Disclaimer: Gundam SEED is the 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 Odin is the creation of Deathzealot, used with kind permission. The character 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.
With thanks to Solid Shark, who allowed this stab at an AU retelling of Birds of a Feather.
Debris Belt, Ruins of Junius Seven
In an eye blink, the GINN was gone, and three eyes stared at where it had been: Kira's two, and Falcon's one. They were both quite oblivious to the radio calls from the shuttle they had just rescued.
"Thanks, guys," Kuzzey called, sounding as though all the blood in his body had been replaced by adrenaline.
"We owe you one," Chandra added. "Thanks."
"Hey!" Mu called from the Archangel. "What happened?"
Kira shut off his receiver, refusing to hear anything at all, and pounded his fists against his displays. "Why?" he shouted, unheard in his cockpit.
Falcon, however, shook himself and keyed his microphone. "Falcon here, Mu. It's okay; we had a GINN come out to play, but we got it." Two more of my comrades dead, he thought bitterly. How many more must die before this war is ended? "Didn't have much of a choice," he went on. "It saw the shuttle, so we couldn't let it leave. I could've tried a disabling shot, but there wasn't time..."
"That's how it is in war, Falcon, you know that," the Hawk said quietly. "You knew the day you took over that machine that you'd have to fight, and even kill, your comrades; don't flip out on me now."
"Not to worry, Mu," Falcon replied, voice steady. "If the Bloody Valentine didn't break me, nothing will. Doesn't mean I like it, though."
"True. How's the kid?"
The ace glanced at the motionless Strike, and shook his head. "I don't know. His radio's shut off, and his machine isn't moving; beyond that, I haven't the slightest idea."
"I see." Mu sighed. "Well, that should be the last load of ice; once it's aboard, you should get back here, too, and then if the kid's still in a funk we'll figure a way to get him back."
Kira, meanwhile, finally looked up through blurry eyes, as something on his instrument panel beeped. "Huh...? What a minute, that's a lifepod... But what's it doing out here, in the Debris Belt?"
Not thinking to tell anyone what he was up to, he guided his machine toward the source of the distress signal.
"Hey Murdoch, what's the ruckus?" called Jack from his Fianna's cockpit, rubbing his aching eyes. Among the advantages cyberbrains conferred to users, both Natural and Coordinator, was that with the right software and training, a pilot could directly plug into his mobile suit's computer, allowing him to debug his OS faster by virtue of a direct connection, rather than manual typing on a keyboard. Unfortunately he couldn't do that right now or he'd have to answer some uncomfortable questions, such as how he had a device that didn't exist yet.
"The Kid found a lifepod and he's bringing it in!" called the burly Chief Mechanic. "We're getting ready to crack it open once he gets here."
:: Probably Lacus Clyne's pod, :: cybercommed Snow, eyes intent on his own diagnostics.
:: I'll stand by, :: remarked Saito; ever watchful, as befitting a sniper, discretely assembling his Seburo C-26A PDW inside his cockpit; the sniper rifle would be too cumbersome in close quarters.
:: Right. Jack, float out and run interference, :: ordered Saito.
:: What interference? I'm up to my eyeballs in code here! ::
:: Major's landing and he'll have questions. ::
:: Why me? :: asked the intelligence officer sourly.
:: You mutinied. :: Even over the cyberbrain-to-cyberbrain communications, Snow's smirk was audible.
After the Strike dragged its cargo back to the Archangel, the officers, volunteers, Snow Team and several of the crew gathered in front of the lifepod while Murdoch worked at its hatch controls.
Natarle shook her head in a mixture of exasperation and rueful amusement. "You sure have a talent for retrieving things other people have left behind," she told Kira. "Maybe you should join the Junk Guild."
Kira blinked, but said nothing; his attention was focused on the lifepod.
"Any idea who's in that thing?" Mu said to Falcon, sotto voce.
"A notion," the pilot acknowledged. "I know who used to use the ship this thing came from; but things may have changed, and even if they haven't, she might not be the one in that pod." His hand rested idly on the hilt of his katana, and his eye was wary.
"'She'?" Mu asked.
"I should get an autograph," mused Jack. "Naomi would be thrilled."
Mu looked at him, seeking an answer and not finding one. "Okay," Murdoch called. "I think I've got it; stand back, everybody."
The only change among the assembled men and women was the security men raising their rifles, Saito sighting in on the lifepod hatch, and Falcon imperceptibly tightening his grip on his sheathed blade. They were ready for whatever might come out of there... or so they thought.
The hatch opened, and to the utter bemusement of everyone present, a pink ball floated out, muttering unintelligibly at the world in general.
The officers looked at each other in confusion, then turned almost as one to Falcon; but the ex-ZAFT ace was just as confused as they were. What the devil is that?
