Phase 32 - Gigafloat

Mobile Suit Gundam SEED ETERNITY

Phase 32 - Gigafloat

May 26th, CE 77 - Battleship Minerva, Mudug, Somalia

"You seem to have a knack for surviving the infinite perils of infamy," chuckled Nathaniel Hatias on the Minerva's bridge auxiliary screen. Slumped in the captain's chair, an exhausted Meyrin wondered if that was supposed to be a joke. If it was, she was way too tired to laugh.

"Where are you?"

"In the Red Sea. In about thirty hours we're going silent again to sneak past Socotra."

Meyrin blinked. "How on earth did you get through the Suez Canal without being spotted?"

Nathaniel grinned back. "Very carefully."

Silence reigned between the two for a moment, before Meyrin just shook her head. "Alright," she said, "then I suppose we'll see you at Gigafloat."

"Are you sure you don't want escort?"

"Yes. We'd have to wait, and we can't really afford to do that anymore." She glanced aside bitterly. "We've been on the defensive for far too long. It's starting to wear on us. I'm sure you understand."

Nathaniel tipped his hat. "Very well. I'll see you again at Gigafloat."

The screen went dark and Meyrin tried not to fall forward in her chair. Captain couldn't go passing out on the bridge. Besides, she had a bed that made a much more comfortable place to lose consciousness.

In the meantime, Meyrin Hawke had problems. The ship was still damaged, almost every watt of power was directed to the engines and the levitator, the last Tristan barrel had shorted out, and they only had three mobile suits.

And then there was Emily, off in the sickbay, with everyone waiting on pins and needles for her to wake up. So they had a new enemy, one that was a simulacrum of their own Angel of Death. Meyrin wondered if that should scare her but she had done battle with the Devil's Swords and the vast Charlemagne and the notorious Kira Yamato and a thousand Alliance and ZAFT units in between and still drew breath. What was one more super-powered foe with a frightening reputation?

And besides, she thought, it would be Emily's problem anyway.

The darkness receded and the first thing Emily von Oldendorf recognized as she crawled up from the black depths of unconsciousness were familiar presences around her. She cracked open an eye and there they all were: Viveka at her side, Athrun at hers, Shinn, Lily, and Trojan at the foot of her bed, all of them looking like they were holding their collective breath.

Emily blinked and stared up at the infirmary ceiling for a second. The memories drifted back and so did the heartache.

"Welcome back," Shinn spoke up, a moment before Viveka dragged her into a bone-crushing hug.

"W-What happened?" Emily sputtered.

"We were hoping you could tell us," Athrun answered.

Emily laid back and closed her eyes, summoning back the memories to sort through them. Unit Zero-Two had fought her, sent to destroy her, designed to be what her own creators what her father had always meant for her to be. And yet it was what had happened to her mother.

But Zero-Two was not her mother. She reminded herself of that as forcefully as she could.

"I don't know," she lied. She cringed after that. Nobody appeared to believe her.

Abbey Windsor scratched her head in mounting anxiety at the sight before her. The sight was water and it wasn't supposed to be there.

In a more detailed vein, the sight was the view out the Minerva's prow. There wasn't supposed to be a view out the Minerva's prow, but that giant rail cannon-wielding machine at Banadiya had decided otherwise, and now the Tannhäuser had been reduced to a crater. Abbey herself stood on one of the maintenance catwalks, far back from where the Tannhäuser would have been, surveying the damage. Gigafloat's mechanics would have to replace a wide swath of the prow and the entire positron cannon assembly. The Junk Guild was going to be a bunch of busy beavers; already she suspected they were having to call in favors and smugglers to rebuild the Tannhäuser itself. The Minerva was a demanding ship.

She sighed heavily and glanced back down at her tablet. The Minerva was a demanding ship, but it was also an aging ship, and it was a ship that its enemies were beginning to figure out. Laminated armor was useless against a railgun shell accelerated to a sufficient velocity, and the ridiculous number of guns the Charlemagne carried could overwhelm it. And against that, the Minerva could count on only the same sorts of weapons and abilities it had always used. They could get new mobile suits at Gigafloat, but the ship they were required to defend would necessarily limit their potential.

That was the most frustrating part of all this. For three years, the Minerva had darted around the Earth Sphere and given the Earth Alliance nightmares and with its cadre of only five Gundams, all veterans of the Junius War. Now it had more pilots than mobile suits and ever since ZAFT had returned, they had been on the run, on the defensive, beaten back, escaping by the skin of their teeth. Even their victories at Terminal, at Sagan City, at Fernando de Noronha all bore the ashen taste of escape and survival.

