Phase 21 - The Mercenary Way

Mobile Suit Gundam SEED DESTINY

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Phase 21 - The Mercenary Way

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November 12th, CE 73 - Battlecruiser Kasselheim, New Haven Port, Lagrange Point 1

的f you池e going to fly with us, Kika said ebulliently, dragging Shinn down the hallways of the Kasselheim, 鍍hen you can稚 look like a coroner.

展hat do you mean 祖oroner? Shinn sputtered, looking down at his usual light gray clothes, and then looking back up in annoyance at Kika.

添ou stand out too much, she explained with a smirk, glancing over her shoulder at him. 敵an and Miki are off trussing Stella up into a model of inconspicuousness. Now it痴 your turn.

Shinn glared at the wall in aggravation. 添ou can稚 make Stella look inconspicuous, he grumbled.

釘ut we can sure as hell try, Kika said, coming to a stop in front of someone痴 room. She keyed open the door and gave Shinn a healthy shove inside. 哲ow shut up and we can make this kinda painless.

典here痴 nothing wrong with my clothes! Shinn protested. 典hey池e fine al濫 Kika cut him off by shoving him onto a bed and pulling his jacket off.

的 told you, you stand out too much, she said with a hint of exasperation. 展e池e all outlaws and we池e all wanted, but you especially, Mr. Orb Marauder. Do you want people to be able to recognize you? She turned and delved into a closet nearby. 鄭nyways, she continued, her voice muffled by something, 鍍his stuff should fit you more or less, so give it a try and don稚 be difficult.

Shinn sighed unhappily and rubbed his temples in irritation; he blinked in surprise as a black shirt drifted onto his head. Looking up, he found Kika standing in the closet doorway, hands on her hips in annoyance.

泥on稚 make me undress you myself, she warned. 的値l do it if you make me.

Shinn痴 eyes went wide and a blush spread across his face, but before he could sputter anything out, Kika tossed a pair of blue jeans and black boots and gloves at him as well, and a defeated Shinn slinked off to the bathroom to change.

When he emerged, Kika stared critically at his black t-shirt and blue jeans for a moment; Shinn squirmed uncomfortably under her scrutiny.

展hat? he finally asked. Kika was silent for another moment.

展ell, you look inconspicuous, Kika said slowly, still eyeing him thoughtfully. 釘ut there痴 something wrong.

展hat do you mean something wrong? Shinn grumbled, looking down at himself. 的t fits okay.

典hat痴 not the problem, Kika said dismissively. She paused, and then giggled softly. 釘esides, you壇 look a lot better if you had some meat on your bones. Did they not feed you guys in ZAFT or what? She paused and scrutinized him for another moment. 徹h well, I suppose it can't be helped. You look inconspicuous enough, I guess. Now come on, she said, 的 wanna show Gan that I could turn a lost puppy into something that looks mildly badass.

Shinn groaned unhappily and resigned himself to fate as Kika pulled him out into the hall. 展hy are you doing this to me? he mumbled under his breath.

展hy am I doing this to you? Kika echoed; Shinn blinked in surprise, not realizing that she had heard him. 的知 doing this to you so that you値l be safer. You won稚 stand out quite so easily this way, but you致e still got a little touch to let people know not to screw with you. She paused. 釘esides, you look good in black.

Shinn sighed in dismay again.

哲ow then, Kika went on, 都ay hi to Stella.

Shinn turned around to look at Stella; his eyes went wide in disbelief once again. Instead of her billowy white dress, Stella had been decked out in a red tank top, black pants, and high black boots. She looked lost and confused as always, while Miki was looking extremely awkward and Gan seemed somehow proud of herself.

鉄he痴 not half-bad, hmm? Gan asked suggestively, arching an eyebrow and smirking. Shinn blushed and looked away in exasperation; Kika laughed and shoved him towards Stella.

笛esus, Shinn, how sheltered are you? she giggled.

填m, Shinn began awkwardly, trying to ignore them, 塗ow are you feeling, Stella?

Stella looked down blankly at herself. ...weird...

鄭re you torturing Shinn already? a voice asked; Shinn turned around and found George striding towards them all with a water bottle in hand. Kika laughed even harder as George came to a stop next to Shinn.

的t痴 just so easy! she exclaimed. 的t痴 like all those lame stereotypes about cute sheltered boys come to life!

