Disclaimer: Gundam SEED is property of Sunrise and Bandai. Kenneth DiFalco, Sophia DiFalco and the Gray Demons are the creation of Solid Shark, used with permission. The TRVF-X51A Fianna's original form is the creation of Shoji Kawamori. The charecter of Saito is the original creation of Masamune Shirow and Production I.G. About the only thing I own is this idea, the Seburo M-11 pistol, and Jack David. This is a nonprofit fanfiction, written merely to entertain.
Ten years ago, there was a war that engulfed the world.
War has always been a part of the endless waltz that is human history. The blue planet that humanity calls its home has seen countless battles raging all over its surface. But this war was different. This was a war started in self-defense… that quickly became something a lot worse. This was a war where racism and bigotry reared their ugly heads, where the strong oppressed the weak. A war that was started in space, waged across the world, and finally ended in space.
This was the war where the genie of GENESIS was unleashed: Gamma Emission by Nuclear Explosion Stimulate Inducing System. A giant gamma radiation weapon first intended to propel exploration ships, later to defend the PLANTs from another Bloody Valentine, but instead twisted to fulfill a madman's dreams of genocide.
The war was halted by a man both revered and reviled by both sides: the youngest recipient of the Order of Nebula, Patrick Zala's right hand man, ZAFT's top strategist… and the founder and leader of True ZAFT. His "Shiva Option" brought the war to a close, forcing both sides into a stalemate from which the only exit was negotiation, succeeding in his plan…and paying a terrible price to see it through.
He was the pilot they called the Grimaldi Falcon: Commander Kenneth DiFalco, commanding officer of the Gray Demons, ZAFT's Ace of Aces.
To us in Orb, the war was something that didn't worry us. We stayed out of the war, believing that we could remain neutral and unaffected by the war, that business would go on as usual. We hung on to that belief, clutching it with both hands, blinding our eyes with it, refusing to look at anything that might hint that our preconceptions were wrong.
We were fools. And when the war came to our doorstep, it was then that we paid for our folly.
Heliopolis was just the beginning.
March to the Future
An AU retelling of Solid Shark's Birds of a Feather
Chapter 1: Guys, we aren't in Orb anymore…
Orb Union, Underground Morgenröte Reseach Facility, January 25th, C.E. 80.
"Alright gentlemen, good morning, good morning! Step this way please! Have you signed your waivers? Good, good, place your mobile suits there, yes, yes, that's it. Now gentlemen, step this way as I brief you on the experiment we are about to undertake today-"
"I can't believe I'm saying this, but I'd rather be doing our paperwork than hanging around for this mad scientist experiment."
"Orders are orders, Jack," said the leader, a tall black man with close-cropped dark hair and a quiet demeanor, wearing the uniform of an Orb Navy Lieutenant Commander. "Look at it this way: we're giving our Fiannas one last ride before they head to the boneyard."
"It's at times like this that I sometimes wish they weren't powered with nuclear reactors, Marcus," said Jack. Like many Orb nationals, he was of Asian descent, with short black hair that was liberally streaked with white, and he wore an identical uniform to his leader. "Then we could have kept them around and flown them here and there on joyrides. It would make a great conversation piece. 'And here's the variable fighter that I flew during the Second Bloody Valentine War…'"
"You wouldn't be able to maintain it as a private citizen," murmured the last member. He was tallish, obviously Japanese, his left eye covered with a polymer eyepatch, his black hair in a military crewcut, rank insignia denoting him as a Lieutenant. "Replacement batteries alone would bankrupt you. As for the reactors, I'd prefer to fly a mobile suit that's equipped with a reactor. I've gotten very attached to using a beam smartrifle and VPS in the past six years."
"A man can dream, Saito. He can dream. It's our dreams which keep us going through this dreary world."
"Yes, but you're stepping over the line into delusional territory. Dreams and delusions are two different things."
"Gentlemen, come, come, this way! Please attend your briefing!"
"How did we get sucked into this again?" asked Snow rhetorically.
"The Astray girls are on holiday, Shiho's gone to spend time with Yzak who's making a visit from the PLANTs, Morgan, Alicia, and Nicol are at Orbital, and Rick's attending … something. Sophia has disappeared somewhere, last seen in company of Mu. None of the other pilots are senior enough for this. And the Major is spending time with his family, and gave orders not to be disturbed unless there was a war going on. That left us," said Jack, sighing. "Come on. Let's get it over and done with. I wanna hit a strip joint and get smashed."
"Y'know, Snow, whenever he starts acting responsibly, I feel great hope for him and the world. Then when he destroys that hope, it makes me glad to know I have a sniper rifle with me."
Snow's reply was to chuckle at the antics of his friends and comrades. After eight years spent working together, seeing combat side by side, and countless poker games, one tends to develop the ability to tolerate one's friends' idiosyncrasies…
Well, it's either that or end up killing them.
When it was first deployed in February C.E. 74, the TRVF-X51A Fianna was one of the best mobile suits ever fielded. Given the designation of Tactical Response Variable Fighter, it was a transformable mobile suit, highly agile in mobile armor mode, equipped with a nuclear reactor, N-jammer canceler and Variable Phase Shift armor. It was on the cutting edge, superior to anything that wasn't a Gundam, capable of standing up to Gundam-class mobile suits: Morgan Chevalier had used his Fianna to fight the three Zeta Project units to a standstill. It had been upgraded and tweaked over the years (the costs of constructing 24 Fiannas and the Eldridge had killed Section Nine's budget for C.E. 73-74, which did force the issue, though it was also an exemplary mobile suit), but now, in C.E. 80, it was six years old and hopelessly out of date. It had been decided that for these three Fiannas, they would be used for an experiment conducted at an underground Morgenröte facility, where Orb scientists were experimenting with a new method of transferring matter through space. Small-scale mockups had already been tested. Now, they would try it with live people and active mobile suits.
Chief Representative Cagalli Yula Athha might be in power, her position stronger than it had been in C.E. 74, and Unato Ema Seiran was long dead (and the Seiran family under effective control of Lord Michael Ove Seiran, formerly Captain Michael Ove Seiran, former CO battleshipTsukiyomi, Orb Navy officer and Athha loyalist), but she could see the implications of this experiment. In her youth, she'd been a guerilla with the Desert Dawn guerilla group, and later a mobile suit pilot for True ZAFT, and had later flown in combat during the Second Bloody Valentine War. She was well aware of the tactical advantages granted by a device which could transport mobile suits anywhere instantaneously. So was Section Nine, who'd chosen 3 operatives to look into the matter… which was why operatives Marcus Snow, Jack David, and Saito had brought the last of Section Nine's Fiannas along for the ride. (Because, in the final analysis, the possible loss of three Fiannas was preferable to losing three of the new X21S variable fighters that Section Nine was now fielding, sentimental value regardless.)
So it was that the three pilots, prepped and ready, having changed out of their Orb Navy uniforms into slate-gray flightsuits, sat in the cockpits of their variable fighters, loaded for bear, and waited for the experiment to commence.
Then the world went white, and it would never be the same again.
Heliopolis, Colony Interior, January 25th, C.E. 71
To Snow, it was a flash of white and a blur of colors; he felt blue flitting through his flightsuit, yellow on his lips, and a tugging sensation in his gut and then it was over and he blacked out.
Jack fared a bit better, managing to stay conscious throughout the twisting sensation and the feeling of being pulled apart into many pieces, and he groaned as he looked around at the underground- wait. His Fianna was drifting in air. That wasn't supposed to be part of the plan, it was resting on the ground when that white light swallowed it. It was so hard to think, what with the awful hangover he was feeling, as he groggily looked around.
And it wasn't inside the research facility. In fact, it looked a lot like Heliopolis.
Which was destroyed in the First War… Sweet Tester! This is impossible!
