November 10, 2002 (March 2001)
kestrelsan@ispwest.com
Thanks to Jintian and Liz for reading and commenting.

Lady Une muses on OZ and power.



Altitude

by Kest




"We're preparing for take off, Lady Une. Please fasten your seat belt."

Lady Une nodded acknowledgment to the junior lieutenant who had just emerged from the cockpit door. Her seat belt was already fastened. They were flying one of the standard OZ military planes from the abandoned base in Corsica for the trip north; she would have preferred a private jet, as this one packed forty seats into a space that could comfortably seat ten and smelled of oil and unwashed bodies. But the front row afforded an adequate, if not comfortable, measure of room. The plane was otherwise empty except for the lieutenant, who sat down across the aisle from her.

She waited until the unpleasant lift of ascent had passed and the plane leveled before gesturing for him to approach. He stood at attention next to her, swaying slightly to the plane's movement.

"Lieutenantů." He had been introduced to her before leaving the base, but the information had been inconsequential at the time, and she couldn't recall his name.

"Cas, ma'am."

"Lieutenant Cas, I need a patch into satellite network B." She opened her attache case and took out her laptop. It had been programmed and designed by both herself and Colonel Treize, based on the standard issue given to OZ senior officers but far superior in accessibility and capability. Most of the satellite networks were impossible to access from anything but a mainframe. "Ask the pilot to set up a connection then relay back to me."

The lieutenant nodded and left to pass on the request.

A few minutes later, frequency codes flashed on the screen in front of her, channeled from the plane's system to her own deciphering program. The laptop blipped, virtual wheels racing to connect, and then the flash of a cursor light signalled that she was in. She typed in the codes slowly---she'd never been an accomplished typist---and a familiar sequence bounced down the screen: the main database of OZ, military arm of the Earth Sphere and recent successor to the Alliance.

Learn more about OZ, Treize had said. She'd followed his advice as she followed him in everything, though she wasn't sure he had meant it literally. Most of what she'd learned the last few days confirmed what she already knew. OZ now controlled over seventy percent of Alliance civilian and military headquarters, and the remaining bases were irrelevant outposts that would cave quickly now that outgoing communications had been rerouted and OZ forces were poised to complete its victory. Operation Daybreak had been fated since OZ's inception, Lady Une thought, a necessary and inevitable step. Those born to command others could hardly be expected to submit to the weak philosophies of the Alliance.

OZ was power. And as the personal aide to OZ's military commander, Lady Une was one of the most powerful persons in the Earth Sphere.

It was a far cry from scratching together pennies for bread in that shit hole town in Germany. Lady Une understood power because she knew intimately the life of the powerless. Power was the life-spark, the initial surge transforming primordial sludge into something greater than what could ever be imagined. Power was control over destiny and the destinies of others.

She understood OZ because she understood power.

Yet---

Learn more about OZ, he had said.

She had been Treize's second for the last three years, and before that a lieutenant in the Specials assigned to his command. She knew him better than anyone---she knew his habits and daily patterns, was privy to his every ideal and goal, however far-reaching and seemingly unattainable.

Yet she wasn't always sure she understood him. And Lady Une had spent a lifetime evaluating people's motivations and weaknesses and how best to exploit them. It had brought her from a ragged thirteen year-old living off the streets of Bonn to the training base at Lake Victoria. And to where she was now.

"Lady Une." The lieutenant had returned from the cockpit.

She looked up impatiently, and was pleased to note the boy's momentary flush of unease.

"There's an incoming message for you. Channel 6Y." Lady Une nodded and dismissed him. She froze the OZ database connection, which had simply given her the same information she'd accessed hours ago before leaving the base---troop movement and locations, timetables for gathering in the last of the Alliance's left-over folds---and connected to the channel.

After a brief burst of static, Colonel Treize appeared on the screen. "Lady Une."

"Your Excellency. We should be arriving at your estate in a little over two hours."

"Good. What's the status of Corsica?"

"Over half of the base is irrecoverable, and eight-five percent of the Leos were destroyed. I set up a temporary command to man the base and support troops, but I think we should focus our rebuilding efforts elsewhere for the time being. The control room gathered quite a lot of data on the Gundams; I'm incorporating it into my report."

"Then there were two?"

Lady Une nodded. "As we thought. We weren't able to retrieve any satellite information, but the base sensors clearly identify two mobile suits. And both were present at New Edwards," she added.

"Is that confirmed?"

"Without a doubt. The sensor information matches almost exactly."

"Good work, Lady Une." Static blurred the screen, the transmission readjusting to the rotating scramble frequency. "---to watch for any messages coming from Alliance bases in the North."

There was only one Alliance-controlled base left that would be of particular interest to Treize, Lady Une thought. "The Sanc kingdom?"

