Phase 03 - Widowmaker

Mobile Suit Gundam SEED ETERNITY

Phase 03 - Widowmaker

April 11th, CE 77 - Debris Belt

As the Twilight Gundam rocketed into space, Emily steeled herself for battle. Out there was a whole squadron of ZAFT mobile suits, and at their head through the magnified scope she could see the crimson-painted machines with monoeyes blazing in the darkness of space. At their head was a DOM Trooper and a GOUF Ignited, both in flamboyant crimson. She fixed her sights on them and prepared her long-range cannon.

"Aoma and some of her mobile suits will be joining us," Athrun's voice put in. "Keep the enemies boxed in."

Emily clenched her fists around the Twilight's controls. Her new green ZAFT flight suit felt unnatural over her skin, an uncomfortable barrier between herself and her machine. She closed the visor and pushed the thoughts from her mind. Better this than dying in space.

The DOM and GOUF peeled off from their formation and opened fire, and the Minerva's Gundams split their own ranks and darted apart. Emily charged forward and let loose a shimmering blast from her long-range cannon. The two mobile suits broke ranks and returned fire in spades, with the DOM blasting back with its Gigalauncher's beam cannon and the GOUF spraying the Twilight with beam gun fire. Emily ground her teeth and slammed on the brakes to throw up her beam shield; the two mobile suits darted in, beam weapons blazing. The Twilight whirled over them both and leveled off its rifle but an instant later, the DOM Trooper was there.

The hulking mobile suit slammed its free left hand down onto the Twilight's arm, holding its rifle wide of its target, and Emily blinked in surprise as her auxiliary screen flickered to life and she found herself staring into the flashing silver eyes of a green-haired man in a white ZAFT flight suit.

"So you're that 'Angel of Death' all these Naturals are cowering over!" he cackled. "I didn't expect you to be a cute teenager, though. That might make things," he snickered, "awkward."

Emily's eyes flashed in annoyance. "And who are you?"

The DOM leveled off its Gigalauncher in the Twilight's face. "Mine is a name you'd better get used to hearing," he laughed. "I'm the Widowmaker of ZAFT, the one and only Varder Ehrmacht and I expect a worthy battle!"

With a thundering crash, the DOM fired a bazooka shell into the Twilight's face and sent it reeling under a pall of smoke.

"Now then, 'Angel of Death,'" Varder cried with a wide and wicked grin, and the DOM moved its Gigalauncher to its left hand and drew its beam saber with a flash, "show me what you can do!"

The DOM's monoeye flashed and the red mobile suit charged.

"Well," Rau Le Creuset said with a flourish, "I suppose our allegiance has been chosen for us."

The Legend Gundam roared down beneath a blazing red beam blast from a crimson Gunner ZAKU Warrior. At its side, the Force Impulse Gundam darted to the right and leveled off its beam rifle to open fire. By the Gunner ZAKU, a Slash ZAKU Warrior and Slash ZAKU Phantom darted in to deflect the shots with their shields, and returned fire with a storm of beam Gatling fire.

"Why don't you put those DRAGOONs to use," Aoma muttered, and cut herself short as a volley of rifle blasts from the two Slash ZAKUs plowed into her shield.

"Not ideal in the Debris Belt," answered Rau. "Too many narrow spaces and unexpected motion from the wreckage." He pulled back, lined up his DRAGOON units, and let loose a punishing salvo of his own, forcing the ZAKUs to break formation. "But I can still do that."

"Wonderful." The Impulse charged behind its shield and fired back, focusing on the Gunner ZAKU only to see the ZAKU Warrior dart into its back and deflect the shots with its own shield. The Gunner ZAKU leapt up and fired again to force the Impulse back on the defensive. Rau lined up for another blast, but the ZAKU Phantom beat him to it and rammed into the Legend with one of its spiked shoulder-mounted shields.

"I see they've improved," grunted Rau, and he threw the Legend back to avoid a vicious sweep from the ZAKU Phantom's beam axe. "Commander Vedlow, perhaps you should change equipment."

"In the Debris Belt?" scoffed Aoma. "Not likely."

Rau turned his eyes back towards the charging ZAKU Phantom.

Well, I'll give you credit for this, Valentine. You've done more with them than Dullindal ever did...