She clenched her fists around the tablet and drove the negative thoughts down. That was no way to win the war; they were going to Gigafloat, they would replace their lost mobile suits with new machines that would outmatch everything else, and the Minerva would go back on the offensive. It would be so.

Abbey looked back up at the ruined Tannhäuser. Anything would be better than all this.

When one lived in a fluctuating life of possibilities and potentialities, one learned not to make a plan that could not be modified at the last minute. Good things came to those who waited, but they rarely had the courtesy to phone ahead. It was a skill that had served Rau Le Creuset well over the years when little treats like an appointment to FAITH, an impressionable young disciple, and access to a Newtype of staggering power and boundless potential simply dropped into his lap and as time went on, its exercise grew easier.

And now appeared another good thing to the man who had waited. Unit Zero-Two would fit nicely into his plans. Emily needed to understand in the starkest and most painful terms possible that this world was beyond salvation, that this world needed to be judged. What better tool than to have to fight the shade of her own mother?

Rau sat back in his bunk and scanned over the screen of his computer terminal. Information was naturally scarce on ZAFT's internal workings these days; an army of zealots was difficult to infiltrate, especially when they had two Newtype leaders. At the very least, this put to rest the question of what had happened to Lorelei von Oldendorf's clone.

Lorelei von Oldendorf. What had she been like? Certainly not the sort to sit in a mobile suit and do battle with her daughter. Sickly and overshadowed by her ruthless husband, no doubt. But her presence sapped Emily's will to fight.

She would have to learn. Perhaps Athrun would be of help here another unexpected use for what had previously been a liability. Yes, the plan was flexible but so were all the best plans.

Viveka von Oldendorf hated to think she was going soft, but it was certainly comforting having someone to just hold her while she brooded and worried. It was something she could get used to and Athrun Zala was pretty good at just holding her while she brooded and worried.

Together they stood on the Minerva's external deck and watched as the grasslands and deserts of Somalia faded into the blue waters of the Indian Ocean. Stella probably would've loved it if she weren't still cooped up in the infirmary. Viveka settled into the crook of Athrun's arm and looked out towards the horizon. Somewhere out there was Gigafloat, a whole new world of things that would hopefully distract her from all this...drama.

"Well," she added, "I hope you don't have some secret dramatic past with your mother."

Athrun frowned. "My mother died on Junius 7."

"O-Oh..."

"Don't worry about it. It was a long time ago." He blew out a tired breath through his nose. "And I'm glad she didn't have to see what it turned my father into."

Viveka blinked. "Oh yeah. I guess we're not the only ones with crazy parents."

"It's alright. He can't hurt anyone anymore." Athrun paused as memories of terrorists around a falling space colony trickled back into his mind. "Though that hasn't stopped him from trying..."

"That's the thing," Viveka sighed. "Our mother would have never even thought of doing anything like that. She was kindness incarnate. Every time our father would cross the line with us, she'd be there to comfort us and make it all seem better." She shook her head. "But I was never really that close to her. Emily was, so...well, whoever came up with this idea is a sick son of a bitch."

Athrun looked towards the sky. Somewhere up there was Messiah, the headquarters of ZAFT and Kira. "Someone up there knows your family's history," he said. "Well enough to know that Emily would have trouble fighting someone who gave off the same pressure as her mother."

"What are we going to do about it?"

The answer was all too obvious. But Emily would have to see that for herself and do it. And in this, she would be on her own.

"Athrun," Viveka said quietly, "you fought that clone of your friend, in that reentry battle where you lost the Justice." She glanced up and met his eyes, and Athrun almost shivered at the fear and sorrow he saw flickering across her expression. "And you told me afterwards that you realized that even if you saved the clone, it wouldn't be the same. It wasn't your friend. Right?"

"Yes."

"Then can you talk to Emily about that? It's...well, your situation is the only thing I can think of that's similar."

Athrun frowned and looked back towards the horizon. "I'll talk to her," he said, "but my situation was different."

"I know. Just...I don't want her to suffer through this anymore than she has to."

Silence descended over them both for a moment, before Athrun let out another sigh.

"That's up to her."

May 27th, CE 77 - Athens Naval Installation, Greece, Eurasian Federation

The sounds of the dockyard at work blended into a dull roar from the high observation deck where Kelly Maynard decided to take her break. The cigarette smoke curled up above her as she blew out another breath and stared down towards the dock and the massive black warship within it. This was a hell of a way to get an education.

