  to be able to defeat the Festoom within two full turns (4 phases).  To have
  any hope of doing enough damage -- even with all Critical hits -- you must
  exploit the fact that upgrades to Kazuki's mech carry over to Shouko's.  You
  will know you succeeded if the Festoom gets reduced to zero HP before Kazuki
  shows up.  At a bare minimum, Shouko's Longsword attack must have a list
  damage of 4000.  Don't let the apparent failure get you down.]

  It doesn't take Yukie long to figure out who must be at the Mark Zechs'
  controls when she sees it take the field.  That's Yukie's cue to explain
  how Synergetic Code is more important than physical condition to being able
  to pilot a Fafner.  It's understandable that her students can't recognize
  Shouko's onslaught for the efforts of the weak-constitutioned friend they've
  grown up alongside...

  As the battle goes on, Shouko realizes that she's not making much headway
  just trading blows with the Festoom.  She decides to activate her "Fenrir"
  system, a very powerful self-destruct device, just as Kazuki shows up on the
  scene.  She tells Kazuki that she's keeping her promise with him, and
  apologizes to her "mother" for harshing on her this badly.  She then grabs
  the Festoom and flies off to a safe distance before exploding... leaving
  a group of very distraught classmates, and one furious Yukie who demands
  to know if Shouko knew how much the Mark Zechs cost.

  As if on cue, a new batch of Festoom arrive, bolstered by Mimetic Beasts.
  Kazuki is going to have a very rough time keeping his cool here, but lucky
  for him he'll have the Daikuu Maryuu backing him up.  Assuming Rue sorties,
  Gou will once again order her back aboard the ship.  The problem with this is
  that the mechanical grappler arm used to recover mecha has been busted: she
  can't really return to the hangar even if she wanted to.

  Rue tells Gou that she won't make the same mistake twice, and that she'll
  even try to shelve her revenge jag if he'll just let her fight.  Gou is
  dubious to say the least, but when Anna asks him to let Rue follow behind,
  Gou has little option but to roll with it for now.  Mist meanwhile orders
  Sheldia to keep her eyes latched on Fafner, and to be ready to support its
  pilot at any time.  She snaps back that she's well aware of what she's got to
  do, and doesn't want him ordering her around [sigh].  Not surprisingly, she
  doesn't think of Mist as someone in that much of a position to boss her
  around...

  [Keep Rue out of combat with the Mimetic Beasts as a step toward recruiting
  Ken.]

  Kazuki asks Soushi why Shouko went and self-destructed, and Soushi recalls
  her saying something about a promise with Kazuki.  Kazuki realizes that
  Shouko [apparently] killed herself for _his_ sake, and doesn't take it well
  at all.

  There is no rest for either the righteous or the wicked: no sooner has the
  last enemy fallen and Kazuki begun pondering Shouko's sacrifice, yet another
  Festoom shows up.  Kazuki's so distracted that the Festoom starts actually
  merging with him, and all is nearly lost until Mist, keeping his eyes glued
  to Kazuki, jumps in to save him.  The good news is that Kazuki is saved a
  fate at least as bad as death.

  ...The bad news is that the bad guys made off with Mist's entire propulsion
  module.  Kazuki can't immediately move Fafner, and when the second Festoom
  strike comes it appears that both Kazuki _and_ Mist are going to get
  immolated.  That is, until Sheldia throws herself in the way without even
  thinking.  Her desire to protect Mist is so deep that even her reflexes can
  overcome her little tiff with him.  Mist protests that the guy in a
  relationship is the one supposed to say stuff like that, but Sheldia
  triumphantly tells him to do his homework next time: all that gender role
  stuff is soooo last millennium.

Sheldia's mech is in good enough shape to carry Fafner and the Revlias to 
somewhere safe... provided the Festoom doesn't interrupt.  It looks like it
wants to, but then it abruptly vanishes, apparently thanks to an attack by
_another_Festoom_, which is high above the island.  That too vanishes, leaving
the team to wonder why life forms bent on assimilating anything and everything
would be fighting amongst themselves.  That's a riddle that will have to wait
until everyone's battle damage is repaired.  With no other real alternative,
Makabe grants the entire crew access to the base.

Kazuki mulls over the fact that today's victory is all thanks to Shouko... if 
not for her, this island would now be toast.  That said, interjects Soushi,
it's unforgivable for her to have self-destructed a whole frigging Fafner to
do it.  Kazuki's startled that Soushi was "spying" on his thoughts, but the two
of them are in fact merged so long as Kazuki is piloting his Fafner.  Private
thoughts really ought to wait until he's back on the ground...

The command staff are also pondering this change that seems to have come 
over some of the Festoom.  Hopefully it's an opportunity for the humans to
gain ground, and not another opportunity for disaster.  Tsubaki then wanders
in, telling everyone not to be too sad for Shouko: she had no regrets with
what she did.  She felt the great power assailing the Dragon Pavilion, and
the great sadness surrounding it... and the return of someone very, very
familiar at its moment of need.  Said person has gone away again, but Tsubaki
is sure he(??) will be back.  This is a fairly mysterious statement, coming
from Soushi's little sister... who at least uses kanji for her name, enabling
the sharp viewer of the game to tell her part from Jeeg Tsubaki.  She urges her
brother to go try and comfort Kazuki, who at this moment is quite crushed by
today's events.

While he's doing that, the rest of the Daikuu Maryuu team will recover Mist
and Sheldia, and get ready to blast off for Dannar Base.  Sheldia is busy
fussing over Mist like a mother hen, and trying to insist that he shouldn't
be up and about so quickly.  The real doctor corrects her, saying that Mist's
body has no acute trauma other than a few bumps and bruises.  His rather
extreme pallor is from malnutrition or some similar malady, but he should be
good to go for the next battle.  Mist will now have the dubious honor of
Sheldia insisting on cooking him three square meals a day to deal with.  He
isn't as irritated as he lets on, but the rowdy conversation comes to an
abrupt halt when it gets pointed out that a) this is a hospital, and b)
there's someone busy grieving next door.

Oops, guess the Daikuu Maryuu team didn't hear about Shouko.  They do now.
Kazuki walks in during the explanation, saying rather pointedly that any
further rest was futile with all this noise.  He brushes off apologies from the
team, saying that they wouldn't understand what he's going through anyway.
Harsh, but true as Gou knows.  Soushi might understand however, and disagrees
with the claim that Shouko died because of her promise with Kazuki.  Soushi
says that their little promise is meaningless, or worse since it appears to
have cost everyone an entire Fafner.  Kazuki whirls around, and demands to know
which Soushi thinks is more important: Shouko's life, or the Fafners.  Soushi
pauses, and is in the middle of saying that "it's obvious" when Kazuki's other
friends burst in.

Youji accuses Kazuki of letting Shouko die, sure that Kazuki could have done
something to save her.  Not a chance, deadpans Soushi: Shouko had already
thrown the switch by the time Kazuki got back to the island.  Youji's sure that
Shouko died an agonizing death and all, but what's really eating him is that
he's still here when she's not -- standard grief stuff.  While someone finds
the emo kid a corner to go cry in, Gou remembers a similar self-destruction
that let him win five years ago.  Gou hopes Kazuki fares better than he did,
which is a pretty grim statement to make...  In any case, Youji doesn't seem
apt to forgive Kazuki any time soon, and runs off.  Soushi tells Kazuki that he
won't ask him to forget about Shouko, only that what happened to her not fetter
him for the future.  A confused heart is the surest way to make a Fafner not
work as intended.  Kazuki takes that to mean that Soushi favors Fafners over
people and stalks off -- as Soushi had feared, coming here wasn't of any help
in making Kazuki feel any better.  Like Gou, Lee hopes that Kazuki doesn't turn
out like he did under similar circumstances, and _especially_ that he doesn't
turn into a revenge machine like Van.

The question comes up among the Daikuu Maryuu command crew whether it's really
safe to leave the Dragon Pavilion behind, with the threat of Festoom invasion
looming.  Garis says that the team needs to get back to their rightful base
sooner or later (preferably sooner), and that the Feds have thrown the Dragon
Pavilion a bone in return for the Fafner tech: data that should let them
fortify their stealth cloak.  For now, the Festoom will probably prove unable
to find the place, even if they do have the ability to learn.  The only way to
find out what radio transmissions may have come from the Archangel is to
leave the island's cloaking field, and Garis is only too happy to give the
order to engage.

Sheldia and Mist go have their making-up session next.  Sheldia asks Mist about
how irritable he's been over humans killing humans, as though he outright
hates them now.  He doesn't hate the Earthlings or the Earth, but he does hate
the killing, and he admits that he doesn't want to go where the Archangel is
at the moment, since it's guaranteed to involve making war on more of those
Earthlings.  In that sense, he's glad he teamed up with Sheldia on the more
pleasant path... which is kind of an ambiguous compliment at best.  What
Sheldia has mainly been trying to do is get Mist to return to his old cheerful
self, and now that she's got his ear points out to him how much he's been
making everyone else worry.  She extracts a promise to go apologize to
everyone, then tries to figure out how to attack the root of Mist's 
depression.  It goes back to something Deke said: the ultimate objective of
war is self-survival.  In Sheldia's book, the ultimate goal is protecting
what needs protecting to the very end, which Mist would put as saving what
needs being saved to the end.  If so, maybe Mist should stop and consider
that not all the humans out there are fighting out of mere hatred: some are
trying to protect things as much as Mist himself is.  That thought gets
Mist to admit that he rushed into judgement by generalizing too broadly: one
of his many bad habits.

At the end, Sheldia wants to gauge just how strong Mist's resolve is.  She
recalls the story of her little sister Lem, who was shunned because it was said
she would cause the "God Stone" to lose its luster.  The low-level
discrimination Mist witnessed on Sheldia's planet was much worse before Mist
got there.  There were plenty of people calling for the unlucky child to be
killed outright, and definitely kept far away from the God Stone: behavior
that totally doesn't accord with what Mist knows of the innocuous Bezzardians'
manner.  Such passions were stirred out of self defense: had the God Stone
actually stopped working, Sheldia's whole village would have perished.  What
Sheldia wants to know is, is Mist prepared to kill someone in the interest
of protecting her?

Mist stammers that that's not why he pilots the Revlias, but Sheldia
interrupts and says she's plenty prepared to kill to protect him.  Who besides
him does she have left, after Lem and everyone else she ever knew or loved got
caught up in Bezzard's collapse?  As she starts crying, Mist tells her that
if she's prepared to go that far, there's nothing else for him to say, other
than that he'll look out for her in turn.  He does tell her that he's looking
forward to those three square meals a day.  His doubts about mankind aren't
gone, especially given fresh examples like Soushi's mode of thinking, but at
least he now has his thing to protect in battle: her.


[I kept the Sheldia side, mainly for the Godannar goodness]

16. Clash at Dannar Base (part 1)

Once everyone is safely out of the cockpit and back to the mess hall, Gou's
fury is unleashed.  Kind of.  His theory is that it's all Deke's fault for
giving Rue a half-assed education in a pilot, leading her to charge into
battle and endanger both her life and the lives of the rest of the pilots.
Deke counters that Rue's got the makings of a fine pilot, and that it's a
shame to leave that lying dormant.  Gou shouts back that that's obvious to
anyone with half a brain -- but there are things one has to learn before
learning to pilot.  Namely: bodily strength and emotional strength!  Deke
concedes that Rue isn't exactly the most imposing physical specimen, but
notes that her emotions are plenty strong... strong enough to make him want to
train her, anyway.  Rue's desire for revenge gives her a battle spirit that's
second to none.

...If only battle spirit were all it took to win.  Gou tells Rue that he lost
more than his fair share of comrades during the War of the Titans, and yet
it's not revenge that's keeping him in the cockpit.  Rue just showed him that
she's capable of keeping her vengeance on the back burner, but if vengeance is
all she's got, Gou is sure it'll mean her death one day.  And that wouldn't
exactly please her departed father, bless his soul.  What Rue needs to do is
build her foundation strong first, and hopefully get a bit farther through the
grieving process.  Once that happens, Shizuru and Gou will be more than happy
to help her become a full-fledged pilot.  In the meantime, Gou instructs Rue
to contemplate how much trouble she caused everyone on the Tree of
Woe^W^W^Wsidelines of the next fight.

Rue voices a quiet apology to Gou and Shizuru and leaves the room, her woe
palpable but contained.  As for Deke, Gou shouts at him never to try to teach
Rue piloting again.  Deke merely "hmphs" and walks off too, passing Cagalli
going the other way.  Anna and the others explain how Rue lost her father when
the Mimetic Beasts destroyed Cosmo Base, and Gou starts his sermon on how
revenge is the worst of all reasons to fight.  That doesn't sit well at all
with Van (still clad in his wedding-day tux, remember), but both Gou and
Shizuru have seen firsthand how revenge can beget more revenge, without ever
actually bringing about any healing.  Cagalli bears similar tales from the
Federation-Zaft war two years ago, where the hatred even went nuclear.  Revenge
certainly hasn't done Joseph's brother any favors so far, or Lee for that
matter...  As a force that deprives the revenger of reason and can imperil
everyone around him, revenge does in fact seem a pretty bad motive for
fighting.

Then there's the opposite view, that the experiences of all these pilots are
irrelevant to what Van himself is going through.  The one and only thing that
might bring Van some modicum of peace is killing the taloned man with his own
bare hands.  Fury rising, he demands to know what fucking right anyone
has to tell him how to live his own goddamn life.  With that he stalks off,
leaving Wendy to vouch that he isn't always like this.  He's actually a really
great guy except where the taloned man is concerned, but his vengeance streak
is something Gou vows to shield Rue from.  Anna notes that he sounds almost
like Rue's father, and after a moment Gou allows that the more people looking
out for Rue, the better.  If this is the role a family is supposed to fulfill,
Mist can only wish that Sheldia's sister was still alive for her.  Sheldia
herself is determined not to go down the path of vengeance either, but to keep
living for the future.

Japan and Dannar Base are close at hand, but though Daiya misses his home and
family, he's decided not to try to get shore leave to visit.  He promised
himself he wouldn't go home until he's got his father at his side, admirably
stoic in Shizuru's view.  Praise from the older (and very attractive) woman
makes Daiya blush a little, which has Pulia fuming a bit.  Anna can't wait to
land and maybe _finally_ spend an uninterrupted night with her "Gou-chan" --
which makes her prim and proper hubby splutter about not saying stuff like
that in front of other people.  Of course, it's Gou who takes the blame for
how envious this makes all the single folk cooped up aboard the ship...

The Dannar Base command staff are certainly glad to see the Archangel and
Daikuu Maryuu return home, although having them both return _simultaneously_
is going to mean an all-nighter for the maintenance crew.  Both Kiriko and 
Kagemaru figure the pilots in particular need a chance to rest and recuperate,
especially given some of the heavy news they've got in store for Gou.

Kiriko gets the rundown on what her erstwhile daughter and son-in-law have
been up to.  It's a mixed bag for the returning pilots: they've experienced
great hardships, but they've also seen things and met people that would have
been literally unthinkable before their magical mystery tour.  Enjoying the
journey would be easier if not for the dreadful state the Earth has sunk to
in the interim, what with all the internal and external forces trashing the
place.  Kiriko tells the pilots that it's even worse than that, thanks to a new
menace called Menage Zero.  One month ago, a large horde of Mimetic Beasts
emerged from the Bay of Caucasus in Russia, only to be stopped in its tracks
by a single robot.  This level of heroism probably deserves an award, but since
the robot didn't reveal where it was from, it's being treated as an outlaw
user of mecha tech, i.e. a "Menage Zero".  Rather puzzling terminology, that.

Anyways, the Menage Zero has been running all over the world blowing away
Mimetic Beasts, which is somehow seen as a threat to the peace.  Kagemaru asks
everyone to destroy the Zero if they happen to run into it, and Kouji is all
too happy to oblige.  Kiriko grants everyone leave until tomorrow morning,
save for the other commanders who she asks to gather for a strategy meeting in
an hour's time.  As everyone splits up, Daiya gets a message that there's
someone here to see him and trots off like the good kid he is.  Momoko wishes
she too could be a pilot some day, as does fellow operator Konami.  Seeing
Anna kicking butt at her tender age is quite inspirational, and both of them
can only hope their dreams come true one day.  Kiriko, her face very grave,
then pulls Gou aside and quietly asks him to come with her to the underground
hospital.  Anna, concerned over what she sees in her mother and husband's
faces, follows them at a distance.

Daiya's guest turns out to be Naoto, who's amazed to see how much Daiya has
matured.  Like the good teammate he is, Daiya credits his friends with his
development and indeed survival through all the battles they've faced.  Naoto
asks Daiya to come home and say hi to his mother, who's been worried sick about
him, but as previously decided, Daiya can't do that...

There's no easy way to prepare Gou for what he's about to see, though Kagemaru
tries anyway.  Gou's first shock comes from seeing Max, abundantly *not* dead
as everyone thought for the past five years.  He isn't entirely surprised to
hear that Max was aboard Mimetic Beast #12, and demands to know why he wasn't
told sooner that his close friend is still alive.  Well, A) Max has been in a
coma all this time, and B) Gou wasn't actually within easy commo range, now was
he?  Plus, C) there is the possibility this isn't the "real" Max -- genetic
testing has uncovered something the scientists can't identify.  The being Gou
sees is about 99.9% the Max he knew, but definitively not 100%, and until the
full truth is out Kagemaru and Kiriko thought it best to keep the whole thing
under their hat.  And if Gou thought _that_ was shocking, wait till he sees
what's behind Curtain Number Two(tm)!

Instead of going home to mom, Daiya regales Naoto with stories of all the
cool stuff he's done right there in the base.  Once again, Daiya does the
humble thing and says that the thought of Naoto (and his mom) waiting for him
at home was a large part of him making it this far.  He asks Naoto to trust
him a bit longer, giving him enough time to find at least some clue about where
his father has disappeared to.  Until he does, Daiya's not sure how he could
face his mom.  Given how Daiya may be the only one capable of saving Japan and
the rest of the world with it, Naoto's happy to agree, promising to make
excuses to Daiya's mom for him.  Daiya promises to introduce Naoto to his
new friends one day, and the two part on great terms.

Elsewhere, Rue goes over to Deke and apologizes for getting him yelled at.
Deke isn't sweating it, being quite used to having others yell at him.  Though
Rue made a bad choice to sortie without permission twice, she did make a good
choice to keep her promise and not fight the Mimetic Beasts the second time
[assuming that's what you in fact did].  He tells her that her chance will
certainly come sooner or later, and when it does she may just become an even
better pilot than him.  For now, he dare not offer her any more lessons lest
he get kicked off the Daikuu Maryuu entirely.  If even Gainer and Ana think
Rue isn't yet recovered from her father's death, she'd better get cracking
on the "getting stronger" part, and fast.

Now, for Curtain Number Two(tm).  It's Mira, who unlike Max is vaguely
conscious but still basically unaware of her surroundings.  For reasons
unknown, her mind has been reduced to that of a newborn infant.  Her genetics
and all other vital signs check out normally, which only deepens the mystery
of how she could have survived an _obviously_ fatal event.  Gou embraces his
former teammate, promising her that no one will ever hurt her again, just
as Anna bursts in and demands to know who she is.  Kiriko and Kagemaru fill
her in, and explain that all the sneaking around was entirely for her sake.
Kiriko maintains that she didn't want to scare Anna, the Okusar's new pilot,
by seeing what her predecessor has become, and hustles her daughter out of
the room before too many more questions get asked.  Gou's got a lot of thinking
to do now about how best to relate to Anna in light of what they've just
seen...

Sheldia hits upon an interesting idea, recalling that Mist used to work at
Dannar Base as an employee.  Maybe she could get on the payroll too, now that
her former home with the Darius Army is sort of unavailable.  Mist promises to
ask his old boss, and Sheldia starts dreaming of settling down and moving in
with Mist, this time on a _permanent_ basis.  Angelica breaks in, telling
Sheldia that while she has no interest in prying into her her personal life,
certain private topics should be discussed _in_private_ only.  She tells
Sheldia that impressionable people like her shouldn't dabble in romance, lest
they become incapable of fighting or doing anything else useful either.  And
as for Mist, maybe he'd better mature himself before taking up with an
irresponsible girl like her.  Mist can't really rebut that, but Sheldia
merely sniffs and asks him to come give her a tour of the base.  As she heads
off ahead, Angelica offers Mist some unexpected encouragement to keep
supporting Sheldia.  Who, as Angelica knows, is doing the best she can 
despite her incomplete training.

A little well-timed advice from Mist could help Sheldia make major strides,
since Angelica herself doesn't seem to be good at getting through to Sheldia.
She would hate to see Sheldia perish, or Mist being broken up over Sheldia
perishing.  The fact of the matter is that Angelica can see that whatever
Sheldia did to Mist on Dragon Pavilion Island has really cured his mood.  She
tells Mist it's his turn to help Sheldia out, and promises to do what she
can to help.

With so much drama in the LBC, it must be time for... a flashback!  Gou is
remembering back to Mira's last moments, where she used the last power left
in the Okusar to try and immobilize their foe so Gou could strike the final
blow.  The rest, as they say, is history.  Gou wakes up from the dream in his
own bed, badly shaken, while in sick bay Mira has actually gotten out of bed.
She slowly orders Max to "awaken", and awaken he does, just in time to see
her fall to the floor.  His first words are to call out her name.  His second
words are that she is his.

Fast forward a few minutes, during which time the main power to the base has
gotten knocked out (in the middle of the night), and in which Max has phoned 
up his old "friend" Gou.  He demands to know if Gou still means to steal
Mira from him, and won't accept the fact that Gou has no clue what he's talking
about.  Mira is in his hands now, and Max tells Kiriko to butt out of his
conversation with Gou.  Best believe that Max loved Mira back when, but it
was a love that Mira didn't return; instead, she shared her love with Gou!!
But now, NOW she's his, and his alone.

Max's transmission is traced to the cockpit of the Core Gunner, which is bad
because it means Max has the weaponry with which to destroy Dannar Base from
within.  The various pilots, rousted out of sound sleep by all the explosions,
want to know what the hell is going on, but there's no time to explain.
Nor is there time for Gou to talk through his past relationship with Mira
with Anna.  Anna doesn't feel like sortying, so Gou heads off by himself.
Anna wants to know why Gou didn't tell her about Mira, and Kiriko tells Anna
that Gou would have, if not for Kiriko herself stopping him.  She wanted her
daughter to be happy, which she reckoned would be difficult if she knew the
whole story about Mira.  Make no mistake, Gou had in fact given his former
lover up for dead, and presumably entered his relationship with Anna with
the fullness of his heart.  But it would be almost more distressing if he
didn't have at least some feelings for Mira, once confronted with the fact
that she's still alive.  That's an awful lot for Anna to digest...

Max definitely blames Gou for being present for Mira to love, and to die
protecting.  Gou isn't putting up much resistance, vowing to try to Persuade
Max instead of just offing him outright.  It's clear to everyone else that
persuasion isn't going to work now, and Kagemaru gives Gou orders to recover
Mira by force.  Turns out a maintenance hatch has been left open on the
rogue mech's back, and if Gou and the team can immobilize it, Shizuru can slip
in the hatch and steal the mech back.  Gou's willing to do anything to get
Mira back safe, and tells Shizuru to be extra careful when the time comes.

Kouji tries to strike the first blow along the lines of immobilizing the
Core Gunner, but misses badly.  Gou tells him that he's up against one of the
legendary pilots who actually _survived_ the War of the Titans, and not to
think he can prevail with half-measures.  Kouji knows that the miss wasn't
due to anything Max did: his bad feeling that Mazinger is about ready to fall
apart is coming true.  No point in worrying about it though: he's got to use
what life the thing has left to see this battle through.

Predictably, immobilizing Max won't be the only task: a bunch of Mimetic
Beasts take the opportunity to storm the base.  Nothing for it but to take
them on too.

  Halting the Core Gunner, Shizuru breaking in, and recovering Mira in one
  piece all works like a charm.  Gou demands that Max admit that he was wrong,
  but Max says that he's long cursed himself for his weakness, for entrusting
  Mira's fate to Gou instead of being at her side himself.  There's no way he
  would have let the woman he loved die, and that's why he called out to...
  somebody or other.  Instead of spilling the beans, Max starts screaming in
  time with a massive energy buildup inside the Core Gunner.

  Shizuru manages to spirit Mira away to a safe distance, but the Core
  Gunner somehow manages to reactivate and rush over toward Gou.  Max says that
  there was a time when watching Gou and Mira happy together was enough to
  make him happy in turn.  Max demands that Gou die for the insult and injury
  he's caused, but before he can land any attacks Anna rushes out and comes
  to Gou's defense.

  Precisely _why_ she did this is a bit hard to explain.  She was actually so
  confused that a part of her would have been happy to see Gou blown into a
  billion bits.  But another part, the part that controls her autonomic
  nervous system, apparently decided that leaping into action was the better
  course.  In the final analysis, Anna isn't the sort of person to stand idly
  by while the man she loves gets killed, even if he happens to love someone
  else in turn.

  Max, on the other hand, isn't faring so well.  He was _so_ sure that he'd
  made Mira his this time, _so_ sure that he'd called whoever it is, and _so_
  haunted by Gou's face in his mind.  The poor SOB has gone completely bonkers,
  and Kiriko decides that the only way to prevent further damage to him or
  the Core Gunner is to immobilize it entirely.  She does ask that everyone
  avoid directly damaging the cockpit.  A tall order, but that's why the
  team has so many manly men on it, right?

  Max has the grace to admit when he's beaten, but he warns Gou that he's going
  to end up just like Max has sooner or later.  His last words are a somewhat
  kinder-hearted warning to watch himself.  Neither Gou nor Anna are sure
  what "end up like this" means, but Anna somehow doubts it's anything as
  straightforward as dying in battle, as Max has just done in dramatic fashion.

Dannar Base has definitely seen better days, not having been built to withstand
attacks from within.  Tomorrow is going to entail one hell of a cleanup job,
which Mist will figure into heavily, but for tonight Kiriko prescribes complete
rest.  Sensors have been hit particularly hard, as have the base's catapult
systems: in the event of another attack, defenders would have to sortie one
by one and would be flying more or less blind.  Getting those catapults up and
running again will be job one.  As for the Core Gunner, it can probably be put
back into commission, but a brand new mech will be needed for long-term
viability.

Now, there is a plan B, but that mech is so hard to handle that no one
currently fit to fly can handle it.  Kiriko _had_ planned to wait until Anna
was more experienced before sticking her in its cockpit, but with the alien
invasion getting steadily worse, she may have to force Anna to learn on the
fly.  Kouji and Sayaka come in at that point, with Kouji in a big hurry to
head back to the Photon Power Lab and get Mazinger fixed up.  He promises not
to cause any trouble for the rest of the team, and to hurry back as soon as he
can.

As for Max, what's left of him has been sent to Orb for analysis beyond what
Dannar Base is equipped for.  Some sort of dire news comes in almost
immediately, and Kiriko has the call sent to her private office.  How dire?
Hmm...


16B. Clash at Dannar Base (part 2)

It's a good thing Kouji and Sayaka think to call home before heading to the
Photon Power lab.  Turns out the good doctor is currently hanging out at
Build Base, working on some new parts for Jeeg.  Neither 'Zinger pilot had
heard of Yumi and Shiba being such close comrades, but given the duress Japan
is under, it isn't entirely surprising.  The question now is whether to go
to Build Base instead of the Photon Power lab, and the closest person to help
answer that question would be Kyou.

Elsewhere, more of the staff are trying to get up with a little coffee in the
morning [as opposed to morning coffee, which one hopes Anna and Gou might be
drinking if there's any justice in the world...]  Even Gainer, once an
expert in pulling overnighters, is feeling fatigued, since neither he nor
anyone else could really sleep through all the racket of construction going
on outside.  No one, that is, except Van, the "Man Who Cares Not Where He
Sleeps" in Joshua's worshipful terminology.  More like "Van the Sleepwalker".

Rue then walks in, asking Gainer if he notices anything different about her.
Gainer understandably starts checking her haircut, etc. and finds nothing
obviously different, only to have all the girl pilots in the area jump down
his throat for being an undereducated oaf where the gentler (quote quote)
sex is concerned.  Gainer manages to get them all to shut up a moment, and
after some moments of intense concentration proclaims that Rue seems to 
have "leveled up" somehow.  It's not quite that she's "stronger", but more
like she's... "Shed her skin!" bellows Le Mii, appearing out of nowhere.
Ninja powers?  Not.  Anyway, that's what Rue wants to hear, and happily
heads off with Gou for breakfast with Anna.  Deke is glad to see that Rue's
confidence has returned, but knows that true strength isn't yet within her
grasp.  What happens now, he wonders.

Speaking of the Dannar crew, where's Shizuru?  Despite all her heroics
yesterday, Kouji is quite sure that she -- unlike he himself under such
circumstances -- isn't sleeping in.  That's about the time Van wakes up,
wonders who the heck Shizuru is, and attempts to order food plus jumbo
condiments from Milliaria, as though he were in a restaurant.  He sort of gets
his bearings after a few seconds, even remembering Shizuru's rescue of Mira
when prompted.  That's more remembering than he can manage for either Wendy
or Carmen's names, which they both feel somewhat offended by...

Kouji just hopes that Van's unusual recollection of Shizuru doesn't represent
the start of some kind of romantic rivalry.  Tatsuko highly doubts it, and
tells him that what matters most right now is chowing down in preparation
for the next enemy attack.  Works for Kouji.  He and the Build Angels dig in,
trying to ignore Van's complaint that the food is too darn sweet.

Shizuru turns out to be where any super heroine would be: keeping vigil at
Mira's bedside.  Mira's physically unharmed, but the medical staff suspect
she sustained an immense mental shock from yesterday's fracas.  All the more so
assuming she's still in that childlike state.  Kiriko is less worried about
that, and more worried about Max, who was still barely alive when sent to
Orb's hospital.  The staffers there reported that Max underwent an abrupt
change, and as they speak another report comes in that Max has in fact expired.
Kiriko doesn't want Shizuru telling anyone about Max for a while, at least
until the staff can investigate a bit more about what actually happened to
Max.  Shizuru is deeply concerned about Max's warning that Gou would turn out
this way too sooner or later...

...However, there's a more immediate concern to work through: a large flock
of Mimetic Beasts, that exploited Dannar Base's weakened sensor systems to
sneak up and start pounding the crap out of it (again).  Thanks to the latest
attack, there are now exactly zero functioning catapults, and from what Rue
can see on the monitor, these are the same kind of Mimetic Beasts that
destroyed Cosmo Base.  She keeps this to herself, however.  The only way to
stage any kind of counterattack is for Godannar to simply blow open one of
the catapults and make its way outside.  In fact, the situation is dire
enough that Kiriko tells _all_ the pilots that they're welcome to blow their
way out, though she reminds Mist that it'll be his job as apprentice to clean
up this mess afterwards.  Mist's answer is crisp, but more sober than Kiriko
expected -- is he, like Gou, bottling something up inside?  Or...

Well, Gou was trying to sortie, but Rue is at it again and managed to blow
a hole in the outer wall first.  Unfortunately, her charging through it caused
more caving in and more work for Godannar to get out.  Rue wants revenge for
her father so badly, but she just doesn't have the chops to do it.  Luckily
for her, Menage Zero is lurking in the bushes, and lays waste to her assailant
before her mech can get destroyed entirely.  The Menage pilot apparently
hasn't found what he's looking for, and keeps waxing Mimetic Beasts in
search of whatever it is.  Everyone is momentarily transfixed at the godlike
sight of this guy laying waste to the scourges of Cosmo Base and Caucasus Bay,
but Gou and Anna finally make it onto the field and restore everyone to their
senses.  Unfortunately, the rest of the team will take more time to arrive,
thanks to all the mecha being in various stages of repair.

Stop me if you've heard this one before: Gou wants Rue to return to base,
and Rue doesn't want to.  This time, Gou gets distracted by the sight of
Menage Zero, who seems willing to attack the Godannar forces and the Mimetic
Beasts with equal abandon.  Anna demands to know why the guy creamed Gou's
machine, and the Menage's pilot shouts back that it's because Gou got in his
way.  Rue marvels at this man, so strong that even Godannar isn't a match
for him.  Is _this_ the guy who can help her get stronger?  In any case,
settling accounts with Menage Zero needs to wait until the Mimetic Beasts are
all dealt with.

The rest of the team emerges just in time to help defend the base.  Van is
especially upset at having his nap interrupted, but Deke tells "Mister
Gun(x)Sword" that lecturing the Mimetic Beasts won't do much good.  This
puzzles Van, as he doesn't own a gun, but Deke points out that _Wendy_ sure
does.  Van isn't sure whether to feel complimented or put down by this, but
he rather likes "Gun(x)Sword Van" as his new nickname.

  This battle will be a perfect chance for Anna to show her mom just how good
  she's got at piloting.  It's also a good chance for Rue to wrack up some
  kills - get 2 or more if you want to recruit Ken later.

  The Mimetic Beasts you see are not the real Mimetic beasts until you add more
  Dannar.  An enemy reinforcement shows up on the other side of Dannar Base
  when battle is winding down with the first set, and Gou and Anna combine
  to go deal with it.  But Menage shoves them out of the way, yelling that this
  is _his_ prey.  Unfortunately, it too proves to be not what he's looking for,
  and he prepares to leave.  As Kiriko marvels over the fact that Menage Zero
  has a Plasma Drive just like Godannar, Rue yells out to the Menage's pilot
  to take her with him so she can get stronger.  The Menage pilot doesn't
  want any burdensome tagalongs, and Gou shouts to Rue that this is the
  _Menage_Zero_, an unwanted guest that they've been ordered to destroy.  Rue
  says "So what?" and counters that her objective is learning from the strong.

  The thought of losing Rue seems to drive the normally level-headed Gou
  wild, and heedless of even Anna's cries to calm down, he charges toward
  Menage Zero with reckless abandon.  The Menage pilot calls this pitiful, and
  deals a fatal bitch-smacking that puts Godannar completely out of commission.
  Without another word, the Menage flies off, and Rue flies off after it,
  promising inwardly to return once she's finally gotten stronger.

  Another wave of Mimetic Beasts shows up, making everyone wonder just where
  the hell they're coming from in the first place.  As Lee points out, any
  pursuit of the Menage or of Rue will have to wait: if these Mimetic Beasts
  can't get handled, even saving what's left of Godannar will become
  impossible.

Fortunately, there are two life readings from inside the wreckage of Godannar:
Anna and Gou are still living, albeit unconscious.  As recovery operations
commence, Daiya reflects on the sword-wielding mech that laid Godannar low: its
dispassionate, overwhelming power reminds him so much of Norza that it sends
shivers down his spine.  Kiriko orders everyone back to base to begin repairs
immediately, since there's no telling when the next wave of bad guys will
show up.  She just hopes that things don't get as bad as they did five years
ago...

Gou and Anna regain consciousness in short order, but they're under strict
doctor's orders for at least half a day of total bedrest, without visitors.
The question on everyone's mind is what made Gou go nuts back there, the
culmination of what Shizuru thinks is a recent, unusual stretch of
irritability.  Gou of all people presumably knows how dangerous it is trying to
fight with stuff on one's mind, and yet he seemingly had a whole raft of
worries, from Max, to Mira, to Rue and so on.  Kotona thinks Gou may have erred
by not doing more to help Rue out -- had he, and the rest of the team,
understood Rue's feelings better, maybe she wouldn't have run off after that
man.  Instead, there's no telling if Rue will become another Menage Zero, or
get offed by the current one, or what.  Kyou recommends not mentioning Rue in
front of Gou for a while.  As for Shinobu, Shizuru passes along a "message"
that Anna will be home in time for dinner, getting the kid to get out from
underfoot.

Kira, with his characteristic Coordinator recuperative powers, has now
recovered from his ordeal.  Neo is more of a project: there's strong evidence
that someone has tampered with his memory.  That sounds fantastical to the
folks from the Zoids universe, but Shizuru points out that it's a far easier
feat than genetic engineering or whatever: a little hypnosis or shock treatment
is all it takes.  Memories, it seems, are all too fragile.  Neo will stay at
Dannar Base for his rehabilitation, but it seems his chances of total recall
are maybe 50-50, which sucks not only for him but for Maryuu, his former lover.
The deliberations are cut short by the P.A. system calling everyone to a
briefing on which set of enemies to tackle next.

...Everyone except the folks in sickbay, including Neo, still tied to the bed
lest he get into any mischief.  Perhaps understandably, he's not thrilled about
being told that they'll "rehabilitate" his memory, since at the moment his
memories all tell him that he's, well, _him_.  In walks a beautiful blonde
woman he thinks is a nurse, and hits on accordingly.  That is, until she
actually walks right up and nuzzles her forehead against his -- hasn't this
woman (Mira) heard of personal space?!  Somehow, the contact recalls to mind
a figure from Neo's dreams, who turns out to be Maryuu.  Judging by Neo's
grimace and groaning, this is either the start of the healing process, or some
new and particularly twisted form of torture...


17.

Somewhere deep underground, Himika has dispatched some of her troops to
recover the Bronze Bell, whose vibrations she has started sensing of late.
That would mean that her hated enemy Jeeg may be slumbering along with the
Bell.  As Ikima races to fulfill the order, a different briefing is going on
at Dannar Base.  Just to recap, the Earth's enemies include the Darius Army,
the Great Jama Empire, the Mimetic Beasts, and the Festoom, plus whoever
arranged for them to attack the Earth in concert.  And that doesn't count the
spat between Federation and Zaft.  That's a lot of bad blood to spill, and
little prospect of doing it without the secret ringleader's dimensional
teleportation tech getting in the way.  Which is why, declares Kagemaru,
Dannar Base has decided to figure out how said tech works.

Fortunately, the crew has been gated around so much already that all the
necessary data is already in hand.  It's now a question of analyzing it and
conducting one more survey to nail down the Gates' structure and operating
principles.  And to do that... someone's going to have to get gated again.
This sounds dangerous, but the upside is that not only will it neutralize 
gating as a threat, it will also facilitate returning La Kan and the others
to their home worlds.  Better yet, there's even a Gate handy for the
experiment: the one Proist used to send the Darius Army to the Earth when the
Daikuu Maryuu was on the moon.

The Daikuu Maryuu should be able to traverse that Gate, ending up on the
Darius World side.  From what Sakon has calculated, the odds of the Gate
actually closing during the trip and trapping everyone inside are pretty
small, and even if it were to, the Daikuu Maryuu is obviously capable of
getting _from_ the Darius-verse back to this one (given enough time).  Garis
is well aware of how dangerous just jumping into the Gate is, but everyone
agrees it's the best shot the team has at solving this mess.

Note that the Daikuu Maryuu is capable of going through the Gate: the Archangel
is not.  Instead, it will be sent to Build Base to pick up some new hardware
for Jeeg.  Shiba nearly gives Kenji a heart attack by popping up on the view
screen abruptly, but he's the one who ought to feel the most grateful for
the stuff he's about to receive.  Yumi is in fact helping out, and very
glad to see his daughter Sayaka still in one piece.  Seeing him on the
comm is Kouji's chance to tell the good doctor about Mazinger's woes: the darn
thing is about out of Photon Power.  Sounds like a good reason for Kouji to go
to Build Base too -- Yumi's got a new Shooter for him, built out of Super
Alloy Z that should hit the spot.  In fact, the whole team has to be split in
half, to balance between the assault on the Darius-verse and the defense of
the Earth's surface.  Mist gets to choose which way to go.

  [To go to Build Base, head to 17A.  To go to the Darius-verse, go to 17B.]

If Mist heads to Build Base, he'll have to beware of screwing up around
Shiba, who isn't one to suffer fools lightly.  As for Gou and Anna, they've
recovered from their stunning defeat rather well: neither are the type to
snooze while the rest of the team are putting their butts on the line.  Still,
they've got until tomorrow to rest up, meaning a chance to savor Shinobu's
home cooking.  If only Rue could have enjoyed it with them...  Gou is already
berating himself for being incompetent enough that Rue chose that bastard
Menage instead of him, which Anna senses with much uneasiness.

If Mist goes to the Darius-verse, he'd better prepare for running a lot of
errands, and doing a lot of scut work... and latrine-cleaning, which Rosa
hasn't forgotten about yet.

In any case, Garis gives everyone until tomorrow to rest... since the next
sound sleep they get after this may come six feet under.  Or so Deke suspects,
and he adds that if the Gate closes behind them, there might not even be a
decent burial to look forward to.  But hey, life is hard if you're a mecha
pilot, and figuring out the secret of the Gates is the only real way to avoid
a _guaranteed_ premature death anyway.


17A. Steal Back the Other Jeeg!

Ikima's little expedition has struck paydirt: the cranial section of Jeeg!
This puts one of the Bronze Bells in Himika's possession, but it turns out that
there's another one out there.  That would be the new Jeeg, and her troopers
are spoiling to go dismember it.  Not so fast, says Himika -- she's got a
PLAN...

The Feds apparently have found another Alvis out in the middle of the Pacific,
all but destroyed by the Festoom and totally uninhabited.  All the better to
go deep underground to its Valkyrie's Gate and try to recover the Alvis'
data, and maybe even its core.  Mitsuhiro thinks the latter part is unlikely,
but what the hey.

Unfortunately, the Alvis isn't as uninhabited as the Federation troops think.
There's at least one Festoom lurking around, in human guise no less.  As it
begins to assimilate the poor redshirts from the investigation team, it
informs them that the Core they're searching for isn't here.  There's just
about enough time to radio in a cry of futile anguish before the Festoom
assimilate the whole crew.  Not the news that Mitsuhiro wanted to hear, but
all hope isn't yet lost.  There's still the Dragon Pavilion, and a very
faithful servant of his should be able to bring one of the Fafners back for
study any day now.  Yes, a very faithful servant indeed...

The Archangel's trip to Build Base goes without incident, and Shiba orders
Kyou to get the new Jeeg parts ready for action as soon as the ship docks.
Shiba is cagey about what those parts are, but he assures an impatient Kenji
that they should make him faster and stronger than ever before.  Meanwhile,
the mechanics have gotten the Murasame ready for Kira's use in battle.  It
won't really make up for the loss of the Freedom, but it'll be better than
nothing.  There's the small matter of the Murasame being an _Orb_ mech, but
since Cagalli still has a role in Orb's government, that's not an issue.  If
anything, the issue is Yuuna withdrawing Orb's troops from defending Dannar
Base and Build Base...

The new parts turn out to be the Jeeg Bazooka and the Mach Drill, definitely
worth the wait.  Kouji wishes he had some combining parts for his G-Gunner,
although Shizuru reminds him that he specifically had his mech modified to
stand-alone mode because he didn't want to combine with her Core Gunner.
Not to mention the fact that, to be technical, the G Gunner is basically
the Core Gunner's combination accessories anyway.  This turns out to be
Shizuru teasing him: it was actually Shigusa's choice to set the G-Gunner
up that way; Kouji would have been more than happy "combining" with Shizuru
[Who wouldn't?  No, really.]

Mist chimes in that the Revlias actually had plenty of combining accessories
too in its heyday, but they all were lost in the fall of Atreem.  That
explains all the strange protrusions it's got all over: they're hardpoints!
The mech had everything from ablative armor to submarine equipment: all very
handy stuff that would really help Mist contribute to battle.  On the other
hand, as Michi points out, fancy gadgetry is only as good as the training of
the pilot at the controls, which is why Kenji is about to find his butt 
attached to the simulator until he masters his new toys.  One can count on the
Build Angels to not go easy on the guy, and frankly Kenji wouldn't have it
any other way.

As the Jeeg team scurry off to their work, the Mazinger folks have a joyous
reunion.  The good doctor has already begun overhauling Mazinger.  Swapping
out its Super-Alloy Z armor is about more than just defensive prowess, it's
about restoring its Photon Power capacity, and with it access to various
weapons that Kouji couldn't use freely until now.  Boss wants his robot to be
upgraded too, but there's no Mazinger tech to waste on that walking trashheap.
Fortunately, the kind-hearted Joshua is on the scene and happy to help.  That
basically proves how pitiful the Borot is, and Boss and his lackeys trudge off
in dejection.

Elsewhere, the new Fafner pilots' training is coming along quite well.  So
much so in fact that they want to leave the simulators behind and get in some
practice in the real Fafners, especially Kouyou who still blames Kazuki for
Shouko's death.  Kazuki wonders what's come over his classmates, but Soushi
agrees that it's in everyone's best interest to get past the simulator's
limitations sooner rather than later.  Chizuru can't condone such an act from
a medical standpoint, but Soushi overrides her and sticks them into the
cockpit.

Back at Build Base, Kenji has worked up one hell of an attitude under the
Build Angels' tutelage.  Most of the team would get full just by looking at
the amount of food Kenji is wolfing down, but he's actually thinking of going
back for seconds.  The mention of food has also brought Van back from
dreamland, and as usual he's busily wolfing down all the condiments he can
lay hands on.  Van's just up to his usual odd habits, but Kenji's got a 
legitimate excuse: he's been worked so hard that even the stalwart Gou would
have trouble keeping up.  There's a reason for this though: Kyou notes that
Jeeg will be vulnerable for several seconds immediately after combination.
Kenji probably even needs more training yet, and it'll be his fault if he hurls
from chowing down so much.

Before any more training can occur, a most unusual message is broadcast to
Build Base.  It's doubtful the Jama actually have radio equipment, but their
allies the Darius have plenty.  Himika reveals the head of the long-lost
original Jeeg, and intimates she's got all kinds of horrible plans for what
to do with it.  If Shiba wants the darn thing back, he'd better face them with
his new Jeeg in a duel.  The Darius army will open up a hole in the Jama
kekkai to let the new Jeeg in, and the time will be dawn tomorrow.  CUl8r!

...So like, this is so obviously a trap that even Joshua catches on, and it 
can only mean that Himika is aware of the second Bronze Bell.  Said Bell is
embedded in Jeeg's head, its Ancient Energy(tm) providing Jeeg's propulsion.
It was thanks to this power that Himika was sealed into the Zone fifty years
ago, along with all of Kyuushuu: ample testament to how dangerous the Bells
can be if misused.  In Michi's view, even one bell in Himika's possession is so
dangerous that it's worth risking the second Bell to get it back.  If she's
that determined, it's up to the menfolk to go out and kick ass.  All except
Kira, who feels like he can't fight in an Orb mech -- fortunately, he believes
there's other things he can do to help besides just pummeling the bad guys.
That leaves the Murasame for Cagalli herself to pilot if necessary.  The
Build Angels are the ones tasked with actually recovering the original Jeeg
head.

Mist can't shake the feeling that this operation isn't entirely rational, and
he's not the only one.  Shizuru and Carmen both noticed something in Michi's
eyes when Himika first unveiled the head, a desperately wistful look like that
of one who's lost a lover.  Significantly, neither Anna nor Wendy picked that
up.  Surely any lover of Michi's would be mummified by now if he's still in
Jeeg's cockpit, but mummy or not Michi's heart still seems moved by more than a
simple desire to protect mankind.  Anna favors the direct approach of just
asking Michi, but that wouldn't be very mannerly.  The quickest way to find
out is to simply recover the Jeeg head.  For that matter, standing around
trading rumors about Michi isn't very mannerly either, so Carmen and the others
stop.

The Jama are as good as their word, opening up a hole in their kekkai right on
schedule.  Himika praises the second Jeeg's determination, but ridicules its
foolishness in actually walking into her trap -- a mistake which Jeeg will
long savor amidst the fires of Hell.  Not so likely, if Kenji has anything to
say about it.  The Build Angels have detected the signature of the first Bell
from within the enemy flagship, and Mitsuko asks Kenji to make a hole in it
big enough for them to slip through.  Given how both Kouji and Kenji have
new armaments to break in, that just might be possible.

  As the battle draws near a close, the two Jeegs begin to resonate with
  each other, giving Himika a glimpse of the sort of cosmic power the Bells
  contain.  She grasps enough quickly enough to wipe out the kekkai that's
  been imprisoning her people, but just as quickly, Kenji and Kouji seize the
  opportunity to put a big fat hole in the side of Himika's flagship.
  Interestingly, Kouji admits that he likely couldn't have inflicted this much
  damage alone, which probably shows how much he's matured as a man as well as
  a pilot.  One hole is all the Build Angels need to steal back the Jeeg
  head, much to the chagrin of Himika's lieutenants.

  Himika however is unconcerned: she now knows of a power even greater than
  that of the Bronze Bell.  A power so big in fact, that one could rule the
  universe with it.  She tells her minions that it's time to blow this
  popsicle stand, and promises the maggot-like humans that the next time they
  see her, it'll be from a position groveling on the floor.  With that she
  withdraws, leaving a gaggle of minions to guard her rear.

  Take them down, and a new foe will appear, a tigeriform Haniwa critter
  that Kyou recognizes as Balba.  He doesn't have time to explain why, but
  despite the fact this thing is attacking, Kyou is positive this thing is
  not actually an enemy.  He asks everyone to leave it to Kenji, saying that
  this thing is attempting to ascertain just how strong Kenji actually is.
  A furious exchange of blows ensues, but Balba seems to be doing nothing more
  than playing with him.

Playtime ends quickly, and Balba disappears as quickly as he appeared.  By
that point, Himika is well out of reach... but remember that the original
Jeeg head is back where it belongs.  Himika can be defeated next time; for now,
all the poor Kyuushuu-ites who have been trapped for the past however long are
long overdue for a good rescuing.  Fortunately there's a lot of room aboard
the Archangel to ferry these folks back to Build Base.

  Only one little problem: with the kekkai gone, the Festoom invade the place
  quickly.  The thought of somewhere they couldn't go was a strong lure, but
  upon seeing that there's nothing of special interest in Kyuushuu, they
  decide to assimilate all the people they can.  Of course, it's the
  Archangel team's job to prevent that.

  Calls to the Dragon Pavilion bear fruit quickly: multiple Fafners show up
  to take up the fight against the Festoom.  This allows the Archangel to
  concentrate on scooping up all the survivors and getting the heck out of
  Dodge.  Soushi informs Kouyou and Sakura that the only reason he's sent
  rookies like them into battle is to see just how much clout they've got.
  Kouyou still has his grudge against Kazuki and Soushi, but his thoughts are
  now audible to the team, and Soushi reprimands him to concentrate on the
  mission.  Kazuki tries to tell Kouyou to concentrate on the little Festoom
  while he takes on the big one, but Kouyou, emotions totally out of control,
  refuses to take Kazuki's orders.

The Festoom make for a pretty intimidating enemy, given the whole assimilation
bit and all.  Fortunately, none of the team suffered that fate today, and in
fact Kouyou and Sakura did well enough to earn a commendation from Soushi.
Kouyou looks on as the final few evacuees make their way towards the safety of
the ship, taking particular note of a mother running with her child.  Another
Festoon shows up on cue and starts shooting at them, and Kouyou rushes over to
act as a shield.  Not the smartest move in some sense: though his actions save
the last few stragglers, his Mark Vier gets taken over by the Festoom.
Sakura is forced to blast Kouyou's cockpit free from the rest of the mech,
leaving Kazuki free to wipe out the Festoom.  It's time to clear the fsck out,
and in the interest of time the Archangel takes the surviving Fafners with it.

Looks like Kouyou lost his vengeful little soul, and Soushi isn't shy about
saying so when he walks over.  Kazuki demands to know if he came here on
purpose, and Soushi tells him in as many words that Tsubaki sent him here to
offer support to anyone shocked at Kouyou's appearance.  The reason Kouyou
is still even in human form, with a beating heart, is that his central nervous
system was the only part of him to get assimilated during the battle.  His
"heart" is gone completely.  As the rest of the team digests the sobering
sight, Sakura tries to blame the mess on herself.  Soushi flatly tells her
that she's wrong: Kouyou brought this entirely on himself by trying to save
those hostages.  That earns him a slap and a sharp rejoinder from Cagalli,
but while Mist has the same knee-jerk reaction, he also stops to think further
about Soushi's reaction.  There must be some reason why he values the Fafners
so highly... but what?!  Soushi may have the right idea in showing this lot
what people say about those who lose Fafners due to their selfish actions,
without even knowing what that loss means, but unfortunately he's not really
helping that knowledge process out much...

For now, the Archangel will return to Build Base to drop the Jeeg Head off,
and then head to the Dragon Pavilion in the hopes that maybe Kouyou can be
cured.  Along the way, it becomes clear that time has essentially been frozen
inside the Zone: scarcely a day has gone on the inside, when fifty years have
elapsed outside.  This means that they have _not_ been struggling heroically
to survive against all odds, which comes as a bit of a letdown to the Godannar
folks.  On the other hand, the Kyuushuu-ites have a lot to adapt to, which
could come as something of a shock.  Maybe not that much of a shock though:
the Build Angels can tell from firsthand experience that one gets used to the
modern world fairly quickly.

See, it turns out they're actually from fifty years ago, fighter pilots who
got caught in the peripheral clouds around the Zone and emerged into modern
times only recently.  That explains their seemingly unusual first-hand
knowledge of how badly off Japan was the last time the Jama attacked.  Just
then, Shiba calls in with some great news: Hiroshi is okay!  Had the guy been
a normal human, he'd have been toast for sure... but as some might remember,
Hiroshi is anything but normal.  Carmen extracts a confession from Michi that
Hiroshi is in fact her boyfriend from way back when, and Michi rushes off to
sickbay for her reunion... one that will be bittersweet at best.  For a brief
moment, it appears Hiroshi no longer recognizes her, but as she turns to
leave Hiroshi asks her to stay, haltingly telling her that he's back at long
last.

The whole mess has gotten Angelica thinking: should she and Mist become
somehow separated again by Gating, and meet each other after fifty years
apart, would they still be able to be partners?  Be it fifty, a hundred, or
however long, Mist cherishes Angelica and wouldn't have it any other way.
That's good enough for Angelica, who says she'd do the same for him.  This
sounds a bit bossy, but rather than bristle at it Mist accepts the
compliment more or less at face value.  That proves to Angelica that Mist must
really be hung up on Soushi's words -- she just hopes that whatever sadness
comes from losing a Fafner is something Mist can come to understand too.


17B. Daichi Maryuu, Reawakened

As Ruuji and an impatient Mii look on, Daiya and Lee are practicing karate,
seemingly heedless of the impending trip through the Gate.  It takes formidable
powers of concentration to ignore Mii's snide remarks, and when he finally
notices she's there Daiya assures her that he'd have stopped right away had
she actually been radiating real animosity.  Lee notes that Daiya's finally
able to settle down and improve his technique, and asks Daiya to demonstrate
the True-Dragon Stance.  Daiya's powers have grown to the point that he can
actually generate flames in the palm of his hand, which is a foundation Lee
intends to help him build upon further.  He also jokingly tells Daiya to make
sure to announce that it was Lee who taught him all this stuff when valiantly
striking down his enemies.

From Sakon's calculations, the Daikuu Maryuu should have 12 hours of operating
time inside the Gate.  Plenty of time, if nothing goes wrong.  Nothing has
tried to stop the Daikuu Maryuu's progress so far, likely thanks to running
with its Illusion Protect active.  The actual trip through the Gate turns out
to be pretty rough, with a hell of a lot more shaking than any previous
teleportation anyone on the team has experienced.  That's probably proof that
the Gate is getting ready to close, and if not for the ship's Hydriude Flare
aura, Sakon thinks it would get crushed like a beercan.  As it is, a mysterious
object seemingly composed of pure light makes its way towards the ship, and
there's no real way to avoid it...

Mist starts seeing a strange vision of himself, being called to dinner by
Sheldia.  In the vision, the two of them have kids, who both seemingly
inherited their parents' penchant for chowing down.  Mist can't believe what
he's seeing, but before he can fully digest the thought of having children
with Sheldia, the view changes.  Now, he sees himself back on Atreem with
Angelica, hunting down some wanted criminal or other.  Angelica is his boss,
and very handy with her gun when the criminal tries (and fails) to flee.
Angelica tells Mist he'd better berate himself a bit for letting the criminal
escape in the first place.  His "punishment" is making her dinner at her place,
which he should take as a form of "imprisonment".  She's got some great wine
all set to accompany it.  This time, Mist can't believe that he's such a
bumbling police officer, and a subservient one at that.

As his view shifts again, Lulu finds herself facing a beautiful, strangely
familiar ocean.  By the water's edge is her younger self, holding hands with
her mother and asking when her father will come.  Very soon now, says her
mother, as a figure draws near.  The figure's face is obscured, and before
he can reach the other two a fourth actor says that the girl is cursed, and
deserves to be punished.  Her mother takes the bullet, and with her dying
words tells her beloved daughter to grow up strong.  Lulu hopes, prays that
this is a dream, and that she'll awaken from it soon...

Mist regains consciousness aboard the Daikuu Maryuu, surrounded by the
Dangaioh team.  At least he wasn't alone in having visions: everyone aboard
passed out briefly, and several people have yet to regain consciousness.
La Kan's vision was of his home village at peace, and him surrounded by his
grandchildren.  Le Mii's vision included a faboo boyfriend and a fishing trip,
while Pai's featured her joining the family space pirate business and running
amok.  Gainer's had him tilling the fields of Yapan at Sara's side; whatever
vision Sara saw seems to involve Gainer but is too embarrassing for her to
share.  Same goes for Rosa's vision, which was luscious enough to make her
sigh deeply just from looking at Garis.  Mist thinks there's no way in hell he
can share his vision of him married to Sheldia, but she's up front talking
about her vision, in which Mist and she were running a flower shop on Bezzard.

To everyone's astonishment, Sakon proclaims that, in his preliminary judgement
at least, what everyone experienced is just a side-effect of regular
dimensional travel, not an abnormality caused by the specifics of the Gate
they just crossed.  He's got his work cut out for him when the time comes for
detailed analysis, but for now, the exit to the Gate is about upon them, and
with it the Darius-verse!

Turns out Gil has been working on a little science project for Proist: a
prototype flight suit.  Proist is impressed at Gil's tech level, but Gil
brushes that off and orders Zailin (who he rescued the other day out of
interest in his dino-mech) to hand the suit over.  Zailin doesn't like being
referred to as Gil's pet, and when Proist sees his indignant eyes, she asks
for his name.  She senses a lot of power within him, and assures him he's the
sort of man who will accomplish things someday.  Telling him not to get
depressed, she takes the suit and comments that it should make dominating the
Earth like taking candy from a baby.  The time has therefore come to awaken
the Ankoku no Maryuu, a topic which instantly rouses Gil's curiosity.

The Daikuu Maryuu has emerged in the middle of the mountains, which should
shield it from prying eyes for the moment.  As Sakon starts furiously
analyzing data, Shizuka reports in that all that shaking hasn't actually
caused much damage.  Whatever damage was caused will need to be repaired on
the double, since the Daikuu Maryuu will need to actually return home the same
way.  Ruuji isn't entirely looking forward to that, since all the shaking and
flashy lights make him quite ill.  Try getting thrown around in the Warp Beam,
or better yet blasted off in the Boost Knuckle, of the Dangaioh!  Poor Ruuji,
picked on at every turn.

Those visions seen during the Gate trip are very puzzling: some people saw the
future, while others saw the past.  One thing's for sure: the visions were very
real and very tempting, enough to make Mia jealous of her other self for
leading a peaceful life with her family.  Or Rosa, for her other self having
fun at a Darius amusement park with Garis.  Mist continues to deny that his
vision had anything to do with Sheldia... or Angelica for that matter, for fear
of what the rest of the team would say.  The fact that many of the visions seem
to portray an _alternate_ fate for the viewer is curious, but nothing concrete
can be deduced until Sakon finishes.  There's not much most of the crew can do
to help, unless you count feeding him something recuperative or actually
fending off any enemies he might identify.  And his hard labor does mean
periods of rest for the others on the team.  Sheldia, with better intuition
than Mist might hope for, is convinced that Mist must have seen something about
her, and won't let the matter drop.  If anything, what Mist wants to know is
why he saw himself on Atreem and Bezzard, but not on his new homeworld Earth
(it isn't because of his ambivalence towards its people, is it?)

Since the team has some time to kill in Darius-verse, Garis asks Lulu to get
the resistance army on the horn: he's curious about the situation.  Lulu
gets through, and links up the conversation with the captain's chair
specifically.  Whatever Garis hears startles him mightily: the enemies have
gained a capability they weren't supposed to be able to use.  If the report is
true, the Darius-verse is going to be in for a really rough ride.  After some
thought, he tells his alarmed crew that the Daichi Maryuu seems to have
revived.  This is the prototype for the Daikuu Maryuu, a battleship with
similar specs but superior firepower.  The ship was supposedly sealed deep
underground, never to be resurrected again, and with far less detachment than
he usually shows, Garis announces that the Daikuu Maryuu will be heading to
the spot where the Daichi Maryuu once slept.

Proist has sent Norza and his men to a stretch of burned out rubble, for no
immediately apparent good reason.  Caine suddenly notices that the destruction
seems unusually fresh, and Norza is starting to agree when Gaiking shows up.
This is apparently The Spot(tm), and Garis tells Daiya to hang out there
until he and the others can catch up.  No doubt Daiya and Norza are fated to
fight each other or whatnot, and for a change their duel unfolds as a straight
exchange of blows, fair and square.  That is, until Proist orders Norza to
halt his little "warmup bout" so she can show him the main attraction.  She
didn't expect the Daikuu Maryuu to show up, but that's just another fortunate
miscalculation on her part.  She insists on being today's heroine, and 
confirms what Garis heard: that the servant of Darkness, which once shook the
whole Empire, is back.

The Daichi Maryuu is less a single battleship, and more a battle _formation_.
The puzzling part is how Proist can use it at all: Garis specifically
arranged the thing so that only Surface dwellers could use it.  The fact is,
they figured it out somehow, and now Proist sets out in Vulking to force
Garis' team to kneel in the ashes.  Turns out that the Daichi Maryuu's head
can sortie just like the Daikuu Maryuu's can, and like the Gaiking is powered
by Red Flame.  Proist's flight suit must be designed to convert her Black
Flames into Red ones, or something, but that seems of little importance just
now.

What's important is to fight back, which Garis is initially reluctant to do
because he knows that Gaiking and its counterpart are evenly matched.  La Kan
points out that if he _doesn't_ fight back, the damage to everyone else will
only be that much worse: nobody is expecting to get through this fight
unscathed.  Garis knows he in effect caused this mess, and after a brief
round of affirmation from the team, battle is joined.  Proist was half hoping
that the sight of her newfound power would be enough to drive the Daikuu
Maryuu away, but seeing that it hasn't, she says that a little lesson in
getting your ass kicked is required.

  Gil doesn't stay on the sidelines for long, not with the much-hated Mia in
  his sights.  Zailin has his own grudge to transact against the Zoids, and
  Proist lets them join in the fun, provided they let none of their enemies
  out of here alive.  The Dangaioh team are more than up to turning Gil's
  vengeance on its ear; hopefully Ruuji can muster the determination to do
  the same with Zailin.

  Norza's fair-and-square fighting style isn't rewarded with victory: he
  suffers unsustainable damage to his drive systems and has to leave the
  battle with his duel on hold.  Same goes for Caine, and for Zailin.  When
  o when will his vengeance be completed?  Tomorrow maybe?  For that matter,
  Gil has very little to say to soften the blow of his defeat today either.

  Proist is another story.  She managed to get her hands on the Crown Greeter,
  letting her take control of Garis' bloodstained treasure.  She can totally
  envision Garis' pained expression, and tries to lord it over him... which
  mainly just convinces him that the darn thing needs to be destroyed before
  it can wreak any more mischief.

  That's easier said than done.  When the damage builds past a certain
  threshold, Proist orders the Daichi Maryuu to attack Gaiking with its
  Miracle Drill, dealing serious damage.  Before she can strike the fatal
  blow though, Norza intervenes and pulls Daiya out of danger.  He can't
  explain why, but the thought of anyone but him defeating Daiya is more than
  he can stand.  Perhaps it's because the only time Norza can feel human is
  when fighting him?

  Whatever it is, Proist sets about pummeling Norza's ass.  The sight pisses
  Daiya off mightily, and he uses that True-Dragon stance to pull off a new
  and thoroughly mighty attack.  Proist never expected the Vulking to get
  smacked around this badly, and wisely decides to withdraw.  After all, she's
  already shown Garis what the true face of Hell looks like, so her work here
  is done.

