Phase 16 - Becoming Evil

Mobile Suit Gundam SEED ETERNITY

Phase 16 - Becoming Evil

April 30th, CE 77 - Battleship Minerva, the Moon

The chants of the soldiers echoed through the Minerva's interior observation deck and bounced their way into Emily's brain. She took an anxious step back.

"Is that the enemy...?"

At her side, Rau merely shrugged. "To be fair, what can you expect from a group of people who have endured the horrors they have?"

"But that doesn't mean they can just slaughter everybody for it!" Emily protested, and gestured angrily at the Moon. "They're being just as bad! What's the difference?"

"There is none," Rau agreed, "which is why you can't hang your coat with either side. They both must be destroyed if there's to be peace." He smiled reassuringly. "Isn't that what Ms. McGriff told you?"

Emily looked back out the windows, towards the mountains. Of course that was what Selene had told her. Take the Eclipse's power and end the war. She had seen its power herself, twice now.

"I know you don't want this power," Rau said, and turned to leave, "but it there regardless, and it is yours to wield. Why not do some good with it?"

The door slid open and Rau disappeared down the hallway, leaving Emily with her head in her hands and her father's voice echoing through her mind.

Earth Alliance battleship Charlemagne, orbit of the Moon

"Good God."

Breaking the silence of the Charlemagne's bridge and its gaping crew, Danilov tore his eyes away from the images of death in Copernicus. He'd already had his fill of corpses in the contortions of nerve gas poisoning, but the news couldn't seem to get enough.

Instead, he glanced over at the communication console. "Any word from headquarters yet?"

"No sir."

Danilov peered out the bridge windows and frowned, pushing the images from his mind. He was too professional to dwell on bodies and that ZAFT unit was out there, fresh from having slaughtered ten million people in a neutral, affluent colony. They had escalated the war so it was up to Danilov to bring the war to them. The Charlemagne would annihilate them.

But the Minerva's remaining mobile suits had been spotted in action against the ZAFT forces, and the Minerva itself was apparently redlining its engines to get around the enemy fleet and beat them to Sagan City, by the Posidonius crater. What would they do? Danilov could already tell. They would never pass out an opportunity to mete out justice like that especially if they had been there for the gassing itself.

And yet his ship's official mission was still to destroy the Minerva on sight.

Well, Danilov mused, that may be what my orders say...but it's not what my oath said.

A somber silence hung like mist in the air of the Charlemagne's crew lounge as the images scrolled by on the monitor of the streets of Copernicus. It didn't bother Sven in the least but it did seem to rile up that damned little kid.

You know you're bothered by this, the voice spoke up, and Sven ground his teeth in anger. Hey, did you see that one kid with the silver hair? He looked kinda like you. Y'know, back when you were a human being.

Shut up.

It's pretty brutal, huh? All that young life, vibrant and excited and ready for whatever, cut down by some psychopaths with poison gas. And you don't feel even a teensy little bit bad about it?

Shut. Up.

Not likely, pal!

Sven turned around and stormed out of the crew lounge. He angled for his bunk, where he could bang his head against the wall until the voice left him alone without attracting unwanted attention.

The bodies were still there in his mind's eye, writhing in agony and clutching at their throats. But he was a soldier and he was supposed to do his job. He could not let sentimentality get the better of him. Not in this business. That was not how he had survived the Phantom Pain's ruthless training, in the days of the 81st Autonomous; that was not how he had survived throughout his entire career. To survive, on the battlefield and off, one had to be ruthless and cold. He could not afford distractions.

You keep telling yourself that, the voice added, and Sven growled hatefully.

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

"Those damned Coordinators," snarled Joaquin, drifting from his chair on the Lucifer's bridge towards Ortega. "Get this ship on their tail immediately."

"We're following as fast as we can, sir," Ortega protested, "but the ZAFT fleet has a considerable head start on us. And," he called up an image on the auxiliary screen, and Joaquin frowned, "we've got them to worry about too."

"What the hell is the Minerva doing there?" Joaquin stroked his chin thoughtfully, disturbing ideas flitting through his mind. "They don't actually mean to stop this ZAFT force, do they?"

"They launched mobile suits to protect Copernicus, sir."

"For all the good that did." Joaquin studied the map again. "The Charlemagne is on its way too. What does Danilov think he's doing?"

"I think, colonel," another voice spoke up, "that Danilov is fighting our real enemy."

