Phase 13 - The Father's Shadow

Mobile Suit Gundam SEED ETERNITY

Phase 13 - The Father's Shadow

April 28th, CE 77 - Battleship Minerva, Debris Belt, orbit of Earth

In the humming cockpit of the Gundam Eclipse, Emily von Oldendorf had the restraints unhooked so she could hold her head in her hands and wait for it to stop pulsing like a subwoofer. Perhaps activating the Voiture Lumiere while concussed had not been the greatest idea in the world.

But it had worked, and now she had time to sit here and experience the worst headache she could ever remember having. The Alliance fleet was scrambling for distance and draining away into the Debris Belt, and that included that green and white Windam she had mutilated with the Eclipse's power.

"Emily?" someone asked, and she painfully glanced up at Trojan's face on the auxiliary screen. "Are you alright in there?"

"Something like that," Emily groaned, and slowly sat back. "What is it?"

"Terminal is getting ready to leave before the Alliance comes back. The Minerva is going to do the same. Are you able to move the Eclipse yourself or should I move you?"

Emily put a hand over one of the controls. "I can do it," she mumbled, and quietly activated the thrusters to push her new machine back home. "How is everything? Where's Lily?"

"Here!" Lily exclaimed, and Emily immediately winced at the latest wave of pain ringing from her ears through the rest of her head.

"Hey Lily, ever had a concussion?" Trojan asked.

"Yeah, why?"

"She's got one. Pipe down." Lily put a hand over her mouth sheepishly as Trojan looked back towards the Eclipse. "Three of your pilots are injured, two of them badly, but I think they're all still alive." He shifted awkwardly in the DOM's cockpit seat. "The other one was your sister, I think."

Emily shot up in horror and then cringed in pain. "My...sister? What happened to her?"

"Shrapnel in the cockpit. Says she'll be alright, but I thought you'd want to know."

"Alright..." Emily slowly sat back and cracked an eye open so she could guide the Eclipse back towards the Minerva. "Trojan, I'm going to check the survival case for a painkiller. Take over for me?"


The Eclipse rattled as Trojan's DOM took the Eclipse's arm and carried it back home. Emily fished an aspirin tablet out of the survival case and swallowed it, and sat back to wait for the drug to filter into her system and take the edge off the pain. She would have to pay a visit to the infirmary herself later, to get those cuts on her head checked out.

In the meantime, Viveka forced her way into her thoughts, but Emily pushed down the fear and struggled to trust what Trojan had said.

"Sting and Auel are sedated," Abbey explained quietly on the bridge. "The doctor said their wounds are survivable, but they will unquestionably be out of action for a while. Viveka's wounds were less severe. Emily reported some light injuries of her own. Everyone else seems to be intact." She glanced towards Terminal, through the debris field that had become so much denser in the past few hours. "On our end, at least."

On the auxiliary screen, Oshida shrugged. "We will take as long as necessary to recover our wounded," he said, "but no longer. Terminal must relocate before the enemy can reestablish the scent. I gave you the contact information for who you need to meet at Copernicus. That's all I can do."

Meyrin frowned and tried not too feel too bad about the utter ruining of her plans to stay in dock and manufacture new Gundams using Terminal's facilities. Terminal just did not have the proper parts and resources to build seven more entirely new mobile suits. Those would have to be acquired elsewhere. "Do you have the DSSD survivors, including Ms. McGriff?"

Presently, the flash of green hair indicated Selene's presence in the Terminal control room. "Thank you, Captain Hawke. I hope the Gabriel performed to your satisfaction."

"I'm not the one you'd have to satisfy," Meyrin replied with a smile.

"You should be able to reach the Moon without incident," Oshida continued, "and in the meantime, we have the Vedlow Fleet to protect us. We will be fine." He offered a crisp salute. "Terminal, out."

The screen went dark and Meyrin took the chance to heave a sigh and bury her face in her hands. "That shoots my plans all to hell."

Abbey scratched the side of her head dejectedly. "There's a Resistance presence on the Moon, but meeting with that guy..." She glanced up towards Roxy's station and blinked in surprise at the sight of a far more melancholy Roxy Bannon than had been expected. "Miss Bannon, do you have any contacts on Copernicus?"

Roxy ran a hand through her hair and sat up. "Probably not. Copernicus is too upper-class for the people I rolled with."

"Then we'll just have to hope our contact is in a good mood," Meyrin interrupted, trying not to worry about Roxy. Once they got going, she could be released from her duties for a little while.

"And if he's not," Malik spoke up with a smirk, "we can sic Stella on him."

Everyone's stomachs turned at that idea. "Very funny, Malik," Meyrin said with a sigh. "Set course for Copernicus. We have an appointment to keep."

Athrun Zala was no stranger to dressing wounds, his own or someone else's but he was certainly a stranger to dressing wounds on the body of an attractive woman. Viveka had managed to get a few nicks from flying shards of cockpit monitor between her shoulder blades, which meant she had pulled down the top half of her flight suit and Athrun was sincerely hoping he wouldn't have to take off her bra to bandage the cuts on her back and all of that meant his face felt like it was the same color as her hair.

