Federation Definition - Greater Power

A.K Gully and Mai Gul do not see eye to eye, but it had been on a level that was far beyond either of them to ingratiate. She was a Spacenoid, and he had been the worst type of Feddie. There had been, however, past that, a great deal of pragmatic understanding between the two: the only two of the Conclave to have trained at all in any military capacity. He had been a Federation NCO in Seattle's reserve and had been honest about his circumstances: When the Zeeks came he was out of position to effectively join the main defensive forces.

He hadn't showed up to the fight, and so he had been spared it, but also subsequently left behind when Zeon occupied. In that time, he had on his lonesome linked up with the local militiamen, who had been more in tune with a war against the United States government as it still existed and drew them back to Seattle to fight the Zeeks.

More than that, he had been a veteran of sorts, as far as Mai could tell. He had been to space before and understood all the events of her upbringing so familiarly that Mai had mistaken him for a Spacenoid.

But that wasn't the case.

He was the leader of 1 Pavilion, less outpost, and more just a general designation of the group charged with protecting the Evergreen Bridge and the path to it, along with Seattle's eastern edge along Lake Washington up to Reaper territory. The Evergreen Bridge had been the last remaining safe way out of Seattle, for the I-90 bridge had been blown by the Federation trying to escape.

He still barbered and kept himself to some sort of regulation, as did his men, as they were mostly men, bearing plate carriers and weapons that the average Zeek or even Federation infantry person had been lacking in, and he seemed a fierce icon of his trade: that of a military man.

He was a good soldier, and of all the hierarchy between her and him, he still respected a military code, albeit with a little leeway.

If she was to graduate, she would've been a lieutenant, and he had seen in her a very respectable officer. For his own credit, Mai had seen in him a classical soldier. He was the spitting image of an American breed of soldier, one that you could see all over that continent in war memorial after war memorial.

Every nation, every race had their own war stories, their own History often written within conflict. Of Mai's hailing, she is no different. The Prophet Muhammed, and Aisha, one of his wives, were battlefield commanders and the Quran and its hadiths had documented it so. European powers in their colonial visions had conquered this world and then lost it just the same against those that they oppressed, and those who had nearly conquered the world had risen out of the Mongolian steppes bearing nothing but bands and horses. But Americans were different, with the retrospective of the Universal Century.

In them bred war as recreation, and as progress. In them, were the ultimate soldiers from generals down to shooters, and that had been in their DNA that of all the colonies in Side 3, those that had arisen the fastest to the call to arms in the name of Zeon Deikun upon his death had been those that hailed from the United States.

In Gully's own command post, settled deep in a restaurant's freezer along the shoreside of Seattle, of the many flags brought there by his men, one had been gospel in its language: Live Free or Die.

The flag of it colored those in the low light, and the freezer for the first time since Zeon bombers knocked out the power grid had been used for its purpose.

"I wanted you to see the body before we dump it back where we found it."

One part about having been a Muslim at one point in her life had meant that it emphasized cleanliness. Certain hands, certain foods, certain times, and bathing procedures. Mai hadn't been a Muslim any more by any measure, but she thought of Allah that she had been missing from for years as she saw a body spread out on stainless steel bodies, half-melting and half bloated. Like the veteran that she had found when the Conclave blew the pumps. He was wet, exceedingly so, down to his clothes, a long compression shirt and pants that seemed like that he was at least trying to avoid a watery or hypothermic death, but still he hadn't succeeded, and the gases within him bloated up his form like a fat man. His skin had been shriveled and grey, but he hadn't been dead for more than a week.

Mai had entered the freezer and saw all of this in that place where maps and moves were planned out. The detail that had stuck out the most one that burned across the man's arm: a white armband.

"Drowned, obviously. For how long, I'm guessing a week at best." Gully had been dismissive about a body, an object, that he had long enough to look at before he had called Mai over.

"Yeah." She confirmed, bringing her keffiyeh up to above her nose and mouth. She rounded the body and the table once. "Where'd you find him?"

Gully tilted his head again, looking at the dead man's face for what detail had remained of it while it was alive. "One of the roads that opened up in the earthquake still had running water beneath it, one of my men noticed his hand sticking out of it during a patrol. They got curious and dragged him up."

"Where, exactly?" Mai had peered further.

"33rd and Dearborn, right below Frink Park."

A part of Mai went back to maps she had poured over during the active fighting, and more specifically the utilities and sewer systems as given up by Foreman's people. They had been apt lines for the guerillas to travel, to recon, and to dip into Zeon territory. In the night, Zeon flamethrowers burned into their holes, and still they went deeper. The Spacenoid aversion to going beneath the Earth remained, and underground of Seattle had become reprieve until the Zeon commanders ordered a full anti-guerilla operation, turning the sewers and the metro into a bloodbath that the guerillas won.

"That sewer line connects all the way down to Mount Baker and Jefferson." Below Reaper lines.

The line between Reaper and Conclave especially in that area of Seattle had been all of Gully's men, so tighter than most other barriers. It meant only one particular disconcerting idea, for a death around a week old:

"They're trying to poke through, huh?" Gully and Mai had the same realization without saying it outright. "If I were planning for an offensive move, I'd be sending people through. Even if it turned up bodies. See where the enemy can be cut behind."

"I know, I know." Mai crossed her arms at the body, more harbinger than anything. "Murph say anything about this? Reaper chatter still normal?"

"Affirm." Gully nodded, hand on the front of his plate carrier near the magazine shingles, three magazines of police issue .223 and 5.56 riding in it. "Nothing outta the usual, and when there's one, there's usually more."

"You find others?"

Gully shook his head once. "Negative. But I'll have some men posted on patrol where I think they'd be able to poke through."


Of Gully's men, he had managed at least a company and more. All of them from Washington as a whole, who had been mountain men or rural peoples who had wanted to see the urban, liberal cities burn down for a long time, or at least fight in it out of some perverse fantasy of urban warfare. Flannels, plate carriers from boutique tactical brands owned by men who fought in wars of imperial projects of the deportation of Spacenoids. They were alike all in thirst for a fight that had come, and those that survived became self-assured in their beliefs that what they were preparing for, training for, had been worth it.

