Phase 50 - Reason to Believe

Mobile Suit Gundam SEED ETERNITY

Note: Oh my holy God this thing is done.

Well, after seven or eight years or so of fanfiction, I think some thanks are in order. Firstly, I want to thank the two people who essentially functioned as my beta readers: SoreDewa and Wing Zero Alpha. They knew more about this story than anyone other than me and they were the ones who always told me when my ideas were stupid and what I should do to fix them. These fanfics evolved into what they are largely through their influence. Thanks a million, guys.

I also want to tip my hat to the readers on Mecha Talk, who weren't quite as involved in the creative process but provided all kinds of invaluable feedback all the same. I know I didn't express it much, but I really am grateful for your readership, your comments, and your feedback, be it positive, negative, neutral, or whatever else. I know this whole fanfiction series has been about as controversial as the original Gundam SEED DESTINY. Reading it, I suppose it marks my evolution as a writer. And we all know that's been a bumpy process, so thanks for sticking with me as long as you have.

And then there's my other readers, on FFN and elsewhere. I may not have expressed it enough to you as well, but I greatly appreciate your comments and feedback as well.

So this is it! Last chapter! Show's almost over, kids, so let's get to it.

Phase 50 - Reason to Believe

July 7th, CE 77 - The Pentagon, Washington, D.C., Atlantic Federation

Admiral MacIntyre was no stranger to the cut and thrust of pitched battle. Nor was he a stranger to the peculiar feeling of helplessness that every sensible commander felt as he issued orders and thought up plans in his faraway hidden bunker and hoped they would be translated to victory on the battlefield.

The feeling of helplessness as he watched another city get vaporized by the ZAKU Goliath, however...that one was new.

"Contact lost with the substation in Geneva!" one of the soldiers below cried.

The major in charge clenched his fists as the frustration mounted. "Why the hell can't we stop that damned thing?!"

"We're not going to be the ones to stop that thing, major," MacIntyre said quietly. The major blinked at the old admiral in disbelief. "It will take someone with skill and a high-performance mobile suit. One of the Minerva's Gundams."

"Then shouldn't we just redeploy our forces?" the major sputtered.

MacIntyre leaned forward, eyes fixed on the tactical map. "No," he said, "because we are here to delay that thing and give them enough time to do their work. And they won't let us down, because in this battle, they are on our side." He tapped his cane on the floor with finality. "Intensify all fire on the red giant!"

Debris Belt

It was not a waste.

Valentine Sunogachi repeated it to herself until it became a mantra. Kira Yamato's death was not a waste. He had done so much for her, so much to get her to this point. He had slain dragons and paved the road that the ZAKU Goliath now took to victory. He had done so much.

Now, the Goliath had to march on and make sure his death was not in vain. He had done so much for her, built this army for her, lifted its spirits, helped her transform it all, helped her build and maintain this cocoon of hatred that pulsed and swelled around her. She would save his memory. She would build a world for the Coordinators in his memory, build a world where their people would be safe. It would not be wasted.

The men around the control room looked to her in disbelief as the news sank in that the hero of ZAFT was dead. "Vice Marshal Yamato did not give his life so that we could stop here, on the cusp of victory," she said. "Recharge the Armageddon cannon. Next target, Paris. And get us into the atmosphere."

As the men returned to work and the Goliath's armaments washed away another force of enemy mobile suits, Valentine returned to her darkening thoughts with a scowl. It was not a waste. It would never be a waste. She would ensure it.

A vast column of blinding green energy came blazing out of the Amaranth Gundam's double-barreled "Gemini" weapon. The Eclipse, the Green Frame Kai, and the Twilight Cortana darted apart to let the massive blast sear by and then an instant later, afterimages flying and the golden heat vents blazing against the black sky of space, the Amaranth itself charged into the battle. It switched the Gemini to its left hand and drew a beam saber with its right; Emily backed away and fired back with the Dragon's Fire, but the Amaranth's DRAGOONs lashed out.

Trojan and Lily wheeled around to enter the fray but the DRAGOONs warded them off with a storm of beam fire. The Eclipse and Amaranth danced around each other's enormous beam blasts and rushed off together into the darkness, circling each other like hawks.

"Emily! Wait " Trojan started; the DRAGOONs rocketed away after the Amaranth. The Green Frame turned to pursue until another wave of beam shots cut them all off and forced the Green Frame and Cortana back.

"Where the hell did they come from?!" Lily sputtered. Up ahead, the surviving ZAKU Drones swept down into the fight, beam rifles blazing and blocking the way after the Eclipse.

"Dammit," Trojan grunted, "fine! That's the way you want to play?! Fine! Let's go!"

Eyes flashing to life, the Green Frame and Cortana roared into the fray.

Battleship Minerva

"There they are!" Meyrin shouted. "Tristans, Isolde, fire!"

The Minerva veered around a massive piece of wreckage, turned its guns towards the Fortuna, and opened fire. The Isolde shells struck home against the Fortuna's hull and the ship lurched back but then its own Tristans responded with a salvo that seared by the Minerva's port wing. Malik yanked the ship to the side; the Fortuna's Isolde rumbled and three shells slammed into the ship's port side, just behind the catapult doors.

"Parsifals, target the wreckage! Fire!" Meyrin ordered.

Exhaust flashed and smoke billowed around the Minerva as the Parsifal air-to-surface missiles fired and lazily arced around towards the Fortuna. The blue and gray warship's CIWS emplacements came to life, but the missiles slammed into the wreckage around the Fortuna, scattering it like a shotgun blast into the oncoming battleship. The Fortuna shuddered as a wall of debris slammed into it

And then the Minerva shook as a storm of missiles came slamming down into its armor. Meyrin blinked in disbelief.

"What the sensors, where did those come from?!" she sputtered.

"I can't confirm!" Burt exclaimed. "They must have been hidden "

"Incoming!" Malik interrupted, and yanked the ship to starboard as the battered and cratered Fortuna's Tristans fired again. The blue and gray warship swept down after them with another blast from its Isolde cannon that raked across the Minerva's dorsal surface.

"Damage level C," Abbey spoke up. "Captain "

"Heat source!" Burt cried, and Malik instinctively sent the Minerva plunging downward

Meyrin shielded her eyes as the blinding column of a Tannhäuser blast shot by overhead, and the Minerva seemed like it would shake itself apart as the antimatter annihilated everything around it, enveloping the warship in bone-jarring explosions. Meyrin clenched her fists around the armrests as the flames lashed her ship.

Very clever, but two can play at that game...!

Earth Alliance battleship Charlemagne

Plowing forward with a hail of beam fire in front of it, the Charlemagne spewed smoke and sparks as it led the charge against Messiah. The ZAFT fleet was beginning to pull back ahead of them and enough of the Alliance and Resistance ships had pulled themselves out of the melee to launch what Danilov hoped would be a credible attack. But they still had to get through that beam shield

"Oh, shit!" Sting Oakley's voice ripped through the bridge. "The NEO-GENESIS! Everyone move!"

"Helm, hard to port!" Danilov roared

The world seemed to disappear as Messiah's NEO-GENESIS array came to life. The iridescent column of radiation swept forward; the Charlemagne shook as it seared by the ship's hull and began to tear away weapons and armor; other ships writhed and exploded amid the blast; Danilov gripped the armrests of his seat until his knuckles turned white. Up on the auxiliary screen, the feed from Admiral Barton's flagship went black; out of the corner of his eye, Danilov watched the carrier buckle under the NEO-GENESIS's blast and explode.

"Charlemagne, are you still there?" came Sting's voice again. Danilov painfully turned his eyes back out the windows and found the blast dying down and the massive field of wreckage where so much of the fleet had once been.

"We...we're still alive," he answered, "but..." He shook his head. "Damage report, now!"

Vera painfully got back to her feet and consulted her console. "Our...entire weapons system is offline, sir," she said. "Hull breaches all over the ship. Power conduits broken. Life support systems fluctuating."

"So," Sting said quietly, "you're not still with us."

Danilov looked up grimly towards Messiah, through that shimmering beam shield, and knew it was recharging the NEO-GENESIS array for another attack. And with that beam shield, it could sit there and blow away the Alliance and Resistance forces with impunity. Even if that red machine was stopped, they could still irradiate the Earth at will and exterminate every living thing on its surface.

"What about the engines?" he asked suddenly.

The helmsman stirred at his seat. "They're on auxiliary power, but they're still online."

"Then in that case," he slowly got to his feet, "muster all personnel to the escape launches. And set a ramming course for the beam shield ring."

The helmsman blinked and the bridge crew looked at each other anxiously. "A ramming course...?"

"Sir, if we evacuate they'll be able to knock the ship off course " Vera started.

"Then I will stay here and keep it on course," Danilov said.

Sting frowned. "Y'know, a heroic suicide is kinda dumb when it isn't really necessary "

"It is," Danilov insisted. "We have to pierce that beam shield. If the Charlemagne can't fight, it can at least act as a giant battering ram. Just long enough for some units to get in and destroy the beam shield from the inside, so we can destroy this fortress." He gestured impatiently at Messiah. "They can fire again. They'll kill everyone. And..." He shook his head. "I...have to do something. To atone."

Sting blew out a sigh through his nose. "You know, I watched one Alliance warship captain with a good heart sacrifice himself to ram his ship into a big scary thing. I think one is enough."

