Gunbuster Fan Fiction ❯ Amulet of the Sun ❯ One: Amulet of the Sun ( Chapter 1 )

[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]
written by Corvus

Part One: Amulet of the Sun


On a bright summer afternoon, Amano Kazumi stood amid a
field of green grass, bright wildflowers and human beings, her
eyes trained on the clear azure sky overhead. Soft breezes
scented with natural perfume stirred her dark blue-slate hair as
they whispered their way into the grove of oak, ash and maple
that stood some two hundred meters distant, like quiet shepherds
overseeing the gathering.

(I can barely breathe,) she thought. (I can't believe
Noriko is actually going through with this. And all these
people... Here to watch their hero fall from the sky.
Sensationalism.) Many things had changed since the first half of
the twenty-first century, but the human need for a show was quite
evidently not one of them. Twenty-First Century or Hundred
Forty-Third, it was the same. (I should have tried to stop her.
Should have said something to make her change her mind. Surely
there was something else should could have done for aention.
This is... insane!) Over three hundred people had gathered here
in the field to witness the event. Some of them entertained
themselves watching the preparations of the recovery crew
bustling around the company hover-trailer, readying coolant
tanks, hoses and medical equipment. Police contained the throng
with ease for the time being, but Kazumi wondered if the order
would hold.

Standing immediately to her left was Gerald Hanes. The
walnut-skinned, burly, salt-and-pepper haired Canamerican man's
thick brows furrowed above his brown eyes. Gerald considered
himself Noriko and Kazumi's adoptive uncle, their link to sanity
in the tossing sea of celebrity into which the Gunbuster pilots
had fallen when they appeared out of subspace four years
previously -- and nearly thirteen thousand years gone from the
era of their births. "I know what you're thinking," Gerald
grumbled in his heavily accented Hango. "And I'm thinking the
same thing. Crazy girl."

Despite the strong fear racing through her heart, Kazumi
smiled as she always did when Gerald read her mind like that.
"But if we had tried to stop her," she replied, "she would have
just gone ahead and done it anyway. This way she thinks she has
our blessing because she has our refusal to argue with her."

Hanes spat something in Canamerican that Kazumi assumed was
a violent curse; it seemed to be his invective of choice in
situations like these. She'd asked her Canamerican language
tutor once what the translation was and the woman had simply
turned flaming red. "Being a hero's gone to her head," he
continued, once again in Hango.

Four years ago Kazumi and Noriko both had received a rude
culture shock that made their return from deep space in 2032 seem
nothing more than a moment's discomfort, a passing itch. That
return had brought them back to a world a decade older than they
had left it, four months previous in subjective time. Over
twelve millennia had passed since Buster Machine Three's
activation and collapse. Twelve thousand two hundred years and
more since they had heard Jung's promise to welcome them home.
By some unknown miracle the fire-haired and flame-tempered
Soviet's promise had been kept in the form of a massive pattern
of lights visible from orbit, calling, "Welcome Home"...

In all those years countless nations rose and fell. Gone
were America, Mexico, India, the Soviet Union, Japan, China,
France, Germany, Brazil, Argentina. Come and gone was the United
Europe, the Kingdom of Africa, the Republic of Antarctica and the
Union of Canadian and American Provinces. Too many states to
name had passed through the world's sight. In this era there was
the resurrected Canamerica, stretching over much of what the
Gunbuster pilots had known as Canada and the United States.
There was Avalon, in what used to be the British Isles.
Balliwalla, in Australia. Amazonia in South America. So much
change. Japan and China had long ago lost their identities and
become parts of the greater whole of Ryulung, and even their
languages had merged -- Hanyu and Nihongo and become Hango, the
language she was speaking now with Gerald. It hadn't taken her
long to learn and she was told her accent was almost native now.

Kazumi's grasp of Canamerican, a tongue forged primarily
from Canadian and American English with a healthy dash of old
Japanese, multiple Native American languages and a pinch of
European dialects, was better than Gerald's Hango, but he
insisted on forcing his way with the Asiatic polyglot. He was as
much a fighter as Noriko. She said, "Have you ever thought about
doing this?"

"Orbit-diving?" he demanded in Canamerican, his squint
widening and language reverting in his shock. "At my age? You
must be joking!"

"You're only eighty-two, Gerald, you've got half a life
ahead of you." Advances in medical science and environmental
relations had increased the effective life-span of human beings
to a century and a half. Noriko's spluttering disbelief had
lasted for ten minutes when she had learned how old Hanes was.
An eighty-two year old man was a revered and elderly family
patriarch in her mind, not a healthy productive man in his middle
years. It had become something of a joke between Gerald and his
"adopted niece" since then.

The speckle-bearded man harumphed. "Pretty young thing
like you shouldn't be wasting her time trying to make a fogey
like me feel better."

When Kazumi had left Earth the last time she had left
behind a dead husband and a cadre of schoolgirls who wanted
nothing more than their beloved Coach to come home safely. How
ironic, she had thought then, that the mantle of Coach had passed
from husband to wife. She had been an adult then, a little less
than a decade from beginning her own middle age... and now she
was almost a girl again, a young woman. She would live twice as
long as she had expected and have twice as many opportunities as
before. (Oh, Koichiro... Coach... I miss you so much. I wish
you could see all this. Are you looking down on me now? Will
you watch out for Noriko?) She looked back up to the sky. It
was getting close to the time. (You and Jung... I think you
will.) Her hand found the steady comfort Gerald's and the strong
Canamerican squeezed briefly. "She'll be okay."

"She'd better, or I'm gonna turn her over my knee..."


Takay a Noriko had already taken the time to talk to the
long-gone spirits of Coach and Jung, Kimiko and Takami, and her
father. Now it was time to focus. She was about to jump out of
a spaceplane and tumble three hundred kilometers to the surface
of the planet below. Every detail played through her mind as it
had done hundreds of times before, since she had decided to take
up this challenge. After all she'd traveled to the center of the
galaxy and wiped out an entire alien nemesis. How bad could this

Truth be told, Noriko was terrified. She was glad the man
she would be jumping with couldn't see her face inside her
shielded helmet. In an attempt to calm her nerves she glanced
around the Ready Chamber of the orbital shuttle. Maybe it was
just the dive suit that was making her feel so confined. There'd
be plenty of open space soon enough...

"Two minutes, Noriko," her Dive Assistant said over the
intersuit communication link. Li Kim Akira had logged fifty
orbital jumps without a single mishap and had recently graduated
to his current position within Excel. The extreme-challenge
corporation offered its services to people worldwide, granting
them a chance to go beyond the impossible to the utterly
unthinkable and come back safely. Climbing Olympus Mons (the
solar system's largest mountain by far), deep-sea diving on
Europa (once a moon of the lost Jupiter, now stable in its new
human-designed orbit around Saturn), hiking across Ishtar and
Aphrodite Terra on the blast-furnace surface of Venus, and
skydiving from Earth orbit -- these were the kinds of challenges
Excel gave to their willing clients every day. The dive was the
easiest, most common and by far the safest of Excel's packages.

Noriko privately doubted her own sanity. But the
spikey-blonde-haired Akira had insisted it was safe, and Excel
was willing to give her the chance for this jump completely free
of charge. The media attention was worth infinitely more than
the fee for the dive. Akira was looking at another promotion
fairly quickly for landing the world's biggest public-relations
whale, he had been told. The Dive Assistant was doing everything
he could to make sure nothing could possibly go wrong. Regional
Dive Leader at twenty-one! Unbelievable! And they were trusting
him with their most important client ever right now!

Akira had met Noriko six months ago at a publicity dinner
in Seoul. He had been there to put out feelers for possible
clients -- the cost of an expedition to Venus or Titan was
astronomical, from the point of view of a normal person -- and
couldn't believe his luck when the Gunbuster pilots made a
surprise appearance. He tried to deny to himself that he had
been thinking about something quite different from money when he
had seen Takaya Noriko in her white sleeveless gown, tried to
insist that he had been thinking about the company the whole
time, but he knew he was lying. Still, not only had he gotten to
talk to Noriko then, he had convinced her to think about taking
up an Excel challenge, and trained her in orbit-diving when she
finally agreed. This would probably be the last time he would
ever see her, but what a way to go. Falling with her for three
hundred kilometers. Maybe she would think it was romantic.

Once more Noriko checked the seals on the brilliant silvery
suit she wore. The materials used in the multi-layer suit would
protect her from the friction-heat of atmospheric reentry and had
originally been developed for firefighters to use in situations
where their normal protection would simply not be enough. Her
helmet's visor was specially glazed to keep out the unfiltered
rays of the sun and lent a golden cast to everything she saw. On
the ground she would have to wait while a recovery crew doused
her in special coolants, as the outside of the suit would still
be hot from her dive, but inside a powerful cooling system would
keep her comfortable.

"Final check, Noriko. You remember what to do if the
insulation between the third and fourth layers fails in any spot,
right?" With a single safeword the insulation would be flooded
with emergency coolant and sealant by the suit's maintenance
system. "And if your primary coolant unit fails?" The secondary
coolant unit would be placed on ready stand-by five seconds
before jumping, and could come on-line with another safeword.
"And if your primary chute fails to deploy?" The most basic
backup system of all, developed when parachuting had still been
young, was the secondary parachute. "Okay. Let's get into the
launchers." Akira tapped the control panel next to him and
opened the entry hatches for their individual launch tubes, then
helped Noriko climb through the circular hatch.

The initial thrust out of orbit would be provided by,
essentially, shooting them out the side of the spaceplane like
human torpedoes with low-speed electromagnetic launchers. The
pilot, once signaled by Akira that they had entered the tubes,
would roll the craft onto its side relative to the planet and
"aim" them. The claustrophobic dive-launcher system weeded out
most of the candidates who hadn't fallen pray to accute
acrophobia or panic attacks by this point; Noriko had a full
thirty seconds to change her mind once she climbed head-first
into the meter-wide tube before she was gripped by the launcher's
field. "Over" her head the outer hatch of the launcher slid
aside and she could make out the gleaming blue and white of
Earth, waiting for her. Her stomach clenched. She wondered if
Akira heard her sudden whimper.

Akira's voice in her helmet counted off the final seconds.
Noriko closed her eyes and forced herself to relax. "Five...
four... three... two... one... launch!" Then she was hurled out
of the spaceplane and into the vast emptiness beyond. Her
innards nearly rebelled against the sudden acceleration and
gradually increasing sensation of freefall.

"Noriko? Noriko, can you read me?"

"I hear you, Akira."

"What do you think?"

Her eyes opened and briefly took in the vast panorama of
Earth laid own below her without really seeing it. It didn't
seem to be moving, but a glance back showed her that the
spaceplane was falling far behind. Or, rather, she was falling
far from it. Assured that they were on their way Noriko turned
her attention back to the planet and truly saw its glory for the
first time. All her fear vanished in that instant.

The realization that there was nothing between her and this
beautiful vastness except her dive suit struck Noriko like a bolt
from Heaven. No RX Trainer, no Gunbuster, not the transparisteel
viewport of a space station. Not this time. Just her and Earth,
the most wonderful place in the universe. "It's...

"You'll remember this for the rest of your life. And just
think, I get to do this all the time. Here, link up with me."
Their parallel launch tubes had been so close together that the
divers could reach out and link hands, then turn themselves
head-to-head. They would remain that way for most of their fall.
Noriko held out her hand for Akira to take; she didn't want to
look away from the world below even for a second. The Dive
Assistant linked with her and slowly maneuvered around. "You
never did tell me why you decided to do this."

"I... I guess I figured I could do anything if I tried."

Akira's laugh was warm and hearty. "You bet! That's the
spirit! How do you feel?"

"I feel... I feel alive."

"You're almost three hundred kilometers off the ground, you

Noriko chuckled. It didn't seem to matter. "I know."

"Man, you've got to be the best diver I've ever dropped
with. Every single other one has practically peed in his suit at
this point. And you? You're laughing with me. This is great!"

She was reminded of another fall, in another time and
place... Gunbuster dropping into the core of the Black Hole
Bomb. Just her and Kazumi. After the fury of the battle to
protect Buster Machine Three the silent time the two women had
shared was like the blessing of God. Noriko remembered how they
had made one final pact with Jung and said their goodbyes.
Kazumi had reminisced on her life with Coach. They had made
plans for their lives after returning to Earth. They didn't know
how long it would take, and it didn't matter then. It was their

Now, in this long drop from orbit, she had another friend.
Akira pulled one hand away from hers long enough to give her an
enthusiastic thumbs up. She responded in kind, then linked hands
with him once more. "You know... He's still up here somewhere,
out in the middle of all this."

"He? He who?" Akira asked.

Inside her helmet Noriko grinned. "Gunbuster. It's become
a person in my mind... We always said that it had his soul,
Coach's soul. Coach and Gunbuster, they're one and the same to
me. And he's still up here in space, orbiting Earth. Watching
us. I wish I could see him. Must be lonely up here without a

(Well, if you look at it that way...) "I guess you're
right," he agreed. "I know we never really talked about
Gunbuster and what you did... I figured you'd talked about it to
so many people you were sick of it."

Noriko chewed on her lip as memories swept through her
mind. The first time she had ever piloted Gunbuster, to save the
Exelion from a surprise alien attack. Gunbuster standing tall on
the bow of that proud cosmoship to destroy the alien fleet at
Raioh. That long descent into the compressed planet Jupiter...
"Yeah. I always thought you were really sweet for treating me
like a normal person."

She heard Akira's sudden swallow and fought down a chuckle
as he spluttered, "R-really?"

"Yeah. But if you want to ask now, I'll tell you."

"I don't know where to start!" Akira couldn't believe his
good fortune. He would have traded his position with the company
for a chance to talk about Noriko's exploits. Well, almost. But
he would have given a lot, and now she was offering to tell him
all about it. A million questions caused a traffic-jam in his

"Well, let me tell you the story then, the way I remember
it..." Noriko began with her father's ship, the Luxion, and as
they fell to the blue planet below told him the tale of the war
against the aliens. Reentry friction began to burn around them
as she spoke of that first terrible battle, when Smith had never
come back. It burned all through her recounting of Jung's
challenge to her and her breakdown, her defense of Exelion and
the return to Earth. She didn't even notice that she and Akira
were glowing, human fireballs in the heavens now. On she spoke,
telling of the hero's death of Exelion and the shockwave which
followed. Of boarding the Eltreum, that gleaming-white paladin
of hope, and taking the war to the aliens. Of Buster Machine
Three and the final battle. By the time she finished the sky was
blue all around them.

"I can't even imagine living through all that," Akira said,
"to say nothing of being with someone who actually did it." The
reverie broken he realized how far they had actually fallen.
"Oh, wow. Look at your altimeter, we're only ten kilometers up
now!" Their parabolic trajectory had brought them over the
island of Honshu. Once their parachutes deployed their downrange
speed would be checked as well as their descent. "How are you

Noriko took stock of her condition. She was sweating, but
she would survive. "Suit's a bit warm but I'm okay. You?"

"Never been better." She could hear the grin in his voice.
"Hey, what're you gonna do after this?"

She hadn't given it much thought, honestly. She'd probably
have to put up with Kazumi and Gerard's alternating exasperation
and relief for weeks, at least. To say nothing of her continued
celebrity. She got to spend very little time at all in her home
outside old Kyoto. But just maybe she could manage to finagle
some time to herself. "I don't know."

"Would you like to..." Akira fell silent, and when he
didn't speak up again she began to worry.

"Akira? Are you okay?"

"...go out some time?" he finally squeezed out.

Now it was Noriko's turn to be shocked again. No one had
ever asked her out. Ever. She'd never even been kissed! "I...
um... yeah... Yes. I would."