Joaquin glanced over at the bridge doors and found Morgan Chevalier floating through with a steely expression.

"That marshmallow of an officer had better not forget that the Minerva is no friend of the Alliance," Joaquin sneered. "And that goes for you too, Captain Chevalier. They are to be shot down the instant the ZAFT force is neutralized."

"Can we really afford that?" Morgan shot back. "I think between the two, ZAFT presents a bigger threat. The Resistance has never pulled off anything on this scale." He gestured angrily at the auxiliary screen. "They've killed almost twenty million people in less than a month. I think they should be the priority here."

"We will decide what's the priority, Captain Chevalier," Joaquin snapped, and turned back towards Ortega. "Take us to the Moon, immediately."

Ortega frowned. "If they're heading to Sagan City, we won't be able to catch up in time to protect the city."

"I don't care! Get us there, now!" He turned and pushed past Morgan with a scowl. "I won't let them shame me again..."

Battleship Minerva, Copernicus, the Moon

"...and then he jumped on top of the truck and they had a fistfight!"

Shinn Asuka watched with growing discomfort in the Minerva's crew lounge as Lily excitedly described her Copernican escapades to a somewhat skeptical-looking Stella.

"That's dangerous," Stella pointed out.

"Yeah, but it was really cool!" countered Lily.

"Relatively speaking," Shinn added. "Personally, I remember Athrun driving like a maniac "

"In his really awesome car!"

Stella blinked at Shinn for a moment. "Is Shinn okay?"

"I'm fine. It's nothing we haven't done before."

Lily immediately turned towards Shinn. "You mean you've fought gunfights in moving cars before?"

Instantly, Shinn's mind flashed back to a nasty stay in Havana two years ago, and a car chase that Sting and Auel had called "fun" and he had called "terrifying," all of which had ended in spending the night in a muddy creek. "Anyways," he said, "it wasn't all that fun, and," he frowned, "it did get worse."

They all fell silent, and Shinn silently regretted killing the mood but, really, how could any of them talk about Copernicus and their misadventures throughout the lively city and not come to what had happened hours later?

He looked up sadly towards the ceiling and idly wondered if that too was somehow his fault.

It wasn't the fact that she was coming to see him again that bothered Athrun Zala as he worked in the Minerva's computer room; it was that Viveka was even up at all. He glanced over his shoulder with a frown.

"Weren't you supposed to be in bed?"

Viveka smirked back. "You really think I was going to just rest?"

"Guess not," Athrun agreed, and turned back towards the screen.

"So what are you doing?"

"Modeling future scenarios for gas attacks." He frowned as one of the models played themselves out in an Island 3 cylinder and the effortlessness with which a cloud of poison gas could sweep through the colony and kill everyone inside once it was released. Indeed, it seemed like the only way to deal with a gas attack on this sort was to stop it before it could begin. Or hand out gas masks. "I should have anticipated this."

"The hell you say?"

Athrun shook his head. "I should have realized. We live in these airtight cylinders and cities with these complicated air circulation systems. I should have anticipated that someone would take advantage of that."

Viveka landed next to his chair and put her mechanical hand over his shoulder. "Are you seriously blaming yourself for this?"

"No," Athrun answered, a bit taken aback, "but I'm not much of a soldier if I don't." He pointed at the screen and the green cloud expanding throughout the virtual O'Neill cylinder. "Not if we're going to have to prevent these things in the future."

"Who said you have to do it all by yourself?"

"It's one of the things that comes with responsibility." He pointed at the screen again. "I know Meyrin will want help trying to come up with a strategy to deal with this."

"But why are you putting it all on your shoulders?"

Their gazes met and Athrun shrugged. "It's motivational."

Viveka stared at him for a moment, then leaned down and kissed his lips, ignoring his surprised sputtering. She pulled away a moment later and turned to leave.

"What was that for?" Athrun stammered.

"Just doing it now, while I still have a chance," she said, and drifted out the door.

They gathered around the mapping console on the Minerva's bridge, a flat projection of the lunar surface arrayed before them, and Meyrin fixed her eyes on the blinking dots that represented the ZAFT fleet. Rau and Abbey stood next to her, peering down at the image; on the auxiliary screen, Kenaf Lucini watched them all with his characteristically bemused air.

"He's a wily one, that Graves," Lucini chuckled. "His MO is mainly to stand on the sidelines and direct rather than dirty his hands with combat. I've worked with him a few times himself."

