I own nothing save my own characters and machines.

Cassandra Joule is the creation of Artificial Life Creator.

Samorei Joule, Keinn Legwitz, and Sagira Marusu are the creation of NukeDawg. The Black Knights idea is also his, and is used with permission.

"In the wake of the Second Battle of Orb, we felt it necessary to establish an organization that would make our goals plain, much as the Earth Alliance had already done with their so-called 'World Security Treaty Organization'. Thus the League of Free Nations was born." Siegel Clyne, from a series of postwar interviews conducted by Jess Rabble.

Chairman Clyne's office, Aprilius One

The news of the Second Battle of Orb had had an electrifying effect on the PLANTs. People were literally cheering in the streets, jubilant that the Alliance had taken such a pounding. It was a stark contrast to attitudes early in the last war.

Much as he wished he could, Siegel couldn't share their enthusiasm. He knew all too well how strong the Earth Alliance member nations, particularly the Atlantic Federation, were. Not to mention the after-action report was more than a little disturbing.

His comm buzzed. "Your Excellency, you have an incoming call from Orb," his secretary said. "It's flagged top priority."
He straightened. Not many people had such access; when they used it, it was well to listen. "Put it through."

The hawk-like visage of Alex Strassmeier looked out at him. "I'm sorry to bother you, Your Excellency, but there are some things that I need to bring to your attention."

Siegel waved a hand. "Please don't apologize, Commander. What is it?"

"A couple of recommendations, actually," Alex said. "The first is that Talia Gladys be brought into FAITH."

Siegel's eyebrows went up. "You believe she has the necessary qualifications?"

"I've only ever seen three better ship captains," Alex said flatly, "Murrue and Lia Ramius and Natarle Badgiruel. She has what it takes, Your Excellency."

Siegel nodded. "I see. And your other recommendation?"

"Restart the GOUF project," Alex said. "The ZAKU simply cannot match the Windam's mobility; the GOUF is the only ZAFT design that can."

"I see," Siegel repeated. The recommendation was something of an irony; Alex had vociferously opposed both the ZAKU and the GOUF designs, advocating buying the latest Orb design instead. Some speculated -correctly- that he had strong prejudice in favor of Morgenroete. "I will speak to Committee Chairwoman Joule on this matter. Anything else?"

Alex hesitated. "Actually, there is. Are you familiar with the SEED?"

Siegel frowned. "I've heard of it. Superior Evolutionary Element Destined factor, correct?"

"Yes, sir." Alex nodded. "Those who possess it are said to be capable of advancing to the next stage of human evolution. While that is only a theory, it is undeniable that those who have it can temporarily exceed their ordinary limits."

"I see," Siegel said. "I take it you have a reason for bringing this up now?"

Alex nodded again. "To date, there have been four mobile suit pilots known to bear the SEED, Kira Yamato, Cagalli Yula Athha, Athrun Zala, and myself. After the recent battle, I believe we must add a fifth: Shinn Asuka."

"Indeed," Siegel said. "His performance suddenly increased?"

"That, sir, is an understatement," Alex said. "I was sure he was doomed when that mobile armor knocked him out of the sky, but he suddenly recovered, took the thing apart, and proceeded to destroy several warships." He shook his head. "He's not at Kira's level -only Athrun is as far as I know- but he's definitely something special."

Siegel pursed his lips thoughtfully. "I'll bear that in mind," he said at last. "As for Captain Gladys, I have read the after-action report, and I trust your judgment."

"Thank you, sir," Alex said.

"One more thing," Siegel said. "Please tell Lord Uzumi that I will be traveling to Orb soon. I need to speak with him in person."

Alex saluted. "I'll deliver the message, Your Excellency." His image winked out.

There were times, Siegel reflected, when having Uzumi Nara Athha's son-in-law in ZAFT was very useful indeed.

Victoria Base

Jean-Pierre La Flaga gazed at the line of mobile suits, unable to conceal the pride he felt. After endless weeks of training, the anti-mobile suit squad known as the Blue Knights was at last ready for deployment. They had shaped up better than he had believed possible.

