Gundam Seed: Wolves of War

Disclaimer: GS isn't mine and Solid Shark is the creator of Kenneth DiFalco and the Gray Demons in addition of Sophia DiFalco. We are in correspondence with each other for this story and they are being used with his permission.

Chapter 4: The Curtain Rises

The Archangel burst through the colony interior and into full view. On the bridge, Natarle Badgiruel narrowed her eyes at the situation. Her voice was crisp and clear cut.

"Status report!"

From his post in the bridge, Petty Officer Jackie Tonomura swiftly analyzed the scene before reporting.

"Morgenroete's been destroyed." Taking another second to survey the area, he continued. "I have confirmation on the Strike . . . it's operating and engaged in combat!"

The black haired woman growled in her seat, this just was getting worse and worse by the minute. After she had finally managed to round up the remaining survivors of the Archangel, their two current civilian passengers had revealed themselves and insisted boarding with them. Given the circumstances, Natarle made a very rare exception given that she'd rather not leave them to die. The other one was that the taller of the two with red hair was carrying a sword with the crest of Romania on the hilt. Grousing a bit, the Ensign looked over her shoulder at the two women.

'What's with her? Is she some kind of VIP? That red head is acting awfully considerate of that woman. The fact that she's carrying a Romanian military sword isn't helping me much. I'd hate to make a wrong move and have that nation come back to haunt me.'

The woman in the business suit had sharp, intelligent eyes with a depth to them that she'd only seen in the most experienced veterans. Her slightly short stature was offset by her aura of confidence and calm collection. Not to mention the pistol she wore in a shoulder holster. Tonomura called out from his station.

"We've got a CGUE and a Moebius Zero out there."

"That's the Hawk of Endymion. I want missiles on that CGUE, but do not hit the colony. That's an order."

Before Petty Officer Dalida Chandra could follow through Tonomura spoke out again with a bit of confusion in his voice.

"Ma'am, there's another machine breaking through the colony interior . . . what the heck? A fighter?!"

"Not just any fighter Petty Officer. That is a Romanian Valkyrie. Belay those weapon orders Mister Chandra. Just watch. Between Mu La Flaga, the Strike, a Valkyrie, and the Archangel, I seriously doubt that CGUE can threaten anyone too seriously."

Natarle turned in her seat with a suspicious gaze.

"So you are with Romania. Who are you and how much do you know?"

Rachelle took a firm step forward and glared at the Ensign. An inch and a half of the blade left the sheath with an eerie rasping sound.

"Stand down Ensign. Just trust her. Your answers will come in due time, but now is not the time for it."

Natarle glared back and clenched a fist. None of them had any weaponry on the bridge and now she was regretting not stopping by the armory for a handgun. Marisa walked over to Tonomura's station and smiled pleasantly.

"Mister Chandra, please change over to frequency Lambda Epsilon 042mhz."

"Uh . . . okay." Something about her tone and posture despite her smile, made him think that not doing so was a bad idea. "Switching over."

"Thank you. Do you read me Valkyrie?"

"Wolfe 3 reporting. I read you loud and clear. Requesting priority orders ma'am."

Before she could answer him, a new voice entered the bridge.

"Wolfe 3, Prince here. Priority One on CGUE. Take him out if you can. Mode 2 and 3 are restricted."

"Wolfe 3 copies. Engaging."

The fighter's exhaust ports flared bright violet and white as the machine shot toward the ZAFT Mobile Suit. Rau shook himself from his temporary stupor and brought up his 76mm machine gun. Trying to target the craft, he grit his teeth.

"What's with that machine? It's faster than anything we've seen before." Firing a burst of lead at the incoming Mitternacht Wolfe, Allen put the fighter in an intricate aerial roll, skimming the first initial shots before barrel rolling around the rest as he dove at Rau with a string of bright neon blue machine gun tracers from the 25mm high speed machine guns.

"Mu La Flaga, care to join the fray?"

Mu snapped back into focus and resumed his attack. He didn't quite know just who or what the new machine was, but since it was eagerly seeking the same opponent he was, then who was he to complain? As Mu deployed his gun barrels, Rau knew he was in real trouble.

"La Flaga I can deal with, but this new machine and that legged ship are too risky even for me. Time to make a retreat."

Weaving in and out of the fire that Allen and Mu let loose into the air. Several shots clipped rigging and scaffolding, but thankfully avoided the main support column. Alex carefully watched the three go at it and as Rau began to get close the damaged section of the colony, he opened up his comm..

"Wolfe 3, break off, let him go. It's too risky to chase him out there. Tell Mu to do the same."

"Roger."

The plane suddenly swerved into a deep and hard 9G turn back toward the Archangel. Mu changed his trajectory a fraction of a second later and formed up on the advanced fighter. Allen scanned the Archangel for a moment before radioing his superiors. Both Marisa on the legged ship and Alex on the Strike paused for a moment hearing his inquiry.

"This is Wolfe 3, where should I land? Unless you lift restrictions on Mode 2, I can't land on the Archangel. Waiting your order."

After a minute of silence from both of them, Marisa spoke, drawing wide eyed looks from the crew on the bridge.

"This is Marisa, Stiletto you are cleared for launch. Wolfe 3, land on board once Fortress One is clear over."

Natarle and all the others on board stared at the woman. The Admiral of the Romanian Fleet was so much different than what everyone's preconception of her was. Marisa stood at a mere five foot, six inches with long chestnut brown hair down to her shoulder blades that accented amber eyes. Those golden eyes now held a hard glint in them that showed them a woman in command mode.

"This is Helmsman Ritcher Occan. Understood. Stiletto, launching."

The colony rumbled before across from the OMNI Enforcer, the refitted flagship of Romania burst forth from the innards of the space installation. Those who had never seen the ship before could only behold her as she slowly approached them. Stopping little more than two hundred meters from each other, the ship maintained its altitude for a minute or two before gently landing; knocking over the rubble left of the installation it hovered over. Natarle quickly recovered her wits as she ordered the Archangel to land as well.

"Well, that went a bit better than I had feared, though it also could have gone exceedingly better. Damn ZAFT, they actually did well sniffing this out so quickly."

Mu La Flaga flew a support position to the Valkyrie and stared at the new Stiletto. He was impressed with the command ship before, and now wasn't any different. In fact, the vessel looked more aggressive now than it did in the past. It was a change that Mu thought hard about.

"That ship was always defensive, despite its weapons. Does this mean that Romania's preparing to strike back in earnest?"

The ship looked longer than it normally did in the past during battles prior to Endymion. He attributed that to what appeared to be a massive ramming blade on the front of the ship. The vessel also seemed to have been widened by a decent margin, though the vessel was still slimmer than the Archangel. Instead of the two massive twin barreled high energy cannons, there were now a pair of triple barreled guns of slightly slimmer design. The flanking double barreled guns surprised Mu. He had never seen such weaponry before on a ship and noticed that they were very similar to the triple barrel guns, but they were only about two-thirds the size of the larger guns. All of the clusters surrounding the bridge area and under her on the belly of the ship made him think of defensive emplacements. The ship bristled with weapons like an armored porcupine.