The Dive Assistant whispered, "Oh wow..." and then coughed.
"Um, great. We're gonna have recovery crew all over us when we
land and you'll probably be swept away by your uncle and Ms.
Amano, so... you still have my company card?"

"Of course."

"You can call me at that number, any time."

"I'll do that." It was kinda sad to realize what Akira
must be feeling, pure shock that he would ever ask one of the two
most famous women in the world out on a date -- never mind that
she agreed. Still, he had been so considerate of her feelings
before. Maybe he was entitled to a little hero worship too.
"We're almost there."

They fell in silence from there, each with their own
thoughts. Their parachutes deployed flawlessly on their
heat-resistant cords to slow their descent, leaving them captured
stars burning in the sky. As they neared the field where they
would touch down Noriko spotted Kazumi and Gerard standing off by
themselves. She hoped they weren't angry with her.

As soon as they landed, their boots scorching footprints
into the ground as they ran off the last of their momentum, the
recovery crew pounced, spraying coolant over her suit and the
ground in a great hissing cloud. She counted to four hundred as
she had been instructed, and then gratefully popped the seals on
her helmet. The gathered crowd, held back by police, erupted
into cheers. Akira took her hand and held it high, shouting,
"All right! Yeah!" He thought about kissing her on the cheek,
then decided his boss would have his head. "Call me," he
mouthed, and walked away toward the company trailer to get out of
the suit.

Police let Kazumi and Gerard pass through the line. The
older Gunbuster pilot took in the sight of Noriko, helmet in
hand, hair slicked on her head with sweat and an exuberant grin
on her face, and her own expression of worry disappeared. "How
was it?"

"You gotta try it, Kazumi! It was amazing!"

"Oh, no. Not her too," protested Gerard. "You nearly gave
me a heart attack as it was, young lady!"

Noriko laughed and reached up to brush hair off her
forehead, then thought better of the suit glove on her hand. "I
gotta get out of this thing. Be right back!"

Akira was gone by the time she got to the trailer --
evidently he hadn't bothered to shower, wanting to get away from
all the fuss -- but he had left a handwritten note for her. It
would have to wait. The crew helped her out of the suit then
left her to strip out of the bodysuit she wore underneath, shower
and dress. Only when her hair was dry did she finally pick up
the note.


"Without a doubt you're the most wonderful person I've ever
been on a dive with. Sorry I went into fanboy mode up there, I
hope you don't think less of me because of it. I'll make it up,
I promise! Thanks for such a great day and I'll talk to you real
soon, okay?"

It was signed with the character for his name and a
cartoony little spikey-haired figure in a dive-suit giving a
thumbs-up. Another smile lit up Noriko's face. She couldn't
count how many times she had grinned today. Without a doubt, all
the sleepless nights spent worrying about the dive had been worth


A silver and blue vortex of cosmic energy burst into life
high above the planet and disgorged a silver metallic sliver
before collapsing in on itself once more. The planetary shuttle,
bearing the markings of the Excel corporation, confirmed its
arrival with the LaGrange point Aurora Station and set on course
for docking.

On board the shuttle, Erde Paveltova closed her handheld
computer's case and gathered her thoughts. In just half an hour
she would be meeting with her superiors -- her true superiors.
What she had to tell them was not pleasant. It could, in fact,
spell the doom of humanity unless a miracle intervened. Erde
glanced out the porthole at Earth, but she only saw her own
reflection. So like her mother, her father had always said.
Straight light brown hair trimmed carefully an inch above her
shoulders, hazel eyes gazing out over a round nose and full lips.
Everything she did was so like her mother.

Erde's parents had both worked, as she did, for the secret
guardians of humanity, and they had passed that legacy on to her.
It had never occured to Erde to protest. Pavel Alexeivich and
Gita Sabado had dedicated their whole lives to Aegis as their
parents had before them. From the moment of her birth Erde had
been part of the hidden globe-spanning organization.

"This shuttle will dock with Aurora Station in four
minutes. Please return your seats and tray tables to their
upright and locked positions. Please secure any loose baggage."

What Erde had to report could conceivably cost her
everything she had ever worked for. It had been her
responsibility to ensure the functionality of the Cytherian
Amulet, and its sudden and irrevocable failure placed the entire
burden for the success of Project Ra on the shoulders of Terra
Division. In an odd way it was comforting that there had been
almost as great a failure on the part of Terra Division just a
week ago. Almost as great. Terra had managed to recover from
the accident and could conceivably try again. Aphrodite Division
was lost.

Earth tilted away as the gleaming shuttle began to rotate
about its long axis, matching the spin of Aurora. Then metallic
walls swallowed the craft as it entered the main docking bay.
The shuttle touched down and connected with an egress tunnel
ramp. The interior address system beeped twice and the steward's
voice said, "This shuttle is now docked. Welcome to Aurora
Station." Erde ignored the tourist information that followed and
quickly made her way off the craft. She had no belongings except
her computer and she wasn't sure she'd even have that soon.

She could hear her father's voice, his trademark ancient
Russian fatalistic stoicism, saying, "Yes, things are very bad.
But at least it cannot get any worse." At which point her
European mother would simply nod, unable to decide between German
stubborn pride and Iberian passionate hope. As Erde approached
Customs she wondered what her parents were doing, back on Earth.
One way or another she'd have to call them.

Upon seeing her identification card Customs let her pass
immediately. One of the tan-uniformed officials, a small
blue-eyed man that seemed to be here every time Erde was to
deliver a report, nodded slightly to her and turned away to
disappear into the throng. She suspected his true duty was to
watch for her arrival and report it. (Well, they know I'm
coming. No chance to stall. Might as well get this over with.)
Erde drew in a deep breath for courage and made her way to the
transport tube that would take her to Excel's offices in the
corporate zone.

As she settled into a comfortable plush charcoal-hued seat
aboard the transport car, she noticed a familiar face also
boarding. Martin Tanger, the commander of Terra Division. His
square chin and solid jawline were clean-shaven for once, his
unruly mop of black hair was trimmed and combed, and he was even
wearing a suit, but there was no mistaking his trademark eyes --
left one blue, right one green. He liked the unsettling effect
it had on people, he had told her during one of their several
previous encounters, which was why he refused to have the
condition genetically treated. Tanger spotted Erde and dropped
his trim frame into the chair on her right. "What's a cute girl
like you doing in a place like this?" he said with a mischievous

"Probably the same thing you are," she replied, her voice
drab. Erde knew Tanger's flirting was completely innocent -- his
partner Derek would have a fit if it wasn't -- but she wasn't in
the mood. "You'll hear about it soon enough.

"Uh-oh, I don't like the sound of this."

"You'll like it even less when you hear what I have to say.
My head's gonna roll, more than likely." Somehow it felt a
little better to admit it. Or maybe it was admitting it to
Martin Tanger. He might be scruffy -- most of the time -- and he
might be a flirt but he was also a good man and an excellent
listener. Which, Erde suspected, was why he made such a good
Division leader as well. The car's hatch closed, and they were
the only two aboard. Out of habit Erde still dropped her voice
to a whisper barely audible above the hum of the moving car as
she said, "Aphrodite Division's in the tank."

Perhaps two seconds passed as Tanger considered all the
reasons why his Division's sister project would be failing.
There was only one, really, and when he came to that conclusion
his face paled to a sickly yellowish-white. "No..."

"Afraid so. I... don't know what we're gonna do now."

Tanger swallowed repeatedly like a man fighting nausea.
"Please tell me this is a joke, Erde. Please."

Oh, how she wished she could. Her entire life, the hopes
of everyone in Aphrodite Division and the future of the human
race had died the moment the Cytherian Amulet failed in its
latest activation test. "I'm sorry, Martin." She turned away
from the pity she saw in those mismatched eyes. It didn't help.

"There's got to be something Terra Division can do. I'll
get right on it."

"That's assuming," she told him sharply, "that Prime will
permit it." Erde's conscience, wearing her mother's face,
scowled in the back of her mind; it wasn't fair for her to take
her frustrations out on Tanger. "If they do, I'll take whatever
help you can give," she said quietly by way of apology.

The rest of the transit passed in silence. The car dropped
them off just outside the Excel station offices. Erde and Tanger
flashed their identification to the desk clerk on their way past
and pushed through the busy "customer relations room" beyond,
ignoring the chatter of service representatives at their
cluttered desks. They approached a featureless metal door
accompanied by a card-reader. A sensor system detected their
presences and, once they passed their identifaction cards through
the machine, opened the door to the small lift beyond. There
were only two buttons -- "up" and "down". Tanger pushed the
"down" key and leaned against the side wall. "It's gonna be all
right, Erde."

"Isn't it always?" she said with a false smile. The lift
stopped at the bottom and the door slid aside, opening onto a
bare white corridor. Their footsteps echoed ominously as they
approached the door at the other end. It was much like the
first, a featureless gray surface, only this one was attended by
a black palm-scanner which verified their identities and allowed
them passage to the chamber beyond.

The room was perhaps forty meters to a side and twenty
meters tall. Overhead lighting clustered in the center of the
ceiling failed to properly illuminate the vast expanse of
dark-green pseudomarble tiles. In the center, underneath the
lights, stood a round synthwood mahogany table ten meters in
diameter, surrounded by twenty black chairs. Eighteen of those
chairs were currently occupied. Three of them held the most
powerful people in the solar system, collectively known as Aegis

The low buzz of conversation thrumming through the room
died as Erde and Tanger approached the table. Neither of them
sat until the ebony-skinned Aegis Alpha, Lily St. Croix,
acknowledged their presence with a nod. "Now that Ms. Paveltova
and Mr. Tanger have arrived, we may begin. Ms. Paveltova, your
previous message stated that Aphrodite Division was in danger but
did not specify what from. While I commend your circumspection I
must also comment that you could have sent a messenger by now.
What is the situation?"

Erde stood from her chair and felt her mouth dry out. "I
regret to inform you that..." Her voice cracked. "I regret to
inform you that the Cytherian Amulet has failed."

Confusion exploded around the table. The two-meter-tall
Aegis Beta shot out of his chair on St. Croix's left, an
impressive sight. Jani Schwartzwald was not given to hysterics.
In fact, he spent many meetings without saying a single word. So
when he shouted his outraged response, almost at the top of his
lungs, Erde nearly fell back into her chair. "You were
responsible for the Amulet's upkeep! You assured us just two
weeks ago that it was in perfect working condition!" Silence
dropped onto the assembly.

"Sit down, Beta," said the man from Alpha's other side said
firmly. Takashima Mindao, Aegis Gamma, focused his cutting black
gaze on his fuming associate until the massive man regained his
seat. "Ms. Paveltova, Aphrodite Division has reported success
after success until now. Kindly explain to us what happened."

"Thank you, sir," said Erde. She wondered if anyone else
heard it as a sigh of relief. "I have here the test data. With
your permission I will link it to the projection system."

"Proceed," said St. Croix.

Erde opened her computer and keyed in the command for it to
join with the room's holographic projection system. The overhead
lights dimmed, casting the entire gathering into gloom; then
brilliant glowing graphs appeared in midair over the table.

"As you can see," Erde narrated, "everything was nominal at
the beginning of the last activation test. Specifications were
matched and exceeded and the patterns were perfectly in synch
with the previous test. At thirteen-thirty activation was
confirmed. Twenty seconds later fluctuations began to appear in
both the anti-gravaton generator and the tangential gravitic wave
node. We were unable to determine the source and attempted to
shut down, but here," she said, pointing to a glaring red
sequence only a few of them actually understood, "you can see the
disconnect signal failing to be processed. Then, ten seconds
later, the Amulet failed. All further attempts to restart have
had no success." Erde sat once more, back stiff, eyes focused on
the Prime trio.

The glowing holograms disappeared and the lights returned
to their normal brilliance. "We should have expected this," said
Frank Knight, a Canamerican research director. "The Amulets are
over twelve thousand years old and the secrets of their
construction and operation died millenia ago. We're lucky
Project Ra came this far."

"Based on the failure of Operation Lazarus," St. Croix
intoned, "and now the loss of the Cytherian Amulet, Project Ra
has met the criteria for critical failure." Her dark gaze swept
around the table from face to face. Aegis Prime had reached the
conclusion after Lazarus' failure that one more mishap would end
the effort, and now that time had come. No one dared gainsay
their decision, which made what she had to say next much easier.
"In its place we are instituting Project Ragnarok."

Tanger leaned forward in his chair. "Is it really that
desperate, ma'am?" He turned to look at Erde for a moment, his
off-colored eyes taking in her rigid refusal to collapse. "Terra
Division can spare engineers. Using the specs from the Tellurian

St. Croix cut him off. "We don't have time for that." The
dark woman stood, commanding all attention to fall on her in that
motion. "Project Ragnarok is effective immediately. Terra
Division will continue with Project Lazarus and testing the
Tellurian Amulet. Aphrodite Division will be relocated to Aurora
Station, renamed Artemis Division and given the task of
reclaiming the Gunbuster machine from orbit in secret. Terra and
Artemis Divisions will continue to report directly to Aegis Prime
through their Division leaders."

"And the Pilots?" asked a political agent whose name Erde
did not know.

"That situation is being handled even as we speak," said
Takashima. "Your Division commanders will be notified of the
success of that particular project."

"That is all," said St. Croix. "Any further details will
be made available to your Division commanders. You are
dismissed. Mr. Tanger, Ms. Paveltova, if you will remain a

Since his outburst Schwartzwald had remained completely
silent. The mountainous Aegis Beta wore a scowl like a
stormfront on his face as the room emptied of all but Aegis Prime
and the commanders of Terra and Artemis Divisions. (It doesn't
help that the bad lighting makes him look like some kind of giant
out of Norse myth,) thought Erde. (It's not as if the Amulet's
failure was my fault. We did the best we could...)

"Erde? Are you gonna be all right?" asked Tanger. Erde
blinked and noticed her cheeks were damp. She hurriedly wiped
her face on her sleeve before answering him.

"I'm fine."

"If you need anything..."

She sniffed once, cleared her throat and sneered at the
world to regain her composure. "You'll be asking me for help
soon enough."

"I'm sure I will," Tanger told her with amusement.

St. Croix moved away from her chair on the other side of
the table and walked around toward them. "Thank you for staying.
Ms. Paveltova, we do not blame you for the failure of the Amulet,
despite my colleague's outburst." The dark woman gave
Schwartzwald a long, scathing silent rebuke. "You have served
Aegis with honor and distinction and we need you more than ever."

"Told you so," Tanger stage-whispered.

Erde blinked several times in surprise at the man's sheer
impishness. St. Croix chuckled, a sound neither of them had ever
heard before, and said, "As for you, Mr. Tanger, we expect your
stellar performance to continue. Operation Lazarus must not

Tanger nodded. "Doing my best, ma'am. Bringing someone
out of cryostasis after twelve thousand years isn't easy,
especially since we don't really understand how it was done in
the first place, but we'll have her awake and fighting."

"I don't have any doubts. Jung Freud put her trust in
Aegis all those ages ago. We can't let her down."

If Erde hadn't been sitting at that point, she would have
fallen. Jung Freud? Cryostasis? That was a myth! Operation
Lazarus was supposed to be Terra Division's code name for working
with the Tellurian Amulet. "How... Martin, why didn't you..."

"Mr. Tanger was not permitted to tell you the details of
Operation Lazarus for security reasons," Takashima said from
across the table. Tanger shrugged in helpless agreement, though
he was clearly amused by the whole situation. "Aegis Prime has
decided that, in light of the implementation of Project Ragnarok,
it was time for you to know the whole story."


Tanger touched her shoulder briefly, steadying her with a
friendly smile. "It goes something like this. You're familiar
with how Aegis developed the Amulets to protect Earth, Venus and
the larger moons from the Raioh blast wave. They also had
developed a few other experimental technologies, all of which
were discarded over the years as unnecessary, potentially
threatening to humanity's stability. All except one. And the
only time it was ever used was when Jung Freud made her fervent
wish to find a way to wait for her friends to return. Aegis
approached her and offered her that chance. Cryostasis."