"Then I'm sure you can tell us why he's working for ZAFT," Meyrin replied with a skeptical look. Lucini's smirk disappeared.

"As close as I come to it, Captain Hawke, I am not omniscient. But I'm sure there is a vast sum of money in it for Mr. Graves. He who has the largest pocketbook and the most interesting needs commands Leons Graves' loyalty to the extent that the pocketbook and interest last."

Abbey slapped her hands down on the mapping console. "Kenaf, just tell us something we can use."

"Excuse me, Vice Captain Windsor," Lucini answered with an upraised finger, "but my job is only to supply the information. It's your job to do something with it."

"Kenaf, do you know what it is they're having Graves do?" Meyrin cut in, hopping to stop a fight from brewing. "Is he directing the fleet, or the gassing operation, or what?"

Lucini shrugged. "I know that he is with the fleet and there's something going on there called 'Hell's Wind' which I assume to be the gassing operation they just carried out at Copernicus. Whatever else he's up to, I can't tell you."

Meyrin sighed and scratched the back of her head, peering back down at the map. The ZAFT fleet was clustered around what looked like a second Marseille III freighter taking on supplies and replacing losses, no doubt. If the Minerva could get in range, it would be the ideal time to strike...

But that's not what her plan called for.

"I rather doubt ZAFT would put a mercenary in charge of almost a dozen warships," Rau spoke up suddenly. "Much less a Natural mercenary. And either way, I do not believe he will require exceptional tactical chicanery to defeat." He looked up towards the auxiliary screen. "Especially not if he is unaware of you, Captain Pistis."

On the screen and over Lucini's shoulder, Meriol Pistis nodded her agreement. "And as long as you guys can distract that fleet long enough, he'll stay that way."

"There's one other problem, though," Abbey pointed out, and laid a finger over the two blinking blue dots on the map. "The Charlemagne and that Archangel-class from Arnhelm and Terminal."

Meriol frowned. "What could they want?"

"Probably to destroy this fleet," Rau answered. "The attack at Copernicus was a challenge that Lord Djibril can no longer afford to ignore. No less than the finest of the Phantom Pain will be sent to destroy them."

Meyrin studied the map again and thought about the Phantom Pain about that man in command of the Charlemagne. He had fought her ship to a standstill and forced her to retreat for her survival; she had never handed that ship a decisive defeat. But how would he react to this...?

"So," Trojan said quietly, "this was a pretty shitty day."

Sitting in the Eclipse's cockpit, Emily glanced up from her work on the mobile suit's console towards Trojan, leaning against the cockpit hatch jamb with his arms crossed. "I'm sorry you got dragged into that," she answered quietly. "I didn't expect to ever see him again..." Gerhardt von Oldendorf's dark eyes tore through her mind again and she squeezed her own eyes shut. His words haunted her that she was still exactly what he wanted, that she had killed her own mother

"I'm guessing you guys have a history," Trojan said, and moved forward to lean over the cockpit console. "Wasn't much of a dad, I take it."

Emily looked back up at Trojan bleakly. "He turned me into a military project to make some kind of super-soldier," she answered.

Trojan blinked at her. "What? Um, really?" He scratched his head. "Wait, so you're like, an Extended or something?"

"I might as well be," Emily sighed, and sat back with a groan. "It's...a lot to take in, I guess." She searched for words and mentally weighed how much she could really tell him how much he would believe, how much he would tolerate, how much until he ran screaming for his mobile suit and never returned. And that last thought filled her with a mix of emotions she couldn't describe, but certainly didn't like.

Trojan fidgeted for a moment. "Well, at least he can't hurt you," he offered. "I mean, now you're the Angel of Death "

"Please don't call me that," Emily interrupted, going tense. Trojan blinked at her again. "Just...don't call me that."

"Um...okay," Trojan stammered. "Are you sure you're okay?"

"I'm fine."

"No you're not." He leaned forward again. "Seriously, what's going on? You can tell me?"

Emily looked back up at him. "No. I can't. You'd never understand."

Trojan smirked. "I spent three years in the jungle with a crazy martial artist learning to do the physically impossible. Try me."

"No," Emily said, with this time with enough force to blow the smirk off Trojan's face, "you won't. Just drop it."

"A-Alright," Trojan said, and backed away. "Okay. I will."

Emily put her hands in her head and sighed as he left.

May 1st, CE 77 - ZAFT mobile space fortress Messiah, Lagrange Point 5

Everything was falling into place. Every piece, every move, every word all of it was working as she had planned.