的知 not that sheltered! Shinn protested.

展e値l see, George said ominously. 添ou池e coming with me into the colony. We致e got some things to take care of.

The giggling ceased; Shinn looked nervously at Stella.

鉄he値l stay here, George said, before Shinn could ask. 溺iki will look after her, and everyone else will protect her. But I致e got things to show you; things you need to see now that you宋e signed on with us.

Shinn paused, put off by the foreboding in George痴 voice. 鏑ike what? he asked.

George looked at Shinn for a moment. 鉄hinn, he said ominously, 的知 going to introduce you to the real world.

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ZAFT battleship Minerva, near Lagrange Point 1

Lunamaria Hawke usually hated the gun training range. It was tedious and she was a terrible shot no matter how much practice she put in. She therefore made it a point to always bring Meyrin with her to the practice rounds, if for nothing else to have someone to talk to, since Rey was never one for conversation. As the firing range door opened, Luna glanced at Meyrin and wondered why she seemed to so downtrodden.

Rey was already in there, blasting away at the targets. Luna pointedly ignored him as she and Meyrin went to their stations.

...why did Shinn betray us? Meyrin asked suddenly. Luna blinked and looked over at her in surprise; Rey froze, his gun still raised at the target.

釘ecause he was weak, Rey snapped.

Luna spun around in surprise, looking at Rey. 滴e wasn稚 weak! she exclaimed, as suddenly as Meyrin had spoken. 的f he was weak he wouldn稚 have defied us all and taken Stella back to the Alliance!

滴e could not handle the trials of war, Rey said, his voice quiet and venomous. 泥o not speak of that which you do not understand, Lunamaria.

的 understand damn well why he left! Luna said angrily. 鄭ll that time he went on about Newtypes and all that dogma that people came up with about George Glenn痴 confession! And what did you ever do to help him, huh? Did you ever try to understand him? Did you ever try to convince him that it was wrong? Huh?

Rey remained silent, looking back adamantly at the bullet-riddled target.

徹r were you the one filling his head with all that Newtype shit? Luna went on, glowering at Rey. 的 bet you were, weren稚 you? You always built a bubble around him! You did your damnedest to keep him away from the rest of us! And he couldn稚 take anymore of that Newtype dogma, and he snapped!

Rey threw his gun aside angrily and stalked out of the practice range; Luna watched him go furiously, and Meyrin stood off to the side, meekly.

...Luna, what are Newtypes? Meyrin asked quietly. Luna glanced at her sadly and heaved a sigh.

撤eople say they池e like psychics, she explained wearily. 典hey can see the future and read emotions and stuff. I guess they make really good mobile suit pilots too. But it痴 just a lot of rumors and bull.

Meyrin was silent, deep in thought. ...maybe it痴 real, she said.

Luna blinked in surprise.

的 mean, Shinn was a really good mobile suit pilot, Meyrin went on, 殿nd sometimes it was like he could see the future. She paused. 鄭nd maybe being all sensitive to emotions is why he left. He didn稚 want to fight a war and be surrounded by suffering anymore.

Luna opened her mouth to admonish Meyrin for entertaining such crazy theories, but said nothing and instead sighed again.

添ou miss him too? she asked. Meyrin blinked in surprise and looked up, blushing. 的 mean, sure he was anti-social and pissy all the time, but still... She shrugged. 的t痴 just kinda weird.

Meyrin looked awkwardly at the floor.

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Atlantic Federation battleship Girty Lue, near the Moon

On one side of the bridge was Ian Lee, arms crossed adamantly. On the other was Neo Roanoke, hands on his hips in clear aggravation. Looking back and forth between them both was the overwhelmed-looking bridge crew.

的 don稚 see why you池e playing the protective daddy now, Neo said in irritation, shaking his head. 展e have to do it. Their memories of Stella are too much of a liability.

徹ur mission is to find and retrieve Stella and the Gaia, Lee answered. 滴ow will they be able to effectively go about this mission if they have no idea what their target is?

Neo痴 mouth twisted into the hint of a scowl. 典heir emotional attachment to her will cloud their judgment and give them reservations, he said.

展hen has their judgment ever been clear? Lee shot back.