Shinn Asuka ground his teeth as the three ZAKUs danced in between the vast pieces of debris and showered his Destiny Gundam with beam fire. On one of the larger pieces of wreckage, the Gaia Gundam lunged up from the debris and let loose a salvo of its own; the ZAKUs deflected its shots with their shields and pulled back, and with a crash the Blaze ZAKU Warrior put a beam shot through the wreckage that blew it apart and sent the Gaia hurtling backward.

"They're different...!" snarled Stella.

"I'll say," Shinn grunted. "Stella, cover me!"

The Destiny rocketed forward and activated its beam wings with a flash. The ZAKUs opened fire, but afterimages filled the black sky as Shinn snaked a path through the wreckage towards the Blaze ZAKU Phantom in the lead

Instead, as Shinn drew his sword and brought it down with a scream, the ZAKU Phantom jinked to the side and let the Destiny flash by. With a crash, it drew a beam tomahawk with its left hand, and only a timely counter-swing from Shinn saved the Destiny's left arm. The Slash ZAKU Warrior came down from above, twirling its beam axe behind it with its monoeye flashing

One thunderous crash later, the Gaia rammed into the charging ZAKU with its shoulder and threw it far off course. The staggering ZAKU swung back wildly with its axe but caught nothing. Stella leveled off her rifle for a killing shot but the Blaze ZAKU Warrior darted into the path and deflected it with its shield.

"Well, this is gonna be fun," Shinn grunted, as the sparks flew and the ZAKU Phantom pressed down harder. "Having this much trouble with just three ZAKUs..."

Metal straining and sparks flashing, the Infinite Justice Gundam pounded its beam sabers against a Blaze ZAKU Phantom's beam tomahawk. The ZAKU Phantom darted back and unleashed a salvo of missiles directly into the Justice's face and sent it staggering back; an instant later it burst through the smoke, tomahawk raised high

And then, with a reverberating crash, the Savior dropped into its path and drop-kicked it across the face. Viveka leveled off her cannons to finish it off, but instead a Gunner ZAKU Warrior cut her off with a pulsing red beam cannon blast slammed against the Savior's beam shield, and a Slash ZAKU Warrior came down next with a punishing overhead axe blow.

"Athrun, were they always this good in ZAFT?" she grunted.

The Justice somersaulted over the Savior and pounded the ZAKUs' shields with beam cannon fire to force them back.

"This isn't too surprising," Athrun answered. "The ones who survived Solomon's Sword were either very lucky or very good." The Justice's eyes flashed combatively as the ZAKUs moved back on the defensive. The Gunner ZAKU pummeled the Justice's beam shield with a pulsating blast; the Savior answered it in spades, but the ZAKUs darted apart and opened fire with a barrage of beam rifle shots.

Athrun ground his teeth as the ZAKUs moved in again. Of course, good or lucky, they would have to be better than this.

A storm of beam blasts rained down on the Chaos and Abyss Gundams from a Slash ZAKU Phantom. A Gunner ZAKU Warrior leveled off its cannon and opened fire, forcing the two Gundams apart. Sting seized the opportunity to fire his gunbarrels upward and send them arcing back down to pummel the two ZAKUs but a moment later, the Blaze ZAKU Warrior slid in front of him and opened fire. The Abyss let loose a torrent of beam fire, but the ZAKUs expertly darted behind wreckage and let the blasts soar by them.

"That's getting pretty fucking annoying!" Auel cried, and the Abyss blasted forward and ignited the beam tip of its lance. Sting brought in his gunbarrels in front of the Abyss and fired off a salvo of missiles; the ZAKUs dodged them easily and the ZAKU Phantom stormed forward. Auel jerked back the controls in surprise and threw his lance up to defend, just as the ZAKU brought down its lance.

"You're mine!" Sting screamed, and the Chaos rocketed up over the Abyss with its beam rifle leveled off

Instead, the two ZAKU Warriors opened fire and forced Sting to throw the Chaos to the side. The ZAKU Phantom seized the opportunity to surge forward and hurl the Abyss back before it. Auel ground his teeth and squeezed off a Callidus shot the ZAKU ducked beneath it, and the Gunner ZAKU forced the blue Gundam back on the defensive with a shimmering blast of its own.

"Okay, now you're pissing me off!" Auel snapped. "Sting, come on! I've had it!"

The Abyss and Chaos flashed their eyes and charged again.

