Phase 01 - Knights Without a Kingdom

Mobile Suit Gundam SEED - Soldiers of Old

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Disclaimer: Mobile Suit Gundam SEED, Mobile Suit Gundam SEED DESTINY, Mobile Suit Gundam SEED CE 73 STARGAZER, Mobile Suit Gundam SEED ASTRAY, Mobile Suit Gundam SEED MSV and SEED DESTINY MSV are the property of Bandai and Sunrise, not me. I make no money off this little venture. This is purely for entertainment purposes, and no copyright infringement is intended.

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I think Gundam SEED and, more specifically, Gundam SEED DESTINY suck. I have made this known to people. Some of DESTINY's most ardent fans have, in their own way, challenged me to do better.

So I will.

This fanfic covers the story of a huge chunk of the original SEED cast (at least, the ones that made it out of episode 49 man, Morosawa was out for blood in that one) and what they池e doing in between SEED and DESTINY. Reading my revised ending to SEED, 鉄eeds of Shadows, is probably a good idea to preclude any head-scratching and confusion, and 典he Power to Protect covers a few events alluded to herein as well. This fanfic is not exactly necessary to understanding what happens later on in DESTINY, although it does fill in exactly what the hell Athrun and friends are doing in the two years between SEED and DESTINY.

I will post a new chapter every Friday, or the soonest day thereafter should something arise on Friday to keep me from posting.

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Phase 01 - Knights Without a Kingdom

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June 16th, CE 73 - Orb Raiders dreadnaught Megami, Pacific Ocean

The Earth was always peaceful. Two years ago, it was filled with war, death, destruction, the pall of smoke that hovered like Death himself over the battlefield, waiting for someone to take a wrong step, to stand up too soon, to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. But somehow, the Earth always managed to wash away the dust and blood and put itself back together. It wasn't like space擁n space, the wreckage of the battle surrounded the Earth in a cozy ring that couldn't be removed. But not the Earth擁t always managed to go back to normal.

To Athrun Zala, that was the strangest thing about the Earth.

He stood on the open-air deck of the Megami, as the ship cruised lazily through the Pacific Ocean. His shift was over; the Justice Gundam, his loyal steed of almost two years, was in just as perfect condition today as it had been yesterday. Now, he had undone the collar of his purple undershirt, rolled up the sleeves of his blue and white Orb uniform, and stood on the deck, watching the sunset, his mind running laps.

He shook his head預bsentmindedly reflecting on the nature of Earth and the nature of space wouldn't help him. He had something to fight for, but that wouldn't mean anything if he wasn't focused enough to fight for it. He was Cagalli's bodyguard now Kisaka had returned to Orb, to fight with the Athha family loyalists and wage a guerrilla war against the Seiran government. He could not protect Cagalli now. That was on Athrun's shoulders.

Athrun turned at the sound of the deck door opening, and for a moment, he felt his body go stiff as he automatically whirled around to salute.

Cagalli Yula Athha stared back at him in surprise, as the breeze ruffled her decorated white Orb uniform. Athrun blinked awkwardly and let his arm drop. Cagalli shook her head and came up next to him, leaning on the railing, a hint of a smile on her lips.

"I guess I still don't know how to address you," Athrun admitted awkwardly, leaning next to her and staring uneasily out at the sunset again.

"It's okay," Cagalli said, just as awkwardly. "We're alone, so it doesn't matter."

Athrun looked down at the sea. "It痴 been two years, he said quietly. 典wo years since Orb collapsed.

滴as it? Cagalli wearily asked. Athrun nodded soberly.

典wo years to the day, he said. 典he day he sent you to space on the Kusanagi.

Cagalli looked away unhappily. 典he day he died, she added.

Athrun was silent a moment. 典he day he died, he agreed.

They were silent again.

展e池e back now, though, Cagalli said, her voice gaining an edge of her characteristic fiery determination. 典wo years ago he diedbut now he痴 back. Now we池e back. And now we can finally get down to fighting the Seirans, like we were meant to all along.

Athrun glanced at her in the fading light. Even with only one battleship and about thirty mobile suits, she was determined to topple an entire nation and bring it back to the order and peace and security and nobility it had once held.