"Hawk of Endymion. Allen Sanders here. I strongly advise landing on or around the Archangel and meeting the Commander on foot. There's a lot to clear up and very little time to do it in. It's a pleasure to fly with you again La Flaga."

"Understood Allen. I've got a lot of questions, but that can wait for latter. See you on the ground."

A simple double-click answered him before the Valkyrie broke sharply toward its home dock. The incoming landing hatch slid open, surprising him as the fighter flew the fighter straight into the top of the bow, disappearing completely as the opening slid back shut.

"A separate landing and launching bay? That means that they can launch and land at will. Talk about being expeditious. I knew that they were out here somewhere in hiding, but never this close. Well, the lighthouse is always darkest at its base."

Mu veered his Zero back toward the legged ship and landed nearby its starboard launch bay "leg". Not too far away, he could see the Strike with several people around it. Tucking his helmet under his arm, he jogged over to see a small cluster of individuals approach from the Archangel. The small contingent from the Romanian ship also converged on the Strike.

The man paused a moment when he saw those from the Stiletto. Each of the people with pilot suits on also carried a Romanian military long sword. Even more strange was the small contingent of teenagers who stood behind the attractive Murrue Ramius. Saluting crisply, Mu raised his voice to a formal introduction.

"Lieutenant Mu La Flaga reporting. My ship was sunk early in the fighting. Request permission to come aboard."

After returning salutes and acknowledging each others' presence, Natarle removed her hat and covered her heart with a grave expression on her face.

"The Captain and the majority of the crew died in the first assault. We're the only officers left. Leiutenant Ramius, you're in command."

Murrue jerked in shock. Alex sighed and shook his head as he took a seat on the Strike's foot. Sophia stared at her friend, even for her, this was too much. In the back of her mind, she knew that asking Alex for assistance may be too much of a risk given their obvious break away from the EA.

"The Captain and all of the others are dead? That can't be."

Mu scratched the back of his head and grunted in annoyance. Things just kept getting worse and worse.

"What a catastrophe. Well regardless Lieutenant Ramius, please grant me permission."

Only breaking out of her stupor by a margin, she nodded.

"Yes, welcome aboard Lieutenant."

Murdoch spoke up after the formal transition was finished.

"Who piloted the Strike? We didn't expect to keep any of the G-Weapons after all this mess."

The group who was in the know hesitated as Alex turned grim. Mu caught the look and got worried.

"Don't tell me it was you Commander." The dark smirk and cocked eyebrow told him that things weren't what they seemed to him.

"Hawk of Endymion. Mu La Flaga, we're glad to see you made it out of Endymion in one piece. However, I am not the one who took the controls. Kira, get down here."

The hatch opened and everyone from the legged ship stared. The Wolfe squadron swallowed. Alex had informed them about Kira Yamato and his anxieties about the boy, but now that he'd piloted an MS, they were really worried.

"This kid did it? He can't even shave yet!"

Murrue gave the boy a slight nod.

"He fought off a ZAFT GINN."

"He very nearly squished us."

Murrue and Kira blinked in confusion and Sophia wore a slight grimace at the memory. She had to thank Alex again when the appropriate opportunity presented itself. Right now was not the time. Mu La Flaga approached the boy before anyone could say anything and looked him closely in the eyes.

"You're a Coordinator aren't ya kid?"

The question made everyone tense, some for one reason and the rest for others. Kuzzey and Sai were shocked at the question. Tolle and Mir grew grim. They knew Kira's background a bit and didn't care about his being a Coordinator, their friendship was stronger than that.

"Yes, but I'm First Generation."

The group of soldiers of the EA raised weapons out of reflex. Alex shot up from his place and in front of him faster than Tolle and Mir could. The sounds of swords leaving sheaths made Sophia and Murrue's guts go cold. Rachelle, Evan, Allen, and Jessica had drawn their weapons. Things wouldn't have been quite as tense if Rachelle wasn't already among the EA soldiers. Marisa drew her pistol and clicked off the safety and held her calmly at her side.

"All of you stand down. He is a student of engineering, not a ZAFT pilot. Raise your weapons against a civvie and we will not show you mercy."

The groups remained tense and Kira kept his voice low so only Alex could hear him. Mir and Tolle caught the conversation between them as they were standing just beside their friend.

"Why are you doing this?"

"Despite your reckless stunt with the Agni Hyper Impulse Cannon, you saved several lives. The least I can do is stand up for you. As I said Kira Yamato, Romania helps those caught in the struggles and wars of others. This is no different from any other caught in the crossfire. If we can keep innocent third parties from being drug into the conflicts, then we will."

Kira slowly nodded as he began to understand the man's words. A small part of his philosophy still bothered him, but he had to respect him a bit for what he was doing now. Miriallia smiled and gave him a small, silent "Thank you" as Tolle nodded his own thanks. Mu scratched the back of his head and sighed uneasily.

"Your parents were Naturals. I know what that means. Sorry, I was just curious."

Alex pitted his compatriot with a stoic glance.

"Your curiosity could've have gotten people killed Mu. I knew you were a bit more lax than others, but still." Mu had enough sense to look apologetic. "I can't blame you for the question Mu, but the situation could have been better my friend."

"True enough. Sorry Kira. Really, I mean it. Thanks for your help; it means a lot to us. Blast it all, now the real question is what to do from here on out?"

Murrue shrugged and looked over to the Archangel with a concerned face. Turning to face the rest of those present, she took as much of an authoritative stance as she could muster under the circumstances.

"All surviving crew board the Archangel. Commander Alexsander, Admiral Marisa, would you please join us? I'd feel more comfortable with you explaining things to me."

Marisa and Alex glanced at one another with silent conversation between their eyes. Closing his eyes, the man nodded once before taking a step forward and offering his hand.

"Very well Lieutenant Ramius, we'll come aboard briefly and explain the situation. Depending on how you and your crew react to it, we may even assist you and the legged ship get to safe haven."

"Hold it."

Natarle Badgiruel held a solid gaze that gave the teens a chilly feeling. Alex knew the look from his time in the Academy. Giving her a stoic look, he waited for her to speak.

"It goes against regulations to let those students on the ship."

Marisa sighed and shook her head in annoyance.

"Ensign Badgiruel. I respect your concerns for maintaining military regulations, but this is a true emergency situation. Until this crisis is under control please allow them aboard. The shelters are locked down and there is nowhere to take them."

"You aren't Earth Forces anymore." Her curt tone angered Rachelle and the other pilots, prompting them to ready their blades in warning. Alex's hand waved them off and the pilots grudgingly followed their immediate superior's order. The man sighed and gave Natarle a calm, cold stare. Natarle grit her teeth, she knew looks like that; gauging, penetrating stares that tried to stare into a person's soul. Returning one of her own, she held a bold front. The smirk that broke into a humored grin only served to make things more tense.

