Phase 06 - The Arnhelm Colony

Mobile Suit Gundam SEED ETERNITY

Phase 06 - The Arnhelm Colony

April 14th, CE 77 - Battleship Minerva, Lagrange Point 1

In space, it was always a little different.

The Minerva had made seven sojourns in space since the end of the Junius War, and this was the eighth. In those three years Meyrin Hawke had become relatively well-acquainted with the new order that ZAFT's defeat and the Alliance's ascendancy had created. The Alliance ruled the colonies with an iron fist, yes...but it ruled everyone with an iron fist. And some people didn't mind being ruled with an iron fist. The affluent citizens of certain colonies administrated by the Atlantic Federation, the Eurasian Federation, and the Republic of East Asia had everything they could have wanted, so who needed political freedoms and legal rights?

But life in space was still life on the frontier, and on the frontier anything was possible. Some colonies were overlooked, and none more so than in Lagrange Point 1, where the writhing tendrils of the Debris Belt choked trade lanes and occasionally reached out to menace colonies. This was the hideout of many criminal groups, overlooked by the world's powers, and as a result the Resistance had gained strength in this desolate region of space.

Meyrin sat back uncomfortably on the Minerva's darkened bridge. Her ship's destination was the Arnhelm Colony...and she apprehensively considered the possibility of once again having to fight a fellow Resistance force. If it came to that, her ship was in no condition for such a battle. Not with most of its weapons and half of its mobile suit contingent out of commission.

At her station, Abbey leaned forward with a heavy sigh. "Arnhelm is run by Marko Jeremiah, isn't it," she said.

"'The Admiral' Marko Jeremiah," Roxy corrected with as much venom as her voice could muster.

"I know," Meyrin answered. The Arnhelm Colony was officially a massive orbiting refugee camp for seven million people. War orphans and displaced persons had streamed there because it was out of the way and undesired by the warring armies rampaging throughout the Earth Sphere, but those very qualities had been a decidedly mixed blessing. Lack of interest by either side of the wars made it forgotten to all but the occasional humanitarian group...and to people with all sorts of intentions.

Meyrin swallowed her anxiety as best she could. They also had a port and a group of competent mechanics that could repair her battleship enough to get it to Terminal, near Lagrange Point 3. She would just have to accept it.

"It's not a total loss."

Shinn Asuka glanced up at Athrun's voice in the crew lounge, and found the blue-haired Coordinator drifting into the chair on the other side of the table.

"What do you mean 'not a total loss?'" Shinn snorted. "We lost half of our Gundams and your unit's subflight lifter got blown up."

"But we're not dead and we've still got four mobile suits to work with."

Shinn crossed his arms impatiently and sat back. "Doesn't make me feel better about it."

Athrun leaned forward. "Shinn, it's not worth hating Kira anymore. I know you have blood with him at least as bad as mine, but there's nothing left of him. He's not even a human anymore. He's just a shell, filled with someone else's intentions."

"He's still the one who killed my family and friends."

"Yes, but hating him is a waste of energy at this point."

Shinn eyed Athrun in surprise for a moment. "I would've thought you'd be more pissed off by all this."

"I know that he has to be destroyed," Athrun answered with a shrug. "I know nothing is going to change his mind, and he has power, and that all makes him dangerous. I don't know what's making him tick, but he has to be stopped before the takes the entire world with him. He was the one who killed Cagalli, and that's why I'll never forgive him. But hating him..." He shrugged again. "I'm tired of it."

After a moment's silence, Shinn heaved a sigh. "I'm not."

"Is Sting okay?" Stella whispered, drifting over the infirmary bed where Sting Oakley lay with lacerations aplenty and resting off the effects of a nasty concussion. He shrugged.

"As okay as I can expect," he said, and glanced at Viveka over Stella's shoulder. "Arnhelm, is it?"

"Yeah," Viveka said with a nod. "Anything I should know about them?"

"Only that they're a bunch of fucking fascists. It's a refugee colony and the guy in charge, Jeremiah, rules the place like he's a god or something."

"Oh, fun."

