I don't own anything except Kevin Walker

Kevin Walker would always remember how peacefully that day began, before Heliopolis was destroyed. He would always remember the loss of his refuge, and the battle that drew him back into war.

The young man who strode across Heliopolis' streets toward his best friend Kira Yamato was hardly the most inconspicuous sixteen-year-old. His clothing, from his boots to his leather jacket and gloves, was entirely black, as was the military-style beret that partially hid his ragged sandy hair. He wore numerous knives, the most obvious of which an enormous Bowie knife on his belt. From these he had earned the nickname Blade.

The one they called Blade was normally a cheerful, if soft-spoken, student, unremarkable except in physical appearance and his unreal talent with knives. But within the jade eyes, always hidden by sunglasses, one could see darkness. Kevin had seen a great deal in life, more than anyone suspected.

He was also a zoanthrope, the rare breed of shape-shifters who had faded almost into obscurity with the coming of Coordinators. Only three people alive knew of this, and Kevin was only aware of two of them; the third he would not recall until some time later.

But on that day, in C.E. 71, war was the furthest thing from Kevin's mind; he was just an average student, meeting up with a friend.

"Hey, Kira," he said, walking up to the bench his friend sat on. "News reports?" He pointed at Kira's computer.

"Yeah." Kira looked a little worried. "Kaohsiung spaceport this time. And this is from last week."

Behind the shades, Kevin's eyes took on a very cold look. "Bloody ZAFT," he muttered. Though no one knew why, it was common knowledge that Kevin Walker hated ZAFT more than anything else, and it seemed to be the one subject that could make him lose his temper.

"Hey, Kira!"

They both glanced up at the voice. Tolle Koenig and his girlfriend, Miriallia Haw, both friends of theirs, were coming toward them. "What's up, Tolle?"

"Professor Kato's been looking for you," Tolle replied. "Aren't you working on something for him?"

"Too much." Kira looked weary. "I still haven't finished the stuff he gave me yesterday."

"Well, he wants us to bring you to him, right away." Tolle noticed the laptop's screen. "Kaohsiung now? That's pretty close to the homeland."

"Will they be okay?" Mir wondered aloud.

Kevin dismissed the idea. "Don't worry about Orb, Mir. They're stubbornly neutral. Besides, if ZAFT were stupid enough to attack, well, Orb's got the best technology in the world." He started walking off to the vehicle areas.

"So, what are you up to today, Blade?" Tolle asked as they walked. "Going to the range?" It was well-known that Kevin was a crack shot with a handgun, and practiced regularly.

He shook his head. "Not today. I've got work at Morgenroete, too; not sure what all this programming stuff is for, but an assignment's an assignment." Besides, he didn't add, a technical college was the least of the challenges he'd had in recent years.

They shortly found the local equivalent of a bus stop, but it was blocked by three chatting teenage girls. Flay Allster, Kevin thought, recognizing one of them. He smiled to himself. So this is the girl you keep talking about, Kira. Looks like she's barely aware that you exist, though.

Tolle and Mir proceeded to join the chatting, while Kira and Kevin stood back, exchanging looks; they'd known each other for ten years, so words were not always necessary between them.

They were interrupted when a woman spoke from behind them. "Excuse me, but if you're not getting in, mind if I do?"

Kevin stood aside and allowed the black-haired woman and her companions to pass. Wonder who they are, he thought, as they climbed into a vehicle and left.

Kira was arguing with Tolle, something to do with a letter, when the four of them finally got into another car and headed off, toward Morgenroete.

"Well, if you're not gonna ask him, I guess I'll have to," Tolle was saying as they pulled up to the security gate at Morgenroete.

"Tolle, you're being a pest," Kira told him, running an ID card through the scanner.

Kevin ignored the banter; even had it been directed at him, teasing was something that no longer bothered him. He'd endured far worse.

The four of them finally reached the workroom, where two of their classmates were waiting. "Ah, there you are, Kira," Sai Argyle said, seeing them enter.

His friends continued right in, but Kevin froze just inside. I feel something, he thought, mental antennae quivering. No. Someone. A zoanthrope? No. Then what? His eyes swept the room, noting each person. Kuzzey Buskirk, Sai, Mir, Tolle, Kira... So who, then? He concentrated, trying to find the source of the odd presence. He knew in general terms what he was feeling; as a zoanthrope, he was mildly empathic, which allowed him to sense other zoanthropes and normal people he knew well. So who was this?

Kevin finally turned to his left, noticing for the first time the girl that leaned against the wall there. She was already looking at him strangely, as though she knew him from somewhere but couldn't quite place it.

The girl, Cagalli, was thinking along much the same lines as the shadowy young man she observed. Who are you? Do I know you? The face, concealed though it was behind sunglasses and a beret, seemed very familiar to her. But without a better look, she couldn't quite recognize him.

For the next several minutes, while the others in the room worked, Kevin and Cagalli leaned against opposite walls, surreptitiously watching each other. It was becoming increasing clear to both of them that they knew each other, but neither could figure out from where, and neither was willing to ask the other's name.

Then the alarms went off, with a voice telling everyone to evacuate. "What's going on?" Mir said, bewildered.

"Doesn't matter," Kevin said, speaking for the first time since entering the room. "We need to get out of here, now." He muttered something in what sounded like Russian; it also sounded obscene. Then he strode over to the door leading out to a stairwell and kicked it, knocking it right off its hinges.

Tolle blinked. "Blade-?"

"No time, Tolle."

They headed out of the room, only to be met by a flow of people heading up the stairwell. "What's going on?" Sai asked.

"Don't know, but we should evacuate," a passerby said, brushing past.

"It's a ZAFT attack!"

Cagalli's eyes widened and she started heading in the opposite direction; Kira noticed and followed after her. "Wait!"


"I'll be right back. Go!" He caught up with the girl in a few steps. "Where are you going? It's a dead end here!"

"Stop tailing me!" she said angrily. "You'd better go back and link up with the others."

"Easier said than done," he retorted, just as an explosion nearly blew them off their feet... and a dark shape hurtled past them into a wall.

"Solkin syn!" the black-clad figure muttered. Kevin stood, noting with disgust that the blast had knocked off his hat and blown his shades to smithereens. "Bloody ZAFT!" He added something incredibly vile in Russian.

Kira, meanwhile, had noticed Cagalli's hat had flown off, setting free a mass of blonde hair. "You're... a girl," he said, sounding surprised.

"That's right," she replied, disgusted. "What did you think? Huh?"

"No, I just-"

"I've had enough!" The uncharacteristic outburst came from Kevin, who thrust a hand into his jacket; it came out with a battered, ancient-looking revolver. "I'm gonna blow those bastards straight to-"

Cagalli stared at him, unable to believe her eyes. "Kevin!"

Blade broke off his rant with a blank look. "Huh?" He absently ran a hand through his sandy hair, staring intently at the girl. "You... know me?" he said slowly.

Her mouth had fallen open, and she closed it slowly, still staring at this apparition. "What's your name?"

"Kevin Walker," he said, still confused; though not as confused as Kira, who was looking at them as if they'd both gone mad. "Why?"

"You're... you're supposed to be dead..."

"Dead?" Kevin shook his head. "I think you've got the wrong guy, Miss. I'm a lot of things, but a ghost ain't one of them." He hefted the revolver. "We don't have time for this. This way!" He took off running, heading down a side corridor.

Kira grabbed Cagalli's hand. "Come on, let's go!"

"Let go of me, you jerk." But she followed him anyway, still confused by the gun-toting teen who looked so much like an old friend of hers, even used one of his aliases... but apparently had no idea who she was, which meant it couldn't be him. And he'd been dead for two years, hadn't he?

Ahead of them, Kevin came into view, running as fast as his legs could carry him... on the walls. The sight was preposterous, since this section of the colony had pseudo-gravity, but it was happening nonetheless.

"Blade, wait!" Kira called to him. "There's a locked door just ahead-"

"So?" The youth hit the door with the force of a small bomb and burst right through it, his shoulder forcing the heavy metal far out into the next room. Inside, he paused to take a look at the factory floor below... and swore.