"You have a lot of guts Ensign, but guts mean nothing if you can't follow through. True, you have valid points all around, yet there are so many, many holes in those points. The books are more like . . . hm, how to put it . . . guidelines. How about a compromise?" Marisa chuckled silently and shook her head as his Wolfe squadron put away their blades and simply waited to hear him out. "Since we are not EA any longer, then the teens will be under Romania's care . . . however . . . they must accompany either me or Marisa and when they are alone their actions are extensions of our own. Is that fair enough Ensign? Or shall we debate until Rau returns and blows us to kingdom come?"

Mu and Sophia had terse expressions on their faces as they nodded silently with their fellow ace. Rau wouldn't wait to attack again for very long. Given their current status, if things got any worse, then it was highly likely that everyone might not make it out alive.

"Murrue, normally I wouldn't try to circumvent the system, but Alexsander's right. Rau won't wait long and if we aren't ready even just a bit; then we might as well surrender now. I can't believe I just suggested that."

Murrue looked at Sophia with a strange look on her face. 'I've never seen her like this. She's an engineer, not a combat soldier so why's she getting so worked up?' Nodding slightly, she turned to face Natarle.

"I appreciate your concerns as well as the Wing Commander does, but he is right. This is an emergency situation and I will personally hold him to his word. We let them on board. Kira, I know I'm asking a lot from you, but could you move the Strike on board the ship?"

Kira went on the defensive and half glared at the woman.

"Why me?! They're aces aren't they? Why can't they take it and put it on the ship?"

Mu looked at Alex before the man gestured for him to do the honors.

"We may be aces Kira, but we don't know how to operate a Mobile Suit, much less one that you probably rewrote from the base up. I know that you didn't use that OS that we had been working on."

Kira fumbled with his thoughts. The tall blonde haired ace was right. He had gone and rewritten the entire OS from the ground up while fighting the GINN that had attempted to destroy them. Murrue looked at him with a bit of amazement now that she recalled witnessing it firsthand. Alex merely cast an expressionless gaze at the boy before waving Jessica over.

"What is it Your Highness?"

"You're creeping me out with that formality." Jessica smirked and shrugged as he continued. "I want you to take Evan and grab my Valkyrie and the spare and dock them on the Archangel." Dropping his voice to a whisper, he continued. "I want to keep an eye on Kira both for his sake and ours. Tell the others to remain with the Stiletto. I want her protected in case something goes horribly wrong here."

"Yes sir. Is the spare for La Flaga?" When he shook his head, she frowned. "Are you that worried you'll be that damaged? We can bring over additional spare parts. It's not like their hangar's going to be bursting at the seams right now anyway."

"Hm, yes, do that, but I still want the extra. Not for me, for her." He discreetly canted his head in the direction of Sophia DiFalco, who was becoming frustrated with both Natarle and Murrue as they argued rules and regulations. Jessica's brow went up.

"Oh?"

"She's the Grimaldi Falcon's sister though she doesn't realize it herself. That is Sophia DiFalco, the Victorian Kestrel."

Jessica had to stifle her gasp. She stared at the dark haired woman with green eyes with a different light in her eyes. Nodding again, she wasted no more time in jogging over to the rest of her squad mates and motioning to their home ship. As they hustled away, Kuzzey nudged Tolle.

"Hey Tolle, they're supposed to be Romania's heirs right?" When Tolle nodded Kuzzey continued. "They just don't act like it. I mean, aren't they supposed to have some kind of guards or something?"

Tolle looked at the Stiletto and sighed. Jabbing his thumb in the ship's direction, he cocked an eyebrow at his friend.

"You think a battleship isn't guard enough Kuzzey? Those guys had swords too Kuzzey, that screams 'guards' to me."

Mir shouted out to the two as Kira began to board the Strike. Hustling to follow them toward the white ship, Tolle felt a bit of anxiety finally beginning to creep into his gut. So much was happening so fast, it was hard to comprehend it all. Looking beyond Mir and the others to look at Marisa and Alexsander, the woman stayed close to his side. The two royals watched the Strike go by with the most intense looks he'd ever seen on anyone. Catching up with Mir, he nudged her gently to get her attention.

"What is it Tolle?"

Keeping his voice low, he canted his head toward the Tepes couple.

"Something is really making me nervous about those two. They gave that Mobile Suit the harshest glare I've ever seen out of anybody."

Mir quirked her brows at her boyfriend and stared at him for a bit as they kept pace with everyone else.

"Well, the Earth Alliance is desperate as they've said. Anyone with any sort of sense would be right to worry about something this powerful." The vigorous negative head shake he gave her made her pause for a moment. The light bulb that went off in her head made her gasp and lower her voice. "You think it's Kira that they're worried about?!"

"Unfortunately it is Mir. Think about it. Kira just flew it and took down that ZAFT Mobile Suit. I'm pretty sure that Alex isn't someone to think that Kira's a bad person, but they apparently knew about this whole thing with that ship and its suits. They're military and probably can figure out how to use them, but Kira's had no sort of training. I'd be worried if I was in their shoes – not that I want to be."

Mir turned her thoughts to the Romanians in front of them and carefully looked at them. Marisa held a concerned expression as she whispered to her husband. Alex's expression remained stoic, but she could see a distant fire in his eyes that didn't feel friendly. The man looked a bit tense when he looked at the Strike, which was waiting for the launch bay to open on the Archangel.

'Tolle, I hope you're wrong about this. But I don't think that they'd purposefully do anything to Kira that would hurt him. He stood up to defend him before Tolle and I could, and he doesn't even know Kira . . . or does he know something about Kira?'

The brunette girl could only worry and mull in her thoughts as they boarded what would be their home for longer than any of them could imagine.


Vesalius Briefing Room


The Crueset Team filed into the missions briefing room. Shiho had spent most of her time in the G-Weapon she'd acquired, balancing out its systems and studying its parameters. The rest of the team had simply been standing by in the pilot's lounge. When everyone had received word about the damage to the Commander's CGUE, the group had been throwing around possibilities. Rau cleared his throat in order to quiet everyone.

"Everyone, we have a new situation I want to go over with each of you. This is very vital information . . . so much so that it completely changes the objectives we were originally assigned."

Images of the Strike with the Launcher Pack equipped appeared on the screen. Miguel, who had been picked up by one of the extraction teams, seethed. The video of the Agni being fired made the group swallow. The power of the suit was incredible.

"This is the last G-Weapon that we failed to acquire. As you can see, its firepower is immense. However, this suit alone is not the only new factor to take into account. We also have the legged ship to keep in mind now."

Images of the Archangel presented themselves. The size and shape of the vessel made a few of the pilots lean forward.

"I don't quite know what to expect from a ship like this, but we will take it on with all due caution. The final factor is the real concern for all of us and possibly for the rest of this war."

Rau's grave tone made the group look back and forth at each other. When the final images played with Rau being engaged by a dark, near-black violet fighter that zoomed at him with unheard of speed and agility, Shiho froze to her seat. Nicole, who sat beside her noticed her stiffen and gave her a concerned look.

"Shiho, are you okay? You look like you've seen a ghost."

Shaking herself from her shock, she smiled gently at Nicole and shook her head with a negative noise.

