"The ideal fortress is not one that simply offers the perfect defense against attackers, but also one that offers the perfect sanctuary to its defenders."
- Treize Kushrenada

Chapter IV: Jericho

Zeon Rewloola-class battlecruiser Ralmel
June 18, GC 379

"I have to say this was not what I was expecting from you Char." spoke the gruff, domineering voice over the vidfeed, which held a certain level of bemusement in spite of the circumstances. "Not only did you fail to capture the new Feddie prototype, but you also managed to get most of your taskforce destroyed from under you. And if that wasn't bad enough, you're now telling me the Ralmel has taken so much damage you are unable to maintain pursuit; not that you could do anything with your mobile suit force wiped out."

The eyes that stared back across the screen narrowed, though they weren't actually enraged. "Not exactly your finest hour Captain."

"In my honest opinion Admiral, we were unprepared from the beginning." Char exclaimed, not taking his eyes, which remained covered by his mask, from the other man's face. "The original report claimed the Federation only had one prototype and that Shangri-La was defended only by a rear line garrison. Instead, there are three prototypes, while a Midway-class fleetcarrier, which holds a carrying capacity nearly double that of my taskforce's combined allotment, has been deployed to serve as their transport. And that's not dismissing the fact this is the very same ship that was believed sunk at Arcturus, not that I ever believed that claim myself."

Though he remained respectful, the intensity behind Char's own gaze quickly matched that of the man on the screen. "Overall Admiral, this entire mission was far from what I was told to expect. Had I and the rest of my staff been properly filled in, my strategy and execution would have been far different."

An arched eyebrow was the other man's response. "Don't tell me you're trying to deflect your responsibilities Char."

"I'm not. As the mission commander, responsibility for its success or failure remains with me. I am merely pointing out the external elements that contributed to its failure." Char replied without missing a beat. "Even so, if you wish to place the blame on me alone, then I understand sir."

That only earned him a laugh from the man with the scarred visage. "If I do that, there'll be riots from here to Paulus over how the 'Hero of Zeon' was unceremoniously discharged. And then there would be the dressing down from I would receive from His Majesty over such a scandal."

At that explanation, Char allowed himself to smirk. "Are you saying I'm invaluable Admiral?"

Thus came another booming laugh from Grand Admiral Dozle Zabi, Supreme Commander of the Zeon Imperial Guard. Taking a moment to straighten his personalized green and gold, spike shouldered uniform, which had become somewhat wrinkled from his rising bouts, he looked back at Char with even greater bemusement. "I'm saying you are not easy to get rid of."

Char stifled a chuckle himself, if only for the irony in that. "I'll take that as a compliment sir."

"Heh." Dozle replied simply, before considering. "Still, I suppose the mission wasn't total loss. In lieu of a prototype, you did manage to gain some valuable data on the Feddies' new toys; perhaps Zeonic or Zimmad will be able to make use of it. At the very least we know what we're up against now."

"To some degree anyway." Char responded with seriousness. "I wouldn't be surprised if we haven't seen their full potential yet."

Dozle nodded with some disposition before changing the subject. "Where are they headed?"

Char took a moment to bring up a stellar atlas on another terminal, which he also transferred for Dozle to see as well. "Going by the course they held before we lost track of them, I believe they're aiming toward the Jericho system. It also helps Jericho II is the nearest Federation base in this sector."

"Jericho?" Dozle replied, again raising an eyebrow. "That's one hell of a coincidence. Admiral Delaz is mounting for an offensive there."

Now it was Char's turn to look peculiar. "If I may sir, I thought Admiral Delaz was leading our forces in the Masada Sector. When was he recalled?"

"Not too long ago, and under the Emperor's direct orders; in fact, the entire operation was put together by His Majesty." Dozle replied grimly, trying to hide his obvious displeasure at his older brother going around him in a military matter. He failed, but Char ignored it. "I can only guess what his aim is."

Char had a hunch himself, but decided not to voice it. "I myself do not question the directions of my superiors, especially His Majesty."

Dozle smirked a little. "Good Char. Keep that attitude and you'll definitely make it through the universe, or at least Zeon's bureaucracy. And on that note, where are you going to fix up the Ralmel?"