He glanced pointedly at Vera, who immediately took her cue to step in front of Danilov. "If you want to atone, captain, then you're coming with us," she said. "Suicide isn't atonement. It's cowardice. If you want to atone for what you've done in the Phantom Pain, then come with us and tell the whole world what the Phantom Pain did. Help bring them to justice. Do something with the rest of your life, instead of throwing it away."

"And as for your ship," Sting said with a smirk and the Fujin, Kali, and Marduk Gundams formed up outside the bridge "well, we'll take care of that."

Danilov looked between them all for a long moment, and then bowed his head. "Helm, ramming course, engines to maximum," he said. "And then, we're going."

Sting Oakley smiled as he watched the last launch skitter out of the Charlemagne's gaping hangar. Hayden's Windam and a group of other mobile suits from the Resistance were there to escort them to...wherever it was they were going. As long as it was somewhere safe, Sting no longer cared.

After all, as the vast black spear of the ruined Charlemagne roared forward, he had more important things to worry about.

"Alright, everyone, listen up," he barked. "We're gonna crash this thing into the beam shield ring on Messiah, like a big battering ram. Wherever you see an opening in the shield, take it. Then turn your fire on the ring itself. And do it quickly, before they recharge the NEO-GENESIS. You got that?" A chorus of affirmatives came back, and Sting broke into a grin. "Then let's do it!"

The Fujin, Kali, and Marduk Gundams rocketed toward Messiah, and a small army of mobile suits rushed in after them. The ZAFT warships and mobile suits turned their fire towards the Charlemagne, but the survivors of the last NEO-GENESIS blast threw up a wall of firepower around the black battleship that drove the ZAFT ships back and blasted mobile suits out of the sky. The Marduk took its opportunity to lunge down in front of one of the Nazca destroyers and spear it on a storm of beam gun shots; the other mobile suits swept in to tear it apart as the Marduk darted away.

The Charlemagne shuddered as a line of railgun shells smashed into its smoldering prow but the ship kept going, engines blazing, and smashed through the missiles and beam fire. A squad of Gunner ZAKUs rushed in, beam cannons extended; the Kali Gundam lunged into their path and tore one of them in half with a backhanded beam saber blow, then shot another one down with its beam rifle. The two survivors darted apart, only to be blown away by the Fujin's gunbarrels.

"Brace yourselves, kids!" Sting shouted. "It's showtime!"

With a thundering blast and a shockwave that rippled across the battlefield, the Charlemagne slammed head-on into Messiah's beam shield ring. The warship buckled forward and exploded; the shield flickered and a section vanished; dozens of Resistance and Alliance mobile suits streamed through, and the Fujin, Kali, and Marduk slipped through before it closed. Auel whirled around with a scream and fired the Callidus Mk II cannons into the ring; the other mobile suits turned their guns on the structure, and the shield began to flicker again.

Sting turned around to face the fortress and smirked at the hundreds of mobile suits emerging from it. Behind him, the beam shield gave one last gasp before it vanished

...and then a storm of firepower emerged from Messiah. Beam guns, artillery shells, and missiles streamed out from the fortress towards the oncoming enemies.

"Well," Sting said with a sigh, "I guess we should've known it would be a pain in the ass on the inside too."

The Kali moved forward, eyes flashing to life. "Stella's not afraid."

"You're never afraid," groused Auel.

Undaunted, the three Gundams turned towards the fortress and went on the attack.

Emily clenched her teeth as the Eclipse lurched back from one of the Gemini cannon's massive blasts. The Amaranth's DRAGOONs lashed out around her and their bolts singed the Eclipse's armor. Emily lit up the Dragon's Tail and charged forward, but the Amaranth left her behind amid a flurry of afterimages and forced her back on the defensive with another titanic Gemini blast.

"You're making this difficult," Emily grunted.

"Of course I am," Unit Zero-Two snapped back. "It's my job."

The Amaranth's DRAGOONs blazed in again; Emily darted around their blasts and exchanged the Dragon's Fire launcher for the Eclipse's massive beam sword. "I can't believe you'd really rather do this," she shot back. "You know you can be something else! I know! Why won't you do it?!"

"As I thought," Zero-Two snarled, "you still don't understand!"

The DRAGOONs honed in again and pounded the Eclipse's beam shield. The Amaranth lined up its Gemini cannon; Emily blasted through an opening in the DRAGOON fire as the double-barreled cannon came to life, and then swept down towards the silver Gundam. The Amaranth snapped up its beam saber to deflect the Eclipse's downward slice.

"You come running to me here, acting like I'm really your mother!" Zero-Two said. "Don't you understand? I'm not! And that's why they sent me to fight you so you would get distracted, so you would hesitate!" Two white blocks on the Amaranth's shoulders opened up; Emily squinted as two machineguns inside pounded the Eclipse's face with bullets. Zero-Two slammed her machine's knee up into the Eclipse's chest, then knocked it back with another kick. "Little did I know you would be such a fool!" The Amaranth brought the Gemini to bear again; the Eclipse lunged upward as it fired once more.

"I don't expect you to be my mother!" Emily cried. "But I know you can be something more than..." She shook her head. "Something more than me!"

The DRAGOONs swarmed around the Eclipse again as the Amaranth gave chase. "Yes, that life you showed me looked very nice," Zero-Two answered. "And I'm sure Lorelei was a wonderful person. But you are still a fool for thinking I will be anything but what I am!" The Amaranth slammed a Gemini blast into the Eclipse's beam shield. "All I've ever been doing is fulfilling my destiny!"

Emily's eyes went wide at the word and then she jammed the controls back as the DRAGOONs fired again. "Destiny...?"

"You still think that you can bend the world to your will!" Zero-Two shouted, as the Amaranth and its DRAGOONs closed in. "You still think you can change me if you try hard enough! But you should understand better than anyone else how impossible that is!" The Amaranth darted down into the Eclipse's face for a beam saber blow; Emily swung back with the sword to stop it cold. "Even as you run from your own destiny, you fulfill it! Look around you! Look at the machine you're piloting! Look at what they call you! You think you aren't what you were made to be?!"

"This is my power!" Emily shot back. "I made it my own, even if I never chose to have it!"

"Don't make me laugh!" The silver Gundam reared back and slammed the Eclipse with another kick; Emily threw her mobile suit back as the DRAGOONs started up again. "What does the Angel of Death do, huh?! He takes those whose time it is to die! And what do you think you've been doing ever since you got pulled into this war?!" The Amaranth pounded the Eclipse with more beam blasts. "So don't talk about changing me when you can't even change yourself!"

ZAFT Minerva-class battleship Fortuna

Loathe as he was to admit it, Lyle Markus did have to give a perverse sort of credit to the late captain of the Elysium from that battle at Deimos. The explosive properties of antimatter's contact with matter had interesting battlefield uses.

They were around here somewhere. His eyes darted over the wreckage, waiting for the Minerva to rear its battered head. They still had their weapons and speed, but their armor was beginning to wear thin. And the Tannhäuser was recharging for another blast. All they needed to do was knock them into a corner.

Something flashed off the starboard bow. "Helm, descend!" Lyle barked and the Fortuna veered downward just as the Minerva crested a drifting piece of debris and fired its Tristan cannons. "Isolde, fire!" The Fortuna's Isolde obligingly boomed back, and the Minerva wobbled as a shell clipped its starboard side.

"Heat signatures rising in the Minerva's prow," the sensor officer spoke up. "They look to be charging their Tannhäuser."

"Steer clear of the Minerva's prow," Lyle ordered. "Weapons control, another barrage of Neidhardts, on the double!"

A storm of Neidhardt space missiles burst out of their tubes and rushed through the rubble towards the Minerva. The red and gray warship's CIWS emplacements cut them down but it was enough time for the Fortuna to swing around and slam the Minerva with a pair of Tristan blasts that left smoking black scars on the ship's hull. The Minerva sank down below the Fortuna and slammed a trio of Isolde shells into the ship's underside.

Lyle scowled as the Fortuna bucked from the blow. "Helm, come around and get on their tail!" he ordered, and glowered down at the Minerva passing by underneath. Nowhere to run now...

Kayla Segar could only sob as the news spread through the fleet. What was an army without its leader? What was a people without its hero?

She drifted numbly through her bunk as the Fortuna rattled and twisted in combat. For so long, he'd borne their hardships as his own and promised through his tireless leadership that they would have a greater destiny than miserable exile at Mars and the specter of extinction. He had promised them a better world. And now he would never see it. It was so unfair. He had led them to the promised land, and yet they had to leave him on the mountain.

And he had borne so much suffering for their victory. It had broken his heart to give the orders to slaughter innocent civilians, to gas neutral colonies, to break, bend, and terrify the world before them. He was too good a man to truly revel in the bloodshed, as some of ZAFT's soldiers did.

She scrubbed away her tears. Kira Yamato's military aide was out of a job now, but he had given his life so that the Coordinators might have a free and secure existence. They would build a society that would represent the best of humankind, the fullest expression of human potential, the greatest achievements of human ingenuity and effort. He had given his life for humanity's greatness.

And so long as she survived, she could honor that sacrifice.

The Fujin Gundam rocked as a trio of artillery shells slammed into it from above. Sting grunted as he was thrown forward in his seat; the Fujin's gunbarrels flashed to life and charged forward. The Alliance and Resistance mobile suits behind intensified their fire but between Messiah, the surviving ZAFT fleet, and the ZAFT mobile suits, it was like running straight into a wall.

Sting cringed as his four gunbarrels were all torn apart in the crossfire. He fired back with his beam rifle and then ducked aside to dodge a volley of return fire that ripped off the Fujin's right leg. He fired off the micromissiles and backed away behind his beam shield.

