I don't own anything except Ken DiFalco and his team

The Gray Demons. Officially known by their leader's name, they were almost never referred to by it. An elite team in the Zodiac Alliance of Freedom Treaty, they were formed at the beginning of the battles on the Grimaldi Front. They rapidly gained notoriety as one of the few teams that could stand up to the Earth Alliance Forces' 3rd Fleet and their elite Moebius Zero corps, including the feared Mu La Flaga.

Their leader was a ZAFT veteran. One of the first recruits when ZAFT was first reorganized into a military organization, following the Mandelbrot Incident, his combat debut came during PLANT sponsor nations' attempted blockade of the colonies, in C.E. 69. A year later, he was present when Junius Seven was destroyed by a nuclear missile, and he was a member of the same team as Rau Le Creuset, during the battles at the space station Yggdrasil, at L4.

Following the Earth Forces attack on the resource satellite -and soon-to-be fortress- Jachin Due, this young but highly capable pilot was awarded the Order of the Nebula, and transferred to the new Lorentz Crater base on the Moon, to take command of his own team.

Within days, he earned the nickname "Grimaldi Falcon", for his distinctive slate-gray CGUE, dive-and-slash tactics, and haunting battle cry; and before long, Earth Forces pilots began to call the Falcon's unit the "Gray Demons". The thirteen men and women of the unit were said to be unstoppable.

Until the Battle of Endymion Crater.

It was the craziest furball since Jachin Due, the Grimaldi Falcon reflected, bringing his CGUE around and blasting a Moebius out of existence with his machine gun. But they were in mobile suits, while the Earth Forces languished in their pathetic mobile armors.

Winning, the Falcon thought bitterly. Sure we are, but paying a major butcher's bill for it.

He cursed, seeing one of his men go down. "Watch it!" he shouted. "We may have the upper hand, but if you let your guard down you'll end up dead."


The voice cut off, and the Falcon glanced at his displays. "Russo! Blast it, Sparky, what happened to Russo?"

His second-in-command, Lance "Sparky" Cooper, sighed. "One of the Zeros got him, Boss. I don't think he got out."

Blast! This is not going well, the Falcon thought. That's two men down already.

Drawing his CGUE's massive sword, he lopped a Moebius in half while simultaneously shredding a Zero with his left arm-mounted Gatling gun. Then he opened his mouth, and uttered an inhuman, ascending wail over the radio.

The hunting call of a peregrine falcon was not something normally heard on a battlefield, particularly in space. But some would recognize it for what it was, and the voice of one of them came over the Falcon's speaker. "Grimaldi Falcon, eh? It's time we finished this."

Falcon's eyes narrowed; he knew that voice. "Indeed, Mu La Flaga. I'm getting tired of your interference." He switched frequencies for a moment. "Sparky, you're in charge; I've got to swat a bothersome fly."

The only reply was a pair of clicking sounds; the pilots' universal acknowledgment.

Mu La Flaga's Moebius Zero angled in on the slate-gray CGUE; as it did so, the pilot deployed his wired gunbarrels, attempting to encircle his adversary.

"I don't think so," Falcon whispered. His own powers of spatial awareness were very good, maybe even as good as Mu's. He kept track of the incoming weapons with relative ease, and managed to perforate one with his machine gun; his sword was, of course, useless now.

He had to juke left to dodge a shot from the Zero's linear cannon, then perform a complicated spin to avoid another wired gunbarrel. Falcon had the advantage of being a Coordinator and flying a mobile suit, but Mu's skills were among the best of any Natural, and he was one of the few who could use a Moebius Zero to its fullest potential.

Mu used those advantages ruthlessly now, keeping the Falcon on his toes. It wasn't the first time they'd clashed, on the Grimaldi Front; both were determined that it be the last.

They got their wish.

"Commander!" Sparky called. "Radiation levels are going up like a rocket! Something's not right here, Boss!"

Falcon spared a moment's attention for his displays, and his face paled. He was picking up extremely high levels of microwave radiation, something not usually associated with a battlefield. Unless... Oh, they couldn't! Not with their own people here!

But there was only one explanation that made any sense: the weapon ZAFT Intelligence had heard rumors of, the Cyclops System. The giant microwave generator that would wipe out everything in range, be it friend or foe.

Falcon keyed his radio. "Gray Demons, fall back, fall back! This place is gonna be a blast furnace in under three minutes! Everyone out, now!" He switched channels. "La Flaga, we'll have to finish this another time; I suggest you get yourself out of here before you get fried."

Without waiting to see if the Zero broke off its attack, Falcon spun around and applied all power to thrusters. He knew his decision to warn an enemy of his own imminent demise would be criticized, but there was an honor among pilots that went back centuries; he would not break it now.

Now he needed only to get out alive himself.

Radiation levels continued to rise, and the Earth Forces resource base beneath Endymion Crater began to explode. The blastfront moved steadily across the crater, engulfing everything in its path; GINNs, CGUEs, Moebiuses and Zeros alike vanished in flames. Falcon cursed as another of his people -Alicia Sharpe, this time- exploded without time to scream.

Then the vast wall of heat reached his own machine, and things started to detonate. Falcon felt a searing pain in his heart, and he just had to time realize it was physical pain, not anguish, before everything went black, and he knew no more.

Orb Resource Satellite Heliopolis, January 25th, C.E. 71
Kenneth "Falcon" DiFalco shot bolt upright in bed, gasping, soaked in sweat.

It had happened again. Yet another night ruined by nightmares; memories of terror and pain. "Get over it, Falcon," he told himself, getting out of bed. "Endymion was seven months and twenty-three days ago. Your war is over, soldier."

Falcon was seventeen, 176 centimeters tall, with medium brown hair and Prussian blue eyes; a nasty scar ran diagonally across his left eye socket. He'd come to Heliopolis in September of the previous year, along with his parents, and enrolled in a technical college as a way of keeping busy and out of sight. He had good reason for wanting to remain somewhat... anonymous.

