Phase 33 - The Reverend Malchio

Mobile Suit Gundam SEED ETERNITY

Phase 33 - The Reverend Malchio

June 3rd, CE 77 - Socotra Naval Installation, Yemen

Vice Admiral Joseph Krane of the Earth Alliance Navy was like a stereotypical pirate drawn from the most sensationalist of history books. With his bushy beard and his tanned, leathery-looking skin, he was every bit the crusty sea admiral of days bygone.

He was also an enthusiastic supporter of Blue Cosmos. That thought made Ivan Danilov's stomach turn. He never did like those people and it had never helped that Blue Cosmos devotees had ordered the Cyclops System's use at Alaska, killing thousands of Eurasian Federation troops in the process.

Admiral Krane was probably the logical choice from Djibril's point of view to lead an attack on Gigafloat, though. Few other men would take such joy in demolishing a civilian platform said to be helping Coordinators.

The admiral tapped his baton on the Socotra briefing room's strategic map. "You're going to have to lead the attack, Captain Danilov," he said. "The Charlemagne's firepower will be necessary to break through the enemy's defenses. Fifty kilometers of floating platform will demand a long defensive line. They won't be hard to crack."

"I understand, sir," Danilov said with a nod. Of course, the Charlemagne would be responsible for this, and he would have to pull the trigger again.

The smoldering stare of Yukiko Nakajima bored into Sven Cal Bayan's brain in the examination room. An EEG reader rose and fell as his brainwaves fluctuated and deep in the back of his mind, Sven could tell that she knew exactly what had happened to him. She'd planned this. Intended it. Once his barriers had been broken down, technically speaking, there was nothing to stop his development.

Nothing, that is, except himself. Because equally deep in the back of his mind, there was something stopping him from simply cutting the beast loose and turning himself over to his instincts and training. If he did that, he would never again have control and then he would be no better than a measly Extended.

Yukiko glanced furtively at the EEG screen. "Much more activity than I expected," she said. "Almost like there's two people in there."

Sven ground his teeth and the brainwaves spiked.

Ooh, the kid spoke up, she's good.

"But at any rate," she went on, "I suppose this is all a moot point, now that the Destiny is destroyed."

The Destiny. Sven twitched angrily at the thought. The Destiny was destroyed, yes, the spies in Banadiya had confirmed as such but the pilot still lived. The pilot knew now knew that there was more to Sven Cal Bayan than orders and duty. And he would try to save him. Of course he would; Sven had felt their enmity flicker and fade the instant the walls came down and Shinn Asuka glimpsed into his soul. It would never be the same again between them. Now every time they met in battle, Shinn Asuka would have something to seek in his enemy.

And every time they met in battle, Sven would have to wrestle down the part of him that wanted to be saved.

"In my admittedly unprofessional opinion," Travis Alterman said airily in the Nebula Blitz's tightly sealed cockpit, "Captain Danilov will soon reach his limit on the degree of brutality in which he's willing to participate."

He sat back and regarded the words on the screen for a moment. That sounded pretty good.

Ivan Danilov's last briefing had been something of a confusing affair. He had ordered his troops not to target the civilian and humanitarian facilities on Gigafloat but since the mission was to destroy the whole platform, nobody was sure how to do that. And when the same was pointed out for the captain, he seemed to be rather taken aback and almost defeated when he ordered his pilots to simply do what they could. The technical readouts of Gigafloat seemed to suggest that it was possible, given some very precise firepower and extraordinary discipline from the mobile suit pilots...but both such qualities were difficult to find during a pitched battle.

Travis could not remember a time seeing the captain so simply disorganized by his own thoughts. Most of the crew seemed to consider it a mark of stress. They were part right, he suspected.

It was, the more he thought about it, an ingeniously laid plan. Danilov's resolve and that of his crew would be tested once again by despicable orders, and in the end they would probably carry them out, but guilt and regret accumulated like toxins inside people's souls, and eventually it would rot them to the core unless they took some step to purge the poison and make themselves right again.

Travis was waiting for the moment. So were his superiors. Much more rested on this than the provincial minds of the Charlemagne's crew could have ever known and even though this spy thing still wasn't his calling, he had to admit, he couldn't wait.

