About at the halfway point for Arc I.
This chapter is inspired by Madeline Albright (spits on the ground) and her statements regarding the lead up to the Iraq War. Search up 'Madeline Albright 500,000 dead kids worth it' and Madeline Albright Iraq town hall
Those of the World
Win Nguyen knew when people go mad. It is a borderline which he has in that one year been on either side. In madness he could understand better the notion of his life, only fourteen years on that Earth, which would forever be defined by that war that began the second he became a teenager. Madness was the only way he could understand anything at all in that year, 0079. Anything that happened to him had been funny; an unending joke that went on and on and that he would not be a victim to but rather a participant. He found war fun, because in war he found a freedom unafforded to him in his life that had been normal. No one casted upon him ire and distaste for killing Zeeks. No one had thought it bad that he knew Seattle streets like the back of his hand and that he could disappear into those urban wilds as if that land had been his all along. In war, what was wrong was right, and if he had been born the wrong person after all then at least in this war and uncivilized world afterwards he had been correct, finally.
Win Nguyen enjoyed war, but he was not blind to those that did not mesh with its craziness as he did.
This man, who shambled with half of his body, whose burns had marked him and covered his face with a layer of bandages, had seemed to find himself in Win's own world and had been hostage to it and Win himself.
For the first mile, he had held a gun on the Zeek because he had been a Zeek, but as he shambled, his eyes wide open, this man had already been broken as Mai had said he was, and he been broken more still that day. He walked now with a limp, but not of physical injury, his prosthetic had been bent askew, but to the observer, one might've thought that he had walked as if bloody and brutalized, and that Win Nguyen, reputation that he had with the Zeeks, had done it. That was not so, however. He had fallen when in there, his canvas jacket rubbed up and down with dried flaky blood and the refuse of bodies decomposing along those floors.
They were both Zeek and innocent there, and it had been the reason why almost all those that had been in there were never allowed back out into Seattle and instead shipped out to distant places.
When the crowded masses which Zeon Military Police could not beat back had gone into Freecastle, what they found could only be repaid in blood, and those Zeeks that had been there had joined the bodies, and when flesh was taken, more flesh was demanded, and that was when the lone sniper that had haunted Seattle had been vindicated and those that dared came to her to fight.
But that had been, in the time scale of a war, felt so long ago, and as the Zeek he had shambled along, the horrors of Freecastle were now his own horrors.
He didn't know.
In war, people lived, and people died, that was all there was to it to Win, but as the world slowly slid out of war for him, he had been left with that messy in-between.
He pitied this man, yet he had been a Zeek.
They had gotten past the border between Conclave and Reaper territory quite some time ago, and on a normal day it would've been a twenty-minute walk from there to the Seattle Art Museum where he had made a home, but with him, shambling forward, dragging his right leg along, it had taken an hour and it'd take a little longer more.
"For the love of god." Win had spoken to the air, he let the submachine gun fall on its sling as he came up to the man, ducking down beneath him on his right side and supporting it. "Come on. I might be taking you prisoner, but you don't gotta make it a drag." This man was a Zeek, a Spacenoid, and here Win had been touching him and he not dying. The man had seized as he touched him, obvious fear in him in his breathless face. "Your claimed." he said, observing his head as if divining identity. "If you think I'm gonna hurt you man, well…. I'm not. Not a lot, maybe."
"Wh-?" Half a word first said for an hour, the man looks at him down with his eyes, one milky white, the other a dark brown that seemed almost chocolate black. The idea brews in the man's eyes of confusion; that Win would even hurt him at all as a foreign concept. But here he had been, a boy at war, who had taken dozens to his name. "How old are you?"
Win hauled the man's dropped side over his shoulders. "Fifteen. Or. I'm about to be fifteen."
The man looked at him with those wide eyes, struggling to find something to say, so Win had offered instead as they trudged along. "How about, "Hey thanks Win for saving my butt from ole Ezekiel."… Win's my name by the way." Win Nguyen had beamed with dirty teeth, so despite the world around him broken and skewed. "What's your name?"
He spoke lightly, as a child had, and in all that time in Seattle he had been acquainted with children more than he had in the rest of his life.
"Garfield Sune. My name is Garfield Sune." He answered.
He saw them only once together (and therefore he had seen her only once), before he had come to Earth. It had been after Loum, at one more private ceremony for the mobile suit engineers of Zeonic who had made those mobile suits that had given them victory in those first few months.
She was there with him, this creature who had not fit in with the uniform given to her of Zeon colors, at his arm. By all recognition a polite girl whom he had learned of in curious perusing had become the retrospective subject of the night: She was, by definition and by all accounts, the coming of that promised generation and what the war had been all about.
Lalah Sune was a Newtype, and she had been Char Aznable's beloved.
"Garfield" never spoke to Lalah Sune, but as that fact in his mind arises, he's not quite sure if that is true; that he had never spoken to her before. Yet, despite that, he had now born her name.
"God," Win had shaken his head. "You Spacenoids have such strange names."
A result of a migration to space, forced, and the desire to divest themselves of the names that they carried on Earth or were bound to it.
He quite liked his own name, or rather, his real one, but Garfield was not bad, and Lalah Sune had been a wonderful name if he had been at liberty to think so.
Only by claim alone did Win not start that long process; the one of pain, the one of hurt. Anything he would do to him, Garfield, Mai would do far worse, and in that he settles in his heart to not start poking this man who has, on top of it all, seemed to have been exposed to the worst of Zeon. They walked on still in the grey noon, slowly, and Win had felt very much like a boy scout as he held a Zeek up by his arm and they walked together. Garfield smelled like rotten death and sweat, and it was a smell Win had been most familiar with, but not like this. His eyes were distant, and his breaths were shallow, lost inside his own head. Win brings him out.
"Freecastle was my elementary school, growing up." He says, all of the sudden. The idea of growing up seemed like an odd concept to those who knew Win, who only recently a teen had still much growing up to do, but war had brought age and maturing and Win had grown up in that way. "It was aight. The teachers stayed, I think." Through all the invasion the teachers, whom the parents relied on to take care of their children in the turbulent days, had been there, but Freecastle had been taken and seized by Zeon early in the war and a perimeter around it established. The assumption of the people there who were at liberty and at knowledge to think had thought that Freecastle had become a command center of sorts, but that was quickly put away when trucks were tracked, full of people, going in and out, traced from Seattle's police department and jail. Seattle PD had been complicit, and on the night that Freecastle was found out, the police department had gone down to the ground in fire and embers that the Zeon invaders simply let burn. For all the collaboration of the local police with Zeon, Zeon showed none in return on the night that came fire, came war, from Seattle's population at once.
"How could… how could this happen?" Garfield, lost in thought, spoke aloud, as if what he had been witness had been a nightmare made reality. But that was the foley. The dreams of Spacenoids to reclaim the Earth had been a fantasy, and there had been only one word to describe a realized fantasy: Nightmare.
"Happens everywhere, from what I heard from the Feddies that swang by when they kicked the rest of you bastards out." Win had shrugged roughly, and in his shrugged pulled along the soreness of Garfield's own body. "There was a super market in San Bernadino turned into a prison, full of women that the Zeeks took to. Out in Montana, concentration camps for anyone suspected of having been a part of the Federation war machine in like, five degrees of separation. That's what you-"
"I had nothing to do with this." Garfield barked out, and it hurt still.
In brown eyes so wild, Win looks up at Garfield and speaks with the sight of the all-knowing. "You had everything to do with this." Before Garfield could respond, Win had swiped his foot over through his own legs, sending him back to the ground. Breathlessly as his back hits the concrete below he gives out a soundless cry. "Thank you."
"Huh? What?" In pained daze Garfield looks up at the blinding grey light above and sees Win looking down on him.
"Thank you. For giving me this. My life was boring, super boring, and no one ever liked what I was doing. But since Zeon came? I know what I've been doing all the time, and I know my right from wrongs better. Now get the fuck up." In all those words he had left these left unsaid but explained out:
Thank you for giving me this war. Thank you for putting your troops on this land and raping and killing those who had nothing to do with your struggles. Thank you for turning the world upside down and making it so nothing could ever be right again.
He looked at this young boy and knew all of this.
Win had taken the neck of his shirt and dragged him up with surprising strength and grip, pushing him forward in a stumble before his pain could settle. They did not speak anymore until they had arrived at the art museum.
The stairs he walked up had been of a different, colder bearing than the steps of the Elysium Condos. The steps inside of the Seattle Art Museum in its back stairwell had been cold and cramped and stone, a spiral that had been hard on his remaining foot as he dragged himself up there. He had always been in front of Win, gun at his hip, and as he fell again in each stumble, Win had only stood there a few steps behind and waited for him to walk up.
"This is our stop."
Garfield had looked at the plaque by the door. It read to him in his mother tongue, but it was written in another form:
From the Old Continent – An Exhibit.
"Go on, go sit by the bench." Win waves his gun as Garfield enters his abode: the quarters he has made out of an entire floor of an art museum at the top, the skylight above shining down on them in its sickly illumination, all the way down to the center attraction of that exhibit of walls and the things that were once mounted on them: only this, a tapestry locked behind thick glass mounted to a wall survived the looting. In front of that tapestry of red and magic was a bench, and Garfield hobbles over it, wishing for it as well. He's not even on it for a second before he is pushed off and over onto the hard wooden floor, gasping again in pain. Before he had known the world he was in again he felt his right leg be torn off, and then hard metal around his right wrist as the clacking sound of cuffs being put on him and the bolted-on leg of the bench was heard. It left him at an awkward angle as he twisted, the way his arm had been cuffed leaving him half sprawled out as the far less comfortable lean he had been able to bring himself to against the bench straining him unless he gave out and laid out on the floor altogether. His prosthetic leg had been cast asides, out of his reach, but it was no use anyway, the silicon sleeve remaining.
Win looks at him as he sprawls like a fish for a moment and, once assured that the man was not going to come loose, unhooked a canteen from his belt and placed it within reach of him. Garfield, once he settled, said nothing but took it as Win backed off as if he had been a lion.
He had taken the drink, unscrewing the cap. The water tasted sulfuric, but it was welcome.
Win had stayed still like a statue of an art museum, feet flat against the floor in a squat, and yet he had been looking back at Garfield as if he had been the one on display.
He stood there for a long time, looking at Garfield as he tried to hide his own eyes, turning his head down and away in some shame.
The backpack he still had on is heavy on his form, but Win has not seemed to notice yet.
"Longest I've been this close to a Zeek." Win rattles off, his own head tilting left and right as if to catch new angles of Garfield. "I pull those bandages off you gonna die?"
"Mai wouldn't like it if you did. She spent a good amount of the morning wrapping me up." He lies, but Win looks, considers this within himself, and nods, even with a pout.
"I try not to make Mai mad. So, you're lucky." Win still says with a slight kick of his stub. The yelp that comes from Garfield is sharp, and it echoes, and Win has his own shit eating grin because of it. In cruelty this boy had learned to survive, and more than that, he had thrived.
A model Earthnoid.
In another life, there is something to be said here, about what he would tell him: that his soul was the same as any: his soul, captive, corrupted, by Gravity.
But he was just a boy, and, more than that, he was victim of this war.
Win had stood up, and in the draftless place, his army coat flowed down from his form like a sheath upon himself, dark and green, darker than even Mai's softshell. He is a boy, wild, thrown to the dogs, and yet they did not eat him up. He became a dog, with wild tassels and dark eyes and teeth cut sharp and dirty. Under any other pretense, Win would eat him alive.
Instead, he goes to an alpha.
He walks, after looking down on him, savoring it to his corner of the room where there is a cot and many blankets and pillow set up like an everlasting frenzy of cushion. He steps over it until he gets to a small radio set, almost like the one Mai had in their apartment, and he plops down.
"Yo." He swipes the speaker mic from the radio's side and speaks over the open air. "Yo yo yo yo." He goes again, and if there were any on that frequency all were quiet. "Crow? It's Win. Got something you lost. You know where to find me." Win doesn't wait for a response, but he knows it's out there now.
When he turns back to Garfield, he is a man, still, like the stone that used to be on display there.
"You know," Win starts with a mouth full of jerky, sitting on the bench which Garma is cuffed to. "I've never talked to a Zeek before. Unless I count the Captain. I mean, she's technically a Zeek, right?"
Garma is lost and despondent in his own mind, but if the topic is her, that seems to alright, settling the cold in his gut. It's a familiar topic now, and perhaps the only one that makes sense to him. Of all the evil and wickedness that he has seen today, it, perhaps, all returns to her.
"I… Spacenoid is more polite. She's not of Zeon." He tells Win, but even then, he can't quite feel right in saying that. She was Zeon's enemy, and yet she had been born of Side 3, in its heart, not more than a few miles from where he had been born himself.
"I don't like that word." Win says after a few moments more of chewing. "Reminds me of what some of the people downtown call Black people."
Here, a child with no filter, and the whiplash of his melancholy and the abstraction of existing with this young child soldier made Garma awkward in his place. "Well. Uh- It's what Zeon Deikun referred to himself, and all those who lived in space as."
Another few seconds. "Wow you talk like a suck up. You remind me of those people with too much money, and all of them here in Seattle left for, like, New Zealand or Siberia or Hawaii before this all kicked off. All dead now, probably." Win had been laying back, looking at that red and gold tapestry that remained behind its glass enclosure, talking to it more than Garma, but eventually too, Garma bore witness to its French designs. "You come from money Mister Garfield?"
"I was…" Mai's words return to him. "I've never known want. I was lucky, in that sense, I admit."
"And you became a soldier still?" Win asked with half a laugh. "Are you stupid?"
"My- I wanted to make my father proud!" He takes the insult as if he hadn't been chained to the bench, trying to twist to look at Win completely but he cannot. "Some things can't be simply given."
"I bet your dad is real proud of you now, huh?"
Somewhere, out there in Side 3, Garma knew his father mourned for him.
He wishes he could see him, to let him know that he was okay, but perhaps that would not be as well thought, for he was destined for death as well still. For all the pomp and power of a funeral, his funeral no less, he knows how his father is. He is his father's son after all.
They sit there, they wait. Win's radio is off, as if assured the message was heard but who needed it hear it, and all the while they sit below grey light and before that great French mural of fantasy and royalty and unicorn and a beast, so very familiar now. Garma leans so awkwardly, but, eventually, his eyes settle on the same patterns that Win does as they both sit and wait. In thread glow they are illuminated before an object which has survived eras and empires and kingdoms of all humankind, for what it was made for Garma can imagine: for artistry itself on behalf of the royalty of the Francs. But here, cordoned from the world, surviving, it means something else.
"I spray paint, you know. Graffiti. You've seen my stuff, probably." Win mutters slightly leaning toward Garma. Indeed, Garma has in his morning hunts with Mai: the abstract and colorful and grotesque lines of paint too fresh to be from before the war or even during. "I'm not an artist, just because I know what they really are."
Here he sat with remains of art and art itself and he had seen it reflected upon itself. "I've got a hard time concentrating, sometimes." He says and admits. "I took medicine for it, and the Conclave still has some, but I don't take it anymore. I'm better just, either, going with it, or concentrating on one thing at a time."
Win Nguyen's ADHD at such a young age had been debilitating, and yet he had his attention taken by many intense things in the last year that perhaps the quiet now had been maddening to him, or, maybe, he always had been mad.
"My best art… my best art…" he repeats. "I'll show you, Mister Garfield."
Win disappeared again, and in his absence Garma had tried for the cuffs, if, to see, that if he could. But it was metal on metal, the leg of the bench bolted to the floor, and he exhausted. He had been trapped for the last month and a half, but this was captivity, truly. When Win return he had imagined that he should've tried harder to go, for around his neck, a line of string.
"I don't let Mai see this often." Even if she had seen how they were created.
Garma does not spend much time reading of the guerillas of the world. Though what little times he spends he is glad he relegates them to his regional commanders to contend with, because even in glances and in sparse readings he sees the details of men and women who have taken on the form of Earth horrible. In Vermont resistance fighters wore the uniforms of soldiers whose bones were now broken down to the Earth, and in Texas horseback riders at the night came across the prairies in war paint, running with the blood in them of ancient stories, cowboys and Indians united against a foreigner, whose moves were so nimble that had it not been for sightline and distance they would've ran around the legs of mobile suits the same way as they did convoys and infantry units. In Louisiana, there had been speakings of swamp dwellers who wore the bones of the beasts that they had hunted all their lives, and when Zeon came for them, when they took bodies, they drowned them in the swamp and fed them to the jaws of nature. Further still in the forests of Yellowstone, where Federation fighting had been fiercest in that corner of North America, there had been a town that disappeared over night, and in their place had been the calls of the forest where Zeon troops were led to, and then disappeared.
In war the world had gone mad and the population of the world to madness had seemed to justify the belief that all Earthnoids had been horrible, and deserved what came to them.
Win Nguyen shows his horribleness in a long line of a necklace around his neck, and a hanging rack by clothesline. Garma did not know what he had brought before him, not by the conduct of Win as he seemed to show and share an object of mundane importance to him.
Fruits of his labor instead, and from a man who had been in a house of flesh, he had not realized what it was until his vision focused.
The ears of men, taken by obscene cut, hanging from lobe to lobe, all the colors of men faded, crackled and dried, made jewelry. At least a dozen, and Garma did not care to count more as his gaze fell to the clothesline, and thought he saw the tails of animals with how organically furred what connected to that line was. But he knew that they were not taken of animals: discuses of flesh that curved inward like a contact lens, topped with hair of black and brown and curls and knots. These were the scalps of Zeon, presented to him as if Win was a marketeer from a dock that dabbled with such horrible things.
"Straight from the source." Win had proclaimed.
"Oh my god." Garma said, horror and all with both eyes, even the dead example, wide.
Nothing could be done by him to avoid Win, in his movement, tossing the assortment onto him, scalp and ear. The flesh lays across him, still pliable, still moving like flesh removed from where they had come from, and in his panic, he tangles with them as the boy laughs and laughs in a mode of insanity.
Death, hilarious. Garma screams that day again as the line tangles around him and bloodied scalps come across his arms, his own flesh until all at once his body gives out beneath him and his echoing stops, Win kicking him aside and ripping his creation from him.
"Wow. Having a pet Zeek is fun. Especially a Colonel. Now I get why Mai keeps you around." He wrapped the skin and the hair around his arms for storage as he looked amused down at Garma, and that he had been accustomed to the feel because he had been the one who created it. Win Nguyen had taken them from dead men, and men who were still alive and standing, and in the end, women too. He had done it so because of the horrible things that they brought to Seattle could only be returned in the way that had been wild of Earth. All in Seattle had now been natives, and like the natives, he thought, he would be like them completely. Win Nguyen had no father, no mother, and so his parents had been those before him in perfect image of History, because in his schooling those stories of war and conflict of the White Man and the Red Man remained, and he had been child to that long line of history.
