Well I'm back, and hopefully I can continue this story with a little more normality in my life. I had a medical crisis in my family – my dad had his third stroke late February, and I had to help my mom take care of him and we basically lived in the hospital for almost a month. This threw my life into a curve, affecting my work, business and free time. But now things are getting better with my dad, and I've finished taking care of other things, that I've gotten some space to work on my hobbies a little bit again. Before I tried to write about Renaissance again, I've re-watched both SEED and Destiny and researched other references to get me up to speed with the series once more. I ask for patience if the quality of this chapter is not up to par with the others; my hiatus had all but screwed up my sucky writing skills.
Aside from Renaissance, I have begun a project of making a Chronological Timeline for the Cosmic Era, one based on canon and the other integrating story details of Renaissance. It's still a work in process, so I won't be releasing it soon on the web. And the Renaissance timeline won't be released till the end of the story, as an annex or additional epilogue. I don't want to reveal all of the secrets of Renaissance just yet, so I won't make the Timeline available still.
Some notes I've researched regarding the Three Ships Alliance: The name Three Ships Alliance was the name used by the Archangel, Kusanagi and Eternal to identify their rag-tag force during the First Bloody Valentine War, while Terminal was used in the Second War. At first I thought Terminal was the name of the Three Ships Alliance's factory satellite where the Eternal was docked and the Strike Freedom, Infinite Justice and the DOM Troopers were built. In some websites, however, they state that the TSA was renamed into Terminal, and that it became an intelligence organization with a expanded network of Orb Union and Clyne Faction personnel and supporters, with the aims of gathering intelligence and recruiting members from all the major world powers to protect Naturals and Coordinators alike and the active prevention of war. Though that sounded completely feasible, I have not come about anything to confirm this in Gundam SEED canon. However, for the case of uniformity in Renaissance, I will use Terminal in this way (as replacement for the TSA as the name of Kira and Lacus' group) but still call the factory satellite Terminal so as to simplify things. From now on, as you can see from my edits, I've changed the TSA into Terminal.
Also, based on an interview with Shigeru Morita, he categorically confirms that both the ZGMF-X19A Infinite Justice and the ZGMF-X20A Strike Freedom are equipped and powered by Ultra-compact Hyper Deuterion Fission Reactors, the new generation power plants used by the ZGMF-X42S Destiny and ZGMF-X666S Legend. This totally screws up my notes: I figured that deuterion fission reactors were not available yet to Terminal because it was very recent technology, and most canon sources indicated that only Dullindal's Gundams possessed such reactors and the deuterion beam transfer system. So when I had the Destiny reincarnated to its current form, I replaced the lost reactor with a more common one, since I figured that there isn't another deuterion reactor in Terminal's hands yet. I've corrected the mistake, but it required a lot of revisions. Oh well.
Regarding the Orb Union's structure of government: though in some scenes in the anime it shows the Union's government as looking like a parliamentary system, there is a body of elders known as the Council of Emirs, which consists of aristocratic members of noble families (notably the Atthas, Seirans and Sahakus) which acts as the primary executive cabinet of the Union. I guess this is the group of leaders always shown meeting with the Chief Representative, but there must be another body, like a true parliament, acting as a legislative body and where Uzumi Nara Attha is shown addressing. I will use this as basis of the Orb Union's government in Renaissance.
They've started showing the English-dubbed version of Gundam SEED Destiny here at our area on Toonami, and I hate to say it but I'm not impressed. In my opinion, nothing beats the original Japanese version – the choice for voice dubbers for the Destiny characters isn't that great, with the exception of Meyrin Hawke's and Arthur Trine, whose dubbers had nice voices and fit their characters. I really didn't like the editing out of Lacus Clyne's (Rie Tanaka's) voice in the song Fields of Hope during its insert in Phase 7 – it killed the beauty of the song, leaving only the instrumental part and the second vocals. Hopefully the English dubbers won't do that with Stellar's song later on the series, or it'll really wreck the anime. My advice for those who have not yet watched or completed Destiny: watch the original Japanese version, if you can get access to it. With only a few exceptions the English dub doesn't make the grade for me.
With the release of this chapter, I will be reposting the other twelve. I've done some minor revisions, like I said above, and did as much grammar and spelling checks as I could. I've also fleshed out much of the story so far, with no major changes to the storyline. Please take time to re-read the preceding chapters, if you like.
Once more thanks for reading this fanfiction, and I hope you enjoy this new chapter.
SEED Mode On!
Mobile Suit Gundam SEED is owned and copyrighted by Mitsuo Fukuda, the Sotsu Agency, Sunrise and BANDAI.
Phase Twelve: The End of the Beginning
January 8, CE 75
For Lunamaria, it was all exercise in patience as she quietly observed and studied the newcomer. She was looking over Shousa Hanenfuss, taking into account her looks, habits and mannerisms, trying to catch other nuances about her personality that contributed to her being molded into a competent officer of the Zodiac Alliance of Freedom Treaty Militia. Hanenfuss was speaking to the Kanchou now, relating her orders and circumstance as to why she came to the Minerva in the current situation. The redcoat spoke in the precise manner for an officer to formally address a superior. From what she was telling them, her orders were interesting.
The Kanchou sat silently as she listened to Hanenfuss, allowing the newcomer to speak uninterrupted. Taking her lead, Luna kept her own questions to herself from where she stood at the Kanchou's left, while Chusa Trine spoke for both of them - asking some minor queries and giving polite nods to Hanenfuss' replies. This went on for a good twenty minutes, before Hanenfuss concluded her report and the Kanchou spoke up for the first time.
"Thank you, Shousa," Deveraux-Kanchou started. "I'll study your orders together with the other reports you have delivered to me, but to cut a long story short, you are here officially to conduct test flights for the ZGMF-XX14A, before it is put into full mass production. You need to record how this GELGOOG operates in near-combat situations, specifically in atmospheric conditions. "
"Hai," replied Hanenfuss.
The Kanchou dropped the packet into her desk drawer and put it away. "But I am also aware of your true reason why you were assigned to the Minerva. I take it that you have been briefed at high command about the thing we are doing?"
Hanenfuss nodded. "I was brought up to speed by Chairwoman Westenfluss and updated by Operations on the way here from the PLANTs. I've already studied the technical specifications about the Wraith – that's the database identification for the raider mobile suit you captured in Earth orbit – and I've been instructed to record more intelligence on it, for analysis and planning of effective countermeasures and tactics against them. I've also am to be assigned to reinforce the Minerva's current mobile suit complement – what with the current lack of viable reinforcements from Gibraltar."
The Kanchou bit her lip in thought. "That's what's giving some concern at the moment – your place in my chain of command. Currently you have seniority and outrank my team commander, Tai-I Hawke." Luna saw the Kanchou gestured at her. "I need to know if you are to take command of my team, or serve only as a member on a special capacity."
Luna waited for the newcomer's answer. She was deeply interested in this – Hanenfuss' reply could determine her own status in the mobile suit team. Though she been with the team from the start – being the only surviving original pilot in the team from the war still serving and having formed the Lady Hawks from scratch with the three rookie pilots – the Kanchou was correct – Hanenfuss did outrank her and had seniority. Though she would follow regulations and turn over her command to her if needed, Luna didn't like it one bit. This was her team – they were formed from her efforts, and she would not turn it over that easily to someone she did not know except for what she heard and said in reports. She wasn't sure Hanenfuss was command material – the woman was not an Academy graduate and only got her commission from her work as a test pilot. Hanenfuss never had a formal command – though she had extensive combat experience, she had never been a team commander in both wars. So deep inside she was angry that it was looking like she was going to lose her position to this newcomer.
So it was with great surprise and relief for Luna to hear Hanenfuss' curt reply.
"Iie, Kanchou. I won't be taking over the mobile suit squad. Command remains with Tai-I Hawke here."
Inwardly, Luna breathed a sigh of relief. She was not losing her command to her. That was good. But the Kanchou still had some more questions for Hanenfuss. "So you are here on special capacity," Devereux stated, and was rewarded by another nod from Hanenfuss. "Then I guess there are no more problems with your assignment here, Shousa. I welcome you to the Minerva." The Kanchou stood up and shook Hanenfuss' hand. "I don't have anything for you to do for now, so I want you to make a tour of the ship to get yourself familiar with its layout. I will have a page take your gear to your quarters, and have Tai-I Hawke show you around the Minerva. It's wise for the both of you to get to know each other better."
Luna led the Shousa thru the corridors of the ship. She found the chestnut-haired officer very amiable and polite, asking questions about the Minerva that were easy for Luna to answer, avoiding topics that were too sensitive to field. Luna felt a lot more comfortable around Hanenfuss, with the subject of team command now behind them, though she was still confused on how to tackle the subject of rank during operations. She knew that in ZAFT, ranks didn't usually play a major role in operations - what was important was that one must know the position she holds, and give proper respect to other higher posts. But the recent reforms implemented during the Dullindal administration gave more emphasis with formal ranks – the late Chairman emphasized the protocol of rank identification and seniority to further professionalize the militia, in attempt to avoid possible corruption from nepotism and playing favorites, which were prevalent during the first war. Though shunned for forcibly trying to implement his Destiny Plan, this little legacy of Dullindal was widely accepted by ZAFT, and still in effect now.