"I'd put this squad up against any Orb or ZAFT unit in a heartbeat," he told his XO.

Thomas Markinson nodded agreement. "They've exceeded standards in every area," he said. "I think we're ready, Commander."

"Excuse me, sirs."

J.-P. turned. A nervous-looking petty officer stood nearby, a clipboard in hand. "What is it?"

The petty officer held out his clipboard. "Admiral Benton asked me to deliver this."

J.-P. accepted it. "Thank you, PO. Dismissed." The petty officer saluted and left.

Markinson tilted his head. "A report of some kind?"

"The wrong kind," Jean-Pierre said. He grimaced. "Admiral Adler's attack on Orb didn't go very well. I know we didn't expect it to, but this is worse than even I imagined."

"How much worse?"

"The fleet was virtually annihilated," J.-P. said flatly. "ZAFT deployed another G-unit, this one apparently based at least in part on the Murasame, and Strassmeier's star pupil defeated Rena Imelia, destroyed the Zamza-Zah, and sank several warships in the bargain."

Markinson's jaw dropped. "How did he pull that off!?"

"No one knows," Jean-Pierre said grimly. "All we have are the survivors' reports." He took a deep breath. "It seems that after being damaged by the Zamza-Zah, this Asuka fellow suddenly made a huge jump in performance. Whatever it was, it was enough for him to outfight pretty much everything that faced him."

Markinson swore under his breath. "This is bad. If he can do that with one of their Second Stage models..."

"Imagine what he could do with a higher-level machine," Jean-Pierre finished. "Believe me, the thought crossed my mind as soon as I read this report. As it happens, the top brass agree; Shinn Asuka has been designated a priority target."

"I'd be shocked if they hadn't," Markinson said. "Anyone who can do something like that is a major threat to us, and it's not like he's alone." Memories flashed through his mind; the Freedom's infamous multibeam attack, the Anubis reducing Daggers of every type to debris, and his own almost fatal encounter with Shiho Hahnenfuss's CGUE DEEP Arms.

"That's what we're for," Jean-Pierre said. "I doubt that even I could take him in single combat, G-weapon or not, but with proper teamwork we can do it." He chuckled without humor. "At least we won't be tasked with taking out the Freedom."

"Fortunately," Markinson agreed, wincing. "Do we have any deployment orders? We can hardly do anything from here."

Jean-Pierre smiled. "As a matter of fact, we do. The Blue Knights are to be deployed to the new base in India. We'll have to put up with both Phantom Pain and the Seraphim crew, but it won't be too bad."

Markinson shrugged. "I can live with that if I have to."

"Good." His CO's smile grew cold. "Because soon we'll be able to show ZAFT and Orb how mobile suits are really used."

Minerva, firing range

Luna took a deep breath, let half of it out, and squeezed the trigger.

She missed completely.

"Take it easy," Alex advised. He drew his own weapon, a standard automatic instead of his anachronistic Luger. "Watch." He settled into a two-handed firing stance, pistol aimed directly downrange. His eyes narrowed slightly as he assessed the range to the target, his stance shifted imperceptibly, and then he fired. One, two, three shots struck dead center.

Luna's eyes widened, and her jaw dropped. "Incredible!"

"It just takes practice, and a proper mindset," Alex said with a shrug. "I've seen you in combat, so I know you have the latter. Just keep practicing."

"I will, sir," Luna said. "I don't expect to have much use for it, though."

"Don't make assumptions, Luna," Alex said. "Anything can happen; recall what happened to me during Break the World." His lip twitched in a brief grimace. "My assumption that I could take five normal Gundams with a nuclear-powered unit very nearly got me killed."

Luna swallowed. "I understand, sir."

"And that's why you should keep practicing," Alex said, his voice lightening noticeably. "It's always possible that you'll be shot down behind enemy lines, and have to fend for yourself."

