Disclaimer: I do not own Full Metal Panic! But if I did, I would certainly take a certain clueless otaku sergeant as my bodyguard…alas! This is set after the novel A Dancing Very Merry Christmas.

Shooting the Moon

By Sciathan File

Chapter 1 – Tension, Tactics, and Tragedy

The moon was one of the only things she missed nowadays. It was always in her head – the full moon, in its pale white luminescence - not the faint sliver of the new moon. In her mind it could be perpetually night, because she no longer had the means of knowing such trivial things as the time of day. Yes, if she had wanted, she could ask for a watch, but it didn't matter to her. Days passed unnoticed. They didn't have significance. Time itself was a worthless thing. She slept when she was allowed, ate what was given to her, and did what she was told…for the most part.

No, what she really wanted was a view of the outside world. But windows were out of the question because of security concerns. Life was thrown out those same proverbial windows as well, because of these security concerns.

She didn't understand what they meant by "security concerns" either…it certainly wasn't for her security. Maybe it was for theirs. That seemed almost logical.

A sigh escaped into the sterile, quiet room.

Most of the time she merely sat there in the darkness. She didn't have a need for light; it was in her head with her image of the moon. The things she needed were in her head, but she needed very little. It didn't take much to survive. It took less if you had no intention of surviving.

But she didn't kid herself. No one would miss her. It wasn't as if she was much of a human these days, anyways. She was an irreplaceable rare commodity, worth ten times her weight in gold. But that was all. She would be missed exactly as exotic car that is totaled beyond repair would be missed. She was for all intents an object.

That she did not forget.

She wasn't even allowed to look at the moon anymore.

There was a heavy knocking on the door. She ignored it, as always, whoever it was would come in anyways.

"It's time for the transfer."

She didn't answer, again, as usual. They no longer expected any answer from her, they had grown as used to her as she had to them. She would go to where she was ordered to go whether she liked it or not. It was by Amalgam's will, and she no longer had the strength to defy that. One man placed a hand upon her shoulder. She rose from the sheets, stark naked, and climbed out of the bed, donning a simple robe while nonchalantly grabbing her clothing. What did she care about modesty? These people knew the penalty for touching her in any way that might leave permanent scars, well mental scars.

Without so much as a sound, she was led to the helicopters to go to another hell in another location for another span of nothingness that barely mattered.

Such was her life.

--------------

"Urzu 2, the target is in sight. Moving into position."

"In a hurry there, Sousuke?" Mao's voice crackled over the speaker.

"Affirmative. There is a Japanese history exam tomorrow and I hope that I shall be able to take it uninjured."

There was silence over the communications channel for a moment. Both his comrades knew he was not worried about being injured by the mission, quite the contrary in fact…

The homecoming was always the most dangerous part.

After a moment he could hear Kurz's laugh over the communications link, "Before, I would have never taken you for a whipped man, Sousuke!"

"Negative. Chidori uses only her halisen…with a high level of effectiveness, I may add. She has no need of a whip."

There was an awkward silence from both of his fellow SRT members.

"Shut the f-ck up there, Weber," Mao's voice came over the unit's speakers again, "or you're gonna wish that I used a whip. And this better not be like that pirate incident. If you blow up the objective this time, you're really gonna wish I used a whip."

"Woah, babe, you seem to have some tension there. We could work that out back at the base."

There was a long silence.

"There isn't enough beer in the world, Kurz. Not in the entire world."

Sousuke made a final check over the AS's instrument panel, checking critical functions. Being rather used to his comrades' antics, he no longer paid them much attention.

"Sergeant, do you think that Second Lieutenant Mao rather enjoys her tension?" Remarked his partner off-hand.

For the hundredth time he found himself wondering if the A.I. was programmed to have a perverse sense of humor. In lieu of a response the unit's ridiculous A.I. continued, "There is a 56.7 probability that I have misunderstood the situation. Would you like me to display the probable causes of this unnatural reaction, Sergeant?"

