Phase 34 - Dreams

Mobile Suit Gundam SEED ETERNITY

Phase 34 - Dreams

June 12th, CE 77 - Battleship Minerva, Gigafloat, Indian Ocean

Meyrin Hawke had learned to expect a lot of things over the course of her tenure as the Minerva's captain. Traps, ambushes, adulation, microwave ramen for dinner every day for weeks on end, those were all par for the course. But at no point in her three years as the ship's commanding officer did a birthday party cross her mind.

It was Roxy's fault, technically. Meyrin's seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth birthdays had all been spent in some kind of combat operation like the one in the L5 shoal zone where they'd almost crashed the ship into a piece of debris but this time, when June 12th had dawned, the Minerva had finally been at rest. And Roxy had been keeping that prodigious liquor cabinet of hers well stocked in anticipation of a "special occasion" that had finally come to pass.

And best of all, at least in Roxy's opinion, Meyrin was twenty years old now, which made her legally able to drink in some countries. And if it counted in some countries, then by God it counted in all countries.

All of this combined to explain why Meyrin was standing in the Minerva's crew lounge with a glass of merlot in hand and a pleasant buzz beginning to kick in around the edges of her mind. Of course, if the captain couldn't cry or falter in front of her crew, she certainly couldn't get herself trashed at a party and spend the next day hung over, so Roxy's challenge to try to tackle that terrifying bottle of absinthe would have to go unanswered.

Or, she noted wryly, she'd just have to talk Sting or Auel into doing it which had evidently been her plan B, because Auel was passed out on one of the seats, with the absinthe bottle by his feet.

"So," Roxy exclaimed, as she wheeled in out of nowhere and threw an arm around Meyrin's shoulders, "how's the birthday girl doing?"

Meyrin smiled back. "Nice and buzzed. Thanks for doing this, by the way. I, well," she shrugged, "kind of forgot it was my birthday."

"Yeah, see, that's the problem with the rest of ya fuckers," Roxy answered, and Meyrin decided to ignore the overpowering smell of some expensive European beer on her breath. "Too much fuckin' angst. You guys gotta cut loose more often."

"Duly noted, Miss Bannon," Meyrin said, and raised her glass. Roxy swung up a half-empty bottle of something Meyrin couldn't pronounce, the glass clinked together, and a moment later the red-haired girl tipped the bottle back and expertly drained it. Meyrin cringed at the sight. "Though I do wonder how you can drink like that and not be hung over."

"Mystical arts from the Far East," Roxy replied with a smirk. "Can't tell you, it would explode your little Western mind. Anyway, I need to go convince Abbey to give up the Baileys so I can start the blow jobs."

"The what?"

"Cocktails, you pervert. Later!"

Meyrin watched Roxy melt back into the crowd of the ship's increasingly drunk crew and then immediately swallowed the rest of her wine. Alcohol would clean away that horrible, horrible mental image. Alcohol was a cleanser. It would do the trick.

Besides, she had to admit, it did feel good to just shut up and have some fun. There was really nothing else to do, with Gigafloat's technicians handling the ship's repairs and no particularly pressing needs for the Minerva or her few operational mobile suits. So surely nobody would complain if she took a little time off. It was her birthday, after all. It was time to cut loose.

"Wait a minute," she started, as something occurred to her, "did she say Abbey?"

"You're not supposed to be drinking that," Emily said.

It was lame and it wasn't going to stop her and they both knew it, because Lily looked Emily in the eye, cracked a mile-wide grin, and then tipped back the shot glass and emptied it. Trojan reached forward with an annoyed look, but Emily stopped him. Karma would kick in and it did, as Lily immediately started coughing and sputtering.

"Plus," Emily added, "you're underage."

"Sh-shut up!" Lily spluttered. "It burns!" She wiped her mouth angrily. "Besides, how come you guys get to drink? You're underage too!"

"No we're not," Trojan said, and lifted his own bottle by way of emphasis. "What happens on international waters stays on international waters."

"Then how come I can't drink?"

"Because the powers that be say you can't," Emily said. Lily pouted, turned on her heel, and stomped off.

Trojan shook his head. "You know she's gonna just go drink something else," he said.

Emily shrugged. "If the burning on the way down doesn't stop her, the hangover the next morning will teach her." She looked around, trying to put out of her mind the strange and growing feeling of lust coming from her sister, because that was wrong in so many ways. "I had no idea Roxy had this much alcohol in her cabin."

"Well," Trojan said awkwardly, "it's not all hers. Lowe contributed some, and so did Reed from Serpent Tail, and I, well..."

"Well what?"

"I may have helped Roxy shanghai somebody's stash that they'd hidden in one of the holding bays."

