Phase One: The Darkness Falling From The Sky


The Grand Hall

The Royal Palace

Oslo

Kingdom of Scandinavia

December 16, CE 74

Ever since she was a child, Cagalli Yula Athha always felt uncomfortable wearing a formal gown. She felt vulnerable when forced to be in one. She was more at ease wearing a business suit, or worse a military-style uniform. She felt more confident and powerful in one. And she could always hide a gun in those if she wanted too. But she could not do that now, when a state dinner between world leaders like her calls for a more formal and lady-like attire for a major diplomatic affair.

Not that she had any choice in the matter. When Ledonir Kisaka, her trusted friend, commander and guardian, saw the itinerary for the New United Nations Council conference and treaty signing called for the state dinner, he immediately asked Mana, her chambermaid to prepare her something appropriate to wear. Mana, whom Cagalli loved since she was young but annoyed at her unending efforts to see that she grew up a "proper lady", whatever that meant, conspired with Kisaka earnestly.

Though Mana's choice of a simple blue sleeveless gown with thin silver trimmings was at first a very good choice, Cagalli was horrified when she saw its backless feature. She was about to veto the gown when the wily governess brought in reinforcements, the day before Cagalli left for Oslo.

"What are you talking about, Cagalli? This is a very nice gown." Lacus Clyne remarked, in her ever-cheery voice. "You would absolutely look lovely in it."

While she was her best friend, Lacus was a bit annoying to Cagalli at times too, with sometimes ever optimistic view of life. But Cagalli couldn't hate her for that – Lacus was her closest female friend, and was the special someone for her "little brother". And Cagalli also knew that underneath Lacus' veil of playfulness and innocence, there was the other persona of a great and powerful woman with charm and ability to end two wars. That made Lacus a woman to reckon with, and Cagalli was grateful that she was a loyal friend and ally to her and Orb.

The pink-haired songstress watched as Cagalli was looking the gown over by the mirror, and itching to get out of it.

Cagalli looked scandalized. "If you think I'll show up in a room with the most powerful persons in the whole wide world in this, you've got to be…"

"Kidding?" Lacus finished.

"Nope, I was thinking more in the line of crazy." Cagalli shook her hair. "Why do I have to wear this?"

"You look beautiful in it," Lacus said, still smiling. Lacus was used to her sharp remarks to know that she didn't really mean it. It was just her way of venting frustration. "It matches your great figure, which I don't know why you're so scared about flaunting. And the blue and silver matches your blonde hair very well. A nice necklace would finish the perfect picture."

So reluctantly Cagalli followed Lacus' advice, and wore a silver necklace to match the gown. But wearing something backless and revealing made her feel naked and exposed, however soft and beautiful the fabric was and she had (well in her point of view) the physique to carry such an outfit. She drew polite glances from everyone in the hall, and few less polite ones when they thought she didn't see them.

Let me hear someone whistle at me and I'll break his nose, protocol and world peace be damned!

But world peace was the ultimate objective of this conference, so protocol was to be strictly followed, as Kisaka told her. And she didn't have the courage to see Athrun's face when he finds out she attacked someone for leering at her in a state dinner. Not that the Justice pilot wouldn't have done something about, taking things unto his own hands. But Athrun was a stickler for protocol and decorum, and, like Kisaka and Mana, another one of those who strictly see to it that she was acting properly.

So here was Cagalli Yula Athha, Chief Representative of the Orb Union, a hero of the First and Second Wars, walking gracefully (as gracefully as she could) down the receiving line in the Grand Hall of the Royal Palace of Oslo, to meet with Haakon XVII, King of Scandinavia and the host of the Oslo Peace Conference.

The receiving line was full of dignitaries, all powerful and influential men and women. The Earth Alliance member-states were led by Robert Harding, the new President of the Atlantic Federation. A tall man in his mid-fifties, Harding was a moderate politician who was a former OMNI Enforcer ground commander in the First War. He was Copeland's vice president during the Second War, and was thrust to the Presidency when Copeland was killed during the Requiem's attack on Althea. Harding was against the Second War, but was pushed out of the limelight by the Blue Cosmos handlers of Copeland. Now he was working studiously for the peace, knowing that the Atlantic Federation needed clean its image a former Blue Cosmos stooge with support for peace between them and their Coordinator enemies.

Franz Goetzen was the Eurasian Federation's President. A strong, well-built Prussian in his sixties, Goetzen was another former military man, serving as commander of Eurasia's tank forces, before his retirement before the First War. He has a great distrust for the Atlantic Federation, and during the negotiations showed ill-veiled contempt for Harding. He proved to be a problem in the negotiations, only King Haakon and the new PLANT Chairman Katarina Westenfluss' calming influence eased Goetzen's antipathy to his former allies.

Katarina Westenfluss. At thirty she was now the youngest Chairman of the Productive Location Allied Nexus of Technology or PLANT. A second-generation Coordinator at birth, the raven-haired woman graduated as an economist in the university in Junius One. She witnessed the Bloody Valentine Incident, and afterwards joined the government as a member of the Junius One's local government. She quickly rose through the ranks and was the second youngest member of the Supreme Council during the time of Chairman Gilbert Dullindal. At first supportive of the Second Bloody Valentine and its aims, that changed with the death of her brother, Heine Westenfluss, at the Battle of Dardanelles.

Although she had a cordial professional relationship with Dullindal, and continued to support him during the Requiem's attack on the Januarius PLANTs, Westenfluss was one of the first opposed to the Destiny Plan, and was promptly imprisoned for a short period prior to the Battle of Messiah. She was freed and regained her position in the Council at the end of the war, and was voted as the new Chairman after two months. Westenfluss was the most hard-working member of the negotiating factions, working tirelessly for peace.

King Haakon XVII was hosting this state dinner in honor of the achievements of the conference, which culminated in the signing just that morning of the Treaty of Oslo, signed by the former belligerents of the Second War, heralding the start of a new and lasting peace between Earth and the PLANTs, Naturals and Coordinator.