They were always different from the rest of the Conclave; the Conclave had in appearance and in fighting tenacity, of civilians forced to war. But Gully's men had been those that had waited for it.

In their training, they shot better, fought better, and had killed better than most of the other guerillas at the very beginning of it; they had technical skills that had been years in the making, and here they had been brought to bear against an unequivocal enemy. It was Gully's troops that had often hit hardest against the enemy.

Tension between Gully and Mai persisted in that freezer with the body between them. Always there, always for one reason or another.

"I know Gearten means well, but I'm gonna keep it straight up with you." Gully cut it, his rifle rubbing against his gear as he put it to his side. "Reapers are going to come collect and I ain't gonna sit here and take it."

"How do you mean?" she asked, her voice dropping.

"He's got my men doing defensive stuff, clearing the way from the Conclave up to Evergreen, not on the line here on the interstate bridge, where they should be. I know we look scary, so at least make that useful."

"Gully your men are clearing the roads because one look at you makes me want to fight, let alone what the Reapers think."

"Heh." It was a sleight, but they had spoken worse to each other. "First sight of trouble I've got fireteams poised to push in. Now I can't direct the rest of the Pavilions, but I know you can. So, I'm asking for your support."

"What? When the Reapers make their play?"

"Yeah." He nodded in the military bluntness that they spoke together. He gestured a finger at her. "One discretion for another. You can use that Zeek you got as a living fuck toy for as long as he'll last and we'll, when push comes to shove, shoot." Of course, Gully knew. He killed Zeeks with almost as much fervor as her, if not the same, but in a different shade. He killed Spacenoids because that's what he had been accustomed to doing.

"It's always the same shit with you Feds."

"Gul." Gully had always said her name with more tact than others, more understanding than even those that cared for her. Maybe it was a fluke of their two last names being similar enough, but Mai had more suspected that in Gully was a person who had understood Spacenoids, even to the ultimate ends of the Federation. "If you still cared for that shit you woulda joined the Zeon volunteers instead when they came. Yet here we are."

That room they were in had more flags than that of the yellow snake decrying freedom over life. Other flags, other mementos. Stars and stripes, regional flags, sports team even, flags that came from times of pirates, and one that had been of military units that Gully's militiamen were veterans of in Earth conflicts. One stood above all: The flag is a green, brighter than her own eyes, and a blue, deeper than the sea, a pine tree cutting through the center of it. She's seen it, even before the war, hanging from front yards and apartment windows from Seattleites who had not enjoyed this new world the United States had found itself in in the Universal Century. She had known little of the United States save for the fact that she had been, nominally, a citizen of it. The ID given to her by the Federation had taken precedence, and everywhere else on Earth, people had seen it in scorn. The flag that Seattleites flew of green and blue, opposed to red, white, and blue and even the flag of the Federation, had been the flag of Cascadia.

Gully flew that flag too in a patch worn on his plate carrier.

What they were talking about led to a conversation without end about who they were, and as far as Mai had been concerned, she could only take those from one man, and she lived with him and was going to kill him.

"You're a Fed, ain't you?" She tipped her head at that patch. "You flying that flag because you have a change of heart?"

He raised his eyebrows before shaking his head, with a tan pair of combat gloves he ripped the patch off in consideration. "Ah, just one of those things, Gul." His voice was low, coming from thin lips, and in his eyes was the character of the Earth Federation and all that that had meant. He placed the patch back onto his admin panel, right on his chest. "The Federation is everything beneath it. We're all Feds no matter what we think we otherwise are. That's you included."

"I think we've got a war for that question raging, Gully."

"And I know the answer, because it's been said, again and again in war."

"There's been no other war like this one."

"Well, you're wrong." He tsked. "How am I, born on this Earth, going to tell you your own history?" He, nearly ten years her elder, had been one to say. Begrudgingly, she stayed silent, and in her she gave Gully his consent to speak on, for he clearly wanted to as the dead lay decomposing. "Gul, do you know that before the Dawn Rebellion, that thing you did," He leans back, smoking a cigarette. "That there had been other rebellions like your own?"

She shook her head. The Academy hadn't mentioned it, but if there had been, she wasn't surprised that they had been topics. Obviously to dissuade that idea that came to fruition anyway of open rebellion.

"Side 1, mostly. Small, district level spats. Zeon Deikun references them in his earlier manuscripts, God knows why he left them out for the big-time pieces… Yeah, I read them. Surprised?"

"Should I care?"

"Hm. But still. Up and down, going from '59 to your Dawn Rebellion, there were always small uprisings of various types. There was the Dayton Colony in '67, that was my first action. Took about a week, mostly concentrated around the ass-end tip of one arm. Farmers backed themselves up against the wall and told the Federation they'd declare a sovereign nation from Side 1 if Monsanto didn't release their contracts. We went in. Thirty-three dead on their end. Five wounded and one dead for us peacekeepers. They gave me a commendation for saving the crops." He seemed nostalgic and Gul had remembered the feeling that brewed in her well: another life, Garma walked in front of her as he rallied troops for their great counterattack against the Federation on Guardian Banchi. The rage was at her fingertips again, and it's all so fresh. "Dayton Colony, Palmetto Colony, Saigon, Nairobi, Colony 15, the Atlas Troubles, etcetera etcetera. The Dawn Rebellion was just another, but you know what was the difference? I read the reports."

"Do I want to know?" Mai ran her thumbs against her knuckles. An old habit: one that came when she was angry, not only at people, but the world. Her knuckles had long been shined over.

"You know more than you think." And he knew more of her than she thought.

Captain Gold Silva's report to the Federation Assembly and the Committee on the Guardian Banchi Student Rebellion, on the topic of factors to their success.

It is the opinion of Captain Gold Silva that the success of the student rebellion on Guardian Banchi, as per regards the actions of the students and not stated failures in local guard policy and procedure, was based on saboteur groups and infiltrator units. Airborne units which disrupted defensive lines are of note, with primary notice given to the sniper teams which prevented the mechanized and armored elements from activating.

In regard to the sniper teams, debriefing of surviving elements of the Guardian Banchi guard note that sniper fire was consistent and destabilizing to unit morale, with many reports hypothesizing that G. Zabi used connections to hire off-colony Mercenaries to support the attack.