"Blade?" Kira and Cagalli came into the chamber right behind him, if at a more sane pace. "What is it?"

Cagalli took one look at the battle raging below around the pair of mobile suits and sank to the floor. "I knew it," she moaned. "The Earth Forces' prototype mobile weapons. Father, I knew you betrayed us all!"

Earth Forces? Kevin thought. That explains the attack. But what are they- Her words finally registered. Father? Is she-? For an instant, there was a flicker of recognition in his jade eyes, then it faded to the back of his brain, behind the fog that still obscured memories after two and a half long years. Ever since he had become what he was... a soldier beyond all others.

His thoughts were disturbed as he realized an Earth Forces officer standing on one of the mobile suits was about to shoot at them. "Run!" he shouted. Leaping to the side, Kevin was pleased to note the woman had realized she was firing at civilians and changed targets. "Get the girl out of here! I'll handle this."

"But, Blade-"

"Relax, Kira." He raised the gun. "You know I've fought before. You know how many times I've fought Blue Cosmos. If I can survive being on their hit list, I can survive this."

Cagalli took another look at him, still confused. She knew the person he so resembled was dead. He'd died in her arms years before. Yet this young man who had suddenly revealed such lethal potential looked almost exactly like him, with slight differences that could be put down to growth, and he even moved like him. But the Kevin Walker she'd known was not a soldier, while this one clearly was.

There was no more time to ponder it. She followed Kira out of the room, while Kevin prepared himself to fight for the first time in over a year. "C'mon, you ZAFT bastards," he muttered. "Come reap what you have sown!" He raised the ancient weapon, a very battered Colt Single Action Army, and leapt.

Lieutenant Murrue Ramius, the Earth Forces officer who had mistakenly shot at them, stopped firing for an instant in pure surprise, seeing the young man arc across the huge room as if shot from a cannon. He twisted midair, firing an antique at the ZAFT forces with unerring accuracy, before landing on the catwalk on the other side, graceful as a cat.

She was saved from being shot in the back by Kira's return to the room. "Behind you!" he shouted, and Ramius spun, firing the last few rounds in her assault rifle's magazine; the green-suited attacker dropped, dead or hiding.

Ramius knew there was no way out of the factory anymore, so she made a snap decision. "Come here!" she called.

Kira shook his head. "Thanks, but I'm off to the shelters in the left block; never mind me!"

"There's nothing left behind that door!"

"She's right," Kevin called. "Nothing but rubble and things going bang." His confirmation was punctuated by a loud explosion.

Kira shielded his face from the explosion, then ran along the catwalk toward the ramp leading down to the mobile suit. "Over here!" Ramius told him, and he jumped over the railing, landing hard on the GAT-X105 Strike's shoulder.

He was just nearing the Earth Alliance officer when a red-suited commando shot her in the right shoulder, dazing her; the only thing that saved her life was the attacker's gun jamming.

Athrun Zala, seeing his weapon was useless, dropped it and drew a knife, then used his jetpack to fly to the top of the Strike, moving in bounds till he was in range of the woman and the teenager attending her. He raised the knife...

And Kira looked up, a flicker of recognition in his eyes. "Athrun...?"

Athrun hesitated. "Kira...?"

That was when the black blur slammed feet-first onto the mobile suit, kicked the knife out of his hand, and snap-kicked him in the chest. "Back off!"

Athrun would have fought this teenage tornado anyway, not knowing he'd have lost very quickly, but Ramius managed to raise her pistol and began firing at him. He had no choice but to fall back, taking one last look at the young man he'd nearly knifed, before dropping into the cockpit of X303 Aegis, one of the Earth Forces' new mobile suits.

With that threat gone, Ramius shoved Kira into the Strike and jumped in after him. From within, she spoke to the teenage gunman who had just assisted her. "There isn't room for three; you'd better get out of here!"

Kevin grinned. "I'll see you outside, whoever you are." As the hatch began to close, he shot a reassuring glance at Kira. "Don't worry about me; you know I can handle myself."

The Strike and Aegis blasted out of Morgenroete simultaneously, entering the main area of the colony through newly-blasted holes in the ground.

Tolle, Mir, Sai, and Kuzzey were running nearby when the mobile suits emerged, and their initial confusion was compounded when Kevin came out of the hole behind the Strike, apparently following it... with a gun in his hand.

Waiting for the two G-weapons were a pair of ZAFT GINNs. Within the Strike, Ramius cursed. "Two of them. This doesn't look good."

Unexpectedly, a voice came from the radio. "Don't worry, Lieutenant," Blade told her; how he was transmitting was a mystery. "I'll deal with the one behind."

"Are you crazy-?"

Kira interrupted her. "I don't know what he's up to, but if he says he can do it, he can."

She shook her head, still bemused by the strange, black-clad killer, but she had no time to consider it. The first GINN was attacking.

Outside, Tolle waved to Kevin. "Over here! Hurry!"

Blade ignored him, choosing instead to fling himself at the second GINN; making leaps that no normal human should have been capable of, he ascended the mobile suit, finally reaching the cockpit. It was, of course, locked, but Kevin was undaunted. He found the external controls and simply smashed them with his fist.

The hatch fell open, and he darted in; a few moments later, a dead body in a green flight suit fell out, leaking blood from the throat and missing its backpack. The hatch promptly closed again, sparking.

Within, Kevin fastened the restraints, muttering to himself. "Okay, let's see... main power is already up, don't need to worry about that... this is basic maneuvering... and this must be the weapons. Now: can I fly this thing?"

Meanwhile, Ramius was having a great deal of trouble piloting the Strike; the only thing that had saved them from being cut in half was the timely activation of phase-shift armor, a new technology that dispelled kinetic energy. That rendered the GINN's weapons essentially useless... except for the fact that the people inside could still be harmed by things like falling into buildings.

And collateral damage. Kira stared at the displays in horror, as the GINN prepared to stab the Strike in the cockpit... which would cause them to land on his friends.

Hardly knowing what he was doing, but doing it very quickly, he pressed a switch, causing the mobile suit to duck, then reached over to thrust one of the maneuvering grips forward, shoulder-tackling the GINN.

The blow knocked the enemy off his feet and into a building, giving them some breathing space, which Kira used to begin modifying the Strike's computers. "If you're gonna drive something like this, you gotta make better use of it," he told Ramius, who stared at him in surprise. "And how do you manage with this OS?"

"It's only in the trial stage; it can't be helped," she replied, off-balance.

"Please, move over." This Ramius did, having seen that this teenager was clearly a better pilot. He proceeded to type rapidly, fingers blurring, as he rewrote the operating system, muttering to himself as he did so.

"You guys still alive?" a voice said dryly over the radio. "I think you gave that GINN a shock."

"Where are you calling from?" Ramius asked, frowning.

"I did tell you I'd deal with the other GINN, didn't I?" Kevin sounded amused. "The pilot came down with a serious case of dead. The only problem is, I don't know how to fly this monstrosity."

"Don't worry," Kira said absently. "I've got this one." He made a final adjustment to the software, then flinched as the GINN opened fire. Though the bullets did no damage, they did shake him up a bit; he responded by hitting a foot pedal and propelling the Strike into the air, out of the line of fire.

Now he concerned himself with weaponry, hunting up the relevant information. "Armor Schneiders? That's all there is?" He made the most of it, drawing the huge switchblades from the Strike's hip armor. Holding in one each hand, the Strike set down and ran straight at the enemy, outpacing the bullets.

Kira brought it to a halt at point-blank range, and without hesitation thrust one knife into the GINN's shoulder joint, and the other into its neck, disabling it.

When the enemy pilot abandoned his mobile suit, Ramius realized something was wrong. "This doesn't look good, step away from that GINN-!"

Too late. The GINN self-destructed, the concussion nearly knocking the Strike off its feet and successfully knocking Murrue Ramius and Kevin Walker unconscious.

Kevin Walker was mildly surprised to find himself still alive, when he awakened a few minutes later. After a moment of cataloguing his sensations, however, he almost wished he was dead.

He groaned and opened his eyes, finding himself looking up at a concerned Mir. "Blade, you're awake," she said in relief. "We were worried."

