For what seemed like ages, time slowed to a standstill as Marcus fired at Zechs' both of his bullets making their mark and digging deep into Zechs' right and left flies, causing blood to explode as the rounds most likely punctured a fair amount of muscle and bones. Zechs cried in heavy pain, dropping flat on his back as the rest of the hangar watched in terrified silence, paralyzed by what just took place.
To Marcus, it appeared that Zechs was lying still for hours, the image of his bloodied legs, the horrified twist of his face, the cold stare of his mask, burning into his memory with the images likely to follow Marcus until death. His stupor and fixation on Zechs was broken by the sight of Zech's right arm moving, most likely reaching for his side arm.
With adrenaline rushing through his veins, Marcus reacted quickly and fired two more shots at Zech's right arm, one grazing his bicep while another hit at his joint and went through his elbow, causing the count to holler in greater agony and drop onto the floor in complete defeat.
Marcus rushed to Zech's side, the base alarm going off as he sprinted as the mechanics finally reacted to the act. Marcus could hear a few voices screeching into the radios in panic, but fortunately no one had a sidearm so he at least had about a minute or so before anyone would arrive and attempt to kill him.
Standing over Zechs, the sight that laid before Marcus was a complete contrast to the grand and glorious propaganda posters and videos that OZ had been spamming for the past decade. Before recent events, the image of Zechs that filtered into the minds of Marcus and many of his comrades was that of an Olympian, a peak human and perfect soldier who was the epitome of power, grace, and nobility. Since participating in Noin's treason, Marcus saw Zechs as nothing more than the devil itself, a demon who corrupted and peverted OZ for his selfish and twisted ends, the perfect man warping into a filthy creature who stained the OZ uniform and made it something peverted and sinister. The dying man who lied before him, holes filling his limbs akin to a crucifix while a pool of blood bathed Zechs, looked nothing more than a weak and wounded dear, breathing its last before execution by the hunter.
'How the mighty had fallen.' Marcus thought with a smirk, knowing that no matter what happened today, he would go down in history as the man who killed Zechs.
Zechs tiredly and painfully shifted his head to look at Marcus in the eye. Though his eyes were covered by the lenses of his helmet and his face wobbled in a whimper, Marcus could feel an aura of hatred, loathing, betrayal, and confusion all emanating from the Lightning Count. It nearly made him fall back in shock, but Marcus kept himself firm and steady, his hatred for Zechs overriding any intimidation.
"Why...why did you do...this?" Zechs weakly questioned, his speech covered with coughing fits of blood, showing how little time he had remaining.
Marcus stared at Zechs, every fiber of his being wanting to scream and rage at the terrible injustice that he had almost gotten away with. He wanted to lecture Zechs on how he was an insane lunatic, how all of his actions were disrespecting the memories of those who had died fighting the Gundams, how he was a spectre of evil who should have been rightly purged if it weren't for his cult. He wanted to gloat how the man who had been viewed as the greatest Mobile Suit pilot, the Gundam's peer, had been brought down by him. He wanted to triumphly claim that history would know that he was a villain, and that all his precious joust would achieve would be the blackening of his name for generations.
Marcus could have done all of this and more if this were some grand epic, if he was the star of a story, the hero who triumphed over evil and was justly casting down the villain, driving in his final moments just how wrong he was. But Marcus was in no story, he was a soldier who had just fired on his own and was deep in enemy territory, surrounded by terrorists and lunatics, his only way out a damaged prototype who killed nearly all who dared to claim the pilot's seat.
"Because you betrayed OZ, you dishonored those who were killed by the Gundams, you worked with the enemy." Marcus stated simply, wanting to get his message across while he still had time.
Zechs shaked and gargled, what little audio coming from him seeming to resemble a laugh. "You thak, OZ are goo, that fey are worf fight." Zechs laboriously said.
Marcus eyes narrowed, fully understanding the message, "Better to bring peace under their banner than give quarter to terrorists and child soldiers." He simply replied.
The distant sound of thundering boots brought Marcus to the present, making him realize that he needed to end this soon.
"Who are you?" Zechs asked, most likely his last words.
"Just a man whose dying right by his sister." Marcus replied swiftly and firmly. He always had loyalty to OZ, but his driving motivation for justice had been to help Lizzie rest, and rest she shall. "LONG LIVE OZ!" Marcus added in shout, a bit hyped up on adrenaline.
"ZECHS!" Shrieked a feminine voice in horror, one which Marcus quickly identified as Noin, coming from the other side of the room.
It was too late for the Italian pilot to intervene however, Marcus let out his last two shots, one entering Zech's chest, and the other through his helmet, smashing an unforeseen weak point to make the helmet shatter into a dozen of pieces like glass, while a third eye was created in Zech's forehead, blood and brain matter spewing out of it.
Zechs Merquise, the Lightning Count, was no more.
Immediately after Zechs breathed his last, several shots rained down towards Marcus from the opposite side of the room. Were it not for the bulky figure of the Tallgeese blocking the shots with its titanium frame, then Marcus would have quickly joined Zechs in depth. The reality of the situation coming back to him, Marcus quickly reacted. He unloaded his pistol of its empty magazine and reloaded, then raced to where he had set up the camera to record Zechs' death and run back towards the Tallgeese, firing a couple of rounds back at the traitors in his dash.