Neo stared ruefully at Lee for a moment. 擢ine, he grunted, 的 won稚 wipe their memories. He turned to leave. 的値l be in my quarters. With that he stalked out of the bridge.

Lee waited until the door closed before he turned to the rest of the bridge crew. 鏑ock the door to the maintenance pod room, he ordered.

釘ut sir濫 one of the operators began.

典hat痴 an order, Lee cut him off. The operator hesitatingly complied. Lee returned to his seat and slumped down tiredly into it. Protecting Sting and Auel from Neo痴 machinations, it seemed, was a full-time job.

There was the faint, muffled noise of what sounded like a fist smacking angrily against a wall. Lee suppressed his smile.

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New Haven, Lagrange Point 1

Shinn wasn稚 sure how, but as he and George walked down the grimy, impoverished streets of the New Haven colony, he somehow felt endangered. He could sense an aura of despair and something frightening and animal about this place that chilled him to the core.

添ou look pale, Shinn, George observed. 哲ew Haven isn稚 that scary.

Shinn glanced around at the dilapidated buildings that reminded him of impoverished cities on Earth. The New Haven weather control computer, it was said, had long ago malfunctioned, and so the artificial sky was filled with dark clouds that seemed to be threatening rain.

展here are we going? Shinn asked nervously.

典o a bar, George said simply. 敵et used to 'em. We spend lots of time in 'em.

Shinn mentally steeled himself.

展e have business to conduct anyways, George went on. 展e raid military convoys for parts. We sell the parts to whoever will take them, like the Junk Guild.

典he Junk Guild? Shinn echoed. 釘ut I thought they didn稚 do business with outlaws.

典hey like to pretend that the parts we sell them just magically materialize in their hands, George said. 摘veryone knows it痴 a lie, but no one cares enough to do anything about it. He paused. 典ake a right.

Shinn stared momentarily down a trash-filled alley with a dirty, vaguely humanoid form curled up next to a trash can. He steeled himself again and headed down the alley just behind George.

...then what痴 our business here? Shinn asked uneasily, almost fearing the answer.

徹ur business is to find a fine gentleman who stiffed us on a load of mobile suit parts and negotiate with him a new payment that will be more equitable to all parties involved.

Shinn paused for a moment. 鄭nd that痴 why we池e carrying between us four loaded Berettas?

鄭ctions speak louder than words, Shinn, George said smoothly, 殿nd a loaded gun in your face speaks louder than both.

They came to a stop in front of a fading door; George glanced at Shinn and then looked up at the faded, unreadable sign above the door.

典he Pigsty Bar and Nightclub, he said with mock theatrics. 湯Never will you find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.樗

Shinn arched an inquisitive eyebrow. 展hy are you quoting ancient movies? he asked. George allowed himself a smirk.

的 always wanted a chance to say that, he replied. 鼎ome on, Shinn. We have a new world to introduce you to.

George opened the door and ushered Shinn inside, and all hell promptly broke loose.

All at once, Shinn痴 senses came under brutal attack. The stench of alcohol invaded his nostrils; the flashing lights and twisting shapes around the dimly-lit room dizzied him; the cacophony of a synthesized beat and all sorts of shouts and conversations all going on at once tore into his ears; the entire room felt close, muggy, and overheated; even the air tasted foul and repugnant. Shinn bristled, a shiver running down his spine; George grabbed him by the arm and immediately pulled him into a darkened booth in the corner.

的t痴 busy today, he observed, looking around. 典he owner must be celebrating another successful sexual conquest.

Shinn felt like retching, but settled only for a coughing fit. 展hat the hell is this place? he managed to choke out.

的t痴 where people of the less morally uplifted constitution come to unwind, George said. He glanced to the side. 適eep a low profile in here. We don稚 want a fight.

敵eorge! a shrill female voice exclaimed. George glanced pointedly at Shinn and then turned to his right; a girl in a remarkably miniscule amount of clothing stumbled out of the crowd and immediately attached herself to George. 敵eorge! It痴 been so long! What are you doing back on New Haven?

Shinn felt distinctly uncomfortable as George greeted her, and tried not to stare at the girl痴 body and how much of it was revealed in her clothing, or lack thereof.

鉄o, the girl went on, grinning suggestively at George, 殿re you here for business...or pleasure?

釘usiness, I知 afraid, George answered with suavity Shinn had not known he had possessed, 鍍hough I suppose I could make time for some pleasure.

