Chapter 10

June 9th, U.C. 0053, 4:02 PM

The Sazabi and ν Gundam dipped and dodged, maneuvering to avoid the golden chains pursuing them. The fear and discord created by Élisabeth’s sudden appearance had collapsed the psycho-field between them, forcing Jin and Sora to push their reflexes, and their engines, to the limit. The chains, desperate to ensnare the mechs, stayed hot on their heels, but snapped taut as the mechs flew beyond their range.

“That was amazing!” Sora exclaimed, spinning the Sazabi around in midair to face the chains. “The chikaraWatashi no chikara! I’ve never felt anything like it.” Jin remained silent. She had felt the confidence and exhilaration Sora was experiencing before, when Kiyoshi had piloted the Sazabi. Was Kiyoshi influencing his former protégé from beyond the mortal veil? Now, more than ever, she wished the Sazabi hadn’t been recovered. “Let’s go back in,” Sora suggested, still riding high on adrenaline. “We can beat that majo and save minna.”

“Iie, we’re almost out of fuel,” Jin pointed out. “We’ll have to leave it to Aina-senpai.”

Seigi?” the god warrior asked, cocking its head. “Naze would a ningen desire my seigi?”

“Can you do it? Élisabeth pressed. “Can you bring seigi to the sekai?”

“Seigi would demand the lives of those who deserve to die,” the god warrior said after a brief hesitation. He narrowed his eyes and scrutinized Élisabeth. “It would demand your life, but if that is the price for your assistance, I have no choice but to pay it.”

“I…” Élisabeth stammered, “If I were to sacrifice my life to seigi…”

“I can see you do not want to die,” the god warrior interrupted. “Perhaps that is for the best. If I instituted seigi, there would be too few left to serve me, and their numbers would continue to dwindle. Seigi might even result in the extinction of jinrui.”

“That’s not seigi—” Élisabeth started to argue, but she was interrupted by the arrival of Aina.

“Élisabeth-san,” Aina shouted up to her, “nani do you think you’re doing? Leave, now.”

“Aina Dufort,” the god warrior boomed. “How good of you to keep your yakusoku. Are you prepared to die?”

The god warrior began to glow with a pale blue radioactive aura. Slowly, he reached his hand down to grab Aina, but was stopped when golden chains encircled his body.

“We’re not done talking,” Élisabeth hissed. The god warrior fought against the chains, but they dragged it away from Aina. “You call yourself a god, but gods are imaginary beings, created by ningen to make sense of a sekai they had little control over.” As she spoke, golden light shone from her body, outshining the god warrior’s radioactive aura. “Demo, that is no longer the case. We have thoroughly conquered Chikyuu. It is dying because of our whims, and if we so choose, it can thrive instead. Jinrui controls its own destiny; we no longer need gods.”

As she finished her pronouncement, the god warrior ceased struggling, and the chains around it fell to the ground as the god warrior vanished into thin air. Slowly, Élisabeth floated to the ground, landing a few meters away from Aina. She sank to her knees and let out a howl filled with anger and sorrow. Burying her face in her hands, Élisabeth cried, seemingly oblivious to all that was around her.

“Élisabeth-san,” Aina called out, but Élisabeth gave no indication that she heard her. Aina ran over, grabbed Élisabeth by the shoulders, and pulled her up. “I need you to remove the chains from the kuro mecha,” Aina told her. “Whatever you do, do not destroy them.” Aina wasn’t sure if the god-destroying spell Élisabeth had cast would treat the Big Os as gods, but she didn’t want to lose Sena to an out of control spell.

“Aina-san,” Élisabeth sobbed. “I couldn’t do it. Honmono no, true, objective seigi, and all it would have cost was my life. Nani have I been doing until now if not giving my entire life for seigi? Demo, I couldn’t commit when given the chance. Naze, Aina-san? Naze did I refuse?”

“Listen to me,” Aina commanded. “You may die anyway unless you do exactly what I tell you. Remove the chains from the kuro mecha. Do not remove them from anyone else. You just did what the combined armies of the sekai could not. In their eyes, you’re now more dangerous than the god warrior. If you release them, they will bombard this position. I want to give minna a chance to evacuate first. Wakatta?”

“Wakatta,” Élisabeth confirmed.

As the chains released the Big Os, the giant robots began to move away from Aina and Élisabeth. The gynoids piloting them did not want to spend a moment more than necessary in danger. As they lumbered away, however, they stopped to lift the fallen Big Os and carry them with them. The Big O which had attempted to deploy its Final Stage didn’t move, and a couple others walked over to it. They used their Arc Lines to burn through the chains attached to its hips, steadying it so that it wouldn’t fall over. They then turned towards Aina and beckoned her over. Not wanting to leave Élisabeth unsupervised, Aina picked the taller girl off the ground and held her tightly in a princess carry. Élisabeth didn’t protest, even as Aina ran as quickly as she could towards the mechs.

Doushita?” Aina asked, leaping into the closest Big O’s outstretched hand.