Char again consulted his atlas. "Elisha seems to be the closest for us. It's remote, but I think the drydock there can handle a Rewloola. And it will also allow us to regain pursuit when repairs are completed."

The Grand Admiral narrowed his gaze again. "That's assuming your quarry survives Delaz's dagger thrust."

"Oh, they will survive Admiral." Char flashed a knowing grin. "Call it...a premonition."

Dozle grinned back. "Well, if the Red Comet says so, then who am I to disbelieve?" he then got back to business. "In the meantime, I'll make sure Elisha is ready to receive you, as well as send you some new Zakus and pilots. If you're going to fight those three again, you'll need all the suits you can get."

Char again nodded in acknowledgment. "Thank you sir." he then replied after a brief pause. "Is there anything else you need of me?"

The Admiral thought for a moment. "No, that pretty much covers it Char. I'll let you get back to keeping your ship afloat." he then gave a sly glance. "Do try not break it any further."

The Red Comet wisely ignored the sting in that. "I'll do what I can sir. R out." he stated, before signing off. He then turned and quickly exited his quarters, beginning to make his way toward the bridge.

As he went, his mind again dwelled upon that ship and those three mobile suits, who were now seeking haven in Jericho, where they would soon find themselves caught in an even worse battle than he had given them. That in itself brought to mind that one rookie pilot, the one who flew the mobile suit marked Alpha, alongside Artesia; how would either of them fair in what was to come?

And yet Char found himself smiling at those thoughts. Both will survive. If nothing else, I have no doubts on them.

Federation Midway-class fleetcarrier Ark Royal
System X-145, Middle Rim
June 18, GC 379

Fraw was still floating aimlessly in the darkness and weightlessness of her assigned quarters when her ears suddenly picked up activity coming from the outside. At first, she chose to ignore it; after all, whatever happened on this ship, short of a dire emergency and a call to abandon, was hardly any of her concern. Hell, she wasn't even one of the crew, just a refugee that was tagging along for the ride to Earth. Yet a moment later, she rethought her decision and, if only for curiosity's sake, floated toward her doorway and opened it.

"Damn it, we're losing him!" one of the two grey-uniformed crewmen shouted as they pushed along a hover stretcher. A hover stretcher that held another one of their number, who was covered with some of the worst second and third degree burns Fraw had ever seen. Immediately the crewman that shouted the proclamation began to administer a drug, likely adrenaline, into the nearly dead man while the other continued to push the stretcher along, likely toward the sickbay.

"What the-?" Fraw exclaimed, quickly exiting her quarters and letting the door shut behind her. Her personal troubles forgotten momentarily, she matched the two men's pace and followed them from a fair distance, going down the hallway until she watched them come up to another doorway, one appropriately marked "Sickbay" at the top and holding the ancient Red Cross emblem upon its two doors. From there, Fraw watched as the door opened and the two would-be corpsmen entered, all the while the sounds of frantic cries and pained exhalations echoed from beyond. Just from those two distinct sounds alone Fraw realized something was dangerously wrong, and it was that realization that drove her to move to the door, which automatically opened upon her own approach.

She expected to see pandemonium on the other side. Instead, she was greeted by nothing short of desolation itself. "My...God...!"

The smell was what reached her first; the unmistakable stench of burned flesh, smoke, chemicals and pharmaceuticals. All of it mixed together to produce a unique blend of stench, one that could only be described as "death". Beyond that, the scene before her looked and sounded just as bad; nearly every space in the sickbay was covered with a body of some kind, all of which were covered in burns, bruises and cuts. Some were burned to almost literal cinders, while others were bleeding on some level, and even more were unconscious or having trouble breathing. And even more were obviously dead.

However, what took Fraw back the most was, beside there being very few able bodied corpsmen going around and looking after the wounded, was a certain key fact: there was no higher up medical staff present. No nurses, no doctors. Everything was being handled by the corpsmen, who looked overwhelmingly frantic and unsure of what they were doing.

Suddenly one of the wounded in near Fraw, a kid crewmen in a badly burned uniform began to spasm, eyes slowly closing. Instantly the machines monitoring him began to beep with utmost urgency.

