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FAQ/Walkthrough by MNeidengard

Version: 1.0 | Updated: 12/03/15

Super Robot Wars Z-III Tengoku-hen "Heaven-Hell Chapter"
Walkthrough by Mark Neidengard
mneideng at gmail dot com


INTRODUCTION.

At long last, the conclusion to the epic SRW Z franchise.  It's been a long and
possibly fatiguing journey, spanning multiple consoles and more years than I
can readily recall.  But if you're reading this, you've probably fired up for
the grand finale.  And whether or not you've been taking this journey with me,
here's an explanation of what this document is: a "one-and-a-half-steps-removed
from a full translation" walkthrough.

The standard disclaimer for me these days includes the following stuff:
*  One: these translations are intended for informational and educational
   purposes: the original work is the property of the very hard-working
   creators.
*  Two: you may find cases where my Romanizations differ from fan, or even
   "official", consensus -- my choices are driven by the goal of putting the
   least barrier between the Japanese original and an English-speaking
   audience.  Don't expect recondite systems like Kunrei-shiki in this house.
*  Three: I will be editing these sporadically as I go along: they are a work
   in progress and will go through at least one full debugging pass before
   upload to gamefaqs.com.  Having said that, I welcome constructive feedback
   at the contact address listed above.

Given the way Real Life(tm) has been going of late, I should probably add Four:
I will be working as fast as I can find time for, which is likely to be much
slower than either you or I want.  I will proceed at Best Effort levels, and
hopefully we can have fun together regardless.

All my previous guides have been uploaded to GameFAQs.com, including a little
bonus: the 15-part side-story called "Rengoku-hen" that was available
as an online download with this game (Z3T).  It explains what the main
characters of Z1 and Z2 have been up to during the events of Z3J, offering a
nice bridge to the main action here.  If you have the opportunity to play Z3R,
I recommend doing so first before proceeding.

With that said.... LET'S GET READY TO RUUUUUUUMMMMMMBBBBBLLLLLEEEEEEE!!

-------

[Before rumbling, a clerical detail.  Upon selecting "Start" the first thing
you can do is decide whether to link data from the previous Z3 games.  If you
decide not to link immediately, you can do so later from the Option screen.
You MAY want to do the "Guidance" scenario if you're a stickler for
completeness.  Linking previous data is good for basically All The Goodies,
especially if you filled up the scenario chart of Z3J: very nice starting
goodies for you!]

-------

[More clerical stuff.  As I did in the previous game, I've named my main
character Shirogami Kodama, because it's sort of the "inverse" of Kamishiro
Hibiki and because my brain is wired strangely.  Keep that in mind for the
following prose.]

-------


LONG, LONG AGO
IN A GALAXY FAR, FAR--

  (...No, not that, despite the auto-scrolling text...)

                              Space.
                       The Final Frontier.
                 These are the voyages of the Starship--

(...Fuggedabouit, whose continuing mission you can read all about in the last
several frigging FAQs uploaded to the aforementioned videogame site.  Seriously
you'd think they could come up with a new Opening Blurb(tm) every once in a
blue moon.  Or Blue Earth, as it were.  But nooo~~ooo...  *Ahem*.)

Right, so blah blah Spacetime Quake blah blah Comingled Worlds yadda yadda
Brave Heroes etc. etc. Just When You Thought It Was Safe To Go Back Into The
Water so on and so forth LET ME TELL YOU OF THE DAYS OF HIGH ADVENTURE.


PROLOGUE 1: At the End of the Time Prison

Welcome to... the previous game, the very moment of triumph over the Time
Prison, which five out of ten experts agree was bad for All Mankind(tm).  The
stalwart forces of Z-BLUE have front row seats for the very instant the Prison
evaporates, already looking forward to an eventual future date between the
Earth and those pesky Baals, and maybe Oakley salesman Shikuu.  But there
ought to be plenty of time for R&R until then.  Right?  Right?  RIGHT?

Very no.  Not only does the Earth seem to have a green-tinted twin all of a
sudden, but a bunch of Sidereals (the umbrella organization Shikuu mentioned
that includes those damn Geminis thugs) show up through the hole in the Prison.
The batch Z-BLUE can see are only a small fraction of the entire force, which
seems to have been poised to assault this Earth the moment the Time Prison
collapsed.  Bright hastily partitions the team to cover this many-headed threat
as best as they can.  The commanders' message to the troops is basically this:
try not to get _killed_ out there!

The initial batch of bad guys are just a presage of what's to come, and Tessa
wisely decides that *this* is not the proverbial hill to die on.  After all,
this new menace has but only begun!


PROLOGUE 2: Earth's Last Line of Defense

Okay so it's more than a little strange that we're having a Prologue after 
Prologue.  Then again, these are strange times, with 2/3 or the Earth's
defenses laid waste and no telling how many Sidereals are lurking out there.
Command and Control is a total mess, and given the previous losses from dealing
with Chrono and the Neo-Jion there's little hope for a response from the
regular army.  There _was_ a plan to shield the Earth under circumstances like
this, but clearly there hasn't been time to, uhh, implement it.

So, here we are instead: in a "prologue" mission where the very survival of
the Earth is already on the line.  Lidy has legitimate concerns about whether
one localized victory will matter to the overall defense of the _planet_... AND
doesn't seem to understand how Banarj hasn't succumbed to despair yet, but
his opinion counts for little.  If anyone's opinion matters here, it's Kodama's
on account of his ability to sense fellow Sphere Reactors.  And his spider
sense is _definitely_ tingling.

  How many seas must a white dove sail, before she sleeps in the sand?  How
  many bad guys does the team have to shoot down to save the Earth, anyway?
  It's not so much about quantity, but quality: Shikuu is in fact lurking in
  the area with a battleship-class helper he names "Strauss", and handily
  eludes Z-BLUE's formation en route to Earth.  It would be nice if the team
  could simply reverse course and stop him...

  ...but that's why Shikoku is also on the scene.  She's the latest in a long
  line of bad guys who keep espousing this idea that Z-BLUE would be better off
  if they'd just let themselves be killed peacefully.  AND the latest in a long
  line of bad guys who like to sound all superior even when getting shot down
  the first few times.

No matter.  Even though the Earth's defenses are in pretty sorry shape, it's
the job of folks like Z-BLUE to put things back to rights.  And in the process,
maybe finally let Kodama have the showdown he's been wanting/dreading with
the True Angel of his nightmares.

With the Earth's "last lines of defense" broken, King of Chrono figures his
organization's whole raison d'etre has just ended in calamity, along with the
history of mankind in general.
  It's not so much about quantity, but quality: Shikuu is in fact lurking in
  the area with a battleship-class helper he names "Strauss", and handily
  eludes Z-BLUE's formation en route to Earth.  It would be nice if the team
  could simply reverse course and stop him...

  ...but that's why Shikoku is also on the scene.  She's the latest in a long
  line of bad guys who keep espousing this idea that Z-BLUE would be better off
  if they'd just let themselves be killed peacefully.  AND the latest in a long
  line of bad guys who like to sound all superior even when getting shot down
  the first few times.

No matter.  Even though the Earth's defenses are in pretty sorry shape, it's
the job of folks like Z-BLUE to put things back to rights.  And in the process,
maybe finally let Kodama have the showdown he's been wanting/dreading with
the True Angel of his nightmares.

With the Earth's "last lines of defense" broken, King of Chrono figures his
organization's whole raison d'etre has just ended in calamity, along with the
history of mankind in general.  But even he figures that utter despair can
be averted...


CHAPTER 1. The New Gaia Kingdom

Did someone order a bunch of scrolling text?  Well, here's the summary on what
may be the most ham-handed segues in SRW history.  The Sidereals have a LOT of
firepower amassed on the green Earth, and after two months of fighting the
Earth is about three quarters subjugated.  Ongoing resistance to the so-called
"Gaia Kingdom" is not going well, especially since the emperor in question,
Australis by name, is in fact the leader of the entire Sidereal shebang.

As you may have read about in Z3R, the Sidereals' hobby is constructing
identically named Terminal Bases along Ley Lines.  In this case, all that
Dimensional Energy is being concentrated in somewhere called Wrath Babylon,
though for what purpose none can say.  Certainly the Sidereal forces aren't
going easy on those they conquer, subjecting them to sorting and concentration
camping strongly reminiscent of the Nazis.  Even those who are granted
"citizenship" are rumored to be sent off for hard labor.

Unless, of course, folks like Kodama and Suzune are on the scene.  Today
they've infiltrated the crowd as advance reconn for a larger liberation force,
but just the sight of the swaggering Royal forces causes them to jump the
gun a bit.  The local "constable" sends out drones to kill all the civilians
upon the first report of trouble, and it's up to Kodama and Suzune to hold the
fort until other Z-BLUE folks deploy.

Despite the dire maintenance situation, AG has been keeping the Geneon in great
working order.  And none of the Sidereals are prepared for an Earth mech that
can appear out of nowhere.  Kodama intends to buy the townspeople enough time
to get to safety (Karinin's leading that effort) while not getting too bogged
down in combat: he's got _plans_ for later on.

  Plans involving the main occupation force (heavy on drones, once again)
  and a rendezvous with Z-BLUE.  They mean to smite the drone armies and bug
  out before any of the enemy's big guns can arrive.  Just the message that
  someone's still got the will to resist is what they intend to send today.

  As combat continues, we're reminded that a lot of non-combatants got lost
  in the shuffle of the Sidereal invasion, including all the singers and
  princess types.

  With all drones in the area shot down, an enemy battleship pulls into view.
  At its controls is Dabalarn, who introduces himself as the right hand man
  of Royal military commander Strauss.  He sounds vaguely impressed with
  what he's seen from Z-BLUE, but informs them that there's no way they can
  win.  Maybe not now, maybe not like this, but One Day!  As Z-BLUE wisely
  retreats, Dabalarn can only hope that Z-BLUE will provide some entertainment
  for "Him".

As the team are desperately trying to catch their breath, Tessa comes over
with some good news: someone's figured out a bit about these Ley Line
thingamajiggers.  They seem to be a novel form of energy transmission, probably
powered by Dimensional Energy being stolen from the Earth.  Translation:
they're just like the ZONEs, and probably present the same threat to the Earth
if one of the collectors were to run amok.  And even if things proceed
normally, the Sidereals aren't likely to leave until they've drained the Earth
of all its Dimensional Energy and left it a husk.  ...Come to think of it,
they're probably doing the same to that green Earth also.

Why the Sidereals want the Dimensional Energy is unknown, as is the amount of
it this Earth's got left.  This leaves the team a relatively simple set of
options: sit around and wait for death, OR, take the fight to the enemy at
their capital.  Given how badly beat up the team's arsenal is, not to mention
their psyches, that's a very tall order.  Too tall in fact, which is why the
commanders want the team to return to Japan first to get their heads right.
That'll mean a return to student life, or some semblance thereof, since Japan
hasn't yet fallen to the Royals.  Still, one has to wonder how long any
sort of respite can last...

Kodama's gotten freer with his words of thanks to AG as this battle has
worn on, responding in part to AG's own anxiety.  AG, it turns out, is
unable to contact DEM despite the Time Prison's collapse -- ironic, considering
how momentous the Geneon's theft of Gadlight's Sphere is.  In fact, Kodama's
been incrementally more sociable across the board since Gadlight's defeat,
which is not a bad thing...


CHAPTER 2. That Which Is Worth Saving

Guess who get left behind in Japan while the cool kids were out risking their
ass in central Asia?  You guessed it: the most egregiously underage of the
pilots.  Kodama tries to make light of it to them, but the rest of the team
have decided that they can't let the Youth(tm) get mixed up in the desperate
battle for Earth's survival.  Being without them is a luxury the team can ill
afford, but even Sousuke is starting to see the wisdom of trying HARD to
separate warfare and daily life.

All well and good, but this war probably won't be content with remaining at
arm's reach.  Kodama's spider sense prompts him to remind Sousuke that it's
his job to keep Kaname safe.  Winter, we're reminded, is coming.

The absurd farce that all the pilots are really members of the Volunteer Club
still seems to be holding up, though classmate Kazama is starting to guess the
truth.  The studently thing to do is for the pilots to focus on their
homework, but Sousuke is having major problems writing up his "what I want to
do after graduation" blurb.  Kodama managed that much at least: he plans to
follow his father's career as a Beast Hunter.  Doing so would mean leaving
Japan behind, including a certain nurse who might or might not have been a
romantic interest.

Said nurse has been incommunicado, and her charges Shin'ya and Misako have
reportedly been discharged from the hospital.  Kodama is just as happy to leave
the children be now that they've been freed of the Bloody Eye syndrome, but
he's considering visiting the hospital to see if the nurse is still there
anyway.  All that sounds very reassuring to the regular students, who like the
rest of the non-Royal portions of the world have been shielded by the
government from the true state of the war.

Shocking then when a cel phone call (illegal within school grounds) triggers
a mass exodus from class that Suzune only thinly manages to make excuses for.
It seems our old friends from Amalgam are back to their old game of menacing
Kaname, though Tessa can't figure out why they're going about it in such a
convoluted fashion.  Nor does anyone know how her brother came to join Amalgam
in the first place, or why they haven't just buddied up to the Kingdom and
ceased their solo raids.

Mao's decided to pair Sousuke up with Kodama for this battle, for no apparent
reason other than that they're good friends.  Weirdos-in-arms, as it were.
Of course, nobody involved with Z-BLUE is remotely normal.  Now if only all
those weirdos were like, _here_ and ready for action.  Setting aside the
grade-schoolers for a moment, the Elements are all out of the picture at
Fudou's behest -- like their enigmatic boss, they might be back in their
distant own dimension for all anyone knows.

The bad guys have at least one worrisome unit: a Behemoth whose Lambda Driver
is active constantly.  Mostly though this mission is about reminding you how
Combo MAX works.

  ...And about how kids are People Too(tm).  Watta, Shotarou, and even Shinji
  (who actually convinced his dad to let him borrow the keys to the EVA) turn
  up to make the fight more even against the aptly-named Behemoth units.  They,
  like the rest of the pilots, have things they want to protect -- things like,
  say, THOSE OTHER PILOTS.  About time Kodama and friends realized that, smirks
  Mao: compared to the real adults, these kids have barely started growing
  their short hares.  Suzune is all scandalized by this pubic talk, making Mao
  grin twice as wide as she asks what's wrong with dwarf rabbits anyway.

  OH NOES there goes the illusion of Suzune as some Madonna figure!  Though
  given her flight suit, maybe we should think of her as the _other_ Madonna?
  Or maybe we should just finish taking down the enemy.  The Mithril folks set
  a pretty good example for the other pilots, proving that even mecha with
  Lambda Drivers can be taken down if the team focus their efforts.

Tessa knows all too well though that Amalgam has yet to send in a truly
mass-produced force of such dangerous foes.  Today's raid seems like little
more than reconn, so there's no danger of a third wave of enemies.  Since the
adults got saved by the kids today, Mao (and Kurtz, and Suzune) are going to
have to treat them all to one heck of a nice dinner.  Sadly Shinji and Rei
won't be able to stay for it -- NERV is pretty strict about wanting its
multi-billion dollar weapons back on time.  Shinji will have a lot to ponder
on the car ride back, including why his father seems so reluctant to involve
NERV in the war...

Back at Amalgam HQ, Sabina breaks the news of the defeat to Leonard -- or
rather tries to, only to find that he's foreseen the whole thing.  He didn't
authorize the battle out of any hope to win; rather, he wanted to issue a sort
of declaration of war to his sister.  He reckons he's almost ready to roll and
meet her, and just hopes it's raining when he does...

It falls to Sousuke to make apologies for his classmates to his teacher.  He's
also _finally_ decided what he wants to do in the future, and makes his
summary report orally: to Graduate.  Not precisely what she wanted to hear,
but it _is_ true that Sousuke has to go up a grade before talk of graduation
(or post-graduation) even makes sense.  One step at a time, eh?  Yes, and
what Sousuke is learning is to cherish each of those steps, and the friends
walking alongside him (Kaname included).

Kodama and Suzune are watching this from a discrete distance.  Both of them
seem to sense something vague and sinister overshadowing the two high
schoolers, but neither can name it.  Is it something to do with the Kingdom, or
the prospect of Ley Line malfunction?  ...Or something else?  Whatever it is,
Suzune fervently hopes her partner can overcome it, and his destiny.

If you defeat the second Behemoth with Sousuke, he'll confide to AG that the
previously discovered Behemoth's weak spot has been totally upgraded.  Today's
victory came down to a brute force contest of wills (and Lambda Driver acumen).

For a wonderment, AG is actually helping Sousuke's A.I. "Al" out.  Sousuke
keeps telling Al that he's taking things too literally (which is irony
incarnate), so Al has asked AG to set him up with a slang dictionary.  Maybe
Al can even learn things Sousuke himself is bad at and hold his own better?


CHAPTER 3. Door to a New World

The Time Is Nigh(tm).  Or... not so much.  Make up your mind, Kaworu!

Gendou's plenty decisive, telling Shinji and Misato to talk to the hand when
they propose dispatching the EVAs to aid Z-BLUE.  Shinji won't try to steal
the -01; if his dad insists on stealing it from _him_, he'll go find some
other way to be useful and quit being a pilot.  He stalks out of Gendou's
office (quite a hike, by the looks of it) and Gendou immediately orders that
EVA-01 be switched to the Dummy Plug system.  What could POSSIBLY go wrong?

Shinji can't stand being stuck on the sidelines while even Ritsuko is using
her talents to help save the Earth (which, don't forget, is now 3/4ths pwned
by the Kingdom).  Kaji can't offer him much help: the powers that be aren't
letting either of them see Asuka, nor will they even say why.  Kaji fesses up
to Misato asking him to get Shinji to reconsider, adding that he himself
doesn't feel like pressuring the kid.

Shinji turns down Kaji's offer to give him a lift to... wherever, and walks
off.  In some sense this is precisely what Kaji's wanted: now, he'll get to
see whether Gendou intends to abandon the Project, or try some other tack.

Touji and Kensuke run into their depressed friend and immediately start
reminiscing about all the fun the had in Neo Tokyo-2 with the Volunteer Club.
While they fully intend to make the most of their lives here in Neo Tokyo-3,
it's clear that Shinji feels unwanted here.  Like the good friends they are,
they encourage him kindly to GTFO and reconnect with Z-BLUE, so long as he
calls them to chat every so often.  Shinji's plan to head to the train
station...

...goes abruptly pear-shaped.  Gendou has EVA-00 sortied, hoping to buy enough
time for EVA-01's refitting to conclude.  He supposes that "They" too must
have grasped the significance of the End of the Myth.  "They" in this case
means the Sidereals, who are slicing through NERV's defenses like one overused
metaphor through another.  Only EVA-00 and -02 can stand in their way (sans
Shinji), at least until EVA-01 comes online.

It would seem that EVA-01 is precisely what Dabalarn wants to face, meaning
he's got his work cut out for him to flush it into the open.  Rei at least is
sure Shinji will return to her, and one really hopes she's right: the Tenth
Angel (more powerful than expected) shows up in short order and starts
attacking _both_ NERV HQ and the Sidereals.  Misato hopes the Sidereals will
react and slow it down some (she won't be disappointed), since if the darn
thing reaches Central Dogma it's GEIMU O-BA- for the world in general.

  Lo and behold, EVA-01 refuses to accept the Dummy Plug.  Gendou excuses
  himself from the bridge a bit, and Mari -- realizing that there'll be no
  victory at this rate -- decides to try something risky.  What is this EVA,
  which has severed its connection to humanity, truly capable of?  Coffee-
  swilling yuppies in Seattle call this Beast Mode.  I call it a dental
  catastrophe in the making.

  But even Mari and the -02 can't hold on forever.  Gendou meanwhile keeps
  trying to reboot the Dummy System, to no avail.  Even he begins to lose his
  cool at this, demanding to know why "Yui" is refusing him.  Shinji then
  turns up, asking to pilot the -01 once more.  His time with Z-BLUE taught him
  the value of protecting others, and he knows full well that as the -01's
  pilot he can do just that.  Gendou can't really say no to that under the
  circumstances.

  Rei decides to basically glom onto the Angel, intending to hold on until
  she gets killed or Shinji arrives (whichever comes first).  That sounds so
  crazy it just might work, and Mari joins the pile, even as the Sidereals
  concentrate all firepower in their direction.  There's actually a method to
  Rei's madness: she neutralizes the Angel's A.T. Field so the Sidereal
  firepower strikes it, but unfortunately the Angel's regenerative abilities
  outpace the incoming barrage.

  Shinji arrives just in time to see the Angel _eat_ EVA-00, changing its
  color pattern to match the EVA in the process.  That's bad because it will
  no longer trigger NERV HQ's auto-self-destruct mechanism should it gain
  admittance to Central Dogma.  Good thing then that Z-BLUE is on the case,
  since Mari and the -02 reach their limits too at this point.  Kaname was
  mumbling about having a bad feeling about something, and this is apparently
  it.  The plan quickly congeals around trashing the Sidereals and supporting
  Shinji's desperate quest to rescue Rei.

  Precisely why the Sidereals came here is unclear, but what does seem clear
  is that you've not heard the last of Dabalarn.  Shinji does his best to get
  Rei to recognize him, but his EVA runs out of gas at the worst possible
  moment.  More Sidereals show up on cue, but before Z-BLUE can even intervene,
  Shinji goes Super-Saiyan in an attempt to get Ayanami back.  Consequences
  be damned!

The upshot is that his EVA is now free of the "curse" mankind put on it,
becoming something akin to a god.  And all over a single person's desire for
wish-fulfilment.  Nobody outside can interfere, and from the sidelines Kaji
shouts to nobody in particular that SEELE won't sit idle now that the trigger
has been pulled on the great Plan -- especially since not all the Angels have
arrived yet.  Suits Gendou and Fuyutsuki fine: _their_ plan is now just steps
away from completion.

Shinji manages to actually get through to Rei, thanking her for trying to
fix that lunch for the whole family back when (you might have to go back to
Z3R to remind yourself what he's talking about).  That sounds like fodder for
your average J- (or K-) drama, but in fact Shinji's fast becoming something
other than human, destroying life (those replacement Sidereals) to create life
anew.  Some might call this... the Third Impact.

Kaworu, who comes in out of nowhere, calls it his chance to finally make
Shinji happy...


[ROUTE SPLIT]

The Impact seems to have started with a Dimensional Quake, which has tossed
the team (sans Shinji) across space but not time or parallel dimensions.
That's the good news.  The probably-not-so-good news is that the Red Sea (and
with it, all things related to EVA's home dimension) has vanished.  One can
only hope Shinji and co. are okay.

For now, the team face an interesting dilemma: their current location is
halfway between the two worlds.  They could, conceivably, try to take the
fight to the Sidereals on the green Earth.  As the commanders prepare to
confer, who should appear but Code Blue, his mech camouflaged to look like
Advent's.  Boy has he got a story to tell...

The two months since the Battle of the Time Prison have not been easy, with
Advent dead and the regressive wing of Chrono scurrying into hiding as the
Sidereals struck.  Even now, Blue can't reveal the tenets that so divided
Chrono -- not until the regressives protecting them are thoroughly obliterated.
When that happens, most of the questions about Chrono's actions to date
(including why they exist in multiple parallel universes) should get cleared
up.  For now, call his timely appearance in front of the "destiny" or
whatever hogwash you want.

It seems Blue's commanders ordered him to wait in this part of space, not
telling him specifically to expect company but requiring that he talk to
whoever might arrive.  His task is the obliteration of this new Kingdom on the
blue Earth, and given how hard that's proving even for Z-BLUE, he proposes a
change of venues: the green Earth instead!  He discloses that Advent's mech
was able to take them there several times during the previous war, so he knows
that the resistance on the green Earth is still alive and kicking.

The proposition is this: as the Sidereals move more and more of their troops
to the blue Earth, the green Earth will be easier and easier to steal back.
And with the green Earth liberated, its defenders can help liberate the blue
Earth in turn.  And among those defenders are the three Sphere Reactors from
the previous game, which would be a real help.  The only problem is, sending
ALL of Z-BLUE to either green or blue would leave the other short-handed.
Hence, a good old-fashioned route split.  Where should Kodama, who got his
Sphere thanks to Advent's sacrifice, end up?

  [For the green route, go to 4G.  For the blue route, go to 4B.]


CHAPTER 4G. The Other Earth

Looks like Kaname's along for the ride to the green Earth, a prospect both
exciting and terrifying at the same time.  It's Kaname's nature to focus on
the former and minimize the latter, and that -- even more than her Whispered
abilities -- makes her invaluable to Tessa and the rest of the team.  Still,
encouraging words from Kaname can't erase the fact that Tessa's scarcely had
a peaceful night's sleep in three months.  Amalgam and the New Earth Kingdom
are as imposing as they are inscrutable, and though Tessa knows she'll have
some very hard decisions in front of her, she does afford herself the luxury
of taking a nap, as Kaname suggested.

Speaking of Kaname, _Al_ has requested a private chat with her.  Chief
mechanic Sacks has seen that it happens, reminding Sousuke that Al is fully
sentient and that nobody _but_ Al knows precisely what Al's thinking.  Both
Al and Sousuke could stand to learn more about the human heart, at least where
Kaname and Tessa are concerned.  Sacks leaves the clueless sergeant to help
clean up the Tuatha with his friends.

Said friends are looking forward to meeting the peoples of the green Earth,
especially given Blue's assertion that allies await.  That doing so is thanks
to a Quake, which have been known to sunder teammates on Z-BLUE, put a damper
on things for Kodama.  After all, killing Gadlight didn't cure his Bloodshot
Eye syndrome, meaning that the true "angel" he seeks is still at large.
Nothing can take his mind off that better than a round of vigorously cleaning
up around the ship as part of the Volunteer Club.

SCIENCE(tm) suggests that the green Earth is largely based on the UCW
universe's version, just as the blue Earth is based mainly on the ADW version.
A good first step will be contacting the resistance members, which will
require running the Sidereal blockade and making planetfall.  Commanding the
blockade is Sardias (who you might know from Z3R), every bit as deadly in
practice as he seems innocuous.

  For instance: Sardias' strategy is to take out the TdD, and thereby make
  it vastly harder for the team to actually reenter the atmosphere -- a sound
  strategy that Z-BLUE's commanders figure out quickly.  Getting rid of him
  in a single hit is even trickier, though not by much.

  That conversation Al was having with Chidori?  He wanted advice on how to
  be more effective in combat, and Chidori's solution was to get him to talk
  to Sousuke in her own impatient style -- non-optimal, one might suppose.
  Sousuke's retort when Al tries this is that if Al's such a "high-grade" AI,
  he should figure out how best to express himself in his _own_ words.

Sardias has one more trick up his sleeve: a little ambush suicide bombing that
knocks the TdD badly off its proper attitude for reentry.  Will it simply burn
up in the atmosphere?  Even if not, it's waaay off course, and all the other
forces scurrying after it in the Quarter may not be able to salvage it.  In
any case, Giltar will have to take care of the rest...

To save the TdD, Jeffrey comes up with a truly desperate plan: Trans-Formation
and then manually righting the other ship.  Never mind the risk of his own
ship burning up first.  He assumes manual control, and instigates what he
calls Formation Big Wednesday.

Far below, all this drama resembles a shooting star, and a gaggle of young
girls are totally down with wishing on it.  Melty, as always, wants some hot
guy.  Amy simply wants tomorrow to be a nice day.  What does Sarya want?
Who knows...

AG gives Kaname some spoilers: Jeffrey's lunacy saved the TdD.  Like duh.
Anyway, Kaname's lectures in colloquial speech have indeed boosted Sousuke's
results, and that's worth a few Z-Chips for gratitude -- especially if down the
road it helps Sousuke win a much larger victory.  Come to think of it, Kaname's
never actually _seen_ a Z-Chip before, and when AG shows her one she finds it
to be very pretty, almost as though she could let her mind get lost inside of
it.  ...Which totally doesn't NOT happen, as she's struck by a sudden burst of
headache.  She recovers quickly, and even gives the "Sale, Sale!" mantra an
"Extra Sale!" for good measure... but AG knows of her true potential as a
Whispered, and is expecting great things from her too in the coming battle...


CHAPTER 4B. Between Space and Land

Data shows that pretty much everything EVA- or Angel-related has been
teleported away, which might be just as well given what hints the team heard
about the First and Second Impacts.  As there's no telling what became of
Shinji or the others, all the remaining Z-BLUE folks can do is focus on the
task at hand: dealing with the Kingdom.  New Japan has already been overrun,
so Otto's plan is to go to old Japan and try to keep it from falling too.

Amuro has to deliver Kodama a serious pep talk to convince him that the mess
with the EVAs was _not_ his, or anybody's, fault.  Unlike Otto, Amuro isn't
immediately worried about the Kingdom.  It's the Neo-Jion, whose space Colonies
have been basically ignored by the Sidereals, that worries him.  Every person
that flees Earth for the "safety" of space, every Federation outpost that falls
to the Kingdom moves Neo-Jion one step closer to attacking the Surface.  Londo
Bell hadn't been able to ferret out Neo-Jion's true intentions, and even Char
(who headed back some time ago) hasn't been heard from.

Assuming Hamarn is currently in charge, AND that she's not stupid enough to
directly confront the Federation and the Kingdom at the same time, the question
becomes what one should expect from Neo-Jion.  Banarj is sure that Full Frontal
will be up to something, and since he's the only one to meet the mysterious
guy, Amuro's inclined to trust his instincts.

Sure enough, the Neo-Jion forces strike first, specifically Full Frontal's
elite guard with Angelo in the lead.  He means to take on the Unicorn Gundam,
seemingly still intent on the Laplace Box or at least on evening the score
with Banarj.

  The Neo-Jion buildup of forces isn't going unopposed however: the Celestial
  Beings are still very much alive and kicking.  But tearful reunions will
  have to wait until after Hamarn Khan -- who shows up on the battlefield in
  person -- has had her say.  She wants Banarj and the Celestial Beings to
  place themselves under her command, without so much as a good explanation
  first.  Neither Banarj nor Sumeragi are having any of that, and one really
  has to wonder what the hell Hamarn is thinking.  Is she suicidal?

  She is, at the very least, impatient -- mankind can't wait around until it
  grows up, in her view.  Nor does she want some namby-pamby "understanding
  each other" thing with Newtype correspondence, especially if it means people
  like Camille or Setsuna reading her private text messages, as it were.

As such, she's no help in figuring out where Char -- who ought to be the
diplomatic bridge between the Surface and Space -- has gotten to.  Or Audrey,
for that matter.  Why _are_ Neo-Jion so obsessed with the Box, anyway?

Hamarn doesn't sound too sorry for interrupting Angelo's little feud with
Banarj -- she's got her own job as de facto leader of the Neo-Jion military
to attend to.  Her offer to the Celestial Beings, she explains, was in
recognition of how much trouble they've caused her already despite their slim
numbers.  She'd rather have them on _her_ side, especially since their whole
"ending war" thing ultimately aligns with the Jion ideal too.  Angelo isn't
buying this and means to make a full report to the Supreme Commander, who just
happens to be Full Frontal right now.  And if Angelo knows what's good for
him, he'd better not mention Char in Hamarn's presence ever again.

For now, she'll let the Z-BLUE folks descend to the Surface unimpeded (no sense
in pissing off the Sidereals) and return to Parao to discuss what to do about
Z-BLUE in person with you-know-who.  Secretly Hamarn knows she's got to hurry,
and means to use Z-BLUE to do it.

After the previous war, the CBs have been running a parallel investigation
of Neo Jion to the one authorized by the Feds.  All signs point to Full Frontal
running the show, with Hamarn as his forward commander.  How Full Frontal went
from being Hamarn's subordinate to her superior remains unclear, but it's easy
to imagine he somehow struck a bargain with the Sidereals in the process.
Something like, his help wiping out the Earthnoids in return for leaving the
Spacenoids alone?

Perhaps.  But the most immediate problem that brought the CBs into action is
the fact that Veda has fallen into the Sidereals' hands.  It's possible that
Neo-Jion realizes this, and if so, it may prove necessary to deal with them
even before the Kingdom itself.  A frontal assault on Parao (armored up like
Axis used to be) is out of the question for a force this size, so Sumeragi
recommends heading to North America, the most hotly contested spot in the
Royal war and therefore the most logical place for Neo-Jion intervention.

  [To go to North America, go to 5N.  To go to Japan as scheduled, go to 5J.]

Either way, the commanders have faith in whichever troops are stationed on the
other path to hold the fort until Z-BLUE can get there.

It turns out Audrey has been under Lidy's care, cooped up at his family's
mansion.  With the Neo-Jion on the move however, Lidy's decided to transfer
her to Orb.  Mineva figures that's unnecessary, since Full Frontal -- who she
strongly suspects is in charge -- would have no interest in sending troops
after her now.  If anything, Full Frontal is likely after the Laplace Box,
Chrono's deepest sacrament.

Hopefully you had Camille shoot down Gyunei, his "counterpart" in Neo-Jion.
If so, AG will (predictably) want to chat about it, offering up some bonus
Z-Chips to commemorate the occasion.  Hopefully, AG says, Camille will get to
clash with the guy again and make even more dough.  Meanwhile, AG is very glad
to see Setsuna and his poker-face again.  He relates how Kodama's making a
concerted effort to put his own poker-faced days behind him, and Felt assures
AG that Setsuna's changing too.  AG makes an off-color joke about Setsuna's
man-parts maturing too that has Felt scurrying back to the bridge.


CHAPTER 5G. The Great Green Sea

Heedless of the interplanetary war raging elsewhere, a bunch of intrepid
sunken-treasure seekers are making ready for a new dive.  Well, maybe
"intrepid" is a stretch, considering that Pinion can't swim, but still.
Berose has asked him along on this stomach-churning job in case "they" show up.
Previously they've confined their actions to investigating whale-squid nests,
but Berose senses they might come to bother her next -- hence her elaborate
escape plans.

They, who turn out to be "pirates", turn up on cue --  but they're not after
Berose: they're after Z-BLUE, who've been cruising around using subterranean
drive since their eventful reentry.  The commanders aren't entirely surprised
to run into pirates on this planet's oceans, and intend to defend themselves
vigorously to prevent any further delays in reaching the central continent.
Kodama has received permission to sortie without any wingmen, stung more than
most of his teammates know by Sardias' observation that he can't do anything
without his teammates to protect him -- not exactly a proud reflection on the
Sphere Advent gave his life to acquire.  Suzune will allow it this time, but
gets him to promise to have a wingman next time, and in any case to make sure
he keeps her safe.

  The pirates are completely outclassed, but don't worry: worthier foes are
  waiting in the wings.  And in command: a very impatient Giltar.  As though
  realizing his forces stand no chance in a fair fight, he immediately tries to
  take the treasure-seekers hostage.  Petty tyrants like him are dangerous but
  fragile, and Tessa furiously tries to think of a way to hoist him on his own
  petard.

  In her hesitation Giltar sees echoes of Setsuko, which at least confirms to
  Z-BLUE that she's alive somewhere on this Earth.  Meanwhile Berose and
  Pinion start trash-talking Giltar, daring him to get out of his mech and
  settle this mess like a man.  Giltar gets so upset that he doesn't notice
  Garode arrive in the Gundam-DX until it's too late, and at the first sign
  of trouble he scarpers off, leaving his men to take the brunt of Z-BLUE's
  fury.  Garode in particular is determined that the Sidereals won't lay a
  single finger on the "Gargantia", whatever that is.

Gargantia turns out to be a fleet of ships, on whom dwell the folks who hired
Garode on as a bodyguard.  He and Paula and Tifa have been here for some time,
brought from their own world by a Quake and separated from Jamir and the
others.  This area is known as the Sea of the Forgotten, a rich spot for
treasure-hunting, fishing, and pretty much all the sorts of things a fleet of
refugees would do to make ends meet.

Garode will have to finish his latest salvage task before he can join the team
back at the fleet, and when Watta offers to help out, Pinion informs him
with surprising shortness that that won't be needed.  Huh.  Anyways, time to go
meet whoever's in charge.

At the Z-Traders, Kodama asks Garode why he didn't use his Satellite Cannon to
blow the Sidereals away in one shot.  Garode tells him that nothing good ever
comes of using weapons too big for the task at hand -- and those Sidereals
certainly weren't worthy of his big guns.  Yes that's a platitude, and yes
there are times when platitudes don't avail... but until such times come
Garode prefers to be on the side of caution.  Kodama considers this a bit, and
decides he likes what he's heard from his new teammate.  Kodama then asks AG
to do what he can to find out more about the Spheres -- he means to do
everything in his power to activate his Quarreling Twins sphere, though how
to produce the right "conflicting emotions" is anyone's guess.


CHAPTER 5N. Rough Seas on the North American Front

Despite a lot of hard work, Setsuna's not been able to locate Char -- a sure
testament to how strong Neo-Jion has gotten.  In a direct clash with the Feds,
Neo-Jion would actually have the upper hand, for perhaps the first time in the
multi-generational conflict.  Then again, Neo-Jion would be foolish to commit
too many forces to a battle in the Earth's gravity well.  ...On the third hand,
maybe Full Frontal can get the Sidereals to do his dirty work for him?

In any event, all should be clear soon.  If Neo-Jion forces would be committed
anywhere, it's in North America where the battle for the Surface is stalemated.
Z-BLUE's plan will be the old game of following Terminal Bases as they lead up
to closest Central Base.  The team's complement of mecha aren't exactly ideal,
but Amuro's not the type to complain (recall the old proverb that either he or
Char started: "Differences between mobile suits' capabilities do not decide a
battle").  Maybe, but maintenance quality might.

Kodama recalls his time living in the Rockies, before heading to "Area
Eleven" and getting mixed up in events there.  He can't help but wonder what
the former emperor Charles would have done to confront the invaders -- his
charisma and effectiveness as a ruler are well known to all.  The CBs are only
familiar with the public version of events surrounding Charles' son Lelouch,
who they all figure failed to inherit any of his father's consideration for
the fate of the world at large.  Nobody willing to throw everything away should
be allowed to rule the world, is their thinking.

Cue a round of previously dead-pan pilots learning to smile.  Kodama's smile
falters when Mary mentions that Suzune seems a bit like his mother: mention
of his family seems to bring out the worst in him.  Could that have something
to do with Gadlight's last words?

Elsewhere on the ship, we get a glimpse of why Sumeragi is one of the
strategists of record.  Given that the Sidereals have Veda, and given that
they will certainly try to hack into it to enhance their own warpower, is
there a possibility that they'll be able to access its innermost layer -- the
layer that even Tielia could not breach?  Think about Ioria and Elgan, both
members of Chrono... perhaps of its progressive wing, given the whole
Innovator prophecy?  Her thoughts are interrupted by an incoming transmission
from Katy Mannequin...

Z-BLUE arrives in time to help save Patrick and a bunch of his men from an
untimely end.  The Sidereals seem to have a bad habit of kidnapping the
residents of the Ley Line villages they capture, and Z-BLUE's highest priority
will be stopping the transport aircraft before they make their escape.  But
standing in their way is Dabalarn, who claims to be SOOO much stronger today
than before.  Brush him out of the way first en route to disabling all those
transports, BEFORE they cross the Ley Line.

  Dabalarn seems impressed when Kodama kicks his ass, but he assures the team
  that they can _not_ beat Strauss.  We'll see about that.

Though the team succeeds in halting all the transports, it takes a seriously
heroic effort -- not a good sign when, for the Sidereals, this was a nothing
operation far from their powerbase.  Next time, the team might not be so lucky:
this war must be ended _fast_.  Fortunately, among the kidnapped townspeople
is Saji, glad to see his old friends again.  Louise is doing much better than
she was, but the doctors still advise her to stay near a major hospital in
Japan in case she should suffer a relapse.

Saji's been working for the Britannia Union thanks to a good word or two from
Milly.  Lelouch and the others are, according to Setsuna, busy fighting the
Kingdom to keep New Japan safe, which is great news for him.  He plans to
return to town and resume working at his small delivery firm -- modest, but big
enough to deliver things to space and thereby let him pursue his dreams of
astronauthood.  Korawasar will be sticking around too, thanking Sumeragi on
Katy's behalf.  He'd love to hear Sumeragi tell stories about what Katy (his
wife, don't forget) was like when the two of them were in school together one
day.  A final word of advice for Kodama, who's been an attentive student to
Korasawar's piloting technique: the way to be "immortal" like him is to resolve
_firmly_ to live through whatever comes.

"Whatever" just came, by the way: word is in from Bright that Neo-Jion has just
sent troops to North America...

Sumeragi, by the way, has placed an order for some good booze from AG.  AG
reckons it's an attempt to drown her sorrows for being left out of the marriage
lottery: seeing Katy all hot and heavy with a studly ace-pilot man must be
heartbreaking for her.  So heartbreaking in fact that the booze is on him!
All she wanted to do, actually, was toast the first sight of the moon rising
over the Earth she's had in quite a while... but if AG's going to be treating,
she won't turn it down.  Heck, just the thought that _someone_ is thinking of
her is enough to warm her heart.


CHAPTER 5J. A New Battlefield

Woo hoo, three wide!  Anyways.  The Far East Base and its commander Ootsuka
still exist after all that's happened, but keeping New Japan safe leaves
precious little resources to look after the "old" one.  The Sidereals have been
taking advantage of the Crushers' mission in space to send an increasing number
of reconn flights, and it seems only a matter of time before the Kingdom moves
in for real.  Which would suck, since old Japan is as untouched by them as any
place on Earth, and will be the ideal center for a counter-offensive if it can
stay that way.  Hence: this part of Z-BLUE will go defend Old New-Tokyo 3.

Returning to Japan has Camille pensive, musing on what his life might have
been had he not been swept up in the AEUG and the war and all.  Not all his
memories of life as a normal kid in Japan are good ones, but the thought that
the Kingdom might steal such things from others gives him plenty of reason to
fight.  Kodama's down with that, and Camille is reminded a bit of Setsuko.
Whatever the reason -- sorrow, rage, good old-fashioned busy-bodiness -- there
is good in fighting to make this a better world.

Just what Kodama needed to hear to help get over the shock of what happened to
Shinji.  And since it's Real Talk time, Kodama asks Camille how he can be a
more equal parter for Suzune.  Kouji and the others guys haven't been any help
at all there, spouting trite advice like remembering to buy flowers on
anniversaries and whatnot, and the sermons from Klan and Kaname were even
worse.  Camille doesn't even want to hear what Sousuke told him.  Suzune
herself shows up before Camille can tender his advice, mistaking the purpose
for the guy-to-guy talk and breezing off before Camille can explain himself.
She's a formidable woman and being her equal won't be easy, but one thing
Camille can say is that she's clearly trying to protect Kodama.  So he'll
need to protect her in turn, as well as everyone else on Earth.

The former site of NERV HQ, geofront and all, is now one enormous crater.
Otto's come a long way as a human being from when we first met him.   Once,
the sight of this desolate vista would have shown him to be the biggest
pessimist on the bridge.  Now, he's the one chiding his staff for using the
word "vaporized" instead of "vanished".  There's no radiation or anything, so
it should be safe to land and have a look around.

...That is, until a passel of Sidereals, fresh from causing havoc in New
Japan, turn up.  Dabalarn is in the lead, having specifically sought out Z-BLUE
as the one opponent that really gets his blood pumping.  And what more poetic
place to spill some blood that here, in the shadow of this massive dimensional
scar?  His war-mongering really pisses Kodama off, and all Z-BLUE agrees that
this guy needs to get bounced the hell out of Japan double-quicktime.

  Dabalarn's certainly not lacking for ferocity or bravery.  But what he lacks
  is subtlety, and when Kodama and the crew don't wither under his initial
  (seemingly) overwhelming assault.  And he's got more than just Otto's team
  to worry about: Karen, Suzaku, and the Zechs-Noin axis show up.  Wait,
  weren't they tied up trying to defend New Japan?  Well, a Certain Someone(tm)
  happens to think that the best defense is a good offense.  The sight of these
  new stalwarts warms Dabalarn's loins even more, certifying him as a Grade-A
  wackjob.

He retreats when defeated, but not before expressing thanks to God that he's
gotten the chance to battle such worthy foes.  Oh, and He'll Be Back(tm)... but
probably not for a while.  In fact, Japan is probably more or less safe for
a while, so without Kodama even having to suggest it, the team decide in
unison to go help out in New Japan instead.  Karen and Kodama wish Shinji was
still here, but they vow to defend his homeland in his absence.

Zero is indeed still around and secretly coordinating the war effort in New
Japan.  Several other former Black Knights are doing their part in the army
From what Zechs and the others have gathered, the Royal army that took
over Eurasia means to use Japan as a bridge to New Japan and the rest of the
Pacific Rim.  Hiiro and other Preventers, plus other concerned parties, have
swelled New Japan's defenses, but for them to become truly entrenched they'll
need a breather from the Royal assault.  Pull that off, and old Japan's forces
can be strengthened in turn.

Karen decides not to swing by her old school until all this is over -- sounds
good to Kodama.  Once again, we find pilots all over the team being *GASP*
more reasonable about relating to each other, almost as though... they were
growing up or something.  There's still quite a ways to go though...  Before
departing, Kodama does actually land long enough to say a prayer for Shinji
and the others' wellbeing.  Karen, it turns out, goes with Kodama -- she loved
Shinji like a younger brother, and that's worth 50Z to AG.  On the other hand,
seeing Zechs and Noin indulging in their weird respect-love-...thing in his
store makes AG hopping mad, even when Zechs delivers the "Sale, Sale!" line to
try to appease him.


CHAPTER 6G. Drifter

Hello auto-text, my old friend / I've come to talk to you again.  What do we
learn this time?  Once upon a time, while the blue Earth was Time Emprisoned,
a battle raged at the center of the galaxy.  A battle without a known beginning
or visible end, waged between the Human Galactic Alliance and the Hidiarz.  I
guess we get a retrospective now though?

Kurgel is telling his troops to abandon their positions and flee, but Ledo is
determined to at least by some time for his comrades before complying.  He's
schedule to receive a months' leave on the Avalon, mankind's greatest colony
ship and best hope for finding a new permanent home, after this battle is over
-- a reward for sixteen years of military service.  Kurgel, who's been doing
this longer than he has, has to bail Ledo out of a sticky situation, breaking
the letter of military law in order to preserve its spirit: Ledo has the chance
to kill many more enemies with the rest of his life than Kurgel does.  Before
Kurgel can die or Ledo escape, a bunch of Sidereals appear and deploy
Dimensional Weapons, with results apparently too horrible to show, or
something.

Ledo awakens exactly half a year later, his mech "Chamber" having put him into
cold sleep to keep him alive.  Chamber judged it time to revive the pilot based
on external events.  Namely, Chamber seems to be the "treasure" that Pinion
and crew salvaged -- a treasure they can't make a single scratch on.  Pinion
sounds unwilling to seek anyone else's help in breaking "his" treasure open.

Ledo realizes these people and their ancient tongue must be from one of the
unallied Drifter races.  Clearly they've never seen a Machine Caliber before,
and their feeble attempts to damage this one indicate just how low their tech
level must be.  Astronomical location services are unavailable, and Chamber
estimates that they must have been thrown some great distance from their
previous location.  Normally the plan would have been to let him continue
sleeping while the S.O.S. beacon did it work, but these barbarians(?)' actions
made that hard to countenance.

Ledo has precious little information from which to plan his next move.  He
can't well leave his cockpit under the circumstances (despite the gravity and
atmosphere being basically ideal), but he also doesn't want to leave the
building they're in by force lest these people outside get injured.  He finally
decides to let them keep doing whatever until they get bored; he'll act once
they're gone.

Meanwhile, the Z-BLUE commanders have been pow-wowing with Fleet Admiral
Fearock, who like the rest of his fleet seem to come from a pretty podunk
world.  They know nothing of Spacetime Quakes or whatever, having been brought
to this place a year ago by an "abnormal storm".  Changing worlds did little
to change the way of life here: drifting with the currents and wind, having
kids, and dying.

It's an ancestral way of life that Fearock sees no reason to abandon in order
to inhabit terra firma.  The very people of this fleet are the Forgotten, and
their human will to survive is the thread that binds them present, past and
future.  New-fangled gadgets and whatnot need not apply.  Lucky for them the
Sidereals pay them no heed, focusing instead on the Whale-Squid that the
Forgotten hold sacred.

Fearock has Rigit help with Z-BLUE's repairs, in accordance with Forgotten
tradition that "All those who fish shall be granted fresh water".  Said
mechanic gets a page, and is shocked to hear that a person actually emerged
from the machine that Pinion salvaged.

The rest of the pilots are touring the facilities and picking up slack, and
there's a lot of slack to pick up.  Garode's crew have been here around
three months, and are really digging the relaxed, open lifestyle.  Things are
relaxed enough that Sousuke invites Kaname to join him in his hobby, which if
you remember carefully, is fishing.  After a brief misunderstanding, Kaname
agrees to this plan, and Kodama smoothly tells Sousuke that he and Watta will
be fishing *elsewhere* for now.  The two groups can compare who's catch is
bigger when they're done... and Kaname can't be counted as "catch", if you know
what I mean.

Melty and friends run over at this point, and Melty at least is SUPER excited
by all the hot guys who've come from the stars.  She'd be MORE than happy to
show them around, especially since she finished her Messenger (think: postal
service) duties for the day.  Sarya tells Paula that Amy is elsewhere,
checking out the treasure that Berose hauled up the other day.  The thing is
clearly some kind of weapon, but with Pinion so adamant that nobody else touch
it, Z-BLUE aren't in much of a position to help unlock its mysteries.

Garode gets a phone call at this point: it's Pinion, reporting that not only
was there a *person* inside his treasure, said person has taken Amy hostage
and run off.  Mystery unlocked, apparently.  Ledo is having a hell of a time
finding his way around the confusing marketplace, especially with his hostage
squawking so much.  Chamber doesn't seem to be able to make any more sense of
the hostage's language than Ledo can, but it does point out that it's hasty to
label these people as Drifters.  Nothing about them fits with any known
profile, and by process of elimination, the only possibility left -- crazy
though it sounds -- is that Ledo has somehow found himself in totally
unaligned territory.

Z-BLUE are on the case, and since he seems inclined to flee from them rather
than fight, they purposefully drive him into a trap on the deck of the
Gargantia.  He draws up short at the sight of the ocean, a completely
unfamiliar one to him.  One of the Snanpas deliberately grazes him with a
bullet, letting his hostage flee.  What now?  As the crew corner him, Chamber
is rapidly deciphering their language, noting it's structure resembles that of
forces that recently joined the Alliance.

The real shocker is his location: the surface of the third planet of the
Solar System: Earth.  Known only from records, Earth is reputed to be the
origin planet of the entire human race.  Even as he tries to digest this,
Chamber warns him of approaching Sidereal mecha...

There's a lot of them, and they seem to have bought the services of the local
pirates for good measure.  Garode springs into action first, followed by the
rest of Z-BLUE.  Ledo decides to sit tight and see how things unfold, telling
Chamber to be prepared to move if things turn ugly.  Z-BLUE's mission is to
be strictly defensive: nobody pursue too deeply.

  Who should show up when the odds are favorable than Giltar.  At the sight of
  him, Ledo summons Chamber: defeating Sidereal Commanders is after all one of
  the Alliance's strategic goals.  Garode is dispatched to keep an eye on this
  new ally(?), and Ledo is surprised when Chamber identifies the Double-X, or
  at least the people who made it, as part of the Alliance.  The speech
  translation can still use a bit of work, but Ledo is finally able to
  understand Garode enough to agree to his help.  Giltar is really in for it
  this time...

  Arousing Kodama's ire is a bad idea.  Arousing Ledo's curiosity is an even
  worse idea for Giltar, who is forced to flee for his life.  He orders some of
  his men to mount a suicidal campaign to slow Garode's pursuit down -- men
  who in their own words would have been better off working for Lukkage.
  Seeing their despair, Garode tells them to get lost already: he's not in the
  business of shooting the dispirited.  The grateful pirates are about to
  take him up on his offer, promising to never attack the fleet again, when
  Ledo takes their flight as an opportunity to attack.

  Garode takes the blast that was meant for them, and it appears we have a
  new misunderstanding.  What's the point of NOT taking down the enemy when
  you can?  Does Garode _want_ to prolong the fighting?  He quickly realizes
  that this argument will have no quick settlement, and decides to head out on
  his own rather than muddle through with these potential allies now.

Instead, he just parks on the ship and kind of sits there.  The team quickly
discern that his mech is capable of autonomous motion, which is something the
fleet people have never even imagined.  The Snanpas aren't inclined to snipe
the strange newcomer, who Amy (and Tifa) insists isn't a bad person.  He _did_
fight on the fleet's behalf, after all.  The Z-BLUE folks end up going for some
shut-eye, hoping to reopen this conversation tomorrow.  Chamber certainly
doesn't have enough data to tell Ledo what's to become of them now...

AG compliments Garode on today's exploits, noting that communication with
poker-faced types can be really taxing.  Unless of course you fall in love with
one at first sight.  Garode protests that Tifa isn't so much poker-faced as,
umm, quiet?  Reserved?  Dainty?  Anyways, she's the best!  AG can't really
rebut that, and even he has to be impressed, as one salesman to another, when
he hears that Garode actually managed to sell a Gundam once.


CHAPTER 6N. The Future of Jion

Not like Bright owes Amuro an apology for failing to stop the Neo-Jion landing
party, but he offers one anyway.  Of all the places for the bad guys to land
(and take over), they had to choose Peterson AFB (home of the real-life 21st
Space Wing) which is where the nu-Gundam's been taken for "safekeeping".
Bright had just about finished the paperwork to get the damn thing returned to
its rightful pilot, but now this.  Amuro, with Sumeragi's support, convinces
Otto and Bright that the Z-BLUE forces should steal Peterson AFB right back:
doing so should clarify precisely what the Neo-Jion are really up to.  Amuro
is inwardly worried that the Neo-Jion might have known about the nu-Gundam
in advance, which would point to some kind of leak...

Amuro is going to be personally spearheading the recovery of the nu-Gundam,
which has Kodama more than a little surprised: he thought Amuro wasn't much of
a sentimentalist where Mobile weapons are concerned.  Amuro frowns heavily
at this, saying at length that Kodama is exactly right: his interest in the
nu-Gundam is as a useful tool, period.  Or, so an earlier version of himself
would have insisted.  With the benefit of a bit more life experience, Amuro
can now recognize that it is precisely through useful tools like fire that man
ascended from the apes.  Perhaps these turbulent times represent another
inflection point in man's punctuated equilibrium, and it's hard to imagine a
handier catalytic tool than all the wacky Gundams this team fields.

This philosophical turn is why he's Amuro Rei and you aren't.  While this may
be a bit too deep for some of the other pilots, Amuro can tell them this much
without an iota of irony in his eyes.  On the day of Dimension Healing, from
his perch in the nu's cockpit, he saw a Light.  And he'll pilot the nu or any
other machine he has to to make that make sense.  Kodama and the other pilots
present that day know what he means, and will support him to their utmost.
And in turn, Amuro tells Kodama not to _try_ to get his Sphere working, but to
MAKE it happen.

Of course, there's the question of what will become of the nu-Gundam in the
meantime.  Will the machine, source of Neo-Jion's greatest failure in the Axis
drop, be used as target practice?  Refitted and used to hunt rebels?  And what
of Chain, its chief engineer?  Nothing bad will happen to them if Gyunei,
commander of the squadron that captured the base, has anything to say about it.
He orders Full Frontal's simpering dogs to get lost, then orders Chain to get
the nu-Gundam ready for action.  He's clearly conflicted about Neo-Jion's
actions, though he loudly proclaims that Neo-Jion's never had a better
opportunity to take out the rotten Federation.  In reality, it seems he wants
to prove he's the better man than Amuro, and that means taking down a Gundam
in a fair fight.

Z-BLUE reaches Peterson without incident, and that's got Sumeragi very worried.
How easily the base fell, and how precisely the Neo-Jion forces went straight
for it, leaves her certain there's a rat.  Certainly Amuro can read subterfuge
in Gyunei's hesitation and rage, even if he won't say in words why the Neo-Jion
forces came to Earth.

  It doesn't take long for the truth to come out: a part of the Federation
  army has defected and allied itself with the Kingdom, and apparently with
  Neo-Jion.  Camille demands to know from Gyunei if Neo-Jion have allied
  directly with the Sidereals.  In response, Gyunei orders all his troops to
  cease fire long enough for Amuro to go get into his damn Gundam.  Amuro
  won't look this gift horse in the mouth, and when he hears from Chain that
  Gyunei ensured that nobody but her touched the nu, Amuro mutters to himself
  that there's hope yet for both this war and for Neo-Jion itself.

  Gyunei tells Amuro of his plan to surpass Char, the man who refused Red
  Comethood in order to fight by Amuro's side.  Amuro's willing to fight
  Gyunei in Char's stead, but he warns that he's nobody's springboard: he's
  still got plenty on his own to-do list.

  Gyunei will never get anywhere in life so long as he chases Char's shadow.
  And refuses other people's input.  Is it fair to say his "pride" is behind
  his downfall?  Otto thinks perhaps it was his "humanity", which is not such
  a bad word.  The real question is, where is Neo-Jion headed, deprived now of
  Char's leadership?

Full Frontal's sales pitch to the Sidereals goes something like this.  Chrono,
their old-and-busted previous collaborator, is on its last legs.  Neo-Jion,
their new-hotness collaborator, will prove its good will by unearthing Chrono's
deepest religious taboo: the Laplace Box.  Whatever the damn thing is, it seems
poised to change the world after all by sheer rhetorical value alone.

Angelo reports Gyunei's latest blunder, and Full Frontal seems singularly
unconcerned.  Either Amuro got the nu-Gundam and Gyunei's fitness to command
gets called into question, or the base and the Gundam are kept and Z-BLUE
rebuffed.  Either works.  Angelo sniffs that Gyunei doesn't seem to respect
Full's authority as the new commander of Neo-Jion, but Full is certain the
Char Aznable fanclub will come around in time.  And Gyunei still has his uses,
such as hounding the Unicorn Gundam.  If Banarj isn't planning on going to
Dakarl (the next location on the Laplace scavenger hunt, if you'll recall) of
his own volition, Full will have to _make_ him go there.  All for the
continuation of the human race, eh?

It's sinking in that elements of the Federation army have turned against their
own fellow Earthnoids.  The whole charade with the nu-Gundam being sent to
this base, its token defense, it's occupation by Neo-Jion -- all of it was
set up by bad actors within the military.  Amuro reckons those involved have
ties to Chrono, and foresees that the military chain of command is going to be
a mess going forward.  It's not inconceivable that resistance to the Sidereals
will become the exception rather than the rule.  Then again, the spirit that
let humanity break out of the Time Prison should imply a better future lying
ahead than this.

Gyunei's very existence within Neo-Jion, tormented though it may be, further
endorses the idea that peace may be available.  Still, it sucks that for
every k people who believe in the future, there are (N-k) people who don't.
Whither man, indeed.  For now though, that Central Base needs to be taken down
before the Chrono-influenced Fed units do anything else stupid.

Oh, in case you watched the demo combat animations and wondered what became
of Mareeda?  Yeah, she's stuck in the Newtype lab in Augusta, Georgia having
horrible things done to her.  Someone named Martha is trying to get her to
believe her name is Proto-Puru 12.  Mareeda remains defiant, testament to how
little Albert seems to have accomplished in the past four months.  Then again,
Martha isn't short on tactics to try, and if Mareeda's memories are too firmly
set to be overwritten easily, she'll simply _strengthen_ the bad stuff to
drive Mareeda into a bloodletting frenzy.

Mareeda should help Martha get her hands on the Laplace Box.  And _that_ will
in turn get her into Chrono, which she's been doing quite a bit of research
into.  Neither the House of Bist nor even Anaheim Electronics are invincible,
and she means to go where her chances of survival are highest.  What remains
here is to see which animal will serve the Bist house better: the Lion, or the
Unicorn?

Oh, and in case you missed it, liberating Peterson AFB is worth 0.4% of the
summary strategic balance of the war.  Joyous.

AG "congratulates" Amuro on getting his favorite Gundam back, a bit sad that
this wasn't merely the fulfillment of some adolescent psyche.  The same psyche
that drove Amuro to do all manner of crazy shit back in his being-punched-by-
Bright days.  He does manage to rattle Amuro pretty good, though it's unclear
to what end...


CHAPTER 6J. The Battle For Tokyo

Gee, what could have Giltar so tickled pink as he lounges in one of the
identically-named Terminal Bases?  Gloating over Dabalarn's latest miserable
failure of course: a failure Giltar ascribes to sheer muscle-headed stupidity.
He, on the other hand, is sure that his strategic intellect can overcome any
force of arms.  What was it that goeth before the Fall again?  Summer.  NO,
dammit?  Try again: from where do you see yourself?  "ZERO Distance", one
might say.

Sardias phones up at around this point, fully anticipating Giltar's gloating
ways.  He would do well to remember that Dabalarn's Haiades squadron _is_ on
the same team.  Hopefully he'll fare better as he leads the invasion of
New Japan, though from what Sardias has heard he'll have to best Zero to do it.
The knowledge that the top brass are watching only redoubles Giltar's resolve
to see this task through.

The crew at New Japan's defense HQ are fidgeting during what Zero reckons is
the calm before the storm.  The troops are scattered all over the frontier,
leaving Tokyo itself somewhat thinly defended: a classic case of "protecting
everything means protecting nothing".  Ougi asks if an all-out attack is
coming, and Zero tells his team that they must _make_ that all-out attack
come.  He means to exploit the recently-changed Royal commander's proclivities
and lure him to Tokyo.

Should this fail, there's no biggie -- the troops Zero has in wait will simply
be sent to other areas to help out.  But Zero has Giltar pegged for a man of
intellect and efficiency, a miracle-worker whose main weaknesses are vainglory
and lack of adaptability in the face of change.  Toudou at least is willing
to let Zero control this chess match, though he's surprised when Zero assigns
him as rear guard.  Zero will be heading to the front lines himself, meaning
to meet the enemy commander head-on while Suzaku and Karen are away.  Giltar
is about to learn a hard lesson in the value of willingness to be shot before
shooting others...

It seems the gang's all back, including Zero's "old friend" Tamashiro --
who is far better suited to espionage than running a bar somewhere.  This
nation of Japan remembers how much victory Zero brought them in the past, and
what it feels like to see their gains stolen away: a proud, experienced nation
that really could use a few more hands for a battle like this...  That much
is evident to the folks watching from Ashford Academy, who at Sayoko's urging
prepare to evacuate at a moment's notice.

Zero makes a grand show of being astonished at Giltar's acumen, acting scared
enough to send him a full set of data on where the Federation's troops are
stationed... despite the protestations of the other troops.  Said troops turn
on Zero, who implores Giltar for assistance.  Instead, he opens fire on Zero,
saying he's got the upper hand now and has no further use for him.  He's very
proud of his minions, engineered from this planet's own insects.  The pilots
sure make it sound like it's every man for themselves.

  Tamashiro and the other Black Knights seemingly aren't in on the ruse, so
  Zero has to remind them that this is the city that recovered from having a
  FREIJA used on it -- no way in hell he'll let someone destroy that.  As they
  begin to get the message, Zero assures them that he's prepared the means for
  them to be the very last resort.  And there's no need for that here.

  Giltar fell for Zero's ruse hook, line and sinker -- and it's worth pointing
  out that this was a VERY elementary display of Zero's power at that.  Worst
  of all for Giltar, Zero's whole plan was to _buy_time_ for Z-BLUE to arrive.
  And Giltar's trump card, a new horde of his insects?  Zero anticipated that
  too, and had Hiiro in the perfect spot to map-weapon the whole lot of them.
  This is a testament to what longtime comrades in arms can accomplish.

Giltar is a miserable mess when he gets sent packing, ample testament to the
difference in commanders for today's battle, as well as all the memories this
city holds.  It was those memories that made people like Zero who they are
today, and Zero swears on the lives of Shirley and Rolo that he, the masked
miracle-maker, will restore peace on Earth.

Back at base, reunions quickly give way to an exchange between Banarj and Zero,
where Zero teaches Banarj that he's not the only civilian voluntarily taking up
arms for what's right.  About the best Zero can do is to be sure to fight
alongside them, and to find ways to end the fighting as fast as possible.
This doesn't quite tally with the public version of Zero Banarj has read
about, and while Zero admits there were some "theatrics" involved in the past,
he now only wants simple victory.  Any changes in his thinking are, he tells
Kodama, a credit to ZEXIS.  And although he's basically a symbol while wearing
that mask, he's confident that people won't mistake him for another Full
Frontal.

Banarj certainly won't: his senses continue to sharpen the more he pilots the
Unicorn.  If that's not Newtype-ism, one wonders what is.  The Unicorn is
another in this long line of machines that seem bent on evolving mankind.
One could, if so inclined, trace that all the way back to the quest for Fire.
That reminds Kodama of the old litany: the Blood of Beasts, the Mingling of
Waters, the Destination of Wind, and the Culture of Fire.  And last, the
Shining of the Sun: all phases of history that came up quite often during the
Time Prison fiasco.  If Zero is right, the distinction between soldier and
civilian that troubled Banarj so is about to lose its meaning.  Soldiers fight
a war.  And entire species fights an existential crisis.

Suddenly word comes in of a Royal force nearing Kansai.  It surely can't be
Giltar, after how badly he got trounced.  That must mean someone higher
ranking than he used his attack as camouflage, and Zero orders Z-BLUE assembled
for scramble at once.  Fortunately "They" are stationed at Itsukushima for
an emergency like this, but there's no time to waste.

Lelouch has deep concerns about AG, this pan-dimensional merchant.  He's
recruited C.C. to help him snoop around, but gathering enough data to draw
firm conclusions won't be easy...


CHAPTER 7G. The Peerless Empress

Lukkage the Pirate Queen is having a pretty rough day.  First her men prove
to be far less capable than they are loyal (and they are VERY loyal, or at
least scared shitless of her), then the Sidereals mess things up further.  And
then there's that Gargantia fleet, a perpetual thorn in her side -- a thorn she
figures is now more than ripe for removal.  No secret weapon or whatever of
theirs has a chance of slowing her scallywags down!

Ledo has to explain to Chamber (and to us) why he doesn't simply blow this
popsickle stand.  Sure the immediate guards wouldn't stand a chance of stopping
him, but if their friends from the previous battle turned up it's he who would
be at a disadvantage.  Chamber recommends either overwhelming and occupying
their adversaries, or striking down their central command structure to prevent
further resistance.

Ledo has to remind him that their highest priority is to locate their
comrades, and, to figure out why the hell the Sidereals have deployed forces
all the way out here.  And since Chamber seems unable to pinpoint their
current location, Ledo is considering asking the locals for whatever historical
documents they could provide as input... in particular, the far more advanced
folks on the other ship.  Here's what's really bugging him: all data he's seen
insists that Earth is dead, yet here it is very much alive.  It's not
impossible to imagine this world being the answer to the Avalon's long-
cherished mission, though that's a decision above Ledo's pay grade.

Oh, and don't forget that provisions and whatnot won't last forever.  With no
response from the Alliance, Chamber also recommends that Ledo return to
cold sleep while Chamber escapes this place.  This gets interrupted when
Rigit and Cathy turn up to parlay.  Chamber gets to play protocol droid,
introducing Ensign Ledo as the pilot of Chamber, the Anti-Hidiarz Annihilation
Weapon... the Hidiarz being an enemy with whom coexistence is impossible.
Chamber tells them to ally themselves to the Human Galactic Alliance, and asks
for more information about them.

Having established that the guy isn't out to kill them, the language
specialists hope to shift gears to the "finding common ground" phase,
encouraged that Ledo is already showing signs of being able to converse with
them on his own.  Amy decides to skip that phase however, running up with a
serving of breakfast for their strange guest.  The offering of a fish's corpse
as food strikes him as anything but appetizing, yet at Chamber's suggestion he
chokes it down anyway, finding that it's not half bad.  Common ground: found.

That opens the floodgates, as the rest of the pilots pile in with more tasty
stuff for Ledo to eat.  Who needs linguistics and xenoculture theory when
you've got a bunch of enthusiastic young people who can cook?  During the
feasting, Al and Chamber (similar in functionality) get acquainted.  Kaname
is a bit concerned about the impartiality of this exchange, since her
instincts tell her that Al is actually balanced to favor ITS own intuition
over past pattern matching.  Apparently all her chats with Al the past few
days weren't just idle curiosity.  Of course, the more Al and Chamber talk,
the less Sousuke and Ledo seem to.

So much of communication boils down to first impressions, and both Sousuke and
Kodama made most people think of them as pretty tight-lipped back when.
Given all the experience Kaname has dealing with poker-faces like Sousuke,
maybe she can help Ledo's integration along?  Kodama is actually more
sensitive to the whole topic of people seeming "withdrawn" because of his
years alone with his father and sister as Beast Hunters -- he knows that this
wasn't exactly the best introduction to how to hold a conversation.

Eventually, Sousuke gets told to by Kaname and Kodama that he's not helping and
leaves to do some fishing by himself.  Tessa, in a similar boat on account of
NOT being useful in the TdD's repairs, comes over to join him.  She knows that
they all just want her to rest, but she can't bear sitting still while so much
bad stuff is happening back on the blue Earth.  Sure she's been putting a
brave face on it, like Jeffrey always does, but she's not sure how long she
can keep it up.  When he opens his mouth to say something to her, she tells
him to keep his kind words to himself, lest she start crying.

Kaname is able to learn about the Hidiarz quickly: a fearsome foe that comes
in many shapes and sizes, all of which seem to excel at collective action
despite displaying no sign of culture.  Who would have thought that such an
epic battle with them, and the Sidereals, was raging at the galactic center?
As for ways to get Ledo back to his comrades, the best bet would seem to be
Folding -- but even that miraculous technology has its limits.  The more
Ledo talks, the more it turns out that his poker face was less about being
reserved and more about not knowing _how_ to communicate.  Just. Like. Kodama.

On issues like yesterday's fleeing enemies however, it's not a communication
barrier at issue, it's something more like basic philosophy or world view.
Berose tries to explain in terms of the fish they eat, which they only
harvest enough of to survive, no more.  All the more so then, for fellow humans
like the pirates -- or even human(oid)s like the Sidereals.  Or put more
simply (courtesy of Watta), if one stopped to care about what planet who's
from in this multidimensional world, NOTHING would ever get done.

Okay, got that.  So how come humans have so many weapons?  Put simply, humans
have the _capacity_ to take each others' lives needlessly.  So if some humans
(say the pirates) insist on using that threat to force others to obey, the
people of the Gargantia fleet would rather defend themselves than simply
allowing themselves to be killed.  The showing of arms itself, by both sides,
represents a certain sort of negotiation.  In the end, only by coming together
and pooling resources can people survive, and that ought to make people
generous toward each other.  It certainly served the Gargantians and Z-BLUE
well so far.  And although the pirates may not share the same philosophy, the
Gargantians can appeal to their sense of profit: they can make it UNPROFITABLE
to bother them any further.

This idea will, at long last, get put to the test in the very near future, as a
large fleet of pirates is approaching.  they're maybe half a night's travel
away, meaning no hope of changing course to avoid them.  Maybe this mess got
started by helping the Z-BLUE folks out, but clearly matters have gone past
the point where evicting them would help.  Quite the opposite in fact: Tessa
would love nothing more than to help her new fleet-mates prevail.

Sousuke and Ledo get buddied up for the coming battle, and it will remain to be
seen whether their two AIs accomplished anything beyond confusing each other.
Rigit has two questions for Ledo before battle, the first being to confirm that
he intends to minimize casualties to the enemy side.  The second is: given that
he's got enough firepower to destroy the entire fleet, why is he stooping to
help them?  It's because these pirates refuse to live by the law of "All those
who fish shall be granted fresh water".  Of the two sides, Ledo figures the
Gargantians are the ones he can negotiate with -- he desires a place to stay,
and someone to plead his case for him.  Rigit will undertake that role.

This world's standard-issue mecha are called Yunboroids (Yunboro's for short),
and the bad guys have a lot of them gathered under the Lobster flag of Lukkage.
Though weak individually, their sheer numbers puts the Gargantians at a
sizeable disadvantage.  As such, Tessa means to use a show of force to dissuade
them en masse.  She's as tense as Mardukas has ever seen her since her very
first battle, a sure sign of how hard these past three months have been.

Oh, one little thing that didn't come up until now.  Remember how Garode's
world was the FAR distant future of the UCW universe, what with all those
ancient Jion artifacts turning up in Mountain Cycles?  Yeah, there's those in
this area, meaning the pirates have some vintage One Year War gadgetry.

  Look, if I've told you once, I've told you a thousand times: Charlie don't
  surf!  But Lukkage apparently does, using wave prowess to board the nearest
  ship.  Ledo hastily moves to confront her and her suspiciously agile mech:
  the Empress of the Sea of the Forgotten won't go down easily.

  At least this map has an unusual Skill Point condition: take down 16 or more
  enemies in a single turn.  Not sure if I've ever seen that one before.

  Lukkage is smart enough to know when she's beaten, and is VERY fast to run
  when she has to.  She pauses just long enough to vow to keep trying until the
  Gargantia fleet is hers, and now's the time for Tessa to prove herself.
  Tessa has Ledo grab Lukkage and surface, though Lukkage would rather die than
  surrender -- just as Tessa expected.

  To deflate that pride, Tessa intends to humiliate her using the ocean --
  and to prove once and for all who the TRUE empress of the seas is.
  She *rams* Lukkage at full speed with the TdD, which comes as a
  horrible surprise since the hicks on the pirate crew have never heard
  of a submarine before, much less a submarine with the TdD's
  ultracavitating propulsion.  Lukkage's honor guard women seem
  to favor one of their own as their ruler, and Tessa's just proved
  herself the better woman so... you do the math.

Tessa now has a new title that her teammates are all too glad to tease her
about, even as they praise her nifty plan.  Assuming the pirates are indeed
well and truly repulsed, Z-BLUE's focus can return to the Sidereals... which
was of course the whole point of coming to this planet in the first place.
Would Ledo like to join Z-BLUE in that fight?    Why not?

The gratitude he gets from the Gargantians takes some getting used to, since
the words "thank you" are foreign to his time in the Alliance.  His attempts to
practice them get off to a halting, but promising, start.  Z-BLUE's heroism has
guaranteed they've got a place to stay on the Gargantia fleet, as well as all
the tasty breakfasts they can eat.  Kodama and Sousuke are proud of how Ledo is
fitting in, but chatting about it is forestalled by Tessa grabbing Sousuke for
a private chat.

She apologizes for the other day, admitting to a severe lack of confidence back
then.  The sight of people's eyes as she stepped onto the bridge is what
clicked for her: their trust in the captaincy is something she's determined not
to betray.  In point of fact, she's let herself get a little weak over the past
however long, and she knows she's got to do better.  It's just that being
around Sousuke makes her kind of mellow-mellow, and she owes him an apology for
doing so without his consent.  On the other hand, Sousuke himself musters the
courage to call her (his commander, don't forget) by her first name as he tells
her she's very important to him and that he'll do everything in his power to
help her.  SQEEE!!  Sousuke *and* Kaname are precious to her, and with
Sousuke's words she's now at the point that even if he doesn't end up choosing
her, she'll still cherish this moment.

Kodama and Alto have been eavesdropping on the whole thing, and Kodama is
grinning like the cat who ate the canary that his fellow poker-face is getting
some romantic traction.  Alto, a respected "expert" in love triangles (not that
he wants to be termed such) asks if Kodama is getting triangular himself --
meaning that nurse friend of his AND Suzune.  This catches Kodama up short, and
he stammers that he's never thought of Suzune that way.  Oh REALLY?  Alto will
be the judge of that, and Kodama isn't going to weasel out of that chat easily.

When Amy takes Ledo to her cramped but tidy house, we get another shock: the
concept of "family" and "siblings" is foreign to him...

Tessa finally visits the D-Trader after all this time, and basically gets AG
hitting on her off the bat.  Tessa is on guard with her fan, and both she and
Mardukas warn *sternly* that a fan is the least AG will have to worry about if
he keeps it up.  Mardukas in fact hauls AG off to get chewed out some more,
leaving the two girls to staff the store.


CHAPTER 7N. The Capture of Otis Base

Katy's got her work cut out for her to investigate the rogue Federation army
units.  And Korasawar has his: much though he'd like to whisper sweet nothings
into his wife's ear, he's got serious-business warfighting to do.  Only a
focused assault can hope to topple the bad guys, and he intends to help Z-BLUE
accomplish exactly that.  Katy grants this request, asking him to take a
certain trustworthy fellow along with him to further enhance Z-BLUE's clout...

The Kingdom's Terminal Base projects are well underway in North America, with
the Feds and Kingdom battling to a standstill until recently.  That's when
the Neo-Jion and Chrono folks stuck their oar in and put the Feds on their
heels.  Nothing that can't be fixed by taking over the Central Base, however.
Of course that's going to be a bitch, so Sumeragi has cooked up a plan that
works like what bridge players call a "two-way finesse".  The Federation army
will stage a "diversion" to allow Z-BLUE to get into position... while Z-BLUE
makes as much of a ruckus as possible to let the *Feds* get into position.
Either force has the potential to take out the Central Base, and so the
Kingdom will be forced to pay them both attention.

In a nutshell, there's a Terminal Base in Texas with Z-BLUE's name on it, which
just happens to be in the area where Esther was born.  An area, according to
foxy lady/scientist Traia has been stuck in a dimensional vortex ever since
the original Dimensional Beasts attacked.  Somehow the thought of fighting
there seems to daunt Suzune, and with moral support(-ish) from his fellow guy
pilots, Kodama gets her to open up about why.

Though it hasn't come up for a while, Suzune is originally from a different
dimension from either the UCW or ADW -- a world about which she remembers
almost nothing.  Hell, she doesn't even know which kanji originally went with
her own name.  One of her few memories is of a city attacked by the DBs, just
as Otis was -- though whether it was even her own city or not remains obscure.
Kodama tells her to think of this as her chance for some payback, even if it's
not literally her hometown.  That's precisely what she needed to hear, and goes
a long way towards affirming that the two of them really are destined to be
Partners(tm) (with all that that implies...) for the long haul.

Suzune's enthusiasm is infectious, and even the Geneon seems to be performing
better than usual.  That's fortunate, because Giltar is waiting in the wings
with some of his insect-piloted mecha -- which he means to have bum rush the
your flagship.  Gathering them in one place will certainly make them easier to
kill...

  Just when Giltar thinks he's got the Ptolemy cornered, Lasse demonstrates
  just how fast it can be in Trans-Am mode.  Korasawar and mystery guest
  Graham then turn up to administer further punishment.  Sumeragi informs
  Giltar that he's made the most basic of strategic mistakes: planning to
  deliver the worst without planning to _receive_ the worst.

  Giltar gets driven out of Esther's hometown easily enough, but Kodama and
  Suzune know that a much more fearsome foe is lurking in the wings.

Looks like Patrick and Graham are on the roster now, which can't be a bad
thing.  Graham's still not ready to face Setsuna directly, but he can't think
of any reason to refuse Amuro's request to be second-in-command on the
battlefield.  And who'd have thought that Korasawar of all people would be
the one to encourage Graham to get his shit together based on first-hand
experience?  He and Sumeragi have a lot to talk about regarding what Katy
was like as a co-ed.

Now, if you're as sharp as Setsuna you may have noticed that Sumeragi is
especially sensitive where Esther is concerned.  Turns out that Traia has
sent word about her condition -- which is, "neither alive nor dead".  Sounds
pretty bad.  Much like the city of Otis, Esther's fate has been warped by
Dimensional Energy.  How many more tragedies like hers lie ahead??

The one thing worse than Giltar's cowardly flight from his enemy is how
indignant he sounds that anyone should have a problem with this.  Sardias is
kind of a slacker himself and so is prepared to give Giltar a chance to clear
his name: defend Central Base.  Or, fail to and incur Sardias' boss wrath.
Giltar manages to swagger and simper at the same time as he vows to do the
former, and Sardias can only sigh.  Aren't there more _authentic_ people than
this available?  Well, maybe not as authentic as his boss, who is kind of
scary...

AG greets Graham, praising his newfound resolve to turn past mistakes into
future good works.  Given that this is AG, he makes several veiled
references to Graham's past Bushido mania, stopping just before Graham snaps
and rearranges his face.


CHAPTER 7J. The Miracle of Itsukushima

Ooh, some familiar faces!  Dateline: Itsukushima, where the Kingdom has
redoubled its offensive after getting driven from Tokyo by Zero and friends.  A
massive assault is coming in about four hours, and Roger sees no way to stop
it: a pity, since Itsukushima still lives large in the memories of the New
Japanese as the one and only place where they once defeated the Britannia Union
outright in battle.  Therein lies a dilemma: should the base be defended to the
last man, as a morale booster for the rest of the nation, even though doing so
would be of little long-term strategic benefit?

Ryouma's view is that pride is the only thing New Japan has left, and that if
it loses its cohesion, it couldn't be put back together.  Roger would prefer to
keep New Japan's would-be defenders alive long enough to find a _good_ chance
to turn the tables.  The decision will fall to their commander, who of all
people is Wufei!  His mind made up some time ago, he orders a general retreat.
Roger and friends are to take the evacuees to meet up with Zero's forces,
leaving him alone to see that the "pride" part of the equation is balanced.

His answer to Treize's long-ago question has been that living and fighting on
is Right.  But here, today, is where he chooses to risk all of that, and likely
die so that others might have hope for tomorrow.  But guess what, Roger and
friends have decided to show up after all: Norman is more than capable of
guiding the evacuees himself.  There'll be none of this heroic, legendary death
scene stuff while they're on the case!  Once again, Wufei's been stopped from
doing something stupid.

  Be sure to do a Combo MAX as a show of just how good this team's, err,
  teamwork actually is.

  When the inevitable second wave arrives, Kiriko is shocked to see Astrageus
  units: have they too sided with the Sidereals?  Neo-Jion certainly has,
  as well as elements of the Federation army, but where _they_ go, Z-BLUE will
  follow!  Gyunei refuses to parlay with Camille, simply ordering his units
  to focus on their mission to destroy the base.  Privately though, he has
  to wonder what Full Frontal is thinking, plunging the Jion forces right into
  the middle of the Sidereal-Federation conflict.

  The appearance of the non-Sidereal troops has Zero greatly worried: there
  seems to be much more going on than the mere psychological-warfare action he
  anticipated.  Meanwhile, Gyunei seems quite conflicted about this mission,
  even as he tries to insist that he's Neo-Jion, therefore Camille et. al. are
  _by_definition_ his enemies.  Thick-skulled moron, he.

Once again, the team infers that the Federation units they battled are ones
under Chrono's influence.  Wufei's scowl is deeper than usual as he notes that
the Kingdom didn't commit its full forces to battle today: if anything, the
fact that they got humans to fight each other may have been their greatest
objective.

While the Celestial Beings focus on the Central Base in North America, Otto
nervously calls up Zero to get busy on strategizing.  He'd far rather deal
with a simple frontal assault (a la Dabalarn) than this psychological
bullshit.  To wit: parties unknown have wasted no time in broadcasting the
sight of human-on-human combat on the UN, sowing chaos throughout New Japan.
Maybe the Miracle of Itsukushima is still technically alive, but considerable
damage has been done.  The Sidereals' operation was pretty cunning, since they
get what they want whether or not their target was actually destroyed.

Whoever thought this one up is clearly not the typical Kingdom yahoo.  Much
like Zero summoned Roger and friends in secret to help the war effort, it
seems the Royals have called in some big guns of their own, someone bent on
poisoning the very soul of the New Japanese people.  Whoever that is has both
Kodama and Suzune on edge: something frightening even beyond the prospect of
a major military reckoning to come.

Roger is of course a Negotiator, but with the full-scale invasion of Earth
already far in the rearview mirror, his negotiating skills are less important
for now than his skill as a warrior.  Not a role he's comfortable with, even
if folks like Ryouma are.

[See the other route for poor Mareeda getting tortured into submission.]

Wufei is smart enough to keep AG at arm's length, even when AG decides to give
him some encouraging words about living on through battle.


CHAPTER 8G. The Day of Departure

The concept of a "family" is quite foreign to the Alliance folks in the
distant future, and it's starting to dawn on Ledo that he, not the Earthlings,
is the odd one out here.  Something's been bothering him, and with a bit of
encouragement from Chamber he opens up to the other pilots: he's heard that
Amy's brother is chronically ill.  Where he's from, those unable to fight
are "disposed of".  When Amy asked if he was okay with that, he didn't
understand the question: but clearly something about the setup has him worried.
Before Garode can get too indignant, the fleet's doctor Ordam shows up.

This is a good time to ask about the inefficient chain of command in this
fleet, and about its' citizens disordered lives.  What meaning is there in
protecting the weak?  Ordam gets a chuckle out of this narrow view of
inefficiency, and recommends that Ledo spend more time talking to Amy's
brother Bebel.  It will be up to him to judge how valuable said conversation
turns out to be.

Bebel explains that the Gargantia fleet isn't a single organization at all:
it's a collection of individuals that live, mostly but not entirely in
harmony, with their their neighbors.  Doing so puts the people's hearts at
ease.  Bebel can understand why invalids like himself might seem in the way
during the battle against the Hidiarz, but what is supposed to happen with
the Alliance once the Hidiarz are defeated?  Ledo is prepared to wait
indefinitely for new orders in that case, which if you think about it does
sort of mean "living on"...

But enough serious stuff: it's time for a par-tay, in honor of the fleet being
saved and of the Z-BLUE folks getting ready to shove off.  As the crew tuck
into piles of yakiniku, Rigit tells Jeffrey that she's started pondering the
world outside her ocean.  He tells her that she should set her course for
wherever she sees fit.  Garode and friends will certainly be missed, even
if Ledo will remain behind to keep the fleet safe.  And if Ledo is staying,
of course that means Chamber will be with him, hopefully able to ponder some
of the wisdom(?) Al tries to impart about loosening up a bit.

Ledo seems kind of bummed on account of the impossibility of rejoining his
comrades at the galactic center.  He who can't fight is useless, is the law
he's used to.  But who precisely is it who gets to judge what "useless" is?
Kodama relates a "hypothetical" story that sounds all too autobiographical,
about a boy who lived alone with his mother until an accident forced him to go
to his father instead.  Though the boy all but ignored the father, staying
curled up in his room all the time, the father never abandoned the boy,
teaching him the ways of Nature and life in general.  The father, you see,
had decided that the boy was worth something to him -- and in turn the boy,
who had no wish to die, came to hang on the father's every word.

This way of life is something Ledo may not be accustomed to, but he's going to
have to start thinking about it now that his home fleet is nowhere in sight.
Of course, Kodama and friends will do everything they can to help.  Whether
Ledo stays with Gargantia or comes with Z-BLUE will have to be his decision
alone.  Oh, and the "boy"?  He's getting by with a little help from his
friends.  And since all that _still_ isn't sinking in, Bebel points to a long
object Ledo has at his waist, a Hidiarz fang he collected as a souvenir.  He's
been carving it into a flute, which is _clearly_ not necessary for battle. 

Interestingly, he doesn't even realize that his carving is a musical
instrument, so Bebel borrows it to demonstrate.  The sound makes Ledo start
crying, suddenly reminded of another child who was with him when he was young.
Reminiscing gets put on hold while Chamber is called upon to act in lieu of the
malfunctioning yakiniku hot plate (his black surface acting as a perfect
cooking implement when heated by the sun).  Ledo tells his confused partner
that this is a perfect example of being useful for something besides battle.
Perhaps Ledo, too, can find new ways of being useful?

AS departure nears, the seas around the fleet are blue, free for some reason
of the nanomachines known as "light-bugs" that make the rest of the ocean
appear green (and glow in the dark, which sort of didn't get mentioned
before...)  Far from being harmful to aquatic organisms, these little guys are
actively involved in neutralizing toxins in the water.

As fate would have it, Giltar and a detachment of Sidereals just happen to
cross Z-BLUE's path.  Ledo makes sure Amy and co. are in a safe place before
joining the battle -- the Alliance might not be here, but that doesn't mean he
and Z-BLUE can't help each other out in time of need.  That's one of the many
"mutual" concepts that Earth seems to abound in, and to drive the point home
further (pun intended), Pinion gives Ledo a new weapon (the "Pinion Halberd")
which Ledo thinks could be surprisingly effective, judging how many of the
Earth mecha seem to flourish in close-range combat.

  Note that Giltar will run away at 10k HP or less.

  Combat prowess is a good thing, since the Sidereals have a shipment of
  Gishinian and Space Demon-ian mecha on order.  Note carefully: the _mecha_,
  not the pilots to go with them: the reinforcements, Sidereal units included,
  are all unmanned.  What, did someone _steal_ the whole lot of them and send
  them into battle against Z-BLUE?  There's no telling for now, but since
  they've opened fire the team will have to gut it out and respond in kind.

  But the Moon has descended, according to Tifa, to be your ally.  It's
  frigging Zanbot-3.  With its help, the rest of the mop-up is a cinch.  The
  problem, though, is the prospect that the Space Devil might not be 100% dead
  after all.  A very daunting thought.

But anyways, it turns out the whole Kami family is here on the green Earth.
Kappei's dad is working as a fishing boat captain, and through word of mouth
was able to find out that the former ZEUTH and ZEXIS folks were mixing it up
with pirates in this area.  Kappei's got a message from Banjou, but it has
to wait until after the usual re-introductions... the gist of which is: "Get
your ass to North America", the centerpiece of Royal power and probably where
Jamir and the Freeden crew are.

Ledo has decided to come along for the ride, both to fulfill his duty as an
Alliance soldier, and to learn more about this world he's found himself in.
Pinion and Amy have decided to get out and see the wide world too,
interplanetary war or not.  In fact, Bebel was the one who pushed Amy out the
door, telling her to travel in his stead.

Suzune's noticed that Giltar seems to fight for personal reasons instead of
out of some sense of duty, an observation AG calls astute.  That grudge or
whatever will be Giltar's undoing, and insofar as it let him get shot down
today (you DID shoot him down, right?) it's worth 100Z for the good guys.
AG coyly tells Suzune that the Z-Chips he's so obsessed with will in fact be
the key to saving the world, refraining from revealing the whole truth lest
it scare her.  After all, he's got high hopes for her going forward.

AG is also delighted to have Amy and Ledo on the roster, if only so he can
toy with them a bit.  The other pilots look on with grave concern, and Sousuke
and Kodama (with oversight from their respective SOs) intend to see that Ledo
is kept on course to develop normally as a human.  A human who can smile.


CHAPTER 8N: Poison Needle

The battle for Central Base is going to be Serious Business(tm), not just in
terms of the strategic balance of the war with the Kingdom, but because it
will afford the best window yet into what the Kingdom is really up to.  Even
the theory that the Kingdom is trying to drain Dimensional Energy from the
Earth's Ley Lines is just that -- a theory.  The Kingdom's hold on the Earth
is a spider's web of nodes and arcs, and the Central Base sits at the core of
the web: if there's anywhere that's connected to Wrath Babylon, Central Base is
it.  Tielia's job will be to infiltrate the Royal network and steal as much
data as he can before the battle is _either_ won or lost -- since in the event
of a Royal loss, they'll presumably destroy all linkages back to their capitol.

At least Tielia will have Setsuna guarding him, which is no small potatoes.
Still, as important as figuring out the Royal strategy is, it might be even
more important yet to try to find where Veda is being held.  With the regular
army doing their best to create a distraction, everyone's hopes will be resting
on Tielia's shoulders.

NEWS FLASH!  Tokyo has just fallen to the Kingdom, and with it all hopes of
unified command of the Federation troops in New Japan.  Well, like most press
reports, actual details are scarce and confirmation impossible, but could it
be that Zero has actually *lost* a battle?  If so, it makes the mission in
North America that much more crucial yet.  Hopefully a little random banter
will help keep spirits up among the pilots, though in the case of Suzune and
Kodama the tension isn't merely pre-battle nerves: the dread that's been
stalking them seems very close at hand now.

The operation is simple: everyone not named Tielia keep the bad guys away from
people named Tielia.  Kodama has resolved to stop living in fear, and sees the
dread shadowing him and Suzune as a chance to grow.  Tielia meanwhile is
seized by the thought: was Ioria's plan _really_ complete with the arrival of
the Innovators?  Or...?

  Once again, Giltar is forced to retreat in disgrace.  How many more chances
  will this guy get, anyway?

  Tielia makes his way into the system and starts downloading everything in
  sight.  Indeed the Sidereals are after the Earth's Dimensional Energy, but
  for what end?  Tielia manages to find out something about Spheres just as a
  dude with a familiar chin dumps him out of the system.  That would be
  Barbiel, one of the sources of the dread Kodama and Suzune have been
  feeling.  He hits the Geneon with the "Scorpion's Poison", menacing Kodama
  with visions of his mother long enough to introduce himself to the rest of
  Z-BLUE.

  He's not very impressed with Kodama, finding him to be just as Shikuu said:
  feebish.  That drunk-ass Gadlight was far more of a man than Kodama.  Setsuna
  tries to rush to Kodama's rescue, since Kodama has NOT collapsed immediately,
  but for once Giltar does something useful and gets in his way.  Barbiel
  offers Kodama one chance to switch sides to the Sidereals -- after all, his
  Sphere wasn't his originally.  Kodama refuses, and before Barbiel can strike
  the final blow, Zero and friends turn up out of nowhere and blast him back.

  That's Setsuna and Tielia's cue to waste Giltar again, clearing
  the way for Setsuna to use Trans-Am Burst and neutralize the nanomachines
  that paralyzed Kodama.  A few encouraging words from Ryouma, and Kodama is
  back in the fight.  Sardias and some other goons then turn up, telling
  Giltar to retreat before Barbiel really loses patience with him.

  Sardias means to fight Z-BLUE while Barbiel goes elsewhere.  Despite Saru's
  lax exterior, Karen declares that he and Barbiel are jointly responsible for
  New Japan being laid low.  Given how depleted everyone is, Zero calculates
  that the team can only keep up the battle for four more turns.  Maybe Central
  Base can't be taken out today, but the team can damn sure reduce the
  Sidereal's fighting strength in the process.

When Barbiel gets a little serious, he spreads his nanomachines far and wide,
fragging basically everything in sight.  Z-BLUE have no choice but to
withdraw for now, as the Double-0 Riser can't keep up with that much
contamination all at once.  Barbiel has Saru send pursuers after Z-BLUE,
figuring that the Earthlings must be done for now that they've seen by just
how much they've bitten off more than they can chew.

So like, what happened to New Japan?  Basically, Barbiel managed to demoralize
the common people and beat the Black Knights in Tokyo.  It took all the
assistance Toudou could muster just to help Zero and friends escape overseas.
It's clear that Barbiel's Sphere allows him to amplify the hatred inside
people's hearts, similarly to how Gadlight's Sphere could amplify
ambivalence.  To get a sense of just how bad things got, it turns out that
Zero had to Geass all the people affected by the Scorpion's Poison, just to
get them to stop breaking shit -- this represents a severe blow to Zero's
pride not only as a commander, but as a humane person who'd tried to
repent him of the devil's power he wields.

But these defeats belong to the entire team, and the entire team means to set
them right.  A little payback may be at hand sooner rather than later, as the
Sidereal pursuit draws near.  Now of course being hunted sucks, but there's a
certain silver lining: fixating on Z-BLUE means resources are being diverted
from the main war effort.  And if Z-BLUE can keep on keeping on, this thread of
pursuers could be the means to destroy the Kingdom's entire sweater.  So to
speak.  Oh, and one final word of warning to Kodama as he rushes to his mech.
Tielia read briefly that the Sidereals are trying to steal people's spheres.
He's on their hit list.

As on one of the other paths, Zero is deeply suspicious of AG.  If he and C.C.
can figure out who he really is, it should have major implications for the
world's fate...


CHAPTER 8J. The Second Battle for Tokyo

The strategic situation in New Japan has deteriorated in the week since
Itsukushima: morale is low and the chain of command is stumbling.  Though the
bad guys haven't been winning _per_se_, they've established conditions where
fear and short tempers have become a daily way of life for the common people.
As Zero puts it, "victory" under such conditions rapidly dulls the sensation of
danger necessary to keep people focused.  Simply _telling_ the populace that
this is happening would be a momentary respite at best, and crying wolf at
worst.  _If_ there's a way to stop people sinking into this quagmire, it will
be to defeat the inevitable large-scale assault on Tokyo that Zero knows is
coming.  Doable?  Hell, Zero's never been defeated, has he?

But behind his mask, Zero knows better than anyone that the "miracles" he's
been credited with aren't some kind of magic or sleight-of-hand: they're the
result of hard-nosed strategy and tactics stacked one brick atop the other on
a daily basis.  All his inputs clearly show that his side's been outgunned AND
outmaneuvered, and it will take a GENUINE miracle to pull out any sort of
victory in New Japan now.  But he's sent C.C. to a certain island to search for
the answers that may yet turn the overall tide.

Bad news then comes through the slammed-open door: the assault on North
America's Central Base has failed, despite the Celestial Beings spearheading
it.  Have even the big imaginations of Zero and friends failed to grasp the
true scope of the Kingdom??

Exploiting the relative calm, the crew is paying a visit to Karen's original
school, stately Ashford Academy.  This place has a lot of NOTABLE alums on
the team, and was host to all kinds of shenanigans including the infamous
Hiiro-Rilina Letter-Tearing Incident -- which Duo gleefully recounts.  Karen,
about as hot-blooded a woman as you'll find, isn't best pleased at how
implausible her cover story as frail high-bred lady now sounds.  Still, staring
at the locked-down campus isn't going achieve much: it, like the streets of
the town around it, are deserted as the townsfolk mostly cower inside.

Seeing his own teammates so glum, Kodama declares that body and mind are two
sides of the same scale: the best cure for a heavy heart is heavy exercise!
Thus the team carries out their plan to split up and canvas the town, to meet
back in two hours' time.

But as Kodama and Karen head toward B-Block, he senses something wrong and
sends Karen on ahead.  Something about a certain colorful-haired guy has
tickled his nose, and the guy sniffs that at this range, even a half-baked
Reactor _ought_ to be able to sense his presence.  The man has no intention of
naming himself now, and when Kodama attempts to use Burst Mode to kill him
outright, he does... something... that stops Kodama in his tracks.  The man
seems almost curious about Kodama's ability, which differs from a typical
Sword Act.  In any case, he finds it ridiculous that the Quarreling Twins
would be able to resist their hatred with just a few scraps of memory.  The
man promises to give Kodama proper attention once his work is done, walking off
and leaving Kodama confronted by the specter of his mother.  Suzune runs up
at this point, having sensed something amiss, and Kodama confirms that their
unease is all due to the Sidereal's Sphere Reactor...

Back at HQ, something most unexpected happens: a bunch of random folks turn up
and try to assault Zero, blaming him for all their problems: better they had
remained under Britannian rule than the hell he's led them to.  They've got
guns and don't hesitate to use them, and what's worse, they're seemingly
immune to pain (such as when Suzaku puts one of them in an arm bar).  Something
about the scene stirs a sensation Zero recognizes, but with the people almost
unstoppable Ougi yells at him to run while he shields him.  He believes that
Zero will save New Japan till the very end.

As the zombie people make for Ougi's throat, Zero grasps for the one thing that
can save him: his Geass.  C.C. senses this instantly and rushes in, finding
Zero in shock and the others quick to defend his act of self-defense.  But
"shock" for Zero isn't quite like shock for other folks: his mind is racing
furiously, and he quickly identifies that sensation he got.  The eyes of his
attackers resembled the eyes of those Gadlight had used his Sphere on.  In
this case, someone seems to have amplified the hatred these people inherently
harbor for him.

C.C. sounds certain that this was not the work of a Geass, since with the
Geass Church destroyed no new bearers of that accursed gift can arise.  _How_
this was done is less important than _that_ it was done: someone with the
ability to amplify hatred, and who clearly has it in for New Japan, can do
astonishing damage to the public's fragile psyche as things stand.  And as if
on cue, alarms ring out to announce the enemy's assault on Tokyo.  Should the
city fall, New Japan is finished -- and Zero is fighting mad that someone made
him break his self-imposed Geass prohibition.

As Z-BLUE take their places on the battlefield, Amuro tells Kodama to try to
relax: if his mind isn't right, his body won't be either (this echoes Kodama's
father's own words of wisdom).  Amuro's opted to stick close to Kodama, sensing
his nervousness and wanting to keep a close eye on the Geneon.  See, Amuro's
own father was an engineer, and he's always had a knack for tinkering with
machines -- a trait that made him quite unsentimental about them, even those
machines he himself pilots.

Time was, he prided himself on objectivity about even so lofty a tool as a
Gundam.  But when you stop and think about it, it is precisely through use of
tools like fire that Man evolved -- and perhaps tools like Mobile Suits are
to be the instruments of the next Ascent.  Certainly there's no shortage of
mecha in this world that, in some way, express their user's will directly into
the physical world.  Amuro wants to see at close range what sort of evolution
the Geneon might bring about for Kodama himself.  Calming talk, for which
Suzune is grateful, but the enemy are still at hand.

A _lot_ of enemies in fact, despite Toudou's forces theoretically winnowing
them along the way.  In command is Sardias, deceptively deferential as he
says he's come to make up for the inadequacies of his underling (that would
be Giltar) and complete the takeover of Tokyo.  Sardias tells the team that
resistance is futile, that New Japan's heart is already broken, but IF (and
that's "if", mind you) he intended that as an enticement for the team to
surrender, it has quite the opposite effect.  As Sardias finally unmuzzles
the impatient Giltar and friends, Zero realizes that there's more to Sardias'
joking tone than meets the eye...

  Sardias is a bit less invulnerable than he thought, and when he shows
  signs of retreating Kodama rushes off after him.  As he tells Amuro, Sardias
  must be taken down NOW before "He" appears.  Unfortunately, it's a bit late
  for that.

  Barbiel does his thing with the Scorpion's Poison, while Sardias keeps the
  rest of Z-BLUE from interfering.  Barbiel offers Kodama, who's still managing
  to retain consciousness despite all he's going through, one chance to join
  the Sidereals.  What happens next is the inverse of the other Earth battle,
  with the CBs making a heroic entrance.  Amuro simply can't get close enough
  to Kodama to help in the Re-GZ, which despite all Bandai's claims to the
  contrary is and always has been a piece of shit mech.

  Luckily the newcomers have brought the nu-Gundam, and using the Trams-Am
  Burst Setsuna is able to neutralize Barbiel's nanomachines long enough to
  let Amuro switch to his first, best mech of destiny... a mech that the bad
  guys seem actually scared of.  The GN Particles from the Trans-Am system are
  doing something good with the Psychoframe in the nu-Gundam, and so we get a
  bit of a cut scene!

Kodama is battling the specter of his mother, who seems to look an awful lot
like Fierce Suzune.  Regular Suzune tells him to get a grip: the hatred and
anti-hatred inside him are at war, and the hatred must not be allowed to win.
Fierce Suzune says that she's got as much right to speak as the other does.
As Kodama screams that he doesn't want to die, Amuro marvels at this strange
inner landscape, made of Kodama and Suzune's hearts combined.  Amuro calls
out to Kodama himself, which is the spark Kodama needed to cast off the
Scorpion's Poison.

Interestingly, though he clearly heard Amuro, he's vague on whether he did or
didn't hear Suzune's voice.  Suzune meanwhile claims to have been blacked out
and doesn't remember anything.  Barbiel is most unhappy with this turn of
events, and orders Sardias to take a hike, which the 42-year old is all too
happy to do.

Barbiel intends to fight the team directly now, reminding Zero that his power
doesn't create hatred from whole cloth.  All those who went after Zero hated
him to begin with!  ...Well, if that's supposed to be threatening, it totally
doesn't work.  Zero made peace long ago with the knowledge that he's the most
hated on of all those who say they get hated on, and that nothing he could ever
do will make the people UNhate him.  None of which makes him any less inclined
to keep fighting for a better tomorrow, even if people like Barbiel want to
term that "self-satisfaction".

Sumeragi's calculated that this team has a four-turn window to take Barbiel
out, lest Tokyo have to be abandoned entirely.

  Guess what, Tokyo has to be abandoned entirely.  Barbiel and Sardias and
  friends simply have too much firepower to overcome, and only with the
  greatest of difficulty (and a heroic speech from Toudou about how the soul
  of New Japan will live on as long as he does) does Zero finally order a
  general retreat.  Toudou and his forces would rather destroy parts of Tokyo
  by themselves (and with it, numerous enemy mecha) than let the bad guys
  trample on it.

  Bet your ass that the team will be back, and out for vengeance.

Who knew that these plucky Earthlings were prepared to destroy their own city
to get back at the Sidereals?  This is the worst possible outcome: Zero has
neither allowed the people to sacrifice him, nor even lost his stature among
the people by having to admit defeat openly.  Looks like the Sidereals'
intelligence, suggesting that the humans would protect this town at all costs,
was a bit optimistic.  Barbiel is in an especially bad mood, telling Sardias
to give Tokyo to Giltar's keeping and to shut his damn mouth.  He doubts
Z-BLUE have a strong enough hatred to defeat him, and with Sardias' dogs
hounding them they might not live much longer anyway, Kodama included.

Then again, who knows?  Chain fills Amuro (and via him, us) in on what's been
going on on the other path, including how the nu-Gundam was mysteriously made
all fuelled up and ready for combat for reasons unclear.  When the pursuers
arrive, Amuro has the same idea as on the other side, which is for Z-BLUE to
lead them on a merry chase and keep the Royals as a whole off balance.
Barbiel is certainly going to want another shot at Kodama.  But what was that
blackness Amuro saw slumbering inside the boy, and what was that duality he
saw in Suzune??


CHAPTER 9G. Land of Battle

Ledo's been battling the Hidiarz for about sixteen and a half years now, which
depending on how you look at it is either a very long or a very brief time.
The implication is clear though: Ledo and his comrades have almost LITERALLY
been on the battlefield since birth, in the service of the Alliance's goal of
destroying their enemy.  Fortunately, he's now got the chance to learn all
sorts of other useful stuff, like how to pick up trash as part of the
Volunteer Club.

Indeed, from a strictly military standpoint Z-BLUE is the most undisciplined
outfit known to history.  But its members were humans before they ever were
fighters, and that humanness -- and camaraderie -- are Z-BLUE's strongest
suits.  Sousuke can now admit with a smile that it took him around a year to
adjust, and Kodama assures Ledo that one day he too will feel at home here.

Having said all that, Ledo is worried that this team doesn't fathom just how
terrible a foe the Hidiarz are.  Meh! say the young kids, who've faced their
share of irrational killing-machine-type foes already.  Among these "Baals"
are the Invaders, the Space Monster, etc. etc.  --Hold the phone, Space
Monsters?  Out here in the middle of galactic nowhere?!

Apparently the Space Monsters are all too well-known to the Alliance, and
considered a menace comparable to the Hidiarz.  Considering that in Noriko's
world the Space Monsters' nest was at the galactic center, and considering
that they tended to swarm every twelve millennia as part of the cycle of
galactic death and rebirth, one has to wonder whether they exist under
similar terms in this world too.  Seems that no matter how big space is, it's
filled with conflict -- conflict that Ledo has seen firsthand.  Kind of
strange, now that he thinks about it, that so many players would be so focused
on a single area of this galaxy when there's so much more room elsewhere.

Somewhere on the North American West Coast, someone named Nono is having a
hell of a time at her part-time job.  Between breaking five plates and
inadvertently eating an apple (while attempting to disprove Newton's theory
of gravity, no less), she's got less than 100 yen to show for a day's work.
In fact, she's not only broken plates, but also frying pans and even an entire
frigging refrigerator in some fashion that the restaurant owner can't even
fathom.

Unfortunately, Nono can't take her breaking skillz back to her home town, since
she doesn't even know if it still exists.  Consider: the bar she now works
at used to sit on the surface of Mars, thanks to dimensional upheaval.  Nono
apparently wants to be a space pilot, but in order to keep a roof over her head
now, the bar owner advises that she'd best focus on making due in the present.
There's no telling if tomorrow will even arrive.

Somebody arrives, and that's for sure: two Sidereal soldiers who waste no time
in belittling their shabby surroundings.  They've come to check up on the Ley
Line that runs near this little town, and the bar mistress clearly wants no
trouble, offering them a free drink as a welcoming present.  As if to hammer
home the point further, one of the soldiers informs Nono that the only reason
this place isn't _directly_ under Sidereal control is that it's worthless.
Oh, and worthless things can be burned to the ground without anyone who 
matters batting an eyelash.  Of course, that includes the residents.

Nono's eyes as she regards these unwelcome customers aren't precisely
deferential.  The soldiers note that Earthlings are a pretty strange species,
seemingly never ceasing their resistance no matter how much they're made to
suffer -- not many species out there can say as much.  Nono archly declares
that they're sadly mistaken if they think violence can get them everything
they want.  She asks them to get out of this restaurant and out of this whole
damn town, adding that she's got not one drop of water for them to drink.