Valentine Sunogachi stood at the window of Messiah's control room the one she liked best, for its sweeping view and gazed at the debris. It was all that remained of the PLANTs, the shattered fragments of the Coordinator people's lives. And it was here, in the blasted remains of their homeland, that the blasted remains of their nation made their headquarters as they brought justice to the rest of the Earth Sphere.

She breathed in the feelings. Exultation everywhere, at the success of Hell's Wind at the incredible blow this army of survivors had struck against the mighty Earth Alliance. At the blows already struck, and the eagerness about the blows yet to come. The breath of victory coursed through her.

But there was something else, pulsing underneath, that drew her in. That anger, once white-hot but now even closer, warmer, tightly wound. It had taken three years to take that raw, burning rage and mold it into something self-sustaining and purposeful. Rage with no purpose was little more than recklessness, and the violence such rage begat was simply wasteful. It had taken her three years and she had withstood a coup d'etat and the conquest of those miserable Martians to forge from these survivors the pulsing cocoon of hatred that wrapped itself around her.

Valentine closed her eyes and threw herself into it. All that hatred, itching to be released; all that anger, at the most towering of all injustices the Coordinators had ever suffered; all that sorrow, regret, longing, pain, all of it swirling together in this simmering cauldron of her own making. Of course there were those with doubts but in this world, those doubts vanished. They were not Newtypes, but they could not help but be subsumed by all this, and even those who doubted and faltered and hesitated were sucked back in and the dark thing within them all itched and craved for its release.

They were perfect, and they would bear her up as a goddess of a new world. A better world. A worthy world. She stretched her senses deep into Messiah and found what she was looking for.

They would bear her up a goddess and he would be her priest.

The Fortuna stretched before Kira Yamato in Messiah's warship dock, and from his place on the observation deck, Kira ran his mismatched eyes over the hull of his flagship. With its checks complete and its crew impatient to get their next assignment started, he almost lost himself to their lust for battle, for glory, for vengeance.

But that was not a difficult craving to suppress, because all he had to do was think of what that assignment would be.

Commander Glasgow had pulled off the first stage of Hell's Wind well enough, but there were complications. The Minerva had shown up there and fought against him, and now it was moving to interfere. Likewise, the Alliance was launching ships like that gigantic Charlemagne he had spent so much time studying. He would have to go, to supervise the next phase and ensure its success personally. After all, the strike at Copernicus had been partly for show. The strike at Sagan City, then at the massive factories of Theophilus and Humboldt that was the real meat of this plan. If ZAFT could pull off those attacks, it might end this war now, and then the real work could begin.

He closed his eye and thought back to the other problem that had presented itself that new Gundam the Minerva had debuted at Terminal, with speed and skill beyond what any of ZAFT's soldiers had expected. Even with only half of its mighty Gundam team, the Minerva had inflicted some frightful losses on Glasgow's mobile suit force losses that had to be replaced.

Kira frowned at the thought, pulled out his cell phone, and put in a call to his office. "Kayla, gather all the information we have for me on that Angel of Death character."

"Yes sir," Kayla answered. "But Intel says we don't have much."

"Whatever we have," Kira answered, and turned his eye back towards the Fortuna. "I will need it."

ZAFT Nazca-class destroyer Caernafon, the Moon

It always comforted Rudolf Wittgenstein, to some small extent, to lay eyes on his gleaming golden GOUF Ignited mobile suit. It quite literally outshone the other mobile suits in the Caernafon's hangar, and that was as it should have been. He wore on his lapel the emblem of FAITH, and he was one of the ZAFT Reds to boot. He deserved to stand out.

So why did thinking of that damned Athrun Zala make his blood boil?

Well, there were reasons for that like how Athrun Zala had enjoyed all the prestige and heroism that he, Rudolf, deserved and squandered it all when he turned out to be a race-traitor. Sympathy for the Naturals. What a ridiculous concept. They had lost any claim they had to Rudolf Wittgenstein's sympathy when they blasted the PLANTs out of the sky.

Rudolf looked over to the right of his own GOUF, passing over a silent ZAKU Warrior and then ground his teeth in even more anger, at the white and violet Civilian Astray with the Gundam's face and the grinning serpent emblem on its shoulder.

Yes, the Naturals had lost his sympathy, and yet here he was, taking orders from one. What difference did it make that he was so knowledgeable about lunar cities and their defenses? Lunar cities were easily figured out by Coordinator minds, and their defenders were easily cut down by Coordinator reflexes and technology and skill. He whirled around furiously, back towards his GOUF, and pushed off the railing with his feet. What did they need him for?