"Enjoying yourself back there?" she asked with what Athrun knew was a smug grin.

"You're gonna have a few more of these," he said, and tapped the long, two-pronged scar on her left side for emphasis. Ordinarily, eyepatch and mechanical arm aside, her athletic body, honed by years of combat and harsh training, would have caught many a man's eye but then there were the injuries, and all those scars, and also the fact that she could crush a man's larynx in less than a second with her left hand. Seeing her like this, with beauty marred by ugly wounds and scars, he began to understand why she had fixated on him on somebody who might return her affections despite the damage done to her body.

And, as he idly touched her left shoulder, where human flesh turned into a jumbled mass of scar tissue and then into a shaft of titanium, he felt guilty for having never done so.

Viveka flinched. "What, have you never been with a girl before?"

"N-No well, I mean sort of "

"What does 'sort of' mean?"

Athrun took a step back and struggled for words. "I was supposed to be married "

"Holy shit, really?"

"To Lacus Clyne."

"Lacus Clyne? Then why the hell aren't you?"

"It', a long story."

Viveka glanced over her shoulder and smirked. "Well, let me get dressed and you'll have to tell me."

The Moon.

It was drifting off in the distance, far beyond the densely-packed Debris Belt and the neglected colonies of Lagrange Point 1, where the wreckage of Arnhelm Colony was joining that great ring of space junk around the Earth. And for Rau Le Creuset, drifting on the Minerva's interior observation deck and staring at the Earth's silvery, faithful satellite, it was the next stepping stone in his plans.

The Gabriel no, the Eclipse, he reminded himself, such a fitting name had performed wonderfully. With its Voiture Lumiere and Emily's skill and power, it had effortlessly torn apart two mobile armors and even made short work of the Moonlight Mad Dog himself. Selene had not been kidding; the Eclipse was a force of nature.

Rau frowned at the thought of Selene McGriff. She had thrown a brief bit of sand into the gears of his plan with her insistence to Emily that she use this power to end the war to enter into Emily's mind the idea of a cause other than the one he would supply. But he was not worried or even annoyed, because there was another chance down the road. There always was, and it lay now with the inconstant moon.

Emily, after all, needed some reminding of who she really was. If that Trojan fellow and Lily, the Extended, were any indication, she was beginning to forget.

Earth Alliance Archangel-class battleship Lucifer, Debris Belt, orbit of Earth

Ortega watched nervously as the yellow hull of one of the Space Force's Cornelius-class supply ships approached. The Nathanael Greene was not the real source of his anxiety, however; the source was currently brooding in one of the passenger chairs on the bridge, arms crossed, a thoughtful frown on his jowly face.

"It's not a total loss," Colonel Joaquin said suddenly, making Ortega jump. "The battle, I mean. Mathis and Danilov's incompetence aside, we did get something out of it."

"What, sir?" asked Ortega.

Joaquin gestured towards the Greene. "They're bringing us two Exus mobile armors and parts for a new mobile suit," he grinned, "for our little guest."

Ortega shifted uncomfortably in the captain's chair. "What do you mean, sir?"

"I've scored a coup here, Ortega," Joaquin went on. "Not nearly as big as bagging Terminal and the Minerva, but it's a decent consolation prize. The Phantom Pain has been trying to entice Morgan Chevalier to transfer for months, years even. We would have just requisitioned him outright on our authority, but Space Force Command has been adamant, and so far President Djibril has not seen fit to challenge them on it." He stood up and waved at the Greene, as it opened its hangar bay doors and the first of those Exus units was pulled out by space-suited workers. "They say he's one of those 'Newtypes' or whatever. He's an ace pilot with a phenomenal reputation. He frequently travels to Volkov Crater to participate in mobile suit training exercises. But he's never been ours."

"And he still isn't, sir," Ortega pointed out quietly.

"Oh, not for long," Joaquin said with an upraised finger. "Captain Chevalier may wear the Space Force gray right now, but he'll be drafted soon enough. He's on a Phantom Pain ship now. He's going to be piloting a Phantom Pain mobile suit. And with the war ramping up against ZAFT and the Resistance, it will be easy to make the case that such a valuable soldier must join so elite an outfit as ours. And for the duration of his stay, he'll have to follow my orders anyway, thanks to Section 11 regulations, which means Command will get to see just what a fine Phantom Pain soldier he'll make." Joaquin chuckled to himself, and watched with crossed arms as the workers began moving the Exus towards the Lucifer's waiting hangar. "Like I said, not a bad consolation prize."

Ortega squirmed and wondered what Captain Chevalier would think of that.

"You must be tired," the technician said in that soothing voice that made ND HE know he wasn't being taken seriously. "Get some rest first and we'll talk about it later."

ND HE lay his head down on the plushy maintenance bed surface and slowly removed his mask. He watched the nonreflective plastic close around him. His sanctuary sealed shut with a click.