He threw the scalps over his shoulder, and Garma had been panting, the feeling of all of them remaining on him.
"Have I not suffered enough?" He breathed out, terrified and anxious. In that day he had still traced in the blood red remains of what had rubbed on him in Freecastle. His scars and burns had been the same color.
"Suffering isn't the half of it." Win had spit down on the ground, and he left again to put back the necklace and the line of scalps back to where they had been, leaving Garma again alone before the image of a unicorn and a banshee: impossible animals facing down a lion like he had amidst royalty and faeries. He could feel the flesh on him, remaining on him, even through his muted scars. He didn't wish to see what the underside of the skin was but he had and it had been red and leathery and it only reminded him that all bodies of Man had just been flesh in the end; flesh and meat and skin and that all that they were was what controlled that flesh.
When Win returned Garma was still sprawled on that ground, eyes wild and face wilder still beyond all reason.
Win sat back down on the bench and despite the electricity of threat that Garma felt it was not reflected back on Win, and he sat, staring up at that tapestry again for several cold minutes as he calmed himself down and tried to rid the scent of corpse out from his nose but there was no way he could without even blowing his nose, which he did not until, finally, his breathing settled.
Quiet between them, quiet uneasy, but quiet forced because he was prisoner for the first time in his life in true position and not whatever it had been with Mai. With Mai. With Mai it had been amiable at times and the undercurrent of it all absurd, but she was an absurd person beneath someone who had been completely sane in an insane world. Win had been insane and insane alone because that was how he stayed sane, as paradoxical as it had been. Garma could see it: insanity.
The weight in his backpack remained, and it remained hidden. Win either had not noticed or did not care. His broken prosthetic leg had been still away, but it was gone beyond all recourse for usage.
They stayed like that a long time, a half-hour at least, until Garma put himself up into some sort of lean against the bench and ended up looking at the tapestry with Win. A few minutes passed, and finally Win talked again.
"Well. What do you see?"
"What're you looking at? What do you see when you look at this?"
Garma had blinked several times at Win's question before he knew how abstract it really had been. "Oh. I'm not really an art connoisseur or an artist. Capta- There's a Zeon Captain, over in Europe. He fancies himself a master of the arts, or at least appraisal." He said slowly. It the tapestry had told a story he could not see it and he could not lie again that day, for the lie that he told had been that of his name and that felt heavy already, as natural as it was.
Win waited for a moment, parsing that information before his eyes brightened. "Ah right. Captain Macaroni and Cheese. Heard some gossip from some of the Feds about him when they were still around. But he ain't here. I'm asking you, Mister Garfield."
It had surprised him that Win had known of Captain M'Quve, but then again, his monuments men had scoured the Earth even outside his jurisdiction, so much so that when Mai had found him, he had assumed that she had been one of them. They were his monuments men, but he had always assumed Kycilia operated through them as well on Earth: finding secrets as they recovered art on M'Quve's behalf. Though, that far in, in a city that had been lost like Seattle, and all secrets were born out from the dead for the victorious.
He looked back at the tapestry and its designs, but he could not look at it long in its color.
Red. Too much red.
Red meant many things to him but now all of them he almost hated.
Red. Blood. Red. Flesh. Red. Comets. Red. Char. Red. Betrayal. Red. His own flesh and bone and what had been done with him. He was half red now, because red had meant ruin.
Win had a gun, a fact that Garfield did not know until he had heard the boy fiddle with its slide. He glanced over: it was a Zeon pistol, a Luger-Yao pattern, meant for officers. He had his own somewhere in his Zaku's cockpit that he hadn't touched at all.
His Zaku was somewhere out there: brought on his Gaw that he chased the Trojan Horse with and sent to the ground, most likely in debris.
Perhaps this had been his own pistol.
Win had looked from him to the pistol and him again silently.
"What do you see, Mister Garfield?" He asked again.
Garma looked back to the tapestry, and if not red, he looked at something familiar: The lion.
"Danger." He spoke the first word that came to mind, and Ezekiel was right behind it. Of all the ways to go: torn apart. It was not a kind way to go.
Garma Zabi knew fear. He had become acquainted to it that night of the Dawn Rebellion; he knew it in all its gauge. Fear in himself, for failing his name. Fear for disappointing Char, for, at that time, that man had believed in him and loved him, supposedly. Fear of the enemy, fear of his death, and fear for the lives of all those that went out with him that night. The fear that came from facing down a lion, emerging out of that room with the dead woman, as if it had been that woman's avatar coming for its penance, that fear had been an intense he had never known before and wished to never feel again. It was a fear that went right down to his soul, and for all the belief that Gravity stole souls, there had been judgements far worse than all the hells that were promised in worldly religions and he had come face to face with it in his life.
He wished he never had, for he knew, at the end of the road, it would meet him again.
"Do you feel in danger right now, Mister Garfield?"
He was destined for that reckoning because he was not Mister Garfield. He was Garma Zabi. If this boy would break his covenant with Mai, right then and there, the barrel of that pistol angling toward him oh so slowly, he would at least die as he was accustomed to: being an agreeable young man that had put him in favor with all, and had put him in love with Icelina Eschonbach.
"Oh, I assure you. I'm used to it, given that I'm currently housed by Mai." His tone had rose, and there had been some cock to it, assurance and sarcasm, but it was good natured and true. Win had seemed surprised by his answer, for there was a long silence within the boy until, all at once, he began to laugh.
"Hah!" The gun had been put aside and then gone for good. "Alright, you must not be that bad."
The topic of Mai was what bound them together, and in Win was that fond look on his face that had been the same Mai had had when he thought of Win.
"Captain Ghoul," Win is recounting like old poetry. "When we started winning. When we really started winning, like fighting you Zeeks mono-e-mono, we'd surround entire buildings where you'd all get hung up in. We'd starve you out. Didn't even have to take a shot. I mean you'd all have to close the windows and board up the doors because Ghoul would always take the opportunity to shoot inside, but there was ain't no way out." He kicked his legs beneath the bench in rhythm. "So eventually, most of them, they would send one guy out- and we'd shoot him of course. But the next guy they send after that, and that's how we know they're serious, he'd be waving whatever they had for a white flag and asking just to be taken prisoner because they didn't want to starve to death."
It was a fine memory to Win, of victory. "You know what'd she do?" Win asked "Garfield".
"I can't imagine." he answered, breathless, scared to know.
"She'd take the Zeek officers and, always, always I'd seen her just take them out to the street in front of the building and before they knew what was happening, she'd just-!" Win stomps his foot against the ground and that shocks Garma with the way the floor seems to snap. "Pow! Didn't matter if they saw it coming or not, she'd just shoot them dead right there. Loved to see it happen. With her rifle especially? One-shot was all she needed. Blew out most of their chests. I swear she never shot them in the head because she wanted to see their faces as they died."
They were infidels on Earth, completely, and the people who fought Zeon thought them righteous.
More than once, Win had told Garma, that Mai had almost every week gathered up Zeeks on their knees and either execute them herself or let her men do it.
She was, in all senses, a Seattle warlord, and if she had been in a report of a theater, Garma knows Mai would be spoken of as a terrorist, a maniac Earthnoid with an army of irregulars bringing horror to Zeon.
In every other life, she was someone to be killed by his order.
He had gone on then, with more war stories, of the year gone by where he had been there with Mai, fighting, fighting, a hundred fights for one war and each one of them they lived if barely, but as he spoke there was a small realization in Win of Mai, and Garma had too also seen it come. "Mai's always fought a certain way. She doesn't shoot like any of the hunter types I know, or like Gearten, she just doesn't move or fight in a way any of us do. She's got technique to her that kinda gave up the game on her that she wasn't just another Spacenoid." Win stands up and rigid, holding his arms out and, Garma realizes rather quickly, it was the manipulation of weapons and kit, snappy. "Not like in that action hero movie way but more like, I dunno, it's hard to explain."
"I can imagine." Garma offers, hearing this history of Mai that he had not heard from her over their meals, not that these stories she would tell, or she a storyteller herself.
Win thinks for a little while. "It was her footwork, actually, that I think tipped me off."
"The way she moved her feet when we were inside buildings fighting. I was with her sometimes clearing out buildings. "CQB" she called it. I don't really know how to describe it so like, here."
Win had held his arms up as if holding a rifle, and he walked, arms rigid holding that faux weapon against his shoulder, but his "footwork" had been different, odder, and now only Garma had noticed it back in memory whenever Mai entered some corners of the world: his feet keep low to the ground, and each step is bounding, as if sliding, launching quietly, crossing his feet and using his hips to drive the shifts. It's a stable move, awkward in every context except for what it was made for: taking corners and moving fast.
The Academy was not a tactical school as far as went individual combat effectiveness, even though individual skill was emphasized to a certain point as a matter of personal development. What Win was describing was something that Garma had seen only in glimpses and in her twitches.
Mai had gone down a certain road, less officer, more shooter, more operator of a type that had become a depreciated sort in that Universal Century. Her skills were in the brute force necessities that Kycilia often traded in. An odd thought, but one put away in him given the events of the rest of the day.
"What is she to you?" Garma must ask after all this time.
Win shrugs, and he doesn't think twice with his answer. "I love her." The word rinses over them both. "She's the closest thing to family I have left and- and…" He struggles, the sound of his words shimmers in Garma's ears. "When I'm with her, she makes the world quiet."
Garma had wondered at times in his life what it would've been like to have a mother, but it was not something he lingered on long. He had his caretakers, an army of servants, some of them older women who had, recognizing in some deep known instinct that this boy without a mother needed something like that. If he had been pressed for that answer, he would say that he had many mothers, and here had been a boy that only needed one, if Mai, as a mother, was what had been.
"She's my captain. But also, my sister?" He instead throws Garma off as he had in all the interactions he's had with him so far.
"Yeah!" Win had let the echo of his excitement drop. "Well. Kinda. She's the closest thing I've ever had to a sister, and I don't think she's ready to be called Mom yet because… well, you know right?"
Garma nodded. How strange, Win and Gearten both knew her tragedy as if her loss had been part of the lore of Seattle itself, and she a storybook figure that had been told to children. And yet she had been, in the end: The "Ghoul".
There was silence between them then, on that topic, of the mother that never was.
"She's nice to me, is all, and it matters a whole lot when I know how mean she can be." Even now, Garma can feel, even with warning given to Mai, what she would do to him. Would she strike him? Would she break his other leg? Would she eat him whole? He waited for pain and listened to Win. "And so that makes me wonder why she's keeping you alive, Mister Garfield." Win in his wonder is loud in those halls and harsh to his ears. "Are you her type, I wonder. A Newtype even?" Newtypes were the future. That much Garma knew. He knew that they existed now, the Flannagan Institute more than valid, but he, however, was not one of them. Not that he could tell or would even know how to tell. Newtypes were a goal, not a state of development for him.
"Unfortunately, I don't think so." He wonders too sometimes what if, among the Zabis, there had been a Newtype, but alas that had not been the case.
"Nothing? You don't get like, you don't mind read together or nothing?"
"Not that I'm aware of. It'd be a lot easier for me if that was the case anyway." Garma waits, he thinks of his answer. "We do have a certain… Understanding, given that we see each other most of the time we're awake."
"I'm a little jealous you get to see her a lot, actually…" Win had mumbled quite cutely. "Do you ever see her… you know, out of the shower or anything?" This boy, who had pieced together Human ears and scalps, who had killed many men, far more than he would ever personally, had still been just a boy, and all the issues of that. "You know how she looks right?"
Garma doesn't know how to answer, but the whiplashes of the day have taught him that maybe silence would be best before he can conjure what he would tell the boy about the proximity and incidental intimacy of them both. He doesn't need to answer, because before he answers, the sound of concrete steps, of boots on them, rings through, and the two of them look from where they came and there could only have been one person that would come from that door of the stairwell.
Mai Gul appears with solid haste, opening the door to the stairway and standing in that doorway, her hand tightly upon the bar as her eyes landed upon Garma's first, locking with them.
She had been fully geared up, plate carrier on, helmet as well with a combat rifle as opposed to her sniper.
She had been geared up, not only to search for him, he realized, but to fight for him. Whether or not to fight him directly as well he didn't know, but as she stood there, she did not raise her rifle and did the deed.
Instead, she stood there, and her face was unreadable save for the slight quiver of her lip and the burn of those green eyes.
"Gar-" She stopped herself. "Garfield." She completed.
She rushes forward and as was common between them her hands on him and, dragging him up, only then noticed that he had been chained to the bench with the jingle and the gruff of pain that came from his mouth. So, he drops back down on his back, and she kneels before him hand curling at his jacket's neck, only barely noticing that it had ran red.
"Wallah," her Arabic curse, one that he had heard often, but it was followed by a string of word in another language. She speaks it, loud, and to him, and yet hidden from the two others of the room. She wasn't happy, but Garma knew her rage. This wasn't madness in its completeness.
"The note said I was going to be back, wasn't I?"
As was the note he left.
If you find this, then I am gone momentarily. Do not worry, I am not running, and I will return. I promise you this.
She looked up silently at Win, eyebrow raised.
"I found him out by Freecastle, turns out Ezekiel's in there and he was about to be eaten up. I saved him though." He answered as if she had asked how he had found him, but the utterance of that word: Freecastle, it seemed to flash her clear once before her mean look about her returned.
"Reapers were chasing me. I had to run, and I didn't know…" Garma explained further, but left unsaid was what he had seen in there. Mai had seen the same, and after that, she had never wanted to see something like that ever again. She had had enough of dead children.
"Now you do." She spoke. "Now you do."
Win stirred, standing up. "Can I keep him for a day Mai? He's fun to poke."
"I don't think so." She looked up at him while her hands had still been at his collar. "Get the key for these things."
Win had straightened. The tone of her voice was a different type of nostalgic for him. This was the voice of the Ghoul. He had taken off to where he kept his supplies, and a great sound of rummaging was heard.
"You were going to come back?" she asked in demand.
He nodded. "I was. I… I have something for you."
She raised one of her black eyebrows, inquisitive, but the snarl on her lip was unmistakable. "You saw what happened in there? Freecastle?"
He did see, and he experienced, and he had been on his knees for it. "I wish I hadn't."
"You did that."
Any other day, any other moment, any other deed, he would protest and put those barriers at once between them. But there was no barrier anymore. He had been there, in those halls, and the distance between the act in his name and he himself was now forever none. He stood among innocent dead, and he knew he was responsible. The matter was always the why, and by how far removed. Those mattered no longer, and in his eyes, and now the quiver of his own face as he breathed, he agreed, and if he did not agree he wanted to at least make right.
That's all he wanted to do now.
Her fingers beneath their combat gloves lax in their grip on him, and by the time Win returns her hands are off him entirely as they lock eyes as they do.
"I can't find the key."
"What do you mean you can't find the key?"
"Maybe it never came with a key."
"Of course it came with a god damn key."
"I mean- I can go check again but I can't find it."
"Boy…" She sterned, and he went back to look. As he left, she instead took a knee by the bar and gone to her battle belt, drawing out a multi-tool that had been fitted into one of her pistol magazine pouches. It had not been blacked out, but spray paint had done away with that as she flicked open a long, thin file, and then seized his hand which had been cuffed. She looped her finger in between the cuff and his wrist, so much that her appendage had fully contacted him, wedged between. She pulled up with her finger, the cuff pulled against the ratchet inside, and she put the file in the opening made as she finagled within it, metal upon metal until a small clink had been heard solidly and the cuff came free from his hand.
Garma's turn to raise an eyebrow at her.
"My… my husband was a cop." Mai Gul was a married woman, technically, not that it counted for anything. The father of her dead child had been a cop, and for that reason and more she was fine on raising her child alone. "He showed me a few things, just in case."
"You're married?" Garma had asked speechless. In all that time living she had not mentioned. She nodded once but spoke of it no further. She cared little for the man known as Jonah Dante, Lieutenant in the Seattle PD, and if he had been among those she killed for collaborating she thought little of it.
His prosthetic leg had been off to the side still, and just at a glance she knew it was ruined. She rose as he had, shakily, onto the bench and she to his leg, putting her hands upon it and seeing what damage it had lain.
She gathered it up in two pieces and placed it into her assault pack before returning over to Garma. She looked over to where Win had been still looking for what they didn't need. "We talk, back at the apartment." She said with demand, and he nodded.
Win returned out again empty handed, but the matter had been settled.
Garma had raised his hand up to Mai, and she had taken him in his entirety, lifting him up, the revelation that he had been a measure heavier than she expected silently taking her over. "What the fuck?" The weight had come from his backpack.
"Back at the apartment." Garma had told her into her ear distinctly close, draped across her shoulder. She was a strong woman regardless, and she had done this once before. She'd never picked up a set of weights in her life but even then, she had been built for work like this by some desire of God: that she was really destined to do the work of ditch digging or the work of a soldier.
"Oh. Going so soon, Mai?" Win sounds disappointed as he returned.
"Mm. Sorry. Got a bit on my plate but… Thank you, Win." Her voice softens toward the end, even with the strain on her back. Her voice softens, and it is gentle, and it is loving, and it is her. Win smiles at her, and Mai smiles back even beneath gear. "I love you. You know that, right?"
She was compelled to say, and in that Win had flustered himself heavily, heat coming to his face.
Garma did not ever think he would hear those words from Mai's mouth, yet here they were, even as he had been held like the deer the killed and caught. From his canted position on her back, he looked, one last time at the tapestry, and before it he noticed a plaque. He reads it.
"To my only desire."
"What?" Win blinks.
"To My Only Desire." Garma repeats, gesturing to the plaque of the eoan artwork with his free hand not trapped between him and Mai. "À Mon Seul Désir."
Win snaps his head back to it, and then to Garma and his perfect French accent, the cycle repeating several times before a frustrated look washed over him, arms thrown up. "Well, I coulda guessed that!"
"You know it?" Mai had asked with a quiet tilt of her head to Garma, and so close his face nearly smushes into her cheek.
He shook his head. "I'm fluent in French, among other things."
Private tutelage and expectations had given him some talents. His father had always wanted him to be a scholar, a wise man, and his upbringing relative to the rest had reflected it. But he had followed his brothers into the Academy and that had put an end to that. Though his company of books, of teachers, had prepared him well for some fields not often used. In Louisiana, once, he had spoken to the local leaders there in their tongue, and because of that Louisiana and its precious ports became a beyond important place for the North American war effort in exporting food out to Europe and Africa.
"Mm." She grunted, and she turned, leaving Win for the day with her captive in tow.
Mai walked in silence as the day turned over to late afternoon. The skies above did not clear, and as she walked, she barely grunted carrying Garma and his cargo. He, too afraid to say anything, and she, too concentrated otherwise. They do not say anything to each other until they return to Elysium, and she begins her trudging up those steps. On the twentieth floor, she lets him down, and he, on one leg, remains connected to her by his arm thrown across her back for stabilization, hopping up each.