Garis definitely has a lot to worry about, since there's one more prototype
Maryuu out there: the Tenkuu Maryuu.  He knows the time for keeping secrets is
past, and proceeds to tell a tale that up until now only he, Sakon, Daimon and
Dr. Franklin have known.  This secret, which all of them had intended to take
to the grave, starts with the three scientists getting captured by the Darius
Army thirteen years ago, and forced to do weapons research.  The three Maryuus
were created during that time, and the chief of the science division, Garis,
held serious doubts about their mission to invade the Surface.  He and the
scientists hatched a plan to grab the Maryuus and fight their way to freedom,
which worked to perfection.  They then became the nucleus of a resistance
movement, though two of the the three Maryuu's were deemed too difficult and
dangerous to handle.

Of course, the Tenkuu Maryuu and its head, Raiking, were feared to be
unstoppable should they go out of control.  Thus, the two unused Maryuu's were
sealed away and rigged so that only one of strong Red Flames could operate
them.  Apparently Proist has managed to engineer a way around that limitation,
perhaps with Gil's help.  Proist's next objective will obviously be the
Tenkuu Maryuu, and sealed or otherwise it must be defended from her evil
grasp.  That pretty much decides the Daikuu Maryuu's course.

Proist asks Gil about his grudge with the Daikuu Maryuu and the Surface --
he doesn't deny it's there, but says that his main objective is sticking it
to Mia and the Dangaioh.  Zailin's main interest is, of course, Ruuji.  Both
are more than happy to help Proist with her schemes if it means being able
to dance on their nemeses' graves in the long run.  Proist likes their
deference and can-do attitude, and attaches them to Vestarnne's forces for the
next operation.  Which, in her words, will confer an even greater agony than
death on the traitor Garis...


18A. Existence - "Friend"

Espair is having major problems with his busted-ass(?) Crystal Heart, which
isn't switching on via emotional energy as advertised.  Then again, maybe the
fault isn't with the gadget, but with his own "incomplete" emotions?  Espair's
frantic inner monologue is interrupted by Gil barging into his lab, scaring the
crap out of him in the process.  Gil's never heard of any such thing before,
and Espair readily explains that it's an engine with the potential for vast
energy output.  Espair learned of it during the assault on Atreem, and secretly
smuggled one back for his personal use.  Gil wonders why the hell Espair
hasn't left the engine research up to, say, a mechanic, but Espair is adamant
that the engine is for his hands and eyes alone.  He's seen first hand what
astonishing feats it's capable of, and although he won't tell Gil precisely
what those feats are, he promises a demonstration using his captured Atreem
mech if he can just get the darn thing working.

That hasn't happened in the time since Atreem was decimated, but Espair boasts
that Mist and his Revlias will make excellent guinea pigs if he can't get his
own unit going.  He admits he doesn't know why an Atreem unit, and one with a
Crystal Heart no less, is aboard the Daikuu Maryuu, but it certainly makes
gathering info on the Crystal Heart more convenient.  Gil cynically wishes the
guy good luck and walks off, leaving Espair to mutter darkly that only someone
who's seen the Heart in action would grasp what he's trying to do.  Could it be
that his obsession with the Heart comes from having his own ass kicked by one
in the past?

Maryuu has made arrangements for Kouyou to be transferred back to the Dragon
Pavilion.  The staffers will have to run some tests, but it would seem that
Kouyou is doomed to his living death for the foreseeable future.  Soushi tells
his fellow Fafner pilots to get a good look at what happens to those who don't
obey orders, drawing a sharp but brief rebuke from Kazuki.  Kouyou's parents
will _not_ get to see what became of their supposedly heroic son, supposedly
due to the shock they would receive.  In actuality -- Makabe arranges for
Sakura and Kazuki to get hustled off to sickbay before divulging the truth --
Kouyou's parents have just been kicked out of the Pavilion, for being
Federation spies.  Their raising Kouyou turned out to be nothing but a ploy to
elevate their own access to Alberich, the organization responsible for creating
the Fafner pilots.  Wait, "creating"?  Yes, with artificial wombs and
everything; turns out that most of the people in the Pavilion have become
infertile due to the Festoom's influence.  Makabe points out that whether or
not there are artificial wombs involved, the better half of the "families"
living in the Pavilion are in fact composed of genetically-related people...
including his own.  Even greater secrets about the Pavilion remain, but Makabe
reckons that now isn't the time to sow chaos by revealing them all.

Mist and the other Daikuu Maryuu pilots have a lot to think about in the
aftermath of the Kouyou debacle.  Kenji thinks that if the Festoom have stolen
his soul, it should be a simple matter of stealing it back.  Kyou takes a
dimmer view: suppose one were to spill a can of juice into a swimming pool.
How easy would it be to get only juice back?  Umm, that would be..."not".  The
better question is why the Festoom want to combine with humans in the first
place, but there's currently no way to answer that question.  Nothing for it
but to keep holding the fort until the Daikuu Maryuu gets back, and hoping
that having two Bronze Bells will be enough to keep Himika at bay.

Kazuki and Soushi are long overdue for a little chat about the value of the
Fafners versus human life.  Soushi knows what Kazuki wants to hear, and can't
give it to him.  Kazuki accuses him of changing, but Soushi replies that
Kazuki is the one not trying to change around here.  He repeats the Festoom's
favorite phrase, "Are you there?" and tells Kazuki to forget about his two
departed friends.  Otherwise, the next casualty will be him.  He tells Kazuki
that all he needs is a functional replacement for his left eye, and tells him
that if he's got nothing more to say the conversation is over.  As Soushi walks
off, Yukie comes from around the corner, having heard the whole exchange.

Kazuki confirms that he is indeed responsible for Soushi losing his eye when
the two of them were kids, though he doesn't remember just how (having lost
consciousness during whatever it was).  He really was trying to act as that
missing eye, but he doesn't know if he can keep up with his friend at this
rate.  Yukie isn't surprised, and tells Kazuki that Soushi is the way he is
because he's seen the "outside" world.  Not necessarily Kyuushuu or the 
Darius-verse or whatever, but something far closer: a Paradise of sorts.
In fact, she'll take him there right now!

Meanwhile, the Daikuu Maryuu receives a very unexpected visitor, arriving in
the _original_ Big Shooter from fifty years ago.  It's Hiroshi of all people,
ready and raring for action thanks to his "unusual" body.  Commander Miwa,
aka Michi, is still quite able to pilot the Big Shooter as Hiroshi's partner,
abruptly adding another couple of guns to the Daikuu Maryuu's arsenal.
Surprise upgrade!

Seemingly, getting to Paradise will require a Fafner.  Yukie cautions Kazuki
that he can still turn back, but the kid is determined.  Yukie feels that
Kazuki should be protecting not just their little island, but the whole world.
Of a pilot of his caliber, one would expect nothing less, right?  Depends on
who you ask actually -- Commander Makabe, for instance, was _not_ expecting
the Mark Elf to depart his island.  Soushi isn't helping, showing not the
slightest interest in tracking anything that's going _away_ from the island.
He had somehow expected Kazuki to "understand" him, but that seems to have
gang aft agley.

Now, uh, where's this Paradise place at again?  Nowhere obvious, that's for
sure.  Yukie tells Kazuki that a certain someone will be coming shortly to
pick them up, and that he's not to move from the spot... even when a Festoom
attacks.  She orders Kazuki to stand his ground and fight, but Kazuki finds
that his mech isn't moving as he wants it to... is this because Soushi isn't
supporting him?  Just at that moment, a bunch of new mecha show up, and
Yukie tells Kazuki to withdraw.  As he does, the new mecha, Federation units,
muse that this Northung model of Fafner kind of sucks if a Sphinx-type Festoom
can give it this much trouble.

Among the Federation units is a Fafner piloted by Canon, who actually
deliberately gets close to the Festoom and answers its "Are you there"
question.  He was once "there", but is no longer.  Canon intones that the
Beast with Ten Horns despised the woman, stripping away her gown to reveal
her nakedness and devouring her flesh, and afterwards, burning her to ash!
The upshot is that Canon takes out the Festoom with one hit, and his
Federation friends quickly move in and subdue Kazuki.  They don't know who
said what to him to lead him away from the island, but it's clear he's been
tricked somehow.  And unless he wants his ass demolished, he'd better keep
his mouth shut...

All Kazuki is going to be seeing for a while is the inside of a very small
room.  Yukie has in fact kept her word by taking him to Paradise... at least,
to _her_ version of Paradise.  She tells him she'll put his Northing-series
mech to good use, chuckling to herself about how Kazuki is still far too naive.
Unfortunately, so is she: the Federation pilots, all members of the Phantom
Pain, show up and let her know that they know she got too close to Minashiro
Kouzou.  Her mission had been to use her feminine wiles to extract info from
him, but now she's suspected of becoming a double agent.  Translation:
imprisonment, and right after returning "home" after five years too.  She
belatedly recognizes her old friend Michio, and appeals to him to let her talk
to "Him" -- surely "He" wouldn't let her get locked up like this.  Michio says
that she hasn't gotten any quieter these past five years, and advises his
teammates that they'd better use a gag if they want her to pipe down.  No
lurvings there at all.

As Yukie gets hauled off, Michio tells Shamus that the Northung's core is the
vital ingredient for developing the next generation of Fafners, something
his father called the "Salvator" series.  No doubt Kazuki is fated to be some
kind of guinea pig, as the higher-ups try to figure out what kind of genetic
engineering was used to produce the Fafner pilots.  Michio might have faint
pangs of conscience about Kazuki's fate, but that's all they are: faint.

The generals are sure happy about their new acquisition.  None is happier
than Jibril, who is already envisioning armies of mass-production Northungs
trampling the Coordinators underfoot.  He orders the generals to prioritize
that over fending off the Festoom, or any of the other invaders for that
matter: the Earth must be reclaimed by the Naturals, for the Naturals.  And
by the way, what's up with all those Alvis kids being genetically engineered
and spit out of artificial wombs?  Same technology as George Glen used, but
different objective: these kids are supposed to be the ultimate enemies for
the Festoom.  That's a relief to Jibril, who is adamant that no Coordinators
must be used in the making of this picture^W^W^W^Wreclamation of the Earth.
He orders the generals to give a thorough report on what was done to the
Fafner's pilot, in the hopes of adapting some of it for the Extended program.

Whatever the generals' private feelings about priorities might be, they both
realize they need Jibril and Logos' backing if they want any shot at taking
the Festoom out eventually.  The best they can do for now is concentrate on
transplanting the Northung's core into the Salvator, which Doctor Hino is
working on as they speak.  If all goes well, the Salvator might be ready for
tests as early as tomorrow.

Some time later, Michio pays Kazuki a visit.  He tells Kazuki that he's been
a Federation pilot pretty much from the moment his father brought him off the
island five years ago, and has been and seen many things.  At the moment,
they're in the Federation's Moldova base, some 400 meters underground as a
precaution against the Festoom's heart-reading abilities.  He has no idea what
the brass are planning for Kazuki, but he's fairly sure he won't be killed.
What Michio is hoping to hear is what has been going on on the island since
he left...

Maryuu phones Makabe up and offers to help, since Kazuki's departure has 
seemingly left the island with but a single Fafner defending it.  Makabe is
still fuming over his own incompetence in underestimating how much damage
Yukie the spy could do, but tells Maryuu that the island's defenses are better
than they seem.  He's about ready to debut a new Fafner and pilot... or three.
That satisfies Maryuu, who announces the Daikuu Maryuu will be heading back to
Build Base shortly.  As she hangs up, Makabe finds himself thinking that his
son is better off in Federation custody than in battle, which is a very
un-commanderly way to think.

The new pilots are pondering Kazuki's departure with Yukie.  It is resoundingly
_not_ a case of spring-fall romance as Kenji thinks, nor is it cowardice in the
face of the enemy as Sakura would have it.  Maya says that Kazuki didn't want
to be changed the way Fafner fighting would have caused: he wanted at least
someone to remember what he was like before he got into the cockpit.  Maya
frankly can't believe that they, Kazuki's supposed friends, failed to grasp
Kazuki's feelings.

Hino is Kazuki's next visitor, busy these past five years in coming up with
a new Fafner.  Not a Fafner devoted to taking out more enemies, but rather to
keeping more of its pilots alive.  He asks why Kazuki left the island, and
Kazuki tells him that he wanted to know why he should fight, wanted to find
the self that didn't seem to exist anywhere.  Hino asks Kazuki to come work
with him, saying he might just have a path for Kazuki besides fighting.
Something to think about, anyway...

Elsewhere, Idun and Mjolnir are looking at something that is... not like them.
They speak both collectively and individually, and the two decide to split up
and act independently.  Apparently Mjolnir has been working with Hino, and
is very interested in the Northung's Core.  He tells her that it was part of
the Miel that was used back in Kyuushuu: a source of despair for mankind and
yet its only hope.  Mjolnir says that "they" concur, which doesn't entirely
satisfy Hino.  He asks her why she thinks he hasn't let Mitsuhiro know that
curious Festoom are infesting his base.  Only in part, apparently.  Hino has
chosen a path apart from both what Mitsuhiro has in mind, and from the 
Arcadian Project.  He tells Mjolnir to heed the will of the human she once
absorbed, Makabe Akane, though she counters that Akane no longer exists.  Hino
isn't so sure, and wants to let her meet Kazuki.  It might just a major branch
point for both the Festoom and the humans...

The collective won't let her meet any Miel besides itself.  That might be why
Idun has sprung into action: surprise, more than one Festoom in the base!
That's probably a good reason to abandon it, and Hino rushes to Kazuki's cell.
He has a request for Kazuki: stall for time in his Mark Elf until the new
Fafner can be finished.  He promises to give it to Kazuki when it's ready,
though there's no time to explain why.

The Phantom Pain were part of the general evacuation, leaving Michio, Canon,
and a few others holding the bag.  Canon takes the whole thing very calmly,
planning to follow his orders to take out the Festoom exactly.  Canon and
Michio are in fact the only human forces that don't get wrecked immediately,
and Michio at least is sort of glad to see Kazuki show up.  He quickly
decides to bet on his dad's research project, and has to order Canon to let
Kazuki (supposedly a prisoner) fight alongside him.

  The Festoom are keeping at least some of their strength in reserve to start
  with, since another wave of bad guys emerges on the heels of the first.
  While the battle rages on, someone with a video camera starts transmitting
  images of the battle to the whole world.  The sight of the Festoom hordes is
  pretty depressing stuff, and that may be just what the enemy wants... if
  one believes that the Festoom understand human emotions.  No sooner has the
  sight of the fighting been pinpointed than the Mark Elf comes on screen.
  So _that's_ where Kazuki has been all this time.

  Maryuu phones up and wants to go rescue Kazuki, but Makabe won't dispatch
  any troops.  His excuses include that there's no telling who's actually
  inside the Mark Elf, and even if it is Kazuki, the kid is a wanted fugitive
  for running off with a Fafner.  Cagalli gets rapidly sick of the bureaucratic
  B.S. and finally resolves to go save Kazuki on her own -- in case Makabe
  forgot, there are _Festoom_ out there to deal with.  Maryuu asks if Makabe
  minds, and the dunce can't even answer her question.  With no time to
  waste, Maryuu is forced to simply hang up.

The broadcast, coming via satellite network, even reaches Espair amidst his
increasingly frustrating quest to get the damn Crystal Heart working.  All
questions of whether the thing is simply busted are put aside as Espair tries
to understand why the Festoom would broadcast the combat all over the world.
Unless, that is, the Festoom have been influenced by the beings they've been
combining with, in which case the seemingly unintelligent silicon-based Festoom
could evolve into something much smarter.  Espair asks his somewhat dense
assistant if he wants to help Espair "evolve" past his current, so
out-of-fashion form.  After all, this soldier is just a simple "Fragment" born
out of the Planet Crisis: assimilating him would take less than a single
night's rest.  The soldier cowers, managing to point out that a humble guy like
himself couldn't possibly help Espair evolve much.  Espair tells him not to
sweat it: everyone disappears sooner or later (except, if his plans work out,
Espair himself...)

For now, he and the rest of the world are glued to their televisions, watching
the humans get smacked around.  Hamaguchi tells Makabe to stop being a stubborn
ass, and says that he'll go alone to the battle front if Makabe isn't going to
order a dispatch.  Makabe asks if Hamaguchi thinks Makabe would permit that,
but Hamaguchi fires back that Makabe's boss has ordered him to look after both
Makabe and his son.  That would be Akane, ace pilot of the Federation Second
Mixed Special Forces Batallion.  If further proof was needed that Makabe has
lost total control of the situation, it comes in the form of his four Fafners
launching entirely on their own.  Soushi is most infuriated of all, about to
demand that recall orders be sent when Tsubaki walks in and tells him to let
the pilots do as they wish.  After all, Soushi wants to save Kazuki as much as
anyone, under all his official facade.  Soushi then tries to protest that a
bunch of trainees won't be able to rescue Kazuki... which is of course what he
and the stupid Siegfried System are for.

Makabe then asks Soushi to get in the Siegfried system, saying that all
responsibility for this mess is his.  Soushi thinks to himself that he feels
much anger towards Kazuki, who caused all this, but nevertheless finds himself
wanting to save him.  The Fafner pilots meanwhile aren't exactly unified in
anything other than wanting to save Kazuki.  Some think that saving him will
also be good for the Dragon Pavilion, others want to kick Kazuki's ass once
they get him home.  Still others find Soushi's cold exterior to be the real
problem.  Soushi cuts in at that point, not stopping them from heading to
Moldova but ordering them to follow his commands.  This they do with some
trepidation...

  The Festoom assault continues basically uninterrupted, but fortunately the
  Mark Zein finally becomes ready to launch.  Hino orders Kazuki to come pick
  it up, promising that it'll be far better for this battle than continuing
  to duke it out at Canon and Michio's side as he is.  Michio tells him to get
  his butt going and come back soon, and no sooner has Kazuki disappeared into
  the hangar than the Archangel appears.  They of course don't see the person
  they came to rescue, so it's decided to take out the Festoom first.  Michio
  agrees to a cease-fire at least until the Festoom are dealt with and Kazuki
  has his new Fafner online.

Give the Festoom this: they are _damn_ persistent.  Kazuki better get his butt
back on the battlefield soon, or even the Archangel flotilla will find itself
in dire straits.  Part of the problem is the artist formerly known as Akane:
Hino wants her (them?) to give the data disk for the Mark Zein to the Dragon
Pavilion child with its own hands.  The Festoom refuse to let their Miel meet
with a human Miel, not out of fear or pique but out of a desire to wipe this
dimension clean and proceed to a higher one.  Fine: at least let former-Akane
watch the Zein's core's unfurling, as the first step down the path Akane once
tried to walk.  Former-Akane starts to muse over how Kazuki is (was?) her son,
and Hino entrusts the disk to her before hurrying off to see to this base's
destruction.

Espair is still staring at the boob-tube when the Revlias traipses across
the screen.  This reminds him that his Crystal Heart isn't doing jack, and
firms his resolve to go get a new one.  He orders his men to get his personal
mech ready, seemingly blind to everything else.

Kazuki is running around the hangar looking for Hino when Former-Akane finds
him and gives him the disk.  That's all: the Festoom collective will allow
Former-Akane no further inflection points.  Kazuki is shocked to learn that his
mother is now part of the collective, but there's no time for further debate.
She orders him aboard this new Miel's vessel, saying that she will be "no
longer there" very shortly.  Well, if that isn't good for motivating Kazuki to
defeat the Festoom, I don't know what is.  The new mech feels awesome, but
there's no time to ponder that, or why all his friends from the Pavilion have
seemingly overlooked his treachery to stage a rescue.

  Credit the Festoom with enough intelligence to recognize a dangerous mech
  when they see it.  They set about trying to take down the Mark Zein, using
  the Fed mecha they took out before in assimilated form.  Nothing can be
  done for the pilots now, except letting them rest in peace.  That might get
  easier when the rest of the Fafners show up, though it's far from clear to
  hear their pilots' excessively emotional radio transmissions.  It's Soushi's
  job to keep them reined in, and whatever else Soushi might think about
  Kazuki, he knows full well he never has this trouble with Kazuki's mental
  state.  Mamoru has a plan: let the enemy attack him and use that window of
  time for the other three pilots to strike.  A pretty ludicrous plan, but
  what else do you expect from someone styling himself the "Mecha Samurai"?

  All the same, this may be one of those occasions where Soushi himself needs
  to relax a bit, and believe in his pilots.  Certainly that's how the clash
  with the nearest Festoom goes.  For rookie pilots who are maybe middle-
  school aged, their execution is quite impressive, and Shizuru doesn't
  hesitate to say so.  Anna (a high schooler) knows she'd better step up her
  game too.  Soushi confirms that Kazuki is okay, and tells him to come back
  to the Pavilion once all this is over.  He deflects Kazuki's attempts to
  thank him for coming though, telling Kazuki to concentrate on the battle.

  Mamoru insists he's the Mecha Samurai Gobein, while Kenji mainly keeps crying
  for mommy to save him from turning out like Kouyou.  Sakura orders the
  Festoom to come and get blown away by how strong she is, and Maya tells
  Kazuki that she's inheriting Shouko's spirit in the fight to come.

  Despite all the throwdown, the Festoom _still_ aren't giving up.  Hino
  radios in to Kazuki, telling him that he's deep under the base.  Rather than
  let the Festoom waltz off with the base's data, he intends to blow the whole
  thing sky-high... in a little less than five minutes!  Michio isn't at all
  thrilled at his father's retributive strike, but there's no way to escape
  from the control room thanks to all the Festoom roaming the base's corridors.
  Hino apologizes to his son, and tells him to get to safety.  Oh, and lest
  anyone worry about trying to rescue any of the others in the base, Hino
  confirms that he's the only survivor.  Priority one must be getting everyone,
  Fafners included, aboard the Archangel and making tracks.

  Of course, that's precisely the time when Espair shows up, happy to be
  facing a portion of the mech that hosed his ass some five years ago.  Mist
  for his part is totally manic at the thought of finally getting revenge on
  behalf of Atreem.  What Espair wants to know is how that snot-nosed brat from
  back when can make a Crystal Heart work when he can't: is it something in
  the water on Atreem, or what?  As Mist's emotional energy swells, Espair
  notices something weird: Mist's mech's power output actually _drops_.

  The result is zero damage, and new insight into why Espair was having such
  trouble with his Crystal Heart.  Mist doesn't know what the hell the guy is
  talking about, but as he prepares for a second shot on behalf of his
  homeworld, Cagalli yells that nothing Mist does can make that homeworld come
  back now!  And besides, it's not like Espair is the only one Mist needs to
  hold responsible: he's got to live long enough to see Espair's whole
  organization pay, if not much longer yet.  That gets through to Mist, who
  has to repeat everything he's just been told at the top of his lungs, because
  he's slow like that.

  The humans all flee, and sadly Espair's flunky detects the impending
  explosion in enough time for the two of them to flee too.  The remaining
  Festoom aren't so lucky...

The Earth now has one fewer island cluttering up the landscape, and Espair has
a neato souvenir for nearly being part of that terrain-altering blast.  He
now knows why he can't use the Crystal Heart, so all that remains is to figure
out who or what can, and then weaponize it!

Michio hasn't taken too kindly to being left in the Moldova base as bait while
the Federation higher-ups fled.  He's more than happy to switch allegiances
to the Dragon Pavilion, and wherever code-name "Triple-Six" goes, so goes
Canon.  Maryuu will take responsibility for housing the two, especially since
Michio doesn't expect a warm welcome upon returning to his birthplace.  Kira
assures him that everyone in the Pavilion are warm-hearted, but there's really
only one person Michio is worried about: Yumiko.  Will _she_ welcome him back?

In the hangar, Cagalli is herding the four young Fafner pilots into a shipping
container in lieu of the ship's brig (partially because she doesn't actually
_want_ to put them in the brig, but she doesn't let on as much).  She yells
at them that Makabe and Soushi are pissed as hell, and even though their
intentions were good, no one is entitled to run off and do whatever they want,
whenever they want.  She even tells them they might get executed if they're
not careful, though that wouldn't actually happen as such.  Kazuki apologizes
for precipitating this whole mess, and Mamoru, still wearing his samurai mask,
thunders that he'd better ponder his misdeeds long and hard, and try to regain
their commanders' respect next time.  Sakura gets sick of his samurai act and
decks him, knocking the mask off and leaving Mamoru apparently unaware of what
he's been doing this past several hours.  ...Whoa, schizophrenia GET?  As the
container door shuts, Cagalli gets reminded by Marduke how she was once this
impulsive herself... ending up crashing her Sky Grappler and running into Aslan
for the first time.  She really hopes Aslan can somehow muzzle the Zaft
warmongers and come back to her in one piece...

Mist's apology to the team is mainly an opportunity for piling on about how
he hasn't matured one bit.  Clearly the best penance would be to treat everyone
to dinner, which he has nowhere near enough money for.  Shizuru observes that
he could pay with his body instead: give massages to everyone, a _thorough_
sixty minutes each.  Kouji and the rest of the pilots are thrilled at the
prospect of all their cockpit cramping getting eased away, though Kenji warns
that Monko's body is like a rock and will take excessive force (which Kenji
promptly receives from Monko for mentioning such a thing).  Mist is going to
be at this for days, but one could consider it a form of physical training.
Mist's hands are going to be ready to fall off before this is over, but he
realizes that they're encouraging him more than they are dumping on him.  He's
determined to answer that support, and somehow find a way to retain his
equilibrium the next chance he gets to defeat his nemesis.  The question is
why his attack was _so_ ineffective: is that something to do with this Crystal
Heart business?  Angelica finds it ironic that a clash with the scourges of
Atreem would get Mist back on task, but she'll definitely take that over Mist's
black worryings about the Earthlings.  What she misses most, though, is his
smile.

Makabe is falling all over himself apologizing for all the trouble his idiot
son and rookie cohorts put Cagalli's people to, but Cagalli reminds him that
it was her decision to go save Kazuki in the first place.  That was the
rookies' motive too, and she asks that he go easy on them for it -- especially
since she's been holding all of them in a repentance chamber for the ride home
already.  Said pilots are all undergoing thorough mental and physical checkups,
testing for any ill effects from all the new Fafner combat they experienced.
Soushi, at his sister's urging, goes to check in on them, ostensibly out of
concern for this new Fafner of Kazuki's.  Makabe again thanks Cagalli for her
help, and promises to lend his aid to her cause in return once his stable of
pilots has a bit more seasoning.

Chizuru tells Kazuki and the others that they've suffered no ill effects from
all the fighting, adding that they should contact her at once if they
experience anything abnormal.  Not that this is likely a good
strategy for skipping class, at least if Sakura has anything to say about it.
The good news gives some of the other pilots a chance to ponder the Siegfried
System and the enormous strain the Fafner pilots must be under.  Normal people
couldn't stand having another person cohabiting their body and mind for a
minute, much less an entire battle.  Kenji for instance has enough on his
mind already, between focusing on battle and devoting a few spare cycles to
lascivious thoughts.  That piques Anna's interest, but a much more important
conversation ensues when Yumiko comes in.

She can't believe Michio is back, and it's unclear at first if she means that
in a good or a bad way.  Michio explains how he came back, and offers to
leave the island at once if she doesn't want to see his face again.  She never
said that, and although she doesn't want to "welcome" back someone who
betrayed the Pavilion, she is in fact glad to see him alive.  One presumes it's
less about the Pavilion, and more about the fact that she and he were going out
prior to Micho and his father's departure.

As for what Michio does now, Makabe has the perfect idea: instructor for the
rookies.  He knows that Michio was a Federation pilot of some renown, and will
take any way to fast track his brood of chicks into full-fledged pilots he
can.  Plus, what Makabe remembers of Michio is a kind-hearted boy who wouldn't
betray his fellow Pavilioneers.  Michio takes the job, based partly on the
realization at Moldova that the Earth is facing more than just Festoom attack.
Someone's got to do something before it's too late, and that someone might as
well be Kazuki and friends.  Makabe hopes Canon will consent to help in the
fight as well, since there's this little pilot shortage and all.  Canon asks
if that's Michio's "order", so he orders her to stay and help him help 
everyone else.  Canon is still a minor, so Makabe asks Youko to take Canon in
as a ward, if not exactly as a replacement for the daughter she just lost.
With all that settled, it's time for the Archangel to get ready to depart, and
for the Fafner pilots to get ready for a full menu of training.  Whatever else
can be said, Kazuki now knows for sure that he "is here".

Maya recommends that, in between training, Kazuki and the rest go see Shouko's
grave.  Kazuki muses that he's got to apologize to Shouko for what he's done,
but Maya doesn't think so.  Or, maybe she does -- it's all rather confusing
actually.  What Maya was hoping for was kind of a gathering of old friends,
just like they used to.  Maybe that might help ease everyone's pain a little?
Kazuki tells her that Soushi probably isn't really mad at the rest of them,
though he might hate Kazuki himself now.  Maya assures him that Soushi would
never hate him, and expects Soushi to even directly thank Kazuki one day
(maybe not today though -- Soushi_was_ pretty steamed).  Oh, and before Maya
forgets: welcome back!


18B. Captain Garis' Shocking Secret

Lulu is still having visions of Proist "punishing" her mother for being an
accursed child, just as she did during the Gate crossing.  She would dearly
love to know why Proist is showing up in a dream from her childhood, and who
the other Darius person who seemingly shot her mother is.  Vexing stuff, but
not as immediately relevant as what the other pilots are deliberating; namely,
what to do about the Daikuu Maryuu's prototypes.  Given how nasty the Daichi
Maryuu is, the Tenkuu Maryuu _damn_ well better be kept from the Darius forces,
lest true catastrophe ensue.

A key player in preventing that is Daiya, who isn't to be found in his private
tent in the hangar.  Mia spied him heading to the mess hall, mumbling about
needing food to clear his head about Norza.  That's just as Shizuka and Garis
feared, and Shizuka figures it might be time to go cheer the kid up.  Sadly,
the Darius army doesn't afford her the time: Vestarnne and her troops stage
a sneak attack and board the Daikuu Maryuu.  She orders her troops to head
for the bridge at top speed as the Daikuu's pilots race to catch up.
Mist tells Gainer to get to somewhere safe, and if possible to make sure Ana
and Lioubov are okay.  Gainer doesn't want to leave Sara behind, but she
tells him to get his butt in gear and not die on her.

The invaders rapidly spread to the engine room and mess hall, nab Lulu, and
just as quickly beat a hasty retreat.  Or try to, until Lee confronts Vestarnne
and calls her on the carpet for stooping to kidnapping.  That gives her pause,
but when Gil radios in to tell her that Proist is waiting and that he'll help
her escape if needed, she gathers herself and leads the retreat.  Her forces
manage to make off with Lulu, which is about the last thing the Daikuu Maryuu
needs given its time limit to make its way back through the Gate.

To add insult to injury, Proist phones up.  She can only envision Garis'
anguished expression beneath his mask, and has one simple condition for Lulu's
safe return: Garis coming alone to the Tenkuu Maryuu's resting place.  Daiya
asks the obvious question of what Lulu has to do with the Tenkuu Maryuu, but
Garis sharply cuts Sakon off before he can explain.  Despite the obvious fact
that it's a trap, Garis is determined to go anyway, and leaves Rosa in charge
in his absence.  Though Daiya and the others want to help, Garis insists that
he's got to go alone.

Back at base, Vestarnne is fuming about being sent on a common kidnapping
mission.  Suspage observes that she sounds like Norza when he's in one of his
moods, and sounds surprisingly un-pissed off at all the bossiness the
once-great Four Lords are taking from Gil and Espair.  Suspage has made peace
with the notion that anger, and pride, will get them nowhere.  What he's
more worried about is Proist making him and his army of demon beasts obsolete,
should she get her hands on both the Tenkuu Maryuu and Daichi Maryuu.  Suspage,
looking paler than ever, heads off to try to avert this calamity, while
Vestarnne thinks back on Lee telling her that kidnappings are beneath her
dignity as General.  And you know what, the guy is absolutely right...

None of the pilots aboard the Daikuu Maryuu see the slightest chance that
Garis can actually pull off a rescue of Lulu alone: the order to stay put has
to be erroneous, and Rosa out of her mind for going along with it.  In the
pilots' eyes, Garis' order seems tantamount to suicide, and they certainly
won't sit idly by for that.  Which makes a lot of sense, and forces Sakon to
explain at long last just why Garis charged in alone.  What he's about to
explain is so big, so _explosive_ that even Rosa isn't party to it: only Sakon,
Daimon, and Franklin.  That's right: when in doubt, C4.

It turns out that Lulu is Garis' biological daughter, a miraculous birth
between a Darius dude (that would be Garis) and an Earth woman.  Though it
makes sense that Garis would risk his own life to save that of his daughter,
the more important point that Garis is a Dariusian almost slipped through the
cracks: this "open secret" among the Daikuu Maryuu's original crew went right
past the newer arrivals.  This neatly explains why he runs around with a
mask all the time: Dariusians are immediately recognizable by their distinctive
skin and hair coloring.

'Kay, so how come Garis let his own daughter believe both her parents died
years ago?  (Got that C4 ready?)  Because, Garis believe he's responsible for
his beloved's death.  Her name was Eltrika Argess, and she was the sole
female among the group who stole the Daikuu Maryuu thirteen years ago.  She
and Garis respected and loved each other with all their hearts, and Eltrika
was already bearing a new life within her belly during the escape.  Garis
had her get off the ship to avoid mixing her up in the fighting, depositing
her in the beautiful Cape Flare.

The tragedy occurred three years later, when Garis went to check up on them.
The Darius Army was shadowing him, and in front of him and Lulu shot Eltrika
to death.  The shock made Lulu into an instant amnesiac, and filled the
normally cautious Garis with recriminations for how his emotions laid his
beloved waste.  The real reason Garis has been wearing that mask is to seal
away the father and lover he once was, leaving behind a tortured soul bent on
protecting his remaining flesh and blood from a distance.

Right, so that establishes why Garis wanted to go in all by himself, prepared
to die if need be.  One small point.  If he _actually_ dies, the whole thing
will be in vain, won't it?  Doesn't that therefore constitute all the more
reason to go save him and Lulu both?  Sakon and Daimon can only sigh and
say they both saw it coming. 

Proist is feeling flush enough to gloat to Lulu about the Tenkuu Maryuu,
which with the Daichi Maryuu will let her utterly obliterate all resistance.
In a way, this will bring about a truly peaceful world in Proist's vernacular.
In Garis' vernacular, that's called "chaos and death".  Garis, formerly
Chief Scientist Dorbel, gets offered a deal: Lulu's life in return for him
verbally commanding the Tenkuu Maryuu to revive.  Proist is smart enough to
insist that Garis utter the password first.

Garis relents, intoning the order to shine a light into the darkness and bring
peace to Heaven and Earth.  The words are directed to Eltrika, and Lulu
gets suddenly very curious why Garis knows her mother's name.  Why is it that
he's got to hide his face, even from her?  Well, if she insists.  She
begins to recall that recurring dream she's been having, which of course isn't
a dream at all.  She remembers the part about her mother being shot, but
somehow reckons Garis is the guy who did it, as Proist gleefully encourages.
Of course Lulu does the whole "stay away!" business, just as the Daikuu Maryuu
shows up.  Enraged at having her little mindfuck interrupted, Proist orders
Gil and Zailin to wipe out the intruders.

Hmm, three grudge matches for the price of one.  Rescuing Garis and Lulu must
take top priority.

  As the battle kicks off, Lulu asks Garis if he shot her mother.  Like a
  moron, Garis says that yes, he killed the woman off, giving Proist the
  perfect opportunity to put a gun in Lulu's hand.  Revenge tiems?  Proist
  sure thinks so, ready to move onto battling the Daikuu Maryuu before Lulu
  even fires a shot.  Optimistic, if you ask me.

  Actually, it turns out Proist has stacked the deck: she's hypnotized Lulu
  prior to the little showdown with Garis.  Then again, Garis is a very open
  guy, with gentle eyes that really shouldn't belong to a heartless killer.
  Hypnotized or not, Lulu finds herself hesitating even as Proist urges her
  to take revenge.  That's about the time Vestarnne steps in, scandalized that
  the girl she was ordered to kidnap has now been set at her own father's
  throat.  As a self-respecting Darius soldier, there's no way Vestarnne will
  allow this farce to go any further.

  Proist's reaction is predictable, and involves lots of high explosives.
  Garis leaps in the way of the resulting shrapnel, taking a shard or several
  that were headed for Lulu.  That's good enough for Proist, who thinks she
  can finally start celebrating.  Not so fast, shouts Sheldia, who has
  managed to catch Garis' faint life signs thanks to the Celius II's array of
  sensors.  The Darius forces aren't so fast to catch on, but that won't
  matter if they aren't driven away soon: Garis will likely bleed to death in
  short order.

  Ruuji and Zailin are one of the sideshows to the main grudge match.  Both
  want to get home ASAP, and both want to bash each other's brains out along
  the way.  Gil vs. Dangaioh is the other, and in both cases the challengers
  get soundly thrashed.  About the only thing going in their favor are their
  excuses as they flee the field.

  The main event is Proist vs. Rosa.  In this corner, psycho hose-beast who
  thinks Garis deserves a fate worse than death for betraying the Darius army.
  And in this corner, blonde tsundere who thinks Proist deserves a fate even
  worse than that.

  Proist may be a maniac, but she's not so far gone that she would risk her
  newfound gains on the spot.  Contenting herself with the thought of Garis'
  guts all over the ground, she tells Vestarnne that it's time to go -- they'll
  have a nice leisurely chat about today's events back at the ranch.  As they
  speed off, Lulu has already regained her sanity and begun berating herself
  for turning a gun on the man who _protected_ her when Proist killed her
  mother.  Garis weakly checks if she's okay, and then passes along a little
  trinket...

To say that Proist is unenthused with Zailin's performance is an
understatement.  She fires him on the spot, and when Gil piles on he's lucky
she doesn't end his miserable life.  The real question is, what to do with
Vestarnne.

Meanwhile, Garis has been sent to one of the rebels' hospitals, badly wounded
but in no immediate danger of his life.  Since complete bedrest has been
prescribed, the Daikuu Maryuu will need a new captain, and that captain is
Lulu herself!  Garis' last words to her were to unite everyone's spirits and
fight, a seemingly enigmatic statement that hits at the heart of what the
Maryuus really are.  Why did Garis, Sakon and the others leave the Daichi and
Tenkuu behind and focus on the Daikuu?  Because they perfected it, and did so
through the strength of the combined spirits of its crew.  That power makes
it stronger than the two prototypes, which are mere weapons.

Of course the whole crew rally around such heroic talk.  Assuming command of
the ship, Lulu asks Sakon how much longer analysis of the Gates will take.
All the data he needs is in hand, though it will take a tad longer to put it
into practice.  As such, there's no need to linger in the Darius-verse any
longer, and no need to fear any further illusions on the trip back home.  Sakon
has been busting ass more than usual, and Sheldia's EMT training (thanks to
Shouko) shows her just how poor his nutrition must have gotten.  That would
be proof of just how hard Sheldia's been working on becoming Mist's helpmate.
Mist is even more impressed that Sheldia figured out how to do things with
the Celius II's sensors that even he himself didn't know were possible.

Lulu decides to head straight for the Gate, favoring a hasty return to the
Surface over trying to settle the score with the other Maryuu's and getting
delayed.  This isn't lost on Zailin, who acts quickly enough to latch back
onto the Daikuu Maryuu's leg and hitch a ride home the same way he came here in
the first place.

  [I kept the Darius (B) path.]


19. Portal to the Stars, Portal to Destiny (part 1)

The Daikuu Maryuu's passage back through the Gate is considerably smoother
than the last time, taking no damage and leaving the crew un-jostled.  It will
take Lulu some time to get used to being referred to as "Captain", but maybe
the voyage back to Dannar Base will give her that time.  Sakon plans to use
the opportunity to pore over the latest Gate data, and the pilots implore him
not to work himself entirely comatose -- plenty more work to do after the
Darius army is vanquished.  For instance, Ruuji and friends will eventually
have to get back to helping out their fellow villagers, but if Zailin was
healthy enough to fight the Daikuu Maryuu, it's a decent bet the rest of the
villagers are in one piece... at least for now.  (And as for Zailin, he means
to disembark at the nearest opportunity...)

The Archangel is also heading back to base after the debacle in Moldova.  The
Feds and the Zaft now hate each other more than ever, at precisely the time
Earthlings most need to band together.  It's a pretty poor showing for mankind,
and Carmen muses that that perhaps the only reason her world's people aren't
this deranged is that they lack the freedom (and the technology) to be.
Some sort of understanding is needed to break the cycle of warfare, something
beyond a mere exchange of words.

Hiroshi thinks back to a time when men exchanged their feelings through their
fists: it was the calm after the ass-pummeling was over in which the other
party's meaning became clear.  And it wasn't about revenge or crap like that
either.  Then again, that _was_ fifty years ago.  Maybe it's just that kids
nowadays have issues, like the kids piloting the Fafners.  It's a good thing
the Feds are leaving _them_ alone long enough for them to get trained, since
when the battle with the Festoom really kicks off their help will prove
indispensable.

The Dannar Base mechanics are overjoyed to actually have something to do when
the two battleships dock, and Shigusa tells Tonko to be sure to close all the
hatches this time.  In the midst of all the activity, an emergency call comes
in from Hester, who everyone assumes is trying to extort help from Dannar Base
again.  Given that the Feds have actively fired on both battleships, Kagemaru
reckons that there's no need to listen.  Kiriko agrees and orders the bridge
bunnies to hang up on him, but Hester then switches to an international
frequency and abases himself, even promising a public apology if Dannar Base
will just listen.

Turns out that the lunar Daedalus base has been attacked, and Jibril killed,
apparently by the Minerva.  Kiriko is in the process of going "So what" when
Kouji and Anna walk in, only to get shh'ed by Kagemaru.  Hester says that
Logos and indeed the Federation itself is on the verge of ruin, and that the
Zaft are sure to swoop in for the final blow.  Kiriko isn't buying it: while
Durandal swore to take Logos down, he never said anything about taking all the
Naturals with it.  She doesn't like Hester trying to project his own hateful
thought patterns onto the other side of the conflict, and _especially_ doesn't
like being told that "he who isn't the Federation's friend is its enemy".
Hester screams back that there's no way the "space monsters" can be considered
part of humanity, which has even Angelica pissed off.  Kiriko tells Hester
flatly that she has no intention of participating in his hallucinations, and
that even if the Zaft does instigate all-out war, her people will still fight
independently from the Federation.

That finally gets through to Hester, who agrees to stop asking for help.  But
he shrieks that once the Zaft _are_ finally defeated, Dannar Base will have no
fucking place in the Federation.  He hangs up just before Cagalli walks in,
aghast at the news of Jibril's death and the Federation's destabilization.
What happens to Orb now?  At the very least, the Orb contingent doesn't trust
that Durandal will provide benevolent leadership where Logos provided tyranny:
at the very least, he's shown he's capable of deception via his use of the
fake Lacus.  Even if that's justifiable as a political maneuver, it's not good
from a human ethics standpoint.  Kira doubts that Orb would be subject to a
declaration of war from the Zaft, but he does expect something like a demand to
disarm.  Not that Orb would accede to such a demand, thereby making them look
like the bad guys and achieving an even worse result than if war had been
declared outright.

It won't take long to find out Durandal's next move either.  Behind the
grandiose oration, Durandal's message is clear: "one down, and one to go".
Besides Logos, there is one other archenemy that has driven man to fight man
throughout the ages, and that is the Self.  The, uh, what?  Like, did Durandal
not notice all the aliens wrecking the place?  Apparently not: he seems too
busy portraying mankind as the very incarnation of ignorance and greed.  If
this sounds baffling, Shizuru says not to worry: Durandal's just talking in
platitudes.  That is, up until the point he announces the Destiny Plan: the
elucidation and manipulation of mankind's genetics as a whole.  Oh, he
sugar-coats it well enough ("You may have talents you've never even
utilized!") but it's plain he has something extremely Orwellian in mind.
Cagalli can't stand much of the bullshit, and asks that it be turned off.

The idea that war will go away simply by everyone actualizing the potential
in their genes is far-fetched at best.  At worst, it denies mankind the fruits
of its capability to dream, to strive to become something more than itself.
If mankind is to have a future, it mustn't be one circumscribed by genetic
destiny, at least according to Kira.  Nobody present disagrees, and if this
bunch of open-minded folks isn't buying Durandal's little speech, it's a pretty
fair bet the rest of the Naturals wouldn't either.  As Shizuru puts it,
Durandal's plan to stop war boils down to causing more war instead.  Lunacy.

Oh, and speaking of war and of the Moon, the Feds are apparently pissed off
enough to sortie a bunch of nuclear-armed fighters from their lunar base.  In
the time it takes the operators to announce this fact, an energy buildup
begins on the dark side of the moon, matching the signature of Requiem.  The
Federation base and its troops are wiped out in an instant -- an instant that
came far too soon... unless Durandal anticipated the Feds' response to his
broadcast.  What was that about stopping war again?  Oh, wait, Durandal is a
_hypocrite_: who knew?  The right thing to do is head to space and kick his
ass, even if Kira is a bit short on armaments.

The Daikuu Maryuu reaches the dock as all this is sinking in.  The mechanics
once again spring into action, and a request comes from Sakon to ready "the
item".  Even Kiriko doesn't know what "the item" is, but Shigusa promises her
it's going to be one helluva sight.

Cut to the usual post route-split briefings.  No one is more eagerly awaiting
Sakon's deciphering of the Gates than Joshua, who has more than once felt the
back side of Van's irate hand.  There's no telling what'll happen if his
revenge continues to go unfulfilled...  At that happy thought, Rosa comes in
with questions for Kouji about his new Taisharin Rocket Punch attack.  Pretty
simple really: Photon Power + centrifugal force = kablammo!  Somehow the
concept of centrifugal force has Rosa fascinated, and she gets Kouji to send
her his data.  She then hurries off to Sakon and Shigusa, obviously planning
something spectacular.

Sheldia is pressing Mist about what he saw in the Gate, having seen her own
vision involving a flower shop.  Mist stoutly maintains that he didn't see
her, which she takes to mean that Mist doesn't care about her at all.  After
all, everyone else seemingly saw a vision of someone precious to them.
Sheldia continues to press Mist on if he saw _anyone_, even if it's not her?
What about Angelica, or his former commander?  Nope, insists Mist, just himself
as a hero known as the "Night Mist".  He's a rotten liar, and although the
more he lies, the more angry Sheldia gets, he thinks he's gone too far to
switch his story now.  Besides, he if spells out the vision he saw, he feels
like it would somehow vanish in the Harsh Light of Reality(tm).  Not only is
the guy clinically insane, he also gets called a stubborn, lying coward by
the person he apparently wants to take to wife.  If he doesn't want to tell
her what he really saw, he should just _say_ so.

Mission briefing time, and the objective is simple: go to the Moon, assault
Daedalus Base, and destroy Requiem (and along with it, the means to enact the
Destiny Plan).  Requiem uses converted colonies to redirect its beam in any
direction, meaning it can strike most points on the Earth as well as in orbit.
This makes it a Sword of Damocles overshadowing the battle against the alien
invaders, and it must be removed before anything else can get done.  Once the
Daikuu Maryuu and Archangel reach orbit, the plan is to rendezvous with the
Eternal and face what is sure to be stiff Zaft resistance.

Only one teensy weensy errand to run along the way: Orb is currently under
attack from a Zaft fleet, who seem to have been poised for Orb's inevitable
rejection of the Destiny Plan.  It would be easy to divert the whole task
force to face this threat, but it would also be wrong.  Cagalli plans to head
to her nation on her own, and help marshal Orb's people to solve their own
self-defense problems.  She's adamant that the rest of the team go thwart
Durandal's twisted schemes at their root, and that she must carry on the Orb
ideal of independence that her father paid so dearly for.

Very idealistic, but a tad too dangerous for Kiriko's liking.  She orders
the Daikuu Maryuu, and the Dannar team, to accompany Cagalli into battle for
some Zaft-bashing.  It's the least she can do for all the help Orb's given
her team in the past.  They'll have at least one new weapon in their arsenal:
Shigusa has just finished Sakon's proposed modifications to the Speriol
Stinger.  It's now capable of replacing Gaiking as the Daikuu Maryuu's head,
adding the ability to deliver a very nasty bite.  That is, if Pulia keeps up
her end of things.

Two other miscellany before the task force heads off.  Number one is Muu,
who's gotten some of his old memories back thanks to Sakon's help.  It appears
it's going to take more time to fully remember his camaraderie with Kira and
his intimate relationship with Maryuu, but he'll have plenty of face time with
them both as part of the Archangel's crew.  Number two is...

...MIRA!!  She's also been rehabilitated, and now has all of her memories
restored.  She's also recovered her piloting acumen, easily clearing the
"S" level on the Okusar simulator.  Only problem is, Anna's the one piloting
the Okusar now.  Kiriko's got a plan to deal with that, but for now she and
Kagemaru want to get Mira some time near the front lines, and ask Lulu to take
her along with the rest of the Dannar team.  Gou is of course overjoyed to
have his old partner (and former lover) on the scene, but Anna's now got a
lot to worry about.  Surely Anna isn't the kind of person who would lay a
finger on someone else's spouse, right?  Right?  Yikes.  She's gonna have to
pull it together fast if she's going to support her hubby, especially with
worries about Rue's departure still lingering.

Things aren't going so well in space either.  Selene is fretting over A.I. for
401, which is going to take a good ten thousand hours to become autonomous at
its current learning rate.  She also tells her staffers not to refer to the
A.I. like a machine, but by the name Sol gave it: "Stargazer".  Sol rushes in
(on cue) at that point with terrible news.  He's heard the Feds are going to
try to get their hands on Stargazer's A.I. core, which is kind of common
sense given the sorry state of the Feds' defenses at present.  Selene doubts
the wisdom of deploying a half-baked research A.I. on the battlefield, but
logic doesn't seem to be the current Federation's strong point.  Sure enough,
the Feds arrange for a total information blackout and send in mobile suits.

Captain Nanabalg has enough manners to warn the space station's residents that
he's authorized to attack at his own discretion, which is more than can
be said for the warmongering mobile suit pilots.  Myudy just wants to blow
all the Coordinator bastards out into space, but the captain tells them to
wait at least until after they've recovered the A.I. unit.  Sol is having a
lot of trouble understanding why the Feds, with whom his DSSD organization
shares information as freely as it does with Zaft, would want to steal an
A.I.  With little other choice, Selene orders her own mobile suits dispatched
and an S.O.S. sent out on all channels.

The S.O.S. gives Maryuu a considerable quandary, especially when Kiriko phones
up and adds a personal request to go save her friend Selene.  On the one hand,
there's a major humanitarian concern at work; on the other, there's the Zaft
to go fend off.  Lacus Klein, nearby in the Eternal, hears the conversation
and offers to head ahead to Daedalus first, letting Maryuu spend enough time
to deal with matters at the station.  It turns out that the Eternal managed
to damage the Requiem firing system, and it _should_ take some time for the
Zaft to repair.  Lacus tells Kira that she's got a surprise waiting for him
when he rejoins her: all the more incentive to make quick work of the
Federation forces.

The DSSD forces aren't much use against the Feds, but Selene isn't ready to
throw in the towel yet.  She and Sol launch in the 401, a mobile suit
originally designed for deep space recon.  Surely a recon bird won't be of
any use against the Phantom Pain, right?  That remains to be seen, even with
its additional handicap of being restricted to its internal power cells
(thanks to those pesky Neutron Jammer Cancellers).  Selene tells Sol they've
got 17 minutes worth of energy, and that he'd better use them wisely.

  The Archangel shows up on turn 2, determined to interfere with the Phantom
  Pain's plans yet again.  Muu might not remember that much of his old self
  yet, but his memories of being "Neo" and leading these yahoos into heinosity
  after heinosity are still vivid.  He comments that they're every bit as much
  a tragic case as Stella was, and Kira recommends Muu do what he can to save
  them from her fate (not that that's worked out so well for Kira's
  adversaries so far, but hey).  The battle will be simple enough: the Phantom
  Pain will prioritize heading for the station, and the Archangel fleet will
  prioritize stopping them from getting to the station.

  Take Sven down a peg or two and he'll make a dash for the AI.  Selene moves
  to block him, forcing Sol off her mech before undertaking a maneuver whose
  G-forces will likely kill her.  She's that determined that her A.I. not fall
  into Federation hands.  Before Sven knows what hit him, Selene grabs him and
  has the base fire its propulsion beam, blowing the two of them completely
  out of sight.

Between her apparent sacrifice and the valor of the Archangel's troops, the
station escapes with only minor damage.  The problem is Selene's whereabouts,
currently unknown thanks to her being accelerated to an unknown but presumably
massive speed.  The Dangaioh has a decent chance of catching up, but it will
need either Celius' help to get a fix on the Stargazer... assuming it wasn't
at the upper end of its speed range.  [You can send either of your would-be
S.O.'s on the mission].  The rest of the crew head off for the rendezvous with
the Eternal and assault on Daedalus.

Selene is quite the humanitarian, rescuing Sven and hauling him into her own
cockpit.  He's got several broken bones and is in no position to go much of
anywhere, and Selene advises him to sit still.  He protests that he doesn't
intend to become a Coordinator prisoner, but she counters that she doesn't
believe she's imprisoning him at all.  Neither he nor she have any idea where
they are, but Selene does know what direction they came from.  She will have
Stargazer plot the course back, but it'll take some energy from Sven's mech
if they are to have any hope of making it back in finite time.  His mech's
reserves give them about 12 seconds of acceleration, and Stargazer's oxygen
reserves will last about 27 days... assuming Selene drugs the both of them into
stasis and lowers the mech's temperature to four degrees.  Either they're
found within that window, or they'll be mummified where they sit.  Sven finally
asks why she saved him, and the best she can offer is that she was a bit
lonely, all the way out in the middle of nowhere.  Someone to talk to her
before she falls asleep.

Sven declines the opportunity to laugh at her foolishness, quietly helping
inject her with anaesthetic.  While waiting for it to work, Selene explains
that they're riding in a mech designed for deep-space exploration.
Acceleration by solar wind collection is slow, but there's no practical limit
to how fast it can accelerate _to_ given enough time.  She finds it ironic
that, having finally achieved her childhood dream to see the stars and
constellations close up, she's frantically trying to go home.  After a pause,
Sven admits that he too liked looking up at the stars as a kid.  He tells her
his name, but she falls asleep before she can respond in kind.  Sven thinks to
himself that there are worse fates than quietly slipping into an endless sleep
among these stars...

19B. Portal to the Stars, Portal to Destiny (part 2)

The good news: Orb's army has stopped the Zaft from establishing a beachhead.
The bad news: even with their reserves, they can't hang on for long.  Cagalli
urges Rosa to rush to the scene so she can help protect her nation, and as if
on cue Yuuna phones up.  Refer to the previous sentence: Cagalli means to
protect _Orb_, not necessarily Yuuna himself.  That said, she's willing to cut
him a micron or two of slack for having the balls to oppose the Destiny Plan.
Shizuka agrees to try to squeeze a bit more grunt out of the Daikuu Maryuu's
powerplant, and as the battlefield draws near the first visuals show up.

The Godannar pilots are astonished to see some of their fellow anti-Mimetic
Beast pilots mixed up in the fray.  England's Dragliner and China's God Dyner,
America's Genesister and even Russia's Valspinnar are all fighting on Orb's
side, and Gou desperately wants to know why.  He has Rosa open a channel, and
learns that like Dannar Base, the other Bases have been receiving a bit of
financial aid from Orb these past few years.  ...Not to mention that Knight and
the others are convinced Durandal's full of shit, though he doesn't own up to
that at first.  Ekaterina isn't so shy: Durandal's attempt to silence Orb's
dissent by force is unforgivable, and just remember that in Russia, mecha pilot
_you_. *gulp*  Orb is also getting an assist from an Orb Dom Trooper piloted by
Hilda Harken, a devotee of Lacus' vision of a peaceful future.  Cagalli digests
this for a moment and then thanks Hilda for her help.  Shadow and Luna urge Gou
and the others to hurry: the situation isn't getting any better.  Gou and his
teammates opt to head out ahead first, with the Daikuu Maryuu catching up when
it can.  The Zoids can keep up with the Jet Boys, so they'll join the advance
guard too.

Aboard the Minerva, Heine is mildly impressed that Orb is holding off an entire
army this well.  Rei can't fathom why Orb opposes the Destiny Plan this
strongly: who in their right mind would oppose an ideal world?  In fact, Heine
harbors private reservations about trying to solve everything through genetics,
but he won't share them with his teammates.  Shinn is back to his usual
contradictory self, unwilling to watch footage of Orb getting blown up and yet
wishing he could see it with his naked eyes.  Never mind the fact he was born
and raised there: any country led by the Asuhas should be wiped off the map in
his view.  Heine wonders why the Minerva isn't part of the offensive, and Shin
reminds(?) him that Durandal summoned them to Daedalus Base.  Heine ironically
notes that he must have missed that due to lack of sleep, and Shinn adds that
their mission is to stop the Archangel's projected assault on Requiem.  SWEET,
goes Shin, still bound and determined to shoot the rival battleship down.

Speaking of the Archangel, it's now close enough to the Eternal for Lacus to
call up.  She and Bartfeld have bad news: the Zaft have stationed their titanic
mobile fortress Messiah at Daedalus Base, plus some unknown trump card stashed
away somewhere.  A simple frontal assault seems highly unwise, so the two ships
will have to have a face-to-face on strategy before the inevitable fragdown
ensues.  Also, Lacus has a little present for her BFF Kira, and a certain
someone she wants him to meet.  Intriguing...

No sooner does the Daikuu Maryuu land than Cagalli storms Orb's main command
room, giving her erstwhile fiance the cold shoulder en route to the comm
station.  She orders up a direct line to Durandal, cutting the formalities and
demanding he withdraw his troops.  Of course, there's no way she or Orb will
accept the Destiny Plan, and hence there's no way Durandal will take his foot
off the gas.  With the sincerest of fake politeness, he tells her that the fate
of mankind itself rests on the Destiny Plan, and anyone who opposes it must be
considered mankind's enemy.  Just who the hell asked _him_ to save "mankind" is
what Cagalli wants to know: she points out that not one nation out there would
have bought into it if not for that little _alien_invasion_ going on right now.
Nobody is really surprised that the "negotiations" are deadlocked, and although
Cagalli doesn't relish the thought of spilling even more blood in vain, she's
determined to defend her homeland.  Yuuna's been trying to mumble something to
her all this time, and finally gets around to handing over a keycard for
"something Cagalli needs".  Turns out the card came from Cagalli's father way
back when, and whatever it is is probably worth a slight detour on the way to
the battlefield.

The card turns out to be for a remote, disused mecha hangar.  On the lintel are
inscribed the words "May the day this door opens never come", and inside is a
mechanical giant, armored in gleaming gold.  In its cockpit is a letter from
beyond the grave.  "Power is merely power.  Vanity to wish it to be anything
more, vanity to treat it as anything less.  If a sword be needed to protect,
draw it.  If power be needed to do what you must along the path Destiny
ordains..."  Cagalli's new sword is called the "Akatsuki" ("daybreak"), and
there's no better time for a testdrive than now.

'Kay, so that's pretty badass.  Even more badass is Lacus' present to Kira, the
X20A Strike Freedom, custom-built for him to go out and violate the bad guys.
Does Kira have an awesome girlfriend or what?  Anyway, the enemy is someone
willing to use entire secret societies as scapegoats, rewrite everyone's genes,
and even counterfeit idol singers (OH! unpardonable).  Durandal is also likely
to blame for the failed assassination attempt on the original Lacus, though
there's no way to prove it now.  BTW, about that person Lacus wanted Kira to
meet: it's Aslan of all people, resplendent with his X19A Infinity Justice.
Turns out that Aslan had a run-in with the Plant's police force after
exercising his FAITH prerogative to sit out that battle back when.  In
retrospect, directly opposing someone as dangerous as Durandal was probably a
bad career move, though luckily Meilin and Meer were on hand to help him
escape.  Err, who's Meer?  That would be Lacus' #1 fan, to whom Durandal gave
the dubious honor of taking Lacus' place.  Aslan got somewhat dinged up during
his escape, and knows that plenty of good people like Meer are poised for
"elimination" as soon as Durandal is done with them.  Now, keep in mind that
the Earth is in imminent peril from Requiem, but apparently there's more time
for an extended history lesson...

After the fracas in Eurasia, the Minerva was recalled to the Plants to pick up
some new mecha: the Destiny and Legend.  Better in every way than their
predecessors, they represent the next evolution of war... war that Durandal
keeps swearing he wants to end.  That has Aslan dubious, and unable to contain
his frustration any more, he directly demands to know why Durandal ordered the
Archangel shot down without even an attempt to negotiate.  Durandal counters
that they should have simply come join his side if they really aren't his
enemies: they had plenty of time to extend overtures from their side since his
original broadcast.  And Talia did give them one chance to surrender, right?

Aslan wasn't able to refute that logic at the time, and a short time later Meer
implored him to prove his loyalty before Durandal did something drastic.
Unfortunately, that decision had already been made, and when the police showed
up to take Aslan in for "questioning", they warned him that their orders are to
bring him dead or alive... and Meer too, if necessary.  What Durandal really
wanted was for Aslan to become a puppet in his war, and even if the war's goal
is good, Aslan is no one's puppet.  He grabbed Meer and ran, but at the time
she couldn't bring herself to entirely flee the Plants and her life as
pseudo-Lacus.  Instead, Aslan's flight took him across Meilin's path, and she
helped him get the rest of the way out at the cost of her own expulsion from
the Zaft.  Meilin insists that she did it of her own free will, and the two of
them harken back to their final obstacle: the Destiny and Legend.

Rei was quite adamant that Meilin was _not_ a hostage, but willingly took
Aslan's hand as he got into the cockpit.  As an information specialist, Meilin
knows far too much to fall into the enemy's hands, and despite Shin's shock,
Durandal grants Rei permission to fire.  Aslan's warning to Shinn that he's
being used, just as Aslan was, falls on deaf and especially dumb ears, as Rei
insists that he strike down Durandal's traitorous enemies as he once promised.
Though Shinn can't hear it, Rei is reporting on this mess to Durandal in
realtime, including comments on how unstable Shinn seems.  Gotta do something
about that, Durandal muses, but Shin's successful (quote-quote) takedown of
Aslan and Meilin is worth a word or two of commendation.  No sooner had the two
murderous kids headed back to base than Bartfeld and the Eternal crew showed up
to retrieve the still-intact cockpit of Aslan's mech.

In the end, all Durandal really accomplished was clearing Aslan's doubts about
just how rotten a guy he is.  The Kira/Aslan axis is SO back in business now,
and not a moment too soon: the Feds have decided to attack Daedalus of all
places!  They're hell-bent on capturing Requiem and using it to shoot down
every last hourglass-shaped Plant, taking revenge for Sven in the process.
They're desperate enough to have stuck Sting in another psychotic Destroy, and
Myudie wouldn't mind even adding some nukes for good measure.  For his part,
Durandal doesn't seem especially concerned, ordering Messiah to destroy
anything that comes near and putting Neo-Genesis on standby.  His composure
does suffer some when he sees the Archangel and Eternal show up though, as does
Hester's.  Realizing that the Archangel wants to *trash* the Requiem, he orders
his men to actually prioritize it over the Zaft, an insane strategy that the
insane Phantom Pain troopers are all too happy to carry out.  Mist is once
again beside himself over not being able to try to talk things out before
bullets start flying, but Maryuu promises him she'll keep trying to hail the
Feds as long as she can.  Muu asks to confront the Destroy by himself, since
one of his former Fed subordinates is aboard it: the least he can do is put the
poor kid out of his misery.  He assures Maryuu that, as the man who makes the
impossible possible, he'll come back to her -- surprising himself with how
easily those words roll off his lips.

  Sting is in very sorry shape, shouting incoherently about burning everything
  and everyone to ash... including himself, for not protecting Owl and Stella.
  It really does seem like mercy to put him out of his misery, but the
  Destroy's destruction also cues the arrival of more Zaft and Fed troops.
  Among the Zaft are Yzak and Dearka, neither of whom are prepared for
  Durandal's master stroke: a blast from Neo Genesis that wipes out countless
  Federation lives in an instant.  For those who weren't around for the events
  of Gundam Seed, Kyou explains that the Genesis devices are gamma-ray lasers,
  nuclear blast-pumped strategic weapons capable of eradicating all life on
  Earth.