Then their gazes snapped back to the lifepod, as a voice spoke. "Thank you! Your assistance is very much appreciated!"
They stared as a pink-haired teenage girl drifted out of the pod... and Commander Kenneth DiFalco instinctively snapped to attention, right hand coming up in an automatic salute.
Mu glanced at him in surprise. "You know her, Falcon?" he whispered.
"I ought to," the pilot replied, just as quietly. "She personally presented the Order of the Nebula to me."
His older brother drew back in surprise, and then both their gazes were drawn back to the pink-haired girl, whose uncontrolled movement through the air had been arrested by Kira, who caught hold of her hand.
"Thank you," she said, with a grateful smile; then she turned to look at the assembled crew. It didn't take long for her eyes to come to a rest on the one man present who wore an eyepatch.
Before she could determine why he looked familiar, Falcon lowered the salute. "Hello, Miss Lacus," he said quietly. "It's been... some time." He bowed slightly. "I realize the uniform is a bit different these days, but I believe you may remember me."
Lacus Clyne gasped. "Commander DiFalco! I'd heard you were missing!" She glanced around again. "So, this is a ZAFT vessel?"
Falcon winced; he wasn't looking forward to the explanations that would surely be asked of him... and her, he could not refuse to answer. "No, Miss Lacus, I'm afraid it isn't. I'm afraid it's a very long story, but this ship belongs to the Earth Forces."
Now she was clearly confused. "Umm... may I ask what's going on?"
"He's right," Kira told her. "But you're safe now. Uh... welcome."
Natarle covered her eyes with one hand. Oh, things just keep getting better and better. First a Coordinator turns up piloting the Strike, then he brings his friends along for the ride; after that, a famous ZAFT ace joins us and professes to be trying to secure victory for the PLANTs. Now this girl turns up, and only Commander DiFalco knows who she is. Ugh.
Mu looked at his brother. "Just what is going on here, Falcon?"
"She's Lacus Clyne, Mu," Falcon replied. "As in Siegel Clyne. She's his daughter, and one of the most respected figures in the PLANTs. I know her, slightly; as I said, she presented the Order of the Nebula to me, and as I recall, a member of my team was being considered for her bodyguard contingent."
Murrue finally shook herself out of the semi-stupor Lacus' appearance had put her in. "Ahem. Miss... Miss Clyne, would you please join me in my office, along my officers?"
Lacus nodded readily. "Yes, of course. I imagine we have a great deal to discuss." She looked over at the one-eyed pilot. "I would ask that Commander DiFalco be present, as well."
The Captain turned to Falcon, and, when he raised no objection, she nodded. "Very well. The rest of you, back to your duties. Chief Neumann, you have the Bridge."
"Aye, Ma'am." It was technically unusual for a noncommissioned officer to hold the watch, but since Archangel had a grand total of three officers -at least, three Earth Forces officers- due allowances were made.
As they began to make their way out of the hanger, Mu turned to Falcon. "So which member of your team was being considered for that assignment? Did I ever run into him?"
"Once," the pilot acknowledged. "At least, once that I can recall with certainty. His name's Lance Cooper, but everybody calls him Sparky; he was my XO, at Endymion and a couple of other places."
The Hawk raised an eyebrow. "Why do people call him Sparky?"
He could have sworn there was the faintest shadow of a smile on Falcon's face. "That's a long, interesting, and amusing story, Mu. Remind me to tell you sometime, when we're not as busy."
"Right..." Sparky, huh? I bet that's quite the tale... I'm glad I never faced the guy directly; if he was a Gray Demon, and the XO, he wouldn't have been a pushover. Falcon didn't choose weaklings for his team.
As the small party departed for the Captain's office, Jack watched them leave and sighed longingly, an action that did not go unnoticed by Snow.
"No Jack, you are not allowed to ask her for an autograph."
"It's taken me years to work up my courage and now you stand in my way? Oh traitorous friend! You who I called my brother. How could you betray me so? Are my desires nought but ash to you? Do you not feel the cry of my heart's desire?"
Snow ignored his theatrics, choosing instead to resume typing on his tablet computer.
"Do you really want Snow to answer that?" asked Saito amusedly. "You know he's gonna shoot you down.
"Point," acknowledged Jack, sighing with resignation. "So close yet so far...'
"Done yet?" asked Snow, eyebrow raised meaningfully.
"Just getting started with my rant," replied Jack, blithely.
Nacht Jaeger, Bridge
Victor Tempest, alias Huckebein the Raven, sat in his chair, thinking, while his ship's captain conferred with the radio operator. So, my orders are to kill Commander DiFalco... That suits me just fine. After all, he killed me, last year... time to pay back that old debt. I'd have done it anyway, but his treason makes it more... legitimate. It'll be easier to explain to the Council, since they ordered it.