"Is Auel gonna be okay?" Stella interrupted, and pointed anxiously at the sleeping Extended. Sting glanced over and smirked.

"Yeah, he'll wake up soon. Concussion. But whatever." He looked up at Viveka again. "Your unit got totaled too?"

Viveka heaved a melodramatic sigh. "The only ones who came through unscathed were Stella, Shinn, and Emily. Even Athrun got knocked around." She looked up at Stella and arched an eyebrow. "Although you certainly kicked some ass."

"They weren't scary," Stella said over her shoulder as she drifted towards Auel.

The Legend Gundam had been reduced to little more than a torso and most of a leg. That was a little disappointing for Rau Le Creuset, floating over the ruins of his trusty machine inside the Minerva's hangar. The Legend had served him well and kept him alive on a battlefield where his presence was increasingly necessary to make his plans work. He could not afford to leave Emily on her own. Not to fight Kira. He was a failure, but he was still dangerous, and although someone Emily, Shinn, Athrun, himself would finally exterminate that failure, he could still do incalculable damage.

But it was not all hopeless. All they had to do was get to Terminal, and there awaited a new sword for Emily to take up against these powerful invaders from ZAFT. Captain Hawke had mentioned something about additional units; perhaps if their stay at Terminal could be long enough, they would have the resources and crew to build even more new machines to deal with the leaps ZAFT had made at Mars. And surely the Alliance had its own next-generation machines. Surely this war would escalate. ZAFT was doing its damnedest to make that so.

He glanced over at the Twilight Gundam across the hangar. Emily was still working there, with that DSSD researcher she had picked up at Troya. That was another stroke of luck. Ms. McGriff was one of the core inventors of the Voiture Lumiere drive, and its combat applications, from what Rau understood of the system, were staggering. If the Minerva could get those two to Terminal, then Emily would have power beyond all reckoning.

And that, really, was what his plan was all about.

"Basically," Selene explained, with herself and Emily floating by the Twilight's cockpit, "this mobile suit is studded with receptors for a DRAGOON system. It has them all throughout the body and they all respond to your brainwaves. Instead of mounting them in separate units, they're all mounted in the body and connected to the thrusters and weapons and extremities and so on. You can move them all with just thoughts, which is why the Twilight has such higher performance than the others." She paused and grinned ironically. "Which I guess means you're some kind of Newtype or something."

Emily smiled sheepishly. "I guess it does." She looked back towards the Twilight. "But that means only Shinn and I can keep up with those new units from ZAFT, doesn't it?"

"If we can get to wherever it is we're going," Selene said, "then it won't matter."

"Don't you want us to take you to the other evacuees from Troya?"

Selene shook her head sadly. "What would be the point? ZAFT captured the Stargazer and Troya's computer core. I have the blueprints and research, but we'd need another research station and resources and another laser satellite."

They both stared down awkwardly at the silent Twilight moment, before Emily looked up. "Why were you ejected from the Stargazer anyway?"

Selene smiled sadly. "Because Sol was a little too brave for his own good."

"Wha ?"

"The test pilot." She looked back up at Emily with a tear in her eye. "My friend. He wanted to complete the Stargazer with me, but ZAFT attacked and we took it out to fight our way through and escape. We ran out of energy, so he ejected me, and told me to survive, so I could rebuild the Stargazer someday." She shrugged. "And that's why I'm helping you. I have to survive, for his sake, so that I can build the Stargazer again and it can carry his spirit to the stars, where it always wanted to be."

Emily frowned. "I'm sorry."

"Don't be. You've probably got dead friends to remember too, I'm sure."

Faces drifted by in Emily's memory: Kyali, Aza, Isaac... "Yes," she murmured, "I do."

ZAFT Minerva-class battleship Fortuna, Lagrange Point 4

It was not victory.

Kira Yamato sat in his office, clenching and unclenching his fists. He had destroyed half of the Minerva's Gundams, but it was not victory, because they were still alive. Rau. Athrun. Shinn. All of them. They still lived. He had forfeited a wonderful opportunity.

In front of his desk, Kayla watched him with a nervous expression. "We'll have other chances to destroy the Minerva, sir," she spoke up. "The sensor officer projected their course to take them to L1. We could follow them "

"No," Kira said suddenly. "We have a schedule."