Athrun Zala might have had an answer, the bastard. Rudolf scowled. He might have had an answer, but that didn't make him right.

ZAFT Eternal-class cruiser Seraphim, the Moon

"So even Kira Yamato is joining the fun."

Varder Ehrmacht drifted around his office with his laptop in hand and a smirk on his face. He glanced up towards his desk, where Lilith was floating just overhead, idly twirling a pen between her fingers. She blinked disinterestedly at him.

"Well I think it's cool."

"As if," Lilith snorted. "What's he doing out here anyway? Afraid Glasgow's diaper will need changing or something?"

Varder made a face. "Wouldn't want to wish that on anyone. No, he's coming to deal with the Minerva."

"I thought we were going to do that."

"Yeah, well, Vice Marshal's prerogative or something." He moved over towards Lilith, discarding the laptop, and gathered her into his arms with a smile. "Besides, if Yamato is running around with us, he'll get to see how awesome we are."

Lilith settled into Varder's embrace. "I thought we were given this assignment because he already knows we're awesome."

"Well, more awesome. Think about it, Lil. We put up a good showing in front of Kira Yamato and earn some brownie points with the brass. And if we wind up fighting that Angel of Death girlie again..."

"Awfully interested in her, aren't you?" chuckled Lilith. "Should I be jealous, or just creeped out?"

"Oh no, she's our ticket to glory," Varder answered, his eyes lighting up. "Glory, fame, power, prestige, money...we take her down and we'll be heroes, Lil. And then," he waved a hand contemptuously around his office, "no more of this."

Lilith turned herself around in his arms and rested her head on his shoulder. "I don't really mind this."

"Neither do I," agreed Varder, "but we can do better."

Djibril Manor, Vermont, Atlantic Federation

There were many instances when Lord Djibril truly despised meeting with his associates and this was one of them. He sat in his screening room with a generous glass of wine in hand, direly contemplating an upgrade to something stronger, as his fellow leaders of Blue Cosmos railed.

"Lockheed-Martin just lost an entire factory complex, Djibril!" raged the bald and portly Lally McWilliams. "This isn't just a little bump in the balance sheets, we lost ten percent of our manufacturing capacity!"

On another screen, the long-haired Adam Vermilyea frowned. "Dassault-Dornier did not come out of this well either, Djibril. I think we've waited and played cat-and-mouse with the ZAFT fleet long enough. It's time to use the Requiem."

"Yes, use the Requiem!" Celestine Groht added with a pounding fist on his desk for emphasis. "We should have done that at the outset!"

"Gentlemen," Djibril cut them all off, "you are not privy to this information but suffice it to say that intelligence from Mars suggests that such steps will be insufficient. And if it will do no good to fire the Requiem at Messiah, I would rather not waste the energy and risk the relay points."

"Then what are you going to do?" demanded McWilliams. "Are you going to let them just get away with this?!"

"Of course not," Djibril said, and reached the power switch. "I have other matters to attend to. I will speak to you again soon," and with that the screens went dark. He knocked back a mouthful of wine and scowled, around the bitter taste of the alcohol and the even bitterer taste of what ZAFT had done. The people were clamoring for retaliation just as his associates were but some of them were equivocating. Some of them were quietly raising the point that it had been the Atlantic Federation that had fired the Requiem in the Junius War, not the Republic of East Asia or the South African Union or anyone else. At least Sunogachi did not seem inclined to respect such a distinction.

The click of combat boots on the polished metal surface brought his attention back and he glanced up in the darkened screens, at Misa Tsunomi's dim reflection.

"Look into the feasibility of assassination of a certain group of individuals," he said quietly, and then scowled at his own reflection in the screens. "I was careless..."

Hart Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C., Atlantic Federation

It had been a horrific scene to see at first, but as the news replayed footage of the devastation at Copernicus for what seemed like the millionth time, it had ceased to have any effect on Robert Meyers by now. Strange how constant images of death made one just get used to it.

He sat back in the chair in his office and pondered. There was only one way this could play out and it already was, with people in the streets demanding a swift and brutal retaliation against ZAFT for what they had done to Copernicus.

But Robert Meyers understood the real language of these things, and in her own way and her own words, Marshal Sunogachi had just issued a challenge to Lord Djibril. He had to answer it, or risk his own legitimacy as President of the Alliance.