The different factions of the war agreed in the Treaty to recognize the inherent right of each other of peaceful coexistence between all states. They also reconvened the United Nations into the New United Nations Council, to serve as a collegial body for all the member nation-states to settle problems and differences diplomatically between themselves.

Orb played a major part in the ending of the war, with the Terminal's victory over forces loyal to ZAFT Chairman Gilbert Dullindal and his Destiny Plan. With the destruction of the Messiah space fortress the threat to the freedom of all mankind was defeated, but there was still the problem of hateful feelings between the forces on both sides of the Second War. The massive losses from the war, mainly thru the casualties on Earth from the fall from orbit of Junius 7 and the destruction of several PLANTs from Blue Cosmos leader Lord Djibril's mad attack on the Coordinator homeland, left both sides weary of fighting and seeking a peaceful end to conflict.

The Orb Union, with the help of the Kingdom of Scandinavia, spearheaded the efforts to get all sides to the negotiating table. It was an ironic position for the small yet powerfully influential nation – Orb was the victim of both sides in the two wars: the Earth Alliance invaded and occupied the archipelago in the first, while the PLANTs attacked them while hunting for the renegade LOGOS leader Lord Djibril in the second. Orb played a vital role in the ending of both wars, being a primary member of the enigmatic Terminal. So it seemed to all parties involved that the Orb Union would be the main voice in the Peace Conference, with Scandinavia offering support and a place to hold the affair as another foremost neutral state.

With these conditions the PLANTs was readily accepting, as they were embarrassed by the actions of their former Chairman in the latter stages of the second war. The Earth Alliance was reluctant at first, but the massive defeat of their forces at Daedalus and Althea put them in no real position to argue otherwise.

After months and months of dragging diplomatic activity between the factions, they all agreed to finally sign the peace treaty at Oslo, since the Kingdom of Scandinavia was the only power not to involve itself directly in the war, and such was in the best position to mediate between the factions. And now that they have the Treaty behind them, the real work of peace and reconstruction was about to begin.

But that doesn't mean they couldn't party first.

If you call a boring state dinner, filled with dirty old men, crabby old women and stiff-necked courtiers a party. Cagalli thought wickedly as he continued down the line, with her hand in the elbow of Councilman Barton Omura.

Barton Omura was an old friend, of the same age of his father and served as one of Lord Uzumi's trusted advisors. Omura was fortunate to have been in Oslo at the time of Uzumi's death in the EA's invasion of Orb in the first war, but lost his brother who died at Lord Uzumi's side. A medical doctor by profession, he was called to see to the welfare of refugees who evacuated Orb after the invasion, and assume his brother's position at the end of the first war, and was still serving at the present. He supported Cagalli's escape to Scandinavia after her nearly disastrous aborted wedding to Yuna Seiran, and continued to support her when she returned with the Terminal warship Archangel to lead Orb against ZAFT invaders. Cagalli relied on the old man's wisdom, and Uncle Bart's advice in matters of state was always well thought and received.

It wasn't that Cagalli didn't appreciate Omura's company during that evening. He was a great help all through out the negotiations, and was very involved in the final meetings in the conference before the signing, which lessened the burden for Cagalli. But she felt she'd rather have someone else to be seen together with in this moment of success and accomplishment for her - someone quiet yet strong, with dark blue hair and beautiful green eyes.

Oh God, how I miss Athrun!

"The Chief Representative of the Orb Union, Her Highness the Princess Cagalli Yula Athha, and Councilman Barton Omura of the Orb Union," the Lord Chamberlain introduced them, waking Cagalli from her reverie. She found herself in front of the King and Queen. She immediately curtsied before them, and the King kissed her hand. "Good evening to you, Princess. You seem to be deep in thought tonight," Haakon said, smiling friendlily.

With cheeks slightly red, Cagalli tilted her head down. "Forgive me Your Majesty, if I seem far away." Omura chuckled, adding more to Cagalli's embarrassment.

The king and queen were still smiling. "Not to worry my dear. Tonight I wish that you would put your cares away, and enjoy the evening. I insist. My wife, Isadora," the king indicating the queen, "has personally supervised the preparation of tonight's fare. It is in honor of tonight's occasion. We have so much to celebrate about. The fruits of our work are starting to blossom and ripen."

Cagalli smiled back. "It was only thru your kindness to mediate the conference that we were successful, Your Majesty. Had you not given your support, peace would not have come tonight." Cagalli curtsied once more. "I personally thank you for the support you give me, even when you put the safety of the Kingdom at risk to harbor me when I came here from Orb with the Archangel. It is a debt I owe and would honor all my life."

Haakon slowly shook his head. "No debt stands between Orb and my kingdom. When you came here with the Archangel seeking protection the kingdom knew we had to give it. You were the only ones who knew and understood the truth of the war, and so you needed to be kept safe so that you could reveal and protect that truth. The Kingdom is honored to have protected you."

The king gestured to the main hall. "Now Princess, please enter my humble hall and enjoy the evening's festivities. This evening is your triumph, the triumph of peace and the end to the sadness of war."

The evening was moving along smoothly. The dinner was delicious, exquisite but not extravagant. Cagalli sat with the king and queen, as befitting a head of state. She sat beside him, in honor for her role in the success of the Peace Conference. Conversation was light and polite, with subjects staying away from politics. Though still awkward with her dress, Cagalli tried to socialize comfortably, and was reasonably proud of herself for her accomplishments that evening before the dancing began.

The dances were waltzes, to the music of the great classical masters of the 17th and 18th century. Cagalli never really wanted to dance, but again protocol and politeness demanded her too. She was paired up with the King's youngest son, a scared looking boy of fifteen. He seemed a lot more terrified of who his partner was than dancing. Cagalli endured through this, actually leading the waltz for two pieces, until a gloved hand tapped the young prince's shoulder to cut in. "May I have this dance," a voice said, in a soft but mischievous way.