Losses from sniper fire count for no more than 43% of all combat fatalities that day, with specific fire from a rifle firing the caliber of 7.92x57mm Zeon of note.

Investigations into sniper teams are ongoing, but Zeon governance, as in entire investigation, is proving difficult.

Gully says no more on the Dawn Rebellion, but Gul knows how complicit she is on why it had been.

"The Federation has been at war for as long as it's been around. Anti-Globalist terrorists blew up Laplace right on Day 1, and not even a hundred years later half of Humanity itself is gone because we didn't read the warning signs." The flag of the Earth Federation remained there, it the first among equals. Gully pointed at it, and he stood as a soldier. "I'm a Fed because it's the only way this world makes sense, Gul. You think I don't like your type of blood because I don't like the way you look or because you came from somewhere else? No. I'm neutral about you. Just through you I'm reminded of why this whole thing started." On his arms, he bore scars self-made; black tattoos that covered his flesh in their tribal fashion and Mai Gul stared. "I'm a Fed because I believe in order, and order alone. If you know your military history you know that all those world wars in our Middle Ages, every peacekeeping effort, every conflict, cold or hot, was done because of the fact that we could not all recognize that we had greater aims to do together. The Federation in this Universal Century is our only way to survive. The question of a national identity being answered as Zeon did… we saw it in the past, we tried to stop it… and yet… Even in Space you fucking people still want to keep doing this homegrown shit, all to bring it back and destroy this Earth."

If Mai had something to say immediately she does not give Gully it. Her words are not for anyone, especially an Earthnoid, for what her response is would have to touch upon something so close to her that only others like her would understand. She was a Spacenoid in the end. So, she takes it. She takes it as she had in those years since the Dawn Rebellion because of what Gully said, it was not a lie. It was his belief; born of the life he lived just as much as hers were her own.

"And what of these people?" She gestured beyond that room, to those that fought with Gully and the flags they flew from a continental army, eras ago, to those of death hilarity, death insanity. "We know what type of people they are."

Gully takes a long breath, nodding to himself and the clothes and gear he wore now.

"Everyone wants to feel like they belong somewhere, don't they Gul? Everyone wants to be a part of something."

It was about time that she'd go. She could only spend so much time with him before she did go back to what she once was: A Zeek. But she had something to say. Something that she needed to tell him as a man of the Federation, despite it all.

"Do you know that I was lucky, Gully?" She began to walk out but stopped by his side. He was a tall man, taller than her.

"Lucky isn't something I'd put to you, Gul." He tilted his head to her.

She nodded, but she spoke from her memory, from a part of her that came out only because of another man. "I saw the Earth when I was young. Seen it on the shuttles and the cruise liners, back and forth between the Sides, travelling with my parents."

"Yeah? What's so important about that?"

She told him. "In Zeon, you can't see the Earth, you can't even see the stars." Between the Moon and the closed type colonies that had made up nearly all of Side 3, they had been so far away from Earth, so far away from it other than the idea that it had been where they came from, where they were exiled from. To Zeon, Earth was only something intangible.

To her, it had been something in reality, something so far away, but real all the same.

She was luckier than most Spacenoids. "Don't think I don't know what this planet is worth."

She steps out of the freezer but cannot go. There is another part of her there that keeps her, the same as the skin on her that tells her about the future by way of the weather. It's not a sense that comes to her often, but it is her hunch, or, perhaps, her own failings made manifest so that she could warn others. She turns, one las time.

"Hey. Gully."

"What, Gul?"

"You got kids?"

He turns over to her, his gloves are off and on a carabiner on her battle belt. She holds her gloves in much the same way. In fact, much of her own gear, her own way to fight, it had been much like their own. On his bare finger had been a wedding band.

"Yeah, I do. Sent them away already at the beginning. No news is good news… How'd you know?"

She doesn't answer.

As Mai does her rounds throughout Seattle, doing the scouting of her own from the highpoints of Seattle out to the south beyond the Kingdome, Candy arrives. Whether or not it's a matter of Mai trusting Garma now or she forgetting she doesn't know, but when he knocks, Garma and Charlie answer. More and more each time they visit it's like a house call in a normal world. Garma opens the door, and he has a dog, holding a mundane object: that waxed canvas jacket in his hand that Mai had borrowed from Gearten that had been a size too big for him, but did much to hide the fact he had been a broken man.

"Doctor Candy." He held the jacket with one hand as the other, holding a bloody rag, tried to wipe it down. His fingers had been raw by his rubbing, but the jacket had been no better now than it had been when he had come to the Conclave the other day.

"I think this'll be our last checkup, Mister Zabi." Charlie had been at the door and out it at Candy's feet, ever the good greeter. Doctor Candy kneeled to rub the pup's ears. "What's their name again?"

Garma considered Candy's statement before straightening himself to the question. "Charlie." He answered. "His name is Charlie."

Named after the man who betrayed him. Named for the man who damned him. Named for a man he loved once in youthful passion.

This dog and him, named after the orbit of Char Aznable.

They walked into the apartment, but Candy did not go through his routine. There was no bag of medical implements, nothing of the sort, because nothing about Garma could be addressed, because this was not a man who was still on the edge of death in terms of his health. Some of Mai's coffee had still been out. Garma offered, but Candy had shaken his head.

"Oh, no thank you. We're running low on toothpaste nowadays, and I've been well to keep my teeth white for all my years."

Garma himself had sipped from his tin cup slowly throughout the day, at the table that Mai had usually done her work, her gunsmithing and her gear tinkering, he had sat with a bucket at his feet and several wet rags, scrubbing away at that jacket. It had been just past noon, and he had opted to simply prolong breakfast that day. Candy sat across from Garma, and he had been remised to move the main object between them on that particular table: it had been the broken down Zeonic storm rifle, the one which she had idly taken to most days where there had been nothing for her to do. Breaking it down, putting it back together again, and breaking it down again, again and again until the rest of a routine called for her either in dinner or in rest.

"Thank you, for helping us with Mikita. I would be remised not to ask that, the next time you're back, for us and him to sit down and talk about his condition and what he would need. His brain might be… more alert or aware if it is being spoken to him in a language that he knows deeply, it seems."

"Does the hospital not have it on file?"

Candy shook his head sadly. "I'm afraid that Zeon troops came into the hospital early in the war and went through our medical records. Took all of them too. We couldn't stop it."