They were in the hanger area now, overlooking the massive mobile suit maintenance bay from a split level terrace. The two watched as maintenance crews, led by Luna's friends Vino Dupree and Youlan Kent, work over Madison's black GOUF Ignited like scurrying ants. Luna glanced over to where her Core Splendor fighter was billeted, the primary pilot component of the Impulse dormant and silent. The battle in Gibraltar was over a week ago, and Luna had not flown any dangerous mission aside from the usual CAP flight during their transit from the ZAFT base to where the Minerva was currently was. Though a veteran combat pilot, surviving numerous battles in the second war, Luna didn't like the constant alert status. She was looking for a life of peace and quiet for a change – even though she was facing that future alone at the moment, she wanted to concentrate in keeping the peace and not fight in another war. And from the way things are, this new war was looking to her to be more brutal – a hidden war where one wasn't sure who the enemy was, since they didn't have a face seen by the public.
But Luna was sure of one face – the face that once more haunted her. She was sure that the woman she saw at Gibraltar was Stellar Louisser, even though she knew her to be dead. And though she still couldn't prove it, she knew that the woman was involved in the Gibraltar attack. Call it woman's intuition, but to Luna it was too much of a coincidence. And even though the Kanchou didn't totally believe her, she supported her gut feelings and got the Minerva prepared for the battle the came.
As prepared as it could be, as it played out. Between the disastrous failure of the catapult launch systems and the grave injuries to Hitomi, she barely survived the battle with raiders herself. They were tough – the one she fought herself, battled with a vengeance. Luna couldn't avoid thinking that the pilot of the black Wraith was the woman herself – again it was her instincts that was telling her this. She wanted to find out and get to the bottom of this, but she didn't know how. She was hoping the Minerva's search will bring some things to life, and maybe Luna can find out more about the woman.
She thought about contacting Shinn about this, but Luna had second thoughts and forgot about it. At the moment she didn't want anything to do with him, and bringing this up could complicate things more. Deep inside she still cared for him, but she still felt the hurt from the events that led to their abrupt separation.
Her deep reverie was broken by Hanenfuss. "What's that over there?" she was asking, pointing at large object parked in a corner of the bay under a large tarpaulin.
"Oh, that," Luna blinked. "That's one of the older machines we have - about as old as the Impulse. It was destroyed during the fighting in Crete, but Gibraltar rebuilt and sent it to us as a replacement. We lost a ZAKU during the raider attack and there wasn't any other replacement available besides that."
Recognition dawned upon the Shousa's face. "Oh I remember now. That was the one the Freedom took out over the Aegean. That's the red one –"
Hanenfuss smiled. "Just call me Shiho, Luna-chan – if you don't mind me calling you that."
Luna smiled back. "That's alright, Shou – I mean, Shiho-san."
Shiho chuckled. "Good. I'm not really comfortable with the ranks thing. It wasn't that strict during the first war and never got used to it since then." She gestured at the covered object once more. "So what's the story on that one?"
Luna studied it for a moment. "I guess that'll be Hitomi's unit – she's one of my pilots. She's one of the best, but she has an obvious lack of confidence in herself. It might be because she's relatively inexperienced, but it nearly got her killed back in Gibraltar. She's at the med bay now but she's recovering nicely. I intend to put her back on the rotation after a week."
Shiho nodded. "I see. Do you think she'll be up to the job? Don't get me wrong Luna-chan – I'm not criticizing you or your pilot's skills. But you and I know how tough it is to fight out there, and these terrorists can turn out to be tougher."
Luna sighed. "She'll be ready – she did survive that fight in Gibraltar. But I'm not just worried about her. I'm worried about the entire team, Shiho-san. Those terrorists are the worst I faced so far, and I'm scared for the safety of the girls. They're just kids, for goodness' sakes."
Shiho patted her on the shoulder. "We were all kids when we started fighting the wars. In fact we still are. We just lost the innocence we had the first time we killed someone from the other side." Luna saw Shiho's eyes turned serious. "We just have to teach your girls what we've learned to keep them alive. We owe that much to them as officers."
Shiho straightened up. "Tell you what – why don't you show me were the mess hall is and we'll share some thoughts on how we could integrate me and the GELGOOG into your squad. I haven't anything to eat since the drop, and I want to meet the rest of the team. I need to get up to speed with your tactics, and soon those terrorists are gonna rue the day they took on the Minerva. Then we can all live our lives the way we want too, without worrying that some fools like that will come to hurt us. They'll never know what hit them."
Orb Union Administration Building
January 8, CE 75
"And with that, ladies and gentlemen, I conclude my briefing," Chusa Ford Tourneville said in finishing, shutting off the large viewing screen that dominated one wall of the conference room. While what the intelligence officer revealed was interesting, including the name of the black mobile suits courtesy of the shared information coming via the PLANT's embassy, there wasn't anything new in the report to catch Cagalli's eye. Aside from the knowledge that the Archangel had safely arrived at their first relay point, the rest were routine. It had been frustrating for her to wait for news about the ship's progress for the last week, and Athrun's presence on board just added to her anxieties. And the situation among the citizens of Orb was not helping her either.
Though it had been several days from the last terrorist attack, tensions were still high in Orb and in most states on Earth and on the PLANTs. The general sentiment of the people started as one of outrage - the loss of life and security put grave uncertainties to their sense of normalcy. But now the tide of discontent was beginning to grow, starting with the small group of anti-war protestors now gathered in front of the gates of the Administration Building and Onogoro Naval Base. Though relatively still peaceful, Cagalli could feel the anger of the protesters. But the impetus of their rage was slowing changing from the terrorists to her administration itself.
Having been raised in a politically charged environment, plus experiencing the hands-on aspect of governing for most of the past three years, Cagalli had learned enough to gauge the populace's moods. She knew that once the people turn away from you, things will get a lot tougher to get done. And now she could that it was starting – and now she begun to feel the pressure. Something had to be done about this, and for the last few days she had gathered her closest advisors available for the moment to help her sort this out.
The problem was that most of her trusted friends and advisor were gone at the moment, most of them on the Archangel on a dangerous, covert operation in search for the terrorists. With her inner circle of Murrue-san, Mu-san, Lacus and – most importantly – Kira and Athrun gone, she had to rely on who was left behind. With the exception of Kisaka and Andrew Waltfeld, Cagalli could not depend upon the rest totally, for various reasons.
Barton Omura, who had also survived the Oslo attack and came home a few days after Cagalli, would have been one that she knew she could depend upon for support, being her father's staunch ally during the days leading to the invasion by the Atlantic Federation in first war. But the problem with Omura was that he was a strict non-interventionist – though he supported Cagalli's decision to once again fight with the TSA against Dullindal's Destiny Plan, he did so with misgivings and reluctant support. And with this new mission by the Archangel crew, Cagalli was sure that her Uncle wont be more supportive than usual, and she had contemplated not telling him at all, but was counseled by Kisaka and Tourneville to let Omura in on the operation – an advice Cagalli saw as strange for the two, having learned that the more people learned of an operation like this, the more of a security risk there could be.
And when Kisaka and Omura argued vehemently about the mission during the first briefing Omura was present, Cagalli almost thought that this was a mistake and the mission was over. But the two older gentlemen reached a compromise at the end of their argument – that the Archangel was not going to be involved in direct combat operations against the terrorist group - with the exception of self defense - and that Orb will officially deny their involvement in such operations should it ever came to light. From the very start, Cagalli had already reluctantly accepted such realities, having agreed to leave direct action with ZAFT, according to the limited cooperation she had agreed upon with PLANT officials with the support of Chairwoman Katarina Westenfluss. Though a shaky agreement at best, it gave Orb an excuse not to strike on its own. But Omura had pointed it out that should that agreement comes out into the open it was a direct violation of the neutral stand of the Union. And Omura had been reminding her about these problems in every one of the briefings he had attended so far.
With Tourneville, it was a matter of not knowing the person enough to trust him implicitly. He was pretty competent in his job, Cagalli had to hand it to him, but she still felt uncomfortable around him. She didn't know why – was it because he was an intelligence officer, and Cagalli had been a victim of faulty intelligence once or twice or that she had this preconception that intelligence types were devious individuals. Or was it that Kisaka never asked him to share operational ideas in the meetings – but that was easily explained – he was an intelligence officer, not operations. She wasn't sure about him except for one thing – Cagalli wasn't sure about him, and he made her feel nervous.
In the case of her private secretary, it was simple: Veronica Hathaway was an inexperienced civilian, not like Omura who previously had some experience in the uniformed service. Cagalli trusted her and Veronica was a friend, but she had no practical knowledge on military operations – all the more special operations - to make her an asset for such discussions. Though she was a confidante, Cagalli can't just confide matters pertaining to the Archangel to her. Veronica, though a close friend, was too much of a security risk.
Cagalli wasn't even sure if the people of Orb could even support such a mission – this action was directly against the precepts of neutrality his father had advocated for their country and was accepted by the people. Sure, Orb did veer away from the non-intervention stance during crucial points of the last war, but at least they were open to see for all intents – Yuna's disastrous alliance with the Atlantic Federation and Cagalli's joining forces with the Three Ships Alliance and Terminal after Orb was attacked twice. The people could support that, even in a misguided way, but Cagalli wasn't sure of how the peace-loving people of Orb would react if they found out that their government was prosecuting a covert war against terrorists in lands outside their territorial boundaries.
So Cagalli had to rely more on Kisaka and Waltfeld. Her trusted former bodyguard and foremost military commander was present in the meeting, but the Desert Tiger wasn't. According to Kisaka, Waltfeld was currently busy with something else. Cagalli tried to ask what it was before the start of the meeting, but the silent shake of the head from Kisaka hinted that it was better to be discussed between only the two of them later.