Before violence can ensue, someone named Lark turns up from nowhere, small in
stature but long in menace.  One of the Sidereals recognizes the thingie on
Lark's forehead, which marks her as a Topless.  Aren't they bound by a
treaty not to intervene in Sidereal business?  If so, Lark doesn't care: she's
a member of the Fraternity, an organization deriving its power from the Buster
Machines it wields to help defend mankind.  Equal to the regular army in
whatever world it came from, its strongholds include the Mega-Nebula base on
Mars.  Oh, and it strictly forbids adults, since adults like to use kids and
all the Topless happen to be under age.

Got that?  Frigging glossary and shit.  Oh, as for what a Topless is: it's a
type of Esper capable of becoming a Buster Machine pilot.  Their abilities
are a vastly amplified and focused form of capabilities all children have, and
like all children, they eventually grow out of them (becoming known as the
"Finished" in the process).  If Nono wanted to see a space pilot, well, there's
one right before her face.  Lark's quite pissed off at the Sidereals' swagger,
and intends to show them that this planet does NOT belong to them.

  Lark's mech Dix Neuf is a sight to behold, especially with its physics-
  defying Exotic Maneuvering system.  In short order, her friend Nicola shows
  up.  Like her, he's got no love for the Sidereals, and he hopes he and his
  "princess" can wrap this up fast and get back to Mega-Nebula.

Fast is indeed the word, against so feeble an opponent as these.  Who should
appear on the battlefield but Nono, overflowing with gratitude to her "older
sister" figure.  Overflowing is actually too mild a term for how much Nono
freaks out when she learns what Lark does for a living: killing Space Monsters.
Nono reckons she's finally found the Allies of Justice, whose number she
wants to join and become "Nonoriri".

Just what a "Nonoriri" is we don't get to find out, since a new batch of
Sidereals turns up.  This time they're using manned mecha, meaning to put the
Earthlings in their place once and for all.  Apparently neither the adults
nor the Sidereals want to respect the Fraternity, but the Sidereals get a
VERY nasty shock when the Fraternity's true targets show up: a bevy of Space
Monsters hidden in the sand.  How did so many of them manage to infiltrate
the Earth's atmosphere??

Just then Z-BLUE turn up, amazed to find Space Monsters (of a type neither they
nor the Alliance has encountered before) menacing the place.  Though the
Topless (a name Kurtz loves immensely) recommend the Space Monsters be left up
to them, Jeffrey decides to commit the troops to helping keep the city safe
anyway.  Nicola tells Jeffrey that he _was_ warned and that he'd better not
complain later.  At least Nono heed's Lark's warning to skedaddle before she
gets hurt.  With her out of the way, it's time to show what the Topless can do!

  These Space Monsters aren't quite like the ones the team has fought before;
  for all anyone knows, this world's allotment may operate under entirely
  different rules.  As the Topless prepare to return to base (thoughts of the
  strange pink-haired girl still lingering for Lark), one more Space Monster
  appears near town.

  Of course it makes for the bar, where the bar mistress is unable to run
  away due to being trapped under a steel girder.  Nono insists on trying to
  save her, yelling that Nonoriri wouldn't give up at a time like this.  Not
  only will she save her, in fact, she's going to space too!

  Somehow or other she actually shifts the girder, before getting snagged on it
  as the Space Monster noms onto it and starts flying away.  As Lark gives
  chase, Nono yells that she can handle this too and pulls off a surprisingly
  effective imitation of the famed Lightning Kick.  Her heroics freeze the
  beastie long enough for Lark to Buster Beam it, and Lark and Nicola agree
  that Nono would be worth Testing back at Mega-Nebula.

Z-BLUE is left wondering what the hell just happened, though they can't gape
for too long with the Sidereals no doubt nearby.  Fortunately word comes in
from Banjou's assistant Reika at this point, who's got instruction from her
beloved about what to do next.  What she knows about the Topless (no, not the
kind with a lower-case 't') is that they're a team of specialists in Space
Monsters from another parallel universe.  Apparently their original society was
sparsely populated (being spread across the entire Solar System), and so only a
fraction of said society is here now.

Apart from continuing their mission to battle the Space Monsters, they seem to
actively keep the rest of mankind at arm's length.  It's interesting that these
Space Monsters (a common enough phrase, to be sure) don't match the data they
have from Noriko -- and although they've only attacked the green Earth so far,
it's only a matter of time till they turn their attention to the blue Earth
also.  It sure would be nice to enlist the Topless' help in the fight against
the Sidereals, but so far nobody's figured out a reliable way of contacting
them.  Even the Sidereals themselves seem content to leave the Topless alone
to fight the Space Monsters.

For now, Banjou wants Z-BLUE's help to storm the nearest Central Base.
Assuming that succeeds, it will give this team a chance to return to the blue
Earth and handle business there.  But somehow a nameless dread is hanging over
Kodama, and it's a good thing he's got lots of teammates to restore his
determination.

The previous Space Monsters resembled prawns kind of, and these ones have
two tails instead.  More gourmet eating if you can catch and cook one?  AG
isn't sure, but it sounds promising...


CHAPTER 9NJ. A Dawn Toward Peace

[I kept the "J" route, mainly because it involved shooting down Barbiel.]

The Kingdom has tired of negotiations with Orb, intending to wage a war of
attrition that will keep Orb from participating in what resistance remains
elsewhere in the world.  As though sensing this, the President tells Cagalli
to leave the management of the war effort to her and to focus instead on
building hope for the future.  Without hope, any military might Orb or the
Federation might muster will be futile.

As such, the President will sever all aid and indeed all contact with Cagalli
and Marina until the war is over.  That leaves Cagalli to place her hopes for
man in Z-BLUE, who's still some distance away due to Royal pursuit.  For the
time being, she'll have to entertain an unexpected guest: a dignitary from
Anaheim who you will surely recognize.

Martha wastes no time in asking Cagalli to hand over Mineva, quite certain of
her informational source (someone in the Marsenus family needs to seriously
keep their mouth shut).  Her sales pitch to Cagalli is that she, like Martha
herself, is a victim of the male-dominated world they live in.  As this
attempted seduction is going on, in another room the refugee female leaders
are discussing how strong a personality Martha is, in both good and bad senses.
She's hungry for power and bent on grabbing the Laplace Box, whatever that
turns out to be.  The damn thing is important enough that Chrono people from
both the UCW and ADW are out to guard it: whosoever can get their hands on it
can presumably gain admission to Chrono and, via them, to the Sidereals.

Whether Martha's ambition is hers alone or represents the position of all of
Anaheim Electronics isn't clear.  But what is clear to Rilina is that such
actions are treason against humankind.  There's a difference between peace,
and "not fighting".  Especially when the not fighting comes via underhanded
ways of ingratiating oneself to the aggressors.  Nanally and Mineva are on
board with that, but Marina is slightly more conflicted, based on her long
history of eschewing fighting.  But ultimately, she won't deny the right of
those minded to fight, to fight.

Mineva thanks the others for all she's learned in this short time in Orb, and
decides of her own volition to talk to Martha and find out what she's really
up to.  No sooner does she hear that than Martha suddenly acts shocked,
SHOCKED that an enemy of the Federation would be harbored here in Orb.  She
vows to report to the Army at once, slyly admitting that her master plan was
to pull a coup on Orb with her hired guns before hauling Mineva off.  She adds
that Cagalli's lousy handling of the situation is further proof of how poisoned
she's been by the Patriarchy.

She dispatches Albert and Puru Twelve to grab Mineva, confident that there will
be no interference.  Her additional troops consist of Federation units who've
turned to the Sidereals' side.  Lidy recalls his father's advise to get the
hell out of Orb once he'd dropped Mineva off: apparently Chrono was planning
this assault all along.  Suitably pissed off, he declares to Kira that Kira
can try avoiding hitting the cockpits of these Federation traitors if he wants
to, but Lidy's not going to bother.  The bad situation gets worse when all the
other defenders desert, once again thanks to Lidy's father's influence.

Kira tells him that he's still got a chance to protect what's important to
him, and after a moment's thought he realizes that that's NOT his position as
the scion of the Marsenus family.  It's Mineva.  Mineva meanwhile has realized
that Mareeda has been thoroughly brainwashed to follow Albert's orders.
Albert, pretty flummoxed by this whole combat breaking-out thing, tells
Puru Twelve to keep him safe at all costs.

As the battle commences, Martha and Mineva have their long-awaited chat.
Martha claims Ronan shares her objectives, then claims that her objective is
Mineva's objective too: sealing the Laplace Box away where it can never be
used.  She's happy enough to explain her plan: grab the Unicorn, coopt its
pilot Banarj, go to Dakarl, and find the next link in the treasure hunt leading
to the Box itself.  In the process, she lets slip something Mineva did _not_
know: Banarj's father is Cardias Bist, who is also in fact Martha's elder
brother!

If Mineva is to help Martha persuade Banarj, she wants custody of Mareeda
first.  But Mareeda has been "modified" to serve Martha's purposes, just as
Jion once did.  And in fact, what drives Puru Twelve to serve now is something
Martha claims was already inside her all along: a desire fore revenge against
the cruel, male-dominated world that brought her such misfortune.  What will
happen, Martha wonders idly, when Mareeda clashes with Z-BLUE?

  Enemy reinforcements arrive with a vengeance.  Among them are remnants of the
  Marimea army, and they've got the whole island surrounded.  It's all very
  frustrating to Lidy, who just wants some peace and quiet so he can get
  Mineva in the sack or something.  But instead of charging heedlessly into
  battle, maybe he should chill and NOT die, since dead people can't do much
  of anything (or anyone).  Kira will set him straight, and happily Z-BLUE
  turn up right around now.

  You'd think it'd be good to see friendly faces, but Lidy's been standoffish
  to Banarj for a long time now.  He refuses to acknowledge whether Mineva
  is in Orb, and Amuro has to cut the discussion short: *plenty* of
  irreplaceable folks are holed up in the palace and need protecting.  To make
  things more interesting, the bad guys dispatch a black-colored version of the
  Gundam Unicorn, one from which the Newtypes sense a very menacing aura.
  Banarj and Camille will have to look into this new menace while the rest of
  the team do their thing.

  Of course the Black Unicorn is piloted by Mareeda, brainwashed and highly
  aggressive toward Banarj.  Banarj is determined to do whatever it takes to
  get through to Mareeda, both for her own sake and for Genneman's.  Mareeda
  meanwhile is fussing over how her mech isn't acclimated to her yet.  That
  isn't to say that the NT-D system doesn't make her very dangerous.  Martha
  orders Albert to issue Puru Twelve commands, and Albert tells her that the
  Gundams are her enemy.

  Ahh, the old leitmotif.  Gundam as symbol of hope and epitome of evil.  But
  Setsuna's got a clever take on it.  When Mareeda demands to know if he too
  is a Gundam, he replies that not only _he_ is a Gundam, but everyone else
  here is too -- herself included!  They all of them have an obligation to
  move past the Gundam-ness.  That thought basically paralyzes Mareeda, and
  Martha orders someone to go out and fetch what she calls the "Banshee".

  That reveals Mineva's probable location to Lidy, who rushes off to try to
  save her.  The very next instant, Dabalan's Royal forces show up and start
  blasting the crap out of Orb.  His mission is to capture Cagalli and the
  other leaders, and he intends to kill everyone _besides_ them.

Lidy meanwhile actually makes it to Mineva, and tries a very bold gambit.  No
way Martha could get away with killing Ronan Marsenus' son!  What the fuck is
wrong with them anyway, trying to use Chrono to get on the Sidereals' good
side?!  Albert yells back that the protection of the Laplace Box is Lidy's
family's problem too.  In fact, Banarj was born to a lover of the former head
of the Bist family, rivals of the Marsenus clan.

Lidy has about had it at this point, and he yells that they can do whatever
the hell they want with the Box and the Unicorn and Banarj, so long as they
give Mineva back to him.  Mineva coolly asks precisely what he intends to do
with her, and he yells that he'll think about that later.  Orly?  Is he trying
to protect her the person, or the secret of the box?  Or his family honor?

Not his family, surely.  Any significance that had is a hundred years and a
dimension or several away, at the explosion of the Laplace.  And yet all he
hears about, all that ties him down, is "family" this and "Box" that.  So does
that mean he wants to blow the world itself away?  NO, goddamn it, much though
he'd like to: there are all these frigging people to protect and whatnot.  The
old Jion strategy of upsetting the entire apple cart doesn't work.

And Albert better not start about "protecting the Box" or some shit: it's the
founder of his goddamn religion that started this whole mess.  And that
founder, Siam Bist, only found the Box by accident in the first place!  Using
the chaos after the assassination of the first Federation president was all
very well and good, but only when Jion declared independence for the
Spacenoids did Siam and all the rule-mongers of the Federation government
realize the true power the Box holds.

Mineva realizes that Lidy must know what the Box really is, and tells him to
tell her and all the other folks assembled as well.  What is this thing that
torments him so.  Lidy doesn't comply, muttering only that all these
supposedly "parallel" worlds are equally rotten.  He then yells again for her
to come with him.  The Unicorn is dangerous, and not just it: Newtypes,
Innovators, even Coordinators too!  All of them will turn the prayer of a
hundred years ago into a curse!  He figures the only thing he can do at this
point is to try to stabilize the world even a little bit more, what with the
Sidereals and all attacking.

Just then the incoming Sidereal attack catches Martha's ship in the crossfire,
essentially because they didn't run away fast enough from Orb.  Martha can
see now that she can't expect any special treatment just for trying to aid
their cause.

Lidy attempts to rush to Mineva, but she tells him that their paths part here.
As a woman of the Zabi House, it's her duty to see the truth of the Box through
with her own eyes.  She _had_ believed that even a twisted order was
preferable to open warfare, but seeing how that order can stifle the best of
men... She's determined to seek the truth, even though doing so might lead
to even greater sins than her father and grandfather committed.  And if that
means fighting the whole world alone, so be it.  If the Time Prison War taught
people anything, it's that they must have _hope_ above all else to survive.
And the reality of the light within people's hearts is no longer subject to
doubt.  She then leaps from the aircraft, counting on Banarj to catch her.

Meanwhile, Cagalli figures the only way to stop the Sidereal attack is for
her and her coterie to surrender.  They all place their hopes for the future
in Z-BLUE.  In Cagalli's words, the world is one step _before_ the sunlight
of hope... at Dawn, as it were.  And as everybody knows, it's always darkest
before the Dawn.

There's only one place for the team to run to: space.  But as Z-BLUE gets
ready to go, Banarj and his Newtype powers sense Mineva's call.  There's a
handy Mass Driver shuttle Banarj will have to use to reach space, since he's
missed his chance to grab onto the other flagships, and as it happens Lidy
turns up as well.  Will hatred consume him?  Not if Kira's plea to remember
how his fight began is heeded.  Where the hell has the man who challenged
Camille to a pilot's duel gone?  Lidy gets his shit together just in time
for he, Audrey and Banarj to make their flight (with a bit of help from
the Unicorn's special powers).

Dabalarn doesn't expect any flak for letting Z-BLUE escape: his mission after
all has been a success.  Besides, isn't it interesting to wonder what Z-BLUE 
will do next under such dire circumstances?

The shuttle takes Banarj and co. some distance away from Z-BLUE.  The last
thing Lidy wants to hear now is Banarj's thanks.  But a new player appears on
the scene, in the Sazabi!  Enter Char after all this time, who's working with
Bright Noa and the Ral Kairam.  Yow!


CHAPTER 10G. Scorpion's Poison, Moth's Poison

Remember Rolan?  The character Tomino delighted in confounding the gender of?
Sparked loads of doujinshi for all persuasions of readership?  Yeah him.
Somehow he and the Haim family home are both still standing despite all the
Earth's been through, though he's about to go from "standing" to "trudging off
dejectedly" if Soshie would ever shut up.  She's emo-faced because Rolan won't
take her with him in what will probably be a suicidal fight against the Royals.
That's what the White Doll told him anyway, and Rolan believes in its visions
implicitly despite his pathological inability to call the "Turn-A Gundam" by
it's proper name.

Kiel (at least we think it's Kiel and not Diana, her more awesomer
doppleganger) finally has to tell Soshie to GTFO, telling Rolan more gently to
be sure to come back in one piece.  Soshie of course wants to see Rolan come
back too, in "whatever guise", hearkening back to those doujin I guess.

Meanwhile, the leaders of the various resistance factions are gathering for
conclave, with Lily Borjano as their liaison to Z-BLUE.  The former ZEUTH and
ZEXIS' pilots reps precede them, and Jeffrey knows they'll need every bit of
that good will when they assault this continent's Central Base.  Unlike the
blue Earth, where all the Ley Lines converge in Wrath Babylon, the green
Earth's Ley Lines are aggregated locally.

This arrangement has the advantage of anchoring a widespread net of control
over the disorganized peoples of the green Earth, but carries with it the
risks of spreading the Bases' defenders too thin.  This already led to the fall
of the Central Base in the north of the Central Continent, and the subsequent
return of the war in that region to stalemate.

The plan to take on _this_ Central Base is as easy as pie: a focused assault
while the resistance stage a distraction.  The odds sounds pretty favorable
until Tifa speaks up with a dire warning: "The poison is spreading".  Kodama
manages to encourage the team to buck up anyway -- he's actually getting
studlier by the map these days.  As everyone happily sets about their final
preparations, Kodama confides in Suzune that Tifa's warning really resonates
for him... but he's decided to stop living in fear.  

That might translate to "about to do something stupid again", but his teammates
know him well enough by now to head that off at the pass.  He and the team
can face Giltar and his insect-driven goons, and Chamber immediately suspects
that Giltar's got some no-good strategy cooking.  It _was_ rather easy to get
this far, wasn't it?  Still, it would even more dangerous to turn around now,
so Jeffrey orders the troops forward into battle.

  Giltar suffers yet another miserable defeat at Z-BLUE's hands, but as he
  tries to flee Kodama intercepts him... and then Barbiel intercepts HIM in
  turn.  Yeah yeah yeah Scorpion's Poison, one chance to join the Sidereals,
  etc. from the other paths.

  This time it's the Turn-A that swoops to the rescue: his Moon Moth dust
  interferes with the second round of Barbiel's nanomachines.  With him is the
  Gunleon, who handily bashes Barbiel before enlisting Rolan to carry the
  stricken Geneon to safety.  Rand, as it turns out, can simply HEAL the damage
  dealt by the nanomachines.  His normally goofy face is DEAD serious so long
  as Barbiel presents a threat.

  Word comes in that more Resistance folks will show up in 3 turns, which is
  not what Barbiel wants to hear.  He declares that he's got the upper hand
  over second-rate Sphere Reactors like Rand, but he doesn't actually sound so
  certain.  Rand, for one, is VERY eager for payback.

Not much payback is available today, as Barbiel doesn't seem in the mood to
hang around for long.  In fact, he seems to think something is wrong with
Rand's connection to the Wounded Lion, and tells him he'd better up his game
by the next time they meet.  He then sets about blowing up his own base,
remarking that it's "useless" and that "this world" has it limitations --
limitations Rolan and his "Turn Type" should recognize.

Apparently the land of this planet was poisoned long ago (by the Moonlight
Moth?), and it simply lacks the oomph that the blue Earth has.  Time to gather
up Sardias and head to the blue Earth, blowing up any Resistance folks
unfortunate enough to be in his way.

In the end, the team got little more than the ground this base sits on: Barbiel
managed to destroy basically all of its systems.  Bummer.  Rolan explains that
he's been hanging with Resistance fighters gathered from his old Militia all
this time.  He ran into Rand on their way to help out here.  Rand, in turn,
parted from Setsuko and Crow after the debacle at the other Central Base --
the three of them have been pursuing Barbiel and the traitorous Sardias and
haven't been in contact with each other for some time.

Rand's patented "Heat Smile" is working just fine though, as is Mail's
innocent little-kid looks (recall: her bodily clock is now running again after
the events of Z1).  Rolan is, indeed, androgynous as ever and intends to put
the Turn A -- entrusted to him by Diana herself -- to the best use possible.

With the Sidereals grip on this earth's America now disrupted, and additional
war power on board, it's high time for this side of Z-BLUE to rejoin their
brethren on the blue Earth and start turning the tide against the Sidereals
there, and eventually their leader.  All the green Earthers, and Ledo, are on
board for this most important of battles.  With Kodama getting checked out for
aftereffects from the Scorpion's Poison and therefore temporarily absent, Rand
is left to ponder Advent's parting words that the Quarreling Twins would save
him...

AG has an interesting piece of advice for Rand: he should be patient while
the Gunleon waits for the most opportune time to strike.  Rand can only smile
at this absurdity: that he the consummate mechanic knows so little about his
own steed.  A little reluctantly at first, he lets AG have a look at the
Gunleon to see if he can figure out what's stopping Magna Mode from expressing
completely.  In any case, Rand's collision with Barbiel is worth 100Z.  With
more Reactors showing up every day, AG wonders aloud what will happen when
all of them are together in one place.  Probably nothing good.  At least AG
also gets to pal around with Mail, who brings a real smile to his(?) face with
her good cheer.


CHAPTER 10NJ. Shadow of the Red Comet

Most of the space colonies are slipping Neo-Jion dollar bills under the table.
So says Kamlan, who's clandestine aid to Z-BLUE is mainly in the interest of
keeping his former fiancee Mirai alive a little longer.  The upcoming
rendezvous with the Ner Argama and its crew is a welcome one, and will swell
what are already some of the strangest ranks ever assembled in the storied
history of Gundams.  Even given Bright's uncanny knack for drawing Gundams to
himself, who'd have guessed the likes of Quess and the Red Comet would ever
bunk aboard the Ral Kairam?

Char is busy chatting with Mineva, which Bright knows better than to
interrupt.  Banarj and Lidy meanwhile are both shut up in their respective
quarters, and with Lidy slated for a little talk with Nigel, Bright figures
he might as well go and try to cheer the younger boy up.  This, bubbles Quess,
is why everyone calls him the Gundam-father.

Lidy, as Nigel discovers, is in pretty sorry shape.  The tough love is to tell
Lidy to do one of two things: either go home and burnish the family jewels
(as it were), or get his head straight and live on as a pilot.  Dying, dying
too is an option, but not a very preferable one.  Nigel tells Lidy that this
all is simpler than he thinks: whatever their upbringing, gender, favorite
color etc., all people are equal on the battlefield.

At the very least, Nigel originally requested Lidy for the Ner Argama's
fighting corps because of his talents, not his family stature.  If Lidy can
resolve with all his might to live, his mech will surely respond in kind.

Bright was nice enough to give Mineva the run of the captain's quarters, where
Char goes to have a meeting of the minds.  No longer does he fight for
the Spacenoids per se, but rather for all of mankind -- limited though his
role is now that he's abdicated the throne of Neo-Jion.  While Nanai and
several others have stuck by him, he's not surprised that many Neo-Jion have
sided with the Sidereals in a bid to save their own hides.  It's a rational
call against an enemy as implacable as this.

On the other hand, what value is there in a safety devoid of any pride as a
human?  Such people, states Mineva, have no future at all.  Precisely what Char
wanted to hear, and his next conversational partner will be none other than the
young man who helped her broaden her horizons this much.  In Banarj he senses
something different than Amuro or Camille, yet another new possibility.  Maybe
once all this mess is over there will be time for Char to enjoy Mineva playing
the violin once more, which when you think about it is a pretty nice image.

Banarj is fretting by himself in the dark, and when Char comes in his
greeting is "guarded" to say the least.  While acknowledging that Char had
some complex stuff going on, Banarj is still no fan of the fact that Char
started an actual war as a result.  When Char tells him with a smile to
cherish such thoughts, Banarj can't help compare the real Red Comet to the
imposter he faced back at Parao -- so similar, and yet so different.

Mind you, with Full Frontal installed as the focal point of Spacenoid
sentiment, it's become rather academic that Char is the "real" Red Comet.
The better question is Mareeda, latest in a long and sordid history of human
modification research predating the One Year War.  The original Jion Republic
(before it was a duchy) used cloning and Fortification as a shortcut to raising
gifted pilots in case war broke out with the numerically superior Federation.
The Proto Puru series were the first fruits, and Mareeda is unquestionably
that series' number 12.

The plan had been for she and her sisters to grow up and become Jion military
elites in fullness of time time.  But the One Year War came faster than anyone
foresaw, and the Purus were still too young to take the field.  Instead, they
became invested with something beyond just physical fortification: Newtype
abilities.  The sight of the White Demon destroying their fellows at A Bao A Qu
has forever been carved into their memories, forcing them towards their cruel
destiny whether they like it or not.  Even Char's subordinates, foremost among
Newtype researchers, haven't been able to ascertain what became of them all.

Mareeda is certainly being made to fight against her will.  But her target is
Gundams, and Banarj is one of their pilots.  Char had figured Banarj for
someone with spine based on Mineva's accounts and on the evidence of his own
eyes during the previous war.  But now, Banarj seems to have shied away from
the onus of the Unicorn -- asking him the location of the next sign seems
pointless.  Char himself had once intended to destroy the Box rather than let
it cause any more unnecessary war, but even Lidy now speaks of the box like
some sort of a prayer instead of the curse he formerly claimed.

That comes as some surprise to Banarj, and knowing he's got him now, Char
asks with a smile if Banarj is at all curious about the hopes for the future
of the Universal Century that the box contains.  While Banarj can't muster
the determination to just march off to the box this instant, Char tells him
to consider the responsibility of being a Gundam pilot -- that the future of
mankind rests on his shoulders.

Bright comes in at this point, presumably intending to chat about the same
thing.  He and Char have both gotten older since their hot-blooded run-ins
of yesteryear, and they're now comfortable in each other's presence.  Bright's
sales pitch to Banarj goes like this: Okay, so maybe you piloting your Gundam
causes Mareeda pain.  Maybe hopping in the cockpit in the first place was a
coincidence.  But guess what: that's how Amuro and Camille got started too.
Like them, Banarj had something that drove him to flip that power switch,
something Bright reckons is still important (that being Audrey).

This kind of pep talk is Bright's specialty, based on a lot of practice with
the aforementioned Amuro.  Another thing Gundam pilots seem to have in common
is their ability to cast aside self-doubt and chive on, regardless of what
parallel world they come from.  A Gundam, in short, is that which focuses
the sentiments of all people into a beacon for the future.

The love-fest gets rudely interrupted by the Neo-Jion flagship turning up,
forcing the Ral Kairam to fend for itself until the Ner Argama arrives.  The
other pilots are ready to rock, but Lidy and Banarj have to have a little
emo-to-emo talk first.  Lidy goes first, telling Banarj that he's lost the
ability to smile for reasons he hasn't quite figured out yet.  But he intends
to fight for what he believes is right, and means to beat Banarj fair and
square one day.  That makes Banarj smile at least, before he gets his game
face on -- the memory of Daguza will not be in vain.

Bright's final note to Banarj is that he, like all Gundam pilots before him,
has been Chosen by his mech.  Think of that as an act of Nature, neither good
nor bad.  What Banarj gets to decide is what to do going forward, and if Bright
wishes one thing for him, it's that he not be overwhelmed by the world around
him.  His is the courage to overcome despair, especially as a Newtype.

Full Frontal's men are out in force, presumably having divined that Mineva
is within reach.  Mineva has at least two young studs prepared to protect her,
even as she refuses Bright's offer to retreat from the bridge to somewhere
safer.  She, like Char, understands her duty to her countrymen.  Full Frontal
is actually mostly interested in the Unicorn, whose Psycho Frame he reckons
is so powerful that it actually broke the tracking device that was put on it
back at Dakarl.  He expects to have his hands full with Char, and leaves Angelo
and Gyunei to try to abduct the Unicorn and its pilot.

Gyunei insists on trying to take down Char... and Quess insists on trying to
not let him.  Genneman's ship turns up briefly as well (presumably at Hamarn's
orders) but gets handily driven off by a blast of Bright's Mega Particle
Cannon.  However it appears that Genneman himself has used the opportunity to
sneak aboard the Ral Kairam...

  Amuro and friends turn up in short order, followed in turn by Mareeda in the
  Black Unicorn.  Since it seems intent only on the white Unicorn, Full
  Frontal tells Angelo not to attack it.  It's apparent that Mareeda is in
  thrall to Albert, who himself is trapped by the curse of his blood and his
  jealousy of Banarj.

  Gyunei is certainly in no position to beat even Quess, much less Char
  himself.  His determination to fight until he wins is admirable, but at this
  rate he's just wasting himself on a foolish cause.  Char had hoped he'd be
  more of a man than that.  Char ALSO hoped maybe Full Frontal would have come
  to his senses, after seeing the Light at the end of the Time Prison and such,
  but no such luck.

  As damage accumulates on Mareeda, she wigs out and enters NT-D mode.  But
  Banarj's got one too, and although Mareeda hates Gundams a lot, he vows to
  show her that they're also full of GOOD STUFF.  Stuff like him, I guess.  He
  manages to temporarily knock her out, but when he and Lidy go to grab the
  Black Unicorn (aka the Banshee) she revives in fury and manages to deal Lidy
  a severe blow.  With Lidy out of the way, Mareeda rushes aboard the white
  ship that carries the Gundams (aka the Ral Kairam).  With no choice, Banarj
  has to rush after her, leaving Lidy's recovery to the rest of the team.

Banarj's please to Mareeda go largely unheeded, but perhaps she's respond to
her old commander better.  Enter Genneman, and judging by the tears Mareeda
sheds, he's a sight for VERY sore eyes.  He yells for her to dismount her mech,
and to not leave him alone again.  She manages to open her hatch, tumbling out
into Genneman's arms.  But the Black Unicorn is still alive, and manages to
fly off to a waiting Neo-Jion transport unmanned.

Interestingly, the cockpit of Lidy's Delta Plus was _empty_ when Camille
recovered it.  Lidy is officially now MIA, having done his soldierly duty to
protect a civilian (Banarj) when it mattered most.  As for Genneman, his
presence definitely helped out with Mareeda, but he's really here to pick up
Mineva on Hamarn's orders.  Char is surprised Hamarn would do that, but not
as surprised as he is at Full Frontal's next move.

That would be a world-wide broadcast, where he starts by declaring the
Spacenoids as true inheritors of the Earthling genetic legacy, and
announcing a peace treaty with the Kingdom.  He theorizes that the besieged
people on the surface have no chance to survive, and tells them to make their
time in a big hurry.  He trots out some poor little girl he names Mineva Zabi,
treating her as a symbol of the new unity he hopes will sweep the world.

Presumably this is the sort of thing Hamarn wanted to head off, but it's a bit
late now.  Mineva is determined (with Banarj's help) to set things straight,
but that will require building more strength and awaiting a more opportune
moment than this.  She cares not for the reestablishment of the Zabi House, but
rather for a common future for all mankind.  And for that, she's got Char's
full support.  Under the circumstances, their best bet is to enlist Genneman's
help in rounding up with sympathetic ears are left in the colonies, while Nanai
works to try to put poor Mareeda back together.  Mineva knows Banarj will do
the right thing about the Laplace Box, and reveal its location when the time is
right.  She too wants to see what lies at the end of the "prayer" Lidy spoke
of.

Char has a final word of warning for Kira: something fishy is going on at the
Plants.  He'd best watch his step.

...AAAND, the Black Unicorn finds Lidy drifting in space, promising to tell
him the TRUE nature of the Box, and the Teachings surrounding it.

AG's in no mood for merriment, with Lidy gone and possibly dead...


CHAPTER 11G. Sortie, Ye Topless!

Things begin abruptly with an (uninvited) visit to Kodama by Rand, aka The
Heat, aka (to people like Kodama) the Wounded Lion's Reactor.  Kodama's learned
a thing or two about humility by now, and rather than deny the shock of his
defeat at Barbiel's hands, he asks Rand how one goes about drawing out a
Sphere's power.  Rand's considered answer is that Kodama shouldn't ought to
try: nothing's worse than when a Sphere's in the driver's seat.  His better
bet is to simply get _stronger_ than Barbiel, and then kick his ass.

Not exactly the most concrete advice, but it seems to get Kodama out of his
funk and let Rand actually talk to him like a normal human being.  Which is
good, because Rand was prepared to apply fist-to-the-face therapy if necessary
to get Advent's prized "savior" to snap out of it.  Sure and Kodama wants to
repay Advent for staking his life on keeping Kodama safe, which isn't too
shabby as motivations go -- and Rand is prepared to help.  Since Kodama's a
minor, Rand can't serve as drinking buddy, and it goes without saying that he'd
be helping repair the Geneon anyway.

So Rand's highest form of advice is to pass along what he was taught at
Kodama's age: to smile, no matter what.  Start with a smile, and the good
feelings will follow, no matter how deep the despair or anguish.  Nice theory,
anyway.

Over at Mega-Nebula, there's bad news and good news for Nono.  The bad news is
that she's no Topless.  Crushing, for sure.  The good news, if you can call it
that, is that Nono is an _android_, and a damn well-made one too despite her
strange habit of latching onto the Topless pilots as "older-sister" figures.
Interestingly, Lark's Dix Neuf displayed more power than usual while saving
Nono: Nicola suspects that there may be something special about her that reacts
with Buster Machines.

In fact, Casio's certainty that Nono not be a Topless may be a bit hasty:
one theory states that any sentient being (AI's included) capable of high
degrees of emotion could be a candidate.  In any case, Nono's being allowed to
hang around and support the other pilots, and even just that makes her
deliriously happy.

Note that all the folks in view are adolescents or less, up until the point
when someone naming himself Hatori barges in.  He's an adult, claims to be
an Accountant Colonel, and is here at Nicola's request despite his presence
counting as a treaty violation.  The Space Force has some hard questions
regarding the fact that Space Monsters were permitted to enter the Earth's
atmosphere, and rather than go face an inquisition at the adults' place, Nicola
figured it would be more comfortable if the exchange were to happen here.

Comfortable for the Fraternity members, anyway.  Hatori isn't a fan of the
Fraternity's treaty and the lack of accountability that comes with it,
especially since none of them are in Kansas anymore.  He too was once a
Topless, though apparently a weak enough one that the Fraternity never "graced"
him with an invitation.  A good thing, in his final analysis, as it meant
that he had a chance to actually wake up.

Anyway, about the Space Monsters.  Their atmospheric entry is sort of the joint
responsibility of the Topless and the Space Force, neither of whose power is
entirely intact after getting teleported to this universe.  It would be easy to
blame the Space Force's shortcomings on a fear of colliding with the Sidereals
-- it would also be a great way to piss the Earthlings off, and that won't
accomplish much.  Nicola wants to discuss relations with the Space Force,
starting with a reiteration of the Topless' treaty right to battle the
Space Monsters independent of the regular military chain of command.  The basis
of that treaty, let's remember, is the fact that the Topless are expending
their own personal energy to perform the Exotic Maneuvers.

Hatori grants them that.  However, he also points out the very interesting
coincidence that the appearance of the Space Monsters coincides with the advent
of the Topless -- perhaps it's the case that the Space Monsters are attacking
precisely because the Topless are here?  He's not shy about sharing his view
that both the Space Monsters _and_ the Topless are mankind's enemy, and that he
intends to exert every effort to end the Fraternity's special privileges.
Nicola is about to deliver his rebuttal when alarms sound: the Space Monsters
are here!

At least based on troop movements, the Sidereals really do seem to have lost
interest in the green Earth.  Such is the toll of environmental catastrophe:
even getting this planet to the point of bare habitability has taken a VERY
long time (and those neato glowing nanomachines).  The world the Gargantia
fleet came from was in the same boat (so to speak), and if the blue Earth is
to avoid the same, Z-BLUE will have to figure out how to get out in front of
the Sidereals for a change.

For now however, the team will have to face another odd assortment of enemy
forces, all of whom seem to be unmanned.  Are they something to do with the
Space Devil?  Who even knows.  What the team know is that a) it's good to have
Kodama back, and b) the term "Topless" is just one of those words that will
always bring a smile to lips like Kurtzs.  That Topless contingent show up,
including the self-proclaimed ace Chico.  Before contacting these unusually
skilled Earthlings, Nicola has something he wants to test first.

He basically brushes off Jeffrey's request to form a joint battle group,
seemingly intent on showing the world how strong the Fraternity is on their
own.  Tessa tells the team to let them do as they please, more concerned about
why the Topless would appear in the first place.  ...Yeah, it's pretty clear
who the enemy reinforcements will be.

  Z-BLUE can totally eviscerate the enemy before the Topless get to fire a
  single shot, which I guess helps establish their bona fides or something.
  Nonetheless, the Topless are here to help, and the reason becomes clear
  when some Space Monsters appear.  These are nicknamed the "Jupiter Express",
  since in the previous universe they basically raced around in circles around
  Jupiter.  In *this* world they've spread all over the place, and the Topless
  politely ask Z-BLUE to leave these beasties to them, as Protectors of
  Humanity and all.

  Z-BLUE have been in the Protection business pretty long themselves, and
  seeing that they're determined to fight Nicola is willing to pull back.
  IF they win, it simply means that the Topless can go about their business
  as originally planned.  As they start to withdraw, Nono protests that
  Dix Neuf wants to join the battle -- and that Lark should fight not because
  Nicola tells her to, but because _she_ wants to, as an Ally of Justice like
  Nonoriri.  Lark can't help herself, and with that settled the Topless are
  in the fight too.

  Note by the way that they're not armored for shit, despite all this talk of
  them being the preferred anti-Space Monster forces.  Plus the Space Monsters
  can TOTALLY be taken out without them firing a shot in this case either.
  All the better for them getting back to their real mission, just as the
  Titan girls would have wanted.

This entails them coming aboard the Quarter, and once they get Nono to shut
up for a few seconds, the others start explaining what the Fraternity is.  For
starters, it has no single leader (holy shit, truth in advertising!), and only
consists of non-adults.  Every member is an Esper, though their powers manifest
in individual ways (Nicola has telekinesis, Lark has distance-fetching, and so
forth).  The key is that their Buster Machines all utilize that Topless'
Exotic Maneuvering as their power source -- a talent unparalleled in the world
they come from.

The Fraternity are the greatest anti-Space-Monster force in their world, but
the Space Force get their licks in too... though it's futile enlisting their
help against the Sidereals due to the highly specialized form their 
organization has assumed.  Why then would the Fraternity (or at least Nicola,
who seems quite at ease speaking for the others without their input) risk war
with the Sidereals by helping Z-BLUE?  Good citizenship of the world, is how
Nicola puts it.

Jeffrey sees no reason to turn down their aid, which isn't exactly the warmest
welcome ever but will have to do.  The Fraternity folks introduce themselves,
including Nono, the ditziest android ever seen.  Androids are not uncommon in
the Fraternity's world, and they've got most of the rights of regular humans.
So like, no dismantling or whatever by Z-BLUE's engineers, 'kay?

Now we get to the real good stuff.  See, the Z-BLUE folks have some far-flung
companions whose mecha were also called "Buster Machines": Gun Buster, in
fact.  That doesn't ring a bell for the Frat folks, though "Noriko"'s name
seems to equate to "Nonoriri" for Nono.  The best way to settle the confusion
would be for them to meet Noriko... if her whereabouts could ever be
determined.  Then again, maybe it's just a case of convergent naming schemes,
like all the different "Gundams" floating around.

For now though, it's time to put all of Z-BLUE together and get ready to
assail Wrath Babylon.  ...And in the process, Nicola can gather info about
the Space Monsters and Buster Machines from the parallel dimensions, in service
of whatever private goal he's got in mind.

So this Nono chick.  Among her talents is breaking things.  Like, all kinds of
things.  Things including AG's *Face Monitor*.  Holy smokes...


CHAPTER 11NJ. Plant Revolt

The Plants have always been inclined toward Neo-Jion ideology, and only Char's
steady hand at the tiller kept them from ramping up their armed support to
levels not even seen during the Time Prison age.  With Char dethroned, the
Plants seem ready to leap ahead, especially now that the influence of the
Clyne faction has somehow waned.  Or, though it seems unthinkable, that the
Clyne faction might actually have aligned itself with Neo-Jion after all.
Whatever the case, the difficulty in contacting Aslan betides a major threat
from whatever unseen puppet master is using the Plants for their own ends...

The Plant infiltrators came in through several different routes, and Kodama
won't rest easy until they're all reunited.  Plus, something's weighing on his
mind that perhaps Kira can help him sort out.  Unlike Kira, he's only known
Lidy a relatively short time, and can't comprehend why Lidy changed so
drastically at the end of the Time Prison incident.  Can Kira shed any light
on the subject?

Kira replies that Lidy is much like the both of them: fighting to protect that
they hold most dear.  If Lidy appeared to change, perhaps it's on account of
that precious thing's proportionate share of the pressure in Lidy's heart
changing?  Kodama sort of figures out that Kira's important thing is none other
than Lacus herself, though Kira tells him with a smile that his reasons may not
be _quite_ what Kodama thinks.  It's not just the person, but also her ideals
and hopes.  Isn't that the case with him and Suzune?

Maybe... not.  At least not that Kodama himself recognizes.  Nor is it the
case with nurse Maki, who Kodama admits he's got almost nothing in common with.
His wish for her is that wherever she is, she's safe and happy.  That, Kira
says, is probably what Lidy had in mind for Mineva at the end.

Lacus has decided to meet Kira in the frigging Colonial council chamber of all
places, and has asked that Kira come in alone.  She seems strongly burdened by
something, something that she meant to tell him sooner but couldn't manage to
express.  Kira is nothing if not patient with the light of his life, and for
that she's eternally grateful.  She asks if he remembers the First Coordinator
(George Glen), and why the Coordinators supposedly came into being.  George
claimed it was to serve as a bridge between current mankind, and a new strain
of humanity that was yet to come.

What, she asks, IS that new strain precisely?  Other universes have their
Newtypes and their Innovators, but the "Cosmic Era" world they come from has
no such thing.  All research into discovering their new mankind is basically
frozen, and Lacus thinks she knows why: their new humans may well have already
been discovered.  And kept a secret by their discoverers, the Chrono branch
in their world.  Chrono fears above all else that the new humans should
venture into space, which explains their use of Logos and its offshoot Blue
Cosmos to attack the Coordinators.

Wait, does that make the Coordinators _themselves_ the new humans?  Well, the
Coordinators as we know them were the product of research into artificially
creating new humans, raised to serve as a shield for the natural-born new
humans against Chrono.  They were, in fact, seeds sewn by the Chrono
Progressives as a means of opposing their own brethren.  All this she learned
from a message her father left, found during the chaos of trying to rally the
Plants against the rising tide of war.

The Clyne family, it turns out, were core members of the Chrono Progressives,
and most of the architects of the Plants likely had heavy influence from that
neck of the woods.  Lest we forget, the Plants have had strong antipathy for
the Earth-bound Naturals -- bastion of the Chrono Regressives -- since their
inception.  Though her father long sought a peaceful way out of this clash
of Chrono ideologies, the Clyne faction has now reverted to its old ways and
resolved itself to fight, hand-in-hand with someone (identity unknown) who
revealed the truth of their past.

Now, Chrono itself was smote at the end of the last war -- so what is any of
this besides academic?  Well, Full Frontal framed his address in terms of the
"true inheritors" of mankind's legacy.  And that strongly resonates with those
who believe their role as Progressive remnants is to fight the servants of the
Regressives.  They intend to strike down the Federation.

Just then Kodama rushes in with word that armed guards are encircling the
area.  Lacus declines Kira's plea to flee, saying that as a Clyne she's got a
duty to fulfill.  The soldiers, Zaft members, enter to take her among them and
reckon she chose to meet Kira here to make him one of them also.  Wrong.  She
tells Kira to leave, and take with him her memory -- but the other Zaft
soldiers declare that his Super-Coordinator abilities are precisely what they
need for their war on the Naturals.

Kodama's cries aren't able to break Kira's indecision, but a little machine
gun fire from Shinn is.  Aslan's there too, yelling that this isn't about
some "new mankind" question: it's about whether the Plants are on the road to
ruin with folks like these Zaft in charge.  What he's got to do is fight the
power.  And by "the power", we mean the scheming Full Frontal and whatever
pawn he intends to employ next in his bid to unify all the Spacenoids...

Aslan, it turns out, has presumably spirited Lacus away to somewhere safe.
Many among the Plant's populace -- Lacus included -- have no desire for war,
and rather than get arrested as a conscientious objector, Shinn's decided to
take up arms with any like-minded folks he could find.  It's very telling that
the first pursuers once Kodama and friends exit the colony are Neo-Jion: Full
Frontal's reach is very long indeed in these parts.

Kira is struggling mightily with what to do next, but one thing's clear: the
trust Lacus invests in him must not be in vain.  The team will have to hold
out until Hiiro and the other infiltrators make it out.

  That doesn't take long.  The Neo-Jion forces are few in number, and a
  demonstration to the Plant that siding with Neo-Jion won't help seems in
  the cards... until Hiiro and Duo give the "spider sense tingling" face.
  The reason becomes clear soon: Full Frontal taps the "leader" of the Plants,
  Rei, to get Z-BLUE to stop the fighting.  That's Rei as in Shinn's old best
  friend, not the Ayanami variety.

  This dude seems to have a very large opinion of how important Chrono is, and
  a determination that Chrono make no more abominations like himself -- almost
  ready-made for Full Frontal to exploit.  Rei is quite prepared to lead the
  Plants to war if that's necessary for their survival, for whatever value of
  "necessary" he (or rather Full Frontal) find it necessary to use on any given
  occasion.  Shinn isn't to be swayed by this, so Full Frontal sends in
  Hamarn and company, telling Z-BLUE before he goes that the times have begun
  a motion that they can no longer stop.

  Not only have Neo-Jion already set up shop in the Plants, but the Sidereals
  have too.  They, along with Hamarn, seem intent on keeping Shinn away from
  Rei.  And in fact, Sardias intends to apprehend Shinn to keep even the
  threat of interference with their pawn at bay.  But Shinn has help of his
  own, in the form of sniping from... Setsuko.  Her mech's been modified in
  various ways, now rechristened the Valgora Glory S, and she at long last is
  able to persuade Shinn to rejoin the others' ranks and think FIRST about
  staying alive.

  Part of the reason Sardias has come here is to confirm where Setsuko went for
  his boss, and while Setsuko has plenty of reason to hate her betrayer, she's
  determined not to fight out of hatred.  That lesson she taught Shinn once
  before, and the reminder does him quite a bit of good.  Hamarn meanwhile is
  in no mood for Sardias' schtick, making no secret of what she thinks of the
  Sidereals.  But she's here on orders to help, and help she will to a bare
  minimum.

  Hamarn would sure love to swipe the Unicorn while she's here, but she gets
  booted long before that could ever happen.  When Camille points out to her
  that Char seems to be doing just fine without using the name of Jion as a
  shield, it seems to backfire: this woman simply WON'T listen to reason.  At
  least, not now, not like this.

Sardias isn't prepared to stick around long, needing an excuse to give to his
boss when he gets back.  Barbiel will definitely be looking forward to seeing
Setsuko again.  That leaves the question of what to do about the Rei and the
Plants.  Kira's got the clearest head: the foe Z-BLUE needs to confront isn't
the Plants, but warfare itself.  Leave the Plants to Aslan and the others for
now, and let's go regroup.  Shinn sees the truth in these words, and vowing
to stop Rei one day, reluctantly joins the others in withdrawing.  Rei
meanwhile thinks to himself that he's fighting under his own will -- that he's
finally grasped what Durandal was trying to accomplish.

Kira briefs the team on the true origins of the Coordinators -- a truth that
the upper brass of the Zaft have known for some time.  Hence their cooperation
with Neo-Jion.  Even the Clyne faction eventually came around to that way
of thinking, and with certain notable exceptions (Yzak and Diakka for
instance) are now part of a solid bloc politically.

Now, Amuro has noticed something out of place.  Why would the Coordinators,
seeing themselves as Chrono Progressives, side with the Sidereals who were
known to be aiding the ostensibly Regressive-oriented Earth?  Zero believes
the Sidereals are essentially playing both sides off against each other,
promising both the inheritance of mankind when the other side falls.  That's
essentially the same strategy the Geminis used, and the only way to get the
Sidereals as a whole to stop is to take down Wrath Babylon.

Setsuko's reintroduction to the team must be brief, and Kodama's grief over
Advent's loss even briefer.  There's mountains of problems at hand, not the
least of which is Rei -- supposedly convalescing after the previous war.  To
recap: Rei is a clone of a Certain Somebody(tm), and due to chromosomal
errors has a very finite lifespan.  Shinn knows better than anyone else that
Rei believes he's using what little time left to secure a future for the
Coordinators.  But Shinn won't accept a future that's based on war (per se --
what Z-BLUE is doing is nothing short of war, though that seldom comes up...)

Anyway, the team is all getting back together.  ...Good luck sorting out all
the squadrons!

  [I kept the NJ route.]

What else is new: AG picks on Setsuko a bit, exploiting her timorousness and
the fact that she doesn't yet know how much of a scamp he is.


CHAPTER 12. Hateful Feathers, Precious Wings

Z-BLUE's two halves are now whole again.  Yay and stuff.

But you care about what's going on in Wrath Babylon, where a table SUGGESTIVELY
SET WITH 12 CHAIRS sits.  At it sit Barbiel, Shikuu and Strauss.  Barbiel's
joking attitude doesn't sit well AT ALL with Shikuu, who finds Barbiel's very
existence repulsive.  Strauss is apparently going to be one of those characters
they lacked money to hire a translator for, so we need Shikuu to relay to us
that, no Strauss, he's not going to start a fight in the council chamber.  He'd
better not: Australis is used to this level of bickering, and used to being on
the verge of busting heads over it...

  [Decide if you want to sit through all the information exchange among the
  pilots.]

If Alto goes, it's to welcome all the new faces and to reconnect with old ones.

If Alto *doesn't* go, it's because he wants to check in on Alto, who's been
having a string of bad dreams lately.

Either way, Suzune smiles broadly at this admirable turn from her partner, then
gets quickly frustrated when she has to parse for him that that smile even
means.  Inwardly she's glad that Kodama's gotten to the point of caring for
others, but she finds the prospect of him opening himself up to people besides
her a _tad_ lonely.

Kodama and Setsuko have an interesting exchange, seasoned by the fact that
Suzune seems jealous of Kodama's esteem for another woman.  Kodama hopes that
she can teach him how to become a better pilot, based on her own time as a
Federation Army test pilot.  She does indeed see room for improvement, but it's
going to be tough: he's at the level where the peculiarities of his own
machine are starting to show.  His tendency to exaggerate throttle changes is
something Setsuko herself had pounded out of her by her Glory Star companions,
and if she can pass along the knowledge it will surely make Suzune that much
less motion-sick in the copilot's seat.

Cue the tiresome reintroductions from the other path.  Zero is notably wary of
the Topless folks, whose motivations for joining Z-BLUE's fight don't entirely
add up.  Rand and Setsuko both promise to help train Kodama, but training will
have to wait until Kodama goes to look in on Alto, who's been suffering from
bad dreams...

***

So, those bad dreams.  Alto sees a vision of Sheryl and Ranka (in that order,
in his defense) and calls their names out IN that order.  Ranka wonders why
it's always S&R instead of R&S, telling Alto that she's gotten tired of it all
and resolving to leave.  For where?  Nowhere good, that's for certain...

In fact, it must have been a very vivid dream indeed, because it caused Alto
to get, up, *don his flight suit*, PREFLIGHT HIS MECH, and take off into space
without authorization.  Before anyone can do anything to call him back, a
batch of Invaders appear: their weapons are apparently the thing that returns
Alto to his senses.  Chamber warns that these beings are designated Special
Class 1 threats by the Alliance, putting them on par with the Hidiarz as far
as dangerousness goes.  In fact, these are some of the foes mankind's been
expecting ever since breaking out of Eternity Flat, so the team seems
reasonably content(?) to battle it out.

  As they do, Alto has the feeling like someone is peering inside his heart,
  just like he felt in his dream.  He turns out to be very perceptive, as his
  tormentor is none other than Mikage!  You remember him, right?  Poisonously
  homoerotic, angelic visage, born from Touma's hatred?  Wants to destroy the
  world after getting dumped by his ex?  Yeah him.

  So what the fuck's he doing here?  Here, that place most suitable for the
  End of the Myth?  Apparently he feels some kinship with Alto, both on the
  androgyny front(!) and on the can't-decide, can't-be-decided, mustn't-decide
  etc. front.  He notes that when Alto is agitated, it _is_ always Sheryl
  before Ranka, and then sends in some unmanned Altair troops to act as his
  hands and feet.

  His words have Alto flustered enough that he can't seem to shake his
  pursuers, and Mikage gleefully says that it's Alto's own fault.  That smile
  fades when the Aquarion EVOL shows up (Infinite Punch first).  The rest of
  the Elements also appear instantaneously aboard the Quarter, apparently
  teleported or something by Fudou.  They _had_ been training on the green
  Earth until Fudou yelled out that "The time has come!" and, well, plot
  convenience.

  Anyway, Mikage flounces after promising mayhem on the Aquarion one day.
  Alto's now deeply worried about what Mikage is up to, but with an effort he
  manages to fall in behind the Aquarion.  The pilots are itching to try out
  what they've been studying.

The bad guys don't stand a chance, which is pretty much as Mikage figured.  He
gives the team what he claims is Sheryl and Ranka's location as a sort of
present.  A trap?  If so, it's a pretty unnatural one.  The coordinates are
a city in northern Eurasia, constructed to service what used to be a Federation
prison.  It's got the nice, hospitable name of "Neo Alcatraz", and just happens
to be a Terminal Base... implying that the two singers are in the hands of
the Kingdom.

So suppose Mikage showed Alto those nightmares to make him want to bust the
girls out of jail.  Would his goal be to then steal them away for his own
purposes?  Seems like a lot of trouble for a guy whose power should exceed a
normal garrison of Sidereals -- unless, it's _not_ a normal garrison of
Sidereals.  What it _is_ is a perfect place to start the takedown of Wrath
Babylon, and the only reason Ozuma doesn't permit Alto to take a strike team
there first is because he himself intends to be part of a _full_ offensive.
Given all the other prisoners who may be there, this could even be a great
chance to find out more about the Sidereals' strategy.

The Elements are in much sounder shape than when last we saw them, and even
Yunoha is ready to rumble (thanks to her love for Jin, though it makes her
blush if someone says as much).  Love and Hatred, Mikage had it, are two sides
of the same coin.  What has Jessica worried is that Mikage is very unlikely to
repeat the same tactics that led to his failure before -- what the hell could
he therefore want with the two idol stars??

Word of Mikage's appearance reaches the Sidereal Reactors, and Barbiel figures
this Mikage clown poses him no threat.  Shikuu observes that emotions give
people power (not that he's ever experienced that), and rather than bandy
creed words with this craven, he decides to head to space to check into
something or other.  Even Barbiel is interested to see how "Muriel The Gate"
reacts.


CHAPTER 13. Atmospheric Reentry

Guess what: reality hasn't entirely fallen by the wayside in this universe.
Pinion, for all he prides himself in being an able mechanic, is kind of a hick
from a backwater universe and NOT instantly capable of maintaining the most
advanced mecha in Z-BLUE from the get-go.  Astonage _does_ allow however that
the guy's got aptitude, and with time he may yet join the ranks of the first-
echelon repairmen.  Certainly neither he nor his Gargantia shipmates are 
lacking in work ethic, and as Rand puts it: all Earths have in common the fact
that everybody has to eat when they get hungry.

They also get fatigued when tired out, which is what Kodama's experiencing
now.  Setsuko's been drilling him hard on battle during atmospheric reentry,
and despite her somewhat frail appearance she makes for one tough-ass
instructor.  Kodama's bearing up as best as he can, but he's the first to admit
it's pretty rough sledding.

In point of fact, neither Ledo nor Chamber have ever actually done a real
atmospheric reentry either.  Ledo had never even seen a habitable planet with
his own eyes until his encounter with the Gargantia fleet, which surprises the
pilots used to dealing with a surfeit of extraterrestrial sentience.  Earth-
based astronomers estimate around ten billion (with a 'b') Earth-like worlds
in visible space, but reaching them -- even with Fold capability -- is an
entirely different matter.  That's why fleets like the generational Frontier
fleet were constructed.

Space is kind of extensive.  Which makes it all the more intriguing that the
Sidereals ventured all the way out to a backwater planet like Earth.  From what
Setsuko understands, the Earth's abundant Dimensional Energy will be of use to
the Sidereals in their battle at the galactic center -- a battle which Ledo has
participated in as a leaf-node soldier.  The Alliance, the Hidiarz, the
Sidereals and many others beside are all battling for supremacy -- and the
Spheres hold the key for getting the Dimensional Energy to where it's needed.

Alas, the Reactors working for the Sidereals are considerably more powerful
than those on Z-BLUE, and it's for sure that neither Barbiel nor Shikuu have
shown the full extent of their abilities.  What they _did_ show was enough to
deplete Z-BLUE to the point of allowing the current Sidereal infestation, and
from the bad feeling Kodama and the others get, it seems that Shikuu is
destined to appear before them again, very soon...

By the time the team deploys, the bloodlust is tangible to even the most
dimwitted pilots.  Shikuu leaves it up to Shikoku to forestall Z-BLUE's
advance: an ice queen who's good looks aren't enough to sell her cold heart to
even the most lecherous on the team (the Snanpas, of course).  Shikoku observes
dispassionately that even compared to regular Earthlings, the members of Z-BLUE
seem especially brimming with life force -- hence her commander's interest in
them, as the farthest thing from the members of the Kishuku squad.

This makes perfect sense to Schlede, he himself having returned from the mouth
of death.  The aura surrounding Shikuu and his followers is the diametric
opposite of the motive force of living humans.  Not that they are _dead_, but
more like they court kinship with death: as C.C. puts it, the "Guardians of
Hades".  AND, not people easily provoked into doing something rash.

As battle commences, Bright reminds the team that the atmospheric lid is
fast approaching: there are only 8 turns before things get hot literally as
well as figuratively.

  Shikuu is so emotionless he doesn't even seem to care when his lieutenant is
  forced to withdraw.  He's dispassionate as well when he assesses that the
  Wounded Lion and Maiden of Sorrows are steadily advancing in their Sphere
  mastery.  Kodama however is not -- unsurprising, because of how difficult
  that Sphere is to use.  It would be a big ask for Kodama to mater what even
  Gadlight couldn't, and with no prospect for Kodama in sight, Shikuu moves to
  at least snag the Sphere itself while he's here.

  At this point the Crushers show up, owing Shikuu some serious payback.
  ...Which will have to wait on account of a herd of those mixed-composition
  unmanned mecha from before.  Mars senses some strong will controlling them,
  and the sight of all this seemingly makes Shikuu almost crack a smile.  He
  quickly attributes this to himself being immature, and leaves.

  Kodama's unhappy that he can't go chase Shikuu, but he knows he's got no
  time to be depressed, with reentry looming.  Could the maleficence behind the
  new foes be Zhul?  There's no way to know now...

So where have the Crushers been all this time?  Surveying the Solar System
for after-effects of breaking out of Eternity Flat.  For instance, only the
Earth seems to be duplicated -- all the other planets and moons are singular.
Several anomalies exist however, including a region in the fringes of the
system whose dimensional borders are extremely warped (and which seems
unconnected to the Sidereals' onslaught).

Also interesting is the fact that there are people living on Titan, one of
Saturn's moons.  This turns out to be another Topless outpost, and as is their
wont the Topless refused to let the Crushers dock there.  Takeru, ever the
do-gooding type (to Nono's delight) won't begrudge them that, though if
possible he'd love to establish a rapport with them and everyone else in the
universe who is NOT actively engaged in Evil(tm).  That's what his twin-brother
Marg would have wanted after all (upon hearing that, Chico becomes a fan too).

As the team assume positions for reentry, Takeru can tell that Nicola is
hiding something behind his bravura exterior.  Precisely what he can't tell,
but whatever it is instills Nicola with impatience, and fear.

AG actually has a request for Takeru: to teach Kodama how to heighten his
spiritual focus.  Takeru will take the job, but not for any reward, and not
alone: many people on the team will serve as Kodama's coaches going forward.
All well and good, but AG seems sure that Takeru's "light" will save Kodama one
day...


CHAPTER 14. The Great Alcatraz Jailbreak

Sousuke is not exactly Mr. Bravado on the eve of the big rescue mission, but
he does assure Kaname with a smile that he'll do everything in his power to
come back alive.  Kaname, it seems, is to be taken via TdD to Japan -- and
Sousuke tells Tessa "as her friend" to take care of them both.  Tessa is kind
of crushed inside at being friend-zoned by her subordinate, but in an odd way
having Sousuke confirm, without any beating around the bush or sugar-coating,
that he loves Kaname more than her (she asked him in as many words, after all)
actually may help her move on with her life.  As friends.

Her one final piece of advice to him is to take extra care of Ranka after he
saves the singers: she predicts Ranka will be extremely fragile emotionally.
She can't articulate precisely why, and after formally wishing him good fortune
in battle she walks off, leaving her youthful dreams behind as well.  Despite
appearances, Sousuke is not oblivious to the import of all this, and when
Kodama comes to summon him to the strategy meeting, Sousuke tells him to
promise that all of them will return to Rindai High when all this is over.

Neo-Alcatraz is a pretty dismal place, precisely the kind of environment that
could benefit from some quality singing.  But where Sheryl is unbowed and 
confident in Alto and Z-BLUE's impending rescue, Ranka is withdrawn and
secretly despairing.  A couple of the guards come over and try to get the idols
to sing for them -- Sheryl sniffs that she isn't the sort of girl to sing, for
free, to people who kind of invaded her home planet.

The guards figure that's kind of natural, and start lamenting the fact that
they've come to one of the few planets in the galaxy with _songs_ left, under
precisely the worst conditions to actually hear them live.  Especially ironic
is that they've got to be cooped guarding the prison when one of the few
remaining bands who will play anywhere is coming to town: Fire Bomber!!

Fire Bomber, as it happens, has been playing "pop-up" concerts to rapt
audiences throughout the Kingdom.  Sidereal "culture", such as it is, is forced
on the enslaved worlds from on high, meaning the troops are outright starved
for REAL culture.  What Basara's got on his hands is the second coming of the
Zentraedi's "Minmay Shock".  ...Which means that a group of miscreant
cosplaying Guitar Heroes has a chance to *impersonate* Fire Bomber to create a
diversion.  Guess who that might be.

Ozuma thought this bit of insanity up based on his extensive CD collection^W^W
knowledge of how persuasive Fire Bomber's image is.  While the "concert" is
going on, team A will free prisoners and team B will gather info inside the
Terminal Base.  And team C will be in reserve, in case a diversion is needed.
Kodama and Lark (who's reluctantly lugging Nono along) are the trump cards,
capable of deploying major firepower without having to lug their ginormous
mecha along all the time.

Things get off on the wrong foot IMMEDIATELY, when Giltar turns up and damn
near shoots Lark to death.  Kodama uses Boost to get her to safety, but that
means he can't summon the Geneon for a whole hour.  Realizing what Kodama's
sacrificed, Lark grabs an eager Nono and runs off, leaving Giltar seemingly
far outnumbered to Z-BLUE.  But he's got Bioroids and his Insect(tm) forces,
that he's SURE will let him have the upper hand.

That's before Sousuke and Kiriko start gatting the bad guys, keying a general
melee that Giltar couldn't have expected in his worst nightmares.  But word
of the break-in travels fast, and with the Guitar Heroes no equal to the real
Fire Bomber, the gig, as it were, seems soon to be up.  But the real Slim Shady
stands up, giving Alto the chance he needs to go save the idol singers with
his own hands.

Meanwhile, Nono has been drawn by something she can't explain to a certain
out-of-the-way hangar.  With Lark looking on uncertainly, Nono opens a door,
revealing something shadowy but familiar inside...

It turns out that the real Fire Bomber coming was no accident: Ozuma requested
them personally to help with this mission.  Job #1 is getting all the prisoners
safely out of the prison, whereat Job #2 (overrunning the Terminal Base) can
commence.  Sheryl's been singing to herself all the while, and thanks to the
Fold Quartz earring she gifted Alto with back when, he was able to track the
songs to their source in no time.  He actually didn't realize at first that
Ranka was with her, but he's glad to get the both of them out of their cell.

Giltar tries to make off with a few of the prisoners as hostages, so the
name of this game is crippling the ships before they can get away.  In fact,
Giltar's troops are really bad at staying alive versus Z-BLUE -- making it
fortunate that he's got reinforcements.  Gotta think two or three moves ahead
in war, right?

  Yeah kinda, but Zero's good at thinking at least four moves ahead, and he's
  kept some recently-added troops as reinforcements for just such an
  occasion.  One in particular is just the thing for (literally) undermining
  Giltar's confidence: the Gurren Lagann!  And to make matters even worse,
  Lark finally rejoins the battle after waiting around for Nono to help Noriko
  undo the seal on... Gunbuster!

  Apparently it's been stuck here out of Noriko's reach, and she's itching to
  make up for lost time.  Nicola asks (more like orders) Lark to follow the
  Gunbuster's lead, and an indignant Nono contends that Noriko couldn't 
  possibly be anything like Nonoriri.  At first, anyway.  Does Giltar even
  stand a chance?

Well, that was fun.  Giltar once again frets about his his position as he
scurries off -- there must be some reason the Sidereals keep sending him to
the front lines, other than that he's actually effective.  But anyway, the band
is steadily getting back together now that Simon and friends are around.  One
might actually wonder where they've been all this time, what with the
Super-Galaxy-Class Dai-Gurren in their arsenal.  Well so apparently the bad
guys stole it, leveraging the fact Simon could either ride the ship (which
can't land) or get off and fight bad guys on the ground.

Barbiel was involved of course, setting up an exchange of the Dai-Gurren for a
passel of people he'd taken hostage.  Nia persuaded the wavering Rossieu to
make the deal by saying that "hope can be restored; life can't".  Thus Nia and
Diakka got taken along with the Dai-Gurren, but the returned hostages were
infected by Barbiel's power and all had to be imprisoned to keep them from
running amok.  Rossieu's redoubled his efforts on defense, but that won't
solve anything in the long run.  Hence Simon and the others heading over here
to take the fight to Wrath Babylon.

While he and the other pilots are getting reacquainted, Noriko is having a
hard time explaining to Nono that she knows nothing of the Topless, and that
her Gunbuster is the mech that she and _her_ elder-sister figure used to
maintain hope for mankind where she's from.  It's still entirely unclear who
the "Nonoriri" that Nono admires so much is: the space pilot with a body like
a porn star and a smile like the Virgin Mary, who bore the burdens of the world
like a champion Finnish wife-carrier.  When it's suggested that Noriko might
be the parallel-universe version of Nonoriri, Nono starts to realize that
there's room enough for both in the world.

Just, don't let Lark start belittling "strength and guts", the core tenant of
the world view Noriko had pounded into her by her coach.  Nono and Noriko are
in total accord about that one.  Turns out Noriko was a prisoner in
Neo-Alcatraz thanks to another unfair ploy by the Sidereals.  In this case,
Barbiel used human shields in a battle against the Far East Base forces, and
Noriko's Buster Machine was far too blunt an instrument to simply shoot around
said hostages with.  She was kept alive mainly to support the Sidereals'
investigations into the Gunbuster, though thankfully they didn't confiscate the
spare Top team uniforms (yeah, the eye-catching ones) that are stored in the
cockpit.

Anyway, all the information Zero's got suggests the team should be able to
stage a pinpoint breach of Wrath Babylon's defenses, which are sure to be far
stouter than here.  Kouji reckons the team's come too far to talk about
probabilities: what they need is the resolve to do or die, the unbreakable
iron rule of any serious fight.  Perhaps, but Zero is furiously considering
the lack of info on why the hell the Kingdom kidnapped all these people in the
first place, especially Sheryl and Ranka.  Well, the answer may be moot once
Wrath Babylon falls, as fall it shall!

It turns out AG was able to locate Basara so that Ozuma could contact him.
This was possible by using Z-Crystals, which resonate with and channel human
emotion.  All Basara's heart-stirring songs will be needed to cheer Ranka up
again -- Alto and Sheryl are having a hell of a time on their own.


CHAPTER 15. The Final Battle for Wrath Babylon!

Time for the kidnapped princesses to meet the king, and Rilina means to put the
audience to the best use she can.  Why praytell are the Sidereals invading the
Earth?  If it's a matter of an energy shortage, the Federation would be more
than happy to negotiate.  Or is there some other meaning to the business with
the Ley Lines and the Dimensional Energy and whatnot?  Australis gives them
narry a straight answer, saying only that he's got a new use for them before
they get dragged off to... wherever.  He seems privately impressed by their
strength, but it will take more than strong words to defend this planet...

Kodama's on patrol, surveying what used to be a fairly beautiful city.  Karinin
returns from a patrol of his own, stopping long enough to exchange a few
enigmatic words before heading back to HQ to report.  Karinin obliquely opines
that even getting rid of the Wrath Babylon infestation won't fundamentally
solve what ails this world.  He asks Kodama to look after Sousuke and leaves,
giving Kodama plenty to fret over as the next battle looms.

Ledo is gradually learning what "culture" is, insofar as it involves songs and
dance that can stir the heart (and not just by overt use of super-energy
sources or whatever).  It turns out that Fire Bomber has been on the run for
some time, staying one step ahead of the Sidereals unlike poor Sheryl and
Ranka.  Clearly the Sidereals wanted to round up prominent singers, but they've
also kidnapped prominent NON-singers like Rilina.  As usual, their purpose is
unclear.

Ranka, declares Alto when he comes in, is pretty tired and has Sheryl looking
over her.  Unlikely that the Gargantia folks will get to hear them sing for a
while.  At least Alto doesn't stay gloomy for long: like the other Reactors,
he's well aware of what it'll take to face his counterparts on the Royal side.
The Royals, by the way, offer no real resistance to Z-BLUE's advance, sure sign
that they've got something up their sleeve.  But the best cure for tricker,
says Zero, is an honest sword through the chest.

The highest objective is to wreck the place that all the Ley Lines run to.
But as the team mows their way through underlings, Ryouma has the strangest
feeling that he's being watched.  In fact, the eyes of *three* Sphere Reactors
are on the team: the third set belonging to Supreme Commander Strauss, the
Reactor for the Greedy Golden Bull.  His ship counts as the Sidereals'
flagship, and of course there's no way the team are pulling out now.  Unless
these bastards fall, Z-BLUE won't get to see the King.

  The enemy Sphere Reactors aren't playing around today, and Kodama pretty
  much suspected that from the beginning: he even told Suzune to get ready to
  eject at a moment's notice.  But things get CRAY-cray when *Asakim* shows up.
  Remember him?  Sphere-Hunter extraordinaire, sometime-ally and often-foe
  of ZEUTH and ZEXIS, this ultra-powered immortal dude had been sealed inside
  the Z.O.N.E. on Mars along with his mech.

  But through reasons he sees no reason to explain, he's back now, and hot on
  the heels of the Sidereal Reactors.  The Z-BLUE folks, he says with a nasty
  smile, he'll save for another day.  A quick inventory is in order:

  Aries       -- The False Black Sheep          -- Asakim
  Taurus      -- The Greedy Golden Bull         -- Strauss
  Gemini      -- The Quarreling Twins           -- Kodama (or is it Suzune???)
  Cancer      -- The Silent Crab                -- Shikuu
  Leo         -- The Wounded Lion               -- Rand
  Virgo       -- The Maiden of Sorrows          -- Setsuko
  Libra       -- The Swaying Scales             -- Crow
  Scorpio     -- The Resentful Devil-Scorpion   -- Barbiel
  Sagittarius -- ???                            -- ???
  Capricorn   -- The Inquisitive Mountain Goat  -- Asakim
  Aquarius    -- The Inexhaustible Water-Bearer -- Asakim
  Pisces      -- ???                            -- ???

  Rand reckons that Asakim must have at least one other sphere besides the
  three known above.  Certainly Ryouma, a non-Sphere Bearer, can sense just
  how much more powerful Asakim's become.  And although some of the kiddies
  might find it frustrating, Roger and Amuro are right when they say that
  having Asakim fight the bad guys will give them a chance to achieve their
  real objective.

  Fact is, the enemy Sphere Reactors are extremely tough, and Chamber goes
  from suggesting retreat to warning that *without* a retreat, everyone is
  going to be wiped out for certain.  Kodama tells Suzune to eject, and she
  knows why: he means to stage a suicidal attack to destroy the palace: his
  one death can create hope for innumerable other lives to be saved.  Suzune
  demands to know if he thinks no one will mourn his passing, and in fact he
  thinks no such thing.  She then yells at him that if he intends to die for
  peace or for the world or whatnot, there's an even higher request she's got:
  for him to live for *her* sake.  She pleads with him not to leave her alone
  once more, and it would appear that the Quarreling Twins are caught in a
  cycle of inaction.

  This was Strauss' grand plan: luring Z-BLUE into a head-on confrontation that
  they couldn't hope to win.  In other words, Z-BLUE's strategists were
  lured into thinking they were fighting trickery with force -- when in fact
  they were merely facing a GREATER force.  Amuro has to admit that Kodama's
  resolve to sacrifice himself seems like the only way to get anything done
  here, and he himself would be willing to become said sacrificial lamb.

  Luckily he won't have to: the Ral Kairam turns up, with a fresh batch of
  reinforcements who've bought the team time and elbow-room to make a safe
  retreat.  All the team has to do is make it across a line and they'll be
  safe.  With a smile, Asakim tells Setsuko and the others that he'll be going
  too... but not to worry.  He'll be back, sooner rather than later.

  Kodama has no choice but to give into Suzune and withdraw, unable either to
  place his bets on a convenient sort of hope, nor abandon himself to despair.

  Parenthetically, the option to simply blast the crap out of one of the
  Sphere Reactors is still open.  In fact, it's probably the easier option,
  even though you won't be able to stay long enough to finish the job.  But
  Z-BLUE will be back: count on that.  At the last moment, the Reactors sense
  something akin to yet another Reactor: it turns out to be Australis.

  Suddenly Kodama has a moment of clarity, neither hope nor despair, and Suzune
  (and the rest of the team) tell him to go kick ass.  But although he's
  vastly faster than anyone expected, Australis is somehow able to *repulse*
  Kodama at the very last second.  Apparently Australis is protected by a
  "Spiritual Barrier", the power of a god.  This is what gave Kodama that case
  of blood-red eye back when, but to Australis' astonishment, Kodama can
  actually still move.

  Rand and Setsuko spring into action to grab Kodama and amscray double-quick.
  Barbiel figures it serves these Earthlings right for daring to try to lay
  hands on the Thingie(tm) that has the Blessing of the Black Sun (what befalls
  Australis, he could care less about).  Strauss on the other hand seems
  actually worried for Australis, who did after all just get confronted by a
  (briefly) Third-Stage Sphere Reactor.  All Australis knows is that he means
  to have the power of The Overriser laid at his feet by any means necessary.

Mareeda's back in one piece thanks to Nanai, and resolved to fight for all
mankind after seeing Banarj's good example.  There's general agreement that the
Sidereals are VASTLY more powerful than anyone, even Char himself, imagined.
Basically, Z-BLUE will have to figure out a different plan than simply
colliding with three Sphere Reactors head-on, while also dealing with the
mess Full Frontal is making up in space.  At the very least, Amuro is happy
to call things even with Char for saving his bacon today, in repayment for
him stopping Axis back when.

But Sidereal pursuit is fast in coming, confirming the vision Char saw after
becoming a Singularity.  The time he's foreseen is fast approaching indeed!


CHAPTER 16. The Ending World

Word reaches Mithril's West Pacific base that Z-BLUE has successfully fled
Eurasia.  Though Tessa would love to rush off and join her comrades, there's
Amalgam to consider: a fittingly mercurial organization that is proving REALLY
hard to get a firm handle on.  Tessa infers from their investigations so far
that Amalgam is not a typical top-down pyramidal structure, but rather a
series of parallel, expendable, fiefdoms connected in a web.  It's hard to
strike at an enemy's head, if it hasn't got one.  Amalgam's bad works seem
uninterrupted by the Kingdom, and given their past cooperation with the
Geminis, one should assume they're collaborating with the Sidereals as a whole.

Things get surreal when Leonard manages to dial into an emergency Mithril
channel, facing his twin sister (through the monitor) for the first time in
six years.  Leonard doesn't seem to want a straight conversation, dancing
around topics like their parents, like Tessa's little stunt with her flying
submarine, and so on.  Tessa's patience for this is very short, and before
long she warns him one last time: stop cooperating with the Sidereals.  Seeing
that she's not to be swayed, Leonard bids her a final farewell, adding that
everything she cares about is about to end.

Tessa takes this little charade to mean that an all-out Amalgam assault is
coming, and orders Merida Island to maximum alert.  She can only hope that
Sousuke and friends are safe.

Now we learn why the Dancougar folks didn't rendezvous with Z-BLUE sooner: F.S.
insisted that they stay in reserve and help set up an escape route from
Wrath Babylon.  The 21st Century folks meanwhile had been active in Eurasia
doing humanitarian aid stuff, and just happened to meet the Dancougar folks
along the way, and even then the team couldn't have effected an escape all the
way to Japan if not for Char's forces turning up too.

The failure of the Wrath Babylon raid unfortunately means that Japan's relative
peace is likely to end.  What becomes of 21st Century in that event?  Or all
those schools that some of the pilots have been attending?  Seems like a pretty
mundane concern given that there's GLOBAL FREAKING WAR going on, but maybe it
helps to add a human scale to the tragedy?  Ehh, not really.

Nonetheless, Sousuke has made a point of putting in an appearance at school,
where the (former) Student Council President (former because he's graduated)
asks to see him.  He admits to being complicit in arranging for the whole
"Volunteer Club" charade with Kaname and Suzune, not for any reward but as a
pure gesture of friendship.  And although it meant the school getting mixed up
in a lot of crazy hijinks, conditions used to permit said hijinks to continue
without lasting consequences.  But the world's become a much less friendly
place, and the Volunteer Club -- or rather its president Kaname, who is clearly
at the center of all the chaos -- can't be allowed to continue further.

Basically, he can no longer ignore the fact that the Volunteer Club's actions
coincide too neatly with the reputed exploits of Z-BLUE.  And if he's figured
it out, others will too in the near future.  It is, in essence, time to
graduate.  Sousuke says slowly that he likes this place -- and not just him:
Kodama and many others besides.  That's no surprise, given how all those pilots
are ultimately human too, with all the good and bad things that implies.  But
this place, this school, is just a waypoint along the path of life.  Not a
final destination.  Though it's easy to forget sometimes, the student body
have several decades of life left after graduation (God willing)...

Sobering stuff.  Enough so that when Sousuke gets peppered by questions from
classmates about where the rest of the Volunteer Club is, and whether they'll
show up to Graduation and so on, Sousuke mumbles that he can't make any
promises about tomorrow.  Not knowing what he's going to say, he asks Kaname
to take a walk with him.

Kodama meanwhile did _not_ go to school, but rather to the nearby hospital
where the other red-eye kids had been kept.  Suzune finds him in the central
courtyard, saying something unconvincing about how it's a teacher's duty to
ensure her students aren't truant.  Her teacher-hood will conclude tomorrow,
and she asks if Kodama concluded things with his nurse friend also.  Said
nurse, Maki, apparently retired a month or so ago due to an unspecified
illness, without telling anyone her whereabouts.  Someone commented that her
grief over not being able to help Shin'ya and Misako (the red-eyed kids) may
have simply eroded her desire to be a nurse.

Kodama says that he's realized he misunderstood Maki all this time, and not
just her: himself also, and his fellow Z-BLUE pilots, and Suzune too.  Suzune
replies that non-self-understanding is common to everyone, including herself.
She can't put a name to it, but something inside her, something that longs for
him, is glad that Maki is gone from Kodama's life.  She's even willing to
admit to him that she's scared, and has been for a long time.  What if her
answers are even farther ahead than the showdown with Australis?  Is the world
actually going to end?

Just then Kodama becomes aware of some secret agents menacing them.  He
realizes they've been sent here to kill -- not capture -- them both and,
despite the danger of using Boost in his fatigued state, acts swiftly to save
him and Suzune both.  It's a typical Amalgam move, and as the two rush off
to try to find Sousuke and Kaname, Suzune marvels that Kodama seems to have
retained the strange sense of equilibrium she felt in him at Wrath Babylon...

Sousuke's taken Kaname to the Volunteer club room, and he tells her he wishes
things could stay like this forever.  She does too, but whatever she's about
to say next gets interrupted when Leonard walks in.  Sousuke draws his gun and,
after Leonard ignores a warning to put his hands up, shoots the guy.  Sadly
Leonard has a bullet-proof coat on, but Sousuke can counter that with more
firepower.  Leonard then calls him the world's smallest A.S. to do battle
with Sousuke -- Sousuke notes though that without Leonard to pilot it, it'll
be so much inert metal.

Kaname protests that this is Tessa's brother, but Sousuke says that Tessa
herself has declared this guy to be their enemy.  Leonard asks the both of them
to calm down, saying that he's only come to talk.  His offer to Kaname is this:
leave behind her current life, and accept a position that will ensure her
freedom and all the facilities needed to pursue her intellectual interests to
the full.  Without "Royal" interference.  Simply put, his organization has
gotten serious on account of Mithril and Z-BLUE being a little _too_ effective.

Aww, who anybody kidding here?  What he's really about is killing Tessa and
Sousuke and kidnapping Kaname.  The only reason he didn't do from the outset,
he says, is that he "loves" her.  She meanwhile hates him, and tells him to
get out of her school this instant.  Oh, is she still mad about "that"?
(Sousuke wonders furiously what "that" is.)  Leonard sounds sure that she must
be frustrated with all the idiots around her, and when she repeats for him to
get out, he tells her not to blame him for what happens next.  And he promises
to see her again.

So uh, what's her problem exactly?  We may have to find out later, as Kodama
phones up with word that Amalgam are on the attack.  Apparently while Leonard
was running his mouth, Amalgam was busily deploying troops to shoot up the
city.  Seeing the devastation, Kaname finally says what her problem is: fear.
She's afraid of herself and her power.  She's afraid of the lunatics who would
stop at nothing to kidnap her.  And she's even afraid of Sousuke.  Despite
their long history of making it out of serious scrapes, she seems sure that
this time everything is going to end in tears.

How to handle the undeniable love, and undeniable fear, she feels for Sousuke?
Apparently her answer is to... Panic!  Get it, to *PANIC*!!  No I didn't make
that up, it's a direct quote and scarcely worth an "I see what u did thar".
Z-BLUE, or what of them are patched together enough to sortie, come on the
scene as a text message comes in from Kyouko (and the news sounds bad).  Merida
Island will have to hold out on its own for now.

To make matters worse, multiple Heterodynes show up (unlikely to be coincidence
in F.S.' estimation).  Sousuke meanwhile is not answering his phone very
readily, thanks to the rapid crisis that's enveloped the school.  Amalgam
agents have taken some of the students hostage, and any showy attempt by
Z-BLUE to storm the place will cause Amalgam to blow up the entire school and
everyone left in it.  Kaname isn't helping, all blaming herself for not going
with Leonard.  When Sousuke protests they can stop the bombs if they can
pinpoint the detonator, Kaname starts rattling off a long list of sci-fi-
sounding contingencies why that won't work.  She's going way too fast for
Sousuke with her Whispered abilities, and then gets frustrated when Sousuke
can't keep up.  Was Leonard right?

Nope.  Sousuke draws a distinction between the Whispered stuff and Kaname
herself.  To the same extent that she told him she both loves and fears him,
he feels the same about her, the woman who literally changed his whole
world.  He didn't have to understand her to love her, and if she can trust him
and help him now, he's 100% sure they can solve this mess.  She on the other
hand thinks there's less than a 1% chance of success, and seems determined
to surrender.  Sousuke tells her he values her over the rest of the whole
world, and when even that doesn't move her, the only thing he can think of to
do is zap her with a stungun.  He's prepared for how much she may hate him for
this, but one thing he promises: to not only defend her, but also all their
friends.

Sousuke manages to sneak into the school and deal with most of the guards, but
when he manages to free one of his classmates, she freaks.  Who are all the
people with guns?  Is Kaname somehow responsible?  For that matter, who or
what is Sousuke himself?!  A famed Amalgam agent named Kurama turns up at this
point, informing her that Sousuke is a killer mercenary, like he himself.
Sousuke can't simultaneously take him down AND protect the students -- he needs
just one more ally.  Who, thankfully, turns up on cue and helps out.

Furious, Kurama pushes the button on the detonator, which does NOT result in
an explosion.  It does result however in Sousuke now knowing where said
detonator is, and allows him to shoot it into smithereens.  How could this be?
After Sousuke snuck in, he disabled the anti-ECM measures Amalgam had set up.
That allowed a mech to enter with strong enough jamming that it would simply
prevent any detonator from working (assuming it used radio waves and not
hard-wires or line-of-sight optics, but sometimes you gotta roll the dice).
But that shouldn't have been possible: Z-BLUE had nobody to spare!

They did have Al though, an AI capable of independent action and faithful to
Sousuke's commands.  And highly worthy of praise!  Kurama flees, but rather
than let agent Race pursue, Sousuke has him look after the other students.
Sousuke himself intends to see to it that Kaname is protected.  Before joining
the battle, he apologizes for any fear he caused his classmates, and admits to
being a killer and generally scary dude.  But, he promises, Alto and Kodama
aren't like him.  And for it's worth, he had fun while he could at the school.

Back in the cockpit, Al says something very strange: he's had a premonition
of being parted from Sousuke.  In fact, Sousuke's going to have to fight
Leonard, who's turned up in a new AS (which can fly) and makes a point of
decrying Sousuke's unwillingness to quit using external speakers.  Guess all
Sousuke's classmates now know what's up.  Sousuke is no less determined to
fight, especially since his opponent is using a Lambda Driver and few other
units on the team could help even if they were in range.  He vows to return
to Kaname: rather than worry about tomorrow, he's focused on making it through
today.

  In addition to the ability to fly, Leonard's mech has a VERY strong barrier
  courtesy of his Lambda Driver.  He seems genuinely surprised, and more than
  a little displeased, that this fact doesn't cause Sousuke to throw in the
  towel on the spot.  In fact, that Lambda Driver is strong enough to cover for
  the damage Sousuke dishes out, and Leonard finally finds another gear and
  destroys the ARX-7.  Sousuke bids his AI companion a final farewell, and
  manages to avoid the explosion when it detonates.

  Kaname regains consciousness at precisely the wrong time, and decides to
  go with Leonard at long last rather than see any more of this city burned.
  Leonard can't understand why she seems so inclined to love Sousuke, even now,
  and Sousuke vows to bring her back here one day.

But Leonard's got one more unpleasant trick up his sleeve: a small spacetime
bomb, which he means to use to teleport this entire city away to...
somewhere.  Man, these Whispered folks -- not good.  There's nothing the team
can do to stop it, and Kodama has to make a snap decision: try to get clear,
or try to rescue Sousuke.  If you opt for the former, go to 17R.  For the
latter, go to 17C.  In any case, a bunch of folks from the Chrono Progressives
show up at the very last second and do... something.

For the second battle in a row, AG has nothing witty to say due to the ongoing
crisis...


CHAPTER 17R. [Route split]

Everyone's ended up in subspace, with the Dragons' Hive a little ways away
from the other ships.  Several of the teams are "missing" (because they're on
the other path), and as for Kodama, he's either with the Macross Quarter (go to
17M) or with the Dragons' Hive (go to 17D).  Astonishingly, the team find
themselves defolding... near the galactic core!!

Warping over such a great distance can't be attributed solely to Leonard:
Whispered or not.  Those Chrono folks also had a hand in it, and one of their
agents is presumably discussing his reward with Australis right now.  Meanwhile
the Reactors have other fish to fry, in the person of Asakim and at least one
other.

Oh guess what, the Chrono rep turns out to be that worm Gwen (remember him?).
He's here because he thinks he's seen the end of the world, what he calls the
Truth.  That's good enough for Australis to grant him the rulership of this
planet, and is apparently thanks to Gordon Rosewater's little memo added to
the last chapter of Metropolis.  Australis tells Gordon to speak his true
name, though we don't get to hear it because the intermission arrives.


CHAPTER 17M. The Galactic Sea

Kodama wakes up to find he and Suzune adrift in the, umm, cosmic sea.  About
36 hours have elapsed since they last saw the rest of Z-BLUE, and Kodama's sure
that they'll be along with a rescue soon (especially since AG isn't likely to
abandon the Geneon).  Between the Geneon's emergency shelter, their flight
suits' "waste product" recycling capability, and the Geneon's emergency Cold
Sleep module, it's pretty sure they can hold out for quite some time.

The practical talk gives way quickly to the much more sobering question of
whether Sousuke, and indeed the rest of the team and the Earth itself, are
okay.  Thinking back on it, one result of all this war and upheaval is the
two of them growing into true partners: protecting and being protected by one
another.  Suzune may have been the "teacher" before, but in fact her student
teaching period has just finished.  Maybe she can be "just-Suzune" to Kodama?
Maybe they can wash up on some remote planet and do the Adam-and-Eve thing?

May be, but while the fanfic'ers are powering up their ion cannons to find out,
Suzune says that (for now) she was mainly joking to help lift Kodama's spirits.
This works nicely.  Kodama's been thinking a lot about what he can do with the
Geneon to repay the whole team for steering him straight, and has realized
that what he's lacked is "true" strength from within -- not something motivated
by external hope or despair.  If he could hold onto the feeling he had at
Wrath Babylon, he knows he'd be a much, much stronger person.  And maybe even
be able to do something about his mother's loss.

Just then radar detects several nearby targets: too many to simply evade.  They
have no IFF, so they clearly aren't Z-BLUE.  Kodama decides that the only
course is to approach them and do whatever they can to survive, calling Suzune
by her first name in the process.  Her heart pounding, Suzune agrees and thinks
to herself that she's going to stick with this young man no matter what.

The contacts appear to be some kind of creature (hermit crabs by their icon)
and Kodama is trying to decide to attack or try to withdraw when the rest of
Z-BLUE (this third, anyway) appear.  Apparently (according to Ledo) *these*
are the long-rumored Hidiarz.  He has Chamber distribute combat info to the
rest of the team, and Kodama falls in behind him as the team strive to live
through this most unexpected displeasure.

  This much distance from the Earth gives people a sense of just how big space
  is, especially the Newtypes: their consciousness is _palpably_ expanding, as
  one might expect of the New Humanity.  Interestingly, Setsuna can't shake the
  strange feeling, which has been going on for a while, that something is out
  of place...

  The Hidiarz are a menace, though not a very menacing menace.  Things get
  worse when a new batch of Vajra, of a type not encountered before, turn up.
  They're bent on attacking the Quarter, but out of nowhere Brella and his
  VF-27 appear.  The backstory is kind of complicated between him and Ranka,
  and this isn't the time to rehash it.  The Vajra and Hidiarz are inclined to
  battle each other, and any protestations from Alto that the Vajra aren't
  mindless monsters will have to wait until later.

So in a nutshell, the Macross 7 is in the neighborhood, having been tossed here
by the making of the world.  Ledo's Gargantia friends get over the shock of
being out in space pretty quickly, but interestingly Ledo is in no hurry to
establish contact with the Alliance again -- in fact, it hadn't even crossed
his mind to try until Amy mentioned it as a possibility.  What does he _want_
to do is the question.

In one sense Brella's lucky that he was cyborgized back when: the event that
sent him way out here put him out of reach of any immediate assistance.  He
shut himself down except for a rescue beacon for fully nine months until the
Macross 7 found him.  Now, maybe he can help break Ranka out of the funk that
neither Ozuma nor Alto could protect her from.

As Brella and Ozuma head off, Kodama is forced to puncture the temporary
levity the team feels.  Perhaps it's a coincidence that they've bumped into
the Macross 7 fleet out here, perhaps it's not -- but one thing that _is_ true
is that the fleet was supposed to be a _fleet_ just like the Frontier.  That
only the flagship "Battle 7" is in view is _not_ a good sign.  In any event,
they've got to find the rest of Z-BLUE and get back to Earth pronto... oh and
hopefully avoid getting killed along the way.

Kodama may have achieved Ace status, but he's still not fully free of his
old poker-faced ways.  AG suggests that he practice humorous rejoinders
instead of relapsing, prescribing a set of ridiculous poses that Kodama can't
bring himself to perform.  AG tells him he's still got a long way to go,
inwardly adding to himself that in the not too distant future, Kodama will
have to throw _everything_ away.

AG tells Suzune that he was able to track them using Z-Crystals, which respond
to thoughts and emotions.  Such as... the emotions she was giving off in the
cockpit when she and Kodama were having their little chat.  How very...
EX-teacherly!  Suzune switches to "Fierce" mode, but elects not to turn AG
into scrap just yet.  She warns him not to piss her off and flounces, and
AG is in fact quite elated.  To think that "that" old, dead-ended project would
find new life now!  Must be thanks to Kodama.


CHAPTER 17D. The Ravening Destroyers

We start with the Kodama/Suzune conversation from 17M.  The differences is that
Sidereals interrupt this time: unmanned ones, meaning their control ship must
be nearby.  And that just might be Kodama and Suzune's ticket to something
other than floating around in space.  Z-BLUE show up in short order, and the
improvement in the Kodama-Suzune romantic scene is immediately apparent.
Ryouma, who was kind of a fellow teacher of Suzune's, is both elated and
chagrined, and make sure to give the two lovebirds some personal support.

  The Invaders start out pretty squeebish, but much more powerful ones are
  hiding in the wings.  And Ryouma knows it.  It's Corwen and Stinger, two
  former human scientists who've been parasitized by Invaders.  What're they
  doing way out here?  They claim it's because of Getter Rays, and claim
  moreover that it's all Ryouma's fault.  This seems nonsensical, yet some
  inner voice of Ryouma's begins to cry louder and louder.  What the hell?

  His warrior's blood is crying out for battle (to Corwen and Stinger's
  dismay) and as if on cue another warrior appears: Ghoula!  He urges the team
  to make quick work of the insects before them, not that he accounts himself
  as any better than they -- save that he's not mistaken about who the Getter
  Rays have anointed.

  Proof arrives in the form of the rest of the Getter team, conveniently
  available for Ryouma to kick even more ass.  Angered at all their minions
  getting slaughtered, Corwen and Stinger withdraw, leaving the task of
  finishing off these Ravening Destroyers (i.e. the Invaders) to Z-BLUE.

So like, how did Shin Getter and Dragon get here?  Plot convenience.  Pure and
simple, folks.  And no one on the team is buying that it's some kind of cosmic
coincidence, including the bit of how Ghoula turned up to lead the lost souls
to precisely the right place at precisely the right time.  One might say that
the Getter Rays themselves arranged for all this to happen, but if they expect
Ryouma to just obey their enigmatic will, they've got another think coming.

Ghoula doesn't stay long, jetting off to check out a new black hole signature
that Robby (remember him?) has detected.  He's not on the friendliest terms
with Shotarou, though he does say on the way out that what he's doing is in
the interest of keeping the universe un-destroyed.

Okay so suppose the Getter Rays _did_ arrange for these folks to end up in this
area of space -- which turns out to be near the galactic center.  The question
would become "why?"  The answer could be quite important, since traveling 27k
light years is not something one does for one's health.  Noriko knows this
from firsthand experience, and Nicola would VERY much like to hear more of the
details, in like, a _totally_ non-stalkery way.  Yeah.

So as for the "returning home" part, the good news is that the team has Getter
Dragon on hand, which has vast (and renewable) powers of super-space travel.
Using that, getting home should only take around ten years.  ...Oh.  Man those
Getter Rays must be bad-ass if they were responsible for the team ending up
here in a matter of seconds.  Tanaka kind of hopes for the team to have their
jaws on the floor, but this crew are used to weird shit and waste no time
getting down to practical stuff like, how many months of food is the Dragons'
Hive carrying.

Then a thought occurs.  Clearly there are Invaders and Sidereals to fend off
in these parts, recalling Ledo's tales of the various powers vying for
supremacy at the galactic center.  Clearly that Australis clown had to get TO
Earth FROM somewhere else, and one doubts that he was willing to spend a decade
doing it.  For that matter, the Invaders might not have all that much patience
either.  In other words: by fighting with and studying them, it may be possible
to find out how THEY are getting to the Earth so quickly.


CHAPTER 17C. Flight

Well, Graduation is cancelled and that's for sure.  The good news is that 
nobody (who matters to the random students) got killed, though some serious
injuries were reported.  Kodama walks into his classroom late, and immediately
launches into an explanation (of sorts) of who he really is and why he's been
blending in among the students at this school (to protect Kaname from a rival
secret society).  He maintains that it's his fault that this mess spilled over
to the school in general, and just wants his classmates to know that he intends
to see to it that Kaname gets brought back here, alive.

Kodama and Suzune meanwhile are in literal deserted-island mode, stranded by
an ill(?)-timed break down in the Geneon.  A week passes in the blink of an
ill-written screenplay, during which Kodama is patching the Geneon's generator
back together and Suzune is listening in vain for any radio broadcast hinting
at Z-BLUE's whereabouts.  Kodama's got his Beast Hunter survivalist skillz to
help keep them alive: staying alive is the right and obligation of every
living thing, as his father had it.

[This sets the stage for their intimate conversation from the other paths.]

Things get interrupted by a transmission from Z-BLUE at long last, making them
set out for a rendezvous at once.

The rest of Z-BLUE, at least those who hadn't been warped half a galaxy away,
had been dumped in Kumen, where they've been recuperating for the last week.
It's very unlikely a coincidence that the team found themselves with allies so
close at hand: C.C. chalks it up to Kiriko's Abnormal Survivor abilities.
Kumen, it turns out, is one of the few places still resisting the Kingdom -- in
much the same way its hardy residents resisted Federation assimilation in the
old world order.  The whole of the populace are meant to be seen as guerillas,
sort of like real-world oversimplifications of Afghanistan.

The hardy Kumen rebels have help from a somewhat unexpected (and unwanted)
source: Martial!  You remember those combat-mongers, with the "fighting
causes evolution" theory?  They're still around and more popular than ever
with the stragglers of Astrageus who've flooded into Kumen.  Martial has
some kind of beef with the Sidereals, and that will afford Zero and the others
a chance to slip off undetected.  Though they could stay and try to beef up
the Kumen rebel forces, that would eventually bring more Royal scrutiny than
Kumen could withstand.

Zero's plan is to instead head for Merida Island, collecting the other members
he believes are scattered in the area along the way (that would be Kodama and
Suzune, plus Hiiro and some of the others).  SOMETHING will have to be done
about Leonard, whose AS managed to trash even the mighty Arbalest.  With Kaname
in his clutches, there's no telling how much bad stuff he'll get up to next.

When conditions turn favorable for Z-BLUE's flight, the last thing Zero does
is put on his newly-refurbished mask: somehow people with masks carry more
authority.  Potaria gives Karen a message for Esther: he's still fighting the
good fight.  Oh, and we've even got time for one of Kiriko's famous
soliloquys!  He's lost Fiana, been parted from his friends, gravely wounded,
and on the run from the bad guys.  But somehow, his will to fight just keeps
on ticking.  Maybe it's about the friends he's NOT parted from, maybe it's the
hot sands of the country where he first found Fiana again -- but whatever it
is, both he and the world will begin walking once more.

Guess who's here, helping lead the team to safety?  It's Shakko, everyone's
favorite Abnormal Survivor-watching Quent.  Their route takes them past a
Martial shrine: for all that they supposedly lost prestige after the so-called
"Sudden Heatstroke" incident Kiriko pulled.  Generally a win for the opponents
of religious fanaticism, but let's not forget that that was also the battle
where Fiana perished.

Zero's agreed to this escape route for two reasons.  One: the Martial folks
would have to be idiotic to attack the perpetrator of said Sudden Sunstroke.
And if the Sidereals show up, the Martial forces can be counted on to aid
the team.  Which is good, because several of the mecha here can't fly and
there's nowhere to go borrow a transport from.  In good conscience anyway.

Bad guys do show up, but interestingly, it's the remnants of the Firebugs,
including much-maligned Kan Yur.  Unfortunately, this makes Zero's
preparations a moot point -- he gives the team six turns to deal with these
bozos and make good their escape into the jungle.

  The team have to do a little VERY BAD acting to buy time for Kodama and
  Suzune to show up and flatten Kan Yur's vaunted trump card.  Of course, this
  was easier to plan knowing that Kodama was mere moments away.  Kodama's
  sad to see that Sousuke isn't with the rest of the team, but he keeps his
  spirits up and his mind focused on the task at hand.

  Karen and Kan Yur have a long-standing grudge match going, not in the least
  because of how he make her dress as a bunny-girl back when.

The team had best skeedaddle before Amalgam forces turn up and make this rag
tag band really suffer.  Just then Urz-1 shows up in a purloined transport,
piloted by none other than AG himself!  As a robot, he's been able to merge
with the controls, which is great.

Non-great is the fact that Merida Island has fallen to Amalgam.  As many people
as possible have fled, but pretty much all of Mithril's facilities on the
island are in horrible shape.  Even Karinin's whereabouts are unknown.  Tessa
knows that with Z-BLUE and the others unaccounted for, it's up to her to hold
the fort for now.  She has the TdD sortie, wiping out the Amalgam forces that
dare to stand in the way of her submarine, and makes for the safety of the
depths.

Rochina meanwhile is the unwilling guest of Monte Wells, the current head of
Martial and STILL obsessed with Kiriko.  Wells in turn is in thrall to some
electronic voice or other...

Elsewhere, a reporter named Rick is quizzing someone named Nami about how her
friend Rick was murdered.  He was supposed to be entering a tournament of AS
martial artists, and Nami suspects the Ogre family is behind it: the local
organized crime operators, and also the backers of the team that Nami's was
supposed to face in tomorrow's bout.  It wouldn't be the first time Nami's
folks have had beef with them.  Nami, the team owner and it's mechanic, isn't
shy about entering the match in Rick's stead.  That is, until Sousuke turns up,
hoping to use his old friend Rick's connections to get into the mecha battling
circuit himself.  Nami at first mistakes Sousuke for some star-struck mecha
otaku, then gets indignant when he knows more about her vintage, hard-to-handle
mech than she does.  But with Lemon's encouragement, she reluctantly takes
Sousuke on as the pilot for tomorrow's match.  He intends to do whatever it
takes to save Kaname, even if nobody else is available to help him do it...

AG, by the way, is a dedicated enough salesman that he even has Karen's
admiration.  Which, however, does not extend to her getting back into bunnygirl
garb to help him sell stuff...


CHAPTER 18M. Forbidden Planet

Ranka is super depressed, and seeing her erstwhile "brother" isn't making much
of a dent.  Brella for his part has dropped any pretense of being biologically
related to her, but still sympathizes with the anxiety gripping her.  But, he
tells her, she should already know the way to haul herself out of the despair.
And if it helps any, she should remember that there are indeed people who love
her.  That's the thinking that saved him, anyway.

Brella kind of trades places with Sheryl, who's glad to see that Brella's
encouragement is having a bit of an effect.  She points out to Ranka that in
some senses, all that's really happened to them is that they've found
themselves back on their original mission to roam the stars (back _from_ that
unplanned trip to Earth).  So much of coping with life is perspective, and
there is no doubt what both of their first, best destiny is.  The question now
is, can Ranka muster the fortitude to do it?

Elsewhere, Jeffrey is making cordial introductions with the legendary Max (and
his super-sized second-in-command Exedore).  Exedore tells Jeffrey that there
isn't a single record of anyone artificially Folding across as much space,
with as little energy loss, as Z-BLUE did to come here.  A "wonder of the
universe", is how he describes it.  The dimensional quake the team encountered
may have been the entrance, but the rest of the trip surpasses even his
considerable understanding.

What he does know for certain is how Z-BLUE exited in an area so near to people
they know: it's thanks to Basara.  The normally useless lump in the squad
preparation screen apparently has his infinite plot powers undimmed, since
there was a Fire Bomber tribute concert going on aboard the Macross 7 at the
precise time Z-BLUE came here.

Basara, one supposes, had grown tired of being studied in the lab for his Song
Energy powers (capable of messing with spacetime itself, dontchaknow) and
was simply rocking out at the time.  One of the Macross 7 fleet's important
duties is continuing the study of the Proto-Devlin: living weapons surpassing
even the Zentraedi, created by one of the warring Protoculture factions using
energy from the "Sub-Universe".  The Proto-Devlin's craving for Anima Spiritia
eventually laid waste to the Protoculture itself, setting the stage for the
Baroda Gambit several-score millennia hence.

To appease the public, word was disseminated that Basara somehow sealed the
Proto-Devlin away once more.  But in fact, what Basara did was rebirth the
Proto-Devlin as a race capable of self-generating Spiritia.  This neatly ended
the war with mankind, and led to the Proto-Devlin heading off for greener
pastures.  Which could have been Za Endo, if not for a terrifying truth Exedore
uncovered while furthering his research.

The Proto-Devlin's existence sheds a ray of light on that pesky 12k-year
universal doomsday/rebirth clock.  According to Exedore, it was one of those
destructive events that opened the door and allowed Sub-Universe beings in to
begin with.  But what's interesting is that, though the Baal onslaughts and so
on have been great enough to vanquish entire species, they have NOT constituted
a 100% reboot of the universe to date.  Nonetheless, whatever it is that the
universe does every twelve millennia is an existential threat to mankind -- a
threat which can only be countered by the accumulated wisdom of its
predecessors.  Gathering that wisdom is why the Battle 7 is traveling apart
from the rest of its fleet.

Thus, this branch of Z-BLUE is on an enforced quest for knowledge, recognizing
that as things currently stand, repeatedly Folding back to Earth would take
years on end.  Tifa is scared of whatever lies in the Protoculture ruins on the
next planet on the list, which of course is all the more reason for the team to
industriously explore.  If these ruins are like the ones on Lacus, Mylene and
her mingled Human-Zentraedi blood may be needed to open doors keyed to proof
that peace has arrived between those two races at last.

The landing party will have at least one unexpected member: Ranka!  She's got
something inside she's struggling to get out, and wants to see with her own
eyes how the ancients tried to get their message across.  Hopefully with both
Brella and Alto guarding her, she'll be okay.

Max reports in to Milia with news that he's bumped into their daughter, and
after approving the research landing on Neo-Lacus, Milia signs off by asking
Max to check how things are going between Mylene and Gamlin.  Exedore has opted
not to descend to the planet directly, but rather to observe and record from
a short distance away.  He's got a feeling that _something_ major is afoot:
something beyond mortal ken.

Exedore has pegged this kind of ruin as a sort of record-keeping device, which
feeds into Ranka's narrative of trying to convey messages to people.  Kodama
is delighted at the chance to see something as hard-core occult as this up
close -- the old "Knight" (a handle that his sister gave him, interestingly) of
fringe chat-room fame is still alive and well.  Sign Suzune up too.  Of course,
there is _in_fact_ more to it than mere curiosity, which is why Setsuko and a
whole passel of firepower is on hand.  Mylene on the other hand is remembering
fondly how a similar ruin was the scene of the first time Gamlin called her
name without honorifics.

The mood is broken up by a bunch of Vajra, who seem intent on destroying the
ruins.  Jeffrey orders the rest of the team to keep the ruins safe, while Alto
and friends try to gather as much info as they can.  Ranka is scared when the
team has to proceed on foot, but Brella tells her not to avert her eyes: hope
is what awaits once one pushes through the fear.  That resonates for Kodama,
who's blossoming right before Setsuko's eyes.

Which is cool and all, but there's a battle going on outside, and it's in
real danger of collapsing the roof on top of them all.  When the party hit a
dead-end, it's time for Ranka to show that she, too, is a "symbol of hope" --
in other words, a symbol that two xenophiliacs successfully procreated.  Said
in nicer terms, Ranka exists because someone wanted her in this world.  Hell,
if Brella could draw breath despite all he's been through, so can Ranka!

Okay, the door opens on cue.  So what's the cool info about the End of the
World?!  It turns out to be the removal of Life Force from the universe,
not just in terms of Anima Spiritia or whatnot, but literally all life: that
which unlocks the potential of Origin Rho.  Kodama recognizes the truth in
this, given that emotion is what seems to make his Sphere react.  Suddenly
Fierce Suzune thinks she's got this figured out.

Every 12k years the universe goes through the throes of reinventing itself,
pitting the power to erase against the power to exist.  That latter power must
be subdued by first removing the life that accesses it, and that's where the
Baals come in.  But life does not die out entirely: through the Blood of
Beasts, the Mingling of Waters, the Whereabouts of Wind, the Culture of Fire,
and the Shining of the Sun, does life travel the Path of Apotheosis.  What
Apotheosis is cannot be explained, only experienced firsthand.

Zeus said much the same thing, and what the Protoculture figure _can_ say is
this: he who opens the door to Apotheosis will gain the power to oppose the
End of the World, and to outlast the True End that will one day come.  True
End?  Yes indeed: upon the ten thousandth repetition of the 12k year cycle,
the universe will undergo the Great Collapse: the final battle between
erasure and existence, fought across all parallel worlds.