"It wasn't entirely altruistic," Takashima added. "Aegis
knew that it might eventually need someone with her skills and
fighting spirit in the future. By putting Freud into cryostasis
Aegis gained control over her future. Aegis has waited over
twelve thousand years for the right moment to bring her back, and
that time is now."

This was all... too much. Erde felt a headache bearing
down on her. The legendary hero Jung Freud had been immortalized
in stories since her return from space with the victorious Earth
fleet. To know that the Russian was still alive, in cold sleep,
and would conceivably be awake very soon... She was definitely
going to have to take some time to herself to absorb this. "You
mentioned the Pilots. Takaya Noriko and Amano Kazumi?"

Schwartzwald finally broke his silence. "Correct," he
rumbled. "We have an operative close to them. Once Gunbuster is
firmly in our grasp we will bring them into Aegis. We have no
doubt they will agree to pilot it again."

Three living legends at once. Erde could see the wisdom in
Aegis' ages-long secrecy. The entire world would be in a frenzy
at the slightest hint of Jung Freud's return. And as for why
Aphrodite Division -- no, it was Artemis Division now, she
corrected herself -- would have to find a way to reclaim and
rebuild Gunbuster itself completely out of the public eye... The
thought was so terrifying it refused to form in her mind. "No
doubt, sir. We won't fail."

The giant man pierced her with his gaze. "I know."
Somewhere deep inside Erde hoped this was Schwartzwald's way of
showing his faith in her.

"Project Ragnarok will test us all, but we're certain of
our success," said St. Croix. "Ms. Paveltova, you should return
to Venus immediately and begin the transfer of your Division.
Aegis Prime will remain on Aurora Station to await your arrival."

And that was definitely that. Taking her cue Erde stood
and nodded to the three members of Aegis Prime, then made her way
toward the exit. Tanger stood to follow but was stopped by
Takashima. Erde heard as the door closed, "About this impending
marriage of yours..." She hadn't even known that Martin and
Derek had gotten engaged. Her lips twitched in a faint frown.
That little sneak! Probably didn't want everyone congratulating
him. Well, she'd show him, especially if they would be working
closer together.


Pers istent beeping roused Kazumi from a light doze,
interrupting her hitherto-blissfully silent sunbathing. Her eyes
drifted open behind her dark sunglasses and she sat up on the
form-sensitive lounging couch to reach for her phone. The
couch's sun-warmed surface shifted under her weight to match the
changing curvature of her body. Where was that phone? It didn't
seem to be on either side of the couch and yet... oh, there it
was. Under her book. Well, she thought of it as a book;
technically it was a "personal electronic data reader" loaded
with library software. Kazumi fished the phone out from under
the book and pushed the "receive" button. "Hello?"

Noriko's excited voice reached her from the other end.
"You're never gonna believe this, Kazumi. We've been invited to

The younger woman wasn't given to strange fits of
hysterics, so Kazumi reasoned this had to be more than yet
another marriage proposal or Gerald bundling them off to some
hole-in-the-wall in the middle of nowhere. She decided to have
some fun. "Dinner, hmm? A date with that handsome young
orbit-diver of yours?"

"He is not--" Noriko began, ruffled.

"Oh, so you found someone new?" interrupted Kazumi, her
teasing continuing. "My, Noriko, you're certainly becoming a bit
of a maneater."


"I suppose he'd like to date us both, and we've been
invited to go out with him to a high-class restaurant in Paris or
Milan..." Kazumi bit her bottom lip to keep from laughing.

Noriko grumbled for a moment before informing her, "We've
been invited to be guests of honor at a dinner aboard the Cloud

"The..." That brought the older woman's teasing to a dead
halt. The luxury liner Cloud Angel was the most prestigious
civilian ship in the solar system. No ordinary liner, the ship
sailed the oceans of Saturn's cloudy face, offering its wealthy
and powerful passengers an unmatched view. "Is this dinner just
for us?"

"Uh-uh. Excel's throwing this party for some of their
clients, and we're on the list."

Nevermind that Noriko hadn't paid for her orbital dive, and
that Kazumi had nothing to do with it at all. "Who else will be

Noriko paused for a moment. "The ones I know for sure are
Lina Van Dyne, that popular actress, and the son of the president
of Avalon, I think his name is Charles? I had the guest list
here a minute ago... Anyway. There's about ten other people
besides you and me, and they said Gerald could come too. In fact
he's the one who told me."

Kazumi considered the reasons they would be invited to such
an event. After four years the world was still ravenous for
anything involving herself or Noriko. News, rumors, sound bites,
pictures, it didn't matter. The most likely reason for this
invitation that Kazumi could think of was that Excel was
exploiting the general public's hunger and making itself look
good by associating the Gunbuster pilots with its name. "You
sound very excited. I take it you want to go?"

"Yes," Noriko admitted. "I know you're probably tired of
all the public appearances and all, so we don't have to go if you
don't want to, but... I'd like to see the Cloud Angel." Well,
that wasn't the only reason. She wanted to meet Lina Van Dyne,
and if it was Excel, she might have a chance to see Akira again.
"What do you think?"

"We'll be swimming in paparazzi, you know."

"I'm used to it by now," the younger woman lied. She
couldn't stand it, but it was all part of being who she was.
Maybe she'd truly get used to it some day. "Wait, does that mean
you'll go?"

Even if she hadn't wanted a chance to board the famous
luxury liner, Kazumi knew she would have agreed just because of
the enthusiasm in her friend's voice. "Certainly. When do we

Noriko's reply was incredibly sheepish. "Well, actually,
Gerald's on his way over to pick you up now. Our shuttle leaves
for Saturn at twenty-one hundred. Twenty your time."

Somehow it just figured. "I'll start packing, then."

"Great! I'll see you when you get here!"

"See you soon." Kazumi deactivated the phone and slumped
back on the lounging couch. It had been a whole week since
Noriko's dive. The media blitz had died off two days later.
Five days of peace... It was more than she was used to. After a
few more lazy minutes in the sun she convinced herself to stand
up from the couch and collect her book.

Kazumi's home high above the gleaming city of Hong Kong was
small compared to the palatial mansion she could have accepted,
but it was still quite large, especially since she was the only
person in it. Three maids came twice a week to clean but they
weren't much for conversation. Most times Kazumi didn't notice;
she spent more nights sleeping in presidential suites than she
did in her own bed. She wasn't particularly attached to the
house, and sometimes considered moving in with Noriko outside
Kyoto just for the company. Certainly someone else in this, the
most prosperous city in the solar system, would gladly move in.
Kazumi walked through the open transparisteel patio door, passed
through the dining room and living room and made her way up the
curving steps to the second floor.

She knew she wouldn't miss the bed. The king-sized
pseudowood monstrosity was far too empty and made her miss
Koichiro as she lay awake upon it in the middle of the night.
She didn't think she'd ever find the proper setting on the
adjustable-firmness control embedded in the headboard either.
How long ago had simple beds gone out of fashion? Such a waste.

The closet was even worse. A room in itself, it was eight
meters long and six meters wide and filled with racks of clothing
she had never worn. (I could clothe half the girls at the
Academy with what I don't wear,) she thought with a disapproving
sigh as the overhead light panels activated with the opening of
the door. This trip would be an excuse to try out some of the
outfits, at least. After stripping off her swimsuit and dressing
she selected several casual blouses and skirts, hose, shoes and
two light jackets, then turned to the formalwear. (Here's the
fun part,) she told herself. Perhaps... yes. The slit-sided
spaghetti-strap that matched her hair and eyes and the heels and
elbow-length gloves to go with it. (Easier than I thought.) She
added a matching choker and nibbled on her bottom lip for a
moment, wondering if there was anything she was missing.

At that point the doorbell rang. Kazumi walked to the
intercom panel -- in the closet of all places, what had they
thought when they built this place? She would never understand
that -- and turned on the camera. Gerald stood patiently at the
front door, hands in the pockets of his white windbreaker. (How
did he got here so fast?) Kazumi pushed the "talk" button on the
panel. "Come on in, it's not locked. I'm upstairs."

She was carefully folding out the clothing she had laid on
the bed when Gerald reached her room. "Typical woman, taking
forever," he teased her in Hango.

"Noriko only called me twenty minutes ago," Kazumi replied
with an exaggerated "harumph".

The dark man spluttered for a moment, then grumbled
something Kazumi couldn't understand. "I told her to call when I
left her house," he went on in Canamerican. "I swear,

"You shouldn't talk that way about one of the saviors of
humanity," she told him with mock seriousness. Then she said
with a smile, "She probably wanted to play a joke on me and let
you show up without me knowing what was happening, but then her
conscience got the better of her."

"Little imp. I'll give her a joke when we get back."

She couldn't help but snicker. "Let me finish packing and
we can go."

Gerald told her about his trip on the high-speed Poseidon
undersea maglev transport as Kazumi contined her work. Spanning
the nineteen-hundred kilometer distance between Kagoshima on the
island of Kyushu and Hong Kong, the aptly-nicknamed "Ocean Comet"
shot through its tunnel across the seabed at speeds nearing one
thousand kilometers per hour. Though Kazumi had ridden aboard
Poseidon several times, Gerald had never set foot on it until
today. Though he did his best to hide it she could tell he was
highly impressed with "flying underwater", as he called it.

Once she had everything packed Gerald pointedly forced
Kazumi to let him carry her suitcase and the sealed garment bag
with her dress down to the waiting car. She programmed the alarm
system, wondering why she was even bothering as she did so.
(It's not like I own anything irreplaceable or sentimental.) All
of her personal effects had returned to Earth twelve thousand
years ago with the Eltreum. (Getting bitter, Kazumi?) she asked
herself. (Or just jaded? Either way, this isn't good.)

The chauffeured white aircar's interior was a plush light
tan fabric over form-sensitive seats. The car boasted a
fully-stocked minibar and a satellite uplink. Kazumi availed
herself of the latter to call Noriko as the rounded, oblong
vehicle began to move away from the house, propelled by twin
gravitic-motion pods mounted in the rear which functioned much
like the lifters that kept the car off the ground.

Traffic was surprisingly light once they reached the ninth
transit level downtown, four hundred meters above the streets.
Above and below streams of flying vehicles wound their way
through the kilometer-deep glass and steel urban canyons. Kazumi
did her best not to look out the window at the dizzying display,
or to notice the busy men and women in their high-rise offices;
space combat was one thing, this was something quite different.

The Hong Kong Poseidon Terminal had been built hard against
the shore of Kowloon Bay. The maglev's transparent track-tunnel
burst from the water a kilometer offshore and was supported by
massive struts anchored into the floor of the bay itself. After
reaching the terminal and disgorging its passengers the train
tunneled underground in a wide turnaround loop, returning to the
platform facing the opposite direction on the same track. The
stationhouse itself was fancifully designed to resemble a
classical Greek temple, a shining white pseudomarble facade lined
with columns and decorated with intricately-carved statuary. The
car descended to ground level and passed through the
traffic-control gate into a large paved circle dominated by a
ten-meter-high fountain, a figure of Poseidon, Lord of the Sea,
standing amidst frolicking merfolk.

The black-liveried driver set the car down just in front of
the broad pseudomarble steps leading to the main entrance. He
opened and held the door for Gerald and Kazumi. She stepped out
into the sunshine and stretched, grateful to be on the ground
once more.

The spacious -- and currently unoccupied -- floor of the
terminal's main hall was laid out in grand colorful mosaics
depicting scenes from ancient Greek mythology and lit from above
by vast transparisteel skylights. Kazumi, suitcase in hand
despite Gerald's best efforts, strode across the birth of
Aphrodite just inside the doors and passed over Pandora opening
the box, Prometheus giving fire to mankind and Theseus facing
down the Minotaur on her way to the baggage-check desk. The
fresh-faced young Canamerican man in a navy and burgundy uniform
on the other side of the polished white counter greeted Kazumi
with an almost unnatural enthusiasm. "Good afternoon, Ms. Amano.
Such an honor to see you!" the clerk gushed. "Welcome to
Poseidon. Would you like to check your baggage?"

Kazumi glanced at the man's nametag, which cheerfully
proclaimed "Kevin" in gold-trimmed black letters. "Yes, Kevin, I
would like to check these," she said as she set her suitcase onto
the scanner platform to the left of the counter. The machinery
hidden under the black glasslike surface quickly determined she
had no contraband or explosive devices and a green light appeared
on Kevin's touchpanel. The clerk moved the suitcase to a
conveyor belt behind his work station. It disappeared into the
wall through a rectangular portal. Gerald placed the garment bag
on the scanner; it too was cleared and vanished into the wall.
Gerald had no baggage of his own and said so. Kazumi wondered if
the clerk would have even noticed her companion if the
dark-skinned man hadn't spoken up. (Yet another price of
celebrity,) she told herself.

"Here we are," said Kevin, handing over the two
twelve-centimeter by eight-centimeter electronic slates that were
their boarding passes. They each pressed their right thumbs to a
small square in the lower right corner. The passes recognized
their unique prints and activated, displaying their names,
pictures, checked baggage and seat assignments. When they lifted
their thumbs the passes deactivated. "You're welcome to board at
any time. Departure is at precisely fifteen-hundred hours." A
quick glance at the clock on the wall behind Kevin told Kazumi
that it was already fourteen-forty. "Enjoy your trip aboard

Kazumi nodded her thanks and walked away across more
mosaics depicting the seige of Troy, the voyages of Odysseus and
the splendour of Olympus itself to reach the doors separating the
main hall from the boarding platform. Beyond those doors Kazumi
could see the sleek white metal of Poseidon's hull, boarding
hatches standing open and ready to receive them. The
bored-looking, burgundy-and-navy uniformed conductor standing on
the platform didn't even blink as she held up her activated pass
for him to verify. He examined her pass and Gerald's, waved them
on to their proper car with a monotone platitude and resumed his
idle watch as the pair moved on. Kazumi thought, (Someone who
doesn't fall all over himself when he sees me. I could kiss

They stepped into a lavish foyer where they were greeted by
a second crewmember, a small blonde woman with a pleasant precise
Avalon accent. "Welcome aboard Poseidon. Please allow me to
show you to your seats." The stewardess led them through a
pseudowood double door and into the car itself, where several
other passengers were already accomodated. The interior was
almost nine meters wide and thirty meters long, with two broad
aisles between the twin rows of double window seats and the
single row of triple seats in the center. Each aisle appeared to
be laid out in white and green marble and was edged with gold.
The seats were upholstered in a lush hunter green fabric that
looked sinfully soft and felt even better.

After a brief glance at their passes the stewardess brought
the pair to twin seats next to one of the car's windows. "Here
you are sir, madam. We will be departing shortly. Once we have
reached our cruising velocity we will be offering refreshments."
With a charming smile the woman returned to the foyer.

Several heads turned to make note of the new arrivals, and
all eyes focused almost imediately on Kazumi. She felt the
weight of their stares and swallowed involuntarily. (This is
really starting to get annoying.) "Would you mind if I took the
window seat, Gerald?" she asked her companion.

"Go right head," he said. He glared a mute challenge at
the gawking passengers, who all turned away quickly.

Kazumi whispered her thanks and slipped into her chosen
seat. As she had suspected it would, it molded to the curves of
her body almost immediately. (I'd almost welcome a nice hard
bench sometimes,) she mused. Occupied with her growing
discontent with the pampered life she led in the hundred
forty-first century, she stared unseeing at the platform outside
her window.