He looked back at the sea.

It was what Kira would have done.

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Yokosuka Naval Station, Japan, Republic of East Asia

The VTOL plane jolted as it landed, and orange-uniformed crews began to swarm over it. The cargo bay doors began to lazily open, but whatever was inside could not yet be seen, concealed by the plane壮 hull.

Standing on the deck of his ship, Lieutenant Commander Ian Lee crossed his arms expectantly.

The Archangel-class battleship Mephistopheles sat silently in port, its dark hull blending in easily with the dark industrial grays and blacks of the port. Not far away, a round Osprey VTOL transport plane was being unloaded, undoubtedly carrying mobile suits. Ideally they would be carrying a squad of the Atlantic Federation痴 new Dagger Ls some ships in the fleet were still using the Alliance痴 old mass-produced Strike Daggers, and there were even a few ships in space that were still using Mobius mobile armors. Clearly something had to be done about that Lee refused to work with subpar weapons when the Atlantic Federation could provide better.

The first mobile suit tramped out of the hangar, with a folded Jet Striker on its back. Lee nodded as the Dagger L stomped towards the Mephistopheles open hangar. They weren稚 great mobile suits, but they were better than Strike Daggers. ZAFT was clearly the master in terms of mobile suit development, Lee had to grudgingly admit, and the Alliance could only make up for ZAFT's quality with quantity.

The door to the deck opened. Lee glanced over his shoulder, and turned to face the person coming onto the deck.

Major Alison MacIntyre was an unusual woman. The daughter of Grand Admiral James MacIntyre, commander of the Atlantic Federation痴 surface fleets and the primary naval advisor to President Copland, she had an air of authority around her, even though it was Lee in command of the Mephistopheles and not her. She was, Lee supposed, somewhat attractive, although admittedly he had no such appetite as to be a judge of that. However, instead of making her pleasing to the eye, her attractiveness instead lent her a sharp, imposing figure, in a trimmed and starched Earth Alliance uniform, with the knee-length skirt to remind everyone that she was indeed a woman. She had long black hair, cold blue eyes, and a general demeanor of seriousness and self-respect that put off any man stupid enough to hit on her. She was as professional as professional came.

That was what Lee liked best about her. That Mudie Holcroft girl in the Phantom Pain unit had absolutely baffled him he had no clue that Atlantic Federation soldiers were even allowed to dress like that.

鼎aptain, she greeted with a dutiful salute. Lee saluted back and turned his attention back to the VTOL, as a Buster Dagger stepped out of the cargo bay.

展e池e taking on our final supplies, he said. 典he new machine should be on this plane.

典he pilot痴 still asleep, she answered, leaning against the rail. 的t値l be a while before he wakes up.

Lee felt the hint of a scowl twist onto his face. That damned Extended was the reason why Major MacIntyre was here she was his caretaker and observer, charged with the task of supervising him in combat, recording his performance and condition throughout their tour of duty, and reporting it back to that dark, intimidating complex on Lodonia Island in the Mediterranean Sea. The Mephistopheles had been required to dock there to pick up their baneful Extended subject. Now they were at Yokosuka, to pick up his machine.

A Duel Dagger, sporting gleaming Fortrestra armor, marched into the hangar. Lee looked up into the VTOL plane痴 cargo bay. There was still another Duel Dagger left, but there was also an imposing shape behind it that Lee guessed was the new machine.

展hat are our orders, Captain? Alison inquired. Lee glanced back at her. 溺y job is to oversee Jack and record his performance, but the orders of this ship haven稚 been specified.

Lee looked back at the plane, as the workers began to remove the locks on the remaining Duel Dagger. 典he Orb Raiders are making their move, he said. 典hey池e straying too close to Equatorial Union waters, so in the interest of providing your Extended with something to fight, we will make a preemptive attack.

的 wish you wouldn稚 refer to him as 僧y Extended, Captain, Alison shot back. 滴e痴 not mine. He壮 his own person.

The second Duel Dagger stepped into the Mephistopheles' hangar.