June 4th, CE 77 - Gigafloat, Indian Ocean

"...and then I caught a fish!" exclaimed Lily Thevalley as she bounded around the walkways of Gigafloat, circling a tired and only semi-interested Emily von Oldendorf. The latter became significantly more interested when Lily solved the mystery of where that horrible fish smell had been coming from by pulling a two-foot-long swordfish wrapped in plastic out of a paper bag. "See? Look at this bastard! He's huge!"

"I-I see," Emily stuttered. "Does Stella know you caught that thing?"

"No," Lily said with a conspiratorial smile, "and we're gonna cook it before she ever finds out, right Em?"

That was certainly a tempting offer, and it would probably smell better that way too. "Go find Trojan, he knows how to cook fresh fish. I think."

"Trojan knows how to do everything! He's like a walking Swiss army knife." Lily dropped the fish back into her bag and stared down at its empty, wide eyes triumphantly. "But fishing is totally boring, just so you know. You have to sit there forever to wait for the fish to bite, and sometimes they just don't, and all you did was sit out there and get a sunburn for nothing."

Emily faded back to listening with half an ear as Lily went on about the outrage of watching a shark steal her first catch. She had promised Trojan she was going to try to relax while they were here, at least as much as they could with the knowledge in the backs of their minds that they would have to leave as soon as the repairs were done and get back to the war, but at least Gigafloat offered no shortage of things to do.

For example, there was avoiding the seemingly omnipresent hologram of George Glenn. Even after all this time, he was still creepy.

There was also the mysterious blind preacher who was apparently the administrator of the platform. She had only seen him a few times, and felt through her Newtype abilities the preternatural aura of calm that radiated from him. Father Malchio was a different sort of human and one that she supposed she would have to meet, sooner or later.

After all, he was a reverend, and reverends were said to represent God. And if there was anyone's advice Emily needed these days, it was God's.

The freight elevator stopped with a rattle, the doors swung open, and Meyrin Hawke held back a gasp.

They were magnificent. The sleek, rounded armor, the styles that called back to their predecessors, the look of modernity and power built into them...Gigafloat and the Junk Guild had outdone themselves. The Minerva's new Gundams would make it a force to be feared once again.

"It's been a challenge obtaining the modern and expensive parts these machines need," Malchio said with a small shrug, "but I suppose no expense is too much if it will help end this war." He smiled wanly. "And I know you'll use this power for the right cause, Captain Hawke."

Abbey stepped forward, making no effort to hide that she was impressed. "Are these things complete?"

"Not yet," spoke up Lowe from the back of the elevator, grinning proudly, "but since you guys brought us those nuclear reactors and N-Jammer Cancellers, we can get started. Have to do some redesigning, run some tests, you know how it goes, but by the time the Minerva's repairs are finished, you guys will have a bunch of new Gundams."

Meyrin smiled back. "Then we'll owe you quite a favor, Lowe."

"Oh, no," laughed Lowe, "I got to build a bunch of super cool Gundams. But," his grin turned a touch wicked, "as long as you're offering "

"Not very gracious of you, Mr. Gear," Malchio chuckled, and as Lowe apparently surrendered, the reverend turned away, back towards the door. "I'm confident these machines will serve you well, Captain Hawke, but they will require adjustment." His smile faded. "And we will have to work quickly."

Meyrin turned her eyes towards the Gundams. As long as they ended this war...

This is not how I recall leaving you last, Shinn.

Shinn Asuka's eyes snapped up in surprise. He glanced around his room aboard the Minerva, then back down at the tablet with its vast compendium of information on his new Zulfiqar Gundam and then he looked back up and blinked at the sight of Rey Za Burrel standing in front of the door of his bunk, arms crossed, looking quite disapproving.

"Well, shit happens," he said with a shrug.

How are you going to defeat Kira Yamato if you're crippled with self-doubt and concern over your protégé? Rey's look did not falter. You of all people should know that trials of character can only be dealt with by the character under trial.

"I had to do that because I actually was on my own," Shinn grumbled. "And no thanks to you, as I recall."

Rey arched an eyebrow. Are you still angry about that?

