Phase 22 - The Old Hero

Mobile Suit Gundam SEED DESTINY

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Phase 22 - The Old Hero

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November 13th, CE 73 - Battlecruiser Kasselheim, New Haven Port, Lagrange Point 1

Stella was asleep. Technically, Shinn was supposed to be as well, but instead of sleeping, he had opted to stay awake and stare helplessly at the ceiling.

He knew what he would see if he closed his eyes anyways. He would see the blank, indifferent, bloodshot eyes of that ugly man, and the bloody corpse of that girl. He would feel the anger and terror again; he would feel it simply vanish, like it had never been there in the first place, again. He would feel all the lust and drunkenness weighing down on him again. He would feel the reality of the world again.

Shinn rolled over and stared at the wall. He hadn稚 seen anything like this in Orb. In Orb, there was a well-funded, extremely effective police force. In Orb, there were frequent renovations and projects to keep the cities from looking like slums. In Orb, there were laws, and people followed them.

And in ZAFT, they had told him to keep his mouth shut and follow his orders like a good little boy, and in return, they sequestered him in sterile, controlled environments where lust and poverty and murder were light-years away. He hadn稚 been able to follow his orders, and he abandoned the sterile, controlled environments, but he had walked right into the other extreme.

He remembered George痴 words, that the world was not his, that this was the way it worked out here.

Out here. It was different; it wasn稚 the hamster ball that was the Minerva, where all the drama between the barely-pubescent crew meant everything, and the realities of the outside world were kept outside by thick laminated armor. Out here he had to face it all, to look at the face of poverty and injustice and cruelty.

He wondered if he wanted to go back. He knew, of course, that he couldn稚揺e had the blood of hundreds of ZAFT soldiers on his hands, and had committed just about the highest form of treason one could commit. All of PLANT knew about it. There could be no sweeping this under the rug on the Chairman痴 part; his friends on the Minerva were his enemies now. Luna and Shiho were his enemies now, no longer friends...or in Shiho痴 case, an overbearing superior, but an enemy. And Rey...

Shinn paused as his thoughts turned to Rey. Had Rey been his enemy from the beginning? Rey had been the one to encourage Shinn痴 knowledge about Newtypes, but Rey had also been the angriest when Shinn had fought the Minerva...

He glanced over at Stella. She was still asleep; she looked peaceful and happy, curled up under the covers. He listened to her soft, even breathing. He had abandoned it all for her; he was staring reality in the face for her. Instead of suffering for some lofty ideal of a Newtype world, he was suffering for her.

Shinn laid his head back. Stella had no idea where to go. She was following him. He had to be strong.

At that thought, he closed his eyes.

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ZAFT battleship Minerva, near Lagrange Point 1

He betrayed me.

Rey Za Burrel stared furiously out the window of the Minerva's modest observation room, at the countless stars of outer space. He did not want to remember, but he did. He heard his own words again, as he helped a desolate Shinn back to his feet at Carpentaria base, seemingly so long ago, explaining to Shinn who Kira Yamato was and why Shinn had to destroy him. Kira was wrong, an evil, an affront to nature and the universe, something that couldn't be allowed to exist. Shinn was supposed to destroy him. He heard himself again, telling Shinn his secret, that he was a clone and it was up to Shinn to create Gil's new world. He saw himself standing behind Shinn, trying to keep him focused.

And then he saw Shinn, in the infirmary aboard the Minerva, eyes flashing in fury as he stood between the Minerva's pilots and Stella Loussier. He saw Shinn on the deck of the Minerva, as Stella wasted away, cursing the Chairman. He saw Shinn return to the Minerva in chains and still stare defiantly at everyone.

And then, he saw Shinn on the Moon, standing victoriously and ominously over Rey's defeated ZAKU.

Rey curled his fists furiously around the railing. Shinn betrayed ZAFT. Shinn betrayed the new world. Shinn betrayed Rey. Shinn betrayed Gil.

Rey scowled. Shinn could not be forgiven.

"Shinn," he murmured quietly, "your existence...cannot be forgiven."

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Battlecruiser Kasselheim, New Haven Port, Lagrange Point 1

"Pilots," said Mev's voice as the man himself came walking slowly out of the darkness, "are supposed to be sleeping."

Shinn glanced to the side, finding Mev Typhoon striding slowly towards him, in the darkened starboard observation hallway of the Kasselheim. He looked back at the unappealing panorama of the New Haven Port.

