Author's Notes:

Once more I thank everyone who had read this fanfiction and those who reviewed it. Again I am glad that you have come to like my tale and I will do my best to present the story as best as I could. Thanks to a new craving for anime, I have been re-watching some of my favorite series, like Full Metal Alchemist, Rurouni Kenshin and the other Gundam series. Of course I included Gundam SEED and Destiny, and hopefully I've picked up some more new tidbits of information I can apply in Renaissance. This new chapter is a quiet one, not too action intensive as the last few. A calm-before-the-storm thing, to let the characters catch up with events that are happening in the story.

I will be introducing a new mobile suit in this chapter, a Gundam SEED revision of another of the older UC models. It's an idea I toyed around for awhile and I reckoned this chapter is the best entry point for it. Like I said, it is a Universal Century model, so there won't be any comeback for any of the SEED models in SEED and Destiny yet, though, as hinted on the last chapter, that option remains very much open in the future. It is the first of a few UC models I am integrating into the CE storyline. I hope I could do it justice like the way or even better than the ZAKU, GOUF and DOM were portrayed. There is an interesting note on Wikipedia's Gundam SEED Mobile Suit and Armor section that hints about the appearance of this mobile suit in Destiny during the Junius Seven arc, but the Wikipedia article itself was empty and therefore inconclusive. I have checked my copies of the anime and have yet to see it there. I might be mistaken, but I have not seen any evidence supporting this claim.

Also, I have more Shiho Hanenfuss for you all. Among the minor canon characters in SEED and Destiny, I find her the most intriguing and I intend to have her play a more important role in our story. Through my own research on her, I'm finding a lot more interesting things about her. Like it is said in Wikipedia, it was fortunate for the character that Tamaki Nami never got to give her a voice, or she could have been killed off like the characters TM Revolution portrayed, Miguel Ayman of SEED and Heine Westenfluss of Destiny. So, for you Shiho fans out there, be rejoiced. But please be patient on how I might portray her. I don't have copies of Astray so I don't really now how she acts or speaks.

I also would like to address certain comments about my using formal military ranks for ZAFT officers, when it is stated in reference materials that the militia did not use such ranks, except for titles accorded to their current positions. I only used the rank system, based on the ones used by the EA and Orb militaries (which is basic to most real militaries in our real world) for the purpose of uniformity in the narrative. I find it not realistic for a military hierarchy, even that of a militia, to not have a rank system to distinguish the positions and levels of their personnel and officers. Although ZAFT uses the color-coded uniform system, I think giving formal ranks makes things less complicated for readers. Again this maybe different from the canon, but I don't think it affects the story that much.

Once more thanks for reading this fanfiction, and I hope you enjoy this new chapter.

SEED Mode On!


Disclaimers:

Mobile Suit Gundam SEED is owned and copyrighted by Mitsuo Fukuda, the Sotsu Agency, Sunrise and BANDAI.


Phase 11: In The Minds Of Altered Children


LHM-BB01 Minerva

Outbound Gibraltar

North Atlantic

January 3, CE 75

The sound of fitful sobs instantly tore Rena from the romance novel she was reading. She has been taking turns with Madison and the Taichou, rotating their duty shifts to spend time and watch over Hitomi as she lay quietly in the canopied hospital bed inside Minerva's sickbay. The three had set up their routine to allow for six hours each for staying with their wounded friend, another six for maintenance on their mobile suits and other duties, four hours standby with their mobile suits, and eight hours rest and sleep.

At first it was a confusing setup, what with the chaos the marked the activities on the Minerva crew in the aftermath of the disastrous raid by the black mobile suits that Luna-Taichou and Hitomi battled over and on Gibraltar. The results were alarming for ZAFT: twenty-seven militiamen and security personnel dead, plus over fifty civilians who were caught in the crossfire. Over a hundred more injured. One mobile suit and several military vehicles destroyed, plus two more mobile suits damaged (one, Rena's own, was taken out of action in that catapult mishap, and it didn't even get the chance to fight).

But, for Rena, it was looking like the greatest loss for ZAFT in this defeat was not in the final battleground, but at the initial point of conflict. From what little Luna-Taichou had heard and shared with her and Madison, the raiders had hit a section of the main university in Gibraltar prior to the engagement with ZAFT units. The targeted building held offices of a major R&D think-tank funded by the PLANT Council, with research pertaining to military technologies. As to what kinds of technologies, the Taichou didn't find out, but for the raiders to even consider that target so close to a major ZAFT base, meant that the reward would justify the risks.

And the Minerva was in the position to thwart their plan, had their own plans didn't get screwed up. Rena knew that the Kanchou and the command staff were not pinning the blame on the catastrophic failure of the Minerva's launch catapult and the ensuing damage in caused on the ship, but she still could not help feel guilty for the injuries Hitomi had sustained in her duel with the raiders. She had waited nervously for news from Madison as she and reinforcements from the Gibraltar forces moved to backup the Impulse and Hitomi's ZAKU. She had started to shed tears of joy when she heard that they recovered Hitomi from the wreck of her ZAKU, but those turned to anguish when she found out how badly hurt her friend was.

And the feelings of guilt wasn't leaving her as she watched her friend lay in front of her in the past few days. Hitomi's left leg was badly burned, and there was a deep gash that slid down on her right. Her arms were covered in cuts and bruises, as was some parts of her face. Hitomi's forehead was bandaged, covering the deep wound that marred her soft and white skin. The young girl's breathing was ragged, and was gingerly supported by the respirator now covering her nose and mouth. She looked so fragile being so near death when the rescue teams got her out of the downed mobile suit.

So for her friend's sake, Rena endured the tiring routine, even though exhaustion mixed with boredom of staying at one place was eating at the otherwise active, free-spirited girl. But Rena had to endure this penance she chose to self-inflict on herself; she could not leave her friend, and wanted to stay at her side. She owed Hitomi at least that much; Hitomi was always with her during their days in the Academy. Hitomi was a big part of her life in that period, always looking out for her. Rena knew deep inside that she wouldn't have graduated into ZAFT's officer corps, much less become a red coat, had it not for Hitomi's patience and help to overcome her cadette-days high-jinks.

Rena was starting her third hour of her sickbay bedside shift, when she heard Hitomi stir. Instinctively she bolted out of her chair by the door of the room, and dashed to Hitomi's side. The raven-haired girl was crying, with tears flowing rapidly down from her eyes. She didn't show any signs that she had already awaken from her slumber, and the new activity added to Rena's anxiety.

"Hitomi! HITOMI!" Rena shouted as she tried to calm her friend down. She punched a button on one leg of the canopy to call for the ship's nurse, who was currently at the sickbay's station. The nurse came rushing into the room in a second, and was beginning to check Hitomi's vitals. Rena turned her attention back to Hitomi and hugged her, hoping her presence can soothe the pain and tension her friend was going through.

Apparently it helped, and a few seconds later Hitomi's eyes opened, and she slowly looked around to take in her surroundings. Her gaze fell upon her worried friend. "Rena?" she croaked, her voice dry and trembling.

Her head still buried on Hitomi's chest, Rena breathed a sigh of relief and offered a silent prayer of thanks. "Oh, Hitomi, thank goodness you're back." She slowly slid off her friend, her blonde hair soaked in tears. She pulled her chair close to the bed, and flopped down. She took Hitomi's hand in hers, and placed them on her cheeks.

Hitomi still looked confused at all the fuss around her, as the nurse adjusted the machine that was monitoring her heart. "W-where am I?"

"Sickbay, Shou-I," the nurse smiled down at her. "I'm glad you're back with us." She turned her attention to Rena. "She's fine. I'll be back with the doctor in awhile."

"Hai. Arigato." Rena stood and bowed as the nurse left them alone once more. Feeling the weight of the world being lifted from her shoulders, Rena fell to her knees at the side of the bed, and buried her face on Hitomi's arm. She felt her friend flex the arm and caress her hair. "Rena, what's wrong?"

"Gomen," was all Rena could say.

"What are you apologizing for?" her friend replied confusedly.

"For screwing up…"

"I don't understand-"

Rena started crying again. "For causing all the mess on the launch bay. The catapult just gave way from under me. I couldn't launch, Hitomi. I couldn't back you up."

There was a long moment of silence, as Hitomi stroked her hair a couple of times before speaking again. "Iie. That wasn't your fault, Rena-chan."

Rena dared to look at her friend, and was rewarded by seeing her smiling at her. "But if I was up there with you, I could have helped you and Taichou. But because of me, I couldn't launch and Maddy was delayed. You wouldn't have been hurt. You wouldn't have been here."

Hitomi shook her head. "I don't think things would have changed. I still would have fought that black mobile suit. I still would have fought him. I don't know, but I think it was meant to be."

It was Rena's turn to be confused. "I don't -"

Hitomi smiled again. "Believe me, I don't understand what I'm saying either. I just have this feeling that I was predestined to fight him."

"Him?" Rena asked, eyes squinting.

But Hitomi ignored her. "Anyhow nothing would have changed. I'm just lucky I'm alive I guess." Hitomi closed her eyes wearily. "I guess I gonna spend time here at the beach."

Rena knelt straighter. "I don't think that'll be the case, Hitomi-chan."

"Huh?"

Rena smirked. "Don't you feel the movement of the ship? We've already left Gibraltar. I don't know the details, but we're on our way south. We've been assigned to pursue the raiders."


Hitomi sat back on the headrest of her bed as she listened to Devereux-Kanchou speak to her. She came in after the doctor had arrived, together with Luna-Taichou. The doctor had given her a good prognosis, saying that her wounds were healing well and she'll be back to normal in a few days. She was lucky that she didn't get any of her limbs destroyed or cut off, and that they will be all functioning in tip top condition once she was released from sickbay. She only had to do a little more exercise to get her in shape again, and to strengthen her healing muscles. Silently she was thankful for her Coordinator genes, whose enhancements allowed for greater resistances and healing capacity for her body.

The Kanchou spoke to the doctor for a few minutes before he left the room with the nurse, and left the four women in the room. Rena stayed in the background, content to keep silent. The Kanchou gave Hitomi a look over before she spoke. "I'm glad that you're alright, Shou-I Minamoto. You took great risks back in Gibraltar."