Not that his legitimacy as such rested on such solid foundations anyways. No, not after what he had heard from quiet poking around in the State Department. Premier Musashihara of East Asia was already trying to quietly edge away from Djibril and President Vasserot. Prime Minister Manuel of South Africa and President Schtorzmann of Eurasia were still ostensibly on Djibril's side, loyal toadies that they were, but in the face of ZAFT's brutality the Alliance's already-stressed seams showed some signs of further fraying.

Meyers could not help but admit that he too wanted to see ZAFT punished for what they had done. But he was no Blue Cosmos fanatic; he could suppress that urge. They were right to say that the Coordinators were a threat to human civilization, in more ways than they knew but they were of no use. Djibril and his little puppet Vasserot were proof enough that three years of Blue Cosmos's open brutality had bred only a backlash and now there were ten million corpses being pulled off the streets of Copernicus to stand in proof of it.

He sat back and thought over the aging, hunched person of Evander Vasserot, President of the Atlantic Federation acting, of course, after President Copland's disappearance from office. That was an interesting loose end, but it was not in Meyers' radar yet. At least Vasserot had no Vice President of his own. That would make this all a little easier.

Meyers glanced up as he saw Seri Minamoto slip quietly into his office and shut the door behind her. "It's, err, it's done now, sir."

"Good," Meyers said, and glanced down at his computer screen where, sure enough, the news websites were already starting to shudder to life with the news that the 89-year-old Pierre St. Michel, Senior Senator from the Province of Manitoba and President pro tempore of the Atlantic Federation Senate, had unexpectedly passed away. But nobody would really be surprised that an 89-year-old man had up and bought the farm and no one would know otherwise, because Seri was good at what she did. "Very good. Pierre wasn't on our side anyway, old bastard."

Seri fidgeted for a moment. "Sir, this plan," she protested, "it just...I don't understand it. All these rules and parliamentary tricks just confuse me, sir."

"That's what they're there for," Meyers answered with a smirk.

"But...I don't get it. I thought the president pro tem was supposed to be the oldest?"

"By tradition. But we're just going to have to arrange a little break with tradition. Because, you see, he's also next in line for presidential succession after the Vice President and House Speaker, and that, dear Seri, is where you come in."

Seri blanched. "I'm supposed to...?"

"Soon," Meyers said with a wolfish smile. "And then, no more."

"No more," Seri repeated quietly.

Battleship Minerva

"We've got mail," Roxy spoke up suddenly into the silence on the Minerva's bridge, startling everyone. Meyrin tried not to look too annoyed as she smoothed out her coat. A moment later the auxiliary screen flickered to life and Meyrin blinked in surprise at the sight of Chiao Xu, on what looked like a spaceship's bridge, with Joseph Copland standing over his shoulder. "Hey, it's the boss!" Roxy exclaimed.

"Chiao Xu, sir," Meyrin said with an awkward salute, "what's the occasion?"

"I understand you're in pursuit of the ZAFT fleet that just attacked Copernicus," he said, and Meyrin nodded. "Do you intend to destroy them?"

Meyrin blinked again. "Of course, sir. They're on course for another lunar colony. We can't let them do this again."

"I see," Chiao Xu said with closed eyes. "Then I must inform you of a change in your battle plan." He looked back at her again, and she felt her blood go cold as she guessed what he was about to say. "We are aboard the Alexandria, on our way to the Moon to meet with the commander of this ZAFT fleet and attempt to negotiate a ceasefire."

"What?!" Abbey cried.

"Sir, that's suicide!" Meyrin added. "They you heard Sunogachi's speech, right? They're not giving quarter to anyone, and they're certainly not going to make an exception for you!"

"This is above your level of knowledge," Chiao Xu said firmly, "but I have been in contact with ZAFT since before they arrived in the Earth Sphere. Our negotiations are ongoing but I will have access that no one else has, and I must take this opportunity to avert another tragedy like Copernicus."

Meyrin looked helplessly up at Copland, seeing by his expression that he agreed entirely with her but keeping his mouth shut. "But sir, if those negotiations fail, your life will be in jeopardy and they'll still attack their next target."

"That doesn't matter. I must try."

Abbey stood up in disbelief. "Chiao Xu, sir, what makes you think you can negotiate with them? That they even want to talk? You would be putting your life at risk for nothing!"