Emily blinked. "You stole it?"

"Stole is such a loaded word," Trojan went on with a nervous smile. "I prefer the, appropriated." Emily did not appear to be buying it. "Really, it was just sitting there. Nobody was doing anything with it. Now they are. It was the right thing to do for the booze."

That did not appear to work either, but Emily merely shrugged her shoulders and turned back towards the crowd and its tipsy aura. "Don't expect me to save you if someone finds out."

"We brought their booze to a better place. It's happier here."

"If you say so."

Medication was a bitch.

Rau Le Creuset was not normally given to such language, but that was about the best word he could think of to describe his annoyance towards the pills that slowed down the effects of his chromosomal degeneration. Alcohol dimmed its effects, which meant the vast assortment of spirits that Roxy Bannon had somehow conjured would have to pass him by untouched. This was a real shame, because she had a bottle of scotch in there that was almost as old as he was.

Instead, the masked man stood at the edge of the party with a glass of club soda in hand, in hopes of warding off anybody who thought he should have a drink and the attendant awkward explanation of why he couldn't. Of course, Rau Le Creuset was no stranger to alcohol-lubricated parties like this, and it didn't hurt that it had lifted the oppressive air of doom that had until now been suffocating the Minerva's crew. It was one thing to plunge Emily into an endless pit of despair; everyone else didn't have to go with her.

He reached out with his senses and found Emily somewhere on the other side of the room with that boy of hers. Idly, he contemplated talking to her again and finding out what she had been doing with the Reverend Malchio, but it probably wasn't worth it. He could wheedle it out of her at some other time, when there wouldn't be at least two other Newtypes milling about to interrupt them.

He glanced off to the side. Well, one other Newtype. The other one would soon be indisposed.

And so Rau sat back and watched as the party went on and a very intoxicated Sting staggered up onto the table and declared himself the "pillow pope," whatever that meant. Let them have their fun. The work could begin again later.

Nobody noticed, Athrun hoped, as he and Viveka slipped out one of the side doors and beat a hasty retreat down the hallway from the crew lounge. He also certainly hoped that nobody least of all Viveka noticed his trembling hands and the incredible nervousness no doubt tinting his aura for anyone with Newtype senses to see for themselves.

No such luck. Viveka cocked an eyebrow at him. "I don't bite, y'know." She paused and cracked a devilish grin. "Or are you into that?"


"Wouldn't have surprised me." She blinked. "My bunk or yours?"

"Which one's further away?"


Athrun cringed and decided to hope that it wouldn't occur to Emily to go back to her cabin for the next few hours. Viveka didn't appear to care, because instead she pressed a kiss to his lips and pulled him down the corridor.

If Shinn's senses were correct, then the party was beginning to wind down, as the booze took hold, everyone got sleepy, and the night wore on. He had little experience with this sort of thing, but being a Newtype had to count for something. Surely, if nothing else, it could give him a preternatural sense of the direction of a party. As long as Newtypes couldn't get drunk from other people's drunkenness, anyways.

He cringed as he sensed Athrun's presence spike somewhere on the ship, and remembered that drunkenness was not the only part of a Newtype's capacity that would be tested tonight.

Shinn put that thought out of his mind as forcefully as he could and instead honed in on Meyrin's presence, where she'd taken up station to watch from a safe distance as Lowe Gear's capacity for alcohol consumption was roundly outmatched by the superhuman liver of Reed Wheeler. Lowe was going to regret that tomorrow. But Reed's next challenger was Roxy, and that would be a bout to see.

"Getting away before Lowe breaks anything, are you?" Meyrin asked with a smile.

Shinn smiled back and listed his glass for a quiet toast. "Happy birthday, captain."

"I really wasn't expecting all this," Meyrin went on with a wave of her hand. "I'd honestly forgotten it was my birthday. We were always busy for the last ones." She smiled sheepishly. "But Malchio will be upset."

"What Malchio doesn't know won't hurt him."

"I suppose." She paused for a moment to take in the vast sweep of her crew, and Shinn had to admit that it was good to feel everybody else feeling good for once. It had been a while since it had been that way aboard the Minerva.

And it had been a while since it had been that way for Meyrin, too.

"Well," Shinn said, "if anyone deserves a party in her honor, it's you," he stepped back to offer a melodramatic bow, "mon capitaine."

Meyrin arched an eyebrow. "You still can't speak French."

"Never said I could."

She smiled back. "Well, that's good enough." She turned at the sound of a cheer, as Roxy stepped up to the table to challenge Reed for the title of most able to hold their liquor. "Oh, this looks like a disaster in the making "

"No no," Shinn said, "it's gonna be good. Let's watch."