She shook her head and took another drag. Of course, by now she was probably too old to go to a real school. There was nothing to stop a twenty-eight-year-old woman from going to college, really, but she wouldn't fit in with all those fresh-faced little brats out of high school who thought they were adults. She knew what created an adult. She would be out of place.

It wasn't really supposed to go this way. She was supposed to sign on for three years to gain that cushy benefit whereby the military would pay her college costs if she went through the punishing officer-training regimen. Then the Junius War happened and suddenly the military was offering boatloads of money for enlistees with expiring contracts to stay on, and how could she say no to that? And then the Junius War ended and the Resistance came to life and the Phantom Pain began to metastasize and they started offering money for recruits, and she couldn't very well say no to that either, and so here she was, having spent so much time working to pay for college that she couldn't really go to college anymore.

Funny how that worked, really.

Kelly tossed the useless butt to the floor and ground it out beneath her boot. Well, life was cheap as a Phantom Pain officer and all that sweet bonus money would just pad her account back home. If only she knew what to do with it when this was all over.

If this would ever be all over.

The official name of the complex was the Mobile Oceangoing Segmented Mass Driver Facility. MOSMDF made for a completely unpronounceable acronym, however, so the common name for the construct was Gigafloat. And by its massive Junk Guild logos and complete lack of armaments, it was supposed to be a completely neutral civilian facility.

And judging by the recon satellites and high-altitude spy planes, it was also the last great collection of Resistance forces on Earth and it was where the Minerva was going for repairs.

Ivan Danilov shifted uncomfortably in the briefing room as some Navy captain whose name he had already forgotten launched into a discourse on Gigafloat's history before the assembled Navy and Phantom Pain officers. Danilov already knew what he needed to know about the massive seagoing platform. The Alliance had helped build it as a civilian infrastructure project in the years before the Valentine War, and continued with an eye towards using it during the conflict with ZAFT.

Then the Junk Guild declared its neutrality, invoked its majority ownership stake in the platform, and locked them out. Rondo Ghina Sahaku had tried to destroy it and retain Orb's monopoly on independent mass drivers; that hadn't gone so well for Sahaku. Jona Roma Seiran had tried to destroy it two years later for harboring the Orb Raiders, enemies of his family's political control over Orb; that hadn't gone so well for Seiran either. And at the outset of this war, the Junk Guild and Gigafloat's administrator had declared their neutrality. Nobody truly believed that the Junk Guild was neutral in this conflict, but there was a catch.

Danilov grimaced as the briefing officer got to that part. The deal had included making Gigafloat the site for decommissioning old nuclear weapons, and that meant they had a collection of about thirty thermonuclear devices awaiting disposal. That was why they were neutral; the blind monk who ran the thing was a more or less trusted party by all sides. But that trust was wearing thin, and now that the Resistance was gathering in what Reverend Malchio called "a neutral facility open to all who require refuge," it was clear something would have to be done.

At that thought, Danilov's stomach turned. Whether or not Gigafloat had the N-Jammer Cancellers necessary to make any of those nuclear weapons useful was up in the air, but the Alliance was not interested in taking chances. And that meant he, Ivan Danilov, and the Charlemagne would have to spearhead an effort to take control of Gigafloat and its cache of nukes before the Resistance could get its grubby little hands on them and before the platform could be seized or destroyed by ZAFT.

Danilov cringed as the briefing officer veered off into a long discussion of Gigafloat's technical specifications. There were other things to the platform too: a massive refugee camp and a vast hospital put the truth to Malchio's claim that Gigafloat's mission was primarily humanitarian. But it was also an asset for the Alliance's enemies, and no war could be won without depriving the enemy of valuable assets.

Which meant another war crime for Ivan Danilov to aid and abet.

He bowed his head as the briefing officer continued on. This war was making villains of them all.

He knows. He knows. He knows all about me, Sven.

Sven Cal Bayan rolled onto his other side in his bunk on the Charlemagne and tried to drown out the voice with mind-numbing technical specs on the Crusader's beam wing system. It was useless, of course; the little boy would not be distracted.

He can save you. He knows that you're not a monster. He knows that deep down I'm still here, and if he can reach me

I do not need to be saved, Sven shot back.

Is that why you're arguing with yourself?

Sven clenched his teeth. Using the Psyco System had been such a mistake. Those walls didn't hold up just his identity; apparently, they supported his sanity too.