Kisaka was now speaking after his subordinate from Military Intelligence. "Thank you, Chusa Tourneville." The tall officer brought up the technical readouts of the black raider mobile suits, now updated by the intelligence kindly shared by ZAFT. "As you can see from these specifications, this Wraith is a powerful mobile suit. Like we established thru our own analysis, it was designed as a deep raider using incredible stealth capabilities and firepower. In the hands of a group with the resources to build several of these machines, plus capital ships to support them, makes them very dangerous."
"Therefore I have to strongly suggest to the Chief Representative that we exert all of our efforts to locate the source of these machines, and that will eventually lead us to the terrorists. We have to proceed with this carefully, but we have to assume that the raiders may strike again. I believe we should increase our support of the Archangel in their search – they, for the moment, are our best hope of success."
Omura tapped his fingers as he sat up from his seat. "Though I agree with much of Chujo Kisaka's assessments, again I would like to remind the Chief Representative of the Union's credo of neutrality, and the need to work with that boundary. We cannot risk an international incident by having the Archangel's movements exposed to the public as having the Orb Union's support, tacit or otherwise."
"What do suggest, Emir Omura?" Kisaka asked. "Do you suggest we cut off all support to the Archangel? May I remind the honorable Emir of the contribution of that ship to the security and safety of the Orb Union."
Omura shook his head. "Again I do not question the validity of your statements, Chujo. I only am concerned with the diplomatic standing of the Union in the eyes of the other sovereign states. We cannot risk them to be detected, not can we allow them to act directly against the terrorists, however much that they have hurt the Union."
"I understand, Emir Omura, your concerns," Kisaka agreed. "That is why I am doing everything there is to see to it that the Archangel succeed without detection. However, based on information we just received from the ship, they may have a problem in keeping their movements secret from the enemy."
Kisaka stood up from his chair and took out a disk from his briefcase. "This just came in this morning from SIGINT. I've just scanned it over once myself, and haven't let it pass through our intelligence analysts for checking." Cagalli took a glance at Chusa Tourneville, and saw from the face of the gray haired officer that he was as surprised as she was about new report. Sliding in onto a drive, Kisaka accessed the information on the disk and put in on the viewscreen.
Cagalli's surprise grew as she took in what was presented. It was a text report from Murrue Ramius, with accompanying video, showing what looked like a mobile suit between the Archangel's complement against black raiders. The clip showed what looked like the GAT-X103 Buster, standing on the command carrier's deck, engaging the Wraiths as they swarmed over it. Other scenes showed the Strike Freedom launching and engaging the nearby Wraiths before flying away. Cagalli was slightly disappointed and worried that there was no footage of the Infinite Justice – that made her feel more uneasy about Athrun's participation in the mission. She silently prayed that he was all right, before she turned to Kisaka for questions. "When did this happen?"
Kisaka double checked his information before answering her. "From Taisa Ramius' report, the battle happened five days ago, in the middle of a typhoon that hit the South Pacific, sometime after the first transmission was sent to us at the relay point. They apparently had to choose another relay point to send this new transmission. They had to get to a safe area with the risk of another attack."
"You mean they were ambushed?" this was Hathaway, speaking out for the first time.
"That's correct, Veronica. They were hit after they surfaced to contact the satellite. Though they repelled the attack, there was damage to the Akatsuki and Destiny Phoenix. Taisa La Flaga was injured, but it was minor and he's back in action. They repulsed the strike but have yet to find out how they were jumped or where the Wraiths came from. Ramius has indicated that they suspect a submarine carrier operating nearby, which coincides with initial intelligence on how the Wraiths egressed from Onogoro in December. But Ramius saw it more prudent to withdraw from the area before attempting to make chase or contact us."
"So how was it they were detected?" Omura questioned. "Weren't they submerged? And from the looks of it, they were fighting in a storm. Wouldn't that make it hard for them to be detected?"
Kisaka shook his head. "Ramius has not said anything specific. We can't be sure how they were spotted, but there are a lot of possibilities. One possibility was they were just unlucky enough to stray unto a scout or reconnaissance unit, which relayed their location to the rest of its allies. The other possibility, which I don't want to believe but can't take for granted, was that the terrorists were waiting for them."
Cold fear gripped Cagalli. "What do you mean waiting for them? Do you think someone tipped them off?"
The tall general sighed. "We can't discount it, Chief Representative. We don't know what kind of resources these terrorists have. But with the kind that we know they have, we have to assume they have the network to operate against us this way."
Kisaka turned to his intelligence officer. "Since this report is just hot off the wire, we haven't had time to study it. I'll leave it to you, Tourneville, to assess Ramius' idea and check for probable security concerns."
"How reliable is this information? Could this be an elaborate hoax?" That was Omura.
Kisaka shrugged. "Iie, sir. I can assure you this is reliable. The authentication from the Archangel is confirmed, though they had to use an older, emergency code when they transmitted this."
"The situation must have required it. Since they were attacked, with the possibility that someone leaked out their location or they were detected in-transit, they had to be careful when transmitting this."
Omura stared silently at the screen for a few moments before speaking again. "Are you sure they are still safe and undetected by anyone other than the terrorists? What is the chance that an Atlantic Federation unit may have spotted them?"
"From what we know, they haven't encountered any Atlantic Federation unit, and they took a route that took them away of known AF patrol areas. So no, I'm sure that the Archangel has not been seen by the Atlantic Federation," Kisaka concluded firmly.
"I think the Chujo has presented that point very clearly for me, Uncle Bart," Cagalli added, forestalling any other questions from the Emir. "Let's move on with the discussion. Chujo Kisaka, is there anything else you'd like to add?"
"Iie, Madam Chief Representative. I would like to have Intelligence run through this first. There might be something I missed."
Cagalli nodded assent. "Very well, are there any other questions?" No one else indicated as such. "Let's adjourn this meeting for now. I would like Chusa Tourneville to prepare a brief for twenty hundred hours tonight. We'll all meet again here for that. Veronica, please secure the minutes of this meeting – let no one else have access to it except for those in this room. Okay this meeting is over." As everyone started shuffling out of their seats, Cagalli saw Kisaka approach him. "Something on your mind, Kisaka-sama?"
"Hai, Madam Chief Representative. I like to go over some things with you if you had the time."
Cagalli looked at her secretary. "Your next meeting is in thirty minutes, Cagalli-sama. With the Trade Minister regarding the tariffs on imported foodstuffs from the Eurasian Federation," said Veronica. "I can prepare the meeting here if you want too."
"That's fine, Veronica. Just page me when everything is ready and the Minister is here. I'll just talk to Kisaka-sama in my office."
"Hai, Chief Representative," Veronica responded in leaving. For his part, Kisaka dismissed Tourneville, saying that he'd follow and meet him at headquarters later.
As soon as the others left, Cagalli turned his attention to his friend once more. "Is there some thing else you wanted to show me without the rest of them within earshot?"
Kisaka smiled. "We'd better talk in your office, Cagalli."
Five minutes later, they arrived at the plush office where Cagalli did her work as Chief Representative. As Cagalli sat in her chair, Kisaka pulled out his PDA, and tapped it a few times. A beeping from the PDA was heard, and Kisaka nodded contently. "You're office is secure, Cagalli," he said, revealing that he'd activated the software that gave added protection against listening and recording devices.
For her part, Cagalli completed a subroutine on her laptop that encrypts any documents using codes provided for by Terminal. As soon as she finished, Kisaka handed her another disk that he kept in his coat pocket. "That's from the Archangel too – a message from Athrun. The subject code indicated that's it's not a personal one, but contains further information for Alpha-level Terminal officer's eyes only."
Slightly disappointed that it wasn't a message meant for only her, Cagalli slid the disk into her laptop's drive. She opened the Soule/Gildden 120011 document reader, and waited for the program to read the disk, which took longer the usual as the encryption system kicked in and added security features to the file. Cagalli had to enter a total of four different passwords before the program revealed the contents of the file.
The somber face of Athrun appeared on a window in her screen. He looked haggard and disheveled - his hair unruly, his uniform collar skewered and the hints of facial hair appearing on his smooth, white face. Cagalli took in the look of exhaustion on his face, but beyond that she saw that he was unhurt and healthy.
"Cagalli, when you received this message, you've already known that the Archangel was just attacked by the raiders," Athrun's face started speaking. "But I'm glad to report that everyone's fine and nobody's been hurt. We took some damage to our units, but we can work on it."
"I recommended to Ramius-Kanchou to delay our report on the incident because of several factors. First was we had to break away from the combat area to be able to transmit in safety. Next was the storm had made conditions less feasible for a clear transmission. We also had to wait for a clear window for the communications satellite to be in line of sight of the ship."
"But the most important reason why we delayed our communications is that we have ample evidence that we were tracked to our relay point by the enemy, or that they were waiting for us. Furthermore, we suspect that the satellite relay has been compromised. We found an anomaly in the transfer protocol of the system: rather than only sending out a message to the satellite, the Archangel's system sent out another signal to an unknown destination, though we suspect it was the enemy vessel that launched the attack on us. I've worked out the details, and Kira, Chandra-san and Meyrin had all checked and concurred with my findings."
"What this all means are two things: either there was someone who tampered with the Archangel's relay system back at Angel's Point before we left, or that someone in the crew did something while in transit. Bottom line – somebody knows of the mission and is doing the best to sabotage it."
"I know that this puts a serious complication to the mission, but we have to continue it, Cagalli. But we need your help all the more. You probably know by now that Kira and I devised a plan that might work, but I need Waltfeld-sama's support from your end." Cagalli did know about Athrun's plan, but she can't seem to avoid having misgivings with his crazy idea. She was about to voice out her thoughts but it seemed Athrun had read her mind and was ready for it. "I know what you're going to say, Cagalli, that this plan is crazy and so are Kira and me. But you have to realize that we're on the best position now to orchestrate this, and you can trust me when I say that we could make this work. All we need now is for Waltfeld-sama to come through."