Athrun had taken Fllay from him. Shinn had stood in his way at Solomon's Sword, kept him from protecting it, forced him to join his fellow Coordinators in that miserable exile to Mars, forced him to become this twisted parody of himself. Rau had brought him along this path and abandoned him at the final battle, abandoned him for that miserable little Angel of Death. He would cast himself through the fire, but he would never forgive them for making it necessary.

"Will we proceed to the Gagarin City colony, then?" Kayla asked.

Kira nodded painfully. "Send up the order to the bridge. Proceed to L4 and target the Gagarin City space colony, and charge the Tannhäuser. It's an Island Three type. It can be destroyed by punching through the mirror and breaking apart the central axis. We probably won't even need to launch the mobile suits."

Kayla saluted and excused herself, leaving Kira alone in his office, seething with anger.

It was not victory, but it was close enough.

Kara Guinness floated up eagerly in front of her slumbering VaROZ unit. The silver mobile suit, built from heavily-modified parts of the GuAIZ and CGUE with an improved version of the GOUF's flight pack on its back, had acquitted itself well in battle against the Minerva. It had taken down the Chaos and forced the Gaia on the defensive a little longer and, she knew, they would have destroyed that black Gundam as well. It bore all the lessons and ideas of ZAFT's experience in battle at Mars, and some of the technological secrets hidden in Vargas's fortress on Deimos.

She glanced over her shoulder as Gary came to a stop next to her. "So what do you think of the Earth Sphere?"

Gary merely shrugged. "I'm not so impressed. I'd rather fight that Angel of Death the Naturals are so afraid of, really."

"Oh, her," Kara said with a grin, "yeah...she'd be something." She looked back up at the VaROZ's darkened monoeye. "We'll get our chance. We've still got orders to take out the Minerva."

"Then why did we retreat when we had our golden opportunity?"

Kara glanced over her shoulder distastefully. "The Charlemagne."

"That giant battleship the Naturals made?"

"That's the one."

She crossed her arms and glowered up at her VaROZ. That was another enemy to fight.

"That thing is absurd."

Carlos crossed his arms defiantly and stared up in obvious disdain at the intel images of the mighty Charlemagne on the Fortuna's auxiliary screen. In the captain's chair, Lyle arched an eyebrow at his executive officer.
"I suppose," he agreed. "They built it to take down the Minerva and focused on countering its speed and maneuverability with overwhelming firepower. And apparently that has more or less paid off."

"A kilometer long," Carlos snorted. "And look at all those guns. They really don't need all that to take down a Minerva-class ship."

Lyle studied the images for a moment. The Charlemagne had a second role in the Alliance military as well, however that of sheer crushing intimidation. When this massive black warship loomed over the horizon, those who laid eyes on it were supposed to fear. And fear was the natural response to a warship with so many guns and so many weapons. It was the natural choice for the flagship of an army whose professional method of operation was to induce fear among the people fear so paralyzing that resistance would be impossible.

"The Minerva survived its battles with the Charlemagne," Lyle said, "and being ZAFT's premier unit, we will likely be expected to deal with it at some point. We can study and improve upon the Minerva's tactics for when that time comes."

"Then why did we forfeit our chance to destroy the Minerva?" Carlos sputtered.

Lyle rubbed the side of his head in frustration. "The Marshal refuses to engage the Charlemagne alone. He said he won't take it on without at least six ships running backup." He shook his head. "I can't say I blame him, but to give up our chance to get rid of the Minerva..."

And of course, Lyle needed no extrasensory powers to tell from the bubbling rage in Kira's eye when he had returned that he was the least happy about this.

Earth Alliance battleship Charlemagne, orbit of Earth

Colonel David Whittington was the gray-haired man in a black Phantom Pain uniform and dark gray service coat on the Charlemagne's auxiliary screen, and it was he who returned Danilov's perfunctory salute. He looked as grim as his assignment. War did that to men.