展hat are you doing out here? Mev went on, standing next to Shinn and staring out at the port. Shinn stared down dismally at the port, trying not to look at Mev. 展e have an important raid tomorrow, Mev continued. 鄭 certain customer of ours has requested some Earth Alliance mobile suit parts. We池e going to find a freighter full of such parts and provide them.

典hat痴 not it, Shinn said quietly. Mev looked down at Shinn impassively.

鄭re you still thinking about your day in the colony? Mev asked. Shinn痴 silence was all the confirmation Mev needed. 的 see. He looked back out at the colony. 的t痴 not the sort of thing they tell you about in ZAFT, I suppose.

的t痴 not the sort of thing they tell you about in Orb either, Shinn grumbled.

典hey don稚 tell you anything in Orb, Mev said, crossing his arms. 鄭s uncomfortable an experience as it was, it was necessary. You needed to see what the world we live in is like, not the world Orb and ZAFT live in.

Shinn continued to stare at the port. 的 don稚 want to be like that man, he said.

Mev arched an eyebrow at him. 展ho said you had to? he asked. Shinn blinked and finally looked up at him. 展e池e space pirates and we make our living by stealing and threatening and killing, but does that alone make us morally reprehensible? Is that all we are? Would you, for instance, find Kika morally reprehensible just because she serves on this ship?

哲-No, Shinn said, looking confusedly at Mev.

的n ZAFT, your moral compass was fixed in one direction, Mev said, looking back down at the port. 徹ut here, you can point it wherever you like. All I ask is that you do your job.

Shinn looked back down at the port as well. 的n Orb and in ZAFT they said you guys were monsters.

典hat痴 because it was their equipment we were stealing and reselling, Mev answered. 典he people who call us monsters have their own reasons. Those are their taxes and equipment and creations that we steal and resell. We steal and resell that equipment for our own reasons. We all have our reasons for doing everything we do, just like you had your reasons for deserting ZAFT.

Shinn looked back up at Mev. 展hat are we going to do, then? he asked. 的 mean, about the war.

Mev crossed his arms. 典he question is not what we will do about the war, he said. 典he question is what the war will do about us.

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November 14th, CE 73 - Battlecruiser Kasselheim, near Lagrange Point 1

Up ahead was a lone Marseille III-class Earth Alliance space freighter. A squadron of Strike Daggers was arrayed on its deck, and a larger force of Mobius mobile armors surrounded it. Clearly, it had somehow been separated from a larger convoy. It would make an easy prey. Behind them all was the colony of New Haven, at Lagrange Point 1. Between them both was the Kasselheim. The Kasselheim turned its guns towards the freighter; its mobile suit hatches opened, and inside the Impulse Gundam, Shinn Asuka steeled himself for battle.

"There's our target," Chris began, as his 105 Dagger stepped onto one of the catapults. "Avoid aiming at the cargo bays. Take out the mobile suits and mobile armors before you"

"Mobile armors?" Miki interrupted in disbelief. "They're still using those things?"

"Take them out before you attack the ship," Chris continued with an edge of annoyance. "Aim for the engines before anything else and just disable the ship."

George's CGUE stepped up next to the Impulse. "You look tense, Shinn," he observed. "Calm down. It's an easy target."

Shinn clipped a magazine into the Impulse's bazooka and glanced back at George wordlessly. He looked back at the ship; the Daggers and mobile armors were taking off towards the Kasselheim.

"I trust you'll not let us down, Shinn," Mev said ominously through the Impulse's cockpit speakers. "Follow Chris's instructions on the battlefield."

"You'll do fine, Shinn," Kika added confidently. "Now get going."

Shinn tightened his grip around the controls and stepped onto the other catapult.

"Shinn Asuka, Impulse, going out!"

The catapult fired; the Impulse rocketed forward.

Shinn felt the tension begin to melt away as he flew forward. This was his element; this was what he could do.

The mobile suits and mobile armors began to fire; Shinn narrowed his eyes and took off towards them.

The first Dagger swept in, beam rifle raised; Shinn ducked beneath its beam shot and switched from his bazooka to his beam rifle, taking the Dagger down with a blast to the cockpit. He dove up above a second Dagger; a beam shot speared it through its torso, and Zora's GuAIZ swept down through the wreckage, igniting its beam claw to slash a third Dagger in half. Shinn took off towards the freighter, pausing to dive aside and shoot down a Mobius as it tried to squeeze off a railgun shot at him. Another Mobius came after him from behind, supported by another Dagger.

