Phase 19 - The Junk Guild

Mobile Suit Gundam SEED TWILIGHT

Phase 19 - The Junk Guild

March 7th, CE 77 - Earth Alliance battleship Charlemagne, Lake Ladoga, Republic of Karelia, Russia

"Wreckage," said Ivan Danilov, staring out the bridge windows at the scene before him. "That's all that's left."

The Charlemagne sat on the coast of Lake Ladoga, as troops and mobile suits inspected the mortal remains of the Meyers unit. From the bridge, Danilov could see the blackened metal sticking out of the lake's waters, and he had a sinking feeling that that had once been the Bonaparte but how it had gotten there, he hadn't a clue.

Danilov keyed the main screen on he had sent soldiers out to look for survivors and corpses, but had already sent his prayer to God that they would find more of the former than the latter.

"Ensign Saiba," Danilov began, "report."

Inside the cockpit of his Slaughter Windam, Grey Saiba saluted dutifully. "We've found twenty-seven bodies and ten survivors so far, sir," Grey answered. "Six of the survivors are in critical condition." He glanced down at his screen. "Oh, wait sir, they just pulled a man out of that Sword Calamity unit. That makes eleven survivors."

"And the ship?" Danilov asked.

"The divers are still inspecting the hull," Grey said. "The sergeant in charge says that infrared scans show human heat signatures. There might be air pockets with survivors in them."

"I see," Danilov murmured thoughtfully. "The Phantom Pain usually assigns special units like the Sword Calamity to special pilots. The man you just mentioned, how badly wounded is he?"

"I can't tell from here, sir, but we're sending him up to the Charlemagne's infirmary," Grey answered. "I caught a glimpse of him as they were loading him onto the stretcher, and he looked pretty bad, but I couldn't tell what exactly was wrong."

"I'm sure he'll be able to give us a fuller picture of what happened here," Danilov said. "The Bonaparte had a wealth of information about the Twilight and its pilot. I'd hate to think it's all been lost."

"We'll keep looking, sir," Grey said. "The divers report that they're entering the ship."

"Then report back when they send their findings up to you," Danilov said. "Charlemagne out." He returned Grey's salute and sat back with a sigh. To think that we have such power and we still can only watch our comrades fall to these wings of light. He narrowed his eyes at the horizon. And to think that blood lies on the hands of a sixteen-year-old girl...

Battleship Minerva, Yaroslavl', Yaroslavl' Oblast, Russia
The Minerva sailed through the sky, cutting down just below the low-hanging clouds and sweeping the frigid Russian countryside. Sitting back in the captain's chair, Meyrin was certain that the people on the ground were rushing out of their homes and pointing in disbelief at the Minerva as it swooped over their heads but that made little difference to her. No Phantom Pain units could reach her ship right now and she had an appointment to keep.

"We'd be at Noril'sk at least by now if it weren't for that land-ship," Abbey sighed, leaning tiredly against the mapping console. "I wish the rendezvous point had been further east, not south. Yaroslavl' is too close to Moscow."

"This is where the Junk Guild said they'd meet us," Meyrin pointed out. "We've probably got Russian Command off balance after that battle now is a good time to stop and resupply." She glanced up at Burt. "Where is the Charlemagne?"

"Still at Lake Ladoga," Burt reported. "They must be looking for survivors."

The image of Emily in battle with the Aegis Gundam flashed into Meyrin's mind. "I know there's one guy they're not going to find alive," she murmured. "As long as they stay there during our resupply..."

"Hey, speaking of that," Roxy spoke up, tapping a button on her console with the tip of her boot, "we got some mail from the fine folks in the Junk Guild."

All at once, the Minerva's bridge screen was filled with the image of a widely grinning man in a uniform and a white peaked hat.

"Greetings, beleaguered soldiers of the Minerva!" the man said excitedly. "You have fought long and hard, but never fear, for the Junk Guild ship ReHOME is here, under the command of the one and only George Glenn!" Fireworks exploded in the background as the man pointed skyward triumphantly.

"Hi George," Meyrin droned.

"What, you're not happy to see me?!" George gasped.