Blade slowly sat up, noticing the Earth Alliance officer lying not far away. "I'm okay," he said finally. "I think. How's the lieutenant, there?"

"Minor gunshot wound to the right shoulder, and a slight concussion," Sai told him, standing near the motionless Strike. "She should be fine."

"Hm." Kevin hauled himself to his feet. "I forgot how much I hate war," he muttered, staggering over to where his stolen GINN knelt silently.

"Uh, about that, Blade," Tolle said hesitantly. "Where'd you learn those tricks? You never mentioned you were a soldier."

"Technically, I'm not." He idly fingered a revolver grip under his jacket. "But I know some tricks of the trade. A very long story, tovarisch."

"This isn't the first time you've been in a war zone, is it, Blade?" Sai asked quietly.


The answer wasn't too surprising to any of his friends, given how little they actually knew of Kevin's past. But of them all, only Kira had the faintest idea what he was talking about, and he knew not to mention it without Kevin's permission.

And even Kira had no idea just what Kevin Walker truly was...

His friends watched curiously as Kevin began to prowl around the edges of the park they'd come to, pacing what seemed to be a perimeter. Every few steps, he set a concave object on the ground, labeled Front Toward Enemy, that he'd pulled from somewhere.

Finally, he stood back. "Perimeter secure. Just don't step beyond that line."

"Uh, why not?" Tolle asked.

"Because I just set claymore mines. Get caught in one, and you'll be human hamburger." Kevin chuckled, but it was not a very pleasant sound. "I learned how useful these gadgets are in Dnepropetrovsk."

"Dne... Den... I can't even pronounce that."

"I've never heard of it, either," Mir agreed. "What were you doing there?"

"Running for my life. Again." Kevin shrugged. "Not exactly unusual in my life; sometime maybe I'll tell you the whole story. But not today."

"Hey, Blade..." Kira said softly, beckoning him over to the side.

He walked over. "Yeah, Kira?"

Kira glanced over at the others, making sure they were out of earshot. "Who was that girl, back at Morgenroete? She looked like she knew you."

Kevin stood silently for a long moment, thinking. "I don't know," he said finally. "I think I should, but... let's just say some of my misadventures over the years have given me some memory problems. I may once have known her, but from where, I can't imagine. Her name, though..." He frowned for a moment. "I think her name is Cagalli; don't ask me how I know, because I have no idea." He shook his head. "But that's not important right now. What's important is that we're trapped in a space colony that's under attack by ZAFT."

"Blade, Kira, she's waking up," Mir called.

Kevin walked over. "Good to see you're still among the living, Lieutenant," he said pleasantly. As Ramius sat up, he noticed her somewhat dazed look. "Never been shot before, eh? Don't worry, you'll be fine; took me a little while to regain my senses after the first time, too."

She didn't reply to his comment, for she abruptly noticed Tolle climbing around the Strike, investigating it, and she shot to her feet.

Kevin had just turned away when the gunshot rang out, and he spun back around to see Ramius pointing her sidearm at Tolle. "Get down from there!" she shouted. "All of you, over there!"

"What are you doing?" Tolle protested.

"Do as she says, Tolle," Kevin said in a calm voice. "For now."

The six students gathered to one side, looking frightened... except for Blade, who wore a curiously complacent expression. "You've just been exposed to classified technology of the Earth Alliance," Ramius said coldly. "Thus I have no choice but to detain you all."

"You have no authority over us, Lieutenant," Kevin said, eyes slowly freezing; Kira knew this to be a clear sign he was getting very angry. Kevin Walker's anger was dangerous because it did not burn; it chilled.

"I'm afraid that you're wrong," Ramius told him, shifting her aim to him. "Your names, all of you."

"Kuzzey Buskirk."

"Miriallia Haw."

"Sai Argyle."

"Tolle Koenig."

"And you?" Her aim moved to Kira.

"Kira Yamato." He, too, was angry. "What do you think you're doing? I just saved your life, in case you didn't notice. And this is neutral territory; the war doesn't have anything to with us!"

Ramius shook her head in apparent disgust. "'Neutral'. Whatever you may think, there's a war going on outside your comfortable little world, and you're just going to have to live with it. Earth against ZAFT, Natural against Coordinator; that's how the world works, people." Her pistol pointed at Kevin again. "And you are?"

In less than an eye blink, she was staring down the muzzle of a revolver. "Someone who doesn't like having guns pointed at his face," Kevin said coldly, gun held at arm's length. "Drop it, Lieutenant. Now."

"You think you can shoot me before I pull this trigger?" Ramius attempted to hide her surprise; she'd forgotten the black-clad teenager carried a weapon.

"No. I know it."

As the two faced off, Kira suddenly noticed Kevin was holding his gun in his left hand. Wait a minute... Isn't he right-handed? He also saw that his friend wasn't holding it in quite the perfect stance he usually did; it was almost as if he were pretending to be a less proficient marksman than he actually was...

A light went on in his head, and Kira relaxed. He was quite looking forward to seeing what kind of trick Kevin had up his sleeve.

"Drop your weapon, kid," Ramius ordered. "Do it now."

"No." Kevin smiled; it was not a pleasant expression. "Can you shoot me, rookie?"

"Careful," she warned, "I'm no rookie."

"Oh yes you are," he countered. "You may be experienced at naval operations, but you're way out of your league and in my domain now, Lieutenant." His hand twitched very slightly, as though beginning to lose his grip. "I can tell; it's your eyes, you see. They're rookie's eyes if I ever saw them. So tell me: is this the first time you ever pointed a gun at a person? Your hands are shaking."

Ramius cursed herself; he was right. "Don't think I'm not prepared to defend myself," she warned.

Kevin snorted. "You haven't even counted your shots, rookie."

It was all she could do not to goggle at this ice block that walked like a human; not only was he right about her mistake, but he seemed to think this no more serious than a mild disagreement. "Look, kid," Ramius said, carefully checking her sidearm's magazine, "put away your weapon or I'll have no choice but to shoot."

"Blade, maybe you should do as she says?" Tolle said nervously.

"Oh, very well," Kevin said, shrugging. Ramius began to relax as his left hand slipped the gun back into its shoulder holster...

And then his right hand whipped out with the Colt's twin and blew her sidearm right out of her hand, with no more difficulty than shooting the broadside of a barn. "What the-"

All traces of weakness were gone now, as the teenager held the revolver like an extension of his own body. "I told you, Lieutenant, I hate having guns pointed at my face!" He grinned, seeing no more reason to conceal his true skill. "You just fell for the oldest trick in the book, rookie. You allowed yourself to underestimate me, because of what my apparent abilities were. Remember this: never make assumptions."

Ramius stared at Kevin, shocked by the sudden change. "Who are you...?"

"I go by the name Kevin Walker," he replied. "It's not the name I was born with, but it'll serve. I doubt you'll ever learn my true identity. Most people call me Blade, by the way," he added, seemingly as an aside.

"I wondered when you were gonna do that, Blade," Kira said, the only person completely unsurprised by the events that had just occurred.

"Just waiting for the right moment, tovarisch," Kevin said casually. "When one has been nearly assassinated a few dozen times, you get something resembling a sense of timing."

"So, you have me at a disadvantage," Ramius broke in. "What are you going to do now?"

His answer surprised her. "Just what you say, Lieutenant; I, for one, would like to get out of this alive, and I imagine that mobile suit is our only hope of doing just that. So, unless any of my friends have death wishes, we're going to do exactly what you tell us to do. But if you try to threaten us again, the next bullet goes somewhere more important to cognitive function."

She didn't fully relax again after that, not even after Kevin put his gun away. But the fact that he was suggesting cooperation was a good sign. "You," Ramius said, pointing to Sai, "get the number 5 trailer; Kira, please get back in the Strike and attempt to contact Earth Forces assets."

Sai still looked unconvinced, but Kevin clapped him on the shoulder. "C'mon, Sai," he said. "I know we're neutral, but this really is our best chance of survival." He nodded significantly at the carnage the ZAFT mobile suits had wrought. "Unless you'd rather go back out into that?"