You hate doing this, the child went on. Deep down you know it. You don't want to be doing all this killing and fighting, and now there's finally a way out.

No, Sven answered, there is not.

He knew better. Defection meant death. Nobody in the Resistance would accept him after all the Resistance fighters he had killed and all the time he had spent as the warrior for Lord Djibril's new order. They would imprison him, at the very least, and he would be at their mercy until someone decided to just get it over with and kill him. That little child knew nothing of the world out here. He could never give in; his old self, the self that had survived and persisted despite his attempts to bury it, didn't understand how cruel the world could be. Only when his parents had died and he'd been sent to become a lackey for Blue Cosmos had he learned how cruel the world could be and that was when that old part of him had been locked away.

Locked away, but it could still shout through the bars of its cell, and Sven ground his teeth as it proceeded to do just that.

The Nana Buluku was back in its homeport at Althea Crater. That was something of a relief, really; Gerhardt von Oldendorf would hate to have thought that someone was reassigning his own little Mirage Colloid-equipped heavily armed special operations warship. God forbid they should actually use it for its intended purpose or something.

Gerhardt quietly packed up the tiny office he had occupied at Athens ever since the Charlemagne's return to port. It had been an educational little outing, at least; seeing Emily in battle had been entertaining, if nothing else. Half her moves had come from her training, but he couldn't really fault her for that. Waste not, want not, after all.

He would have to be back in space anyways, though, because that was where this war would be decided. These little life and death struggles on Earth were all dramatic and destructive, but the story, as it were, was running out of space on the planet's surface. The Alliance had finally found the remnants of Chiao Xu's forces in their place of refuge on Gigafloat, and soon they would have erased that little mistake. And then everything would return to space, where the Resistance's fleet was still formidable and ZAFT still had the majority of its forces. And surely Marshal Sunogachi had something more up her sleeve than mere slaughter of civilians.

And so the world turned, events ebbed and flowed, and Gerhardt von Oldendorf, always with his ear to the currents of the present, would have to move with them. But the world had little tolerance for those who would change it, and paid little attention to those who made no appearance of resisting it. And if Gerhardt was going to reclaim control over his wayward daughter, he'd have to follow the flow until it deposited him in front of destiny.

Heaven's Base, Iceland

Lord Djibril slumped down into his office chair after another session of fending off the press jackals over his chosen strategy for the ZAFT incursion. He'd lost track of how many times he had explained this; between all that debris and that nigh-impenetrable beam shield, a frontal attack on Messiah would be a gruesome affair no matter what. Better to crumble away ZAFT's fleet before going after the real prize.

He sat up and straightened himself out. After all, he had a meeting impending and as though on cue, the office door slid open and into the room stepped Jona Roma Seiran, clad in the green uniform of the Governor-General.

"I'd forgotten how cold Iceland is," Jona said with a shrug, and shook Djibril's hesitantly offered hand and sat down on the other end of the desk.

"I'll get right to the point, governor," Djibril said, and folded his hands over his desk. "We have run out of patience for this Sahaku woman of yours in space. Her station has been supporting the Resistance for years, and it's time to rub out a troublesome parasite."

Jona looked satisfied. "I fully agree, sir. She's been around for far too long."

"Which is why you will be taking the Orb Space Fleet to finish her off."

Jona's look of satisfaction. "I...but, sir "

"You have seven Izumo-class battleships at your disposal and the ten other ships of the OSF. Surely you'll have enough to destroy the station."

"Perhaps," Jona hedged, "but "

"To be quite frank, governor," Djibril added, and at his unspoken command Misa emerged from the shadows to stand menacingly behind the governor-general's shoulder, "ever since that little debacle at Onigashima, your contribution to our war effort has been less than complete. Now, the Resistance has used Ame-no-Mihashira as a base throughout this conflict. We have left it to you to deal with her, and yet dealt with she is not. Now ZAFT is back in the Earth Sphere and any asset of the Resistance is potentially an asset for ZAFT. I'm sure you understand the necessity of this measure."

Jona looked between Misa and Djibril, and the gray-haired man felt a twinge of satisfaction as his subordinate resigned himself to circumstances. "Perfectly, sir."

May 28th, CE 77 - Battleship Minerva, Gigafloat, Indian Ocean

Meyrin Hawke fell back into the captain's chair as the Minerva rumbled and the bridge went dark, and savored the feeling of relief. At last she could rest easy for a while. The mission was complete.