"Colonel Whittington," Danilov said with a cordial smile. "I apologize in advance for horning in on your turf, but the Minerva is heading in your direction, and I'm on the scent. They were badly damaged by a ZAFT unit that I can't catch up to, but the time is right to make the kill."

Whittington arched a silver eyebrow. "I'm surprised Headquarters has you still on their scent."

"Officially," replied Danilov with a shrug, "I'm to engage ZAFT forces wherever I encounter them. But I'm also to get rid of the Minerva as originally ordered." He paused for a moment as Whittington nodded to himself. "What's new with your assignment at L1?"

On the screen, Whittington glanced around wearily at the bridge of the Nelson-class battleship of the Space Force that was his flagship. "We've been moved into the Debris Belt branch closest to the Arnhelm Colony," he said. "For the past three weeks there hasn't been any Resistance activity here, but the situation is dicey. Arnhelm has seven million refugees in it, and the colony is one of those fragile Heliopolis models that relies on a central axial shaft for structural support. It wouldn't take much to rip the entire colony apart, and that would probably kill everyone inside."

Danilov kept his surprise professionally masked. It was strange for a Phantom Pain commander to be so concerned with the welfare of refugees. Usually it was the business of Phantom Pain commanders to create refugees.

"What do you propose, then?" he asked.

"Keep the Charlemagne far enough away to prevent a provocation," Whittington answered. "You can link up with the Tripoli if you like. The Minerva seems to be heading for Arnhelm, so if they're going to dock here, like I predict, we could have a pretext for storming the colony. But we would have to do it carefully."

"I agree. But how?"

Whittington's expression darkened. "We had better figure it out soon, captain."

"Man, Sven, you just attract all the crazy ones!" cackled Shams as he drifted down the Charlemagne's corridors with Mudie in tow. Sven glanced in annoyance over his shoulder and did his best not to whirl around and snap Shams' neck. "First there's Irene, then there's this Yukiko gal! That's pretty impressive!"

"Another noisy passenger," Mudie sighed. "What's she even here for?"

"Evaluation and fine-tuning of the Crusader after its first combat sorties," Sven answered. "She was one of the core researchers in assembling its beam wing drive and control system."

"What, are the Charlemagne's mechanics not good enough?" Shams quipped.

"She also had a hand in the Vanguard and Artemis's development," Sven added with a testy glance, "so you had best be grateful."

"Whatever you say, mom."

Sven bit back a scowl. Soon, he reminded himself, he would prove to his superiors that he no longer needed Shams and Mudie. Maybe they would get killed on the battlefield, maybe he could shift their tactics so that he no longer needed to deal with them, maybe they would be reassigned...but with the Crusader, he would need nobody else.

Grey Saiba drifted up over the silent face of his Regen Duel Gundam, slumbering in the Charlemagne's cavernous hangar. His work for the day on its operating system was complete, and now he sat back to admire his new machine. His hands itched to hold its controls and take it into battle...but not yet, and if the captain's briefing that morning had been any indication, his wait would soon be over.

He glanced over his shoulder as Erin came to a stop next to him with a smile. "Thought I'd find you here. We're going to be after the Minerva again, you know."

"I do." He looked back down at his new machine's dark eyes. "A reunion with the Angel of Death."

Erin pursed her lips. "Sounds personal."

"She's a pretty teenage girl, as old as both of us," Grey answered with a shrug.

"A pretty girl, huh?" asked Erin, with a suspicious look and a raised eyebrow. "Wonder how she got so far..."

Grey eyed Erin carefully for a moment. "She's still dangerous. Don't underestimate her. That's how people die."

"I know."

"Everyone forgets that when they see her. Her face or her mobile suit." He crossed his arms, taking in the hulking form of his new Gundam. Of course she wouldn't fear it, or any of the other Luna Project machines. But that would not stop him no, not after Volgograd and Novorossiysk and Carpentaria. He had seen her face, and it haunted him but perhaps these Gundams would dislodge it from his memory.

"Why would you know what her face looks like anyway?" Erin asked suddenly, and Grey glanced at her with a darkening expression.

"A transmission," he said quietly, "at Volgograd."