Meyrin paused to consider that, and then leaned back against the wall with Shinn to watch the festivities. And Shinn had to admit, for once, there was nothing but peace.

June 13th, CE 77 - Socotra Naval Installation, Yemen

"I'm afraid your request will have to be denied, captain," said Admiral MacIntyre with finality. "Admiral Krane has insisted, Djibril himself interceded to ensure that you would be part of this mission. There's no way out of it. They want you at Gigafloat."

In Admiral MacIntyre's uncomfortably small office, Danilov did his best to hide his emotions. MacIntyre arched an eyebrow, and Danilov guessed that his best had not been good enough. "I understand, sir."

"Although I must also add that this is the first time you've requested reassignment since taking command of the Charlemagne," MacIntyre went on. "And judging by your reasons for the request...I think I know what kind of man you are now, captain."

Danilov's mind darted back to their conversation on Athens. "Admiral..."

"So in that spirit, I think it would be wise to entrust you with a particular bit of information." He sat back. "Lord Djibril's strategy for dealing with ZAFT is working. Their fleet is being whittled away, piece by piece. But it's deeply unpopular with the public. They don't understand the military necessities that forced this choice, so as long as people keep dying or losing money in ZAFT's attacks. President Vasserot of the Atlantic Federation supports Djibril's policy wholeheartedly, and it's cost him so much support that he can't even get a nominee for Vice President through the Congress. So he doesn't have much time left in his political life." MacIntyre cocked an eyebrow. "And I'm sure you know what that means."

Danilov blinked. "He's going to be removed?"

"He and the Speaker, his political ally. That would make Senator Meyers the President, and he and Premier Musashihara intend to open negotiations with ZAFT to put them off guard for a decisive final strike," the admiral leaned forward, "and to withdraw from the Earth Alliance."

"W-withdraw from the Alliance?" Danilov sputtered. "But that would mean "

"Civil war, yes. And we all know who the Phantom Pain would side with. But what I want to know, Captain Danilov, is who you would side with."

Danilov searched for words. " there some way to stop this?"

"If there is, I don't know it. I'm not a politician, I just have to listen to them." The admiral tapped his cane pointedly. "You don't have to decide right now, Danilov, but you had better not take too long. With Gigafloat and Ame-no-Mihashira gone, the only thing left for the Resistance will be Terminal. And once that's gone, the Resistance won't be a factor anymore. And," he waved a hand, "do you really trust the politicians to set the Alliance right?"

Sven Cal Bayan looked horrible.

And that was putting it mildly. Even Mudie had to admit that the man looked like he needed about five more hours of sleep than he appeared to be getting each night, and as she and Shams watched him amble towards the mess hall's coffee machine, the most haunting thing about him was that look of utter despair swirling in his eyes.

Of course, she had her memories of him from training, the brutal, punishing training to which the earliest Phantom Pain recruits had been subjected. Her memories of him in the very beginning were dim, but for some reason, the idea of the stars and outer space kept occurring. He had been quiet and reclusive anyways, but maybe he had a hobby or something, before the Phantom Pain drilled it out of him.

Shams decided not to opt for subtlety. Shams never opted for subtlety. He marched right over and plopped himself down on the seat opposite from Sven, much to the silver-haired man's annoyance.

"So!" he said cheerfully. "I hear you've been hanging out with Yukiko a lot. What's up with that?"

"It's none of your concern," Sven said.

"It's our concern if our squadron commander goes insane," Mudie spoke up, to Sven and Shams' surprise. She wasn't that worried that Sven was losing his mind, but needling him about it would probably be fun.

"I am not going insane," Sven shot back.

"Then what's this I hear about a 'Psyco System?'" Shams replied, and Sven fell silent in disbelief. "Yeah, I've heard of it. That thing they installed on the Diablo four years ago. It was supposed to let the pilot interface directly with the mobile suit. Only an Extended could handle it. What are you doing with it?"

Sven promptly stood up with a scowl on his lips. "That is not your concern either," he snapped, and swept out of the room with a growl. Mudie blinked in surprise and turned towards Shams.

"Is he seriously using the Psyco System?"

Shams put his head in his hands. "That's what I heard. And y'know something else about the Psyco System? It has to be used in moderation or it will in fact drive you insane." He waved a hand at the door through which Sven had just stormed. "And when does he ever do something in moderation?"

Silence descended over them both for a moment. "So," Mudie said, "I suppose that means we should go apply for a transfer."

"I suppose so."