Hitomi lowered her head a little. "Gomen nasai, Kanchou," she apologized. "I know I was too reckless."

Devereux shook her head. "On the contrary, Hitomi-chan, you did the best you could do in the situation."

"But, Kanchou, I failed the mission, didn't I?" Hitomi asked weakly. "The raiders got away."

"Hai," Devereux responded. "The fact that it was a failure does not diminish the fact that you and Tai-I Hawke tried your best to stop them, at incredible risks to your lives." Devereux nodded to Luna-Taichou, and Hitomi's team commander responded with a silent nod of her own. "I saw no mistakes on both your parts. Circumstances happened to make your mission goals unattainable for you."

Hitomi glanced at her silent friend. "If you mean it was Rena's fault the catapult collapsed, then I protest-"

"Iie," Devereux raised her hand to stop her. "Shou-I Ellington is not at fault with what happened down at the launch bay. It was a structural fault in the system that caused the catapult to buckle and crash. We are still investigating it, but we see no fault in her actions."

Hitomi felt relieved in her friend exoneration. For her part, Rena dropped unto a chair like a sack of potatoes, sighing heavily.

"Arigato then, Kanchou. But it still doesn't change the fact that we failed and the raiders got away."

Devereux took a seat on the visitor's chair, and activated her PDA. "We are currently in pursuit of the raiders. Though we still have no, clear knowledge on how they intend to escape through the Atlantic, we have our ideas."

"We believe that they're using a submarine carrier, of a class we have not encountered before. We are basing this assessment from information we received military intelligence, and reports gathered by our embassy at Orb. The submarine angle matches the profile of the raiders that hit Onogoro on the seventeenth of December."

"We think this is the best information we have at the moment, plus the fact that the unknown vessel the Leningrad in the South Pacific made short contact with matches the mission profile of an unknown class of submarine carrier. The Leningrad lost contact almost immediately, but had determined that the contact was heading east, towards the continent of South America."

Hitomi thought that one over. "The USSA."

"Correct," Devereux confirmed. "The assessments indicate that is the likely direction where the Gibraltar team is headed, though we cannot confirm it at the moment."

"But South America is a huge place-" exclaimed Hitomi.

Devereux sighed wearily, and Hitomi could see that her Kanchou had been asked that question in the manner Hitomi did before, and she was getting tired with it. "We'd considered that factor, but for now we don't have anything clear on it. But we consider the South America lead our best one yet, and headquarters has assigned the Minerva to it."

"The doctor said you'll be allowed to leave sickbay in a day or two, but you're off from the flight rotation for at least a week." Devereux looked Hitomi in the eye. "I want you to rest up while you're on the ground. Concentrate on light workouts, and some simulation time. I don't want to catch you working maintenance on your mobile suit; let the techs handle that for the meantime. Tai-I Hawke will determine when you'll be back in the rotation."

Hitomi blinked. Wasn't my ZAKU all in shreds? "Ano, Kanchou."

"Hai, Shou-I?"

"Forgive me for asking, but isn't my mobile suit, uh, incapacitated?"

Devereux's lips twitched, and Hitomi knew she was fighting the urge to grin. "Oh of course. You had your ZAKU shot down from under you."

Hitomi deflated. "Gomen."

Luna-Taichou chuckled. "You've got your new unit waiting for you down at the hanger decks, but I agree with the Kanchou. I forbid you to work on it till I say so."

A new unit? "Can I at least ask what it is, Taichou? The unit, that is."

The Taichou grinned evilly. "Iie, you may not." She gave Rena a withering glare. "And I'm not allowing Rena-chan or Madison-chan to say anything about it." Rena, who was about to blurt something out, shut her mouth quickly with a silent apology to Hitomi. "Suffice to say," Luna-Taichou continued, "it's something old and rebuilt, but it's not obsolete. We or Gibraltar currently don't have any new units to give you."

"Oh," Hitomi sighed. Well, it could have been worse. I could have gotten a run down GINN from some backwater station from the first war.

Devereux brought something up on her PDA. "I forgot to notify you, Tai-I, but you're going to get some help for your team."

Luna-Taichou blinked. "Help, Kanchou? From where?"

"The PLANTs," the Kanchou answered. "I've received a package from the Chairwoman. She will be sending us a new unit for field-testing, plus a pilot for it. The pilot's a veteran and will be joining your team. I expect you to integrate them into your command."

The Taichou didn't respond at once, and Hitomi could see that she didn't necessarily like this change of events. "This veteran. What do you know about him, Kanchou?"

Devereux frowned. "Her, actually. All I know is that the pilot fought both wars, and had served ZAFT as a test pilot before enlisting. She was a test pilot for some of the mobile suits we use now, and she's one of the best in the militia. She's also knowledgeable of the area, having served there in between the wars. She's currently unassigned, so the Chairwoman decided that she'll be more useful with us than being kept on floating status. She's the best one for that new unit tell be asking us to field-test."

The Taichou grimaced. "Why us, Kanchou?"

"Because you do understand that with these raiders, we need all the help we could get." Devereux stood up. "We only beat them up in space because the Shousho Yamato and the Archangel had already softened them up for us, and we had the element of surprise. The events in Gibraltar, shows us that they are indeed a formidable enemy, and we can't underestimate them."

Luna-Taichou sighed. "Guess we don't have much choice in the matter, eh, Kanchou."

"Iie. We don't."


Main Administration Building

PLANT Supreme Council

Aprilius One

Aprilius City

PLANT

L5

January 4, CE 75

For the infinite time, Shiho nervously straightened the custom balsam insignia lapel that she had added unto her red ZAFT uniform. She had a very important meeting with very important persons, so she decided she had to look her best. She wore her best set of red officer uniforms that she had, a new set she had recently had tailored. Her former set was destroyed in the Oslo attack, and this new set was just available to her upon her return to the PLANTs two days ago. As her own personal quirk, Shiho had opted to wear the male version of the red uniform, ever since the day she got her promotion to the elite group of red coat pilots. She never warmed to the female version, which had a skirt rather than the pants she wore. She had gotten used to the strange looks she got from wearing them, and she was bothered by them, nor ever convinced to follow the norm.

Technically still on leave, Shiho had argued with ZAFT command as soon as she got back from the colonies two days ago for a reassignment - with Yzak still at the militia's main hospital in this colony, he was not bound to return to active duty either in the Council or the militia, and being part of his staff, Shiho didn't want to be kept on a floating status due to his medical status. While the ZAFT medical offices recommended that she'd take her time and rest up her healing body, she protested and demanded to get a new position. Though she knew that she was going too far, she still hoped that her status as a war heroine and her high rank in Yzak's staff had some weight, and would force the higher ups to reconsider her position. She already heard whispers that her request was going to be denied, but she was adamant she wouldn't take the replies to her query without a fight.

So Shiho was surprised to hear that she was summoned to the office of the Supreme Council Chairwoman for talks with her on a new special posting. The 'special' description of her new assignment was already a warning sign to her, as to the personal summons by the PLANT's highest leader, that this new assignment was something different from before, and therefore, probably sensitive and extremely dangerous. This piqued Shiho's curiosity, and accepted the summons immediately. So here she was now, patiently waiting at the receiving hall of the Chairwoman's office, sitting restlessly in an otherwise very comfortable office sofa, watching the receptionists and other staffers going about their duties, as she waited for her call to enter the inner offices for her audience.

One of the secretaries greeted Shiho as she arrived, and told her that she had to wait till after a meeting with some other bureaucrats before she could see the Chairwoman. Shiho was invited into this waiting area, and was served coffee for her pleasure. She was already into her second hour of waiting, her coffee barely touched, she almost finished with her fourth magazine, and absentmindedly whistling that song she listened too from the new Tamaki Nami Greatest Hits CD she just bought when the secretary walked over to her and bowed.

"Shousa Hanenfuss, the Chairwoman will see you now, Ma'am."

About time, Shiho thought impatiently. "Domo arigato." Shiho got up from the couch and straightened up her uniform. She picked up her briefcase and walked towards the oaken double doors, which the secretary and a ZAFT corporal opened for her. After returning the salute the young enlisted man gave her, Shiho smartly entered the inner chamber.

The room was very different from the ambience it portrayed for its former occupants. During the time of Patrick Zala and Gilbert Dullindal, the lights of this high-ceilinged chamber were always dimmed and shadowed, leaving an effect that the room was dark and foreboding. Whether it was the preference of the two late Chairmen or the actual design of the chamber, the eeriness left visitors ill at ease and uncomfortable. The one who took up the vacancy of the position the room represented changed all that. Katarina Westenfluss had ordered for more bright lights for the room, and Shiho had been present as technician installed the extra illumination, in one of her visits to Westenfluss with Yzak.

Shiho found the Chairwoman seated behind the large desk at the end of the room. It was the first time after the Onogoro raid that Shiho had seen her. For security reasons the rest of the Supreme Council of the PLANTs decided to evacuate the injured Westenfluss from Scandinavia back to the colonies immediately but quietly. In secret she was flown down unto Gibraltar, and immediately shuttled offworld unto an awaiting Nazca-class fast destroyer. Two days later the Chairwoman was recuperating on L4's Armory One, and stayed there until before she returned back to Aprilius on her own power four days ago.

At first glance, it looked to Shiho that the Chairwoman was still feeling the toll from the injuries she received in Oslo. The quick action of her bodyguards saved her life, much in the same way Yzak did to save Shiho and Cagalli. But the guards were less fortunate, as the four in-close security personnel all perished. Westenfluss was also badly hurt, with injuries similar to those Cagalli received, plus having her lungs damage by inhaling the sulfurous smoke from the fires. Though she survived the ordeal, her health was destroyed. She looked no more than the shell of the vibrant young politician she once was, frail and with sunken eyes underneath her purple dress uniform.

Not that it really mattered to Shiho, for she could see that Katarina Westenfluss eyes still had the strength and steel that epitomized her fire and courage. Though her body was not the same, it looked to Shiho that the Chairwoman's intelligence was still there in her working mind, tempered by the wisdom she learned at the brink of death.