  Only the most jaded on the team aren't aghast at this fearsome hypocrisy
  underlying Durandal's "peaceful" Destiny Plan.  Even the evil Dr. Hell never
  resorted to atrocities like this!  Lacus hits directly at the Destiny Plan's
  biggest weakness: by taking away mankind's reasons to aspire, to dream of the
  future, it robs mankind of its very soul.  Who wants a world full of people
  who exist only to exist, and nothing more?  Living means fighting for every
  inch of progress, and that's what the team intends to give Durandal: the
  fight of his life.  And they'd better do it now, before Neo Genesis refuels.

  Meanwhile, the Daikuu Maryuu have just seen their enemies order a general
  retreat, leaving Orb in the clear for the time being.  The tactical victory
  won't mean a thing if Requiem gets involved though, and Lulu fears that her
  comrades in space may need a helping hand.  Unfortunately, any plans to head
  to space are briefly stymied by a group of Mimetic Beasts heading for Orb (is
  that why the Zaft forces retreated?), but the other Base's pilots tell Gou
  and friends to get their butts to space and help take Requiem out.  Cagalli
  joins the launch too, seeing Requiem as the bigger danger to her homeland.

  As Durandal's men scramble to recharge Neo Genesis, Dearka asks Yzak if the
  two of them really ought to follow Durandal's orders.  Maybe they'd be better
  off dead, by the Archangel's hand?  At least that would mean they weren't in
  "his" way.  Yzak, grappling with doubts of his own, shouts at his old friend
  not to be ridiculous.  It will take a lot more than their squadron to slow
  the Archangel down, so Durandal sends out the last of his reserves, including
  the recently-arrived Talia and company.

  Shinn thinks all his doubts are gone: Durandal is right, and the Archangel
  has to go down.  Rei however has a far murkier view of the battle, as he
  senses Kira's presence and asks his comrades to leave that white M.S. to him.
  This comes as quite a shock, since Shinn supposedly shot the guy down.  Heine
  muses that if Kira is in the white M.S., maybe Aslan is in the matching red
  one... which sets Shinn off on the rampage at just the thought.  Kira knows
  there's only one way through these folks, but Aslan won't let him try to
  punch through alone.

  Neither will Cagalli or the rest of the Daikuu Maryuu's crew.  Rosa and Sakon
  have cooked up a little surprise, modding the Volusion Protect shield with
  data from Kouji's Taisharin Rocket Punch.  The result is a ferocious ramming
  attack that takes down an entire Zaft battlecruiser in one hit.  Cagalli, not
  to be outdone, shows off the Akatsuki's prowess by shooting down the nearest
  Zaft M.S. she can find.  Even she is impressed at the Akatsuki's space combat
  support systems, thanking her father for his wonderful gift to her.

  Dearka goes down without too much of a fight, though he claims he's giving
  his all.  And hey, now he's not in the Archangel's way, is he?  Yzak rushes
  off after him, promising a court-martial if Dearka really was pulling his
  punches.

  Shinn can't stand the Akatsuki's golden coloration, as much an invitation to
  go over and (try to) shoot it down.  Cagalli recognizes Shinn at once, but
  Shin's in no mood for pleasant chat.  His thought patterns are hung up on the
  fact that Cagalli's ideals failed to erase war from the world, resulting in
  Mayu and Stella buying the farm: hence, she's in no position to criticize
  Durandal's plan for ending war.  He badly damages her mech, but before he can
  finish her off Muu interferes and nearly gets shot down himself.  Aslan is
  plenty pissed by this point, and flies over to take Shinn on while the two
  of them escape.

  Rei is bound and determined that Kira must die, for the sake of the new world
  to come.  As the two skirmish, Rei finally owns up to why: he is none other
  than a Rau Le Creuset clone, and he's mighty pissed that Kira, the epitome of
  so many dreams, lives thanks so many of his "siblings"' lives being lost.
  Kira counters that no one has more than one life: Rei is _Rei_, not Rau or
  anyone else.  That contradicts what Durandal had told him, and after Kira
  blasts his ass around a bit, Rei's confidence cracks.  He rushes in to
  confront Durandal face to face.

  Shinn is infuriated at what he thinks of as Aslan's treachery, still
  unwilling to recognize the truth about his mentor.  When he can't take Shinn
  down, he tries for the Archangel instead, but Aslan gets in his way,
  demanding to know what Shinn hopes to accomplish by fighting for the past, a
  past that won't exactly get made right again.  Maybe he's trying to slaughter
  the future as well?  As Shinn sinks deeper into denial, Lunamaria flies out
  to try to stop him and Aslan from killing each other, apparently bearing with
  her the spirits of Mayu and Stella.  Shinn can't bear the thought of losing
  her too, and his momentary lapse of concentration gives Aslan the opening he
  needs to take Shinn out of the battle.

  As the fight wears on, there's little hope of repairing Muu's own mech in
  time.  Cagalli tells him to use the Akatsuki instead, claiming she's injured
  badly enough that she can't continue herself.  After he launches, she
  confides to Murdock that her decision is based in part on the fact that the
  Akatsuki has the Endumion System, which can only be controlled by someone
  with Muu's special talents.  Besides, she's got to think about preparations
  for when this battle is over and Orb's future must be decided.  Maturation,
  any?  Yup.

  Have Aslan attack Heine, who still can't believe Aslan is alive.  Aslan
  tells Heine that his disagreement with Durandal nearly cost him his life.
  Can someone willing to eliminate those in his way, with such terror weapons
  as Genesis and Requiem if it suits him, really be in the right?  Then have
  Aslan Persuade him further, which doesn't take much effort.  Aslan says that
  while he's a soldier, he's a human first, and no humanitarian could condone
  what Durandal is trying to do.  Damn straight, says Heine, who happily
  switches sides.

  As the Minerva suffers a critical blow, Talia vows to at least take the
  Archangel with her.  As Natarle did before her, she fires her main cannons
  at the Archangel.  And as before, Muu gets in the way, though this time he
  has a bona-fide anti-beam shield to keep him and the Archangel safe.  In
  the flash of the Minerva's gun, he suddenly remembers his entire former life.
  The inspiration fuels the Endumion System, forcing Talia to pull back to
  Messiah with what little propulsion she can muster.

  Unfortunately for the good guys, Durandal's insane schemes for mankind are
  about to get a major boost: Neo Genesis is refueled at last.  He promises
  a utopian future for man after the Archangel and its pesky crew are
  eradicated.  Those with warlike tendencies will stand guard, while everyone
  else puts their own unique talents to work.  And Genesis and Requiem will
  guard against all outside attack.  Before he can fire, Mist screams for him
  to stop.  How can Durandal bear to murder so many of his own kind?!

  Okay, so isn't Durandal allowed a moment of inflicting pain to create a world
  where pain no longer exists?  Are others justified in killing him, just
  because he kills others?  No, and no! yells Mist, who can't fathom why the
  Earthlings never seem to try to understand each other.  Hell, Earthlings
  can't even understand themselves, much less anyone else... and when they
  try and invariably get betrayed, they want to start breaking heads.  That
  Durandal can say that with a straight face, and then claim to have the
  wisdom to use force to stop others from using force, is the ultimate
  arrogance.

  So what if people try to defy their genetics: that's what makes them 
  people, with dreams and stuff!  How interesting would life be if all outcomes
  were already decided?  Who gives Durandal the right to wipe out those who
  _might_ struggle against their place in the world down the road?  And
  besides, if Durandal is so cut out to chart the destiny of mankind, why can't
  he stop one precise shot from the Strike Freedom from taking out the Neo
  Genesis' core?  Whoopsie, didn't think about that one!  Kira rushes in for
  some sort of final word with Durandal, and Mist charges in behind him.

  Messiah falls eerily silent, as does Daedalus Base.  Since a Requiem firing
  isn't imminent, Lacus orders her ship to Daedalus to make sure the thing
  can never be fired again.  Talia and Arthur watch in some dejection,
  realizing that their military is now toast and their mission officially over.
  Talia orders all survivors to abandon ship, leaving Arthur to supervise while
  she too heads off to see what's become of Durandal.

  From the sidelines, Lunamaria and Shinn also watch the fall of Messiah.
  Lunamaria isn't so sure things aren't better this way, a thought that hadn't
  occurred to Shin.  Aslan then flies over to them, telling them to return to
  the Eternal with him.  That would be the last thing Shinn had in mind, until
  Aslan points out that Meilin is waiting... as is Kira.  While they head
  back, Lacus broadcasts a request for an immediate ceasefire to Zaft's
  remaining commanders.

Kira finally confronts Durandal, informing the guy that he's come to strike
him down.  Durandal warns that should he do so, the world will be plunged back
into chaos, but Kira asserts that his friends have the ability to avert that
via means of their own.  At least, if the world at large will let them.  Oh,
maybe they are _capable_ of choosing such a future, counters Durandal, but
nobody ever actually _does_ make that choice.  No one, certainly not Kira or
Lacus, has the will to _make_ everyone pick the right path, and the result is
this endless cycle of war.  Yeah whatever.  What scares Kira the most is the
thought of a world that never changes, which Durandal says is supreme
arrogance befitting the supreme Coordinator.  Uh, no, the arrogant one would be
Durandal: Kira is just your average dude sticking up for other average dudes
everywhere.

Before Kira can execute, not liberate Durandal, Mist busts in and demands to
know if happiness can be obtained without sacrifice.  Err, whoops, wrong 
script.  Can _Durandal's_plan_ be obtained without sacrifice?  Weeeellll, it's
not like there _had_ to be sacrifices, but Durandal professes that everyone
else forced his hand by not letting him just do what he wants.  Uh, HELLO!
That's called "self-righteousness", and it's bad, m'kay?  Well actually, has
Mist ever stopped to think about the fact that all life-forms are subject to
their own passions as an integral part of being alive?  How does this
idealistic peace of his work, exactly?

Before Mist can offer a retort, Talia comes in and Durandal finally gets
shot.  But not by her -- by Rei, who like Talia seems to feel motivated by
some tragic fate or other to blow his buttbuddy^Wmentor away.  Not so certain
how that works, but what is certain is that everyone here will get caught in
Messiah's collapse unless they start running _pronto_.  Mist tries to urge
Talia and Rei to follow them out, but they intend to let themselves die at
Gilbert's side for no particular good reason.  Oh teh angsts.  Mist and
Kira run off, leaving Rei calling Talia "mom" as the whole place starts caving
in...

Kira and Mist are running at top speed when they stumble across one of Aslan's
Haros, which leads them to none other than Meer.  She's lost in despair and
hoping for someone (Aslan maybe) to rescue her.  Her best efforts to sing the
fighting to stop have come to naught, and her life seems likely to follow suit
shortly.  But Mist, ever the humanitarian, tells Kira that even if she was
Lacus' double, she's still worth saving.  Meer doesn't initially want to be
called "that other Lacus", still deluded into believing she's the real one, but
she comes to her senses fast when Kira tells her that Aslan is alive and
waiting for her back aboard the Eternal.

It's a narrow escape, but Mist, Kira and Meer make it out alive.  Kira takes
Meer back to the Eternal, leaving Mist fretting over Durandal's deliberate
decision to go down with his ship.  How can he craft and fire all these
deathweapons at others, and then grant himself the luxury of suicide to escape
responsibility?  And why do all the other top-ranking Earthlings seem to be
just like him?  He's been doing his best to tolerate it, but he doesn't know
if he can take much more of this insanity.  He won't be able to make himself
keep protecting the Earth at this rate...

It's a grand, glorious reunion aboard the Eternal.  Aslan is very glad to see
Kira return in one piece, and Lunamaria is even gladder to see her sister
Meilin alive and well.  Meer, in tears, finally comes face to face with her
idol, who kindly tells Meer that she felt Meer's true heart through her songs.
Aslan, still distracted by rejoining his girlfriend(?), introduces Kira and
Shin.  Kira makes the peace gesture of offering his hand, which is more than a
little awkward given that Kira took Stella's life and Shinn tried to take his
life in turn.  Still, the two of them are both trying to achieve peace in the
world, and that's a start.  Shinn has now realized in full just how badly he
was used by Durandal, ensnared by his own fervor that _someone_ could somehow
order his disordered world.

Watching the love fest from the sidelines is Yzak, at least outwardly
disdainful that a pack of fools who were shooting at each other an hour ago
could be all tearful reunions and whatnot.  Dearka points out that it was
Yzak who pretty much marched straight to the Eternal, and Heine hopes that
nobody forgets he's on the scene too.  The surviving Plant government has
officially posted them here as part of its newfound desire to protect the
whole Earth sphere from all those outside invaders swarming over the place.
Coordinators and Naturals joining forces at last: the first step along the
path to peace that Lacus has been singing about all this time.  Kira just
wishes Mist could be around to see this.

Lacus has a request for Meer: return to the Plants to sing in her stead.  The
people's hearts need a calming influence, and Lacus herself is going to be
plenty busy trying to help out at the front lines.  Meer naturally hesitates
at the _real_ Lacus being the one to ask her to keep up the charade, but it's
something no one else is capable of.  And if there's one thing Meer totally
can't stand, it's the sight of her idol bowing to _her_ in request.  She
totally takes the assignment, and can count on Aslan's support from afar.

Dangaioh returns right around that point, bearing an intact but chemically
comatose Dr. McGriff as well as a certain other pilot who helped them out.
Both get taken to sick bay as Sol rushes to join them, leaving the bridge to
breathe something of a sigh of relief.  Not a very long one though, with all
the problems still remaining.  Looming large is the question of how to put what
Sakon has learned about the Gates into practice: he's at something of a dead
end, and Van isn't happy about it at all (he takes it out on Joshua, poor kid).
As Joshua massages his jaw, Sakon admits that there _is_ a potential way to
proceed, though it's rather dangerous and he doesn't know how likely it is to
work.  Since just about anything is safer (for Joshua, anyway) than status
quo, Sakon agrees to explain.


20. Treachery and Encounter

Selene and Sven have both regained consciousness, but all the pharmaceuticals
in their systems will keep them in bed for a while.  Only they know why Selene
would take in a Federation pilot who was almost certainly part of the assault
on her lab.  Anna dashes off to let her mother know that her old friend is okay
before the big battle planning meeting starts.

The next bit of good news is that Orb has now pledged official support for
the Archangel, contributing more battleship detachments and paving the way
for other nations to do the same.  Never mind that there are Zaft personnel
aboard the Archangel: this is a true international effort now.  The Federation
isn't on board yet, but they're probably too busy battling the Festoom and
Mist's mystery adversaries to spend too much effort hunting the Archangel
posse down.  So long as the ships don't seek resupply at a Federation nation,
things should be okay.  We hope.

The battle planning is about to start in earnest, but one person is notably
absent: Mist, last seen heaving a huge sigh and trudging off somewhere.  This
is the same airheaded guy kept so busy playing gofer in the hangar that he
didn't even have time to sigh, and although Sheldia is worried sick there's
no time to hold up the planning on his account.  Rosa vows more latrine duty
when she finally lays hands on the guy.

Anyway, Sakon's got some info to explain, err, summarize about the Gates.
Unfortunately, he's going to have to start from square one, since all the Zaft
folks got very little reliable information under Durandal's regime.  The
despot was very good at information control, but one has to wonder where he
intended to find a fully informed successor among his troops.  Lacus will give
Durandal enough credit to believe the Destiny Plan had some provision there,
but that's a question for another time.  For now, Sakon says that the Gates
are what sci-fi novels call "warp zones", holes in space-time that can be used
for such nifty tricks as instantaneous long-range travel.  No wonder the bad
guys have been so hard to deal with!

All that Zaft know-how doesn't seem so hot now.  The Zaft troops also have to
come to the terms that these Gates not only reach other areas in _this_
dimension, but also in other dimensions... which is where a lot of their new
comrades hail from.  Wow, now there's a thought.  Kyou will leave it to them
to decide if it's mere coincidence that the peoples of so many different
parallel Earths all seem so similar, or that they have been gathered together
like this.

History lesson over, Sakon explains that he's finally pinpointed the origin
of the mysterious EM waves that blanketed the Moon precisely at the various
moments when the Gates transported the team places.  Sergeant Hatter's
advice to find the base helped focus his attention, but the key to why he was
able to find it but the Feds and Zaft couldn't lies with Cosmo Base.  Rue's
father's brainchild made the crucial initial sighting, leading Sakon to narrow
his focus enough to catch the very faint transmissions that seem to control
the Gates.  If this team wants to control the Gates too, they're going to need
to make that very dangerous gamble he spoke about before.

Count Deke in: the more dangerous the gamble, the more he digs it.  Sakon's
proposal is to head to the source of the transmissions, in a bid to either
lay hands on the Gate generator itself, or on its command and control site as
Hatter intimated.  Even in the second-to-worst worst case, there should be all
kinds of computers to hack for information.  Now, in the _worst_ case the
team will all get Gated to God-knows-where, though the Dangaioh can probably
save the team's bacon so long as "God-knows-where" isn't the center of a star
or somewhere uber-unsurvivable.  The good news is that Sakon can now forecast
when a Gating will happen, so the team won't be caught entirely off guard.

So, to be Gated around by the bad guys, or to fight with said bad guys in a bid
to take over the Gates?  Well, everyone on the team knows the best defense is
a good offense, especially if it gets Van back to revenging and Ruuji back to
saving his village any sooner.  It's no great leap of logic to extrapolate the
fight for peace on Earth to peace on _all_ Earths, and in short order everyone
tells Sakon to fork the coordinates over.  As everyone breaks up and heads to
their battlestations, Sheldia and Angelica try to go find their long lost
comrade Mist...

The flotilla's course takes them directly toward Espair's base, which sets off
all kinds of alarm bells.  The easy solution, Gating them somewhere far away,
is unavailable due to the Gate generator being, um, overheated.  The culprit
seems to be Veliny and the massive, unscheduled Gate she pulled... at least
according to the records.  Conveniently, she phones Espair up to chew him out
for not keeping the Gate generator up and running.  When he confronts her with
the records of the unscheduled Gate, she sniffs that such records can be
doctored, and probably _were_ doctored as part of Espair's pattern of minor
malfeasance and blame-shifting.  After all, Espair _is_ the product of a bunch
of small-time punk "Fragments" linking up: no matter how many personalities
he's made up out of, once a punk, always a punk.

He bristles at this of course, but Veliny is more than happy to tear him apart
with her Victolla if he tries to argue, and do so on her lunch break no less.
Espair is consumed by rage, but without the Crystal Heart's power he won't be
bitchslapping any T.A.'s or anyone else any time soon.  Instead, he sucks it
up and allows that it may be some kind of clerical error on his end.  Veliny
sure hopes so, since she's gotten sick of absorbing Fragments like him.  He
forecasts that the Gate generator will be back online in a few hours, and
promises to let her know as soon as repairs are done.  After Espair hangs up,
one of his lackeys says that a "few" hours could be as many as twelve,
meaning the enemies will totally show up first.

Probably best if Espair has his men take the Earthlings out before they
arrive.  Unfortunately, most of the base's warpower is on loan to the forward
base on Earth itself -- the few units that remain stand no chance against the
oncoming battleships.  Espair weights his options, deciding to try his luck at
putting his Crystal Heart research into practice... even if it means ceasing
to exist in his current form.  He plans to convert his spiritual energy
directly into a form the Endark can invert and push into the Crystal Heart,
either resulting in awesome power or total ruin.

The Gate generator itself can't be moved without... a functioning Gate,
meaning it can't save itself.  Even if his little plan succeeds, Espair will
be basically facing the Earthlings alone, a daunting prospect until Gil
phones up with an offer of help.  It was _he_, not Veliny, who actually used
the Gate to ferry his forces to the Moon, conveniently putting him in position
to wipe the Earthlings out... if Espair wants the assistance that is.  Why not?
Since the mess is Gil's fault, it's only right that Gil fix it.  Not exactly
the most reassuring options, but Espair doesn't have too many other things to
try...

Angelica and Sheldia finally track down Mist, who is uncharacteristically
silent and and glum-looking.  He's been reflecting on his initial great
impression of the Earth, and all that he's learned since that initial
impression was punctured.  He thought he had it all figured out until he saw
Requiem and Genesis in action, weapons that would have been literally
unthinkable on Atreem.  In the two thousand years since Atreem's colonization,
there had _never_ been any major misunderstanding... nor had there been any
substantial quarrels any time in Bezzard's recent history.  Both planets were
essentially planet-wide nations, populated by nothing but peaceniks.  But the
Earth... the Earth is a place where the common man, even if he doesn't _want_
war, allows it to happen by embracing people like Durandal or the Logos cabal.

From where he sits, the righteous folk in the Archangel squad aren't the rule
as far as Earthlings go -- they are actually the exception.  And he's sick
and tired of fighting on the Earth's behalf!  He yells that he's leaving the
ship, and Sheldia says she'll leave too in that case.  She's been busting her
butt on behalf of the people she's come to know as a second family, but none
of that matters if Mist isn't around.  Like, if Mist hates the Earthlings that
much, she can learn to hate them too!  Err, it's not like Mist actually
_hates_ the Archangel crew, but Sheldia says it'd be easier to hate them and
leave, than to leave anyway and be regretful.

Really though, she doesn't want to start hating the Archangel crew, or the
Earth in general, any more than she wants to be apart from him.  She is,
frankly, pretty lonely.  So, frankly, is Mist, who starts blubbering his eyes
out at the thought of the Earthlings he loves so much doing such cruel things.
Sheldia tells him to cry even more if he's sad, but adds that there's something
he's got to recognize.  This emoness is essentially his own fault, for being
so self-righteous as to apply his own moral standards to others.  She can
already see Mist actually leaving this ship if conditions deteriorate further
for the Earthlings, eventually turning on them and seeking their destruction
as fervently as the people who destroyed his own planet.  The better plan would
be to believe that the Earth can be changed, with enough cooperation and
enough time.  Isn't that what Mist's old commander would have wanted?

Yup.  Man, this guy is an open book, in very large type and with very few
pages.  That would be why Sheldia got so good at placating the guy despite
only living with him for a year, leading Angelica to somewhat lament that
her moral support isn't needed.  Claiming she needs to grab some stomach
medicine before the battle, she hurries off, leaving Sheldia to tell Mist that
he's to rush to her embrace any time he's feeling down: she'll hold him tight
as long as he needs.  This is a tad embarrassing for Mist, but gets the point
across that Logos and Durandal are more the product of a small initial mistake
and less the result of a massive conspiracy.  That's the spirit, and if it
takes Sheldia hugging him to keep his thinking on track, that's just what
she'll do from now on.

....Okay, can we PLEEZ get back to that impending battle?  Thanks.  Mist
dashes onto the bridge, promising to take whatever punishment he deserves
later.  For now, it's clear the enemies know the Archangel and friends are
coming, and since no Gating is imminent there seems to be no better time than
now to assault whatever the bad guys are hiding behind their energy shield.
The commanders make the decision to alter course and take the shortest possible
route to the target, cutting short all the R&R the crew are enjoying.  Among
those affected is Ana, who's been reading with Ruuji.  After he rushes off,
Ana confides to Lioubov that she has almost forgotten how warlike their own
world is: a thought that scares her considerably.  While saving this Earth is
cool and all, they'd both better pray that their own world can be improved as
well.

Roll and the crew certainly aren't happy to see Gil, but he seems suspiciously
pleasant back.  He only plans to keep up with this little farce a short while,
but the good guys don't know that yet...

  Gil doesn't hang out long, making the ridiculous excuse to Espair that all
  his men's mecha have broken down at once.  Tough cookies, that.  Espair,
  vowing revenge for this transparent betrayal, is forced to sortie his
  remaining forces -- not much of a threat.  More threatening are a group of
  Virtualoids that abruptly join in the fun, and since Hatter isn't among them,
  Sakon astutely figures them for Shadow forces.  Recall that the Shadows are
  Virtualoids that have gone out of control, essentially unpiloted specters:
  perfect for slowing the Archangel and friends down while Espair regroups.
  Espair pulls his forces back lest the Shadows blast them too.

  Luckily, help is on the way!  Hatter shows up, with Fei Yen and Chief in tow.
  Apparently their normally stolid commanders are in quite a tizzy over their
  dimension being commingled with the rest of the multiverse, and have sent
  the best to try to help out.  Hatter grandly assures his comrades that things
  are A-OK now that the Archangel squad is on their side, and after a bit of
  verbal comedy the three join in the throwdown.

  The Shadows are much more intimidating on paper than they are in real
  battle.  Espair can't believe how easily they go down, any more than he can
  believe that Hatter actually managed to summon help from MARZ.  Does their
  presence here mean that "it" still has secrets he hasn't fathomed?  In any
  case, with the Earthlings' battleships bearing down, he has no choice but to
  return to battle himself.

  ...That is, until a new player arrives: Kuriaria of the Noble Knights, an
  anti-Shadow organization that Chief has heard of.  It seems this whole area
  is officially off-limits, due to its proximity to the Moon Gate and high
  probability of spawning Shadows.  The problem becomes, are Hatter and his
  friends now contaminated by Shadow themselves?  He means to find out by
  challenging them to combat, and won't take "no" an answer.  This gives Espair
  that much more time to try to get the Gate working.

  Luckily, Kuriaria finds no evidence of contamination when he fights the team,
  and he apologizes for any misunderstanding.  He does however recommend that
  the team leave this dangerous area... a recommendation that the team of
  course can't heed.  Seeing their determination even in the face of peril,
  Kuriaria decides to help defeat Espair's remaining forces.

  Said forces crumble so quickly that Espair sees no option but to actually
  fight in person.  Sheldia urges Mist to remain calm as he faces the person
  who helped lay his homeworld waste, and Hatter chimes in that everything will
  be okay as long as no one panics.  Note that Espair actually held Hatter
  prisoner for a while, though Hatter himself stoutly maintains that he let
  himself be captured as a form of reconnaissance.

  Espair proves to be a fairly tough opponent, but Mist isn't going to let him
  get away today.  Mist's anger begins to unleash the power of his Crystal
  Heart, just as Espair wants: he goads Mist to get more and more upset.  With
  all the power he hopes to gain, he thinks he can even surpass Ru Cobol.  Of
  course, to do that he has to live through the wrath that Mist unleashes,
  which isn't at all guaranteed.  Lucky for him Mist is still just a n00b: he
  "merely" gets critically damaged instead of totally destroyed.  If this is
  the kind of power he can aspire towards, or beyond, life will be wonderful.

  In fact, he wants the Revlias to study badly enough that he tells his men
  to hold off on Gating his enemies to the other side of the galaxy.  His
  plan instead is to lure the Revlias into the base, while his men are on
  standby and ready to push the Gate button.

Mist isn't going anywhere immediately, since he feels like his whole body is on
fire.  Since all the troops outside the base are destroyed, this would seem to
be a good time to regroup before charging inside.  Celiaria won't follow the
team inside, but he does wish everyone the best of fortune in battle.  Chief is
reluctant to accept the Archangel's offer of shelter, but the fact of the
matter is that his team can't contact HQ at present, and they need to learn a
lot about this world in a hurry if they're to carry out their mission properly.

Gil's unexpectedly rapid exit from the battle seems to indicate that he never
intended to protect the base in the first place.  A sign that the enemies
aren't entirely unified?  Well, given that even the supposedly monolithic
Festoom seem to be suffering internal problems, it would come as no surprise
to see a more composite force of bad guys at odds with each other.  In any
case, now's the golden opportunity to invade the base and seize control of
the Gates, just as soon as repairs are finished.

Mist is among those in need of repairs, spending some time in sickbay after
his little adventure with his Crystal Heart.  By this point, Angelica has
apparently given up on being his significant other, trusting Sheldia to look
after him while he recovers (and Shizuru was pulling for Angelica to win, too!
Bummer...), though Carmen is sure that there are yet more battles to be waged
in that little war.  Of the womenfolk gossiping about the love triangle, only
Lioubov has no idea what's going on -- needs to study more, as usual.

Mist comes to finally, much to Sheldia's relief.  He remembers a swelling of
heat within when facing Espair, and of forging that heat into a mighty blow...
after which his whole body felt like it was being torn apart.  According to
Dr. Franklin, Mist pushed his body to its utmost limits, even beyond what
Daiya did when he first used Face Open.  Mist wonders if this is what his
commander used back when, and resolves to compare combat records to find out.
But for now, Sheldia extracts a promise from him not to do anything that
reckless again.  She also convinces him to recuperate for now, promising to
be behind him every step of the way when the time is finally right to face
those who destroyed both their worlds.


21. The Decisive Battle Is Come (part 1)

Selene is predictably uneasy to learn that the Archangel is embroiled in a war
with aliens, especially since it's about to charge into the aliens' lunar
base.  Unfortunately, Cagalli doesn't have any time to fill in the blanks for
her; instead, she lets Selene research on her own from a nearby computer
terminal.  As she starts Googling, the pilots finish their preparations for
the raid.  Though the defenses seem thin, there's still the threat of getting
Gated God-knows-where to contend with... But nobody's planning to turn away
now.  Van wouldn't mind getting Gated away if he ended up home, but the
odds of that are approximately ZILCH -- his only option for revenge is the team
actually gaining control of the Gate and using it deliberately.

The Virtual-On folks want to be clear that the Gate in question isn't the
Moon Gate, which is a ruin on the Moon where the technology that made the
Virtualoids came from.  The Moon Gate is a fascinating subject in its own
right, but all discussion about it will have to wait until the battle is won.
Chief does ask Hatter to review what happened when he passed through the
"Hole in the Moon", learning nothing more than that that Hole is a very
unstable place.  More info must be gathered before they can return home and
carry out their own mission.

Shizuka runs into Mist in the hangar, telling him his mech is back in one
piece.  She's more worried about him than his mech if he tries to use that
bad-ass attack of his, and since even he doesn't know how he did it, there's
no telling when or if he'll be subjected to it again.  Interestingly, she's
found a circuit in Sheldia's mech that abruptly activated during Mist's little
display, somehow resulting in its horsepower increasing.  That's extremely
weird, given that the Celius II is powered by one of those "God Stones" from
Sheldia's planet -- what would that have to do with Mist's state of mind?
Mist doesn't really know much about the God Stones, or the Crystal Heart for
that matter, so he's no help in unraveling the mystery.  Shizuka will have to
do some checking on both once this battle is over.

Sakon checks in at that point with some words of wisdom for Mist.  He's been
examining the Revlias' battle records, including Mist's former commander's
suicide attack.  It seems clear that the Crystal Heart is somehow able to
amplify emotional energy, draining it from the pilot even as it projects it
through its weaponry.  From what Sakon's been able to figure, the Revlias'
potential is vastly greater than the massive strike Mist unleashed, and hence
it could potentially extract that much greater a toll from its pilot.  He
advises Mist not to count on the Crystal Heart's explosive potential: his best
bet is to be as level-headed and emotionless as possible.  That will keep the
Crystal Heart functioning as "only" a semi-perpetual motion device, and 
nothing more threatening...

Espair isn't especially concerned as the Earthlings enter his base.  He tells
his lackeys to lure them into the central hangar, where he plans to teleport
his trump card with the one available shot the Gate can currently muster.
One of the underlings warns that Veliny is going to be mighty peeved at him
for "borrowing" the gadget so soon after its delivery to Earth, but Espair
is beyond caring about bending the rules.  His only concern is getting his
hands on the Revlias' Crystal Heart, and maybe putting Veliny in his debt in
the process.  Never mind the fact that just Gating the Gate itself away would
keep the entire operation safe -- Espair doesn't want Veliny realizing the
depths of his schemes.

Wouldn't you know it: his plan has hit a bump before it even gets underway.
A group of Virtualoids materializes in #3 hangar, possibly related to a brief
abnormality in the Hole in the Moon a few hours ago.  Since these Virtualoids
appear to be more of the brain-eating zombie variety, Espair decides to get
them to fight the Earthling intruders and see what happens.

Facing these goons may come naturally to the MARZ agents, but it's pretty
shocking to the rest of the team.  All the same, the only way ahead is 
through the rogue Virtualoids, so the team sorties in short order.

  No sooner has the team run the gauntlet of Virtualoids than a few more rez
  up down the hall.  This is getting tedious as hell, but some new allies(??)
  appear: two SHBVD units.  The SHBVD is a private army of sorts, whose
  signature armament is the "Raiden" heavy battle mech.  Fei Yen recalls
  hearing something about a schism within the SHBVD not too long ago, but
  Hatter won't hear of any badmouthing those who just helped fend off the bad
  guys.

  Then again, maybe a bid of badmouthing is in order, since Ensign Gil has
  orders to attack a unit in "the vicinity" who is suspected of Shadow
  infection.  Never mind the fact that he and Redon were supposed to be
  carrying that order out in the vicinity of the Moon Gate: they're here now,
  and the Archangel's contingent is the only set of adversaries they've got
  left.  And even the stoic Chief doesn't relish the thought of tasting their
  high-powered armaments.

  Fortunately, there _are_ only two of the apparently rogue mecha: not exactly
  the most terrifying spectacle ever.  As Mist urges the team to hurry ahead,
  Hatter of all people becomes the voice of reason.  Think about this: an
  increasingly dangerous stream of Virtualoids are popping up in the path of
  the team, including those poisonous Sisters and these SHBVD yahoos.  This
  can't be mere coincidence, but there's nowhere near enough info to figure
  out what's really going on at present.

Espair, lurking in the shadows, finds the spectacle distinctly unimpressive.
The zombie Virtualoids barely scratched the Archangel's paint, much less
actually crippled its warpower.  They did buy enough time for him to finish
installing his Crystal Heart into his Endark, and with the Earthlings only
five minutes from the central hangar Espair orders "it" to be teleported from
the Earth to meet them.  He also gets his remaining forces ready to sortie,
so he can capture the Revlias and its pilot, who as an Atreemian must surely
contain the Fragment he seeks.  Espair is planning on using Mist's body in his
twisted experiments into Crystal Heart power, but his plans get rudely
interrupted by a transmission from... the main invasion force!!

It's Gasm, whose appearance has changed (for the better) since the last time
he and Espair spoke.  It seems Gasm has assimilated another Fragment-bearer,
one who Espair was terrified of.  But threatening Espair, with a disposable
body no less, isn't why he called -- though it's a good time to remind Espair
that he and Veliny ought to get off their asses and assimilate Fragment-
bearers of their own.  Of course, all of them will in turn be assimilated by
Ru Cobol eventually, but for now Gasm is content to have a little rivalry
going with Espair.

He demands to know why Espair is wasting time making the Earthlings fight
each other instead of looking for Fragments.  Espair tells him that all the
negative emotions of the Earthlings: hatred, jealousy and so forth can give 
rise to a lot of energy -- energy that Ru Cobol will surely find useful.
All fine and dandy, but the fact remains that Espair *isn't* looking for
Fragments.  Gasm recommends that Espair redress that if he doesn't want to
be pewnished when Ru Cobol awakens... which, if Gasm's watch is accurate,
should be any day now.  Espair thanks Gasm for the warning and assures him
he'll work something out on his own.

As Gasm hangs up, Espair frets that his boss' impending reawakening will
totally monkeywrench all these plans he's been laying.  His entire existence
as an independent being is at stake, and that means pulling out all the stops
to capture the Revlias.

Aboard the Archangel, Sven has recovered fully from his ordeal.  Selene goes
to look in on him, with a very protective Sol shadowing her, and to Sol's
consternation offers Sven a chance to fight on behalf of the Earth.  The
math is pretty simple for Selene: she can't continue her Stargazer research
with all these alien invaders around, so her best course of action is helping
get rid of them stat.  She's desperate enough that she'll accept help from
the same people who tried to interrupt said research.  Sven points out to her
that he and his fellow soldiers have killed an awful lot of Coordinators up
until now, but Selene counters that she's killed her fair share of Federation
pilots too.  And she'll keep on killing anyone in her way: her gaze is firmly
fixed ahead, or rather, "above".  Sven's own fond wish is to head to the stars
himself someday, but he needs a bit of time to think before signing up to
Selene's version of the crusade...


21B. The Decisive Battle Is Come (part 2)

As the Archangel nears the center of the cavernous base, nothing untoward
shows on the radar: it's almost _too_ quiet.  This structure is really less of
a base and more of a small city, apparently constructed right under the
Earthlings' noses and in possibly as little as two months (the time since
the assault on Bezzard, at least as far as Mist knows).  That has to imply a
serious technology disparity, and it's occurred to Mist to wonder why, given
that disparity, the bad guys haven't simply destroyed the Earth by now. 
Atreem was wiped out in less than a month, though in fairness its defenders
were hampered by a massive typhoon shortly before the assault.  Bezzard was
an even sorrier scene, barely lasting ten days.

Both planets had massive planetary defenses, bigger even than the Earth's...
which means that the enemy's gradual invasion isn't simply a matter of numbers.
Either some special factor is slowing them down, or they're slowing
_themselves_ down voluntarily -- either way, the only way to find out for sure
is to beat the info out of them.

The central hangar is predictably massive, and must have housed one hell of an
invasion force at one point.  Said force has presumably all been transferred
to Earth by Gate, adding yet more urgency to the team settling the score here
and returning home.  Unexpectedly, Espair phones up and introduces himself as
a commander of the "Edax" organization.  Any plans Mist had to remain calm go
out the window when confronted with the destroyer of his homeworld: he vows to
give Espair another taste of his big guns, and Espair says he's looking very
much forward to it.

Numerous bogeys appear on the thermal scanners, including a massive one in
the center of the formation.  Sakon radios in with news that one of the bogeys
came through a Gate, whose generator he has positively pinpointed to be within
this base.  He and Shizuka are going to go hunting for it while the rest of
the team draw the Edax's fire, and several other useful non-combatants will
accompany them.

The MARZ agents recognize that big heat signature, dumbfounded at the sight
of the beastly mech on the Moon.  It's the Jaggerlinde, a genocidal weapon
powered by something called an "Earth Crystal".  The best summary Hatter can
give of its capabilities is that it's the worst of all possible foes, which
doesn't bode well for the team's chances.  Mist intends to focus on Espair,
not out of revenge but rather a desire to keep his own planet's fate from
befalling the Earth as well.  Gou is surprised to hear Mist talking in those
terms, but Mist assures him that even he is capable of maturing when given
the right people supporting him.  Of course, Mist swearing off revenge doesn't
mean he'll obstruct Van's vengeance jag, though Mist suspects that even Van has
more at stake than his personal vendetta.

Espair privately doubts that the flames of rage in Mist's heart can be
extinguished so easily, counting on that in fact as a means to capture the
Revlias.  He knows he'd better hurry too, lest he miss his chance.

  He tries to provoke Mist by reminding him that it was he who destroyed
  Mist's homeworld, but Mist fires back that Espair is a small-time punk that
  a single squadron was plenty sufficient to take down.  Espair warns him
  that he's added a little Atreemian tech to his mech since their last
  showdown, though given how crummy Atreem's tech level was Espair says he
  can't even remember what he used its tech for.  With an effort, Mist keeps
  a grip on himself in the face of Espair's cheap shots, knowing he's got to
  buy time for the scientists to hack into the base's systems.

  Sakon and the others find a computer terminal in short order, marveling at
  the base's sophistication.  Kira's Coordinator intuition would come in really
  handy right about now, but his skills are best employed in battle.  Sakon's
  gotten all the advice from Kira that he could, and all they can do now is
  execute under their own power.

  Kira isn't the only one Sakon has been borrowing good ideas from: he also
  snagged some theory from Selene for building a password-cracking gadget.
  Just the thing for breaking into the Gate control system.  He quickly finds
  out what Espair's people already know: the Gate is currently overheated and
  can't be used for a while.  He downloads as much data as he can and gets
  the team ready to return to the ship, but suddenly a new batch of enemy
  reinforcements show up.

  The Jaggerlinde is a dangerous beastie, but isn't especially tough... much
  to Espair's annoyance.  Any sane person would see that it's time to flee, but
  Espair isn't sane any more.  Unable to contain himself, he screams at his
  concerned subordinate that he's going to get his hands on the Revlias' pilot
  come hell or high water, protecting the Gate be damned.  It is _he_ who will
  collect all the Fragments, _he_ who will surpass Ru Cobol in power.

  He charges into the middle of the Archangel forces and demands Mist fight
  him, recounting all the horrible things he's done to Mist's kin.  Mist's
  best efforts to restrain himself aren't quite enough, and Espair's men manage
  to grab him.  Somehow or other Mist's mech loses power, letting Espair and
  his men smack him around to their heart's content.  Espair hadn't actually
  intended to kill Mist, but upon seeing how weak Mist is changes his mind.
  He can get his Fragment from somewhere else, he figures, and prepares to
  finish Mist off in one mighty blast.  Sheldia gets in the way, a sudden
  outpouring of energy from her generating a shield that keeps both her and
  Mist alive.

  Espair is overjoyed at apparently finding a new sample for his experiments.
  Sheldia tells Mist to keep his cool and accept her help in defeating Espair,
  but all her gauges suddenly go into the red.  Her mech begins to glow in the
  same fashion as Mist's former commander's at the time he made his suicide
  strike, and by the time Mist yells for Sheldia to eject it's too late.  Her
  mech seemingly dissolves into light, leaving Mist with the grim prospect of
  having lost yet another precious comrade right in front of his eyes.  Espair
  is bummed for having gotten his hopes up.  Mist fires back that Sheldia
  didn't exist for Espair's hopes, but Espair is having none of that.  Now
  that Sheldia's gone, Mist and his idiot Earthling friends are next.

  Not so much, actually.  Power returns to Mist's mech, and he implores his
  teammates to forgive him all his idiocy.  He wants their help one more time
  to take Espair out, and of course no one plans to refuse their aid now.

  Smack Espair around a bit and Mist tells him to say his prayers.  Prayers?
  Like hell.  Espair boasts that his mech is packing a Crystal Heart he picked
  up during the assault on Atreem, just in case he needs the extra oomph.  It
  can only have come from one place: Mist's commander's mech!  Espair openly
  admits to not being able to use the Crystal Heart in the regular fashion,
  which converts rage to energy, so instead he's forcibly kickstarting it with
  power from his own soul.  That means that protracted action would simply
  burn Espair's life out, but Espair isn't planning to let his enemies live
  that long.

  He asks Mist for his name, telling Mist that he's just become Espair's
  Crystal Heart's first victim.  As he blasts Mist around some more, he crows
  that Mist has no way to withstand his Crystal Heart power.  His first attack
  uses quite a bit of spiritual energy, and Espair resolves to take the entire
  crew out with the next strike.  But Mist, not quite dead yet, has a Crystal
  Heart too, and he can fuel it with the positive desire to protect as well as
  the negative desire to destroy.

  Oh snap.  Espair didn't consider that one.  Mist's attack is even mightier
  than Espair's was, indicating how the Crystal Heart is supposed to be used.
  What's more, Mist's strike severs Espair's ability to use his own Crystal
  Heart.  It's going to take some practice to keep fighting for benevolent
  reasons instead of for rage, but Mist's first step is enough to carry the day
  today.

For a moment, it seems Mist's victory will be a hollow one, with Sheldia dead.
But no sooner has the lamentation begun than Sheldia, still alive, calls up
to say that she did manage to eject in time.  The Celius II is broken beyond
repair though, which might have been avoided had Mist kept his emotions in
check.  The good news comes from Sakon: he's now gotten control of the Gate,
and more or less figured out how to use it.

Emphasis on "more or less".  In order to send Van and the others back home,
he'll need coordinates.  And that means deciphering the contents of the Gate's
memory banks, which isn't an instant process even for the team's combined
braintrust.  Van gets predictably irritable after getting his hopes up, but
it gets pointed out to him that this mission was originally only geared
toward getting info on the Gates -- actually bagging a Gate itself is a lot
more than icing on the cake.

Okay, "bagging" isn't accurate either.  The actual Gate generator vanished from
the base shortly after the scientists found it, presumably moved by another of
Edax's operatives.  Fortunately, the command terminal links to the generator by
pan-dimensional means, so as long as the generator is even vaguely close-by,
Sakon is confident he'll be able to command it.  Analyzing the Gate records
will take another half-day (Van gets even pissier), and in the meantime he's
dispatched a few of the pilots to haul a certain object aboard.  He's coy about
what the object is, but reckons Mist and Sheldia will like it when they see it.
Sakon doesn't have to wait long either.  Lee, part of the salvage operation,
observes that the enemy must have been in a hell of a hurry to leave something
_that_ valuable behind.

Mist doesn't get the chance to go check it out right away though.  Gasm 
phones the Earthlings up, telling them he's Espair's mate and their new
opponent.  What's more, he's less patient than Espair, and plans to wipe the
entire Earth out in short order.  Mu. Ah. Ha. Ha.  KTHXBYE.  The really sucky
part is the identity of the body Gasm has appropriated: it's Angelica's father
Elric!  Of course, it's not clear how Elric, who Mist watched stage a suicide
attack, ended up among the enemy.  Mist leads the traumatized Angelica off
somewhere quiet, probably the only one who can help her for now.

With Durandal and his death weapons dealt with, it's time to head back to Earth
for a showdown with the remaining invaders.  Until they're taken out, true
peace will be impossible for the Plants and the Earth.  The plan was to drop
Selene and Sven off at Troia Station along the way, but Selene has resolved
that fighting is the fastest way to advance her research.  Kotona can certainly
vouch that her "research" mech can hold its own against production combat
types, and Muu can certainly see his way clear to admit another former Phantom
Pain pilot into the group.  Since the Coordinators on the team are willing to
accept him, Sven is happy to _be_ accepted and get a chance to pursue his
dream.

A new problem comes up when the MARZ units ask the team to check on the
Hole in the Moon.  ...Which appears to have vanished, probably due to the
Edax folks trashing their own base.  This cuts off contact with MARZ command,
and the only logical thing for them to do is hang out with the Archangel squad
until the Hole reopens.  No problemo as far as the Earthlings are concerned.

One other piece of good news from Sakon.  Recall how using the Gates the last
few times damaged the team's ships and knocked everyone unconscious?  That
effect is due to improper, forcible use of the Gates -- when the team gets
around to using them of their own volition, they shouldn't be subject to any
of those problems again.


22. Confusion Carnival

Angelica is still in quite a state over seeing her father among the enemy,
and there's little Mist can say to comfort her.  What he can assure her of is
that her "father" will appear before them again, and not in the terribly
distant future either.  What they need to do is think on how to save Elric
when that chance arrives, and content themselves for now with the knowledge
that at least he's still alive.  As Angelica's tears slacken, Mist can only
wonder what the hell Edax is up to, turning her father -- his beloved former
commander -- against them.

Kiriko is looking forward to getting a clear accounting of the fleet's
exploits as soon as they return to Dannar Base: even to someone with resources
like hers, information about the fleet's exploits in space is quite muddled.
Kiriko also has someone she wants the returning heroes to meet.

Meanwhile, Mist finally goes to check out that robot Sakon has brought
aboard.  As Sakon suspected, it's an Atreemian mech that Mist recognizes: a
robot under development by Atreem's self-defense forces at the time of the
attack.  Called the Selcelius, it seems to have been a test platform of sorts
for the Crystal Heart -- which would explain Espair's interest in it.  Sakon
is now the beneficiary of all of Espair's Crystal Heart research, and since
the Gate stuff has plateaued for now, he plans to spend most of his energy
figuring out how the Crystal Hearts work next.  He's already determined
that "rage" is a partially effective means of boosting their output, and also
suspects that Mist should be at the point where he no longer requires "rage"
to get the Crystal Heart going.

In the meantime, Sakon tells Mist he'll set the Selcelius up as Sheldia's
new mech, transplanting the damaged God Stone from the Celius II to use as its
power plant.  Apparently these Stones were used to power everything on
Bezzard, and their fortunate affinity with the Crystal Heart is what allowed
Bezzardian technicians to adapt one to powering the Celius II.  They seem a
lot like Area Zi's Generators, in fact, and both Sakon and Mist have to wonder
just why Atreem, Bezzard and the Earth seem to have so much in common...

Elsewhere, Veliny is waiting impatiently in her base for word from the rest
of the fleet.  Gasm is the one who makes the call, obviously already clued
in as to Espair's defeat.  Veliny tells him that some of Espair's men just
evacuated to her base with Espair's Gate, bearing tales of a mech called the
"Revlias" whose pilot Espair was trying to capture alive.  The Revlias is also
what did Espair in, doing what the rest of the Earth forces ought not to have
managed.  That, coupled with how secretive Espair was about the Revlias, means
it's definitely worth checking into further.

A better question is how Gasm is doing in his new body, which belonged to an
incredibly powerful Fragment-bearer.  Veliny thinks that's a great thing,
since it means he's that much closer to Ru Cobol, but Gasm tells her it's too
early to celebrate.  Only after all the personalities of the Fragments are
melted together can the party begin in earnest.  He promises her he'll go
join her as soon as he's wrapped the fighting on Earth up.  For her part, she
can find no Fragments on the planet she's on -- instead, she's found some
technology that might be of use to Ru Cobol.  Gasm warns her that Espair
said exactly the same thing; if she doesn't want to dig her own grave like he
did, she should just concentrate on Fragment-hunting.  She assures him she's
not careless like Espair was, and he hopes for her sake she's right.

Gasm has also been toying with the idea of disabling the limiters on the
Gates... limiters which were installed in the first place to avoid damaging
spacetime itself.  That's a risk he's willing to take in order to find more
Fragments before Ru Cobol's awakening, especially since they can't use Planet
Crisis freely right now.  It's a dangerous gamble: unlimited Gating might
accelerate Edax's plans, but should spacetime become permanently warped, those 
plans could come to a screeching halt.  Gasm hopes she isn't _disagreeing_
with him or anything, since he's been made the leader in Ru Cobol's absence.

Veliny agrees to disable the Gate's limiter, and Gasm tells her he means to
have a little fun with the Earthlings before toasting them for good.  Rather
than simply teleporting them to the far side of the universe, he's come up
with a far more enjoyable plan.  Thanks to Veliny's report, he's gotten
interested in the Overskills possessed by the Overmen, especially the one
called the Mexblade...

Kiriko digests the report about what the troops have been up to, wondering
like everyone else why the MARZ agents never seem to leave their cockpits.
Aslan wonders if the pilots have actually been virtualized as AIs and
permanently installed in the mecha, but Gou recommends not trying to dig too
deeply.  He's been far too busy fighting to keep his hair cropped short, and
since Anna seems to like it that way Kiriko won't chew him out too much.

Kiriko's little surprise is the Fafner troops, who Makabe has dispatched to
help defending mankind as a whole.  A mobile version of the Siegfried System
has been developed, so Soushi can go wherever the battleships are needed.  All
told, the team has just grown by eight members, including former Federation
pilot Michio and the unsociable Kanon.  There's also Shouko and Chizuru,
here at Tsubaki's insistence to keep an eye on the other pilots.  The same goes
for Naoto, who wants to see what Daiya is up to firsthand.  Under other
circumstances, there's no way that would fly as a reason to be aboard an
active battleship, but these aren't normal circumstances and there's no reason
to deny the guy his shot.

About this time Sakon calls up, having finally pinpointed where in the
multiverse the other worlds are.  The era of inter-Earth commerce may be about
to dawn, but everyone should start by hearing Sakon's explanation first.
Good as his word, he's figured out where to send Van and the other Offworlders,
even cutting some time off the commit deadline thanks to a bit of help from
Kira and Joshua.  His coordinates point to Area Zi, the last known whereabouts
of the taloned man, and once anyone from this world is Gated there, Sakon will
be able to calculate coordinates to anywhere else on that planet (such as
Yapan's Ceiling).  Of course, the Gate isn't a detective, so Van and friends
will have to find out _where_ the taloned man is before Sakon could send him
directly there.

Before Sakon can Gate anyone anywhere, a massive dimensional distortion appears
nearby.  Out of it comes... Yapan's Ceiling, of all things!  Gainer and
everyone else rush to the scene, quickly filling in Gain and the other
Exodizers that they're now on a different Earth than the one they started from.
Gain has trouble believing this at first, especially when Ana claims to have
been to the moon, but the evidence quickly mounts that she's telling the truth.
Apparently the Yapan's Ceiling was Gated right in the middle of rumbling toward
Yapan, and the shock has left structural damage and numerous casualties in its
wake.

Imagine the surprise of the Exodizers to find themselves _in_ Japan (err...
Yapan, whatever).  Too bad the place looks like a junkyard after all the 
invasion that's been going on, but Beroux and the others are determined that
the time has come to remake it by their own hands.  Um, what?  One by one, the
team start losing their focus and devoting themselves to having fun,
accompanied by a rash of pink hippos that start popping up everywhere.

As Beroux starts rattling off all the events the Yapan's Ceiling festival will
contain (idol contest, eating contest, swimsuit contest...), a few of the
commanders keep their heads and wonder what's come over everyone.  Gou isn't
among them: when Anna and Mira decide to compete against each other in the idol
contest, Gou bellows that both of them are his idols alone.  Kya, what a
pleasantly embarrassing thing to say!

Van seems immune to the infectious mirth, as are the rest of the non-humans in
the team (including Lulu, interestingly).  Mia's psychic powers apparently
didn't protect her, nor did Michi's age protect her.  Kira's powers did
protect him, and he tells Kiriko that these delusions of festivals and such
seem to be somehow connected to visions of pink hippos.  Whatever is going on
seemingly hasn't spread as far as Dannar Base itself, and Kira will be in
charge of figuring out what's responsible.

Soushi, still in possession of his faculties, is very much bothered by how
things are unfolding.  If Yapan's Ceiling were sent here as a Trojan horse by
the invaders, he might have expected the debilitating effect to have a much
wider radius... say, all of Japan.  And the fact that the victims are easily
identifiable by their visions of pink hippos is too obvious: is this some kind
of misdirection play?  Kyou notes that this might just be a test case for a
wider-scale deployment, with the team as guinea pigs.  If the effect really
does only affect normal Earthlings, it's clear that the Fafner pilots are
decidedly _not_ normal (though Soushi has no plans to tell them that it's the
Festoom DNA bred into them that's probably to thank for that).  As for Kyou...
Hiroshi makes up the excuse that it's thanks to a medicine his father devised
that keeps Kyou (well over a hundred years old) young.  Isn't that right?
*winkwinknudgenudge*

Veliny is pretty astonished at what the Mexblade's Overskill has wrought.  Even
Gasm hadn't expected his foes to throw a full-fledged carnival, though it
serves his purpose well.  He wants them at the peak of levity and mirth when
the ravening bad guys strike and tear them to bloody shreds.  He wants to see
the smiles frozen on their faces when the tears of agony and despair start.
He wants to hear the joyful songs arrested mid-note as the screams of anguish
ensue.  In short, he wants the moment when Heaven becomes Hell.

This guy is seriously disturbed, but Veliny can't claim to be any healthier.
Gasm will leave the actual assault to her, now that he's set the stage.  She
asks why he didn't just extend the Overskill to the entire Earth, and he says
it would have taken the better half of the energy in his base... not to mention
wiping out all that Minus Energy that Espair so thoughtfully whipped up.  He's
not so conceited that he won't give Espair's schemes a fair chance to prove
useful after all.  That technology Veliny is pursuing might just solve Gasm's
energy problems, letting them use Planet Crisis as they see fit.  It's all good
so long as Ru Cobol's interests are being served, right?

No sooner does Gasm hang up than General Gene from Digald gets on the horn.
Veliny isn't interested in pleasantries, only why Gene has been so busy making
overtures to Siberian Rail.  It's for a good cause though: he's been able to
talk the good people of Sora City into giving him the tech needed to get
through the magnetic storm known as the Mountain of Death.  That's all very
well and good, but Veliny thinks Gene is cut out for far bigger things than
just running Siberia.  She wants to give him an entire planet...

The only way to find out what's going on is to venture inside Yapan's Ceiling,
and even Van gets drafted into helping look for clues.  The remaining forces
aboard the Eternal and Archangel can only watch in dismay, bracing for the
enemy attack they're sure is coming.  Mist actually wants to take Angelica to
the carnival on purpose, hoping to cheer her up while he can.  Cagalli can't
authorize that of course, and Angelica assures Mist that she'll be okay -- she
knows she doesn't have to shoulder her burden alone.

One thing the festival is doing is making everyone more honest with each other.
Sara and Adette have renewed their longstanding rivalry during the relay race,
in a total dead heat despite the disparity in age, fashion sense, and
"endowments".  Elsewhere, Shizuka is locked in combat with Monko at the arm-
wrestling match, once again in a dead heat despite the apparent physical
mismatch.  If not for Pai's alien blood, she'd probably have thrown her hat in
the ring as well.  Her teammate Mia wasn't so restrained about the Idol
contest, but to the group's astonishment they find her and Roll in the audience
instead of on stage.

How did that happen?  Apparently the judges sexually harassed her with some of
the questions they were asking, and in a fit of rage Mia kind of knocked them
across the room with her TK.  Result: first-round DQ.  The normally demure Mia
is frustrated enough to want to blow the entire contest away, testament to just
how much she's been effected by this pink hippo business.  On stage is Carmen
99, whose prowess in the swimsuit contest can't erase her difficulties singing.
Rosa then comes up to sing, dressed in kimono no less, and busts out a
heavy-duty enka about how hard it is to be a woman.  She's singing from
experience, and singing convincingly.

Before the final entry, the winners of the relay race are announced: the Daikuu
Maryuu team!  Apparently Sara beat archnemesis Adette, but it's Gainer who
seizes the mic for a little announcement.  He bellows into the mic that he's
always loved Sara, even since long before the Exodus.  The poor nerd goes nuts
trying to describe how much he wants Sara, and has to be dragged offstage as
the details get steadily more personal.  That clears the way for the final
Idol act, a duet between Le Mii and Kotona that goes far better than it has any
right to.

Kira and the scouting party have struck out, but back aboard the battleships,
Milliaria has detected a faint microwave field blanketing the area of Yapan's
Ceiling.  She radios the coordinates to Kira and the others, who have to
abandon the Idol contest before the winner is declared.  As they head to the
origin of the transmission, a Gate opens and through it pour...

...Geolg and his men, who weren't expecting a blasted area like this.  Nor is
he expecting a woman with cat-ears to be the one giving him orders, but there
it is.  Veliny suspects he doesn't like taking orders from women, and offers
to return him to Digald... where he'll be brought up on insubordination
charges.  He certainly doesn't want to go that route, and resigns himself to
following this strange woman's orders for the duration of his dispatch to
Earth.

What Kira's team find at the microwave origin are Biozoid, similar to Ruuji's
Zoid but made from a different alloy.  These are Digald's footsoldiers, forces
bent on ruling Ruuji's world with force.  Hiroshi and Kyou will continue
seeking the microwave emitter, and he tells the rest of the team to return to
Dannar Base to sortie.  Hiroshi can't become Jeeg without Michi's help
anyway.  Lulu and Sheldia are similarly powerless at present, so they'll also
help with the search.

It seems the non-Earthlings will have to hold the fort for a while, despite the
obvious dangers of sortying with only a partial force.  On the opposite side of
the field, Zailin takes the opportunity to make contact with Geolg...  who
isn't especially happy to see the long-lost pilot, but can't exactly refuse his
aid at present.  Veliny sends in some extra troops to improve Geolg's chances,
just about the time that Hiroshi destroys the microwave generator.  There's a
stampede of pilots heading back to Dannar Base, but Lacus wants to try to
handle things with just her forces for a change.  It's the least they can do
for their comrades after all.  Soushi doesn't mind, but warns that the longer
this battle wears on, the more dangerous it will get.  He tells Kazuki to hurry
up and settle the score fast.

  Soon after, Gain sorties in an Overman Gainer's never seen before, something
  Gain calls the Emperanza.  Gainer wonders if Gain stole it from Siberian
  Rail, but Gain indignantly says that he built it himself.  Gainer belatedly
  realizes that it's got the Brunhilde's arm attached to it.  Gain certainly
  knows who these Biozoid goons are: they've been raising hell in his world
  ever since Yapan's Ceiling left Area Zi.  _That_ comes as quite a shock since
  they're not from that world, but Gain has to save the explanation for later.

  Zailin's losing streak continues, but at least this time he's got Veliny
  fishing his ass out.  Same goes for Geolg, whose miserable showing has not
  made his feline taskmistress happy.

This whole fiasco seems to amount to Gasm's declaration of war on Earth, and
Kenji reckons the teams should just turn the tables and Gate themselves into
the enemy base in a preemptive strike.  Of course he has no idea where that
might be, inspiring a certain lack of confidence in Soushi, but Muu says
that Kenji essentially has the right idea.  All the Gate records Sakon snagged
in the lunar base ought to contain data on where the enemy have been coming to
and going from: data that should conceivably lead to the enemy's next
stronghold.

Interestingly, Kenji didn't sortie despite not seeing any of the pink hippos.
When questioned by Kyou, he and Tsubaki have to admit that Kenji was busy
being sick after overeating in the wake of the relay race.  Tsubaki kind of
egged him on, and took responsibility by nursing him back to health on the
sidelines.  Kyou turns very grave over the fact that they didn't see anything.
Obviously to him, Kenji and Tsubaki aren't normal humans, but they themselves
don't seem to realize how unusual they are...

Veliny is mightily peeved that Gasm's plan to toy with the Earthlings resulted
in her forces being soundly repulsed.  She plans to chew him out when she
speaks with him next, but such thoughts get immediately back-burnered when the
alarm klaxons sound.  Using the Gate has opened up dimensional cracks inside
the base, one of which destroys the controls for the #2 energy reservoir.
Unless someone does something _fast_, all that stored energy could well blow
the whole base sky high.

Veliny's assistant recommends that she and the Gate evacuate in case they can't
get things back under control, but Veliny asks first what the likelihood is of
fixing it.  Maybe fifty percent?  She orders the defective energy reservoir
vented into space, reasoning that losing half the energy (and delaying the
grand plan) is better than losing all of it and the base with it.  The tech
hesitates because the repair crew is in the path of the escape valve, but
Veliny shouts at her to just shut up and follow orders.  She adds in softer
tones the promise to give her tech the Fragments that get blown away in the
process, and the tech finally complies.

With the energy vented, the alarms subside.  Working around the clock and using
the Gate to help at peak efficiency, repairs will take a full five days.  Of
course, using the Gate that hard might make it malfunction again, but Veliny
is prepared to take that risk.  As the tech rushes off to comply, Veliny pounds
her fist on the arm of her chair, growling that this is precisely why she
didn't want to cut the Gate's limiters.  Gasm has a lot to answer for...

The good guys can all feel relieved that their ordeal hasn't left any
aftereffects... except the fact that everyone is now refreshed and reasonably
happy again after the long string of battling they've been doing.  The
unexpected merriment is a reminder to create lots of memories while one can,
since they'll be very important later in life.

Meanwhile, there's a lot of debriefing to do about what Yapan's Ceiling has
been up to.  It's become quite the tourist attraction in the Siberian area,
with several new (and eccentric) faces mixed in.  Among them are Manson and
the beauteous Catherine, queen of her own private country and an accomplished
underwear^Wswimwear designer.  AND leading metallurgist, oddly enough.
Cagalli has the bright idea of setting them up with lab space in Orb, so they
won't be quarreling aboard the Daikuu Maryuu all the time.

The flagships decide to return to Dannar Base to further correlate everyone's
information.  En route, Soushi confides to his teammates that he's lost
confidence that he can fight here.  Not because of a lack of firepower or
talent: this latest battle demonstrated both in spades.  He finds some of the
pilots, especially Kenji and Van, to be far too selfish for his taste.  He's
extremely afraid of them doing something ill-advised in battle, and turning
a sure victory into a defeat.  And since there's no way to connect with them
using the Siegfried System, he has no way of knowing what's going on in their
heads.  This scares him greatly.

Fortunately, his sister is on hand to set him straight.  She cautions him
against judging others only by his own value system (in which predictable
execution in battle is high on the list).  She admits that Soushi is correct
about Van as a disruptive influence, but that's not the whole story.  The fact
that Van's other comrades believe in Van suggests that he's worthy of Soushi's
trust as well.  Soushi agrees to go calm down and reconsider, allowing for the
possibility that all the new people he's met at Dannar Base may have made him a
bit confused.  Tsubaki agrees to go back and rest too, and it seems that
Drama(tm) has been averted for now.  Wendy admires how well Tsubaki looks after
her brother, wondering what her own brother is up to just now.  Mihael is
hanging with the infamous "taloned man" just now, but that full tale can wait
until Tsubaki is safely back in bed.