"I take it you're mad." He says on floor thirty.
"I don't know what the fuck I am at you." She spits on the floor, flicking the back of her hand over her forehead to get rid of the condensation from the effort of having walked him back the forty minute distance. "Have you done this shit before?"
"No. First time."
"And where'd you go?"
"Where you found me." He told the truth. "I returned there."
"…I had been led to believe that there was something there… for you. Or rather, could be used by you."
Her tone is flat, and she does not look at him. "How'd you end up at Freecastle then?"
"The Reapers found me, and they gave chase."
This is what gives Mai pause that day.
She stops, and he falters, leaning against the railing of the stairs, familiar now to him. The slap that comes across his face is expected, and the sound of his flesh echoes. "God damn you Garma!" She screams at him as he recoils. One hit wasn't enough, and soon after another comes, and then another, as his hands try to hold onto the railing, and before she knows she is beating Garma Zabi. For correction, for herself, she doesn't know. All she knows is what she's doing as again and again her hands come across him in hostility. She lets herself slip into a different version of herself. The Ghoul rises, and yet, Garma is quiet as it happens. He didn't make a sound as all of her strikes put him down, down, onto the stairs and onto the floor eventually. She follows him down, and she continues to beat him, and for the first time she feels like she's doing something right in that world.
The Ghoul beats Garma Zabi, for all of his sins that day, but the cardinal one had been leaving her.
She is panting when she is done, minutes later, for each strike the bandages have unfurled from his head and he is left like a shedding corpse, going from Garfield, to Garma. Lavender hair falls out of white bindings, and his hair is long and unruly, and he is a man beaten.
He is a man that has accepted his beating.
He breaths silently, back against the floor as his face has gone numb and he can feel his own spit on his lips, blood maybe, but when Mai looks down on him all she does more is take those bandages and use them to wipe his face clean of blood and sweat and tears.
"You son of a bitch. You absolute son of a bitch." She tears through her teeth. "I put too much god damn work into you for you to be picked off by god damn gang banger!"
He coughs, dryly, staring up at the distant skylight, in pain, and yet muted. This is how he imagined what Mai would do to him, knowing what had been of her. This felt right, even with the pain. This felt like everything that had been deserved of him for failing to not keep account of the war, and how Zeon fought.
He picked himself up by his elbows, and Mai herself had been leaned back on the stairs, breathless. He had, limbs burning in all ways, crawled over to her and put his head by her knees, and with his forehead leaned into her leg and closed his eyes.
They were like that for a year-long five minutes, beneath her gloves even her own knuckles were bruised.
"There's a suitcase in my bag, Mai." He says finally, no excuse, no answer. "Take it." He says into her.
She does, taking the bag which had been the cause of his additional weight that day off of him, reaching down and grabbing the handle of it, leather and new. She pulled it out, and it was a plain briefcase, unbelievably heavy, laying it across her lap as Garma was motionless below. His nose was bleeding and below stained the floor with it in tiny puddles. He let it bleed, not moving his bandages.
"Open it." He asks her.
She does, and when she does, she closes it right back up with an urgency.
Once, and only once, in a past life, had she seen a briefcase like this before. Delivered to the Colony Corporation by Zeon diplomats. She was too young at the time to see into it, or to know what it meant, but as she sat in her Dad's office occupied otherwise with a smart tablet, she had seen that man of Zeon shake hands with those her father worked with and leave with them a briefcase much like this one.
It was once said in her business management classes that the world ran on money. She's not sure if it was the case there in war, but in his hand had been a great sum more than five hundred of her own lifetimes.
In the suitcase: Zeonic gold, glittering. At least five rows, three deep, polished and stamped sharply, the size of full size chocolate bars and considerably thicker.
Gold bars, like those of ancient Fort Knox, or of Midas's domain.
Gold bars, and all the wealth that they meant.
"Garma, where did you go?" she asks, disbelief in her voice mixing with her blank tone.
"I told you." He said mutedly, but canning his head up at her to look at her in the face even as loose bandages crisscrossed his own. "Back to the Gaw, to find what I left there."
If she were to strike him with what she held now she knows it would've killed him, and yet she is tempted as again she opens it one more time and the gold reflects herself in it. They are clean, unbelievably so, and as she reaches in to grab it her gloves dirty the example she takes from its row.
Written, from top to bottom along its lower quarter:
PRINCIPALITY OF ZEON
MINED FROM ASTEROID AXIS
She sits there, looking at it in her hand and knows how, in another life, she could live long and happy with the singular figure in her hand; this extension of Zeon's power made manifest in its financial resources. This gold had come from the asteroid belt, where Zeon in its war planning had gone out to and picked from, unimpeded by the Earth Federation. In her hand, given to her by a man from Space, was the fruit of it. She turned it over in her hand several times, feeling its weight, but each time ruining its luster, and yet in the world now it had been useless, branded by Zeonic labels and Zeonic names in its wealth. She is surprised, and surprised that she can be surprised still. If she was impressed, she did not show it, and if she was stunned, she quickly got over it as she slid it back in, the metal slide of it, smooth, back into with its others as heavy as it demanded. She put the briefcase aside, only to take his collar again and haul Garma up to where she had been.
"You god damn fool. You going out there all on your own just to get me that?!" And so, Mai returned, and Garma was surprised. "The hell am I supposed to do with gold here?!"
"It's for the future!" He protested, he pleaded, and for the first time that day he seemed normal. "After Seattle. After all of this. It's for you!"
For all that he had done to her, he is still doing, for her sake.
Cooperation could've saved the world, and yet that peace had eluded them all: a faraway dream of utopian theories.
Maybe it's the pain of the day and the stresses upon his mind, but Garma remembers something about those faraway places in the mind.
He had been there? Yes. He had. He had been to a… beyond. There was something to be formed in his head, but it did not know its own shape yet, but the idea of that Human dream, it conjures up a great fear, a great sweat in him. He was told something, but who? Where? Why?
Questions, perhaps, for the other side of heaven when he arrived there in due time.
"I'm not taking your blood money."
"What money isn't?"
"Don't you understand that you could've died for something as useless as that?"
"Why would that bother you at all I imagine you would be quite content if I did end up dead in the end." A resounding slap echoes across the apartment, and, more importantly, across Garma's face. He's not allowed to recoil as Mai's hands grab his collar and hold him before her again. There was more in store, but she wanted something different from him.
"I want you dead, but I want you dead because of me! That's the whole point! That's my everything!" In her rage she admits, and she wished she never did.
Garma stares at her wide eyed. "Your everything? What were you before I came?"
She wishes she knew, both then, in Seattle, and then in Guardian Banchi. Because otherwise she had been as she proclaimed: nothing. But because of him there had been an insurmountable truth and situation of her which she could not put away, take away. She had derived purpose from him, all times, and she hated it so.
"I saw horrible things, there, Mai." She does not answer, so he goes on. "I saw terrible, terrible things. I wanted to give you all of this simply because, if nothing else, I thought you worthy of these resources… but now, I beg you, let me buy my own life from you. I cannot die." Even beaten, even bloodied, even held, he holds his head up, his shoulders strong. "I cannot let any of this stand in Zeon."
Zeon: whose people thought him dead, who within it lay a faction who wanted him dead. Zeon, for which he died for.
He felt it too; that same burn that took over all there in Seattle to fight Zeon.
This, Mai, cannot take from him.
Everyone found their fight in a different way and Garma is no different, even if he, at the very root of it, rebelled against what had sprouted against him.
"I did not come to the Earth to do… that. I didn't come to the Earth to destroy this city, its people, or any of it!" His words, his spit came across her face in specks in his protests, and as he was held, his remaining foot found purchase and he stood. Mai tried to let go, but his hands had found her shoulders, and she, sitting, and he, standing, found themselves eye to eye and he far more solid than she would know, his skin darkened and bruised over and burned. "I am the commander of Zeon's forces here, on Earth! I am here fighting on behalf of all Spacenoids! What happens here without my consent goes against all of those who wish for a better world for the generations that come after us! My mission here, what is it for if- if- if this! If this is what was done for it!"
He came here, for the same cause she fought for a long time ago, and it had been the same fight he had fallen in now.
Rage from his lips, rage in his eyes. Disappointment in himself.
"You're not leaving Seattle, ever, Garma. You can't make right anything."
"But even so!"
Above them, a crow dances upon the glass panes. Beyond the crow, looking down upon it, a white bird.
Mai tries to rise, but she cannot, so she remains as Garma holds her there, and she does not know what to do. His voice, his words, were true. She knew them well. He holds her there, and she cannot look away.
Zeon loved this man, Spacenoids loved this man. To the uninitiated one might've mistaken it for simply him and his friendly smile, his approachable affectation, the fact that he had been handsome in the way princes are known to be. And although all of that he had been, there was something more. He spoke with a gravity of his own, for all the rejection of Spacenoids toward the Gravity of Earth, and thus people were brought to him, because of all Zabis, he had been the one that people could feel like they could confide in. He had been competent in his duties, and in his duties he was serious. He had not been a diplomat, a spy master; he had been a commander, a pilot, fighting for all who wanted freedom from those his siblings and father decried, as he had decried as well.
He was Garma Zabi, and he demanded a better future; more than that, he had wanted to fight for it.
Mai sits, and she looks at him, and knows that her wish had been this: He had no future because of herself.
That's what she wanted.
She is silent, not wanting to vindicate, to disown, to speak against what in all regards was his righteous feelings, and in that silence, he calms himself. The grip on her shoulders softens, but they remain as his head dips down and sees the gold and the suitcase and then goes back to her. He wants to go back to the apartment, to return as he said he would, and lay down, but she is silent, still, and of all the talk of the world, she remains for him. So, he speaks for her, of her, to her.
"I did this for you… For everything you think of me, for what you blame me for, I still wanted to do this." He is reminded of so long ago, when he needed help in the dark corner of his dorm room in the Academy: He remembers how another man's hands had been at his neck, his collar, buckling a clasp because he had been so scared of what was to come. He knew what he felt then. She wonders what she feels now. His thumbs mirror themselves, and they roam the curve of her shoulder as if in calming, either for her or himself he doesn't know. "I was born to serve my fellow Spacenoid. Is that so horrible to you?"
She wanted to tell him that it was not horrible, that she knew what he fought for more than she would ever admit, and in other lives she would gladly be by his side fighting whether or not she had been right to do so. She wanted to tell him that of all his words she did not misunderstand what he meant, and that Zeon Deikun's vision had been vindicated and, to be true to herself, she had failed the old man herself. She wanted to tell him that she was sorry that he had seen Freecastle, and that she had not been there for him.
"Stick to mending my socks. Please. Alright?" Is what she says instead.
He looks at her, the way she averts her eyes, and how without her boonie hat, there's nothing to hide them. His mouth curls keeping in words, and like so many nights, so many times, all they can do is just be there, amongst each other, in turmoil and in conflict, barreling toward a definite end.
He brings himself to her, by her side, and they sit on the steps, he on one side of her, the briefcase on the other. They sit there, and they let the world go dark, and as he stills the pain comes over him and moving is certainly the last thing he thinks about.
So many worlds, so many choices, so many lives that could've been. Yet this was the one that had been happening.
"I saw it, Mai Gul. I saw what was done."
"I know." His jacket is still half stained with where he had gone. The smell of blood had long since disappeared for her. The smell of Garma, the fact that he had been there with her. "If you had known what was to happen, would you have gone through with it still?"
This war was still not over, and the fate of all Humanity had still been at hazard.
As he had believed History would vindicate him, and yet he would be dead in the ground regardless.
"I can't answer that, Mai."
"…Just say no."
"Just say no, Garma." Her voice was a rumble barely with sound, but he heard her. "Just say no."
But he cannot lie to her, as the world, and all its people within, seemed to lie to him.
"And how about you? Would you have set out with me that night knowing what would've happened to you?" He offered it back.
Between them answers they cannot say to questions that were impossible. His arms hold each other, as if embracing himself in his tenseness, and she, her eyes lowly lidded, turns away from him. More time passes, and eventually they both realize they need to return. They have a dog, waiting, after all.
She hauls him up, his arm across her back, and they begin the slow walk again. "Don't leave again."
"I'll try." She squeezes his arm painfully for his sarcasm and he gets the message.
As they make their way back up after the day, she carrying that briefcase in one arm and Garma in the other, an errant fact comes across Garma's mind.
"Win… How does he know I was a Colonel? Did you tell him?"
She blinked a few times as they climbed. She hadn't even particularly remembered that he had been. As if rank mattered to him. "…No? I don't think so. But uh, Win's always been pretty observant… You're a colonel?"
He nodded, even as the muscles in his neck had been pained from some of her blows. Being beaten by her was both the fulfillment of pain, and yet oddly satisfying in the darkest part of himself. Because it was her, not anyone else. "Quite, though I've… I've come to realize my rank isn't particularly my standing."
He was always something other and would always be as long as he had been Garma Zabi.
"He's my best scout, and even my best raider. He's slippery and knows this city inside and out." She breathes tiredly, thinking of him as that boy. "Truth be told, he's loved being at war and I worry for the rest of his life, but… I don't know."
As she speaks of that boy, Garma hears her care, her honesty, her worries. How she had gone from beating him to speaking so softly; that was her duality in summary, and he would not dare make comment of it.
When they return to the fortieth floor, Charlie is there by the door, laid out, he having shat an uncomfortable distance away but still otherwise still jovial as a puppy that he is. He is happy to see both of his Humans, and when Mai comes up the stairs tired, and Garma, looking like the jerky that he is often fed, Charlie can only do as he always did and come up to them and yap. The barking is loud, and it hurts Garma's ears, but all he can mutter is his pleasure of seeing him, and that he had been a good boy, all day. The note that he had left had still been kept to the door, and for the third time in his life, the three of them entered the apartment, and he and her went into the shower together. He is deposited against the wall, but he is still able to lean on his own. Again, he has lost a leg, but he knows how to move now without it, at least in the shower as Mai steps out, leaves him, and he begins to disrobe in their long-passed ambivalence. She sits at the door frame, taking her gear off there to lay on the floor as Charlie pats at her side with his own head. One by one, his clothes is removed, and they were not ruined, but red and put upon by bits and pieces of unknowable, unsayable remains. He is naked before her, and the room temperature water flows again as she watches him, lean, exist beneath that spray of the shower head in their dark apartment.
The stream of water follows down him like crystals behind the glass, and he is content to just stay there, to let it try and wash off what never could be. Mai can watch.
She does, if only to distract her from the briefcase in her hand still, a deal that he had tried to make. She had no use for this. Not now, not ever, but it arose in her thoughts of her family, of where she had come from. His body is distracting to her, and she lets it be distracting as she speaks half-absent mindedly, half not caring.
"My father, he was a senior in the Colony Corporation. Not exactly in the hard materials division, but there was enough bleed through. I know that if we cared at all, the asteroid belt could solve a hell of a lot of resource problems here on Earth."
She saw the name of where this gold came from: Axis. An asteroid, out in the asteroid belt that separated the Earth Sphere from the greater Sol System, Jupiter beyond it. That had been a thought in her mind once: that she would go to the asteroid belt and work at one of the many remote facilities there that Zeon had set up to start its energy and material independence decades before her time, even as Zeon Deikun still breathed. Further still she thought that, maybe, Jupiter might've welcomed her in all its remoteness, and she would be lying if she did not think of it now still as her future. She is not unfamiliar with them, if only because of horizontal information given to her by the dinner talk of her parents.
She can hear him card his hands through his hair as he finally begins to wash himself, pausing only to speak to her.
"You would think, yes. Zeon's surveyors concur the same, however such an effort requires the cooperation that never was." Zeon could very easily acquire those resources for their own plans, for their own installations, however any part of it that benefits the Federation would require cooperation from them to receive it, mostly in subsidies and logistical support.
And yet, like all things, it never happened.
A better world had been out there, always.
She glanced at the sink, and the cupboard above it, where she had kept the supplies she had gotten that morning for Garma, but this evening had already been enough for either of them. What she had planned could be done in the morning.
He's stiff that night, shying away from her utilitarian touch as they cohabit the same bed together. She's left him sore and bruised, but it's only par for the course for the rest of his body. He shies away, he seizes, when she passes her arm across his chest so that she can simply lay her head across him as she had always ended up doing anyway. Seattle's chills have only been getting increasingly brutal, and out there in the dark she can see the fires, dots in the dark below, from people who are trying to sleep in the ruins of that world.
She notices immediately, and a part of her recoils. If she feels bad, she doesn't allow herself to process it as silently, she pulls back, rolls over, back to him.
She had transgressed upon him and violated him in many ways, but this, tonight, had been of a different stroke.
"I don't think I can sleep tonight." He tells hers, speaking to the ceiling.
She knows why.
The Federation she killed on Banchi had been all laid out on the base's tarmac by the vehicle pool. The Federation troops that died all laid out outside as inside the dead cadets were given that cool cover for their bodies out of respect. The Federation had none, and even she, responsible for so many, had tried to give them their accord. She stood there, alone, still grasping the rifle she had done the deed with before lines and lines of Federation bodies. Of these, her first kill, and then kills, and in the dark of that dawn she did not see their faces or forms save for silhouettes, but as the day came and the sun was high, she saw what bullets do to those, and what the dead are like: frozen images of pain forever. A body was just a body, left of what was the person within, but because of that, objects alone could be twisted out of form.
She saw holes in people, the insides of them, bloat, skin gone so pale that you had think they'd been cold in the humid day to come. And then the smell. She expected flies, but there had been no flies on that colony. For as much as she wanted to leave, to realize that her time, that possibility of what she could be was gone from her, she had to stay; a responsibility to see those men processed, and she, no more than seventeen years of age at that point, was alone to see them accounted for. She had become well acquainted with the dead that day, and because of that she had never forgotten the nightmares corpses in her mind that came to her, from time to time, all looking at her as they lay on the concrete.
What was inside Freecastle, with those melted bodies so horrible that even the Conclave could not dare to try and process them, entire hallways caked with viscera, they would never leave Garma's mind, and tonight he knew he would go back there in his nightmares.
"You should. We're going to be busy tomorrow, trying to get you a new leg."
"I can sleep when I'm dead." He jokes of his death, to see if it would feel better that way to him. It doesn't, and for Mai, it's a bad joke.
"You're not dead yet. Despite your best efforts, and my better judgement."
Tossed asides as if any other item had been the briefcase and its wealth, unattended to, Mai uninterested, but not so indifferent that she would toss it away. If nothing else she could bludgeon him to death with it.
"Mai, what was it like? The first time you killed someone?" He asks into the dark.
She considers it before finally answering, leaving him wondering if he was to receive one at all.
"First time I killed a Zeek? Or a first time I killed a Fed?"
"Both, maybe." In his sleepless curiosity, he asked. "Is there a difference?"
"To me," she answered. "To me, there is."