He had his mind on other things, "Do whatever you want," he replied absently instead of his usual "shut up."

There was a brief whirring. Sousuke kept his eyes on the base in front of him, noting every detail, escape path, and possible obstruction, and waited for the target to arrive. In his mind, he ran possible continuums should there be ECS cloaked RK-92's or Venoms.

"Giest 1, is your team in position?" It was Clouzot's voice. The masculine voice of the ground troops' field commander gave a terse affirmative reply.

"Sergeant, all possible responses to Urzu 2's situation have been noted. Do you wish to hear them?"

Sousuke wasn't in the mood for the machines antics.

"Shut up and continue monitoring for possible AS's within the area. I thought I told you not to do pretend human talk."

"Yes, Sergeant. I will record the results for later in file Echo-6 if you are interested."

Sousuke didn't answer. The helicopter had almost landed. Things would really begin in earnest then. He personally thought that his presence was a bit unnecessary, however, due to the delicate nature of the mission the Mithril higher-ups had decided that the presence of a lambda driver was a necessary precaution. Chidori had violently expressed that she did not share their views, but that was not a deviation from the normal.

"Target acquired, Geist 1, move out," Clouzot's voice said over the link, "AS's provide necessary back-up to the ground units and terminate enemies as you see fit."

Mao chuckled at the phrase "as you see fit."

"Let's have some fun, boys!"

On seeing their target emerge from the helicopter, Sousuke re-evaluated the situation and deduced that the presence of four arm-slaves was a bit over-cautious. There were only two guards armed with AK-47 assault rifles, which, while good for troop annihilation, were barely equivalent to a bothersome fly for an Arm Slave. The pilot was most likely unarmed. The fourth in the small group matched the description of their mission objective, and there was an extremely low probability that she had been allowed a weapon.

Fire erupted from the ground units. The pilot went down fairly swiftly, shot through the head in the first volley of fire, followed by one of the guards. The shot had gone through his neck, severing an artery. Death had been instantaneous. The last guard caught one of the Mithril's armor piercing shots squarely in the chest. He might have initially survived the shot, but another soon came and ended his life in the same manner as the pilot.

Throughout the battle, Geist, as the objective was code-named, did not so much as flinch. It seemed as if she only gave a glance to each of her guards as they fell. She seemed more concerned with the fact that blood had found its way onto her white dress. But even that was fleeting. She calmly proceeded towards the building as Amalgam's troops began to file out and join the fray.

He did not have much time to contemplate her though.

"Sergeant, three Venom class AS's approaching. It is not known if they have lambda driver capability or not."

"Al, shift to military master mode 4 and tune the bilateral scopes, but keep lambda driver system in reserve as a precaution."

"Roger, Sergeant. I can still offer you a wide array of music if you have changed your mind. You might enjoy it in your current state.

This AS was truly a ridiculous piece of machinery.

"My current state is annoyed with your idiotic requests. I really ought to destroy you for the good of the world."

"You still lack the authority to do so, Sergeant. Perhaps soothing classica-"

"Follow my orders and delete that waste of space! Really, a machine that speaks without consent…"

He could have sworn he heard the ridiculous machine laughing at him, but it was time to concentrate on other matters.

Clouzot's voice came over the speaker again informing them that the Arm Slaves primary objective was to keep the enemy AS's from reaching the ground forces battlefield.

Sousuke didn't have time to give his usual "Affirmative," having already jumped into the fray. Judging his proximity to the ground forces to be too close to effectively use the Arbalest's artillery to completely incapacitate the enemy, he brought out his combat knife and began chiseling away at the opposing venom's casing. Ducking low, he forced the knife between the armor and the AS's main propulsion system, using it as a makeshift crowbar. With an effort, he managed to toss the unit farther away from the ground battle. The grating sound of metal on metal was followed by the unexpected explosion of the unit's head.