The mech’s cockpit viewport retracted, revealing a gynoid pilot inside. “Sena-chuui is trapped in there,” the gynoid explained. “She had to power down the Big to stop the Final Stage, but it is trying to restart itself, using her as an activation key. We need you to crack open her viewport. If we did it ourselves, we would risk damaging her.”

As much as Aina wanted to rescue Sena, she wasn’t sure she could crack the viewport any more gently. Sensing Aina’s hesitation, Élisabeth pointed a finger at the viewport and it disappeared. Aina was momentarily shocked that Élisabeth could cast spells while they were so close together, but she didn’t have time to dwell on that thought. A wave of entangled wires spilled from the viewport, carrying Sena with them. Aina dove to catch her, tossing Élisabeth aside without a second thought. It was only after she jumped that she realized how foolish this was. The only way she could catch up to Sena was to fall faster, and the only way to do that was to push herself downward with her spiritual energy. If she did that, however, she would be traveling too fast to slow their fall enough with her energy alone. Her wings might be able to do the job, but her transformation might not complete in time.

“Hen—” Aina said quietly, but she cut herself off as she descended past Sena, who was now floating in the air. Élisabeth had cast a spell on the gynoid to slow her fall, and the two of them followed Aina to the ground.

“You saved my tomodachi. Arigatou,” Aina thanked Élisabeth.

“I would not have required saving had she not interfered,” Sena said.

“Because you would be dead,” Élisabeth said. “Destroyed? However you phrase it. That rickety giant wouldn’t have survived the force of its own attack.”

“We do not know that for sure,” Sena said. “Besides, I was prepared to eject.”

“Sena-chan,” Aina sobbed, throwing her arms around her. “Gomen. Gomen. I was wrong. I shouldn’t have let you risk yourself like that.”

Yoshi, yoshi,” Sena said, patting Aina on the head. “Just make sure not to repeat the same mistake twice.”

“I won’t, I promise,” Aina said.

With her free hand, Sena retrieved her phone from her pocket and held it out to take a selfie with Aina still hugging her. She flashed the victory sign and took the picture with the Big Os visible in the background. “Should I send this directly to Fumiko-san, or should I upload it to nctchan?” she mused aloud.

“If you’re trying to punish me by embarrassing me, it won’t work,” Aina said quietly. “I have no secrets from Fumiko-chan, and they still call me Tsun-Tsun Loli Meido on nctchan.” Releasing Sena, she asked, “Can you get a ride back with them? I still have a few things to take care of here, and the further away you are, the safer you’ll be.” Sena nodded and then walked towards one of the still-functioning Big Os. The door in its foot opened for her, and once she was safely inside, the Big Os left in the direction of their comrades, carrying the inactive unit with them.

Turning back toward Élisabeth, Aina saw Koharu sneaking up behind her, a combat knife in one hand. Koharu put a finger up to her mouth, urging Aina to remain quiet, but  Élisabeth noticed that Aina’s focus was on something behind her. “Nani—” Élisabeth asked, twisting around. Her cover about to be blown, Koharu abandoned stealth, running towards Élisabeth as fast as she could, but Aina was faster, and she put herself between them.

“Nani are you doing?!” Koharu roared. Her hair was disheveled and she had large bags under her bloodshot eyes. “You saw what she did. She’s more dangerous than we thought.”

“She saved my tomodachi,” Aina said.

“Oh, and that makes it OK? Nani about the tomodachi I lost in this tatakai?” Koharu asked. “We both agreed that the god warrior was all of jinrui’s mondai, that if it was destroyed by a single hito, they wouldn’t learn their lesson.”

“The god warrior was about to be killed by conventional forces,” Aina countered. “It did as much damage as it was going to do. Hai, it’s unfortunate that Élisabeth-san showed the whole sekai just how powerful mahou can be, but—”

Chotto matte,” Élisabeth interrupted. “Are you telling me that you could have destroyed the god warrior yourselves but didn’t?” Her self-pity was giving way to her usual self-righteousness. “Dare gave you the right?”

“Dare are you to tell me how to use my chikara?” Koharu shot back.

“You have a responsibility to use your chikara to protect hito when you can,” Élisabeth argued.

“Élisabeth-san,” Aina said, “we know we have that responsibility. Sometimes you have to sacrifice some hito to save the rest. Look at the damage the god warrior was able to do to the armies of ‘Murica and the Expedition. Those weakened armies will now have a diminished capacity to kill civilians. It will also serve as a lesson on the dangers of building uncontrollable superweapons. This was a bad situation, and we made the best decision we could to save as many as possible.”

“Demo, you’re choosing who lives and who dies,” Élisabeth objected. “I have to ask you again, dare gave you that right?”

“No one,” Aina said. “There isn’t anyone who could. That’s like asking dare gave you the right to fight for seigi. Maybe it will end up being the wrong choice. None of us can see the future, but we happened to be put in a position where we needed to make that choice.”

“You can’t compare this to my fight for seigi,” Élisabeth said. “Seigi is a universal…”

“Dare’s seigi?” Aina pressed. “Do you think the god warrior would have cared about mahou shoujo rights? He probably would have seen mahou shoujo as a threat and killed them. Sacrificing yourself for that seigi would have been a mistake. It would have been a mistake even if you did agree with the god warrior’s seigi. You can devote your life to a cause without giving your life for that cause.”