"Well, you're a sight better than the bloody Phantom Pain," Abbey muttered. "Is the Professor there?"

"Yeah," another voice piped up, and George partially vanished as a woman in a lab coat appeared with a cigarette in hand, "so I guess you guys got caught with your pants down?"

"I guess," Meyrin sighed. "Did you guys get our parts list?"

"Did we!?" yet another voice exclaimed, and the screen immediately filled up with the giddy face of a young man with hair swept high by a green headband. "You know I love building those spare parts! Man, I should totally gank one of those 'Palma Fiocina' things! It's awesome! I can call it, like, 'Red Frame Final Flash,' or 'Shining Red Frame,' or "

"Lowe, pay attention!" a girl's voice cut him off in the background.

"Red Frame Flare!" Lowe finished. "Come on, Kisato, it would be awesome! Anyway, yeah, I got it all done. I guess we'll bill Carpentaria or somethin', eh?"

"We'll reach the rendezvous site in twenty minutes," Malik added from the helm.

"Then let's do this quickly," Abbey said. "We don't want to attract any Alliance troops."

"And while we're doing that," the Professor said, pausing to take a drag from her cigarette, "we've got some mail from the Seer himself for you."

Meyrin arched an eyebrow in foreboding. "Chiao Xu? What does he want?"

"You'll see," the Professor chuckled. "ReHOME out."

Abbey sighed in annoyance as the screen dark. "I hate it when she gets cryptic."

There was no mistaking from the torrent of emotions swelling from inside Emily's room that the death of Harris Meyers had not been the end of Emily's suffering. That was something that Shinn, standing outside her door and trying not to let her emotions become his own, knew all too well. Revenge was at best a temporary salve it was not a cure. In some hearts, and for some things, there was no room for forgiveness but revenge could not soothe the hurt.

Shinn found it supremely ironic that Lacus Clyne still found ways to be right.

He opened the door and stepped inside, finding Emily curled up on the bed, still in the blue overcoat and gray gloves she had worn into battle. She looked up blearily at the Destiny pilot before her, and Shinn could see that she had still been crying.

"We're putting down near the city of Yaroslavl' to take on supplies from the Junk Guild," he explained quietly. "If you want some fresh air, now's the time." He glanced furtively over his shoulder, shutting the door. "How are you feeling?"

Emily stared darkly at the wall in front of her. "I could kill that man a thousand more times," she said, "and it wouldn't change anything, would it?"

Shinn glanced down at the floor. "No," he said, "it wouldn't."

"I still don't understand why he had to be so cruel," Emily went on. "How can you act like that?"

"The Alliance doesn't view its Extended subjects as humans," he explained with a shrug. "I should have warned you better."

Emily buried her face in her hand with a sigh of her own. "I wanted to save her..."

"I don't know if you could have."

"Then how did you save Stella?"

Shinn smiled grimly, leaning back against the door. "I don't know," he said. His smile faded. "But...while you were being held prisoner, I could feel what they were doing to you." He shook his head, blocking out the memories of his own failures. "And I'm not going to let that happen again."

"It wasn't your fault " Emily began.

"I failed you," Shinn cut her off. "I've failed too many people in my life already. I won't let it happen again." He paused. "I don't want you to turn out like me."

Emily studied Shinn for a moment tiredly, and then sighed again.

Hart Senate Office Building, Washington DC, Atlantic Federation

The silence hung like a cloud of Robert Meyers as he sat stonily in the desk in his spacious Washington DC office. Behind his desk, Seri Minamoto had let her militaristic poise drop as she watched the Senator in disbelief, with the young Phantom Pain corporal in front of him standing at attention nervously.

"My son has died in battle with the Minerva, you say," Robert said quietly. "Is there anything else?"

"N-No sir," the corporal answered. "Captain Danilov on the Charlemagne was the first on the scene, and another unit is there as well. They reported finding your son's remains."

Robert's visage darkened. "I see," he said. "Thank you, corporal. That will be all."

The corporal saluted and promptly excused himself, the door sliding shut behind him. Seri stepped forward apprehensively, as the Senator brooded in his chair, eyes closed.