The Minerva shuddered into its dry-dock underneath Gigafloat, and a massive elevator began to raise the battered ship up into an equally vast hangar studded with cranes and machinery, safe from the prying eyes of spy satellites and planes. And this facility wasn't part of the ZAFT remnant; it was nominally the Junk Guild, but brimming with Resistance fighters from all over the world. The ones who had heeded Chiao Xu's summons to Carpentaria and somehow not died there, at least.

Meyrin pulled herself together and made her way with Abbey to the airlock hatch. The heavy door swung open and Meyrin straightened out her coat although for this particular visitor, such a gesture was rather unnecessary.

But as Reverend Malchio stepped across the threshold, white-banded cane tapping at the floor as he went, one got the distinct impression that the blind man saw perfectly fine. He certainly had no problem seeing necessity, or the true nature of people, or the good or the evil to be found in them.

Meyrin straightened up. "Reverend Malchio," she started, and the reverend smiled back.

"Captain Hawke. I'm glad to hear you and your ship have made it here in one piece."

Meyrin shook his offered hand. "In a manner of speaking, sir."

"Please, captain, I'm not your superior officer." Meyrin and Abbey followed him down the boarding tunnel and through the windows, the former took the opportunity to take in the vast and breathtaking sweep of the mighty Gigafloat. Fifty kilometers long, equipped with a massive hospital, extensive facilities for refugees, a facility for decommissioning nuclear weapons, and the immense mass driver, it all made Gigafloat a very important asset for the Junk Guild, for the Resistance, and for Reverend Malchio.

But it also made them all targets. And Reverend Malchio was a great man, but he was no warrior.

Meyrin held back a sigh as Malchio began to expound on what Gigafloat had to offer the Minerva this time around. Even her moments of rest weren't restful.

It was decided. Lowe Gear gave the best hugs ever.

There were lots of things at which Lowe Gear was the best or close enough, and most of them were related to machinery, but his secret talent for bone-crushing, forget-about-everything-else-in-the-desperate-struggle-to-breathe bear hugs was second to none. And indeed, Athrun Zala really was unaware of any other troubles in the world as Lowe Gear overenthusiastically squeezed the life out of him.

Lowe finally put Athrun down with a grin on his face a light year across. "Athrun Zala! How the hell are ya, man?"

Athrun coughed. "Intact, I guess."

"Couldn't say the same for the Gundam, I guess," Lowe said with an awkward scratch on the back of his head. "But hey! Good news! We have new ones! For you!"

"Yeah, about that," Viveka spoke up, and Athrun idly hoped for Lowe's sake that he decided not to try the bear hug thing on her. "What's this I hear about them being 'still unfinished?'"

"Hey, you can't rush greatness," Lowe sputtered. "Besides, we're still waiting for our weapons specialist to get here. He was supposed to be here by plane, but that didn't work out, so he's taken the, uh, slower route." He shrugged. "Sorry."

"Slower," Athrun said. "Should be worried?"

"Oh, not at all," Lowe laughed, "Dr. Freeman can take of himself. Come on, it's Christmas in May, I'm Santa Claus, and you two are on the nice list this year."

"So," Trojan said uneasily, "you feeling better today?"

On one of the many observation corridors overlooking the vast tableau of Gigafloat, Emily stared out over the platform and the ocean beyond and considered Trojan's question. The answer was no, but that would just make him worry and shuffle her back to the infirmary.

"Yes," she lied.

Trojan didn't appear to buy it, but nor did he appear interested in an argument, so he followed her gaze out to the sea. "So what happened out there with that gray ZAKU anyway?"

Emily hung her head. "It's...a long story."

"I've got time."

"I know." She paused as she chose her words. "It's...hard to describe, but whenever I fight that gray ZAKU, I feel like I'm back with my mother." She looked back up at Trojan, finding him not understanding but how could he if he wasn't a Newtype? "She was...well, you met my father, so you know how my relationship with him was."

"Yeah," Trojan said, and idly rubbed the back of his neck. "I take it your relationship with your mother was better?"

Emily nodded. "And when I have to fight that ZAKU...it feels like I'm fighting against her."

She looked back up at him, and knew that he didn't really understand. And how could he? But he held out his arms anyway, she fell into them anyway, and she decided that she really didn't care as she sobbed into his chest.

The sea was just as she'd left it. That was another thing Stella Loussier loved about the sea. It didn't go and change behind her back.