"At Volgograd?" Erin blinked in disbelief. "You mean when the Resistance attacked the city, and "

Grey stared at her in shock for a moment. "What do you mean is that what they told you what happened?"

"Isn't it what happened? The Resistance started attacking the city for some reason and the Charlemagne moved in to protect it."

The memories came flooding back in a senseless rush and Grey could only laugh harshly. "That," he said, "is what I wish had happened." He looked down at his hands. "So that I could still sleep at night."

He whirled around and headed for the hangar doors with a scowl.

Angel of Death...don't make me regret which side I'm on.

Arnhelm Colony, Lagrange Point 1

Meyrin Hawke swallowed her pride and stuck her hand forward on the docking tube stretching from her battered warship to the Arnhelm Colony's space dock.

In front of her stood the man that called his place home, and the man that this place called master. The wizened and wiry Marko Jeremiah, in his opulent blue naval uniform and leaning heavily on a cane, shook Meyrin's hand quickly and took a step back. Meyrin noted in the back of her mind the conspicuous presence of well-armed guards everywhere. It was always good to have a relationship based on mutual trust.

"Welcome to the Arnhelm Colony," Jeremiah said, and grimly swept his arm out over the tableau of Arnhelm's port. "Our mechanical staff will help your own with repairs, and you can take on supplies here for as long as your stay will last. Make yourselves at home." He motioned for Meyrin and Abbey to follow him and his heavily-armed guards. "Other than the obvious, what brings you Arnhelm?"

Meyrin glanced at Abbey for a moment. "We were assisting the DSSD's Troya Station at L4 when a ZAFT unit ambushed us," she explained. "Commander Vedlow's flagship escaped to Terminal with Troya's evacuees, but ZAFT captured DSSD's research from Troya."

"How terrible," Jeremiah remarked. "ZAFT is certainly acting barbaric these days. I hardly recognize them anymore. Only three years ago they were sending forces to help break up Junius 7 when those terrorists pushed it towards the Earth."

"It's to be expected from an army whose homeland has been destroyed," Abbey put in. "It will only get worse from here on out."

Meyrin thought back bitterly to those terrorists, the ones who had spouted Patrick Zala as their justification, that they needed to march down the path at which he had pointed and render the Naturals unable to ever threaten the Coordinators again. But it was not the Naturals who had fired the Requiem and destroyed the PLANTs. That she knew because down below on the blue planet, there was Admiral Pegodin and Colonel Chekhov and Commandant al-Imad and so many others. They did not deserve ZAFT's wrath anymore than the innocent Coordinators of the PLANTs had deserved the Requiem.

It was something to fight for. This war had no shortage of that.

"We will not be here long, admiral," Meyrin said. "Just long enough to make sufficient repairs to get us to Terminal. The Charlemagne arrived in space recently, and the ZAFT unit that attacked us will probably be back for more. Arnhelm would be endangered if we stayed for long."

Jeremiah said nothing, and only looked grimly ahead.

Arnhelm Colony was a hellhole.

That was the most charitable conclusion Emily von Oldendorf could reach as she wandered the streets of Arnhelm, a gun and four extra clips tucked inside her coat. Shinn had insisted that she go armed if she was going to go exploring, and now she understood why. The colony's buildings were crumbling. The weather controls had apparently stopped responding a long time ago, because the colony seemed to be stuck in a perpetual cloudy, blustery day. The mirrors were cracked and reflected only some of the sunlight that reached them into the colony interior. It was cold, it was windy, it was sort of like being back in Reykjavik...which meant Emily liked none of it.

There was also a preponderance of armed guards on the streets, in a motley array of uniforms from throughout the Earth Sphere. They, she guessed, were Jeremiah's security forces and she had heard plenty about them.

Emily rounded a corner and found herself face to face with two brown-haired teenage boys, both of them staring at her with the wide eyes of recognition.

"Are you " started the one on the right, in the green flak jacket, before the one on the left stepped forward with a wide grin.

"Holy shit, I didn't think they'd be letting you out like this!" the second one laughed. "Wow, the Angel of Death "

Emily promptly shoved them both into a nearby alley. "Not so loud," she hissed, "this isn't the place to be attracting attention."