Up above, the Kali Gundam spiraled elegantly through a hurricane of beams and shells but one of them sliced through the Kali's left shoulder and blew away its entire arm. Stella whipped up her rifle to return fire, but then darted away again as the fire returned. And nearby, the Marduk shuddered as artillery slammed against its shoulder shells and a wayward beam blew off the left leg.

"Dammit, we can't get through!" Auel shouted. "Sting "

The Kali abruptly lunged forward and unleashed a volley of beam fire into the mobile suits ahead. They scattered and then another wall of beam fire drove them back as the Alliance and Resistance made their attack.

The Fujin plunged forward, beam rifle blazing and then another blast lanced through the rifle and destroyed it. Sting hurled the useless remains aside and drew a beam saber and then jammed the controls to the side, just before a pulsing blast from a Gunner ZAKU came at him, and the Fujin's entire left arm and wing vanished in the blaze. The Kali lunged down with a saber slash that ripped the ZAKU in half, but not before another mobile suit had blown away its right leg at the knee.

"Someone help us out here!" Sting screamed

And then more fire erupted this time from the rear. Another wall of beam fire slammed into the ZAFT units and drove them back and then the Blast Impulse Gundam charged into the fray at the head of dozens of Resistance units.

"Repaying the favor!" Aoma Vedlow cried. "Get moving, now!"

"Then let's go!" Sting shouted and the Fujin and Kali plunged towards the NEO-GENESIS array behind the Marduk. The ZAFT forces intensified their fire pieces of all three Gundams began to break off as the beams sliced closer Aoma and her mobile suits pressed the attack

And with a final shudder, the Marduk fell away and angled down towards Messiah's surface. Sting and Stella lurched after him and the three Gundams, trailing smoke and sparks, slammed into the asteroid's surface and skidded to a halt near an exposed hatch.

Inside the Kali, Stella hung her head for a moment. The Gaia's replacement sure hadn't lasted long. She immediately steeled herself and started pulling equipment from the survival case behind the cockpit seat. Flak jacket, grenades, assault rifle, pistols, jetpack it was going to get bloody. They had to go down into the bowels of this fortress and find a way to sabotage the NEO-GENESIS system. Aoma said it was directly connected to the reactor, so maybe that would do it. Then they had to get out.

Stella popped open the Kali's hatch and stepped out. Sting and Auel were on their way out as well. Together they hopped off their ruined Gundams and descended into the fortress.

With a final triumphant shout, Trojan Noiret brought the Green Frame Kai around to fire a volley of beam rifle blasts into the ZAKU Drone's chest. The black mobile suit exploded; Trojan darted aside, another swept in from behind him, and he whirled around to rip it in two with the custom rifle's beam sabers.

Up above, the Twilight Cortana wove its way through a net of beam fire cast by four Drones, and fired back with its DRAGOONs. The black mobile suits jetted apart; the Cortana's DRAGOONs moved in and Lily responded with a pair of long-range cannon blasts. Two of the Drones vanished in the blaze; the other two rocketed upward and leveled off their rifles, only for the Green Frame to lunge between them and destroy them both with a sweeping saber strike.

"Come on, the rest are distracted!" Trojan shouted; the Green Frame rocketed off into the darkness, and the Cortana followed as its DRAGOONs returned to their rack.

"I can't believe she just ditched us like that!" Lily whined. "Totally not cool!"

Trojan's eyes shifted back and forth over the battlefield as he searched for the telltale afterimages of the Gundam Eclipse. "Either way, we have to find her," he said.

"Yeah," Lily agreed with a sigh, "she'll need our help to capture that Zero-Two chick, I guess."

"Capture or not," Trojan said, his expression darkening, "she'll need us there."

The Green Frame and Cortana rushed off into the battle.

The Amaranth Gundam slammed the Eclipse back with a pulsing blast from the Gemini cannon and sent the black mobile suit reeling. Emily yanked back the controls and sailed upward over the shot and then the DRAGOONs swarmed in to force her back on the defensive.

"Do you finally understand?" snarled Unit Zero-Two as the silver Gundam closed in. Emily whirled around the blasts and came down with an overhead sword blow; the Amaranth swung up its saber to deflect the blow and left the two Gundams locked together under a rain of sparks. "Do you finally understand that I am everything you were meant to be?!"

"Is that all you want to be?" Emily shot back, and the Eclipse jetted away as the DRAGOONs opened fire again.

"It's not about what I want to be," Zero-Two said, "it's about what I am." The Amaranth let loose a swarm of machinegun bullets that rattled against the Eclipse's armor; the silver Gundam swept in as its DRAGOONs boxed in the Eclipse, and Zero-Two brought the Gemini to bear. "I am the ultimate weapon, unhesitating, unflinching, unfettered by emotional attachments even better than you!"

The Gemini cannon fired; Emily flung the Eclipse through an opening in the DRAGOON blasts and ducked away as the blast seared by. "And you're just going to roll over and accept that?"

"What else can I be?" Zero-Two snapped, as she swung the Gemini around after the Eclipse. "What else can you be, for that matter? What would you do with yourself if this war ended? What will you do with your life when the only thing you can do is fight?"

The Eclipse wove its way through the Amaranth's DRAGOON blasts and brought its sword down hard onto the silver Gundam's beam saber, and the two Gundams glowered into each other's eyes.

"Whatever it is, it'll be my choice," Emily answered, "and that's what I'm offering you!"

Zero-Two sneered, and the Amaranth flung the Eclipse away and went back on the warpath.

ZAFT Minerva-class battleship Fortuna

The Minerva twisted around to starboard as the Fortuna poured firepower after it, and Lyle Markus barely restrained the urge to smirk. Of course they would prove unable to best the Fortuna. They were rejects; the Fortuna was crewed by the cream of ZAFT's crop. Even their ship was beginning to fail them, as bits of the Minerva's armor broke off under the strain of combat and drifted slowly towards the Fortuna.

"Minerva coming around, sir," the sensor officer spoke up.

Lyle glanced back up at them. "Tannhäuser charge?"

"Charging is complete, sir," answered the weapons officer.

"Excellent." He looked back up at the main screen. The Minerva was wheeling around to charge straight at the Fortuna; at the XO's station, Morales frowned.

"The hell are they doing...?"

"Minerva is increasing to flank speed, sir," the sensor officer said. "Captain, I think they mean to ram us!"

Morales went white. "Ram us?!"

"Those fools," Lyle sneered. "Weapons control, lock the Tannhäuser onto the Minerva and fire!"

The Fortuna's prow swung open and the Tannhäuser cannon edged out. Lyle looked ahead towards the charging Minerva and finally allowed himself a smile as the Fortuna's main weapon lit up. But then something burst around the Fortuna's sides and a thin white cloud began to fall

And then the whole warship shook violently and the screens flashed as flames and smoke roared up around them. Lyle was slammed back into his seat; he stared in disbelief as a cloud of fire consumed his ship and ripped over its hull.

"What the what the hell is going on?!" he screamed. The Fortuna shuddered as the explosions raked its surface. "Damage report "

Before Morales ever spoke, Lyle realized with a twist in his gut what had happened. A familiar shape drifted by outside the Fortuna's bridge windows the shape of an anti-beam depth charge. Those pieces of the Minerva hadn't been pieces, and when the Fortuna had used its own positron cannon

They...turned it against me?!

And up ahead, the Minerva fired its own Tannhäuser, and all went dark.

ZAFT mobile space fortress Messiah

Sting Oakley grunted loudly as he ducked into an alcove in the corridor, bullets flying. Up ahead, one of the ZAFT soldiers flung a grenade into the hallway but Stella lunged out of hiding to catch it and hurl it back, then throw herself back into the opposite alcove. A thundering explosion sent a wall of smoke bursting down the corridor; the three Extended waited a moment before proceeding forward.

As Stella took point with an assault rifle in hand, Sting ran over the plan in his mind one more time. Aoma had laid it all out for them, albeit in abbreviated and hurried form; break into one of the maintenance nodes, isolate control from all other stations, disable the cooling mechanisms, increase every power feed to several times their maximums...and then get the hell out. Simple, right?

A pair of ZAFT soldiers up ahead ducked out of cover and brought their guns to bear but an instant later, Stella was there to stab one of them clear through the throat with her rifle's bayonet. She whipped around with the dead man still caught on the knife and slammed his body into his comrade, then yanked the bayonet out and backed away, just as Auel peppered them both with a burst of rifle fire.

"Another sixty meters," Sting said as he pointed up ahead. "Then we make a left and cut through a maintenance shaft."

"Great," Auel breathed, "and how do we get back out?"

"Vedlow said there should be a bank of shuttle bays four floors up "

"Watch out!" Stella shouted, and rammed her shoulder into the two Extended as bullets sliced down the hallway. Auel screamed in pain as one of them shot through his right leg; Stella shouldered her way back into the corridor to lay down a screen of suppressive fire, while Sting shoved Auel against the wall and assessed the wound.

"Don't be a pussy, it missed the bone," he grumbled.

"Just shut the fuck up and patch it, you asshole," Auel hissed back through gritted teeth.

Stella charged forward with a shout and up ahead, the three ZAFT soldiers in front of the maintenance hatch backed away in disbelief. Stella plunged in between them with a knife drawn in her left hand and in seconds, two of the soldiers went down with strangled cries and clouds of blood. The third backed into the wall, white with terror, as Stella brought her bloodstained knife around towards his neck.

