Phase 21 - Gravity

Mobile Suit Gundam SEED ETERNITY

Note: Yes, that's a reference to Gundam 00 you see.

Phase 21 - Gravity

May 6th, CE 77 - Amazon rainforest, Brazil, South America

The Gundam Eclipse's frame rattled louder than Emily ever thought possible or safe as it soared through the atmosphere, clutching Rau Le Creuset's ruined GOUF under its right arm and shaking smoke off the beam shield on its left hand. Down below stretched the dark expanse of South America a jungle at night, with few lights anywhere to guide the two mobile suits to the ground. Emily steeled herself and hoped she wasn't plunging into a city or something.

"IR flares," Rau spoke up suddenly. Emily glanced up at the display, finding a string of dots blazing in the infrared sensor's otherwise dark picture. "Hmm. A hundred and fifty kilometers west of Manaus."

"What does that mean?" Emily asked.

"The Alliance has a base in Manaus. They can undoubtedly track us from up here, and if they don't know we're here now, they will when we impact."

Emily gulped. "Impact?"

"That is the best way to describe what we're about to do." Rau paused for a moment. "Fire the forward thrusters again, continuous burst. Let's see if we can drop the speed a bit more."

As she complied and the Eclipse's speedometer slowly ticked down by a few kilometers, she glanced back up nervously at the IR sensor. "Who could have put those flares there?"

Rau stroked his chin thoughtfully for a moment. "If the Alliance wanted to destroy us, they would have done so already. Those may be flares from Resistance forces." He consulted his map for a moment. "Ah, this is Ed the Ripper's territory. How fortuitous."

"Ed the Ripper?"

"You'll see. We're on the final approach. Bring us in as low as possible and drop the speed as much as you can before you touch down."

Emily braced herself. "I'll use the Voiture Lumiere, then. Hold on."

The Eclipse opened up its binders and a sapphire flash of light filled the sky as the Voiture Lumiere activated. Emily grunted in pain as the G-forces hit her, but the flight suit did its job and the Eclipse began to grind to a halt.

"Just get us over the river," Rau instructed. "We'll still be within a few dozen kilometers of the nearest inhabited locality..."

As she scanned up ahead, the black winding form of the Amazon River opened beneath her and on the banks, amid the trees, a flash of light from the first of the IR flares. She slammed on the brakes, fired the forward thrusters, and cringed.

The crash, she suspected, was probably audible for miles around.

Tearing up the vegetation and soil as it went, the Eclipse slammed its feet down into the earth and ground a scar into the face of the jungle. The IR flares flashed by, the trees parted up ahead, the black depths of a lake stretched open in front of them

"Stop us, now!" Rau barked; Emily ground her teeth as she seized the Eclipse's controls, twisted the Gundam around in the dirt, and fired the thrusters with the Voiture Lumiere system's assistance, throwing herself forward with a yelp of pain

And, with a last roar of broken trees and topsoil, the Eclipse shuddered to a halt on the shores of Lago Anori, a few kilometers from the dim lights of a small city on the lake's northern shore. The black Gundam wearily pitched forward and supported itself with its free left hand on the ground, smoke still rising from its body, with a path of destruction carved through the jungle behind it.

"Well," Rau said quietly, "you certainly know how to make an entrance."

"I hope nobody minds that I just destroyed the rainforest," Emily muttered.

"It'll grow back. Lights, eleven o'clock."

Emily looked down nervously at the camera as the headlights of a jeep poked out of the darkness. The jeep itself slithered out of the jungle and came to a halt by the smoking trench the Eclipse had torn into the ground during its landing and a dark-skinned man in a leather bomber jacket hopped out of the jeep, leaving his female companion and three well-armed fighters behind.

"See? Fortuitous," said Rau. "Meet Edward Harrelson, former pilot of the United States of South America." The GOUF's hatch popped open and Rau stepped out in his long black trench coat, a smirk on his face and a duffel bag slung over his shoulder. "Ed the Ripper! A fine welcome for us indeed!"

At the Gundam's feet, Edward Harrelson looked up in disbelief. "Rau Le Creuset, huh? How the hell did you wind up here?"

Rau gestured to the black Gundam as he lowered himself on the ruined GOUF's zip line. "I had a ride. Our apologies, by the way, for the mess."

Ed waved him off with a sigh. "Just helping some friends in need. So who's in the Gundam?"

The Eclipse's hatch swung open with a burst of steam and the zip line dropped down, with Emily clinging to it. Her feet hit the ground and she turned around, to come face to face with Ed the Ripper.

"Mr. Harrelson, meet Emily von Oldendorf," Rau said with a grin, "the Angel of Death."

For a moment, Emily squirmed under the taller man's intimidating gaze and then he broke into a grin. "Not looking too deathly, I must say," he said, and extended his hand for a handshake hesitantly returned by Emily.

"I just crashed into a forest," Emily mumbled defensively.

"Oh, could've been worse," a woman's voice spoke up, and she stepped into view from behind Ed. "You could've landed in Manaus. Jane Houston, by the way. Good to meet you." They shook hands, and Emily glanced over questioningly at Rau.