In actual fact, his orders were to, if at all possible, capture the Grimaldi Falcon. But after being run through by his former commander, Huckebein had every intention of ensuring it was not possible. He held grudges for a very long time... and, unbeknownst to his superiors or even himself, his mental stability was gradually eroding.
Captain Kreitzman finally looked up. "We've got a mission redirect, Commander," he announced.
Huckebein looked up. "We do? What might that be, Captain?"
"According to the message, it's only temporary, Sir," Kreitzman assured him. "But it seems Miss Lacus Clyne has gone missing, and we're to help look for her. Once her fate has been determined, we're to return to our original mission."
"I see." Behind the mask, Victor Tempest's single remaining eye narrowed, and his fist clenched unconsciously. "Is there anything else?"
"Yes, Commander. We're to rendezvous with the Vesalius, also on the search, and conduct operations in concert with her."
"I see," he said again. "Very well, inform the homeland that we acknowledge, and set a course to link up with Vesalius."
Tempest grimaced. On the subject of Rau Le Creuset, he and his old commander were in agreement. He hadn't been present for the disaster at Endymion -he'd been in intensive care, after getting his heart replaced- but he'd met the man before, and found him, among other things, decidedly creepy.
Great, he thought in disgust. Not only must settling the old score wait, not only did I miss him thanks to that kid Joule, but I have to operate with Rau Le Creuset. Oh, this is just a wonderful day.
Archangel, Captain's Office
"So you're really Siegel Clyne's daughter?" Mu asked, still a little off-balance.
Lacus nodded. "Yes, I am. You've heard of my father, then?"
The Hawk darted an incredulous glance at Falcon, but his brother merely shrugged eloquently; apparently this apparent naiveté was not unusual for the girl.
Though of course, Falcon thought to himself, I've always thought there was more to her than met the eye... and as that briefing packet showed, in another timeline at least, she was well aware of the realities of the world and war.
"Yes, we have," Murrue said, in answer to Lacus' question. "After all, the Earth Forces makes a habit of keeping an eye on what the PLANTs have to say." That was true enough; but Headquarters did it largely because they were waiting for the "so-called" Supreme Council to announce their surrender. I Hope they're not holding their breath, she mused. ZAFT still has the advantage in battle strength... and if Falcon's cryptic hints are any indication, they have some kind of master plan for victory.
"So," Natarle asked, "just what were you doing all the way out here, of all places? I'd have thought someone like you would be in the PLANTs; this is a war, after all."
Lacus nodded solemnly. "Yes, I know. And that's why I'm out here. Commander DiFalco, I believe, is already aware of my mission-" she received a minuscule nod from the pilot "-but I suppose others would not. I was sent out here for the preliminaries of a proper Bloody Valentine memorial ceremony. As you know, the anniversary is only eleven days from now."
"Yes," Falcon whispered. "We know."
"So how did you come to be in an escape pod?" Mu's brow furrowed. "I mean, if your ship had just encountered debris, one would think there'd be more lifepods out there."
Lacus sighed. "While we were beginning our survey, an Earth Forces vessel came alongside us, and demanded that we let them board for some kind of inspection. I saw no harm in it, since we had nothing to hide, so I permitted it. But... they wouldn't believe we were unarmed. The leader kept insisting we were a ZAFT vessel, and finally the arguing led to shooting, and a crew member shoved me into a lifepod. After that, I merely drifted until your machine found me." She looked anxiously at the deck. "I do hope that everything has calmed down, and that everyone is all right."
Falcon may have acted like an emotionless killing machine, but there was a heart, buried deep beneath the facade; and so he elected, for now, not to burden the "Princess of the PLANTs" with the knowledge that Silverwind had been reduced to scrap.
He exchanged glances with Murrue, who finally nodded. "I see. Well, Miss Lacus, I'm sorry to hear about what happened; I'd be the first to admit that... not everyone in the Earth Forces is disposed towards giving PLANT delegations the benefit of the doubt. However, you'll have no such trouble from us; if for no other reason than the fact that Falcon has vouched for you. Now, I'm afraid it would be impractical at best to return you to ZAFT territory at this point, but I promise I'll do everything in my power to get you repatriated as soon as possible."
Lacus smiled gratefully. "Thank you, Captain."
"And now..." The Captain glanced at Falcon. "I'd like to offer you our ship's hospitality, until such time as you can be repatriated. Falcon here will escort you to guest quarters - assuming, of course, you have no objection, Falcon."
The pilot shook his head. "Not at all. I believe Miss Lacus and I have some things to discuss anyway."