His blonde-haired friend with the orange glasses sighed. "You're right, of course."

As the students moved to do as she instructed, Ramius looked sidelong at the lone teen who stood motionless at the edge of the park. There was something about him, the way he moved, the way he fought...

She walked over to him. "So, Mr. Walker. There's more to you than meets the eye."

"Much more, Lieutenant," Kevin said without turning.

"I'm surprised you didn't kill me; you're certainly a good enough shot."

That drew a reaction; in this case a sardonic glance over his shoulder. "'Good enough' is putting it mildly, Lieutenant Ramius. If there's a better shot than me, I'll be very much surprised."

Ramius raised an eyebrow. "Even among Coordinators?"

He paused, then turned to face her. "Lieutenant, I am a Coordinator." Kevin smiled slightly at her surprised look. "And no, I'm not with ZAFT. Fact is, ZAFT is the only thing in the world that I hate more than Blue Cosmos. It is my mission in life to annihilate them."

She met his eyes, for once not hidden by sunglasses, and saw that, for all his outward youth, this young man had seen a great deal. "They did something to you, didn't they?"

Blade nodded, face a mask, jade eyes frozen. "Oh, yes; they did something to me. And for that, I am sworn to their destruction." He sighed. "But I'd had my fill of battlefields for awhile; I came to this place for peace, for a rest, and now ZAFT has taken even that from me. They'll pay. With their lives."

Kevin Walker was far from an ordinary teenager, that was clear. On the outside, he was an average student. But something ancient and lethal lived inside him, something that had slept for a long year, and Ramius somehow thought it was awakening.

It was not a comforting thought.

"Here it is," Sai said a few minutes later, climbing out of the vehicle he'd driven over. "The number 5 trailer. That's the one you asked for, right?"

"Yes, it is," Ramius said with a nod. "Thank you." She looked over at Kira, who had just returned from the Strike. "Any luck contacting Earth Forces?"

He shook his head. "No; something's still jamming it."

"N-jammers," Kevin muttered. "Guess that means ZAFT is still operating here. Well, after Junius Seven, I can't say I'm displeased."

"Yes, that was a tragedy," Ramius agreed.

"Tragedy?" He snorted. "It was nearly the death of me, Lieutenant; I'd just left the colony that very morning. Not exactly the first close call for me, but definitely one of the nastiest."

"So what do you want us to do now?" Sai asked.

"Mount the Striker pack on the Strike," the lieutenant replied. "Once that's done, Kira, please try again to make contact."


As the others moved off again to their various tasks, Blade straightened from where he'd been leaning against a piece of park equipment and walked over to his captured GINN. "So, you misbegotten, half-breed piece of ZAFT junk," he muttered. "What makes you tick?" He climbed aboard and booted up the computers; his instincts, which were usually right, told him the battle wasn't over yet. He needed to learn how to fly the mobile suit, and fast.

It wasn't fast enough; Kevin had barely begun checking the computers when the GINN's thermal sensors warned of an explosion in progress. He stuck his head out the hatch, and was startled to see part of the colony's main shaft vanish in a ball of flame... and a ZAFT CGUE mobile suit emerged from the explosion, trailed by an Earth Alliance Moebius Zero, which seemed to be missing its wired gunbarrels.

"What are they doing here?" he muttered; for it did not take a genius to figure out who the two combatants were. The CGUE was flown only by commanders and above, and he'd already determined it was the Le Creuset team that had attacked Heliopolis. And, of course, only one member of the elite Moebius Zero corps remained, after the disaster at Endymion Crater the previous year. "Rau Le Creuset and Mu La Flaga. Interesting."

The others were taking the situation far less calmly. "Mount the equipment before it's too late!" Ramius shouted to Kira, who redoubled his command-typing.

"There it is," Le Creuset murmured.

"The final unit," La Flaga told himself.

As the two pilots fought each other above, Kevin made a fast decision and sealed his hatch. "I'm gonna regret this," he muttered, and brought the GINN's main systems online. Fingers flying, he traced the various commands, rapidly checking to see what did what.

Meanwhile, Le Creuset had succeeded in knocking out his adversary's last weapon, and turned his attention to the Strike. "I'll take you down now, while I have the chance!"

Inside the Earth Forces weapon, Kira yelled wordlessly, seeing the death that awaited him... and the Striker pack connected, recharging the Strike's energy battery. He hurriedly hit the switch he'd seen Ramius use earlier, activating the mobile suit's phase-shift armor just in time to catch a hurried burst from the CGUE's machine gun.

"Try to hurt my friends, will you?" Kevin muttered, voice seething and eyes frozen. "Not this time, you bastards. This is one thing you're not taking from me!"

His GINN's arm rose, lifting its own machine gun and pointing it directly at the attacking CGUE. He squinted through the targeting scanner, waited a beat, and squeezed the trigger.

Le Creuset barely dodged the burst, and for once even he was surprised as he noticed the GINN. "One of our units...?" he murmured. "It must have been captured. But how...?" A radio device beeped, and he glanced at the display. Instantly, one of his eyebrows rose. "One of them? So, the one who was responsible for the project's failure did survive the explosion. Most interesting."

And that was when another explosion occurred, as the Earth Alliance Forces Mobile Assault Ship Archangel fired its Lohengrin positron cannons, blowing its way out of drydock and giving it access to the colony's interior.

"A warship, inside the colony?" La Flaga blinked; he'd known of the G-weapons, but this...

Ramius saw it, as well. "Look, it's the Archangel!" she said in relief.

Kevin Walker's reaction was rather different, for like Ramius, he recognized the ship... without any previous connection to the G-weapons project. From the depths of his memory came an image from a time before he went on the run, from when he lived under his own name. A set of blueprints, for the proposed Archangel-class carriers...

"Forget the past," he muttered to himself. "The past is gone, that was a different name, a different life. What is real is this battle." He grasped the GINN's controls, hoping he'd deciphered them properly. "Okay, Le Creuset, get ready to face me. Let's give you ZAFT bastards a taste of the misery you caused me!"

The GINN leapt into the air, propelled by its verniers, and Kevin angled up toward the CGUE; which, having failed to stop the Strike before its phase-shift activated, had shifted its attention to the warship. He raised the rifle for another burst...

And Ramius called up at him. "Wait! The Archangel doesn't know you're friendly-"

Kevin cursed and retreated, both due to her warning and sudden burst of machine cannon fire from the Archangel's CIWS systems. "Bloody, I haven't been this helpless since..."

He didn't need to worry about being helpless much longer. Kira had finally figured out the Striker pack's systems, and he raised the enormous hyper-impulse cannon Agni. "Wait, that's too-!" Ramius warned, but too late.

Kira pulled the trigger, and an enormous beam of red-orange light sprang forth from the Agni's muzzle, blowing off the CGUE's right arm... and continuing past, until it expended its energy on the colony wall high above, blasting a huge hole.

Le Creuset, seeing his mobile suit damaged and an escape route created by the same shot, flew toward the hole. "How is that possible?" he murmured. "A mobile suit with that much firepower?"

Silence fell over what had been a battlefield moments earlier.

With Le Creuset having retreated, the various participants of the battle had a chance to catch their breaths, and the Archangel landed next to the Strike.

The Earth Forces mobile suit finished ferrying the students and Ramius as La Flaga landed his Moebius Zero on the ship's bow deck; Kevin set his captured GINN down on the catapult deck a moment later, as Ramius turned to meet the military personnel coming to meet them.

"Lieutenant Ramius!" the black-haired woman in the lead, who wore ensign insignia, called. "It's a relief to see you, Ma'am."

"Ensign Natarle Badgiruel," Ramius responded. "I'm pleased that you protected the Archangel. You do realize you've saved us."

Above, the Strike's hatch opened and Kira descended to the deck, to the surprised stares of the crew. "Would someone tell me what's going on?" Chief Kojiro Murdoch complained. "He's just a kid; just learned to shave, and he's piloting it?"

"Lieutenant, what's going on?" Badgiruel asked.