The girl cast her big somewhat-bloodshot eyes on Shinn and seemed to perk up. 鄭nd who痴 this? She paused. 滴ey, isn稚 he that Shinn A濫 George clapped a hand over her mouth.

哲ot so loud, he said quietly. The girl nodded as George took his hand away and turned back towards Shinn.

展hat壇 you bring him here for? she asked. George glanced back at Shinn.

鼎all it work experience, he said. 鉄hinn痴 along to help me conduct the aforementioned business.

The girl cast her seductive smile on Shinn; Shinn felt like all the blood in his body should have been rushing to one part, but it was getting too confused about which part to go to and so went nowhere. 鉄o you wouldn稚 be opposed to letting me have him for an hour or two, would ya? she asked, glancing suggestively at George.

的知 going to need him later on, George said, 殿nd besides, I think that痴 his call.

Shinn promptly tried to hide his face as all his blood decided to go there.

The girl arched an inquisitive eyebrow. 徹h, wait, lemme guess, she said with a sigh. 鉄uper-sheltered PLANT boy, wouldn稚 know what it means if a girl were to stick her hands down his pants?

徹rb boy, George corrected. 泥on稚 rag on him too much, though. Like the rest of us, he just needs experience to break through the 壮heltered part.

展ell, I can take care of that, the girl said, winking at Shinn. Shinn groaned and buried his bright-red face in his hands.

泥on稚 embarrass him too much, George admonished. 鄭nyway, I知 afraid the business I came for must take priority. Where痴 Skiroko?

鉄kiroko? the girl echoed. 摘h, he痴 probably off getting piss-fuck drunk and trying to grope the dancers.

敵ood to see not everything changes, George said, letting go of the girl. 的値l talk to you later.

The girl tried to plant a big wet kiss on George痴 cheek, but he was out of her reach before she could. George seized Shinn by the arm and pulled him to his feet.

泥o you want some water or something? George asked surreptitiously. 添our face is redder than your space suit.

Shinn said nothing. George shrugged and pulled Shinn off through the crowd.

As they made their way through drunken men and women in various states of undress, Shinn began to feel distinctly disturbed. There was an air in this room of utter desire, liberally tempered with alcohol. It was driving Shinn insane; he felt like he was being suffocated in here, under the carnal abandon of everyone else.

Shinn痴 ruminations ceased as he came upon a man who looked like a living relic of the AD 1970s. He had rings on every finger; he had a long, black, gold-studded cane in one hand; he had a big cocktail in the other; he had velvet and satin clothes in impossibly bright colors; he had an enormous hat with an equally enormous green feather; he had a blue feather boa the size of an anaconda; he had a cape, a cape of all things; he had sunglasses the size of dinner-plates; he had a foot-long cigarette holder sticking out of the side of his mouth.

典hat痴 Skiroko, George whispered to Shinn.

滴e痴 a pimp? Shinn hissed back.

展ell, yeah, George answered, as if Shinn couldn稚 have said anything more obvious. "You could meet this man on any street in the universe and know he's a pimp." Shinn stared helplessly at the incomprehensibly brightly colored man as he wheeled around to face George.

敵eorge! he exclaimed drunkenly, stumbling forward, spilling his cocktail and dropping his gigantic cigarette holder, to staggeringly throw his arms around George. 添a bashtard! Whaddya doin on New Hav地?

釘usiness, my friend, George said, cordially patting Skiroko on the back. 的 noticed you池e a little tipsy, but I have a favor to ask anyways.

Shinn turned away from the drunken pimp and looked out over the rest of the bar. He had become only partially accustomed to the noxious atmosphere of the place, but the emotions in here were another matter entirely. He wanted fresh air, or at least to be outside.

He glanced back at George; he didn稚 seem to be finishing up anytime soon. With a sigh, he slid into an empty seat to wait.

Shinn stared ruefully at everyone around him; they were all drunk and would all be most miserable in the morning, but that made little difference to him. He wanted to get George's "business" done with so that he could return to the ship; this club contained too many people in the midst of drunken abandon. Shinn could feel their intoxication and lust and animalism, and it chilled him to the core.

George came up to Shinn and quickly pulled him up. "Let's go," he said, "I'll explain on the way."

