Phase 14 - Murder, Incorporated

Mobile Suit Gundam SEED ETERNITY

Note: With apologies, of course, to Bruce Springsteen.

Phase 14 - Murder, Incorporated

April 30th, CE 77 - Copernicus, the Moon

The armed men pressed forward with submachineguns leveled off. Standing in front of her trapped friends, Emily stared in fear at the man before her.

Gerhardt von Oldendorf was exactly as she had remembered. A chiseled, scowling face; dark eyes; that trim goatee that hid his mouth and framed his face so frighteningly. The world swayed around her and her memories took her back to that cold metal bed, with his face looming above her, triumphant in her agony

She will be our angel of death.

Viveka stepped in front of her sister with a furious look, and Gerhardt seemed surprised at her new appearance her eyepatch and the fingers of her mechanical hand poking out from the sleeve of her blue overcoat. "What the hell are you doing here?"

"Stand aside," Gerhardt ordered. "You're not the one I'm interested in."

"Like hell I will."

Gerhardt frowned and glanced over his shoulder. "In that case "

Before he could finish, Lily lunged out from behind Trojan and slammed a flash grenade down on the ground at his feet. Gerhardt and the soldiers jumped back and turned away as light flooded out and a wall of sound slammed them head-on and when Gerhardt looked up again, he saw Emily's companions dragging her away, towards one of the empty warehouses.

"Sir!" one of his soldiers started; Gerhardt sprinted forward and drew a handgun from his suit jacket.

"Just out of the blue she falls into my lap," he snarled, "and I am not going to miss this opportunity!"

Inside the warehouse, crouching behind a crate, Viveka shook Emily by her shoulders. "Em, listen, you've gotta snap out of this. If you don't, he's going to get you."

"Who is he anyway?" Trojan started.

Viveka swallowed uncomfortably. "Um, he's our father."

"Y-Your father?" Lily sputtered. "That guy that "

A gunshot rang out and Viveka shrieked in pain and stumbled forward, clutching a wound on her right shoulder. All eyes turned towards the warehouse door, where Gerhardt was making his way in with a smoking pistol in his hand. Trojan and Lily yanked the two sisters to their feet as the soldiers streamed in.

"The next shot won't miss," Gerhardt's voice echoed throughout the warehouse. "You were the useless one, Viveka. I have no problem killing you and don't think I wouldn't."

Viveka hissed in pain as she clenched her mechanical hand over the wound. "Love you too, dad."

Gerhardt approached with his gun leveled off and two soldiers flanking him, and his footsteps crashed through Emily's consciousness. She looked up in fear and felt the world melting away around her and instead she felt pain shooting through her muscles, exhaustion weighing down her body, fear and panic and adrenaline rushing through her

"As for you, Emily," Gerhardt continued, "I think you've had enough adventuring. You're coming with me."

"No!" Viveka screamed, and threw herself in between her father and sister.

Gerhardt scowled in frustration and raised his gun. "Fool "

A bolt of horror shot through Emily's mind and with a shout, she yanked her sister to the side before Gerhardt could fire. Fear, anger, and pain rushed together in her veins as she looked back at her father, into those dark eyes that had seared her soul and burned in her memories. Gerhardt regarded her with an amused look.

"I must say, Emily, in a strange way I'm proud of you." He pointed the gun at her head. "You may not be on the right side, but your abilities and powers have progressed further than I had expected. All we have to do is shuffle you back to the right place and you'll be exactly as I wanted."

Emily ground her teeth and fought the terror rising up her throat. "That's not true."

"Oh, but it is," Gerhardt chuckled. "Look at yourself. Lighting-fast reflexes, precognitive insight, empathic sensitivity, telepathic communication, expanded cognition, and natural skill with a mobile suit. You tear apart enemies in battle like they were nothing." He smirked back at her triumphantly as he watched her tremble. "Don't think I haven't been following you, my little Emily. Remember Shoyou? Murmansk? Colonel Meyers? Volgograd? Novorossiysk? Hormuz? The ZAFT veterans off Orb? Carpentaria? And don't think I haven't heard about your new Gundam and your performance at Terminal." He laughed. "My perfect little weapon has just been astray all this time."

Emily got back to her feet, tears in her eyes. "It's my power!" she snapped. "It''s not yours!"

With a snarl, Gerhardt promptly smacked Emily across the jaw with the grip of his pistol, knocking her to the floor, to the gasps of her friends and the surprise of even the soldiers behind him. "You are nothing without me!" he roared, and trained his weapon on her skull. "I gave you life itself! I gave you your powers, the training you needed to use them, and you dare act as though you have any right to it yourself?! I created you, Emily; you are mine and I will do with you as I please!" He stepped forward and slammed his foot down next to Emily's head. "If you think I'm bluffing," he added with a furious gleam in his eyes, "then just ask your mother."

At that, Viveka sprang to her feet and slammed her left shoulder into Gerhardt's chest, knocking him back. She whipped around "Lily, now!"

Lily leapt up, wielding another grenade, and hurled it over the soldiers' heads into a pile of propane tanks. Gerhardt and the soldiers scrambled to safety as a chain of thundering explosions ripped through the warehouse while Trojan and Lily dragged the two sisters into a side passage to make their escape.