"Where are you right now?" she imagined her husband asking
her as he often had when she got that far-away look. "What does
it look like?" he would wonder. Most times she would tell him
everything that was on her mind. Once in a while she would
simply shake her head and let it go, safe in the knowledge that
Koichiro's presence could fix anything. What would he think of
this train? He probably would say that as long as she was happy,
he wouldn't care if it was a leaky dinghy in the middle of the
ocean. He always had a way of making her the focus of his entire

Kazumi wished she at least still had her wedding band,
something to touch that had been touched by him. She had kept it
safe in her personal effects, counting on returning to the
Eltreum after the final battle with the aliens. Now it was lost
in the vast gulf of time, just like he was. The unpleasant turn
of her thoughts shook her from her reverie just as Poseidon
plunged into his domain and bright sunshine gave way to pale
depths. The car's overhead lights and the illumination lines of
the tunnel soon cast the interior in sharp contrast to the
ever-darkening ocean outside.

"You feeling okay?" Gerald asked her. He wore such a look
of concern that she took her friend's hand and squeezed gently.

"I'm all right," she said with a nod. "Just... thinking
about the past."

"Forgive me if I seem out of line when I say this, but...
You do that way too much."

He was right, and she knew it. She was still living in the
twenty-first century, still trying to scramble back aboard the
Eltreum with Jung Freud and drag Noriko with her. "I wish I
could stop." Gerald gave a "hmmm" but didn't actually say
anything. She could tell by his look that there were a thousand
things he wanted to tell her, but he would, as always, let her do
as she wished without any interference. "Please tell me what's
on your mind."

"Just thinking about how you live, all alone like that.
Nothing to occupy you. No wonder you think about the past all
the time, you don't have a chance to live in the present." He
gave a quick disparaging glance to the other passengers, who even
now were trying to sneak glances at the famous hero, Amano
Kazumi. "Everybody's just eating up your life and not leaving
any for you."

"I've got you and Noriko, that's all I really need."

His lips twisted in a disbelieving smirk. "I'll believe
that when the sun rises in the west, Kazumi. You need something
in your life."

"Like what? A relationship?"

Gerald laughed a quiet, self-depricating laugh and shook
his head negatively. "No. I'm nobody to be going around giving
out advice about those, not after three divorces. But there's
gotta be something you can do, something to get you grounded."

"Four years ago I didn't care. But now I think you're
right. I've been idle too long. I need to be me again, not some
picture on a page, not some hero." (But what could I do,) she
wondered, (without having cameras all around me every hour of the

"I've got an idea for you," Gerald said, "but I don't want
to talk about it right now. I'll tell you on the shuttle and
give you some time to think about it." It wasn't like Gerald to
keep a secret. Whatever he had in mind must have been important.
"What do you think about when you live in the past like that?" he
asked, changing the subject.

"My husband, mostly. Sometimes I think about the Academy,
or the war. Serving with Noriko. There's a lot that happened
that we never talk about, sometimes I find myself wishing it
could have been different. But Noriko and I are like sisters
now, so I guess in the end it doesn't really matter."

"If you ever want to talk about it, I'm always listening."

"I know." Kazumi gave Gerald's hand another grateful
squeeze. "No time like the present, I guess. I first met Noriko
one day at the Academy when she was being harrassed by some

Gerald listened as Kazumi told him the story, how she had
encouraged Noriko, given the younger girl a strip of cloth to
keep her hair out of her face; her shock when it was discovered
that Noriko was the daughter of the captain of the Luxion, one of
the first casualties in the war against the aliens, and that
Noriko was the second student chosen from the Academy to serve
aboard the cosmoship Exelion; meeting Jung Freud, the legendary
Russian "girl genius", and their first duel; the disastrous
encounter with the Luxion, returned from the depths of space.
All the while Kazumi had harbored growing doubts about Noriko,
doubts that eventually pushed her to break up her partnership
with the younger girl and find a new teammate. Now, so many
years later, Kazumi reviled her own selfishness as she told of
her continual arguments with the man who would one day become her
husband, debating Noriko's capability as a fighter and her
fitness to be one of the pilots chosen for the top-secret
Gunbuster weapon.

"I was so focused on myself that I couldn't see how much
pain and doubt Noriko was drowning in," she said. "Then there
was that very first engagement with the aliens, when her new
partner was killed. Noriko told me about it later on. One
second he was there, the next... gone. No scream, nothing.
Just... gone." Kazumi shook her head ruefully. "And me? I just
used it as more proof that she wasn't fit. Coach kept on
ignoring me. And I was never happier to be wrong."

A surprise attack in subspace at the end of their tour gave
Noriko the chance to prove herself once and for all. Kazumi
didn't even notice that every passenger in the car with them was
listening in rapt fascination as she described the desperate
battle to survive. When all hope had seemed lost, when even the
"girl genius" was faced with her end, Noriko -- and Gunbuster --
turned the tide.

"Something inside me changed when I saw it. Somehow I
learned how selfish I had been. Well, almost."

"Almost?" Gerald blinked, then noticed the stares. He was
about to tell them all to mind their own business when Kazumi
stopped him.

"It's okay. Have you all been listening?"

A bespectacled gentleman wearing a charcoal three-piece
suit in the center seat, one row back, nodded. "I have at the
very least," he said, his precise diction marking him as another
citizen of Avalon. "I'm honored. Please, don't let us

From the other side of the car a businessman from Hong
Kong, a short, balding man Kazumi recognized as the president of
a major corporate conglomerate, stood and bowed his respect.
"Thank you for sharing your story with us, Ms. Amano. Please

From all around came murmurs of respect. Kazumi wasn't
quite sure what to make of the attention, so different from the
devouring frenzy that normally filled crowds when she appeared.
"I... Thank you," she said. "This is probably the first time
strangers have treated me like a person and not an icon since I
dropped out of the sky four years ago. Well, except for my
friend Gerald, here." She cleared her throat, then accepted a
glass of water from the stewardess who had welcomed her aboard.
"Where was I... Oh. Noriko and Gunbuster."

Now that she was certain the people listening to her tale
were interested in her as a human being and not a celebrity, she
moved from her seat next to the window and sat on the outer arm
of the seat in front of Gerald. She continued on through the
initial culture shock of returning home after ten years had
passed on Earth, her shared graduation ceremony with Noriko and
encountering Noriko's old friend Kimiko immediately after. "I'm
glad I didn't know Kimiko except as Noriko's friend. I really
didn't have any idea what to say at that point," she admitted.

Kazumi went on to tell of the heartbroken flight away from
Earth to bid farewell to the Exelion. "This is where that
'almost' I mentioned before comes in. If Noriko hadn't been
persuasive enough to bring me out of my grief at the thought of
never seeing Coach again, the mission would have failed and we
wouldn't be sitting here right now. It wasn't until she made me
see what we were fighting for that the changes that began when I
first saw Gunbuster were complete." She took a sip of her water
and looked around. They were all watching her still, hanging on
her every word.

At that moment the stewardess informed them that Poseidon
was nearing its deceleration point for approach to Kagoshima.
Kazumi handed over the empty glass and looked around. "Guess I
talked more than I thought. Didn't even get to the years Noriko
was out in space and I was at home with my husband on Earth."

"You've given us more than you'll ever know, Ms. Amano,"
said the man with the glasses. "Then, and now." His words were
echoed throughout the car. Kazumi found herself fighting back
tears as she sat next to Gerald once more.

"I can't believe I just told my life story to a bunch of
complete strangers like I was holding court or something," she
whispered as she reclaimed her composure. "And they listened to
the entire thing!"

Gerald looked at her with a beaming smile. "You needed
that. You needed for someone to hear you and still treat you
like a person. So you did a little grandstanding, so what?"

"Just don't expect me to do that again," Kazumi replied.
She felt... a million times better. Like the weight of the
entire world had just dropped from her shoulders and she was free
again. All thanks to a car full of strangers. Maybe this
century wasn't so bad after all.

The impenetrable murk of the ocean began to lighten as
Poseidon's track rose toward the surface. When the maglev broke
free of the waves Kazumi could see the late afternoon sunlight
playing across the towers of Kagoshima. From here they would
catch a shuttle to Kyoto, where Noriko was waiting.

The Kagoshima Poseidon terminal was a twin sister to the
one in Hong Kong, its columns, mosaics and skylights in exactly
the same order and position. Kazumi smiled wryly. (Something to
be said for sticking with a good design, I suppose.) The baggage
claim yeilded her suitcase and garment bag with a minimum of
fuss, and they were on their way to the railway station.

The train, a high-speed monorail much like the ones Kazumi
had been familiar with in the twenty-first century, shot them out
of Kagoshima and across the Japanese countryside at seven hundred
kilometers per hour. The train rocketed across the island of
Kyushu, crossed a rail bridge between Kyushu and Honshu and
dashed over the main island toward its destination. All the
while Kazumi was silent, pondering the implications of her
experience aboard Poseidon. A little piece of her faith in the
human race had been restored by her fellow passengers, just at
the moment she needed it the most. Bolstered by her newfound
happiness she spent most of the trip to Kyoto humming snippets of
her favorite songs and gazing at the mountains and fields in the
evening light.

Noriko was waiting for them when they stepped off the
train. Kazumi could feel the younger woman's excitement as a
tangible sensation and found that it was infectious. The
brunette led them to yet another car, this one taking them to the
spaceport for their flight. In just over an hour and a half they
would be on their way.

"So did you like Poseidon?" Noriko asked Gerald.

The man scratched at his salt-and-pepper beard and nodded.
"Never seen anything like it. Couldn't see anything outside most
of the time, but the view in the shallows was impressive."

"I thought you'd like it," replied Noriko, certainty strong
in her voice. "It's probably my favorite way to travel. But I
can't wait to see the Cloud Angel."

Kazumi agreed. "I think it's something we're never going
to forget."

Again, celebrity proved its benefits as they breezed
through the spaceport to their waiting shuttle. The powerful
craft would launch down a long ramp, much like the spaceplane
they had taken to reach the Silver Star Station so many years
ago, but once it reached space it would continue on past Luna,
where it would reach into one of the miracles of the universe --
another dimension of existence, beyond even the subspace touched
by the Tannhauser Gate warp travel of old. This space was simply
called Otherspace, and they would travel through it to reach
Saturn faster than any warp engine ever could.

Otherspace, Gerald explained to them, had first been
reached by humans in the year 3652. It was like the "hyperspace"
of science fiction, a place where spatial dimensions were altered
and ships could traverse vast distances in short times without
suffering the effects of Relativity. Scientists were quick to
analyze the findings and the first Otherspace ships were built to
much fanfare. Those ships struck out for the stars, the pride of
the human race.

Not a single ship returned.

No one knew why the ships had been lost. No message was
ever received, no cry for help, no warning. New ships were built
and dispatched, and they too disappeared without a trace. Rumors
of a new alien threat raced around the planet. Desperate to
stave off global panic, the world governments released reports
from scientific inquiries which stated that Otherspace beyond
Pluto's aphelion was rife with unpredictable and deadly currents.
Otherspace drives were restricted to use within the solar system
and traditional warp drives continued to power any ship that
passed from that cradle.

For eleven millennia people tried to figure out why
Otherspace was so dangerous. Private citizens and massive
corporations funded their own expeditions, all of which failed.
It was still a mystery. Cults had periodically risen claiming
that Otherspace was the realm of the gods, or of God, and that
humanity was not meant to tread upon it.

"How do you know so much about this?" Noriko wondered.

Gerald grimmaced sourly. "I read a lot."

The trip to Saturn would take no more than eighty minutes,
the time it took light from the sun to reach the ringed giant,
but that hour-plus would be spent in Otherspace where Relativity
had no meaning. Eighty minutes would pass aboard the shuttle;
eighty minutes would pass in the normal world. Einstein wasn't
cheated, he was left out of the conversation entirely. Kazumi
found herself wondering what the ancient patent clerk would think
of that.


The man staring back at Akira from the body-length mirror
was a handsome devil, if he did say so. He wore a white,
military style jacket, trim against the hips and wide at the
shoulders, lined with gold piping about the seams of the yoke and
along the tops of his shoulders. A high collar in a contrasting
fabric of dark blue was the framework for a perfectly placed silk
kerchief that made an elegant ruffle at his throat. Just above
and toward the torso from each arm were four round medallions of
gold, the piping running to and around them. Gold buttons were
aligned in rows along both the white and the blue, which ran down
the center of his body to where the wide, white belt was fastened
around the trim waist of his matching piped white trousers.
Well-polished boots of snowy leather completed the ensemble.

He combed his fingers through the neat blonde spikes atop
his head, adjusted the jacket one final time with a satisfied
tug, and pulled on his matching white gloves. Finally, he would
get to see her again.

Takaya Noriko had been the only thing he could focus his
thoughts on since the moment he had met her. She hadn't called
him yet, but he was certain that was just because she was such a
busy person. His life couldn't have gotten better -- and then
the call came from Excel, and within a matter of days he had been
inducted into the lowest level of a world-spanning
millennia-enduring conspiracy to protect the human race and sent
on his way to the Cloud Angel. He was afraid somebody was going
to pinch him and he'd wake up to the horrible realization that
this was all just a dream.

Akira had been asleep when the Gunbuster pilots' planetary
shuttle arrived. The vagueries of time and travel played havoc
with their schedules, one and all; the pilots had arrived some
time around ten in the morning local time and gone straight to
their cabins to rest. Akira spent the afternoon flitting about
in nervous excitement at knowing Noriko was on board, trying to
burn off energy in one the liner's three gyms, wandering both art
galleries and completely failing to pay attention to a movie at
one of the six on-board virtual-reality cinemas. But finally it
was time for dinner. Finally he could see Noriko again.

Doubt lurked in the corner of his mind. Yes, she was busy,
but she hadn't called. Would she even be glad to see him? She'd
be in the company of Amano Kazumi and a host of other
celebrities. He was just Li Kim Akira, the guy she'd fallen to
Earth with, nobody special. How could he compete with Lina Van

"You don't have time to start this crap," he growled at his
reflection. "Of course she'll be happy to see you. Who
wouldn't? Young, charming, dashing, dressed to kill. That's
you, Akira." His courage bolstered, however fragilely, by his
self-delivered pep-talk he turned to exit his cabin and reached
the door the moment the buzzer announced a guest. He opened the
door, prepared to greet Noriko with a jaunty grin, and felt his
knees nearly buckle when he saw who it really was.

Gerald Hanes stared the young man in the eye. "Mind if I
come in?" he said in his native language.

"Er, uh..." Completely put off by the
conservatively-attired dark Canamerican, Akira stammered for
several seconds before nodding and stepping aside. "I didn't
know you'd be here," he managed finally.

"I go just about everywhere with those girls," Hanes
replied. He was dressed in a simple black tuxedo, white shirt
and black shoes, and a crimson rose on his chest. "You know

"Does this mean the dinner is official business?"

"I'm afraid so," said the elder man. "Nothing you have to
be concerned with. I'll be handling this one."

The younger man wondered aloud, "I wonder why I'm here,
then." Akira knew that Hanes was one of the higher-ranking
members of Aegis. He'd had a chance to meet the older man once
after being inducted into Aegis a few days ago as a probationary
agent. Akira also knew that Hanes was a close friend of both
Noriko and Kazumi, but he hadn't been told that Aegis had any
plans for the pilots. In fact, he realized suddenly, he probably
wasn't supposed to know it now. "If you don't mind my asking,
sir... Why are you here? Talking to me? I'm just a peon..."

Hanes smiled briefly, flashing perfectly-aligned pearls of
teeth. "Because I know I can trust you to look after one or the
other of them while we're here. Noriko will probably want to see
the entire ship, and I'm simply not up to that kind of exertion.
She and I will probably spend some time together later, which
means I'll also want you to keep an eye on Kazumi while we do

Akira would have been elated if he hadn't had a paranoid
thought. "Do you expect there to be trouble?"