"It's nothing, just a past memory." She half lied. 'That color . . . only one squadron would dare paint their machines like that. Looks like the Immortal and his Wolves have made an extreme upgrade. I'd better send this to the Boss just to be safe.'

Rau continued on.

"With these factors in play, we cannot risk capturing the final weapon. I want a squad to go back and destroy the legged ship and its Mobile Suit while we hold the advantage. Do I have any volunteers?"

Miguel Aimen swiftly raised his hand and stood from his chair. Matthew and Olor did the same a split second later. Everyone could understand their feelings. Matthew and Olor hadn't participated in the first assault and Miguel likely was hunting out some revenge. Rau merely nodded, dismissing them to let them prepare for the next sortie. As everyone filed out, Athrun remained behind. Rau noticed the boy's attitude and stopped in front of him.

"Athrun, is there something amiss?"

"I-It's a person I saw during the raid. I think I may know who it is, but I'm just not sure. He's a Coordinator like us." Rau nodded silently, taking it all in. Judging from his previous run in with the Strike, he began to fit pieces together and looked long and hard at the young man in front of him.

"Very well then Athrun, I want you to accompany the others with the new suit you've acquired. If my assumptions are correct and that truly is the Immortal and his Wolfe squadron, then they may be in for a far harsher fight than we'd anticipated."

"Yes sir." Athrun made a quick exit, not taking any time in order to see the small smirk on the masked ace's lips.

'I do believe that those three won't last more than five minutes against such hardened veterans like the Wolfe Squadron, but a G-Weapon just may force his hand. Let's see how you handle this, Alexsander Wallachia Tepes.'


Archangel

Bridge


Murrue Ramius slumped in the Captain's Chair. The other crewmembers of the legged ship sagged as well. Marisa and Alex had both laid down hard facts.

"You've been here, under our noses this whole time and studied all of the G-Weapons?"

Alex crossed his arms and looked poignantly at Sophia DiFalco.

"Not all of the units Lieutenant. DiFalco's machine went under our radar for the most part. I'm far more concerned about the pilot that now is at its controls. All that aside, Natarle, you're saying that the current crew is all that is left?"

Natarle nodded and Alex groaned before rubbing his face with his hands. It seemed as if he was trying to wipe away years of fatigue to no avail. Marisa put a hand to her head like she was suffering from the worst migraine of her life. Mu took a step forward to get their attention.

"Hey Immortal." Alex gave him a strange look, making Mu reword things. "Alexsander, I know it's asking a lot, but do you think you can help us out? Yeah, you're not EA anymore, but even you have to admit that our odds of survival aren't good, in fact, they downright suck."

Turning to completely face his fellow pilot, Alex sighed.

"Actually Mu, I heavily doubt there is much I really can help you with. Battle experience and knowledge mean little with such a crippled ship and only one real means to fight. I can't pilot the Strike either, which renders me all but useless in the upcoming battle if they deploy G-Weapons."

Sophia swallowed as she understood what he was saying. Murrue wasn't quite as fast on the uptake.

"What do you mean Commander Tepes? You're squadron's machine is faster than anything we've seen."

When Alex looked between Sophia and Mu, Sophia took up the wordless invitation to explain.

"Murrue, I hate to say this, but his machines don't really have anything to combat Phase Shift. If the G-Weapons weren't a factor, we would have a huge advantage, but they have five of them."

Natarle stood from her seat in CIC with an expression of shock.

"You mean you've been watching us all this time and didn't make a beam weapon for your fighters? Then what was the point of making them?"

Marisa smiled and gave the Ensign a dark look.

"We didn't make them without the intention to. However, the fighters, due to their complete lack of Phase Shift, and a high energy battery like the G-Weapons, can't maintain a beam weapon. They're loaded with a plethora of other armaments that would make mincemeat out of nearly eighty percent of all other military weapons. We had planned on stealing the G-Weapons and the Archangel for ourselves, but ZAFT got the jump on us."

Mu nodded as he began to see the bigger picture that the Romanian's had in mind.

"You were making your units to support the G-Weapons." Alex nodded as Mu continued. "Since they aren't as maneuverable, but have a huge amount of firepower, you were going to use them as the main weapons while the Valkyries you created kept everything else at bay."

Alex smirked and pointed a finger gun at the man and acted like he'd just shot his compatriot.

"Bulls-eye. Quick on the uptake Mu. Though now, we'll have to think of an alternative in order to fight the very thing they were meant to protect."

Murrue crossed her arms in thought.

"So the only real option we've got right now is the Strike."

"Yes, but no one here can pilot it. Mu and I have armor experience, not Mobile Suit training, even in a simulator. Sophia obviously designs them, not flies them."

When curious looks from the Earth Alliance officers shifted her way, Marisa held her hands up defensively.

"Woah, I'm a Coordinator, but even I can't pilot one without training. Beside the point, I don't think anyone can handle the OS that Kira wrote on the fly. I'm decent by Coordinator standards at programming and other such things, but Kira's in a league all his own. If you want someone to fly the Strike, it'll be him. Go ask him for assistance."

Everyone looked at the floor at that. No one knew how to go about asking a teenage civilian prodigy to fight a war that he had no business in. Alex took an uncertain, deep breath that everyone but Marisa mistook for regret.

'Do I really want to make him into a weapon, regardless of his allegiance? No, it's more along the lines of I no longer have a choice . . . all I can do is keep him on the right path. Though doing so just might be the end of me in the long run.'


Archangel

Crew Quarters


Everyone sat in the same room while scattered among the bunks. The group was solemn and quiet. The events of the day finally beginning to sink into their minds in earnest. Kira was completely out of it, sleeping on one of the bunks like a log. Sai shook his head.

"How can he sleep like that?"

Mir sat beside Kira with a concerned expression. Tolle stood beside her with an equally worried look.

"He piloted that Mobile Suit in live combat and now all of this with the Earth Alliance, Romania, and ZAFT must have been too much for him. I can't imagine doing anything like that."

A knock at the door woke Kira and made everyone else look toward it as it slid open to reveal Murrue Ramius. Kira fairly glared daggers at the woman and the brunette woman mentally sighed.

'Well, it isn't like the Tepes didn't warn us about this. Alex seemed especially concerned about it, though he adamantly refused to say why. I just hope their reasoning can convince him to pilot the Strike again.'

"What do you want?"

Tolle's question was somewhat tired, but still had a bit of an edge in it. Mir stood from her place beside Kira and joined Tolle.

"I'm sorry. However, none of you are able to leave this ship. Not only have you been exposed to top secret military hardware, but there isn't likely any other place that you could go to."

Kuzzey frowned.

"What's that supposed to mean?" Sai Argyle winced and clenched a fist at the implications.

"That means that it's likely that all of the shelters are now in lock down after that last attack."

As the teens glumly took in the news, Murrue braced herself. She was wholly against making such a young person get involved, but with the circumstances being what they currently were, she didn't see any other alternatives if everyone wanted to survive.

"I hate to ask this of you Kira, but can you pilot the Strike for us again? You're the only person who can at the moment."