"Lily, call the Minerva," Viveka groaned and squeezed her hand over her wound. "Tell them we could use a ride back. A fast one."

As they dashed through the darkened hallways, Trojan glanced nervously at Emily, and the raw fear and pain etched into her face, and thought back to that moment when she had said she couldn't tell him about herself, and understood.

"You'd think going out for ice cream wouldn't end in gunfights and injuries," Shinn grumbled as he and Athrun raced through the Minerva's halls, towards the hangar. Athrun shook his head with a sigh.

"An ace pilot, an Extended, and two experienced guerrillas. I'm surprised they didn't run into trouble sooner." He keyed open the hangar doors and dove through. "Come on, we'll take my car."

Shinn blinked. "Your car?"

"My Starchaser," Athrun explained. They landed by an alcove in the side of the hangar where something was covered by a large tarp. Athrun flung it off, and Shinn immediately felt his jaw drop as Athrun gestured to it and said, "They wanted a fast ride back. They're gonna get one."

"Holy shit," Shinn answered. The sleek, dark Starchaser 500 was an insanely expensive sports car a muscle car, really, something designed for performance, speed, handling, a car that was designed to perform more like a fighter jet on the ground. Shinn watched in awe as Athrun opened up a bench seat behind the driver and passenger's seats. "Where the hell did you get this?"

"Trade secret," Athrun said. "Get in. No time to lose."

Shinn dropped himself down into the passenger seat and yelped in surprise as Athrun took off out the ventral vehicle hatch, tires squealing all the way.

Amid the smoke rising and dust falling from the ruined warehouse, Gerhardt von Oldendorf stomped into the open air with a furious glare. There were men following Emily she would not escape Copernicus but to think she had been right there before him, so easily killed or captured, and that damned other brat of his had interfered...

He glanced up at the sight of a combat truck coming to a halt nearby. The door popped open and a man in an olive drab military uniform stepped out. Franz Schroeder, the operational leader of the Sutter Security Company whose men were on Emily's trail, would get this cleared up. He had damn well better if he wanted his promised handsome payment.

"I have infantry and vehicular agents on the scent," Schroeder reported, and he waved Gerhardt into the truck, "but before they go any further I'd like to know where the hell you got this information. We had a hell of a time just putting this all together."

Gerhardt settled into the back seat with Schroeder and watched as the soldiers piled into another truck, and the two vehicles took off towards the streets. "It's classified," he answered after a moment's thought, which was something of a lie because the information had come from Irene, and she had just mentioned "a contact," and damned if he knew what that meant but he would have to wring it out of her at some point. "Don't let her get far. She's probably going to try to link up with other personnel from the Minerva. Kill the others, but don't kill Emily unless her escape is imminent." He rubbed his head in frustration and discouragement. His Project Evolution had gone so wrong, and here on Copernicus had emerged a glorious opportunity to set it all right but now...

"There's not much we can do without interference from Copernicus's police and defense force," Schroeder warned. "They'll be on their way here soon to investigate whatever the hell you guys did in that warehouse."

"They won't be a problem," Gerhardt snapped. "The Alliance will deal with them. In the meantime, while this first failure is annoying, I still have a plan to capture her, and she's still right on course for it. I want you to activate a mobile suit squad to join the search and contain Emily when you find her."

Schroeder blanched in disbelief. "A mobile suit squad?"

"Even Sutter Security's Strike Dagger units will be sufficient."

"Against four disoriented teenagers, yes, but sir, you can't seriously suggest deploying mobile suits into Copernicus," Schroeder sputtered. "The defense force would attack them for sure!"

"I told you to leave them to me," Gerhardt snarled. "I hired you to get rid of my meddlesome older daughter and capture my younger one. Are you going to do that or not?"

Schroeder frowned. "Of course."

"Good. Then let's get to work."

Battleship Minerva

"Shinn and Athrun just left," Abbey explained as she and Meyrin walked down the Minerva's hallways. "Whatever is going on in there with Emily and the others, they'll take care of it."

"Without getting Copernicus PD all over them, I hope," Meyrin added.

They came to a stop outside the infirmary and ducked inside, and Meyrin looked sadly at the first two beds, where Sting and Auel were still under sedation. The doctor had completed the always-adventurous trick of zero-gravity surgery to remove shrapnel from their bodies and repair internal damage. It was good for them that they were Extended because with their genetically accelerated healing capabilities, they wouldn't face months of costly rehabilitation. The Earth Alliance had thought ahead in designing its weaponized humans.

"They'll be back on their feet in a few weeks," Abbey said quietly, "but until then..."

"Until then, they aren't to set foot outside of here," Meyrin answered. "I know one or both of them will have some crazy idea to come help us in battle while still wounded and they'll just wind up getting themselves killed."

Abbey arched an eyebrow. "You want to contain two Extended?"

"Two wounded Extended, and I'd rather have them here, resting, able to return to the fight someday, than to have them go jumping into battle while injured and getting killed. Call it shepherding our resources."

"Shepherding our resources," Abbey repeated with a smirk. "They'll appreciate that."

"They won't have a choice," Meyrin said, and cracked a grin herself. "Captain's orders."

Rau Le Creuset looked approvingly over the preliminary schematics of what promised to be his new ride, the Judgment Gundam. He smiled at the name. One of his better choices, really.

