Episode 28:
Truth Behind Clouds

        Venus. In ancient times it was thought to be a sister planet of Earth. But science disproved the belief, revealing that the planet was far from a sister to the Earth. Venus was, and still is, a planet that is suffocated by its own atmosphere. But today, it is a planet full of suffocated people. Suffocated by an inept, Earth-based government.
    Like the people of Mars, they chose their leaders from those who had helped to make the planet livable. Those two people were Arthur Pembroke I, and his wife, Nimeesha Pembroke. However, in a case that was never solved, Arthur I was murdered, and Nimeesha elected to take his place.
    The people count many grievances against the World Nation. Outsiders to the project had once thought it would be possible to change the rotation of Venus. To make it more Earth-like. This was attempted, despite protest from the Pembrokes, by use of old nuclear weaponry. It ended in spectacular, unpredicted, disaster. The planet's entire orbit changed direction, and left a massive amount of radiation that lingered around the equator where the explosions occurred.
    For the most part, the World Nation considered the entire project failed, and pleasantly forgot about the entire thing. However, they couldn't pleasantly forget the people who still lived there, and on the planet's colonies, in spite of the hardships.

        Kwannon looked out from the window in her quarters, aboard the Aphrodite. Venus looked so different from space. As if sleeping beneath its clouds. But she knew below the clouds was turmoil, and a desire for war.
    By the time Earth is in range again, this battleship will be ready to strike. I know Nimeesha has been planning this for awhile. With the Earth Sphere disposed of, and Earth under our control, we can spring board from there to Mars. Mars needs to be dealt with, simply because they're idealistic enough to oppose our attacking Earth. And they have the military might to do so.
    They don't understand it though. While the World Nation's ignoring them has done them good, it's done ill for us.
    It's probably better Tiana is there though, instead of being here. She should be safe there... Maybe even happier there. Nimeesha won't talk about her anymore... It must hurt her, but she can't let that interfere with her plan.
    The plan... indeed. Things may have been better if we'd actually kept to the peace talks, instead of using them as a farce to kill Relena Yuy and the President. I suppose Nimeesha won't budge from her plan... I don't understand why the Yuys let Tiana stay with them though. Maybe there are some good people on Earth. Or were on Earth, anyways. We hardly pick up any signals from Earth now... I wish I knew what was going on there, so we could prepare for it.
    How can Nimeesha use her own children in this though? I... know she's using me... But I don't have a choice. She practically saved my life after the acid storm... Helping her is the least I can do. But Tiana, Chayton, and even Arthur don't need to get involved. She's dumped her children in the hands of the enemy... Having Tiana go to Earth with me... Sending Chayton and Arthur to kidnap those engineers...
    Kwannon ran a hand through her black bangs and slid her eye patch off. She studied her reflection in the glass. The skin over and around her ruined eye was shriveled and discolored. The scars were old, but she could still remember the pain. She could always remember it, even when she didn't want to. She knew it was something the World Nation couldn't have done anything about, but it wasn't that which bothered her about it. It was that they hadn't tried hard enough to help after the fact.
    I was lucky I got treated at all. I didn't have anything or anyone then... But Nimeesha had actually cared about it. Nobody on Earth cared about what happened. My parents, my brother... I lost them. Everyone lost something.
    She reached up and touched the old scar with her finger tips. The scarred flesh felt strange, even after all these years.
    The only people who cared about it, and the only people who still care are the people here. ... Except for maybe Arthur. Kwannon rolled her good eye. Chayton goes out and works, and he does nothing. I can't believe Chayton went along with kidnapping the PMS engineers... Well, at least I hear they made the trip back to Venus hell for those two. Kwannon was still hearing horror stories about that thirty-six hour flight. Tales of how all of them except for their leader (and the only sane one of the bunch) singing, and then becoming delusional.
    Kwannon's thoughts took her back to her decision that had confined her to the Aphrodite. Lettings Trowa Barton and Tiffany Geslacht escape. Perhaps not one of her smarter moves, but still, it had seemed right at the time.
    I don't think that fool pilot really knew exactly why he was coming to Venus for that woman. I could tell though. Only a fool in love would take such huge risks for one person. Kwannon sighed. It'd been more than just being tired of killing. Part of her had felt rather sorry for the two of them. It'd been pitiful to see two people who so obviously had feelings for each other be so completely oblivious to exactly how much was there.
    I envy them... just a little. Kwannon looked at her reflection again. After the acid had disfigured her so badly, she had felt no one would ever truly love her. And after getting involved in the war, she had decided she was undeserving of another's affection. Also, she wasn't sure she was capable of loving anyone, so long as part of her loathed herself for the things she had done.