Kira inwardly seethed. "Why me?! You've got Alexsander and Mu. They're aces right?"

"Yes, but they aren't able to pilot the Strike with the OS you created for the machine. A Natural can't come close to handling it."

Mir held a hand to her chest as she spoke up.

"I don't want to lump everything on just them, but like Kira said, they're aces aren't they? They have those new machines as well."

"They are new machines, and they are impressive from what Alexsander has been willing to say about them, but they can't compete against a G-Weapon. The only way to battle one is with one."

"We don't want anything to do with your war!"

"It's a little late for that don't you think kid?" Mu La Flaga came into the room with little preamble. The tall pilot gave Kira a steeled gaze. "Whether you like it or not kid, you've been dunked into the chaos of the battlefields. Here, the enemy doesn't care whether or not you're interested in the war or not. You want to survive to leave this hell? You fight." Mu drew a step closer and dropped his voice so only Kira could hear him. "If you want to see your friends make it out alive, you fight."

"What makes you think you have any right to say . . ." Kira's heated comeback died out when he saw Mu's eyes change. Looking to Murrue, he saw the same thing – loss, pain, and sacrifice. He swallowed his words, knowing that it was actually him being childish. They had lost friends, probably family, fighting a war that just seemed to keep getting worse with no end in sight. Alexsander's words returned to him at that moment.

"You're talking as if this world was black and white, good and evil. Yes, there is good and there is evil. But did I ever say that I was the good guy? We fight and bleed and die. We commit evil in the hope that we put an end to even greater evils. That by frugally shedding blood we end the fighting quickly so that there may ultimately be less death than what could occur by a long drawn out struggle of attrition that this war has been stuck in for the past several months.That, Kira Yamato . . . is what the Kingdom of Romania stands on!"

Shaking his head quietly, Kira began to better understand just what everyone fighting was really after at heart.

'They're all fighting to end the suffering one way or another. I don't know about everyone else, but these people, Miss Murrue, Mu, Alexsander, and Marisa. They're all fighting to protect their loved ones and keep people from experiencing any more loss. I'm being so selfish. I'll fight for them, but only them. No one else. And only until everything settles down.'

"Alright. I'll pilot the Strike. But only until we've escaped."

"That very well may be a long time Kira. One never easily escapes conflict, and never for very long. Regardless, thank you Kira Yamato." Alexsander Wallachia's voice was quiet and calm as he entered the doorway and gave him a small smile. "Now come with me and suit up. Rau's striking sooner than we'd anticipated."

As Kira exited with Alex and the others, Mir and Tolle stepped outside the room.

"Kira! Good luck . . . thank you. Please keep him safe Your Highness."

Alexsander was glad to be out in front of everyone. The cold, knife edged look in his eyes would have scared all of them senseless. Taking a calming breath, he stayed put, waving a hand over his shoulder.

"Very well Miriallia. Go to the cafeteria if you want to watch the fireworks. Two decks down and three rooms to the left from here."

The teens looked back and forth between each other for a moment as they disappeared around the corner of the central corridor. Kira continued to follow Alexsander and Mu when Murrue turned off in order to make it back up to the bridge. When they made it to the locker room for pilots, Alex began to suit up, as did Mu. Hunting the lockers, he somehow managed to find a blue-black pilot jumpsuit. Putting it on, he turned to see them waiting on him to finish.

"How do you guys do that so fast?"

The two men looked at each other with humored looks. "We're fighter jocks."

Alex proceeded to the hangar first.

"Time to meet the kids Mu." Kira and Mu wore confused faces until they entered to find two of the dark violet fighters in the hangar. One sat quietly in its berth while the other hummed, its engines revved and waiting for its master.

"Woah." Kira had never seen such a machine. The fighter was 17 meters long, nearly four meters tall with its landing gear, and had a wingspan of nineteen meters fully deployed. It was a huge fighter, but Kira thought it was crazy to fight Mobile Suits in something that looked so fragile. Despite that, he thought it was an awesome looking machine. Mu whistled.

"It's even more impressive up close. How much time did it take you to get this made?"

"It's not quite finished Mu. The other machine isn't for me, but you're Zero still has a lot it can do for us. I would have brought another one over for you to use, but in this situation, I felt it best to let you keep flying a machine you already know rather than take a gamble on how fast you could learn how to control the Valkyrie."

Mu nodded, understanding his logic.

"It's alright Immortal. So how do you want to tackle this?"

"Follow us out, but keep to the support position. The best you could do in any case is pester the hell out of whichever G-Weapon they send after us."

Mu nodded, accepting his role even if he wasn't fond of it. Sophia stood beside it with a new flight suit. The sight of her made him cock his head to the side in confusion.

"Lieutenant DiFalco, what are you doing?"

Sophia gave him a thumbs up along with an abbreviated salute.

"Alexsander said that there were still a few things not yet worked out of the Valkyrie. He wanted me riding tandem in order to see what might be done. I am an engineer." Alex's smirk and short chuckle made them look to him.

"Not everything is as it seems Mu. Remember that." Sophia flinched and silently swore that he reveled in nearly revealing her real moniker.

"That's enough of that everyone. Let's move. Get to your machines. It's time for the curtain to rise on this act of the play."

The four nodded as they parted to board their machines. Sophia climbed up to the cockpit and quirked an eyebrow.

"Um, Alex, how am I supposed to accompany you without a seat?"

The man took his seat and flipped several switches before the back slid back and a new seat popped into place. Secondary controls folded out from panels and compartments as another HUD materialized from behind Alex's chair. She couldn't believe the difference in technology between the EA, Morgenroete, and Romania. She attributed that to the sheer number of battles they'd been involved in since their revolution.

"Unreal . . ." Taking her seat, the HUD lit up with several displays. "What's this?"

"The flight manual. I'm giving you this chance in order to learn the fighter more through experience rather than logistics. Be ready, she's a wild ride even by my squadron's standards."

Nodding, she watched the Zero being guided toward the launch catapult. The Strike walked over to stand-by in the opposing catapult. Guiding the Valkyrie into a taxi route, she could see the gauges shift and change to the movements Alex put the machine through. Glancing through a few of the paragraphs of information on her HUD, she swallowed.

"Are you nuts? A pair of PW-Mk. XII Phoenix powerplants? These weren't even on the production line two months ago! They're too unstable."

"This fighter doesn't come close to its full potential without them Kestrel. This fighter has to be able to operate efficiently in both space and the atmosphere. The PW-Mk. XII powerplants are the only ones that can do that at the moment. To get that level of performance through other means requires technology that we don't have access to."

Sophia wondered what he was talking about when they heard Mu's launch confirmation. Taking the Zero's place, they shook slightly as they locked into the catapult. Alex's voice startled her.

"Kestrel, just what was the highest G tolerance you were able to take in the Spearhead?"

"The Spearhead was capable of pushing nine easy, though it was rare for us to do so."

"Get ready for more than that."