"Pretty much the major innovation here for Judgment is the doubling of its DRAGOON units," Abes explained, and pointed to the wire drawings on his tablet. "The Legend had ten; the Judgment will have twenty. To support it, we've designed a more efficient, high-capacity DRAGOON networking system and improved broadcast antennae. And the basic mobile suit itself will have vastly improved handling and maneuverability."

Rau frowned thoughtfully and glanced up at the slumbering Eclipse, across the hangar. "Still inferior to Emily's new machine, though."

"Oh, that thing is a beast," Abes snorted. "We just barely even understand the Voiture Lumiere. And Yolant, Vino, and I only put these designs together as a hobby that the captain asked us to turn into fully functional machines."

"I see," Rau said. "It will more than suffice, I'm sure." He smirked. "I just wouldn't want to be left behind on the battlefield, you see."

Abes smirked back. "'course not."

Earth Alliance battleship Charlemagne, Debris Belt, orbit of the Earth

"An Extended?"

Shams blinked in disbelief in the observation lounge where Sven was brooding, and at his side, even Mudie seemed a bit surprised. They shared a glance and then looked back at their silver-haired leader and noticed his fists shaking around the railing.

"She has become insistent on it," Sven said quietly, "and I am no longer confident that she will continue seeking my consent."

"Surely you can overpower a silly little woman like her," said Mudie with a smirk.

"Of course I can. I would prefer to resolve this issue without doing so." He looked over awkwardly at his two wing mates, and they both shared another uncomfortably glance. "In our next battle, I need you to help me get rid of her."

Shams arched an eyebrow and looked around conspiratorially. "Uh, murder of a civilian isn't exactly our thing, man."

"Nothing so obvious. Convince her to observe our next battle from here." He turned around to face them. "She is stubborn and foolish, so it shouldn't be difficult. Tell her she'll be able to verify the Crusader's performance with her own eyes. The Vanguard and Artemis too. I will handle the rest."

"How crafty," Mudie chuckled.

Sven visibly shuddered, and Shams immediately felt unnerved by all the emotion emanating from him. "She even suggested I start using Gamma Glipheptin. I trust you two understand why I'm doing this."

Shams grimaced at the mention of the Earth Alliance's drug of choice. "Yeah. But Sven, this is pretty serious shit. If we get caught "

"Then I will take responsibility but we will not get caught." Sven looked them both in the eyes and Shams felt his blood chill. "Can I trust you to help me take care of this?"

Sharing one last uncomfortable look, Shams and Mudie turned back towards their leader and nodded.

"You mean to tell me you're afraid of the big bad Minerva?" cackled Travis Alterman, as he drifted over the head of his deactivated Nebula Blitz Gundam. In front of him, Grey and Merau glanced at each other awkwardly.

"I didn't say 'afraid,'" Grey offered. "I said 'cautious.'"

"Listen, kid," Travis said with a patronizing smirk, "I heard all about your little incident in Volgograd. And so you got the hots for that Angel of Death chick. Fine, whatever gets your rocks off, dude." He waved a hand dismissively as a red-faced Grey sputtered in outrage. "But let me just give you one piece of advice." He planted a hand on his shoulder and his smile vanished. "Don't think about her. Don't think about turning her. Don't think about capturing her. Don't think about anything else but killing her."

Grey blinked. "What are you "

"Hate her. Hate her guts. Hate her face, her voice, her name, hate everything about her. Because," his grin returned, "she's not what you think."

"Wait a minute," Merau cut in, "what are you talking about? What do you know about her?"

"I get it," Travis laughed. "You think she's not that different from you, so that's why you have a hard time fighting her. But, well, I'll put it this way: you're wrong. In more ways than you realize."

With that, he headed off towards the hangar doors with a laugh.

Ivan Danilov sat back as his bridge crew set to work and steeled himself for a return to the battlefield.

"Engine trials just came out green," Vera reported from her station. "Weapons and other repairs checked out as well. We're ready to go."

Danilov smiled tightly. "Well done. Helm, set course for Copernicus, maximum speed!"

The Charlemagne rumbled as its engines came to life and Danilov savored the feeling of getting his battleship back on the move. "Captain," Vera said suddenly, "what do you think that ZAFT fleet at Copernicus is doing?"

"I have no right idea, Vera," he answered, "but judging by their previous actions, I'm sure it'll be something awful. There's a good deal of military manufacturing on Copernicus that they may be targeting."

Vera turned her eyes out the bridge windows, towards the Moon. "All their attacks have been aimed at the Alliance's economy, and," she paused as she shuddered, "the population."

"From their perspective, I suppose it makes sense. The Alliance's chief advantage over ZAFT is its massive industrial, economic, and demographic resources the same things ZAFT has been targeting ever since they returned."

He narrowed his eyes at Copernicus and battled down the growing feeling of dread.

ZAFT Nazca-class destroyer Caernafon, orbit of the Moon

"How am I supposed to take orders from a Natural?"

The question hung in the air on the Caernafon's bridge and Glasgow squirmed uncomfortably in his chair. It was a good question, and the blond-haired young man in the ZAFT Red uniform with the conspicuous emblem of FAITH on his lapel deserved an answer, at the very least.