It's the difference between what was natural, and what had been duty. Killing Zeeks, that had been as close to breathing to her when she had done it, and no remorse could be given. But the Feds? A more complicated answer held within it.
"When we went out there, after you picked out a few of us to be the advance force, we knew what we'd be doing, same as anyone that night. Maybe the others, I liked to think, weren't really sure that they'd kill someone that night. But we did. All of my group did." The snipers and the saboteurs. "We kicked it off, if you remember. Your order came through, and we detonated the explosives, and I'm sure that killed a few of them coming out of the barracks but…"
She became a sniper that night, truly, with nothing more than a Mauser pattern replicated rifle that had been loaded with ammunition meant for target shooting, not man hunting. She, and those others who had broken into the armory and gotten the long guns and the live ammunition. She became a sniper when she had laid upon the ground of that cliff face facing down upon the west end of the Federation facility, looked through her scope, and saw men confused, and then running for the vehicle pool of Guardian Banchi's Federation complement.
The first man she ever shot, ever killed, had been an officer of the Federation, standing at the pool's head yelling at people, probably directing other crew to go man their tanks.
"He was standing still. Maybe five hundred meters away, downward angle from us. Everyone with me was waiting to see who would take the first shot and…" She drifted off into the memory of her vision through the scope; how the man held his helmet in his left hand as he waved around with his right trying to get his men organized. He was standing there basically saying: shoot me. So, she had. She pitched her mildot one up, and during the night she knew, as per Colony Corporation parameters, the wind often ran from center of the colony out the arms, and they had been in a position where they needed to adjust slightly left, their shots. She remembered how her mind went through all those practiced details, and how her hands minutely shifted it so little that the bore of the rifle moved millimeters in compensation. She remembered everything learned of those years in her life come to a head at the point of her index, and she remembered what went through her mind when she pulled it: That it was the right thing to do. "Right through his neck." She finished.
"But how did you feel?"
He was being annoying to her, but it was going to be faster to answer than to let him persist unanswered. "That if I didn't kill him, I know that more of us would die." And that was why she had gunned down dozens and dozens that night, running to their vehicles with no cover. She felt no remorse save for the fact that no one had, as dawn rose, come to attend to their bodies. That had been without a doubt the Muslim upbringing inside of her. But she did not feel sad for the enemy. They were Feds, after all: bastards of Earth who had done too much to Spacenoids like her. Being young had meant she had been obliged to feel radical and obliged she did. Only in the crushing responsibility of life alone, an adult life, even, did she qualm those thoughts at all until they were unavoidable, and with a new subject.
Garma knew what she felt killing Zeeks, and he did not need reiterated again because it was the same sort of hate from her toward him. But there had been a third group; one recent, and one, once again, her kin of this war.
"And what of those Reapers? How did you take killing them?" He asks.
Her hand hurts from Murph's stab wound again, as do her ribs, but when she talks, they fade away. "Those Reapers I killed a few days ago, who got me on the ribs… Those were different to me." She scowled, but not to Garma, not to anyone in particular. She scowled because she wanted to, even in the dark. "I killed them because I wanted to. Just like that. Just because they got in the way, and I know that they could've lived otherwise."
Mai Gul disappeared from Side 3, she came to Earth, and at the end of it, became a killer of men for reason: insanity. As all questions between them, she turned it back on him. She rolled over, facing him, not yet touching, but close enough that her breath warms the side of his face. "And you?"
"I've never killed someone…" He pauses. "Directly." It was always through order, through the barrier between him and the enemy in his Dopp, or the one engagement he got into in his Zaku-II. He was an officer, a Zabi, and all those under him would not allow him to be put in that situation, and yet if there was a body count to him it would have been far more than Mai, even in her hundreds. His ranged, depending on who defined, in the thousands, or in the billions.
And the closest he feels out of all of it to a feeling put to the act, to the idea that he had killed:
Garma feels empty.
"Give it your best shot." She dared for her troubles.
"I don't know what the feeling is, if I felt it."
The wind of Seattle outside speaks a different language now from when she first knew it. She had known it to be its wispy, high pitched sound, one born of running through its buildings and flowing over hills. But now in Seattle's overturned and destroyed state, angles unkind and shear, it was a low voice that dominated the ambient sound. She put her head to the pillow, facing him to try and ignore it, ugly as it was, and long she's had to deal with it.
"Don't focus on the actual act. Just the idea. Just the knowledge that you stood, and they died. What do you feel then?"
"I don't know, Mai. I just don't know." Yet he wants to feel something. Anything, for that act, for those innocent people.
[He wanted to know if he could've felt the tragedy of Freecastle happen when it did.]
He struggles, he is in pain that cannot be treated physically. She sees this man suffer, but she wants him to. Before she turns over to go to sleep, she leaves him with this:
"I know it's different. But I don't feel anything about it anymore."
She says that and doesn't say anything again until morning.
Garma does not sleep that night. He is frozen solid in the bed beating back the memories of the day, and when he finally does rest it is because his mind tires, and he sleeps in the black void.
He doesn't rest that long, for the morning comes again.
She does let him sleep in, just a little more than he should, for she stays there by him, her head turned on their shared pillow and looking at his profile and the way that even his face when in sleep was conflicted. This man, who spent his life for a cause, had seen its consequences in a way purely cruel. Maybe he could excuse her tragedy, but not the needless cruelty of the prison camps and what that had turned Seattle into. It was that one place alone that either made people fight, or it would turn them insane. She lets him sleep until the ambient light becomes too much, and he opens his eyes without a sound, looking back at the ceiling until he notices that she's staring. He turns his head, and their faces are much too close because of it that she can't help but shock herself back, almost out of the bed.
Charlie startles, and he lays there in his shelf bundled up, content to watch them all as he still sleeps.
They say nothing, not as she gets her plans ready. Garma needs new legs, and his hair has gotten much too long.
"Get up. We're doing this early."
He lays there, unmoving for several seconds before he takes in a deep, dry breath and rises himself up. His eyes dart across the room, for his crutches, and they are still at the bed's side where he had left them, just in case. Taking one beneath his right side, Mai waits, and he follows wordlessly. He doesn't know what they're doing, but it's too early, so he simply does. On the way through Mai grabs his stool, leading him into the bathroom and to sit on the stool in front of the mirror and sink.
She is wordless, taking the small box out from the cupboard and reading the instructions on the back. She's never done this before despite her work, where other ladies were liable to color their hairs like the Spacenoid models that they often told her she was of the kind.
It's a box of hair dye, the color of it a stone.
That wakes him up, even with his grogginess.
After several quick moments she nods to herself, placing it asides as out from the same cupboard: scissors.
"Do you want to keep putting on bandages, or not?"
"…Good morning to you too."
She huffs once through her nose. She almost greets him back, scissors in hand.
"This is probably the nicest thing I'll ever do for you."
"As opposed to saving my life?"
"No." She lets the cold steel in her hand settle against her palm. "That was for me."
He turns his gaze to the mirror, and then himself in that mirror. This was Garma Zabi, a month and a half removed from when the world last saw him proper, for he was not proper now. A slight prickly fuzz of lavender sat across his chin and cheeks, and he had never seen himself before like this: his hair wild and unkept and full and coming down to about his shoulders as if he had been a man who had never known care of himself. It surprised him that, he had saw and noticed his hair, and not his scars, and how naturally he had remembered he only had half his vision about him. This was the man he became, but he was still Garma Zabi to those who knew his face, and many people did.
He looked at himself as if this was the last time he would ever, but he knew what had to be done, out of convenience, and perhaps dignity.
He savors the way a finger, one last time, moves up to his bangs, and with his index finger takes a morsel of strands and lets his finger naturally wrap them around it before they all come undone as he pulls away.
"Okay. Okay. Do what you will… Just, try not to find yourself so accustomed to having a blade near my head."
She's taken the blade to kill before, both Man and animal. She knows how it is after the puncture, and how a well-honed knife could cut through flesh like paper, and how a body comes apart by neck or by vein.
She prefers her rifle.
But she could perform a kill by blade easy enough, as she had.
Standing behind Garma, a silver pair of blades in her hand, it should be easy, for whatever she desired, but standing there in the morning she holds the scissors in her hands, and she cannot move. She sees herself over Garma's shoulder in the mirror. He keeps his head down, low, unable to see her stare at herself and then him, his bangs casting over his eyes in their color known only of Spacenoids.
Her hand shakes, and yet she is frozen. For all the tough decisions she's made in her life she's always pulled through, but yet this final step eluded her: the one where she raised the pair to his strands, and she began to cut. She stayed there and did not notice when Garma looked at her in the reflection.
She knew this man, knew his heart, she told herself. She had unique capacity to do so, and to judge, and to execute him by his heart and his actions. Some unknowable seizure had taken her as she stood so close to him that her own chest brushed upon his back, and she could smell him off his hair. Once or twice, she did will her arms to move up, to begin the process, but it never began. She knew how to cut hair at least, she could cut her own and others, man or woman, adult or child, but here, before Garma, she cannot.
"Mai?" Garma finally asks, speaking to her reflection.
"I want to kill you, Garma." She says to the back of his head quietly. Even water drops, the wind, had been louder. He nods, yes, he knows this. "I want to kill… you."
It takes him several seconds for him to understand her, but he does in end. It was once said that a person was all that they show themselves to be. His physical appearance, his body, his face, his eyes, his teeth and fingers, the curve of his form, his lips, his hair, all make him who he is. All that he's lost, too, is a part of him.
His hair, extravagant color that it is, inherited from his mother, is perhaps the definition of who he is at a glance. Even with the burns, and parts of it having been singed off, they are still the hair known of Garma Zabi. He likes his hair, and it has always cooperated to his benefit. He knows, in no small part, that he is an attractive man, perhaps leaning more toward cute than handsome, but he does not mind at all. This is who he is, and he is, at least recently, known himself true.
She wants to kill him, not some other, transformed person.
She wants to kill him.
If there is opportunity there, he does not think of it as, slowly, he tilts himself around and his right hand comes to hers that holds the scissors.
She holds onto it tight, but barely, just barely, as Garma tugs. They lock eyes.
Let me, he mouths.
Her mouth is a thin line, so close they are in that unlit bathroom where many horrible things have happened, and yet healing had been done as well: the only place in Seattle that felt like they could cleanse themselves of what had been their lives, if momentarily.
In his face confides in her that same other truth between them that is as constant as her want to kill him: that he would not harm her.
She cedes, slowly, letting the scissors slip out of her grip into his, but she does not move as Garma straightens his shoulders and looks himself one more time in the mirror. He has no plan, he has no style to conjure. What must be done must've been done without regard and only for utility's sake. His hair, if given another month, might've been a presentable ponytail. This would never be. He gathers his longest hair behind him in his grip, and he cuts it in one stroke. Grasping the locks, thick and him, he brings it up to his face to confirm that it had been done, and when he was satisfied they had gone into the sink, and Mai watches the stray fragments float down errantly as he gets to it with nothing but scissors and a mirror.
Garma Zabi cuts his hair. He uses his fingers as a guide, carding them and finding the longest strands as bit by bit his hair comes down shorter than his fingers as they lay on his head, and Mai is witness to it, the soundtrack of snipping, strands being cut, relaxing in all other pretense. He's never done this before, but he imagines that if it did turn out bad, he'd have time to settle it out again.
Here he does as he was given privilege in the Academy to not do: to have his hair cut short to regulation. No barber in Guardian Banchi would dare come to him, and if it were privilege, he did not think of it.
Now he does so himself until the sink and their feet below are peppered with his lavender. He does not look often on how much of the burns were covered, and how now as his hair recedes back from his temples, they highlight his dead eye.
When he's done, he doesn't look to the reflection, he turns around. The cut is rough, but it's comprehensive and has brought his hair down to a place that Mai could not ever dream up. Without his hair framing his face, he looks even more damaged, more removed from Zeon. He raises an eyebrow at her, and she is something close to stunned by what she sees before her.
"That bad?" He offers.
She doesn't answer back, not as she takes those scissors from her hand, and she by unknown inclination reaches back out to his face with them, and he stills. She brings those blades close to his eyes and reflexively he closes, but no harm comes to him as she brings the tip of her scissors to his bangs to tidy them, as if their existence would annoy her further. By instinct alone she brings her own fingertips to his face, flicking with her fingernails what was left behind, even as she accidentally catches on scars.
Not quite a buzzcut, but it gets rid of his shape, cuts it closer straight. It's enough hair to work with. More than that, it evens out the quadrants of his hair that were burnt or blasted off during the explosion. He's back to equal, minus a few patches closer to the side of his face that are burnt down to the root, but it's not the worst. Mai had seen cadets balding in the Academy worse than the burn victim in her bathroom right now.
She wants to take a picture for some reason, but any whimsical thought like that is beat as she puts the scissors asides and begins running the sink. Down his hair goes the drain. He can't help but look at them.
Those hairs had been that which Icelina had last carded her own fingers through, breathed into at night as she cradled his head against her chest. They were now gone forever, as had he been.
The box's contents are placed upon the rim of her ceramic sink. Two tubes of some sort of paste, a brush, disposable gloves, a mixing plate. This she can do, if not she has to.
"I got you a color that would've…" she drags on as she takes the two tubes, depositing them upon the plastic plate in some spurts until a sufficient amount could be mixed. In the dimness, it is a brighter, albeit neutral color. "Fit you. I think."
"I trust your judgement."
As a child he often thought of what he would be if his hair had been brunette, or blonde, or black. Mai gives him another option: Stone, light grey, and as his eyes adjusted, something far calmer and tame than he would chose for himself, but it was a nice color regardless. A bit old, perhaps, but he had already felt an old man where Mai's knuckles had taken to him, and the cold of his consequences ached further deeper.
Her gloves came on, the brush brought through her concoction, and, with one last glance at the instructions, she carried on with an unsure abandon that even Garma could detected as she held his head by his neck on one hand, and the brush going through held with the other. She lathers the color in his hair, and his hair becomes quickly wet and sticky and heavy, but she doesn't let him look as she controls his head for her brush, and then fingers to get coverage from his hair to his eyebrows.
"I, uh, never really was into this stuff myself… I half-imagined that you were a bottle job yourself."
"Oh, it's very real, I assure you." He spoke, eyes closed as there was some pleasure of having her attend to his scalp. "You've uh- you've seen it natural in others place, haven't you?"
For a half-hour she does this, doing up his hair with color, and then staying, resting his strands until at once she backs off and tells him to shower, and to not worry about what may or may not come off in the wash.
In the fifteen minutes he takes Mai puts on coffee and breakfast, her leg shaking as she waited, questioning herself, why she even bothered at all.
Her mind is silenced as he emerges dry, and, as she feared, something close to a new man.
A lighter grey, the color of bunny fur is what comes to mind for Mai as soon as Garma dries his hair, patting down his face and standing in the door with his craft beer hoodie and joggers. His face too had been cleaned down, shaven.
He must've found her own personal razor in there and thought nothing of it other than to use it himself. She doesn't comment on it.
If, perhaps, she had not known that this had been Garma, then maybe he could be a stranger. It's a mystery of sorts for Garma as well. Without as much hair, especially at the color that it is, the scars are more visible, more prominent. They are the mark of Char Aznable, and he feels them red even now, but that is okay. In the cold air of their apartment his entire face feels cold, and they take the feeling away, for even if Mai was not a mirror, he could see himself in her by her reaction. Tilting her head at him as if to get more angles she approaches him. Without his scars, would she recognize him?
As she rounds him, and he standing there, feeling like prey, she decides that she could pick up his stench anywhere.
He looks presentable, and that's enough for her as she dips her head to him toward their table. Time to eat, and then out for the day. Charlie is out and already jerky is on the floor for him, licking at where it had been on the floor.
It had been an empty pain to be back on crutches after being gifted the ability to walk on his own again, but he had made do, sitting down before bread and hash and a fruit cup, along with half a cup of coffee that must've been what Mai had not finished.
He eats, and she disappears into the bathroom after. He's done when she comes back out a rather fast amount of time after, and when she does her hair, which had gone down below her shoulders at that point, curled and frizzed from sweat and lack of anything more than water and a 3-in-1 shampoo, had been cut down to ear-length, just barely longer than his. There is no ceremony for her in this.
It's his turn to stare and stare he does as she takes their coffee cup again and finished it off and starts on her own tray.
Garma can hardly imagine a time or place where she could break off those whispers of beauty about her, for she was, naturally, just that, even below all the war and the smear and grime of what she had done.
"Religious exemption." She says out loud in between bites. She knows he's staring.
"In the Academy I had a religious exemption for grooming." Her finger brushes against her own cheek, slight fuzz felt that she kept just because she imagined it would keep her slightly warmer. "Some people were jealous."
And they were quiet until they had finished together, and as they wordlessly put on their clothes for going out, he, again, confronted with what had been: his jacket had now been half red, as if the scars on his body had been brought out to his clothes. Of his MRE that he ate there had been those wet wipes, but try as he did, he could not scrub out the color, and it was cold.
"Come on." Mai tells him. "We can deal with that, later."
It was a Monday, deep into November, a child walked up to Garma as he and Mai waited in the security line for the Conclave to get his prosthetic fixed.
"Are you a Zeek?" It's the child that asks, but it's the Conclave around him that expects an answer.
They know. They do already know.
Mai breaths in deeply as in that line, and then the guards on the wall, and then, it felt, those even within, had heard that child's high voice and looked down the line and then at Mai, and then to the man who had appeared one day, battered and bandaged, alongside her.
Each turns, and then the Conclave knows.
"God dammit, Win." Mai knows who blew the secret first, and before people can fully realize what he is, at least a hundred in the immediate area, she takes Garma's arm, and walks ahead of line. She does not do this often, only when Gearten was concerned and she had to walk into the Conclave as a soldier, and not as a survivor, and as she walks, Garma struggling to keep up with his new look, his old crutch, he is brought before the gate held by arm, and all those there present look and see.
Those people, which he had walked among as he came out with Mai, who had all suffered because of the war, he had felt for them truly, but he knew deep down what they would do to him, for they, many at least, had been there fighting with Mai, who had hundreds to her name. He could not blame them, and for having now been to Freecastle, they would prescribe him to that same rot.
He feared for his life, and with no barrier, no bandages, for the first time the Conclave looked upon the face of a man of Zeon that had been known as Garfield Sune.
Their ire, their slow realization, and then, at last, their hate.
The world is still, Seattle is cloudy above, but he feels as if it is raining with all the eyes on him before the gate, but Mai is not intent on just letting it happen without her say. She points out several people from around: guards on the wall, those in the line, she casts green eyes on them to beckon them, to make them listen.
"Ghoul, the fuck-" One of the Conclave's guards begins to speak but she twists to him and puts her sharp glassy eyes on him.
"You hurt this bastard. I'm killing you. Killing you and anyone within five feet of you. This son of a bitch is mine alone to kill. You take that from me, I'll take more from you."