"Code Blue!" someone shouted, another ancient term carried over to the Galactic Century, signaling that the patient was quickly going into cardiac arrest. He and two others quickly moved to the crewman, but as Fraw expected, were clearly unsure how to handle the situation. All the while the crewman's condition became worse.

Without thinking, Fraw moved to the bed. "What do we have?" she demanded.

"Seventeen year old, severe burns and lacerations!" one of the corpsmen answered without taking time to consider who he was talking to. "BP's 60/20, pulse is wavering!"

Taking that knowledge in, Fraw quickly consulted the monitor over the man's bed. "He's flatlining!" she announced, before tossing the scanner to one of the others. The beeping soon changed into a long, shrill whine. "Infusers and point-four atropine, now!"

Again without thinking the corpsmen produced a pair of metal rods with flat circles at the end. Fraw was just as quick to take them and, after the corpsmen ripped off the remnants of the kid's once grey uniform, apply the rods to his chest.

"Clear!" she shouted, sending an electrical pulse through the kid's body. The monitor remained unchanged, as did the whine they emitted.

"Clear!" Fraw repeated, applying the infusers once more. This time the whine ended and the monitors displayed a heartbeat. It wasn't much, but much to Fraw's appreciation, the kid's heart was beating again.

"Atropine!" she called out. Again to her call, one of the corpsmen produced an injector, which Fraw took and quickly applied. A few breath holding moments later, the monitor displayed the kid's heart rate reaching normal levels. He was okay, at least for the time being.

But Fraw was far from done. "What the hell is going on here!?" she demanded to the corpsmen. "Where's your Chief Medical Officer!?"

Still reeling from what had just happen, the corpsmen again answered without considering the one asking. "He's dead! Got killed in the Zeek attack!"

"And the rest of the medical staff!?" she continued.

"Most are dead! The rest of us are only corpsmen and volunteers!" the same guy answered, finally blinking as he realized he was being talked at by a civilian. "Who are you!?"

Fraw gave all three of them a cold look. "As you can see, I'm a doctor! The only doctor apparently!" she stated, then looking around. "Does this ship have an OR?"

"Yes!" came a reply, directing toward a nearby pair of doorways to the side, one labeled "Operating Room" and the other "Sterilization".

Fraw would have slapped her head for missing either in her haste, but there was obviously much better uses of her time. "Prep it! And get some volunteers for the nursing staff!"

"You think you can save them?" one of the corpsmen again inquired, speaking out for the three. At the same time however, certain hope began to come about between them.

Fraw paused for a very short moment to consider that, looking around her. Yes, she was likely in over her head, a small colony doctor taking on the responsibilities of military physicians, but at the moment she was the only one capable. If nothing else however, it gave her renewed purpose, something that she dearly needed at this time, in the wake of all that has happened.

And above all of it, it's what her parents would have wanted of her.

"I don't know, but I will try. Now get to it!" Fraw replied, again moving toward Sterilization while the three dispersed to their new assignment.

Amuro Ray was not in the best of physical conditions, to say the least. Even after he had awoken from his blackout in the Ark Royal's hangar, his head still painfully rung from his fight with Char, while he felt pain in parts of his body he hadn't known to exist before. It had taken quite a bit of effort for him to climb out of Unit Alpha's cockpit, even more to float toward a nearby turbolift without drifting off, and even more effort to keep himself standing when he the turbolift moved into the Ark's artificial gravity zone. He was still trying to figure out how he managed to get himself to the changing room, strip off his normal suit for his uniform, and then make his way to the mess hall for a late dinner, where he was in the present.

At least I'm still in one piece. he thought as he went down the line with his tray, cooks piling on pieces of Aurelian chicken, rice and various vegetables along the way. As Amuro gazed at the food, he felt his stomach grumble, making him realize just how long it had been since lunch. How time flies when you're being shot at by cyclopean death machines.

After getting his food, Amuro spent the next few moments searching for an open table; a good portion of the crew were having chow as well, and thus table space was few and far between. After a minute or so of semi-dazed searching, he finally found an open space, as well as something that made him raise an eyebrow: an indent on the metal table, right next to the space he was intending to sit down at.