Battleship Minerva

"Malik, I'm leaving the evasive maneuvers to you," Meyrin said as the Minerva rattled and missiles exploded under fire from the ship's CIWS emplacements. She glanced up at the auxiliary screen. "Ali, are you in position yet?"

"They're using the debris pretty well," he answered. "Maybe you should try that positron cannon of that yours."

Meyrin glanced back at the battlefield, where the pitch-black Seraphim had its angelic wings spread and its guns warmed up and ready. Of course, it would also put her own mobile suits at risk as the blast of positrons set off all that debris.

"Chen, prepare the Neidhardts instead," she ordered. "Tristans and Isolde, target the enemy and fire on my mark. We'll distract them until the Star One is in position." Her eyes flashed determinedly. "Fire!"

The Isolde boomed and the Tristans flashed to life, sending shells and pulsing beams plowing into the debris surrounding the Seraphim. The black warship disappeared amid a writhing storm of fireballs, and Meyrin furrowed her brow as she saw the elegant vessel's hull in silhouette amid the flames. Of course ZAFT wouldn't let something like that stop them.

"Chen, get the missiles ready," she said. "It'll take more than that."

"I gotta say, kid, you're the coolest sixteen-year-old I've ever met!" cackled Varder Ehrmacht, as the DOM Trooper brought its saber down with a crash onto the Twilight's blade. Emily ground her teeth and kicked open the thrusters to surge forward and throw the DOM back but as she closed in for the kill, the DOM somersaulted effortlessly over her head. "Very nice! Excellent form!"

A feeling of danger rippled up her spine and she hurled the Twilight to the side just as that red GOUF Ignited came down with an overhead sword hack. The GOUF snapped up its left arm and fired forward its heat rod. Emily yelped in surprise as it curled around the Twilight's left arm; the GOUF yanked her closer, seized her right arm from behind, and held her up as a trophy for the DOM Trooper.

"Where did you come from ?!" Emily grunted.

A woman's face appeared on the auxiliary screen next, framed by a red ZAFT flight suit and smirking triumphantly. "Pleased to meet you, little miss angel," she answered. "Lilith Ramsi," the GOUF slammed its foot against the Twilight's back and pushed it up towards the DOM, "and I've been looking forward to doing this for a long time!" The GOUF's monoeye flashed. "Varder, quit hitting on her and kill her!"

"You just get way too possessive." The DOM pointed its saber at the Twilight's cockpit with a flourish. "Well, angel girl, it's been fun, but I do have business to attend to and I can't have you messing around with it." The DOM's monoeye lit up and the mobile suit went charging forward. "So I'll make it quick!"

Emily's eyes flashed as she saw her chance. "You can try!"

A blinding flash of light flooded out as the Twilight activated its beam wings and sliced off both of the GOUF's arms at the elbow. With a blast of thruster exhaust, she hurled the maimed GOUF back and roared up into the DOM's face and before it could react, she ripped off its right arm with her left-hand palm cannon and pounded the Twilight's knee into the DOM's torso. Varder let out a yelp of surprise and threw his wounded machine to the left as Emily stabbed forward for the kill.

"The hell was that?!" Varder cried; the Twilight closed in with roaring engines and Emily brought her saber down with a scream, nearly taking off the DOM's head.

"That might've worked on the pilots you've fought before," Emily snarled, and went charging after the DOM, "but I've killed better men than you!"

Varder scowled and glanced at the DOM's cockpit instruments. He turned his eyes towards the GOUF, nodded, and let loose a combat flare. Emily ducked beneath it and kept on the attack but an instant later, a bazooka shell slammed into her mobile suit's shoulder, and the next thing she saw through the smoke and fire was the DOM escaping with the crippled GOUF.

As they made their escape, Emily sat back in the Twilight's cockpit seat with a sigh. Another war, another bunch of enemies.

Rau Le Creuset frowned as he watched the ZAKUs drop combat flares and race into the Debris Belt. He recognized that pattern it was one of ZAFT's retreat signals.

"If they were meaning to destroy us," he said quietly, "then this must not have been their main effort. The real blow must be coming later." He reached out ahead and found the dense presences of the Seraphim and its crew, and the human presences slowly moving towards it as many now as had entered the battle in the first place. Was this bait?

He could feel Kira somewhere near L4. The gears turned and the pieces clicked into place so this was a trap. Bait for a trap, at least. The Seraphim was leading the Minerva into a confrontation with Kira.