"We'll be waiting for them at the rendezvous point we've chosen." Athrun read out the coordinates and the time of their arrival. "We'll abort the mission should the contact fail to arrive. We'll have a window of fifteen minutes to wait for him. The Archangel will not wait for a reply to this message – it's too risky. We'll just wait at the rendezvous point for results."
"Trust me on this Cagalli. I promise that we'll all be careful and get back to Orb safe." Athrun looked like he wanted to add something else in his message, but stopped himself and ended the recording.
Cagalli closed down her laptop and fell silent for awhile, before standing up and facing Kisaka again. "You think they can succeed? I'm concerned for their safety, with their security compromised – "
"I understand how you feel, Cagalli," Kisaka replied. "But you know that I think we should trust Athrun with this. If there are two persons in the world who could pull it off, it's Athrun and your brother." Kisaka smiled. "You should know that by now."
"I know and I agree with you Kisaka. It's just –", Cagalli stomped her foot in frustration. "It's just that those two idiots always do things that are stupid and dangerous. They make me worry a lot."
"Ramius and La Flaga would not have approved of their plan if they think they can't do it. And Lacus-sama would also voice out her disapproval if she felt so."
"But they didn't," Cagalli finished. She placed her palms on her table and let them carry her weight as she tilted her head. She was tired – the stress of being a nation's leader had caught up with her. And this plan was adding to her weariness. But she knew she had to support Athrun in this. Kisaka was right – Athrun was the right man for the job.
If only she didn't feel anything for him to worry about too much. "Alright, what do we need to do?"
Kisaka grinned. "We've already started. Andrew had already left to contact someone before the meeting stared. He'll take care of the preparations on our side." He dropped his voice by a few notches. "I think its better to let him handle this alone. I recommend we keep this out of the regular chain of command."
Cagalli raised her eyebrows. "You think there'd a mole here in Orb?"
Kisaka nodded. "I don't want to say it, but we have to assume there is."
Cagalli sighed. "Okay, I'll agree with it. Athrun can do what he wants and well send him the support he needs. We'll pray for their success and safety in the same time, for those coincide with the security and safety of Orb as well."
Kuzzey's Koffee Korner
January 8, CE 75
For Kuzzey Bushkirk, business was doing well. He couldn't say booming, feeling humble with himself. But it was easy to see that his entrepreneurial endeavor was bearing fruit for him. Kuzzey started this little coffee shop as soon as he finished college in Scandinavia, where, like many of the Orb Union's residents, he and his family sought refuge after the Earth Alliance's invasion of Orb over three years ago.
During those days, Orb was undergoing a period of healing and reconstruction, and the majority of the citizens had returned and enthusiastically taken to the task of rebuilding their lives and their nation. Orb was enjoying a high status in the diplomatic scene in the post-War world, with its heroic stand and sacrifice against the invading EA military and its surviving leadership's important part played in the ending of the War at Jachin Due. Orb was enjoying the benefits of its newfound influence. One major benefit was the influx of financial capital into the country, thanks to reparations by the Atlantic Federation and favored nation status on trade from the other powers.
A construction boom had started, and many young entrepreneurs took the chance of sizable loans with low interest rates and long payment years to start up new business all over the archipelago. Most were service oriented, catering to providing goods and services to the reconstruction work on the island's primary infrastructure. Kuzzey, after talking with his parents, took a loan and opened up the coffee shop here in the middle of Orb City's commercial district, with a healthy variety of clientele that could be invited to enjoy the quality drinks he served.
However, like any new business, the coffee shop started to encounter the usual problems. Being new, it was agonizingly slow for the shop to attract customers over the bigger, more established places. Initial profits were low, and soon Kuzzey was having the problem of nearly failing to complete his monthly payments for expenses and loans. At times he thought of closing down, but more level heads suggested that he find investors, an idea Kuzzey realize was sensible. To his good fortune, investors did come to him, though in a very surprising day, as one day in July, CE 73, his friend Kira Yamato dropped by to say hi.
Kuzzey hadn't seen Kira since he disembarked from the Archangel after the ship's harrowing escape from the devastated Earth Alliance JOSH-A Base. It was a terrifying time for Kuzzey, forced into boarding the vessel during the battle in Heliopolis, and serving on its crew during is dangerous journey to Earth and false safety. Though he was proud to have served with the ship and its crew, he decided to leave it once the ship docked back in Orb. He felt shame for abandoning his crew, but his friends never blamed him for leaving, and some of them kept in touch with him when the fighting was over.
Kira came in the company of Lacus Clyne, the Coordinator girl the Archangel rescued when it detoured into the ruins of Junius Seven to scavenged badly needed supplies. It was Clyne who then took care of Kira when he was rescued after the Strike was destroyed, and who provided him with the Freedom. She also played a important role with the ending of the First War, joining forces with Orb and the Archangel in stopping both Earth and the PLANTs from destroying one another. And from bits and pieces Kuzzey found out from rumors and the infrequent news from his friends, the pink-haired songstress had also won the heart of Kira, and that the two were inseparable partners.
During an hour or so spent catching up, Kuzzey found himself talking about his shop and the small problems he was encountering. Clyne was especially interested in the economics part, being more knowledgeable with that topic than Kira was. Kuzzey, feeling comfortable with her despite his past inferiority complex when it comes to Coordinators, found this conversation revealing and profitable, especially when the couple made an offer to invest in the shop. Also, Kira offered to bring in another investor, a friend of theirs that had a direct source supplier of high-grade coffee from Brazil.
Kuzzey pondered that one out. Kira had a good point there – it would give his shop an advantage of the competition, and a direct source would bring down expenses. Kuzzey was excited with this new opportunity, but then he saw the look in Kira's face. He asked him what it was, but all Kira said was there was a catch. When asked, all Kira answered was that it was better if Kuzzey met the person face to face and talked with the rest of his other potential investors so that he'd understand better.
So Kuzzey, interested in Kira's offer but still wary of his other, hidden agendas, reluctantly accepted the offer to talk, albeit with the condition that there was nothing illegal with what they were doing – a comment that drew a laugh from the usually somber Kira.
And that was a year and a half ago, and to cut the story short, Kuzzey accepted their offer, finding out that most of the investors were his old friends and companions, plus a few new people he had just met. And their conditions were fair - and generally not dangerous. The Clyne Foundation investment was more than Kuzzey expected, and the covert preferred treatment he was receiving from some high officials from the Orb government was invaluable. He finally had enough money to payoff and close his loans, and expand his business. He also came back into closer contact with his friends, and gained more in the process. He also found himself involved again, in a more low-key and safer way.
Today he had one of the shop investors present, and he was expecting another to drop by to talk. The first one was a quiet person and one of Kuzzey's favorite customers, since Reverend Malchio enjoyed spending some quiet time in the shop during his infrequent visits to Orb from his orphanage in the Marshall Island chain. Kuzzey met the blind priest when Kira introduced him when he and the orphans had dropped by Orb for a vacation two years ago, and the Reverend had come to enjoy his brew, and would drop by to buy a sizable supply to ship back with him to the Orphanage. He was currently enjoying the cool breeze from his seat at an outdoor table, sipping on his cup of cappuccino that Kuzzey gladly refills at his kind request. Kuzzey would stop by and sit down with the priest for a short conversation, while his baristas and waiters handled other customers.
He was having one of these conversations when the other investor finally arrived. The tall man was wearing that yellow shirt and beige pants he always favored, and leaned on a walking stick as he walked at an almost militarily precise step, saved for the slight limp form his left leg. He purposely strode over to their table, and smiled as he spoke up for the first time. "I see you that you got here first, Malchio-sama."
The priest nodded. "I saw that you were busy with something, so I asked Caridad to drop me off as she went shopping with the older kids." He gestured at the newcomer to sit in a vacant chair.
"Hai, I've got some business that concerns our friends out sailing." The man sat down on the chair and stretched. "And I have some stuff to go over with Kuzzey here. I heard that there might be some new beans from Brazil that we could get. I was thinking ordering them now before things get a lot tougher out there. What with this new fighting going. Do you mind if I do it first before we have our usual?"
Malchio nodded. "Go ahead. I can wait."
The man jerked his head at Kuzzey, looking at him behind the black sunglasses that hid his one good eye and his scarred one. "Can we talk over at the bar, Kuzzey?" The bar area, Kuzzey noticed, was currently empty.
"Hai," Kuzzey answered, as he stood and led the newcomer inside the shop. The newcomer got behind the bar, and started to make his own brew. Kuzzey quickly learned that he was a connoisseur of coffee, and was an excellent barista, even better than himself and his other employees. In fact, most of the new brews the Koffee Korner offered were original concoctions of this person.
"That orange and hazelnut cold coffee is doing good sales," Kuzzey reported, indicating the man's most recent concoction.
"That's good. The citrus flavor mixed well with the Arabica and the Indonesian stuff, didn't it?"
"Uh, Hai." Kuzzey shifted uncomfortably from where he stood. "Was there anything you want to talk about, sir?"
The man nodded, and took out a data disk and placed it on the bar top. "I was thinking of ordering some of that new Argentinean beans we've been hearing off. Can you contact our friend over there? I want to get stock for the shop and some for myself – I'll pay separately off course."
Kuzzey took the disk and looked at it. "Okay, I can do that. This holds the order list?" The man nodded again. "Let me send it now."