That's different. he thought as he placed his tray down, and then took a moment to look at the indent. It wasn't particularly large or anything, but it seemed rather peculiar, namely due to its size and smoothed edges. From these details, it seemed as though the gash had been caused by a fist, yet Amuro couldn't imagine anyone on the Royal holding the physical strength to make it, even if thoroughly enraged. Especially when these tables were pure steel and could likely withstand a mobile suit foot stomping on them.

So curious to the gash, as well as figuring out who exactly made it, that Amuro didn't notice someone coming up behind him. "You son of a bitch!"

Upon that call, Amuro instinctively turned around, only to watch as a fist slammed into his face and knocked him back, stumbling. Quickly recovering from the shock, as well as realizing that was the second time he had been hit that day, Amuro let out growl and moved to strike his attacker; a shorter man with black hair, slanted eyes and the markings of an Ensign on his uniform. Fortunately or unfortunately however, several arms reached out and held him and his would be opponent back, before the real fight could begin.

"What the hell was that for!?" Amuro barked at the Ensign as he violently thrashed out of the arms' grasp. He immensely hated being touched.

"For Daniel!" the other man roared back with clear intent. "You killed him you bastard!"

"Are you nuts Hayato!?" another Ensign with dark grey hair and lazy looking eyes stepped in. "This guy's a Lieutenant, remember!?"

"Back off Kai! Lieutenant or not, he's still a fuck up!" Hayato glowered, his eyes burning into Amuro's, who winced at the pure rage he felt the Ensign emanating. "It's because of him Char broke through and killed Daniel and the others!"

Amuro's rage again got the better of him, but the arms reached out again to keep him from attacking. "What are you talking about!?" he growled back as he shook the arms off of him again. "I kept Char back..."

"Not long enough!" Hayato bellowed in return. "At the end, after you were knocked out, he managed to get back into the fight! My friend is dead because of it! Because of you!"

"That's...!" Amuro stammered, trying to find a response in light of his rage and confusion.

"Why the hell did the Commander pick you!?" Hayato let on, almost in hysteria. "It should have been...!"

"That's enough Hayato!" barked a new voice, causing everyone to turn and watch as a now quite displeased Sayla Mass entered the scene, quickly coming between Amuro and Hayato while staring down the Ensign. Again, Amuro felt certain pressure emanate from the fellow Gundam pilot. "Back down, and I promise I will forget this whole affair."

Hayato looked as though he was about to spontaneously combust. "You're defending this guy Sayla!?" he shouted incredulously. "After what happened to Daniel and the others!?"

"Daniel was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and the others were just as unlucky." she stated, eyes narrowing further. "Lieutenant Amuro held out against Char as long as necessary, and we completed the mission because of it. There's no more to it than that."

The Ensign responded by gritting his teeth. "That's not good enough Sayla...!"

"It is 'good enough' Hayato, and you will do well to realize it." Sayla stated in turn, her voice suddenly becoming harder as she added. "Don't think you're the only one who's lost something in this war."

At that, Amuro felt several images flash into his mind: an exploding shuttle, a man disappearing in said explosion, soldiers storming some kind of mansion and killing off anyone they came across, a boy with similar features to Sayla holding out his hand. All intertwined with a similar pain and loss that he had felt from Hayato, only far, far more potent.

Fortunately the images were quick to pass, Amuro quickly shook his head and began to speak again. "Look." he said, regaining attention from Hayato and the rest. "I'm sorry about your friend; really I am..."

Just like he did with Fraw before, Amuro took a moment to consider his words, yet still had no idea to go about them. Human emotions, as usual, were beyond him. "But regardless, I don't understand why you blame me for his death. It was Char who killed him, not me!"

That only seemed to drive Hayato over the edge, and once more Amuro winced at his rise in anger. "If you're going to say that, you son of a bitch, then I'll make you understand...!"

With newfound strength, the Ensign quickly broke out of his hold and again raised his fist to strike Amuro. Instinctively, Amuro broke his own right arm away and raised to block, but before he could, Sayla moved in and intercepted the fist with her own clenched hand.

