I own nothing save for my own characters and machines.

Cassandra Joule is the creation of Artificial Life Creator.

Samorei Joule and Keinn Legwitz are the creations of NukeDawg. The Black Knights concept is his as well, and is used with permission.

ZAFT Academy lecture hall, 30 September, C.E. 72
Shinn Asuka still found it hard to accept that he'd actually made it into the Academy, but the feeling was gradually dissipating. In the three days since his arrival, he'd had a chance to get settled in and meet his new classmates. As far as he knew, he was the only Orb native to actually join ZAFT, though not the only one from Earth; several new cadets hailed from Oceania.

Next to Shinn was his roommate, a Martius City native named Keinn Legwitz. Tall, with gray streaked black hair and amber eyes that were perpetually glinting with mischief, Keinn was a staunch PLANT patriot. From what Shinn had seen of him, Keinn had none of the prejudice against Earth natives that sometimes cropped up in the PLANTs.

Two sisters, Lunamaria and Meyrin Hawke, stood farther down the line. Shinn hadn't yet spoken to either of them, but Keinn had described them as cheery, though Shinn wasn't sure he wanted to know how his roommate defined that. Luna, the elder by a year, was slightly taller, with violet hair; her sister was a redhead. Both had blue eyes.

On the other end was Rey Za Burrel. Blonde-haired and blue-eyed, Rey was a quiet sort. Shinn wasn't sure what to make of him.

Commander Ryan Miller, Commandant of the Academy, moved to the lectern. Unlike the vast majority of ZAFT, Miller had actually been a member of an Earth military, specifically the United States of South America. The gray-haired, stocky commandant had emigrated at the start of the war, when his homeland was invaded by the Atlantic Federation.

"Good morning," Miller said. "Normally, I would be making a welcome speech as Commandant. However, today is a special case. Commander Alex Strassmeier of FAITH has accepted an instructor's post for this term." He turned and nodded. "Commander?"

Shinn straightened as Alex Strassmeier took the Commandant's place. More than one person inhaled sharply at the sight of the hawk-faced Coordinator, his space-black hair contrasting sharply with his white uniform. The wing-like FAITH emblem below his collar wasn't something often seen at the Academy.

"I'm not accustomed to speeches, so I hope you'll bear with me," Strassmeier began. "I accepted this post at the request of Supreme Chairman Clyne and Defense Committee Chairwoman Joule."

Keinn surreptitiously leaned toward Shinn. "What's this guy doing here?"

"Shh," Shinn hissed back.

"I'm sure you're wondering just why I'm here," Strassmeier said as if he'd heard Keinn. Which he had; his hearing was better than even most Coordinators'. He found the comment amusing. "Simply put, with the war over, Committee Chairwoman Joule requested that I provide the next class here with the benefit of my combat experience."

He began to pace. "I hope it will prove helpful, for war will come again. Never doubt that, ladies and gentlemen, for Blue Cosmos still controls the Earth Alliance, particularly the Atlantic Federation." The last sentence came out in a venomous tone.

I wonder what the Alliance did that makes him hate them so much, Shinn thought. That's not just patriotism like Keinn, that's personal.

"Make no mistake, there will never be an end to conflict, thus we will always need power in order to protect ourselves." Strassmeier paused, taking a sip of water. "As most of you know, I opposed the force level restrictions in the Junius Treaty. Even though the nuclear provision exempts our current nuclear-powered Gundams, even though our alliance with Orb makes us stronger than we would be alone, we are still in a weak position relative to the Earth Alliance. The Atlantic Federation is especially dangerous, as they have tremendous resources at their disposal."

That prompted a subaudible murmur of agreement from the cadets. The Junius Treaty had been denounced as a sellout in some quarters. Shinn, for his part, saw it as an attempt to make the best of a bad situation.

"Therefore, to make up for our numerical disadvantage, we must ensure that our people are the very best." Strassmeier swept his cold blue gaze over the audience, managing to make eye contact with several. "Some have called me the next Rau Le Creuset. I neither accept nor reject that label; if nothing else, it's an enormous professional compliment, despite his insanity." He took another sip of water. "I mention this because one thing I have in common with that madman is a preference for unorthodox methods. Those of you who will be training under me directly, I advise you to bear that in mind."