23. Formation of the Anti-Digald Army!

To recap: the Digald, not content with taking over their own Earth, are trying
to assail this one as well, sponsored by the new Edax commander.  There must
be _some_ reason the bad guys haven't just steamrolled this Earth the way they
did Atreem and Bezzard, and Soushi is pretty certain it isn't that they're
scared of the Earthlings.  Between this Earth and the other one that the
Yapan's Ceiling is from, the latter is in much greater danger from the Digald
due to its lower tech level.  Nothing in their arsenal can really stem the
Biozoid tide: even the mighty Overmen are far too few.

The commanders' considered opinion is that the other Earth is actually worth
saving first.  The Jama and other invaders represent a huge threat to this
Earth, but nobody knows where to strike; in essence, better the devil you know
than the devil you don't.  And one presumes that smacking Digald around on
their turf ought to keep them from messing with this Earth much.  Soushi is
the lone voice of dissent, reckoning that the smartest play is to fortify this
Earth's defenses against its elusive foe.  Kenji questions his humanitarian
side, though it falls to Cagalli to explain coherently.  While it is surely
more strategically sound to concentrate on defending this Earth, it's also true
that the residents of the other Earth might well be savable by this Earth's
forces.  To not try would be to condemn them, and that wouldn't be a very
human thing to do.  She puts her money, and her own nation's defenders, where
her mouth is, pledging that they'll hold the fort during this team's absence
against anything short of an all-out assault.  Yzak figures he can get the
Plants to help pick up some slack as well, and the Federation forces will have
no real choice but to help too.

Van knows darn well that his traveling companions won't let him travel alone.
Given that fact, he's resigned himself to sticking with the main force even
when they return to the other Earth.  Carmen approves, since traveling with the
pack makes it easier to gather and analyze information, and solves most of the
financial difficulties.  Gain and Gaury plan to help out too, since the Exodus
to Yapan won't be worth much if the Digald are running the place when the
Exodizers get there.  In fact, given how happy the Yapan's Ceiling folk were
when they arrived in this world's Japan, it might be best if the Exodus was
simply declared a success here and now -- it's hard to think of a more
motivated bunch to help revive Japan's ravaged countryside.  Gain isn't quite
buying it, but doesn't want to jump to any conclusions until the Digald are
dealt with.

By the way, some like Gou may be wondering what was responsible for all those
pink hippos.  The microwave emitter that Sakon recovered included equipment
from an Overman, including an Overcoat.  Recall that Overskills are the special
powers used by the Overmen, covering a broad spectrum of phenomena including
cloaking, time-stop, and many other mighty possibilities.  Gain's new mech's
Overskill is Gravity; the first thing to do with any unfamiliar Overman is to
figure out what its power is.  Sakon has narrowed the illusion device's effect
down to the Mexblade's Overskill, and the thought that the bad guys have
developed the sophistication to play with Over tech isn't a pleasant one.  In
any event, Lacus sends the troops to the other Earth with orders to keep
themselves properly rested.

Gene is interested to hear Geolg's report about finding Yapan's Ceiling in
the other Earth.  He tells Geolg that there'll be no return trip any time soon:
Veliny called him up and was not in a very good mood.  On the other hand,
there's nothing wrong with waiting for Yapan's Ceiling until after their grip
on this world is secure.  Gene orders Geolg to Zhuli, a sort of dumping ground
for malcontents with Digald rule.  Taking Zhuli out would deal a great blow
to any would-be rebels, so Geolg gets right to it.  Gene also has him send
Zailin to regale him with tales of where he's been all this time.

Several of the younger pilots make good on the long-standing promise to visit
Ana in her room, which is basically a huge mound of books and stuffed animals.
Soushi rapidly scans the spines and compliments Ana on having sophisticated
taste, asking if he can borrow some books later.  Kazuki needles him about the
difference between this and Soushi's spartan quarters, but Soushi counters
that his room has all the amenities _and_ is only eleven paces away from the
vending machines.

The conversation quickly turns serious when Soushi sees Wendy.  Both he and
she want to chat about Tsubaki, whose congenitally feeble constitution should
by rights have kept her confined to Alvis.  As it is, she's staying with
Chizuru in sick bay, and Soushi says that she'd surely appreciate a visit from
Wendy if she's so willing.  Soushi also passes along Tsubaki's gratitude for
finding a friend among the crew, and says that he'll contact Wendy again if
the need arises.  'Kay so, maybe Soushi's still got a ways to go in the
social skills department.

Apparently Ana isn't just about the serious material: Lanba joyfully spies and
borrows some shoujo manga.  Mira notices the hole left by a missing book,
which Ana has lent to Sakon, and Aslan fails to hide the book he wants to
borrow: "On Becoming a Dependable Commander".  Lunamaria and Meilin have come
bearing magazines from the Plants, depicting the latest fashions and some
truly sinful desserts.  Ana would love to try them, but in the interest of
keeping her girlish figure decides to content herself with _only_ looking.
That hits Meilin where it hurts: the dieting question.  Mia, whose physique
is hard to argue with, urges her to practice good nutrition on a daily basis
if she wants results...

All the commotion attracts Le Mii, who claims she's only here because of the
noise (and not all the fun everyone's having).  Maya observes to Kazuki that
it's a darn good thing there are all these friends to protect the Earth with.
If it was just them, fighting alone day in and day out, it would be far harder
to make memories together for fear that the memories would be dreadful ones.
She plans to hang onto memories of what Kazuki was like before he became a
Fafner pilot, and tells he not to be the kind of person who has nothing beside
fighting in his life.  Kazuki admires her affinity for memories, musing that
maybe that's why he feels so at ease with her beside him.  Never fear, he won't
forget where he's from or who he's helping protect.

Naoto also shows up, having summoned the courage to say hi to all the pilots.
Mira likes his spirit, as does Yanma, who offers to add him to his crew to make
a "four-man trio".  Part of the reason why Mira admires his spirit is her own
troubles fitting back into the team -- her life has mainly consisted of
diagnostics in sickbay and time in the simulator.  Now, Pulia figures Yanma
is mostly angling to have more lackeys and/or eye candy in his unit, but Naoto
doesn't care: he wants to do anything possible to help Daiya and the others
out.  Well, since he puts it that way, Yanma and his crew will just have to
live up to his expectations.  ...Now, where can Mira fit in...?

As launch time nears, the room party finally has to break up.  The consensus
is that it was great chatting with people that wouldn't normally be easy to
talk to, and Deke figures that he'll have to plan a dance party next.  Or
maybe a Siberian-style buffet?  In any case, Ana and Lioubov are now determined
to redouble their efforts to support the pilots and scientists.  If only they
could do something to ease Sakon's tendency for overwork...

The residents of the other Earth can't help but wonder how things have been
going on in their absence.  Obviously Carmen and friends haven't been able to
help look for someone to fix Ruuji's village's Generator, but Ruuji has faith
that his father can see the villagers through one way or another.  The Fafner
pilots are a lot more nervous, still coming to grips with travel not just
beyond their island stronghold, but to another whole world.  Anna assures
them there's nothing to worry about: the other Earth is almost exactly like
this one.  She does want to know what's up with the whole Gobein, a notable
shounen manga that Gou remembers following in his youth.

Kenji read it as well, frequently getting in trouble for pretending to be the
main character and getting into fights.  As has happened so many times before,
manga becomes the great ice breaker, and the guys start chatting about their
favorite episodes.  Amidst all the manly tears, Gou finds out that he's at
least two seasons behind -- which is odd, given how popular the manga was.
Is this because it's marketed only at kids?  In any case, it's Mamoru's bible,
and he looks forward to sharing more of his fandom when the team gets a break
again.

That will have to wait until after events are settled in the other Earth.
The Gating goes smoothly, and the target coordinates are right on for Area
Zi.  La Kan recommends heading to Haraland and touching base with the titular
ruler to get caught up on current events.  Gain makes him hold his horses:
since he's been gone, the Digald have taken over all cities and major villages
in the area.  In that case, Kotona recommends heading to the nearby mountains
and connecting with a guerilla group she knows (not that she'd normally seek
their aid, but desperate times call for desperate measures).

It seems that the guerilla leader Galaga once invited Kotona to join his
band.  Galaga confirms that the Digald have somehow found a way to cross the
Mountains of Death and leave Area Zi in pursuit of conquest of the outside
world.  The resources they're getting have allowed them to solidify their
grip over Zi itself, making life living hell for the resistance.  As though
to underscore the point, Galaga's underling Ron shows up with a wounded
villager in tow.  As Ron and Kotona tend to his wounds, the man begs Galaga
to help save Zhuli.  That gets La Kan's full attention, and when the villager
sees him he starts shouting that the "master" has returned.  With his last
breath, the villager implores the "master" to set things to rights, expiring
before trauma care can be applied.

La Kan is very reticent about this "master" business, but there's no denying
that Zhuli is one of the last free cities left in the area, and is moreover
swollen with refugees from the Digald onslaught.  Promising to explain the
backstory later, La Kan asks the other commanders to help him repay his debts
to the city by going to its aid now.  Nobody objects of course, and Galaga and
Ron come along to help kick some Digald ass.

Souta, commander of the Digald forces, ridicules Da Jin's defiance: Zhuli is
going to be road pizza if it insists on resisting, studly defenders or no.
That is, until the good guys show up and rain on the parade.  The enemy
Biozoids are indeed tough SOB's, and aren't susceptible to half-assed attack.
Well, that makes it easy in Roll's view: just use full-assed attacks and
pulverize them all!

  Geolg shows up on turn 2, and Souta isn't happy about accepting any help.
  Geolg would have insisted on helping anyway (being it's general Gene's direct
  orders and all), but his attention is entirely diverted when he sees that La
  Kan is back in Zhuli.  Seeing as how the guy is his archenemy, all his
  energy is going to go into killing him off.

  The damage piles up on Souta, preventing him from what should be an easy
  victory over Ruuji.  Turns out Ruuji's Metal Zi sword can't cleave the
  Biozoid's tough skin, but since Souta can't maneuver, he decides to call it
  a draw for now.

  Any hopes of trouncing La Kan are summarily trounced, and Geolg wisely bugs
  out before his own life is jeopardized.  Next time, next time for sure La
  Kan is toast!  As the team ponders these famous last words, La Kan hesitates
  to accept Da Jin's invitation for everyone to enter Zhuli.  Before he can
  explain why, a new bunch of adversaries show up via Gate.

  These are the same ruffians who destroyed Bezzard, but with them is a mech
  Mist doesn't recognize: their leader?  Veliny indignantly announces herself
  as this planet's "shadow ruler" and bitches the team out for interfering with
  her plans.  The team responds in kind, telling her that no self-respecting
  criminal mastermind would *admit* to being a criminal mastermind, especially
  to people she has no guarantee of beating.  Angelica asks if Veliny is one
  of Gasm's cronies, which sets Veliny off on a private rant about all the
  trouble Gasm's caused her... well, sort of caused her.  Not like she can
  force him to refund her for that little dimensional crack or anything.
  Returning to her senses, she notices that the Revlias is on the scene, and
  even promises to tell Mist where Gasm is if he's man enough to beat her.

  That's Mist's cue to rush in where even fools fear to tread, getting beaten
  to within ten HP of his life.  Angelica follows hard in his footsteps, at
  least managing to scratch Veliny's paintjob before the rampaging catgirl
  rends the Celius limb from limb.  Before Veliny can finish killing Angelica,
  Mist swells with protectorial wrath, and shows Veliny a bit of how Espair
  met his end.  Veliny (and her mech) might be beast-like, but she's got
  enough wisdom between those ears to know when to retreat.

The team is left scratching their heads over Edax's latest minion.  Angelica
seems rather unconscious, and Mist rushes her to the Archangel's sickbay while
La Kan negotiates further with Da Jin.  La Kan informs him that he's just
caught a glimpse of the real bad guys, adding that he's finally resolved to
take the Digald on.  Da Jin, practically crying happy tears, welcomes his
lord and entourage back to Zhuli.

Angelica's isn't too badly injured physically, but psychologically she's in a
bad way over her father.  She wants to see nobody, not even Mist.  Mist isn't
overjoyed at that, but it does free him to go see Murdock in the hangar.

Da Jin is quite surprised to see La Kan deferring to two young women (Cagalli
and Lacus), but La Kan assures him that he's barely fit to polish their shoes
given what they've accomplished back on "Earth".  In fact, he turns out to be
the leader of the Kida Lands, and as his granddaughter, Le Mii is effectively a
princess.  Kida isn't that large, but it was a fertile and prosperous area
nonetheless.  That is, until the silver Zoids of Digald attacked some years
back, demanding that La Kan surrender.  He hesitated, considering fighting
back with Kida's not inconsiderable store of large Zoids, and finally elected
to go into exile with a few of his trusted men.

He now thinks of this as a massive blunder, since letting Digald have Kida
without a fight emboldened them for further conquests in the area.  And the
more they conquered, the stronger they became, even extending their reach to
Siberia now.  Had he resisted with every ounce of strength his people had,
even an eventual loss ought to have given Digald serious second thoughts about
their campaign.  He blames his cowardice for the problems the world now faces.

Mist fears that Angelica's mech is damaged beyond repair, but Murdock puts that
fear to rest in a hurry.  In fact, he wants Mist's permission to overhaul the
thing, reconfiguring it slightly to allow Angelica the chance to use the
Crystal Heart shield.  That's awesome news, and Mist thinks Angelica will be
thrilled to hear of her new ability.  He's determined to do whatever is needed
to help her recover psychologically.

Creating and nurturing Zhuli was La Kan's final order to his retainers.  La
Kan, believing himself unfit to fight the Digald, started traveling the world
with Le Mii and seeing just how bad the Digald were making it.  With the Digald
menace even reaching to other dimensions, he can no longer bear to stay on the
sidelines.  The time has come to raise the banner of the Anti-Digald Army here
in Zhuli, and to recreate a world where people are allowed to smile again!  I
love it when a plan comes together.


24. Overdevil Crisis (part 1)

Step one in the liberation campaign is letting all the other anti-Digald
organizations across the world know that La Kan has just run out of bubblegum
(as it were).  Running these errands should be a cinch with all the flying
mecha on his side, though enlisting aid as far away as Siberia is a multi-day
proposition.  While the others are busy mustering that assistance, La Kan plans
to complete Ruuji's training, tempering Ruuji's combat experience with a few
more formal methods.  The man to do that tempering is named Seijuurou, known to
many as the greatest Zoid-rider alive.  Kotona will carry La Kan and Ruuji to
Seijuurou's current residence, while Ron requisitions some upgrades for the
Sword Wolf and Lancetagg.  Da Jin tells Ruuji to help La Kan draw up all the
copies of the treaty, astonished when Lulu offers to *photocopy* the treaty
when the first one is written.  Science, it works, bitches!

Then there's Van, really really eager to get back to hunting down the taloned
man.  He's ready to leave the group by this point, despite his earlier
statements, but Carmen manages to persuade him to stick around just a few days
longer.  In the meantime, she'll be busy tracking down a lead on the taloned
man's whereabouts, and promises to tell Van as soon as she learns something
concrete.  Van's waited this long, and Carmen tells him to wait just a little
longer.  Realizing that the alternative is losing Van entirely, Cagalli grants
Carmen three days time.  While Van dreads spending more time near the Fafner
girls, Carmen is hopeful that she can find info on a Generator repairman for
Ruuji's village as well as info on the taloned man for Van.

Mist's little stunt left quite an impression on Veliny, who asks her underlings
if the lunar base had any data on the Revlias' weak spots.  Unfortunately,
Espair was so good at covering his covert research that no such data can be
retrieved, either from the lunar base or from backups elsewhere.  As if Veliny
didn't have enough to worry about between the Revlias and the unstable Gate,
Fasalina calls up to ask about the reduced power Veliny is sending to her
base.

Fasalina's inquiry is very polite, and Veliny is quite forthright in explaining
about the accident in the energy reservoir.  Fasalina begins to point out that,
accident or otherwise, her side's plans will be impacted, when the taloned man
himself interrupts and tells Fasalina to cool it.  He assures Veliny that she
should concentrate on fixing things on her side, and not worry about his bunch
until after repairs are done.  He seems almost too apologetic, and Veliny's
underling wonders if partnering with such creepy folk is really the best
policy.  Veliny insists that the taloned man has tech that Ru Cobol will need,
berating her underling for voicing an opinion and ordering her to focus on
fixing the energy reservoir.

En route to Seijuurou's residence near Sakusa, Ruuji asks Kotona what this
legendary Zoid pilot is like.  Kotona recalls once living in Kagurack, a
city teeming with large Zoids and an equally large desire to know who the best
Zoid pilot is.  The city held an annual tournament, and out of the large and
talented field one man took home the trophy ten years running: the Soultiger's
pilot, Seijuurou.  Calling such a man the greatest Zoid pilot in history is
no exaggeration.

When Kotona reaches Seijuurou's place, it's clear Seijuurou still remembers
her... and not with the greatest of warmth.  She and La Kan explain Ruuji's
story, and how they want Seijuurou's help in refining Ruuji into a fighter
who won't be in the other Anti-Digald fighters' way.  At length, he counters
Ruuji's entreaty to make him stronger with the statement that "strength is
meaningless".  When he tells Ruuji to go home, Kotona recalls that Seijuurou
used to have an apprentice back in his tournament days... Jiro, wasn't it?
What happened to Jiro was merely the result of a series of unfortunate events,
not Seijuurou's fault--

Seijuurou cuts her off, shouting that seeking strength only results in
destruction.  Kotona and La Kan both counter that Ruuji isn't just trying to
get stronger: he's trying to get to a point where he can help protect and
nurture others.  Seijuurou hasn't often heard strength of arms linked with
peace-making, and finally relents with the warning to Ruuji that his brand of
training is harsh.  He assures La Kan that he'll turn Ruuji into a fine
warrior, and immediately tells Ruuji to mount his Zoid and show him what he's
got.  Kotona and La Kan decide to spectate a bit before moving on...

Elsewhere, Mist is pouting a bit over having to play postman and wondering
whether the Archangel and Daikuu Maryuu would be enough to topple the Digald
on their own.  Angelica chides him for underestimating the enemy, adding more
gently that part of the point is to make the residents of this world feel like
they won with their own hands.  Hence their jaunt to Gloria, most distant of
all the treaties being dispatched.  Given how much trouble Digald has caused,
Angelica is sure Gloria will be happy to help fend them off.

Unbeknownst to them, Gloria is in a bit of a state just now.  The Siberian
forces have been playing a treacherous game, helping fend off the Digald on the
one hand and preparing to take over themselves on the other.  Nero, Jose and
the crew aren't having it, but Kashimar insists that any threats to the
diamonds aboard his trains must be eliminated.  Besides, _not_ occupying Gloria
would jeopardize the bigger plans for counterattacking Digald, and might cause
Kids to use "that" instead.  And "that" ought not be used, period.

As the pilots of the El Dora "Soul" rattle through their excessively long
arrival speech, and Priscilla wishes they'd just get on with it, Mist and
Angelica arrive to help.  Full reintroductions will obviously have to wait, but
one lesson Mist was quick to pick up is that calling for reinforcements is a
Good Idea(tm).  He promises Jose that he's got ways of summoning help from
Area Zi, and Kashimar quickly realizes that suppressing Gloria is going to be
a lot more work than he bargained for.

...Still, once he realizes that the dreadlocked Overman across the field is
the infamous King Gainer, he vows to punish the thing in person.  Never mind
that he's a transportation bureaucrat and not an army regular as such: he's
determined to lay the smackdown with his Leon Netter, challenging Gainer to
a one-on-one duel.  Gainer accepts before actually finding out what Kashimar's
Overskill is -- whatever it is, it seems to involve besieging its target with
legions of whatever their greatest fear is.  In Sara's case, that means
truckloads of frogs.  Gainer meanwhile is confronted with several copies of
his own Overman, all wearing kingly crowns.

The rest of the team are doused with the same effect, paralyzing most of the
team with their worst fear.  Only Gain and Van have already mastered their
worst fears, having confronted them in their dreams countless times before now.
Gainer himself, while still susceptible to the Leon Netter's power, is
confident that it won't beat him: the only real King is him!

  Take down the first two false Kings only results in another four showing up.
  Gain shouts to Gainer to focus on Kashimar: unless his Overskill is knocked
  out, the supply of enemies will be unlimited.

  The Volcane, Rei's mech, shows up on the next turn.  He's hot on the trail of
  his own revenge against the taloned man, and upon learning that Van is on
  the scene, he resolves to beat out of Van every last drop of information.
  Van thinks he can apply the same logic in reverse, never mind the fact that
  it would be so much easier to _cooperate_ and kill the taloned man.  But no,
  both of them are bound and determined to be the one to end the taloned man's
  life, and the rest of the team are bright enough to know not to get in the
  way.

  Kashimar's goofy Overman might as well be made of toilet paper for all the
  trouble the team has immobilizing it... despite the constant torrent of
  phobias sent their way.  Kashimar promises to reveal his "trump card" next
  time, and retreats in a grand flourish of gh3yness.  His underlings have the
  usual looking-out-for-their-own-asses riff going, and manage to bug out in
  time too.  Rei is at least graceful when his mech sustains too much damage
  to keep up the fight.  He, like Wendy, knows that the quest for the taloned
  man is far from over.

The way things are going, taking out Siberian Rail seems like a good precursor
to toppling the Digald.  Mist recommends enlisting Priscilla and the El Dora
Soul team's help, and the whole crew return to Zhuli.  The commanders debate
whether Siberian Rail mustn't get away with their faux-magnanimous protection
of Gloria, though Angelica's attempt to summarize it with a calamitously
incorrect proverb doesn't strengthen the case.  After all, the assembling
alliance is specifically the Anti-Digald Army, and it would seem that taking
out Siberian Rail would actually _help_ Digald's plans.  Not that Siberian Rail
shouldn't be taken out at some point, but...

The debate is interrupted by new information that Riman Megalopolis is about
to suffer a full-scale Digald Assault.  While that will take out Siberian
Rail's headquarters, it will also catch the civilian populace in the
crossfire, and Cagalli announces that that must not happen.  In short, she
plans to fight both Siberian Rail _and_ the oncoming Digald forces at once,
while shielding the common people.  This will also expose the team to whatever
trump card Kashimar is hiding: Adette assures the team that whatever
personality "quirks" Kashimar might have, he plans with the precision of the
cut of the diamonds he loves so much.  Kids Munt is known to have all sorts
of weird Overmen stashed away, so there's no telling what the trump card could
be... but there _is_ time enough to do a bit more fact finding before the
clash begins.


24B. Overdevil Crisis (part 2)

Kids is understandably furious about his Domepolises being stolen one after
the other by the Digald, ruining the Siberian Rail network he spent a lifetime
building.  Hearing of Kashimar's failure to capture Gloria has sent him into a
blind rage, so that Kashimar's tale of adversaries immune to the Leon Netter's
Overskill falls on deaf ears.  He vows to deduct the cost of the blunder from
Kashimar's whole department's salary, and orders Kashimar back to his regular
duties.  Matters don't improve when the simpering Kejinan radios in with word
of Digald's impending assault -- an assault that Kids screams would never have
happened if his officers had had their shit together.

He blames the fact that the Overmen's weapons don't penetrate the Biozoids'
armor on a lack of morale rather than a lack of firepower.  When it's pointed
out that even Cynthia couldn't scratch the Digald, Kids irritably growls that
Cynthia is infinitely more competent than their sorry lot.  In fact, he's
anticipated the Digald assault for some time, and Cynthia is busy right now
preparing to fend it off.  He orders Kejinan and the others out to buy a bit
more time, after which his trump card will wipe the smiles right off Digald's
faces.

Kejinan begins the battle with every confidence that he can somehow win and
gain Kids' favor.  This confidence vanishes abruptly when he sees just how
feeble his Overskill is against the Biozoids.  Luckily(?) for him, this is when
Kids debuts Cynthia in the huge (and disgusting) Overdevil.  This thing used
to form the nucleus of the Agate Crystal at Siberian HQ, but Kids figures now
is as good a time as any to demonstrate its Overfreeze powers.  Initial
results: very good!

Subsequent results: VERY BAD.  After freezing the first wave of Digald
forces, it then freezes its cockpit solid, with Cynthia in it.  Seems the
Overdevil intends to make her its new Ice Queen, like it or not, and Kids'
emergency sortying of the Black Domis isn't likely to change its mind.  In
fact, that merely stimulates the Overdevil to freeze the entire region solid.

Back in Zhuli, La Kan, Le Mii, Seijuurou and Ruuji have just returned from
the mountains.  Seijuurou has deemed it most expedient to balance Ruuji's
lessons with fending off the pesky Digald, and doesn't have much else to say
to the Anti-Digald Army brass.  Mitsuko figures Seijuurou for a master
swordsman, and confirms it with an impromptu challenge.  Her reward: a wounded
arm and even greater respect, and a mad dash to the infirmary.

Seeing that Ruuji is in training mode, the old geezers from Gloria try to
offer Ruuji pointers on how to be a real hero.  Mist diplomatically tells them
that their lessons are too advanced for Ruuji just now, and hustles the kid
off with Seijuurou before the old guys begin in earnest.  Mist almost gets
the lecture instead, until Gou and Michio distract the men with the question of
how the El Dora V became the El Dora Soul.

Apparently this guy named "Bucci" modified the El Dora V, disabling its
combination system in order to enable bipedal travel.  Seems Bucci, who's
disappeared, used to be a scientist for some evil secret society, headed by
some nefarious boy or other.  Odds are that the taloned man has made off with
Bucci, and the old guys are theoretically looking for information on where
Bucci might have ended up.  In practice, they're going tavern to tavern and
not making very swift progress...

Just then, word of the giant Overman and the deep freeze it caused reaches
the team.  Gain immediately suspects an Overdevil, aka an Ahri-Overman like
the Brunhilde whose arm his mech utilizes.  He remembers hearing from Artham
waaaay back when of an an Overdevil with freezing powers, and Gainer knows
that only someone with massive Oversense could be at the controls now.  He
implores the team to go save Cynthia along with the Overdevil's frozen
victims, and Cagalli orders a general dispatch.  Ron's all to happy to put
his Zoid's new modifications to the test against this mystery foe.

As the team deploys, Sakon holds Daiya in reserve for a very important
function that he'll explain later.  Yassaba and Adette aren't holding back
at all, as they hail their former teammates and offer them a chance to be
saved... that is unless they prefer being frozen stiff.  Kejinan's men would
love the assistance, but Kejinan himself would rather become the Overdevil's
food than return to being Yassaba's underling.  He nearly gets his wish
until Japoli and Enge pull his disabled Overman a safe distance away.

Gainer's been waiting a long time for his chance to save Cynthia, and means to
put all he's learned to good use.  He manages to gain the upper hand over the
Overdevil, and Gain sees an opening to end the standoff immediately.
Unfortunately, Artham is lurking in the bushes, and claims the Overdevil is
"his".  No disgraceful tactic, no breach of common sense is too big for
Artham on his quest for revenge against Gain!  Gain's response?  Ignore the
fucktard and concentrate on disabling the Overdevil, giving Gainer the chance
to extract Cynthia.  Gain knows that if Gainer fails, he'll be forced to kill
Cynthia, and that's something he really doesn't want to have to do.  In fact,
Kanon volunteers for the role, but Gain assures her that the dubious honor
must be his.  Michio is glad to see Kanon taking the initiative in any case.

  Clearly, selling his soul to the Overdevil didn't improve Artham's chances
  much.  So much for his plans to punish the "womanizing" Gain.

  The Overdevil succumbs to good strategy almost too easily, and Gainer
  rushes in to help Cynthia "Exodize" away from becoming the Ice Queen.  He
  should have heeded Gain's warning to stay back: the Overdevil manages to
  nom onto him, interested in Gain's superior Oversense.  It promptly takes
  Gainer over, turning him into a colder, more hateful version of himself.

  It falls to Sara to warm Gainer up again with a kiss.  Too bad she's not that
  appealing a romantic prospect -- Gainer shrugs the kiss off and gloms onto
  Sara's mech instead.  Gaury tries to intervene and gets frozen for his
  pains, and Gain has no choice but to get serious.  When his sniper rifle
  doesn't work, he employs the unexpected ability to summon Brunhilde(!) to go
  a round with the Overdevil.  Even Brunhilde can't put paid to the Overdevil,
  and Gainer resolves to freeze all his former teammates solid.

  Gain points out that there's only one of Gainer, so Gainer sends out a bunch
  of lackeys, including Sara and Gaury.  Despite this unfortunate turn of
  events, the team is still determined to rescue Cynthia (and Gainer and
  Gaury too), and it's time for Sakon's little gambit.

  He's realized that the Overdevil's ice freezes even the soul, and reckons
  that the Gaiking's red flames should be able to neutralize it.
  Unfortunately, Gainer has realized this too, and has dispatched Gaury to
  slay the Daikuu Maryuu's crew to keep Gaiking from launching.  Monko, who's
  seen plenty of Gaury's ninjutsu in action, thinks she can stop him.  She
  counters his ninja techniques with a technique of her own, feigning 
  embarrassment like a little girl before grappling him and plastering a
  massive kiss all over his face.

  Apparently the experience is so traumatic that it returns Gaury to his
  senses.  That lets Daiya sortie, and sets up the final confrontation.
  The rest of the team needs to clear a path for Daiya, and they need to not
  shoot Sara down in the process.  Gainer uses a "Blackmail" Overcoat to
  enlarge himself to monstrous size, telling the team that they'll have to
  deal with him directly.
  
  The Gainer/Overdevil/Sara combination is vicious, but Daiya quickly sets
  things to rights.  Sara and Cynthia flee to the Daikuu Maryuu after
  regaining their senses, and Gainer announces that the time has come to take
  down the Overdevil once and for all.  Stopping it once isn't enough to kill
  it, but before it can Overfreeze everything again Gainer and Daiya team up
  to strike the final blows.

  Even then, it seems the Overdevil manages to dissipate before being truly
  destroyed.  Still, the day is Gainer's.  He remembers everything he did while
  under the influence, as does Sara -- including her bold kiss, though she
  tries to deny this while blushing furiously.  Gaury is still in shock himself
  over Monko's kiss, and it appears there may be a new couple in the team.
  If so, maybe they can learn by watching Adette and Yassaba, still rocking ass
  and very much in love despite *shock* being out of their twenties.

Kids is broken-hearted over the Overdevil's failure: there's no way he can
hold off the Digald now.  Into his office walks Veliny of all people, asking
what he was trying to use the Overdevil's power for.  Ruling the world, natch.
Like some grossly overgrown little kid, he wants his toy trains to span the
globe, period -- he realizes that he didn't even need the threat of freezing
everyone to make that worthwhile.  And it's all the fault of that Yapan's
Ceiling and it's damn dog^WOverman.  Veliny tells Kids to come with her,
offering him a chance for revenge (and maybe even ruling the world, if he's
good).  He agrees, saying that without Cynthia or Malchio Rain, there's
nothing left for him here.  As she escorts him out, Veliny once again shakes
her head, unable to comprehend the orders Gasm has given her.

Kejinan and friends are fully defrosted, and totally out of a job in Enge's
view.  The defeat of the Overdevil means that Digald takeover is just a matter
of time, and he sees nothing wrong with a bit of despair over that fact.
Not so, announces Kashimar as he strides over to the trio.  He tells them that
Kids has totally skipped town without so much as an explanatory letter, and
offers them an alternative to freezing to death on the Siberian streets.  What
that alternative is, they'll have to come with him to find out.

Gain is still grousing over the Overdevil's ability to disappear, but Sakon
tells him it wasn't the Overdevil's doing.  Sensors show that it was Gated
away, and Kira is pretty certain that does _not_ mean Siberian Rail was in
league with Edax.  Had they been, they likely would have used Gating as a
weapon; instead, it would seem someone on the Edax side is trying to use the
Overdevil for reasons of their own.  _Using_ it is going to be a tall order if
even someone with Cynthia's Oversense couldn't keep it under control.
Hopefully there aren't too many more women out there for the Overdevil to try
to turn into the Ice Queen, a shadowy name from the distant past.

In any event, the Siberian Rail company is toast, though its facilities will
likely fall under Digald jurisdiction in short order... that is, unless London
IMA can stop them.  Joshua wonders what will become of his brother, who was
signed on as one of Siberian Rail's hired guns, and Gain reckons that London
will be too busy defending itself to do much out in the Siberian hinterlands.
The wildcard is Artham, whose next attempt on Gain's life could come from just
about anywhere.  Gain's fairly certain Artham won't perish easily, whatever
he's up to.

Cynthia can't exactly return to Kids, so Gainer invites her to join the 
Anti-Digald Army.  The prospect of tangling with the Biozoids sounds like a 
lot of fun to her, and Gainer knows that it will take time for her to realize
that actual combat is different from the games she's grown up playing.  Sara
is a bit dubious, but like Gainer wants to see her friend's mind and spirit
rehabilitated.  Kotona wonders if this is the start of another juicy love
triangle, but Shizuru tells her it won't be a very interesting one if it is:
Sara has basically already won.  "Love polygons" only merit the name if
there's frission, as she herself knows all too well.  Her gaze passes over
Gou, Mira and Anna (who gets a nasty shiver that she attributes to the winter
cold).

Good news comes from Zhuli, where new comrades stirred by La Kan's missives
are already streaming in.  Among those comrades are the El Dora team, still
allies of justice after sixty years in the game, and Priscilla, who gets a
personal thanks from Van who -- atypically -- remembers her name.


25. The Raid

The good guys have just gained another major stalwart, Ti Ze the Blaster Tiger.
Formerly the commander of the Kida's third division, the guy has some new
followers now that he picked up along the way.  Among them are the feisty A Kan
and the cook La Muu, the stout Gotoshi and the maiden scholar Fri Ten.  And
let's not forget Psycho, a noted swordswoman with an even more noteworthy
sword.  Together, the five of them are the Invincible Squad, a very
entertaining bunch who also happen to be handy in battle.

With the Siberian Rail problem resolved, it's time to put all these troops to
good use and assail the Digald.  They're pretty much all over the place, and
each different target presents a different set of advantages for starting the
campaign.  After hearing several suggestions, La Kan has an idea...

Elsewhere, Zailin and Gene discuss the news they've heard of the troops sent
to the Riman Megalopolis: frozen solid by some big-ass Overman.  Since it
would normally take more than a little ice to stop a Biozoid, Gene can only
conclude that it was _special_ ice, in keeping with the strange powers the
Overmen seem to possess.  From what Gene heard, the same Overman went berserk
and froze the city itself before being destroyed by this huge dragon Zoid.
That would be the Daikuu Maryuu, part of La Kan's bunch that have been raising
hell the past few days.

Word is that La Kan is sharking up a list of lawless resolutes to come kick
Digald's ass, and Gene figures someone needs to put a stop to it.  The question
is who, since everyone who's tried opposing La Kan's crew has their butt in a
sling.  Their deliberations are interrupted by Gil marching in quite
unannounced.  He requested an appointment with Gene, but when the guards
wouldn't give him the time of day he opted to disable them all and simply walk
in.  Given how he could have leveled the entire building instead of just the
guards, Gil claims he's showing admirable restraint.  Gil certainly seems
confident enough, and if he has the clout to defeat all the palace guards, he
may have something to offer on the battlefield.  Gene asks what kind of aid Gil
means to offer him, and boy does Gil have a deal for him...

La Kan's idea is to attack the Digald capital of Dig, not necessarily with an
eye to _taking_ it as such, but rather to let the world know that the 
Anti-Digald Army is fully capable of such a thing.  Hopefully that will cause
all those guerillas still on the fence to flock to the cause.  La Kan warns
the over-enthusiasts like Joshua not to expect too much, lest their hopes be
dashed later.  What Ron's heard is that the factories of Dig are where the
Biozoids are born, which contrasts sharply with what "everyone" knows: that
Zoids are excavated relics.  Ron claims that it's just a rumor he's heard,
willing to tell everything he knows on the topic just yet.

Those factories will be the target of the raid: get in, cause damage, and
bug out before too many bad guys can react.  The most important groundrule is
to only target military facilities: civilians must _not_ be harmed.  When Ruuji
sounds a bit unsure of himself, Shinn passes down some words of encouragement
he once received from Aslan -- unwilling though he was to listen at the time.
Aslan is glad to see the seeds he sowed flowering, though he tells Heine that
the credit for that blossoming isn't his to claim.

As Cagalli is about to dismiss the meeting, Carmen bursts in with news about
the taloned man.  While she hasn't found any Generator repairmen (sorry Ruuji!)
she has found out where the taloned man's people are.  It seems they're busy
building a massive tower on the spot, and Carmen was able to find a merchant
who saw with his own eyes a man with talons on his right hand heading towards
the tower.  No surprise that Van wants to head to the spot with no delay,
assault on the Digald be damned.  Indeed, no one on the team ever arranged
to delay Van from his vengeance, and Soushi reckons that even without Van, the
team should be able to achieve the desired psychological effect from their
raid on Dig.  La Kan asks Van if he'd consider returning to the team after
his revenge is complete, and Van admits he hasn't thought about what to do
after the taloned man is dead.

It seems that Van's original four-person party are all headed for the
taloned man's tower, and Lulu is willing to loan them her air car so they
can all go in one trip.  Since it's her father's, she asks Carmen to make sure
it gets returned in one piece.  After Van hustles the party out the door,
Shinn admits that he understands a bit of what Van must be going through.
If it's hard to get over the death of a loved one, it's equally hard to _not_
get over the death of a loved one but go on living anyway.  That angst isn't
a license to do anything and everything though, and Selene really wishes there
was a way to alter the vector of Van's drive in a more constructive
direction.

Then there's the question of that tower.  Is it supposed to emit mind control
waves or something?  Or maybe it's some very different structure masquerading
as a tower?  In either case, large-scale structures are very rare in this
world, and even the Domepolises were all constructed long ago and haven't been
equalled since.  Even the Generators in Area Zi are dwarfed by what the
taloned man is building, and Ron is itching to know what the structure is.  For
now though, there's Digald to trash.

Carmen had Sakon send the team a little ways away from the tower, on the theory
that teleporting _directly_ to their archnemesis' stronghold might be a tad
risky.  On the other hand, there are enemy Armors blocking the way, and it'll
be up to Van to get rid of them.  Their leader is Woo, who never expected quite
this large a prey to blunder into his patrols.  William Will Woo, son of Coo
Crying Crew, knows the Dann of Thursday quiet well, since he's a member of the
New Original Seven.  Nor is he out for something so petty as revenge for
Gadved's death: he has sworn on his sword to do one thing only; namely, cleave
those who oppose the will of his Comrade's heart.  He's not very impressed with
Van's old-school Armor, and tells him to give his best shot.

Woo is impressed at how well Van maneuvers, given he seemingly hasn't ever
learned the basics of his machine.  Van may be talented, but Woo declares
that that talent is about to be rent asunder.  With his mech, there's no need
to amplify or modify neural impulses -- it represents the dawn of a brand new
era!  He's also heard plenty about Van, figuring him for a man hiding all this
time from his true self.  He accuses Van of cowardice, which Van of course
denies.  Only one side is right...

  Woo isn't very sporting: taking him down once [which you should do to
  recruit Michael and Fasalina] isn't good enough.  Before he decides how to
  finish Van off, Carossa shows up and orders him to return to base at once:
  their Comrade is calling.  Apparently the Saudade is about to be christened,
  and Woo recalls that unnecessary taking of life is in opposition to the
  Comrade's ideals.  He orders Van to depart and never again try to pursue
  the Comrade, and withdraws with Carossa and Melissa.  Van is in fairly
  sorry shape, and doesn't answer when Carmen and Wendy call...

The rest of the team makes the jump to Dig, and find it eerily deserted.  Not
for long though: a large force of Digald Gate into the area and surround the
team.  They strike quickly, immobilizing the two battleships long enough for
Fermi to hit their powerplants.  Gil has the Digald well prepared for their
opponents' raid, which probably should have been expected given how the Edax
are known to be in league with the Digald.  The only thing to do is sortie
the troops and protect the battleships until propulsion is restored.

  Zailin's Volcano is supposed to be a real beast, but after only a "little"
  damage he starts feeling some agonizing pain.  It's not his old wound, is it?
  The momentary lapse gives Ruuji the opening he needs, but neither Murasame's
  power nor Hayate's speed can prevail.  Shinn and Seijuurou point out that
  Ruuji's adversary knows his moves inside and out: he needs to change tactics
  and adapt to win.  How to deliver a stronger attack, faster?  The idea dawns
  on him that what he needs are _two_ of the Murasame's swords, and suddenly
  his Zoid transforms into a brand new form called "Mugen".

  Ruuji deals enough damage that Zailin can't continue combat.  He admits that
  Ruuji scored a point on him, and vows to repay him in spades later.  Gil
  isn't so charitable: when he gets shot down, he blames the Digald's
  incompetence for not getting the job done.  Fermi just compliments her
  opponents on a job well done and assures them it won't be that easy next
  time.

  Souta doesn't escape; his mech blows up, tossing him from the cockpit.  Le
  Mii observes where he falls, wondering why such a small kid has been made a
  Zoid pilot.  Geolg fares even worse: with his mech immobilized and his
  ejection system out of commission, he suffers a direct hit from the wrathful
  La Kan.

  The first wave of bad guys lasts just long enough for the mechanics to
  finish repairs.  As Gene strides imperiously onto the scene, La Kan orders
  a hasty retreat, today's mission fulfilled.  Le Mii wants to rescue Souta
  on the way out, which Soushi concurs with on the theory that maybe he can be
  squeezed for information.  Maya assures everyone that Soushi is too shy to
  just admit that he wants to save the kid on general principle, and Cagalli
  has Lulu scoop the kid up before Gating out.

The other pilots congratulate Ruuji on his studly new Raigar form, brimming
with "infinite" possibilities as the name Mugen suggests (in other words, it's
riced to the max).  His training with Seijuurou has only just begun though:
this is just an inkling of the power Ruuji could one day wield.  Ruuji also
thanks Shinn for the pep talk, and Shinn is very very hesitant to take any
credit -- surely Rei would have had something more concrete to say.

Ron then pulls Seijuurou aside to ask about a little power-up gadget he
happened to get from a merchant friend of his.  Shizuka kind of attached it to
Seijuurou's mech without asking, resulting in the "Soul Tiger Boost".  He
offers to remove the doodad, but Seijuurou knows how to be grateful and
quietly accepts.  Michio can't shake the feeling that the timing of this 
"lucky" acquisition is a bit too lucky, but lets it slide.

In the Dig palace, emperor Lalada III gets the report from Gene that all
enemies have been driven off.  Lalada, Gene's father, doesn't believe Gene's
explanation of super-dimensional means of invading his city, lapsing into a
coughing fit in his ire.  The ease with which Gene tells his father to go back
to bed suggests who wields the real power in Digald.

Afterward, Gene admits to Zailin that the king was pretty pissed, and with
good reason since his capital city was just invaded.  Zailin laments that he
couldn't offer up La Kan's head as a sort of consolation prize -- all the
trouble to sortie the Volcano came to naught.  Gene isn't concerned, saying
that La Kan and the others can be crushed any time he wishes.  What's
occupying his attention is preparations for a full assault on Sora.

About time, opines Fermi as she walks up.  She asks if anyone's seen Souta,
hearing both men respond in the negative and figuring the dummy probably died
in the cockpit when his mech exploded.  Gene assures her that he does in fact
mean to invade Sora as soon as one little detail is ironed out, and she can
hardly wait.  Zailin wonders where the hell Sora is, and why he's feeling such
intense pain ever since piloting the Volcano.  The Volcano certainly didn't
_seem_ all that taxing to pilot...

Da Jin's elation at La Kan's return quickly turns cold when La Kan explains
that the bad guys wholly anticipated the raid.  There's no time for a welcome
home feast either, with the armada of Zoids (including flying ones) that the
Digald have lined up.  With the strategic situation deteriorating, Ron 
recommends asking a friend of his for help.  He's still holding information
back, though he knows that by now he ought to just spill all of the beans.  He
admits that he's been hiding stuff, but on the theory that "a picture's worth a
thousand words" he offers to show the team what by leading them to Sora City.

Where's that, you ask?  It's a frigging city in the sky, product of an ancient
culture with vast technical superiority.  Cue the Shevat music.  Ron's secrecy
was to keep Sora's city (as) secret (as possible), and he's quite confident
that the Soraians will contribute the ammunition needed to defeat the Biozoids.
After all, they're the ones who gave the Biozoid tech to the Digald in the
first place.  All they were trying to do is foster more cultural development
on the surface, but Gene's ambition went far beyond their expectations...

One thing that can't be denied is that the Digald are loaded for bear.  Lacus
can't see any reason to not consult the Soraians if doing so might help swing
the battle back in the good guys' favor.  The other commanders concur, and
they're preparing to get the expedition underway when word comes in that Carmen
and the others are back.  ...And that they're all in sickbay.

Carmen only suffered a few scratches, and Wendy and Jonathan are basically
fine.  Van on the other hand... has been a husk of his former self ever getting
his ass handed to him by one of the taloned man's servants.  Carmen did the
best she could, hacking into the taloned man's people's computers while Van
was duking it out.  What she's discovered is terrifying: the taloned man is
planning something vastly bigger than any mess the Digald could cause.  She
has Cagalli gather everyone else together, and assigns Wendy to look after Van
when it's clear Van will be of no use to her briefing.


26.

The taloned man's plan is the ominously (loonily) named Happy Time Project,
which according to one of the Comrade's devotees entails fusing the hearts of
the world's people into one big happy-time mass.  That the taloned man will
control.  Well, fuck that noise.  Though Carmen wasn't able to pump anyone
very high level for info, she did find out that the bumpkins inhabiting this
world mistook what the taloned man is actually building: a frigging _rocket_.
Whatever Happy Time is, it involves something in space, a sort of final
frontier that the grown-ups have no clue about.  Suspiciously, the kids _do_
have something of a clue, thanks to information lacing such popular games
as Gainer's favorite "Overman Battle".

Unfortunately, the fact that a rocket's involved doesn't narrow things down
much.  A rocket could be used for anything from "overhead imagery" to 
delivering "strategic weapons" to transport, but whatever it's for, Carmen
feel strongly that it's got to be destroyed (cue the Royal Space Force
soundtrack).  Since the flying Biozoid threat still remains, Lacus proposes
splitting the team in half.

  [26A is about stopping the launch.  26B is about stopping the Zoids.]

If you pick 26A, Carmen assures everyone that Van will recover soon enough.
He'd better, since he's getting dragged along to face the taloned man whether
he's conscious or not.  Mist wasn't sure what to make of this taloned man
dude, but if he's trying to dominate the hearts of everyone in the world, Mist
is all in favor of taking him down.

If you pick 26B, Ron makes sure to let his countrymen know the team is coming,
lest they be turned away at the gate.  Soushi is still very uncertain about
these Soraians, fearing that there may be more than one faction at work (and
that that other faction is in bed with the Digald).  Ron himself seems to be a
fairly trustworthy guy at least, for all the powerups he's conferred upon the
team already.  Once Soushi's teammates convey that Soushi is just trying to
be cautious and not impugning Ron's honor, Ganga tells Soushi to just be
forthright in the future: nobody's gonna yell at him for an honest, 
comradely exchange of opinions.


26A. A Light Amidst Despair

The Archangel detachment approaches the rocket from some distance away,
since Sakon wasn't able to fix the exact coordinates for Gating.  That would
seem to imply that the taloned man's people have countermeasures against the
Gates, which in turn means that they know they exist in the first place.
Very. Fishy.  Alternately, there might be something in the area that's 
inconvenient for the Edax.  The best plan seems to be to grab this taloned
man and make him spill the beans about why Edax's dealing with him instead
of simply destroying the world on their own.  Van will have to be kept at bay
long enough for questioning of course, and Gaury suddenly bursts out that
he'll deal with Van... it's the least he can do for the trouble he caused
before.  Maya can tell at once that Gaury's been stressing himself out by
acting the responsible leader for so long, and tells him not to push himself
too hard.

Speaking of Van, the dude's sitting atop his bed, arms around his knees,
muttering something to himself.  That sort of behavior says "psycho killer"
in most parts of the civilized multiverse, but these are troubled times.  The
look on Van's face is a mixture of fear and concentration, and with his free
hand he's constantly fiddling with a strange little puzzle Gadved gave him
once.  The puzzle is supposed to constitute a type of practice for Armor
pilots.  Kira assures Wendy that Van will pull through and rejoin the rest of
the team, making Wendy blush a bit with his open earnestness.  She runs off,
leaving Kira rightfully puzzled by why being nice to a girl would make them
run away.  Something to watch out for, says the slightly more experienced
Aslan...

Kashimar's plan for his hapless charges is for them to join up with the Digald.
They're starting off at the bottom rung of the ladder, but Kashimar is quite
confident it's a ladder he can climb.  Enge is nowhere near as confident, not
having any particular skill to match Kashimar's.  Kejinan states that all 
their hard work will one day be rewarded, but Japoli has been busting her butt
for years under Kejinan without a single reward to show for it.

Just then, Artham and Zacky show up, ordering Kashimar's forces to halt.
Artham's still working for London IMA, and demands to know why former Siberian
soldiers are working for the Digald.  Simple really: the Digald took over
Siberian's operations after Kids disappeared -- and so long as he gets to
look after the railway's diamonds, Kashimar doesn't care who he works for.
Kejinan and Enge add that they've got better career prospects with the up
and coming Digald than with the stultified London IMA.

Artham notes that the foursome don't seem to have advanced their careers very
much so far, then admits that he's not exactly where he wants to be within
London IMA either.  He's only here because central command ordered him out
into the middle of nowhere to hunt traitors: "reward" for letting Yapan's
Ceiling escape.  In any case, the two groups are on opposite sides now, and
it looks unlikely that Artham can withstand the Leon Netter's Overskill...

Of course, this little commotion _would_ have to happen right in the
Archangel's path.  Cynthia sees the Overmen fighting each other, and scurries
off to join in the "game".  Gain figures that she won't learn until she gets
burned a bit, and Cagalli reckons there's no chance to alter course and keep
the main force out of the fray.  If they're to have any hope of stopping the
launch, they've got to go as directly as possible, even if it means barging
through someone else's battlefield.

Zacky gets overwhelmed by Kashimar in short order, leaving Artham to face the
music alone.  As he desperately tries to figure out how to counterattack,
Cynthia shows up and immediately decides to attack the Leon Netter.  She
gets in a decent shot, but Kashimar turns his Overskill on her in reply.
She is plunged into deep darkness, far away from everyone, knowing only that
her hands are red with Gainer's blood.

Kashimar prepares for the coup de grace, but is interrupted by the Archangel's
arrival.  Artham is amazed to see his nemesis here, and Gain is equally
surprised to see Artham, and him fighting against Siberian Rail, no less.
Artham shouts back that the former Siberian agents have defected to the Digald
side, and of course he won't simply withdraw and let Gain's people mop them
up.  Cagalli comes up with a radical proposal instead: Artham could fight
alongside Gain for the time being, and Artham's still rational enough to
realize that there's no better option.  Gainer's going to have to move fast if
he wants to save Cynthia from the Leon Netter's illusions.

While battle rages outside, Van is still huddled inside, fiddling with the
puzzle.  At length, he tells the frantic Wendy that he doesn't want to pilot
Dann anymore.  He was alone since birth, unaware of the identity or fate of
his parents.  All he cared for was eating, content so long as he had money and
a sword in his hand... that is, until he met Elena.  All he'd known of other
people was that they kicked and hit him, and he kicked and hit them back twice
as hard.  Elena was the one person who was nice to him, the one person he loved
and wanted to spend the rest of his life with.  And yet he couldn't protect
her -- all he could do was go on living, go on running, even to the point of
letting his body be modified to bond with Dan.  What the hell else was he
supposed to do?!

Wendy tells him that it's okay if he wants to stop fighting: nobody will
blame him for it, especially after all the fighting he's done so far.  But
as for her, she means to keep moving forward, even if she collapses along the
way.  She wants to get even one more finger's breadth closer to Mihael, and
see with her own eyes whether what he and the taloned man are up to is right.

Wendy says goodbye to Van and walks out, leaving Van with the conclusion that
what he wants to do is live.  He tells Elena that he means to stop fighting,
although in fact it's thanks to her that he's gotten this far.  Come to think
of it, Elena only exists inside him now, and that means in a way she's with him
always.  Suddenly, he solves the puzzle, and starts screaming out his love
for Elena at the top of his lungs.

He's finally figured out what Gadved was trying to tell him about half-baked
thinking and eliminating distractions.  It's not that he controls Dan... he
_is_ Dan!  Much to Kashimar's chagrin, there's nothing that scares Van anymore:
his heart is full of only one thing... Elena!  He soundly thrashes the Leon
Netter, disabling its Overskill and freeing Cynthia from fear's grip.  Gainer
points out to her that this happened because she ran on ahead: fighting isn't
in fact a game.  She'll let him lecture her later, but for now it's payback.
(It's not payback, it's precaution!)  Van for his part has gone from #feeble to
invincible, or something close to it.

  Kashimar and friends don't stand a chance, either of slowing down the
  Archangel's forces, or of rising through Digald's corporate ladder.  No
  sooner do they scurry off than Woo shows up, more than a little peeved to see
  Van back for more.  Van tells him that he didn't actually go and recruit
  help: he came back on his own and just happens to be going in the same
  direction as the Archangel's other team members.  Woo has had enough of 
  people trying to disrupt the Comrade's plan and vows to slice everyone here
  to ribbons -- fine, go ahead and try, says Van, adding that Woo isn't up to
  the task.

  Carossa and Melissa show up as well, apparently without permission.
  Something is seriously wrong with Carossa's brain, as he barks out in clipped
  childlike sentences that he's got to do something here to get the Comrade
  to like them.  Otherwise, Mihael will get all the credit when the Plan
  succeeds, and the Comrade will cast them off.  The last thing Carossa wants
  is to go back to the Extremely Bad Old Days(tm), and Melissa agrees to help
  him lay waste to the Comrade's opponents.

  But before any waste-laying can begin, Rei's mech bursts out of the ground.
  He's been following Gain's crew ever since the previous defeat, having
  cut ties with Siberian Rail as soon as they stopped being of use to him.
  He's surprised to hear that Joshua is still aboard the Archangel, and flatly
  refuses his request to join forces.  Rei is bound and determined to kill
  the taloned man with his own hands.

  Send Priscilla to fight Carossa and Melissa: she'll be appalled that little
  kids like them are being made to fight.  Carossa for his part manages to
  tell her that they're Original Sevens, and won't tolerate Priscilla leading
  his sister astray OR opposing the Comrade's plans.  When you have Van fight
  him, the kid doesn't have much respect for the old-school Original Seven,
  which when you think about the _original_ in Original Seven is pretty dumb of
  him.  Van's blade proves just how busted his semantics are, but Carossa
  seems to want to fight to the bitter end rather than get cast away back at
  base.  Melissa assures him that the Comrade wouldn't cast them off, and even
  if he did, she'll never cast her brother away.

  Woo demands to know what the hell happened to Van in the past few days.  Not
  only has he completely recovered from the previous beatdown, he's also
  somehow figured out how to electromagnetically shield himself.  Van smirks
  and says that "love" is the culprit, which ticks Woo off even more.  He cast
  away the one person he loved, his own mother, to join the Comrade's noble
  crusade.  Sucks to be him then: no one without love has a chance of stopping
  Van now.

  Woo goes nuts at the thought that a half-assed, performance-enhanced guy
  could beat him.  He rushes Dann and thrusts his sword right through, vowing
  to turn Van into some kind of shish kebab, but realizes to his horror that
  he can't _withdraw_ his sword again: this is the moment Van's been busting
  ass all battle for.  With Woo immobilized, Van administers a thunderous
  bitch-smacking that turns Woo's cockpit into a deepening pool of blood.
  Blood that Woo swore never to spill needlessly while in the Comrade's
  service.  Oh shi---!!

Once _again_, Rei turns down the chance to travel with the pack, heading on
alone to wipe the taloned man out.  Van shouts that that's _his_ job, and Rei
tells him he ain't got the experience for the task.  Van thinks he's been
reborn, and isn't about to let the insolent Rei reach the goal first.
Heedless of the words of the rest of the team, Van dashes off alone after Rei.
Everyone else piles into the Archangel so they can head to the rocket site
too, including Artham after it's pointed out to him that there's no better
way to pursue Kashimar than with the winning team.

Fasalina delivers word of Woo's defeat to the taloned man, which upsets Mihael
much more than it does the taloned man himself.  He assures Mihael that
there's plenty of blood left in the bank, and that their plans needn't suffer.
To the prospect of intruders ferocious enough to topple Woo, he murmurs only
mild surprise.  In fact, these are the same people who took Siberian Rail down,
and Mihael wants to run and fend them off.  The taloned man says he's got to
stay here and help with the Plan, planning to use Carossa and Melissa as
guards instead.  OOPSIE, thanks to them heading off without permission both
their Armors are down for repairs!  Carossa himself is having some kind of
tantrum and requiring a legion of lab techs just to hold him down, so there's
really only one person to send: Fasalina herself.  She vows to make the
Happy Time Project succeed, even at the cost of her own life, but the taloned
man tells her not to say such things.  She's only got one life, and mustn't
waste it like that.

As the Archangel gets underway, Artham and Zacky tell about how Siberian
Rail's former agents have turned on their former London masters and signed on
with the Digald.  Adette tells them that they're reaping what they sowed, but
that's somewhat beside the point now.  Now that Kashimar and his lackeys have
been somewhat punished, Artham means to return to London and await his next
orders... which will probably be anti-Digald action.  Why not join up with
this team, then, being they're all about restoring peace to the world via
kicking Digald ass?  Artham points out that he's assailed Yapan's Ceiling
much more than once, and he's still got a bone to pick with Gain.  Then again,
personal grudges aren't of much account if the whole world ends...  Artham
decides to temporarily lend his aid, adding that once this mess is over he's
marching Gain straight to Karin and forcing him to kneel at her feet.  Gain
was planning to head to Karin under his own power anyway, and promises Artham
that he'll accompany him to his sister's place.  AFTER the Exodus is finished.

Artham then orders Zacky to return to London and tell them... that "former
enemies are now allies".  Adette notes that Kejinan and the crew are pretty
sorry curs to be at the beck and call of the Digald, and Yassaba figures he'll
give them another chance to rejoin his squadron when he sees them again.  It
takes a real man to extend the olive branch to treacherous former underlings,
and fortunately Yassaba is a real man's real man, at least in Adette's eyes.
As some of the girls roll their eyes at the P.D.A., the armada gets underway
towards the taloned man's base.

In the hangar, the mechanics are frantically patching up all the team's mecha.
Murdock calls Mist and Sheldia aside: Sakon has just figured out how to get
the Selcelius moving.  He had Daiya furnish the spiritual power for the
Crystal Heart test drive, and although things are still in the experimental
stages, odds are good that Sheldia will be able to sortie soon.  Sakon wants
to know from Mist if the Revlias and Selcelius are supposed to be able to
combine, as Mist's former commander implied.  Really, the Celius itself was
just a stopgap measure until the Selcelius' completion -- both were intended
to serve as support units for the Revlias.

Sakon has managed to figure out that the Bezzardian "God Stone" is in fact none
other than a Crystal Heart.  What's more, it's now clear that Mist's supposedly
experimental mech isn't actually a testbed for the Crystal Heart at all: it's
actually a salvaged and refitted relic that was powered by a Crystal Heart all
along.  Murdock doesn't claim to know all the details, but he's got it all on
disk for Mist and Sheldia to review at their leisure.

On the disc, Mist and Sheldia learn that the Revlias and Selcelius are part
of an ancient combining combat mech design.  Since there weren't enough Crystal
Hearts to go around on Atreem, the Atreem scientists managed to adapt the
design into a Crystal Heart-less configuration meant for mass production.
Crystal Heart-ful testing with the Revlias and Selcelius was to begin once
the Selcelius was fully online, and if Crystal Heart mass-production itself
became possible, all mecha in the inventory would be converted over.

As for the Crystal Heart itself, the disc describes it as an engine used by
mecha in a war two millennia ago.  Modern technology had been unable to
replicate it, and as of the recording only five units had been unearthed.
One is used in each of the original Revliases, one goes in the Celius for
testing, and the other two were kept under special custody for research.  It
also seems clear that the "God Stones" were used in that ancient war as well.
Sakon recorded onto the disc that he means to study further what commonalities
exist between Atreem, Bezzard, and the various Earths.

The projected output of the combined Revlias/Selcelius is practically off the
charts, provided that the pilots supply the necessary emotion.  Sheldia isn't
sure she's up to the task, but Mist certainly is.  He knows she doesn't let
her emotions run away with her, and she's already demonstrated enough emotion
to make her Celius II run amok once (don't remind her).  With this new
combining robot, the future certainly looks brighter for both Earths, thanks
to the deepening bond between Mist and Sheldia.


26B. Gene's Ambition

Gene has a radical idea for his father: cut ties with Sora.  Citing the fact
that the Digald managed to develop the Bioraptor Gui themselves, he opines
that there's no further need to rely on Soraian expertise.  Lalada doesn't see
it that way, extremely determined to use Sora as long as possible.  So
determined, in fact, that he adopted Gene as his son, even at the cost of
Dig's Generator.  Gene announces it's "yeah but" time, adding that his
"father"'s era is over.  After a (very brief) shootout, Lalada breathes his
last.  With Fermi as his witness, he declares himself Emperor-General Gene I
and makes her a brigadier.  Next step: total domination of all things living
and otherwise in this world -- that is Destiny, heck, Historical Imperative
even.  And where better to start than those complacent bastards up in Sora?

Sora City is a ginormously phallic pillar in midair, crammed to the gills with
gadgetry that makes life inside utterly unlike that on the surface.  Ron's
commander Para gets on the radio, glad to see the stalwarts that helped defend
Zhuli.  Unfortunately, the Sora council hasn't approved release of Rheo Rounds
for use against the Digald, details of which will have to wait until the ship
is docked.  And the only dock Para can let the Daikuu Maryuu use is located
in a shadowy corner of the city: there are "issues" with just going in the
front door.

Ron introduces Para, member of the Sora supreme council, to La Kan and Lulu.
Para is fairly surprised to see how young the Daikuu Maryuu's captain is, and
is _extremely_ surprised to see the young Ruuji piloting an Evold-capable
Zoid.  Even Soraian science hasn't figured out how that works yet.  Ron asks
what the deal is with the Rheo Rounds, but before Para can answer, Prome
strides in and declares that the Soraians can't become involved with struggles
on the Surface.  Ron points out that the Soraians have already given the
Digald the tech behind the Biozoids, but Prome says that that was done
strictly to gather more Reggel through the Digald's advance.

Galaga wants to deck Prome in the face for such selfishness, but Ron manages
to get him and Pulia to let him handle it with words.  Prome says that she's
quite serious about this: her only concern is maintaining Sora City.  The
Surface is none of her concern.  'Kay, what if the Digald were to attack
Sora City?  Preposterous, Prome sniffs, given that Gene is a Soraian himself.
As the team digests this shocking truth, Prome says that it is her belief that
Gene's campaign of military expansion is all for Sora's benefit.  Ron tries
to be rational even as the Daikuu Maryuu pilots get increasingly restless,
listing out the increasingly bold moves Gene has made.

Para is getting convinced that it's at least worth discussing at the Council,
but Prome snaps that that won't be necessary.  She's in mid-sentence telling
Ron to take these barbarians and go when Bana, Council chairman, gets on the
intercomm and tells her to wait.  Prome whines again that the Soraians can't
involve themselves in Surface conflicts, but the team yells at her that her
people are the ones who kicked off that conflict in the first place.  Even if
Prome won't admit responsibility, Bana will.  Ron is very grateful, but Bana
tells him not to celebrate yet -- the Council will deliberate both sides of the
question.  Para for his part will do his best to advocate for the Surface
dwellers' position.

The team gets to cool their jets while the Council deliberates, and Ron
privately can't believe how little the Soraians seem to be using their heads --
too much peace maybe?  While the team waits, Sakon calls Mist and Sheldia
aside for a boot-up test for the Selcelius.  Meanwhile, Le Mii is cloistered
away in sickbay with the pilot of the enemy Zoid.  Said pilot is amnesiac in
the wake of his mech's explosion, and doesn't even remember his own name.
Bringing the Digald pilot is less messy than leaving her all alone in Zhuli,
and the girls wonder if Le Mii is falling for him.  Isn't Ruuji worried, they
ask.  Ruuji doesn't grasp why he should worry about Le Mii; he's more
interested in getting Ron's help with a little something.