溺ajor, Lee responded tiredly, 的 commanded this ship in space early last year, and was sent to retrieve three such biological CPUs and their machines. I am weary of these artificially modified humans, and I do not want them on my ship.

Lee went silent, as he and Alison looked up in surprise at the next machine. It had the body of a Dagger L, but with thick black panels on the outward sides of its arms and legs, and three folded vanes on each of its shoulders. It had a shield and a beam rifle, and an enormous backpack that looked like a Jet Striker on its back.

And, of course, it had the face of a Gundam.

敵AT-X117 Diablo, Alison said, looking up admiringly at the machine. 的t痴 been tuned to every electric signal that goes through Jack痴 brain. It痴 a nice new machine.

Lee scowled. More fun with this damn Extended.

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Aube, United Emirates of Orb

Unato Ema Seiran was not a happy man when the reports came in.

He stood in his office, arms crossed, listening grimly to the reports from a shaky junior officer standing rigidly before his desk. To the side, Unato's son Jona sat by, bored, with a glass of bourbon in hand, listening with what seemed like half an ear to the nervous officer.

"What is their bearing?" Unato asked harshly. "Where are they going?"

"They're in the Caroline Islands right now, sir," the officer responded anxiously. "We don't know "

"They're probably coming here," Jona said tiredly. The officer and Unato looked at him in surprise. He glanced indifferently at them. "Cagalli would make no bones about what she's going to do, would she?"

"No," Unato agreed dourly, "she wouldn't." He looked at the officer. "Dismissed."

The officer hastily saluted and fled, and Jona rose wearily to his feet, waiting until the door closed. "She's finally making her move," he said.

"Jona, we've already talked about this," Unato grumbled. "Give up that plan to marry her, unite the Seiran and Athha families, and cripple the Sahakus. Mina is content to hide out on Ame-no-Mihashira, and so long as we have control of the national budget, she can't finish construction, and we'll be fine."

"For now," Jona shot back. "But she won't sit up there on that orbital elevator forever. Sooner or later she'll make a move too, and when that happens, the Seiran family will have to be thoroughly entrenched in this country's government."

"What makes you think Cagalli will be of any help?" Unato scoffed. "Uzumi's policies are unpopular now that they've brought suffering on Orb. Cagalli would choose to continue those foolish policies, and she would be a liability."

"Father, you assume that I would fail to defang her before bringing her into the fold," Jona said with a thin smile. "Cagalli is still popular for her position. Nobody knows about her policy stances, and nobody ever will, because I will not let her articulate those stances. She is useful for her prestige and nothing more. Otherwise she will get our country burned down again."

"We're going to get burned down again either way," Unato shot back. "With Djibril in charge of Blue Cosmos and Copland in Djibril's pocket, it won't be long before they make their move, and when that happens, it will be the beginning of the end for us all."

Jona scowled and looked contemptuously out the window of Unato's office.

"Orb will not be burned down again," Jona said. "We shall never endure the indignity of being a protectorate ever again." He glanced at Unato. "No, Father, Cagalli has to be found, before she can bring the nations of the world crashing down on us."

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Orb Raiders dreadnaught Megami, Pacific Ocean

Lacus Clyne was a fairly unfamiliar sight on the Megami. She was a leader and had a knack for politics, but the Megami had spent the last two years in a silent, ghostly debris field that had once been Heliopolis, where Cagalli was the undisputed leader and everyone was far from politics. Nobody had asked her about Kira's death, because nobody had had a chance whatever feelings she had about it were buried in a deep grave. She did odd jobs around the ship she would never allow herself to be useless but the war had taken something from her.

So at the very least, it made sense to Sai Argyle why he felt like Indiana Jones entering the Temple of Doom.

Standing before her door, hand timidly raised to knock, Sai tried to think back to why he was here in the first place. Lacus had sent a call up to the bridge about something, Sai had no idea what, and had requested that she send someone with computer programming skills to her room to help her with something. Athrun Zala was nowhere to be found, so Murrue sent Sai.

Sai plucked up his courage and knocked. A moment later, the door slid open.

