Part 29: A Shadow Over the World
The scene begins in the Dragon's Hive mess hall, where Crowe is deeply enjoying the fact that GOONZ feeds its members. If it hadn't, he'd have to replace half his meals with water. Well, that could be worse, as long as the other half is - what, they're sugar water? Ouch, Crowe.
Luca originally came to bring Crowe a call. He's guessing it's from the Chief, who had to be brought in on GOONZ' secret, and he asks Luca to put it up on the big screen so she can meet the cast.
Only to find that his caller is actually Carlos Axion Jr., who he didn't tell about GOONZ, but who found out anyway because he is the richest man in the world and keeps tabs on all Axion's employees. Crowe doesn't waste time reminding him that Traia's lab is his sponsor, not his employer - he's a free man. But even if he's not Carlos' underling, he's still his "new favorite toy," as long as he's in the cockpit of the machine with the VX system.
But lest we misunderstand, Carlos has given up on pulling Crowe off the Brasta. He's found a new game: watching Crowe lose. He's already got one point from when the machine was totaled by Rhinodamon MD. Crowe gets sick of his bullshit and hangs up the line. But everyone has to wonder, even for a dude with way too much money and time on his hands... what did he call for? Just to let us know that GOONZ is his own personal hot new reality show?
The S. M. S. gang are coming to realize just how screwed up this Earth is. And coming from a universe where the human species has been in a long struggle for survival, Alto can't imagine where these humans get off warring with each other. Michel supposes that they might be able to get together if they, too, were threatened with extinction, but as Crowe and Lockon cheerfully point out, we kind of already are.
Chirico has been listening silently this whole time, the way he does, looking like he's asleep. The crew chats about ATs a bit - all the tools of war and no more packed into a compact package, extremely cheap to mass-produce in vast quantities but with the durability of tissue. Even so, they're extremely dangerous in the hands of a skilled soldier. You know, like Chirico. "Forget the AT, he's the real killing machine here," attests Duo, but the operative word there might be "machine"...
Anyone remember the PMC Trust? No? They're a private military employing, among other things, floating Astragians, and in a little corner of the AEU, two of its higher-ups, Ali al-Sachez and Riemann, are discussing their gig: to scout out what kind of firepower GOONZ has. The employer is anonymous, but put up a high bounty. Riemann guesses it must be someone from one of the superpowers with a beef with the U. N. But Sachez is happy to say that the PMC Trust's mission statement is to raise any amount of hell for the right price.
And he's called for Riemann's help because it's going to be a very interesting mission. Because while the contract is just for information, the employer won't complain if he can take us out, and that's right up Sachez' alley. So Riemann is there to seal the deal - he was, after all, the captain of the most dangerous team in the Astragius Galaxy, the Red Shoulders. Riemann is on board, because there's something in GOONZ he's curious about too. He wants to take to the field personally, and Sachez can't let himself be outdone. He wants a taste of the Gundam's blood.
The client's already set them up by leaking the location of a WLF base to the U. N. It's only a matter of time before they send GOONZ after it, and that's when the PMC springs their trap. Riemann is a little disturbed by the way Sachez treats the mission as a game, a hunt, an excuse to get blood on his hands.
Chapter 15: A Shadow Over the World
Sure enough, the WPC took the bait, and the WLF assumes defensive positions.
Enemies are north and east. Outside of Setsuna, I'm taking all five Gundams, Chirico, and the Brasta for plot. The rest were chosen largely based on accuracy or presence of Strike/Sense, because this is going to be the first stage where super robots have to challenge bosses in real robots.
GOONZ didn't realize there was a WLF base here. No one did, not even Veda, until the U. N. got tipped. Something's fishy here, but they can't tell who the trap was for, the WLF or them. But it's good that it's in a secret location. With no one to see, Celestial Being and the Black Knights can go nuts.
But something's bothering Setsuna. The base is in northern Azadistan, his motherland.
As if to emphasize that we're fighting chump bait, the SR Point is to destroy all enemies within two ally phases. Note that it doesn't say to clear the map in that time.
Besides which, Sachez and Riemann are nowhere to be found.
The first order of business is delivering an Attack! order to the entire force.