Now, at 0700 hours, it was time for him to get ready for his day. Probably uneventful, he thought. Not that that's a bad thing, all considering; now I understand how Sophia feels. Not that Falcon had seen his sister recently. He still got the occasional message, but Sophia DiFalco, nine years his senior, had effectively vanished from his life eight years earlier, when she entered a science academy. Even after graduating, Sophia had mostly stayed away, living on her own who-knew-where, doing who-knew-what.

Falcon wasn't particularly concerned. They'd never been that close, and he had his own problems. The scar on his face was the least of them.

But for right now, I'd better get ready or the Prof will have my head.

After taking care of a few necessities, Falcon pulled on his usual slate-gray trousers, t-shirt, and boots, before going over to his desk and examining a few other items... like the Order of the Nebula that sat in a prominent place. He took it from its case, hung it around his neck, and slipped the golden medal itself into his shirt, where it wouldn't be noticed.

That done, he slipped the black polymer eyepatch over his left eye socket, and reached for the short sword that also rested on the desktop. It was slightly curved, with a red-twined handle over pale ray skin, and a matching red scabbard; anyone familiar with ZAFT top-gun uniforms would have noted the Japanese wakizashi matched the color of said uniforms. He also possessed the longer blade, the katana, but it was presently far, far away.

Falcon stuck the weapon in his belt, edge-up. That left one more small item, and he looked at the shoulder-holstered machine pistol with a measure of distaste. "Man, I hate these things." Not that he subscribed to the idea that guns killed people, of course; he simply had a few bad memories about them.

Nonetheless, he strapped on the shoulder holster and the grabbed his backpack. Only part of it was used for his college assignments; it was mostly filled with certain items he didn't want left behind in an emergency.

Finally, he pulled on a slate-gray trench coat and matching gloves, completing the ensemble. He was as ready for his day as he could be.

Except for one thing, Falcon thought, remembering. Before leaving the room, he picked up a small, handheld computer. Something of an accomplished hacker, he had a specific task in mind this day. An old acquaintance of his, someone he'd met over the global networks before the N-jammers made them inaccessible, had asked him for help obtaining some data; they were to meet at the college.

Well, then; time to go.

Without a backward glance, he swept out of the room and the house; his parents would already be at work, so there was no need to say goodbye.

Falcon had no idea he would never see them again.

Kira Yamato, Tolle Koenig, and Miriallia Haw were likewise on their way to the college. Kira was in a relatively dour mood; Professor Kato had dumped yet another special project on him, when he hadn't even finished the last one yet.

The three were nearing a mass transit station when Falcon ran into them. "Hey, Falcon," Tolle greeted him. The relative newcomer to Heliopolis wasn't exactly a friend of theirs; in fact, he hardly said a word, and what he did say tended to be delivered quite emotionlessly. But he seemed to be a nice enough guy, if you got past the icy exterior.

"Tolle," Falcon replied with a nod. "Miriallia... Kira..." His one-eyed gaze and toneless voice were forbidding, especially coming from someone so young, but after fours months they were used to it. "Going my way?"

"Yeah," Mir answered. "Care to join us?" She, for one, was somewhat intrigued by how the youth spoke so coolly, yet used casual syntax and grammar; and she was determined to sometime get some kind of reaction out of him.

"Sure." Falcon's good eye narrowed, seeing the trio of teenage girls standing in front of the station. Huh. That would be Flay Allster and clique, he thought. Typical gossiping behavior, I see. After the last year or so, there was little trace of the carefree teenager left in Falcon DiFalco.

They nattered on for a few moments, then Flay's companions turned to Mir and rather energetically asked a question; something about a letter to Flay from one Sai Argyle, another of Falcon's new classmates.

They have no idea how sheltered they are, he thought. They live here, in this "neutral" colony, with no understanding of just how quickly that could change... especially if ZAFT were to get hold of the information I uncovered.

Falcon's thoughts were interrupted by a clearing throat behind them. "Ahem... if you're just going to stand there, do you mind if we get through?"

He flicked his cyclops-like gaze over the black-haired woman and her two male companions, all of whom wore sunglasses. Military, Falcon thought. No mistaking it. They must be part of the G-weapons project.

Calmly, he stepped aside. "After you... Ma'am."

The woman shot him a sharp glance before nodding and stepping past. Who is he, and how much can he know?

Ignoring the chattering teenage girls, Natarle Badgiruel, Arnold Neumann, and Jackie Tonomura climbed into the mass transit car that waited in the street.

"Just look around this place," Badgiruel commented as they left. "So peaceful."

Neumann raised an eyebrow. "Yeah?"

The black-haired Earth Forces Ensign pulled off her sunglasses. "To think there are already people as young as them fighting on the frontlines." She glanced back the way they had come. "There was something strange about one of them," she added. "That kid in gray, with the eyepatch... he knows something."

Neumann shrugged. "Why worry about it? I mean, he can't know anything about the G-weapons... can he?"

"There was that hacking incident the other day," Badgiruel pointed out. "I know it doesn't look like he got anything, and we managed to isolate the data on the sixth unit before he could get that deep, but you never know... Oh, well. He probably just thought we looked military; probably nothing to worry about."

In the coming months, she would be very glad that this young man had deduced certain things.

Back at the station, Flay and her companions had gotten into another vehicle and driven off. "That Sai," Tolle said cheerfully. "He sent her a letter." He abruptly turned and clapped Kira's shoulders. "Looks like you have some competition, Kira Yamato!" Laughing, he and Mir walked to the next car.

"But really, I'm not!" Kira protested futilely, following after them.

Kids, Falcon thought, taking up the rear. Only a year younger than me, yet so innocent... but then, war has yet to touch on their lives, as it has mine. He nodded to himself. Yes...one day, I shall return to the PLANTs. One day, my sin shall be atoned for... even if it costs me my life.

Transport vessel, Seventh Orbital Fleet, Heliopolis Harbor
"There you have it," the rust-bucket's Captain, a jovial old Brit, said cheerfully. "This old girl has just completed her final mission. You served admirably as an escort, Lieutenant La Flaga."