At long last, between the accelerated Extended healing and a lot of nagging, the Minerva's doctor had finally decided to let Stella roam free of the infirmary, and she had wasted no time getting off the ship and onto the great cityscape of Gigafloat. The Minerva was hidden inside in a protected dry-dock as the repairs began, and somewhere else in here was a secret hangar where the Resistance had built a whole team of new Gundams, including one to replace her poor ruined Gaia. Stella would look at it later. She was sure it would be good enough, but it couldn't really replace the Gaia. The Gaia had gone with her everywhere. It was her friend. And she was saddened to lose her friend.

But, like the sea, the Gaia would always be there, one way or another. She still had the good memories of the Gaia keeping her safe, and maybe the new Kali Gundam would be just as good a friend to her as the Gaia had been.

Stella trotted down the walkways that gave the best view of the ocean. They were going to throw what was left of the Gaia here when they were done with it; a burial at sea, they'd called it. That was a little comforting. Whenever she saw the sea, she'd know that her old friend was down there, keeping company with the fishes. At least they wouldn't be lonely.

There were a lot of her friends who weren't alive anymore. But when she got to thinking about that, she would get sad, and she'd have to stop.

After all, nobody who was ever her friend would want her to be sad. Friends just didn't do that.

It was all supposed to be secret, done in the dead of night with only the light of heavy searchlights to guide the great Aristotle into a secret point underneath Gigafloat's platforms. From the observation deck high above the hidden internal berth, Sting and Auel watched skeptically as the vast submarine barely managed to squeeze into the largest dock space available. Four hundred meters was an awful lot of space, after all.

"So let me get this straight," Auel said with a sigh. "That thing was supposed to go attacking Alliance bases and merchant shipping and stuff all over the world?"

"Yeah."

"All by itself?"

"Yep."

"How?"

Sting waved at the enormous intakes stretching off the sides of the submarine's hull. "Those things. They suck water in through the front and squirt it out the back. Works really quietly, so unless you knew what to look for, you'd never find it."

Auel frowned. "Sounds like something out of some bullshit story."

"Tell me about it." The dock shook as the latches clamped down into place, the roar of rushing water filled the cavernous chamber as the doors shut, and the crews started pumping out the water.

"But now I guess we find out just how much these guys are on our side," Auel sighed.

"They didn't do anything to us in Banadiya."

"Yeah," Auel said with a shrug, "but so what? Didn't stop the guys at Carpentaria from taking a swing at us."

Sting thought back bitterly to the days that seemed so long ago, and the ashen taste of fighting and triumphing over what he'd thought were his allies. "Yeah," he agreed, "it didn't."

May 29th, CE 77 - ZAFT mobile space fortress Messiah, Lagrange Point 5

Mirage Colloid was a wonderful thing, and Valentine Sunogachi truly had to thank the Earth Alliance for inventing such a wonderful contraption.

For it was Mirage Colloid that hid behind its light-bending prisms the last great hope of the Coordinator people. The gargantuan reach of the ZAKU Goliath was taking shape. Two hundred and sixty one meters tall and armed with dozens of CIWS emplacements, anti-air beam cannons, missile launchers, and a beam shield as strong as the one mounted on Messiah, it was a fleet rolled into one massive pile of armament. And it would bring the Naturals to their knees.

The ten all-range DRAGOON attack pods and the one hundred DRAGOON-equipped unmanned ZAKU Drones would be taxing even to one Newtype. It would require two. Kira had demonstrated the power of their little test subject and given them one Newtype unit, and as for the second...well, if you wanted something done right, you had to do it yourself.

She breathed in the atmosphere of hatred around her. The black tendrils of fear were starting to worm their way up through the anger and hate, still carefully fueled by the twin furnaces of propaganda and memory. The rank and file knew now of the Aristotle's treachery; the destruction of Glasgow's task force at Sagan City and Willard's force at Belém had been a pair of blows to morale; and the loss of the ZAKU Ranger in the Ogaden Desert was no cause for celebration either. Now rumor had it that the Alliance had submarines scouring the Pacific for an "alleged ZAFT installation on the ocean floor." Commandant Kovetz would be in for a surprise soon. And every day, the ZAFT fleet took losses and injuries it could not afford; every day, the Earth Alliance relentlessly chipped away at Marshal Sunogachi's grand army.

This was not how it was supposed to go. Not for them. But for Valentine it was all just irrelevancies piled upon irrelevancies. They could be sacrificed; they had played their part. And so long as the ZAKU Goliath was completed, nothing else would matter.