Nine ranks in SP Up gives Musashi SP to cast Spirit with room to spare.
The chapter's guest stars take point.
Not only are the enemies few in number, they're also the dumb grunts we know from the WLF - cheap Axios, imbalanced sniper Tieren, and Genocidrons.
Now the mains (and Crowe) zip in.
Because the enemies are so awful, and thanks to a few points in Skill, Crowe's back in the double attacking game.
Most of these remaining enemies are wounded, a few severely.
By the time the turn rolls around again, it'll be a matter of cleanup.
This wasn't significant, I just like showing off giant damage numbers every so often.
Like this one.
I mean, the WLF is there to make GOONZ feel special, so let's revel in it.
Last one, honest.
The WLF are such lovely jobbers, but now they're clear.
Before we can feel proud of ourselves, of course, reinforcements pop up on the radar.
Those are no WLF machines. The Enacts may be AEU, but this is the PMC Trust of Moralia. And Chirico has noticed the Red Shoulder commander, Reimann, in the middle of the formation.
Sachez is in his own Enact Custom, and he's pretty impressed that GOONZ swept through the WLF so quickly. But that just means he expects us to be a fun match. Riemann, all business, orders his Shoulders to get it over with quickly.
The more mild-mannered GOONZ are apprehensive of this new development, but Ryoma and Kamina are willing to step up to the plate, and Zero considers this a perfect chance to be heroes.
So we're going to defend ourselves, or take out the bad guys, or however you want to think of it - there's no time limit and no restrictions.
Riemann's AT is midboss level, but his stats are excellent and his Skill rating is easily on par with Chirico's (one point higher, actually). He has Ignore Size, so he can do battle with any of our units with no difficulty.
Sachez is a little more boss-like. And don't let his HP fool you, he'll make up for it by draining the hell out of the SP of anyone near him through Strike, Alert, Sense, and Focus.
He's also an absolutely monstrous pilot, with stats over Riemann's already impressive numbers, and a skill list of Perfection, Break Will Limit, Ignore Size, Counter L5, and Prevail L7 (ugh).
This is the first time in Z2 that we've seen Perfection, a skill introduced in Alpha 3 and reprised in Z1, reserved only the most fearsome and powerful bosses. The mere fact that he has it is terrifying enough, putting him in the company of the final bosses of Alpha and Z, Gym Ginghanam, Dark Angel Toma, and the mad EVA-01, and I haven't told you what it does yet: it grants a free, constant +30% to his hit and dodge rates whenever he's at 130 or more Will. Where are Exhaust tanks when I need them?
Not that the Red Shoulders are slackers either, living up to Luca's earlier speech about being very dangerous in the right hands. These pilots may be unnamed, but they are still the Red Shoulders. Looks like Focus is going to be big.
On the other hand, Luca was right about another thing - if you can hit them, they can't withstand much. Looks like Strike is going to be big.
Crowe update: level 16, still no second Spirit.
The Shoulders are fragile, but they can still usually take a hit. Riemann stays put.
The Helions prove to actually be weaker than the ATs.
Crowe cuts through a whole squad of them. The Enacts stay put.
I'm not ready to challenge the bosses just yet, but I will have Zero order an Attack to help deal with those pesky ATs and Enacts.
Of course Dai-Guard has issues hitting.
But with Sumeragi's guidance, it's looking much better.
Using Command auras helps save SP for the bosses, but it's still going to be an uphill skirmish.
After a long slog through the Shoulders, I'm staring down Riemann and Sachez with my packed formation. (Don't worry, they can't Combo in this game.)
Let's see what they've got.
Riemann guns straight for Chirico.
Chirico doesn't have a bad bet, and Tieria has his back just in case. Not a bad deal.
Sergeant Chirico, I refuse to believe you survived!
Major Riemann, do you know what happened on Rid?
I have nothing to say to a man who is about to die!
Die, Chirico! Your continued survival disturbs him!
Riemann rants during the whole fight that Chirico should be dead and must die.
No one cares about these people.
Finally, Sachez attacks Setsuna, who is in a similar boat to Chirico, though Sachez is much deadlier and has his abilities at full power.
