I don't own anything except Kevin Walker and Invictus
Lagrange Point 3, ZAFT Nazca-class Destroyer Vesalius, Bridge, January 25th, C.E. 71
Heliopolis Colony, Rau Le Creuset, white-coated soldier of the Zodiac Alliance of Freedom Treaty, mused, gazing out the forward viewport. Clever of the Earth Forces, I must admit. Using the site of the first military mobile suit experiments for the development of their own new models... He smiled cynically. One wonders just how massive a bribe they gave Orb for this.
Letting his smile fade, Le Creuset turned back to the group assembled behind him. "You all know the situation," he began. "Our operatives have confirmed that the Earth Alliance has constructed prototype mobile suits here, in 'neutral' territory. The exact legality of that arrangement, and how it affects the Homeland's future relations with Orb, is effectively irrelevant at this point. The fact is that these new prototypes, if allowed to reach operational status, will drastically alter the balance of power in this war."
Heads nodded all around; in particular, Athrun Zala, Yzak Joule, Nicol Amalfi, and Dearka Elsman displayed full cognizance of the implications. They were, after all, sons of PLANT Supreme Council members, and as such somewhat better informed about the strategic picture in general.
Not that Rusty McKenzie or Miguel Aiman were idiots, either. "Understood, Commander," the latter said. "...Do we know how close they are to completion?"
"According to our information, they're to be rolled out today," Le Creuset replied quietly. "The new warship, as well. In all probability, it'll take them several more weeks to work up to combat-ready status, but if we wait that long, they'll undoubtedly be much harder to engage. Besides," he added with a thin smile, "if we strike now, we have the opportunity to capture them, thus obtaining both their power and their technology for ourselves."
The significance of that was lost on no one. ZAFT had so far maintained an edge over the Earth Alliance by virtue of superior technology, despite the disparity in numbers; if that advantage was lost, the entire war might be, as well.
And after what happened at Junius Seven last year, Athrun thought bleakly, they'll have gotten away with mass murder... among other things. I can see why this is so important. And yet... this risks bringing Orb into things. His mind went back three years, remembering two young faces. I don't want to bring this war to either of them.
"Commander," he asked carefully, "couldn't this be construed as an act of war against the Orb Union?"
Behind him, Yzak snorted, but Le Creuset listened gravely. "I understand your concerns, Athrun. But don't worry overmuch; the fact of the matter is that Orb, or at least a faction thereof, has violated their neutrality by aiding the Earth Forces in the development of these new weapons. They won't be able to make a very convincing argument once we have the proof in our hands. And," he added, raising a hand to forestall the next possible objection, "they shouldn't have any real grievance against us. If, that is, you stick to the plan and the rules of engagement. Your targets are only the Morgenröte facility and its surrounding defenses."
Athrun nodded, reassured. "Understood, Commander."
"Good. Now," Le Creuset went on, indicating the display table the group surrounded, "your objectives are simple. Athrun, you and your fellow redcoats will infiltrate the Morgenröte mobile suit factory, and seize the new prototypes; once that's done, break out of the colony and return immediately. Miguel," he nodded to the senior greencoat, "you, Olor, and Matthew will fly cover, disabling the facility's defenses. The rest of you will plant demolition packs at key locations around the new warship's harbor, and commit general sabotage of the factory as a whole." He smiled again. "Capturing the new prototypes is the top priority, but preventing them from building any more is also of high value."
Dearka raised a hand. "Anything unexpected we should be worrying about, Sir? I mean, they've managed to create these advanced models without our forces hearing anything about it till now, so..."
Behind them, Captain Fredrik Ades turned in his chair. "A valid point, Commander," he remarked. "After all, ten years ago..."
"Yes," Le Creuset acknowledged, "I know. And you should, indeed, be on your guard, Dearka. Even disregarding past history, Morgenröte is currently under the control of the Sahaku family. With the fall of the Onishi line several years ago, they are probably the most... devious of the Five Noble Families."
Also suspected of seeking world domination, as Athrun knew well. Yeah, better be careful. Kevin spoke well of them, but I know Kira wasn't quite so sure... and Kira always did have better instincts about people.
Le Creuset glanced over the group one more time, then nodded sharply. "If there are no more questions, move out. We have only hours to complete this operation. Good luck to you all."
Heliopolis Colony, Park
"...I'm currently standing only a kilometer from the frontlines, and the sound of combat is becoming less intense. Official reports suggest that ZAFT's offensive is beginning to wear down, with an Earth Alliance counterattack driving them back. Unofficial information, however, suggests that Kaohsiung spaceport is, in fact, on the verge of falling to enemy forces..."
"...With no method yet found for locating, let alone neutralizing, the N-jammers beneath Earth's surface, the energy crisis continues unabated. Recent famine in Southern Africa is leading many to..."
"Shut that stupid thing off, Kira," the sandy-haired, black-clad youth said wearily. "You know the news from Earth is always bad these days, right?"
Brown-haired, amethyst-eyed Kira Yamato closed down his laptop with a shrug. "Guess you're right, Kevin," he admitted. "Still, we shouldn't give up hope that easily, right? I mean, this war can't go on forever. Besides, it doesn't have anything to do with-"
"Hey!" Kira protested, rubbing his head. "What was that for?" he went on, turning to look accusingly at the teen who'd just hit him over the head with a book. "Tolle..."
"Just trying to get your attention," Tolle Koenig said cheerfully, arm tucked around Miriallia Haw, his long-time girlfriend. "C'mon, you two look so gloomy, it's making me depressed, too! Lighten up, before your faces freeze that way."
"So why didn't you hit him?" Kira demanded, pointing at the youth in black.
"Because Kevin knows kung fu," Tolle replied patiently. "He'd knock me to the moon before his brain caught up with his reflexes."
Kevin Walker, otherwise known as the man in black -among other things- snorted, but didn't dispute the point. Yeah, I know kung fu, buddy. And a whole lot of other things. "I suppose there's a reason you're here, Tolle?" he said, sliding lazily off the bench on which he sprawled. "Or do you just feel like giving Kira a headache?"
"Ah, same ol', same ol'," Tolle answered with a shrug, and dug a computer disc out of his pocket. "Professor Kato must really like your work, Kira. He's been trying to get in touch with you all morning; another system analysis."
Kira rolled his eyes. "Again? I still haven't finished the last... Oh, forget it."
"Beats watching the news, doesn't it?" Miriallia interjected, speaking up at last. "That was about Kaohsiung, right? I heard they're under heavy attack right now..."
"Ahh, it'll be fine," Tolle said, waving a hand. "I know, Orb's pretty close to there, but we're still neutral, right? We don't have anything either side would want."
Considering that Orb was about as far from being a strategic location as was possible on Earth these days, and had no appreciable resources, Miriallia had to grant her boyfriend had a point. With the Earth Alliance and ZAFT so fixated on one another, there really wasn't any reason for them to go after a neutral nation with no strategic value.
Even with them being so close to Kaohsiung, Kira thought to himself. That's kind of like shooting an ant while hunting grizzly...
The group as a whole looked up, and Kira smiled as a green-feathered bird swooped down, coming to a rest on his shoulder. Not that it was really a bird, of course; on closer inspection, it was clearly a very clever mechanical construct. Extremely clever, actually, in that it could fly as naturally as the real thing.
"Well," he said, climbing to his feet, "I guess we'd better get going." He shared a wry look with Kevin. "Sooner we get started on all this, the sooner the professor will finally leave me alone."
As the group started walking, heading for the nearest cab stop, Kira reached up to absently stroke Birdy. Athrun really knew his stuff, Kevin thought, watching the motion. Building something like that... Heh; bet he's already on the fast track for MMI or maybe even the Integrated Design Bureau by now...
Of course, neither he nor Kira had seen their old friend in some three years, and Kevin doubted Athrun would recognize him if they met now. Back then, they'd all been average youngsters at a Copernicus prep school. Now... now Kevin, at least, was a very different individual.
Clad in black, from his surplus combat boots to the open leather jacket and tough leather gloves, the youth was also well known for wearing sunglasses even in the darkest night. Once twitted for it by his classmates, they'd long since gotten used to it... especially since even they sometimes found the sight of his unshielded eyes a little unnerving. A vivid jade, they literally glowed, visible even through his shades.
Athrun would about have a heart attack, Kevin thought, with a small smile... one which quickly faded. Especially if he knew... everything else. I hope he hasn't fallen into the wrong company out there...
Reflexively, his hand twitched toward his thigh, only to find nothing there. Grimacing, he reached into his jacket, instead, and withdrew a rectangular package. "Old habits die hard," he said, apropos of nothing, and pulled a cigarette out of the pack.
Tolle glanced at him, and it was his turn to grimace. "Those things will kill you, y'know. And how in the world do you find those things up here? They're not exactly standard cargo on the supply shuttles from Orb."