Even in the depths of what seemed like mourning, Lacus Clyne was an immaculate dresser. But her thin, light blue summer dress did not make her look any happier; although she still had the typical dignity and calm that she had carried around herself during the war, it was tinted with sadness faint but visible, something that was there no matter what.

Lacus Clyne blinked at him for a moment and smiled politely. "Thank you for coming so quickly," she said kindly, stepping aside. Sai nervously stepped into her room.

Lacus, of course, was far from slovenly. Her room was as immaculate as her person, so Sai guessed that at least some of her time was spent cleaning her quarters.

"So, um, what's the problem?" Sai asked tactlessly, immediately feeling stupid. If Lacus noticed, she didn't say anything; she instead led him to her computer terminal.

"I'm looking through PLANT news reports," she said, "because I'm suspicious about Chairman Dullindal and the means by which he came to power. I came across this file, about the investigation into Chairwoman Canaver's assassination," she paused and brought up the indicated file, "but when I tried to open it, it said the file is corrupted." She looked back at Sai; he absently noticed how the sadness seemed to fade when she was doing something. "I don't think it's simply 'corrupted,' though."

She stepped aside, pulling the chair out for Sai, and he seated himself and cracked his knuckles. "Seems suspicious," he agreed. 'It's too convenient that files about the investigation just happen to be 'corrupted.'" He set to work checking the file for signs of tampering. "This'll take a few minutes."

Lacus stood off to the side patiently. This was simple; Sai broke the file's locks in seconds and breezed past the "corruption," deciphering the file in a matter of minutes.

"Thank you, Mr. Argyle," she said with another polite smile. Sai stood up and stepped aside, and she followed him to the door. "I appreciate your help."

Sai paused before he left, and turned around. "Call me Sai," he said. Lacus blinked at him for a moment, and then nodded, smiling again.

"Alright, Sai," she said. "Good night."

Sai headed back to the bridge feeling unusually good.

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A card landed on the table, and with a sigh, Dearka Elthman tossed his remaining cards down with them.

"I give up," he said resignedly. "Before you win everything else I own."

On the other side of the table, Miriallia happily collected a quintet of candy bars off the table in the mess hall. "I don't want some of the stuff you own," she shot back with a grin. Dearka shook his head.

"I don't get it," he complained. "By day you're a cute little girl with malice towards none and optimism for all, and by night you're a vicious card shark. Can't I have one of those back for consolation?"

"No," Milly said quickly, immediately unwrapping one off her prizes and biting into it contently. "You just need to remember how to play Egyptian war and maybe then you'll put up a better fight."

Dearka sighed once more in defeat and slumped back in his chair. "I need to start conning Athrun into playing for stuff," he said. "Athrun royally blows at these games."

"Dearka!" Milly said with mock offense. "Are you considering ripping off your friends?"

"What else are friends for?" Dearka countered, looking back at her with a wry smirk. Milly shook her head and took another bite from her candy bar.

"Friends are for lots of things, you dope," she said. "And ripping them off to make yourself feel better is certainly not one of them."

"You just ripped me off," Dearka replied.

"You blew it fair and square," Milly countered. "Don't try that on me, Dearka, it's your fault and your fault alone that you suck."

Dearka sat back again with a sigh. "Well, knowing my luck, Athrun would pull some outrageously lucky card out of thin air and he'd wind up winning the Buster from me or something," he said resignedly. "So can I have a candy bar yet?"

Milly tossed one at him in mock annoyance, and he happily tore it open and bit into it. "So where are we all going?" she asked. Dearka shrugged.

"Somewhere near Orb, I'd wager," he said, "though I'm sure someone will talk Cagalli out of going in all guns blazing soon enough."

Milly sighed. "She's so gung-ho," she said resignedly. "Sometimes I wish I could be that enthusiastic."

"Oh no you don't," Dearka interjected, looking sharply at her. Milly blinked in surprise. "Cagalli is nuts and gung-ho because she's Cagalli and she's got a bunch of people around to hold her back if she insists on doing something stupid. You don't. So for everyone's sake, stay calm and cautious, please. We could use a voice of reason around here."

Milly blinked at him a moment, before she smiled and shook her head. "If you're trying to get into my pants, it's not going to work," she giggled.