Kuzzey left the bar and walked into his small office at the back of the coffee shop. The small room was only as large as an office cubicle, and much more crowded with merchandise and office supplies. Kuzzey navigated around the a few boxes of sale items and got into his seat, opening up his laptop and logging on unto his website. He slid the disk into the drive and entered his password.
An encryption system, similar to that of Cagalli's, kicked in, manipulating the contents of the disk, changing the words into the code developed by Terminal for its own use, converting sensitive information in a more harmless form. In his case, Kuzzey copied the new document, which was in a form of an order form for Argentinean and Brazilian coffee beans, using official purchasing forms used by the coffee shop. He copied the document, opened up his email software, pasted the document on the composition screen, and sent it out to his friend in Argentina, knowing that he had the necessary system to read the contents correctly. Kuzzey shut down the software, and took out the disk. An automated system would clean up any traces of the encryption, thus leaving no trail of its sending.
Satisfied, Kuzzey closed down his laptop and stood up, remembering to slide the disk in between two half-pound bags of Robusta beans in a larger paper bag which he carried as he returned back to the bar. There he handed the coffee beans over the man. "I sent out the order, sir. I'll call you when it's processed. And here are the beans Mrs. Yamato ordered – tell her they're on the house."
The man grinned. "Thank you Kuzzey. The kids like the cold coffee drink we make from these beans. Since she's not here yet, I guess I'll enjoy a drink first with the Reverend here."
"That disk – that has something to do with the attack in Onogoro and why Kira and the others aren't back."
The man snickered. "You could say that. I really can't talk about it, Kuzzey – you know the rules. But what you are doing is a great help."
"You're welcome, Waltfeld-sama. I'm just happy I can do something to help for a change."
The Desert Tiger smiled as he took a sip from his cup. "And helped you did, Kuzzey."
January 9, CE 75
Shinn found himself inside the Destiny's cockpit, sweating in his flightsuit as he flew the mobile suit across the darkness of space. He was taking flight, for his new enemy was relentless. Whatever he threw at it had no effect – his beams were deflected away, his sword broken in two as it struck harmless on the enemy's black armor. He was struggling to survive against this foe, a foe Shinn felt he could not defeat.
You let me die…
Shinn heard an alarm blare from the left side of his cockpit seat, and saw the angry beam blade slice of the Destiny's left arm. The black demon raised its rifle and fired, the beam narrowly missing the cockpit, as it sliced across the Destiny's torso. An explosion destroyed the blast shield of the cockpit, taking the HUD with it, shattering the glass monitor and raining deadly fragments all over the cockpit. Shinn felt the shrapnel slice into his skin, and the pain was unbearable. A howl of pain escaped Shinn's lips, and the sound was primal. Shinn felt that he was losing his consciousness, as Death extended his cold grip to him. Shinn fought desperately, but he knew he was losing this battle.
You let me die…
A cry to his right forced Shinn to face that direction, every motion he took only amplified the pain he felt. From his blurring sight he saw the Impulse flying towards him, and the voice of Lunamaria crying out for him to hear. Shinn tried to get to her, but she blocked from view by the black demon, murderously diving for her.
You let me die…
Shinn tried to scream a warning for Luna, but no voice came out of him except his scream of terror, as the demon thrust its black hand into the Impulse's chest. A bright flash of light blinded him, as a deep fire burned into the Impulse cockpit, searing it pilot into a melted heap, causing Luna's blood to spurt forth like a terrifying fountain, coloring the blackness of space in blood red.
You let me die…
Once more the Shinn's was deafened by his own screams. He could not break free from the terrible vision he saw – the beautiful face of Lunamaria scorched into a charred mass of bone and rotting flesh. He could not escape from this nightmare, as the demon once more lunged for him. Shinn thrust the Destiny's right hand forward, hoping the catch the demon with the hand beam he could dangerously project. But the demons brushed the hand away like an insignificant fly, and Shinn felt the pain as he savagely pulled out of the Destiny's cockpit by the demon's left hand.
You let me die…
The hand gripped tighter, threatening to squeeze out the remaining ounce of life from Shinn as it squeezed his bones and blood into dust. But as he felt Death dominate him, the demon's chest opened up, and a lithe apparition came out to face him.
And seeing her face once more, Shinn understood why he was feeling this pain, suffering this nightmare.
Stellar looked at him, her beautiful face contorted in rage, brought by betrayal and the loss of trust. Her body was bloody, pierced by sharp fragments from the shattered remains of the Destroy's cockpit. Her eyes were cold, lifeless, staring at nothing and through Shinn.
You let me die…
Stellar jumped on top of Shinn, and grabbed his collar. Removing his helmet, Stellar crushed his throat with her left hand, as she pointed her pistol on Shinn's head. Shinn nodded, understanding her right to take his life. He surrendered himself, eagerly awaiting the end to his life, and the beginning of his damnation. And as he felt the bullet enter his skull and shatter his brain, his last word was whispered for only Stellar to hear.
And then all was black. And then all was colors.
Shinn opened his eyes, and found himself in the pier in Orb were he saw the frightening scene of his family's deaths. Shinn wanted to run away, but a soft and warm hand stopped him. Fearing to gaze unto the person's face, Shinn turned to see Stellar smiling at him. She was enveloped in a shining aura of light, and her kind features were different from the angry one that he surrendered too.
And in a soft, loving voice, Stellar spoke.
Do not believe all that you see, Shinn…
Shinn was confused, and he could bear the sight of Stellar - he couldn't bear her looking at him with love when he betrayed her. But she kept looking, and stroked his face with a warm and soft hand.
All Shinn wanted to do at that point was to die in her arms. But she raised him up to his feet and gazed into his red eyes.
No, it is not your time, Shinn. You must live on. You must find…
Shinn couldn't hear her voice, as a loud thumping was vibrating on his head. He tried to shake it away, but couldn't. Stellar was still smiling, but her translucent form was fading, flying away from him. Shinn wanted to make chase, but his legs wont let him, frozen in place by some out worldly will.
Tomorrow, Shinn, tomorrow. You will find…
But the voice faded away, as Shinn opened his eyes reluctantly, as voices from the world of the living brought him back from the world of the dead.
He sat up from his bed suddenly, as the first signs of the vibrating headache came crashing down on him. Shinn was breathing heavily, resupplying the air he lost as he almost smothered himself as he slept. Cold sweat drenched his tight and firm body, as it convulsed from the fear and adrenalin that were rushing in his blood.
It was that dream again, but now it was more vivid, more real. Again he saw the anger and mistrust in Stellar's lifeless eyes, and again he felt the death that should had come for him on the Moon enslave him.
But there was also something else in the dream, something he had yet to encounter since the Moon - a Stellar that loved him, showing him tomorrow. She had a message, but he couldn't come to understand with all the chaos of life surrounding him. But one thing was clear – tomorrow. Shinn felt something important will happen - be it the next day or in the shrouded future, but soon.
Slowly Shinn slid out of bed, and stumbled into his quarter's bathroom. Ramius had kindly assigned him a vacant junior officer's quarters – a room with two single beds and a private bathroom, which allowed for more privacy. Since no one wanted to bunk with him, had the room all to his self, which suited him fine. Shinn reached the wash basin, and opened the faucet. Cold water rushed down, and Shinn rubbed them on his face, waking him completely back to reality, shaken the dried tears of the nightmare away.
He heard the ringing of the door chime buzz behind him, alerting him to the presence of someone at his door. It might be Dearka, since the ZAFT officer was the only one who had the courage to bother him at this time of day – or was it night? Shinn wasn't sure. Time in a submerged ship was screwed up, and Shinn tried to follow the Archangel's work shifts to keep track of the hours. But ever since that dogfight in the storm and the strange encounter with Kira Yamato, Shinn had basically shut himself out from the rest. Since then he had not even visited the Destiny Phoenix, and avoided everyone else, keeping to himself even as he sat in the mess hall for his meals.
Wiping his face with a bath towel, Shinn reluctantly left the bathroom and headed for the main door. Unlocking it from a security console, Shinn watched with confusion as the door slid open, revealing a smug looking Dearka Elsman standing there, the grin pasted on his face holding a promise of trouble. "Good morning Shinn," the blonde Buster pilot said as he jerked his head backwards. "Me and my friend here has something to ask you."
"Who – " Shinn asked quizzically, before he shut up in surprise as he saw who stood behind Dearka.
Kira Yamato was there, looking impassively at him. "Can we come in Shinn?" Yamato asked.
Shinn looked between his two visitors. It was troublesome for him enough that Dearka was here – his presence usually meant that Dearka felt that Shinn needed a little straightening out. But since the last episode when the Buster pilot dragged him out of bed, Shinn was expecting it and was ready – he was pretty sure Dearka couldn't do that again.
But Yamato being here was all entirely different and unexpected. Shinn had practically avoided him ever since their scene after the storm battle and Yamato did very much the same. They virtually ignored each other, even in the rare moments they met along the corridors of the ship, or spent the same time for meals in the crew mess. While Shinn felt none of the initial hostility he felt for Yamato since the Archangel returned to Orb, Shinn was content with their cold exchange. As much as he hated Yamato, he was stuck with working with him as long as he was with the ship.
This was the first time Yamato faced him since then, and Shinn was surprised he could be this direct. Thankfully for both that Dearka was here, or else it could been ugly. Shinn could respect Dearka, having gained his trust. The Buster pilot also didn't show any bias between the two – he just did things his own way. Had it not for his presence, Shinn didn't feel confident he could have held back what he feeling for Yamato at the moment.