"Thank you, sir," Lieutenant Mu La Flaga, Earth Forces 7th Fleet, said. "But I'm just glad we made it here without incident." He lifted an eyebrow. "Any ZAFT forces in the area?"

"Two ships, a Nazca and a Laurasia," the Captain replied. "Nothing to worry about, though; they know they can't attack us once we're docked."

"Because it's neutral territory?" Mu sniffed, mildly disgusted. "What a joke that is."

The Captain laughed. "Well, it's thanks to them that our plans have progressed this far. We should be thankful Earth has recognized Orb as a nation."

"Especially since Orb would have been very irritated if we hadn't," Mu pointed out. "They may be small, but their technology is better than ours... and trying to annex them could bring ZAFT in on their side."

"True enough."

"Sir." One of five other men on the ship's Bridge, all in blue jumpsuits, saluted. "If you'll excuse us, Captain."

The Captain nodded, and Mu watched the five men go. "You sure they can handle themselves, alone on the ground?"

The older man laughed. "I know they're young, but they're all top guns selected to be G-pilots. They'll be just fine. Besides," he added with a grin, "someone like you would stick out like a sore thumb."

"That's true," the man known as the Hawk of Endymion admitted. "But there's still something..."

The Captain looked at him sidelong. "You're still worried about him, aren't you? The pilot who nearly killed you, at Endymion?"

"It wasn't just Endymion; we tangled a few times before that. But yeah. Him."

"You're worrying over nothing, Lieutenant. The Grimaldi Falcon hasn't been seen since the fighting at Nova, last July. Come on, man, if he was still alive we'd know it."

"I suppose so..."

Still, Mu couldn't help but be nervous. The last time the Earth Forces had assumed the Grimaldi Falcon dead, after rumors of his severe injuries at Endymion, he'd made them pay for the assumption, at the resource satellite Nova; originally owned by the Republic of East Asia, it was now the space fortress Boaz, guarding the PLANT homeland, and the Grimaldi Falcon had played a not inconsiderable role in bringing about that particular ZAFT victory.

Never pays to underestimate the grayest of all the Gray Demons, he thought. No way is he dead.

Morgenroete College Campus, Heliopolis
"It's no big deal," Tolle was saying to Kira, as the vehicle approached the Morgenroete gate. "You can just ask him."

"No," Kira replied forcefully, "and that's final."

"Hmph," his brown-haired friend grunted in exasperation. "Doesn't sound like you're gonna ask; so I guess I'll have to do it."

"Tolle, you're being a pest."

"You could consider minding your own business," Falcon suggested quietly. "Or would you prefer to keep teasing Kira until he gets irritated enough to throttle you?"

Tolle shot a glance at the one-eyed youth, but he was still expressionless. I'll never figure this guy out, will I?

A couple of minutes later, the foursome entered one of the laboratory areas. "Ah, Kira," Sai greeted. "You finally made it." Nearby, black-haired Kuzzey Buskirk merely waved.

Kira, still a little unnerved by Tolle's teasing, didn't meet Sai's eyes; instead he glanced around the room, and noted the teenager with blonde hair and malachite green eyes, standing against one wall. Huh?

He wasn't the only one to notice her; and Cagalli Yula, as she was calling herself, noticed Falcon in turn. She wasn't surprised when he walked over to her. "You're Falcon?" she asked quietly.

He nodded. "And you'd be Cagalli Yula." It wasn't a question.

Identities established -neither realized the other was operating under a false one- Cagalli looked about to make sure no one was listening. "You have the data?"

Falcon nodded, and drew the small computer from a coat pocket. "You were right," he said in a low tone. "Morgenroete is constructing five prototype mobile suits for the Earth Alliance, and a new class of mobile assault ship to carry them." He tapped the screen, holding it where she could see. "GAT-X102 Duel. The most basic of the five, it's equipped with Phase-shift armor, as are the others, which makes it effectively immune to kinetic weapons; its only weakness is energy fire. This machine is equipped with 75 millimeter CIWS Igelstellungs, two beam sabers, an anti-beam shield, and a 57 millimeter beam rifle with grenade launcher." The image changed. "X103 Buster. Designed for long-range attacks, it is equipped with two shoulder-mounted missile pods, a gun launcher, and a high-energy focused beam rifle. These two weapons can be combined to form either an anti-armor shotgun or a hyper-impulse sniper rifle." Another change. "X207 Blitz. Intended for blitzkrieg seek-and-destroy missions, it has a feature known as Mirage Colloid, which renders the machine effectively invisible to all current methods of detection. Its weapons consist of the Gleipnir piercer lock and the Trikeros system: beam rifle, beam saber, and three kinetic penetrator lancer darts." He touched the screen yet again. "X303 Aegis. With a frame fundamentally different from its fellows, this command unit can transform into a mobile armor, equipped with a 580 millimeter multi-phase energy cannon; in mobile suit mode it has Igelstellungs, four beam sabers, and a beam rifle. And finally, this." Falcon changed the image one last time. "X105 Strike. In its most basic loadout, it is equipped only with Igelstellungs, a beam rifle, and a pair of Armor Schneider assault knives, stowed in the hip armor. However, when equipped with one of three so-called 'Striker packs', it is potentially the most dangerous of the five, with weaponry ranging from a fifteen-meter-long anti-ship blade to a 320 millimeter hyper-impulse cannon."

Cagalli studied the data carefully, trying to keep her face composed. Father, how could you? We're supposed to be neutral, and yet you're-

"Relax," Falcon said softly. He didn't know what was bothering her, but he didn't really need to. "I don't think this will drag Orb into the war, if that is what you're worried about. From what I know of Chief Representative Athha, he'd find it simple enough to disavow any knowledge of Morgenroete's actions... and the PLANTs would buy it, too."

"How would you know?" she demanded.

He shrugged enigmatically. "It is my business to know that." Falcon jerked his head at the door to the facility's hallways. "If you want to see it with your own eyes, I have the access codes to get into the hanger. It might even be a good idea; my data is incomplete."

Cagalli tilted her head. "What do you mean?"