"He's a fucking Zeek! You put one down not more than a few weeks ago, Ghoul." A voice from the line. Somewhere Garma could hear a pistol's holster be uncapped.
"Mai…" Garma wants to run. Run from Reapers, run from the Conclave. The fear is the same.
"His dick still works and he's an extra hand. I'm keeping him until I get bored and I'm putting him in the ground. You hear me?! THIS! Is a dead man walking!" When Mai barks, she barks like a beast of a foreign land so far removed from the Earth that it was entirely alien in nature. She barks out of her form, and in her screaming, all hear her rage kept boiling and simmering, left unpoured since the last of Zeon's defenders there in Zeon were cut down in machinegun fire at the base of the Space Needle. She grabs the back of his neck and forces him down to her waist like Garma had been a dog, and in many ways, he was to her, only to drag him back up roughly.
The smart looked away, but those who had craved Zeon blood and remained dared, they were the ones who spoke up out of the line as the defenders of the Conclave uneasily stood.
"Ghoul, we thought you were better than this. Where'd you find this guy anyway?"
"Fell outta the god damned sky." Mai gestures. With no bandages on, Garma looks it, without a leg and half-burned over.
Old misgivings, an entire war in between now and then to take it away, and so easy it comes back.
Seattle never forgot that Mai Gul had been a Spacenoid.
But their ire, their distrust, had been all been years old now to her. She can take it.
They murmur around her, but she must stay and stand because she was on their block. She had to stand or else be chased out because she had tied herself to a live Zeek.
"Don't tell me you've forgotten how to deal with them, Ghoul." A bald man had walked outta line, a big knife, meant for bear hide in his hand. He had been offering to deal with Garma for her, and he had seen his reflection in that blade.
"You think I don't know how to fucking kill a Zeek?!" She shrieks, her rifle slung out. It was a reminder that she could kill much more than a Zeek. The line had ebbed, jerking away from her bore as the single man too tried to dodge, but her aim was true, that close.
This what how she always was. In war, she escalated, and escalated fast. This line of violence had been what won the day, and she held it so completely within herself. She had remained the same, and here, Garma had been, new look, but the same fear.
The only time the world seemed to listen to her was when she killed.
It was the only time it felt like she mattered.
The rushing that came behind her nearly made her draw her pistol, but those two sets of stepping had been two people she would never dare draw a gun against:
Gearten Possai and Bo Tale.
Gearten already had known what the issue was.
"Alright, alright, this Zeek's not for sale. Sorry." Gearten being forced to run hadn't been good for his lungs, but he had in his rush, his flannel buttoned one button up and down out of place and billowing with the wind. As he raised his respirator to his face, he put the world on pause. "If he's with the Ghoul he ain't gonna be around for much longer anyway. Let the woman have her fun, alright?" In Gearten's adult and loud voice he blows over everyone, but the waves settle, and all those step back from themselves.
Those there would always not mind the death of a Zeek, but to do it was another. It was effort, and in those days after a long guerilla war, they did not bother save for the most blood thirsty.
Gearten turns over to Mai, and then to Garma, and for the first time he sees his face and cannot believe it.
"Shit, you really did fall from the sky, huh?"
Mai still shoulders her rifle at a low ready, the oil of her hands having long broke the varnish of the dip in the wood where her palm laid, her eyes shooting where her gun could not. All those that looked on her had to come to reckon with her staring back. But Mai was not omnipotent, unlike what those Zeeks in the war had thought; forever looking down on them with a sniper rifle. Where she looked there were places where she could not go and so the world looked at her and him together.
For the first time, Bo Tale faces a Zeek. She, who had stayed in the Conclave for nearly a year straight, faces the enemy.
Garma is taller than her, naturally, and she comes up to his chin, but Garma is far bigger to her.
Garma was the enemy.
"When was the last time you had those burns treated?" She asks him instead. Not even a hello.
Garma had looked down upon this woman, this nurse, as Gearten and Mai muttered to each other annoyances and swears. "I've… I've been neglecting my treatment."
"You're a Zeek?" She asks as his words trail off. He nodded. "Shit." She said to herself.
"Nothing." It wasn't nothing. Here before her had been a young man, and she goes through the same revelations that all guerillas in Seattle had gone through at some point: that of all the soldiers in battle, many of them had been young, like them, and fed to the machine all the same. Bo Tale cannot hate, truly, in her heart, and so she cannot bring herself to hate this Zeek that Mai had taken. She looks down to Garma's tucked in, rolled up right pant leg, and then his scars, his burns, and Garfield lets it happen, all the way up to his eye. "Mai?" Bo calls out to her, and she turns from Gearten. "What're you here for today?"
"Get this asshole a new leg." There's something performative to Mai's bite that day, out in the open toward him. He can tell. Her true anger of him is something far more intimate. She would never call him someone so mundane as an asshole. "I've broken him in like a horse, he does my house chores while I'm out."
There was an idea of a Ghoul. A woman so completely ruined that whatever she did had been all justified for her circumstances.
It was the common rumor that she had been a cannibal and would take Zeeks that did not die immediately from her hunts and ate them while still living. That was her brutality, as understood. The Pavilion leaders were among those who knew better, but it had been useful to keep that image perpetuated: this image of a true monster on Seattle streets that killed Zeeks because it was what she deserved.
Here, then, as Gearten spoke for her to the lined crowd and all those who looked on, that she was keeping one to marinate, and to be useful.
Those that believe it, believe, and little others care otherwise. They have things to do and a life to try and rebuild, or at least move onto.
They all cast one last look between the union of Mai and this Zeek, and then they go on.
"Ghoul, you're a crazy woman, you know that? Even for you bringing him here after Win started running his mouth about how he saved a Zeek the other day."
Mai is silent until she fully forms a thought that makes her eye twitch. "That little shit. I told him not to say anything about how I had one."
"He never said Garfield there was yours, but there are only so many people that have come around with full bandages on and missing their right leg. People put two and two together."
People had been failing and disappointing her all her life, so it was no surprise to her that even Win would at some point. She spat on the ground, turning to Garma. "Behave."
"Is Candy in?" Mai pivoted to Bo. She hadn't been used to hearing Mai so authoritative and venomous, so she had squeaked, those burning green eyes brought against her if only in collateral.
"Yeah!" She was startled. "I mean. Yeah. He is."
"Ghoul, this your type? Half-baked and half a man?" A voice from the crowd jeered. She turned to find him, but he could not be found.
They walked into the Conclave at Garma's pace, and people stared. Mai dipped her boonie hat's brim, but Garma could not hide his own gaze. "Go set him up in one of the offices. I'll go get Candy." Gearten said, going off into the halls. Bo had affirmed, leading the two of them down those halls. The pace was fine for all but Garma however, for the many eyes that looked upon him. He shouldn't have been bothered, for where he walked, he always had this audience. Now, however, those that looked upon him had been open in their ire, their curiosity, their morbidity, and he, now, new, different, burnt skin, new hair, new identity, had been unfamiliar in his own body.
Let alone the memory of yesterday, let alone the horror, let alone what they had known what he had just discovered.
"How you feeling? You, and the rib." Bo asked innocently. She had been comfortable with Mai and Garma had immediately noticed, her hands held behind their back as she walked with a certain amount of whimsy: this woman, dark in skin color like her but better for it. She spoke with a Hispanic accent, an accent he had become more familiar with in Icelina's manor. Her servants often spoke English with such a twinge.
"I'm sure." Mai repeated coldly. The hint of bandages peeked up above her shirt's collar, and Garma had wondered what had happened to this woman as well.
Everyone had their scars, their injuries in the Conclave.
"Gonna be around for Thanksgiving? We'll be having a big dinner; music too."
"Foods gonna be good?" Mai asked casually.
Bo nodded. "Yeah, I'll do some of my magic. I think I still got some of my inventory left."
"I've had your chicken, Bo. I don't quite know if the people around here are used to it. Spiciest thing they know is fried fish."
Mai could be friendly, amiable, even with her cold voice. Bo had chuckled once at this silly little thing: ethnic ladies as they were and their penchant for spices more than the whites of that country could handle. As he had in times before in the Conclave, Garma watched on this closest thing to normal he's known since he had come to the Earth.
They come into one of the many check-up rooms of the Conclave, still clean, and lit even. The Conclave had kept the lights on by way of solar panels on the roof and portable generators and batteries.
"Is-" Garma goes in first and Mai and Bo have the tiniest of conversations away from him. "Is Mrs. Kino okay?" It is Mai's turn to sound small. "Her kid?"
Bo nods at her gently. "They're fine. We've put Fleety to light kitchen and laundry duty now and off nursing staff. It's all okay."
They stepped into the room together and Bo had gone about her business there. She had been a pharmacist before the war, and now forced to be a nurse like any other due to the intense need for such people. She had risen to the occasion, a scrunchy tied at her explosively curly hair keeping it down. "Might as well take a look at you before Doctor Candy gets here."
"I can take care of people." Mai had gotten the implication as she leaned against the wall by the door in that office.
"I know you can, Mai, but it can't hurt, right?" Bo had asked with one of her thick eyebrows, believing of her but not the claim, not completely.
The door opened. It was Gearten with an axe, freshly sharpened, freshly wiped. Garma had been up against the bed already naturally, having been directed by Bo to sit, and if he had been mad yesterday, he thought the insanity stayed as he entered holding it in his large hands, large arms.
"Candy'll be down soon." He said, taking a seat on the counter of the room near the sink as if he had been the one getting looked down and over.
Gearten looks so natural, flannel on, beard full grown in, holding an axe whose handle's sheen covers the hickory of it. Mai knows he feels useless, even with his administrative work: a big strong man such as him unable to take to the world as he was accustomed to and kept in that hospital, tied to the machine that breathed for him at times. He makes himself busy. He has chickens on the roof to tend to, gardens to care for, and his skills as a homesteader out there in Vancouver Island has made the Conclave safer and fuller. Anything he can do, he does, even down to the idlest of tasks like lacquering up the wooden handles of tools that are brought to him. Linseed oil, he tells any and all, will stop blisters for wooden handled tools.
Her own sniper rifle's stock was varnished as such. She didn't ask for it, but one day during the war she had been given it back by Gearten, and what aggravation that came with her rifle having been touched without her permission did melt away as he explained. It helped keep back the worst of wear, but what she asked of her tools, of her guns, had been more than any could prepare for.
All this is known to all but Garma, but none of the four there seem to mind that he did not know why Gearten carried around an axe that day.
He's on the bed again with this strange cast of characters, sitting.
"Words started making its way through that Mister Garfield here is a Zeek, and that if anyone touches him, he's gonna have to deal with you." Gearten reports as his rag rubs down the handle again and again. He didn't sound too pleased but that had been him for most of the year.
"Right. Thanks." Mai responded, sliding the boonie hat off her head by the string that kept it by her chin, letting it rest on the back of her neck. "Sorry for taking up another leg."
Bo had guffawed as she got her stethoscope and latex gloves, motioning for Garma to take off his bloodstained jacket and the hoodie he wore beneath. "Don't worry about it, ever since we've been able to make filament with plastic bottles we've had enough to spare." In Mai's pack that day had been the remains of Garma's first prosthetic leg. Garma had already been wearing the silicone sleeve made for him. "Garfield, huh?"
Garma had been averse to speaking, and yet Bo had called upon him. "Yes. That's my name."
"Got dog tags to prove it?" Bo asked as she stood in front of him, arms crossed. He had been bare to his chest and half his body had been the same as it was: cocooned in burns.
Garma shook his head. "I lost them when we were shot down." He glanced at Mai, carefully watching him.
"And Mai found you?"
"Half-buried, half-cooked, half-dead." She listed off, pushing herself off the wall. "Be glad that we don't have any survivors from 3 Pavilion. Don't think I could stop them."
The room soured; the Pavilion that had been destroyed by the Gaw's bombing runs, attempting to flush out the Federation ship.
"Sorry." He breathed.
Bo, she leaned into his space, not willing to take an apology for the dead, running her hands across the edges of his skin where scar had met flesh. "You know, Doctor Candy took some of my ointment for burns about a month, month and a half ago, right around the time we had those bombings. Doctor Candy has known about you for a while, hasn't he?"
Gearten and Mai were quiet, with the man deferring to Mai with a quick look of his eyes. "Yeah." she admitted. "I've lived with him for a month now, where I live. Kept him busy. Is all."
Bo lifted Garma's burned arm, looking at the healing of glossy skin that came so often after burns, taut and knurled even with an unnatural sheen of redness and greyness. She went back into the drawers of the office, finding what she needed, a tube of ointment pressed and deposited into her hands.
She had heard what Mai claimed to do with him, for she yelled it out loud, outside of the Conclave.
"Do you two actually…?" Bo had looked at Garma, an obscene question, but one that had to be answered. Garma's jaw shut tight and it hadn't been the answer he wanted to give.
Mai blinked several times before realizing what one of her lies had been. "No. No. Just trying to say shit to get people off me."
Gearten had been silently laughing.
"He your type though, girl?"
Time on Earth had done Garma good, even before she had found him. All Spacenoids had a certain paleness to them that intruded upon their natural tones, and Garma, from ostensibly a middle European stock, had been greyed for it, as had been the rest of his family. Though he had tanned, over in his time on Earth beneath the sun. She knows the feeling of seeing herself glow healthily despite it being the worst time of her life.
She did find Garma agreeable to look at, but Mai has long believed herself so far gone, unable to judge between it being what she would do with him or if she actually did find him as the rest of Zeon did.
"I'm not picky."
"You're picky about me."
"Well, I'm not gonna fuck you in a bunk with three people watching. I ain't that type of woman anymore."
She's not sure where she learned to talk like she did: Her proper tones matching with the callousness of American Ebonics and her Arab accent. It's a sound unmatched and it trips people up and yet can catch people all the same. Let alone what she speaks of, let alone how she speaks of herself. It's the language of a man but the topics are that of femininity which she has disavowed but knows better than all men. In that Universal Century future technology did not mean future values, and here she had been dealing with the old, simple things: relationships, love, crushes and the baser things of life.
Bo seems to shrink at her sharpness, but she was a soft creature in a tough world, and Mai had no right for that cut at her. She knows this, reaching out with one hand to guide her cheek to her lips and pressing upon them once. "Another life, dear Bo." And Bo, for her credit seems very assuaged.
Garma tilts his head. That was his line. More than that: what Mai had just done seemed so benign, so cute, it couldn't really have been her. The small little tell, the small flinch of her face and the tensing of her hands. She had been forcing herself, this affection, onto Bo and Garma could tell.
The cold burn of the ointment being applied over his burns and scars hits him before he can add to the conversation, and what he does emit is just a lower groan and grunt.
"Mai has been taking good care of you, it seems." Bo comments as she lathers Garma's skin up once. "These burns and scars could be worse."
"She's not completely unreasonable." He agreed.
"Still gonna kill you."
"I know, I know."
Their typical routine had been old hat to them at that point, but not in front of others, Bo and Gearten sharing a silent question between them. "You two old friends?"
"Academy friends." Gearten answered for them both.
"Not even friends. I just recognized him." An understatement, but it was what it was as Garma hid in plain sight.
"Have you any other difficulties? Any problems breathing?" Bo dipped to the routine of things, asking Garma.
"Spacenoids tend to be a little sensitive to Earth weather. Pollen and all of that. I don't think the Colonies are particularly full of them." Garma hadn't noticed, so he shook his head at Bo. She had been treating him normally, in spite of who he had been. "Three square meals a day? Sleeping regularly? Showering? You seem clean otherwise. Same type of clean as Mai."
"The hell does that supposed to mean?" Mai protested. Bo giggled once as she moved on, ignoring Mai's non-issue concern.
"I've… I've taken well enough to the Earth." Garma said, uneasily, but gaining traction. "I spent most of the war in New England… New York City, actually."
"Oh?" Bo lightened up. "I have family in Harlem."
Garma recognized the name. Garma recognized it as a ward of New York City sacrificed by fighting. He said nothing for it. "I uh. I didn't spend much time outside of Manhattan or the air base there." The great mega airport, named after a historical American president, had been the only one in all of New England that had been properly suited for handling the Gaws, and mobile suits even. "I was a pilot of combat aircraft."
Here Mai had seen Garma weave a new story for himself, and she did enjoy it, privately, to see a man lie his way to safety.
"What good that did you." Gearten remarked sarcastically, the sharp sound of the axe head being polished over.
"I hope they're alright. Seattle's been cut off from the rest of the world ever since March." Ever since Zeon forces landed, months after the colony dropped. "You are a Spacenoid, aren't you?"
"I am." He said truly.
"How's it been for you, down here on Earth?"
Gentle Bo, who cared, as all nurses did in that place. Even for the enemy.
"Bo…" Gearten warned.
"Mister Garfield here seems to be just another person. Wrong side, sure. But he's just a… guy." She snapped back.
She had been so wrong, but she could not know that.
"This planet is beautiful. Truly. Nothing like Side 3." He answered slowly, regretfully. "The people here too. They've been good to me."
"Shame you couldn't see Seattle as it was." Bo had been sad for the city she came to work, to live in. Her life had been starting too; first of her family out of higher education and all that had counted now was the burden and responsibility that her, a young twenty-year-old, should've never had. "Besides, it's not like you started this war or anything."
It was said that God forgave all in the end, and on Earth, it had been up to the living to make amends as they were. Bo, and all those like Bo, had already been well and willing to do so, despite it all, and Garma knows why this war must be fought.
Nothing changes, and Mai glowers only for him in that room.
Would they all change their minds if they knew who he was?
How she wishes she knew, and how she hoped they would understand her predicament. They would not, however. They were, in the end, Earthnoids to her.
When Doctor Candy opens the door, the slice that it reveals out into the hallway a curious crowd has amassed, and here they were all now together. Doctor Candy had been the same as he had been: well-adjusted, and well meaning, he taking one long scan of the room, pausing at Mai and mouthing greetings to which she returned, and then landing on the unmistakable man that he knew as Garma, but yet called him Garfield.
"Mister Garfield." His scars were not hidden by his longer hair now on his face, he looked them over, and Bo went to his side and whispered what she observed. "It appears you have become a regular here."
He holds a clipboard close to his chest with his notes of the day, his eyes looking down upon a leg without appendage.
"Extenuating circumstances, Doctor Candy." Mai answers, taking out the remains of his leg as made for him to the ground.
"I presume a trip and fall?" He hopes.
Mai tips his chin up at Garma to beckon out an answer. "I was running. From Ezekiel."
Gearten breaths out tiredly. "Shit. That lion out on the streets?"
"Not quite…" Garma's foreboding is haunted, and heavy. He, even as he was, was not like other Zeeks that came to the Conclave, taken because they were left behind and often dying. Most of them decried themselves for having fallen to enemy hands, and when the Federation came that was true. But most had been of a certain morale, seeing their injuries, although painful, with pride, and even fondness. They had bled for the cause, and that had been thing of pride, and how they spoke to the Earthnoids that cared for them that all of their suffering was going to be worth something to Zeon. That is, if they spoke at all, and did not keep themselves quiet, as good soldiers should've.