It made no sense. He could not remember any time in his life where he'd met a blue-haired boy who gave him a green robot bird, and yet the feeling of familiarity with that man, the man that intelligence identified as Athrun Zala it twisted and grew within him. He hated it. He hated this Athrun Zala person, for forcing these feelings and memories through him. Who was this man to alter his mind? Who was this man at all?

He flinched as another memory emerged. He saw it now, the stench of burning flesh and metal and gunpowder, the smoke swirling around him, the heat of flames clinging to his skin. He was standing on something and there was that man again, in a red space suit, with a knife in his hand and combat web gear on his body

ND HE turned over and groaned in pain. That man, Athrun Zala, charged at him with a knife but stopped short when he recognized who he was attacking. A woman beneath him opened fire with a handgun, and ND HE looked down and recognized the cockpit hatch of the Atlantic Federation's old Strike Gundam. And that woman

Who were these people? Why did he remember this? He knew what he was seeing. It was ZAFT's raid on Heliopolis, at the beginning of CE 71 during the Valentine War but he had never been there. He had awoken four years later!

ND HE clutched at his head.

"What have you done to me, Athrun Zala?!" He clenched his fists. "What have you done to me?!"

There were many reasons Morgan Chevalier had assiduously avoided the Phantom Pain throughout his career. Colonel Joaquin, as it turned out, was one of them.

Morgan drifted through the Lucifer's spacious hangar and watched as across the way, the ship's mechanics diligently assembled a mobile suit. It was said to capitalize on his "unique powers of spatial awareness" that allowed him to use the Gunbarrel Striker and the Exus to such effect. It was why there were two more purple Exus units waiting off to the port side, getting their receptor units installed. It was why the Phantom Pain was so interested in him.

And, he reflected ruefully, it was why he rebuffed their advances until now. He was a soldier of the Alliance and would do his duty but the Phantom Pain required far more than that, and Morgan was under no illusions as to what they would ask him to do. The military's official accounts of those attacks on Murmansk and Volgograd pinned them on the Resistance, but Morgan knew better. And now he was surrounded by Lord Djibril's black-shirted thugs.

They were supposed to be his allies, but he felt no camaraderie with these people. Not with the way they acted, the methods they used, the things they did.

And there was Colonel Joaquin. Morgan felt a scowl work its way onto his face. Colonel Joaquin, with that smug grin and that condescending attitude...and Morgan suspected that it was at Colonel Joaquin's direction that the Lucifer had fired the fatal shot that had destroyed the Arnhelm Colony, in an attack Alliance officials were happy to blame on ZAFT and the Resistance.

He steeled himself as he watched his new mobile suit come together. The Space Force had fended off pressure to transfer him to the Phantom Pain, but now he was on their turf, and he would have to be careful.

Earth Alliance battleship Charlemagne, orbit of Earth

"What a disaster," sighed Ivan Danilov on the bridge as he scratched his head awkwardly. "Vera, status of repairs?"

"They'll be finished within the hour," she answered. "Fortunately the damage those Resistance troops inflicted was minimal."

"Just enough to leave us sitting helpless while Mathis's fleet got torn to shreds," Danilov grumbled. "We'll pick up the Minerva's trail once the repairs are complete. Sensors, what's their projected heading?"

There was silence from the sensor console for a moment. "Projected heading will take them to the Moon, sir."

Vera frowned. "The Moon? We have dozens of installations there. What's going on?"

"Probably heading to Copernicus or one of the smaller lunar cities," Danilov guessed. "They only deployed one new mobile suit at Terminal, but I wouldn't put it past them to try to build more. The Minerva isn't so tough without its stable of Gundams. And the Moon is riddled with Resistance operatives." He rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "Although there was still..." He glanced at the sensor console again. "Eric, what about that ZAFT formation Intel told us about? The Z-400 one?"

Eric paused over his console for a moment and the tactical map lit up with a display of about a dozen ZAFT warships, all in the vicinity of the Moon. "No telling what their heading is yet, sir. They seem to be parked in lunar orbit."

Danilov frowned and studied the shapes on the screen three Nazca-class destroyers, seven Laurasia-class frigates, a Marseille III-class freighter, and an Eternal-class cruiser. A respectable battle group by any means but what were they doing there?

"Captain," Vera spoke up suddenly, "if the Minerva engages those ZAFT units, what will we do?"

Danilov snorted in amusement. "Help them, of course. Go check on the repairs; we set out as soon as they're done."

The hangar noise had faded to a dull hum in the background as Grey Saiba idly worked in the Regen Duel's cockpit. At first he had been a miserable ball of tension, thinking that the Charlemagne had been so effortlessly kept out of the battle at Terminal but now the reports were coming in of that new Gundam, the one that the pilot had evidently called the "Eclipse." And once those had come in, tension had given way to a feeling of intense discouragement. Grey vividly recalled getting his ass handed to him by Morgan Chevalier on the training grounds at Volkov Crater and Morgan Chevalier had barely survived the incredible power of the Eclipse.