"I have my ways, comrade," Kevin replied mysteriously, and lit up. "They calm my nerves, what can I say? And you know as well as anybody that I'm immune to lung cancer."
Miriallia chuckled. "He has you there, Tolle. But," she added, giving Kevin a mock-stern look, "when we get to the lab, either put that thing out or sit under an air return, got it?"
He gave her a mock salute, prompting a laugh from Kira and Tolle. "As you command, Ma'am."
Outside Heliopolis Colony, Marseilles III-class Transport Ship, Bridge
"Well, here we are," the grizzled old captain mused. "Heliopolis... Ha. Who'd have thought this old girl's final mission would be so important, eh, Lieutenant?"
"It's not half bad for a rust-bucket of a transport," Lieutenant Mu La Flaga, Earth Alliance Forces Möbius Zero Corps, agreed. "Even if nobody knows about it but us," he added, glancing at the five blue-clad individuals on the bridge with them.
They looked like mechanics, dressed in those coveralls, but Mu and the captain knew better. They were the vanguard, the soon-to-be spearhead of the Earth Alliance's advance. The most skilled pilots that could be culled from the squadrons of standard Möbius mobile armors, specially trained for their new duties; they would give ZAFT a very nasty surprise in the near future.
I'd feel jealous, Mu mused, except that not one of them can do what I can do.
With an audible thud, the transport came to rest in Heliopolis' harbor, and the five pilots saluted as one. "If you'll excuse us, Captain?" the senior pilot asked.
"Of course," he replied, waving a hand. "You've permission to disembark. And good luck."
"You sure they're up to this?" Mu asked softly, as the group departed. "I know how they've tested in the simulators, but still..."
"I know," the captain said with a nod. "It's still not the same as reality, and they still have plenty of rough edges. But they're the best, Lieutenant. Or at least, the best other than you," he added with a grin. "And if we sent you, the whole thing would be exposed in a heartbeat, eh, Hawk of Endymion?"
Mu had to concede that point. The last of the Möbius Zero pilots, sole survivor of the Battle of Endymion... There was, after all, a reason he'd gotten the moniker "Hawk of Endymion", and all too many people were well aware of it. All of which meant that assigning him to one of the new machines wouldn't be very good for security.
At least I can help escort them, though. And maybe... He shook himself. "Any ZAFT activity in the area?" he asked aloud.
The captain shrugged. "Two ships, but I'm not worried. Heliopolis belongs to Orb; ZAFT wouldn't dare court an incident with them when they're in the midst of fighting us off."
Mu snorted. "The whole 'neutral nation' business? Kinda hypocritical, since they're helping us with this... And just who do they think they're fooling? Considering the facilities we're using, it's a miracle ZAFT hasn't already discovered what we're up to."
"Come now, Lieutenant," the captain chided. "That program was scrapped a decade ago, and the last scion of the family behind it disappeared without a trace even before the Blockade. I doubt anyone outside the Sahaku family even realizes the facility still exists." He shook his head. "No, I don't think we've anything to worry about. And in two weeks, ZAFT will learn that, while we may be slow on the uptake, once we get moving we can be even more creative than they are."
A flash of red hair between them and the cab stop prompted a brief smirk from Kevin, which he quickly suppressed. Cue tongue-tied Kira, he thought to himself. Assuming he can bring himself to say anything at all, anyway.
Red-haired, blue-eyed Flay Allster was chatting with two other girls of her social circle... or, more precisely, trying not to chat about a particular subject, it seemed. "Come on," one of them said. "You can tell us! Please?"
"It's nothing," Flay replied evasively glancing away. "Really, there's nothing..."
Miriallia hurried up to find out what was going on, while Tolle stretched and turned to Kira. "Haven't heard, eh?" he said slyly. "That Sai... I heard he sent her a letter." He grinned. "Guess you've got some competition, Kira Yamato!"
"Hey!" Kira replied, a little too quickly. "There's nothing going on at all! You're just reading too much into it!"
I'm with Tolle on this one, Kevin thought, rolling his eyes. About the only people who haven't noticed are probably Sai and Flay herself.
His amused thoughts were interrupted by the sound of a clearing throat behind him. "Excuse me," a woman's voice said, "but if you're not getting on, mind if we get through?"
Kevin quickly stepped aside. "Not a problem," he replied, taking stock of the woman and her companions. "Sorry for the inconvenience."
The woman was slightly taller than Kevin, with night-black hair and sunglasses over eyes much like Kira's, and looked to be in her early twenties; she was accompanied by two men of around the same age, mostly nondescript save for the dark violet hair on one of them.
As they passed, the others ignored the trio completely... but Kevin continued to observe them carefully behind his shades. Those aren't civilians, however they may dress, he noted to himself. Too disciplined; and the guys are clearly her subordinates. Not Orb, either... Earth Forces, maybe? But what would Earth Forces people be doing at Heliopolis of all places? Unless... No, that can't be. Father shut all that down years ago...
Lost in his musings, Kevin didn't notice Flay's group had also departed. "Hey, Kevin!" Kira called, sitting in the newly-arrived cab. "You're gonna be left behind!"
He twitched. "Right, right. I'm coming."
And, Kevin thought, hopping into the cab, I'm going to try and remind myself to mind my own business. The last thing I want is to be dragged into another mess.
As the automated cab made its way down Heliopolis' streets to the college they attended, Kira glanced surreptitiously at his friend. He could tell Kevin had been preoccupied ever since the news from Kaohsiung had come in, and grown more so in the last few minutes, and he couldn't help but wonder why.
He knew more about Kevin's history than many, of course. Miriallia and Tolle had first met him when he turned up a year previously, and long since simply concluded that he was an eccentric with a flair for martial arts and weaponry... but Kira had known him most of his life, from the days when they were kids in the lunar city of Copernicus.
What did they do to you, Kevin? he wondered, not for the first time. He hadn't missed Kevin's reflexive twitch a few minutes before, and while Kira had no military training himself, he'd seen enough of Kevin over the past year to recognize it for what it was.
What, exactly, had happened to Kevin in the two years between their parting at Copernicus and the Yamato family taking him in at Heliopolis, Kira didn't know. Kevin had admitted to him that certain news reports regarding Blue Cosmos attacks during that time had pertained to him, but that didn't explain certain... anomalies. They'd been rooming together ever since Kevin's arrival at the colony, and Kira had frequently heard Kevin muttering in his sleep during the first couple months, asking questions of persons unknown and uttering apparent nonsense phrases.
Not to mention that, while Kevin had been both an avid practitioner of Xing-yi kung fu and something of a knife enthusiast in years past, Kira didn't remember him as being particularly paranoid or much of a gunman... or wary of ZAFT.
I wish I could ask Athrun about this, Kira thought with an inward sigh. Maybe... No, come to think of it, he always hated war; he probably wouldn't have much better luck figuring out Kevin than I have.
As though sensing his friend's thoughts, Kevin caught Kira's eye, and flashed him a brief, reassuring grin. And reassuring it was; much as Kevin had changed since they'd last known each other, at least his ready grin was still around.
"Nothing to worry about, Kira," Kevin said in a low voice; a perhaps unnecessary precaution, as Miriallia was watching the road and Tolle had the look of someone plotting some kind of prank. "Orb's determinedly neutral... and so am I, these days. Besides," he added, with a secretive smile Kira found obscurely infuriating, "there's a few things the rest of the world doesn't know, that might come in handy in a pinch."
Kira glared at him, successfully distracted from the darker musings. "Are you ever gonna explain that stuff, Kevin? You've said all those 'insider' things over the years, and you still won't say how you know all that."
"It is my business to know such things," Kevin intoned... and spoiled the effect with another grin. "Truth is, Kira, my dad was... kind of a bigwig in Morgenröte, you might say. When you spend your summers around somebody like that, you pick up on a lot of things that-"
"Hey, Kira," Tolle interrupted, oblivious to -or perhaps, from the grin on his face, just not caring about- the existing exchange, "you gonna ask Sai about it?"
Kira blinked, taken aback by the abrupt change of subject. "About what- Hey! That's none of your business!" he protested, belatedly realizing what the other teen meant. "And even if it was, there's nothing going on!"
Tolle just grinned all the wider. "Yeah, sure there isn't. C'mon, Kira, we're not all as blind and deaf as Kevin. And there's nothing wrong with it. You've got a rival now, sure, but..."
"Will you just drop it?" Kira replied irritably, looking away to hide a blush. "You're being a pest, Tolle; and it's none of your business anyway!"
"Objection," Kevin interjected, smiling faintly. "I'm not blind and deaf, Tolle. I probably noticed even before-"
Kira's book bag bashed him in the side of the head, shutting him up even more thoroughly than the impressive glare Kira fired at him. "Not you too," he groused. "Of all the..."