Before she could ask, the force of the launch shoved her back into the seat with no room to scream. Shooting out of the launch bay like a rocket, the Valkyrie immediately shot into the air to join Mu and Kira. The two pilots immediately noticed the change in the Strike's weapon layout.

"He's using the Sword Striker Pack. Guess he's learned about the mistake of firing carelessly with the Launcher Pack."

Alex nodded silently in agreement as the three oddly teamed machines formed up on each other. Clicking over to universal frequency, Alex keyed in.

"Kira, how are you feeling?"

"Nervous and scared out of my wits." Mu could be heard laughing lightly. Sophia smirked at the comment as Alex drew nearer to the G-Weapon. "What's so funny?"

Looking closely over the Strike, Mu shook his head good naturedly.

"It's nothing much Kira. If you had said anything other than that we'd have both been paranoid to fly with you."

"What do you mean Mu?"

"What I mean is, those who don't fear make decisions and take actions they aren't ready for and usually end up dead. Even we're scared to go onto the battlefield. There is no guarantee we'll make it back alive."

"But you guys are aces."

"Yes, but we're also very mortal Kira. As I said already, we bleed and die . . . we feel pain and loss . . . we feel fear. What separates us from the rest is how we react to that fear, those emotions and instincts. What makes us human is our ability to control those things."

In the cockpit of the Strike, Kira nodded as he took in everything. The Sword Strike was a lot simpler when he looked over the weapons. The huge anti-ship sword, the Schwert Gewher was sitting patiently on its rack. The shield/rocket anchor was ready to go and Kira already knew more or less how to use it. It was the Midas Meiser beam boomerang that perked his curiosity. Exactly how it worked was obvious, but how they'd managed to work out the physics was beyond him at the moment.


Archangel

Bridge


Murrue arrived just moments before the three machines launched. Looking around she took stock of Natarle and the rest of the bridge crew, but when she couldn't find Sophia, she spoke up.

"Where's Lieutenant DiFalco?"

Natarle didn't even move from her place in CIC.

"She's in that fighter the Immortal's flying."

Murrue shot up from her chair.

"She's what?!"

"Apparently, he sees her skills as an engineer and wanted her to ride shotgun to see what could be done about several issues with that machine of his."

Plopping down in her chair again, Murrue was dumbfounded and more than just a bit peeved.

'I'm going to have to talk to 'His Highness' about this. That's an insane way to go about working out the kinks in a fighter!'

The three machines formed up and began to slowly circle in a holding pattern between the Stiletto and the Archangel. No sooner had they made through their second pass, then a series explosions widened the area around the damaged area that Kira had blown away with the Agni.

"Here they come!"

"Prepare Igelstellungs. Load Korinthos!"

Marisa stepped in front of the chair Murrue sat in with crossed arms.

"Belay that Ensign. Keep weapons tight. Stiletto, weapons tight. Let the Commander, the Hawk of Endymion, and Kira handle this one. Hmm. Only three GINNs and . . . the Aegis, that could present a problem . . . wait a minute . . . are they packing their D configurations?!"

"Unfortunately, you're right about that Marisa. I may have to reveal the other Modes."

Marisa grimaced. Weighing factors in her head, she thought about the implications of revealing most of the Valkyrie's abilities so soon. On one hand, she knew that Alex would make heavy modifications to the fighter's core design and functions as time went on. She also knew that knowing about the fighter didn't do anything about the refit of the Stiletto. Nodding slowly, she hailed him with her answer.

"Only if you feel it necessary. I'll leave that decision up to you."

"Understood, let's pray that it doesn't come to that."

The GINNS charged toward the three collaborating machines. Miguel immediately rushed the Strike and fired a shot from its Barrus ion cannon. Kira sideslipped out of the way, the shot drilling itself into a nearby parking lot. A pair of missiles shot from the leg units of Matthew's suit toward the Archangel. Alex let Mu intercept them with his deploying gun barrels as he pushed toward the GINN with full military power. Sophia braced herself as she took in everything that Alex was putting the Valkyrie through.

"I can't believe the immediate change in power the engines have. This kind of response is unheard of!"

Alex didn't respond as Matthew fired his 76mm gun at him. Returning fire with his own machine guns, he pushed the fighter into a hard barrel roll, keeping the HUD gun sight as dead center of the ZAFT machine as possible. Sophia was used to the high G combat maneuver, but his concentration in keeping the sights so dead on was astonishing. Golden tracers from the GINN sprayed through the air, crisscrossing through the azure blue tracers of the Valkyrie.

Mu chuckled inside his cockpit as he kept a careful eye on the other GINN that wasn't engaging either of his fellow pilots.

"Still keeps that signature spiral of his. If he had gun barrels for that thing, those units would be blazing away from every other direction. Hm, that makes me wonder, does that machine have anything like that?" Bright flashes from the GINN and Strike diverted his attention toward the young teen in his second real taste of combat. "Looks like the kid really can hold his own despite it being his first time. He's playing it cautious, that's a good sign."

The Strike drew back from another shot from Miguel and boosted toward his opponent with the Schwert Gewher, missing by feet as Miguel dipped to the left and lined up another shot. The ion beam splattered against the beam shield/anchor combo that Kira brought between the two of them. Not used to combat, Kira fell back slightly out of control from the impact. The Strike's boosters flared wildly as he regained control. The smoke and dust from the impact blocked the Strike from Miguel's view. Inside his cockpit, the Magic Bullet of Dusk grinned in smug victory.

"Serves you right Natural. There's no way a Natural could . . ."

Over the open channel, he heard Kira's guttural scream a split second before he saw the Strike rush out of the smoke with the giant anti-ship beam sword at the ready. The blade swung upward, cleaving the barrel clean off before continuing through the arm, dissecting it from the shoulder before Kira brought the weapon back down through the cockpit from left to right. Miguel screamed as the energy blade slashed through the cockpit and into him before disintegrating him and exiting the GINN before the Mobile Suit exploded in a ball of orange and red flames. Mu stared at the spectacle as a chill ran down his spine. From his angle, the darkened silhouette of the Strike only had one stand out feature. The eerie glow of its emerald eye sensors and the violent maroon blade.

Some distance away from the fire fight, Athrun was watching form the Aegis with an astonished eye.

"What is that thing? It's so fast, and the pilot can't possibly be a Natural! There's no way they can intentionally fly like that."

"Athrun, if you face that machine in the Aegis you have the advantage armor and firepower wise, but it's far more agile. If the pilot's who I think it is . . . if you value your life, you'll never drop your guard. Retreat if you must."

"Why? Who would threaten us in these suits with a fighter?"

"The Immortal. Only his squadron dared to carry that paint scheme. Romania is not to be trifled with Athrun."

Athrun suddenly recalled the single warning that Shiho had given him moments before he deployed to follow the three man strike team. The look Shiho had in her eyes told him everything. She had fought him before and survived. At the time she hurried him along without him asking just how the heck she'd ended up on the wrong end of the Immortal's guns. Now he was watching that what could be that very person.

Inside his GINN, Matthew was cursing as he barely continued to avoid getting skewered by the high speed machine guns.