"I'm… terribly sorry for that." More indiscretions of troops that served him. More things to answer for. Garma pursed his lips, his hands going for bangs that were not there, and instead just crossing his arms over again. "I'm not quite sure I'd be welcome back into the Conclave."

Candy had folded his hands on the table, head rolling left and right slightly. "Perhaps, perhaps not. Our dinners have gotten a little livelier thanks to you. A vast majority do maintain that you are nothing more than just another soldier, and all that culpability that may lay, but not as much of a monster Mai… and perhaps I, might perceive you as."

This calm and gentle man that healed, even he had been liable to call him a monster. More and more a piece of himself sank deeper, lower.

"I'll come if Mai allows me."

"I'm glad to hear that." Candy smiled. "Where is she now, anyway?"

"She told me that she was checking on all the Pavilions and then scouting." Candy nodded, tilting his head at Garma, taking a second opinion of him before he spoke again.

"You two seem to have gotten quite close, despite your… well, prior history, I should say."

"I'm not quite sure closeness is what I'd call it." Garma went on scrubbing down the canvas and its rough texture, but for as much red he raised, it seemed not to come off. "But we understand each other's circumstances very well. So, I suppose that's something."

In that place they lived together and had a routine, a process of each other that accommodated each other. He had never felt more domestic then and there, even with weapons in a corner of the room and the skyline view of Seattle destroyed. He made meals, did dishes, washed clothes by hand, read once again The Odyssey for the fourth time, this time with his own annotations. Perhaps the indoor life had been quite preferred to him after his recent excursions, but he had been comfortable, all things considered. He was healthy, a far cry to when he had first arrived here on the brink of death.

"Regardless of that understanding, I am here to… render some service to you." The bag he carried that day was small, and in it, was a small manilla folder. On it had been burned in professional letting a law firm, and below that, a specific name: Bolton Dancer. "Bolton and I discussed after your appearance yesterday, as well as your circumstances, and he offered that I deliver you this."

It was a will.

He has his own will, back in Zeon, and one that is more than likely having been carried out. He had no land to give out, for he lived on the keep with his family. His personal property, mostly mementos from adolescent hobbies and sports, signed books from Spacenoid authors and philosophers, would've been handed over to a historical society. For what wealth he had: compensated appearances or accredited quotations in publications, it would of course "be returned to the people". It was not a will he had written for himself and writing one now had felt odd.

"I have nothing to give, good doctor."

"Last will and testament, Mr. Zabi. If there's anything that you'd like… said, about your life, your conditions, after it happens, I'm offering you the opportunity." Garma had looked at the sheaf of papers put before him, lines yet to be filled in denoting name and witness. It was a sign of an end, but he had not been convinced of it. Not now. Not recently. He would've been blind not to see it in Mai. As they were bound together, that could never have gone away.

Once, long ago, Mai Gul believed in him.

"May I have some time to think about this?" He placed his right hand over the thin pile, and Candy nodded.

"Of course." Candy had agreed, but as Garma had taken the slips, he had offered one more thing. "Just as Bolton showed you the past, I'd like to show you something similar.

It's a photograph Candy presented, flat on the table, untouched by dust or mark.

In that photo, there was a woman that Garma could hardly recognize. "I like to grab a picture of all those that are about to be mothers. It's a moment in time that I think that they would appreciate having, and for the most part a lot of them do." Candy explained. On the photo before them on a sunny day, had been a woman holding up a sign of peace with her fingers, a genuine, warm smile on her hand as a small baby bump had been beholden on beneath her sweater. The other hand had been upon it, spread across its surface and held. Her hair had been let down, and she seemed so young as two nurses and another doctor also gave their smiles with her, by her side.

"She's beautiful."

She was Mai Gul, a little over a year ago.

She was a Mai Gul who looked like she wanted to live a full life.

"You did more than keep Mai from being something. You turned her into…" Candy cannot will himself to say what all of Seattle calls her. "Mai Gul could've been a mother, and of all that you've taken from us, hers is one of the most tragic: You took her child's life before they were even born."

Garma had turned Mai into a graveyard.

His right hand reaches out, even with its missing digits, and he cannot help but take the photo upon the table and hold it as if to divine further details in it; as if he could find a way for her to go back there, in this place where this photo was taken: inside of a hospital in another world that had not known war brought to it. No details came, and all he had been left with was just this: a memory.

It was hard not to think of every mother and father, son and daughter that had been lost in this war through her, but she was who had been before him, she was the consequences of the war made manifest.

He did not lie. Mai Gul, in a hoodie, her hair unkempt, off a work shift and straight to the hospital for a checkup, a backpack for her continued schooling still off her arm, she was beautiful like that in a way that he could not fully articulate. The innocence of her was bright.

Garma could not look away, not until Candy had reached out and taken back the photo from his hands, back to his keeping.

Charlie had been tonguing his bowl of water, more cat than dog, and more than happy to have a comfortable place for themselves now.

Garma had been left looking at his hands, both his; he almost had no prints left on his fingers left, the shaving of where his gloves had burned themselves onto his flesh, his skin, and where they had to have been cut or pulled off by Mai on that night, had left him with flesh smooth and with only a modicum of feeling. His hands, numb, not whole at all, half of his digits on his right left to a phantom pain.

"We don't fail."

"Hm?" Candy tilted his head at Garma's quiet words.

"We don't fail, us Zabi men… and yet that's all I've done." His hands fell to the table. "I guess I'm not one, after all."

Of his pride in Zeon, some of it was held within the pride of his name, of who he was. He was Garma Zabi, and he would hope that he would die as that man, who he had been all his life save for tiny distractions that could be written off on indistinct whims. He was a Zabi man, and it meant that his greatness, his accomplishment, was inherently that of Zeon's as well. So, he was proud to bear that pride, and proud to be who he had been, hell or highwater.

He confided in this, so long ago, to a young man who found him, broken leg, at the bottom of a ravine on a rain swept night where, if that man had not been there, he might've perished. Perhaps not in direct words, but in action.

He would not be carried out of that path. Garma Zabi would walk because he was a Zabi man.

And for all that he bore his name and the duties attached, at the end of it all, it seemed, that it all came up to nothing.