And then the knife stopped, and Stella stared expectantly at him. A moment later, he dropped his rifle and fled.

"What, you spare people now, Stella?" Sting scoffed. Auel let out a yelp as he finished patching the wound.

Stella pointed to the maintenance hatch. "In. Let's get this done."

"What the hell do you mean 'intruders?'" Valentine snapped. The officer in charge in the ZAKU Goliath's dimly lit control room squirmed in his seat.

"That's just what Reeves said, ma'am," he protested. "Since the beam shield fell, the fortress has been under assault and they reported "

Valentine buried her face in her palm with a frustrated groan. With Kira gone and herself in the Goliath, everything was going to hell.

But fine. Let it. If they couldn't handle themselves without Kira or Valentine to hold their hands, then they had no place in the new world to come. Instead, the ZAKU Goliath's shield still held and the superweapon was still on its inexorable course to the Earth. And with the Armageddon cannon at forty-nine percent charge, another city of wretched Naturals would soon be erased from the map.

"Tell Reeves to get rid of them immediately," she said. "As for the rest of the fleet, we will continue as we are. We're almost to Earth. Don't go ruining this now."

The ZAKU Goliath rumbled forward.

Battleship Minerva

The world came back as a painful rush of sounds and feelings, and for a moment, Shinn Asuka wondered if he was dead.

But if he was dead his head wouldn't hurt so much. He blinked away the blurriness and slowly sat up. He was in the Minerva's infirmary the infirmary? He glanced around slowly, and found Athrun sitting on a nearby bed, wrapped up in bandages, with a sad smile on his face and Viveka sitting next to him, her head on his shoulder, sound asleep.

"I see you're back," Athrun said softly.

"Something like that," Shinn grunted, and rubbed his own head. "What happened...?"

"You tell me. We found you inside what was left of the Zulfiqar."

Shinn blinked again and rubbed his eyes. "And...what about Rau?"

Athrun smiled. "He won't be causing us anymore problems." He glanced over at Shinn. "And Kira...?"

"The same."

Both men looked quietly towards the floor. Shinn slowly laid back down. For so long he had been consumed with the idea of revenge on Kira Yamato, and now that he finally had it, he didn't feel any different than he had before.

The rumbling of explosions slowly reached his brain. "The battle's still going on?"

"Yeah," Athrun said, and his smile disappeared as he glanced at Viveka. "So we'll just have to hope."

The Amaranth delivered a bone-rattling kick to the Eclipse's torso and sent the black Gundam reeling. It swung up its Gemini cannon for a lethal blast; the Eclipse dove out of harm's way and left a shimmering trail of afterimages as it whirled around through the DRAGOON fire, back towards its silver foe. The Amaranth stabbed forward with its saber; the Eclipse parried the blow with its beam sword and left the two Gundams struggling against each other.

"You are getting on my nerves," Unit Zero-Two growled through clenched teeth.

Emily winced as she felt the frustration rippling out from her foe and the familiar core underneath. She knew she was supposed to believe that that thing staring back at her wasn't her mother but how could she when this Newtype sense of hers told her otherwise?

The Amaranth showered the Eclipse with machinegun fire; Emily plunged forward anyway and drove the Amaranth back. Zero-Two rammed a knee up into the Eclipse's chest, then backed away and swung up the Gemini cannon


A wave of green and red beam blasts shot out of the sky and went searing past the Amaranth. Zero-Two snarled in frustration as she dodged the blasts and whipped up the Gemini to fire back at the new arrivals and Emily felt her stomach twist as the Green Frame Kai and Twilight Cortana soared into battle, the latter's DRAGOONs lashing into the fight.

"Trojan, Lily, don't!" Emily cried. "You can't handle this "

"Like hell you're doing this alone!" Lily shouted, and the Cortana closed in with a beam rifle volley. The Amaranth dodged the shots then whipped around and rocketed above a horizontal saber swipe from the Green Frame.

"More of you, huh?" Zero-Two snarled. "That suits me just fine!"

Emily charged after the Amaranth with a sweeping sword blow but the DRAGOONs pummeled the Eclipse and drove her back. The Green Frame swept in from behind, but the Amaranth whipped around and deflected its downward saber blow, then slammed it back with a kick to the chest. The Cortana's DRAGOONs blazed in next but the Amaranth whipped around and disintegrated them all with a single pulsing Gemini blast.

"What the ?!" Lily wailed. "No fair!"

"Lily, get back!" Trojan shouted, and the Green Frame kicked the Cortana aside then darted to the right, just as the Amaranth brought down its saber and sawed off the Green Frame's left arm at the shoulder and left leg at the knee. "Dammit !"

"I told you, she's too good!" Emily shouted, and the Eclipse flung itself back into the fray with a downward sword hack. "Stay back, both of you!"

The Amaranth whirled through a maze of beam rifle fire and blasted away with its Gemini cannon again. Lily yelped in surprise and jammed her mobile suit to the right but not before the sweeping blast coursed over the right side of her mobile suit and reduced it to a charred stump. Lily screamed as the maimed Cortana reeled and then the DRAGOONs darted in to blow away the remaining arm, cannon, and head.

"Lily!" Emily screamed, and rushed after the Amaranth but the DRAGOONs changed course and swarmed around her instead. She battered her way through the beams and threw herself in between the ruined Cortana and the charging Amaranth, and deflected its saber blow with her sword. The Amaranth backed away with a machinegun burst and the DRAGOONs charged in again.

"Lily, are you alright?" Trojan cried.

A cough came back from what remained of the Cortana. "No...f-fair..."

"Lily, get out of here, now!" snapped Emily. "Trojan " She blinked and looked around. "Trojan, where are you?"

Her blood froze as she watched the Green Frame charge towards the Amaranth. "I'll distract her, you get Lily out of here!" he shouted.

"No, Trojan, don't!"

The Green Frame swung its rifle around and slammed the blades into the Amaranth's saber. Zero-Two scowled back and flung the Green Frame away; the silver Gundam swung up its Gemini cannon; Emily screamed

And then, in a blinding green flash, Trojan was gone.

Emily stared in shock at the blast as it disintegrated the Green Frame. She looked back towards the Amaranth, towards Zero-Two remorseless, indifferent, unfeeling. The pulsing core of her mother's soul still beat underneath all that but the pain lanced through her heart as she felt Trojan's presence vanish into the void. Her mother, remorseless, indifferent as she destroyed someone her own daughter cared about. Her mother, whirling around to bring that double-barreled cannon to bear on her. Her own mother but Trojan

Her mind flashed back to what Rau had said. A test. If she couldn't save that thing in there, then this world was beyond redemption. And Trojan

Her mind went to her father, in that darkened lab, telling her that this would happen. He had been right. Her heart broke as she realized he had been right about Zero-Two, about her, about everything. And Rau had been right. She couldn't save what was in there not now, not that it had taken something just as valuable from her.

But Lily was still there. Her presence still flickered, like a candle flame in a gentle breeze. If she had accepted this in the beginning, maybe Trojan wouldn't have died. If she had accepted this in the beginning, maybe it would be different. But it could be different still, and worse or else

The seed burst.

The Amaranth fired. The Eclipse darted above the blast. Emily ripped off her helmet and threw it aside. She fixed the Amaranth with a determined glare through teary eyes. "So you were right after all, father," she whispered. "I can't save you..."

Zero-Two charged after the Eclipse, bringing the Gemini to bear again. Emily clenched her teeth and fought down the pain.

And then the Eclipse blasted forward as the Voiture Lumiere system roared to life. Zero-Two reared back in surprise as the Eclipse wrapped its Dragon's Tail heat rod around the Gemini and ripped the weapon from the Amaranth's grasp. She brought the Amaranth's own Voiture Lumiere to life and red light flooded the battlefield; the two Gundams whirled around each other, afterimages flashing and beam wings blazing against the black sky of space. Emily closed in with a shout and battered the Amaranth's saber with a ruthless series of sword blows.

"I'll never forgive myself for this," she said. Zero-Two blinked in surprise, then flung the Amaranth away from the charging Eclipse. The DRAGOONs rushed in, beam guns blazing; the Eclipse brushed past them effortlessly and smacked the Amaranth back with a bone-rattling sword blow. "I'll never forgive myself for letting this happen." The Eclipse darted through the beams and charged forward again with another hard swing. "But you're still wrong about me!"

Zero-Two backed away and parried another strike. "You "

"I'm not going to be like you!" Emily shouted, and the Eclipse closed in. "I'll make a life that's worth all this!" The Eclipse slammed the Amaranth back again. "It will be worth it!"

The DRAGOONs blazed in. "Awfully confident, aren't you?!" Zero-Two cried.

As the DRAGOONs swarmed around the two combatants, the Eclipse and Amaranth clashed, beam sword to saber, and a rain of sparks and a storm of afterimages flashed across the battlefield. The DRAGOONs swept in, beam guns alight; the Eclipse danced through their blasts; the Amaranth pulled back its saber for a killing blow as the black Gundam closed in; Emily steeled herself

And then, faster than the eye could see, the Eclipse ducked beneath the Amaranth's saber swing and slashed the silver Gundam in half at the waist.

The Amaranth Gundam and Zero-Two inside vanished in a plume of fire. Emily winced as the pain stabbed through her heart. Her mother's spirit disappeared in that fireball but she crushed the feelings as quickly as they rose in her chest. That wasn't, after all, her mother. Her mother would have never done something to hurt her. Not something so cruel.