"I understand," Luna repeated.

Alex nodded, then began field stripping his pistol for cleaning. It wasn't really a surprise that Luna was lacking in pistol marksmanship, however good she was as a pilot. Small arms were considered at most a precautionary measure for pilots; the only mobile suit pilot Alex knew of who even approached his passion for such weapons was Athrun Zala.

She'll learn. There was no doubt of that; anyone who not only survived his special course but passed it with flying colors was extremely adaptable. Shinn Asuka may have been the star, but Lunamaria Hawke was no slouch, and Keinn Legwitz and the mysterious Rey Za Burrel weren't bad themselves.

A new generation, Alex mused. Of course, there's not really an "old" generation, is there? For pity's sake, I'm just twenty.

The hatch behind them opened, admitting Talia Gladys. "Excuse me, Commander, but we just received a message from the Homeland that you should hear."

Luna rose. "If you'll excuse me-"

"It's all right, Luna," Alex said. "I highly doubt that it's anything classified. Captain?"

"Even if it was classified, Luna as one of our pilots has a need-to-know," Talia said. "It seems the Alliance's First Naval Fleet has a new CO, Commander. Vice Admiral Hideo Takahashi."

Alex's eyes narrowed. "Takahashi? As in the East Asian naval officer I met during the peace talks last year?"

"The same," Talia confirmed.

Luna just looked confused. "Excuse me, but who is this Takahashi?"

"Luna, Hideo Takahashi is without a doubt the Republic of East Asia's greatest naval strategist," Alex said grimly. "He's been compared to Isoroku Yamamoto, the mastermind of the Pearl Harbor attack. Unusually for a flag officer, he is also a formidable mobile suit pilot; he prefers the GAT-10A1 105 Dagger with a Sword Striker pack equipped."

Luna's eyes widened. Alex had always been adamant that his students have a firm grasp of military history, so she immediately saw where he was headed. "You're saying he's a major threat to us."

"Very possibly the biggest as far as strategy is concerned," Alex said. "His strategic acumen is almost unrivaled; no one else in the Earth Forces even comes close, in Orb as far as I know only Natarle Badgiruel can match him, in ZAFT only Commander Waltfeld and myself." The last could have been bragging, but it wasn't; Alex was simply stating a fact.

"That reminds me," Alex said, abruptly switching mental gears. "Captain Gladys, in my report to Chairman Clyne I recommended that you be appointed to FAITH." He reached into a pocket of his white jacket and pulled out a wing-like emblem, which he affixed to an astonished Talia's uniform. "Congratulations, Captain."

Talia gaped for a moment, then reigned herself in. "This is quite an honor." She shook herself. "I understand the Chairman is coming to Orb for an event of some kind."

"Correct," Alex said. "He didn't say exactly what, at least not to me. All I know is he'll be meeting with Lord Uzumi." He gave one of his minimalist shrugs. "It's important, that much is clear."

Clear from the guest list, if nothing else. Two other members of the Supreme Council were expected, Gilbert Durandal and Ezalia Joule. According to reports, Durandal was to be accompanied by FAITH operative Sagira Marusu, while Ezalia was being escorted by her son Yzak and his second-in-command Dearka Elsman. All three were bringing their mobile suits, in case of trouble.

Alex, of course, expected trouble.

Earth Forces base, India

It is axiomatic in war that what you don't know can and will hurt you. Missing one seemingly insignificant piece of information can turn a resounding success into a debacle that one would be fortunate to survive. When that one piece of information turns out to be an enemy base with dozens of mobile suits, several of them Gundams, then survival all too often becomes a moot point.

Such was the Earth Forces intention in establishing a hidden base on the Indian subcontinent. It didn't take a genius to figure out that when the Minerva and traitorous Archangel left Orb again, they would be heading west, a course that would take them through the Indian Ocean.

Where Neo Roanoke would be waiting to crush them.