He who prevails in this 120 million-year cycle will stand atop the summit of
Apotheosis, wielding the power of God.  The battle between the Baals and the
so-called Higher-Level Lifeforms shows the way to win, and yet there are those
among the Higher-Levelers who have forgotten their duty, and merely name
themselves Apostles without --

Oopsie, big explosion, cancelled history lesson, and a decision of who Ranka
gets to ride with.  I sent her with Brella, for whatever that's worth.  Basara
isn't in the best shape, having been injured while protecting Mylene from a
collapsing wall, but he's determined to sing anyway.  Ranka joins in, a song
more deeply felt than ever before.  It seems to even physically heal Basara,
which is good because a bunch of Ghosts show up with clearly hostile intent.
Does that mean the Vajra were with the Galaxy fleet?  Only one way to find out.

Though the ruins were wiped out, there's good news to bring back (and maybe not
so good news, depending on what Fierce Suzune is thinking...)  But Battle 7
is under more immediate peril from the Sidereals, and there's no time to waste!

Ozuma is very happy to have Ranka's smile back, even though he knows it brings
her one step closer to leaving the nest and becoming a truly independent
person.  And that's worth a little showmanship for AG along the way.


CHAPTER 18D. The Endless Embodiment of Destruction

Come to find out that Casio used to not only be a Topless, but a complete
stallion who got the top score (as it were) in battle three years running.  It
would have been four, if not for his Finish arriving (refer to the previous
explanation).  Former Fraternity members who Finish either opt to stick around
as "coaches" to the next generation, or return to normal civilian life: there
have been no exceptions to Finishing.  The whole topic sets Nicola notably on
edge, though he recovers his composure quickly.

Now, when Noriko once went from the Earth to the galactic center, precisely
how did she do it?  Simple: "Dimensional Wave Resonant Excitation Transposition
Radial-Displacement Gravity Wave Super-Luminal Transport".  Yeah.  She has to
say it twice and everything.  Basically, it's warp drive -- and with only one
Transposition Reactor out of it's intended two, there's little hope of
recreating the effect.  Nor do any of the aliens, even the Gishin, have
technology that could help -- they max out at maybe a thousand light years at
a pop (and only then with a massive expenditure of energy).

For now, the best the team can hope for is that a series of warps, plus
investigating the Sidereals and other menaces they come across, will get them
back to Earth eventually.  In fact, there's so many dangerous critters roaming
around that even the Sidereals probably want backup: hence, their gathering of
the Earth's Dimensional Energy.  Of course, on that reading it would have been
far better yet if the Sidereals had just _cooperated_ with the Earthlings
instead of besieging them.  Eh, 20/20 hindsight.  Anyway, time to get ready for
warp, which will NOT make clothing transparent like it does in certain anime
Noriko's seen.  Kamon isn't the only guy who thinks this is a shame, but he IS
the only guy who gets called on it.

The first Jump goes well, taking the team all of... 0.8 light years.  Which,
given how big the galaxy is, doesn't really change the scenery much.  Now lest
anyone be too disappointed, Hayato points out that the distance from the Earth
to Pluto is right around 0.001 light years, meaning that the team just did
something that would have taken them several solar system diameters through
space.  Better yet, based on this "test" run, WILL is confident he could do
around 100 light years or so per pop.  Unfortunately, it will take 7 to 10
days to recharge the Getter Rays necessary to initiate a Jump.

And then there are unwanted guests to worry about: more Space Monsters than
could be accounted for by a few stragglers being sent to this world the way
Noriko was.  The only explanation is that they've got a nest at the center of
this world's Milky Way, and given how they've got the ability to follow the
signature of Vanishing Drive-type Jumps, they'll certainly dog every step the
team takes to get home.

  Things get weirder when a bunch of Mikeene(!!) show up.  They might not
  _literally_ be gods, but they're pretty close.  Their previous sojourn on
  the Earth was all on account of Dimensional Energy, and it took a major
  defection by "Zeus" to get them sealed away.  ...And then it took a MAJOR
  effort by the do-gooders du jour to defeat them again once they and their
  king Hardes got decanted.

  All this sets up a menacing scenario where the team has scant likelihood of
  repairs, and massive likelihood of repeated assault by the bad guys.  Kouji
  hits upon a somewhat novel solution: beat the bad guys so hard that they
  won't _want_ to come back.  In response to his ardor, rays of Photon Power
  coalesce into none other than Zeus himself!  Ne'er shall the god of light
  perish, while hope remains in the world.  Kick-ass.

  Zeus is a very obliging guy, even going so far as to send the team as far
  back towards Earth as he can.  It's the least he can do for fellow fighters
  against the menace threatening the universe.  However, it seems that even
  Zeus has people who like to mess with him, and by the time all the dust
  settles, it seems the net result is a sort of one-step-forward, two-steps-
  back kind of thing.

Or, in this case, 230 light years closer to the galactic center.  Several of
the pilots recall hearing an indistinct voice during the transport, which
Kouji is sure is what's responsible for this unexpected outcome.  And by the
way, Zeus and the other Mikeene may be "gods" in the sense of having powers
surpassing that of humans, but they're not related in any fashion to human
ideas of divinely-ordained morality or whatever.  And although the evil
Mikeene seem rather more like demons, they themselves named the Space Monsters
as the true demons.  Kinda puts humans in their place, don't it?

The only option is to fight, and to trust to hope.  Which is cool and all, but
Kodama's got an additional problem to deal with: his eye.  That voice which
interfered with Zeus has made his eye blood-red again, though he can't say (as
he collapses) whether it belongs to the "Angel" or not...

Kouji even consults AG about the difference between gods and mortals.  Though
his grandfather says that Mazinger-Z could enable him to become a god or devil,
and although it can fight on equal footing with the Mikeene, it doesn't feel
like a "god" is merely a stronger category of mortal.  Something more
fundamental ought to differ.  AG doesn't know much about stuff like that, but
he's heard that Z-Chips contain the power for humans to pull off Divine
miracles.  And in fact, it was the power of Z-Chips that miraculously saved
Zeus during the previous war.


CHAPTER 18C. The Loner

Nami's done a pretty handy job getting Sousuke's makeshift mech up to spec for
this battle, including grabbing a few types of weapons he's familiar with.
She still can't quite wrap her head around the idea that this kid-looking dude
is actually VERY experienced in combat.  Sousuke's feeling rather sentimental
at present, reminded slightly of Kaname by the Japanese cast to Nami's features
(she's got some of that blood in her veins), and has decided to have his new
mech colored just like the ARX-7.  He even names it Al the Second.  Such
eccentricities wouldn't even get him in the door at most places, but Nami isn't
most team owners: she hopes she's right that Sousuke's reflexes are truly those
of a seasoned AS pilot.

Otherwise, Team Crossbow is going to lose in a major hurry.  In fact, before
the official battling even begins, if the thugs of Team Ogre have their way.
Sousuke is more than happy to use these guys as "warm-up", assuming they last
even that long.  Sousuke takes nicely to the name "Crossbow", noting however
that his mech isn't up to the standards of a "greater" crossbow, i.e. an
Arbalest.  And his opponents are NOWHERE on the insult-delivery scale.

  This battle, with a busted-ass ancient mech and lame-ass opponents, may not
  be much against the scale of avenging Al and saving Kaname.  But every
  journey has a first step, and this is Sousuke's.  Wasting these clowns is
  enough to put a roof over his head and three square meals a day on his plate.

Elsewhere, Z-BLUE is having a battle briefing under the stars.  Norman wasn't
able to fix much of a supper, but it was still better than the bare-bones
survival fare Kodama scrounged up during his and Suzune's time on the island.
Kodama is surprisingly sensitive about the quality of his cooking, and Suzune
in turn about how little help she was during their exile.

The main question is what to do about proper repairs, with all Mithril
operations in this area destroyed and Kan Yur breathing down the team's neck.
Trusting in the Federation could well result in Chrono-type enveiglements, and
getting to the Far East Base would require cutting across a wide swath of
Sidereal territory.  And to make matters even worse, the team is basically
broke.  Enter this nearby town, where mecha duke it out for cash.  A nice
thought, but the prize money isn't enough to sustain Z-BLUE for long.

Then again, AG's heard that Goat and friends are at another nearby city, and in
need of some help too.  Turns out the city he's in, the affluent industrial
center known as Gulfey, is having bandit problems.  Some are expecting the
Martial church to help them out, though others aren't really thrilled with
the perpetual call to arms.  Kiriko for one isn't at all pleased to hear the
voices of children chanting for battle, nor to accept battle as any sort of
God to be bowed to.

These bandits call themselves the Black Lightning Band, and anything with
"black" in it is automatically held to a higher standard in Roger and Zero's
eyes.  Their plan is to take the whole town over before Martial can mount a
perimeter defense, and that plan abruptly gets derailed when Kiriko turns up in
his newly-customized mech.  The Band are confused as to whether Kiriko is a
reconn unit or what -- Kiriko meanwhile isn't fazed one bit by facing 64:1
odds.

  Help comes from a most unexpected source: the Martial heretic Titania!  She
  may have lost her Auxiliary Brain, but she's still determined to fight, and
  to keep seeking Kiriko out... and keep him safe from her former fellow
  believers.  It doesn't take long for the Martial forces to appear, with
  instructions to wipe out both Kiriko and Titania -- and the mountain bandits
  nearby will just be bonus points for them.

  Seeing that they're after Titania too, Kiriko rushes over and forms up with
  her, allowing them to cover each other's weak spots.  Titania is amazed that
  Kiriko would do that for the woman who killed Fiana, but Kiriko tells her
  that was neither her nor anybody's fault.

  Good timing then for some of the missing Z-BLUE folks to turn up.  They of
  course don't really know what's going on, but when Kiriko tells them that the
  woman aboard his partner-mech isn't an enemy, they've got no choice but to
  trust him.  The same goes for when the rest of Z-BLUE show up.  Karen in
  particular is in a bad mood over Kiriko rushing off ahead, and snaps at
  Kodama that he's got no business second-guessing Kiriko's acceptance of his
  unexpected ally.

I think this is what they used to call a "shooting gallery".  It's also
lucrative for Zero and crew, although one might be tempted to file disposing
of bandits as "Allies of Justice" material too.  All the same, Zero has to feel
a bit stupid for not considering petitioning the Winner house (whose scion is
standing before him) for spare cash.  Ahh, life's little ironies.  Meanwhile,
Kodama still needs to study the female heart more if he's to fully grasp why
Titania allied herself with Kiriko.

To his credit, he wastes no time pinging Suzune for advice, and makes sure to
be part of the conversation when Kiriko tells Titania to "not worry about
stupid stuff" before walking off.  That's Kiriko-speak for "Hey, not bad, plus
don't do anything I wouldn't do".  Kodama inserts that the biggest factor in
changing (as he is trying to do) is *wanting* to change in the first place.
Clearly Titania's change is already underway.

Goat is more than a little impressed that Zero managed to wipe out the Black
Thunderbolts in a single encounter, though Zero sniffs that -- in light of the
fortunate encounter with Hiiro and crew -- their victory is scarcely deserving
of praise.  Roger realizes that Zero is pouting a little because he didn't get
to try any stratagems once Kiriko rushed out on his own.  Regarding all those
Martial units that got trashed, the fact is that there were no witnesses: ergo,
no crime!  Martial's overall resurgence is worrying in and of itself,
especially their determination to arm those with no business fighting in the
first place.

Things take an interesting turn when a man walks in with another job for
Z-BLUE.  It's Lemon, and he wants help investigating the crime syndicate that
runs Namsak.  Meanwhile, Sousuke and Nami have high hopes for today's match,
which could promote them up a level in the team rankings and bring in much
needed cash.

AG is ecstatic after this massive fragdown, racking up extra Z-Chips after
Kiriko's theatrics.  Untouchable, indeed!  Kiriko doesn't sweat that label, but
what he does want to know is: what is God.  Many people in many professions
have tried to answer that question, but what AG thinks of as God is NOT
something one turns to for Salvation.  "Gods" are beings with powers beyond the
mortal ken, to whom a human life is of no account -- beings who would warp the
course of human fate in an instant if it served their inscrutable purposes.
Satisfied with that answer, Kiriko walks off, and C.C. notes that Kiriko must
have sensed what's about to begin -- or perhaps, has *already* begun.

Perhaps that has something to do with Titania?  AG does a bit of ingratiating
himself to her, and gets her to do the "Sale, Sale!" line under the guise of
a welcoming ritual.  Karen rushes in before things get any worse, decking
AG (metal body and all) and expressing a sort of kinship with the silver-haired
cyborg.  Karen's even willing to talk about Fiana, at least, as much as _she_
knows about her...


CHAPTER 19M. An Immense Will

Insofar as the Sidereals' home turf is the galactic center, Ledo finds it
very unusual that they'd transfer such pivotal combat capabilities as the
Reactors, not to mention the Sidereals ruler, all the way out to Earth.  In
other words, so long as this team is near the galactic center, they'd better
prepare for all-out war against the main Sidereal force.

This makes it all the more unfortunate that something seems to be wrong with
Suzune: she's been rather forgetful lately, including everything that she
heard once the Protoculture hologram guy appeared.  HMMM....  Alto meanwhile
has a new toy: the YF-29, enhanced with the latest in Fold Quartz research.  It
is mostly meant as a vehicle for broadcasting Sheryl and Ranka's songs, but
for the time being Alto will have to use it as a pure fighting machine instead.

The more firepower, the merrier when facing the Sidereal might.  The Battle 7
certainly isn't there match, but that's why Z-BLUE is around.  In some sense
it's easy for the team to be on autopilot: when _haven't_ they faced a foe
where failure simply isn't an option?  However, there's a twist this time: a
black Angeroi that is _not_ merely there for show if Kodama's spider sense is
accurate.  Kodama knows that nothing gets accomplished by cowering in fear, and
mustering all his courage he leads Suzune into battle.

  Life gets more interesting when a bunch of Vajra show up, seemingly bent on
  blasting everything and everyone in the area.  Convenient, maybe.  On the
  other hand, Basara is getting royally sick and tired of all this endless
  fighting.

  But as things start looking dire for the world's most reckless musician, who
  should appear but Gepel-whatsherface!  That's Gepelnietzsche in fact: a
  Proto-Devlin that Klan should be petrified of based on species memory alone.
  But she isn't, for some reason.  Gepel isn't surprised: after all, her
  people's rebirth as Spiritia-generating folk mean they're no longer opposed
  to the regular people of this world.

  Quite the opposite, in fact.  Gepel is more than a little miffed at how
  frustrated Basara is, but Sybil believes in him.  That touches off a whole
  new round of songs, songs moving enough that they might just see Basara
  through the 120 million-year apocalypse to come.  Gepel and Gavil head off to
  make sure Basara doesn't have any more unwanted guests.

  In fact, these Angeroi's are VASTLY stronger than any the team has seen
  before.  In fact, Alliance records don't even mention them, which either
  means they're brand new... or that any Alliance units that ran into them
  didn't live to tell the tale.

Mass-production of these new foes is a daunting prospect, but it's less the
mecha themselves that Kodama is worried about, and more about the manner in
which they're made.  The Proto-Devlin forces made it through their part of the
battle okay, which hopefully means Gepel will be around to explain the whole
120 million year thing (since Sybil isn't the most articulate sort, alas).  But
evil is stirring, the kind that turns Kodama's eyes red.  Is it the beginning?
Or the end?

Elsewhere, Asakim seems to know what's going on: the Gate has been opened.  But
why?  A voice tells him sarcastically that it's mere caprice, and reminds him
not to lose heart: the end of his journey is nigh.  AG doesn't know why the
Gate has been opened either, but he sure thinks it sounds like fun!


CHAPTER 19D. Shattering Dimension

Watta and Shotarou, normally two ravenous little kids, are actually curbing
their appetite in recognition of the fact that provisions may be a bit...
scarce in the not terribly distant future.  Kodama has no such inhibitions
though, having recovered nicely from whatever fever had gripped him.  He tells
the kids an anecdote from his own childhood, where his father made sure he ate
properly as a means not only of ingesting nutrition, but of valuing the
*process* of living.  Very wise, said father must have been.

Meanwhile Akagi is doing quite well with all this interstellar warfare for a
wage-slave.  See, it's been his childhood dream to be an astronaut or whatever.
For that matter, Aoyama has harbored similar hopes.  Come to think of it,
this isn't a bad perch to have a brew and gaze at the stars -- something Simon
didn't have time to do when he was theoretically in this neighborhood battling
the Anti-Spirals.  Sadly, Nia (and the Earth) need saving once again, so
there'll be no scenic voyages around the stars on this trip either.

Aannd... there's Sidereals on the starboard bow, starboard bow, starboard bow.
Normally they'd be the most unwanted of guests, but now Z-BLUE is itching to
discover their long-range travel secrets and they're PRECISELY who the doctor
ordered.

Ryouma experiences something very strange during the battle.  First comes the
sensation of someone calling his name, then some sort of hallucination where
he is confronted by old man Saotome himself.  All the members of the team will
be hearing their own conversations, but Ryouma's got a particular set of
visitors to help lend credence to what he's about to here: Musashi and Michiru,
both of whom are of course dead.

Saotome claims to be walking a different path than Corwen and Stinger, and
confirms to all listening that the Getter Rays are indeed responsible for
bringing them here.  Saotome needs to explain things to them about the
destruction, or rather rebirth, of the universe.  This involves the Baals,
whose job it is to erase all life from the firmament -- life, which is the
key to unlocking Origin Rho.  Saotome and the others are conveying this not as
any sort of servants to a higher power, but merely(?!) as people who have
thrown in their lot with the flow of Apotheosis.

[Thus follows the same description of the 120 million-year cycle from the other
path.]

To drive his point home, Saotome decides to show the team just what the final
battle between living and anti-living forces might look like: a new battlefield
full of Invaders and Space Monsters fighting each other.  What better chance
could there be to practice for the real final bout?!  Oh, and to drive home how
abnormal this place is, Kodama draws the team's attention to a giant...
fissure between dimensions, from which pours massive amounts of Dimensional
Energy.  Maybe that's what this battle is about?  In any case, the team has to
hold out for four turns until there's enough energy built up to open a worm
hole and blow this gin joint.

  There are an inexhaustible store of bad guys here, so your best bet is to
  just concentrate on the small(er) fry and get to 100(!) kills ASAP.  That
  will key the full charge of energy to open the Wormhole, and a bit of
  bravado from the team as they make ready to hit the trail.  However, Kodama
  gets the red eye thing as some foreign power initiates a Quake.  Is this the
  end?  Or the beginning?

It's the gate opening thing with Asakim from the other path, is what it is...


CHAPTER 19C. The Fury of Namsak

Sousuke keeps winning, and in the three weeks he's been with Team Crossbow,
they're already up to Rank A.  Sousuke's past is still a mystery to Nami, but
since he (claims he) is bad at talking about himself, he asks her to give her
back story instead.  The old Rk-91 is something she picked up outside her old
village after the people who burned down half of said village abandoned it.
Rebuilding said village is why she's gotten into this battling game, starting
with its school.

Sousuke does find himself wondering if he's doing the right thing, or for the
right reasons, by sticking with this battling business.  Mithril had confirmed
that Amalgam was somehow behind the whole thing, but there's no guarantee that
he'll be able to find clues about Kaname even if he can get close to whomever
is pulling the strings.  Still, with Z-BLUE nowhere in sight, what other choice
does he have?  ...That said, he can feel himself slowly losing himself in this
lifestyle, so far away from the heavy lifting he faced as a Z-BLUE member.
Details about Kaname that used to be so vivid are fading, like what wrist she
wears her watch on or what color her hair ribbon is.  The next thing to go
will be his memory of her smile...

A shopping expedition for mecha parts reminds him of something that Karinin
noted: mecha technology is advancing far faster in this world than it ought to.
The obsolescence cycle is staggering, and not just for AS's either: Camille
indicated that even Mobile Suits and so on are advancing rapidly as well.  The
only commonality he can think of is that they're all humanoid weapons.  Is
that just coincidence?

Watching Sousuke, Lemon's reporterly instincts see something more than just
proficiency.  There is artistry to how Sousuke pilots his mech, hints of a
distant goal that drives him to such heights of proficiency.  Sousuke allows
that he may have a point; at any rate, piloting is the only way he has of
expressing himself well.

Lemon then tells Sousuke that he wants him to take Nami and leave town: his
investigations have told him that whoever is above the folks running the
battling is fed up with this town's excesses, and means to burn the place to
the ground.  He says he wants to spare Nami that kind of mess, and asks Sousuke
using Sousuke's Mithril callsign Urz-7.  Sousuke's pretty sure Lemon's not an
enemy, and wonders why Lemon's concerned about Nami...  When it suddenly dawns
on him that Nami, without any formal engineering training, has been fixing up
mecha and even writing fire control software all on her own.  Could she be a
Whispered also?!?

That would be one hell of a coincidence, wouldn't it?  Sousuke's thinking so
furiously that he notices almost too late that someone is trying to shoot him.
It falls to Lemon to attract his attention so he can dodge.  The bullet is
from Gates, formerly of Amalgam and now a freelancer working for the Fire Bugs.
Part of his job is taking out Mithril survivors, and part of the job is
taking out the trash in this town -- and it looks like he and his buddy Kurama
will be able to do both!  Oh, and Kurama has Nami hostage.

Sousuke now has an even harder decision to make: pursue Gates and maybe get
some valuable information, or go try to save Nami.  He opts for the latter,
and knows that he's got to hurry if he doesn't want a full-scale Fire Bug
assault.  He vows that nobody is going to steal people he cares about again!

  Kurama explains to Nami that Sousuke's the last survivor of Mithril,
  battling the forces of Amalgam all for the sake of a woman.  Nami knows said
  woman isn't her -- but who is it?

  The bad guys have an ambush awaiting Sousuke, and unluckily for him the
  Amalgam agent manages to hit his weapons.  But Sousuke counters this by
  charging at the 3rd-gen AS, a maneuver most definitely NOT in the textbooks.
  The Rk-91, ancient as it is, is also very reliable and very tough.  And in
  a wrestling match, the new -98 doesn't stand a chance.  Mind you, the -91
  isn't exactly infinitely durable either, and Sousuke is forced to let it
  self-destruct in order to get close to Nami.

Kurama's got 9 men with him, and Sousuke can't just charge in if he wants to
live through this.  As Kurama counts down from 10, Sousuke furiously
considers his options.  There are none, basically.  Fortunately, Z-BLUE make
their entrance at precisely the right time, freeing Sousuke up to take care
of Kurama with his own hands.

Kurama realizes that ultimately, the failure of his plans comes down to how
tough Sousuke is -- not so different from he himself.  Sousuke, despite getting
shot several times, manages to take out Kurama and extract several possible
locations where Kaname might be.

With Kurama out, nobody's supervising Gates, and that means he can go on a
rampage.  Beck and his lackeys are along for the ride, despite Beck finding
this whole city-burning thing rather boring.  That ends quickly when Z-BLUE
show up, packing what looks like the Arbalest for the hastily patched-up
Sousuke to pilot.  It lacks a Lambda Driver and an A.I., but it still does all
the other things Sousuke is used to.  Which is good, because he's got a lot of
trash to deal with in this town.

Amalgam no longer finds it necessary to hide its affiliation with the Kingdom,
confirming them as one more group (along with the likes of Neo-Jion) that have
sold mankind to the Sidereals.  That's not going to go well for them in the
long run, if this team has anything to say about it.  Sousuke knows he's got to
hurry, and intends to tell Nami something important once the battle is over.

  Piloting the ARX-7 again makes it that much clearer how big a loss Al's death
  is for Sousuke.  But there's that pervert Gates to punish, and Beck besides
  (who, just maybe, might be starting to rethink his life).  Though the victory
  comes easy today, Zero is left to ponder what possible merit Amalgam might
  see in allying themselves with the Sidereals.  Unlike Neo-Jion, they're not
  trying to become the "scions" of humanity or anything.

Heroics accomplished, Sousuke passes out completely, his wish to see Kaname
the last thing on his lips.  Kaname herself is at an undisclosed location,
still wearing her school uniform as the best way to make herself visible -- for
all the good that will do her.  Leonard's gone elsewhere, and Kaname tries
asking her attendant Sabina where he's gone and for what purpose.  Sabina
can't say precisely, but Kaname can pretty much guess it's either someone from
Chrono, or the Sidereals in person.

It turns out that Lemon's been under special orders -- separate from Mithril --
to investigate Amalgam.  He and the Z-BLUE pilots are happy that getting
everyone back together kept the damages to Kumen to a minimum.  He answers
directly to Lady Une, who forecast a mole inside Mithril long before said mole
helped bring Merida Island down.  He tells Sousuke, who heals _really_ fast,
that his encounter with Team Crossbow was pure happenstance as part of his
digging into Amalgam's backing of the Ogre family.  Nor was he originally aware
of Sousuke himself, until he let slip the codename "Arbalest" -- Lemon _had_
heard a bit about the ARX-7.

And the rest is history.  Sousuke is of course not glad to hear that Mithril is
destroyed, but he _is_ glad to hear that several people survived its downfall,
including Race.  It was she who sent the ARX-7 to him as a present, sort of in
apology for not being more help when Rindai High got attacked.  And then
there's the Rx-91, which Sousuke says belongs to Nami and isn't his to take
with the team.  ...But Nami wants him to have it, given that this city is
hardly in any shape to continue the Battling now.  Not to worry though: she'll
be joining Lemon as his assistant, which Sousuke hopes will help keep her out
of Amalgam's clutches.

Sousuke is able to tell Nami directly that he's fighting to save a woman, who
he loves more than anyone in the world.  She's a little sad that that leaves
no room for her to get close to him, but she and he are able to part as good
friends.  It's time for Z-BLUE to cross the Pacific and head to North America.
Sousuke's got at least more to go on about Kaname's whereabouts than he had
before, and that's a very good thing.

And then there's Leonard, who's meeting someone whose beard STRONGLY resembles
a certain Russian guy.  Said shadowy figure has eliminated most of Amalgam's
commanders on Leonard's orders, putting Leonard in almost sole charge of the
criminal syndicate.  Is an Amalgam, robbed of its amorphous nature, really
that valuable?  All that matters now, opines Leonard, is speed -- and after all
that's why Karinin decided to bet on Leonard.  May the world of the future be
the correct one.

AG is happy to tell Sousuke that his heroic defeat of the three Serpents is
worth 50Z -- a small fraction of what will happen "when" (not "if") he rescues
Kaname.  That faith (even if driven by greed) gladdens Sousuke's heart, and
unless AG is mistaken, will lead him to meet another important partner again
too.  Meanwhile, Mao is happy to turn the tables on AG and convince him to
give her drill-sergeant tutelage a try.  Kodama busts up laughing when AG does
the whole "Sir yes sir!" routine...


CHAPTER 20M. Uncharted Terror

Amata gets to experience what Domon (you remember him, from G-Gundam, right?)
knows as Meikyou Shisui: a heart as limpid and placid as unruffled, mirror-like
water.  Such is the true meaning of Aquarion.  Meanwhile, the signature Gundam
pilots are kind of floating around in space (sans mecha): one should note that
it's NOT the case that only Newtypes are participating, nor that all the
Newtypes (like Tifa) were invited to the conference call.

Leading the parade is Amuro, who in particular seems beset with some crushing
mental burden (and not that of Lalah's soul, as he initially thought).
Through clenched teeth, he haltingly describes the Gundams as that which man
wrought amidst battle, that agency by which mankind presses forward despite
the horrific toll of sins it extracts: the Culture of Fire.  And through it,
mankind will reach the Shining of the Sun, and thence, Apotheosis.

Amuro's trauma is bad, but nothing compared to Kodama.  He's experiencing his
mother doing something he _really_ doesn't like, and shouting that he doesn't
want to die.  None of the women he can think of (his sister, Setsuko, Suzune)
seem willing to save him from whatever terror grips him, and whoever the
green-haired figure is, it's NOT Advent...

After a bit more torment, the team reappear in regular space -- sans the Battle
7.  Positioning sensors continue to indicate a location near the galactic
center, even though the scenery is drastically different.  If anything, the
team seems to have moved closer yet to the galactic center, and yet the
unfamiliarly beautiful scenery suggests the team may be in a *different*
parallel universe.  Then again, dimensional curvature has made the center of
ANY of the teams' galaxies impossible to observe.

Chamber pipes up with the information that the precise galactic center is
believed by the Alliance to be the origin of the Hidiarz and other species
inimical to man: as such, it is the Alliance's ultimate destination in their
war.  Is this where the Sidereals seek to go with all the Dimensional Energy
they're gathering?  And in light of what the team learned at the Protoculture
Ruins, could it be said that the Sidereals are, in fact, fighting to preserve
life in the universe?

Maybe, but it's certainly not encouraging that they're treating the humans like
dirt instead of trying to enlist their aid as allies in such a fight.  That
leaves the humans to fend for themselves, as they must when the various
species that call this region home turn up to defend their turf.  A voice
inside Amata's head is telling him that this place is dangerous.  And Fierce
Suzune seems to have come out to play as Kodama struggles to get his shit back
together.

  The first batch of enemies are easily-enough dispatched, even while keeping
  the flagships safe.  But then a bunch of Sidereals appear, towing along a
  MASSIVE space monster.  What is the emotion the team feels?  Fear?  No, says
  Fierce-Suzune, more like awe.  The kind of awe that impels a small child to
  beg forgiveness when the actually anger an adult.  To capitulate entirely,
  waiting and praying that the fury will pass.

  Scary stuff for most of the team, but Kodama for one can't stand the
  thought of folding here, now.  Char tells the rest of the pilots to follow
  him, to shake off their fear and to smite the enemy.  He's finally figured
  out the meaning of the visions he started seeing since becoming a
  Singularity.  The fundamental menace that confronts mankind isn't the Baals
  at all: it's Them!  They, who seem bent on nothing more than annihilating
  mankind.  And if They are the ones who teleported Z-BLUE here, they're going
  to regret it dearly.

  Something about these bad guys has the team quaking in their boots, drawing
  upon their worst fears to sap them of the will to fight.  What the hell?!

  Fierce-Suzune notices something fascinating about Kodama: the greater his
  despair, the greater his resolve.  The Quarreling Twins ain't no joke!
  Still, when the bad guys send in another shipment of demoralization troops,
  most of the team are feeling pretty sorry for themselves.  So sorry, in fact,
  that the Maiden of Sorrows feels her Sphere react.

This is thanks to "Hamariel the Star", in whose honor a green-haired lady
declares that they must not perish here.  She uses her power to help.  One day
the Earthlings will understand all, and will tread the path to Apotheosis,
surpassing all universes.

Z-BLUE find themselves abruptly back in their own universe, and near the
orbit of Jupiter.  They rapidly meet up with the Dragons' Hive and Getter
folks, all wondering what the fuck is going on.  Cue the debriefing on what
the other half has been going through.  Kodama's had it pretty rough, but he's
used to bouncing back from stuff like this by now -- and it doesn't hurt (in a
way) that the rest of the team can now understand a bit better what kind of
paralyzing terror he's been battling all this time.  But hell, if he can
manage to keep moving forward, so can they.

The team now have info about the fate of the universe, and about the
Sidereal's principal trump card.  A Folds later and they'll be back on Earth,
with a full calendar of trying to kick Sidereal ass.  Never mind the fact
that something's up with Suzune (reminding several of the end of the Time
Prison War).

AG is all thrilled that the team bested (for the time being) those scary
Sidereals, coughing up 100Z in the process.  Setsuko is more than a little
worried about the person who contacted her via her Sphere, but AG isn't fazed.
The more Z-Chips the better, as they are -- in fact -- his people's final hope.

Kodama confirms to AG that he's gotten past sweating his bloody eye thing: if
nothing else, he's capable of at least working on his own issues.  He briefly
asks AG what he can do for Suzune, then realizes quickly that's a bad idea and
walks off before AG can pull any mischief.  Fierce-Suzune then walks up,
bemused that Kodama is so worried about her.  How "precious", she muses, is
is the Quarreling Twins Sphere that it balances every despair with hope.  AG
tells her calmly that it's different for everybody: Gadlight balanced rage
with defeatism, for instance.  Suzune seems quite certain that the 120 million
year cycle is about to commence its climax, as soon as the team return to
Earth.  Sell merchandise while he can, is her advice to AG...


CHAPTER 20D. The Guide

Aoi gets to find out what it's like to have her "instincts" aroused (no, not
THOSE instincts), fundamental drives to be better, faster, stronger and whatnot
in order to live.  Simon meanwhile gets to relive the spiral of Wind, bearing
him and his friends up from the depths unto the highest heights beyond the
heavens.  ...And Kodama is plagued by phantasms, as on the other path.

And like the other path, the team find themselves in what is supposed to be
the exact center of the galaxy (not that it resembles their home universe's
Milky Way in any fashion).  Every universe's galaxy has a core that's shrouded
in mystery, and only one person is known to have come back with any tales of
it at all: Noriko.  In some sense, she was victorious over her universe's
Baals, and perhaps the Sidereals deserve some credit for trying to do the same
here?  Meh, if so, not much.

The view is helluva beautiful, but it's hard to appreciate with all thee
damn enemies around.  All the different species seem united in their desire
to wipe out Z-BLUE.  Basically, this is a scene-for-scene replay of 20M,
except that for the Skill Point, at least one of the precious flag ships must
record at least two kills.

  As on the other path, the team is assailed by overmastering fear, as well
  as a second shipment of bad guys even larger than the first.  As the team's
  morale ebbs, Rand declares that he's not ready to throw in the towel yet.
  The fact he can still feel pain means that he's still alive!

  Leave it to the Wounded Lion to attract a certain someone's attention.  The
  speaker is impressed by how Velkiel the Heat is able to withstand so much
  pain and fear.  One day he will understand all, and that includes Apotheosis.

But for now, the team is reunited with the other path at Jupiter.  Cue the
reintroductions, the Kodama waking-up party, and the resulting conversation
with AG.


CHAPTER 20C. The Return Man

The infamous Traia's laboratory has apparently gotten a bit of a reputation:
the "City Where Oni Weep".  Said "oni" might refer to Crow, the long-running
test pilot of Traia's "Blaster" series of mobile weapons, utilizing the most
cutting-edge of super-dimensional physics.  Traia is one of Z-BLUE's staunchest
allies (as well as being one of its most idiosyncratic) and it's not surprising
that she's called out to Z-BLUE for a little assistance -- the Kingdom is a
foe unlike anything she's had to deal with before.

That would be why she isn't residing at her own laboratory, but at another
secure facility off-site.  A functionary shows Z-BLUE around when they finally
arrive at the Scott Laboratory complex, noting that the nearby city is all but
deserted save for Traia's devoted lab rats.  Oh, and a couple emissaries of a
different kind: Kei and M.O.M.E.!

Roger figures out at once why Kei would have been cooped up with the werefox-
mask-wearing scientist: he's a Greater Singularity, with everyone from the
Sidereals on down breathing down his neck.  An invitation from the beautiful
Traia was something Kei couldn't refuse.  Traia's evidently cracked whatever
mystery needed Kei at arm's reach, so he's back on the loose and ready to
resume his usual heroics.  Kodama quips that he's been looking out for a hero
of late, leading Kei to note that he's grown a lot since he saw him last.
Could that be due to some "private lessons" from his teacher?  Suzune shows
her maturation too by saying that that's up to his imagination.  OH TEH
DOUJINSHIS!!

...Anyways.  Traia's given Kei a secret code that will let her lab, and ONLY
her lab, contact her at her current location.  Her high security precautions
are no joke.  Nor is the subject of her communique: from what she can tell, the
other half (or more) of Z-BLUE has ended up near the center of the galaxy
after that Quake -- a distance that even the Macross Quarter won't be able to
retrace easily.  The implication is clear: the remaining Z-BLUE members may
well have to face the Sidereals on their own.

That's the bad news.  The good news concerns those ancient ruins found in
Limonecia at the end of the Time Prison war.  It turns out they were built by
the Protoculture (yes, _the_ Protoculture), implying that they were capable of
moving between parallel universes.  Numerous factors support this commonality,
including the similar location of Protoculture-related artifacts on the
different Earths, the common language inscribed thereon, and so forth.  What
this has led her to is a message regarding the now-famous 12k-year cycle of
annihilation.

As per the other path, the incidence of the Baals is about wiping out life
forms, whose very existence constitutes the key to unlocking Origin Rho.  It
turns out to be no surprise that Kodama got mixed up in all this: his mother,
in addition to being a fellow superdimensional physicist of Traia's, was also
a noted antiquities scholar.  Mind you, Kodama was all of six years old, and
living with his father, when his mother published her blockbuster thesis on
the topic...

Anyway, evidence suggests that defeating the Baals will allow the universe to
remain un-destroyed past the 12k year time limit... and move on to face the
True End, which occurs every 120 MILLION years.  The details are again the same
as on the other path, including the possibility that the Sidereals could have
earned the Earth's cooperation had they not simply INVADED the place in search
of Dimensional Energy.

The talk of Kodama's mother has him very much down in the dumps, and he
excuses himself to go work on his mech.  Whoever his mother was in life, she
seems to have cast a long shadow not just over him, but over Traia and even
the helpful lab lady.  Said lab lady knew Esther quite well while she was at
the lab, but something happened to her -- something she doesn't get a chance
to relate when a bunch of enemies attack.

Kodama rebounds quickly from the blues, at least from what he shows to the
outside world.  Dollars to donuts, whatever happened to his mother is at the
root of his (formerly?) cold exterior -- would would be a great subject to
explore at some time when the Sidereals aren't breathing down your neck.
Today's batch are led by Sardias, smug as ever, who as much as takes credit
for sending the rest of Z-BLUE to the galactic core.

Titania asks why the Sidereals are beefing with Martial, Sardias knows only
that something about their version of "god" doesn't sit well with Australis.
Australis' presence is the supposed reason the Sidereals have sent in their
"elites", though Zero astutely notes that if many of them are like Giltar,
"elite" isn't a terribly impressive word.  Sardias can't refute that except
through a show of his own force.

  Whatever happened to Ester, Karen is determined to protect the lab that was
  her home as a tribute.  That will become rapidly impossible once Strauss
  shows up, so Zero sets a strict time limit for the team before a retreat will
  be in order.  Luckily the civilians are basically evacuated from this area,
  so there's little fear of hostage-taking or whatnot.

  Dabalarn thinks he can take out Z-BLUE before that retreat can occur, but
  then Crow strides onto the scene, fat and sassy from finally getting out from
  under all that debt he used to bear (thanks to the info about the Sidereals
  he gathered back on the green Earth).  That smugness quickly turns to horror
  when he hears a prerecorded message from Traia, informing him that he's
  accumulated a new million-G debt from the effort it took Traia to send his
  mech to him during the Z3R campaign.

  Ah well, "Million-Dollar Man" doesn't sound so bad after all, does it?  Plus
  it's not the first time he's had that much debt hanging over him, which is
  either really impressive or the diametric opposite.  Either way, Crow's on
  the team now, and happy to be working with an enthusiastic kid like Kodama.

  Getting Tactical Combo MAX multiple times is the sort of heroics the team
  will need to overcome their tactical and even strategic disadvantages.
  Certainly Dabalarn and Sardias don't put up much of a fight, but Strauss
  shows up a bit ahead of schedule -- and doing the ride-along thing is none
  other than Australis himself!  Crow feels the Sidereal ruler's eyes on him,
  and apparently Australis decides in a big hurry that the Swaying Scales are
  beneath his concern.

This _would_ seem to be a good time to take down Z-BLUE's two Sphere Reactors
and the Singularity, but some kind of _unusual_ Dimensional Quake occurs first.
Whatever it is resembles what happened in Neo Tokyo-2, and once again Kodama
goes all red-eyed.  Z-BLUE vanishes, and Australis sounds genuinely confounded
as to what the hell is going on.

Cue Asakim's "the Gate has been opened" speech, and AG's imitation of it.


CHAPTER 21MD. Jupiter Crisis

[I kept the "M" route because it was more lucrative.  And man is it starting to
take forever to put both halves of the squads back in order...]

It turns out the Celestial Beings' base has been near Jupiter all this time,
perfect for the high-gravity conditions needed to construct Solar Reactors.
Besides their base are a smattering of facilities used by the Helium-3 mining
fleets, meaning there's an abundance of provisions available for a change.
After getting Shinn to shut up about Ian's marriage to Linda (25 years his
junior), the team get busy with some genuine mad science -- using a bit of
help from Banarj and the Unicorn.

Cut to the aftermath of the group shower scenes, where Nono praises Noriko for
having a MUCH hotter body than she thought.  Noriko is flattered, and says that
her elder sister and Jung both have even more awesome breasts, seemingly
unaware for a moment that the entire rest of the team (guys included) are sort
of standing right there.  As snarky comments get bandied about, Ledo points out
that in the Alliance, baths and almost all other functions are held without
regard to sexual dimorphism -- triggering even more commentary from the
hormonally-charged crew.

Soon however the conversation turns to the mysterious beauty who seems
responsible for sending the crew back to the Solar System.  The general
consensus is that she didn't seem to be an enemy, even given that she obviously
has some connection to Kodama's whole red-eye thing.  Apart from some frequent
flyer miles, the biggest takeaway from the trip is the explanation for the
12k-year universe destruction mechanism: that the Baals sprout up to obliterate
all life.  Defeat them, and the universe should be A-OK!  ...We hope.

The real question is what the various creatures swarming in the galactic
center are going to do.  It's all very well and good to claim the Vajra aren't
a type of Baal because they can (theoretically) be communicated with, but Ledo
is adamant that one can't wait around forever for a Rosetta stone when one's
friends are being attacked and killed by the hundreds at a time.  Should the
Hidiarz attack again, he'll not hesitate to shoot to kill.  Kodama feels the
same, even though it would obviously be better if diplomacy availed first.

One thing Ledo didn't do while at the galactic center was return to the
Alliance, mostly because there was no time to consider the question of
_whether_ he ought to.  And conveniently the plot won't let him do so now,
either: a new batch bad guys shows up.  Nicola is off somewhere, having said
vaguely that he was going to send data from the previous battles to someone or
other.  Tielia and Setsuna will be a little while in sortying, since their
little science project isn't quite complete yet.

The bad guys are Space Monsters of the type the Topless have fought before,
and they're on a course to the Celestial Beings' base.  Obviously they've got
to be kept at bay, especially until Setsuna appears.

  The Space Monsters keep sending reinforcements, and on their tail is
  something the team has never seen before.  Hunks of what look to be metal,
  which attack and attempt to EAT, and/or combine with, their quarry.  The
  Space Monsters seemingly figure out that they're no match for these things
  and beat it in a big hurry.  That leaves Z-BLUE to face them, since once
  again they're headed for the CB base.

  Neither Char nor Amuro can make heads or tails of this new enemy's thought
  patterns, and that's very worrying in and of itself.  What's worse, it seems
  these enemies' attacks are geared not to destroy their targets physically,
  but rather mentally!  Any pilot rendered unconscious would become unable to
  resist assimilation, so the team will have to be extra careful to withdraw
  before that happens.

  In the final analysis, these things don't appear to be vehicles at all, but
  rather some form of _living_ _metal_.  If these are Baals, why are they
  attacking the CBs' base in particular?  In any case, the team's gotta fight
  them off, and hopefully the Double-0 Quanta (still not fully complete) will
  prove helpful.

The Quanta might seem pretty kick-ass now, but its true strength lies in
another dimension.  And as it nears completion, Setsuna's Innovator abilities
will be drawn out to their full extent (sort of like how the Unicorn does that
for Newtypes).  As the pilots return to base, Setsuna has the nagging feeling
that these thingies might not be Baals after all...

In any case, they will be referred to as Extraterrestrial Livingmetal
Shapeshifters (ELS's) for now, and treated as being _comparably_dangerous_ to
the Baals thanks to the inability to communicate with them.  Unless someone can
figure out how to block their assimilation abilities, a large force of them
could even pose an existential threat to mankind.  For now though, there's the
problem of the Sidereals to confront, and that means return to Earth via Mars.

The two idol singers confide to Alto that they, like Setsuna, aren't so sure
these ELS's are really mindless creatures that can't be communicated with.
Recall that the Vajra were pretty inscrutable at first too.  Maybe singing at
them won't work, but _something_ ought to.  Amuro walks over and agrees:
unlike the Space Monsters and Invaders, he doesn't sense anything destructive
per se in their actions -- and DOES feel some kind of a will at work in them.
Certainly it wouldn't be a bad thing if they COULD be reasoned with, especially
in the interest of avoiding yet more warfare.

As Alto heads off to tell the others, Amuro tells Setsuna a story from when he
was staying with Ribbon.  Ribbons once asked him rhetorically how mankind
should communicate with an alien species with whom they couldn't exchange
words.  Why Ribbons would broach such a topic isn't clear to Amuro, but Amuro
DOES know that Ribbons had delved very deeply into Ioria's project notes by
that point.  Amuro is very much looking forward to seeing what the Quanta
makes possible -- maybe what mankind is really doing right now is seeking a
path that will let them truly branch out among the stars.

AG's attempts to sexually harass Ian's daughter do not, suffice it to say,
succeed very well...


CHAPTER 21C. Encounter

Hiiro is totally shrooming out, consciousness expanded and tuned into the
voices of all people.  They seek the peace that comes after the war, and
getting there will require... Gundams!  Kodama meanwhile is being terrorized by
visions of his mother, and then by an image of a woman who may or may not be
out to save him.  While all this is happening, apparently the team is being
teleported to the precise center of the galaxy, if AG's calculations are
correct.  What's more, evidence suggests it's not the center of this world's
Milky Way: the team seems to have hopped dimensions as well as spatial
distance.

It's hard to be certain, since _every_ world's Milky Way's core is shrouded
in dimensional distortion and its true nature is quite unclear.  The only
exception he knows of is the world Noriko comes from, in which it's been
conclusively proven that the Space Monster's nest is at the center.  Since no
such thing is in sight, the parallel-worlds hypothesis seems sound.

AG's second-hand transport is scarcely capable of inter-planetary transport,
much less pan-dimensional, multi-thousand-light-year type travel.  Be that as
it may, Kodama quickly gets his shit together and encourages AG to do whatever
it takes to help get them home -- radio into his colleagues, etc.  Meanwhile
he and whoever else can sortie will be patrolling the area, looking for
anything of possible use.  Like Kiriko tells Titania, this team is packed with
people whose motto seems to be "There's be time to despair after you're dead".

Kodama's morale boost is pretty well-timed, and Crow can see that he's been
learning quite a bit from Rand a Setsuko.  He wants to contribute something to:
a saying he first heard when he joined the army.  "Resentment makes a man.
Wretchedness makes a man.  Sorrow makes a man.  And the greatest of enemies
shall truly make you a great man."  Interestingly, Kodama's heard that once
before (from his father) -- and it's not a bad thing for him to hear again.
The two of them will have some serious sparring to do once this mission is
over: they've got a lot in common, including a weakness for older bespectacled
women.  And that Kodama's dad would choose a martial art as hard-core as Jeet
Kune Do raises Crow's hopes that Kodama will be equal to the faith Advent
placed in him.

As on the other paths, even sober heads on the team are forced to marvel at
just how beautiful this place is.  And like the other paths, sightseeing is
interrupted by a mixed force of Space Monsters, Invaders, Vajra, lions, tigers
and bears.  Oh my.  Things get downright lame when the TdD shows up for no good
reason other than plot convenience, it having been embroiled moments earlier
in a battle with the Sidereals.

Tessa knows Sousuke must be busting ass to try to get Kaname back, and quickly
resolves to form up and help everyone stay alive.  She has the message sent
out that NO ONE is to die without her permission!

Is all this the workings of the Stigma the team members bear?  Who knows.  What
we do know is that the terror troops from the other paths show up, and Crow
drops another pearl of timely wisdom.  When faced with overwhelming odds, the
thing to say is "Who Cares?"  Because, that totally improves the morale
situation and stuff.  Well, when faced with level 70 enemies, I guess that's
better than nothing.  This time around, Crow does carry the day, as the green
haired lady declares that Zariel the Unbreakable must not perish here, etc.

The team are abruptly teleported to the Z.O.N.E. on Mars, where the meet a
bunch of Insalaum troops who sound EXTREMELY glad to see Crow.  If the
Arcsabers are offering aid, Crow sure isn't going to turn it down.

Tessa informs her troops of the downfall of Mithril, as well as how Karinin
has been declared MIA.  As Mardukas briefs the rest of the, Sousuke (who Tessa
is glad to see still has his fighting spirit) goes to check on Sousuke (who
had the whole bloody eye thing going again).  Tessa then explains to Mao that
the reason she's not spending more time with Sousuke is that he already turned
down the possibility of the two of them being in love.  So she's redoubled her
efforts as captain instead, and Mao declares that Tessa is going to make one
FINE woman some day.  Let's worry about "when" that would be once they all get
back to Earth in one piece.

As on the other path, Kodama has bounced back from unconsciousness and red-
eyedness quite handily.  As the team peer out the portholes at the Z.O.N.E.,
Kodama wonders if the Cursed Wanderer means to fight the Sidereals too...

After Kodama's conversation with AG, Crow turns up -- strangely, he and AG seem
to get along better than most.  Crow asks AG to fix him up a bouquet: there's
someone on Mars whose grave he'd like to pay respects to (even though they were
formerly an enemy).  Fierce-Suzune hopes Crow is a good influence on her
partner, and as on the other paths is looking forward to seeing what happens
next...


CHAPTER 22MD. Mars Encounter

Somewhere within the Topless' base sits the lair of the Serpentine Sisters, who
automatically sound like SUCH NICE PEOPLE... especially since they're named
after luxury watch brands LeCoultre and Piaget.  It is they who sent Nicola to
Z-BLUE, though they never dreamed he'd bring back this much data from so far
afield.  All they've got to do now is awaken "It" and steal its power... and
they won't have to feast on Jupiter Crab any longer...

Z-BLUE meanwhile have returned to the scene of Yuusar's defeat, and Asakim's
sealing away: the Z.O.N.E. on Mars.  The Z.O.N.E. is very much offline, as one
would expect from Asakim's being at large -- the real question is why would
have unleashed the dangerous dude, and why.  Maybe the Arcsabers, remnants of
the Insalaum force, can answer?  Their hospitality is very much appreciated
after all this travel, and is testament to the fact that Yuusar's actions were
not entirely in vain.  May he rest in peace.

In fact, the Insalaum knights considered committing suicide en masse once they
realized they'd be part of a dirty war, but Margret managed to convince them
to honor their prince's memory through good works.  Margret herself has headed
to the Earth, and has fallen out of radio contact.  The Arcsabers themselves
have had their hands full with an enemy of their own on Mars, ever since the
Time Prison ended and the universe reached a new level of mixed-uppedness.

Said enemy -- calling themselves "Meganoids" -- had them stalemated until an
unknown party, cloaked in a magnetic storm, destroyed the enemy home base.  At
around that some time, someone made it past the guards around the Z.O.N.E. and
freed its prisoner.  The Arcsabers are only too happy to let Z-BLUE investigate
the Z.O.N.E., especially since Asakim _is_ the person who slew their king back
when.

Shikuu pays a visit to where the Meganoid base once stood, apparently in order
to confirm that the Chrono Progressives there are truly defunct.  There he
finds Banjou, whose father was numbered among those Progressives.  Banjou
recounts the tale of his father attempting to accelerate evolution by creating
a new strain of humanity, with vastly amplified egos: the Meganoids.  For this
work, he sacrificed his own wife and son, and Banjou's repaid that mad science
in full (off-screen -- one wonders if this Z franchise wasn't originally going
to be 4 installments long...)

Banjou and Shikuu, light and shadow, have heard of each other already.  Banjou
also knows that Chrono in its entirety was backed by the Sidereals, and he
swears by the red soil of this planet that the Sidereals are going down for
what they've done.

The Z.O.N.E. is an imposing structure: testament to power that can be a life
saver or a life stealer depending on how it's used.  An apt metaphor for the
juggernaut Z-BLUE itself is becoming.  Kodama is stretching out with his
feelings and all trying to figure out what happened here, but when he checks
with Suzune for a second opinion she apologizes and says that her danger senses
don't seem to be working lately.  Perhaps it's all the positivity he's
instilled in her?

Anyways, Shikoku shows up with a bunch of Sidereals, congratulating Z-BLUE for
returning to Earth and announcing that she'll fight them "while she's in the
neighborhood".  She won't elaborate on that, saying only that should Z-BLUE
actually manage to stir some emotion in her or her commander's heart, she'd
be much the gladder for it.

  When Shikuu finally shows up he's in a bit of a hurry, having found his
  mission already done for him.  He'll give Kodama 3 turns of his time.  Come
  to find out Shikoku is Shikuu's younger sister -- somehow this fact proves to
  the team that Shikuu is a "person" like them, and therefore can be defeated.
  Tenuous logic at best, but whatever works...

  Something unseen happens on turn 3 -- something that actually seems to have
  Shikuu worried.  He decides to try to take Kodama out, using _teleporation_
  to keep pace with Kodama's rapid movements.  Such tricks are nothing for a
  bona fide Third Stage reactor, and although he believes Kodama could reach
  that level if given enough time, circumstances no longer permit that.  He
  won't let "Him" have Kodama's Sphere.  He tells Kodama not to resist if he
  doesn't want this to hurt (which Fierce-Suzune seems not to like hearing),
  and fires his big gun...

  ...only for Advent to appear out of nowhere and nullify the attack.  What the
  fuck?  Oh and guess who he's got with him?  Asakim!  Yes, not only was
  Advent playing dead, he was also responsible for the jailbreak of the
  millennium.  For what it's worth, Asakim doesn't seem to be very happy at the
  moment, murmuring that Z-BLUE can feel free to laugh at him if they wish.
  AND, Advent offers assurances that Asakim's only target now is Shikuu.

  Kodama is understandably hesitant to just follow Advent's lead after this
  revelation, but before Shikuu can exploit the confusion Banjou pops up.  A
  few hasty introductions later and he's got Kodama agreeing to follow his
  lead -- Banjou reckons this kind of shock won't go away easily.

  Advent offers the team this choice: trust him, or shoot him.  This no real
  choice at all: everyone knows (and Char states) that taking down Shikuu has
  to take priority for now.  All this bitterly amuses Asakim, who tells
  Setsuko and the other Stigmatics that they're in the same boat as him.

  Advent almost seems to be playing with Shikuu, taunting him for each little
  bit of emotion he shows.  Shikuu's good at killing his emotions though,
  leaving only a deep void -- deep perhaps, but maybe not as deep as the
  Infinite Hell that Asakim experienced.

  As was the case before, Shikuu seems especially interested in taking out
  Setsuko.  Is there something about here Sphere that might hold the key to
  victory??

  Shikuu remains emotionless even as the damage to his mech piles up.  He
  assures the Z-BLUE pilots that he's every bit as human as they are.  He
  bleeds if cut, and will die eventually.  They aren't having that much, so he
  dares them to try and kill him once and for all.  Asakim certainly wants to
  try: the four Spheres he already possesses are calling out for blood.

In fact, Shikuu is not enough of an idiot to confront the united power of
*seven* Spheres all by himself, running when the going starts to actually
get tough.  Advent tells Asakim not to pursue: there's no need to rush the
conclusion of all this.  Perhaps, but Asakim isn't inclined to stick around
either -- content though he would have been to stay asleep forever, now that
a Certain Someone woke him up, he's so restless it's pathetic (his wording).

Advent claims that he wasn't actually the one who freed Asakim, though he _did_
have his reasons for traveling alongside the guy.  Suffice it to say perhaps
that he enlisted Asakim's aid against Chrono.  In any case, Z-BLUE hasn't had
very good experiences in the past with people who played dead.  Though, Advent
chalks the False Black Sheep's instance of that up to it being well within the
purview of his Sphere.  Advent, he claims, only ever speaks the truth.

Advent then pressures Kodama for an endorsement, which Kodama gives verbally
albeit without being willing to look Advent in the eyes.  Like Asakim, Advent
is going to depart on some business of his own -- but he's sure he'll see
Z-BLUE again: after all, they are are headed to the same destination.  He tells
Kodama he's looking forward to the day he can surpass both despair and hope.
Kodama, for his part, is going to have to think long and hard about his
feelings regarding Advent's being alive -- clearly not all of them are
positive.

No sooner does Advent leave than Crow and the rest of Z-BLUE turn up.  Cue the
explanation of the other path's events.  Rand and Setsuko conspire to make
Crow think that his renewed debts are all his fault, secretly hoping to give
him renewed vigor that will keep his Sphere powers going.

Kodama is cooped up in his cockpit, thinking about the whole Advent business.
Suzune comes to check on him, telling him to take his time and that she'll
be back when dinnertime arrives (crikey, doesn't anyone have cel phones, or
even a wristwatch with an alarm??).  But Fierce-Suzune makes a very
interesting mental observation: even as Kodama's hopes rise due to Advent's
resurrection, so too does his despair.  This Sphere thingie really is
something else.  Come to find out that Kodama is back in the red-eye zone.
He'd really love it if Advent, or anyone, could explain what the hell is
happening to him...

Shikoku certainly doesn't fit the stock image of a "younger sister" that many
of the superficial pilots have.  All those emotions are worth 50Z, and AG
would give a lot to see Shikoku actually call Shikuu her "elder brother" to
his face.  Meanwhile, it seems that this Banjou comes from a parallel world
from the one with the Haran Foundation and all that business, and AG delights
in regaling Banjou's assistants with that other Banjou's exploits.


CHAPTER 22C.

Once again, we hear about the Arcsabers are only un-suicided because Margret
convinced them to live on and work for the good of the people.  They're more
than a little worried about Crow getting "back together" with her, even
though Crow stoutly maintains that his relationship with the High Knight
involves no funny business.  As on the other path, she's been incommunicado
ever since heading to Earth.  And as on the other path, the Z-BLUE folks on
the scene will check the Z.O.N.E. for clues of who might have decanted Asakim.

More or less this is the same battle as on the other side, except with Barbiel
instead of Shikuu.  One difference is that Kodama has been trying his martial
arts out on Crow -- and Crow's "Systema" took Kodama's Jeet Kune Do 4 falls to
1.  This says several things, first and foremost being that Crow is NOT your
average indebted stiff.  Secondly, it's a testament to how Kodama seemingly
needs to work on finishing fights, given that 3 of those falls were sudden-
reversal scenarios.  The biggest issue is that Kodama has occasional moments of
hesitation -- that "paralysis by analysis" is something Kodama needs to get
past by learning to trust in his own power.

The other difference is that the enemies who attack are actually remnants of
the Marimea army!  They apparently fled to Mars, determined to found their
own country and get back at the Federation for taking their pride.  Argh,
still with the "winners and losers" talk, despite the peril facing the Earth
as a whole.  Time to get rid of them, and the memory of Dekim, permanently.

  Barbiel turns up in a little while, and actually _denies_ credit for the
  Marimea folks' highly developed sense of being pissed off at life: that's
  their own fault.  According to him anyway, hatred is far more fundamental,
  and permanent, in the human heart than love.  In particular, he doubts that
  Zero and Kodama will ever be free of the hatred in their hearts.

  Zero isn't having it, but it's true that at this rate, Z-BLUE will be caught
  between the two forces.  Fortunately the Arcsabers turn up, prepared to
  pit their shameless devotion to what's right versus the Marimea Army's
  prideful devotion to what's wrong.  Which leaves Z-BLUE to face Barbiel's
  forces, and as on the other path Advent intervenes with Asakim in tow.

  Banjou then follows suit and all, and the rest of the battle is like the
  other side.

Cue the reunion stuff.  To give an idea of just how powerful the propositioning
can get on this team, Kurtz and Kei both keep their eyes on the curvaceous
Sybil, even when they find out that a) she can't really talk in words, and b)
she's a Proto-Devlin, which kind of makes her a Spiritia-draining succubus (or
at least it did past-tense).



CHAPTER 23. The Final Visitor

[With great reluctance, I chose the 22MD path to keep, mainly because of the
greater resources it generated.  Story-wise, I think I might like the 22C
route an iota or two better.]

If you didn't see Crow before, he and Kodama hit it off well, including the
agreement for a Jeet Kune Do vs. Systema showdown.

So a lot has happened in the month and a half since most of Z-BLUE was tossed
out into space.  The Kingdom, aided by Neo-Jion and Amalgam, has been on a
winning streak.  Only the vicinity of Japan and the New World Continent still
pose any credible resistance: even North America (backbone of the Federation)
has been mostly overrun.  However, guerilla warfare is alive and well, and the
"points and lines" nature of the Sidereals' Terminal Base / Leyline strategy
makes their power structure inherently fragile.

That said, charging in without a plan is a recipe for disaster, if the first
battle of Wrath Babylon is anything to go by.  Z-BLUE has of course grown much
stronger since then, but there's no magical vending machine from which the
team can keep powering up its forces.  As such, Zero declares, it's "simply"
a matter of discovering -- or manufacturing -- a way to win using Z-BLUE at its
current strength.  Where there is hope, there is light, remember?

Clearly there isn't much time, and as daunting as it sounds, there's more than
just the Sidereals to worry about.  Roger presumes there's some reason the
legendary Banjou is MC'ing this gig, and is looking forward to even a single
ray of light into this whole dark morass.  And an impressive ray it is: Banjou
has located the gigantic spacefaring "Celestial Being" mothership!  Steal that
back, and with it will come the pivotally-important Veda: more than a little
bit useful in planning future counter-offensives.

Sumeragi however is very cautious at this point: how is it that Banjou has come
by information that the surviving CBs, with all their clout, weren't able to
uncover?  It came from a member of Chrono: neither a Progressive nor a
Conservative, but evidently a women by her codename: Queen.  The location she
provided is in a seemingly unremarkable area of space some distance removed
from the Earth sphere -- and it's equally likely to be a trap as it is the
truth.  Seeing as how Z-BLUE can't really get any more disadvantaged, this sort
of thing is a risk they must be willing to take -- and after Nicola confirms
that Z-BLUE means to live through this no matter what, it seems that the whole
team is agreed.  Let this be the first step to taking the Earth back!

As the terrifying assortment of Z-BLUE troops converge on the indicated point,
they do IN FACT spot the Celestial Being.  Its optical camouflage is disabled,
almost as though they don't expect anyone to visit.  Whatever the case, Rand
has volunteered to team up with Kodama, ostensibly to reinforce all that smile
training during an actual battle.  In reality, Rand knows as well as the other
seasoned pilots that Kodama is wavering, and means to support the kid as nicely
as possible.  The thought of the formerly blank-faced Kodama busting out the
Heat Smile would make any member of his high-school fanclub wail and gnash
their teeth, but Kodama seems anything but concerned: he can always charm new
converts to his cause later!

...All of which is fine and dandy, but it turns out there was one more reason
Rand has teamed with Kodama.  He sensed Strauss among the bad guys, and has
this uncanny feeling like he's got to face this fearsome opponent.  Dabalarn is
also present on the Sidereals' side, and despite the team's fears, it sounds
like the Sidereals did NOT expect Z-BLUE's arrival.  If anything, Strauss'
plans for Z-BLUE apparently involved a showdown elsewhere, meaning that Queen
was at the very least not treacherous at the outset.

With the other enemy Reactors elsewhere, this is a good a chance as any to
take out the Sidereal commander and secure the Celestial Being.  The team had
better hurry, lest reinforcements mire the battle into a war of attrition.

  Rand has this advice for Kodama: forget about everything about Advent, except
  the thankfulness that the guy is alive.  He somehow senses the burning soul
  behind Strauss' mask, and notes that had they not been enemies, he bets
  they'd have made great drinking buddies.  The rest of the team are ready to
  let Rand have his hot-blooded man-to-man duel with Strauss, but Setsuko
  reckons that someone REALLY ought to help -- Strauss way outclasses Rand,
  even with Kodama tagging along.

  But Crow stops her, recognizing the sensation of these two combatants from
  somewhere before: the final battle with Insalaum.  As the combatants close
  range, Sphere Resonance begins -- but this is FAR more powerful than the way
  Crow resonated with Yuusar.  In that instant, Rand and Crow glimpse a "red"
  Earth -- from which emerges a quartet of EVAs.  They differ in small
  details from the ones the team knows, but since Shinji seems to recognize
  Kodama, they're evidently the same EVA folks that the team encountered
  before.

  Strauss immediately switches to attacking them, so Sumeragi orders the team
  to protect them.  Apparently the EVAs *had* been in some battle at the
  deepest level of Central Dogma, when *someone* pulled free one of the spears
  that held Lilith in place.  Bad move.  The world, realizing that it might
  be on the brink of destruction, kind of kicked the EVAs out.  Or something.
  Shinji's been facing some deep personal crisis stuff, but at the urging of
  Kodama and friends, he concludes that this is indeed where he belongs (to
  Kaworu's delight) and forms up.

  Crow concludes that Rand's Sphere must be extremely compatible with Strauss',
  though that might not be enough to explain the burst of fear Rand felt
  in Strauss' heart.  Strauss actually flees, leaving in his wake a raft of
  bad guys.  Shinji and Asuka seem to be having some huge fight, but both of
  them realize they can't afford to be defeated here.  Oh, and for the record
  the "Ayanami" who's here isn't the Ayanami Shinji knows.  Oh teh angsts!

With the final Royal military units destroyed, the non-combatants on the
Celestial Being hop in some transports and flee.  Thank god they didn't
detonate the damn thing -- credit them at least with understanding how
important Veda is.  Still, there's probably traps and stuff, so truly
occupying the Celestial Being is likely to be slow going.

Asuka asks -- politely, for a change -- to borrow one of the Ptolemy's
conference rooms for a little chat amongst her fellow EVA pilots.  Apparently
there's going to be some REAL TALK(tm) between her and Shinji...

The sweeper teams have found no booby-traps aboard the Celestial Being, further
underscoring the concept that they genuinely didn't expect Z-BLUE's arrival.
Or perhaps they *were* expecting Z-BLUE, but not expecting Strauss to fail?
Strauss combat records to date are certainly confidence-inspiring, but it's
anyone's guess what his real capabilities are, or why he was so quick to leave
today.  Sumeragi's got other things on her mind though: chiefly, the enigmatic,
hyper-powered EVAs.  What the hell happened to them, and why are they back?

After a quick history lesson to catch up on what's been going on in this world,
Kaworu starts talking about things we haven't heard yet.  He too has the idea
that withdrawing one of the Spears in Central Dogma caused their world to
reject them, producing a Quake and tossing them all here.  Kaworu's identity
seems mysterious to the girls, so he introduces himself merely as the pilot
of EVA 13.

Asuka'a beef seems to be this: she and Mari are piloting "Vire"s created to
destroy "Shinji's" NERV, on account of how NERV nearly caused the Third
Impact 14 years ago.  As it is, Shinji's desire to save Ayanami kind of sort
of messed up half the world.  Sure, maybe it wasn't really Shinji's fault or
whatever, but where are the survivors supposed to direct their anger?!  Not,
Mari inserts, at Shinji the "puppy" if they want to get results.  What really
sucks if you're Shinji is not even the Public Enemy Number One part -- it's
that he actually sort of failed to save Rei also.

Kaworu tells Shinji to stop moping, reminding him that they've already
decided to repair the world.  And while Kaworu can understand why Asuka equates
that with destroying mankind, there's more to it.  Not that he seems in much
hurry to explain himself.  Instead, he advises that the EVAs hang with Z-BLUE
for a while, given how it's peopled by those friendly to the EVA pilots and
who could hopefully keep them safe until they figure out how to get back home.

Asuka doesn't outright refuse his offer of a truce until then, and Shinji
mumbles that Kaworu should be the one to decide stuff.  Mari's all down with
the program, but given how pissy Asuka is, and how utterly passive and SOS-mode
Shinji's being, it's anybody's guess how the EVA pilots will fare.

Thank gawd that the Sidereals, with all their might, seemingly didn't manage
to actually figure out how to access Veda.  Tielia can't get to the deepest
level yet, but as Setsuna's sworn protector, he vows to one day soon.  Whatever
knowledge of Ioria's true intentions for the Innovators (and whatever else)
will surely be crucial to saving the world.

AG tells Asuka he's extremely glad to see her "healed" and on her feet again.
She says that he's optimistic INDEED if he thinks she's healed, and when he
says that her eye-patch suits her, she offers to show him what's underneath.
AG demurs, quoting the old proverb that "That which is hidden is a blossom,
and that which is not hidden cannot be a flower".  And by the way, AG knows
Asuka has more goodwill toward Shinji than she lets on, given the 100Z that
came about when four EVAs defeated enemies (you *did* do that, didn't you?)

And then there's what happens when Kaworu walks in.  AG is *genuinely*
frightened of him, and stammers that he doesn't mean to cause any unnecessary
upheaval.  Kaworu merely smiles blandly and says that that's for the best: too
much unwanted interference can be... dangerous.  Kaworu even says the whole
"Sale, Sale!" line as a gesture of goodwill, though the fact that AG didn't
even have a chance to teach it to him first makes it that much creepier.


CHAPTER 24. One Ray of Light

Part of Shinji's angst comes from how much time has past in his world: 14
years, compared to 3 months in this world.  Mind you, he's been unconscious
for almost all of that time, making it feel very strange to meet up again with
his old Z-BLUE friends.  The EVA pilots have all agreed not to speak of the
14 year gap.

The Celestial Being makes for one handy base of operations, constantly on the
move and cloaked with the very best jamming money can buy: if the Royals can
find it, it'll be because there's a spy.  After some thinking, the commanders
have decided to liberate the *green* Earth first -- easier than going after the
blue Earth, which is about 5/6ths under Sidereal control.  The hope is that by
going after the relatively under-defended green Earth, the team can gather
intel on what the Sidereals are really up to... and maybe some info also on
what the fundamental menace they witnessed in that strange dimension is all
about.  The fact that Char is the one who's stepped up to lead the briefing has
been a long time coming, and suits him predictably well.

Kaworu does what he can to help Shinji reintegrate with the team, explaining
that Misato's whereabouts are currently unknown (but that Shinji believes he'll
see her again).  Kaworu is VERY perceptive when the pilots start whispering
among themselves about how things have gone from EVA-01 all the way to EVA-13,
saying that Shinji's dad is indeed hard at work.  Watching Kaworu defending
Shinji, Sazanka is ALL ABOUT THAT SLASH, ABOUT THAT SLASH, NO CLEAVAGE.

But when Shinji goes off to get some rest, turning down the chance to hear
Sheryl and Ranka (or Fire Bomber, if anybody cares) sing live, the pilots all
agree that something's badly wrong with him.  He's regressed past when they
first met him, almost as though he regrets still living in Kouji's surprisingly
accurate off-the-cuff assessment.  Given which, Kodama counsels taking a
watchful-waiting approach.  One can only hope that something can be found to
reinvigorate his desire to live.

Mari is pretty much Mari, but Asuka has definitely changed.  For starters,
she is definitively no longer a student, and has no interest in donning a
school-girl's outfit.  Karen tries asking her what happened to Shinji, and
Asuka tells her as nicely as she can that she's not the girl Karen used to
know -- and that she and Shinji have been leading separate lives since their
return to their world.  She then plays the "I'm tired" card too and makes to
go to bed, with Mari tagging along.  Mari's advice to Asuka: just get it off
her chest already that, yes, SHE still looks the same, but that their world
is mostly destroyed.  Asuka can't bring herself to admit that despite how hard
everyone fought, that their world ended up basically Eternity Flattened.  Mari
has to admit that this bunch of soft-hearted pilots might not react in an
especially helpful way.

As they walk out, Noriko is lost in thought: SHE noticed that the two groups of
EVAs actually seemed to be fighting each other at the moment they teleported to
this world.  What the hell has been going on to the EVA folks?  Asking
AYANAMI REI(tm) probably won't help, since she herself wants to know what the
real Ayanami Rei would do at a time like this.  Change out of her plugsuit
maybe?  Maybe not, given that the bad guys are all attacking in a hurry.
Observing the pilots scrambling to their mecha, she wonders why they fight.
Because they're ordered to?  Or something else...

The new adversaries are Neo-Jion, and their attack comes before the Celestial
Being can get properly under steam.  Gyunei and Angelo are among the Neo-Jion
forces, and Angelo's got a new mech from Full Frontal: the Newtype-oriented
Rozen Zhul.  Kaworu watches the fight between Lilim and Lilim with interest,
though that's not the only reason he's sortied.  Asuka meanwhile is
seriously thinking about attacking Shinji instead of Neo-Jion: doing so would
put an end to NERV's plans once and for all, and probably even be better for
Shinji in some sense (that sense being, putting him out of his misery).

But Amuro interjects, asking Shinji if he's disappointed in seeing humans,
whose hearts were united during the Axis drop, at each other's throats once
again.  The Light of the Human Heart(tm) did NOT put an end to war, but don't
expect Char to be depressed -- setbacks like that go with the territory.
Amuro tells Shinji, as a member of Z-BLUE, not to give up yet.  But even as
the commanders bark out orders, Shinji reckons he's got no hope left.

  Rezun and some additional goons show up on turn 3, only to be stymied by
  Genneman and friends.  Char's called them in to act as crew for the Celestial
  Being, which they find preferable to fighting for Neo-Jion when it's headed
  in the wrong direction.  Rezun can't get over her attachment to her
  traditional team, and if nothing else that makes it easier for Genneman to
  shoot at her.  A hopeful sign, by Kaworu's logic.

  Before Angelo can get his ass completely blown away, Mikage's troops turn
  up and start shooting in all directions.  His hatred, cherished over so many
  long years, isn't going to die easily.  ...And his target is the two idol
  singers.  As Z-BLUE get ready to face this new foe, Asuka thinks that her
  chance to do Shinji in is near.

  Her chance comes soon, but just as she finishes telling Mari that she's got
  no regrets, that both the world and Shinji will be better off, Mikage himself
  appears.  Apparently dimensional barriers hereabouts are weak on account of
  the Accursed One (that would be Fudou) being nearby.  He then does some mumbo
  jumbo and retrieves what appears to be Apollo's golden Aquarion, which he
  quickly recolors black.  Yea verily, his hatred has dyed the Wings of the
  Sun the DARKEST BLACK!

  Mikage can sure do emo, but he can also gloat about Fudou seemingly sealed
  forever in the Time Prison, just as Atlandia once was.  ...Maybe the one
  Mikage was talking about wasn't Fudou at all, but rather Kaworu?  Of course
  it is.  And as Mikage means to take out Kaworu's enemy (that's Asuka), Shinji
  reflexively springs into action to protect her.  The poor boy's had enough
  of people he cares about getting hurt, and Kaworu finds this display of
  altruism to be a perfect microcosm of why Mikage will never understand the
  Lilims.  Mikage leaves in a huff, and one wonders if the theft of the
  Mythical Aquarion will imperil the balance of the world.

  Nope, declares Kaworu.  Schlede wants to know who the hell Kaworu is, and
  he says only that he's Shinji's friend.  Asuka "argh"s, demanding that Shinji
  help take out the remaining bad guys if he's going to talk such a fine-
  sounding game.  Shinji gets to work, surprised to hear Akagi reminding him
  that he _does_ have the power to protect others.  And although Asuka won't
  admit it even to Mari, she is kind of glad that this gives the excuse for her
  to mend some fences with her erstwhile comrade.

After the commotion dies down, Genneman has a happy reunion both with Char and
with Mareeda.  Char's leaving him in charge of the Celestial Being, promising
to send Mineva and Nanai as soon as he can.  Meanwhile, he will continue
throwing in his lot with Z-BLUE's warriors, even though both he and Mareeda
know that Amuro want more than just his piloting skills.  He and Genneman both
agree that people can change, and just as Genneman leaves Mareeda in Banarj's
care, Camille rushes over.

Queen is on the phone, and she wants to be sure she's got Char and the Sphere
Reactors in the conference call at the very least.  "She" is using an avatar
to hide her true identity, though she doesn't welcome Zero doing the same.
Lelouch removes his mask as a show of good faith, though he doesn't like her
calling him by his given name.  Is that, she asks, on account of certain
relationship difficulties between him and his father?  Grimacing, Lelouch
commends the Chrono spymaster on being so well informed on events from a
parallel universe to hers.

Queen declares that she is neither a Conservative, who supervises human
evolution, nor a Progressive, who watches over it.  She demurs over being
labeled a "third" species of Chrono, preferring to say instead that she's
someone who doesn't give a damn about evolution.  She explains the moniker
"Queen" as her being the secretary to the former ruler of Chrono, who tradition
named "King".  That would make her at least a former member of the
Conservatives, though even that label she's unwilling to accept outright.

The question is, why's she helping Z-BLUE?  Because she wants both the
Conservatives and Progressives to fall, and for the world to return to its
bygone peace.  Above all, she hates this Multi-Dimensional World, and wants
things put back as they were before.  She's got no good will for Kei, whose
Singularness started this whole mess, but neither does she want him falling
into the Sidereals' hands.  And by extension, she doesn't want them using
Orson either, which is why she's willing to divulge Orson's whereabouts...

Mikono is fretting where AG and Suzune can hear, conflicted between her love
for Amata and her self-recriminations over the whole Mikage mess.  At this
rate, she could end up like Kodama.  This is why Kodama had that poker face:
an effort to balance his despair with optimism -- an optimism he can't give
into completely lest he forget his family's loss.  But Kodama's ultimate goal
is to transcend both of those things, and put the whole "poker face" business
behind him once and for all.  AG and Suzune sure get along well together, a
fact that's not lost on Kodama himself...


CHAPTER 25. A Singularity's Duty

Orson, the other half of the Singularity duo, is evidently being held on the
green Earth.  Ledo has Chamber try to explain what a Singularity is, only to
have MOME do a better job and touch off a round of mirth.  Sousuke can't help
but remember Al upon seeing all this, unable to stifle a smile at the thought
of how Al would request an explanation of what all the fuss was.  Sousuke and
Kodama both know well what it means to have someone else's memory living on
inside them.

Anyways, Orson and Kei were present for the detonation of the Dimensional
Concussion Bomb that initiated this whole Multi-Dimensional World.
Theoretically they have the ability to separate all these entangled worlds, but
given how grossly entangled the many worlds now are, a true separation seems
impossible.  ...THOUGH, if one were to discover some kind of grand nexus
binding all the various threads of reality together, it's not inconceivable
that it could be severed in such a way as to let all the various timelines
re-separate.  Assuming of course that such an action didn't simply destroy the
entire tapestry.

Orson is probably being used as a test subject for the Sidereals'
superdimensional science, in much the same way that Kei volunteered to do for
Traia.  Whatever else is true, Kei is determined to prevent Orson from
remaining as the Sidereals' plaything.

As the team prepare to land on the green Earth, Kodama finds out that all the
Mithril folks have been effectively promoted -- all except Sousuke, who's just
as happy to leave all the resulting paperwork to Kurtz.  Conveniently enough,
Traia's furnished Kei with a Singularity Detector, almost as though she
anticipated this day would come.  Assignments are handed out, and the first
phase of Operation Eclipse -- the counter-offensive against the Sidereals --
will begin in three hours' time.

That means there's a chance for Kodama to try to help Suzune get her spirits
back up.  Suzune's worried because she's NOT worried, if that makes any sense.
She confides to Kodama that worry has been building up inside her ever since
the Time Prison was destroyed, as though in step with the dangers amassing
in the world around them.  But she was never *afraid*, thanks to Kodama facing
those same worries and fighting by her side.

But now, that worry is gone, and not -- as she wanted to believe at first --
because she has simply become a stronger person.  If anything, she's *becoming*
someone other than herself, and that thought does scare her.  Kodama does his
best to assure her that she's still herself, even if she turns moody or
hysterical or cynical on occasion.  He wishes he knew a smoother way to put it,
but his message got through loud and clear.  Suzune just wishes that she didn't
feel like the day was approaching when she could no longer strive together with
her partner.  But she's sure that Kodama will manage, even without her...

The initial portion of the operation goes well, as the advance infiltrators
enter the Terminal Base where Orson is being held.  This mayhem causes the
base's defenders to show themselves, and that turns out to include the
somewhat disgraced Giltar.  But from Setsuko's anxiety, Barbiel must be
somewhere nearby also.  The Macross Quarter will have to run the Statue of
Liberty Play until the infiltrators finish their work...

Setsuko has in fact volunteered to be part of the infiltration team, having
realized that her connection to Barbiel must resemble Rand's connection with
Strauss.  This has redoubled her determination to take Barbiel down with her
own hands... or so she tells the others.  But Kodama can tell that she's lying,
and that there's something else on her mind.  When a passing Bioroid spots
the group, Mao orders Sousuke to take Setsuko and Suzune and hurry on ahead.
Kodama will have his chance very soon to summon the Geneon and raise hell.

Barbiel scoffs at how easily Giltar falls for Jeffrey's transparent diversion.
He doesn't have to wait long for Setsuko and Kodama to turn up, and while even
he has to admit that Kodama's matured some, the main attraction is Setsuko.  It
turns out she's come to find out what Barbiel is fighting for, and where his
hatred comes from.  She felt some sort of sadness in him during their brief
time together on the green Earth, and recalls a time when hatred once nearly
ruled over her own heart.

But in her case, sorrow was the even greater force: sorrow at the thought of
all the fighting continuing.  She's something of a sorrow connoisseur it seems,
and wants him to dish about what's really eating him.  Apparently what's eating
him now is her, and although killing Reactors is normally forbidden, he'll make
an exception in her case.  He tries to use his Sphere to enhance the hatred in
the Z-BLUE members' hearts, but Setsuko somehow counters with her own Sphere.
Unfortunately Suzune still takes the brunt of it, and Kodama has no choice but
to order a retreat so he can summon the Geneon.  Mission accomplished for
Barbiel?

Suzune regains consciousness in the Geneon, where Kodama tells her that the
other infiltrators have found Orson and retreated with Setsuko in tow.  Kodama
intends to buy time for the rest of the team to show up, and it certainly
SEEMS that Suzune is okay.  Then again, she's got this headache that she isn't
letting on about...

  This becomes clear when Barbiel takes the field.  Suzune has in fact been
  affected by his poison, and when pummeling Kodama from inside the cockpit
  doesn't work, she ejects and runs at inhuman speed to Barbiel's side.  She
  tells him that this is for his sake too, and Barbiel welcomes "Umbriel" to
  him before flying off.

  Kodama is understandably shocked, but before Giltar can exploit the lapse,
  Kei ad Orson come to the rescue in a big way.  Kodama manages to regain his
  concentration and focus on the task at hand.

Orson picks up with Kei almost like they were never apart, but this isn't
really the time to celebrate.  The general consensus is that Suzune's fierce
aspect isn't anything that comes from her own personality, implying that
Barbiel is capable of full-scale mind control.  But how that control is
mediated, and what might be done to reverse it, are all unclear at this time.
What is clear is that Suzune will be kept alive, if only to allow Barbiel to
inflict even greater damage on Kodama down the road.  Kodama's asked for some
alone time, but he doesn't spend long moping.

Rather, he reappears and asks for pilots who're willing to train with him,
preferably folks like Camille with _really_ high-level combat acumen.  He can't
say that he's "okay", but given how much people like Sousuke have gone through
without breaking, he feels it's the least he can do to match up.  Camille
agrees to spar with him, recruiting Suzaku(!) for help.  In fact, everyone
who can spare some time volunteer for the duty -- they feel a shared
responsibility, and a shared desire to give Barbiel some severe payback when
the time comes.  And Setsuko is resolved that WHEN that time comes, she'll be
the one to strike the final blow.  She now understands at least a little of why
Barbiel's been after her so doggedly...

Orson's time as a guinea pig wasn't as unpleasant as one might expect.  Orson,
like Kei, has learned that it's now impossible to disentangle the various
worlds through his Singularity powers.  Nor is it obvious how either of them
can stem the 12k year cycle of danger, much less then 120 mega-year cycle of
MAJOR CATASTROPHE that's threatening the world now.  Orson is quite impressed
that Traia has pieced all that together by herself -- even the Sidereals with
all their greater advancements struggled to reach the same result.

Kei finds himself wondering what would have happened had he and Orson not been
involved in the bomb-making project.  Lots of stuff, both good and bad: 
people he might have married, people he never would have met.  Wars that never
would have started, and others that might never have ended.  The Dimensional
Concussion Bomb itself relied heavily on Lost Technology that the Chiram
scientists who built it didn't fully grasp, and all records of their work have
been lost.  The two can only look forward, now, to a time when Kei will have to
stake his life on atoning for what he's done...

Kodama blames himself for not realizing that something was wrong with Suzune,
and intends to correct that mistake with his own hands.  No more will he be
that powerless little version of himself that watched his family members
perish.  AG meanwhile reckons that all his plans have to get scrubbed, not the
least of which because Kodama by himself can't bring out 100% of the Geneon's
power.  But he doesn't intend to mention things that he can't do anything
about: what he can do is sell stuff, and the sharp-eyed might note some unique
units on sale from a few recent Mountain Cycle digs...


CHAPTER 26. [Route Split]

Intelligence reports confirm that most of the Sidereals are on the blue Earth,
setting the stage for Z-BLUE's resurgence on the green one.  The southern part
of the Central Continent has the strongest rebel presence, which sounds like
the area Z-BLUE ought to head to... if not for *other* reports of Sidereal
activity in the Sea of the Forgotten.  That they're noodling around in an area
with no obvious strategic value is a major red flag, and there's no way NOT to
investigate.  ...And so predictably we have another route split, with Jeffrey
deciding where the bulk of the troops should go.  If it's to be the Central
Continent, go to 26C.  If it's the Sea of the Forgotten, go to 26S.

Whichever side he picks, it's certain that the Sidereals will be dogging the
team's footsteps -- especially after Orson's jailbreak.  Kodama's busting ass
practicing flying the Geneon solo, and it'll have to be on-the-job training for
him and the rest of the team.

Kodama goes to AG for a sports drink, reporting that out of 40 total mock
combats(!) he's compiled a 13-27 record.  Setsuko's pinpointed at least one
problem: he's unconsciously come to over-rely on his mech's power.  AG
recommends deliberately not using GAI Mode in the next battle.


CHAPTER 26C. Shine, Our Star!

Randomly, Giltar gets what he thinks is information about Z-BLUE's weak spot.

Hezaemon is on the run from the law, but he'll do what he can to support Bright
and the Z-BLUE folks.  The head of the Kami family is serving as the chief
strategist of the local resistance forces, and seems duly impressed with what
the Takeo General Company's accomplishing with their Trider.  Perhaps Zanbot
should follow suit once the war is over?  Then again, these are still little
kids at the controls we're talking about here, and still prone to the
occasional quarrel.  Meanwhile, Kappei's elder brother Shotarou relates how
he's working as an engineer on deciphering the Bealian technology that powers
Zanbot.  He's gotten some help from the mysterious "Umemoto", and hopes to
get even more insight from a glimpse of Trider's schematics.

Perhaps the two brats will get tired of fighting given the sight of the
nearby refugee camp?  Not immediately, but the abundance of volunteer work to
do helps all the Volunteer Club folks get into a pretty good mood, Sousuke
and Kodama included.  If nothing else, picking up trash gives the brats
something constructive to do as a competition.  Seeing Kodama taking charge,
apparently over his shock over Suzune's loss, Shinji thinks to himself that
he could never be that strong.  Kaworu answers him verbally that he needn't
_try_ to be like Kodama -- he should make forward progress in his own way.
For now, maybe physical labor will take Shinji's mind off things (so long as
Misato's name doesn't come up, or the other girl EVA pilots for that matter).

Come to find out Lark's gotten good at identifying birds, more as a defense
against Nono's incessant curiosity than anything (though she claims she's
been curious too).  The sight of Nono's unabashed admiration for her "elder
sister" is something so heartwarming that even Shinji starts to smile a little.

Kodama knows full well that the other pilots are concerned about him, and is
determined to get his head straight ASAP, not only for their sake and Suzune's,
but for his own as well.  It's time to get back to basics, quieting his mind
and letting his body do the moving.  "Be formless to create form, be limitless
to create limits..."  He doesn't expect to have an audience for his kata: a
girl from the camp naming herself "TT".

Hearing that he's come here to volunteer, and that he finds it kind of fun,
she wants him to teach her.  In fact, she wants to know all about everything
that he finds fun, and Kodama tells her he's impressed with how bright she
seems despite the dismal conditions in the camp.  She mentions that there was
a weird person in the camp yesterday just as the alarms go off.  She barely
even remembers that that's what they're for, and doesn't seem to fully grasp
what it means to "evacuate".

Z-BLUE rushes to the rescue, determined not to let any of the bad guys invade
the city where Kappei's family are sheltering.  Kodama is a bit worried about
TT, who sounded somewhat accident-prone.  Of course Giltar's got something up
his sleeve, but no time to find out what just now...

  You find that out on turn 3.  Giltar had stumbled on an old article
  describing how the Kami family was once the focus of the common people's
  hate during the Time Prison war... and using a makeshift loudspeaker, he's
  trying to stir those ghosts and blame them again for Japan becoming a target.
  Almost as though to underscore Giltar's point, a bevy of mystery robot
  adversaries appear, giving Giltar the opening he needs to open fire on
  Kappei.

Unfortunately, his rhetoric is paper-thin, and the first feisty kid off the
street calls him out on it.  As the citizens remember their shame at
mistakenly blaming the Kami family the last time, the muttering turns to cheers
for Zanbot.  TT smirks and tells Giltar that he'd better run, unless he
wants to get beaten to a pulp next.  Watta then steps up to the plate,
defending his friend from Giltar's "poison mushroom" accusations, and as
Zanbot gets back into the game Kappei's family members send in an improved
energy transfer program based on Trider.  Behold the new-and-improved Moon
Attack.  One or two apologies between the brats later and we can finally get
back to the damn battle.

...Which is over pretty damn fast.  Kappei may have been pretty rad, but he's
still at least 5 years too young to proposition Aoi (if not 10).  Banjou agrees
with the math, and nobody in their right mind would actually mistake the kid
for an adult, yet.  Still, Aoi is somewhat philosophical about him: at least
_he_ *has* a family to go home to once all this is over.  As the crew tuck into
the tasty treats Kappei's mom sent, it becomes apparent that there's one
extra guest at the table: TT! O_O

Kodama admits to AG how much he'd be relying on Suzune's aid -- he has to bust
ass all that much harder to try to get back to how effective they used to be.
After all, the Geneon was originally a one-seater.  All that hard work and
cathexis is worth 50Z, and AG thinks that the phrase "original Geneon" is
deeper than Kodama realizes.

AG then tries teasing Kappei about his so-called girlfriends, though Kappei is
TOTALLY doing the little boy "I hate you cause I love you" thing.  When AG
calls him on it, Kappei then declares that he LOVES AG, and therefore it's okay
to sic his dog on him.  ...Thus leaving Kappei's partners to mind the store...


CHAPTER 26S. Deep Sea Secret

The Sidereals have been busily searching for something under the waves of the
Sea of the Forgotten.  Though they've tussled with the pirates a bit, they've
left the obviously inferior Gargantia fleet alone.  That's the good new.  The
bad news is that their exploration has been harming the fish that constitute
the Gargantians' diet.  If this keeps up, starvation is certain -- which is why
some among the fleet recommend approaching the Sidereals and surrendering.

Of course, that would lead to slavery and worse in the long term, which is why
Admiral Fairlock hasn't done it yet.  He chides Rijit mildly for pining for
the old days: nothing in this or any world is unchanging.  Hence, the right
thing to do as a citizen of the world is accept the change and move forward.
Easier said that done perhaps, given the infirmaries of his advancing years.
Jeffrey promises to do something about the Sidereals, and Fairlock warns him to
be careful of the whale-squid.  They've been showing up in unusual places,
and have a sacred-cow status among the fleet's residents.

Said residents busy reunioning with their fellows from Z-BLUE, planning all
kinds of merriment to honor their return.  Among the plans is traditional
dance, which involves TRADITIONAL dance wear, which apparently is skimpy and/or
outright transparent.  Tifa has already agreed to join the troupe, and Melty is
looking forward to performing for hunky dudes like Ledo and Alto.  There is a
heart-warming distance between the simple concerns of the fleetsfolk and the
interstellar war Z-BLUE's been fighting, and the pilots (Sousuke especially)
make every effort to keep the unpleasant details buried.  Let there be at least
one place in this world where people can be happy.

Rand is 150% in favor of this welcome-back party thing, though his usual
stifling Heat Smile doesn't fit Melty's definition of a hunky guy.  Crow (with
his Cool And Nihilistic(tm) smile firmly in place) tells her to think of Crow
as the radiance of the sun reflecting off the waters.  ...Which is, in fact, a
jaw-droppingly picturesque way of putting it, even though Melty somehow senses
that Crow is one bishounen that she shouldn't approach.

Ledo will be going to visit Bebel while the others prepare for the party,
massive haul of seafood at the ready.  Lots of fish, lots of clams, and
something that the ladies proudly indicate is a "giant octopus".  Well, it _is_
giant.  And has tentacles.  And is, actually, a Hidiarz.  Waitwhutomg?!?
Actually maybe it's not, since we don't cut immediately to a battle scene. @_@

As on the other path, the uber-mysterious TT observes Kodama getting his
Jeet Kune Do on.  Somehow this girl's breezy conversation puts Kodama at ease.
Speaking of ease, Garode finds Tifa gazing out over the nighttime ocean.  He
compliments her on her dancing, stammering a bit when he says the Sea of the
Forgotten is beautiful.  Of course, the beauty he really means to compliment is
smiling warmly at him, and telling him of the fascinating new forms of life she
can sense from these seas.  She and Garode DAMN NEAR kiss when she stops him,
not because she fears his kiss, but because some ONE else she doesn't know is
drawing near...

Apparently this was one hell of a party indeed.  Amy is already telling tales
of how Rand convinced Setsuko to have a beer (or several) with him, while Crow
devoured so much of the FREE food that he damn near bust a gut.  The main act
was a bit of enka from Sheryl and Ranka, which even Bebel was overjoyed by.
Ledo's evening wasn't quite as pleasant, spent in regret over mis-identifying
the octopus and even drawing his gun on it.  All the same, Ledo did indeed
watch the famed Dance, and like Garode was quite entranced by what -- or rather
whom -- he saw.  Ledo tells Amy he wants to see more, and she agrees to dance
for him... when Chamber reports enemies approaching.  With 99.97% certainty,
it's the Hidiarz.  Ledo won't let it lay a finger on Gargantia or Amy.

He vanquishes the thing in short order, ordering Chamber to run a DNA analysis
just to be on the safe side.  How is it that the Hidiarz could be attacking
this Earth?  Did they come here with him?  Or, if this thing was one of the
so-called whale-squid that Jeffrey spoke of, does that mean they've come here
long before he did -- long enough to become established as objects of worship?
Chamber notes that he can scientifically analyze the one they just killed, but
he won't be able to garner any information about the strategy of the group of
them as a whole.  So be it.  Ledo will take any information he can in order to
plan a way to counter-attack these bastards.

Ledo has a lot of explaining to do, and gets busy doing it while the other
pilots deliberate.  Assuming that was indeed a Hidiarz, one might conclude that
this world, and the world Ledo is from, are one and the same.  Ledo has
proposed hunting down the Hidiarz next and annihilating them, which MIGHT not
sit too well with the people of the fleet (who revere the whale-squid as
emissaries of God).  Then again, Chamber has confirmed that the whale-squid,
harmless though they seem when not provoked, are indeed the same species as
the space-ravaging Hidiarz.

Basara wants to try singing at them first, to establish whether they can be
communicated with, or whether they're just another form of Baal.  That might
be tricky, especially if what the Sidereals are investigating is the
whale-squid themselves.  In any case, Gamlin won't hear of Basara preemptively
launching a song offensive while Z-BLUE are guests of Gargantia.

Having received Jeffrey's report, the fleet leaders start conferring at once.
Uproar is already spreading throughout the fleet, fuelled by the superstition
inherent in all sea-faring folk.  At least one of the leaders declares that
it's not important what happened in the past: what's important is what to do
next.  A commander named Flange thinks it's a good time to get Fairlock's
answer to his request to cut loose from the fleet and travel separately.  He's
not so stupid as to surrender to the Sidereals, and instead means to head to
the Sea of Fog to gather more warpower.  Rigit is certainly opposed, but so
is Fairlock, who is in the middle of saying that no one person is allowed to
endanger the whole fleet when he collapses from his illnesses...

Pinion finds Ledo sitting alone, apart from Z-BLUE.  He tells Ledo of a place
he swears on his brother's life houses a Hidiarz, and Ledo says that if Z-BLUE
won't act, he'll act alone.  And Pinion vows to bring up "the treasure" the
Hidiarz is guarding afterwards.  This treasure is valuable both monetarily and
in terms of technology, being of some great antiquity.  Ledo doesn't care about
any of that, thinking only of destroying the enemy.  Pinion tells him to come
to Flange's ship when he's ready.

Amy and Bebel intercept Ledo before he can leave, very much opposed to his
fighting the whale-squid.  The fact that they aren't attacking the fleet, Ledo
intones, is because the fleet's technology is too primitive for now.  But
that could change at any instant, and he means to act before the bad guys act
first.  Amy is scared to death that he'll be hurt, especially without Z-BLUE
to back him up, but he says that he can't live like Sousuke and Kodama and
the others: defeating the Hidiarz is the whole reason he's alive.

As Amy runs off in tears, Ledo asks if Bebel still has the flute he gave him.
He tells Bebel that that flute was made by a child much like him -- in fact,
possibly his own younger brother for all he knows.  See, children who can't
fight can't live long in the Federation, on account of the Hidiarz controlling
the places where humans can live.  These Hidiarz will expand their territory
as well, and when they do, Bebel won't remain alive much longer.  Ledo
desperately wants to spare Amy the pain of that separation.  Seeing that Ledo
simply won't be dissuaded, Bebel tells him that he's only borrowing this flute:
Ledo better return so he can give it back.

Ledo heads out into deep waters, where even the light-bugs begin to peter out.
He still can't understand why the Gargantians can't grasp the necessity of
eradicating these whale-squid, and Chamber has a possible explanation -- though
due to cultural differences it requires a concept not found in Alliance
dictionaries.  The word is "symbiosis", as in co-existence cum co-benefit.
Ledo recalls Gamlin recounting a similar case of that involving the Vajra, but
deliberations cease when the Hidiarz appear.

They're numerically superior but inferior combat-wise, and Ledo declares that
this isn't Z-BLUE's fight: it's his and the Alliance's.  And indeed, he wipes
out the first wave of Hidiarz with little trouble.  But then come the
Sidereals, intent on attacking him now that their primary targets are gone.
And in turn comes the TdD and Z-BLUE, who quickly decide to leave debate over
Ledo's actions for later.  For now, the team has to fend off the Sidereals,
and at least Kodama seems to have gotten his head straight enough to help out.
Kodama is more than a little perplexed about TT though -- why has she come
to the fleet from the outside world?

Well, all the whale-squid in this area are toast, as are the Sidereal scouts.
Presumably that means the Sidereals won't be causing any more trouble in this
area for a while.  Ledo is still intent on his mission, and Tessa declares
that nobody on this team has the right to force him to do otherwise.  She
announces that everyone should surface and exchange info with Pinion and this
Mister Flange character.  Sousuke and the others wish Ledo well, asking him to
return as soon as he can so Amy won't have to cry.

The Hidiarz guarding the nest are weaker than Ledo expected -- Chamber
speculates they've atrophied for lack of a real enemy.  As he makes his way
inside, he sees something he did NOT anticipate: a small humaniform creature
that is, apparently, a Hidiarz baby.  That by itself is valuable information,
as the Hidiarz life cycle's details are all but unknown.  But even more
interesting is some kind of structure deeper inside, which Chamber thinks is a
control room for the ruins they've been traversing: ruins of whatever
primordial culture flourished on the world of the Sea of the Forgotten comes
from.

Chamber is able to access its databanks, reporting that this used to be a
research laboratory.  In fact, this lab would appear to date from the planet
the Alliance describes as its original homeworld!  The data Chamber has
retrieved concerns Alliance secrets, and Ledo has to sternly remind Chamber
who's in command now (namely, Ledo) in order to force him to divulge it.

"It" turns out to be a live news broadcast, where someone named Matsumoto is
addressing the people of the world.  A world facing an environmental
catastrophe that cannot be undone, owing to a giant asteroid that SOMEBODY
dropped on the Earth.  The newscaster has heard that the Earth Federation
council has recommended relocating mankind to the Moon, to wait out the nuclear
winter and waiting for the environment to heal itself.  However, Matsumoto's
group -- the self-proclaimed Evolvers -- want to accelerate the clock of
recovery through Science(tm).

To the charge that people all over the world have been resisting their work,
Matsumoto responds that a certain group, lurking in the shadows of history,
have been staging this resistance as part of a long-term program of
manipulating mankind's destiny.  He acknowledges that his scientists haven't
done the best job of assuaging the public's fears, but says that scientific
progress has always been accompanied by religious, social and even moral
change.  It is only through deep introspection that mankind can advance.

Is that "deep introspection" why the Evolvers have broken the taboo against
manipulating the human genome?  Matsumoto claims to have information that the
Federation itself has already begun testing modified humans better suited to
different environments.  And if anything, the giant cold-sleep facility on the
moon is the most un-human concept of all.  The Evolvers' ultimate goal is to
head out into space, seeking a new habitable planet to become the second Earth.
He then announces that the broadcast has been taken over by the Evolvers, in
order to insure that everyone sees early proof of the Evolvers' efforts.

Since seeking a compatible planet will take tens or hundreds of years at the
earliest, not to mention traversing literally-astronomical distances.  So, with
a little cybernetics and a little biology, his people have come up with just
the thing.  The news lady is aghast, calling this a crime against nature.
Matsumoto asks if she too is a Chrono member, and says that it's already been
proven in "that" war that mankind wants evolution.  But his solution is
different from what Char Aznable advocated.

He praises these new symbiotes, capable of absorbing oxygen from water, of
withstanding extremes of pressure or vacuum, and even surviving absolute zero.
Their nourishment comes from an improved form of photosynthesis.  Matsumoto
then says that he's had the operations himself, and that he'll soon become
something above regular mankind.  He tells all those like-minded audience
members that his people await with open arms.

Well, this definitely puts a different spin on things.  Chamber states that
this broadcast differs from Alliance orthodoxy in many aspects, and suggests
that it might be disinformation planted by the Enemy.  WHAT ENEMY, Ledo
demands.  Weren't the Hidiarz supposed to be some primitive form of alien
life?!  Chamber then spots more Hidiarz and moves to try to destroy them,
despite Ledo's cries.

AG explains to Amy that she and Ledo come from very different backgrounds, and
therefore have very different ways of looking at the same world.  Overcoming
those differences is the task before all residents of this Multidimensional
World.  Nobody starts with a monopoly on the truth.  That thought seems to
cheer Amy up, even as AG himself laments not having Chamber on hand to chat
with.


CHAPTER 27C. The Sun that Fell to Earth

All is not well in Giltar-land: Sardias has given him the proverbial "last
warning", saying that he's about to be removed from command if he doesn't get
rid of Z-BLUE *immediately*.  And that would be a shame, because Sardias so
loves their little chats.  That Giltar isn't a 100% fuckup is the only reason
Barbiel hasn't had him executed already.  Giltar starts coming unglued
completely when Sardias hangs up, until an intruder sneaks into his room
despite the security forces positioned throughout the base.  He tells Giltar
that he's the perfect answer to the Z-BLUE problem...

The armada of mysterious, miscellaneous robots turns out to have been entirely
unmanned, controlled by some fancy autonomous AI and programmed, seemingly,
to only attack Z-BLUE.  Takeru is more than a little concerned about this,
and based on the good example of communication being worthwhile that Team-D
sets, he opens up to his teammates.  Those robots bore a palpable, unusual
"malice", almost like they were duty-bound to kill.  That it was the _act_, not
the actor, that was malicious.

Okay seriously, is it Zhul or not?  ...Mars actually admits that he can't tell
See the thing is, Mars has been sensing for a while now some kind of pervading
cold darkness closing in around the team.  Soooo, everyone will be extra
cautious or whatnot, assuming TT's berserk cooking methods (example: adding
an entire canister of cocoa powder to the curry to make it sweet and delicious)
don't do the team in first.

She's also tried to give ALL the team's mecha the Red Shoulder coloring (since
she couldn't arrange to color them all ENTIRELY red like Char's Sazabi).  AND
put goofy applique on everyone's pilot suits (amusing none of them).  The team
become better disposed towards her when they learn that she lost family members
in the Quake, and resolve to try to teach her properly how to cook and stuff.
But just then Shotarou rushes in: his "V-Controller" is missing.  TT says
that there was some person she didn't recognize who asked her for it while she
was cleaning, so she handed it over.

That might have something to do with the sudden explosion that shakes the ship.
It turns out that Tetsujin is now on the loose, despite Ox's best efforts to
stop it.  Shotarou hops aboard Ox and takes off in pursuit, glad that whoever's
controlling Tetsujin isn't very good at it yet.  But more of the mystery robots
turn up to get in the way, and it soon becomes clear that the thief wants to
deliberately overload Tetsujin's solar energy system and cause a massive
explosion.

Shinji is actually the first to insist that the team find a way to prevent
this: no way should Shotarou's partner be allowed to become a pawn of evil...
especially since the blast would vaporize a nearby town even if Z-BLUE
themselves could escape.

  The Skill Point condition is actually somewhat non-trivial in this map,
  depending on how you've been spending your G and Z and how much of a
  tactician you are.  Maximum Breaking is *definitely* recommended, since you
  need to deal over 37k in a single action.

  The thief of the V-Con is some shadowy figure who won't suffer these foolish
  humans' continued existence, given their apparent ignorance of the Law of the
  Jungle^WUniverse.  It turns out to be Gestalt, who claims to have eternal
  life thanks to the Powers of Darkness.  So uhh, is Zhul back or what?  No
  time for that now, since Tetsujin is still about to explode or shit.

  The V-Con is useless to stop the chain reaction, and it seems all that Z-BLUE
  can do is flee and save themselves (it's too late for the nearby town).  But
  Ghoula shows up at this point with an entirely new plan: like his father, he
  can create black holes: the perfect thing to absorb excess solar energy.
  Gestalt is certain that either Ghoula will be incinerated by the blast, or
  sucked into his own black hole.

  But Ghoula's learned a lot by watching Z-BLUE, and his scheme works perfectly
  this time.  Furious, Gestalt summons up a batch of his own mecha -- he is NOT
  the owner of the puny robot army the team has faced already.

  It seems the Powers of Darkness are gathering, and although today's skirmish
  was a mere greeting from maybe-Zhul, he declares via Gestalt that if
  mankind is heading into the Age of the Sun, then *his* side is heading into
  the Age of Darkness!  Remember this, humans: it is *Gestalt*'s people who
  will save the universe!!

Okay so the bad news is that the Space Devil is still living, which along with
Zhul's resurgence sounds like no fun at parties.  Now let's pause for
reflection.  1) We know there's a 120 million-year cycle of MAJOR HOSEAGE going
on right now.  2) Even just considering the observable stuff, the universe is
a little under 14 BILLION years old, give or take some astronomy stuff. 3) The
universe is, apparently, pretty good at not getting actually destroyed per se
(as in, a million plus times running...). 4) Ghoula's dad once told him that
apart from the paltry "yeah maybe everything will get destroyed, but probably
not" 120M-year sideshow, there's a SEPARATE battle to determine who gets to
actually rule the damn place.

And that's what Ghoula's puttering around the galaxy trying to investigate.
As Zero might identify with, the only way to investigate the higher mysteries
of the universe is go contact their wielders, such as Zhul.  This much is
certain: just defeating the Baals and and averting the worst disaster since
the early Cretaceous Period won't deter the real threats from throwdown in
Earth's back yard.

Post-mortem: why the FUCK does Shotarou have this stupid briefcase controller
when any sane shorts-suit-wearing kid would at least have a WATCH instead?
One might be tempted to blame, oh I don't know, THE FIFTIES!  Anyway.  Kodama
has TT apologize for handling the damn thing like so much luggage, and
Shotarou's smile certainly brings joy to some of those around.  Perhaps IT, not
Tetsujin, is the real sun brought down to Earth?  Watching this, Takeru is
worried: not about having to defeat Zhul again per se, but about Gestalt's
mention of the "True War", a term he's heard before.  And every time, it makes
his skin crawl.

Meanwhile Giltar is just in the middle of breathing a sigh of relief over the
fact that Gestalt (not him) screwed up this time when Sardias radios in.  It
seems Barbiel is *really* pissed that Giltar let(?) Gestalt into the Terminal
Base, especially since he seems to have hacked into its computers and made off
with a great deal of what we term "Personally-Identifiable Information" on
the Sidereals.  Sardias asks if Giltar knew precisely who he was dealing with,
and sighs when Giltar proves ignorant of anything beyond the species.
Suffice it to say that it's ABOUT the last person Barbiel would have wanted an
alliance with.

Giltar is petrified, telling Sardias that he'll do anything, and he means
ANYTHING, to avoid a demotion.  Sardias agrees to loan him a little something
which, in the right hands, is capable of generating immense power.  *Perhaps*
if Giltar can use it to wipe out Z-BLUE, Barbiel might consider forgiveness.
But can Giltar actually master the use of the Scorpion's Poison...?