The second boy awkwardly rubbed the back of his head. "Right, right. Anyway," he stuck his hand forward for a handshake with a broad grin, "the name's Trojan. Trojan Noiret. Your reputation precedes you, Miss Oldendorf."

"I'm Rax Falkner," the second one said, shaking Emily's hand as well. "I keep Trojan from doing stupid shit."

"He thinks he keeps me from doing shit he thinks is stupid," Trojan interrupted with a dismissive wave. "But what did they let you out of the Minerva for? I figured you guys would be on lockdown in there."

Emily glanced around, at the unforgiving clouds overhead and the crumbling buildings around her. "I was coming out for some fresh air," she said, "but I don't know how fresh the air really is here."

"Not very," Rax said.

"Well, the air sucks," Trojan said, "but the company's not too bad, eh?"

Emily glanced over the thin teenager and shrugged. It could be worse, after all.

"So you had friends in ZAFT, huh," Viveka said quietly, as she and Athrun drifted down the hallways of Arnhelm Colony's sprawling spaceport.

"Friends, hell," Athrun muttered, "I was their commanding officer for a while." He frowned. "They're all dead now, aren't they..."

Viveka furrowed her brow. "You sure do dwell on the dead people in your life a lot."

Athrun closed his eyes with a smirk. That was something Dearka would have said. Sometimes it seemed like he was speaking to her through Viveka. Hell, sometimes it seemed like they had sent him Viveka, so that the last member of their mobile suit team wouldn't go stark raving mad in his own survivor's guilt.

"It's different when you're a commanding officer," he said with a sigh. "In training they drill into you the idea of responsibility, for your men and your mission. So when they get killed..." He shrugged. "It sticks with you."

"Everything sticks with you."

"Well, you try being raised by a military man and see how much of the military doesn't rub off on you."

Viveka sighed. "It's like you just refuse to be content or something. I know they all meant a lot to you, and I know your past is pretty shitty, but you can't spend your entire life like this."

"No," Athrun said, and he glanced out through the spaceport windows towards the cloudy colony interior, "but I've been in one long war since the Bloody Valentine seven years ago. And until that war is over..."

He shook his head and continued on.

"Fascinating," murmured Rau as he drifted over the scorched Minerva's battered prow, with Selene not far away. He flipped through a laptop and the contents of Selene's flash drive the Stargazer's blueprints, the Voiture Lumiere system. "The laser propulsion system can be modified for applications that don't use solar wind."

"It won't achieve the astronomical speeds the Stargazer can reach," Selene explained with a shrug, "but it can outperform most mobile suits in combat, from what I understand of contemporary MS performance."

Rau grinned. "At Terminal they are constructing a new Gundam, tentatively for Emily," he said. "But the main core is not yet complete and it remains open to modification. And after the performance of that white mobile suit from that blue ZAFT warship..."

"You want me to put the Voiture Lumiere on that Gundam," Selene said with raised eyebrows. "You know it's an incredible power. Not to be given lightly." She narrowed her eyes. "And certainly not to be given at the behest of a man who wears a mask."

"It wouldn't be for me," he said airily. "It would be for her. I'm sure you can realize after talking to her that she already has enormous power. She can manipulate her mobile suit like a Newtype. Giving her the Voiture Lumiere would just give her the power to end this war that much faster," he smiled, "and get you back to work that much sooner."

Selene glanced down at the Minerva, and Rau grinned as the tendrils of doubt moved in.

April 15th, CE 77 - Battleship Minerva, Arnhelm Colony, Lagrange Point 1

Auel Neider opened his eyes with a start and said, "Jesus tittyfucking Christ."

"That's a new one," a voice drifted down the infirmary, and Auel glanced over to find Sting Oakley floating by his bed with a smirk. "Didn't know Jesus was into that."

"What happened?" Auel grunted, and laid back down on his bed.

"The Abyss got trashed, the Minerva got its ass kicked, and we hightailed it to Arnhelm Colony. You've been out for a couple days."

"And when do I get to get up?"

"Maybe a couple more, depends on what the doc says."

Auel groaned. "How did I lose the Abyss?"

