[Author's Note: This is an alternate ending to the "Gundam Wing" TV series, and as such it contains spoilers. Be warned that it's also fairly dark. Please see my disclaimer page for copyright information regarding this story.]
By Natalie Baan
It's cold here...but then, it's always cold here. The wind screams thinly across the ice that covers bluff and prairie, with no tree or mountain to break its force for miles. Even the snow doesn't stay in this place. Only a spume of dull crystal sweeps the glacier's surface ceaselessly, then leaps, twisting like smoke, to follow cracks and crevices in the slow-moving ice sheet that falls away just before my feet, tumbling a steep mile down toward the vaguely rolling country far below. Even through binoculars, those distant hills seem blurred, their edges smoothed to indistinctness by the winter; the drifts there lie deep.
Behind me, the White Taurus rears up silent and still, the one visible mark of human presence. Despite its size, from far away it too would disappear, drabbed down to gray beneath the ever-present clouds, just like the snow. Insignificant though it seems, I'm glad to have it here--I'm grateful to stand in its shelter as I look out across this hostile world. Without the heat of my astrosuit, without the Taurus to carry me, I couldn't exist in this environment for more than minutes.
A forecast of humanity's destiny, maybe: a warning written out across this frozen planet's face.
When I think back on the tragedy now, on the Libra's reactor core blazing toward the Earth, striking the western hemisphere with the force of six thousand megatons...it was all so fast. The shock and fire of impact that flattened cities and annihilated millions...the boiling clouds that rained ash and poisonous gasses on the globe...the rush to save what could be saved, the futile heroism that drove pilots on all sides to risk the burning atmosphere and be lost themselves, the madness of a dying planet, the despair, the grief...there wasn't any time to let the truth sink in. Only later, when the Earth began to cool once more as those thick clouds smothered it from the sun, did we stop to see. We watched the home world die then, its plants choked out by lack of light, its animals starving and freezing in the deadly cold, its last human inhabitants, any who might have withstood the fire and the falling sky, surely unable to survive for long...we'll never know how many people we didn't find. And we continue to witness it still as all that death, both fast and slow, is sealed beneath the implacable creep of glaciers. Our history is preserved for us, changeless and inescapable.
You were right in this at least: human beings will make no more wars.
And because of what you did, believing yourself sinner and savior, nothing will be ever the same. There are no more colonies--how can humanity's only home be called a colony?--and the leaders up in space are making good use of their old caution to protect what still remains of our human race. We are so very few against the dark...every hand and every mind is turned to shelter life, to build toward the future from the scraps that are left to us--to envision ourselves as one people finally and to understand the deep, raw wound of our loss, because if we fail this time, if war breaks out once more, there will be no further refuge, and no survivors.
The cold of space is vaster and more unforgiving than even this long winter on Earth.
Do you smile now, looking at the ways in which we've changed? You must be pleased at how your sister turned out, at least. She finally lost the arrogance that used to make her so infuriating, but not the fierce strength of her will. She may not be queen of the world anymore--she's done her best to leave that title behind her--but something in her still wears the crown, not of rule, but of responsibility and hope. Even in the blackest days, she was tireless and unflagging, always looking forward with all of her strength...and these days, she works harder than ever. Aside from her endless duties as a people's representative, there are the studies that she's been involved in: proposals to use the Mars terraforming project's research to eventually restore the Earth. Though the day when we'll be capable of that is still years away, she's been with the committee since its beginning. She's one of the cautioning voices, the ones who want to take the whole process slowly, to avoid rushing ahead too recklessly, heedless of the cost...to be wary of erasing the evidence of our last war before history has had the chance to understand it.
Yes, you'd be proud of Relena, I think...she's learned all the lessons you hoped she would.
Quatre Raberba Winner, the 04's pilot, is another member of that committee. He's officially the head of his huge family now, and with the Winner's financial and resource dominance on top of his own renown from the war, he's been dumped headfirst into the mazes of government. I saw him before I left, looking busy and vaguely distracted, but polite as always, handling the affairs that are dealt to him with compassion and efficiency. But behind that ready smile, he carries an unremitting sadness, this young man who loved the Earth that he made war upon...who loved the whole long line of human heritage and learning, all the legacies that used to stretch up from the past, generation after generation. He and I understand each other, I think--perhaps better than anyone else does. When I look into his eyes, I see an echo of my own sense of being cut off from some underlying meaning.
He isn't the only Gundam pilot that I've run into recently. I crossed paths with Duo Maxwell at the outpost base I stopped at, just a few short hours ago. I couldn't even remember the last time I'd last seen him. We spoke for a couple of minutes, awkwardly, like strangers--for all his talkativeness I've never felt as if I've really known him. When I asked how he was keeping himself busy, though, Duo just grinned.
/Death's been walking his rounds,/ he said, /picking the bones of an abandoned planet/--he laughed, gallows-humored as always. In my mind, I can still see him waving from the edge of the snowfield before turning to lope back to his gang, a small, black-suited and black-visored figure disappearing against the shadows, still haunting some personal no-man's-land at the fringes of society. But the wealth of bits and pieces that his salvage team recovers are invaluable to our rebuilding...and there were at least a few survivors of that first fatal year on Earth who had him to thank for their rescue.
I've kept track of Trowa Barton only by talking to Quatre; he's kept himself out of the limelight. He's joined the conservationist group, the caretakers of our remaining handful of plant and animal species. The work is painstaking and gentle--they're custodians of irreplaceable genetic material as well as the guardians of today's few living things--and I suppose it suits Trowa well enough. I wonder, though, if on his own time he still puts in his hours with the circus.
I hope so. The human race needs its circuses.
And Chang Wufei? No, I don't know what happened to him...it's funny, out of all the Gundam pilots, you'd think that I wouldn't miss him in the least. But maybe because I hated him so fiercely, maybe because I found it in my heart to forgive, I feel the keenest pain whenever I think of him. All the business that passed between us is a memory that remains wide open, a story without resolution. I'll never know who he really was....
What he might have become....
And maybe that's the reason why I'm standing here alone, on this ice crest marching south toward across some far-off sea...because for every instance of hope and courage that I can think of, for every person who's still with us, there are thousands--no, millions--that are like Wufei. All those ragged edges, all those threads of lives that were torn from us--how do we make sense of the pattern that remains?
I come down to Earth whenever I can, as often as I can, because I feel a kinship with this broken planet.
My heart, too, is full of empty places....
The short half-day is darkening already, a swift, steady slide toward the night. I push in the studs on the astrosuit's neck ring, twist the helmet out of its threads, and lift it free. The wind starts to freeze these tracks of dampness on my face before I can raise my hand to brush them away. It whips hair across my eyes, the air painfully thin and dry as I breathe in deeply, the cold searing exposed skin as though it might burn to the bone.
Already losing feeling, I stare across a world that's fast disappearing, looking for as long as I can before I have to go.
And I know that you're not dead, just as I know that Heero Yuy is alive somewhere, even though I saw him fall to Earth in a haze of red fire, even though I saw you go into the Libra and never return. The shadows of the human soul that you and he carried for us may be hidden or forsworn but never lost. Do the two of you stalk this cold world in your mobile suits, still hunting for each other through the drifting snow?
I said that I'd stay by your side, but in the end I couldn't be with you.
I'm still waiting.
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