At least the pilot remembers how to talk.  Le Mii has christened him "Gin-chan"
owing to the "silver" necklace he's wearing, though Franklin assures her that,
like Muu, the boy should recover his full memories in time.  Unfortunately,
at that moment a gaggle of female pilots pile in to get a good look at this
possible rival for Ruuji.  They all remark on how cute the "Digald" pilot is,
and "Gin-chan" starts screaming and clutching his head.  His scrambled memories
are in an uproar, and Franklin and Le Mii rush to hold the boy down before
he goes entirely berserk.  Franklin snaps at Pai and the others to get the
hell out.  WHOOPSIE.

Meanwhile, Mist manages to successfully boot the Selcelius, meaning that
Sheldia will have a mech to fight in... once Sakon finishes outfitting it.
See 26A for the conversation about how the Revlias and Selcelius can combine.
There's some additional information, including the fact that the "God Stones"
are literally the same thing as the Crystal Hearts, just covered in a more
recent coating so that the don't _look_ the same.  Also, combining the Revlias
and Selcelius seems to entail some kind of risk according to reports Angelica's
father filed, but Mist himself was never told what.  Sakon intends to work on
what that "risk" is next, and Mist and Angelica can't wait to Combine and
truly protect their new homeworld through teamwork.

Franklin's had to drug "Gin-chan" to get him to calm down, but at length order
is restored.  He thanks Le Mii for caring so much about him, and as he slips
into sleep he promises her that he'll protect her with his Zoid when he gets
his memory back.  Franklin recommends keeping the kid in sickbay for 
observation for a while, and when Le Mii walks out the door the first people
she sees are Pai and Anna.  She manages to keep her voice down when she
orders them to go down the hall to talk...

...and the first thing Pai and Anna do is bow impressively in apology.  Le
Mii fumes that she can't even stay mad at them looking like that, and they
offer to buy her dinner or wash her Zoid or whatever.  Le Mii tells them that
the best thing they can do if they're worried is to pray for Gin-chan to get
his memory back ASAP.  She's not worried about him revering to enemy mode,
reckoning he must have been forced into piloting for some reason.  She really
wants to save the guy, though she mutters that she will fight him if she's
gotta.  Hearing her stomach growl, she decides to take them up on their offer
of dinner after all.

Ruuji's been thinking about the Soraians' uber-tech, and asks Ron if they've
got anyone who could fix his village's Generator.  Ron apologizes for not
mentioning this before, but it was the Soraians who created the Generators in
the first place.  Now, while Sora City has no Generator (and hence no need for
a Generator repair guy), they still have all the schematics on file.  He shows
Ruuji to a terminal and brings the data up.  Ruuji learns that the Generator
construction began immediately after the Cataclysm, a several-millennia-old
catastrophe in which something like (micro-) black holes struck all over the
world.  In their wake, many plants and animals never before seen spread
across the world... such as the fruit Ron is now eating.  Gou recognizes the
fruit as something found on Atreem, and Ruuji asks how much more culture from
other worlds was brought by the Cataclysm.

Ron doesn't know, but he does know that the Cataclysm touched off a world war.
In its wake, the planet's surface was a blasted wasteland that some remaining
scientists created Sora City to flee.  Others created Domepolises in the
Siberia area, hoping to wait out the devastation and refertilize the land, but
Area Zi was simply too badly contaminated to inhabit.  Ron doesn't know why
Area Zi in particular got it so bad.

The Generators were designed to purify the land, water and air, while
simultaneously creating the Reggel used to fuel the Zoids.  The first unit
took fifty years to construct, and another twenty years were needed to
install the rest across the world.  Moreover, it took another century before
the Generators were fully functional -- plenty long enough for the original
generation of Soraians to give way to the next.  Thoughts of returning to the
Surface were forgotten, and a schism developed with London IMA and the Original
Seven.  WHOA, hold up -- aren't those the Armors that Van and the taloned
man's lackeys use?

You betcha.  Their name carries, or rather carried, a special meaning.  All
that remains now are database entries Ron has no way of verifying, but for
what it's worth: the Original Seven have existed since the Cataclysm for
the purpose of maintaining world order... along with their immortal pilots.
That does _not_ mean Van's a relic from those days: only one of the original
pilots should still be alive.  That would be Gadved, apparently stalwart
enough to stick with the world order gig all these years.  The rest of the
pilots are recorded as abandoning their duties for various reasons, including
deciding that world peace wasn't worth maintaining or even that it was worth
actively destroying.  It's not recorded what became of them, but Ron believes
none remain in the world now -- the Original Seven are now piloted by people
who somehow inherited their position.  In short, the Original Seven are now
seen as nothing more than just studly mecha... though if there are any other
hidden aspects to them, it might explain why the taloned man has been spending
so much effort gathering them together.

Seeing as how the Cataclysm was millennia ago, it's only natural that the
Original Seven's pilots might change their thinking... much like the Soraians
themselves.  What was once exile from the Surface has morphed into the mistaken
belief that physical elevation equals moral separation.  As Ron starts
rummaging through more files in search of the schematics Ruuji needs, Para
and Prome walk in with news: the Council will give him the Rheo Rounds.  Prome
makes sure to mention that she doesn't agree, but won't oppose the Council's
decision.  It will take three full days before the Rounds are ready, and that
fact has the Anti-Digald commanders very much on edge.

Unfortunately, Gene's forces aren't granting Sora three days: his flying
Biozoids are attacking _now_ and already past Sora's outer defenses.  Prome
can't believe Gene has betrayed his fellows, but Gene barges onto Sora's
communication networks to announce it himself.  Prome reminds Gene of the
penalty for treachery against Sora: eternal cold sleep.  He tells her that the
time of the old gods is at an end, and is looking forward to knocking the whole
city from the sky.

What has Prome in the most disbelief is the quantity of Gene's Biozoids: there
shouldn't be that many Compatible pilots on the whole of the Surface.  Adding
insult to injury is that Fermi, an agent posted to ensure Gene's fealty, is
leading the assault.  With terrifying speed, Gene's forces break into the city
and damage its levitation system, opening the terrible prospect that Sora will
indeed crash to Earth.  Bana comes on the intercomm, as much as admitting that
the Soraians may have styled themselves better than their brethren below.  He
requests that the civilians of his city be allowed to evacuate aboard the
Daikuu Maryuu, and Lulu of course agrees.  Rosa expects that its Illusion
Protect should allow it to elude the chaos outside long enough to reach the
surface, and the hasty evacuation begins.  This certainly feels like a setback,
but there's no point in giving up: doing so would extinguish the last, best
hope for the free world.

Sora City no doubt makes a huge crashing noise as it impacts, but Gene isn't
anywhere near satisfied.  He knows that La Kan's crew are the biggest threat
now, and Fermi is forced to agree (after all, they're the ones who took her
"toy" Souta away).  As Gene summons Zailin and Gil, he tells Fermi that he's
got more work for her.  His plan is for Fermi to bomb Zhuli from above,
followed by a ground assault by Zailin's forces.  He orders Gil to assist
Fermi, and this time not to fuck up; Gil outwardly agrees while inwardly
cursing this little man and his swollen ego.  La Kan and his supporters are
to be punished in the name of this world's new god, namely Gene I!  Gil
doesn't like the sound of that, and Zailin asks if Gene knows anything about
the almighty explosion that happened over the nearby mountains: the soldiers
saw something _big_ fall from the sky.  Gene tells him that whatever it was is
insignificant next to taking La Kan out, and Zailin privately resolves to
investigate once this battle is over...

The Soraians will need a lot of getting used to living under the primitive
conditions on the Surface: these are people who didn't even have to walk under
their own power to get around.  Da Jin will take personal charge of toughening
them up, since there's really no option for them but to assimilate now that
their floating city is gone.  No doubt Gene will now turn his attentions on
Zhuli, and Kouji finds himself wishing for some kind of really strong weapon
to fend them off (like, a nuke or two, or better yet a Genesis or two).
Shizuru snaps that he shouldn't even joke about nukes, and Gou and Mist and
the others muse that confronting force with greater force is mainly good for
causing large-scale tragedy, even if the "correct" side eventually wins.

Since it seems Gene isn't a man to be reasoned with, the team should be looking
for ways to neutralize the Digald without having to kill them all.  Maybe it's
only Gene who must die, new king and supreme commander after Lalada III's 
death.  Ron has heard quite a bit about Gene's rise to power from various Sora
agents scattered throughout Area Zi, and knows that Digald is now basically
the guy's personal fiefdom.  Unfortunately, an attack on the capital isn't
likely to work again, and the question becomes, how exactly to get at the
new ruler.

There's little time to ponder, however, as the first wave of flying Biozoids
approaches Zhuli.  As the citizens and Soraian refugees are evacuated
underground, the Daikuu Maryuu and other defenders sally forth to meet the
invaders.

Fermi hesitates to attack until the defenders show up, finding one-sided
fighting boring.  That suits Gil fine, since he wouldn't want Zhuli destroyed
before the Dangaioh even shows up.  The tactical situation is pretty easy to
grasp: defend Zhuli at all costs from the Digald invaders.

  Fermi is indeed toying with Zhuli's defenders, leaving Zhuli quite unbombed
  by the time Zailin shows up.  He demands to know what she's doing, and she
  tells him it's the same thing he wants to do to Ruuji: being picky about
  her opponents.  Zailin can't refute that one.  Ron is desperately trying to
  figure out what Digald's done to get around the shortage of truly qualified
  Zoid pilots.

  Once again, Gil's vengeance on the Dangaioh is doomed -- and his hopes
  to use Digald to slow Veliny down are obviously not amounting to much.
  Seeing as how the Digald leader is sick in the head and styles himself a god,
  it's probably time to get while the getting's good.

  Ron demands to know why Fermi helped shoot down Sora City, an irreplaceable
  cultural heirloom.  Fermi shrugs and said she did it because Gene thought it
  would be fun.  Of course this enrages Ron to no end, and he vows vengeance.

  Fermi might have been playing the first time, but the second time she's all
  business and still gets her ass spanked.  As she prepares to withdraw,
  "Gin-chan" sorties in a Lancetagg, shouting that he knows that flying mech
  and the person aboard it.  Crying out that he has to see her, he charges
  across the battlefield and begs her to tell him who he is.  Fermi recognizes
  Souta, immensely disappointed that her exquisite pilot-savant toy is now some
  bum of an amnesiac.  She never _was_ sure whether his habit of latching onto
  her just by her smiling was adorable or obnoxious, but now that he's just a
  broken toy, she's got no further use for him.  He screams that he's not a toy
  and takes an entirely ineffectual potshot at her.  Telling her former toy
  never to show his face in front of her again, Fermi flies off in a trail of
  smoke.  At Le Mii's urging, "Gin-chan" then returns to Zhuli where it's
  safe(r).

  Zailin and Ruuji renew their duel, and once again some strange headache is
  throwing Zailin's concentration off.  He knows he'd better finish Ruuji off
  quickly lest he lose.  Mist demands to know why Zailin helped shoot Sora
  City down: if the Daikuu Maryuu hadn't been there, untold numbers of people
  would now be dead.  Zailin has no idea what Mist is talking about, though
  Mist isn't buying that as an excuse...

  Things go downhill for Zailin, and before he has to retreat entirely he
  calls Ruuji out for a one-on-one duel.  He manages to score a direct hit,
  knocking out Ruuji's stabilizers, but he then finds himself paralyzed by that
  headache.  Some sort of autonomous system kicks in, encapsulating him
  inside his own cockpit.  The mech determines that Ruuji's large Zoid is a 
  threat, and prepares to fire the "Bio-Particle Cannon".  That would totally
  obliterate Ruuji, and one thing Zailin will not permit is anyone besides
  him to settle the score.  He manages to wrest back enough control to make
  his mech miss, and then staggers off the field.

  But wait, there's more!  It's Geolg, rather resurrected by the "power of
  God"!  This guy is almost as durable as Gil, but all that means in this case
  is that he gets to have his ass handed to him again.  Of course he's just
  "having a bad day" or something -- no way God could have messed up when
  bringing his ass back, is there?

Well, the day is won.  There's no guarantee that future engagements will go so
smoothly however; maybe Gene really does need killing?  La Kan tells everyone
to return to Zhuli and put their heads together, but before leaving the field
Ruuji spies the Volcano.  Zailin is totally unconscious, having collapsed
outside the cockpit with the _oddest_ hat on his head.  La Kan tells Ruuji to
bring Zailin to sickbay, ordering guards posted as well.  He also has Galaga
take the damaged Biozoid to the hangar.

When Zailin regains consciousness, he's in the Daikuu Maryuu's infirmary.  His
first thought is that he's been tied to the bed, but Franklin has done no such
thing.  At the time Ruuji found him, his body had been pushed to the point of
absolute depletion: another few minutes and his vitals would have failed
entirely.  Sakon walks in while Zailin is digesting this, and asks about the
apparatus in his Biozoid that drains a pilot's life force.  Zailin had _no_
idea his mech had one of those, which would explain the agony he felt every
time he piloted the darn thing.  Seeing that Zailin had no clue, Sakon tells
him mildly that he'll just remove the thing for Zailin's own good.  Between
that and the mech deciding to fire the Bio-Particle Cannon all on its own,
Zailin has to wonder what other crap Gene hid inside the Volcano.  No way for
him to find out on his own, when he's far too weak to try an escape.  He'll
just have to bide his time for now...

"Biding his time" takes all of about ten minutes, when his supernal powers of
recuperation let him get up, knock Franklin out, and dash to the hangar to
steal his mech back.  As the posse gears up to apprehend him, Ruuji stops them.
He didn't bring Zailin here as a captive, but as a wounded man in need of
treatment.  That makes sense to La Kan, who has Kotona tail the guy just to be
on the safe side.  Ruuji offers to stand guard, vowing to defeat and capture
Zailin as a proper captive next time.

Zailin finally makes it to a Digald base after nightfall, and asks the first
guard he sees to use the radio.  Apologizing profusely to the _three_star_
_general_, the soldier says that Gene's direct orders are to let no one
whosoever roam around the base at night.  Zailin agrees to wait until morning,
planning instead to sneak past the guards and ask Gene directly what the
hell he's doing.  Sneaking in is _so_ easy in fact that Zailin thinks every
last guard should be demoted.

He enters what should be a barracks, finding instead rows and rows of
mechanical soldiers.  Doing his best to ignore the creepy sight, he looks for
and fails to find a radio, and is about to move on when a faint voice reaches
his ear.  One of the robot soldiers haltingly begs him for help.  By name.
What the hell?!


27A. Countdown to Happiness

Fasalina asks Carossa and Melissa why they sortied without permission.
Carossa manages that intruders approached and he wanted to defeat them, but
Fasalina points out that not only did they not help the Comrade, they couldn't
even help Woo.  Carossa asks if they're going to be cast away, adding that
the Comrade has been all cold to them ever since Mihael arrived.  Mihael and
Fasalina both tell him that he's overthinking things, but there's no getting
through to the vicious little boy.  What does get through is the thought
that the Comrade would be sad if anything were to happen to them.

As Carossa leads his sister off, one of the lab techs recommends Fasalina be a
bit more strict next time: the kids' selfishness is causing the techs plenty of
trouble.  Fasalina reminds him that if the Comrade's plan succeeds, there will
be no more selfishness anywhere, which sort of stands to reason.  The techs
are ready to launch the Saudade, and ask Mihael to get ready himself.
Fasalina for one can't wait for Happy Time to arrive...

Angelica has read Sakon's report about the Revlias and Selcelius (which she has
no intention of stealing from Sheldia).  She did notice part of the report
that Mist overlooked.  Though the combination of those two mecha will produce
immense output, it also comes with a major risk of some sort.  Sheldia isn't
worried, but Mist tells her (and himself) to think about what "risk" means to
everyone, not just to oneself.  Precisely what the risk is isn't recorded, but
it seems the Selcelius' original development was deliberately slowed down while
its creators tried unsuccessfully to nullify that risk.  Maybe it has something
to do with that full-body enervation that struck Mist after defeating Espair?
Like, an ultimate outpouring of power in return for the pilot's life?  Sheldia
doesn't want Angelica saying such unlucky stuff, but Mist soberly recognizes
that she may be right.

Of course, if the resulting power would guarantee victory over Earth's
assailants, Mist would take that tradeoff in an instant.  He doesn't intend to
waste his life, but the vows he took to lay down his life for his first
homeworld still apply on this, his second.  Sheldia isn't having it: she's
adamant that she and Mist will _live_ on the Earth after defending it.  No
self-sacrifice allowed!  Angelica stammers that she gave fair warning and
walks off, leaving Sheldia and Mist to hope that Sakon can figure out how to
avoid whatever the risk is.  For now anyway, there's a rocket launch to stop.

Back at the ranch, Mihael asks Fasalina about a trip she took to Riman
Megalopolis a few days back.  She was sent to pick up a certain Overman,
whose Overskill is essential to moving the Comrade's plans forward.  Mihael is
surprised that anyone would willingly loan Fasalina such a precious mech, and
in fact no one did.  Fasalina "borrowed" it without permission during the
deep freeze incident, since Kids proved unwilling to voluntarily part with it
despite long negotiations.  She can tell from Mihael's eyes that he's not
thrilled at her action, and he allows that part of his heart hasn't fully
"grasped the import of the Comrade's dreams yet".

Just what will happen to the world once the Comrade's dream comes true?
Fasalina had hoped Mihael would figure it out on his own, but elects to
demonstrate for him.  He agrees to let her, asking first what Overskill was
so important.  It's the "Larceny" Overskill from a mech called the Jinba,
allowing objects to be pilfered interdimensionally.  This allowed Fasalina to
remove the poison from the Orphe blossoms, which the Comrade absolutely must
have for his plans to succeed.  She also wanted the Overskill of a mech called
Planetta, which prevents people from keeping secrets from each other.  The
Comrade was very interested in that one, though with the Happy Time close at
hand, it would appear to be somewhat redundant.

Further chit-chat (etc.) is cut short by alarm klaxons: four Overmen are on
the inbounds.  Fasalina wonders if this is an attempt to steal back the
Overmen she purloined, and says that no one under any circumstances is allowed
to invade this base.  She heads out in her Dahlia, ordering the 101 Bloodcradle
sortied as well.  She tells Mihael to stay here and concentrate on the rocket
launch, since that's the Comrade's top priority.  She assures him that she will
let no one interfere with the Comrade's dreams of Happiness.

The four Overmen belong to Kashimar and his hapless assistants.  Even Kejinan
knows it's a dumb idea to storm the taloned man's base without Biozoids for
backup, but Kejinan barks that the plan _had_ called for the base to be
taken over yesterday.  His pride won't admit any further delay, and he believes
the Leon Netter's powers can make the defenders do each other in.  We'll see
about that.

Fasalina asks nicely if the four have come to join the Comrade, and Kashimar
responds that they're here for one reason only: taking the base over.  Fasalina
asks once more nicely if they will withdraw, and when she sees they won't, she
sends in the Bloodcradles.  Unfortunately for Kashimar, these are unmanned
Armors, so his Overskill won't work on them.  His only option is a hasty
retreat, leaving his three subordinates left dangling in the breeze.  Before
any more shots are fired, control radios in to Fasalina that Dann has been
spotted.

Fasalina certainly isn't going to let Van, the Out-of-Order Member see the
Comrade.  Van was planning to drag the taloned man out anyway, and informs
Fasalina that he's Van of the Dawn to her!  This is the three soldiers' big
chance to flee, and Enge no longer cares where so long as the three of them
are still alive.  Kejinan hates leaving things in such a disgraceful state, but
sees no other alternative.

Fasalina offers Van a chance to join the Original Seven, but he repeats his
dictum that he's bad at group action.  Fasalina finds this funny, even as
Van strikes (and misses) at her mech.  Looking at Van is making Fasalina
extremely... stimulated, which isn't exactly what Van wants to hear.  Suddenly
Rei bursts out of the ground, missing with an equally impressive sniper
cannon strike.  She fires back, easily damaging Rei's digging system, and says
that she doesn't mind menages-a-N.  A fuming Van vows to extract the taloned
man's whereabouts from her, one way or another.

  Fasalina desperately wants to get to "know" Van better.  Van can't stand
  that kind of advance, especially since he's a *gasp* virgin.  She tells him
  to leave everything to her, but Van isn't the sort to give his purity(??) to
  the likes of her!

  The cavalry arrive on turn two, noticing that the rocket launch seems
  designed to send an armor to space.  And that mustn't happen.  Yassaba
  reckons that Kejinan and the others ran off already, and may be hiding
  in the bushes somewhere nearby.  For now, stopping the launch is top
  priority.  Fasalina certainly doesn't seem like your typical agent of world
  domination: she asserts that the Comrade is trying to bring about an era
  of cooperation and friendship to replace the domination and rulership that
  came before.  He's prepared to give his own life for world peace, and is
  in fact already deathly ill.  But with his final glimmering of life, he
  intends to "reformat" the world.

  The plan is for his body to be atomized in space, connecting all life forms
  on an unconscious level.  It would be a mistake, she says, to assume that
  everything will simply be wiped out.  Another way of putting it is that if
  the taloned man succeeds, everyone's mind will be invaded somehow.  Will
  be _unified_, corrects Fasalina, in the same thoughts that the Comrade holds
  now: he will indeed "live on forever in the hearts of all."  Groovy?  No.
  Tubular?  Nope.  Far out?  Yeah, pretty damn far out.

  Seeing she's not being convincing, Fasalina asks if the current dog-eat-dog
  state of the world should be allowed to continue.  Sure, her people took a
  few lives along the way.  Then again, so did the Archangel's crew.  Take
  Van for example: his personal vengeance jag has spread into a world-wide
  campaign of death and destruction.  And what's more, the object of Van's
  vengeance will even _die_ voluntarily if Van just lets him finish his little
  project.  Isn't that enough?

  Actually, the _world_ is not enough, since Van doesn't give a damn about it
  one way or the other.  What he does give a damn about is being the one to
  choke the life out of the taloned man bare-handed.  Most of his teammates
  do actually care about the world, and whatever self-recriminations they might
  have, the last thing they want is being taken over mentally by someone else.
  Fasalina is left with no choice for protecting the Comrade's dream but to
  pound everyone's mecha utterly into scrap metal, and then get friendly with
  whatever's left afterward. @_@

  Carossa charges out of the base at this point, also determined to defend the
  Comrade's dream.  With the Saudade's launch close at hand, Fasalina elects to
  let the kids help out.  The good guys have five turns to reach the launch
  pad before it's too late.

  Sadly for her, Fasalina's best dancing can't carry the day here.  She
  apologizes for her poor performance, and promises to "blossom" even more
  fervidly next time.  The kids have far simpler, more direct emotions -- much
  like Van himself.  If Carossa buys the farm first, Melissa goes crazy with
  grief, which is not a good thing for the good guys.  Still, maybe she'll
  be able to see her brother on the other side, if there's any justice in this
  world.

  Either reach the launchpad, or pulverize all the defenders, and the rocket
  gets thoroughly trounced (stop playing the Royal Space Force theme, and
  "Dejected R").  Mihael wrenches Saudade free of the wreckage, predictably
  upset that these people are messing with the Comrade's dream.  He didn't
  expect to see Wendy here, and from the rhetoric he's spouting it seems to
  Wendy that her brother needs an attitude adjustment.  Which Van is all too
  happy to administer.

  Mihael has a bona fide serious disagreement with the Archangel squad's
  philosophy.  Kira stoutly maintains that no true happiness could be
  imposed from outside, especially by people who are apt to simply erase those
  who don't approve.  Hiroshi and Shinn won't tolerate Mihael putting his
  sister through all this, whatever else he may believe in.

  In short order, Mihael too finds out that he's just a pussy with a gun in his
  hand.  But not to fret, says the taloned man via radio: "they" will help him
  out.  He still needs Mihael, and tells him to go to a certain set of
  coordinates.  The taloned man and his technicians are already en route, and
  Mihael bids a hasty goodbye to the team.

In his wake, a gaggle of new bad guys show up to buy more time.  They sure
don't buy much, but only a brief lapse is all the taloned man needs.  Carmen
sneaks into the base and sees enough to know that it's basically an empty husk:
whatever was going on here is now gone.  It's certainly a plus that the taloned
man's plan has been stopped, but Soushi knows there's a good chance that he's
simply switched over to another one.  Heck, maybe he's even got another rocket
elsewhere.

Before splitting the scene, Yassaba has the Archangel spot his erstwhile
underlings, and he and Adette offer the sniveling trio their old jobs back.
Bygones be bygones, why fight hapless People when you can defend the Earth,
etc. etc.  It's a very good deal, and Japoli has the smarts to be the first to
take it.  Enge is the second, but it takes Kejinan a long moment of reckoning
pros and cons to become the third.  Artham shakes his head at the chain of
events that brought them and him back together, and again at Kejinan's amazing
talent for sucking up to whoever poses the biggest threat to him.  Adette,
smiling from ear to ear, promises untold mayhem if Kejinan gets any funny ideas
this time.  Rei, however, doesn't take Joshua's offer of aid and disappears
again, still determined to take revenge his own way.

Turns out that Fasalina has been in touch [yes, that's the word, _touch_] with
Veliny, who chats directly with the taloned man for the first time after the
battle.  Fasalina wasn't badly injured, but the taloned man insisted on full
bedrest anyway.  Veliny has prepared an _exact_ replica of the taloned man's
base, telling him that her people are extremely good at stealing all kinds of
information.  The taloned man isn't so delusional as to look a gift horse in
the mouth, even a stolen one, and Veliny tells him she's _terribly_ interested
in seeing him bring his plan to fruition.  As she hangs up, the taloned man
murmurs that he must get to know her better once his plan is over.

Even with the immediate threat of Happy Time past, Van is predictably
unthrilled.  Soushi agrees that the taloned man should be apprehended, though
he doesn't want Van yelling at him to hurry it up.  Contact is established
with the Daikuu Maryuu, who have successfully overthrown Gene I and the
Digald Empire.  Since Siberian Rail is already toast, that means the Exodus
can finally resume unimpeded.  The concept means many things to many people,
but Sara is insistent that it's not about just _arriving_ (which could be done
using the Gate), but about getting there.  In short, The Journey Is The
Adventure(tm).

Still, it might be wise to wait a bit longer, given that the other Earth is
still being invaded and that pesky Overdevil still in hiding.  For now, the
two teams reunite for a victory feast, which will be the first honest meal
Japoli and friends have eaten in goodness knows how long.


27B. Conclusion

Two plans have been proposed to deal with the Digald.  One is taking out Gene
himself all at once, and the other is using the Gate to trash the Biozoid
factories one at a time, gradually weakening Digald warpower.  That latter
approach is what the rebels have been trying all this time, and it's kept them
alive so far; however, the Digald's advance seems to be accelerating, and a
fixed-speed counteroffensive might not keep up.  In fact, the city of Iron
Lock has just been taken, and its people led off en masse to points unknown.
That might include Kotona's acquaintance Linna, which would be bad.

The problem with playing small-ball is that it won't keep public opinion
galvanized -- it's easy to despair when the gestapo are kicking in your door
every day of the week.  It would also be easy for the good guys to do something
non-good and just Gate Gene, monster mech and all, into the Sun.. but that
wouldn't be morally defensible either.  So attacking Gene and his "Bio-Tyranno"
seems to be the only option, assuming the Bio-Tyranno is even a tractable foe.

Just then, the Daikuu Maryuu intercepts a message sent from Gene I to Digald
soldiers everywhere.  The conference area lacks any multimedia gear, so the
meeting shifts to the Daikuu Maryuu's bridge.  Gene tells everyone that Digald
is the center of the world, a world in the hands of God, namely, him!
Wait, scratch that.  He's _better_ than a god, the one and only absolute
being.  This guy is like, _modest_ and stuff.  He orders his men to put anyone
not kneeling before him to death, and announces that an all-out attack is about
to begin.

Well.  That settles the debate about how the Anti-Digald Army should proceed.
It might still be a good idea to gather info on the Bio-Tyranno before duking
it out, and La Kan decides to send in a recon group first.  But just then,
Ruuji radios in with word that Zailin has returned... and is waving a white
flag with his mech.  La Kan takes this very seriously, knowing that the
Digald general would not have come to his enemy's capital all alone without a
very good reason.  He has Ruuji get Zailin to halt near Zhuli and heads out to
parlay in person.

Zailin has returned in the hopes of enlisting the Anti-Digald Army's aid
against the self-styled "god" Gene.  He recounts his doubts about the
Volcano's life-draining system and autonomous firing system, and relates what
he found inside the Digald base's hangar.  One of the mechanical soldiers,
which told him to stay, was inscribed with the name of Zailin's old friend
Whips.  Whips told him that his soul had been pulled out of his body and
embedded in the core of the machine... just like every other mech in the
Digald arsenal!  This "innovation" is the key to Gene's worldwide offensive:
every town and village his army takes over provides new pilots for the next
wave of Biozoids: Biozoids whose "pilots" are plugged directly in regardless
of their initial biological compatibility.

Zailin finally realized his mistake in being part of Gene's horrific war
machine, and the first thing he did was set the souls of the mechanical
soldiers free.  He then started destroying the plant that makes more of them,
which brought Gene himself onto the scene.  Zailin declared to his former
boss that the old him was dead and gone, which sounded cool but didn't actually
bring about much comfort.  Not after Gene told Zailin that it was Zailin's
own energy, stolen away by the Volcano, that was used to complete the Tyranno.
Zailin indeed once vowed to help Gene achieve divinity, but he certainly
wouldn't have had he known that _this_ was the objective.

Zailin did surprisingly well against Gene, given that he was no longer hampered
by having his life drained away.  Still, he knows he can't win on his own,
and staged a tactical retreat the first chance he could.  Before leaving the
base, he told all the soldiers what their boss has had them helping with, and
everyone who heard agrees that Gene gots to go.  The information should be
spreading virally to all of Digald's bases by now, turning Gene's massive
army into a liability.

Just to be clear, when Zailin says he "freed" the souls from the mechanical
soldiers, he means sending them on to the afterlife -- the people whose souls
were extracted were far beyond saving.  Still, they were suffering terribly as
part of the machines, and now they're not.  Apart from Gene's personal guard
(whose souls still need liberating), all the other Biozoids are now effectively
out of action.  Deke is looking forward to some _righteous_ mayhem where the
remaining opponents are concerned, storing up a lot of good will behind his
"cold, nihilistic" exterior.  The more Zailin watches the team banter together,
the more he realizes he never had a chance to beat them anyway.

What La Kan takes away from all of this is that the real enemy of the 
"Anti-Digald Army" is not Digald at all, but its insane ruler.  As such, he'll
certainly accept the help of a Digald general in bringing Gene to heel.  He'll
also take help from Souta, who's achieved total recall since the little run-in
with Fermi.  Gou is a bit nervous about letting Souta join in, seeing much of
Rue in the little guy, but Souta vows never to sortie without permission
again.  Gou decides things should be okay, and Souta (nee "Gin-chan" to Le Mii
from now on) joins his fellow general Zailin on the good guys' side.  Kotona
wonders if Le Mii's new boyfriend(??) will bother Ruuji, but Shizuru suspects
if anything would trouble him, it's fighting alongside Zailin...

Word reaches Gene soon enough that his global army is disowning him, spurred by
Zailin's disclosure about the Cores.  Fermi hadn't expected Zailin to betray
the cause, but Gene seems quite unmoved.  All it will take is a little
demonstration of his Tyranno's divine thunder and all opposing him will be
toast.  Still, it might be worth a demonstration sooner rather than later, and
since Zailin has joined the rebels in Zhuli, that seems as good a target as any
(and lets Fermi see what Souta is up to).  That plan goes out the window when
word arrives that La Kan's entourage have come to Gene instead, which at least
saves on his fuel costs.

Dig is eerily quiet as the Daikuu Maryuu rolls into town, but the calm doesn't
last.  A massive brigade of Biozoids comes forth, but those aren't exactly
going to stop the good guys now.  They're on a mission to restore world peace,
which any "god" worth the name ought to have foremost in its mind.  Gene isn't
fit to run a Burger King, much less an actual kingdom, MUCH LESS the
multiverse.  The guy is basically a small-time punk, and it's time to get
kicked back to the curb.  Gene won't deign to arrive until Geolg and Fermi
are beaten into scrap metal, so start with that first.

  It only takes two hits to knock Fermi from the skies, and as she looks in
  alarm at her damage indicators Souta asks her to stop and join his side
  instead.  Fermi knows she's been a very bad girl and doesn't think she can
  be redeemed so easily.  That said, she's plenty bored being Gene's lackey:
  time to leave the game.  [This is if you failed to recruit her, which, given
  it requires Kotona and Le Mii to total over 150 kills, doesn't seem worth
  it.]

  Geolg is a different matter, loyal to his god to the very last.  He sees
  nothing wrong with swapping his mortal body for an immortal mechanical one,
  or with converting any dissenters in the army into more mechanical soldiers.
  If he has a weakness, it's that he doesn't like to be reminded that he
  technically died once already.

  Sure enough, defeating Gene's two lieutenants brings Gene himself to the
  field.  No amount of grandiose speeches can save him from the simple fact
  that he's batshit insane _and_ one of the bad guys, which is about an 80%
  death sentence these days.  About the only thing that might save him is
  Veliny, who shows up before Gene can go down in flames entirely.  Gene is
  so delusional that he doesn't even use honorifics when addressing her,
  scoffing at the thought of himself addressing a mere mortal with any sort of
  respect.

  Veliny notes that for a god he sure seems to be having a hard time in battle.
  She doesn't like the Daikuu Maryuu any more than he does, and has been well
  informed of the fate of Gene's robot soldiers.  She's got a few replacement
  Biozoids for him, powered by God-knows what mysterious technology from her
  bag of tricks.  This was her first time canning life-energy and sticking
  it into a robot, but that wasn't a particularly hard trick; in return, she's
  taken the liberty of analyzing how the Biozoids work in the interest of
  furthering her own master's plans.  Even Gene isn't so far gone as to refuse
  her help for long, and Veliny sardonically tells this new god to win this
  time (though in fact she doesn't care who loses).

  When the battle continues to elude Gene, he decides to bring down "divine
  thunder" on the entire city of Dig.  Translation: he intends to fire his
  particle cannon at maximum power.  Souta knows that the Tyranno's weak spot
  should be its mouth, now that it's fully charged, but his attempt to strike
  there comes up short.  Gene recognizes Souta's voice, and asks why someone
  would be so stupid as to turn their back on the brilliance of God.  For
  friendship, is Souta's reply, and that nearly earns him the honor of being
  vaporized first.

  But Fermi isn't going to let Gene take out her little friend... not
  without... getting blown out of the sky first.  Souta is still in danger,
  so Kotona races over to protect him and gets shot down too.  That spurs
  Galaga to charge in, unwrapping his mech's left arm and trying with the
  Rheo weapon thereon to wipe out the Tyranno.  STILL no dice.  Will Ruuji have
  any better luck?  Nope, and Gene manages to destroy Ruuji's core: that
  Zoid will "never" move again.  Uh-huh.

  Next up is, you guessed it, Zailin.  No dice.  As even Le Mii gets ravaged
  trying to protect Ruuji, the rest of the team can't even really retreat,
  knowing that the fallen Zoids' pilots may still be alive.  Fortunately,
  all it takes is a lot of shouting for Ruuji's Zoid to "answer his heart"
  or whatever, reactivating for the improbable(-ly trumped up) comeback.

  And oh look, Galaga's still kicking too, since his Deadly Kong Zoid has a
  backup Core that Gene missed the first time.  Between Galaga and Zailin,
  Gene's Zoid gets held still long enough for Ruuji to cream its Core once and
  for all.

In the end, the only thing godlike about Gene is the massive explosion his
Zoid makes when he dies.  All seems to be well that ends well, including
Kotona -- not quite as dead as Mist initially thought.  Souta's with her,
though Fermi unfortunately didn't pull through.  Anyway, there's time for a
quick search for more mechanical soldiers to liberate before the Daikuu Maryuu
returns to Zhuli.

Veliny isn't pleased to hear that Gene and all the Biozoids are now so much
scrap metal.  She's even less pleased to hear that the Archangel managed to
disrupt the taloned man's rocket launch, despite the fact that preparations
were top secret.  Drat those Earthlings!  Fortunately, Veliny has a spare
rocket ready for just such an eventuality, and arranges for the taloned man's
entourage to be led to the launchpad.  She then doublechecks with her underling
whether or not the Gate has been used by anyone -- as far as the underling
knows, the only people using the Gate are Edax.  The Earthlings must have built
their own or something.

Veliny fumes that this "auxiliary" system Espair built has her doubting the
whole Gate business, even if it's cut the Gates' power consumption in the
bargain.  Undoing whatever he did would require building a whole new Gate
generator, which is more knowledge than Veliny's team currently possesses.
Maybe if Veliny gets permission to assimilate Espair's Fragment she'll gain the
necessary knowhow.  As for the energy recharging, the base is back to 80%
capacity, and Veliny tells her subordinate to keep at it.  Meanwhile, she's got
to come up with some way of dealing with those pesky Earthlings...

In the ruins of Dig, Zailin found a group of Saint Reagan agents who were
captured en route to Riman Megalopolis.  One day later and they'd have been
made into mechanical soldiers just like everyone else.  Their leader is Karin.
Also rescued is Linna, who bears a striking resemblance to Kotona.  That would
be because they're twin sisters, although they haven't seen each other since
Kotona left Iron Lock behind.  It looks like the two of them have some serious
hashing out to do, and Rosa asks that they not do it on her bridge right after
such a momentous victory.

Unfortunately, it's only one victory out of several the world needs.  There's
still the Archangel contingent's victory to look after, and the invasion of
the other Earth besides.  No one on the Daikuu Maryuu squad has any objection
to seeing these other battles through, meaning that a grand victory banquet
will have to wait.  Maybe a small one will work, once the Archangel returns.

See the other side for Angelica, Sheldia and Mist discussing the dangers of
the Selcelius.

One interesting question is what Gene intended to do after becoming ruler,
since he was killing off or mechanizing everyone in sight.  Gou figures that
Gene was so fixated on the becoming that he hadn't spent a single thought
on the aftermath.  And even if he had, he probably planned on a standard
reign of terror like a certain pirate captain Pai knows.  Mist starts giving
himself a headache contemplating whether Gene or Durandal would be worse for
the world: odds are that his habit of obsessing over stuff will never ever be
mended.  Maybe Gene wanted rulership of the whole of space, maybe he wanted
the destruction of all, but whatever the case, the only way to know for sure
would be to ask him.  Same goes for the Edax.

Anna wonders if they're on a campaign of invading useful worlds and destroying
non-useful worlds.  Mist bristles at the thought of Atreem being non-useful,
but it is an interesting question.  From the way Espair spoke, it would seem
Atreem and Bezzard aren't the only two planets laid waste by Edax... what might
they have in common, and what might differentiate them from the Earth(s)?
Angelica starts drafting a database query for Sakon to try to find out.

The MARZ agents won't "leave" their mecha, even for the banquet.  Chief says
MARZ regulations demand that anyone who sees them outside their mecha must be
put to death, which is his attempt at a joke.  It's not like MARZ is some
shadowy school of ninja or something.  Anyway, the Archangel returns victorious
right around then, and it's time for the (abbreviated) party to start!


28. Linkage

Preparations for the banquet are well underway, and Kouji and Kenji have
managed to sneak away from the group.  They're creeping through the 
Archangel's mechanical spaces en route to the women's hot springs, a luxurious
addition to the ship's decor that is about to see heavy use from the team's
ample store of heroines.  Of the two, Kouji is the more responsible, whispering
that this isn't the best time to go peeping... but notably not turning back
either.

By the sound of it, a good crop of bathers have just arrived, including
Shizuru(!), Lacus(!) and a gaggle of Fafner girls.  Also appearing are Lanba,
Tsubaki and Carmen.  Apparently the cooking is happening in shifts, and boy is
this a good shift to have off.  Hiding in the corner is Kanon, who's never had
occasion to strip in front of others before.  The more she cowers, the more the
other girls feel the uncontrollable need to _make_ her strip.  Good luck
resisting Shizuru and friends when they're on the prowl.  Annoying clothing
removed, Carmen observes that Kanon's "assets" can give Sakura a good run for
her money.  Maya of course has to feel to be sure, and the girls seem to be
having such a good time that Lacus announces that she simply must join in the
fun.  ...Zounds.

Kouji has been hurriedly searching for some kind of peephole, and manages to
find two small openings that just fit the bill.  Taking a deep breath, they
both attempt to look through, only to spot a... horse blocking their view.
The horse wanders off (to where?!?) and the boys finally get an unobstructed
view of... the men's hot spring, complete with a rather puzzled Zailin.
Oh ho ho, how droll.

The little banquet has indeed turned into a full-fledged celebration after all.
Galaga got predictably smashed, but Yassaba and Artham hit plenty of sauce
as well.  Gou laments that the adults should be setting a better example for
the kids, but Soushi assures him that the "kids" are old enough to put that
kind of thing in context for themselves.  After all, they've already seen the
adults on their island home in many lights already.

Sakon is rather regretting coming to the banquet, since it means getting
manhandled by Shizuka and Monko.  However, he quickly learns to like getting
his stiff shoulders rubbed.  He only has so much stomach capacity, and begs
out of the banquet to go attend to an errand in the hangar.  He does promise
Shizuka that he'll eat everything later.  Shizuka recommends that if Le Mii
wants him to eat more of her cooking, she should make more than just maruyaki.

By the way, remember that "Karin" the team rescued from Dig?  That turns out to
be none other than Artham's erstwhile younger sister!  She and Gain have had
their long awaited tete-a-tete, removing the need for a trip to London.  Maya
says that Artham is ecstatic over seeing his sister again, and is still pretty
tickled herself over the doings aboard the Archangel.  She recommends that
Kazuki go and hit the hot springs himself on his free time.

Speaking of Artham, the guy prances back into the party area happier than
ever.  Drunk off his ass, he shouts joyously that the villainous Gain's
dalliance with his sister was merely a one-night stand, hence nothing he need
worry about further.  His long days of lamenting his sister's honor are OVAH,
not that Karin ever wanted him to lament in the first place.  Truth be told,
Artham ran off in pursuit of Gain before even listening to her explanation.
This time, she drags him by the arm back to his room, determined that he should
sleep his drunkenness off in time for battle tomorrow.

Shinn is watching the brother-sister stuff from the sidelines, not so much
brooding as merely observing.  He thinks Mayu, Rei and Stella would be proud
of his maturation, and he's probably right.  Linna isn't thrilled about an
elder sibling acting like such an ass in front of their younger sibling, and
Soushi deadpans that he's never done that in front of Tsubaki... not that he's
even had the chance.  Tsubaki pats him on the head, saying how glad she is that
her brother is such a put-together guy.  Given how much this makes him blush,
the other girls wish Tsubaki could be out and about even more to make her
brother more interesting.

Wendy thinks about her brother Mihael, who was always a surrogate parent in her
life.  She's never had to drag him around by the hand until now, but since
Mamoru seems to want a responsible younger sister figure in his life, Wendy's
willing to offer her services.  She's surprisingly good at telling Mamoru to
shape up, having had lots of practice with Van.

Sakon, suffering a bit from overeating, radios in from the Daikuu Maryuu and
asks Mist and Sheldia to stop by.  The Selcelius is about ready for an
ignition test, requiring one or two more final adjustments back at Dannar Base.
Now, he's got good news and bad news for the pilots, and fearing they know
what the bad news will be, they ask for the good news first.  The good news
is that the combined mech can actually transform: its attack mode is the
Solvalius Rex, and its support mode is the Solvalius Regina.  Great for
adapting to a shifting tactical situation, that.

Now for the bad news.  Just combining the two mecha requires even more
emotional energy from the Crystal Heart than usual.  And once combined, the
Solvalius will of course have two Crystal Hearts on tap.  Exponentially more
kick-assfulness, and hence exponentially more potential to drain the pilot's
life force.  Sakon's research indicates that the Solvalius may even be
_infinitely_ powerful, meaning infinite strain on the pilot.  Result: infinite
deaditude.  Mist and Sheldia are prepared to face the peril, so Sakon won't
try to stop them.

Next he reports the latest findings on how the Crystal Heart works.  Emotions
have a major impact on the level and stability of its power output.  He has
hesitated to discuss it with them because of what he's observed about them, but
since they're both so prepared, he tells them what makes the Crystal Heart
work best: "Justice".  Uhh, justice?  Not "Truth" or "The American Way"?
Nope, Justice it is -- or perhaps "Love".  Negative stuff like "Jealousy",
"Hatred" or "Resentment" will certainly cause the Crystal Heart to consume
life force, but won't cause it to actually _output_ any more.  That's why
Mist's revenge-fuelled duel with Espair failed.  What Sakon can't figure is
why people like Sheldia or Angelica's father are able to make the Crystal Heart
go berserk; he can't imagine that the berserkness is an entirely faithful
representation of whatever Justice or Love might have triggered it.  His best
advice to Mist is to be as calm, unhurried, and un-angry as possible in
battle.

He apologizes for not having anything more concrete to go on, and Mist
contents himself with the prospect that he'll be able to combine soon.  Sheldia
lingers behind, guessing correctly that Sakon's line about "observing" pertains
to her.  She admits to being jealous of the concern Mist shows Angelica,
especially since the two of them can sortie together, and asks if that will
affect the likelihood of successful combination.  Sakon tells her that even
superficial emotions affect the Crystal Heart, and that though her jealousy
hasn't permeated her whole being, it's still enough to prevent her from
generating barriers like Angelica can.  He guesses that even if she barely
manages to Combine, she likely won't be able to maintain it.  The solution is
the "Sympathy" that pilots have for each other, which Sakon is sure will keep
Mist attached to Sheldia despite her issues.  He just hopes she can do whatever
she has to to get over her jealousy, for everyone's sake.  Sheldia considers
that, and thanks Sakon for all his help.  Hey, just repaying her for the
wonderful meal she helped prepare.

Elsewhere, Gasm phones in to Veliny with some important news.  She demands to
know where he's been, and he says that circumstances changed right in the
middle of his preparations for launch.  Before he can elaborate, she chews him
out roundly for having her cut the Gates' limiters.  When he hears about the
dimensional crack in the energy reservoir, Gasm stops Veliny's tirade mid-
sentence.  Limiter or otherwise, there's no way that such an inconvenient
event could be the result of mere "bad luck".  Veliny may not believe it, but
Gasm's sure that someone in her area is trying to interfere with their plans.
He'll look into it when he reaches Earth.  For now, he's got big news: Ru
Cobol is awake!

Apparently his principal Fragment is the strongest one among all those found
recently, and it also has some sort of strong connection to someone or
something on Earth.  This puzzles Veliny somewhat, but Gasm says that Ru
Cobol's senses far exceed his and Veliny's: he must have sensed something about
his principal Fragment that has piqued his interest.  Enough interest in fact
that Ru Cobol will be heading to Earth in person, probably in search of a
massive Fragment within whoever Ru Cobol's own Fragment is connected to.
Better Ru Cobol find it in person than the current plans to use Planet Crisis
continue -- should the Fragment get blown asunder by the explosion, it would
end up as a common soldier, and _that_ would require Ru Cobol to assimilate
every common soldier one at a time.

Ru Cobol might get rather pissy if he arrives on Earth and finds the Fragment
bearer already dead; hence, Gasm tells Veliny she'd best put the invasion of
Earth on hold.  On hold, when it's already behind schedule?!  Yup.  Gasm's
devised a new way to torment the Earthlings in the meantime, to avoid things
getting boring.  Veliny doesn't want responsibility for another one of his
hairbrained schemes, but she _would_ rather join as a participant than just
sit and watch.  After all, she hasn't had revenge on the Revlias yet.  He
promises that no Earthlings will _die_ from what he has planned, and has her
contact him as soon as the Gate is ready to bring him to Earth.  Just who on
Earth is it that Ru Cobol wants to see so badly, Veliny wonders...

Meanwhile, the Daikuu Maryuu fleet is ready to return to Earth, leaving Da Jin
in charge in La Kan's absence.  Sakon leaves Da Jin a pan-dimensional
communicator to radio in with in case something bad happens.  The timing is
good, since back on the other Earth Himika's forces are forging toward Build
Base on Kyuushuu.  Himika used the better half of the power she gained from
the Bronze Bell to break the barrier that imprisoned her forces.  She now
wants a recharge to have any hope of reaching Rangoon.

The Daikuu Maryuu fleet emerges safely from the Gate and immediately head to
Dannar Base... all except the Build Base crew, who need to go home for a bit
of TLC on their mecha (and, for the cybernetic Hiroshi, on his own body).  As
the two part ways, Mist dashes off to share the good news of his impending
combination with Angelica.  She doesn't exactly join in the jumping for joy,
far more concerned with seeing her father again.  Mist abruptly realizes that
he'd forgotten all about that little fiasco, and assures Angelica that he'll
do everything in his power to help her save the guy.

Angelica admits that she was more than a little jealous watching her father
treat Mist like his own son, spending the time to pound knowledge into him that
even she didn't have.  She muses on all the jealousy and rebelliousness she
felt watching all that training, and wishes that she'd been a more pious
daughter while she had the chance.  Mist tells her that she'll have plenty of
chances after they save her father, and that gets her fired up.  Mist tells
her he loves to see that fire in her, which makes her go quiet all of a
sudden (though she won't say why).  The PA system then tells all pilots to see
to maintaining their machines, and Mist and Angelica head to the hangar.

Back at Build Base, Shiba is glad to see his people back in one piece.  Hiroshi
tells the old scientist there's no need to worry for Michi's safety with him
around, and allows that Kenji is at least staying out from underfoot these
days.  The Build Angels aren't so warm with their praise, though Tsubaki is
willing to back Kenji up.  Whoa, does that mean she's falling for him or
something?  Shiba decks Kenji and tells him not to get so carried away.  Kyou
is most worried about what the Jama are up to, and Shiba tells him they haven't
done a thing since the Zone dispersed.  They're probably up to something, and
if the alarm klaxons are any indication, that something involves Build Base.
Hiroshi tells Shiba to radio to Dannar Base for help while he, Kenji and the
team hold the Jama off.

Himika tells her troops that their objective this time isn't scrapping Jeeg,
but capturing it intact.  She's simply got to have that Bronze Bell, and
delays the deployment of the Haniwa troops until Jeeg gets closer.  Kenji
doesn't listen to the others telling him to wait because something looks fishy,
launching a "preemptive" strike that quickly backfires.  But no sooner is
Kenji seized by Haniwa forces than a massive light breaks out and shields him.
Kyou declares to Himika that the Bronze Bell is protected by a barrier she
cannot breach, and tells Tsubaki to use this chance to rescue Kenji.

Some power slumbering within Tsubaki awakens at this moment, resonating with
the Bell and driving the Haniwa forces far apart.  Himika certainly wasn't
expecting this turn of events, and her commanders frantically sortie the
amphibious troops to keep the Jeegs at bay.  Good luck with that.

  The tactical situation only gets worse for Himika when the cavalry arrive.
  Her first impulse is to agree with her skittish lieutenants and withdraw,
  but she realizes that all confrontations with her foes are likely to go
  this way.  Unless, that is, there's something special about Tsubaki that
  she can use...  She orders Ikima to seize Tsubaki, which he does using a new
  and very swift Haniwa Phantom.  There's still the question of escaping, but
  that becomes easier when Veliny shows up and reestablishes ties with the
  Jama.  She tells them that their previous contact Espair was killed by this
  lot here, which is reason enough for Veliny to want them dead.  She orders
  Himika to flee while she provides cover.

  Veliny certainly isn't going to let Kenji and the crew pursue Himika's
  fleeing entourage.  And with her is Gasm, who doesn't take kindly to the team
  calling him by his body's old name Elric.  A shame Mist and friends can't
  sortie, since their mecha are being worked on, but hopefully he'll gallop
  right over as soon as repairs are done.

  Pummel Veliny and/or Gasm for a while and Mist and Angelica will finally get
  their asses onto the battlefield.  Sheldia will come shortly, once the final
  setup finishes for the combination system.  Angelica points out that even
  if Gasm doesn't have a daughter, _she_ has a father, whose body he happens
  to be using.  That was supposed to be a deep dark secret or something, but
  Angelica spouting it to the world shows just how much of her cool she's
  lost.  Gou tells Mist to back her up.  Realizing that his principal Fragment
  is Angelica's father makes things more interesting for Gasm, since he thinks
  she can't lay a finger on him-

  Actually, she attacks without even letting him finish the sentence: she's
  determined to beat his mech down and pry her father's body out.  That might
  not be the brightest tack to take, and Gasm irritably swats Angelica aside.
  Gasm declares that only the stupidest of daughters attack their own flesh and
  blood, making it all the more of a shame that she's got a Fragment.  Before
  he can blow her away however, Gasm starts spasming, as Angelica's father's
  own words pry their way out of Gasm's voicebox.

  He tells her not to worry about him and fire, since she might not get the
  chance again.  Gasm manages to regain enough composure to retreat under his
  own power, and Veliny has to wonder if the guy is okay.  Mist demands she
  tell them where Gasm went off to, and of course she won't do that.  Angelica
  tries to force the info out of her, but only gets lambasted for her pains.
  Mist manages to break Angelica's hysteria by pointing out that she'll die
  before ever seeing her father again at this rate.  Gotta be as cool as the
  other side of the pillow in combat, right?  Right.

  By the way, there's like the whole rest of the team on hand, not just Mist
  and friends.  Mist apologizes for his tunnel vision and promises to help
  speed up the process of getting Kyou and Tsubaki back as an apology.  He
  isn't very threatening when he demands Veliny give up Gasm's whereabouts, but
  his fists speak louder than his words.  Veliny decides that playtime is
  over, and tells Mist that she's going to make him pay for killing Espair.
  She won't kill him, but she'll hurt him so badly he'll wish he was dead.  Oh,
  and her name is "Veliny", not "hey you".

  She's blindingly fast, thanks to her animal-influenced reflexes and all the
  Zoid technology she lifted from the other Earth.  With the Revlias at her
  mercy, the rest of the team can't intervene, much to Gou's annoyance.  How
  many scrapes will Mist get himself into before he's satisfied?!  Veliny isn't
  surprised that the Revlias has been in trouble before, noting that its
  puny armor is almost begging for people to shoot it.  Without some kind of
  backup, it isn't very smart for Mist go charging in places, now is it?  As
  she prepares to torment him some more...

  ...Sheldia shows up on cue and interferes.  Imagine that.  Her mech is all
  tuned up, and she and Mist can theoretically combine at any time.  She pulls
  the "kokoro no junbi" [must... prepare... heart...] crap, and Mist reminds
  her of their time together on The Dukes Of^W^W^WBezzard.  There ought to be
  enough to work with, but whispers of jealousy still haunt Sheldia's heart.

  Combination: failure.  Veliny: irritated.  Angelica: hosed over in a bid to
  shield the defenseless Sheldia.  Angelica tells Sheldia to try again, and
  Mist is all spouting Allies-of-Justice talk about protecting the Earth from
  what befell Bezzard.  As Sheldia hesitates, Angelica demands to know if she
  was wrong to leave supporting Mist up to Sheldia: can't she fight better by
  Mist's side than Angelica could?!  Or does Sheldia want Angelica to
  un-give up on being Mist's significant other?!  Mist can't figure out what
  the heck the womenfolk are talking about, but Sheldia has now realized just
  how stupid her jealousy is.

  This time, combination succeeds, and Gou and Ron reluctantly leave the joy
  of beating Veliny down to Mist.  Veliny is more than a little aggravated that
  everyone seems to think her doom is sealed, but Mist assures her his little
  stunt is no idle threat.  He delivers a severer beating than Veliny has ever
  had in her life, and she barely manages to flee entrailus intactus.  Sheldia
  is definitely feeling the strain of such an outpouring of power, which she
  thinks is mainly her fault for getting so worked up, but Mist assures her
  she's doing great.

Michi orders everyone back to base, _especially_ Kenji whose solo action is
partly to blame for Tsubaki's capture.  There's also Angelica's father to think
about.  Only after the team has a strategy will they go after Tsubaki, a fact
Kenji is very slow to accept.  But as he finally turns toward the base, he
catches sight of something like a tiger.  It's gone in a twinkling, and Kenji
has to wonder if his eyes are playing tricks on him.  But he clearly remembers
Kyou referring to it as Balba, and wonders why it was all staring at him.

Veliny is still fuming over her near-death experience when she returns to
base, but Gasm tells her there's no time for that.  Ignoring him, she wonders
if the combo-Revlias' pilots are sleeping together or something; if not,
there's no way they'd make that good a combination.  Just the thought of the
nookie she's not getting redoubles her ire, and she demands to know why Gasm
let a little headache get the better of him.

Not a little headache, he says.  His principal Fragment is trying to awaken,
and if he's not careful it could kick his entire personality out.  Veliny's
still not listening to him, claws out and in dire need of eviscerating
someone.  Not Gasm, fortunately for him, but rather the Revlias' pilots.
Veliny is past the point of caring that Ru Cobol ordered them to leave everyone
on Earth alive -- surely he won't miss one or two pesky Earthlings.  Gasm
tries to point out that Ru Cobol's senses are far sharper and longer-ranged
than that, but Veliny tells the ailing guy to shut up, unless he'd rather she
cut him open instead.  Gasm can only vainly clutch at air as she stalks off
for revenge.

The rest of the pilots congratulate Mist on his amazing attack, not seen since
two thousand years ago on Atreem.  Mist hadn't really thought about it, but
those folk back then must have been really desperate to construct war machines
like this.  What's more, that attack was actually incomplete due to Sheldia
not bringing her Crystal Heart to full potential.  Mist assures her that 
they'll get the hang of combination fighting and be at full power for the next
battle, which of course will increase the strain on both of them.  Gainer asks
if there's any way to lessen the strain, and Mist says that he's all too
familiar with ways to _heighten_ it at least.  Any turbulence in one's
emotional state is Not Good(tm) when using Crystal Heart power.

Sakura sniffs that big flashy attacks aren't everything, and is about to go
into her judo reversal-technique tirade when the guys on her team shush her
up.  Or try to: she instead hauls them off for some high-impact training.
Nearby, Kira is pondering the Crystal Heart system, one which turns sentiment
directly into firepower.  He's not so much worried about the system itself,
but of the threat it was originally constructed to combat.  If it was a case
of "eye for an eye", it could well be that it was made for use against other
members of the society that created it.

Wendy wonders if she could use a system like that to get her brother back, but
Van unexpectedly pops up and tells her not to rely on shortcuts like that.
She figured he was goofing off, but he and Enge's group have actually been
helping with Mira's rehabilitation [@_@!]  Tsubaki (the other one) has come
from sickbay briefly to remind everyone that life doesn't always take the
convenient path, especially reminding Japoli of that fact.  Tsubaki isn't
seen very often, but she's quite pretty and always has something useful to
say: quite a catch, if someone could find the right bait...

Galaga is a bit miffed that there's no time for sightseeing, explaining to
Shinn that he's got to keep his mind off the constant fighting somehow.  Shinn
can't shake off his worries that easily, but Priscilla tells him he ought to
just worry more and get it all out of his system, so that when he does he'll
grow up to be an awesome adult.  Her mother once told her that actions are
better than worries, and she skips off humming.  Shinn has started to see a
future for himself after all this fighting is done, which shows that he's
already maturing considerably.  The conversation gets halted by the arrival
of conference time -- Mist reckons that rescuing Tsubaki will take precedence
over rescuing Elric.


29. Break the Lonely Curse

Michi knows that Himika is after Tsubaki's newly-awakened powers, which -- to
make things simple -- could enable Himika to steal the Bronze Bell currently
built into Jeeg.  It will be difficult to mount a rescue operation when it's
not clear where Tsubaki's been taken to; Michi guesses the old Jama base in
Aso, but can't be sure.  As Kenji is getting increasingly impatient, a badly
shaken Kyou radios in.  He lost consciousness during the Haniwa assault, and
woke somewhere in the Aso mountains.  He can't immediately see Himika's
entourage, but from the dreadful presence he senses he presumes they must be
nearby.  He announces that he'll be going to save Tsubaki by himself, but Michi
tells him firmly to wait until the rest of teh team arrives.  Kenji sniffs that
there's nothing Kyou could do by himself anyway, to which Kyou says that he can
do _everything_ by himself if need be.  Shiba shouts for him to do no such
thing -- Kyou's body won't withstand the strain.  Kyou reluctantly agrees to
wait, and the commanders get ready to sortie their forces at once.
Unfortunately, helmsman Rongo is currently wearing nothing but his boxers,
claiming [suspiciously] that he's come down with a bit of a cold.  Lulu doesn't
want him to strain himself, but he's the only one who can properly steer the
Daikuu Maryuu.  Command of the operation falls to Gaury.

As expected, Himika intends to use Tsubaki's resonance with the Bronze Bell
to break the mystical barrier surrounding it.  Himika considers dispatching
Tsubaki as a pawn of hers to steal the Bell, but thinks it might be fun to do
it herself instead -- one last amusement before seeing Rangoon.  Gil pops out
of nowhere and tells her she needn't waste her strength.  Sure, he's been
incommunicado for a while after tendering his initial offer of aid, but he's
now come to make good.  Would Himika and her crew like a trip to the Moon?
Espair wouldn't let him offer that service before, but since Espair is now
kaput, he'll gladly extend a lunar invitation in the interest of stealing that
pesky Bronze Bell.

Himika doesn't care how she gets to Rangoon, and is willing to take Gil up on
his offer.  Gil does have a condition though: he wants to borrow Tsubaki, as
well as a few troops.  See, the Earthlings heading to Aso right now are the
same ones that offed Espair, and he says he owes them some payback.  Even
the loan of Tsubaki doesn't bother Himika: if she can get to the moon, the
whole barrier-neutralizing business is moot anyway.  Still, she doesn't
entirely trust Gil, and leaves Ikima behind to keep a sharp lookout.

Gil then phones up Veliny with the story that he's been hiding out waiting for
his wounds to heal -- wounds supposedly incurred in the battle that claimed
Espair's life.  Veliny snaps that he should have at least sent a postcard or
something, and Gil tells her to think of it as his foolish pride as a former
space-pirate.  Veliny scoffs that "space-pirate pride" is what caused the
Bunker to lose to Edax in the first place.  Ignoring that, Gil tells her that
Himika wants help defeating the Earthlings headed to Aso, a crew that includes
the Revlias.  That's great timing for Veliny, who urgently wants to spill the
Revlias' guts all over the pavement.  However, she hasn't lost her ability to
plan: she tells Gil to buy her a little time and promises to come shortly
with a neato surprise in hand.  She tells him only that it'll freeze the
Earthlings where they stand, and Gil tells her not to take too long.  You
guessed it: it's Overdevil time!

Just as the flotilla of good guys is about to launch, Gil radios them long
enough to say that Himika is _really_ sick of waiting on their slow asses.
They'd better get moving if they know what's good for them!  Mu. Ah. Ha. Ha.
*click*  Right, now that we got that out of the way, let there be mayhem.  Gil
tells Ikima he expects to kill the Earthlings without a fight: they have this
bad habit of turning powerless when one of their own gets taken hostage.
Ikima is scandalized at Gil's unfair way of fighting.

The rescue operation will start with Kyou opening a hole in the Jama's outer
defenses.  Monko promises Gaury a hug if the plan succeeds, rather sapping his
motivation.  Gainer tells Sara he has a bad feeling about this, and Cynthia
has to agree.  As Daiya tells Gainer not to get depressed and join Rongo on
the DL, Gil gets on the PA and outlines his first demand: Mia Alice's life in
return for Tsubaki.  Mia says she's willing to make that trade, but before she
even gets the chance, Ikima belays Gil's statement and says that _he_ will
personally keep Tsubaki safe until the battle is over.  He brushes off Gil's
claim that he wants to "assure" victory, and challenges Gil to prove his
strength as a "warrior" in straight-up battle.  Even Hiroshi, with a long
history of battling the Jama, doesn't know what to make of this... but he
_suspects_ that Ikima is a man of his word.  Kyou tells Gaury to stay ready,
just in case Ikima or any of his associates proves unfaithful.

Meanwhile, Veliny is getting ready to use the Overdevil, despite Malchio's
objections.  Veliny notes that he's pretty spry for a guy with the lower half
of his body frozen by the Overdevil, and he counters that anyone with half a
brain would perk up when an immature catgirl tries to wield an Overdevil.
Kids tells Malchio not to be like that: after all, Veliny saved him from the
Agate Crystal's core.  Not like he asked her to or anything: besides, he
officially died the moment he was Overfrozen.  Veliny's happy to kill Malchio
again, now that she's extracted the secrets of Oversense from his brain
scans.  Veliny's claim that the Overdevil is now her faithful servant rings
rather false to Malchio, but she tells him to watch the proof for herself.
She aims a monitor at him and tells him to watch as she uses the Overdevil to
rid herself of a certain annoying pest.