Fortunately, luck continued to be on Marcus' side as none of the rounds even came close to scratching him, allowing him to jump inside of the cockpit of the Tallgeese. He quickly closed the hatch of the cockpit, allowing him total protection from the small arms fire as the visual monitor fired up.
If there was one definitive advantage that came to hijacking the Tallgeese, it was that the mobile suit despite its infamy would be relatively easy to control before it became airborne. Aside from differences in the propulsion system, the design of the Tallgeese cockpit and controls was near identical to the Leo. Thus Marcus needed to only study the Tallgeese' propulsion and other minor variants to gain an understanding of the machine, giving him some ease of control until he needed to fly away.
Settling into the seat, a rather distant feeling due to him not flying since Daybreak, Marcus' hands reached for the controls, the Tallgeese stepping off of its platform and roaring to life under a new knight.
With the image of a panicking collection of OZ traitors to his right, with Noin front and center, crying and cursing his name, Marcus knew who to target first. He motioned the Tallgeese forward and aimed the dober gun at the platform, the traitors scrambling to dodge as he fired.
The round tore apart the gangway and created a heavy hole in the hangar wall, causing a flurry of snow to settle into the hangar. Marcus could not identify Noin among the collection of corpses, but satisfied that she was at the very least incapacitated and wouldn't be a threat. He moved onto his next objective.
Marcus pushed the Tallgeese forward, the legendary mobile suit skipping somewhat with sporadic bursts of its thrusters along with heavy leaps to travel the 500 meter distance to the Unit-01, or the Wing Gundam's hangar. With another blast of his dober rifle, Marcus tore apart the hangar doors and marched inside.
With the Wing pilot's decision to not use his Gundam due to some idiotic reasoning of honor or something, the Wing's hangar was fortunately empty, though Marcus had at least hoped he could find the Gundam pilots and execute them for their attacks on OZ, any hesitancy due to their age being completely erased by the high body count both had accumulated.
It was strange to come face to face with a Gundam that had murdered tens of thousands over the course of the year and not be instantly obliterated on sight. On the battlefield the Gundam was little more than a demon, the personification of death and evil. But without a pilot to direct its aims, it appeared to be more of a statue, a work of art and engineering beauty instead of the ultimate killing machine.
The engineer within Marcus took a few seconds to admire the handiwork of such a revolutionary design, but the trauma of OZ as a whole and the memory of his sister overrode any feelings of respect and admiration and turned them into rage and disgust.
Growling furiously, Marcus fired a quick succession of six shots from the Dober Gun, tearing the Wing Gundam apart and turning what was once a mighty machine into a Frankenstein's mess with dozens of parts falling onto the hangar floor, the mechanics and technicians having not united the chassis due to the protests of its Gundam pilot. Unfortunately, while the Wing was officially destroyed it was still mostly whole with little hard damage aside from the frying and tearing of its inner circuits, the impossible Gundanium armor still holding up.
"What are you doing to my Gundam?!"
Marcus whipped the Tallgeese around and found himself staring down at the form of Unit-03, the Heavyarms Gundam, currently being piloted by the Wing's pilot, Heero Yuy. The Speciali let loose a spew of curses at the misfortune, hoping that after dealing with the Wing he could destroy the Heavyarms and thus deny the enemy two Gundams, which would hopefully be collected later by OZ and either destroyed or converted into OZ suits.
'Well that's what you get for targeting Zechs, it was either him or the Gundam boys.'
Before Marcus could answer, the Heavyarms unleashed a torrent of beam rounds from its Gatling gun at the Tallgeese, hundreds of energy beams seeking to melt the original mobile suit and take away OZ's last defense against the Gundams.
Marcus did his best to evade, but he was no Zechs Merquise and his efforts while not completely in failure, were more of an awkward and panicked stumble than any graceful maneuvers that Zechs would perform. What made matters worse was the terrible state of the Tallgeese' right arm due to Zechs' chivalric insistence that the Tallgeese fight the Gundam with the same standard of quality as it was in Siberia.
Wanting to at least gain some maneuverability and distance, Marcus fired multiple rounds from the Dober Gun at Heavyarms, causing it to stumble and disorient the machine enough for Marcus to punch the verniers at full throttle and fly through the roof of the hangar, creating a heavy recoil which pushed Marcus backed as he jumped into the open snow plains, with the Heavyarms quick to follow.
"Who are you, what happened to Zechs?" Heero demanded.
"The traitorous swine is currently rotting in hell!" Marcus shot back.
"Should have known that OZ would have no honor or decency. Still, the fact that you killed Zechs-"
"Don't lecture me you mass-murdering terrorist! We have done nothing to you, we're liberating Earth and the colonies from the Alliance, and yet we are deserving of execution?!" Marcus spoke with fury, not wanting to engage in philosophy with the comrade of the man (or presumably boy) who killed his sister.
Marcus thrusted the Tallgeese forward and activated his beam saber, knowing that to solely use the Dober Gun would just lead to at best the Gundam getting slightly worn, thus he needed to create some openings with the Saber.
Unfortunately, Marcus' attempted charge would be met with a seemingly endless hail from the Heavyarms' Gatling. He tried to suitably dodge it in an open environment, but each usage of his verniers only left him disorientated and in a worse position, the heavy power of the Tallgeese's reactors making even the simplest of thrusts as powerful as a space shuttle. Thus he was only able to barely dodge the beam rounds, all the while his body felt like it was taking punches from a heavyweight boxer.