At his side, Copland shifted uncomfortably and looked down at the aging leader. "The Alexandria is prepared to defend itself," he spoke up.

"And if I can end this crisis with negotiation before anymore lives are needlessly lost, then so much the better," added Chiao Xu.

Meyrin looked between the two men with something between outrage and horror churning inside her. "But they just gassed ten million people to death and bragged about it on worldwide television!" she sputtered. "What makes you think they're going to talk?"

Chiao Xu narrowed his eyes. "Do you disapprove of this course of action?"

"Of course I do, sir. You're just going to get killed and that won't help anyone."

At that, the old man straightened up and seemed to draw himself in. "My negotiations with ZAFT have garnered me significant goodwill among their leadership," he answered curtly. "I am confident I will be in no danger."

Meyrin glanced over at Abbey anxiously. "Be that as it may, sir, we're going forward with our plan anyways. Because you may believe that ZAFT is willing to negotiate over this, but we don't."

"You will do what you think is right," Chiao Xu said. Copland smiled apologetically, and the screen went dark and Meyrin groaned and put her head in her hands.

Being a Newtype was a real bitch sometimes.

That was the only thing Shinn Asuka could think of as Trojan Noiret appeared around a corner in one of the corridors and the full power of his emotional vortex reared its miserable head. He blinked and came to a stop at the side as the brown-haired boy passed by.

"What's wrong?" he asked.

Trojan stopped short and blinked. "Err, what ?"

Shinn tapped the side of his head. "Newtype. Your angst becomes my angst, and that's not good for any of us, so what's going on?"

"Um...I'm not sure I want to talk about it," Trojan said awkwardly. Shinn frowned. "And, uh, Newtype? Really? Those are real?"

"Realer than I'd like. I'm not the only one here, so are you sure you don't wanna talk about it?"

Trojan heaved a defeated sigh. "It's Emily," he said, "she's being all...I dunno. Withdrawn. She's not really saying much to me." He shook his head. "I guess it has something to do with what happened at Copernicus."

"The gassing?"

"More than that. Like, when she got captured by her father. I guess he said something to her, or something? I don't know. She won't talk to me about it."

That was worrying. Shinn glanced in Emily's direction because the storm of emotions was hard to miss to someone attuned to their presence. "I'll go talk to her," he said, and then stopped short as something else occurred to him. "And, um, thanks for telling me."

Trojan nodded apologetically as Shinn left, and his gaze followed the older man until he disappeared behind a corner.

"Smooth as ever with the ladies, Zala-boy," chuckled Roxy as she drifted through the Minerva's crew lounge. On the other side of the table, Athrun frowned and stared down at his cup of coffee. "'course, I don't need to tell you that, since you came to me for relationship tips, which just goes to show."

"Thanks," Athrun muttered.

"So you wanna bang Emily's sister but you don't know what goes on in her scary little female mind," Roxy went on, but was interrupted by Athrun's embarrassed spluttering.

"I don't want to Jesus, Roxy, why did I even ask you about this?"

"'cuz you don't know shit about women," Roxy answered with a grin. "Seriously man. I don't really wanna get involved in your drama, 'cuz, I mean, I can go make my own if I want "

"Please don't," Athrun cut in.

" but y'know, if I've only learned one thing in my twenty years or so in this fine world, it's that nobody can read minds."

Athrun frowned. "So "

"Newtypes don't count. And besides, the important thing here is that she can't read your mind. So if you really don't know where your relationship stands with her, you're going to have to tell her, and explain why."

"I don't know why," Athrun grumbled.

"Then you're gonna have to figure that out," Roxy said, crossing her arms to emphasize the finality, "and I can't help ya with that."

Athrun sat back and fixed his eyes on the ceiling. "Life was a lot less complicated when all I had to do was blow stuff up."

"Yeah, well, welcome to being human. My shift's over, I'm going back to the bridge." And with that, Roxy left, leaving Athrun to only stare at the ceiling and wonder.

Viveka glanced up in something between pain and annoyance at the sound of her door sliding open, and watched with interest as Lily Thevalley drifted across the threshold with something in hand.

"Um, hi," she said nervously, and extended a packet of painkillers to Viveka. "The doctor asked me to bring this to you. 'cuz, um, the wound probably hurts and "

"Damn right it does," Viveka interrupted, and immediately swallowed one of the little white pills. "Thanks. Where did Em go?"

Lily squirmed for a moment. "I...dunno. She's being all moody and doesn't want to talk to anyone."

