I own nothing except Diana Stein and her unit.
'Birds of a Feather' and all associated characters, machines and events belong to Solid Shark.
"I'm not going to like what I hear, am I?"
Danielle sighed, claiming a portion of the bed. "No, you won't. You probably won't want to believe it either, but it has to be said." The elder Captain focused on a patch of peeling paint on the far wall. Much as this needed to be explained, to help Diana and set her back on the right path, the one she'd been on before Endymion, it was not something that could easily be spoken of, even to this woman who in many ways, was the daughter she'd never had.
"What has to be said?" Diana, despite her worries, was curious. Danielle was being far too quiet; too contemplative. This was nothing like the woman she'd grown up with, nor was it the Instructor she'd assisted during their last assignment at the same base. Danielle answered the question with one of her own.
"How much of what happened after Endymion do you remember?"
'What does that have to do with anything?' Diana wondered. She answered the question anyway. "After I woke up? It's still pretty hazy. I know I was told that Darren was dead, and that if I wanted vengeance…" she trailed off, guilty that she'd ever allowed herself to be mislead as she had.
"But you remember nothing of the three weeks directly after Endymion, correct? And no-one ever told you what was done whilst you were unconscious, right?"
"Danielle…" Diana warned her mentor calmly. "Much as I respect you, if you don't get to the point, I'm not going to be happy."
'You've always been good at understating things, Leah.' Danielle thought with amusement, turning to face Diana. "The CHO project isn't the first experiment you've taken part in Diana. The first was conducted only days after you were recovered from your Moebius after the battle." The look she received urged her to continue, whilst Diana was shocked enough not to question what she was hearing.
"They tampered with your genetics, attempting to combine animals and humans. They wanted to claim the power of nature, but they hadn't had much success – Only one person had survived the process at that time. You seemed the perfect choice, but the project was cancelled before they could complete the modifications."
Danielle fell silent, leaving Diana to think about what she'd just been told. It wasn't as shocking as Danielle seemed to think it ought to be. In fact, it explained a lot of the things that had happened in the past, during the times she lost her temper.
"I'm no geneticist, but… Whatever they did do, they affected something else too." Diana said quietly. "And that's why I lose control when I'm over whelmed with emotion. I lose the ability to tell friend from foe, because I've got animal genes, and they make me…"
"Territorial." Danielle finished for her. "Yes. The SEED mode you usually enter when under pressure –and yes, I do know about it– was affected when they started their modifications. When added to the panther genes that you have… It's a dangerous combination, considering you don't know how to control it."
Danielle studied her young colleague. The young woman was quivering with suppressed emotion, and her gaze was distant as she thought about the lives she'd taken, because of those scientists who wanted something that nature had not intended. Pained eyes meet Danielle's.
"The CHO Project… was bad enough. I volunteered for that. But this? I'm not even human anymore!" Diana fought with the tears that threatened to fall. It was a losing battle, and she found herself in Danielle's strong embrace.
"You are no different today, than you were when we first met." Danielle whispered softly. "You didn't have a say in the matter, and you are who you make yourself, nothing else! If I thought like that, do you think I'd still be here?! Or do you think I just stumbled across this information?"
Diana's head came up, eyes widening with surprise. "You're the surviving experiment?"
Danielle nodded sharply. "I share many similarities with a wolf. Unlike you, I volunteered. I know how you feel, Diana. I've been there myself. It is possible to control the rage, and to keep your mind when you unleash the beast within."
"Discipline, practice… I believe you're well versed in these matters already, even if you haven't kept up with your old training."
Both women grinned. "Guess it's a good thing we'll be travelling together for a while then, isn't it Teacher?"
Danielle chuckled, ruffling Diana's hair, or attempting to anyway – the younger woman ducked before she had a chance. Things would be fine. Diana had taken the news far better then she'd expected, although she was sure they'd have many more discussions concerning whether or not Diana was still human.
Diana leant against the wall of her former quarters. It was interesting, how much damage she'd done in her rage. Knowing what caused her to lash out like this when angry didn't help her. It gave her a reason, yes, but it felt like nothing more than an excuse. Brushing her fingers across a slash that ran along the wall, it made her wonder if she was even human.