Shinn shivered as he met that gaze. Though he had met Strassmeier before, the situation had been very different. No wonder the Earth Forces are afraid of him. Maybe he's not quite the best pilot around –I hear Yamato and Zala are even better- but he's sure the most ruthless we have.

"That is all I have to say," Strassmeier finished. He stepped back, and Miller resumed his place.

"Dismissed," was all the Commandant said.

"Man, who'd have thought the Spider of Artemis would end up as an instructor," Keinn said. He and Shinn had returned to the dorm room they shared.

Shinn looked up from his book. "You heard him, Keinn. Sooner or later, the Earth Forces will be back, so we have to be ready."

"Maybe." Keinn shrugged. "Did you see Rey there?"

Shinn blinked. "What about him?"

"He kinda, I don't know, flinched when Commander Strassmeier mentioned Rau Le Creuset." Keinn shrugged again. "Who knows, maybe I'm seeing things."

"Maybe." Shinn didn't really care. All that mattered to him now was that his dream was in sight.

Keinn watched him closely. "You know something, don't you?"

Shinn frowned. "What are you talking about?"

"You know what I'm talking about, Shinn." Keinn leaned back. "The Spider looked right at you. You specifically. Care to fill me in?"

Shinn sighed. "In case you didn't notice, Keinn, he looked at you, too. And at the Hawkes, and Rey for that matter. You're reading too much into this." He grimaced; Keinn clearly wasn't buying it. "Fine. I met Strassmeier once during the war, just as we were moving. I was on my way to the spaceport when I ran into him, along with Kira Yamato, Cagalli Yula Athha, and some girl named Allster."

"So what happened?" Keinn pressed.

Shinn rolled his eyes. He's not letting go. "I told the Commander that I was going to join ZAFT when I was old enough, and he offered to sponsor my entry to the Academy. There's no special treatment, if that's what you're thinking."

Keinn laughed. "The Spider of Artemis, giving special treatment? Ha! I'm not dumb enough to think that, Shinn, don't worry." He calmed a little. "So, did they accept you for pilot training?"

"Yeah," Shinn said, grateful for the change of subject. He knew Keinn was, as well; the other cadet had a passion for flying. "You know of anyone else?"

"Just two, Lunamaria Hawke and Rey Za Burrel." Keinn shook his head. "I swear, there's something weird about that guy."

Shinn snorted. "There's something weird about you, too," he countered. "Who cares, as long as he can fly."

"Yeah, whatever."

Shinn returned to his book. He didn't care what his slightly unhinged roommate thought. All that mattered was that he was where he wanted to be.

Commandant's office
Commander Alex Strassmeier, FAITH, had never expected to become an instructor, however temporarily. His strengths had always been in planning and executing mobile suit operations, not teaching. When he mentioned that, however, his aunt, Ezalia Joule, had pointed out that he had done well teaching Cagalli the ins and outs of mobile suit warfare.

So it was that he now found himself at the ZAFT Academy until the postwar reorganization was completed.

And we sure need it, he thought bitterly. The combination of Patrick Zala's treason and the nuclear attack on the PLANTs had left ZAFT badly understrength.

"So, do you have any specific plans?" Miller asked.

Alex shrugged. "I'd like to set up a special course for the more promising pilot candidates," he said. "Partly to identify potential FAITH recruits early on, though that of course is subject to a final evaluation based on their performance in actual combat."

The Commandant nodded. "Since you yourself are a FAITH operative, it makes sense. Anything specific in mind?"

"Simulator runs based on some of the nastier battles in the war," Alex said. "Both planetary and space. Primarily from last year; you can bet the Earth Forces will build more Gundams, so it's best to ensure that the cadets are as prepared as possible."

"Agreed," Miller said. "I must admit, though, I don't quite understand your urgency."