His emotions were decidedly mixed as he watched the Archangel-class vessel Seraphim make its way into the hidden docking area. On the one hand, the extra firepower was welcome; Neo knew all too well what Murrue Ramius and Talia Gladys were capable of, to say nothing of Natarle Badgiruel. On the other, even without Jean-Pierre La Flaga there was likely to be some friction between the Seraphim contingent and Neo's own Phantom Pain. Gustav Krieger in particular was likely to be troublesome; the Nazi-wannabe had a pronounced tendency to regard the Extendeds, Stellar especially, as toys, something Neo did not appreciate.

Maybe he'll be dumb enough to take on the Justice, and Zala will stick a beam saber in his gut. Neo pushed the thought aside. Pleasant thought it was, it was unlikely to happen any time soon. Krieger was a vicious psychopath, but he was also a good pilot. Unfortunately.

Neo extended a hand to the warship's CO as the other man debarked. "Welcome to India, Captain Throne."

Captain Jasper Throne shook it. "Thank you, Captain Roanoke. I understand there was a bit of a problem at Orb recently."

Neo snorted. "Yeah, you could say that. The fleet we sent was practically wiped out, including that new mobile armor."

"That's because they didn't have us along," Throne said. Behind them trailed Xavier Hunter, the rest of Seraphim's Gundam pilots, and the Extendeds, Auel Neider, Sting Oakley, and Stellar Loussier. "I understand that La Flaga and his new 'Blue Knight' squad will be joining us."

"Yeah," Neo agreed. "This time it'll be different." He didn't add that Jean-Pierre La Flaga was fortunate to have been transferred. For all that he was a capable ship captain, Jasper Throne was also one of the most arrogant individuals in the Alliance.

He also didn't like the way Krieger was looking at Stellar. Neither did Auel and Sting; they stood on either side of the blonde Extended, shooting Krieger looks that were just shy of belligerent. No surprise; they'd always been protective of Stellar, occasionally to the point of violence.

"Agreed," Throne said, oblivious to both Neo's thoughts and the Extendeds' tension. "This time we'll take out ZAFT's new wonder ship and the 'Indestructible Archangel' in one fell swoop."

Confident though he was, Neo privately thought that was stretching things. Oh, he was sure they could win, but the sort of victory Throne was describing was unlikely at best. He had seen Athrun Zala in action, and had studied footage of Kira Yamato's battles, both in the Strike and the Freedom. He had no desire to fight them both at once.

"So," Throne said, "how are your people shaping up?"

Neo shrugged. "The Dagger and Windam pilots are doing well, but the core of our unit is the Extendeds." He half-turned and nodded at his subordinates. "They've already mastered their new machines, and since the eggheads are finally finished with the reverse-engineering work, we're finally ready for action again."

"Good," Throne said. To Neo's mild annoyance, he was practically rubbing his hands with glee.

Neo stopped and faced Throne directly. "I don't blame you for being excited, but don't get overconfident," he said mildly. "The Archangel group survived everything we and ZAFT threw at them, and the people on the 'wonder ship' may be green, but that doesn't make them bad."

"What are you saying?" Throne demanded.

"My best people couldn't beat them, and neither could yours," Neo reminded the other. "If we're not careful, they'll blow us away."

Lord Uzumi's office, Orb Union

"I see," Uzumi said. He leaned forward slightly. "You are suggesting we create a formal organization in response to the Alliance's WSTO?"

Siegel Clyne nodded. "Orb and the PLANTs are tied together literally by blood," he said, referring to Alex and Cagalli. "That, however, can all too easily be construed as simply a union of two enemies of Earth. I believe we must make our intentions clear."

"Chairman Clyne is right," an Australian-accented voice put in. Albert Cadwallader, Prime Minister of the Oceania Union, was a driven man, his laid-back exterior notwithstanding. "This is about more than just us versus the Earth Alliance; we have to take neutral opinion into account as well."

"I agree." Premier Mahmoud al-Fasil of the African Community was an odd sort. He frequently came across as an unsophisticated provincial, at least in the eyes of the Earth Forces, and thus was very often underestimated.

