Phase 09 - Terminal

Mobile Suit Gundam SEED ETERNITY

Phase 09 - Terminal

April 19th, CE 77 - Earth Alliance battleship Charlemagne, Lagrange Point 1

Ivan Danilov sadly watched the wreckage of the Arnhelm Colony drift apart. The Tripoli had been destroyed as the Minerva had made its escape; Joaquin's troops had destroyed the ZAFT warship and together the Alliance forces had laid waste to the Resistance fighters hiding here. But at such a cost...

This would all become part of the Debris Belt and by now there were probably no survivors. Another Alliance vessel was en route from the moon to handle any miraculous survivors and corpse retrieval. As for the Charlemagne, it had its mission, and Danilov gave the ruins one last look as the mighty black warship turned its prow around. The Minerva had slipped away into the wreckage, but Joaquin was on the scent and so was the Charlemagne's sensor officer.

"Captain," Vera said suddenly, breaking Danilov from his thoughts, "if they're heading for Terminal, we're probably going to need reinforcements."

"If they lead us to Terminal, Command will probably send in a whole fleet to drop the hammer on them," Danilov answered with a shrug. "Just because ZAFT is here doesn't mean Headquarters will pass up a chance to smash the Resistance's stronghold in space."

He sat back as the Charlemagne's engines rumbled to life.

Of course, if ZAFT doesn't get to them first...

The first thing that reached Sven Cal Bayan outside the locker room as he left the mechanics to tend to his victorious Crusader was an exultant Yukiko, flinging herself through the door and throwing her arms around his neck.

"I told you the Crusader would bring you victory!" she cackled. Sven pushed her off with a grunt.

"I will give you credit for building an impressive mobile suit," he said as he turned towards the lockers, "but the Destiny has not been destroyed yet."

"You'll do it," Yukiko said, and Sven felt something uneasy wash over him as he looked into her eyes. "You'll kill it. You have to. My Crusader is the better mobile suit. It can't be beaten." She grabbed his shoulders. "You're fighting for more than yourself, you know. You're fighting for everyone now. Like my sister."

Sven arched an eyebrow. "What about her?"

"The Destiny killed her, you know. She was a mobile suit pilot. The Destiny killed her in battle over Poland." She grinned wildly. "And you're going to take revenge for her, aren't you?"

"I will do as my duty requires," Sven said, and pushed past her towards his locker.

He scowled as he rounded a corner and headed for his own locker, and watched as Yukiko left with an eager grin towards the hangar.

"So," Grey Saiba said quietly on the Charlemagne's observation deck, "that was victory."

He stared into the darkness of space, with Merau by his side, and knew that it wasn't really victory. The Twilight well, most of it, anyway had escaped. But it had escaped in defeat, and that was important.

"I was expecting it to feel a little better than this," he said. "Like we had accomplished something."

Merau glanced inquisitively at him. "What makes you think we didn't?"

"Well, there's the fact that the colony broke apart and killed everyone inside."

"ZAFT would have done the same."

Grey glanced wearily over his shoulder at the door as it hissed open, and Erin drifted onto the deck with a grin. "There you two are!" she said brightly. "Jeez, with the way you two are moping around you'd think we had actually lost."

"The colony was destroyed," Grey started.

"Then the refugees inside should have taken shelter," Erin said with a shrug. "Or better yet, they shouldn't have even let the Resistance forces be there in the first place. I'm sure most of them got to escape pods anyway." She grabbed Grey by the arm. "But you're forgetting what we accomplished. We had the Twilight on the ropes. If not for the colony breakup we might have destroyed it outright."

Grey thought back to his enemy's face and felt the hatred churn inside him, for that one moment in Volgograd that he still could not forget.

Earth Alliance Archangel-class battleship Lucifer, Lagrange Point 1

As the Lucifer hummed with its engines lit and its course set, Colonel Joaquin stood with crossed arms inside a room with a tangle of equipment strewn across the floor and walls, all leading to a maintenance pod in the room's center. Strapped down to the bed lay the youthful and serene face of ND HE the face that he never saw, hidden behind that heavy helmet that kept him fed with the psychoactive drugs that ensured his mental stability.