Archangel, Guest Quarters
"I must admit, Commander DiFalco," Lacus said, some minutes later, "that I was quite surprised to see you aboard this ship. When you were declared Absent Without Leave, it was assumed that the stress had finally caught up with you; that you'd snapped, and-"
"And suicided," Falcon finished. "Yes, I know. Don't look so surprised, Miss Lacus; I still have my ways of getting information from the PLANTs, though my contacts regrettably don't have access to certain information." He shrugged. "I'm not surprised they came to that conclusion, after Junius Seven, Endymion, and the... project I was working on when I took my leave."
"I see." Her eyes narrowed with an uncharacteristic intensity. "But you know, if I was surprised to find you alive, I was even more surprised to learn you were on an Earth Forces vessel, fighting alongside them. They're obviously good people... but I would never have imagined you would willingly fight against ZAFT."
"Times change, Miss Lacus, and so do people." He idly fingered the hilt of his sword. "I cannot and will not give you all the details; I still have some respected for classifications, and I will not burden anyone else with my knowledge. But I swear to you, on my honor -or at least what's left of it- that I have never betrayed the PLANTs. Circumstances -and Committee Chairman's Zala policies- have forced me into opposition to ZAFT, but even now, everything I do is for the sake of the PLANTs."
"I don't understand." Lacus frowned. "What policies? What circumstances?"
"I can't tell you that." Great, he griped at himself. How in the world do you intend to convince her you're still fighting for the PLANTs when you can't even tell her why you left ZAFT? "Okay," Falcon said finally. "Let me ask you something: do you know a fellow named Lance Cooper?"
She nodded. "Commander Cooper? Of course; he heads my family's bodyguard now, and has since a little after you left."
He nodded to himself. "Sparky made commander? That's good; he deserved it, though I imagine some will regard him with a certain amount of suspicion, now that my whereabouts are known. Anyway, when you get back to the PLANTs, I suggest you talk to him; what I can say, he can verify, and he might even be in a better position to explain why I acted as I did, Miss Lacus."
Lacus made a snap decision then. This is the Grimaldi Falcon, and he appears sane enough; if anyone can be trusted, he can.
"Please," she said aloud, "just call me Lacus. If you are no longer a commander, then I see no reason to stand on ceremony. Besides," she added with a smile, "it will make conversation less of a chore."
It amazed Falcon that Lacus was so much at ease, despite his basilisk act; on the other hand, now that he thought about it, she'd known him before he took on the emotionless facade, and however naive she might appear, she knew people. She could probably read him like an open book.
"Thank you," he said simply. "It is a little cumbersome, speaking that way. Anyway, here is what I can tell you: Committee Chairman Zala's policies are leading us someplace we do not want to go; a place of ruin, beyond belief."
Lacus gazed at him intently. "Are you saying ZAFT will lose this war?"
"No." Falcon shook his head emphatically. "The Revolution has already succeeded, Lacus; even had the Earth Forces kept all six prototypes, I don't think it could be stopped, in the end. But it is my belief Zala desires more than mere victory. I believe he desires the extinction of all Naturals."
She gasped. "You can't be serious!"
"Believe me, I wish I wasn't. But you forget, I grew to know the man well in the last few months I was with ZAFT; after the Bloody Valentine, he grew obsessed, and now the independence of the PLANTs is no longer enough for him."
Lacus shook her head. "But he can't possibly have the capability to do that. The Naturals are so numerous there's no way we could destroy all of them, even if we wanted to."
Falcon closed his eye. "I wish, Lacus. I really do. And you're right, ZAFT doesn't have the capability to commit such mass genocide... yet. But they're working on it, and it's only a matter of time before they succeed; probably not even very much time, now that they have the four Earth Forces G-weapons to play with. If their engineers are as good as I remember, they'll be able to reverse engineer the machines' capabilities within a couple of months, and then build on the new discoveries; once they do that, nothing can stop the final weapon from becoming a reality."
She began to think that if this kept up, she'd get a headache. Just what is he talking about? she wondered. Final weapon? Athrun's father attempting genocide? What does it all mean?
"I don't understand," she said aloud. "What weapon could possibly accomplish that?"
"Nothing that works right now," Falcon admitted. "But think about it: enough nuclear weapons could blast the entire planet back into the Stone Age, and if you synthesized, oh, a few tons of antimatter -which is not out of the question, assuming you have access to nuclear powerplants- you could blow up Earth quite nicely." He shook his head. Idiot; you're talking too much.
Symptom of the situation, a part of his mind replied. You've gotten so used to worrying about doomsday weapons you start to ramble about them; not a good thing for someone trying to keep up certain appearances.
"Look," he said finally. "I realize this sounds unbelievable -six months ago, I wouldn't have believed it, either- and I probably shouldn't say anything more, either. In fact, I've probably said too much. So I have to ask you to trust me; remember my actions since the Mandelbrot Incident in 68, and decide, here and now, if I can be trusted."