"Well, this is a surprise," La Flaga interrupted, walking over. "I'm Lieutenant Mu La Flaga," he added, "of the Seventh Orbital Fleet, at your service."

Ramius, Badgiruel, and Crewman Arnold Neumann saluted. "I'm Lieutenant Murrue Ramius, Sector 2, 5th Special Division; I'm a crew member of this ship."

"Ensign Natarle Badgiruel, same division."

"It's an honor." La Flaga returned the salutes. "I would like permission to board this ship; may I ask who's in charge around here?"

"The Captain and the other senior officers have perished in battle," Badgiruel said quietly. "Therefore, I believe Lieutenant Ramius is next in command."

"What-?" Ramius looked stunned. "The Captain? It can't be..."

La Flaga winced. "What an unmitigated disaster. Anyway, please grant me permission, Lieutenant Ramius; the ship I was assigned to engaged the enemy, and was downed."

"Oh, of course; permission granted, Lieutenant," Ramius said quickly.

La Flaga also looked at Ramius questioningly. "I was assigned to escort the pilots who were specially trained to fly this thing. Where can I find them?"

"The Captain was greeting them when the bombs went off, so they also..." The ensign trailed off.

"Yes, I see." He looked over to Kira, who had joined his classmates; except, that was, for Kevin, who remained sealed in his cockpit. "So, who do we have over here?"

"As you can see, he's a teenage civilian," Ramius said. "For some reason, he was in the factory district when the attack came, and I brought him aboard the G-weapon. It was he who managed to down a GINN, as well as get this unit to safety."

Even Badgiruel looked impressed. "Shot down a GINN? This kid did it?"

"I see." With a curious expression, La Flaga walked over to Kira.

"What?" the younger man asked, puzzled. "What's the matter?"

"So tell me," La Flaga said conversationally. "You're a Coordinator?"

Only Tolle looked unsurprised by the question; the rest waited with baited breath until Kira replied, "Yes."

Instantly, the nearby guards raised their rifles, pointing them at the Coordinator in their midst; then Tolle stepped into their way. "What do you think you're doing?"

"Tolle," Kira warned, not wanting to see his friend hurt.

"You saw what just happened," Tolle went on furiously. "Kira's a Coordinator, but he's not with ZAFT! You must be out of your minds, all of you!"

The tension was so thick, you could cut it with a knife; but then Ramius raised a hand. "Lower your rifles, men," she ordered.

They complied, looking confused and suspicious. "Lieutenant, I request an explanation," Badgiruel said, looking at Kira.

"When you think about it, it's not so hard to understand," she replied. "Heliopolis is neutral territory; it only makes sense that some Coordinators would take refuge here, in order to avoid all involvement in the war." She turned to Kira. "Am I wrong, Kira?"

"No, you're right," he acknowledged. "Especially since I'm a first-generation Coordinator."

"First-generation..." someone murmured.

"Which means, of course, that your parents are Naturals." La Flaga shrugged and looked apologetic. "Sorry about that, didn't mean to cause such a fuss. I was only curious, that's all, nothing more than that." He looked up at the silent Strike. "You know, on the way here I watched the pilots who were meant to pilot these things run through a bunch of simulations, and they had to struggle just to get it to move."

"So what do we do now?" Badgiruel asked.

"What do we do? I've just been shot down, and the Le Creuset team is still waiting for us outside the colony. If you ask me, we can't afford to spend too much time here."

As La Flaga headed off into the ship, Ramius recalled something. "Oh, Lieutenant La Flaga," she called after him. "There is one person who has yet to be introduced; were it not for him, the Strike would not have made it." She looked up at the motionless GINN. "Blade, if you could join us?"

There was a moment's pause, and then the mobile suit's hatch opened; its occupant leapt down to the deck, managing what ought to have been a bone-breaking landing with cat-like grace. "You called, mon Capitan?"

Ramius started to speak, but the look on La Flaga's face silenced her; the pilot was looking closely at the young man. "You're Jack Carter, aren't you?" he said finally. "The Crimson Tiger?"

Ramius would not have thought it possible that something could startle the crew more than the revelation that Kira was a Coordinator, but at these words, everyone but Kira stopped dead, staring at the lethal youth.

For Jack Carter, alias Crimson Tiger, was well-known to be the top name on the Blue Cosmos hit list. A teenager, apparently a Coordinator, who had caused a number of Blue Cosmos cells mischief on Earth. He'd left a trail of dead bodies across five continents from the time his name first appeared until he vanished, almost exactly a year previously.

The media and Blue Cosmos themselves had dubbed Carter the "Crimson Tiger" for two reasons: the incredible death toll he left behind him, and outrageous eyewitness accounts that claimed he turned into a red-and-black-striped tiger when faced with overwhelming odds. The few who survived Carter's battles with the terror group claimed that he dodged bullets, was bulletproof, and possibly couldn't die. If they were to be believed, there were about three of him, because one human being, no matter how dangerous, could not possibly be responsible for the mayhem he was credited with.

Tolle recovered from the shock first, leaping to his friend's defense. "Wait a minute, Blade's not-"

He broke off, as Kevin raised a hand. "Very good, Lieutenant," he said evenly, and a slight smile played at his lips. "That is, indeed, one of my many names. I might ask, however, how you knew it was me."

La Flaga smiled. "As it happens, Mr. Carter, I witnessed one of your bloody escapades myself; not that I'm complaining, mind you. The world is better off without those people, and I'm aware you never targeted innocents." He cocked his head and paused, as if pondering the probable reaction to his next words. "So tell me," he said finally. "You're a zoanthrope?"

Not even Kira and Kevin himself were immune to the sudden tension; the Blade, in fact, was looking ready to blow away everyone in the room, to keep his secret. But at last he relaxed, giving La Flaga a resigned nod. "I'm impressed, O Hawk of Endymion. To my knowledge, you're only the third person to discover that. The other two were classmates of mine at a school in Copernicus, one of them being Kira." He looked around the catapult, jade eyes chilling them all in turn. "I trust none of you will spread that beyond this chamber?"

Ramius, taken aback by the revelation, nonetheless nodded. "I don't think any of us want to face the Tiger's wrath, Blade," she said, surprising herself with an amused smile. "I could always classify the information, if need be."

"Not to worry," La Flaga said. "Again, I didn't mean to cause a fuss. I was only curious." He raised an eyebrow. "I gather, from your words, that 'Jack Carter' isn't your real name?"

"No, it isn't." Kevin's eyes thawed. "I go by the name Kevin Walker; that's not my real one either, but it's close enough. Call me Blade, by the way; everybody else does."

"Blade, huh? Why do they call you that?"

The answer was very sudden, and very startling: the instant La Flaga finished speaking, a pair of throwing knives stood quivering, point-down in the deck at his feet; Kevin, not having visibly moved, was now juggling a trio of knives, and making it look easy. "That's why," he said evenly.

"You are good," the Hawk acknowledged after recovering from his surprise. "No wonder you were able to capture that GINN."

"Real nice, kid," Murdoch agreed. "Can't wait to see one of these babies from the inside; got a few improvements to make, too."

Kevin looked amused. "Go ahead, Mr. Murdoch, so long as you people remember that this particular mobile suit does not belong to the Earth Forces; I captured it singlehandedly, and I'm not about to give it up. It could come in handy, given how I seem to attract assassination attempts." He turned and walked into the ship, seeming to have a very good idea of where he was going.

La Flaga watched him go. "Now that's one very unusual guy," he said quietly to Ramius. "A Coordinator, obviously... and a snake eater if I ever saw one."

"'Snake eater'?" She'd never heard the term before.

"That's what they call special forces guys, the ones who do the plausible-deniability stuff." He looked thoughtful. "Most of them are a little odd, some of them downright crazy. Young, too, but he seems a little too young to have gotten so good at it. He's definitely got the look of somebody who's seen a lot of action, though. No mistaking the eyes."

"He called me a rookie," Ramius said wryly. "Said that I had 'rookie's eyes, if he ever saw them'."

La Flaga nodded. "Compared to him, I think you are a rookie, Lieutenant. He's got soldier's eyes if I ever saw them." He scratched his head. "The question is, where did he learn all that?"