Above him, beams from the Raptor Gundam's Death Blossoms lanced into the cockpits of two GINNs, leaving Matthew and Olor dead; both GINNs drifting limply towards Snow's motionless Fianna. Looking around, he spotted the signs of battle below: The Strike engaging a GINN and the Aegis in the area, the Archangel below…
Wait. Those GINNs… there was something weird about them… why were GINNs carrying missiles?
The pilot raised his visor and closed his eyes wearily, pinching the bridge of his nose. Something bugged him, but what was it? Something familiar…GINNs, missiles, Heliopolis… "SHIT!" he snarled, wincing, feeding power to his turbines…
Right on schedule, as if they were mocking him, the limited computers in the bunker buster missiles activated, the missiles firing right at the central shaft.
Tester, I understand I've been far from you, and that I need to return to the arms of Father Church, and that you will put a Test for each of us in life that we have to go through. But Tester, if you don't mind me saying so, this is bloody ridiculous. Especially if you've disabled my micromissiles.
Wincing and eyes squinted, and feeling really, really sick, Jack swung his Fianna around and pointed it towards the missiles, feeding power to the turbines. The Fianna shot forward, like the fighter it was, and Jack glanced at his weapons readout, cursing. The four 18-cell micromissile pods he carried were inoperable, so he was left with just his beam gunpod. His finger tightened on the trigger, gunpod spitting green darts… and they all missed.
What the hell happened to my targeting system? I had a good angle, so why the hell did I miss?
"Jack, break right," said a cool voice, and Jack broke right as a thick green beam came into being, the blast from a beam smartrifle.
The Caladbolg beam smartrifle was one of the hidden tricks up Section Nine's metaphorical sleeve. Saito had used this weapon for years, and was intimately familiar with it. It was the ultimate mobile suit sniping weapon, highly accurate with a high rate of fire, powered directly by the Fianna's nuclear reactor. Using this weapon, Saito had single-handedly intercepted two thirds of the Operation Meteor drop force, as well as countless Kinetic Interdiction Strikes. Saito almost never missed with his beam smartrifle. Jack would have bet all his money on Saito; he'd learned the hard way just how good the former mercenary was.
It was thus an understandable shock to see all of Saito's shots miss, as the bunker busters slammed into the colony shaft and detonated.
Whatever threw us back into the past must have corrupted our targeting systems, he realized with mounting dread. We'll have to rewrite the OS, rezero the weapons manually…
His train of thought was halted as Heliopolis collapsed around him.
"This is not a good place to be… Saito, Snow! Let's get outta here!"
"Help me check Snow's unit," said Saito, Fianna in mobile armor mode. "He's not responding."
"Damnit. Well, it could be worse."
"We could be sucked out a hull breach."
"You mean like now."
"The colony is starting to come apart!" Sophia DiFalco called to Murrue Ramius. "Those last hits busted something that really shouldn't have been busted!"
"Recall our mobile suits!" Murrue ordered. "Hurry! CIC, get an ID on those new units!"
Cracks were beginning to appear in the colony's outer wall, while the central shaft collapsed. "Raptor has already latched onto the ship," Natarle Bagiruel reported. "There's no time to bring him into the hanger, but he can ride it out from there."
"What about the Strike?" Mu "Hawk of Endymion" La Flaga demanded. "Is the kid okay?"
"He's being sucked out one of the breaches," Sophia responded. "And- oh, my word..."
The Bridge crew watched in stunned silence as the neutral resource satellite Heliopolis simply came apart around them.
"We're in trouble," murmured Saito, his Fianna in mobile suit mode, holding onto Snow's fighter mode Fianna.
"Tell me about it," muttered Jack, Fianna also in MS mode. "How's your Caladbolg?"
"It's working, but the targeting system's been corrupted. I won't hit anything unless I aim manually. Micromissiles are also out. You?"
"Same here. Alright, what do we do? We've been thrown back into the First War, and I can see Archangel and Raptor and Strike… whaddya think, Saito?"
"I think we need to join forces with the Archangel. Leaving aside the fact that our reactors are good for another four years, we don't have that much food and water, just enough for 2 days." His voice became even more serious, and he added, "And Snow may need medical attention."
"I know. Well, let's move in, nice and slow. I'll think of something to convince the Archangel crew we're on the level. And we'd better use fighter mode."
Heliopolis Ruins, Strike
Kira stared at the wreckage that had once been Heliopolis with something deeper than shock. He was paralyzed, barely breathing, by what he'd just seen.How... how could they...?
It took several minutes before he realized the radio was talking to him. "Kira Yamato! Are you out there? Please respond! Strike!"
He shook himself, and keyed the mike. "Uh, X105 Strike here... barely."
On the other end, Natarle sighed in relief. "Glad to hear you. Are you okay?"
"Yes," Kira managed, staring around again.
"If you can move, return to the ship," she said. "Do you have our beacon?"
He checked his displays. "Yes."
"Then come on in."
"Right." Kira paused. "Uh, did Falcon make it?"
Natarle snorted."Make it? We're beginning to think the guy's invincible." She cut the transmission.
He sagged.Good... Maybe now I won't have to fight anymore... and even if I do, at least I'll have some backup besides Lieutenant La Flaga...
The Strike's instruments suddenly began to beep, and Kira frowned. Tapping controls, he enhanced the section on his display from which the signal was coming. "A lifeboat? It must be from Heliopolis..."
Changing course, he charged after it. Mom, Dad... he thought as he went. You're safe, right?
"Strike, come in, say again, Strike, come in, over," interrupted his radio, a transmission not from the Archangel.
"Who is this?"
"This is Black Card Team 01. We're with Orb NID, investigating foreign military activity in Heliopolis. One of our mobile armors is down, and we'd like to request permission to come aboard. Oh, and we know the Grimaldi Falcon. We'd be much obliged if you'd pass that on to your ship. Go ahead and grab that lifeboat first, civilians take priority in SAR jobs."
Bridge, Archangel, Heliopolis ruins
"The Strike should be on its way back, Captain," Natarle reported. "I still can't see him in the debris, but I was finally able to contact him. No sign of those three unknown units."
"Good," Murrue acknowledged, smiling in relief. "Keep me posted, and keep an eye out for them."
"Well, that's one detail taken care of," Mu commented. "Now we just have to figure out what to do next." He raised an eyebrow. "You... think they'll come after us?"
"They will," Falcon said, exiting the lift. "Rau will not give up now, not after all the trouble he's gone to so far... not after what he's learned."
"I agree," Murrue said.
"Which eliminates several options, and provides us with another set," Sophia mused. "We could just blast right through them..."
"Obviously you're not used to this line of work," the one-eyed pilot said with a snort. "We have two G-weapons and the Zero; Rau has four G-weapons, with a demonstrated willingness to use them."
"Maybe we could outrun them," Mu suggested. "The Archangel-class mobile assault ships are pretty fast, or so I hear. And then there's those guys in those mobile armors; they tried to stop the missiles, so maybe they'd be willing to help us?"
Murrue shook her head. "The enemy's Nazca-class is a swift vessel as well; there's no guarantee of us losing them, even with a decent head start."
"Correct," Falcon agreed. "In fact, our failure to escape would be virtually guaranteed. And we cannot count on assistance from outside parties we know nothing about."
"We could always surrender..." the Hawk said slowly. "Much as we may dislike it, it is an option, you know; though of course I'd rather not..."
"If you were to choose that course of action," the ex-ZAFT ace said softly, "I would be obliged to first step out an airlock without a suit."
Sophia gasped. "You don't mean that!"
"I certainly do." His one-eyed gaze swept over all of them. "Understand something: I will die before I allow my former comrades to get their hands on me. I know they would do that to me for my treason... but only after they interrogated me. I know too much, and I won't allow ZAFT to get hold of any information I may carry."
She stared at him, and started to speak, but Mu raised a hand, forestalling her protest. "I see," he said. "Well, I wasn't seriously considering it anyway..."