ZAFT surely had its reasons beyond the sentimental to destroy the Minerva. They were the Resistance's most famous and effective unit, and they would surely fight the atrocities ZAFT's forces were already committing. But surely Kira had a more personal reason for involving himself in this battle...

Rau grinned at the thought.

I'm looking forward to seeing what Valentine has done with you, Kira...

Resistance Nazca-class destroyer Star One

"That was bait for a trap," Ali said quietly as Aoma drifted back onto the Star One's bridge. "That must be why they retreated so quickly. Their mobile suits were holding their own and the ship looks like it got away unscathed. They must be looking for a chase."

Aoma glanced up at the tactical map. The Seraphim was escaping at flank speed towards L4 and, most interestingly, the DSSD's Troya Research Station. Aoma remembered that place well. She had managed to negotiate for some supplies there, in exchange for her technical experts' assistance in hiding the station's Coordinator staff members from the Alliance. DSSD would continue its research regardless of Lord Djibril's anti-Coordinator policies, but that didn't mean the practical world never came knocking at Troya.

And, judging by the Seraphim's projected course, it was bringing a battering ram.

"If this is a trap," Aoma said, "then I don't see where it is. There's only one other ZAFT unit around in this sector." She furrowed her brow. "Unless Mirage Colloid on warships is suddenly way more fashionable."

Ali studied the map for a moment. "If ZAFT is attacking Troya, what will we do?"

That was a question that made Aoma's stomach turn. Troya had treated her as well as it could, and she didn't want to just leave them to ZAFT's dubious auspices, if that was what the Seraphim was going there for but what else could she do?

She glanced over at the Minerva, and her stomach turned again.

ZAFT Eternal-class cruiser Seraphim, Debris Belt

The mechanics were swarming like ants around the smoldering wounds of the GOUF Ignited and DOM Trooper, and Varder cast a tired glance at his maimed machine. Perhaps that Angel of Death had a reason for her sterling reputation.

He landed deftly on the hangar gantry next to a supremely annoyed-looking Lilith and Evers. "Well," Varder said, and put on a confident smirk, "the good news is we've got their attention. Now we head for Troya and make that the bait."

"This is way too complicated," complained Evers. "We could just as easily ambush them somewhere in the Debris Belt "

"Not yet," Lilith interrupted. "We have to make sure they follow us. Attacking Troya and escaping with that prototype of theirs is as good an excuse as any." She glanced back at Varder. "So what did you think?"

"I'm impressed," he answered with a grin. "At least she earned her reputation. Although our fight wasn't long enough for me to really get a handle on her capabilities..."

Lilith arched an eyebrow. "Sounds like you want to do more than just fight her."

"Pervert." Varder turned back towards Evers. "Get us moving towards Troya. We have a schedule to keep."

April 12th, CE 77 - Yokosuka Naval Installation, Japan, Republic of East Asia

Merau Seraux emerged from the infirmary doorway with a bandage wrapped around her head and the most utterly pissed-off look Grey Saiba had ever seen cross her face. Someone had not quite forgiven the Zamzazar crew for swatting her out of the sky like a mosquito. Good thing they were dead, or they'd have Merau to worry about.

"If it's any consolation," Grey said, "they disabled my machine too."

Merau did not look consoled. She turned in surprise towards Erin. "And, err, I don't believe we've met..."

"Erin Gedelberg," the black-haired ensign supplied with what Grey did not fail to notice was a sort of anxious smile. "There's a new machine waiting for you too. We're going to set up a new combat team "

"So I've heard," Merau said. "I'm sorry to cut you off, but they only kicked me out of the infirmary because I was awake and they needed space for wounded." She gestured to the bandage on her head. "Still concussed."

"Yeah," Grey filled in, "at Carpentaria we were engaging the Twilight and a Zamzazar showed up. Knocked us both out of the sky." He nodded to Merau. "Some sense of teamwork we've got."

"The mobile armor crews might act that way," Erin said as she straightened up awkwardly, "but we won't."

"Great," Merau grunted. "I'm heading back to my bunk. Later."

The blonde pilot turned and made for the Charlemagne, leaving Erin and Grey behind. Erin crossed her arms. "Pleasant."

"She has a concussion," Grey pointed out.

"I know." Erin shrugged. "I'm sorry, I want to make a good impression."