Alex poured himself a cup of coffee, then sat. "The Junius Treaty is nothing but a stopgap, Ryan. Those restrictions on mobile suit forces levels are clearly meant to make us vulnerable; the exemption for our existing nuclear Gundams was nothing but a sop to get Chairman Clyne and Chief Representative Athha to sign the treaty."

Miller studied his guest for a moment. Listening to him, it was hard to remember that the Spider of Artemis had not yet reached his twentieth birthday. He wore ZAFT's uniform as though he'd been born to it (which, given his background, wasn't too far from the truth), and spoke in a manner that belied his youth.

Which isn't surprising when one remembers that he has more combat experience than some soldiers twice his age, Miller reminded himself. "How long do you think we have?"

"A year; eighteen months on the outside," Alex said grimly. "That's why I accepted this job; if my experience can make these youngsters better prepared for the coming conflict, then I will happily pass it on." He sipped his coffee. "There are some new Gundam designs on the drawing board, but there's no telling when or if they'll be ready."

"Um," Miller grunted. He remembered Jachin all too well, especially the brutal effectiveness of the Alliance's later GAT-X models.

Alex rose and moved to the window. A year of peace, most likely, and I have a few months to train the next generation of ZAFT mobile suit pilots. Another thought occurred to him, and he glanced over his shoulder. "Who sponsored Rey Za Burrel's entry?"

Miller consulted his terminal. "According to records, it was Representative Durandal. Why?"

"Just curious." Alex had no intention of spreading his suspicions too far without hard evidence. No sense alienating him from Durandal without a good reason. I know Durandal's up to something, but there's no hard evidence as to what.

He shook himself. "Well, I'd best be going, and I know you have work to do as well."

Miller smiled. "I look forward to working with you, Commander."

A blonde-haired young woman in the silver-white of Orb frowned at her terminal. Currently displayed was an intelligence report, forwarded by Rondo Mina Sahaku. Jean-Pierre La Flaga? Is this guy related to Mu? She made a mental note to ask the Hawk next time she saw him.

"We don't have much on him, Milady," the green-clad ZAFT soldier said. "It's entirely possible that they are related, but you'd have to ask Commander La Flaga to be certain."

"I understand," Cagalli Yula Athha said. The man saluted and left.

Cagalli turned. Her position was such that she had an office with a window, though it didn't make her enjoy being behind a desk. Fortunately for her sanity, she was still primarily a mobile suit pilot; her ORB-01 Akatsuki was stored in a top-security hangar.

"Hi, Cagalli."

Cagalli looked up. Her sister-in-law (and that still felt incredibly weird) stood in the doorway. "Andrea? What are you doing here?"

Andrea Strassmeier grinned. "Just got back from a patrol at L4. We'd heard rumors about Blue Cosmos messing around there, so we went to check it out."

"Did you find anything?"

The slightly younger woman shook her head. "Nada. L4's quiet as a grave. Probably some asteroid miner had too much to drink."

"Probably," Cagalli agreed. L4 had been abandoned following the Battle of Yggdrasil in C.E. 70. It was important to her personally, since she was born there, but the region had no real strategic importance. "How long will you be in the PLANTs?"

"At least a couple of weeks," Andrea said. "Long enough for some shopping, and dinner with Dearka."

Cagalli nodded. Andrea's relationship with Dearka Elsman, her cousin Yzak's second-in-command, was well known. Cagalli privately felt that both were more than a little insane, but she was hardly alone in that.

"So how's life with Alex?" Andrea asked, grinning slyly.

Cagalli gave her a mock-severe look, then smiled. "It's actually not much different from when we were traveling on the Valkyrie," she said. "About the only thing that caught me by surprise was his taste in music."

Andrea laughed. "Where do you think the name Valkyrie came from? Alex doesn't actually listen to opera much –he thinks it's silly- but he's always liked Wagner's music." She leaned against the wall. "Does it bother you, being away from Orb so much?"

The princess shrugged. "Not usually. I'm too busy most of the time, and I talk to my father fairly regularly, when he's not busy, anyway." Cagalli grimaced; she'd never been able to see her father as much as she'd wanted to. "Besides, Alex had some stuff brought up from Orb to make things a little more homelike. That's what he told me, anyway."