"There was one last file I was unable to access," he explained. "When I tried, the computer physically isolated itself from the rest of the network; which makes me wonder if there's something else in there." It would be just like those treacherous bastards in the Earth Forces, he didn't add.

Before Cagalli could reply, or even think of one, the alarms went off.

Transport vessel, Seventh Orbital Fleet, Heliopolis Harbor
"ZAFT?" Mu asked.

The ship's Captain nodded. "Two vessels, Nazca and Laurasia-class. Confirmed deployment of mobile suits prior to jamming of communications."

"Figures." He was in his flight suit now, cradling his helmet with its distinctive white feather emblem under his arm. "Have Luke and Gayle board their Moebius units," he instructed. "Don't deploy them yet!"

Without waiting for a reply, he left the Bridge, heading for his own machine. This is bad. Well, could be worse; looks to be the Le Creuset team, which means the Grimaldi Falcon won't be here; last I heard, he had his own team.

Of course, things could have changed; if so, Mu and his men were in for a world of hurt. The Moebius pilot hadn't been born who could take on the Grimaldi Falcon solo or even in tandem, and Mu was the only Zero pilot left, after Endymion.

Then we'd just better hope he isn't here.

Morgenroete College Campus, Heliopolis
Falcon realized before anyone else in the room what was going on; his little hacking device had picked up the effects of the N-jammers.

"ZAFT is attacking," he announced calmly. "It would be wise to evacuate this area, immediately."

"You'll get no argument from me," Tolle concurred. "Let's go!"

Dropping what they were doing, the five students, led by Sai, headed back into the hallway, trailed by Falcon and Cagalli. They went quickly to an emergency stairwell, which was already filling up with evacuees.

"What's going on?" Sai demanded of the first person he saw.

"I don't know," the man replied, not missing a stride.

"It's ZAFT," Falcon repeated. He listened for a moment. "Mobile suits have entered the colony; GINNs, from the sound of it."

Cagalli's eyes widened. "You're sure?" she whispered. He silently nodded. "Then I think it's time you showed me those machines."

Falcon nodded again, and they took off running down a side passage.

Kira saw them go. "Hey, wait! Where are you going?" He quickly headed off after them, ignoring Tolle's protests.

Transport vessel hanger, Seventh Orbital Fleet, Heliopolis Harbor

"Lieutenant La Flaga!"

The Captain's voice came over the radio as Mu strapped himself into his Moebius Zero's cockpit. "Launch the ship," he ordered; the older man might have been in charge of the ship, but Mu was the combat veteran here. "The harbor's about to be taken over. I'm launching, too."

Now I wonder, he mused, powering up his mobile armor. Which is worse? Rau Le Creuset or the Grimaldi Falcon? Arguably, the Gray Demons were the best... but they were virtually wiped out at Endymion. Either way, this won't be easy.

Morgenroete factory, Heliopolis
Falcon quickly noticed Kira, coming up from behind, but decided to ignore him; Cagalli, on the other hand, glanced back at him in irritation. "What are you doing? Stop tailing us!"

"It's a dead end back there," Kira protested. "Going that way won't do you any good."

"You know not of what you speak," Falcon said calmly. "As a matter of fact, we have business in that direction; I'd tell you to go back, but-"

Something exploded nearby, causing all three of them to stumble, and blowing the beret off Cagalli's head, setting loose the mass of blonde hair.

Kira, recovering his footing, stared at her. "You're a... a girl," he said intelligently.

Instant irritation. "Yeah, so what? What'd you think I was, huh?"

"We don't have time for this," Falcon pointed out. "As I was saying, Kira, I would tell you to go back, but I believe the nearest shelters are on our route. Let's go."

He took off running again, trench coat flapping behind him, and the other two followed him. "I just... never thought we'd get involved," Cagalli said softly. "I mean, we're neutral..."

"Don't worry," Kira reassured her. "Once we get to the shelters we'll be fine." He glanced ahead at Falcon. "Though I don't know if he even intends to use one..."

They soon came to a locked door; something which did not faze Falcon in the slightest. He simply pulled out his computer, attached a narrow cable, and went to work. "Door... unlocked."

Cagalli was the first through, and she despaired, seeing with her own eyes the machines Falcon had told her of. "So it's true... the Earth Forces' prototype mobile suits... Father, I knew you betrayed us all!"

Falcon's keen eye caught sight of movement atop the X105 Strike. "Down!" he said sharply, dragging his companions out of the line of fire.

Lieutenant Murrue Ramius, Earth Forces, lowered her rifle when she realized who she'd nearly shot. "Those were children? And that one... he looks familiar..."

"Crying won't help you," Kira told Cagalli; they were moving under their own power again. "Now come on!"

"Wait," Falcon said. His eyes went to another door. "Kira, you get Cagalli out; I've got business elsewhere."

Kira blinked, confused. "Huh? Wait a minute-"

"Just do it," the one-eyed teen said calmly. "I have something else to do here." He advanced to the door, bringing out his computer again. "I can handle myself."

Kira had not the slightest idea what was going on. He'd expected that this rock-like youth would show at least some reaction to this situation, but he didn't. Just as calm and collected as always, as if he'd been in a battle before.

It was fairly immaterial, though. Falcon seemed determined to continue on. "Okay, then. But be careful, okay?" He didn't know the other teenager very well, but he didn't want to see him dead

He turned, heading back toward the factory floor with Cagalli, while Falcon began work on the door. Let's see... A simple enough lock, though I imagine it would do fine against most people; and on the other side... Hm.

There appeared to be several ZAFT soldiers on the other side of the door, which meant he was about to have problems.

Falcon opened the door.

Waiting on the other side were indeed several men in ZAFT green, and they whirled at the sight of the youth in the gray trench coat. "Hold it, you-"

Falcon felt a twinge of fear, but then took a deep breath. Find the center, he thought, remembering his martial arts training. Find the center, and-

His training took over, and his body was on autopilot.

The first man went down with a roundhouse kick to the jaw, breaking his teeth and his neck; the second got off a shot, catching Falcon just above his right hip.