All at once, the atmosphere in the room seemed to below freezing as nearly everyone present watched in a mixture of anxiety and awe; even Amuro could only gaze. It was quite a sight to behold, the enraged Hayato attempting to drive his fist into its intended target, only to be held back by the seemingly emotionless Sayla, who stared back into the attacker's eyes with an unaffected nature. All throughout it seemed as though that scene was locked in time, as if decades would pass before one side would finally give, or at least until a higher ranking official would show up and break it all up.

Yet amidst the crowd of spectators, only Amuro noticed that in spite of Hayato's rage and obviously great strength (being a mobile suit pilot and all), Sayla had absolutely no issue holding back his fist. In fact, her hand was not even trembling from the tension; it seemed to be completely locked in place, and nothing Hayato did could break its iron hold in the slightest. This in itself seemed to be reflected in Sayla's gaze, which Amuro couldn't see completely, but could tell both from his eyes and his other senses that the female ace was not exerting any real effort in keeping the Ensign at bay. All the while Hayato was expounding large amounts of energy trying to force his way past her, such that sweat was beginning to pour from his forehead.

With sudden, chilling realization, Amuro partially turned and again looked back on that table's indent.

"As I said, back down." Sayla stated, her voice now sounding firm and hollow, as if it had taken on an echo, while certain fury began to build behind her eyes. "Now."

As those words spoke out, Amuro felt what could only be described as a wave of pure will wash over him, Hayato and everyone else in the room, though again he was the only one who could identify it. No sooner than this occurred, the Ensign's eyes widened while his initial wrath was soon replaced with fear and caution, as if suddenly realizing he were trying to take on something bigger and far more powerful than himself. It was only then that he stopped his attempted attack, while Sayla unclenched her hand and allowed her fellow pilot to withdraw his fist. As well, one was also quick to note how Hayato was now breathing heavily, as well as suddenly incapable of looking Sayla in the eye.

For her part, Sayla only seemed to regard her subordinate with her usual stoic nature, projecting neither satisfaction at her "putting him in his place" nor the earlier displeasure at his behavior. However, again while watching her, Amuro could easily detect something more lurking underneath the surface.

Lowborn weakling. Sayla thought disgustedly at her subordinate's now broken form, knowing that there were more like him on "her side" than on the other. It's no wonder the Federation is losing this war.

"Lieutenant Amuro report to the Captain's office. Lieutenant Amuro report to the Captain." a female voice rang out over the PA system, as if purposely timed to defuse the situation.

At that, Sayla momentarily closed her eyes to let the tension drain, before turning to face a still bewildered Amuro. "You better get moving. Captain Bright does not like to be kept waiting long."

After a few blinks of his eyes, Amuro quickly snapped out of his trance and hesitantly nodded toward the other Gundam pilot. "Ah...yeah. Sure." he said, before stepping around her, Hayato and the rest, all of whom still taken back by what they had witnessed, to make his way toward the entryway.

Yet again Bright felt the ship rumble from underneath him, much to his growing annoyance. He didn't know whether it was due to Mirai running into an asteroid or due to said asteroid running into the ship itself, but each time it occurred, it was all enough to jolt him with the rest of the Royal. And following that, Bright could not keep himself from holding his breath as he waited for the damage report to come calling in the intercom. Fortunately this had only occurred twice over the trip, and the damage had been light each time, but it didn't stop him from dreading the worst.

This was certainly not one of my best strategies. he thought as he silently waited for the call to come in. Thankfully it didn't, and so Bright could continue reading Sleggar's mission log on his terminal. At least until he heard the door beep, signaling that the one he had been waiting on had finally arrived. "Enter."

At that, the door slid open and the man he knew as the test pilot for Gundam Unit Alpha, entered the room and stood at attention before the desk. "Lieutenant Amuro Ray reporting as ordered, sir."

Bright looked up and immediately studied the young pilot for a moment and comparing it to the image he saw back at Shangri-La. Indeed Lieutenant Amuro looked every bit a youth, such that even the dark grey Star Force uniform he wore did nothing to give him the aura of a soldier, much less an officer. If anything, Bright would have guessed Amuro were a college student, or even a civilian engineer, long before he would have thought of him as a pilot. And he definitely would never had believed he was the test pilot of an advanced next generation prototype, with or without his blood relation to Tem Ray.