Seated in front of the Chairwoman, were two other women, one she knew only by face, the other by her connection to Yzak. Eileen Canaver was the younger of the two, the former interim Chairwoman of the Council who at first retired after Dullindal was voted to replace her. The blonde haired woman returned to a more private life as a professor at September Five's major university for over a year, only to be asked to return by the rest of the Council during the chaos after the battle at Messiah. A staunch supporter of the Siegel Clyne and his daughter's faction, Canaver was a known moderate, one known to seek the resolution of crisis through diplomacy and negotiation. But having been a known, yet silent supporter of Lacus' anti-war group, Canaver was capable of secretly supporting any direct action that could lead to a swift conclusion of conflict, albeit her public persona did not show this. So it was a small surprise for Shiho to find the reclusive young stateswoman here.

The other, more elderly woman, Shiho knew a lot better, and in more sense her presence here was more troubling to Shiho. Ezaria Joule was Yzak's mother, the firebrand representative of Martius Six and a former member of the Supreme Council's Committee of National Defense and Chair of the Diplomatic Relations Committee during the terms of Clyne and Patrick Zala. She and the members of this small inner circle of advisers like Yuri Amalfi, Tad Elsman and Herman Gould, reported directly to Zala as his primary supporters within the Council. They were therefore prime movers of ZAFT's campaigns during the first war, and were together with those members who fell unto disgrace with the end of that conflict. Councilwoman Joule was placed under house arrest during the war, and where it not for Yzak assuming her place in the Council at the invitation of Canaver, she would have been charged with even more crimes against her.

She had publicly stayed away from the Council, though she tried vainly to influence her equally hardheaded son to promote her ideas to the Council. Yzak tried his best not too, and this started a conflict between them. Shiho was subject to one of the former Duel pilot's rages against his mother during her first visit to him after her return from the South Americas, spurting curses about 'that power-hungry woman'. This continued on until Yzak was reinstated unto ZAFT's High Command, which had the Councilwoman lose her only direct link to the upper echelons of the PLANT government. Though the rants became rarer as Yzak was assigned to the Voltaire with Dearka Elsman and herself, Shiho could still hear him rage about his mother from time to time.

That Joule was here meant something was changing in the balance of power with PLANT. Though never charged, the consensus on Councilwoman Joule was that she was a warmonger; her active support and participation with Patrick Zala's plan to exterminate the Naturals was a proven fact. Her presence here indicated a deal was brokered somewhere, and that Joule was back in a position where she could be a player. It also signified that Westenfluss' position had weakened somewhere; that she had to agree to a compromise with someone, with Joule as part of the compromise.

The raid on Scandinavia and Gibraltar must have accelerated the shift in the dynamics. Even though it was not obvious, Shiho had seen the increased level of security and alert within ZAFT. While the remaining ZAFT task forces orbiting the PLANTs had not sortied beyond the normal perimeters of the space colonies, almost all of the groups were on a high level defensive alert. All active forces were on standby, and there were rumors some reservists were about to be called up. Shiho knew that some of these were just rumors, but these rumors were slowly spreading with no signs of dying out. But the thing was the lives of the civilians of the colony has not been disturbed by this; things were as normal as it could be around Aprilius One when Shiho took some time to go sightseeing. Shiho was sure something was going on, but she didn't have the time to find out yet.

With these thoughts she faced her civilian superiors. Shiho stopped in the center of the room, standing in attention and giving the three women the stiff armed ZAFT salute. "Shousa Shiho Hanenfuss reporting, Madam Chair."

Westenfluss nodded and smiled in response. "Hello Shousa. It's good to see that you are looking well."

Shiho lowered her right hand. "The doctors in Oslo took good care of me, Madam."

Westenfluss lowered her eyes slightly. "Forgive me if I couldn't find time to visit you. I was deemed necessary to be evacuated as soon as possible."

"Oh no, Madam Chair. I understand the necessities, so the apology is not needed. I thank you for your concern though. And I trust you are well, too."

"Hai," Westenfluss responded softly. "Not as well as I want too, but things just happened that was beyond our control."

Shiho felt speechless; she didn't know how to respond to the Chairwoman's last comments. So something did change in her.

Westenfluss was the first to break the uncomfortable pause. She gestured her hand to the younger of the two other women. "You do know former Chairwoman Canaver."

Shiho nodded. "We've met once, during the first anniversary celebration of the end of the first war. But we never really got to speak to each other."

Canaver offered her hand with a sincere smile. "I'm glad to finally get the chance to speak with you, Shousa. I've heard a lot about your service to the militia and the colonies in the past few years.

Is that so? Shiho thought. She took the proffered hand. "I hope all that you've heard are good ones, Canaver-sama."

Canaver chuckled. "Oh don't worry Shousa. Ezaria here only told me the good ones."

Shiho had to glance reflexively at Yzak's mother, an action she was berated herself for doing. Ezaria Joule had the knack for catching people off guard and making them feel uneasy in front of her. And Shiho was always a special target for her, being a loyal subordinate for her son. But Shiho, ever the fighter, never allowed herself to show Joule any sign that she was affected by her stabs. So she was disappointed with herself for this lapse in self-discipline.

Joule apparently noticed her little victory over her, for a grin was forming at the edge of her lips. She languidly stood up from her chair to greet Shiho. "Shiho-chan here has no reason to be wary. Her service to the colonies has been exemplary, and therefore worthy to be spoken of in such illustrious company."

Shiho didn't let herself be baited by Joule's continued patronizing and her calling her in such a personal manner. She framed her best smile on her face as she bowed to Joule in a formal manner. "Joule-sama is ever kind."

Joule looked her in the eye. "You do know that Yzak is in the military hospital here in Aprilius."

"Hai, Joule-sama. I intended on visiting him after our meeting. I take it that he's doing well?"

Joule nodded. "He's as good as he could be. I suspect that his temper is tethering on the edge by being cooped up in hospitals for the last few weeks. He'll have his surgery for the cybernetics Tuesday next week."

"I guess the timing for my visit is perfect then," Shiho replied.

"Indeed it is, Shiho-chan," Joule agreed. "My son would be delighted to see his favorite officer visit him. I have the feeling it will do Yzak a lot of good," Joule finished, smiling mischievously.

Shiho felt really uncomfortable now. Why is Ezaria hinting that there is something more between Yzak and me? Where is she going with this? Shiho was at a loss of what to say, and Joule was showing satisfaction as her victory over her. Thankfully, the Chairwoman took the opportunity to change the topic of the discussion.

Westenfluss had stood from her seat and walked slowly around her desk. "Since we're all here, I think its best that we proceed to the topics at hand." She gestured for the three to follow her to the pair of sofas that were on one side of the office. She motioned for Shiho to sit, and took a place beside the redcoat. Canaver and Joule sat on the sofa opposite them.

"Some tea or coffee, Shousa?" Westenfluss asked.

"Tea would be just fine, Madam Chair."

Westenfluss pressed a button on a control panel on top of the coffee table in front of her, and ordered a receptionist to bring a pot of tea for them. For five minutes the Chairwoman grilled Shiho on her condition, which Shiho answered easily. The receptionist who received Shiho came in with the hot beverage, and deposited the aromatic drinks on the coffee table and left the room as quietly as she came.

As soon as the door slid close behind the receptionist, Shiho saw Westenfluss press some more buttons on the control panel before she turned address everyone. "What we will speak about is matter of national security and will be spoken of only within this room. Do you understand, ladies?"

Everyone nodded.

"Good." Westenfluss faced Shiho. "Shousa, you do understand what has happened in Oslo, Onogoro and Gibraltar and its ramifications for the PLANTs?"

Shiho did, or at least she wanted to believe she did. The audacious attacks were a serious blow to the security of the Coordinator colonies. With ZAFT weakened by massive losses in the last war, and the disarmament or mothballing of a sizable portion of its remaining forces in its aftermath, the militia was in no position to prosecute another worldwide conflict, even in a purely defensive stance. The militia could surely defend against terrorist attacks, but such attacks were well planned and all ZAFT could do was react. And if all they did was to react to these raids over and over again, nothing would be gained except the further diminishing of their capabilities. The terrorists, seeing that ZAFT was unwilling to strike out against them, would be strongly tempted to continue on attacking. Though there might be a limit to the scope and duration of these raids, the effect on the morale of the citizens of the PLANTs would still be devastating. What would the people think of a government who has no will or means to defend their citizen effectively from people who want them destroyed? Eventually these terrorists would succeed where Blue Cosmos and LOGOS failed, and could bring the end of the Coordinators.

If in fact, that the PLANTs were the only target of the raids, but the attacks on Onogoro and Oslo begged to undermine that conclusion. The strike on Orb was baffling to Shiho. If Coordinators were the main targets, then the island country could be a high-ranked target in their order of battle. The neutrality stance and its policy of openness for Coordinators to live there make it a tempting prize, but then Orb was not necessarily a friend of the PLANTs in the past few years. With the sudden siding of Orb with the Earth Alliance and the confused disappearance of their pro-neutrality Chief Representative in the aftermath of the Break The World Incident, Orb had gone to war against the PLANTs. Though post-war peace had ended the hostilities between the two states and both has established growing diplomatic relations, they interaction between the two remain only cool. While it was widely accepted that Orb, even with its small but formidable military, will not attempt anything overt, it wasn't beyond the nation to use covert means to protect its security and interests – its status as a major member in the so-called Terminal organization in both wars and its continuing covert support for Terminal was evidence to the fact. So it was not profitable for the terrorists to challenge such a potentially dangerous opponent.

And what would the terrorists gain by attracting the ire of the rest of human world by attacking their leaders in a peace conference? It is obvious that they were against the peace, and their attack on Scandinavia looked like a desperate attempt to derail the process. Or was it a calculated strike on their part, timing the event when most of the powerful leaders of world were present at one place. Again the same question comes up: what would they gain? Were they confident enough to risk the further tightening of bonds between former belligerents and the formation of a united front against them?