She stared back at the fireball with tears in her eyes for a moment, then opened a channel to what was left of the Cortana. "Lily?" she asked quietly. "Are you alright in there?"

"Y-Yeah," she sniffled, and Emily felt another pang sweep through her heart. "But Trojan "

"Find a safe place and stay there," she said. "Don't move." She looked back across the battlefield, towards the shimmering beam shield of the ZAKU Goliath. She had promised Selene long ago that she would use this machine to end the war. And a life worth living wouldn't start while that thing was still around.

"Emily...?" Lily asked.

Emily curled her fingers around the Eclipse's controls. "Back in a minute."

The Eclipse took off with a roar.

ZAFT mobile space fortress Messiah

Sting Oakley howled in pain as a bullet found its way through his shoulder. He dropped to one knee and Stella seized his fallen rifle in her off-hand and let loose a torrent of bullets down the hallway towards the pursuing ZAFT soldiers.

"Oh, now who's being a pussy?" Auel grunted, as he painfully maneuvered closer to deal with the injury. Stella put herself between them and the ZAFT soldiers as they moved up through a broken elevator shaft. At the top, according to Aoma, was a shuttle bay and hopefully a shuttle or two.

The whole fortress was in chaos. Some of its crew were trying to evacuate, others trying to undo the damage three Extended had done from a single maintenance station. A core meltdown was already underway and the reactor would explode at any moment. And with NEO-GENESIS's capacitors almost fully charged, there was no way the ensuing damage would fail to knock the fortress out of the battle or worse.

Which was no particular comfort to Stella, because she and her friends were still inside it.

The three Extended reached the top of the elevator shaft and Stella pried the door open and immediately threw herself and her friends against the wall as a ZAFT soldier on the other side opened fire with a submachinegun. The bullets bounced through the shaft and one of them grazed Stella's shoulder; she hissed in pain, but shoved it all down and lunged forward, bayonet fixed, and ripped the man's throat open. The mechanics and soldiers around the hangar backed away, and those who were armed reached for their weapons at least until Stella seized the fallen soldier's rifle and peppered the entire hangar with bullets.

"Sting, Auel, get over there!" she screamed, and nodded over her shoulder where a green ZAFT shuttle was waiting, apparently for evacuees. Sting and Auel hobbled over as Stella emptied the clips and the ZAFT troops took cover. More soldiers began to creep out of hiding, rifles drawn.

They were her friends. They needed her. They had a future, and she would not let them lose that. The seed fell before her eyes.

Stella took one step back to steady herself and launched two grenades into the soldiers' ranks, then turned on her heel and vaulted towards the open hatch, as Sting and Auel dragged themselves inside. Bullets bounced off the hull around her; she slammed the hatch shut and darted forward into the cockpit.

"Shit, the reactor's going critical!" Auel exclaimed. "Hurry it up "

He fell back with a yelp as the shuttle lurched forward. Stella narrowed her eyes at the hangar opening ahead and then the shuttle rattled to life and rocketed out of the hangar.

Stella sat back with a sigh and glanced over her shoulder as she guided the shuttle away. Arms of fire clawed their way out of Messiah's openings. Sparks flashed around the dying fortress. The NEO-GENESIS array flickered once. Messiah vanished in a thundering ball of flames.

And Stella risked a smile as she pointed the shuttle back towards the Minerva's IFF. Her work was done.

The Gundam Eclipse hummed as it soared down towards the ZAKU Goliath. Inside, Emily focused her attention on the Newtype pressure inside. It was laced in fear and run through with concentration. Apparently running that beast required the powers of two Newtypes, and now that Zero-Two was gone, the one that was left was trying to pick up the slack. Whatever. It was a nice big target for Emily's own senses.

And as if on cue, another pressure appeared. She glanced to her left and blinked in surprise as she saw the Fenrir fall into formation behind her.

"You didn't think you were going to take that thing on alone, did you?" asked Morgan Chevalier with a chuckle and behind them all arose a small army of Alliance and Resistance mobile suits. And more Emily blinked in surprise as even ZAFT IFFs appeared on her screen.

"What...?" she started.

"Some fellow by the name of Svante has had a change of heart in the ZAFT ranks," Morgan explained. "Guess some of their fleet wanted to get on the right side of history." He gestured up ahead. "So how were we gonna kill this thing?"

Emily frowned. "I was planning on making that up as I went."

"Not bad." He pointed to the Goliath again. "That thing's output dropped precipitously a few minutes ago. Any idea why?"

Emily flinched and more tears threatened to come to her eyes. "Something like that."

Morgan regarded her silently for a moment and then nodded. "The accuracy of its fire is dropping and those black mobile suits have stopped moving," he said, "so this looks like our chance." He waved to the mobile suits following him. "All units, listen up. We're here to get through that beam shield before all else. Use your own beam shields or anything else with anti-beam coating "

"I'll do it," Emily said and with a blast of exhaust and afterimages, the Eclipse shot forward.

The ZAKU Goliath's wealth of mounted armaments opened fire, but caught nothing but mirages as the Eclipse soared down through the fire and towards the shield. Emily swung up her own beam shield and it flashed to life; the two barriers threw sparks as Emily pressed forward, the full power of the Voiture Lumiere behind her; finally, the Goliath's shield gave way and the Eclipse rocketed through.

The fear inside the Goliath's spiked as Emily charged forward, Dragon's Fire in hand. The guns turned towards her, but too late the Eclipse darted through the blasts and squeezed off four quick shots from the launcher. Four blazing blue bolts slammed into the huge metal cones on the Goliath's shoulders, and the shield around the Goliath flickered and disappeared.

"Look alive, people!" barked Morgan, as the Fenrir led its army into the breach. "The hard part's just beginning!"

The Eclipse roared down towards the Goliath. Emily swapped out the Dragon's Fire for her beam sword and swept down through the massive machine's desperate fire. The Goliath brought its enormous cannon to bear on the approaching mobile suits as they struggled through the defensive fire Emily charged down towards it and brought her sword down. The blade plunged into the cannon's armor; Emily rocketed to the left and tore a long, smoldering gash into the cannon's side, then swept the Dragon's Tail heat rod up through the surface. The cannon began to throw sparks; the Eclipse backed away, the Goliath abandoned it, and a thundering explosion forced the two mobile suits apart.

Emily fixed her attention on the knot of fear coming from somewhere in the Goliath's chest. There were several people in there, all clustered together; destroy the control room and this thing would have no choice but to fall. And then this war would end.

And if that didn't end the war, then she would do the rest herself.

The Eclipse rocketed back down towards the Goliath as the weapons opened fire again. The fear intensified; Emily scanned over the gargantuan mobile suit's body and found her mark in the machine's stomach. The cockpit was somewhere in there.

Up above, the Fenrir deployed its gunbarrels down towards an incoming armada of ZAFT mobile suits. The attackers let loose a storm of firepower that buffeted the ZAFT units and the Goliath; Emily saw her chance and charged down through the fray. The Goliath turned its weapons on her; the Eclipse backed away behind its beam shield; Emily steeled herself for another effort

And then the Eclipse thrust its blazing beam sword skyward as the familiar white bolts of energy filled the cockpit and the inert ZAKU Drones formed up around her, monoeyes blazing to life. The fear spiked again in the Goliath's cockpit as Emily let her sword fall towards the red monstrosity and the Drones launched themselves towards it, beam rifles blazing. The Goliath's armaments roared to life all the same and sent a hurricane of beams and missiles into the attackers.

But for Emily, the only thing there was that knot of hatred and fear at the machine's center and she rushed down into the gaps with her beam sword ready. The ZAKU Goliath turned its hands towards her, beam cannons blazing to life from its fingertips; Emily wove her way through the beams and left a cloud of afterimages as she charged forward. The fear surged before her as she closed in

And then, it was gone.

Emily let out her breath as she plunged the beam sword into the armor where the fear felt strongest and every last one of the presences there vanished in the blaze. She slashed open the armor and then launched herself out of harm's way. The ZAKU Goliath shuddered to a halt; the ZAFT troops seemed stunned beyond resistance; and the Alliance, Resistance, and defecting ZAFT troops focused their fire on the halted monster. The ZAKU Goliath lurched back as the full force of an entire fleet's weapons buffeted it and drove it back.

But as the ZAKU Goliath finally staggered back and broke apart in a thunderous explosion, Emily ignored it, and instead searched the broken battlefield for Lily.

The Pentagon, Washington, D.C., Atlantic Federation

All was silent in the control room as the ZAKU Goliath disappeared from the tactical map. It was victory, of a sort but with so many ruined cities, so many lost lives, it tasted as bitter as defeat.

But Admiral MacIntyre would take it.

He rose to his feet at the sight of a balding man in a white ZAFT uniform on the main screen. The bald man saluted. "Commander Paul Svante of the ZAFT forces," he said, and his eyes held the somber resignation of a man leading a defeated army. "I'm the highest ranking ZAFT officer left, of a sort."

"Of a sort?" MacIntyre echoed.

"I'm contacting you to request terms for a ceasefire," he said, "as prelude to a surrender of my forces." He swallowed. "I expect my men to be treated according to the Corsica Treaty's provisions."

MacIntyre frowned. "You're the man who led the fleet that just switched sides," he said. "How do you know they'll trust you?"

Svante gave MacIntyre the saddest smile the admiral had ever seen. "Who else will they listen to?"

MacIntyre regarded the man for a moment, and decided that, opportunist or genuinely good man or not, a chance to end the war now stood before him. "Very well, commander," he said. "Consider a ceasefire ordered."