"I'm sure we can all enjoy the ace pilot reunion later," the masked man spoke up, "but no doubt Manaus is scrambling forces to come inspect the crash site." He gestured over his shoulder, across the river. "Surely they heard the impact."

"True," Ed agreed. "The GOUF still any good?" Rau shook his head. "Then dump it in the lake. Emily, you'll have to hide the Gundam in the forest. Follow us; it'll be a few kilometers yet."

Ed and Jane turned back towards their jeep, and Emily returned to the Gundam with a feeling of dread gnawing at her from within.

Battleship Minerva, Atlantic Ocean

This was the part Meyrin hated.

"All hands, brace for impact! Water landing!" she shouted, and steeled herself in the captain's chair as the inky depths of the Atlantic Ocean at night sprawled before her. At least Stella would get to see the sea again because the sea was about to be all over the place.

The Minerva landed amid a wall of water thrown into the air and drove along the ocean's surface, even as it slowed with each meter. The ship rattled as it came to a stop in the water; Meyrin kept her eye fixed on the speedometer as the vessel's speed inexorably clawed its way down to zero.

And then, with a shudder and a groan from the straining warship, it all came to a stop, and the entire bridge crew let out its collective breath.

"Abbey, start assessing damage to the ship," Meyrin ordered. "Burt, keep an eye on the sensors. There's no way we were missed on the way in." She pulled off her cap and ran a hand tiredly through her hair. They needed some more shore leave. "And for that matter, where the heck are we?"

Burt checked his console for a moment. "Um...about a thousand kilometers north of Ascension Island."

"And Emily's last trajectory?"

"Err, hang Brazil...within two hundred kilometers of Manaus."

"Oh, shit," Roxy added.

"She and Rau can take care of themselves for the time being," Meyrin spoke up, hoping to crush the fear in the pit of her own stomach before it got any stronger. "First things first. Get the damage assessed and dealt with, and I'll plot us a course and figure out how to get our pilots back."

The bridge set to work, and Roxy turned her chair towards Meyrin. "Well, there is one bit of good news."

Meyrin arched an eyebrow. "What?"

"Our two sleeping beauties have finally woken up."


The scream echoed down the corridors of the Minerva, out of a gash torn in the wall of one corridor by an explosion, out into the chilly night air. Peering over the electrical cables underneath one pried-up floorboard, Vino Dupre glanced down the hallway where Sting Oakley was shambling through the door, eyes wide, pointing hysterically at the damage.

"Oh, hey, you're awake," Vino said with a shrug. "Yeah, you missed some stuff."

Sting looked over slowly. "V-Vino, when I went to sleep, there was no gravity," he stammered, "and that wall was, you know, there."

"Yeah, well, we've been busy," Vino answered as he delved back into the cables. "Long story short, you've been out for, like, a week, and we're back on Earth now. Gonna have to ask someone else for the details, though, I've got power conduits to check."

Sting slowly looked back at the hole in the wall, and then back at Vino. "A week?"

"Totally. Like, nine days or something."

The implications slowly trickled through Sting's tranquilizer-addled brain and he steadied himself against the wall by the door. "Jesus Christ, a week..."

"Oh yeah. You missed all the fun on the Moon." Vino paused and his smirk disappeared. "That's not such a bad thing."


"Someone else can explain."

Sting paused as another implication hit him. "Wait a minute," he said, "you mean something blew up that wall right there and punched a hole in it, and then we reentered the atmosphere, and I was sleeping like twenty feet from it?!"

Vino shrugged. "Well, you're okay, so what are you bitching about?"

"You didn't move us?!"

"We put sealant on the breach and it burned off during reentry. The infirmary was pressurized. It was fine. Quit having a fit."

Sting opened his mouth to retort, but the sleep had yet to completely release him and either way, another scream went echoing down the hallways from the infirmary doorway. Sting and Vino turned around, and the latter smacked his forehead.

"Oh, come on," Vino groaned.

In the doorway, finger pointed in shock at the gaping hole in the wall, stood Auel Neider.


Vino shook his head and dove into the cables beneath the floor.

The hangar rang with noise as the crane worked over the battle-weary green DOM Trooper, with Trojan Noiret at the controls and meticulously reloading the mobile suit's Gigalauncher. He glanced over his shoulder, where Lily was slumped against the railing, looking put out.

"For the last time," he said, "we're not leaving to go find Emily."

"Why not?" Lily shot back petulantly.

"Because," Shinn Asuka's voice interrupted as he stepped onto the gantry, "that would leave just Stella and I to defend the ship." He glanced down at Lily. "And that's kind of unfair." Shinn returned his attention to Trojan. "How's that thing coming?"

"Almost reloaded." Trojan shifted uncomfortably. "But, um, when are we going to..."

"As soon as humanly possible," Shinn answered. "For lots of reasons."

"Good," huffed Lily, and she stuck her tongue out at Trojan for emphasis.