The song and dance continued for several more minutes, with Marcus coming close each time but then the Heavyarms would unleash its chest guns and multiple missile pods at the Tallgeese, forcing a retreat. For now the Tallgeese was mostly intact, but the left side was starting to get dented and burned thanks to the failure of the left arm, and the lack of proper usage of the Tallgeese' thrusts was making the limbs somewhat strained.
Marcus would finally receive an opportunity use his beam saber when the Heavyarms' Gatling Gun ran empty, the pilot having used it extremely liberally with little consideration to reloading, exposing the Gundam's greatest flaw. Knowing that this was his one and only shot, Marcus thrust forward at full speed, raising his beam saber forward in a jousting position to pierce or at least weaken the cockpit significantly for a fatal blow. He reveled in the speed, in the fact that he could take down the Gundam and help bring peace to the Earth sphere.
Only for all of his hopes to be obliterated when Heavyarms dropped its Gatling gun, exposing a hidden beam saber which the Gundam's right arm then used to perry the Tallgeese' saber and push him away, and then resume momentum with a swing of strikes.
Marcus attempted to regain the tide, to find some way to throw the Gundam off-balance and expose himself, but he couldn't create another opportunity, the Gundam being brutal and merciless, managing to knick the Tallgeese with a few strikes while at best Marcus could force him to block and come close to scratching the paint, atbest. It was obvious to Markus that he could not win against the Gundam, or perhaps any Gundam for that matter. While he might have been in the legendary Tallgeese, the machine was only helping to keep him alive, not to win. For all of his rotten character, Zechs was the best of the Speciali, and at best he could only force Gundams to draw in the Tallgeese. If he couldn't win, then what hope did Marcus have?
Realizing that his only fate with fighting was death, Marcus tried to find a way out, but Heavy arms was too close to try and escape without exposing himself, while the Gundam still had some missile pods to shoot at Marcus if he managed to get in the air. All his attempts at planning only lead to fruitless stalling as the Gundam acted too quickly for Marcus, who was never a seasoned tactician to plan.
Fortunately for the Lightning Count's assassin, salvation would come in the form of a pacifist princess, and unknown to him the sister of his victim.
"Heero, Zechs, please stop fighting. I implore you to cease at once! There is nothing to be gained from battle, all this death and destruction is pointless!" A young teenage girl pleaded over the radio.
Confused, both pilots turned and paused at the entrance of a third party, a white private jet that interceded itself between the mobile suits, with the hatch opening and revealing a young caucasian teenager with a pink sweater and long honey blonde hair. The sight was somewhat familiar to Marcus, but he could not place who exactly she was.
"Relena! What are you doing here?" Shouted Heero, informing Marcus of her name and that she was if not a friend, at least an entity who was associated with the Gundam pilots.
"I've come to deliver a letter to you Heero." Relena answered.
"You're in the way, get lost!" Heero snapped back.
"Who the hell are you girl, how do you know the Gundams!" Marcus fired, at the same time confused and infuriated that the destroyers of OZ were turning out to be nothing more than an after school club of teens.
The girl turned to the Tallgeese, shock visible on her face, "Who are you, where is Zechs Merquise?"
"I'm the one who asked first! Who I am is irrelevant, what matters is who you are and how you are associated with those damned Gundams!" Marcus fired.
"I am Princess Relena Peacecraft of the Sanc Kingdom. As the ruling monarch of Sanc I implore you to lay down your arms and cease this nonsensical bloodbath." Relena firmly demanded, as if she had some high power to put an end to the war which had waged on for months.
Marcus stared in heavy astonishment, his mouth hanging open as he connected the dots and realized that the girl was the adopted daughter of the late Vice Foreign Minister of the Alliance and the newly crowned head of state of the Sanc Kingdom, her apparent resurrection of the dead and the revelations of her hidden past being a global media sensation for the past several weeks, but one which Marcus had largely neglected to stay informed of due to his depression over Lizzie and partaking in his personal conspiracy and crusade.
'The Sanc Princess is friends with Zechs and the Gundams? Does this mean that the Sanc were backers of Operation Meteor, as some revenge plot for their downfall? Was the Alliance in on the Gundam operation? She's the Vice Foreign Minister's daughter and the Gundams refused to target the Alliance until Noventa's death, most likely to cover it up. Those genocidal hypocrites!' Marcus thought in outrage and horror, forming a conspiracy that was missing several links from the real operation.
"Relena, that man piloting the Tallgeese murdered Zechs. He murdered your brother, Milliardo Peacecraft!" Noin interjected with hated accusation, making the young teenager frozen in surprise and confusion.
Before Marcus could comprehend the new revelation, he heard the distinct sound of several Aires Mobile Suits that were closing in. Believing the sound to be those of the Aires stationed at the Barclay Kamb naval base, Marcus thought that Noin had called in reinforcements, and believed his time was out.
Desperately needing a distraction, Marcus acted on instinct with little thought of reprecussions, moving his beam saber to slash the tail of the jet, causing it to crash down.
"RELENA!" Heero cried out in worry, the Gundam moving to save the teenager as best as he could.