Kids is already salivating over the thought of having an Overdevil's power to
restart his plans of world domination.  Malchio would hand him a napkin if he
could; instead, he points out that the Overdevil is probably just pretending
to obey, so it can get at a human with real Oversense even more powerful than
the synthesized version of Malchio's own...

  The rest of the team clears a path for Kenji to reach Ikima.  Shortly after
  combat begins, Balba shows up again.  Kyou hesitates as Balba attacks
  Kenji, who doesn't have time to tangle with the beastie.  He's got to rescue
  Tsubaki, even at the cost of his own life, and apparently shouting about it
  enough to convince Balba that he's not actually one of the bad guys.
  According to Kyou, this means Kenji can now summon Balba whenever he needs
  it, which is cool and all but shouldn't distract from the rescue mission.

  Whether or not you actually shoot down Gil, he grouses that his carefully-
  laid plans have been messed up by Ikima's interference.  He bugs out before
  taking any permanent damage.  Meanwhile, Kenji reaches Ikima without
  incident, and Ikima is as good as his word to hand Tsubaki over.  However,
  before he can do so, Gil shows back up and shoots Ikima's ship, determined to
  at least kill Tsubaki and watch the Earthlings writhe in agony.  Enter Gaury,
  whose Yapanese ninja training (after Ikima gives him directions) frees
  Tsubaki from the burning ship with mere seconds to spare.  None the worse
  for wear, she's ready to fight immediately.

  And good thing too, since Ikima now challenges Kenji to a duel.  The damage
  Gil inflicted doesn't concern him at all, and he's determined to defeat
  Kenji even if it means wrecking his ship the rest of the way.  Game on then!

  Ikima is a pretty honorable warrior, for a bad guy.  He goes down in flames
  anyway, leaving the team to ponder why Himika would abruptly abandon Tsubaki
  and vanish.  They don't get to ponder long, since Veliny, Overdevil in tow,
  Gates in in short order.  Her big idea is to Overfreeze the whole team,
  which won't _technically_ kill them and hence shouldn't earn her Ru Cobol's
  ire.  In theory.  She doesn't care that Gil already got his ass-handing,
  saying that she would have frozen him too if he was still here, and warns
  Mist that she plans to demolish the Revlias after it's frozen.  She then
  withdraws, leaving the team to contend with the Overdevil.

  No surprise that the Overdevil doesn't go down easily.  Once again, it's
  incumbent on Gainer to use Overheat, summoning all the courage his loving,
  Justice(tm)-filled heart can muster.  Gainer catches a momentary glimpse of
  some sort of female figure, but brushes it aside in an attempt to pull off
  Overheat.  The best he can come up with is a renewed declaration of his love
  for Sara, and she responds in kind.  The power of Youth(tm) carries the day:
  the Overdevil is easily overwhelmed, and even Van can see how studly the kid
  has become.

  Unfortunately, Veliny is still around, and spirits the Overdevil away before
  Gainer can truly eradicate it.  She grumps that she'll have to restart her
  research if she wants to have any chance of beating naturally-generated
  Overskills.  Her plan now is to make her foes _half_-dead; Mist's plan of
  course is to beat Elric's whereabouts out of her.  As Mist powers up, Roll
  thinks that Gil surely wouldn't withdraw this easily... what's he up to?

  What he's up to is waiting for Veliny to get her shapely ass handed to her
  by Mist.  Gil jumps out of hiding and starts blasting her, recounting aloud
  how hard it was to gather the remnants of the Bunker back together after the
  Dangaioh destroyed their leader.  No sooner had he finished reconstituting
  the Bunker than Veliny's troops appeared and blew the whole thing to Hell
  again, leaving Gil no choice but to pretend to be their lackey until things
  began to go his way.  He intends to take over Edax in its entirety, meaning
  rubbing out folks like Espair (weakened and then fed to the buzzsaw that is
  Earth military might) or Veliny (whose energy facilities he sabotaged).  As
  was the case with Espair, he leaves Veliny to the Earthlings' tender mercies.

  Mist and friends didn't hear the conversation between Gil and Veliny, but
  seeing Veliny prostrated gives him the chance he's wanted.  The colossal
  strike damages Veliny's mech far beyond repair, and she finally tells Mist
  where he'll see Gasm.  Gasm will be coming to find him, with Ru Cobol at his
  side.  And even if Veliny loses her body here, Ru Cobol will absorb her
  Fragment and make her a part of him.  Her only regret is that she won't
  get to hear Ru Cobol call her name with her own ears.

Ru Cobol who?  Who knows.  Why would Gil betray the Edax?  Who knows... except
Gil himself!  He helpfully shows up to remind the team that he's still out for
revenge on Mia, but that he's even more concerned with using Edax to put the
Bunker back together.  Still, he reckons that the team must be all banged up
after throwing down with Veliny and the Jama, and hence maximally vulnerable
to his blandishments.  BOY is this guy deluded.

  He's also quick to rescind his whole "today you die" speech when it looks
  like he the one who might lose.  Unfortunately for him, he's not the only
  one with a trick up his sleeve: the Dangaioh team have cooked up a special
  move _juuuuust_ for him.  No time to Gate away from the combined power of
  all four Espers, and like Veliny before him his mech gets trashed beyond
  any hope of recovery.  Before the explosion claims him, he gloats that his
  fellow Bunker survivors are sure to reconstruct the pirate syndicate, and
  come after the Dangaioh sooner or later.  Their fight will _never_ end!

Uhhh, actually, coming in pursuit of the Dangaioh will just make the other
Bunker survivors that easier to spot and kill.  Anyway, Tsubaki is back safe
and sound, clearly not to blame for getting captured.  Several mysteries still
remain, such as where (and why) Himika went, where Gasm/Elric is, and what this
Ru Cobol guy's deal is.  At least the team's been promised that Gasm should
show up soon, no doubt mixed up with the remaining Jama, the Mimetic Beasts
(remember them?) and the Festoom.  While pondering all these mysteries, the
team heads back to Build Base.

Gasm is furious at the news of Veliny's defeat... which _wouldn't_ have
happened had he been well enough to accompany her.  One of Veliny's followers
was entrusted with delivering something to Gasm: a memory chip with data on the
taloned man's Happy Time Project.  Veliny thought the mechanics would be of use
to Ru Cobol, and helped shepherd it to about 90% completion.  She was really
looking forward to Ru Cobol praising her good work, and Gasm knows how much
Veliny must have regretted her premature end.  He vows to find Veliny's
Fragments and feed them directly to Ru Cobol, but Veliny's servant wonders if
Gasm might be able to actually reconstitute Veliny instead.

The probability is _very_ nearly zero, since her Fragments are already
scattered across space.  While it might be possible to reassemble them after
the Earth is destroyed with Planet Crisis, all the Minus Energy from the
Earthlings and the assorted Fragments from Espair are also mixed in: it will
be a practical impossibility to put Veliny together again _exactly_ the way
she was before.  Is she asking Gasm to revive Veliny at the cost of bringing
all of Espair's plans to naught?  Would Veliny really be happy by him doing
something detrimental to Ru Cobol?  Umm, not exactly.  Gasm tells her that
he _does_ intend to gather Veliny's Fragments and might even be able to revive
her personality, but it won't happen immediately since he's only just acquired
his new principal fragment himself.  He can't promise her a miracle, but he
will do everything in his power to get the Fragments together once all the
Minus Energy of Earth has been extracted.  As Veliny's servant thanks him
profusely, he bids a silent farewell to those beings that were Veliny,
possibly not to be seen until Ru Cobol unifies all things.


30. [Route Split]

No sooner does Cagalli set foot in Build Base than a message comes in from
Makabe.  The Federation has decided to throw all its remaining warpower into
an assault on the Festoom's North Polar base.  Tsubaki says that they really
shouldn't do that under normal circumstances, but these circumstances are
far from normal.  That is, the "Miel" at the North Pole must not be allowed to
mature.  Whatchu talkin' 'bout Willis?  It goes like this:

The Festoom are starting to fragment, with one faction actually desiring
coexistence with humans instead of assimilating them.  This doesn't exactly
ring true with all the Fafner kids who've lost loved ones to the Festoom
assault, but Tsubaki points out that fighting until one side is totally
wiped out isn't precisely attractive either.  Much like the Coordinator/Natural
schism, there is a chance for a peaceful resolution with the Festoom, who
despite appearances aren't fighting out of hatred or animal instinct.

Makabe has plenty more to explain on the topic, but there's no time now.  He
wants the Fafner kids to return to the Dragon Pavilion before heading to the
North Pole.  They will _participate_ in the Federation operation, but not
assist in it as such -- their purpose will be to assist the Festoom who want
coexistence to weather the Federation assault.  Makabe hopes the Daikuu Maryuu
and Archangel will help too, but their commanders are every bit as dubious as
the Fafner kids about the practicality of befriending silicon-based life forms.
Makabe understands this, and tells them he can show them undeniable proof on
his island.  Cagalli will reserve judgement until she sees this "proof", but
she and the other commanders are willing to give him a fair hearing.

Just as the armada is about to embark, Proist sends out a world-wide radio
broadcast.  She's given the Surface dwellers three chances to surrender to
the Darius Empire, but they've foolishly ignored all of them and kept
resisting.  By "they", Proist is referring to a coalition of forces from Orb
and the world-wide network of research labs, the (second-to-) last line of
defense against the formidable Darius menace.  Yuuna rises a bit in Cagalli's
estimation for having the balls to achieve that much.

Proist claims to have held off the wholesale slaughter of the surface-dwellers
as long as she could -- for "humanitarian" reasons -- but even her saint's
patience has finally been exhausted.  The new hotness therefore is:  "DIE,
MOTHERFUCKER SCUM!"  She shows everyone footage of a gargantuan mech called
the Dobolzark, the very flower of Darian science.  This is the last warning:
kneel before her, or get your asses torn limb from limb.  The end!

To make matters worse, another transmission comes in from Dannar Base, which
is under assault by a massive number of Mimetic Beasts.  Kiriko begs at least
the Dannar folks to head back pronto before her transmission is cut off.
Oh gosh, three scenarios, all incredibly urgent.  Time to split up again.

  [The Fafner route is 30A.  The Darius route is 30B.  The Godannar route is
  30C.]


30A. Farewell to Love (part 1)

The Festoom are a terrifying foe, and there's every danger that Mist will
get his heart read if he keeps wearing it on his sleeve.  He'll have to watch
out for that one.

All this time, Yukie has been ensconced at the Federation's secret Fafner
research center, trying to learn to pilot the Zalvartol model Fafner with
what Mitsuhiro calls "the fate of mankind" resting on her shoulders.  She's
been given drugs that accelerate her Festoom Factor, stressing her body to the
point of death and considerably shortening her lifespan, just so she can get
the damn mech to work.  This is her Happy Time alright.  It's also Mitsuhiro's
Sad Time(tm), since Idun has just completed his survey of the facility.  All
human knowledge and emotion are about to be assimilated.

Mitsuhiro is too late to get the Fafner's cockpit sealed, and Yukie feels her
body begin to crystallize.  Sucks to be her.  Also sucks to be Mitsuhiro, who
collapses into a heap of maniacal laughter upon seeing his dreams shattered so
abruptly.  Idun blows the guy away with Yukie still in contact, and her
outpouring of hatred at the act seems to resonate with the Festoom agent...

Back aboard the Archangel, the Fafner pilots reminisce over all the things
that have happened in the brief time they've been off the island.  Likely their
classmates won't believe that they've been to another world -- and if not for
this recall order, they'd currently be in the Darius-verse at this very moment.
Sakura is still way on edge with the Festoom showdown looming, treating every
slain Festoom as another flower for her father's grave.  Priscilla, knowing
that Sakura is a martial artist, gently suggests that she try fighting
naturally instead of keeping herself so psyched, but Sakura tells her that
she's far too weak.

She knows full well that playing hard isn't going to do her or her father any
good, but she knows nothing else to do.  Kenji tells her that he'll become her
strength and her father figure, which only makes her madder.  Kenji's long list
of personality defects make him the diametric opposite of her father!  On the
other hand, he cares for her, and caring for someone can make someone a lot
stronger than they seem.  And truth be told, part of Sakura's reticence is a
desire to not see him get hurt.  Mamoru for his part wants do do whatever he
can to keep the both of them safe.

Something odd happens just then: Sakura feels the sensation of her own heart
disappearing, and collapses to the floor.  It's as though she's been
Assimilated, and Soushi has her rushed to Chizuru in sickbay.  She's able to
apply medicine to keep the process from advancing any further, but doubts
Sakura will ever regain consciousness.  Now how could this have happened when
there are no Festoom in sight?  ...Very good question, with a very good
answer that Soushi and the adults have been keeping secret all this time.

Here goes: all pilots of the Northung Fafners will eventually end up like
Sakura.  They've all had Festoom Factor grafted into them, and every time they
pilot their mecha, they "die" a little more, or more precisely, their bodies
undergo crystallization from changes in their chromosomes.  Chizuru's research
all along has been on how to avoid the effect, which might help the other
pilots but comes seemingly too late for Sakura.

Let's put it flippantly: it sucks to be the Fafner pilots, whose very genetic
makeup carries the seeds of their own destruction.  The fact that the kids
haven't just thrown in the towel to begin with shows just how strong they are.
And who knows: maybe someone back at the Dragon Pavilion might know how to
bring Sakura back.  There's a decent chance, since Makabe's people have been
fed data from the Festoom themselves.

Makabe gathers everyone together in the conference room and tells of a Festoom
attack several days ago, as in when all his Fafners were off on derring-do.
The Federation forces certainly couldn't have helped, and the only way the base
was saved was by the intervention of another Festoom, one spotted before but
never before communicated with.  This time, she appeared as a woman in white:
the same woman who gave Kazuki the Mark Zein in Moldova.

The Festoom, called Mjolnir, explains that when human personalities are
absorbed by the Festoom collective, they never linger long and are eventually
subsumed into the whole.  But for some reason, Akane's personality not only
retained its own cohesion, it began to coalesce other personalities around
it.  It took ten long years, but that set of factors finally achieved critical
mass, and the result is Mjolnir herself.  The Festoom don't know why Akane, of
all the people they assimilated, caused this phenomenon, but they do know one
thing: at the moment of assimilation, Akane accepted it willingly.

Her former husband Commander Makabe is of course rather reluctant to accept
that explanation, but it's the only one Mjolnir can offer.  What the Festoom
do when they assimilate or destroy is their attempt to "bless" the universe,
and Akane somehow turned that on its ear by actually _understanding_ them for
what they are.  And if Akane can understand the Festoom, other humans could
do so too, which is what the "Miel" at the North Pole is all about.

Note that getting all of mankind to an understanding with all the Festoom could
take _quite_ a while.  Mjolnir has prepared a Core that will unlock all the
mysteries to how she achieved critical mass, but it's currently under assault
in the Arctic Ocean.  If the Core should be destroyed, it will be as though
Mjolnir (and Akane) never were.  She wants Makabe's help to destroy her own
fellow Festoom, and is prepared to offer what aid she can.  Translation:
assloads of useful data piped straight into the Alvis computers.

Mjolnir promised that, thanks to the ongoing echoes of Akane's personality,
it will be possible to halt the Fafner kids' Assimilation if her core can be
rescued.  Makabe has agreed to go along with the Federation expedition so he
can recover this Core and set the stage for coexistence with the Festoom.
Far better that than fight to the last man/Festoom.  Kenji isn't a very
enthusiastic supporter until Chizuru assures him that rescuing the Core will
likely give enough data to get Sakura's consciousness back for good.

That pretty much settles it: everyone on the team, Van included, are up for
improving the future of mankind.  Even the timid Mamoru is fired up, and
actually looking forward to hero lectures from the El Dora geezers so he can
one day cast away his mask.  It all goes down in three days, and until then
the team has a bit of time off.

Mamoru goes home to visit his parents, who aren't around.  His father's PC
is on though, and on it are storyboards from Goubein.  Meanwhile, Kanon is
voluntarily getting Festoom Factor embedded in her so she can become a fully
capable Northung pilot, and full-fledged member of the team.  Since Kanon is
so resolute, her mother has little choice but to agree to the procedure.

Mamoru learns that his father has actually been _recreating_ Goubein from
memory, drawing it especially for his son's sake since the original is long
gone.  He is, in some sense, the island's one and only mangaka!

Michio, like Kanon, has a dangerous request: medicine that will accelerate the
workings of his body and let him pilot a Northung instead of his usual
Megatherion.  The problem is the after-effects, which are feared to be _rapid_
Assimilation.  Michio is already at the official limit for fighting duration
in any Fafner, and Yumiko tells him that no one would blame him for stopping
now.  No one, perhaps, except himself and the numerous lives he's taken to get
to this day.  He asks Yumiko to marry him once this battle is over, which
_really_ means he'd better stay safe.

Something shows up on radar, approaching the island fast.  Mamoru gives Wendy
his mask to hang onto while he goes out and fights.  It's pretty important to
him, and that's why he chose _her_ in particular to hang onto it.  The bad
guys are indeed Festoom, who seem bent on stopping the Dragon Pavilion from
even reaching the Arctic Circle.  With Michio and Kanon now piloting Northungs
of their own, that shouldn't slow the team down much.

  Kenji grows quickly impatient as the battle drags on, and we already know
  how successful rushing ahead of the group is.  Mamoru goes to help his
  comrade, and apparently trades his own life for Kenji's.  There's no time
  for angst though, as Borg-Yukie shows up.  The Festoom have learned hatred
  from her, and intend to hate the good guys to death.  Kazuki will have to
  muster his determination to attack his former teacher.

  Borg-Yukie doesn't go down easily, nor does she heed Michio's entreaties to
  eject and possibly be saved by Chizuru.  Suddenly, she transforms into Idun,
  who starts trying to hack into the island's computers.  And the last thing
  Michio wants is his remaining friends on the island getting hurt.  When he
  tries to intervene, he gets damaged thoroughly enough that he can't even
  move away from the Festoom.  He can however take the Festoom with him, using
  the Fenrir system.

  Unfortunately, it appears he can't eject in time, and it appears that the
  Festoom only managed to learn hatred without tempering it with anything else.
  What's worse, Idun suddenly reappears and unleashes some kind of paralyzing
  energy wave, after which he starts blasting the island.  His objective is
  stealing the Siegfried System, Soushi and all, and Kazuki isn't able to
  prevent the theft.

The Festoom retreat to God-knows-where, and the best the team can do is return
to Alvis and try to regroup.  Makabe figures that the Festoom must have learned
of the Siegfried System's existence when they stole the Zalvartol.  Apparently
they wanted the thing, though for what reason none present can say.  Soushi
will have to be assumed Assimilated.  As the team tries to comprehend the loss
of three of their comrades, alarms go off for what appears to be "Akane"
trying to communicate.  Makabe goes to talk to her alone, asking everyone to
wait for his return.  Tsubaki is the only one to accompany him.


30B. Final Battle of the Three Great Maryuu

That big mech of Proist's looks pretty mean, and no one knows what it does
just yet.  Best to have Mist and his variable-geometry mech available to
quickly adapt to the situation.

Doctor C goes to see the emperor Darius, having heard that the Gate of Zayla
has opened.  It has indeed, by the design of their ancient ancestors who
foresaw that the Darius-verse would one day collapse.  They created the means
for colonists to flee the calamity: a portal that autonomously wanders space
in search of a suitable destination.  It would seem that a destination has
been found, and Darius tells Doctor C to restart the Ark project... as a backup
in case his beloved daughter's takeover of the Earth falls through.  Doctor C
is grateful even to be working on plan B, and agrees to keep the endeavor
secret even from Proist for now.  It would seem that Darius' main motivation
is to ensure that Proist has _some_ world to govern when it's her turn to be
emperor.

The Daikuu Maryuu isn't headed directly to the Darius capital, which is
brimming with civilians that Lulu doesn't want to catch in the crossfire to
come.  Unlike some of the team's other missions where time was of the essence,
the team intends to take its time and stage this battle somewhere where
collateral damage isn't a concern.  And sure enough, no sooner do the Darius
sight the Daikuu Maryuu than they send the Daichi Maryuu and Tenkuu Maryuu
barreling in.  If the team can hold them off, Proist is sure to come and
afford them the opportunity to take her fearsome (-looking) mech down.

...However, Sakon throws a wrinkle into the battle plans.  He's hoping to take
back the other Maryuus intact if possible, envisioning infiltrating them and
taking over their bridges.  Linna wants the assignment: she can't pilot a Zoid
like her sister, so she feels she's got to make herself useful somehow.  Kotona
briefly explains that she and Linna are both of the "Mercury Clan", entrusted
with protecting certain ancient secrets in Iron Lock.  Anyone learning those
secrets must die, and all of Kotona's childhood friends have been trained to
deal out that death in a variety of ways.  Sneaking aboard the enemy ship
should be a piece of cake.  Once one of the other Maryuus is subdued, Sakon
(with Shizuka defending him) and Daimon will take the controls and put it to
work for the good guys once more.

A nasty surprise awaits on the battlefield: Suspage is controlling the Vulking,
despite his lack of Red Flame powers.  He proudly tells Sakon that Proist
gave him a little gadget that converts the power of his Black Flames into
Red.  Behind his braggadocio is an intense desire to regain his position as
general from the upstart foursome that currently hold it.  Norza and Cain are
ready to rumble (and probably die in the process), as is Vestarnne -- all of
them have been sent to the front lines as punishment for disobeying Proist.
The Daikuu Maryuu pilots can tell that something is wrong with the enemy
generals, but can't get them to spit out what.  Hopefully, taking out the
enemy leader (Suspage) will break the Darius' ranks enough to get that
infiltration underway.

  [Don't shoot down any of the other commanders, or it's GEEMU OVAA.]

  Suspage is sadly mistaken when he thinks he's Number One, consumed by his
  mech's massive explosion.  Unfortunately, offing him doesn't make the other
  commanders reconsider this fight: guess they'll all have to die too until
  the original mission goal is met.  Go after the Daichi Maryuu next, and
  reduce it to 10% or less without shooting it down.

  The Daichi Maryuu is pretty fragile for a supposed terror-weapon, and the
  Daikuu Maryuu soon gets its chance to insert Linna and friends.  But as
  Rongo gets ready to move the helm, he collapses to the floor instead.  His
  little appearance in his boxers wasn't because he's got a cold, but because
  he's actually injured.  He confided this to his protege Naoto with strict
  instructions not to spill the beans, but if there's any time for bean
  spilling, it's now.  Naoto has Rongo talk him through working the helm --
  the kid's got the Fire in his belly, and good thing too since Rongo's been
  ailing ever since the battle in Dig.

  Naoto manages to get the Daikuu Maryuu in position, and as the boarding
  party jumps across the gap Lee finds himself fretting about Vestarnne.  He
  hastily asks Lulu for permission to go and save her, and although Lulu is
  taken aback by the sudden request, she grants it.  Linna may be the trained
  killer, but Shizuka isn't far behind on the lethality scale thanks to her
  obscene strength.  They quickly make their way to the bridge, where the
  final obstacle is Vestarnne herself.

  She's determined to fight to the last for the sake of her beloved lord
  Proist, and she's not bad in hand-to-hand combat.  But Linna is all about
  boot-to-rectum combat, and Vestarnne is about to be on the receiving end
  when Lee bursts in.  He asks to be the one to deal with Vestarnne, and Linna
  reluctantly agrees to let him try -- with the stipulation that she'll
  end Vestarnne's life if Lee fails.

  As they fight, Lee senses some kind of black flames wreathing Vestarnne's
  aura.  That leaves him only one option, and he appears to drop his guard.
  He tells Vestarnne to come to him just as she would into the arms of a lover.
  Vestarnne prepares to put him out of his insolent misery, but he's got an
  ougi up his sleeve: Shin-Ryuu-Ken Gokui, Reppa-Hasai-Ken!  It works, snapping
  Vestarnne out of her Black Flame-induced hypnosis.  She recalls that she was
  sent here as a punishment for disobeying Proist, but Lee doesn't have much
  time to explain what's been going on lately.

  Sakon and Daimon get the Daichi Maryuu running again, and Lulu is about to
  have it join the battle when Vestarnne asks to take command.  She knows
  Lee's crew are out for revenge on Proist, and she certainly wants a piece of
  that.  With Lee's added endorsement, Lulu gives Vestarnne the comm, and
  Vestarnne promises to thank her fully after the battle.

  The Tenkuu Maryuu is next on the liberation list, but it won't be easy with
  Norza guarding it.  When Daiya notes that something's weird about Norza,
  Vestarnne guesses that he too has been put under Black Flame hypnosis.  Lee
  knows how Daiya can break it: use Reppa-Hasai-Ken on him.  And since it's
  not likely he'll just sit still for that, the team will have to smack him
  around until he's immobile (but still alive) first.

  Before this can get underway, several new units show up.  Proist gets on
  the radio and gripes about many incompetent fools she's got working for her.
  She orders Norza not to fuck up too, especially since she's sent him some
  reinforcements.  No such dice: the team cripple Norza's mech and Daiya moves
  in for the ougi action.  Norza in fact returns to his senses, the last thing
  he remembers being interrogated and then hypnotized by Proist.

  Underlings these days, I mean really.  In high dudgeon now, Proist announces
  that she's got four new generals to replace the crappy old ones: Nikita,
  Termina, Banishurm and Higant.  All of them are faithful Proist lackeys, and
  all of them are about to get solidly rebuffed.  Norza wants to help in the
  fight, since Proist trampled his pride as a knight and lost his loyalty
  forever.  Daiya's happy to have Norza on the good guys' side for a change.
  And wherever Norza goes, Cain goes too.  You'd think Proist would be at least
  a little concerned with all three Maryuus arrayed against her, but she's
  apparently not that rational.

  These four new generals have totally drunk the Proist Kool-Aid(tm), and are
  sure of victory... right up until the point they lose miserably.  But
  instead of laying down their lives here, they retreat to fight another day
  in their mistress' service.  Meanwhile, the newly-enlarged flotilla of good
  guys withdraw a bit to a nearby valley to make repairs and get Rongo some
  medical attention.  The question will be how best to go after Proist's trump
  card.

Vestarnne figures that Proist is totally unmoved by the loss of the two
Maryuus: she thinks she can conquer the Earth with her Dobolzark alone.  That
pride gives the team a very good chance to strike, though they'll have to do it
with Rongo in bandages.  He'll have to spend quite a while healing his wounds,
so Naoto will be right beside him at the helm.  In fact, Rongo lets Naoto sit
in the helmsman's seat as a mark of newfound respect for the kid.  Vestarnne
will also accompany the team: her time with Lee and the others taught her how
wrong it is for her people to attack the Earth.  She hopes she can convince
Darius to change his mind about the invasion, but if she can't, she's prepared
to fight him alongside her newfound friends.  Norza will tag along too, just so
he can exact revenge on Proist (no friendly stuff from Daiya, understand!)  The
team's discussions are interrupted by an emergency call from... emperor
Darius himself!  What on earth could he want???

30C. The Terror of Rabid Syndrome

Lest anyone forget, Mist _was_ a trainee member of Dannar Base, though now
the "trainee" label is a bit unnecessary.

He'd _better_ be up to snuff, since Dannar Base is in dire straits indeed.
Moukaku and Shadow are succumbing to the Insania Virus, driving their combat
instincts out of control and putting them in real danger of actually
effectively becoming Mimetic Beasts themselves.  Even retaining their own
consciousness is difficult, and there's little choice but ejecting both of
them from their mechs before the virus takes hold completely.  Dannar Base
is totally incommunicado, and the remaining anti-Mimetic forces will have to
face the second wave of Mimetic Beasts shorthanded, with no reinforcements.

In a nearby forest, Ken is musing over the Insania Virus, said to be spread by
contact with the Mimetic Beasts.  He knows that he too will succumb to its
effects one day, but his reverie is broken by Rue arriving with dinner.  She's
coy about where she learned to cook (that would be Gou and Anna), part of a
facile but terse relationship that's lasted these last several months.  Rue
asks Ken whether he intends to keep fighting until all the Mimetic Beasts are
killed, and what he plans to do when they are.

He figures he'll die at that point, knowing no other way of life but battle.
He wants Rue to "take care" of him should anything happen before his goal is
met, but she won't let him talk of his own death.  She tells him to _live_ on
as he sees fit, just as she intends to live according to the choice she's
made.  She's not sure if that choice was the right one, but she's confident she
won't have any regrets when all is said and done.  Just then, alarms ring
out from Ken's cockpit, as news of the Mimetic assault on Japan arrives.

As they rush to the scene, Dannar Base is taking a considerable pounding.
Damage has exceeded 60%, and with no hope of reinforcements in sight evacuation
seems to be the only option.  Kiriko laments that even Dino Base has its hands
full, and wants to hang on just a bit longer until Gou and friends arrive.  She
needn't wait long.

Kiriko has plenty of bad news for the new arrivals: the Federation "Fat Boy"
and Fafner units they see are part of the enemy force.  She wants to know where
Mira is (safely away from the combat zone), and explains that the Bases all
over the world are under simultaneous Mimetic Beast attack.  The Mimetic Beasts
have the ability to absorb nearby mecha, and have turned the Federation forces
against the humans -- perhaps an indication that they're still evolving.  In
any case, the Mimetic Beasts have a lot of damage to answer for, and Gou means
to make them pay in full.

...Perhaps too full?  His rationality is in question as he charges ahead and
fails to land his first attack.  As he psyches himself up more and more, a
strange fit seizes him that Kiriko and Kagemaru know all too well.  They order
Anna to rush Gou to Dannar Base at once and keep him from fighting any more.
The rest of the team are puzzled as to what just happened, and Kiriko
struggles to explain concisely what this illness is that gets worse the more
one fights.  Kagemaru adds that the illness in question is a possibility for
anyone who's fought the Mimetic Beasts, and announces that everyone will have
to be tested after the battle.  In fact, it would be better if everyone got
tested _before_ the battle, but there's no time for that: the best Kiriko can
do if the rest of the team manifests the same symptoms is order a general
retreat.

  The first wave of Mimetic Beasts is obnoxious but not too robust.  That is,
  until one of them gets back up again.  No problem, says Hatter: gotta
  destroy 'em all!  At that point, Mr. Menage Zero shows up, with the Cosmo
  Diver (and Rue) in tow.  He announces that the Mimetic Beast is his prey,
  and orders everyone else to stand aside and watch.  He's looking for the
  Mimetic Beast that slew "Rosa", and evidently the one he cuts to ribbons
  isn't it.  Kagemaru explains that this guy is a renegade, and Kiriko adds
  that eventually he's going to have to be apprehended.  Emphasis on
  "eventually", since for now he and the team seem to share a common objective.
  She warns against getting into some kind of rivalry B.S. to the cost of the
  battle, and Mist hopes that there's a way to bring the guy in without
  actually fighting.

  Ken attacks another Mimetic Beast, and this time he seems to find what he's
  been looking for: another robot somehow similar to his own.  Rue says that
  that mech (the "Celebrator") belongs to Ken's precious person, his beloved
  "Rosa".  His long solo fight has been an attempt to get her back, and Rue
  tells Kagemaru and Kiriko that she isn't of any help to him whatsoever.

  Before Kiriko can probe that statement, the Mimetic Beast rises _yet_ again.
  That's about the time Anna retakes the field, having left her hubby in the
  infirmary moaning that he can still fight.  She'll just have to fight hard
  enough for him too, preferring to do what she can from the cockpit instead
  of playing the distressed bedside flower role.

  Ken tells her and the others to stay the hell back, insisting that he's got
  to be the one to defeat the Mimetic Beast.  He asks Rue to pilot the
  Celebrator and help him deal the final blow, and she gladly accepts --
  though not without a pang for abandoning her father's mech, the Cosmodiver.
  She sends that back to Dannar Base on autopilot, leaving a shaken Kiriko to
  recover it.  After a tense moment, the Celebrator seems to accept Rue as its
  new pilot, and she and Ken Combine.

  The resulting mech wreaks an entirely new kind of havoc on the Mimetic Beast,
  and not necessarily in a good way.  It's gotten far more violent, using more
  force and less finesse, and Kiriko fears that Ken's fearsome combat skills
  are about to lapse into Rabid Syndrome.  And if _he_ goes berserk, who the
  heck could stop him?

  Certainly not Anna, despite her best efforts.  Ken smacks her aside, but
  saves further violence against her for later.  His growing fury is currently
  focused on that stubborn Mimetic Beast, and he hits it with an attack so
  staggering that the thing is basically atomized.  Try recovering from _them_
  apples!

  He turns on Anna next, and her situation is looking pretty desperate.  Gou
  isn't the sort to watch his wife get slaughtered, and disobeys the
  prohibition on fighting to rush to her aid.  As he proves that Ken isn't the
  only one capable of manly wrath, Anna tells the rest of the team that Gou
  isn't really able to be stopped once he gets like this.  The fastest way to
  get Gou out of this battle is for Ken to get pulverized, and Rue to get
  carted home.

  Anna for her part is steadfast in sticking by her man, even when he yells for
  her to get to safety so he doesn't have to lose her too.  She responds that
  Gou is totally helpless without her, lounging around in bed or on the couch
  in his underwear all day without her to get him organized.  She plans to
  look after him for the rest of their lives, and those lives aren't going to
  end here!

  She and Gou Combine, and Gou tells the Blade Gyner that it's time to settle
  the score (in ways that hopefully won't wipe Rue out too).  But before the
  duel can even begin, a new bevy of Mimetic Beasts arrive.  That doesn't stop
  Ken from insisting on demonstrating the Blade Gyner's strength to Gou, even
  at the cost of mixing Rue up in the crossfire.

  Ken isn't quite as invincible as he thinks he is, and as the damage mounts
  Rue begs him to stop.  She knows that if he keeps fighting, he'll stop
  being him, and she can't bear to see that happen.  That seems to get through
  to him, and as another blow from Gou lands she manages to convince him to
  withdraw.  The sight of Rue being taken away from him makes Gou start
  raging all over again, and Anna is only barely able to get Godannar back to
  base before anything truly bad happens.

The remaining Mimetic Beasts go down after considerable effort, and the pilots
have to wonder if the things are actually intelligent, given how their global
attacks seem to be somehow coordinated.  The most immediate worry is Gou
though.  In the skies nearby, Ken has calmed down.  He tells Rue that, as he
said before, he has no idea what to do now that he's avenged his beloved's
death.  Suddenly, he feels a pang that tells him "it" is nearby -- mission
found!  Rue isn't sure what to make of that, but she is determined to follow
Ken to whatever end.

Gou's test results are going to take a while to process, and Kagemaru can only
hope that his lusty fight against Ken didn't aggravate an already delicate
situation.  He and Kiriko explain to the team what they're up against: the
Insania Virus, an RNA virus some 20nm long associated with the Mimetic Beasts.
[For reference, Intel's latest-generation chips use so-called 32nm
transistors.]  Its chemical activity is stimulated by naturally-occurring
adrenaline and noradrenaline, and its results are... horrific body-altering
changes, with a sudden onset time.

It turns out that most people infected with the Insania Virus show no symptoms;
however, those with uncommonly strong fighting instincts can essentially
"monster out" when those instincts are activated.  Those most at risk: male
mecha pilots.  Oops.  The extreme expression that claimed Max's life has been
dubbed Rabid Syndrome, and Gou is teetering on the ragged edge of the same
phenomenon -- hence Kagemaru and Kiriko's desire to keep Gou out of the fight.
The rest of the team needs to be tested for the virus to see if they too are in
peril.

At least Mira has arrived and is waiting on standby -- that's one reserve
Kiriko can call upon.  A call then comes in from Shukuyuu: she and the other
pilots are physically in one piece, though Moukaku and Shadow are ailing
badly.  That shocks Kagemaru, since so far the only people to exhibit signs
of Rabid Syndrome are male.  Kiriko hypothesizes that Shadow is at risk
because her hormonal balance is closer to that of a typical male than of a
typical female.  Kiriko tells Shukuyuu that the two of them should be kept
out of battle, and will do what she can to send troops to help in the event of
another attack.  That will leave Dannar Base itself defended only by Mist and
the other recent arrivals.  The question is: how long can they hang on?


30A-2. Farewell to Love (part 2)

One can only hope that more friendly Festoom will be forthcoming if the team
can handle business at the North Pole.  For the benefit of those in the
conference room, Makabe replays his latest conversation with Mjolnir and
Tsubaki.  About the theft of the Siegfried System: it seems Miel struck out
with its first attempt to use Fafner tech, and has decided to enlist the aid of
someone capable of using it: Soushi.  He's alive and imprisoned at the North
Pole, and Mjolnir recommends rescuing him when the team rescues her Core.
She's also got one other piece of motivation to offer: Kouyou.  Tsubaki
awakened him, and he's chosen to fight alongside the people he knows best.
Mjolnir tells everyone she's counting on them, and prepares to sign off.
Before she does though, she passes along a message from the real Akane:
gratitude to Makabe for raising Kazuki so well.

Thanks to Mjolnir's data, the prototype for the Siegfried System has been
split up and installed in all the Northungs: this will allow all of them to
go into Closing and relieve them all of the stress of piloting.  Sounds cool,
but it comes with two major weaknesses.  First, Soushi used to be the only
one to share the pain felt by the pilots: now they _all_ get to share each
other's pain.  Second: if one of them dies, _all_ of them die.  Yow.

The initial operation name is "Heaven's Gate", since the Federation are getting
ready to strike all the Festoom gathering outside the atmosphere, but that
sounds a bit too much like preparing for one's own death.  Maybe a better
name would be "Azure", referring to the blue of the skies above [and finally
demystifying where the damn series title came from!].  Azure it is, and the
action kicks off in sixteen hours.

Plenty of time for the pilots to wax nostalgic.  The Dragon Pavilion's idyllic
scenery certainly doesn't betide the violence to come, and harkens the team
back to a not-long ago time when the children knew nothing of the Festoom.
That their parents hid it from them is no surprise: why not let the children
be children while they can?  It's a valuable lesson in what "peace" can be,
and in the value of memories.  Touching the mountains of this beautiful place
lets Maya imagine herself perched atop her father's back, helping her deal a
bit with the fact that her father is now gone.

He was one of the main Fafner researchers for the Federation government, and
proved himself the sort of coward who abandoned Kazuki and the others at the
first sign of trouble.  But the father Maya remembers as a little kid was far
stronger, far cooler than that, and that memory helps a little.  Kazuki heard
that his mother loved the spot they're standing on, and in his way he's doing
a bit to see her off.

Maya knows that Kazuki doesn't want her participating in the coming fight,
and Shinn and Lunamaria discreetly leave the two of them to talk it out.
...Which takes all of two sentences.  Gosh, twist Kazuki's arm or something.
Both of them agree it'll be great to come back here with Soushi once all is
said and done.

Elsewhere, Wendy finds Van staring absently out the island's portholes,
watching the fish.  Hesitating a moment, Wendy tells Van not to die, knowing
how dangerous the battle with the Festoom will be.  Van stammers a bit, and
unconvincingly falls back on his old line about not dying until he kills the
taloned man first.  Softening his tone, he tells Wendy not to worry.  Carmen
at least isn't worried one bit, or so she says.

Kazuki and Maya return inside to news of a blessed event: Yumiko is pregnant,
the first natural pregnancy in thirty years on the island.  Tsubaki explains
that the Festoom used to not comprehend the concept of birth, and acted under
the (flawed) logic that if no humans are born, no humans have to die.
Thankfully, the Festoom are showing signs of getting with the program, learning
many things from the humans (though still assimilating them, at least for
now).  Yumiko's upcoming bundle of joy is concrete proof that there's still
hope.

Before we get to the damn battle, someone has to say something stupid so
someone else can reply with some kind of affirmational speech.  Stupid-speaker
designate this time around is the El Dora team, who come with the misguided
chivalric notion that the women and children should stay home while the
menfolk slay dragons.  The refutation is too obvious to bother transcribing.
Before the team heads off to battle, Maya has the Fafner pilots do one last
thing: crossing their arms in a certain way as a promise to each other to all
come back alive.

Apparently the team can either do "urgent" sorties, or lengthy, drawn-out,
protracted slinking-out-of-the-door sorties.  Guess which type this is.  It
takes long enough that poor Tsubaki passes clean out, fortunately hanging on
just long enough to wave goodbye first.  "Medic!"

Wouldn't you know it: Hester's force gets its ass handed to it by the Festoom.
Didn't see that one coming, nuh-uh.  Hester's still so deluded that she thinks
she can order the Archangel around when it finally shows up, and it's simplest
to let her think that than to restart the old argument.  She does have one
word of caution first: all the Federation forces are acting independently, lest
the Festoom's heart-reading compromise the whole operation.  Hence, the
Archangel might well come under "friendly" fire.  If the Archangel survives
this, Hester vows that she's going to extract an apology for all its past
misdeeds.

Yeah, good luck with that.  This strategy of "plan = no plan" is A) insane,
B) about the best anyone can come up with versus the Festoom, and C) convenient
for the Archangel to run its own errand.  The Archangel needs to reach
Mjolnir's designated coordinates as quickly as possible: destroying all the
Festoom in the area is not the plan!  [In fact, you should specifically not
down all the Festoom if you're trying to bring back Shouko and the others.]

  Advance far enough or kill enough Festoom and the second wave arrives.
  There sure are a lot of them.  Keep hacking and a third wave shows up.  Does
  this have to keep going forever?  It might seem like it, but help arrives
  from an unlikely source: the Minerva!  Meer (aka "Lacus") has convinced the
  Plant supreme council to help out in the attack, and will be holding off the
  Festoom on the flank so the Archangel can forge ahead.

The Archangel finally reaches the designated rock outcropping, blowing a hole
in it with the main guns and forging inside.  The Festoom don't seem to be
following for now, apparently preoccupied with the main Federation thrust
toward Miel.  Reports indicate that while the Feds are taking heavy losses,
they're also making steady progress.  Kira is concerned however: he's observed
that the Festoom seem to have adapted their tactics to combat the Federation
"every unit for itself" strategy.  They're now acting collectively, and even
with their hive mind the Festoom shouldn't be capable of such coordinated
motion... unless they're using someone like Soushi.  Soushi knows everything
about all the units in the Archangel's arsenal, and if that knowledge is at
the Festoom's disposal, the coming battle will only be harder yet.  Mjolnir's
Core is almost in sight, and failure is 100% not an option.


31B. A Father's Heart (part 1)

Darius XVII has a very unusual request for Lulu: stop Proist!  It seems she's
been killing civilians for fun, claiming it's all part of the FD Operation,
and has resorted to stealing the Darius Core to make her Dobolzark fully
operational.  The emperor is man enough to admit that his daughter has grown
beyond his power to restrain, and says that if the Darius Core isn't recovered
soon, the entire Darius-verse will collapse in short order.  The only hope
is to use the Core's control key and halt its workings, and he's prepared to
give it to Lulu.  He's _also_ prepared to halt the invasion of the Earth and
evacuate the remains of his people to space if Proist can be stopped.  He
promises to await the Daikuu Maryuu at the Kajiarts Springs.

This sounds like utter tripe in addition to being a trap, but Darius has a
show of good faith to offer: Daiya's dad can accompany the ship to the
rendezvous.  Contrary to what Daiya thought, Dr. Tsuwabuki wasn't _imprisoned_
by the Darius army at all; rather, he's Darius' most trusted assistant and
has been personally leading the science team all the while.  As Darius hangs
up, Daiya and Lee headline the "he's gotta be kidding... right?!" talk.

Now, about this FD operation -- Sheldia recalls that that's the plan to
eliminate all Earthlings and colonize the Earth in their stead.  Vestarnne
adds that it's more than just outright colonization: only the most beautiful,
most intelligent Darius-folk will be allowed to inhabit their new territory.
Those without enough "quality points" will instead be put to death, which is
what Proist seems to be doing already.  Galaga thinks this is all the more
reason to not trust the emperor and attack Proist with the team's power alone,
but Sakon points out that _if_ Darius is telling the truth, there might be a
way to save all the Darius-verse's people.

Norza isn't sure -- even if the Darius empire started preparing to leave right
now, it's unlikely that all of them could be evacuated.  The decay of the
Darius-verse, created as a pocket-dimension within Earth when the Darius-folk
first arrived from space, is already underway.  Unless the Darius Core, the
reservoir of energy that was maintaining the pocket dimension, can be replaced,
the whole shebang will evaporate as the multiverse snaps back to normal.
That will certainly take out any remaining Darius-folk not accepted by the
FD Operation, and the humanitarian thing to do would be to get the control
key, kick Proist's ass, and restabilize the world.

Rescuing Daiya's dad in the process would be nice too, if one gets past the
fact that he might be a high traitor against mankind.  Deke, whose own father
is quite the traitor, isn't going to let Daiya's default belief in his dad
go unchallenged.  He won't say precisely why, but tensions are definitely
running high between Deke and Daiya.  Norza won't weigh in about Daiya's
father, but he's extremely dubious that his lord would ever ask the humans for
help.  Vestarnne concurs: all emperors _prior_ to this one were all focused
on relocating the Darius-folk to space.  The current emperor is the one who
first announced a conquest of the Surface, and if his own generals don't
believe the apparent change of heart, it's unlikely the rest of the Daikuu
Maryuu should either.

Okay... but where does that leave Daiya's dad on the off chance that Darius is
telling the truth?  Deke says that the captain should make the final decision,
which he promises to follow to whatever end.  Lulu wants to pursue the idea
that the common Darius-folk can be saved, believing her father would have
wanted the same.  Still, she realizes that things might well be a trap, and
tells the team to take every precaution on the way to this rendezvous.  Norza
doesn't like the thought of trying to negotiate with the emperor, but he's
happy enough with the being on guard part.

Darius is fretting that Proist must be stopped, and everything begun again
from scratch.  Doctor C tells him that all is in readiness for the meeting, and
Darius asks if he wants to see his son right away.  That's not what Doctor
C would have wished for, and Darius apologizes for using him to gain the
Earthlings' trust.

The face-to-face meeting with the emperor is radically unlike what the Daikuu
Maryuu team expected.  Vestarnne is especially puzzled: the guy naming
himself Darius XVII seems no different from any other man -- so who was the
giant she's been calling the emperor all this time?  Ever seen the Wizard of
Oz?  Yeah, something like that.  Anyway, the emperor reiterates his promise
to go colonize space instead of the Earth, and his desire to start over with
his daughter.  The control key is delivered by Daiya's dad, and Daiya joyfully
runs over to him and tells him to come home to his mother.

Daiya's dad replies that he can't do that, but his explanation why is cut off
by a laser blast aimed at him from somewhere nearby.  As the emperor protests
that he had nothing to do with that, Proist charges onto the scene and protests
her father's secret pow-wow with the Daikuu Maryuu.  Daiya is of course ready
to spill her guts, but she tells him not to interrupt her important 
father-daughter time.  She presents the emperor a bundle of Darius Roses, which
in flower-speak signify eternal bonds.  Proist's ever-faithful, eternal
love for her father vies with her madness, and the madness finally gains the
upper hand.  She blasts the poor emperor, then spies him all bleeding on the
floor in her next moment of clarity.

_Clearly_ Daiya and friends are to blame.  _Clearly_ she has to inflict her
worst possible torments on the son who shot the emperor, and on the father
whose machinations drove the emperor to this point.  As she heads to her mech,
she orders Higant to snag Daiya's dad -- she promises Daiya will have LOTS
of fun when he sees him again.  Lulu orders the team to switch to Plan D,
counterattacking the Darius forces at once.  At least the team managed to get
some valuable clues out of the debacle.

Proist's ordered her new four generals to delay the Daikuu Maryuu as long as
possible, which is a great way for them to end up with their butts in a sling.
Lee is at the controls of the Vulking, determined to get over his mental
block from trying to pilot the Gaiking and give the team its best chance for
victory.  The sooner the team can rescue Daiya's father, the better.

  By ordering her generals to form a rear guard, Proist has signed their
  death warrants.  However, Proist only needed a few turns to go get her
  Dobolzark, which turns out to be packing a strong healing ray.  Proist
  promptly heals her four generals, and announces that she can bring the rest
  of her troops back to life too.  Once she's crushed the Maryuus underfoot,
  she's going to go take over the Surface.  She thinks.

  Her mech is too tough to go down all at once, and to prove it she goes and
  whomps on Daiya some.  And then the Vulking.  And then, just for extra fun,
  she demonstrates how thoroughly Norza is under her thumb: from the moment he
  was born as spare parts for her, a device was implanted that makes his
  biological sections subject to her control.  She mostly incinerates him to
  prove her point, and as her taunts ring out Daiya thinks his only hope is
  to use Face Open on her.

  Not so fast, says Sakon.  His calculations show that Proist's mech is even
  more powerful than Gaiking: Face Open would barely scratch it.  The correct
  strategy is for him to transform into Gaiking The Great: Gaiking's body,
  Raiking's arms, and Vulking's legs.  This collection of the best parts of
  the three mecha will be the ultimate Fire Giant... assuming the pilot can
  bring an equally strong blazing heart to the party.  Garis and Sakon never
  felt confident enough to try it, but Daiya may just have the maturity to
  pull it off now.

  The possibility is good enough for Norza, who rips Proist's control device
  free from his chest in a gesture that will likely end his own life.  With
  the rest of the team cheering him on, Daiya leads the other 'Kings in
  combining, resulting in (yet another) towering metal monolith that Proist's
  best attack can't even scratch.  Daiya can do far more than scratch her
  back, creating the perfect chance for the team to prevail as Proist tries
  to comprehend the existence of someone stronger than herself.

  She quickly gets damaged enough that sticking around is unwise.  She
  screeches that the Maryuus shouldn't gloat though: the Dobolzark isn't
  yet complete.  But when it is, their asses are _hers_!  Mu ah ha ha.

'Kay whatever.  As Proist runs off, Daiya has to wonder if he's really won
today or not.  Fortunately, Franklin is already tending to Norza.  The team
regroups, wondering if there really is a stronger version of the Dobolzark or
not.  Probably best to hurry and take Proist out before she has the time to
do whatever it is she's got up her sleeve.

There's some disagreement about whether the disastrous meeting was all planned
by the emperor and/or Proist, or whether it was an accident of sorts.
Certainly the emperor whom the team met didn't seem to be bent on dominating
the Earth -- if anything, he seemed most concerned about his own daughter.
Well, whatever his intentions were is water under the bridge: the team in fact
didn't get the control key or Daiya's father back.  Looks like the only option
left is a direct assault on the Darius capital and Proist herself.  Once the
Darius-verse is liberated, hopefully Daiya's father will still be rescuable...


31C. The Iron Giants (part 1)

The test results are back, and Gou is almost certainly on the verge of Rabid
Syndrome.  If not for his immensely strong will, he'd probably have succumbed
already.  If he's allowed to rest, his current state can be maintained
indefinitely... but if he's put under stress again, his body will become
permanently ravaged by Rabid Syndrome, ending up like Max.  Kiriko won't let
Gou pilot Godannar again, as the only way to save him.

As though that weren't cheery enough news, Kiriko tells the team that all of
them are infected with the Insania Virus, and that even women have been shown
to be at some risk of developing Rabid Syndrome.  Guys, especially hot-blooded
mecha pilots, are at far higher risk, and that risk will only grow the more
they fight the Mimetic Beasts.  With no real advance warning, the only
countermeasure available is real-time monitoring of pilots during battle, and
immediately withdrawing them the moment symptoms begin to appear.  Until a
vaccine is found (and scientists are working on that around the clock), the
team will have avoid battle to the greatest extent possible, and even if they
do enter battle will be constantly second-guessing themselves.

Suxorz.  Fortunately two new robots are en route to make up for the loss of
Gou as an option.  They are the Go-Okusar and the G-Zero Gunner, long shelved
because of difficulties controlling them.  The Go-Okusar is the prototype for
the Neo-Okusar and is far more powerful, and likewise the G-Zero Gunner is the
prototype for the G-Gunner.  The G-Zero Gunner's core is the Club-Mariner, and
now that that's been recovered from the Mimetic Beasts, the G-Zero can return
to active duty.  Kouji gets to drive the G-Zero, and he prances off with
Shigusa to help with final testing.

Kiriko wants to roll the dice and let Anna try her hand at the Go-Okusar,
despite handling so finicky that even Shizuru couldn't hack it.  If anyone's
piloting "sense" can carry the day, Anna's it.  And as for the Neo-Okusar, a
new pilot is on hand to keep it busy: Mira!  Ever since getting her memory
back, she's been busting her ass around the clock relearning her old mech's
controls, and her five-year absence might has well have been five days now.
Shizuru is well aware of what Mira's skills once were, and is looking forward
to seeing them on display again.  Mira smiles and tells Shizuru to "be gentle"
with her.

No sooner do Anna and Mira head to the hangar than the alarm goes off: more
Mimetic Beasts are heading directly for Dannar Base.  Kiriko supposes that
they've figured out that Godannar is their biggest threat, after observing
which Base put up the stiffest resistance.  Angelica protests that the 
Mimetic Beasts don't seem that intelligent, but Kiriko notes that highly
evolved instinct can equal and sometimes exceed intellect in effect.  Time to
find out if Kiriko's trust in her daughter is well-founded.

As usual, fighting the Mimetic Beasts looks like it's going to hurt.  Kouji
checks to see how Mira's doing: just fine, thanks.  The Neo-Okusar still has a
bit of Anna's idiosyncrasies, but Mira's confident her technique can overcome
them.  Meanwhile, Anna finds the feel of the Go-Okusar far different from
what she's used to... she too is determined to make things work anyway.  She
knows she's got to fill the (gaping) hole left behind by her husband's
absence.

  The first wave of Mimetic Beasts is bad enough, but when a second wave
  arrives it looks like the end of Dannar Base may be at hand.  Since they
  didn't show up on radar, odds are good that they approached underwater.
  This type are called "Trojan Horses", and they're doing one hell of a number
  on the base with their particle beams.  One of the blasts hits close to
  sickbay, and wouldn't you know it Gou is nowhere to be seen.  Another blast
  at this range would prove fatal, but before it strikes...

  ...someone on the catapults blasts the Trojan Horse and disrupts its attack.
  The figure declares that just as the sky needs stars, just as the earth
  needs flowers in bloom, so do people need love.  No one is an island, no
  man stands alone: it is to defend his beloved that man fights.  Thus becomes
  man more beautiful than the flowers of the field, than the stars in the
  heavens above!

  Not the sort of speech you'd expect from the school principal, but there
  you have it.  By his side is Kouji, fast on the draw with the G-Zero's
  impressive array of weapons.  The principal turns out to be none other than
  Aoi Tatsuya, Kiriko's _husband_, and he declares that he will clear the
  aisle for the team to proceed to the altar of love.  He also chides Kagemaru
  for standing there staring, and the battle hastily resumes.

  The team feel pretty proud of themselves for taking out the Mimetic Beast
  hordes for about two seconds, until Tatsuya shouts that those were all just
  decoys.  The real enemy is elsewhere, and Tatsuya orders everyone back to
  base at once.

Back at base, Kiriko (re)introduces Tatsuya, Dannar Base's architect and Anna's
dad.  He's been gone since Anna was extremely young, so she never bonded with
him as such... and he knows it.  Still, there's something about his voice
that's strangely familiar, and Anna feels as though she's known him for a long
time.  (As do several other pilots; in fact he's been by their side frequently
in a variety of guises, watching over them).  There's no time for reminiscing
however, because the Mimetic Beasts have learned a new and very dangerous
trick.

The individual Beasts are somewhat weak, so they've figured out how to combine
together and share their strength, becoming a titanic menace.  Where did they
get this idea?  By watching Godannar combining, ironically enough.  The
result of combination after combination might as well be called the Mimetic
"Leader", explaining why the Beasts' attacks are no longer random.  Wouldn't
you know it: the Leader is headed straight for Japan, using the other Mimetic
Beasts' assault on Dannar Base to cover its making landfall.

The Leader intends to level the nearest city it can find, and it will fall to
the team to prevent that.  Sadly for Fei and the rest of the pilots, the
Mimetic problem cannot be solved by defeating any one Beast, even this Leader
thingie.  Still, a great amount of death and destruction _can_ be prevented,
and that's a worthwhile enough goal for now.  The team has scarcely had time
to replenish after the last battle, and Mira has to wonder if the Mimetic
Beasts actually understand the concept of a battle of attrition...


31A. Azure Skies

Tsubaki lost consciousness the moment she was returned to Alvis, and Chizuru
suspects that she's about exhausted her ability to maintain "human form".
Before anyone can answer what that's supposed to mean, she wakes up and asks
for word from Kazuki and the others.  They're probably fighting right now, and
she knows she's got to fulfill her role too.  Wendy tries to tell her to rest,
but Tsubaki knows that if she falls asleep once more, she'll never regain
consciousness.  Chizuru agrees with that, and says that before that happens
she'll return Tsubaki's body to the "grotto".  Huh??

Makabe says that the island's systems are all acting abnormally, its plants
and animals dying unstoppably.  Tsubaki explains this as the result of this
island's Miel learning the meaning of death from all the fighting.  Chizuru
explains for Carmen and the others' benefit what a "Miel" is: a mass of
infinite information which controls the island's functions.  It has at length
learned about the cycle of life, and as its Core (Tsubaki) nears death, it
nears death too.  Tsubaki's last duty is to instruct it that every death is
also the beginning of new life: that life and death are part of the same
continuation.

Makabe describes a "Miel" as a mass of Festoom, or perhaps as a Festoom "nest".
Stunningly, that Miel turns out to be the very air of the island: in constant
contact with the island's physical being and accumulating information with
every breath drawn within the island's environs.  Everywhere and nowhere, the
Miel is essentially the island's "environment".  Now how did the silicon-based
Festoom become a biosphere, you ask?  Good question.  Better question: _why_
did it do so?  To learn and to evolve, with the eventual goal of complete
synergy with the rest of the Earth.

In fact, Tsubaki brought it with her to the Archangel and Daikuu Maryuu, and as
she did so the learning process continued.  None of the team realized that they
were breathing Festoom instead of air ever since the carnival, mainly due to
the Festoom's relative adolescence.  So far it's learned plenty about death,
but not enough about life, and unless that deficiency is corrected everything
and everyone in contact with the Miel will die.  The "grotto" in question is
the Valkyrie's Grotto, the artificial womb that forms the core of the Brunhilde
System.  Tsubaki intends to voluntarily let herself be assimilated, pooling her
knowledge with the rest of the Festoom and losing her body in the process.  She
assures the team that she'll live on as part of the collective.

The closer the Archangel gets, the fiercer the enemy resistance gets: Soushi's
fingerprints are all over it, though one presumes he's being forced against
his will.  It seems a bit reckless to just charge in and try to save Soushi
and Mjolnir's core, but since the enemy are more than capable of playing the
attrition game, there's no time for anything else.  Full speed ahead!

There's a new species of Festoom waiting inside the cavern, and Kazuki can
sense that these are the ones who kidnapped Soushi.  Kazuki wants to take
revenge on the spot, but Mist tells him not to let personal grudges get in
the way, as he himself has done to the team's cost.  Mist doesn't want him to
lose his anger, but neither does he want him to lose his equilibrium.

Idun is indeed forcing Soushi to cooperate, and demands to know what to do to
defeat the humans that have penetrated him.  Same thing as with the humans
outside: defeat them with minimal casualties, duh.  Best is to do something to
draw out the enemy's main strength, such as sacrificing a few pawns in an
apparent show of defense.  As Soushi screams in pain and tries to resist, Idun
gets busy using that "hatred" stuff to destroy the humans.  Interestingly,
Idun is referring to himself in the singular more and more, and referring to
the collective in the plural less and less.  Let the final battle and the
final salvation of Soushi begin!

Back at Alvis, Tsubaki is about to get back into her artificial womb and
complete her mission.  No girl this young should bear such a heavy burden, and
as the final moment approaches Tsubaki becomes deathly afraid of her
reawakening.  She has a good cry on Chizuru's breast, and finally tightens
her resolve.  Wendy briefly wonders if Van and the crew might be able to bring
back some means of saving her with Soushi, but Makabe says that if Tsubaki
doesn't do this now, the entire Dragon Pavilion biosphere is toast.  Tsubaki
is now determined to become the island, letting her embrace everyone just as
her "mother" embraces her.

  Mist has to wonder why the Edax aren't using the massive turmoil of the
  Azure operation to attack.  Certainly the Festoom know how to stage an
  ambush, in accordance with Soushi's instructions.  In fact, Soushi's been
  holding something back, and hopes that the Festoom will get the lesson he's
  arranged for Kazuki to teach them... assuming Kazuki can live long enough.

  The lesson comes when Idun starts taking damage himself, a lesson called
  "pain".  Soushi shouts that the strategy he's provided is called a "war of
  attrition", entailing fighting while enduring one agony after another.  It
  is the agony of living, and the fear of dying, and Idun begs to be returned
  to normal.

  Kazuki heads over to the Core, experiencing a massive influx of data into
  his mech.  This is the data needed to save mankind, and by rights there
  should be far too much of it to store uncompressed.  But as it turns out,
  the majority is being beamed directly to the Dragon Pavilion where it
  belongs anyway.  The remaining problem is how to free Soushi from the
  Festoom.  Kazuki gives it the ol' college try, getting tormented (and the
  rest of the Northung pilots along with him) by some kind of energy field.
  Tsubaki appears to him, telling him not to fight it.  What he's got to do
  is accept the pain and Soushi with it.

  After all, accepting others is one way to fight them.  By allowing his
  consciousness to merge with the Festoom, Kazuki is able to clearly speak
  to Soushi, just as Tsubaki was able to speak clearly to him by accepting
  her assimilation.  Kazuki is then able to retrieve Soushi, whose body is
  now in advanced state of Assimilation.  He needs to be rushed back to Alvis
  post-haste, but before that can happen, there's a few remaining Festoom to
  deal with.

  Idun is still going on with the hatred business, refusing the future of
  coexistence that the team has been fighting for so hard.  Since he won't
  even listen to Soushi, part of the same collective, there's no way he'll
  listen to anyone else on the team.  Guess he'll have to go then.

  As the end approaches, Idun asks Kazuki to return them all to nothingness.
  Soushi asks if Idun wants to express thanks for being alive: that's the joy
  of being here, now.  Whoa, what a concept.  And what an opening for the
  final blow.  Idun is determined to take the humans with him, so Soushi tells
  Kazuki to drag Idun off the battlefield.

Kazuki vanishes, to Maya's horror.  But Kanon quickly notes that Closing is
still active, which wouldn't be possible if Kazuki was dead.  So, where's he
at?  Everywhere and nowhere, existing and not existing at the same time.  And
hanging out with Kouyou, Mjolnir and Soushi, trying desperately to hang onto
the notion that he himself exists.  And what do you know, it works!

He and Soushi return to the material world, but unfortunately so does Idun.
The entire Miel begins to shake as it gets underway, moving to join the
Festoom outside the atmosphere that are about to attack humanity.  The Feds
are going to counterattack of course, and so as not to get caught in the
crossfire the Archangel bugs out in a hurry.  Tsubaki tells Soushi that the
Miel's destruction won't be final: it, like her, was born into this world to
teach the Festoom that death and life are opposite sides of the same coin.

Hopefully when these Festoom return from their temporary annihilation, they'll
have learned to coexist with mankind, as the Dragon Pavilion has.  For now,
the Federation forces and exo-atmospheric Festoom Cores make a display of
"shooting stars" as they plummet through the atmosphere.  From what Hester
has reported to Maryuu, it seems the Federation has come out on top, Festoom
resistance having all but ceased once Soushi was rescued.

Speaking of Soushi, the poor guy is in pretty sorry shape and won't set foot
outside the Siegfried System.  The data the Festoom sent is not only useful
for setting people to rights, it might even help revive those currently
comatose due to Assimilation.  The process is very difficult so one shouldn't
get one's hopes up, but it's possible that Sakura might actually rejoin the
land of the living.  Kenji for one is very anxious on this point...  There
hasn't been any word from the other battleships, but Mist is confident that
they're doing just fine.  The Archangel will wait for word from them back at
the Dragon Pavilion.