Did they want to start another war? Most of the factions involve in the last two are on their last ropes, and Shiho would like to believe that the leadership of all the factions would want to avoid another conflict and concentrate in rebuilding their shattered nations and economies. The PLANTs, for all its prosperity and advances in technology, has had its economy hurt by Dullindal's active prosecution of the second war and preparations for the ill-conceived Destiny Plan. From some estimates that Shiho had seen, and from analysis she had gathered from the colonies' tri-media, the colonies economy would take at least five, or as much as ten years to recover to a level of prosperity enjoyed prior to the Bloody Valentine incident. And this was with the consideration that there would be no war in those coming years. Any new conflict would shatter the thin thread of stability that holds the colonies together.

The same analysis could also be employed for the remnants of the Earth Alliance. The EA would be the best evidence of such a decline of internal stability, for the loose conglomeration of states had been suffering this malaise ever since the start of the First Bloody Valentine War, and those wounds has festered more with the Second. The EA's economy had been strained by their sudden shift to a war economy preceding Bloody Valentine, and was all but destroyed with the worldwide rain of neutron jammers and the ZAFT invasion of Operation Uroboros on the first of April, CE 70. After the signing of the Treaty of Junius Seven, the Eurasian Federation and United States of South America had split from the EA and begun separate peace talks with the PLANTs, which brought forth an influx of Coordinators into their population – a necessary compromise with those they saw as enemies, yet know were recognized for their talents and skill as necessary for the survival of their nations. The powerful Atlantic Federation, the central figure in the EA's war of extermination against the Coordinators, allowed the Eurasians to break away from their grip, but moved violently suppress the South American revolt and occupy the southern continent. They were met by stiff resistance from the USSA's people, and a bloody rebellion has sprung up from within the occupied nation. This conflict raged in the background of post-war geopolitics, and was overshadowed by the coming of the Second Bloody Valentine of CE 73.

Again, Shiho, for all her animosity against the EA, would want to believe that they would not want to start another war. The EA's conflict with the USSA was still going on, and from report she had read or heard, that conflict was escalating in scale once more of late. The assassination of the EA's designated man for the leadership of the occupied sectors of South America plus the subsequent retaliatory strikes by the OMNI Enforcer along the Rio Grande line has brought this war to new, more violent level. But with the great losses the EA had from the Second War, they can ill-afford to get into an extended shooting war on another front. Given that the EA still has massive production infrastructure to allow them to produce the necessary weapons to arm itself for a major conflict, such production was widely hurt in the anti-LOGOS revolts, and would take several years to bear any reasonable fruit, at the expense of its already dying economy. If it would take ten years at the most for the PLANTs to recover its losses, the EA would suffer four times that long.

So to Shiho it looked like it was an obvious attempt to destabilize the PLANTs, but she was concerned why the other powers were targeted as well. Where the terrorist trying to incite another war by these attacks? Could this be a precursor to another bloody war like the Armory One raid and Break The World? If it were that, then Shiho had good reason to be very afraid. "I like to believe I do, Madam Chair. But the attacks leave so many questions left unanswered. I can conclusively say that they are a definite threat to our nation, but why target the other states as well? There's still a lot more underneath all of this, but I do not have any answers to give you about them," she finished uncertainly. "May I know how much we have lost at Gibraltar?"

Westenfluss nodded to Canaver, who brought up another screen of information. "In terms of materiel, our losses were not too great. A good number of men died, but that is not our greatest loss."

Shiho was surprised with her answer. From what she heard of Canaver, she was a person who valued human life above anything else, hence her moderate to pacifist stands during the wars. But for her to comment like that, it meant the other losses were very important and critical. As she took in what she presented, Shiho gasped as the full impact of the losses hit her.

"But this is-"

"Hai, Shousa," Canaver confirmed. "You can see how much the terrorists has gained from us. If they ever get to use these technologies, think of the greater danger they can pose."

"What is your opinion on the activities of these terrorists?" Joule was next to ask.

Shiho shrugged. "Forgive me if I decline to answer your question, Joule-sama. I am not an intelligence specialist, nor am really I qualified to give such an opinion about that topic. But if you base it on the data they stole and their method of acquiring them, it easy to say that they are ambitious and dangerous in their operations."

"You are a engineering specialist," remarked Canaver. "You line of specialization is in mobile suit and military beam technologies."

"Hai," Shiho responded. "I was part of the design team and a civilian test pilot for the CGUE Deep Arms development program."

Canaver smiled. "You were part of the team that reverse engineered the captured beam weapons from the G-Project mobile suits and integrated them to the CGUE Deep Arms prototypes."

"This was before I enlisted, yes." Shiho confirmed.

Canaver nodded. "Then you may have some opinions about the mobile suits the raiders used against us."

Shiho grimaced. "Gomen, but I don't know anything much about them, and I don't have access to any intelligence reports regarding them.

Canaver looked at Westenfluss, who nodded back at her. The former Chairwoman activated the holographic display screen mounted on the coffee table, and a three-dimensional hologram appeared over it. It was multicolored, and a representation of an anthropomorphic mobile suit came to life, floating and rotating to provide viewers with an all-angle and aspect view.

Shiho studied the imagery in front of her. The mobile suit had all the classic design aspects of the weapon-class, but it was obvious to Shiho that this particular model was built not only for performance purposes, but for intimidation as well. The mobile suit had design elements that were common from the EA's GAT-X series, Shiho's work with them made her very familiar with their workings. There was significant Orb influence in the chassis design, but she figured that was to be expected, since the island nation's major arms developer Morganraete did have a hand in their development. In fact, some of the second-generation series advanced mobile suits ZAFT had deployed in the previous years, from the stolen ZGMF-X09A Justice and ZGMF-X10A Freedom, the multi-role ZGMF-X56S Impulse and ZGMF-X23S Saviour to Dullindal's prized ZGMF-X42S Destiny and ZGMF-X666S Legend were all derivatives of the five G-Project mobile suits.

The raider was of a practical, mass-produced version, of an excellent design. It was plain to see that it was based on the GAT-X207 Blitz, the first mobile suit to incorporate advanced stealth defenses, including a mirrage colloid cloaking system. This raider used that system effectively, in tandem with its advanced weapons. The ability to mount beam rifles, sabers, rail guns and short-ranged missiles into one chassis, plus a stealth system, was an extraordinary achievement. Added with trans-phase armor plus atmospheric flight capabilities, this raider was a dangerous opponent indeed. But that wasn't what worried Shiho the most. The fact that these raider weapons were mass-produced in some way was the scariest part about them. A squadron of these raiders could do massive damage and hard to beat, what more a full battalion or a regiment? Anyone in the possession of such a large force of advanced mobile weapons could dramatically shift the balance of power into their advantage. Not to totally put them in a dominant position, but enough to make the major powers worried.

Canaver brought up some notations about the sections of the mobile suit schematics. "What you are seeing, Shousa, are the preliminary report data we've collected from the raider suit the Minerva captured when it came to the aid of the Archangel. Our technicians are still going over the salvaged suit, but from these initial findings, you can see how well-built and well-designed this mobile suit is."

"As far as we could surmise, this mobile suit is a variant of the GAT-X207 Blitz that the La Crueset team liberated from Heliopolis in CE 71. We've been able to crack its codename, and apparently it is called a Wraith. An appropriate name for the design, if one takes into consideration its designated mission profile. This Wraith was designed as a deep raider, able to operate deep behind enemy lines, attacking and destroying its targets with maximum use of maneuverability, firepower and surprise. It is made from existing technologies, albeit some of them are considered illegal in light of the Junius Seven and Oslo treaties. Most of the systems are ones commonly used in the Earth Alliance military, plus some technologies that we've traced back to Orb. Indeed, some of the systems had been tagged as built by Morganraete Industries themselves."

Shiho looked at Canaver. "Are you saying Orb is behind these machines? That they instigated the attacks - even at themselves?"

It was Joule who answered that. "We have considered the possibility, but it is pretty unlikely. We don't see it as worth their while to attack their own military. This is quite preposterous, in my opinion."

"I share Councilwoman Joule's view," Westenfluss agreed. "But the evidence shows that most of the internals of the Wraith are parts produced by Morganraete. So it is either that Orb is the culprit behind these machines, or this in an elaborate disinformation campaign to confuse us."

Shiho pondered that, and realized that the other women were still keeping something from her. "But you think that it's too simple?"

"Hai," Canaver nodded. "I don't want to sound paranoid, but we can't see the logic of all of this. If this was some black operation designed to disrupt whatever relations we have with Orb, it's just too much in the open for us to buy it, but dangerous enough that we can't just ignore."

"We do have another angle we are looking at," Joule opened. The other two women looked at her stoically, and Shiho had the feeling that she would not like what Yzak's mother was about to say next.

"We are considering the possibility that this might be the doing of the Earth Alliance, specifically the Atlantic Federation."

Shiho looked at the other two. Canaver had her eyes down, expressing her discomfort with what Joule said. Westenfluss was just studying her, apparently waiting for what Shiho would respond with.

She decided to play it safe. "Forgive me for asking, but may know your reasons for your assessment, Joule-sama?"

Joule laughed. "My son was right about you, Shiho-chan. You are an inquisitive one."

Yzak's mother stared right into Shiho's eyes, and held her gaze. Shiho felt she could do nothing but hold it back. "The reason I formed this hypothesis is simple - it is a known fact that the EA has possession of Morganraete technologies - those they learned from the information they received from the Archangel, and those that they salvaged after their invasion of Orb in the first war."

Shiho blinked. Of course! The ones that madman Azrael recovered when he occupied Orb! Shiho you baka! "I understand what you are saying, Joule-sama, but that doesn't fully justify your allegations that the EA are instigating another war with us."

Joule's eyes hardened ever slightly. "I never said they wanted a war, Shousa."

Shiho knew at once that she might have pushed too far with Yzak's mother. Her using Shiho's rank was a not so subtle reminder of Shiho's place in all of this. "Gomen nasai, Joule-sama. I might have used the wrong words. But it still looks strange for me that the EA would do something like this in that direction. I'm only worried of what will happen to us if something terrible starts again."

Joule smiled once more, any visible traces of anger disappearing in her warm façade. "Hai, Shiho-chan. I agree with you fully. Your concerns for the PLANTs and all Coordinators are well founded."