With the first true opportunity at escape created, Marcus deactivated his beam saber and engaged the Tallgeese' sensors, flying at maximum speed to engage North, spraying a few rounds from his Dober Gun as he left the battlefield so that Heavyarms would be unable to start a pursuit.
As Marcus was leaving he passed by a squadron of Aires, who briefly identified themselves as belonging to the Comissariat, sent on a mission to investigate and arrest Zechs. The Aires briefly turned on him and intended to attack and subdue, only to come under heavy fire as one exploded. Believing the Heavyarms to be approaching, Marcus abandoned his comrades in cowardly fear and escaped to the North, plotting a course for Argentina to at least make sure he could deliver the Tallgeese back into OZ's rightful hands.
With a heavy sigh, Marcus finished the last of his account of his killing of Zechs, "After I left there was just two hours of flying until your pilots met and escorted me to the base. I know that I should have aided the Comissariat in inflicting justice on the Gundams, and if there are any charges inflicted upon me for cowardice or desertion of duty I'll plead guilty. However, with the Gundam continuously beating all of my attempts to destroy it and my utter lack of skill in comparison to the late traitor, I believe that I would have lost the Tallgeese. At least now we make sure that there are only four Gundams left."
Westfield leaned back in his chair, trying to take all of the information in and most likely forming his own conclusions to later formulate a report to the Romefeller Supreme Council and add his opinions, for whatever it was worth. "That was quite the story to tell Flight Lieutenant. You'll probably going to get a Hollywood biopic at minimum from this."
Marcus laughed at the remark, never once thinking of any potential fame or infamy that would result from his actions. "Well at least I've made my mark on history and the bargain bin." Marcus says, shaking his head increduously. "Sir, in your opinion, how did I act, did I succeed or fail as an officer of the Organization of Zodiac?"
Westfield was silent for a time, most likely debating whether or not he should answer. "I think that in regards to the spirit of your duty that you fulfilled it in regards to your steadfast dedication to the ideals of OZ while deep in a nest of traitors, along with deciding to remove a traitor with extreme prejudice before they could collude with terrorists. However, your methods of protecting OZ were far from the most intelligent or efficient, and a claim could be made that you were prejudicial against Zechs and acted solely upon him due to a vendetta while ignoring the threat of the Gundam pilots. All that being said, a Gundam is dead, Zechs is dead, several hundred traitors shall be arrested, and the Gundams are once again on the run. Not the best outcome, but better than most OZ personnel would perform if put in your situation." Westfield said, with Marcus nodding, his compliments and critiques both making heavy sense.
"Do you have any final thoughts before we conclude Flight Lieutenant?" Westfield asked.
Marcus contemplated the question, trying to collect all of his thoughts on the recent days and his killing of Zechs into one cohesive answer. "I know I screwed up and I could have done better. Maybe my heart and motivation wasn't in the right place, but I think I accomplished the greater objective by killing Zechs. The Gundam pilots are undoubtedly the more dangerous as soldiers due to their skills and weapons, but I think Zechs was the greater threat due to his inhuman charisma. For all of their power, the Gundam pilots are not inspiring revolutions, they are lone wolfs who simply murder without any cohesive ideology while malcontents in the colonies rise without coordination and support of the Gundams. They're anti-social children who have no allies aside from each other and possibly Sanc. They're threats, but not enough to create a true revolution against OZ and Romefeller.
Not only does Zechs have the same skills, with his only limitations being the lack of a Gundam, but he has the impossible ability to create a cult of personality that you only see once in a generation. All of OZ fell victim to Zech's domineering presence. Everyone from the greenest cadets to the most senior of the Speciali saw him as a god among men, someone with no peer, I don't even think Colonel Treize in truth. He could not only lead, but he could get men and women to do whatever he asked and make them think that it was their greatest honor, that they were doing so because they wanted and needed to. There were over 2,000 individuals present at Barclay Kamb, and despite the fact that they probably knew someone who died to the Gundams and they bore witness to their crusade across the world, that they would have been targets for their serial killing on any other day, they gladly supported them and set up the conditions for a fight, giving them shelter because it was Zechs' will. Had Zechs been allowed to live, who knows how far he could have prevented OZ, and how much power he could have gained to rule over the Earth sphere.
The Gundam pilots needed to die, but Zechs needed to go first, and given the opportunity, I would gladly do it again.
July 28th, 0070
For the next six days Marcus had been in an unofficial house arrest by the San Martin Base, being placed in a protective custody of sorts with his own guest quarters within the Base while constantly being under guard by a rotating squad of Argentine soldiers. It wasn't so much that Marcus was being arrested for his crimes, rather he was being isolated from the rest of the Base as the Romefeller Supreme Council discussed over whether or not what he did was a crime and what actions to take forward with the reveal of such extensive treason within OZ as well as the ongoing operations of the Gundam pilots.
At first Marcus had seen such actions as an indication of his guilt and eventual arrest. He came to realize that it was a mercy being granted by Corazon with Westfield's support, as in the first night the Argentines had to deal with a squad of drunk and angry OZ pilots who wanted to get "justice" for Zechs' murder. If it weren't for their incapacitated states, they would have likely succeeded and Marcus would have had to add another couple of fellow OZ soldiers to his list of kills, this time by pistol instead of mobile suit. The rest of his stay within the base went without any other serious incident, though Marcus had made sure to sleep with his pistol underneath his pillow from that night onwards.