"The Freedom ripped it apart with those DRAGOONs." Sting shrugged. "But at least you're alive. Once we get things patched up here, we're going to Terminal."

"We almost died," Auel whispered, and stared up painfully at the ceiling. "After all that...we almost failed."

Sting winced at the mention of his block word but let it go. "Yeah, well, we're still alive and nobody tailed us here. As long as we can get to Terminal we'll be okay, and there's no sense moping about it." He gestured toward the medical equipment in the case next to Auel's bed. "And if you disagree, we can take it up with Mr. Tranquilizer."

Auel glared. "You're a dick, Sting."

"It's in the job description," Sting said with a laugh.

There was no sea or anything remotely comparable to be found in the Arnhelm Colony. It was just row upon row of decaying apartments and commercial complexes, so Shinn, Stella, and Roxy could only wander the miserable streets in search of something to do. Anything would do anything to soothe the sting of defeat.

Roxy swirled around a bottle of something Shinn declined to identify. "This place is sort of a shithole, huh."

"Being ignored will do that to you," Shinn explained with a shrug, and kept an eye on Stella as she danced over the cracked sidewalks. "Humanitarian groups overlook this place and the Alliance isn't interested. The refugees here are pretty much left to fend for themselves." He glanced up at the distinctive sky of the space colony, where the lights of the other side of the cylinder was faintly visible through the clouds. "I guess it's a better way to exist than the refugees had it before, but..."

They all fell silent at the sound of gunshots, and Shinn backed away with Roxy and Stella at his side in an instant. Bullets pounded against the far wall in a nearby alley, and a man in a ragged uniform staggered around the corner with fear in his eyes and pulsing around his presence.

"They're after me!" the man shrieked. "They're gonna !"

He pitched forward and landed with a thud, blood pouring from a bullet hole in his back, and two soldiers in brown Earth Alliance corners emerged from the alley with submachineguns in hand.

"Report in to HQ," one of them said with a grunt, "Prisoner E-0057 neutralized." The soldier glanced up at Shinn. "You. Move along."

Shinn glanced down one more time at the dead prisoner, then shot the soldier a glare and stalked away.

"What was that about?" Stella whispered.

"That," Shinn growled as his fists clenched, "was the other side of the Arnhelm Colony."

Arnhelm Colony, Lagrange Point 1

The sounds of a dockyard at work rang dull and muffled inside the observation deck where Meyrin and Abbey watched quietly. True to Jeremiah's word, Arnhelm's mechanical staff had gotten straight to work on the poor Minerva, and although the Tannhäuser could not be replaced, the repairs would be sufficient to protect the Minerva long enough to get it to Terminal, where its full fitting-out could take place.

Meyrin glanced at Abbey. "ZAFT has changed," she said quietly, "hasn't it?"

Abbey leaned forward to peer down at the Minerva. "I'm sort of surprised we haven't had anyone jumping ship," she said. "You would think at least someone would want to."

"We're lucky," Meyrin replied with a sad smile. "We have a good crew."

Silence reigned between them both as they both gazed down at the warship below. Meyrin idly wondered what Lunamaria would have done if she were here. No way would she have stomached what ZAFT was doing now...but would she stand with them anyway? For the sake of their homeland and their people? Did those things matter to Lunamaria Hawke?

"Well," Abbey added, "what will we do if the Resistance decides to side with ZAFT? They're doing these things and they already attacked us." She paused. "Do you think Chiao Xu would sell us out?"

"No. As idealistic as he is, even he wouldn't do that. And if he tried, Copland wouldn't let him." She crossed her arms. "If it comes down to it, Copland will make the call, and he won't let the Resistance side with ZAFT. He'd sooner side with the Alliance against ZAFT."

"Does he hate Coordinators too?"

"No. He hates evil."

Abbey smirked. "What kind of politician is he?"

"An ex-politician."

Meyrin bitterly turned her thoughts towards the angry soldiers of ZAFT. They were supposed to be her compatriots, the genetically-enhanced superior humans that would lead mankind into a brighter future...but look where they were now.