"S-Sir," she started.

"What remains in my schedule for today?" he asked, glancing over at her. She consulted the display on Robert's computer screen.

"You have a meeting with the bigwigs on the Armed Services Committee about the funding bill in an hour," she said haltingly, "and there's the briefing by the vice president of Actaeon..."

"Then take me to the meeting," Robert said conclusively.

Seri blinked in disbelief. "But, sir...y-you still want to work?"

"Why would I not? I am a busy man, after all."

Seri took a moment to choose her words. "But your son just died..."

Robert narrowed his coal-black eyes. "This is a war, Seri," he said. "The battlefield weeds out the weak. If Harris could not survive...then he must have been weak."

Seri looked on in shock as the Senator rose to his feet.

"Now. The people's work awaits."

Earth Alliance battleship Charlemagne, Lake Ladoga, Republic of Karelia, Russia

"God," Grey sighed as he emerged from the hangar ready room with a sigh, rolling up the sleeves of his uniform. "That was depressing."

Leaning against the far wall with arms crossed, Merau nodded grimly. "Searching for survivors is never fun," she agreed. "You alright?"

"Yeah, most of the bodies we found were less 'bodies' and more 'pieces,'" Grey replied, heading down the hallway with Merau by his side. "But still. Not exactly an encouraging sortie."

They came to a stop at an observation deck, overlooking the vast and eerie panorama of Alliance troops scouring the wreckage of the Meyers unit, on the calm and lovely shores of Lake Ladoga. Grey leaned forward against the rail with a sigh.

"Man. Not a single MS left, either," he added. "They totaled the entire unit."

"That's not much of a surprise," Merau said, crossing her arms again. "The Minerva does stuff like this all the time. That the guy they got this time was the son of an important guy in the Atlantic Fed government is just incidental."

"I know," Grey answered, "but still...jeez." He looked back out at the wreckage, as a team of Windams were struggling to pull the wreckage of the Bonaparte out of the lake. "Those guys are unstoppable."

March 8th, CE 77 - Battleship Minerva, Yaroslavl', Yaroslavl' Oblast, Russia

Standing on the bridge, with Rau, Abbey, and Meyrin nearby, Athrun Zala could only blink in surprise as he found himself enveloped in a bear hug, courtesy of the ever-ebullient Junk Guild technician, Lowe Gear. Lowe let Athrun go with a beaming grin.

"Athrun Zala, man! How the hell are ya?!"

"Could be better," Athrun said, subdued.

"We had a rough week," Meyrin added from Athrun's side. Next to Meyrin, Abbey crossed her arms impatiently.

"Well, yeah, so I heard," Lowe went on. "They say your new pilot got captured or somethin'."

"Yeah, don't remind us," Abbey said.

"Well, anyways," Lowe said, crossing his arms. "We're here for business, I'm afraid." He glanced over his shoulder at the man nearby. "Gai, you got the goods?"

In a black and blue custom uniform with the emblem of Serpent Tail on his shoulder, Gai Murakumo stepped forward with one hand on his hip. "Chiao Xu sends his regards," Gai said. "He also sends you a mission." He tapped a few keys on the mapping console, bringing up a sprawling map of the Black Sea. "Chiao Xu and the leadership feel that this war needs to change. They believe that a worldwide guerrilla war, like the one we're fighting now, will just lead to countless meaningless deaths. Hence, Chiao Xu has sent word to every major Resistance unit that will listen to make their way to Carpentaria base, to mass a fleet for a concentrated attack on Lord Djibril's headquarters at Heaven's Base, with the hope that such decisive action will end the war. Unfortunately, there is a problem."

"When is there not?" Athrun sighed.

"See, some shit's going down here in Novorossiysk," Lowe said, pointing at a dot on the map on the eastern coast of the Black Sea. "A bunch of Resistance units are trying to use the port there to escape, 'cuz the mayor was sympathetic to the cause . The Phantom Pain assassinated him and put one of their creatures in charge, and moved in a bunch of EA Army units to clamp down on the city." Lowe looked up, and his grin was gone. "They're kickin' down doors and arresting Coordinators and people they think are in cahoots with the Resistance. And I don't need to tell you guys that once the Phantom Pain captures you, your future ain't lookin' too bright."