The interloper was bowing to them. The straight pageboy cut of his white hair covering his face. Even though Cagalli didn't really consider him a close friend, she instantly recognized who the young man in the white ZAFT officer's uniform was. "Yzak?"

Yzak Joule stood up straight, his handsome yet fierce looking face intimidating even the young Scandinavian royal. The young prince gulped and nodded, and looked for an avenue of retreat away from the tough looking Coordinator. Yzak grinned with satisfaction, as he took the prince's place and began waltzing with Cagalli. "I always love to scare pompous young royals." The young Coordinator faced Cagalli. "Fancy seeing you dancing, Princess, though I thoroughly disagree with your taste in dance partners."

Cagalli's eyebrows were locking together. "Still haven't changed huh, Joule? Still the hard-assed, pain in the…"

"Yeah, yeah, I get your point." Yzak waved off Cagalli's comment. "And what about you - why are you here without your bodyguard?"

"You mean Athrun? Well…" Cagalli hesitated, not so comfortable with the topic. "He's off… somewhere," she replied, looking away.

Yzak didn't say anything, nor press her for details. He spoke a few moments later. "I'm with Chairwoman Westenfluss," he indicated at the tall and beautiful mustard blonde-haired PLANT leader, "as a member of the Supreme Council. I'll be reassuming the seat I vacated prior to the start of the Second War."

"That's great news, Yzak," Cagalli said offhandedly, looking over at the PLANT Chairwoman and her party. She noticed the beautiful red-haired girl in the red officer's uniform, who was watching them intently. "Who's the girl standing to the right of the Chairwoman?"

It was Yzak's turn to have his eyebrows lock together. "Oh, you mean her. Shiho Hanenfuss. She's on my staff. She was Dearka's replacement in the La Crueset and Joule Teams in the first war, and served with me and Dearka during the second, and now with me as my staff in the Council," Yzak snorted. "I don't like working with her. Not that I had much of a choice"

Hmm. That's sounds interesting. Cagalli thought. An evilly mischievous idea sprang from her mind. "Sounds like you like her, Yzak. It seems like she's watching us. Maybe you could ask her to dance. I wouldn't mind," she said, deadpan.

"That bastard Athrun's infected you with idiocy, Athha. Didn't I just say that I didn't like her?" Yzak retorted, his legendary temper growing.

Cagalli knew she was winning this battle. "Oh come now. Don't be stupid." She dragged Yzak away from the dance floor and headed for the girl. Before Yzak could say anything they were in front of her.

Cagalli reached out her hand towards the girl. "Shiho Hanenfuss, isn't it? Yzak was just telling me about you. I'm Cagalli Athha, Orb Representative and friend of Yzak's. It's a pleasure to meet you," she said, smiling.

The girl stared quizzically at Yzak, who looked like he wanted to create an international incident by strangling the Orb Princess. "It a pleasure to meet you too, Highness. Although I wouldn't want to give credit to whatever Councilman Joule told you about me," she replied, taking Cagalli's hand.

Cagalli was putting on the charms now, and Yzak couldn't do anything about it. "Ah just call me Cagalli. Friends call me that. A friend of Yzak is my friend."

Shiho chuckled. "I wouldn't call myself Yzak's friend, High-, err, Cagalli." She looked at the white haired officer, who was absolutely seething. "But I guess I can be yours - him be damned," indicating Yzak.

For his part, and to save his dignity, Yzak strode away, mumbling about getting something to drink and the trouble with women. Cagalli watched as he disappeared into the bar area, before turning to Shiho and laughing. "I'm sorry about that Shiho. But I've heard from common friends that Yzak is so easy to piss off. I'm just so bored with this state dinner thing that I just had to try," she stopped, still grinning. "I needed the fun."

Shiho grinned back. "No problem, Cagalli. Anyone who could get Yzak Joule pissed-off that easily is my kind of friend."

Cagalli remembered a line from a very old movie she saw, and found it apt. "It looks like the beginning a great friendship, Shousa Hanenfuss." Or something along that line.

"My pleasure, Princess Cagalli of Orb," Shiho smiled. "It's good that we can all talk to one another as friends again. The war nearly took that away forever."

Cagalli nodded. "Tonight our people start anew. Coordinators and Naturals both wish to live in peace, not destroy each other," Cagalli smiled at Shiho. "Let our new friendship bring hope to better days ahead for all of us."


Orb International Airport

Kaguya Island

Orb Union

December 17, CE 74

Athrun Zala stepped off the passenger's concourse into the main area of Orb's International Airport. He took off his gray jacket and slung it over his right shoulder. He didn't have anything with him save the overnight bad slung on his other shoulder. So he didn't need to wait for any other luggage from his failed trip to bring Shinn back.

He was still confused and frustrated that Shinn didn't accept his offer, and left Germany feeling disappointed. He thought he could get to Shinn, get him to see his point and embrace it. But like in the war he was a failure. He blamed himself as much as he blamed Shinn for being so stubborn and consumed with hatred.

Athrun felt the surge loneliness as he stepped out into the driveway of the airport. The early-morning sun was brightly shining, the warm climate soothing the Central Pacific island-state in this cool mid-December day. But the bright sun didn't cheer up his bleakness inside. He longed for a certain blonde woman to meet and greet him with a hug and a kiss, happy that he was back, even though he had failed in his mission.

Not that it was easy for that certain woman to do that, being the leader of this small but powerful nation of the Orb Union. Responsibilities of leadership stemming from the post-war and this new peace took her further away from him even more often than not, and the distance and time between them was constantly tearing them apart.

Not that it would have mattered to him, being (according to close friends – Athrun not being one to think about frivolous vanities) a handsome man with many opportunities for companionship with the opposite sex. His best friend Kira jokingly told him that he, Athrun Zala, had the knack for getting the girl, as past experience showed. He had to propensity to "attract fan-girls" and probably "form a harem", as Kira would describe it with a grin, in their more innocent days as students in Copernicus before the Bloody Valentine Wars. Up to know girls seemed to be attracted to him easily, and this time Kira was dropping vague hints about him and Meyrin. Athrun ruthlessly suppressed Kira's ideas, and threatened to pummel him if he said that again, Ultimate Coordinator or not. Or maybe have Lacus drag Kira on another shopping trip. Meyrin was a just a friend, and Athrun would not want her bothered by getting teased.