Trojan Noiret had been most proud of his green and white Astray Green Frame, with its exotic custom beam axe thing that Emily still didn't quite understand, next to Rax's blue ZAKU Phantom. She didn't quite want to break it to them that their machines were probably sorely outdated, but if Trojan's boasting about his piloting prowess had any kernels of truth in it, perhaps he could make up for it. Or perhaps that had all been just showing off for a girl. If the emotions tinting Trojan's presence were any indication, that was something he had been up to as well.

Emily blinked in surprise as a strange feeling of pressure registered in the back of her mind. She turned towards a side corridor in the spaceport complex and drifted to a halt by one of the gantries. There was pressure in there but, as she felt her heart drop, it had the telltale distortion of an Extended.

A door slid open and Emily swallowed hard just long enough for a girl in a red and black flight suit to emerge, tossing a long lock of orange hair out of her face and greeting Emily with a bright and sunny smile.

"Hey, you're that Angel of Death girl!" she cried, and in a heartbeat she had grabbed Emily by the shoulders and pinned her against the railing. "Wow! I never thought I'd meet you here! You're like super famous, y'know?"

"Y-yeah," Emily started, "um, you are...?"

The girl stepped back and proudly put her hands on her hips. "I'm the Blood Knight of Outer Space, the one and only Lily Thevalley!"

Emily felt her heart sink. An Extended that liked her. After she already had Trojan decidedly taking a fancy to her. Just what she needed.

"This is awesome!" Lily squealed. "I totally didn't think anyone famous was gonna come by here! We're, like, always getting forgotten and stuff, y'know? So it's boring and they make me fly those boring patrols but then you guys showed up and I got to meet the freakin' Angel of Death!"

"Um, thanks, I think," Emily started, and hoped she wouldn't inadvertently stumble upon Lily's block word.

"Y'know you look a lot prettier than on TV!" Lily went on with a beaming grin.

"I-I do?"

"Totally! They make you look all dirty and gross, like you don't take baths or something! And they make you look mean and scary, but you're totally not!" Lily's eyes lit up excitedly. "Hey, wanna go get some coffee or something?"

Emily blinked. "Aren't you a little young to be drinking coffee?"

"Nobody's too young to drink coffee! Come on!"

And with that, Lily seized Emily by the wrist and dragged her off into Arnhelm.

April 16th, CE 77 - Earth Alliance Archangel-class battleship Lucifer, Lagrange Point 1


Sitting in a side chair on the bridge of the Lucifer, third ship of the Archangel class, his pressed black Phantom Pain uniform still warm on his skin, Colonel Joaquin watched with disdain as the ship slowly navigated the Debris Belt and inched closer to Lagrange Point 1 and the Arnhelm Colony. It was simply intolerable.

He had been the second in command of the Phantom Pain under Colonel Roanoke. The 81st Autonomous had been a force to be feared, and while Colonel Roanoke was off chasing the Minerva and toying with his pet Extended, it had been Lieutenant Colonel Joaquin who had carried out the quiet missions that had paved the way for the Alliance's ascendancy. Joaquin's men had sabotaged ZAFT defenses at the Battle of Cyprus to take back the Dhekelia base; Joaquin's men had gone ahead of the main Alliance force during the invasion of South America; Joaquin had led the attack that had crushed ZAFT's staging ground in the Falkland Islands; Joaquin had all but won the war for them.

And what had Joaquin gotten for his troubles? A promotion to full Colonel and that was it. He was bypassed for promotion by that miserable fool Markav, and a parade of toadies passed him by to the higher posts of the Phantom Pain that should have been his. Colonel Roanoke and Commander Lee had died at Solomon's Sword. He should have inherited the Phantom Pain.

Instead, here he sat on the Lucifer's bridge, bound for the Arnhelm Colony to reinforce Colonel Whittington in what he felt was an imminent attack on Arnhelm's security forces. It was disgraceful.

Or, it would have been...had the Minerva not docked there.

"Ortega," Joaquin said, and glanced at the olive-skinned man in the Lucifer's captain's chair, "send out a line to Whittington on the Tripoli. Tell him the Lucifer has arrived, and we are here to make something happen."

To be continued...