Debris Belt

The guns had fallen silent by the time the battered but victorious Eclipse drifted to a halt next to the mutilated Twilight Cortana. Lily was already standing on the blackened armor, tears in her eyes. Emily slipped on her own helmet, closed the visor, opened the Eclipse's hatch, and painfully got out of the cockpit to drift down to Lily and as soon as they met, they were in each other's arms.

"T-Trojan," Lily sobbed, "he's, he's gone..."

Emily squeezed her eyes shut. There would be time later to let the tears flow. Time when Viveka could hold her and tell her everything would be okay. But for now, that was her role and if she could do nothing else well today, she would do that.

"I'm so sorry, Emily," Lily went on, "I'm so sorry, if I'd just "

"No," Emily interrupted, "no, this isn't your fault." She clenched her teeth. No, it was her fault. If she'd just she pushed those thoughts down. There would be time for those too. But not now.

Trojan...and the little sliver of her mother that she'd seen for so long in that clone. Maybe she would have been able to save her, to save that little spark, to save that last piece of her mother reaching back from the past. Maybe she would have had the parent that loved her back with her again. Maybe he wouldn't have had to die, for something so stupid. Maybe...

But what did that matter.

"But," Lily murmured, "Emily...n-now you're..." She choked on the word. "Alone..."

Emily took Lily by the shoulders and looked into her eyes. "I'm not alone," she said, even as the tears flowed. "I'm never alone. And neither are you. Because," she squeezed Lily's shoulders, "we still have each other."

"But I'm not Trojan!" Lily wailed. "I can't be like that "

"No," Emily said, "but we're not alone." She gestured off towards the Earth, blue and bright, down below. "We have the whole world. We still have friends. And we still have each other."

Lily looked down haltingly towards the planet. "But...we lost so many..."

"And there's so many we didn't lose," Emily said, smiling through her tears. "I can feel them. Shinn, Athrun, Viveka, Stella, Sting, Auel, Meyrin...they survived. They're still here." She pulled Lily closer and held her tightly as the tears surged. "It's going to hurt.'s not going to be the same. But we can...we can make this all worth it. We can make everything worth it." She looked into Lily's eyes, blinking through her tears. "We can live a life that's worth all this suffering. A life that's worth all these deaths. A life that's worth it. Doesn't that sound better?"

Lily managed to nod once, before she collapsed against Emily again, and together they wept as they drifted above the Earth on a silent battlefield.

January 9th, CE 78 - Washington, D.C., Atlantic Federation

A sunny day and a cloudless sky greeted Joseph Copland as he stepped up to the podium. Tradition dictated that the new Secretary-General of the revived United Nations was to make his inaugural address at the United Nations building up in New York, but Secretary-General Copland had chosen a different venue. A more fitting venue for the work ahead.

It would be a different United Nations. A United Nations with teeth, a United Nations with power but a United Nations without significant force. Nobody would have significant force. Certainly not enough to go repeating what the press had decided to call Ragnarok. Only that armed force consistent with public safety and national defense was acceptable these days. And that was just as Secretary-General Copland liked it.

He shook the hand of the Atlantic Federation's new president amid the audience's applause of his introduction. The poor man was essentially a cabinet secretary elevated to the presidency by destiny and with little idea what he was doing in such a lofty position all the more so because it wasn't as lofty as it used to be. The politics of a world exhausted by war and wary of the prospects of another did that to an office like that of President of the Atlantic Federation. It hadn't helped that his first act in office had to been to pardon Admiral MacIntyre for his actions regarding President Meyers and Copland glanced surreptitiously into the audience, where the old admiral himself was sitting with a nervous-looking black-haired girl by his side. Adopted Extended, he'd called her. He smiled. It was a good sign, he supposed.

Copland allowed himself one last look at his chosen venue before he stepped up to the podium and waited for the applause to die down.

"I know," he said, as the audience fell silent, "that this is a break with tradition for new Secretaries-General. I know I should have given my inaugural address at the UN building in New York. But this place," he extended his arms, "this place is a place that human history has forgotten. It is a place we should not have forgotten. There are lessons to be learned here, and we have forgotten them. It is my hope that together, we can learn them once again.

"As the television crews have no doubt told you," he went on, "this place is a memorial to a war from the Anno Domini era. It's a war memorial, but it does not list battles or units or ranks or awards. It lists names. Fifty-eight thousand names, stretching from end to end along a gaping wound in the earth. The wound closes at the far end with the last of the names but as we know, the wound never really closed, and we never really learned the lesson it held.

"We have forgotten this wall. And we should not have. Because to look at this wall is to look the madness of war in the face." He paused for a moment and looked out over the assorted delegates crowded before him. "The names on this wall are not names of soldiers. They are names of people. To look at their names is to look at fathers, sons, brothers, husbands, friends, who did not come home. To look at this wall is to look at mothers, daughters, sisters, wives, friends, who would nurse pain and heartbreak to the end of their days. To look at this wall is to look at the horrible things war does to people. But we have not looked at this wall in a long time and it shows.

"And there is another lesson this wall holds, a lesson not even the people of its own time learned." He gestured behind the audience. "You may have noticed the statues pointed towards this wall. You may have overlooked them, because the enormity of the wall commanded your attention. And sadly, that is only human nature. But we must not overlook the ones who came back alive because they hold lessons for us, and they will need our care and grief and memory, as surely as the dead.

"I have chosen to speak in front of this wall because it is these lessons that we must remember now, in the wake of the bloodiest war in human history," Copland said, his hands resting on the podium. "I have chosen to speak in front of this wall because it is these lessons that must guide us as we rebuild our world. It is this wall that tells us what madness results from turning humanity's energies toward destruction and prejudice, and away from construction and unity." He gestured to the wall again. "There are fifty-eight thousand names on that wall, and there are three soldiers that represent the countless living victims, to remind us of that."

Copernicus, the Moon

It was supposed to be a temporary measure, but to Kara Guinness, it just felt like sick irony.

The empty streets of Copernicus were now home to a few million hopeless, desolate Coordinators. Officially, the reason they'd been herded here was to avoid the cost of constructing or procuring some other space for refugee housing. But Kara had to wonder, as she stared bleakly across a street still marred by ruined cars and burnt-out buildings, if this was supposed to be some kind of punishment for her people, that they should inhabit the carcass of a city they themselves had killed.

Joseph Copland's voice filled the air. "There were, of course, crimes committed during this war that cannot be forgiven. And even now, diehards from both sides continue to reject reality and carry on the battle. To them, I point to the example already set here in Washington, by the former captain and executive officer of the Phantom Pain's flagship. There will be justice for those who committed crimes during these years of war; but there will be forgiveness for those who seek it and earn it. And for those who persist in fighting, know that we will not stop until you can no longer threaten our hard-won peace."

Kara shook her head. Somewhere in her mind, she knew she was lucky to still be alive. The Naturals hadn't had to simply shuffle her into the refugee system. The Naturals hadn't had to dump the Coordinators here and feed them enough supplies to survive while a decision was made about their future. The Naturals didn't have to offer to allow them to rebuild the PLANTs at L5 to rebuild their homeland amid a new and more equitable existence. She knew this, because many of them had made it clear that they hadn't wanted to do so.

But they had.

There was talk from time to time in the camp of continuing the fight. It was all just so stupid. Gary, Juarez...what had they died for? Had they died to see the last of their people treated like castaways? Had they died so that their rebuilt nation could depend on the magnanimity of the victors?

Was it even worth caring if that's where their new nation was born? She had been fighting for so long, and now, in everything she did, she was just...tired.

"The cruelties of war and the barbarities of prejudice have shattered the bonds of our common humanity," said Joseph Copland, "but that is no reason for us to fail to rebuild them and to begin again."

Kara hung her head and tried not to cry. Rebuild the bonds, begin again...perhaps she would do that. But she would have to do it alone.

Nazca-class destroyer Star One, Lagrange Point 5

With all else said and done, Aoma Vedlow was at least grateful to have a fellow ZAFT Red among her ranks. They were few and far between these days and most of them were among the masses of the defeated forces of ZAFT, and legally barred from military service or ownership of weapons. Aoma figured it was only fair. The last time they'd owned weapons, they had tried to destroy the entire world. You just didn't give matches to a pyromaniac unless you wanted your house burned down.

And Riika Sheder was about as good as they came. She was no Shinn Asuka, no Athrun Zala, but she got the job done well enough.

Together they stood on the bridge of the Star One, as the Vedlow Fleet patrolled the space around Lagrange Point 5 and Joseph Copland blathered on about reunification and reconciliation and truth commissions. Let him talk philosophy and high ideals. There was work to be done here. A vast fleet of construction and cargo ships had descended upon L5 to break up the shoal zone and get to work on a new set of PLANTs to house what remained of the Coordinator people.

"Many have called for punitive measures against the Coordinators," Joseph Copland said. "To them, I say that you have not learned the lessons of this wall or the lessons of this war. For it was the bitter cycle of revenge and hatred that brought us to this disastrous point, and we will not produce a better world from these ashes by crucifying someone for it."

Aoma snorted. "Cycle of revenge, huh?"

Riika looked down sadly. "He's right, y'know." Aoma glanced at her. "About revenge. It...really is pretty stupid when you think about it."

Aoma frowned as she studied the other woman's somber face. "I guess," she said at last with a shrug, and turned back towards the bridge windows. "Where's the Deliverance?"