"Olor! This thing's a demon, help me out damn it!"

"Hold on Matthew, geez, fire in the hole!"

Olor readied his 500mm Cattus recoilless rifle and fired. Inside the Valkyrie, Sophia clenched her teeth as she heard lock on warnings blare in the cockpit. She managed to catch a glimpse of the GINN flanking them just as Alex snapped out of the barrel roll with a sharp snap roll. A small burst from Matthew's gun grazed the paint and Alex grunted in annoyance. The sound of Kira's scream followed a bare moment afterward by an explosion made the ZAFT pilots and Alex and Sophia turn their eyes toward the same thing that Mu shivered slightly at.

Athrun was horrified. "Miguel!!!"

Alexsander swallowed as he took the chance to veer about to gain an advantage over Matthew. Sophia outright gaped at the boy's first real kill.

"My god."

"Damn it, I knew he'd be dangerous if he ever got into a Mobile Suit, but this is a full fledged nightmare. One-on-one combat against ZAFT GINNs in an experimental model and he slaughters it with ease."

By the time he came around, Matthew and Olor were both charging for revenge. Matthew opened up with a set of missiles and a hasty burst from his machine gun. Olor fired with recoilless rifle with reckless abandon, their mission forgotten. Inside his cockpit, Kira was riding on auto-pilot. His instincts, his fight or flight nerves were firing like a wildfire. Dipping down, he let loose a string of Igelstellungs from the head mounted guns, piercing the first two missiles before dodging the final one and bringing up his shield to block the fire from Olor.

"Hang on Kira."

Sophia's attention perked when a dozen lock-on signals lit up one of the GINNs like a Christmas tree before twelve missiles shot out from around the fighter's body and screamed toward their target. Olor never knew what hit him until a millisecond before hand. All of the micro explosives found their marks, ripping the Mobile Suit apart like pirhanas from hell.

Athrun gripped his control so hard, he could feel his bones creaking in protest. Gunning the Aegis forward he charged the Valkyrie as Matthew, knowing that the Valkyrie was behind him, continued to charge in the attempt to take out the Strike regardless of the cost. Kira darted right of the shots that he fired and pulled the Midas Meiser from its shoulder holder and threw the weapon.

"You think that'll stop me?!"

Matthew thrusted up and over the boomerang, not realizing just what it was, nor who was behind him. Alex saw him climb above the weapon, leaving them in the path of the boomerang. Sophia gasped as her eyes grew wide as the glowing weapon drew closer. Clenching his jaw shut, Alex knew that there was only one way to avoid it. Clicking a switch under his left thumb on the throttle, he flipped the level up to a vertical position to match the stick in his right. Pulling back on both sticks, he pointed his toes to the floor panels on his yawl controls and twitched his fingers in a rapid series of movements. Sophia tensed as they suddenly rose straight into the air and over the boomerang. Her guts felt like they were going to flip flop as she felt a rush of backward movement. Her mind was racing a mile a minute.

'What the heck did Alex just do?'

Looking forward, she was stunned, they were now behind the Aegis that had been closing in on them from above and behind. Alex opened fire with the machine guns without hesitation even though he knew that they wouldn't harm the G-Weapon. Athrun felt the same as the crew of the Archangel and Mu as he threw himself into an evasive pattern despite his Phase Shift..

"What the hell?! The exhaust ports turned into legs!"

Athrun gritted his teeth as he turned to face the Immortal with the Aegis' 60mm beam rifle. Before he could take a bead, Athrun felt the sudden need to move from his current position, and fast. He only just skimmed Kira's beam boomerang by a foot or two as it returned to its owner after having reached as far as it would go. The green eyed pilot instantly knew what was about to happen and turned to face the Strike and GINN.

"Matthew! Behind you!!"

Athrun's warning came too late as the boomerang caught the ZAFT green in the back before sawing right through him and back to the Strike's hand – Matthew never had a moment to scream. Alex wore a grim expression.

"Kira Yamato. Seems my Father's hunches were right. You're a person to be reckoned with. Three kills with no experience or training . . . it's mind boggling."

Marisa ground her teeth in silence. Finally seeing Kira in action, she began to understand Alex's fears. The final kill had partially been due to the weapon's design, but a kill was still a kill. Murrue fairly gawked at the carnage.

"Is that really the Strike with Kira at the controls?"

"He's unreal. We've never seen GINNs go down that fast. But more surprising is that move the Immortal made."

People looked in Marisa's direction and she shrugged nonchalantly.

"That's not for you to worry about. All of the masterminds at Romanian Armor Masters have been developing this for the past seven months. Even I don't fully understand everything the fighter's capable of. Alex hasn't even begun to truly push the machine to the limit. Then again, he's also playing it cautious. He doesn't want our enemy to fully comprehend its abilities."

Back out in the colony, Athrun engaged Alex in the Aegis with the 60mm beam rifle. Alex veered hard to the right and then put the fighter into spiral, dropping twenty feet in an instant to avoid a second beam. Sophia swore through clenched teeth as she toughed the wicked Gs. Mu stayed to the rear, watching from the Zero in awe.

"He was good in a Zero, but this Valkyrie is pulling maneuvers that would break any other machine like it. I wonder how the Lieutenant is doing. I sure hope she hasn't lost her lunch in there."

Athrun stowed the rifle, ignited all four of the Aegis's beam sabers as he did so. Charging at the swerving Valkyrie. Kira was stupefied.

"This is his piloting skill? Who flies a fighter like that? That's not human."

Indeed Athrun was thinking much the same. Swooping at him from above, he slashed, thinking for sure that the fighter was about to become his first kill in the G-Weapon. The fighter instantly pointed its nose at the suit and spat death at him. Bringing the shield up out of reflex, he flicked two kicks out in hopes of lancing the fighter. Alex kicked the fighter into a back flip. The first blade grazed the underside of the nose cone while the second golden blade of energy slashed through the fuschia colored exhaust of the engines.

"This is the Immortal?! He's a monster!" Slashing down with the arm beam sabers, the blades passed through air as Alex tilted the fighter on its axis, knife edging the fighter so the weapons passed by the belly of the Valkyrie. Before either pilot could make another move, a vermilion beam shot between them, forcing Alex to jet away to recover.

"Which machine is it?!"

Arcing his head over his shoulder, he saw the final prototype, the GAT-X 107 Wildflower with its beam rifle aimed at him. Sophia was about to be sick as she rested her head on her HUD. She could barely register his voice as he tried to hail her.

'Such fast maneuvers in such close quarter combat in a fighter and with no error to boot, just what is Alex? Is he like what Doctor Metzinger was trying to do with Falcon? Is Alexsander Romania's Der Schreckick Eins?'

"Lieutenant!!"

"Huh?"

"DiFalco, talk to me! What's the specs on the Wildflower?! You're little toy's decided to come back to play and it's playing for keeps!"

She jerked in her seat as he spun the plane and pulled a harsh, 9G turn to dodge a pair of shots from the Wildflower's beam rifle. Straining to see over her shoulder, she paled when she saw the very Mobile Suit she had designed gunning for her own blood. The shield was in play with the rifle aiming at them through the barrel port.