Grey looked up wearily at the cockpit hatch. Erin had been there for the past fifteen minutes at least, but she had said little and judging by the troubled look on her face, she wasn't going to speak up anytime soon.

His conscience got the better of him. "What is it?" he asked, and Erin glanced at him in surprise.

"Nothing," she said quickly, and then stopped short, as though thinking better of it. "Just...well, you saw that footage of the enemy's new mobile suit, didn't you?"

"'course I did."

Erin blinked at him. "You're...not worried?"

"What's the point of worrying over something I can't control?" Grey asked back with a shrug. "We'll go out and fight and give it our best, and if we lose, we lose. Not much you can do about that."

At that, Erin blanched. "That's not what the instructors said at Volkov Crater "

"That's because the instructors at Volkov Crater have no idea what combat is like." Grey waved a hand scornfully. "You can refine your techniques and whatever all you want, but in the end it just comes down to luck, and you can't control that. We've just been lucky so far." He gestured across the hangar, to a spot occupied by a silent Dark Windam. "See that machine there?"


"Ensign Fuller used to park his mobile suit there. Ensign Fuller got blown away at Carpentaria by some Resistance mook. Merau and I survived. We were all Volkov graduates with high marks, so what's the difference? We were lucky, and Ensign Fuller wasn't."

"I didn't come here to just beat the odds "

"Then what did you come here for?"

Erin frowned and looked away awkwardly. "You wouldn't believe me."

"I wouldn't have believed a lot of shit I've wound up believing since I was assigned here."

"Then I'll just say I'm filthy rich." Grey arched an inquisitive eyebrow. "My father is the president of Cosmic Developments. They make space colony components. We're incredibly wealthy, and I stand to inherit it when my father dies."

"Then what are you doing here?"

She shrugged. "Getting away from all that." Grey blinked in surprise as she went on. "It's not as great as you think being a rich kid with powerful parents. Not when you've got your father expecting you to carry on the family name, and all this education to get done, and all kinds of limits on your social life, and being isolated."

Grey arched an eyebrow. "You joined the military to have a social life?"

"No," she said quietly, "I joined the military to have a life."

"The last time we did any lunar combat was at Volkov," Merau explained. Standing across from her on the gantry in front of the Nix Providence, Kelly Maynard nodded. "The simulators might help, but there's really no substitute for fighting in actual lunar gravity."

Kelly glanced up at the Nix Providence's white armor. "Captain Danilov expects that we'll be engaging ZAFT forces instead of the Minerva anyway. There's been a ZAFT fleet hovering around the Moon for the better part of a week."

"That can't be good."

"No." Kelly crossed her arms. "We'll fight the Minerva if we run across them, but if encounter those ZAFT units we'll have to put them over the Minerva."

Merau shifted uncomfortably. "The enemy of our enemy is our friend?"

"Something like that."

At that, Merau apprehensively turned her thoughts towards the Minerva, towards their glimmering Angel of Death, towards the quiet torment she had wreaked on Grey. The Minerva had cost them so many friends and allies; how could they go into battle together, even with the mutual enemy of ZAFT before them?

"I'm sorry, lieutenant," she said suddenly. "The enemy of our enemy isn't exactly my friend."

Kelly shook her head. "Not in this war."

April 29th, CE 77 - Battleship Minerva, Debris Belt, en route to the Moon

"She's still resting," Athrun said to Shinn as they glided down the Minerva's corridors on pull-bars, "but at least the concussion was pretty minor. She should be back on her feet by tomorrow, in time for our arriving at Copernicus."

Shinn felt his stomach turn. The last time he had been to Copernicus had been four years ago...with George and Kika and the Mad Typhoon Gang. There had been a riot, Sting and Auel had tried to capture Stella, and the whole thing had been one more blow to what remained of his misconceptions about the world.

He shook his head. He had some kind of emotion wrapped up in all sorts of corners of the Earth Sphere. That would have to stop.

"We shouldn't have too much fighting to do at Copernicus," Shinn started. "I mean, aren't they neutral?"

"Political agreements change," replied Athrun. "They're still officially neutral and autonomous, but if the Alliance finds us there will be hell to pay. Our stay is an off-the-books kinda deal."

"I see." He frowned. "So that means we won't be using any facilities on Copernicus for manufacturing new mobile suits."

Athrun sighed. "There's two other options if that doesn't work out. We could go find Terminal again, and risk leading the Alliance to their location again; or we could go to Earth and link up with Gigafloat. They've got a small factory and a Junk Guild technical staff."

They both came to a stop at the hangar doors and filed through and both came to a stop at the foot of the towering Gundam Eclipse.

"In the meantime," Athrun said grimly, "Emily will have to be our first line of defense."

Shinn glanced in the direction where he felt her cool, still presence, and hoped against his better judgment.

Without any thought toward politeness, Lily Thevalley shoved her face right up next to the glass of Stella's aquarium and peered determinedly through the plastic rocks. From underneath an overhang, a colorful fish stared back up indifferently.