So you're a melee machine? I'm pretty good at that myself!
The way he moves... he's from the Kurzhisi KPSA...
Step it up, Gundam! This is going to be too easy!
He strikes, but Tieria completely blocks his attack.
Setsuna hits hard. But Sachez is only going to get stronger from here.
And it's time for a proper assault to begin.
First, Zero will tag both Sachez and Riemann with Analyze.
And then hit all of GOONZ with the Attack order.
First to strike will be Crowe, who will pin the Enact down with the Spiker to reduce its evasion.
That's the new Axion machine! If I capture that, it'll sell for a ton!
I can hear you, Mr. Mercenary. And my business is making money on my targets, not for them.
But now that you mention it, the combat data on your custom mech is going to make my payday!
But the repairs on the Brasta probably set Crowe back all that cash.
Ha ha ha! Another Gundam! It's a Gundam party in here!
Well, aren't you having fun.
It takes a real hardcore Reaper to make a party out of a fight.
A Colony Gundam. You think you can put up a challenge for me?
This man is ruled by his emotions...
You wanna do this, Gundam? I'll crumple that huge armor into scrap!
A Gundam Meister never fails his mission. I will defend the Gundams with my life!
Damn it! He keeps moving irregularly, I can't get a lock on him!
What's the matter, sniper? Line me up!
In the meantime, I'm gonna take your head!
So you're the fast one. But my Enact's been turbocharged!
It's like he's moving by instinct!
I know someone else who fights like that. Someone who enjoys killing, just like this man!
As Sachez got lower and lower on HP, he got better and better at dodging... Tieria didn't have the SP to target for everyone, and many of the attackers lack Strike.
So it's up to Setsuna, who has both Strike and Alert. He gains a level and an EM Antenna, which charges up the equipped robot's EN at 10% per turn.
Sachez decides to pick up the party another time.
But Setsuna recognizes the pilot's technique and gives chase! Sachez shoots Exia down, intending to take it in for cash, and taunting Setsuna that the machine may be impressive but the pilot sucks. But for the first time, Setsuna hears his opponent's voice and is now sure that he recognizes the other man. He transmits a message to Sachez' mech to land and open up his cockpit.
Then Setsuna does the same, and Sachez is shocked to see that his opponent was a child. But it doesn't stop him from gleefully pulling his weapon on Exia's open hatch! Setsuna is much too far away for Lockon to cover him now...
But he doesn't need to - two new Gundams step in!
It's Quattre and Trowa! They've come to join GOONZ!
Sachez takes off for real, but tries to figure out who Setsuna was as he leaves. One of his child soldiers from back in Kurzhistan? Watching him go, Setsuna is positive he knows who that man was. Tieria takes this as evidence that Setsuna is not fit to be a Meister.
So anyway, we have Quattre and Trowa.
Let's exercise them.
Combat Log 0034. Log of Trowa Barton.
I've gotten used to calling myself that.
GOONZ... and they have Colony Gundams who are fighting our fight.
It would be truly wonderful if we could join forces with them.
Those were the last two soldiers. Now it's just Riemann.
This time, Riemann shrieks "You aren't human! You're not..."
Chirico wins another Muscle Cylinder.
He reflects that he hasn't, and perhaps never will escape from the nightmare that began on Rid...
Cathy asks if it's a good idea for the Quarter to continue its association with GOONZ if they're just going to get stuck in operations like this. Jeffrey replies poetically that any world and any universe with humans in it will have conflict. The Macross can't simply pretend they have no part in it. Besides, while they have enemies, they also have allies. And they will always have more allies as long as they follow the path of right.
And while we've gained some sweet new Gundams, as Crowe says, we've got some problems with the Gundams we already have. The appearance of Sachez has Setsuna rattled.
And Tieria is ready to shoot him down if he does something stupid again. "And lose the solar furnace?" shoots back Setsuna. "If it is to protect the Gundam's secret," replies Tieria evenly.