Lacus fully realized, then, that Ken DiFalco was being deadly serious. Behind the emotionless facade, he was absolutely terrified of something... and that something had driven him to abandon everything he once held dear, even to fight and kill his own comrades and friends in order to achieve whatever mad objective he had set himself.
He now walked a lonely road, one where he had to keep his eyes open, for his friend of yesterday had become his enemy today, and his enemy had become his only friend. He foresaw a calamity no one else did, which put him, and him alone, in a position to do something about it.
This was a driven man, Lacus realized. Obsessed, perhaps; and, just possibly, beginning to walk the road toward madness, as he faced his lonely journey. But he had set himself a task, of protecting that which he held most dear, and he would not swerve from it, even if the path ended with him lying dead in the dusty battlefields, remembered only as a traitor. He'd accept that, Lacus thought, if only he achieved his goal first. And now, all he asks is my trust... and if I give it to him, perhaps his burden may be eased...
"All right, Commander," she said at last. "I trust you. What is it that you need of me? I'll help in any way I can."
Falcon seemed to sag in relief; clearly, he was under a great deal more stress than was apparent. "For now, Lacus," he said wearily, "there's nothing you can do; not while you're stuck aboard the Archangel. But when you leave... I may have some data to send with you, and all I ask in that event is that you get it to Sparky; he'll know what to do with it from there."
"I'll do what I can," Lacus promised. "I don't understand exactly what's going on, but you are clearly still the good person you always were, Commander; if you say there is danger, I believe you."
He seemed to sag even further. "Thank you."
When Falcon finally left Lacus' quarters, it was with every intention of heading straight to his and getting some rest. He hadn't felt this tired since basic training, years before.
Mu spotted him along the way. "Hey, Falcon! You look beat; have an interesting time with the Pink Princess back there?"
Falcon sighed. "Mu," he began, in a voice that sounded only slightly different from his usual tonelessness, "I will tolerate a great many things from people. But I will not tolerate bad puns or constant innuendo and double entendres. I suggest you take heed, before I am forced to try something drastic."
The Hawk smiled. "Like what?"
Falcon gazed at him tiredly. "You do know what happens when sharp steel meets human flesh, don't you?"
Mu winced, remembering his brother's reputation with a sword. "Right. Well, anyway, I was hoping I'd run into you; I've got something for you." He took a bundle from under his arm, and tossed it over.
The ex-ZAFT ace caught it, and unfolded it. It was a gray trench coat, with feathers on the collar, and no insignia. "A trench coat," he murmured, too tired to say anything other than the obvious. "Why?"
Mu grinned. "Hey, the Grimaldi Falcon ain't the Grimaldi Falcon without his idiosyncrasies, now is he? Kira mentioned you used to wear one on Heliopolis, and it seems to be MIA; besides, I know you don't like being seen in public in Earth Forces uniform, so I had Murdoch's people put that together, from stores. After all, we're not exactly short on uniform material."
Nodding absently, Falcon pulled on the coat, and noted it covered his sword, as his old one had. "Thanks," he said quietly. "My former coat, the one I wore while I was still with the Gray Demons, got incinerated on Heliopolis, during the attack; I'll admit I haven't felt quite right without it." He wearily shook his head. "If you'll excuse me, Mu, I really need some rest; it's been a long few months."
"Yeah, sure. Oh, by the way, the Captain'll want you on the Bridge when you're awake; now that we have supplies, we need to plan our next move."
Falcon stumbled off to his quarters, feeling severely blitzed. Once inside, he collapsed on the bunk, not even bothering to remove the trench coat.
As the fog of sleep filled his mind, a trace of memory came to him, from what felt like a lifetime ago. "You've gone too far, Patrick. Too far!"
"How is the project going, Falcon?" National Defense Committee Chairman Patrick Zala asked, sounding slightly distracted; sitting at his desk, he was also perusing intelligence reports.
"On schedule, Patrick," Commander Kenneth DiFalco responded; he was one of a very small number of people on a first-name basis with Zala, having climbed from obscurity as an "average" pilot to being one of the most influential men in ZAFT, despite his absurdly young age. "Though you do realize that, until the N-jammer cancellers are developed, this machine is nothing more than a gigantic waste of funds."
"We've been over that before," Zala replied patiently (far more patiently than he would have answered anyone else, but then Falcon's contributions to the war made him a man worth listening to). "We've made their development a crash priority project. It's only a matter of time before we have them, and in the meantime, there's no sense in wasting time by waiting on constructing that weapon."
"True," Falcon conceded. "And we can use the time to refine the design even more, particularly if the rumors about the Earth Forces' new breakthroughs is correct, and we can acquire samples of the technology. But for now, it's nothing more than a spaceborne collection of metal, mirrors, and utterly useless fissionable material."
"You can't deny the potential of that weapon, Falcon; and it was you that devised the basic strategies for its use."