"Garfield" had none of this. Not as he had to speak of where he had seen Ezekiel.
Mercy then. Mai sighs through her nose, half-lidded, looking at this man known as Garfield slump his shoulders avoiding all of their gazes. "It's been a rough twenty-four for him."
"So Win's said." Gearten nodded, taking in Garfield as he sat frozen. "He didn't say from what, but all I know it was something fierce." He tipped his head at Garfield, and his words coaxed him to directly look at him as he spoke. "You're lucky you're alive twice over."
A justification, in some measure, to Mai. The world really wanted it to be her that killed him.
"But what for?"
Bo scrunched his nose. The hopelessness that dripped from that tiny question that no one should have to ever ask of their own life. She glanced at Doctor Candy. "I presume that he's a standard model? Below the knee?"
"Just ask for a reprint of the last thing I asked Yobel to do. I haven't printed anything else since I set Mister Garfield up."
"Right." Bo left to go retrieve a new leg for the man, only after taking the fragments from Mai for recycling.
"Doc? You been helping take care of this guy from since he came?"
"I've never denied treatment to a Zeon soldier that passed triage." Candy pointed out.
"Sure. But keeping it secret long as it had been?" Gearten bounced his head between Mai and Candy, and Mai answered alone.
"I'm allowed discretion, and I asked Doctor Candy to keep it a secret. It was going to be simpler that way."
"Nothing you're doing with Garfield here is simple."
In that room remained pasted on posters and notices of HPV, of vaccinations and different symptoms urging those that saw them to check with their primary healthcare provider in case of something wrong with them, often pointing them along to a certain product or medicine. Of their advertisements, glossy as the paper they were printed on, were cutouts of the Human body for effect: a man, gone holographic with lungs turned fluorescent blue, a woman with her heart exposed and burning, eyes gone wide and dry the only thing that lay in a skull. On those walls laid bits and pieces of people, as flesh and blood spoke beneath them, about a man who was bits and pieces himself. Mai's eye catches on one: the heart, a simplified diagram of something she has seen of both Man and animal, and had torn out in all ways but with her hands in the act of combat.
She knows how the heart beats. She knows how it races, and how it lulls, how it slows, and, finally, as it ends.
She holds the hand of a middle-aged man who had been a father, and a husband in war, as a Zeon tank nails the building that it thinks that they are in but have since removed themselves into another alleyway momentarily safe. Shrapnel had taken a part of his lungs and he lay there dying, and he knew it in grey eye's going wide, wider, wider and further than she could ever with her scope, on that side of life. She knew this man by first name basis-only and by the accord that they had a tryst before the war of one night pleasure as she was habitual to do.
Murph called her a whore.
She never disagreed.
This married man who had been the only of her one-night stands that had remerged in the war as a face she knew, now laid on his back before her one last time, in a dirty alley way. She held his hand, wedding band wet with his own blood, and felt his heart go out and compared it last to when she felt his heart hammer in his chest.
She knew the heart of Men better than most, and perhaps far clearer than those medical advertisements could ever come close to.
She thought, she hoped, she needed to know what Garma Zabi's heart had been.
Zeon Deikun's words reminded her why she had not been what some thought she was. She knew she wasn't, because she didn't know ultimately.
Mai dipped her eyes but could not hide them. "It's the only thing that's felt right to me for a year." Truly right. Truly, honestly right. Not that sickly rush through her body when she saw a man in Zeon uniform fall dead because of her. This was a more permanent feeling, one that kept her standing, one that kept her tolerant of all of Garma's discretions.
A suitcase full of gold remains in their apartment.
"There are some things about you Ghoul that I know you can't explain, but still, you gotta answer to some sort of power eventually, even if it's something in yourself. Because keeping a guy alive and letting him know you're gonna kill him, that's cruel. Needlessly." Mai did not move as Gearten spoke to her her transgressions, her green eyes wetting, the contradiction of her actions and herself grating within her.
Garfield had spoken up. "She isn't cruel. I don't think so. Not to me."
Two men speak within him, and his voice resonates like it to Mai as she looks up at him.
"She saved my life and brought me back to health. I don't think it's cruel. I don't think she is."
In his words are so much more knowledge to Mai that the men in there cannot help but think that their history had been deeper, that they knew each other more than they let on, and both in lie and in truth that had been so. Garfield knew Mai better than they. Garma knew Mai better than they. They wore it on their sleeve, and they couldn't look away until Gearten blinked himself out of thoughtful reverie.
"Mister Garfield you're gonna be dead in two months if I think I know when she's thinking to put you down." Gearten protested Garfield for his own sake, even as he sat straight on his own, shoulder squared up. "You're barely gonna see a few days into 0080."
As the calendar turned, that war would've been then one year long, marked by a one year anniversary of Zeon's gambit.
For Mai, it would've been one year since her miscarriage.
It made as much sense as anything did for Garma.
She says nothing, crossing her arms, running her thumbs over the knuckles of the fists she's made.
"You're just gonna take it man?" Gearten asks Garfield earnestly. "We've seen a lot of people die in this last year, and I don't think I've ever seen any so ready to let it happen like you, Zeek or not."
Garfield cannot answer other than to turn his head away in some sort of shame. If he were to answer it would've been something too crass, too delicate to say but what he had believed and said to Mai anyway in their privacy: That his death was not definite.
But still, now, more than ever, he had felt like he needed to pay, for amends on his account.
Dying didn't seem so dreadful as much as it had been a life removed from him where he could do better.
"Well, we'll just worry about the here and now then, regardless." As Doctor Candy had done since he had known for the survival of Garma Zabi, he steps forward and does a more through checkup of Garma and his wounds, and all Gearten and Mai can do is watch the long of it, as if Doctor Candy had been sculpting clay and Garma that figure of creation. "Greying early, aren't you?"
"I suppose it runs in my family." The realization comes over the three of them that knew that a part of Gihren exists now with his hair, color that it is. But he's more boyish, obviously, more handsome and fluffier up top to the slicked back visage of Gihren Zabi.
As Candy works, Gearten and Mai fall into an old rhythm: that of business, of the world they lived in, and the Conclave and its duties. She tells him that Ezekiel is in Freecastle, apparently, and that that had made sense to Gearten. He told her that just yesterday there was some ruckus in that direction and toward the evening even more fighting, apparently, had taken hold in Freecastle before the Reapers were seen evacuating. Of all the kingdoms on Earth, none were more territorial than a lion's.
They said that more trucks had been seen scouring lower Seattle, truckloads of scrap in their backs, and they both knew the maneuver. The Reaper Lords lived by mechanized warfare: their trucks, armored and gunned up for the war against Zeon. They were going again.
"I told Foreman that he should start mining up the roads leading up to our line." Mai reported, and Gearten nodded.
"Good idea, especially with two missing mobile workers."
"Missing mobile workers?" Garma spoke up as Candy put a stethoscope to his back. "Awfully odd thing to lose."
"You've seen this city by now." Gearten gave Garma the side-eye, blame put upon him, but not as much if he knew who he really was. "All jagged angles, mini mountains; it's a nightmare of sightlines out there, let alone the earthquake and the aftershocks. At night? You could very much hide a mobile worker, even running." The world had been shaken up, fallen over itself, and Garma knew this very well on how hard and sore his remaining heel had felt some days.
"Even then I had thought that all Zeonic machines in civilian hands were disabled." Garma had been in the room when the order was given to a Zeonic representative to push the software update that bricked every machine in the Earthsphere under lease. He had been callous in how put together he sounded asking that, but it was genuine.
"Murph's got smart people with him, not all of them are gang bangers. Microsoft's American headquarters was here in Seattle, so no doubt there were coders that went with him if they didn't get out early enough… Same story with us too." Mai turned away even though Gearten spoke. "Not all of us aligned with Mai and the Conclave are the most… good people." Gearten laid his axe asides, head held back. "For every Win Nguyen out there, there's about five adults who are insane and were free to do as they wanted in the war, long as whatever they did was pointed at the Zeeks."
"They mostly got themselves killed." Mai is neutral, saying that, but her eye only twitched at the thought. Of all those she had sent to die, there were some that she had made the decision that perhaps that was for the best, how far gone they had been.
Chattering, outside, a higher voice, unmistakable. "Speak of the devil." Gearten knew, and Mai had been on her feet fully from against the wall.
"Keep him here." She spoke to the room, and the door was opened, and Win Nguyen yelped as Mai gave chase. His voice she always had the ear for.
"Mai-!" Garma, alone. He shifts as if he could follow him, but he has no leg to do so.
Candy settles him back down. "Mai will be back I'm sure after a more than through scolding of Win." Candy could hardly keep the most reassuring face on him, especially with the mention of Win, but punishment was indeed needed. Mai's trust was hard to earn, and to lose it did deserve some recourse.
Gearten looked like he had something to say, but his lungs stopped him, the mask brought out and put to his face. These pauses were as natural to anyone, and even Murph during the war, when he had been in the Conclave coordinating the guerilla war had shown some decorum in waiting for Gearten's breathing apparatus. The two men wait, and Candy, gently talking about how his body was doing, fades into the background as Gearten settled.
"So, why'd you join, Garfield?" Gearten asked.
"Why'd you join the Zeek military. Conscripted? What rank are you anyway?"
"Lieutenant." Garma makes up. "And I wasn't conscripted. I joined the military long before the war."
"Oh, so you're even worse." Gearten had resisted the urge to spit into the sink. "Still, you're real young for it."
"It too also runs in my family. My father was a soldier, and all my brothers and sister." He does not know if he speaks too openly, but he speaks of his family proudly.
"Sorry to hear." Gearten huffed.
All adults in Side 3 above the age of 16 had to enlist in the Zeon Military.
His brother's words were correct; there were people yet to rise for this war.
Bo returned, and she returned with a leg and another man; a leader of a Pavilion.
"The hell are you doing here Bolton?"
"No one stopping me? Besides, I'm used to seeing the accused, call it force of habit." Garma had seen this man from time to time in the halls. A smooth man, with the distinction that before the war he had been some sort of somebody of social and educational worth. If he held himself highly all knew it, but war had been a great equalizer and the fact he lived meant something.
"He's not accused. He's down right and guilty."
"That's not how it works, properly."
He was Bolton Dancer; the image of any young white adult professional in the world had been his image down to the beard and the slicked hair, still maintained, somehow. He seemed civilized, at least, to Garma, compared to some of the guerillas he had seen there. He walked in, nodding to Gearten and Candy before ending up near Gearten.
"He followed me from the labs." Bo had been indignant, a little annoyed, holding another copy of Garma's leg in her hand as Bolton smiled and thanked her, handing it over, and brought before Garma as he kneeled. Garma rolled his pant leg up. He knew the routine by now.
"The entire Conclave know by now?" Gearten leaned back, one eyebrow raised as the other was half-closed annoyed.
"Entire Conclave's out in the hall." Bolton thumbed back. He himself had his rifle still, slung around his back: a Zeon rifle, even, much like the storm rifle of Mai's, done up with tape at points where he held onto it in usage, with a wrap of cloth at its stock for a cheek weld. Garma wasn't unfamiliar. More veteran troops had often modified their rifles like that, and whether or not Bolton had taken it from said troop or found the synchronicity of that utility didn't matter.
Those outside wanted to see that Candy, indeed, was in here helping this man. That almost by his command, his action, could the fact a Zeek was in there be excused.
Candy affixed Garma's leg, and wordlessly they had done the same routine as when he had first gotten one, he standing up, walking backwards to the opposite corner of the room, and beckoning Garma to walk forward.
He did, and all was better again.
Bo had been behind him all the while, arms out as if to catch him if he stumbled, as if she had done this before, and she had.
"Thank you, Doctor Candy." Garma thanked the man as he walked that small distance and given the fact that he had walked Seattle in those shoes now, he had been used to it now.
Garfield Sune stood on his own.
Bolton seemed amused, stirring words in his head, but Garma talked before.
"I'd like to… assist the Conclave, as repayment for this and the leg I've lost." He pivots, to all those who look, and even Bo, sweet as she is, can't seem to take it. Candy's face is thoughtful, but he alone answers:
"Given your situation, I am sure this will be returned to us in due time."
Garma's arms fall to his side, useless. From patient to dead man.
Men on death row are all the same.
"Please. Let me help. Hate me or don't think at all, at least let me be useful to you." He said more with his breath than his words. The urge to cry had risen up in him in a small part but he had broken down. What good was a leader, something he was born to be, if he could not be at all at one's service?
"On what?" Gearten's suspicions are heavy, a hand flicking up as if at invisible wisps in the air. "You look fit enough all things considered, but we don't put amputees on hard labor, and that's the only thing we'd ever put you down to." Back breaking work like a prisoner of war. "And accidents happen. Everyone in this room might be civil enough, but in this place, we got a whole lotta people who've lost just about as much as the Ghoul, and we can't always be watching you."
"Anything, I just need to do something."
"It's not going to save you from Mai."
"That's not the point. It's what's right."
"Yeah." Gearten had jeered. It was not hate, it was not disgust. It was disappointment. "If the whole lot of you were doing "what's right" none of this would've happened."
And yet what Garma, and millions of other Spacenoids, had gone to this war on doing what was right.
Bolton had gone out into the hall abruptly, his body half still in, speaking to the crowd that had gathered, words muffled by object and distance. Whatever he had said had cleared it surprisingly.
"Hey, Doctor Candy, do you think you'd mind if we take him somewhere?" he asked in his suave voice, as if he was asking for a manager's attention. Gearten had cocked his own head as Bo wore a face of worry.
"Mai said to keep him here." She warned for her sake.
Bolton had raised his arms defensively. "I'm not going to take him out back and shoot him, if that's what you're asking."
Gearten chimed in. "Well, you better not. I told Gully the other day that he's not allowed to bring back anyone just to put them down out front. Some of the parents complained to me that the young ones saw Ghoul shoot a man."
"Seeing Ghoul kill a Zeek is a lot like seeing storm clouds rain, what does anyone expect?" Slick on his tongue, Bolton had gotten a laugh out of Gearten as he put his mask on and began to breathe, his other hand dismissive. He wouldn't stand up for Garfield if his life wasn't on the line.
"I want to show him something." Bolton said to Bo and to Candy, and he had meant it earnestly, finally looking to Garfield. Bolton leaned in and whispered in Candy's ear, and the man was considerate of it at least. His face was frozen in thought before his thumb came to scratch at his chin again, looking to Garma with a nod.
If Candy knew what Bolton was thinking before he said, he did not show it, but he had ran his hand through his beard once before gesturing to Garma. "I think… I think walking through the hospital with your prosthetic would do you well."
Fear, of walking in that place known now, and fear of going again without Mai's permission. But he dares still, because in earnest Bolton requested him something and Candy seemed partial to it. "Very well." He answered.
Bo clenched her jaw, turning away and cleaning the room for the next patient if there had been one, and Gearten shrugged in silent conversation with her, his hand on his axe.
The hall was empty when Bolton and Garma walked out, and although at its very ends had been people, they were alone.
"Name's Bolton Dancer. I was a public defender before all of this." Bolton offered no hand, but Garma didn't expect it anyway. He had been walking alongside him at an easy pace, Bolton making room and slowing down for the man. He seemed at ease walking next to Garma, but given his profession, he had gotten used to walking besides those horribles of society. "How old are you?"
Bolton stops and looks at Garma up and down, disappointed in the world, at the war, at himself upon the realization. His eyes trace over his scars and trace it down beneath his sleeves to where it continued to his right hand, still missing fingers.
He says nothing as they keep walking.
The emergence of Garfield as the Zeek had brought out more eyes, more looking, but Mai's message had been true, and even then, he walked evoking fear.
Bolton Dancer had been the leader of 7 Pavilion, and his clothing and attire had seemed to be caught half-way between the visage of a lawyer and a soldier. Even now he still wore a tie, a baseball cap on his head but otherwise wearing browned over fatigues. Garma saw that the Federation patches had all been ripped off. He kept a notepad tucked into the breast pocket of his BDU's jacket, what had been the front face of it flipped over, there had been quick calculations for fire mission adjustments.
"I ain't never shot a Zeek up close, and I don't want that to change. During the war Captain Ghoul sent me artillery and mortars that they captured and at first, she just wanted me to destroy 'em, but then she started giving me ammo and I figure I've had enough of hiding bad people's problems." So, he became the problem in hellfire. "Ghoul taught me from the ground up how to do fire missions. I figure that's a part of the training up there for her?"
"For me too." Garma admits. "We were classmates."
"Oh? Were you now?"
In the simplest way of speaking, yes, but as always between him and Mai their affairs were far more complicated than that.
They walked through the Conclave, through to its parts where people lived like a sterile hotel, and as Bolton and Garma passed he found himself looking into each door as if seeing a new world in each: of families stuffed into offices untaken and beds and sheets made out of scrubs and scraps. People lived on in the Conclave, no thanks to him. Children ran, but quickly huddled back as Garma arrived by their parents.
Broken men, broken women, broken children.
Eyes and ears and hearts and minds. Fingernails missing, chunks of flesh ripped off, burned off, shot off. In here were soldiers.
Ryuichi appears at the corner of a room, and he, alone, waves at Garma from the floor as his father picks him up from the ground and turns him away before Garma can return it back.
Garma does not ask where he is being led to. He does not have that right there. The signage however reveals:
"The hospital built this wing of it about ten years ago for conferences and the like." There had been a lobby, put across with liters and cots for those that slept there still along the walls. They were empty now, and the doors to the auditorium had been open. They went in and were cloaked with a darkness from a ceiling that seemed endless. But yet on ground level it was light; light enough to see that a small crowd had gathered there. Over twenty people. All of the Conclave.
The auditorium was of a round style, with the stage for the speaker or the speakers kept on a raised platform in the middle beset on all sides by seating, the auditorium itself set into the ground gradually like a flat cone.
The spotlights were on, but Garma could not see where from, illuminating that platform and its wooden floor blindingly completely against the dark seating, the dark people, adjourned. Beset in the wall opposite the entry doors had been a screen in its own lighted darkness. They turned to him, and they were the people of this world. Some he knew; Tammy had been there, her gun gone, but the belts of ammunition kept over her shoulders like a scarf as her rain jacket kept her warm. Others: he only knew first names. Chris, Hesse, Quib, Helis, Odette. Others were unknown, present: an article of Earthen peers that sat and stood and looked at him be led down the aisles until they were at the stage.
"I want to show you something, Mister Sune."
Where is Lalah now, Garma wonders; this creature in Char's shadow.
"Why the crowd?" He asks wearily of Bolton.
"They want to see how you react."
Those that were present had sat in their seats, and the great screen opposite began to play the room itself. There was confusion to Garma at first, seeing what seemed like a video of the room, put up like a movie, but full of people, of others in clothing more civilian than any other, and on that stage had sat two people, one of which Garma recognized immediately.