"No," Shinn said, "now I'm just...resigned." He looked back up at the ghostly vision, and for a moment, he contemplated pouring out his heart and soul to a hallucination. But if he was going mad, at least it had a method of making him feel better built in. "I feel like I should be...I dunno, guiding her more. Steering her out of this funk she's in." He waved a hand. "Ever since Argus attacked us in the Pacific, she's been on this slow downward spiral. Maybe even before that, I don't know. And now I feel like all I did was drag her out of a tolerable life and throw her into a miserable one." He shook his head. "Yeah, she would have wound up no better than an Extended, but I can't really say this is any better."

Rey's face did not change. That is not for you to say. Shinn blinked and looked back up. She will decide her path herself. You have your own destiny to worry about. He tilted his chin up imperiously. And it is not served by sitting in here moping and pretending to read that manual.

Shinn was silent a moment, before he looked back up into those familiar old blue eyes and smirked. "Even from beyond the grave, you're still trying to mold me."

It is only what you need.

Kazahana Aja bounded down the walkway and immediately enveloped Stella's legs in a hug. Stella smiled back and awkwardly patted the shorter girl's shoulders. Kazahana was nice, but she was so, so smart too. It was weird. Stella didn't think children her age could be that smart.

"I heard you were hurt in the fight at Banadiya," Kazahana said breathlessly. "Are you okay now?"

"Stella's fine "

"Great!" Kazahana seized her hand and dragged her down the walkway, towards the ramp leading up to the bright yellow hull of the ReHOME. "Then let's go! I got a fish a couple months ago that I want to show you!"

Stella let Kazahana pull her up the ramp and into the ReHOME. The poor girl had exhausted all her knowledge and resources about the Extended, and either way, most of that information had gone to Shinn, because Stella certainly didn't understand it. All she knew was that she was different from ordinary people but she had friends who were different too, so that was okay, because they could all be different together. Instead, Kazahana had turned her interests towards ocean life. She used a bunch of words Stella didn't quite understand, like "abyssal zone" maybe it had something to do with Auel's Gundam but at least it was someone who shared her fascination with the sea and the things that lived there.

She smiled and made sure to say hello to the ReHOME's colorful crew. The cold and mechanical mercenary Gai, the cheerful if usually drunk Reed, the ever-put-upon Kisato, happy and brilliant Kazahana...even among the serious and unemotional ones, like Gai and Canard, Stella couldn't really say that they were sad or unhappy.

Stella had always heard that the Minerva and its Gundam pilots were heroes to the rest of the Resistance. Maybe that was the which case, Stella decided that she didn't want to be a hero.

"You look like you need a magic show!"

Emily yelped in surprise and whipped around, wrench at the ready only to find it go sailing through the holographic image of George Glenn. He blinked for a moment as his distorted face righted itself.

"Now that wasn't very nice," he added. "Would've blown my jawbone clear off if I had one! Good thing I don't, eh?"

Emily fell back from the apparition in front of the Eclipse's cockpit and slumped into the seat. "H-How do you keep doing that?!"

George merely pointed down towards the hangar floor, where an odd contraption with an antenna was set up at the foot of what would eventually be Athrun's Celestial Justice Gundam. "Kisato put a receptor down there so I can help. And help I am! But I'm also here, because there's nothing the First Coordinator can't do! Speaking of which...!" His hologram flickered for an instant and then George Glenn stood again, decked out in a long-tailed coat and top hat. "Humankind has never seen mystical arts of this sort before, but today, young Emily, you will be the first to witness the true powers of the great beyond! Be amazed by the magical machinations and supernatural skills of the Great and Powerful George Glenn!"

Fireworks went off in the background and Emily stared in disbelief as George raised a saw in one hand, and a box with a grinning blonde woman inside materialized before him. "U-Um, I'm kinda busy "

"Nonsense! Nobody is too busy for magic! Now, prepare your socks for a rocking as I saw my lovely assistant in two "

"That's okay, really," Emily said. But before she could do anything more, George brought his saw down and then it and his lovely assistant promptly burst into a rain of confetti and sparkles.

"See? Once again it is proven that nothing is beyond the amazing, show-stopping abilities of the Great and Powerful George Glenn!" Fireworks went off again and George held out his arms expectantly.

The applause and adulation never came, and the magical accessories promptly disappeared in place of George in his typical white Junk Guild. He stared thoughtfully at Emily as she got back to work.

"Oh, I get it," he said. "You're brooding about something. Jeez, you should've said so! Wasted my whole act."