This one was different from the Extended. Joaquin recalled the Combat Coordinators and the unpleasant tendency they had of breaking free of their conditioning. Even a few Extended had managed to do that, although physical dependency was a much more effective leash. But not this one.

"Colonel," the lieutenant in charge of the technicians said quietly, "we have him stable so far, but, well, there's only so much we can do. The implanted DNA..."

"I understand," Joaquin cut him off with a brusque wave. The process of creating this carbon human had not been perfect. Old DNA conflicted with new. Implanted information did not settle easily. A human's identity was not an easy thing to erase and overwrite.

No, ND HE was something new. That Coordinator that had piloted the Strike for the Alliance six years ago had been courteous enough to leave behind his genetic material, retrieved and spirited away at JOSH-A when the Archangel arrived. ND HE had been six years in the making, and he had performed acceptably in battle at the Arnhelm Colony.

But in the Phantom Pain, acceptable was unacceptable.

Battleship Minerva, en route to Terminal

Trojan Noiret drifted through the Minerva's interior observation deck, lost in the stars. He idly and bitterly thought back to his departed Green Frame. Right now he would be working on it, squeezing another ounce of performance out of it...but what would that have mattered? As he thought back to the battle, he knew his Green wouldn't have stood a chance anyway.

That was, really, the worst thought of all: that he would have been powerless no matter what to save Rax.

He glanced up in surprise as the door slid open and watched Emily and Lily drift into the room. "So that's where you've been sulking!" Lily exclaimed. Emily nudged her in the ribs and drifted closer to Trojan.

"Are you alright? You haven't come out of here since we landed."

"Yeah," Trojan said with a heavy sigh, "it's just...well, I dunno, I'm sure you've felt this way before."

Emily glanced at Lily awkwardly. She could mention Kyali or Aza or Isaac or her mother...but why bother when he was already depressed enough. "Definitely." She put a hand on his shoulder and tried to ignore the way he jumped in surprise. "Just don't stay in here forever. Nobody wants you to wallow."

"I know. I'm sorry."

"It's alright." Emily offered him a reassuring smile. "I know how you feel. We'll go if that's what you want." She glanced at Lily.

"Yeah," Trojan started quietly, "I think I need to be alone for a bit." He smiled back sadly

Emily snapped her head towards Lily as she felt a bolt of terror race through the room, and Trojan fell silent. Lily drifted away from them, eyes wide and face drained of color; Emily swallowed hard as the fear radiated oppressively from the little Extended, and Lily brought her trembling hands up to her face.

"What the hell ?" Trojan started.

"This must be her block word." Emily moved closer. "Lily, are you alright?"

Lily landed softly against the wall. "A-Alone..."

"You're not," Emily said, and took Lily's hands. "You aren't alone."

"Alone," Lily whispered fearfully again, and looked up in terror towards Emily. "They'll...they'll leave me alone..."

"No one will leave you alone," Emily answered, and shook Lily by the shoulders. "You won't be."

"I-I won't?" Lily looked up into Emily's eyes, the tide of fear beginning to ebb away and Emily winced as she remembered what was going on. Being alone must have been the traumatic part of her training that the Alliance had used to build a block word.

"I won't let you be," she said with a smile.

Lily sank back against the wall, the energy draining along with the fear, and Emily glanced wearily at Trojan. He shrugged apologetically.

"Sorry. Didn't know."

The fear still churned even as it began to fade, and Emily tried to push down her own.

As he looked over the damage, Shinn Asuka couldn't help but feel a little crushed that at long last, his loyal Destiny had finally had its figurative pound of flesh taken from it. The Alliance's beam wing-spouting Gundam had taken its head, its entire right arm, its left arm from the elbow, and its left leg from the knee. It was discouraging. Terminal would probably have the parts to repair it, but the Destiny had been made obsolete and that thought was even worse.

At his side, Stella looked up in surprise at the maimed mobile suit. "It got trashed..."

"Yeah," Shinn said with a shrug, "it happens."

He turned his thoughts back to the battle, and the strange, pulsing presences he had felt. For a while, he could've sworn he had felt Kira Yamato on that battlefield...though Athrun had said it was only a clone. That wasn't a particularly comforting thought either.