He had been betrayed, he had been accountable for deaths and changed lives so tragic, brought to bear to him, and that he would have never known of, and more than that, he had been hiding behind a fake name, a false name, as he failed his real one.

"I wanted to do better, to be better- I thought that I was." The laminated map of North America that he and Mai had often talked over in their meals remained, and as the time went forward, as the marks of operations and counter-offensives by the Federation went on, it painted a picture that they were all barreling toward: the now. If Garma is on the verge of some outburst, he doesn't know, not as he shuts his eyes, and knows that as he shuts one, it is already there now in darkness.

He looks for Char Aznable in his memory, and he still wants to know why, after everything. Had it been because of the same reason as Mai? What tragedy had befallen him in his past?

Regardless. The answer was the same, for him, and for her. He wanted to make things right, even if that future would never be available to him.

Here he was, a dead man.

"If I had known…" He keeps his eyes closed as his hands curl themselves together, propped up on the table as he tipped his forehead forward, into them, like in Christian prayer. "If I had known of what would've happened… Maybe I shouldn't have been born Garma Zabi at all."

Somewhere, Char Aznable is laughing.

Doctor Candy is there instead as he lets Garma let those words sink in.

Candy considers his own words. He considers this man who in all the courts of that planet would be put to death a thousand times over for billions killed in the name of Zeon, and the Zabis. He considers this man, twenty years old, who had known his path all his life. He considers the fact that he and Mai had come from the same place, and that in the end that had meant something so dear to both that they would not admit but was plain in the fact that he remained alive now. He considers this man, whom could've been like a son to him in another life. Doctor Hale Candy considers Garma Zabi as he grieves, and then no more.

For all the pity the good doctor could bring up, there was something more to his heart that let him do that onerous, perhaps horrifying thing: that he understood this man.

"I… too was born as someone that I didn't want to be." Candy tells Garma, and he had looked up from his hands and his eyes had been watery. He blinked unshed tears away.

Garma had seen his neck the other day when Candy had discovered him at the Conclave. He wouldn't have noticed except for its absence, and he thought no longer than he should have about it, but still it was a detail that had stuck in his mind about who Candy was.

"My name is Hale Candy, and I've always been Hale Candy. However, the name… it was a name I chose for myself, and I might have not started out like that, you see. But it was one I chose for myself." Semantics, revelation, all in one. "It's been so long since I was that person, Garma."

Hale Candy is trans.

Garma's not unfamiliar. He knows a transwoman: a servant at the Zabi estate, a fact that he had only known because of some gossip he had overheard as a child, and then those gossipers delicate trying to explain transgender to Garma when it was discovered he had been listening and was threatening to ask one of the higher ups about it.

Hale Candy had been a man, but he had to take some time to get there.

"In my youth, I fought so hard to be what the world told me to be." Candy had started, one arm of his put upon the table in a lean as his eyes were in his memory. "Oh, I tried, Garma. I tried my best to be the woman that it felt the world wanted me to be, and maybe, somewhere along the way, I was able to do that. But in return, I lost years. So many years, and led so many people to certain falsehoods about me… There's a life in me that was never lived, because I denied who I really was for so long, and although I am now myself, truly, there's a part of me forever lost now." All the stories of every person on Earth had been so vast and large that it would take a lifetime to know a lifetime. Garma is quiet, viewing, hearing, Candy tell him what he wants to say. "All the people who knew who I really was, early on, I turned away, I told them to get out of my life, and some of them remained lost to me, even now. I destroyed relationships, myself, in order to keep being this idea of myself that even I knew, deep down, was not true. I wouldn't wish what I went through on anyone else."

Garma looked on to Candy. Words deserving of attention, and he had given Candy his due, completely.

"I have lived on Earth for sixty years, Garma Zabi. In those years I've been alive, I never spent much time looking up, as you did looking down, here on the Earth, at least so I presume because of what I heard on the news. I spent more time looking inward, and around me. I grew up in this city, and, when all is said in done, I want to return here, to build it back up, to make it a good place for not only all those like me, but also all in general, because I realized the war that I fought inside of myself for who I was, is not a war I like to see anyone else fight. Even you."

Men were at war with each other because each man is at war with himself. Every war had been of a different color for stakes so unique or so universal that the peace accords of each could not be fully understood save for the participants. What remained was that constant of war itself, and not of its meaning.

Here Garma Zabi had been before a man who had been at war for sixty years.

"Not to take away from your own struggles, Doctor Candy, but the Earthnoid Elite have pressed upon innocent people for decades, this war is meant to remove them so that we all may live lives, right and truly. This war is one that must be fought."

Candy raised one hand as if in calm defense. "Oh, trust me, Mister Zabi, the Earthnoid Elite you speak of does exist, but he's not me. Nor anyone I've ever known, save for a few greedy hospital administrators in my time. No." Candy stroked his beard. "Zeon's crusade might very well be righteous, but what you have done in that name has destroyed any idea of right and wrong. What's all that's left then is an inward battle." The truest war, the only war that mattered in the end.

"As I told the Conclave, all of them- I detest, I hate, what has become of this war and brought to them, but still, I cannot think of leaving what has created these conditions be. There is a better way."

"Can you make it be?"

"I- I have to."

"That's what you feel, Mister Zabi. Not what is. I don't think you're in the position now to do as you want." It was not an insult, just, as doctors do, putting the reality of it to who they treated. "You may think there might've been a perfect way to fight your war, or a better way, but in the end, it doesn't matter, does it?"

"Doctor Candy please." Garma begged silently. "Don't just become another complacent Earthnoid. I mean no offense."

"No offense taken, Garma. I sympathize with you on Side 3 as well, even now, because I understand even just by medical reports alone that doctors shared between here and the colonies what the situation just based on the health situation was up there. It wasn't good, and we knew why it wasn't on parity to us here on Earth." He tightened his mouth. "But what you've done will need to be righted as well in this idea of a "better" way. And maybe if there is a better way, you're not involved in it."

"I've seen things, Doctor Candy, I've… I've now experienced what I never would have. It only makes sense that I bring them back to Zeon, to anyone who would listen! Please, I beg you to understand why I still believe the way I do. I must do this."

"Don't fight against your own nature, Garma." Candy says his real name. "See it for what it is."