"It won't be for long, Rudolf," Glasgow assured him. "But nobody knows these lunar cities better than he does, and we're going to need that expertise "

"We're Coordinators, commander!" Rudolf Wittgenstein sputtered, and slammed his hand down onto the mapping console. "We don't need those subhumans to carry out Hell's Wind! Commander, we're the pinnacle of our species' evolution. What could he possibly have to offer us?"

Glasgow sat back and closed his eyes. "If we were the pinnacle of human evolution we wouldn't have to do this, Rudolf. Mr. Graves will not be here for long. Hell's Wind is the only operation he's been contracted for, and after we're done here he'll go back to whatever hole he spends his days in. Just swallow your pride and endure it. That is as much a sign of a superior person as anything else."

Rudolf sneered. "Are you telling me to trust him, sir?"

"I'm telling you to obey him." Glasgow waved out the bridge windows, towards the array of cities towards the Copernicus crater, stretching before them. "You're going to be in charge of the MS teams defending the landing party. You're going to have to take directions from Mr. Graves, whether you like it or not. If you can't do that as though Graves were a Coordinator and your commanding officer, then under my authority as this task force's commander, I'm benching you on the ship FAITH or not." He narrowed his eyes. "Marshal Sunogachi has given me explicit authority to carry out this operation by any means necessary, and if it means I have to put you in the brig, I will. Don't fuck this up."

Rudolf gritted his teeth and saluted. "Yes sir."

Heaving a sigh, Glasgow sat back and returned his gaze to the city. "Besides, Mr. Graves is good at what he does."

"Glad to hear you agree," another voice spoke up. All eyes turned in surprise towards Leons Graves, striding onto the Caernafon's bridge with an air of extreme amusement. "And for what it's worth, Mr. Wittgenstein, I can make a good stir-fry too." He brushed by the growling Rudolf with a laugh as he landed by Glasgow's chair. "So there's Copernicus, eh? First target?"

"Yes, but we're going to need targeting information."

Graves waved it off. "Easily done. Lunar cities are all built the same; industrial sectors on top, to air out pollutants and shit; commercial and residential sectors underneath. The latter have access points to the surface that the landing parties can use; the fleet's guns can deal with the industrial sectors. Copernicus is a bit different since it has an upper-class commercial block on the surface, but it won't require a change in our battle plan." He glanced over his shoulder with a smirk towards Rudolf. "And I'm sure you'll be up to the task of defending our landing party?"

"Of course," Rudolf snarled back.

"Copernicus will be the first target, for maximum effect, both economic and psychological," Glasgow interrupted, hoping to head off an argument. Graves took a little too much delight in needling the aristocratic Rudolf sometimes. "After that, we'll hit Sagan City, then Theophilus, and the manufacturing centers at Humboldt City, and then we'll return to Messiah as heroes." He sat back. "Begin the approach."

ZAFT Eternal-class cruiser Seraphim, the Moon

Silence hung on the bridge of the Seraphim as the sleek, jet-black cruiser hovered over the dusty lunar surface. Drifting near the command chair, Varder glanced up towards the auxiliary display, where the Caernafon had so charitably provided a wire grid map of the sprawling lunar city of Copernicus. At least his job was simple: protect the Meyer and the Caernafon and, above all else, the landing party. They could not afford failure. Since their arrival, ZAFT had preyed on small fish, forgotten colonies, overlooked convoys, isolated targets but now they would remind the world that they would not be forgotten.

Varder glanced up at Lilith, finding her peering thoughtfully at the map. "What is it?"

"The Minerva is there," she answered. "One of the outer docks, in the crater wall. The Ortelius called it in from one of the long-range telescopes."

"The hell's the Minerva doing here...?" Varder muttered, and drifted down next to the captain's chair. "Evers, did we catch anything on the way here?"

"No sir."

"I see." Varder looked back out the bridge windows, towards the city ahead. "That is odd. I thought they would be staying at Terminal."

"Terminal has dropped off the map since that attack the other day," Lilith pointed out. "The Minerva may have headed here to keep the Alliance distracted."

"True." Varder put a hand to his chin thoughtfully. "Well, even if they're the Minerva and they've got that fancy new Gundam, it's not a game changer for us." Evers glanced up dubiously towards Varder. "We have a couple of new machines up our sleeves too. And they may expect an attack, but," he smirked up at Copernicus, "they won't expect ours."

Copernicus, the Moon

Emily came to a stop with a gasp of pain as she and her friends picked their way towards Copernicus's upper-class commercial sector. It had been Viveka's idea to make a beeline towards the most inhabited and frequented region of the city and make their way back to the ship through there, in hopes that the crowds would hide them from Gerhardt and his minions. So far, it seemed to be working at the cost of crowding out any sense of approaching people from Emily's Newtype senses, and she was far from having a clear mind to think with anyway.

They came to a stop in an alley through which they had followed the winding path from the warehouses up to the commercial sector. Beyond were the bright lights and sizable crowds of Copernicus's glitzy business district. Viveka slumped against the wall with a gasp of breath.

"Let me look at that," Trojan said, and gave her no choice as he yanked back her coat to examine the wound on her shoulder. "Doesn't look too bad, but we'd better get back." He glanced over at Lily. "Who's coming to get us?"