        Nimeesha set a few folders down and leaned back in her office chair. She looked around the room. It had once been her husband's office, and it hadn't changed much since she had taken up his job.
    If walls could talk... She mused, What would they have to say? Certainly nothing good. She glanced at the framed family photo on her desk. Chayton, Arthur, Tiana... I haven't been a very good mother, have I? Disowned by my own daughter... Letting my sons join in a war. They're adults though... It's their choice. I'm not the only mother here who has let her children go.
    This will make a better world for them though. Every parent strives to make the world better for their children. I don't think Arthur sees it that way... But I know Chayton understands. He's not like his father. Kwannon understands... maybe understands too well. The poor girl... I don't think she'd have made it if we hadn't taken her in.
    Things will be right when this war is over, one way, or another. I can't change the damage that's been done to this planet, but I can change the way it's treated.
    Most of the people who came here were exposed to unnatural amounts of radiation, but nobody really cared. The cancer rates are far too high here, though I've heard it hasn't affected most of the children born here. Perhaps they're adapting.
    ... Once Mars is dealt with, I can begin reconstructing the governments. I'll show Chayton and Tiana how it should be. Mistakes shouldn't just be forgotten and turned away from. They should be dealt with. Properly.
    I wonder if Tiana is all right...? She probably is... She's not as naive as she appears. I doubt she'll want anything to do with me when this is over... It may all be up to Chayton and Kwannon then.
    Nimeesha closed her eyes and sighed. It was going to seem like forever before the Earth was in range again.
    Earth... I was born there... So were Chayton, Arthur, and their father. It seems so distant now though. Blue skies... starry nights... It really was beautiful there. Oceans, beaches, forests... But the corruption in so many people there...
    She shook her head and sat up straight.

        "I'm sending you the target statistics." Josie Selvaggio pressed a button on his computer, talking on a speaker phone from his office. "Colony V-L7DBC206. It's a major hub of activity for the Venus military. The high speed shuttles we managed to save from the rebel Preventers will be able to get you there and back. I'm having one equipped with ECM hyper jammers just for this."
    "Hm... Says here that it's a double wheel colony. Which one has the target?"
    "The colony IS the target." Selvaggio growled over the phone. "The place has an enemy base, as well as important research facilities. Probably divided between the two wheels of the colony. Take them both out."
    "We're gonna need some good old fashioned explosives. Nothing electrical."
    "I know that already. Be ready to leave tomorrow morning."
    "Roger that, Commander."

        "Well, this will be fun." A tall man in a dark hangar hung up a phone and turned to his companions.
    "What are the orders, Zaid?"
    "Go over the data and see for yourself."
    "Ivan's looking over it now with Gavin to figure out the colony's weak points." The only woman in the group informed them. They were interrupted from further discussion by a loud cheer.
    "Woo! Never blowed a hole in a colony before! Oughta be a hoot!"
    Sweatdrops were had by everyone else.
    "Remind me why we have this uncultured hick on our team?" The aforementioned female whispered to the man known as Zaid.
    "Because Gavin is an explosives expert, Giva."
    "... I'm surprised he hasn't blown himself up yet." Giva replied drolly. She was short, especially compared to her male cohorts, but clearly made up with attitude what she lacked in stature..
    "Hey!" Ivan, the man sitting in front of the computer with Gavin, interrupted. "Make sure we've got some EMPs to set. Our best bet is to park our ride out of their radar range, go out in flight suits to the colony hull, set the EMPs to black out everything inside, then-"
    "Blow holes in it!" The resident 'dumb blonde' of the group hollered.
    "... Exactly, Gavin." Ivan rolled his eyes at the more spirited pyro... technic. "Once the explosives are set, we get the hell back to our shuttle and get out of there."
    "Sounds good. The Commander wants us at the shuttle hangar tomorrow morning." Zaid wandered over to the computer and looked at the data. "Put the EMPs there." He pointed at a spot on the diagram. "That's where the power supply is for that colony type."
    "... Gavin. Go figure out how many explosives you're bringing."
    "Ya don't gotta tell me what to do, shorty." Gavin looked down at the brunette assassin.
    "... Hey, anybody know where Oren is?"
    "Somewhere on Mars. We don't need him for this mission anyways."