This is the boy who gave the Zeon such a hard time? Bright wondered to himself as he continued to look the junior Lieutenant over. If nothing else, there was that accomplishment to speak of the boy's qualifications as a pilot.

For his part, this was the first time Amuro had seen the Ark Royal's captain at all, and so was quite surprised at the encounter. In his opinion, Bright Noa seemed far too young to be the captain of a warship; a bridge officer, maybe an XO even, but not a captain. Sure, he dressed like a captain, wearing the traditional greatcoat that bore double stripes and triple diamonds on its blue epaulets proudly, as well as retaining the equally traditional peaked cap over his head. And beside those, he certainly held the commanding presence necessary for a leadership position, which Amuro could have detected even without his powers. But despite all that, there was just something about the opposite man's form that made Amuro think he was promoted five or ten years earlier than he should have been.

This is the guy they sent to retrieve the Gundams? Amuro thought as he looked directly into the Captain's eyes without flinching. If nothing else, Amuro did give Bright that much; the young Captain managed to get his ship and its contents well away from Shangri-La and the Zeon, at least so far.

For a moment in time, it seemed both ship captain and mobile suit pilot would only continue to stare at each other, at least until the other submitted to the superior will. And then all of a sudden, Bright began to speak. "I've read your record Lieutenant." he stated, gesturing toward the datapad again. "And I must say it's quite...colorful. I've never seen so many reprimands and reports of insubordination and unbecoming conduct in one place before."

Amuro only remained silent. Bright nodded to himself; he passed the first test. "I can only imagine why you haven't been drilled out of the service, whether it's because you're Tem Ray's son or because you're of some actual value to Project V. Either way, I don't care."

It was at that point Bright stood up, revealing that he was slightly taller than the Gundam pilot. "What I do care about is you're on my ship now, so I'm going to be very clear: as long as you're here, you will act in a manner befitting of a Star Force officer. You will follow any orders I or my command staff will give to you, you will carry yourself with restraint in all interactions with my crew, and you will make every effort to avoid personal conflicts and outbursts."

The intensity of Bright's gaze only raised at the indirect challenge he gave to the young Lieutenant, but again Amuro remained silent and straightforward. "As long as you're aboard the Ark Royal, these conditions will be observed to the letter; if you do not agree, then you have the option of getting off my ship and taking your chances in the void. Is that clear?"

"Yes sir." Amuro replied automatically.

Bright nodded, satisfied. "Good. At ease then." he then stood up, datapad in hand. "I've also read Commander Sleggar's report of the latest mission. It's an impressive read in itself; you're probably the first Star Force pilot to go up against the Red Comet and come back in one piece, if not alive altogether."

"Only because Char didn't finish me." Amuro replied dryly.

"Perhaps, but the fact is you're still alive and, regardless of your status as a test pilot, you have some skill to compliment the Gundam's capabilities." Bright summarized, before taking a breath. "For that reason, you are hereby assigned to this ship's Carrier Assault Group, under Commander Sleggar's direct command."

Amuro practically double-taked at that order. "Excuse me, sir?"

"You heard right Lieutenant. I am putting you on active combat duty, at least until we reach Earth." Bright replied. "As well, I'm assigning you to instruct Commander Sleggar and Lieutenant Sayla in piloting Unit Beta and Unit Gamma."

"But sir..." Amuro stammered, but managed to keep his voice even. Bright had to give him some credit there, as he was already observing the 'no outburst' rule. "I'm a test pilot! I fight mock battles against drones, not actual battles against Zakus! Up until a few hours ago, I never had any real combat experience."

"That does not matter. Right now I need every advantage I can get; it's a long way from here to Earth, and the Zeon will not give up their pursuit so easily." Bright explained with hard, realistic grimness filling his tone of voice. "Especially since we just beat back one of their best aces."

Amuro grit his teeth, but again he kept his tone of voice in check. "Was this Commander Sleggar's suggestion, sir?"

"That also does not matter." Bright answered sharply. "Once more, as long as you're on this ship you will follow my orders to the letter, no matter what personal issues you may take with them." his eyes quickly bore their way back into the junior officer's. "Feel free to hate me for it, but that's how it will be for now on."