"Which is what?"

"Has Mai not told you?"

You're fascist scum, your highness.

"I'm better than what she thinks I am."

"Even after what you've done to her?"

The picture is still fresh in his memory. That image of her seemed all right in the world.

"What are you telling me, Doctor Candy? Please."

Candy's face becomes serious. "It's perhaps one of the oldest lessons, Mister Zabi: You're young, so maybe it's not the most obvious to you, but it's a lesson I wish I learned when I was younger than you." Of all Candy's words, these are those which Garma remembers, forever. "If you really believe that you must make the world better, even after you've done all this to make it so horrible, then you must uncover, see, where that belief comes from. Whether if that's the part of yourself trying to deal, to justify all that has been done in your name, or if there really is a person, deep down, that can be held accord to that belief and fulfill it. You told me that you are a Zabi man. Are you sure?" Candy looked out the window at his home, destroyed, by the man who sat across from him now, but he was at peace. "You can't decide the lot you're born in, and I might be speaking from a position of privilege even saying this, but you have a choice to become who you really are, despite it. For some, it's easier or harder, for some they might not realize who they are until they're far, far into their lives, but I think you have a decision to make, after you know what lies within you."

It's a lot to say for an older man, with such weight his form seems to lower with his words, but Candy has said, and Garma had listened, and as his face scrunched, processed all of it, he was considerate. That much Candy could see that this man listened to him. He reached out, one time, to touch upon his right hand before drawing away. "I don't know how much longer you have left Garma, truly, but in that time, please be true to yourself, if not for your sake, but for me, for the Conclave, for Mai."

Of what he can do, what Candy says is true; but Garma knows that he is capable of so much more, for a cause far grander than perhaps what Candy can imagine. His protests are left unsaid; he could not speak against Candy for having said what he did, the sum of his life there. He has too much tact for that. Too much respect for this man, knowing who he was, still deciding to take care of him to the point of saving his life. It was to agree to disagree, but his words were not unheard.

Far from it.

Garma had let out one huff of a laugh. All his life he had been listening to elders, and yet, only now…

"You sound like a father, Doctor Candy." Perhaps the first he's ever known. For as much as he loved his own father, he had never imparted the wisdom of adulthood, of being a man, in any way close to how Candy did now. No father, no mother, and yet, he decided, he had turned out okay.

Candy smiled in return. "It pleases me to hear that you think I sound like a father, for I am."


"Over a dozen. Adopted."

"Where are they now?" Garma is intrigued, honestly, but for reasons that he fears are far too real a possibility.

"I would say I hope they're safe but… this war is all encompassing… Still, last I heard over half a year ago they're okay." Garma looks at him, expecting more, but he wouldn't get it. "I wish not to be further entangled with you. Mister Zabi. I see, with Mai, the effects of such. Do no press upon me any further."

In the end, he was still a Zabi, and if he returned to his life, his family would be put at hazard. It was fair enough. So, he asks another question, something more regarding him.

"Can I ask… for, life expectancy, literally, in regards those like me?"

"Fascist royals? Military commanders?"

"Amputees… burn victims." He clarifies, but the rest is not lost on him. Candy still believes him to be those things, but his entire life those titles were thrown at him. The difference that does sting is from him: a good man. He doesn't know, but he wears this hurt on his face. Mai's opinion of him he believes, he trusts, even if it stings, given their shared origins, but Candy's weighs differently.

"Of course," he starts slowly, "You'll be very much more likely to contract infections in your problem sites, and these scars, although they've settled for now, they will need treatment or else, appearance wise, it won't be pretty, but, all things considered, I don't think your life expectancy, or even your quality of life, will be any drastically lower than my own or Mai's, or Gearten's, or Bo's." There's only one reason he would ask that, however. "Has Mai decided to let you live?"

"No." He answers truthfully, swiftly. He didn't believe it, but it still stung all the same in out loud admittance.

"I see." If there is sorrow in Candy's face, he covers it well as he rises. He's done what he's needed to do and left Garma with his options. He had done his due diligence. "I think, in another life, Mister Zabi, we could've been quite good friends." He was a polite man enough, but this was not that life.

"But how about Garfield?" Garma offered instead.

Candy had shaken his head in jest. "We'll see."

Candy leaves with one last pat to Charlie's head, and it leaves Garma in the apartment, looking at a last will and testament. Much to consider, and much to write for his last words if they were to come to pass. His first last words had been fine enough, but he's not quite sure, when it came down to a death by Mai, he could summon those same words: Sieg Zeon. He sits and stares at the paper, long after his jacket has been put away for another day to scrub, and he sits there until he hears the door being opened and Charlie takes flight to greet.

Mai has returned and he's forgotten to put dinner and tea on.

"Passed Doctor Candy on the way in. Everything fine?" She deposits her gear as usual, hat off and hung, sniper rifle brought to the table and unloaded as he busied himself with two MREs and the propane stove, candles being lit around. She sounds concerned enough that Garma thinks it's a trick.

He nodded. "I believe so. Doctor Candy simply stopped by to give me-" He motioned with his head at the paper. "Some formal proceedings."

Mai's eyes rode over the blank lines. "He made me sign the same thing, at the beginning of your invasion." She placed the papers asides, uncaring for what they were for. "I had nothing to give, but he made me do a whole thing anyway, after warning me that it'd kill me, what I was doing."

"What's in yours? I might need references."

"Mostly stuff about saying my ammo and rifle goes to the next best shooter, and that if there's enough of me left to bury me on Luna."

"That's surprisingly sentimental of you."

"Do you know how much it costs to get buried here on Earth? Anyone who gets vaporized in this war should consider themselves lucky." Mai's rough tongue comes out, crass and insensitive, but it always comes back to her. "Not a bad way to go, if I had to choose."

"I don't remember my half-vaporization." He offered. All he had seen was the white light, thunder, and lightning, and when he came to, she had been stepping on his chest. "Do you think I'll remember this death?" It's half a joke at that.

"Maybe," she breathed, exhausted. None of her edge is there today, and it's nice. "Maybe."

He brings over dinner. Cornbread and beef shreds. Zeonic stock.

How normal this is, how domestic they are, and how much has changed. It is all in service toward a barreling end.

He looks at her, "Soon?"