        Arthur sat down on the scaffold after barking orders at the technicians working on the Anteros. The hangar bay on the Erinyes cruiser he and Chayton were on board was relatively empty at the moment, carrying only the two gundams, and a meager handful of the new designs. They were headed for the Aphrodite for further testing, and to determine which of the new mass-production units would be added to the massive warship's mobile suit arsenal.
    Why the hell is Kwannon the one overseeing the Aphrodite? She let prisoners escape, and on top of that, left my sister behind! I know Mom's aware of this, so why? Instead of disciplining the woman, she puts her in charge of the Aphrodite! A ship with twice the firing power of Libra! Is she nuts!?
    Kwannon shoulda made sure Tiana made it back here. Now I hear she's on Mars! Mars! In the very hands of the enemy! She can't possibly be safe there. Who knows what they're doing to her.
    I'm going to go Mars and rescue her. When we make our first strike, nothing is going to stop me. No matter what Gundams try to get in the way.
    I can't believe Mom's so calm about it. And Chayton too! Of course, he's always seemed pretty carefree. But still, it's our SISTER. Our little sister! What if they decide to hold her hostage when we attack? Bastards...
    "Arthur!" Chayton shouted to his brother. "What the hell are you having the techies add to your Gundam?"
    "Electromagnetic pulse grenades."
    "Are you crazy? Those are pretty risky to use in combat. Sure, you can black out an enemy mobile suit, but what if you're too close when it goes off? Or what if one of our guys is too close?"
    "I know what I'm doing." Arthur coldly replied.
    "... I highly doubt it." Chayton muttered under his breath and walked away.
    Electromagnetic pulse grenades. What a cheap shot... Even kidnapping the PMS to build these things was a cheap shot. Couldn't we have done it ourselves? ... If those chicks hadn't been so feisty, we could have just settled with tying them up. Chayton sweatdropped at the memory. The bite marks on his arm might never go away... I feel kind of bad about it now. They weren't really part of the war. Just... pawns I suppose. I'm glad Kwannon let that one escape... I don't really think I could have lived with myself if any of them had been killed. Why did she let that Gundam pilot and Tiffany Geslacht escape? And did that pilot really come all the way to Venus for just one engineer? Crazy.
    I hope Tiana is all right on Mars. She should be. I don't see how she could be of any use to Mars. I doubt they'll stoop as low as to use her as a hostage or anything.
    ... I'm not sure Mom would stop if they did.
    Chayton shook his head and sighed. Ever since the campaign against the World Nation began, his mother just hadn't quite been the same.
    Actually... thinking about it now... I don't think she's been the same since Dad was killed. I wonder if she's only really doing this to get back at the Earth for supposedly assassinating him? No evidence was ever found though...

    Josie Selvaggio paced back and forth in his quarters near what was left of the Preventers headquarters. He was rather annoyed that the entire base had been destroyed- it would have made an ideal headquarters for what was left of the Preventers, now reorganized into the Earth Defense Organization. In due time it would be replaced.
    The world is full of traitors, people who would ruin things for everyone just for their own gain. But now that sentimental old fool Une is out of the picture, we can actually prepare to defend ourselves, instead of trying to hide behind obviously outdated pacifism.
    He sat down and sorted through the myriad papers at his desk. Former Alliance factories that had been mothballed following the Eve Wars had been recommissioned and had been producing new mobile suits for the past several weeks, and key points in orbit had been captured from the colonies, enabling the construction to begin on a proper defensive fleet. They still had the blueprints for the Gryphon and Basilisk suits used by the Preventers, however, they were of particularly high quality and difficult to mass-produce, hence the more modular Scorpio and Draco designs. The Aquarius was also going into production, though in limited numbers, since the Senate felt that aquatic combat would not be a major part of the upcoming war.
    Once we have a decent force, the colonies will need to be subdued. We need to be unified against the enemy, and if the colonies leave themselves defenseless, they could easily be overrun by the Venusian menace and used against us! All it would take is for a single colony to be de-orbited and put on a crash course with the surface. We can't allow that to happen!
    What Venus has done is unforgivable. They murdered our President, and as if that alone wasn't bad enough, they murdered Relena Peacecraft! The woman was an icon, and her death has been immensely demoralizing. We can't let that atrocity go unavenged. Even if that requires committing our own atrocities. Perhaps that will teach Venus a lesson. Pacifism died with Relena, there's certainly no turning back now. The enemy must be paid back in full and defeated!
    And what about Mars? They haven't made any overt acts of hostility, but Milliardo Peacecraft cannot be trusted. Building Gundams in secret! Who knows what else he's planning? Doesn't he want to avenge his sister's murder? I know that if one of my own was killed, I would take my revenge or die trying! And now he's got the rebel faction of the Preventers under his wing- an elite military force, fully equipped! We're lucky he hasn't tried to take advantage of the Earth's relative weakness.
    And just who the hell was that piloting Milliardo's mobile suit? Josie thought back to his fight with the Tallgeese with a growl. Zechs Merquise was killed in the Eve Wars, with no known next of kin! And just who the hell WOULD Milliardo allow to use his personal mobile suit? So far as anyone knows, his kids are both too young to be enrolled in the Mars military academy. Perhaps some kind of special operative sent to cause trouble well in advance of a Martian attack? We'll just have to wait an see.
    With a disgruntled snort, Josie checked his timetable. His newly assembled special operations team would be launching on their mission shortly, and would be due to arrive in Venus orbit some thirty hours later. If everything went according to plan, the surprise attack would deal a crippling blow to the Venus military and the morale of its people. Granted, a lot of civilians would be killed as well, but in Selvaggio's mind, Venus and all of its population were aligned against him, so it wouldn't matter much if there was extensive collateral damage in the process of taking out a key part of the Venus military.