Gan's GINN Assault blew away the Mobius with a blast from its bazooka. Shinn swung around to fire up at another Dagger as it tried to shoot him down from behind; as that Dagger exploded, the Impulse whipped around to destroy another Mobius.

A blaze of beam cannon blasts tore across space, ripping through a pair of Mobiuses and a Dagger; the Gaia rocketed by overhead, angling up towards the freighter and pausing to shoot down another Dagger.

鉄hinn, leave these guys to the others! George instructed; the CGUE backed away from the fight, shooting down a Mobius as it charged at him, and turned towards the freighter. 典hat ship is trying to make a run for it!

Shinn switched to his bazooka and charged up at the freighter. 的 won稚 let them! he shouted. A Dagger dove towards him, beam rifle raised, but he somersaulted over its head and kicked it in the back as he passed; Miki痴 GINN High Maneuver II immediately swept in to wipe it out with a beam carbine shot.

George痴 CGUE charged at the freighter痴 cargo bay doors and slashed them open with its heavy laser sword. The Gaia twisted out of the way of a beam shot and charged, as Stella screamed angrily at the attacking mobile suits; Shinn paused to go help her, but the freighter痴 engines began to speed up.

典hey池e trying to escape! George exclaimed, as his CGUE cut down a Mobius with a Vulcan burst.

Shinn raised his bazooka and fired two rounds at the freighter痴 engines, blowing the engine pods off. Zora痴 GuAIZ swept in to finish the engines off with a pair of beam rifle shots. Gan and Miki stopped the freighter with the thrusters of their own mobile suits, while Stella tore apart the last few mobile suits and mobile armors.

George痴 CGUE landed on the freighter痴 deck and pointed its beam rifle at the freighter痴 bridge.

鄭ttention Earth Alliance freighter, he said, 土ou are about to be boarded and the cargo of this vessel confiscated. Throw down your weapons and stop resisting, and we値l let you keep your lives.

添ou pirate scum! an angry voice answered. 展e池e not going to surrender to the likes of you! Continue fighting! Prepare for hand-to-hand濫

The voice said no more as George blew up the bridge with a beam rifle shot. 典hey never listen, he said as the CGUE turned and stomped towards the bow of the ship. 鉄ignal for the worker mobile suits to start emptying the cargo bay. The pleasure's over, it's time for business now.

Shinn glanced across the battlefield at the wreckage, and then back at the Mad Typhoon mobile suits as they converged on the freighter's torn-open cargo bay. He glanced at the Gaia as it drifted closer to the Impulse.

鉄hinn, Stella said uneasily, ...is it okay?

Shinn blinked in surprise. 展hat do you mean? he asked. The Gaia came to a rest next to the Impulse. Stella said nothing more and looked away awkwardly. Shinn glanced at her face, and then back at the freighter.

...is it okay...?

He sat back and watched as a handful of Works GINNs and Raystas drifted out of the Kasselheim痴 hangar towards the drifting cargo ship. George痴 CGUE drifted towards him.

展hat痴 wrong, Shinn? he asked, staring intently at Shinn痴 face. Shinn blinked in surprise.

哲-Nothing, he said quickly.

釘ullshit, Gan cut in, her annoyed face appearing on Shinn痴 screen next. 鼎ut the emo crap and talk.

敵o help the worker bees get that ship unloaded, George said pointedly. Gan opened her mouth to protest, but George shot her a look that was not to be argued with, and she resignedly took off towards the freighter. George痴 CGUE turned towards the Impulse and fired a thin wire from its left hand, landing on the Impulse痴 armor. 的 guess we値l have to do it like this, George went on. 哲ow then, what痴 wrong?

Shinn looked away awkwardly.

哲o one can hear us, George said. 鉄omething is wrong, and you can稚 hide it forever. Talk.

Shinn cast a sidelong glance back at George and found him not budging. 的t just seems weird, he said quietly. 的t痴 like we池e stealing.

展e stole from Mendoza, George pointed out. 添ou didn稚 seem to have a problem with that.

釘ut he deserved it, Shinn protested. 添ou saw him, he smacked that girl across the room. He stiffed you guys before Stella and I came along. He had it coming. He glanced at the transport, as the mobile suits steadily ferried crate after crate out of the hold and into the Kasselheim. 釘ut these guys...I mean, they池e military, so they池e fair game, but...