He staggered, but recovered, grabbed the soldier's arm, and yanked, dislocating it; a knife hand to the neck finished him, and Falcon turned to the third.

The third soldier saw what happened to his comrades, and he decided to do something drastic: he reached for a grenade, and pulled the pin.

Idiot! Falcon thought, and moved quickly for the door to the next room. When the pin is pulled, Mr. Grenade is not our-

The grenade exploded, killing the man who held it and propelling Falcon through the door; the closed door, that is.

He hit the floor in a heap and just lay there for a moment. Now I remember why I never joined the infantry, he thought muzzily. Ouch.

It was about then that he realized his trench coat was on fire, and pulled himself to his feet. "Wonderful," Falcon muttered, and ditched the smoldering coat in a hurry.

"Hey, you! Stop!"

Falcon turned quickly, and spotted the lone man in green coming at them, assault rifle raised. "Can't have that." His hand went to his side, and in a single, smooth motion, he drew his wakizashi.

That stopped the ZAFT soldier in his tracks. "You!"

"Yes, me." Falcon ghosted forward, blade ready in a two-handed grip. "I don't know you, but I'm sure you know me."

The soldier looked stunned and betrayed, and Falcon knew precisely why. "Traitor!"

"I never betrayed the PLANTs; everything I do is for their safety." Falcon's eye narrowed. "Unfortunately, that means I must do this." The blade flashed out.

After the meaty thump and the sound of head and body hitting the floor separately, he closed his eyes and tried to get control of his breathing. He felt ill, and had to fight back the nausea. "Come on, Falcon," he told himself. "It's not the first time you've killed, and it won't be the last. Get a grip."

But it was only the second time he'd used the blade to kill... and the first time had been completely different.

Once before, along with his best friend, the blond-haired son of a member of the PLANT Supreme Council, Falcon had been in a life-or-death situation on the ground. That day, he and his friend had been forced to kill; but that had been by hand, foot, and commandeered pistol. Never before had Falcon used his sword training in a true battle, and it made him sick.

He pushed it down, though, and forced himself to continue on.

Falcon had moved no more than five steps before he realized he was on a catwalk, and that there was an opening leading into the huge container next to him. A container big enough to hide a mobile suit...

Of course, he realized. The data I couldn't access... a sixth prototype...

Moving quickly, Falcon tossed his wakizashi into the cockpit and yanked his backpack open. From it, he pulled a flight suit; cut in ZAFT top gun styling, it had several distinct differences: the helmet's visor, like Mu La Flaga's, showed only a narrow strip over his eyes, and the suit itself, where a standard was colored red with gray trim, was instead slate gray with black trim.

And on the black helmet was an emblem: a pair of gray feathers...

With the ease of long practice, he pulled on the flight suit, then ducked into the cockpit. "Well, well. Fancy rig." Unlike the other five prototypes, there was a second seat in the rear, which he ignored for now; he was far more interested in the state-of-the-art displays around the pilot's seat.

Falcon sat down, strapped in, and pulled a cable from his flight suit. It was nonstandard, and appeared to be a power cable; whatever it was, he attached it to the mobile suit's power supply, and turned his attention to the controls.

"A little different from what I'm used to, but a mobile suit is a mobile suit, even if it is an Earth Forces machine with a horrendous OS..."

He was prepared for that eventuality, however; after seeing the data on the first five machines, he'd written up a replacement operating system -purely as an intellectual exercise, he'd thought at the time. Now, it just might save his life.

Within moments, the OS had been uploaded, overwriting the previous program, and Falcon turned his attention to the mobile suit's specifications. "Hmm... GAT-X107 Raptor..." he murmured, bringing up an image of the machine. In appearance, it closely resembled the Strike, but with a hardwired, modified Aile Striker pack on the back, and a Panzer Eisen rocket anchor, like that of the Sword Striker pack, permanently mounted on the machine's left arm.

The changes to the Aile module were quite interesting: a pair of what appeared to be beam cannons were mounted on top, and four pods of some kind were attached to it, one on each of the vernier modules. That's peculiar...

Falcon brought up an equipment list, and nodded appreciatively. Rocket anchor, beam rifle, Igelstellungs, beam sabers, the two cannons, Armor Schneiders... Phase shift armor... Death Blossom System? That... that looks like... Can it be?

The so-called "Death Blossom system" was the four strange pods; and when activated, they revealed themselves to be self-propelled remote beam emitters, tethered to the mobile suit with control wires.

In other words, it was an energy version of a Moebius Zero's wired gunbarrels. A weapon which only Mu La Flaga could use... or someone with nearly identical kinesthesia scores...

Falcon smiled to himself, something he would never have done around other people. "If the other five machines are this good, the Earth Forces will have a fight on their hands, with at least three in ZAFT's possession..."

Then he remembered why he had left ZAFT, and his smile faded. "Of course, that means I have to fight ZAFT myself..."

What he sought was, above all, the safety and independence of the PLANTs. But Falcon violently disagreed with how some of his former superiors wanted to handle it; they wanted to go too far... so Falcon now fought for a balance. He fought to achieve a draw between the two sides, one which would force them to the negotiating table... one which would force the Naturals to grant the PLANTs their freedom, yet leave Earth intact.

So I have to bring about a quick end to this war... before they perfect N-jammer Cancellers and unleash GENESIS upon the world... Those bastards!

Falcon took a deep breath, using the techniques he had always known (but never from where he knew them) to push back his anger... and his sheer terror. "Forget it," he whispered. "N-jammer Cancellers are still far from workable, and without them GENESIS cannot be used. As long as that remains true, you still have a chance."

Pushing aside his emotions completely, Falcon gripped the controls, caressing them. Oh, it has been far, far too long since I last flew... Though I must now face my former comrades, my purpose remains the same. Therefore... it is time to leave.

He brought the Raptor to life, and began to press forward against the enclosing container. Falcon was going back to war.

Heliopolis, Colony Interior
X107 Raptor burst through to the colony's interior, through a hole some other mobile suit had apparently blasted. From the utter absence of both the X105 Strike and X303 Aegis, Falcon had his suspicions in that regard. Someone else already got them. But who? That woman who shot at us, for one... but who else? And did Kira and that Cagalli girl get to safety?