While the Archangel's crew began to plan their next move, the six students tried to relax in a crew compartment they'd been temporarily assigned. Kevin had led them straight there, without even a wrong turn; none of them bothered to ask him how he'd known his way around.

"I'm impressed he can sleep at a time like this," Kuzzey said quietly, looking up at Kira; the student-turned-mobile suit-pilot was on an upper bunk, dead to the world.

"He's exhausted," Mir said. "What happened out there was really difficult for Kira."

"Not just him," Kevin said with feeling. He'd thought he'd put war behind him, at least for awhile.

"It was tough, huh?" Kuzzey's voice had an odd tone. "Well, I guess there's no denying that."

"What are you getting at?" Sai asked, eyes narrowed.

"Well... nothing, really," Kuzzey said slowly. "But you know how he was telling us how he'd reprogrammed that mobile suit's OS? Well, when did he do that? I mean, I can't see Kira having had any previous knowledge of that thing. So... when did he have time to rewrite the OS?"

"I think you know the answer to that question, Kuzzey," Kevin said softly. "Don't you?"

Kuzzey nodded. "I've suspected for awhile now that Kira was a Coordinator. Those Coordinators, the byproducts of genetic engineering... they can do these mind-blowing things, but for them, it's just a little bit tough. They can fly mobile suits, they're faster, and smarter. So I can see how Kira did that. But those ZAFT guys are all like that, too. And that's who the Earth Forces are fighting." He looked worried. "Do you think they stand a chance?"

"It all depends on the individuals, Kuzzey," Kevin said quietly. "Even Coordinators have idiots, and even Naturals have geniuses."

"Yeah, Blade, about that," Sai said slowly. "You've been pretty quiet so far."

"You haven't told us much about yourself, have you?" Mir asked. "You never mentioned you were a Coordinator."

"Yeah," Tolle agreed. "Who or what are you?"

Kevin frowned, pondering his reply. "Okay," he said at last. "I suppose I ought to tell you guys some of it; not all, because that would put all of us in a lot of danger, but some." He leaned against the wall. "First off, as you heard, I lied to you about my name. Fact is, I'm still going to lie to you about my name. I've got too many enemies to risk the slightest leak about that. But I will tell you that my name is not Jack Carter, and it isn't Kevin Walker." His eyes rested briefly on Kira, who still dozed, oblivious to the conversation. "Kira and I went to the same school on the Moon, in Copernicus, starting ten years ago; we parted three years ago, when he moved to Heliopolis... and I went on the run. I've got no family, so I ended up running across half the planet and quite a number of space colonies, eventually being chased by Blue Cosmos; I gather I don't need to tell you about Jack Carter. The newsies did that job."

Sai frowned. "No family? That's why you've been living with Kira's family, right?"

"But that doesn't explain what you did out there today," Mir pointed out. "I didn't know you could fight like that. What are you, a commando?"

"Something like that." Blade chuckled humorlessly. "Actually, I believe I'm the most lethal soldier in human history. Oh, come on," he said sharply, when Mir edged away. "You should know me well enough to know I wouldn't hurt you. I don't attack innocents. My only enemies are ZAFT and Blue Cosmos; and if it'll make you feel better, I don't work for any government. My loyalty isn't to governments or organizations. It's to those I can trust, and you guys are the only people I trust."

"Sorry, Blade," Tolle apologized. "We just weren't expecting you to turn into a gunfighter on us like that. How'd you get so good, anyway?"

"Not your concern, Tolle," Kevin said coolly. "It's not something I discus, and frankly, I don't think you want to know."

"Anything else you can tell us?" Kuzzey asked, eyes narrowed; he'd never suspected that Kevin Walker was actually Jack Carter, and the revelation shook his trust in the young soldier.

"I can tell you I was born in Orb, and that Kira already knows everything I just told you. Beyond that... no, there isn't anything else."

With that he fell silent, brooding. May all those ZAFT bastards die horrible deaths, Kevin thought to himself, and not at all in jest. After everything they've done to me, everything they've taken from me... everything they've made me. And now they've even taken my last refuge away from me. I guess that means, when I get out of here, it'll be time to go underground again. I can't go home to Orb, no way. Not after all this time, after all that's happened.

He flexed his hands carefully, feeling the metal objects that lay concealed within, and thought about a humanoid weapon even now being worked on by Earth Forces mechanics. The GINN could aid him in his mission. Oh, yes... I may be stuck on an Earth Alliance ship for awhile, but it could be worse, couldn't it? This way, I have a chance to get my revenge. And Kevin Walker would be the first to say he had a great capacity for vengeance; one thing he knew he was not was a hero. Now, what exactly are the officers going to do? We've got ZAFT waiting for us, and Rau Le Creuset is one of their best people... though perhaps not quite as good as Andy. The Desert Tiger would probably have come at us by now.

He shook himself. "Well, if you'll excuse me, I need to rest, guys."

On the Bridge, Ramius set down the radio handset on the arm of her command chair, and turned to the other two officers present. "The colony interior is almost completely evacuated," she informed them. "But I'm told that the incident that just happened" (though "incident" was perhaps too mild a word for what a hyper-impulse cannon was capable of) "has upped the Hazard Level to 9."

"Which means that the shelters have been locked down tight," La Flaga mused. "So... what are we gonna do with those kids?"

"Lieutenant Ramius detained those children because they've been exposed to military secrets," Badgiruel pointed out. "We can't exactly let them go free."

"So you're proposing we have them join us in our escape?" The pilot frowned. "Once we exit the colony, we'll be involved in some pretty heavy fighting."

"It wasn't exactly that I detained them," Ramius interjected. "As a matter of fact, it was more like they were detaining me. That fellow with the guns, Blade... he basically took me prisoner, then convinced his friends to do what I said anyway." She shrugged. "A most puzzling individual."

"Yes..." La Flaga paused for a moment, thinking. "You know, Lieutenant, maybe we should get him in on this; I wouldn't be surprised if he knows how to handle a warship's weaponry."

"But that's crazy!" Badgiruel protested. "He's a civilian, and a Coordinator who's just a kid!"

"No, he's not," he countered. "Biologically, he may be a kid -though I'm beginning to think that looks deceive- but inside, he's older than any of us. There's a very mature, calculating brain in there. And one thing's for sure: Blade is not a civilian. He may not be with any organization or government, but you can tell just from the way he moves that he's a soldier. And he's a chameleon, too."

Ramius frowned. "A what?"

"A chameleon is what they call people like him." La Flaga raised an eyebrow. "You've seen it, haven't you? He slips from one persona to another like changing clothes, or flicking a switch. You called him a student, but when the fighting broke out, he just changed, into a hardened soldier. And there's more to it than just mentality: the good ones -which he clearly is- can change their appearance with ease, blend in with any crowd. An exotic talent, but one that would help keep a fugitive alive."

"You're saying that this sixteen-year-old student is a hardened killer?" Badgiruel said incredulously.

"That's exactly what I'm saying," he said flatly. "Look at the facts, Ensign: he captured a GINN, while it was in motion, blew Lieutenant Ramius's gun out of her hand, and, for pity's sake, he just admitted to being the Crimson Tiger! Do you have any idea how many members of Blue Cosmos died at his hand?"

"Then that's all the more reason he shouldn't be allowed anywhere near the Archangel's weapons," she said, recovering her mental balance. "Someone like him, who has so much reason to hate Naturals..."

"But he doesn't hate Naturals," Ramius disagreed. "Blade was willing to kill me -a Natural, to be sure- to protect his friends, who are also Naturals, besides Kira. And while he may have killed a number of Blue Cosmos people -terrorists- he also has a hatred for ZAFT that approaches pathological. I'm not sure I'd want him in any kind of leadership role, but I daresay he can be trusted when it comes to fighting ZAFT." She nodded decisively, decision made. "I'll talk to him."

"Well, then, that just leaves the matter of the Strike," La Flaga said. He raised his hands. "It's just about our only hope of getting out of here intact."

"Why don't you pilot it this time, Lieutenant La Flaga?" Badgiruel suggested.