"Well," Shinn continued, "Terminal said they can fix it." But Terminal didn't say they could upgrade it, put it on par with that Alliance Gundam. That meant it wasn't good enough, and that, roiling in the pit of his stomach, was the real thing to worry about. Not in a world like this. He had to be good enough.

The worst memory to come flooding back right now, mused Athrun Zala as he worked in the battered Infinite Justice's cockpit, was Kira standing on that rocky beach in Orb, after the battle against those three Alliance Gundams. They had finally settled their rivalry, finally returned to being friends and not enemies before Jachin Due, before Rau, before everything went wrong. Athrun hated himself for that, for thinking that he and Kira could change the world. Only people with evil intent, it seemed, could change the world.

And then that clone's presence writhed and struggled in the base of his consciousness, like some kind of psychic parasite.

"So," Viveka said quietly, leaning against the Justice's head and peering down into the cockpit, "that was your friend, huh?"

"A clone of my friend," Athrun corrected. He idly considered the possibility of capturing it. Maybe he could bring back the Kira that Rau had destroyed, through that clone. But the Minerva had enough unexpected passengers and if that strange warping to the clone's presence had been any indication, it was probably modified like an Extended anyway. "Though I guess it's not as bad as what the real one is doing."

Viveka frowned. "That's true."

"Just leave him to me in combat," he continued. "If that clone uses his fighting style, I know him well enough to counter it."

"Not like I have a choice," Viveka answered with a shrug.

Athrun turned his eyes down towards the console. That thing out there was not his friend, and that was he needed to believe no matter what his senses told him.

"So maybe we went a little too fast," Sting said tiredly, as he watched Auel change the bandages on his arm. Shrapnel from the Buster Dagger had added to that from the Abyss, and although none of it was life-threatening yet Auel nonetheless looked quite annoyed. He poked the tender flesh around one of the gashes on his arm.

"Shit, at this rate I'm gonna look like Viveka," he snorted, and set to work wrapping another bandage around his forearm. "Well, commiserate if you want, but I'm not going to sit on my ass all day on the ship. That's fucking boring."

"I know. Just don't push yourself too hard or you'll pop open like a water balloon."

"Nice." He picked at one of the cuts he'd already wrapped. "I guess we're gonna be at Terminal for a while, huh."

Sting shrugged. "Long enough to build us some new mobile suits and finish the repairs," he said. "And for you to heal."

"Oh, shove it up your ass. I'll be fine." He tightened his bandage, as if to punctuate the point. "You mean to tell me you came out of all that without a scratch?"

"No," Sting said, and glanced away awkwardly. "I just don't want to tempt fate."

"Terminal's mobile suit facilities will be more than adequate," Meyrin explained on the Minerva's bridge, with the captain's chair turned. She glanced up towards the upper deck, where Selene stood nervously gazing out the bridge windows, and Rau sat behind her with a typically amused look on his face. "I can't make any promises beyond that."

"I understand, captain," Selene said, "but I'm just...having second thoughts, I guess."

"Now is the time to have them," Rau replied with a shrug.

"The Star One has probably reached Terminal already, so you'll be reunited with your colleagues there," Meyrin added. "If you don't want to do this, you don't have to, but "

Selene shook her head. "I can't rebuild the Stargazer if this war is going on. So if I can help end it..."

Meyrin arched an eyebrow doubtfully. "I understand, but one person can't end this war."

"No," Rau spoke up with a smirk, "but one person can make a great deal of difference." He turned to Selene. "For what it's worth, Ms. McGriff, I have absolutely no complaints about this. We will be needing increasingly high-performance mobile suits to make up for our lack of numbers." He glanced almost imperceptibly at Meyrin. "If the Voiture Lumiere can help our chances in that regard, then I consider it a good thing."

As Meyrin reluctantly turned back towards the bridge windows, Rau smiled.

After all, our little Angel of Death needs a weapon befitting her power.

