What sphinx of cement and aluminum bashed open their skulls and ate up their brains and imagination?
Moloch! Solitude! Filth! Ugliness! Ashcans and unobtainable dollars! Children screaming under the stairways! Boys sobbing in armies! Old men weeping in the parks!
Moloch! Moloch! Nightmare of Moloch! Moloch the loveless. Mental Moloch! Moloch the heavy judger of men!
Minutes. Hours. Days. Such arbitrary measurements of time had long since ceased to have any meaning, melting into one neverending cycle of blood and death and fire. Another life taken, another family broken, another heart destroyed, and where there should have been remorse, or at least sorrow, there was nothing.
Such was Heero Yuy's life. What there was of it.
It was certainly his whole life now. The universe had narrowed til it could be contained within the Wing Zero's viewfinder. Smoke was everywhere--the refuse of exploding mobile suits and demolished buildings, the fog of battle that let soldiers fight without having to see the wreckage they left behind.
Heero ducked behind a caved-in building, noting with some detached part of his brain that it had recently been a house. The roof was gone, and most of the walls, but a row of ash-coated stuffed animals stared dispassionately up at him with dead button eyes.
Heero, clinging like a drowning man to the last vestiges of his humanity, tried to make himself feel something.
The remains of the wall shattered when a Leo suit shot at it. Fragments of wood and dust and plaster floated downward, coating the abandoned toys. Heero couldn't watch any longer. He had to fight. The house's remaining wall, now without support, caved in around the Zero's feet. Heero lashed out with his beam sabre, slicing a smoking scar across the Leo's belly.
From somewhere near his feet, he heard a scream. It was the only sound still capable of awakening humanity in Heero, grating across his soul, filling his ears, echoing in his skull--the terrified wail of a little girl.
He froze. It was sheer luck, or the grace of some god, that his shieldarm was positioned to deflect the shot the Leo aimed at him. The girl must have been hiding just outside, for now she stood paralysed in the wreckage of her crumbled home. She was no more than five or six, her red wool coat streaked with dirt. Her blonde hair was stringy now, but only that morning some caring mother must have gently combed it....
The Leo's next shot jolted Heero and he almost toppled. Fight, damn you! he reminded himself. Fight or die! He swung his beam sabre and the damaged Leo fell backward.
The girl hadn't moved. Heero screamed at her to run, but his voice was lost in the Wing Zero's cockpit and the cacaphony of battle.
The decision to stand was the easiest Heero had ever made. He was a master of warfare. He completed his missions with efficiency and accuracy. He had given his own life and countless others for the sake of the colonies.
This child, her red coat stark against the cold grey of the demolished city, would not be one of those lives.
But how long could he stand in one place and fight before his position was indefensible? And how many other people would die while he protected one frightened child? He willed her fiercely to run, to find another place to hide, but terror had frozen her feet to the ground.
Heero caught another movement from the corner of his eye and spun, his sabre raised defensively. But it was no OZ soldier, clearing a path through the rubble toward them. It was a dirty-faced angel.
She was bony, wiry, a bare wisp of a teenage girl. Short feathers of copper hair capped a delicate, angular face smudged with soot. Her gaunt form was dressed all in black and coated with a layer of dust.
"Come with me, little one," the angel said in a thick, rich brogue, and stretched out a hand. Her voice freed the child from her paralysation and she ran forward under the Wing Zero's protective shield. She stumbled, and the dark-clad girl caught her up.
Run, Heero willed them. The elfin face below him lifted, and he found himself caught in the spell of the fey green eyes. She nodded to him--then, with the child in her arms, sprinted back through the rubble.
Heero could move again. As if to make up for his moment of compassion, he threw himself into the battle. Fire greeted him, destruction was his wake, shattered bodies of dismembered mobile suits fell from the Wing Zero and clattered to the ground around him.
He saw a crowd of people--not soldiers, but citizens--walking hastily toward a bunker opened beneath a factory. Not running. Not jostling and shoving and trampling each other--just walking, hurriedly, hunched forward, some with their arms held over their heads to protect themselves from the debris.
A burst of fire hit too close to the crowd for comfort as a pair of Leo suits dove across them to reach Heero. A boy maybe half Heero's age broke from the line, sprinting for shelter under the crumbling eaves of a nearby storefront.
Heero sliced at the closest of the Leos, spun, and they knocked each other backward. It crashed into the side of the building the boy hid under. But Heero was done being careful. He raised the beamsabre and struck, severing the Leo's arm and searing a line across its neck to pierce its engine.
Smoke enveloped everything, clouding his viewfinder and obfuscating his vision, though the Zero system still told him where his enemies were. His breath was coming hard, but his focus never wavered.
He was never sure how the sound cut through the chaos to reach his ears, but it did. A rich alto brogue, lifted in the fogsmeared air; a single defiant voice, gentle as a caress and strong as a choir of angels--
"Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!
He hath trampled out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored...."
A blackclad figure in the smoke, one hand stretched out to where the boy should be. The dust and ash coalesced around her like a halo, obscuring her footsteps so it looked as if she were walking on a cloud. A dirt-smudged angel in black, traversing a cloud of destruction and chaos, bearing peace in her hands and her voice.
Despite the illusion of immortality, as Heero watched her he could see how carefully she chose her steps, how each movement was calculated to keep her out of the direct line of fire. And as he stared, letting the Wing Zero all but fight on its own, she looked up at him again.
There was real human fear, and a trust worthy of no living man, in those dark green eyes. She wasn't an angel at all, not any more than he was a human being or Duo was a god. She was just a girl, her slender shoulders heavy with her self-imposed duty of protecting the people around her.
"His truth is marching on..." Still she was singing. The boy took strength from her as well, and grasped her hand, and she led him back toward the line.
I wish, Heero thought painfully, that I could be like you. Why can I never quite manage to balance humanity and strength? Did I ever have a heart, or did I simply lose it?
Slowly, tentatively, buoyed by the single bright star among them, other voices began to join in. The sound was more than the sum of its parts, larger than the beaten, wretched crowd it rose from. It was courage, and it grew.
Glory, glory, hallelujah...glory, glory hallelujah...
Heero did not understand, but he envied. He envied the simple strength of simple people, envied them the camaraderie and faith, envied them their belief that he was fighting for something more precious than the orders of his superiors.
He fought in earnest again. He fought for the colonies that fell into ashes under the force of his Gundam, for the people who vanished into the bunker that would give them safety.
As the door began to slide closed, that slender fire-and-shadow form stood at solemn attention next to it, looking up at him. The lips moved, and even in the midst of his concentration he could make out her words.
Maybe he was the one who was the source of their faith, the reason they could believe everything would turn out all right. He ripped through a Leo suit, and both he and the huge gundanium head of the Wing Zero nodded acknowledgment.
She lifted one hand to her forehead in salute and ducked inside the door, letting it close tight behind her. Heero threw himself into finishing this battle. He couldn't let them down. He couldn't let the angel down. He fought, emerged triumphant, and even as he floated into space, away from the decimated colony, he could hear the tired yet vibrant chorus echoing in his memory.
His truth is marching on.
Holy the Angel in Moloch! Holy forgiveness! mercy! charity! faith! Holy! Ours! bodies! suffering! magnanimity!
Holy the supernatural extra brilliant intelligent kindness of the soul!