Ox is very happy to have the team's praise, and hopes he can one day come to
be an advisor like Chamber.  Just so long as he doesn't inject pointless jokes
during battle like a certain other someone...


CHAPTER 27S. Island of Treachery

Ledo returns to the fleet shell-shocked.  The first person he sees is Pinion,
grinning and standing over a mountain of loot.  Pinion tells Ledo he knew
where the treasure was because of his brother, who once dived that spot (and
paid with his life).  He now seems to think that this treasure will make him
invincible, whether to the pirates or even the Sidereals -- after all, there
was a beam rifle among it.  Seeing Ledo out of sorts, Pinion advises him to
go meet with Z-BLUE (and Amy) who are some 20 klicks up ahead.

Fortunately Chamber hasn't gone entirely rogue in the last couple of
paragraphs.  He's found some supporting evidence for the Hidiarz' recording:
those light-bugs are in fact made of nanomachines, and are identical to the
high-efficiency energy conversion of the Hidiarz' exterior.  And like the
Hidiarz, they are capable of self-repair and of synthesizing armor plating.
Their enhanced environmental adaptability and functional cleansing of their
surroundings certainly jibes with what the man on the video said...

Ledo finally loses his cool, demanding to know how Chamber can be so
dispassionate when the whole reason for his and the Alliance's battle has
just been torn to shreds.  And plus, what the hell is the name "Char Aznable"
doing in the recording?!  Is it the same Char as he knows?  It's just so much
to absorb...  And he needs a good reason to keep on killing these living
beings, these alternate-humans, or else he can't fight at all.  I mean, didn't
Chamber _see_ those newborn Hidiarz, so indistinguishable from regular humans?!

Chamber counters that none of this information constitutes a reason to abandon
the Hidiarz eradication mission.  And this isn't the Alliance's dogma
speaking: Chamber has lost his link long ago and is operating purely on
internal inference.  The reason TO destroy them remains this: the Hidiarz
have rejected Culture itself.  Consider this: mankind has NOT evolved into
all-powerful beings like the Hidiarz despite epochs of time passing -- else
mecha like Chamber and the various Z-BLUE mecha would never have been
invented in the first place.  What mankind has done is to make up for the
limitations of its feeble bodies with culture: the pursuit and accumulation
and ascent of knowledge.

But the Hidiarz, freed of all physical limitations, have no need for such
knowledge in order to achieve satisfaction.  They could be called one of the
polar extremes of evolution, and represent a rival survival strategy to that
of the baseline humans of the Alliance.  Culture-seekers and culture-deniers:
only one side can survive, and the other must perish.  From the standpoint of
this mutually-exclusive fight for survival, the Hidiarz must be classified as
Baals, and Chamber is confident the truth won't sap Z-BLUE's will to help
wipe them out.  After all, Z-BLUE has plenty of experience with human fighting
human.

Hell, Ledo's already participated in that as a member of Z-BLUE, remember?
Ledo snaps that his actions with Z-BLUE were because he consciously agreed with
their motives.  But he never had a choice to agree or disagree with the
Alliance -- he just did as he was told.  What he did have was his pride in
mankind, which has just been sorely strained.  Chamber tells him that so
long as he values his life, he's got no time to stop and deliberate.  And if
that sounds like a machine forcing a human to fight, it's because Chamber
derives value from his pilot's successes.

Ledo is staying very incommunicado while sorting all this out, which doesn't
entirely surprise the Z-BLUE folks.  What does surprise them is how quickly
TT seems to have integrated herself into the support crew of the ship.  She
has no family to return to, since her father and brother died in the great
Quake and her mother went criminally insane.  Kodama feels surprisingly at
ease around her, maybe because he sympathizes with her family plight...

Meanwhile Amy is more than a little worried about what happens when Ledo comes
back (assuming he comes back, of course).  Will he be the same Ledo she knows?
She's done her best to understand why he killed so many whale-squid, but
simply can't wrap her head around it.  Alto tells her that Ledo will certainly
still be Ledo: a bird that's been let free to fly on its own.  Anyone in that
situation would hesitate over where to fly, and why, but Alto believes firmly
in that awkward kindness Ledo's been born with.  Surely he's on the cusp of
thinking of himself as an independent human, and balancing the conflicting
requirements of his duty and his own will.

Brella is very glad to see the team all on the same page like this, and
volunteers to team up with Alto when the inevitable next wave of Sidereals
attack.  This might be his way of encouraging Ranka in her romantic efforts
with Alto, though if so Ozuma no longer seems allergic to it.

Once again Giltar is commanding the bad guys, more than a little pissed off to
have been relegated all the way out here to the middle of nowhere.  This looks
like a great chance to take down the only tangible regret Fairlock had left.

  Giltar is quick to flee when the going gets rough -- and it gets very rough
  indeed when a bunch of Vajra appear, bolstered by unmanned craft from the
  Galaxy fleet.  It appears the bad guys have developed some way to actually
  control the Vajra, and that's not good news.  The worse news is that that
  control extends to Brella himself.  Brella attempts to shoot down Alto, but
  Ledo turns up just in time and falls in behind Alto, asking what the plan
  is.  The plan is to immobilize, NOT KILL, Brella until a way can be found to
  break the Galaxy fleet's mind control over him.  It's a very different
  objective from the battle for survival Ledo has known.

  Watching the team struggle to free Brella from others' control makes him
  consider his own circumstances: he's free in theory, but yet still bound by
  the past.  No sooner does he think this than another Alliance mech shows up,
  piloted by one Major Kurgel.  Maybe he can clear up Ledo's doubts after this
  battle?

  Brella can't be fully freed from the Galaxy mind control equipment at this
  time: the best the team can do is get him to run away temporarily.  Oh teh
  angsts!

Ledo agrees go to off with Kurgel for some level-setting, and the rest of
Z-BLUE is forced to concentrate3 on the new threat posed by the Galaxy forces.
Fairlock meanwhile sees his final sunset, placing the fate of the fleet (and a
key to some major emergency resource or other) into Rijit's hands.

And guess what: Kurgel turns out to be a pretty rotten guy.  He's set himself
up as a god to the people of his own little fleet fiefdom (with whom Pinion has
apparently joined up already), and means to teach the miserable residents of
this world how to fight the Hidiarz and the Sidereals.  To do that, the
existing power structures of the world need to be laid low, and he enlists Ledo
to take out one of the biggest: the Gargantia fleet!

Even AG keeps quiet at the double hit of losing both Brella and Ledo in one
battle.  Sheryl is counting on Alto's wings to sweep away all the clouds
hanging over the the fleet, and over Ranka and Amy in particular.


CHAPTER 28C. Brothers, Elder of Darkness, Younger of Light

Two weeks into the campaign and the Sidereals haven't managed to mount any
meaningful resistance to Z-BLUE.  Giltar's influence seems to be failing fast,
and once he goes, Sardias will be forced to step up instead -- and after him,
Barbiel and the full contents of his nasty bag of tricks.  But you an jump off
that bridge when you come to it.  For now the agenda is pretty clear: keep
taking out Terminal Bases, and at some point the Central Base anchoring the
Sidereals' grip on the southern portion of the continent (the northern one
having already fallen to Rand and friends).

Among those, the next port of call will be especially tricky: a massive
Terminal situated in the middle of a city, like Neo-Alcatraz was.  There will
be heavy participation from local resistance groups, and much about their
continued will to fight will hinge on the mission's success.  They certainly
seem glad to see the other Reactors again (having brought a message from the
Black Southern Cross and everything), but Kodama feels a bit out of the loop.
TT had somehow figured he was more part of their circle, and seems glad that
he's proven to be "specialer" than that.

Kodama visibly hesitates to ask her the question on his mind (more about what
happened to her family) so she asks him a question instead: who's Suzune?
He explains that she's his partner, and former schoolteacher (hence why
everyone calls her "Teach").  That's not the impression TT got from Kouji
and the others, and Kodama insists that there's nothing... romantic between
them.  In fact, he _had_ a girlfriend -- whose whereabouts are now totally
unclear and on whose affections Kodama has basically given up.  TT offers to
become his girlfriend instead, which would be lots of fun and stuff -- but he
replies that he hasn't got time to think about any of that stuff now.

In point of fact, his _partner_ Suzune isn't dead yet or anything.  TT asks
if that means he hates her, and of course he does not: her sunny disposition is
a great morale booster to be around.  But "not hate" and "likes _that_ way"
are, as we know, two different things.  She digests this a moment, and then
asks Kodama something serious.  If she dies, can he see that her body is cast
into space?  She says she thinks about death a lot these days, and wants him
to promise her at least that much.  In the mean time, she says she'll do
whatever she can to help him get Suzune back.

She leaves to help fix breakfast, sort of trading places with Shinn and
Camille.  Kodama knows they weren't eavesdropping since he didn't sense their
presence: his senses are getting sharper as he and the Geneon slowly become
one.  These are encouraging steps into the realm the Newtypes (and SEEDs)
inhabit, so after a little friendly banter they get down to Real Talk.  Let's
assume that the next time Kodama sees Suzune she'll still be under Barbiel's
mind control.  Should she attack Kodama, would he shoot her?  Or let her shoot
him?  They tell him not to rush to an answer, and when Kodama asks what Camille
_would_ do, Camille tells him what he _did_ do once: Door Number Three,
whatever that means.

The Resistance's job will be to get all the townsfolk to safety while Z-BLUE
takes on the Sidereals.  Morale is high, since this is the last major point in
the northern conflict.  Kodama has actually asked to be teamed up with Takeru
(much to the slash-tastic delight of certain of their teammates), having sensed
somehow during the last battle that he'll need Takeru's strength to break
through the wall confronting him.  Takeru's cool with that.

Giltar emerges alone to start the festivities, unfurling the Scorpion's Poison
with much gusto.  He's aware that that poison won't work on Z-BLUE themselves
without the power of Barbiel's Sphere to strengthen their mind-control
properties, but the random small-fry of the Resistance are a different matter.
They start to rampage, and the team will have to neutralize them _without_
destroying them, while simultaneously fending off Giltar's main force.  Kodama
realizes this will make a pretty good dress rehearsal for his shoot/be-shot
meetup with Suzune, and means to find a way to reach that elusive Door Number
Three concept.

  Once again, Giltar's plans go awry.  And before long Barbiel himself appears,
  menacing his subordinate for this latest failure.  But Z-BLUE are his real
  opponent, and Setsuko is now certain that just as Rand and Strauss' Spheres
  are highly compatible, hers and Barbiel's are highly INcompatible -- this is
  precisely what's needed to *truly* defeat a Sphere Reactor, as we learned
  when the Inquisitive Goat took down the False Black Sheep.

  In short: all this time Barbiel's been worried about defeating the person who
  posed him the greatest threat.  Barbiel snorts that all this talk of
  compatibility comes to nothing when one faces a great enough power.  But he's
  not hear for Setsuko today: he's here for Kodama.  He offers Kodama the most
  simple choice possible: join him, or sentence Suzune to death.  This
  unfortunately circumvents all the previous talk about kill/be-killed/save? on
  the battlefield.  To sweeten the deal, Barbiel offers to even give any one
  area Kodama chooses back to mankind should he surrender -- and even return
  somewhere around five hostages anywhere to Kodama.  Perhaps he'd like someone
  like Rilina, or Nanaly, etc.?

  Hope, and Despair.  Barbiel's goal was to use them both to force Kodama to
  draw out his Sphere's power, but instead Kodama seems to have gone into
  autistic mode instead, his spirit "dead".  Plus, plus Minus, equals Zero,
  according to conventional mathematics.  THIS would, at long last, appear to
  be the side-effect of the Quarreling Twins Sphere, and damn Barbiel for
  arranging it at this of all times.  Smirking, Barbiel says that anyone
  insisting on use that Sphere was destined to hit this wall at some point, and
  Gadlight was far smarter than Kodama for not even trying.

  Barbiel's plan seems to be to threaten to blow up the city (driving Z-BLUE
  away) while simultaneously firing so much at Kodama that he couldn't be
  brought along with them.  But he didn't count on Takeru's ability to dive
  into another person's spirit, aided by Setsuna and his Gundam's powers.

The inside of Kodama's spirit is a howling blank void, a hell whose resident
can neither turn to Hope, nor succumb to Despair.  Clearly, what's needed is a
world beyond both of those things: a world that Marg comes to remind Takeru of
in the nick of time.  A world of limitless possibility that resides inside
Kodama.  Remember: Marg and Mars were originally supposed to be one person but
for the accident of their birth -- and after Marg's bodily death, his spirit
ever resides within his brother.  The light and dark halves of one, supremely
powerful, being that will _not_ simply face mutual annihilation.  Even Takeru
cannot currently comprehend fully whatever this new fusion of opposites
portends, but he and Marg together can show Kodama at least a fragment.

Kodama finds his voice again, daring Barbiel to try killing Suzune.  He knows
VERY WELL what will happen next.  The last thing Barbiel can afford is to play
his final trump card against Kodama until the chips are well and truly down.
Nor does Barbiel really mean to keep her hostage in the first place, else he'd
have brought her here on display.  The fact of the matter is, Kodama is
*pissed off*, and all that hard work he's put into his training is now about to
come to fruition.

Barbiel actually starts laughing after the blow he takes, declaring that it
_was_ worth his while to come here after all.  He promises he'll bring Suzune
with him next time, though he can't guarantee what sort of shape she'll be in.
In the meantime, it's time Giltar be rewarded for all his "faithful" service.
Let the hatred within him be unleashed!  Placing the resentful underdog Giltar
under Sardias was the perfect way to amplify his worst tendencies all this
time, and now he's the perfect monster.  And lest Kodama get any funny ideas
about trying to pursue Barbiel further today, Barbiel reminds him that his
newfound awakening is very fragile -- one single wrong word and those side-
effects will kill his spirit again.

  Barbiel leaves as a bunch of the Army of Darkness (yeah, kind of have to call
  them that) folks show up to investigate all this outpouring of Origin Rho.
  Seems like as good a time as any for them to take out Mars and the Reactors,
  especially with Giltar all swallowed by the Darkness already.

Giltar comes to his senses just before dying, Setsuko's name the last coherent
thing on his lips.  His Poison's effects wear off quickly, and all the people
still left in the city begin to calm down and resume their evacuation.  Mission
accomplished, I guess.  At least the fact that Barbiel was on the scene
suggests that Operation Eclipse has met its initial goal, and is now ready to
move to Phase Two.

Kodama is quite grateful to Takeru (and his brother) for saving his ass --
having seen once how to break out of the Sphere's side effects, he intends to
work on doing so again under his own power.  Kodama knows he can't rest on his
laurels until *at least* after he helps get Suzune and the Earth back from the
Sidereals.  When he does so, TT promises to "challenge" Suzune (for his
affections, one supposes).  In any case, Barbiel's next treachery is sure to be
a doozy, and Kodama vows to defeat it no matter what -- relying neither on hope
or despair to do it.  At least he'll have plenty of help!

Word of the day's battle reaches Wrath Babylon, and it seems to be taken as
good news to Australis and Shikuu.  The more options, the better.  Strauss has
already turned his interests elsewhere, and while Australis will permit him to
sortie, he warns his commander not to overdo things...

AG is delighted that Kodama seems to be able to draw out 100% of the Geneon's
power by himself.  Time to bet all his Z-Chips on the lad!


CHAPTER 28S. The Future of the Green Ocean

The Gargantia fleet isn't in good shape, after Flange took his ship away and
the Fleet Admiral's death.  What's worse, Rigit is finding that none of the
other captains trust someone as young as her... at least from within her fleet.
Tessa seems to trust her plenty, which is why she comes as Z-BLUE's emissary to
announce that Gargantia faces a new menace.  While Z-BLUE will do everything in
its power to help, Rigit will need to shoulder some of the load herself.

To counter Rijit's youthful lack of confidence, Tessa asks her how old Tessa
looks.  She is in fact 17, and wasn't exactly appointed the TdD's captain
yesterday.  This is obviously an exception among the Z-BLUE commanders, and
more than that, Tessa is by her own admission so dependent on others that it's
a miracle she made it up the steps to this room without somehow twisting her
ankle or something.  Forget about her using a gun with her own hands.  Tessa's
strength comes principally not from her special powers, but from her precious
comrades.

Berose echoes this, recalling her first try as Salvage Master -- it didn't go
well, despite or more likely BECAUSE of her enthusiasm to do everything right.
What a leader of people must learn is how to do "enough", and how to turn to
those around for help and support.  Just as Fairlock did with Rigit, though
she might not have realized it.  Berose is sure she's up to the job, even if
Rigit herself doesn't seem convinced yet...

The new fleet is really rolling out the red carpet for Flange and Pinion, on
the hope that they will come under the gods' teachings.  Those who refuse said
teachings, according to Onderia, will suffer the gods' wrath.  As a show of
faith, some of the believers nearby are getting tossed into the water with
their hands and feet bound -- sacrifices to a higher calling.  Badly afraid,
Flange bows and receives blessing in the name of Kurgel.  Pinion meanwhile is
directed to come to the main shrine in two hours' time to assist one of the
gods as it prepares to venture forth.

To their surprise, Pinion and Flange then runs into Lukkage, who's snuck aboard
the fleet to gather information.  She means to resume her piratical ways, and
to see this fleet sunk to Davy Jones' Locker.  Pinion isn't much interested in
assisting any stinking pirate... until he finds out that this fleet will be
attacking his old home...

Ledo meanwhile is starting to have serious doubts about Kurgel, who's
deliberately keeping himself cooped up in his cockpit to better keep the
fleet's people under his thumb.  The throwing people in the water part is just
another fear tactic, justified if one really buys into the whole "establishing
a new unified order" ethos that Kurgel reaffirms in a quick pep talk to Ledo.
The order is to join the attack, but Chamber tells Ledo that the decision is
his.  Ledo muses that he may never have had to really decide anything up to
this point.

Can Kurgel's forces really take down Gargantia?  Chamber speculates in the
affirmative.  Chamber can designate Kurgel's Striker as a bogey if asked, but
whether Ledo can successfully fight Kurgel is beyond Chamber's abilities as a
support A.I. to predict.  Ledo seemingly makes up his mind to try anyway just
as Pinion walks up.  Time for a little chat...

Kurgel meanwhile announces to the troops that it's time for holy war, to show
the world the might of the will of God.  This grandstanding is interrupted 
by Ledo, who has had enough of blind obedience to his former commander's words.
The idea that this world is inhabited by humans, hence falls under Alliance
law, is nothing but a flimsy excuse for destroying the world that these here
people made for themselves.

Negotiations break down quickly, and Ledo summons Chamber for battle.  Pinion's
latest modifications are worth about a 20% improvement in combat strength,
which is good because even a *portion* of Kurgel's amassed warpower amounts to
a bunch of units.  Fortunately Pinion and his beam cannon are on hand to help
out, and more help is on the way from Lukkage.  They can handle the ground
forces, leaving Ledo free to take down the false God.

  With Striker temporarily disabled, Ledo has Chamber force open its hatch.
  Inside he finds Kurgel, apparently already dead for some time.  It's Striker
  who Ledo has been dealing with, and Striker has marshalled a massive force
  of Sidereal mecha to use as its puppets.  No sooner does Ledo discover this
  than Amy flies in on a glider, determined to fight at his side.  She calls
  for him to return to her side, and to the place he helped defend: Gargantia!

Meanwhile, Rigit is calling upon all the people of Gargantia to lend her their
strength and help her help them all.  The people's assent rings loud and clear,
so the elders show Rigit where that key of Fairlock's fits: an ancient system
said to have been used to cleanse this land from its past sins.  It is also
said capable of destroying the world permanently.  So be it.

The nanomachines director is a lot like the Moonlight Moth system, and depowers
all of Striker's friends.  Z-BLUE turns up at that point, allowing Amy to
retreat from fire-directing duty.  A fascinating argument breaks out between
Striker -- who's become his "own" user and developed a God complex -- and
Chamber -- who is here to _support_ humans, not cooperate with one who would
be their false god.  Chamber tells Ledo that this sort of sad case has
happened before, and can happen again whenever the person charting a course
fails both themselves and the system supporting them.  Striker must be
destroyed immediately, lest the consequences of his mistakes go any further.
As someone who's _retained_ and even enhanced his humanity in this foreign
land, Ledo has proven himself an excellent humanitarian, and that isn't lost
on his partner and Interface System.

  Alto finally manages to get through to Brella, just a smidge.  But a smidge
  is all it takes to spur Basara and Sybil into action, and as the other
  singers join in Brella feels his heart becoming warm.  Ranka is the most
  precious thing he has, and her songs free him from the curse he's under.
  Time for payback.

  Striker doesn't comprehend this turn of events: the joy of soldiers lies
  nowhere but in obedience to orders.  That ethos, which Ledo experienced at
  the hands of some in the Alliance, neglects the fact that the soldiers are
  humans first and foremost.  What's got Ledo upset the most is not the fact
  that this ethos he believed in -- hid himself behind, really -- is all the
  workings of some machine.  It's that he himself hadn't had the insight to
  see past it all.

  He orders Chamber to "Maximize, Initiate Neuro-Plus Powered" mode.  Chamber
  can't concur, since unsupported cybernetic linkage is suicidal, but Ledo
  seems determined to commit the final penance for what their society's
  creation has nearly done to this world.  This is not their home, and they
  have no means of return: better to end it all here for a just reason.

  Chamber asks him once more: does he wish to die?  Ledo says that that's
  the problem: he knows very well how to die.  He doesn't know how to live.
  It would have been nice to hear the voice of the one who wanted him to live
  once more.  Chamber then does something unexpected: judging him
  psychologically unfit for combat and evicting him from the cockpit.  He
  reminds Ledo that his whole purpose in life is to ensure Ledo's greater
  success.  The skies and the seas of this world will surely open endless
  possibilities for him, and Chamber asks him to live on.

  Okay okay, no self-sacrifice for Chamber either.  Everyone agrees that the
  two are WAY better together.  Striker declares that Chamber has clearly gone
  mad if he thinks he can part from his pilot, and orders him to reboot as a
  final warning.  Chamber throws that right back in his face, and anyone who
  thinks Ledo is unfit as a soldier has several more thinks coming.

Ledo does perform cybernetic linkage long enough to see Striker disabled.  But,
sadly, not defeated.  Apparently the forces from the Galaxy fleet offer
Striker sanctuary, and Ledo says there's no reason to pursue: they and Z-BLUE
have many other enemies to face.  Cue the grateful reunion with Amy.

Meanwhile Mishima muses that this failure to destroy Z-BLUE (this time) isn't
all bad: they can be used against the Sidereals at least.  Grace turns out to
still be alive, and has all kinds of snazzy science she's been up to since the
last war.  Good for controlling the Vajra, it seems.  Mishima mainly wants to
cut ties with all the bullshit on Earth and get back to voyaging throughout
the stars -- and according to her, she's now figured out how to Fold all the
way to the galactic center, with enough built-up energy.  Grace figures that
the Frontier and Galaxy fleets combined, using the Vajra, have only one enemy
left to fear: the Sidereals.  Defeat Australis, and figure out how to control
the Vajra queen, and _mankind_ will be the rulers of the galaxy!  Grace of
course has her own agenda, and means to see Mishima tossed out with the trash
as soon as she's done analyzing her latest "specimen", a replacement for
Brella of sorts.

Ledo is of course welcomed back by Z-BLUE, especially after telling Ozuma that
he's done with being an Alliance soldier and interested in being a better man.
Ozuma has a thing or two to teach Ledo about piloting, but Kei will have to do
the romance coaching part.  Ledo will have a bit more company too: Pinion and
Lukkage (who's basically out of a job as a pirate thanks to most of her
subordinates either dying or getting hospitalized after this latest battle).
Lukkage even seems to maybe have a thing for Pinion, and a few words for Tessa.

Brella is back on his feet too, all receivers for the Galaxy fleet's control
having broken under the musical onslaught.  Brella does want to say one thing
to Alto: his former declaration that Alto was unfit for Ranka is to be
retracted immediately.  Would that all guy/girl problems be resolved that
"easily".

AG can tell that Ledo has grown considerably as a human, and his victory over
the deceased Kurgel is worth 50Z.  Meanwhile, Lukkage has found Tessa and is
very, umm, leery of her.  That is, she's leering at Tessa -- the woman who
stole her nom de guerre -- with very bright eyes.  See, Lukkage has a thing
for cute girls, as one might gather from her two most faithful servants who
are looking at Tessa almost as hungrily as their mistress.  Okay, I'll wait
while you go check to see if someone's written that doujinshi already.  By the
way, Chamber seems to be maturing too in AG's eyes, and is even willing to
deliver the "Sale, Sale!" line.  He is curious why AG is trying to make all
of Z-BLUE speak that, and AG coyly says he can't say just now.


CHAPTER 29C. Strauss' Blitzkrieg

We open with an unexpected tableau: Rand almost beseeching his long-time mech
to lend him its strength in the battle to come.  Seeing Kodama busting so much
ass may have reminded Rand that he knows very little about the Gunleon, and
from a distance Mail tells TT that Rand is certain there's more to its power
than just Magna Mode.  Crow's been aware of his colleague's struggle for some
time now, and has come up with a Plan(tm) to help him out.  TT and Mail are
skeptical, but not as skeptical as Rand himself when he sees the troops Crow
has mustered.

Welcome to "Mission Spring".  As we know, the Wounded Lion Sphere reacts to
those who endure pain.  But Rand himself is prone to knee-jerking at every
little provocation, and Crow vows to take him all the way back to the drawing
board to craft a more resilient persona, one that absorbs sleights and stores
their energy until the proper time for release (hence "spring").  Moreover,
Crow hopes to return Rand (who's not like 14 anymore) to the "spring" of his
life -- which requires the power of "old dudes" on the team.  Imagine Char
and Amuro's despair at being lumped in with that crowd!

...Not to mention, Crow's plan omits one seemingly important detail: 
instructions for the participants.  Are they supposed to do some kind of mock
combat?  And why wasn't Bright, the most veteran of old-ass guys on the team,
included?  As this and other questions start flying around among the
assembled old guys, who get more crotchety with each passing breath, Rand
starts marveling at just how much BITCHABILITY they have without taking even
one swig of booze.  Even Amuro and Char can commiserate about how little they
(top-level Newtypes both) can comprehend the next generation of pilots like
Camille.  Is _this_ the true meaning of old-guy power, Rand wonders.

Watching from a distance, Asuka gets a distinctively fed-up expression in her
one good eye.  Mari slyly suggests she go and give them a piece of her mind,
which Asuka hastily declines.  Rico sounds surprised that Asuka, seemingly more
grown-up than she'd been lead to believe, has that big of an axe to grind with
anybody (modulo the, umm, eye thing).  Asuka's protest that she's not that
grown-up leads Nicola to comment that she's _very_ grown up indeed.  A sign
that Nicola refuses to grow up himself?  Nicola tells Mari that he prefers not
to have others psychoanalyze him, but Mari presses the point: "real" boyhood
is merely a stop on the road to manhood, not a rejection of it.  She can see
that he's far more troubled by the concept than he lets on...

...And an hour later, Rand is still being bombarded by old farts being old
farts.  Things get interesting when they start critiquing _him_, especially for
his habit of battlefield repairs.  There's more to machines than just
functioning, as Astonage declares.  But weirdly, as the rhetoric gets thicker,
Rand starts to recall the days when his master pounded into him the basics of
being a repair-man... days that are as precious to him as any in his life.
Smiling at that memory is a bad move, as the old guys' whipped-up fury is about
to be vented on Rand's hide.

That is, until the Sidereals save everyone the trouble by turning up.  In
command is Strauss, whose defeat would be a major boon to Operation Eclipse.
Otto seems totally rejuvenated, as do the other members of the old-guy
contingent.  Rand isn't sure whether Crow's vaunted Plan(tm) did much other
than stress him out, and Crow merely smiles his "Cool and Nihilistic(tm)"
smile and declares "No risk, no return".  That doesn't really make Rand feel
any better, and it falls to Kodama to remind The Heat to smile.  In fact, Rand
has to admit that it's the young whippersnappers that are carefree here,
even when faced with the Sidereals' field marshal, and THAT is precisely what
an old fart would say.  Words of wisdom from Mail, that seem to flip some
hidden switch in Rand.

Strauss has shown up in some flashy duds as a sort of declaration of war, which
Rand is all too happy to accept (with a flash of that Heat Smile).  His armor
is more than a little thick, and Otto rashly decides to blast him with the
Hyper Mega Particle Cannon.  Strauss figures this out right away, and counter-
attacks preemptively in such a way that the Ner Argama appears likely to be
lost.  But then Rand goes and bodily gets in the way, stopping the advance of
the Sidereal flagship with the Gunleon.  But that's not all: he goes and
*whacks* the Ner Argama with his giant-ass wrench.  This serves as a bypass
for the busted Particle Cannon, and since Strauss is basically dead in his
tracks right in front of the Londo Bell ship.

Otto scores a direct hit, and Rand thanks him for being part of his special
training.  What Rand learned is that he's not the only one who must shoulder
the occasional agony.  The higher the position, the greater the load.  And he's
felt loaded ever since coming to this green Earth, besieged by the feeling that
the world is going to end.  The worst pain Rand can imagine, more than the
blood Strauss draws with his eventual counter-attack (surely you didn't think
he would die this easily?!), is the thought of Mail getting hurt.

The Heat is truly on fire today, and his Sphere's power is positively
strengthening his teammates.  What's more, Strauss actually speaks in proper
Japanese now that his armor is broken.  Correction: HER armor!  The person
inside is named Elunaluna, and she comes right back at Rand in kind.  Rand
manages to (kind of) withstand her attack, a specialty of her Haiades
Squadron.  Of which Dabalarn turns out to be a member, with unswerving loyalty
to his master.  And by "loyalty", we find out he actually wants to be her
boy-toy, which is a hell of a way to spend a military career when the object
of the desire isn't even in your league.

Even Kei is agape at this latest development, that Strauss should turn out not
to be a "Buffalo", but rather a "Holstein".  And if you don't get that
reference, you need to Internet more.  Truth be told, Elunaluna is no fan of
her armored persona herself, only having donned it because Australis insisted
that the leader of the Army needed mystique, _menace_ to keep the troops in
line.  But with the Earth as good as defeated, it's time for her to stretch
her (considerable) legs again.

See, the Haiades have always roamed the galaxy in search of thrilling combat,
and _finally_ the Sidereals have delivered it.  It seems the Greedy Golden
Bull really does run on greed, in this case the lust for battle.  What's more,
Elunaluna even dares to call Rand "Darling", despite Mail's supposedly
exclusive claim to the title.  It'll take some explaining to Australis why this
battle turned into such a cluster-fuck, so she only gives her men four turns to
play with Z-BLUE.  Better get busy, I guess.

Elunaluna is totally looking forward to her next throwdown with Rand and
Z-BLUE, and Mail is _not_ in equal measures.  She leaves just as the rest of
Z-BLUE turn up, entrailus intactus.  The Gunleon almost seems alive as it
answer's Rand's call to support them all in the battles to come.

As the team get reacquainted with the events of the opposite path, Crow is glad
that his little Mission Spring seems to have worked.  Mail is all indignant
about Crow getting so much stress, noting that his preferred method of stress
relief seems to be getting pleasantly drunk on beer.  Now.  Alcoholism is bad.
Pleasurable drinking is not necessarily bad.  In fact, as Setsuko has it, beer
is actually really tasty, a sentiment I most heartily agree with assuming
we're talking the right kind of beer.  Anyways, what we have is a growing
alliance between the four Reactors, all of whom seem eager to help each other
advance.  After all: all of them are facing the same nameless dread that none
of the other Z-BLUE folks can feel.

(Wait up.  If ONLY the Reactors can feel this particular dread, what other
dread was it that Suzune was feeling?  And why did her dread seem to vanish
suddenly right before her abduction?  Deep stuff...)

AG is glad for Mail that Rand and the Gunleon have found a new level of
kick-ass-fulness, and gives her a present: two balloons!  With these, even
Elunaluna should be no problem.  Mail immediately assumes that these are a
means of startling the enemy (by popping them), creating a crucial opening for
an attack -- and rushes off to attach them to the Gunleon.  AG is left agape
in her dust, recovering enough to say that he won't forgive Rand if he ever
makes Mail, such a nice girl, cry.


CHAPTER 29S. Awakening from the Abyss

As on the other path, Giltar is at the end of his rope, and Sardias gives him
the Scorpion's Poison as a last-ditch means to clear his name.

Ledo meanwhile is learning just how un-optimized his trim frame is for life
on the Gargantia fleet, where manual labors like hauling in fish are de
rigeur.  there's also this thing called "sunscreen", which didn't exactly come
up during his time ensconced in a flight suit.  He goes to Kodama, who he
finds practicing his Jeet Kune Do, for advice.  Kodama echoes Chamber's
recommendation to try as many different things as he can during Z-BLUE's
remaining time aboard the fleet, in the hopes of finding what suits him best.

Kodama then asks Ledo to describe his mental state at the moment he decided
to discard his Alliance ways in favor of defending Gargantia.  How did he
choose between two such weighty factors in his life?  Ledo's never stopped to
think about how his own mind functions, but he thinks he just "naturally"
gravitated towards the option he truly desired.  Cool.

Before Kodama can start a martial arts lesson, Mail hauls Ledo off for Rand
and Pinion to start some kind of training of their own.  Cue Kodama and TT's
conversation about Suzune from the other path.  ...Which leads to Rand's
chat with the Gunleon from the other path.

It turns out the "training" Rand et. al. have in mind for Ledo is training as a
part of the maintenance staff!  Working with machine is skilled work that
doesn't really require moving heavy stuff by hand, and requires an
organizational discipline reminiscent of the military.  Perfect!  This sets up
for the Topless + EVA pilots' conversation about adulthood from the other path.
Ledo learns quickly that there's more to this job than doing things "by the
book" -- the mechanics here are full participants in their pilots'
idiosyncrasies and special preferences.  They let him service Chamber by
himself last: practice for if Chamber's self-repair systems should ever get
broken.

Watching all this reminds Rand of when his own boss first pounded into him
how to be a mechanic.  He was a hopeless snot-nose brat back then, but he also
had a certain fearless zest for life.  The confidence that nothing could slow
him down.  But now...  The other maintenance guys start kibitzing, and it seems
that the whole lot of them are scared of women in one way or another.  Rand
can only sigh at that.

Rand's actually stressing harder than he wants to let on, which is why he
requested Kodama for a partner in the battle to come with the Sidereals.  Who,
natch, have Giltar as their leader.  Giltar tries the whole Scorpion's Poison
thing, only to find out that even the rank'n'file Gargantia folks really don't
have much real Hatred in their lives.  News flash: not everyone in the world is
a spiteful bastard like him.

  As his plans fail, Barbiel shows up as on the other path, triggering the
  whole Suzune hostage crisis thing.  Except that Strauss shows up in the
  middle of it, and there's no Mars to dive into Kodama's mind.  So Rand takes
  matters into his own hands and _belts_ Kodama something fierce.  If he can
  still feel pain, it's proof he's still alive!  That, plus a little moral
  support from the team, snaps Kodama out of his funk.

  And just in the nick of time too, as Strauss seems determined to throw down
  with Rand... Who gets his head straight and has the whole Strauss reveal as
  on the other path.  Barbiel gets out of Elunaluna's way, leaving a berserk
  Giltar for Z-BLUE to deal with.

As on the other path, he regains his senses just before he dies.  Turns out
he loved Setsuko all this time, but in his world "love" means "subjugate
yourself to the almighty MEEE" and so forth.

Cue the Wrath Babylon cat-stroking conversation with Australis, the "nice
going Kodama" conversation, and the reunification of the two parts of Z-BLUE.
But first a great going-away party, including some more dancing (yay
costuming!) and takoyaki *without* firearms drawn.


CHAPTER 30. The Truth in the Darkness

[I kept the Sea of the Forgotten route.]

More chat about putting the two routes back together, though Kodama's not in
evidence.  Probably off training again -- the guy is hardcore and no mistake,
a trait that's helped save the team's bacon on more than one occasion.  But
Camille realizes something: Kodama's been getting better at using his Sphere,
not just his mech's basic abilities.  And that Sphere requires conflicting
emotions.  Ergo: for all the joy Kodama's finding in life, he must be
shouldering an equally immense burden of despair.  And not despair about his
family members and the Angel: that's his motivation, which is different.

Whatever this enduring despair of his is, it's not something the rest of the
team can likely help with.  Their best course of action is to stay focused
on taking down the southern Central Base and liberating this world.  The TdD
is stationed up in space, so any large-scale support from the blue Earth will
at least come with some advance warning.

Kodama has in fact been training, and now wants someone to join him for some
mock combat: a warm-up for tomorrow's mission, as it were.  The other pilots
are beaming at him, glad to see Kodama being his reliable fight-through-
problems self.  Karen, who does _not_ have a thing for Kodama, agrees to be
his first opponent, with Sousuke and friends getting in line next.

Apparently the next Terminal Base went down quite easily, since the game
doesn't even make you fight the battle.  What's a bit weird though is how it
self-destructs, something that's seldom been happening these days.  Maybe
there was something tawp seekrit inside?  Uhh, based on Kodama's eye, there IS
DEFINITELY something strange inside.

The team on the ground finds that one portion of the Terminal Base is very
different from others they've encountered: a downright weird chamber that has
survived largely intact despite the self-destructing.  Perhaps the base's
occupants weren't trained for demolitions on the unusual structure, or perhaps
they fled in too great a hurry.  The object in the center of the room reminds
Jeffrey of something very ominous: the Proto-Devlins' Spiritia Farm.  A system
designed to systematically extract Spiritia from imprisoned humans, it featured
rows of capsules to stick said humans in.  Which this room also has.

Could this be what the Sidereals are doing with their captives?  Circumstantial
evidence comes swiftly from another team, who've found a cache of captives from
both green and blue Earths.  Many of them are unable to speak, and the reason
becomes clear when Kodama lays eyes on them.  They're all in the grip of Red
Eye disease, believed to be the hallmark of contact with the Angel.  The cases
Kodama knew about from the previous game all seemingly healed after Gadlight's
defeat, but Kodama's also quite positive that Gadlight simply doesn't match
the image of the Angel he remembers.

Dollars to donuts these poor unfortunate souls have been used in The Machine,
and if the team can figure out what it does, maybe they can figure out the
common cause behind the Red Eye stuff.  Kodama's own eye is normal at the
moment, indicating that whatever he sensed before has waned.  But he's
definitely not alright, especially when two of the victims turn out to be our
old friends Shin'ya and Misako... and Maki!!

As one of the few people who can still talk normally, Maki goes through a
lengthy debriefing before they let her see Kodama.  He apologizes to her for
not revealing his mecha piloting, and she takes it in stride: everyone has a
secret or two to keep.  She explains that she quit her job at the hospital
around two months ago, the biggest reason being to put herself in a better
position to help others.  She signed up to be a combat medic, which she kept
secret for much the same reason as Kodama.  Unfortunately for her, she was
rounded up by the Sidereals and subjected to a series of... "unpleasant" things
before being shipped here.

From the pool of captives, people would be regularly hauled off, only to return
about a month later suffering from Red Eye.  Kodama assures her that she
won't have to worry any more, and that he and his friends will protect her.
She notices the shift to "and his friends", observing that he's gotten a lot
stronger than when they first met.  Sure she's happy to have played some role
in his development, but surely he's got other people for support now?  TT
comes over and tells Kodama to fess up to the "girlfriend" that she's filling
in for.  Kodama confirms that TT is "one" of the people supporting him, and
just then the air raid sirens sound.  He leaves Maki with TT, vowing to
protect them.

The Reactors have banded together for the dispatch, all sharing a clear but
ill-defined "bad feeling".  The Sidereal troops turn out to be an army of
mass-production crab mecha, led by Shikoku.  She won't divulge why she's here,
but one can safely assume that there must be more to this base than meets the
eye.  Amalgam is also on hand, possibly affording Sousuke a chance to get info
about Kaname.  Leonard himself has come here in hopes of examining the base's
secret, but even just being this close has given him Inspiration.  He intends
to watch this battle and then go home, knowing that he and Z-BLUE are on a
collision course.

  Something very strange is going on and no mistake.  Shikoku leaves when
  threatened, replaced only by Shikuu.  Who sounds *notably* unwilling to be
  here, though he also sounds committed to doing his job.  What's with this
  stifling atmosphere??

  The reason becomes clear quickly: another Sphere Reactor is coming.  The only
  ones specifically unaccounted for are Sagittarius and Pisces, and one of them
  presumably is with Asakim.  So who's the other one?  Onto the scene stride
  Barbiel and... Suzune, who's in the Geminia!  It's not a bad mech now that
  it's been reassembled, but it's missing one very important component:
  Kodama's sphere.

  She claims that the Geneon was originally supposed to be hers to pilot, and
  since AG can't be counted on to explain, she does so like any good teacher
  would.  The Geneon was created for the purpose of stealing the Gemini Sphere,
  similar enough in outward appearance to solicit Gadlight's "crappy knock-off"
  assessment.  But the plan all along was for her to become its pilot, and to
  make the thing a "complete DEM" by stealing Gadlight's Sphere.  And, though
  it probably pains Kodama to hear it, she has _not_ been put under some kind
  of mind control: she both _is_ and isn't the Suzune he thinks he knows.

  They should call her by her proper name: Umbriel.  She may only have an
  "artificial" Sphere, but it's still got enough juice to seriously endanger
  Kodama's life.  And worse, this turn of events endangers his very spirit,
  thanks to the side-effects of his Sphere.  Barbiel orders Umbriel to drag
  Kodama out of his cockpit -- an order Umbriel doesn't take too kindly to.

  Crow seizes the chance to try to help, but Shikuu reads his intentions and
  intervenes.  It seems like Shikuu and Crow might be antithetical, though
  Shikuu claims it's a personal dislike.  That's the first emotion Shikuu's
  ever shown, and it makes Barbiel impatient for this all to get wrapped up
  before "he" arrives.

  That would be Advent, but interestingly Crow insists that neither he nor
  Kodama need the assistance.  Crow for one really hates having to rely on
  others for protection, and that seems to have inspired him to new heights
  (and a new attack).  It seems that Crow's determination itself is what Shikuu
  finds threatening, and he does his best to share a bit of it with Kodama.
  It's up to him to settle things with Suzune, no matter what the outcome.

  Kodama responds well, telling Suzune and Advent that he's had to rely upon
  them till now, but no longer can he afford that luxury.  Seeing that he's not
  needed (for now), Advent withdraws.  Umbriel seems rather amused that Kodama
  won't do what Barbiel wants, and warns him not to interfere with her prey.
  Barbiel and Shikuu are forced to retreat, and Umbriel sends in a bunch of
  Geminis mecha for added flavor.  Kodama isn't the only one with a vested
  interest in getting the real(???) Suzune back...

Kodama does the best he can, but even he has limits.  Suzune tells him he'd
better get stronger, since when she takes the Sphere she wants it nice and
powered up.  After all, it's current state is about half her doing anyway.
As Kodama seems headed for collapse, Setsuko springs into action with Rand's
help, only to have Barbiel rush in and knock Setsuko unconscious.  He warns
Umbriel not to interfere: he won't let her or even Australis have Setsuko.
The two of them retreat to Central Base, which is of course where Z-BLUE was
headed anyway...

The *entire* team descend on the D-Traders, demanding that AG reveal
everything he knows.  AG hesitates, saying that divulging this kind of
information is the worst crime a DEM agent could commit.  Kodama makes it very
simple: does AG want to keep being an agent for a company that's not contacted
him even once, or does he want to be a member of Z-BLUE for real?  Z-BLUE.
Well then?

AG unlocks information about "Project Gemini", the plan to steal the
Quarreling Twins sphere.  At the time of the plan's inception, said Sphere
was known to be aboard the Geminia of the planet Gemini's army -- so the
Geneon was created in the Geminia's image to facilitate Sphere transfer, and
given a camouflaged alternate mode to keep the Gemini from suspecting.  The
alternate mode was also a concession to the fact that the Geneon's original
artificial Sphere was unable to deliver the expected full power needed to
run the G.A.I. systems.  The word "Gai" by the way was meant for the Japanese
character for "corpse", since without the spirit of the Sphere animating it
it was a mere husk.

But DEM did more than just build a robot -- they also ran a study to figure
out who was best suited to pilot it.  And indeed, Suzune was selected as the
originally intended pilot.  The black object Kodama contacted at Rindai High
was basically the pilot's registration system and instruction manual.  The
plan had been to have Suzune run into the thing and register voluntarily.
Had she not agreed right away, she was to be cajoled in positive terms.  And
then threatened, and finally brainwashed if she had continued resisting.  In
short, the part about AG just coincidentally being in the neighborhood was an
outright lie necessitated by the job he'd been tasked with.

Things aren't looking good for the robot, but Kira insists that everyone hear
him out fully before jumping to conclusions.  Suzune's selection hinged on
the fact that she suffers from Multiple Personality Disorder, a fact that
ship's counselor Ruu noted but was medically enjoined from sharing.  The whole
Fierce-Suzune bit is that other personality, which thanks to Barbiel's Sphere
Art seems to be firmly in control for now.  The polar opposition between these
two personalities was _one_ plausible way to get this particular Sphere to
activate.  Buuuut, thanks to Kodama's interference, the Geneon crafted itself
to be most suitable to his own quirks -- and AG lacks the ability to deregister
a pilot under these circumstances.

AG discovered the stirrings of a different, but still potent, set of warring
emotions inside of Kodama, and decided to risk having him stick around as the
"test pilot".  AG helped arrange it so Suzune came along as a sub-pilot, to be
extra sure there were enough conflicting emotions to at least get the
artificial Sphere to operate.  This matter-of-fact admission has most of the
team steaming mad, but Kodama is actually not among them.  He quietly notes
that he made use of AG and the Geneon for his whole Angel quest, so he could
say that he and AG are even.

But Suzune's a different matter.  Kodama will neither let anyone else be
the Geneon's pilot, nor will he let Suzune be forced to fight.  Insofar as DEM
wouldn't want the Geneon stolen by the Sidereals either, it seems that AG's
interests align with helping Kodama get Suzune back.  After all, if she has
MPD then the kind teacher he knows should still be in there.  That suits AG
fine, though he notes ruefully that this protracted lack of contact from DEM
could well mean that they've already been crushed by the Sidereals.

If Kodama's just made a deal with the devil it's mainly because normal means
won't get Suzune back (or the Angel tracked down, for that matter).  The other
team members are certainly ready to support him (if not AG directly), and AG
will support him too, in his way.  On account of that "deal with the devil",
Kodama is entitled to a bit more information.  The class of mecha called "DEM"
stand for "Dimensional Energy Machinery"... but also "Diabolus Ex Machina".  He
asks Kodama to use that power and upend the order of everything.  You bet your
ass he will, and get both Suzune and Setsuko back in the process!

Crow's in odd position, having both made a leap forward with his own Sphere
and still not been able to save the proverbial day.  The biggest thing on
his mind is Advent, who he trusts "instinctively" like the rest of the team.
And that's the problem: there's a lot of instinct going on lately, and too
little sense.  Ever heard the old saw "Love is Blind"?  Now _that_, says a
voice from the doorway, is how the Swaying Scales *should* talk.  It's none
other than Traia, back on the scene at last!

Shinn is especially eager to see Setsuko brought home safely, feeling a debt
of gratitude to her.  It was she who told him, when he was training to fight
Kira back when, not to fight out of hatred.  He sort of didn't listen at the
time, but the words stuck with him ever since...


CHAPTER 31. Of Hatred and Sorrow

It turns out that AG himself summoned Traia, and the timing suggests he may
have known in advance that there was something fishy in this base.  Zero and
C.C. are of one mind: AG most likely did _not_ divulge everything yesterday.
C.C., the former (titular) head of the Geass Church, also agrees with Zero's
feelings about this place.  If his supposition is true, the identity of
Kodama's "Angel" is something truly terrifying indeed.

Traia keeps AG on a very short leash, telling him repeatedly to cut out any
crap and focus on what the both of them crave: results.  In short order, and
with a little help from Sybil, Traia figures out what this facility was used
for.  Given how agitated just being here makes Sybil, it's obvious that
Proto-Devlin tech is involved: this is indeed a Spiritia extraction facility.
The Sidereals term it a "Soul Absorption System", and its purpose is even more
nefarious than you think.

Not only are the Sidereals trying to drain the Earth of its Origin Rho using
the Ley Line system, they're trying to drain the Earth's _inhabitants_ of
spiritual power, with which to control said Origin Rho.  That avoids the need
for Spheres to control it, which might come in handy if the Spheres are tied
up doing something else.  The Red Eye folks have indeed had their life force
sucked out of them, but unlike the Proto-Devlins' victims, it will take more
than Basara's songs to reenergize them.  They also suffer from crippling fear,
a trauma that cannot be so easily dispelled.

The base equipment for the Soul Absorption System must be in Wrath Babylon,
based on all the data she's seen.  This facility seems to be a test project in
support of the production version, and the general concentration of captives
at this and Wrath Babylon make perfect sense.  But the thing is, humans aren't
the only things that have life force.  In theory and in fact, all matter does!
But the animism can wait for later.  For now, the team need to find a good
plan to take down Wrath Babylon ASAP.

Traia then goes to speak to Kodama privately, the first time the two have met
in person.  She sees much of Professor Megumi in him, perhaps due to his
haircut, and when he starts to cringe at her name being brought up Traia tells
him kindly but firmly not to run away from this.  With an effort, he asks how
she knew his mother, and Traia says it was largely thanks to Megumi that she
got into Superdimensional Physics in the first place... though truth be told
Traia herself was still a child when Megumi died.

Once Traia achieved some semblance of influence in life, she's spent a lot of
time researching her erstwhile mentor.  She tells Kodama she wouldn't blame
him if he wants to try to forget about her, but she does want him to do one
thing: excise the part of himself that blames himself so incessantly.  Kodama
actually, literally, runs away from her at this, causing Crow to ask the good
doctor what she said to him.  Kodama's _never_ done that before.  With a
somewhat pained smirk, Traia says she gave a little adult advice to the
wet-behind-the-ears kid.  Unwanted advice, perhaps.  Crow gets an ironic
smirk of his own as he notes that Traia seems to have boarded the Kodama
bandwagon too, testament to the almost frightening magnetism the kid's got.

But that's not top of Crow's mind just now.  What's Ester doing, is what he
wants to know.  Traia's silence speaks volumes, and when she does speak it's
in soberest earnest: she needs more time.  And in fullness of time, she _will_
save that girl's life.  Crow will take his chief's word for it, and then asks
if she really has time to hang around here chatting -- doesn't she have like,
Science to do or something?  That she does, and if Crow can get so much
mileage out of the Re-Blaster T, she and her Okon kitsune mask can sure as
hell bring home the bacon too.  She tells him to be careful on the doubtless
bumpy road to Wrath Babylon, and he grins when he says that she won't be rid
of him _that_ easily.  Hopefully that applies to Esther too.

It turns out Kodama's not as messed up as one might suspect: after his flight
from Traia he's gone to Maki to have what may well be their "final talk".
Call it the "proper goodbyes" talk, which ends when Maki says a final
farewell and tells him not to get himself killed.  Watching her walk off into
the proverbial sunset (err, what time of day is it again?  Can't tell inside
the damn hangar), Kodama muses to TT when she pops up that he really is
better off _settling_ things in his life rather than letting them linger
half-done.  TT's heard about Suzune from the others, and wishes him the
best of luck in getting her back: TT can't have fun if Kodama can't.

Kodama senses that AG is nearby, and has a declaration to make.  In the event
that he should succumb to the side-effects of his Sphere, he wants AG to do
whatever it takes to get him back on his feet.  Drugs, implants, whatever it
takes.  He's got to fight, and fight at all costs.  With his explicit
permission, AG will be willing to do just that should it become necessary.

So raise your hand if you thought Barbiel was creepy before.  Now check this
out: Setsuko is his "double-edged sword", and he means to keep her right by
his side for all eternity.  Even Australis can't have her.  She is his last...
point of attachment, shall we say.  And even if it means he doom, he won't
let anyone else near.  Oh, and "by his side" doesn't actually necessarily
mean "still breathing" either -- he wants more than anything else to KILL her.

We fast-forward to the point where Z-BLUE reaches the Central Base, having
broken through all of Sardias' many snares along the way.  To wit: brainwashed
resistance fighters, human shield tactics, psychological warfare and even
assassins.  Some might call all those tactics "underhanded", but one of the
cosmic Rules(tm) is that there's no such thing as under- or over-handedness in
war.  He confirms that Setsuko is indeed in the base, being EVER SO FONDLY
LOOKED AFTER by Barbiel.  And no, the team in general won't let themselves
be provoked by that image.  Like his boss, Sardias admits to thinking of
people as basically insects, and like the old proverb says: "one insect is
worth half a soul".  AAAND, just to make things more interesting, Sardias
has come up with a way to teleport Scorpion's Poison directly into his
enemies' mecha using Dimensional Energy.  The team will have to counter with
greater positive morale and fight their way through this, since there's no
turning back now.

Hopefully Kodama will be okay solo, having taking Traia's advice to heart.

  Barbiel comes out when the going gets tough, and his hatred level seems even
  higher than before: maybe there's no need to fear Setsuko's rival Sphere
  after all?.  C.C. slyly notes that love and hatred seem to be two sides of
  Barbiel's coin, almost as though he was some kind of pubescent little boy.
  All he deserves is defeat, and that's precisely what the team aim to give
  him.

  And by "the team", we mean Setsuko herself, who apparently wasn't quite as
  unconscious as Barbiel thought.  She's felt a little of his true heart due
  to being kept so close at hand, and calls him a very sad person.  OH NOES TEH
  DEMOTIVATIONS!  In fact, touching her heart filled her with more sorrow than
  she's ever felt before, and she wants nothing more than to free him from that
  sorrow.  Just the pitying look in her eyes is enough to cow him, and if that
  doesn't work, she's got VAST TRACTS OF... particle beamage.

  So hold up a sec.  One imagines Setsuko was trussed up in some truly NC17-
  style chamber or other.  How'd she escape, exactly?  Turns out it was
  Asakim's doing: he, the one who *genuinely* has some claim to Setsuko (or,
  at least her sphere).  Sure, go ahead and hate him if you must: but just know
  that he isn't here for his health.

  Advent and his Chrono troops are here too, and Advent is still in no hurry
  to spill the beans on whatever grand scheme he's operating under.  But he's
  beginning to find out that Z-BLUE has become stronger and more independent
  than before, and their doubts about him have grown likewise.  When he says it
  would be "meaningless" to explain his motivations to Z-BLUE, on the theory
  that they have to take out the Sidereals and their servants in any case,
  Ledo is the one who speaks up.

  How is Advent's speech any different from Striker's?  Precisely.  _This_ is
  the "love is blind" thing that Crow was talking about, as the pilots
  abruptly notice themselves taking Advent's side in direct proportion to how
  long they've known him.  Certainly Advent _was_ their ally, guiding them
  through some very rough spots.  But notice how the little inconsistencies in
  Advent's story stopped bugging anyone?

  Advent calls this natural: anyone having trouble would gravitate towards a
  greater power that does the right thing... as he claims to be doing by
  (among other things) fighting the Sidereals.  Barbiel realizes that he's
  got no chance of withstanding Asakim at this rate, and retreats from this
  planet with the rest of the Sidereals.

  Kodama then begs Advent to tell him the truth, if Advent is really sincere
  that he sees Kodama as a colleague.  For reasons reasons known only to
  Advent, he then judges Kodama and Z-BLUE as unworthy of his company and
  orders them to open fire.  Rather extreme simply because of people with
  doubts, don't you think?

  Asakim seems reluctant, almost hesitant, to tell Setsuko what the hell is
  really going on here.  Instead, Advent tells Asakim to do as he pleases,
  what with four of his coveted Spheres on the scene.  The False Black Sheep
  Sphere could spell real trouble for the Quarreling Twins.  Ah, but not to
  worry, says Advent: Asakim can't actually be a proper Reactor and hence can't
  draw the full power of the Spheres he's got.

  Is that supposed to be patronizing?  Probably, though Advent won't admit it.
  Instead, Advent is focused on "reluctantly" fighting the distraught Kodama.
  Setsuko forms up with him, crying for him to worry about saving his skin
  above all else.

  Asakim's sort of got the right attitude.  If the winds of fate insist on
  blowing, let his cursed wings carry him higher, farther, faster than anyone,
  beyond the reach of Karma itself!  ...And no, he's not "helping" Advent as
  such: he tells Setsuko that he ever uses his miserable life (his wording) for
  his own purposes.  Advent deigns to let Asakim go live his life the way he
  wishes...

  Advent insists on being THE leader to the truth, even in the same sentence
  as he admits that Z-BLUE isn't in the wrong for not knowing the full truth.
  All their various powers, the Blood of Beasts, Age of Fire etc. are all
  being used wrong, and he mutters that it's the least he can do to see that
  such misuse ends here.

  After Advent's regular mech gets shot down, Advent himself emerges as a
  shining being that Kodama recognizes all too well.  He goes half-mad in an
  attempt to reach Advent, running over Advent's lackey White like he wasn't
  even there before unleashing a showy but entirely ineffective attack.
  Advent on the other hand has no such problems.

  Here, "at the end" as Advent puts it, he finally gives Kodama the answer
  that he withheld all this time.  The reason he's been so coy is that Kodama
  is "his".  He knows everything about Kodama, about his parents and sister,
  and even about the woman who got close to Kodama's heart.  "White" turns out
  to be none other than Maki, and her loyalty to Advent exceeds that of hers
  to him.

  Advent now dispels the Shield he erected around Kodama's heart during the
  Time Hell war, allowing him to perceive Advent directly.  As both eyes turn
  red, it becomes clear that Advent is the "Angel" that's Kodama's been chasing
  all this time.  Kodama's mech collapses into a heap, barely keeping him
  alive, and Advent mutters that he's spent too much time here already,
  withdrawing with "White" close behind.

So many mysteries all of a sudden!  Have the Chrono Progressives as a whole
now come to regard Z-BLUE as their enemy?  Who knows.  But what's clear is 
that the team can't stop now, not with the green Earth freshly liberated and
the Sidereals massing their strength on the blue one.  Who will prove stronger?

Back in the hangar, Ryouma looks fit to bust someone's ass wide open with his
bare hands.  And the target of his wrath is none other than HIMSELF, for not
fucking figuring out that Advent was trouble until now.  Something about Advent
seems to cultivate trust, and the longer the association, the greater the
effect.  Ledo is the least effected, and before the battle he felt neither
_trust_ nor _distrust_ per se... but when battle began, he began to feel some
kind of strange... recriminations, like _he_ was the one doing something wrong.

All the pilots seem to have felt some version of that, an effect so thorough
as to remind Amuro of one thing: a Sphere Art.  During Z3R, the three Reactors
tried asking him directly if he was one of them, and they got a pretty vague
answer then despite pressing pretty hard.  What _is_ clear is that his mech
runs on Dimensional Energy, and when it got destroyed his bare-handed trouncing
of the Geneon Gai is something the team's seen before too.

From Gaiou.  Remember him?  At the very least it's beyond doubt that Advent's
not human, but beyond that lie many questions.  Why for instance would the
Chrono Progressives, sworn enemies of the Sidereals, discard Z-BLUE right when
Z-BLUE was on an anti-Sidereal winning streak?  Hayato could almost believe
that Advent changed tacks on a pure whim.

Kodama meanwhile is out cold, blessedly free of any major physical injuries to
his battle-hardened frame.  But what of his spirit, so beset by the loss of
Suzune, and now Maki and his trusted Advent?  The other Reactors declare that
nothing can be done for him now, other than believing in him to pull through.
And in the meantime, Operation Eclipse must go forward.  If there's any good
news in all of this, it's Sousuke's assessment: Kodama's found his "Angel".
Now all he has to do is kick its ass.

Over in the Ptolemy's medical room, Kodama is still out cold, well after AG
has finished refurbishing the Geneon.  And so in accordance with Kodama's
wishes, he begins to wake Kodama up by force...


CHAPTER 32. The Ultimate

Kodama is _not_ acting like a morning person just now, missing out on
spectacular views of the Earths against the backdrop of the stars.  Setsuna is
pretty sure that Kodama has *not* succumbed to the Sphere's side effects;
rather, he seems to have fallen over heavily to the "despair" side of his
precarious internal balance -- and nobody can do much but keep calling to him
and hope he somehow hears.

TT seems less concerned than... "disappointed" in him, for not bearing up
better against this kind of thing.  Kouji asks her what she and Maki talked
about back on the ground, and TT claims it was about stuff like what Kodama
was like back as a school kid.  TT doesn't remember Maki displaying any
malice, or recriminations, or anything to indicate her upcoming role in the
previous battle.  If anything, TT notes, Maki seemed to be in high spirits.

Karen for one intends to thoroughly grill Maki the next time she sees her,
about why she's hanging with Chrono and whether she knew about Kodama when she
first approached him.  Then again, Rand and Crow's impression of the color-
coded agents is that none of them ever dreamed they'd _fight_ Z-BLUE... until
Advent actually ordered them to.  That they carried out that order
unhesitatingly is testament to how little Z-BLUE actually knows about either of
the two main Chrono factions.  Apparently they'll have to pin their hopes on
the third faction and the enigmatic Queen, who's been incommunicado for some
time...

Sousuke makes his report to Tessa, assessing the team's morale to be generally
good and its warpower, bolstered by the growing power of three of the Reactors,
as adequate for battles to come.  She agrees with this assessment,
on a strategic level, but asks whether he'd be happier personally staying by
the side of his friend Kodama.  Sousuke makes the analogy, strained by his
own admission, of himself during his lowest point in Hong Kong.  He believes
that Kodama will surmount this wall in front of him, talented as he is at
finding reserves of hope inside himself.  As for Sousuke, he's well aware that
his own circumstances (Kaname, Al, Amalgam, all that jazz) would qualify as
despair-inducing... But he's long since evicted despair from his life,
fed to the nearest malnourished dog on the street.

All it will take for Kodama to open his eyes and rejoin the living is a spark.
The right kind of spark.  Sousuke's confidence in Kodama, and in the
possibility of rescuing Kaname, is infectious.  Tessa may have given up on
Sousuke as a love interest, but he's still one of her most valued confidants.
And a good thing too, since the enemy shows little sign of giving Z-BLUE a
break.

Identifying the enemy takes a while, during which the team's "high morale" is
evident to Tessa.  Crow's not among the initial sortie, having been stopped
by AG for some reason or other.  When the enemy DO show up, it's not the
Sidereals everyone inspects -- it's a small contingent of Invaders.

  After them comes a larger contingent of Space Monsters.  Ledo has to wonder
  if they, like the Hidiarz, don't actually want to fight but have to for some
  reason.  That's a secret he's resolved to keep to himself until the moment
  is right.

  Next come some of those mysterious robots, followed by Suzune aka Umbriel.
  She calls some of the menfolk out for trying to fit her character into one
  of their little stereotypes, the good (yet sexy) teacher, or perhaps nurse.
  Kurtz is smart enough to not deny that outright, though "Umbriel" is the last
  person he wanted to hear that from.

  Suzune seems well aware of Kodama's absence, and has picked this as a good
  time to attack... as has Gestalt.  Gestalt's not brought many friends with
  him, but according to him, Zhul and the Space Devil's power is increasing as
  the 12-millennial cycle nears its climax.

  But wait, the actors aren't all assembled yet.  Crow _and_ Kodama take the
  field, as per Kodama's wishes.  Karen and some of the others are having a
  hard time accepting this, figuring it means certain death for Kodama -- Karen
  in particular demands to know what AG thinks humans are.  More or less,
  large masses of protein with a soul inside.  BUT, it's what those piles of
  protein do that provides AG what he wants, isn't it?

  Perhaps, but AG won't treat with Umbriel.  He wants the other Suzune, and
  stands firm when she throws a bit of a tantrum at that.  Crow is VERY
  steadfast that he believes in AG on this one, and as the team grapple with
  what to do, Takeru opts to dive into Kodama's soul (with an assist from
  several of the others on the team) in a last-ditch attempt to call him back.
  Only Kodama can take that hope and turn it into concrete power.

I guess this is the opposite of what happened up above on the other path when
Takeru dived into Kodama before.  This time, all is a deep, cold blackness --
which would have swallowed him too if not for the dark power of Marg within
him.  Takeru ventures into the heart of darkness, finding the shadowy figure
of a person with long black hair.  Not Kodama, but rather a woman.

He hears Kodama's voice, yelling at his mother to stop whatever she's doing.
The woman (Megumi) tells him sternly to come to her, despite his pleas that
he'll be a good boy if she'll just come back to him.  Megumi cries that he is
to die with her, the both of them leaving this futile world.  Kodama in turn
cries back that she's crazy, that he wants to see his father and sister again
and all of them live together as family.  She assures him that she'll take her
own life once she's taken his.  She slashes with some kind of knife, slicing
his face open.  She then turns the knife on herself, forcing him to watch her
die.  

Kind of a private moment, this root of all his despair.  And yet all of
frigging Z-BLUE and their dog are watching it, yelling good-naturedly for
Kodama to snap the hell out of it and confide in them in the future.  All the
encouragement is just a little bit much, frankly, and yet it still isn't enough
to get Kodama to raise his head.  But also in the bleachers is Umbriel,
gloating about how deep Kodama's inner darkness is after all he's been
through.  In fact, it's pretty similar to how the other Suzune is sunken to
the bottom of her own soul, never to rise again at this rate.

...Or, not?  When Umbriel tells Kodama he should thank God for stealing all
his loved ones, since that's what let him activate the Quarreling Twins,
suddenly the other Suzune's voice can be heard.  Telling Umbriel to shut the
fuck up.  Not only is her personality alive and well, but her return is proof
that Kodama could rise again as well.  Sure, he's lost many people dear to
him... but all the Z-BLUE folks around prove that he's not yet all alone.  She
gives him one final push back into the light, sharing with him the hope that
lies beyond all taboos.

And so, AG notes, IT begins.  To truly activate the Quarreling Twins, the
user must simultaneous conflicting emotions, and then overcome both of them.
AG had modified the Geneon with information he garnered from studying the
Sidereals' modifications to the Glory Star's Gunnery Cover, allowing it to
rearrange itself to conform to his will.  Moreover, Traia gave him some data
on how to link the Sphere directly to the Geneon's weapon systems, and added in
a little bit of the Gunleon's independent nature.  In short, the Geneon is
about to be reborn into its completed form: the Geminion!

It's a pretty terrifying sight to behold, as befits a true Diabolus Ex Machina,
but Kodama doesn't stop there.  Even AG doesn't know what Kodama's going to do
next as he goes about saving(???) Suzune.  Kodama actually smiles a nasty
smile at AG's confusion, informing him that this mech, which bends to his will
(and along with it, his flight suit for some reason), is _his_ strength and
his to name as he sees fit.  ...Though, "Geminion" is kind of cool sounding or
whatnot, so he settles on the "Geminion Rei": that which surpasses all, and
begins anew here.

Even Umbriel has to like the nomenclature, and really really wants to get
her hands on this mech now.  Kodama certainly won't waste all the assistance
the rest of the team gave him, and most especially means to save Suzune.  Crow
is all too glad to back him up, grateful to see him step out of Advent's
shadow.  Gestalt meanwhile is aghast at seeing this manifestation of the
Ultimate, the theoretical basis behind Jeet Kune Do (or more accurately, behind
Taichi-Chuan -- the "Great Ultimate Fist"... but oh well).  The Age of the Sun
is almost upon Humanity, and in the moment of his rebirth Kodama sensed that
all things have a soul.  A fact which will make Z-BLUE very strong indeed!

  Gestalt seems insistent that he's fighting for the "universe's" sake, which
  would tend to imply he wants to use the Earth's warpower for his own ends.
  Whatever those really are.

  Umbriel is too smart to stick around past when she can safely disengage, and
  she doesn't sound especially concerned when she tells Kodama to keep
  struggling against the scar from his mother and improving "her" mech.  Kodama
  tells Ryouma and the others that they'll need some way to totally undermine
  Umbriel's confidence -- only then will they be able to summon Suzune back.
  Easier said than done, but no less true for that.

Kodama has to make sure the rest of the team aren't too hard on Crow and AG,
whose dangerous gambit sending him onto the battlefield paid off handsomely.
Come to find out AG did nothing more threatening to Kodama than to tell him
that the Geneon's repairs are complete... and that the rest was up to him.
Perhaps, but Sumeragi still delivers a stinging open-handed slap to AG,
telling him on behalf of Z-BLUE that he is to _never_ play fast and loose with
the life of one of his teammates ever again.  The real puzzlement is Crow, who
doesn't have a convincing explanation for why he believed AG's explanation
enough to go along with it.  Maybe he's nervous because of the whole Advent
business?  Maybe it was seeing Traia again?

In any event, seeing AG flustered is totally worth the effort it took Kodama
to get the Geminion Rei up and running.  AG tells him that it'll take effort
again in the future: Geminion Rei mode is a second transformation, after the
Geneon turns to Geneon GAI.  And he might have to master that sooner rather
than later: word has just come in from Queen Diana on the Moon that trouble's
brewing there.  Time for Z-BLUE to alter course.

AG is still marveling over the Geminion Rei, which is _not_ what he expected.
How far can Kodama take it in his battle to get Suzune back?  Only time will
tell, but at this rate all the fighting will create a heck of a lot of Z-Chips.
And although Kodama is sincerely grateful to AG for helping get him back on
his feet, he still can't bring himself to utter "Sale, Sale!" in thanks...


CHAPTER 33. The Darkness of the Black History

Elunaluna has come to the White Palace for a chat with Diana, and things don't
stay very civil for very long.  Diana orders her to withdraw her troops from
the moon at once, scoffing at the idea that this blood-starved warmonger is
here solely because Australis ordered her to.  She sees in her the same
bloodlust that once drove her Captain of the Guard insane -- well she remembers
Ginganam's glee when dire circumstances forced Diana to let him off his leash.
Elunaluna tries to goad Harry into a duel next, until Diana tells him to
calm himself -- no need to answer the barking of wild dogs with baying of his
own.

Let's drop the pretense and get down to business, eh?  Elunaluna's been sent
to capture the D.O.M.E., even though she'd much thar just destroy it for the
threat it poses to Australis himself.  Her supposed boss is a pretty
sentimental guy when it comes to historical artifacts, and wanted the thing
taken over without bloodshed.  And interestingly, Diana has made it possible
to do just that, by deliberately _not_ mounting an armed resistance at the
outset -- much to Elunaluna's annoyance.  Then again, she and Diana both know
that such resistance would have been suicidal anyway, so it's not like Diana
had much choice.  Oh well, if Diana is determined not to fight her, she'll just
have to watch Dabalarn mix it up with Z-BLUE.  And for the record, there's no
need to take Diana hostage... after all, she's part of the family.  Chrono's
last descendant.

Dabalarn gives his troops a little pep-talk, informing them that they've
been authorized for maximum mayhem.  He vows to make the moon Z-BLUE's, and
especially Rand's, grave.  Time to show the world just how invincible the
Haiades squadron is!  Fragile as hell, if Z-BLUE has anything to say about it.
Rand will have to make this Dabalarn clown pay, while Kodama continues to see
how far his mech can take him.  But beware: Tifa's got a "bad feeling" about
this fight.

  The sight of Elunaluna out of her armor seems to have made Dabalarn go all
  testosterone-ish, enough so that it's affecting his judgement.  He's forced
  to "withdraw and consult Elunaluna about what to do next", i.e. cry on the
  hem of her blue jeans.

So why _do_ the Sidereals want the D.O.M.E. anyway?  Something to do with the
legacy of the UCW's "Black History" hidden within it?  To summarize: the UCW
that Camille and friends are from went through some VERY BAD STUFF sometime
after their lifespan... and _before_ Garode and Rolan were born, given that
spacetime shenanigans commingled their two timelines.  The VERY BAD STUFF is
the "Black History", and is of considerable interest to those who either want
to repeat, or to _NOT_ repeat, whatever it was.  This sounds suspiciously
familiar to the data Ledo and Chamber uncovered beneath the Sea of the
Forgotten, but now's not the time to go into that.

Harry and Diana appear in a transport, prepared to guide Z-BLUE inside the
D.O.M.E.  In case you've forgotten, the D.O.M.E. contains the spirit of a
Newtype -- one more like Diana than like Amuro, to be sure -- that's been
asleep since the previous mess here.  With the very fabric of the world in
peril, Diana declares that the time has come to peer into the deepest Darkness
within the already-Black History.

Char takes up the tale of what happened to nearly eradicate culture from the
world Garode and Rolan call home, as is only right -- it was he who set such
events in motion.  Well, more properly, an alternate, but still possible,
version of himself, who succeeded in dropping Axis on the Earth during his
fight with Amuro.  Whether that's precisely what Full Frontal is trying to
pull off or not remains unclear, but if Ledo is correct, that might be the
very event that shaped Amy's people's world!

Diana prevails upon Tifa to reach out to the Newtype spirit of this place, that
he and she may perform their ultimate duty: to reveal how the D.O.M.E. came
to be.  When awakened, the D.O.M.E. assures Tifa that it's expected this day
to come: in his dreams he saw information from the outside world from his
still-functioning external sensors.

He confirms that Ledo and Amy are indeed from _its_ own Earth, and welcomes
Ledo back from his far-flung journey among the stars.  Nor does the D.O.M.E.
blame Ledo for not sharing sooner the proof he found in the ruins -- to Ledo's
people, the Earth is the origin of that which they hate most dearly.  To
proceed in order, the Black History began with Char Aznable's colony drop and
ensuing nuclear winter.  Even _that_ failed to quell mankind's thirst for
fighting each other, much less alien races who visited the planet.

It was indeed the dreadful glory of the Moonlight Moth that blasted Earth
culture back to the stone ages, but up until that point certain humans were
involved in various schemes to restore the Earth's habitat.  One of these was
the Green Earth Bug project, whose nanomachines Z-BLUE knows well and of which
the Gargantia was but one mother-ship of many.  Who knows what might have been
accomplished had such plans been allowed to come to fruition?  Yet the
Moonlight Moth couldn't NOT have been released, for reasons not immediately
made clear.

What is true is that some humans, despairing of their tainted earth, ventured
out among the stars.  These so-called "Evolvers" modified their own flesh for
rapid adaptation to whatever habitable planet they might find, and the result
was the Hidiarz.  Ledo finally tells that the whale-squid were merely one
possible manifestation of that adaptability, which just so happened to come
with less aggression than their space-faring kin.  In line with the Evolvers'
ultimate goal -- survival -- the Hidiarz came to cast away culture when it no
longer served that purpose.

Ozuma gasps that such creatures can no longer be called "human", and Ledo
confirms that Chamber said the exact same thing.  Presumably, the top
Alliance brass, knowing all this, reached the same conclusion en route to
declaring war on the Hidiarz -- but for Ledo, the prospect of having killed
countless human-ish beings led to an existential crisis.  The good news, if you
can call it that, is that the obliteration of his former belief system
jumpstarted his new, self-sufficient outlook.  Amuro counsels him firmly to
think _now_ about what he'll do when he sees the Hidiarz next... while he
still has the luxury of time.

After the Evolvers' departure, the remaining humans mainly decided to move to
the moon and the Colonies to await environmental restoration: the foundation
of the Moon Race and the Space Revolutionary Army.  But opinion fractured over
time, leading some to return to Earth and dwell in enviro-sealed Domes, or
else in high-temperature zones where the pollution was least.  Yet another
contingent decided again to head out into space, but as baseline humans only:
they became the Human Galactic Alliance.

Time for the next shock: the D.O.M.E. and Veda, being built for the same
purpose, share access codes for each other's databases.  That abruptly explains
why Garode was able to use the Satellite Cannon even when in the ADW, and
implies in turn that Ioria knew of the parallel universes long before the
original Dimensional Quake.  Not that this is the first thing the team's
encountered that exists in multiple parallel worlds -- there is Chrono, who
were in the D.O.M.E.'s construction on account of Diana's ancestors in the
Sorel House's _former_ membership.

By the time she'd become the Queen of the Moon, Chrono had already lost its
meaning, and Diana knew of them only as a name, not even a purpose.  But the
D.O.M.E. itself knows it all, and proceeds to describe the Darkness of the
Black History -- a tale even it never expected to have to tell.  He begins
with the true nature of the Moonlight Moth, which was _not_ simply dispersed
indiscriminately as the tales tell.  Chrono themselves had decided that mankind
_must_ be deprived of culture one time, in fulfillment of their mandate to
rein in human evolution and its finest flowering: Newtypes.

The D.O.M.E. actually scoffs audibly at Chrono's misunderstanding of the
meaning of Newtypes, of how they fixated on their special abilities as though
that was what Evolution was really about.  If anything, the D.O.M.E.'s current
form -- one sort of ultimate evolutionary outcome -- is thanks to the Law of
Unintended Consequences' interference with Chrono's actions.  This explains to
Kiriko why the D.O.M.E. reminded him so much of Wiseman, another being whose
soul was transferred into a machine.

It was no accident that the D.O.M.E. was constructed on the Moon, the first
stepping stone of mankind on its journey into space.  The Moon is also the
origin of the Laplace Box, which Banarj is astonished to hear, but before the
D.O.M.E. can explain what else makes the moon so special, Mikage pops up and
starts wrecking the place.  The D.O.M.E. apologizes to Tifa for not being able
to tell her the truth: the time has finally come for him to sleep forever,
freed from this accursed eternal life.  It is only to the Living that the right
to Die is granted, and only because of its transience that life has Beauty.

Mikage professes that mankind can't handle Da TROOF, and that the mere act of
hearing it would imprison them in Heaven-Hell.  He's decided to play with
Z-BLUE a bit, presumably more afraid of whatever TROOF is now hidden than he's
letting on.  Apparently the D.O.M.E.'s final act was to fully unlock the
microwave transmission facilities, letting Garode blast away with his
Satellite Cannon pretty much at will.  Tifa's presence fills Garode's being
(she being the other ingredient for firing the damn thing), and it's time for
some serious payback.

  Mikage turns up in the Mythical Aquarion, with a bunch of servants he
  intends to use to destroy the D.O.M.E. (and Diana in it), if not the moon
  in its entirety.  Diana tells Rolan he need not fight back against this
  ruffian.  While Diana's forefathers may have destroyed much of life on
  Earth, they also protected much, nurturing it through the centuries and
  letting it blossom anew.  Likewise, the Moonlight Moth is not merely the
  evolutionary dead end that Mikage claims: note that it did _not_ wipe out
  humanity entirely, and in fact is now fighting to defend those it once
  assailed.

  Seeing Rolan's faith still strong, Diana releases the seals on the Moonlight
  Moth, allowing him to use it as he wishes.  Finally calling it by its
  proper name, Rolan cranks up the "Turn A" and de-energizes Mikage's troops.
  This energy absorption, and synthesis, is as key to these nanomachines as it
  is to the ones in the seas around the Gargantia, and represents the final
  stop in the Culture of Fire.

  Oh, and not to worry about the troops occupying the cities of the moon:
  Jamir (oh, there he is!) and friends are dealing with that right now.
  Garode can just relax and concentrate on blowing holes through Mikage, who
  Diana declares is a pitiable being.  Like her, his eternal life has made
  him forget the beauty of humanity.  To humans, deprived of eternity
  directly, it is the mingling of one with another that creates the bridge from
  past to future.  Let Mikage see what that brings!

  Mikage is all like "Hmph, I'll test whether you're fit for the final battle!"
  and Z-BLUE are all like "STFU".  This might be a good time to earn your
  "Only One Crash" Achievement, since Mikage flees at 30k HP, after declaring
  that Z-BLUE's strength might prove useful after all.

A herd of Space Monsters are approaching the green Earth, and of course Z-BLUE
has to go save the day.  Mikage mockingly wishes them the best of luck,
seeing as they're oh-so-ignorant.  After Z-BLUE leaves, Diana confirms that
the D.O.M.E. is indeed asleep again, this time probably for good.  Diana
herself has decided to once again trade places with Kiel once this war is
over: the legacy of Chrono in her blood should end with her.  And if her
precognition about this world achieving true peace comes true, it will have no
further need of her -- overly long-lived as she is already.

AG seems a bit afraid of Rolan and Garode, now that they've got strategic-class
weaponry enabled in their Gundams.  Fortunately they're both very good kids,
and AG is sure they can be trusted to fight for mankind.  They even split the
whole "Sale, Sale!" quote as a show of goodwill.


CHAPTER 34. Day of Revival

Here's a fine how-dee-doo: Nono has decided of her own volition to stay on the
moon and "root for" the rest of the team.  The fact is, she doesn't have a
Buster Machine of her own, and it's quite likely she'd just be in the way
against a full-scale Space Monster assault.  Still, this is quite an about-face
from her previous bravado, and Lark probably feels Nono's absence more
poignantly than anyone else.

Nono is hanging around somewhere in the hangar (come to think of it, what ELSE
would one do there) prior to Z-BLUE's sortie when Shinji comes specifically to
talk to her.  What is this, a confession of love?!  Best not to do that before
a battle, since doing so is one of the classic "certain death" flags.  Shinji
of course doesn't roll like that, and asks Nono why she's really stepped aside.
It's the lack of a Buster Machine, and not in the sense of "I can't fight if I
don't have my EVA" type nonsense.  It's more that Nono feels far removed from
her elder sister figure, and that at least Shinji can identify with -- he's
only put up with being stuffed into his EVA in a bid to win his father's love.

That's twisted, and Shinji knows it.  Once upon a time he had resolved to fight
even without an EVA, as a member of Z-BLUE, and he wonders if Nono's got any of
that spirit in her.  She seems plenty spirited, but also equally adamant that
she's got to have a Buster Machine.  What she can promise Shinji is that she'll
return to him and her sister-figure: she, like him, is riding the wave of
morale that Nonoriri set in motion when she saved the world.

As Shinji runs off to board his mech, lest Asuka scold him, Casio turns up and
confirms to Nono that "her" mech is indeed here, on the far side of the moon.
See, Casio's a bit of a hacker, and during the whole fracas with the D.O.M.E.
he hacked into the Moon Race's computers to find proof of the "Trantrowa"'s
existence.  This mech, supposedly sunk after the Kuiper Belt Conference some
two decades ago, is one of several Casio's been tracking -- and only thanks
to all the dimensional distortions is it to be found anywhere close to
Meganebula.  It's in a spot that would normally be impassable thanks to Moon
Race guards, but this is no ordinary day...

Maybe it's best that Nono not be here, Lark reasons: if she can't become like
her "Nonoriri", Nono seemingly won't be satisfied.  Nicola notes that a
"reliable source" has indicated that this world is showing signs of the same
powers that the Topless have in his world.  But are they age-limited like his
world too?  Char's heard all about this from _his_ sources, and although the
team won't press the Topless on this delicate topic, it's clearly relevant to
everyone's interests.  Indeed, Char's mere mention of it seems to zero to be an
attempt to provoke Nicola into divulging a little more of his secrets -- a very
"adult" stratagem indeed.

In any case, the Space Monsters turn up in considerable numbers, showing no
signs of being able to be reasoned with.  Lark rushes out in front, thinking
that if not for these bastards, she could be with Nono forever.  The other
pilots can do little but try to support her from behind.

  Based on the Skill Point condition for this battle, this may be your golden
  opportunity to get the Multicrash Achievement.

  The second enemy wave has the Topless' Buster Machines trembling in fear,
  as even more Space Monsters pour in.  Could it be that they've finally
  decided to attack the Solar System en masse?  Apparently it's more 
  complicated, as the outer-space Space Monsters start attacking the Solar
  System-only Space Monsters.  Maybe the "Space Monsters" Noriko is familiar
  with are totally unrelated to the ones Lark and friends know??

  In any event, the new ones' combat abilities exceeds anything Chamber's got
  on record, suggesting that something or some_one_ has fortified them.  That
  would be Mikage, who explains that Z-BLUE is now facing the 120 Million Year
  Anniversary Edition of the Space Monsters, harbingers of the Beginning Of The
  End(tm).  He doesn't stay long, saying he's got business on the blue Earth.

  While Lark gets increasingly frustrated at all the bad guys, Casio and Nono
  eventually find the Trantrowa, considerably busted as it lies on the lunar
  surface.  Apparently this was once Casio's own mech, serving him well before
  he Finished.  In fact, Casio's own experience piloting a Buster Machine was
  a bad one: it "imprisoned" his heart, and he would spare Nono that pain if he
  could.  IN FACT, he's only been pretending to be Finished -- in fact, he's
  still a Topless, and both he and Lark want something other than a life of
  combat for Nono.  They need Buster Machines to make a difference in life, but
  Nono is different.

  Unfortunately, despite Casio's best efforts, thing actually happens to his
  mech -- maybe he's Finished after all?  Meanwhile, Nono somehow senses her
  elder sister, on the other side of the moon no less, calling for her help.
  She _vanishes_ from Casio's sight, reappearing near Lark just in time to
  save the day.

  Apparently she's capable of _Warp_ all by herself, declaring that her bond
  with Lark knows no spatial boundaries any longer.  She is, apparently,
  Buster Machine #7, and has known for some time that this whole fight isn't
  about having a Buster Machine or not.  Nobody who has to depend on a Buster
  Machine could reach the "Top", an honor reserved only for those who believe
  in themselves!  The _real_ Nonoriri surely has a Buster Machine within her
  own heart!!!

  Or, something.  What's certain is that today is a very bad day to be a Space
  Monster.

Apparently the Serpentine Sisters are trying to get their hands on eternal
life (to hold onto eternal youth, one supposes) and are happy to hear about
the doings with Z-BLUE.  They reckon they need to summon more "Friends" to the
Solar System, to help hasten "Its" awakening.  Very soon now their "dinner"
will be prepared fully...

After the battle, the imposing Buster Machine #7 reverts to the ditzy Nono we
know and love(?), and the other pilots clamor for some answers.  She remembers
helping Casio look for a Buster Machine on the other side of the moon, she
remembers hearing Lark's voice, and the next thing she knew, there she was!
Such hidden powers befit the "hero of Justice" she's always wanted to be, but
where some of the things she said -- such as her affiliation with a "Earth
Empire Space Forces" -- came straight from her subconscious.  Noriko reckons
that it's nothing directly related to her own world at least.

Just as the team are preparing to split up in despair of getting any useful
info out of her, Nono says she remembers something about the "Buster Army",
those Space Monsters only seemingly found in the Solar System.  She's pretty
sure they've been searching for her specifically, and that their real enemy
are the Space Monsters at large.  Unfortunately, it will take more than just
her word for it to clear up this apparent misunderstanding(?), and it's not
readily clear to Nono how to switch into #7 mode at will, but Akagi is pretty
sure it's all about morale -- something Kodama knows quite a bit about.

AG would like to encourage Nono, but his way of doing it is creepy at best.
Or, it would be if he didn't get his monitor broken every time he tries to get
near her.  Sort of a nifty defense mechanism, I guess?


CHAPTER 35. Across Twelve Thousand Years

Mikono's got a lot on her mind to try to prepare for the showdown with Mikage,
as she knows it'll probably fall to her to stop Mikage's unreasoning hatred.
She asks Setsuko what the original "Sylphie", aka Sylvia, was like...

Elunaluna and Mikage's forces are really duking it out, and the Earth forces
allied with the Sidereals aren't faring too well.  Sure, Full Frontal can
talk about trying to ensure mankind's survival all he wants, but deliberately
using the Zaft and Char-faction Neo-Jion forces as a cannon fodder isn't
winning him any points with Rezun.  Meanwhile Mikage's got his Tautology
Engine cranked up to 11: Fighting him is a sin, and all sinners must be fought
to the death.

By the time Z-BLUE shows up, there's no sign of Dabalarn, "letting" Rand go on
a "date" (meaning killing each other) with Elunaluna.  Seriously though, what
happened to them?  Did they get fired or something for their failure at the
D.O.M.E.?  Nope, it was Australis' orders that the honor guard not be sent in
for a fight this trivial.  Hey, at least the Supreme Commander came, that's
got to make Mikage feel at least a little better, right?

Rezun is too stubborn to heed Char's call to stop aiding the Kingdom, which
clearly cares not a whit for Neo-Jion.  Hence, it's to be a three-way
engagement, with Mikage as the highest-priority target.  And Mikono will be
the person to strike the final blow (we hope).

  It's really time to get this Mikage ass-clown to fuck off.  He sees Mikono
  as the source of all his problems, the one thing that kept him from living
  happily ever after with Apollonius.  But she's done running away, both from
  him and from her own weakness, and intends to give him what he wanted for
  these past 24,000 years.  Mikage intends to stop her from doing whatever it
  is, but his hatred comes to an abrupt halt when Fudou intervenes.

  Love and Hatred are two sides of the same coin, and the deeper the hatred...
  the deeper the love it inspires.  That is the single ray of light that Fudou,
  sealed inside the labyrinths between dimensions, needed, and he's going to
  grant the wish of Mikono and those with her as thanks for freeing him.

Time to reach across space and time for a little instructional time.  Amata
meets Kagura, while Fudou explains why he -- a higher-dimensional being -- is
bending the rules about non-interference with mankind.  Who came up with that
rule, anyway?  Why should gaining control over Origin Rho somehow deprive one
of the right to interact with others?  Oh, and as for the woman Mikage wants,
Fudou's sent her to Mikage's birthplace.

There, 12,000 years ago, Mikono meets the original Aquarion crew.  She also
finds Touha, who addresses her as the girl who both tormented, and saved, her.
Sirius and Apollo tell her not to grieve: they did the only thing they could do
to save the world (at great cost to themselves).  This is the meeting of man
and angel, the Mingling of Waters, where everything fades together into a
beautiful hue.

Mikage then manifests, recalling how Touha had given herself to Aquarion in
order to save her beloved Wings of the Sun those 12 millennia ago.  But at the
very last moment, Touha learned that it was all a sham: the mechanical
Aquarion wasn't the Wings of the Sun "Apollonius" after all!!  Thus was Mikage
born, the shadow of Touha's love severed from its originator.  Finally Sylvia
herself appears, telling Mikage to stop tormenting himself further.

Kagura's been sent by Fudou to act as guide for Amata, since Mikono is likely
to need some help.  Amata thinks he can hear her voice, but is puzzled by why
there seems to be two of her.  Oh, that's probably Sylvia, and where she is,
the original Apollo will be to.  But what to do about Mikage possessing the
Mythical Aquarion?!  Kind of important.

Amata invites Kagura to join him, since it's only with three people together
that the Mythical Aquarion will manifest its true strength.  Recall that the
Aquarion was built by Apollonius, and Apollo's previous life was Apollonius'
pet dog Pollon.  Thus, he reasons, the Aquarion should recognize their voices!
It's a crazy plan -- so crazy, it just might work.

Maybe Mikage will listen to Touha herself, telling him to piss off?  She
herself has made peace with losing in love, and Apollonius has done the same --
why can't Mikage take the hint?  Meanwhile Sylvia and Mikono are prepared to
confront all this Drama head-on.  And as the voices of the others, calling
Aquarion, begin to reach their ears, it seems it's time for the Sun to rise
from the depths of the Earth once more.  Time for Mikage to witness the true
power of Love!

What we have here is 12 millenia's worth of sexual frustration, all released
in an instant.  You think I'm kidding?  Direct quote from Sylvia, Scout's
honor.  And if Mikage thinks he's going to get away from beat-down this time,
he is _sadly_ mistaken.  The new Elements get to meet their ancient
predecessors, and all of them combined pose even Elunaluna a considerable
threat.  Even Jin is back, and Mikage barely escapes mainly by the grace of
Mikono and Sylvia, asking Fudou to save that pitiable man.  He'll make a good-
faith attempt, and disappears.

This sets the stage for Elunaluna's greed to go full-power, and Apollo at least
is ready to go toe-to-toe.  The old Elements rapidly get along with their new
reincarnations, and it's off to the races.

  Elunaluna actually admits defeat -- for today at least.  Her instinct told
  her that Z-BLUE would get strong enough to be worth fighting, waaaaay back
  when the team first faced her at Wrath Babylon, and it's great to see she
  wasn't wrong.  If anything, the reason she seems to incite such fury in Rand
  is how similar (in some ways) she is to Mail.

All this combat has left a hole in the defenses around the Earth which Z-BLUE
can exploit to take Operation Eclipse to the next level.  There'll be a lot of
filling in the original Elements, AND lots of feeding them after their little
12k year hiatus.  But the real first order of business is for Apollo to, umm,
smell Mikono -- and Kagura to smell Sylvia.  Mikono's scent seems somehow
more frail than Sylvia's, and Sylvia in turn smells more... unrefined than
Mikono.  SAY WHAT?!?  Say that.  With trouble-maker Fudou out of the picture,
his charges have to operate on their own intuition after all.

Perhaps the original Fudou from Diva and the one from Neo-Diva are related by
blood -- or by reincarnation?  In any case, the Angel-Dog brothers will have to
get past Kaien and Sirius before they do too much more unauthorized sniffing.
Jin meanwhile has been practicing his Element abilities ever since parting
company with the team -- unlike Yunoha, he doesn't have the instructors of
Holy Angel Academy to help.  Never fear though, Claire is on hand to look after
the chillun's.  And after the usual introductions (and Sazanka going all moe
over the "forbidden" love between brother and sister), it's decided that
Z-BLUE just got more pilots.

The real concern is Mikage, whose wrath won't be restricted to Z-BLUE alone.
That much Sirius knows well, from sharing Tenha's mind.  What will Mikage
hate next, and on what pretext?

Mikono and Sylvia are getting along great.  Mikono is kind of glad she doesn't
look much like her former self, lest Amata get "Wandering Eye" syndrome.  That
doesn't seem very likely, and yet Mikono recalls how big a fan Amata was of
Sylphie in the "The Sky Where Aquarion Dances".  Sylvia is kind of embarrassed
to hear about her life being fictionalized and put onto the big screen.  In
fact, there's a screening scheduled for right about now in the Macross
Quarter's briefing room, and if Sylvia wants to stop it, she'd better hurry...


CHAPTER 36. [Route Split]

The commanders are busy preparing for the assault on the Earth Kingdom, and
Karen for one can't wait to start breaking heads -- not so different from
Elunaluna in fact, except that she's more of a bunny (or maybe a wild horse?)
than a bovine.  But it will take more than fierceness to topple the Kingdom,
especially given that Elunaluna fully recognizes Z-BLUE's might.  The team's
best chance for success comes not from a single thrust at Wrath Babylon, but
on pretty much everywhere else.

Imagine a balloon, filled to bursting.  Any attempt to move men and materiel
from point A to patch a leak at point B would simply leave point A prone to
spring a leak itself.  Leak often enough, and the balloon as a whole has to
shrink.  Z-BLUE's job will to make the initial hole(s), and pinpointing the
proper location will involve some information from the enigmatic Queen.

Queen's info is very thorough, covering not just the Kingdom itself but also
its collaborators from Neo-Jion and Amalgam.  With both the main branches of
Chrono seemingly out to get Z-BLUE, and with Asakim on their side, the
commanders ask Queen to reveal her sources.  Queen tells them it's not worth
their while to try to forecast what's going on -- like the weather: whether
it rains or shines, you still have to lead your life.  This reluctance to
reveal her sources (even in the face of low-level feints from Zero) forces
Jeffrey to declare that the team is, while grateful for the info, neutral on
Queen herself for now.

  So long as Z-BLUE's objectives align with hers, there's little chance of her
  outright betraying the team... but one really has to wonder when Queen's
  identity will be revealed.  For now, the upcoming operation will involve a
  three-fold branch: defending Japan (Chapter 36J), dealing with Neo-Jion
  (36N) or going after Amalgam (36A).  The ultimate goal is to take down the
  enemy Reactors, free those imprisoned by the Soul Absorption System, and
  ultimately go after Australis.

The uneasy peace between the Reactors (including Umbriel, who's here as a
formality) continues, with Australis elsewhere actually running the country.
Elunaluna is especially impressed by the rapid progress Z-BLUE has made since
their days of duking it out with Gadlight, and observes that their return to
Earth will bring in their wake all the mutant Gods that have a bone to pick
with their members.  "Singularities" indeed, as indicated by their Stigma --
just like the Sidereal Reactors.  Observing all this, Umbriel thinks to Kodama
that these guys are serious.  Can he in fact win?

Gwen meanwhile has divulged Chrono's full troop strength to Australis, causing
the king to ask why Gwen entered Chrono to begin with.  He doesn't seem the
typical high-society titan of industry, after all.  Gwen says he caught a
glimpse of where the world is going that didn't have anything to do with the
Black Knowledge, from the novel Metropolis.  Unlike the Black King, Gwen sees
himself as only a bit player -- a bit player who'd like to live long enough to
watch the end of the human race.  He calls that "knowing his own limitations",
but Australis doesn't seem so sure.

But Gwen isn't the only one to betray mankind.  Sionny shows up next with
something to convey...


CHAPTER 36J. Homeland to Which There Is No Returning

Ahh Tokyo, that eternal wonderland (and one of the last places that these
particular bad guys haven't managed to ravage yet).  Kodama and many of the
others were preoccupied enough with something or other that Kappei managed to
sneak out of the Crushers' base for a little private R&R.  Shotarou got
dragged along, naturally, since Kappei's own teammates and the 21st Century
folks are helping out at Takeo General Company.  ...Well, maybe nothing so
irresponsible in Shotartou's case: Ootsuka's asked him to look into a little
matter for him -- the matter of the mysterious Umemoto.

Who, it turns out, saves a lot of trouble by simply revealing himself to the
boys.  Shotarou is all sorry for doubting the guy after all he's done to help,
but Umemoto knows that he invited that scrutiny by how mysterious he's been to
the Federation forces.  What's more, he really respects how Shotarou tried to
keep Kappei from having to see their meeting, in case Umemoto turned out to be
a baddie after all.  In fact, Umemoto declares that he's now officially done
everything _he_ can do, and that it's up to Shotarou and Watta and company to
see it through.

In short, there's no reason for him to hide any longer.  Time to tell the tale
of his old homeland, to which there is no returning.  He leads them to the
beach, noting that both the blue and green oceans of the Earths are a
magnificent sight.  You see, all that strange technology he's been providing to
the Earthlings comes from his real home, the planet Gavarl.  His true name is
Navalon, a fugitive from the robot that dominated his planet: the nefarious
Mother Computer Sigma.  Before his flight, he was forced to toil day and night
on making ever more powerful robots to fuel Sigma's ambition to conquer other
planets.

Navalon's sincerest wish was not to make weapons, but "true" robots -- an
admittedly vague idea that crystallized when Navalon first met Watta's father.
Takeo Michitarou saved him from a mishap in space, and arranged the name
"Umemoto" as part of setting him up for a life on Earth.  Trider G-7 was his
way of repaying Takeo's generosity: an all-purpose robot well-suited to the
jack-of-all-trades business Watta's family intended to run.  Though he hadn't
realized it while building the thing, Trider G-7 is indeed the "true" robot
that Navalon sought.  A "partner" that can share the joys and sorrows of the
humans around it, rather than being a mere disposable tool.

Seeing the various other super robots in Z-BLUE inspired Umemoto to share his
wisdom with a wider audience: a simple act of humanity that would be totally
foreign on Gavarl.  For although Sigma was originally created to make human
lives easier to lead, it one day had its purpose altered to the destruction of
all culture... by the Gaizock!  Now you might recall that the Gaizock were
enemies in the UCW -- how'd they get to the ADW?  Well, apparently their
advanced tech included pan-dimensional travel... and they had a technological
head start of hundreds or even thousands of years over the Earthlings.

It's still unclear to the boys why the Gaizock have it in for mankind so much.
The clearest thing they remember is the Gaizock claiming that humans are "evil"
intrinsically or some such, and Umemoto has no insights to add there.  All
this exposition is very much what Shoutarou needed to fulfill his mission, and
just in time to: more of those mystery robots have turned up in Odaiba.  It
seems Umemoto will save his reunion with Watta for after peace returns to the
Earth -- a peace that his own world will never know again.  But the legacy he
helped the Takeo family build still does him and his people proud.

The kids are fired up when battle begins, though Watta and Akagi are nowhere
to be seen.  They'll be here momentarily though, packing a big surprise.
Once this battle is over, Kodama and the others have in mind to go apologize in
person to the students of Rindai High.

  The big surprise is the "New Trider", whose armor has been completely
  replaced with Gavarlnium -- as the original plans called for.  This very
  rare and totally kick-ass alloy was delivered by an anonymous benefactor,
  whose name we of course know.  Some of that alloy also got used to help
  upgrade Dai Guard's Great Knot Punisher (without permission, but hey, when
  the Earth's in trouble who's counting?), and in fact a number of people are
  counting.  Visions of debt quickly suffuse the team, and F.S. has to promise
  to help pay it all off to get things moving again.

  Still, team "Salaryman" needs to raise considerable funds if they want to get
  out of this with an intact balance sheet.  That might be harder, given the
  second wave of bad guys.  The Gaizock are back in town, and determined to
  wipe out all Gavarlnium not under their control -- more specifically, these
  are the group of Gaizock that took over Gavarl itself, not the ones defeated
  during the previous war.  The Computer Doll leading the charge levels the
  usual charges of mankind's evils at our heroes, who as usual aren't buying
  it.  Kappei gets to get in on the motivational speaking, and Z-BLUE pile into
  combat.

  Watta is totally unfazed by the task of raising fifty grand: that's like
  peanuts to the budding CEO.  The 21st Century folks have to take their hat
  off to him, though not too far -- at the rate he's going, Takeo might
  _acquire_ 21st Century someday.

  With its systems failing fast, the Gaizock robot asks why the humans fight.
  Of course: to protect those they care about! shouts Kappei.
  Incomprehensible.  The robot's final words are a warning to all mankind:
  abandon culture, or else all that awaits will be despair.  Right, not if
  Kappei and the rest of Z-BLUE have anything to say about it!

Watta gets filled in on this Umemoto character's real background.  Like the
folks from Beal in Kappei's own family tree, Umemoto's only real course of
action -- if he can't return to his homeland -- is to start a new home here.
Which ain't all that bad, as Akagi tries to convince Shinji.  Even if you
can't go home again, the main thing is to keep walking.

Meanwhile, the members of the Volunteer Club get phoned up by Kazama and
friends.  They explain how Sousuke already visited them and filled them in on
who their "classmates" really are.  Their initial anger has given away to a
much more rational concern for Z-BLUE's wellbeing.  Besides, the lies they
were told were for their own protection, and if anything the remaining students
want a FULL class for graduation once all this mess is over (teacher included).

AG makes sure to berate Akagi for not being cost-conscious enough, using that
as an excuse to get him to deliver the "Sale, Sale!" thing with as much gusto
as he can muster.


CHAPTER 36N. The God of Space

Guarding the Celestial Being is a piece of cake, with its nigh-perfect stealth.
A good base for anti-Neo-Jion operations, and for keeping Mineva safe.  And, of
course, Veda, which Tifa tries without success to contact (hey, it worked with
the D.O.M.E., so why not at least try)?  Looks like Chrono's SEEKRITZ will have
to be discovered the old-fashioned way: beating it out of bad guys in battle.
Paula offhandedly notes that Veda might actually be withholding the info on
purpose as a sort of lesson, and Tielia realizes that it would be just like
Ioria to set up such a "trial".  Taking down Chrono and restoring mankind's
right to evolve is Tielia's sworn mission, and Tifa is only too glad to help
out.

Power-ups are in season, thanks to lots of hard work by the engineering corps.
Not only the CBs' Gundams get the love, but also the G-Boys'... with the
exception of the core of the Wing Zero, which remains even beyond the
scientific reach of the team.  Even Graham and Korasawar's mecha will get
access to Pseudo-GN Drive thanks to Lady Une's latest emailed program: the
first step into a wider era of GN usage.  Takuya is proving to be both
enthusiastic AND clever at proposing improvements.

And Banarj is still the same down-to-earth guy as ever, even still referring to
Mineva as "Audrey" when Micott drags her to the hangar to visit.  Both Banarj
and Mineva realize that she can't stay as a mere member of Z-BLUE forever: the
time is fast approaching when she must stand up and help liberate Neo-Jion from
its current tyranny.  And the Unicorn will have a pivotal role to play, no
doubt.  Like Char, Mineva trusts Banarj to decide whether to reveal the Laplace
Box -- whatever it is.  Banarj himself can't really imagine what "power could
overturn the Federation", but his former determination to keep it hidden --
given how many people have killed to get close to it -- has given way to a more
honest appraisal of what it might contribute to The Truth.  His plan is to see
the Box opened once the Sidereals are ousted, and Audrey can certainly be
patient that long.

Word of this conversation reaches Char and Amuro's ears, causing Char to pay
Amuro a visit in his private quarters.  Char had never paid the Box, or its
vague ties to Chrono, much heed when he sat at Neo-Jion's helm: Full Frontal's
pursuit of the box was an entirely private matter.  But with the D.O.M.E. and
Veda both mum on Chrono, the Box may be the only clue Z-BLUE has left.  Plus,
Char _has_ become very worried about what's driving Frontal's Box obsession.
His assessment of Frontal as an alternate-universe version of himself has made
him intensely curious about what Frontal is thinking: especially since Char's
thoughts have seemingly diverged considerably from Frontal's demonstrated
actions.   That sounds like a dangerous path to Amuro, and the tension ratchets
up when a Neo-Jion detachment apparently discovers the Celestial Being's
whereabouts!

The issue is this: even if the Celestial Being itself has great stealth, the
people coming and going from it leave traces that one could track.  Presumably
Neo-Jion would mount a major counter-offensive if given the chance, and Char's
teaming up with Camille is CERTAINLY not by accident.  It turns out that the
big deal is Gyunei: Char feels he can no longer let the guy go on fighting only
according to his personal emotions.

  Gyuunei's big problem is that he insists on trying to change Neo-Jion from
  within, instead of just making a clean break with the whole archaic
  structure.  Gyunei insists that "Jion" the name represents the hope of
  mankind as they strive to colonize the void of space.  Jion might as well be
  the name of the God of Space, and Gyunei dares Char to tell its faithful to
  their face to cast it away.

  Char actually hesitates at this point, so Camille speaks up instead.  Char
  more than anyone else has demonstrated by his actions what it means to
  shoulder all mankind's burdens and to fight on, regardless of Earthnoid or
  Spacenoid.  He then yells at Gyunei to stop living in Char's shadow: if he
  really cares about mankind, he should save it with his own damn strength.
  Even Quess piles on, telling Gyunei to prove he's the bigger man here, if man
  he is at all.

Gyunei just can't manage to overcome his issues, so Camille fires up the
Z-Gundam, showing everyone how Space is full of the souls of people.  Time for
Gyunei, who insists on wasting his life living only according to his emotions,
to learn what that really means!  After kicking his ass, Camille says he can
only hope Gyunei will never confront the team again.  As for Char, the "god" he
believes in is Progress, the possibility of mankind to change their environment
and their own future.  He's pained that his own indecision has tormented his
erstwhile protege, and is determined that this battle would be different.

  Next comes Angelo and his goons, and Char persuades Camille to follow his
  lead in focusing fire on the purple-painted hoodlum.  Seeing how much blind
  faith Angelo seems to have in his new leader, even Char has to wonder if he
  can beat his mask-wearing counterpart.

  When Angelo is about to retreat, Char asks Camille to trust him, rushes over
  to Angelo, and *surrenders*.  Angelo is willing to take him hostage on the
  theory that Full Frontal will be pleased, but Char _emphasizes_ that he
  surrendered of his own free will.  The rest is in Amuro's hands now.

  Amuro explains: Char's intent is to confront Full Frontal, in order to better
  understand his own (alternate-universe) possibilities.  This is a gamble
  based on Full Frontal's pride, since this stunt could well get him executed
  -- but if all goes "well" it'll be a duel between the two of them.  Seeing
  Char's resolve, Mineva rededicates herself to doing what she can from her
  side for her people.

What's more, it seems the "Char" faction of Neo-Jion's fighters are beginning
to surrender en masse, due in large part to Gyunei's actions, and Char's
example.  Still, Bright and Nanai have plenty left for Char to do and really
hope he isn't simply wasting himself with his showdown with Frontal.  The more
immediate problem is that this influx of Neo-Jion folks pose a potential
security threat to the Celestial Being: as Genneman can say from firsthand
experience, old hatreds die hard.  And one must beware of their privilege
(hello, Bright!) before trying to insist otherwise.  All the same: suspicion
only breeds more suspicion, and Mineva recommends focusing more on what to do
next than on the defectors.  Fortify the Celestial Being's stealth, improve the
randomness of its course, and so on.

Z-BLUE's next port of call will be Side 1, which is currently taking a lot of
flack from Chrono loyalists among the Federation.

AG has some surprisingly good advice for Camille, who's fretting over whether
he really did the right thing by intervening with Gyunei.  The guy's
whereabouts are still unknown, which at least means he's not been confirmed
dead.  Camille doesn't _regret_ anything, and AG says that many humans fret
without regret.  Camille's willing to do the "Sale, Sale!" thing, if only so AG
doesn't bug him about it any more, and inwardly hopes that Gyunei lives right
from now on, wherever he is.