釘ut what? George asked. Shinn looked back at him, surprised. 鉄tealing is okay if the guy we steal from is an asshole who deserves it? We壇 have plenty of people to steal from, sure, but not many assholes who deserve to be robbed have mobile suit parts, and what we steal and sell is mobile suit parts. Where do mobile suits like these come from? The military. You said yourself, they池e fair game.

的 know, Shinn said, defeated.

典hen don稚 worry about it, George replied. 摘veryone痴 living is at the expense of someone else痴. Ours just has less bullshit between you and the truth of it. The CGUE turned its monoeye back towards the cruiser. 哲ow then, let痴 get to unloading this freighter. The Alliance will take a while to notice that this freighter痴 out of commission, but once they do, they won稚 be happy, and we won稚 want to be around when they come calling.

The CGUE detached its wire from the Impulse痴 armor and turned towards the freighter. Shinn glanced over at the Gaia, at Stella.

添ou don稚 mind it, do you Stella? he asked, hoping she壇 figure out what he meant.

...it痴 like home, Stella said quietly, looking encouragingly at him.

Shinn smiled at her and took off towards the freighter.

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November 15th, CE 73 - ZAFT battleship Minerva, near Lagrange Point 1

On one end of the office was Talia, hands clasped behind her back, staring up into the ceiling, lost in thought. On the other end, seated awkwardly in a chair in front of Talia痴 desk, was Shiho, waiting uncomfortably for Talia to speak.

鉄hiho, she said at last, turning around, 努hat do you think of Rey?

Shiho blinked in surprise, caught off guard. 展-what do you mean? she asked back.

Talia paused for a moment, surprised as well. 展hat do you think of him? she asked again. 滴ow do you regard him, how do you get along with him, that sort of thing.

Shiho blinked, feeling awkward. 展hy are you asking? she asked. 的 mean, as FAITH members濫

擢orget about FAITH, Talia said. 的知 Talia Gladys. You池e Shiho Hahnenfuss. I知 asking what you think of Rey Za Burrel. Put aside the uniforms and the shiny badges and the nice Xeroxed letters the Chairman sent you. I僧 making an important decision and I want your input.

Shiho looked at the floor, still feeling awkward. 滴e痴 a comrade in arms, she said cautiously.

徹f course he is, Talia said. 鉄o am I, so is Lunamaria, so are Aoma and Ruumari...so was Shinn. We all fought on the same side, but we all got along very differently. I知 asking you how you get along with Rey. As compared to how you get along with, say, Lunamaria.

Shiho stood up. 鼎aptain, with all due respect, tell me what this is all about, she said. 的 want to know what痴 going on. Talia looked at her in surprise. 典here are all sorts of strange things going on. Shinn was cleared of his treason charges when he brought back Stella for a reason. We, his old comrades, with all our emotional attachments and biases towards him that cloud our judgment, are the ones tracking him down for a reason. Hell, Shinn was assigned the Impulse in the first place for a reason. Skilled as he may be, he could never have been a soldier without someone dressing him up in the uniform and giving him the shiny Gundam. What痴 going on?

Talia smiled. 敵ood to see you haven稚 missed too much, she said. Her smile faded. 的n that case, I have another question for you. She paused. 展hat do you think of the Chairman?

Shiho blinked again. 典he Chairman? Captain, I don稚濫

的f you want me to answer any of your questions, you have to answer mine, Talia said. 鏑et痴 drop the pretenses, Shiho. We池e not two ZAFT officers right now, we池e not two of the Chairman痴 little servants right now, we池e just two women trying to talk in an enclosed space about something important. She uncrossed her arms. 哲ow then. My question. What do you think of the Chairman?

Shiho paused awkwardly. 的 regard him as I would our national leader, she said. 的 follow his orders because that is my job. He痴 the Chairman. I obey him.

Talia paused a moment. 天ery well then, she said. 溺y other question. What do you think of Rey?

的 regard him as I would any other comrade, Shiho answered cautiously.

的s that it? Talia asked. Shiho looked away and sighed.

泥o you want the truth? she asked resignedly.

展hat makes you think I don稚? Talia responded, crossing her arms and arching an eyebrow.