At the very least, he had internet access thanks to a computer terminal being supplied in his quarters, so he had at least some measure of access to the outside world and was able to determine what the reactions of the Earth sphere were. Which to say the least, was interesting.
The official news wasn't released for two days, most likely so Romefeller could come up with a narrative to present the greatest scandal within the second century of After Colony. Thus there were two days of a calm tranquility where the Earth sphere was at peace outside from the ongoing war against the Alliance Remnants in space and on Earth. Then on July 24th, Duke Dermail Catalonia in an elaborate press conference in Luxembourg announced to the Earth sphere of the Antarctic Conspiracy as it was now being termed, of how Zechs Merquise attempted to joust with a Gundam, betrayed OZ, and collaborated with the Gundams who would now be hunted again with increased fervor by OZ.
Sadly it seemed as if OZ was split down the middle on the opinion of the affair. Half were cursing Zechs as a vile traitor who dishonored OZ and those who died to the Gundams, half seemed to weep and regard it as a tragedy. Half regarded Marcus as a hero who purged OZ of filth, half regarded him as a vile murderer who needed to be brought to trial for his crimes. Authorized visits from Westfield and friendly officers showed how such an atmosphere was even being brought to the San Martin base, seemingly in a virtual civil war with itself over how to react, and even those who were neutral were turned upon as apathetic or sympathetic to treason. It was all Westfield could do with the support from the Argentines to keep order in-line, a case that was repeating dozens of times over across the Earth sphere.
'If our great organization is this divided over the actions of the lunatic, then is OZ really so great and noble that it deserves to be followed? Have I made a mistake, did Lizzie die in vain?' Marcus thought darkly on the subject.
OZ was divided and weaker than ever in terms of reacting to a Gundam attack. The one man who could take on the Gundams as an equal, Zechs, was a dead traitor and there was no one at the moment who could sufficiently fly the Tlalgeese, or at least those who could weren't available. Morale was at an all time low and comrades were turning on each other, the perfect time for the Gundams to strike and commit mass murder. It was a high blessing that the Gundams weren't taking advantage of this divide to restart their war, but the next wave of death would most likely come soon.
Romefeller as a whole condemned Zechs and were firmly united in casting him as a villain while reaffirming their war against the Gundams. Zechs was posthumously stripped of his rank and titles and given a rather fast posthumous court martial by the Comissariat, making sure that at least legally that Zechs' legacy would be that of a criminal. Marcus could only gather from newspapers and prime news networks a series of speculation articles and opinion pieces on what the mood of Romefeller, who had been called to an emergency meeting in Luxembourg were believing. But the common consensus was that emotions were running rather high and volatile within the Foundation as blame was being thrown around while the various factions and families fought for power and leadership from this disaster. Though at least for the moment, Duke Dermail was holding on rather tightly to his position.
Then there was the one closest to Zechs, Treize Khushrenada. A flurry of speculation was directed to Treize with the media hounding him for the past four days on his past relationship with Zechs, whether he knew of what was taking place in Antarctica, and his accountability for the incident and future as the leader of OZ. To Treize's credit, the man handled the spin game rather well, not once reacting with high emotions or falling into any traps, simply handling the fallout, at least publicly, in a cool and diplomatic manner, promising for extensive investigations and justice to be brought to all who had sought to kill the peace. However, he noticeable didn't condemn Zechs or his conspirators in any way, not even going on a crusade against the Gundam pilots. Also, when the topic of Marcus came up, Zechs never once jumped to his side, simply stating that he was "A Flight Lieutenant currently under investigation for his role in the incident and who shall soon receive his due recompense for his role at Antarctica. Though Marcus could not confirm, he thought he saw a few breaks in character, of cold darkness directed to him and his name.
'Welp, there goes my dreams of making Major.' Marcus internally resigned. He may still have a future with OZ, but it would be one with Treize Khusrenada being at best an uncaring and distasteful superior, and at worst an avowed enemy.
Fortunately, it seemed like the insanity virus that infected much of OZ was lacking for the civilian sphere. It made Marcus very happy to see that for the most part, reaction to Zechs aiding the Gundams was one of shock, horror, and outrage. The Lightning Count was in the midst of posthumously cancelled with news networks decrying his crimes of aiding the pilots who were approaching a kill count equivalent to small genocides while social media was on fire with roasts and fiery discussions of the evil that took place and how one man could possibly be so warped as to aid his enemy. It was a very comforting sight, to know that Marcus was not some deviant and that Zechs truly had committed wrong. If the world was in support of him just as much as Antarctica, then Marcus honestly didn't want to know if he wanted to live in such a place, one where aiding killers was seen as just and noble.
Unfortunately, while the great majority of the masses seemed to be of sane mind, there was a very vocal and growing voice of total pacifists who were decrying the whole affair. They saw Marcus as a murderer for killing Zechs, simply another agent of evil for OZ, though at the very least they were against the Gundams and Zechs, except their opposition was more of a lamentation of a tragedy than any true moral outrage.
'Can't wait for the loonies to bring world peace by hugging the Gundams and asking politely with signs if they would lay down their weapons.' Marcus thought with disgust.