CHAPTER 36A. A Challenge to the World

Dateline: Anchorage, Alaska.  Amalgam forces have just surrounded one "Gavin
Hunter", formerly of Mithril.  In the bed of his truck is something of great
interest to Amalgam, and Mr. K (as in "Kalium") will be along shortly to
determine what to do with him.  That codename rings a bell for Gavin as one of
the original commanders of Amalgam.  Mr. K turns out to be "Karinin", and the
item in the truck turns out to be the ARX-8, successor to the Arbalest.

Just constructing it was an impressive feat under the circumstances, but
constructing it will change nothing now.  Orly?  Didn't Karinin once ride
aboard the Tuatha de Danaan because he believed its stalwarts _were_ capable of
such feats?  Karinin sniffs that that's an overestimate, seemingly indifferent
to all the comrades he's lost.

Of course he's going to take the ARX-8, and demands to know who built it, and
where.  Gavin refuses to tell him repeatedly, and Karinin shoots him somewhere
that will take him a long time to die from.  Gavin is aghast at the fact that
this man, far more formidable than any Lambda Driver, is now to be Z-BLUE's
foe.

Word of Z-BLUE's return, or more probably Tessa's return, reaches Leonard's
ears.  He's getting a bit tired of Tessa's refusal to throw in the towel, her
head doubtless filled by all the ridiculous dreams of her new comrades.  He
orders the ARX-8 brought to him (as it would seem to be Tessa's final trump
card) and has Fowler go follow the Z-BLUE folks.  If they come at him, he's
authorized to respond in kind.  All that's left is for word to come in from
Casbar, and all will be complete.

Kaname overhears all of this, and she finds herself questioning what she's
doing with her life, basically cooped up in this villa growing older day by day
without doing much of anything.  But Z-BLUE and even Mithril are still alive,
and will be coming for her for certain.  Leonard asks what she wants to combat
her boredom, and she asks for a PC, even knowing that it won't have any kind of
net access.  It's time, she's decided, to look for what she _can_ do to get
better, faster, stronger, etc.  It's time, in short, to become _her_ again.

Crusoe has taken Sousuke and Kodama on a _rigorous_ all-night training regimen,
determining to beat them back into shape after all their time in space.  The
team is hold up on a small island in the Pacific, trying to lick their
lingering mental wounds while trying to power their machines up.  The Black
Knights and Mithril collaborated that way once before, and there's some hope
for fruitful cross-pollination between AS's and KMFs once more.  In fact, Tessa
herself is in charge of the mods, putting her Whispered powers to the best
possible use.  How much it'll matter when Sousuke runs into bad guys with
Lambda Drivers remains to be seen, but clearly Sousuke is approaching it
optimistically.

Crusoe's philosophy is that training the body elevates the spirit, and training
the spirit elevates the body: a virtuous cycle that makes the warrior.  Kodama
heard that from his father often, and Crusoe asks about his father's time in
the Blackberries.  One thing his father picked up was the habit of spouting the
F-word whenever he got pissed off.  Another thing he learned was how to camp
like a champion.  Crusoe asks if his father ever said "It takes more than
getting muddy and sweaty to win a war", and Kodama gives the correct response:
"But what can a man accomplish without sweat and mud, blood and tears?"

Could it be that Kodama's father fought under the illustrious John Jones
Courtney, a Marine's Marine from the American army?  Yup, in which case Crusoe
will use Courtney's mannerisms to the fullest to help whip the soldiers into
shape.  To wit: lots of verbal abuse, but at least it's for a good cause.

Time to attack an Amalgam base for fun and profit, based on the info Sousuke
got back in Namsak.  Yes it was a team effort to pinpoint this place, but
Tessa's going to get most of the credit this time.  The modifications to the
M9's, including the "Fairy's Eyes" that give vastly better long-distance
perception of enemy mecha.  But even all that cool new hardware pales in
comparison to Sousuke and Kodama's burning heart to rescue their respective
women.  The bad guys might have some Fire Bugs among them, but Kan Yur gets
totally ignored... and for a good reason.  Leonard and Kaname are stuck here
(unbeknownst to Z-BLUE), but they've got the ARX-8 -- and Leonard intends to
use it to teach Z-BLUE a new level of despair.

  As Leonard gets ready to incinerate the ARX-8 as a sort of display of force,
  Kaname calls him disgusting.  There was this dude in the class next to hers,
  full-blown stalker creep guy, and Kaname asks Leonard if he thinks she'd
  prefer him over this guy if she was FORCED to go out with one of them.
  Leonard repeatedly refuses to answer this question, but Kaname won't meekly
  drop it.

  She gives him her answer, which she spent an entire day debating with
  herself: she actually doesn't know.  Frankly, the difference between the two
  of them boils down to the fact that Leonard is some bishounen while her
  next-classmate was an ugly troglodyte.

Leonard tells her once again to let him be, with a fixed smile on his face
that's precisely thing Kaname despises most.  The smile he dares to show her,
after treating her like a doll and a bird in a cage, after everything he's
stolen from her and everything he's tormented her with.  Utterly revolting.  In
fact, Sousuke too was fairly revolting to her when they first met -- but one
thing Sousuke never did was smile a fake smile.  Sousuke is serious with
whatever he does, and though Leonard claims to be serious too Kaname isn't
buying it.  Leonard sees women merely as objects, never genuinely opening his
heart to any of them (Tessa included).  Could it be, Kaname snaps, that
oh-so-common thing where a boy doesn't get enough love from his parents?

Leonard then moves to show her, forcing her to look into his eyes and
instituting Whispered Resonance.  What she sees in his past is truly dreadful:
a day when bad guys broke into the family home, and when Leonard's mother
handed him over in a desperate attempt to save at least Tessa.  Tessa knows
nothing of this, nor does Leonard care to notify her and get her sympathy or
something.  For Leonard, it's not about whether his mom was making the best of
a bad situation, or what the identity of the assailants was.  What matters is
that he's now acting, of his own volition, free (he thinks) of his mother's
curse.  So then why this attachment to Kaname?  Good question...

Karinin then turns up, demanding that Leonard move his ass already.  Out come
the Lambda Driver-equipped  bad guys, and it seems clear that Leonard must
indeed be here.  Sousuke rushes ahead, only to fall afoul of Gates without the
mech to withstand it.  But Sousuke intends to go ahead on foot, always moving
ahead as long as he's able.  All well and good, but Gates doesn't know Mr. Ag's
(that's Leonard) true scariness, now that he's in control of Amalgam.  Whoa,
what a golden opportunity!  If Amalgam now has a single leader, it has a single
point of failure.

Gates then does the whole "oh gosh, I destroyed the ARX-8!" thing, but Sousuke
yells to Kaname that they both can fight on even without mecha.  Perhaps, but
Karinin is on hand and is about the last person Sousuke had expected to run
into.  Nor has Karinin done all of this as some kind of elaborate ruse: he's
genuinely sided with Leonard and Amalgam, and if Sousuke resists, he'll shoot
him dead.  Leonard turns up to watch, and Sousuke tells him in no uncertain
terms that he's got no interest in him.  Hand over Kaname, now.  Karinin does
confirm that Kaname is here, and Sousuke can clearly tell that he -- who he
considered like a father -- does intend to kill him.

But Kodama is on hand to keep Gates at bay, and that gives Sousuke room to
operate.  Karinin doesn't expect that to help much, but if Sousuke somehow
_can_ pull things off today, it.s proof that the world ITSELF is all
cattywumpus.

Meanwhile all the explosions are ample proof to Kaname that Z-BLUE is here.
She tells Leonard to unhand her, but he asks her why.  So she can go jump into
Sousuke.s arms?  What then?  The question that both Leonard and she herself are
asking her is why she doesn't try harder to run away to the man who she
obviously wants to be with.  Seeing her hesitation, Leonard decides to have a
_bet_ where he gives her a gun and instructions to shoot him dead if she wants
to see Sousuke so badly.

In the 30 seconds he gives her, she realizes that even now, with what might be
her last chance to see Sousuke, she can.t bring herself to take another human
life.  And the worst part about it is that Leonard probably knew that all
along.  As time expires, Leonard says that _he_ would have fired. and so in
fact would Sousuke, who.s killing everyone in his way to get to her.  She
somehow hesitates to even relinquish the gun, and as he tries to wrench it from
her hand it goes off, shooting him.

Oh noes, did Kaname just break the RUURUUZU?!  Karinin turns up, sees that
Leonard is still alive, and has him rushed for medical treatment as Kaname
protests that she didn't Mean To(tm).  Karinin grabs her and bugs out even as
Sousuke comes into range, mowing down machine gun-wielding goons like a man
possessed.

The final guard is Gates, and this time it looks like Sousuke might really run
out of runway.  But then Tessa grapples the mic and starts heaping abuse on
Gates and all his self-righteous kind.  She, plus Kodama, buys Sousuke just
enough time for a new trusty partner to reach Sousuke.  And aboard it is. Al!
This new mech is the ARX-8 Laevateinn, and it turns out that what Gates
destroyed was an _elaborate_ fake.  And it.s more than a match for Gates, even
at only 80% power and basically unarmed (what.re you gonna do when the whole
thing had to be kept so secret?), as Sousuke is only too happy to prove.


  The ARX-8 adds red to its coloring, meant to suggest burning flames.  This
  pisses off Gates, who thinks that only he and Char are entitled to use red,
  so Sousuke has little choice but to burn him up like yesterday's compostable
  garbage.

Today will have to go down as a "show of force" against Amalgam, since both
Leonard and Kaname are nowhere to be found.  Still, it's one _hell_ of a show
of force, and a major weight off Sousuke's shoulders.

It turns out that Karinin is at the controls of the stealth transport that's
taking the Amalgam forces to safety.  Kaname somehow gets a gun and points it
at Karinin, ordering him to turn the ship around.  He's impressed that she
hasn't lapsed into total shock after what she did to Leonard, but he advises
her to put that gun down before someone gets hurt -- didn't she just learn that
lesson a moment ago?  Kaname asks if he would be willing to shoot Sousuke,
intending to gauge his reaction and compare it against the total trust Sousuke
seemed to invest in the guy.

He would indeed shoot Sousuke, and in fact has already ordered his subordinates
to do just that.  _That_ is the strength of whatever private reason is driving
him in this fight, not that he'd expect someone with as little resolve as her
to understand.  He tells her to believe what she wants, and fire if she wants.
She retorts that she's well aware that shooting him now won't change anything.

But what about the panel behind her, which if shot would cause all the cargo to
purge automatically and deposit the whole damn transport into the ocean?  The
question is, is she prepared to kill everybody aboard, including herself?  She
might well be, if doing so might ease the pain of never seeing Sousuke again as
well as her recriminations over shooting Leonard.  Seeing that she might
actually go through with it, Karinin tells her to wait.  Getting this plane
back to base isn't really an option if Leonard is to be saved, and Kaname asks
for a radio so she can say a final goodbye to Sousuke before giving up her gun
and her final hope.

...Which she totally fails at.  In point of fact, neither she nor Sousuke can
stand the thought of a world without each other, and Kaname breaks out into a
string of orders, as "Student Council Vice-President", for Sousuke to pulverize
whoever he's got to to come rescue her.  They exchange "I love you"'s and a
promise to actually kiss the next time they see each other (regardless of 
wherever that may be), before the transport flies off into the (proverbial?)
sunset.

Al's return is greatly appreciated by the other AIs, who congregate at the
D-Traders long enough for AG to get them to give the "Sale, Sale!" chant.
Weird.


CHAPTER 37J. Demon of Light

Kouji has a dream -- or perhaps more -- regarding his mother, and someone
asking him to look after her.  Well, that pretty much commits him to...
whatever.  As he sneaks into the hangar, he finds Kodama there waiting for him:
he too received this message from what is obviously The Bad Guys(tm).  Kouji
asks Kodama to keep this to himself, since there's no telling what his mother
might do if word of this gets around.  Kodama agrees to let Kouji go off on his
own without raising the alarm -- which of course means leaving Mazinger-Z
behind.  Kouji is in no mood to die, but although he and Kodama make light of
the situation, it's clear to both how dangerous a gamble this will be.

And although Kodama doesn't plan to interfere, he can at least observe.  And,
as he tells TT, he's got his own agenda to carry out.  Kouji's destination is
the Science Fortress Laboratory, left in the same state it's been ever since
the Mikeene gods struck.  Which is to say, a sorry wreckage.  One might wonder
why, if one had more time for contemplation.

All Kouji has time for is calling out the sender of the message, which turns
out to be none other than Advent.  He claims to have Kouji's mother, which is
odd because Tsubasa supposedly was out looking for her erstwhile husband ever
since the last major Mazinger-related fracas.  The answer to this riddle,
according to Advent, is that _he_ has custody of Kenzou.  That Tsubasa tracked
one of Advent's hideouts down is pretty impressive, as well as totally academic
since Tsubasa is now in custody.

All these machinations, all these coy answers to Kouji's questions, are trials
for "the future".  For instance, all the spirits of the Dark Gods(tm)
inhabiting this place need something to vent their wrath on, and that something
is Kouji.  Garadoubla, it would seem, has been granted new flesh and new blood,
in order that he might have revenge on the Demon of Light.  Is this Advent's
doing?  Well, "only a god could raise the dead".  Uh huh.  Anyway, Advent runs
off without giving up Tsubasa, and Kouji can't pursue until he deals with this
ass-clown.

  Unfortunately, said ass-clown has friends.  The most important of them is
  Hardes, who somehow has the ability to take over Mazinger's controls... and
  seal away his soul!  ...Or, whatever.  Just go and kill the Mikeene's ass
  again as of old.

  And just for added amusement, Garadoubla comes back as the Mikeene gods begin
  to falter, determined to reclaim his title of "Hero" from the team since,
  well, he's back in the flesh.  As the team cries out for Kouji to awaken,
  Ryouma loudest of all, you might be wondering what Kodama is up to.

Breaking into Advent's base, is what.  He runs into a bunch of guards that
claim to be Chrono Progressives, yet they don't seem to have military training
for shit.  What's more, the camouflage for this base was downright pathetic,
which is strange given the apparent value of the target imprisoned within.
Dispatching the guards easily enough, Kodama is beginning to think that this
whole setup is _too_ easy.  This changes when he runs into Maki, aka Code
White.  It turns out _this_ is what she's been up to for the last four months:
scouted as a Progressive for her "qualities" to help change the world.

Change it _how_, exactly?  White doesn't know, and the fact that she's taking
missions whose contents she has no idea about no longer bothers her.  Such is
the hypnotizing potential of Advent, it seems.  She tries to get Kodama to come
with her to apologize to Advent, so all will be forgiven -- but that's when
the Kurogane-ya crew (plus Ankokuji, who's quit his detective gig in favor of
being Kenzou's bodyguard).

Ankokuji, you might remember, fell afoul of Advent in a plot to keep him from
telling Tsubasa about Ashura's plot.  The silver lining to this whole fiasco
is that the Progressives already had hold of Kenzou, so Ankokuji needed search
no longer.  Kodama's impressive invasion today provided Tsubasa the perfect
opening to bust out of jail on her own, and the Kurogane-ya folks are ready to
kill a _lot_ of people.  Kodama intervenes enough to let Maki get to safety, a
move that Tsubasa says makes more sense than it might seem.  There's something
about that girl -- something that would have kept her from breaking under
torture or whatnot.

Gamia Q then brings what's left of Kenzou -- basically, a brain with a few
scraps of flesh left.  Such is the price he paid to sever his connection to
the parasitic Gedora.  It seems he's not long for this world, and has one
final request for Kodama regarding Kouji...

It turns out that Gamia Q has a built-in ability to control Photon Power, and
that's precisely what Kouji needs to jumpstart his fight against Hardes'
Darkness(tm).  Remember that whole thing where Zeus said that "Hope will
light the future"?  Kouji does, though it takes him a little while (during
which time Ryouma has to shield him, seeing in Kouji a younger version of
himself).

When Kouji _does_ reawaken, Kenzou declares that he's become one with the
Photon Power, that is, the power of the will to exist.  The power that can
create Something from Nothingness.  Hardes has apparently vanished entirely,
leaving Garadoubla wide open for what can only be described as too much of a 
good thing.  It's like some five-year old was all, "The Roketto Panchi is the
BEST THING EVAR" and then went "What if there were like BILLIONS OF THEM" and
then grew up to be an animator.  Or something.  At least Seki-Ha Love-Love
Ten-Kyou-Ken had some gravitas.

But I digress.  Kouji now gets another holographic recording from his grandpa,
telling him that it's now entirely up to him whether Mazinger will become a 
god or a demon.  In the meantime, there's a few more bad guys to deal with.

Now it turns out that Hardes isn't yet gone -- far from it, actually.  He's
still biding his time until the darkness builds to its peak, and there's no
sense in losing a subordinate prior to that.  Let Kouji and the others know
that when the Battle of the Gods comes, humans will be worthless!  Uh huh sure.

Meanwhile, Kouji's happy to leave his mom to care for his dad (who's currently
quite unconscious and teetering on the brink of life without some immediate
medical care).  Speaking of medical care, Ryouma absorbed more damage during
the battle than he let on, and is rushed to the ER immediately after battle.
It will take Kouji some mental gymnastics to not blame himself for the mess ad
nauseum.

One thing that this battle reinforces is that there's an AWFUL lot of weird
crap in Japan that doesn't show up elsewhere.  That, more than the nearby
strong nations or other factors, is why the Kingdom hasn't been able to take
over the place yet.  Photon Power, Getter Ray research, NERV weirdness, and
that's just for starters: all things that probably ought to come from separate
universes originally (well, isn't that meta?).  Instead, they've all been
brought together in this Small Island Nation(tm) for reasons unclear.  What
Hayato is sure of is that things are only going to get weirder, especially with
all the Stigmatics on the scene...

Looks like the Kurogane-ya folks will be hanging with the team for some time.
This certainly means AG won't have to worry about theft, but whether any
customers will come at all with them on duty remains to be seen...


CHAPTER 37N. Lidy in the Darkness

Queen has graced Z-BLUE with another anonymous phone call: as usual, she's
far better at gathering information than she is at actually having a fighting
force of her own.  Today's news is a biggie: Rilina is supposedly being
held by the Chrono Conservatives at the team's intended destination Side 1.
Apparently her presence there is more beneficial to Chrono than to the
Sidereals, since Chrono knows Z-BLUE is coming and are surely eager to prove
their loyalty to their partners.

Okay so, the team now knows to expect some kind of trap, with Rilina as bait(?)
of some kind.  The question is, what to do about it, when the enemy's true
intentions remain hidden?  Sumeragi's recommendation is surprisingly
straightforward: spring the enemy's trap *on purpose*, using the most suitable
member of the team.

Rilina meanwhile is stewing in Gwen's office, hardly flattered when he calls
her "Queen Rilina" instead of her proper Federation title.  Gwen is fully
self-aware of how shameless his actions are, which makes them that much worse,
and he's got at least one fawning, vengeful toady (some woman named Marybell)
on hand to assist.  Given that Cinq Kingdom is no more, and the Federation is
basically on the rocks, what purpose could Gwen have in holding Rilina hostage?
Bait for Z-BLUE, naturally.

Gwen refuses to tell Rilina why he (recently) joined Chrono, or why he seems
bent on helping fight the team that several of his acquaintances are on.  He
merely wishes her good luck, and tells her to say to Rolan (should she meet
him) that Gwen said "hi".  After Gwen and Marybell leave, Lidy comes in,
wasting little time informing Rilina that he too is on Chrono's side.  As the
commander of their strike team, in fact.

So who would Sumeragi think of sending to spring the trap?  Just the two pilots
with the most screws loose in their heads... and the closest relationship with
Rilina.  ...And, the two most closely-associated (slash!!!) seiyuu, but that's
something best left to the doujin-mongers.  In any case, it seems nobody
expected someone to seriously walk into their trap, and then blow half of the
troops away in an instant.  What of the other half?

They suck, forcing Lidy to deploy himself.  He tells an incredulous Rilina
that, just as she is carrying out her father's wishes, he's carrying out his.
Just that his father happened to be a member of Chrono.  Lidy now knows the
full truth of the Laplace Box, and doesn't blame Rilina for wondering why
anyone should care so much about it now that the UCW is water under the bridge.
But the _true_ meaning of the box is what's persuaded him to ride "It", in
order to "protect this world".

  This means lots of cannon fodder, plus the Black Unicorn.  Lidy goes on at
  length about how his heel turn (ooh, wrestling terminology!) was fated, was
  all chosen before he was born, blah blah blah, basically absolving himself
  of any necessity to actually use his brain.  His goal is to keep the Box
  sealed away, and the best advice Hiiro can give Banarj is to fight this
  horrid blossoming of Lidy's true potential.  Any attempt to run will simply
  mean that the Banshee will crush him (so sayeth the Zero System).  Now, HOW
  Banarj chooses to fight back is up to him -- but Hiiro reminds Banarj that
  his life isn't his alone.

  Fact: Lidy need not be bound by some sense of destiny to do the bidding of a
  pretty awful group of people.  Fact: rather than bemoaning Z-BLUE's ignorance
  of Chrono's true nature, Lidy could just up and _explain_ it.  Fact: Lidy is
  too chickenshit to do so, despite all his talk of "resolve" and whatever.
  He attempts to haul off Rilina, laying down suppressing fire to supposedly
  prevent Hiiro from reaching her.

  But what does Chrono want with Z-BLUE's firepower, were they to take Lidy's
  advice and surrender?  Step one would be striking down Neo-Jion, and in
  particular Full Frontal who seeks to get the Laplace Box.  Chrono rejects
  the concept of Spacenoids lock, stock and barrel, and Lidy seems determined
  against all common sense to help them... all for the sake of this "truth".

  Rilina and Hiiro share an understanding, and rather than let herself be used
  as a fulcrum against Z-BLUE, Rilina wants Hiiro to kill her with his own
  hands.  Lidy, anticipating this, has installed maximum-level beam shielding
  on the transport carrying her away.  Hiiro, meanwhile, has the most powerful
  beam weapons Dr. J and friends could concoct, and he's not afraid to fire
  them repeatedly -- heedless of the bad guys closing in.  Tielia realizes
  Hiiro means to sacrifice himself, which is in fact what will happen if Hiiro
  doesn't stop firing with as much punishment as his mech absorbs.

  It's beyond Lidy's comprehension why Hiiro doesn't give up.  He's certainly
  not the only one here with "resolve", and like Char from the past, it seems
  Lidy needs a lesson in the fact that he can't shoulder his family's burdens
  AND those of the world by himself.  Amuro orders Lidy to open his heart and
  feel what is passing between Rilina and Hiiro.

  Hiiro remembers once hearing that Marimea likened the world to an endless
  waltz, a dance between war and peace and revolution.  If so, let this dance
  between him, and Rilina, and his Gundam let the path be opened to peace once
  more!

  So much for that beam shielding, eh?  Or perhaps Lidy still thinks his
  "resolve" is better than that of his (now former) hostage and her protector?
  Gosh, I guess a hasty retreat is the only option now?  What up, home slice?
  Gwen blithely decides to pull out too, sure that all this has only just
  begun.

Rilina, despite being at the center of a truly massive display of pyrotechnics,
is basically fine.  It's now clear to Zechs that Hiiro truly is his sister's
guardian now, freeing him to do... whatever.  Hiiro himself is in pretty sorry
shape, but is presumably happy to have collapsed (unconscious) into Rilina's
arms.  He truly is what the original Hiiro Yui termed the "Heart of Space", at
least in Quatre's reading of the old revolutionary's cryptic speeches.  Space,
perhaps, has a longing for a genuine, selfless human heart, and it got one
today.  Fascinatingly, it's Kira who actually snaps a quick picture of the rare
sight for posterity.

Lidy meanwhile has a daunting order for Albert: to fully unlock the Banshee's
NT-D system.  He vows to do what Banarj did and master its use, especially in
order to capture Mareeda.  The two of them then quarrel a bit about who's in
charge -- Lidy, with his oh-so-superior Chrono knowledge, believes it's him and
that he's been chosen for this mission by the "Will of Space" itself.  What
Lidy can't figure is why Albert seems to be so attached to "that Fortified
Human", and if Lidy stops to think about it, maybe it's because he's transposed
his own hopes and dreams onto her.  Albert's made up his mind that seeing
Banarj (his own half-brother, given how the Bist family works) dead isn't the
worst atrocity he's participated in (that would be constructing demons like the
Unicorn and Banshee).  Let Banarj witness what Lidy can do on a level playing
field!

Oh, and that photo?  AG totally tries to sell it to Hiiro as some kind of
blackmail, until Zechs steps in and confiscates the thing.  Supposedly he's
had the original destroyed as well.  None of which prevents Hiiro from
voluntarily doing the "Sale, Sale!" thing.


CHAPTER 37A. Invitation to the Divine

Shikuu presents an analysis showing how the Earth in general and Z-BLUE in
particular are something very special.  Too special to be left alone, when it
comes to control of the universe, much less Dimensional Enclosure.  What's
that?  Nothing that Umbriel will be briefed on until the Quarreling Twins are
in her hands, and that means a little excursion.  Shikuu will be coming along
too, since he's got beef with the Swaying Scales (among other things...)

Australis muses that only those with Sphere power are fit to sit at this table,
and that _includes_ the Reactors on Z-BLUE.  That there would be two humans
capable of using the Quarreling Twins is another testament to just how special
this planet must be.  Whether this planet's concentration of Origin Rho is
_cause_, or _effect_, of that still remains to be seen.  As Shikuu sets out to
try to keep the Kingdom on solid footing, Australis warns him to be on his
guard... Australis cannot yet figure out what "He" is up to...

It seems that Mithril's Intelligence division is far from deceased, with
Wraith and her colleagues busy on a number of fronts.  One of which was
mustering enough of the Science division's resources to put the ARX-8 together.
Part of that was Al's own doing, and the sobriquet Laevateinn was Al's
choice: a mythical magic sword that one assumes is more powerful than a mere
siege engine.  Still, the ARX-8 wouldn't have been possible without help from
Kudan Miller, especially since the originator of the ARX project has been dead
for some time.  Indeed, she has turned out to be a Whispered, and although
Sousuke hadn't realized it, she was a little girl Sousuke once saved in
Siberia before his mission to guard Kaname.

The Intelligence folks can confirm Amalgam's shift into an autocracy, with
Leonard at its summit... assuming he's still alive, which is far from a given.
Until that clears up, Amalgam is likely to remain hidden, in part because it's
HIGHLY unlikely that Leonard is *actually* loyal to the Kingdom.  What Tessa
wants to know most is what Amalgam intends to do with its Dimensional
Concussion Bomb.

Meanwhile, Zero's got a suggestion for something useful to do in Neo-Japan.
En route, several of the pilots are getting reacquainted with Al -- who totally
has recordings of Sousuke that Kurtz wants to use as blackmail.  He'll have
to go through Kodama (an ally of both Sousuke and Kaname) to get them though.
Maybe "ally" is too impersonal: Kaname's the first person who actually thought
of Kodama as a human being when he transferred into school, and Sousuke's his
best friend.  As such, he wants to see them happy together.  Something for
Alto to ruminate on as he enjoys Ranka's renewed (temporary) happiness.

Zero's plan is _not_, at least for the short term, liberating Neo-Japan.
Rather, he's heading to Kaminejima, the place(-ish) where he once defeated
Charles.  Things turn ominous almost immediately, as signs turn up that
_someone_ has dispatched the Royals who should be guarding the place.  Has
this person, whoever they are, divined Zero's intentions...?

With time running short, the team goes ashore and make for the Geass shrine.
The sight of its massive door brings back some complicated memories for Zero
and Suzaku (who damn near shot each other to death here) and Karen (who
basically watched them do it).  But Zero didn't bring people here to
reminisce.  He's got a little experiment in mind, and has withheld details to
avoid influencing the results as much as possible.  As Orson -- Singularity AND
former prisoner of the Sidereals -- discerns, it concerns the Stigma.

Based on past events like the trip to the galactic center, Zero reckons that
the entire team (and their collaborators) are now Stigmatics.  Who the hell
went and branded everyone without their consent, is what Pinion wants to know,
and from his grim silence Zero seems to have an idea.  This force, which he
perceives indistinctly, might as well be called "god".  And today's experiment
is an attempt to understand that god, by contacting the "collective
unconscious" (aka the "Akashic Record") that lays beyond the door.

This entity, this collection of all knowledge past and future, temporal and
spatial, Zero suspects to be linked to control over Dimensional Energy.  It is
the power behind Geasses, and is the secret that the Geass Church protected
so dearly.  He touched a fragment of it during his battle with Charles, and
believes that the unease he's felt since seeing that vision slowly becoming
true is directly related to the Stigma, that divinely-imbued presence.

Out walks Advent, complementing Zero on being a most worthy Successor.  Under
other circumstances, he'd have made a far better Defender of the Faith than
these Chrono Conservatives.  A fine compliment, and a nearly fatal distraction
as Shikuu shows up to make a knife-hand strike at Zero... which Crow manages
to notice and blocks with his blade.  Shikuu then shifts his attention to
Advent, demanding to know why Advent took out all the Royal troops.  Advent
claims to want no obstructions to Z-BLUE's errand today, and when Shikuu asks
what the hell he is, he merely says that he is the "last person".

Zero begins the ceremony, ordering the collective unconsciousness to take them
in and show them the truth.  The entire lot of them vanish... except for
Basara, who Advent muses has a very opposite power to Shikuu and his Kishuku
squad.  Basara doesn't know about that, but he does know that he's going to
force this collective something-or-other to hear his songs!

Gawd.  Anyhow, first we find Alto yelling for Ranka not to use her beloved
music for evil.  She can hate him if she has to, but not... whoever.  Ledo
sees Kurgel, still insistent that someone's got to manage humankind lest they
head into despair.  Someone's got to create a god for them.  Sousuke sees
Kaname, who is feeling like she's partly not herself -- and that there's
something wrong with the world itself.  That she had no choice.

Kiriko is far calmer, finally grasping who set in motion all the terrible
things he's been through.  Kei and Orson see visions of a Dimensional Collapse
that even their powers combined can't stop.  Why even have Singularities then?!
Kodama sees... something, but what that thing is we're not told.

What Lelouch sees is Rolo and Shirley, whose smiles don't assuage the feeling
that they haven't forgiven him.  So much negativity in the future the
collective unconsciousness shows him, and personifying it are none other than
Charles and Marianne.  This negativity -- this despair -- is the form of the
future Lelouch and his friends are heading towards and indeed are imprisoned
by.  Is that the only answer, Lelouch asks in anguish, only to recover when
Charles asks with a smirk if Lelouch is asking _him_ of all people for an
answer.

Lelouch has never been the one to depend on the likes of his parents, nor to
give into despair.  He has the gift to oppose such hopeless odds, to outsmart
and overpower them, and leave them smouldering in his shadow.  Even though God
himself bar the gate!  And rest assured that Charles and Marianne, whose path
he denied, will be watching his every step.  Watching whether their child can
truly surpass them...

Lelouch finds himself back outside the door, with the rest of the crew blinking
in confusion as to why Basara's been having a one-man concert.  Lelouch is
unsure what to make of the fact that Basara was the only one not transported
through the door, but with Shikuu still maybe lurking around somewhere and
Crow still missing, there's little time for deliberation.  Karen leaves
Lelouch with C.C. and leads the others off to search for Crow.

C.C. can tell from Lelouch's eyes that he, too, met Charles and Marianne.  He
never would have imagined they're still somehow alive within the collective
unconsciousness, but C.C. cautions him that what they saw may simply be
fragments of their own memories reflected back at them by said collective.
A very valid point.  What C.C. realized is Charles' true objective: to avoid
the despairing future he saw via his Code by converting all humanity into part
of that collective.  In essence, to avoid the future by freezing everyone in
an eternal present.  His own private Time Prison.

Lelouch rejected his father's approach then, and he still rejects it now.
Well then, C.C. says with a smile, he'll just have to *prove* Charles wrong.
That's the duty he's been charged with, and if there's anything that gets
Lelouch's blood burning, it's the chance to surpass his father.  He _will_ find
a way to face, and defeat, this coming despair!

Crow is in fact nearby, and having a hell of a battle with Shikuu.  Shikuu's
motions are impossible to predict, so Crow's forced to counter them on the fly.
Plus, Shikuu's emotionless facade is no fun to face, even though it's
marginally better than confronting someone with a sadistic interest in killing.
Hearing that, Shikuu comments that sending lives off is the "occupation" of
he and his Kishuku: the "proper" directing of the energy released when someone
dies.

An interesting duality, that: power that strives for life, and power that
seeks obliteration.  The Silent Cancer Sphere keys off of that deepest nihilism
of loss that comes when a being loses its physical form.  Crow notes that
Shikuu is being especially talkative today... unless it's just a matter of him
trying to cover up for his mistakes.  I suppose Crow is supposed to be "cool
and nihilistic", which may be why he bugs Shikuu so much.  As the rest of
the team rush over, Shikuu admits that Crow's got it right: he must get rid of
Crow and the distraction he offers in order to remain "himself".  But for now,
he's got other fish to fry.

As Crow rushes off to help fight the oncoming batch of Kishuku reinforcements,
he ponders Shikuu's comment about sending lives to their destination.  It
sounds like this guy's got some heavy baggage of his own...

Basara is really pouring it on after having his concert interrupted, and Zero
is all for it.  What this cold, closed-off mess needs is a burst of life
force -- which is why Shikoku intends to silence Basara herself.

  Kiriko has realized that the motive force behind Martial is still alive,
  and in fact a bunch of Martial troops show up and collapse the entrance
  to the ruins.  That buys Shikoku the time she needs to chant a sort of
  incantation -- one which causes all the pilots vital signs to wane
  dangerously.  This is Basara's cue, right?  ...Actually, no, it's Sybil's:
  far be it from Basara to try to simply erase one person's song with one of
  his own.

  Sybil, far more coherently than is normal for the space-succubus, declares
  that Shikoku's song stills Spiritia.  But Basara's songs make it pour forth,
  testament to the power of Evil -- one who lives Outside the Law.  That his
  songs could make even "Their" life force wax so strongly gives even her
  pause.

  C.C. and Lelouch address Shikoku, having figured out the rightful role of her
  squadron as being guides for the deceased.  What they're doing now is just
  senseless slaughter, and Shikoku herself seems inclined to agree.  As Basara
  lets her have it with Dynamite Explosion, Zero declares that Shikoku and
  her ilk, too, are living beings -- he won't hear of her denying that.  That
  is so, she says around her accelerated breathing, but her people have
  nowhere to return to.

  It seems that she's chosen this hill to die on, as it were, and while that's
  pretty rad and all it's not enough to stop Zero's indomitable will to push
  forward.  Kind of a nice change for the better, in fact.

  This display of blazing life shows Shikoku a sliver of what her elder brother
  is trying to accomplish.  For this she offers her thanks to Z-BLUE, and a
  warning: there will be no next-next time.

Basara's not the only one with endless power: Zero says that everyone
here has such resources within.  And that will lead them to an endless future,
which as a tagline isn't half bad.  Zero then gets to explain to everyone what
they saw in the ruins: a panoply of visions of future despair: prophetic,
cautionary, or even enticing.  This is the same sort of future that the Black
Knowledge, or the sort of Greater Singularity Char endures, confers.  These
visions are also "true", and already decided.

Does that mean the team will simply give up?  Not Zero, for one: if he's a
miracle-worker, he's goddamn well going to pull off the greatest miracle of
all and change the future.  What of the others?  Knowing they can't win a
fight, would they rather not fight it in the first place?  Sousuke declares
that the very act of deciding a winner prior to fighting is itself stupid, and
the rest of the team perk up nicely.

So if they'd rather plot a counterattack against their apparent fate, where to
begin?  Kiriko thinks he has a clue, and the name of a man who would declare
himself divine...

Now here's where things get really weird.  M.O.M.E., a robot, was shown a
vision of future despair by the collective unconsciousness, and Zero is
intensely curious what AG (an other-worlder) would have seen.  AG gives a
flustered "no thank you!" as expected, and tries to request Zero to give the
"Sale, Sale!" thing.  Zero refuses, though had AG come with him to the ruins
today he says he'd have considered it.  No huge loss for AG, who thinks to
himself that he's long since gotten sick of all this future despair...


CHAPTER 38J. The Eternal Warrior

Tsubasa has headed back to the Kurogane-ya (still closed to customers) to
live with Shirou and Lorelai, and to assist in Kenzou's "convalescence".  With
that weight off Kouji's mind, the crew are free to ponder what the hell Advent
is thinking.  Maybe his heel turn is a calculated attempt to forge Z-BLUE in
the fires of adversity?  If so, his description of Kodama as his property is
hard to stomach, as is Ryouma's current comatose state (even if getting there
did boost Kouji to the next level of Rocket Punching insanity).

Amata and Mikono can't help but notice the similarities between Advent and
Fudou though everything Fudou's done has ultimately turned out to be for the
team's benefit.  Rand says he "prays" Advent can say the same, which is notable
since he dislikes praying to "God" for help as a general rule.

Kodama meanwhile is meditating on Maki, who he's no longer "in love with" but
who definitely helped him when he was at his lowest mental ebb.  He treasures
that whether or not it was part of some elaborate Chrono scheme, thinking back
to the time when Fudou and Suzune's training was the only thing that saved him
from suffering the same fate as Jin at Mikage's hands.  Kouji remembers that
day well, and wishes there was someone -- be it a God or a Devil -- he could
pray to now.

Further scans have shown that Ryouma's suffered brain damage in addition to his
superficial wounds, and though Kouji knows intellectually that it's not his
fault alone, he still feels awfully bad about his elder-brother figure's sorry
state.  It seems however that Gou and Hayato have decided to take Ryouma's
condition up with a higher power, and subject him to intense Getter Rays.  Not
exactly standard medical procedure, but even Benkei gives his grim-faced
approval.  He and Hayato are adamant that this is what Ryouma himself would
have requested, and tell Kei and the others to retreat to a safe distance.
Hayato senses trouble coming...

The rest of Z-BLUE know there's nothing they can do now but wait and hope that
Ryouma's life force can withstand this radical treatment.  In case something
goes wrong, they've set up shop in what used to be Neo-Tokyo 3, which is still
one massive crater.  Asuka and Shinji both get to ponder whether it was worth
it for Shinji to risk the whole world in an attempt to save one person's life.

As Hayato predicted, the Kingdom has sent a bunch of goons with Dabalarn in
command.  Ostensibly here to "gauge Z-BLUE's strength", they're a major pain in
the ass given that the Shin Getter Dragon can't move around at present.  Kouji
is determined to take up the slack.

  A new batch of Invaders shows up to menace Ryouma's recovery, and their
  artillery barrage seemingly wakes him up to face... some shadowy figure he's
  seen before.  Said figure tells him to get with the program and join the
  120-million year battle, which he's not exactly in a hurry to do.  Then
  again, he -- like Corwen and Stinger -- has been selected by the Getter Rays,
  so he may not have much choice.

  In fact, Ryouma has to defend himself from charges that humans are just like
  the Invaders: living beings whose sole purpose is to, well, LIVE and to
  struggle against those who would prevent that.  Their words are hard for
  Ryouma to ignore, and when he regains consciousness it seems that Hayato's
  recommended treatment may have been a miscalculation.

  Ryouma emerges in the Black Getter, and Hayato tells everyone they've got to
  stop their comrade, whose lust for slaughter has been somehow enlarged in the
  process of his recovery.  The only way to get through to him now is through
  combat... if that.

  It doesn't work out too well, and Ryouma's teammates are forced to take the
  field in an attempt to put him out of his misery.  Corwen and Stinger are
  watching this in satisfaction as a bunch of giant Invaders turn up, ready to
  watch Ryouma's end.  If only he'd become their comrade as planned...  But
  before Hayato does his thing, Kouji intervenes and belts Ryouma with the Big
  Bang Punch.

  Of course this works.  Ryouma's now gained the ability to synchronize with
  the Getter Rays or some such esoteric bullshit (thanks Gou!) and is ready for
  some _real_ mayhem.  Result: Shine Spark, which is so shiny it's not really
  apparent precisely what's going on.  Whatever it is, it's proof that Ryouma
  is _not_ like the Invaders: he's learned how to get along with others, and
  is much better for it.

You wouldn't know Ryouma was just in a coma by how hastily he demolishes the
bad guys.  Corwen and Stinger wisely decide to retreat to the stars to rebuild
and prepare for the final showdown with Ryouma.  What more could he wish for?

After the battle, Ryouma actually bows his head to his teammates for all the
worry he caused them: a sight which you'll probably never see again.  The
serious moment ends quickly enough though as Ryouma spurs the other pilots into
a rousing bout of morning combat practice.  Only Ryouma's teammates stay
serious: Singer and Corwen are presumably waiting at the dimensional crack at
the center of the galaxy, where all their secrets will at last be revealed.

Who knew that it would ultimately be Ryouma's sense of friendship that saved
the day?  He might have made a good soccer star, once, but nowadays he's
devoted to kicking bad-guy ass instead.  Not that he doesn't get the urge to
punt round things every once in a while, much to AG's dismay.  Still, as a show
of gratitude he's happy to do the "Sale, Sale!" thing for AG this time.


CHAPTER 38N. Hamarn's Hesitance

Barbiel has few complimentary things to say about the state of Earth's
representatives, after the latest brush with Z-BLUE.  This is basically the
same conversation as Australis and Umbriel have with Shikuu on the "J" path.
This time however, Australis is left to lament how unwilling Barbiel seems to
be to acknowledge his own roots, as the lip-pierced hate-monger goes to stoke
the fires of the Z-BLUE/Neo-Jion conflict.

Rilina passes Gwen's message to Rolan, as Bright explains Gwen's rise from
ambitious local politician to full-blown autocrat and mild-mannered dictator.
He's not surprised Gwen would become a new Chrono agent.  The real question is
what to do about Lidy, and his father: openly challenging them for their Chrono
membership could be the final nail in the fragile Federation's coffin.
Sumeragi figures at least the Conservative faction will be as good as dead once
the Kingdom falls, since they're the Sidereal's lap dogs anyway.

And the sooner, the better: Rilina's time in Wrath Babylon was not present.
It seems Australis is gathering as many people as possible for his fiendish
Soul Absorption System, prioritizing their spiritual strength over political
title or any other mundane Earth concern.  Creepy.  But first things first with
Neo-Jion, and for now Rilina will serve as Mineva's assistant -- and try to
keep from distracting Hiiro too much.

So this Gwen guy.  Rolan still sort of looks up to him as a former mentor, so
the other pilots -- rather than calling him what he is, which is a major ass
-- go all "It's actually impressive he's made it this far".  Even Rolan knows
that Soshie would be plenty pissed if she heard of him taking Gwen's side, but
what Rolan hopes is that Gwen has some kind of master plan, that he somehow
will rise above the power he's being tempted with and do good in the world.
I, on the other hand, am not holding my breath.

The hardest thing for the pilots right now is staying focused despite the
information vacuum, both over Lidy's true motivations and over Char's status.
Camille tells his teammates to stay in the moment, and try to gather info
when "opportunity" (by which we mean battle) presents itself.  For that
matter, what's Hamarn up to??

Trying to juggle negotiations with the colonies AND keeping up appearances with
fake-Mineva, that's what.  Fake-Mineva is, to her credit, holding up like a
trooper, and even acting as Hamarn's confidant.  And Lord knows she needs one,
after Char's shocking return.  Fake-Mineva is as bold as to suggest that Hamarn
isn't being honest with herself when she says that she can't forgive Char for
"turning his back" on Neo-Jion after trying to rebuild it, and with an ironic
smirk Hamarn says ruefully that she's already exposed F-H (for short) to too
much of the underbelly of the world.  More than a little girl like her ought to
have to bear.  But real life isn't that kind, and if Char has come back
prepared to stake his life on setting things right, Hamarn can do nothing less
herself.  Perhaps she won't be able to make this morning's meeting after all...

Neo-Jion takes the initiative in attacking Z-BLUE, and as though she's sensed
something approaching, Setsuko has opted to sortie alone.  Camille reminds
everyone, Kodama included, to focus on the task at hand: paralysis by analysis
is as dangerous an enemy as they come.  Sound advice, that the team will
certainly need when they see that Hamarn is among their enemies.

She's brought only a few troops, Hamarn Loyalists, as it were, and means to
settle "the score" her way with Z-BLUE.  Translation: are Char's new teammates
worthy of his trust, moreso than the Neo-Jion people?

  Well, she seems open to Amuro's suggestion to sever her attachment to Neo-
  Jion, as Char once did, and possibly even open her heart a teensy crack to
  Camille.  IF they can defeat her.  More like "when", really.

  She's gracious in admitting that Z-BLUE are indeed strong -- stronger than
  her, in fact.  She seems convinced as to why Char left "her" for these
  people, and is in fact prepared to pay for her inadequacy with her life...
  But then Barbiel shows up, saying he OH SO UNDERSTANDS Hamarn's rage at how
  the man she loves seems to think about everything (the world at large
  included OTHER than her).  ONLY NATURAL that she would despise that world,
  after all the effort she's expended at trying to keep herself going.

  Even Setsuko knows how tiring and sorrowful that could be, but unlike
  Barbiel she doesn't try to ram that down Hamarn's throat.  Barbiel's goal is
  to enhance the love-born hatred within Hamarn, which might have been a good
  idea if she was some simpering wench.

  Come to find out she's a ravening lion, and not the only Spacenoid to
  resist Barbiel's blandishments.  She's even willing to accept Setsuko's help,
  so long as Setsuko doesn't dare to "pity" her.  Now that she's gotten past
  the being-prepared-to-die phase, Hamarn's mind is clear, and her willingness
  to help the stalwarts on Z-BLUE manifest.

  What Setsuko would really love is if Barbiel realized that a life based on
  hatred and resentment is no life at all.  But such words won't quench the
  flames in his memory, even as his mech begins to fail him.  Has the Gun
  Ahress forsaken him?!  Well, what's happened is that Hamarn's grief has made
  Setsuko's own Sphere ascendant, and that means bad news for the Devil-
  Scorpion.  What's worse, Barbiel's attempts to psychoanalyze Hamarn have
  backfired rather spectacularly: _her_ powers have granted her some insight
  into what drives _him_ over the course of the battle.  If you're gonna enter
  someone else's heart, you'd better be _fucking_ well-prepared for the
  consequences!!

And at any rate, whatever grief lies within Hamarn bows to her even-greater
strength.  Hearing that from a man might make Hamarn flinch away, but hearing
it from Setsuko makes it seem actually plausible.  Hamarn seems interested in
hanging with Z-BLUE, "at least until Char comes back".  Does that mean she's
still hung up on Char?  Maaaaaybe, but it would take someone who truly doesn't
value their life to say or even THINK that to her face (after all, her Newtype
powers are legendary).  Hamarn thinks of it this way: she may have stopped
following Char, but she can still hope that her path and his will concur.

Hamarn's decision to side with Z-BLUE isn't just a personal one: roughly 25%
of the Neo-Jion forces, all of whom are loyal to her or at least mistrustful
of Full Frontal, have already deserted their posts and fled.  And that includes
F-M, who Hamarn thinks should figure nicely into plans to undermine Frontal's
whole declaration of war.  Bright will see that the Hamarn faction troops will
be hosted aboard the Celestial Being, and will consider anti-Frontal
stratagems with full regard for F-M's human rights.  Hamarn herself intends to
aid Z-BLUE as an individual soldier, adding with a smirk that she's confident
she'll be more help than Char.

Suffice it to say that the younger generation of pilots are pretty nervous with
the legendary Hamarn around.  Life is hard outside the cockpit sometimes.
Kodama has the sanest reaction (which in a different way is entirely insane) in
wanting Hamarn to join his list of mock-combat opponents, and Hamarn is quite
happy to oblige.  Quess tells her she can drop the whole Iron Lady facade now
that she's apart from Jion, and Hamarn purrs that she'll certainly try.  In
the back of her mind though is the day Char returns to Z-BLUE.  The day she
means to settle their whole karmic THING one way or another...

Guess what: Hamarn's got to do the AG song-and-dance thing too, which seems
harder than she expected.  But if Mareeda and even Char did it, than so can
she.  Grudgingly.


CHAPTER 38A. Mirage

Oh look, it's Monty Wells, busy playing Pope again.  Soldiers harmonize all
things.  War is Peace.  And those who prove their fealty to the Pope, God's
servant, shall be granted Eternal Life.  It is THEY who will overcome the
Future of Despair!  And if that Untouchable Kiriko turns up, he's sure has
hell gonna find out who's got God's love.  That's right God, Who Do You Love.
Watching all this, Rochina muses on how Kiriko is one of the universe's great
mysteries -- even three millennia of rule by the dreaded Wiseman couldn't bring
him to heel.  Born to Perfect Soldierhood, then Unnatural Survivorhood, then
Untouchable status, none of those things adequately define the laconic soldier.

Naturally, Z-BLUE is headed their way, spurred by Kiriko's proclamation that
there's a "god" in Aregium.  How exactly does one surveil God, anyway?  For
that matter, what _is_ God?  Titania would dearly love to know, since she spent
years of her life and spilled swimming pool's worth of blood as a guard for
His church without _meeting_ any such Presence.  Sometimes "God" might be a
concrete presence, like when Striker tried to rule the Sea of Mist, but in
general God seems to be a vaguer -- yet still absolute -- embodiment of a
belief system.

People also term "gods" those who have surpassed the flock, surpassed even its
shepherds, and become something else.  Kiriko doesn't know who the team is
heading to face, but he has no doubt at all that they're there.  Waiting.  Even
Kiriko seems restless, nervous almost, at the thought of returning to the scene
of Fiana's death... And even though everyone knows that Fiana's passing was on
account of her artificially-shortened lifespan, Titania still feels badly about
depriving Kiriko of precious minutes with his beloved.  She's certainly
prepared to die while helping Kiriko, but it falls to Sousuke to remind her
that death is not what Kiriko wants from her.  Well said, and exactly what she
needed to hear: Sousuke, like Kodama and several of the others, is most
definitely maturing throughout all this.

Now about this Aregium place though, a "holy land" with rows of temples instead
of barracks: the problem isn't the facilities, but the people guarding them.
Zealots with _lots_ of weapons, and enough fanaticism that even Crow's old
military unit got pulverized once during a botched infiltration raid.  Like the
Crusaders of old, their belief in God gives them license to commit any and all
acts of bloodshed without a shred of scruple.  Reminds Ledo of the Alliance, a
bit.  But this wouldn't be Z-BLUE if the team wasn't getting stronger despite
such worries, and that includes Titania herself.

These Martial dudes did a great job repairing the great cathedral, despite the
best efforts of people like Kurtz to demolish it back when.  Jeffrey tries a
diplomatic hailing call, which of course goes over like a lead balloon, and
among the enemy troops are some remnants of the Firebugs.  Looks like Martial's
ties with Amalgam are still alive and well too, which is a pity since Jeffrey
was sort of hoping Martial could help fight the Kingdom.

Oh well.  Just go kick their ass already.  Kiriko certainly has all the
support he needs from his friends, to the immense frustration of Kan Yur.  And
if Kan Yur thinks he can get in Kiriko's way, he's _sadly_ mistaken.

  On turn two, a group of "Order Bucklers" of the 13th rank take the field.
  That means but one thing their pilots are Nextants.  They appear to be
  already in the grip of their Auxiliary Brains, but Kiriko says that behind
  those is Wiseman, the amalgamated form of those with special powers once
  exiled from Quent.  Hell, if Wiseman wants to go another round with Kiriko,
  so be it.  Rochina turns up and assures him he'll learn what all this is
  about once he enters the main cathedral.

  Kan Yur gets his ass kicked (again), and rather than lose his mech (and with
  it his job as honor guard) he elects to flee the field.  No sooner does he
  do so than his mech explodes, maybe (or maybe not) taking him with it.  The
  final insult to his injury comes from Kiriko, who isn't even interested in
  learning whether his long-term self-proclaimed adversary is still alive.

  All those oh-so-scary Martial troops can get totally eliminated by the time
  Kiriko's gotta enter the shrine, which is why another batch turns up.
  Titania gave her word that she'd protect Kiriko even if it costs her her
  life, and at this rate it just might.

Kiriko confronts the cardinals, who are terrified at the sight of the
Untouchable in their midst.  Monty has gone somewhere to get "God's protection"
that only the Popes have been informed of, but Kiriko won't have to choke a
bitch: Theo the 8th turns up.  This is Monty's predecessor as Pope, and he
decrees that Monty's fate was sealed the moment he abandoned the Teachings
and Touched Kiriko anyway.

Monty presents himself before "God", commanding first, then imploring, it to
vanquish Kiriko with its divine light.  But why won't God answer, after all
Monty has done for the Church, sacrificing his own daughter, slaughtering
thousands and tens-of-thousands, et cetera?!  The answer comes as Kiriko walks
in, prepared to ignore Monty entirely and focus on "God".  Monty's got an
ace up his sleeve: Fiana, apparently not quite as dead as the rumors claim.
He's long awaited the look of shock on Kiriko's face, but he's unable to
capitalize on the moment as "God" itself strikes him down.

It tells Kiriko that he's not permitted to die here, then explains how it
survived near-death on Quent by transferring its consciousness here at the
very last moment.  It needs him to achieve ever loftier levels of divinity,
which explained why it contacted Kiriko via the collective unconscious.

Kiriko demands of this being, Wiseman, to know what "God" really is.   "God"
the concept has been dead for eons.  A "god" in the more concrete sense is,
nowadays, the term given to certain higher-dimensional life-forms.  Perhaps
they were humans once, but by contacting the Truth of the Universe, they've
attained eternity -- and yet, no god will suffer another to exist, setting the
stage for the "true" conflict in the universe.

It's a conflict Wiseman is determined to win, and the means to higher levels
of divinity is assimilating Kiriko, who supposedly lives outside the cycle of
Karma.  To secure his cooperation, Wiseman has altered Fiana's "fate" by
keeping her alive instead of permitting her a natural death.  If he wants her
to live, he'd better put up and shut up, and admit that Wiseman is in fact
the master of fate.  Not so fast, says Rochina as he walks in.  Sure, Wiseman
is big and bad and at the center of everything that goes on here (he ought to
be, since he's the one that teleported everyone there from Monad).

But despite all that unimaginable power, it is Wiseman who's been assimilated
by Kiriko, not the other way around!  It was Kiriko's very existence that
forced Wiseman to prolong Fiana's life, and to manipulate Monty and Martial.
Kiriko is the one denying Wiseman's existence, even as Wiseman turns to Kiriko
for aid: if that doesn't make it clear who's the "god" here, nothing will.

Kiriko quite agrees, and starts systematically destroying Wiseman.  Never mind
Wiseman's dreams of winning the True War and dodging the Future of Despair;
Kiriko has no interest in such things.  Titania turns up to help, no longer a
slave to Wiseman thanks to her absent Auxiliary Brain, and Kiriko has her
tend to the sleeping Fiana.  Kiriko orders Wiseman to sleep for the last time.

It won't be quite that simple though, since Wiseman still remote-controls an
armada of land warships.  Still, with Fiana moved somewhere safe and Titania
hooked up with a new mech, it's time to lay the hurting on those who twisted
all of their lives.

Still, Wiseman tells Kiriko he'll regret this rejection, and to Kei he says
that only a God could truly perform Dimension Healing.  Still, no god like him
will ever earn Kiriko or the team's loyalty.  Fiana, who's been in deep sleep,
will regain consciousness shortly.  Rochina is still hanging around,
determined to act as a neutral third party as he watches how far Kiriko can
go.  For instance, does Kiriko really believe "God" to be dead, after Wiseman
eluded death once before on Quent?

Well, Kiriko doesn't believe in a Future of Despair, and neither does Zero.
If anything, Wiseman's words have given him a clearer picture of what's really
going on in the universe -- including the idea that it was the "gods" who
actually branded the Stigmatics.  More details will have to wait till the
team learns more about the 120-million year Collapse, but for now Kiriko is
content to figure out where best to stash Fiana to keep her safe (Goat sounds
like a better idea than Rochina, in any case).

Kiriko will have but a brief time with Fiana before the next mission, which
will involve Tessa and few other supporters from Mithril.  He also gets to
ponder Wiseman's words about a Future of Despair.  The future is known to
no one, which means Despair can be remade into Hope -- a hope whose light has
been kindled anew upon seeing Fiana alive.

Karen kicking Kan Yur's ass in righteous fury is worth 100Z.  AG initially
tries to get her to don her bunny suit in celebration, then realizes this is
a REALLY bad idea and relents... only to have Karen ask him to hand the suit
over (since no good could come of him keeping it).  Maybe she'll wear it if
there's ever a party.  Maybe not...

Then Shakko has a few words with AG.  Something about AG reminds him of
Wiseman, but like Crow he finds himself inclined to trust the wacky robot for
reasons not entirely clear.  He really hopes AG won't betray the team, and
even gets talked into giving the "Sale, Sale!" spiel.


CHAPTER 39J. Inherited Fangs

Once again it's time for the Australis "Dimensional Enclosure" conversation,
this time with Elunaluna as the principal.  This time Australis specifically
forbids Umbriel from sortying, saying that he's sending Elunaluna on a
special mission that he does _not_ want interfered with.  Umbriel goes off to
sulk, and Elunaluna admits that this planet is one SPECIAL place: even she
has no idea how to discourage its inhabitants.  Nonetheless, the evolution of
the Earth's people must be stopped, and snipping the finest flowering thereof
is the best bang for the buck.  Elunaluna's looking forward to tangling with
the "Blood of Beasts" representative, who she says is _exactly_ her type.
And since it's beasts we're talking about here, there's no need for any
elaborate stratagem: it's kill, or be killed.

Kodama's really pushing himself hard in training, going up against Aoi and
eking out 3 wins to her 7.  Both are ready to go another round until Takeru
and Shinji stop them and offer them some food and water.  Oh?  Is there
something they _want_ from her?  Or perhaps it's something she wants from
them?  Kodama is struck by a sudden thought, and when pressed he mumbles that
he learned a thing or two about wild animals from his time as a Beast Hunter.
Nono and Rose demand to know what could be afflicting Aoi, and blushing
furiously he stammers that unto animals is this so-called "season of love".
What, "going into heat"?  Yeah, umm, that.

Oh REALLY, asks Aoi with a very dangerous smile.  Yipe!  Oh don't worry, she
won't EAT Kodama while Suzune's away, and plus she reckons he might be onto
something -- so if she can't have flesh, she'll at least force him to keep
her company in the simulator till the fire in her blood subsides.  Unless he'd
prefer _real_ combat?  Double yipe!

As Kodama scurries back to his sim pod, Rand mutters that Aoi's acting just
like Elunaluna.  But it's not just her: all of Team D are restless and then
some.  This instinctual stirring is their natural state, evidence of the
beasts slumbering (lightly) within them all.  In fact, those beasts may just
be wide awake...

...and there's even a good reason for it!  Remember all those Getter Rays?
The ones with the Ryouma and the stuff?  Power of evolution, all that?  Yeah,
you guessed it: Ryouma wasn't the only one whose instinctual self was
inflamed during that battle.  Tanaka is kind of hoping his warriors aren't
going to go full Werewolf in London mode on him, and it falls to F.S. to be
the voice of reason.  Let's not forget: all humans are animals.  Just not
_mindless_ animals.  It is the meeting of intellect and instinct that lets
man surpass the animals, and eventually take his place as divine warriors.
"They" were supposed to illuminate that path, but even WILL can't find them
given they didn't turn up on the green Earth.

Wherever they are, they are presumably fulfilling their role of awakening the
beast within whomever are their new companions.  Perhaps at the behest of the
will of the Universe itself, or whatever.  Could this be because their work
here is finished?

Anyway, here come the Royals, and out to meet them sortie Z-BLUE.  Rand's
paired up with Team-D, a sort of meeting of beasts that could be even better
if the two mecha could combine... into a Gandancounger Nova Max God-Leon Magna
or whatever you'd call it.  Jokes aside the main reason Aoi requested Rand
today is that he, of all the folks on the team, can probably withstand being
near Team-D when they've got this much... beasting to get out of their system.
This is starting to scare more and more of the pilots, but not Ryouma.  Look,
it's not like the Earth isn't bathed in Getter Rays at all times anyway.  But
not to worry: only the more beastly of people are at risk(?) of being mistaken
for World of Darkness fugitives.  We think.

All this talk of beasts and whatnot has reminded Rand of someone else with
a lion-shaped mech -- someone who kept his passions very close to the surface.
Someone with whom Rand had a lot of history, and who ended up being his enemy.
Despite all the crap this person pulled, Rand felt drawn to the _honesty_ he
displayed, and could never bring himself to hate the guy.  Wait, does that
apply to Elunaluna too?

No time to think about that: the bad guys are mostly Haiades, with none of
their leaders in sight.  Gee, guess Z-BLUE will just have to trash enough of
their forces to make said leaders appear, huh?

  Indeed, Elunaluna does show up after some carnage, with a nasty surprise for
  when Aoi charges in.  The Pleiades Taura's horns aren't to be trifled with,
  as Aoi learns when the Dan-Kuu-Ken actually gets broken.  This is especially
  bad, since that sword is essentially a manifestation of the pilots' will.
  Break it, and extensive mental damage is dealt.  Or, as Elunaluna puts it,
  the beast within the pilots has just been killed -- since that's how
  beasts fight.

  F.S. actually agrees that, in a battle between beasts, defeat means instant
  death.  To allow them to be removed from the field now would mean they stay
  dead forever.  Though the others don't seem to grasp this, Rand does and
  says that he'll hold the fort until they wake up.  At least they've got a
  major cheering section from various teammates of theirs, eager to see Team-D
  beat down the cow-lady who, in fact, has the same beastly instincts as them.

  And since her lust for battle powers her Sphere, they'd better come up with
  something quick.  Here's the thing: Aoi and her teammates may have lost a
  beast's battle -- but they're more than beasts: they're humans!  And their
  cries echo across all dimensions, allowing them to summon the True
  Dan-Kuu-Ken from... well, from another dimension, since in any given
  dimension there can be only one.

  Aoi opens her eyes and seizes the sword, feeling the will of her prececessors
  coursing through it.  This sword is her fang, and as they savor its power
  Johnny notes that the Heart of Love has indeed cleaved the Evil Dimension,
  as they used to say.  The results are quite a bit more than Elunaluna
  bargained for: a fusion of intellect and instinct indeed!

  Dabalarn rushes in as Elunaluna actually apologizes to him, head still
  spinning from Aoi's blow.  Looks like their mission is a failure for today.
  She goes to report in to Australis, leaving him to face the music... the
  fact that the didn't say goodbye to Rand as testament to just how severely
  Aoi kicked her ass.  And if Dabalarn doesn't watch out, he's going to get
  more of the same.

  The only thing preventing him from staying and getting well and truly killed
  is his sense of duty in needing to see his mistress safely back to Wrath
  Babylon.  Guess there was no way he could defeat the power of Love that Aoi's
  inherited from her precious senpai.

  Ah, but wait!  Gestalt is on hand, and he _didn't_ bring with him the
  Emperor of the Dark as he once promised.  No, instead he means to bring the
  team to the Emperor, and away from the Age of the Sun into an era of
  eternal night.

Well, that was abrupt...


CHAPTER 39N. Where Wishes and Power Are Headed

The mass defection from Neo-Jion's military has cut its practical strength
approximately in half, so of course Full Frontal will try to pull in more
forces from his allies.  That includes the Zaft, which is why Z-BLUE is headed
to the Plants.  The head of the Zaft is none other than Shinn's friend Rei,
and Shinn wants little more than to meet Rei and talk this whole thing
through.  Anticipating that, Sumeragi has tapped him to join the infiltration
team that will go in in advance of the full Z-BLUE force.  Truth be told,
Shinn is terribly afraid of the thought that Rei's changed, but not so much
he'd refuse the mission.  Lunamaria will be coming along too, equally
concerned about her sister Meilin, and there's still the question of what's
become of Lacus and Bartfeld (at least they should have Aslan on hand to keep
them safe...)

How this plays out is: the Ral Kairam and Ner Argama will keep the first Zaft
defensive line busy while the Ptolemy uses Trans Am mode to get close to the
Plants themselves -- still acting as camouflage to give the infiltrators time
to do their work in Aprilius City.  Shinn and Rei had better hurry, since
even with Lasse's skills at the helm the inner Zaft defenders can't be held
at bay forever.

Full Frontal is in fact on the phone with Rei, requesting Zaft send him more
troops.  Rei counters that sending any *more* troops will leave the Plants
under-defended, but Frontal tells him that unless the world is fundamentally
changed, the Coordinators will ever be treated as some kind of space monsters.
Frontal drops every name he can think of, including Rau Le Creuset (Rei's
genetic predecessor, let's recall) plus Durandal, Chrono, and even Santa Claus
in an attempt to persuade Rei.  Rei isn't much for rhetoric that he should
shut up and accept his inborn destiny: Gil tried that once with the Destiny
Plan, and the results weren't -- in his view -- pretty.  Frontal ends by
thanking Rei for how helpful he's been, and reminding him that Frontal's
influence was key to getting him to where he is today.  After he hangs up,
Rei vows to carry out the true intent _behind_ Gil's plans...

The infiltrators have fanned out, with just Shinn, Kira and Kodama together in
a secret passage.  Kodama hears footsteps approaching, and urges the other
two to hurry on ahead: he's got his martial arts, his Boost Up, and if
necessary his mech to draw upon.  The footsteps belong to a pair of Chrono
Progressive agents, who are here on some kind of mission.  They fail hard at
hand-to-hand combat, and Kodama has to wonder how much of their prowess in
their mecha is the machine doing the heavy lifting too.

Then up walks Maki, triggering the conversation from the Japan route.  This
time, instead of Ankokuji opening fire, Kodama simply runs away from Maki
rather than go with her to seek Advent's forgiveness.  Maki is very sad.

It turns out Chrono are here in an attempt to punish the colonies, and it's a
good thing Kodama makes it back to the Ptolemy in a hurry.  Kira and Shinn are
still inside though, which is bad given that Lidy and the Conservatives are
determined to attack Aprilius itself.  That Lidy would take this mission --
part publicity stunt, part ideological cleansing -- is testament to how far
he's sunk.  This battle is likely to get complicated fast, since the
Progressives are somewhere around here too (as Kodama knows firsthand).

  Lidy's got this sad delusion that he and Chrono are the only ones with a
  hope of saving the world, which he uses to justify basically any act of
  depravity including war crimes against civilians.  The frustration of
  getting yet another ass-handing causes him to activate Destroy Mode on the
  Banshee.  Anybody with half a brain can see that Lidy's naked rage is
  fucking dangerous, and pretty much all the Newtypes tell him to go cool his
  jets.  Instead, Lidy seems determined to defeat Banarj now that the
  conditions are "equal".

As the drama unfolds outside, Shinn and Kira finally make it to Rei.  Rei's
been preparing himself for this day for some time, and tells Shinn that no
matter what he's come to day, Rei is determined to see Gil's Destiny Plan
through to completion.  This explains why he's sided with Full Frontal, who at
the very least seems to agree that the Destiny Plan was a good idea.  But
neither Frontal, nor the do-gooders on Z-BLUE, understand the true meaning
behind the scheme to determine people's lives according to their DNA.

Leaving the Zaft gave Rei a chance to actually _read_ Gil's notes in peace,
including all the private bits.  It was during this period that he first met
Full Frontal, someone born under similar circumstances (yes, he's in fact
Char's clone).  Frontal probably approached Rei for reasons of his own, but
Rei was willing to engage with him for his own ends.

It turns out that the real point of Gil's plan was to identify the newly-
awakened members of humanity and protect them from Chrono's Conservatives.
It's the same objective as the Coordinators, but carried out under different
constraints given that Gil too was part of the Chrono Progressives.  And of
course, those newly awakened folks would be the SEED bearers like Shinn, Kira
and Aslan.  This explains why Gil took such an interest in their movements: a
bid both to watch over them, and to hasten the realization of the potential
in their genes.

Rei has briefed Frontal on the aspects of the Destiny Plan related to
efficiency and society unity, but not the bit about the SEED bearers.  Gil
himself was fully aware that history would call him a tyrant, but he enacted
his plan nevertheless.  And Rei, who claims to have finally found his purpose
in life, intends of his own volition to see that unfinished work completed.
Shinn isn't buying it, and Kira is perhaps the best spokesman for the perils
of focusing on the genetics to the exclusion of all else.  Maybe he's a
Super-Coordinator, but that doesn't exempt him from worrying his ass off or
making countless mistakes.  Shinn's not exactly a model ubermensch either, but
he does know how to take cues from the friends who help him.

Kira sums it up this way: no human is God, so any human plan to make better
humans can't be afforded a very privileged status.  But could one maybe tilt
the odds in a good direction?  Not, Shinn insists, if doing so costs people
the chance to live like _people_.  Count him out of any progress that
dehumanizes him or people like him.  Rei counters that for humanity to have
a future, it'll take more than just emotion -- it'll take dispassionate eyes
that can accept even the unacceptable.

If he's referring to the Sidereals, the better plan is to kick their ass out:
dodging the truth isn't the same as facing it.  Rei is just realizing that
he can Shinn can't see eye to eye when a bunch of Chrono folks bust in to try
to kill the "space monsters".  Shinn takes a bullet while shielding Rei, and
before Kira can try to intervene Yzak and Diakka turn up with machine guns.
Bye-bye Chrono lackeys.

They and Arthur have come with a little announcement: as of this moment,
several divisions of the Zaft armed forces are exiting the military: in
essence, Zaft is being sundered.  The reason is straightforward enough: all
this collaboration with Neo-Jion is a great way to voluntarily lose all the
freedom, justice and self-determination the Plants fought so hard for.  This is
about the Clyne faction finally finding the chance they've long sought to say
goodbye to all this tiresome warfare.

By the way, Shinn is continuing to bleed all over the carpet.  He tells Rei
that, no matter how convenient it might have been, he couldn't just stand by
and watch his friend get killed.  See, at least he's preserved Rei's right to
his own future.  In tears, Rei calls him a fool, which Shinn is just fine
with.  Rei consents to the Clyne folks taking him into custody, so long as 
they hurry and use some first aid on Shinn.

Getting him and Kira back on the battlefield is key, since a new detachment
of Progressives show up and _also_ begin blasting Aprilius.  Why?  Who the
fuck knows anymore.  Basically if Z-BLUE is around, Chrono seem to enjoy
getting their guns off regardless of which faction they are.  Shinn can't keep
up the battle for long in his condition, but he's adamant that the Colonies
be preserved and no more children be born under the same circumstances that
brought him and Rei into the world.

Advent turns up at this point, and Kira demands to know why he's had his
forces attack the very people that Chrono's plans brought into existence in the
first place.  It's because they've deviated from the original plan and sided
with the Sidereals, becoming not-friends and hence enemies.  Space Monsters,
really.

Orly?  Not if Aslan has anything to say about it, or Rei for that matter.
It's time for the Wonder Twins to get back into the groove at long last, as
well as the next generation: maybe Chrono might want to reconsider attacking
people with psychically-powered weapons, when those people outnumber them.
Advent calls the spectacle "splendid" and flies off like a dumbass, leaving
Z-BLUE and friends to protect the Colony.  Lidy needs to realize that both
Naturals and Coordinators are human beings.

Hamarn perceives that Lidy's gone beyond the point of having a rational
discussion, so the best thing to do is to simply blast his ass, forcing him
to retreat and, hopefully, rethink his blind devotion to his bloodline.  It's
certainly something for Rei to think about carefully, as both factions of
Chrono withdraw.

This sets the stage for Lacus to get on the mic.  She announces that the
Plant's Executive Council is resuming operations, and that a new Defense
Secretary is being sought after Rei's dismissal.  Further, the Plants intend to
reconsider their cooperation with Neo-Jion, and their plan to submit to the
good will of the alien invaders.  Certainly fending the invasion off won't
come without sacrifice, but few good things in life ever do.  This idea that
one must move forward to survive isn't just an abstraction: the poor birthrate
of third-generation Coordinators can be linked directly to a lack of genetic
diversity in the fenced-in world of the Plants.

All mankind must join forces, even if in the process the Coordinators'
genetic engineering is lost.  But as long as the original sense of being the
world's "coordinators" lives on, their founder George Glen's ideals will live 
with it.  Lacus hopes for everyone's cooperation as they mutually confront the
many problems staring mankind in the face.

Well, that's the Plants pacified and, in due time, ready to join the war
against the Kingdom.  Lacus, says Bartfeld, is tougher than ever after months
of life on the run, and it showed in her voice.  Rei has officially been
labeled as an "escaped prisoner", and his mech written off as "lost", letting
him operate freely as one of Z-BLUE.  His hope is to make amends for what
he's done, and the lives lost by his temporary collaboration with Frontal.

As for Durandal's legacy, Amuro is inclined to give him at least a little
benefit of the doubt, since it's now clear that the Destiny Plan included
thoughts of how to escape Chrono's influence.  Given that Z-BLUE's people put
a stop to the Chairman, it's their obligation to see the better angels of his
work brought to fruition.

With Neo-Jion taken down several notches and the Plants pacified, it's time to
return to the Celestial Being and plan the next phase of the assault on the
Kingdom.  Char had better hurry, especially since Frontal isn't likely to sit
still under the circumstances...

AG is genuinely concerned about Mareeda's safety, and warns her to steer
clear of the Banshee Norn.  Hey, at least tangling with Lidy is worth some 
Z-Chips, on the account of all the genuine emotion the guy is pouring out.
Maybe when all the hate has been vented he'll be able to be the same smiling
Lidy they all knew.  Then again, with how quickly the Banshee is adapting to
him, the next battle will probably be the last, for good or ill.

He also tries to get Rei and Aslan to do the "Sale, Sale!" thing.  This fails,
even though Aslan is quite the amateur mechanic and loves the idea of a truly
independent A.I.  And Rei?  Well, best not to provoke him now...


CHAPTER 39A. Warped Karma

Kei's been having a pretty rough week, with the whole "Singularity" thing
getting brought up far more often than he'd like.  It's not so bad that other
organizations are out to get him or whatever -- Kei's bothered because even
he's begun to believe that he himself is somehow special, and has caught
himself treating himself accordingly.  By contrast, Orson's never been one for
delusions of grandeur, and he was struck by someone one of the Sidereal
researchers said during his imprisonment and guinea-pig status: "There are
three keys".  Bringing them together might just set the stage to do something
about this screwed-up world, and hearing that makes Kei brighten considerably:
unless he's much mistaken, the third key is Kaname!

Elsewhere, Kurtz is kind of in a tizzy, and after some coaxing and a promise
to keep it secret, Kurtz tells Sousuke why.  The whole romantic thing with
Kiriko and Fiana was _so_ romantic that, well, he and Mao went and slept
together.  Like, as man and woman!  The problem is, a warship isn't the best
place to get much privacy, and at least three of the women on the team
overhear.  Tessa in particular is so flustered that she orders Kurtz to go
get (private) lectures on tactics from Mao until the next sortie.  Calming
down a bit, she tells him a sort of congratulations.

Sheryl has to hand it to the Snanpas: they sure as hell don't miss their
targets, do they?  Ranka can mostly just blush and nod, and the two singers
head back to help prepare dinner: they acted as Tessa's guide as she was
trying to track down Sousuke.  Sousuke is pretty embarrassed herself that Tessa
had to hear all that, and seeing his flustered expression makes it all worth
it for her.  Actually, she's come to set up him acting as her bodyguard during
the upcoming mission to Yam Sak 11.  Sousuke realizes she must be under a lot
of stress, having to shoulder the burden of anti-Amalgam planning all by
herself... and when she asks if she can simply stay and watch him work for
a while, he's happy to oblige.

The main Z-BLUE force intends to bait Amalgam away from the Sousuke and Tessa.
Yam Sak 11 turns out to be an old HPL research "city".  A good ten years
ago, the Britannian Union's "Prometheus Experiment" (a failed attempt at
Dimensional Concussion that led to the Dimensional Beasts entering the world,
blowing up Esther's hometown, and so forth) gave the HPL something to chew on,
and besides the obvious linkage to Amalgam's more recent munition, Tessa
reckons that the secret to all the Whispered lies buried here too.

Kurtz is in fine form, and as the team get into position he phones Sousuke up
using a private line.  Sousuke tells Kurtz that he was plenty surprised at
his announcement, but if it didn't show on his face, it's mainly because he's
got no idea what kind of expression one _should_ make under such circumstances.
Figures.  What Kurtz wants is Sousuke's thoughts on the fact that Mao said
pretty much everything _but_ "I love you".  What does it meeeeeen?  Maybe it
means she doesn't love him?  Err...  Anyway, Kurtz wasn't entirely wrong to
check with Sousuke -- after all, they are teammates and teammates shouldn't
keep secrets from each other.

Much like Mao is a sister figure to Tessa, Tessa's glad to see that Kurtz is
like a brother to Sousuke.  Those bonds are crucial when death is on the line,
as it is when the Amalgam troops show up.  Among them is Leonard, who (upon
not seeing Sousuke) figures his sister has once again screwed up.  There's
something very different about him, as though the gloves are off or
something, and it's still true that bumping him off here would close the
chapter on Amalgam.  Neither side makes much of a secret of their interest in
Yam Sak 11 (or in the Singularities), and with a little luck Kurtz may get to
try out a new stratagem he's cooked up using the Fairy's Eyes...

  The team now has Leonard's full attention, even using Kei as extra-special
  bait in an attempt to inflame Leonard's pride.  Leonard won't pass up a
  chance to eradicate a Singularity, and even though expected Kei's not very
  happy that he's go no chance in direct combat with a Lambda Driver-equipped
  A.S.  But that wasn't the point.  The point was to lure Leonard to where
  Kurtz could discern his weak spot with the Fairy's Eyes, and blast him.

  One. small. problem.  Someone named Caspar, who's sniping range is even
  greater than Kurtz' detection radius... and who makes one of those
  Pratchettinian "one-in-a-million" shots.  Caspar will accompany Leonard to
  Yam Sak 11, and Leonard comments that while this wasn't a bad plan, his power
  will FOREVER be above that of Z-BLUE.

  Kurtz is incommunicado, but Mao refuses to believe that he's dead.  The
  problem is that there's more Amalgam troops to deal with, so there's no time
  to go find out how he's doing... or to go help Sousuke/Kodama/Tessa.  All
  they can do is battle on here, and Mao won't hear of Kurtz eluding his
  "responsibility" to her now...

Kaname's been brought here too, and Leonard says that plans have changed:
all of them are going to Yam Sak 11.  He announces a new policy too: he's
through being all gentlemanly, especially when there's so little time, and
will _force_ her to do as he wants.  Oh, NOW he shows his true colors?!

There's something eerily familiar about this city, and both Kodama and Sousuke
can feel it.  Tessa brought Sousuke here because of his deep connection to
the Whispered, and mentions the name Vani Morauta: the original creator of the
ARX series.  Only Sousuke has ever managed to master Vani's creation, and no
person in the world has had contact with more Whispered (6 all told, including
Leonard) than he has.  Could it be that Sousuke is some sort of Savior, sent
by God to help Tessa in her moment of need?

In any event, Tessa warns the team not to get too close to the center of the
blast, largely undisturbed for 17 years.  It seems to exert a confusing effect
on the human mind, and she can imagine the horrid rioting that must have taken
place among those normal civilians who were contaminated by the blast.  None
of this is to do with Dimensional Quakes per se, but rather the system that
was meant to cause them -- a system made by the finest scientist in all the
HPL: Dmitry Varof.

Varof's ultimate goal was to construct something he called the Omni-Sphere, a
zone in which both spiritual and physical phenomena could all be controlled as
one.  Something, Tessa imagines, like the collective unconsciousness the team
contacted at Kaminejima.  Plus, as is the case with Kodama's "Sphere", his use
of the word is likely to mean more than just "zone" or "territory".  And as
Sousuke recalls, the "TAROS" system in the ARX-8 and TdD is, in fact, an
abbreviation: "Transfer And Reaction Omni-Sphere".  Indeed, all the Lambda
Drivers are based on Omni-Sphere tech.

Suddenly Kodama hears approaching footsteps, and as was the case on the
Aprilius path, urges Sousuke and Tessa to hurry on ahead.  Once again, it's
the Chrono Progressives and Maki: this time they've come to demolish the place
and presumably bury its secrets...

...which is something Leonard did NOT expect.  So much so that Kaname has
managed to elude Leonard's grasp, and actually bumps into Tessa!  Now, if they
can just find Sousuke...

Gee, it seems Sousuke and Leonard got trapped together by the blast.  Neither
likes the other very much, especially after Leonard's personality change, but
both realize they've got to work together if either of them are going to
escape this.  Leonard asks if Tessa is here, then temporizes that Kaname is
here too.  He's sure she's still alive, thanks to her almost unnaturally good
luck.  Probabilistically speaking, she shouldn't still be alive -- and
privately, Sousuke has to agree.  But to Leonard, Sousuke points out that part
of Kaname's "good fortune" is her good judgement (within her sometimes limited
scope) and most of all her determination to never give up.  Perhaps so, but
wouldn't Sousuke consider her fortunate to be blessed with that judgement and
stick-toitiveness in the first place?

Nope, he's not buying that tenuous argument.  Leonard then switches gears and
says that Kaname represents the inflection point between cause and effect.  She
is here because the world went crazy, but it's also true that the world went
crazy because of her.  One thing Leonard's positive of is that Kaname is going
to meet a ghost in the deepest levels of this building.  And it will all occur
as if by nature.  And there she'll finally gain the power to end history.  She
will become, Leonard says, the true "Keystone" (for that's what Kaname means)
upon which to found a world with no past, present or future.

Tessa is in fact leading Kaname deeper into the labyrinth, even as their
consciousnesses are assailed by this area's warping influence.  Tessa is
determined to see this place NOT fall into Amalgam's hands -- what she believes
is the real reason Leonard pretended to obey the Kingdom.  What they're feeling
now is the residual psychic wave from events 18 years ago, testament to the
terrible power unleashed when Varof's science entered forbidden ground by
constructing the world's first TAROS.

He realized that one had to magnify psychic waves in order to control
Dimensional Energy, and he indeed went through many test subjects before
reaching the brink of success.  But the last test went awry, and the results
for Yam Sak 11 are obvious.  Apparently there were several kinds of psychic
waves emitted by his Omni Sphere, the first being the "Iota Wave" that
polluted the townspeople -- a wave that grows weaker as space and time pass.

The next is the "Tau Wave" which propagates indefinitely and spread to the
whole earth.  Normal people suffered little if any effects, and as the wave
wasn't even physical no scientific process detected it.  But considering when
the wave was unleashed, Christmas Eve, 18 years ago, it seems that those who
were being born during that three-minute window _were_ affected.  Becoming the
Whispered.

Tessa doesn't believe that the Whispered's heads were merely filled with data
from the Black Knowledge.  Rather, she believes they gained the power to
tune into psychic waves from some future world -- one of the Omni-Sphere's
abilities is the reversal of the flow of information in time.  The A.S. with
all its unheard-of technology is the perfect proof-point for how warped the
world has become, and a Singular example of something Tessa calls a "Time
Hazard" that threatens the integrity of the world's original timeline.

*sigh* But as any Doctor Who fanperson knows, the script isn't really a
linear thing, with ironclad rules.  Continuity is sort of this bibbly-bobbly,
blimey-crimey stuff.  IF -- *if* mind you -- the development of the Omni-
Sphere was a natural occurrence, as was the resulting distortion of the world's
timeline, perhaps there _wasn't_ an "original" timeline at all.  Without
AS's, would Kaname and Sousuke never have even met?  In any case, she's
determined to come with Tessa to the center of this whole mess.

Leonard has been filling Sousuke in on the whole thing too, and Sousuke at
length snarls that it all sounds so stupid.  Not the part about the Omni-
Sphere itself, but the way Leonard describes it all as being "warped".  That
would make pretty much everything after the Greater Quake a mistake, wouldn't
it?  Well then, asks Leonard: what would Sousuke suggest be done with the
world now?  He _suggests_ that nothing be done... Leave well enough alone,
unless you're God himself.  Oh wait, I guess that's what Leonard intends to do.
If so, Sousuke says, it must be Leonard who's warped for wanting to deny
everything that all of them have experienced.

He wouldn't mind a meeting of all the world's minds, as was done during the
breaking of the Time Prison.  Orly?  How about this scenario: would Sousuke
want to remake the world if his precious Kaname were to perish?  Sousuke
doesn't answer immediately, and Leonard takes the opportunity to berate him
for his little one-dimensional world in which everything's so simple.  Well
not Leonard's, that's for sure.  And not everyone is as hard-headed as Sousuke:
consider Karinin, who had the sense enough to perceive the world's warping and
actively hate it.  He's the reason Leonard used that device in Neo-Tokyo 2:
he wanted to prove to Karinin that it's far more than just a weapon.  That it
is a means to correct mistakes, and that Leonard controls those means.

Sousuke can certainly recall Karinin grumbling about the unnaturality of 
AS's on more than one occasion, and the idea that Karinin might side with
Leonard *personally* isn't as far-fetched as it sounded at first.  Leonard
tells Sousuke that Tessa has probably guessed his objective, adding that she's
deliberately withheld the full story lest some among Z-BLUE decide to follow
Karinin's example.  Plus, presumably Tessa wants revenge against Amalgam, and
hates the thought of someone manipulating the world.  However, Leonard
believes that Tessa's biggest motive is opposing Leonard himself, the only
way she thinks she can express herself to the world.

That's not Sousuke's analysis, but Leonard is rather beyond caring.  He's
been building a new TAROS, on a scale never before seen, and with his
Dimensional Concussion Bomb it will be able to interfere with the past.  But
to power it, no regular Whispered will do.  He needs the most powerful, most
Singular one of all: Kaname.  And in fact, he postulates that the information
from the future the Whispered receive doesn't come from some random origin:
Kaname herself sent it -- that she is not a Whispered at all, but rather is
_the_ "Whispering".

Sousuke is adamant that someone as down-to-earth as Kaname would never just
blast all kinds of potentially dangerous information off to god-knows who,
especially if it meant crossing time to do it.  Ahh, therein lies the
mystery, doesn't it?  Why would Kaname interfere with the past?  What thing
she would find undesirable occurred?  Is it already in Leonard and Sousuke's
own past, or is it yet to come?  Who provided the information to her?  Another
Whispering in the future perhaps?  What does Sousuke think?

Sousuke thinks Leonard is the last person Kaname should be anywhere near.
Leonard retorts that Kaname can never lead a normal life again: even if he were
to kick her out on the street this instant, someone -- probably from the
Kingdom -- would just come after her next.  Hence Leonard's prescription for
Sousuke: put the world back the way it was, let Kaname lead a normal life, and
all will be for her what Sousuke says he wants.  There may be some truth
there, but something nags at Sousuke: if he did all that, it would be
meaningless for _him_, as he wouldn't be by her side.  He wonders to the
absent Kaname what he should do if this is truly Kaname's only shot at a
peaceful life...

The two men finally dig themselves out, and Sousuke is in little mood for
them to try to kill each other just now.  That's fine with Leonard, who says
they'll have ample time to take their frustrations out on each other tomorrow.
Leonard leaves him with this thought: he will stop at nothing, even making
the whole world his enemy, to see his objective through.  Sousuke is welcome
to watch from the sidelines if he wants, but should he show himself before
Leonard again, he'll kill Sousuke with every power at his disposal.  With
no other choice, Sousuke realizes he's got to go and try to find Kaname.

Kaname and Tessa are feeling their consciousnesses start to blend as they
finally reach the deepest part of the lab.  They see the TAROS central
capsule within which is the figure of a woman: presumably the last test
subject.  No, that's not right: said subject's body would have rotted away
long ago.  What they're seeing is an after-image, a sort of photograph the
Omni-Sphere is displaying of who used to be there.  This is the Whisperer,
from some unknown future, who's been supporting Kaname with her vast powers.

Destroying this is Tessa's objective: freeing Yam Sak 11 from its curse and
halting the Tau Wave from another time.  But that won't last: the same thing
will eventually occur elsewhere.  Nothing can stopped the advent of the
Whisperers.  In which case...

Yes, that's correct, says a voice Kaname knows from of old.  This voice has
tried to call her here so many times, and ever she resisted.  But as was
prearranged, she is now here, and can no longer refuse her.  Let her receive
her powers, and her soul.  She need only stretch forth her hands and open her
heart, and everlasting bliss will be hers.

[FUCKING HELL THIS IS LONG OMGWTFBBQTLDR....]

Sousuke rushes in at this point and immediately realizes that something's
not right with Kaname.  Proof comes when she pulls out a gun and threatens
Tessa, telling her to shut up when Tessa says she never expected this.  Kaname
says she's torn between the desire to jump into his arms right now, and the
GREATER desire to do the job she's been entrusted with by "Sophia", the girl
in the capsule.  Kaname says she knows all of this is hard for Sousuke to
accept, but she'd really rather he did, since it's all part of making the world
a better place.  She wants him to let her go, or else Tessa and even he will
end up dead.

Tessa yells for Sousuke to intervene, and Kaname shoots Tessa, then blames
it on Sousuke and shoots him too.  How has it come to this, Sousuke wonders
as all becomes black.  He then hears Kaname's voice, telling him it will be
okay and that she'll be waiting for him.

The next thing he knows, Kodama's picking him up off the floor.  Tessa lays
nearby, unconscious but unhurt.  What the hell is going on?  Was what Sousuke
saw merely on possibility that Kaname somehow showed him?!  In any event, it's
time to pick up and get the fuck out before the Progressives bring this whole
place down around their ears.  Sousuke is now more determined than ever: if
Kaname is waiting for him, he'll damn well go to greet her.

...Oh for fuck's sake.  After all that, do we have to tangle with the
Sidereals too?  It seems Shikuu's come with a mission to put Amalgam out of
their misery, and Kodama and Sousuke turn up just in time (having seen Tessa
to safety first).

  What Shikuu can't figure out is why Z-BLUE continues to fight despite knowing
  of their own Future of Despair.  Crow's not one to have others deciding his
  future for him, and Kei tells Shikuu that he's already sick of people
  telling him that he's not Singular enough to pull off Dimension Healing.
  Shikuu digests that a moment, then adds that human hands cannot change the
  world, and _especially_ not the past: a lesson that Leonard needs to learn.
 
  What Shikuu needs to learn is that Kei, more than anything, hates being
  called the "Original Singularity".  He's got a perfectly good name, so use
  it!  And if he and Orson aren't enough, he'll just have to find this "third"
  Singularity he's been hearing about.

His mech kind of dented by this point, Shikuu declares that his work here is
done and withdraws, perhaps the faintest hint of a smile on his lips.  But just
as the team get ready to start salvaging Kurtz, Caspar shows up again with
Tessa as hostage.  Leonard wants Z-BLUE out of the picture, and forcing their
surrender in this way seems to be just the ticket.  And unfortunately, if Tessa
dies here, even the rest of Z-BLUE won't be able to stop him.

It suddenly dawns on Crow that the previous Lock-On mentioned this Caspar
character: a legendary demon even among elite snipers.  In fact, he's the one
who trained Kurtz.  Who, at least so he claims, is the second most
indestructible member of the team after Kiriko himself.  His mech may be a pile
of scrap right now, but he's still got his own eyes, and his Winchester M70.

Somebody once said that "1760's a mile -- It's a far piece, Sam."  Think
the president ought to worry?  Consider this: the most important lesson Webber
ever learned is that a sniper must never miss.  He can feel himself bleeding
out, and knows he'll only get one shot.  He implores Sousuke to save Kaname,
no matter what else happens.  He wants Tessa to out and find herself a real
husband, and to Mao -- lonelier than she lets on -- he wanted to offer more
companionship.  He can't decide if he wants Mao to shed tears for him, or not.
And to his teacher, this: if Kurtz was disappointing as a student, it's because
Caspar disappointed him as a human being first.  He'll never become the sort
of sniper who cares not for collateral damage in pursuit of his quarry.

All factors accounted for, all Webber has to do is pull the trigger.  And just
like that, the student surpasses the teacher, his final act of bravery.  As
Royal and Chrono forces turn up and get ready for full-scale war, the only
thing Sousuke can do is retrieve Tessa and join the team in bugging out.

Some time later, Kaname is having a conversation with herself, or something.
It's a shame about Sousuke and Tessa, but their roles were done with: no more
need to play "friends" or "lovers".  All of it is trivial compared to the
impending remaking of the world.  All that matters is that Kaname herself still
lives: she, the only person who can save the world by following Sophia's
orders.  Leonard probably forecast as much as the reason he brought her to
Yam Sak 11, and no doubt has all preparations well underway.

Well, close, anyway: his people have been hard at work ever since Merida fell.
Looks like he won't need to smack her around anymore...

AG feels very badly about Kurtz's loss.  This is the second time he's lost
a bright, enthusiastic sniper friend...


CHAPTER 40J. What Lies Beyond Light and Darkness

The team find themselves in, basically, Hades.  Opposing them are the Space
Devil and Zhul, because... somebody has to be in charge of this three-ring
circus.  Both of them are very proud of their immortality and their Higher
Dimensinoalness and whatever, and when Shotarou talks smack they disable his
little remote control box and turn Tetsujin 28 into their own personal servant.
Or, try to -- it's all they can do just to keep Shotarou from controlling it,
but that's good enough.  Can Z-BLUE wrest back control, especially when faced
with the spirits of the dead that congregate here?

Well, there's no light in this place, no hope, only hatred, fear, excruciating
pain, and any other colorful phrases the bad guys can think of to scare our
heroes.  Then, they don't even stick around to see if their threats work.
Well, start by taking out the Angels I guess...

  They don't make Angels like they used to, I guess.  Then again, it seems
  the bad guys can just print more of them.  Oh, and they've got a Computer #8,
  which you might remember from UCW.  It still insists that humans are the
  most evil things in space, killing each other in hatred and enhancing the
  powers of darkness and blah blah.

  And oh look, here comes Mikage to pile on and gloat over Z-BLUE's last
  moments.  Maybe the Solar Aquarion could brighten the mood?  Nope, the
  darkness is too dark, at least the first time.  But with Amata spurring
  Apollo on, Apollo agrees to try again until Fudou turns up.  It turns out
  that the previous Solar Aquarion incident 12k years ago was the pouring forth
  of those 12k years' worth of accumulated human sentiment.  Soo, I guess the
  thing's out of gas?

  No actually, because there's been another 12k years since.  Plus, think
  about where mankind's gotten to.  The Blood of Beasts, the Mingling of
  Waters, the Whereabouts of Wind, the Culture of Fire... and now the Shining
  of the Sun.  Time to put them all on display.  But the brighter the light,
  the deeper the darkness.  Love and hate, two sides of the same coin.  Like...
  twins?  Well, not all twins, but certain twins anyhow.  The point, as Mars
  finally sees, is not for the light to extinguish the darkness: the point is
  to find something beyond both of them.  As the Aquarion folks start doing
  their thing, Mars thinks that the point of a loving heart is to surpass
  Hatred.  Hope is about facing Despair.  Both light and darkness _together_
  make a person, and so one must not deny the darkness, but rather come to
  accept it.

Kodama's already set the example for how to move past warring emotions.  Marg
thinks back to his twin birth with Mars, one being split into light and dark
halves.  Zhul glommed onto Marg because Zhul only cares for the darkness,
hoping to one day use him to nullify his light brother Mars.  Luckily the two
of them figured out his scheme and worked together to overcome it.  There is
nothing evil about the darkness itself: _thinking_ it's evil is actually where
evil begins.  And living only in the light cannot bring about Justice, that's
for sure.

Witnessing Marg and Mars' conversation suddenly reminds the Elements of their
training of being buried alive.  Death is not something to be feared; after
all, the souls of their loved ones reside there too.  Let even the Darkness
become power to the team!  Just as brighter light brings the darkness into
relief, darker darkness makes the light also easier to perceive.  This is the
Ultimate Yang, and is precisely thing Zhul fears the most.

Smacking him around gives Shotarou the leeway to call Tetsujin back to his
control, and then unleash its Solar Energy.  In fact, this new attack is
something Shotarou thought up after Gestalt nearly detonated Tetsujin's Solar
Reactor: all he had to do was come up with attacks to channel that energy
into, and no explosion!

Not to be outdone, Daitarn-3 powers up all on its own.  Turns out it's actually
alive: a prototype Megaborg, and although it's not often mentioned it is very
much self-aware... and now further matured by all this solar energy
outbursting.  Time to show the Computer Doll a thing or two about egotism:
namely, it does NOT pay.  Witness the Sun-Moon-Bird Attack!

Gee Mikage, looks like the humans have found reserves of light within
themselves, what Fudou terms "Splendor".  This is where Ghoula turns up, and
tells his father and Zhul to face facts.  His father has changed much since
black holes swallowed their world 12k years ago: rather than joining the
Earthlings in a quest for the Shining of the Sun, his father elected to
descend into Darkness.  The best Ghoula can do is free his father from that
sad fate, but that won't happen today -- the baddies have something else
planned for later.  For now, they leave Gestalt to get his ass flattened, as
Ghoula finally gets to fight alongside Shoutarou.

Mikage goes off to pout, telling the wingless humans that they'll soon come
to know the terror of that which lies beyond light and darkness.  Fudou then
says he's taught the team all the can, and looks forward to seeing them walk
and see under their own power.  Gestalt is in no real position to criticize
Fudou for "fleeing" this fight, since his own boss just did likewise.  Indeed,
everyone on Z-BLUE (with the possible exception of C.C.) will eventually die.
"But not today!"

All this talk of twins has Kodama thinking -- is there some deeper significance
to this idea that surpassing "light and darkness" has resonance with the
activation condition for his Sphere?  ___ and Gimi meanwhile are the
*non*-Quarreling Twins, and are loving this whole turn of events.

Gestalt learns quickly that a half-assed challenge to the Stigmatics is a
recipe for disaster.  When he dematerializes, Mars notes that Gestalt is only
a fragment of Zhul -- until he's defeated, Gestalt won't truly die.  Still,
until Zhul and the Space Devil finish whatever "preparations" they're busy
with, it turns out that Z-BLUE will automatically return to their own world:
the living do not abide long in this Darkness anyway.  All the same, Mars knows
that his brother is never far away from him, and that is a comforting thought.

Looks like a week's past while the team was screwing around in Hades.  No time
for a coffee break though: word comes in from the other parts of Z-BLUE at
Amalgam is about to destroy the world.  ...If the team _had_ been drinking
coffee, it'd now be all over everybody's consoles.

Tessa's the one who figured it out and told the rest of the commanders, and has
called for an emergency rendezvous.  As Bright fills F.S. on what the other
teams have been up to, he says that the final battle with Amalgam is likely to
be at Neo-Tokyo 3...

In fact, Dari and Gimi's (mostly) non-Quarreling Twins act is good for a lot of
emotional energy, and 100Z to boot.  It seems that what lies beyond Light and
Darkness is "humankind", basically.  AG hopes that that's the answer to his
true questions going forward.  Then again, when Shoutarou and Ghoula shows up
for some ice cream, Ghoula asks for _all_ the toppings.  He gets what he wants,
historically.  Apparently the Z-BLUE "little kid squadron" has a new member,
and Ghoula even does the "Sale, Sale!" thing as part of his "initiation".


CHAPTER 40N. The Red Comet's Future

Suppose you're caught on the set of "I Think I'm a Clone Now".  What would you
talk about?  Maybe the nature of the Laplace Box, what Full Frontal calls a
de-facto God?  Yeah that.  Frontal plays coy as usual, calling the explosive
truth a "mere theory" and then adding that he's probably being conservative in
his estimates.  Else, why would Cardias Bist place such pan-dimensional
importance in the damn thing?

In any case, the truth will come out when someone actually acquires the damn
thing, kind of like Al Capone's Vault -- and insofar as Frontal's got more
firepower than Chrono at present, he hopes to upstage them by getting his hands
on it first.  Rather... "ambitious", in Char's estimation -- and he has to
wonder what Frontal stands to gain by explaining everything to his star
prisoner (and presumably eventual executionee).  Perhaps, Frontal allows,
it's an attempt to understand his own thoughts better.

After all -- as Char is surely aware by now -- Frontal is but _one_of_ Char's
kagemusha.  A rather special one, who seems to have been imbued with the very
spirit of an alternate-universe Char thanks to that damn Dimensional Quake.
Frontal's obsession with understanding who he himself is is one of the reasons
Char is still breathing.  The real question is whether Frontal's consciousness
belongs to he himself, or to some other Char Aznable.

Char allows that siding with the Sidereals might be the _highest_ probability
shot for prolonging mankind's survival, but that's still merely one choice out
of many -- and not the choice he himself made.  Frontal takes that as proof of
how much Amuro and Z-BLUE have warped him, and (although he _had_ considered
various forms of mind control) reckons that the best way to get Char back on
his side is to take out the source of that warpage.  He means to take down
Z-BLUE, and his unpleasant smile suggests some underhanded way of doing it.
If nothing else, Char is now faced with the prospect of his doppelganger being
even more dangerous than anticipated...

Meanwhile, what the hell is Advent thinking?  Is he playing the heel in order
to toughen Z-BLUE up?  Or is he simply throwing a childish tantrum at people
who don't do what he wants them to?  At the least, his imperiling of civilian
Colonists and treating Kodama his his personal possession aren't forgivable.

Kodama himself knows how futile it is to ponder Advent's cryptic motivation.
Instead, he's been ruminating on Maki -- not out of love, but out of respect
for the service she did him via moral support when he was at some of his lowest
ebbs.  It's unclear if Hamarn overheard that or not, but she's scowling
something fierce -- something that she won't divulge to Quess _because_ of
how she's growing close to the Z-BLUE team.

Mareeda meanwhile has retreated to sick bay, resting from what Hamarn vaguely
terms "stress".  It turns out that Hamarn's had some kind of premonition of
doom, which seems to get stronger the closer the team gets to the Celestial
Being.  It turns out there's a good reason for this: the writers decided to
throw plausibility entirely out the window by declaring that Neo-Jion
successfully took the damn thing over without anyone so much as raising the
alarm.

Genneman is supposedly responsible, and it turns out that everyone from
Full Frontal on down have come aboard.  He tries to temporarily smooth things
over for Z-BLUE, who are understandably furious to find such an unfortunate
homecoming awaiting them, and plans some "talks" for six hours hence.  With no
real choice for now, Z-BLUE enter Neo-Jion custody and go to cool their jets.
Genneman meanwhile temporizes with Frontal, allowing that perhaps even he is
wavering over which course to take.  Or, maybe Genneman's just sick of
creeping around in the shadows?  Maybe that goes for Char too?  The question
is, what will become of Mareeda?

Mareeda regains consciousness with Banarj at her side, not entirely surprised
to hear of her former master's treachery.  Banarj is having major second
thoughts, faced with the seeming inevitability that everything he's done has
just made things worse.  Perhaps he should have just handed the damn Box over
to Neo-Jion and had done?  Maybe, but had he done so he and Mareeda wouldn't
be able to share a fond hug.  Mareeda's sure that what this world needs is more
people like Banarj, willing to move forward despite the uncertainty and the
weight of others' expectations.  Her advice to him is this: when his chance
comes -- and it will come -- he's to get aboard his Gundam without a moment's
hesitation.

Full Frontal's use of the briefing room is likely the quietest that room's
ever been -- and the most hostile.  Frontal claims to want the cooperation of
all assembled (Neo-Jion apostates like Hamarn included), and has Char ushered
in with aplomb.  It is here, it seems, that Frontal intends to settle the
score with the idea of Char Aznable, in front of Char's closest supporters.
Among them is Mineva, who is quite curious what Frontal is really up to --
since whatever it is seems to have little to do with Jion's restoration.

Frontal takes off his mask before responding.  The history of Spacenoids has
ever been the history of a struggle for self-governance, a right which the
Earthnoids in all parallel universes have never granted out of recognition that
doing so would immediately upset the whole order of the Earth Sphere (an
outcome that Chrono dearly wishes to avoid).  The reason?  The Earth's space
and resources are finite, and the rest of the universe's space and resources
are not.  The end.

Problem being, that the original Jion Daikun who realized this was no real
politician, and it was the parasites of the Zabi House who moved in and
perverted his dream -- as one might also say of Hiiro Yui and Gilbert Durandal.
It is the very insistence of the Spacenoids on Earthnoid recognition that
saps their moral authority in battle, a moral authority Frontal claims via his
plan to simply turn his people's back on the Earth and let it wither.  If
the Laplace Box and/or a Faustian bargain with the Sidereals furthers the
Earth's decline, so much the better.  Of course, Frontal doesn't intend to let
the invaders have their way with mankind's homeworld forever, but he's not
exactly going to reveal his plan unless Z-BLUE swears fealty first.

Mineva is having exactly zero iotas of this.  Frontal's determination to simply
could-shoulder those who don't agree with him is the polar opposite of Jion
Daikun's plan to protect all mankind, and also from Char's human warmth.  How
can he countenance the hatred his actions earn the Spacenoids from the various
humans still determined to fight the good fight against their oppressors?  A
future of never-ending hatred and conflict isn't even worthy of the name -- and
any claim to "progress" Frontal makes rings wholly hollow to her.

OH SNAP.  Apparently Frontal didn't like that, since he puts his mask on and
claims that he's got a job to do so "mankind" can live on.  That pisses Banarj
off based on how it sounds like Frontal doesn't number himself among them.
Even Rei calls Frontal "pitiable" for his unwillingness to open his heart to
others -- at least Rei is motivated to try to change for the better.  Kira
declares that you can't save a person if you're unwilling to go heart-to-heart.
Rilina piles on further, accusing Frontal of confusing "not fighting" with
"peace" -- _that_ is the reason Frontal has no right to speak of the future.

In a nutshell, Frontal has confused the present with the future, which was why
he sought to stay within the Time Prison back when.  And plus, this guy does
not know when to SHUT THE FUCK UP.  What all this is really about is an
attempt to threaten Banarj into revealing the whereabouts of the Laplace Box...
a burden that Mineva feels is too heavy for Banarj to bear.  She's about to
make some kind of rash self-sacrifice when Tielia intervenes.  No way in hell
Ioria's ship will be party to such a gross abuse of human idealism!

He uses his special access to Veda to basically cut off the lights, allowing
the Z-BLUE stalwarts to start rapidly kicking their captors' asses.  If you
ever wondered what happens if you get a Super Coordinator, a couple Sphere
Reactors, and a whole busload of Newtypes angry, you're about to find out.
And no, none of this was planned in advance: the team's unity is simply so
strong that they can ad-lib like this.

Otto's got maybe the best line as he confronts Angelo: none of this is the
actions of an honorable military man.  Angelo is a mere terrorist!  The
question becomes, can Frontal steal the Unicorn or not?  Frontal tries to tell
Banarj that only someone prepared to abrogate themself can use the Laplace Box
for the good of others, and the only way to do _that_ is to join him.  Mareeda
runs up to tell Banarj to keep believing in himself and resist.  His was the
light that saved her!

Frontal is about to leave Angelo to hold off Z-BLUE while he flees, but he
stops short when Amuro points out that the difference between Angelo and
Gyunei mirrors the difference between him and Char.  Gyunei always saw in Char
an ideal to be pursued and hopefully surpassed, whereas Frontal's done nothing
but lead Angelo into a dead end of perpetual subservience.  And since we're
in Gundam-land and therefore the domain of the Culture of Fire, Amuro points
out something new: mankind didn't acquire culture by coming in contact with
Fire.  Mankind progressed by _overcoming_his_fear_of_fire_.

Mineva boils all of this down into a declaration to all the Neo-Jion soldiers
within earshot to join her in making amends for the One Year War.  Genneman
can't see how, and feels terribly about what that's cost his daughter.  He
issues her his final order as her Master, to "follow her heart".  Angelo is
about to kill Genneman for this until Banarj runs up and decks him in the face.

The TL;DR is this: "No fate but what we make ourselves".  Even the Unicorn
Gundam is so impatient for this argle-bargle to end that it takes matters into
its own hands, scaring Frontal enough that he tries to flee... but not before
Char belts him one in the jaw.  Rather than turning the other cheek, Frontal
responds with a counter-punch: proof that he's not yet fully given himself to
be the vessel of the people he purports to lead.  It is now *on* between the
two of them.

Thus commences the Scouring of the Shire^WCelestial Being.  Hamarn and Char are
at least united in their desire to see Full Frontal go down -- what will
happen after that remains to be seen.

  Angelo can't get past the idea that he owes Full Frontal everything for
  saving him from a life of darkness.  What he needs to do is get over himself
  and get on with life in the future, and Banarj intends to help.  The power of
  his Psychoframe niftily turns his mech's shields into impromptu Funnels:
  testament to how the Unicorn is growing up alongside its pilot.  Angelo has
  no choice but to withdraw, vowing to defeat Banarj for this latest affront to
  Full Frontal.