Athrun didn't want anyone else to be with him. Cagalli was his life. Only Cagalli can make him happy. Though he once cared for Lacus, being his fiancée via an arranged engagement by their parents, he never felt as much as he felt for Cagalli with Lacus. He knew that Kira knew this too, and his friend said that he's happy that Athrun cares for his sister that much, but that he'll leave Cagalli to him to work things out.

If I only had the guts to do something about it.

He was just waiting for a taxi with these thoughts on his mind when a hand falling on his right shoulder surprised him. With Coordinator reflexes enhanced with experience and training, he spun on his unknown attacker, right hand coming up to strike. But his hand was blocked by another one, and a golden-haired face smiled right thru his defensive stance. "Aww, c'mon now, Athrun. Is that how you treat your war comrades?"

Athrun stepped back, totally caught off-guard. "Dearka?"

Dearka Elsman put his arms on his side, and did a ridiculous superhero stance. The ZAFT ace was wearing a flowery yellow tropical island shirt and drawstring beach pants, with black shades covering his eyes, looking a lot like those tourists coming over to vacation on beaches of the islands. He was dragging a wheeled luggage bag, apparently arriving in the airport the same time Athrun did. "Right on the money the first time, Athrun Zala," he said, grinning roguishly. "Good to see you again, pal."

"Dammit, Dearka, don't scare me like that!" Athrun breathed. "What are you doing here - in Orb of all places?"

"Oh, this and that," Dearka answered vaguely. He indicated at his clothes. "For starters I needed a vacation - even a short one." He took in the surroundings. "I heard Orb's beaches are great this time of year - beats the cold up in the PLANTs."

He saw that Athrun wasn't buying that. "It's true, pal," Dearka said in his own defense. "I'm taking this chance to relax before I start my new job. I had to get away from Yzak's constant temper tantrums – it could get bad for one's health, you know."

Again Athrun was taken off guard. "What do you mean by your new job? Did you resign your commission again?"

Dearka chuckled. "Iie. I'm still in the military. I'm still getting my checks from ZAFT." He grinned again at Athrun. "I got myself transferred to the diplomatic service as a military attaché. And since I will be working here I'd better scout the place out, see the sights."

"Wait a minute, Dearka," Athrun said, confused. "What do you mean by you'll be working here? You're the new military attaché in PLANT's embassy here on Orb? You?"

Dearka felt insulted. "Hey come on now, Athrun. Put some trust in me will you? I think I'm capable enough. Didn't we graduate together as red coats from the ZAFT Academy? Weren't we part of the elite La Crueset Team? The Zala Team? Terminal?"

"Okay, okay. Since you put it that way," Athrun consented, hands raised in surrender. No point in arguing about this now. "So you're going to be working here. That'll be great. But what made you think about doing this?"

Dearka smiled wisely. "I had to get away from it all." He shifted to a more comfortable stance. "Things were getting hectic up in the PLANTs. Yzak just got his seat in the Supreme Council back," he revealed. Athrun seemed surprised with this fact. "He got promoted again after the fiasco with Dullindal had half of the council resigning. Well, Yzak didn't actually like it. They had to drag him kicking and screaming back to Aprilius One. But Shiho put some sense into him and he gave in," Dearka laughed. "He'll be fine as long as she's around."

"Shiho Hanenfuss? The one who test piloted the GuAIZ series?"

"Yup, that's her. Yzak got stuck with her during the time we were flying with the Terminal. He says he doesn't like her and she say she doesn't like him back, but they're like this." Dearka held up his hand, his middle and index finger together.

"Okay." Athrun responded, somewhat in unease with talking about Yzak's private life. He changed the subject quickly. "So you're the new military attaché. Any idea who will be your immediate boss will be? I mean the ambassador. Nobody was assigned before I left for Europe. And I just got back."

This time Dearka was somewhat reluctant. "Well…"

Athrun frowned. "It's going to be public knowledge anyway, Dearka. So I guess you can tell me."

Dearka shrugged. "It's not that Athrun. It's not really classified and all. But I guess it'll just be a surprise. For you, I mean." Dearka gazed into Athrun's confused eyes. "It's Yuri Amarfi. Nicol's dad."


The Grand Hall

The Royal Palace

Oslo

Kingdom of Scandinavia

December 16, CE 74

Queen Isadora slid her hand into her husband's shoulder. They were sitting side by side on the royal table, watching the couples dancing to the beautiful waltzes. "It's a beautiful evening, my love," she whispered.

King Haakon nodded. "If only the beauty of the evening could last forever, all would be perfect." He looked at the night sky that peeked from a nearby open balcony. "I wish the beauty of the starlight guide the way to a bright new dawn for peace."

But darkness was falling, covering the starlight with the shadows of terror.


Inbound Oslo

Kingdom of Scandinavia

December 16, CE 74

They came burning thru the atmosphere, heat and radiation shields protecting their units from the extreme heat of reentry. The night sky and the clouds covered them from the naked eyes, as much as their mirrage colloid stealth system cloaked their units, rendering them invisible from both electronic and visual sensors. Surprise was first objective of their mission, so all efforts were done to equip their mobile suits with the banned yet formidable stealth system. Added to the multi-Mach speeds the mobile suits were diving towards their target, the unsuspecting defenders below had almost no time to react.

At ten thousand feet, they activated their electronic counter measures. The ECM signals started jamming the radar installations surrounding the city of Oslo. The small but significant military of the Kingdom of Scandinavia was on full alert that night, what with the great number of powerful world leaders now celebrating their diplomatic triumph, unsuspecting of the threat from above that was bringing down death in plenty.

The radar stations began picking up the jamming, as their screens were filled with white noise. The crews hesitated at first, before the slowly and unsurely alerted their superiors. Military officers began checking the data, and ordered patrol fighters up the sky to meet the unknown threat. But the threat remained invisible to their sensors, and the responding defenders didn't know where to find them.