The damage may have been done with a dagger, but the cuts looked remarkably similar to a feline's scratches. Had that been her subconscious, trying to unleash the creature whose genetics enhanced her body? She felt so hollow, now that she'd spent her rage. With her brother gone, along with the rest of her unit –'former unit' she scolded herself fiercely– there didn't seem to be any reason to continue.
She wasn't even human, not anymore. She couldn't control the animal instincts when she was in a blind rage, and though her physical appearance didn't change, her mental presence did. Hadn't Sol told him that himself? Her mind wasn't the same when she entered the SEED mode. So why should she allow her continued existence to trouble those around her? Her own brother had admitted that he was scared of her!
"Hey, am I intruding?" Startled, the moody Captain spun to face the speaker. She was starting to get tired of surprises and people appearing out of nowhere. Somewhere in the back of her mind, it registered that she'd known someone was approaching, but had been too busy with her self-loathing to notice it consciously.
"Rear Admiral Ronald, what are you doing here?" She pushed herself off the wall, returning to the task she had begun earlier – gathering her undamaged belongings from amongst the mess she had made. She was startled when the Rear Admiral joined her, answering her question as he neatened a group of scattered photos and news clippings before handing them to her. If the subject of the images surprised him, he didn't say anything.
"Danielle, excuse me,Captain Taystron, told my Uncle and I that she'd told you something you probably wouldn't have wanted to hear. She wouldn't say what, but she did say you could probably do with some company."
"And you volunteered?"
They worked in a companionable silence after that, putting aside anything too damaged to be reclaimed, and packing everything else up in the bags that had, miraculously, been spared from Diana's violent outburst.
"She was right, you know."
"Huh?" The room had been quiet for so long, Jake had almost forgotten he'd been helping someone, and not doing it all himself. Diana was so light on her feet, barely making a sound as she moved. It was easy to forget she was even there.
"About me needing company. Being alone… isn't good for me. It never has been." Diana clarified, staring moodily at the picture she held in her hand. "I've always had someone around. I'm not use to being alone."
Jake nodded in understanding. "Sol, right?" When Diana nodded, he smiled sadly. "Jay told me about the 'twin thing'. I guess even it can be beaten by distance, huh?"
"Yeah, it can be. At least my side of things can be hampered by distance. I don't think Sol has any such problems." Diana finally tucked the photo of her old unit into a bag. "Then again, we theorized that it's a branch of his spatial awareness, so it's not surprising – he's always been better in that field then I have." She chuckled softly. "He's always been a better pilot then I was. I've always been more suited to the ground."
Jake could have argued, but decided not to. From what he'd seen, Diana was just as good in the air as her brother was, but the records his Uncle had revealed showed otherwise. Diana was –had been– the hand to hand combat specialist of the CHO unit, and her brother was meant to be the flight specialist. Added to those documents was the small fact that Diana had been shot down by a ZAFT greencoat.
"Hey, Diana? What happened to that ZAFT pilot you took with you?"
He caught a slightly guilty look from the young woman as she grabbed her bags. Considering the state of her quarters, she'd agreed to transfer over to theLafayette earlier than originally planned. "Funny thing, that. He escaped."
"Ah huh. At least, that's the official report."
"…And that was the last I saw of him."
Jake chuckled, shaking his head. "You could get into so much trouble if anyone ever finds out the truth of the matter, Diana." He smiled, remembering the determined gaze of Christopher Loyal. He couldn't blame her for her decision, not after hearing the whole story.
Diana just shrugged. "It was just an excuse to find out if Martin was still alive, really." She'd explained to Jake her connection to Andrew Waltfeld's protégée already, so it came as no surprise that she spoke of him now. "I just wish I'd gotten more information than I did. What I learnt makes me believe he's still alive, but…"
"It didn't confirm it. I don't think I'd worry too much Diana, anyone who knows you seems to have a pretty good survival rate." Jake informed her, watching as she ruffled through her bags, looking for something. He didn't know what yet, but he'd know soon enough.
"Talia didn't, and she's known me as long as Martin." The young Captain pointed out as her hand closed around the photo frame she'd been looking for. It was the picture of her two best friends and herself, the one taken during her last visit to the PLANTs.
"Yeah, well, that's different. She was a grey demon, and they kinda don't seem to have long lives. Besides, I don't think she had much left, after her unit was disbanded." He paused, aware that Diana was now watching him carefully, despite her attempts to pretend otherwise. He chose his next words carefully.