"I gave up on that long ago," Dearka shot back huffily. "Besides, now it would cause drama and we already have Yzak to make enough drama for us."

Milly shook her head again with a sigh. "Well, whatever happens," she said, "I'm sure it will be interesting."

Dearka sat back, smiling wryly. "It always is."

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June 17th, CE 73 - Atlantic Federation Archangel-class battleship Mephistopheles, Yokosuka Naval Station, Japan, Republic of East Asia

Ian Lee settled into the captain's chair on the bridge of the Mephistopheles. The Archangel-class was a fine class of warship Lee could see why the Atlantic Federation had been so desperate to get the original Archangel to JOSH-A during the Valentine War.

He glanced around. Unlike the Archangel, the Mephistopheles was manned with a well-trained and full crew, supplied amply for a long mission. The mobile suits were ready as well, loaded up for a battle at sea with a powerful foe.

Lee glanced at the helmsman, an overwhelmed-looking brown-haired Ensign named Jason. "Helmsman," Lee said authoritatively, "are we ready?"

"Yes sir," Jason answered nervously. Lee looked out the bridge windows it was a fine morning to do some sailing.

"Our orders are to engage the Orb Raiders?" asked Alison's voice. Lee glanced over his shoulder, finding her in a bridge chair nearby, and he nodded.

"They were last spotted in the Caroline Islands," he said. "We will set course for that general area and begin searching." He looked to the rest of the bridge. "Helmsmen, are our engines up to speed?"

"All engines are running at optimal levels," reported Brian, the even more overwhelmed-looking co-helmsman. "We're ready to launch, sir."

Lee sat back. The time had come.

"Mephistopheles," he announced, "launch at once! All ahead full!"

"All ahead full!" Jason repeated, as the Mephistopheles began to move.

"Sensor officer," Lee continued, glancing down towards the Mephistopheles' CIC, "begin searching for a heat signature twice as high as that of this ship when we are twenty kilometers out of port."

"Yes sir!" the sensor officer, a young man named Eric, answered enthusiastically. Lee crossed his arms as the Mephistopheles inched out of port. Somewhere out there, the Orb Raiders were waiting. He would find them.

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Orb Raiders dreadnaught Megami, Pacific Ocean

Murrue Ramius had few opportunities to slip away from the Megami's bridge, and when one of those rare opportunities appeared, she seized it. And so she found herself on the Megami's deck, enjoying the cool breeze of a morning on the open ocean. Mwu stood next to her, his arm affectionately over her shoulder; she leaned happily against him. It was all too pleasing for a moment, they could both pretend that they were normal adults, in a normal relationship, enjoying a normal moment together on a normal day.

"So," Mwu began, "who's going to talk Cagalli out of charging valiantly into certain doom?"

"I'm not going to," Murrue said tiredly. "I respect Cagalli as a leader and like her as a friend, but I do not want to try to dissuade her from something. I'm not made of stuff that stern."

Mwu chuckled. "Is that why Athrun likes her?" he asked amusedly. "I'm sure Andy can do it, he seems to have a way with obstinate kids."

Murrue sighed and shook her head. "Well, that's what we're all here for," she said.

"Yeah," Mwu agreed, "That's what us adults are for, I guess. Someone needs to keep them from going insane."

There was a pause. "Are you getting along with Yzak yet?" Murrue asked.

Mwu blinked. "What do you mean?" he asked.

"Well after all the complaining you did " Murrue began with a smirk.

"Oh, it was not that much," Mwu groused. "Besides, you'd complain about the little emo bastard too."

"He can't be that bad," Murrue laughed.

"Oh, wanna bet?" Mwu asked, looking down at her. "'Hey Yzak,' I ask, 'can you give me a hand with this actuator?' And what does he do? He just stares at me, for a whole minute, and then turns and hides in the Duel. While I'm sitting here with this giant metal cylinder in my arms, trying not to let it go and send it spiraling across the hangar, he just freaking stares at me."

It was all Murrue could do not to laugh at him. "Well, are you getting along with him now?" she asked through giggles.