"Novorossiysk was the only suitable port for Resistance troops in the region, because it was in a city with a sympathetic government," Gai continued. "Now that conditions have changed, those units are in danger. The Resistance forces in the Novorossiysk area constitute the approximate strength of three regular army divisions and a thirty-five ship fleet. Losing those forces would be a significant blow. Chiao Xu wants the Minerva to go to Novorossiysk and break the blockade, so that our allies can escape."

Meyrin looked down at the display, and Athrun could see her trying to look like the captain. "We'll do it," she said, "but we can't afford to be delayed. It's a long way from here to Novorossiysk, and I'm sure the Alliance will be taking a crack at us in retaliation for destroying that land-ship back there."

"The ReHOME will accompany you," Gai said. Athrun, Abbey, and Meyrin looked up in surprise.

"But what about the Junk Guild?" Abbey protested. "If the Alliance sees you with us, that will compromise your neutrality."

"Not to mention the reality that you'd probably be attacked as well anyway," Meyrin added.

"Eh, the Junk Guild hired Serpent Tail to worry about that," Lowe said with a shrug. "And even though the Junk Guild publicly claims to be neutral, we all know that's really bullshit and the Guild's been secretly feeding supplies to the Resistance for months. So at this point, who cares?" He grinned at Gai. "'sides, you like being on the side of good and righteousness for once, don't ya Gai?"

"I'm just doing my job," Gai answered.

"You don't have to come with us," Athrun said. "It would be dangerous."

"Pfft, like I'm ever worried about that," Lowe snickered. "'sides, you guys will have the grand and glorious privilege of seeing the Red Frame in action, and I'll get to see that girl you guys picked up in battle! So it's a win-win."

Meyrin heaved a sigh of defeat. "You guys are gonna get killed one day doing this," she warned.

"Well, hey, what if we weren't doing this?" Lowe laughed. "Then life would be boring."

"The Junk Guild is our supplier," Shinn explained while standing on the snowy ground outside the Minerva, staring pensively up at the bright yellow hull of the ReHOME with Emily at his side. "Technically they're supposed to be neutral and not be helping us, but they've been secretly funneling supplies to the Resistance ever since the Phantom Pain started assassinating Coordinator members of the Guild." He smiled thinly. "So be nice to 'em."

Emily looked up in surprise into the ReHOME's open hangar, finding a quartet of mobile suits she had never seen before. She glanced to the side as someone approached, and blinked at a tall man with long, dark hair shook Shinn's hand.

"Liam," Shinn said with a smile, "it's been a long time."

"Indeed it has," Liam agreed, "and I am glad you appear well." He looked over at Emily. "But I'm afraid you have new friends to whom I have not been introduced."

Shinn gestured to the tall man. "Emily, meet Liam Garfield. Liam, Emily von Oldendorf. Pilot of the Twilight Gundam."

"I see," Liam said, shaking her hesitant hand. "The pleasure is all mine, Miss Oldendorf. You seem well on your way to an illustrious reputation in the Resistance."

"Um, thanks," Emily murmured.

Liam turned as another man approached, and Emily found herself greeted with the imposing specter of a man swathed in black and silver clothes, brushing a flowing mane of black hair out of his face. "Ah, Canard. Allow me to introduce you to the Minerva's newest pilot "

"Emily von Oldendorf," finished the man. "I know who you are."

"Emily, this is Canard Pars," Shinn explained. "He's a mercenary. We've worked with him a few times before." He glanced over at Canard. "I'm guessing you got hired to protect the ReHOME too?"

"Lowe Gear needs all the babysitters he can get," Canard said with a shrug. "Meriol stayed in space with the Ortigia. I was hired to stay here and make sure Lowe doesn't get the ReHOME blown up."

"Hey now," another voice spoke up Shinn blinked in surprise, while a look of defeat and annoyance flashed over Liam and Canard's faces. "Don't forget about me!"

