Episode 4:
Foreboding Signs

        The year is After Colony 216. Dissatisfied with the World Nation's inabilty to respond effectively to Venus's crisis in 207, Venus's governess, Nimeesha Pembroke, has declared war on the unprepared World Nation. However, preparing for such an emergency, Mars governor Milliardo Peacecraft has been building up a defense force of mobile suits, including several Gundams...

        Roku Merquise has been transferred to the main academy, and her parents, Milliardo and Noin, have not noticed that their errent daughter is right under their noses... or have they? Unsure, she maintains her disguise. Meanwhile, Meiran is still on the run from her father, and has headed to Quatre's. Relena and Heero now have to inform the rest of the World Nation government that they need to prepare for war...

        Relena had left immediately for an emergency meeting. Heero was on the phone almost as fast.
    "Hello?" Noin was the one who answered the phone.
    "Is Milliardo available?" Heero asked.
    "Yeah, hold on, Heero." Noin knew who it was instantly. Moments later, Milliardo came on the line.
    "What is it, Heero?" He sounded a bit testy.
    He must still be having trouble with Sidra. Heero noted to himself.
    "Venus has declared war. Are those suits ready yet?" Heero didn't waste any time with pleasantries.
    "They're what??" Milliardo was, to say the least, surprised. He'd expected it to happen eventually, but not for another year or so!
    "Just a little while ago. Are those suits ready yet?" Heero repeated, sounding Not Happy.
    "No, not all of them. We're still needing pilots." Milliardo also sounded Not Happy. Of course, he was Not Happy to begin with.
    "What suits are done?"
    "At the moment, the Tallgeese, Star Streak, and Typhoon."
    "I'll be sending Yoshino to take up the position you offered him." Heero was going to send his son over whether he liked it or not.
    "Alright." They both hung up. Heero glanced around for Shino. He should be home right now. Sure enough, he was. Sound asleep well after noon, but home never the less. Heero opened the door to Shino's room.
    "Get up."
    "Urmmmph.... jus' 5 more minutes....zzz..." Shino grunted and pulled the covers up over his head. Heero walked into the tidy room and yanked the covers off.
    "Get up!"
    "Whaaaaat?" Shino groaned and sat up, "Why are you waking me up at this ungodly hour??"
    "It's 1 in the afternoon." Heero replied, "Pack your things."
    "Wha-?" Shino blinked. His mind had not jump started just yet.
    "You're going to Mars." Heero was getting impatient.
    "MARS!? WHEN WAS THIS DECIDED!?" Shino was wide awake now.
    "Venus declared war." Heero stated flatly.
    "What!?! WHEN!?" Shino was... surprised.
    "While you were sleeping."
    "CRAP!" Shino was up and getting dressed in a blink of an eye. Working for the Preventers taught oneself to (generally) wake up very quickly, "Are Uncle Milliardo's suits ready yet??"
    "Some of them. I told him you'd take the position as a pilot."
    "Gee, thanks Dad..." Shino sighed, "All right. I guess peace talks aren't gonna work at this point."
    Ariana, hearing the noise, peeked in, smudged with grease and oil.
    "S'up?" She blinked, having not heard the news. Shino slumped.
    "Venus declared war while I was sleeping. I'm going to Mars." He sighed. Ariana jumped up grinning happily.
    "I knew you'd take the position!"
    "Dad didn't leave me a whole lot of choice." Shino glanced at his father.
    Heero, meanwhile, was staring at his daughter in surprise. Why is she so happy about this?
    Shino noticed the look on his little sister's face and hid a look of horror. Oh God! She's gonna take that suit she's building into battle!! But he'd promised her he wouldn't tell about FalconWing, and he was a man of his word. He'd just have to make her promise not to take it out into space. Hopefully the fighting wouldn't get to Earth  so she wouldn't have anything to fight.
    Ariana smiled. I better finish up FalconWing and fast!