滴e makes me feel uncomfortable, Shiho admitted. 鏑ike he痴 got something to hide. I can appreciate his cool head and professionalism. They池e traits that Shinn always lacked, and having to deal with them both as subordinates, Rey is always far easier to work with. But Rey is too cold for me to be able to appreciate him for his professionalism. I keep getting the feeling he痴 got some ulterior motive.

Talia studied Shiho痴 face in surprise a moment, and then turned away. 展ell, she said, 土ou池e right. He does have something to hide. She looked back guardedly at Shiho. 添ou are, of course, aware that nothing we say leaves this room.

Shiho nodded uneasily. Talia turned away again.

迭ey is a clone, she said bluntly. Shiho blinked in disbelief, but before she could say anything, Talia continued. 鄭 man called Al Da Fllaga tried to extend his legacy beyond his naturally-born son by creating clones of himself. The first is a certain fellow you might know by the name of Rau Le Creuset. Shiho gasped, shocked. 滴e didn稚 turn out quite right. Before his death, Al tried again. The end result was Rey. He didn稚 turn out quite right either. Talia痴 face darkened as buried emotions came back to the surface. 摘leven years ago, Gilbert and I got married and tried to have a child. Unfortunately, before I was born, something went wrong during the alteration of my genes, and I could never carry a child as a result. Gilbert and I tried to adopt. We met Rey. Her face darkened further, her fists clenching angrily. 滴e liked to play the piano. He was a sweet little boy who asked me to be his mother. We adopted him. And then... She broke off, trembling angrily, and then turned to face Shiho. 滴ave you ever heard of Newtypes?

哲ewtypes? Shiho asked in surprise. 鄭ren稚 they mutants?

Talia smirked amusedly. 鉄omething like that, she answered. She looked away again, and the anger returned. 敵ilbert saw the traits of one of those Newtypes in Rey. So he took him away. He divorced me, he ran off and joined the Zodiac Alliance, he helped set up ZAFT, he worked with Rau Le Creuset...and there I was, left on the sidelines.

鼎aptain, why are you telling me this? Shiho broke in, upset. Talia looked back at her.

添ou池e the commander of our mobile suit squadron, she said. 的 want to know what you would think if I were to send a request to the National Defense Council asking for Rey to be reassigned.

Shiho blinked in disbelief. Reassigned? she echoed. 鼎aptain, I know it痴 warned against, but the Chairman痴 not around and Rey痴 on this ship, under your command as much as he is under mine! You have a chance to reconnect with your son!

Talia laughed bitterly; Shiho broke off in surprise. 典he Rey Za Burrel who was going to be my son was a sweet little boy who liked to play the piano and would have no idea what the hell Newtypes or mobile suits or 創ew world orders were, she said. 鏑ook at him now. That痴 not my son. That痴 not Gilbert痴 son either. That痴 Gilbert痴 attack dog.

Shiho looked desolately at Talia.

敵ilbert is at odds with me over what he did to Rey, Talia continued. 滴e says that I was going to waste his Newtype potential. He sent Heine to keep an eye on me. And he saw Newtype potential in Shinn.

的n Shinn? Shiho echoed. 添ou mean that痴濫

添ou saw the press conference Gilbert thrust that boy into, Talia said bitterly. 添ou saw the poster boy he turned Shinn into. And yet you were there, his commanding officer, every day seeing the real Shinn Asuka, the Shinn Asuka that hadn稚 been dressed up all pretty by Gilbert痴 PR staff. Attitude aside, what did you see?

Shiho paused, searching for words. 滴e was angry, she said at last. 撤urposeless. He threw himself into battles without any regard for his own life, but he didn稚 do it for the PLANTs sake, he just did it...because.

Talia closed her eyes grimly. 敵ilbert saw the same traits in Shinn that he saw in Rey. I don稚 know what he did to Rey in those eleven years after he took Rey away. I don稚 think I want to know. All I know is that he was going to do the same things to Shinn. But Shinn...he was different. Whatever Gilbert did to Rey, he broke, and now look at him. He痴 not Rey. He痴 not even human anymore. He痴 Gilbert痴 tool. But Shinn had a breaking point, and Gilbert went past it.

釘ut the Chairman was only on the ship for a week or so, Shiho protested. Talia turned back to face Shiho again.