After eight nonstop hours of study and memorization of Gigafloat schematics, Grey Saiba was well and truly sick of maritime architecture. It didn't help that the wire-grid models all just started looking the same after the first twenty minutes, so when the lieutenant in charge of the briefing yelled at him for mistaking Block 23A's third connecting spar with Block 26B's exposed power conduit, it took everything he had not to yell back. That sort of thing never ended well for him.

Now that he could navigate Gigafloat's insides to the briefing officer's satisfaction, he was slumped against the railing on a deck overlooking the Charlemagne in port. Hopefully Merau would be done soon so they could go get dinner.

The door over his shoulder opened and instead of Merau, it was Erin who came stomping out with a look of disgust on her face. She stopped short as she caught sight of Grey and tried to smooth herself over, but not before Grey caught the look in her eye.

"He was tough on you too?"

Erin threw her hands up in frustration. "They all look the same! What does it matter to us anyway? All we're gonna do is smash it."

Breaking Gigafloat apart would be a challenge, since an attack in CE 71 by Orb had prompted its proprietors to include stronger armoring along the underside, to protect the vulnerable connections between the blocks. So the Alliance would just have to slaughter its way through the platform's defenders and smash the thing from above, the hard way.

That wouldn't be fun.

"You did notice what's on some of those blocks, though, right?" he asked nervously. "A hospital? A refugee camp? An orphanage?"

Erin shifted uncomfortably. "Well, yes."

"And you're okay with this, even though they'll be in the line of fire?"

"Well the Resistance probably put them there as shields," she shot back. "They do that, y'know. And then hope that we won't shoot at them."

Grey stared at her skeptically and then turned back towards Volgograd. "If that's their plan, it sucks," he said, "'cuz we're gonna shoot at them anyway."

June 14th, CE 77 - Gigafloat, Indian Ocean

The Reverend Malchio sat in silent patience at the end of the conference table, and Meyrin had to admit that it was a bit unnerving to see him here. A council of war was the last place for a man such as him.

At the other end, the Professor put her hands back behind her head and comfortably propped her feet up on the table. "The short version," she began, "is that the war is all but over for the Resistance. Chiao Xu is dead, Copland and Terminal are on the run, the Resistance fleet is in retreat in all sectors, and all we've got left on Earth is Gigafloat."

Meyrin frowned. She hated to bring up this subject, but as long as it was there... "What about Ame-no-Mihashira?"

"That will not be an option," Malchio spoke up. "Intelligence from the Moon came in yesterday. They noticed the Orb Space Fleet leaving with Governor-General Seiran's ship in the lead, and their trajectory seemed to take them to Ame-no-Mihashira. It would appear the Alliance has finally decided to move against Lady Sahaku."

If Meyrin hated to broach that subject, then this one was even worse. "Are we going to offer her any help?"

The Professor merely laughed. "You aren't going anywhere for the next couple days, sweetie. Not with the engine overhaul and the new Gundams still being tuned."

"Then we're going to leave Sahaku on her own?"

Malchio sighed. "The Resistance in space will have to assist her," he said. "We cannot."

"It's not all that bad anyway," the Professor added with a shrug. "I mean, don't tell me you two ever actually trusted Sahaku."

"Many innocent people will die in the battle," Malchio answered. He looked back towards Meyrin. "But we do not have the resources to assist her in any event."

"Then, what do we do from here?" Meyrin asked.

The Professor arched an eyebrow towards Malchio, and the blind man leaned forward on his cane. "When your repairs are complete, we will send you to space," he said. "There is nothing more for you to do on Earth. But ZAFT's main fleet and its fortress are in space. That is where this war will be decided. And that is where you have to be."

"What about Gigafloat?" Meyrin started, but Malchio shook his head.

"Six years ago, I sent another group to space to end a war that had gone out of control. It worked for a time, but a second, even worse war started, and they averted disaster again, at the cost of their lives. And now, here is the third war, the one that may well destroy us all. But you can stop that and you must." He tapped his cane on the floor. "Gigafloat will give you the means to end this war and send you to where it will be decided. But you must take up the mantle and stop this conflict before it consumes everything." He bowed his head. "I know I ask much of you, Captain Hawke. I asked much of Lacus Clyne as well. But after the Requiem and Copernicus, it's clear that this war as well will go out of control if no one stops it." He turned his head back up towards Meyrin. "And that power will have to rest with you."

Meyrin cringed at the responsibility, at the power, at the thought of being compared to Lacus Clyne and all that that meant. But she had watched the Requiem blast her home out of the sky, and she had seen the dead pile up at Copernicus. Malchio was right. The Minerva had spent three years as the symbol of justice for the Resistance. Only her ship and only her crew could do this.

She nodded. "I understand, father."