Westenfluss took the moment to cut in on the conversation. "Even though Ezaria may have a somewhat different opinion about all this, the idea she voiced is something we are considering and studying. We should also consider the chance that there maybe parties closer to home that maybe behind all this, as much as I consider the thought farfetched and dangerous."

Shiho's eyes widened. Is the Chairwoman considering a chance that ZAFT or people in the PLANTs could be behind the terrorists? That was a very dangerous idea to be throwing around with such high level members of the colonies' leadership. Shiho couldn't keep the discomfort from forming inside her – she could feel her stomach churning from the nauseating thought. Even the to former council members didn't hide their wariness – Canaver showing the same expression as Shiho's, while Joule was more pronounced with her outrage at the dangerous remarks of the young Chairwoman. It looked like that Joule was about to protest, but her words were cut off by Westenfluss speaking once more."

"I know what I am saying maybe dangerous and reckless, but we can't discount the fact. It had happened to us before, and could happen again."

Shiho gulped, as the Chairwoman's reason sunk into her. Break The World, where some renegade ZAFT soldiers still loyal to former Chairman Patrick Zala's genocidal visions after the first war tried to drop the hulking remains on Junius Seven on Earth to instigate a world-ending catastrophe. Although the attempt was foiled, the derelict shattered into millions of pieces that rained over a large part of the world. Even though the Earth and the human race were saved, over two million still died and millions hurt in the rain of fire that fell. And the PLANTs recognized the reality that their people were to blame for this second war, and took responsibility for it. The Westenfluss never forgot to consider that angle showed Shiho how seriously the Chairwoman was taking this terrorist threat.

"We expect to learn more as soon as more information about the raiders is available from the techs." The Chairwoman pressed another control, and the hologram changed into a video recording of a hanger bay, where technicians were climbing over what looked like a raider mobile suit like ants over dropped food.

"As you can see, the area where the cockpit should be is gone, apparently cored by a beam saber. So we had no information about the pilot. The ones Orb captured at their naval base may have remains of pilots, but for now they haven't included that in the information they shared with us."

Again Shiho was caught unawares with that. "Orb is helping us, Madam Chair?"

"Hai," Canaver answered for her superior. "Under Chief Representative Athha's instructions, the Orb Defense Force has shared whatever information they have collected with us, and the Chairwoman has instructed our side to return the favor." Within limits, she didn't need add. "This is based on the informal agreement between Taisa Jane Devereux of the Minerva and Shousho Kira Yamato of the ODF. The Council received it and approved it, and Athha reciprocated."

"But aren't we considering the chance that Orb might be involved in this?"

"We are, Shousa," Westenfluss answered. "But I reiterate my view that I, like Eileen and Ezaria, believe that is very unlikely. I am moving forward with the belief that if there is a nation I can trust in this situation, it is either Orb or Scandinavia."

Shiho glanced peripherally at the other two women if they agreed with Westenfluss with this one, and it was clear the Joule didn't. You're playing a dangerous game, Madam Chair. I just hope you don't turn out the way Zala and Dullindal did. "How are we working with Orb on this matter, Madam Chair?"

Westenfluss smiled. "As Eileen said, the Council has decided to cooperate with the Orb government. Both nations have agreed to investigate the matter, share information, and act on it."

There it was, confirmation that ZAFT and the Orb military are working together to solve this mystery and to take action to end it. Those words spoke volumes of whatever was going down. No wonder the Chairwoman didn't want this to be heard by others. "How do ZAFT intend to go through with this?"

"We have established a military liaison office through Ambassador Amalfi. We have assigned an officer from our ranks to act as our representative in the ODF, during the course of our joint investigation. He will be present with Orb's investigative team, and has clearance to send us word of their progress."

"In fact," Joule cut in. "The liaison officer is someone you know, Shiho-chan. He is someone Yzak trusts, a fine gentleman from a prominent family. He is well skilled and prepared for this mission, what with his dealings with Orb before."

Shiho took in the news. So that's where Dearka went. She figured that her blonde teammate will be the best one available for the job, being ZAFT's military attaché with Orb. Since she didn't hear news from him in awhile, Shiho figured that Dearka was busy with work. She never imagined it was this kind of work. "So where do you want me in this mission, Madam Chair? Am I going to be assigned to Orb too?"

"Iie, Chusa Elsman can handle things with Ambassador Amalfi from that end. I need you somewhere else." Westenfluss brought up new images on the holoscreen, and explained her orders for Shiho as brief as she could. It took a minute.

"Why there, Madam Chair?" Shiho asked.

"Because that ship is in the best position to act should we uncover something concrete, Shousa." Westenfluss answered. "We want to limit the participants to this delicate mission. We have already deployed that crew to act as our immediate strike force, and we've reinforced them as much as we can quietly. You'll be part of the reinforcements. You'll operate as a part of her mobile suit team. Though you outrank their team commander, I expect you to leave the duty of command to her. I want you to concentrate on the investigation, and the cover mission we've designed for you. Eileen?"

Canaver brought out an optical disc, and inserted it onto the holoscreen drive. Schematics for another mobile suit design, one Shiho had never seen before, came hovering to life. "You'll be using the cover story of test piloting the new mobile suit we've been developing. It's already completed its test flying at the prototype stage. What you'll be taking along is the first of the actual model ZAFT intends to deploy in the near future."

Shiho gazed excitedly at the schematics. "But this is-"

"Hai, Shiho-chan" Joule answered with a grin. "It's the fourth design in the New Millennium Series mobile suit, it lost out to the GOUF during its design competition for a lot faults. MMI1 had finally succeeded in fixing its problems and completing its development and will be begin mass-production to augment our forces. They need a preeminent test pilot to fly it in actual combat conditions, or as close to it as possible. Who could be more suited than you, one of the ace test pilots of the Deep Arms prototype, to be the first to fly this machine?"

Shiho looked at the Chairwoman, who confirmed this with a nod. "It's the only unit we could deploy to the ship without making things to obvious or making the EA wary of our presence. The ship is currently on transit to the South Atlantic, and you will rendezvous with her there. You will report to me directly via Chujo Radul's office in Gibraltar." Westenfluss stood up from the couch and walked to her desk. She took out something from one of the drawers, and motioned for Shiho to come to her.

Westenfluss hesitated at first, before she held out her palm. "I am not sure if I should give this to you, Shousa, what with its history of late." Shiho glanced at the Chairwoman's palm. Nestled on it was a silver pin, shaped in a sharp edged leaf. Shiho recognized it at once. It was a FAITH pin, the symbol of those elite soldiers who were part of the Fast Acting Integrated Tactical Headquarters, the Special Forces branch that answered directly to the Chairwoman of the PLANTs. It was a prestige unit, what with the power it wields and the resources at its disposal. But the group had been tainted of late, what with the actions of its last members, those Gilbert Dullindal inducted to the group to be used as tools for his attempt to enshrine himself as an absolute dictator.

So the Chairwoman was thinking of making her a FAITH member. "Gomen nasai, Madam Chair, but I have to decline this promotion. I am honored though."

The Chairwoman nodded. "I expected your response, and I respect your decision. You still however, retain the privilege of directly reporting to me with regards to this mission. But in all other regards, you will follow the chain of command of the battleship's crew."

"Understood, Madam Chair."

Canaver and Joule stood up from there seats, as Westenfluss offered her hand to Shiho once more. "Take the dossier on the Wraith and your new unit. You have twenty-four hours to study them and prepare for your trip to the South Atlantic. The Virgil is waiting to transit you to Earth's orbit." The Chairwoman smiled sadly at Shiho. "If there is one thing about being Chairwoman of the PLANTs that I do not savor, it's that I have to order young people like you to go into harm's way. But bear in mind that the safety of the PLANTs, and possibly the entire world may rest on your shoulders, Shousa. I am counting on you to succeed."

"Hai, Madam Chair."


George Glenn Military Hospital

ZAFT Militia Academy Grounds

Aprilius One

Aprilius City

PLANT

L5

January 4, CE 75

The sound of metal crashing greeted Shiho as she stepped out of the elevator unto the floor of the hospital where Yzak was confined in. The first thing she saw from the people in this ward was pandemonium, as everyone was reacting to the loud noise that violated their eardrums. The sound was coming from a room near the nurses' station, and a couple of female nurses and large male attendants where coming out off, apparently frightened out of their wits. Shiho approached a nervous looking young nurse who was manning the station, warily looking at the door of the room her terrified co-workers just left.

Shiho already had a bad feeling whose room that was, but rather than risk barging into the room and find out that it wasn't the one she was visiting, she decided to ask the nurse. She walked over to her and, giving her best smile to the nurse, asked her. "Konnichi-wa. Could you point me to Shousho Joule's room?"

The nurse looked at Shiho like she was the Harbinger of Hell. She stammered at her words, and seemed to be forcing her hand to point to the direction of the room where the noises were coming from. Shiho helped her by pointing her own finger to the same direction, and was rewarded by a reluctant nod. Fighting the urge to roll her eyes, Shiho thanked the nurse and stepped in front of the room's door.

Feeling the eyes of everyone on the corridors and the station on her, Shiho knocked twice.

"Didn't I just say that I don't want to see any of your faces? WASN'T I CLEAR ENOUGH?"

Shiho sighed. This was definitely Yzak's room. From the sound of his voice, he was not having a great time. Figuring it would be better to just go into the room than argue with her hotheaded commander before she ever got to go in, Shiho opened the door and silently slid through.

The room was a mess. Metal trays were scattered on the floor, and spilled food, plates, utensils and glasses ringed around them. Several new-looking patients' robes were haphazardly dropped on one side of the room, the bearer obviously wanting to escape the patient's wrath as soon as he or she could. Several flower bases, their floral arrangements spilled from the containers, lay a table. A pair of crutches was lying on the side of the bed, beside a fallen chair.

Shaking her head, Shiho took stock of the patient occupying this room. Yzak was sitting on the bed, his head lying on a pillow on the inclined part. He was wearing hospital robes underneath red house robes with the Joule Family crest. Shiho's eyes traced down to his legs, but they were underneath sheets and they hid whatever evidence were there of Yzak's grave injuries. The blonde pilot did not seem to notice her, and was staring out unto the window, cold anger evident in his eyes.