It takes a moment for her to know what he is speaking of, but when she does, she nods once, looking away from him. "Soon."

Soon her graveyard will have two bodies: her child and him. If that was the case, he wouldn't mind keeping her child company, wherever beyond it went to.

Evidently, "soon" didn't mean soon enough that she anticipated a few more public walks over to the Conclave.

"You're useful," she explained. "Walking translator as you are. I'm a selfish bitch, but I'm practical."

"You're not a bitch, Mai. Rude and crass, yes, but I'd never proclaim you to be a bitch. In fact, I think you're quite enthralling." She knows by now when he does try to turn the charm up.

"Your talk doesn't work with me."

He had been back and forth between the Conclave, and if there had been a cross on his back it had only been applied from other people and their stares at him, for despite their hatred, their distrust, he had become a regular figure, protected by the Ghoul. He had been brought up before Mikita Trotsky and spoke to him in his mother tongue. He spoke to him about what exactly he had been diagnosed with before the war, and what type of medicine, if any, could help him. Great clarity was provided by Garma, and in that clarity it was revealed that Mikita Trotsky was a schizophrenic, and his reality was not the reality of everyone else. Thankfully the Conclave had medicine in stock for the man, and Garma had been tolerated more still.

"Should I expect you two for Thanksgiving?" Bo had asked before they left that day.

"Sure." Mai had answered, and plans were made for a social arrangement. Her first in over a year. Bo hadn't mind accounting for Garfield as well, a fact that Mai had only realized half-way back home. Only Garma himself breaks her out of her thoughts of a Conclave getting too comfortable with this person she was to kill.

"Can I ask you something else, dear Mai?"

She blinks at him, eyebrows furrowing. "… Be careful."

"It is something perfectly benign, I assure you."


"What is your real name?" He, who had been going about town with a fake one, asked her. She's not quite sure how to take it at first, but then in all the years that have passed by since she has lived in space, she has almost forgotten what Garma knew true. If her face reads as confused, it is Garma's fault for the interpretation. "I don't doubt you're Mai Gul, but if I remember correctly, you had a Spacenoid middle name. The type that is given to those first born in spa-"

"I know, I know." She tries to ward him off ineffectually.

He, who had surely seen the class standings, of course might've remembered. She damned herself for being even in that upper echelon of class, close enough to his name that he might've passed it by trying to find his own.

He was right though. She had a middle name; one that marked her as a Spacenoid more than her body or person would. Ordained by birth, named by her parents as the new hope for the future that she was.

She lets him know. She lets him know because he might have as well known the true, full name of her own, to know his killer entirely.

"My full name is Mai Kro Gul."

Kro, like that which flies overhead now, even well into winter. These birds remain for a world ruined in ecology, their internal compasses and mannerisms treating them wrong. They were always present, always above, reminding her of something she could not share or else be singled out for who she was. A middle name was easy enough to hide, to never bring, or to claim to never have had. Though she had one.

Her middle name was Kro, like crow. Her last name was Gul, like Gul. Her first name was Mai, like the word of self; ownership.

Different sounds, different meanings, her name was so doubled upon itself like trivia. Her callsign over the radio was Crow, and like all things, she hid in plain sight. In her had been her own reflection while she existed along that line: Born of Space, and yet lived and fought on Earth. Trained for Zeon yet fighting it. A woman, destined by birth to serve the Zabis, and yet here she had been promising to kill the youngest son.

She hasn't said it aloud in years, fully, and she isn't prepared for when Garma says her full name aloud, testing it with his voice. A Zabi says her name, and it burns her down cold, and raises her up again.

Garma Zabi says her name, and then he offers his own in greeting: "I am Garma Nolo Zabi, Mai Kro Gul." She had wondered where it came from, but Garma explained before she could ask. "My middle name came from my mother, and her name was Naliss Leitler."

Degwin's second wife, mother of Dozle, Garma, after the first wife left him. Dead giving birth to Garma.

He was the son of Degwin Zabi, who himself had a been a soldier, and as History told him, he came from a long line of soldiers that hailed from Europe and its ancient roots, beginning on behalf of a cousin of Martin Luther and up through Empires and Reichs and Armies and Peacekeepers and common men and unusual men and then Great Men.

"Out on these streets, you're Garfield Sune, you fool." He had been speaking so loudly that anyone could hear, she feared, but he did not care when it came to himself. Not after today.

Garfield Sune, Garma Nolo Zabi. Twice in his life he had been named after a person. But it was a common phenomenon amongst Spacenoids anyway. "And who were you named after, dear Mai?"

She waits, listens to the wind, looks up to the sky and feels what it is on her skin. (Next week should be clear skies). "I was named not after a person, but a thing. Something bigger than myself." She answers simply, lowly. Garma looks at her with a look of intrigue, and she answers just to kill it. "I was named after Time." Chronos, down to Kro. It was a creative stretch, but it was a name that was uniquely hers. She never asked her parents why, but she knew that it had been the case.

"Does that mean anything to you?"


"What your named for?"

He asked because of Candy; on the nature of true selves, true names. He was curious if she had to have dealt with the same question asked of him. If what she was doing to him was true to herself.

It must've, because in her eyes looking at him that day as he asked had been the same look she had given him that came with true recognition, true memory that entwined the two of them together. "If I had to be honest? Not really." She shrugged. "There's not really much meaning to me, if I really think about it." Her gaze was long and wide, and when she blinked next, she kept her eyes closed as if taking inventory of her own thoughts before the world. When she opened them Garma was still there, attentive in her answers. She scowled at him but could not hold it. "Nothing about me matters except what I'm going to do to you."

He mattered so much to her, and more than anything, it hurt.

On a hunt where she walks without Garma later that month, returning home, she passes by Father Blinn again.

He had been hunched over among dirt and trash, not too far away from Saint Matthews, among a pile hidden by crooked buildings, where even a holy man had gotten rid of his trash. She had recognized his form, but he had not known it was her that had been there as she approached him. Her footsteps had pressed upon paper trash, and Father Blinn in his hunch, sprung, turning.

He drew from his belt a pistol, snapped around, pointed at her, and only by reflex alone did she already have hers out at her hip like a gunslinger of old.

Frozen, like the images on stained glass of his parish.