Emily leapt backward and screamed in surprise as a man in a blue and white uniform flashed into existence in front of her with a glowing grin on his face. Shinn buried his face in his hands with a sigh.

"Hi George," he droned.

"I swear I'm going to ramp down your projection range if you pull this shit again," Canard snapped.

"You guys wouldn't do that to me!" gasped George Glenn, eyes going wide with shock. "I thought we were friends!"

"What is this thing?!" Emily wailed, pointing in fear at the flickering hologram.

"Ah, I see an explanation is in order," Liam started. "You see, this is a holographic representation of the first Coordinator, George Glenn. He serves as the ReHOME's main computer and navigator."

"Wha the George Glenn?" Emily sputtered. "How ?"

"They have George Glenn's brain floating around their ship in a jar," Shinn deadpanned, "and they hooked it up to their computer."

"...why?" Emily finished helplessly.

"Even I do not understand that," Liam sighed.

"The Professor is a mad scientist, that's why," Canard snorted.

Emily looked over at the holographic George Glenn as he grinned back. "So...that's really George Glenn, the first Coordinator?"

"The one and only!" George exclaimed. "I can do anything! Watch!" Immediately his uniform was replaced by an elaborate white tuxedo, and he held up an entire deck's worth of playing cards. "Pick a card! Any card!"

Emily stared at him for a moment and looked back at Shinn. "That's seriously George Glenn?"

"I was as shocked as you," Shinn said with a shrug.

"Why doesn't anybody believe me?" George complained, reverting back to his captain's uniform. "You guys all pilot giant robots as legitimate weapons of war, and I'm the weird one?"

"I'm going back inside," Canard grumbled, turning and trudging back to the ship.

"Anyway, don't let George scare you," Shinn went on. "He's pretty harmless."

"Hey, I bet I could take you in a fight!" George protested.

"Yeah, whatever," Shinn said. "Liam, have you unloaded the new weapons yet? I want to show them to Emily."

"We're just about to, right this way," Liam said, gesturing towards a stack of crates near the front of the ReHOME's hangar. "And I'm sure the captain will be more than happy to help us?"

"I guess," George sighed as he trudged after them.

Sting Oakley sat back with a sigh in the crew lounge, a cup of microwave ramen in front of him that was not accompanied by a great urge to eat it. "Man, these past few days were pretty shitty," he said, stretching his arms over his head and glancing at Auel. "Glad all this drama's behind us."

"Yeah," Auel agreed, looking up at the ceiling as he sprawled out on the couch next to the table. "After we get done with Junk Guild Claus here." He glanced over at Stella, as she sat on the other side of the table with a water bottle in hand, staring emptily at the table. "Hey Stella, you okay?"

"...Stella's okay," she answered quietly.

The door slid open; Stella looked up, and smiled slowly at the figure emerging through the threshold. Sting and Auel sat up as Kazahana Aja walked up to Stella with a smile.

"Kazahana...!" Stella exclaimed, getting up and hugging the young Coordinator. "Stella missed you!"

"Hi Stella," Kazahana said brightly, hugging her back. "We haven't seen you since the ReHOME last restocked the Minerva."

"Oh, hey Genius Girl," Auel said with a shrug.

"It's better to have the ReHOME crew around than to be dealing with those Phantom Pain dickheads," Sting added.

"Stella's not scared of them," Stella insisted.

"Are you getting along well with everyone, Stella?" Kazahana asked. "I hope the information I found about the Extended process was helpful."

Stella smiled again. "Stella is different," she said, "but it's okay...because Stella has lots of friends."

"So what do you think?" Lowe said, leaning against the railing on the Minerva's exterior deck and glancing over at the bright yellow ReHOME, with Gai Murakumo nearby. "You think this is a good idea?"

Gai glanced over at Lowe. "I've never known you to doubt your convictions, Lowe Gear," he said. "It is unwise to fight with doubts on your mind."

"I know we're doing the right thing and all," Lowe said, "but I'm askin' about you." He shook his head. "Y'know the Phantom Pain captured that girl, Emily? Athrun told me what happened. They tortured her."