"Think about it. She didn't know where you were, Martin was unreachable because of the poor communications down here, and she'd been separated from what remained of her unit. The way you talk about her, she was extremely loyal to the people she considered family, and her 'family' weren't around. She probably threw herself into that battle, and didn't really care what the outcome was."
He didn't say that it was something the two women had in common, didn't mention that it was the main worry of his Uncle, Danielle and himself. He didn't need to. It was there in his eyes, in the way he returned her gaze. A silent question hung between them, asking her if she'd do the same, now that her 'family' had been forced away from her.
"Either way," Diana murmured, "I wish she hadn't have done it. I miss her." She glanced down at the frame as she placed it on the small desk that took up nearly half of her new quarters. There was no longer any glass in the frame (the picture had been a victim of her outburst earlier that day), but the miniaturized trio smiled up at her still. Well, the two teenage girls smiled. Martin wore a surprised expression, as she and Talia had managed to catch him unawares.
They'd been so happy back then, unconcerned by anything other than when Diana would next be able to visit. None of them had ever suspected that they'd end up on opposite sides of a war.
It was amazing how the smallest of things could change everything else. What could have happened, had she not returned to Earth when she'd received word of her mother's illness? At the very least, she'd have gotten to know the Grey Demons better, as she'd have undoubtedly have met them in person, and not relied on the media and her own, brief encounters.
Shaking her head, she shooed Jake out of her quarters. She had other things to think about, like working out exactly what sharing genes with a Panther meant for her. It wasn't the time to be thinking about the 'what ifs' of the past.
"Hey! I think she's waking up!" That voice was far too cheerful. It also wasn't recognizable, which was perhaps the only reason the young woman even considered opening her eyes. That, and if she remembered correctly, she really should be dead.
It was suicidal. Plain and simple, flying out into this sortie was pretty much guaranteeing one's own death. But if she didn't go, no-one aboard the Marat would survive. Whilst she didn't much care for most of the others aboard, she did care about her former teammate. He at least, ought to reach Alaska as intended.
So, after a rather frustrating argument with the older soldier, she'd grabbed the only machine left in the Hangar – one of the familiar F-7D Spearheads that she'd trained with, and maintained whilst she was still with her former unit. Almost immediately after launching, she'd been hassled by a couple of extremely determined DINNs.
"Go Away!" she snarled, pushing her machine through several sharp turns that would have left a lesser pilot very light-headed, if not knocking them completely unconscious. Even as she and the other pilots struggled to fend off the ZAFT attack, the Marat made its withdrawal. Had she not spent the past few months learning discipline and tactics from her former CO, she might have considered them cowards.
Now though, she understood the logic. Besides, every pilot out here had volunteered, knowing full well they probably wouldn't return.
Her allies quickly ceased to matter, as she struggled to stay alive herself. She wasn't as good a pilot as some in her old unit, but her love of mechanics allowed her to hit her enemies where it counted. It just wasn't making much of a difference in this battle. There just weren't enough EA pilots left, and those that remained were severely outclassed by ZAFT's forces.
The first shot that actually connected was little more than a graze. The second and third shots took out her tail fin and shorted out her navigation system respectively. The fourth, and consequently last shot took out her right wing, sending her into a deadly spiral towards the ocean. Her struggles to pull herself out of the dive had been unsuccessful, and after plunging into the water, she'd had enough time to feel several sharp jolts of pain as her cockpit came to pieces around her, and then the world had gone black.
Yes, she really ought to be dead. She hadn't ejected, so she ought to be at the bottom of the sea by now, with whatever remained of the machine she'd been flying. Judging from the spasms of pain that ran through her body (suspiciously absent from her right arm, though she didn't think much of it just then) she was most certainly still in the land of the living.
"Thank you Asagi, I'll deal with it from here." A new voice, definitely older than the other she had heard.
"Okay Mrs. Maywood. Just give a call if you need anything!" replied the overly cheerful person, before the sound of retreating footsteps reached her ears.
There was silence for a moment, and she decided that it was safe to open her eyes. Her gaze was met by sympathetic brown eyes, and as she traced them back to the rest of the person, she found herself blinking rapidly, trying to clear the image of her former Captain from her eyes. This woman looked so much like an older version of Diana!
"Ahh…" She didn't know what to say. She wanted to ask where she was, if this woman was related to Diana Stein and many other questions, but when she tried to voice them, her mind went blank. Finally getting her thoughts in order, her first attempt to speak lead to a fit of coughing.