"Wooooo, Babe, did you see that?" Kurz's voice whooped over the unit's speakers. Sousuke turned to see his fellow SRT member positioned at the edge of the field, sniper rifle in hand.

"Shut up and do your damn job!" came Mao's reply as she rushed to confront two RK-92 savages.

"Shit! We need some back-up here!" The voice was not familiar and Sousuke silently noted that the speaker had forgotten to give a call sign or designation. As if reading his thoughts the same voice seemed to have regained its sense of military decorum and stated, "Repeat. Geist 1 in need of back up. A large number of Arastols have entered the field in addition to an indeterminate number of infantry. Arastols are shielding Geist against accidental fire. We have three critically wounded."

Sousuke barely got a look at the field, grappling with another Venom. Orders continued to speed over the links, but he merely concentrated on the unit in front of him. Melissa, having dispatched the Savages with ease, started disposing of the Arastols, flinging them broadly away to prevent them from triggering their self-destruct mechanisms and dealing with any unfortunate infantry that stood in her way. Kurz merely remained on the edges, picking off the Arastols on the fringes. To his right, Clouzet within his black M9 was performing a sort of macabre dance with the remaining Venom.

"Shit Kurz, if you blow her up, we're f-cked."

He couldn't see where he had shot this time.

"Sorry Sis, I'll keep it to the perimeters," there was a small pause, "Shit, they weren't kidding about large numbers. There's got to be about fifty of those bastards…correction, about forty-eight."

"Sergeant" quipped the Al unexpectedly, "Training Message: requesting contextual information on the definition of "bastards." To my knowledge machines are not human and therefore cannot be illegitimate children."

"Shut up" he narrowly dodged a volley from the Venom's artillery, "Not now!"

Sousuke ducked, missing yet another shot from the gun.

"Yes, Sergeant, I will save my findings with the results of my earlier inquiry."

Sousuke was about to lecture the machine about wasting space with its nonsense, but he had his hands full with the enemy AS before him. He made a mental note to do it later. He shot the enemy AS square in the chest plate, grabbing hold of its arm and tearing it off as he went into a somersault to evade a slash from its combat knife.

Landing, he fired a volley of point blank shots at the joint separating the unit's torso from its legs, cleaving it in two. Its parts landed and it remained an overly large causality of the campaign.

"You okay there, Sousuke?" Melissa asked, taking out another round of Arastols.

"Affirmative. It is not a problem."

"Okay."

After a satisfying bout of toying with the remaining Venom, Clouzot performed his usual finishing move, incapacitating the last of the major threats. His voice crackled over the speaker, "All units will proceed to aide in the destruction of the Arastols and remaining infantry. Take extreme precaution around Geist."

"Hear that Weber?"

"Sis, that's not entirely fair…"

"Do your job, shithead."

"Uh…" It was an odd utterance for the battlefield, usually reserved for the awkward social positions he managed to get in at school and usually involving Kaname.

"Sousuke?" Mao, all too familiar with the context of that utterance noticed its odd placement.

"Uh…the enemy seems to be engaging in rather unusual tactics."

Remarkably, the Arastols had all seeming gone into a state of hibernation, being picked off by the Mithril operatives with no attempt to evade. The units did not even proceed to self-destruct. After a moment they came to life again and began pursuing the remaining members of the Amalgam infantry. They efficiently shot them all dead in an unbelievable blood bath.

"Bullshit…" was Mao's only response.

It was then that Sousuke noticed Geist, striding towards the front ranks of the Arastols, towards the Mithril troops.

She was looking directly at him.

"These tactics are nonsense," stated the monotone voice of the Arbalest's AI. For perhaps the first time Sousuke wholly agreed with it.

"Uh, Sis, would you like to explain the sudden suicidal behavior of our mission objective? I don't want to be blamed if she takes herself out."

"Shit, Kurz, I have no idea."