Uzumi was silent for several moments. "I agree as well," he said at last. "Siegel is certainly correct about how Cagalli's marriage can be construed, given Alex's outward demeanor."

There was more to it than that, of course. Uzumi Nara Athha had never hidden his loathing of the Alliance member nations, particularly the Atlantic Federation. Given that, along with his equally well known sympathy for Coordinators, it was easy to see his joining forces with Siegel Clyne as two of Earth's enemies uniting.

Not everyone would believe that, of course. Leaving aside ZAFT's other Earthbound allies, Oceania and the African Community, the Equatorial Union and Kingdom of Scandinavia (the latter Clyne's birthplace) had always had at least cordial relations with Orb. As for the United States of South America, anything that made the Atlantic Federation look bad was something they would support.

"That just leaves one issue," Cadwallader said. "What do we call this new organization?"

The announcement went out over virtually every news service on Earth and in space. Even the Atlantic Federation government felt no need to censor it; they believed (correctly) that the raw feed could easily be twisted to their own purposes.

"In other news, a major conference took place today in the capital of the Orb Union," a typical newscast began. "Following this meeting, Orb Chief Representative Uzumi Nara Athha, PLANT Supreme Council Chairman Siegel Clyne, Oceania Union Prime Minister Albert Cadwallader, and African Community Premier Mahmoud al-Fasil held a joint news conference outside the Orb Capitol building." The immaculately groomed woman cleared her throat. "We have video now."

Cut to a shot of Uzumi. "Today I am proud to announce the formation of the League of Freed Nations," he said simply.

Before he could get any further, a reporter already had his hand in the air. "Lord Uzumi, is this in any way connected to the World Security Treaty Organization?"

"It is," the Chief Representative confirmed. "The Earth Alliance -specifically, the Atlantic Federation- knowingly and deliberately lied about the Break the World incident. Moreover, even before that they launched an unprovoked attack on the ZAFT facility at Armory One."

The reporter, a Scandinavian, looked unconvinced. "But sir, the Alliance provided images of ZAFT mobile suits at the colony remains."

"Those images were of obsolete models no longer in ZAFT service," Uzumi told him. "I have confirmation of that."

The screen cut back to the news anchor. "The Atlantic Federation government has denounced this new organization," she said.

Another cut, this time to President Copeland. "Those space monsters and their friends can talk all they want about 'free nations'," he said in obvious disgust. "We know the truth. They dropped the remains of Junius Seven on us, they tried to wipe us out!"

"I have to say, even though I'm a patriot, the President has lost his mind," Jean-Pierre La Flaga said, watching Copeland's speech.

Thomas Markinson grunted agreement. "Only a Blue Cosmos fanatic would believe that line."

"It was probably a Blue Cosmos fanatic who gave him that line," J.-P. muttered.

"How can you tell Copeland is lying?" Alex said with a snort. "His lips are moving."

Yzak laughed softly. "You got that right."

Athha residence, Orb Union

Despite his recently-acquired status as an Orb noble, Kira was somewhat ill at ease when meeting various movers and shakers. More precisely, major political figures, save of course Lord Uzumi, Siegel Clyne, and Ezalia Joule; he was quite comfortable with high-ranking military leaders. The fact the one of those military leaders was his best friend probably had something to do with it.

"Is there some kind of rule that dress uniforms must be uncomfortable?" Tolle complained.

Kira agreed. He himself preferred either his standard duty uniform or his flightsuit. "I think that's a problem of all formal wear, not just dress uniforms."

"Yeah, whatever," Tolle muttered.

Kira shrugged. Fortunately, there was a fair number of soldiers scattered among the politicos, so he didn't feel too out of place.

He'd come with Flay, of course. At the moment, the redhead was chatting with Miriallia Haw and the younger Hawke, Meyrin. Kira didn't begrudge her, though he wasn't a very chatty sort himself. He preferred working on his Gundam's OS, or hanging out with his old friend Athrun.