Too late for the confused defenders, as the descending darkness began shedding their mirrage colloid cloaks at five thousand feet. They vectored towards the center of night-lit Oslo. Eight missiles were launched from each of the six black mobile suits, which began corkscrewing downwards towards the Royal Palace complex in the middle of the city.


The Grand Hall

The Royal Palace

Oslo

Kingdom of Scandinavia

December 16, CE 74

The first missile struck just to west of the Grand Hall, where the state dinner was. Cagalli and Shiho heard the whistling shriek of the weapon as it burned towards the ground, and reacted to get away from the balcony a split second before the first explosion hit.

A great shockwave burst into the Grand Hall, blasting the glass mirrors around the room. Shards of glass flew into the Hall, shredding fragile bodies like bullets from a shotgun. Several were killed in the first blast, and several more followed as a massive fireball spewed flames thru the balconies and doorways, where wooden doors were also cut into deadly fragments.

A second explosion rocked the main entrance of the Grand Hall, killing most of those who where trying to get out or thrown to that direction after the first shockwave. More explosions were erupting all around the Palace complex, their blasts mixing with the cries of terror and death from those caught in the inferno.

Cagalli was thrown back by the first explosion, and landed on a table that shattered from the force of her impact. Dazed and hurt, she tried to get up first, but felt pain in her chest. Cracked ribs, she thought. More explosions flashed and shook the area.

She tried to crawl away, then stopped as she saw that her dress was filling with blood - her own blood. She checked and felt a large splinter thrust into a wound on right side of her stomach, and suddenly felt the pain it was creating. She collapsed suddenly from the pain, and lost consciousness. She thought she heard a woman's voice call out to her, but soon the blackness overcame the light in her eyes.

Shiho's training kicked in as the first explosion erupted. She dove under a nearby table, trying to pull Cagalli with her. But the shockwave ripped her away, and quickly disoriented her. Shiho heard and felt splinters cracking and flying by, deadly projectiles that could kill her instantly. She hid her head under her arm, to protect her from the deadly swarm. A man's body fell on her, cracking her ribs and sending a shot of pain thru her.

She dared to look around for Cagalli. Having trouble seeing from the smoke filling the room, she shouted for the Orb Princess. She shouted a couple of times more, before she saw the blue dressed woman lying in a pool of blood. Shiho staggered over to her, and reached the wounded princess with much difficulty. She reached out to Cagalli, and saw the dreadful wound to her side. Damn, this is bad. "Cagalli, hang on!"

Shiho dragged Cagalli to the side of the hall, and laid her there. Shiho looked around for help but saw nothing but smoke and dead bodies. Feeling despair, the smoke adding to her agony, tears began to fall from her eyes. Why the hell did this happen now? When we were at verge of peace!

Before the despair took over her completely, hope sprang in the sight of white haired man struggling forward to her. His white uniform was shred to pieces, and wounds and burns were showing from his exposed body. But fierce determination and anger was not going to put this man down.

"Yzak!"

Yzak reached Shiho in a heartbeat, and embraced her, full of relief. "You're alive. Thank heavens you're alive," he said in a shaky voice.

"Yzak…"

Their relief and happiness was barely felt as another explosion brought the Grand Hall's ceiling down upon them.


Orb International Airport

Kaguya

Orb Union

December 17, CE 74

"Councilman Amarfi?" Athrun was taken back.

"I know, I know," Dearka said, putting his hands up this time. "It was a big surprise for me too. Dad told me when I told him I was being assigned here. Chairman Westenfluss asked Amarfi personally if he wanted the post. I don't know what she told him, but he accepted. I understand he kept himself out of the loop during the aftermath of the First War and all throughout the Second, so it's a surprise he accepted the post."

"I know Yuri Amarfi. He's an honest man." Athrun said.

"Yeah, I know. Good man, the Ambassador," Dearka agreed. "Nicol got his good nature from him, that's for sure."

Athrun remembered his green haired friend, a victim of the madness of the First War. "Nicol would have wanted this, his father working for peace."

"Hai," Dearka mused. He was looking at a large videoscreen, playing commercials about Orb's beaches and tourist attractions. "The weather's nice this time of year here isn't it?" he asked Athrun, changing the subject.

Athrun was grateful for the change. "Yeah, it's quite warm. The beaches are nice, but they're full with the winter vacationers."

Dearka was grinning again. "I guess I can find something else to do. Might look up Miriallia… And Kira, Lacus, Cagalli of course," Dearka covered himself quickly. He looked at the video screen again, which was now playing scenes about the Oslo Peace Conference. "Cagalli's over there right?" he indicated at the video screen.

A pang of longing flashed from his heart, Athrun looked up. "Yeah, well, she is. She's…" Athrun began, but was made speechless by the scenes of carnage he was seeing from the screen. "What the -"

Oslo was burning.

"CAGALLI!"


Inbound Onogoro Island

Orb Union

December 16, CE 74

As the fires burned in Oslo, six more dark mobile suits sped at water-top level heading for Orb. They came in at the low height to avoid the Orb military's radar installations, should any of them had the ability to track even a mirrage-colloid cloaked mobile suit. They hoped the suddenness of the Oslo attack would give them an advantage with the just reacting Orb forces, as confusion should be starting at their target, the main Orb military base at Onogoro Island.

They pilots noticed that the drag of their low level flight was leaving tracks on the water's surface, that could be seen with the naked eye. But in a matter of seconds this would be irrelevant as they would be climbing to a thousand feet to begin their attack runs.

As they closed on the shores of Onogoro, they were pleased to see that the defenders of Orb had not picked them up yet. They began their climb, and settled at their prescribed flight level fifteen seconds from the shoreline. At ten seconds the six mobile suit split into two groups of three, one group heading straight for the Orb naval base, the other three banking to northeast heading for Orb City.