As they swept out of the bar, Shinn let out a sigh of relief. George glanced curiously at him, but said nothing as they moved back out onto the street.

"Our friend is getting ready to leave," George said quietly, ushering Shinn along. 展e need to find him and have our little discussion with him before he濫

The sound of a muffled scream cut George off. Shinn痴 eyes went wide, and he glanced down another darkened alley as his Newtype senses flared. He could feel anguish and terror; a shiver ran down his spine.

泥on稚 worry about it, George said quickly. Shinn continued to stare down the alley, not moving. He could still feel fear預 pulsing mass of fear, and a burning flame of frustration and anger. He could almost hear a voice pleading with the other; he could almost hear a metallic click.

There was a loud noise; Shinn felt his blood run cold. He took off running down the alley, ignoring George as he tried to stop him.

The fear and the anguish had vanished; there was nothing there, just frustration, mixed with some kind of contentment and amusement that made Shinn痴 blood curdle. He couldn稚 understand it; he felt the emotions, behind a barricaded door. He felt his strength swell up within him

With a crash, Shinn burst through the barricaded, dilapidated door and cocked his pistol. His eyes went wide at the contents of the room.

The room was dark, musty, and stank of gunpowder and sweat. There was a dirty, scruffy, overweight man in the room, glancing blankly over his shoulder at Shinn. There was a body on the floor; it was a girl, in shredded, muddied clothes, blood pouring out of a bullet hole in her head. There was a smoking gun in the man痴 hand.

Shinn felt his entire body go hot with rage; he raised his pistol and emptied the magazine into the man痴 chest with a scream.

The man fell to the ground, riddled full of bleeding holes. He collapsed backward with a sickening splatter. Shinn continued to pull the trigger, staring with wide, smoldering, shaking eyes, ignoring the click of the empty pistol. He fell to his knees, tears welling up in his eyes.

George emerged in the broken doorway and surveyed the scene grimly.

典hat looks like one of Mendoza痴 men, he said quietly, stepping past Shinn and casting an almost indifferent glance over the two bodies. 展ell, I suppose he had it coming. He found a large tarp and cast it over the girl痴 body, and then turned to face Shinn. 典his, Shinn, is why I told you not to worry about it.

Shinn dropped the empty gun, staring in disbelief at George. 釘ut... He looked back at the bodies. 釘ut...I could have done something...

George furrowed his brow, watching Shinn carefully. Shinn let out an angry scream, pounding his fist into the floor.

的 could have done something! he shrieked.

George pulled Shinn back up to his feet harshly. 徹kay, he said, shaking Shinn and staring calmly into his wide, teary eyes. 溺aybe you could have done something. You could致e gotten rid of him, helped her out, escorted her home, and she壇 be all safe and sound in her home tonight. He glanced pointedly at the bodies, and then looked back at Shinn. 釘ut that痴 only today. Tomorrow we値l be gone, and she値l be back on her own. She値l have to go back out into the world, and guys like them濫 he gestured to the dead man,迫will always be out there, and one of them will find her. And when that happens you won稚 be around to protect her.

鉄o? Shinn exclaimed. 鄭t least I can do something while I am there!

釘ut it won稚 change anything, George answered. 添ou can do something today, sure. But you won稚 be able to do anything tomorrow. You won稚 be here tomorrow. But guys like him will be here tomorrow. He sighed quietly. 典here痴 only so far that protection schtick can go before it runs aground on reality. Yes, there痴 injustice in the world; yes, it壮 wrong; yes, it should be stopped; yes, that girl shouldn奏 have had to die; and yes, that guy deserved every atom of the lead you pumped him full of. But that doesn稚 mean there痴 less injustice in the world. There痴 still going to be some other girl who gets raped and shot by some other guy, and you won稚 be there to stop it. That壮 the way the world works.

Shinn looked angrily away. 典hen...someone should change it, he murmured.

George furrowed his brow thoughtfully. 鉄hould they, he said with interest. 鄭nd who gives them the right to change the world? Shinn looked back at him desolately. 典he world belongs no more to you than it does to me or the captain or Gilbert Dullindal. It痴 not one person痴 world to change as one person sees fit. We all live here, we all have our own beliefs and wants and needs, and one person痴 vision of utopia doesn稚 fit us all.