"I always expect trouble," the dark man said grudgingly,
"and I'm pleasantly surprised when it doesn't happen. I'm also
authorized to let you in on a few things. Congratulations, your
probationary period is over." He watched with a stern expression
as the youth grasp for words, then grinned to break the tension.
"Come on, the girls are waiting, and I'm starved. I'll fill you
in later."

"Y-yes sir!"

"Dammit, boy, don't call me 'sir', my name is Gerald."

"Yes sir! I mean... Gerald."

The wide tan-carpeted corridors were deserted except for a
scarlet-uniformed security guard escorting a small group of
tourists who had evidently gotten lost. One of them was taking
pictures of everything with a holocamera as he followed the
put-upon guard, who was doing his best to herd the tourists out
of the private section that included Akira's cabin. The man's
coffee-and-creamer skin and mahogany eyes marked him as
Balliwallan, descended from the mix of aboriginals and ancient
Europeans that lived in that wild land, and his twanging yet
lyrical expressions of amazement almost made Gerald laugh; only
long years of practice allowed him to maintain decorum. Upon
seeing Gerald and Akira the man lifted the camera and snapped a
few shots before the Canamerican's sudden thunderhead scowl made
him think better of it. Gerald followed the retreating tourist
and guard with his eyes until they vanished around a corner into
another corridor.

Akira shook his head and asked, "What was that all about?"

"Don't know. And I don't like having my picture taken
without my permission." Gerald shrugged, then straightened his
tuxedo jacket and began walking once more, urging the young man
along ahead of him. "Let's get moving before any more stupid
tourists wander through."


Nori ko fidgeted with the broad neckline-facing of her dress
for perhaps the tenth time in five minutes. She wasn't really
accustomed to formalwear, especially an elegant off-the-shoulder
bit like the forest-green dress she was wearing now. To keep
herself from fiddling with the fabric, which continually felt
like it was going to fall down, she focused on her own reflection
in the viewport. Dangling curved earrings of gold and emerald
twinkled in the overhead light and a pendant rested just above
her breasts. Her rich brown hair was pulled back into a single
thick braid, into which had been woven a gilt-thread green
ribbon. Her face was subtly made-up; the faintest hint of rouge
to bring out the color in her cheeks, coppery eyeshadow to blend
her dark-lined eyes with the gold she wore, and soft green above
that to match the dress. Her lips were enhanced with a
red-copper that melded them with her eyes and her cheeks.

Noriko's gaze was drawn from the transparent metal to the
vista beyond. Stretching out in stark contrast to the vast
gem-strewn black of space above were the swirling white and beige
clouds of mighty Saturn. The mere thought of being suspended so
close to the largest planet in the solar system sent a shiver up
her spine.

Once, thousands of years ago, there was an even greater
world orbiting the sun. Jupiter had fascinated humanity with its
century-spanning storms -- one the size of the Earth, a bloody
cycloptic eye called the Great Red Spot. The planet named for
the king of the Roman gods had ruled supreme, holding court over
four great moons and a plethora of smaller tumbling boulders.
The planet itself barely felt the subspace shockwave that ripped
through the solar system following the collapse of the Exelion's
warp engine at Raioh. The Gallilean moons had somehow survived,
as had Earth, Luna and Venus, but the icy rings and smaller moons
were blown away into space along with Mercury, Mars and Pluto. A
solar system of nine worlds had been reduced to six. For a time
Jupiter knew peace... and then humanity had turned it into their
greatest weapon.

She was sure she would never understand how humankind had
taken a planet so much larger than Earth and condensed it to fit
inside the Black Hole Bomb for Operation Calnedias. Buster
Machine Three, as it was properly known, was the largest single
construct ever built, a cosmic monstrosity that rendered the
Eltreum insignificant. Into this shell had been placed the
shrunken king of worlds, its courtiers shuffled off to bend the
knee to a new liege. The Gallilean quartet had been moved to
orbit Saturn instead of cast off into space or settled around the
Sun itself.

The Raioh blast wave had stripped Saturn of its pride, the
glorious rings that had enchanted astronomers. Its new moons and
its status as the closest celestial body outside the orbit of
Earth, waystation to the outer solar system and the stars, were a
paltry compensation for that loss. Noriko envisioned the
horizon-spanning ring-arc, picturing what it might look like
soaring above her, imagining the broad black swath its shadow
might cut in the face of the planet below. She, unlike any other
aboard this vessel except Kazumi, had once seen the rings with
her own eyes. It felt like a special secret.

"Don't worry," she found herself whispering to the world
below, "I remember."

From behind and to Noriko's right, a pleasant masculine
baritone said, "What is it you remember, if I may be so bold as
to ask?"

On reflex Noriko replied, "The rings. I remember the rings
of Saturn."

"I've only seen pictures. Such a splended jewel, lost
forever because of one desperate, life-saving act."

Only then did Noriko realize that the words being spoken to
her were not Hango, but idiomatic Japanese, a language dead for
thousands of years. She turned in shock to look at the speaker.
He was Caucasian, a handsome sky-eyed blonde with his long,
straight hair pulled back in a simple ponytail. The jacket of
his black suit hung partially open, the offset breast folding
back across his chest to reveal a blue-violet undershirt.
Bluntly Noriko demanded, her surprise at hearing her native
language spoken to her by someone other than Kazumi dashing all
tact, "Where did you learn Japanese?"

"I fancy myself a student of history, and a dabbler in
obscure and ancient cultures," the stranger said. "The moment I
heard that you and Ms. Amano had returned from deep space I
became fascinated with the Japanese of the year of your birth,
and I took up learning the language. I've not had anyone to
practice with beyond the computer which had the proper database,
so I humbly beg your forgiveness if my speech is in error in

What wouldn't these people do to catch her attention?
Surprise mingled with joy at hearing her own tongue and annoyance
at the antics of Hundred Forty-Third century people. "No," she
assured the man, "you're doing very well. Quite a shock,

"Please forgive me, I didn't mean to upset you." He moved
up beside her and looked out over the cloudscape. In Hango he
continued, "I've always thought that there will never be a world
more beautiful than Earth. No matter what I see, I'm always glad
to return home."

Now, that was interesting. She'd thought something quite
like it when she was diving with Akira. Akira... She'd
completely blown him off. Well, it had been only a week. She'd
call him when she got back, first thing, if he didn't show up
here. He really was very nice. "I can understand that.
Especially after having been away from it for so long, and almost
never making it home."

"I can only imagine how much more beautiful Earth must be
to you and Miss Amano. Most people take it for granted, but you
and she protected it."

What a peculiar man this was. From the faint accent to his
Hango speech she guessed he was Avalonian, and his face was
familiar. Quickly she searched her memory, hunting the man's
name. It refused to come out of hiding, however, so she decided
to simply ask. "You have me at a disadvantage, sir. You know
who I am, but I'm afraid I don't recognize you."

The stranger turned to face her, took her right hand gently
and bowed a kiss over it. "Charles Edward Windsor-Mountbatten,
at your service, my lady," he intoned. "I am here on my father's
behalf, and I am absolutely delighted to make your acquaintance,
Miss Takaya."

Noriko's face caught fire and blazed with wild abandon.
"Um... Pleased to meet you, Mr. Winds--"

"Please, for the love of God, call me Edward," he
interrupted her.

"--Edward." The fire in her cheeks refused to abate.
"Please call me Noriko," she returned. It was the only thing she
could think of to say.

Edward bowed his acquiescence with a grin. "As you wish,
Noriko. May I ask how you're enjoying your time aboard Cloud

Small talk? Well, it would be a welcome relief from the
fatally-embarrassing flirtation. "We haven't had time to see
much since we arrived, since we had to take time to sleep."

"I would very much like to accompany you and Ms. Amano to
one of the galleries later," said Edward. He seemed genuine
enough, and he was certainly polite to a fault. Kazumi would
like him for sure. Gerald would probably be gruff and reserved,
as usual. "Would you do me the honor of introducing me to her?"
Edward continued.

Noriko turned and glanced about the bustling theater-hall
in which the dinner was being held. The two-level hall's floor
was part of the second-topmost deck of the Cloud Angel. A broad
shielded "skylight" in the dorsal hull above displayed open
space. A balcony accessed from the top deck ran along three
sides of the hall, facing a curtained stage. The hall floor was
arrayed with circular tables for the dinner guests, but could be
converted quickly into theater seating for such functions as
operas and concerts. Viewports such as the one she and Edward
stood next to lined the port and starboard sides of both levels,
affording the guests a magnificent view of Saturn.

In the hustle and bustle of guests and staff, Noriko could
not make out either Kazumi or Gerald. Perhaps if she were to
check their assigned table -- no, wait, there was Kazumi now.
"Edward, over here," Noriko said. She gently tugged on her
companion's coatsleeve and pointed at her friend, then waved to
catch Kazumi's attention.

Edward looked in the indicated direction and froze, his
eyes widening and his breath catching. The most beautiful woman
he had ever seen was approaching, drawn by Noriko's wave. She
was clad in a form-hugging sleeveless dress that perfectly
matched the dusky blue-gray-violet of her trimmed locks and
brilliant eyes. The garment was slit to her thighs to allow her
freedom of movement. Four thin straps rose from the
figure-revealing bodice to connect to a choker about Kazumi's
neck. Matching gloves sheathed her arms to just above her
biceps, and over these she wore silver cuffs connected to rings
by thin spurs. To complete the ensemble she had a matching shawl
looped over her arms and behind her back. He couldn't believe
how lovely she was.

"I was afraid I wouldn't be able to find you," Kazumi said
to Noriko with a smile. "Who's your friend?"

"Oh, uh, Kazumi, this is Ch--"

Edward took Kazumi's hand in a slow gesture, his eyes
locked on the woman's face. "Charles Edward Windsor-Mountbatten,
my lady. At your service." He did not move to kiss the gloved
hand he held, but the low and slightly breathy tone of his voice
told Noriko that he meant what he said. Far be it from her to be
jealous of her friend for drawing the attention of the son of the
President of Avalon, but she wasn't exactly nothing...

"Noriko? Is that you?"

For the second time that day Noriko turned around in
surprise, this time to hearing a voice she already knew. There
stood Akira, resplendent in his coat, shirt and slacks, next to
Gerald in his staid tuxedo. The young man's face was lit with
excitement. A quick glance back revealed that Kazumi and Edward
were doing fine with each other, and probably wouldn't even
notice if she slipped away. She did just that. "I was hoping
you'd be here," she told the blonde dive instructor. Without
thinking she embraced his arm and winked, then looked to Gerald.
"Is it okay if we talk?"

"Of course," the dark-skinned man replied. "Akira and I
have already discussed matters, and he's agreed to watch after
you while I keep an eye on Kazumi -- who already seems to have
gotten herself into trouble. Do you know who that man is?"

"The President of Avalon's son. He's very nice."

"He's a scoundrel," Gerald grumbled. "I was afraid
something like this would happen. Excuse me." The older man
walked toward the Avalonian and his elder niece, leaving Noriko
alone with Akira.

Noriko frowned. Kazumi could look after herself, and
besides, Edward really did seem to be a good man. He was smart,
he was handsome, he was polite... Of course, he wasn't Akira.
She put the situation out of her mind and grined up at the young
man. "I'm sorry I didn't call."

"Oh, that's okay," he demurred. "I figured you were busy."

"Yeah..." Could she tell him that she had actually just
forgotten? No, especially not now that he looked so happy to see
her. "We're always running into each other at dinners," she

Akira chuckled. "I don't think I'll be asking you if you
want to orbit-dive on Saturn, though."

"No sneaking off to Europa?" she asked with a faux pout.

"Well... if you put it that way..." He blinked several
times and seemed to be seriously considering the idea.

Noriko squeezed Akira's arm and laughed. "Maybe later. Do
you know if Lina Van Dyne is gonna say anything to the room

"She might. But part of the reason for this dinner is to
let famous people like you just be people and hang out without
any pressure. So she might not want to."

"Wow." That was actually very nice of Excel. Not the kind
of thing corporations often did. "So just how do you know
Gerald, anyway? You didn't seem to know him before."

"We've... met," Akira dodged. "Just never really talked.
But since he's your uncle and all... Well, adopted uncle,

He must've really rattled poor Akira, too. "Don't worry,
he's really sweet under all that. Are you gonna sit with us?"

"I... uh... yeah. That is, if I can?"

"Of course you can. Let's go sit down." Still holding
Akira's arm, Noriko led him through the throng toward their

Edward was handling Gerald quite a bit better. He shook
the Canamerican's hand firmly when Gerald approached and greeted
him and Kazumi. "A pleasure and an honor to meet the man Ms.
Amano and Miss Takaya would call their uncle, sir," the Avalonian
declared in Canamerican when Kazumi made introductions. "Their
judgement of character is surely impecable."

(I'll just bet,) Gerald rumbled to himself. Aloud he said,
"I make sure to look after them."

It was obvious that the dark man was suspicious. But
Edward had played too many games with men and women who were not
nearly so honest about their emotions -- and truth be told he was
completely awestruck by the woman standing next to him. It it
weren't for his political experience he knew he would be a
gibbering mess. "Surely no better or more competent guardian
angel exists than family," he said. The Canamerican relaxed
slightly, but his eyes were still wary. Edward continued, "I
believe dinner is about to begin. I am here alone, may I sit
with your party?"

Gerald's initial reaction was, of course, to tell the
dashing Avalonian that their table was full. But Kazumi was
watching him, and he could read that look. (She's already made
up her mind. Damnation.) "Of course, we've got a free seat."

"Your servant, sir." Edward sketched a half bow. He
straightened and offered his arm to Kazumi. "My lady?"

To prove a point, as well as assuage Gerald's pride, Kazumi
took Edward's arm, then promptly took Gerald's as well. Thus
flanked, she said, "I should be careful. I'll be the envy of
every woman here, and several of the men as well, I don't doubt."

True to form Gerald simply harumphed. Edward fielded the
play with a self-depricating joke. The trio made their way
through the crowd to join Noriko and Akira, who were already

Two pairs of eyes carefully studied the party that included
the Gunbuster pilots. One pair hazel, the other mismatched blue
and green, they took careful notice of every detail. Erde
Paveltova sipped at her icewater and said in an aside to Martin
Tanger, "I wonder if he'll be a problem."

"That playboy? I seriously doubt it. Everything I've read
about Amano makes me think she'll humor him for a while, and when
he gets to be too annoying, brush him off like lint." Tanger
reclined in his chair and turned to face his fellow Division
leader. "You should relax."

"I am relaxed."

"Yeah, sure," he quipped, his voice dripping with sarcasm.
"You've been tense since the meeting on Aurora. Look at you,
you're ramrod straight in your chair, and if you squeeze that
glass any tighter you're going to break it. It's okay. Really.
Just ease up a little."

Erde dropped her gaze to her right hand. Her fingers were
pale with the pressure she was unknowingly exerting on the glass
she held. The water rippled and ice clinked as tiny tremors in
her straining hand and forearm shook the glass. (Am I really
this upset? No wonder I haven't been sleeping right.) With a
concerted effort she set the glass on the table before her and
eased against the back of her chair. "All right."

"Hanes is the best man we've got, and you can see for
yourself how taken Takaya is with Li." Martin took a casual
glance around to see if there were any potential eavesdroppers
within hearing range before leaning toward Erde and whispering,
"And with you on top of the Gunbuster recovery situation, we're
set." He pulled away and winked his green eye. "So let's have a
little fun tonight. You're supposed to be my proxy date since
Derek couldn't make it. Don't wanna let him down, do you?"

"No, we can't have that." She had to concede that Martin
had a good point. Artemis Division was ready to reclaim
Gunbuster from its slowly-decaying orbit around Earth, and do so
without alerting any ground or orbit-based agencies or
individuals. Bringing Gunbuster to Earth was simple enough --
make it fall like a meteor into a deserted region, where a
recovery crew would be waiting. Disturbing the mecha's orbit
without being noticed was the hard part, but they were sure
they'd found a way.