To his credit, Kevin took the hint. Kira suspected it was more the glare than the whacking -he had a shrewd notion Kevin had barely even felt it- but it still made him feel better.
Further teasing was, to his vast relief, interrupted by their arrival at the gates to the Morgenröte facility wherein the college was situated. "I.D.s, guys," Miriallia reminded them, being closest to the card reader.
The others passed over theirs; and as they did, Kira snuck a peek at Kevin's, noticing for the first time that his was slightly different from the usual, bearing some kind of code he didn't recognize. Explains why nobody notices the hardware in his jacket; I always wondered about that. Must be thanks to his dad... whoever he was.
Not that it mattered much any longer; Kira's parents had taken Kevin in because Kevin's own parents had died several years prior.
"Well," Miriallia commented, handing back the ID cards, "back to work, huh, guys?"
"Yeah," Kira said with a sigh. "Another analysis... and probably another one after that." He shook his head. "I wonder what they've got us doing all this stuff for, anyway? Exoskeletal engineering and programming... You'd think the old factory here was back up and running or something."
Beside him, unnoticed, Kevin's face twitched in sudden surmise.
Heliopolis, Morgenröte College, Laboratory
Kevin Walker, ordinary college student, followed his friends into the lab where much of their practical studies had been taking place of late. Unlike those others, though, his attitude was far from casual, however he may have looked on the outside. For he was not, in fact, precisely an "ordinary" college student.
Far from it, in fact, he thought to himself. After what happened three years ago... And now here I am, back in the other "playground" of my childhood, at a time when things are starting to look a bit strange all around.
"There you are, Kira," a blonde-haired young man with orange-tinted glasses said, glancing up from the exoskeleton he was tinkering with. "Did you know Professor Kato's been looking for you?" Sai Argyle went on, holding up a computer disk.
Kira sighed. "Yeah, yeah, Tolle already told me." He took the disk, shaking his head in resignation.
Black-haired Kuzzey Buskirk looked at him curiously. "He's been having you do a lot of that stuff lately, Kira. Just what's so important?"
"Beats me," Kira said with a shrug. "It's just a programming analysis, just like the last one. Looks like... yeah, more data on manipulator hydraulic settings. Dunno why there's so many of these lately, though."
He was about to say more, but Tolle chose that moment to grab him by the neck. "Well? Aren't you gonna ask about that letter, Kira?" he said teasingly.
Kevin lost interest about then; he'd been something of a prankster in his younger days, but there were some things too immature even for him. Besides, there's something... no, someone...
He was beginning to examine the room with more than his eyes and ears; he'd realized they weren't alone, and the heretofore silent individual had thoroughly caught his attention. Blonde, with golden eyes, the girl looked to be about his own age... and she seemed somehow familiar to the sandy-haired youth.
Letting his bright jade eyes fall closed, Kevin reached out with another sense, one related to his unusual genetic heritage. Though none but his closest associates knew it, Kevin's lineage bore the latent genes of the zoanthropes, the semi-empathic, half-beast shapeshifters. His genes, however, were by no means latent, and he had long since learned to recognize non-zoanthropes by their aura, provided he knew them well enough.
And somehow, it seemed this girl, whose features did not reside in his memory, seemed to be one of them. She registered to Kevin's sixth sense... and not just faintly.
Kira, having managed to break free of Tolle with a minimum of embarrassing questions, glanced curiously at Kevin. He was, as far as he knew, one of exactly two people alive who knew Kevin's nature, and he dimly registered Kevin's mental probing. What's he looking for? Kira wondered. There's no one...
Then his gaze drifted to the blonde by the door to Professor Kato's office, and his eyes widened. She, too, quite clearly sensed the psychic search, and looked considerably more surprised than Kira. Her gaze had gone almost instantly to the man in black, questions in her eyes.
There's something weird going on here, Kira thought uneasily. Do they know each other somehow? That seemed somehow unlikely; after all, most of Kevin's childhood had been spent around Kira and Athrun, with comparatively little time spent with his family in Orb. Moreover, Kira knew from experience Kevin's memory was eidetic, and he wasn't showing any signs of true recognition, despite his unease.
Then Kira caught sight of a glint of gold on the girl's right hand. A gold ring, with an emerald stone... and while he was no expert, and was two meters away, he was willing to bet that the stone was real, and that there were engraved initials on the setting.
It was, he thought, unlikely to be coincidence that she wore a ring identical to one he'd seen on Kevin's hand,
hidden beneath his perpetual gloves. Which reminded him of some things Kevin had let slip about his experiences...
"My memory is still a little fuzzy," Kevin had admitted, late one night. "I remember the three of us at Copernicus, but I don't remember much about home..."
Kira almost said something then, but Sai spoke up first. "Hey, Kevin," he called. "Could you give me a hand with this? I need a third hand for some of this wiring."
The moment broken, Kevin shook himself, and moved over to the exoskeleton. "I'm on it," he said, showing no trace of his confusion of moments before.
There were still mysteries, Kevin knew. But he'd found peace at last on Heliopolis, and his past seemed to be a closed book now. He had no intention of jeopardizing that peace now.
The relics within his body were reminder enough of how hard-won that peace was.
"If everything is on schedule," Le Creuset murmured, "things should start happening in just a few moments."
"Yes, Sir," Ades concurred, and shook his head. "I still find it hard to believe just how brazen the Earth Forces are being here. Using a neutral nation as cover for the construction of these new weapons... Although I suppose the fact that they enlisted Orb's aid in the first place is something of a good sign. They must still be having problems bridging the technological gap."
"Indeed." Le Creuset smiled faintly, pulling himself over to the forward viewport. "They've always had a slight edge in energy weapon technology, but it appears Orb still surpasses them in exoskeletal engineering and computers systems." He frowned thoughtfully behind his mask. "That does, however, suggest several interesting possibilities. Their mobile suit development program was supposedly shut down after the failure of the original prototype, yet the existence of these new units suggests some clandestine research has still been ongoing."
Ades nodded silently. He was not exactly brilliant, and knew it, but he wasn't stupid either. Morgenröte's Heliopolis facility had been the first to engage in research on the military applications of mobile suits, under the aegis of John Onishi, baron of one of the Five Noble Families... but the project had been abandoned long since, after the single prototype produced proved impractical. That, at least, was the official story.
The fact that the Earth Alliance, in cooperation with Orb, had succeeded in developing such advanced mobile suits less than a year after the outbreak of war suggested that was not quite accurate. Ades -and, for that matter, Rau Le Creuset- suspected at least the research side had remained active in the decade since, with the Sahaku family picking up where Onishi left off upon his death.
"Look on the bright side, Captain," an electronic-tinged voice interjected. "At least they can't have made enough Gundanium for that many mobile suits."
Ades tensed involuntarily, and was unsurprised to see his bridge crew doing much the same collectively. "You have a point there," he admitted, turning to face the new arrival. "But depending on just how effective these machines are, that may be small comfort."
The owner of the odd voice was enough to unnerve just about anyone, by his own admission. Clad in a black powered exoskeleton, wearing a sheathed ninjato on his back, his face was concealed behind a featureless helmet. Origins unknown but rumored to be somewhat unsavory, the armored assassin Invictus was Rau Le Creuset's personal hatchetman, acting as his private agent. As far as Ades knew, only Le Creuset himself had ever seen the man's face, and he was just as glad of it.
He, for one, more than half believed the rumors connecting Invictus to a defunct project no one in ZAFT liked to think about much.
"Ades is right, Invictus," Le Creuset said presently, turning to his agent. "But you do have a point. Fortunately for us, that alloy is effectively impossible to mass produce." He beckoned the assassin closer. "You have news?" he said, voice nearly inaudible.
"Affirm," Invictus replied, just as softly. "We may have an additional complication." The helmet turned toward the colony outside the viewport. "I believe he is there, Commander."
Behind his mask, Le Creuset's eyebrows went up. "Then he is alive? Interesting... Let us hope, then, that he's content to remain out of sight; there's no time to warn our infiltration unit. In fact..." He glanced at his watch. "It's time. Ades," he called, "give the order. We're moving out!"
Marseilles III-class Transport, Bridge
Approximately twenty seconds after the first ZGMF-1017 GINN rocketed out from Vesalius' catapult, alarms went off on the transport's bridge, startling the captain out of a well-deserved nap; and, had there been gravity present, Mu La Flaga would've spilled coffee all over himself.
"Report!" the captain barked, something resembling unease already congealing in his gut.
"Message from Heliopolis Control, Captain," his comm officer replied crisply. "Two ZAFT ships have entered Heliopolis nearspace; looks like… yes, they're the Nazca and Laurasia we spotted earlier." He paused, listening intently. "They've ignored warnings to stand clear and are continuing to close with the colony, Captain."