April 20th, CE 77 - Hart Senate Office Building, Washington D.C., Atlantic Federation

Somewhere in the back of his mind, Senator Robert Meyers idly wondered whose idea it had been to create a post called "Grand Admiral" in the Atlantic Federation Navy. But as bad as it played politically, the man in his office certainly fit the part. Grand Admiral MacIntyre looked pretty grand, all things considered.

"I must say, admiral," Meyers began, and sat back in his chair, "it's rather odd for an officer of your stature to request a meeting like this. Less open-minded individuals might question your intentions."

"I have concerns that can't be taken elsewhere," MacIntyre answered with a neutral expression, "and am in search of a sympathetic ear."

"What makes you think mine is sympathetic?"

"That's what I'm here to find out."

Meyers sat back and regarded the aging admiral for a moment. "What is your concern, then?"

At that, the old admiral leaned forward with fire in his eyes. "Before I say anything, I'd like to know just what you think of Lord Djibril."

"Are my public statements not sufficient?"

"You're a politician, Senator. With all due respect, I know better than to trust what you say in public."

Meyers cracked a thin smile. "Fair enough." He leaned forward himself, resting his elbows on his desk. "I'm sure you understand how the game works, admiral."

MacIntyre did not flinch. "Perfectly, Senator."

Earth Alliance battleship Charlemagne, orbit of Earth

"So Sven," Shams started with as annoyed an air as he could manage, drifting with Mudie down the Charlemagne's corridors after the silver-haired officer, "you wanna explain why you totally fucking ditched us the other day at Arnhelm?"

Sven glanced over his shoulder and said nothing.

"Do you not need us anymore?" Mudie asked with a strange little smirk. Sven came to a stop outside the doors to the hangar and straightened his uniform.

"I was running a combat test on the Crusader," he said at last. "It could tolerate no interference." And with that he ducked through the door and made his escape.

Shams heaved a sigh and glanced over at Mudie. "Bullshit?"

"Who cares if he doesn't need us," Mudie huffed, and headed back down the corridor, leaving Shams behind.

I do, he thought ruefully, because the day he stops needing us is the day there's nothing left to keep him from killing us.

He looked down the corridor after Mudie as she rounded a corner and disappeared. This kind of relationship was the sort of thing they quietly warned recruits against in training, not because of discipline but because it would only lead to heartache especially in as bloody a war as this one. Although Shams had his own theory about that warning, he had to admit that it did make a certain amount of sense on an intellectual level if only he could shut off the other ones.

Sven was a broken man, and Shams felt sorry for him someplace in his being, but not so sorry that he would hesitate to shoot Sven in the back if he ever threatened Mudie or himself. He had spent so long in the Phantom Pain and could not say it was a rewarding experience, except for the friends he made and except for her. And not even Sven Cal Bayan could take that away from him.

It danced effortlessly and flawlessly through his memories, that damned Twilight Gundam, and even though he and the rest of the mobile suit force that tentatively called itself the Maynard Team had decisively defeated it, Grey Saiba could not banish the Angel of Death from his memories. He almost wished he was an Extended, to have an excuse to erase those memories.

Erin found him in the observation deck, hunched over the railing and staring at the stars. "You hang out here a lot," she said, and he looked over at her with a start.

"It's quiet," he said with a shrug. "Peaceful."

Erin stepped forward with a shrug and came to a stop against the railing. "I don't know why you've been so withdrawn, though," she continued. "We beat the Twilight Gundam. The girl who's been haunting you the whole time. Just 'cuz she's not dead yet..." She smiled reassuringly. "Well, you can enjoy a victory, can't you?"

"That's not it," Grey said. He looked back in the vague direction of the Arnhelm Colony where seven million people had died, according to the news reports, with only a couple hundred survivors. That had been the bitter, ironic cost of victory over the Angel of Death. "You know the colony broke apart and everyone inside was killed."

"I know. It's terrible."

"It's more than terrible." He turned towards Erin and began to lose hope that he would reach her. "What are we fighting for if we accept costs like that as just collateral damage? It was a Phantom Pain ship that fired on the colony, Erin. What are we fighting for?"

Erin sputtered in surprise for a moment. "Grey, what do you think we're fighting for? You know what the Resistance is like, and you've heard what ZAFT is doing. How could you possibly doubt us?"