Ten seconds out the Onogoro group de-cloaked and fired their short-ranged missiles, which took two seconds to hit their targets. Twenty-four missiles found sixteen targets, including parked mobile suits and a naval destroyer. The surprised personnel close to the targets died in surprise as the explosive fragments ripped their bodies into shreds.

An Orb TV crew, filming a piece about the Onogoro naval base, was fortunate enough to get a live video shot of the first attack, and was now beaming the terrible assault on live television throughout the island nation.


Orb International Airport

Kaguya Island

Orb Union

December 17, CE 74

"Frak!" Dearka swore. "What's going on?" He scanned the live picture of the Scandinavian capital burning. "What the hell is happening?" He turned to Athrun.

But Athrun was petrified with fear. He looked helplessly as he watched an aerial shot of Oslo showing the fires coming from the Palace. A missile trailed into the Grand Hall, and exploded on its roof. People scurrying like ants were trying to get away from the building, but were crushed as debris fell on them.

"Cagalli… She's in there… DAMN!" Athrun knelt helplessly on the ground.

Just when the two soldiers thought that this was the worst, the scene suddenly changed to a more familiar view of Onogoro, going through the same ordeal of flames and death, as a black shadow flew over an anchored warship and riddled its deck with autocannon-fire.

Dearka was pointing at the screen. "That's Onogoro Island, right? Someone's attacking it too? What the hell is going on?"

People were already noticing the broadcast, and a panic was beginning all around the airport. The scared men and women were scrambling around in abandon, families gathering stray members together, others desperately seeking transport to safety.

Athrun felt Dearka dragging him to his feet. "Athrun! Snap out of it! We've got to do something!" But Athrun was still in the grip of terror, and did not respond. But just as he felt that all hope was lost to him, it sprang up again in the sound of a car horn blaring towards their direction. The two aces looked towards its source, and saw a dark blue convertible sports car, its hood down and racing towards them. It stopped hard right in front of them, revealing its red-haired female driver shouting out to them.

"Athrun-san! Quick! Get in!" Meyrin Hawke was shouting at them, her strong call belaying the fear and confusion she too was feeling at the moment.

Dearka threw his bag into and jumped on the back of the convertible without hesitation, but Athrun paused. "W-what are you doing here?" he shouted.

Meyrin looked away, but Athrun caught the faint redness that was filling her cheeks. "I knew you were arriving today. So I thought I'd fetch you, since nobody else is around."

Athrun smiled. He knew he could always count on Meyrin. "Thanks Meyrin. Sorry I shouted at you," he apologized. "Please move to the other seat. I'll drive."

Meyrin looked back at him, now in a full blush. She jumped out of the driver's seat to the one beside it, as Athrun took the wheel. He started to head along the main highway for the capital city, but saw that the traffic was getting heavy. Athrun pondered his options, the u-turned the car towards the opposite direction, away from the city towards the beachfront areas south of Kaguya.

"Where are we going, Kanchou?" Dearka was asking.

"Lacus' place at Angel's Point," Athrun looked back at Dearka, determination showing in his eyes. "We're gonna do something about this."


Highway 7

Kaguya Channel

Kaguya Island

Orb Union

December 17, CE 74

The drive to the coast was uneventful, except for the cold fear they were feeling as they silently listened to the car radio as it broadcast the live news about the ongoing attack on Onogoro Island. The traffic was light, and grew lighter as they reached the outskirts of Kaguya town. The people were both frightened and well disciplined not to come during an attack, as the experience of two previous wars showed the inhabitants of Orb.

Dearka was listening intently, filtering for news about any attack on PLANT, and what happened to the world leaders caught in the inferno that was the Scandinavian Royal Palace. Athrun heard from him that Yzak and Shiho was also in Oslo, accompanying the current ZAFT Chairwoman to the Conference. Though Dearka would never admit it, Athrun knew he was worried for his best friend.

Meyrin, for her part, was white with trepidation, and had a worried look in her eyes, now glancing at Athrun once in awhile, looking for any words of encouragement or support from him. In between she tried to contact the people at Lacus' home to warn them of their sudden arrival, but to her surprise no one was answering at the estate.

But Athrun was now focused - focused on his objective. That he had to do something now to protect Orb, the land of birth of the woman so important to him, that her possible demise would shatter whatever life and sanity he had left with him. Athrun was so focused that he didn't notice that the aerial battle coming from nearby Onogoro Island had spilled over the place they were driving through.

They were currently southbound on the mile-long inter-island suspension bridge hung across the channel between Kaguya and the district where Angel's Point was. The bridge's roadway was suspended a hundred feet above the water's surface, and it was eerily absent of traffic except for their speeding sports car. So Athrun kept the speed of the car well above a hundred miles an hour, and the sound of the screaming engine drowning the distant sounds of the unnoticed battle. Until he heard Dearka's cry and saw the blonde pilot pointing to the skies above.

&

Dearka was watching the battle unfold. Three Murasames in mobile armor mode were locked in a dogfight with a black raider, five thousand feet above them. The Orb pilots were maneuvering to climb and dive while surrounding the raider, as per the standard tactics of the Orb military's advanced aerial mobile suits. Beam fire was rising from a point in the direction Athrun was driving to, in obvious support of the friendly mobile suits.

The three Murasames and the unknown friendly forces surely outnumbered and outgunned the lone raider, and in a normal would overwhelm it in due time. But Dearka saw that the clever movements and precise shots of the raider showed the great skill of its unknown pilot. He shouted at his companions and pointed at the death dance in the heavens.

The raider noticed the Murasames' maneuver and reacted accordingly. It flew towards them, all the while jinking and banking in random patterns to avoid the beam fire coming from above and below. It loosed a volley of missiles, followed by a few blasts from its beam rifle. The suddenness of the raider's counterattack, plus the deadly effectiveness of its return fire, scattered the Orb pilots.