        "Why don't you at least call your mother?" Quatre looked at Meiran, who rolled her eyes.
    "Fine, fine." She picked up the phone and called home. Her mother answered.
    "Hi. Mom?"
    "MEIRAN! YOUR FATHER SAID YOU WEREN'T AT DUO AND HILDE'S! WHERE ARE YOU, YOUNG LADY!?" Meiran held the phone away from her ear and winced. Quatre boggled at the sheer volume Sally was capable of broadcasting over the small phone speaker. Meiran made a face and answered.
    "I left because he was coming! I'm at Uncle Quatre's now. Pleeeeeease don't tell him." Meiran sighed. This could get complicated.
    "How are you paying for this, Meiran?" Uh-oh.
    "Um...well...." Aw crap... Meiran fumbled for an answer.
    "I'm waiting." Sally sounded Not Happy. (Authors: Have we met our "Not Happy" quota for this episode?)
    "I kinda.... stole it from Daddy's wallet......." Meiran finally admitted, sweatdropping slightly, "I'll pay you guys back!!"
    "You what-?"
    "Well, I'm fine, don't worry, tell Daddy not to worry, I love you, bye!" Meiran quickly hung up the phone.
    "You stole your father's money?" Quatre raised an eyebrow.
    "... borrowed!" Meiran defended herself, "I borrowed it and I'll pay him back... sometime.." She sat down. Or not...
    "Besides, I was desperate! And I didn't exactly have time to save up some money. I'm still paying off my bike." Meiran sighed. Maybe this was a bad choice of places to go. Aunt Relena probably would have sent me home if I'd shown up there... Aw man, where to next. Daddy's bound to find me eventually.
    "Sounds like you'll be paying off Wufei now. Exactly what's going on with you and your father?" Quatre sat down across from her. She blinked.
    "... Recently or since it started? It's been building up."
    "When did it start-?"
    "2 years ago....." Meiran sweatdropped slightly. That was a long time for a father-daughter dispute, "Daddy wanted to pick a husband for me and I didn't agree with that, thankfully Mom didn't agree either, but I ended up fighting, literally, with Daddy about it." Meiran looked down. The defeat was not a pleasant memory.
    "'Literally'?" This did not sound like a normal father-daughter arguement.
    "Yeah. I went and got my sword and we dueled out front and I.... lost." She tried to keep from sounding too bitter about it. She pulled her sword out of her suitcase, "I'm sick of him and the way he acts and treats me. Every time I go anywhere it's the same damned thing." She began the mock, "'Where are you going?' 'Out.' 'Not dressed like that!' 'It's not your business what I wear, Daddy.' 'Cover up!' and he usually tosses me this." She pointed at the jacket she was wearing.
    "And you took it with you when you left? Why?"
    Meiran shrugged, "I thought it'd be a nice little thing to do to him. Besides, he wouldn't want his daughter going out dressed like a NORMAL person" She sounded very sarcastic.
    "He IS your father and he does probably care about you. It's just he was brought up differently." Quatre tried to pacify the annoyed Chang daughter.
    "Yeah yeah. I know. I've heard it before from Mom. But if he was fighting WARS at my age, I think I can handle going out with my friends and what I wear!" Meiran studied the sheath of her sword. Sure, her father had given her the sword and taught her how to use it, but that was mainly due to Sally's insistance when she'd found Wufei's sword when she was younger. Her mother's reasoning was that if Meiran knew how to use it, there wouldn't be any accidents.
    "Stupid jerk... He can't even be proud of me for anything really. Satisfied, barely." Meiran continued with her explaination, "I do a lot of racing, and I haven't lost. He doesn't want me racing or anything like that, but since I win, he doesn't usually get too mad about it. He wants me to stop though because I usually run with a 'bad' crowd I suppose."
    "A 'bad' crowd?" This was not good. Meiran blinked, Quatre sounded concerned.
    "Yeah, some of them are druggies, drop-outs and all, and it wouldn't surprise me if some are in gangs, plus they're all older than me. But they've always been respectful of me because I can kick the crap out of them and they can't beat me in the races. Either that or they see Daddy's I.D. badge on the jacket and decide they'd better not mess with me." She frowned slightly. I can take care of myself. Hmph.
    "I think I understand a bit. When I started piloting, my father and I had a lot of arguements about it." Quatre smiled a bit, "I had to disinheirit myself and run off."
    "Eh?" Meiran blinked. She hadn't heard this story, but then, she didn't hear much about any of her 'uncles'. Not from Wufei anyways. It was her mother who had told them they could be her uncles to begin with. To her understanding, Wufei had been unconsious when this decision was made.
    "Well... I guess I'll go put my stuff away or something..." She sighed. All this running around was making her tired.
    "Just try and go a bit easier on him. You won't realize how important he actually is to you until he's gone." The phone rang. Meiran blinked, fearing the worst. Quatre picked it up.
    "Quatre? It's Milliardo. I've got bad news from Heero." Milliardo sounded very grim.
    "What is it?" Quatre glanced at Meiran, who was undoubtedly afraid it was her father.