Yzak must have heard her movements, for he turned to face her. "You really want to get on my hate list, don't you-," Yzak eyes widened briefly as he saw her, then turned away to look at the window again. "Oh. Its you."

Shiho pasted a smile on her face. "I just came from Chairwoman Westenfluss' office, and I figured I'd drop by to see you."

"It's so nice of you to drop by," Yzak answered sarcastically.

Shiho shook her head. "I didn't get to you much back in Oslo, and then they shipped you out here earlier than me. I just got back a few days ago, so this was the first time I could visit."

Yzak's eyes fell unto what Shiho was carrying. "And what the hell are those?"

"Oh these? Flowers," Shiho said.

Yzak was looking more exasperated. "I know they're flowers. I'm asking what the hell they're for?"

Shiho bit her lip, fighting the urge to smack Yzak with a good right. "They're for you, if you cared to notice."

Yzak snorted. "And if you noticed yourself, I don't really care for flowers." He gestured at the toppled over vases.

Shiho was getting pissed. Here I am trying to show this baka how much I've been worried for him, and he gives me all this crap! Why the hell do I put up with him? She felt tempted to turn around and leave, but Yzak stopped her by reaching out a hand to her.

"Well? What are you waiting for? Gimme those damn plants."

Surprised, Shiho handed over the bouquet to Yzak, who shifted his body to face one of the side tables beside his bed. He picked up an upturned vase and casually dumped its contents on the floor, replaced the vase on the table, and put Shiho's bouquet in them. He looked at them curiously. "First time I got flowers from a girl before."

Shiho was speechless, but Yzak didn't seem to notice that. He just shifted his body more so that his legs were hanging over the side of the bed. Shiho saw the lower part of the right leg was heavily bandaged; the amputation point under the knee was covered from sight. Yzak kept his eyes on the flowers, before speaking once more. "So what brings you here, Housenka2?"

It was Yzak's use of the nickname he gave her during their time working together in the Deep Arms project that broke Shiho's speechless spell. She shifted uncomfortably. "I came to see how you were doing."

Yzak raised an eye at her. "I guess you can see for yourself."

Shiho lips formed a straight line. "Your mother said that you'll have your operation next week."

Yzak snorted. "Yeah. The doctors said that it should be fine, and I'd be walking again in a few months. Don't know yet if I could fly again," he finished bitterly.

"Gomen."

Yzak stared at her angrily. "What are you feeling sorry for, Hanenfuss? I'll be out there flying to bust your ass back to private for being a stupid baka in no time. You can bet on that."

Shiho smiled. For all that Yzak was a complete idiot, he has a strange sense of humor that she really liked. She could feel her cheeks warming up, a sensation that was both embarrassing, and enjoyable.

Yzak didn't notice this, however, and continued his rant. "So you've seen my mother, eh Housenka? How is the old lady doing?"

Shiho picked up a chair and sat on it. "I saw her with Chairwoman Westenfluss. She was there to help brief me on my new assignment."

Yzak eyes grew grim. "New assignment? Where the hell are they putting you? And why didn't they tell me first!"

Shiho looked down at her fingers. "Gomen, Yzak, but I really can't tell you."

There was an uneasy silence as Yzak scrutinized her. "Need to know crap huh?"

Shiho nodded.

Yzak bit his lip. "When are you leaving?" he whispered.

Shiho smiled sadly. "Tomorrow afternoon probably. I can't say much else."

Yzak nodded. "Just be careful out there, Housenka. I don't want you doing what that baka Dearka would do. I won't be surprised if he got caught in that disaster in Orb." Yzak turned serious at her. "I swear I'll kill you myself if you get into trouble."

"Hai, Yzak-sama."

Yzak growled. "I hate it when you call me Yzak-sama. Makes me sound like some senile old codger."

Shiho giggled. "Gomen nasai, Yzak-san."


It was late in the afternoon when Shiho walked out of the hospital lobby into the driveway. Her visit to Yzak was fruitful, in her point of view. Though it started off on the wrong foot, her friend soon got the sense to act more mature around her. She enjoyed the hour she spent talking to him, about topics not related to their profession. Even with his not-so-pleasant temper, Yzak was well educated and versed in a conversation, and could almost seem like a normal human being when relating with others. And from the nice way Yzak treated her, Shiho felt that Yzak was a good person underneath all his emotional baggage.

I guess you could get to speak to the real Yzak once you gained his trust.

She stepped off to the side of the street, hoping to catch a cab to take her back to her barracks on the other side of the city. Without thinking, Shiho glanced up back to the hospital building, looking at the direction of where Yzak's room was. Not really expecting anything, she was surprised to see someone standing in front of the window, looking down at her.

It was Yzak.

He was standing there, supported by crutches. Shiho could not hear if he was saying anything, it was getting too dark and the room was too far and high up for her to see clearly. But she was sure it was him; the fading sunlight glistening on his friend silver hair. Yzak raised a hand at her, a sign both as a farewell and good fortune.

Shiho silently raised her hand in response, and smiled back at him. She knew she felt something about him; Yzak had always been special to her. And now it was clear that Yzak did care for her; at least enough to worry about her untold assignment.

I wish I could have said more to him.

A bus stopped in front of her, covering Shiho's view to her friend. She looked up and down to catch a glimpse of him angle, but the angle was completely covered by the bus' mass. Thankfully the bus left her path, and her eyes had a clear view to Yzak's window once more.

But he was gone.

The curtains closed behind the forlorn window.


Archangel

Somewhere In The South Pacific

January 5, CE 75

Lately she couldn't sleep at night, the dreams waking her in a cold sweat, the feeling of being alone and confusion adding to her anxieties. It was difficult for her, being in this state. Adding the pressures of being an integral crewmember in a warship once more, Meyrin wondered how she was coping. She felt like she was nearing her breaking point, but she kept herself from falling apart.

She contemplated on the changes in her life that had molded her into what she was now. Meyrin never realized how far she had come, and how little had changed in her. When she was young, it felt like she was always lagging behind, especially when it came to her sister. She always thought Lunamaria had it all; the looks, the attitude, the boys. Unlike her sister, Meyrin was more of shy type - letting Luna take the initiative and garnering much of the attention and praise. At first it was just fine with her, content to let Luna have all the fun, be the favorite among their parents and peers. But as she grew older, she felt the first hints of jealousy with her older sibling, and a feeling of inferiority towards her.

Meyrin thought, when they both entered the ZAFT Academy almost two years ago, that she could change all that and stand on her own two feet. At first she was enthusiastic with her chances, putting all of her time and effort to excelling in her studies and training. She discovered that she had a knack for computers, and Meyrin quickly advanced to more complex uses of the technology. But once more Luna one-upped her, being accepted into the more glamorous field of mobile suits. Meyrin watched as Luna became a trainee pilot, and, together with their common friends, the angsty, ill-tempered Shinn and the silent mysterious Rey Za Burrel, successfully pass the training course and inducted into the elite redcoats after their graduation. This meant that once more her sister outdid her, and in the same time outranked her at the start of their military service. Even though she was not one to openly remark negatively against her sister, she felt the gap between them increase dramatically. She felt that she could not get away from her sister's shadow.

Things came to a boil upon the beginning of their adventures with the Minerva, with the chance encounter with one Athrun Zala. The sisters knew who he was - a legend of the first war, a redcoat officer, son of one of the PLANTs most powerful leaders, member of an elite mobile suit squad, vanquisher of one of ZAFT's most feared enemies, pilot of an advanced mobile weapon, turned traitor in order to protect the woman he loved, hero of the Coordinator people.

They heard of Athrun way before the sisters entered the Academy, and both began to have crushes on him as he was paraded in honor behind his illustrious father, and both felt envy at the pink-haired princess they thought had ownership of his heart. The both shared the sorrow as they heard of his betrayal in the waning months of the first war, and cheered him as he emerged as a victorious hero at its end. When they started their training, their idol disappeared, seemingly hiding away from all the chaos of post-war reconstruction.

Meyrin was sure it was Fate that Athrun stumbled unto the Minerva that day in Armory One, landing suddenly in their midst in a commandeered ZAKU, a blonde haired woman in his arms. At first she could not recognize him, but Meyrin felt a bond with him she could not understand. Their first meeting was a disaster, ending with Meyrin fumbling with words when she and her friends stumbled upon Athrun as they gossiped about him. When he returned to his self-imposed exile in Orb, Meyrin thought that that was that; a fleeting encounter with someone she had a big, fangirl crush on. She never did learn much about him, and figured there was nothing more she could do.

But he returned. Unexpectedly and out of the blue, Athrun flew back to the Minerva, riding the crest of the wave of authority and power vested upon him by Chairwoman Dullindal himself. In command of the militia's newest mobile suit, Athrun took command of Minerva's mobile suit team, with an aura of confidence that overwhelmed Meyrin as she gazed upon her hero, decked in the familiar red uniform that placed him within the ranks of ZAFT's heroic paladins. That he was now staying for good pushed Meyrin to act; she know had the chance to get to know him better, and she decided not to waste it.

And thankfully she did, for once more the cold war between herself and her sister was brewing, and Athrun Zala was the target of their new conquest. Again Luna took the offensive first, using her status as a member of Athrun's team to take advantage of her close proximity to him. She figured her more physical flirting could work wonders around the blue-haired commander. Meyrin took a more scientific approach, researching as much as she could about Athrun from the files of the militia, which she could access more easily than others with her excellent skills. Even though she knew she was giving up much of a lead to Luna, Meyrin wanted to be patient, so as not to give to much hope for her that it would hurt should she fail and be rejected.

Initially, both sisters fell flat on their faces. Athrun never gave to much notice to them, save for the professional socialization that came with their duties. It wasn't that Athrun was not a perfect gentleman; in fact he was, and Meyrin was a recipient of his excellent conduct in that moment they shared at 'Lacus Clyne's' concert in Diocvia. That was a small victory over her sister - Luna had never gotten Athrun to fall for any of her attempts to catch his eye, and Meyrin never really intended for Athrun to catch her and stop her fall. But Athrun looked to be somewhat uncomfortable around the opposite sex, a surprising little fact given that he was a handsome man back with impeccable credentials. But that was how Meyrin and her sister saw him, and they only knew the outside face of the quiet and introverted officer.