"Granted. And, to be sure, I'll sleep more soundly once we have something that can truly defend the PLANTs from an Earth Forces attack." The pilot's face hardened. "There will never be another Junius Seven, if there's anything I can say about it."
"Agreed," Zala said, voice as hard as his subordinate's expression. "We cannot forgive them for the Bloody Valentine... ever."
Falcon's head jerked up, as something in his superior's voice set off warning bells in his mind. "Just what plan are you using for GENESIS' deployment, Patrick?" he said slowly.
Zala handed him a folder. "Take a look, Falcon; and if you have any refinements to make to your old battle plan, now might be the time."
The pilot glanced through the files, face at first impassive... then increasingly alarmed. "You can't be serious!" he blurted, at the end. "That goes far beyond anything we ever discussed with the Council, Patrick!"
Patrick, who had lost his wife Lenore in the Bloody Valentine, shrugged. "Since when do we discuss every aspect of the campaigns with the politicians? You know as well as I what political micro-managing does to a war effort; weren't you the one who used the example of the Vietnam War, at the start of the war?" That had been in an intra-ZAFT paper Falcon had written, before he gained notoriety.
"Yes, I was, but this...!" Falcon threw down the campaign strategy and stared at Zala. "You can't possibly be suggesting we use it on any civilian population center, let alone-!"
"Now is not the time for sensitivity, Falcon, and you know it as well as I." The Committee Chairman looked coldly at his top strategist. "This is why you were transferred from the frontlines, Falcon; this project has to be completed, and you're the only one who is both familiar with the mechanism's design and fully trustworthy that I can put in charge of it. And it's not as if I intend to use it at all unless I have a choice, so go do your duty."
Commander Kenneth "Grimaldi Falcon" DiFalco, soldier of the Revolution, continued to stare at Zala, as he began to realize just what truly lay behind Patrick's eyes. He may claim to consider it a last resort, he realized in a flash, but after the Bloody Valentine, he's determined to make it a necessity... and I gave him the tools to do it.
Falcon clenched his fists. "You've gone too far, Patrick. Too far!" Without another word, he stalked out of the office.
The date was September 20, C.E. 70. The next day, the Grimaldi Falcon vanished, leaving chaos in his wake as lesser strategists and engineers attempted to fill the void created by his absence, and taking with him crucial data, massive guilt, and a brilliant mind.
The Earth Alliance had already lost, from a practical standpoint. The Revolution was already won. But now, Patrick Zala, by driving Kenneth DiFalco to treason, unknowingly set ZAFT upon the path that would lead to their ruin.
Aprilius One, Patrick Zala's Office
Patrick Zala remembered that day well. It was, unfortunately, the first sign he'd had that Falcon was no longer reliable; they'd never had such a disagreement on policy before.
My fault for investing too much trust in him too soon, he thought ironically. I should have remembered that his sister's a Natural; maybe then I would have been prepared for this.
Falcon's desertion, while startling, had not induced much more than anger and disgust in Zala. News of his defection to the Earth Forces, though... that scared him. He didn't think the traitor knew how to circumvent his own plans, fortunately; and even if he did, Zala considered it unlikely that the Earth Forces would trust him far enough to act on the information. But his knowledge of the final option was another matter entirely. That, along with his sheer brilliance, both in piloting and planning, made him a great threat to ZAFT's goals.
Yes, the man was brilliant; only Andrew Waltfeld came even close to matching him, and his insistence on carrying out his own plans, sharing the risks with the troops, made him very popular with his people.
There was, however, one former Gray Demon who hated Falcon's guts, and Zala was counting on Victor "Huckebein" Tempest to get the job done... as soon as he finished the search for Lacus Clyne. Once that was accomplished, Falcon's days would be... well, if not numbered, then at least in grave danger.
At any rate, there was no chance of Falcon intervening in the next operation. The plans Zala was looking over now were for an upcoming assault on Africa's Victoria Spaceport, to complete Operation Uroboros' initial objective at last. Interestingly, it was Falcon himself who had crafted this plan... as well as another that would be set into motion as soon as it received approval from the Supreme Council, which Zala was confident it would within a month, or perhaps two.
By then, he thought, Falcon should no longer be a factor. Perhaps he'll be kind enough to take Huckebein with him; the man is becoming a liability...
Tolle walked into the cafeteria, and found himself right in the midst of an argument. Huh? he thought, seeing Mir and Flay matching wills. What's going on here?
"Look, Flay," Mir was saying, "all I'm asking is-"
"No!" Flay said vehemently. "I don't want to go anywhere near that girl!"
Tolle sidled over to Kuzzey. "Okay, I give," he said in a low voice. "Just what in the world are they arguing about? Who's 'that girl'?"