The raider closed in on one Murasame that was separated from its wingmen. The Murasame switched from its mobile armor mode to mobile suit, and began letting loose its beam fire while flying backwards away from the raider. But the black mobile suit was faster and had the advantage of position. It blocked the beams with its cross-shaped shield, which the raider threw at the Murasame after its parry. A crimson blade of beam energy emerged from a projector in the raider's arms, ready to follow up the shield's strike.

The Orb pilot was caught unaware by the unorthodox attack, and the Murasame was struck squarely in its gut by the flying shield. Though it did not do significant damage to the Orb suit, it knocked it back and stopped its controlled maneuvering. The sudden pause proved fatal to the Orb pilot, as the raider sliced its beam saber into the Murasame's chest, cutting through the body and cockpit, killing the pilot instantly. The forward momentum of the raider's charge brought the beam through the back of the doomed Murasame, as it was sliced cleanly in half. The explosion that followed heralded the end of its death throes.

The other Murasames saw the demise of their comrade and commenced their vengeance. The First one transformed to mobile suit mode, and began peppering the raider with green beam blasts. The other continued to attack in the mobile armor form and began launching its homing missiles. It locked onto the raider, which began its evasive maneuvering. More fire from the ground came blasting skywards, but the height decreased the effectiveness of the support.

The missiles continued to follow the raider, which suddenly turned towards the first Murasame. The mobile suit juked to the left, hoping to avoid the raider's approach vector. But raider again did something unorthodox. Rather than veering off from the Murasame, it reached out and grabbed the surprised Orb mobile suit's right leg. The raider pulled hard, and swung the surprised Murasame towards the homing missiles. The Orb pilot could not react quickly enough, as four armor piercing missiles penetrated its internals and transformed the Murasame into a fireball.

Seeing the odds dramatically swinging against him, the last Murasame tried to break off from the fight, heading for the direction of Onogoro. But the raider pursued him relentlessly, and the deadly accurate fire finished the last Orb defender, the fiery wreckage plummeting from the sun-drenched sky.

Unfortunately for Dearka and his companions, the wreckage plummeted down towards the bridge as they were nearing its end.


The Murasame cut through the suspension cables of the bridge and struck the center of roadway less than ten meters behind them. Athrun saw this from his rear-view mirror as Dearka shouted and Meyrin screamed. The roadway began to wobble violently, as the sudden loss of support from the snapped cables and the sliced bridge sent the roadway lurching downwards in to the sea.

Athrun realized that at their current speed, he'll kill all of them by breaking hard, the car's velocity would send it on a tight skid and turn-turtle with a sudden loss of speed. Add to the fact that they were plummeting to a watery death with hundreds of tons of steel and concrete crashing from above them, their current options were bleak at the least.

He decided in a snap, pushing all of his force into the accelerator pedal, gunning the engine and juicing out every iota of power and speed he could drag out from the car one last time. I've got to get across! He thought, as he could see the end of the bridge less than a hundred meters away. Come on, get us through! The V-12 engine roared like a berserk lion, and the car made its final life-or-death dash for the end. Athrun felt triumph as the end of bridge grew in his windscreen.

But gravity won the race, as the rest of the bridge gave way. The car was caught thirty meters from the end, and began its fall with the roadway. Athrun felt Meyrin grab his arm, terror framed on her tear-streaked face. He saw a glance of Dearka falling over the side of the car, the sudden shock throwing him overboard. Athrun felt the anger of what he thought to be his final and fatal failure. I will not die taking my friends with me!

And die they did not. Fate or Luck smiled at them anew as a gunmetal gray hand of a mobile suit grabbed the car and stopped its descent. Again the sudden lurch shook the car, as airbags on the front seats burst forth and smothered Athrun and Meyrin. Meyrin's grip pulled at Athrun, pain shooting from his arm indicated a mild sprain at least.

Athrun felt nausea and disorientation from the violent chain of events in the last few seconds of his life, and couldn't believe he was still alive. He felt the car climbing, the descended once more at a safer, stable speed. The car rocked again as the mobile suit landed, and put the car down safely on the ground. Athrun tried to move, but was too scared or exhausted from the adrenalin rush that he left his face on the airbag.

"Baka! Are you trying to get yourselves killed?" an angry voice was shouting from what sounded like an amplified loudspeaker somewhere from above.

Athrun heard a thud from his back and a shriek from Meyrin. He lifted his face from the airbag and dared a peak upwards. At first the sun hurt his eyes, but he quickly adjusted and saw the shadowed silhouette that blocked the bright disc. Slowly Athrun recognized the colors, as the red and the gold of the ZAFT-designed mobile suit gave life to its awesome form. The ZGMF-X88S Gaia was kneeling right in front of the car, but was facing the sky, scanning it and sweeping with the beam rifle in search of the black raider.

Athrun now knew who their savior was, and was about to call out to him, but Meyrin beat him to it. "Waltfeld-san!"

Andrew Waltfeld's angry voice roared again. "I thought better of you Zala. Didn't you see the fighting above you? What were you doing driving like on a lazy Sunday afternoon when there's a battle right on top of you?"

Athrun was too tired and scared to argue. "We were trying to get to Angel's Point. Meyrin was calling you but you wouldn't answer,' he breathed. "Now we know why, Shousho." Meyrin didn't say anything as she was still stiff with fright, and still hadn't loosed her grip on Athrun's arm. The pain was still ringing, but Athrun was barely paying attention to it.

The Gaia underwent its transformation into its quadruped mode, and dropped its lift cable down to ground level. "Get on. The raider's gone for the moment. I'll take you up to the estate."

Athrun nodded as he freed himself from seat belt. He put his hand on Meyrin, and spoke softly. "It's all right now. We're safe, Meyrin," he looked around and noticed the damage to her car. "Sorry I thrashed your car. I promise I'll fix it later." Meyrin just nodded, and staggered as Athrun led her wobbling onto the lift cable.

The Gaia's head titled to its side. "You might want to wake up Elsman first."

Dearka! Athrun thought with trepidation, as he turned around and saw the blonde pilot sprawled on outside of the car, bruised and cut, but alive, with a death-grip on the car's rear side panel. Athrun forgot about him in all the excitement. He pulled his friend up to sit up. "Are you okay, Dearka?"