The Deliverance. That one had pissed off the ZAFT vets. The last ship of the Eternal-class, the bone-white Deliverance, the new flagship of the fleet of ex-Resistance and Alliance members who had joined forces and weapons to protect the Coordinators in their miserable existence on Copernicus. Some fellow named Hatias had arrested the ship's original captain and taken the thing for his flagship, and he and Commander Svante were leading negotiations with the UN and the nations of Earth on behalf of the Coordinators. Which certainly didn't sit well with the Coordinators.

But if they wanted to live, they would have to play by the rules. The same rules everyone had to follow. There was no sense in going to war these days.

And there was far too much to do.

Althea Crater lunar base, the Moon

"When's he gonna shut up already?"

"He's a politician, Auel, he doesn't shut up."

The office at Althea Crater was something of a nightmare as Joseph Copland's speech filtered through the PA system and Sting Oakley finished typing up his latest message to Meyrin on Earth. She would distribute it to the rest of their friends, and they would understand that things up here were, well, busy.

"As we rebuild, we must remember that this war has destroyed more than buildings," Copland spoke. "It has left human wreckage as real as any other. From the horrors of Althea Crater to the world's many orphans and wounded and traumatized, this war has had a long reach and we must answer their needs with world-class humanitarian supplies, medical care, counseling..."

Dr. Coast had set up quite an operation working on these Extended. Hayden had shown up well, for "security." At Althea Crater, "security" meant capturing unstable Extended children who tried to escape from time to time which was why Hayden was in charge of quite a team of burly men all remarkably skilled at the art of wrestling angry preteens to the floor and injecting them with sedatives.

"Hey, I thought you were going to get Caitlyn some more counselors," Auel spoke up, and thumped his hands on Sting's desk. "She said she's short-staffed."

"I know, I know," Sting said, "but the flights are all screwed up and I had to deal with the shipment of surgical supplies for Coast first."

Auel looked decidedly displeased but apparently thought better than to press the issue. Sting idly wondered how much of this was about Dr. Hardin's pressing need for increased counseling staff and how much was because Auel totally had the hots for her. It was probably even.

Then again, nobody had thrown himself into this business more deeply than Auel Neider, the "former Extended" who made it a point to work with those Extended subjects who had reached more advanced stages of their rehabilitation. In six months of this, Sting, Auel, and everyone else involved in the project had rapidly learned that rehabilitating an Extended subject was only possible if one followed a long and arduous process rife with setbacks and false starts, and not all of them were strictly medical. Everyone, including Auel, knew he would not have the patience for those earlier stages.

"Above all else," Copland said, "we must offer the human victims of these long years of war our love, our understanding, our compassion, our charity and our community."

And as for Sting...

He looked down at the stack of paperwork on his desk, at the messages piling up on his computer, at the myriad of things that still needed doing, and he smiled. Captain Lee would be proud.

He picked up the phone and dialed a number. Dr. Hardin, after all, did need some more counselors.

Junk Guild supply ship ReHOME, Earth orbit

"And as we recall the human victims of this war, we must recall that they do not exist here on Earth alone," said Joseph Copland. "They are everywhere, wherever human beings make their home because this war has touched every place that human beings call home."

The speech was background noise on the bridge of the ReHOME as the final preparations took place for takeoff. It was one of those moments that had Lowe Gear absolutely giddy with anticipation although as Kisato was quick to point out, most moments had him absolutely giddy with anticipation. But Lowe Gear certainly couldn't help it if life was being particularly awesome today.

For the ReHOME had a mission. Questioning of those ex-ZAFT guys had revealed an extensive set of colonies on Mars, more complex than most people had really realized. And those colonies had been just as ravaged by war as the Earth Sphere. The DSSD had already gone out there and some beautiful Coordinator woman had led the charge to establish a new research installation on Mars, where they could begin research and development of a deep space exploration machine. One of the ReHOME's missions was to bring them some startup supplies.

The other mission, though, was one of contact.

"We must offer a helping hand and a compassionate heart to all those around the solar system who have suffered in this war," Copland said, "for it is only by embracing our common humanity and our common descent from this planet that we will prevent another catastrophe."

Well, that was a nice sentiment too, thought Lowe, but just in case he was wrong, there was the other totally awesome part of this mission. And with that, he glanced quickly over at Gai Murakumo, sitting in one of the observer's chairs, stone-faced as always. Serpent Tail was officially along for "security," in case any of those Martian colonists tried to pick a fight. Not that Lowe was worried. He still had the Red Frame, after all.

Canard, though...that had been something of a sad farewell. But Meriol would probably be thrilled to have him back. Lowe smiled at that thought. It was kind of cute. Kisato hadn't stopped gushing.

It was kind of weird this time, having a full crew for the ReHOME. But they had months to get to know each other. They had the world ahead of them. They had Mars ahead of them. Lowe Gear had never been to Mars. And he couldn't wait.

The ReHOME's crew lounge was almost deserted. Most of the ship's new crew had decided to spend the last few moments before takeoff elsewhere, saying goodbye to family and friends for what would be at least a year's worth of travel and work in the Martian Sphere. But two figures were left in the lounge, comfortably in each other's arms, eyes up towards the screen as the UN's new Secretary-General spoke.

"And even as we seek to bring to justice the criminals of the past seven years," he said, "we must remember that those who brought us this war those who brought down onto us the greatest evil were more often than not the victims as much as the rest of us. For it was, after all, the destruction of their people that drove ZAFT to such murderous lengths. And it was, after all, the viciousness of the Resistance that fueled so much of the Phantom Pain's excesses. And it was, after all, the Alliance's oppression that fueled so much of the Resistance's viciousness." He extended his arms. "We must not compromise our pursuit of justice but nor must we forget that the cruel hand of suffering has not discriminated between the guilty and innocent in these days of war. Let our spirits bend towards forgiveness, whenever they can."

"Hear that?" snorted Shams Coza. "We could've stayed after all."

Mudie Holcroft shot a dubious glance towards Shams. "Those are just words."

"I'm kidding," Shams said with a wave, and pulled her closer. "I still like our idea better. Fresh start, far away from it all. Like they'd bother chasing down a couple of Phantom Pain junior officers all the way to Mars."

They both fell silent, as Mudie drew something out of her coat pocket. "And we do owe it," she said quietly. "To him."

Their eyes fell onto a set of dog tags, with the name, rank, and serial number of Sven Cal Bayan. It had been miraculous enough that someone had found a spare set of those at Daedalus Crater, and it had taken a small fortune to smuggle them out, especially for something of purely sentimental value.

But, as they looked back up at the screen, they knew that Sven would like it out there. It was where he always wanted to be.

Aube, United Nations Mandate of Orb

"You could learn a thing or two from him," chuckled Viveka. "Sorry, Athrun, but you can't give speeches for shit."

Athrun Zala sat back in his office chair as Joseph Copland spoke on the computer screen before him. It was true, really. Copland hadn't chosen Athrun Zala as the new Administrator of the United Nations Mandate of Orb for his oratory skills.

As the rising skyscrapers and bustling reconstruction economy testified, he'd been chosen for something else.

"Even the nations that were erased by these wars will be rebuilt," Copland added, "and it will be the United Nations' policy to support any peaceful movement that wishes to assert independence denied during the past seven years of war."

"Oh, we'll see how long that lasts," Viveka snorted.

Athrun nodded sagely. High-flying ideals were nice in inauguration speeches, but reality tended not to care. The world's powers had already fractured rather significantly and divided the world up between over a dozen power blocs, and the blocs themselves threatened to fracture even more.

That had been the most painful lesson here. Politics always bowed to reality, not ideals. Orb had been ravaged by years of war, desolation, and neglect. Its entire political system would have to be rebuilt. The five noble families that had been its bulwark were extinct now but Athrun Zala had a team of lawyers and local politicians crafting a constitution to set up something assuredly better than what Jona Roma Seiran had in mind for the new Orb. Certain segments of the press were demanding that he run for a leadership position in the new government. He would have to make up his mind.

After all, he had Viveka, as he felt the weight of her mechanical arm on his shoulder. In a few weeks, she would fly up to Althea to go see Dr. Coast and have that thing replaced and her new eye put in. It would be years before she could use them as well as she could normal parts, but at least there wasn't a war she needed to fight. And he had other personal bodyguards although none did quite as personal a job of guarding his body as Viveka von Oldendorf.

So that would be lonely, dealing with the politicians, the corporate executives, the soldiers, the press, the whole crush of being the executive officer of a rebuilding nation...

But there was consolation. He was rebuilding Cagalli's legacy. He was building the Orb she would have wanted: free, democratic, responsible to its people, sensible enough to stay out of foreign entanglements, prosperous, strong.

And there were other things. He glanced up at the clock. It was almost time to send Kyoko off to school.

Poor Kyoko, the black-haired Extended girl that Athrun and Viveka had adopted soon after the war. So quiet, so shy, so frightened of everything, it had taken them weeks to get her to interact with them in a way other than clipped military formality. Athrun idly thought back to Copland's earlier point about the human wreckage of this war. But Kyoko, like Orb, was on the rise. And Kyoko was why Athrun had spent the past week surreptitiously pricing engagement rings. And that had been rather difficult itself, because while Athrun knew a great many things about Viveka von Oldendorf's body, her ring size was not one of them.

Athrun glanced up at the clock again. Viveka followed his gaze and nodded. "You want to see her off or should I do it?"

He waved at the screen. "The press is gonna ask me all about this speech when he's done, so I should probably know what he said in it first. Tell Kyoko goodbye for me."

"You know I will," Viveka said, and left him with a kiss.