"I-I'm sorry?"

"No, it's okay," George said with a wave. "Though might I inquire as to what it is about which you're brooding?"

Emily looked back down at the Eclipse's console. How would he understand? Would he even take her seriously?

"Y'know," George added, "I always divide my problems up into the ones where I can do something about it, and the ones where I can't. It works pretty well. If you can do something about it, great, then do it. And if you can't then who cares?" He shrugged. "Just somethin' to think about."

George Glenn vanished as Kisato started yelling at him far down below near the receptor, leaving Emily alone in the Eclipse with her thoughts.

June 5th, CE 77 - Daedalus Crater lunar base, the Moon


That was the only word she could use to describe the vast assemblage of force that would soon be before her. The screens in Daedalus Crater's vast control room did not do justice to this great armada's power, its glory, and the justness of its cause.

The hard work of years could come to fruition here. Standing on Daedalus' command dais, Crayt Markav crossed her arms and smiled. Nearly two hundred and fifty warships, over twenty five hundred mobile suits, all led by the full might of the Phantom Pain's growing independent space fleet. And at its head would stand over a dozen mobile armors, and all of it would be led by five mighty Destroy Gundams. Justice was coming. ZAFT could not escape.

It had been infuriating to sit here as the war raged outside, waiting, preparing, quietly gathering a fleet and hatching a plan to destroy these blasphemous Coordinators once and for all. There stood a mockery to God's creation, the hand of the Devil himself reaching into the world to pluck, kill, and insult. She had nearly dispatched ships from Daedalus to go destroy that ZAFT task force that had attacked Copernicus, before Djibril stopped her.

But that long wait was coming to an end. God's justice would be served one way or another and on the screen before her appeared the wire-grid image of the chariot that would carry her into that glorious battle. So they'd named it after some heathen god of creation and destruction. That made no difference. The Vishnu packed the firepower of a Destroy Gundam into a frame even smaller than a Euclid, and her hands already itched to take its controls and ride it out to war.

ZAFT was faltering. The Resistance was fading. A just and proper world was on the cusp of its first dawn. Crayt tightened her fists; she would be there.

Althea Crater lunar base, the Moon

"It was my understanding," Gerhardt von Oldendorf intoned, "that this project had ceased five years ago."

Gerhardt stood on the observation deck over the maintenance pod where slept a man with fiery, catlike eyes tattooed on his forehead or at least, that was what Gerhardt assumed those things were. At his side, longhaired, black-clad Major General Hans von Schacht merely shrugged.

"Things get lost in the great Alliance bureaucracy. Something I'm sure you understand, Director Oldendorf."

"That's not my point," Gerhardt answered. "The project was ended because their conditioning was too unreliable. They had a nasty habit of betraying us."

Schacht waved a dismissive hand. "He's different. Aside from the drugs and maintenance pod time, he has no reason to want to leave us, because we give him what he wants."

"Which is...?"

"A chance to kill, and a weapon with which to do it."

Gerhardt frowned. "Giving a Destroy Gundam to a Combat Coordinator is still an unwise move, Hans."

"Gerhardt, really, he'll be alright," Hans said with another wave. "You know, they found him in CE 71. ZAFT had built a giant Gundam of their own, but it was defeated in combat by the Junk Guild and Serpent Tail. We recovered Ash and gave him some," Schacht cleared his throat, "treatments, if you will. And now he's on our side."

"I thought you had assigned him the Testament."

"Oh, he outgrew that," Schacht chuckled. "We pawned it off on Lieutenant Imelia for a reason, you know. And he outgrew the Euclids too, so there's really no higher on the ladder he can go." He smiled. "Unless Procurements has something up its sleeve that I should know about."

Gerhardt stared down at the slumbering man. The Combat Coordinators, the brainwashed superior humans who fought for the Alliance and did their bidding, but had a dangerous tendency to start thinking for themselves...they certainly sounded familiar.

"Well," he said at last, "perhaps one day he'll see action against the Minerva."

"The Minerva," scoffed Schacht. "I guarantee you, director, if he goes up against the Minerva, he will tear them apart."

"I'm sure he would," said Gerhardt.