展hat do you think Rey was here for? she asked. 滴e was here to keep pushing Shinn痴 Newtype potential along. Heine was there to keep an eye on me, and I only managed to defang him by putting him under your command. Gilbert knows that I didn稚 want what happened to Rey to happen to Shinn. He put Heine here to stop me from meddling with anything, and he put Rey here to push Shinn along into becoming another Newtype tool. He never counted on Shinn meeting that Extended girl, and developing a strong enough attachment to overcome his weak ties to ZAFT and Rey and Gilbert. He never realized that Shinn had a breaking point, that he might not buy into all that Newtype garbage he stuffed down Rey痴 throat.

鼎aptain, what does this have to do with reassigning Rey? Shiho asked helplessly. 的 mean, he was still your son, maybe you can, I don稚 know, take him back.

展ould I want to? Talia asked back. 鉄hinn痴 not here anymore; as far as Gilbert痴 concerned, there is no need to keep Rey here. And yet he痴 still here. Gilbert wants to keep Rey around here to make me suffer. He hasn稚 realized that I致e accepted the fact that I can稚 change what he did to Rey. As far as I知 concerned now, Rey痴 dead. The blond-haired boy walking around the Minerva is just Gilbert痴 little servant. She sighed quietly. 釘ut as long as Rey痴 here, Gilbert will try to use him against me. So that is why I want him reassigned. She turned to face Shiho again. 的 joined ZAFT and accepted captainship of the Minerva in order to protect my homeland. I will not take part in Gilbert痴 grudges and machinations. As far as I am concerned, Rey is an extension of Gilbert. I did not want Gilbert aboard the Minerva when we left from Armory 1, for many reasons. I still do not want him aboard the Minerva. She paused pointedly. 添ou understand, right?

Shiho paused in surprise, and nodded gravely. 的 understand, captain, she said.

Talia looked away again. 典hey say Newtypes are the only ones who really understand, she said grimly.

添ou don稚 have to be a Newtype to understand someone, Shiho said quietly. Talia looked back at her, and she smiled.

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Battlecruiser Kasselheim, near Lagrange Point 1

鉄o, Kika said, as she drifted about in the Kasselheim痴 modest crew lounge, 努ho are these guys we swiped all these EAF parts for anyways?

From somewhere near the ceiling, Mike Martinez had a crossword puzzle in the back of a newspaper rolled up, and looked up blankly at Kika from it. 摘h, some kinda resistance guys, he said with a shrug. 徹rb-something or other.

From across the room, Shinn blinked and looked over his shoulder from his abortive attempt at conversation with Stella. 徹rb? he asked, turning and facing Mike. 徹rb what?

泥unno, Mike repeated with another shrug. 鄭ll I heard is that that Zala fellow is flying with them.

纏ala? Shinn exclaimed. 鄭thrun Zala?

展ell, Zala the Elder bought the farm in 71, Kika put in, pausing to take a sip of soda, 都o yeah. Unless Mr. Fantastic has some siblings we池e not aware of.

展hy are we selling parts to them? Shinn exclaimed. Kika and Mike both looked in surprise at him; Kika opened her mouth to speak

釘ecause they paid us, another voice spoke up. Shinn turned towards its owner, and to his chagrin, found Viima striding into the room, staring in annoyance at Shinn. 的t痴 none of our concern what they池e going to do with the parts after we hand them over.

Shinn opened his mouth to shoot back an angry reply, but something stopped him. He remembered George痴 words, about everyone living at someone else痴 expense, and felt his blood run hot.

Viima looked up harshly at Mike and Kika. 典he Megami will be here tomorrow to pick up the supplies, she said brusquely. 添ou two had better be ready to receive them. And with that she stalked out of the room.

Mike snorted disgustedly after she left. 展hat mobile suit crawled up her ass and self-detonated? he grumbled, going back to his crossword.

Kika looked down at Shinn and found him sitting in front of Stella, seething. She drifted down to the floor and poked him in the forehead; he snapped his attention up in surprise at her.

展hat痴 got you all pissy now? she asked. 泥id the Orb Raiders kick your puppy when you were little?

Shinn jumped to his feet angrily. 典he Athhas are why my family濫 He caught himself and glanced at Stella; she stared blankly back at him, and he looked furiously back at Kika. 典hey池e the ones who kept that neutrality bullshit up, he hissed. 的f they had just shut up and let the Atlantic Fed use Kaguya, there wouldn稚 have been an invasion!

添eah, and you wouldn稚 have gotten orphaned, you wouldn稚 have been somehow swept into ZAFT, and you wouldn稚 have met Stella, Kika pointed out. Shinn blinked in surprise. 迭eality sucks, but would you really trade what you致e got now for a bunch of what-ifs?