Athrun watched her go, and then reluctantly turned his eyes back towards the screen. After all, he had work to do. For Viveka, for Kyoko, for Cagalli...and even for Kira. Not the man he became, but the man he had been, once, long ago.

They all needed a country. They would have it. And Athrun Zala would make sure they got it.

A cool ocean breeze washed over the cemetery as two figures approached a car on the edge of the grounds. The dulled sounds of Joseph Copland's speech could be vaguely heard from inside on the radio.

Grey Saiba turned his eyes towards the clear blue sky. It was a life, he supposed.

"Did you talk to your father?" he asked quietly.

At his side, Erin Gedelberg cast her eyes towards the ground. "Yeah, he's...not happy."

"I didn't think he would be." He heaved a sigh. "Are you gonna go back?"

Erin blinked. "Not without you."

"Well then we have a problem," Grey said, and withdrew an envelope from his pocket. "Administrator Zala offered us commissions in the new security force today. Said our Phantom Pain training will pretty much carry over and the retraining will just be a formality. We'd go in as 1st lieutenants, full pay."

"Are you going to take it?"

"Absolutely. It's a job. They'll pay for our university tuition. It's a future." He extended the envelope to Erin. "What about you?"

She stared down blankly at the letter. "What do you think I should do?"

"I think you should do what you want to do."

Erin smiled back. "Then my father will just have to understand," she said.

Together they looked back one more time at the grave with two red roses on top, before they climbed into the car and drove away and the ocean breeze washed over the simple white grave of Merau Seraux.

Onogoro Island, United Nations Mandate of Orb

Finally, a place where he didn't have to listen to that damn speech.

Vino Dupre was oddly pleased to be at work for once. It wasn't just because the work consisted of repairs and refit to the mighty Minerva in the Onogoro docks, although it was satisfying to give his old home the good overhaul it so richly deserved.

It was a place of purpose. The whole crew was here, none of them willing to abandon the ship into which they'd sunk their hearts and souls. Abes was in charge of the refit, because no one else was going to oversee the refit of his ship, and Abbey was there as well in her starched white and blue uniform. This ship was going to be a symbol of Orb's willingness to defend its soon-to-be-reclaimed independence, and damned if Commander Abbey Windsor of the Orb Defense Force was going to let the Minerva's crew slack off now that there was no war on.

Vino paused over his work orders and idly wondered if they could ever get Roxy to actually act like a soldier, though. Probably not. On the other hand, she did like her new military paycheck as an ensign in the ODF, since she had more money to blow on booze and all. They were really going to have to get her to cut back.

Across the dock, Yolant shouted orders to a knot of Morgenroete mechanics working on the portside Tristan. Everyone who had survived the war with the Minerva was here, or would be soon. Even him.

Vino's thoughts momentarily soured as his thoughts turned to his old friend. But the feeling dissipated. It had been hard lately to muster up the will to hate the man, really.

Because, at this point...who cared?

"Stella's just going to the beach," she explained, "to collect seashells."

Shinn Asuka, arms crossed, merely shrugged. "Sounds good to me, Stella. Just be careful."

Stella Loussier gave him a quick hug and immediately skipped through the observation deck's door. Shinn arched an eyebrow as he felt another presence emerging onto the deck overlooking the Minerva's dry-dock, and he turned around.

Not surprisingly, Captain Meyrin Hawke cut a striking figure in the white and blue uniform of the Orb forces. He glanced down at his own clothes, still the beige and black civvies he'd thrown on his morning.

"Not exactly up to regulations there, Lieutenant Commander Asuka," she said with a smirk.

"You can only boss me around when we're both in uniform," Shinn replied with a smirk of his own.

"Au contraire, commander," Meyrin laughed, "a soldier is always a soldier no matter what clothes he wears."

"Then that's going to make this relationship difficult," Shinn replied.

Meyrin stepped up next to him and together they looked out over the seething dry-dock, and their familiar warship berthed within it. "I'm kind of surprised you even accepted the invitation to live here. I thought you hated this place."

"I still have some bad memories," Shinn said with a shrug, "but I think Athrun knows what the hell he's doing. And it's not like he couldn't use the help."

Even up here, there was a need for decorum and they couldn't indulge in their ambiguous but comfortable relationship. Shinn still didn't know quite where they stood but so far, he was fine with it. Commanding officer by day, friend in the off-hours, lover on the occasional night...he idly reflected that this should have come as no surprise to him, because after all, nobody had been able to decide what his relationship with Stella was either.

And she was happy. She was thrilled to live in a place where the sea was so close at hand. She was thrilled that the paycheck that came with her lieutenant's commission in the Orb Defense Force was enough to buy a truly gigantic aquarium that had only barely fit in their condo. She was thrilled that someone had discovered a cat when Copland had toured Lord Djibril's quarters at Heaven's Base, and, at a loss for what to do with it, he'd sent it to her as something of a Christmas present to the Minerva's tireless crew. It hated everyone, of course, except Stella, which was how everyone knew it had been Lord Djibril's cat. But she was happy. And that made Shinn happy.

And Meyrin was happy. Happy to still have her ship, happy to still have her friends, happy to still have everything going the way it was supposed to go.

So, so what if he couldn't put a name on their relationship? They shared a smile. Names were overrated.

The silence was pierced by a knock as Emily von Oldendorf rapped her knuckles against the door to Lily's room.

"You're gonna be late," she warned.

"I'm not coming out," the muffled voice answered.

"It can't possibly be that bad," Emily protested.

"You haven't seen it!" came the angry response.

"Well, if you'd come out of there..."

Finally, the door swung open and Emily's eyebrows went up as she took in the sight before her.

"Wow," she said, "that is a short skirt."

Lily Thevalley stood before her with a red face, in a beige blazer and a plaid miniskirt that certainly emphasized the "mini" part. "I can't believe this is a school uniform!" she wailed.

"Well, it's not that bad," Emily offered with a shrug.

"I'm like candy to perverts now!" Lily continued. "They don't even need to undress me with their eyes! Half the work's done already!"

"Oh, itís not that bad, you big baby," Emily said, and guided her towards the door. "Just don't go bouncing around and you'll be fine. It's just a skirt."

"No it's not!" Lily sputtered. "It'd be generous if I called it a belt!"

"Lily, if you're late again, I'm not going to make up another excuse for you about a power sander and a cat in a tree," Emily warned. "You're lucky they believed it at all."

Lily crossed her arms and put on her best pout. "How come you don't have to put up with this crap?"

Emily turned back towards the kitchen in hopes of making some breakfast. "Because I have officer training all through the spring and summer," she said, "and I have university classes starting in the fall."

"Are they going to make you dress like a stripper too?"

"Lily, you do not look like a stripper, now get going."

With a final outraged huff, Lily scooped up her bag and stormed out the door. Emily heaved a sigh as it slammed shut behind her and returned her attention to the eggs frying in the pan before her and the speech still going on over the television.

She wasn't a mother. She wasn't even Lily's legal guardian. Technically, that was Athrun Zala; it was just left to Emily to make sure Lily did the stuff she didn't want to do, like go to school in a skirt that really did seem suspiciously short for a piece of attire to be worn by underage girls. So instead, they had settled in as something like sisters, and that role had never ceased to offer strange new twists and turns for Emily. Viveka was always busy "protecting Athrun's body," as she'd put it Emily never wanted to know what exactly that meant and everyone else...well, they were still there, but they had other things going on now too.

Emily glanced around the kitchen of the modest condominium Athrun had procured for her. It was enough to live in for two teenage girls, one of which had done far more growing up in the past year of her life than she'd ever really expected. Roxy had stocked it with enough booze to get her and everyone else in the building arrested if the cops ever checked this place. Emily had yet to touch it. Down that road lay only bad things, she knew. Many people used alcohol to drown demons...and did she ever have demons.

The reminder for that was the pictures on the wall. She hadn't gotten any pictures of herself with Trojan Noiret during his short few months on the Minerva, but after some research, she'd found an Alliance military file on him during his time training with Barry Ho in East Asia. The long brown bangs, the thin face, the mischievous brown was close enough to the Trojan she so fondly remembered.

And in that respect, at least so far, Lily had been right. The wound was still too raw to let her think about moving on in that part of her life. She'd had no shortage of boys falling all over themselves to win her favor during her last few classes of high school in the fall, and she suspected the same would be true later on. And perhaps someday she might find someone worth it in that pile of suitors. Someday. But not right now.

Right now, she would just have to press on. Because the other picture on the wall was the one she had of her mother. And that was a wound too raw to even think about.

She'd never found out what happened to Rau. According to Athrun, he had been killed in the fighting. As time went on, she began to suspect that the masked man hadn't been entirely above board with her...but who cared now? He was gone. And in the end, he'd still been right. What was important wasn't what she destroyed; it was what she built in its place.

Joseph Copland's voice drifted to her ears as she cooked her breakfast.

"We as a species have done terrible things, to ourselves, to each other, and to our planet," he said. "And it is only fitting and proper that we study our mistakes, so that we might prevent them. It is only fitting and proper that we seek the worst offenders, so that we might bring them to justice. It is only fitting and proper that we mourn the dead and care for the victims, so that we might never forget those we lost, and so that we might mitigate the suffering that still goes on. But we must never dwell. We must never be consumed by the war. For we are hopeful creatures, and we are better than wallowing in misery and self-pity." Copland extended his arms. "So let us turn our energy, our efforts, our resources, our treasure, and our blood towards the future a future worthy of these sacrifices."

Emily smiled.