Mu swore under his breath. Damn. So much for "neutrality"; guess somebody in ZAFT figured that maintaining official neutrality while building mobile suits for our side is hypocrisy. But the question is…
He looked up sharply. "Don't tell me they're just cruising in without a care in the world. Have they deployed mobile suits yet?"
"Affirmative," the junior lieutenant replied. "Three… no, four GINNs. It looks like two of them are heading into the colony proper. The other two…" He swallowed audibly. "Sir, I think they know we're here, too."
"Either they've got fiendishly good intelligence analysts over there," the captain said, face gone pale, "or someone on our side is a double agent. Lieutenant La Flaga-"
Mu merely grunted, already pulling himself toward the hatch. "They don't know everything, Captain," he said grimly. "I don't think so, anyway… Look, Captain, you should stay out of this. This rust-bucket isn't going to be much use in a fight. Try to get clear, and have Luke and Gail board their Möbiuses. Don't deploy them until I give the word, but have them ready."
"Right away." The transport's captain nominally outranked the pilot, but he was a mere cargo hauler; he'd never been in combat, and it had been a long time since he'd participated in the sort of drills a warship captain took for granted.
Under the circumstances, he was only too grateful to follow a lieutenant's orders, if it meant getting out of this mess alive.
Before Mu could quite exit the hatch, the comm officer spoke up again, voice taut with tension. "Update from Heliopolis Control, Captain," he said hoarsely. "Explosions reported within the Morgenröte facility. Apparently, it's already been infiltrated."
Then they're after the new mobile suits. Mu snorted to himself. Not that there was ever any doubt. There's no other reason for ZAFT to risk such a massive diplomatic incident with Orb. But if they've actually got people on the ground… Damn. If they actually capture those machines, we'll be in a hell of a lot of trouble.
I guess it's time to see if your skills haven't gotten rusty since the Grimaldi Front, eh, Hawk of Endymion?
Afterwards, Kevin would never be sure if the rumbling through the floor was what alerted him, or if it was his long-dormant battle instincts that warned him a split second before that.
Either way, he knew that moment heralded the end of the tiger's long sleep, and his return the world he'd hoped he'd left behind.
The source of the warning for his friends, though, was quite literally as hard to miss as a bomb going off, introduced as it was by a thunderous shock that shook the walls and floor, nearly knocking Tolle -currently strapped into the exoskeleton- clear off his feet.
Kevin was at his side instantly, despite having been helping Kira with programming on the other side of the room just a moment before, and steadied the heavy machine with an ease that belied his lean build. "What the hell was that?!" Tolle demanded, heedless of his own brief peril. "Some kind of construction accident?!"
"Felt too big for that," Sai answered, reaching for the exoskeleton's fasteners. "Whatever it was, we'd better go and find out; if something went wrong at the port, or maybe in Environmental..."
Kira, glancing at the blonde girl, shivered. Any kind of disaster in space was by definition bad; one that involved the colony's structural integrity or life support was bad squared. Or maybe cubed, he thought. But whatever. Sai's right.
The girl, he noticed, was already heading for the door to the emergency stairs, and he followed after her; but before either of them could reach it, Kevin was there. "That was no accident," he stated... and slammed a booted foot into the door, propelling it out into the stairwell. "In fact," he added, seemingly oblivious to the looks he was getting for the display of strength, "that was a bomb. A big one."
"A bomb?!" Kuzzey repeated, voice a little shrill. "But... but we're a neutral colony! Who'd be attacking us?!"
Kevin shook his head wordlessly, and led the way into the stairwell, just as another shock ran through the building, and distant cracking noises began to reach their ears. Of them all, he -and, though he did not realize it, the blonde girl- knew what those sounds were, but chose not to mention it. Gunfire, he thought grimly. And I know those guns.
"Doesn't anyone know what's going on?" Miriallia demanded, as they entered the shaft.
"There's an alert from the port," one of the college faculty answered, coming down from an upper floor. "Two ZAFT ships were seen entering the vicinity, and apparently mobile suits have entered the colony."
"Mobile suits?!" Tolle repeated. "But that means-!"
"Yeah," the teacher confirmed with a nod. "But that doesn't matter! We've got to get out of here, right now! They're heading right for this complex!"
Sai nodded hastily, and began to lead the others in the teacher's wake... but Kira heard the blonde girl gasp, and saw Kevin's eyes narrow with sudden surmise, before the two abruptly turned and dashed through another door, as if by agreement.
"Hey!" he called after them. "Where do you think you're going?! Wait!"
The girl ignored him, hurrying on without a word, but Kevin turned his head briefly. "There's something I need to see!" he called back. "I may know what they're after!"
Those words confused Kira; the reaction from the girl was more pronounced. She actually stumbled, turning to look at the black-clad youth in something akin to shock. "Kevin?!" she burst out, visibly stunned. "But that's-!"
Kira could vaguely hear Tolle calling for them all to come back, but the girl's strange reaction, and Kevin's obvious unease, made him hesitate. This is nuts. Heliopolis is under attack, mobile suits are heading this way, that girl looks like she's seen a ghost, and Kevin's suddenly playing Secret Agent Man. We should be getting out of-
His thoughts were interrupted with brutal suddenness by the blast that ripped through the wall to his right, slamming him into the opposite wall. "Ugh!"
The impact left Kira dazed. He'd never been flung into a wall with quite such force before, and the explosion itself left his ears ringing... as well as bringing down a section of the ceiling. Going back was no longer an option, with debris blocking the path back toward the exit.
Kevin's first instinct was to go to his friend's aid, regardless of his own objective, but the girl's startled exclamation brought him up short. His bright jades eyes, glowing behind his shades, snapped over to her. How the hell does she know my name? "What is it, Miss?" he asked aloud, eyes narrowing.
"What is it?!" she repeated incredulously. "Kevin, you're dead! I... I watched you die! How can you- And what's with this 'Miss'?" she demanded. "You know damn well who I am, Kevin!" The look on her face was one of shock mixed now with annoyance, as if he'd somehow offended her.
Kevin shook his head. I know she seems familiar somehow, but still... "Look, Miss, I really don't have the least idea who you are. And frankly, I don't have time to debate it with you; I know what those ZAFT bastards are after, and this place is going to be blown straight to hell before long."
Turning away, he started to head back to Kira's aid, but the girl caught his arm. "Now just wait a minute!" she snapped. "You're not going to try telling me you're not Kevin Walker, are you? Because-!"
Another explosion, this one from farther away, interrupted her, and Kevin took the opportunity to pull free, surprising her with his strength. I don't have time for this, he thought grimly, and darted over to Kira's side. When all this over, sure. But not when the whole damn world is blowing up around us.
Reaching out a hand, he hauled Kira to his feet. "You okay, tovarisch?"
"Y-yeah," Kira replied groggily. He shook his head furiously to clear it. "My head hurts a little and my ears are ringing, but that's all... But Kevin, what do we do now?" He pointed back the way they'd come. "The escape route's blocked off!"
Smiling grimly, Kevin reached into his jacket, and withdrew a battered-looking Colt Single Action Army revolver. "That's not the only way out of here, Kira. There'll be shelters in the factory itself, and I've got an escape plan of my own... assuming things are still as I remember them."
"I hope you're right." Kira shook his head again, and straightened. He failed to share his friend's aplomb; Kevin might be familiar with bombs going off all around him, but he, for one, was just a civilian.
The girl, meanwhile, was getting increasingly impatient. She was shocked by the sandy-haired youth's existence, furious that he seemed to be pretending not to know her… and, deep down, frightened at everything that was going on. She'd come here to investigate a rumor, and now it looked like there was a very good chance she was going to die in the next few minutes.
But, she thought furiously, if I am, I'm at least going to do what I came here for, and find the truth about what Father's been up to!
"Do what you want," she snapped at the boys. "But I'm in a hurry!" Whirling, the blonde girl raced down the corridor.
"That's insane," Kevin remarked, blinking.
"Forget that, we've got to go after her!" It was Kira's turn to grab Kevin's arm, and this time Kevin didn't resist.
Instead, he nodded, brandishing the revolver, and the pair took off in the girl's wake.
Morgenröte, Factory Interior
Everything's going as planned for now, I guess, Athrun Zala thought, pressing his back against the corridor wall. And no more doubts about the validity of the mission. New mobile suits, a new warship… Damn. If Kevin saw this, he'd go ballistic. I think.
That was, perhaps, his one lingering concern. Kira he was sure was safely elsewhere; possibly in the PLANTs, for all he knew. Kevin, on the other hand… If he'd been who Athrun was starting to think he was, and was still alive, he could well be on Heliopolis. No friend to the Earth Forces, no doubt, but very possibly present nonetheless.
Forget it, he ordered himself sternly. If he's here, he's smart enough to stay away from the fighting. If he's not, there's nothing to worry about at all. Either way, there's no time to worry about that.