Speaking of Total Pacifists, the main question on everyone's mind besides the state of the Gundams was the fragile independence of Sanc, and if they were to be conquered so soon. OZ had announced a blockade of the Scandinavian nation, with the island blocked off by the German, Danish and Swedish Navies while hundreds of OZ suits were directed for a potential invasion. So far OZ had held off, the most likely reason being for fear of the Gundams until they could understand the true nature of their relationship with the Gundams. The Supreme Council had offered a way out of the blockade by issuing a subpoena for Relena Peacecraft to come before them and explain her relationship with the Gundams. If she did so then the blockade would cease and Sanc would be given immediate relief. So far Relena had yet to comply, and she was seemingly off the grid.
While charges had not been drawn for the Peacecraft Princess, OZ was in the midst of dispensing justice for all of the traitors within Antarctica. Over a thousand arrests had been made with many more expected in the days to come. Marcus was unsure if the Comissariat had the ability to arrest everyone present at the base, but at the very least all of the personnel on the base had been fired with pay and benefits severed while in the process of being tried for treason. Punishments at minimum were twenty years in prison while many were open for the death penalty. The only foul news was that Noin had not been arrested and her corpse had been found, with the news just reporting that some of the traitors had said they saw her leave the base inside of the Sanc Jet, most likely to continue plotting with the Gundams to wage the new phase of their war on terror.
'And that Bitch dared to call herself a teacher, someone to guide the Speciali to officership, no wonder we've lost every battle if she was considered to be the star of Lake Victoria. Don't worry Lizzie, I'll avenge you.'
Thus, only Marcus was left as the last loose end of this whole affair. He expected for the Supreme Council to take weeks, if not months to decide if they should press charges against him, time that he would probably spend in protective custody. Instead, he was miraculously pronounced to be free from any charges from his conduct, with not even an inquiry to testify from the Supreme Council. Details after his innocence were vague, but all Marcus knew was that he would not be spending a single hour in a cell, and he had a new assignment that would be revealed during his deployment.
Fortunately, such a time would come soon when Marcus was leaving the base. After saying goodbye to Westfield and the few other OZ and Argentine officers he had come to be acquainted with, he was directed to a plane to be deployed for his next assignment. Marcus expected either a shuttle to go to space or a standard OZ transport plane, but instead he found himself being directed to a private jet of a similar design to the Sanc Jet he had encountered in Antarctica, but far larger with a greater power to the engines along with some missiles and turrets to show its militaristic leanings, the Romefeller coat of arms proudly being displayed on the tail of the Jet to show all who its true allegiance to.
The usage of the Romefeller coat of arms should have set Marcus off, but if there was any confusion over to who he was being assigned to, it was erased the instant that Marcus set foot within the jet.
"Oh my God." Marcus said in heavy awe, his jaw hanging at the sheer wealth that was on display within the jet. For all of their aristocratic aesthetic, OZ transportation was primarily utilitarian so Marcus' experience in riding jets and shuttles across the Earth sphere was only slightly more discomforting than traveling commercial lines. The jet he had just stepped in by comparison appeared as if it was a wing of a five-star hotel room than a military jet.
The seats were all covered in fine leather, slaughtered from cows that probably cost more than one of Marcus' individual paychecks. There was an extensive display of fine wood carved into the seat and walls while the floor was covered in a fine silk that Marcus wanted to take his shoes off and experience. Nearby there was a bar filled with a collection of liquor that could probably buy a house. The outside may have had some rough edges, but the inside was pure paradise.
"Are you enjoying your accommodations, Flight Lieutenant?" Asked a deep voice with a thick German accent to Marcus' right. Marcus turned and saw a man who he assumed was affiliated with Romefeller, though he deviated from the financial backers and political leaders of OZ in his lack of distinctive Neo-Victorian clothing that dominated the club of nobles.
The man who sat to his right was a middle-aged white man, his hair a peppermint mix of black and white along with an accompanying beard, though far more pure in its dark coloring. He wore a three piece western business suit of coal black with a white collared shirt and a red and green tie, far more comfortable than the wardrobe of Duke Dermail. While he was most definitely past forty, the man didn't show any signs of aging aside from his hair and a few wrinkles, having a well built and defined body that showed physical power underneath his simple attire. In many ways he fit the appearance of an ideal noble, the main exception being that of a slightly crooked chin.
"I apologize sir, but who exactly are you and what am I doing here?" Marcus asked, unsure if this was a reward or a trap, having previously had little direct interactions with the Foundation.
"Ah, where are my manners?" The man said, rising out of his seat and extending a hand to Marcus, which he shook hesitantly, "My name is Archduke Wilhelm von Hapsburg. I am the newly appointed Defense Director of the Romefeller Foundation, previously the Financial Chairman." Wilhelm introduced, with Marcus snapping to attention.
Wilhelm waved the protocol away, "No need for formalities Flight Lieutenant. I may be your direct superior, but you are technically not on duty at the moment, and your presence on this plane is more of a...social ride until your next assignment, with myself volunteering to serve as your ferry for the next stage of your career. Would you care for a drink?" Wilhelm asked, moving to the bar and pouring himself a glass of Rum.
"I guess some Tequila would be nice. Sir, pardon my confusion, but when exactly did you become the Defense Director, and what does that mean, the position was nonexistent last week." Marcus asked, slowly taking a seat from across where Wilhelm had been sitting.