The date for this video: UC 0077. One month after the Dawn Rebellion. Sat across from a woman set up in formal attire as typical of news people, was Johann Abraham Revil. General Revil. A large man, imposing as a soldier like him tended to be, in his older age it seemed to drag him down more than anything as he sat on that stage with those in attendance looking down on him.
"Side 3's independent arms manufacturing is by no means at all adequate to wage any sort of elongated conflict. The rhetoric coming from the Zabi family and Side 3's politicians are of course, very aggressive, and disturbing, but they are in the end theatric without measured recourse. That is to say, if they were to consider fighting at all." The video had started in media res, and the situation had been revealed to Garma as the camera panned to the crowd and a man standing in front of a line, holding a microphone as he thanked General Revil for his answer and then handed off his microphone to the next in line.
This was a town hall held in the wake of Garma's rebellion, in a time when General Revil had not yet been assigned the Supreme Commander of Earth Federation Forces by the Federation Council, and the concerns of the Earthnoids in their First World were required to be addressed. So General Revil, either by advisement, or by his own inclination, went out to the masses here in Seattle and sat and answered the questions of those who came.
General Revil was never known as a public speaker, but he had held his confidence in all that he had did, and here before a civilian crowd it was nothing as he looked and he turned, and he saw the next speaker:
"General Revil, respectfully, what recourse are we taking to punish the students who murdered our brave Federation soldiers? My uncle, Donovan Logos, he was a tank commander, cut down trying to get to his tank on Guardian Banchi. He was taken from my family so cruelly because of these fanatical kids, following the words of that royal prince, Garma Zabi." There had been so much hatred in his name from this young man who came to speak of family dead because of what he did. "His entire platoon was killed, and not one person has been held accountable?"
The crowd had roared in affirmation and agreement, but it was not all in unison. Of that wide camera angle Garma saw the silent.
General Revil had shifted, folding his hands together as he looked to the news caster holding the town hall on that major American news network. "The situation regarding the direct culpability of the Spacenoid cadets is still ongoing, so I cannot speak on specific details, however rest assured that these reckless, now killer, young cadets, we have a vested interest in holding to the international courts for this act of clear terrorism. I myself, I've seen those cadets with my own eyes when I do visit Guardian Banchi, and I just shudder to think what that particular class, and those violent enough to act on their political vision, would do if they were unpunished."
"And what of Garma Zabi himself?" the speaker asked desperately. "He was the ring leader."
"We are pursuing all possible actions. That is all I have to say."
In reality, nothing was done. To those that survived the Dawn Rebellion, to he himself. Nothing was ever followed up by the Federation because of Zeon's strength, and most of those cadets that came with him to the Federation barracks, also came to him with Earth. Still, at least, half of them remained alive.
More questions, more answers. In each one Revil had pacified the speaker if they had been curious about the heightening tensions, and for each one, his answer had all spoken to an idea that the Earth Federation would of course avoid war, but would pursue every other action in terms of punishing Zeon, not just for the rebellion, but for every diplomatic sleight in the face of the Federation.
Perhaps not this one, for Kycilia had showed him many of these types of media functions before the war, but Garma knew the language, the sound, of the Federation's leadership lying to their Earthnoids about the reality that was oncoming.
"It's not hard to imagine why half of the Human race didn't see this war coming, with them, talking like this." Bolton talked alone as he leaned back in a chair, the rest of the Conclave's attendees also looking on on what felt like ancient history. None, all too pleased with Revil now as well.
"I find it hard to believe that the average Earthnoid was completely ignorant on the true conditions of us Spacenoids." Garma had offered instead. "We were fighting for our lives up there, even before the war… What's happening now was inevitable."
The crowd murmured. They didn't disagree.
"We know." Tammy said quietly, her blue headband in her hands, being held as if a lifeline. "We know, young man."
Another question: more background.
"I was a fisherman," she said. "I know how much it costed to send my catch space bound. We're not dumb, we know how much it matters when we can't afford to send food to where people need it."
What was he here for?
He expected a court, a galley where he would be held to and spat down on, but this was something else. Something more considerate.
A man spoke out. "I worked on software for the Colony Corporation, and I saw how much the Federation interfered with trying to make colony life sustainable."
Another, "I was in the Department of Agriculture. I worked with Munz- Zeon, once, to make sure that what we were shipping up there was going to be okay for the ecosystem."
Examples, droplets in the sea. Garma's face had worn a face of distrust, of disappointment. These were innocent people of the war, but perhaps not of the conditions. Those who stood neutral, or uncaring, were as complicit as the aggressor. "It's always easy to see it in hindsight."
"Son," An older man said from the rows. "What do you think you've done to us? And in the name of what?"
"Our right to live."
"Weighed against ours?"
"No! We came back to Earth to free you from the Earth Federation as well!" His words were old to him, because they were the words that had been put through the Zeon propaganda machine in every occupied city. They were the words reiterated, because they were the words of his family.
The older man was a father, who both his sons had gone with the Federation to fight the war. He did not know if they were okay, but in this Conclave, he had found himself with many sons, many daughters; the young who had lost and he, like many of the older adults, found a role as brutal, but as necessary as others. In shared suffering, the adults of Seattle rose to their place.
The Father reached out from his seat to Garma on the stage as the questioning of Revil went on. A dozen questions, and yet no answers that yielded true. "Is that what you tell yourself?"
Zeon was not stopped. The Federation did not back down.
"It's what we wanted."
We. We. We. The royal We. He, who spoke to them as just another Zeon soldier, but to he himself, spoke as a Zabi. That divide that could not be stated, and yet he spoke with such an earnest that no one there could ignore.
Garma wanted to be a part of the effort that saved all of Mankind.
"Zeon Deikun told us all that the Colonies were perfect places. Or could be. More than that, they were places made by Man in ideal images, and that History could be resolved there. All of Mankind's history." History and all its summations in its prejudices. He had spent years of his life listening to the words of Zeon Deikun, and here he had been, lone avatar of his stance. His true stance. Garma Zabi believed Zeon Deikun because what else was there to be believe in as a Spacenoid? Space was dark, and cold, and no beliefs, no god, had been present there. All that those born in space could do was to follow something, anything. "We of space, we see the way to the future, and this war was a necessary step." Garma's hands had curled, but outward, as if offering to the crowd. "I'm sorry." He says, and it comes out of him, without his permission.
Those there, survivors, and fighters of a war one year long, had fought these words, or actions born of these words, to the death, and when they hear it, they do not, cannot believe it. And yet this feels as if, for the first time, he has ever spoken to them. Not the crowds of those cities he's visited, not in New York in the Eschonbach manors, not with crowds made up specifically of sympathizers. This had been an opportunity that never came for him as he was as Garma Zabi. As Garfield Sune however, it is different.
He, no matter his name, however, was born of Space.
"The Earth Federation left us." A woman speaks out. She is a Pavilion leader, her name was Sarah of 2 Pavilion. She wore goggles, often paranoid of losing the glasses beneath because there would be no solution to her losing that pair. Her voice was soft and timid and much wounded, but it was shaky, and speaking still. "They gave up this city to Zeon in the first weeks, and only one woman did anything to fight against them."
Only one woman, who had already been to war before.
"The militia freaks ran to the woods and only came back when someone proved that Zeon could be won against, the cops and the local government all accepted Zeon rule without a second thought, but the Earth Federation? The Federation just left us for dead, and only came back in piece meal when we were useful to them." She went on and on. "We have no love for the Federation. If anything-"
"Shush, this is my favorite part." Bolton had quieted the chatter, and as on screen, he appeared.
A different Bolton, clean shaven, and even as a young man, it was not the years but the war that had aged him, as it had aged all of them. His appearance meant that this town hall was real, that it had not been some apparatus or stunt or dream. His appearance meant that it had been a tangible thing, and in that crowd yet, Garma thought he saw more, familiar faces. He was drawn to the edge of the stage, not afforded a seat, but leaning where it came up to his waist.
Bolton had taken out a notepad on the screen, in a white shirt and tie that made him more of a professor than lawyer.
"My name is Bolton Dancer, I am a public defender for the city of Seattle." And there had been cheering in the crowd, more potent than those that cheered for Revil, and his words of punishing Zeon. "But I come here today to act as a public defender for the people of Side 3 and I have a question for General Revil."
Garma turned to Bolton as he was now. There was no pride on the lawyer's face.
Was it not the hope that there had always been people on Earth for Spacenoids? Just any seed, any moment like this, how had he not heard of it?
"Who are you?" Garma asks in the present, but all Bolton can do is gesture to the screen.
Revil seemed surprised, a thick eyebrow of his raised as he shuffled in his chair.
"Well, go ahead." The general said with apprehension.
"Did you know that child malnutrition rates in Zeon are at 28%? This contrasted with comparable figures in the other Sides, especially a stark contrast to the known favored Side 1." Bolton had glanced down at his notebook, and then back straight at Revil as his mic echoed his voice. The crowd around him had silent from his appreciation of him, letting his speak truly, clearly. "And although compared to here in the US, once again the main partner of the Federation here on Earth, nearly every colony cluster is suffering from not only increased rates of child malnutrition, but in almost every statistic that defines poverty and governmental neglect?"
"The internal affairs of the sides and their direct policy when it comes to their civil matters are not an issue of the Federation, day-to-day, Mister Dancer."
"But is it not an issue of the Federation when Federation bureaucracy and trade agreements affect the internal politics of the sides?"
There on the screen had been a ghost story of the place they were in now, and had it not been for those that filled it in the present, what had transpired, documented, could've been no more than an hour ago if all the world was what all of them could see. Three years ago, now, almost four, Bolton Dancer stood before the ultimate enemy of Zeon's war and spoke truth to power, and he was not alone as those in the crowd roused by those words spoke up in unison. That silent majority made manifest.
Kycilia had always been the more information technology minded of his siblings, more in touch with news and media than any of them. Surely, she would have had seen this. Surely, from all his reports and briefings he had gotten before the war, he would've known of this, or any events like this.
This had been hidden from him, but by who?
"Federation policy is dictated by the moral prerogative to maintain the peace, and to disincentivize all paths that would lead to higher tension in the Earth Sphere."
"I know this language, General Revil, it's totally removed and sterilized to what the Federation is actually doing to Zeon, now."
"We are doing nothing to Zeon," Revil had changed from his tone that he had been speaking thus far to something far more offensive, a white gloved hand reaching out to point at Bolton before retracting. "Any of the hardships which the innocent people of Side 3 are experiencing are because of the actions of the Zabi family."
"But our policies, our sanctions, have created the conditions for Side 3's suffering which are primarily felt by its citizens. Not the Zabi family." Bolton had pointed out, not needing the notepad to say.
Drawn to the light of the screen, Garma had found himself on the stage without his consent, pulled to it, and standing where this very scene had happened.
"You've never known want or need, have you?" Mai says to him, in the past.
He had always known, always been aware, but he was of his position by-
The misfortune of his birth.
Of his opulence, how much suffering could have been alleviated?
Of his lifestyle, how much of it was justified at all in a sane world? Privileges excused in the hope of historical victories in the end.
He did not know his opulence's scope truly as anyone else looking at him could, but he had known of the poverty of the world around him; the conditions of Spacenoid in Side 3. It's why so many fought against the Federation: for the failure of this system that made them poor, which made them disenfranchised from the project of Humanity in exchange for the day to day trials of trying to stay alive.
"Sounds like you had your own problems up there, with the Zabis." Tammy spoke out, kicking her feet back against the head of the seat in front of her, watching this old scene play out in front of her. She had never been into politics in her life as a regular civilian, more concerned with work and her kids across the Atlantic. But in the end, she never got the choice.
"They were what we needed as a people." So Garma told himself. Of course he was nice and charming, of course he was never completely like in image or personality like Kycilia or Dozle or Gihren, or even like his father. They each had been a combination of a whole, they were as they were because that's who they needed to be for the Spacenoid peoples. Who he was, was not for himself. "Were the Zabis not a strong character for a people who were being forced to become weak in light of the Federation?"
"We don't know." Another voice called. "We're not from Side 3."
"They are." Garma told them all, this faceless voice he could not see in the dark now that he stood in the light. "The Zabis, I joined because of them and their belief in all Spacenoids, and thus, in all Humanity."
He didn't know if he was begging or telling, but it felt desperate either way. The barrier of language was what had defeated Garma that day, about what he felt and what he knew as right; the words of him had not been enough to make this known and true, even if it felt so fundamental, like the need for air.
The Father told him. "That's what you say, but that's not what it is. It might even be what you believe, Zeek, truly, but it's just simply not what happened. To us, you were our enemy. And we were your enemy."
"But you're not!"
"Then why did we fight?"
"Because you didn't understand." Garma's accusation dies on his lips.
The nameless, faceless voices made manifest of a crowd went silent, and he too, silent. His heart and voice were in his lungs and the only sound had been the voices on the screen. Those voices spoke the truth, then and now.
"Federation military spending for the last fifty years has outpaced welfare and public investments!" A mousy woman who had taken the stand next screamed out at Revil earlier in the lineup. "What use is it to live in this new century if nothing has changed? Who even are our enemies anymore?!"
Revil had bid his time until the woman's shrieking at him had settled in the echoes. "The security of the Federation must be maintained, and with the expansion of the Sides, not to mention Side 7's development soon, our defense spending must match. Must I remind you that many civilian technologies today came via the way of military research?"
A function of boos, of jeering, had erupted through the crowd, and in that crowd Garma saw familiar faces, but unnamable.
Sarah stood just like those protestors now to Garma, pointing a hand at him. "The Federation abandoned us, but Zeon treated us like rats." Fit only to be exterminated. The vitriol in her voice stung his skin, and his burns again felt of fire.
"Why are we sanctioning the people of Side 3 when likewise, we have entire regimes still on Earth that are still guilty of what we accuse Zeon for? In Africa, Eastern Europe, and especially Israel? In fact, the Earth Federation still supports those governments! Dictators that we sell weapons to. What do you have to say about that? Why?! What is the measure of the Earth Federation's justice if it's only pointed outward toward the innocent Spacenoids?" Bolton went on, and his voice rose and rose from the screen until it had been as if he was speaking in that place again.
"I'm really surprised that the people feel that it's necessary to defend the rights of the Zabi family, when what we ought to be thinking about is how to stop them from destabilizing the entire Earth Sphere."
"But you haven't answered my question, General Revil."
"The Zabi family is quantitatively and qualitatively different than any regime in history, save for the brutal dictators in our last Human era. We are very concerned about them, specifically."
"And yet is the Zabi family so much of a threat that it has taken up the entire Earth Federation's capacity? Again, we've sold weapons that have aided in the trampling of civil rights not only on Earth, but on Side 1 in colonies that the Earth Federation views as "allies". This is hypocrisy!"
"The Zabi family has been slowly building up a military regime that has no purpose for self-defense, only for offensive capabilities. The Earth Federation is instead seeking, in the most peaceful way, to stymy these efforts. The idea that they need to be defended is perhaps, misguided."
"I am not defending the Zabi family! I am speaking for Spacenoids that cannot be here tonight!" Bolton had all but proclaimed, yelled, begged before Revil. "We, the people of Seattle, Washington, and all over the Earth will not sit by silently as Spacenoid men, women, and children are being starved to death beneath the policies of the Federation!"
Bolton had wiped his face in the present, as those witness again to him nodded to themselves. There was no doubt in any of them of who they were: forced by the world as the same as anyone else there but having lived their lives right.
"You don't think we understood, or were blind to the plight of you all in space?" Bolton posed again, and his voice between the screen and him in reality had been jarring.
"I-…" Garma could not say.
Had Icelina ever raised these concerns to him? Had she really known?
Those of the Conclave there had wanted to see this man, Garfield, confronted with this unalienable fact: That they had been killing those that, in another life, understood those of Zeon.
"I wanted to go to space too. On my own." A raggedy man, dressed in an oversized jacket and bore the world on his face, spoke. "I was homeless before. And you know, I was more ready for the war than about everyone in here. Maybe Ghoul, asides. Hell, I wanted the Federation to deport me, to start it all over, but they wouldn't even look at me… We're all the same, you know. In a normal world, we're all the same."
"If things were just… going on the same." The Father continued as the raggedy man said his peace. The crowd erupted from the screens still as Revil and the news interviewer tried to settle the town hall. "This world might've been a good one, eventually."
"But what about the future of all those who live in space? Of the Spacenoid? The status quo was what led to this, don't you understand?" Garma responded as, if he had seen that point and went at it at its throat.
The Father, he winces, looking down on his cup, wedding ring on his finger, rosary beads off his wrist. "I never wished ill on you Spacenoids. Never in my life. You never did anything to me."
Many voices arose from that.
"I donated to food charities on Side 6."
"I… I knew about the inequality of those who were sent up to the colonies early on, but what could I have done?"
"We wanted to help, but we each have our own problems here on Earth coming from just… everything." The same issues for as long as capitalism remained: not enough for those to live, and what could be taken, had to have been in exchange for the majority of their lives, used up.
Of Degwin's courts, entire lawyer armies had been taken up for a world, post-war. For all the brutality accused of Zeon, and true some of them may be, it was all cruelty born and copied from the Earth Federation, and for each of their injustices a legion of men and women who would design a system to account for them had been assigned. When Zeon won the war, they would leave the Earth to itself to heal, and, when ready, no matter how many generations it took, they would return to it as a new Human civilization. Every injustice had its answer, and every problem a solution, put together by those he had wanted to be once in his life, not the soldier that he had been. All those plans, all those hopeful futures that Zeon wanted for all, they seemed so far away when the reality of the war that would bring them to it seemed so wrong, so horrible. The Earth Federation was corrupt, and Zeon wanted to purify it and all that it had corrupted.
But so too in war with it had Zeon been poisoned.
He: who had spent his whole life in that cause, now had felt so wrong.
Take away his name, take away the war, take away Zeon, and what had been left of the man who stood before virtual ghosts and the echoes of people who fought this war with their hearts, long before the first gunshots? Garma wanted to ask them for the answer, but to do that he would have to bear more truth than he could allow, lest it killed him.
"We wanted to help you." Bolton's voice cracked. "But you proved us wrong."
"Zeon brought war." Proclaimed a woman's voice. The year was 0079 of the Universal Century. Had the last era extended, the year would've been 2159. "Two hundred years, Mankind has been without a war so calamitous that no one was spared from it. War existed, yes, and people have fought it every year in that last Human century; we can never forget their suffering. But the war that you brought to us is not only the worst of all History. It is the rebirth of it." Her proclamation was spoken much as if it was for her defense, for all that she had done in light of the war. "It's turned us into- into-" Her voice seized, and she started crying as she forced out these words: "To be Human is just a mask."
Silver, covering red. Masks of those who kill.
"Whatever we are, whatever it is, we are shown it in war."