"Lacus Clyne," Kuzzey replied quietly. "Miriallia asked Flay to take a meal to her, but Flay refuses. She sounds like she's scared."
Mir now tried a different tack. "What's the problem, anyway? All I'm asking is for you to take a meal to her; what's wrong with that?"
"I'm scared," Flay replied bluntly. "She's a Coordinator, from the PLANTs! What if tries to attack me?"
"And why would she do that?" Mir demanded. "She's not military, Flay; even if she did attack you, what good would it do? Besides, Falcon vouches for her."
"Is that supposed to reassure me?" Flay retorted. "Falcon's a ZAFT pilot-"
"Former ZAFT," Tolle muttered under his breath.
"-and he used to fly against Lieutenant La Flaga. Are you trying to tell me we can trust him?"
Mir's eyes flashed dangerously. "Don't you ever talk about him like that again, Flay Allster! Falcon has this worse than any of us, you know. We may have lost Heliopolis, but in case you didn't hear, Falcon's from Junius Seven; and he had to give up everything he knew to do what he knew was right! And if you still doubt him, remember that he killed two of his former teammates on Heliopolis, which isn't something a ZAFT spy would do!"
Tolle and Kuzzey stared at her, startled by her vehemence, while Flay physically recoiled. "Still..." the red-haired girl said stubbornly. "We don't really know anything about her; what if she's really strong or something?"
"My," said another voice, "who's really strong?"
Flay spun around, to find herself face-to-face with Lacus Clyne herself. "Wha-?"
Kira entered a couple of steps behind the pink princess. "What are you doing here?" he asked, surprised.
"I was hungry," Lacus replied, "and there was no one around, so I decided to come here myself; I did try to get someone's attention, but..." She shrugged, and turned to Flay. "My name is Lacus Clyne, by the way," she said, extending her hand.
Tolle had merely thought Flay recoiled from Mir's words. Her reaction this time was far worse. "Stay away!" she shouted, jerking backwards. "Don't get anywhere near me!"
"I don't understand," Lacus said, confused. "There's nothing to be afraid of; I'm not in the military, you know..."
"Why should I trust a Coordinator?" Flay demanded. "Just stay away! I don't want any of your Coordinators acting friendly with me!"
The room was a frozen tableau for several moments, until Kira finally touched Lacus' arm. "I think maybe I should take you back to your quarters," he suggested quietly. He had an ulterior motive: he didn't want to be around Flay in this kind of mood, either, and her words had badly shaken him.
"Yes, of course," Lacus murmured, still puzzled, and allowed Kira to show her out.
Mir promptly stormed out as well; Tolle wasn't sure if she was more irritated by Flay's reaction to Lacus, or her slur against Falcon's integrity. Either way, she was in a most foul mood.
Flay, meanwhile, glared at the bulkhead in silence, while Tolle and Kuzzey looked on.
Finally, the black-haired volunteer ventured a few words. "Flay... that sounded like something from Blue Cosmos. Are you...?"
"I am not a member of Blue Cosmos!" she snapped back. "But the stance those people take... I don't think they're entirely wrong. Having your genes operated on when you're not sick or anything... it goes against what Nature intended." She scowled. "That Falcon guy is an example; something about him always gives me the creeps."
Tolle wondered about that. He, too, had noticed something strange about the one-eyed pilot, his cool and unflappable manner even in the most dire of situations... and that eyepatch of his always unsettled him somehow...
Archangel, Bridge, February 2nd, C.E. 71
"Man, oh man..." Mu murmured, drifting near the starboard bulkhead. "We solve the problem of the supplies, then get another in the form of the pink princess. Wonders never cease, eh?"
"Unfortunately," Murrue said dryly. "I wouldn't want her to still be out there, stuck in a lifepod in the Debris Belt, but I must confess I could have done quite happily without this complication."
"Agreed," Falcon said quietly. He had tucked himself into a corner, wrapped in his new trench coat; Sophia had commented it was the first time since he'd come aboard that he hadn't looked like some kind of space alien to her. As near as he could determine, she meant it looked natural on him.
He was still trying to decide if it had been a compliment, though.
"Now we just need to figure out what to do with her," Sophia mused, pensive. "I mean, no offense, my friend," she said to Murrue, "but Archangel's pretty unusual, when it comes to the crew's attitudes toward Coordinators. Most crews would happily slit her throat, just for being what she is."
Murrue frowned. "I think you're being unduly pessimistic, Sophia."
"No, she's not," Natarle broke in. "If anything, she's understating the matter. I don't know if Blue Cosmos actually has any official involvement in running this war, but there's no denying their attitudes have spread far and wide throughout the military. Someone like Lacus Clyne..."