Dr. Freeman, as it turned out, was a man of few words and it has been his energetic assistant who had done most of the explaining. It had occurred to Auel Neider to ask where the hell this guy had gotten his reputation as a fierce killer of Alliance infantry, but the way he handled that crowbar in merely opening up a crate of spare batteries had put all doubts to rest. Auel Neider could respect a man who could use hardware store products to kill people with such dexterity.

That was all secondary, however, as Sting and Auel very nearly bounced out of the weapons lab, giddy with joy. Sting was particularly pleased with the new Fujin Gundam's four gunbarrels and enhanced atmospheric flight capability, and the inner gun fetishist in Auel's heart veritably sang at the sight of all those beam cannons on his new Marduk tearing apart a simulated squadron of Jet Windams.

Trojan and Lily, however, tramped behind them in a collective foul mood. Neither of them had scored any equipment upgrades, although Lowe Gear had enthusiastically promised to cobble something together for them.

"So we're going to space next," Sting said with a wistful sigh. "Man, that's gonna be great. Test out the gunbarrels in zero gravity. That's where they work best, y'know."

"Jesus, I'm just glad to be getting the chance to do something," Auel groaned. "Do you have any idea how long we've been cooped up on the Minerva? And getting back in the saddle with a Gundam too! Good times are ahead of us, my friend. Good times."

Lily looked as though she decidedly disagreed with Auel's assessment of their futures, at least until she had a new mobile suit of her own. It wasn't fair, she said, she worked hard too.

But for his part, while Trojan was starting to see the strain that constant combat was putting on his poor DOM Trooper, he couldn't help but feel that even with a new mobile suit, the future would be anything but bright. Not with the war coming to its end.

And as these things tended to go, when wars ended, they ended with a bang.

The sounds of the dock at work were muffled as the observation deck door slid shut, and with a heavy sigh, Nathaniel Hatias glanced over his shoulder at the new arrival. Alec Ladd still seemed out of place among these Resistance fighters and refugees. The brawny ZAFT soldier stared down awkwardly at the mighty Aristotle, safe in its dry-dock for now.

"Did you talk to them about supplies?" he asked.

Nathaniel shrugged. "They promised to treat us like a regular Resistance unit, but that's just talk until they do." He looked back down towards the ship. "I guess they're all hard up for resources, though. So if we don't get anything, I suppose we're not necessarily being snubbed."

"Not necessarily," Alec agreed.

Silence descended over both men again. They both had no illusions about their new lives with the Resistance. Not everyone appreciated the Minerva's insights; not everyone was willing to forgive ZAFT for crimes like Copernicus; not everyone believed that defectors were sincere. And that made a sad kind of sense. The Resistance had fought the worst of the Earth Alliance for three years, before ZAFT showed up and tried to match them crime for crime. The Resistance was simply caught in the middle. Under the same circumstances, he would distrust himself as well.

"So what are we going to do now?" Alec asked.

That was the question Nathaniel had been trying to avoid answering himself. There was no clear answer. The Resistance could probably use a stealthy, gigantic, mobile suit-equipped submarine to ply the oceans and do battle with the Alliance Navy, but the more he thought about it, the more his defection seemed like a purely symbolic move. It wasn't going to change the course of the war. The war would end in space, where the ZAFT fleet was, and the Aristotle could not be there.

"Well," he said at last, "our moral compass has led us this far. We ought to follow it the rest of the way."

Alec frowned. "That's not much of an answer."

"I know."

"Althea Crater?" sputtered Abbey Windsor, breaking the silence on the Minerva's bridge. At the other end of the mapping console, Gai Murakumo nodded solemnly with crossed arms. "What the hell for? I thought it was ZAFT that we had to worry about."

"Copland's plan," Gai said with a shrug. "Put the Resistance back in the war by taking a major Alliance installation, create a third party, and recreate the conditions at the end of the Valentine War and the Junius War." He narrowed his eyes. "So you can play Lacus Clyne."

Abbey tried to hide her grimace at the thought. "There was only one Lacus Clyne."

"You'll have to be an acceptable substitute." Gai tapped a key on the console and a wire-grid map of the Earth Sphere obligingly appeared. "The Alliance has picked up powerful magnetic fields throughout the shoal zone at L5. Magnetic fields consistent with the use of a Mirage Colloid system. So ZAFT is doing something they don't want the rest of the world to see." He shrugged. "But you kill ZAFT and you leave the world in Djibril's hands. No better. So there has to be a third party."

It made sense, but something about being compared to Lacus Clyne made Abbey's stomach turn and it didn't help that Gai had neglected to mention just what had become of Lacus Clyne.