But, he thought, I wonder why you reacted so strongly? Your sister may say you have all the warm feelings of a brick, but it's obvious you can feel fear... and that kind of hate I'm getting from you isn't exactly cold. Mu distinctly recalled Falcon's cryptic explanation of his motives for leaving ZAFT. What is it you know, or did? What could make you, of all people, betray ZAFT?
He knew he wasn't going to get an answer to that question, at least not yet.
"So what do we do?" Murrue asked, after a few moments of uncomfortable silence. "We can't give up, we can't run away, and I don't think we can just hide here till they go away. We could fight... but they have four G-weapons, to our two G-weapons and a mobile armor."
Falcon stepped forward. "In difficult ground, press on. In encircled ground, devise stratagems. In death ground... fight."
Murrue frowned. "Sun Tzu?"
"The Art of War," he confirmed. He looked Mu right in the eye. "Are you thinking what I'm thinking, Mu?"
The other pilot slowly smiled. "We're in encircled ground, aren't we? So, what do you recommend, Grimaldi Falcon?"
"A deception, Hawk of Endymion." Falcon stroked his chin."Archangel has decoys, correct?"
"Right," Sophia acknowledged. "So?"
He gazed at the main display. "Here's what we do: first, we-"
Natarle's voice interrupted him. "What did you say? On whose authority?"
Murrue turned to look into CIC. "What is it, Ensign?"
"The Strike has returned, Captain," Natarle replied. "But he's carrying what appears to be a Heliopolis lifeboat, and wants to bring it aboard! And if that wasn't enough, he's letting those three unknowns follow him in! They're claiming that they know you, Commander DiFalco, but that they aren't ZAFT or Earth Forces. They're claiming to be an Orb Union Navy Intelligence team."
Falcon's eye turned to her. "And the problem is?" he said in a dangerously quiet voice.
She returned his non-expression with a glare. "In case it slipped your notice, Commander DiFalco, the Archangel is top-secret military technology. We can't just let civilians and foreign intelligence officers come aboard-"
"A little late," he retorted. "Kira and the others are already here; and in case it slipped your notice, I'm a former ZAFT pilot. And while I'm cautious about those three unknowns, the fact that they tried to shoot down those bunker busters is a point in their favor. Furthermore, if they're members of Orb's Naval Intelligence Division, they have a right to be here, particularly if they were investigating the Earth Forces presence in Heliopolis."But they claim to know me personally…it could be someone using a cover, but who is it? Shiho's been assigned to an R&D unit, Sparky's guarding Siegel Clyne, Tom's building Arkbird andAsmodeus, Leanne's with him… Uzumi's people, perhaps?
"Put it on the main screen," Murrue interrupted with a sigh. "I'd like to talk to them and find out what their intentions are."
"As would I," agreed Falcon, as Natarle reluctantly typed the necessary command and a communications window appeared, revealing an Asiatic face with dark eyes and a face set in a quiet frown.
"Earth Forces vessel," he began, "This is Lieutenant Commander Jack David of Black Card Team 01. We're with Orb NID. I asked your mobile suit to pick up that lifeboat and a disabled mobile armor, and I'd like to request permission to bring my team aboard your ship. Our transport was destroyed in the collapse, and one of my men needs medical attention."
"You're quite trusting, for someone who's just seen one of his country's space colonies collapse," remarked Murrue almost-casually, and David snorted.
"Hardly, Captain. But I'm aware that on your bridge is the Grimaldi Falcon, and if there's one thing certain about Commander Kenneth DiFalco, it's that he's on the side of those whose cause is just. Besides, it was the Le Creuset team GINNS armed with bunker busters who collapsed the colony. Captain, I'm willing to propose a truce. Both of us need to get to Earth: you'll want to get that ship to where she'll be useful, while I need to report to my superiors. Until we reach orbit, I suggest we work together, then go our separate ways. Our chances of survival increase with our cooperation. We await your decision. David, clear."
"Captain, surely you can't be considering allowing them to land!" exclaimed Natarle. "Their presence aboard this ship would jeopardize our mission and-"
"He looks really unhappy," said Mu, from his bulkhead spot. "I'd say at this point, he doesn't really care about any missions or top secret details, he just wants medical attention for his wounded man. And even if they're flying mobile armors, that still gives us some help against the Le Creuset team. Not much, but some."
"Don't forget, Ensign," said Falcon quietly, "that it was the Earth Forces who violated Heliopolis' neutrality. We have a moral responsibility to take them aboard. And if they decide they have nothing to lose... the bridge doesn't have Phase-Shift Armor."
"Give them permission, Natarle. We don't have time to argue over such petty matters," Murrue ordered sharply, when it looked like the ensign would protest further. "Just give them permission, so that they'll land and we can get underway. We could use all the allies we can find."
Natarle looked sullen, but obeyed nonetheless. "As you command, Captain."
Falcon turned to the viewport, watching as the Strike brought the lifeboat and the disabled mobile armor towards the Archangel, the other two fighters following in the Strike's wake, sensors set to passive and targeting systems shut down, navigation lights blinking. They were coming in as non-threateningly as possible, well aware that the path they were taking had them in range of Igelstellung CIWS turrets and Gottfried beam cannons.
But something bugged him about the three mobile armors, fighters that looked like a hybrid of Flanker and Hornet...
He floated there for several moments, his mind spinning, processing the information and trying to puzzle out what it meant, only to be interrupted by Mu.
"About our plans. You were saying, Falcon?"
Seemingly unperturbed, Falcon went on calmly, "I was saying that we first need to choose a destination, before we can make any detailed plans. Given where we are... I would think Artemis would be the best choice -and perhaps only- choice."
"Artemis..." Murrue murmured thoughtfully.
"The Eurasian base with the light-wave barrier, right?" Mu scratched his head. "You're probably right about it being the only place in range, especially since we seem to have a small supply problem. But we may have another problem: Archangel doesn't have recognition codes to identify her to any of our allies."
"At this point, a relatively minor concern, I think." Falcon frowned. "What concerns me is that intelligence reports I read before my desertion indicated that an unmitigated jackass named Garcia is in charge there, and he likely would try something... untoward, if only to strengthen Eurasia's -and his own- position."
The Hawk disguised an aborted laugh as a coughing fit, but it was hard. That description of Garcia -whom Mu had heard things about, none of them good- would probably have been amusing under any circumstances, but coming from someone who spoke so tonelessly... I could swear that guy has a sense of humor...
"I suppose it'll have to do," Murrue decided. "Though we should probably be cautious. Now, what was the rest of your plan?"
The one-eyed pilot took another look at the display. "First of all, Artemis is just about the last place ZAFT forces would expect us to go. They'll expect us to head for the Ptolemaeus Base, on the Moon... not realizing we haven't the supplies to make it that far." He began to pace -or attempt its zero-gravity equivalent, at any rate- still thinking. "Bearing that in mind, we launch a decoy -with my knowledge of Nazca-class detection systems, I can make it all the more believable- on a logical course to the Moon. Then, whileVesalius hopefully heads off after our decoy, we point ourselves in the direction of Artemis, run the engines long enough to gain some decent speed, and then cut them off, using inertia to cross the remaining distance."
"A silent run, in other words," Natarle remarked, coming up out of CIC. "I like it, Captain."
"One thing, though," Falcon cautioned. "Rau isn't stupid; I highly doubt this will fool him. But it might buy us some time; and remember, he doesn't operate in a vacuum. He has to give the opinions of his subordinates some weight, and he also has to consider what'll happen if he's wrong."
"Then we'll go with it," Murrue decided. "Falcon, Sophia, you two get to work on modifying the decoys; but first, I want you to take a detour down to the hanger, see how things are going with Kira, that lifeboat, and the Orb NID team."
"Got it, Murrue," Sophia acknowledged, casting a glance at her brother; who, for his part, merely nodded, not revealing the distaste he felt at the notion of having to work with his sister.