"But she's with Rau Le Creuset," protested Trojan. "They should be safe. That's not really bad company."

Shinn's expression darkened. "Oh no," he said, and headed towards the Destiny, "it definitely is."

Viveka von Oldendorf panicking was a terrifying sight to see, decided Athrun Zala. Not in the least because that titanium prosthetic of hers could break bones, and Athrun rather liked his bones.

And that was ironic, really, because if anyone had any reason to panic, it was Athrun. Not after watching Emily sail into the atmosphere with Rail Le Creuset, left alone with a murderous madman. He wouldn't hurt Emily, of course but Rau Le Creuset was far more dangerous for it.

He put on a mask of calm and grabbed Viveka by the shoulder. "Calm down," he ordered. "You know Meyrin isn't going to just leave her."

Viveka glared back. "That doesn't mean I don't get to worry when my baby sister runs off to South America with a guy in a creepy mask," she shot back.

"If it's any comfort, they were heading for Ed the Ripper's stomping grounds. They'll look after her."

At that, Viveka seemed to calm down a little, and Athrun decided to take what he could get. "As long as she'll be okay," she sighed.

Athrun frowned and hoped the same.

Earth Alliance battleship Charlemagne, orbit of Earth

The furious feeling of failure bubbled through Sven Cal Bayan's veins as he stepped out of the locker room, back in his black Phantom Pain uniform. There were repairs to oversee, reports to file, but for now he would have to simply stew in helpless rage at his latest failure his twofold failure.

The Crusader Gundam was still the superior machine, but Sven had not been prepared for the mind games the pilot had used to level the playing field nor had he expected Shinn Asuka's verbal barbs to be so precise. That would have to change. The first time could not have been simply surprise and momentum that had brought him victory. Shinn Asuka could not be that good.

Sven looked slowly over his shoulder as the source of all this aggravation the real source came drifting around the corner, and reminded him of his other failure.

"Last time you fought the Destiny," Yukiko said sternly, "you nearly destroyed it. What happened this time?"

Sven straightened up. "I do not know."

Yukiko frowned. "Sven, you're going to have to do better than that."

"I am aware."

"Not just for the Alliance," she continued, "but for everyone. Everything. The entire world." She paused for a moment, choosing her words. "This whole war...against the Resistance, against ZAFT, against the has to be won."

"I am aware," Sven repeated. Especially after the gassing of Copernicus

"That is what I built the Crusader for," Yukiko said. "That's what I named it for. This isn't just a war. It's a battle for our survival." She touched his shoulder. "If the Coordinators win, they're going to reorder the entire world. Do you understand?"

Sven eyed her curiously. "So says Blue Cosmos."

"This is beyond Blue Cosmos," Yukiko went on, and Sven blinked at the edge of conviction in her voice. "In medieval times, a handful of landowning aristocrats controlled entire nations and separated themselves from the masses by birth. But that could be changed. The nobles were ultimately just humans, same as the peasants. They could be overthrown. Peasants could rise to the nobility. Nobles could be cast into the peasantry.

"But this is different. The Coordinators will reorder everything. They'll be an aristocracy that can never be overthrown or joined. The medieval aristocrats weren't better than the masses because of their genes. Only the good fortune that their parents were aristocrats. But that won't be if the Coordinators win this war." She fixed Sven with a hard look. "If we have to sacrifice to prevent that from happening, then so be it. It's a small price to pay for our descendents' freedom, isn't it?"

Sven scowled back. "I am not interested in philosophizing," he said, and turned on his heel to march away.

"This isn't philosophizing," Yukiko said after him. "It's your purpose."

Sven clenched his fists, fought down the urge to whip around and strike her, and disappeared around a corner.

With an airy, tired sigh, Merau Seraux pulled herself out of the Hail Buster Gundam's cockpit. Another fight, another draw. Those were getting frustrating. She landed on the gantry and mopped back her hair, sorely looking forward to the shower she knew she needed.

Down the gantry, Merau caught sight of Mudie Holcroft glowering up at the darkened face of her silent Artemis Gundam, as the mechanics made repairs. She glanced over at Merau, her eyes smoldering with frustration.

"Err, what happened?" Merau sputtered.

"It's nothing," Mudie snapped, and turned back towards her mobile suit. "That damned Extended..."

Merau stared quizzically at the fuming pilot for a moment. "Um, you sure?"

"I said it's nothing."

"You don't have to get snippy with me."

Mudie scowled and hopped over the railing, heading towards the Artemis's open cockpit. Merau sighed again and scratched her head.

"You know, this whole 'war' thing would go a lot better if we weren't all dicks to each other," she grumbled, and headed for the locker rooms and that shower she needed more than ever.

I so did not join the Phantom Pain for this, thought a resigned Grey Saiba as he drifted down the Charlemagne's hallways, towards the galley, with Erin chattering away at his side. He had been told that being a soldier would cause girls to take a liking to him; he hadn't been told that those girls might also be in the Phantom Pain.

"In my defense," he spoke up, as the topic of conversation shifted to his own training days at Volkov Crater, "I was up against Morgan freakin' Chevalier, for Christ's sake. What was I supposed to do? Win?"