Somewhere Else(tm), Ru Cobol has finally returned.  Gasm confirms Espair and
Veliny's demise at the hand of the Earthlings, and notes that they had help
from the descendants of the Cursians (another race that fell prey to Planet
Crisis).  Gasm is very much afraid of the Revlias, which struck the final
blows, but Ru Cobol is unimpressed.  He asks Gasm how much of his memories
Gasm has, and Gasm apologizes for not remembering anything about the Crystal
Hearts.

Ru Cobol himself remembers everything about it.  Until a year ago, he too was
afraid of the Crystal Hearts; after all, they were the weapon that blew him
asunder back when.  His decision to attack Atreem was triggered by learning
that it housed Crystal Hearts, and when he challenged the Revlias he beat it.
What he learned is that almost nobody can use a Crystal Heart, and even the
one Atreemian who tried to fight back wasn't much of a threat.

In any case, someone on Earth has a deep connection to his new principal
Fragment (which happens to be female).  He guesses this someone is his
Fragment's sister, and likely contains a strong Fragment of her own.  Plus,
and Ru Cobol does not say this aloud, he guesses that this person is probably
compatible with the Crystal Heart, as Gasm's principal Fragment is.  He thinks
he might just be able to eliminate his only weakness if he plays his cards
right.  He orders Gasm to get busy capturing this person, alive.

As for the Minus Energy Espair gathered, it does have its uses.  He also
orders Gasm to gather even more before destroying the planet, lamenting that
Espair wouldn't have been destroyed by his foolish ambition if he'd only
awoken to Ru Cobol-ness first.  Once the energy is gathered and the important
person abducted, Gasm is to blow the Earth clean away with Planet Crisis, and
absorb the new comrades that arise from Espair and Veliny's Fragments.

Makabe thanks everyone for all their amazing good work: the way is now paved
for eventual coexistence with the Festoom.  In the interim, the Earth is still
facing numerous perils, meaning the fighters must fight on.  Speaking of whom,
Kiriko calls in from Dannar Base with news: the major Mimetic Beast threat has
been dealt with... at major cost.  Gou has succumbed to Rabid Syndrome [see
the Godannar path for info] and no medical technique is currently available to
reverse the process.  Chizuru has an idea about that: Rabid Syndrome seems
somewhat similar to how the Festoom crystallize people when they Assimilate
them.  Perhaps some of the data from the North Pole can be adapted into a cure!
Definitely good news for everyone and especially for Anna, though Kiriko
cautions that Chizuru shouldn't wait too long to start fashioning a cure:
everyone is at risk of the same symptoms.

Kiriko also relays word of the Daikuu Maryuu, which has kicked ass _and_ taken
numbers.  Proist is toast, leaving only the Jama and Edax as active threats.
Sounds like it's time to regroup and plan the next step of the campaign, and
Kiriko has everyone gather at Dannar Base... including Soushi, who needs a
pep talk from Kazuki to get over the minor inconvenience of having most of his
body evaporated (it was for a good cause though!).  Maybe the Festoom can get
away with dying for a while, but Soushi realizes anew that he and the team
still have a job to do.


31B-2: A Father's Heart (part 2)

Lulu is wandering the corridors of her ship, lost in thought, when Deke finds
her.  She asks his opinion of the Darius plan to evacuate to space, and he
allows that it sounds a lot more coherent than your average bluff.  She feels
that Darius was probably telling the truth, even if the truth was underwritten
by fantasy on Darius' part.  Lulu would certainly like to help the Darius-folk
relocate to space if that's truly their wish, though she's not sure what she
could do to make that happen.  Deke draws her attention to a little winged
pin he gave her the day they first met... the day she saved him on the cliffs
of Santa Monica after he had died once already.  She gave him his wings, and
with those wings he intends to follow wherever she leads.  And once the
fighting is over, he...  The intercomm interrupts: time for battle!

Lulu reminds the troops to try and avoid collateral damage when fighting in or
near the major metropolis that is the Darius capital.  Little fear of that
though, since Proist's forces have come out of their own accord.  She's proud
of her Final Dobolzark, the "Ultra Demon-Dragon of Infernal Flames"(tm).  Ask
not what the point of the UD2IF is -- ask instead where the fsck Daiya's dad
is.  Proist smugly says she'll tell Daiya if he wins.  So of course he charges
in headlong, forgetting that the Dobolzark (sorry: Giga-Hypertastical
Penis-Envy Dobolzark Mk.II Plus Epsilon) has regeneration.

IF at first you don't succeed, use a more energy-hungry attack and try again.
This time, Daiya manages to make a big enough crack in the Dobolzark Et
Cetera's fuselage to expose its "heart".  Daiya can sense the energy that runs
throughout the mech like blood, and the Darius Core is the source from which
that energy flows.  Destroying the Core ought to take the Final Dobolzark out
once and for all, but as Daiya powers up an even bigger attack, Lulu stops him:
she senses a flame much like his own near the Core.  Sure enough, Proist has
put Daiya's father right next to the Core, and was kind of hoping that Daiya
would have inadvertently slaughtered him for her: drat that Lulu and her powers
of observation.

Daiya is somehow able to communicate with his father, who knew for a long time
that Daiya would be coming to the Darius-verse aboard the Daikuu Maryuu.  He
hadn't expected Daiya to be the Gaiking's pilot though, praising Daiya's long
determination to harden his body and fight until the two were reunited.  As
for why he was at Darius' side, Daiya's dad asserts firmly that it was by his
own will, his own struggle.  Many people in this world must endure crushing
agony and suffering on a daily basis, and by leading the imperial science
team, Daiya's dad sought their salvation.  As proof he holds up the Ark
project which the emperor personally funded -- when brought to fruition, the
war with the Surface would become entirely unnecessary.

Daiya's radio is linked to the rest of the team, who are awed by the
scientist's humanity.  Being inhuman, Proist is only infuriated all the more:
this father-son combo have thwarted her desire for Surface-invading at every
turn, and she vows to send them to the umpteenth level of a Hell of her
personal devising as punishment.  She pulls back behind her phalanx of troops,
and as usual the only way to save Daiya's dad will be to fight through them
and beat the Final Dobolzark down.

  [Translation: reduce it to 10% of its HP, but do *not* actually destroy.]

  Once the Final Dobolzark is immobilized, Daiya rushes in to pull his father
  free.  As he starts to do so, his father screams in agony, and Proist
  mentions a little something she "forgot" earlier.  Forcibly pulling him
  free will cause the neural bypasses she's installed to fire.  There are
  around two hundred of them, and each one is capable of delivering utterly
  excruciating pain.  What's more, when the last one is disconnected, the
  pod containing Daiya's dad will explode in 30 seconds.

  Oh, the evility.  Fortunately, super-scientist Sakon already has the
  solution.  Through the cracks in the Dobolzark's body, he's been able to
  spot a device that can prevent the explosion.  It's inside the pod, and
  severing the linkages to it should prevent the entire explosives package
  from even arming.  It is R-E-A-L-L-Y close to Daiya's dad, but Sakon
  promises Daiya that Gaiking is capable of the requisite accuracy.

  Daiya's not so sure, but his father believes in him... enough so that he
  voluntarily pulls out the neural bypasses and thereby triggers the timer.
  He shouts that Daiya's people are counting on him to keep moving forward,
  never fearing the consequences.  Daiya suddenly remembers something his
  father told him when he was very little: it's not the outcome that matters,
  it's how hard you fight the fight!

  Daiya precisely skewers the device with about one second to spare.  Deke is
  marveling at the strength of the bonds between father and son, even after
  they've been separated for so long.  Proist is first aghast, and then enraged
  at this turn of events, and makes to kill off both father and son.  Deke
  leaps to their rescue and takes the fatal blow himself.  He tells Daiya that
  it's up to him now to make Lulu's dreams come true.

  Proist regenerates again, and Daiya drops his dad off with Lulu so he can
  fight Proist full-force.  This works out pretty well for a moment, but then
  Proist realizes something: now that her father is dead, she's the new
  ruler of Darius.  Hence, she can call upon Darius' "Protector", which is
  the metal giant people mistook for the emperor before.  Only the emperor
  can control it, and it's got pretty vast destructive powers.

  Proist really wants to shoot down the Daikuu Maryuu, but a shadowy figure
  flies out of left (err, right) field and puts a stop to that racket.  It's
  Captain Garis, Rosa's knight-in-shining-armor, using a "borrowed" ship from
  the resistance forces to keep Proist preoccupied.  That ship gets promptly
  blown out of the skies, but Garis ejected safely first.  This time, Daiya
  and company really _really_ need to beat Proist's ass.

  Proist can't figure out how Daiya can beat her, so he spells it out: it's not
  just him, but rather all of his friends combining their strength.  As a
  final demonstration, Norza and Lee rejoin him in Gaiking the Great for a
  stupendous final move.  So stupendous in fact that Proist doesn't even have
  a chance to finish her final sentence before the Protector explodes.

About damn time too.  Time for the tearful reunion with Daiya's dad... and
with Deke too, who's rather badly hurt but still very much alive.  Vestarnne
extracts the Darius Core from all the wreckage, heading back to the core of
the capital to restore power to the Darius-verse's dimensional generator.  This
won't stop the collapse, but it _will_ slow it down enough for the Ark
project to come to completion.

After the Daikuu Maryuu flies off to go return the Core, Proist's four generals
gather around the Protector's wreckage.  Sucks that she got killed, but there's
a reason she made the four of them...

Both Daiya and Lulu have their fathers back now, though it seems that flowery
words of greeting are eluding both families.  The reunion is short-lived, as
an explosion blows a hole in the side of the bridge.  It's none other than
_Proist_, whose body is now made up of bits and pieces of her four most
faithful servants.  Ah, but their memory shall live on inside her forever!
How grand.  How not grand that the scum of the Earth are busy celebrating
family stuff while her own father is quite deceased.

Time for the Earthlings to *DIEHORRIBLYOHMYGODGRRARR!!!*  Her aggravated form
is now ten times more psycho than before, and even Gaury's ninjutsu doesn't
work in the face of the energy pouring out of her.  Sakon then strides onto the
bridge, bearing a memento from Darius.  He tried his best to save the
misguided emperor's life, but he was too badly wounded.  What Sakon found
instead resembles an oversized cigarette lighter, buried deep in the emperor's
body.  When he extracted it, it activated for only a moment, and left a
message.

In the distant past, the planet Zayla was destroyed by the influence of a
nearby black hole.  Its people have been roaming space ever since in search of
a compatible replacement planet, and what they found was the Earth.  On that
planet were primitive humans, and rather than invade the Darius emperor at the
time chose to borrow some of the Earth's energy to create the Darius-verse.
The purpose of the device Sakon holds is to act as regulator for the ongoing
preservation of Zaylan DNA, and its bearer is by definition the Darius emperor.

At the moment the device passes into a new host, it bonds to their mind and
links their consciousness to all the emperors of the past.  The accumulated
wisdom of the first sixteen emperors was to not attack the Surface, but the
seventeenth decided that the Surface-dwellers' ongoing destruction of the
environment had gone too far.  In short, the Earthlings bear some
responsibility for the Darius war.

The message left upon extraction was that the emperor wanted a chance to at
least preserve Zaylan DNA, and for Proist to join the historical lineage so
she could proceed into the future.  Proist can't stand the thought that she's
a mere vessel for the weight of history, and disobeys Sakon's order to take up
her cross by bonding with the device.  She destroys it instead, the fires of
hatred so strong inside her that she might well just explode on the spot.

Well, Daiya won't just idly by and watch it happen: this hard-won peace isn't
something for Proist's selfishness to tarnish any further.  The fires of
justice within him burn even hotter than Proist's flame.  As he burns her
utterly to ash, her last scream is that her father lied when he called her
the greatest person in the world.  ...Wow, impressive save from Daiya.  The
war with Darius is well and truly over now (good luck with that Zaylan DNA
preservation project though...)

See 31A for the conversation between Gasm and Ru Cobol.

The Daikuu Maryuu heads for a rendezvous at Dannar Base, which along with
the Archangel have just weathered major storms of their own.  Looks like it's
just the Jama, Edax, and taloned man association left.  The Darius-folk will
be working on building their Ark vessels, busy checking out the planet that
their probe found and so forth.  All those plans will be on the back burner
until the Earth's current problems are dealt with though, and Vestarnne means
to offer her assistance for the duration.  It's the least she can do for all
the trouble she's caused.  Norza's lost his old purpose as replacement parts
for Proist, but he too can become an Ally of Justice with Cain supporting him.
With that settled, it's back to Earth!


31C-2. The Iron Giants (part 2)

The team quickly reaches the Super-Mimetic Beast, which is ginormous but also
all alone.  Kouji crows that even the biggest foes fall when his people focus
their attacks, and Tatsuya severely chides him for taking the enemy lightly.
Kouji knows better than that, and Tatsuya's admonition returns him to his
senses.  Tatsuya orders the team to surround the critter and prevent it from
making landfall at all costs.  The rain of firepower indeed brings the
Super-Mimetic Beast up short, but Kouji notices something is wrong.  He's
quite right: the Super-Mimetic Beast suddenly builds up a massive charge of
energy and unleashes it on the battle area before the team can flee.

Dannar Base detects it as a spacetime shockwave, and it immediately knocks out
communication with all the pilots.  Either it's just momentary interference,
or the indication that all the pilots just got wiped out.  Gou gets on the
intercomm, announcing that he's heard the whole thing and is going to launch
Godannar.  Shigusa wasn't able to keep Gou out of the cockpit, busy as he was
with trying to patch the base back together.  Kagemaru gives the order to seal
the catapults, but they've been too badly damaged.  Gou shouts out that he's
coming for Anna and blasts off, and Tatsuya secretly wishes Gou the best.

When Gou arrives, there's no sign of Anna or anyone else for that matter.  All
Gou can see is the Super-Mimetic Beast... and about a zillion of its closest
friends.  Gou isn't the sort to be intimidated by mere numbers, and prepares
to take the lot of them out on his own.  Kiriko frantically radios in and
tells Gou not to fight, lest he succumb to Rabid Syndrome.  Her sentence is
interrupted by the Blade Gyner showing up, with Ken telling Gou to get the
hell lost.

As he blasts Godannar backwards, Ken tells Rue to get a good look at him, at
the abominable thing he's become.  This is his final lesson to her: what
becomes of those who live for revenge!  Rue implores him not to leave her
behind, saying that Ken is Ken, and at the very least he takes her along
long enough to attack the Super-Mimetic Beast.  It attacks back a lot harder,
and Ken screams that this is Rue's future, and the future of all those who
would dare to battle without end.

It appears that Rue has just bought the farm next to Anna's, and Gou is
consumed by rage.  He starts bitch-slapping every last Beast, rapidly pushing
himself past the point of no return... just as the rest of the team becomes
recommunicado.  They are not in fact dead, having barely avoided the shockwave
thanks to Kouji halting their attack.  Kouji tells the team to thank Tatsuya as
they survey the battlefield.  There's no sign of the Super-Mimetic Beast,
but there's plenty of the regular kind surrounding Godannar.

Tatsuya and Kiriko break the hard news to Anna that Gou is at Godannar's
controls, and that he's succumbed to Rabid Syndrome.  He's no longer the Gou
she knows, but rather a combat machine acting purely on battle instinct.
Thus, Godannar has become every bit as big a threat to mankind as the Mimetic
Beasts it was trying to stop.  As it to underscore the point, Gou fires at
Anna, seemingly unaware that she's his wife.  The only option left is to
forcibly pry Gou out of Godannar, and at least Momoko is confident that she
and Konami can write a program to let the Go-Okusar forcibly combine with
Godannar.  Since that entails physically linking the cockpits, that should
allow Gou's removal.

While the girls hack away at the code, the rest of the team will need to take
down the extraneous Mimetic Beasts, and do what they can to immobilize
Godannar without actually wrecking it.

  Though formidable, even the enraged Godannar isn't invincible.  The team
  manages to immobilize it slightly faster than the bridge bunnies can get the
  override program written.  Anna tells Gou that she's coming to save him, but
  Mira has a more bitter outlook -- if Gou can never be returned to normal,
  it's better he die here, by her hand.  Anna frantically asks Mira to give her
  a chance to try and talk Gou down, as his wife.  It's tough to say which is
  harder for Mira to accept: that the man whose love sustained her for five
  years of death is now beyond saving, or that Anna -- not her -- became that
  man's spouse.

  Anna asks why Mira, who once laid down her life for this man, would want to
  kill him now.  What Gou fears, Mira replies, isn't death -- it's becoming the
  very enemy he's sworn to protect the people from.  Surely any mecha pilot
  would understand that!  She believes Gou has the same resolve that she felt
  five years ago, when the thought of dying for Gou's sake invoked not a
  whisper of fear.  She sees true love as the ability to die for one's beloved,
  and as someone who's already died once she knows precisely how cruel time
  can be.  She doesn't want Anna trying to lecture her about love, but what's
  really on her mind is somehow trying to recapture what she and Gou had five
  years ago... something that perhaps awaits when they both die for good.

  She intends to use Gravity Bomber Nano-Pressure, a compressed black hole
  that will swallow even the enraged Godannar whole... and her with it.  This
  is the only way Kiriko knows to guarantee Godannar is taken down, and she's
  instructed Mira to eject before ignition.  When Mira shouts that Gou is hers
  and hers alone, one might doubt that she intends to eject at all.

  Anna's finally had enough, and yells back that Mira's mistaken.  Mira doesn't
  want to be _right_, she wants a Gou who loves _her_, and if not for the
  fateful events of five years ago that's probably what she was entitled to.
  Or else, better that she stayed dead than came back to find Gou in love with
  Anna.  Anna shouts back that Mira has disappointed her: was it really Gou
  _only_ that she was protecting with her life back then?  Wasn't it mainly
  for all the lives that Gou would save in turn by living on?

  Well, gosh, since she puts it that way...  Anna continues that she's one of
  the lives that Gou saved along the way: the fact she's here now is thanks
  to Mira and Gou both.  And she will let neither Gou _nor_ Mira die now!
  Perfect timing for the software to finish, and Anna manges to forcibly
  combine with Godannar.

  Inside the cockpit, Gou isn't entirely gone yet, but he's in very sorry shape
  and pleads with Anna not to look at him.  She tells him there's nothing to
  be afraid of: only she and he are together in this place.  As Anna
  reaffirms her love for Gou, a strange light begins to shine that seems to
  partially restore Gou's faculties.  He asks her to lead him to where the
  Mimetic Beasts are: he can still fight with her by his side!  She happily
  agrees, and it's a good thing: that Super-Mimetic Beast is back.  Gou knows
  his time is limited, and he asks Anna to lend him the strength to defeat it
  while he's still "him".

  Watching all of this, Mira thinks about how badly the Mimetic Beasts have
  warped her destiny.  There's but one thing to do: pay them back in kind.
  Anna is willing to follow her man through the gates of Hell if need be, and
  defeating the Super-Mimetic Beast is pretty close.  But the combined might of
  the iron giant and the human soul results in a true Emissary of Justice: this
  was the underlying theory behind Tatsuya's whole giant-robot-trumps-Mimetic-
  Beast plan.  This God-like power arrayed before the team is the ultimate
  proof that he was right.

  The pesky Super-Mimetic Beast regenerates, but from inside its bowels bursts
  the Celebrator, piloted by a very much alive Rue.  She's figured out the one
  weak point on the whole monster, a glowing area on its forehead.  Attacks
  anywhere else won't work, a lesson that Ken gave his life to teach her.
  Rue shouts for Gou to grab onto her, and to everyone's astonishment her
  mech becomes Godannar's weapon: the legendary Triple Drive!!

  It's a colossal attack, and it well and truly obliterates the Super-Mimetic
  Beast.  But Gou won't be participating in the celebration: the massive
  outpouring of wrath has caused his body to morph into something not even
  vaguely human.  Angelica tells the horrified Anna that Gou is still alive
  (technically), and Kiriko tells her of all the research projects world-wide
  focused on reversing the effects of Rabid Syndrome.  Surely all that
  brainpower can help... eventually.  That's good enough for Anna, who for
  now brings her husband back to base.

Normally Gou's disobeying orders would earn him a court-martial; under the
circumstances, however, he deserves a whole salad bar full of medals.  Since he
now resembles a vat full of artificial intestinal lining, he won't be wearing
them any time soon, and the other male pilots can only hope that SCIENCE! cures
Rabid Syndrome before they end up like that too.  Anna and Rue have accompanied
the poor guy to sickbay, leaving the rest of the pilots to wonder where the
elusive Aoi Tatsuya went off to.  Between rescuing refugees, rebuilding the
world's cities, and researching Rabid Syndrome, odds are good that he's _not_
on vacation.  Kiriko's used to her husband being nowhere nearby, though she'd
be lying if she said it doesn't make her lonely sometimes.  That's just a
little extra incentive to keep up the fight against the Mimetic Beasts (which
have NOT been all defeated just now) and return peace to the Earth.  Sayaka
figures she couldn't stand being apart from whoever she marries one day...
not that that's unlikely not to be Kouji or anything...

See 31A for Gasm and Ru Cobol's chat.

Anna tells Gou to be patient just a while longer until she can return him to
normal.  Gou's brother Shinobu [remember him?] now realizes just how determined
Gou's been to defend the Earth all this time.  He now wants to follow in Gou's
footsteps and defend the Earth as a pilot, and hopes Gou recovers soon so he
can show him how it's done.  Rue knows that, like Ken, Gou stayed faithful to
the path he believed in.

Kiriko then comes in with great news.  The Archangel detachment has set things
up for coexistence with the Festoom, and gotten a huge load of data that may
well be the key to restoring Gou to normal.  She'll have the science team
start trial medication runs as soon as the Archangel arrives.  Anna asks where
her father went, immediately apologizing to Rue for bringing the topic up.
Rue tells her not to worry, and Kiriko sighs that the man has gone off on
errantry again.  But as Anna knows well by now, the guy is always nearby,
looking out for her.

Kiriko hopes that when all the fighting is over, she, Tatsuya, Anna, and her
son- and nephew-in-law can all live together.  Anna invites Rue to be part of
the household too, explaining just how much she and Gou regretted the way
they misunderstood Rue's sense of loss.  In the meantime, Rue's help would
totally come in handy with the Earth's remaining threats, and Anna promises
to convince Gou to let Rue fight by his side.  Rue feels she should be the
one to apologize for running off and causing so much concern, and will be
happy to join the war effort.  And not a moment too soon, since in addition
to the Archangel, the Daikuu Maryuu is also returning from its successful
campaign against the Darius army.  The final battle against the invaders is
close at hand, and the sooner Gou gets woken up to join the festivities, the
better.

Assuming you met the conditions, someone naming himself Captain Kaiji phones
Dannar Base up just then, claiming to have salvaged a little something Kiriko
must have dropped.  Rather than having it scaring the fish, he prefers to hand
it over pronto.  The captain and his first mate are speaking some strange
delusional mixture of Japanese and French, but what they've raised from the
depths is none other than the Blade Gyner!  Even better, its pilot still has
life signs, though one supposes Ken is in a similarly squishified state as
Gou.  As Rue races off to watch the extraction process, Kiriko and Anna head
off to greet the returning Archangel and Daikuu Maryuu.

[I kept the Godannar path all the way through, so I'm keeping Ken.]


32. The World to be Reset (part 1)

The taloned man has a brand new mech called the Birthday, designed for
underwater action and fully outfitted with fluid actuators.  Its specs are well
in excess of the Originals, though this one isn't armed -- the techs did this
just because they love to tinker with stuff.  The taloned man has had Fasalina
and Mihael represent the Originals for the unveiling, which they feel is a
great honor.  Before he can board the mech however, some sort of intruder
appears at the base.  Fasalina and Mihael go out to eliminate whoever it is,
asking the taloned man to wait just a bit longer.

The uninvited guest is Rei, all by his lonesome and still hot on the taloned
man's trail.  Of course Fasalina and especially Mihael won't tell him the
taloned man's whereabouts, so Rei intends to rummage around in the base on his
own.  And, since he's here, he figures he may as well trash the giant mech
he sees nearby.  Fasalina seems genuinely distressed at all this talk of
violence, and asks why Rei is so determined to obstruct the Comrade's plans.
Because, snarls Rei, the taloned man stole something precious from him -- and
what goes around, comes around.  Fasalina tells him that he can never win like
that: his personal vendetta pales next to the common good that she and Mihael
are fighting for.  The Comrade's people are fighting to save lives!

Is that a fact?  Why then, Rei asks, did the taloned man take the life of the
woman he loved, for no better reason than her disagreement with his methods?
Why wasn't his unassuming little dream of a quiet life together not respected?
Fasalina starts to say that it was for the sake of a larger dream to be shared
by all, but Rei demands to know what right they have to eliminate all the
_other_ dreams in the world.  Mihael counters that if Rei submits to the
Comrade's dream, his anguish will vanish, but Rei has a better idea: inflict
an equal measure of anguish on the taloned man instead.  He'll have to fight
through a lot of enemy troops to do it, but the last thing Fasalina ought to
do is underestimate him now...

Back at Dannar Base, the commanders summarize the doings of the past route
split for each other.  To recount the remaining enemies, there are the Jama,
the Edax, and the taloned man's forces.  The team has lost some members,
regained some old ones, and has at least one person pregnant: all reasons why
the peaceful future everyone wants isn't far off.  Mira for example is back
in the saddle, but has found that she can never go back to the way things
were five years ago.  The only thing the ace pilot can do is grit her teeth
and find a way to move forward.

First, it would help to un-splorkify the victims of Rabid Syndrome, most
important of which are Gou and Ken.  Rue is attending Ken's operation, doting
on him like a father (or perhaps more...), and Anna is doing the same for Gou.
The operations don't take long, and Gou is happily back to normal.  So back to
normal in fact that he can see visitors right away.

The team all pile into the recovery room to see their comrade whole again.
Kiriko knew her son-in-law was tougher than all that, and Gou is looking
forward to getting back to defending the peace... and Anna.  Ken grumbles a bit
that a body can't sleep with all this racket, and although he intends to keep
fighting the Mimetic Beasts until every last one is dead, he won't be doing so
right this minute: his injuries are far worse than Gou's were.

He's of course grateful to the team for saving his life.  However, he's adamant
that he won't let himself be imprisoned here: should Kiriko or her people try,
he'll break out by force.  Not the way most people would talk to those who
saved their life, but Ken is used to being on the outs with polite society.
Seeing his determination to hunt Mimetic Beasts, Kiriko offers him a
proposition: join the team and help fend off the other invading forces 
menacing the Earth.  After all, should the entire Earth be destroyed, any tiff
with the Beasts would become rather moot.

Ken considers this, still haunted by the things he's done, but Rue tells him
she's already decided to keep the Earth safe.  That's good enough for Ken,
though he emphasizes that he'll only stick around until the invaders are gone.

As the team gathers for a general conference, Van is once again very
impatient to be after the taloned man, who would appear to be the last threat
that his world faces.  He wants to go in alone, which is of course a highly
suboptimal way to track down his foe, and he only barely contains himself when
the entire rest of the team tell him to be patient.  The taloned man's
whereabouts are currently unknown, which also goes for the Jama and Edax.
This is a bad sign in all three cases: the taloned man's organization is known
to be up to their scary Happy Time project, and Himika's had a full fifty
years to prepare for the Jama assault on the Earth.  The wild card is Edax,
who for reasons of their own opted _not_ to just wipe the Earth out like they
did Atreem and Bezzard.

It sucks to always play catch-up defense, and Gou says it best: if only there
were just one clue as to the bad guys' whereabouts!  Kyou is about to speak
up with a "hunch" when a extra-dimensional distress call comes in.  It's
Da Jin, and he's got dreadful news: a zone of blue-black glowing clouds has
covered the sky, accompanied by earthquakes and tsunamis.  Even more
astonishing, the moon has _stopped_moving_.  Even ignoring the celestial
upsets, the earthquakes and flooding have left the land in turmoil, and La
Kan's presence is needed right away to help restore order.  The connection
drops, due to dimensional instability, and since Da Jin is currently the only
one with a pan-dimensional transmitter, there's no other way of knowing how the
rest of the world is doing.

The only known people with the ability to affect global climate and geology
would be the Edax and possibly the taloned man.  Could this be part of the
"reformatting the world" business?  After all, the guy's organization had
enough capital to build a rocket -- perhaps they knew the first rule of
government spending and built a second one?  Mist recalls that neither planet
the Edax attacked ever had its moon halt, and Sakon declares that the only way
to definitively name the culprit is to go to the scene of the crime.

Since that's decided, Van orders "Four-Eyes" Sakon to move his ass and turn the
Gate on.  As for Kyou's educated guess about the Jama, he suspects they're on
the moon, and even knows what coordinates they would eventually try to reach.
Michi will use every monitoring system available to scan the spot, and let the
team know if anything develops.  The rest of the team goes in its entirety: if
it _is_ the Edax's work, history has shown that all hands will be needed on
deck.  The fleet arrays itself for the transfer, Naoto's voice at the conn
getting steadier and steadier as he gains experience.

Somewhere else, Gasm reports to Ru Cobol that the Minus Energy gathering is
proceeding apace.  Ru Cobol reminds Gasm to keep searching for those
Fragment-bearing descendants, and since there's some time until the Minus
Energy buildup is complete, Gasm wants permission to go finish a side project
that Veliny started.  He thinks that the so-called Happy Time project could
be used to solve the energy consumption problems of Planet Crisis, and wants
an opportunity to recover the necessary ingredients before the planet is
destroyed.  Ru Cobol grants the request, with the admonition to not spend too
much time doing so.

When the team arrives at Zhuli, they find that the whole world is indeed in
the grips of these increasingly strong earthquakes.  None of the ancient
records from the last Cataclysm resemble the current crisis, and no one's
ever heard of the moon becoming totally stationary before.  The closest the
Soraians have is a record of the moon once crashing to the surface, but that
seems a tad far-fetched.  For now, all the team can do is help with disaster
relief and hope that Sakon can make some sense out of the clouded skies above.

Despite the humanitarian crisis, Van is determined to strike out on his own,
period.  Joshua and Wendy's words aren't likely to stop him, but Joshua spies
something in the town's hangars that does.  It's Rei and his badly damaged
mech, brought here by A Kan and the others when they found it during a food
run.  Rei got there by running as far away from the battle he lost as 
possible until his fuel ran out, though he was found unconscious and more
gravely injured than he wants to admit.

Even Van will admit that Rei is a very able pilot -- who on earth could have
kicked his ass this badly?  Rei doesn't want to mention a word about the
taloned man in Van's hearing, since with his mech busted there's no way he can
stay ahead of Van in the hunt for the taloned man.  Joshua asks what he means
to do with the Volcain, and Rei says he's going to make it so strong that
"they" will never beat him again.  Joshua's happy to help him: he didn't want
Rei using the thing to fight in the first place, but since he can't stop Rei
the least he can do is try to keep Rei alive.  If killing the taloned man is
the only way for Rei to move forward with life, that's what Joshua wants to
make possible.  That's the only thing Joshua can think of to do for Rei... and
for Shino.

The girls of the Invincible Squad then lean on Rei to stop his solo act and
join them, seeing as how he owes them his life (and mech) now.  Rei only agrees
when he has his manhood questioned, and then with the greatest of misgivings.

Meanwhile, Sakon finally cracks the riddle of what's happening to the world.
It is in fact the taloned man's fault, and Sakon has coordinates he wants the
battleships to head to _now_.  He also wants all the pilots sortied so the
catastrophe can be stopped, and promises to explain once everyone is aboard and
underway.

Sakon has with him a man named Zapiro Muttarka who until recently worked for
the taloned man.  Upon hearing this, Van has to be physically restrained by
Shizuka and hauled off like a baby to the hangar.  Geez, this guy _never_
grows up.  Zapiro has heard of Van, the "out-of-order member" of the Original
Seven who is the principal obstacle to the taloned man's plans.  Zapiro has
fled from the organization after a double-agent scuttled the coup d'etat Zapiro
was part of.  The coup was motivated by the growing realization of what the
unfolding Happy Time project would do to the people of the world: slaughter
them all.

The "reformatting" of the world entails destroying it, and then rebuilding it
as it once was.  The taloned man's plan for world peace boils down to the
trivial solution: the null set.  Zapiro had first thought that the power
the taloned man was amassing was to establish a totalitarian regime, and he
was willing to go along with it.  But when he found out the taloned man's
true plan for peace, he freaked.  Carmen notes that this account differs
considerably from how Fasalina described the taloned man's intentions -- some
sort of unification of all living things into one big happy mass.

That would have been fine with Zapiro too, and in fact that's what he was
helping with shortly before the failed coup.  It turns out that the Comrade
intends to use his Birthday to drop the moon on the Earth, and Zapiro is
sure that all the unusual phenomena are the prelude to the moon being pulled
from the skies.

Lacus then radios in from her ship: if Zapiro is telling the truth, there's not
a moment to spare.  At the very least, Zapiro has provided an accurate location
for the taloned man's base.  You'd think that the numerous pillars of light
stretching into the sky would be a dead giveaway, but remember people in this
Earth aren't exactly the most scientific.  Zapiro explains that the lights are
controlling the flow of the G-ER fluid that permeates this world, and can also
exert a pull on the moon.  The "ER" in "G-ER" stands for "electrorheological",
a substance whose viscosity changes in the presence of electricity: this is the
stuff used in the Original Seven Armors to simulate the effect of muscle and
connective tissue.  It's the primary reason that such machines can manage
bipedal motion, and might even be used in the El Dora for all the old geezers
remember.

G-ER also has the properties of a memory material... meaning that when spread
all over the world, it will _record_ what's going on everywhere in the world.
That record is what will enable the world to be rebuilt after the moon crashes
into it, or so the theory goes: Zabiro can't imagine the emotionless taloned
man actually doing so.  Whatever the taloned man's real intentions are, he
clearly can't be allowed to drop the moon on the planet.

Unfortunately, even Shizuka isn't able to restrain Van forever.  He breaks
free and blasts off in Dan, heading right into what Zapiro describes are
fearsome defenses.  The rest of the fleet has no choice but to rush off after
him.

The taloned man's Birthday plans already got pushed back once, and if he
doesn't act soon he might not be able to last.  He tells Fasalina and Mihael
to keep careful watch, since he knows Zapiro may try to do something to stop
him.  As the taloned man proclaims "Happy Birthday", Gasm shows up to crash
the party.  He introduces himself as Veliny's colleague, and the taloned man
absently notes that he should have invited her: he wanted to thank her while
he was still alive for all the help she gave in getting to this point.

Gasm informs him that Veliny died in battle, and wants to claim the reparations
that she was due... starting with data on the taloned man's mind transplant
device.  The taloned man recalls that that was indeed the bargain in exchange
for the energy Veliny loaned him, and directs his scientists to fork the data
over.  The scientists are aghast, but the taloned man hopes that by
promulgating the system, the whole of space can be made as peaceful as the
Earth is about to be.

Gasm makes sure he's got the data, then informs the taloned man that his
dreams of going to a new world aren't going to get out of the starting blocks.
Veliny's final directive to Gasm was to stop Happy Time at all costs.  That
doesn't immediately compute for the taloned man, who always seemed rather
dense, but Mihael and Fasalina hastily sortie the 101s.  Gasm is anything
but impressed, noting that hundreds of them at once wouldn't slow him down one
bit.  To prove his point, he destroys the whole lot of them in an instant.

Fasalina takes him on personally, noting that violent men like him are her
type.  Sadly for her, she's not at all Gasm's type, and Gasm is about ready
to sweep her out of his way when Van shows up.  Van insists on being the one
to ruin the taloned man's day, and Gasm actually decides to let him do it.
Unlike Van, Gasm doesn't care _how_ the Happy Time project is trashed, so long
as trashed it is by the time he heads home.  He tells Van not to fuck this one
up and heads off to spectate from the sidelines.

Van finally gets to talk directly to the taloned man, and he doesn't have
much to say other than death threats.  The taloned man does hope to expend his
life on something slightly more useful, and Mihael rushes in to intercept
Van first.  Van is surprised to see the "idiot brother" on the scene, and when
Mihael yells not to call him "brother", Van says that "just idiot" will do
nicely.  All Mihael's blathering about "high callings" and "greater good"
mean nothing to Van, and his order to stop dwelling on the past like a
revenant only makes Van madder.  He yells back at Mihael not to get all
uppity and smart on him.

Mihael then shouts that humans are capable of living without struggle... if not
for people like Van messing things up.  Van screams that Mihael's people were
the ones who fired the first shot, adding that it's time for him to get the
fuck back to Wendy's side and stop acting like a spoiled little baby.  The
two of them would probably go on yelling at each other for hours if not for
the arrival of the cavalry.

Van and Rei immediately start quarreling about who gets to finish the taloned
man off first, even as Rosa promises punishment for running off ahead of the
team.  The taloned man starts to tell everyone to get along, then realizes
that this will be the "last" quarrel in the world, and encourages them to do it
with gusto.  Van might not style himself an Ally of Justice, but the El Dora
team certainly do and they announce that the taloned man is going down.  He
has Fasalina sortie the remaining 101's, and the technicians ask her to buy
the fifteen turns needed for the Birthday to activate fully.  Sakon is going
to try to sneak into the base and disable the system in half that time (7
turns), and asks the team to take out the giant robot by then.  Sakon will
have the info-gathering folks and Shizuka along.  Better hurry...

  The taloned man can't quite figure out why Van doesn't want to talk with
  him -- this whole "revenge for Elena" thing seems beyond his comprehension.
  Fasalina too can't figure out why Van won't just abandon himself to her
  charms and get along.

  The taloned man has clearly gone insane, saying that life is death and
  death is eternal.  He calls all the sinful by birth, all the foolish by
  race, to take up their cross and await salvation/destruction from the sky.
  As the guy babbles on, Rei interrupts and asks if the taloned man knows what
  happens to those who lose their dreams.  They become overwhelmed with
  irreparable grief, rage, sadness, and all those other ugly emotions.  Does
  the taloned man want life, or dreams?

  Rei fires his sniper rifle, doing negligible damage to the taloned man.
  Ah, what a shame... if the taloned man had been Rei's target.  But what Rei
  was actually shooting at was the Birthday System, and he hit that dead on.
  However, the technician assures his Comrade that he can fix it and that the
  schedule won't slip.  Rei gets blasted for his pains, and it seems that his
  resistance was in vain.

  Van tries his hand next, and the taloned man praises him for being strong
  enough to keep chasing his dreams.  He offers Van a present: the excess
  energy of dropping the moon can be compressed and refined in ways that will
  allow history to be "fixed".  He can, in short, give Van back his fiancee
  though his own death.  Oh, he wants _so_badly_ to be Van's friend.  Van
  screams that Elena is already dead, by the taloned man's hand no less, and
  demands to know if the taloned man means to steal even Elena's death from
  Van.  The last thing Van came to hear was some dickwad mumbling about
  coming back from the dead.  What he came to do was kill the taloned man's
  ass.

  It's beginning to occur to the taloned man that Van is very poor at listening
  to him, and it suddenly dawns on him that Van must be what is known as an
  "idiot".  Ah, blessed idiocy, pure action without thought, the very thing
  that lets people dream!  He never knew idiots could be this fascinating, and
  deals Van a blow sound enough to nearly knock Van unconscious.  Everything
  that's happened until now is spinning around inside his head as the rest of
  the team frantically yells at Van to not capitulate now.  It takes a moment
  to remember the debacle of Elena's death, but when he does it makes him
  EXTREMELY pissed off.

  Just what the doctor ordered, apparently.  The taloned man wants to know why
  Van is resisting him this much, and Van replies that it's 'cause the taloned
  man made him mad.  The attack has also severed any hope of reactivating
  the Birthday System.  The thought of his plans being ruined pushes the
  taloned man entirely over the edge, and he begins babbling about starting his
  plan from scratch, with Van as his number one friend: the representative
  of all idiots everywhere.  He feels like he's been reborn, but Van has plans
  to fix that.

  Shoot down the Birthday first, and the head technician will try to initiate
  repairs and sortie more 101's to defend it.  Unfortunately, by this point
  Sakon and Zapiro have taken over the main computer: further repairs and
  defense are impossible.  The taloned man can't believe his long-cherished
  dream is about to fail, and when Rei says "I told you so" he gets blasted
  badly enough that he can't put together an entire smug sentence.  In
  particular, he can't prevent Van from going _first_ to finish the final blow,
  but he can arrange for a sort of tie.

  It's a very odd but very effective joint attack, and _almost_ finishes the
  taloned man off.  Said taloned man is only barely hanging on, but Rei's mech
  doesn't have the stamina for a second round.  Van's Dann however is just
  fine, and the last thing the taloned man says is that he loves Van.  Van's
  love for Elena is far more impressive, and his revenge is finally complete.
  The battle still continues though, with all the remaining enemies to deal
  with.

  Fasalina thinks that with the Comrade gone, there's no more point in going
  on living.  Wait, maybe if she can resuscitate him...  She thinks she can
  make that work, and rushes off to try.  Mihael too despairs over not
  protecting the Comrade, lamenting how useless he is.  Van is about to make
  sure he stays down, and the El Dora team fret that there's nothing they can
  do to help their "student".  Carlos, awake for the first time in what seems
  like ages, reminds them of the Motion System that Bucci installed.  Nero
  protests that that just gets in the way, but Carlos tells him it works just
  fine if he'd read the manual.  Only someone who knows Van's movements as
  intimately as they do could use it, and although Van seems unwilling the
  result is one hell of a team attack.  Mihael knows he's beaten now, but
  reckons there must be some other way to spread the Comrade's ideals.

That puts well and truly paid to the taloned man and his retinue.  Rei is only
slightly miffed that Van got there first, having at least seen the taloned man
die with his own eyes.  In an entirely unexpected move, Van replies to the
team's congratulations-giving that he couldn't have done it without them.
As Rosa and the others marvel over actually hearing a word of thanks from Van,
Sakon radios in to say that he's about to permanently shut down this base lest
any other evil-doers use it.

As Sakon and friends head towards the central core, Mihael gets in their way
and announces that he won't let them destroy the Comrade's dream.  Shizuka
tells Wendy that her brother is about to get himself decked, but Wendy tells
her to leave him to her so they can go on ahead.  Carmen is startled by this,
but tells the hesitant Shizuka to do as Wendy asks.  Wendy is serious enough
about all this that she levels the gun she's kept holstered all this time
at Mihael.  He demands to know why she's getting in his way, and she tells him
it's because he's wrong.

Wrong?!  How could anyone not want a world with nothing but happiness?!
Easily.  First of all, nobody asked the taloned man to try something like that.
Second, if there's nothing _but_ happiness, happiness too might as well not
exist.  And third, no one has the right to inflict that on someone else: doing
so isn't "happiness" at all, merely emotional rape.  He advances on her in
fury, and gets his ass shot.  He keeps trying to drag himself down the
corridor, but Wendy grabs onto him, telling him that no one wants the
world-wide change he's trying to cause.  What would she know of the "world", he
demands to know.  Uh, plenty.  She's only, like, seen it with her own eyes and
wandered it with her own two feet.  In fact, she's seen not one, but _two_
Earths.

What does Mihael know except this precious "Comrade" of his?  Mihael shouts
back that there's nothing greater than the Comrade, and Wendy finally sees
why the taloned man has so many followers.  He uses words like "dream" and
"world" to turn people's attention from others and onto their own selfishness.
Mihael, she figures, just wants something to believe in... and he's chosen a
fraud.  Mihael screeches that denying the Comrade equals denying him, and
that's the one thing that absolutely must not happen!!!

Wounded though he is, he nearly wrings Wendy's neck before Kameo nibbles on him
and returns him to his senses.  Mihael realizes what he's done, and tells
Wendy that she may be right.  Still, he thinks he's on the right path, and
wants to go on following it, just as he wants Wendy to go on following hers.
He returns the gun to her and tells Kameo to keep looking out for her.

The team reaches the central control room, from which it should be possible
to erase all the installation's data.  In the corner comes the muffled voice
of the fabled Bucci.  He had originally planned to hold the fort against enemy
assault, but when he saw the El Dora Soul among the attackers, he knew that
they couldn't be the bad guys.  After all, he built the better half of the
El Dora's systems, and knows the old geezers piloting it wouldn't ally
themselves with evildoers.  He says he never joined the taloned man's team,
but was kidnapped and forced to work.

With Bucci's help, Zapiro gets all the control data erased.  Now all that
remains is destroying the base itself, and he presses the self-destruct switch
that will blow the whole thing to kingdom come in three minutes.  Just then
Fasalina rushes in, demanding to know why he's just brought all the Comrade's
plans to naught.  She cries out that she'll never forgive him, but as the
base starts breaking up she's hit by some falling rubble and immobilized.
Carmen has no reason to save Fasalina specifically, but she doesn't want to
just leave her to die either.  As she asks Shizuka for help to carry her,
Mihael bursts in and says that won't be necessary.

He tells Carmen that Wendy is safe and sound and back down the corridor.  He
asks her to to find Wendy and escape while there's still time, while he
escapes with Fasalina.  Carmen tells the two of them to come along with her,
but Mihael persuades her to go on ahead.  Wendy however isn't persuaded.  She
shows up and tells her brother that she'd never leave him alone somewhere
dangerous like this.  Mihael finally accedes, and as he leads Fasalina toward
Wendy the two of them narrowly miss being squashed by a pillar.  Guess Wendy
just saved their lives.

The group barely makes it out ahead of the blast, and word of their safe
return reaches the Archangel.  Gou is confident that Van will elect to keep
aiding the team now that his revenge on the taloned man is complete, and the
rest of the team hopes he's right.  Just then, someone interrupts the radio
link: it's Gasm, with some "heartfelt" thanks for doing all his dirty work for
him.  Mist counters that the team was fighting for world peace, not Gasm's
amusement.  Judging by how much Gasm is laughing, he's quite amused all the
same.  Angelica orders him to get out of her father's body, and he tells the
annoying girl that he won't give the body back until its Fragment has melted
completely, if then.  Whoa, "Fragment"?  What's that?  Realizing he shouldn't
have mentioned that, he tells Mist to forget he mentioned it.

It's time for the greatest show in the multiverse: two Earths being wiped out
of existence simultaneously.  A dimensional distortion some ten kilometers
in diameter appears, and the skies in front of the ships... tear in half.
This is what a _really_ big Gate looks like, and what it does is... connect
this Earth with the other one!  ...Now why the heck would Gasm want to do
that?? 



32B. The World to Be Reset (part 2)

Mist asks the question on everyone's mind: why in blue blazes did Gasm connect
the two Earths together?  Gasm isn't some comic book villain who would
monologue out all the details of his plan, but he does say enigmatically that
the countdown to the Earth's destruction has begun.  He wouldn't even be
talking to the team if not for the vengeance he owes them for Espair and
Veliny.  He challenges them to a showdown in three hours' time, noting that
even if they turn tail and run instead they'll be dead within a few days
anyway.  Would they prefer to die on the field of battle?  Actually they'd
prefer to make him die instead, and accept the challenge.  With much evil
laughter, he announces that the site for the battle will be given to them
shortly before the time is up.

Mihael [assuming you salvaged him] doesn't plan to sit idly by and watch his
world get messed up by this goon, especially since he hasn't even experienced
all of it yet.  He isn't planning on making Wendy cry any more, but he thinks
that the Comrade had at least one thing right: there's far too much fighting in
this world already.  Mihael agrees to fight as part of the team, but when
Carmen puts the question to Fasalina, she tells Carmen that she wants to die.
She thinks she's got no reason left to live, but as Rei points out, she has no
reason to _not_ live either.  By her logic, Rei and Van ought to drop dead too,
but they're still here and still getting things done.  If Fasalina _insists_ on
shirking her responsibility for all the lives she's damaged, he'll do the
honors on the spot.  And Mihael definitely won't let him do that.

The thought of Mihael getting killed gets through to her, and she prepares to
shield Mihael with her own body if need be.  Carmen notes rather wryly that if
Fasalina can at least be honest on that point, it would seem she's got at least
one reason for living.  As Fasalina agrees meekly to help the team, Rei tells
Joshua that he's decided to face his own past sorrows head on, though he
doesn't want Joshua haranguing him about it.  In a way, the simplicity of
Rei's motivations makes him easier for folks like Shizuru to trust.

The team is definitely united by the idea that Gasm isn't allowed to rain on
their parade.  With all their strength combined, there's no obstacle they can't
overcome... at least as of yet.  As the pilots scramble to get their mecha in
top shape, Sakon starts looking into ways to close the Gate.  Angelica however
runs off by herself, presumably bugged by how enthusiastic the team are at
shedding her father's (body's) blood.  She understands intellectually that it's
not her father himself that they're after, but she just feels like being emo
anyway.

It's unclear what the prospects are for Elric to somehow evict Gasm from his
body.  Angelica wonders if Gasm might be somehow betraying Edax, and Mist
supposes that he wouldn't challenge the team if he was planning that.  Well
maybe they can put Gasm into cryostasis using the Overdevil or something!  Mist
looks away, and after a moment asks Angelica if she can hear herself.  Does she
realize that she's sounding even more boneheaded than Mist himself?  She's
getting frantic trying to think of ways to save her father, and Mist tries to
get her to calm down: he's _trying_ to think too.  Angelica then tells Mist
that she's thinking of leaving the team, preferring to protect her father even
if it means fighting against her current comrades.  If Mist was prepared to die
to make Combination succeed, she's equally prepared to die for her father.

Mist would certainly love to save Elric, but he doesn't see how.  And what he
_does_ see is that this Earth must be defended, even if it means his former
commander dying.  Angelica can't bear that thought, saying she'd rather die
herself instead.  Mist actually slaps her, shouting that this is WAR, with the
lives of everyone aboard their second homeworld at stake.  Protecting them must
come first!  Angelica says that she once bought into that ideology, hearing it
constantly from her father while they were on the Atreemian defense forces.
She suspects her father would rather have died than become an agent of evil.
So what changed her mind?

Mist did.  After wandering space after Atreem's destruction, she found Mist,
and thought to go on fighting at his side as his Partner.  And yet Mist had
already met someone else, and developed feelings for her instead.  When Mist
called Angelica "Partner", he meant "comrade" or something... what Angelica
wanted was something more like "family".  Now that she's OH SO LONELY from
losing Mist, she's determined not to lose her father too.  If she's gonna be
all alone, she'd rather be dead.  Well okay then.  Mist digests this a bit,
then apologizes to her for not understanding her [totally ineptly communicated
until now] feelings, and she tells him he needn't apologize: she knows "how
much of a simpleton he is".  Instead of a well-deserved "Gee thanks!", Mist
tells her that he wants her to live, not die.  Yeah he's got feelings for
Sheldia, but Angelica is important to him too.

Angelica muses that Mist is a pretty selfish guy, and Mist is forced to agree.
She agrees not to talk about being better off dead again, in return for Mist
getting her a chance to try to talk to Gasm and see if any remnant of her
father is left.  She thinks it's the least she can do if she's ever going to
come to terms with her final decision -- the final decision to finish Gasm by
her own hand.  Yes, the Earth must be protected, and as such her only remaining
option would be to settle the score herself.  Mist agrees to talk to Cagalli to
get Angelica her chance, and Angelica promises not to trip up the rest of the
team whatever Cagalli decides.

Elsewhere, Ru Cobol confirms that Planet Crisis is underway.  He reminds Gasm
of the order of operations: first maximize Minus Energy, then secure this
potential Fragment-bearer, _then_ trash the place.  Gasm asks about Espair and
Veliny's Fragments, which he thinks would come in very handy if attached to new
principals.  Ru Cobol tells Gasm that he's gotten close enough to all of Ru
Cobol that he can be trusted with this decision.  Gasm is expressing his
gratitude when a "mild headache" wracks him.  Ru Cobol tells him to be patient
just a little longer until he can be freed from the bonds of flesh.

Gasm has to wonder if his principal Fragment is still trying to awaken, unable
to figure out why he can't just assimilate the damn thing already.  Is it
possible that its will is even stronger than his own, despite how many
Fragments he's already been able to agglomerate?  Surely it isn't closer to Ru
Cobol than Gasm is... is it?

Sheldia muses that Angelica seems to have so much on her mind that she can't
even stay jealous of her.  Mist knows that Angelica doesn't want to fight this
fight, but that she's determined to anyway so she can fulfill her last wish and
try to talk sense into Gasm.  Lulu and Maryuu didn't like that idea, but
Cagalli agreed to let Angelica try the next time Gasm gets in touch.
Objectively speaking there's close to zero hope, as even Sakon has no idea how
one might evict another person from one's mind.  However, Sakon has a huge
library on spiritual power and ESP, and he's agreed to rummage through the
Dangaioh's records to see if there's anything about aliens with the ability to
Possess others.  Mist and Sheldia both agree to keep thinking up ways to save
Elric until the very bitter end.  And with Gasm's radioing in, it's showtime!

Cagalli's response to Gasm's challenge is that she intends to not just combat
him, but defeat him.  Gasm finds this to be the height of impudence, but Aslan
points out that the team have been blooded in battle countless times before.
Underestimating this band of brothers and sisters is something Gasm will
regret.  Gasm says that he's looking forward to regretting it, but before he
hangs up Angelica gets on the mic, demanding that he return her father.  He
repeats that he won't return his crucial principal Fragment, but she counters
that her father must not be satisfied with him possessing his body.  Gasm
asserts that the body is his by right of salvage, since it by rights would have
been blown away with the rest of Atreem.  Not so fast: if her father is still
alive, there's no salvage about it.  The body is _Elric's_, period.  Gasm
scoffs at this and tells her that she'll just have to kill his heart but not
the rest of his body... assuming the Earthlings can muster that technology.
Angelica cries out to her father directly, telling him not to let this bastard
beat him, and Gasm hangs up in disgust.

Well, that's pretty much that.  Angelica has now resolved to take Gasm out
herself rather than let him be a servant of evil.  Sakon however has noticed
something interesting.  The way Gasm challenged the _Earthlings'_ ability to
just kill a mind implies that someone, somewhere in space already has that
capability.  That's huge!  Ron recalls the old proverb that "questions don't
kill, answers do", and Sakon hastily has Roll give him full access to the
Dangaioh's database.  Thinking back to Dr. Tarsan, it's quite likely that he
would have researched the topic as part of his strategy of modding people's
bodies.  Sakon can't promise Angelica he'll have a solution by the time the
battle draws to a close, but he'll do his best, which is all she could ask for.

Gasm has designated a spot in space as the battleground, and it seems the
armada will have to head there under conventional propulsion.  The Gates have
stopped responding, perhaps occupied with maintaining that monstrous Gate
connecting the two Earths.  Gasm congratulates the team when they finally make
it, initially all alone.  But fighting the team solo won't optimize the pain
and suffering, so he brings out a bunch of familiar mecha.  There's Fafners and
Overmen and Biozoids, oh my.  Throw in some mobile suits too, just to
demonstrate how readily Edax can manipulate the myriad technologies of the two
Earths.  He assures the team that these adversaries are unmanned, and tells
them to give them their best shot.  At least these foes are ones past combat
records will work on.  The team promises to let Angelica finish Gasm off, but
everything other than that is fair game.

But as the fighting is about to commence, Milliaria detects a very short
pan-dimensional message from an unknown sender.  It reads: "Attack the heart --
the Revlias can do it."  Sakon thinks he might know where this came from, but
for now, it's stompin' time.

  Gasm expects the team to defeat a few of his pawns, but is disappointed that
  the team seems unfazed by facing familiar foes.  Or is it a simple case of
  underestimating the team's will to fight mere machines?  Cagalli notes that
  Espair seemed to have a far superior grip of Earth psychology to Gasm's own,
  and he doesn't appreciate hearing that one bit.  Angelica again cries out to
  her father to stop this, saying she doesn't want to fight him.

  Gasm isn't moved by that, but the person inside his body is.  Angelica
  redoubles her cries upon seeing that they're getting through to him.  This
  seems to be the team's chance, and since Gasm finds himself incapacitated he
  sends out his trump card, the Overdevil.  He orders the Overdevil to buy time
  for him to recover and runs off.  Inside the Overdevil are Kids and
  Malchio...  and outside is _space_, the final frontier.  Kids somehow sees
  this as a chance to build himself a _galactic_ railroad, but without
  royalties to Matsumoto his fate seems cloudy at best.  Still, he gets on the
  radio and tells anyone who manages to save him that he'll make them second in
  command of Siberian Galactic Rail.  The rest of the team shake their heads at
  that, but decide that he's probably worth trying to save anyway.  After all,
  the team's beat the Overdevil once already...

  The team disables the Overdevil, and Shizuka obligingly helps Kids and
  Malchio evacuate (not troubled at all by the prospect of hauling Malchio's
  frozen body around).  As the Overdevil explodes, Gainer seems almost
  disappointed by how pathetically the darn thing went out.  Kids isn't pleased
  at the Overdevil's exit either, but at least he's got his new dream:
  establishing the Siberian Galactic Railroad without fail!

  Add Gasm to the list of those underwhelmed by the Overdevil.  At least it's
  bought time for his headache to subside, and he's back in the business of
  trying to kill Mist.  ...And failing spectacularly.  As he soaks up all
  kinds of damage, his headache returns with a vengeance.  It's Elric, who
  manages enough air time to tell his daughter that he's still around.  Gasm is
  infuriated that his Fragment isn't staying quiet, and blames it all on
  Angelica's incessant crying out to the guy.  Angelica doesn't listen when he
  tells her to shut up, and gets badly smacked around for her pains.  Mist and
  Sheldia get fired up in return, determined to prevent this demon from
  staining Angelica's father's hands with any more blood.

  But before they can vaporize the guy (with apologies to Angelica), Sakon
  breaks in and tells them to stop and instead wish strongly for Gasm to get
  evicted.  He doesn't have time to explain to them fully, but the two of them
  certainly want to save both Elric and Angelica badly.  Some sort of immense
  new power washes over them, and a new weapon appears on their HUD: the Regret
  Buster.  At Sakon's urging, they channel the power of their hearts through it
  and into Gasm, breaking his unification of all his Fragments.

  This frees Elric, who of course has no idea where he is or what's going on
  but is quick on the uptake as Mist and Sheldia rescue him.  Thankfully
  Angelica wasn't actually slain by Gasm's outburst, and Mist and Sheldia
  shuttle the two of them back to the flagship.  Hopefully Gasm is gone from
  inside Elric...

  From inside Elric, yes.  Gone, period?  Not so much.  No sooner does Gasm's
  mech explode than it reassembles.  Gasm tells an astounded Mist that Edax's
  agents are immortal: so long as they have a Principal, they can revive any
  number of times.  Since there were no well-suited bodies at hand, Gasm took
  the risk of principalizing his own mech instead in the interest of
  slaughtering everyone.  Especially Mist and Sheldia, who have brought him to
  the brink of losing his very personality.  He figures he'll devolve into a
  mere Fragment, but doesn't care so long as they pay with their lives first.
  And if he can steal _their_ Fragments, he's got a shot at living on -- their
  Fragments are ever so much more magnificent than his.  And in time, possibly
  a LONG time, their Fragments will at length melt into Ru Cobol.

  Too bad for him that the best he can muster is a bit of hell-flavored
  weaksauce.  Sakon tells Mist and Sheldia to concentrate once again and wipe
  out Gasm's spirit.  This time they extend Regret Buster into "Shining Heart
  Punisher", well and truly blowing Gasm out of existence.  It takes a lot out
  them, but Mist manages to tell his former commander to direct his thanks for
  the rescue to the whole team.  At that moment alarms begin to ring, and Mist
  and Sheldia's concentration finally falters.  Their mechs involuntarily split
  apart, and with both pilots' vital signs plummeting, Sakon has Lulu and Naoto
  recover them as quickly as possible.

Watching from the sidelines, Ru Cobol can't believe that Gasm has been blown to
bits like this.  He's _not_ pleased that these Crystal Heart-users have come
into their power, but isn't especially concerned over the loss of his pawn
either.  After all, Gasm was slated to be assimilated anyway, and Ru Cobol
already has a lead on a backup principal.  What's more, the Minus Energy
buildup is almost complete, and Planet Crisis is about to go to phase two...

Mist and Sheldia are in Sakon's capable hands, and sleeping comfortably after
their exertion in battle.  Elric still hasn't had a chance to say a proper
thanks, but that will have to be back-burnered in light of what Sakon's learned
about the massive Gate.  This "countdown to destruction" business Gasm spoke of
sounds like a good inducement to shut the thing, especially if it works the
same way as the small Gatings the team has been using.  Since there's no known
way to do that from the Daikuu Maryuu, the only logical course of action is to
go to wherever the Gate is being generated from and either switch it off, or
destroy it entirely.  He's having listening posts all over the Earth help his
search for the faint traces of the generator, and hopes to spot it soon.

He still has little to go on about Edax themselves except for a pile of
incoherent keywords.  One thing is sure however: Edax won't sit idly by and let
their Gate be closed down by the pesky Earthlings.  The good news is: Edax will
therefore be available for observation when the team goes to tackle the Gate.
Until the generator's location is pinpointed, the fleet decides to return to
Zhuli.  And in the meanwhile, Angelica insists that her father get a full
check-up to ensure Gasm hasn't done anything bad to his body.  Shizuka muses to
Sakon that she wants a dutiful daughter like that some day, and Sakon stammers
badly that he's got to get back to work.  Scratching her head, Shizuka grumbles
that she may have to be more direct with her nerdy paramour in the future.


33. The End of Himika's Ambition (part 1)

Daiya can't help feel a bit bummed out by the armada's commute time to their
next showdown, given how easily one can get used to the instant travel
prospects of the Gates.  Hiroshi notes that mankind tends to degenerate when
things are _too_ easy -- something to consider the next time the team wants
to Gate somewhere.  Kenji doesn't disagree, but teases Hiroshi that he sounds
like an old fogey when dispensing wisdom like that.  Hiroshi predictably feigns
a lunge at Kenji, but surprisingly Tsubaki doesn't come to Kenji's aid.  She's
been lost in thought, looking rather pale, and finally owns up to this bad
feeling she's been having... a bad feeling much like the one she had when the
team last fought Himika.  Now why would she be feeling that, when the team is
currently on the other Earth's side of the Gate?  Come to think of it, Kyou
notices that "his" Earth, visible through the massive Gate, seems to lack its
Moon.  No way "that" could have happened, right?  ...Right?

On the bridge, Sakon's been frowning out the window, and finally asks Lulu if
they're off course for Zhuli.  Lulu has Naoto check their heading, and
according to the computer everything is in order.  Which is weird, because
Sakon's eyes are telling him that the ship is getting farther away from the
other Earth.  Sakon has Maryuu's ship's computer double-check, and according to
instruments everything is A-OK.  Vestarnne interrupts the conversation and
tells the team to switch to their Mk.I eyeballs instead: their present course
will crash the whole fleet right into the Moon.  Oh-ho!  Sakon then consults
Michi, who's spotted motion on the Moon at the suspected location of the Jama.
The area is also radiating a strong energy signature, and it's logical to
assume that that energy is somehow affecting the ships' computers.

He tells Naoto to disengage autonav and try manually departing the area.  To
Naoto's dismay, the Daikuu Maryuu's helm isn't affecting its course.  Sakon now
believes that the Moon visible ahead is one and the same as the Moon from his
side's Earth.  He has Lulu radio everyone to expect the Jama to be lying in
wait up ahead.  This is hardly comforting to the Archangel's crew: the last
thing Kenji wants to do is crash into the Moon.  Fortunately, the ship seems to
retain enough thruster control to ensure a gentle touchdown... though if
Soushi's instincts are right, a very un-gentle reception will follow
immediately after.

What awaits the team is a "robot", though it's unclear if anything that large
can be called a robot anymore.  It looks to La Kan like a nightmarish amalgam
of Espair, Veliny and Gasm's mecha, and if size isn't everything it's the main
thing that makes this beast tough.  Angelica's brought Mist and Sheldia out of
sickbay and to the bridge, but before Mist can properly ask what's going on, it
dawns on Elric what the team is facing: Ru Cobol!  He himself has never met
this thing before, but the knowledge has been somehow graven into his memory
(probably thanks to Gasm).  This is the leader of Edax, and if Elric's memory
is trustworthy, he thinks the team had best flee.  The combined power of
Atreem's defense forces wasn't enough to stop this monstrosity, but the more he
thinks about Ru Cobol, the more a splitting headache grips him.