"Because it wasn't the Resistance or ZAFT that destroyed that colony. And I know they told you otherwise, but it wasn't the Resistance that burned down Volgograd. It was us." He slumped back against the railing. "It was me."

Silence reigned in the air for a moment, and Erin left without a word.

They were different.

Kelly Maynard watched from the hangar gantry as far down below, Ensign Seraux spoke with the mechanics in front of her slumbering Hail Buster Gundam. Her team had performed well, meshing together in combat the way they had done in their drills and simulations, but it had been Grey and Merau who had performed best. They had experience, and they had something personal with that Angel of Death.

Kelly turned that thought over in her mind. After all, she had Travis and Erin for comparison, and although they had put up worthy fights of their own, the former had not quite lived up to all his pre-sortie boasting.

But then, neither of them had seemed very excited after the battle. In fact, Grey had seemed downright depressed and after finally defeating the same pilot who had handed him so much shame, as well. That was something odd, something she would have to investigate. Erin would pry, of course, because Erin had her own reasons but Kelly could not let the matter go if it could impact her team's performance.

After all, there were scary things out there, just waiting for her to slip up.

Battleship Minerva, en route to Terminal

Shinn ground his teeth in frustration as he worked inside the ruined Destiny's cockpit, moving data and settings to a jump drive while he still had time. He had thought he was alone but not quite.

"I didn't expect you, of all people," he muttered. "Not after what we went through."

Somewhere in the back of his mind, Shinn had already convinced himself that the translucent, rippling image of Rey Za Burrel in front of him was just a sign of his psyche failing after too many years of constant battle and stress.

Perhaps you need to see me, Rey answered.

Shinn looked up and straight through the vision, at the darkened screens of the Destiny's cockpit. "So is this some kind of revenge thing or what?"

Revenge would serve no purpose now. Rey crossed his arms over his ZAFT Red uniform, and Shinn felt a pang of regret as those memories came rushing back. Always in a rush, always uncontrollable.

"Then what do you want? If it's any consolation, it's not like I really wanted to have to kill you." He narrowed his eyes. "Although you did kill Luna."

The past is the past.

"If it weren't for that, neither of you would be ghosts."

That is nonsense, Shinn. Rey fixed him with that serious look he remembered so well from his days aboard this ship as a ZAFT soldier. I was a clone born with the shortened telomeres of a forty-five-year-old man. By now I would have the DNA of a man nearing his seventies. I would be on death's door. You could not have stopped that.

Shinn felt a flicker of frustration ripple up his spine. "Is that supposed to make me feel better?"

You're rather strange to be feeling so much remorse over killing your enemy.

"You weren't my enemy," Shinn said, and bowed his head sadly. "Or, you shouldn't have been. I don't know. It got all fucked up."

The past is the past. The incorporeal image leaned over the Destiny's cockpit console. Which is what I am here about. The past is the past. Take what you need from it to destroy Kira Yamato once and for all. I don't need to explain why.

Shinn turned his burning red eyes on Rey. "No, you don't."

"Frankly, Athrun, I'm surprised you were able to bring this damn thing back," Abes said with a sigh, "much less in pretty much one piece."

The two men looked up at the Infinite Justice Gundam, still missing its Fatum pack and badly scarred but otherwise whole and capable of combat. It and the Gaia were the only two mobile suits left that could fight.

"I won't be taken by surprise next time," Athrun said. "I just wasn't prepared for it to be piloted by...that."

Abes nodded. "We'll see what we can do at Terminal about replacing the Fatum, but I'm not making any promises. There's a lot of specialized parts in there."

"I know." Athrun looked back up at his Gundam's darkened eyes. "But the Justice is probably going to need to be replaced soon. It just can't keep up anymore." He narrowed his own eyes as the angry memories returned. "Not with the likes of him."

"Emily's the one who's got a new machine waiting there for her," Abes pointed out.

Athrun said nothing, staring into the Justice's eyes and seeing Kira again. The twisted clone the Alliance had used at Arnhelm, and the real one...the twisted monster that Rau Le Creuset had built.