Grey eyed her carefully for a moment and decided that he could call bullshit on that later.

"Wow, ol' Wings of Light back there sure didn't leave much," chuckled Irene Ramos. She stood on a platform with Sven overlooking the tarmac where workers were unloading the useless wreckage that remained of the long-suffering Strike Noir. Sven watched it all dispassionately. The Noir had served its purpose, but it was no longer sufficient and a better machine awaited him anyway.

"What have you dug up on Director Oldendorf?" Sven asked suddenly.

Irene merely shrugged. "Not much more than I've already told you. If he's got anymore information on Project Evolution, he's hidden it somewhere that I haven't found yet. And I've hacked my way through his entire computer three times now, and scoured his home and his office for other sources. I got nothing else."

"Really," Sven muttered, and fixed his eyes on the ruined Noir's dark, dead eyes. "Is Director Oldendorf involved in the Crusader project?"

"No. Why, you wanna meet him?"

Sven crossed his arms. "We have much to discuss."

ZAFT Minerva-class battleship Fortuna, Lagrange Point 4

The Minerva.

They were near. Kira Yamato could feel them, sitting in his office aboard the Fortuna, feeling their presences across the Earth Sphere. He could feel them. The familiar contours of Athrun Zala, Shinn Asuka...and Rau Le Creuset.

So Rau was still alive. Kira clenched his mismatched fists. That was a loose end he would have to clear up. The Minerva had clustered his greatest foes into one place. How convenient.

He struggled to push down the anger. The anger would cloud his mind and foil his judgment. He was even beginning to fear that accepting Ehrmacht's offer to set up this trap was a mistake. What if he had not improved enough? What if they had new weapons? What if the plan didn't work out? What if he lost control? Everything depended on him remaining in control.

But Athrun had killed Fllay. Shinn had stood against him at the final battle of the Junius War. Rau had failed him. And the Minerva...yes, they were traitors.

He pushed the rage back down. It would serve its purpose in due time...but not yet.

This was always the hardest part.

Kara Guinness drifted by the railing in the Fortuna's interior observation deck and stared up at the quiet blue planet before her. She still felt a primal connection to the planet Earth. How could she not? It had been the cradle of humankind, before some of them had reached for the future and become Coordinators. And even though it was covered in those vermin Naturals, it was still the mother Earth.

Soon, of course, it would be cleansed.

It wasn't genocide that she was quietly hoping for. It was the logical step that too many Coordinator leaders had been too weak or too foolish to take. Patrick Zala had sort of stumbled in that direction, but he had not acknowledged reality. Marshal Sunogachi had. The Requiem was the horror that proved her words true. The greatest problem before the Coordinators as they faced the prospect of return and reconstruction was not the birth rate problem they could deal with that but the Naturals. The Alliance. They were jealous and greedy and cruel. They saw the Coordinators, saw their betters, and through Blue Cosmos and the indifference of the masses they tried to destroy the rightful heirs of the human future.

That was all true, but what made it work for Kara Guinness, FAITH-appointed soldier of ZAFT, was the sting of her family's absence. Had even her sister survived the Requiem, it wouldn't have hurt so badly. But October 2 had been one of the first PLANTs struck by the Requiem's blast, and Lord Djibril's light of death knew no mercy.

In that sense, it was revenge. The Naturals needed to be put in a position where they could never threaten the Coordinators again. They needed to be weakened. One of their chief advantages over ZAFT was numerical so that would be reduced and the world would drown in blood. They would know what it was like to lose their entire nation but because they were the inferior strain of humanity, the branch that would wither and die as the Coordinators rose towards the sun, they would never rise up and take vengeance.

After all, Kara mused as she looked at the Earth, blood needed to be repaid with blood. These last three years had been hard. The survivors had found solace only in each other and in this moment. But it was for all mankind's sake yes, even the Naturals that the Coordinators would secure their existence and rebuild their nation.

For the future, as Marshal Sunogachi had told them, was theirs alone.

Battleship Minerva, Lagrange Point 4

"That was different," Auel Neider muttered as he and Sting drifted down the Minerva's corridors and towards the hangar. "Never seen Athrun and Batman actually sort of get along."

Sting snickered; making up nicknames for Rau was way more fun than it had any right to be. "Yeah, well, it won't last, Athrun will go back to hating his guts by the end of the day." They rounded a corner and made for the hangars. "Anyways, did you hear? Terminal says their engineers have blueprints drawn up for some upgrades."