He paused, standing in place while he evaluated the current situation; according to his machine's instruments, there were two... no, three mobile suits in the immediate vicinity. Two were G-weapons; the X105 Strike and X303 Aegis, according to the computer; just as he'd expected. The third was a GINN; judging from the way it was behaving, the Aegis had been captured.

Curious, Falcon activated Raptor's radio receiver, careful not to transmit by mistake, and listened in.

"Athrun!" one voice called, sounded either relieved or satisfied.

Whichever it was, "Athrun's" next words spoiled it. "Rusty failed," he said. "The other machine has been boarded by an Earth Forces officer."

The GINN's pilot grunted in surprise. "What?"

"Also," Athrun went on, "be aware that there's someone else out here; the sixth prototype seems to be missing, and several of our people are dead."

"Roger that." The pilot grunted again. "Okay, then. I'll capture this machine. Athrun, you make sure and get yours out of here; Commander Le Creuset wouldn't want it damaged."

Falcon watched as, following the exchange, the GINN prepared itself for combat with the Strike. You're way out of your league, with that machine, he thought, assimilating the data he'd just gathered. Rau, huh? Figures... and "Athrun" must be Athrun Zala; I remember him from the time I gave that lecture at the academy... and that other voice...

He frowned. "That was Miguel Aiman," he murmured. "The Magic Bullet of Dusk; didn't know he was with Rau's team these days." He'd served with the man, a long while before.

Falcon's first instinct was to arm his weapons and go to Miguel's aid, but he quickly forced it down. You can't, birdbrain, he told himself. ZAFT already has four G-weapons; if there's to be an semblance of parity, Earth must keep the Strike. His fists clenched on the controls. So if it comes down to it, I must fight Miguel.

So he settled back to wait, and watch; and resolved that if the battle went badly for the Strike, he would take its place, and blast Miguel to oblivion.

It is my duty... As I swore to my fallen comrades, I will not let the Revolution end like this. Far worse than a defeat, would such a victory be.

Fortunately, it didn't appear that his intervention would be necessary. Though it had at first moved clumsily, the Strike had now taken on a life of its own, first smashing a fist into the GINN's face, then taking flight to dodge machine gun fire; and Miguel seemed off-balance, thanks to the PSA.

"This guy's good..." Falcon murmured. "Not the same person who was in control at first, though. Not with those moves... Could it be Kira?" Kira... Athrun's long-lost Coordinator friend... Yes, it could be him... it must be him...

The battle was over almost before it began. Falcon watched with professional interest as the Strike drew both Armor Schneiders, zigzagged in close to Miguel, and lashed out with the weapons, burying one in the GINN's right shoulder and the other in its neck.

Instantly, the machine's arms fell to its sides, and it stood still; then, after a pause, during which the Strike backed off a pace, the hatch blew out.

"He's ejecting..." Falcon whispered. "Which means... Idiot! Get away from there!"

Even had his radio been on, the warning would have come too late. Miguel Aiman's abandoned GINN exploded, rocking the Strike back. Though it did no actual damage, thanks to the Phase-shift, Falcon imagined it wasn't a pleasant experience for whoever was in the cockpit.

He figured he was correct when he noticed the Strike wasn't moving. "Must have been a real nice crack on the head... Now what? Should I reveal myself now, or let him go on his way?"

Falcon was well and truly torn. To reveal himself now would be tantamount to admitting to whoever that pilot was that he was a former ZAFT pilot... and if the Earth Forces pilot were the type to hold a grudge, and knew enough to recognize exactly who Falcon was, the one-eyed pilot could well end up very, very dead.

I wait, he finally decided. Once the machine shuts down, I'll come. Then, I'll have a better chance of getting in a few words before they shoot me.

Though he knew the world might be better off if they did shoot him.

Heliopolis, Colony Exterior
The battle hadn't gone well for the Earth Forces mobile armors. Mu had managed to disarm one mobile suit, but in the process he'd lost both Luke and Gayle. This is insane, he thought. It's crazy to think two Moebiuses and a Zero could take them out with no casualties; I should've known this would happen.

He frowned, seeing a signal flare shoot out from one of the ZAFT ships. He didn't recognize it, but he could tell what it meant from the reactions of the remaining GINNs. "They're retreating?" His frown deepened. "But there's still something..." A peculiar feeling filled his head, one which he recognized from previous battles. "What's this?"

Mu knew that feeling. It meant only one thing: he was here.

Not far away, a lone CGUE flew across space from the Nazca-class destroyer Vesalius. "Can you feel me, I wonder?" Commander Rau Le Creuset murmured. "Do you sense my presence, in the same way that I sense yours? An unfortunate fate, wouldn't you say... Mu La Flaga." Oh yes, Le Creuset could feel Mu's presence... and was there someone else nearby? The other who could sense him, in a manner none of them had ever understood?

Yes... He too is here. Does he yet feel me, I wonder? Or is he wrapped up in whatever scheme has kept him busy these last four months?

Le Creuset smiled. Yes... This day would be interesting, indeed.

Heliopolis, Park
Murrue Ramius was just trying to decide what to do with the five students who had come into contact with the Strike -especially the one called Kira, who had piloted the machine well enough to defeat a GINN, after rewriting the operating system mid-battle- when the top-secret sixth prototype came walking over.

Falcon had tracked the Strike here, after its pilot had regained his senses, and thought now was as good a time as any to get this over with; which was why he coming quite openly.

The gun in Murrue's hand faltered, as she realized she had bigger problems now. Who could have boarded it? Well, I'll wager its not a friend, in any case. Which means we are in trouble.

Murrue had to make a decision, fast. She couldn't fly the Strike properly, but while Kira could, would he? And could she put him in that position?

"Are you gonna hold that gun on me, or are you gonna make me do something about this?" Kira demanded. "You'd better make up your mind!"

The point was suddenly moot, however. The Raptor came to a stop, and the hatch opened.