        Mariemaia put the phone down and sighed. She'd just gotten word from the World Nation that Venus had declared war and that the Preventers were to get all their small force ready. Lady Une looked over.
    "What is it?" The former OZ colonel had just gotten off the phone with Heero who had told her Shino would not be with them for some time.
    "Venus has declared war on the World Nation because they haven't been able to provide enough emergency aid after the acid storm nine years ago."
    "So I heard from Heero. Some of our people are going to be sent to Mars to take part in mobile suit training in the defense school there. And we can't confirm it-" Lady Une smiled slightly, "-but rumors say that Quatre is funding Milliardo to build new gundams. Of course, this is only rumor. The World Nation would NEVER support such a thing..."
    "Of course!" Mariemaia winked knowingly at her adoptive mother, then frowned slightly, "I wish I could do more than just sit behind this desk..." Since she'd been shot twenty years ago, she'd been paralized from the waist down and unable to walk. She could only work a desk job with the Preventers and it sometimes depressed her greatly that she couldn't be more help to them.
    "Aren't we designing some mass-produced combat suits?" She asked.
    "Yes. Yes we are. Why?" Lady Une blinked.
    "Just double checking...." Mariemaia replied, "I suppose we should get orders out to start making them, huh?"
    "Unfortunatly." Lady Une nodded grimly.

        Kwannon surveyed the amassed troop of mobile suits with a satisfyed smile. The World Nation was hardly prepared for this. Even Mars and its piddly defense force wouldn't stand a chance. But she had orders from above to send a small force to Mars to capture the mobile suits, presumably Gundams, that Milliardo Peacecraft was having built. Ten of the new Serpent II mobile suits should easily be more than enough to overwhelm the defense force long enough to take the new suits.
    "Commence operations!" She bellowed with a satisfied, one-eyed smirk. She had been on Venus during the acid storm disaster, and was lucky to have made it through the ordeal only with several ugly acid burn scars and missing an eye. Her looks might have been ruined, but her tactical abilities had proven invaluable to Nimeesha Pembroke.
    The mobile suit carrier blasted into the air, vanishing swiftly into the cloud cover.

        Shino sighed, watching space pass silently by outside the shuttle window. It was a long trip as is, and the prospect of a war only made the already depressed Yuy son more downcast. Gradually, as Mars grew nearer, a small, swift-moving speck in the distance caught his attention.
    "What the heck is that?" he pondered aloud. "Another shuttle-?"
    Moments later, a member of the shuttle crew shouted out. "Sh*t!"
    "What is it-?!" Shino was immediately on his feet.
    "There's a mobile suit carrier headed this way!" the crew member was already on the comm to the defense school. "A Venusian mobile suit carrier is headed this way!"
    "Crud!" Shino muttered several obscenities under his breath. "We're gonna be caught in the crossfire-!" He watched out the shuttle window as the carrier grew closer. It could be seen releasing its payload. Ten heavily armed mobile suits, similiar to the Serpent suits he knew the Mariemaia army had used.
    "We're gonna need help up here!" the shuttle pilot frantically called on the comm.

        "They're WHAT?!" Noin exclaimed, disbelieving. "Already?! They must have found out about the new suits!"
    "I'll take the Tallgeese then." Milliardo sounded grim as he slid on a flight helmet and headed for the remodeled 'relic'.
    "I'll come up in one of the other new suits-" Noin was about to get her helmet when Milliardo stopped her.
    "No, you'll have to stay here to keep the students from panicing." He pointed out. "Besides. They only sent ten suits. They're severely underestimating the opposition." With that, he climbed aboard the suit and walked it out of the hangar.
    Noin quickly called all the students at the academy to the mess hall and explained what was up. There was a loud rumble outside as the Tallgeese took off.
    "They're attacking us-?!"
    "What're we gonna do?!"
    "Are we gonna hafta fight?!" the students chattered.
    "Milliardo just took off in the Tallgeese to stop them before they can get here. But we should prepare a second defense line, just in case..." Noin looked over the roster. "We have some Taurus suits. Those will be our first line. The defense corps has already sent their suits to back Milliardo up. Our best students will form the first fallback line..." Noin silently winced. Sidra was one of those 'best' students. And she knew it. "...Leading the Tauruses will be Roku Merquise..."
    Ultimately, there were three fallback lines. The Tauruses, which would engage anything that got past the Tallgeese and the defense corps in the far upper atmosphere, then the Aries, which would engage in the lower atmosphere, and finally, a group of Leos at the base, should anything, by some strange chance, get that far.
    I hope Sidra is ready for this... Noin silently worried, watching her masked daughter pull on a flight suit  and climb into one of the red Taurus suits.
    Roku fidgeted while she strapped herself into the mobile suit. Her first real battle, and she wasn't even a graduate yet! She still worried about her parents finding her out, but pushed the thoughts aside, focusing solely on the mission at hand. She had found out about the new Gundams when she'd been snooping around the campus during a lunch break and found them, in various stages of completion, in some of the back buildings, and instinctively knew that was what the enemy was after.
    "Alright, Taurus unit, you heard commander Noin! Let's get up there and mix things up!" Roku ordered over the comm. The unit took off, Roku at the front.