In fact, Meyrin noticed that Athrun was somewhat less of an aggressive commander a ZAFT soldier might expect from a member of FAITH. He seemed far away and introspective, like there was something that was nagging him inside his mind and was affecting his duties. He was still one of the best when it came to flying and fighting in a mobile suit, but that too looked to be tempered by something. There was a conflict brewing inside him, something Meyrin would come to understand after a few months into the war, when the Minerva finally arrived at Gibraltar after a harrowing trek through South Asia and into Europe.

By that time, the entire crew of the battleship was exhausted physically and mentally; with the grueling experiences they went through. The Minerva's losses were great; several of the crew, including one of their elite pilots killed, the majority of their mobile suit complement knock out of commission, and the battleship suffering massive damage. Athrun felt the losses more deeply than the rest, having had the ZGMF-X23S Saviour shot under him (by his best friend, of all people), a comrade killed by his side, his ideals and visions overshadowed by war and betrayed by his leader, his own life threatened by those he served and protected. A series of events which drove Athrun to contemplate his own betrayal and seek flight to safety.

And that was when Meyrin came to know the true Athrun Zala. On that dark and stormy night, he came to her room, soaked from the rain and fighting for his life, hiding from the one who sought to kill him in their own treachery. She didn't know what drove her to help him, but she quickly thought of a way and executed it without hesitation. He never asked for her help, only her silence. But Meyrin stepped out of the darkness of her life and into the light of reality, however blinding and uncomfortable it would have been. She went with him, braving the deadly fire from Rey to escape into the GOUF and fly away from Gibraltar. Meyrin drew all of her courage to weather the terrible moments when Rey and Shinn came in pursuit, ignoring Athrun's pleas not to hurt her, and to face the death Shinn had sentenced them too.

She fell into darkness, and for what felt like an eternity she wondered if she would never come back to the land of the living. But when she finally opened her eyes, she woke in the bosom of the Archangel, the ship that she once considered her enemy, in the care of the blonde woman who truly was the owner of Athrun's heart and soul.

In her talks with Cagalli-sama, Meyrin listened to all the stories she told her about the one man who held both their hearts enthralled. To the Chief Representative, he was someone who she could hold onto and be herself, to be there when she needed someone to share her true feelings with. But Meyrin slowly picked up the hints that things were not as rosy as she thought it was about Cagalli Yula Athha and Athrun Zala. The weight of their respective responsibilities, plus the distance that was placed between them, weakened their personal feelings between one another. Meyrin felt the same way with Athrun, since he never seemed to look for time to be with Cagalli-sama after returning to the Archangel, always silently content to be somewhere else.

And wherever he was, Meyrin was most likely with him. Except for the days when they were both recuperating from the injuries they received during the flight from Gibraltar, Meyrin was never far from Athrun. And Athrun would not say anything to send her away; he quietly accepted her presence, and did things with her help and company. Oblivious to the knowledge that his silent acceptance meant the world to her, Athrun continued to live, and Meyrin saw to it that she would help his existence.

So at the risk of being branded as a traitor to her side, Meyrin followed Athrun into the chaos the Archangel's crew was fighting against. She was at his side right before he first flew the Infinite Justice, in Athrun's first attempt to persuade Shinn to see the light of truth, to turn away from the illusions Dullindal and Rey was showing him. Though she feared for her sister, who had no knowledge of her survival or changing of side, she could not help it. She made a choice to stay with the man she had come to know so well, and was still learning about.

And in another strange twist of faith, so was given the chance to learn and grow with him further. Cagalli-sama's responsibilities denied her the choice to join Athrun and their comrades, in their quest to stop Dullindal in the dark reaches of space. Her duty to the people of Orb made her stay behind, to fully assume the heavy mantle of burden her late father had bequeathed her. In the process she stepped farther away from Athrun. As she finished her farewell speech to the Archangel's crew, they both said nothing, as if they both trusted each other to know what were the desires of each other's hearts, even though the silence denied them the chance to say it into words.

As she disembarked from the Archangel, Cagalli-sama crossed Meyrin's path. Seeing her in her ZAFT uniform, the Chief Representative stopped and greeted her warmly.

"So you are going with him?" Cagalli-sama had asked her.

"Hai," Meyrin answered silently.

Cagalli-sama looked into her eyes, a hint of sadness in her brown orbs. "Please…take care of him." She dropped her gaze and looked away. "Because I can't go along with everyone."

Meyrin didn't know how to reply to her. She was leaving him to her care.

The Orb leader smiled. "I'll pray for your safety, then." And then she left, saying nothing more. But Meyrin saw the tears forming in Cagalli-sama's eyes, and Meyrin felt the sadness that was going inside the woman she knew her man loved.

So from then on all of Meyrin's time and effort was concentrated on Athrun's welfare, especially since they were entering such a crucial stage in the war. She had accompanied him and his friends Kira Yamato and Lacus Clyne in their mission to rescue Lacus' double, Meer Campbell, which ended tragically for Meer and more grief and hurt for Athrun. She had taken up a position on the Terminal's fast transport Eternal, acting as combat information and control officer for Athrun and Kira-san's mobile suits. She wanted to in a position to help Athrun with her best, and be able to communicate with him in the thick of battle. Her help was valuable to him; she made it possible to help convince her sister that their cause was just, and allowed Athrun to reach her with his words. With the war ending with Terminal's victory at the Battle of Messiah, Meyrin faced the future with the hope of a better world, and the chance to grow closer to the man she chose for her life.

But reconstruction and peace talks formed a growing barrier between them, the same way as it did for Cagalli-sama and Athrun. Meyrin was asked by Lacus-san, who became a close friend of hers with the shared experiences after meeting on Orb, to work for her in her newly established Foundation for war orphans. Meyrin became the songstress' private secretary and confidante, acting on her behalf with the workings of the Foundation. The hectic pace of her new job; the shuttling between war-torn states, the communications between those who have located and cared for orphaned children, and the supervision of the administrative functions of the Clyne Foundation's offices, cut deeply into her time.

And Athrun seemed to growing more distant, with his constant traveling with Kira-san to the former battlefields, and his solo trips to different places, apparently in search for someone. That someone turned out to be Shinn, who had returned to the PLANTs with her sister but left her months later. Meyrin came to feel anger at her former friend and comrade with his treatment of Luna, and never understood why Athrun would want to seek him out. But she was sure that the distance between them was growing, but she was not sure if Athrun noticed it, or even cared.

And she wanted him to care. She wanted to him to say something, even get mad at her for staying away from him with her Foundation work. But that was not who Athrun was. She was learning that he was a man of few words, and one who tends to hide his feelings, rather than express them. For all his incredible talents, Athrun was human, with frailties as much as everyone else. And this was what Meyrin fell in love with him the most: his humanity.

But, being a woman, with needs and desires like any other young woman of her age would, she felt the growing need of something more from him. With the growing chaos that was once again shadowing the world she knew, he was taking more of a role to stop the growing madness. And along the way he was putting his life more into the risks involved, and that scared Meyrin. She feared for his life, that was a natural thing. But she feared even more the feeling of something hanging between them, and that she never know the answer from him.

And it was troubling her. She knew it was affecting her duties as a crewmember, and was afraid of making a mistake. She was afraid that that mistake can cost Athrun his life, and she would be to blame. She could never live with that. So she knew she had to solve this. But she needed his help.

So she stumbled along the silent corridors of the Archangel, most of her crew resting in their quarters, or quietly going through this night's duty shift. The ship had settled on the circular course, traveling along this sector of the Atlantic at very low speeds, almost drifting along the South Pacific underwater currents, as they waited for the results of the investigation of the ambush they just survived. Meyrin was part of the team tasked to study what had happened - she was looking in on the possibility that their transmission to the satellite was compromised. She had been working tirelessly on it, and she was close to solving the mystery. But it was exhausting her, and this was adding to the anxieties she was carrying.

She felt helpless and scared when she alone in her quarters - Lacus-san, who should have been her roommate, was spending a lot more time with Kira-san. She felt envious of her intimacy with the Strike Freedom's pilot, wishing that she could experience that with her man. So she walked alone, deep in her thoughts.

She met some of the crew along the way, but did not speak to them apart from a quick greeting. She came upon Shinn in the observation deck, quietly watching the darkness of the deep ocean and its alien-like sea life, his red eyes still full of anger and troubles. After the incident with Athrun and Kira-san in the pilot's ready room, the former Minerva ace had avoided them all, which suited Meyrin fine. She still hadn't forgiven him, and she didn't know when she could face that problem and settle it. Shinn didn't notice her, and Meyrin left him to his brooding. She continued her walk along the silent passageways, until she ended up in the ship's galley.

She found him there, alone and silently sitting in front of one of the galley's tables. Athrun sat there, his hands holding a cup of coffee, but with no movement to savor the brew. He looked up and saw her, and smiled sadly in greeting.

Paralyzed in surprise, Meyrin couldn't move from her spot at the doorway. She wanted to go to him, but he didn't want to invade his privacy. She watched him, looking so handsome, with the kind features of his face tinged with a sorrow she wanted to understand. It felt wrong for her to intrude upon him like this, and she was ready to go away.

But his soft voice broke her resolve. She couldn't resist him and his simple call.

"Join me?"

Two simple words - an invitation to stay in with him and to share his company. Meyrin wanted it more than anything. But she had to be sure.

"Gomen, but I think I'll just be intruding."

Once again Athrun gave her that sad smile that made her heart skip. "Iie, I could use the company." He dropped his green eyes and looked at his hands. "Please, Meyrin."

And so she stayed, entering the galley and headed for the coffee dispenser to get herself a cup. She then sat in front of him, and began to share the silent moment with him, content not to say anything, just enjoy each other's presence. She could live with it this way, since she could see it made him happy. And it made her happy too.

If only her happiness could be this way forever. A forever that she felt deep inside, could never be.


Raider Base

Location Unknown

January 6, CE 75

Adam rubbed his purple eyes. They were feeling the strain of his all-nighter studying the reports they acquired from ZAFT and Samson's subsequent notes. The file was an interesting one for him, and the revelations he uncovered were bound to be useful in the future. He flicked the pages to sections he needed to double check, to make sure he understood them correctly.