Down came someone in a flight suit of ZAFT cut, but with unique coloring; he was, strangely, wearing a short, curved sword at his waist, and what looked like a power cable dangled from his suit.

"You can lower your weapon," the pilot said quietly. "Besides, I've already been shot today, and I'd rather talk, instead."

Murrue blinked in surprise. She knew that voice, and that face, even with the eyepatch. "Falcon? What are you doing here?"

Pulling off his helmet, Falcon cocked his head. "Murrue Ramius," he said slowly. "My sister's best friend." His eye took in her Earth Forces work uniform. "Earth Forces Lieutenant's insignia... and Sophia introduced you as a classmate... ergo, Sophia is Earth Forces." His voice hardened imperceptibly. "She has a lot of explaining to do.

"This is getting too strange, Murrue thought. Well, at least we seem to have some breathing space. "What do you mean, she has some explaining to do?" she asked. "Didn't she tell you she'd joined the Earth Forces? And what is going on here?"

"No, she didn't tell me," Falcon replied. "She told me she'd enrolled in a science academy." I can't believe she joined the enemy...

She struggled to regain her equilibrium. "Look, Falcon, before you got here, I was trying to figure out what to do next. You can obviously fly that machine, however you came across it; are you willing to?"

He considered it for no more than a second. "Yes. I have no choice." Falcon glanced back at machine. "I notice it has space for a gunner," he said casually.

"Yes," Murrue replied, "but we've no one here qualified-"

"That's okay," he said calmly. "I don't need one."

Well, that's one problem taken care of, even if I have no idea where he learned to fly a mobile suit. Murrue turned back to the students. "Now, you all understand the situation. I cannot let you go, given what you've seen; and this is probably the safest place in the colony right now. Will you do as I ask?"

Kira exchanged glances with his friends, and finally sighed. "I guess we don't have any other option, do we?"

She sighed in relief. "Thank you. Kira, please get back in the Strike, and try contacting any Earth Forces people in the area. Sai, get back and retrieve the number five trailer. The rest of you, wait until he returns." She looked at Falcon. "You might want to stand ready in the Raptor, Falcon."

"In a moment," he replied. "First, I have a few questions; like what happened to the other four prototypes?"

Murrue shrugged. "I assume the Buster, Blitz, and Duel were taken by ZAFT forces; and I know the Aegis was." Her eyes narrowed. "But what I want to know is, how did you know about them?"

"I hacked the database," he said simply. "As a favor... and because I was bored."

She grimaced. Of course. Sophia always said he was a good hacker. She felt a pang of worry. The Archangel was no doubt attacked as well; is she safe? And for that matter, does she even have any idea her brother is on Heliopolis?

Falcon had been watching her intently, but his head suddenly came up, an arrested expression on his face. That feeling... Is that you, Rau? I should have known...

He turned back to the Raptor. "I need to get moving. Right now," he announced, already walking quickly back toward the mobile suit."

"Why?" Murrue called after him. "What's wrong?"

"Rau Le Creuset is here," he answered. "That means trouble."

She blinked. "How do you know he's here?" she called.

"It's my business to know." The Raptor's hatch closed behind him.

Heliopolis, Colony Shaft
Mu La Flaga was starting to get just a little irritated, and more than a little nervous. His duel with Rau Le Creuset had taken them both into the colony's support shaft, and that dratted CGUE was making life miserable for him in the close confines.

"Why in this place?" he demanded of the universe in general, firing another shot from his linear cannon at Le Creuset's CGUE.

"Mu," Le Creuset murmured, vectoring in on the Zero, "I'd actually be pleased if you vanished right about... now!"

By now, Falcon, too, had gained access to the shaft's interior, and had spotted the confrontation. "Let's hope this works..." he murmured, examining the weapons controls. Then he opened his mouth, and uttered an inhuman, ascending wail.

Mu froze in his cockpit. Oh, no. I know that sound. He glanced at his displays, noting the machine coming towards him. The sixth prototype. The one with the Death Blossom system. And the Grimaldi Falcon's got it. His mind ran the variables, and came with one conclusion. I'm a dead man.

Then, to his utter and complete surprise, the Raptor's beam rifle opened up on the CGUE, instead; followed by a shot from the back-mounted beam cannons. "What the-?"

Rau, even had he not felt the Falcon's presence, would also have recognized that hunting call. "Well, hello, Falcon," he called. "It's been a while, hasn't it?"

"Not long enough, Rau," Falcon said softly. "Personally, I would rather never have seen you again." That was putting it mildly.

The battle had become a frozen tableau, with words replacing actions. "I must admit, Falcon, that while your desertion didn't surprise me very much -after all, if anyone had a right to snap it was you- I never thought you'd cross that line." Rau chuckled. "So, are you looking forward to seeing the Ninth Circle of Hell, Falcon? I believe that is the place reserved for traitors and mutineers."

"I never betrayed the PLANTs, Rau," Falcon replied, though his stomach clenched. By firing that shot, he had betrayed ZAFT, if not the PLANTs themselves. "In fact, everything I do is in their name."

"Then why fight me now, Falcon?" Rau was genuinely puzzled on that point. "If you wish to defend the PLANTs, why leave ZAFT? Only two other people were held in such high esteem."

"You know why," the one-eyed pilot said, a trace of emotion entering his voice; his breath was also becoming slightly labored, as he began to feel the effects of the bullet wound. "You know that there are those who would go too far. You know what project I was working on when I left."

"With the N-jammers in place, it hardly matters," Le Creuset pointed out. "It can never be used now."

"You know as well as I that they're working on a way around that." Falcon's gaze shifted to the Zero. "Lieutenant Mu La Flaga, I presume. Want some assistance?"

"If you're willing to provide it," Mu replied cautiously. "How do I know you won't shoot me?"

"You should know better than that, Lieutenant."

He sighed. Yes, he did know better than that; the Grimaldi Falcon never broke his word, and in any case the fact that he had fired upon Rau Le Creuset meant the pilot could not turn back. Which means this offer is genuine; and I do need the help.