Shinn glared at Yamato for a second, wondering what to do with him. Finally he relented, better to listen to what he had to say and get it over with than be pestered continuously to listen to him. Shinn stepped away from the doorway and gestured the two to enter. He turned his back to them, as he opened his locker to take out a fresh blue ZAFT undershirt that was once part of his military uniform to wear. "Well?"
It was Dearka who first spoke. "We've got a plan we've put together, to find some clues on the raiders. Athrun wanted to bring you up to speed and fill you in."
Shinn finished putting on the shirt, and looked at himself on a wall mirror. He could see Yamato looking at him from the reflection. "What does it have to do with me?"
"We need your help Shinn." This was Yamato. Shinn quickly turned to the Freedom pilot.
"So you guys think I can do something, huh? You think you can trust me to do the job without thinking of killing any of you?"
The two other men looked at each, before they both turned their attention back to Shinn. "Hai. I know we can trust you. I trust you." Yamato answered. Dearka just smiled.
Shinn felt his blood burn all the more with they Yamato replied calmly. But he was also curious of what they were up to. "Go ahead."
Yamato turned his gaze away from Shinn, concentrating on Mayu's pink cellular phone that was lying on top of the small work table at the foot of Shinn's bunk. Shinn followed Yamato's gaze and looked at the phone too. He was taking in the details of the object, and was imagining Mayu talking to someone or sending a message with the phone, as Yamato and Dearka took turns describing Athrun's plan.
Yamato and Dearka fell silent as the Freedom pilot finished talking. They refrained from speaking again, and Shinn saw them watching him intently, waiting for his comments on the proposed plan of action.
Shinn couldn't stop himself from thinking. What Yamato was proposing was dangerous, and anyone in the right mind would reject such a plan. Shinn was inclined to do so, only for the reason that he hated this guy, but thinking with a military-trained analytical mind revealed bit by bit the merits of his proposal, given the current situation and the logistics required. The plan was workable, but Yamato would need people who were properly trained for such action to have a good chance of success. "So where do I fit in this?"
Yamato told him.
Shinn snorted. "I expected that. I guess I'm chosen since I'm expendable?"
Dearka coughed, muttering something Shinn couldn't get. Yamato just shook his head. "Iie. You're one of the few among us who could pull this off. I suggested that to Athrun and he agreed."
"Reluctantly, I bet."
"Well, hai," Yamato reluctantly admitted.
Shinn stopped as he pondered the request. He felt the quandary of his choice. He had the power of turning Yamato down – he didn't trust the person, or any plan that he might have concocted. But Shinn realized the importance of this moment. The Archangel was about to take a bold step in the direction of their search, which currently coincided with his own personal reasons. By accepting this mission, he could be a step closer into finding more about that person who looked like Stellar, no matter how dangerous it might be. Shinn also understood the importance of the Archangel's mission, and knew it was to his own profit and favor to work on this. Even though he loathed admitting it, he needed the Archangel to succeed, and Shinn felt that he had to lend a hand.
And he was too tired to pick a fight with Yamato – the dream had drained a lot of his current strength.
Shinn plucked his beige jacket from his locker. "You have a planning session for this? I don't want to work on a mission without all bases covered, Yamato."
Yamato nodded again. "We have a meeting about to start."
"Lead on then," Shinn replied. "I just hope that trust of yours in me isn't misplaced, Yamato. I haven't forgotten – nor forgiven - anything you know."
Shinn saw Yamato sigh. "Trust me, Shinn. I know."
Athrun looked up from the report he was reading as Shinn entered the briefing room, trailed by a smirking Dearka and a neutral-faced Kira. His best friend found him, and nodded wordlessly as he sat beside Lacus. Shinn took a seat opposite him, beside Dearka. Whatever Kira said to him must have worked, though it still looked to Athrun that Shinn was still feeling forced to work with them. But with the mission he was planning, he needed Shinn and his skills. With the heated exchange and short fistfight between him and Shinn, Athrun allowed Kira to handle the convincing part, though he had serious misgivings on how his best friend could do it. That was why he sent Dearka with Kira, to come in between them if things went badly. But from the looks of things, it never came to any chaotic scene.
From her place two seats away to Athrun's left, Ramius-Kanchou cleared her throat. "Is everyone here?" she asked no one in particular. Athrun scanned the room. Meyrin sat to his side, close to Lacus and as far away from Shinn as she could. Chandra-san sat on his other side, next to the Kanchou. The two were here for their joint work with him on figuring out how the Archangel's satellite relay was compromised, and were going to join in on the report. La Flaga-Taisa, his right arm in a sling, walked over from the small nook where he got coffee for himself and the Kanchou, and sat next to the Archangel's captain. Ramius took the cup and addressed Athrun. "I guess we can start. Athrun-kun, if you please."
Athrun straightened his seat and begun. "For those who may not know yet," Athrun said, glancing at Shinn's direction, "we – that is, Chandra-san and Meyrin – may have found a possible reason on how we were tracked and ambush back in the storm. We've run analysis on the satellite relay system, and found our strongest suspect. Meyrin first saw it – a different outbound pulse automatically triggered and blended in with the normal LOS pulse, but a very high frequency and almost imperceptible. The pulse traveled upwards in the first nanosecond, then turned to make contact with a different receiver, situated about a hundred and fifty miles off the Archangel. We figured that receiver must be the carrier or ship that launched the strike against us."
"Chandra-san has run all the diagnostics he could, and he's reported to me and the Kanchou that the relay system's clean. Meyrin and I both checked the work, and agree with Chandra-san's assessment. Though we risked sending a follow transmission back to Orb, we strongly recommend that we consider the system still compromised. The message we sent was only a post-battle report, but I took the liberty of sending a message with Terminal security encryption to Cagalli – she or Kisaka will know what to do about it."
"The content of the encrypted message concerns the plan I formulated with Kira. This is about collecting more information about the raiders as covertly as we could – we can't risk the ship in an attack again. I'm going to delved on the details of the plan now." It took Athrun a good fifteen minutes to present his plan, with all the meeting's participants silently listening to him. "It sounds shaky and risky, I know, but Kira and I had checked all the angles and figured that it has a good chance of success, and I've approached the Kanchou for her approval."
Ramius-Kanchou shifted on her seat. "I've gone over Athrun's proposal, and I'm going to give my final decision on it at the end of this meeting. But I want to hear each and everyone's opinion on it – if you have ideas or doubts, say them now."
Athrun wasn't surprised that Shinn was the first to speak out. He must have a lot questions he wanted answered. "I admit you've got a good plan, Zala, but I still think a four-man team is insufficient for the task. Why not add some more men for the insertion?"
Athrun considered the question before answering. "I think four people will be enough for the job for several reasons. First, we don't have enough trained people for this kind of mission and the majority of qualified personnel are us ZAFT trained personnel. That's the reason I picked you, Shinn," Athrun concluded, preempting the question he anticipated from the Phoenix's pilot.
"So who's it going to be, Zala – you, me, Yamato and Neo?"
Athrun shook his head. "Iie, Kira and La Flaga-Taisa are out of this one - for now it' you, me and Dearka here." Athrun glanced at his former La Crueset teammate. "We've all got fieldcraft and infantry training back at the Academy, so we're the best suited for this mission."
Shinn looked smug. "I guess those two can't hack this huh?"
Athrun gritted his teeth and clenched his fist, trying to ward of the angry feeling that was growing from his stomach. He promised himself that he was not going to be baited by Shinn's sarcasm and insulting, but he wasn't having an easy time with it. But the meeting was too serious to be interrupted by him losing his temper. "Iie, they're staying behind because we're going to leave the ship very vulnerable with us three out there. With La Flaga-Taisa injured, he's not in one hundred percent condition to fly out in the air, much less go on a mission like this, and the Akatsuki's repairs aren't even finished yet. We're leaving things to Kira's hands and the Strike Freedom, since he's the only pilot left that doesn't have infantry training."
Shinn just smirked at his explanation. "That still leaves us one person less."
Athrun conceded the point. "Our fourth member must be a communication systems expert and at least have some experience with code breaking and hacking. I was thinking of asking Chandra-san to go with us, if the Kanchou would allow it."
Ramius turned to his bespectacled sensors officer. "You think you could do this, Mr. Chandra?"
"I don't know," Chandra replied uncertainly. "Maybe. I can do the tech stuff, but I don't have any infantry training. I was Fleet, remember?"
Athrun blinked. "You didn't go through basic training?"
Chandra nodded. "Not enough to call me qualified to become a grunt. I haven't even had firearms training since before Heliopolis."
Athrun sighed. He should have anticipated this. OMNI Enforcer training was different from what he had undergone with ZAFT. He forgot that the EA's military probably had different training regimens for their different branches, and probably not as extensive as ZAFT's was. "That's okay, Chandra-san – I forgot to consider that. I guess between the three of us, we could work out the technical operations."
"That still leaves our team a man short," Shinn reminded.
"I know. Maybe if La Flaga-Taisa could join us."
The blonde Natural ace was about to answer, but he was cut off by Ramius-Kanchou's. "Iie."
La Flaga turned to the Kanchou. "What do you mean 'no'?"
Ramius shook her head. "Because you are in no condition to play grunt, Mu La Flaga. And you do realize that for being Neo Lorrnoke and changing sides from the EA, there's a bounty for you in EA controlled territories?"
"I know – so what?"
Ramius glared at him. "Well, we're not going to risk that – I'm not going to risk that."
"But Murrue –"
"Uhmm, gomen nasai."
Athrun blinked as the new voice broke his concentration with the little row between Ramius and La Flaga. Athrun turned to his side, surprised that it was Meyrin speaking. He tried to figure out what she wanted to share, but Meyrin avoided his eyes and kept her attention to the Kanchou. "Uh, Kanchou, I'd like to volunteer for the mission – I'd like to join Athrun's team."