May 30th, CE 77 - Hart Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C., Atlantic Federation

"A pleasure doing business with you, Senator Alvarez," said Senator Meyers with his typical veneer of faked sincerity, and promptly hung up on the senior senator from New Mexico. The chairman of the Appropriations Committee was a useful ally to have after all, he who controlled the purse strings controlled the world but damned if he wasn't a long-winded bag of hot air.

Meyers sat back in his office chair with a heavy sigh and mentally ran over his to-do list. President pro tempore of the Senate was a lofty and busy job, but it was still only a stepping-stone, and Meyers would need to work quickly. MacIntyre had passed along more information, this one about an impending attack on the Junk Guild mass driver platform Gigafloat.

Of course, that would be in violation of more international laws than Meyers could count. Djibril might be able to get away with it by finally publicly turning on the Junk Guild, counting on it being common knowledge that the Junk Guild was passing support to the Resistance, but it would still cost him a pretty political penny. Every move he made these days seemed to accrue to Meyers' benefit; President Vasserot was already under fire for his part in Djibril's unpopular strategy to deal with ZAFT.

He supposed he couldn't really blame the imperious Earth Alliance president for it, though. If Meyers had been in Djibril's position he would probably have done the same. The Junk Guild and its mass driver were dangerous wild cards in a world already far enough off the rails.

The senator rubbed his temples and put away the frustration of this toothless office in the Senate. He would not be here for long; soon he would be at the top of the totem pole, and then everything in this town would be different.

May 31st, CE 77 - Gigafloat, Indian Ocean

Down below in one of Gigafloat's many cavernous hangars, the technicians were reassembling an overhauled Dagger L. Its pieces were strewn about like a nightmarish jigsaw puzzle and the din of a mobile suit being reconstructed was frequently punctured by shouting and cursing.

It wasn't exactly soothing, but to Emily von Oldendorf, standing on a gantry high above the hangar and watching the slightly morbid process, it was distracting and that was almost as good. She glanced up in surprise as Viveka found her way down the gantry, and wondered how her sister had tracked her all the way down here.

"You missed breakfast," Viveka said with a smile.

"That was intentional."

"Oh come on, freeze-dried scrambled eggs are good for you. Builds character."

Emily frowned and decided that her character could go without another mouthful of spongy mockery of scrambled eggs.

"Anyways," Viveka went on, "what are you doing up here? I thought you didn't like hanging around mobile suit hangars."

"I was...bored."

Viveka arched the eyebrow over her good eye. "Bored."

"Yeah." Emily squirmed, but before she could say anything else, Viveka wrapped a comforting arm around her.

"Well, 'bored' one, we could always take that tour of the place that the ensign offered..."

Emily sighed in defeat. "I wanted to do something that would keep me from thinking," she said, "and watching the mechanics cuss at each other while they put that thing back together was kind of working."

"I think you need to talk to Athrun."

"He won't understand."

Viveka frowned and shifted her arm to look down reproachfully at her sister. "Of course he will."

Emily finally turned herself out of Viveka's embrace and headed for the door. "It's my problem," she said. "I'll deal with it."

And before Viveka could stop her, she was already gone.

Shinn Asuka didn't need to look to know that Meyrin Hawke was approaching. The simmering cauldron of emotions said it all.

He had occupied the for-once deserted bridge of the Minerva to fiddle with the mapping console and to think. Evidently, Meyrin had the same idea, because she swept onto the bridge with a miserable sigh and then stopped short when she noticed Shinn in front of her.

"Sorry," he said before she could speak. "Bad day?"

Meyrin rubbed her temples and slumped into the nearest chair. "Father Malchio isn't like Chiao Xu," she groaned, "but that just makes him worry about him more."

Shinn took the seat next to hers. "Uh oh. What happened?"

"He suspects the Alliance is going to start moving against the Junk Guild. Spies stalking certain agents, more network security breaches, a couple of arrests..." She shook her head. "We'll have to repair and get the new Gundams done quickly and get out of here."

That wasn't all, Shinn could see. He reached out and put a comforting hand on her shoulder, to her surprise.

"It's not your job to worry about everything."

Meyrin blinked. "Wha yes it is. If I don't, who does?"

"Malchio can take care of himself. He's kept Gigafloat running for six years and just about everyone on Earth has had a crack at him. But you," he squeezed her shoulder, "need to take care of yourself too."

"Everyone is depending on me "

"Exactly," Shinn cut her off, "and that's why you can't go trying to put everything on your own shoulders. It won't fit and you'll just crush yourself anyways. We're all tired and we all need to take this moment to rest."