"There have been some fascinating developments there recently."

"Should I redirect and meet you there?"

"No, come here first as planned. How are the plans for the Siberian operation progressing?"

"A preliminary ground route has been established. I can send you the data on our check points, if you like."

Treize shook his head. "That won't be necessary. This is your operation, Lady Une."

"Of course, your Excellency."

Treize paused, then said again, "Remember that." The screen went blank.

Lady Une closed her end of the transmission. She accessed the ground transport route from Lake Victoria to Siberia, looking through it for any potential areas of concern. There were ten check points of OZ-secured territory, the first one immediately after the transport train crossed from Africa into Arabia, the last about two hundred miles from the Siberian base. There was a fifty-mile section on the eastern stretch of the European nations that tended to jam communications when they had used the route in the past, but the area was firmly in OZ's control and posed no real threat. Scrolling through perimeter security charts and estimated times of transport between each base, she couldn't see any immediate problems with any of the check points or the route in question. She would be ready to start leaking the information soon.

But she mapped out some alternative plans before dismissing them for the same reasons that led her to choose the initial course. She rechecked the air route as well, though there was less potential for mishap there. The air carriers with the Taurus suits should reach their refueling station at about the same time the speed train passed its first check point. Either the battle would be waged in Siberia, with Leos on their way as support troops, or the Taurus suits would already be secured by the time their enemies discovered the decoy.

It was a brilliant plan, but no more than she would have expected from Treize.

Still, his emphasis that the operation was hers puzzled her. Perhaps he was testing her, though she would have thought her loyalty didn't need such a test. She had fulfilled all of the mission objectives Treize had outlined for her days ago, down to editing the briefing data they had on the Gundams herself.

Perhaps that was the problem. Perhaps it wasn't her loyalty he was testing at all. Lady Une took off her glasses and cleaned them on a handkerchief carried tucked in her uniform.

He'd told her to learn more about OZ and she had; maybe he wanted her to use that information.

On impulse, Lady Une checked that the network connection to the OZ database was still open. She navigated her way through the stream of information slowly, looking for communication codes she had accessed only days before as a routine measure checking the extent of OZ-controlled space. She found them in an directory labeled "contingencies" and scrolled down until she found the one she was thinking of: Space Fortress BG-M, currently under the command of Arnaud Lefevre. She typed in the code and used the recently open channel to transmit.

A wide-eyed junior officer appeared on her view screen. Behind him she could see the star-studded blackness of space through the long rectangular windows surrounding the control room. "Um---" he said helplessly.

"Get me Commander Lefevre." The officer nodded and the screen went grey as he paused the connection at his end. Lady Une tapped her fingers against the side of her laptop as she waited.

"Lady Une." The re-connected channel revealed Commander Lefevre, looking surprised and vaguely worried at the unexpected communication. He was an older man, grey-haired with a full, florid face, but by all reports loyal to OZ.

"Commander Lefevre. What's your position?

"We're at the edge of the system perimeter, ma'am."

"How far are you from the nearest colony?"

"Lady?"

"How far, Commander."

Lefevre glanced to the right of the view screen, consulting either his console or one of his officers. "Thirty hours to the V2 colony cluster."

"Good. I want you to set a course immediately. Contact me when you've reached that position."

"Lady Une, I---"

"Do you know who I am?"

The commander flushed. "Of course, Colonel Une, but---"

"Then you also know under whose authority I'm acting."

"I understand."

Lady Une cut off the connection, piqued at the commander's hesitation. She made a mental note to address the concern later, when the mission had proved successful and OZ had subverted the Gundam threat.

Flipping back to the database files, Lady Une read through the information about Space Fortress BG-M again. Extraordinary fire power, ten ballistic missiles at their disposal---more than enough to destroy a colony or two. Satisfied, she shut down the connection and closed her laptop.

She hoped Treize would be pleased at her initiative. The Gundams were an annoyance, but not one to be taken lightly. Protracted battles with them would only deplete OZ's resources to a point that might threaten a sure victory. Lady Une didn't like surprises, nor did she like close odds. She found that she did like holding the trump card.

"Lady Une." It was the pilot coming through the loudspeakers in front of her. "I thought you might like to know that we're passing over the southern tip of the Alps."

Lady Une glanced to her left, through the small portal window that looked out over blue sky and scattered white clouds. She could see the mountains below her, just barely. They stretched as far as she could see, crisp and blazingly white.

"They're beautiful," Lieutenant Cas murmured. He had moved to the window seat on his side to get a better view.

It was not the word she would have chosen. They looked both treacherous and alien to her. But it was a good sign, she decided---a sign of the invincibility of youth. And OZ had arms as well as a fortress, arms that would reach even the most remote areas of the Earth Sphere.

"Lovely," she said, and pulled down the plastic shade.