As Angelica escorts her stricken father to sickbay, Rosa patches through a
transmission from the robot.  It's from Ru Cobol, whose body is more than a
little familiar: it's Lem, Sheldia's sister!!  Unlike Gasm's case, Ru Cobol
recognizes both Mist and Sheldia, telling them that he is and is not the Lem
they know.  He readily admits to having possessed Lem's body, adding that there
will be no evicting him the way Mist evicted Gasm from Elric.  The proof is
that Ru Cobol is in total command of Lem's memories, as just demonstrated.
That Edax's boss would show up in person shows that Edax is running out of
pawns, but Ru Cobol isn't here for revenge.  After all, there's nothing to
revenge, given that he can just resurrect Espair and the others in new forms
once he recovers their Fragments.  Doing so _does_ require him to use a
principal Fragment like Lem however, and that's what Ru Cobol wants to talk
about today.

Mist interrupts, shouting that all this stuff about "Fragments" and
"principals" is gibberish.  Ru Cobol tells him he'll understand soon enough,
given that he himself is qualified to be a principal.  In fact, Mist, Sheldia
and Gasm's former principal Elric, and one other strong Fragment-bearer Ru
Cobol senses aboard the ship, are all qualified, and Ru Cobol's come to offer
them a chance to come join him.  Mist yells that Ru Cobol's a bigger dumbass
than he thought if he expects Mist to up and join his side, but Ru Cobol then
adopts Lem's tone and appeals directly to Sheldia.  She'll help her sister out,
won't she?  ...Hmm...

Elsewhere, it's a joyous day for Himika: she's finally got the power of the
Great Bronze Bell at her command.  Took quite a while to figure out how to
channel something that mighty, but she managed it at last.  Her lackeys readily
sense the new strength radiating from her, praising how divine her visage seems
compared to their exile in Aso.  Himika reckons the Great Bronze Bell's power
is sufficient to destroy not just the Earth, but the entire universe.  Well
then, why not destroy the Earth first as repayment for Ikima's death?  Not so
fast, says Himika: she senses the two regular Bronze Bells approaching the Moon
(for no apparent reason) like moths to the flame.  She orders her lackeys to go
extract their revenge for Ikima, using the new Haniwa Phantoms she can now
create.  As they gleefully scramble to comply, Himika's eyes narrow as she
considers another strong power she senses from near the Bronze Bells.  Whatever
it is seems an ill omen to her, but she quickly shakes her doubts off with the
knowledge that "ultimate" power is now hers to command.

Sheldia now faces an awful choice: refuse Ru Cobol's offer, and have to fight
her own sister.  Ru Cobol isn't making things easier by imploring Sheldia with
Lem's voice and mannerisms.  Mist and Sakon remind her that the team was
already able to save Elric from Gasm: they should be able to save Lem from Ru
Cobol the same way!  Oops, forgot about that part.  Plus, Sheldia _did_ promise
Mist to help him keep these Earths safe.  Oh well, sighs Ru Cobol, guess he'll
have to default to squashing the team by force and salvaging the Fragments from
their cold, agonized corpses.  And lest the team get cocky because they
defeated the three Edax commanders, Ru Cobol tells them that Espair and the
others were mere fragments of his total power!  Extra exclamation points!!!

Norza is violently unimpressed, pointing out that never in recorded history has
anyone uttering those words _actually_ been that much more powerful than their
defunct underlings.  That's all the excuse the team needs for a general sortie
and hopefully a rescuing of Lem from Ru Cobol's clutches.  Ru Cobol certainly
won't make that easy, reminding Mist in Lem's voice that she believed him when
he said he'd go out and save Bezzard from the bad guys.  Guess how well that
went.  Mist is able to keep Sheldia focused despite the psychological warfare
for now, but he knows that the two of them won't last long, especially under
the strain of Combining.  Best finish this battle off double-quick.
Fortunately, it seems to Kenji that the rest of the enemies are just small-fry.

  Ru Cobol views Kira, the Super-Coordinator, with some interest; however, he's
  sure to let Kira know that no amount of genetic engineering will make a human
  any more than an imperfect, incomplete being.  The last thing Kira wants to
  talk about is his genes -- all he wants to do is take this turkey to the
  slow-rotating heat lamps.

  After losing half his HP, Ru Cobol acknowledges the team's firepower, which
  after all took down his lieutenants already.  Kouji hints that it's not too
  late for him to abase himself and seek forgiveness, but that's the last thing
  on Ru Cobol's agenda.  He challenges Mist to try using his Regret Buster and
  free Lem, telling Mist that it'll be a futile gesture anyway.  He adds in
  Lem's voice that Sheldia should come to his side if it doesn't work.  Does it
  work?

  HELL NO he replied!  Ru Cobol tells Mist that Lem will be disappointed in his
  immature ass, if he knows her mind at all (and he claims to know it
  completely).  He then tells Sheldia that Lem wants her to come with him, and
  orders Mist to butt out when he protests.  As Sheldia wavers over her answer,
  the Jama forces show up en masse.  Ru Cobol recognizes the riff-raff that
  Espair was helping, and introduces himself to them as the head of Edax.  He
  wants to know what Himika is here for: aiding him perhaps?  Himika finds this
  rather droll, and after duly thanking him for Edax's help in fetching her the
  power of the Great Bronze Bell, she informs him in no uncertain terms that
  she's the one wielding absolute power here.  She neither asks for nor grants
  aid to anyone any more.  She further advises him to stay out of the way
  unless he wants to taste her infinite powers too, squashed underfoot as the
  basest of insects.  Ru Cobol doesn't precisely feel like the basest of
  insects, but rather than force the issue he decides to withdraw and let
  Himika's lackeys tangle with the Earthlings.  He tells Sheldia that she'd
  better have an answer ready soon, since with the clock already ticking on the
  Earth's demise she won't have much time to contemplate.

  Himika's minions aren't sure what to make of the mighty-looking Ru Cobol
  turning tail and fleeing -- maybe it's an indication that he's actually a
  weakling?  Anyway, now they can fight Jeeg to their hearts' content.  Of
  course, the team was prepared for the Jama's offensive, and hastily regroup.
  Kyou tells the team to be very careful: if he's right, Himika has opened the
  Gate of Rangoon.  In a nutshell, that would mean the bad guys are far tougher
  than before, and would explain the strange energy that drew everyone to the
  Moon.

Defeating Himika's stooges comes as little comfort to the team, since Ru Cobol
has gotten clean away.  Not to fear though: the absolute confidence Ru Cobol
has shown suggests he'll come looking for the team again of his own initiative.
A more immediate problem is Sheldia and Mist, who are down in the dumps again
after failing to get through to Lem.  The team decides to quickly regroup and
try to make repairs, both mechanical and psychological.

Mist is fit to be tied over the latest development: he knows that Ru Cobol's
free access to Lem's memories means her case is far more difficult than
Elric's.  Sheldia is trying to put a brave face on it, but when Joshua reminds
her that their big attack did exactly bupkis, she asks for some time alone and
walks out.  Shizuru recommends to Mist that he go console her, as the only
other person here who knew Lem at all.  That computes, so Mist marches off
after her, leaving Joshua to be berated for his lack of delicacy.

Sheldia is in fact pretty conflicted.  On the one hand, she knows full well
that Ru Cobol is the bitter enemy of the Earth and needs an ass-handing in the
worst way.  On the other hand, this is her sister -- given up as dead --
we're talking about.  Sheldia promises Mist that she'll sort her feelings out
by their next sortie, and asks him to believe in her.  Mist agrees, telling her
to consult him if she runs into any roadblocks.

He wanders off, second-guessing whether he's done the right thing by leaving
her be.  Women are complicated!  Women like Angelica, who's been hovering
nearby in concern.  She and Sheldia now have the dubious distinction of truly
feeling each other's pain, and Mist isn't far removed: Lem was part of his
surrogate Bezzard family after all.  The fact that he failed to rescue Lem as
he did Elric isn't very comforting either... Mist won't try to rank his
feelings for his foster sister against those for his former commander, but he
does assure Angelica that he gave his all both times.

Angelica points out that Lem might not be savable after all, earning her a
curt rebuke and swift apology.  Mist concedes that the Lem business is
affecting him more than he hoped, and changes the subject by asking how Elric
is doing.  He's currently undergoing a battery of tests to gauge the import of
all of Gasm's memories flooding his head.  Buried in those memories might be
some hint on how to take Ru Cobol down, and although Elric is hardly back in
combat shape, the team has little option but to impose on his somewhat addled
pate.  Mist reckons that the group of them need to go out to dinner once all
the fighting is over, but Angelica asks Mist to leave Sheldia out of it.  She's
hoping, perhaps in vain, for a brief return to what life was like back on
Atreem.

In the control room, the crew are wondering what Himika's posse was doing on
the Moon.  Kyou figures Himika has managed to reach Rangoon and gained the
power of the Great Bronze Bell.  Before he can explain what those are, Himika
herself phones up to gloat over all the cosmos-shaking power she's got on tap.
Hell, defeating Ru Cobol himself would now be child's play for her.  However,
she's a _principled_ megalomaniac and wants to settle the score with Jeeg
and friends.  She instructs Tsubaki to lead the team to her current location
and hangs up, leaving the commanders to deliberate whether or not to accept
her challenge.  Cagalli has the most persuasive view: since both Himika and
Ru Cobol need to be dealt with eventually, the team might as well deal first
with the person who's actively picking a fight.  As the armada prepares to
move out, Kyou hopes that he's got enough time left to see his ancient battle
with Himika through to its conclusion... he nearly ran out of time while
dealing with the taloned man as it was.


33B. The End of Himika's Ambition (part 2)

With battle imminent, there's little the non-combatants can do besides keep
the home fires burning and ensure that the combatants have somewhere nice to
come home to.  Returning in one piece may be a tall order, judging by the size
of the vessel awaiting the team.  Rangoon turns out to be a gigantic spaceship,
which once brought the Jama to Earth.  Yes, the Jama are aliens... and now have
the power of the Great Bronze Bell amplifying their weapons.  As if to prove
the point, Himika transforms Rangoon into a FRIGGING MUGE bell, out of which
fly several several Haniwa phantoms.  Time to see whether Himika's remaining
lackeys can take revenge for Ikima, or whether they'll get trampled underfoot
as the good guys rush Himika herself.

  Killing Himika's lackeys clears the deck for an assault on Himika herself...
  or so the team thinks.  Himika has other ideas, and in a flurry of truly
  nefarious sorcery magicks up the ghosts of Christmas^WLackeys past.  The
  result is a jet-black monstrosity composited out of Himika's slain troops...
  whose faces dot its surface for easy identification.  Van shouts that this
  has to be some kind of a trick, since the dead can't come back to life, but
  Mia corrects him: these amalgamated bad guys have been summoned dead-as-is.
  Kyou and Tsubaki warn Kenji not to get careless around this new menace: it's
  (even) more dangerous than it looks.

  The agglomerated bad guys have incredible powers of recuperation, thanks to
  that pesky Great Bronze Bell.  Tsubaki knows that only she can neutralize
  it, as does Himika, who's determined to keep Tsubaki from interfering.  It
  sure looks to Kenji that Tsubaki gets body-slammed into the Moon, and no
  words of the team seem to get through to calm him down.  As his rage builds,
  his reason slips away, much to Himika's amusement....

  Tsubaki and Kyou are in fact the opposite of kaput, using the crash as cover
  to sneak inside the Bell.  Kyou isn't in such good shape, but he urges
  Tsubaki to hurry and stop Himika.  Only she can prevent forest fires^W^Wworld
  destruction!  As she prepares to run down the corridor, Tsubaki senses that
  something terrible has happened to Kenji.  All the more reason for her to
  hurry, says Kyou, who promises to follow her in a moment.

  Kenji is in fact running entirely amok, so lost to the team that he decks
  Hiroshi hard enough to send Jeeg flying hundreds of yards away.  The rampage
  surpasses anything that the Overdevils ever did, and greatly dismays Kenji's
  longtime comrades.  Mist dares not use his final attack, lest he eradicate
  Kenji's personality, and the team seems to be out of options.  Himika cackles
  with glee, seeing her belief affirmed that curses are the strongest power
  in the world.

  Tsubaki begs to differ, marching into Himika's throne room and asserting
  that it's the feelings people have for each other that rule all.  She and
  Himika enter psychic combat, and Tsubaki implores Kenji to lend her his
  strength.  Kyou radios the good news that he and Tsubaki are still alive to
  the others, and Hiroshi knows that this fact can be used to quell Kenji's
  rage... assuming there's a way to get him to listen.  ...Which isn't looking
  too promising, as Kenji continues to destroy the lunar landscape.

  The only option seems to be for Hiroshi to project all of the power in his
  Bronze Bell to Kenji, letting him sense Tsubaki's presence more clearly.
  This may eradicate his ability to remain as Jeeg, but it's worth the risk
  under the circumstances.

  Whaddya know, it works.  Kenji's rejuvenated vigor gets Balba's juices
  flowing, and sets Hiroshi's own bell vibrating.  Hiroshi and Kenji join
  forces in an impressive series of attacks, combining into a white giant
  that Shiba calls the true Steel God Jeeg.  Shiba's hitched a ride on the
  Minerva (thanks to "Lacus") to check out the massive Bell signature on the
  Moon.  He wants the thing left intact, but considering that Kyou and Tsubaki
  are inside it, that seems an unlikely outcome.  Hiroshi promises his father
  that he'll bring a chunk of it home, and Aslan has "Lacus" pull back to a
  safe distance.

  Tsubaki triumphantly tells Himika that here's proof that there are stronger
  things than curses.  Not so fast, Himika counters: the battle isn't over
  yet.  She sends out more Haniwa Phantoms to underscore the point, but
  Kenji's past the point of worrying about the small fry.  Best to concentrate
  on the big fish first.

  The bigger they fish, the harder they fall.  The team is so pumped up after
  their victory that Shiba has to remind them to take out the remaining
  Haniwa Phantoms before they can properly bust into the Great Bronze Bell.
  This takes but little time, and as soon as the mopping up is done Kenji
  hurries inside the Bell.  Mist is preparing to follow him when Shiba tells
  him to wait.  For reasons ill-explained, it must fall to Tsubaki and Kenji
  alone to seal Himika away again: no one else must approach.

  Tsubaki can't hold out much longer against the infuriated Himika, but with
  Kenji's arrival she won't have to.  As Kenji prepares to deliver an object
  lesson in the power of feelings, a sword suddenly materializes in his hand
  and conveniently deflects Himika's barrage.  Kyou steps out of the shadows
  and tells Kenji that this is the blade of his soul: the soul of the worthy
  inheritor of the Bronze Bell.

  He finally reveals himself in his true form: "Takeru", an ancient alien who
  descended to Earth to settle the score with Himika.  He's got a sister named
  Miyazu, and the two of them were in the middle of a longer slumber (awaiting
  their chance to take out Himika) when Shiba happened to unearth their
  resting place.  Miyazu is currently incognito as Michi -- that is, as Kenji's
  mother!

  Takeru and Miyazu were part of the Rangoon's original crew, which thanks to
  Himika's interference went amok and traveled pan-dimensionally before a very
  unplanned crash landing on Earth.  The choice facing the crew was: integrate
  into Earth society, or take it over as rulers.  Takeru and Miyazu couldn't
  bear the sight of the beautiful planet turned into a battlefield, and tried
  to persuade the perpetually destruction-loving Himika to play nice.  Nothing
  doing.  Himika and her kin were bound to Rangoon itself -- as long as it
  exists, they can never truly die.

  The next best thing was to take the Bronze Bells, which form Rangoon's core
  command unit, and keep them safe.  That entailed helping found Build Base,
  and eventually passing the Bells down through their bloodline.  Himika thinks
  that that's now over with her acquisition of the Great Bronze Bell, but
  Kyou knows that Tsubaki, recipient of the ancient blood, and Kenji together
  have the power to protect the world.

Lo and behold, Himika gets sealed away.  It appears that Kenji and Tsubaki
get sealed away too in the process, along with Kyou, but that gets ironed out
quickly.  Himika and the Great Bronze Bell are now both gone, and highly
unlikely to return.  Shiba's got a little present for Kyou too: a new medicine
compounded from all the tech mankind's recently been exposed to.  It should
help him hang on a while longer until a proper treatment is available, and
Kyou vows to use that life to defend the Earth.  Kenji still can't believe
Kyou is an alien, but Shiba and Tsubaki smack him around enough that even he
figures out he's not supposed to let on about that to the rest of the team.

Only Ru Cobol remains to fight, and Sakon has plenty of questions for Elric.
He tells Franklin to stop him if he feels the strain on Elric gets too great,
and the battleships rendezvous so the questioning can happen face to face.  As
the rendezvous gets underway, Mist tells Sheldia not to give up about Lem
until the very end.  After all, Kenji's just demonstrated how powerful feelings
can be: surely her feelings for her sister can do the same.  Exactly right,
chimes in Sakon: he's figured out that during the previous battle Ru Cobol's
words depressed Mist and Sheldia enough that their Crystal Hearts weren't
working at full efficiency.

If anything that may be an indication that Ru Cobol has found out about the
Crystal Hearts' hidden power, and fears it.  Moral: Mist and Sheldia need to
polish their feelings into an unshakable wall of confidence.  If they can do
so, even Ru Cobol won't be able to stop the power of the Crystal Hearts from
saving Lem!  Now that that's settled, it's time to question Elric.


34. The Thunder of Heaven

By the time the key players are assembled, Elric is composed and ready to push
himself to help the team.  The first question to answer is: who the hell is Ru
Cobol anyway?  An evil being of pure thought, bent on destroying the entire
universe.  Now, as far as the team knows, he's been doing this by trying to
destroy planets one at a time, and given the literally astronomical number of
planets in the universe, Ru Cobol must have a hell of a lot of patience...  not
to mention the fact that there is a lot more to the universe than just planets.

Ah, but there's more to the story.  Elric tells everyone that Ru Cobol is
incomplete at present, having lost a fight with his fellow Ancients some two
millennia ago.  Ru Cobol was blown to smithereens, but apparently was powerful
enough that he blew the Ancients' planet to smithereens in the process.  Since
Ru Cobol was a spiritual being, those Fragments struck the other Ancients
without their knowledge, falling dormant and awaiting Ru Cobol's
reconstitution.  When the Ancients spread across the galaxy in search of new
homeworlds, they bore the seeds of Ru Cobol with them -- and if those seeds are
ever reassembled, Ru Cobol will once again become an unstoppable force of doom.

Doom = not so good.  So what's up with this Edax organization?  Its purpose is
finding and reassembling the pieces of Ru Cobol, and is indeed composed
entirely of Fragments, right down to the lowest-ranking footsoldiers.  All the
planets Edax has attacked are former colonies of the Ancients (though this
fact was known only to the very top governments of Atreem and Bezzard), which
are destroyed as a matter of policy once any Fragments they hold are fetched.

Speaking of which, it's worth mentioning how Planet Crisis works.  It's a
spacetime shockwave weapon capable of utterly annihilating entire worlds, with
the side effect that any Fragments on the planet are forced to manifest as
warriors.  If those warriors are killed, they simply revert back to Fragment
form; and if they live, they can be absorbed by Edax members to make them
closer to Ru Cobol's true form.  This works because Ru Cobol can aggregate
other Fragments onto a principal Fragment, producing beings like the Edax
commanders.

Espair was a collection of Fragments derived from the Ancient scientists.
Veliny was a combination of the women and beasts.  In a way, Edax is like
what would happen if the humans, united into the Festoom collective, were to
be split up again.  Moreover, not all Fragments are equally strong: some, like
the one within Elric, are as powerful as they are difficult to digest.  That's
why Gasm had to use Elric as his new principal Fragment instead of assimilating
Elric into whatever he looked like before.  This also means that the more
Fragments an Edax member gathers, the more difficult it will be to not be
influenced by the personalities of those Fragments... unless a proper amount
of time is spent on assimilation.

Kenji remembers Kyou's analogy of juice spilled into a pool: how would one
get the juice back out again?  With great difficulty, if it's had a chance to
diffuse.  Angelica realizes something else: it's the Fragment that allows one
to utilize a Crystal Heart, yet another legacy of the Ancients.  The
implication is that she, Elric, Sheldia and Mist all have Fragments within.
According to Elric, it's not a foregone conclusion that their Fragments will
eventually make them evil as Ru Cobol nears completion: after all, they've been
doing just fine fighting for the good guys' side up until now.

One other interesting tidbit is that Ru Cobol's forces always neutralize a
planet before wiping it out and claiming its Fragments, largely by provoking
those Fragments.  There's every likelihood that some of the Atreem defenders
were shot in the back.  The question now is Lem, whose spirit must stand up to
a far more fearsome foe than Elric faced in Gasm.

As for why the Earth didn't get destroyed out of hand, it seems that Espair
is, in a way, to thank.  When he arrived after the destruction of Bezzard, he
was impressed at the amount of Minus Energy encircling the Earth -- the product
of all the hatred, jealousy, and other negative stuff going on (like being
invaded by several different alien races at once).  Espair helped those aliens
foment chaos on Earth to heighten the Minus Energy, intending to put it to
good use for Ru Cobol.  At the same time, Espair's fragments were weak enough
that he bore none of Ru Cobol's core memories, and was quite attached to the
independent life.  He eventually resumed Fragment-finding when Veliny prodded
him, but it turns out that Earth wasn't one of the places the Ancients
colonized -- _either_ Earth, in fact.

The other Earth did however hold a large number of interesting technologies
of potential use to Edax, including the Happy Time system which would produce
a sort of psychic Big Bang when its victims' spirits were sublimated.  That
energy could be used to keep Planet Crisis fully charged, a concept whose
realization the team disrupted by defeating Veliny midway.  Gasm tried to
finish what she and Espair had started, but once again Gasm lost before the
ideas came to fruition.  Espair and Veliny's Fragments are presumably lurking
somewhere in Earth's vicinity, though Gasm may have been entirely annihilated
for all Elric knows.  Even if Espair or Veliny were to be reassembled at this
point, they'd be an entirely new being: memories of who they once were are
trivial compared to what they will be when Ru Cobol is reconstituted.

How to defeat Ru Cobol is the main problem that his fellow Ancients apparently
solved two millennia ago [which, for the record, is anything but Ancient on
the planet I come from...]  There's a real possibility that the Solvalius Rex,
designed by those Ancients, has the power to free Lem without hurting her
physically.... assuming that Ru Cobol's immense power can be overcome.  This
will likely require even greater power than Mist and Sheldia unleashed when
Gasm was defeated, and given that that effort knocked both of them unconscious,
unleashing an even more powerful attack could well prove fatal.

Mist and Sheldia state they're willing to trade their lives for the lives of
Lem and everyone on Earth, but Cagalli isn't having any of it.  As Soushi
puts it, there's not even a guarantee that a fatal effort would automatically
lead to Ru Cobol's defeat.  What the team need to do is figure out a way for
Mist and Sheldia to live _and_ to ensure Ru Cobol's defeat.  It would help if
they knew where Ru Cobol is, and that's one of the things that Elric can't
remember.  Just trying gives him a massive headache, and Franklin declares that
the questions must stop for medical reasons.

Heck, maybe the best thing to do is wait for Ru Cobol to come calling on his
own initiative.  Or maybe the thing to do is go to the lunar base in search of
any data that might have been overlooked.  As the commanders ponder the
question, in comes a transmission.  Though garbled, it mentions that the end of
the Earth, and the Moon, is near, and requests assistance.  It's coming from
the "Hole in the Moon", a giant crater known to be a warp zone.  Though there
are no signs of heat or metal or anything suggesting a source for the
transmission, it clearly came from there.  Whatever "hole" the MARZ agents
came from has been closed all this time, and even with Gate tech Sakon hasn't
been able to reopen it... so where precisely did the transmission come from?

Cagalli can think of no better strategy than going to the crater and checking
it out in person.  At the very least, losing the Moon would mean losing any
hope of opening another Hole in it, so the MARZ folks are in agreement.  On
the way, they run into Kuriaria, another White Knight.  Unlike the previous
fracas, she's well aware that she's in a different world from her own and
understands that Hatter and his friends are in the right.  She tells them that
Tangram, a computer in charge of communication between parallel worlds, has
expended its full powers to reach this world.  The MARZ agents know they'd
better reach Tangram before the bad guys get their hands on it again, and
although the humans don't really know what's going on, they rush the fleet to
the scene at top speed.

There's no Gate waiting when the fleet reaches their objective, despite the
fact that Kuriaria apparently just came through one.  As the commanders
ponder this mystery, a garbled transmission comes through, telling the fleet
that "she" will open a Gate for the team.  It implores the team to trust her
and to hurry to where she is, and when a Gate does open it's quite unstable.
The team had better brace for impact...

The team ends up somewhere pitch black, inside some sort of fortress or other
building.  Is it a trap?  Who knows, but the best thing to do is sortie the
troops... especially given all the Virtualoid zombies on the scene.  The
entrance to this place has vanished in the team's wake, and whether this is
a trap or not (Cagalli believes "not"), the only thing to do is press
forward.

  Defeat the first wave and a second wave obligingly appears.  It's going to
  be a big day at the blood bank at this rate.  Forge ahead!  ...And face a
  third wave of what appear to be spherical toys.  That is, until they open
  fire on the Daikuu Maryuu.  Fire at will.

Poor Will.  Anyway, once the rogue Virtualoids are all scrapped, yet another
round contraption appears up ahead: the largest yet by far.  This is Tangram,
who is thoroughly trapped in this world by Daimon's evil schemes.  No, not the
team's Daimon -- a different one from imaginary cyberspace: either a ghost of
one of the Ancients, or noise from one of them.  Ever since the fall of the
Ancients, it's been building its malevolent power and building this fortress
for one purpose: the destruction of all worlds.  Deleting Daimon is MARZ's
raison d'etre, though Hatter at least was never informed about it.

Daimon is in fact a major part of the Earth's current woes: though it hasn't
directly fired a shot, it's the one responsible for all the Hole in the Moon
and Gate shenanigans, thanks to its grip on Tangram.  Tangram isn't the
Gate generator itself (which Edax possesses), but it did provide the control
needed to reach the Darius-verse and the Virtualoids' world.  The fact that
Tangram can communicate with the team at all is thanks to Daimon loosening
its grip, as though he no longer really needs all of Tangram's power.

Tangram was responsible for the good White Knights and Hatter getting in
contact with the team.  Tangram was also responsible for the poisonous sisters
and the evil VRs getting loose, though those were not by choice.  Evidence
suggests that Daimon at least used to directly control Tangram's "mind", and
there's no guarantee that Daimon isn't secretly doing so even now.  That
Tangram was also behind the teleport that brought the team to the Moon, in time
to save Hatter's life, is at least not a bad sign...

As for the warning of the Earth's impending doom, Tangram says it arrived
at that conclusion from analyzing Ru Cobol's actions.  Simply put, Ru Cobol
must be stopped.  The team's worried about the facts that a) nobody knows
where Ru Cobol is hiding, and b) nobody knows how to defeat him when they find
him.  Not to worry, says Tangram: strength can become an insurmountable
weakness if proper steps are followed.  And to pinpoint what those proper
steps are, Tangram plans to review everything Ru Cobol has done, since the
attack on Atreem...


35. Another Sphere

Welcome to one year ago, dateline Atreem.  Before the team's eyes is Elric's
original Revlias, very similar in appearance to Mist's own.  Wreckage of Edax
mecha is strewn all around, marking this as a very late point in the battle.
Angelica had already pulled back from the front lines, and Mist's mech is
some distance behind Elric's.  Espair's mech then comes into view, subtly
different in form from what the team faced in the present.

Elric clearly has the upper hand against Espair, and his mech is _glowing_
with something Lee likens to a fighter's ki.  Mist now recognizes the light as
the workings of the Crystal Heart, and the attack pattern as one he now uses
himself.  Suddenly, a massive shadow materializes behind Espair's mech,
resembling some sort of beast and reminiscent of what the team saw when facing
Lem.  It is none other than Ru Cobol, who seems to confer with Espair for a
moment.  Elric pauses for a moment himself, preparing to mount his suicide
attack, and then his mech erupts in golden light.

This light is even brighter than anything the Solvalius Rex has displayed.
Mist recalls Elric seemingly saying something to the enemy leader, but he
couldn't understand the words.  They presumably have something to do with that
sense of Justice Sakon said fueled the Crystal Heart, and Mist would dearly
love to know what was said.

No sooner said than done, at least when Sakon is on the case.  Elric is
screaming that he isn't afraid to die, so long as he takes Ru Cobol with him.
The attack wreaks immense havoc on Ru Cobol's mech, but doesn't silence it
entirely.  It appears to be trying to mount some sort of counter-attack, but
the crucial part of the image is pure white and can't be made out.  Mist
figures it's the dimensional fissure that teleported him away from the battle,
and notes that this is as far as he can remember.  That makes this uncharted
territory.

Ru Cobol's mech is fading from sight, as Espair has glommed onto Elric's
mech.  All of this accords with what Mist told Angelica, and she wonders if
there's really any new tidbit here to facilitate Ru Cobol's defeat.  Ruuji
wonders if the moral is that Justice alone isn't enough to win, something that
has already been demonstrated once before.  If so, it would shoot down the
theory that Mist and Sheldia's concentration lapse led to their previous
failure with Ru Cobol.  But if Justice and Sympathy aren't enough, what would
be?  After all, Ru Cobol in the past _was_ afraid of the attack Elric
unleashed, whose potency exceeded anything Mist's done despite having only a
Revlias to work with.

There ends the playback.  Tangram figures that the team should be able to
figure out all they need from what they've seen.  ...But will it save these
rats, lost as though in a maze, asks a new voice.  It's Daimon, who now
gloats over how effectively Tangram played the role it assigned for it: bait.
Everything has been according to Daimon's plan, including Edax's sponsorship
of the invasion of Earth.  Now it's clear why Edax wasn't able to fully
control the Gates: Daimon was interfering all along!

The only miscalculation Daimon made is that among the rats were the dogs of
MARZ.  Fixing that mistake is where Tangram came in: by manipulating it, he
could manipulate the Virtualoids and sow chaos in their ranks.  Tangram asks if
its very existence was in vain, but Daimon scoffs: Tangram has been very
helpful to his plans to destroy everything.  Mu ah ha ha.  Ha.

ORLY?  Kuriaria isn't buying all the evil laughter.  She tells Daimon that
his thinking is constrained by the properties of imaginary cyberspace: he
knows less about Tangram than he thinks he does.  Since Tangram was essential
to building this fortress, he can't afford to deprioritize it in favor of his
vendetta against MARZ.  Unfortunately, Daimon had already thought of that, and
has been acting accordingly for some time.

The only hope of upsetting Daimon's plans is defeating Ru Cobol, but to do
that the team will have to escape the maze.  And Daimon isn't about to let that
happen.  He prefers that they die like rats, and has prepared a beautiful
banquet of bloodshed to see that that happens.  Daimon loves to see imperfect
things broken... and of course the team loves to _not_ be on the receiving
end of any such thing.

More of the round mecha now surround the team, apparently Daimon's direct
servants.  Hatter is sick of all the machinations and wants to destroy Daimon,
Tangram, and the whole kit'n'kaboodle.  Tangram's loss would be bad though:
since it controls commerce between all the parallel worlds, there's no telling
what its destruction would do.  On the other hand, the Tangram you see is not
the real Tangram (until you add more quarters), but just a projection bound
to this dimension.  Destroying it would result in the dimension itself losing
its cohesion, driving Daimon out and freeing the real Tangram from Daimon's
influence.  Kuriaria urges the team to lay this place waste and free them
all, but Daimon chuckles that life would be too easy if theory could be put
into practice that simply...

  Defeat enough of the enemies and something unfortunate happens: more of them
  show up.  Daimon claims to have an endless supply of them so long as he's
  in contact with Tangram, which are all the better to inflict a rat's fate
  on the team: a miserable death being torn to pieces.  Hatter thinks the only
  remaining option is a frontal assault, and even La Kan thinks he may be
  right.

  Not everyone agrees however.  It's the Three Vipers^WRoses, who have not
  actually come to make trouble.  They claim their work for Edax was just a
  ruse, so they could find out who the real bad guys are.  And they're not the
  only ones after Daimon either: the SHBVD are here, released from prison with
  one chance to erase their sentence: helping to bring about Daimon's doom.
  This alliance may only be temporary, but it will help immensely in kicking
  Daimon's ass.

  As the team battle their way through Daimon's hordes, Daimon drops an
  interesting tidbit to Mist, who wants Daimon out of the way so he can get
  back to killing Ru Cobol.  Daimon maintains that Mist can't defeat Ru
  Cobol... and Ru Cobol can't defeat Mist either!  Their battle will continue
  without end until eternity.

  When Daimon's big floating eye gets shot down, Daimon chuckles that minor
  damage like that can easily be repaired.  Unless, that is, someone
  interferes: someone like... Tangram!  Tangram tells the team to free it from
  this place, and that's precisely where MARZ comes in.  They demolish what
  remains of the eye, indeed freeing Tangram and forcing Daimon to abandon
  this dimension.  But on his way out, he vows to MARZ and the other
  Virtualoids that they haven't seen the last of him.  Which sucks for the
  Virtualoids, but at least they'll have a while to amass more power.

  For now, Tangram has been freed, and manifests as another huge eye in order
  to show everyone the way back to normal space and the final fragdown with
  Ru Cobol.  That will include Hatter and friends, whose mission won't be
  over until Earth is safe.  Actually... upon reflection it wouldn't be a good
  idea to go directly to Ru Cobol with everyone's ass banged up from the
  battle.  Plus, Sakon and friends still have to convert Tangram's hint into
  an actual strategy.  By Sakon's calculations, the team should have at least
  ten more days until Ru Cobol could destroy the Earth.  How he came up with
  that number he'll explain later, but for now everyone gets a bit of a
  breather and a chance to make repairs -- they'll inform Tangram when they're
  ready to rumble.

As for the Rose(?) sisters and the SHBVD units, the fact is that they were
never the team's enemies for real: they just sort of happened to fight the
team by chance when Daimon flowed a little money in their direction.  The
MARZ agents intend to stick around and help in the final battle, as does
Kuriaria, whose mission to defuse the Edax threat won't be over until the
Hole in the Moon is truly back in the hands of good.  The other Virtualoids
return to their own world.

Now, about the hint Sakon found in Tangram's vision.  He cryptically tells
Mist that it was partially hidden in Elric's words, and that carrying it
out fully would be something impermissible.  He intends to work around the
trouble spot, but will need to re-examine the Revlias' Crystal Heart first.
Sakon thinks to himself that his suspicion, based on past combat data, was
confirmed by what Elric tried to do.  The Crystal Heart's full, terrifying
power can only be realized when one fights out of a sense of Self-Sacrifice.
And if a pilot truly wishes that from the bottom of their heart, that Self
Sacrifice will in fact come to pass.  Sakon will prevent that fate from
befalling Mist and Sheldia if it's the last thing he does.  Which, given Mist's
determination to defend his new homeworld, will be a tall order.


36. From the Heart

The fleet make it back to the lunar surface without incident, and as they
emerge into space a message comes in from Tangram.  It now knows where Ru Cobol
is, and tells the team to hurry.  The Earth's days are _seriously_ numbered.
Disconcertingly, the transmission cuts off halfway, evidence of mounting
spacetime distortion that heralds the end of the Earth.  The only way to reach
Ru Cobol is with Tangram's help, so the team had better figure out how to
actually defeat Ru Cobol while they still have any prayer of actually
communicating with Tangram at all.

Tangram isn't the only one broadcasting.  S.O.S.'s are radiating from all over
the world as earthquakes, tsunamis, and other natural disasters tear at the
land.  When the fleet phones up Dannar Base, Kiriko and Kagemaru confirm that
these disasters began in the wake of a broadcast by a certain sinister voice.
Said voice named itself Ru Cobol, and vowed the Earth's ruination in ten days'
time.  Only defeating Ru Cobol could restore the balance of nature, and no
one on Earth knows how to reach him.

The fleet commanders fill in the Dannar Base staffers on what they've been
up to and what they've learned.  Bottom line: Ru Cobol's threat is the real
deal.  Until a way to defeat Ru Cobol is in hand, the fleet decide to return
to Dannar base to help with humanitarian aid during those ten remaining days.
The Daikuu Maryuu intends to return to the other Earth and see if things are
just as bad there, emplacing a few more pan-dimensional radios in the process.
It seems a bit dangerous to divide forces now, but it's worth setting the
team's mind at ease in preparation for the final battle.

As the fleet head for their respective destinations, Hester phones Dannar Base
up.  This time he's requesting assistance with humanitarian aid, and _that_ is
something Kiriko is more than happy to help with.  After all, the entire Earth
is in peril.  She and Kagemaru recommend that Hester suck up his pride and
asks Orb and the Plants for help too.  No sucking up necessary where Orb is
concerned: Yuuna is more than happy to have his people help out.  Same goes
for the Plants, whose help Hester can't really refuse (though he'd dearly
love to) at this point.

It takes a while for the landing ships to pierce the storm clouds, finding a
world in considerable disarray.  The Dragon Pavilion is built to withstand
the worst weather imaginable, but the rest of the world isn't nearly so lucky.
Everything depends on finding out how to defeat Ru Cobol, and Mist seems to
be standing around watching the surroundings rather than brainstorming with
Sakon.  Mist mumbles something about having an errand to run and dashes off,
leaving some of the team wondering if Mist will really pull through when the
chips are down.  Gou at least believes in him.

After the ships dock, Kiriko relates Yuuna's selfless offer of help to Cagalli.
She wonders if the extreme peril facing the Earth has awoken something hidden
in her erstwhile fiance.  It seems a new era of cooperation is finally at
hand... assuming the Earth survives that is.  Everyone keeps repeating how
important Mist defeating Ru Cobol is, and Mist asks everyone to wait until
Sakon's calculations on the Crystal Heart's data finish.  Lulu phones up to
report that her Earth is undergoing the same natural disasters as Mist's --
fortunately neither world has recorded any actual casualties yet.  And, like
this Earth, that Earth is featuring former rival organizations banding together
against the common threat, further raising hopes for what life will be like
once this crisis is over.

Sakon then phones up, making sure that Mist is running his part of the
calculations on schedule.  He's also sent plans for a gadget needed in the
final battle to the Dragon Pavilion, and wants Cagalli to oversee its
construction.  The gadget is based on the Siegfried System, and Sakon says
that one must be emplaced in each of the mecha going into battle.  Apparently
whatever he has in mind will require unifying the hearts of all the pilots.
He's also got another idea based on some of Selene's research, which he wants
her to build and attach to the Daikuu Maryuu.  Full explanations will happen
when he gets back, but every day they can hasten the construction is a day
the Earths won't be suffering intense damage.

The Dragon Pavilion staff agree to build Sakon's gadget, realizing from the
combat data they've been sent just how dangerous Ru Cobol will be.  Nobody
wants to see the hard-won coexistence with the Festoom cut short by the end
of the world.  The Dannar Base mechanics are working so hard that Yumi has to
remind them to take a break every so often so they don't screw things up from
fatigue.  Whatever Sakon is having them build will result in something even
stronger than Stargazer's Propulsion Beam, and Selene has Sol make adjustments
accordingly.  Hopefully this fusion of Natural and Coordinator tech can
continue into genuine, long-lasting cooperation between Naturals and
Coordinators themselves... only time will tell.

The Daikuu Maryuu finally arrives, having swung by Riman Megalopolis on the
way.  Apparently Sakon wanted to use the technology from the Muscle Engine
to firm up the pan-dimensional lines of communication, as well as adopting a
bit of Overman tech into the anti-Ru Cobol weaponry.  Sakon has the commanders
call a general assembly as soon as he gets off the ship, promising to explain
how the team will take Ru Cobol down.

With everything on schedule, there will be three days to test the gadgetry
he's had the team build.  He recalls for the team the vision Tangram showed of
the fall of Atreem.  Elric, with only his Revlias, was able to generate a
power level "12" attack that actually damaged Ru Cobol.  Compare to Mist and
Sheldia, with the full Solvalius Rex, generating only a "10" in Gasm's defeat.
The explanation for this seemingly impossible feat is the emotion filling
Elric's heart -- the same emotion that fuelled Mist during his showdown with
Espair or Angelica when her mech went amok.  The common thread is
"Self-Sacrifice", which Sakon calculates would allow the Solvalius Rex to
generate around a "30"-level attack if both pilots were fully committed.

Doesn't that mean the problem is solved?  Well... that depends on how much
credit a given teammate gives Mist.  But supposing he were able to go even
to level "12", there's still a 100% chance of him dying (or at least being
maimed for life) by fighting with a true intent to sacrifice himself.  Oh, and
let's not forget that just defeating Ru Cobol won't necessarily _destroy_
Ru Cobol, since that's what happened two millennia ago.

What Sakon has in mind is a way to keep Mist (and Sheldia) safe _and_ guarantee
Ru Cobol's permanent defeat.  The point of the system he's had the scientists
and techs building is to exploit Ru Cobol's greatest weakness: "Love" For
Others.  The Solvalius Rex is capable of beaming that directly at Ru Cobol, and
the more luvings, the greater the effect.   Hence, instead of burning out the
four people capable of directly using the Crystal Hearts, Sakon intends to use
the same energy converter Espair used.  Espair perished because the Crystal
Heart is powered by the diametric opposite of the energy that is Ru Cobol, but
that's not an issue where gathering the spiritual force of the team is
concerned.

As a matter of fact, the Selcelius already has such a converter installed.
The trick is synchronizing the team's hearts, managing the energy flux, and
channeling it into the Crystal Hearts.  That's what all the gadgetry Sakon
proposed does, though it's less efficient than directly tapping into a full-
fledged Crystal Heart user.  It *may* be able to reach level "15" if everyone
has their heart fully into the battle.  And of course there won't be any
problems with that, such as the fact that Ru Cobol is currently Sheldia's
sister, right?  'COURSE NOT!!! *cough hack wheeze*  The team does in fact
recognize how hard the battle will be for her, but the full power of the
Solvalius Rex requires both pilots to be Crystal Heart users, and there's no
one but her who can pull off piloting it.  Everyone who believes Sheldia's
assurances that she's really truly fine, raise their hands. *crickets...*

After the meeting, Ana presents everyone with hand-knit scarves, which Tsubaki
and the other non-combatants helped make.  Each pilot has their own name
embroidered, though tag-along Kids is (understandably) not among them.  The
pilots greatly appreciate the gift, but interestingly Soushi recommends _not_
thinking of them as a means of unifying team spirit against Ru Cobol.  Better
to treat them as a simple goodwill present.  Malchio approves, telling Soushi
he'll make a great commander some day.

All is nearly in readiness soon.  Soushi will shoulder a lot of the burden,
since he'll be helping coordinate everyone's spirits at once.  While he's
testing the system out, Selene starts calibrating the energy concentrator --
Sakon can only hope that they'll actually get a full test off before they
have to fight the real battle.  Unfortunately for everyone, those hopes are
dashed as a massive tremor shakes the base, symptom of a massive tectonic
shift that signals the start of the Earth's final countdown.

As the team races to the control room, Tangram phones up.  Ru Cobol is prepared
to wipe out the earth as soon as he's finished gathering all the minus energy
surrounding it.  By Tangram's reckoning, the Earth has somewhere between
"minutes" and "hours" left, and although it's dangerous to "test" Sakon's
masterpiece for the first time in battle, there seems to be little option
left.  Hiroshi declares that the pilots will just have to buy Sakon enough
time to get everything calibrated, and then pull The Trigger(tm).  Is there
any choice left by to risk everyone's life without a backup plan?  Of course
not, so with belief in Sakon in their hearts, the Team scramble to their mecha
and await Tangram guiding them to Ru Cobol's location.

Ru Cobol is unpleasantly surprised to see everyone appear out of thin air,
realizing that Tangram must have guided them.  Still, they're nothing more
than pathetic dogs in his eyes, and he intends to make the team die a dog's
death.  Then again, even a puppy has fangs for biting its tormentors!  Ru Cobol
finds this hilarious, and agreeably summons up some playmates for the puppy
brigade (thereby buying Sakon the time he needs to dial everything in).  All
the enemies the team has defeated have now been absorbed into Edax, and are
all coming back with a vengeance at once.  Let the puppies bark all they want.

  News flash: there will be reinforcements.  Uh, duh.  Actually, it turns out
  that this whole area automatically generates more bad guys when the current
  supply runs low.  The team isn't likely to win a war of attrition on those
  terms, and the best way to give Sakon the time he needs is to attack Ru Cobol
  directly.

  What Ru Cobol can't believe is that he's having any problems with these
  puny humans.  What I can't believe is how damn long this battle is taking.
  _Finally_ Sakon finishes setting things up, instructing all the pilots to
  flip the switches in their cockpits and Soushi to switch modes in the
  Siegfried System.  Soushi gets inundated with the massive rush of power from
  all the pilots' feelings, but he grits his teeth and dutifully aims it at
  the concentrator.  Okay everyone, say "Save Teh Earth!"

  The warm feelings get funneled to Mist, generating enough firepower that
  even Ru Cobol gets rattled.  He promises vengeance, but Mist is through
  listening to the guy.  After all, it's not just his and Sheldia's feelings
  at stake here: it's all the Earth's defenders acting in concert.  Even aping
  Lem doesn't slow Mist or Sheldia down anymore, and Ru Cobol as much as dares
  them to fire just so they'll find out how powerless they really are.

  Orrrr... not!  Ru Cobol gets blown completely off the map, leaving everyone
  except Sheldia elated.  After all, her long-lost sister apparently just got
  vaporized.  Not to worry though, there's a heat signature still left inside
  the ruins of Ru Cobol's mech, and it belongs to Lem herself.

  Lem gets on the intercom, injured but coherent and seemingly back to her
  old self.  She claims that Ru Cobol has been banished not just from inside
  her, but from the entire universe.  Mist rushes the bleeding girl, escape
  pod and all, back to the Daikuu Maryuu for treatment.  The congratulations
  begin almost immediately, only to get derailed by another one of Joshua's
  singularly ill-timed anti-compliments.

  Before the team can fully recover, they learn that congratulations are
  premature anyway.  A dimensional distortion appears, and out of it comes Ru
  Cobol (again)!  He's pissed off, having only narrowly avoided annihilation
  due to all that Minus Energy he gathered.  Who knew that there was that much
  evil on Earth?  The Shadow, DUH!  Mist shouts back that however much evil
  there is, there's that much more good.  And surely good will triumph, right??

  Not if Ru Cobol's new mech has anything to say about it.  The Archaeos is
  essentially part of him, using the power of its anti-Crystal Heart drive
  (the Krishna Heart) to reassimilate all the stray Fragments in the area.
  This also (in theory) allows him to neutralize the power generated by the
  Crystal Hearts.  Now, maybe he's bluffing.

  The team tries to find out by smacking his ass around some more, waiting
  until he seems to weaken before trying their concentrated heart attack again.
  The strain is really piling up on Soushi, but he insists that everyone not
  worry about him and concentrate on the enemy instead.  Whoopsie, guess Ru
  Cobol wasn't bluffing after all.  With no other options readily available,
  the team decide to just revert to manually pummeling the crap out of Ru Cobol
  and hope that something good happens.  Sakon knows this is futile, but the
  alternative is a dreadful one.

  Impressively, the team is able to beat Ru Cobol's robot down with their
  conventional weapons.  As Ru Cobol is all too happy to gloat about, that
  feat is as futile as it is nifty: he, unlike the Earthlings, can simply
  regenerate all that damage.  There is one other option available, which is
  for Mist and Sheldia to push their power output to fatal levels and guarantee
  at least a couple more millennia of reprieve from Ru Cobol.  The rest of 
  their teammates of course protest stridently: the point is _not_ to reach the
  "bad end".

  As they get ready to pull the trigger, Soushi tells them there's no need to
  go down that path: there's another method for defeating Ru Cobol that won't
  involve destroying them in the process.  Sakon regretfully explains: Soushi
  can also tap into spiritual energy from the other Earth to add to the mix.
  This is accomplished using Overman Planetta's Overskill, which was to make
  other people infallibly aware of what one is thinking.  Setting that up is
  what caused Sakon's return to this Earth to be a bit delayed, and even then
  Sakon really hoped not to have to use this last resort.  Soushi cuts off
  Sakon's explanation of why, urging him to contact the other Earth before
  Ru Cobol has a chance to regenerate again.

  Right then.  Everyone knows how hard they've fought for peace, mutual
  understanding, and all the other good things waiting on the other side of
  beating Ru Cobol down.  There's so much life left to lead, so many new lives
  left to bring into the world, that the team will be damned if some nihilistic
  alien messes it up.  With how long the litany of positive statements lasts,
  it's a wonder Ru Cobol doesn't conduct full repairs and get in a round of
  golf besides, but at length Mist finally receives everyone's thoughts and
  gets ready to fire.  Sheldia tells him that she was kind of kidding about
  being ready to die: they've got to be ready to _live_.

  Ru Cobol can't understand where all this power is coming from.  That's right!
  There's no way he could understand the power that comes from having something
  to protect.  Ru Cobol screams at Mist not to come any closer, but Mist isn't
  having any of that now.  He and Sheldia pull off the tastefully-named
  Shining Heart Punisher, and this time Ru Cobol has no snappy comebacks --
  or anything else -- left.

  Victory at last.  As the giant gate between the two Earths starts to vanish,
  everyone tries to begin celebrating.  ...But alas, Soushi isn't in very good
  shape after channeling all that power.  It looks like he, instead of Mist
  and Sheldia, may have paid the ultimate price for peace...

Okay, so it's not as bad as all that.  He paid the _penultimate_ price for
peace, in that most of his body is now crystallized due to the effects of
synchronizing with the Festoom.  He's quite conscious, and somewhat dismayed
when throngs of his concerned teammates burst into his hospital room.  Sakon
had known this risk ever since he approached the Dragon Pavilion about using
the Siegfried System, and Soushi is quick to forestall his teammates blaming
Sakon for his condition.

It was Soushi's own choice to risk this happening to him, and had the team not
had to rely on the Overskill-based augmentation, there was every expectation
that Chizuru's medicine would have kept this phenomenon at bay.  But the
extra spiritual force had proved necessary, and here we are.  He tells the
team not to think of his act as "taking Mist and Sheldia's place": both he
_and_ they are still alive, right?  Truth be told, he'd already lost most of
his human body back when he was captured by the Festoom -- all that's really
happened is the camouflaging effects of Chizuru's medications no longer work.

The fact is, the rest of his human form is about to be Festoomed too, but not
to worry.  Once his spirit enters the Festoom realm, he'll start making a new
body for himself.  He's not sure how long that will take, but he promises
Kazuki and the others that he'll be back.  Kazuki is momentarily agonized as
Soushi discorporeates, until he discovers that he can still hear Soushi's
reassuring voice in his heart.  No matter how long it takes, no matter how far,
they _will_ find each other.  And a million yaoi fans rejoiced.

Some time later, the fleet returns to the Hole in the Moon to drop off the
Virtualoids and get congratulated by Tangram.  Now that limitless hope has been
returned to the world, Tangram will use its newfound freedom to venture into
other new, unexplored worlds.  The Virtualoids now face something of a tearful
farewell, though Hatter's the only one honest enough to say so openly.  But at
least everyone will have pleasant memories, right?  Actually... not so much:
the Virtualoids' memories of their doings in this world will be erased as a 
matter of policy when they return to their own.  But it was damn fun while it
lasted.  The Virtualoids return to their endless battle against Daimon, and
Tangram ventures off into an uncertain -- but happier thanks to the team's
heroics -- tomorrow.

Fortunately for the residents of the other Earth, Tangram's presence isn't
required for using the Gates, although it certainly expanded what they could
do.  Just the technology already pilfered from Edax will be enough for
commerce with the other Earth, letting the Yapan's Ceiling folks get back to
their nearly-complete Exodus.  Artham briefly reiterates that that's a serious
crime against London IMA, until Gain points out that London is going to be
completely overhauled after all that's happened.  Heck, maybe Artham should
come along with Gain instead and help his Exodus Contracting.  Artham says
he'll think about it after everyone gets home.  But first, it's time to throw
one hell of a party back on this Earth!

Fast forward to the aftermath, where Gou managed to make quite a fool of
himself with some drunken revelry.  Kiriko warns him, not entirely jokingly,
that if he pulls that again she'll look into Anna getting a divorce, and Gou
glumly looks forward to avoiding alcohol for some time to come.  Throughout the
party, Kazuki stoutly maintained that he's not sad since he knows that Soushi
will be back.  Now remember, Kazuki himself is fated to undergo what Soushi
experienced too, unless the data from the Festoom can be successfully turned
into new medicines to arrest the Festoomization process.  When the Fafner
pilots return to the Dragon Pavilion tomorrow, Cagalli plans to go with them
and talk directly with Commander Makabe about what happens next.

Gainer and the crew will be heading out tomorrow too, asking to be returned to
the exact spot they were before the teleportation happened.  Ron hopes he can
solve Ruuji's Generator troubles, even though it might take a while.  As that
happens, the governments of the Plants, the Federation, and all other
interested parties need to get cracking on how to formalize the peace process.
The Bases of the world will also have to brace for the resurgence of the
Mimetic Beasts.  Before that, it might be nice to actually spare some for
Gou and Anna's honeymoon... though Anna cheerfully suggests that they take
Rue along too, since she's now part of the family [I think there's a doujinshi
for that... ^^;;;]

Sakon informs everyone that after bidding their fond farewells, the residents
of the two Earths shouldn't count on seeing each other too often.  Although
the Gates are _usable_ without Tangram's assistance, they come with a rather
large electric bill: roughly half the Earth's total power output per usage.
Translation: _special_ occasions only.  Still, everyone can go to bed tonight
savoring victory, and begin walking a new path upon the morrow.

--- One Year Later ---

Kouji's studying robotics under Shiba, though it's not immediately obvious how
wielding a shovel in digging up old ruins will help.  It's a lesson in
perseverance, and Kouji better be damn glad Shiba is letting him help on
research this important as a special favor to Professor Yumi!  As Kouji and
Sayaka scurry back to work, Michi tells Kyou that Kenji's looking for him.
It's probably about another motorcycle race, which Kyou is planning to retire
from and leave Kenji to lead their team.  Although he was able to regain his
modern Earth appearance, it's not like he's getting any younger.

Kenji is momentarily bummed that he won't ever get to settle his duel with
Kyou, but cheers up at the thought of the popularity being new team leader will
win him with the ladies.  No sooner does he start trying to ogle the race
queens than Tsubaki steps in and bursts his bubble.  When he finally peers
around her, he discovers that the race queens are none other than the Build
Angels, including the gorilla-like presence of Monko!  Monko smacks Kenji
around a bit for the simian reference, but it's not all bad news: _Kiriko_ of
all people is also dressed out as a race queen despite Yagyuu's objections.
Seems she's dying from boredom after leaving the governance of Dannar Base to
the next generation, and always wanted to give it a try.  She's _certainly_
still got the figure for it, though she's probably the oldest race queen in
sports history [though she's still likely no older than 40 at the outside...]
Since today is the day the Daikuu Maryuu heads home, Kenji and the crew know
they'd prefer to savor the moment from the top of the podium.  Let the racing
begin!

Daiya's dad is going to be very busy until Captain Garis and the Daikuu Maryuu
return from Zayla's Gate.  The plan is to build an ark sufficient for all
the Darius folk to voyage out in search of a new homeworld.  Lulu's still
in command of the Daikuu Maryuu, so Garis will simply be the masked Professor
on the voyage.  Space probably holds an assortment of dangers, including the
possibility of Ru Cobol's remaining fragments assembling into something
fearsome, but there should be little to fear with the Dangaioh along as a
bodyguard.  And let's not forget that the other Maryuus will be going along
too -- even though Daiya (and hence Gaiking) won't be part of the trip, there
should be little to fear.  And until they meet again, Garis tells Daiya and
friends to learn all they can about life on Earth, and keep the flames burning
inside their hearts.  Selene appreciates Sakon's invitation to come along too,
but wants to get to deep space under her own power... and with Sol and Sven
helping out, there's every chance she'll make it.

Kenji and the crew make it in time to say their goodbyes, and Kenji presents
Lulu with the trophy from today's race in lieu of any other sending-off
present.  Unfortunately, the Dannar Base crowd couldn't come in person for
the send-off, since there are other Ultra-Mimetic Beasts to fight (as in like,
_right_now_ according to the news).  Mist was sent as Dannar Base's lone
representative, and he's about to add that something else is about to happen
when Cagalli stops him.  The Dragon Pavilion folks aren't to be seen either,
though Cagalli reckons they must be busy with something or other as well.
The folks from the Plants aren't around either -- Mist mumbles something about
not being able to leave in the middle of "such important talks", but he gets
vague on what those talks are about.

Cagalli sighs about Mist's loose lips, and tells those immediately present what
these secret talks are about.  The Orb, the Plants and the Federation are
working on creating a new organization whose mission is to ensure cooperation
and preserve peace in the Earth sphere.  Call it a planetary defense force,
which will include the existing Bases (and their upgrades over the past year).
Mist is so happy he can't contain himself, which is part of the problem in
Cagalli's view.  She's entrusted Orb's part in the talks to Yuuna, and plans to
go see what's up at the Dragon Pavilion.

What's up is that all the Fafner pilots have been hospitalized for testing
after Kazuki collapsed.  It seems the Festoomization is well under way, and
although it's not likely to be as bad as what Soushi faced, there was certainly
no way any of them could make it to the sendoff.  Kazuki walks in to tell his
father that the tests are over and that he's heading home.  Both his eyes are
now red, sure proof of how far the Festoomization has progressed.  The Fafner
pilots are sad that they missed seeing the Daikuu Maryuu off on its mission
to find a new homeworld for the Darius people, and uncertain of their own
medical future.

Kazuki is doing badly enough that he collapses again on the spot, and has to
lean on his father's shoulder as they rush him back to sickbay.  Maya's nearly
as bad, though she tries not to let on.  The fact of the matter is that the
data the Festoom sent is so huge that Chizuru's best efforts over the past
year haven't yet yielded a cure.  Kenji thinks this is some kind of trap by
the Festoom, which is of course ridiculous, but the sad fact is that life isn't
getting any easier for the pilots...

Meanwhile, Dannar Base is facing a new Mimetic Beast, with Shizuru in charge
and Gou assisting from the control room.  The Anna-Mira's squadron has sortied
to deal with the latest threat, which is parked atop an energy reservoir and
growing steadily larger with each passing moment.  This new menace looks pretty
daunting, but all the other Bases' pilots show up conveniently to help out.
So long as the Mimetic Beasts are around, their battle will continue.  Kouji
would love to join in the fun too, but the G-Zero Gunner is down for repairs
after his recklessness last time.

Now where's Mist at a time like this??  Shizuru reminds him that Mist went
to see the Daikuu Maryuu off, and at Gou's urging no less.  Gou, realizing
that he can't keep even that much information in his head at once, declares
that he's sick of trying to be base commander and that Shizuru should take over
the job.  He wants to go back to being a pilot.  He dashes off to launch in
Godannar, and Kenji figures he can at least get in on the action in his Core
Gunner.  Shizuru knows that Gou isn't the sort of man to listen to reason,
and tells the bridge bunnies to let him sortie -- and to keep Kenji from
doing the same.

Meanwhile, the El Dora crew have lapsed into hardcore "are we there yet" mode
as Yapan's Ceiling plods toward Yapan.  The good news is that they've covered
over half the remaining distance since returning from the other Earth.  The
bad news is that Yapan is, therefore, still several months away.  To be sure,
the old geezers have been a great help in fending off attacks by London agents,
but they've also been insufferable in the bar every day.  Better there than
underfoot for everyone else, figures Gain.  Unfortunately, London's attacks
have been getting more severe: they seem bent on saving face, which is
basically all London has left.  Though Exodizing itself is no longer illegal,
the London top brass are trying to save some shred of credibility by keeping
Yapan's Ceiling from reaching its goal.

As it is, the attack the team just weathered was nearly overwhelming: any
commander but Zacky and Gain and Artham aren't sure they could have pulled out
a victory.  Kashimar, for instance, could have been troublesome -- he somehow
wormed his way back into London's good graces despite his long string of failed
attacks.  Luckily Kids is no longer a problem: giving him one of those scarves
and fanning his dreams of a Galactic Railroad seems to have worked to placate
the oversized baby.

Carmen returns from recon, reporting a London force up ahead roughly double
the size of the one that just assailed Yapan's Ceiling.  Given that the
better half of the Silhouette Machines are down for repairs (not to mention
Yapan's Ceiling itself), that's a pretty daunting number, even for someone
with Gaury's ninja skillz.  Fortunately, the team won't have to take them on
directly: the bigger the army, the larger its supply lines must be.  Sever
that link, which likely extends to a nearby Domepolis, and the army won't
pose a threat any more.  The pilots start planning their attack on the supply
lines, since Carmen thoughtfully scouted them out already, and are so intent
that they set aside the lunch Yukiko and Wendy bring until after the plan is
perfected.  That passion for making the Exodus succeed is plain to see in
their eyes, and no one would doubt that this Exodus will eventually succeed.
It might have been nice if Van was along to help out, but as always he bowed
out by saying that he's bad at running with the pack.  Mihael and Fasalina have
gone off on a journey of their own too.  Wendy wonders what Van's up to and
where, figuring that she'll see him again someday...

Meanwhile, La Kan returns to Zhuli, finding nothing out of order.  Le Mii
has gotten her hair cut, in a style she hates but which the people will
surely love.  La Kan reports that his overtures to the Kida refugees were a
success, and that the people will return to Zhuli to reestablish their homeland
soon.  At this happy news, Da Jin can't keep himself from crying briefly before
hurrying off to order a general announcement made.  La Kan agrees to throw a
major banquet, at which Galaga will likely get roaring drunk again.  The only
one not caught up in the excitement is Le Mii, who claims to be tired from all
the traveling and retires to her room.  Actually, she's got one more selfish
request to fulfill before the Kida return...

Back in Miroad, Ron has finally gotten the Generator working again, relying
mainly on duct tape, chewing gum, and a mountain of ancient parts scraped
together from junkyards the world over.  Prome proclaims that repairs like
this are trivial for those with the Soraians' knowledge, adding that the plans
for the repair were complete over six months ago.  Any delays were strictly
due to parts shortage, that's all.  In any case, the stage is now set for the
village to recover its former glory(?), due in no small part to the former
Digald agents helping to repair what they once destroyed.

Interestingly, a large Zoid approaches the village: it's Le Mii, who isn't
immediately recognizable in her princess getup.  Fuming, she changes clothes
into her former appearance, and it's clear that a year away hasn't dulled her
tongue any.  Too bad for her that her little "secret" departure wasn't a 
secret to La Kan or anyone else in the palace: they've all followed her and
join her in congratulating Ruuji for his village's happy news.  Another
familiar face has straggled over to the village, seeking water and the cheapest
food on the menu.  Who else, but Van...

Back on the other Earth, news reports continue to show Cagalli formally
announcing the formation of the Earth Defense Force.  Mist is so enraptured
by the broadcast that he's running late for a meeting of said Defense Force.
Elric won't tolerate any laxness on the schedule, still showing his
commanderly chops on this his new homeworld.  In fact, the meeting consists
entirely of the team from a year ago: the strong nucleus around which the
defense plans are based.  There's still a bit of unease to work through, but
in no time it all it won't matter what nation the pilots hail from.

The first assignment will likely involve dealing with the Mimetic Beasts,
with Gou as the Defense Force's point contact.  Anna is by her beloved
husband's side, though Mira doesn't want to let Anna unilaterally break up
their team... or necessarily have Gou all to herself either.  Man, love
triangles galore.  Oh, and Rue's on the scene too.  The argument is
interrupted by an alarm: Mimetic Beasts heading for Japan!  Gou hasn't even
had a chance to explain anything yet, but the team will have to sortie all
prompt-like.  Not only are Mist, Sheldia and Angelica part of the pilot roster,
Lem is now a trainee operator.  Mist hadn't been informed because Lem wanted
to surprise him, but that will have to wait for later.

As the team launches, Mist thinks that there's nothing better than working
to keep the Earth safe, with all his friends by his side.  Especially since
Sheldia's with him: together, there's no foe they can't defeat.  It really does
seem to be fate that brought them together, across different planets and
through all the fires of war.  Oh, to be together forever like this!  Oh, for
a "private" function on their radios -- Lem and everyone else have just gotten
an earful of Mist and Sheldia's somewhat inane love patter.  Lem vows to
stick to them like glue, though she agrees not to ever come between them.
In any case, it's time to show these Mimetic Beasts what the universe's best
fighting team can do!!!

--- THE END ---

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