Mwu sighed. "Yes, mom," he said airily. Murrue only laughed some more.

"You'd be so lucky to have me for a mother," she said. "Now play nice with the other boys and mommy won't have to put you in the corner."

The laughter faded, and Mwu and Murrue stared silently over the horizon.

"When this is all over," Mwu said, looking down at her, "you wanna get married?"

Murrue looked back at him, smiling. "Ask me again," she said, "when it's all over."

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The Duel Gundam's left-hand shoulder Assault Shroud armor swung ponderously through the air as Yzak Jule moved it into position over the Duel's left shoulder.

"Okay, stop!" a voice called out from somewhere down below. "Start lowering!"

Yzak sighed and pushed the lever forward; the armor piece began to slowly descend over the Duel's shoulder.

"It should be lighter now," the voice of Erica Simmons added from Yzak's side on the platform. Yzak watched carefully as the armor was lowered into place and a pair of mechanics began attaching it.

"It's gone down by almost seven metric tons," Yzak said, "so it better be."

"The thrusters should be able to support you in the atmosphere too," Erica added, leaning against the railing. "We spent a week on them and their output is up by fifty percent."

Yzak looked up at the Duel. "It will work," he said confidently.

"So," Erica said, looking over at Yzak, "why are you doing this?" Yzak glanced in surprise at her. "It's got to be something big. Why?"

Yzak looked away. "It's not important," he said curtly.

"Of course it's important," Murdoch countered. "What could be more important than the reason why you fight?"

Yzak scowled. "Why am I fighting, you ask?" he said quietly. His fists clenched around the gantry controls. "You saw what happened to my mother."

Erica's smile vanished. "Yeah," he said quietly, "I saw. And "

"Okay!" a mechanic below called out. "Right shoulder! We'll load the railgun when we get it attached!"

Yzak moved the crane over to pick up the Assault Shroud's railgun-equipped right-hand shoulder armor.

"That," he said coldly, "is why I fight."

Erica looked back towards the Duel and tried to think of statistics to talk about.

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"It's ugly," Andy said flatly.

Across the hangar, as Yzak attached the Duel's Assault Shroud, Andrew Bartfeldt stood by the side of his long-suffering aide, Martin DaCosta, staring up at the not particularly imposing form of the Aegis Gundam.

Andy, dressed in his striking white-and-blue Orb uniform, put his two hands, one flesh and blood, the other a concoction of plastics and robotics, against the railing, and stared up with his two eyes, one natural, one mechanical, at the Aegis's face.

"Where did we even get it?" he asked, glancing at DaCosta.

"The Junk Guild," DaCosta answered with a shrug. "Orb collected the pieces after Athrun detonated it in the Marshall Islands and stuck them on the Kusanagi. The Junk Guild bought them, and after we got to Heliopolis, they sold it back to us refurbished."

Andy looked back up at the Aegis. "They changed the Phase Shift, right?" he asked. "I'm not flying a pink mobile suit."

"It's red, yellow, and black, just like you asked, sir," DaCosta said cautiously. "Upgraded with an N-Jammer Canceller, nuclear reactor, two beam cannons in the waist binders, and enough thruster output to fly in the Earth's atmosphere."

Andy heaved a sigh. "This is too surreal," he said. "Athrun blew this thing up over two years agoand here I am piloting it again. It's as if the past just won't stay in the past."

DaCosta shrugged again. "Well," he said, "it should be good for us all to have you on the battlefield."

Andy smirked. "'Course it'll be," he said with a chuckle. "Can't let Mwu get all the fun."

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June 18th, CE 73 - Atlantic Federation Archangel-class battleship Mephistopheles, Pacific Ocean

"You look stressed, Major," Lee commented wryly as he looked across the bridge at Alison's face. She glanced at him in surprise. "The Mephistopheles is a fast ship. As soon as we find the Orb Raiders, we will not have long to wait."

"I'm anxious to get this assignment over with, Captain," she said, looking back out over the ocean. "I'm sure you understand why."