Dearka looked at him blankly for a second, before he pushed away Athrun who fell down flat on his back. Dearka waved a fist at his friend. "Damn you Zala! I swear I'm NEVER getting into a car with you again!"


The Gaia arrived on the Clyne Estate on Angel's Point after a few minutes of hard galloping along the beach. The area they came to was normally like this, bereft of bustling human habitation. Angel's Point was dominated by a three hundred meter-tall hill, ending with the lighthouse perched on cliff side facing the sea. A mansion complex stood two hundred meters below, near the end of the beach. The Gaia stopped on an open driveway bereft of cars and wide enough to accommodate the mobile suit. Athrun, Meyrin and Dearka got off the mobile suit, and headed for the house, where a blue-haired woman and some small children were waiting at the door.

"Get to your units and meet me at Point Nova!" Waltfeld voice boomed for the last time before the Gaia sped off along the beach to southwest.

The three stepped through the door and dashed down the main stairway. The woman followed them. "What's going on Athrun?"

Athrun shrugged as he reached his destination, an elevator door in one corner of the lower mezzanine kitchen. "I don't know yet, Mrs. Yamato, but I fear the worst." He began typing into a keypad on the side of the door, and it swung open. He and his two companions got on. "I think its best to take the kids to the shelter, Ma'am, for their safety." Caridad Yamato nodded, and the three heard her call out to the orphans as the elevator door closed.

They got off at the hanger level, on a floor the served as the main hanger for the mobile suits hidden in the underground military complex the Terminal uses under the Clyne Estate. The complex was empty, with most of the personnel either away or in the field. The floor held two mobile suits, both inert in its cold gray colors and safely secured on their twenty-four meter tall maintenance gantries. A large blast door stood in front of the gantries, were a rail system moved them through the door for pre-launch positioning at the mobile suit launch bay.

They approached the mobile suit in the middle, before Athrun turned to his companions and spoke. "Meyrin, please go to the control center. Open of the blast doors and work the catapult for the launch bay. I'll take off first to help out Waltfeld-san." he paused, and smiled when he saw the worried look on the red-haired coordinator's face. "It'll be fine. I'll be careful. Help Dearka take off too then go to Mrs. Yamato and the children." Meyrin just nodded, the worry evident in her eyes, as Athrun ran to the access lift in front of his unit and began climbing up to his cockpit.

Meyrin ran back to the elevator and headed up to the split-level control room forty meters above in an upper level. Dearka, however, was still confused. "Wait a minute, Athrun. What do you mean I'll take off too? How the he'll can I fly without something to take off with?"

Athrun had just reached the access hatch to his cockpit. "Door to the left, gantry four," Athrun pointed to a doorway in one corner. "Meyrin will open the blast doors for you. Launch after me." Athrun dove into his unit and disappeared.

Still confused, but his heart now racing, Dearka dashed to the door and opened it. He looked around the new area of the hanger, and saw gantry four. A gigantic shroud of carbon-fiber cloth covered something equally gigantic behind it. Dearka found the release switch in the pilot's maintenance lift and pressed it. The shroud fell, revealing a sight Dearka had last saw almost three years ago.

"Whoa…"
Generation

Unsubdued

Nuclear

Drive

Assault

Module

G.U.N.D.A.M. Complex

Series SD100-O9 SF/IJ 01-34152

Z.A.F.T.

System Online

The multi-function display showed the progress of the mobile suit's operating system. Athrun powered up the mobile suit's ultra-compact nuclear reactor, and power sourced into the suit's different systems. A check of his primary MFDs showed his primary systems at nominal. He began activating other systems, mentally running through the checklist for powering up his machine. Primary CPU uplink, check. OS variable optimization online. Reactor core stable. Gyroscope nominal. Fire Control System, check. Head's Up Display, activated. Communications Relay online… All systems, online…

Once in the past Athrun said that he never wanted to be back inside a cockpit. He thought he could live a life without needing to be what his father, or destiny wanted him to be - a warrior, a mobile suit pilot.

But his experience in the wars showed him that he could live and still be a warrior – as long as it was a choice that had to be taken, when the lives of loved ones and friends had to be protected; when the madness of war had to be banished.

When justice had to be served with the freedom of choice.

So now he was ready. He chose to be in a cockpit once more, because there were those who needed to be protected from vulture whose hatred will destroy the peace blood was spilled for once more.

Athrun activated his communications systems and linked with the control center. "Unit X-One-Niner-Alpha to control, I'm ready to go."

Meyrin's face came on in one of the MFD above his HUD. "Roger that, X-One-Niner-Alpha. Ready for pre-launch positioning on cat-one." Athrun felt his mobile suit jerked as the gantry slid forward along the rails.

The blast doors opened, and the gantry moved into position in the launch bay.

"Safety locks released. Catapult connected."

The feet of the mobile suit landed on the catapult, and the gantry returned into the main hanger bay.

"Blast doors securing. Heat shields deployed."

The blast doors closed behind him, a twenty-inch thick plate of metal coated with multi-layers of heat absorbent material lifted behind his unit. Power output from the reactor increased, as additional energy was diverted for the catapult's use.

"Launch bay doors opening. Catapult track clear."

The camouflaged launch bay door slid down, revealing the hidden ramp the mobile suit's use to launch out of the Angel's Point hill.

"Weight to power ratio computation, complete. Catapult power optimized. APU online."

Athrun made one last check of his systems, and saw that all was ready.

"Systems all green. X-One-Niner-Alpha. You are cleared for launch," Meyrin's voice finally declared. "Be careful, Athrun-san."

"Roger that, Control." Like Lacus once said, he may be a warrior, but he was Athrun too. And he would find his own place in the world.

The catapult status indicator mounted on the ceiling of the launch bay indicated the he was cleared for launch.

Now Athrun felt he was in the right place. Now he could do something.

And no one or nothing can stand in his way.

"Athrun Zala, Infinite Justice, launching!"