Viveka frowned and moved to get up, but then the lancing pain in her shoulder and the memory of the last time she had tried to go anywhere on these painkillers sent her head back onto the pillow. "Uh oh. What's going on?"

"I dunno. But I'm worried."

They were both silent for a moment and Viveka pondered the idea of Lily being worried about the younger Oldendorf. "You sure do like her. Any reason why?"

Lily jumped at the question and for a moment Viveka considered taking it back, before Lily decided to speak. ", she's nice to me."

"She's nice to everybody."

"But nobody is ever nice to me!" Lily protested. "Everyone on Arnhelm ignored me! But she didn't, and she's famous and stuff too, and she..." Lily trailed off for a moment. "She treats me like I exist."

With a grunt, Viveka slowly sat up and winced as the pain shot up her arm. "You're an Extended, right?"

"Yeah," Lily said, and Viveka could tell by the defeat in her eyes that there was far more to it than that.

"Then how'd you get here?"

"Got away from Althea on a training exercise. 'cuz some Alliance soldier helped me out, but he got killed, and," she shrugged, "here I am."

"Well then," Viveka said with a grin, "can't say nobody's ever been nice to you, huh?"

"I guess," mumbled Lily.

The haunting image of Lorelei von Oldendorf clawed at Emily's brain and pulsed in her heart, intertwined with Gerhardt's words that he had so effortlessly led her to conclude that she had killed her own mother, the one parent who actually treated her like her child. The parent she wished hadn't died. Instead she had Gerhardt von Oldendorf, cackling with self-satisfaction at how his project had turned out.

Drifting on the interior observation deck a frequent haunt, she idly realized she hugged her knees to her chest and squeezed her eyes shut. Viveka had said once that their mother had never really recovered from the stress of having a second child that one had been hard enough. And as frail as she was...

She shook her head. Killing her mother and all she had to show for it was this stupid nickname and this destiny she didn't want. What did he mean that he was so pleased with the way she had turned out as a mortal enemy of the Earth Alliance, the same Alliance in whose bureaucratic labyrinths he lived and thrived? Even when she fought against the Alliance, was she only just doing his bidding?

Trojan's presence flickered somewhere on the ship, and Emily rubbed the tears out of her eyes. He could never understand. Nobody could understand, except maybe the Extended two of which were sedated and the other...well, that probably wasn't going to help.

But there was Rau. He seemed to understand. In fact, he seemed to have a possibility. And he certainly had a point. Neither side in this war was anywhere even remotely good. She had seen that all herself. The bodies the Alliance left at Volgograd, the infighting that brought down the Resistance at Novorossiysk, the cruelty that ZAFT had wreaked upon Copernicus...the world would be no better off if any of them won this war.

And that, after all, was what Selene had asked her to do. That was what she had to do with the Voiture Lumiere's power.

But what did Rau want her to do with it? The combatants in this war were all terrible but so what? What could one pilot and one mobile suit do? What did he think should be done?

Emily blinked in surprise and looked up as she felt Shinn approaching, and watched as he floated through the observation deck door and closed it behind him.

"So here's where you've been hiding," he said, and landed deftly by the railing. "Nice place to sit and be miserable, huh?"

Emily pursed her lips. "Did Trojan ask you to find me?"

"Yeah, but I would've hunted you down whether he'd asked me or not." He turned towards her. "You can't hide it from me, Emily. What's going on? What happened in Copernicus?"

She closed her eyes and leaned back in the air, drifting away from him. "I don't think you'd understand."

"Of course I would." He paused for a moment. "I went through this sort of thing too. Gilbert Dullindal and my best friend, Rey, wanted me to be a soldier to bring about Dullindal's crazy new world. They just wanted me to be their incredible Newtype super-soldier."

"Then how did you get around it?" Emily eyed him carefully.

With a bitter smile, Shinn answered, "I ran away."

Emily closed her eyes and took in the presences of all those around her on the Minerva her friends, her family, the people she could not bear to lose or betray and knew she couldn't do that. She could never live with herself if she did that.

"Well, I still don't want to talk about it," she said. "I'll deal with it myself. I'll be okay."

Shinn arched a dubious eyebrow. "I'm going to know if you don't. You can't hide that from me."

"Then I'll just have to deal with it. It's my problem."

"You're one of us, Emily so that makes it our problem."

Emily rubbed the side of her head sadly. "No."

"Why not?"

"Because," she said quietly, "I'm not really one of you."

To be continued...