He firmly shook his head. "No way. That kid's a miracle programmer; have you seen what he did to the Strike's OS? There's no way a Natural could even grasp it anymore."

"Well, then, make him change it back, to the..." She trailed off, as she realized how ridiculous the idea was; under the old operating system, the G-weapon was barely capable of movement. "But still," she continued doggedly, "it seems inappropriate to put such a powerful -not to mention secret- weapon in the hands of a civilian, especially a Coordinator who's still just a kid."

"I don't see that we have a choice," Ramius sighed. "A Natural couldn't fly it properly with the old OS, and a Coordinator is needed for the new one. That leaves us with Kira, and Blade. The so-called 'Crimson Tiger' will have to suffice if Kira refuses, but from what I saw, Kira is a more capable pilot." She stood. "I'll go down and speak with them. Please hold the fort while I'm gone."

Down in the crew area, Kira was now awake; Kevin, on the other hand, had just gone to sleep. And it was by no means peaceful.

"Training is over, Hydra. Are you ready?"


"Your first mission. This is a solo op, Commander Walker; you're the only member of the team who's ready. No backup. You sure you can handle it?"

"Absolutely, sir. I'm ready to strike a blow for ZAFT; it's time those accursed Naturals got a taste of what they've done to us."

"This won't be against Naturals, Hydra. It's harsh, but some of our people must be sacrificed if we're to begin the revolution. The average people of the PLANTs must be convinced of the necessity, even if we have to do it ourselves. Can you accept that?"

"Yes, sir. The good of the many outweighs the good of the few. Their deaths will not be in vain."

"Excellent. Commander Walker, you leave for SS 29 in two hours. Good luck, soldier."

Kevin jerked awake as Ramius approached; already the substance of his dream was fading, but he would never forget that voice. Get out of my head, Oracle. You've been dead for years, and Hydra never really existed.

"If I might have a moment of your time," Ramius began, looking at the two Coordinators. "There's something I have to ask you."

Blade swung out of the bunk down to the floor, face inscrutable; by contrast, Kira was looking suspicious. "What do you want?" he asked.

She hesitated for a moment, wondering how to put it. "We need your help," the lieutenant said finally. "ZAFT will not wait long, I'm sure, before attacking us again. I hate to ask you this, Kira, but will you pilot the Strike for us again?"

That was exactly what he'd been expecting. "No!" Kira said instantly. "I'm not gonna do it. Please, don't get us anymore involved in this war than you already have."

"Look, Kira-"

"Yeah, you may be right in saying that there's a war going on outside our world, but we don't want any part of it! We don't want anything to do with your war!" he snarled, expression fierce. "That's why we chose to live in neutral territory! And yet you still-"

"Quiet, Kira," Kevin broke in. He turned to him, eyes narrowed. "I sympathize, tovarisch, believe me; but this is our war now. The instant ZAFT attacked our 'neutral colony', we became involved in this. Doesn't matter that Earth was building weapons here, or whatever other reason there may have been for the attack. The fact remains that they attacked us. We are involved." He turned to Ramius. "Lieutenant, if Kira still refuses, I'll pilot the Strike. But... I'm not a mobile suit pilot. I'm not as good as you, Kira," he added. "But whatever, I'll assist any way I can. I'm beginning to really hate these bastards."

Actually, Ramius suspected he'd "really hated" ZAFT for quite some time. But before she could say anything in response, an intercom panel lit up. "Bridge to Lieutenant Ramius!"

She activated the panel. "Yes?"

"ZAFT's attacking," La Flaga said grimly; behind her, the students gasped. "We have incoming mobile suits. Get up here and assume command! You're the Captain!"

Ramius's eyes widened. "Hold it!" she protested. "I am?"

"I have seniority," he explained, "but I don't know the first thing about this ship."

"I understand. What about your mobile armor, Lieutenant?"

"Negative; not ready."

"Then please take charge of the CIC; I'll be right there." She signed off and turned back to the students. "You heard it for yourselves: we're entering battle once again."

Mir looked frightened. "Oh, no. Tolle..." Her boyfriend hugged her reassuringly.

"We're badly shorthanded, and the enemy outnumbers us," Ramius went on. "This won't be easy. Let's just hope we can all survive this and escape Heliopolis."

Kira's fist clenched. "You people aren't being fair!" he hissed.

"What, Kira?"

He glared at her. "And I suppose you'll tell us that there's just the one mobile suit aboard, and that I'm the only one capable of piloting it, right?"

"I'm afraid that is essentially the situation," she agreed heavily. "This isn't my choice, Kira. You have to make up your own mind. But without the Strike, we don't have much of a chance."

Kira looked away for a moment. "All right," he said finally. "I'll do it."

Ramius carefully did not sigh in relief; instead, she turned to Kevin. "Blade, I'm afraid your GINN still isn't ready; Chief Murdoch and his people are still repairing the minor damage you inflicted -I believe they were muttering about the absurdity of repairing hatch controls at a time like this- and they're also modifying it to accept some of the Strike's spare weaponry, as well as altering the paint and transponder so that we don't accidentally mistake it for a ZAFT unit. In light of this, I'd like you to come with me to the Bridge; I believe your... expertise may come in handy."

Kevin smiled coldly. "With pleasure, Captain. With pleasure."

On the ZAFT battleship Vesalius, Rau Le Creuset watched his forces begin to move out, idly stroking his chin. He had much to think about, after detecting the radio beacon on Heliopolis.

So, he mused. Hydra still lives. He must have been the one who set off that bomb; none of the others were brainwashed. It appears he's also recovered at least a portion of his memory, so he'll no doubt be a very willing participant in the battle ahead; and if he's kept in practice, Hydra could be a great hindrance. But how can he still be alive?

"Captain!" One of the Bridge crew members looked up at Le Creuset's flag captain, Fredrik Ades. "Zala has taken X303 Aegis, and he's heading for the colony!"

Ades sat bolt upright. "What! Athrun Zala's taking one of the captured units? Recall him!"

"Let him go," Le Creuset said quietly. "We've finished the data extraction, so there's no reason not to use them. And this could be most interesting." He floated to Ades's side. "Think of it: one Earth Forces mobile suit pitted against another."

Ades obviously wasn't completely convinced, but he accepted the order; and the Commander went back to his thoughts. Hydra... If you have returned, you obviously haven't located the radio beacon inside you. Or are you deliberately sending us a message? It was difficult to be sure, he knew. Every member of Hydra's team had been sneaky; and Hydra himself had been the sneakiest of the bunch. His motives were difficult to decipher, but there was a motive. His people did not make mistakes.

Which meant dealing with him would be particularly problematic. The simplest method, Le Creuset knew, would be to simply alert ZAFT in general to be on the lookout for him. But he wasn't yet certain he wanted to do that. Hydra's intervention into the war could completely alter the course of history, and it was yet to be determined if that was a good or bad thing.

Which left him with a single operative he could trust, one man nearly unknown to ZAFT in general, one man who was completely reliable. No name, no face, no past. He could be trusted to keep an eye on things, and take action as deemed appropriate. Le Creuset trusted the agent's judgment.

He turned to Vesalius's comm officer. "Get me Invictus," he ordered.

Kevin stepped onto the Archangel's Bridge just behind Ramius and took a moment to sweep the room with his eyes, apparently reflexively checking for threats; his was not a peaceful existence, and old habits died hard.


Ramius stepped forward and sat in the command chair. "Mr. Pal," she said, turning to look at the man sitting at the fire-control console, "please show Mr. Walker how things work."

"No need, Captain," Kevin said; he was already standing next to Romero Pal, drawn as if by instinct. "I've worked with a system like this before; I can handle it."

"Very well." She pointed down at CIC, where La Flaga, Badgiruel, and Jackie Tonomura were already sitting. "We've temporarily reconfigured one of the ECM consoles for fire control. Please take your station."

"Yes, Ma'am."

La Flaga watched him out of the corner of his eye; this Blade fellow was taking to military discipline like he was born to it, and that line about having used a similar system seemed somewhat odd, though he couldn't put a finger on it. He resolved that, assuming they survived the next few hours, he'd see what he could find out about the so-called "Crimson Tiger". He had a feeling it would prove interesting.