Everyone's attention was with Meyrin now, and Athrun saw her starting to blush with embarrassment. But he himself felt that this sudden request of hers was incredulous, and could hold back the confusion in his voice. "What?"
Meyrin steeled herself and stared straight into Athrun's eyes. "I said I want to join your team."
"Are you kidding?" Athrun couldn't believe what she said. "Iie!"
"What do you mean 'no'?" Meyrin demanded, echoing La Flaga beforehand.
"What do I mean?" Athrun spat back, anger boiling. "You're not qualified to do this, Meyrin."
"Who said so? I went through the Academy course, so I know what I'm doing!"
"But you're a bridge officer –"
"Who happens to have advanced training in computer encryption systems and hacking – plus all the necessary communication system skills."
"You don't have field experience!"
"What do you call accompanying Lacus-sama, Kira-san and you in finding and rescuing Meer Campbell? I have field skills and I can handle a gun!"
"But this is dangerous!"
"Didn't I go with you on the GOUF from Gibraltar? Wasn't I by your side when he –," Meyrin pointed at Shinn, "shot us down? Wasn't that dangerous too? I can handle myself Athrun Zala."
Athrun felt frustrated. It was already terrifying enough that he was leading this mission – he was afraid he would fail and get Shinn and Dearka killed. But with Meyrin – he didn't know what he'd do. "Please Meyrin," Athrun begged.
"Iie, Athrun-san - I'm going." Athrun could see tears forming from beneath her eyes. "If I don't go with you, what will I tell Cagalli-sama? She made me promise to stay with you and take care of you." She broke her stare from him. "I won't let you leave me behind, Athrun-san."
"She's right, Athrun."
Athrun looked to his right into Lacus' eyes. The songstress shared a look with Kira, who nodded to her. "Meyrin's right, Athrun – she's the best one for the mission."
Athrun was speechless. What was it with me that I'm so easily manipulated by the women in my life? Meyrin was one thing, but Lacus was another. Though she wouldn't show it, Lacus had a way of getting what she wanted when it came to Athrun. She didn't abuse this skill, but Athrun never found himself saying no to what ever she wanted, then and now. And now she was doing it again.
Athrun turned to Kira for support, but the purple eyed Coordinator just shook his head. "I agree with Lacus, Athrun. Sorry."
Athrun looked at the Kanchou, who smiled sadly as she quietly nodded. Seeing that he was going to be outvoted, he relented. "Alright, you're going with us Meyrin, but swear you're going to stay out of and get to safety at the first sign of trouble. I'm taking you along because you have the skills we need, but that's that. I won't be around all the time to protect you and where we're going you'll have to look after yourself as much as we look out for each other. You got that?"
"Hai," Meyrin replied coldly.
"What are you apologizing for?"
Kira pat Athrun on his shoulders. They were the only one left in the conference room, the others leaving to prepare for tomorrow's mission. Athrun didn't feel like getting up, and he sensed Kira staying behind to wait for him. "For siding with Lacus and the others – for not stopping Meyrin from going on the mission."
Athrun sighed. He couldn't blame Kira – he was in a sense right to see that Meyrin was qualified for the mission. It was only Athrun who was blinded with his concern for her. He wasn't sure how much his concern was, but it was there and it was clouding his judgment. He was sure he didn't want Meyrin to get hurt. "I know what you mean, Kira. It's just - difficult."
"I know." Kira sat beside him. "It's because you care for her and worry about her safety. That's not a bad thing, Athrun."
Athrun looked at his friend. "Is it? I don't know, Kira – I just don't know."
He felt Kira pat him once more, and seconds later heard the door close behind his friend as Kira left. Athrun stayed in the silent room, pondering the events that were coming to him in the near future.
January 9, CE 75
Hitomi groaned. She was finding out how hard it was to sneak around the Minerva, even in the dead of night where the shift was small and there was almost no one around. Add the fact that her body was still sore from her recovery from injuries and inactivity from convalescence, Hitomi was easily tired from her stealthy sojourn.
She was risking the ire of the ship's doctor and her Taichou by doing this – the doctor had specifically ordered her not to leave the sickbay until she was to be released in a couple of days, while Tai-I Hawke had specifically ordered her not to go to the mobile suit hanger to steal a glimpse of her new machine. But she was getting very restless and bored of lying in the sickbay bed doing nothing – she needed to get her body moving around. It was already infuriating for to have been defeated totally at Gibraltar, and now her inactivity was just getting at her nerves. So she decided to risk it, waiting for a chance to slip out of the medical center, and do something to keep herself a little entertained.
And what could be better than to find out what her new mobile suit was. The Taichou had already slipped something to her about it, but the curiosity was killing her. Also, she hoped to get a glimpse of the unit that Shousa Hanenfuss flew down in. The new officer had visited her with the Taichou, Madison and Rena yesterday evening, and she got to talk a lot with the Shousa. Hanenfuss seemed to a nice person and an excellent pilot – the fact that she was entrusted with a prototype mobile suit to use was evidence of her skill. From what she shared with them, that GELGOOG of hers sounded like an impressive machine. Hitomi wished she got something close to that caliber, but knowing that she was getting a second hand mobile suit dashed that idea. Hanenfuss did see her new machine, but like the Taichou and the rest, she was inclined not to tell anything about it, except that Burt and Youlan had nearly completed the maintenance preparations for it.
She looked around the large hanger bay for anyone who could see her. There were a couple of marines lounging about, talking to one of Youlan's techs. But the three was not looking at her direction, nor did they notice that she was there. Hitomi slid away from the shadows she hid from, and silently made her way between Rena's ZAKU and some of containers of the Impulse's Silhouette packs. Stopping at another corner, she looked into the dark corner where another mobile suit was stacked silently on a maintenance cradle.
That must be the Shousa's GELGOOG. Hitomi looked the new machine over, and was impressed. The mobile suit had a bulky look to it, heftier than her old ZAKU was, and looked ungainly. But it had the look of a massive armored Gothic Knight, with rounded armor plating over its body. A lifter pack was connected to its back, reminiscent of the Justice series of mobile suit. A colorful insignia that looked like some tree was painted on the front left shoulder of the suit, contrasting with its dark gray color scheme. Missile launchers and other weapons protruded from ports, a clear indication that it was well armed for its type.
She was so enamored with staring at the new machine that she nearly jumped out of her shoes as a voice spoke suddenly from behind her back. "I see that you're checking out my partner here, Hitomi-chan."
Hitomi let out a shriek and turned instantly to her back. To her total surprise she found Hanenfuss there, smiling back at her. Together with the new officer, also standing and looking at her – though with a frown instead of a smile – was Hawke-Taichou. "Hanenfuss-sama, Luna-Taichou – "
Apparently, the Taichou was not in the mood to talk. "Hitomi, didn't I tell not to come until you were released from sickbay? Didn't I am specifically order that?"
"Ah. Uhmm. Hai."
"Do you know how worried I was when the nurse called me and Shiho-sama up, saying that you were missing from the sickbay? I wanted to announce it over the PA, but I figured I'd spare you from the embarrassment."
"Gomen. I didn't mean to cause any trouble – "Hitomi croaked. She felt her cheeks redden from disgrace, and barely kept herself from spilling tears.
Luna-Taichou sighed. "Nevermind, I'm not angry, just worried sick. Just don't do it again will you?"
Luna-Taichou scratched her magenta bob of hair. "Well, since we're already here, I might as well show you your mobile suit." She stared at Hitomi sternly. "That was the reason why you went down here right?"
Hitomi nodded. Grumbling, Luna-Taichou strode off to a darkened corner of the hanger bay, with a giggling Shiho-sama in her trail. Embarrassed, Hitomi followed silently.
She found herself standing in front of a large object shrouded by a large tarpaulin cover. Luna-Taichou headed over to a computer console, and punched in some commands. The hanger lights flashed to life, momentarily blinding Hitomi from its sudden harshness. She heard and felt the loud vibrating rumble that disturbed the quiet of the hanger, as she saw the tarpaulin rise up on thin metal cables.
The thing that was hidden underneath was massive, as large and long as the Taichou's ZGMF-X56S Impulse. It was of a similar design, with a same kind of face attached to its head. Two eye ports lay dormant, ringed by a v-shaped antenna topped by another single pointed one, forming a warrior-like helmet that protected the head actuator. The Latin word "tre" was engraved with the model number X23S on a four-sided head crest in the forehead.
Its grey torso and limbs again showed similarity to the Impulse design features, with some exceptions. The shoulders were of a more pointed design, ending with the white tubes of beam saber grips. A single, massive red and white beam shield was carried on the left arm, while the right hand gripped a mobile suit scale beam rifle. Two barrels of massive beam and plasma cannons hung on each side of the mobile suit's back pack, as well as two flight wings.
The mobile suit had an aerodynamic feel to it, as if it was designed to fly and fight in the air. It looked familiar, as if Hitomi saw it before, but could not place it. She turned as she heard the Shiho-sama's voice.
"ZGMF-X23S Saviour is the name of this unit," Shiho-sama was saying. "The same model series as the Chaos, Gaia, Abyss and Impulse, it was the last one to be built. A very fast and maneuverable machine that can transform into an agile mobile armor-fighter, its well armed with plasma and beam cannons, plus beam sabers for close-in fighting." Hitomi could see the chestnut-haired officer gaze at the machine lovingly. "I never thought I could get a chance to see it – I only saw the specs for it and its prototype. And to think Gibraltar finally resurrected it after the beating it took from the Freedom."