Gai did not flinch. "The Phantom Pain does not abide by the Corsica Treaty," Gai said indifferently. "They have made that abundantly clear."

"Yeah, well, I don't like the idea that they tortured a kid," Lowe said. "So that's why I'm going with the Minerva to go and fight these guys. What about you?"

"It's my job," answered Gai.

"I know," said Lowe, "but...bah. It just doesn't sit right with me, y'know?"

Gai allowed himself a thin smile. "For a junker, you are awfully concerned with this war."

"Hell with the junker part," Lowe said, grinning back, "I'm just doing this as a human being."

Earth Alliance battleship Charlemagne, Vologda Oblast, Russia

The pilot of the Sword Calamity was less of a man, as Ensign Saiba had described him, and more of a boy. And that chilled the heart of Ivan Danilov. Youth was too precious to waste on war. But Ensign Saiba's characterization of the pilot's condition as "pretty bad" was an understatement hypothermia and various wounds had combined to take from him enough blood to require a significant transfusion, and it was a wonder he was not dead. The soldiers who had pulled him from the wreck had described the cockpit as being relatively intact with "relatively" being the operative word and apparently protected from the blast that destroyed the mobile suit by having fallen face-first on the ground.

Now, however, the pilot was safe in a bed in the infirmary of the Charlemagne, and, as Danilov noted grimly, he was starting to wake up.

"Welcome aboard the Charlemagne, Sergeant Hayden," Danilov greeted, as the young man blinked painfully at him. "You are lucky to be alive, but we will care for you until a transport can convey you to a medical facility more permanent than ours."

"...we...lost?" Hayden croaked.

"Yes, the Meyers unit was wiped out," Danilov said. "Colonel Meyers was killed in action."

Hayden's eyes closed. "The...the Extended..."

Danilov felt his heart sink. The Meyers unit had included an Extended. "What about the Extended?"

"...she...s-suffered," Hayden groaned. Danilov blinked, leaning down close to the wounded young soldier. "...they...did things to her...r-raped...killed..." He opened his eyes again, pleadingly staring up at Danilov. "...s-so please, sir...tell me that...I'm...not a monster..."

"He's delirious, sir," one of the orderlies explained. "Exposure and morphine and all that he's been through today will do that to you."

Danilov looked back down at the pilot as he drifted off to sleep. "Delirious," he repeated. "I'm sure he is."

With nothing to do at Vilnius, Sven Cal Bayan had spent much of his time either working on combat tactics to use against the Destiny Gundam or digging into the history of the enigmatic Emily von Oldendorf. The former had proven relatively fruitful; the latter, not so much. And so Sven sat in his room on the Charlemagne, his notes on the screen before him, trying not to feel frustrated at how little he had.

A father who did not seem to want her company, a mother in poor health, and a sister who ran away shortly after the end of the Junius War...somehow there was a way to put it all together. Sven did not understand how the Phantom Pain could have so little knowledge about Emily von Oldendorf and yet allow her to work as part of the household staff of their master, Lord Djibril. Such foolishness was never tolerated and fearfully punished in the ranks of the Phantom Pain.

Sven keyed his password into the databanks of Heaven's Base, scouring the server for signs of the mysterious little girl in the Twilight Gundam. A single file popped up, in a registry Sven did not recognize and as he tried to access it, he ran into the discouraging wall of a lack of authorization.

If the lack of information about Emily made no sense, the information about Emily requiring authorization to view made even less sense. A man of his rank in the Phantom Pain should have had access to the records on people as irrelevant as the domestic servants.

Which meant Emily von Oldendorf was far from irrelevant.

Sven sat back to think.

The Charlemagne's hangar was subdued as the pilots and mechanics found themselves awaiting orders, while the ship itself cruised south in the wake of the Minerva. The next battle between the two ships was imminent, of course, but until that battle came, there was little for the crew to do but wait.

And so, Shams Coza and Mudie Holcroft stood with arms crossed, leaning on the railing of the gantry overlooking the silent Blu Duel and Verde Buster.

"At least we had a chance to improve the engines," Shams said with a sigh. "Now we don't need those damned sub-wings to fly."