Shinn cast his eyes to the floor in desolation. George put a consoling hand on his shoulder.

的t痴 not all hopeless, he went on. 典he world may not be yours, but your life is. Shinn looked back up at him. 添ou don稚 have to be a raping murderer. You don稚 have to be a megalomaniacal dictator. You can live your life however you want. Just leave the way the world works alone, because you can稚 change that.

Shinn was silent, and looked away forlornly at the bodies. George sighed.

鼎ome on, he said. 展e致e still got work to do. He gently pulled Shinn out of the room.

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Office of the Chairman of the PLANT Supreme Council, Aprilius 1, Lagrange Point 5

Gilbert Dullindal sat in his office, brooding. Before him was the news that the Minerva had spectacularly failed to bring down Shinn Asuka; he had fought back in defense of a pirate group known as the Mad Typhoon Gang, and with his assistance, one of the MinervaNazca-class escorts had been destroyed and the remaining two ships forced off. It was an unexpected failure; after all, they were only pirates.

Now Shinn was on the loose, the Minerva had lost the scent, and the still-under-construction Destiny Gundam was without a pilot.

On the screen, Rau Le Creuset looked supremely amused.

的 still do not see why you find this so entertaining, Rau, Gilbert said disdainfully. 的t痴 no laughing matter. Shinn is a powerful Newtype.

鄭h yes, Newtypes, Rau said theatrically. 添ou had to harp on them.

Gilbert glanced distastefully at the screen. 徹f course I had to, he said, slightly offended. 典hey are the future of humanity. They are what we all have to become.

Rau smiled knowingly. 徹f course, he said sardonically. 的 seem to recall a certain someone else who said that too.

Gilbert suppressed a sneer. 典hen I will send you to retrieve Shinn, he said. 鼎onsider it an order as a member of FAITH.

徹h no, Rau said, still smiling, 渡ot a good idea.

Gilbert slowly cast an angry stare at Rau.

添ou keep going on about how Shinn is a powerful Newtype, Rau continued, 殿nd you池e right, he is. But aren稚 you forgetting about our other overemotional teenage attack dog?

Gilbert paused for a moment. 添ou致e had two years to turn Kira Yamato into an unbending tool. What the hell are you still worried about?

鼎onsider him a work in progress, Rau said with unusual nonchalance. 添ou said Shinn痴 a Newtype, and he is. Kira is no Newtype. Kira is the result of a very expensive cup of soup, an attempt to artificially create something that wasn稚 quite a Newtype but could compete with one. Are you sure you want to sic a well-developed, naturally-born Newtype on an amalgam of manipulated genes and teenage angst?

滴ave we any other choice? Gilbert asked pointedly. 滴e killed Heine, and Rey couldn奏 bring him down. Who else shall we send?

哲o one, Rau answered. 鏑et him be. He痴 too far gone to retrieve now. He paused. 釘esides, Kira would be far more useful against those other kids.

Gilbert scowled at Rau痴 riddles. 展hat other kids?

添ou don稚 remember? Rau asked amusedly. 典hose little children from Orb? The Orb Raiders? Athrun Zala? Gilbert痴 scowl twisted a bit further as Rau went on. 哲eed I remind you that they blew up the Pangaea not too long ago? After their little coup in Orb failed, they must be bored. Surely someone should be off to go tell them to play somewhere else. And who better to use as a deterrent to Athrun Zala than his childhood friend, Kira Yamato?

Gilbert looked to the side in annoyance, unable to overcome Rau痴 wits.

天ery well, he said at last, disgustedly. 典he Minerva will continue to pursue Shinn. You will continue to pursue the Orb Raiders. He glared pointedly at Rau. 的s that clear?

Rau smirked. 轍uite.

Gilbert cut the transmission and swore under his breath.

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New Haven, Lagrange Point 1

典he man who stiffed us is called Mendoza, George said quietly. He and Shinn were hiding in the shadows outside another nightclub葉his one looking far more high-class than 鍍he Pigsty, much to Shinn痴 relief. 滴e runs a gang, has some bodyguards, nothing major. He frequents this club. I値l see if I can convince him to pay us with diplomacy; if not, we値l have to let our good friends the Berettas do the talking.

的f he didn稚 pay you before, Shinn said uneasily, 努hat makes you think he痴 going to submit to a good talking-to this time?