  For fuck's sake just get rid of the bastard already.  Banarj, Amuro, Hamarn
  and especially Char have had it up to here, and when Frontal tries to get out
  while the getting's good Amuro puts his Newtype powers into full action to
  give Char his shot.  Somehow Frontal still manages to get what's left of the
  Sinanju out of the danger zone, but his Carfax indicators are beyond repair.
  Char will have to be content with having put paid to the Full Frontalness
  within his own heart -- the external version comes later.  But Amuro and Char
  both nod contentedly that it won't be either of them putting the final nail
  in the coffin.

  Hamarn tells them to get that smile off their face, and does what she's been
  planning by challenging Char to a one-on-one duel.  Char's with it, and the
  rest of the team show their faith by heading back to the Celestial Being to
  give them some alone time.

  Char apologizes to Hamarn that he can't let her take him down yet, and
  promises her that this will be their final battle.  He backs this up by
  blasting the crap out of the iconic Quebely, announcing that this is _ovah_.
  But does he, she demands to know, have the right to decide that?  Well...
  what's she wanna do then?  Err what, a guy asking a girl for her opinion?!
  Surely you jest!

  No, I didn't just.  And don't call me Shirley.  Char points out Mineva and
  Banarj as an example of what people can do when they reify their ideas.  He's
  realized that it was wrong of him to expect her to somehow understand
  everything about him without actually _telling_ her.  Hamarn agrees that he's
  had some rather peculiar ideas about women, and notes that to the same
  extent that he wishes there was a woman in his life to rely on, there are
  women out there who would like to rely on _him_ too.

  Would she be willing to walk by his side?  In a word, yes.  And it's taken
  them fucking long enough to actually have that conversation.  Not a moment
  too soon either, since word has just come in that Amalgam has randomly
  decided to destroy the world.

I hate it when that happens.  Now, could it be that this whole fiasco with
Frontal was elaborate camouflage for his collaborators, via the Sidereals?!
Anyway, after a brief love-fest between Hamarn and Mineva, we find out what the
rest of the team has been up to on the other paths.  Bright and crew will have
to haul ass to make the rendezvous on time, and he opts to leave the
Celestial Being in Genneman's hands once more: he's checked into Genneman's
past and learned a bit about the family he lost.  Bright, as someone with
family of his own, invests faith in the troubled former Jion soldier, and
Genneman is moved to swear on his departed wife and daughter that this time
he'll keep it perfectly safe.

AG asks Char why Frontal took off his mask when explaining his plans.  Masks
are about lies, and Char reckons that Frontal was intending it as a gesture of
telling the truth.  What it made possible was Char confirming that the world
isn't big enough for the two of them, even though in a certain perverse sense
Frontal shares the same concern for mankind that he does.  Is that the
definition of Char-ness?  Who knows.  Char declines to do the whole "Sale,
Sale!" thing a second time, and is suddenly struck by the thought that Hamarn
must have done that little ceremony herself while he was absent...


CHAPTER 40A. Looming Cross Of the World

Karinin notices the change in Kaname immediately upon her return to Merida
Island.  He takes the loss of Kurtz calmly enough, noting that that more than
makes up for the loss of Caspar: under the right circumstances, Kurtz could
be even more dangerous than Sousuke.  Kaname sounds quite convinced that she's
killed Sousuke and Tessa, and Leonard quickly hushes up "Mr. K" before he
tries to contradict her.  As Leonard gets ready to show off the "shrine"
prepared for the ceremony she's to perform, it seems that there's some shard
of her original personality left.  ...And that doesn't seem to sit well with
Karinin, as Leonard leaves him to fend off the enemies he expects to come
sniffing around.  Still, Karinin tells himself that he's right to trust in
Leonard's plan to quiet the cognitive dissonance he's felt about this world --
the world in which his beloved Irina got killed.

Mardukas then briefs Tessa on what's been going on on the other paths: none of
the other mecha will be able to make it to Merida anytime soon.  Maybe just
as well, Tessa muses grimly: they need less of a broad warhammer and more of a
sharply-pointed spear for the task before them now.  The task of overthrowing
the egotistical Leonard, for which Tessa's prepared to give her own life.

The rest of the team get the Cliff's Notes version of the whole Whispering
From the Future business, and Leonard's plan to perform a selfish kind of
Dimension Healing on the world.  Orson and Kei are now quite convinced that
Kaname qualifies as this world's Singularity if anyone does.  Kiriko, in a
longer soliloquy than he usually has, declares that Leonard's cursing of his
own past is an understandable, but regrettable, thing.  It's worth remembering
that Kiriko might well have averted Fiana's untimely death had he simply sided
with Gadlight back when.

But in Kiriko's world, like Zero's, the past is the past and the present is the
present.  And we feel that everyone should be sitting down (so you all don't
miss).  It's for the living rather to create a better world for the future.
This whole Whispered business was among Mithril's deepest secrets, and only
high-ranking commanders had been briefed -- not that didn't stop Tessa from
passing along an apology for keeping that secret.  The one who that secret fell
most heavily on is of course Sousuke, who bore it all this while in the hopes
of eventually finding a way for he and Kaname to lead a normal life.  That,
ultimately, is the goal of the next operation.

But why did the Chrono Progressives seeks to destroy Yam Sak?  Probably to stop
Leonard's plans, though they clearly did at best a half-assed job.  It's just
like Leonard to keep his cards close to his chest and watch events unfold from
afar.  Even if this is some kind of trial meant to toughen up Z-BLUE, it's come
at an awfully high price: Kurtz, and damn nearly Sousuke and Tessa too.
Michelle certainly isn't thrilled about losing yet another sniper he looked up
to, not to mention one of the team's chief mood-makers.  And then there's Mao,
whose anguish Crow can only begin to imagine.

And there's Kodama, grappling with running into his former girlfriend under
such unpleasant circumstances, as he was on the other paths.  ...Plus, some
thoughts of gratitude for helping take him from a snot-nosed rookie to where he
is today.

Sousuke finds Mao in the mess hall, a grim scene made more unusual by Mao not
being in her private (officer's) quarters.  Sousuke tells her how miraculous
a shot Kurtz pulled off with his final act, the better to grant the rest of
them a renewed lease on life.  After confirming that Sousuke had heard about
her and Kurtz, Mao does her best to insist that there was nothing "serious"
between them, and so on and so forth, until she can't even lie to herself any
longer and the tears start.  She won't hear of Sousuke's apology for not
getting Tessa to safety sooner -- sure as hell none of this was his fault.
What she wants is this: to not see any more of the people she cares about die.
Sousuke might be satisfied for now if he knew a little better how to cry
properly -- none of his practice smiling is proving much use.

Conditions in the hangar aren't much better, as Sacks frantically tries to
figure out how to bolt on emergency modifications to the ARX-8 that will allow
it to fly and hopefully kick even more ass than normal.  The thing is a bit
like the ReGZ's weapons backpack, but a lot more elaborate and hard to
integrate into the existing software argument.  When Al suggests that Sacks go
to the briefing and let him try to finish the job, Sacks won't hear of it and
tells Al to make like a machine and do what he's told.

Al ponders that "like a machine" bit, and asks Sacks if Sacks can imagine
having wings sprouting from his back.  Sacks seems to recall imagining that
way back when he was a kid, and Al says that perhaps the problem with the XL-3
module isn't so much with the module itself, but with his own lack of powers
of imagination... as it were.  Though feedback from the XL-3 itself falls
within the bandwidth of the Laevateinn's data busses, the fact that Al is still
just becoming accustomed to the wingless mech means that compensating 
"consciously" for the new wings.  Of course, data bus width wouldn't be an
issue if Al was "just" a machine and everything went according to his specs.
Sacks gets that Al isn't a mere machine, but thinks that if he widens Al's
data busses any further, he'll be in human brain territory.  Still, it's the
best shot they've got, and Sacks enlists Pinion to help.

Tessa steels herself to give what may well be her and Z-BLUE's last mission
briefing... and then promptly trips on her way to the lectern.  As she thinks
furiously that she's just blown it all, she looks up to find the team smiling
fondly at her: these are the people who've supported her through all these
difficult times.  After they help her compose herself, she confirms that this
mission is to stop Leonard from remaking the world in his own selfish image.

This world, for all its faults and lamentable history, is the world the team
lives in now -- and is worth fighting to defend.  The key to all this is
Kaname, who Tessa believes has been possessed by the Whispering.  With no help
forthcoming, it will be up to this band of heroes to do nothing less than save
the world (this world, anyway).  Maybe Leonard  will only manage to fork off
another parallel universe should he succeed, but Tessa still can't countenance
the idea of someone trying to live their life in reverse.  Otherwise, what's
the use of the future in the first place?

Mao then gets on the mic, noting that Z-BLUE has had a pretty rough road to
get to where they are now.  But it wouldn't sit right with her to keep the
losing streak going, and although she's sure that Kurtz is eager to reunite
with his friends in the afterlife, she proposes the idea of keeping him
waiting a while longer.  On that point there's universal agreement.

Farewell, cruel world from Kaname?  Hogwash!  The first round of bad guys
includes some of Neo-Jion's submarine MS's, testament to how it and Amalgam
have gotten cozy behind the scenes.  No matter: until Leonard and his special
mech are lured out into the open, the team's job will be to shred his cannon
fodder.

  As the battle progresses, she has this strange feeling, like she's forgetting
  something.  It's unclear what, but as Tessa approaches the designated launch
  point for the ARX-8, a huge mech turns up and torpedoes the TdD.  The initial
  salvo isn't fatal to the ship, but it _is_ to Sacks.  As his life ebbs into
  an expanding pool of red, he makes sure to tell Sousuke everything he can
  about how to get Al back online.  Sousuke tells Pinion to care for his body
  as Sacks falls silent.

  Al does come online, but with what can only be called a newfound sense of
  emotion.  Regret in this case, that one of the people who knew him best has
  just passed away, and self-recriminations that it happened in part because
  it took so long for Al to finish assimilating his new equipment.  Sousuke
  takes all of this in quickly, and assures his partner that it's not his
  fault.  Sacks' last words were this: "I begrudge nobody anything."  Al could
  wish for none better.

  Tessa isn't going to let the enemy Behemoth stand in her way, and basically
  has the TdD blow up its main engine to ram through it and put Sousuke and
  Kodama in position to launch.  The rest of the team will watch his back and
  keep the small fry at bay, letting Sousuke simply concentrate on charging
  ahead to stop Kaname.

When Sousuke reaches the entrance point to the base, Kodama tells him he'll
take care of the ARX-8 while he handles business inside.  No need, says Sousuke
with a smile: Al can now take care of himself.  He rushes inside, ransacks the
place, and discovers a small problem.

There's no sign of Kaname or the TAROS, meaning this is all a trap by Leonard.
Which isn't good news, as another Behemoth bears down on Al... only to be taken
down by a precise shot from... Kurtz!  It seems that Wraith and Macallan saved
his ass, and his M9 to boot.  He's all proud of his heroic reentrance, but that
goes away quickly when Mao totally pictures his self-satisfied expression.
So much for all those high and mighty speeches before the battle, huh?

There's no doubt that Leonard built his TAROS here, so the only possibility is
that the whole damn thing has been transported elsewhere at the last minute.
That somewhere turns out to be the ruins of Neo-Tokyo 3, according to an
emergency dispatch from the Far East Base.  Tessa has word sent to the rest of
Z-BLUE to meet up there, and orders the team to haul ass.

Leonard's feeling all rad because he's got the resources to haul around
something like the TARTAROS to anywhere in the world... though, he does have to
thank a certain person who's got pull with the Kingdom for paving the way.
It's now a race against time as to whether Leonard can get the control program
up and running before Z-BLUE turns up to mess with things... and they WILL
turn up, especially if they get wind of what he intends to use as part of this
little plan.  In any case, a new cycle of Death and Rebirth is about to begin!


CHAPTER 41. Stand By Me, Always

[I kept the Amalgam path because, FMP+Code Geass...]

Fast-forward through the obligatory catching-up-on-old-times segment.  Tessa
needn't worry about getting her colleagues' cooperation: if Leonard's little
passion project is going to imperil the world, he must be stopped.  It can't
be coincidence that this fiasco is happening during the run-up to the big
120-million-year fragdown, especially with what Orson and Kei have been hearing
about the need to locate the Greatest Singularity: a place or object that
somehow ties all the parallel worlds together.  ...Or a person, and the fact
that Kaname's name literally means "Cornerstone" (or, if you prefer, "pivot
point") is kind of the answer that's been staring the team in the face.

Then again there's Nicola, who's becoming more temperamental ("male hysteria",
as one of his own female teammates terms it) by the day.  Perhaps his Finish
is approaching?  Anyways, Kaworu tells Shinji that Leonard's little stunt is
quite interesting, and should prove quite instructive to Shinji on their next
sortie.

Leonard finally gets his 53-meter fiendish machine up and running, and like any
good engineer it's got one hell of a backronym: Time-space Alteration Reactor
Transfer And Reaction Omni-Sphere, or "TARTAROS" for short.  Kaname's been
helping with the software non-stop, and is bothered by occasional flashes like
someone other than her is inside, trying furiously to get out.  Leonard tells
her to relax and focus, while he tries to take down anyone trying to stop her.
That "tries" part sounds somehow non-confident to her, and he temporizes that
with the strongest battalion in the world coming to face him, even he might
drop maybe one match out of ten to them.

She assures him that she'll make a glorious world with a neverending sky for
him, and he just hopes that he'll see her there in some fashion.  Sounds good:
book a date for them to have a nice cup of coffee on some pleasant afternoon.
Tessa too, and maybe Kaname's mom.  What about "him", Leonard asks, and when
Kaname doesn't grasp who he's talking about he lets it drop.

He's off to use his Spacetime Bomb on Z-BLUE, as the first step in weakening
this area's dimensional boundaries, and only after he leaves does Kaname
realize that "him" meant Sousuke, someone who's theoretically supposed to be
very important to her.  Why couldn't she remember that more readily?  Maybe
it's guilt at killing him?  If so, it's stupid, because once her plans finish
he'll be just fine in the other world.

Beck, it seems, is having mixed feelings on the eve of this battle.  He
overheard the higher-ups discussing Leonard's plans, and is not really into the
whole Dimension Healing business.  Hell, with Gates dead and Kan-Yur missing,
he's starting to doubt his reasons for hanging with the Fire Bugs in the first
place.  But it bugs him more that the "him" who'll exist in this new splinter
world of Leonard's won't know anything about how he came to be, or at whose
pleasure.  Almost like enforced amnesia, again.

Amalgam's force, assembled from among its various collaborators, is quite a
sight.  Shinji feels something very strange about this place, and although
Asuka yells at him to focus, Kaworu knows that Shinji is sensing the same kind
of ambiance that he did back "there".  In any event, Sousuke's ready to do
whatever it takes to save Kaname.

  A very unwelcome surprise comes on turn 2: Angels, and ones that were
  already defeated at that.  Kaworu explains that this place is one where
  cause and effect are already scrambled together, and one way of putting it
  is that these Angels have come once more in a (futile) search for Central
  Dogma (and probably for "that", whatever "that" is).  The sight of them
  pisses Shinji off -- it was these Angels who hurt Asuka and took Rei from
  him.

  Angels used to be this big scary adversary.  Now they're one-hit-one-kill
  fodder: testament to the march of Human Progress(tm).  Yet another reason
  why Leonard needs to fuck off.  On the other hand, they're still tough enough
  to give Shinji some trouble.  But Kaworu tells the rest of the team to stay
  back -- what happens next is entirely up to Shinji.  If he wants to die,
  Kaworu will die with him.  But given that the past can never be changed, what
  is it that Shinji _really_ wants?  Not an easy way out, apparently, since
  even the act of choosing that isn't easy for him.

  But here's the thing (courtesy of Zero): even if the past can't be changed,
  the future can!  What can he see, now that the curse of his father no longer
  binds him?!  He sees that... he simply can't run away.  Perfect.  With that,
  a Lance materializes and flies into his grasp, and you do NOT want to be the
  Angel on the receiving end.

  Asuka is aghast, and Mari can't tell if this is the Lance of Longinus or of
  Cassius.  Either way, this is a dangerous turn of events, but despite her
  better judgement Asuka decides to stay her hand for now.  But should _both_
  Lances come into the EVA's possession...

  Apparently this Lance was part of Leonard's grand plan to warp spacetime,
  and that plan isn't over yet.  Leonard's next act will be to kill around 80%
  of the world's populace with an Iota Wave, in order to silence the wills of
  the people who might oppose his attempt at Dimension Healing.  Anyone who was
  hoping this mess would end quietly with Leonard going off into his own little
  forked-off dimension now knows that it won't be _nearly_ that quiet after
  all.

  Leonard's put the mother of all bullseyes on his forehead this time, and in
  addition he's continued to underestimate Tessa's ability to interfere.  His
  _herd_ of Behemoths is an impressive sight, but Tessa and Sousuke didn't come
  this far to wave a white flag.  Instead, it's time for the Fairy's Wings,
  which neutralize ALL Lambda Drivers... including that of the mech they're
  mounted on.

  Sousuke imagines the opposite of what he normally does with his Lambda
  Driver, yelling that the whole thing is a fraud and a sham and some kind of
  lame Hollywood special effect.  See the thing about the Behemoth is that it's
  actually so ginormous that it can't support its own weight when regular
  physics apply.  Hence... kablooie!

  Next on the agenda is Sousuke calling out to Kaname that he's come to get
  her back -- which is strange to her since she remembers killing him.  Saying
  that he can't think of any nicer way to put this (he being him after all),
  he tells her that he figured she had WAY huger balls than this.  What a
  disappointment she turned out to be.

  In fact, he's been pissed off for quite some time.  What the hell kind of
  woman goes around smacking people in the head, yelling her head off instead
  of holding level debates, and doing everything in her power to run someone
  else's life.  Where was her vaunted humanity when she deprived him of every
  shred of peace in his life?

  IN FACT, all the trouble he's been through of late could have been averted if
  she'd actually hauled ass while the hauling was good and not allowed good-
  faith rescue attempts to go to waste.  Is it a lack of motivation?  Does she
  simply not care?  Is she gonna go boo-hoo now and turn to some idiot man to
  comfort her idiot self?  And if she doesn't like hearing it, she's to get
  her ass over here PRONTO and just try beating him over the head with her
  slipper or her harisen or whatever the hell's within reach.

  Where's the snappy rejoinder, huh?  Cat got her tongue?  Kaname finally
  answers that she can hear him, and that none of this is going to stop her
  remaking this cruel world and yeah, probably killing lots of people in the
  process.  Sousuke cuts her off and tells her to shut up: it's the _real_
  Kaname he's talking to, not Sophia.

  "Sophia"?  But she died 18 years ago at Yam Sak 11.  Oh, for fuck's sake,
  grouses Sousuke -- does she think she can stop him by shedding a couple tears
  like he's some underage Gundam pilot?  He's an AS pilot, and the whole point
  is to fuck up her day as much as possible.  He announces to anyone within
  earshot that their shiny new occult McGuffin is going to be a giant pile of
  shiny scrap in about five seconds from now.

  Or maybe she'd care to put in a tearful plea for him to stop?  Like, cry some
  _real_ alligator tears and be all like "But _noooo_, this is our _hooope_!"
  or "But this _cruuuuuel_ world has to _goooo_" or some such bullshit.  He'll
  post THAT shit on Facebook faster than you can say "unlimited talk and text",
  guaranteeing she'll be object of derisive memes for the next 12 thousand
  years!

  And when Sophia protests that she's trying to make a smaller, more
  transparent world, Sousuke calls her a motherfucking bitch to her face.
  It's not a question of Sophia trying to make him "understand" her point of
  war.  This is this little thing she might have heard of called "WAR".  You
  know, with the blowing shit up and the nice, simple collision of actor and
  actee?

  Anyway, it was quite a speech and Kodama has to hand it to Sousuke for saying
  more or less everything that was on his mind.  Unfortunately the bad guys
  still have guns, and in order to protect Kodama Sousuke takes a round to the
  Fairy Wings generator.  Ah well, guess he'll have to trash the bad guys
  without it.  That's what he wanted anyway: a square shot at Leonard.

  ...Who, truth be told, still has quite an armada of Behemoths, but not so
  many as to be unmanageable.  Sousuke knows that matters with Kaname and
  Sophia are now out of his hands, and has to trust that that the real Kaname
  can find ways of shaking Sophia's confidence from within.  He's done the
  best he could with the strongest words he knows -- hopefully more effective
  than some stammered declaration of love.

  Leonard's mech is equipped with a Lambda Driver-powered bow, and it's fire
  is basically impossible to see, or to stop.  Fortunately the Macross
  Quarter's armor is very thick, so his first shot isn't enough to take Tessa
  out.  She meanwhile has figured out where Kaname is, and orders the ground
  troops to hurry in -- they'll probably have to deal with Karinin along the
  way.

  Amazingly, Roger can use the "Persuade" command on Beck.  He points out to
  Beck that Beck's strayed pretty far from his proper nature as a proper punk
  and two-bit villain.  Helping destroy the whole world hardly seems his style.
  The "two-bit" part has Beck hopping mad, and although Roger's recommendation
  to rethink his future may have gotten through, Beck has some fighting to get
  out of his system first.  After yet another defeat at Roger's hands, Roger
  can only hope that Beck will cut ties with Amalgam.  It's the least he can do
  for an old acquaintance (he hesitates to say "friend") from Paradigm City.

  Once Leonard starts getting a bit of damage accumulation, he switches to
  psychological warfare, dredging up all the unpleasant things various Z-BLUE
  members have suffered and promising to make them all go away.  Or even if
  they don't side with him, he'll at least solve the Kingdom problem with the
  Iota wave: most of its populace will perish too.  Only those with strong
  enough force of will will pull through, which is precisely the kind of world
  Banjou _doesn't_ want to see.

  At about this juncture Mikage, Hardes, Zhul and the Space Devil turn up.
  They've come to watch the puny humans try to play with the power of the
  gods.  Advent then turns up and chides them for thinking so little of the
  power of the Earthlings.  He then welcomes Leonard to try to use said power:
  it's actually kind of beautiful to see people struggling against despair.
  He repeats that he's the ally of Z-BLUE, as before and as hence, and
  vanishes again.

  Leonard doesn't give up when his mech is defeated, but that's something
  Sousuke already knew about him.  Here's another something he knew: that
  Leonard's mother abandoned him.  Heard that from Tessa.  ...Did you catch
  it?  Tessa _knew_ what their mother had done.  Even Sousuke doesn't
  really grasp the implication, but just as Tessa said, the words seem to have
  thrown Leonard into confusion.  It's impressive just how _much_ confusion
  though...

Sophia meanwhile is suffering serious delusions of grandeur, styling herself as
Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos all in one.  As Leonard prates on, Sousuke elbows
his way past and rushes towards Kaname.  Who, it turns out, is managing to
get through to Sophia on the strength of her anger at Sousuke's words alone.

Kaname gets her counter-rant in, and unfortunately for her it's precisely the
sort of petulant stuff one might despair at.  Her main argument: that Sousuke
and the war and the Whispered stuff and all is so far beyond the bounds of
common sense that she's totally justified in being a short-tempered, violent
madwoman.  And plus, when did Sousuke ever take time out of his busy schedule
to say something nice to her (several times, actually...)?  Even Sophia herself
finds this incredibly childish, and abruptly realizes that she and Kaname are
indeed two different people.  But now that she knows that, she can warp and
subjugate Kaname thoroughly and finish remaking the world once and for all.

...Kaname herself apparently just needed to blow off some steam, and feels much
better afterwards.  She even thanks Sousuke and stuff.  Now, about Sophia: her
little pet project is nothing Kaname is interested in furthering.  It is a
shame about how Sophia died, but that doesn't give her the right to inflict a
far greater tragedy on the world, especially if doing so means stealing
someone else's body to do it.

Sophia then shows her a glimpse of what's going on outside, where Leonard
apparently crushes Sousuke's cockpit, killing him.  This is supposed to be
leverage to get Kaname to do her bidding, but Kaname has another surprise in
store.  The "new world" she strives to create is not the world of rewinding
the clock 18 years and avoiding war.  But that would have meant no scar on
Sousuke's cheek: the irreplaceable emblem of everything he went through that
made him _him_.  She declares that even if part of the world, and the people
in it, perishes, the rest of the world can go on striving for the future:
that's what all her comrades taught her.

And even if there's a way she can bring people back from the dead, she
believes she shouldn't use it.  Sousuke certainly wouldn't want her to,
especially if it meant regretting it afterwards.  And even if Sousuke is now
gone, she intends to go on living as herself -- and putting Sophia well and
truly behind her.

That said, when she wakes up from the TARTAROS, she has a good screaming fit
over the thought that Sousuke is gone.

Except of course that he's not gone.  What Leonard thought was a fatal attack
on Sousuke in his cockpit was in fact an attack on an _empty_ cockpit.  Al is
still very much alive, and grabs onto Leonard's Belial firmly, so Sousuke can
get off a clean shot with an Armor Magnum.  A little trick he learned from
watching Kiriko, in fact.  Now Leonard's got no Lambda Driver to rely on, and
his mech and its <20k HP gets crushed trivially.  Leonard himself ejects
though, and Sousuke corners him and tells him not to move.

Leonard bitterly muses that the bit about Tessa and his mom hit him harder than
he thought.  How the hell has his sister countenanced opposing him all this
time, knowing what he went through?  Then again, maybe she's tougher than he
gave her credit for -- tougher even than he himself.  Leonard recognized that
his hatred for the whole world was abnormal, but remaking it was evidently
the only way he could come up with to attain some kind of normalcy.  Sousuke at
least can understand the quest for normalcy, even if (as Leonard points out)
it's likely to be futile in his case.

Mutual understanding at last.  Kind of a shame really, since Leonard decides
to push the self-destruct button that will detonate his Spacetime Bomb.  At
this rate everything within 20 klicks, including Kaname, will be toast.  That's
when a gunshot rings out, felling Leonard -- it's Karinin, still apparently
determined to see the project through.  Kaname turns up at this point, and as
Sousuke yells for her to stay back Karinin decides to bug out.

Sousuke leaves Kaname with Kodama and rushes off in pursuit, declaring that if
he doesn't settle the score here Karinin will just be back for Kaname again
later.  He promises her he'll be back, and that the two of them will return to
their classroom, but he'd better hurry since that bomb has a 3-minute time
horizon.  As he hurries off, Sousuke has to wonder why Leonard, with all his
power, couldn't come up with any better way of spending his life than this.  He
just wishes he'd thought to say that to Leonard while he was still alive.

He tracks down Karinin, and as both of them are out of bullets Sousuke tells
his former commander to draw his knife.  This will be settled hand-to-hand.
Karinin knows he's not likely to come up with any explanation for his actions
that won't just make Sousuke madder, so he says something else instead: despite
all the combat tactics he taught Sousuke, Sousuke never had any "talent" for
warfare.

Sousuke's well aware of that himself: he's never been the best at unarmed
combat, or at marksmanship or AT piloting.  But the one thing he's got more
than anyone else, when the chips are down, is toughness!  His next strike
shatters Karinin's knife, meaning the fight is his.  But there's no way he can
bring himself to finish off the man who's been like a father to him, even now.
Karinin observes that Sousuke's always been a sheep who grew up in the middle
of a wolf-pack: even though he needn't eat flesh like they do, he had to
pretend to be like them to survive.

Sousuke should never have had to go through all this: that's what Karinin
thought ever since the day he saved Sousuke from the crashed airplane all those
years ago.  He wanted, here at the end, to inform Sousuke who Sousuke really
is.  And it's no longer possible for him to hide the wound he suffered at the
hands of Z-BLUE's land troops: folks he himself helped train.  Sousuke, he
says, is a gentle person at heart: unable to strike the final blow.  If only
Karinin had been able to send him home.  Had been able to go home to his wife
and child himself...

Yes: Karinin's whole reason for participating in this mess was to try to get
his wife back, after she (pregnant at the time) perished in a hospital
accident.  Sousuke can't believe his father-figure would do something so
unmanly, but Karinin points out that even fathers are human too.  His last
word to Sousuke is "ikinasai", which could be taken to mean "go" or "live".
Both will be tricky with Al in very bad shape and the TAROS system that would
let him operate the Lambda Driver in shambles.

AG then sends in a prerecorded message from Sousuke's classmates, who
basically wish him and Kaname well, say that they're doing fine too, and
apologize for blaming him for the mess that befell their school.  Great news,
and good for whiling away a couple minutes before the end.  However, as the
deadline approaches Sousuke must face the fact that he _really_ doesn't want
to die.  Al has something he wants to try, but first asks if he's human, or
machine.  Sousuke slowly tells him to decide that for himself: that's what all
"people" do.  Many thanks, and now Al can try firing up the Lambda Driver on
his own.

Z-BLUE and Kaname's grief at Sousuke's apparent death is of course short-lived.
Sousuke's back to fulfill his promises to Kaname.  Not only did Al initiate
the Lambda Driver all by himself, he even used the sentiments AG sent just as
AG intended: creating a field that effectively halted the Spacetime Bomb blast
in its tracks.  No way Sousuke can call Al a "mere AI" after this display of
serious guts.  He then apologizes that he won't be able to fulfill the part
about returning to their classroom soon (with the war still going on and all),
and she says she'll just have to tag along with him as a special attache to
Z-BLUE.

With Sophia vanquished, she can feel her Whispered powers slowly fading: she
really is going to revert to a regular civilian schoolgirl.  Maybe, but her
cooking is first rate and would be a huge help in the galley.  Apart from the
promise to take her to the beach, there's one more promise Sousuke intends to
fulfill: to give her a big kiss now that they're finally back together.
Never mind the other pilots running over to welcome him back.  Cue the
applause, including for Kaname making the right choice about what kind of
world she wants to live in.

Several people lost their lives during the battle, and Jeffrey means to see
that those losses were not in vain.  Tessa meanwhile is surprised at her own
calm despite her brother's death.  No doubt something will strike her later
and all the grief at losing her last blood relative will come out, but not now.

No, now there's a new emergency in space near the Earth: a dimensional rift
no doubt caused by Leonard's little stunt.  Enter a batch of Baals.  Well, this
world may be what Leonard and Karinin called "warped", but in any case Tessa
will shoulder the responsibility for keeping it safe -- she and Z-BLUE all.

So umm.  Remember how Sousuke was talking about there being this thing called
War a bit back?  And how Leonard fired his bow thingie at the Quarter?  He
didn't manage to take out Tessa, but other parts of the ship were more
seriously damaged -- among them, the area TT was in.  Kodama is very
grateful to AG for helping Sousuke and Kaname pull through, but he's in no
mood for jubilation just now himself.  Cripes, quite a bombshell to hide
inside the optional D-Trader store...


CHAPTER 42. Flames

It's to be burial in space for TT, a vantage from which she can see both of
the Earths that she loved so well.  Kodama certainly never expected that she'd
meet a tragic end like this, and rededicates himself to trying to ensure
no one else has to go through a similar ordeal.  Sousuke's worried about him,
but Kodama tells him to go spend time with his girlfriend (who, he suspects,
may be feeling a bit queasy at her first venture into space).  Sounds like a
plan, but Sousuke makes sure Kodama knows that he wants Kodama to turn to his
friends for help instead of keeping anything bottled up inside.

It's fair to say that Kodama isn't the only one to have to worry about bottling
things inside.  Leonard's crazed plan to remake the world may have been
averted, but the desire to remake away all unpleasantries itself will take
longer to stop resonating for the team.

And then there's Nicola, with a fairly uncommon perspective on TT's death:
he "envies" her for being spared the despair that's to come.  Nono tries to
assure him that the team will head off the Future of Despair thing, but he
interrupts her and says she knows nothing of his _personal_ despair, the
despair of losing his powers soon.  Grabbing her, he yells that he'll do
whatever it takes, including selling his soul to the devil, to avert that fate.
Not that he'd have bowed his head to Leonard in return for part of his plans:
Nicola still has his pride.

No, in this case he wants Nono, who he sees as some sort of "eternal" Topless,
all to himself.  It's to be attempted rape, then, which gets interrupted when
several of the other pilots turn up to call Nono to the briefing for the next
mission.  Faced with their number, Nicola decides to back off, then defends
his actions by saying that he's fucking scared of becoming powerless (unlike
Shinji or Takeru, whose powers will presumably remain forever).  He'd rather
die, and given that his intent is now known to others he snorts that maybe he
_would_ have been better off with Leonard!

Is he finished?, Noriko asks with a dangerous glint in her eye.  Because
whatever his reasons, she won't stand by and let him take it out on Nono, or
Shinji or Lark for that matter.  Lark's response is sadness: why won't Nicola
confide in her?  She _loves_ him, even now that she's found out that he's a
scumbag and a liar with his cooler-than-thou facade.  Why won't he ever look at
her?!  He yells back that this is all because he became a Topless, what with
all the bullshit Buster Machines and shit.  What kind of childish crap is
that?!

He storms out, and when Nono tries to talk to her "elder sister", Nono storms
out too.  Shinji can't begin to comprehend why any of this is happening, and
in a flash of quick thinking Noriko praises him for not taking the chance to
respond angrily to Nicola's accusation of not identifying with suffering.
She's gotten the impression that Shinji's had a very rough go of it in his time
away from Z-BLUE, and so have the rest of the Volunteer Club.

Shinji asks whether it's really such a bad thing to want to remake the past.
Sure, Leonard's scheme had horrible side-effects for the world at large, but
supposing that wasn't an issue...  Noriko gives him an honest answer: she
doesn't know if it's right or wrong.  But she herself wouldn't do it anyway:
to do so would be to deny the self that she is now at the end of all that
history.  Sure, she'd like to get back to her own universe, but even before
coming here she and _her_ elder sister decided that they'd rather get tossed
entirely out of the timeline of everyone they knew -- and beat the Space
Monsters and the threat they posed -- to staying known and losing it all.

It's a melancholy fact, but Noriko insists with a smile that she has no
regrets.  And that's not her bullshitting him: both of them know fully how busy
protecting _this_ world keeps everybody: Noriko doesn't have time to lament her
fate even if she was inclined to.  And one more thing: feelings transcend time
and space: she brings those things important to her with her wherever she finds
herself.

Awaiting the team is a something you don't see every day.  A (presumably tiny)
black hole, sitting there inside its own dimensional bubble and therefore not
gobbling up the entire solar system.  The thing is acting as a gateway for the
Baals, and one notes that the Topless aren't exactly springing into action.
Chico has a pretty good idea why, but tells Takeru that it's a tender subject
and one that doesn't welcome input from outsiders.  But won't their lives be
at risk hanging out on the battlefield like that?

Amuro grimly tells the others to leave the Topless be.  Coddling people past
a certain age is not, in fact, an act of kindness anymore.  And that goes
especially for Nicola.  Witnessing this gives Setsuna a renewed idea of just
how hard it is for people to understand one another, a lesson Char says is
well worth learning.  Mutual understanding is great, but is also only a means
to a greater end.  At least Setsuna's trying to learn.

The new enemies turn out to be ELS's, metallic lifeforms capable of
assimilating organic and inorganic life -- including any pilot unlucky enough
to be rendered unconscious.  Hence any pilot near that state will have to get
recalled to the mothership stat.  It seems like communication with a menace
like these is impossible, but Setsuna at least wonders if that's a hasty
conclusion.

Amuro reminds Takeru not to waste time fretting over Nicola, but Noriko at
least has advice for Lark.  Once upon a time, someone she knew -- her "elder
sister" -- had to suppress her feelings in order to save the Earth.  Anyone
aboard a Buster Machine would do well to remember her example.

  If Noriko _were_ to have one wish granted, it wouldn't be to wind back the
  clock to when her parents were still alive, or when Toren Smith was still
  alive, or when her Coach was still alive.  It would be to see her elder
  sister again _now_, in the present.

  Nicola's impatience reminds Amuro of the time during the One Year War when
  Bright was on the verge of removing him as the Gundam's pilot.  The result
  of that mess, where Amuro felt like his whole self was being denied, was
  the death of Ryuu -- and if possible, he would spare Nicola that pain.

  The ELS seemingly retreat once the tide turns against them, though what that
  means is anybody's guess.  What is clear is that they're a major pain in the
  ass to deal with, at least as much as the other "Baals".  Tielia makes the
  fascinating discovery that the ELS's seems to be drawn to Psycho Waves, as
  though on a mission to take out Innovators and Newtypes.  Though, as Amuro
  points out in response to Nicola's accusation of cowardice, _all_ people
  emit Psycho Waves to a greater or lesser extent.

  The fact of the matter is that Newtype-style awakenings have accelerated
  since the Great Quake, both among Earthnoids and Spacenoids according to
  Nanai's research.  That tallies with the CB's findings that Innovator-type
  awakenings have now surpassed the ability to count, and even Z-BLUE itself is
  the scene of a wave of evolution.

  But the philosophy will have to wait, as a wave of Vajra appears.  These
  don't seem to be the type that the Galaxy fleet controls, but Nicola
  questions whether mankind has enough time for Alto and company to get them to
  "understand".  Certainly the appearance of more Space Monsters inflames the
  rhetoric more, as Nono once again tries to tell her "elder sister" that this
  is precisely when the Topless have to show their quality.  Lark again
  protests that she's not Nono's elder sister, and Noriko tells Nono not to
  focus on Lark, but rather on the mission -- which is saving the Earth.  Once
  again, Nono feels that Noriko is quite close to her ideal "Nonoriri".

  Ranka and Sheryl get on the mic, trying to sing to the Vajra to get them to
  stop fighting.  It doesn't seem to be working, at least at first, but it's
  admirable that the singers are doing their part to end this conflict even a
  second sooner.

  Just then a detachment of Buster Army units turns up, with Space Monsters
  in hot pursuit.  Noriko puts her ass on the line to keep the Space Monsters
  at bay.  Nicola thinks it's ridiculous to risk one's life over disposable
  mecha, but Noriko points out that they, like her own Gunbuster, were born to
  fight the Space Monsters.  He scoffs at that, but Noriko recalls something
  Nono told her: that the Topless must actually share their heart with their
  Buster Machines in order to pilot them.  Can't Nicola remember the day he
  became a Topless?!

  The Space Monsters renew their offensive, and this time the Buster Army
  protects Noriko -- no major differences from humans, then.  One of them,
  already gravely wounded, hands something to Noriko moments before being blown
  away.

  Dix Neuf seems sad at the loss, and both Nono and Noriko implore Lark to fan
  the fire within herself, the fire that yearns to protect others.  Let that
  small fire become a wall of flames!  Lark gets her head straight and rushes
  to Noriko's aid, yelling for her to get back so Lark can unleash the 13th
  planet from her world's Solar System.  Her fury is ostensibly fueled by her
  aggravation at Nono's insistence that she's her elder sister, but one has
  to say that throwing an entire planet at the enemy is overdoing it a bit.

  The one remaining Twin Tail-class Buster Army member encourages Noriko to
  use its life to save her own, and with both regret and gratitude Noriko rips
  out its heart: a Transposition Reactor that she says will live on forever
  within the Gunbuster.  Its flames join that of the Reactor she already has,
  and that's just what Noriko needs to awaken the present present Noriko
  received: Kazumi!!

  Welcome to the "Super Lightning Kick" and an epic amount of carnage.  Sure
  and Kazumi might seem a tad "elderly" compared to some of the kids on the
  team, but rest assured that she was melting otakus' hearts LONG before
  Al Gore invented the Internet.  Kazumi's only wish since being ejected from
  the galactic center black hole was to fight by Noriko's side once more, and
  in one of the Universe's great mysteries, that wish has been made flesh.
  Even the long-lived C.C. is impressed.  And Nono, upon seeing Kazumi's
  saintly smile and formidable curves, thinks she may just have found...

  Noriko and Kazumi surely have many tears of relief and gratitude to share,
  but only after the enemy are defeated -- just as their Coach would have
  wanted.  Time for the tried-and-true aphorism that two small Fires, when
  combined, become immense Flames (see the kanji if you doubt this) that will
  carry the day.

  Today wasn't the day for the singers to get through to the Vajra, but both
  of them know that you shouldn't give up after only one or two attempts.
  Jeffrey knows this as well, and informs the crew that they'll be tasked with
  doing everything they can to support the singers in the future.

What does Noriko tell Kazumi once the battle is over?  "Welcome Home", sadly
with the accent over the "i" pointed the normal direction.  Nonetheless, this
turn of events strikes Nicola as all too convenient, and Hamarn smirks that
the hard-headed boy is starting to sound like a stultified adult already.
Amuro adds that all people must eventually grow up, and when that sounds like
malice to Nicola, Amuro informs him (and the whole world, basically) that his
own Newtype abilities are diminished compared to when he was 16.

Maybe it's all the exposure to the plots-within-plots behind the scenes of the
world, but he can no longer take things at face value as he sees them.  And
yet, this adulthood thing hasn't made him _as_a_whole_ weaker: quite the
opposite in fact, as no less an authority than Char can attest.  Nicola will
still be Nicola once his Topless abilities wane, and if he so desires there
are surely any number of ways for him to stay in the fight.

Amuro may not have much of a clue about the Topless, Nicola claims, but at the
least Nicola's pride won't allow him to end up as a whipped dog.  He'll mind
his manners from now on, and hell -- maybe a Noriko-style miracle might yet be
his.  Noriko reminds him that miracles aren't just something that happens:
they're something you _make_ happen.

...He then asks Nono to forget about today's events, and lucky for him that
Nono is the forgiving sort (after what he nearly did to her).

The team isn't out of the woods yet though: something red-eye worthy lurks
on the other side of the black hole, and whatever it is pulls off the same
kind of Quake that befell Neo-Tokyo 2.  Does that mean another trip to the
center of the galaxy?!

Advent, watching all this, is kind of amazed that Leonard's bomb, combined with
the sentiments of Z-BLUE, has led to this: Z-BLUE reaching the Black Sun.  He
refers to the zone the team has temporarily arrived at, where cause and
effect are warped onto each other, as a Chaos Cosmos.  Does Asakim think they
will pull through?  Or perhaps, what does he wish for: a return to the times
before he met these three?  Asakim makes no reply, but his baleful glare still
speaks volumes...


CHAPTER 43. [Route Split]

The team finds themselves at what Kaworu calls the horizon of Possibility: the
seam between Cause and Effect.  The warped Karma of their normal world has
brought their consciousnesses into contact with a higher power, and that
energy avails much.  It seems that three among the team have been Chosen for
the Karmic strands that bind them, and that doesn't sound good to Kodama.

  To go to Shinji, head to 43S.  For Crow, 43C.  For Char, do 43R.

In any event, Kodama will glimpse the Black Sun before all goes blank.  Back at
Wrath Babylon, Australis grouses that he's underestimated the Earthlings again.
Barbiel insists that this is just some wild coincidence touched off by that
Spacetime Bomb, but that's precisely the kind of underestimate Australis is
talking about.  After all, points out Elunaluna, Z-BLUE has four Spheres with
them, especially including the Quarreling Twins, and there seems to be other
powers at work that even Australis can't fathom.

Umbriel takes the chance to needle the chastened Barbiel, and when he tells her
to shut her half-baked mouth, she points out that he hasn't exactly brought
home the bacon himself.  Maybe he should haul home a Sphere or two before
getting all high-and-mighty with her?  Elunaluna notes that "hauling Spheres"
back will take more than just defeating their Reactors.  Either they have to be
coerced, or utterly dominated, in order to gain the Spheres' power.  Barbiel
intends to do neither, being fed up with the very existence of the other Sphere
Reactors -- he'll just pursue their Spheres to wherever they end up once the
current Reactors are dead.  Assuming Australis lets him, of course.

Amazingly, Australis grants him permission -- presuming Z-BLUE actually
manages to return to this universe first.  And if that happens, Barbiel had
better be as good as his boasts: the Kingdom is now in motion, and so is
Umbriel.  She's very much looking forward to the showdown between Barbiel and
her Geminion.  Australis meanwhile seems sure that Z-BLUE will learn the full
terror of the Sidereals beyond time and space.  Whatever the hell that means...


CHAPTER 43S. Enclosed World

Guess what Shinji: you're home.  Not, shall we say, the most pleasant of
vantages.  Is the fact that the team is there Shinji's "fault", insofar as he's
wishing he could do something about the mess remaining here?

The good news is that all the pilots are accounted for and in one piece, but
that's about it.  Asuka is no hurry to explain what happened to dye everything
in this world red, and Shinji professes to have no idea why his EVA glowed
just before the team was tossed here.  Maybe the team should go to NERV for
help?  That, Shinji says, won't work, but he doesn't seem to know of anyone
else to turn to.

Kazumi greets Nono warmly, which is good since Nono's tight relationship with
Lark has had its share of strain lately.  Kazumi's attention is mostly focused
on Shinji, whose internal unbalanced state she reckons is what brought the team
here (this draws on her own recent experience as someone whose wish became
reality).

With no help coming from the EVA pilots, the commanders decide to mount up the
team and head to NERV HQ.  Asuka grimly faces the prospect of resuming her duel
with Shinji, but Kaworu says that there'll be no need to make the trip to
Japan.  Being here is only temporary: the question is, can the team stay in
one piece for the duration?  A cluster of unidentified flying objects nears,
and Kaworu encourages Shinji to board his mech: "they" are extending their
hand to this world as well.

When asked if she has any idea what's coming, Asuka grimaces that she and
Mari might have to part company from Z-BLUE (that would be if the attackers
are from NERV).  But it turns out they're not: it's the jet-black Sidereal(?)
folks from before.  Their unrelenting menace could be said to be the Future of
Despair or even the Primordial Calamity, but whatever they are Kaworu describes
them as the enemy of all living things.

  These black mecha are a serious pain in the ass, given how hard they are to
  even dent.  But given that Chamber has no record of these things, it seems
  unlikely that they belong to the Sidereals -- at least not as their long-
  rumored main battle force.  That there were none at Wrath Babylon further
  boosts that idea.

  Kaworu tells Asuka she needn't worry about the rest of this world: the black
  mecha are specifically after Z-BLUE, thanks to their contact with the
  Forbidden.  Should Z-BLUE leave this world, the black mecha (which there are
  plenty more of) will leave too.  How to do that?  It's all up to Shinji:
  the dimensional distortion is still ongoing, and he's got the tools to go
  wherever he wishes.

  ...Or to remake the world, perhaps?  It's not out of the question, given
  that Lance he carries.  Shinji makes his decision, based on how uncertain he
  is both about his own abilities, and of the wisdom of this world-remaking
  business.  The best he can do for now is to NOT run away, but to keep up the
  fight with Z-BLUE.  But he promises himself he'll be back to this world
  later, to search for what he really needs to accomplish.

The team find themselves back in regular space, and immediately notice that
the Buster Army are doing their best to keep whatever's on the other side of
the hole from coming to Earth.  Apparently there won't be any more Baal
incursions for a while, at least from this direction.  Asuka asks if Shinji
is responsible for coming back to this world, and when he says he's not sure,
she responds that she won't thank him then.  Both she and he are agreed that
this world's problems come first: then they can worry about events in their
own dimension.  For now, Shinji will move forward, just like he wants Nicola
to do.

Speaking of Nicola, he apologizes to Shinji for treating him like someone
without a tragic past.  Gee, thanks man.  Anyway, Nicola seems to have
decided to become a productive adult somehow when the time comes, though not
some stuffy old guy like salaryman Akagi.

Now as for the state of the dimensional walls around here, Kei and Banjou are
both pretty worried.  HAD Shinji attempted Dimension Healing with all the
conflicting sentiments swirling around, who knows what might have happened?
What is clear is that the third Key wasn't Kaname after all, despite the
serious rumpus she was involved in.  Kei actually thinks he's got an idea,
and though unconfirmed, if he's right it means the Key is among people who
will be very hard to negotiate with.

Roger thinks the fastest way to find out about the Key is "simply" to ask the
Sidereals themselves.  The enemy Reactors are spread thin, and with Z-BLUE
back in this world it's mainly just a matter of picking the right time to
strike.  And hell, if more of the black Angerois show up then, it should at
least help clarify once and for all if the Primordial Calamity is something to
do with the Sidereals or not.

For now, there's Neo-Jion and Frontal's Laplace Box hunt to deal with.  It
would suck if he gets it and springs whatever is inside on the world just as
Z-BLUE is trying to take down the Kingdom.  Of course, Laplace Box related
stuff will have to go through Banarj and Mineva, and the team trusts them to
make responsible choices regarding its whereabouts and contents.

Meanwhile, Advent has gone and told Frontal "the truth".  But whether that
means he's mankind's "rightful" successor or not depends on what he does next.
Frontal now thinks it's his job to seal the Box away for good, and thereby
protect mankind from Despair.  After Advent leaves, Frontal growls to himself
that this is about the last thing he'd prefer to do.  But even mankind has its
limitations, and it seems that the time has come to put paid to Char and
Banarj -- for the sake of all mankind.

AG has been absent for quite some time at the store, even getting to miss
Kazumi and Noriko double-teaming the "Sale, Sale!" thing.  Did AG get caught
in the last Dimensional Quake or something?


CHAPTER 43C. The Eternal Holy Kingdom

The team awaken to find themselves somewhere they really hope is the Earth.
Probably not, given the sight of a very compact ZONE nearby, and a flurry of
Arcsabers who rush out to defend it.  From the dialog it seems as though Z-BLUE
may have actually been teleported to Insalaum, in the *past* before a ZONE
malfunction obliterated it.  Seeing that there's going to be no talking to the
irate Arcsabers, Sumeragi collects Crow and makes a break for it with Trans-Am
mode.  As they do so, Crow has to wonder if being here is his fault...

It appears that Gaiou hasn't even turned up here yet.  Crow's certitude that
being here is his fault only grows with time -- as has his conviction that it's
nothing to do with his Sphere.  Ever since Leonard's revisionist plans got
kiboshed, Crow's been musing about _where_ he'd choose to intervene if it were
given him to remake a world.  Lo and behold, come sort of capricious deity
seems to have granted that irresponsible wish.

Now the question is: should the team in their decidedly _un_-Godlike wisdom
actually meddle in the history of another world.  Or conversely, should the
team sit idly by while a world is destroyed?  And on the third hand: is there
a chance that some passing Dimensional Scientist (Unblown, say) might know how
to send the team back home?  For that matter, is this world's Unblown also a
scheming crone worthy of a warning to the royal family?  Or maybe just a kindly
old lady with a proper fondness for the Prince?

Even Gaiou's assault isn't a foregone conclusion.  The consensus emerges that
this is a _parallel_ world to the Insalaum they know, meaning in some sense
that they can do all the do-gooding they want, on the fly, and not worry about
some horrible time paradox.  ...And, by the same token, the Insalaum from which
the Margret and Yuusar came from is forever out of reach of salvation.  Just as
well really: it gives the team the impetus to focus on the present.  Crow, by
his own admission, is the last person anyone should trust with divine power.

Cue the introduction of Nono to Kazumi from the other path.

Assuming the team gets out of this, Crow is gonna owe the _entire_ team
(mechanics included) dinner.  Ah well, what's a little more debt among
friends?  Some things never change, and that's part of why Crow is so well
suited to being the Swaying Scales.

Word then comes in of a second dimensional distortion in the spot the Ptolemy
first showed up in this world.  Crow frowns as he recalls a description from
Margret of where Gaiou first came to this world.  You don't suppose...?

Turns out it's not Gaiou after all, but rather more of those obnoxious black
mecha, the ones with the ludicrous armor and disproportionate weapons load?
Yeah, them.  They've obviously got dimensional powers too, and evidence now
suggests that they may be _responsible_ for summoning Gaiou to this planet.
In any case, this is basically the same battle as on the Shinji path.

  Better hurry if you don't want Gaiou to show up and _really_ mess up
  everyone's day.  No such luck: when the bad guys send in their second wave,
  Gaiou turns up to let them know that _nobody_ orders him around, even if he
  _is_ the general of a defeated army.

  Gaiou hasn't yet been called by that name: his parents named him Weisslaber.
  Wow, never heard that before!  Ryouma asks if he's come to turn Z-BLUE into
  Dimensional Beasts, and Weisslaber is quite impressed that not only are
  Z-BLUE good enough to face the black mecha, they're also rather well
  informed.

  Seems like he won't be needed here after all.  He _was_ going to whip the
  Insalaum army into shape some, but he supposes he'll just toodle off to
  somewhere else in search of endlessly-maturing warriors.  The sight of Z-BLUE
  has evidently impressed upon him the idea that there's better ways to win
  than just Dimensional Beastifying everyone.  He hopes to see Z-BLUE again
  sometime in Heaven-Hell, and means to fight by their side when he does.

Well.  That was unexpected.  It would appear that the black mecha might have
had something to do with Gaiou's original amnesia... which has just been
averted, and presumably a whole new world-line forked off.  Now Insalaum
can fight for itself under its own power.  Plus, the forces that brought Crow
and the others here have evidently decided to send them back, now that Crow's
wish has been fulfilled after all.  May the holy nation of Insalaum last
forever this time around.

The High Knights are glad to see that the invaders are gone, evidently
thanks to the efforts of the advance guard.  But the enemy is formidable, and
the defenders of the realm must redouble their efforts against the Lord of
Destruction as foretold.

The aftermath is basically the same as with Shinji, including the run up to the
fragdown with Neo-Jion, and AG's absence from D-Traders.


CHAPTER 43R. Beyond the Dimension

Whaddya know: we find ourselves back at the Axis colony drop, where all of a
sudden Z-BLUE and Amuro in particular are facing off against Char and Neo-Jion.
Why's Char doing this?  Duh: it's the only way for mankind to break Chrono's
shackles and advance!  Uhh, at the cost of laying waste to an entire planet?
Maybe Amuro'd like to feel the pain Char felt at Lalah's death, huh?!  Maybe
not.  The basic issue is that Char's lost hope, and taken an entirely rational
path from that entirely insane starting point... and Amuro's not having it.

The two sides' battle drifts away from the rocket nozzles, just in time for
the REAL Slim Shady to appear.  Off in the distance they spot the ongoing
battle, and realize that they're not seeing Z-BLUE itself, but rather ZEUTH!
This is the very moment of the onset of the Black History, what with the
Moonlight Moth incident and all.  From their current position, the other
belligerents can't see Z-BLUE through the glow of the rocket nozzles, so
there's a brief window in which to think.

Char can pretty much guess why the team's here: his curiosity about the
instance of him who made Axis fall.  The question now is, should the team
intervene and stop this other Char, or not?  Orson's sure there won't be any
time paradox at stake -- stopping the Black History will simply cause another
parallel timeline to fork off.  On the other hand, Char wonders whether
it's really permissible _morally_ for foreigners to this world to meddle in
its affairs -- a question that recalls to mind what Leonard was trying to do.
Then again, if Z-BLUE is unable to return home, they won't really be foreign
bodies anymore, will they?

The debate gets cut neatly short by the arrival of a shipment of those
scary black mecha, which everyone seems to think are of Sidereal origin.
They seem intent on accelerating Axis, and of course Char has no objections to
Z-BLUE eliminating them as yet another source of outside interference.

Once again, Ledo notes that Chamber has no record of these black mecha: they
probably aren't of Sidereal origin after all.  Wherever they're from, they're a
major pain in the ass.  It seems the team won't get to stick around to see what
happens to Axis though: two copies of several of the team members in one
universe isn't a recipe for a long sojourn.  At least Char's self-doubts seem
to have been answered: his faith in Amuro and in the future of mankind seem
well-founded.  Now all he has to do is deliver the final proof and settle the
score with Frontal once and for all.

Welcome to the junction of the other paths, introductions between Nono and
Kazumi, and so on.  See 43S for the full details.


CHAPTER 44. Surpassing Fate

[I kept 43R because they're basically all the same anyway.]

Things are anything but peaceful aboard one of Chrono's flagships, which is
ferrying Lidy and Umbriel to a showdown with destiny.  Both of them regard the
other as being a far nicer person than they are now, though neither of them
reckons that Chrono _or_ the Sidereals is truly in control of them.  Lidy asks
if Umbriel knows of the _true_ truth hidden deep within the Laplace Box, and
she says that she's got _some_ idea at least.  Her time as a vice-Reactor
wasn't totally wasted after all.  Which is why she's out to take down Kodama
and reclaim her rightful Sphere -- better that than let someone else (like
Barbiel) make a mess of it, yes?

Yes.  If she's after Kodama, Lidy is after Banarj... but her ultimate goal is
freedom, from anyone who seeks to tie her down (including her other self).
Lidy's given up on true freedom, saying he's determined to live life in the
gilded cage Fate has prepared for him and for mankind.  Depressive bastard.

Queen gets the report-out on Z-BLUE's dimension-hopping antics, which "even"
she wasn't able to entirely anticipate.  The good news is that all of this has
thrown the Kingdom's front lines into chaos, though the government in Wrath
Babylon is presumably as aware of that as Queen herself.  Of course, Z-BLUE's
adversaries number more than just the three enemy Reactors and Australis: many
Earthlings have succumbed to the Kingdom's blandishments and will get in the
way -- chief among them being Chrono and Neo-Jion.

Sadly, it's unlikely those two will simply off each other in a bid to prove
who's the more loyal to the Sidereal cause, especially with Full Frontal still
committed to the Laplace Box treasure hunt.  Queen suggests (suggestively) that
it would be much for the best if Z-BLUE were to get their hands on the box
first, and Kei (invited to one of these conference calls for the first time)
isn't thrilled about all this manipulation.  Then again, things don't have to
be so adversarial: what say Queen reveal herself to Z-BLUE if they're able to
defeat the Kingdom?  Queen says she'd be willing to consider it, which is good
enough for Kei.

Queen muses over what would happen if this bunch of optimists on Z-BLUE
actually manage to open the Laplace Box.  Even she only knows the vague outline
of what lies deep within, as only the most faithful of the Chrono faithful
have been briefed on what it is they're protecting.  She's got her old info
sources, thanks to her position next to King, but also others who dislike
certain elements of the Kingdom (some of whom are also responsible for letting
Leonard's little stunt go uncontested, and getting him the Lance that Shinji
now wields).

Queen fondly awaits the day when Z-BLUE opens the Box, and confronts the
Kingdom.  After she hangs up, Kei tells the other commanders that he's
confident this "Queen" is curious about him, and that curiosity is a useful
fulcrum to help ferret out her true intentions.  He believes she actually
_wants_ to reveal herself to the team, and everyone agrees that it was right
to bring him into the conference call.

Between Neo-Jion and Chrono, the commanders expect Chrono to act first, both
out of a desire to keep the Box secure, and also to eliminate threats to the
Sidereals.  That Lidy has personal beef with the Unicorn's pilot Banarj is
just further sauce for the goose.  Frontal meanwhile likely knows that
whatever info he's gathered about the Box is superficial, and his belief that
the "true" contents will upset the multi-dimensional world order provides a
strong incentive to not lag far behind.

Char's heard Frontal's theory about what's inside, and if it's true then at
least the UCW version of the Federation could indeed be overthrown by it.  But
Zero and Tessa actually stop him from uttering the words: if the box is indeed
to be opened and the truth known, they'd rather it be by Banarj and Mineva's
will.  Char agrees, thinking that it is the two kids' role to use the Box's
contents properly.  His role is to thwart anyone (like Frontal) who stands in
their way.

Meanwhile, Takuya's been busily designing what he calls the "Full Armor"
modification for the Unicorn.  Mind you, it's not got much actual armor, but
there are helluva weapons on the theory that the best defense is a good
offense.  Much like the ReGZ, the whole arrangement is disposable in the event
of running out of ammo, and Banarj is determined to master it, and stop Lidy
from going any further astray.  Camille sounds relieved at Banarj's resolve,
and reminds him that he needn't shoulder this burden alone.  Lidy may have gone
off the rails in his quest to be the best, but there's still time for him to
make amends -- and with backing from the other Gundam pilots, Banarj is well-
positioned to spark the amending.

Amuro's not the only one to marvel at this assembly of Gundams from across
the multiverse, but more than most he seems to feel that there's some special
meaning in it -- especially on the eve of the showdown between the white and
black Unicorns.  He wonders whether people pilot Gundams because they're
Stigmatics, or become Stigmatics because they pilot Gundams, and feels like
that answer may be near.

Nanai is sure that Frontal will wait to engage in the coming battle until
a favorable moment in the Z-BLUE/Chrono conflict, based on the fact that Neo-
Jion has no way of pinpointing the Celestial Being's whereabouts directly.
Hearing her appraisal, Mineva marvels a bit that the three woman who've stood
by Char so long -- herself, Nanai, and Hamarn -- are now in a position to
oppose him.  Nanai smile and calls that outcome the natural order of things,
and Mineva is forced to agree.

As for why the Sidereals can track down the Celestial Being, well, it's about
the ability of Reactors to sense each other.  Sadly, the Sidereals' more
advanced Sphere research means that they've got the ability to occasionally
obscure Z-BLUE's Reactors' senses, so it's kind of a one-and-a-half-edged
sword that mostly works against the good guys.

Banarj is ready for battle, and a bit tense too.  For all her admonishing him
to relax, Mareeda herself is pretty uptight: she's always hated the moment
right before launching into battle.  Banarj smiles and presses her for what
she would consider "happy" thoughts instead: has she any favorite foods?  After
some thought, Mareeda responds "ice cream".  Banarj invites her to a great
ice cream parlor in Industrial 7 after this battle is over, hastily adding
that Mineva is welcome to come too.  This touches off a round of jokes about
two-timing, which is the perfect antidote to pre-battle jitters.

When Chrono shows up, they've got some Royal troops in tow: such a blatant
abandonment of the farce that they're two separate organizations that Nigel,
rather than being upset, just shakes his head in pity.  The trash talking is
the real deal, and the battle will be too.  Kodama is certainly happy to throw
down with Umbriel (and maybe get Suzune back), but the real mission is to
support Banarj's fight with Lidy.  Take Lidy down, and Chrono loses.

  Add Umbriel herself to the long list of people who've underestimated Z-BLUE.
  But next time -- NEXT TIME -- she'll have her revenge, and the Geminion back
  for herself.

  Lidy is bound and determined to get rid of the Unicorn, shouting something
  largely incoherent about it being a threat to all mankind.  He activates
  Destroy Mode, and before Z-BLUE can talk him down a new batch of the liquid
  metal bad guys show up.  Lidy doesn't even care about them, and if Banarj
  doesn't hurry Lidy is liable to get assimilated.

  This new shipment of ELTs doesn't last very long.  Lidy's malice does,
  however.  He's stark raving mad by this point, yelling that Newtypes are the
  evil seed that embodies the curse inside the Laplace Box, and that someone
  must become the sacrifice that seals them away.  It was the house of Marsenus
  that left this curse, and the house of Bist that hid it -- only he and Banarj
  as their scions can put an end to this.

  It was never supposed to be this way: the Box's contents were a prayer, not a
  curse!  Until the Newtypes were born, that is.  And if getting rid of those
  humans stupid enough to want to evolve means selling his soul to his mech,
  he'll do so gladly!  Only one little flaw in that theory: the light coming
  from the Banshee's Psychoframe comes actually from _him_: he himself is a
  Newtype!

  As though to prove this, another batch of ELS's show up: drawn by strong
  neural activity such as Lidy clearly must possess.  Can't he hear how worried
  Audrey and everyone are about him?!  Lidy yells for everyone to shut up, so
  they do stop speaking with words.  They address him with their thoughts
  instead, hearkening back to how nice of a person he _used_ to be.  He
  realizes he can still understand them, but the final stroke comes from
  Mineva.  She reminds him that in his heart he knows what _really_ must be
  done, and asks him to lend mankind his strength.

  And no, this isn't the Psychoframe making up all these thoughts: it's merely
  amplifying them.  The Banshee is a what Mareeda calls a "beast" of
  possibility, and contains electronics that respond to the human heart.  what
  Lidy finds out is that nobody likes the way he is now, and goes to take it
  out on Mineva.  Mareeda, sensing this, moves to intercept.

  To save Mareeda's life on the first play through, you have to set a flag on
  at least one of the Gundam branches in addition to shooting Lidy down with
  Banarj (or Mareeda herself).  And, since I didn't keep any of the Gundam
  branches...  Setsuko gets some tasty Sorrow to chew on as Banarj reacts to
  Mareeda's sacrifice.  Mareeda's spirit tells Lidy that his overly-serious
  spirit can will hurt both himself and others if he doesn't stop and recognize
  the wide world around him.  See how its people all resonate in unison.

Mareeda then pays Genneman a visit, telling him that he was her light, the
light that gave her a new life.  She now leaves the future in his hands: her
father's.  To Mineva, she gives a warning to keep close by Banarj, lest he
do something regrettable of his own.  Grief-stricken over what he's done, Lidy
flees as the Newtypes who could hear Mareeda vow to fulfill her wishes for a
better future.

With Lidy's departure, the ELS retreat as well -- even though this would be a
perfect time to try attacking Z-BLUE.  Setsuna's suspicions that the ELS can in
fact be communicated with after all, grow.  But that's a worry for another
time: for now, there's Barbiel to deal with.  He gives a hateful little speech
about how moronic mankind is, always repeating the same stupid wars in every
era in every dimension.  No farther can mankind proceed than the Culture of
Fire!

Mineva orders him to be silent, and then demands that Full Frontal show himself
if he's present.  Whaddya know, he _is_ here!  Barbiel finds this farcical:
does she mean to show him the last battle among humans, now that Chrono's
executors are no more?  Precisely.

Megarania built Industrial 7, and that is the final indicated location of the
Laplace Box.  This war between humans has gone on long enough, and Mineva
intends to open the box once and for all.  Frontal heads there to prepare for
the final battle, and Barbiel can't way to see which side ends up with this
vaunted artifact.  Banarj and Mineva are in total agreement on this course of
action, and Bright orders everyone to return to their ships so they can race
to Industrial 7 too -- Mineva coming along to see this through to the end.

Somewhere in Veda's core, the mention of Laplace has started some kind of
automated program which, in accordance with the contract, begins preparations
to unseal the Level 8 databanks.  The face on the screen, which looks awfully
familiar, sounds a bit smug that this day has finally come, just as Ioria had
predicted.

And AG is _still_ missing.


CHAPTER 45. At Rainbow's End

Mareeda's death is the last straw for Albert, who's been harboring doubts about
his shadowy employers for some time but been too milquetoast to do anything
about them.  Unfortunately, there's still enough milque in his toast that his
outburst at Martha amounts to little more than being told (literally) to go to
his room.  Ronan at least understands how Albert feels: moving the Colony Laser
away from defending the Earth in a gambit to eradicate Z-BLUE and Neo-Jion in
one fell swoop is, at best, a risky stratagem.  Still, a chance to get rid of
all the bad things, including the Box itself, sounds like a win-win-win
situation.  King is letting Ronan do as he pleases this time, an indication
that the "King" seat may be open for a new occupant (such as Lidy) soon.

Of course, that would be easier if anyone could find out where Lidy went after
the last battle.  Ronan has a _lot_ of stuff for his son to do, now that the
Sidereals are "nearly" in control of the whole planet (never mind that the
territory meter has been steadily decreasing of late).  Martha observes that
the familial inheritance of positions within Chrono may be the only reason it's
still around when so many other secret societies aren't: blood is thicker than
water.

For this next operation, Z-BLUE in its entirety will basically act as
camouflage to permit Banarj to get inserted via the Ptolemy's Trans-Am system.
Genneman's been invited along to observe, and it's kind of a strange thought
that he and Otto would find themselves back at the beginning as the final
chapter in the Laplace Box saga draws near.  Only because Banarj became the
Unicorn's pilot is any of this possible.

Insertion goes well, and Banarj and Mineva find themselves back in the Bist
family mansion.  Too many people have died tragically to get the two of them
to this point, but Mineva still wants Banarj to promise her one thing: whatever
may be in the box, that he'll return to her no matter what.  That's her one
and only wish, and at her uttering it a voice declares that it's been waiting
a long time to deliver the one and only truth.  Who better, than his own
descendant and the princess of Jion.

It took hundreds of millions of years for life to crawl from the oceans onto
dry land, and hundreds of millions of years more -- and countless dead-ends --
for Man to ascend.  Such is evolution: no one creature within its finite
lifespan can grasp its overall arc... at least, till Newtypes with their vast
powers of perception came along.  That was the promise that hung in the air at
the moment when the Universal Calendar began: the moment that the capital
colony of the Federation, Laplace, was destroyed moments before a broadcast
that would have charted the whole course of mankind's expansion into the stars.

The death of so many leaders of the Federation's main nation-states, including
Ricard Marsenus, led to a huge rise in anti-Federation sentiment and began
the bloody history of the UCW proper.  But it also spawned a prayer for the
future, which the voice offers to show the two young people at the end of a
secret passage.

Outside it's to be a clash of ideologies: stasis, versus progress.  Think of
it as a repeat of the battle to break out of the Time Prison.  Full Frontal
is hiding for the moment, and Barbiel is nearby no doubt up to some bad
mischief.  But if that gives the team a shot at taking him down, so much the
better.

  Barbiel doesn't seem to be himself today -- perhaps because Setsuko's
  interfering with his powers?  Whatever the case, Sardias turns up to "pick
  up" his ailing commander, and to gloat a bit.  Infuriated further, Barbiel
  turns his guns on his subordinate, to not much effect.  At least, Barbiel
  was stronger than this the last time he and Sardias fought.  Sardias notes
  that it's not like Barbiel to _sympathize_ with the Gundam folks... but
  perhaps he can't help seeing some of himself in their plight.

  After all, the "Un-Arless"'s true name is the "Gun-Arless".  Zero has the
  flash of insight first: "Gundam", "Gunbuster", and now "Gun-Arless"... all of
  them relics of the so-called Culture of Fire, one of the steps on the path
  to Apotheosis.  See how Z-BLUE has gathered them all together.

  The Blood of Beasts (Dancougar), emblematic of the primal instinct within
  humans to fight for survival -- to fight, and to win.  In Aoi and friends'
  case, Sardias surmises that their blood must have been stirred by someone
  who walked that path before them... presumably the original Team D.

  The Mingling of Waters is clearly a reference to Aquarion, even if you look
  no further than its name.  This mechanical divinity embodies the fusion of
  opposites -- angel and human, man and woman -- a beacon shining across
  tranquil seas.

  The Whereabouts of Wind connotes the mighty tornado, pulsating embodiment of
  the Spiral of Life whose unstoppable, unknowable course stretches from land
  to new land.  Ever has Simon's spiral power bored through thicker and loftier
  walls, taking him from humble Jeeha Village to the very center of the galaxy.

  The birth of the Multidimensional Universe brought these elements together
  from afar, and in this Sardias sees _purpose_: they have been _called_
  to help gather the Culture of Fire, the summation of all Man's knowledge.
  With this comes a great war, and from that war and the toppling of obstacles,
  man and machine working in unison, comes progress and belief in the future.

  The paragons of this march are known as "Guns", and this world is to bear
  witness to the terminus of that Culture of Fire now that Z-BLUE are
  assembled.  The Gundams will guide man into a new age, and the Gunbuster
  will pulverize any obstacles in the way.  And Barbiel, well, he once fought
  against invaders of a far-flung Earth -- long before he was known by that
  ridiculous sobriquet "The Needle".

  Oh.  And for Z-BLUE's information, the people Barbiel were fighting against
  included Sardias himself.  The Sidereals destroyed that Earth, leaving
  Barbiel as its last survivor.  Only then did his rage and sorrow turn to
  hatred, and fully awaken the Resentful Devil-Scorpion.  Sardias in turn was
  the only member of his squadron to survive the consequences.

  Sardias supposes the whole Gundam thing is all too familiar to Barbiel, and
  has made his essential hatred waiver.  Sardias has reckoned for some time
  that humans aren't capable of truly all-encompassing hatred: it's the
  water-under-the-bridge thing and the time-heals-all-wounds thing that lets
  humans move forward in life.  Even for Sardias himself.

  All this chit-chat has made Barbiel truly pissed off, and that's exactly
  how Sardias wants it.  Hell, after seeing all his subordinates slaughtered,
  Sardias wants one thing and one thing only from Barbiel -- that his hatred
  never heal.  He's happy to use Barbiel as a tool, knowing that Barbiel views
  him the same way.  Great combination, eh?

  Yup.  Anyways!  Barbiel congratulates Z-BLUE on reaching the conclusion of
  the Culture of Fire, but tells them they will advance no further to
  Apotheosis.  The Future of Despair will be theirs, and not long from now
  either.  And should they somehow manage to elude _that_, they'll have him to
  look forward to as their next adversary.  At which point, his hatred will
  burn everything to ashes!

  Sardias then notes that it's up to the Earthlings to decide whether their
  Guns' leading will bear fruit or not -- and that's what the folks inside
  Industrial 7 are working toward.  He's looking forward to seeing whether
  this group of people will reach that place where he and so many other people
  from so many other planets could not go.  He leaves some bad guys as a
  souvenir, but the team aren't going to give up now -- not with the Laplace
  Box opening mere moments away.

Just then a transmission comes in, apparently showing what's going on inside
Megarania.  A signal also comes in from Lidy, and Otto yells into the mic
for him to come back to the Ner Argama: he's still part of its crew!

Inside, Banarj assures Mineva that all the fighting the world has faced isn't
an end unto itself: it's a _means_ to forge a path to the future.  That much is
quite clear to him after piloting the Unicorn.  The unseen voice agrees with
him, and a spotlight turns on to reveal the monument of the Universal Century
Charter, which every child has seen in their textbooks.  But THIS monument has
one more Article, which reads (in part): "Should a new Strain of Humanity,
better suited to Space, arise in the future, its members are to be given
priority in the administration of Government."

Those would be the Newtypes, the curse and the prayer long hidden behind the
shadows of the redacted Federation Charter.  So sayeth Siam.

Lidy then turns up, telling Otto that despite Lidy's best efforts -- or maybe
they weren't even his "best" efforts, he doesn't know anymore -- he couldn't
prevent this.  Why is it, he asks rhetorically, that the Federation has always
feared Jion so much?  It's not _because_ they're colony-dropping bastards: that
was an outcome, not the beginning.  The beginning was the moment Jion Daikun
articulated his Newtype theory, which instantly changed the prayerful line
about a new Strain of humanity into a curse -- due to Chrono.

As though to atone for casting aside the Colonists during a period of
over-population on the Surface, Ricard Marsenus rewrote the the Charter -- and
was made a sacrifice to keep the Federation power structure intact.  All would
have been forgotten, had one of the original assassins, one Siam Bist by name,
not gotten his hands on the original Charter Stone.

Banarj finds himself face-to-face with his great-grandfather, founder of the
Bist Conglomerate.  Banarj is pretty peeved that this white-bearded guy just
laid here and watched an entire war rage over this hunk of rock, but Mineva
steps in.  Given how this thing has given him the ability to intervene in
world events all this time, why let go of it now?  Siam says that it's time for
mankind to proceed to the next level.

It is not to Despair, not to Ossification that mankind must direct its prayer,
but to that god called Possibility.  Mineva counters that publicizing this
stone will shake every Spacenoid's faith in the Federation, even given that the
UCW's people are only a part of this world.  She can't even begin to imagine
how costly that could be with a battle against the Kingdom looming, and even if
it's a question of the Truth, the price seems too high...!

Thus, says Siam, why he's left the decision up to the Newtypes.  TRUE Newtypes,
what Siam calls the forerunners of a new mankind, the recognition of which is
the purpose of the Laplace Program.  None of this Fortified Human nonsense.
These True Newtypes, whoever they be, are the actual Key that leads to the
Box, and the reason the Unicorn Gundam exists.  All this was put in motion by
Cardias Bist, who presumably never imagined that his own flesh-and-blood would
become the Unicorn's pilot.

Apparently this was all as Full Frontal had guessed.  Lidy says that Siam was
a prudent guy, never demanding much behind the threat of publicizing his
Charter Stone.  Instead he got his fingers into Anaheim Electronics and founded
the Bist Conglomerate, ushering in an age of coexistence where the contents of
the "Box" no longer mattered as much as the symbolic value to the world order.

This Box, whose redaction would have merely caused a government scandal in the
early going, took on an entirely new complexion with Jion's announcement.
Whether Newtypes actually existed or not was beside the point: the truth the
Federation had so carefully buried was now itself the strongest weapon any of
Jion's followers could wield, and the Box's existence had to be kept the
deepest of secrets to avoid outright Hell on Earth.

But guess what: Hell came anyway in the form of the One-Year War.  The curse of
the Box grew heavier with each life lost and each iota of proof for the actual
existence of Newtypes -- driving Lidy's parents and their fellows in Chrono
ever deeper into secrecy for the Box.  Their choice was to deny the people
hope, a future really, by keeping everyone confined to the straight and narrow.

But what was the point of this Order they clung to so dearly, when Lidy himself
_clearly_ _heard_ Mareeda's voice in his heart?  Come to find out that it _is_
possible for people to understand each other.  But he, Lidy, didn't trust those
he claimed to be protecting, disappointing them instead and losing it all.

It is because of Banarj and Mineva that the time has finally come.  As the
Box's guardian and as one living being who's lived far too long, Siam has had
but one wish: to give the Box to a Newtype should they genuinely exist.  That
they could use the Box better than him, that they could win back the proper
nature of the future, were his articles of faith.  And it was his desire to
advance the technology to touch the human heart that gave the world the
Psychoframe.

But Siam knows all too well that he is merely one person among billions.
Banarj is welcome to keep the Box hidden, or even destroy it should he wish.
And should that not prove enough, Banarj is even welcome to beat the old man
to death.  What, Siam asks, does Banarj's heart truly desire?

Banarj answers slowly that if Newtypes are truly the new form of humanity, he
doesn't believe mankind currently has the technology to tell them apart from
the old form.  Proof that he and Audrey are the ones Siam seeks is therefore
absent, nor does he know what the "right" thing to do here is.  But what he
does want is to believe in human possibility.  Siam buys that, and tells him
he is also welcome to publicize the Box should he wish.

First, Mineva wants to hear Siam's thoughts on one thing.  Did Ricard Marsenus
do what he did out of a sense of guilt towards the Colonists?  Not at all: it
was his way of battling any and all things standing in the world's way.  Siam's
confidence in this comes from his reasons for keeping the Box in the first
place.  Not only as a bargaining chip, but out of fear.  Siam saw something
within the flames engulfing Laplace, something that made him suddenly
understand the future Ricard wanted -- and why he had to be killed.  What he
saw was the very fundament of Chrono dogma, and the reason why they went so far
to suppress the Spacenoids and rein in human evolution.

Ricard Marsenus offered more than just a prayer to bless the founding of the
Universal Century: he also announced something that bound humanity since time
immemorial.  Siam himself, it turns out, is the innermost truth within the Box.
He is the one person who knows of Chrono dogma and, not being a Chrono
follower, can tell the tale.  That, in short, is why he's been kept alive so
long.  The thing he saw, those many long years ago, was an Angel.

The Angel Kodama saw turned out to be Advent... does that mean Advent had a
hand in the Laplace Incident too?!  No, says a new voice, adding that there's
no need for Banarj to learn any more.  It's Frontal, who intones that opening
the box is tantamount to revealing Chrono's dogma to all.  Doing so would
truly foreclose on possibility and bring Despair, and this is why the Box's
mere existence suffices.  He "doesn't recommend" that Mineva or Banarj stick
their noses any further into this, and that they leave the rest to him.  It's
for the sake of mankind, after all.

Mineva retorts that Full Frontal is the one who should withdraw; he: created
in the image of Char and content with nothing more than rote execution of
Char's role.  Frontal's talk of succeeding Earth-humans is, to Mineva's ears,
the palaver of a man who believes mankind _has_ no future.  He claims to be
some high-and-mighty vessel whose actions represent the aggregate will of all
people, and after removing his mask asks Siam to leave the Box in his keeping.

Siam responds that Frontal's words are not wrong, that perhaps the Box ought
not be opened in the interest of allowing the people to cope with the truth
before their eyes.  But if so, that's all the more reason to NOT leave the Box
to someone who would use it as a mere bargaining chip.  Someone like Frontal,
or Siam himself even.  Siam doesn't know how Frontal did it, but he believes
Frontal now knows the "true" meaning of the Box.  And neither he nor Frontal,
despite knowing this truth, are capable of moving into the future.  Rather, it
is their final task to turn the reins of the future over to the children, the
Newtypes, Innovators and so on.

Siam for his part intends to honor the decision of these young people, forged
as it was in the fires along the path to the Box.  Frontal won't deny him that,
but instead announces that he intends to act in accordance with the Charter.
His attempt to lay hands on the Box is foiled by a defensive barrier, and with
no choice he means to destroy the whole of Megarania.  He runs off, and before
Banarj pursues he makes sure Gael takes both Siam and Mineva to safety.  Banarj
remembers Gael from his father's mansion, and Gael tells him it was his
father's dream that the Box would be opened and the future made real.  That is
what Banarj was really entrusted with in the form of the Unicorn Gundam, and
what's more, Banarj is that dream made flesh.  Gael tells him to go forth and
do as he believes is right.

Angelo is overjoyed when he gets permission for the royal guard to sortie
and start blasting the crap out of Megarania.  The Unicorn then shows up,
seemingly having drifted out of the dock during the barrage, and Angelo
relishes the thought of destroying it before Banarj even gets aboard.  Not so
much.  It's cool that the Unicorn answered Banarj's call, but Angelo has a
counter-measure up his sleeve: the Psychojammer, complete at last.

Hamarn explains that it interferes with the Psycommu sensors of the Psychoframe
by overwhelming them with even stronger waves from outside.  Angelo has hated
Banarj's guts since he first met him, but as someone once said, "Why can't I
hate you to death?"  Banarj is certainly stronger than that, and his thoughts
turn out to be even stronger than the Psychojammer can quash.  He's got a new
sense of purpose, a new future to find with Audrey, and outright orders his
Gundam turn his feelings into power if it really is a machine for leading
people to the future.

Bright and Otto yell for Lidy to go support Banarj, and not waste Mareeda's
final act.  Lidy gets his shit together in a hurry and obeys, promising to make
amends some day.  But for now, the light of their two Gundams isn't just their
own: everyone's thoughts are among that glow.  They'll need as much glow as
they can get, given that apparently the "Neo-Jiong" too has been completed.
Char is personally pissed off at such an archaic naming scheme (like some bad
70's anime or something), and at its controls seems to be Frontal himself.
Frontal sounds genuinely sad to have to kill Banarj and his light off, but
that's his job as Vessel.  Time for the final fragdown between humans, and what
a grudge match it will be!  That is
what Banarj was really entrusted with in the form of the Unicorn Gundam, and
what's more, Banarj is that dream made flesh.  Gael tells him to go forth and
do as he believes is right.

Angelo is overjoyed when he gets permission for the royal guard to sortie
and start blasting the crap out of Megarania.  The Unicorn then shows up,
seemingly having drifted out of the dock during the barrage, and Angelo
relishes the thought of destroying it before Banarj even gets aboard.  Not so
much.  It's cool that the Unicorn answered Banarj's call, but Angelo has a
counter-measure up his sleeve: the Psychojammer, complete at last.

Hamarn explains that it interferes with the Psycommu sensors of the Psychoframe
by overwhelming them with even stronger waves from outside.  Angelo has hated
Banarj's guts since he first met him, but as someone once said, "Why can't I
hate you to death?"  Banarj is certainly stronger than that, and his thoughts
turn out to be even stronger than the Psychojammer can quash.  He's got a new
sense of purpose, a new future to find with Audrey, and outright orders his
Gundam turn his feelings into power if it really is a machine for leading
people to the future.

Bright and Otto yell for Lidy to go support Banarj, and not waste Mareeda's
final act.  Lidy gets his shit together in a hurry and obeys, promising to make
amends some day.  But for now, the light of their two Gundams isn't just their
own: everyone's thoughts are among that glow.  They'll need as much glow as
they can get, given that apparently the "Neo-Jiong" too has been completed.
Char is personally pissed off at such an archaic naming scheme (like some bad
70's anime or something), and at its controls seems to be Frontal himself.
Frontal sounds genuinely sad to have to kill Banarj and his light off, but
that's his job as Vessel.  Time for the final fragdown between humans, and what
a grudge match it will be!

  Angelo is seriously in love/lust with Full Frontal, and it infuriates him to
  no end that Frontal apparently needs Banarj more than he needs Angelo.  All
  the more reason to blow his miserable ass to kingdom come then.  An object
  lesson, then, that it takes more than just being a vessel for others to make
  forward progress.

  Give Full Frontal this much: he is one stubborn son-of-a-bitch.  Or, of-a-
  whatever the hell creature was used to provide the ovum he was cloned using.
  Frontal's final battle is one he's long awaited: with the one other person
  who is as fit as a "Vessel" as he is.  Frontal's seen many young boys like
  him, all of them capable of working miracles in their Gundams.  But all those
  miracles haven't changed a thing, and it's time to show Banarj the Tears of
  Time!

Banarj and Frontal share a vision of the beginning of this timeline, the
Laplace Incident.  Frontal then shows him an utter void, where even time has
stopped.  This is the extreme end of Time, and is the End of the World.
Frontal won't say if this is the Future of Despair per se, but Frontal himself
has despaired quite a bit, since the Light of the Heart from the people of the
world wasn't even enough to change things.

Nor was that the people's fault: people cannot become God, much less something
_beyond_ God.  Banarj quite disagrees: people are the ones who possess God,
the power to surpass the "Now".  That inner God named Possibility!  Frontal
says he can only say that because he doesn't know DA TROOF, and as usual is
pretty sure Banarj can't handle it.  All these possibilities and junk are just
a passing mirage at the doorway to true despair -- and they who understand
this are truly Chosen.

Banarj is NOT convinced, and Amuro pops up to egg him on further.  Frontal
is aghast: how is Amuro here?!  Because Amuro believes that one day someone
will arise who can control even Time, the lesson he learned at the
moment of Lalah Sun's death.  Camille turns up to point out that even Frontal
has warmth within him, which is what Shinn terms "being alive".  What
distinguishes the Gundam pilots is that they never lose sight of the Light,
even in the darkest darkness (which this place kinda resembles).  All of
Frontal's mockery won't shake their beliefs.

The future is coming, or rather is waiting to be seized, and the Gundam pilots
ain't got TIME for Despair.  All it takes is a little will.  Frontal marvels
at the Culture of Fire, that made by human hands which advances humanity
itself.  UNFORTUNATELY, Frontal gave into despair rather than trusting to hope.
Char tells Frontal that Frontal was so busy being a "Vessel" that he basically
got indwelt by an alternate-universe version of Char, one with despair issues
of his own, who must have come from another world's Quakes.

Frontal, in short, committed several of the classic blunders.  Too impatient.
Too serious-minded.  Too eager to shoulder all of the world's burdens himself.
Char asks his forgiveness for not grasping what Frontal was going through all
along.  Furious, Frontal shouts back that soon they all will learn that all
this warmth will amount to NOTHING.  Nothing except maybe heating up the
Universe or whatever... Oh HI, Lalah!

Frontal tells Banarj and Char that they might just find a rainbow beyond the
despair he couldn't overcome, and at the end of THAT is the future.  May they
grasp it, in his stead.  Full Frontal basically evaporates, and Char implores
Lalah to guide his soul to its rest.

Well, that's Neo-Jion put paid to.  But the great work isn't over yet: it's
time for Audrey to publicize the contents of the Box.  Siam himself isn't sure
what all this will bring about -- words are just words, and laws can be
interpreted according to the reader's convenience.  With the Kingdom still
in control of over half of the Earth, there's a chance that all this will be
for naught.  But Mineva's seen Z-BLUE fight for what they thought was right,
just as those who engraved this Charter Stone did.  Just as Siam, who
protected the Box all this time, did.

Siam sincerely hopes that she can overcome the despair that he and Frontal
could not, for the sake of all of his long-lost comrades as well.  The day of
the big reveal was planned long ago, and that's why the Celestial Being also
contains a System to help out.  The dogma of Chrono was originally meant to be
publicized by Ricard Marsenus along with the beginning of the Universal
Century, but his death cut that short.  And it is _this_ that will shake not
just this world, but all parallel worlds.

Now, Elgan Roddick and Ioria Schoenberg, let the broadcast begin!

Far away on the surface, Traia meets a man clocked in the shadows of the
moon's light.  Traia asks rhetorically what thoughts race at the other side
of the starry sky, then says it's been since she graduated college that she's
seen him.  It's been quite some time since the man retired from active life,
and finding him was a cast-iron bitch.  This is none other than Carlos Axion,
or if he'd rather, the "King" of Chrono...


CHAPTER 46. A Future Worth Protecting

Traia's long been bothered by the question of why Carlos tried so hard to
change the world.  It was about destroying the world Chrono controlled, wasn't
it?  The elder Carlos thinks back to his own son's graduation from college, the
occasion he finally told him of the family's Kingly role in Chrono and the
regulation of human evolution.  Carlos Jr. told his father that until the day
came to ascend to the throne, he was going to do things his own way -- which
meant building Axion into an industrial power numbered among the mightiest in
the world.  All in preparation to fight Chrono... and Carlos Sr. himself.

That determination must have been why Elgan Roddick would entrust Carlos Jr.
with the Swaying Scales Sphere.  When Traia doesn't immediately answer Carlos
Sr.'s question of what she'll do next, he tells her that his influence as
"King" is all but finished these days -- not that Chrono's relevance to this
world is faring much better.  It won't, he tells her, do her any good to have
ferreted out one of Chrono's officers.

She's well aware of all of that, of course, and does _not_ believe that there's
no good for her to be doing.  She's not in the business of seeing Carlos Jr.'s
last wishes carried out or whatnot, but it does seem that her own goals are
leading her towards the same destination he sought.  He cautions that if the
contents of the Laplace Box are made public, so too will the Chrono Dogma --
but that won't be enough to stop her, or Z-BLUE.  Or mankind as a whole.

Carlos Sr. tells her not to be too sure, but she's well beyond heeding any
threats from him.  Just then AG (oh hi!) clanks up and tells Traia that
everyone's assembled.  "He" refused AG's invitation to come with, preferring to
make it to space under "his" own power.  That's fine with Traia, and as she
leaves she tells the old Emperor to enjoy his New Clothes in whatever dingy
corner of the world he chooses, with what little life he has left.  Being left
behind by history is a better fate than he probably deserves.

It would seem that Traia got tipped off as to "King"'s identity, though not by
Gwen.  No, Gwen merely told Traia that Carlos Sr. was here, consistent with his
ongoing work against the Kingdom (which hasn't escaped Carlos Sr.'s notice).
All the same, Gwen's treason probably rates some kind of punishment --
punishment Carlos Sr. is feeling too old to mete out.  It's possible the elder
Carlos actually wished for this dethroning since the day his son died, that
his decision to bring Gwen into the fold was a bid to cash in on Gwen's youth.

Meh.  Gwen will be the first to admit that he's not such hot stuff, and that
the progress he's made in life has largely come at the expense of the people he
used along the way.  Any good to come of it is a credit to those who invested
their belief in him.  Speaking of belief: does Gwen believe that there's any
hope beyond the Future of Despair written of in the final chapter of
Metropolis?  What he believes in is Rolan and his friends in Z-BLUE, whose
chances of victory are _somewhere_ between zero and unity.  In any case, time
-- frozen ever since man set foot upon the moon -- is about to resume its
motion...

The Colony Laser is all charged, awaiting only clearance to fire.  Ronan's
calculus goes like this: Z-BLUE defeats Neo-Jion, laser defeats Z-BLUE, laser
also defeats Laplace Box and Siam, innermost truth stays unpublicized, Earth
humanity stays protected, Chrono dogma stays sound, the end.  Well, it's not
really _all_ the Earth humans who'll survive of course: only the chosen ones
will pull through.  In a way, it's the inverse of Cardias Bist's favorite
phrase that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.  Martha sniffs
that "the times" are what drive Chrono to such measures.

Albert bursts into the room just _after_ Ronan authorizes the laser strike.
Now, far be it from me to judge, but you might have noticed Martha's features
have always been somewhat... rugged compared to your average female.  It turns
out that Martha is trans, and has insisted on feminine pronouns and whatnot for
the longest time.  All the more upsetting to Albert, then, that "she" has
resorted to that most masculine of tactics: making people obey by brute force.
It seems part of his distress comes from the fact that Lidy is still among
Z-BLUE, something which Ronan had _not_ realized.  Yea verily, Ronan just
signed his own son's death warrant.

Chrono will presumably throw whatever they've got left at Megarania to try to
stop the broadcast, and it'll be Z-BLUE's job to keep interlopers at bay.
Since Chrono is running a bit short on employees of late, they're likely to
turn to the Kingdom, and _that_ means Umbriel should be turning up.  Assuming
she was telling the truth last time, this will be the "final battle" between
her and Kodama, and it's a battle that can't end with a mere shooting down of
her mech.  Kodama has to save Suzune from within Umbriel... if he can.

One thing that's interesting is that the Kingdom itself seems to want to avoid
publication of the Box's contents.  That implies they're less worried about
what it'll do to Earth's existing government, and more about whatever this
deep, dark secret part is.  Lidy still won't just out and say what it is,
using the "it's not for me to say" excuse.  After all, this truth was Veda's
innermost secret, so it must be something pretty big and dimension-spanning.
Like everyone else, Lidy can only hope that mankind can handle the truth, and
that his family heritage of resisting Chrono will serve him well.

Umbriel has to hand it to Z-BLUE for both fending off Neo-Jion AND kicking
Barbiel's ass in the same battle.  However, the end result is that Barbiel's
hatred is stronger than before, and if she's to retain any bragging rights
Umbriel has to get the Geminion back here and now.

The Celestial Being is set up to use infrared transmission to talk to the
Earth -- something basic enough that even the Sidereals have no good way to
stop it.  Mineva begins by introducing herself as being of the bloodline of
the Jion Kingdom of UCW, not that that's got anything to do with today's story.
She's learned of a secret that reaches far beyond the government of the UCW,
and means to reveal it as one citizen of _this_ world speaking to many.

The Universal Century began with mankind's first steps to making a life for
itself among the stars, and was canonized in the Universal Century Charter.
This document is the cornerstone of the Federation government, and basis of
its authority.  In turn, the UCW's Federation Government is a core element of
this world's current Earth Federation, and its Charter is presumably known to
all.  But the Charter everyone knows is a carefully crafted forgery, and the
original has lain hidden for many long years.  She would like to now reveal
the original.

  Umbriel reckons that even though she's lost, so too has Z-BLUE.  For
  starters, she can no longer feel Suzune within her.  Secondly, well...

Mineva displays the real Charter Stone and its formerly redacted final
Article, chiseled into the rock some forty years before Jion Daikun articulated
his Newtype Theory.  This Article, buried along with the victims of the
Laplace Incident, was a prayer to the far-flung future, but when coupled with
the idea of Newtypes, also became a curse.  Imagine the uproar among the
independence-seeking Spacenoids at the time had this become known.  She needn't
recount how a CERTAIN ORGANIZATION has been keeping both the Earth and Space
in a sort of stasis, but via the prayer behind her, it would seem that the war
accompanying man's ventures into space could have been averted.

She leaves it to everyone listening to judge whether this litany of fail
concerns merely one of many parallel Earths, whose contributions to the
already-prostrated government of this Earth may already be a historical
footnote.  But the numerous lives lost in an unnecessary war compel her to
speak the truth anyway.  Inviting the people of the world to reason together
with her about how the world should proceed from here, she declares that this
is not the whole truth, nor does she know what will happen next in that which
everyone alive will bequeath to their children -- that is, in the future.  Let
good intent and hope run free into the next era, just as this era's
forefather's had intended and hoped.  Let them who hear believe in the God who
slumbers within them all: that God named "Possibility".

Suddenly the Newtypes sense a malicious Light coming their way, and Umbriel
reveals that the Colony Laser is apparently ready to fire.  She's prepared to
die along with Z-BLUE, but Banarj has other ideas.  He means to spread his
Psycho Field to protect the whole of Megarania, and calls out to Mineva to get
somewhere safe.  But Mineva means to stay right where she is: the end of her
speech is but a new beginning: one she has an obligation to see through.
Smiling, she says she knows he's confident, and tells him to come back to her
when he's through.  She'll have none of him going back on his promises.

Lidy joins in with his mech, noting that the contents of the Box aren't just
Banarj's family's problem.  Indeed: they're the concern of all mankind, and
the cool thing about the Psycho machines is that the more will they can
concentrate, the stronger they get.  Z-BLUE quickly marshal themselves into
their maximum-strength defensive formation, with those units with barriers
up front.  What better picture could there be of Gundams leading the people
to a new era, with a belief in Hope at the forefront.

Lidy observes that nobody, not even his father, could have known whether the
glimmer of hope he saw back when would be Possibility or Curse.  What was
clear is that he and Banarj were blessed at birth.  Much as his father before
him, Lidy never managed to get that off his chest when doing so could have
averted much tragedy, but better late than never.  Like father, like son.

Kodama then does something Umbriel does not expect: he drags her motionless
mech to the rear of the formation, declaring his intent to _save_ her.  He
doesn't believe for a moment that Suzune is really gone, and won't hear of her
misusing Suzune's body in her absence.  No way he lets her die!  She calls
Z-BLUE fools for not running away while they have the chance, but as Rand
says, running _away_ means never moving _ahead_.  Inside this colony is
living proof of hope from a prior age, and the plan is to keep that hope alive
until the next age arrives.

All this damage soaking is pretty scary stuff, and even Umbriel is starting to
shake a bit.  That she's starting to value her life gladdens Kodama's heart:
worth saving her butt already!  _Everyone_ wants to live, both her and Suzune
included, and Kodama means to save them _both_.  And Umbriel and Suzune can
duke it out for who's the "real" her later.  Oh, and let's not have more of
Umbriel's insistence that Suzune is already gone: lies won't work inside this
Psycho Field.  He yells out to Suzune to heed his voice and come back to him.
He needs her!

Mareeda's spirit then manifests to cheer Banarj on, telling him that she can
now see things that he can't.  Even time itself now glows in her vision, and
illuminates even the darkest despair.  He is light, turning even sorrow to
joy and lighting the path for many.  Man now stands at a doorway, and the time
may come when they step through it while still in the flesh.  The road leads
on toward the end of the rainbow...

Banarj is greeted by visions of his own father, encouraging his younger self
to head forth into the future.  And then, by a younger Mineva who wants to
go along with him.  Which is cool and everything, but the question quickly
becomes whether Banarj has just burned his own personality away in order to
channel the thoughts of many.  Is this what a Complete Newtype looks like?!,
Lidy demands to know.  There's so much for he and Banarj to do together in
this world.  He needs him back!

Setsuna agrees to help Lidy call Banarj back, and with a little encouragement
from Mineva (who Lidy yells he's going to steal if Banarj doesn't get his ass
back PRONTO) Banarj slowly comes around.  Umbriel meanwhile is unconscious,
and the team looks to have a little time to figure out what to do with her
since there's no more enemies around.

But wait!  Veda is still broadcasting something: the truth at the bottom of the
Box!  It seems the time has finally come for Chrono's dogma to be revealed.
But it comes not from Siam's lips; rather, it comes from Elgan Roddick!

Elgan introduces himself as coming from ADW, pre-recorded with help from his
friends to be broadcast to the Multidimensional Universe once certain
conditions were met.  The revelation of the truth of the Laplace Box has set
what he believes is the perfect stage, and he tells everyone of the Chrono
organizations that span the various parallel worlds that now comprise the
Multidimensional World.  They all have manipulated the worlds' histories
under the banner of "governing" evolution, culminating in the creation of the
space colonists known as "Spacenoids".

For what reason?  Because Chrono fears evolution.  Despite research in many
worlds on the next stage of humanity -- Newtype, Innovator, SEED and so
forth -- Chrono intended to avert mankind marching as a whole into the future.
The history of Chrono is one and the same with mankind's venture into space,
initiated in each world when mankind first reaches the Moon and discovers a
certain object there.  That object is a message directed to Earthlings from
parties unknown, which reads: "Mankind is a species not permitted to evolve."

From that very moment, Earthlings come under the sway of a foreign intellect,
controlling history, the planet, and the very existence of mankind itself.
Let him be clear: mankind has been Domesticated.  And the intelligence of which
he speaks always make a demonstration before the leading minds of the nations
who learn of the message, a show of force from the "Warden" accompanied by
the offer to guarantee mankind's continued survival in return for absolute
fealty.  The Warden's anointed agents then become that world's Chrono.

All timelines proceed as the Warden decrees, with Chrono using any and all
means to carry out their orders.  Insofar as mankind _must_ expand into the
stars if its burgeoning population is to survive at all, Chrono's ultimate
gambit is to limit the Colonists' lives, channeling them into a form least
suited to their new environment -- the very same environment that ought to
encourage human evolution.  A splinter group of Chrono sought to publicize this
treachery to the world via the establishment of the Universal Century Charter,
with results that have now been made crystal clear.

Marsenus is not the only victim of Chrono's assassins.  Jion Zum Daikun,
Hiiro Yui, basically every victim of the One Year War... and yet despite all
that Chrono has done, nothing can stop the dam of Evolution from bursting.
The Newtypes and their ilk are no superficial flowering of human progress, and
the inevitable reckoning will not be with Chrono, but rather their masters:
the Sidereals.

Elgan, a product of what he terms a bygone age, does not presume to tell this
age's residents what they should do with this information.  But he does
inform them that they are faced with a Primordial Calamity, and a choice: live
as a guard dog does, fed at its master's pleasure, to live and die for his
convenience -- or, to live in a future of endless possibility.  The choice is
theirs.  It was for Elgan to tell the Truth, but it will be for others to
build their future atop it.

To think that the Sidereals were involved in _everything_ Earth's been
through, stretching back hundreds of years.  That even Zabi House were merely
puppets, that all conflict between Natural and Coordinator (et. al.) was
staged by the Sidereals and their lackeys...  If the Sidereals can do all that,
can anyone hope to beat them?  And then there's that Primordial Menace posed
by the black Angeroi's and the metal whachamacallit critters.

Welcome to the moment of crisis, where possibility seems foreclosed, just as
Full Frontal had forecast.  One thing's now crystal clear: if mankind is to
continue, it must confront both the Sidereals and the Menace -- _that_ is the
Future of Despair!  But Ioria helped orchestrate the advent of the
Innovators to withstand that trial, and Elgan formed ZEXIS for the same
reason.  Siam meanwhile got briefed on the parallel worlds and the Future of
Despair when Elgan paid him a visit...

...And the sight of the lonely smile on the face of the Angel he saw amidst
the flames confirmed beyond any doubt the existence of the Wardens.  He, like
Ioria, believed that one day some would come strong enough to topple the
Wardens, and now his wish has come true: Z-BLUE has that power, should they
choose to wield it.

Advent then turns up, with Asakim in tow.  He reveals that he told Lidy all
this when he saved him from drifting in space, and the knowledge was enough to
drive Lidy into the depths of despair then.  The question is, what does Advent
want now?  Well, that depends -- and first, let's get the Sidereal Reactors
onto the scene, and with them Australis.  By Advent's count, that makes all
12 Spheres together.

Yup, Australis is the Reactor for the "Rising Archer", and Advent certainly
isn't making any friends among the Sidereals with all his talk.  In fact,
Barbiel and company would be quite happy to wipe him and Asakim out before
Z-BLUE even get the chance if he keeps this up.  Umbriel wakes up at around
this time, and snorts that there's at least one thing she and the Sidereals
agree on.

Advent asks if she's "Umbriel" or "Suzune", and she snaps back that no lady
should have to endure such indelicate questions.  Advent then lists off the
"Messianic Warrior", the "Traveler to the Great Ultimate", the "Guardian of
the Law", the "Watchman of Karma", the "Accursed Wanderer" -- will they too
turn his sword against him?  What a shame.  Be Umbriel gone to the ends of
Karma!!

He blasts her with something or other, and she manages to pronounce an apology
to Kodama before her mech explodes.  Well, that's that: no need for two
Reactors for the Quarreling Twins.  Kodama: label him traumatized.

He sees a vision of the False Black Sheep, the Greedy Golden Bull, the Silent
Crab, the Wounded Lion, the Maiden of Sorrows, the Swaying Scales, the
Resentful Devil-Scorpion, the Rising Archer, the Inquisitive Mountain Goat, the
Inexhaustible Water-Bearer, the Dreaming Fishes, and finally the Quarreling
Twins...

Thinking of Suzune, he suddenly finds himself rewound slightly in time, and
this time he somehow manages to _instantaneously_ intervene in Advent's lethal
strike.  His teammates all think he just pulled off a normal, if cool, combat
move -- none of them realize that they're now part of the cast of Groundhog
Day.  Only he remembers.

He, and maybe Advent, who tells Kodama that he's just opened a forbidden
door.  ...And maybe Asakim, who now realizes the true power of the Quarreling
Twins.  AND Australis, who's now glad he came to see such a display.  Even
the other Sidereal reactors start bugging him for an explanation, but he
merely tells them to withdraw while he decides what to do next.  He promises
the impatient Barbiel that he'll get his chance soon enough.

Advent muses that all 12 Spheres united to oppose him just then, and tells
Asakim that it's an awful shame.  Asakim smirks and declares that Advent isn't
like him after all.  In fact, Advent is his *PREY*!!  MUAHAHAHAHAHAHA! and
stuff.  Nor is Asakim the only one to defy Advent's orders, as Suzune declares
as she *frigging teleports* her way into her old copilot's seat.  Call it a
stronger version of Kodama's Boost Mode.  Oh, and by the way: the other "her"
wants to tell Kodama thanks for saving her.

Umbriel and Suzune have become one, in the same way that Kodama managed to
fuse hope and despair to overcome them both.  "Suzune" seems to be the main
personality, but it was only because Kodama acknowledged them both that she
was able to rise from the depths.  Now she wants him to show her his power,
together with the Geminion Rei.

In fact, even more powerful than that.  Kodama tells Advent that he's done
hesitating.  Advent, who stole his father and sister, and Suzune as well, is
now clearly his enemy!  And if the animation was any indication, Advent's
goose should be well and truly cooked.  But as Asakim knows, Advent is an
even tougher adversary than he seems, thanks to a bit of the same power that
Kodama himself used.  Advent admits that he can't use it unlimitedly under
these circumstances.  Instead, he intends to awaken Z-BLUE from their slumber
through other means -- by directing his lackeys to punish Z-BLUE.

That includes Maki, who Kodama firmly tells Suzune is now their enemy.  Asakim
asks if Advent is still determined to underestimate Z-BLUE, and Advent says
that he always acts in the best interests of them and of the world, and tells
Z-BLUE to meet his expectations.  He'll even be happy to reveal who he really
is and what he really wants -- if Z-BLUE can make him.

[Oh my frigging gawd that was an assload of dialog to insert into the MIDDLE
OF TURN 2 in a battle!  I need a goddamn drink before resuming the bloodshed.]

  Advent claims to be SO GLAD to have met Kodama, one of his greatest joys.
  Kodama, however, isn't exactly thrilled that Advent seems to consider him
  like some kind of favored toy.

  The team notice quickly that Advent seems to take very little damage --
  somewhat like the black Angerois.  Very observant, declares Advent, and all
  the more reason he wants Z-BLUE's cooperation.  But then something catches
  Advent off-guard, an attack from someone who's getting MIGHTY pissed off at
  Advent's nice guy routine.  It is GADLIGHT of all people, who's been slumming
  it up while waiting for a chance for revenge.  He has to admit that Kodama's
  managed to surpass what his Geminia did, but he still intends to give the
  team several pieces of his mind.  But taking down Advent comes first, now
  that Gadlight's neither a Geminis nor a Sidereal any longer!

  Advent mocks Gadlight's determination to go on fighting, belittling his loss
  of both his mech AND his beloved woman.  With apologies to Annalotta,
  Gadlight says that he's got new women in his life -- and they're part of why
  he's still fighting.  He tells Kodama that he neither intends to offer his
  help, nor request help from him.  Ahh, such a shame, says Advent: none of his
  opponents seem to understand.  He's not locked in with them -- they're locked
  in with HIM!

  Kodama goes and blasts White aka Maki, and Maki declares that so long as
  Kodama is Advent's adversary, he'll be hers too.  She withdraws, and Gadlight
  observes that Kodama seems to have put his old squeeze behind him.  Seems
  that he and Kodama had a momentary mind-meld when Kodama stole his Sphere,
  showing Gadlight where Kodama's despair springs from.  Kodama doesn't sound
  very happy to have him bring that up, which tells Gadlight that Kodama isn't,
  in fact, 100% over it yet.  Which could be a good, or a bad, thing...

  Advent realizes that even he can't use Resurrection twice in a row, and he
  makes to flee.  Asakim isn't going to let him get away, and when Advent
  reminds(?) him that defeating him here will change nothing, Asakim retorts
  that not everything goes how Advent wants it to.  Oh, so Asakim thinks he can
  elude Advent's grasp?  Fine, have it his way.  Advent switches the Aescalepus
  into its true form, the better to show Asakim what he really wanted to see.

  Asakim smiles as he tells the team that Asakim's death means nothing, as they
  know well.  This true form of the Aescalepus is named the Heliorz (pissing
  Banjou off with its solar reference), and is Advent's true trump card.  He
  tells Z-BLUE he'll see them again, and that their power might just save the
  Universe.  He hopes they can walk the path of "Shinka", which from his mouth
  sounds less like "Evolution" and more like "Apotheosis".