"What, real upgrades, not the 'put a beam shield on it and call it an upgrade' shit they did at Carpentaria?"

"Real upgrades." Sting pumped his fist in anticipation. "I can hardly wait. The Chaos has been getting kinda old."

"About fucking time," Auel sneered. "Those ZAFT bastards were better than I thought. Gonna have to keep up with them somehow."

Sting nodded solemnly as Auel keyed open the hangar doors. They had done well enough in that abortive battle with the ZAFT unit, but anymore fights like that and he would be getting too close to failure.

Shinn watched absentmindedly as Stella Loussier cleaned out the humble aquarium by her bunk, with its inhabitant in a small plastic bag filled with water nearby. Fortunately, Stella's invincible fish seemed unperturbed by the lack of little things like gravity which was more than he could say about other people, and idly remembered watching Emily gracefully go sailing into a wall the other day.

Now they were in space, and now they faced ZAFT and now, as Stella cleaned out the fish tank, Shinn faced the ghosts.

Luna he could deal with. Luna's death had hurt, but the pain of her loss had dulled with time. She hadn't quite gone out on her own terms, but he still had that nagging feeling that it was the sort of death she wouldn't have minded so much, if it hadn't meant leaving Meyrin alone. And Meyrin was doing alright on her own anyway.

No, it was Rey's death that still hurt, as much as Kika and Mayu and his parents. He had been angry and how could he not, because it was Rey who had killed Luna and had struck down his best friend from his ZAFT days and gone on and fought like a lion. And he had not forgiven Rey for killing Luna.

But that didn't take away the pain.

They were Newtypes, after all. They were supposed to understand each other. Rey was supposed to understand why Shinn had deserted, why Shinn had put Stella above Dullindal's schemes, why Shinn was on the other side of the battlefield at Solomon's Sword.

He closed his eyes. But would it have mattered if he had saved Rey instead of killed him? Rey needed those drugs. He was dying. He could very well have been dead by now anyway, had he not died at Solomon's Sword.

But Rey was his friend, and at a moment in his life where he hadn't had any friends. Rey had been there to point him the way. The way had gone to someplace dark and evil, and that was where Rey had wanted to go. That was what Rey had wanted Shinn to help create.

But friends didn't have to be right to be friends.

"ZAFT's combat training regimen has likely changed to compensate for ZAFT's reduced numbers with increased skill," Rau Le Creuset explained in the Minerva's computer room, with Viveka and a displeased-looking Athrun at the terminal before him. "The unit we encountered is also probably a special forces outfit with special weapons and training. The Seraphim was one of the Eternal-class ships assigned to such units after the Valentine War. I commanded one myself."

Athrun glanced at him with obvious annoyance. "I don't suppose you'd know who was in command of the Seraphim."

At that, Rau merely shrugged. "If I recall correctly, it was Commander Svante. He never had a predilection for all-red mobile suits, however, so I rather doubt he's in command of the Seraphim now."

Viveka glanced between the two ZAFT veterans. "So basically, they're all going to be dicks like those red ones were?"

"Essentially," answered Rau.


"But not to worry," Rau added, and reached over her shoulder to throw a switch on the console. "Our next destination, after all, is Terminal."

Athrun forced down his distaste at the idea of Rau Le Creuset inside the Resistance's last sanctuary. They would have to get there first.

Meyrin Hawke sat back on the bridge and quietly wished she was back on Earth, or on a colony, where there was gravity. That way she could sit back with a nice hot cup of soup and let the tension melt away. It just didn't have the same feeling in a plastic bottle with a straw.

The messages had arrived from Terminal. They could not complete any new mobile suits without the core pieces and the engines of the Minerva's existing mobile suits. That meant she would have to get her ship to Terminal and spend several days in dock, as the technicians there put together new and improved mobile suits out of her existing units. That would not be fun, but it would be necessary.

She thought back to ZAFT, and their fairly unambiguous statement through that black Eternal-class ship. There was never any real doubt in her mind to begin with that she would be on the opposite side of the battlefield as ZAFT. She had Shinn Asuka in her retinue and the Minerva had deserted and attempted to attack Solomon's Sword during that final battle, and the Cosmic Era was not a time of forgiveness and forgetting of grudges.