"He was telling the truth," Andrea said. "Alex would never lie to you, and besides, I can tell he hates keeping you away from Orb like that. This is probably his way of making it up to you."

"If he's still feeling guilty about that, I'm going to have to beat some sense into him," Cagalli said darkly, then sighed. "It'd probably be a waste of time," she conceded. "Alex is as thickheaded as Yzak sometimes."

Andrea laughed. "Wouldn't have him any other way."

"Yeah. Yeah, you're right." Cagalli stood, resolutely closing down her terminal. "The rest of this stuff can wait. I really need a breather." She jerked her head at the door. "How about lunch? Alex is going to be busy at the Academy pretty much all afternoon, so we probably won't see him."

"Sure; got nothing better to do." Laughing, the two friends made their way to the exit.

Morgenroete testing facility, Onogoro Island, 3 November, C.E. 72
Despite the fact that it was a complete rebuild of the original facility, Morgenroete's testing grounds didn't look much different. Oh, there were more advanced mobile suits, including a few ZGMF-1000 ZAKUs, but the layout was basically the same.

One machine in particular stood out, the ZGMF-X10A Freedom Gundam, one of three nuclear machines in Orb's possession. Its pilot, Orb Navy Captain Kira Yamato, stood on a nearby catwalk, gazing contemplatively at his trusty machine.

So much has changed since then, he thought, recalling his time in Heliopolis. It's like a dream…

"Captain Yamato?" A Morgenroete engineer stepped up to him. "Sorry to disturb you, sir, but we've discovered a glitch in the OS for the new-model Astrays." He held out a notebook computer.

Kira took it, nodding. He was a better programmer than ninety-nine percent of Morgenroete's workforce; that combined with his experience with mobile suits made him a logical choice when something like this cropped up. "What's the problem?"

"The motor receptors aren't processing input correctly," the engineer said.

Kira nodded again, typing rapidly. "I remember something similar with the Strike," he said, then handed the computer back. "That should do it."

"Thank you, sir."

Kira smiled to himself. He had long since gotten over his reluctance to fight, though he still didn't like it. Someone had to protect those who couldn't protect themselves, and since Kira was highly skilled in that area, he saw it as his duty.

"Another day, another mobile suit, huh?" A silver-haired young man in a gold-trimmed black uniform stepped up to the rail. "What'd they want you for?"

Kira shrugged. "There was an OS glitch in the new Astray model."

"And since you're the miracle programmer, they wanted you to take care of it," Samorei Joule said. "Heard from your sister lately?"

"Had a letter from her a couple days ago," Kira said. "She's doing fine. Alex just took an instructor's post at the Academy."

Sam blinked in surprise. "Alex Strassmeier, an instructor? Now that's weird." He scratched his head. "It makes sense, though. We're not at war right now, and Alex is one of the two or three best pilots ZAFT has, plus he's experienced at planning independent operations."

"That's about what Cagalli said," Kira agreed. "Andrea's fine, too, just got back from a patrol at L4. They'd heard rumors of Blue Cosmos there, but they didn't find anything."

"If they had, Andrea would have smashed them," Sam said. "Trust me, Kira, making her mad is a Bad Idea. Just ask Clotho Buer."

Kira winced. He'd seen footage of what happened to GAT-X370 Raider at Jachin. Buer had been completely outmatched without even knowing it. Not that he had any sympathy; much as he hated to fight, Kira hated the Earth Forces even more.

He looked at his companion more closely. The uniform was one he'd never seen before. "What's with the uniform?"

Sam laughed. "Mina's idea. I'm now the commander of the Black Knights, a group that answers to her personally. I thought about asking Alex to join, but Mina pointed out that his marriage to an Athha –your sister- would create conflict of interest problems."

"Yeah," Kira agreed. "Besides, he's way too busy, what with FAITH and that Academy post." He quirked an eyebrow. "So, how is your wife?" he asked, emphasizing the word "wife" ever so slightly.