After the pair had left, Murrue rubbed her temples. "You know, I think having both of them on the same ship is going to be a real headache."
Mu nodded, smiling slightly. "I'll grant it'll be interesting." He raised an eyebrow. "So, you go way back with those two, huh?"
"Yeah." She settled back into the command chair. "Sophia was a classmate of mine at the Academy -this was, of course, before the Alliance was formed- my roommate, and my best friend. I had occasion, during those years, to meet Falcon. He was just a kid back then, but smart; and not somebody you wanted to irritate." She smiled in memory. "He was about nine at the time, I think, but already into the martial arts; not quite at the brick-breaking level quite yet, but good enough to make potential attackers lose interest."
"Hm." The Hawk scratched his head. "Was he much like the Falcon you met earlier today?"
"Not in the least," Murrue said emphatically. "A bit quiet, but in the manner of a budding intellectual, not a cold-blooded warrior; and-" She broke off, frowning. "That's odd."
Mu tilted his head. "What is?"
The frown deepened. "I don't remember him having brown hair..."
Once again, security team members were waiting, rifles pointed at the trio of slate-gray mobile armors that had entered the hangar. Kira Yamato's Strike helped set Snow's motionless Fianna into an empty bay, before setting down the lifeboat beside it. With the ease of long practice, Jack and Saito parked their mobile armors on either side, popping the hatches; Saito remained in his cockpit while Jack jumped out, "swimming" to Snow's cockpit, working the emergency release and checking the vitals of the unconscious pilo
"Well, looks like he's out cold," sighed Jack. "Which means that I'm in command. Oh boy."
"Don't worry, Jack. If you get any urges to abuse your position, I'll just point my rifle at you."
"Alright, both of you! Hands in the air!" ordered the security team leader, rifle pointed at the two Section Nine pilots, and Saito gave Jack a flat look from his open cockpit.
"Now would be a good time for some of your fast talking." Engaging his cyberbrain communications, Saito mentally added, ::Try and distract them from shooting. I'll cover you, but this isn't the best place for a firefight.::
"Copy that." ::I'll distract them, just get your sniper rifle ready.::
::Too long to put it together. I'll use the Seburo.::
::That works. Okay, showtime, buddy. Here we go.::
"Good afternoon, gentlemen," said Jack carefully, removing his helmet and tucking it under his shoulder. "There's no need for the weaponry you're pointing at me. I'm not going to shoot you guys, and I really don't think your Captain will be happy at an international incident caused by Earth Forces troops shooting an Orb Navy officer. Besides, that would preclude us all getting to know each other and enjoying a friendly game of poker."
:: You're the most mercenary poker player I've ever met, Jack.::
::Saito, you take the pot more times than me.::
::That's because you don't have a poker face. Hmm. There's Flay Allster, getting off the lifeboat. Looks like history is proceeding more or less as I remember. Have you figured out what we're going to do after this?::
::We really need a council of war, get together and plan what we're gonna do,,::replied Jack. ::With great power comes great responsibility, or so some 20th century philosopher postulated. Look sharp, here comes The Major.:: He watched carefully as Falcon and his sister approached, Jack's body language relaxed and confident, a contrast to Falcon's cold inscrutability and the visibly radiating Sophia..
"So," began Sophia, "just who are you?"
The Section Nine pilot drew himself to attention and saluted. "Lieutenant Commander Jack David, serial number Delta-four-six-zero-two-one-four-eight-six-zero-nine. Current assignment: Black Card Team 01, Orb Navy Intelligence Division, investigating foreign military activity in Heliopolis." His lips curved slightly, as he added, "Permission to come aboard ship?"
"Permission granted," responded Sophia, returning salute. "Lieutenant (Senior Grade) Sophia DiFalco, Earth Forces, and this is-"
"Commander DiFalco, the Grimaldi Falcon, former commanding officer Gray Demons," said Jack, saluting again, the gesture sharper and crisper than before. "It's good to see you again, Sir. It's been a while."
"Lower your guns, troops," ordered Ken quietly, and the security team reluctantly lowered their weapons. "Orb isn't the enemy."
From inside the cockpit of his Fianna, Saito likewise safed his Seburo C-26A PDW, and his face relaxed slightly as the medical team arrived to the hangar. He looked at Jack, who met his gaze and nodded; the one-eyed sniper slung the PDW over his back and kicked off from the cockpit, coming to a stop beside Jack and saluting. "Lieutenant Saito, serial number Sierra-four-three-zero-nine-two-five-seven-zero-six-nine. Current assignment: Black Card Team 01."
"I see," began Sophia (she didn't, but there was no way she was going to admit that). "And your wounded pilot is…?"
"Lieutenant Commander Marcus Snow, my XO. He seems to be concussed, but I'd like the doctor to take a look at him, just to be sure." He looked at both DiFalcos, and added, "I guess we get changed and then go to see the Captain?"
"Of course," said Falcon, gesturing for the Section Nine pilots to go before him, as they retrieved their duffle bags and floated towards the ready room. As Jack and Snow floated before him, he turned around to look at the trio of mobile armors parked beside the lifeboat: a new type of mobile armor, nothing like the Mobius or the Mobius Zero. These mobile armors resembled conventional atmospheric fighters, their design hinting of a heritage stretching back to the twentieth century AD, with angled canard foreplanes set behind the cockpit, vertical stabilizers canted outwards, oversized engine pods, micromissile pods carried on underwing hardpoints, and a gunpod under the nose. Yet it was only as Falcon left the hangar that he realized what had been bugging him about the three mobile armors.
They were painted slate gray.
Gray Demons slate gray.
"Greetings, Captain Ramius, Commander la Flaga, Commander Badgiruel. I'm Lieutenant Commander Jack David, and this is my wingman Lieutenant Saito. Sorry about the coveralls, but these are what we use as Class Cs when on an investigation mission," said Jack cheerfully, smiling at theArchangel's officers, having changed from his flightsuit into slate gray coveralls with a black flight jacket (which had been hastily sanitized of all Section Nine insignia). He couldn't help it. Sure, they weren't exactly the same people he'd served with, befriended, and played poker with, but seeing the familiar faces lifted his spirits.
Then he realized what he'd just said, and blinked. Oops.
"I'm just a mere Lieutenant, sir, and I think the Ensign's off-kilter from her abrupt promotion," grinned the Hawk easily, and Jack grinned back, covering his stumble.
"Even in Orb, we've heard of the Hawk of Endymion. There's a betting pool on when the Earth Forces brass will get their asses in gear and promote you: sooner or later, La Flaga, you'll be a Lieutenant Commander. And the lowest rank a member of the Badgiruel family has ever achieved was Lieutenant Commander, so there should be no reason why the Ensign can't equal that achievement. And please, call me Jack. No need to stand on ceremony among pilots." He leaned forward conspiratorially, and added, "How about a wager between pilots? I'll bet you a hundred bucks that you'll be a Lieutenant Commander by Valentine's Day…"
Mu laughed and extended his hand, and they both shook on it, and Murrue sighed, shaking her head amusedly. Natarle wasn't so sanguine, but whatever she might have said was cut off by Saito's quiet voice.
"Let's put our cards on the table and deal," he said, casting a glance at Jack and Mu, both of whom straightened up and leaned against their bulkheads; Falcon was sitting on the ceiling, cross-legged. "Right now, we should be discussing what our plans are."
"We were planning on heading to Artemis," said Murrue. "Falcon and Lieutenant DiFalco will be modifying one of our decoys and sending it on a course to the Moon; hopefully, Vesalius will chase after it, allowing us to make a silent run to Artemis."
"I see," nodded Jack. "That makes sense. I take it that you're hoping to resupply at Artemis, since you don't have enough supplies to reach the moon."
"Precisely. It's not a perfect plan, but it's the best plan we have."