"I think everything's going smoothly with the other guys," Rusty McKenzie opined breathlessly, joining him by the corner. "Sounds like the bombs hit the new warship on time, and from the enemy chatter I'm guessing Yzak, Dearka, and Nicol got to their targets okay."
"Good." Athrun thought back to the mission briefing, and nodded sharply. "That's three of the prototypes taken care of, then. We just have to secure the last two, and evac." He risked a glance around the corner, almost got a bullet through his faceplate for his trouble, and pulled back. "The main hangar should be straight down this corridor."
"Right where most of the resistance is," Rusty mused. "Cool." He lifted an eyebrow. "On three?"
"On eight," Athrun corrected, pulling a grenade from his equipment harness. "Five for the grenade, then three for us. No sense getting shredded by our own bomb."
"Getting shredded, bad," the other redcoat said agreeably. "Now?"
In answer, Athrun pulled the pin, and hurled the grenade down the corridor. He was obscurely satisfied to hear a strangled, "Son of a bitch!"
Then it went off, and Athrun Zala took his first act of revenge for the Bloody Valentine Tragedy… and his mother.
Morgenröte, Corridor to Main Hangar
They'd almost reached what Kevin knew to be the facility's main hangar when it happened.
From a side door, mere meters away from the hatch leading into the main chamber, four figures in green ZAFT flightsuits burst into the corridor, carrying battle rifles. They'd just run into a serious pocket of resistance, and were on a hair trigger.
Kira, stranger though he might be to violence, reacted almost instantly, grabbing the girl and yanking her down to the floor.
"Let go of me, you jerk!" she gasped out, the impact knocking the wind out of her… but she made no move to get up, realizing what Kira had done, and why. "Those are-! Kevin!"
Kira, cringing against what he knew must be coming, glanced up, and saw that Kevin had not yet moved. He'd come to a halt, but seemed in no hurry to get out of the line of fire. "Are you crazy?! Kevin, get down-!"
It was possible that the ZAFT troopers would have recognized the trio for civilians, and gone on their way, had their leader not spotted Kevin's revolver. They'd just lost three of their buddies to Morgenröte security, but they might have retained the presence of mind not to accidentally gun down neutral teenagers.
The revolver, however, set off an instant reaction, one not at all mitigated by the adrenaline rush of combat. A weapon was in evidence, they'd just been under fire, and there was only one sensible option.
In the end, however, it would not have mattered whether they fired or not. The instant Kevin's optic nerves registered the presence of armed and probably hostile intruders, the only question became how many bodies would be left.
Kevin had not moved, because he could not. Behind his bright jade eyes, data flickered, status symbols, information on the ZAFT soldiers' equipment, and urgent commands from deep within his mind.
HOSTILES DETECTED, HOSTILES DETECTED, INITIATING COMBAT PROTOCOL ZERO-NINER-
The command stymied the automatics for an instant, after which they responded with: THREAT IMMINENT. AUTOMATIC REACTIVATION PROTOCOLS IN PROGRESS. LIMITER RELEASE LEVEL TWO-
Kevin gritted his teeth, fighting the commands. He'd spent a full year keeping everything dormant; now was not the time for this, and he would not let it do what it pleased now. Not after three years of forcing his control over it.
Disable automatic protocols, he commanded forcefully. Stand down reactivation procedures!
THREAT IMMINENT, it insisted. PROTOCOL-
To hell with protocol! Trembling, his mind arguing with his other half at a speed faster than human thought, he fought for full control and cursed himself for not engaging in judicious hacking long ago.
Yet his other half had a point, and his friend -and the strange girl who claimed to know him- was in danger.
An infinitesimal pause. Then, LIMITER RELEASE LEVEL FOUR EXECUTED. ADMINISTERING JANUS NOW.
The entire inner argument took less than two seconds of real time. By the time the first of the four ZAFT greencoats had begun to level his rifle, the cold rush had already swept down through the youth's body, and the world begun to slow around him.
Kira, still looking up at his friend, stared as his stance suddenly changed, movements subtly altering in a way Kira thought he recognized from somewhere, but couldn't quite place.
Then Kevin Walker snapped completely out of his immobility, and charged straight at the ZAFT soldiers.
It was probably the last action they would've expected from a lone civilian armed only with a six-shot revolver. It was, by any normal standard, the height of insanity. Nonetheless, they were trained soldiers, and their reflexes reacted before their conscious minds, triggering off short bursts of gunfire at the foolhardy youth.
The staccato burst of lead prompted an involuntary scream from the girl, caused Kira to instinctively -and hopelessly- shield her, and accomplished exactly nothing else, for Kevin had already left the floor in a prodigious leap.
Only a handful of meters had separated the soldiers from the civilians in the first place. Kevin's leap crossed that distance faster than they'd counted on, and before a second burst could be fired, he was among them.
Sometime during the leap, he'd holstered his Colt. Now, landing right in front of the lead ZAFT trooper, his left hand shoved the barrel of the soldier's rifle skyward, while his slipped in, grabbed the rifle's stock, and pulled. The maneuver twisted the weapon out of the man's hands, sending it whirling upward, and then Kevin's knee was smashing up, catching him in the groin.
A second greencoat jabbed his rifle toward Kevin's face, but Kevin was riding Janus now. He sidestepped, spun to his right, and caught the first man's still-falling rifle by the barrel. Continuing the spin, he used the momentum to slam the weapon into the man's neck, breaking it and the rifle.
Even as he dropped with the boneless slump of the dead, the third soldier snapped his rifle around and triggered a three-round burst. The attack would've ripped Kevin's throat to shreds, but he was already moving again, head jerking just far enough to the left to let the bullets zip past, where they crashed into a wall and ricocheted away. Then, dodging a kick from the fourth man, Kevin lunged forward, flattened his right hand, and drove its edge into the man's left elbow.
The ZAFT soldier screamed as the joint shattered, his rifle dropped toward the floor. Kevin was already moving again, spinning clockwise on his right foot, his left leaving the floor in a brutal roundhouse kick. His heel connected the fourth man's helmet smashing him into a wall; he hit with a crunch, and slithered down to the metal floor, motionless.
While that body still fell, Kevin's hands blurred, darting into his jacket. When they came back out, his left slashed viciously at the third man -the one with the shattered elbow- and connected with his throat, and his right swung down to point at the first man, still gasping from the groin strike. The object in that hand emitted a thunderous boom and a cloud of foul-smelling smoke, and the man jerked, gasped once more, and lay still.
Kevin stood alone now. One man was shot through the heart, another's trachea was crushed by the butt of the first's rifle. A third was limp against the wall, unconscious or dead, his skull badly fractured by the kick and the brutal impact with the wall. And the fourth now wore a flightsuit stained with red, both carotid arteries severed by the fighting knife Kevin had withdrawn from a sheath at the small of his back.
ENGAGEMENT CONCLUDED. ADMINISTERING RETRO. LIMITERS RESET TO LEVEL FIVE.
Kevin took a deep, shuddering breath, feeling the world return to its normal speed. "Poor bastards," he whispered, and knelt, wiping the red-stained knife on a flightsuit, before returning it to its sheath. Then he straightened once more, blew smoke from the Colt's barrel, and gave the weapon an affectionate twirl.
It took him a moment, what with his body still recovering from what he'd done to it, to realize Kira and their erstwhile companion were both staring at him.
Kira, at least, had known of Kevin's capacity for violence; in a way, that was what had brought them together in the first place, a decade earlier. The brutal efficiency with which he'd just killed four trained soldiers, and his clear disinterest in taking prisoners, was something new to him.
And the way he moved… that wasn't normal. And that wasn't kung fu, either.
To the girl, the violence was just as shocking, but it also served to further confirm her original suspicions about the teen. Unlike Kira, she had seen those moves before, or at least the basis of them. She knew them herself, though her proficiency with them did not even come close to what she'd just witnessed.
It's Kevin, she thought, stunned. It has to be. But how? Two years ago, he… Anger flared again. And why is he acting like he doesn't even know me?!
There was still not even a flicker of recognition in the deadly youth's body, though, and she knew there was no time to confront him about his past.
"We've got to get moving," she said brusquely, and almost absently hauled Kira to his feet as she rose. "There's bound to be more of them."
Kevin nodded. "If they're following ZAFT procedure… and if they're being this brazen, I'd take that as a given." Turning, he raised the revolver again, pointed it down the hall, and shot the door latch.
Morgenröte, Main Hangar
Lieutenant Murrue Ramius, Earth Alliance Forces, swore as the first hail of bullets erupted from the hangar's floor-level maintenance access, and ducked behind part of a mobile suit leg. She'd known it was coming soon; the grenade that blew through the maintenance hatch a few minutes before had been plenty of warning. That didn't make it any more welcome, however.