        Meanwhile, up in space, Milliardo and the defense corps were already engaged with the ten suits. In the course of the fighting, 3 of the heavily armed suits had been destroyed, but the defense corps was suffering heavier losses under gattling gunfire and a nearely relentless rain of micromissiles. The amount of damage that one of these new suits was capable of inflicting was overwhelming. Milliardo remained unscathed, despite the even harsher g-forces the new Vernier II booster caused, but one suit can only keep so much of an enemy force busy. Two of the enemy suits got past the decimated defense force, headed right for the first fallback line.
    "Two enemy mobile suits headed your way!" Milliardo had time to shout over the comm before focusing on making sure no more suits got past him. The Tallgeese almost effortlessly dodged out of the lines of fire, returning shots with its new twin megacannon. By dodging so well, the enemy suits would hopefully run out of ammunition, allowing for close combat to commence safely.
    Roku spotted the two suits immediately. "Alright! Let's do it! Jeremy, cover the left flank-" she banged out a formation and orders rapidly, her classmates obeying without question. They had total faith in her abilities.
    The air exploded into a rain of artillery as the two enemy suits met the student Taurus unit. Roku, responding first and fastest, dodged around the mircomissile barrage and immediately returned fire with her beam cannon. Two of her classmates got out of the way alive, their suits hit and already severely damaged. Roku quickly ordered them to get out of the combat zone. The rest of her group dodged the first round relatively untouched, and the real battle began.
    "Crap! Aim for the shield pods! Take those out first and then aim for the suit cockpit!" Roku ordered, dodging a round of gattling gunfire while returning fire, pegging the ever-so-annoying shield units.
    "SH*T! I've been hit! Oh crap, oh crap-" one of the others in the unit shouted over the comm, a rising note of panic as one of the enemy suits zoomed at him.
    "Hang in there-!" A second classmate responded, rushing between the damaged suit and the Serpent II.
    "Watch it-!" Roku shouted, too far away and currently engaged with the other enemy suit to help out.
    "AAAAAAH-" the two shouts were all-too-abruptly cut off as the Serpent II unleashed a round  of artillery from its beam chain gun, followed by the remaining mircomissiles it carried. The damaged suit and the one who had attempted to defend against the attack both exploded, the wreckage plunging down toward the unrelenting ground over a hundred miles below.
    Oh my God-!  Roku watched, horrified. "You..." she growled. "You bastards!" Unleashing a barrage of firepower at the suit she was presently engaged with, she swiftly blew out its cockpit in  her rage, snatching its beam saber and charging full-on at the remaining suit. The rest of the Taurus unit had likewise gone after the offending suit that had just taken the lives of two of their classmates. Unlike Roku, however, who's anger had only focused her more intently on the battle, her classmates were blinded by it, attacking only in rage. By the time Roku got there, the rest of the group had been thrashed, murky trails of smoke showing the paths of their descents.
    "Die!!" Roku swiftly engaged the ammo-depleted Serpent, beam saber clashing against beam saber. They trusted me... and I let them down... dear God no...
    A sudden megacannon blast from above tore through the remaining Serpent and Roku backed away from the exploding suit. Slightly battered, the Tallgeese lowered into view.
    "Are you alright?" Milliardo sounded weary, surveying the Taurus suit which presently had its back to the Tallgeese.
    "Yeah." Roku replied, voice quavering. I never imagined my first battle would go like this... This wasn't how it was supposed to be...
    "We won." Milliardo stated. Sidra... I'm sorry this had to happen. He sighed and bowed his head slightly. The first time losing commrades in a battle was an extremely painful experiance. This is what I tried to protect you from...
    "No we didn't." Roku mumbled, head bowed, a stream of silent tears sliding down her face. "We may have beaten them, but they took more of us with them." Her voice was bordering on sobbing.
    Milliardo ordered the remainder of the defense corps to return to base, continuing to watch his daughter, unable to do or say anything to help.

    Noin was a wreck by the time the battle was over. Medical crews had gotten to the crash sites, but were too late. Thankfully, Sidra had made it through the fight almost untouched.
    "Milliardo, I think it's time we told Sidra we knew it was her." she sighed on a private frequency. "After losing so many of her classmates... she can't keep this up-"
    "No." Milliardo replied. "It'll be hard on her, but if we reveal what we know at this point, it would be a lot worse for her. We should let her continue living this illusion. At least until she's recovered from what happened today."
    "But-" Noin tried to protest.
    "She's already blaming herself for what happened. She needs time to recover before we can go and shock her again. Today will only make her a better pilot." Milliardo was resolute.
    Noin sighed, slumping in her chair. "Alright."

    As soon as she had finished debriefing Noin and Milliardo, Roku fled to her room, locking the door behind her and flinging her mask across the room, where it clanged against the wall and came  to a rest. In tears, she flung herself down on her bed, sobbing, thoughts muddled.
    ... They died because I messed up. I failed....

To be continued in Gundam Wing: A New Era, Episode 5:
"Hence These Tears..."