"Not get your ass kicked," Erin answered with a grin. "But he kicked my ass too, so don't feel too bad."

Grey forcefully turned his mind away from the embarrassing smackdown the Moonlight Mad Dog had handed him at Volkov Crater all those months ago. Erin smiled back encouragingly.

"At least you've gotten better," she offered. "Enough to take on even that new Gundam the Resistance has."

At that, Grey cringed and wished he had chosen the subject instead. The last thing he wanted was to be reminded of the Resistance's new Gundam and the pilot, the unstoppable Angel of Death that haunted him still.

"Better, hell," he grumbled. "I'll say I've gotten better when I can beat her. Until then I'm just lucky."

"You're selling yourself short."

"Better that than overestimating myself and getting killed."

Erin sighed and apparently decided to give up, and Grey pushed it all behind him as he headed for the galley.

"At the very least," said Kelly Maynard on the Charlemagne's bridge, "we can conclude that the Vent Savior was stolen from Actaeon's development facility during testing. Which is not what they said had happened to it. They told us it had been destroyed during a test flight."

In the captain's chair, Danilov waved it off. "Someone else can be responsible for figuring out what Actaeon is up to. That's not our concern." He turned his gaze towards Shams, standing next to Maynard with crossed arms and a bored look on his face. "Lieutenant Coza, results from your patrol?"

"All clear all around," answered Shams. "There should be no problems during the repairs."

"Good." He waved over to Vera. "Begin the repairs at once. When they're done, prepare the ship for atmospheric reentry. Navigator," he turned, "plot the Minerva's course and give us a range of likely location. We'll find them yet."

"Yes sir," came the answer, and Danilov sat back, just as the bridge doors opened and Morgan Chevalier drifted through. Everyone but Danilov stood to salute the Moonlight Mad Dog, who casually returned the gesture and came to a stop in front of Danilov's seat.

"I appreciate the ride," Morgan said as the two men shook hands. "Apologies that I can't stay. I've got to get back to Arzachel and file my reports on the Fenrir's performance."

"I understand. And, while you're here, I understand you were the last man to see Colonel Joaquin alive. What happened to him?"

Morgan fixed Danilov with a hard look a look that said all that Danilov needed to know. "A stray beam caught his launch. It went up before I could do anything about it."

Danilov nodded knowingly. "I see. A shame he had to go out that way."


"Then we'll get you back to Arzachel," Danilov continued. "A resupply ship is on its way here. We'll send you back with them."

"Much obliged," Morgan answered, and turned to leave.

"Oh, and Captain Chevalier?" Danilov started, and Morgan turned in surprise. "I'm told Joaquin had an Extended in his command. What happened to it?"

The shadow that passed over Morgan's features again said all that needed to be said. "Killed in action," he said, "and if I may say so, captain, that's probably the best outcome he could have had."

Danilov frowned. "I see. Thank you."

Morgan nodded and took his leave, and Danilov sat back solemnly as Maynard and Shams started talking again.

"Captain Danilov appears to have reservations about Alliance policies," Travis Alterman read aloud airily in the Nebula Blitz's tightly shut cockpit as he worked, "but on the whole does not appear to have grave enough doubts to prompt defection or rebellion." He sat back, stroked his chin in thought, and then leaned forward again, back over the keyboard. "Danilov may be open to persuasion or coercion. He does not seem averse to the idea of joining forces with anti-Alliance elements if it will destroy a greater threat." Another pause. "What he considers a threat, however, is more unclear."

Being the spook was not Travis Alterman's real calling, but he did recall his superior offering a fairly foolproof justification. Known to the crew as a crass, simple man who lusted after nothing so much as a good fight and some good killing, nobody would suspect him of espionage. And that made his work, though dangerous, extremely easy.

And dangerous nonetheless, because word could never get out of just who he was working for. The entire edifice of the Earth Alliance would come crashing down. He would be abandoned to the wolves. Lord Djibril would destroy him.

That wasn't such a fun thought, and so Travis returned his gaze to the screen. It wasn't just Danilov whose fate rested on his superiors' decisions, after all.

May 7th, CE 77 - ZAFT submarine supercarrier Aristotle, Atlantic Ocean

The hum of the Aristotle's engines had a lulling effect that Nathaniel Hatias always had to fight. The Vosgulov-class never had engines this quiet, nor a hull this spacious or a mobile suit complement this generous or a conn this well equipped.

Standing on the wide-open conn of his submarine as his crew set to work, Hatias glanced up at the map. The Minerva, sitting in the water a thousand kilometers off Ascension. The Aristotle approaching from the north, fresh from battle at the Alliance's sprawling naval facility in the Azores. The Aristotle had its orders to cruise the world's oceans, attacking any and all targets of opportunity. A major Alliance naval installation in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean was far too opportune to pass up. And this one...

Nathaniel came to a stop by the periscope. "Mr. Camwell," he said, "what did we pull together from the surviving ZAFT cells?"