At least a G-weapon makes for good cover, she thought grimly, even with phase-shift down.
"We've got incoming!" Ensign Jake Rainer shouted unnecessarily, crouched atop GAT-X303 Aegis' prostrate form. "Five, maybe six hostiles!"
"Covering fire!" Murrue ordered, pausing to check her rifle's magazine one last time. "Keep their heads down!" Popping up from cover, she sent a five-round burst toward the incoming ZAFT soldiers.
Her fire was joined by four others; the only warm bodies she'd been able to round up who even knew which end of a rifle the bullet came out of. It wasn't much, and she knew it… but if ZAFT had already captured the other three prototypes, Aegis and GAT-X105 Strike had to be protected at all costs.
They would be the Earth Forces' only hope, with three G-weapons in the hands of the enemy.
Through the din of nearly a dozen crisscrossing streams of bullets, Murrue heard a cry of pain, cut off with brutal suddenness, and felt a flicker of hope as a green-suited enemy flew back, half a dozen holes through his torso. That hope turned to ashes a split second later, though; Lieutenant Josh Welker, firing from the cover of Strike's left foot, took a bullet to the forehead, most of his head vanishing into red mist even as his body fell to the floor.
Murrue swore bitterly, ducking down again. Damn! My people are engineers, not riflemen; we can't keep this up!
"Anything yet from Captain Bourne?" she shouted to Rainer, swapping out an empty magazine.
"Not since that first bomb went off!" Rainer yelled back. "I think we're on our own, Lieutenant!" He didn't have to add the obvious: that the continued silence suggested something very bad had happened to the senior officers of the new mobile assault ship.
No help for it, Murrue thought grimly. These machines are worth more to the war effort than our lives.
She was about to try for another shot, now that ZAFT soldiers had fully entered the hangar, when a sound from the catwalk above caught her attention. First the loud bark of a handgun, then a voice, barely audible over the cacophony of gunfire.
"Father, I knew you betrayed us all!"
The girl's cry of anguished fury brought Kevin Walker's full attention to her for the first time since the crisis began, and the mention of her father brought a tiny flicker of recognition to the forefront of his mind. Her… father? Wait… I can almost…
The fog that still clouded his recollections settled in once again before he could make the connection, and Kevin turned away, his gaze joining Kira's in staring at what occupied the factory's largest hangar. Once it would've been empty, or perhaps used to store shuttles and construction craft. Now, however…
"I knew it," Kevin whispered, bright jade eyes narrowing. "Sahaku… you've reactivated the facility. You idiots…"
Still resting in their transport racks were a pair of humanoid weapons, each over fifteen meters tall. They were of an advanced design unlike anything used by ZAFT, but Kevin recognized their ancestry from his own past, and new them for what they were: mobile suits. Mobile suits constructed in part from the one that had been built here a decade before.
Kevin's supposition stood confirmed. ZAFT had been so bold because they had very little choice. If these machines -and from the looks of it, at least two other machines had once been here, as well- reached operational status, ZAFT's greatest advantage over the Earth Alliance would disappear. With mobile suits in the hands of the Earth Forces, there was a very good chance of the balance of power shifting radically.
Kira's thoughts were far less analytical than Kevin's. "Mobile suits…? But why? What the hell are mobile suits doing on Heliopolis, of all places?"
"A very large bribe, I'd guess," Kevin replied, hand tensing unconsciously on the wooden grips of his revolver. "Or maybe a grand scheme on Sahaku's part; it's in their character. Either way, it does make a certain degree of sense. The original purpose of this facility was mobile suit development. I know, I was here…"
Sahaku, the girl thought bitterly, only barely aware of the conversation. Of course. Damn them! We're trying so hard to stay out of this war, and they do this?! And what did Father know about this?! There's no way he didn't know anything about it! He knew as well as anyone about-
A burst of gunfire from below almost took Kira's head off, as bullets ricocheted off the catwalk's railing. With all the fighting on the hangar's floor, they'd all more or less tuned it out, and almost paid for their inattention with their lives.
Kira, inexperienced as he was with mass violence, wasn't stupid. "Come on!" he shouted, grabbing the girl's hand. "We've got to get to the shelters! It's too dangerous here!"
"Da," Kevin agreed, and whirled around. "Kira, get yourself and the girl out of here!"
"Huh? But wait, Kevin!" Kira protested. "You're coming too!"
"No, I'm not," Kevin countered, already off and running in the opposite direction. "I've got my own way out of here! Get going!"
"But-!" Kira swallowed a curse. Kevin was one of the best friends he'd ever had, but when he made up his mind, changing it generally required a sledgehammer… and it was too late, anyway. The way Kevin was moving, he'd never catch up.
And Kevin was right about one thing: this was no place for the girl.
"Fine, then, but be careful!" Kira shouted. "Don't get killed, got it?!" Seeing a wave from Kevin, he turned back toward the nearest block of shelters, at which point the ran into a snag in his place.
"Kevin!" the girl screamed, struggling now to free her arm from Kira's grasp. "Where are you going?! Kevin!"
"Don't be an idiot!" Kevin yelled back, pausing for an instant. "If you really do know anything about me, then you know damn well what I'm about to try would kill you!"
Her eyes widened, both at the uncharacteristic curse -she knew he seldom swore in English- and at the implications of his warning. "What- No! That's crazy! Get back here, Kevin! I-!"
But Kira was dragging her back now, displaying a surprising degree of strength himself. "Come on!" he urged. "We've gotta get out of here! He can take care of himself!"
She shook her head violently. "You don't understand! Kevin- he's going to use-!"
"Come on!" He tightened his grip, and almost glared at her. "We don't have time for this, and you saw what he did a couple minutes ago. I don't know who you are or what you know about Kevin, but I know he can take care of himself."
Better than Kira had realized, in fact. He didn't know how Kevin had done what he'd done to those soldiers, but it had convinced him that whatever Kevin was up to now, he knew exactly what he was doing.
He only hoped that his own escape plans were as sound.
Morgenröte, Special Access Section
I have got to be crazy, Kevin Walker thought, shoulder-charging through a door and rushing into another section of the factory. Even if this works -even if they haven't scrapped the prototype since ten years ago- there's a good chance this won't work. But still… I have no choice.
This section of the facility was older than the rest, predating both the college labs and the new mobile suit manufacturing facilities. Kevin had not walked these halls in the better part of a decade, but he still remembered them well… and they were critical to his own escape plans. If he was wrong about the Sahakus, there was a good chance he wasn't getting out of here alive.
Pounding down a corridor, Kevin allowed himself a burst of speed he wouldn't have dared show to Kira, and his mind turned back to the girl they'd met here. She knew me, he mused. I don't know how, but she must have, if she understood what I said; that's the only way she could've connected me with Dad's old project. But…
Kevin shook his head angrily. Those bastards! Three years it's been, and still their experiments cloud my mind. And now their allies have come to destroy my last sanctuary… They'll pay for this. Oh, yes, they'll pay. When I find what I'm looking for, they'll wish they hadn't brought me back out of retirement. Not that they'll live long enough to truly regret it.
Many traits could be said to define Kevin Walker. Perhaps the most pertinent, under these circumstances, was a healthy capacity for vengeance.
Rounding a corner at breakneck speed, Kevin's eyes swept down the corridor, and he skidded to a halt before the door he'd been looking for. It simply said, Director, but he knew it was what he sought.
He first tried the knob, discovering without surprise that it was locked; considering that armed hostiles were in the facility, it would've been astonishing were it otherwise. Nor, however, did it deter him. Tensing his muscles, he grasped the knob, twisted slightly, and jerked.
Kevin was nearly shot the instant he walked into the office, but he'd anticipated it, and arranged for his head not to be where the other person expected it to be. "You know, Mina," he said calmly, stepping fully into the room, "I realize you're going to need a new door jam, but I'd think that minor next to everything else that's going on right now."
As he'd expected, there was no second shot. Sable-haired, dressed in flowing purple, Rondo Mina Sahaku's scarlet eyes widened as the youth's voice registered. The face had changed since last they'd met, but she still knew that voice… and, now that she thought about it, the easy grin.
Which were both, of course, impossible. Except that they were there anyway.
"Kevin? You're alive?"
Even as Mina said it, she recognized the obviousness of the statement, and Kevin himself snorted in amusement. "I've been living under your nose for a year now, and you've only just noticed? Yes, Mina, I'm alive. Yes, there are reasons I haven't admitted it till now. And no, I don't have time to explain everything. As you've probably noticed, we're under attack."
"True," Mina admitted, all business now; it wasn't the first time Kevin had reappeared after a mysterious absence, and there really were more pressing matters. "Someone must've infiltrated and learned of the G-weapons. Evidently, our security wasn't as tight as we thought; though even so, I wouldn't have expected ZAFT to be this brazen." She glanced out the window behind her desk, overlooking a section of the factory. "So much for neutrality."