        "Once we depart the shuttle, they can intercept radio transmissions. While setting the explosives and EMPs, use the light wands to signal the other members of the team. When I'm done, I'll head back toward the shuttle with the white one. When your payload is in position, flash your green ones and wait for my signal to head back to the shuttle. Got it?" Zaid addressed his crew, tucking the lightwands in question into his flight suit's belt.
    "Roger that, boss!" Gavin crowed, eagerly fingering the explosive devices he would be setting.
    "Yessir!" Ivan saluted smartly.
    "Got it." Giva nodded.
    After a long flight to a suitably remote location, the Earth Defense Organization's special forces team had hidden their vehicle and were preparing to leave the safety of the craft to set up their attack against colony V-L7DBC2068.

    Some time later, still undetected by the colony, a quartet of green specks of light retreated unseen and departed, not even waiting to witness the end result of their handiwork.

        "Mrs. Pembroke, there's a call on line 6 from the colonies. It's the mayor from V-L7X2053... He says it's very urgent."
    "... Urgent? Put him through." Nimeesha picked up her office phone.
    "Nimeesha speaking..... Yes... What?" She stood up, eyes widening at the news she was hearing. This was... this was not possible. She picked up her pen and hastily began to record the details.
    "I need the colony number, the exact time they went silent, estimated casualities, and the exact time explosions were detected. Your colony is to send out search and rescue teams immediately. You have? Good. There's a chance people made their way to the shelters. My office will contact you later. Don't make any press announcements. I will handle such matters personally. Good bye." The Venusian woman hung up the phone swiftly. The pen in her hand waivered as realization dawned.
    Who did this...? Who could have.... She sank slowly back down into her chair. Mars... No.... Milliardo Peacecraft... it's not his style... Not 6 million people... Only 11% of that was military... 11% isn't worth 6 million lives...
    Earth... Earth. Selvaggio... Josie Selvaggio... You've done it again. ... Asshole. Nimeesha let her pen fall and picked up the phone again, a few tears falling on her hastily scribbled notes.
    "Get me the press."

        It wasn't a new dress. It wasn't a fancy dress.
    Nimeesha pulled it out from the back of her closet. The black dress had not faded over the years since her husband's funeral. She didn't feel her suit was right for this occassion. This tragedy. It was too cold and impersonal.
    "They'll pay..." She hissed to the empty room.

        "Ma'am, are you really sure it's safe for you to publicly address this? The culprits could be waiting... If we lost you-"
    "Shut up, I've made up my mind." Nimeesha snapped at the VMF officer beside her, "It's YOUR job to prevent it anyway."
    Cutting off any further pleas from her staff, the governess walked briskly out from the curtain and up to the podium.
    "Hello... I ask that you please refrain from any questions until afterwards..." She took a deep breath, "Earlier today... Colony V-L7DBC2068, which, as many of you know, houses many important military and civillian facilities, ceased sending out any signals to Venus or our other colonies. Shuttles sent to investigate ceased functioning within a certain range of the colony. We believe this to have been caused by electromagnetic pulse devices. One hour after the silence, a series of explosions completely decimated colony V-LDBC2068, and the atmosphere and the inhabitants were sucked into the void of space." Her voice faltered silently.
    "An estimated six million lived on that colony. Chances of finding survivors is almost non-existant. We do not believe this to be the work of Mars. As more information becomes available, it will be reported to you all. Your questions, please." She sighed.
    "Mrs. Pembroke! If it wasn't Mars, do you suspect the Earth??"
    "What are your thoughts on the matter, Mrs. Pembroke?"
    "Will there be a formal investigation?"
    "Of course there will be. As for my thoughts..." Nimeesha closed her eyes for a moment, words forming in her head. "This is not a mere act of war. This... is inhuman. A heinous crime against not just Venus, but against humanity as well. I will not stand for this pointless bloodshed, and those responsible will not go unpunished for it. Be they from Earth or Mars, there WILL be hell to pay! In the entire history of the human race, never has there been a tragedy so great as this. Six million human beings. Silenced. They could not even defend themselves." There were tears in her eyes. "Th-that is all... Thank you." Nimeesha hurried away back behind the curtain.
    "Mrs. Pembroke!" Voices shouted after her. She leaned against the wall and closed her eyes.
    "Oh, God..." Nimeesha whispered.
    Oh, God...

To Be Continued in Gundam Wing, A New Era, Episode 29:
"There Are Tears For Misfortune"