June 6th, CE 77 - Capitol Building, Washington, D.C., Atlantic Federation

The door clicked shut and Grand Admiral MacIntyre let out his breath. Commanding a warship in the heat of battle was one thing, but facing the slavering jackals of the press was something else entirely. At least all the enemy wanted to do to you on the battlefield was kill you.

He leaned heavily on his cane as he made his way out of the committee chamber. The representatives had come to Washington brimming with their constituents' anger at Lord Djibril's strategy for dealing with ZAFT, and he couldn't rightly say he blamed them. Djibril's strategy made sense, assuming that Messiah's beam shield could deflect even the Requiem's blasts, but it made for a frustrated public and perilous politics.

But the politics were Meyers' job.

MacIntyre held back a sigh as he found a convenient elevator. His energy had begun to leave him these days, and his job as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs made him feel every one of his seventy-nine years. He was supposed to have retired four years ago, but the wars with ZAFT and the Resistance had put that on hold and prompted a waiver for the otherwise mandatory retirement age. His hand over the Navy, and indeed the whole of the Atlantic Federation's armed forces, would be hard to replace.

He knew that. He also knew that he was treading on uncertain ground. What he had his hands in now went against every oath he had sworn in his career. But that hadn't stopped other men, with intentions worse than his own, from taking advantage of the system's flaws to turn the world towards madness. If Meyers could offer him an avenue for setting the world right and God would give him a little more time on this earth, he would take it. Just enough to put things back the way they were supposed to be. That was all he asked.

He thought back to Alison. She had been so young at everything including her death. It had been so meaningless all for one of the Atlantic Federation's many crimes against humanity in the course of this disaster of a war. He was still here, even as an old man who had watched the world change around him and didn't understand why or how. All he had known was the fleet, but now the fleet was turned towards evil ends.

The elevator reached the parking garage with a thump and MacIntyre made his way towards his vehicle to return to the Pentagon. He had a very busy day ahead of him, and it was more than the men and women of the armed forces counting on him.

June 7th, CE 77 - Battleship Minerva, Gigafloat, Indian Ocean

Rau Le Creuset cocked an eyebrow in surprise as he felt Emily finally emerge onto the Minerva's interior observation deck. The view was hardly spectacular just the inside of the dry-dock where Gigafloat's technicians feverishly worked on the repairs but it was quiet and they would be alone. And he had questions that sorely required answers.

"I understand that 'Zero-Two' character is causing you some grief," he said after the door had slid shut.

Emily came to a stop against the railing and stared out down the Minerva's sloping prow. "She's my mother," she said at last. "I'm not supposed to be fighting my mother."

"But you aren't," Rau pointed out. "It's only a clone."

"That's not what it feels like." She clenched her fists around the railing. "It felt like her. And it felt like..." She trailed off.

"Felt like what?"

"Like I could save her."

Something sparked to life in the back of Rau's mind. "Save her," he echoed. "And she didn't feel like an Extended, so it might well be possible..."

Emily blinked. "Wha you mean I could do it?"

"It's likelier that you couldn't, to be honest. You would have to defeat her first, and if you have so much trouble fighting the apparition of your mother, that in itself will be a challenge. Not to mention disabling her machine without killing her." He shrugged. "But you do have a way of defying the odds..."

Emily went silent and Rau held back a triumphant smile. It was cruelty beyond words for ZAFT to choose a soldier they knew would inflict this emotional torture on her. It would be cruelty beyond comprehension to make her destroy it. Only a world too far gone in its own madness and lust for power and prestige would make such a thing happen. And that was a world that needed to be punished.

"You really think I can save her?" Emily asked.

Rau smiled back. "Of course you can."

"So," said Meyrin Hawke, hands folded over her desk in the Minerva's captain's office, "he was your commander. Tell me about him."

On the other side of the desk, Athrun Zala squirmed as he searched for words to describe the enigma of Rau Le Creuset. At least she was asking...

"I remember it being made out to be an honor to serve under him," he said, "and the air of omniscience and ease with which he fought the Alliance was pretty impressive. Why do you ask?"

"The ship's doctor says he's a clone, with a deteriorating body." She tapped her fingers on the desk. "And Shinn says, among other things, he worked behind the scenes to carry out the Junius 7 drop."

"Yes, he did."

"On the other hand, he provides us with valuable strategic insight, he's developed a number of tactical maneuvers that have helped us win battles, and his experience and combat skills make him a valuable part of the ship's team. So it's not like we can just kill him or dump him off somewhere or something either."