"Your own fault," Kevin said coldly, his pleasure at seeing an old friend again buried beneath his anger. "What were you thinking? Never mind," he said, before she could reply. "Your family's agenda… Forget it. We can argue about this some other time. Where's Ghina?"
"Getting the Gold Frame out of here," Mina replied, nodding at the hangar beyond the window. "One of the prototypes we've been building for ourselves. We haven't been quite as trusting as the Earth Alliance believes," she added dryly. "We haven't gotten everything, but all the data we have had access to has gone toward building mobile suits of our own, with the basic data being sent back to Orb for use at Headquarters."
"You've been busy." Kevin's voice warmed a trifle. He still disapproved of the affair in general, but it seemed as if the Sahaku family sneakiness was actually coming in handy for a change. "I hope Ghina gets clear; I don't particularly like him, but if he can get even one of the prototypes back to Orb, it'll be good for the country in general."
"Indeed." Mina gave him a speculative look. "Is that why you're here, Kevin? Looking to use one of our mobile suits for your own escape? There's still the Blue and Red Frames…"
"No," he said flatly. "I actually wouldn't have come here at all if I didn't need a ride -I'm not ready for the homeland to learn I'm alive- but your prototypes don't interest me." He pulled off his shades, and his intense, glowing gaze met hers. "I have just one question, Mina.
"Where is Tallgeese?"
Morgenröte, Shelter Access
By the time they reached the bank of lift tubes leading down into the local shelter, the girl had stopped struggling, much to Kira's relief… but he was baffled by her obvious distress. Had it been because of the attack, he could've understood it; he was scared half witless himself. But the way she'd reacted to Kevin's presence…
Somebody he knows? Kira wondered. But he didn't recognize her… then there's the ring to consider. It's just like his…
"You should've let me go with him," the girl said, almost morosely, as they came up to one of the tubes. "I needed to make sure…"
Kira shook his head. "It's too dangerous to stay here!" he said sharply. "Kevin's a soldier; we aren't. We'd be crazy to stick around here." He reached past her, tapped on the control panel next to one of the lift tubes, and brought up a status display.
The results prompted a curse under his breath. None of the tubes were active; they'd all been shut down from within the shelter itself. Damn! What's going on here?!
The girl, meanwhile, shot him a glare. Not a soldier! If you had any idea who you're dealing with, you'd… Argh! I don't have time for this! Kevin's going to get himself killed -again- and this jerk-!
"Damn it!" Kira exploded, almost punching the controls in frustration; he added an especially satisfying Russian epithet Kevin had introduced him to, almost prompting a laugh from his companion despite the situation. "This is just…!" He broke off, took a breath, and reminded himself there was more than machinery involved. That in mind, he hit the control that would connect him with the shelter itself. "Hello? Is this shelter still active?"
The response was a while in coming, which made Kira distinctly uneasy; the distant explosion in the meantime didn't help… nor did the peculiar roaring noise off in the distance, resembling the howl of GINN verniers he'd heard earlier but far more intense. Another loud noise and he'd probably jump right out of his skin.
"…The shelter is still intact," a voice said at length, with obvious reluctance. Or, perhaps, simple fear; under the circumstances, it was hard to tell. "But there's no room left. You're better off finding another shelter."
Kira swore again. There's no time for this! There's shooting going on in the main hangar already, and we're not that far from there; and the nearest shelter besides this is clear across there!
"Look," he said desperately, "there's only two of us here. Can't you squeeze that much in, if only standing room?"
Another lengthy pause. Then, "…Regs require all occupants be seated; these things double as escape pods, remember?" Another pause. "All right, we can take one of you. I'm sorry, but that's the best we can do."
He closed his eyes. I'll have to find my own way out then; either brave the hangar, or try and find out where Kevin went. Still… That'll have to do.
"All right," Kira said aloud. "Thanks." As the tube came alive, its door sliding open, he grabbed the girl's shoulders before she could react. "Okay, in you go!"
Now the struggle returned to the girl, and she fought against his grip. "Wait! Don't do it! I still have to-!" She broke off. "And what about you?!" As much of a jerk as this guy was, she still didn't want him to die here; he was obviously a friend of Kevin, and there was something about him…
"I told you, it's too dangerous here!" Kira quickly stepped back, and hit the lift controls. "Don't worry about me, okay? I'll go over to the shelter on the other side."
"But-!" The door slid shut before she could finish, and the lift was already beginning to move. "Tell Kevin!" she shouted through it. "Tell Kevin that I'm Cagalli, you hear me?! Tell him-"
Her descent into the shelter cut her off, and Kira breathed a sigh of relief. Now you'll be okay, at least, he thought. That's one less thing to worry about. And don't worry, I'll let Kevin know. I don't know what's going on, but it looks like you know more than he does… and he'll want to know.
He leaned forward against the lift tube for a moment, catching his breath, and then turned back toward the hangar. It was going to be risky, but reaching the shelter on the opposite side of the factory seemed like his best hope for survival now.
I only hope Kevin's okay. And Tolle and the others, too… Of course, they probably did the smart thing and headed for a shelter right off.
Morgenröte, Mobile Suit Development Project Hangar
"You're out of your mind," Mina said, almost conversationally, as the pair of them walked out onto the catwalk overlooking the old, disused hangar. "That great white elephant? Come on, Kevin, you spent as much time here as did in Orb on holiday; you know damn well why Tallgeese was the only prototype built back then."
"This is true," Kevin admitted, absently twirling his revolver. "Also kinda irrelevant, under the circumstances. Needs must when the devil rides."
Standing before them, dusty, with its head literally tucked under its arm, was another mobile suit. Older than those in the main hangar, it was primarily white, with black trim; on its left arm was a round shield, and on its right shoulder was an old but powerful railgun. Its face was less human than those of the G-weapons, with a visor-type optical sensor, and its "helmet" looked like it belonged to a Roman legionnaire, complete with brush-like crest.
It had first been built over ten years before, and had been collecting dust for most of those years. The first foray into military mobile suit development, it had been Orb's attempt at a weapon to guarantee its neutrality.
Had a pilot been found that could handle it, the concept might even have worked, but ORB-00 Tallgeese had proven to be too complex, too expensive -its armor constructed of an alloy that could only be forged in outer space, and at fantastic cost- and, quite simply, too powerful. Some of those issues could've been corrected with a little experimentation, but the issues of complexity had seemed insoluble.
ZAFT had demonstrated the solution to that key issue, but though that could be combined with cheaper armor materials to produce a more practical mobile suit, Tallgeese itself had remained in storage even after the G-weapon project commenced, used only for research purposes. The complexity of its operations could now, possibly, be remedied, but one key factor remained to prevent a suitable pilot from being found for it.
Until now, Kevin thought. I hope.
"You realize this will probably kill you," Mina told him, looking at him soberly. "The test pilot passed out before full power was reached, and he had simulator training on mobile suits. I know you were always a cut above average, even for one of us, but still…"
"Things have changed, Mina," Kevin said coolly, thinking back to the way he'd taken apart those ZAFT soldiers earlier… and the secret behind his abilities. "And I've had some simulator training myself, on ZAFT models. I'm rusty, but I should at least be able to move. What with its Gundanium armor, that's good enough to get me out of here alive."
She sighed. "Your funeral… again." Mina reached into a pocket, withdrew a small device on a ring, and tossed it to him. "Here. Tallgeese's activation key. If you actually think you can get that antique moving, I'll open the hangar; after that, it's all up to you. Ghina and I are getting out of here before it all explodes."
Kevin nodded gravely. "Thank you, Mina. And may I say, it's good to see you again." He turned toward Tallgeese's hatch, then paused. "Anything different from when I last saw this beast?"
Mina shrugged. "Antibeam coating on the shield and a beam saber stored on the inverse; Ghina wanted it at least theoretically capable of standing up to a G-weapon, in case he needed it for a quick getaway. Fortunately for him," she added wryly, "the Gold Frame was completed first. You may be crazy enough to risk your neck this way, but neither of us are." She turned away. "I'll go open the hatch, then I'm getting out of here. Luck, Kevin."
"I don't believe in luck," he replied, and leapt through the hatch. Only Fate, he added to himself, landing in front of the pilot's seat.
And it would appear Fate's hand is taking part once again. Hm… I wonder how many deaths I'll have to endure this time?
Settling into the seat, Kevin snapped the safety harness together, and turned to activating the mobile suit. Merely touching the main instrument panel gave him a flash of déjà vu; as a child, he'd sat in this very seat, gone through this very sequence…
And if the dust was any indication, no one had done it since.
A few flipped switches later, and main power came online; for all that Tallgeese was regarded as an antiquated boondoggle, Sahaku had at least kept its batteries at full charge, and the gauges read full on both propellant and railgun ammunition. That much, at least, satisfied him.