Alex and Cagalli stood together near one wall, the former holding what looked like a glass of Champaign. Kira knew that his brother-in-law seldom drank, which meant the older pilot was likely trying -in vain, given his distinctive appearance- to remain inconspicuous. He was probably also feeling a bit of deja vu, since he'd first met Cagalli at a very similar reception some years previously.

The four pilots from the Minerva has gathered around a table across the room. Kira didn't know any of them very well, but he'd seen them in action, so he had no doubts about their abilities. Even if Keinn Legwitz was more than a little unhinged.

Talia Gladys and Arthur Trine had arrived minutes before. Kira, accustomed to the likes of Natarle Badgiruel, didn't think much of Trine. The man struck him as an unimaginative plodder, hardly a good choice for the XO of ZAFT's most advanced warship.

"So you're the famous Kira Yamato," a soft voice said.

Kira turned. "Commander Marusu," he said, mildly surprised.

Sagira Marusu smiled. "Don't look so startled. Your face is well known, and it's not every day a foreign national is awarded the Order of the Nebula."

"Yeah," Kira said. She had a point.

"I just wanted to express my admiration for your prowess," Sagira went on. "You are quite possibly one of a kind on the battlefield."

Kira maintained his poise, but inwardly he winced. I'm not that good. "That's not true. Athrun's as good as I am, and Le Creuset almost killed me."

"Maybe so, but your record in battle is unmatched," Sagira said. "I do believe you are the only undefeated mobile suit pilot in existence. Congratulations." She bowed and moved off.

That was weird. Kira knew of Sagira Marusu, of course, and that Alex didn't trust her. However, aside from the fact that she was an expert pilot, and that Durandal was her patron, he didn't know much about her. She was a mystery, age unknown, background unknown.

"She's certainly an oddity, isn't she."

Kira looked up. Alex and Cagalli had joined him while he pondered. "Yeah," he told the former. "Something about her just doesn't add up."

"Agreed." Alex frowned slightly, looking at the woman. "Marusu doesn't move the way she should."

Kira raised an eyebrow. "What do you mean?"

"She's supposed to be an expert at hand-to-hand combat, good enough to rival me, even, yet she doesn't move like a martial artist," Alex explained. "Trust me, I know what to look for."

Kira shrugged. "I'll take your word for it," he said, and wandered off to talk to Athrun.

Shinn had seldom felt so out of place. Born to a family of no particular note, he suddenly found himself rubbing elbows with movers and shakers from no fewer than four nations. He supposed it was because of a combination of his participation in ZAFT's latest project and his connection to the famed Spider of Artemis. Regardless, it felt very weird.

"Nice place the Athhas have," Keinn commented, looking around appreciatively. "Cozy."

Rey chuckled softly. "You always did love creature comforts, Keinn."

Savior's pilot looked mildly affronted. "What's wrong with wanting a little luxury?"

"Now, now, be nice," Luna told them, restraining a giggle.

Shinn ignored them. He was just glad of a chance to relax, after nearly being killed by a mobile armor in the recent battle. If he hadn't suddenly manifested the SEED, a fact that astonished him, his death would have been a virtual certainty.

I was almost killed by a mobile armor, he thought. Like most in what was now the League, Shinn believed that the day of the mobile armor ended in the previous war. Aside from a very few specialized mobile armors, like the Exus, the battlefield belonged to the mobile suit.

"So you're Alex's star pupil," a new voice said.

Shinn turned, surprised, and his hand snapped up in a reflexive salute. "Commander Joule, sir." He'd met Alex's cousin once before, but the circumstances had been very different.

Yzak waved a hand. "Just wanted to talk to the hero of the Second Battle of Orb," he said, smiling at Shinn's stunned look. "I read Alex's after-action report. You really are something else." He looked at Shin's companions. "You guys are pretty good, too."

It might not have sounded like much, but "pretty good" was high praise coming from Yzak Joule, and the four Minerva pilots knew it.