Mudie sniffed contemptuously. "That Destiny..."

"Sven's got a new plan to take that thing down," Shams added tiredly. "Wonder if it'll work?"

Mudie said nothing; Shams scratched the back of his head awkwardly. Mudie's way of conversation was less a conversation with the other person, and more a conversation with herself that might involve the other person from time to time and that made things supremely awkward.

He looked back at the Verde Buster's caged face. "I wonder if we'll ever have a chance to leave the Phantom Pain," he said, drawing a confused look from Mudie. "Y'know, live a normal life and stuff. What would you do?"

Mudie's eyes flashed angrily for a moment. "It doesn't matter," she said, "because we'll never leave."

Shams decided to say no more.

Battleship Minerva, Yaroslavl' Oblast, Russia

The Minerva and the ReHOME were on the move, and for that, Athrun Zala was thankful. He stood on the gantry overlooking the silent Infinite Justice, staring pensively at the Gundam that was his power in the world. They were heading for Novorossiysk, and another battle, but that was the Minerva's role in the world, and that was what gave him purpose.

He glanced up at Viveka as she approached, finding her looking pensively over at the Twilight Gundam.

"I didn't think Emily had it in her to get that mad," she said, glancing over at Athrun. "When we were growing up, she was always a pretty meek and docile little girl."

Athrun looked over grimly at the Twilight's silent, dark eyes. "She was angry, because someone she cared for was killed," he said, "so she did what she normally could not." He closed his eyes. "It's a place I've been to before."

"There seem to be lots of places you've been to before," Viveka said. "What happened?"

"It's not important," Athrun answered quickly.

"It is to me," Viveka shot back. "I've told you quite a bit about myself. Some reciprocation's fair, isn't it?"

Athrun glanced at her. "It's not worth knowing," he said. "And they're all not wounds I'm ready to go opening again."

Viveka sighed and scratched the back of her head. "Okay," she sighed. "But, um, thanks for looking out for me out there."

Athrun nodded grimly. "It's what teammates do," he said. "I've lost teammates before because I wasn't able to protect them. I don't want that to happen again."

"Is that another wound you're not ready to open?" Viveka asked.

Athrun narrowed his eyes at the Infinite Justice. "It is."

It was cold, and night was descending, as the Minerva cut through the air, heading south towards Novorossiysk. As she stepped out onto the exterior deck, Emily had a vague idea of what the Minerva was going there for to destroy an Alliance unit that was attacking Resistance troops. But in practice, all it meant was that she would be going into battle there, and soon.

Emily blinked in surprise as she found Rau Le Creuset standing on the deck, arms crossed, staring at the horizon with that ever-present tiny, knowing smile on his face.

"You had quite an ordeal the past few days," Rau observed, before she could turn and leave. "I wonder if you are feeling alright?"

"I-I'm okay," Emily said.

Rau nodded. "Certainly an eye-opening experience for you, I would presume," he continued. "But I suppose that were there any doubts in your mind previously about the lows to which the Phantom Pain will stoop, such doubts are long gone now."

Emily stared down painfully at the lights of the towns below. "...why do people do that?" she asked. "Make people like the Extended, and do things like that to them..."

"People are always seeking better weapons with which to wage war," Rau explained. "It is no surprise that we would have reached the point where human beings are dedicated and designed for the sole purpose of combat." He smiled. "Such a society will readily turn a life into a weapon." He glanced over at Emily with a smile. "Although it does not have to be that way."

"It doesn't...?" Emily started, suddenly feeling fear rise up through her spine.

"It goes without saying that you are gifted with extraordinary powers," Rau chuckled, looking back towards the horizon. "Powers that could change the world. Such is the gift and the curse of a Newtype."

"...but you're a Newtype too," Emily protested. "I can sense pressure from you..."

"A Newtype I am," Rau said, with a chuckle and a knowing smile, "but I'm of the old generation. And we of the old generation can't make this new world." He looked at Emily again. "That task falls on the shoulders of the new."

Emily looked back at the horizon, and struggled to push down her fear.

To be continued...