Shinn looked away, awkward and angry.

的 remember 粗m now, Mike put in from somewhere around the ceiling. 典hey aren稚 that bad. That Athrun guy痴 kind of a pussy, but whatever.

添eah, okay, that neutrality thing was like planting a big target on their faces, Kika said, 澱ut you couldn稚 do anything about it then, and you can稚 do anything about it now. All you can do now is keep living for the sake of the life you致e got now.

...why is Shinn mad? Stella痴 voice spoke up suddenly. Shinn turned around in surprise. 泥oesn稚 Shinn wanna protect Stella?

添-Yeah, Shinn stammered, caught off guard. Stella stared at him for a moment.

鉄hinn痴 never happy, she observed quietly. 滴ow come?

Shinn blinked and opened his mouth to respond, but could think of nothing to say. He turned around to look at Kika; he shrugged and gestured back to Stella.

鄭sk her, she said.

She turned around and went back to bugging Mike, and Shinn turned around to once again face Stella.

展hat do you mean I知 never happy? he asked.

鉄hinn痴 always mad or sad, Stella said quietly. 鉄hinn should be happy.

Shinn opened his mouth once more to speak, and once more he said nothing, and instead sat down in silence.

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November 16th, CE 73 - Battlecruiser Kasselheim, near Lagrange Point 1

On the starboard observation deck, Shinn stared ruefully at the sleek, sable hull of the Megami. It was a nice-enough looking ship. It had the legs and wings of the Archangel-class, the main body of the Eternal class, and the engines and catapult deck of the Izumo-class. It was painted over with black葉he rumors said it had Mirage Colloid. Shinn watched a pair of white-painted Murasames haul a large crate from the Kasselheim's starboard cargo bay to the Megami's hangar. He stared at the bridge, or at least what looked like the bridge.

He severely hoped that Cagalli Yula Athha would stay on her own damn ship.

There were voices off to the right; Shinn glanced disdainfully in that direction, but something caught his eye, and as he turned around to face it, his eyes widened in disbelief.

There were two men there, talking with Mev. The men wore blue and white uniforms. One of them nodded at something the other said, and headed down the corridor, out of sight. The remaining man turned, and Shinn could see in profile the face of Athrun Zala.

Athrun stopped short, glancing down the corridor, and turned to face Shinn. He said something to Mev; Mev said something else and disappeared down the corridor. Athrun looked back at Shinn.

Shinn tensed. The man before him, without a doubt, was Athrun Zala葉he famous Athrun Zala, the hero, the soldier, the traitor. But Shinn was a traitor now too. Did that make them kinsmen?

Athrun approached slowly. "You're Shinn Asuka, aren't you?" he asked cautiously. Shinn stared at him suspiciously for a second, before he finally nodded slowly. Athrun extended his hand. "I remember you," he said. "We met at Junius 7."

"I know," Shinn said quietly. He hesitantly shook Athrun's hand. Athrun offered Shinn a polite smile.

"I prefer these circumstances, though," he said. "I heard about your, ah, altercation with ZAFT."

Shinn looked away scornfully. "Who hasn't?"

Athrun blinked in surprise. "Do you still have some ill will towards them?"

"Shouldn't you?" Shinn shot back, looking back at Athrun. "You left ZAFT too. Didn't they wrong you too?"

Athrun smiled knowingly. "You could say that," he said. "The war had gone out of control and I couldn't bring myself to follow the orders of people who were going more and more insane." He paused. "Is that why you left?"

Shinn looked away again. "I left because they were going to let Stella die," he said plainly. Athrun blinked

"Stella?" he asked. "Who is that?"

Shinn looked back at Athrun, surprised. "They didn't tell you?" he asked. Athrun shook his head.

"Did you leave for this person's sake?" Athrun asked. Shinn looked away again.

"She was in the EAF," he explained quietly. "I captured her. She would've died had I not taken her back to the Alliance. At Arzachel, my friends attacked her again, so I defended her."

Athrun nodded with a smile. "Love for one outweighed love for your country," he said.

"The PLANTs weren't my country," Shinn snarled, glaring back at Athrun.

"Then what was?" Athrun asked.

Shinn looked back at the wall angrily. "Why'd you join ZAFT in the first place?" he asked.