Lee stood up and walked towards her. "That, Major, is why I am skeptical about that Extended on my ship," he said. "It is your responsibility to combat-test it, but "

"Why are you calling him 'it?'" Alison asked, swinging around to face him. "He's not an 'it,' he's a human being. Why can't you regular officers see that?"

"Major," Lee said steadily, in too low a voice for the crew to hear, "Jack O'Hara has been modified and altered more than a Coordinator. Like the rest of the Extended, that thing is too unstable to be reliable. I grow weary of dealing with these pilots that have to be sent back to their cradle every time something happens."

Alison scowled at Lee. "Captain," she said in a measured, calm voice, "Jack is under my care. I have spent the past sixteen months supervising and training him. You will see that he is a human being and not just a tool, of that you can be certain."

She stormed off the bridge without a further word, and Lee suppressed a sigh and shook his head. After that debacle with those three biological CPUs in February of CE 72, it should have been evident to High Command that Lieutenant Commander Ian Lee and Extended did not go well together. But once again, here he was, stuck on a ship with an Extended.

"Captain," a low, gruff voice began. Lee turned, finding his executive officer and CIC supervisor approaching.

Lieutenant Gregory Murphy was a tall, muscular man with graying hair and skin so heavily tanned by now it was a rich bronze, wrapped in a uniform that seemed a touch too small. He dutifully saluted.

"What is it?" Lee asked, returning his salute just as dutifully.

"Chief Warrant Officer Jameson has something on the infrared he thinks you should take a look at," Murphy said. Lee nodded the two descended down into the darkened CIC, finding the thin, pale Eric Jameson intently watching his screens, the green radar screen casting an eerie glow over his face.

"Captain," Eric said with a curt salute, "I think I've found the Orb Raiders' ship, sir." He switched his screen over to infrared displays, panning over a wide swath of the Pacific Ocean. The screen stopped over one particularly bright spot Eric zoomed in on it, and it displayed the vague outline of an Archangel-class, with something enormous on the stern.

"I would wager that's it," Murphy put in. "Don't know of any ships in our fleet that have some giant engine strapped to the stern."

"It probably is," Lee agreed. "Either way, we will get close enough to know for sure. Warrant Officer Jameson, route this data to the navigator." He turned and climbed back onto the bridge as Jameson set to work. "Navigator!" Lee exclaimed. "Set course for the coordinates indicated by the CIC!"

"Aye sir," came the response, as the unfazed-looking Chief Warrant Officer Simmons set to work plotting a new course.

Lee turned, looking out towards the horizon. It was time to go back to war.

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Orb Raiders dreadnaught Megami, Pacific Ocean

The bridge was alive with movement as the sensors went off.

"What's going on?!" Murrue demanded as she arrived on the bridge and took up her usual station.

"We're detecting a battleship-level heat signature!" Chandra exclaimed over his shoulder. "It looks like an Archangel-class!"

"Archangel-class?!" Murrue echoed. "Here?!"

"Visual confirmation!" Jackie called from his own station. An image of a dark-painted Archangel-class battleship coming on from the northeast filled the bridge monitor, its catapult deck slowly opening.

"Captain, the catapults " Sai began.

"All hands, battle stations!" Murrue ordered. "Release the weapons and the mobile suits! Let's go!"

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Atlantic Federation Archangel-class battleship Mephistopheles, Pacific Ocean

Lee watched indifferently from the bridge as the Diablo Gundam stepped onto the catapult and prepared to launch. "Major," he said coldly, "you told me I would see just how valuable this Extended of yours is."

Alison crossed her arms and stared forward intently. "And you will," she said, just as coldly.

Lee glanced down into the CIC, at the uncomfortable-looking MS deck operator, Warrant Officer Shelia Ferguson. "Clear the Diablo for launch," he ordered.

Down in the hangar, inside the Diablo, the face of the pilot was obscured by shadows and a helmet to a red and black Earth Alliance flight suit.

"Diablo cleared for launch," Shelia announced.

The Diablo's pilot slowly raised his eyes, and the light finally made its way over his face, illuminating a young man's face with glittering blue eyes and wispy black hair.

"Jack O'Hara, Diablo," he called out, "taking off!"

The Diablo Gundam took off with a roar.

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To be continued