"Agreed," whispered Luna-Taichou. "I never thought I would see it again."
Confused, Hitomi turned to her team commander. "What do you mean, Taichou? Did you – " she suddenly paused, as realization struck her, from the stories her Taichou told her about the last war. "You mean, this is – "
"Hai, Hitomi-chan, Hai," the Taichou replied solemnly. "This was Athrun's unit, before it was shot down at Crete."
"The Saviour!" Hitomi shouted. This was Athrun's Zala's unit, when he came back from his self-imposed exile in Orb and re-enlisted in ZAFT as a member of the FAITH Special Forces. The machine the late Chairman Dullindal entrusted to him, and in which Athrun fought his battles as a pilot and erstwhile team commander of the Minerva. Hitomi had only seen battle videos of the machine in action, usually battling the stolen Chaos in the skies over Asia and Eurasia. The Saviour was heavily damaged at Crete, decapitated by Kira Yamato and the Freedom. It was a unique unit, but due to its heavy damage it was not repaired and used in the latter part of the war. That Gibraltar had just finally completed evidenced the massive repairs and resources needed to return this machine to it fighting and working form. And now it was being assigned to her.
Wait a minute, wait a minute! This was being assigned to her? "Uh, Luna-Taichou – "
Her team leader chuckled. "I know, I know. You're wondering why the Saviour is being given to you?"
Wordlessly, Hitomi nodded.
The Taichou looked at the dormant machine once more. "Well, I thought you were the best one for it. When I requested reinforcements to cover your lost ZAKU, I was at first surprised that Gibraltar sent this. I thought 'What were they thinking?'"
"Then I realized that this was the best one for you, Hitomi-chan. I know Madison maybe better than you in training, but it actual combat you are ahead. I've seen you handle a mobile suit, and I'm proud to say that you have the potential to be one of the best. You only lack experience and the machine to fight with, and the Saviour could be the one for you. You only have to learn to maximize your skills, and wizen up to the fight."
"I know you're bothered by your fight with the Wraith back in Gibraltar, but you could have won that fight had the Wraith didn't slam the both of you to the side of the Rock. You could have beaten him. So don't let the fight bother you anymore."
Hitomi winced. Though the Taichou was right in saying that she was bothered by her loss in battle, it wasn't for the same reasons. She could have won alright, but she could find herself firing the killing shot to kill Leva – not that she really could, with all her weapons disabled and her ZAKU decapitated, but she felt she could never kill Leva in any condition. But she felt reinforced by the Taichou's praise and concern for her, and a smile was forming on her face as she looked up to the Saviour's face. "Thank you, Taichou, for all that you've said. I promise to do better the next time."
The Taichou poked Hitomi's forehead with a finger. "Just don't let my praise get into your head, Minamoto. I don't want doing heroics up there just because you're flying that thing. A good machine and pilot doesn't guarantee victory. Always remember what the Freedom did to the Saviour – I don't want to be the one recovering your mangled body the next time somebody slices up this mobile suit again. Promise me you won't get yourself nearly killed again - because I promise you that if that ever happens, I'll be the one you get you and finish off the job."
"You seem to be very concerned with your girls, Luna-chan," Luna heard Shiho ask her. They watched as Hitomi hobbled away from them, after she had admonished her to go back to the sick bay.
Luna sighed and leaned on the Saviour's right foot. "They all remind me of my younger sister - they're about her age. She was a Minerva crewmember before she left ZAFT. "
"Where is she now? At the PLANTs?" asked Shiho.
"Iie, Meyrin's on Orb."
Shiho grinned. "Oh. Did she emigrate there after the war?"
Luna winced. "Not really. She was there before we hit them in Fury." Luna saw Shiho watching her curiously. "It's complicated – someday I'll tell you about it."
"Okay," Shiho relented, accepting Luna's answer. "I guess you miss her."
"Well, yeah, but that's not really why I think about her," said Luna. "More like worry."
Shiho blinked. "Why? Is she in some sort of trouble?"
Luna shook her head. "Iie, I don't think so. But with the company she keeps, I have a bad feeling she might be."
Occupied South America
January 10, CE 75
It was a darkened sky that cast its shadowy veil over the sleepy seaside town of Pontevilla. The moon was new - the light that it cast from the reflection of the faraway sun was dead, leaving no illumination in the cold of the night. It was a dangerous time for waterborne vessels to travel close to the shores, the sharp rocks and reefs pose lethal traps to foolhardy mariners. No vessel of any kind was tonight, not wanting to tease the sea gods.
But the darkness was the perfect cover for a covert seaborne insertion, and this was exploited that night. No one saw the submarine appear on the surface nearly a mile off the coast, its white bridge tower and two rear fins cresting majestically out of the Pacific. It stabilized its surfacing as its twin bow crested the waterline, clearing its forward middle hatch used for tender ships over the considerable waves. The tender hatch vibrated as it opened outward, exposing the darkened internal bay of the ship to the rough sea.
Within seconds a rubber Zodiac shot out of the bay, struggling to travel through the disturbed waters off the ship. As soon the small boat had cleared the ship, the submarine closed its hatch and secured for diving. The big legged ship slid as silently as it could back into the abyss of the ocean, leaving the Zodiac as it traveled under power towards the looming shoreline. The four shadowy figures that crewed it watch their ship disappear silently, attuning themselves to the gargantuan task in front of them.
A kilometer away from shore, they killed the outboard engine, careful to avoid anyone from hearing it's whining. They pulled out paddles and started paddling under their own power, heading for a small beach pinpointed by the portable GPS system they carried. The salt water sprays bit into their black and dark green Nomex stealth suits, and chilled them with stinging cold. They endured this in the fifteen minutes it took to reach the beach, and they jumped out of the Zodiac into the pebbled sand, and dragged the boat as they ran inland.
In his planning Athrun had considered this spot, and the stealth advantage for his team. There was a small cave at the southern end of this beach, which was only a short hundred meters long and rarely frequented by people. The cave was close enough to the water for a quick getaway, and it was also within short reach of a back road, which provided access for them to Pontevilla. And, if the arrangements were met, his team could get into town without much trouble. If not, then he could abort the mission and rendezvous back with Archangel after a few hours.
They reached the cave safely, and stowed the Zodiac in it for safe storage. With weapons out the three men posted watch outside the cave, giving some privacy for Meyrin as she struggled out of her waterproofed gear into dry clothes they carried in their packs. She stepped out to them as soon as she finish, allowing the rest to change themselves. They quickly do this, and joined up with Meyrin outside.
They all wore simple clothes: Athrun in his green jacket and dark pants, Meyrin in red blouse and jacket with cream slacks, Dearka sported his checkered underneath the beige jacket and jeans, while Shinn decked out in his grey sweater and blue jeans. They didn't carry much gear, except for a chronometer with built-in GPS, emergency beacon and short ranged communicator, and S&W 10mm semi-automatic pistol with an extra clip for protection for each. They didn't need to bring anything else, choosing to rely on their contact for the other needed equipment.
"Everyone set?" Athrun asked his companions. All three nodded assent. "Let's go."
Dearka took the lead, pistol out, heading up to the tree line to where the road was, with Shinn covering his rear. Athrun stepped beside Meyrin. "Are you okay?"
Meyrin ignored him, as she did ever since the meeting back on the ship ended. She hadn't talked to him all day, even though they were together most of the time preparing for this mission. Athrun could see the she was scared, but had steeled herself to hide it. Athrun, however, had seen through her façade, and tried to calm her down. But an angry retort from her shut him up, and he quietly surrendered in his attempts. It was uncomfortable for Athrun, having gotten used to being friendly and open with Luna's sister.
I guess I was too hard on her. I should apologize when I can. Athrun did try to say sorry, but Meyrin always turned away from him before he could say anything. Sighing, he followed her as she raced after the other two.
The four reached the edge of the road stealthily but quickly. Taking cover behind some rocks, Athrun took out a small penlight and flashed it three times into the darkness, as the others covered him, guns drawn. They waited for several seconds, before two flashes came back to them from the shadows. The team slowly stood up and walked forward, their pistols pointed at the directions of the flash.
"About time you guys showed up. I was getting worried." A voice – male and familiar - whispered from the darkness.
"Come out nice and slowly so I can see you," Athrun commanded from behind his gun.
There was a rustling of grass and moving of shadows, as too men stepped out into the open. They had their hands up, showing that they were not a threat, though one of the men, a burly native-looking individual, was holding a submachine gun. The other one stepped casually in front of the other and looked at Athrun and Dearka. "Could you please put the guns down? I'm already terrified as it is you know," the man said, smiling.
Athrun heard Dearka laugh, as the blonde Coordinator lowered his weapon.
The man chuckled. "What a way to treat an old comrade."
Athrun grinned, as he holstered his own pistol. "It's nice to see you too, Sai."
Sai Argyle shook his head. "When I got the message from Kuzzey and Andrew that I had visitors coming, I never expected you lot." He approached Dearka, who offered his hand in greeting.
"Ha! Well I never expected to visit," Dearka answered back, as Sai pumped his hand. "We're on a weird vacation, eh?"
The young Natural smiled behind his orange spectacles. "Very weird indeed." He spread his arms to take in the dark surroundings. "I welcome you to the occupied lands of South America. It's a fun place to visit, as dark as the blood thirsty bastards who run it now under the point of a gun. I hope you find what you're looking for here, because I promise you that you're in for a very interesting visit."
1 The Soule/Gildden 12000 is the software used by Kira and Lacus to read the disk containing Meer's diary on Kira's laptop in Phase 47. Think of it as the Microsoft Word of the Cosmic Era. I just updated the version to 12001.