Between the two, he couldn't decide which was worse.

"So," said Viveka with as imperious a look as she could manage, "you're the guy my sister's been hanging out with."

In the shadow of the Black Wolf of Normandy, Trojan Noiret floundered for words. "Um, hi, I'm Trojan "

"Jeez, Viveka, don't be a jerk," Emily groused, and gave Trojan a nudge in the ribs. "She thinks you're coming on to me or something and she's playing the role of disapproving father."

Trojan looked down at the flexing metal arm and tried to ignore the first part of Emily's comment. "She pulls it off well."

"I try," Viveka said with a smirk. "So what's your story?"

"Err, I trained in East Asia with Barry Ho for two years and then I came here and " Trojan started.

"Wait," Viveka interrupted, "you trained with Barry Ho? The 'God of Fists' Barry Ho?"


Viveka promptly clapped her natural hand down on Emily's shoulder. "Holy shit, Em, nice catch."

Immediately Emily's face flashed red. "Viveka! Don't you ever stop?"

"So what was Barry Ho like?" Viveka went on with an eager grin. "I hear he was a total badass."

Trojan awkwardly scratched the back of his head. "There, uh, isn't much to tell. We camped out for a while in the jungle. Did guerrilla stuff. Trained. There was that one time he took out a Dagger L with his bare hands, but "

"Wait, he what?"

"Well, not really his bare hands, but he kicked out the camera plate and smashed the main camera, and then opened the cockpit and killed the pilot. So that's why some people called him 'Undefeated of the East' or whatever." Trojan shrugged. "Yeah, he was pretty badass."

"That is so badass!" Viveka exclaimed. "Holy shit, kid, you're alright."

As Trojan launched into another story about his old master in East Asia, Emily glanced over her shoulder where Lily was quietly waiting. She'd had nothing to say since yesterday, during that episode with her block word. "Are you alright, Lily?"

"Y-Yeah," Lily said, "but, um, I'm sorry "

"It's alright," Emily answered. "We didn't know."

Lily settled into an awkward silence, and Emily turned back towards the conversation, pushing the unease from her mind. One Extended had been painful enough.

Nobody around here was happy.

Stella Loussier just didn't get it. She had sat down with her sandwich in the crew lounge, but since eating by herself was boring, she had gotten to thinking. And that had led her to realize that nobody on this ship was ever happy.

Well, there was Lily. She seemed to be happy. Emily had said that Lily was an Extended. She must have been like Sting and Auel, then, because they were always taking things so seriously and working so hard, and Lily seemed more like that. But Lily was nice, and happy. That was a nice change.

There weren't enough people on this ship who were happy. Shinn was sad. Was that because the Destiny had been destroyed? He said it could be replaced. The Gaia was okay, but Stella wondered how she would feel if it got trashed in a fight. They could probably fix it, or even make a new one for her, but the Gaia was her friend, sort of. They were a team.

Nobody on this ship was happy, and it was starting to make Stella frustrated. They had lost some battles, their mobile suits had been destroyed, and a lot of people were gone. But they were all still alive. They all still had each other. They even had new people, new friends.

Stella ate her sandwich and wondered why she was the only one who understood that.

April 21st, CE 77 - Resistance space fortress Terminal, Debris Belt, orbit of Earth

Another day, another port of call for the famous Minerva. As the boarding gantry locked into place, Meyrin idly searched the banks of her memory for recollections about the enigmatic Terminal. They had made some changes, at least; the docking brace into which the Minerva was fitted was a new addition.

The airlock door swung open and on the other end, flanked by officers clad in a variety of uniforms from across the Cosmic Era, a man in the old style of an Orb flag officer's uniform coolly accepted Meyrin's salute. Rear Admiral Oshida ran a tight ship here; she had no worries about getting shot in the back.

"Looks like you needed a pit stop," Oshida said as he shook her hand. "Did anyone follow you?"

"Not that we know of," Meyrin said with a shrug, "but Alliance warships are known to use Mirage Colloid."