"I suppose there's no choice," she said with a sigh, "but that doesn't mean we can just be like the Three Ships Alliance."

"You don't have to," Gai answered. "All you need to do "

He was cut off by an alarm from Burt's sensor console. They turned as Burt consulted his instruments, and Abbey's stomach made another loop as Burt turned around with a stunned look on his face.

"Vice Captain, I don't know how this happened, but I've got a bunch of radar contacts from the north," he said. "In fleet formation."

Gai frowned. "So they're doing it after all."

"Doing what?"

"It's obvious." He uncrossed his arms and pointed at Burt's screen, and the two dozen blinking dots moving towards the center. "The Alliance. They've come to settle the issue of Gigafloat."

Abbey stared at the screen for a moment. So this was how their rest would end.

She picked up the intercom and dialed in a frequency. "Captain Hawke, report to the Minerva bridge immediately. We have a situation."

June 15th, CE 77 - Heaven's Base, Iceland

"We're still two days out from Gigafloat, sir," reported Vice Admiral Krane, "but even if it tries to run, we'll be upon it before it can get far. With the Charlemagne, they won't stand a chance."

Lord Djibril leaned back in his office chair. "I expect your work to be thorough, admiral. No inconvenient survivors and escapees. Get this done quickly and cleanly."

"Of course, sir."

"Very well. Djibril, out." He switched off the admiral's frequency and keyed in a different one, just in time for a familiar woman in black sunglasses to flicker onto the screen. "Ah, Marshal Markav. I was just about to request a report."

Even with those sunglasses, Markav seemed to have a more manic look about her. It had its uses, Djibril supposed, and she was still handy for that insane zeal with which she descended upon the Resistance and ZAFT, but if all went as planned, this battle would rid him of some inconvenient deadweight. Markav was still useful, but only just. And Lord Djibril had no need for tools that had expired in their usefulness.

"A third of the fleet has gathered at Arzachel," she reported. "The Phantom Pain forces are preparing at Daedalus Crater, but they will be ready to set out in about a week's time. And once we have them gathered, we can set out at your discretion."

Lord Djibril sat back. The plan called for a volley from the Requiem cannon into the shoal zone at Lagrange Point 5 first, to clear some of the rubble and set off a pinball effect that would hopefully make the fleet action unnecessary. But Djibril frowned at that thought. What he hoped for rarely occurred these days.

"Very well, marshal," he said. "Continue your work. Make no move against ZAFT until you receive my authorization."

"Yes sir."

"Djibril, out."

The Earth Alliance president switched off the screen and leaned back to think.

Gigafloat, Indian Ocean

The Reverend Malchio stood at the head of a small auditorium crammed with twice the number of people it was designed to hold. The whole of Gigafloat's population had turned out to hear a portentous speech from the platform's administrator. Malchio shifted uncomfortably on the stage.

"My friends, I've gathered you to relay some grim news," he began. "The Earth Alliance is sending a fleet of warships towards this platform." Gasps went up in the crowd and Malchio raised a hand for quiet. "We have contacted this fleet repeatedly to ask for its mission, but we have received no reply. We can only conclude that they have hostile intent, and as a result, this platform is no longer safe." He paused. "We will have to evacuate.

"I realize for many of you, this platform has been the only safe haven you have known in this long and trying war, and to leave now is to enter a dangerous world a world that, in the case of some of you, wants to destroy you. I have arranged for a number of safe houses with the Junk Guild in Africa. They will protect you until this storm blows over. If Gigafloat still stands and I am still its administrator, you are welcome to return, but I can make no guarantees." He frowned. "Others have questioned the Alliance's willingness to destroy civilians, and they have paid the price for it. I will not allow that to happen to you.

"Please cooperate with us as we begin evacuation procedures, and please cooperate with the Junk Guild. We will see you safely through this."

Off-stage, Emily squirmed uncomfortably at that feeling of preternatural calm that radiated still from the figure of the reverend. He was calm but she couldn't say that for anyone else.

Onboard the ReHOME, the hangar was alive with frenzied preparations. The Professor had managed to wrangle her ship out of refugee transport duty "they'll just break everything," she had complained and instead managed to "volunteer" the ReHOME for hauling away sensitive equipment for the Resistance. This had turned Lowe Gear into something of a cavalry general for Power Loaders and sundry other dockyard machinery. From his perch on one of the access walkways, Canard Pars watched in a mix of fascination and horror as Lowe appeared to be almost dancing with a Power Loader while shouting directions to others.

"Are you sure it's safe to trust him with that thing?"

At his side, the Professor smirked. "It's funny."

"If someone gets hurt, it's going to be a problem."