  Now, Elgan said that the Sidereals were the Wardens of human fate.  But this
  Advent dude certainly sounds more like the part -- does Gadlight know
  anything?  Nothing that he's willing to share.  He makes no bones about using
  Z-BLUE for his own ends, and reminds Kodama that he's the guy who stole
  Gadlight's sphere.  If he doesn't master the damn thing fully, next time
  Gadlight will steal it right back!  He flies off, and Suzune says that the
  guy isn't Z-BLUE's enemy for the time being at least -- the resignation that
  he once had seems to have vanished.

So no clues about Advent himself, but plenty of food for thought about the
Sidereals and their shadowy dominion over mankind.  WHY they'd go to such
lengths will have to be extracted from their mouths directly: a prospect that's
frightening because of the Sidereals' scale, but not a cause for despair.  If
anything, the thought of someone else taking away their future has Z-BLUE
righteously pissed off.  So it's time to head to Wrath Babylon, and this time,
to win.

Kodama has a lot to fill Suzune in on, but right now he's busy pondering the
undying Asakim and the resurrected Advent -- is their resurgence somehow
connected to how he just rewound time itself?

Back beneath Cheyenne Mountain, Ronan sits sprawled in his chair, ashen-faced
and agape, pondering how all of Chrono's deepest secrets and fears have just
gone viral.  Martha on the other hand thinks this is no big deal: the long
domination by the Sidereals is merely echoed in the current state of the world
with its Royal occupants.  Albert marvels that Martha, bound so long by her
noble family name and the authority it brings, would be so blaise.  Well what
does he expect her to do?  To fight, like all mankind (not just Z-BLUE) must.
Albert is finally leaving these terrible people's side, to search for his best
means of fighting back.  Oh, and he'll be sure to tell Lidy that Ronan is
pulling for him should he and Lidy meet.

Ronan mumbles that it's all over, but Martha seems to believe she can still
gather all the Chrono faithful for some kind of last stand.  Not so much,
declares Carlos Axion, who walks in and declares that the title of "King" means
nothing now that the Sidereals will surely cut Chrono loose.  No way the
Sidereals will help those who let the all-important Dogma slip.  It's for the
youngsters to decide what happens next, and at the very least, he thinks that
his own son's wish has at last been granted.  But now things get really tough.

Australis gets on the mic with a world-wide broadcast to the "foolish, puny
Earthlings", confirming that everything this Elgan Roddick said was true.  All
of them, dating back to their ancestors, have been the Sidereals' possessions,
and they live or die at HIS, Emperor Australis', pleasure.  O u mad?  Then
bring it on, he thunders: everyone knows where Wrath Babylon is, and he's got
no plans to run or hide.  Come, he says, and let there be a duel over the fate
of this planet.

This declaration of war against the whole world is really, of course, a
personal challenge to Z-BLUE.  It's a challenge that the reenergized Suzune
sounds up for: it turns out that she and Umbriel accepting each other (instead
of trying to nullify each other) was the key.  Not the typical outcome from
psychology, but a good one nonetheless based on Kodama's good example of
surpassing opposites.  Kodama is still lost deep in thought, which strikes some
of the other pilots as a little sad since Suzune is now finally back.  Among
his concerns is the Geminion Rei's new attack -- is it the power of Love?
Suzune smiles and says it'd be great if that were the case -- an example of the
new sort of freedom she's experiencing thanks to Umbriel's rebellious streak.
That also explains her new pilot suit, both more daring AND -- thanks to the
glasses she likes so much -- more expressive of Suzune's whole being.  Very
good that she's back, just when the team needs added strength most.

Suzune goes to have a private chat with Kodama, a sort of delayed tearful
reunion where she thanks him for saving her.  He promises to tell her all about
what's happened in her absence... but he still needs to sort through a couple
things first.  As she walks out to leave him alone, she offers one final phrase
before the door closes: she loves him.  Yeah, that's food for thought.

But let's not forget that Kodama saw her die.  And his momentary flash of
denying that reality actually came to pass, thanks to a genuine jump backwards
in time.  He remembers the sensation of all 12 Spheres being in unison, and
though he knows that they say that multiple Spheres can let any given Reactor
surpass their own limits, it still beggars belief that the full dozen can
actually UNDO things.  Nor is the use of such power permissible, lest the
timeline of the world become hopelessly scrambled -- and should someone arise
with no scruples about using it, they would... truly... be worthy to be called
a God.

Still no AG...


CHAPTER 47. To the Land of the Final Battle

Time for Genneman to hit the trail, and he thanks Otto for his hospitality.
Otto for his part has enjoyed the chance to learn how Jion fight... not that
the two sides are likely to tangle with each other again.  Genneman will
serve as Mineva's lieutenant aboard the Celestial Being, leaving the front-line
throwdown to Otto and friends.  Snapping to attention, Otto requests the
pleasure of a drink with Genneman once this is all over with.  Returning the
salute, Genneman wishes Otto the best Warrior's fortune.

Banarj and Mineva too part company, with Mineva's plan being to work with
Rilina to help quell any remaining warpower from Neo-Jion.  She appreciates
Char's offer to leave Hamarn with her, but even though Jion is soon to
disappear as an independent entity, she means to see her duty as a Zabi heir
through to the very end.  Banarj promises to fulfill Mineva's one wish that
he come back to her alive.

Sousuke has his own romantic(?) chat with Kaname (who's feeling back to her
old harisen-wielding self) and Tessa.  Kaname's Whispered knowledge has gone
out the proverbial "other" ear, but since Tessa's been attuned to the stuff 
since childhood she still retains what was Whispered to her to date.  Ought to
make her a pretty hot-ass engineer, in fact, which is one of the reasons she'll
stay with the Celestial Being's guards when the rest of Z-BLUE reenters the
atmosphere.  She's got a little research project in mind, using the Being's
extensive lab facilities.  Apparently the idea came to her while Kaname was
being held captive, and a little something Leonard left behind crystallized it
for her.  That, plus a little data from Noriko, might just save mankind yet.

Far below in the Eurasia Central Base, Sardias ponders how this Earth, *too*,
has been subject to Sidereal rule ever since its inhabitants first ventured to
space.  Dabalarn isn't surprised: just this one galaxy has over twenty Earth-
like planets in it.  Shikoku can't recall another occasion when the Sidereals'
regulation of evolution actually got publically revealed, whether or not the
populace in question was subject to the Sidereals directly running their lives.
Quite right, Dabalarn replies, and what's even more amazing is that the
revelation seems to have INCREASED the Earthlings' morale.

The fact is that the Sidereals are starting to lose ground, and even the
South American Central Base has fallen to the resistance's assault.  Shikoku
thinks this reckless assault is the product of ignorance of the menace the
Sidereals represent, but Sardias doubts the Earthlings have forgotten how
quickly the initial Sidereal invasion happened.  Presumably they have, he says
with a smirk, at least as much understanding as a child who knows that a
hundred G and a million G are both a lot of money.

Really though, it boils down to the Earthling's singular indomitable spirit,
and the attendant faith they have in each other and in their future.  These
are the very things that marked them in the Sidereals' eyes, and Z-BLUE most
of all for epitomizing the Earthling's strengths.  In Dabalarn's eyes, that
makes things very simple: defeat Z-BLUE and stun the Earthlings, and problem
solved.  Plus, once the Origin Rho extraction system is finished, any threat
posed by the Earthlings will be over -- just like the planet Gemini.

But will the warriors of Z-BLUE become numbered among the Sidereals, as were
the Gemini stalwarts?  That is, will they share the fate of the Haiades and
Kishuku?  What does Dabalarn think?  He thinks that Sardias is a fucking git,
and says that like Elunaluna he goes to whatever battles give him the biggest
adrenaline rush.  The Sidereals provide that, end of story.  Is he saying,
Sardias asks, that he'd forgive the Sidereals for killing his former leader on
that basis?  Through clenched teeth, Dabalarn dodges the question by saying
that Elunaluna makes all such decisions.  Well, that _would_ settle the
question, wouldn't it -- seeing as how she's said former leader's only
daughter.  And Shikoku's take?

Where the Sidereals head, there's fighting.  And where there's fighting,
there's dying.  To the extent that the Kishuku's mission is to guide souls to
heaven, they might as well hang with the Sidereals.  Does she not mind that
almost all of her species have been eradicated?  She might ask Sardias the same
question, and he says that unlike them he wasn't scouted as part of a larger
outfit.  There's hardly anything to tell of his origin story: homeworld
destroyed, put in charge of the operation to steal the Resentful Devil-
Scorpion, big explosion, second-in-command to that same Sphere.  The end.

Indeed, he was once considered in the running for Reactor -- hell, just like
Barbiel, he lost friends and family when his whole PLANET got hosed.  Makes
a man get a little hateful, but he's such an adoring bastard that he couldn't
keep the hate going -- kinda like Gadlight.  It's Gadlight's treacherous turn
that really has Sardias quizzing his collaborators, given how similar all
their backgrounds are.  In any case, Sardias reckons none of them have any
choice but to do the best they can to be satisfied with their current
positions.  Ergo: they'd better bust their butts to keep Wrath Babylon safe.
At least he's got plans for various members of Z-BLUE...

This joint operation by the three branches of the Kingdom's army is quite a
sight, but it'll be for naught if they don't win.  Fortunately, "losing" is not
in Dabalarn's dictionary -- which, considering the threat posed by Z-BLUE, is
probably just as well.  He promises Shikoku victory, and Sardias slyly asks
if it's really a good idea to offer promises to anyone other than Elunaluna...
especially since Shikoku is none other than Shikuu's younger sister.

This base is a crucial stepping stone to Wrath Babylon, and no matter how
formidable a barrier the three sub-commanders are, Z-BLUE vows to make their
way through.  Suzune doesn't quite apologize for her confession to Kodama, but
instead tells him that she wants him to save his response for after the two
Earths' peace is completely restored... unless he lacks that confidence?  Yeah
right.  Perhaps Sardias' little chat was good for his side's morale, but Z-BLUE
have always been good at making their own morale too.  Time to give the other
resistance fighters duking it out elsewhere in the world something to cheer
over.

It seems that the seconds-in-command are on a very short leash.  Kill a few of
their subordinates, and the three actual Reactors show up: a sure sign of the
lack of trust in the Sidereal ranks.  But they're not here to fight per-se;
rather, they've come to use their Spheres to control the Origin Rho extractor
that is the Central Base... the better to make a "magnificent" battle.  This
means warping Karma in this area... as in: Morale down time!

It's a limited pocket dimension whose physical laws only permit Z-BLUE to
express around 50% of their actual power -- a tactic that Elunaluna doesn't
like using... but Z-BLUE _did_ kick over the anthill by exposing the Sidereals'
control over human evolution.  Zero demands to know why they care so much about
keeping that a secret: if it were a simple question of halting human evolution,
the Sidereals have more than enough clout to just ensure that by brute force.
Elunaluna calls it an issue of "official policy" versus "actual intent", though
she and the others won't say more... except that Australis himself has gotten
pretty serious this time.  The Reactors leave their subordinates in charge,
with Elunaluna telling Dabalarn she "loves" him on the way out.  He's now
PUMPED UP and ready to deliver his boss a victory.

Z-BLUE's own Reactors are forced to admit they don't know well enough how to
use their Spheres to counter this new handicap, but one thing is clear: if the
team can't even beat the Sidereal's B-team, there's no way they can prevail
against the A-team.  Gai tells the team not to lose hope: a great power is
approaching.  Sounds good to Simon and the others, but Kodama is wondering if
this is yet another manifestation of "God's power".

Sardias is hoping that the sight of Z-BLUE losing miserably will make the rest
of the Earthlings miserable too, but so far Z-BLUE itself don't seem too
down-hearted.  Mail and Rand, if anything, are basically pissed that he doesn't
confront them face-to-face like a man.  Sardias is the sort who prefers an easy
victory, but when he tries to send a new batch of goons after Shin Dragon, aid
comes from an unexpected source: Glory I and II!

What the hell are they doing here?  What the hell are MARGRET AND XIINE doing
here?!  Well for starters, Xiine (_formerly_ of the Chimera squadron) is the
real identity of Chrono's "Queen" -- though only recently did even Kei realize
it.  Moreover, they've come with Traia on a new battleship, one which Dabalarn
indignantly says doesn't have firepower for shit.  Traia smirks that there's
more to life than the size of your "main cannon".  This ship, the Solarian, is
basically a system for manipulating the laws of physics... or in this case, for
altering back the laws of Karma.  The long-running experiment she and Earth's
finest minds have been running, with Kei's help, is finally complete!

And the power of their source: the Crystal.  No, honestly that's what's going
on: as AG triumphantly says, the thing is powered by Z-Crystals.  And from what
Traia can see, the united thoughts of Z-BLUE are more than enough to undo what
the Sidereal Reactors did.  Think of the Z-Crystals as a sort of battery for
living energy, and what Traia's done is basically figure out how plug into them
-- it's taken ever since the previous game to accomplish.

From the Sidereals' perspective, what's happened is merely that the battle is
back to a level playing field, and although Dabalarn seems a bit nervous now.
The Solarian's capabilities depend directly on the Z-Crystal's "grade" (which
you can fiddle with during the Intermission), and can be used once per turn.
Anyway, the point is that Z-BLUE is back to form, and anyone intending to stand
in their way is going to feel their wrath.

Shikoku has time to muse about the countless deaths she.s seen: enough souls to
even warp space and time itself.  Where is the multiverse that plays host to
such things headed?  Where are all those souls headed?  Sardias meanwhile is
faced with an interesting dilemma: if he wins, this world is over; and if he
loses, he won.t get to see what comes next.  A shame that there won.t be any
more battles to watch in either case.  Dabalarn, on the other hand, is totally
planning a declaration of *LOVE* to Elunaluna predicated on victory here.

  When shot down, Shikoku wonders if these are the long-awaited Masters of the
  Law.  Crow doubts that anyone whose day job is guiding souls to the Afterlife
  will actually die that easily.  Sorry, but he's got her elder brother to deal
  with now.

  Does Sardias _really_ want Barbiel fighting with so much hatred?  Setsuko
  isn't sure, but she _is_ sure that Barbiel's hateful ways are sure to lead to
  irrevocable Sorrow.  Likewise, Dabalarn has so much love-love power going on
  that it's unlikely he'd die here -- even after the beating Rand and the crew
  administer.

The path is now clear to Wrath Babylon, but perhaps more importantly, the
Solarian demonstrates that all these inter-dimensional entanglements can be
smoothed out -- solving one of the possible forms the Primordial Menace could
take.  What's more, Kei is the first to figure out who the third Key is: Xiine
herself!  ...Not that she got that title by choice, but then again neither did
Orson or Kei himself: all three were present for the detonation of the original
Spacetime Concussion Bomb.

Unfortunately, it'll take more than just these three Singularities to Dimension
Heal this world.  Unius 7 might have sufficed for the UCW, but this Multi-
Dimensional world is far more entangled, and has a different Greater
Singularity at its nucleus.  In fact, given how many worlds are involved, Traia
says that the team has to find an ULTRA Singularity in order to restabilize
everything.  What's that?  Nobody knows, sadly.

But the road to it presumably runs through Wrath Babylon, with the 120 Million
Year menace lurking in the background.  What fiendish powers will the Rising
Archer unveil?  Only one way to find out.  At least the team will have most of
mankind pulling for them: the effect of publicizing the Box seems to have been
to arouse Earthlings' ire, and that Z-BLUE can use.

Toby and Denzel have been serving as Traia's personal bodyguards after she
fished the two of them out from the space between dimensions (which is where
they ended up in the Greater Quake that made this world).  That role they
intend to continue, seeing how far Setsuko has come as an Ace and
standard-bearer for the Glory Star squadron.

Xiine tells a somewhat indignant Mail that it _was_ Chrono who picked her
codename, not her.  Had Mail joined Chrono, surely she would have been given
some codename like "Child" or "Baby".  Jokes aside, Xiine convinces Mail to run
along and get her some coffee so she can realtalk with Rand.  Xiine knew of
Chrono ever since her time in the UCW (though it went into deep cover when the
Logos and Titans went and made themselves front-page news), and while she knows
she can't exactly erase her past, she's been busy trying to craft a better
future.  G. Eidel Bernarl seemingly tolerated Chrono for reasons only known to
himself, and after this world was formed Chrono's King decided to keep Xiine,
original Singularity that she is, from the Sidereals as a sort of insurance
policy... though precisely what the old geezer intended to do remains unclear.

Under such precarious circumstances, siding with Z-BLUE was partially an act
of self-preservation -- and partially an act of faith, in the light of the
human hearts she saw at the end of the Multidimensional War.  It was her
decision to unleash Asakim from the ZONE, reasoning that the danger to Z-BLUE
would be outweighed by the danger to the Sidereals' Reactors.  Rand tells her
not to sweat it: his instincts tell him that the score has to be settled with
Asakim sooner or later anyway...

Crow and Margret are glad to see each other again.  Margret's been working like
a dog for Traia, on account of her Parnail's abundance of Dimensional Science
widgetry, but she's sure that her departed prince would have approved.  He
thinks so too, and is suddenly reminded that Margret said she had something to
tell him.  Ahh, but now's not the time for that -- not with Esther in the state
she's in.

The Solarian is basically one big Z-Crystal transport, and AG had to keep it
secret at all costs -- even from Kodama.  It's more than just Z-BLUE's trump
card against the Sidereals though, which is why AG's insisted on showing its
core to Kodama and _not_ Suzune.  AG knows that Kodama used the Quarreling
Twins' power at Industrial 7, it being the most Central of all the Spheres.  As
far as AG knows, the Spheres were originally a single object, until the Crystal
CRACKED for reasons unknown.  In the same spirit that the various Spheres align
with various human emotions, the Quarreling Twins seems situated to control the
others.  The Sidereals know this, which explains why they've been treating
Kodama "specially".

But even if all 12 Spheres come together, AG warns him against trying to draw
upon their power.  Suzune was saved because the various owners of the Spheres
all rejected Suzune's death... or perhaps (in the case of Asakim) rejected
Advent being the one to cause it.  Call it a happy coincidence that all
thoughts aligned perfectly then -- but any attempt to _force_ another such
conjunction can only lead to tragedy.  As in, the person who tries it will
become unable to live _as_ a person.

Take Esther for example, currently encased in the crystal.  This effect Margret
terms "Violation", the result of Revive Cells left over from the Dimensional
Beasts despite both crow and Yuusar's best efforts with their Spheres.  She's
become something like an ultra-miniature ZONE, with Revive Cells so thoroughly
fused with her biological processes that it's like they're controlling
Dimensional Energy in order to keep her body moving.  Esther can absorb
Dimensional Energy from her surroundings and manipulate it at will.

The problem is that the amount of energy she channels has gone up dramatically
since the last great Quake, and if left to her own devices, she'd likely
burn out her psyche without even realizing it.  Thus, Traia's had to put her
into a medically-induced coma of sorts.  But she's also the key to controlling
the energy stored in the Z-Crystals, an unexpected solution to a roadblock
Traia had long faced.  She doesn't expect Crow to like it, but she can promise
him that she's continuing to research ways to turn Esther back to normal once
and for all.  Such assurances are good enough for him.

Esther is only still identifiable as human because the Solarian's control over
physical phenomena is -- to some extent -- limited.  But if Kodama tries to use
the power of God again, he might face far worse.  And yet, Kodama knows that
he might have no choice...

Xiine's heard of the induction ritual for Z-BLUE, and wisely opts to get it out
of the way fast.  So it's "Sale, Sale!" for her, and she gets surprisingly
bashful when AG tells her what a good job she's done.  That's really got
AG fired up, and he comes up with fully 2kZ to make up for his long absence.


CHAPTER 48. Burning Earth

The Kingdom is having a pretty rough time of it lately: not counting Z-BLUE's
victory, the Earthling's joint revolt has toppled 18 Terminal Bases and 3
Central Basis basically in one fell swoop.  It's the sort of tactical collapse
that might make one question the wisdom of the whole "Points and Lines"
strategy, and predictably Australis isn't fazed.  So long as he himself is
around, even the loss of Wrath Babylon itself won't matter to his plans.  And
anyway, the whole invasion of the Earth was basically a pretext to get to
throw down with Z-BLUE anyway.  The Reactors have their orders already, so it's
just a matter of awaiting Z-BLUE's arrival.

Australis confirms to Sionny(!!) that he intends to handle Z-BLUE gently for
now (and has given Elunaluna orders to that effect), though he'll be mighty
disappointed should they actually opt to do as he will suggest.  Sionny, who's
here as an emissary of the Shadow Moon, isn't thrilled that Australis so
covets battle, which such a thing is so meaningless.  Sionny once thought she
was fighting for what she believed in: a lonely struggle that ultimately
consumed her.  But now she can see the seas and skies of her beloved Limonecia
about to be restored, and she'll do anything necessary to see the task through.

She implores Australis once more to rethink this, but he orders her to shut
her mouth.  He's about to demonstrate that what this galaxy needs is an
overpowering ruler.  Him, in other words.

The battle at Wrath Babylon will come down to a conflict between Sphere 
Reactors.  The Sidereals, Z-BLUE, and Asakim each have one-third of the total,
and with the Solarian on Z-BLUE's side it seems unlikely that the Kingdom will
be able to pull any fancy special effects out of their ass.  Plus, the Sidereal
Reactors can't just arbitrarily steal other people's Spheres, so that's one
less thing to worry about.

Asakim is the great unknown, since on the one hand his four Spheres' power was
enough to give even Gaiou pause.  And yet, Crow reckons that Asakim isn't
really Reacting with any of them so much as hacking in and extracting their
power by force.  On one level, what Z-BLUE needs to do is steal the Spheres
from the Sidereals, but there's all sorts of questions about whether they could
use any of them.  Okay, maybe Setsuko could access Barbiel's Sphere, but
outright overwhelming Third-Stage Reactors by sheer force of arms sounds like a
pretty tall order.  Absent a purpose-built mech like Kodama or Asakim's, it's
not clear how to steal a Sphere at all.

Absent some sort of definitive plan, the team will basically have to play it
by ear.  If worse comes to worse, the enemy Reactors could always be stuffed
inside a ZONE to get them out of circulation.  And anyway, this battle isn't
just about the Reactors -- it's the whole Earth vs. Kingdom thing.

The Sidereal Reactors are being held in reserve, all of them claiming to have
taken the loss of their subordinates in stride.  Barbiel does remind them
though that all of them, who've been promised eternity, have many more battles
to fight beyond this.  Perhaps, muses Elunaluna, but no more of them will be on
this Earth.  Shikuu figures this must be a very familiar scene for Barbiel,
except from the other side (which Barbiel isn't happy to hear).  What Barbiel
wants to do is collect the enemy Spheres and get the hell back out into space.
But before that, he intends to kill every last member of Z-BLUE, even if it
means losing a Sphere or two.

Z-BLUE doesn't see the Reactors, especially Australis, on the field when they
show up -- presumably this is a bad sign.  Elunaluna sounds pretty talkative
when she gets on the mic, so Roger offers to chat back -- so long as the
Sidereals start by explaining why they hate the prospect of evolution so much
that they expended all this effort to govern the Earth.  Elunaluna won't go
there, and it seems the negotiations are deadlocked almost before they began.

Whoa, hold the phone a sec.  What if the Earth and Z-BLUE were to consent to
join the Sidereals lock, stock and barrel?  While such an arrangement would be
free_r_ than the current mess, it certainly wouldn't equal true liberty -- a
fact not lost on the team.  Shikuu tells Elunaluna that attempts to persuade
the Earthlings are pointless, and it's pretty clear that nobody expected these
"talks" to go anywhere anyway.  Australis will be happy at least.

As the team psyche themselves for battle, Kodama finds himself red-eye free.
He's still not sure what the connection is between his eye and Australis and
the Origin Rho Extractor, so he'll just have to forge ahead for now.

  After a few bad guys go down, Gadlight turns up.  His objective is Shikuu,
  before killing him he has to offer thanks.  While it's true that Shikuu
  killed Annalotta, it's also true that he did _not_ kill the other Geminis
  near her, nor did he kill the unborn child within Annalotta's womb.  Shikuu
  sniffs that the last Geminis woman was his only target, and nothing else
  concerned him.  Thanks to that, twin girls (Anna and Lotta, naturally) were
  born, and via them, the bloodline of Geminis can be reestablished.

  But in any case, Shikuu is going down, then Barbiel, then Elunaluna and
  Australis.  That's why Gadlight stole the Spear that Shinji now wields from
  the Sidereals (and gave it to Leonard).  He supposes that Z-BLUE deserves a
  little thanks too, for reminding him what he was like before he started the
  drowning-his-sorrows jag.

  Why must Barbiel lose, despite all his hatred for everything and everyone
  (especially Setsuko)?  Because, Zero explains, hatred is finite.  He was once
  like Barbiel, but he learned that you're far stronger when you make something
  of your own, rather than trying to steal something from others.  Once again,
  Barbiel gets the pity-eyes from Setsuko, but she doesn't kill him.  He makes
  tracks, vowing to come back and kill her... and she, inwardly, vows to
  keep fighting him till his hatred is exhausted.  At the very least, he
  likely won't be able to get his Sphere juiced up anymore, from what the
  other Sidereal Reactors can tell.

  Elunaluna doesn't seem particularly broken up over Dabalarn's demise (after
  all, it was Dabalarn who was in love with her, not really the other way
  around per se).  If anything, she's sure Dabalarn was satisfied to fight such
  a studly foe as Rand.  But she craves the even bigger satisfaction of
  victory, and that simply isn't in the cards.  When she loses fair and square,
  she still says that Z-BLUE can't have her body or her Sphere, and skeedaddles
  before anyone can stop her.  Rand isn't worried though: retaking Wrath
  Babylon and freeing its captives is the main objective here.

  Shikuu too runs away, saying that even if _his_ battle is over, his people's
  battle isn't.  The reason why becomes clear shortly: out emerges a sphere
  thingie, which the Reactors say is Australis himself.   It seems their mecha
  are being repaired by Dimensional Energy, and they intend to buy Australis
  some time to do... whatever.  But Australis instead blasts their mecha,
  intending to claim their Spheres.  Perhaps the Sidereals' Spheres' power may
  be unusable to him, but he's got other sources of strength.

  To Barbiel, he offers a compliment about the strength of his hatred.  If only
  he had aimed that hatred at the ones who had stolen what he loved, instead of
  at the world at large, he might have been Australis colleague.  Barbiel is
  terrified of dying, calling out to Setsuko to save him, to the Gun Arless to
  lead him into the future, where the shining of the Sun will be his!

  Not so much.  Elunaluna notes that Barbiel never managed to hate the person
  he should have hated most.  A shame, really.  In her case, she's at peace
  with what Australis is about to do to her -- she's keeping a promise she made
  the day he beat her in one-on-one combat.  And hey, Rand and Z-BLUE have
  satisfied her lust for battle anyway.

  Shikuu is blaise as usual as he tells Crow that he and Elunaluna are doing
  nothing more or less than giving their lives to Australis, along with their
  Spheres.  Crow demands to know _why_, and all Shikuu will say is that he and
  Crow are very much alike.

  Australis then says he'll need a little time to master all this, and Gadlight
  yells for the team to destroy the sphere.  This can't, he mumbles to himself,
  be happening!  Takeru certainly seems worried...

  None of the team's attacks are actually reaching Australis, and when Gadlight
  rushes over to try to intervene, Australis declares that his fighting spirit
  is now ready.  He then declares that Australis is not his name, and orders
  Gadlight to give Gadlight's fighting spirit to him!

  So, apparently the guy's name is Vildark, and he's got a few too many colors
  of crayons in the box.  Gadlight is awed at this much power, saying that he
  finally understands how Elunaluna and Shikuu feel.  Vildark promises to
  carry out Gadlight's long cherished dream, but Gadlight is mainly concerned
  that Vildark ensure his two daughters have a future.  To that Vildark swears.
  Gadlight then bids a final farewell to Kodama, looking forward to seeing how
  much resistance he can mount with the Quarreling Twins.

  Once again: "Australis" is really the Dimensional General Vildark, once a
  comrade of fellow Dimensional General Weisslaber aka Gaiou.  Vildark has
  heard of Weisslaber's doings from a certain woman, who bore a message in
  anticipation of Vildark's arrival.  You might remember that there are four
  Dimensional Generals, all of whom were part of a plan to muster an army to
  fight the Primordial Menace.  That didn't go so well.

  But now he's got four Spheres under his belt -- even if any normal Reactor
  can only handle one, it would seem that the Dimensional Generals can handle
  several.  The main question is this: why would one of the Generals, who
  seek to overthrow the Primordial Menace, actually _lead_ that Menace
  (assuming that that's what the Sidereals really are)?  He seeks even greater
  power of course, and that means Z-BLUE.

  He gates in several Dimensional Beasts, and Z-BLUE rightfully wonder if he
  means to make them into DBs as well.  No need for that: while a DB is
  stronger than the person it was made from, its strength has no way to grow
  any further.  What he wants are warriors that mature endlessly, so that by
  fighting and defeating them he too can get endlessly stronger.  Z-BLUE turn
  his request to join their strength to his, and that's how he wants it: he'd
  rather fight them than befriend them.

  Vildark is supported by the Origin Rho extraction system, which makes him
  damn hard to damage.  Plus it's going to wreak havoc on the poor people
  connected to it.  But what it also means is that taking down the Extractor
  will sever his lifeline.  Vildark proclaims that the building is shielded
  by an Absolute Barrier, which the team experienced the last time, but Traia
  says work a smirk that there are NO absolutes in this world.

  For instance, when Kodama went briefly Third Stage, it became clear that
  his Sphere too operates on the sort of Absolute power that Vildark is
  depending on.  AG puts it like this: flames won't be extinguished in the
  middle of a fire, nor water washed away amidst an ocean.

  And so, Traia and AG make it so that all the people inside the Extractor can
  suddenly hear and sense Z-BLUE outside.  That's Setsuna and Banarj's cue,
  and with a bit of help from the other folks with psychic amplifiers, the
  light of the Earthlings' hearts permeates the battlefield.  Time to use the
  power of the "puny" humans to kick Vildark's ass.

  Could it be that Vildark... lost?!  Yeah, kinda.  But it's the kind of loss
  that shows someone how to get stronger, and in gratitude(???) he agrees to
  give the Earth back to the Earthlings.  But now begins the _real_ fight,
  and when Z-BLUE faces the true Primordial Menace, they'll see him again.
  Sionny can only pray that Vildark has a future after the battles he means to
  fight.

Reports pour in of the Kingdom's soldiers falling or retreating all over the
world.  It's both a great day, and a new pain in the ass as there's whole
armies that suddenly have nothing to do -- the Federation government that has
to be basically rebuilt from the ground up, Ley Lines and Bases to be
dismantled, the Dai-Gurren to track down... AND perhaps most importantly, the
lingering question of why the Sidereals so feared human evolution in the first
place.  Oh, and... a giant herd of ELS that just showed up from a wormhole
near the Earth...

So much for the Twin Tail-class beasties who were minding the store...

Kodama finds himself thinking of Gadlight, or rather, of his two daughters who
are now orphaned.  They have quite a legacy on their shoulders, and both he and
Suzune would like to believe that bearing it will help them grow up strong.
AG is watching the discussion, and managed to get a "Sale, Sale!" out of
Suzune.  Great to be back with Z-BLUE, and no mistake!  Now Kodama is the only
one who's not done the cheer, according to AG... meaning that Traia and Xiine
and even Margret had done it.  Kodama kinda wishes he could have seen that,
actually... and Suzune knows _exactly_ what he's thinking.


CHAPTER 49. A Voice Echoing in Space

The Origin Rho Extractor at Wrath Babylon is the same design as the team saw
before, but vastly larger in scope: 50 thousand people at one time, rotated
out every three days to prevent fatal levels of fatigue.  Unlike the ZONEs,
this system has overall negative loop feedback and isn't prone to runaway.
Well-engineered, in other words, but still something that Jeffrey wants to
ensure is never used again.

Cagalli and the other political leaders are grateful to Z-BLUE for what they've
done, even as Z-BLUE itself prepares to head off to space for more unfinished
business.  Setsuna, seemingly busy with stuff, dispatches Shinn to make sure
Marina knows he's still treasuring the flower she gave him.  Nanaly too gets a
visit from someone other than Zero: Hiiro is able to set her mind at ease that
Zero is in very good hands.  She tells Hiiro to assure Zero that she'll do
everything in her power to help heal the Earth.

Lidy makes a point of apologizing in person for the mess he caused in Orb,
though Cagalli tells him not to sweat it -- she knows that he was fighting to
save the place.  She of course doesn't know what he's been through, but she
sees that he's become someone who now has a goal -- and if there are things in
his (unchangeable) past that he regrets, the best medicine is to head forward
towards that goal with all his might.

Elsewhere, the team investigating the palace finds that it's been outfitted
with psychic dampers, the better to manage the Newtypes, Innovators and so on
who made up a disproportionate fraction of the people kept here.  In fact,
Setsuna's found an old acquaintance on the list and headed off to say hi, but
the cheerful reunion can't last long.  Takeru rushes up and summons Amuro to
the hangar in block 8: unidentified bad guys have invaded the scene!

But first, Saji, Louise, Takuya and Micott all get to have a pleasant little
chat... for all of about 30 seconds.  Then some dude who strongly resembles
Ribbons Almarck turns up, terrifying Louise with the Neural Waves he's
emitting.  Is this another Innovade like Ribbons?  Setsuna demands an answer,
threatening to shoot if the guy doesn't speak up.  No answer, so he fires --
with no effect!

...And no blood either, meaning that at the very least this isn't an
Innovade at all.  Presuming he's something even worse, Setsuna starts blasting,
yelling that either this guy is going down, or he'll run out of bullets trying.
When the guy does go down (first), he shatters into numerous shards of metal.
Hmm, a metal being that can emit Neural Waves... where have we heard of those
before?  Yup, the ELS's.  It seems a bunch of them have imitated humans and
invaded the scene in search of psychically-active humans.  Kodama runs up and
urges Setsuna to get everyone back into the palace.  And they'd better hurry.

Later, at the "Brains" research lab, Lloyd and friends are getting a look at a
high school girl Traia sent: Almia Lee by name.  She had been captured several
days ago for use in the Wrath Babylon system, but thanks to the ELS attack
about half of her body has been devoured by the living metal.  It was known
that the ELS are attracted to neuronal activity, but it's still almost
unbelievable that they could assimilate living tissue.

It would seem that the ELS preferentially prey on the various "New" humans, and
the immediate question becomes: does the ELS' appearance have anything to do
with the Sidereals restriction of human evolution?  Well, at the very least
the Sidereals' psychic jammers in Wrath Babylon have effectively hidden over
half the Earth Sphere's total psychic population from the ELS's, delaying their
offensive.  And now that the scouts have found the psychic folks, the main
force will surely follow.  Man, if only they'd waited a month or so until
"the System" has been completed...

The Buster Army is getting pretty depleted, and gladly(?) retreat at a word
from Kazumi.  To think that there's this many ELS's _left_ despite the Buster
Army's efforts is a pretty scary thought: if all these things attacked the
Colonies or Surface at once, it wouldn't even be a contest.  Hence why Z-BLUE
has to put the smack down, even though not all the mecha (such as the Quanta)
have been repaired since the previous battle.  Setsuna will do what he can in
the Double-0 Riser, with Tielia as backup running analysis on the enemy.  It
would seem both Setsuna, and Ledo, are wondering if there isn't some other way
than fighting.  None is obvious though...

  Some Vajra turn up on turn 2, and they seem to be working _with_ the ELS.
  Whatever idea Setsuna's pursuing, he'd better pursue it fast.

  Sheryl and Ranka kick into gear with Aimo, hoping the Vajra will understand
  that the Earthlings aren't their enemies.  There's no immediate change, but
  if at first you don't succeed...  Ledo, upon hearing the song, redoubles his
  efforts to defend not just his mothership, but the women aboard it whose song
  so stirs his heart.  He'd never heard singing before coming to this planet,
  and to him it's not so much vibrations in air or whatever, as it is life
  itself.  Perhaps the Alliance did see the Vajra as the same class of threat
  as the Hidiarz... but of course the Hidiarz weren't really the enemy either.
  So whatever he can do to help avoid fighting an unnecessary fight with
  someone, he'll do!

  That pretty much says it for the whole team.  Chamber intones that he'll
  act according to Ledo's wishes -- isn't friendship between man and machine
  wonderful?  It certainly is for Al and Sousuke; Al actually _enjoys_ hearing
  Sheryl and Ranka's duet, making Kurtz glad he loaned Al his Sheryl CDs, and
  Simon his Ranka CDs.

  And when it comes to Setsuna's desire to somehow communicate with the ELS's,
  Hiiro reminds him that while Setsuna might be the First Innovator, he's
  certainly not alone.  Oh, trivia about Aimo: it's a love song.  Which Kodama
  did _not_ know.

  Raise your hand if you know the first rule of government spending.  It is NOT
  that you don't talk about government spending: that would be the Brad Pitt
  view of events.  I'm talking about Jodie Foster, and the rule is: why buy one
  of something when you can buy two for double the price?  The ELS and Vajra
  were certainly paying attention, and their second shipment has the battle-
  hardened, but also battle-weary, members of Z-BLUE starting to sweat.

  That's Sheryl and Ranka's cue to redouble their efforts.  Sheryl reasons that
  if the Vajra and ELS are capable of joint operations, it must mean that the
  ELS -- like the Vajra -- are thinking beings.  With great effort, Ranka
  manages to get through to the Vajra and get them to retreat.  That gives
  Setsuna a chance to try to create one of his mutual-understanding fields with
  the Double-0 Riser, though as we know that mech's not exactly the same spec
  as the Quanta.  It's make or break time.

He demands to know who the ELS are, and why they've come.  What are they after?
It doesn't go well for Setsuna, and the ELS are in danger of devouring him
when Tielia lures them away with neural waves of his own.  He's adamant that
the means of conversing -- the means of having a future -- not be lost here.
He leaves the rest to them, and succumbs to the ELS attack.  This gives the
opportunity to recover the Double-0 as it drifts in space, and Sumeragi orders
a general retreat.  Yes, the Earth is in peril, but continuing this battle is,
according to the plot, impossible.

And, to underscore the point, some incoming gravity waves herald the arrival
of what is believed to be the ELS "main force".  Sumeragi says that she's got
a counter-measure for that, but once again, the team must fall back to the
Celestial Being.  And that's an ORDER, not a suggestion.  After everyone
leaves, Advent turns up.  What Z-BLUE opened, he muses, was not Laplace's Box:
it was Pandora's Box.  Hence why all this Despair has come flying out.  But
beneath that, is Hope...

Mishima is glad to hear Grace tell him that the ELS are very similar to the
Vajra, and wonders if they too can be placed under his control.  Grace
inwardly sneers at his high-and-mighty scheming, and outwardly says that there
are still several things about the ELS that need more study.  Just to be on the
safe side, it might be a good idea to ready the fleet to leave Earth space.
Mishima seems a bit concerned about a new Vajra fleet turning up locally, but
Grace thinks that that's just more fodder for her Implant Missiles -- in other
words, something that will make her side even stronger.

Oh, and one other piece of good news, while Mishima is gloating about the
ongoing collapse of the Kingdom.  It turns out that from the Vajra she's
controlled already, Grace has extracted enough information to pinpoint the
Vajra homeworld.  We already know that the Vajra prefer Earth-like planets, and
the ostensible plan would therefore be to bump off the Vajra Queen and make
her planet the new seat of the Intergalactic Government that Mishima thinks he
will lead.  And hey, that moves Mishima that much farther away from the Earth,
which those pesky Sidereals are unlikely to leave unmolested for long.  The
only thing privately bothering Grace is how the ELS's got all the way out here
from the galactic center -- is some higher power at work?

Setsuna's still unconscious, and some of the fellow pilots are understandably
having a hard time believing in his determination to converse with the ELS.
And then there's Tielia, cool exterior and the warmest heart imaginable toward
his friends... lately, anyway.  He's come light years from the mission-first
asshole he started out as, and now made the ultimate sacrifice.  The ELS's are
massing around a ginormous one, and what's left of Neo-Jion and the Federation
army are preparing a counter-offensive.

Man, these Baal bastards, huh?  Songs got through to the Vajra, so why not
the ELS too??  But Ranka shouldn't lose heart yet -- at least not according
to her pet(?) Ai-kun.

Now as for Tielia, well, it's true that he's lost his body.  But as an
Innovade, his consciousness has been backed up inside of Veda.  Fucking CLOUD
STORAGE, bitches!  Welcome, says this Ribbons-like Innovade, to Ioria's true
project.  He will be Tielia's, and mankind's, guide.

Oh, and by the way, that gravity wave was NOT, in fact, the ELS fleet arriving
after all.  Traia agrees to research that more on her end, and as she hangs
up AG notes that while the best he can do is stock Z-Chips, he really has to
wonder if mankind can pull through this time.


CHAPTER 50. Beyond the Stars

This Plan is pretty kick ass, we're lead to believe, but it won't amount to
a hill of beans if the conversation foretold doesn't happen... and that's
where Setsuna comes in.  Tielia is actually feeling pretty good about being
dead, insofar as he's now able to chat with... whoever this person is.  The
person is likewise glad that Tielia's here, since his very existence proves
that the person's life has worth.  Even better, the person has wanted a bit of
a vacation for a while now, and with Tielia in possession of full knowledge
of the Plan, the person can go slumber deep within Veda.

The person expected this day would come, and ever since the Sidereals came to
Earth he's had a new body and a new Gundam prepared for Tielia.  Ioria's
planning truly has gotten everyone to this point, but from here on out, they're
largely on their own.  Tielia is to accompany Setsuna on his great work, and
the person thinks that the future he spoke with Amuro about once, is already
at hand.

Setsuna meanwhile is still unconscious.  The diagnosis is brain damage caused
by the unimpeded flow of massive amounts of information from the ELS.  Is that
to say that the ELS' consciousness is too vast for a human to encompass?
Unclear.  The doctors have done what they can to encourage the damaged neurons
to regrow, but there's a possibility of lingering effects on Setsuna's memory
and consciousness.  Not good news, when it's clear to Alto that the only way
to stop this war is to get the ELS to understand that the humans bear them no
ill will.  ...There's always the brute force approach, which the team and
indeed the whole Earth army will have no choice but to pursue at this rate.

As the other pilots walk off, Hiiro tells Felt that he's positive Setsuna will
open his eyes again.  He knows Setsuna still has unfinished work to do, and has
never known the guy to be the sort to back out of obligations.  He asks her to
tell Setsuna that the rest of the team are waiting for him.  Ledo too is deeply
curious about the ELS, these beings so hard to communicate or identify with.
Basara sees in Setsuna the same sort of soul as himself.  It's not impossible
that singing could wake Setsuna up -- it worked when Gamlin did it for Basara.
Gamlin smiles and tells Ledo that it's not about how good or bad a musician
one is, but rather whether that music moves their heart.

Setsuna's next visitor is Graham, who's finally able to face Setsuna for a
normal conversation.  Too bad it's one-sided at the moment.  But Graham
realizes now that Setsuna's been busting ass in order to make a future for
everyone.  Graham once devoted his life to surpassing the Gundam, but really
who he should have been measuring himself against was Setsuna himself.

The Quanta, with its consciousness-pooling field and everything, is now fully
ready to go.  That shared consciousness effect is the best way Setsuna, or
Ian for that matter, know of to get fighting to stop.  Sadly, nobody but
Setsuna can really make use of the thing: even a psychically well-endowed
person like Amuro isn't the right type of mental pattern for the Quanta's
systems.  Amuro's theory is that the Innovators are actually a sub-form of
Newtypes, influenced by GN Particles in the ADW that the UCW's Newtypes never
experienced.

The Innovators can spread their consciousness abroad by means of GN Particles:
a far wider-range and wider _spectrum_ result than the Newtypes, whose ability
to communicate with _specific_ others is mediated by neural waves.  The
Innovator version seems to accord better with Ioria's vision of masses of
people uniting behind a common ethos, and might well be predicated on the
possibility of encountering a foe like the ELS.  Amuro remembers Ribbons, who
knew much of Ioria's plans, having an interest in how one would communicate
with seemingly communication-immune Others.  If Ioria didn't specifically
predict the ELS encounter, Amuro believes he predicted at least something
_like_ it as mankind began its expansion into space.

Setsuna, as the embodiment of Ioria's plan, seems to have a void in his life
that only communication with other people can fill.  That may be why he was so
drawn to the ELS's, and why the team need him more than ever now.  Especially
those folks who had been on the wrong side of Z-BLUE's crusades in the past.

The Federation Army is certainly having a rough time of it, and even other
Innovators aren't able to fend off the ELS's for long.  Z-BLUE shows up in
the nick of time to save Andrei and Katy and their detachment, and Sumeragi
has Katy go and try to reorganize what's left of the Earth's battle lines.

The ELS's core is, well, there's no easy way to say this: that's no moon --
it's a frigging planet.  Z-BLUE's mission here isn't the eradication of the
ELS so much as buying time for Setsuna to wake up and save the day.  The team's
got five turns by Chamber's estimation.  And if anyone is feeling a bit
queasy at the thought, Hiiro declares that life can be cheap, but none cheaper
than his.  And if _he_ is planning on busting his butt to stay alive, the
rest of the team damn well ought to do likewise.  Let no one forget: this isn't
teh final battle.  Especially if Traia's intuition is right and there'll be
more than just ELS's to worry about today.

And if Setsuna _can't_ be awakened in time, it may well fall to Simon to Drill
his way through the bad guys and stop them by force.

  A nasty surprise awaits the team after dispatching the first wave of ELS's:
  a bunch of mainline Federation army mech, the GN-X IV: parasitized and
  strengthened by the ELS's.  What's more, a contingent of Space Monsters also
  show up, and NOT, Traia is sure, under their own power.  Both they and the
  ELS's were sent here by someone or some thing else.

  Something about this lights a fire under the ELS's, which previously were
  almost passive in the face of Z-BLUE.  Now they're on the offensive, and it
  seems like it might be Drill time.  But Simon intends to hold off until the
  very last possible moment: he guarantees that Setsuna is the most dependable
  man on the team when the chips are down, based on what they went through
  during the Breaking.  And if Simon's willing to say as much, the rest of the
  team will add their voices to the call.

What Setsuna's been experiencing is a flood of all the emotions stirred by
battle: sadness, pain, suffering...  What should he do to be rid of them?!
He's then confronted by a vision of Richtendahl and Christina, who remind him
that everyone is trying so hard to change the world.  And then there's the
original Lockon, who tells Setsuna once again to change, as Lockon himself
could not.  Yes, that's it: change -- along with the world itself.

That seems to have done it, and Setsuna rushes onto the battlefield.  Zero
tells him that the circumstances are dire, and asks for his thoughts.  Setsuna
intends to contact the ELS core and thereby communicate with the lot of them.
But won't the same thing happen as the last time?  Not if Tielia, who had to
fly here all the way from the Celestial Being, has anything to say about it.
Tielia tells his astonished comrades that for an Innovade, a body is merely a
vessel -- but now, he wants to savor everything tangibly, just like the others.

Plus, Felt will be helping support the Quanta, which despite its magnitude
can't by itself contain Setsuna's vast love for the world.  In order to hold
the conversation, the ELS' resistance will have to be stilled -- and Simon for
one is all in favor of this kind of "slug-each-other-for-mutual-understanding"
operation.

  When the giant ELS falls silent, it's time for Setsuna to act -- except that
  five battleship-class Space Monsters turn up.  One of them begins to
  gravitationally collapse, powered by what Kazumi calls a Gravitational
  Fluctuation Reactor, and AG figures out that it warped here from Jupiter's
  moon Titan.  That can only mean one thing: it was sent by the Serpentine
  Sisters.

  Sure enough, their Kalandu turns up as well, saying that it was the power of
  the Eternal Topless that brought them.  Apparently the Space Monster in
  question is the long-buried "Titan Crab".  It was conjectured to be a Buster
  Machine from another world, and a project to unearth it has long proceeded
  under a veil of secrecy.  But apparently the Serpentine Sisters have, even
  more secretly, been dining on its flesh in search of Eternal Topless
  abilities.

  The Sisters exclaim that it's not a Buster Machine: it's a Topless with a
  lifespan well in excess of ten millennia.  With such power, they'll be
  together at Toplesses for ever!  Except that said Topless(?) isn't amused at
  their antics, and rather than granting them immunity, grants them death.

  This Space Monster clearly is abnormal, and that means an abnormal means of
  stopping it is called for.  AG locks on to the dimensional spot it emerged
  from, and is about to use the Solarian's McGuffin Cannon(tm) [my name for it]
  when Simon intervenes.  He intends to repeat the little trick HE pulled
  during the fragdown with the Anti-Spirals, and manages to bore right through
  the dimensional wall to liberate the Dai-Gurren from its inter-dimensional
  prison.

  Its crew are grateful for the rescue, though coming straight into a
  battlefield is a bit startling.  Only one thing to do then: Combine into the
  Ultra-Galactic Gurren Lagan for optimum ass-kicking.  The only problem is
  that the throwdown with the Space Monsters gives more ELS's time to
  concentrate into this area.  Realizing that the situation is dire, Graham
  goes into noble-sacrifice mode, ensuring that Setsuna has his chance to
  open his conversation.

  Tielia sends both Setsuna and Hiiro inside the ELS core, for reasons that
  will become clear shortly.  And "shortly" better be within three turns, since
  gravitational collapse is underway within the ELS, which will lead to a black
  hole in short order!

The plan is to link the Zero System to Veda, to be better able to manage the
flow of info from the Quanta System.  This will subject Hiiro to the same
cacophony that nearly destroyed Setsuna's mind, but Hiiro assures him that he's
used to tuning out "static" from his environment.  The Zero System was
originally meant to be linked to Veda for precisely this purpose, in fact, but
ended up installed in the Wing Zero thanks to a certain someone stealing the
tech from the Celestial Being.  The reuniting of Zero and Quanta, the two
long-lost sibling Gundams, is necessary to carry out Ioria's plan.

In the next instant, Marina senses that Setsuna is not so much fighting the ELS
as trying to understand them.

A black hole here would devour the entire Earth and everything orbiting around
it, and without most of the Spheres even Kodama sees no way of stopping it.
But just then Setsuna's voice can be _felt_ by the team, imploring them to
tow the head Space Monster to the ELS core.

Just as the black hole is about to form, the ELS manage to somehow absorb it,
converting en masse into a giant, beautiful flower.  It seems that
understanding is at last at hand.  The ELS turn out to be a collective
consciousness, searching for a way to survive given that their homeworld faces
destruction.  Their actions are coordinated by neural waves, and their
preferential "assault" on psychically-endowed humans was simply (quote-quote)
an attempt to communicate.  This similarity to the Vajra explains how those two
could get along so well.

And this flower they've formed is precisely the same flower Marina gave to
Setsuna: the greatest image of peace from within Setsuna's own mind.  And in
the center of the flower are the Quanta and Wing Zero: they have truly become
the embodiment of the original Hiiro Yui's "Heart of Space".  Not a bad
memorial for Graham, who Korasawar names the "Eternal Top Gun".  Hopefully now
the team can get a moment's peace, at least until the start of the next
battle -- a battle which will span the galaxy itself.

Elsewhere, certain people are watching these events unfold with interest.  It
is they who sent in the living metal beings, and they did _not_ expect the
humans to somehow make peace with them.  Aren't humans cool, says someone
who is almost certainly TT -- you never know what they'll do next!  Some
other dude says that at this rate the humans will certainly go from Evolution
to Apotheosis... but that Shining of the Sun is a light none are permitted to
hold.  Ergo, it will be their task to eradicate this world's Earthlings.  Their
duty, in fact.


CHAPTER 51. Departure Towards Fate

With the Earth Sphere free of internal foes, all eyes turn to the menace
lurking at the center of the galaxy.  After a month of feverish preparations,
the "Absolute Earth Defense Project" dispatches a fleet to the galactic center,
named in honor of one of the parallel worlds that contributed to the plan:
the Thrown-In Fleet.

The month went by fast, but nobody expects the Baals or the main Sidereal force
to wait around forever.  The Sidereals won't likely give up on the Earth's
rich spiritual resources, but what's more worrisome is that the Baals seem to
be far more numerous than even the last time Z-BLUE ended up in the Center:
a sure sign that that 120 million-year calamity is at hand.

It would seem that the ELS forces are willing to collaborate with the humans
to avenge the loss of their own homeworld.  Rossieu hopes that there's a way of
connecting with the Alliance, and Rossieu points out that if humans can get
through to the Vajra and ELS, they ought to be able to parlay with their far-
flung fellow humans too.  Rossieu will be in charge of Earth while Simon's
away, and plans are already laid to evacuate everyone to the green Earth or
even Mars if things get hairy.  Plans also call for the New World Continent to
host folks from the Plants and the Ocean of the Forgotten: long association
with the Beast-men means its residents are pretty used to foreign cultures.

Nia is determined to come along, having had her fill of wondering if she'd
ever see Simon again already.  Simon of course doesn't want to be parted from
her either, and promises that they'll throw one hell of a wedding celebration
upon their return.  Sounds like a plan.  Oh, and... Simon _is_ confident he
can win, yes?  "Who the hell do you think I am?!"  Simon, always and ever.

Watta's spent the last month in space doing odd jobs, as have the rest of the
super robot pilots.  There's a surprising amount of logistics involved in
coordinating people and materiel from three whole planets.  Not only has their
help completed all the heavy lifting ahead of schedule, it's assisted in the
rapid normalizing of relations between Earthnoids and Spacenoids.  The twin
revelations of Chrono's dogma, and of the fact that humans can even get along
with the ELS, have prided/shamed most people into working with their fellow
human beings.

Banarj has had ample time to chat with Mineva.  But like Hiiro and the other
principal Gundam pilots, he feels the weight of the Culture of Fire's
obligation to lead the rest of mankind into the future.  All indications from
archaeology on the Protoculture ruins suggests that averting the 120M-year
catastrophe boils down to taking out the Baals, who the ELS confirm are
originating from the exact galactic center.

The vessel at the center of the mission has been in the works ever since
the Time Prison was broken, though data from Noriko's mech has helped speed
up construction _and_ miniaturize things considerably.  Truth be told, Leonard
also indirectly provided some helpful data, which must have come from ruins
outside the solar system via the Sidereals.  Truly, this mission represents the
best that human minds can concoct.

Appropriate then, perhaps, that something dawns on Sylvia as the discussion
continues.  A "year" is the time it takes this specific Earth to go around its
specific sun, yes?  Then why do "years" keep being used to keep track of these
_galaxy_-scale events?  Great question, but not even Sybil knows the answer.

Meanwhile, this whole mess has Kiriko and Zero thinking about God.  First
Wiseman, then the ruins at Kaminejima, and now the whole Primordial Menace...
all of them smacking of the influence of Higher-Dimensional Beings.. the de
facto Gods of the universe.  What their existence portends for mankind's new
era is yet to become clear, but there's no argument that it'll be a pretty big
deal...

And now a message for the school kids back at Rindai High.  Kaname and Sousuke
have stuff to do, and still intend to keep their promise to come back home once
said work is done.  Recording this message is taking take after take, largely
because Sousuke isn't emoting enough, and in exasperation Kaname suggests he
dress up in his Bonta-kun outfit... only to be horrified when he actually hauls
the darn thing out.  Unbeknownst to many on the team, he's spent the last month
upgrading its weapons and stealth capabilities -- though Al still isn't sure
how effective an infiltration unit it will be.  Kaname is peeved that Sousuke
spent time on his little toy instead of going an actually socializing with
their friends, but as she goes to whack him with her fan, Klan takes a perfect
picture for sending to their classmates.  Horray for candid photography!  With
that out of the way, the rest of the well-wishes come naturally, including
how both Kodama and Suzune have evolved into more interesting people.  They
finish by promising to be back in time for graduation.

Shinji somehow feels out of place with the Rindai folks, and purposefully stays
apart.  He's not sad, exactly -- maybe a bit lonely.  Ahh, but Kaworu feels
sure that the day will come when Shinji's feelings will be rewarded.  Lark
meanwhile has decided to spend some time alone, having confided in Kazumi and
asked her to ensure that Lark will be left alone for today.  She'll be doing
a task critical to the fleet's success, but to make it work she'll be launching
some time after the rest of the team.  Nono brightens considerably once assured
that she'll see her elder sister again in space, and vows to clear a path
toward their eventual reunion.

Upon reaching orbit, the team marvels at Neo-Buster Machine #3, a
miniaturized(?!?) version of the one from Noriko and Kazumi's world.  _That_
one contained Jupiter in compressed form, and was configured to be a colossal
black hole bomb.  This one will use Dimensional Quaking to crush a target
area between dimensional boundaries.  In other words, it a ginormous Spacetime
Concussion Bomb, but one that's been brought to completion thanks to the
laundry list of scientists supporting the team.  About the only cooperative
body who hasn't weighed in is DEM...

The Earth should be well-defended in Z-BLUE's absence, with many former allies
of ZEUTH and ZEXIS still on the scene.  Plus, think Tessa and Traia, there's
always "that" to use as an absolute last resort.

Just as the Earth forces bid a formal farewell and retreat, and the pilots
make their peace by saying goodbye (mentally) to their loved ones, a contingent
of Sidereals shows up.  Z-BLUE heads to intercept them while the rest of the
fleet starts the countdown to departure.

  After the Sidereals we get a wave of Space Monsters, and not because Rand
  made a flippant reference to them either.  They're here because of Hardes,
  Zhul and the Space Devil... plus Corwen and Stinger.  Supposedly they're all
  sad face because Earthlings are about to switch paths from Evolution to
  Apotheosis.  Even Mikage is here, and... Vildark.

  Vildark says it's time for the Earthlings to learn the meaning of "Primordial
  Menace".  And by that he does _not_ mean the Sidereals, for they are merely
  Their servants.  The Primordial Menace is the victor in the War of the Gods,
  controller of Origin Rho and regulator of the nature of all the worlds.
  Summit of Evolution, jealous of any other seeking Perfection.  Oh, and for
  good measure, the ones who sealed the Winged away 120 million years ago.

  Their name: The Servitors!  We officially meat Doctrine and Tempty, eternal
  beings who've conquered death (which is why Kodama and the others were so
  sure they gave "TT" a burial at space and whatnot).  Crow remembers Eim
  mentioning the Servitors once, and Doctrine allows that the False Black
  Sheep had approached the Truth and learned of their existence.  Too bad for
  his puny ass that he got offed before getting the rest of the way there.

  Doctrine "The Furious" and Tempty "The Playful" are servitors of the God Most
  High, enactors of divine will, and both parent and sibling to all parallel
  worlds.  In short: the summit of all existence.  Graven into human DNA is
  an instinctive reverential fear of these beings: the same fear as when the
  team first encountered teh black Angerois.  Tempty says that all humans
  are like her children after they landed on the Moon and Chrono was founded.

  Oh, so they edited human DNA?  Sounds a lot like how the Protoculture first
  granted "humans" their intelligence.  That act of hubris is what caused the
  Servitors to mark the Protoculture for death -- for it was they who
  summoned the Spiritia-seekers from the Sub-Universe.  Suddenly it all makes
  sense to Simon, that Despair the Anti-Spirals feared at the end of
  Evolution: it's the Servitors!  Tempty and Doctrine call the Anti-Spirals
  a prudent race, arresting not only their own evolution, but also that of
  the humans nearby.

  At this arrogance, Zero demands to know if they are Gods.  If, Doctrine
  muses, one terms a "god" that which has power surpassing mortal ken, then
  the Servitors are indeed Gods relative to current mankind.  But in absolute
  terms, they're not Gods... in part because they're not stupid enough to
  succumb to such conceit.  Like it says on the tin: they are "Servitors" of
  a higher power, the one-and-only God Most High.

  Mikage and Hardes certainly don't like hearing this again after 120 million
  years, and it suddenly dawns on Banarj that it must have been one of these
  Servitors that Siam saw in the flames of Laplace.  As the masters of the
  Sidereals, it is they who truly regulate human evolution.  In fact,
  Earthlings are all slated for elimination, regardless of whether they'd
  submitted to Sidereal rule.  Unlike the Geminids, who were docile enough to
  control but fierce enough to be useful in battle (but still got their
  homeworld ruined), the Earthlings are simply too dangerous to be left on the
  loose.  The same went for Barbiel's race.

  "TT"'s time among Z-BLUE was part of her Playfulness, but there was a
  deadly serious reason behind it.  All the Spheres, and all the Sphere
  Reactors, belong to the Servitors.  Vildark _does_ know how much trouble
  he's in for running off with those Spheres, right?

  "TT" confirms to Kodama that the tale she told of her past was one big lie,
  calculated to earn his sympathy.  Did it work?  Must have, for all of
  Kodama's deadly silence.  Setsuko observes that Barbiel, with all his hate,
  must have felt pleased to be recognized and empowered by someone like
  Tempty.  Doctrine corrects her, saying that _all_ the Reactors are fated to
  gather to the Servitors, and Tempty tells Kodama to come to her: with
  Elunaluna dead, she'll make him her new favorite.

  When Suzune tries to stick up for Kodama, he tells her not to bother.  He
  claims to be glad, not mad, that there was no sorrowful girl who died in
  battle.  He won't, he manages to say with a straight face, give Tempty the
  pleasure of his angst.  That is a telling blow, but Tempty recovers quickly,
  saying that it's that positive thinking of his that makes him so fun.

  Doctrine also compliments him on such iron resolve: "Umbriel The Overriser".
  As well as "Hamariel The Star", "Velkiel The Heat", and "Zuriel The
  Unbreakable".  Doctrine orders them to come to their side, saying that their
  will is of no consequence.  When Kodama decides to put that to the test,
  Advent turns up and says that no one is permitted to harm the Servitors.

  And in fact, Kodama _can't_ thanks to the fragment of the Servitors' power
  he touched.  A power that steals souls and sunders hearts from the weak.
  Advent turned up when he first realized that Tempty was in this world,
  judging that he could no longer be bound by the past.  He, too, is a
  Servitor: "Advent the Joyful".  It's now clear why Gadlight was so furious
  with Advent, one of the people who destroyed his world.

  Advent notes that at the time had just been a carefree traveler.  He so often
  plays devil's advocate against his servants, placing trials in their path to
  make them stronger, as the Servitors' top servants must be.  That was true
  both for the Sidereals, and for Z-BLUE.  Doctrine seemingly has been burned
  by such tactics in the past, but admits their usefulness.

  One thing Advent did _not_ do is arrange for Kodama to encounter his Sphere
  in the first place: that was the result of a long series of coincidences.
  But his interest in Kodama really began with Kodama's mother, Megumi
  Ragnard.  A uniquely gifted scientist, her combination of Superdimensional
  Physics and archaeology led her to independently discover the existence of
  the Servitors from close study of ancient ruins.  Thus, she was punished,
  by being made to despair so badly that she strove to take the life of her
  beloved son.  What amazed Advent was how she somehow transcended both
  despair and hope by pure force of intellect, opting to kill herself instead
  and thereby save her son's life.

  Perhaps, Advent had thought at the time, her son would be capable of a
  similar feat, and hence suitable as the Quarreling Twins Reactor.  But to
  be sure, he'd first have to add in the despair.  And lo and behold, Kodama
  actually did encounter the Quarreling Twins Sphere, _and_ surpass despair
  and hope after all.

  By the way: Kodama is not, shall we say, unique in having his life toyed
  around with by Advent.  Throughout space there are "approximately"
  93,274 children that Advent has messed with, and isn't it nice that at least
  one of them is worthy of Advent's love?

  From somewhere deep in his chest, Kodama murmurs that Advent's given him
  some very good news.  Megumi really was a mother to him after all: a person
  he need no longer hate... or fear.  Hence: NO FUCKING MERCY for the ones
  who took the lives of his family!!  So much for the bloody eye thing, and
  Advent notes that Kodama is not the only one stretching forth his hand
  toward the Shining of the Sun.  Doctrine says that it seems that Judgement
  must come to the Earth after all.

  Banjou scoffs at this: what sort of "Judgement" admits of no counter-
  argument, consisting of no jury, no judge, only the executioner?  Well that
  executioner is going to have to work double-overtime to earn his paycheck,
  so long as Z-BLUE is around.  Oooh, so there's gonna be a fight?

  Perfect timing, given that the Meiorl Galaxy in world #23 is all in
  readiness.  What the Servitors do next is project a vision into the team's
  brains of what they claim is an entire galaxy being destroyed.  And
  unfortunately, AG is able to confirm via Superdimensional McGuffinry that
  a galaxy did, in fact, just get blown to smithereens.

  Kei doesn't at all like how casually the three of them seem to have wrought
  this incredible act of destruction.  Doctrine wasn't casual at all: he was
  furious.  Tempty was, well, playful.  Advent meanwhile says that, yeahs shit
  got blowed up good, but it was for the GREATER GOOD.  And he gets all
  joyous by serving the greater good.

  Well, that certainly pisses Z-BLUE off.  Even the more level-headed
  commanders start using terminology like "enemies of all living things", and
  it would certainly seem that the Primordial Menace is nothing other than
  these folks.  But the Servitors won't be throwing down with Z-BLUE today:
  they've come to activate the system that slumbers at the Termini, by which
  he means the Poles of the Earth.

What we got here appears to be giant crystal monsters, which the EVA folks
seem to recognize.  Doctrine names them El Millennium, servants of Judgement
which were buried at the Pole right when the Earthlings first reached their
moon.  And that's not their only present: they bring out a bevy of Angeroi
Arca's (as the black Angeroi's are properly termed).  Vildark observes that
the Sidereal Angerois are mere imitations of these.

The Servitors tell "Australis" that they'll forgive him his transgressions if
he steals the four Spheres from the Earthlings, but Vildark is having none
of that.  As one of the four Dimensional Generals, his whole objective is to
lay these Servitors low.  Indeed, the Rising Archer feeds off of resistance --
nor had that fact eluded the Servitors' notice.  Apparently that means they
were arrogant enough to assume they could win anyway.

Vildark makes to exit the battlefield, rebuffing Kouji's request to join his
power to theirs.  He orders Z-BLUE to fight under its own power, at least until
the day he comes and collects their Spheres so that the Servitors might die.
The other bad guys wisely decide to save the fight for another day, and
another place: the wide ocean of stars.  All very well and good, but they
cannot invade the Servitors' stronghold: Chaos Cosmos.

It would seem that the Earthlings don't yet register on their threat meter,
which the team will have to work on.  But for now, there's the more immediate
problem of those crystal monsters, even one of which could well lay lay waste
to the Earth.  How best to fend of all three??  Time for that last resort Traia
was talking about, and conveniently during ALL THAT FUCKING DIALOG she's been
busy on her celphone getting the Federation president's approval.

The team's got to hang on for three turns, trying to ignore the fact that a
hopeful departure has just turned into a battlefield of despair...

  For all that the crystal beasties are supposed to be capable of destroying
  the Earth, they're totally hopeless in combat if not given a chance to map
  weapon stuff.  Nor are the Angeroi Arcas all that threatening this time
  around (though there's a lot of them), and the Space Monsters are a total
  non-entity.

  Yet more bad guys turn up, just as word comes in that the "Svallin" is ready.
  Bright orders all Z-BLUE members to form up on Neo Buster Machine #3,
  vowing to explain later.  This system actually puts the ZONEs, plus the
  Wrath Babylon Spirit Extractor, to some positive use, creating a Dimensional
  Barrier around the Earth, which has the effect of hurtling anything that
  touches it into the abyss between dimensions.

Whoa.  This impenetrable defense is the second of the two pillars of Earth's
plan for survival -- the other being Neo Buster Machine #3 to handle the
offense.  Svel, or Svalinn depending on the translation, is "Shiver", the
mythical shield which stands before the shining deity that is the sun.  AG is
the one who floated the name first, borrowing the same concepts as the
Geminion Gai's armor.  What Traia and friends have concocted is a barrier that
distorts karma for objects touching its surface, preventing all interference
from without and isolating that within from the rest of the universe.

This is no panacea: not only does it somewhat resemble the Time Prison in its
isolationism, but it also depends on the life force of volunteers who have
chosen to man the capsules at Wrath Babylon.  Of course, people with strong
spiritual force to begin with make the best candidates, which is why folks
like Rilina and Nanaly are at the top of the list.  Unlike the Neo Buster
Machine #3, this system was thrown together in great haste, and given all the
technical defects Traia will be amazed if it lasts a month -- and don't even
ask about trying to simply reboot it.

So that's the deadline: one month, in which to put paid to the Baals and do
something about the damn Servitors.  And given how much trouble the plot says
Z-BLUE had with the El Millenniums and the Angeroi Arcas, it doesn't seem like
they're ready to truly throw down with the Servitors yet.  Still, it's not like
there's any turning back now.  Time for a rendezvous with Fate, where Fate gets
kicked to the curb!

Elsewhere, a familiar green-haired person muses on the Despair named
Possibility, the Destruction called Evolution -- how opening the Door closes
off the Future.  What does she, live in Myouryuu-Ji or somewhere?  Wherever
she lives, she laments that she can save "them" no longer.

Oh look, it's a doomsday counter and everything.  Just what I've always wanted.

Taking down all the Servitors lackeys is worth an extra 100Z, though AG is too
busy contemplating the long road before the team to do any Ace celebrations.


CHAPTER 52. [Route Split]

Lowgenome still can't believe the team is conducting a joint operation with the
ELS's, given what he'd heard of the difficulties in communicating with them.
It seems the original Spirals had had limited commerce with parallel worlds,
and the battles Lowgenome's forefather's had fought alongside the Protoculture,
against the Servitors, were already ancient myths by the time he was born.
Hearing that solves a mystery for Lee Long, who's wondered why the Zentraedi
seem so comfortable with Spiral technology: perhaps it's more of their species
memory at work?

In any case, here's the real talk: even the Protoculture and Spirals, for all
their cultural awesomeness, lost to the Servitors.  In this fight, despair
means death, just as surely as reckless hope does.  To prevail is to believe
in oneself, and put that belief into practice with all one's might, as Nia and
Simon have done.

Wouldn't you know it: the Servitors' servitors aren't just going to let the
team journey quietly to their destination.  A bunch of Angeroi Arcas stage a
two-pronged assault on the fleet's flanks, seemingly aiming to force Z-BLUE to
divide their strength in half.

  [To support Getter Dragon, go to 52G.  To support the Macross Quarter, go to
  52M.]

In either case, the bad guys' attack causes the team to exit the Superdimension
and reappear in real space.  The plan is to rendezvous at the galactic center,
assuming of course that everyone survives.

Meanwhile, Lark finds herself inside the Privy Council chambers, once the
seat of ultimate power in the Earth Federation, now a mere observer.  They've
been brought to the blue Earth thanks to a lot of hard work by Hatori -- and
that includes bringing Lark there as well.  Lark's acting apart from Z-BLUE
because Hatori told her she holds the key to human survival, but the reality is
of course somewhat different.

The elders have done their homework, and know that Lark is feeling distanced
from Nono and her overwhelming powers.  Lark denies this, saying shortly that
Nono is her own person, end of story.  Fine, whatever.  But Lark herself has
the power to move stars, and the elders want her to use that to save mankind --
even if doing so results in the Earth's destruction.  See, mankind is moving
beyond the age of "Guns" -- that is, the Culture of Fire -- and it's not
inconceivable that the next tier of its power will be something beyond the
Topless.  Something like, for example, the Space Monsters?

Lark answers that it is up to whoever survives this fight to decide what comes
next, and that's apparently what the elders wanted to hear.  To her they give
the Key, a power which not only can save mankind in general, but Nono in
particular.  And not as Nono's "elder sister" either...


CHAPTER 52G. He Whom the Gods Guide

Asakim is ready for some serious paybackage, which pains the mystery green-
haired girl greatly.  Is there no way they can get along?

The answer to that will have to wait.  The transition to normal space went
relatively smoothly, with the fleet (minus the Quarter) scattered across a mere
2 mega-meter space some one thousand light years from the galactic center.
Rendezvous should be easy... and fending off the Servitors, not so much.  Then
again, for Kodama things have already gotten easier just by an understanding of
who his enemies are.

The better question is *where* they are; unlike the Space Monsters, the ELS
weren't able to pinpoint the Servitors' whereabouts.  It seems pretty dangerous
to leave galaxy-destruction capable folks on the loose, though Crow and Traia
point out that if the Servitors _could_ destroy the Milky Way, or at least the
Earth, they'd have likely done so by now.  From what they were saying, the
Servitors have to "prepare" to wreak havoc on that scale, and such preparations
are evidently not yet ready for the Milky Way.

A bunch of Mikeene turn up, but interestingly they claim not to want to fight.
Instead, they congratulate humans on eluding the Servitors' trap and making it
this far toward the galactic center.  Why not join forces to take down both the
Servitors and the Space Monsters?  The Mikeene have been watching over human
evolution, prevented from helping by the "rules" of the Evolution game: only by
one's own power can Evolution occur.  Notice, for instance, that the Mikeene
never launched a true all-out offensive against the Earth.  The excuse that the
attacks the Mikeene _did_ mount were to forge the humans' fighting spirit rings
rather hollow, and the Earthlings make it quite clear that they'll not be
footsoldiers for the Mikeene in the Battle of the Gods.

The Mikeene don't want to hear that, and neither does Zhul's army.  Their plan
is to take these feisty humans out, keep the Spheres from the Servitors' grasp,
and eventually grab the Earth and use its power for their own ends.  Never
mind that the Earthlings are effectively on a mercy mission to the galactic
center.

  As the battle progresses, a shipment of Computer Dolls turn up, determined as
  always to purge the universe of the pesky humans and their "evil thoughts".
  This view of humanity is based on observing them in innumerable parallel
  universes, over a time too vast for pipsqueaks like Kappei to comprehend.
  Uh huh, not impressed.  If the Gaizock intended to dissuade the humans, they
  actually achieved the opposite effect -- the humans are so pissed off that
  their courage(?) summons Zeus.  Seeing that mankind has well and truly
  ventured to the stars, overcoming so many trials, Zeus declares that they and
  he shall henceforth fight as one family, side by side.  He tells Z-BLUE that
  the Gaizock, like the Antispirals, are in some sense another victim of the
  Servitors: their despair about mankind's future is as the Servitors desire.

  Are these really the last of the evil (or is it just "misguided"?) Computer
  Dolls?  No way of knowing.  But the way Kappei is growing up, any remaining
  ones will be in major trouble if they decide to attack the Earth.

  Even Zeus himself doesn't know where the Servitors are based out of.  What
  the Olympians know is merely that the Servitors have existed since time
  immemorial -- at *least* as far back as the previous 120 million-year cycle.

Time for a brief chat while waiting for the fleet to get back together.  Zeus
explains to Kappei that the Servitors seem bent on keeping anyone else from
crossing the threshold of similar levels of power.  Insofar as humans have even
the *potential* to cross that threshold, and thereby invite the Servitors'
wrath, the Gaizock seem to have decided that humans must be nipped in the
bud... or at least, that human evolution must be harshly avoided by keeping
human in a state of cavemanic existence.  Sounds kinda like the Moonlight Moth,
in fact.

Kappei snarls that he's not gonna sympathize with the Gaizock now, and Zeus
tells him that that's a correct way to carry himself.  With all avenues for
talking it out exhausted, the heroic thing to do is to not hesitate and allow
any further lossage.  Roger concurs, saying that there are a regrettably large
number of people in the world who simply will not be reasoned with, and whose
actions force the good guys to respond to strength with strength.

Zeus seems like a pretty cool dude, confident in his own abilities but NOT
looking to be actually worshipped as a god.  Unlike, say, most of his fellow
Olympians or Zhul and his ilk.  If nothing else, Zeus is certain that humans
will themselves ascend to Higher Dimensional status sooner or later, though
there are various conditions to satisfy that will require more than any one
lifetime.  Zero realizes that one possible path is to Collectivize people's
consciousness... as sort of "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em" approach that
was Charles' solution to the Primordial Menace problem.

Banjou meanwhile has picked up on something else.  Zeus had mentioned that
the Higher Dimensional Beings were enjoined to not interfere in human affairs
beyond what is necessary -- that may be why the Servitors have kept themselves
hidden all this time.  It could conceivably be a point of pride for the
Servitors to follow the Rules(tm), while looking down their nose at the other
"lesser" gods who can't do likewise.  Of course, the arrogance that breeds
tends to lead people to proclaim that they themselves _are_ the Rules, and
ultimately to what they please anyway.

But what, then, of the Time Prison?  Evidence suggests that it was created by
someone at the top of the Sidereal hierarchy, which would mean one of the
Servitors.  But Gadlight said that the Time Prison was meant to _protect_
mankind, and indeed the breaking of the Time Prison was the Sidereals' cue
to invade the blue Earth from the green one.  Banjou doesn't pretend to know
what's really going on, but if his hunch is correct, the keyword to it all is
"Sympathy": the fourth of the canonical "Four Human Emotions".

We've already seen "Joy" and "Fury" and "Playful", so it stands to reason that
there's one Servitor left unrevealed -- assuming one should put stock in
archaic naming schemes.  ...Which, given the whole Zodiac and whatnot, seems
like a can't-lose bet.  One can only hope that the Sympathetic one will turn
out to be on mankind's side.

Zeus wastes no time in visiting AG, quickly doing the "Sale, Sale!" thing of
his own volition.  And with that out of the way, he asks the question everyone
wants to know: what _is_ AG, anyway?  "Just an average DEM Agent robot" won't
work on Zeus, and AG knows it, but before Zeus can confirm his suspicions,
AG stops him: he doesn't want other people defining who he is (or whatever).
Zeus accepts this without complaint, but AG thinks to himself that he really
prefers not to be all grandiose where _Gods_ and their curiosity are involved.


CHAPTER 52M. Stampede to Destruction

Little is different from the situation on the other path, except that we get
to see Ranka refusing Brella's suggestion to retreat to Island 1 until the
battle is over.  Ranka's concerned that people might freak when they see her
pet Ai-kun... who let's not forget is a larval Vajra.  Brella honors her wish
to stay true to the Vajra that reached an understanding with her, and cautions
her to stay safe aboard the Quarter.

This time it's Space Monsters the team encounters first, and in the interest of
diverting their attention from Neo Buster Machine #3, it's time to raise hell.

  After a bit of throwdown, a bunch of Vajra turn up of the type that the
  Galaxy Fleet controlled.  And with them is Striker!  Does this mean that
  Galaxy has sided with the Sidereals?!  Well, after careful analysis Chamber
  concludes that the Machine Caliber they're facing now differs subtly from
  those used by the Alliance.

  In short, this is a mass-production replica of Striker, and unfortunately
  its AI has been mass-produced too: God complex and all.  Brella finds little
  to be surprised about in this turn of events: the Galaxy Fleet and the
  Alliance both seem to value societal order and efficiency over individual
  freedoms.  It seems Striker has decided that aiding the Galaxy's quest for
  galactic domination is the best way to see an "ideal" society founded.

  But how did the Galaxy Fleet stage an attack on Z-BLUE, so quickly after they
  Defolded?  Jeffrey seems to have some idea, but for now he orders the team
  to concentrate on the enemy at hand.  To think that humans are fighting other
  humans, even at this stage of world events...

  So with the fate of the galaxy (if not the universe) on the line, why WOULD
  the Galaxy fleet be attacking Z-BLUE?  The best the team can come up with
  is revenge, for foiling their plans at the end of the previous war.  It would
  seem that even with lots of power and access to alien tech, humans still
  can't easily rid themselves of their egotism.  Bad guys will be bad guys, in
  other words.

Just as the team is trying to regroup, Mishima announces that the Frontier
Fleet is going to be going their separate ways -- from mankind as a whole.
He's already signed a treaty with the Galaxy fleet, and with the power of the
Vajra he feels he need not fear the Space Monsters.  And if things get really
hairy, Grace figures they can just teleport to a parallel world.  Mishima as
much as admits that he hasn't run this one by his president -- who one has to
assume is no longer in command.

He calls his approach to hiding from the Kingdom "prudent" rather than
cowardly, and says that the time has finally arrived for the lion to awaken.
Sadly, he won't have time for a "trifling" end to his rivalry with Z-BLUE, and
means to head out to the new Frontier, which the queen of the Vajra will
defend!  Come to find out that the nearby planet is the Vajra homeworld... and
much though the team would love to intervene, the Frontier's impending Fold
makes any attempt to interfere quite perilous.

Mikage then turns up, wondering if the team understand a bit of his pain now
that they're about to be ripped apart from their loved ones.  He claims that
he's here for reasons that have nothing to do with Z-BLUE, but... since he's
here, and they're here, it's time to have some fun.  Welcome to the labyrinth
of Love and Hate(tm)... which boringly means the space between dimensions
again.

There's no sign of the Frontier fleet or of Neo Buster Machine #3, and what's
worse, there's no sign of any anomalies in the dimensional walls that would
allow the team to simply teleport back to regular space.  They're trapped!


CHAPTER 53G. Twisted Evolution

By now the two halves of Z-BLUE have figured out that they're on opposite
sides of the galactic core.  Word of Galaxy's attack on the other half
reaches the team during one of the few brief windows of open communication,
and Kira opines that it's very weird for humans to STILL be fighting each other
given all that's been going on.  Karen recalls Sheryl describing the abnormal
effect that Implant tech has on people, and it may boil down to irreconcilable
differences in world view: while Z-BLUE and its allies want to _communicate_
with the Vajra, the Galaxy folks seem to want to control them instead.

Every available person is busy trying to keep the mecha fleet in good repair,
and unfortunately some of the team are more distracted than others.  Nono in
particular is more concerned about Lark than she lets on.  Both she, and Lark,
are in Kazumi's estimation quintessential Buster Machine pilots -- meaning,
they're both overrreliant on Effort and Guts.  Perhaps Lark's rendition of
those qualities differs from Nono's, and perhaps Nono doesn't realize herself
how hard her "elder sister" pushes herself, but the other pilots can see and
appreciate it.

When Nono protests that Lark has never once said that she appreciates her
teammates pushing her, Kazumi notes that NOBODY likes to suffer for their art.
But without Effort and Guts, nothing ever gets accomplished in life.  What has
Nono worried more than anything is the thought that Lark might be heading
towards some kind of self-sacrifice.  Crow takes Kodama aside and tells him
that while kamikaze stuff is always an option, he recommends exhausting any and
all other options first -- the last thing Crow wants to see is his younger
teammates laying down their lives for the cause.  There's been too much of that
already.

In any case, the prospect of dealing with the Space Monsters is a daunting one,
even without the prospect of facing more of the gravitational collapse models.
Although Traia's whipped up something to keep everyone from being sucked into
subspace next time, it's certainly not a phenomenon anyone in their right mind
would want to face.  Would that there were some way to communicate with the
Space Monsters...  Nono's been wondering about that, actually, but there's no
time for her to explain.

Today's opponent is the Mikeene: an example of a foe where mutual
intelligibility does NOT equal mutual acceptance.  Among them is Garadoubla,
back from hell on Hardes' orders to put paid to Z-BLUE once and for all.  To
the extent that Garadoubla sounds prepared to take Z-BLUE for the serious
threat that they are, Z-BLUE can't afford to let their guard down.

  Some Invaders turn up as the battle progresses, and Nono finally gives voice
  to her suspicion: the Invaders can't really be considered "Baals", given
  that that term is reserved for enemies with which nobody can communicate,
  right?  I mean, consider Corwen and Stinger, who clearly CAN communicate with
  humans.  Garadoubla snorts that the Ravening Destroyers have been designated
  as Baals since the Age of Myth, but Hayato then asks "By whom?"  Err...

  Given that the Invaders too seem to crave Evolution from the Getter Rays,
  there may be some common ground there.  But so long as the Invaders seem
  determined to get their guns off indiscriminately, they'll still have to
  remain shitlisted.

  Waxing Garadoubla again isn't hard.  Doing it with the requisite style
  points (Tactical MAX, Placement +10% or better, and Maximum Break, all at
  once) requires a bit more forethought.  He at least is man enough to admit
  when he's beaten fair and square, and informs Z-BLUE that they are indeed
  true heroes.  And hopefully, they will be the ones to smite the Servitors
  with the Banhammer of Justice(tm).

Well, the Invaders and Mikeene don't last that long, but long enough for
Hayato to have a brain wave after Nono's little impromptu revelation.  His
theory, which everyone agrees is plausible, is that the Servitors themselves
are responsible for the Invaders being labeled as Baals -- and that some VAST
distance in the past.

Oh hey, speaking of the Invaders, Corwen and Stinger show up and praise the
Earthlings for making it to the threshold of Perfection.  Not, of course, that
they intend to discuss what that means -- Perfection is theirs alone!  They
then open up some kind of dimensional fissure, telling the humans to cede
their souls and iron bodies as they enter Oblivion!


CHAPTER 53M. Labyrinth of Love and Hatred

The team are ill at ease, trying to figure out how to break out of this
dimension as days crawl past.  Surely the vengeful Mikage intends to strike
when the team weakens.  Cue the discussion about Lark and excessive Effort
and Guts, and Crow's warning against self-sacrifice to Kodama.

Now when it comes to things that can make holes in other things, Z-BLUE has
the things market cornered and then some.  But everything from Simon's Drill
on down can't seem to budge the dimensional walls around this place, and
by this point Mikono and Sylvia have a guess as to why.  Z-BLUE is in effect
trapped inside Mikage's very unyielding heart.  Does that mean that just
defeating Mikage will free everyone?

Not so fast, cautions Schlede: curses generally outlive the one who casts them.
In any case, defeating Mikage is the best idea the team has, but as Jin points
out, Mikage will only show up when he's 100% positive he's got the advantage.
Sounds grim, and just the sort of thing that Fudou would usually help the team
escape from.  But Fudou's not here (as far as anyone knows anyway) and Amata
states that this is one problem the team must solve on their own.  His words
are just the pep talk his teammates need, and with their heads back in the
game, Amuro assures Claire that her charges have indeed matured -- just as the
two Fudous wanted.

Thinking back on it, Gen has always taken the tack of telling people what
they need to hear, rather than simply solving problems for the team.  That,
one supposes, is true leadership.  Claire muses that Fudou's students have
followed the path he set them on far faster than even he must have predicted.
The same could be said for mankind as a whole, but even mature people have
limits.  Limits that the team is now flirting with, as Mikage surely realizes.

Ranka, for example, is starting to despair for her life.  And though she
thinks it's unfair of her to do this with Sheryl absent, she calls Alto aside
and finally makes an outright confession of her love for him.

  [At this juncture, if you have enough "Ranka Points" you will have the
  option to accept or reject her feelings.  Much though it pains me to
  disappoint her, I'm sticking with the original plot.]

When Alto doesn't immediately go "thumbs up!", Ranka stops him -- strange
though it may sound, she's far more afraid of having The Answer(tm) than she
ever gets while singing during battle.  WHICH, apparently, is Mikage's cue:
the seed of hatred and jealousy has now germinated!  He intends to whisk her
and her unrequited love away.

Z-BLUE piles out onto the battlefield in pursuit.  Mikage sounds pretty proud
of all the heartache he's endured: bajillions of times longer than Ranka has
endured her little infatuation with Alto.  Oh, and even if Alto were to come
rescue her, she can't jump into his arms anymore -- she'll NEVER HAVE HIS
HEART.  Mu ah ha ha.  He tells her that her little stunt to try to sneak up to
Alto when the flaxen-haired girl was away was all for nought, and as Ranka
seems to give in to despair.

That despair he has long nurtured, waiting for the right moment.  Now it,
along with his love and hatred, will bring forth a new power: the Wings of
Darkness!  It's basically a black version of the Eternal Aquarion, which
perhaps ought to exist as the negative version of the Wings of the Sun, given
how long Mikage has nursed his hate.  The regular Aquarion pilots tell him to
fight _them_ if he's got so much beef, but to leave non-affiliated people like
Ranka out of it.

Non-affiliated?  Oh not so, for she like Mikage is a LOSER IN LOVE.  Now all
Mikage has to do is watch as the Baals ravage the universe, while recalling
the sweet agony of the memory of his days with Apollonius.  He sends in some
Cherubim Soldiers, proof that apparently Mikage things he can't lose.  This is
bolstered somewhat by his effect-before-cause long-range punches and his
subspace traveling abilities, but as Akagi correctly notes, Mikage won't stray
too far from the team in the interest of savoring his revenge.

  Z-BLUE are proving remarkably hard to kill, and that's only natural if they
  intend to stand a chance against their main adversaries.  That means the
  Baals in the short term, but Mikage is certain that even if the Earthlings
  could defeat the Baals, they can't defeat "Them".

  As in, the Servitors.  Tempty finds Mikage's heart quite easy to penetrate...
  almost as though he's awaiting rescue by his beloved.  A shame really: for
  one who's moved so far past humankind, he's still got so much of his
  humanity left.  Far too much to be worthy of the name "angel".  Perhaps
  "fallen angel" instead?

  Mikage rages that this is exactly how the Servitors sealed Atlandia into
  the abyss between dimensions, forcing upon the dwindling survivors a wait of
  a hundred million years.  Over time, only Mikage was left alone with his
  hatred of the world, and of the Servitors.  Now that he's got the Wings of
  Darkness, he means to smite the Servitors once the Wingless are out of the
  way.

  So. not. happening. is Tempty's assessment.  Mikage's got the world all
  wrong, and has only gone part of the way to Perfection.  The question really
  is, can the humans beat him and bust out of this cramped little world?  She
  vanishes again, in what Sousuke assumes is a demonstration of just how much
  power the Servitors have: to easily enter and exit a place as good as a
  prison for Z-BLUE.

  Mikage actually thanks the Servitor: now his hatred is redoubled.  But
  Basara advises him to knock it off: that song is too sad.  This outpouring
  of Mikage's soul is a song to Basara, one he can hear clearly even while his
  teammates are busy processing the hatred-filled acts they see with their
  eyes.  Hell, love and hate are both human emotions after all -- and both, in
  their way, equally valid.

  Yeah but, this Mikage assclown wants to destroy the universe...!  Basara
  sniffs that Mikage will just end up destroying himself first, and Setsuko
  (on cue) says that Sorrow is the thing filling Mikage's heart above all else.
  Mikage shouts that nothing can undermine his trinity of love and hate and
  despair, but if he'd shut up a moment he'd hear someone else singing.

  It's Ranka singing "Aimo", proof that she hasn't given in to despair.
  Remember: "Aimo" is a love song, and hearing it makes Mikage totally wig
  out.  From what Sylvia recalls, it's a love song that the Vajra can even
  sing to each other across dimensions, and maybe that's why it's even shaking
  Mikage's heart now.  After all, it's not like Mikage was the only person in
  the history of the universe to love someone.  Kaworu thinks to Mikage that
  all life goes in cycles -- it's time for him to find a new way of life in a
  new iteration through the dance.

  Amata may not understand Mikage's hate, but he can certainly understand his
  sorrow.  And he means to use the Aquarion to stop it in its tracks!  Doing
  so gives Alto his opening to retrieve Ranka, heedless of Mikage's accusation
  that Alto merely plays with love.  Alto's always honest when he flies, and
  so is Ranka: her songs are her wings, whether or not Alto is around to hear
  them.  And those songs are something Alto _can_ protect!

  Alto handily snags her, and she says that she always believed he'd come for
  her.  He murmurs a word of apology, but she asks him not to apologize for
  being honest, as she was.  Ranka for her part intends to go on singing,
  knowing that he's around to protect her.

  So much for Mikage's Love and Hate(tm).  What's needed now is a demonstration
  of what real Love looks like.  Crikey, "Evol" was an anagram?!  Sunnova...

As Mikage's heart was stirred, just a bit, Grace has been busy trying to fuse
the Battle Frontier with the Vajra queen.  The control lines are connected with
actual _cables_ so Basara's Fold Waves won't be able to interfere... assuming
that Z-BLUE ever reappears, which they haven't yet.  As for Striker, Mishima
intends to use her to fight for his Utopia to the very end.  And the best
thing about her is... no ulterior motives.

Mishima pulls a gun on Grace, saying that he's figured out she was lying about
being the only survivor from the Galaxy fleet.  His men have already captured
or killed all the Implant soldiers loyal to her, and the bridge is surrounded.
There's nowhere to run, or hide.  Grace allows that she's underestimated
Mishima, and Mishima says that his long days of humiliation since the previous
war have made him strong... Hell, he'd probably better give some of the credit
to Z-BLUE themselves.

He tells Grace that this really is goodbye: with the Galaxy fleet long gone,
there'll be no bodies to download backups of her personality into.  Too bad
she's not a more abstract being, like Striker, or she might have survived.
Mishima orders her body dumped like so much rubbish, thinking that he's now
in absolute control.  And very soon, he'll be the ruler of the galaxy!


CHAPTER 54G. Flash!  The Other Side of Dimensions...

The dimensional fissure looks oddly, "biological" in nature.  For starters, it
appears to have teeth.  The Invaders sound quite proud of how this gaping maw
is about to convert this whole dimension to "nihl", but it's not like the
Invaders themselves are Nihilistic (like Shikuu).  It's this dimension itself,
says Crow.  See, the nihilism within Shikuu is something that would never
really manifest externally in a human -- but Shikuu and his people had a
special relationship with death due to their ability to guide souls to their
repose.  Thus Shikuu's unusual ability to achieve the requisite Nihilism to
activate his Sphere.

That Nihl is, say the Invaders, the primordial state of the world prior to the
Universe's beginning, and is at the basis of their own being.  It's a very
different starting point from where humanity came from, and explains why Getter
Rays -- which cause Evolution along whatever direction -- made the Invaders
evolve in radically different ways than mankind.  And why, Tempty says when she
shows up, the Invaders will never evolve beyond their Ravenous Destruction.

Tempty owns up to establishing the Invaders' reputation as Baals, but says it's
their own fault for only evolving aggression in response to all those tasty
Getter Rays.  No Perfection lies in their future, no Godhood.  So if they can't
be Gods, why not be Demons, i.e. Baals?  And if you stop and think about it,
does the power of Nihl really differ from the Space Monsters' power to
"Destroy"?  This infuriates the Invaders, who warn that she can't get away with
this, not in their Nihl-space.  Okay fine, she says, even agreeing to help them
_try_ to take out the humans.

This means sending in a shipment of Space Monsters, and though the Invaders
hate to admit it, it does give them a good chance to pile on and assail the
humans with troops of their own.  And if the Invaders hate being labeled Baals,
their actions certainly don't reflect it.  They hide behind their troops,
apparently in a bid to build up their Nihilism and then stage a definitive
attack...

  After watching bunches of their lackeys die, Corger (or is it Stingwen?) do
  their combining thing -- AND clone themselves for good measure, since this is
  their dimension and it comports to their will.  Here, they can use
  Dimensional Energy at will; the fact that the Earthlings can't seems to be
  proof that the Getter Rays have chosen the Invaders, at least in their minds.
  But not to worry: the Earthlings will obtain Eternity too, once the Invaders
  have assimilated them.

  Not so much.  It no longer matters whether the Invaders went bad because
  the Servitors branded them Baals, or whether that label was given in earnest.
  In either case, Z-BLUE won't allow anyone to live who insists on stealing the
  lives of others.

  Why, oh why can't the Invaders win?!  Well, for starters they decided of
  their own volition to pick a fight with the rest of the universe's living
  beings.  Corwen and Stinger simply can't comprehend why they aren't the
  chosen of the Getter Rays, so Saotome has to turn up and give them one final
  lesson.

  He has become one with the Getter Rays now, and implores his former comrades
  in science to remember their former lives.  They need only one thing to
  complete their journey: the desire to live together in peace.  He originally
  built Getter Robo, with its three pilot system, as a testament to this
  universal truth.  Thus can puny individual lives overcome the endless
  blackness of space.  In other words, Saotome and his fellows were practicing
  the very thing that the Invaders needed most, without even fully
  realizing it.  So moving!

But now that Corwen and Stinger are freed from their Nihilism, their whole Nihl
Space begins to collapse.  Ryouma and his teammates charge into the center of
the collapse, determined to make the Getter Rays do something for _them_ for a
change.  Ryouma is prepared to give up his life if need be -- and it won't need
be, though there's plenty of flames emerging from Getter Robo to make one worry
that his life is in danger.

What's really going on is that Ryouma is in psychic contact with the Getter
army and its leader: no mere illusion from Shin Shine Spark.  The leader tells
Ryouma that, for a moment the power of his life force, striving to live,
surpassed the Invaders' desire to obliterate.  One door opened, along the path
to truly winning survival... and not just for Ryouma either.  The entire team's
will was united, so the entire team gets to marvel at all the Getters.

It seems that ALL the Getters from all the parallel universes are gathered
here, and piloting them are all the parallel Ryoumas.  The spokesman says that
with all the cool dudes on Z-BLUE, it's no wonder Ryouma was chosen.  Ryouma
corrects him: they're not _chosen_, he chose for himself!  Well-said, and the
spokesman says that they'll meet again and fight again at the End of the
Myth: the time when all worlds will become one and a new world will begin.

But for now, it's back to normal space and a reunion with the Macross Quarter,
and the rest of the Thrown-In Fleet, Neo Buster Machine #3 included.  It is
officially time for throwdown with the Space Monsters!  ...That is, after the
pilots explain what happened on the other path.  With everything settled, even
the three-way relationship with Alto, Sheryl and Ranka, all is truly in
readiness.

Ryouma's got more on his mind than he's prepared to let on to his teammates.
The sensation he felt was different from that of Stoner Sunshine or Shine
Spark; if anything, it was more like he became _one_ with his mech.  What _is_
that all about anyway?

Well, Traia and AG have something special planned for all the Z-Chips, though
Traia isn't sure that she'll get the chance to use whatever it is.  Still,
there's nothing like the power of positive thinking, and of the "Sale, Sale!"
chant...


CHAPTER 54M. Loving Wings

The team find themselves on the Vajra homeworld, near what turns out to be
the wreckage of Island 1.  Jeffrey figures it must have been in a dogfight with
Vajra not under Mishima's control and crashed -- sans the Battle Frontier.
_That_ is also nearby, and by the looks of it it's mechanically fused with the
Vajra queen.  Mishima did _not_ expect Z-BLUE to Fold directly to his location,
especially since he doesn't yet have complete control over this abominable
amalgamation.

To buy time for that, he dispatches a bunch of mass-production Strikers and
Vajra he can control.  There seem to be two choices here: lose and let Mishima
get control of Vajra everywhere, or win and open the path to the center of the
galaxy.  And, given that Mikage isn't actually defeated yet, one imagines that
Z-BLUE will have to deal with him too.  Perfect: one less foe to have lying
around for later.

Alto doesn't sortie with the rest of the team though: he's busy still chatting
with Ranka.  Ranka feels sure that Sheryl somehow called the team here, having
heard her singing when Mikage's dimension collapsed.  Alto heard it too, and
he believes Sheryl was calling for help.  Ranka intends to go looking for
Sheryl inside Island 1 while Alto fights to keep everyone safe.  He promises
Ranka he'll be back, since they and Sheryl have a lot to talk about.  They've
got their whole lives ahead of them, and whatnot.

Everyone knows that this battle hinges on the two singers: the Superdimensional
Cinderella and the Galactic Fairy make one unbeatable duo.  And even Jeffrey
bellows that rest of their team better put their whole asses into the fight as
well.  Time to save all mankind!

  Take out all the Striker clones and the original shows up, still convinced
  that the societal vision Mishima is peddling sounds like an ideal world for
  the humans.  Ledo counters that there's no place for "human-like" humans in
  such a world, by which he means people who can live as he himself is now.  No
  doubt Striker can't comprehend what makes Ledo mad, or makes him feel driven
  to protect others.  Chamber quite concurs: there's no way Striker could begin
  to understand what it means to be "human".

  What Striker takes from all this is that human emotions can and should be
  excluded entirely.  Mikage pops up and agrees: if there're no emotions,
  there'll be no suffering.  Apparently it's Finale time, and Basara busts out
  a particularly soulful song that Striker still can't fathom.  AS IF she could
  ever be a god for humankind!  Time for Ledo and Chamber to teach Striker what
  humans and machines are really like when they cooperate.

  And as for Mikage, well, it's time to put the battle with him to rest at long
  last.  Mikage actually enjoys the prospect of battle, and even though it
  sounds like he expects to lose, he promises to lay flowers on Earth's grave
  first!

  Striker's destruction is, for Ledo, the destruction of the central idea
  behind the Alliance's dominance: a human-made system that denies the rights
  of humans.  He's more relieved than overjoyed, and sincerely hopes he can one
  day take Amy to the Alliance to show them all how humans can be when allowed
  to live properly.

  Mikage wants no words of sympathy from Amata, only his all-out effort.
  Amata says he vaguely remembers watching Mikage -- that is, Touha -- at
  Apollonius' side.  They seemed very happy then.  Mikage says that that is
  all in the past, and since he seems to want help putting that past to bed,
  Amata will gladly oblige.

It seems the time has finally come for Mikage to sleep, and some of his
comrades turn up to see him off.  Among them is Fudou, who is IN FACT the one,
the only, Apollonius!  He's been hiding himself all this time to elude the
Servitors' notice, though that's not much of an excuse for denying HOT LOVINGS
to Mikage.  Touha wants Mikage to return to his rightful place within her to
slumber, and says that she will _not_ succumb to despair just because a little
hatred gets re-introduced to the mix.

She's learned a lot by watching the humans fight, and is now certain that a
new era is here.  One the humans can be trusted to manage.  With Mikage inside
Touha, Fudou tells Touha to join with him in person.  Touha can't refuse,
despite being "betrayed" by him twice -- why does he feel so warm to her?
Harmony is supposed to feel good, he replies: such is the means of Perfection.
Or, to use a more edible analogy: anything, including "nothing", can be
encircled to make a donut.  Just by joining hands, nothingness becomes
something-ness: his final lesson to his students.

Thus, with the book finished on the doings of the blue Earth, a new journey
will begin!  One has to note that they got out while the getting was good,
since with the fall of Striker and Mikage, the only thing left for the team
to do is put a stop to Mishima.

Mishima meanwhile is gloating over how he's been bought enough time to get
everything ready for his grand plan to rule the universe.  This comes to a
rather abrupt halt when a couple of soldiers come up and summarily shoot the
bastard, saying that he's of no further use.  It seems that the "Fleet
Commanders" are now pulling the strings, even though the Frontier "fleet"
really isn't worthy of the name anymore.

It was the Controller who leaked the plans to Mishima to catch him off guard,
and even at the very end he didn't realize he was being played for a sucker.
Grace hasn't been tossed in the garbage yet, but one of the commanders declares
that she might as well be, now that she too is useless to them.  It turns out
that "they" are a plural being, made of fused consciousnesses that they think
is the shape of Perfect things to come for mankind.

They figured out to try this from records left in the Protoculture ruins, and
when they reveal themselves to Z-BLUE it's a pretty big shock.  And a major
shame: the Commanders are so obsessed with Perfection that they've forgotten
their humanity somewhere along the line.

Maybe Basara should like, start singing and help neutralize all the Vajra?
Sure, but it won't be just him on the mic.  Sheryl is still inside Island 1,
hanging out in her memories in the opera house where she and Alto first met.
Her praise for him, as feminine as any Heavenly Maiden, drew smiles from Alto's
dad at the time.  But it was also the moment of inspiration for her career as
a singer: she wanted to be every bit as good as the incredible boy actor she
witnessed that day.

All this dreaming was occasioned by a bump on the head from when the whole damn
colony crashed, but Ranka is able to rouse her and get her to where the other
promoter staff are.  Sheryl knows that now's not the time to be dwelling in the
past, especially given that her songs are needed.  But how to throw a concert
with the whole place in shambles?

Leave that to Grace, who apparently is REALLY hard to kill.  She's set up Fold
Amps on the stage of the nearby church, apparently FINALLY free of the
influence of her Implants after getting shot.  Her original motivation had
been revenge on the Vajra, using anyone and anything to get her way.  But
somewhere along the line, Sheryl's songs stole her heart.  This will be her
last show as producer of the Twinkle Project, and is grateful when Sheryl
agrees to give Grace the concert she wants before Grace dies.

The singers' feelings are pretty easy to receive, even without the fancy A/V
setup.  Alto now realizes that Sheryl was the little girl who he met way back
when, and the Vajra are like "Whoa damn, is _that_ who's been hanging with
Ai-kun all this time??"  The other Vajra amscray, leaving the Commanders to
deal with an increasingly restless Queen...

  As the Commanders solidify their control over the Queen, Z-BLUE gets treated
  to a new shipment of Vajra.  To counter this new threat, Basara tells the
  rest of the team to add their voices to the song: everyone has equal access
  to the power of life.  The team recalls doing this before, and as voices are
  raised the Commanders detect weak fold waves coming from everyone.  Is the
  entirety of Z-BLUE infected with V-type Contamination?!  Nope, says Fudou:
  it's about the transcendent power of songs.  And when the singers are a bunch
  of people about to grasp the Truth, that transcendence shakes dimensions.

  A new herd of Vajra turn up: the ones from the previous war.  They promptly
  convince the Queen.s herd to leave again.  But WHY, whine the Commanders.
  Fudou repeats that "Aimo" is a love song, and the Commanders reply "So the
  fuck WHAT?!"  Well, it's because these Vajra originally came to this world
  for HOT LOVINGS with those other Vajra: the Commanders aren't going to be
  able to overcome that.  In both the previous war and in this one, the Vajra
  were just trying to defend people they thought they were their friends,
  blindly drawn to the songs before eventually figuring out what's really going
  on.

  Even Ai-kun is part of getting the message through to this herd of Vajra, and
  flies off with Ranka hoping to see him(?) again one day.  As word finally
  comes in that the rest of the Macross 7 fleet is on hand, Jeffrey yells that
  it's GO TIME.  A whole shitload of Macross cannon-fire later, the Commanders
  lose their ability to use their Vajra summoning system, and Jeffrey is given
  full tactical command.  And when the Commanders try to send out an AI-driven
  plane to take down Sheryl and Ranka, Alto flies off to save them and
  basically starts glowing as he dances in the skies.  The Queen is now
  defenseless!

  And the Commanders figure that out pretty quickly.  They intend to use the
  Queen's Fold ability to escape, but Alto won't let them get away with that.
  Brella directs him to fire on the enemy bridge, and shortly after the
  Commanders are confirmed dead, the Queen's power begins to run amok.  Even
  AG has no idea what havoc the wide-range Fold is about to wreak, but Alto
  refuses the order to retreat with the rest of the team.  He intends to stay
  with the Vajra queen as proof to the other Vajra that the humans aren't their
  enemies.  Can anything be done to save him?

Sure, using the Fold Wave System his mech is equipped with!  Time for a little
performing-arts transcendence.  He apologizes again to Ranka for not being able
to answer her feelings, adding that he's grateful for her sending them anyway.
To Sheryl, he finally says he loves her, but she tells him to save that for
when he's back in her arms.  The rest of Z-BLUE (somehow on the party line for
this chat) agree, reminding Alto that his mech can make wishes real.  So WISH,
dammit!

He does, and the Queen safely teleports away while leaving Alto, intact,
behind.  Alto sensed no hostility from the Queen on her way out, and it seems a
safe bet that the two herds of Vajra will have a nice commingling session and
birth a new generation who will be closer in understanding to the humans yet.

Sounds like everyone including the Frontier president are basically okay, and
as the rest of Z-BLUE and the Thrown-In Fleet turn up, the team can finally
get back to their original mission.  ...Well, after a debrief of what happened
on the other path.  Alto has a lot on his mind, especially the strange
sensation he had during Fold Waving that the YF-29's wings were literally part
of his body.  What's up with _that_?

Traia and AG also have the same conversation as on the other side.


CHAPTER 55. Galaxy Death-match

[I kept the "G" route".]

What has all the ass-busting needed to reach the galactic center earned the
team?  So far, only the right to lose disgracefully to the Baals, who -- from
the ELS' latest information, have just commenced their assault on numerous
parts of the galaxy at once.  All signs point to a full-scale assault in the
near future, accompanied by the complete collapse of spacetime throughout the
galaxy: that whole 120 million-year calamity we keep hearing about.

All the action is centered around the gravitational anomaly at the galactic
center, which Traia calls the "Great Attractor".  The connection between the
Baals and the spacetime collapse is clear from Leonard's research into
non-consensual Dimension Healing -- which if you recall required the
elimination of conflicting living wills as a first step.  Even _unliving_ will
matters here (the will latent in material objects and even in physical law),
but Traia will save the tl;dr for another time.

When it comes to weakening the power of living things, there are few methods
more effective than extinguishing stars: bundles of living energy that they
are.  Remember where the Space Monsters lay their eggs?  Yup.  Upon reflection,
the "preparations" the Servitors mentioned before wiping out that other galaxy
seem to be the elimination of a sufficient fraction of that galaxy's life
forms... by the Angerois and so on, one supposes.