Garma knows what the name of what they speak is.
In war, in calamity, Mankind is but a mask for ghouls.
General Revil was being assailed now, assaulted by the protests of a crowd that outnumbered his polite supporters, who had been more than willing to yell that truth to power to the man that had now sat before the entire war effort for the Federation and dictated it. In each person the knowledge of the corruption of the Earth Federation had been truly seen, for the regular person had never forgotten this one truth that the officials of the Federation seemed to forget: that all those in space had come from Earth, and, more than that, had been like them too.
Left in the dark, shadows of figures around him, sitting in seats once filled with those that spoke out for the rights and humanity of Spacenoid kind. Garma stands on that stage, and all he sees are the shadows that surround him: ghosts of the war that happened, despite it all.
One by one, those ghosts approach the light of the stage for the sake of the light.
Quiet indignation, for the residents of the Conclave that are there, it is a tragedy.
Shadows rolled in further, but for each question, for each point that those of the Conclave levied at him, Garma turned to try and answer them, to try and make right his cause that he could not admit to being the source of. Around him were nothing but shadows, asking the why of things.
Why did he come to Earth?
Why did they bomb the industrial centers and cities?
Why the occupation?
Why were my neighbors taken from their families in the night?
Why, if Zeon wanted to free Mankind, did they execute so many in ways so barbarous that the Zeek could not be considered Human.
He turns, and he turned, and he tries to answer them all before the stage, and this is what they wanted to see:
He, to them, was just a common soldier not fully accountable to the war, but it was good to see him account for that beast which, none of them knew, bore his face. Words meant nothing to them as all Garma could do was speak to them: denials, troops out of line, and how he, for whatever that meant, had been sure to call out injustices and treated men and women fairly if captured. But he was, in the end, just one man alone. And as the accusations went on and on in a cacophony, a great cathartic reaping, there was no more to take from Garfield Sune as much as there was to give: Guilt.
"I-" Bolton speaks once before stopping. "I was going to marry." The sorrow, dripping from his voice is only kept back as he rubs the back of his head, hair rolling through calloused fingers. "I was going to marry a Spacenoid."
Garma stops, and he looks at this man who so eloquently spoke a line that should've been transmitted across all of Zeon, and yet he had heard it only now.
"Bolton?" Tammy had tried to reach out, but Bolton kept himself still, quiet, turning away from Garma.
"We all didn't want this." He choked out. There wasn't anyone there that would disagree. "We met over the net. I would spend entire nights just talking to her, over on Side 4. She was trying to come to Earth so we could get married and… I don't know what's become of her, man."
Nothing of the world had cared their struggles, their names, as if they had all died so long ago.
"I would've gone to Space for her." He admits it as if sin, but none could put him to the cross for it.
He was guilty of loving a woman, far away. And all of them there were guilty of other things so terrible that Zeon had turned them into fighters: They step forward, one by one, and they state their case and their crime to the one who came to Earth to judge them.
This was not a court for Garma, it was a court of him, as he wanted:
"I was a school teacher."
"My niece was going to graduate, this summer. First of our family to get a degree."
"I had just opened up a restaurant."
"I just moved out of my home."
"I was a maid with the Marcenas family."
A dozen voices join in a million choir, singing songs of normal men, normal women, that they could only sing together because they each were their own person at heart. And each lyric they say can only be said by them, and who they come to bear it at was a man who had come to snuff out that music. It was a promulgation louder than any protestor in New York, louder than any gunshot from the Federation.
[Music flickers in his ears]
[He can't hear it yet]
[But it's there, dancing along just outside of himself to those who sing their song]
"I was writing my book."
"I came back to take care of my parents."
"I missed Seattle."
"I think something was here for me."
"I came because I heard there was a Ghoul, fighting Zeon to the bone."
"My daughter, she lives on Side 3 now." The leader of 2 Pavilion draws Garma to her as she curls her fists and looks at him, dead in the eyes. "They gave my ex-husband custody, and he got deported, all the way to Zeon."
She was an aid worker before the war, working in psychiatrics and neurology. A smart woman, whose hospital work had been too much and moved to a career that put her in touch with those in need in her community. She wore her nametag still on her jacket with pride and Garma can't help but think of names.
"What's your daughter's name?" Garma asks, and she says it true.
Sarah Miguel stands before Garma Zabi and tells him the name of her daughter.
They each say their peace, their piece, they tell this man of Zeon, real Zeon. Not the Zeon that he champions, or the Zeon which Mai fought for and could tell him about. The difference is that they fought against him, in a way different than how Mai did. Zeon was the Other, completely. They said what they came from, and who they wanted to be, and thus what had been taken them in bloody war and who else they had to become. They stand there, fathers and sons and daughters and mothers and people of the nation and people who worked in that society not as any of that, but as soldiers, as guerilla fighters, as those who saw what had happened at Freecastle or a million other injustices on those streets they called home and said that if death was coming for them all then at least they could fight. Exterminate the evil, even, even if that evil, as Zeeks were oft to say, resided in them as Earthnoids.
A holy man stands in the dark, and Garma can only tell that he is by the cross he bares by way of the white shape around his neck that had been a clerical collar. This man of God says nothing to him, and he remains shrouded, his thick bushy hair as if he had been descended truly of mountain men and apes in a distant country.
In his turning to all those that came, the lights keep him, and when it's all over, he stills.
In this words he hears something else, and it chills him to the bone.
It was more than what they were, it was who they wanted to be again.
One last voice, and one he knows so well.
"I could've been a mother."
He shudders, and the voice is behind him in the stands. He closes his eyes and tries to imagine what Mai Gul's child would've been.
So, he settles with her.
He turns and there she is, standing like a ghost.
No one saw her come in, no one saw her stand where she had been, so close to Garma and yet he had not noticed. She approaches the stage, but the shadows still cover her. Only her green eyes bridge the distance, and he finds them in the black. She belonged to the shadow of History, a woman hidden from it as she had wanted, but it followed her. It followed her to Seattle, that city on the west coast, that fabled, American west coast where the Western world learned of its mortality in the face of a Manifest Destiny. This woman came here because of that, whether she knew it or not, in all Human history that coastline at the edge of the Pacific Ocean had been in its representation: the End. Godly mandates, and those that came to the end of the world where the sun did set felt like they were betrayed. The physical wall of that coast that was unending to Human understanding had ended the idea of forever as a concept, and more than that, those that believed in their destiny had to also come to terms with their ends.
Mai Gul came here to live.
Mai Gul came here to die.
She did not know where else to live with herself than in a place like Cascadia, where this truth, this end of all things lay.
He looks at her completely, and then knows her.
In her green eyes she had seen the betrayal of her own past and of her own people, and he had hurt for her more; more than he thought he could. In her was not only one dead child; but all of them in this war, and if she stood in those blood soaked and dried hallways in Freecastle, she had been the avatar, not only of some menstrual becoming of Hell, but also of what was owed to her, and all that died because of Zeon.
Mother of blood; righteous retribution lived on in the least of things.
She too had ownership of the color red.
He held out his hands at his side as if to stop the world, to stop the spinning of his mind, but he could not. Not until Mai stepped up onto that stage with him and held a wrist of his. He expected the tightness, the burn, but none came as she simply held himself there, grounding him in her.
"It's not just me." She whispered to him. It never was just her tragedy.
Her hand leaves him, but they stand together.
"I didn't know." He whispers back hiding their secret understanding of each other.
The screen kept going on and on, a massacre of Revil by people who knew better. Bolton asked one last question of Revil before two Federation Manhunters, the security forces of special writ, had been at his elbow. "If the Federation were to invade Side 3, estimates would put that more than a million children would die in less than a year, not in Side 3, but across all of the Sides due to a complete collapse of the space economy. This does not include all of them that would die in this conflict. Is that something you're willing to accept, General Revil?" Bolton was dragged away as the crowd was in uproar, the flag of the Federation standing along the edges of that world as if it represented the very boundaries of the Earth Sphere consummate in that room.
He could've said nothing, but General Revil was a soldier, and he always had the hard answers:
"I think that this is a very hard choice, but I think, if Zeon were to aggressively destabilize the Earth Federation and the system we've put in place, this choice would be worth it."
Mai Gul whispers the truth that she had believed so tightly, that it turned her world on fire, and she let it burn down. "You, solely, are responsible for this."
The royal you: the denial of nature of the war that would come. The Federation were bastards, and if that war would've come it might've been in Side 3, and not back onto the Earth. The dark hearts that the world saw instead had been that of Zeon, now worse than that Federation. Those of the Conclave, of Seattle itself, of the Earth, come before a man who championed Zeon and showed him that he had failed in their hearts. They watched him squirm and fight himself instead.
Mai says nothing of it as she takes ownership of Garma again, and then they walk out of that auditorium, words of a false warrior of peace behind him.
When they leave, they walk out with all the stares, all the reckonings of the last civilized people in Seattle on them. They walk out, and they go back into the world that Garma Zabi created. The ultimate truth was the one which Mai had told him, and her words stay in each of his steps as he looks up and sees the destroyed ruins of a city full of life, full of people, who knew what Spacenoids felt. He had destroyed this in his war.
Mai leads, and he follows, tied not by a red rope but just because she is the closest thing to real in his mind at that moment, for the world in its angles and destruction had no concrete image. Not even himself. In puddles left in the colder weather, he sees the reflection of a man he doesn't recognize. Half-burnt, greyed over. How nice it would've been to have taken that name truly: Garfield Sune. To be removed from what he had been, yet still live on. That would've been nice, at least for a little while.
Mai stops a little over half-way through their walk from the Conclave back to Elysium. Her hand rests on her pistol in the middle of Seattle's center, but she relents as she recognizes who she sees down the street, like a mirage:
Garma doesn't notice until he nearly bumps into her back.
Mikita Trotsky: patient, cook, and serial wanderer.
He had been known to do this in the year he had been in the Conclave. He had been a Russian citizen, caught in North America when the war started and thus left stranded in this place. His English had been barely passable, but the reason for his place there had been complicated, and those that had treated him now mostly gone save for Sarah of 2 Pavilion. It would've been easy to say that Mikita had lost his mind; that he had suffered the shock of the war just like anyone else and he had manifested it in him as a mania of sorts. But it was not a mania, or perhaps he had it well under control before the war by medication and treatment that brought him out to Seattle. Some days he would be normal, as normal as anyone and able to get along well in the Conclave and do his duties and communicate if not in word than in gesture and concept.
Some days however, would bring out the oddness of his condition: He was like a lost dog, some days, unable of language and seeing the world blank, and he had lived entirely inside his own head those days unable to communicate and barely able to breath or think or move to anyone trying to get his attention. Other times, he would go missing entirely, and only when a guerilla scout had reported him in the middle of the war wandering in streets during a curfew, whose stumbling around had been so mindless that even Zeon did not shoot him, was it revealed that the man followed his feet to places his mind could not see.
It was said that in this last year he had been as far north as Canada, somehow walking through the minefield of north Seattle right to the border, and some rumors had put him as far down as Tacoma, but when he disappeared, he always reappeared as if he had never left.
On days when he was functional, normal, he had been to kitchen duty.
On every other day, he had been left alone.
Despite the Conclave's best efforts, they couldn't always cage Mikita, thus here he had been today before Mai and Garma.
She thought twice of calling out to Mikita, instead putting a hand behind her in much the same way she often signaled to Garma to watch his step, and they walked forward as if approaching a beast.
"Mikita?" She said when she got closer, until she had been on him. He had been like the undead of pop fiction, eyes up and his head lolling as if recently concussed, silvery blue eyes empty. He was almost as tall as Mai, a lanky man, clean shaven, his hands dropped at his side like a loose puppet's. He did not notice Mai as his mouth murmured.
"Is this that man…?" Garma knew of Mikita and his conditions.
They looked at him standing in the street, his boots never taken off for fear of these episodes. Mai had seen shellshocked people stand like he did, but this was constant, this was something exacerbated, but not caused by the war.
"Don't touch him." She warned Garma before he even thought of it. "He's got dangerous hands."
Garma didn't want to know what that meant from a man who handled meat all day. "What are we to do then?"
"I'll call it in."
Mai had turned over to the radio and the line going up to her ear, beginning the report that Mikita had been missing again and she had found him. The most drastic thing they could do was send out a few men to manhandle Mikita back to the Conclave. The nights were getting cold, and he, not under control of his own body, could do little to fight it.
Though out of his mouth had been small murmurings, as if bubbling at the surface. To them in that country they were foreign words.
But Garma had been a foreigner, and he did not hear them as such.
He listened to those soft and maddening words, for they were words out of Mikita's mouth that could be interpreted as a madness. What he heard had been anything but.
Garma straightened his shoulders, cleared his throat and mind of the day.
"Are you cold, sir?"
Mikita Trotsky's eyes, once glacial and unmoving, tears at their ducts, blink rapidly at Garma's voice. Mai barely catches the sound of it too as she cuts her radio. Garma repeats what he had said, but Mai did not understand, speaking to Mikita as his entire body seemed to crick and rotate toward Garma's direction. His eyes fluttered. It must've taken seconds for words and the sounds to register in Mikita's head, as if turning on a piece of his brain unused for nearly a year now.
"That's what you're saying, right?"
Mikita Trotsky's reverie is broken as soon as he faces Garma, and he looks at his mouth move in a familiar form. Stuttering, slurred words become language and the twitchy man centers.
"You speak Russian?" Mikita Trotsky's rocky tongue of his modern language had been half-spit, but totally legible.
Garma nodded, and his voice was much casual about it. "Da. Yes." He reached up for a bang of hair that no longer existed, and instead settled with crossing his arms, the upper most pivoted up to offer his chin a place to stay for a moment. "My teacher, he came from Vladivostok. He taught me Japanese too, so I speak with a strange accent, unfortunately, at least when it comes to my Russian. I'm sorry if it's hard to understand."
"Garfield…?" Mai choked, unsure of what was happening, genuinely perplexed.
He switched back to UC English smoothly for her sake. "I may not speak your Arabic, dear Mai, but I can be useful otherwise."
German, French, Russian, Italian, Hebrew, Romanian, Esperanto, Spanish, some Portuguese, he could read Latin, some Dutch, Mandarin, Cantonese, Japanese, and a little Greek, plus whatever miscellaneous forms and languages he had picked up from time to time.
For Mikita's benefit, his Russian is more than passable. More than that, it is a breath of fresh air which clears his mind so.
"Why are you out here?" Garma asks.
Mikita doesn't seem to understand, regardless of the language barrier, but his body, rigid, seems to melt into something more Human. When he gets no response, Garma asks a different question.
"How are you feeling?"
"I am," Mikita licked his lips before he turned over, around, at the city where he was and the Earth beneath his feet. "I need to get dinner going… Ghoul," Mai perks up at her title, but Mikita speaks Russian still at her. "Was it you that delivered to me those wild dogs? You are a sick woman. But thank you."
"You're welcome, Mai."
"Say you're welcome- no, wait. Say, paZHAlusta."
Mai does so, and Mikita nods quite well. "Your Russian is Pacific minded, but hers is… sounds like she's drunk." More and Mikita speaks, and he seems just a normal man.
"You should… You should go back to the Conclave, Mister Trotsky."
"I should?" Mikita sounded surprised, but it was for the best. He still didn't know where he was.
"You should. I think Mai has already called people for you."
"… I should go back. Yes."
Whatever ailed Mikita Trotsky was not a common thing, or something that he might've been able to articulate himself, but at Garma's beckoning the haze of him is directed at least back to safety as he began to walk as he always did: wherever his mind told him so.
When he's long gone, Mai and Garma turn to each other, and despite the day, Garma had some sort of self-satisfaction on his face just from that. "What did you talk to him about?"
"Dinner." He spoke. "I told him that he should be back in the Conclave to make dinner."
"…Okay." She's seen many odd things in this world, and odder still was seeing Garma be a minor polyglot. All the Sides were multicultural, overwhelmingly, and she very much an example of it, but she had never bothered to learn more languages that UC English and UC Arabic. Only on Earth some Spanish and Chinese because of Bo and just generally living in a neighborhood with a Chinese population, but whatever skills she had had been less than Garma's by magnitudes. Paused as they were in that street, engaged in conversation for the first time since the Conclave, he is compelled to speak, and she, just for this small niceness for Mikita's sake on getting him home, perhaps would explain.
He chose his words well, the wind welling about them. "Do they make it a habit of doing… that, with every Zeonic soldier they came across in the war?"
She doesn't even know what the hell was happening in the auditorium, but she could guess. "We'd always get Zeeks who were alive during the war. The Conclave usually sent them back out after, it kept Zeon off our backs, even when they harbored guerillas like me. We just hid them out of sight. But still, they'd be close enough that some people could get to them, talk to them even." Bo was one of them, early on, as were many of the nurses or the counselors who could not understand why their city in the First World had turned into a war zone. But the Zeeks were passionate in their struggle, incompatible to the understanding of regular me and women who had been on Earth all their life. "Eventually some of them would try to reason with them, but…"
She's not sure what to fill in: that they were all stubborn, and that they believed themselves right, or that she had told them all to not do so after the few tries, because she as a Spacenoid understood where they were coming from, and there had been no breaking that.
So, she says nothing and lets Garma fill in the blanks.
When she turns to go home, he stops her.
"Mai?" She tilts her head, letting him know she's listening as they walk those dark roads. "Do you hate me?" She almost wants to laugh. Shouldn't the answer have been obvious? The question was too bare, and Garma realized quickly, amending. "Do you hate me, or do you hate what Zeon has done?"
She doesn't know why she answers anything he asks at all nowadays, as if she was dignifying him at all, but she answers all the same now, especially to a question as dangerous as this, which shows her feelings true. For someone who was set to hide for the rest of her life, she has no qualms telling a man she would've called his highness.
"If I had to choose one or the other, I'd choose what Zeon's done, obviously." All in the name of Contolism; of the word of a dead man, like so many movements before them. Garma Zabi was just one man, and without Zeon he was no one.
His arms had been crossed the entire time, but they dropped, and he spoke something that came from deep within him, and half-way up Mai had wanted to shove those words back down.
"I ask, because I hate it too."
He fell in love with Icelina, and she had been his glimpse into the world of the Earthnoid, but because she had been who she was, he would've never have known the people below her strata. He knew people suffered, but he did not know what they had been before.
She stares at him a long time in the middle of the road like that, and he, for the first time, avoids her gaze. His shame falls off him, this man, who looked nothing like Garma Zabi at first glance; this man, who, if a stranger saw him, would think him just another innocent victim of this war. She has no response, nothing to offer, nothing to spit at him. He's never lied to her, and this was not a start of a new trend. Regret pelts him, and nothing she could do in that moment would ever match the pain he lives with in that moment.
A dangerous thought in her arises, but she kills it in her mind's eye; down to the bare thought of it.
She needed to kill him soon, or else there would be no more Garma Zabi left for her.