"There are always tradeoffs," murmured Saito. "And there are always unforeseeable situations…"
"That sounds like one of Falcon's sayings," commented Mu, and the eyepatch-wearing sniper chuckled lightly.
"Not exactly," he replied. "There's precedent for this sort of thing, isn't there?"
"Actually…" Murrue and Sophia looked at each other, a shared glance that spoke volumes. "It's been done before, but not many times."
"Oooohkaaaay, I think our success predictions just took a hit," winced Jack. "Still, long shots are better than nothing – and you have Strike, Raptor and the Zero, right? That should be able to hold off Gamow's MS team, worse comes to worse, if Le Creuset deploys them to try and head you off while he goes off chasing your decoy." He shared a meaningful glance with Saito, and sighed. "Our Fianna mobile armors aren't fully combat ready; the targeting computers are suffering data corruption and need a software reinstall and rewrite, followed by manually rezeroing our weapons, and I doubt we could squash all the bugs before Le Creuset shows up. On the other hand, a Fianna does happen to be more survivable than a Moebius… and all I'd really need to do is just head out there, make a nuisance of myself, draw enemy attention and then stay alive long enough for Raptor and Strike to settle the bandits, and maybe fire back a few shots to get their attention. Worse-case scenario, though, is that Le Creuset figures out what we're doing and catches us in a pincer; we'll really be in trouble then. But I guess before we can worry about that, we need to get settled…"
"Well, then, let's see about integrating your team into our order of battle," said Murrue, and the first joint Earth Forces-Orb (and one former ZAFT ace) mobile weapon wing was born.
Archangel, Hallway, 30 minutes later
As he stepped out from the bridge, his pocket computer beeped, and Falcon made a quick scan of the hallway, before ducking into a corner to check the message he'd received. What he read surprised him.
Snow Team reporting for duty to True ZAFT Commander Kenneth DiFalco. Request permission to make sitrep ASAP. Urgent intel affecting Shiva Option outcome and Lion of Orb discovered. Must speak to you face to face. Also, doesn't Leanne use witchcraft to make e-rats taste so good, and how's your heart – got enough batteries? And Shiho still has her crush on Yzak, doesn't she?- Jack David
Falcon narrowed his eyes at the email, his mind sorting probabilities and plans. It had been proven again and again that mobile armors were inferior weapons compared to mobile suits, which was why Rear Admiral Lewis Halberton had started the G-Weapon Project, aimed at creating mobile suits to counter ZAFT's trump card. But Jack had been confident that the Fianna mobile armors could hold off G-units, which meant that there was more than met the eye to the slate gray fighters, which meant that they could be useful assets if he could incorporate them into his battle plans.
He recognized the references in the last two sentences. Among the Gray Demons, it was a common joke that Leanne Eldridge was the only woman who could make emergency rations taste good, and that the only way she could do so was through witchcraft, a joke started by Sparky Cooper. His eyes narrowed at the second statement: few outside ZAFT knew that he had a replacement battery-supplemented heart – not even Uzumi Nara Athha knew of his heart. But what was that about Shiho having a crush on Yzak Joule?
At any rate, Black Card Team 01 was well informed about his activities, for a unit supposedly investigating military activity in Heliopolis. His mind sorted through the possibilities and probabilities, but Falcon knew that to get to the bottom of this, he would have to talk to them.
Saito knew when Jack had received the reply. The intelligence officer/pilot had a habit of cocking his head to the side when reading emails with his cyberbrain, eyes losing focus as they stared into the distance, before they refocused and he turned to Saito, who was already getting up. ::Where do we meet the Major?:: he cybercommed, wary of possible surveillance.
::Your habit predicting people's thoughts with a single glance is getting annoying:: replied Jack, as he turned to gaze at the unconscious Snow, strapped down to a bed in sickbay, quickly jotting something on a piece of paper. ::We're to meet him in his quarters. I'll leave a note for Snow in case he wakes up, and then we can go.::
::And just how are you going to convince him you're on the level?::
::Simple. I tell the truth. And don't say anything about how the truth is incompatible with me, just because of my gift of suckering people into bets that they end up losing.::
The two pilots 'swam" through the Archangel's corridors, arriving outside Falcon's quarters, and stood still momentarily, looking at the hatch in silent contemplation, a silence broken only by Jack's wry observation: "Well, we sure aren't in Orb anymore…"
Saito chuckled and extended his hand to press the hatch intercom button; before his finger made contact, the hatch slid open, and Falcon beckoned them to enter. The hatch slid shut behind them, and both Section Nine operatives came to attention. "Snow Team pilots David and Saito, reporting to the Major," said Jack formally. "Uh, I mean, Commander DiFalco."
::That was smooth.::
Jack chose to ignore Saito's sarcasm.
Falcon watched them for a while, his gaze piercing. "So you aren't really with Orb NID."
"Nope," said Jack. "Though Saito and I are Navy Reserve officers, that's merely part of our cover. We're with the non-affiliated counterterrorist unit known as Section Nine, established after the First Bloody Valentine War to fulfill much of the same role True ZAFT will fulfill during the Shiva Option." He met Falcon's gaze head on, adding, "Section Nine will be commanded by an ace pilot from True ZAFT's ranks, a man hand-picked by Commander DiFalco to lead the organization succeeding True ZAFT; operating under the codename of 'The Major', he will be in the forefront of Section Nine operations during the Second Bloody Valentine War and in the dismantling of LOGOS, the body that's pulling the strings behind Blue Cosmos. The Major's skill in battle will be equaled only by the Grimaldi Falcon… because you, Sir, will be the Major. But that's next year.
"I know of GENESIS, Sir. I know of Shiva Option Three, of the roles that Lance Cooper, Tom Delaney and Leanne Eldrige are playing in the PLANTs, constructing Arkbird and Asmodeus. I know the details of almost every battle the Archangel will be forced to fight from now until Second Jachin, where GENESIS will be destroyed."
"As to how I know all this, it's a simple, and admittedly unbelievable answer. We're from nine years in the future."
"I assume you can prove this," replied Falcon, reading their body language.
In response, Jack turned around and folded down the collar of his jacket, revealing the cyberbrain input/output socket embedded at the back of his neck. He took out his pocket computer and a small cable, and plugged the computer into the socket, turning to face Falcon, his eyes unfocused as he transferred data from his cyberbrain into the computer. His computer chirped as the data finished transferring, and he unplugged it, handing it to Falcon. "They say a picture is worth a thousand words; if so, actual battlefield data recordings must be worth a few hundred thousand words then."
Falcon took the pocket computer, a model he recognized as an evolution to his own computer, and began sifting through the data, his expression unreadable to Jack and Saito. He was thoughtful as he absorbed the images and video recordings of the ZGMF-X00 Preybird in action, a mobile suit he intended to use to complete the Shiva Option.
A mobile suit that existed only as a concept within his mind.
The articles on the Bloody Valentine War were in-depth and well-researched, particularly the excerpts that Jack had picked out from Jess Rable's book on True ZAFT, far too in-depth to have been fabrications, including True ZAFT's Order of Battle (and here he raised a mental eyebrow, seeing Andrew Waltfeld listed as one of True ZAFT's ship captains). The presence of the Odin and Rear Admiral Lewis Halberton in True ZAFT's ORBAT gave him a momentary lightness in his heart; he'd known Lewis Halberton when the older man was still a mobile armor pilot, prior to the attempted blockade which had seen both of them on opposite sides.
That reminds me. Lewis owes me ten bucks and a new machine gun, he thought, keeping his face still. Must not break cover.
The next file he looked through gave him pause. It was a picture of a group of pilots, wearing slate gray flightsuits and black flight jackets, three of whom were wearing red-hilted katanas with their flightsuits, save for the figure in the center of the photo, wearing a gray coat over his flightsuit. His eyes swept through the sea of faces, some familiar, some not, eyebrows rising fractionally seeing Tom Delaney and Leanne Eldridge standing beside an older Ken DiFalco amongst the pilots, and zeroed in on three pilots standing together: Jack David, Marcus Snow, and Saito. So they really were my subordinates, he thought, reading the chilling photo comment: "March 10th CE 73. Section Nine pilots & Major, prior to Junius Seven colony drop."