"Forty mobile suits total," answered Camwell with a confident smirk. "Sixteen amphibious, the rest either aerial or on Guuls. Most of them out of Trinidade and St. Helena. They're all older models, but the commanders assure me they can get the job done."

"All they have to do is drive the Minerva northwest. We'll be waiting there with the second unit, and with the ship herself." Nathaniel looked back up towards the map, where the Fernando de Noronha islands loomed. "And make sure they're pushed into the archipelago, where they'll have less room to maneuver."

The conn doors slid open with a hiss. Nathaniel glanced over, greeted by a square-jawed, muscular man in a green ZAFT ground forces uniform, offering a crisp salute. "Ah, Commander Ladd. Was wondering where you went."

Alec Ladd smiled back tightly. "Preparations to the Proto Abyss are complete. We can launch within the hour."

"Easy there," chuckled Nathaniel as he turned back towards the conn, "this plan requires a delicacy of touch. Helm!" He stepped forward and put his hands behind his back, and steeled himself for battle. "Commence heading two-nine-five, depth at nine hundred meters, all ahead flank!"

Manaus Air Base, Amazon rainforest, Brazil, South America

"So," the woman said as she slumped down into the rusty folding chair in front of her equally rusty metal table, "what the hell was that thing last night?"

Major Dana Barrak surveyed the scene outside her unit's humble barracks, her officers gathered around her in their mottled jungle uniforms. Black-haired, sharp-nosed 1st Lieutenant Andrew stepped forward and plopped a laptop down onto the table in front of his commander.

"Observation tower confirmed, it was that new Gundam the Resistance has, the one that's been making waves in space," he began.

"Oh, the Midnight, eh?" Dana asked with a smirk.

"So it seems. Cat's Eye recon plane did a flyover, and found this." Andrew called up an image of the landing site or, rather, the vast and hideous scar ripped into the jungle by the hard landing of something moving very fast. "Just on the shore of Lago Anori. Stopped maybe five meters from the water."

Dana studied the image for a moment. "Telescopes caught them with a second mobile suit, though, didn't they?" she asked. "A GOUF?"

Andrew called up another image. "There's a crew heading out from Manacapuru to search the lake right now. The GOUF was in pretty bad shape, so they might have just dumped it. But the Gundam is long gone."

Silence descended over the troops as Dana looked over the map. "Anori, huh," she muttered. "Bunch of Resistance sympathizers probably hid the damn thing." She looked back up at Andrew, and the look in her eyes was unmistakable. "One of Ed the Ripper's rumored hideouts."

"So the rumors say," Andrew agreed with a grin.

"Major," another man spoke up, "they may be sympathizers but they've always backed down when we show up in force."

"And we might catch the Ripper this time," a third man offered.

Dana rubbed her chin as she stared at the images for a moment. "Ol' Kirisaki won't be that easy to catch. But that Gundam..." She looked up with a smirk. "I think we could use a road trip to Anori, boys and girls. Get our mobile suits ready to sortie and get Company B onto the barge. We have a field trip to take."

"Including the Buster Windam?" asked Andrew.

Dana stood up with an enthusiastic grin. "You have to ask? I gotta see this for myself. Move out."

Anori, Amazon rainforest, Brazil, South America

The songs of jungle birds filled the air as Edward Harrelson guided his jeep out of the rainforest and into the dusty, primitive streets of the little town of Anori.

"It's one of our havens," Jane explained from the passenger seat. "We can't stay for long, but they look after us and do what they can. They're USSA types who don't take kindly to the Atlantic Federation troops that still occupy the continent."

"Except you," Ed corrected with a grin.

"Well I'm different," Jane said with a haughty air. "Anyways, you'll be safe, but we can't keep you here long."

"Not without risking a fight," added Ed, and he nodded over his shoulder, to the northeast. "Manaus. And our old friend, Major Barrak."

In the back seat, Rau sat back with one leg draped over the other. "We will cause as little disruption as possible," he said, and glanced over at Emily, to his left. "We will have to find a way to contact the Minerva."

Emily frowned and looked down at the jeep's floor uncomfortably. "They must be thousands of miles away..."

"We can handle that," Ed interrupted. "All they've got to do is get to the river's mouth. We can slip you and the Gundam onto a barge or something that will take you up the river to Belém. But there's a catch."

"A catch?" mumbled Emily.

"Belém is a seaport on the mouth of the Amazon River," Jane explained. "We have sympathizers and agents in the city that could help smuggle you out into the Atlantic. But there's a small naval station at Belém, as well as a larger base just north of the city. The Minerva, and you, will have to deal with it."

"And there's Manaus," Ed added. "Barrak is probably heading over to inspect the crash site as we speak. And if that's the case, her troops will probably be swinging through Anori."

Emily's eyes widened. "Then everyone here will be in danger!"

At that, Jane only laughed. "Oh, the folks here put up with that shit all the time," she chuckled. "They know what to do. You just stick with the Gundam and get the hell out of here if they find you. We'll handle the rest."