Gentle hands braced her, waiting out the coughing, before offering a glass of water. She gulped down the drink as quickly as she could, and made a renewed attempt to find out just where the hell she was.
"Who are you? Where the hell am I?" She'd have continued with her questions, but the woman held up her hand, and Diana's lessons kicked in. Just as she could not speak when her Captain made that gesture, she could not utter a word now. The older woman observed her reaction with interest, but answered her questions.
"I'm Sara Maywood. My husband and I came across you on our return trip. We own a transport business, you see. You were washed up on a beach; on an island we always spend a couple of days at around this time of the year. You're lucky to be alive." She paused, and then shook her head and chuckled. "And as to 'where the hell' you are, we brought you back to Orb with us."
Sara was keeping her distance, as if worried. The way she fiddled with her wedding ring reinforced that idea. The continuous, quick glances at the young pilot's right arm made her glance that way herself.
A soft hiss escaped her as she stared. Grey metal greeted her eyes.
"The leg's gone too. There wasn't anything we could do about it." Sara told her quietly. She waited, as if she knew the young woman would check.
"Now, there's no use crying over spilt milk. Or lost limbs as the case may be. Can you remember who you are? Or what happened? If you can't it may or may not come back to you. It's never a sure thing, and judging from what remained of your machine, that was quite the crash you had!"
"You talk too much." Laughter greeted that statement.
"Indeed I do. My daughter use to say the same thing. I doubt she ever realized I used it as a diversionary tactic. Delightful and smart though my Leah was, she could never figure me out, and she complained bitterly about that too! Now, a name please, if you remember it?"
'Stubborn old bat.' "Moriko. Moriko Tomatsu." She blinked, startled that she'd allowed that to slip out. This too, the old woman noticed with a slight smile. 'And way too observant.' Watching as Sara pottered around, straightening and cleaning the room, she thought about what she'd just been told.
"Maywood…" she murmured softly, thinking where she'd heard that name. Her eyes widened in shock. "The Maywood siblings!"
Sara Maywood turned, the traces of an old grief in her eyes. "Yes, Leah and Darren, two of the Atlantic Federation's best pilots, are my children."
"I'm sorry, Mrs. Maywood."
The woman chuckled. "Don't be, the two are alive and well, or so I believe. A close friend passed on a message from Leah only recently, and I believe I know a little more about the CHO Project then I ought to, Ensign Taylor."
Meagan's yelped, trying to scamper of the bed in a rather uncoordinated movement. Sara caught her before she hit the ground. "Easy there, Miss Meagan. You'll need to get use to the replacements before you can get back to your old skill level."
"You are Diana's mum." Meagan whispered in wonderment. "You're… oh wow." Sara helped her back onto the bed. "You… know about the CHO Project?"
"Yes. Danielle, who I believe you know as Captain Taystron, is my best friend. I don't think she liked seeing me so upset, so she found out what had actually happened, and kept me up to date as best she could. I haven't had an update since your unit departed for Victoria."
Meagan shook her head, trying to take it all in. Captain Taystron knew more then she'd let on about the CHO unit. She kept her best friend, Diana's mother updated on everything that happened. There'd never been any mention of Orb knowing about it.
Sara seemed to have been following her thought processes, for she answered the unspoken question. "I've never mentioned it to anyone. Even their father doesn't know. Darren and Leah have gone through enough, they don't need more trouble. Now you get some rest. We can work on getting you use to those artificial limbs in a couple of days, but until then, you are to relax, and don't think about the war."
Meagan nodded meekly, deciding it was easy to tell from whom Diana had inherited her commanding personality. With that in mind, she stretched out, intending to get the sleep she needed. Maybe everything would be easier to deal with when she woke up…
Author's Note: I'm so sorry that this took so long to get out there. I've been rather busy and, well, I'm not happy with the direction this is taking. I know where I want it to go, but it isn't going there. Because I'm not happy with it, I'm getting bored with it.
So, a re-write is in order. Diana will remain, as will Sol. The rest of the unit, and any of my other OCs may or may not return. If there's anyone in particular you guys want me to keep around, please let me know.
In the mean time, to see what has kept me so distracted, check out www.darknessversuslight. and www These original stories are what have kept me away from a Panther's Honour, and will continue to do so.