Assuming Blade didn't waste him for knowing too much.

La Flaga was, of course, quite safe; Kevin was quite willing to kill people to protect his secrets, but only if he already had some other reason for killing them. Which frequently occurred, to be sure, but not among a crew such as this.

"Systems ready," he reported. Fingers moving swiftly over the keyboard, he snorted. "Which is a good thing. We have incoming."

"Concur," Tonomura, manning the scanning console (whose devices ranged from radar to infrared detection equipment) said. "Two GINNs... and another GINN, entering separately. Captain, it's accompanied by an X number. X303 Aegis is approaching!"

Ramius blinked. "They're already sending it out into battle against us?"

"It's theirs now!" La Flaga said sharply. "Are you going to wait and let it sink us?"

"No, of course not." She glanced down into CIC. "Launch the Strike; give it the Sword Striker pack this time, we don't want too much collateral damage."

"Affirmative." Badgiruel began passing orders.

"Link laser designator to missiles and target the incoming mobile suits," Badgiruel ordered.

"Phase-shift armor withstands projectile weapons," Ramius countered. "Link laser to main cannon. Fire on my command."

"And while you're doing that," Kevin muttered, "I'll use the projectiles on the GINNs; unlike some people, the fact that GINNs don't have PSA hasn't slipped my mind." Luckily, his comment went unnoticed.

Down in the hanger, Kira sat tensely in the Strike's cockpit, waiting as the mobile suit was moved into the catapult. He wondered, as he waited, if he could possibly have seen what he thought he saw back at Morgenroete. Athrun... Could it be? I'd better tell Blade.

While the mechanics continued fussing over the Strike, Kira punched up a frequency on his radio. It was one Kevin had given him, to be used when he needed to get a hold of him immediately, or discretely. He had no idea where the receiver was, but Kevin had assured him it would always reach him. "Blade, you there?"

"Right here, tovarisch," Blade replied instantly. "What's up?"

"Remember that ZAFT soldier back at Morgenroete? The one you confronted?"

"Hard to forget," was the wry response.

Kira hesitated. "I... I think it might have been Athrun."

"Athrun? Athrun Zala?" Kevin's voice went curiously flat. "You mean the Athrun we went to school with? I hope you're wrong, tovarisch. I really hope you're wrong." There was an audible swallow on the other end. "Because if you're right... Athrun Zala is now my enemy."

Kira didn't have time to respond; he signed off hastily as the launch preparations were completed. "Now it's the Sword Striker? A sword... Well, that should at least prevent a repeat of last time." He'd had no idea a mobile suit could possibly have a weapon as powerful as the one that blew a mobile suit-sized hole in the colony wall.

He would not forget the lesson.

Kira keyed the radio again. "Kira Yamato, launching!"

"The Strike is airborne," Badgiruel reported.

"Good," Ramius replied. "And CIC's status?"

"We're ready," La Flaga answered. "Okay, Blade, this is it. Think you can handle it?"

Kevin snorted. "Lieutenant, I have more battle experience than the rest of this crew combined. Of course I can handle it." He glanced at the Hawk. "We have incoming GINNs. Give me control of port Valiant."

La Flaga raised an eyebrow, but complied; if this theoretical "kid" said he could handle it, he could handle it. And he obviously knew far more than he admitted. "Okay, kid, Valiant 2 is yours. Keep 'em off us."

Blade didn't reply; he was preparing his targeting solution, one which hopefully didn't involve blowing up Heliopolis. Then he swore suddenly, looking at his displays. "Solkin syn. Lieutenant, they're equipped with heavy artillery, heavy missiles and what looks like some kind of beam bazooka. Weapons configuration D, the bunker busters."

The pilot turned in his chair. "Heavy artillery? What are they thinking? That'll tear the colony apart!" Then the rest of the statement penetrated. "Weapons configuration D? How did you know that?"

Kevin smiled enigmatically. "Let's just say I have rather more in-depth knowledge of ZAFT than most. Intell, if you will." He stroked a couple of keys. "Okay, I've got a targeting solution. Take the shot?"

"Affirmative," La Flaga confirmed. "Kill it while the killing's good."

"Roger that." He tapped another key, and sent a shot from the Archangel's port linear cannon at one of the GINNs, blowing it in half.

Meanwhile, Kira was approaching the GINN and Aegis pair. He'd already recognized the G-weapon, and wondered anew if his old friend was the pilot. But of more immediate concern was the beam-bazooka-toting GINN, which seemed quite determined to blow him out of the sky.

The Strike juked to the side, dodging the first blast; but Kira winced as the heavy beam struck the colony's support shaft, as did the next. The GINN's pilot was reckless in his intent to annihilate him.

I can't keep this up, he thought. If I keep dodging, he'll blast the colony to pieces. I gotta...

The GINN, piloted by Miguel Aiman, fired again, and this time the Strike did not dodge. Instead, it took the hit on its arm-mounted grappler, which doubled as a shield. There was an intense flash of light as the beam struck, and Miguel grinned. "Did I get it?"

He was instantly answered as Kira flew out of the blast, enormous, fifteen-meter-long ship-killing blade swinging. With an incoherent snarl, he attempted to bisect the enemy, but Miguel dodged, narrowly avoiding the gigantic weapon.

"It's quick!" he muttered, firing another useless barrage. "Get behind it, Athrun!"

Athrun tried, despite his own feelings; he, too, wondered if he'd confronted an old friend earlier. But for now, he couldn't allow that to influence him.

Not that it mattered; the Strike kept him in view the whole time, and even tried a forceful slash. But he maneuvered the Aegis out of the way, and Miguel Aiman rushed forward again. "I've gotcha now!"

Kira had other plans; he reached up, grabbed the handle of the beam boomerang mounted on his left shoulder, and flung, sending a circle of energy at the GINN. It missed at first, but just when Miguel thought he was safe, it doubled back... and cut off his right leg.

Athrun watched in horror as the Strike took advantage of the opening, raised its huge blade, and swung... neatly cutting the GINN in two. "Miguel!"

On the Archangel, La Flaga locked in a targeting solution. "You're mine," he muttered, and fired the port Gottfried, neatly blowing the last GINN in two.

Just one problem: the half he'd vaporized wasn't the one with the missiles, and they were accidentally triggered by the explosion. They went flashing off... and blowing a large section of the colony's support shaft into tiny pieces.

The colony was beginning to break up around them, but Kira and Athrun paid it no heed. "Kira!" the ZAFT pilot called. "Kira Yamato. It is you, isn't it, Kira?"

Kira's blood went cold at the confirmation. "Athrun! Athrun Zala?"

The two squared off, flashing past each other and coming to a relative halt; Strike holding its ship-killing blade, Aegis its beam rifle. Yet neither moved to attack.

"What is this?" Kira demanded. "Why are you here?"

"You should talk!" Athrun retorted. "What are you doing in that thing?"

"Kira, get out of there!" Kevin suddenly called. "This whole bloody colony is breaking up around us!"

The warning came much too late; the Strike was being sucked out a hole by the sudden vacuum, and Athrun watched helplessly, utterly confused by the latest events. "Kira, no!"

On the Vesalius, Le Creuset and Ades watched as Heliopolis tore itself apart. "Commander..." Ades said softly, horrified.

The commander himself said nothing, but a voice came from behind them. "Invictus, reporting as ordered, sir."

Author's note: All right, the first chapter has arrived.

I realize few -if any- of those who frequent this section have heard of me; I'm better known for my work in other sections. But I'll probably be a little more visible around here now. This is my first SEED fic, but it won't be the last. Those of you who are familiar with me, well, now you know what I've been up to for the last seven months or so.

This story is, obviously, AU; and it will only get more so as events progress. Kevin Walker's enigmatic history (which, by the way, ended up far more convoluted that I originally intended) will be revealed bit by bit throughout, including his acquaintance with Cagalli. In addition, certain events that irritated me in the anime will be suitably altered… usually via Kevin Walker's intervention.

I suppose there isn't much to say at this point; I'd appreciate reviews. Solid Shark