Mu could see the problem and immediately saw that the best he could do was keep an eye on both machines as they engaged so Alex wouldn't be at such a huge disadvantage.

"Kid! Help Alexsander! His machine's insane, but it's got no way to damage a G-Weapon. Against one, he might wear it out, but against two, even he's a goner and he knows it! You're the only thing we've got kid!"

Kira snapped out of his stupor and pushed power into his verniers. Charging at the Wildflower, he swung down with the anti-ship sword's massive blade. Kira's eyes went wide as his attack met nothing but air.

"What?"

"Kira! Duck!!"

Dipping the Strike, a vermilion beam shot through the spot he was just at. On the Wildflower, Shiho blinked in surprise. Glancing about, she saw the Zero in the air and frowned.

"Athrun, you handle the Strike. I've got that fighter covered."

"R-roger." Athrun was still a bit stunned, but turned to take on the Strike as she stowed her rifle and drew the Balsam high frequency blade. Saluting once, she threw the G-Weapon at Alex's machine.

"Is that you Gray Demon?"

Alex's voice made her take on a grim visage.

"It is Immortal. That machine of yours, along with the refit Stiletto – at least I think that's what it is – are too dangerous to let go here."

Inside his cockpit, he was ignoring the questioning that Sophia was putting him through. Pushing the plane into a Pugachev's Cobra, he stared at the fast approaching Wildflower.

"I see. Sophia, what are the specs on that sword?"

Sophia stopped her questioning long enough to swallow.

"It's a high frequency vibro-blade. But that's not the only thing."

Alex jetted upward as Shiho slashed empty space. As he climbed, the Wildflower thrust its weapon to the sky.

'What is she doing?'

"Alex! Behind you!"

Mu's warning came too late as Sophia and Alex jerked forward violently in their restraints. Warning alarms blared and the displays of the Valkyrie went an angry red. Kira and Athrun paused in their stand off, the two of them too worried about who was in their opponent's suits. The sight made them temporarily forget their current concerns.

"What is that?!"

The blade was long and serpentine, bladed segments were connected by a flexible construction of materials. Alex glared behind him as he pushed the Valkyrie's engine to the redline.

"Sophia, what is that?!"

"It's the Balsam whip sword, I knew range was an issue with swords and having flexibility is a plus, so I didn't have any second thoughts about it."

"You do realize that it just may get us killed here right?"

Sophia chose to keep silent as they were rocked and buffeted around as their machine was slung down toward a set of abandoned buildings. Kira knocked Athrun back with a shield charge before rushing to their aid.

"Alex!"

As they were slung toward the ground, Alex ignored the warning alarms and altitude alerts in addition to Sophia's choice expletive. Catching a glimpse of the Archangel he knew Marisa was watching with hard eyes. They both knew that the whole plan they'd laid out was falling apart, and all they had now was improvisation. Hardening his resolve, he drew back both of his vertical control sticks and spoke a voice command into his mic.

"Awaken battle maiden Valkyrie!"

Sophia caught a glimpse of a message flashing across her HUD.

Dark warriors come unto me. Battle awaits us. Romanian Armor Masters Valkyrie mode 3, Knight Mode activated.

Sophia gasped as a humanoid diagram appeared in the place of the plane weapon grid. The gatling gun pod on the under belly traced over to the right hand. She could hardly believe what she was seeing.

"It can't be . . . you created a transforming armor with a working OS for . . . ARGH!"

The Valkyrie shifted and warped, the exhausts becoming legs, the intakes and sides split away to form arms, wings folded back and a head unit popped into place. They slammed into the remnants of a blown out building just as the transformation completed. The blade retracted back to its sword form and Shiho cast a grim glare at the dissipating smoke.

"What in the world as the Immortal created?"

Inside the legged ship, Murrue and Natarle were standing in shock. Marisa wore a pleased grin despite her concerned thoughts of both Alex's safety, and the secrecy of the Valkyrie's ability to take different forms. Rachelle winced knowing that the impact from landing had to have been brutal.

"That thing turns into a Mobile Suit?"

"It's not a Mobile Suit, it's a Variable Fighter from Romania. It won't operate anything like one either. For one, it doesn't carry the heavy firepower that the G-Weapons do. They're fragile and with the advent of Phase Shift, lack a means to punch through it. What the machines do have are adaptability and maneuverability so extreme that only those with the highest kinesthesia scores and excellent physical condition can push the Valkyrie to its limits. The only way Alex will make it out of this is to outlast the G-Weapons's battery charges."

Rachelle's explanation of the newest weapon from Romania made Murrue think hard about just what they were doing.

'From the sounds of it, only a select few can hope to effectively pilot their fighter, so it won't be mass produced. Against standard Mobile Suits, Romania's new fighter is pure slaughter. Alex gave the Aegis a run for its money and it was supposed to be the command unit.'

A burst of azure gunfire from the ground made the Wildflower back away with its shield between them. Out of the rubble rose the Valkyrie with a missile shaped gatling gun in its hands. Shiho had an idea of what she was facing in the gatling gun, but she wasn't chancing anything.

"It's well designed and constructed to take that kind of impact. I don't want to prolong this."

Stowing the Balsam sword, she brought the beam rifle back into play just as Kira charged headlong with another scream. The giant beam blade slashed through empty space and Shiho immediately prioritized the energy weapons of the Strike as the greater threat. Boomerang flew from the Strike's hand again and Shiho ducked out of the way as she wasted no time flying in another direction after seeing the end result of the projectile's return path.

Alex glanced in the direction the boomerang was going before readying support shots for Kira when something out of the corner of his eye took his mind off of the three G-Weapons for something far more urgent. Sophia saw it at the same instant and her guts went cold as she realized that it was too late. Midas Meiser tore into the destroyed GINNs intact missile pods, activating their launching sequences and spitting out their cargo.

"They're going to destroy the support shaft if they hit!" Clicking over his controls, his eyes raced over each missile for a split second before he keyed his weapons. A dull hum made him flinch as he glanced at his HUD. He had no missiles. Mu engaged the wayward explosive darts with his gun barrels, but wasn't able to catch two of them. Unfortunately, those two scored direct hits on the main shaft of Heliopolis.

The entire colony shuddered as the support cracked and splintered. The groan that echoed through the bowls of the space installation made everyone cease worrying about their opponents and focus on Heliopolis. Before Sophia could realize what happened, Alex had returned to fighter mode and was jetting toward the Archangel. Mu was already anchored to the hull when Alex brought the Valkyrie up beside the Zero and anchored himself to the hull as well.

Kira and Athrun weren't as lucky as they were sucked out different breaches in the colony. Shiho grit her teeth and put everything she had into not getting smashed by the chaotic storm of debris as everything was sucked into space.

Heliopolis . . . neutral colony of Orb, shattered like glass.


Heliopolis is gone and the Valkyrie's transforming ability has been exposed. The explosive first clash has concluded. But how will things go when the Archangel and everyone on board arrive at the Umbrella of Artemis?