Athrun blinked and wondered if Shinn had finally brought her around. "I suppose..."

"So I want to know what it is you think he's doing now that's so bad we have to get rid of him," Meyrin said.

Athrun sat back. "I'll have to tell you a story that you might not believe."

"I'm listening."

"Then it goes like this." He leaned forward, took a moment to choose his words, and took another to push down the painful memories that came with this little tale. "You said he's a defective clone with shortened telomeres. That's true. It means that his time on this earth is limited, but his ambitions are not which means he needs someone under his confidence, to carry on his plans if he can't do it himself. An apprentice, if you will, and one who's not living on borrowed time. He had one before. It was Kira Yamato."

Meyrin blanched. "Your old friend?"

"Why else did you think the Alliance's Strike Gundam pilot and the guy who stole the Freedom Gundam eventually joined ZAFT?" He shrugged sadly. "I was there. Rau's sleight of hand and mistakes on the battlefield added up to all of Kira's stress over the war, he snapped, and he went with the first person who offered him comfort and purpose and that was Rau."

"Then what's he doing here?"

Athrun bowed his head. "That's what I'm not sure of. Obviously, he's not in a position to control Kira anymore, so either someone else is, or worse, Kira is doing this all of his own free will. But either way, Rau is still a defective clone with a short lifespan, so he still needs someone to carry on his work. And," he swallowed anxiously, "he's been hanging out a lot with Emily."

Silence descended over them both for a moment as Meyrin seemed to ponder the implications. "So what is his plan, anyway?"

"I don't know."

Meyrin leaned forward and pinched the bridge of her nose. "Then we'll have to find out."

June 8th, CE 77 - Gigafloat, Indian Ocean

The Marduk Gundam towered over them all and Auel Neider had to admit, it did look pretty cool. It still had the same shape as the old Abyss, but it had obvious changes, like swiveling beam cannons mounted in the knees and a heavily redesigned pair of shoulder shells. And at the moment, Kisato Yamabuki was pointing out the most important new feature in them: the opening on the tip of each shell, flanked on either side by folding metal flaps.

"So the Abyss was good for shooting lots of beams," Kisato explained, "and the Marduk is even better. Those guns on the tips of the shoulder shells are the 'Callidus Mk II' cannons. They have adjustable output, so you can either fire a tightly-focused beam with a dense particle concentration, or a wider-angle beam with less power but more area coverage." She pointed at the flat panels mounted on the sides of the shells. "And those are parts for the Geschmeidig Panzer armor. You have no idea how hard that was to get."

Auel blinked. "Geschmeidig Panzer? You mean I can redirect beam blasts back at the fuckers who fired them?"

"U-Um, yeah "


Kisato took a moment to recover. "Um, so, there you have it. The Marduk. Optimized for defense and heavy firepower. Any questions?"

"Just one," Auel said. "When's the test drive?"

At that, Kisato's nervous smile vanished and she stared down at her tablet. "Not for a while," she said. "The internal structure needs to be modified to accept the Abyss's N-Jammer Canceller and reactor." She cast an annoyed glare up at the gantry in front of the silent Gundam Eclipse, where Lowe Gear was eagerly interrogating Emily about technical aspects of the Gundam she had no hope of understanding. "He was supposed to get down here and help us out with that, but you know how Lowe is."

Auel frowned. "What, is her Gundam more important than mine? Fuck that! Mine has more guns, that makes it more important."

"Wait, Auel, where are you " Kisato started after him, as he stomped over towards the ladder to go track down Lowe.

The downside of any lengthy stay in port was unimaginable unassailable boredom. It was so bad it had led Roxy Bannon to the Minerva's computer room, where desperation was setting in. Malchio wouldn't let anyone bring alcohol aboard Gigafloat, for a whole variety of reasons, so her supply of booze back in her cabin and whatever else anyone on the platform had smuggled aboard was the only intoxicating stuff to be found, so drinking the boredom away wasn't a viable option. After all, her precious cache of alcohol could not be allowed to go dry or something.

So, as desperation set in, she found herself browsing personnel files in the ship's computer. She hadn't known Shinn was a Virgo. And on a whim, she decided to look up Meyrin's file.