展e致e got four Berettas between us to take care of that, George said with a smirk. Shinn blinked in surprise, and looked back at the nightclub entrance. 徹nce again, keep a low profile. You値l know when I want you to start shooting things.

的f you say so, Shinn said uncertainly.

George pulled him out of the shadows towards the entrance. Immediately they were stopped by a very tall, very muscular man who demanded of them identification.

The bouncer stared suspiciously at Shinn. 展e ain稚 gonna let him in, he said resolutely.

滴ey, George said smoothly, producing something from his pocket, 斗isten, I致e got a lot of connections. And my buddy here, it痴 his birthday and I wanna, y談now, show him a good time. I know Candi, she can vouch for it. Shinn felt his face turn red as he realized what George was talking about. 鄭nd I知 a reasonable guy, I致e got connections, I can make it, y談now, worth your while. So my buddy here, he痴 over the age limit, he just looks young for his age. 'kay?

The bouncer glanced skeptically at Shinn. "Young for his age," he echoed.

"Really young for his age," George answered.

The bouncer stared at George for a moment and grudgingly stepped aside. George yanked Shinn inside and glanced at him with a smirk.

泥id you just pimp someone out to him? Shinn asked quietly.

展ithin the hour, he値l get into a fight with someone, get hit in the head, and forget all about it, George said smoothly. 展e池e looking for Mendoza. Big fat Hispanic guy. Looks like a pimp.

Shinn reluctantly began to look through the nightclub痴 patrons. It was certainly a classier place than the Pigsty, although it was still full of drunken people and loud, annoying noises and flashing lights. Shinn looked around uneasily, seeing no sign of 殿 big fat Hispanic guy who looked like a pimp.

Instead, his attention was momentarily caught by a poster on the wall. He peered closer at it and blinked in disbelief as he stared down a wanted poster of himself.

As surreptitiously as possible, he pulled it down and shoved it into his pocket. From nearby, George turned away from an abortive conversation with someone else and smirked at Shinn.

展hat, you want a souvenir too? he asked amusedly. 鼎ome with me. Mendoza痴 in the showroom.

As soon as they stepped into the showroom, Shinn felt all the blood in his body once again get confused as to where to go. There were even more drunk people in here, it seemed, but that was not what was getting his attention.

鉄top staring at the strippers, George admonished with an amused smirk. 展ork before pleasure.

Shinn shook his head violently, fervently wishing that he hadn稚 come here. He struggled to look through the crowds for a man fitting George痴 description.

滴ey, Shinn heard a woman痴 voice speak; he turned to glance at George, and then swiftly turned around so as to not look at the topless waitress George was talking to, 妬sn稚 he a little young?

滴e looks young for his age, George said.

迭eally, the waitress said.

鼎ut him some slack, George said. 典hey don稚 even have places like this in Orb.

The waitress was silent for a moment. 溺eh, I didn稚 see him, she said at last, and Shinn heard footsteps that he hoped were of the waitress walking away.

添ou really need to stop this 礎lushing brighter than the sun thing, George said as he came up next to Shinn. 典hey池e just tits, they won稚 hurt you. He glanced to the side. 溺endoza痴 table is over that way. Follow my lead and keep on the down-low.

Shinn stayed a step behind George as they approached a table where there was, true to George痴 description, a large Hispanic man who looked very much like a pimp. He angrily and drunkenly pounded on the table, tossing a half-full bottle of alcohol away with a crash.

展hadda fuck ish dish shit? he slurred furiously. 鄭h知 a payin custahmah! Gimme mah fuggin beer!

The unfortunate waitress caught in Mendoza痴 intoxicated warpath tried meekly to explain that he had already had one too many rounds and the other customers were asking for him to leave, but he would have none of it and delivered a drunken but no less powerful backhand that sent her flying. Shinn caught her on pure reflex, and George interposed himself between Mendoza and the stricken waitress.

溺endoza, was that necessary? George asked, as Shinn realized that he was handling a mostly naked woman and quickly helped her back up. Mendoza took a moment to remember the name of the man standing in front of him.

徹h yeah, yer dat Mad Tie-sumfin' guy, huh, he asked stumblingly. 展haddya want?

的 came here to negotiate with you, George said. 展e致e noticed that you致e not paid us for the shipment of mobile suit parts we sold you three weeks ago. I壇 like to know when you池e going to pay us.