If that wasn't short sentence wasn't bad enough, the last video file –appearing as if from a helmet camera- was of a giant gamma ray beam firing from a mobile asteroid fortress, one that he didn't recognize… but a fortress which screamed ZAFT! to his instincts. He looked up from the computer, his eyes hard. "ZAFT builds another GENESIS?" he demanded harshly. And someone dared to drop Junius Seven on the Earth?!
"Yep," nodded Saito grimly. "We were there. And we put a stop to it. And now we'll do the same again."
"Moment of truth, Commander," said Jack, determination present in his tone. "We didn't want to come back into the past. We were flung back because of a freak accident. We're adrift in time, with no way to get back to our timeline. And, well, we need directions. We aren't exactly setup for independent operations. We may not be your Demons, but we serve the same ideals. Your cause is our cause." He braced to attention, saluting in the ZAFT style.
"Commander DiFalco. On my authority as Snow Team XO, I hereby request permission for our team to join your unit."
Ken slowly lowered the computer, letting it float in zero-g, and slowly, formally, returned Jack and Saito's salutes. "We won't be operating with that name yet, but welcome to True ZAFT, soldiers. We'll start with a full sitrep of your unit."
"Yes Sir," responded Jack, fighting the urge to grin and dance a jig. "We have three TRVF-X51A Fianna transformable mobile suits parked in the hangar, in fighter mode. Each Fianna is powered by a nuclear reactor and an N-jammer canceler –they did come from the future, afterall- and my unit and Snow's carry four 18-cell Firestorm micromissile launchers, 2 beam sabers and an underchin beam gunpod. Saito's unit has two Firestorm launchers, and replaces the gunpod with a Caladbolg beam smartrifle, essentially an uber sniper rifle. Our units mount Variable Phase-Shift armor; VPS is a postwar improvement over standard PSA, allowing greater flexibility and tactical options."
"You can reprogram VPS on the fly," said Saito. "I have a palette of camouflage options stored in my Fianna's computer; just hit a few buttons and I have an appropriate camo scheme for any mission."
"And if it's powered by a nuclear reactor, you could adjust it to be stronger than standard PSA," mused Falcon.
"Essentially, yeah," nodded Jack. "We're still not fully combat capable though. The freak accident that threw us back in time corrupted our targeting systems and wiped our driver data; we need to work on our units to fix the problems, and at this point, the only way we could hit anything would be to stay in mobile armor mode. Which will be a problem near Artemis."
"Well, as you know, Sir, Le Creuset is smart, cunning, and an utterly devious bastard," began Jack, assuming a lecturing position. "He'll make it look as if Vesalius is chasing Archangel's decoy, while he sendsGamow to cut us off. He'll then turn around and catch us in a pincer. He'll have Gamow cut off Archangel's line of retreat, while flanking us from our nine o'clock. This is what happened before, so it'll most likely happen again. Still… it should be possible to beat them off. Archangel isn't lacking in weaponry, Kira Yamato will be the best pilot of the War, and we've got the Hawk of Endymion and the Grimaldi Falcon covering us. And two Fianna mobile armors… well, when we can fix our targeting systems."
Falcon nodded thoughtfully, his mind racing over the possibilities, as Jack retrieved his computer, plugged it into his neck socket, and began sorting for the Fianna's tech specs. "An implanted bio-computer?" asked Falcon.
"Pretty much," replied Saito. "Our cyberbrains have short-range commo capability, wireless net connection, improved memory storage and recall. Cyberbrains were a ZAFT innovation; they haven't really taken off among the public, at least not yet; most people using them are military. A good number of Section Nine's personnel have them; they get really handy." His eye widened slightly and he looked at Jack. The other pilot was oblivious to him, so Saito sighed, reached into his jacket, and drew his sidearm.
Section Nine's standard issue sidearm was the Seburo M-11, essentially a Seburo M-10 pistol rechambered for 11.43mm, the caliber that had been known ages ago as ".45ACP", the most successful pistol caliber in history. True, it only held 12 rounds in the magazine, compared to the twenty in a 5.45mm M-10, but each round was enough to put a man down. Each pistol, already reliable, durable and accurate, had been stripped down and rebuilt, painstakingly and meticulously, by the hands of Corporal Julio Poertena, Section Nine's eccentric Filipino armorer from the Equatorial Union. Each pistol was issued to its user and remained with the user for life (or as close as possible, given the inherent risk in Section Nine activity, plus the fact that the Earth Forces hated them). Saito's pistol sported a modification he'd asked for: an integral laser sight mounted under the barrel. He raised the pistol and turned on the laser sight, and a red dot appeared on Jack's neck.
One of Jack's problems, Snow had found, was that he could occasionally lose his situational awareness and get too caught up in his circumstances, too busy thinking to move or act (particularly when he was planning to sucker someone into a bet). One of the few things that could shake him was the feeling of a laser sight over his neck. None of them could explain his sensitivity to laser sights, but Snow had immediately designated Saito as the laser spotter to shock Jack back to reality.
Which is exactly what happened, as Jack started, and said, very carefully, "Saito, please turn it off."
"Got your attention," he smirked, before turning serious and tapping behind his neck. "Snow's got a cyberbrain, and the doc was looking him over."
"Oh crap," muttered Jack, and he bolted for the door. "Sorry, sir, permission to dismiss gotta leanupohcrapthisisnot-"
"Go," ordered Falcon, and Jack nearly broke the sound barrier on his way to sickbay. "He just realized that Snow has a cyberbrain and that Doc Hibson would have seen the sockets?"
"And only realized it when I waved my laser sight over him," agreed Saito, holstering his pistol. "I was a bit worried you were going cut my hand off again though," he added wryly.
"Your hammer was decocked and the magazine well was empty. I don't like guns, but I know how to use them."
"Like the PSG-1 in your rucksack," agreed Saito, recalling his up close and personal experience of the antique sniper rifle. "In addition to what Jack told you, there's something else we need to decide about."
"Then let's hear it…"
Archangel, Crew Quarters
"I wonder where the ship is headed," Kuzzey said, sighing. "Be nice if they'd tell us something."
"The ZAFT forces are still out there," Sai pointed out. "I doubt they'll just let us go without a fight; not after all they've already done."
"They're intent on gettin' their hands on this ship, and those mobile suits," Tolle said pensively. "They wanted to do that even before Falcon turned up; and now that he's here, I bet they're really mad."
Flay's eyes widened. "What? You mean we're in even greater danger than we would be on that lifeboat? Please tell me it's not true!"
"Would you rather be stuck on that damaged lifeboat?" Mir asked pointedly. "Besides, we've got a fighting chance. We all saw what the Strike can do, and Falcon's a ZAFT ace..."
The red-head turned to her. "But can we trust him?"
"We've all been asking ourselves that," Tolle informed her. "But you know... he shot down two GINNs out there today. He may not be happy with the Earth Forces, but you can bet he's not going back to ZAFT, either. He can't."
"And," his girlfriend added, "he's a good person. All along, I've felt he can be trusted; and everything he's done today has supported that."
"Would Kira Yamato be here, by any chance?"
The heretofore silent Kira looked up as Mu spoke. "Lieutenant?"
"Mr. Murdoch's got a little problem," the pilot informed him. "We don't have enough people to maintain both mobile suits, the Fiannas and the Zero... so you'll have to take care of your machine."
Kira blanched. "My machine? Wait a minute! Since when is the Strike my machine?"
Mu smiled slightly. "Let's just say that's how things worked out. After all, we only have five pilots; and I thought you said you'd protect this ship?"