Sam didn't even twitch. No surprise; Alex had described him as shameless. "She's fine," he said. "Working closely with Lord Uzumi, which is kind of ironic when you think about it."

Knowing the historic rivalry between the Sahaku and Athha families, Kira had to agree.

Sam inclined his head towards the ceiling, and the sky that lay beyond. "I hope those three do well," he said softly.

ZAFT Academy, Tactics course, 5 November, C.E. 72
Strassmeier wasn't kidding about unorthodox methods, Shinn reflected. The FAITH operative had set up a large holo tank in the center of the room, with chairs arranged on one side in a semicircular pattern. A large view screen was placed high on one wall.

"In order to fight effectively, you need to know the capabilities of both your machine, and your enemy's," Strassmeier said. He pressed a key on his desk, and the wall screen lit up. "This is the basic unit of our space forces, the ZGMF-1000 ZAKU, the first of the New Millennium series. It can equip various weapon packages inspired by the Striker pack technology developed by the Earth Forces."

After listing the ZAKU's basic capabilities, Strassmeier paused. "As some of you know, I opposed the adoption of the ZAKU as our primary space mobile suit. Though I still feel that we should have waited for an upcoming Morgenroete design, I admit the ZAKU has performed admirably thus far."

He changed the image. "Orb's basic design, the MBF-M1 Astray. Roughly equal to the Aile Strike in terms of capability. There is also a less common version, the M1S Astray Strike, which can equip modified Striker packs."

Strassmeier pressed another key. "An finally, the standard Earth Forces mobile suit, the GAT-01A1 Dagger, better known as the 105 Dagger. This is the true mass-production model of the Strike; the Strike Daggers we faced in Panama and Orb were stopgaps, and I will grant they were superior to the GINN. In any case, unlike its unfinished predecessor, the 105 can equip Striker packs. It also features the same laminated armor used in the Archangel-class, and some units, such as Morgan Chevalier's, are equipped with Trans-phase armor."

Shinn covered a wince. Combining laminated armor with any kind of PSA meant trouble. Add the 105's use of Striker packs…

"That about covers it," Strassmeier finished. "Questions, anyone?"

Keinn Legwitz raised a hand. Strassmeier nodded at him. "Commander, do the Earth Forces have any Gundam units? I mean, the 105s are nasty, and I've heard about a few others, but we still have machines like the Justice. Can they really compete without Gundams?"

Strassmeier gazed at him thoughtfully for a moment, as though surprised by the question. "Yes and no, Mister Legwitz. No mass-produced unit can take on a Gundam solo and survive unless there is an exceptional pilot, like Rau Le Creuset, in the cockpit. However, it has been said that quantity has a quality all its own; even Kira Yamato and his Freedom could conceivably be overwhelmed by sheer numbers, though," he allowed himself a smile, "I've yet to see him in such a position."

At the mention of Rau Le Creuset, Rey Za Burrel seemed to twitch.

"In answer to your first question, no, the Earth Alliance is not in possession of any Gundams at this time, at least that we know of." Strassmeier shrugged. "The last three we knew about were destroyed at Jachin, GAT-X131 Calamity was sliced in half by the Justice, X252 Forbidden was destroyed by the Duel, and X370 Raider was shot down by the Specter."

"However," the FAITH operative swept his gaze over the students, "it is a virtual certainty that they will build more. Never underestimate your enemy, ladies and gentlemen, for it will almost certainly get you killed."

Alex watched his students' expressions as he paused to let his words sink in. Shinn Asuka and Keinn Legwitz were both nodding soberly. No surprise, particularly in Shinn's case; the Orb native had gotten a closer look at war than most civilians did.

While it was far too early to tell for certain, he had identified four students who seemed ripe for the special course he was setting up. Shinn Asuka, though apparently something of a hothead, was by all accounts a quick study, and Keinn Legwitz's question showed that he had a sharp mind behind the rambunctious exterior. Lunamaria Hawke seemed to be absorbing things more quickly than most.

And then there was Rey Za Burrel. Alex wasn't even sure of the blonde cadet's age; he looked like a teenager, except in the eyes. Something about him seemed vaguely familiar, and the way he twitched whenever Rau Le Creuset was mentioned was rather unnerving.