Martin was also right about Hanes -- Gerald Hanes was Terra
Division's best field agent, which was why he had been chosen to
make contact with and stay close to the Gunbuster pilots. The
secure emotional bonds that had formed between Hanes and the
women were a blessing. All that remained now was to reveal the
existence of Aegis to Takaya and Amano, as well as the dire
threat to humankind that lurked in the darkness of space.

Of course, that sounded a lot easier than it was.

"I almost wish Hanes would let slip," Erde muttered to
herself. "Would make my job a lot easier."

The milling crowd thinned as the gathered guests took their
seats. The warm lighting bathing the hall dimmed as a tall
Ryulungi man in a white tuxedo emerged from behind the stage's
curtain to be illuminated in a bright spotlight. "Ladies and
gentlemen, your attention please," he asked, his voice resonating
from special hidden speakers. "On behalf of Excel Corporation, I
would like to welcome all of you to the exquisitely beautiful
Cloud Angel, floating here above the clouds of the planet Saturn.
Dinner's first course will be served in just a few moments, but
I'd like to take the time to introduce a few of our esteemed
guests to you all."

As the emcee called out individual guests, a second
spotlight illuminated the named person. Most of them stood up to
greet the crowd, but when it came to his turn, Edward simply
waved and rolled his eyes at Kazumi. Her name was next. "Amano
Kazumi!" the emcee called. She rose gracefully and was met with
a sudden, almost deafening explosion of wild, standing cheers
that reverberated through the hall. Shocked at the enthusiasm
from what she had assumed to be a dignified crowd, she remained

A broad grin appeared on Edward's lips. He stood and took
Kazumi's hand, raising it slightly, then bowed to her with a
great flourish. The cheers redoubled at his antics; they grew
yet more exuberant when he kissed the hand he held, then moved to
hold her chair while she sat, mortified. Gerald was livid, but
his teeth were firmly clenched.

The emcee was doing his best not to laugh. He took a
minute to compose himself and let the crowd settle, knowing what
would come next. Just as he suspected, it started all over again
when he called out, "Takaya Noriko!" Gerald closed his eyes and
rubbed at his temples as Noriko stood and waved to the gathering,
clearly eating up the adulation.

Erde felt a faint soreness in her cheeks and lifted a hand
to rub at the side of her face. Only then did she realize that
she was smiling more brightly than she ever had before. (And
here I thought 'smiling 'til your face hurts' was just a saying.)

"Your servers will be with you shortly," the emcee was
informing the settling crowd, "and after dinner we will have a
special event to kick off this evening's entertainment. Enjoy
your meal!" The man disappeared behind the curtain once more,
and Kazumi was reminded briefly of a movie that was old years
before she was born. Something about a man behind a curtain...

Dinner began with salad and a light broth soup. Kazumi
poked experimentally at the bluish spinach-descendent that formed
the base of the salad, not quite sure what to make of the
vegetable. Noriko picked up a bite's worth with her fork, shared
a look with Kazumi, shrugged and put it in her mouth. When the
younger woman smiled and took another bite, Kazumi summoned up
her courage and tasted the plant. A delightful surprise awaited
her; the leaf's delicate flavor complimented the light
vinaigrette dressing better than she would have expected
possible. (They've had twelve thousand years to work on it,) she
thought. (I guess I shouldn't hold on to preconceived notions.
You'd think that after four years I'd be used to things like

Gerald ate mechanically, not really tasting anything. Bad
enough that Edward was here at all, worse that he had taken a
liking to Kazumi... but did she have to be interested back? When
Edward leaned over to whisper something to Kazumi, Gerald
grumbled darkly. "What was that?" Noriko asked. When the
dark-skinned man didn't reply, his younger niece looked
heavenward in mock exasperation.

For a fleeting moment she thought she saw tiny threads of
light tracing through the starry black, like lasers in the
distance. Noriko waited for them to come again; nothing
happened. It must have been a reflection of something in the
hall. She returned her attention to the table. The servers had
returned with baskets of crusty dinner rolls and small loaves of
sourdough. "No," Edward was saying to Kazumi, "I try to spend as
little time involved in my father's business as possible. But of
course tonight was something I simply couldn't pass up."

"Why would that be?" Kazumi inquired. (Probably because we
would be here.)

"Please, allow a gentleman some small aire of mystery, dear
lady," he evaded. Edward picked up a roll and broke it, a tiny
smile on his lips.

Nearby, Erde reminded herself to relax once more. She had
missed half of Martin's ongoing childhood anecdote; her mind was
fixated on Gunbuster, Artemis Division's woeful lack of knowledge
and the abominably small chance of successfully awakening Jung
Freud from cryosleep. That left very little room for paying
attention to a meandering tale about a dog. She glanced upward
when the server approached with the bread basket. Out of the
corner of her eye she thought she saw a flash of some sort, but
when she focused her gaze on the stars she saw nothing unusual.
(The stress must be getting to me.)

Martin buttered a roll and took a small bite. "Erde," he
said after he swallowed, "if you don't relax I'm going to have
you put under house arrest at a health spa."

"When this is all over I'll be glad to surrender," she
remarked. At least the bread was fresh and hot.


Far beyond the Cloud Angel, space was briefly disturbed by
three vortices of energy. Strange crystaline objects emerged
from the whirlpools of light, moving at high speed. The vortices
dispersed behind them, leaving no trace of their appearance after
the brief burst.

The body of each object was a roughly spherical cluster of
points. Three needle-like protrusions aimed forward from each
cluster, into the path of flight, and slightly outward. From
behind emerged three larger points like a trio of wings. The
objects moved without an apparent source of propulsion, leaving
no ionic or gravitic wake.

On the surface of Europa, sensitive scanners detected the
opening of three small Otherspace portals. As far as the local
traffic controllers could tell, nothing had come out. Otherspace
portals didn't just open by themselves, and no known ship made
use of portals of that size. No ship had a need to use more than
one portal at all. Something was amiss. Traffic control
notified the military, and a two-craft lance of starfighters was
vectored into the vicinity.

Lieutenant Mark Norris said nothing as his space fighter, a
stylized avian machine called a Tiger Hawk, streaked toward the
location of the disturbance. He was proud to be a member of the
Saturn Local Defence Force -- what native Europan wouldn't be? --
but there hadn't been anything resembling action for decades.
Even then it had only been a few ill-equipped pirates, hardly a
challenge at all. Pilots and Control crew amused themselves and
each other with tall tales, fake emergencies and "got you last"
trickery. Guaranteed this was nothing more than a gigantic red
herring. Otherspace portals didn't open by themselves.

His lancemate was relatively new to the SLDF and certainly
wasn't a native. Lieutenant J.G. Marla Thorns had apparently
swallowed the bait and the hook with it. "What do you think
could have done it?" she chattered. "Maybe it's some kind of
decoy to get us out of position."

Norris forced himself to swallow a groan. (Rookies...)
"Hell if I know," he said crisply. "Probably not a damn thing."

"If it's nothing then why are we investigating?"

(Because the seat jockeys don't have anything better to
throw at us today,) Norris mentally snarled. Rather than
actually reply he verified his course with Control. It was going
to be another one of those days, he just knew it.

The crystalline objects, still unseen by the humans, faced
a dilemma. If they continued on course and held to the plan
which they followed, the humans might be able to make visual
contact. If they broke course to maintain stealth, they risked
lagging behind. After an eternity of deliberation, a full second
later, the objects continued on course, betting on speed and
surprise over human perception.

For a time, all was calm. The sensors of Norris's craft,
its cosmic eyes and ears, detected nothing unusual. His
lancemate had finally fallen silent. Nothing. Nothing at all...

At last Norris and Thorns reached their destination. "Loki
Six to Control," he spoke, identifying himself. "Willow on your
bogey at point of origin." A jargon long established, "willow"
had been derived from "will o' the wisp" -- a phantasm, a mirage.
Whatever Control had sent them to find, it wasn't here now.
"Assuming projected vector for phase two of operation." If
something had come out of the Otherspace vortices, it would be
aimed in a certain direction. Control had made an educated guess
and set its birds on a trail.

Right toward Saturn.

"Does this feel spooky to you?" Thorns asked quietly as
they turned toward the planet.

Actually, it was beginning to feel a bit odd. There were
no badly-muffled chuckles or veiled jokes coming from Control
this time. And they'd never used something as farfetched as
spontaneously generating Otherspace portals to harrass pilots,
anyway. Norris told her, "I'm not superstitious."

"Me either, but... Something isn't right here."

Norris was a lot more superstitious than he was willing to
admit. Most pilots were, it was part of the subculture. That
superstition said that you didn't jinx yourself. Thorns was
jinxing them both. If you insisted something wasn't right when
nothing was wrong, something would go wrong just to make you
happy. "We'll go down in history as the suckers in the most
elaborate SLDF prank of all time."

Thorns sighed, more to cover her growing unease than
anything else. "Just what I always wanted."

Concern grew among the alien objects. The humans were
approaching more rapidly than expected and would soon discover
them. The plan had to be altered. The humans would be
eliminated as quickly as possible, before they could alert more
of their kind. The spined spheres rotated, checked their motion
with an ease far surpassing the capabilities of the Tannhauser
mass/inertia compensators of the humans, and began retracing
their course.

Minutes passed. Thorns grit her teeth and forced herself
to believe that an immense prank was being pulled on her. "Okay.
They win. Let's just turn around and get it over with."

She had a point... "Yeah, I think this has gone far
enough. Cloud Angel's not far from here. If there was anything,
they'd've seen it and reported in. Loki Six to Control," he
called in, "Bogey is total willow. Repeat, there's nothing
between us and the clouds except a big fat whale of a luxury
liner. You guys win this round. We're coming home."

"Negative," Control flatly denied, "maintain course and
speed." The young male voice on the other end of the line was
tense. This wasn't a joke; Control really believed something was
out here. Something dangerous.

"Aw, hell," Thorns muttered.

"Maintaining course and speed," confirmed Norris. Now he
really was spooked. Out of habit, he took up visual scaning,
letting his eyes drift across the surface of Saturn, the black of
deep space. Better safe than sorry. Just because the sensors
didn't pick anything up... Wait. "Control... Possible visual
acquisition dead ahead. Unrecognizable light refraction, but
definitely out of place. Thorns, you see that?"

"I see it... Mother of God, it's coming right at us!"

Control panicked. "What the hell is it?"

There was no time to reply. The gap between them and the
unidentified objects was closing far too rapidly. "Break!"
Norris shouted, pulling his avian-formed craft away in a tight
banking maneuver, turning hard through the ether field of space.
Thorns shot off in the other direction and continued turning, to
come in behind the unknowns.

"Loki Nine to Control," said Thorns, "I've got three bogeys
outbound from Saturn. I don't know what they are, some kind of
flying balls of crystal spikes. They aren't showing up on the
sensors, dammit!"

Whatever the aliens were, they were moving a lot faster
than before. Norris formed up alongside Thorns. Gut instinct,
backed up by history twelve thousand years old, told him these
things were hostile. "Control, Six. Requesting permission to
fire." Silence stretched over the communication system.
"Control, this is Loki Six requesting permission to fire upon the
alien intruders." Still nothing. The crystaline objects split
in three directions. "Thorns, stick with me. Starboard!"

One alien led the humans off. The other two reversed their
courses once more, falling in behind. "How can they move like
that?" demanded Thorns, her voice rising with growing fear.

"I don't know, and I don't wanna find out!" The visual
aiming recticle, a circle inside the broken outline of a square,
locked onto the fleeing alien and Norris pressed the trigger for
his craft's weapons. Twin bolts of brilliant red-violet fire
streaked from the stylized eyes of the Tiger Hawk. The target
shifted aside, letting the beams sear past harmlessly. "This
isn't good..."

Behind the humans, shimmering tracery of blue limned the
forward spines of the two pursuing aliens. Thorns glanced back
and her breath caught. "Incoming!" she gasped. A scant fraction
of a second after she and her lancemate veered away, a barrage of
blue darts filled space where they had been.

"Control, we are engaged! Bogeys are too maneuverable, we
can't handle them alone! Control, do you read me?" Norris
shouted. Why weren't they answering? "Control!" No reply.
"Thorns, we are in deep shit."

"Don't you think I know that already?" the woman retorted,
a keen edge on her words. "Let's try a sucker punch."

In theory, it was simple. Get an enemy to follow one lance
member in a tight turn, while her partner swung in on the same
arc, blasting the bogey off her tail. In practice it had never
been used against an enemy with such fine control over its
movements. Norris whispered a prayer, then flew right at the
aliens, who had regrouped and were coming in for another pass.
Thorns's ears were filled with his fearful battle cry. Space
ignited with blue and red-violet fire. The Tiger Hawk shot
through the center of the triangle of crystaline enemies,

"They're turning to follow you! Bring 'em around!"
Setting her jaw against the G-force of her turn, which her
Tannhauser compensator couldn't dampen completely, Thorns
mirrored her lancemate's motion. "Come on... Come on..." she
hissed, a mantra to focus her skill and hold off fear. Norris
came closer... The aliens were almost in her sights... Now. The
eyes of her Tiger Hawk blazed. Red-violet lanced into one of the
crystal clusters and refracted briefly, lighting up the interior.
Then the cluster exploded, spraying shards in all directions.
"Got one!"

"That's great. Now get these two off my ass!" Norris
reversed his arc as violently as his body could bear. The aliens
seemed disconcerted by the loss of their fellow; they did not
follow. "Huh... I think we scared 'em."

This was... unexpected. The alien crystals conferred in
desperation. The humans had to be destroyed. There was only one
option left. The decision was made.

"Here they come again," observed Thorns as the aliens spun
about and began a headlong charge right for her. "Looks like
they're takin' things personally!"

Norris quickly weighed his choices. "They don't seem too
bright. Pull 'em around and I'll bring the hammer down." The
maneuver worked once, and the aliens didn't seem to be expecting
it a second time. He began a wide turn, setting up the kill.

The crystaline objects loosed repeated salvos of cobalt
light, forcing Thorns to weave back and forth and disrupting the
trap. Norris tightened his arc and bore down on the enemy. For
some unknown reason both aliens suddenly concentrated their fire
to Thorns's starboard side, forcing her to break to port. Then
one of the aliens diverted its own course with that spectacular
maneuverability, cutting across Thorns's turn. "Thorns, look
out!" There was no spray of light. The alien simply
accelerated, its course intersecting with the human starfighter's

Twisted metal and crystal shards filled the void, lit by a
brief ball of orange fire. Then the light was gone, and Thorns
was gone with it.

(Suicide?) Norris thought absently, his mind hazy with
shock. (Did its own life mean so little to it?) He stared ahead
unseeing. (What's happening here? Was I wrong?)

Darts of blue lanced past his cockpit, snapping him back to
reality. No time to mourn or doubt now. There was still one
alien foe left. Norris pushed the nose of his Tiger Hawk "down"
into a wide outside loop, rolled at the "bottom" and pulled "up"
hard. The crystaline object that had fired on him was...

Norris cast about wildly, searching his foe. If it got
away there was no telling what might happen. He saw nothing but
stars, the broad, tan face of Saturn, a tiny flash between him
and the planet. A tiny flash? That had to be it. Pushing his
throttle forward, Norris raced after his enemy with all the speed
he could muster from the craft. The sudden acceleration crushed
him into his seat. (You're not getting away, you bastard,) he
silently cursed. (I don't know what you are or what you want but
you're gonna die before you get it.)