"You are right, the position did not exist a week ago, but for some time it had been a hypothetical seat which many within the Foundation, including myself, have been pushing for since daybreak. Your adventure in Antarctica caused a major shift in the Foundation's balance of power, and one of those consequences was the creation of the position and my appointment within it. I suppose I should be thanking you in a sense, White."
Wilhelm laughed at the comment, returning with two glasses of liquor, handing the glass of tequila to Marcus who cautiously looked at the glass and feeling adventurous, drank a large shot, not fearing the possibility of death any longer after his brush with the Gundams in Antarctica.
"As for what the position entails, basically I am vested in power and authority similar to that of a Defense Minister or Secretary of a nation, overseeing the operations of OZ as well as its supply of mobile suits and other weaponry, more notably the creation of a professional army of non-MS units which will be announced to the Organization in the coming weeks, a necessity to transition us from Special Forces into a true standing military that can effectively police the world. I won't have as much power as my civilian counterparts as Khushrenada will still handle most of the day to day affairs, and I have to deal with council leadership, but in essence I have become the middle manager between the council and Treize. Tell me White, how aware are you of the internal politics within the Romefeller Foundation?"
Marcus thought intensely to try and answer, but he couldn't come up with anything. "Nothing really. I know of some of the historical relationships between some of the more prominent families within the Foundation, and how Duke Dermail had been a firm political rival of the late Field Marshal Noventa, but other than that I am at a loss. I mainly paid attention to my duties and the only politics that concerned me were promotions and how the Speciali were being treated as part of the UESA."
Wilhelm nodded in understanding, "That is quite alright. Admittedly we haven't done the best job of educating the soldiers of OZ of our mission and the Romefeller philosophy, a mistake which I believe lead a great deal to Antarctica as subversive elements such as Zechs Merquise infiltrated and used OZ as a personal playground. To summarize, at the moment there are three factions within the Foundation. There is the establishment under Duke Dermail, the leading power until recently who has been focused on the promotion and empowerment of aristocracy through financial and political gain. There were the Treizists, an offshoot of the great and dearly missed Chilias Catalonia's faction called the Cavaliers. Chilias believed in the nobility of Romefeller and tried to spread its virtues through service and meritocracy, so that anyone and everyone may live the noble life and improve the Earth sphere through Nobleese Oblige. Treize carried the torch but then he changed the Cavaliers from spiritual knights to literal knights, trying to force asinine honor codes and warrior creeds onto OZ and the Foundation as a whole, something which has infected many of OZ's leadership and a small but growing sect of the Foundaiton."
"So Treize was in collusion with Zechs?" Marcus asked in shock.
Wilhelm shook his head, "At this moment we have no evidence that there was some sort of grand conspiracy between the two, though the Comisarriat is launching an investigation to find out any and all possibilities of the slightest guilt, and we've taken great pains to root out sycophants who could sabotage the process. Thirdly there were the Imperialists, of which I belong to."
"That doesn't sound ominous at all." Marcus jabbed, not thinking before he spoke.
"I can see how such a case may be so, but it is not so extreme. We seek to take the best of both paths, but go far beyond. The establishment is content to simply stagnate and live in sloth and greed, the Treizists want to play at morality and responsibility by rewriting society with their childish fantasies. We wish to use Romefeller as a guiding revolutionary institution, one which will act as innovator of humanity and guide the human race into a united force upon which we shall spread throughout the stars and break all limits, while at the same time ruling and influencing through the most sacred institutions and cultures of the past and present, using previous failures to create a most perfect state. Many nations, one Empire. Many classes, one ruling body. Many people, one species. Many worlds, one Foundation. Dermail wanted to kill the Alliance to gain power, Treize wanted to kill the Alliance to play soldier in his way. We wanted to kill the Alliance to get rid of what was keeping humanity back."
Marcus was slightly disturbed at Wilhelm's speech, but he understood the base contents of the rhetoric and agreed with some of its points. At the very least, Wilhelm was being honest with him and delivering his plan in full, and while he likely had other motives the man seemed to at least publicly be dedicated towards a greater good, nothing selfish like Zechs, and he didn't consort with Gundams so that was good enough for Marcus.
"I'm guessing that my actions empowered you and the Imperials." Marcus asked, with Dermail nodding.
"Treize may still be deeply beloved by OZ, but within the Foundation his star is declining. OZ's constant failures against the Gundams, no offense, made Treize look weak and incapable of leading the Speciali if we were losing entire units to the Gundams without so much as a scratch. His stunt at Siberia restored his popularity and influence, but the revelation of his best friend being a traitor, a former prince, and having wielded so much influence as to brainwash hundreds of OZ personnel, has completely reversed his restored confidence and all except his most devoted followers are either skeptical or hostile. The issues that have plagued us since Daybreak along with Dermail's lack of long-term vision, especially with the Foundation's political role have caused cracks within his rule which my people have increased. To make the conflict worse for him, he is related to Treize and thus tied to Zechs, and he had some rather ludicrous plans involving the propping of Relena Peacecraft as a puppet, which with her association with the Gundams being known, has made him appear as a blind fool. Since Dermail is not directly tied to Zechs he maintains his hold, but now he must rule through cooperation and bargaining instead of decree.