She blinked at the birth date. June 12th, CE 57. She looked at the current date. June 8th, CE 77. The gears began to turn.

The angst around the ship had gotten almost suffocating in recent weeks. Ever since Carpentaria, life had been on a generally downward spiral for the long-suffering crew of the Minerva. Athrun and Viveka finally hooking up was probably the only bright spot in an otherwise ceaseless parade of defeats and setbacks and narrow escapes. And there was something in the very near future worth celebrating, or at least good enough to serve as a pretext for having fun.

Roxy grinned. She had work to do.

June 9th, CE 77 - Izumo-class battleship Amaterasu, Arzachel Crater lunar base, the Moon

As a small expenditure of its otherwise infinite generosity, the Earth Alliance Space Force had charitably donated a grand total of ten warships to the reduced and humbled Orb Space Fleet. An Agamemnon-class carrier, three Nelson-class battleships, and six Drake-class destroyers, all refit to carry mobile suits, sat in the dock as they were loaded with the black, orange, and white Windams of the Orb Security Force. Adding that to the Orb Space Fleet's seven Izumo-class battleships, Jona expected to have seventeen ships and nearly three hundred and fifty mobile suits with which to attack Ame-no-Mihashira.

It would be such a waste.

He figured this day would have come eventually, although it was much sooner than he'd expected. And in truth, he didn't really mind the opportunity to exterminate Rondo Mina Sahaku once and for all. It would have to be done eventually as well. But the manner in which it would be done as a token of submission to Lord Djibril, a move to placate the increasingly harried Earth Alliance President that was what infuriated him.

But there was nothing he could do about it now, so all that was left was to plan out his little raid. At least some good would come of this. No doubt Sahaku was waiting on Ame-no-Mihashira for the winds to shift before making a move but she was so ensconced and so hidden that he could only guess what she was planning.

The cargo elevator came to a stop with a rumble and Jona glanced furtively among his well-armed retinue at Mara Saraba, still in her black Phantom Pain uniform. After all, appearances had to be kept up. The heavy doors slid open and light flooded the chamber.

Jona stepped forward and gestured upwards dramatically. "I've always been a firm believer in second chances," he said. "I even extend that conviction to mobile suits."

At his side, Mara cocked an eyebrow. "Took long enough, didn't it."

"Well, the Akatsuki was in a pretty bad state," Jona said with a shrug. "And we did have to modify the Shiranui pack for use by a non-Newtype. But still," he smirked, "it should get the job done."

Mara scowled. "A shame the Minerva won't be there. Second chances include rematches, y'know."

"Oh, it's just as well," Jona said with a wave of his hand. "After all, we wouldn't want them interfering."

He looked back up at the Akatsuki's gleaming face. Second chances. He was starting to run low on those.

June 10th, CE 77 - Lagrange Point 5

The great sweep of the third ship of the Gondwana class of immense carriers dominated the view from the Silverwind shuttle that Valentine Sunogachi called her own. The wonders of Mirage Colloid had hidden a veritable shipyard throughout the shoal zones of Lagrange Point 5. When the time came to unleash her fleet, crewed as it was with loyal underlings culled from the colonies of Mars, the Alliance would have no idea what to do. They thought they were destroying ZAFT's fleet, bit by bit, as it scurried around the Earth Sphere causing mayhem. In a way, they were right but not right enough.

The Rodinia would be completed in a matter of days and it would make a fine addition to her fleet. They would defend the ZAKU Goliath as it made its way to Earth, and then fan out to launch a war that would make their present activities look like child's play. There would be nothing left in space by the time they were done. The Coordinators would claim dominion over the whole of space, an infinite area over which their people could grow. Let the Naturals rot in the species' cradle. The Coordinators had destiny before them. Lord Djibril had nearly stolen it with his Requiem, but they would rise again and take back the sky.

Valentine closed her eyes and drank in the fading embers of hatred as Messiah receded and the construction crews surrounding the vast hull of the Rodinia approached. Hatred smoldered under the edges among these men, but here the dominant emotion was urgency. They had a flagship to finish and a war to join.

It was almost better this way, she thought. The Coordinators needed a jolt to make them realize what they had to do. And yet now, what Djibril had thought was a deathblow would become the opening note of their triumphant return.