"But...I didn't see any of your mobile suits around here," protested Emily.

Ed grinned wolfishly. "That's the point."

Battleship Minerva, Atlantic Ocean

The DOM Trooper hummed as its engines carried it over the rolling waters of the mid-Atlantic. There was nothing out here but ocean endless fields of blue that glittered under the sunlight of a clear sky. If it weren't for the map, Trojan knew he would be completely lost out here and, with all the peace and quiet, it might not have been so bad.

But Trojan Noiret didn't have just peace and quiet. He had the devil of worry, gnawing at him in his gut. Sure, Emily was a formidable pilot in her own right; sure, her Gundam undoubtedly survived reentry intact; sure, she had one of the greatest aces of the Valentine War with her; sure, she had landed in the territory of Ed the Ripper, another of the greatest aces of the Valentine War. That didn't stop him from worrying. Emotions didn't have to make sense.

He sat back with a sigh and struggled to push the thoughts aside. They had sent him out here on patrol while the ship finished off some feverish repairs. He was used to this, really; life in the jungle with Barry Ho for three years did wonders for one's sense of perspective.

He glanced at the clock and then keyed on the comm. "This is Trojan, western approach, ten klicks west. Nothing to report."

Shinn's face presently appeared on the auxiliary screen. "Nothing to the east either. Let's head back."

Trojan took the DOM's controls and turned the mobile suit east. "Did they say how the repairs are going?"

"Another couple hours and we'll get going." Shinn put on a reassuring look. "She's hanging out with Ed the Ripper, Trojan. Nothing's going to happen to her."

"I guess," Trojan agreed.

"Well, I'll put it for you like this. Before he became a mobile suit pilot, Ed was famous for close quarters combat with enemy mobile suits in a Spearhead."

Trojan paused. "Wait a minute, a Spearhead is a VTOL fighter."

"I know."

"'s hanging out with a guy who is completely crazy, and that's supposed to make me feel better?"

"He's the good kind of crazy." Shinn sat back. "Anyway, it won't be for long. The bigger problem is getting her out of the interior. But we'll deal with that."

Trojan eyed Shinn suspiciously, knowing that there was more to this than the Coordinator was letting on, but decided to let it go. "Then I'll see you back at the ship," he said quietly, and cut the transmission.

"Good news and bad news," Matt Abes said to Abbey and Meyrin on the gantry overlooking the hangar. "Good news is, the Destiny, Gaia, Vent Savior, and DOM Trooper are all in pretty good shape."

Abbey and Meyrin shared a look. "And the bad news?" asked Meyrin.

At that, Abes turned towards the scorched hulk of the Infinite Justice Gundam. "Probably self-explanatory. We're going to have to write the Justice off as a total loss. And if Le Creuset's GOUF was as badly trashed as it looked when he was heading down with Emily, that means we lost two mobile suits in the last engagement."

Abbey cringed. "We would have only five mobile suits, once we get Emily back."

"We've survived before with five mobile suits," Meyrin pointed out. "Are you sure you can't salvage the Justice?"

"The inner frame has taken too much damage. We have spare parts to rebuild the whole thing if we really had to, but we have a lot more to do than that. The inner frame needs an overhaul, the electrical systems are fried, and we have yet to inspect the reactor."

Meyrin nodded. "Besides which, Athrun has some injuries, so he would be out of action anyway."

"We'll still have to reach a location for fuller repairs, to the ship and to the mobile suits," Abbey warned. "Gigafloat, Poljarny, Aqrah maybe. But those options are all thousands of miles away."

"Gigafloat is probably our best bet," Abes added. "Should be on the other side of Africa right now. If we go there right after recovering Emily and Le Creuset, we can get started on building replacements for our lost units." He gestured forlornly at the Justice's wreckage. "'cuz that thing is beyond rescue."

Meyrin sighed heavily. "Athrun won't be happy."

"When is he ever?"

Sting Oakley tried not to smile too widely as Stella Loussier wrapped him up in a big, warm hug as he stepped through the crew lounge doors. Had to keep up appearances, after all.

"Sting's awake!" she exclaimed. "Stella missed you!"

"Easy there, Stella," Sting grunted, and lightly pushed her away. "I'm not totally fixed up yet."

Sitting up at one of the tables, Lily frowned. "But you're better, right?"

"Yeah, still alive, can't complain." He patted Stella on the shoulder. "So what did I miss?"

The speed with which the smiles vanished was rather unnerving. Fortune intervened as Auel marched into the lounge, to be immediately greeted by an excited Stella, and Sting took the opportunity to slip away towards Lily.

"Okay," he said quietly, "really, what happened when we were out? Everyone is acting like it was something bad."

Lily squirmed for a moment. "I-It was."

"Then what was it?"

Lily closed her eyes for a moment, then sat Sting down and quietly explained and Sting felt his blood run cold as his imagination filled in the pictures of the horrors she described. And as the story wound its way through the deathly streets of Copernicus, he began to wish he hadn't woken up again after all.