"I didn't know you could keep fishes in zero-G," Lily cooed. "Don't they need gravity or something?"

Over Lily's shoulder, Stella shrugged. "No. But he gets confused sometimes," and she giggled at the thought.

"Weird!" Lily frowned as the fish made a cunning escape behind another rock. "How come you have a fish tank in here?"

"'cuz it's like the sea."

"Huh. I've never seen the sea."

Stella's small smile promptly vanished. "Stella will show you the sea...when the ship is back on Earth," she said with finality.

Lily glanced over her shoulder. "What's so special about it?"

"It's pretty," Stella said, "and..." She trailed off and Lily frowned, and opened her mouth to speak before Stella interrupted her. "And everything about it is the same." She held her hands wide apart. "It's really big but it's all the same. And there's animals in it, but none of them are special or something and they get to do what they want."

"I guess," Lily said, "but aren't there, like, sharks and stuff in the sea?"

"Yeah. They're scary, but," Stella remained undeterred, "they get to be what they wanna be."

Idiots just about got themselves killed.

Of course, as she sat in the infirmary watching Sting Oakley and Auel Neider sleep off surgery, Roxy knew somewhere in the back of her mind that feeling so shaken up about this was ridiculous. They were mobile suit pilots. Every time they launched there was a chance mitigated by their skill and equipment but no less worth taking seriously that something like this might happen, or worse. Hell, she was a bridge crew member, and something like this or worse could just as easily happen to her. This was all ridiculous, and somewhere in her rational mind, she knew that.

Which was why she'd brought the Wild Turkey with her. Damned rational mind never knew when to shut up.

She had not yet imbibed enough to really drown out the voice of reason, however, and miserably remembered why. Meyrin and Abbey wanted her sober enough to run the MS deck and communications system in case they came under attack on the way to the Moon. Even the enemy conspired against her. And so instead she sat in her chair in the infirmary, stared at the two pale and bandaged Extended, and wondered just how sober she needed to be to make sure Emily fired the catapult the right way.

But these were her friends and they needed her just as Sting and Auel were her friends and no amount of alcohol could wash away her anxiety for them. After fourteen years of poverty and an abusive father and another three of life on the run, she had come to the Minerva three years ago and found friends, a home, stability, order, acceptance...

Especially with those two, whose lives were at least as bad as hers. And they had taken the powers they had never wanted and made them into something to stand against their old oppressors, and forced down their worst memories to carry on the fight. That had been inspiring, to be honest; through all their battles and even in their darkest hours, she had spent the last three years surrounded by friends.

Now their mortality stared her in the face, and she stared back and hated it.

The last time the Minerva had visited the Moon was sometime in early CE 75, where they stopped at tiny Goddard City in a small crater on the near side, close to the lunar south pole. Meyrin remembered that visit well, because she had almost been killed by a Resistance contact driven mad by hallucinogenic drugs he took to escape the madness already driven into him by the war. Not everyone had what it took.

Copernicus, however, was a different experience.

Meyrin glanced around the bridge as the ship handily navigated the Debris Belt. Malik was no stranger to this part of space. Assuming the enemy left them alone never a safe assumption, Meyrin had learned long ago they would arrive at Copernicus in a matter of hours.

With that somewhat comforting thought, Meyrin sat back and glanced up at Abbey, seated at Roxy's console and scanning through information in the ship's central computer on Copernicus.

"You know we won't be able to stay for long," she said suddenly. Abbey blinked down at Meyrin. "Copernicus is only letting us stay long enough to take on the supplies Oshida lined up for us."

Abbey scratched her head nervously. "Something will go wrong," she replied. "It always does."

"Even so," Meyrin went on, "we can't stay at Copernicus long enough to get the new mobile suits built. We'll have to do that elsewhere." She sighed. "You have any ideas?"

"Barnacle, Gigafloat, Terminal, the Heliopolis shoal zone, Poljarny, Aqrah, Goddard City, Ame-no-Mihashira..." Abbey shrugged. "The question is just getting there."

Meyrin frowned at the last suggestion. "I don't think we need to go indebting ourselves to Rondo Mina Sahaku."

"Just a suggestion."

None of the options, really, were to Meyrin's liking. Everything on Earth, like Gigafloat and Aqrah, meant another atmospheric reentry that was always dodgy, especially with something like the Charlemagne after her ship. Anything in space could eventually be found, by the Alliance or by ZAFT, and Meyrin did not want to be stuck in dock when that happened. Barnacle was an important shadow port that she occasionally had to visit, but she hated the thought of spending time there for many reasons.

"We'll have to take the first option that presents itself to us," Meyrin answered. "Back to Terminal, most likely."

"We're not staying on the Moon?"

Meyrin glanced up at the tactical map on the auxiliary screen. That small ZAFT fleet, a dozen warships hovering ominously over the Moon, had not moved.

"I'm not making plans that far ahead."

"Why not?"