Meyrin frowned as she glanced at the silent bridge. "The captain can't do that "

"And," Shinn interrupted, reclaiming her attention, "you don't have to prove to us that you're the captain." Meyrin blinked again, thunderstruck. "This is your ship now, Meyrin. You've commanded it for longer than Talia. You've made it into a symbol of the Resistance. Ever since Carpentaria the rest of us have been getting our asses kicked, but you always pulled us through and brought the ship home safe at the end of the day." He waved a hand at the vacant captain's chair. "And the captain gets to rest too."

Meyrin looked back at the chair, and then pulled Talia's old white cap off her head. "I...Shinn, Talia was trained to do this. She was meant to do it. I wasn't."

"None of us were meant to do the things we've had to do in this war," Shinn said with a shrug. "The real measure of people is whether or not they can do it anyway. And here we are, Captain Hawke."

For a moment, Meyrin looked down at Talia's old hat, and then over at Talia's old command chair, and a smile broke over her face.

June 1st, CE 77 - ZAFT Minerva-class battleship Fortuna, orbit of Earth

The interior observation deck was silent as Kira Yamato watched the other ship pass by. The jet-black hull of the Seraphim was almost invisible against the inky sky of space, but for the running lights and the white fins. Kira winced at the overwhelming feeling of pressure coming from inside the black ship as it banked away, towards Lagrange Point 5 towards Messiah.

It was the relic of another fiasco for ZAFT. The Arrhenius, the ZAKU Ranger, Commander Esram, all of them lost before the Minerva. It was almost intolerable. They were known so well in the Earth Sphere for their stable of Gundams the ones that ZAFT had built, Kira remembered bitterly. But ZAFT had shattered those swords and broken the mighty Minerva's claim to fame...and yet here they were, resisting as strong as ever. Now they were at Gigafloat, and surely they were going to replace those lost mobile suits sooner or later. The Resistance would spare no expense for the warship that symbolized their cause.

But all was not lost. The pressure was fading as the Seraphim roared off into the distance, but it was still present, still distinct. Zero-Two had done rather well in keeping the Midnight off-balance; as expected, her relation to the Midnight's pilot had proven an invaluable trump card.

A pang of guilt shot through Kira's heart. Surely she was suffering, having to fight the specter of her mother. He battered the feeling down. She would stand in the way of his new, better world. If Unit Zero-Two and the shade of Emily von Oldendorf's mother were what it took to preserve that dream, then so be it. The sacrifice would be worth it.

Kira turned his eye towards the Seraphim's destination, the faraway shoal zone that hid Messiah. Sacrifice. It would be quite a theme in the coming weeks. The ZAKU Goliath was nearing completion, and once it was finished, Valentine would throw into motion her final plan for decisively defeating the Alliance's military and carving out a place of sanctuary for the Coordinators, once and for all. And it would be the sorest test he'd ever face of his Newtype powers. His stomach turned at the thought. All that death...

But Kira Yamato was no stranger to death. He thought back to Fllay and to her death. If that was the price his new world would demand, then so be it. It would be worth it.

It would have to be worth it.

June 2nd, CE 77 - Battleship Minerva, Gigafloat, Indian Ocean

She will be our angel of death.

Emily clenched her teeth and turned around on her other side. Gerhardt von Oldendorf had been making quite a few cameos in her dreams of late, and his echoing voice was beginning to wear her patience thin. Every time he spoke, it reminded her that she was becoming what he had wanted her to be and every time he spoke, she remembered what else he had said, about her mother.

Her mother. Emily squeezed her eyes shut and tried not to let the tears flow. She wanted her mother again, no matter how silly it sounded; she wanted the safety and feeling that she was loved, the comforting embrace of someone who could tell her what to do in these miserable situations. Perhaps with these Newtype abilities of hers, she might have even been closer to her mother than ever before. Maybe she could have saved her.

That made the pain even worse. Because where she had Gerhardt on one side, bludgeoning her with the destiny he had chosen for her, on the other side she had the image of her mother and the cold reality of Unit Zero-Two.

They couldn't understand. There was no way. Viveka had never been close to her mother. Athrun had hated the person whose clone he was trying to kill. Shinn...well, his parents had died years ago. The only one who might understand what it was like for her to have her own heart turned against her was Rau...and even that was doubtful.

She will be our angel of death.

Emily tightened her fists and tried to banish the voice with thoughts of her mother but even that was corrupted.

To be continued...