"...They'd welcome with open arms," Mu finished for her. "Don't look at me like that, Ensign. Just think about it: she's the daughter of the Chairman of the PLANT Supreme Council; you bring her to Ptolemaeus, and Headquarters will fall all over themselves making her at home... for propaganda purposes, of course."
"I don't want her to go through that," Murrue said pensively. "She's just a teenage girl, with no connection to the war effort at all; she doesn't deserve to be put through something like that."
"I agree," Falcon told her, "but you're wrong on one count: she has a great deal to do with the war effort. Believe me, I know, from my days in ZAFT: she is probably the best morale-building tool they have." He rubbed his eyepatch. "Though I'd hesitate to call her a 'tool' in the first place; she may seem naive at times, but she's got a sharp mind in there, no mistake."
She nodded. "Agreed. But I still don't want her, a young civilian, to get caught up in all this..."
"So what about those students?" Natarle asked. "They've helped with the operation of the ship, and even fought with us in battle, yet they too are just young civilians."
"One difference, Ensign," Falcon said quietly. "They volunteered."
Those two, simple words effectively put an end to that line of reasoning, and silence fell for a time.
It was finally interrupted by Pal's sudden grunt of surprise and rapid typing at the communications station. "Captain!" he called. "We're receiving a coded message; it's definitely from the Eighth Fleet. No doubt about it!"
Mu and Murrue quickly moved to his side. "You're right," the Captain said, suddenly feeling hopeful. "That's from the Montgomery, Captain Koopman's ship!"
Sophia perked up. "Koopman? I've served with him. Not brilliant, but-"
"But not stupid, either." Falcon nodded. "I fought against him at Jachin. I don't think he's very bright, but I've encountered dumber."
Murrue wasn't sure if that was intended to be a compliment, but suddenly she didn't care. At last, for the first time since Heliopolis -Artemis didn't really count, given what had happened there- they'd received word from friendly forces.
Things were beginning to look up at last.
"Campfire!" called Snow, waving his arm in the hand signal that meant "rally on me". Saito and Jack left their cockpits and pushed off, floating towards their flight lead. "Status?"
"I've adjusted the gunpod software for all birds as best as I can, based off my Caladbolg," reported Saito. "It should work, but you'll probably need to aim by eye as much as your targeting systems. I can install it anytime."
"Intake guns should work as advertised," said Jack. "Of course with our luck they'll miss like nobody's business. Recommend single-shot instead of double-fire. Probably end up running with the cyberbrains on instead of autistic mode. Then again I fly better in autistic mo- Damnit Saito!" he yelped.
"Stay focused," rebuked Snow gently, as Saito switched off the laser designator he'd shone at Jack's neck. "Continue."
Jack scowled with indignation, taking a deep breath to calm himself. "Installation can only happen after Saito does the gunpod fix; after I patch I'll need to run a diagnostic, though you'll need a testflight and a testfire to really work out the kinks. Manual aiming override remains go incase it goes tits up again."
"Noted," murmured Snow, jotting down their reports. "Micromissile pods remain safed and stored – it'll take us too long to get the software fixed and we'll need them later anyway. Rendezvous with the Advance Force is in several hours."
"Not enough time to patch and testfly," remarked Saito. "It could get rough."
"We've faced worse," replied Snow. "Jack. Anything you want to say?"
"How do you know we're rendezvousing with the Advance Force?"
Snow merely smiled and displayed his tablet computer; Jack glanced at the A4-sized screen that displayed hacked bridge security camera feeds and scowled.
"Smartass. I thought I was the intelligence officer."
"I hum the tune and dance a few steps," says Marcus Snow, closing the display. "Let's roll."
Author's Notes: and thus comes another Chapter of March to the Future. In a way I'm rather gratified it's come out relatively soon, and only a week or two short of the 3-year anniversary of this project!
Savvy readers will note that very little has yet been changed. This was something that I pondered with to a fair degree; one of the things one feels a need to do when writing a time-travel story is for one's heroes to be micromanaging the situation and gaming it to provide the best outcome. However at the end of the day, the knowledge of the characters from the future is limited to what they would reasonably be expected to know: being pilots and intelligence officers, the Snow Team would be quite well-versed with the After Action Reports and debriefs of the past years (particularly as our Jack's carrying a few books on BVW1 in his head). Interpersonal relationships, on the other hand... Whole new kettle of fish, that. On another hand, they've still got their own messes to sort out, i.e. the Fianna debug... and it's been less than a week since they've come back to the past. Still, as the Advance Force draws near, and with it the Orbit Battle, things are going to diverge more and more from BoaF...
Still, as they say, the more things change the more they stay the same...
And to be honest, despite the Ascended Extras here, this is still very much Falcon's story. If I've pulled it off right, I hope for something similar to Metal Gear Solid 2 and 3; viewing the hero of the story through another character's perspective.
Well, I hope this chapter meets with y'all's approval. Till next time!