"Because," Meyrin pointed at the map, "we still don't know what they're going to do."

"I thought you were supposed to be resting."

Emily glanced over her shoulder at the sound of Trojan's voice in the interior observation deck, with the sweeping panorama of the Debris Belt before her. He drifted into the room and shut the door behind him.

"I guess I'm an insomniac these days."

"I guess so." Trojan landed quietly next to her, and Emily immediately felt her stomach curl at the feelings radiating off him. "Um...about yesterday..." He looked over at Emily and immediately looked back out the windows, his face red. "Why did you...y'know..."

Emily leaned forward and tried not to blush. "It seemed like the right thing to do."

"Did you think I was gonna die?"

"Just in case you did." She shifted awkwardly. "It's, uh, happened before."

Trojan frowned. "I don't think you've told me this story."

Silence prevailed between them for a moment as Emily searched for words. "Uh, well, there was a boy at Carpentaria who, um, pretty much fell in love with me." She pursed her lips and wondered why that was making her blush too. "And...the Minerva went on a mission, and it was supposed to have help from some ZAFT veterans. They turned on us and during the fighting," she bowed her head, "he got killed."

"I'm sorry," Trojan said quietly.

Emily shook her head. "I didn't really like him in that way."

"Then what about me?"

She looked over at him again and wracked her brain for an answer she could give him. Would he understand that she had gone insane and tortured her enemies to death after Isaac was killed? Would he understand that she didn't know herself that she was lonely and tired and hovering on the brink of madness? That she had her father's voice tormenting her in the back of her mind?

Why did she care if he did?

"You're different."

Trojan looked back at her again and met her eyes. "What does that mean?" He paused, and Emily frowned at the feeling of doubt creeping up through him. "I mean...well, I might as well say it. I hope you weren't just doing that as a favor or something." He glanced back towards space and Emily could feel the pain. "I...hope it was more than that. I mean..."

"You idealized me, and now you know the real me a little better," Emily finished, and she reached out to touch his hand. He jumped in surprise and turned towards her. "Trojan, I didn't kiss you back there just as a favor. I really was worried you were going to die. But..." She shook her head. "I don't know how I feel about you. Or about anything. It's complicated and I don't know if I can tell you, but I just didn't..."

"Didn't want any regrets?" Trojan asked.

Emily smiled. "Yeah. That."

Trojan awkwardly took her hand and pulled her close. "Alright. I'll wait. But Emily, really, you can tell me what's going on. Don't think you can't."

She could feel his sincerity, but as she looked into his eyes, Emily knew in her heart that she couldn't.

ZAFT Eternal-class cruiser Seraphim, the Moon

Captain Evers sat back in the bridge chair and regarded the man whose face was on the auxiliary screen with caution. Honestly, how could a Coordinator hell, how could a military officer of any sort just let himself go like that? They had standards to live up to, and what kind of soldier among the rank and file could really take seriously an officer that overweight?

On the screen, Commander Glasgow arched an eyebrow and stroked his bearded chin. "Is something the matter, captain?"

"No sir. The commander will be up to see you shortly "

The bridge doors slid open with a burst of compressed air. "Hey, what's going on, tubbo?"

Glasgow twitched in mounting irritation. "I'll thank you not to call me that again, Commander Ehrmacht."

Varder flicked the FAITH pin on his lapel with a grin and landed next to the captain's chair. "Right, right, I'll buy you a few cheeseburgers to make up for it. What's going on over there anyway?"

On the screen, Glasgow peered off to the side on the bridge of his flagship. "I'm sure you've received High Command's orders by now. You're supposed to support my squadron's mission on the Moon. The Lothar Meyer arrived yesterday with the containers. Once we rendezvous with you, we'll be ready to begin."

Varder smirked triumphantly. "Operation Hell's Wind is about to begin, huh? The Naturals will get a kick out of this."

In the captain's chair, Evers shifted uneasily. Operation Hell's Wind, the plan by ZAFT's High Command to destroy the lunar colonies' ability to contribute to the Alliance war machine and economy. As necessary as Evers knew it to be, he knew too that it would be ghastly to watch.

And here he was, with front row seats.

"No offense, Glasgow," Varder continued, "but these sorts of operations aren't really your forte. I'm surprised they're having you lead one."

"Technically, they're not," another voice spoke up. Varder and Evers looked on in surprise and anger flashed across Glasgow's features as another man stepped into view, in a ZAFT Black Shirt uniform with a dark eyepiece over his right eye. "I will be in charge."

Varder arched an eyebrow. "And you are...?"

"Leons Graves," explained Glasgow, and Varder's face flashed with recognition and confusion. "I'll be in charge of the fleet; he's in charge of the actual carrying out of the operation."

"I don't recognize you from any ZAFT forces, Mr. Graves," Evers started with a doubtful frown.

"That's because I'm not in the ZAFT forces," Graves said with an amused grin. "I'm a mercenary." Evers blinked, and Graves smirked at his disbelief.