"Shinn and Athrun. I activated the beacon."

Emily leaned against the wall and struggled to catch her breath and to focus on that instead of the terrifying face back so clearly in her mind.

She will be our angel of death.

How could she deny what he had said? How could he have pierced through her pretensions so easily and uncovered the dark truth at the heart of her anxiety? Even as she struggled to make his power her own, she became his masterpiece all the same.

"We should go," Viveka grunted, and looked over at Emily. "Let's stick to the alleys. He's probably got people combing the streets." The four weary pilots got to their feet and headed back into the back alleys and lots, where the cargo trucks passed through for deliveries and handling the less glamorous side of those glitzy businesses out front. Emily groaned in pain at the pain in her heart and the pain in her legs, from all that running

Her instincts shot to life and she whirled around, just in time to see a truck smash through a pile of wooden crates and screech to a halt in front of her. Emily and her friends backed away but even before they could draw weapons, more of those heavily armed men swarmed into the alley, and Emily shrieked in surprise as rough hands seized her, pushed her forward, and threw her at someone's feet

She looked up in fear at the sound of her father's laugh.

"Quite a workout you gave us, Emily," he chuckled, and nodded to the men. "Put her in. We're leaving."

Emily screamed in terror as the soldiers bound her arms and flung her into the truck's backseat. One of the soldiers gestured towards Viveka, Trojan, and Lily. "What about them?" he asked.

"Kill them," Gerhardt said with a wave, and hopped into the truck.

Left behind, with her heart pounding and her head swimming, Viveka opened her mouth to scream as the truck peeled away with a screech of tires but the soldiers stepped into view instead, guns leveled off. "You heard the director," one of them said, and pointed his rifle at Trojan's head. "Nothing personal, kids. Just business."

Trojan only scowled and faster than the soldiers could see, he swept Viveka and Lily's legs out from under them and knocked them to the floor as the soldiers began to fire. They had time only to blink in surprise Trojan rushed towards the first one, seized his head, twisted, and flung the dead man at one of his compatriots. The soldiers turned their guns towards Trojan just in time for Lily to spring back up with a handgun and kill another. Trojan darted forward again and snapped another soldier's neck, then whirled around and used the man as a shield against the fourth and fifth men's guns. Lily took down one of them, and the fifth and sixth backed away in disbelief, guns in their hands trembling just in time for Viveka to stagger back up and kill them with a gun of her own.

"Shit," Viveka groaned, and fell to one knee with her gun clattering to the ground. Trojan and Lily rushed to her side, but she waved them off. "I can't believe this. Both of you get up; we have to follow them. Where would they be heading?" She waited a moment for an answer and then hauled herself back to her feet. "Goddammit, how could I let this happen?!"

"Calm down," Trojan said suddenly, and pushed her back against the wall. "You're injured and we're disoriented. They're probably heading for the docks if they're trying to kidnap her. They would want to get away as fast as possible."

"Then what are we just waiting here for?!" Lily wailed.

"We don't know which dock and even if we did, we couldn't possibly catch up," Trojan said. "You stay here with Viveka, I'll "

"I'm not staying anywhere," Viveka snarled, and with that, she shouldered her way past Trojan and took off down the alley after the truck.

Trojan held back a sigh. "This is not going to end well..."

Earth Alliance Archangel-class battleship Lucifer, orbit of the Moon

"So they're on the move," Joaquin said with a sneer on the Lucifer's bridge. Nearby, Morgan Chevalier battled his unease and Ortega squirmed in the captain's chair. "I imagine they're going after Copernicus's industrial sector, don't you?"

Morgan hesitantly nodded. "Probably."

"Then why hasn't Copernicus's defense force done anything? Aren't they going to sortie?"

Ortega cleared his throat. "Colonel, Copernicus is still technically neutral, so they may believe they have nothing to fear from ZAFT. So far ZAFT's attacks have come against Alliance targets, military and civilian."

Joaquin scoffed. "Ridiculous. There's no distinction in this war especially not in the minds of those monstrosities." He waved a hand towards Ortega. "The Lucifer will move in to assess the situation. Captain Danilov is bringing the Charlemagne in as well; we will wait for him to arrive before taking any action against the ZAFT fleet." He glanced out the bridge windows towards the vague direction of the Charlemagne. "Danilov...he'll just have to make up for his failure at Terminal."

Copernicus, the Moon

The tires shrieked against the road and passerby turned in disbelief as Athrun's sleek Starchaser slid across the pavement and straight into an open spot on the side of the road. Shinn vaulted over the door and rushed towards one of the alleys as Athrun kept watch behind and Shinn noted fearfully that among the familiar points of life running through that alley, Emily was not among them.

He caught up with Viveka, Lily, and Trojan around a corner. "Where's Emily?"

Viveka slammed her metal fist against a wall. "They they got her," she gasped. Shinn's stomach wrenched as he looked over Trojan and Lily's desolate faces. "Captured her...don't know where..."

"Jesus Christ," Shinn muttered. "Come on, we're getting back to the car." He led them back out to the street and watched them blink in surprise at the sight of an expensive sports car with Athrun Zala behind the wheel. Athrun himself started up as he saw Viveka shamble into the light, clutching her shoulder.

"Shit," he hissed. "Shinn, first aid kit under the passenger's seat. All of you, get in. What's going on?"