It was a boon for their cause that they had access to such files. Once they began to apply these systems to their existing arsenals, their power would increase tenfold. It would surely bring them closer to the victory they all attain for. And for him, it would take him closer to revenge against the one he hated of all.

The mad hunger rising inside him, Adam opened his desk safe and put the Gibraltar files back in, replacing them with the binder his masked Master had provided for him. Again he felt fortunate that the Pharaoh had access to such information; in fact, Adam should have expected it from someone whose power and influence reached to the boundaries of all Humankind.

Like a priceless treasure, Adam lovingly caressed the binder's cover, before delicately opening it to its contents. Though he had finished reading every single page of this file, Adam found himself wanting to read it over and over again. It was like a window to his soul, a veritable insight on his own humanity, the descriptions minutely detailed his own existence. And as happy as he was to learn more about himself, he felt angry as well - angry at the individual who shared his fate, but lived his life differently.

Adam felt envious. He wanted that life. He wanted that individual's power.

And with the Pharaoh's gift, he knew he could take it for his own.

All he had to do for now, was orchestrate the events to come for him to confront his hated enemy, and then destroy him. For only by destroying him, can he feel his true place on the order of humanity's predatory food chain; the very top.

And take his place as humanity's greatest legacy. Or it's greatest curse.


LHM-BB01 Minerva

South Atlantic

January 8, CE 75

Devereux checked her watch. It was mid morning now, the sun in the eastern sky halfway through to its apex, its warmth and light permeating through the bridge's massive viewports. It was nearly time no, only a few seconds before they begun their last stretch in their wait for the ship's newest crewmember. Due to secrecy, she had not received much information about the new transfer, except that this person was to augment the Minerva's mobile suit force.

And it was about time that the reinforcement arrived. The Minerva had been at this spot in the vast ocean for two days now, holding station by running an oval route fifteen miles across and four miles wide, traveling along the course at a sedate fifteen knots. They were close enough to the South American coast to command the interest of EA units nearby; their position put them two hundred miles east of Montevideo, where the OMNI Enforcer had a large naval base.

And the EA was showing their presence in the area. Twice a day Burt Heim had reported his detection of recon aircraft with his sensors, circling just beyond effective missile range. The intruders were content to scan them from afar, and did nothing to provoke any response from the Minerva. Arthur Trine once recommended launching a mobile suit to investigate, but Devereux denied the order. She did not want to give then reason to be more wary of their being there.

So they endured the daily intrusions, ignoring them for most part, but just in case, Devereux kept the ship on Condition Yellow most of the time, and even ordered the crew to Condition Red a few instances to keep them alert. This, however, was exhausting and irritating to the crew, and Devereux too was beginning to be affected by their routine.

So it was a good change of pace that they were waiting for the arrival. A just received laser transmission from Gibraltar indicated that the Nazca-class destroyer Virgil was about to launch the descent pod that carried the new unit, so Devereux had ordered the crew to stand to.

"Keep your eyes open, Mister Heim," she reminded her sensors officer.

"Hai," Heim responded.

"We're receiving a transmission from the Virgil, Kanchou." Abi reported from her seat. "They have released the descent pod and it is beginning its drop." She gave its initial position above the atmosphere.

"Sensors?"

"Tracking it now, Kanchou." Heim answered. "I'll bring up its descent trajectory on the main screen."

Devereux watched the transit data. The pod had just penetrated the outer layers of Earth's atmosphere, the second stage of its descent. Heim had successfully opened a comlink to the mobile suit it carried, but atmospheric interference was causing a lot of static. "The signal should clear once the pod enters stage four."

"Arigato. Keep monitoring its progress."

The crew waited for another five minutes, including a two-minute span when all communications with the pod was lost, as it entered the black zone of stage-three descent. But as the transit data indicated that the pod had passed into the troposphere, a much clearer voice was coming into the communications line.

"Minerva control, this is ZAFT three-four-four-six-two, do you read me over?"

It was a woman's voice. Devereux nodded to Abi to reply.

"ZAFT three-four-four-six-two, Minerva. We read you loud and clear."

"Nice to hear your voice, Minerva. I am at fifty-five thousand meters, with a descent velocity of Mach three-point-oh. I am sending my telemetry and IFF3 signals to you now."

New information came into the viewscreen, and Devereux could now see the mobile suit's identification code: ZGMF-XX14A GELGOOG.

"Confirmed, ZAFT three-four-four-six-two. We have your codes. You may begin release from pod."

"Hai, Minerva. Releasing from pod now." The crew could here a explosion from the background of the transmission, the evidence of the explosive bolts that held the pod's heat shielded covers in place ejecting them, and releasing the new mobile suit from it's restraints into free-fall. "Release successful, and I am in free-fall. Deploying variable wings now." There was a pause for a few seconds. "Wings deployed. Descent velocity decreasing to Mach two-point-six. Altitude at forty-one thousand. Beginning controlled atmospheric flight."

"ZAFT three-four-four-six-two, we have your position."

"Guide her in, Abi." Devereux commanded.

"Hai. ZAFT three-four-four-six-two, come left forty seven degrees to a new heading two-four-four."

"Roger, Minerva. Changing course now." The data on the screen changed as the GELGOOG shifted towards their location. "Course change complete. I am at thirty-three thousand feet, speed of Mach one-point-three."

ZAFT three-four-four-six-two, maintain course and descend to five thousand." Abi turned to her commander. "She's into her last descent phase, Kanchou."

"Very well, Miss Windsor. Order the ship to Condition Yellow. Prepare for mobile suit landing operations."

"Hai," Abi replied, and she opened the PA for all to here. "Condition Yellow, Condition Yellow. All sections prepare for mobile suit landing. Starboard bay, standby."

"Minerva, ZAFT three-four-four-six-two. I am forty miles out at five thousand; I can see you on the horizon."

"Copy that, ZAFT three-four-four-six-two. You may begin landing procedures. S/VTOL landing on starboard bay one. Maintain constant communications with my station."

Devereux waited for another few minutes before she could she the gunmetal mobile suit came into view. The bulky looking machine, with wings similar to those of the Justice series mobile suits, slowly dropped closer to the ship, angling for bay one. Abi was guiding her approach, and soon it was in line for a clean landing. Flaring its backpack and leg thrusters, the GELGOOG stepped unto the edge of the landing deck, and after another angry flare, killed its thrusters.

"ZAFT three-four-four-six-two has landed, Kanchou," Abi finally reported. The GELGOOG was now walking into the interior of bay-one, its pilot confirming what the golden-haired CIC officer had just reported.

"Well done, Miss Windsor." Devereux stood up from the captain's chair. "Secure the ship from Condition Yellow. Have Tai-I Hawke meet me in the main hanger. We'll meet our new pilot when she disembarks. Mister Trine, you have the conn."


Luna waited with the Kanchou for the pilot of the new mobile suit to get out of the cockpit. She had taken the time from when she arrived at the hanger bay to study the new suit. It was a large design, bulkier than the usual mobile suit chassis she was accustomed to seeing. The GELGOOG, at first glance, looked like a large knight in Gothic-style plate mail armor, its rounded edges giving it a sleek, streamlined look. The head followed its Gothic knight theme, looking like the ones the princes of old would use to protect themselves from battle. Large powerful hand actuators held a massive beam rifle and a spiked shield similar to that of Madison's GOUF. Four missile tubes protruded from the sides of the heavily armored legs, as were three more on each of the shoulder's sides. A flight backpack that could double as a detachable lifter hung behind the mobile suit, providing more raw power for atmospheric flight. To Luna it looked like a superb weapon, albeit she was turned off with its ungainly looking bulkiness. But she reserved final judgement with the machine until she saw it in battle.

A small crowd of techs had gathered behind them, but the Kanchou was not giving any signs of shooing them away. Luna practically ignored them, concentrating her attention to where the GELGOOG held its cockpit.

Finally, the cockpit opened. Out came the pilot, obviously female by the looks and the grace of her movement, and she began her descent on the lift cable attached by the hatch. She slid down for half a minute, before stepping unto the hanger bay floor.

She was a petite one, a bit smaller than Luna was. She was wearing a red flight suit like the one Luna wore, and carried a briefcase with her. She still hadn't taken off her helmet, as she strode forward to where Luna and the Kanchou stood. To Luna, it felt like déjà vu; it reminded her of when Athrun Zala came confidently out of the old Saviour to greet his new comrades.

Luna took a moment to relive his memories of Athrun. She had a crush on him, she cared to admit to himself, but the blue haired warrior looked to have fallen for the charms of her sister, Meyrin. Last she heard of the two they were still together, but Luna had a nagging feeling that she would have to take that information from a certain point of view. For now she couldn't think of it much; she had more important things on her mind. Like this new individual, one apparently out-ranking her, and therefore a possible threat to her command position. Luna decided to the study this person seriously.

The pilot stopped in front of them, and placed her briefcase on the floor. She unsealed the latches holding her helmet in place, and took it off. Shiny brown hair cascaded down shoulder length, and hawk-like eyes stared out at Luna. The pilot smiled as she stood in straight attention, and gave the two the stiff armed ZAFT salute. The pilot faced the Kanchou as she spoke for the first time.

"Shousa Shiho Hanenfuss, reporting for duty, Kanchou."


1 MMI is short for Maius Military Industries, the name of one of the major armaments design and manufacturing corporations in the PLANTs, with offices and factories located on one of the colonies in the Maius colony sector. MMI has developed much of the advanced weaponry mounted on ZAFT mobile weapons since the First War. Notable products includes the MA-M21G beam rifle of the ZGMF-600 GuAIZ, the MA-M20 Lupus beam rifles of the Freedom and the Justice, and MMI-M8A3 76mm machine gun of the venerable ZGMF-1017 GINN.

2 Housenka is the Japanese translation for balsam, an oak tree known for its sap used in balsamic vinegar. Based on the manga and other sources, Yzak called Shiho 'balsam' for her tactic of scattering beams in a circling arc, like the branches of the balsam tree.

3 IFF- Identify Friend or Foe