"All right, then, Commander DiFalco," Mu said. "Let's take him."

Once those words were spoken, Le Creuset knew he was in trouble. He was a formidable pilot himself -something he'd proven at Yggdrasil- but he was not certain he could best the Grimaldi Falcon even when they were in comparable mobile suits. Now, with Falcon piloting a G-weapon, there was a very good chance Rau would end up dead.

He decided to try a different tack, while dodging Raptor's fire. "You know who else is here, don't you, Falcon? You know who transferred into my team, the day before you left."

Falcon's face tightened just perceptibly. "Yes, I know." Dearka Elsman... my best friend. Would that this never happened, that I was not forced to turn on ZAFT. But there is no longer any choice. "I know, but I cannot allow anything to interfere with my mission. Least of all you, who sent us out to die."

Now outnumbered, Rau knew his only chance was to reach the colony's interior, where he would have more options. So, turning, he raced to one of the shaft walls, and waited, trusting to his reflexes to get him out alive.

"You think that will help you?" Falcon murmured. "Think again, old comrade."

Mu heaved a sigh of relief, seeing the Raptor engaging Le Creuset's machine. They say there's nothing like the feeling when you realize you're still alive; guess they're right. He smiled suddenly. If I survive this, I should finally get to see the face behind the legend; should be interesting.

The Zero's linear gun fired -its wired gunbarrels were all gone now- at the same instant as Raptor's beam rifle and cannons; all of it aimed directly at the CGUE.

None of them connected, however. Le Creuset's reflexes were sharp enough to get him out of harm's way at the last instant, allowing the barrage to blow a mobile suit-sized hole in the wall, leading into the colony's interior. "If you want to catch me," he taunted, "you'll have to follow me in!"

Mu cursed, seeing his enemy escape; Falcon merely observed, devising his strategy based on the new variables. Fine, then. Time to see what this mobile suit can really do.

"Follow me in," Falcon said, hitting several controls and arming the Death Blossom system.

"I hope you've got a plan," the Hawk called back. "But then, you always do, don't you? It's what kept you alive, through everything."

"Not everything," the one-eyed pilot whispered. "Not through Endymion."

In tandem, the former mortal enemies plunged into Heliopolis' interior.

Heliopolis, Colony Interior
Murrue and the students hadn't been idle following Falcon's disappearance. Though she had no idea how the youth knew Le Creuset was near, she'd taken it as a warning, and worked double time to get the Strike ready for combat again.

Presently, Kira poked his head out of the cockpit. "Now what?" he called; the trailer with the Striker pack had arrived, and now he needed to know what to do next.

"Mount the equipment onto the Strike!" she called back. "And hurry!"

Down next to the trailer, Sai, Tolle, Mir, and Kuzzey were trying to figure out what was going on. "What happened today?" Mir wondered aloud. "Why were the Earth Forces building those machines in neutral territory?"

"For that matter," Tolle said slowly, "just who is Falcon? I knew he wasn't like the rest of us, but..."

"He's obviously a Coordinator," Kuzzey put in. "And one with mobile suit experience. That means he must be ZAFT."

"Kuzzey," Sai said sharply; but then he sighed. "I guess you're probably right. He knew they were GINNs just by listening to them; he reacted badly to the idea of his sister being Earth Forces. It all makes sense, when you think of it that way."

All of a sudden, something high above exploded, interrupting their conversation. A cloud of smoke now obscured part of the shaft, and out of it flew a CGUE, looking as if it were being chased by demons.

That summation wasn't far off. It was immediately followed by the Raptor and a Moebius Zero, the Zero looking for a shot for its linear gun; four self-propelled pods of some sort, connected to the machine via wires, were spiraling out from the Raptor.

The G-unit suddenly changed color. Not as dramatically as the Strike, however; the Raptor simply changed shades, going from a basic light gray to uniform slate-gray. Now it went from merely menacing to something truly frightening.

A Gray Demon, personified.

Le Creuset could barely spare a glance for the Strike, under the circumstances; but he did spare it that glance. "So; that must be it. The machine that shot down Miguel. Now, if I can just take one of these two annoyances out of the equation..."

He soon had his chance. Raptor was lining up for a shot from its remote laser units, the Zero on the CGUE's opposite side. Perfect.

Falcon triggered a shot, but Le Creuset had planned well in the two seconds or so he had. He suddenly dropped his CGUE slightly, causing the beam to go past... right into the Zero's linear cannon.

"Nice shot, Commander," Mu said sarcastically, silently cursing. "Care to blow me completely away next time? Or would you rather leave that to your friend there?"

"Don't blame me, Lieutenant," Falcon said evenly. "Rau is many things, but unskilled is not one of them; and I've never used a system like this before. And he's not my friend."

"Well, whatever. Are you going to shoot at him now?"

In the few moments his adversaries had been distracted, Le Creuset had closed in for the kill; but Kira had not been idle, either. The Launcher Striker pack had been attached, and his Phase-shift was up.

I'll have to try another tack, he thought... and suddenly had something else to worry about.

Another loud explosion erupted in the colony wall, and the Earth Alliance Forces Mobile Assault Ship Archangel burst into the colony's interior, majestic and powerful as her name.

Author's note: And so begins the tale of Ken "Falcon" DiFalco, the mysterious ex-ZAFT ace. Why did he desert, and what is it that he fears?

All right, the first chapter of my new story is up. Some of you will no doubt know me as the author of Brothers in Arms; some of you, I know, are already waiting for this story, so here it is.

As noted in my other work, this has no connection to Brothers in Arms, though there will be some unavoidable similarities; and I will note here that this story will not be continued into the events of Destiny. This will be a completely self-contained story, and for that matter, it will be put on hold for awhile when Brothers in Arms: A Call to Arms begins. That, however, will be months yet, so there should be plenty posted by that time. (Note to Red Eyed Divine Dragoon77415, if you're reading this: this chapter was already complete, so no, it isn't distracting from the next chapter of the Second Story.)

As this is the first chapter, there isn't much to say. Please read it and let me know what you think. -Solid Shark