"Somebody captured Emily," Shinn explained. "They don't know where they took her."

Athrun scowled off towards the rest of the city. "We'll find her. Who did this?"

He looked back, noticing at last the whirlpool of emotion churning within Viveka, and she looked back bleakly at him. "Our father."

Shinn slammed the door behind him as Trojan and Lily set to work on Viveka's wounds in the backseat and Athrun wheeled the car back onto the road. "Well," he said, "all's not lost yet." He tapped the side of his head. "Your dad might be able to hide from you, but he can't fucking hide from me."

"Can you find her in this whole city?" Athrun asked.

"Just let me concentrate," Shinn said, sitting back and closing his eyes, "and follow my lead."

The hum of the engine roared in Emily's brain, sending her thoughts scattering in a cloud of sickening fear. She struggled to push down the panic; her father sat in a seat across from her, staring coldly at her, sitting next to a man in an olive drab uniform; the rest of the cab was filled with men in combat fatigues and flak jackets, all with guns, all pointed at her. She looked away from her father, as the helplessness of her childhood bubbled up from her throat and the words he'd spoken seared her mind.

"Well," Gerhardt said into the silence, "I'll admit, I'm a bit relieved." He sat back and comfortably draped one leg over the other. "When we had you in incubation, I was afraid you weren't going to meet all of our standards. But I've been pleasantly surprised. We'll have you back to work for me in no time, and then," he grinned, "all my plans will be back on schedule."

The uniformed man blinked and looked over at Gerhardt. "There's a lot here you haven't told me about her."

"There's a lot here you're paid not to know about her, Schroeder," Gerhardt said, "but my daughter is an extraordinary little girl. My angel of death."

Emily held back a sob. "I'm not your angel of death."

"I thought we'd had that conversation already," Gerhardt responded with a laugh. "You've always been a tool, Emily, and for the past few months the wrong people have been using you but no longer." He grinned over at Schroeder. "You should be more excited, really. The Earth Alliance's best, the cream of the Phantom Pain's crop, have fallen in battle before her and yet it is you, Franz Schroeder, who brings her to heel. What an addition to your résumé."

Schroeder looked thoughtfully out the truck's windows, and Emily shivered under her father's icy gaze. "You killed my mother," she said at last.

"Emily," Gerhardt scoffed, "still on that, are you?" He shrugged before the questioning eyes of Schroeder and his men. "No, I didn't kill your mother. She was frail and sick and died of an internal hemorrhage that bled her to death before the doctors could open her up and repair the damage. Quite a tragedy, really, but there was no helping it. I don't know why you blame me for it."

"Because you made my mother give birth to my sister and me," Emily said, not knowing why she felt this had to be brought up, and knowing that the men in the truck were squirming in discomfort at it. She lowered her head and fought back the tears. "Because...because of us."

"Oh, is that what the trouble is," Gerhardt chuckled. "Such a silly child. Lots of talent, but much to learn." He turned towards Schroeder. "How far out are we?"

"Another twenty minutes, probably. Traffic is heavy."

"Fine. I have a ship lined up to let us escape, and once we're clear of Copernicus, you, Mr. Schroeder, will be richly rewarded."

He looked back at Emily with a chilling smile.

She will be our angel of death.

Battleship Minerva

There was a tiny, almost imperceptible point of suffering out there in the vast sweep of human lives in Copernicus, and amid all the psychic chatter, Rau Le Creuset focused on that one point with interest. Obviously it had worked.

Having one's own network in the shady world of information brokering had its definite advantages. It had taken only a little bit of cash to push to the office of Gerhardt von Oldendorf word that the Minerva had docked at Copernicus and Emily von Oldendorf would be out and about.

Judging by the fear, she was with her father and judging by the distance between the familiar pressure of Shinn Asuka, something had happened. Perhaps she had been captured. No matter. Shinn would get her back, and the Minerva would not rest until its Angel of Death was returned.

And in the meantime, Emily had no doubt come face to face with her father. No doubt now she remembered just what she was, just how inescapable her power was, just how deeply her fate suffused her life. She could no longer deny herself as the Angel of Death as his Angel of Death, his tool, his weapon for destruction and chaos. And once she accepted that cold, harsh reality, it was a simple matter to show her the ugly writhing bugs in the mud beneath the shiny rock of the Cosmic Era and to whisper in her ear and remind her that she was indeed the bringer of death...and their time had come.

Rau smiled at the thought.

Copernicus, the Moon

"Could you please try not to drive in a way that will get the Copernicus PD all over our asses?" Viveka asked, as Trojan finished bandaging her shoulder.

"Newtypes don't have to follow traffic laws," Athrun answered. "Shinn, where are they?"

"Up on the freeway, northbound," he said quietly, eyes squeezed shut and sweat beading on his brow. Athrun swerved up the onramp and wove his way into traffic. "She's not too far away..." He opened his eyes and scanned the vehicles ahead. "That brown combat truck up there. That one."

"And now that we're here," Trojan spoke up, "how are we going to handle this? You want to pit them or something?"

"Not with all this traffic," Athrun answered. "Fold down the back seat and open the hatch behind it. You can reach into the trunk that way; I have some weapons in there."