The times are a changing Flight Lieutenant, and with OZ suffering a heavy wound at the hands of Zechs, we need new figures to rally OZ and shepherd the Foundation as it leads humanity into the new age. To do this not only do we have to contend with politics and the colonial issue, we must also get rid of the Gundams, for those dreaded beasts will stop at nothing except our extermination, and without OZ and Romefeller, the world falls back into anarchy and eternal bloodshed."
"Where do I come in?" Marcus asked, personally surprised at his willingness to negotiate and listen, which brought a slight smile to Wilhelm's face.
"As a man of justice and Zechs' killer, you're going to carry a lot of weight and influence in the coming years. Even if you were discharged this second, tens of thousands shall look to you as a hero, and your status may even be able to move some of the Foundation to your will. Not only has your character become a weapon, but your intelligence is becoming a very valuable asset in these recent days. We lost so much talent to the Gundams, and those who are left fight for the Colonials or OZ. As Defense Director I have set into motion plans and events which shall create OZ its own Gundams to level the playing field and finally destroy the Gundams and bring an end to any hints of challenging our might, to prevent more needless deaths. Not only do I need you for the influence you have created over OZ, I need your mind to help in the development of new Gundams, and the restoration of the Tallgeese and Unit 01. Join me Flight Lieutenant, and we shall finish what you started at Antarctica, to make sure no more Elizabeth Whites shall ever have to endure injustice." Wilhelm tacked on at the end.
Marcus stared at disapproval at the usage of his sister's name, though deep down some part of him did agree with what Wilhelm said. OZ's overthrow of the Alliance had been noble, but ever since then they had been aimless and bleeding in a terminal state, destined for death in the middle of their revolution. In times of chaos, villains like Zechs rose and took control of OZ, making them into what they swore to destroy and worse. Without a change of leadership, all that would come in the next century was simply eternal wars, with OZ dying in painful agony as the Gundams had their way and burned the world for fun, making many more Lizzies.
At the image of her smiling face, Marcus knew what to do.
"As a Knight of Romefeller, I lend myself to your cause."
A/N: And with that is the end of Fall of the Lightning Count, marking my first ever concluded story, Yay! Once again sorry for long-time readers who feel that the outcome and finale is not on par with what you were expecting, but this was always set in stone and with the catalyst for my writing this being a catharsis after watching Gundam Wing and me no longer being invested in it whatsoever, then this will probably lead to a lesser quality, but I'm just glad I was able to finish it. Hope you at least had some enjoyment and a decent time and you liked my little worldbuilding and characters, though HUGE credit goes once again to Synthesis, the author of Soldier of OZ: Walker's Account as I used some of his lore and his story was major inspiration in the first leg of the story. So originally there was going to be an extended scene at the end showing the Romefeller Foundation dealing with the fallout of Zech's treason as well as showing the shifting power dynamics within the story, lead by Joseph von Hapsburg and how Treize and Duke Remail were going to start to be on the decline thanks to the massive scandal, but to save time and due to lack of investment I decided to cut it out. This was supposed to lead to what I wanted to originally write as a sequel, Knights of Romefeller. Basic premise would be that it follows a squadron of OZ MS pilots from before the first episode of Wing all the way to the Christmas War as it followed their lives, why they choose to fight for OZ, how they participated in Meteor and Daybreak, and how their actions along with others would have changed After Colony. Marcus would have eventually come in as their unit's engineer with the unit receiving the Wing Gundam and the Tallgeese to be used alongside other Gundams in the final battle against the Gundam pilots and the White Fang. Maybe I'll write that sometime in the far future, but with my lack of interest in Wing and heavy schedule as is I doubt it. I know that large portions of the final chapter are probably of low quality, especially as I kind of winged the end based off of notes to lay setup for a sequel that may never come, but I got tired of writing and just wanted to finish the story and not abandon yet another project. At least now I can finish with some semblance of quality and care instead of writing a conclusion with total apathy or hatred. Really sorry for how things turned out, hope to do better in the future. Thanks for reading and if you enjoyed this feel free to check out my other work.
So originally there was going to be an extended scene at the end showing the Romefeller Foundation dealing with the fallout of Zech's treason as well as showing the shifting power dynamics within the story, lead by Joseph von Hapsburg and how Treize and Duke Remail were going to start to be on the decline thanks to the massive scandal, but to save time and due to lack of investment I decided to cut it out. This was supposed to lead to what I wanted to originally write as a sequel, Knights of Romefeller. Basic premise would be that it follows a squadron of OZ MS pilots from before the first episode of Wing all the way to the Christmas War as it followed their lives, why they choose to fight for OZ, how they participated in Meteor and Daybreak, and how their actions along with others would have changed After Colony. Marcus would have eventually come in as their unit's engineer with the unit receiving the Wing Gundam and the Tallgeese to be used alongside other Gundams in the final battle against the Gundam pilots and the White Fang. Maybe I'll write that sometime in the far future, but with my lack of interest in Wing and heavy schedule as is I doubt it.
I know that large portions of the final chapter are probably of low quality, especially as I kind of winged the end based off of notes to lay setup for a sequel that may never come, but I got tired of writing and just wanted to finish the story and not abandon yet another project. At least now I can finish with some semblance of quality and care instead of writing a conclusion with total apathy or hatred. Really sorry for how things turned out, hope to do better in the future.
Thanks for reading and if you enjoyed this feel free to check out my other work.