Mendoza laughed loudly. 撤ay ya! he exclaimed staggeringly. 的 ain稚 gonna pay ya! Whaddya guys ever done fer me?

George sighed. 展ell, he said loudly, glancing over his shoulder at Shinn, 鍍hat痴 rather unfortunate.

Shinn lunged forward, kicking the table up into Mendoza痴 face and sending him tumbling backwards. Mendoza痴 two bodyguards drew guns out of nowhere, but before they could fire, Shinn had one of them down with a punishing kick to the back of the head. As the other brought his gun to bear, Shinn swept his legs out from under him and knocked him out with a powerful kick to the side of the head. The two bodyguards landed with a crash, and Shinn drew one of his pistols, pointing it down at Mendoza, who was starting to look quite sober.

展ell, if you pay us like you said you would, he won稚 spray your brains all over this fine establishment, George put in, hands in his pockets, staring at the most terrified Mendoza. "That's what we'll do for you."

Shinn removed the safety and glared down at Mendoza to underscore George痴 point. Mendoza whimpered in terror and withdrew his wallet; George seized it from his hand, and Mendoza sputtered in protest.

展e池e taking interest too, George added, rifling through Mendoza痴 wallet and liberating bills and credit cards. 撤lus we池e taking a hazard bonus, for your making us do this the hard way. George pocketed the spoils from Mendoza痴 wallet and tossed the now empty wallet back onto Mendoza痴 enormous stomach. 撤leasure doing business with you.

泥-Dish ish robbery! Mendoza protested. Shinn sneered and kicked him in the side of the head, knocking him out.

As Shinn turned to leave, the waitress he had helped up a moment ago smiled suggestively and winked at him with a not particularly subtle bounce of her bare breasts. Before Shinn could do much more than once again turn redder than a fire engine, George swept in to seize him by the arm and pull him away.

滴e痴 not ready for that yet, George explained over his shoulder as he quickly shoved Shinn out of the room. Once they got out of the showroom, Shinn let out his breath tiredly.

鄭re we going back to the ship? he asked. George smirked amusedly.

滴ad your fill of boobies for one day? he asked back. 添es, we池e going back to the ship. Now come on, before Mendoza痴 bodyguards wake up.

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Battlecruiser Kasselheim, New Haven Port, Lagrange Point 1

鉄hinn!

As soon as he was on the Kasselheim, Shinn found Stella attaching herself to him. He hugged her back happily, glad to see someone who wasn稚 drunk or trying to get into his pants. Stella happily settled into her station of clinging to Shinn痴 neck. Mike and Kika emerged from nearby; Mike arched a surprised eyebrow at Shinn.

敵eorge took you out into the colony, I hear, he said.

的ndeed I did, George said as he closed the airlock door.

展here was Mendoza? Kika asked, glancing neutrally at George.

的n a nightclub, George asked casually. Mike and Kika gasped in disbelief, while Stella simply blinked in a failure to understand, and Shinn tried to avoid eye contact with anyone.

添ou took him into a strip club? Mike exclaimed in disbelief.

鄭nd the Pigsty, George added, turning around and shrugging.

添ou took Shinn, sheltered little Shinn, into a strip club? Kika asked incredulously. 鄭nd his head didn稚 explode from all the blood collecting in his face?

Shinn let go of Stella and turned, drifting away towards his room. Stella immediately went after him; Mike and Kika blinked in surprise and looked at George.

鏑eave him alone for a while, George advised, crossing his arms and looking at Shinn as he left. 滴e had a long day, strip clubs aside.

Mike simply shook his head and drifted off in the other direction. Kika watched Shinn disappear around a corner and then looked back at George.

展hat happened? she asked. 泥id you get in a fight or something?

鉄hinn found one of Mendoza痴 men, and he壇 just raped and killed some girl, George explained, glancing back at Kika. 滴e had a hard time dealing with it. And he seemed to have a hard time with the whole atmosphere at the Pigsty.

溺aybe I should go talk to him, Kika said, turning to leave.

泥on稚, George interrupted. 笛ust let him be. Stella will set him right.

George pushed off down the hall; Kika looked in the direction of Shinn痴 room and shook her head before she took off after George.

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To be continued...