He carried an old Colt's pistol, an ancestor of the Federation pistol she carried as her own, sand blasted from a time spent at war.

This was not Father Blinn's first war, far from it. In his boots that he wore now beneath his vestments, they themselves beneath an old field jacket, this man with skin darker than Mai's, had been to Africa and the Middle East and been in this scene before: holding a gun on a woman that looked like her. It was a common thing of the trade, of a soldier turned priest.

He was a wild man now, having kept his church alive, even when his followers were not, even when Seattle around him did not. Saint Matthews had been untouched as a matter of miracle in that war, and if God had been anointing him as the sole carrier of faith in Seattle, Father Blinn had taken to heart, and to duty.

Even he carried a gun for it.

She had not seen Blinn kill in that war, but the swiftness, the crack, of his movement did not betray that he had not before.

"You know better, child." He saw who she was, his thumb riding the hammer of his pistol before stuffing it back into his pants and going back to his work, to depositing the trash of his grounds before an alley and an empty space once cordoned out for a development but now bare like an incision in Seattle's plans. That empty square that could hold perhaps more parking in that alleyway was blackened in the center, where Father Blinn kept piling on his scraps, his slop, his refuse.

She holstered her own pistol in her holster, unoffended. "I didn't know you still carried."

"I always carry smoke on me." He was a man of the Earth in a way wholly different than other Earthnoids, for his true domain went far beyond dirt and planet. He was a man of Christ in a world without gods, the final statement, proof that in all the world of Humanity that there had been a place Beyond that as written in scripture and in belief itself. He tried his best, despite everything, and if one saw his church and his grounds, he had done more to stave that manmade apocalypse away from it then all the armies on Earth.

She said nothing more as she approached him as he continued to work, emptying canvas bags of leaves and branches and rubble brought back up by the recent earthquake until they both stood before an amassing of nothing; trash. She stood taller than him, as was common in that world, but she had been shrunk down in his presence because he was more than his body. He represented by will alone purpose that went far beyond just him, or even a legion of men. They stood silently together, and eventually Mai took some of the canvas bags and began dumping them into the pile. Blinn said nothing. Dead leaves, dead apples, dead branches all wilted and melted from the cold that came, their breaths cloudy until finally Father Blinn had dumped the last of the contents of his junk and then, taking some kindling, pamphlets of Zeonic propaganda that had been so numerous in their distribution that some still remained now, and then balling it into his hand as his other held a lighter bearing the signature of the American 82nd Airborne division. He struck the flint of it, pressing the lighter's small flame into the bundle, before placing it into the pile as made, reaching into it, and immersing his arms before coming back out.

Born from within smoke, the skittering of flames being bred within it as it caught objects within and took it within itself. Grey Seattle, at least in that empty place, went from dull, to smoky, and then at once, to fire.

From within that fire the pile moved at once, and as if preceding a flame a small, pathetic animal had burst out of its confines: a rat, taken and deposited from Blinn's trash, flying out in manic chaos as it went from pile, burning down within it, to out free to the cold and then to Blinn's boots, insane in movement like it was skipping moments in time. The rat was screaming, screaming, and the flicker of fire covered its screams as Blinn raised his boot and then the rat screamed no more when it came back down. Fire cackle, bone break was the same.

The fire rose until at last it was seen from the boundaries of the pile, and there was inferno within it like the first days of the ground war in Seattle, or, before that, the falling of Island Iffish and its debris collateral come to that city.

Father Blinn put out his hands as they stood no more than several feet away from the burning flames, and Mai had felt truly warm, truly hot, as the flames seemed to want to reach out to her. Father Blinn's hands were out as if in professing as he had once a year before toward those that needed to hear the word of God and his equity in life and death and judgement to make sense of the hell that was to come. He held out his hands and the flames seemed to stay within where they went, kept control only by his hands, even as the flames licked at his black hands.

Only he, a priest, could fully appreciate fire. For all fire had been a link to the ancient past where God's son had once lived on Earth. All fire had been of the same flame, born back in eternity and subsisting to now. Fire does not die. It goes away until summoned up again. In these flames Father Blinn saw his God again, and saw his God do.

By fire alone can a new world be born, and, in those flames, Father Blinn saw futures anointed to him.

Mai did not hold out her hands. She simply let the warmth of the fire wash over her and beat back the world. She had enough flame within her, enkindled and burning.

"How're the grounds?" she finally asked after several minutes of basking in the flame. The pile would eventually drive itself down to the Earth, to blackness and soot and dust. Blinn's black skin did not reflect the fires, as if he had absorbed all of it.

"Everything is still in order for you." He answered, and that was that.

She thinks, perhaps, at the end of it, before her own path consumed her, that if anyone deserved that gold that Garma had gifted her, it would've been this holy man. She did not care to buy absolution if it could be bought, but it was a simple matter of pragmatic use: This holy man could do more with that gold than her. Now, and forever.

"When all is said and done, Father Blinn," she dares to ask. "Do you think that there is a… right way that the world can be again?"

Blinn stands before his pile of trash on fire and stares into it until his eyes burn and he must blink, to turn away and to finally look up to Mai, this woman who had suffered in ways that could only be assuaged by powers beyond. "It's all in God's plan." He said once. "If the world is going to turn out the way it is, however, that will be, then that is right because it is the plan."

"Even if it doesn't feel right to us?"

"That is of no matter." Within the pile, something popped. "What does matter is that we serve, and live, to our purpose, whether we know of it or not. I cannot speak to your final destiny, but I know my own, and in that I see the truth for others."

She did not make it a habit to ask holy men answers. None that they ever gave had cured her sorrow, her anguish; none had ever given her a path to go down that would make her whole again and she could only sour herself in the face of God, all gods, for it. But Blinn had been special. He had been to war before and knew that he did not need to give answers to those who knew full well of their situation, hopeless or not. All he needed to be was proof of God himself was existent. So, he lived on, and people saw God around him. God had saved his church after all, and he maintained it now for Him. "I would do anything for my Church, because that is what is willed of me." Because that man knew it so, without question, without reinforcement.

The fires burned and the two of them stood there before it until the flames went quiet, and what had been built up became a blackened pile of dust, too easily blown away by the wind.

"Anything." Blinn said, again and again. "Anything."