"He has expertise and knowledge we lack," Glasgow replied. He glanced off to the side on his bridge's flagship. "Final supplies are coming in. I'll see you at the rendezvous, Commander Ehrmacht."

"Of course." The screen went dark and Ehrmacht crossed his arms. "That was unexpected."

Evers scowled. "The hell are we using a mercenary for?"

"Oh, it gets better," Ehrmacht said with a shake of his head. "Leons Graves isn't just any mercenary. He's a Natural mercenary." Evers' jaw dropped, and Varder turned back towards the bridge doors. "Keep us on schedule to rendezvous with Glasgow's fleet. This mission just got a little more interesting."

April 30th, CE 77 - ZAFT mobile space fortress Messiah, Lagrange Point 5

The holographic image vanished, and in her high-backed chair in the control room of Messiah, Valentine Sunogachi sat back with a contemptuous sigh. "Another day, another message from that simpering fool Chiao Xu."

At her side, Kira fidgeted. "At least he's a useful simpering fool."

"Potentially," Valentine corrected. "From a purely military standpoint, he's of questionable utility at best. His army on Earth got obliterated and his troops in space, while more competent, are not exactly many."

"He might still be useful as a distraction," Kira offered. "The Alliance spent three years trying to destroy him. They crushed his army on Earth; in space they still haven't been decisive. Especially not with that battle at Terminal."

Valentine sat back to think, and Kira glanced away awkwardly. Truth be told, in Chiao Xu he had seen something different. Not a man to win the peace by any means no, not since the peace would have to be won by cruelty and fire and war but perhaps a man to rule the world after the guns fell silent...

"Either way," Valentine continued, breaking Kira out of his reverie, "we do need to take steps to ensure that he does not become a threat. Distracting as he could be to the Alliance, he could be just as distracting to us."

Kira felt his stomach tighten. "Does that mean we need to take him out?"

"It means we need to keep an eye out." Valentine looked back up at him. "Operation Hell's Wind is starting soon. You may need to head out and deal with that too."

"Yes," Kira said quietly, "of course."

As the sounds of the hangar went quiet behind the hangar doors, Juarez Recardo glanced over awkwardly at Gary Talon. The maintenance was done and the Fortuna was preparing to set out for the Moon, in support of Operation Hell's Wind. They would probably face stiff Alliance resistance and most likely, the Minerva.

"You know they've got a new Gundam," Juarez spoke up.

Gary glanced over. "The Resistance?"

"Yeah. They debuted it at Terminal. Looks like it's got that Voiture Lumiere system."

"So what. We've got one too."

"Yeah, in pieces in a hangar in Messiah. Nothing we could deploy into combat."

Gary crossed his arms. "What's so special about it? I know it's fast, but so what? The Vice Marshal could bring it down. Speed's not everything."

"No," Juarez agreed, "but we'll have to be there too. And..." He shook his head. "You know what's going to be going on."

"Don't tell me you're going all soft on me, Juarez," Gary said suddenly.

"I'm not. But that doesn't mean I have to like it."

"Well I don't either," Gary shot back, and Juarez blinked in surprise at the sudden defensiveness. "But we've got Kara going all fanatical on us and we've got our orders from Marshal Sunogachi herself, so what are we supposed to do?" He touched the shiny FAITH pin on his lapel. "We don't wear these things just as decorations, y'know."

Juarez leaned back against the wall and closed his eyes. "No, we don't," he said, "but do we surrender our moral agency just because we're soldiers?" He shook his head. "I'm reminded of something Lacus Clyne said at Jachin Due six years ago. 'Attacking won't soothe the hurt.'"

Gary stepped past Juarez with a disgusted snort. "Don't lecture me on Lacus Clyne, man," he snarled as he headed off. "Lacus Clyne gave the orders. She never had to take them."

As Gary disappeared around a corner, Juarez glanced after him and sighed sadly. Lacus Clyne had built an army for people who wouldn't stand taking immoral orders...but Lacus Clyne was gone and now there was none of that left.

He looked back over his shoulder, towards the hangar doors and the mobile suits that lay beyond it, and wondered how many more times he could swallow his conscience.

Battleship Minerva, Copernicus, the Moon

Meyrin Hawke watched uncomfortably on the Minerva's bridge as the Resistance contacts filed through the gantry onto the ship. She glanced tiredly at Abbey. Another day, another allegedly friendly port of call.

This one was well-hidden, one of many built into the rocky lip of the Copernicus crater. A well-hidden docking bay was the only place where the Minerva could receive its latest batch of supplies from the Junk Guild, including the first set of parts it would need to build a new set of Gundams. They could not stay long enough to manufacture the rest; they would need Terminal or Gigafloat for that. But it was a start, and in the meantime it was an opportunity for shore leave for her exhausted crew which was almost as important.

The bridge doors hissed open and Meyrin tried not to cringe at the man before her. Instead she extended a hand for a reluctant handshake. "Welcome aboard the Minerva, Mr. Lucini."