Besides, they were also intentionally targeting civilians.

"Burt," she said suddenly, "bring up the projection of that black ZAFT ship's course."

The image duly appeared on the auxiliary screen, and Meyrin studied it again. It was heading for Lagrange Point 4, but she wracked her brain and found nothing that ZAFT would have of interest at L4. Armory 1 had been there, but it had been dismantled in CE 75. There were several civilian colony clusters there, and the thought that the ZAFT ship was targeting one of them turned her stomach...but what else?

Meyrin sat up with a start. There was something else there the DSSD's research station, and

"Roxy," she said, "send out a line to the Star One. We've got a problem."

"Can't even get a little dignity from my enemies," Emily muttered, as she sat in the Twilight's cockpit and tiredly worked on its system settings, with the brick-like manual in her lap. Varder Ehrmacht, as he had called himself, was something of a jerk, she had decided. She couldn't shake the eerie feeling that he had been hitting on her during their abortive battle, and that was not an idea Emily was willing to consider. They had been trying to kill each other. It was weird.

Viveka, of course, had told her to "kick his creepy ass" the next time they met in battle. Emily took solace in that. Varder Ehrmacht was a bizarre sort of enemy, but one she could deal with. He had taken her by surprise in an unfamiliar environment, but she could handle him, and his little hanger-on Lilith as well.

The one she worried about, then, was the brooding presence far from here, far from L4, far from herself. That one, the one Athrun and Shinn had identified as a man named Kira, was something different and singularly unsettling. He was not as powerful a Newtype as Shinn or herself, but he had strength all the same and anger, and pain, and fear, and sorrow. And all of it was walled up like a fortress between a stony determination. Somehow she imagined him to be a leader perhaps the leader, the one in charge of ZAFT.

Athrun and Shinn always spiked in emotion whenever they mentioned him, or reached out and found his presence. He was their enemy, not hers but she would probably have to face him anyway.

An enemy like that...she didn't have that. Everyone she hated as much as Shinn hated him was dead. Everyone she felt such pain for as Athrun felt was gone. She had never had a rival like they had in this Kira. And they weren't talking about him.

She turned her thoughts and senses back towards Kira and idly wondered.

April 13th, CE 77 - ZAFT Eternal-class cruiser Seraphim, Lagrange Point 4

"We're about to enter range of Troya," Evers said, and glanced over his shoulder towards the upper seat, where sat a supremely triumphant-looking Varder Ehrmacht triumphant even though the battle had not yet begun.

"Well, I guess that would be my cue," he said with a shrug. "You've got the bridge, Evers. Don't screw anything up."

"Of course, sir," Evers muttered, and turned back towards the colony ahead. Damned cocky bastard. But he pushed the thoughts from his mind, because up ahead lay the DSSD Troya Research Station and even better, there lay their prototype.

The Stargazer. It was the DSSD's prototype for an unmanned exploration machine, built onto the frame of a mobile suit and designed for continuous operation on a geological timescale light-years from human civilization. According to the intel reports, it had an advanced AI for handling the machine so far out beyond the human frontier. And to get it there, it had that huge ring-shaped machine on its back the "Voiture Lumiere" laser propulsion system.

They had failed to capture that at Mars. The Austral Colony had mastered it first and built it into that Delta Astray, which then got destroyed by the nuclear attack at the colony. The MLA and Vargas's creatures built the second one, but it was destroyed in battle. Both times it had been the Vice Marshal's failure. This time it would be Commander Ehrmacht who would acquire the technology for them. The ZAKU Goliath, after all, demanded only the best, and one of Ehrmacht's specialties during the war had been the capture of advanced technology and important information from enemy strongholds.

Evers sneered in contempt. Troya had a slew of modified Civilian Astray mobile suits. They would probably fight back, using those. It would be like that pitiful sideshow of a Martian war all over again. And the DSSD, according to intel, had become something of a haven for Coordinators stranded in the Earth Sphere and besieged by the vicious policies of Lord Djibril. There were Coordinators on Troya's research and construction staff. They would undoubtedly get caught in the crossfire.

But they had refused to turn over the Stargazer or their research to agents that had preceded the ZAFT fleet. They were traitors.

Evers narrowed his eyes. There was only one thing to do with traitors.

"Seraphim, flank speed. Prepare for combat."

To be continued...