"That was for the battle in Heliopolis!" the Coordinator protested. "I never said anything about-"
"Maybe not, but the situation hasn't really changed, has it?" The Hawk sighed. "Kira, you have the power to make a difference, don't you? So why not put it to good use?" He paused, tilting his head. "And think about this: Falcon's arguments make as much sense now as they did a few hours ago."
With that, Mu left; and Kira was left with his own thoughts. "But..."
Shaking his head, he suddenly ran off. "Kira, wait!" Mir called after him.
Flay glanced around. "Hey, wait a second! So, Kira was the one piloting that mobile suit? But... why? Is he like Falcon...?"
"No," Mir said emphatically. "He is a Coordinator," she admitted, "but he was never with ZAFT to begin with. He's one of us, a cherished friend."
One of Saito's most effective skills was his ability to read people's intentions by looking at their faces. For as far a he could remember, he'd always had this ability, which he had carefully and steadily honed as he went through life. It was a skill that he'd relied on in his career as a sniper, first for the Earth Forces, then as a freelance mercenary, and finally as an operative of Section Nine. (It was also very useful in poker games, allowing him to see who was bluffing.) It wasn't an infallible skill –absently, he rubbed his eyepatch, where he once possessed a left eye, briefly remembering the events that had brought about his loss- and he'd been fooled before. But he didn't need this skill to read the troubled expression on the face of the brown-haired youth who entered the hangar. He stopped his work on Snow's Fianna, considering whether to speak to the teen, and then the decision was made for him, as he saw who entered the hangar after Kira.
Kira Yamato stood on the walkway before the Strike, Birdie on his shoulder, his thoughts in turmoil. I know how to pilot it... but that doesn't mean I can use it in battle... Why me? he demanded of the world in general.
"Tough choice, isn't it?"
He spun around, to find Falcon floating in the air behind him with the ease of one long at home in space. "Falcon?"
The one-eyed pilot nodded at the Strike. "You know how to use it, but you doubt your combat skills... and you don't know if you want to use them if you have them. That's how it is, right?"
"Yeah," Kira admitted. "I know I flew it before, but... I'm not a soldier, and I don't want to be one. I hate war, Falcon."
"So does any sane soldier," Falcon pointed out. "Me included."
The younger man's eyes narrowed. "So why'd you join ZAFT?"
The ace thought back. "It was the summer of 68," he recalled. "Not long after the Mandelbrot Incident, and ZAFT was first reorganized into a kind of militia."
Kira was familiar with the incident, of course: when space forces from the sponsor nations attacked a convoy carrying, among other things, food supplies for the PLANTs; a convoy including the Mandelbrot herself, the ship after which the incident was named.
"I was young, idealistic, and maybe just a little stupid," Falcon went on. "Sophia had left years before to join the Atlantic Federation military -though I didn't know that till today- so my only remaining loyalty was to the PLANTs. So I signed up, wound up as a mobile suit pilot, and saw combat during the attempted blockade in 69." His voice hardened. "And I was there, at Junius Seven, and... Endymion."
"So you fought for your homeland," Kira said, nodding. "But what does that have to do with me, and why I should be fighting?"
"It has everything to do with it, Kira." Falcon looked him in the eye. "You said I 'fought' for my homeland. Truth is, I still am. What I'm telling you is this: to protect the PLANTs I had to do something I didn't want to do. To protect that which you wish to protect, you may have to do something you don't want to."
"I know..." He sighed. "But there's something else..."
"Ah, of course." The pilot nodded. "You don't want to fight Athrun Zala."
Kira jerked violently. "How did you know that?"
If he didn't know better, he'd have sworn Falcon was suppressing a chuckle. "How did you think I knew who you were, when I first came to Heliopolis? Kira, when I was on medical leave following Endymion -never mind what the injuries were- I taught a couple of classes at the ZAFT academy. While there, I met Athrun, and he mentioned you." The blue gaze sharpened. "And that, Kira, brings me to the other reason you're needed to fight: you don't want to fight the Aegis' pilot... and I don't want to fight another of Rau's men."
Kira blinked. "Huh? Why not?"
Falcon rubbed his eyepatch. "The day before I deserted, a fellow by the name of Dearka Elsman was transferred to the Le Creuset team." He met Kira's eyes. "I have a strong suspicion he flies one of the stolen G-weapons... and Dearka happens to be my best friend."
The younger Coordinator nodded in sudden comprehension. No wonder he's so cold, he thought. I may have to fight Athrun, but Falcon has to fight his entire military... and his best friend. I can't imagine what that must be like...
Kira looked up. "So you're saying we need each other," he said. "I may have to fight your friend, and you... might have to fight mine..."
Falcon read the look in Kira's eyes. "I know, Kira. You don't want Athrun hurt, even if you don't have to do it yourself. Well, you can relax; I have no intention of shooting to kill if I can possibly avoid it. Except, of course, with Rau, and possibly Yzak Joule, if he's still with the team."
Kira sighed, relieved. "I see. But..." He hesitated. "What if... what if I...?"
"What if you have to kill Dearka?" The ace shrugged. "I don't think that'll happen in this battle, if it occurs. We'll be up against four G-weapons, so I daresay we'll have our hands full just trying to hold them off."
"I guess you're probably right." Amethyst eyes turned to the Strike, while the mind behind them thought furiously.
Falcon simply waited patiently. As a longtime student of the martial arts, patience was something he had in abundance... and he had his own thinking to do.
Dearka... you'll be out there, won't you? Will you be the first to try to execute me, amigo? I expect you to do your duty, as I would in your place... but I hope you'll at least hear me out first. We have much to discuss, you and I; and with my usual channels cut, I need information about the situation in the PLANTs. I need to know how much I need do with the Earth Forces... and I need to know if it has been completed. Jack's information tells me that it isn't ready yet, but even he admits that his intel needs verification.
At last, Kira turned to face his fellow pilot again. "Okay," he said wearily. "I'll do it. We're the only ones who can protect this ship... and if you're willing to fight your own comrades, can I really do less?"
Falcon clapped him on the shoulder. "Kira, you have every right to sit this out; but it sounds like you're one of those guys who couldn't look themselves in the mirror if they had a chance to make a difference, and didn't." His cool voice took on a subtle, peculiar edge. "One piece of advice: don't think of this as fighting your own people. No matter what anyone else may say, those in the PLANTs are not 'your' people simply because they're Coordinators; what your genes look like is irrelevant. 'Your people' are those like Tolle, Mir, and the others: your friends. Remember that."
"I'll try," Kira promised. He tilted his head. "By the way, Falcon... why did you desert?"
The single eye closed. "Let's just say that there are those in the PLANTs who desire more than simple independence... and I played a critical role in one of the projects meant to make their goals happen." His hand unconsciously stroked the hilt of his wakizashi. "With my absence, the plan will be having difficulties, but it is not enough; and so I strive for a balance, a stalemate. A way to bring the war to an end in a manner that grants independence to the PLANTs, but without the victory being so overwhelming that... Well, it doesn't really matter now." Falcon shook himself. "Well, I'd better get to the Bridge; I have the distinct feeling things are about to go wrong."
"I don't like this..." Mu murmured. "It's too easy."
They'd been running silent for over two hours now, on course to Artemis, but something didn't feel right to the Hawk of Endymion. Something was about to happen... and he had the distinct feeling that it wouldn't be good. Their already limited combat strength had been depleted further by Saito launching in Snow's Fianna on a recon run; all the one-eyed pilot/intelligence operative would say was that it was intelligence business. That hadn't soothed Mu's nerves one bit; he had always been wary of intelligence types. (And mindful of Falcon's Lesson Eleven: "'Military Intelligence' is a contradiction in terms.")
"It is that," Falcon agreed, floating in his nook on the Bridge, where he'd parked himself. "Of course, it could simply be because of the sheer ludicrousness of Artemis."
Natarle glanced up in CIC. "What do you mean, Commander?"