Oshida and his entourage led Meyrin and Abbey out through the gantry, and out the windows she glanced towards the distinctive tapering shape of the spare fortress Terminal. ZAFT had started to build it during the Junius War as a secret supply base in the Debris Belt, not far from Lagrange Point 3. ZAFT had left before it was complete; the Resistance had finished the job. And now, after that disaster at Carpentaria and the destruction of locations like the Arnhelm Colony, it was one of the last strongholds the Resistance had to its name.

But the Alliance was coming, surely. Even with ZAFT launching its war on the Earth Sphere, surely the Alliance would not pass up the opportunity to destroy the elusive Terminal, where the Resistance's space fleet had gathered, in the densest and deadliest part of the Debris Belt.

In which case, Meyrin mused, they would have to work quickly.

"Fancy seeing you here, Shinn Asuka."

At the sound of an unfamiliar voice and the mention of his name in one of Terminal's sprawling mobile suit hangars, Shinn Asuka steeled himself for a fight and turned around and came face to face with a woman in a ZAFT Red uniform and glasses, and a face that instantly rushed back from the misty valleys of memory.


The memories were more pleasant with her, mostly because Shinn remembered having a crush on her when he was stationed at Armory 1. He had chalked that up to clingy flight suits doing all sorts of things to his hormone-addled imagination, but with three years on she still looked pretty much the same as he remembered. It was a little comforting to see that at least that hadn't changed.

Riika Sheder looked him over for a moment, arms crossed. "I suppose I should be shanking you or something, huh?" She settled for a shrug. "Water under the bridge, I guess. How have you been?"

"As good as I can be. How come you didn't go with ZAFT to Mars?"

The derisive laugh told Shinn everything he needed to know. "They were in a little too much of a hurry packing up materials and information to bother with the test pilots on Armory 1," she scoffed. "And when you look at what they're up to now, I think I was right to just stay here, lousy as its been." She shrugged again and a sly grin tugged at the corner of her mouth. "I don't think I've made out quite as well as you, though, Mr. Hero of the Resistance. Sure didn't expect that from you when you first showed up on Armory 1."

Shinn fidgeted awkwardly with the cuffs of his jacket. "Neither did I." He was silent for a moment and looked back up at Riika, at the same woman he remembered as the friendly face among the test pilots on Armory 1. Where Mare had been abrasive and jealous, and Courtney had been cold and distant, Riika had been the most welcoming person he had met on Armory 1, and the only one who had been at all supportive during his Herculean efforts to learn the Impulse's damned combining setup. To an intimidated boy fresh from the ZAFT Academy with a daunting task before him, that meant everything. He looked at her again. "I'm surprised you're not holding a grudge."

Riika only stared at him sadly. "These days," she said, "what would be the point?"

It was a few moments before he spoke, and neither Viveka nor Athrun appreciated the wait.

At last, Mikhail Coast turned around in the examination room and pushed his spent syringe into the waste unit. "The good news," he said, "is that it can be done. The stem cells are all there and the neural regeneration therapy should work, barring complications."

Viveka arched the eyebrow over her good eye. "And the bad news?"

"Six months to grow the arm and eye, and after the surgery to attach them you'll be unquestionably out of commission for another six at the very least, just for the healing and letting the nerves grow back. Therapy to acclimate you to both new parts would be probably another six to twelve months." Coast offered an apologetic shrug. "If you were a Coordinator, your regenerative capacity would be greater, but since you're not..."

"It's alright," Viveka said with a wave. "I can wait. Until after this damned war is over, so I've got two years to kill learning to use my body parts again."

"In the meantime," Coast continued, "I can implant a mechanical replacement for your lost eye. You'll have to spend several days recovering and the mechanical version is not ideal, but in your case there's not so much damage inside the socket that it can't be done."

Viveka glanced awkwardly at Athrun. "Can you guys afford to have me sleeping off a surgery for a week?"

"We are in dock," Athrun answered, "but the Alliance could show up at any moment." He shrugged. "If you really want the mechanical eye, go for it. We can manage in the meantime."

"It's a daylong procedure," Coast warned, "but in the meantime "

"I'll just wait for the cloned parts," Viveka interrupted. Coast blinked in surprise, but Viveka spoke up before he could interrupt. "I got all these injuries from battle. From fighting with the Resistance, against the Alliance. And that war isn't over, even though ZAFT is here. They don't slow me down in combat. So as long as this war is still going, I'm going to look like I'm still part of it."