Without his sensors Norris had no way of knowing how large
the gap between him and the alien was. Its incredible control of
mass, velocity and inertia had allowed it to leave Norris hanging
alone in space almost instantly. But the aliens had made
mistakes before. This one had to make another mistake
eventually, and when it did, Norris would destroy it.

Something big was sitting on his sensor display. Words
from a few minutes before echoed in his mind: "Nothing between us
and the clouds except a big fat whale of a luxury liner." It had
to be Cloud Angel. Saturn was a big planet, but too many things
had already gone wrong. No use taking another chance. Norris
set his comm to broadcast on all frequencies. "Cloud Angel, this
is Lieutenant Mark Norris of the Saturn Local Defense Force. Be
advised, I am in pursuit of a hostile craft entering your
vicinity. Cloud Angel, do you copy?"


Erde chewed slowly on a small, tender bite of prime rib.
Everything was proceeding smoothly, and she was finally able to
really relax. The strange flash of light was forgotten. With
the tension lifted, she was able to concentrate on the flavor of
the juicy meat. Hints of rosemary, thyme, basil, onion and
pepper complemented the sherry that had been used as the marinade
base. Whoever was doing the cooking, he or she had Erde's
compliments. She hadn't had anything this good in a long time.

Erde glanced over at Martin, who was already halfway
through the lobster that had also been served. His prime rib was
untouched. "Don't like red meat?" she asked.

"Never been big on it," Martin admitted, "but this Europan
lobster is to die for." Lemon and butter allowed the natural
flavor of the seafood to stay clear and full without being
overpowering. Not quite as good as his grandfather's, but then
again, nothing could be. "Go ahead, give it a tr-- The hell's
going on up there?"

The emcee had reappeared on the stage, his face slipping
from neutrality into worry before he gathered it back up.
"Ladies and gentlemen," he began, "I have just been informed by
the captain that we are making an unscheduled course change.
Apparently there's a little trouble in the area with bandits. A
little bit of dinner theater, hey?" The emcee forced a smile and
welcomed with outstretched arms the few laughs that came from the
crowd. "The military are already in control of the situation and
everything will be resolved in just a few minutes. Please
continue to enjoy your meals. Dessert's just around the corner,
and I recommend the cheesecake." He grinned once more and left
the stage.

Erde wasn't buying it. "There hasn't been an uprising or
pirate attack around here in years."

Gerald looked across from his own table and met her eyes.
He wasn't believing the story either. The dark Canamerican
excused himself, rose and crossed over to Erde and Martin. "I
don't like this."

"Me either," Martin agreed. "I think I'm going to head up
to the bridge and squeeze the captain for some information." He
wiped his lips on his linen napkin and stood. "This job has to
have some perks."

Gerald grunted his agreement. There had to be something
that made all this worthwhile. Being able to throw your weight
around to get things done would suffice. "Think I'll come with

"The more the merrier. Will your young ladies be all

Gerald considered his nieces. He didn't like leaving
Kazumi alone with that Avalonian shark, but she was a grown woman
and he would have to trust that she could take care of herself.
Besides, Noriko was there, and Akira wasn't any danger. Hell, he
even liked the boy. "They'll be fine. Let's go."

Once more Norris looked at the dwindling distance to the
luxury liner. Even though the behemoth ship had changed course,
the alien was still heading directly for it. It had to be the
target. At least Control had responded. Another lance was on
its way, racing to intercept the alien before it could reach the
Cloud Angel. Norris wasn't sure the backup would arrive in time.
He was closing on the target himself, but not fast enough. This
was all wrong. "Control, you've gotta tell them to evacuate."

The voice that replied was the Commander of Operations
herself, Major Elena Trakovski. "Do you have any idea what kind
of an incident that would cause, Lieutenant?"

"Major, I'm not gonna be able to catch this thing before it

Trakovski's reply was ominous. "You'd better, Lieutenant,
because even if they do evacuate the Cloud Angel, we can't risk
the loss. That ship is too vital to the local economy and too
visible to the public. This event is not happening, do you
understand me?"

Covering it up? An attack by hostile aliens, the first
encounter with extrasolar life since the Great War? What the
hell was going on? Why was it worth keeping the civilians on
board the Cloud Angel completely in the dark? "There are too
many lives at risk, Major, you've got to order them to evacuate!"


"Ca ptain, to ensure the saftey of the passengers, you must
evacuate this ship." Martin fixed his odd-colored eyes on the
captain of the Cloud Angel, boring his gaze into the nervous
man's face.

"I can't do that without confirmation from the SLDF, no
matter who you are," the captain replied. He doffed his
broad-brimmed white cap and mopped his brow with his sleeve.
"For all I know this could be some massive Excel publicity

Gerald wanted to grab the man and shake him until his fool
head fell off. His hands were clenched into tight fists that he
wanted to use to pummel the captain into a pulp. It took a lot
to make Gerald Hanes angry, and this man was doing a good job of
it. Martin stared at the captain for another second or two, then
turned and marched over to the communications station. "Hey,
what the--" the comm officer began. Martin shoved him aside and
keyed in a frequency from memory.

"Europa Control, this is Cloud Angel. I am invoking
General Order Nine Zero Four. Confirmation code is Delta Delta
Seven Six Nine Two One." A pause. "Let me talk to whoever's in
charge over there."

"Who the hell are you and where did you get that code?"
came the indignant reply.

"My name isn't important, but you'd damn well better accept
the code."

Gerald frowned at Martin's back. What was General Order
904? Just how deep did Aegis's influence run? After a lengthy
silence, the voice came back with, "All right. Looks like we
don't have any choice. What do you want?"

"I want to know exactly what the hell is going on. This
ship has been diverted from its usual course by a report of
'bandit activity'. There isn't a single patrol vessel nearby to
protect the civilians aboard. And the captain refuses to do the
smart thing, which is evacuate the passengers from this giant
flying bullseye, without word from you. So let's have it. And
don't lie to me!" Martin scowled back at the Cloud Angel's
captain. He couldn't believe the idiocy...

"System Traffic picked up the appearance of three
Otherspace gates, but nothing seemed to have come out of them.
So we sent a patrol lance to investigate. That lance engaged
three unknowns. Two of the bogeys were destroyed, but we lost
one of our fighters. The remaining bogey is headed straight for
you, with the other fighter on its tail. The pilot doesn't think
he can make it." Another pause, then, "Do it. Evacuate. And
may God have mercy on us all."

"You heard the lady, Captain," Martin said. "Get everybody
out of here."

The captain swallowed nervously, began to speak, cleared
his throat and started again. "Begin general evacuation. Comm,
put me on all speakers." The communications officer recovered
his station and did as ordered. "Ladies and gentlemen, this is
your captain speaking."

Kazumi and Noriko wondered aloud at the same moment where
Gerald had gone and what was taking him so long to return. "Who
was that man he left with?" Noriko asked.

Edward shook his head mutely. He'd never seen the man, nor
his female companion, before. Apparently Kazumi's uncle knew the
pair, however. This event was getting more and more curious all
the time.

"Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking." The
voice came from the same speakers the emcee had used. "I have
just received word from the SLDF that we are to evacuate. Please
proceed in an orderly fashion to your shuttles. Flight plans are
already being given to your pilots. Remain calm, the situation
is under control. This is a precautionary measure only. That is

"Evacuate?" Noriko fought a rising wave of panic. "What
about Gerald?"

Akira took her hand in a gentle grip. "He'll probably be
waiting for us. Come on, let's go." Already the area was abuzz
of motion as black and white-uniformed Security stepped among the
crowd to direct them out of the hall and prevent a confused
stampede. Akira, Noriko, Kazumi and Edward stood and clustered
together. The woman who had been sitting with the man Gerald had
accompanied out of the hall joined them. (So far, so good,)
Akira observed. (Nobody's freaking out.) The party was ushered
to the doors and down the corridor. It was almost like security
personnel had crawled out of the walls. (There sure weren't this
many of them earlier.)

They were moved between decks by the grand staircases,
winding their way toward the hangar. The air was full of
confused questions, muttered reassurances and communication among
Security. What was happening? Just a precaution, ma'am, please
move along. Section seventy-six clear.


(Come on, dammit, come on!) The liner loomed on Norris's
sensor display. Saturn filled the forward field of view. The
alien still wasn't in range, and the backup lance wouldn't arrive
for another four minutes. The alien would reach the Cloud Angel
in just under two. Briefly he considered taking wild shots, but
there wasn't a chance it would do any good. He needed more

There was one way to get it, but it was incredibly
dangerous. Before becoming a pilot, he'd been entered into the
Engineering program at the Academy. He'd learned a thing or six
about the guts of a Tiger Hawk. By routing power from other
systems into the engines he could get a temporary boost that
might be enough to get him in range of the alien. He didn't have
any other options, really. So he began the process of shutting
down life support, sensors and communications and shunting the
extra power into the engines. Ninety seconds left.

Seventy-five seconds. Life support was disabled. Norris
sealed his helmet, activiating the emergency air supply. Sensors
and communications were offline. Except for his own two eyes, he
was effectively blind and deaf to the universe. The Tiger Hawk
surged forward once more. Sixty seconds; the gap was closing
much more rapidly now. The computer flashed a warning about
overload, but he ignored it. All that mattered was catching this

Thirty more seconds ticked by. It was now or never.
Norris lined up the glittering alien and triggered his weapons.
Red-violet beams split open space, barely missing as the alien
slipped to the side at the last instant. Again and again Norris
fired. Twenty seconds. The Cloud Angel was visible now against
the tan clouds, growing larger by the second. He kept firing, a
silent prayer becoming whispered pleas, and then a mantra: "Die,
you bastard, die!"

Somewhere in the systems of his Tiger Hawk, something
overloaded. The cockpit went dark. Everything was suddenly
dead. Ahead of him the luxury liner continued to grow, and he
knew he was on a collision course. The alien object expanded,
almost as if unfolding, then split apart into dozens of shards,
points aimed at the Cloud Angel.

Norris had time for one final prayer.


Realit y rocked to one side, then tilted and heaved,
throwing Noriko against the wall of the corridor. The breath was
knocked from her lungs and her vision filled with exploding
stars. She crumpled to the deck, gasping. It took a few
seconds, but she was able to gulp enough air into her lungs to at
least get to her knees. Alarms sang a frightening cacophony.

Akira was getting to his feet. Edward and Erde were
helping Kazumi up; the Avalonian was holding his free arm close
to his body. "What happened?" someone shouted. Akira lifted
Noriko gently; she came up to a half-standing position, leaning
on him.

"You okay?" he asked. She nodded, not quite having her
wind back yet. "Something musta hit the ship. We gotta get out
of here."

Noriko kicked off her shoes. They were only slowing her
down. She and tried to reach down and and pick them up, but pain
flared in her chest and she froze, a whimper escaping from her.
Akira frowned in concern and snatched up the shoes. "Let's go,"
Noriko wheezed.


Was God, in truth, cruel? Did the Almighty have a perverse
sense of humor? Everything had gone so well. But now that
things had gone wrong, they had gone wrong in the worst possible
way. Hadn't there been a philosopher who had spoken about just
that sort of thing? It didn't matter. God's justice would be
served, one way or another, and this setback could be overcome.

Twelve thousand years ago, God's hand had swept through the
solar system, a wave propagating through subspace that still
exerted force in the real world, destruction moving faster than
light. Humanity, in its arrogance, had flouted God's will,
protecting Earth, Venus, Luna and the largest moons of the outer
planets from His wrath. Mercury, Mars and Pluto were brushed
away into the cosmic dark... but Earth remained. Now, twelve
millennia later, His justice was coming, and this time it could
not be stopped. Already Neptune and Uranus felt it, trembling
every so slightly in their orbits. Soon they would quake with
terror and flee into the everlasting night.

This must be a test. That was the only possible
explanation for the catastrophic failure that was happening here.
God was testing the devotion and resourcefulness of His agents...
Yes, that must be it. (Well, this particular agent will prove
his worth,) the spectacled man thought. He drew in a deep breath
and turned to look at the Balliwallan standing next to him. "It
would appear that we are on our own, Topper."

Topper snickered. The people rushing past him were such
idiots. They had no clue what was going on. "Looks like it."

"You're certain it was Hanes you saw?"

"Matched 'is picture with the database. It's him,

The man with the glasses allowed himself a tiny smile.
Hanes was with the Pilots, and one of the Pilots had lured in
Windsor-Mountbatten. "Good. God is watching. We are the agents
of His will now, in this place. Are you ready?"

Was he ready? Of course Topper was ready. He'd been
waiting for a chance this all his life. "You got it." Another
snicker of derision for the fools, and he was headed up the
corridor to cause some havoc.

The spectacled man closed his eyes and bowed his head.
(You truly do not know how much you have given us, Amano Kazumi.
And now that you have served your purpose in furthering God's
justice, you and Takaya will die as you should have done
millennia ago.)


With Noriko still leaning heavily on Akira, they descended
two more levels. The shuttle which had brought the Gunbuster
pilots from Earth was docked on this level, and it would be more
than enough for them all. Erde grimaced inwardly at the thought
of losing the small personal shuttle she and Martin had used;
though she wouldn't be held accountable, the Otherspace-capable
craft had still cost a small fortune, and if Cloud Angel was lost
the shuttle would be gone forever. She didn't like wasting

So absorbed was Erde in the possible loss of her shuttle
that she barely noticed the man in front of her suddenly fall to
the floor, limbs twitching violently. She stared at him
dispassionately for a few seconds. "Sir?" She was thrown
violently aside by Martin, who crashed to the deck atop her and
fumbled for the small hidden weapon he was carrying on his back
under his jacket. "What the hell?"

Small balls of crackling lightning sizzled through the air,
impacting with more fleeing passengers. Akira jumped into the
feeble protection of a doorway as one of the bolts flew at his
abdomen. After a moment he realized his left had was completely
numb, and was twitching. Had he been hit?

Charges of crimson light flew back up the corridor in
answer to the ambush. Gerald had produced a hold-out pistol of
his own; together, he and Martin laid down something of a
covering fire while the passengers fled. At the other end of the
corridor, their mysterious assailant had overturned a statue and
was ensconced behind it. "Hell of a time for an armed robbery!"
Edward commented. (Dammit, if only there was something else I
could do...!) he thought. He was something of a crack shot
himself, but here he stood, interposing himself between Kazumi
and the attacker like a human shield.

"I don't think he's after money!" Martin replied, putting
three more shots right over the fallen statue's side.

A frizzy-haired head popped up. Gerald hesitated in shock
-- it was that damn tourist! The Balliwallan leapt to his feet
and filled the air with lightning, screaming the entire time.
Gerald ducked back against the wall, though he knew he was wide
open. Where was Noriko? Was she-- (Oh, shit.)

In the confusion Noriko had snuck up the corridor about a
third of the way between the attacking Balliwallan and her
friends, and hidden between two small tables. She sprang out of
her cover and whipped a vase down the corridor, drawing the
assailant's attention. It was all Gerald and Martin needed. Red
bursts slammed into the man, searing his flesh and knocking him
over. His weapon clattered to the deck in the sudden silence.

"Noriko!" Kazumi cried. She shoved her way around the
astonished Edward and ran up to her friend, sweeping the younger
woman into a fierce hug.

Gerald opened his mouth to chastize Noriko for being so
foolishly brave, but he came up short when he saw Erde checking
one of the fallen for a pulse and shaking her head grimly.
"They're all dead. But none of them have any visible wounds
What was that man using?"

"I can't feel my hand," Akira said simply. He glanced
around at the people he didn't know lying on the deck --
(Sleeping, that's all. Just... sleeping.) -- then looked at
Gerald. "I think I caught one of those lightning balls." His
left hand twitched just then.

Numb hand, twitching, quick deaths without any signs of
wounding... "Neural disruptor. Sweet God, who would do such a
thing?" Edward breathed.