Sou ka,” Élisabeth said. “That’s why I couldn’t do it. Is there really no such thing as true seigi? Did I misplace my faith once again?”

“It’s a mistake to have faith in the first place,” Aina said, “but there’s nothing wrong with the seigi you wanted, even if it is subjective. Soshite, in a different shakai, your tactics might have achieved it.”

“Aina-san,” Élisabeth croaked, tears forming in her eyes. She threw herself on Aina, pulling her into a brief hug before holding her at arm’s length. “Aina-san, is… is… homosexuality contagious?”

“Nani?” both Aina and Koharu asked.

“Of course it isn’t,” Aina told Élisabeth. “Did they teach you that in church or something?”

“Gomen,” Élisabeth apologized, embracing Aina once again. “I should have realized that was an uso too.”

“We still have to kill you,” Koharu stated. “With chikara like this,” she gestured at the chains still holding down the battlefield, “it’s safe to assume you could destroy the sekai.”

“I wouldn’t!” Élisabeth gasped.

“We can’t take that risk,” said Koharu.

“We can,” Aina said.

“Because she saved your tomodachi?” Koharu accused.

“Iie,” Aina insisted, “because she might save us all. Élisabeth-san, my parents researched practical applications of mahou. They came up with a plan to save life on Chikyuu using mahou-based geoengineering, but it requires immense mahou energy, and it’s risky. There are still a lot of unknowns, it could backfire, and ningen activities can interfere with it.”

Dame,” Koharu said. “The research your parents did was unethical. We can’t use it.”

“We can’t change what they did,” Aina said, “and this is a matter of survival. It may be unethical to use their research, but if future generations condemn us for it, at least there will be future generations. Nani do you say, Élisabeth-san? Naze not devote your life to a new cause? Shall we make Chikyuu thrive again, as you put it?”

Aina held out her hand for Élisabeth to shake, and Élisabeth wanted nothing more than to take it, but Aina was asking for a big commitment from her. “I shirimasen.” Élisabeth said. “I need time to think about it.”

“Of course,” Aina said, doing her best to hide the disappointment on her face. “Let’s focus on withdrawing minna to safety first. How much control do you have over your chains? Can you free just the forces from the Federation first? We’ll release the Futarchy after that, and finally the ‘Muricans and the Soviets. If they’re smart, they’ll walk away. If not, it won’t be our mondai anymore.”

“I can’t let you do this,” Koharu mumbled.

“You need sleep and aren’t thinking straight,” Aina told her. “Go back, help the 01st coordinate the retreat, and then get some rest. If you want to berate me once you’ve had enough sleep, you know where to find me.”

“Fuck you,” Koharu spat, but her body began to glow. As she teleported away, Aina heard her mutter, “Naze do you always have to be right?”

Aina returned to Gen. Riku’s tent just as they were packing up. Élisabeth was still managing the withdrawal of her chains, and it wouldn’t be long before she released the Futarchy.

Taisa, doko’s Ginjiro-sama?” she asked the closest officer, identifying him by his insignia.

Riku-shogun is escorting him back to the machi,” the colonel replied. “He wanted to get Ginjiro-sama out of danger as quickly as possible. You can ride with us, and we’ll meet up with them at honbu.”

“Arigatou for the offer, but I can catch up to them faster on my own,” Aina replied.

“You’ll ride with us,” the colonel said, pulling his pistol from his holster. All around them, soldiers leveled their guns at Aina.

According to Aina’s tracking device, which looked like a small dragon radar, Ginjiro wasn’t far away. Although she hadn’t planned on becoming separated from Ginjiro, she knew that plans might be thrown into chaos in the heat of battle, and she had insisted that he keep a tracking device sewn into his shirt. It was now leading her to an abandoned town a few miles west of the route back to Neo Crystal Tokyo. She arrived just in time to see Gen. Riku, accompanied by two soldiers, pushing Ginjiro towards what looked like an old warehouse.

“Naze are you doing this?” Ginjiro asked between shoves. “You at least owe me an explanation.” Knowing that Aina could track him, he was trying to buy time. Aina was surprised that he had the presence of mind to do so, but the soldiers weren’t falling for it. One of them forced open a door, and the other pushed him into the warehouse. Aina ran in after them.

Ugoku na!” Aina ordered from the doorway. Gen. Riku froze in place, but the other two soldiers turned to fire on Aina. She cut them down before they could pull their triggers.

“Thank goodness,” Ginjiro sighed in relief. “Ima, Riku-shogun, explain yourself.”

“Your wife hired me,” Gen. Riku said, looking away. “It’s not about okane. She promised to support the more aggressive foreign policy that you oppose, once she’s goshujin.”

“Demo, she’s not the next in line.” Ginjiro said. Then his eyes went wide in recognition, and he turned to Aina. “We have to get back. We have to save Nanami.”

With a single stroke, Aina beheaded Gen. Riku. She then bent over, retrieved one of the dead soldier’s guns, pressed it to Ginjiro’s chest, and fired.