"Thank you, sir," Shinn said at last. "I don't know about the hero part, but I did my best."

Yzak chuckled. "Take it from me, kid, your best is better than something like ninety percent of what we've got. You've definitely earned that red uniform."

That much Shinn agreed with. ZAFT didn't just give away the red uniform; only the very best were permitted to wear it. While that was based solely on training scores, very seldom did combat show it to be in error.

"It was only the beginning, though," Shinn said quietly. "The stolen prototypes are still out there, and who knows what else the Earth Forces have planned."

Yzak sobered. "Yeah, you're right." He looked from his cousin to Athrun and Kira. "You're right..."

Skies over Indian Ocean

"Nothing so far," Brian Kilgore reported.

"Roger that," the controller aboard the Heyerdahl said. "Make one more pass, then return to base."

"Understood." Brian brought his Scorpion Gundam around. Like his friend and former CO, Brian had been unsurprised by the outbreak of war, yet very surprised at how it had begun. Armory One had been out of the blue, and the Providence's reappearance at Junius Seven had been, to use Kyle Perry's phrase, lightning from a clear sky.

Now it seemed to have shifted to slow torture. The Earth Forces had lost badly at Orb, but Brian had heard ominous rumblings about Atlantic Federation activity in Eurasia. It seemed that the Eurasian Federation was more reluctant this time around, and the Atlantic Federation wasn't very happy about it.

"Just because Eurasia had the nerve to be upset at the attempted murder of their people at Alaska," Brian muttered. His console beeped, and he frowned. "What? Something on the radar?"

That was when the first missile slammed into him.

Brian spun around, shifting his machine to mobile suit mode in the same motion. "What the!? What was that!?" An image appeared on his screen. "A fighter!?"

It certainly appeared so; a fighter jet, white with orange trim, was visible not far away. An Earth Forces unit beyond doubt; nothing else would have reason to attack a ZAFT Gundam. The question was how it had found him, and why it chose to attack when it did.

Brian didn't mull this. His beam rifle came up and fired, missing by several meters.

"You'll have to do better than that, space monster!" The enemy machine abruptly transformed, revealing itself to be in fact a mobile suit. It had no shield, but its hands bore a pair of beam rifles. "Prepare to die!"

Earth Forces all right! Brian fired again, missing for a second time.

"Ha! Guess Coordinators aren't all they're cracked up to be!" The Alliance mobile suit returned fire, taking the Scorpion's left arm off at the shoulder. "Too easy!"

"This is bad," Brian muttered. "I've gotta-"

"Not so fast!" Another double blast stabbed out, immolating the Scorpion's right leg. "You're too slow."

Brian fought to get his machine under control. "Can't let him get to me," he said. "Heyerdahl, watch out! There's a new machine-!"

The other mobile suit transformed again. "I'd have thought a former member of the Strassmeier team would be more of a challenge. Looks like I was wrong." He swung around, transforming yet again and raising both rifles. "This is where it ends."

Brian Kilgore's last sight was of the glowing rifle muzzles.

The Earth Forces pilot smirked as the Scorpion Gundam exploded. Despite his taunts, the ZAFT pilot had been quite good; the problem had been he was taken by surprise. That was what the Earth Forces pilot liked the most: the thrill of the hunt, knowing that his opponent was at his mercy.

He hoped he would be able to hunt down the Spider himself.

"Lieutenant Gable, return to base," his CO said. "You're too exposed."

Yazan Gable grunted. "Right. Returning to base."

In moments, the sky was empty.

Author's note: While Orb may have prevailed, one of Alex's old comrades has perished. Meanwhile, Neo Roanoke, Xavier Hunter, and J-P La Flaga's Blue Knights prepare for the coming confrontation.

I must apologize for the extreme lateness of this update; internet connection problems and an insane schedule tend to have that effect. I also apologize if it seems to ramble; there were times where I actually forgot where I was going with it. I will try very hard not to let this happen again.