We turn to the royal capitol of Azadistan, on whose land we just fought a battle. Its queen, Marina Ishmail, is receiving word that the same battle has ended, but she doesn't much care for the outcome, or the fact that fighting happened at all. As queen, she refuses to take part in any conflict. It's a naive, idealistic policy, and her advisor Shirin knows it, and she knows it too. She thinks she just needs time to gather her courage, but that may be time her country doesn't have.
As the Ptolemy leaves the scene, Lockon punches Setsuna for showing his face to an enemy when the mere existence, let alone identity, of the Gundam Meisters is top secret. He demands at least a reason, but Setsuna refuses to talk. Tieria doesn't even care and points his gun at Setsuna, which is several steps past what Lockon was comfortable with.
As Tieria rants on about the integrity of the Plan and not allowing anything to endanger it, Setsuna pipes up to say he will not abandone Exia. He points his own gun back at Tieria, and Allelujah reminds Tieria that Setsuna was still selected by Veda. We're not doubting Veda's reasons, are we, Tieria? He wants to know what that reason could possibly be, and Setsuna says that his survival is reason enough.
The rest are trying to stay out of it, and Kouji mentions that Team D doesn't act like much of a team. They say it's because they were pretty much slapped together randomly, but Takeru points out that GOONZ itself is just a larger version of the same, and they seem to be coming to trust one another. Are you guys sure about that? Team D all say they couldn't care less and go to hole up in their individual quarters, but Takeru observes that they're syncing up, whether they like it or not.
Quattro and Trowa introduce themselves. The Colony Gundams' ultimate goal is to bring peace between the Colonies and the surface powers, so in a sense their ends line up with GOONZ' and the WPC's. Crowe is curious about the fifth pilot, who we met way back in chapter 1. Unfortunately, Quattre and Trowa can't say anything about the pilot or the Gundam.
And on the subject of Gundams, Heero's gone after Setsuna...
What do you want?
What were you thinking?
None of your business.
Answer the question.
I wasn't. My body did it by itself.
So you were ruled by your emotions.
I have learned that I cannot object to acting on emotion.
Aww, they're making friends! I think. GOONZ very existence is causing ripples of change, both in the world and its own members; once again, the warriors realize that things have been set in motion that they won't be able to turn back. For better or for worse?
Back in the present, we're being called to the bridge. Chairman Roddick wants to talk to us about our next steps. He surely knows what happened today. What does he have up his sleeve?
And at OZ headquarters in Paris, Treize, Schneizel, and Alejandro (how many people are in cahoots here?) have to admit that Elgan's little army is a force to be reckoned with. Enough, maybe, to seriously challenge the three great powers, of which Britannia and the AEU are represented in this little conspiracy. They've got big plans cooking, and GOONZ might be a pawn in them sometime, but for now, they'll let us do as we will. And Alejandro is still cooking his own scheme, but for those, too, he can't let us fall.
COMING UP: Ohtsuka wants us to split up the party again. He hopes it'll throw our enemies off our scent, let us deal with more problems at once, and keep people from putting two and two together too quickly regarding the U. N. working with terrorists. Right now, the Beastmen are spreading across the ocean at an alarming rate, and new forms of DAMon are being sighted all over the place. Sumeragi has her own bad news: Veda is raising alarms about the WLF's movements. So basically, the Quarter and the Ptolemy are going separate ways.
Each commander realizes that this essentially means we're forming a public team, of the officially sanctioned soldiers and mercenaries who are working with the WPC, and a shadow team of all the terrorists and unsavory characters that we want to keep out of the public eye. Following those lines, the Quarter will house the public team of the S. M. S. squad, Mazinger, Dai-Guard, the Crushers, Trider, and Gurren-Lagann. Likewise, the Ptolemy will serve as the mothership for the shadow team of Celestial Being, Dancouga Nova, Getter Robo, the Colony Gundams, the Black Knights, and Chirico.
Crowe Brust, however, is a freelance mercenary. It doesn't really matter which team he joins, so he's free to choose. And by he, I mean you.
Crowe's chatting with Traia and Esther, and it really doesn't matter to him. No one has any idea where MD would show up, and both routes offer the prospect of money and danger. The scales waver back and forth, and Esther demands he choose already...
And while I'm here, here's another question: would you rather this path split be presented one after the other, or back and forth between stages?
See you next chapter.