"The Umbrella Shield," he replied. "The light-wave barrier. Certainly it's nice to have an impenetrable defense... but recall Sun Tzu's words: 'To unfailingly take what you attack, attack where there is no defense. For unfailingly secure defense, defend where there is no attack.'"
Murrue nodded. "In other words, Artemis is defending where there is no attack. After all, who cares about a military satellite at L3, of all places?"
"Exactly." Falcon shook his head. "We considered attacking Artemis, just after Endymion, but in the end we decided against it. Why bother?"
"Heat source detected!" Pal interrupted. "From nine o'clock!"
The pilot was at his side in an instant, examining the readings."Nazca-class," he reported. "That'll be Vesalius, for sure."
Murrue closed her eyes. "They saw through our deception; but where's their Laurasia?"
"They probably split up, to cover us and the decoy," Mu mused. "They couldn't take the risk of letting us slip past."
Falcon frowned. "That sounds logical... but it's not right, I can feel it. Which means... not good." He straightened. "'So if you know the place and time of battle, you can join the fight from a thousand miles away.'"
The Hawk hissed. "It's a trap!" Just as Jack worried – speak of the devil, here he is, he thought, as the Orb pilot arrived on the bridge, visibly agitated and looking as if he'd swum a mile.
"Got here as fast as I could swim," he gasped. "It's Le Creuset , isn't it? He's caught us in a pincer."
"Yes." His future commander punched buttons on Pal's console, taking in the data that scrolled across the screen. "Got it. TheLaurasia-class -looks to be the Gamow- is directly astern of us." His face tightened imperceptibly. "I knew Rau wouldn't be fooled, but I thought we'd have a little more time. Well, no help for it." He looked over at Mu. "Time to start planning how we're going to get out of this one alive, Mu."
"Right." Mu cocked his head. "The Strike?"
"We have a pilot," Falcon informed him. "Kira has agreed to keep flying it."
A relieved sigh. "Good. That takes care of one problem. Saito hasn't come back yet, has he?"
"Nope," replied Jack, floating over the tactical displays. "He can make it to Artemis on his own if he has to... but yeah, he isn't back yet. We'll have to do without him and Snow."
"Right." Mu wasn't too happy about that; even when they'd outnumbered the opposition, the Earth Forces had consistently lost engagements with ZAFT's mobile suits; when the enemy outnumbered them, things weren't going to go well for the Archangel at all – especially when Le Creuset had four G-weapons toArchangel's two. The Hawk glanced at Natarle. "Bring me a map of this area, will you? And Falcon: I need to know exactly what a Nazca's performance is."
"Right." Out came the ubiquitous pocket computer,s and Falcon started tapping keys.
Sophia looked at it curiously. "Just how much data is in that thing, Falcon?"
After several minutes of discussion, the rudiments of a plan had been hammered out.
The other four students from Heliopolis were sitting at a table when the pace began to pick up again. "Man..." Tolle sighed. "To think I thought this was going to be a normal day when I got up this morning. I never dreamed anything like this would happen."
"I know," Mir agreed. "It's... it's like this is all a dream."
"Yeah." Sai idly cleaned his glasses. "I keep expecting to wake up and find this was all a dream. But I won't, will I?"
"Doesn't look like it," Kuzzey said gloomily. "Earth Forces mobile suits, ZAFT mobile suits, a new warship, a ZAFT deserter... I just can't keep up with all that's happening."
"And now it looks like the ship's about to be in a battle again," Mir whispered. "What's going to happen to us now?"
"All hands to Level One Battlestations! All hands to Level One Battlestations!" The voice on the intercom paused. "Kira Yamato to the Bridge! Kira Yamato to the Bridge!"
"Yep, looks like another battle," Tolle said sardonically. "But... you think Kira's really going out there?"
"I hate to say it, but I hope so." Sai sighed. "Without him out there, our chances wouldn't look very good."
"But Falcon could handle it!" Kuzzey insisted. "He's a Coordinator too, and a ZAFT ace! Why does Kira need to fight?"
Mir looked at him reprovingly. "Kuzzey, Falcon isn't some kind of super-soldier; he may be a Coordinator, but he's still human. Besides, have you forgotten that he's going to have to fight his own comrades out there? It can't be easy for him."
"Right," Tolle agreed. He looked at his classmates. "You know... maybe we should do our part. We were at a technical college; we know how things work. Maybe it's time we gave them some support, you know?"
There was no argument.
Doc Hibson sat in his chair and pondered his dilemma, looking at the x-rays he'd taken of Snow's skull, shaking his head and sighing.
"They don't pay me enough for this;" he muttered sourly. "People from the future. Computers implanted into the brain. Threatening a doctor in his sickbay. Rau Le Creuset chasing us. Heliopolis collapsing."
Doc Hibson was normally a rather easygoing good-natured person, but he could occasionally get stressed out, particularly around snow. The fact that his patient's name was Snow and he hated the white fluffy substance was bad enough, but then to find computer sockets in the man's neck and an implanted computer in the man's brain?
He had been ready to go to the Captain and tell her of this detail when Jack had barged into sickbay, frantic, and had begun his impassioned debate that could be summed up in four words: "Don't tell the Captain."
Hibson had immediately begun his own counterattack: he was a doctor, afterall, and doctors were well-versed in talking people into doing what the doctor said. (Nevermind that he hadn't succeeded in talking his sister out of joining the Marines). Jack had finally gotten him to keep quiet with one desperate statement: "Please, Doc. If you tell the Captain, Falcon is going to cut you to pieces, and I don't really want that to happen."
The doctor wasn't happy about having to throw in the towel, but he also knew of Kenneth DiFalco's reputation: the Grimaldi Falcon was not known for moderation where his mission was concerned – something aptly seen in his Lessons of War, as quoted by Jack:
Lesson Seventeen: "If the problem seems insoluble, sometimes all you need is a bigger hammer."
Lesson Twenty-eight: "Anything worth shooting is worth shooting twice."
Lesson Forty-two: "Better overkill than underkill."
Faced with ample proof that his persistence would be rewarded with the separation of his body into smaller pieces, Hibson had given up on telling the Captain about Snow's cyberbrain (and that the supposed Black Card Team 01 were from the future), and was in the midst of deleting his reports (under Jack's agitated eye) when the announcement calling all hands to Level One Battlestations came in and Jack rushed to the bridge, leaving him with the last piece of evidence to destroy: Snow's x-rays.
"They don't pay me enough for this," he repeated, staring at the x-rays for a long moment, before putting them into his safe and securing all breakables and loose objects. Once done, he went and prepared sickbay, setting out his tools and drugs, bandages and blood packs, prepping medical equipment and making the beds. His task done, he sat down at his desk, and waited, hoping against hope that his services would not be needed...but ready nontheless.
Archangel was heading back into combat, and no matter his qualms, when duty called him, Ranjit Hibson would not be found wanting.
To Be continued…
Author's Notes: And thus begins my most ambitious project ever: an epic retelling of Solid Shark's Birds of a Feather. I'd like to thank Solid for allowing me this chance to place a new spin on his work, and to arekuruu-inabikari-no-She who was my beta reader. This one's for you guys!
A few things that I'd like to note before I get lynched: Yes, the Snow Team/Black Card Team 01 have cyberbrains. Yes, those are from Ghost in the Shell. They're side charecters in Cry of the Falcon, Solid's sequel to BoaF. As Millenia Crescent already has a cyberbrain (check chapter 7 of CotF), and they're from 6 eyars after CotF, I figured that GitS-style cyberbrains should be starting to show up and become more common (though a cyberbrain computing revolution hasn't kicked off yet).
More of Saito's backstory is available in another fic of mine, Beware the Left Eye, which denotes his first meeting with Falcon.
And with that, I leaveyou for now. Fair winds and following seas, and I hope that you'll follow me as we go about this journey! - Wild Goose