No sense dwelling on it. "That is the purpose of this course," Alex said. "Over the next few months, my job will be to teach how not to underestimate your enemy, how to emerge victorious from any situation. Remember this: there is no such thing as a no-win scenario. Athrun Zala proved that at Jachin, when he destroyed GENESIS. Kira Yamato did the same, defeating Rau Le Creuset in single combat."

He looked at Shinn in the corner of his eye. The youngster seemed to be hanging on every word. No surprise; he'd told Alex of his intentions more than a year before. Shinn Asuka was nothing if not determined.

Luna raised her hand. "Commander, I heard that you fought a man named Bartlett at Jachin. Was that more proof?"

Alex snorted. "Miss Hawke, my situation was far different from Kira or Athrun's. While Daniel Bartlett was an actual challenge in the ring, he was never my equal as a pilot. It was only the power of the Deathdealer Gundam that allowed him to last as long as he did."

He shook himself. "In any case, he's dead, so it doesn't matter." He clicked off the screen. "For today, I leave you with the words of Manfred von Richtofen, the Red Baron: 'It's not the crate, it's the man who flies it.' Those words are as true today as they were in the era of wood-and-fabric biplanes."

Most of the class nodded in understanding. Looks like I'm getting through to them, Alex thought. "Dismissed."

Academy cafeteria
Shinn normally detested cafeteria food, but somehow, despite the fact that the day's exertions had been primarily mental, he was ravenous. Thus it was he wolfed down his meal with far more relish than usual.

"He wasn't kidding about unorthodox methods," Keinn said, shaking his head. "Talk about weird."

"Commander Strassmeier never went through the Academy himself," Rey pointed out. "It's only natural that he'd have a different way of doing things."

Meyrin Hawke set her tray down next to her sister's. "So what was he like?"

Luna thought for a moment. "I don't really know how to describe him," she said slowly. "He's not as cold as I'd heard, that's for sure."

"He got married a few months ago," Meyrin pointed out. "Maybe that changed him."

Shinn shook his head. "I met him during the war, Meyrin, and he was the same then as he is now. I'm betting the stories about him were exaggerated."

"I think Shinn is right," Rey said quietly. "I'd never met the Commander before joining ZAFT, but given how loyal his people are to him, I can't see how he could be as cold as the stories say. Besides, like Meyrin said, he's married. I for one do not believe that the Lioness of Orb would fall in love with someone who actively suppresses his emotions, as opposed to merely concealing them."

Keinn nodded. "Does anyone know why he hates the Earth Forces so much? I mean, everyone knows he's a patriot, but the way he talked the first day here sounded personal."

"It was," a new voice said. "He lost his parents in the Mandelbrot Incident, and his sister was abducted for the Atlantic Federation's Combat Coordinator project."

Shinn turned. A blue-haired young man in elite red stood a little ways away. He looks familiar, the cadet thought, taking in the FAITH emblem on the other's uniform. "Do you know Commander Strassmeier, sir?"

"I served with him," the newcomer said. "Got to know him pretty well, in fact."

Shinn blinked. "You did?"

"Shinn, do you have any idea who you're talking to?" Rey asked.

Shinn started to retort, then paused, studying the FAITH man more closely. Average height, blue hair, emerald eyes… This is driving me nuts!

"Sorry if I've confused you," the other said. "I'm Athrun Zala."

All five shot to their feet in an instant. Athrun Zala was a legend in ZAFT. None of them had expected to actually meet him, at least not before graduating.

"It's an honor to meet you, sir," Shinn said, saluting. His companions followed suit.

Athrun returned the salutes, then waved them back to their places. "Don't let me interrupt your dinner," he said. "I'm just passing through."

They sat, all of them –save perhaps Rey- feeling slightly shaken. "Commander, why did you tell us about Commander Strassmeier's family?" Keinn asked. "From what I've seen of him, it sounds like something he'd prefer to keep private."