"Yeah, but it won't be mine," she said with a shrug. "Shouldn't you be helping out or something?"

"By doing what, exactly? And what are you doing?"

The Professor paused for a moment. "I'm supervising."

"Well so am I."

The Professor appeared ready to send back a snappy retort, but apparently changed her mind. She looked around the ship, and out the hangar doors towards the Gigafloat dry-dock. "Well, it was nice while it lasted. I helped build this thing, y'know."

Canard arched an eyebrow. "Don't tell me you're getting all sentimental."

"Just an observation."

Althea Crater lunar base, the Moon

The observation lounge overlooking the dock where sat the Nana Buluku had but two occupants, one casually sipping on a glass of red wine as he looked over the ship. The Girty Lue-class had been one of the Earth Alliance's finer military accomplishments. Shame it was so expensive or they'd have more.

Gerhardt von Oldendorf took another sip. Of course, expense wasn't the real reason the Alliance hadn't ordered so many more of these ships. Nothing was really too expensive for the combined military might of the planet.

Gerhardt glanced over his shoulder at Irene. "Schacht has had his eye on you, y'know."

Irene crossed her arms. "I'm lucky if it's just his eye."

"Well, he won't be a problem for long." He turned back towards the window. "We would be unwise to stay in one place for long."

"And why's that?"

"Simple fact of the world," answered Gerhardt with a shrug. "It deeply resents anyone who tries to change it. Even as indirectly as I am."

Irene arched an eyebrow. "Which reminds me..."

"It's why I called you up here," he said. "I think it's finally time to tell you what my true intentions are." He turned around. "I know the Phantom Pain sent you to spy on me, Irene." She blinked in surprise. "Did you think I wouldn't? So strange that I should be assigned a Phantom Pain attaché when I neither needed nor asked for one. But I think you'll understand what I'm getting at."

"Which is...?"

Gerhardt turned back towards the ship. "Do you know why I called Emily the 'angel of death?' Why it's so dreadfully ironic that that should be her nickname among the Alliance military?"

"'cuz she's good at killing people?"

"Superficially, I suppose, but that's not quite it." He took another sip. "The angel of death takes those whose time has come. It's nothing personal, really. It's just a matter of destiny. If you are meant to die, the angel of death will sever your cords and take you away. Nobody can control death nobody but God."

Irene blinked. "What, you want to be God?"

"Of course I do," scoffed Gerhardt. "Everyone does. But that's not the point. The point of creating Emily was always to focus a great deal of power into one individual, an individual open to manipulation and coercion, and then unleash her on the world. She's doing exactly what I want her to do destabilizing everything. Destroying things that are meant to die." He waved a hand at the tableau before him. "This Alliance. Its time has come. ZAFT's time has come. The Coordinators' time has come. The entire world has reached its end.

"You feel this, don't you?" he asked, and turned towards her. "You feel that this world has gone mad. We have lord Djibril and his Requiem, we have Marshal Sunogachi and her poison gas, we have who knows what other superweapons they're both working on, and we have the Resistance tearing down civilization in between. And to think it all started with humans trying to play God."

Irene stood in shock for a moment, struggling to form words. "'re trying to destroy the world?"

"Oh, hardly," he chuckled. "It is time for some things to die. Humans are easy to kill, but institutions? Peoples? Empires? Those take something more." He raised his glass. "So here's to Emily. My wonderful little daughter. The Angel of Death."

Izumo-class battleship Amaterasu, Arzachel Crater lunar base, the Moon

The Amaterasu's mighty engines roared to life, and the warship rattled as it lifted itself out of port and took off into the black sky of space.

On the bridge in one of the observer's chairs, Jona Roma Seiran sat back. The duty officers had been skeptical and confused when the Orb Space Fleet's crews and officers showed up not in the typical grays of the Alliance Space Force but in the heroic blue and white of the old uniforms of independent Orb, but ultimately they had made no protest. And that was the way Jona liked it. He idly brushed a speck of dust off his starched white admiral's uniform. Finally he looked like he belonged to Orb again and not Lord Djibril's orbit.

Captain Matsumara glanced over at him. "ETA to Ame-no-Mihashira is fifty-five hours," he said. "Will you be observing from the bridge, sir?"

"Of course I will." He smiled reassuringly. "The future leader of Orb can't be absent as his last and most annoying rival is finally erased from existence, can he?"

"I suppose not, sir."

Jona returned his sight out the bridge windows, where the Orb Space Fleet was taking shape. Seventeen warships was nothing next to the vast armadas of the Earth Alliance, but surely Sahaku had even less to count on and he still had the Akatsuki.