Her thoughts turned back to the Coordinators' symbolic leader, the hero they all admired, Kira Yamato, and his poor, fragile little heart. He hid it well from his troops, but ferreting out the truth of his feelings was no difficult matter for Valentine and her dexterous Newtype senses. He had reached that stage where he looked in the mirror and could no longer recognize himself. Fidelity to herself and to her vision had become his mantra. When this war was over, she wondered if there would be anything left within him.

But it didn't matter if there was or not. The new era of Coordinators evolving into Newtypes would rejuvenate him. He would see that the sacrifices had been worth it. And the world would belong to them.

June 11th, CE 77 - Gigafloat, Indian Ocean

The early morning hours were quiet on Gigafloat, and it was the main reason why Emily saw fit to get up before the sun. This way she could get work done, or even just sit and think. And with the Eclipse running in fine form and no particular expertise for working with the ship's repairs or other people's Gundams, she had little else to do at that hour in the morning.

So, Emily found herself on an observation deck, staring out at the horizon, where the first glimmering rays of the sun were already cresting over the darkness. Soon it would be loud and busy and someone would probably hunt her down for something, but for now, it was quiet, peaceful

...and not alone.

At the feeling of a calm presence and the sound of a tapping cane, Emily turned in surprise to find the Reverend Malchio shuffling onto the deck. "F-Father Malchio," she started, "I didn't know "

"No need," Malchio said, and waved her off, before making his way up to the railing to stand next to her, facing out to sea and the cool breeze of the ocean washing over them both. "I take it you're an early bird as well?"

Emily squirmed. "Something like that."

Malchio nodded. "It's a good time of day. Quiet enough to be alone with your thoughts." He patted his chest. "The Lord is always with me, but His children have a way of demanding my attention."

"I-I see." She stared at him curiously and wondered where that calming, confident aura of his came from. There was no pressure, he wasn't a Newtype, but in his presence she felt her fears about Zero-Two fading away.

"I must confess," Malchio went on, "that I suspect the Lord's hand is at work here. I've heard a great deal about you, Miss Oldendorf, you and your frightening moniker." His smile faded. "And your recent troubles."

Emily blinked. "Who told you that?"

"It's not a priest's place to betray the trust of those who come to him in confessional. But," he shrugged, "nor is it the place of a man of God to hear the cries of one who needs help and pass them by." He reached out with his empty hand and put it comfortingly on Emily's shoulder, and her tension began to melt. "Especially for one as important as you."

"I didn't want to be important," Emily said.

"And I didn't want to be blind. Yet I am blind and you are important nevertheless. We are given our fates and we must endure the hardships that come with them. But," he paused and gestured out towards the sea, "there is something else for us as well. Fate is what we are given. But destiny...that is what we are offered."

She followed his gesture out to sea, but he seemed to understand what her silence really meant.

"I have my fate," he said. "My fate is that of a person who cannot see. I must carry this cane, I must rearrange the mundane details of life that the sighted so often take for granted, and I must ask others to do the same to accommodate me. For years all I could do was tend to an orphanage in the Marshall Islands and wait for the Lord to speak to me. And I cannot regain my sight. But is that my destiny?

"My destiny is so much more, for God would not mean for me to be a blind old man on a forgotten island. God has a greater purpose for me, and for all of us; it is up to us to decide if we will live up to what He offers. He offered me the chance to help others on a scale far greater than my orphanage made possible. He has offered me the confidence of powerful political leaders and the opportunity to administer as important a facility as this platform. I can even lend my hand and my power to the cause of freeing the oppressed and rescuing a people from destruction. Even if that requires violence, is that still not better than my fate?"

Emily hung her head. "I guess."

"And you have your fate," Malchio continued. "We both know what it is. But what is your destiny?"

Rau's words flickered back into her head.

"Your destiny is up to you," Malchio said. "But it's the same for everyone." He put a hand on her shoulder again. "You've had to fight this clone of your mother, I'm told, a clone that makes you feel like your fate no longer matters, like you aren't the Angel of Death that the Alliance and ZAFT alike so fear. But this clone isn't your mother, and you know that as well. So think, if you will, about her position. In relation to her, what is your fate and what is your destiny?"

Emily closed her eyes and leaned against the railing as Malchio returned his attention to the sea, and the warming sun began to ascend.

To be continued...