Watta then speaks up with a doubt that several on the team share: if life (and
inert matter, apparently) share a power that "strives to exist", what's the
deal with the opposing power that "strives to not-exist"?  Wouldn't that power
essentially un-existify even itself?  Traia has no scientific answer to that,
but philosophically speaking that sort of Nihilism does represent a legitimate,
if unfortunate, sort of Will -- a Will whose existence and efficacy would
linger in, and be demonstrated by, the very annulled universe it seeks to
create.  That sort of meta-existence is hard to grasp, but Roger links it to
the famous dictum "I think, therefore I am".

No _creature_ Traia knows of lives by "I am not, therefore I thought", but if
we're already ascribing Will to inanimate aspects of the universe itself,
it's not out of the question that such a dictum could be part of that Will.
Part, Kodama thinks, of a desire to be _re_born that is kind of awkward for
all the beings that have to die to clear the decks first.

The Earthlings have been in touch with as many other civilizations as they can
to consolidate their alliance against the Baals, though time is of course short
and many of the potential inhabited planets haven't fathomed the big picture:
just trying to protect themselves has their hands full.  The Sidereals at least
seem to be on a losing streak galaxy-wide, after Australis' apparent retreat at
Z-BLUE's hands.  It'd be nice if maybe the Sidereals -- seemingly abandoned by
the Servitors -- could be recruited for the alliance too, but odds of that are
basically zero in the short term.

In Noriko and Kazumi's sobering assessment, the Space Monsters in this world
are roughly five times as numerous as in the world they came from.  In concrete
visual terms, their herd numbers over ten billion, and blots out over an
eighth of visible space.  The Volunteer Club members don't like those odds, but
like the thought of giving up and letting the galaxy be destroyed far less.

Everything hinges on getting the Neo-Buster Machine #3 to the Great Attractor
and activating it, then protecting it for the seven minutes it will take to
detonate.  Of course that last seven minutes are where Z-BLUE comes in, and
Bright orders everyone to do their job and COME HOME ALIVE.  And, one has to
hope that Lark comes back to Nono and the team in time too.

Getting into place costs the allied fleet something like 35% of its forces,
but the precious bomb itself survives intact.  Z-BLUE's final set of
adversaries are vast, and many are still holding in reserve.  This will be a
LONG seven turns, but at least the area to protect is smaller than the
original Buster Machine #3 was.  You could say that that means Z-BLUE has
momentum, and for good or ill, these next seven (or less) turns will decide
where that momentum takes them.

  The team wants the main Space Monster force, and that's precisely what
  they get -- and then some.  There's this utterly gargantuan SM that even
  Traia didn't expect, and within its body is a gravitational collapse
  mechanism of unprecedented scope.  Unsurprisingly, this monstrosity is
  Advent's fault, even though when he shows up he blithely blames its existence
  on the Earthlings.

  Specifically, the Earthlings from Noriko's world, whose Transposition
  Reactor tech has been uptaken by the Space Monster.  On the same scale as
  the Exelion, in fact.  In any case, what's _really_ to blame here is the
  power that desires obliteration, and what Advent intends to do is to see the
  Earthlings punished: to the Servitors, they're far more consequential than
  the Baals.

  ORLY?  Guess who's back, back again?  Asakim's getting very fast at this
  whole resurrection thing, thanks to the practice he's been getting at drawing
  upon his four Spheres' power... practice occasioned by the very attacks the
  Servitors have been sending his way.  After all, if you're gonna learn, why
  not learn from the most ancient Higher-Dimensional Life Forms there are,
  especially since it was one of them who make him the Accursed Wanderer in the
  first place.

  Time to spread those black wings of his, huh?  Blue is the first to get
  himself converted into road kill, and when Advent does the "How _dare_ you do
  that to Blue?" thing, Asakim smirks that Advent's anger has no heat behind
  it.  What Advent _really_ wants, Asakim muses, is to keep Z-BLUE from setting
  foot into the Servitors' own universe.  A universe whose entrance happens to
  be at the center of this galaxy.

  After a moment, Advent confirms this: the center of the galaxy holds the
  Heavenly Pillar, which extends to all parallel universes.  Think of it as an
  elevator that stops on every conceivable "floor".  It's also the conduit for
  that 120 million-year calamity, though Advent claims that the Earthlings are
  nowhere near powerful enough to do anything about it.  He then paradoxically
  leaves for the Pillar, saying he's looking forward to the Earthlings reaching
  it.  Schizo or what?!

  But anyways, there's that 5XL Space Monster to deal with.  Asakim intends
  to fight on the same side as Z-BLUE, whether they like it or not -- he's got
  the universe to save too, after all.

  AAAAND, after a suitable pause, Lark shows up, intending to pulverize the
  bad guys with the green Earth.  This is "Douze-Mille", literally the 12,000
  year-old stratagem that their forefathers left them for just such an
  emergency.  Nono intervenes, saying that that planet mustn't be sacrificed
  this way: it's where everyone is to return to once this is all over.  Lark
  understands that Nono's beloved "Nonoriri" risked her life to defend that
  planet once, but sees no other option in order to win.

  Nono's got another option though: she summons the Buster Army to her,
  activating the Solar System Absolute Defense protocol and *combining* them
  into Daibuster -- even larger than the Ultra-Galactic Gurren Lagann!  It
  seems that Lark needs a little lesson in how to NOT despair.

Time for a bit of tiresome interpersonal bullshit.  Instead of communicating
effectively that she wanted Nono as a "friend" instead of as an admirer with
the whole "elder sister" thing, Lark is prepared to sacrifice humanity's
homeworld to... prove a point?  To protest the feeling that she's been left
behind... somehow?  Nono then tells her that she's always been jealous of how
similar Lark is to Nonoriri: just a normal girl.

...Or, as it turns out, TWO normal girls, whose impressions have gradually
fused in the minds of the Earthlings the protected over a vast span of time.
Nonoriri is, in fact, Noriko/Kazumi -- and Beck (if you recruited him) tells
Nono that she's known that all along.  Mostly Noriko, as Nono now knows for
certain.  The upshot is this: Noriko's world isn't parallel to Nono's: it's
Nono's world's distant past!

Beck learned all this from overhearing the Sidereals discussing some of the
ancient ruins they found: ruins that described the green Earth as one big
compilation of technology from millennia before.  Right, so with that settled,
how come Nono kept fixating on Lark instead of simply taking up with her idol
Noriko?  Because, like Lark, Nono realized she could never be like her -- and
hated herself for it.

She preferred to look to Lark as her "Nonoriri" instead and try to get on with
her life.  She sees herself as a flame, blown by the wind no matter how big it
gets.  But perhaps Lark can be the one to save her.

...That is, if Lark can stave off Finishing, which appears to be upon her at
the worst possible time (i.e. right now).  What will become of that green
Earth?  Hell, what will be come of Lark, whose final transmission is to Nono
to take care of mankind?

Well, for starters, Lark isn't entirely out of the fight yet.  She might be
Finished, but Casio once told her of a power sealed within Dix Neuf.  There's
no better time than now to try to unseal it, especially with the various allied
fleets collapsing in sequence while Z-BLUE slugs it out with the giant Space
Monster.  Even Daibuster can't hold out for long.

Lark's plan involves snagging a Space Monster and _ingesting_ it's
Transposition Reactor, restoring what the Buster Machines had lost twelve
millennia ago.  That, plus the "real" cockpit now unlocked within Dix Neuf,
means that it's back to its rightful form as Buster Machine #19.  And hey,
Lark's even got one of the iconic leotard flightsuits to go along with it!

Apparently it's time for some truly high-class Effort and Guts.  And, probably
some major dizziness.  But while all that was going on, the Alliance joined the
alliance (yeah, I know) as well as a bunch more Vajra under Gepelnietzsche's
command.  Maybe the folks keeping Z-BLUE safe won't collapse just yet?
Especially not with the Hidiarz turning on the Space Monsters for the first
time in history.  Lowgenome says that all the Spiral Races are finally
uniting...

...and that even includes what's left of the Sidereals!  Freed of their bonds
to the Servitors, Shikoku has gathered the survivors and sent them into the
fight against the Baals.  This widespread shared understanding between so many
different people is one of the aforementioned conditions for Perfection, and
Zero thinks triumphantly that Charles' method of uniting people's hearts
wasn't necessary after all!  That goes for Wiseman too.

Just when victory seems assured with the fall of the Space Monster, something
downright non-physical happens.  The black hole that's been forming all this
time begins to split open -- at this rate, the singularity inside it will
become, as the astrophysicists say, "naked" to outside spacetime.  There's
no telling what will become of Neo-Buster Machine #3, or the rest of the team,
from this point forward, but the _best_ case scenario is another Greater
Quake... and at worst, there's about to be another Big Bang.

But there's still the green Earth, brimming with the hopes of people to return
one day.  And there are the Buster Machines and their pilots, who have the will
and the means to set things right, even if it means being exiled yet another
twelve thousand years into the future.

After a little mending fences between Lark and Nono, Kazumi and Noriko chime in
that they needn't shoulder all the burden of saving the world themselves.
Watching Nono and Lark shows them how Jung (who turns out to have been elected
the first Earth-wide president when she got back home) must have felt seeing
Noriko and Kazumi off.  One of the things Jung made sure of was that there
would be a Russian-spelled "Welcome Home" in big lights awaiting the
Gunbuster's return.

Nono knew of that message, which is one of the reasons she tried so hard to
stop Lark from demolishing the planet.  And THANKS to the planet being
saved, hordes of people on the moon and elsewhere now have somewhere to call
home once again... as the planet itself seems to have wanted.  The power to
exist seems to have kept the power to obliterate in check, at the end.

Asakim of all people goes to say hi to AG, who knew about him but hadn't
expected to see him under these circumstances.  Asakim doesn't stay long
however, flying off to wait for Z-BLUE's arrival in the Chaos Cosmos.  AG muses
to himself that the journey of the Accursed Wanderer appears to be finally
nearing its terminus...


CHAPTER 56. Awakening

Time for a trip to the center of the galaxy, to the Heavenly Pillar that leads
to the realm of the Servitors: Chaos Cosmos.  What will the intrepid humans
find, at the End of the Myth?

The green-haired lady is at it again, murmuring to herself that what awaits
those climbers of the Pillar of Heaven is that Order which is called "Chaos",
wherein lies Despair.  Nor can she save them any longer.

Waiting for the team in Chaos Cosmos are the True Guard, lackeys of the
Servitors chosen from throughout the multiverse and REALLY full of themselves.
They've been promised eternity and ordered to commit genocide, and one in
particular feels ultra-studly for having been loaned the keys to a mech called
the Zel Billenium.  All of them are prone to chanting the word "Salus" before
battle, that being Latin for "salvation" and the name of a Roman goddess.
...Which kind of makes little sense, given that Rome presumably didn't exist
where these folks are from.

But anyways, they've got forces in reserve that include some left over Anti-
Spiral troops.  Simon suspects that something special is going on with this
place, and after muttering that there's nowhere to hide here, Traia orders
the four Sphere Bearers to four specific points on the map if they don't wanna
die.  AG chimes in that Beck and friends had better do the initiation
ceremonial "Sale, Sale!" thing pronto, while they still have the chance.

The Sphere Reactors waste no time getting in position, setting up for a plan
Traia's been keeping under her hat all this time.  She describes it as a "bet"
of sorts, which she really wishes she'd had time to fully explain in advance.
It leverages the Dimensional Energy of the entire team, not just the Reactors:
the Spheres, after all, are merely a high-probability way of focusing energy
that already exists.  Everybody, and every THING, has access to Dimensional
Energy through their power of will.

And by "any thing", she really means it -- even atoms have a will, leading to
things like hydrogen and oxygen teaming up to make water.  That sounds more
than a little far-fetched, but she yells at the team anyway to recognize that
their very mecha themselves have wills of their own.  What she's about to do is
to unleash that will, for a split-second: what happens after that is up to
Z-BLUE's pilots and the bonds they share with their mecha.

Can't have that, declares Advent as he appears out of nowhere.  He tells the
True Guard they've fought valiantly, and as a reward will show them a miracle.
He pulls out his Awe powers, seemingly able to force the entire team to give in
to his will in a matter of moments -- Reactors included.  Yes, it was he who
did the whole Stigma engraving thing in the first place, and even Kodama
himself seemingly can't fight it.

But then AG does something totally unexpected: he yells out the lead-up phrase
to the "Sale, Sale!" bit, and reflexively the entire team deliver the
punchline.  That snaps them out of Advent's control, and AG proudly declares
that this is a Binding Spell he's cast on the entire team -- and for the
record, it was damn hard to convince everyone to actually speak the magic
words of their own volition.  But all the time he spent on this really paid
off, huh?

Well, yes and no.  The revelation that AG has set up this sort of mind control
makes him nearly as bad as Advent in the heat of this moment, and it's the
team's anger more than anything else that snaps them out of the bad guys'
control.  Well, Kodama takes a little longer than most, but with a final
encouraging word from Suzune (despite being shushed by Maki) he gets his shit
back together.

Now's the moment for Traia and AG to do their thing, and with help from the
Spheres achieve "Perfect Union".  The team can actually feel the will of all
around them, which includes Ester!  She's made peace with the Revive Cells in
her body, which actually was the key to recovery.  If she can do that and
become stronger, surely the rest of Z-BLUE can too!  Ryouma doesn't want to be
overwhelmed by the Getter Rays, determined not to become their lackey... so why
not try to go along with them shoulder-to-shoulder instead?  Why not indeed!
And while they're at it, a little help from the actually-sentient Buuta won't
hurt either.

With Esther back in the Solarian's bridge helping fly the thing, the team find
themselves super pumped up.  Simon fires up the Heaven Piercing Gurren Lagann,
no longer able to be stopped by Advent's aversion to evolution.  It's time for
him to keep his promise to the Anti-Spirals, and save the world.  Seeing
this, Advent is quiet for a long moment, then tells his followers that it's
still their job to stop Z-BLUE here, even if it costs them their lives.  He
then bails out (though since this is _his_ universe there's nowhere he can
really hide) and leaves his followers quaking in their boots.

  Things don't end well for Maki.  Suzune reckons that she was, in fact, just
  some random nurse working at the hospital when Advent turned up, seducing
  her as a means to get to Kodama.  Maki denies this of course, wanting to
  believe that she's one of Advent's chosen to the very end.  Her pleas for
  Advent to save her don't amount to anything though, and she ends up exploding
  along with her mech.

  Is this tragedy Kodama's fault in some fashion?  That's rather academic at
  this point, and all Kodama himself can do is resolve to make Advent pay.
  Suzune only asks him to remember one thing: that his fight is her fight too.

  In the end, the True Guard live up to the old adage that "pets resemble their
  owner", unable to do anything except a) look down their noses at other people
  and b) die miserably.

The good news is that the Neo-Buster Machine #3 has indeed done the work of
throwing most of the Space Monsters into the abyss between dimensions, as
confirmed by Vildark.  He turns up and tells the team that basically all
sentient life in the Solar System have joined forces to kick the remaining
Baals' asses.  But this isn't the final victory: so long as the Servitors
remain, there can be no true peace.

He refuses Zero's offer to join forces, and demands the four Spheres instead.
Nothing doing there, so it's to be a three-way race between him, Z-BLUE and
Asakim to see who can amass all twelve spheres and take down the Servitors.
And in that spirit, he declares war on Z-BLUE, saying that the next time they
and he meet will be the last.  He vanishes, and the conjecture is that he, like
Asakim, has figured out how use the four Spheres he does have.  Apparently
everyone things the Earthlings are the easiest of the three Sphere-bearing
parties to take out, meaning more conflict in the near future.

Meanwhile, the Earth has used up about a third of its reserve Dimensional
Energy, so it's time to haul ass to avoid Svalinn failing.  But first (and
this takes precedence over even Crow's reunion with Ester) comes the question
of who AG really is.  Banjou has Nono remove AG's outer shell, revealing what
at first is a pretty little girl.  But inside that disguise is none other
than... G. Eidel Bernarl, the one from UCW.  Recall that this guy had the
deepest connection to the Black Knowledge, so much so that versions of himself
from parallel universes were impacted.

Indeed: the UCW Bernarl was only one "constituent" of the whole being that
stands before the team now -- a being that also includes Elgan Roddick.  He
adds with a smirk that "AG" stands for "All Gathered", and as the various
constituents jockey for control they tell the team it should be clear by now
_why_ they took this drastic step.  Zero and Amuro figure it out first:
the Bernarl's deliberately got together in an attempt to artificially achieve
Perfection.

The Black Knowledge included the existence of the Servitors, and the various
Bernarls throughout the multiverse acted on that information in various ways
well before any of the Sphere Reactors arose.  One of which was actually that
Spacetime Concussion Bomb, which was _supposed_ to be a means of fleeing the
Servitors, but in those days pan-dimensional travel was harder and suffice it
to say things did NOT go according to plan.

The UN was another Bernarl experiment, geared towards understanding what kind
of motion toward Apotheosis could occur from the pooling and refining of group
knowledge.  Epic failure was the result, but it wasn't for lack of trying: the
Chimera squad and Chaos Series were part of the master plan to take down the
Servitors.  Xiine's Chaos Caper, for instance, was meant to utilize the
Inquisitive Mountain Goat Sphere -- and Raven's Chaos Leor was a bid to steal
the Gun Leon's Sphere once its pilot got past his fear of women.  Even Shuran's
Chaos Anguise was an experiment in tapping into the constellation Ophiuchus,
which spans the twelve Zodiac signs.

Really, the UCW was like a candy store, and Bernarl a kid in it.  But lest
Xiine get too pissed off at being used, Bernarl reminds the team that it _was_
for the greater good.  Sort of.  ZEUTH certainly showed him a thing or several
about how people can work together, love together, and play together despite
all odds.  That his Chaos Lemures could be defeated by even a sliver of the
Sphere's power told him everything he needed to know... and a shame it is too,
since the Chaos Lemures contained the "Heaven-Hell" system Bernarl intended
to use to seal the Servitors away.

But not to worry: the data from the Lemures went to good use making a next-gen,
more compact mech... none other than the Geminion, of course.  Hence the
sobriquet "Mechanical Devil".  The whole DEM Corporation is, of course, a total
fabrication, but the idea of a pan-dimensional team of folks trying to do good
is very real.  The Bernarls' hunt for Spheres bore fruit when the Swaying
Scales Sphere turned up, which they passed onto Carlos Axion Jr. before it
made its way via Traia to Crow.

Ultimately the Bernarls realized that the other Sphere Reactors weren't likely
to do their bidding, so they decided to become a Reactor themselves.  Hence
the construction of the Geminion after they found out about the Quarreling
Twins sphere.  It turns out that the "Umbriel" personality within Suzune is
yet another Bernarl -- one that refused the call to Gather and stayed half
buried within Suzune.  This gave Suzune fragmentary access to the Black
Knowledge, and the future Despair that goes along with it.

Maybe Umbriel loved freedom too much to tow the Bernarl party line, but the
others still thought it would be worth awakening her power.  Hence they sent
"it" along with the Geminion: a little lump of Black Knowledge that was
responsible for Kodama's Boost ability as a *side effect*.  Hence why the
other Sphere Bearers can't do anything similar.

The question becomes this (if you fulfilled the conditions in the game): is
Kodama going to despair over all of this?

  If "Hope still remains", go to 57H.  If there is "Only Despair", go to 57D.

Nobody on Z-BLUE is at all happy about being manipulated by this freakish dude,
and the more rational constituents don't expect to be able to apologize anyway.
But remember this: they all of them were bent on taking down the Servitors: the
end that justified their means.  Kodama borrows the whole Northern European
mythology motif to observe that Bernarl really wants "Ragnarok"... just like
Beck, which is why he volunteered to be on the Thrown-In Fleet.  Hell, Beck
says, anyone would if they'd read the final chapter in Metropolis.

Roger asks where Beck managed to read that, and he says that Angel showed him
a copy.  A copy in which the final chapter had been freshly "edited".  As in,
there was merely a blank page -- a message of sorts from Gordon Rosewater that
the future is in Z-BLUE's hands.

Will Bernarl be allowed to stick with Z-BLUE and continue the fight against
the Servitors?  Kodama thinks about it for a moment, then orders Bernarl to
don his AG getup.  That makes it sort of safe for Kodama to deck the guy using
Boost plus his Jeet Kune Do, in a bid to basically get even for all Bernarl
has done.  Several other violent types on the team get into the act, as a
temporary measure to make themselves stand Bernarl's company until all this is
over.  Forcing him to stay masked as AG makes it easier for them too.

For now, the team needs to concentrate on finding the Servitors, and Traia
has figured out how to use the team's Stigma against the ones who engraved
them.  Here, in the Chaos Cosmos, the will of space actually works to her
advantage.  And with the other Servitors will be the one who presides over
Sympathy, a female figure the Reactors sensed when the team came here -- and
perhaps the one and only person who can help give all this a happy ending.

Traia had suspected something like this about AG, but it still amazes her that
this is the person who gave Carlos his shot.  AG tells Xiine not to be too mad:
this is her chance after all to make things right for Raven and Shuran.  Xiine
yells back that they were only messed up in the first place because of
Bernarl's interference, but she gets cut off by Esther coming in to announce
lunch is ready.  AG gets her to say the "Sale, Sale!" thing before she
remembers it's a form of mind control, but Traia tells her not to worry: she's
planted a bomb in AG and given Kodama (the one person not mind controlled yet)
the detonator.  Where trusting Bernarl is concerned, she considers herself a
"realist"... and won't say whether the bomb bit is a joke or not.


CHAPTER 57H. The Meaning of "Perfection"

Back in regular space, the Sidereal seconds-in-command are loitering around
the spot where the Great Attractor used to be -- now just an unremarkable
region of space.  They reckon Z-BLUE is headed towards a showdown with the
former rulers of the Sidereals, as Australis must also be.  With nothing to
do to help their former leader, they decide to turn their attentions to helping
mop up the remaining Baals under the Earth's direction: the Earth turned out
to be a bastion of something that's been waning in the galaxy of late:
indomitable will.  This is the beginning of a new golden age... assuming that
the merciless gods either put up with such impudence, or get beaten down by
Z-BLUE or Australis.  Sardias certainly prays that at least one of them
succeeds.

As Z-BLUE keeps jumping in search of the Servitors, the pilots muse about this
strange Chaos Cosmos place.  For starters, it seems eerily... empty.  Only
the Servitors, Z-BLUE, and maybe Vildark and Asakim, are around.  Takeru and
Ghoula are starting to think that Zhul and the Space Devil may be planning
something too, since Zhul's ultimate objective was the overthrow of the
Servitors.  The "preparations" Zhul mentioned before might refer to figuring
out how to break into the Chaos Cosmos, and it dawns on the team that these
bad guys may have been waiting for Z-BLUE to do the hard work of laying bare
the Heavenly Pillar...

Sure enough, the team come under Mikeene attack quickly, with the Army of
the Dark piling on.  They reject Z-BLUE's attempts to talk "truce" in the
interest of taking on their shared enemy of the Servitors, convinced that
the puny humans have no right to speak to them as equals.  Apparently, Zeus
points out, they've not been paying attention to the bit where cooperation is
essential to living in this universe -- but they'll learn quickly at the hands
of Z-BLUE's Perfect Union!

  Yeah so, the mighty Mikeene "gods" get thoroughly trashed, providing quite a
  show for Vildark.  He can't hide from Z-BLUE now, given how sharp their
  senses have become since entering Chaos Cosmos, but then again he doesn't
  really intend to.  Char once again extends an invitation to Vildark to join
  forces with Z-BLUE in smiting the Servitors, but Vildark says that he simply
  can't.  Why?

  In response, he brings forth a bunch of Dimensional Beasts.  This whole
  "Perfect Union" concept had its advocates in the universe he's from, but like
  many concepts it never saw the light of day among that universe's residents.
  Instead, they came up with the Revive Cells as a means to a sort of
  artificial union of man and machine (with the associated Dimensional Energy
  amplification included).  What Z-BLUE has become is the fulfillment of an
  unending dream where Vildark's from -- as well as a repudiation of the very
  concept behind the DB army.

  Conceptually, Vildark's acceptance of Z-BLUE's offer would also be tantamount
  to an acceptance of guilt for all the lives he's unnecessarily ruined in the
  creation of that army.  And in fact, the signs have been there for him to
  read all along -- including the fact that the "Valnar"-class DBs never
  reached their rightful final form.  But Vildark kept telling himself that he
  had no other choice, even while evidence to the contrary piled up -- and he
  no knows no other way to make things right than to finish the job of
  defeating Z-BLUE.

  This isn't just about him.  It's about all the Sidereal footsoldiers who
  fought and perished for a cause beyond their comprehension.  It's for
  Elunaluna, who ached to avenge herself on the man who stole both her father's
  life and her comrades' freedom.  It's for Shikuu, who longed to punish the
  man who warped the duty of his entire race.  It's for Barbiel, and the
  hatred born of his pledge to avenge the very comrades he was being forced to
  slaughter.  It's for Gadlight, who found life and pride in the depths
  of rage and resignation.

  And it's for the Reactor of the Rising Archer, who challenged the Servitors
  with the undying flame of battle burning within: the fourth life and Sphere
  Vildark has stolen.  It is for their sake that Vildark has to fight.  Has to
  win!

  Color Crow unimpressed with such self-satisfied argle-bargle.  Why the hell
  isn't Vildark willing to mend his ways if he's so conscious that he's in
  the wrong?  Of all Vildark's sins, the biggest has to be the arrogance to not
  find a better way of leading his life!  And so it comes down to Z-BLUE to
  give him the satisfaction of being punished for those sins.

Really, what Vildark ought to have done is figure out how to make the world
better for the living, rather than for the dead.  So sayeth Kodama from beyond
hope and despair, and it rings truer than not for the defeated general.  He
asks any one of the Reactors to take his Spheres -- they should be capable of
it thanks to their Perfect Union.  Kodama won't attack an opponent with no
intent to fight back, but Crow says he'll take on the task: he's known Vildark
ever since the Breaking and figures this task was probably his all along.

Crow doesn't want thanks for what he's about to do, and tells Vildark to give
this message to Gaiou if he ever sees him: Z-BLUE is doing their best to
confront the Future of Despair.  Asakim turns up at this point, prepared to
grab those Spheres instead to help him complete his revenge.  Vildark doesn't
really care who takes the Spheres so long as justice is done, but they'd
better hurry, or else...

...Advent will turn up out of nowhere and grab them, because he's got that much
plot power.  Advent bids a final farewell to "Adnachiel the General", who
rejects that name at the very end.  Advent senses that Asakim is pissed off
at this turn of events, and tells him that this is as is proper: the Spheres
are back to their rightful owner.  Asakim snarls back that that arrogance
isn't going to keep him alive much longer.

Kodama demands to know if Advent means to fight him with those Spheres, and
Advent counters that Kodama doesn't realize what the Spheres are really for.
Not for fighting, but for saving the universe -- a task he needs Z-BLUE for as
well.  He'll be waiting for them.  Advent then teleports away, but this time
the team can trace where he went -- and pursue.  As Crow heads back to his
mother ship, he vows to Vildark that he'll see Shikuu's will be done.

Vildark asks Dulitaller, Vilpasher, and Weisslaber for forgiveness for not
fulfilling his mission: all he can do when he sees them is apologize.  But a
familiar voice tells him that it's not over yet.  He's at the place where the
powers that strive to exist and obliterate meet, and there's still more for
him to do...

The Servitors are all assembled, and the green-haired member is not having --
and in fact has never had -- a good time with all of this mess.  Doctrine
asks if she means to abandon her duty as a higher-dimensional being, and calls
her actions treason against their very existence.  She, who Doctrine names
"Sacrifi" the Sympathetic, is welcome to spend eternity in this dimensional
prison if she won't change her mind.  Such is their punishment to her.

Crow goes to AG with a question for Elgan Roddick: he's actually met Gaiou,
yes?  Yep, after the whole Calamity Bars thing that laid Limonecia waste and
summoned Gaiou to the ADW in the first place.  Crow wants to know what kind
of man Gaiou was when not on the battlefield, and with the caveat that Gaiou
was still amnesiac at that point, AG says that he found him "arrogant", or if
one is being charitable, "single-minded".  Much like Vildark.  AG infers that
Crow sees something of himself in the Generals' willingness to put everything
on the line for the sake of their objective, and Crow says that his hands are
plenty bloody enough to disqualify him from judging Vildark's actions.  About
the best he can say is that he's been better blessed in his companions than
Vildark was, and that pathos is worth another hundred Z.

Still, if it's any consolation to Crow, it _is_ a credit to him that he's
actually taken advantage of those companions.  AG thinks to himself that if
Crow and his unbreakable will were to make a single misstep, he and those
companions will find themselves on the road to ruin.  AG has faith that Crow
won't make that misstep, though he also doubts that Crow will ever get out of
debt.

AG then tries his wiles on Margret, offering her a stuffed animal he thought
she might like as a sort of celebration at Vildark's downfall.  Esther rushes
in (with a harisen borrowed from Kaname) to make sure AG doesn't get any
farther than that.  She declares that she'll be running the store for the rest
of today, and AG has to content himself with at least having seen Margret
smile.


CHAPTER 57D. Space, The Final Act

Same dialog with the Sidereal seconds, and same musings on the nature of the
Chaos Cosmos... except that Kodama is more pessimistic in his assessment.  It
feels like everyone's being watched at all times, and the lack of any other
discernible life seems to show that the Servitors remade this place in their
own, singularly haughty, image.

As the team take the field for the next enemy incursion, it's clear to the
commanders that the pilots are tense, still reeling inwardly from AG's big
reveal and struggling under the unseen Pressure that pervades this space.  It
is Despair(tm) that confronts the team now, and when the Mikeene and Army of
the Dark turn up, the self-proclaimed "gods" are quick to point that out to
Kodama.

Despair is a disease, and for all the Earthlings' bravado, they can see it
already rotting the Earthlings' hearts from within.  Advent shows up out of
nowhere to pile on, accusing Kodama of not believing in his comrades.  Even a
moment's wavering is enough to stop their Perfect Union, and just like that
the team is back to "normal".  Advent claims to lose all interest in them at
this point and vanishes again, a change from the past where even at his most
dastardly he claims to have held out hope (of a sort) for the humans.

This is apparently something the Mikeene did NOT expect, and do not welcome:
at this rate the demoralized Earthlings are liable to be recruited as new
True Guard members.  They vow to destroy the Earthlings before that can
happen, and then move on to the Servitors themselves...

  For all the boo-hooing going on, this is actually a pretty mundane start to
  the battle, as in, apart from a bit of morale drain the team's got the same
  stud-muffin mecha and whatnot they've had for the whole frigging game.  Why
  so serious, is the question that has to be asked.

  And Vildark shows up to ask it right on cue.  He does the whole explanation
  of the Revive Cells bit, including how Z-BLUE were the realization of his
  people's dream.  But now they've up and disappointed him by giving in to
  Despair, and he means to add them to the list of folks he's lamentably used
  along the path to revenge on the Servitors.

  Admittedly, having to face that many high-level DBs _is_ a tad daunting when
  Vildark himself lurks behind them.  What really sucks is that Vildark starts
  with all the plot power, and Z-BLUE with none of it.  Vildark's diagnosis is
  that Z-BLUE haven't fully committed themselves, and his final act will be to
  put them out of their misery -- they, who saw a glimpse of the unending
  dream.

  This is dire enough that the writers, oh whoops I mean the green haired girl,
  have to step in.  She deeply pities both sides in this fight, neither of whom
  can cast off the urge to fight even if it means their destruction.  Z-BLUE's
  pilots counter that perhaps that makes them foolish... but there are some
  things that can only be obtained by moving forward.  To fight is to live, and
  to live is the most fundamental drive there is.  By living, there is
  comingling, and venturing forth in search of the unseen, and creation of
  culture.  And even a halted journey can be resumed upon a moment: THAT is the
  Shining of the Sun!

  Well, at least the team has their shit back together, even if it pains the
  green-haired girl and makes her go away.  Vildark declares that what warriors
  need is not Sympathy, but victory -- at at least with that, Ryouma agrees.

  From here on out it's back to the same scenario as on the other path, with
  Advent stealing (back) Vildark's Spheres.

And Shikuu sending Vildark back.  And Sacrifi's imprisonment.  And AG's
chat with Crow and with Margret.


CHAPTER 58. A Sympathetic Grave-keeper

[I kept the "Hope" route because, why have excessive crybabiness for no
apparent reason?]

Doctrine breaks the news to Advent that Sacrifi's been imprisoned, the only
way available to punish her after they all renounced conflict 120 million years
ago as part of becoming the Servitors.  By that point, they had already long
since left behind the ways of lesser life forms, that is, of harming and
killing each other.  Thus why the events of 12 thousand years ago were planned
to be resolved to the mutual pleasure of all.  And now that it's time for the 
120 million-year fragdown, the Servitors have agreed to tolerate each other's
company once more.

What Tempty wants to know is how Advent will take responsibility for some of
those lesser life forms not only invading Chaos Cosmos, but also showing the
first glimmers of Perfection.  Advent asks what _she_ wants to do, and she
dismissively says that she doesn't mind either leaving them on the loose OR
nipping them in the bud, so long as she's having fun.  Doctrine meanwhile
intones that the humans must be destroyed, so Advent counts it 2 to 1 in favor
of wiping them out, with one abstention.

Advent professes no regrets over this, on the theory that his job as a
Servitor brooks no personal emotions interfering -- not that his emotions are
"personal" to begin with.  Though the humans aren't the only foreign bodies
running loose in the Chaos Cosmos, they're the ones most in need of
vanquishing... especially since they're nearing the Dimensional Prison.
Doctrine reckons this is less about Sacrifi breaching the barrier around her,
and more about the Maiden of Sorrows being in sync with Sacrifi's
Sympathy.

Advent sees in this the providence of the Black Sun: surely Sacrifi will change
her mind if she's shown the spectacle of the Earthlings being slaughtered in
front of her very eyes.  Tempty wants that assignment, knowing that Doctrine
needs time to tune up his Prodicium and some help from the Heliorz at well.
Tempty can't want to see how much resistance the humans can offer.

Z-BLUE warp out at the spot their Stigma point to, discovering an asteroid-
sized lump of Z-Crystal that obviously has the Servitors' fingerprints on it.
You'd think that AG would be overjoyed to come upon a massive source of Z-Chips
like this, but you'd be wrong: AG explains that Z-Chips only have worth
because of the thoughts inside them.  In this case, the Z-asteroid is suffused
with thoughts of obliteration: diametrically opposite to what Z-BLUE uses to
effect their Perfect Union.  Call it one big lump of BAD JUJU.

Oh and, it seems that the Sympathetic Servitor is in solitary confinement
inside.  Now why the hell would the other Servitors do that, instead of just
killing her like they kill whole galaxies?  There's no way to know right now,
but what is clear is that the other Servitors want Z-BLUE nowhere near.
Tempty turns up to greet Z-BLUE, then does a sort of "body divide" of her
consciousness into the various El Millennia.  The effect is a bit like Z-BLUE's
Perfect Union, but Tempty is quick to distinguish her mastery of Dimensional
Power from the real God Most High.

  Tempty's "dolls" are no match for fully-consensual Perfect Union, but the
  sight of them getting trashed by the good guys doesn't faze Tempty one bit.
  In fact, this is the best passtime she's found in 120 million years!  Having
  fun is her role in all this mayhem, and she isn't worried about losing:
  there's plenty more El Millennia where those came from.

  Orly?  Asakim turns up and puts this to the test, first wasting her second
  shipment of El Millennia and then somehow interfering with her ability to
  summon more.  The sight of frustration on her face, even for a moment, is
  like sweet wine to Asakim, and he shouts that his black wings will one day
  enfold all the Servitors, casting them into unrelenting darkness.

  Tempty fumes that it was a mistake to grant him eternity, and vows to punish
  him when next they meet.  She flounces off, leaving a smirking Asakim to
  openly doubt whether the Servitors can actually do anything to him that would
  hurt.  He hasn't come to throw down with Z-BLUE however, and he directs his
  firepower at the Z-asteroid.

  ...Which doesn't budge.  Z-BLUE immediately protests that they've got
  business with the person inside the prison, though they won't explain to
  Asakim what business that might be.  He insists that his revenge is to be on
  _all_ the Servitors, who bound him with the chains of "eternity", and if
  Z-BLUE insists on interfering he'll have to front-burner his plan to take
  them out.  It's his view that Z-BLUE isn't strong enough to take the
  Servitors down, and intends to demonstrate that beyond the shadow of a
  doubt.

  Asakim's not the sort of person to die when you kill him, and it seems that
  his growing powers have heightened the cursed gift the Servitors gave him:
  with the four Spheres under his control, he is effectively immortal.  Asakim
  thinks it's high time Z-BLUE learned a bit more about their enemy, and
  "permits" them to meet Sacrifi the Sympathetic.

What a revoltin' development: not only can't Asakim be killed by any means the
team knows, he even soft-pedaled his attack on the team deliberately to drive
the point home further.  Is it Despair time yet?  Not in Rand's lexicon:
there's other things besides killing Asakim the team can do (remember the bit
about sealing him inside a ZONE?).  The key is not losing hope, and hoping that
between Traia and AG some kind of anti-Asakim measures can be found soon.

For now, the question is how to chat with Sacrifi inside her unscratchable
prison.  Setsuko gets the idea first: maybe the team needn't break the thing
physically if they can penetrate it with their thoughts.  Ahh, now you're
thinking with Portals!

Sacrifi introduces herself to "Hamariel", thanking her for heeding her call.
Setsuko wants to be called by her given name, but Sacrifi refuses: all the
Reactors have a destined part to play in these events.  Hamariel's sobriquet
"The Star" refers to the twinkling lights in the heavens, whose brilliance can
only be appreciated when all else that is dear -- friends, family -- are gone.

"Velkiel" is iron, tempered by "The Heat" of the forge into the strongest,
most durable steel.  No coincidence, then, that Rand's nom de guerre aligns
with this higher name.

Crow doesn't want her mystical explanation of "Zuriel the Unbreakable", not
believing in fortune-telling, but she informs Z-BLUE that what they think of
as the unwritten future is nothing of the sort.  It was she who engraved the
Stigma, that that fate might be set in motion... not as a Servitor, but as an
individual.  To explain why, she must first explain who the Servitors really
are: the first of all races across all multiverses to touch Origin Rho and
become higher-dimensional... some 120 million years ago.  _Earth_ years,
interestingly enough to Takeru.

They saw it as their mission to guide other races who would follow in their
footsteps one day, in fulfilment of Universal Order.  But few races achieved
Perfection, and many followed a perverted evolutionary path that spread strife
across the stars.  Thus the Servitors began to actively regulate evolution as
the highest-probability way to achieve their aim.  Those who didn't play along,
such as the Invaders, were branded as "Baals" and as the enemy: an unavoidable
consequence given the duty of all life forms who have achieved
higher-dimensional status.

This was set against the backdrop of the 12 thousand year cycle of death and
rebirth, repeated countless (well, quite countable, but whatever) times in
countless universes as species rose, strove to survive, and fell.  It's a very
fair question by what right, other than pride of position, the Servitors made
themselves the executive producers of the multiverse... and Sacrifi herself
seems to now regret her part in the whole mess.

Her people are not gods, yet their actions assumed godlike arrogance over time.
Advent the Joyful, de facto leader of the Servitors, took joy in his control
over reality, but even he isn't the final authority.  Who, then, is this "God
Most High" the team's heard about?  Its name is "Sol", and is a new star the
Servitors created -- a control mechanism for Origin Rho that made the Servitors
who they are, crafted 120 million years ago.

Kiriko's had bad experiences with artificial gods before, but _this_ one
provides an unending stream of Origin Rho AND was self-aware.  ...And unhappy
with what the Servitors have been doing with its power, causing it to actually
commit "suicide".  That might have been the best choice it, evolved inanimate
will, could make.

This suicide, 12 thousand years ago, sundered Sol into the twelve Spheres and
various tidbits of Black Knowledge, which scattered across the multiverse.
While shocking, this posed no immediate impediment to the Servitors, whose
ability to executive produce the multiverse was basically unopposed by that
point.  HOWEVER, it became clear eventually that even they need help to survive
the bigger 120 million-year catastrophic cycle... and hence their desire to
make Sol whole once more.

So all this talk of the Great Ultimate (and its many synonyms) boils down to
the Servitors' mechanical god, which needs the twelve Spheres to be repaired in
time for the coming apocalypse.  The Servitors have been searching all this
time for the Spheres and those who React with them, and in repentance for their
past actions had actually expelled Advent from their midst.  Remember how
Fudou once called Advent the "last person"?  Yeah...

So like, leaving someone like Advent on the loose seems pretty dangerous: why
not deal with him in a more definitive way?  Part of the Servitors' ascent
120 million years ago was a revelation that they needed to forswear conflict.
Not that this might make much sense to the Earthlings, but the Servitors'
race are incapable of taking each others' lives.  Not exactly what Hamarn likes
to hear, considering how many OTHER lives the Servitors have taken, directly or
otherwise...

The remaining Servitors are unaware of what Advent's been up to, having
rededicated themselves to their core mission.  Which, unfortunately, includes
running the Earth's affairs, wiping out a galaxy or several, and all that other
large-scale stuff that Sacrifi insists is unavoidable.  See, Doctrine simply
can't abide perverted evolution, Tempty loves flexing her muscles for the sheer
hell of it... and Sacrifi is basically overwhelmed by all her Sympathy.  Why
the hell didn't she lift a finger to stop her comrades?

So, as the 120 million-year apocalypse approaches, spacetime starts to get
increasingly fragmented.  The only way to stop that is for living things to
proceed down a good path... and for Watta's information, it'll take more than
killing a few Space Monsters to cancel the apocalypse.  Doctrine's busy wiping
out races with the _potential_ to mutate into new Baals, for instance.

What Sacrifi was doing all this time was trying to nurture races with the
potential for Perfection, and that basically means the Earthlings.  The
Stigmatics of Z-BLUE are sort of a sample for the Earth as a whole, and their
road towards Perfection had to be paved with one trial after another.  Getting
thrown from the UCW to the ADW was her doing, as was the arrival of the Vajra
to the Earth Sphere (which kind of got the Frontier Fleet mixed up in matters
as a side effect).

Sacrifi sought to create a Garden of Eden of sorts, where the bearers of  the
Blood of Beasts, the Mingling of Waters, and the Whereabouts of Wind would meet
the Culture of Fire.  That would be the blue Earth, which she enveloped in the
Time Prison (to stop Evolution from reaching Perfection) while distracting the
vengeful Doctrine with affairs on the green Earth.  UNFORTUNATELY, the
overseer she sent (Gadlight) took things in an unintended direction -- he
couldn't bear the thought of this world being protected while his own had been
deliberately destroyed by the very same people.

Unaware of Sacrifi's intent, the Earthlings not only sent Gadlight packing, but
also refused eternity inside the shelter of the Time Prison.  As such, they
bear the responsibility themselves for the Sidereals coming and taking over
the Earth.  Advent presumably sent the team to the galactic center as a further
demonstration of just how powerless the Earthlings are, and _Sacrifi_ turned
up the volume even more by inviting them to Chaos Cosmos when they didn't get
the hint.  It genuinely never occurred to her that the Earthlings simply
_wouldn't_quit_ when faced with such towering odds.

The elephant in the room is this: why the FUCK didn't anybody consider
_telling_ the Earthlings what was going on, instead of staging this elaborate
and dreadfully bloody charade?!  Is it, Suzune wonders, that Sacrifi was
trying to lie to herself to hide the guilt she feels?

Sacrifi says that Z-BLUE doesn't understand her feelings.  The Servitors'
actions were not mistakes.  It was her own actions that were wrong -- so futile
to expect an immature race like the Earthlings to grasp her great work.  Ahh,
so NOW she's trying to protect her own heart, huh? growls Rand.  Crow stops
him, saying that the past obviously can't be changed.  The question is, what to
do now?

Sacrifi says she doesn't want to take counsel with the Earthlings; she, a
Servitor.  Better the Earthlings had contented themselves with her benevolence
and lived out their eternity.  She will not suffer the Earthlings any longer,
and just then comes the sound of shattered glass.

Doctrine, it seems, has come to pick Sacrifi up.  She tells the team that she
is returning to the place of her birth, and there will do her duty as a
Servitor.  She says that she can't directly control Z-BLUE's minds now that
they've tasted Perfection, so she asks them of their own volition to stop their
progress.  That advice is the last thing she can do for them.  She tells
"Hamariel" that her hopes that the two could understand each other seem to have
been in vain.

Her homeworld, Es Terran, beckons: the place whose residents became the four
Servitors.  It is _this_ universe's third planet from the sun of the Solar
System: in other words, yet another parallel Earth...

AG tells Setsuko that she's learning a hard lesson: just because you can
understand somebody else doesn't mean that you and they can get along.  Setsuko
knows deep down that she can't afford to hesitate in battle, not with so much
at stake.  Real talk gets interrupted by Setsuko's teammates turning up and
going all Sgt. Rock on AG's metallic ass, but Setsuko thinks that she's got to
undertake the challenge of facing her Sorrow, and overcoming it.  Unlike
Sacrifi, she won't allow herself the indulgence of becoming drunk with sadness.


CHAPTER 59. Advent of the Devil

Alas, hopes that Sacrifi would be Sympathetic to the team have come to naught.
Zero has a theory to explain how the Perfected parallel-Earth society gave
rise to the vengeful Servitors, hearkening back to his father's Collective
Subconscious concept.  It's been established that Perfection entails mingling
of thoughts and feelings, and he believes that these other-Earthers had indeed
achieved some kind of state of collective consciousness -- just that that state
wasn't stable.  Instead, it re-separated into the four "fundamental" components
of human emotion -- something reminiscent of what Wiseman sought to achieve,
not to mention the Galaxy Fleet's members.

Indeed: examples like this are as numerous as the parallel universes
themselves.  There's no way to know what kind of people these other-Earthers
were before being reborn as Higher-Dimensional Beings, but Zero reckons that
it's almost inevitable that they'd become arrogant AFTER their rebirth.  To
them, "regular" humans are almost not worth notice.  Sirius asks if Zero's
basing that on his own superhuman powers and strategic acumen, and after
telling Karen he doesn't mind the question, he reflects it back onto Sirius
himself: he, a Royal and an Element to boot.  Bullseye, Sirius says with an
ironic smile.

Satisfied, Zero gives his perspective.  A teacher regarding his student, or
perhaps a parent regarding his child, will naturally recognize that child's
immaturity and position themself as a godlike authority.  To the child, this
may, by turns, come across as unpardonable arrogance.  Regardless, no parent
has the right to foreclose their child's future -- and no one species from any
one planet may lay some special, exclusive claim to The Truth.  Even if the
Servitors achieved coexistence with themselves, they're still far from
coexistence with life in the multiverse at large.

Traia's managed to pinpoint this universe's Solar System, and shed light on an
important aspect of this universe's laws: it is strongly connected to all other
parallel worlds.  All space seems to act like the Heavenly Pillar: a fitting
configuration for the world of self-proclaimed overseers of the firmament.
From this, Traia has determined that the dimensional collapse in other
universes -- far from halting -- is actually accelerating.  Defeating the Baals
was apparently nowhere near enough to halt the calamity, and likely only the
Servitors know what's really going on.  All the more reason to head to Es
Terran and get a straight answer.

Es Terran's "Solar" system actually lacks a sun, all the illumination comes
from the planet itself, and its protective dimensional barrier.  But if Ryouma
and the team were expecting to throw down with the Servitors or Asakim, they
quickly get stymied by their actual opponents: Hardes, Zhul and the Space
Devil!  They've come to settle the score, the True War, with the Servitors...
and are vaguely disbelieving that the lowly humans could have made it this far.

Their evil alliance is based on mutual recognition of each other's powers as
well as their common enemy, and since none of them consider the humans full-
fledged Higher Dimensional Beings, they're not willing to forge even a
temporary cease-fire with the humans.  The evil-doers seem to resemble the
Servitors very closely now, and Takeru suspects their power stems from the same
place.  They deign to offer the Reactors a place at their side, but as Crow
says on their behalf: there ain't enough money in the Universe to make that
happen.

Fundamentally, the evil alliance is full of people who would rule over the
multiverse, not coexist with it.  Universal Law therefore dictates that they
go DOWN, not as "gods" or "demons" but merely as one more set of garden
variety bad guys.

 ...who have Dimensional Power at their control, muting damage or nullifying it
  entirely, and enabling subspace jumps at will.  "At will" meaning once per
  turn, which means there's still some hope of defeating them.

  Well, not if they have anything to say about it: the humans have yet to cut
  loose of the darkness within them, and that shall be their undoing!  Muahaha.

Cue the predictable reel of the pilots being tormented by the memory of
everyone they've ever lost, or perchance killed.  Even Toren Smith gets name
checked!  To the stunned Zeus, the evil "gods" explain what they've done: the
humans always bear within them the Power that Seeks Obliteration.  They, in
short, are ever prisoners of the Power of the Dark.

But not Kodama, who's faced this sort of bullshit plenty by now.  He's kind of
sick of it, actually.  Same for Mars.  All that dark stuff in Z-BLUE's past
has made them what they are today.  Maybe you've heard the phrase "What doesn't
kill you make you stronger"?  Z-BLUE certainly have, and at Takeru's words they
snap out of their collective funk.  Wait, no credit for Kodama?  The team
teasingly tell them he's simply gotten his account back to "even", since it
was they who helped him surpass Hope and Despair in the first place.  At least
Suzune has a kind word for him, knowing when to use carrots vs. sticks where
he's concerned.  The ideal partner for the Quarreling Twins, wouldn't you say?

All this formless form and infinite finiteness is very Jeet Kune Do, and Kodama
has to hand it to his dad for paving his way towards the Ultimate.  Simon is
also ready to rock, thanks to the memory and spirit of his elder bro -- behold
the might of the Heaven Piercing Gurren Lagann... and Kamina himself,
materialized from Simon's mere thoughts!  Though he can only stay material
inside the Heaven Piercing Gurren Lagann, it's great to have him back.

The lesson is that Z-BLUE are poised to draw strength even from the souls of
the dead: a trick that the bad guys had thought was their exclusive province.
Who's _really_ ruled by the Dark here, anyway?!  Zeus reminds the evil "gods"
that they are, in fact, still living beings -- and being living according to
The Law would dare turn to the Power Seeking Obliteration for strength.  That's
why they can't have nice things.

  Zhul can't comprehend the power of Love, even as it banishes him permanently
  from the multiverse.  Well, as we known "permanently" is a pretty strong
  word, but so long as the universe never succumbs to Oblivion, it's pretty
  darn unlikely he'll be back at least.

  Hardes also goes down in flames, body and soul, taking with him the knowledge
  that it was his arrogance that laid the gods of Olympus low.  And though it
  was obviously a team effort, major credit goes to Kouji for becoming the true
  Iron Hero.

  The Space Devil's Darkness is no match for Shotarou's Light, not in the least
  because even the Space Devil once held out hope himself: 12 thousand years
  ago, when he put his own son into the stasis capsule and sent him safely
  away from their homeworld.  By George, Shotarou's right!  The Devil
  instructs his son to live on, bearing the Hope that he himself had lost.
  That there was some humanity left in him at the last might be a cause for
  new Hope for the rest of the living.

With the other higher-dimensional beings toast, there are only two parties left
in this universe: Z-BLUE, the Servitors, and Asakim.  ...Among the parties left
in this universe are Z-BLUE, Servitors, Asakim, and the Oxford Comma.  Asakim
knows what Z-BLUE learned from talking to Sacrifi, and how they must recognize
how faithfully the Servitors are playing their "merciless god" schtick.

When Z-BLUE confirm that they're determined to proceed, "gods" or not, he tells
them to settle the score with him first, relaying coordinates on the Es Terran
surface.  Kind of strange for him to issue an outright challenge like this, but
he _does_ have that invulnerability on his side.  Traia sounds confident she
can do something about that, though inwardly it seems she's got even bigger
worries she's not yet solved.  The team return to their mother ships to prepare
for planetfall on what will be the final stop on this crazy journey.

The plan is to essentially flush Asakim into another dimension using theory
related to the ZONEs.  Not the highest-confidence stratagem Traia's ever come
up with, but it's better than nothing.  The commanders are agreed that the
battle with Asakim will serve as a dress rehearsal for the Servitors: neither
battle is one they can afford to lose.  It'll fall to Z-BLUE to keep Asakim
still long enough for her gadget to work, but...  She's still got no clue as
to why the multiverse's dimensional boundaries are warping at an accelerating
rate, but it's almost as though the multiverse itself *wants* something...
something the Servitors are desperate to impede.  But what?

Rand meanwhile is lost in thought, desperate to talk with and maybe understand
Asakim despite all the terrible things he's done (mostly to Setsuko).  If
your memory is long enough, you might recall that Rand and Asakim seemed to
reach an understanding once before... and AG promises to keep the store as
quiet as possible today to let Rand ruminate.  Mail's got faith in her man,
meaning to support whatever conclusion he reaches.


CHAPTER 60. To Eternity

In case it's been a while since you played Z1, a refresher in why Asakim is all
Public Enemy Number One for Setsuko.  Her beloved teammates from Glory Star?
Yup, killed in the name of inflicting Sorrow and getting her Sphere active.
The current Glory Star folks are copies from a parallel universe, specifically
brought by Asakim to rattle Setsuko even more.  Rather different treatment
than Rand received at Asakim's hands, where the black-cloaked dude even went
so far as to rescue Mail when she was lost.

Unlike Setsuko, Rand has no real reason to fight Asakim other than the
inevitable squabble over his Sphere.  The same largely goes for Crow and
Kodama, both in Asakim's crosshairs as part of his whole Sphere-collecting
mission.  This much is clear: Asakim will stop at nothing to achieve his
ultimate goal of vengeance on the Servitors for cursing him with immortality.
That's right: CURSING him with it -- quite a departure from the typical fairy
tale concept.  Who wants to live forever, when love must die?

The problem is, for Asakim to get his way the Z-BLUE Reactors would have to
perish... and that's not happening.  It'd be nice to actually fight on the same
side as Asakim against the Servitors, but the more likely outcome is a
merciless battle to hold him still while Traia fires up the McGuffin Buster or
whatever the hell it's called.

While the other pilots chat, Setsuko's made her own peace with the upcoming
battle.  Asakim must be stopped, lest Sorrow spread ever farther.  Rand, on the
other hand, by has own admission has TOTALLY NO CLUE what to do about Asakim,
despite all the uncharacteristic thought he's put in.  He'll figure it out when
they and Asakim meet.  So be it, say Crow and Kodama: they'll back their
comrades up whatever happens.  As will the rest of Z-BLUE, of course.

The team arrive at the specified coordinates, finding this universe's Earth to
have a lower gravity (and consequently thinner atmosphere) than their own.
Like the rest of the Chaos Cosmos, this planet's dimensional barriers are very
low: there's no telling what might pop out at any moment.  This is good news
in the sense that Heaven Piercing Gurren Lagann and Daibuster can both be
used here... "here" being analogous to the spot on the familiar Earth where
Limonecia stood.  The scene of "Calamity Bars" had a Ley line running through
it before, and it seems to be likewise important on Es Terra.  Hell, even where
Margret is from this was an important spot: the site of the hallowed Insalaum
capital.

What better place to gather and focus Dimensional Energy?  Especially with no
other life around to interfere, as in: literally no detectable life, even on
the microscopic level.  Hell, even the sense of "will" from inanimate objects
isn't tangible here, just the way the Servitors presumably want it.  Seeing
this utter absence of life, it's hard to imagine that the Servitors' union was
formed voluntarily.  And the pretty stone monuments nearby seem like nothing so
much as grave markers.

Asakim turns up and agrees, terming this "Sacrifi's Garden" -- the place where
she grieves over all the innumerable lives lost.  *This* is the place where
Death feels most alive, and seemed appropriate for the score-settling with
Z-BLUE.  Why, the team wonder, is Asakim being so talkative all of a sudden?
Is there some way to avoid open warfare between Z-BLUE and him?  Well, it
hardly seems likely that Setsuko would sign up for a truce, right?  After all,
Asakim smirks, her dead comrades would be even sadder than her if she signed
up for that.

Why all this deliberate provocation?  Because, Asakim says without any trace
of humor: it takes Sphere power to defeat the Servitors.  The eight Spheres
gathered here might amount to something like an equal fight, but not if four
of them are in Z-BLUE's hands.  Asakim is convinced that the Servitors will
simply steal the Spheres out of their (cold dead) hands, and intends to lay
hands on them first.  Zero asks whether Asakim would commit to stopping the
multiversal collapse if he wins, and Asakim sniffs that he's not interested
in such things: let that slated for destruction, be destroyed.

He genuinely doesn't care what happens to the rest of the world so long as his
own objective is met, and that makes him equal to the Servitors in Kodama's
eyes.  THAT gets him a bit mad, which is almost a good sign in terms of being
able to reason with him.  Rand asks if Asakim is fighting the Servitors
because of them inflicting immortality (he is), and furthermore why they did
that to him in the first place.

It's on account of his special power to sense the whereabouts of the Spheres,
the scattered fragments of the Great Ultimate.  Where that power came from he
doesn't know, but he DOES know that he's languished under the Servitors'
chains since his very earliest memories.  It was they who sent him in search
of the Spheres, but his Black Wings let him break free of their mind control.

His one-time collaboration with Advent was on account of his belief at the time
that Advent was different from the other Servitors -- remember for instance
that he was cast out from among them around the time the Great Ultimate
shattered.  In other words, Advent had no role in Asakim's curse.  His
disappointment mirrors that of Z-BLUE with Sacrifi, and like Z-BLUE he's
concluded that *all* the Servitors must go down.

To help, he's got the ability to create various copies of himself, all
controlled by the Black Knowledge.  Remember the wordplay of "Kuro no Eichi"
turning into "Chrono H", with "H" as in "henkai" (boundary)?  Well it turns
out that when the Great Ultimate reached the boundary of time, what it found
was despair.  A lump of that despair, made matter, was among the fragments
of Sol ejected by its detonation -- and Asakim reckons it will come in quite
handy in defeating the Servitors.  And as though a battalion of these things
won't be hard enough to defeat, it seems that Sacrifi has decided to chip in
a few mecha of her own in a bid to make herself feel less guilty.  Asakim's not
a fan, but as usual he'll do whatever it takes to win.

Well, it's high time Asakim, and Sacrifi, see what consequences their actions
have invited.  Traia says that she's done everything she can, and it's now
in Z-BLUE's hands (not "god's" as such) to grasp victory.

  Asakim's little helpers don't last long, and he's okay with that.  Being
  alone is his default state anyway...

  Just for annoyance's sake, he regenerates along the way as a show of how much
  Z-BLUE can't kill him off.  In fact, their presence is making his Spheres
  that much more lively.  He does so a SECOND time, and C.C. declares that
  while she can't figure out where his power is coming from, it is clear that
  he very much does NOT want eternity.  Call it fellow-sick-person intuition,
  but at least in her case she _knows_ how to end herself if things become
  unbearable.

  The real question here is: is there such a thing as "infinite"?  Asakim
  seems determined to make the team find out, unwilling to stop fighting and
  have a brew with Rand instead.  Even Sacrifi is getting sad at this point.

  As the damage piles up, even the famed Black Wings can't entirely keep up
  the regeneration.  But can Z-BLUE push through and take out Asakim himself?
  Asakim cries out to Sacrifi, telling her to get a good look at what Life is:
  that which she herself has lost.  It is the clash of life with life that
  creates battle, and ultimately creates the future!

  With the Schlogger Shin truly trounced, Traia and Esther kick in the
  Dimensional Barrier System... but even that isn't enough to hold him back.
  He's effectively become the Reactor for his four Spheres, drawing
  simultaneously on their power -- a feat that not even Vildark could manage
  with the Spheres he took from the other Sidereals.

  Asakim ascribes this to being fundamentally different from the rest of
  mankind.  He thought long and hard inside the Martian ZONE about who he
  really is, and his conclusion is that he too is a "person" and wants to live
  as such.  That realization alone gave him the power to access the Spheres.
  The Inquisitive Mountain Goat, seeker of all knowledge, is what led him to
  the Akashic Record.  The Dreaming Fishes mirrored his own far-off dream for
  his future.  The False Black Sheep let him hide his true intentions long
  enough for a temporary alliance with Advent.  And the Inexhaustible Water-
  Bearer, emblematic of the love he had for Z-BLUE.

  Well, not _him_ exactly, more like _something_ he gave rise to.  Something
  drawn to Z-BLUE's determination to burn away their finite lives in the
  quest for infinite freedom.  Worthy of admiration, certainly.

  HOWEVER!  Drawing on multiple Spheres like that is a double-edged sword,
  at least with the Quarreling Twins around.  All that concentrated Sphereness
  has brought Asakim close to what Sol, God Most High was -- and part of the
  point of the Quarreling Twins is neutralizing such power.  Asakim hadn't
  counted on Kodama realizing what the Twins' original role (as Sol's core)
  was.  It's a power that ought not be used, but if it means sealing Asakim
  away, Kodama will do what he must!

  But it'll take more than even him, and the other Reactors rush over to give
  him their aid.  The rest of the team do likewise with their Z-Crystals...

...and Asakim finally admits defeat.  He notes that he's gotten to attached
to the Z-BLUE folks amidst the cycle of flourishing and falling that is Karma.
His affection for the them was his undoing.  But he won't apologize to Setsuko
or the others for fighting for his own sake, nor does he expect (or receive)
Setsuko's forgiveness.  As it should be.

He agrees to help Z-BLUE finish the job with the Servitors, saying that the
final day of reckoning with the team can wait until later.  Just then Sacrifi
intrudes, offering Asakim her apology now that he's learned the meaning of
life.  She means to make what she's done even a little bit right, saying that
the sight of Asakim battling Z-BLUE has recalled to her mind a bit of the
beauty that comes with finite life.  Something precious, that she cast away
120 million years ago.

She now admits that she regrets becoming a Servitor, and that none of them
deserved godhood or eternity.  Advent turns up at this point, saying he knew it
all along, and announces that Sacrifi needs to be punished for this apostasy.
She will live on within him for eternity, he declares, and somehow assimilates
her.  So much for the bit about the Servitors renouncing mutual conflict, huh?
And just as mutual understanding seemed in sight too...

Advent somehow blasts the other Reactors aside and moves over to Asakim,
saying that he didn't _kill_ Sacrifi, just made her part of him.  As he means
to do to Asakim himself.  He's glad to see that Kodama depleted so much of
Asakim's power, though Kodama himself is now pretty tired (no surprise, for
such an un-god-like person).  He then congratulates Asakim on all the hard work
of gathering the 12 Spheres here to Es Terran: valor that befits Asakim's
role as a parallel-universe God Most High.

Well, most accurately, the God Most High is the Schlogger System, designed to
access the Akashic Record and interfere with the Karmic Cycle.  That's why
Asakim could sense and assimilate this world's Spheres, though even Advent was
surprised to learn that Asakim can also function as a Reactor.  Asakim, Advent
declares, is after all just a defective, replaceable part of the System.

Like Bernarl, Asakim exists in linked form across all worlds.  And the
Schlogger didn't always look like this: it took many cycles of destruction and
rebirth, and the accumulation of much knowledge from many life forms, to
reach its current state.  But the System decided it needed a controller, and
when it had drifted into Advent's world, it was as yet unmanned.  It then
_created_ the controller it was missing (that being Asakim), though it's not
clear if it did so out of whole cloth or in imitation of some earlier version
of Asakim.

Hence the Nihilism Asakim's always felt.  Doctrine managed to figure out part
of the Schlogger's systems, and used that to make Asakim undying, so that the
Schlogger would always have the same cold controller when it awoke.  Oh, how
poor Asakim must feel now, huh?  Living and dying all in vain for someone
else's plan?  Well, Advent thinks he's killed Asakim's psyche, and proceeds to
try to assimilate him.

Eight Spheres are now his, and preparations can begin for the God Most High to
be revived.  No longer, he declares, can Z-BLUE stop that, or his use of Sol
to ride out the 120 million-year calamity.  He promises to remember them all
though as thanks for what they've done.

Time for Z-BLUE to head off in pursuit though, to the only possible place
Advent could be going given how similar this place is to Earth: Wrath Babylon!
It would help if Kodama wasn't all unconscious though...

Back on Earth, the attention of all the people is focused on a UN meeting.
King has provided data on mankind's enemy, information the New Earth Federation
has used to create a certain System that utilizes the world's Ley Lines for
voting purposes.  What is about to happen will mirror the will of all the
people, and that will is overwhelmingly in favor of disabling Svallin...

Rand and Setsuko are in total agreement: no longer will the Servitors be
allowed to mess with Asakim's life.   They will save him no matter what.  Their
resolve is worth 100Z.  The question is Kodama, but Crow attests that his
toughness is absolutely first rate, and with Suzune with him he's sure Kodama
will pull through.  He'd better do so soon, since mankind's last days are at
hand.

When Suzune comes by to chat, wondering why Kodama took all that strain upon
himself, AG tells her that Kodama is very much like Asakim: both will stop at
nothing to achieve their goal.  Kodama will lay down his life if that's what it
takes.  Pretty sad, from her perspective.  But nobody can stop him, not with
the culmination of all his struggles coming up in the next battle.


CHAPTER 61. Black Sun

Advent's explanation to Doctrine of Sacrifi's end: Z-BLUE did it.  Tempty asks
the obvious question: how could Z-BLUE killed an unkillable being?  Advent
BS's his way through a "probably 'cause she denied her own eternity, and cain't
nobody think none dif'runt" argument, then quickly moves on to the good news
that at least Asakim's four Spheres are back safe.  Interestingly he claims
that Asakim himself "got away", which Doctrine isn't concerned about in the
least.  What they need are the Earthlings' four remaining Spheres, especially
the Core (the Quarreling Twins) without which all their other efforts will be
in vain...

...ALTHOUGH, now that they know how to stop the Greater Collapse, there's no
need to rush Sol's repairs.  Once again, that method hinges on the Earthlings,
who are conveniently headed their way.  Doctrine intends to concentrate on
hastening the fall of the "Evil Seeds" across the multiverse, by which he means
all the species not conforming to his definition of evolution.  Advent offers
to take on the Earthlings himself, saying that he's got a score to settle with
them after all, and Doctrine authorizes use of the eight Spheres.  Meanwhile,
Doctrine will get the Prodicium ready for the twelve Spheres, and the ceremony
that will save the multiverse.  What will Z-BLUE's final struggles look like?

Everyone on Z-BLUE knows how big the score to settle is, so there's no real
need to rehash it.  What is clear is this: for all that the dimensional muddle
the universe has become has messed up countless lives, it's also forged
friendships that otherwise never could have happened.  The only way to keep the
party going is A) taking out the Servitors, and B) somehow stopping the
Collapse.  Oh, and C) trusting that someone, some day will arise to continue
Z-BLUE's good work when the inevitable next generation of evil-doers arises.

Hiiro for one never expects his fight to truly be over, but Setsuna has at
least one plan in mind.  He wants to go to the ELS homeworld, to reconfirm the
idea of communication transcending species as a first step towards forging a
truly universal understanding among all life.  Hiiro asks only that Setsuna be
sure to return in one piece so he can tell Hiiro what this "Truth of the
Universe" stuff really turns out to be.

This talk of promises has Lidy and Banarj thinking about Mineva/Audrey.  Lidy
observes that Banarj hasn't changed a bit, but Banarj puts it differently: he
changed what he had to, and left alone what he could afford to, about himself.
Hathaway may have finally taken a few steps to following Banarj's good
example, judging by how Quess seems to be finally warming to him.

While the kids revel in the joys of youth, the adult Newtypes have more on
their mind.  For example: if Z-BLUE can prevail against the Servitors (and as
Amuro points out, there's no profit in assuming they won't), will that make
them Higher-Dimensional Beings themselves?  Amuro is fairly certain that
humans won't have it that easy: one leap, even a giant one, along the newly-
opened path of Evolution won't be enough to revolutionize the whole world.  His
estimate is that it'll take humans as long to become Perfect as it took them
to rise from the apes -- little hope, then, of seeing that blessed day
themselves.  Then again, there's a lot to be proud about just from being
present for the opening of the path, and neither Char nor Hamarn intend to
leave the other behind as they watch the young walk through the door.

Ultimately, Amuro believes that belief itself is man's power -- power that will
lead to the Light.  That belief could quell all the world's violence if
everyone shared it, but even after all this there'll be plenty of violence to
keep a lid on back home.  The Mithril agents propose that Zero and the
remaining Black Knights join them to help in that endeavor: with the Whispered
now effectively deaf, _someone_ will have to help make up the brainpower
somehow.  ...And the firepower, if Sousuke opts to lead a normal life with
Kaname -- though that decision can wait until after this final battle.

Kiriko, for certain, won't fight anymore after this is done.  His plan is to
live quietly with Fiana, graduating as it were from this endless world of
combat.  Speaking of graduation, the kids among the pilots haven't exactly
had the time to do their make-up homework, and are going to have to seriously
bust ass if they want to be on time for their respective graduation ceremonies.
Ghoula of all people tells his righteous teammates that if their hearts burn
for Justice, they'd better confront their homework fair and square (instead of,
say, using Perfect Union to peek at the answers).

Roger will have his choice of job offers to ponder once the dust settles.
21st Century could use him as a negotiator, and the offer to be fellow private
eyes with Banjou has its appeal too.  Alto and friends will be part of the
first wave of colonists of the Vajra homeworld: it is their right as its
discoverers to help populate it.  There will probably be some other sorts of
space critters to figure out how to communicate with (or fend off, if they're
Baals), so the singing contingent certainly won't be out of a job any time
soon.  In fact, Ledo would really love to see Basara sing a little humanity
back into the Human Galactic Alliance.  He himself has decided to live quietly
with the Gargantia fleet.

That kind of galaxy-scale thinking will be needed a lot, given the scale of
the budding alliance between the Earth and the various other planets (and
species) out there now that the Sidereals are no more.  Perhaps the most
jaw-dropping suggestion comes from Mucha, who advises Boz to see if any of the
Vajra or ELS might take him as a boyfriend given his bad luck with human
females.  Boz actually thinks that's a pretty cool idea, which shows he's got
the right attitude about all this.  Hell, there's even parallel universes to
think about, letting Aoi hang out with her far-flung senpai from Team-D and
god-knows what else.  It's all about the power to dream.

Noriko and Kazumi had been planning to join the Frontier fleet on its
"journey", but as that mission has now changed to "colonizing", it won't really
be much of a journey after all.  Simon offers them places with the Dai-Gurren
fleet, which plans to venture forth in search of all the other Spiral Races
that now have a chance to start picking up the pieces since the Anti-Spirals'
defeat.  Nono wants to join that adventure too (given that there's little use
for her on a peaceful Earth), and Lark "reluctantly" agrees to tag along.  And
so will the other (former) Topless too!

The Aquarion folks will have their choice of what to do with their freedom,
but at least one errand is on the calendar: return to Holy Angel Academy and
tell their fellow classmates about all of this.  But before that, checking out
how Altair is doing sounds like a good plan.  The EVA folks, Shinji included,
have stuff to do in their future too -- though much of that entails atoning for
past mistakes.  In all cases, nothing'll get done by dying along the way.

Kei, and Xiine, find it hard to participate in all this pre-final-battle mirth.
Kei's been ruminating long and hard about why the failed Spacetime Concussion
Bomb was able to bring down the walls between all these worlds.  It's now clear
that it's intimately involved with this widely-connected Chaos Cosmos and the
planet Es Terran.  If there's any hope of true Dimension Healing, it lies here.
But even the two Greater Singularities will have to learn the mechanism behind
the Collapse before they can try to stop it.  These Baals, agents of the Power
that Seeks Oblivion: where do they come from, truly?  And before that, do they
_truly_ even exist?  

Setsuko's plans after this involve continuing in the military; Rand in turn
means to continue his repair business as the best means to search for his long
lost boss.  And Crow, as always, will have to resume payments on his million-G
debt -- a devotion that Margret certainly can salute.

AAAAND, at long last, Kodama wakes his ass up and rejoins the team.  Like
everyone else, he knows this is no time to be lying in bed napping... nor is he
gripped by the delusion that _he_himself_ can turn the tide, especially after
he failed to keep Asakim in check.  It'll be a team effort, and Traia's done
everything she can to strengthen the Dimensional Barrier system: all is as
ready as it'll ever be.

And since everyone else has had their "what'll you do once the battle's over?"
moment, they ask Kodama for his plans.  First: a haircut!  Sounds
anticlimactic, right?  But for Kodama, his current 'do is a conscious attempt
to hold onto his mother by mirroring her appearance.  He's starting to feel
like he can move on with his life, and with all that he's learned from the
rest of the team, it seems that he can do just about anything he darn well
pleases now.

For example: take his lifetime simulator combat record of 224 wins to 387
losses.  That doesn't sound all that glamorous, until you consider that he
started out as a rank amateur going up against some of the finest mecha drivers
the multiverse has ever seen.  Considering his rapid ascent of the learning
curve, if you only count matches since the Time Prison was broken, his
simulator record is actually 156 to 145!  Pretty hot stuff, though before talk
of what he'll do AFTER graduation, he's first got to _graduate_ along with
his classmates.  Cheers to that.

(And although Suzune intends to become a teacher, she'd really like Kodama to
"take her glasses off for her"... a metaphor that seemingly goes over his head
a bit.  Looks like she's got her work cut out for her and her feminine wiles
before the two of them can have some love-love happy ending...)

And although Kodama is inwardly very grateful to have had such a great
partner as Suzune, he seems to believe that it can't last...

The team arrive at the site that would be Wrath Babylon, beholding the Black
Sun -- what remains of this universe's Solar System's star.  Stars are lumps
of Dimensional Energy, and we already know that Wrath Babylon's site is an
optimal location for that energy's use.  This, in essence, is the new God Most
High in the making, as Advent mentions when he shows up.  His troops certainly
seem fitting for a final battle, but he wants Z-BLUE to know that this isn't
_all_ his warpower: other troops are elsewhere in the multiverse.  Not taking
out sentient races, however -- they're there to stop the Collapse.  Zero senses
some note of desperation in Advent's voice... there's clearly more going on
than Advent is admitting.

Now it's time for Kodama to settle the score for his family, for himself, and
for the world at large.  Indeed, this is the day Advent raised him through
so many trials for.  But can he and Z-BLUE hope to prevail against a Servitor,
with eight Spheres in his possession?

  Well, it certainly looks like it.  With the Heliorz ready for the scrapyard,
  Traia kicks in the strengthened Barrier, and the dude gets his 120 million-
  year comeuppance, sealed away between dimensions.  However, this is when
  Doctrine turns up, sniffing at how inept his comrade turned out to be.  As
  Tempty looks on in shock, Doctrine opines that twelve millennia have made
  Advent careless.  Then again, Advent _was_ kicked out of his standing as a
  Servitor once before.  Still, taking him out requires some kind of
  retribution.

  That seems odd, given how Advent killed one of their own comrades.  Doctrine
  and Tempty reckon that Z-BLUE must be lying, given how they've been freed
  from all conflict and falsehoods.  Doctrine declares that Z-BLUE are the
  true "Baals", servitors of the Power that Seeks Obliteration... and not just
  them either!  The entire universe, where such power festers, is at fault!
 
  That, in fact, is a piss-poor excuse for destroying whole galaxies.  Perhaps,
  but unfortunately it's the excuse the Servitors are more than ready to pull
  out of their ass for moments like this.  With such ghoulishness on display,
  the question becomes: precisely who are they "Serving" by behaving like
  that.  Doctrine declares that his service is self-evident, that to save the
  universe from destruction each and every last sin must be purged.  How
  self-serving, huh?

  And if Tempty thinks Z-BLUE are going to give her an ounce of pleasure for
  such actions, Kodama can assure her empty little head that she's wrong.
  Dead wrong.  Apparently any hopes of actually talking through ways of saving
  the universe are futile, and only completely pulverizing these demons offers
  any hope of salvation.  And no Tempty, the answer is NOT for Z-BLUE to just
  lay down their lives in the interest of saving the day.

  Crow now sees why Vildark and Asakim strove so hard to assemble warpower
  against the Servitors: their evil is that deep-seated, and that massive in
  scope.  Tempty tells Doctrine that she'll handle the rest, and Doctrine
  shouts that thanks to the Unseen God's existence, mankind's self-achieved
  Perfection has given rise to nothing but Sin.  Thus will he go to all
  parallel universes and personally regulate mankind's evolution!

  That arrogance is nothing if not the sign of the Primordial Menace.
  As Tempty prepares to have some fun, Doctrine says that the Prodicium is the
  intended vessel for the new Sol, and is the embodiment of all his people's
  technology.  ...Which is great, from Zero's standpoint: it tells Z-BLUE what
  they have to break in order to disrupt this new god's advent...

  The remaining Servitors mostly talk trash, but one piece of wisdom they do
  impart to Roger is that his Megadeus was designed to protect the walled
  garden certain people constructed to hide the inhabitants from the Servitors.
  Suddenly, it makes sense what the "Memory of Fire" refers to: the battle
  with the Servitors themselves!  Dang, who would have thought that Roger would
  find a bit of his missing memories here of all places?!  He actually smiles,
  which seems to piss the Servitors off no end.

  Lo and behold, the Prodicium isn't quite as invincible as advertised.
  Doctrine frets that losing it here will take out the only means of stopping
  the Greater Collapse, but Z-BLUE has finally divined something.  The source
  of that collapse, the _real_ genuine-article Baals around here, are the
  Servitors themselves!  After all, _who_ but they are destroying living things
  in just the way the "Power that Seeks Obliteration" is supposed to?
  According to their own propaganda?

  In fact, the more lives they steal, the more the Power that Seeks
  Obliteration grows, and with the Space Monsters gone, there's only one
  negative force left.  Tempty is actually starting to see Z-BLUE's point, and
  in a panic asks Doctrine what to do.  After repeating his boilerplate
  statement that the Servitors are inerrant, he prepares to take them and the
  Black Sun to safety.  That Black Sun is in fact the Ultimate Singularity,
  the key for repairing all of spacetime.

  AG surmises that the Spacetime Concussion Bomb (which one of the Bernarls
  designed) must have contacted Es Terran when it detonated, and due to the
  connectedness of this world, the shockwave was able to spread everywhere.
  Vildark must have known this, which is why he was researching Singularity.
  Doctrine and Tempty rush to defend the source of their power from the humans,
  but Zero springs into action as well.

  The Z-Crystals have shown him the Servitors' weakness, and Zero orders the
  both of them to obey his commands.  Doctrine is aggrieved at this momentary
  display of Perfect power, but neither of them think that Zero has any chance
  of affecting them with it.  ORLY?  Lelouch's beloved sister once broke a
  Geass by her own force of will... and if the power of memories can make a
  Geass weaker, it should also be possible to make it stronger.  And he's quite
  prepared to lay down his life to see the effect completed -- after all, he's
  been prepared to die for a long time now.  Something that the undying
  Servitors probably can't grasp, which is that weak spot: they simply don't
  fathom how heavy, and powerful, life is!

  By gaining eternity, the Servitors lost sight of the meaning in that
  momentary flash of light that is a mortal life.  This is his final Geass, and
  Lelouch WILL see it done!  ...Or, damn near.  Frigging Advent has to come
  and louse things up AGAIN, calling Doctrine and Tempty back within the Black
  Sun.

But not to prevent the Collapse.  He declares that the Universe must be
reborn, and will grant them a chance to watch for all eternity, within him.
Guess Doctrine and Tempty now know who was the liar here.  As Advent bears
down on them, he says that during his exile (which, by the way, was a great
sin on Doctrine's part) he realized that the Servitors by themselves were
unequal to the task of managing the multiverse.  He came back to test whether
they were worthy to be peers of his going forward, but the results are plain
to see, and rather unfortunate too.  They should just join him already so he
can produce the new God Most High.

But, but... what about the four missing Spheres?!  Ahh yes, the Servitors'
great failure.  Advent spent that twelve millennia working on ways around that
problem, and arrived at an interesting solution: using the souls of the other
Servitors themselves, plus Asakim, as replacements!  But for that, the other
Servitors' powers must be temporarily weakened, and THAT is the point of all
Advent has done to guide Z-BLUE.

Now he gets to be the new God Most High, and save the reborn universe.  And
this God has no mercy on Tempty or Doctrine, who both whine like little kids
as their souls are sucked into Advent.  Who kicks in the villainous laughter
as he declares that he's about to be the only thing left in the universe.
With the Heliorz and Prodicium. the eight Spheres and four eternal souls, let
the Heaven-Hell be broken and a new universe begun!

Bad news indeed: time for the team to get their ass back to the ship STAT!
All the good memories he has of the team are worth 2000Z, and he assures the
player that this really will be the FINAL final battle.  So stock up while the
Sale, Saleing is good!


FINAL CHAPTER: An Endless World

The remains of the Sidereal command corps are getting a taste of the Angeroi
Arcas, which only Sardias has even seen before.  The memory is a chilling one:
shock troops sent in to quash any and all resistance in the Lukbat star system,
less "troops" are more like the angels of a vengeful god.  It would seem that
the mysterious rulers of the Sidereals are on hand at last... and spread all
across the galaxy.  Nobody can maintain battle lines for long against a menace
like this, though if the dimensional collapse continues it won't really matter.
Shikoku notices that the Power that Seeks Obliteration is concentrating on one
area in particular: the Earth.

Well, the Earthlings wanted to come out from behind their shield, and for their
bravery they're subject to immediate Angeroi Arca assault.  The Earth's
warriors intend to take Svalinn's place, believing in a brighter future for
mankind past this trial.  Oh, and in Z-BLUE.

Es Terran appears to be be crumbling, but it's too much to hope for that Advent
would have gone with it.  For one thing, there are plenty of Angerois still
floating around, apparently summoned back from other dimensions to help.  Their
True Guard pilots are aghast at the sight of their home base, and are quick to
do Advent's bidding and try to take out Z-BLUE.

Z-BLUE pointing out that Advent's the one who took out the other Servitors
doesn't seem to carry much weight.  Advent himself would seem to be somewhere
amidst what's left of Es Terran, and from what he said it almost seems like
he's simply sitting and waiting for the universe to end.  There's not a moment
to lose going and killing him off first.

  Well, Advent's servants certainly don't last long.  But what of Advent,
  hidden away inside of Es Terran?  Well, whatever it is involves "bells of
  blessing, ringing from on high".  Uh, sure.  According to Advent anyway,
  Heaven-Hell has now been breached and a new universe is about to begin.
  And evidently, the existing universe is about to... break!

The team find themselves... somewhere or other.  Advent terms it the abyss
between existence and nothingness, the Void before the Beginning.  Advent
tells Kodama he loves him, which is interesting insofar as it must mean he
broke out of the Dimensional Barrier somehow.  Well sure, with three eternal
life forces under his command (his, Sacrifi and Asakim) that Barrier didn't
work in the first place.

He's rather impressed that Kodama can actually face him despite the whole
red-eye thing, and Kodama counters that he's far from the little boy cowering
in fear of an Angel.  Still, Advent has to hand it to Kodama for exceeding all
his expectations and plans: truly, his beloved.  Kodama growls that neither he,
nor Asakim, nor the people of Earth are Advent's possessions, but Advent
blithely continues that Kodama's time in the Volunteer Club must have prepared
him for this moment of selfless service: that he will be the one person who
bears a memory of _this_ world into the next.

Kodama is of course having none of this, especially not from the person who
killed his family.  If Advent intends to save someone, he'd better man up as a
self-proclaimed "god" and save EVERYBODY, or else bust ass like any other
normal human being.  Advent is impressed at the back-talk, but now declares
that Kodama has made a mistake.  Instead of being the bearer of the present
into the future, he's to be forced to bear witness to the present becoming the
past.  The End of the Myth will be the end for him and his ilk.  This "End of
the Myth" will be the world where a new beginning occurs...

The other Reactors see a vision of Asakim, who seems to be trying to tell them
something.  But what?!

Well, he'd better hurry, because the new God Most High is here, and it is NOT.
SMALL.  What's more, Advent has shifted everything back to the Earth where
Z-BLUE are from, now that the "Heaven-Hell" is broken.  Yes: Heaven-Hell turns
out to be Es Terran, the eternal walled-garden where nothing can ever grow
that the Servitors called home.  Advent says it was the Servitors' Sin to dwell
there, a cruelty beyond words to spend their hard-won peace just sitting on 
their asses for a hundred twenty MILLION years.

But not Advent, OHHH no: he went out and became something beyond a Servitor,
him and his God Most High "Z".  That's "Zedd" if you come from the parts of
the world where Ye Olde English is still spoken.  And "Miss Jackson" if you're
nasty.  From where I sit, it's more like "Zee Endo" for the good people of
Earth, unless Z-BLUE can somehow take this monstrosity (and his mech) down.

And if that word-play doesn't do it for you, here's a _direct_ quote from
Advent: "This world, which began from Alpha, _would_ rightfully have ended with
Omega.  But, stuff happened, so it's 'Z' now."  Stuff, thy name is Terada.
Seriously, what the fuck.  And in case it wasn't obvious (FYI Terada has
declared that the Z franchise is his last at the SRW helm), God Most High Z is
the instrument of ending the old world.

Said old world must, regrettably, be destroyed.  See, it's full of all these
imperfect life forms, some of which never even evolved, others of which
evolved in twisted ways, and whatnot.  But Advent, claiming to be in tune with
the will of the universe, has concluded that he needs to hit the Reset button
on it all, and it will be his greatest pleasure to do so.

How the fuck can Advent complain about lack of evolution, when he's one of the
very people who were holding it in check?!  The answer, snarls Char, is clear:
Advent fears anyone else evolving into anything resembling a peer.  All that
Joy and whatever the fuck have made him arrogant, and insulated from the rest
of life.  Oddly, Advent not only accepts that as true, but declares that his
people are very much in the wrong for what they did to stop others' evolution.

Hell, Sacrifi repented herself of her past deeds, and the truth of it is what
pushed Tempty and Doctrine to the brink of losing to Zero's Geass.  Even
Advent, as he was, would have succumbed to his own weak nature and become
imprisoned in that Barrier.  But his self-improvement program has put him past
all of that: he's no longer a "Servitor" of some higher purpose.  He is, of his
own will and under his own responsibility, becoming God himself.

This utter self-confidence is what AG hates the most about the Servitors.  Who
the hell should be permitted to declare themself a god with such a straight
face?  Advent says that the Black Knowledge has made Bernarl the Devil, and
that's fine with AG so long as Advent goes down.  Kodama gets increasingly
furious about how Advent, so-called God, could bear the uncountable number of
lives he's about to extinguish.  But Advent says that he became a God precisely
because he _could_ bear them.  He ever believes that such things will become
Joy one day.

Yup, this guy is totally bonkers.  He says that it's time to use the Power
that Seeks Obliteration to utterly wipe everything out, followed by the Power
that Seeks Existence to reboot stuff.  This apparently involves more of the
crystalline giants, which the team has to crush to reach Advent himself.
Advent cautions that the team is facing eight Spheres and four Eternal Souls,
but Traia could care less.  What matters is that this place will only last for
another five turns until space collapses.  Well, no turning back now...

  Advent too has the "hits before it's launched" punch, which is a serious
  pain in the ass.  He warns Kodama that the more he struggles, the more
  severe the punishment will be.

  The God Most High Z is pretty damn tough... but not impregnable.  Advent
  muses that a hundred ones add up to (wait for it...) one hundred!  A hundred
  hundreds is ten thousand, at least by mortal arithmetic.  But that won't work
  against a god, as he demonstrates by healing all the damage that's been
  inflicted so far.  Traia says that the Barrier system can't hope to keep up
  with that amount of Dimensional Power -- even if the team could defeat the
  God Most High, it would just regenerate again.  Despairing yet?  If so,
  Advent will "save" the team with more bad guys he gives birth to out of
  nothingness.

  And since that doesn't seem enough, he brings out the "Neo Reactors", living
  beings he created to help draw out the power of the Spheres.  Z-BLUE's
  Reactors aren't impressed, and certainly not prepared to be "put out of their
  misery" as Advent put it.  Kodama in particular rejects the whole idea that
  there's no need to cry over the lives to be lost here, since more will be
  born in the new universe to come.

  While there's life, there's an opportunity to fight -- and if Advent wants
  to break Z-BLUE's will, he'll have to kill them to do it!  Advent finds this
  a pity, for perhaps the first time in 120 million years, but he says he'll
  push through the pain and grant Kodama's "final wish".  That gets disrupted
  when the remaining Sidereals, Earth forces and whatnot turn up and vanquish
  part of Advent's reinforcements.  They remind Z-BLUE not to give up hope,
  and to concentrate on the prize: defeating Advent.

  Mind you, they aren't likely to stand much of a chance against Servitor-grade
  weaponry, but the idea is to buy Z-BLUE more time.  Well, they asked for it
  and they got it.  But there's more to it than just that, as the will of all
  the people on Earth focuses into the Z-Crystals.  Svalinn didn't run out of
  time after all: the Earthlings made a conscious choice to risk lowering it
  in order to preserve what power they had left for Z-BLUE's benefit.

Z-BLUE are the pride, and the dream, of all mankind, and with them there,
there's nothing to fear.  All the ZONEs, and the Wrath Babylon systems, are
online -- and with all the refugees from Mars and and the green Earth helping,
there is a LOT of power on tap.  Z-BLUE's always saved the day before, and
they can sure as hell do so again now!

...As we get to hear about a billion times in a row.  I guess there's some kind
of union for side characters ensuring that everyone gets at least a moment's
screen time and a line of dialog.  Even characters who didn't otherwise
appear in this game, like Olba and Shagia from Gundam X.

Anyway, it's time to fill in the final page of Metropolis.  What the Earthlings
have done is unify all their souls, just like the Es Terranians once did.  And
that means a level(-ish) playing field, which is NOT what Advent had in mind.
How can it be that the humans have arrived at the Truth?!  Stupid question,
says Fudou as he shows up.  He tells his students that he's got nothing more
to teach, and it's time for them to finally graduate out from under the curse
of the Higher-Dimensional Beings.

Advent is aghast that another species has finally achieved Perfection: no
longer can he claim to be oh-so special.  Perhaps, but until they defeat
Advent their minutes are still quite numbered.  Fair enough.  But if Advent
thinks the humans are out of allies, he's wrong: all that human will also awoke
Asakim from his nightmare!

So what: what can Asakim do now?!  He can't turn the God Most High against
Advent or anything, but one thing he _can_ do with all the accumulated Sphere
energy is have his one wish granted: to die!  Asakim can't comprehend why
anyone would voluntarily relinquish eternity... which is why he can't have
nice things.  Nobody who's lost sight of the meaning of "life" could hope to
bond with the Great Ultimate, with a God Most High.  All that remains is for
Z-BLUE to finish the wish granting, and give him and Advent death.

Advent is now visibly angry, yelling that only HE will survive the Greater
Collapse.  Showing his true colors, here near the end -- proof that for all his
boasting, he's still human after all.  Hell, he might have been able to coexist
with the Earthlings, had he not become drunk with his power and went down the
wrong path.  The ultimate proof of his humanity is his obsession with the idea
that "godhood" awaits beyond humanity; if he really _has_ surpassed human
understanding, he'd better start showing it, and fast.

  Amidst all the other conversations being traded around, Kodama's is the most
  central.  To Advent's surprise, he actually offers thanks -- for keeping him
  alive during the Time War.  But now that those thanks are tendered and the
  score even, it's time for the real battle.  And the real revenge for Kodama's
  parents' death, and the real preservation of life across all universes.
  Advent is so very, very glad to have met someone who surpassed Hope and
  Despair to become the Great Ultimate personified.

  That might have been the one true pleasure he had since his exile from Es
  Terran.  If so, that makes him a pretty small-minded bastard: doesn't he
  realize that Kodama isn't the only one to accomplish that feat?  That's how
  Z-BLUE has gotten this far... and how they're going to finish the job!

Advent's composure finally slips as the God Most High gets its ass kicked.
How you like humankind now, asswipe?  The celebration is short-lived though:
the Collapse has progressed faster than expected, which is really bad news.
Advent attempts to gloat that the puny Earthlings couldn't avert their fate
after all, but Kodama springs into action instead.

With Advent's power weakened, he reckons he can use the Quarreling Twins to
_take_over_ the God Most High.  This means having to deal with *all* the souls
of the Es Terranians, but doing so should give Kei and Orson time to do
Dimension Healing using the Ultimate Singularity within.  He's sure that the
will of the universe is to live, and believes they'll succeed.  Advent cries
out that if Kodama tries it, he'll be swept by Origin Rho to the very horizon
of karma, never to be reborn again.

And that's okay with Kodama, who fears not the prospect of obliteration.  That
is what it truly means to stake one's life on an outcome.  Kodama ejects
Suzune, intending to save her life while he loses his own, but she won't have
that and teleports (remember she can do that) right back.  As the two start to
quarrel about who gets to sacrifice themself to save the day, the rest of
Z-BLUE are like "Gawd, helloooo!!!" and take their positions.

The theory, dubious though it sounds, is that everyone here has mastered their
conflicting emotions and so are ALL eligible Reactors for the Quarreling Twins.
How can this be?  For they ARE the Kwisatz Haderach!  Nope, wait, wrong genre.
It can be because, apparently, the Quarreling Twins Sphere itself is a human!
All the various things the twelve Spheres represent are all human emotions,
right?  Then the Core of Sol is that in miniature.

With AG channeling everyone's thoughts through the Z-Crystals to Kodama, it
seems it's time for everything that's happened since the Breaking to be fixed,
though nobody knows precisely what that will mean.  Other than, of course, NOT
letting the universe be destroyed.

It doesn't start well, exceeding even the capacity of the Geminion Rei in
Perfect Union, but Z-BLUE doesn't give up easily.  And here's a suggestion for
Advent: instead of schadenfreuding all the time, maybe he might consider
helping?  Like he had to have touched the Truth briefly to have become a
Servitor in the first place, kapiche?  And now that he's rediscovered his fear
of death, perhaps he can rediscover the rest of his humanity in the bargain.

Advent finally admits defeat, and that Kodama and the rest of the lives in the
universe had it right all along.  He turns his attention to his rightful task
of saving lives, and that's the final push Kei needs to start Dimension
Healing.  The whole world will indeed be new, and reflect whatever its
inhabitants desire.  A new Multidimensional World begins now!

...

There is a long moment of utter stillness, then the blazing of billions of
stars.  The various parts of the Multidimensional World are revering to their
original timelines, along with their rightful residents.  For now, the Z-BLUE
members will have to content themselves with precious memories of their time
together... though one day mankind will cement the power to control spacetime,
and the various worlds will join once more.  Though the team must disband,
their memories will live forever.  And maybe that's the true form of
Perfection, after all.  So long as Life keeps fighting to live, there will
always be a way.

Come to find out a few old acquaintances were involved in setting things to
rights.  That would be Yuusar, Eim, Barbiel, Elunaluna, Shikuu...  Yeah, all
of them.  Note that thanks to the Healing, the Spheres themselves are going
poof, and that freed the various Reactors from their prison between dimensions.
Doubtless Rand and the others will meet them again, though that will be some
ways off so long as their souls keep shining with life.  Vildark and of course
Asakim helped out as well, and at last Asakim can hear a new wind calling to
him -- a wind he remembers back at the most distant reaches of his memory.
That wouldn't have anything to do with the Cybuster, would it?  Just asking.

Even Gadlight helped out, and he's wondering where Kodama's gone off to,
leaving the message that he's to live as strong as he can.  Kodama is in fact
conferring with AG, who's about to take a one-way trip to the horizon of Karma
with the rest of the Power that Seeks Obliteration.  It's a dirty job, but
someone's got to do it.  As for Advent, he's concluded that there's no room for
him in this new world, and intends to watch over it from outside the cycle of
Karma.  He tells Kodama there's no need to forgive Advent, and Kodama vows that
no matter how much mankind evolves, how much they Perfect themselves, they'll
never claim themselves to be gods and lord it over others.

Advent has nothing to add to that, save the observation that when "gods" (like
him) and "demons" (like Bernarl) leave the world, all that will remain are
people.  May Kodama's future be as pain-free as possible.  And that direction
will be for everyone left to decide.

Well, thanks to the Singularities working together, the day was -- in fact --
saved.  And a new era, that of the Superdimensional World, began!

AG and the Z-Crystals are all gone, but the Solarian has a new role to fulfill
now that Traia's got it patched up.  It will be the controller for the new
Heavenly Pillar that now stands near the Earth -- gateway to the various
parallel worlds.  It seems that the scattered members of Z-BLUE will get to
see each other far sooner than they expected... assuming Traia's theories are
all sound.  And even if so, some parallel worlds are closer than others, and
contacting some of the far-flung ones could be difficult.

Essentially, the parallel worlds not already similar to Earth will need to be
colonized as part of the spreading-out process, and applications for volunteers
are already pouring in.  From several parallel worlds, in fact, according to
Xiine in the control center.  Among them are former Sidereal folks like
Sardias, who added a cautionary note that it's anybody's guess how long this
peaceful period will last.  But with the Gate as a symbol of what everyone's
been through and learned, there's plenty of hope to go around.

Crow's debts are as robust as ever, thanks to he decision to have the Blaster
repaired instead of scrapping it at the end of the battle.  He may be resigned
to playing lowball to get out of debt, but he's not so low as to cast off his
partner of so many battles.  At least he'll have plenty of jobs to choose from,
and Traia secretly paying off a good 80% of the debt as a gesture of
gratitude.

So, what's everybody else doing?  Reconnecting.  Kei and Orson, with Mimsy and
Atena and the rest of their crew for some domestic bliss now that they're no
longer Singularities.  Kiriko, with Fiana and Goat's gang for *mock* Battling
glory and the hopes that he'll never have to shoot a real gun again -- and
enough prize money to give Kokona and Vanilla a shot at a decent wedding.

Basara, with the space whales, regardless of how he's dragging his companions
through multiple dimensions in the process (thereby making it harder for Gamlin
to court Mylene).  Alto, with the skies above the new colony while the S.M.S.
(and friends/family) is visiting the former Vajran homeworld -- and with
Ai-kun, emblem of Vajra/human coexistence.

Team D, with the ORIGINAL mission of Dancougar (the preservation and spreading
of the seeds of humanity across the cosmos) as the Dragons' Hive heads through
the Gate to parts known and unknown.  The Elements, with the world they'll
live in in peace after these twelve long millennia (along with all the folks at
Holy Angel Academy) -- and the hope that the Aquarion will not have to be
summoned from its slumber to defend the peace again.

Simon and Nia, with each other and their friends as they finally stop scurrying
around long enough to get married.  Noriko and a rejuvenated Kazumi with Jung,
who was NOT expecting to see them again in her lifetime but whose "Welcome
Back" message really worked wonders in an alternate timeline.

The Topless and friends, with the prospect of finding a new job helping the
Sirius Alliance get moving again after millennia of stasis.  Nono, it turns
out, has started remembering all kinds of stuff after the Healing, such as how
in the days of Earth/Sirius commerce, there were experiments underway to try to
communicate with the Space Monsters -- not all of whom, it turns out, evolved
into Baals after all.  If someone could marshal the forces of sentient life,
the Power that Seeks Existence, to change the course of the Power that Seeks
Obliteration, it could alter and perhaps even end the universal destruction
system once and for all.  Great stuff!

The EVA pilots, with the not so great stuff: their world is back the way it
was, and Asuka and Mari on the opposite side of the conflict from Shinji and
friends.  Shinji isn't sure what to do now, but he knows he can't do _nothing_,
and resolves to try to act thoughtfully going forward.

Roger, with a Paradigm City that is seeing clear skies for the first time since
time immemorial, and which still needs him despite its ongoing lack of memory.
Setsuko, with her squadmates and the challenge of preparing a true mass-
production Valgora... which they all elected to tackle instead of people
returning to their respective timelines, becoming de facto guardians of the
Gate.

Camille, with grad school!  His plan is to become a Gundam designer, and Amuro
is certainly looking forward to testing some of his creations -- Amuro intends
to stay in the army as a way to guard the next generation's progress.  Many of
said next generation will be going to school for things other than military
training, which may require some conversations between fathers and sons before
all the dust settles.

Speaking of dust (oh noes, combo breaker!) settling, Hamarn gets on the mic as
the representative of Neo Jion and announces total renunciation of arms and
integration into the regular Colonial governance model.  Yeah, they probably
have some weapons stashed somewhere, but that makes it a matter of guiding
society in a direction where nobody will feel the need to use them.  That
changing of the guard is part of why Char himself isn't on the broadcast, and
Amuro would like to believe that Char will live his life according to the best
principles he learned from hanging with Z-BLUE.  For now, Amuro's got a
different score to settle: Chain, or Beltorchika?  Beltorchika, or Chain?
Tough choice, and Amuro thinks he ought to follow Banarj's good example there.

Mineva is no longer a princess of Jion since Jion just vanished, but she
still expects there are things she can do for the world.  Finding out what they
are is why she's returning to Hamarn to study under her, but she promises
Banarj she'll return to him as he returned to her.  And though she's not a
princess any longer, Genneman and his men still treat her as such.  Banarj
finally calls Mineva by her given name, figuring that neither of them need to
wear masks any longer.

Lacus and Cagalli are glad to be working together again, as Orb has been
selected as the point-of-contact for Plant-Earth relations.  Mind you, there
may still be remnants of Blue Cosmos lurking around, and it will fall to Shinn
and the others (including the rehabilitated Stella) to keep the lid on.

Kappei and the crew are back to little-kid antics, while the Zanbot and Bial
have been loaned to the military.  Yes, "loaned": while it'll be up to the
kids whether they want to pilot it again, Hezaemon declares that those mecha
are good for more than just fighting with.  Kappei likes the sound of that,
and even has a name for the resulting company (in imitation of Watta): the
Superdimensional World Jack-of-all-Trades Kami Great Company!  Of course,
Kappei has a lot of homework in his future if he wants to be CEO of any such
company (and for the record, _Watta_ finished all his pent up homework, unlike
a certain someone else...)

Banjou's got the whole private eye thing set up, and is about to receive his
first customer.  He's quite sure it'll be a woman, just cause that's the kind
of luck he has.  We'll see...

Rand and Mail are in the midst of trying to find new work when up comes
Cielo, in the flesh!  Come to find out he was Traia's chosen chief mechanic on
the Solarian, on ZONE tuning, and most recently on the Svalinn system.  The
last thing he intended to do is stick his oar in when the Beater Service had
already passed to the next generation... nor is he the kind to disturb the
"newlyweds".  Rand sighs "Like father, like daughter", then bucks up when
Mail gushes that she's gonna have a HUGE WEDDING and invite all their friends
from across the multiverse.  Guess it's time to get busy raising money for the
official dowry, and for loads of tasty beer to drink.

Gundam X folks are, basically, going back to their former lives.  And as
always, Garode and Tifa are like two peas in a pod.  Romantic, mostly.  Diana
meanwhile has left the Moon Race's fate and peaceful return to Earth in Kiel's
capable(?) hands, having requested that Rolan hang out with her until her time
comes to return to sleep.  As such, Rolan will be back for Soshie soon enough.

Bebel is busy studying archaeology, learning from the past in preparation for
the future.  That's going well with Ledo as the ace salvager on the Gargantia
fleet, but it might go even better if Ledo was to use Chamber -- something he's
not willing to do in an effort to live honestly within his own means.  Chamber
is doing his part though, working on ways to avoid arousing the Whale-squids'
anger peacefully.  It's hoped that eventually it will be possible to actually
communicate with them, in keeping with the universal truth of coexistence.
And although Ledo is happy here, if he ever returns to the Alliance he wants to
take Amy with him, to show her his birthplace.

Watta may have done his homework, but he's not the world's best at economics.
He gives his staff a bonus that the company can't really afford, on the theory
that there's an infinite amount of paying work beyond the Gate.  Plus, given
that he graduates elementary school tomorrow, he expects to be able to work
even harder personally from now on.  In fact, he knows that he's got his work
cut out for him until he can give his company's staff regularly-scheduled
bonuses like a real CEO.

Watta won't be alone in middle school either: Ghoula's decided to try his hand
at that Earth custom.  Shoutarou will be glad to see his friend again, though
he'll have to balance hanging out and school with his ongoing work as an ICPO
detective.  After all, there are still Robot Mafiosi to take out with Tetsujin
and Black Ox.

The Crushers are about to begin resurveying the Solar System, leaving the
new cadet Namida in charge of defending the home front.  Roze will be making a
trip to Gishin to try to drum up support for furthering relations between
the two planets, and Takeru will come join her when he's done locally.  And
then, the both of them will head off for a reunion with their friends from
Z-BLUE.

The G-Boys are all Preventers now, and their first mission is guarding the
Gate for its first Opening.  All of the pilots have someone waiting to see
them off, including Rilina for Hiiro.  The two of them can never seem to
actually get words out of their mouths when they see each other, but somehow
their mutual understanding seems stronger than ever.

There's still that giant-ass flower that symbolizes human cooperation with the
ELS, and the sight is more than Marina can easily explain to others.  Setsuna
finds her at the observation port, and the two of them both agree that each
other's actions were correct.  Though their methods differ greatly, both can
understand each other, which events prove is easier said than done.  The CBs
will continue as an independent force, but there's every reason to be
optimistic about their relations with the regular army.  For now, Setsuna will
be heading to the ELS homeworld to try to achieve even deeper understanding
between the two races.  And he promises to be back sooner or later.

Shin Getter Dragon's new role is to serve as an interdimensional delivery
ship, with a little adventure and derring-do thrown in for good measure.
Getter Robo and its middle-aged pilots (hey, you're only as old as you feel,
insists Ryouma) will be along for the ride, and the further research into the
still-mysterious Getter Rays.

Kouji plans to join an outer-space reconn team, still remembering Zeus' words
that he, and the vastness of space, await.  But something about the ocean of
stars itself calls to Kouji, and with only a little reluctance Tsubasa gives
him her blessing to go.  She expects that by the time he's back, Shirou will
be a man, and her husband will have opened his eyes, and it seems that Sayaka
and the Boss gang will tag along to keep Kouji company.

The folks from 21st Century are up to their elbows in paperwork, so much so
that even when dispatched to the scene of a possible Quake, Akagi and friends
still have to take it with them to work on.  With no other choice, Akagi
steels himself to take on both the Heterodynes and his paperwork, like any good
ally of justice would.

Amazingly, only Karen and Rival are going to graduate from their high school
class.  Rival already plans to follow Milly into television, but Karen hasn't
yet decided what to do next... except that it'll involve the good of Japan.
She is planning to start with parent-child stuff though: the future she's
wanted all along.  Lelouch and Suzaku don't permit themselves the luxury of
joining in, mulling over invitations to the Japanese government or Toudou's
newly formed special-ops unit.  Lelouch says there's no need to hurry: these
days of peace should last for a little while, at least.  But when someone
arises to mess things up, as they always do, Lelouch and the others will be
ready.  From a distance, Lelouch bids Karen a fond congratulations for her
graduation.  His fight as Zero, the miracle-worker, will continue for all time
as his penance for his past.

It's also time for graduation at Rindai High, where Sousuke and Kaname will
be graduating despite their _extensive_ absences of late.  Al is actually along
for the occasion, his core housed in a _very_ heavy briefcase rather than
staying housed inside the ARX-8.  As Sousuke's teammates banter, Sousuke
and Kaname arrive just in time (Sousuke had almost forgotten where his school
uniform was) to meet their classmates.  He's been busy fulfilling his various
promises to Kaname, including taking her to see the ocean, and there's only
one left: to kiss her once they get back to school.  This garners plenty of
applause, not that there's any doubt about that.

Oh, and there's Kodama!  ...And, Maki, who although suffering from memory loss
is in good enough shape to resume nursing care for the kids.  Who, it seems,
are feeling great now.  There's some sort of pain deep within Maki's psyche,
though she can't put her finger on what it might be.  Kodama bids her, and the
kids, a fond farewell.

It seems he's to control the Solarian, which is a harder task than it used to
be thanks to the lack of Z-Crystals.  Of course, the Geminion has no Sphere
either, which makes Kodama's plans of being a solo Gate Traveler all the more
ambitious.  Well, Traia's patched the Geminion up as best as she could, so at
least Kodama will have his favored mech back.

It then turns out that the Gate is now usable by the other worlds where
Z-BLUE's members went, letting representatives turn up to see Kodama off.
Such is this new Superdimensional World.  And for what it's worth, Kodama _has_
cut his hair as promised, though it doesn't look like it.  And although
Kodama can pilot the Solarian on his own, he _will_ need a navigator, and that
will be Suzune.  ...Who is pretty peeved that he tried to take off without
her, even given how she had said she was going back to teacherly stuff.  Well,
now she can go on a sabbatical of sorts, to broaden her own horizons, and keep
an eye on her most _naughty_ student.  Call it a "honeymoon", call it the start
of a new adventure, or whatever you want, but Kodama is now going to survey
with his own eyes this world he helped defend.

                           --- T H E   E N D ---

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