Athrun shook his head. "It's common knowledge in ZAFT now, partly because of how his sister turned up in Orb during the war. Her experiences were a big part of the reason Chief Representative Athha agreed to help us. Now, if you'll excuse me."

Shinn watched him go. "So that was Athrun Zala," he said softly.

Keinn picked up his fork. "Yup. ZAFT's greatest hero, though I hear the Spider isn't far behind him. Keeps his cool in a fight, no matter what the odds, and almost always comes out on top."

"There was something about him, though," Meyrin said. "He seemed, I don't know, sad."

Shinn shot her a surprised look. "Didn't you hear what happened at Jachin, Meyrin? Commander Zala had to kill his own father."

Meyrin's eyes widened. "He did?"

"He did," Rey confirmed. "He was trying to stop his father from firing GENESIS. If it wasn't for Miss Clyne and Kira Yamato, he would probably have gone mad afterward."

Shinn blinked, surprised at how much Rey knew. Where does he find this stuff out? With a mental shrug, he went back to his food.

Apartment complex, near ZAFT Academy
The one thing Alex regretted about taking the faculty assignment was having to rent an apartment. Unfortunately, he had little choice, since his house was in Martius Four, hardly convenient to the Academy. Cagalli, of course, insisted on coming with him.

"So what did you think of the new cadets?" Athrun asked. He sat in an armchair; Alex and Cagalli sat together on a couch opposite him. "Do you think they'll make it?"

"It's hard to tell after one session, but I think so," Alex said. "Four in particular stand out: Shinn Asuka, Keinn Legwitz, though I have a feeling he's going to be quite a handful, Lunamaria Hawke, and Rey Za Burrel." He frowned slightly. "I don't know what to make of Za Burrel, though."

Athrun raised his eyebrows. "What do you know about him?"

"Just that his entrance to the Academy was sponsored by Gilbert Durandal." Athrun nodded; he was one of the few privy to Alex's suspicions about the new December City representative, mainly because of his friendship with Kira. "I've noticed, though, that he reacts oddly whenever Rau Le Creuset is mentioned."

"How so?"

Alex shrugged. "He seems to flinch very slightly. I doubt most people would even notice, but I've trained myself to read body language very closely."

"That is odd." Athrun sipped from a glass of water; though he was old enough, as a Coordinator, to drink, like Alex he preferred not to. "It might not mean anything, though."


Cagalli sat forward slightly. "How's Lacus?"

Athrun smiled. "She's fine, Cagalli. Like you and Alex, we figured we should wait until she's of age before getting married, so we've set a date for next February."

"Makes sense," Alex agreed.

For a long moment he studied his guest. The pain at having to kill his own father had faded some from Athrun's eyes, though it was unlikely to ever be completely gone. There was no doubt that Lacus was the reason for it; she did for Athrun what Flay did for Kira, keeping him going even in the darkest times.

"Well," the Spider said at last, "I hope we can finish the reorganization before the Earth Forces attack again."

"Yeah," Athrun agreed. He too had no doubt there would be another war.

Cagalli elbowed her husband in the ribs. "We shouldn't be talking about that," she said firmly.

Alex winced, rubbing his side. "All right, all right," he grumbled.

Athrun burst out laughing. "You two," he said, shaking his head.

Cagalli and Alex looked at each other, then joined the laughter. It was almost five minutes before any of them could speak coherently, and when they finally calmed down, they scrupulously avoided talk of war. The closest they came to that was Alex describing some simulations he intended to set up.

We have to enjoy the peace while it lasts, he thought.

Author's note: And so Shinn begins his training. The Earth Forces are quiescent for the moment, but we all know that it won't last.

This chapter may seem a little haphazard, but this is completely new territory for me, so I ask you to bear with me. Also, I'm not at all certain I have the Destiny gang in character, since I've never actually seen Destiny and have no real desire to. Shinn is an exception, since I intended from the beginning to fundamentally alter him.

The story will be short, and will involve numerous time jumps. Please keep that in mind. I have no idea how frequent updates will be, but I will do my best to get them out in a timely manner.

Thanks to NukeDawg for the story title.

I think that's it. Please tell me what you think.