It seemed as if most of Mithril's troops agreed with Mao.

The girl had come to a stop directly in front of the remaining ranks of Arastols, standing directly in front of the Arbalest. Her eyes were fixed directly on the AS's cockpit. She brought a hand up and pointed directly at him.

She smiled.

One of the Arastols turned and fired directly at her. Sousuke moved to push her out of the way with his AS, but it was ill timed. The shot caught her solidly in the lower abdomen, and she came to a rest in the white AS's hand.

The Arastols, finished with their slaughter of the enemy troops, lay as still as their corpses.

The ground lay thick with errant AS parts and Amalgam infantry, and the occasional Mithril casualty as well.

Sousuke merely stared at the girl in the Arbalest's hand. She was still breathing, shallow and erratic though it was. But her eyes were fixed up at him.

She spoke three words, far too quietly for even the unit's external microphone to pick up.

"Al?" There was an edge to his voice, "Can you find out what she said?"

"Affirmative, Sergeant."

Al's deep monotone voice relayed them to him.

In the distance he could see the medical personnel.

He hesitated a moment, looking at the girl in the Arbalest's grasp.

"Al, set her down."

The unit complied. Opening the hatch, he jumped down, and administered the sedative per orders, and then watched silently as the medics readied her for the flight back to the Da Daanan.

He felt almost as if he had betrayed her.

----------

In a certain Sergeant's absence, however, Jindai High School's normal routine continued unhampered by clothing eating viruses, concussion grenades, and long-winded analogies of normal social situations to famous battles in history.

A blue-haired girl stomped into the classroom, unceremoniously flung down her book bag (narrowly missing two errant classmates) and sat gripping her desk as if she would break it in half.

Indeed, it was a fairly normal day at Jindai High School.

Minus an exploding shoe locker or two…

Kaname's friends, meanwhile, wisely decided to send Kyouko in to run interference. It was well known that an enraged Kaname could very well do as much damage as one of Sagara's grenades if given an opportunity.

This opinion simply wasn't voiced for that fear of providing that opportunity.

Everyone saw what she did to Sagara and no one envied his treatment…of course most people also didn't shove the teacher to the ground on a regular basis claiming that a laser sight had been aimed at her either…

"Good morning, Kana-chan!"

"Good Morning, Kyouko." It was almost a growl, delivered as she stared through eyes that were angry slits focused solely on the front of the room.

"So, Sagara-san will not be here again today?" She asked innocently.

If she were to grip the table any harder than she was at that moment then the structural integrity of it might indeed be compromised.

"Hah hah hah hah." It was that laugh. Kyouko merely nodded her head slightly, eyes gleaming knowingly.

She reached into her satchel and brought out a wad of paper. Wad was the closest way to describe the pulverization that the paper had sustained.

Kyouko shook her head. Whatever Sousuke had done, he was going to end up in much the same condition when he returned.

She took the note and opened it. The following words were written in Sousuke's own untidy scrawl:

Chidori. Business. Back in two days. Sorry. Sagara Sousuke.

She handed the note back to Kaname who continued to punish it in place of its author.

"At least he left you a note, that's an improvement." She said tentatively.

Kaname maintained resumed her grip on the desk in obvious disagreement.

"But that doesn't make up for my effort in purchasing and planning the sukiyaki that I was supposed to prepare for tonight's study session."

Kyouko understood, probably more than her friend intended her to. But knowing that Sousuke did not understand such a thing in the least she couldn't help to feel just a bit sorry for the naïve otaku.

"Kana-chan, you can always force him to eat it at a later date so that your efforts don't go to waste." She said this was a barely concealed mischievous smile, emphasizing the word "date."

She was lucky that Kaname did not notice it in her present mood.

In fact, the statement diffused Kaname's anger somewhat.

But only somewhat.

She absently tore the note into small pieces and crushed them each individually. Kaname would not be fully appeased, however, until she was able to punish the real thing.

----------