The computers, on the other hand, made Kevin groan in exasperation. "What a dinosaur," he moaned aloud. "Where's Kira when you need him? He's the instant-reprogramming whiz…"
No help for it now, though. There was no time to try updating the prehistoric software, and it was -barely- up to the first task he gave it. As the first hatch leading out into the colony interior yawned open, Kevin sent an order to the machine's arms.
Tallgeese had also been kept well-oiled, fortunately, and it was with only the briefest hesitation that its arms rose, lifting its head, and settled the vital appendage atop its neck with a solid, reassuring click. The action automatically activated its main cameras, and Kevin's forward displays lit up.
"Okay," he whispered, as another hatch groaned open, "this is it. Time to see if even I can handle this." He cleared his throat, preparing to speak to an imaginary flight controller, and grasped the throttle for Tallgeese's massive verniers. "Kevin Walker here. Tallgeese launching!"
Kevin shoved the handle to the firewall.
Had anyone been listening, the next sound to be heard from Tallgeese's cockpit would have been a scream.
Morgenröte, Main Hangar
We're going to die, Murrue Ramius thought almost calmly, ripping off another burst at the space-suited invaders. She no longer worried about conserving ammunition; she was down to just Ensign Rainer and a petty officer whose name she didn't even know, and while there were only three enemy soldiers left, she'd learned the hard way that Coordinators were better shots than her people.
And that they still had grenades. Mike O'Donnell, a man she'd worked with from the very start of the G-weapon project, had bought it smothering a fragmentation grenade, protecting his comrades at the cost of his own life.
It looked now as if his sacrifice had only bought them a few more minutes.
At least those civilians had gotten clear. Murrue had been horrified to realize the trio she'd fired on earlier had just been teenagers, presumably having lost their way in all the confusion. She had never been happier to have missed a target.
Small comfort now, though, since it looked like she wasn't going to have to worry about hitting a target ever again, and now she threw caution to the winds, standing to open up on the remaining ZAFT soldiers.
"Look out! Behind you!"
Acting purely on reflex, Murrue spun around, dropping flat on the Strike's skirt armor, and snapped up her rifle. Before she could think about it, she snapped off a three-round burst, and the greencoat who'd been drawing a bead on her back from the upper catwalk fell back with a cry, chest perforated.
Eyes wide, breath coming now in short gasps, Murrue turned to see who had warned her, and was surprised to spot one of the teens she'd almost shot earlier. "That kid again?" she wondered aloud. "What is he…?" She shook her head. It didn't matter now. "Get out of here!" she shouted up at him. "It's too dangerous!"
"I know!" the teen called back, already running toward the other end of the hangar. "I'm heading for the shelter over-"
An explosion cut him off, almost literally: a gout of flame erupted from the corridor he was heading for, and nearly blasted him clear off the catwalk. As it was, he stumbled back, one arm raised instinctively to protect his face from the flames.
"It's suicide to go that way!" Murrue shouted. "The shelter on the other side is still-"
"That shelter's already full!" he replied, coughing. "I…I…"
She closed her eyes. Bad enough that she and her fellow soldiers were doomed; now a civilian who'd been in the wrong place at the wrong time was going to join them in death… all because he'd been a little too selfless, if the absence of his companions was any indication.
Murrue bit her lip. It was a long shot, and against regulations… but it might just work. At the least, they stood a better chance that way than by trying to get out on foot.
"Come on down here!" she called. "It's our only chance!"
Somewhat to her surprise, the teen made no argument. He simply nodded, headed back in her direction… and, to her even greater surprise, vaulted clear over the railing, dropping five meters onto Strike's shoulder. He hit hard, falling to his knees, but he seemed otherwise intact.
Murrue had no time to ascertain anything more than that. One of the ZAFT soldiers had evidently decided the lull was a perfect time to resume the assault, and the hangar was suddenly filled with gunfire once again. There was a scream as Jake Rainer took a bullet to the chest, falling off Aegis; the last ZAFT greencoat joined him in death a split second later, his faceplate shattered by a bullet from the petty officer that also shattered his nose.
She tried to join in herself, bringing her sights down on one of the redcoats, but a squeeze of the trigger produced nothing but a faint click.
"Damn!" The rifle was jammed, and Murrue had no time to try and clear it. She instead dropped the useless longarm, pulled her sidearm from a pocket of her coveralls…
And in the time it took to switch weapons, Rusty McKenzie fired one shot, taking the petty officer in the left eye.
He had no time to celebrate, or even switch his sights to the last remaining defender. Murrue Ramius, her face twisting in a snarl at the loss of her last ally, brought her pistol up in one swift motion, leveled it at Rusty's head, and jerked the trigger twice in succession.
Rusty McKenzie, ZAFT top gun of the Le Creuset team, dropped like a puppet with its strings cut, twin hulls punched through his faceplate, terrible damage hidden behind the cracked composite.
Athrun Zala had never been in battle before today. He knew the loss of a loved one, but this was his first experience with the loss of comrades on the battlefield… and after the attrition that his team had already suffered, watching Rusty McKenzie, a youth he'd trained with and considered a friend, die before his eyes… that was the last straw.
Before Murrue could get off another shot, Athrun snapped up his rifle and pulled the trigger. It, too, jammed almost instantly, but one bullet hurtled up across the hangar, striking the Lieutenant in the left shoulder. She felt back with a grunt of pain, just barely maintaining her grip on her pistol, and Athrun made his move.
Unlike the Earth Forces officer, he carried no pistol, but that didn't mean he was out of the fight. Activating the thrusters in his suit's backpack, he took off, drawing a knife from his belt as he rose. A wicked-looking switchblade, nominally a weapon of last resort, it was sharp enough to make Kevin Walker himself proud.
Kira had watched these events with something akin to terror, paralyzed by the deafening gunfire and sickened by the way the bullets shattered bodies, but Murrue's fall broke him out of immobility. She was his only real chance of getting out alive, now, and so he got back to his feet, running across the prone mobile suit in hope reaching her before the enemy soldier did.
At about the same moment, Athrun touched down on the Strike's other shoulder, and charged forward, knife upraised, ready to be plunged into the lieutenant's chest.
Fate, as Kevin Walker might have noted, worked in mysterious ways, and if any meeting could be considered by Fate's hand, this one certainly must be.
In the instant before Athrun Zala could strike, his eyes met Kira Yamato's for the first time in three years.
Athrun Zala. A loyal soldier of ZAFT, who had dedicated his life to the defeat of those who had murdered his mother and over two hundred thousand others in an instant.
Kevin Walker. Drifter of past mysterious and skilled at disassembling his fellow man, a tiger awoken from a year's sleep to revenge himself upon those who had wronged him.
Kira Yamato. Ordinary college student, immersed in his normal life and interested only in staying as far from the war as possible, his will to protect his friends nonetheless stronger than steel.
Friends, long ago, now arrayed on differing sides, ideals and goals conflicting. With their reunion, the war would never be the same.
In the struggle between Earth and space colony, Natural and Coordinator, a seemingly insignificant encounter has set in motion events that will change the very course of history. A soldier, an amnesiac killer in hiding, and a seemingly ordinary student will define a generation…
Yes, I'm back. After over a year of getting approximately nothing done at all, the Solid Shark has actually completed a chapter… and for something most of you likely never anticipated. Well, to put it simply, I can't stand how my writing style was back when I first wrote this story. Since there are about a million edits to it that I've been putting off for years as it is, I figured I might as well take the opportunity to just start the whole thing from scratch, and make it better than ever.
In case it isn't obvious by this point, this is a complete rewrite of Brothers in Arms, the very first story I wrote in this fandom. As should be blindingly obvious -considering a certain mobile suit that appears prominently here- I'm changing a fair bit of the plot, in addition to smoothing out inconsistencies, removing contradictions, and otherwise bringing the tale's writing up to my current standards. Comrades, the presence of Tallgeese is but the tip of a very large iceberg, and, as is probably also obvious, A Call to Arms is going to be on hiatus for some time to come, since portions of that will also have to be rewritten to accommodate changes here. This story will supersede the original as far as BiA canon is concerned, though the original will still remain on the site (no sense erasing ten months of hard work, after all, especially since this isn't going to be identical even in basic plot).
And no, Cry of the Falcon has not been abandoned; I'm just having a bit of trouble with the current battle, as it's very large, and very different in execution from what I'm used to. I'd explain that last remark, but there are certain readers I want to surprise, for reasons that will become obvious… whenever that chapter is actually ready.
Anyway. Here's the first chapter of Brothers in Arms: Recurrence. I know it's not quite up to my usual standards, but since none of my "first" chapters ever are, I'm not going to worry about it too much. With that in mind, let me know what you think, and hang on for a bumpy ride. -Solid Shark