With little to do but let some superficial wounds heal and try to be useful somewhere else, Athrun Zala found himself wandering onto the Minerva's exterior deck, under the clear blue sky and into the dancing ocean breeze. It was a wonder Stella wasn't out here. The spectacular sweep of the sea never failed to draw her attention.

Instead, it had drawn Viveka's and Athrun decided, as he steeled himself and walked over, that as long as he was powerless for now, it was time to tie up another loose end.

"So I hear they're scrapping your Gundam," Viveka said quietly as he stepped up next to the railing. "Bummer."

Athrun shrugged. "It's just a mobile suit."

Viveka blinked in surprise and slowly looked over at him.

"I destroyed that clone of Kira too," he added, with a forlorn look towards the hazy horizon.

"I thought you said Kira was your friend."

"He was. But..." Athrun shook his head. "That clone would never have taken his place. He was an Extended. He probably would have died here. And either way...well, either way, my friend is long gone. And so is the Gundam. All my ties to my old friends, my old life..." He paused, reached under his collar, and pulled out Cagalli's pendant, letting it catch the sunlight. "Except this, I guess."

Viveka frowned. "What are you getting at?"

Athrun turned towards her and their eyes met, and in an instant Athrun felt everything shift around him. The pain still throbbed in his heart, the voices of his old friends still rang in his ears...but they were in the past. They were irretrievable. They would haunt him forever, as they haunted him now; but as he looked at the woman before him, in whom life and death shared an existence not quite harmonious but comfortable and accepted...well, maybe that wouldn't be so bad.

And with that thought in mind, Athrun pulled off the pendant and extended it to a shocked Viveka.

"Cagalli gave me this pendant to protect me," he said, "and I told you once that I think it has protected me, but only to spare me for a life of suffering. But there's other ways to look at it. I just don't know of them. But you're better at seeing the glass half full than me." He gave the pendant one more glance, felt the echoes of that old relationship and that old life in his bones, and looked up at her again with a sheepish smile. "Maybe that's something you could teach me."

Viveka carefully took the pendant in her right hand, and Athrun tried not to squirm at the whirlpool of emotion he had created within her. "You told me you didn't want to forget your old friends," she started.

"And I won't," Athrun answered with a shrug. "But that clone made me understand that even if I try to bring the past back, it'll just be a distorted and wrong. My old friends will be with me forever, but," he offered a smile, "that doesn't mean nobody else can be either."

Athrun Zala needed no Newtype powers to understand Viveka's feelings as she threw her arms around him and pressed her lips against his.

ZAFT submarine supercarrier Aristotle, Atlantic Ocean

The conn was buzzing with activity as Nathaniel Hatias stepped through the doors and wove his way through the flow of deckhands to the periscope, where Camwell was speaking with the conn's various officers.

"Captain," Camwell said, exuding confidence, "we're twenty minutes out from our position outside Fernando de Noronha. Ziegler and the other cell leaders have launched all units north to target the Minerva."

Nathaniel glanced up at the tactical map. Hounds to the hunters. The Minerva probably didn't even know this vessel, the largest submarine ever built, even existed. They would be in for a difficult battle.

"Diving command, set depth for fifty meters. Flood the lateral launch bays and prepare all mobile suits for sortie." He paused and switched on the intercom. "Commander Ladd."

The square-jawed face of Alec Ladd appeared on a screen, showing the hulking man in the Aristotle's cavernous, bustling hangar. "You rang, captain?"

"You've been boasting about the Proto Abyss's performance for some time," Nathaniel said, and offered a challenging grin. "How would you like a chance to prove it?"

Alec smiled back. "I'd never say no to an offer like that, sir."

"Good. We will need one of our own in action with the others to ensure our tactical awareness. I don't want to rely on guerrilla cells and survivors anymore than I must. Go ahead in the Proto Abyss and offer your assistance to Ziegler and the others, and report on conditions as they push the Minerva northward. You'll be on your own amid the survivors. Try not to let them get killed."

Alec Ladd flashed a toothy grin and saluted. "Yes sir."

"Very good. Move out." The screen darkened and Nathaniel turned towards the conn. "All hands, Condition Red."

Anori, Amazon rainforest, Brazil, South America

Under the dense canopy of the rainforest, Emily von Oldendorf sat nervously in the shade of the trees and the dreadful shadow of the Gundam Eclipse, kneeling beneath the foliage, hidden from view. Rau sat on an exposed tree root nearby, looking far more amused than Emily felt, and they were all surrounded by a handful of grungy, well-armed fighters from Ed's retinue. Ed the Ripper seemed to have no shortage of guerrillas. Evidently he was a man of some charisma.

Emily glanced up awkwardly at Rau. "What's going to happen out there?"

Rau answered with a shrug. "With any luck, the Alliance troops will find nothing and decide to leave."

"And what if they don't?"

"Then Mr. Harrelson will take care of things. He is, after all, a famous ace from the Valentine War. He earned his reputation."

Emily frowned and looked back up at the Gundam, and pushed down the gnawing feeling that she should leap inside, take off, and drive off the Alliance troops. But that would change nothing. They would just come back again, probably in greater numbers, and bring down their wrath onto the town below.