Lily did as instructed, and she, Trojan, and Viveka gaped inside the trunk of Athrun's car, at the dozen or so machineguns, assault rifles, grenades, and RPG shells inside.

"Athrun, why the hell do you carry a fucking RPG in the trunk of your car?" Viveka asked.

Athrun shrugged. "Always be prepared."

"But how are we going to get her back?" Lily sputtered. "We're not far from the docks, you know!"

Instead, Viveka reached into the trunk and pulled out one of the smoke grenades. "I've got a better idea," she said, and looked back at Trojan. "Hey kid, wanna be an action movie star?"

Trojan frowned. "I'm not sure I like where this is going."

"Drive up close to them so that Action Hero here can jump over," Viveka said. "You, take this and throw it inside the car. Pull Emily out and jump back here with her." She looked over Athrun's shoulder. "Hero Boy, you can make it work, right?"

"If they start shooting at me, no," Athrun said. "It would be better to stop them "

"Shit, watch out!" Shinn yelled, and seized the wheel and yanked it to the side. The Starchaser squealed to the right as somebody leaned out the truck's window and opened fire with an assault rifle hitting three other cars instead. Traffic came to a screeching halt with a vicious series of crashes that Shinn and Athrun immediately threw from their minds; Athrun slammed down the accelerator and pulled alongside the truck.

"Trojan, now!"

Without sparing a thought, Trojan seized the smoke grenade from Viveka and vaulted off the car's trunk onto the truck's roof. With a grunt, he flung his legs up onto the roof, pulled himself up, pegged the grenade down through the machinegun turret's open hatch on top, and then stood back as thick white smoke billowed out.

"Jesus, the things I'll do for a cute girl," he grumbled, and then hooked his legs under the railing on the truck's roof and swung himself down into the cab. Fighting back tears, he found Emily stumbling to her feet with tears of her own; without another moment to lose, he grabbed her by the elbow with both his hands and hauled her up through the roof with more strength than he realized he possessed. "There you are!" he yelled, and ripped off her restraints. "Jesus Christ, is the driver still going?!"

Emily coughed for a moment. "The cab's separate from the driver's seat," she said, and looked over to the right where a sleek sports car with several familiar faces was waiting. "Um, how are we getting off "

"You aren't," another voice added. Emily and Trojan turned and saw Gerhardt standing in front of the roof hatch, pistol in hand, leveled off at Trojan's head. "I see why Kendrick's team never reported in "

"Viveka, catch!" Trojan yelled, and promptly shoved Emily off the car's roof. Athrun took his cue and rushed in to let Emily fall straight into the Starchaser's rear seat. Gerhardt's eyes flashed in fury and he moved to fire but Trojan ducked, rushed forward, and knocked the gun from his hands. He reared back for a punch at the older man's face but Gerhardt deflected it with surprising form and the two men found themselves locked in a flurry of blocked and traded punches.

"Trojan, move!" Lily shouted, and sprang up in the Starchaser's seat. Gerhardt threw himself onto the truck's roof as she opened fire with a submachinegun, and Trojan took his opportunity to jump back into the Starchaser. Athrun peeled away with a squeal of tires, zigzagged his way through frantically retreating traffic, and roared down a nearby off ramp.

Gerhardt got back to his feet with a scowl and watched them go, as Schroeder poked his head out the roof hatch and his men aired out the truck with open windows. "What the hell was that?!" he exclaimed.

"Schroeder, get all your men on them at once," Gerhardt growled. "I can't believe you let them get that close. Send everyone. Alpha and Bravo teams included."

Schroeder blinked in disbelief. "Alpha and Bravo teams ?!"

"Don't question me!" Gerhardt snapped. "Do you want to get paid or not?!"

For a moment, Schroeder stared questioningly at Gerhardt but then threw a switch on his radio. "Alpha and Bravo teams, move in."

"So Emily," Trojan panted, "I'm not sure I like your father."

Emily sat with her head in her hands as Viveka tried to consolingly rub her shoulder with her mechanical hand. "Don't worry," she said, "we don't either."

"Shit, looks like they're not done yet," Athrun muttered. "In the back, get some guns out. Keep the RPG ready but out of sight."

"Wha why?" Lily started, and turned around "Oh. That's not good."

Emily glanced over her shoulder and felt her heart sink as she saw three more combat trucks like the one she had just escaped, rushing down the street after them. Trojan quietly assembled the RPG inside the trunk, and all of them ducked down as someone leaned out the window and opened fire with a submachinegun.

"Okay, that's not cool," Viveka grunted. "Who wants to "

Shinn leapt to his feet in the passenger's seat with an assault rifle in hand, a grenade launcher slung underneath and with a crash, he slammed the grenade through the truck's windshield, and ducked back down as the whole thing exploded in a flash of fire. Athrun seized the chance to duck down a side street, weaving in and out of traffic and ignoring the angry shouts and hysterical screams but another truck followed, bullets flying.

"Jesus, only with you guys does ice cream turn into gunfights in moving cars," Shinn growled. "How is this going to work out?"

"Motherfuckers need to just leave us alone!" Viveka shouted and with that, she seized another rifle with her left hand and fired it into the truck's windshield, killing its driver and sending it careening out of control into a wall. Athrun veered back onto the main road at the next opportunity and went back to work through the traffic

"Oh, no fair," Trojan breathed.