Gerald didn't want to believe it. Neural disruptors had
been illegal for centuries. One well-placed shot from such a
weapon could completely disrupt the bioelectric operation of a
living body, sending it into total and immediate shutdown --
instant death. Glancing blows that wouldn't be fatal with other
weapons could result in lingering death or permanent disability.
(Akira might never be able to use that hand again,) Gerald
thought, as numb inside as the boy's appendage. "The guy might
have friends. Let's get out of here."

Edward herded Noriko and Kazumi up the corridor, keeping
himself between them and the sight of the senseless casualties.
(Still playing shield, Eddie?) he chided himself. He thought he
might be sick. Behind them, Erde picked up the neural disruptor
rifle. It would be important evidence; something very, very
wrong was happening today.

The hangar was ominously silent. Everyone that had come
this way was already gone, and the deck crews had escaped when it
looked like no one else was coming. The Gunbuster pilots'
planetary shuttle stood to one side, alone in its parking slip.
"Get on the shuttle," Gerald said. "I'll use the auxiliary
control station to release it from the slip." He made his way
toward a free-standing booth that contained basic hangar controls
for emergencies just like this one.

Noriko turned back to watch Gerald as the others clambered
up the ramp. He seemed to be having a little difficulty finding
the proper control. A low thrum touched the air as the shuttle's
drive came to life. Gerald signaled a thumbs-up from the booth,
finally, and a resounding thunk told her that the shuttle was
free to move. She turned again and took a step up the ramp.

Out of the corner of her eye she saw a strange flash. She
looked back and saw the control booth being sprayed with laser
bolts. The new attacker was hidden behind a cart filled with
abandoned luggage. (Gerald's pinned down. I have to help him.)

Kazumi wondered aloud what was taking Noriko and her uncle
so long. Martin made his way down the ramp in time to see Noriko
dashing across the hangar and Gerald returning fire from the
cover of the control booth. "Noriko, get down!" he shouted.
Noriko stumbled to a halt, confused. Tanger scrambled after her.

Kazumi heard Martin's shout and bolted out of her seat.
She saw Noriko looking back at the running Martin and Gerald
emerging from the booth. A man stood up from behind a luggage
cart; he wore an impeccable three-piece suit and his face was
decorated with thin, wire-rimmed glasses. Horror twisted
Kazumi's gut as she recognized the Avalonian man from her trip
aboard Poseidon.

Ignoring the dark-skinned Canamerican, the Avalonian pulled
a second weapon from his jacket and aimed at Noriko. A peculiar
smile touched his lips as he squeezed the trigger. Lightning
flew from the gun, eagerly searing through the air to impact with
Noriko's back. The younger pilot sprawled on the deck, her body

Kazumi's eyes and the Avalonian's met. Bliss was all she
could see in that gaze, a perverse and terrible joy. Then the
contact was broken; the man fell, torn and burned by Gerald's

Martin knelt down next to Noriko and gathered her body into
his arms. He lifted her and sprinted back toward the shuttle,
Gerald hard on his heels. "Move!" he bellowed. Dazed, Kazumi
obeyed on instinct alone.

Once aboard the shuttle Gerald shoved his way into the
cockpit and stabbed at the controls. His fingers trembled with a
rage that was unsatisfied by killing the man who had shot his
niece. "What happened?" Erde asked. When he refused to answer
she glanced back into the main cabin. The ashen look on Akira's
face and Kazumi's silent tears told her all she needed to know.

The shuttle pulled out of the docking slip and blasted
through the hangar's containment field into open space. Gerald
gritted his teeth, his heavy breathing almost a continuous growl,
and plotted a course for Europa. "Everyone buckle up!" he
snarled. This was going to be dangerous.

Making an Otherspace jump was an undertaking which required
precise calculations. The job was complicated by several orders
of magnitude if the points of entry and exit from Otherspace were
astronomically close in real space. A computer could take up to
a minute or more calculating a jump from Earth to Venus. A jump
from Earth to Luna had never been attempted. So when Erde
watched Gerald input data for a jump from their present location
to Europa without the aid of the computer, she began to panic.
The calm, rational part of her mind told her that saying anything
would make a bad situation worse. The fatalistic part of her
mind told her that she was probably about to die.

A vortex of swirling energy exploded into existence in
front of the shuttle. The sleek craft drove its way into the
very heart of the storm, and space became filled with the
distorted rainbows of Otherspace. Almost immediately it reverted
as the shuttle dropped back into real space. Ahead of them
gleamed the web-spun tan and white ice surface of Europa. Just
beyond the terminator of day, the night side was crossed with
webs of light.

Erde knew Gerald was in no condition to talk. She leaned
over and used the communications panel to open a link with the
SLDF base. "Europa, this is Excel shuttle evacuating from Cloud
Angel. We have an emergency. I am invoking General Order Nine
Zero Four for the second time. Second confirmation code is Alpha
Gamma Nine Three One One Four. We need landing clearance and
immediate medical assistance from your trauma unit. Over."

A short silence, then, "Excel shuttle, this is Europa
Control. We'll guide you in. What the hell is going on up
there?" Gerald recognized the feminine voice as Trakovski, the
woman who had spoken with Tanger. She sounded like she was
already at her wits' end.

"We don't know," Gerald said, surprising Erde. His voice
was firm, betraying none of the towering fury that was burning
him alive from the inside. "We were attacked by terrorists using
illegal neural disruptors while we were evacuating. One of us
was hit."

"Terrorists? Neural disruptors?" There was a long pause.
"The medical staff's been notified... We'll do all we can."

Martin's voice came from the main cabin. "She's still
breathing but her pulse is highly irregular. I don't know how
much longer she can hold on!"

Trakovski heard Tanger's words and cursed. "We're clearing
everything out of your way. You'll be on the ground in just over
three minutes. Is the entire universe coming apart at the seams

The shuttle plummeted toward the moon at an alarming rate.
Erde stared as Europa's lined surface grew larger and tiny
details came into view. The shuttle's orientation shifted
slowly, the nose pulling up to turn their headlong plunge into
forward momentum over the ground. The shuttle tore through the
airless sky over ridges, valleys and plains of ice. Only when
the lights of the Saturn Local Defense Force's massive compound
came into view just over a mountainous ridge did the shuttle
begin to slow. Guided by the base's computers, the craft flew
unerringly through an atmospheric containment field into an empty
landing zone and settled on the ground.

As soon as the shuttle's ramp touched down the cabin was
besieged by medical personnel in white jumpsuits blazoned with a
crimson cross, followed by an odd floating orb that blinked and
hummed at them. Edward pulled Kazumi close and turned her away
as they pierced Noriko's body with strange probes linked to the
hovering globe. A middle-aged Canamerican man, his shaven head
splotched with a wine-stain birthmark on his right temple, stared
resolutely at a large oblong device he held in his hand.
"Neurological stabilization commencing," he reported to his
compatriots. "Girl's a mess," he muttered. "How is she still
alive? By all rights she should be stone cold dead..." He
probably hadn't meant anyone else to hear him, but Akira heard
anyway. The young Ryulungi slumped in his seat, overcome by
fear. "Steady... steady... All right, she's stabilized. Let's
get her inside." The white-suited paramedics lifted Noriko's
body onto a waiting antigrav gurney and hurried her out of the

Martin stood at the top of the ramp. Only one other person
would understand what this tragedy truly meant. With Noriko
injured, Gunbuster had only one pilot. It was more imperative
than ever that Jung Freud be brought out of cryostasis. If that
failed, humanity was doomed. There just wasn't any more time.
It was too close...

Kazumi's question tore from her clenching throat. "What
the Hell is going on here?" She broke free from Edward's arms
and seized Gerald by his upper arms. "Who are these people? Why
were we attacked?"

"Kazumi, you must listen to me," Erde said calmly as she
came up behind her and placed her own hands on Kazumi's
shoulders. "The fate of the human race is in our hands. We'll
tell you what's going on but you must swear to me that you won't
tell another living soul."

"All right, dammit, just tell me!" Kazumi spat. She still
held Gerald's arms in a death-grip.

"The organization we work for, called Aegis, has been
guiding humanity from behind a thick curtain of secrecy for
twelve thousand years. We have worked against the day when our
worst fears would come to life. That day has come. When the
Gunbuster machine returned from the core of the galaxy we knew we
had little time left. Our enemies would move quickly. We didn't
expect them to move this fast, but that's not important now.
What's important is that Gunbuster must live again to defend us
against a threat even more deadly than the one you destroyed."
Erde moved around Kazumi to look into the other woman's eyes.
"Kazumi, humanity is at war with another alien species. Those
aliens have control of a weapon that only Gunbuster can stop."

Kazumi stared blankly at Erde, unable to absorb what she
had heard. A secret conspiracy spanning the ages? Another alien
threat? A Doomsday weapon? "What is it?"

"Nemesis," Martin said, his voice hollow. "The
long-rumored brown dwarf companion to the sun. A star that
almost succeeded in coming to life. Hidden by these aliens for
most of human history. The invisible foe of all life on Earth, a
dark spectre of death. And now they will send it careening
through the solar system to finish what the Raioh blast wave

Kazumi's hands fell limply from Gerald's arms. The dark
man caught her as she slumped, her body refusing to hold upright.
"How... can we stop it?"

"With the last remaining Amulet," Erde told her.
"Gunbuster must take the Amulet to Nemesis and use it to deflect
the dark star's course."

"We c-can't," Kazumi stuttered, her lips trembling. "I

"You must," Gerald murmured. He stroked Kazumi's hair
gently with one hand.

"B-but Noriko..."

"Gunbuster can be piloted by only one person," Erde said.
"The records of Noriko's battle in subspace prove this. It's
dangerous, but it can be done. And we have one other option,
Kazumi. There is hope."

"What do you mean?"

"There is one more Pilot. Jung Freud is alive."

Hope. One scarlet ray of burning hope flared in Kazumi's
heart. "Where is she? Why haven't we seen her?"

"She is sleeping, Kazumi. Cryostasis." Erde tried to
smile through her own fear and her sympathetic pain for the
Pilot. "At our signal, Aegis will attempt to wake her from her
millennia-long slumber. I won't lie to you; it's very difficult,
and we don't know if we can do it after so long. But we won't
give up."

That burning hope melted the ice inside Kazumi and her
tears burst free, carrying all the pain and uncertainty with
them. She collapsed fully against Gerald, sobbing. He held her
tightly, his own face lined with worry. Edward looked on
helplessly, unable to think of a single thing to say. Martin
moved toward the cockpit; the time had come to order the


Deep beneath the earth, in a frozen artificial chamber, a
goddess slept. Her hair was red, the color of passion and fire.
Her green eyes had been closed for thousands of years as she lay,
waiting, within a reclining cylinder of metal. Her name was Jung
Freud, and twelve thousand years ago she had returned to Earth a
living legend. Now she was a dreaming goddess of ice.

Outside the frozen sanctum, four people, two men and two
women, gazed upon the ancient device that held Jung. Each of
them knew the risk inherent in what they were about to attempt.
Each of them was afraid. But each of them knew that they were
bound by fate to try.

The team leader took a deep breath, shattering the
sepulchral stillness of the control room. "All right. Let's get
to work." He pulled a cord from around his neck. From this cord
hung an identification card, which he slipped into a slot on the
panel before him. "Procedural safety locks disengaged. Begin
stage one."

"Stage one commencing," said one of his aides, from his
left. "Biological maintenance functions halted." Ancient
machinery groaned to life, a dragon reluctant to rise. That
dragon would have to be convinced this time.

From his right another aide reported, "Neurological pattern
is stable. Temperature rising. Thirty seconds to phase two."

"Phase two in t-minus twenty-five seconds," the third aide
concurred shortly thereafter.

Inside the temperature of the cylinder was rising. When it
had reached a certain level the machinery would, if all went
well, begin coaxing the Pilot's body back from the near-death
state it had held for so long. Each previous try had failed at
that moment. But there would be no more tries after this. This
time they had to succeed. They could tinker with the machinery
no more.

"Phase two in three... Two... One... Phase two
commencing." The team leader held his breath on instinct. His
pulse pounded in his ears. "Initiation complete. It's working,
sir!" the aide shouted in her excitement.

"God has finally smiled on us," the team leader sighed.

"Ten seconds to phase three!" Now the machinery would
stabilize the Pilot against shock, holding her steady while her
body readjusted to what amounted to a normal sleep before letting
her wake naturally. "Two... One... Pilot's life signs are
nominal, phase three beginning. We've done it!"

"Raise the temperature in the chamber, normalize the
humidity and break the portal seal," the team leader said through
the cheers of his aides. "Let's get ready to welcome the legend
back to the land of the living."

Suddenly one of the aides yelped. "Sir, her vitals are
going crazy! She's waking up on her own, through the

"Shut the damned thing off and get the cylinder open!
Now!" The team leader strode toward the door that would let him
into the cylinder chamber. It groaned aside partway, then stuck.
Growling, he shoved at it with all his might, and it reluctantly
moved enough to let him slip past. The air inside was parched,
dehumidified to prevent ice crystals from forming, and the
normaliziation cycle had not been completed. He reached the
stasis cylinder. A line of light traced along the long axis of
the cylinder and the metal split open like a clam's shell.
Before he could react a slender, pale, bare arm emerged and
clamped on his throat and yanked him forward.

Naked as the day she was born, Jung Freud glared into the
team leader's eyes and said something he couldn't understand.
(Russian,) his wildly-tumbling mind realized. (She's speaking
ancient Russian!) She repeated her first sentence and added
something imperative. Then her eyes rolled back until they
showed white and she slumped back into the cylinder, her grip
slackening. "No!" he shouted, pressing his fingers to her wrist.

Her pulse was strong and steady. Her well-formed chest
rose and fell regularly. She was alive.

They had done it.

"Sir?" one of the aides said from the door. "Sir?"

The team leader wrenched his eyes away from Jung Freud.
"Uh... Y-yes? Yes, what is it?"

"The doctors are on their way."

The team leader nodded once. "Good." He risked a glance
back at the unconscious Pilot, and that was when he noticed a
small round lump above her breast. "Wait a second, what the hell
is that?"

"I don't know, sir," said one of the other aides.
"According to our records it's something she had implanted, to be
removed when she was awakened."

With a small frown the team leader gently placed Jung
Freud's arm across her torso and turned away from the cylinder.
He knew he should be ashamed, but he hadn't realized she was
so... beautiful. "I'm going to inform Aegis Prime of our
success," he said, and wiped his forehead on reflex.

Jung Freud was alive. Soon Gunbuster would be reclaimed.
Knees weak with relief -- and some degree of embarrassment -- the
team leader went to call his superiors.


Aut hor's Notes:

Woo! Part one, finally done! This took way too long.

This story's progress has been influenced by multiple fantastic
sources, among them "Babylon 5" and "The Fifth Element" as well
as the CD "Space Eternal Void" by the progressive rock band
Eniac Requiem. The bizarre world of the late Hundred Forty-
Third Century has been helpfully shaped by these wonderful

Special thanks on this one go to three people:

* Dianna Silver, as always my Number One Prereader and my costume
and dinner consultant;

* Riffraff a.k.a. Distant Sky King, for encouraging me to go ahead
and write this story despite my numerous doubts;

* and Kevin Callahan, who watched Gunbuster just for me.

Legal babble: Noriko, Kazumi, Jung, Coach, the Gunbuster mecha
itself and the events depicted in the "Gunbuster" OVAs as
narrated by Noriko and Kazumi are property of Studio Gainax and
used without their permission. The state of the world in the
year 14296, Cloud Angel, Akira, Gerald, Erde, Aegis and all its
agents, all secondary characters appearing in this fanfiction and
the Amulet concept are mine, as are many things to come.

Comments and reviews are, as always, encouraged and welcomed with
open arms at:

Aim for the top!