"You seem to know a lot of aces," she murmured.

"Of course," Rau said with a smirk. "I was one."

"You were?" Emily asked, surprised.

"Did my reputation not precede me that far?" chuckled Rau. "'The White Knight of ZAFT?' I suppose that's not so bad. It was always a rather ridiculous nickname." He sat back comfortably against the tree trunk. "I was a ZAFT soldier, yes. I fought in the Valentine War and the Junius War. I had by all measures a successful career."

Emily pursed her lips. "Then why aren't you still with them?"

"I was stranded at the end of the Junius War, and besides," he spread his arms with a grin, "would I really fit in with them anymore?"

"I guess not." She glanced back down the slope, towards the town below and the Alliance mobile suits clustering to the southeast, on the lake's shores. "I don't really know any of this stuff."

"There is much to know," Rau said, "and I make it my business to know it. Perhaps more than most."

"How come?"

"Because, I have always wanted to change the world, as you do, but I have always had to contend with circumstance."

Emily's brow furrowed in surprise. "What...?"

Rau smiled reassuringly. "I'll explain," he said, nodding to the fighters around them, "some other time."

With a final yank from the crane and a roar of gushing, splattering, muddy water, the dredging crew finally hauled the filthy wreckage of a GOUF Ignited up from the bottom of Lago Anori, onto the shore.

Dana Barrak watched it all from the cockpit of her stocky Buster Windam, the drab green mobile suit on the Ground Windam's frame that carried on the legacy of the Buster Dagger and the Phantom Pain's Verde Buster. A team of Ground Windams and standard Windams, all in mottled green jungle camouflage, stood guard around the site; the ground troops were on the barges, ready to move into Anori to start rounding up subjects for questioning. Dana Barrak, after all, was not going to simply let the Gundam the Alliance had taken to calling Midnight go without a proper struggle.

In his own Ground Windam, Andrew heaved a sigh. "As we thought. The GOUF was dumped off, but the Gundam isn't here."

Dana frowned. "What about the people in Anori?"

"Not cooperating. But rumor has it that Ed the Ripper's been hanging out here lately. It might have been his men that hid the Gundam." Andrew shrugged. "Could be worth pursuing."

"And they won't cooperate?"

"No ma'am."

"I'll fix their wagon." She flipped a switch on the Buster Windam's console. "Sergeant Long, Doppelhorn Windam team. Take up position on the shore and fire some warning shots on the southern edge of Anori. Captain Ross, broadcast a message to the people that unless they turn over Ed the Ripper and his Resistance cohorts at once, our next shots won't land on the outskirts." She threw the switch again and sat back. "Damned rats always make me play bad cop..."

"So," Jane whispered, as she, Ed, and a handful of fighters crouched in the underbrush and watched Dana's troops from afar through binoculars on the other side of the lake, "should we go for it?"

Ed chewed his lip as he watched four Doppelhorn Windams march to the edge of the lake's waters. "I dunno. Can't tell what they're doing."

"Why would they be taking up positions there, unless " Jane fell short and the color drained from her face. "Oh shit, Ed, they're going to "

The booming blasts of four sets of Doppelhorn Striker cannons cut her off, and the earth rattled as the four Doppelhorn Windams fired a salvo towards Anori. Puffs of fire and smoke rushed up from the ground in front of the city, and Ed felt his blood run hot.

"The fuck was that?!" he snarled, and scanned the impact zone for damage. It all ran along the southern edge of the town, not in the town itself but it was unnervingly close, and the message was clear.

"That barge is broadcasting a message," one of the men hissed. "'Citizens of Anori, you are ordered to surrender all information, materiel, and personnel related to the Resistance to Alliance authorities. Four mobile suits are ready to fire on the town if you continue to resist.'"

"That bitch," Jane growled, "she's going to shell the whole town. Ed!"

"I know," answered Ed. "That's not like her..." He shook his head and hopped down from his tree. "Well, fuck it. Everyone, get to your mobile suits. She wants Ed the Ripper and his troops; let's give 'em to her."

The fighters darted off into the underbrush, and a moment after Ed disappeared into the shadows, two green eyes lit up in the darkness.

Battleship Minerva, Atlantic Ocean

The sirens wailed from the sensor console as the Minerva's bridge sank down into its combat state. Meyrin held back a sigh and steeled herself for battle once again. Never a moment's rest.

"Burt, enemy count?"

"Twenty-five mobile suits in the air, four on the surface, and sonar is showing eleven underwater. They look like they're all ZAFT models, most of them from before the Junius War."

"Alright. Roxy, divide up the MS team. Stella will submerge and deal with the underwater units; Trojan will handle the ones on the surface; Shinn and Lily will defend the ones in the sky." She glanced over at Abbey. "Status of the engines?"

"Fully operational."

"And the weapons?"

"Ready for combat," answered Chen.

Meyrin sat back and let out her breath. Time for another battle. Emily and Rau would have to wait.

To be continued...