Cagalli and the Athha family had always trusted the Sahakus not to turn against them in their many political maneuvers against the Seirans. And it had usually been a useful relationship. And, as he reflected on the gleaming Akatsuki standing ready in the Amaterasu's hangar, it turned out that Cagalli Yula Athha was useful still.

June 16th, CE 77 - Gigafloat, Indian Ocean

"I was given to understand that my affiliation with the Resistance would bring me assistance should this day ever come."

In one of Gigafloat's many conference rooms, Meyrin Hawke and the Reverend Malchio all shared anxious looks at the sight of the face on the screen. Rondo Mina Sahaku stared down at them imperiously.

"We know what promise we made," Malchio said, "but we have our own problems. The Alliance has sent a fleet to destroy Gigafloat. We have to evacuate the civilians here, which means there is little we can do for you."

Mina cocked an eyebrow. "Perhaps my cooperation with the Resistance was a mistake?"

"If there was anything we could do," Malchio said, "we would. Your assistance to us in the past has been invaluable. But the Alliance has us pressed."

"Well, I'm sure you understand my position as well, then," Mina said with a contemptuous wave of her hand. "Because frankly, father, you can hide behind Gigafloat's civilian population if need be. I cannot."

Malchio bristled. "I will not use Gigafloat's refugees as shields, Lady Sahaku."

"Then you're going to lose this battle. And so am I."

Meyrin opened her mouth to speak, but Malchio raised a hand to cut her off. "I will do this then, Lady Sahaku," he said. "I will send the Minerva." Meyrin's eyes went wide and she shot a glance towards the blind man. "Their repairs are complete and their new Gundams are almost ready for combat. I will require a day to prepare them for launch. They will likely have to be launched in the middle of our battle with the Alliance, and if they can make it, they will likely only do so during the Alliance's attack on Ame-no-Mihashira, but they will be carrying ten mobile suits, including eight powerful new prototypes, seven of which the Alliance has never seen before. This is the most I can do for you."

Rondo Mina Sahaku kept her face stony, but Meyrin nearly shivered at the surge of delight in her eyes. "Then I look forward to meeting you, Captain Hawke."

The line went dark and Meyrin immediately whirled around on Malchio. "Father, we can't go to space now! We have to help defend Gigafloat!"

"The Junk Guild can handle that "

"No they can't!" Meyrin cried. "That Alliance fleet is bringing the Charlemagne too! You can't handle them! You need us!"

Malchio put a hand on Meyrin's shoulder. "Captain, there are things I cannot explain to you right now, so you must simply trust my judgment when I say that you must go to space. It is not negotiable. I will not let you waste your lives on Earth when there is so much more important work to do in space."

"But father "

"I cannot do any differently, captain." He nodded towards the door. "Go. You have preparations to make."

"So the Aristotle is going to help evacuate civilians," Alec Ladd explained uncomfortably. "Our mobile suit complement will hold off the Alliance as long as we're able, while covering the Aristotle's escape west."

Shinn Asuka nodded resignedly. "I only wish I could be out there too."

"I know, the tuning isn't finished yet." Alec shrugged. "I guess you guys have more important places to be anyway."

"It was Malchio's idea. He wants us to go to space no matter what, even if we have to abandon you guys."

Alec nodded, and then stuck his hand forward. "It's a shame we haven't had our rematch, Asuka. And since you guys are going to space, I guess it won't happen. So good luck out there."

Shinn stared at his hand and then hesitantly shook it. "Thank you."

"Just don't forget, kid."

It towered over them, with its huge red and black backpack and its two long swords, and Lowe Gear could not be prouder. He gestured excitedly to the various features of the Gundam Astray Red Frame Kai, and at his side, Emily von Oldendorf tried to look interested.

"It's gonna be great," Lowe said. "The backpack turns into this giant bow and arrow thing and it has this awesome built-in beam cannon, and " He stopped as he noticed that Emily did not seem all that enthused. "Uh, what's up?"

"N-Nothing," she said quickly.

Lowe threw an arm around her shoulder. "Oh, you. This is, what, the third time I've had to protect Gigafloat from some asshole that wants to blow it up? It'll be cool. Somebody always wants to take this thing apart. Then they try to do it and we show up and kick their asses."

Emily glanced nervously around the hangar. It didn't help that few people on the platform shared Lowe's superhuman optimism, and the panic was beginning to rub off on her. And it especially didn't help that hers would be the only one of the Minerva's new Gundams to take to the field, as the other seven were still being tuned and loaded aboard the ship and the ship would be leaving partway through.

Which meant abandoning Gigafloat...and Malchio.

She thought back to his words and tried to unpack their meaning. She was supposed to look to her destiny, but all she could see was fate.

To be continued...