Athrun hissed a curse and yanked the wheel to the side, screeching towards the side of the road, as a helicopter hovered into view overhead and let loose a burst of machinegun fire that ripped up the pavement and sent cars veering in all directions.

"That's cheating!" Lily screamed.

"My father," Emily whimpered, and squeezed her eyes shut in terror, "he's not going to give up..."

"He will if I have anything to fucking say about it," Viveka growled.

"Trojan, get the RPG ready," Athrun instructed. "I won't have a choice..."

The Starchaser roared off onto the freeway, weaving its way through traffic, with a green attack helicopter rushing after it.

Battleship Minerva

"What the hell is going on in there?!" Abbey cried, whirling around from the auxiliary screen. Up by the mapping console, Meyrin stared in disbelief at the news reports of the gun-wielding men in combat trucks and the helicopter currently chasing down six people in a sleek, powerful sports car.

"I thought they had all this under control," Meyrin grumbled, and turned towards Roxy at the comm station. "Roxy, get Stella out there in the Gaia. Tell her that Shinn and the others need help. Whoever is behind all this nonsense probably can't match a Gundam with Stella at the controls."

"Right," Roxy said as she reached for her headset, "and may I suggest that we never send any of those guys out for pizza ever again?"

Meyrin scratched her head and watched the smoke rising up in Copernicus. What was going on in there?

The ground shook and the air crackled with bullets as Athrun Zala navigated the densely packed, frantic streets of Copernicus with an attack helicopter in pursuit. He glanced up at the rear-view mirror still there, and nothing up ahead to ward it off or snag it.

"Trojan, that RPG," he said quickly. "I'm going to duck around a building coming up; you get the RPG out and as soon as you've got a clear shot, fire. Don't give them a chance to retaliate."


Athrun gritted his teeth and glanced over his shoulder; still there. He pushed Viveka's concern and Emily's churning vortex of emotions out of his mind and focused on the path in front of him, his instincts Newtype and natural guiding his hands

With a start, he jerked the wheel to the side and sent the Starchaser into a smoking, screeching turn, whipping the car around the corner. Trojan sprang to his feet with the RPG shouldered; a second went by, the helicopter followed

A flash of smoke and a thundering crash later, the RPG shell slammed headfirst into the helicopter's canopy and blew it apart.

"Alright!" Lily shouted, pumping her fist in the air. "Sweet!"

With a sigh, Athrun pulled back onto the main road

Instead, Shinn seized the wheel again and pulled the car aside as a green, pulsing beam slammed into the road and sent up a wall of fire. The Starchaser skidded to a halt and then the world trembled as four Strike Daggers, painted in black, gray, and orange, landed on the road around them.

"Okay," Athrun groaned, "now what?"

"This is the second time in my life I've been chased by mobile suits in a motor vehicle," Shinn grumbled. "Athrun, we're more maneuverable. Floor it."

Athrun did as instructed and the Starchaser lurched ahead but he slammed on the brakes just as quickly as one of the Daggers vaulted over him and came down with a crash, beam rifle leveled off.

"Shit, shit, now what ?!" Viveka yelled

A moment later, the Dagger up ahead seemed to be lifted up into the air, and with an earth-shattering shriek of torn metal, the Gaia Gundam vaulted into the sky and slammed its beam saber through the Dagger's cockpit.

Shinn looked over at Athrun. "Now! Go!"

The Starchaser screamed off back down the street and the Gaia came down with a slam, beam saber blazing, glowering down the street at the three remaining Strike Daggers. In the cockpit, Stella watched with relief as Athrun's car made its escape and turned her eyes towards the Daggers with a scowl. "You won't touch Shinn..."

ZAFT Nazca-class destroyer Caernafon, the Moon

"What do you mean, 'smoke?'" Glasgow muttered and peered on the Caernafon's bridge at the auxiliary screen, where the maximum magnification displayed puffs of smoke and fire underneath the dome that covered Copernicus's glamorous or, rather, formerly glamorous upper-class commercial sector. "What the hell is happening in there?"

"I don't know," Graves said with his arms crossed, "but this actually bodes well for us, commander. Whatever is happening, it will distract Copernicus's defense force long enough for the landing party to reach its objectives."

Glasgow stroked his beard thoughtfully. "I suppose. And even if they did come out to fight, if Intel is right, all they've got to rely on are Strike Daggers sold as surplus by the Alliance military."

"Best not to take chances," Graves added. "Shall we begin?"

Glasgow threw a switch on his chair's armrest. "Varder, do you see smoke underneath Copernicus's dome?"

The green-haired man on the Seraphim nodded his agreement. "Are you thinking we should begin?"

"As Mr. Graves suggested, the defense force is probably distracted now," Glasgow said. "What do you think?"

Varder grinned. "Let's go for it."

"Very well," Glasgow said, and threw the switch again. "All ships of Task Force Nihilo, this is Commander Glasgow speaking. Operation Hell's Wind will now commence. Begin the descent."

The guns of his fleet took aim and opened fire, blasting apart the upper levels of the industrial sector and moving downward, and Glasgow sat back with a quiet sigh. The world had not truly feared the Coordinators of ZAFT...but now it would.

To be continued...