Coast smiled thinly. "It's common for soldiers to make promises on their combat injuries."

At that, Athrun thought back bitterly to the last soldier he'd known who had made a promise on his scar. "Yes, it is."

Terminal had many interesting bits and pieces, and one of them was its ready-made escape ship, the technical flagship of the Resistance in space. And Rau Le Creuset drifted down the observation corridor, taking in the image before him.

It was the Alexandria, the blue-painted tenth warship of the Eternal class, that they had buried in rock up to its bridge tower and sequestered in here as one of Terminal's many surprises for attackers. Few Alliance officers would expect that Terminal itself could crack open and vomit up a cruiser, and the Alexandria's humming reactor in the meantime made for a handy auxiliary power source.

Rau indulged himself in a moment's reminiscence, enjoying the memories of his time as a ZAFT White-Shirt with the golden piping of Order of the Nebula honors and the shiny lapel pin of FAITH. He still possessed all those accoutrements, because someday they might come in handy but here, in a ZAFT-built space fortress staring at the dramatic stern thruster arrays of a curved and elegant ZAFT warship, he felt as though he was back in that dashing, pristine uniform again.

But that was silly, in the end, because ZAFT had changed. Valentine and Kira had molded its remains into a tool for their own ends. If the Avicenna's undignified end at Arnhelm had been any indication, they hadn't improved by that great a stretch at Mars but if the Seraphim's performance had been any indication, they had improved by enough.

He had yet to find the hangar where Emily's new Gundam was being built. Selene had made a beeline for it, and Rau did not want to draw undue attention by doing something silly like asking about it. But he would find it yet and see for himself just how powerful his growing angel would become.

"I can't believe you did that," Emily said, with an expression somewhere between accusatory and amused as she, Trojan, and Lily drifted down the bright corridors of Terminal.

"Hey, all these doors look the same on the outside," Trojan complained, his cheeks bright red. "How was I supposed to know it was the women's locker room?"

"At least we got to see Trojan's famous martial arts training!" Lily added cheerfully. "I thought she was gonna snap your neck!"

"This is why you knock first," Emily said with a smirk as they rounded a corner.

Together they came to a stop in one of the windowed corridors that looked out into the vast, choked Debris Belt. The space junk obscured the Moon and the Earth, but nestled within this great trash heap was one of the few places where Emily finally felt that she could catch her breath. It was a place of rest, and as the fatigue in her bones that she had not noticed until now attested, it was what she needed the most.

A mischievous look that Emily did not quite like flickered onto Lily's face. "I'm gonna go get something to eat," she said, and before either of them could say anything she took off back down the corridor.

Emily pursed her lips. Way to be subtle, Lily.

"I'm sorry if I've been causing problems lately," Trojan started awkwardly. "I dunno. It's all been a lot of big changes for me."

"I understand."

Trojan frowned and stared down at the railing. "Usually it's Rax who keeps me from being too obnoxious, but, well, you know."

"You aren't being a problem. My sister just likes to tease people. Mostly me."

"I got the impression."

They both settled into an awkward silence. Emily already had her guesses as to the source of Trojan's nervousness, but that would probably just result in drama and she had enough of that going on in her life. He was an alright guy, she supposed nice to look at, at least but she had not been kidding when she had told Viveka that the last thing she wanted to deal with right now was a boy.

That, after all, had not ended so well last time.

"It's funny," Trojan said quietly. "Everyone kept saying that you were just, like, my age or something. And you are. But you're...I dunno. Different. It's like you're older than me." He glanced awkwardly at her. "Y'know, the way you act, towards Lily. The way you rescued me at Arnhelm."

"I didn't want to just leave you," Emily answered and as she picked up the quiet rush of emotions from the sad young pilot and turned her own words over in her mind, she nervously considered that maybe she had been wrong in what she'd said to Viveka. Because maybe she didn't have a choice.

Emily leaned forward on the railing and thought back to Isaac.

To be continued...