Athrun was taken aback for a moment, before he shrugged slightly. "My father was chairman of the National Defense Council, so it was expected," he said. "My mother was killed on Junius 7, so that made it personal." He paused again. "And you?"

Shinn glanced at Athrun. "I lived in Orb," he said quietly. "My family was killed during the EAF invasion." Athrun blinked in surprise as Shinn's visage darkened. "They were killed by the Freedom."

"The Freedom?" Athrun echoed. "By Kira?"

"Yes," Shinn snarled, turning to face Athrun, "by Kira."

"But揖ira wouldn't have done that on purpose," Athrun protested. "Not then. It must've been an accident."

"An accident?" Shinn snorted. "Is that supposed to make me feel better? That he didn't mean to, it just 'happened?' That doesn't bring them back." He paused, considering something. "And what do you mean 'not then?'"

Athrun sighed and looked away. "Kira and I have a long and tumultuous history," he said with a hint of sorrow. Shinn blinked in surprise at his tone of voice. "Kira was my best friend. Twists of fate made us enemies during the Valentine War. I fought against him until he killed one of my friends, and in my thirst for revenge, I killed one of his. We were at each other's throats and nearly killed each other, and that's when I took out the -X105 Strike." He looked back at Shinn. "I ran around the battlefield, killing people like my father told me to, until I finally thought I had killed my best friend. Then Kira stole the Freedom, I was sent after him with the Justice, and I found him fighting at Orb." He paused. "That must've been the battle where your family was killed."

"What does that have to do with what I asked?" Shinn asked.

"Kira and I fought alongside each other to the end of the war," Athrun answered, "but at the end of the war, something must've been weighing on him, and I made an 'accident' of my own. I accidentally destroyed an escape shuttle that must have had someone important to Kira on board. Looking back, it seems like that situation had been set up to frame me, but Kira fell for it, and he hates me now as much as he did when we had killed each other's friends and were at each other's throats." He shrugged again. "Now he's my enemy. He's as mindlessly obedient and murderous for ZAFT as I was. The person who accidentally killed your family is not the same person piloting the Freedom today." He put a hand on Shinn's shoulder; Shinn jerked back in surprise. "I apologize for your family's death, though."

Shinn looked away hatefully. "It's not your fault," he said. "It's Kira Yamato's, and the Athhas'."

Athrun blinked in surprise. "The Athhas?" he echoed.

"Who else?" Shinn snarled. "They were the ones who kept insisting that Orb was neutral! If they had just let the EAF use Kaguya, everything would have been fine!" He pounded his fist against the wall. "That damned Uzumi got us attacked, and Cagalli abandoned us!"

"Cagalli?" Athrun echoed. "What are you"

"She ran off on the Kusanagi and played hero in space while the rest of us were on the ground, suffering!" Shinn shouted, glowering at Athrun. "If she had really been our princess, she would have come back and suffered with us, and helped rebuild us while we had the Atlantic Federation breathing down our necks! She would have represented us! She wouldn't have gone off to meddle in the end of the war!"

Athrun sighed quietly. "Maybe you're right," he said, "but don't be so hard on Cagalli. She did what she thought was right."

"So?" Shinn exclaimed. "Everyone does what they think is right! Does that mean nobody does wrong?"

Athrun shook his head. "Of course not," he said. "But Cagalli is the same age as me. Both of us aren't much older than you. We're not really experienced in the ways of the world, but that doesn't mean we can't go out and try to do something in it. Cagalli didn't necessarily want to leave, and she did want to go back, but it would have been impossible. Uzumi sent her to space so that she could end the war. And since then, we've both had enough experiences to make us a little wiser and more mature. She's fighting to regain control of the Orb government right now. Once she does, she'll have a plan more mature and more flexible than Uzumi's." He sighed. "I guess I see where you're coming from. But don't hold it against Cagalli. It was Kira who killed your family, not the Athhas."

Shinn snorted indifferently.

"Athrun," a voice said; Athrun turned towards another man in an Orb uniform. The man motioned towards the Megami; Athrun nodded and turned back to face Shinn.

"I'm glad to have met you," he said again, extending his hand. Shinn stared at it a moment before he hesitantly shook it. "Hopefully we won't have to meet on the battlefield again."

Athrun turned and disappeared around a corner. Shinn stared suspiciously after him, and then returned his gaze to the Megami.

Kira, not the Athhas, huh?

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To be continued...