Kenaf Lucini flashed that snake-like grin of his as he shook Meyrin's offered hand. "The pleasure's all mine," he said, and stepped aside. "I'm sure you've already met..."

Behind Kenaf, a bespectacled woman in a Eurasian Federation Commander's uniform saluted sharply, and Meyrin blinked in surprise and momentarily forgot to return it. "M-Meriol?"

"It's been a while, Meyrin," Meriol said with a grin and shook her hand. "I hope Canard was well when you guys saw him last?"

"Y-Yeah," Meyrin said, "but I didn't realize you were going to be here "

"The Ortygia just completed a long-awaited refit to match the modern Agamemnon-class ships," Kenaf explained airily, "and brought you your requested supplies." He leaned forward with a conspiratorial grin. "And me."

Meyrin's smile vanished. "And what are you here for, Mr. Lucini?"

"Information, of course," Kenaf answered. "For my, ahem, usual fee. Of course."

"Mr. Copland will see to your payment," Meyrin answered, "so in the meantime, what is this information you're selling to us?"

Kenaf produced a flash drive from his pocket, plugged it into the Minerva's mapping console, and called up a portrait of a brown-haired man with a black eyepiece over his right eye. "This man," he said, "by the name of Leons Graves. A mercenary that you might have heard of in your unique line of work. I'm sure you'd be interested to know that he's working for ZAFT these days."

"Why would he be doing that?" Abbey asked. "He's a Natural. What reason do they have to hire him?"

"His knowledge of lunar cities is unsurpassed," Meriol answered.

"You may want to know this," Kenaf continued with a smirk, "because my sources indicate that not only is he in the employ of ZAFT, but he's working out of a ZAFT fleet of about a dozen ships." He arched an eyebrow. "For those of you watching at home, you may note that there is such a fleet in lunar orbit at this very moment."

Meyrin glanced anxiously out the bridge windows. A Natural mercenary, working for virulently anti-Natural Coordinators, in a ZAFT fleet orbiting the Moon? "Did your sources have anything to say about what he's doing with them?"

"Something called 'Hell's Wind,'" Kenaf said with a shrug. "Nothing more, I'm afraid. But give me time and I'll know. I always do."

"We probably won't have time," Abbey interrupted. "If ZAFT was going to bulk that fleet up any bigger, they would've done so by now."

Meriol frowned. "Then what are they going to do with twelve warships?"

Meyrin looked back out the bridge windows, towards the starry black sky where, somewhere up above, a dozen ZAFT vessels were waiting, and every instinct within her screamed to go find them before they made the first move.

"This is the worst shortcut ever!" Lily wailed, and to underscore her point, her angry voice echoed off the walls of the disused warehousing district of Copernicus.

At her side, Viveka rolled her eyes, Trojan frowned in what looked like agreement he did not want to vocalize, and Emily glanced over with annoyance at Viveka. "All 'cuz you didn't want to wait in traffic."

"You saw how bad it was backed up! It would be 2000 by the time we got back!" Viveka exclaimed. "And besides, that's all 'cuz this little runt," she brought down her hand on Lily's head just hard enough to elicit a startled squeak, "insisted on missing our bus so she could eat an ice cream sundae the size of her head." She smirked triumphantly at Emily. "Which you bought for her."

"I can't believe you actually ate it all," Trojan said quietly.

Emily shrugged. "I promised her I would do something cool for her."

"And that was the coolest ice cream sundae ever!" Lily added with a grin.

"But then we missed our bus," Viveka went on, "and so, here we are."

"Using the shortcut that you said was going to work," Trojan pointed out, and then shut his mouth when Viveka glared back at him.

"Shut up. We can get back into the docking bay through here." She pointed up ahead, towards a gate where a long row of docking bays in the crater wall could be seen through the thick transparent ceiling high above. "See? Now quit bitching."

Together they rounded a corner and Emily listened with half an ear as Lily triumphantly defended her ice cream consumption prowess. She glanced over at Trojan and caught his gaze, and returned it with a small smile that instantly made him blush. There was one upside to this relationship, whatever it was; she could make him blush on a whim, and that was cute and funny.

The others, at least, had had a good time, and that made Emily feel better. The positive energy helped push away her own problems, if only for a moment, and

She froze in her tracks, catching her companions' attention. "What is it, Emily?" Trojan started, his hand falling to his belt, where a handgun was hidden inside one of the pouches.

Emily blinked in disbelief, at the feeling of human beings how had she missed that? How had they gotten this close to her without noticing? Who ?

"I see your senses are as sharp as we predicted, Emily," spoke a voice she knew all too well.

She turned around and her blood turned to ice in her veins. Lily hid behind her; Trojan backed away protectively in front of her; Viveka gasped in disbelief. The man before them the hawkish nose the goatee the burning, baneful eyes

Emily took a terrified step back. "F-Father...?"

Standing before them, hands behind his back, accompanied by a dozen well-armed men, Gerhardt von Oldendorf bared his teeth in a smile.

"It's been a long time, my little angel of death."

To be continued...