For the first time, Amuro's eyes leered. "Exactly how long until we reach Earth?"

That one actually made Bright laugh a little on the inside; contrary to popular belief, he did have a sense of humor. Outwardly however, he remained impassive. "To be bluntly honest Lieutenant, I could not tell you. It could be anywhere from weeks to months, perhaps even a year, depending upon how many course corrections and stops we will inevitably end up making. And that's not including encounters with the enemy."

Again he posed another indirect challenge. "Either way you look at it Lieutenant, you're stuck with us for a while, unless command were to transfer you to another ship."

To put it lightly, Amuro would have given anything to lay this ship captain out on the deck; Bright Noa was an even bigger jerk than his last commander. Even so, he again restrained himself. "I understand, sir."

At that, Bright nodded. Amuro Ray might not have been the recruiting poster type, but at least he wasn't entirely insubordinate. Not that it really mattered to Bright, since he would be Sleggar's responsibility for now on. "Very well. Dismissed."

With that Amuro made one last salute, which Bright responded to with his own, and promptly got the hell out of there.

"Pity the tragic pitiful, and all they left behind. Nothing is left from what we find. Have we gone too far? In the middle of nowhere... Fire in the sky... Fade into darkness... All you want is to be free...!" Sleggar sang absently as he waited, leaning up against the sidewall of the deck. The meeting was taking longer than he thought, much to his dismay, so it was all he could do to pass the time. At least, without having to walk back to his quarters and retrieve his music player.

Fortunately he did not need to wait much longer. Soon enough, the doors to Bright's office opened and Amuro made his way out, rather hurriedly as well. He took a few more steps before noticing Sleggar leaning against the wall, clearly waiting for him. "Is there something you need, Commander?" Amuro spoke with certain agitation.

Sleggar only took it in his usual manner: with a smirk. "That's a rather terse way to address your new commanding officer. We'll have to work on that."

That only served to irritate Amuro even more. "I don't have time for this." he said as he moved to walk past. However, he was quickly stopped when Sleggar reached out and kept him from going.

"For what it's worth Lieutenant, I sympathize with you." Sleggar continued. "Until today, there wasn't any need for you to fight; you did your part for the Federation simply by testing out those machines, so that people like me could use them in the future. I respect that, just as I understand your hesitance to fight, as we all have that."

Sleggar cast a knowing glance as Amuro turned to face him. "Even so, there are times in life where we all have to step up for the cause. It just so happens today was your turn."

"Easy for you to say. You've been doing this a lot longer than I have." Amuro replied flatly, though he didn't step further. "I never wanted any part of this war; as far as I care, the problems the Federation has with Zeon aren't mine."

"I bet they weren't that girl's either; you know, the one you had Sayla bring aboard." Sleggar pointed out, causing Amuro's expression to falter. The Commander saw that as progress. "That's the funny thing about war; it's started by politicians and fought by soldiers, yet it always sucks in those who were not originally involved."

Amuro had to think hard to come up with a response. "I already killed the bastard that did that to Fraw's parents. I even made sure he died screaming." he said, remembering that particular Zeek's end with certain relish. "And from there I fought Char and nearly died from it." he said looking Sleggar square in the eye. "Wasn't that enough?"

Sleggar shook his head. "Not by a long shot Lieutenant." he said knowingly. "It's one thing to fight the Zeeks and survive, and another to fight and dominate. You did the latter against several of them, including one of their top aces; that makes you an invaluable asset to the Federation, and a grave threat to the Empire."

The force between his own gaze increased greatly. "So whether you like it or not, you're completely involved now."

The Lieutenant could only step back a bit in response, finding no words to say to that at first. He then looked away, now finding himself unable to meet Commander's sight and in near despair. "I'm not a warrior...!" he muttered, looking down as he felt overwhelmed again. "This wasn't...!"

Sleggar nodded in understanding as he folded his arms. "I think we can both agree that, if there's one constant habit God possesses, it's that He always sends us places we never wanted to go."

Suddenly, Amuro felt another set of peculiar images flash into his mind. The first was that of a smiling young man dressed in a green jumpsuit and holding a black and blue enflamed helmet of some sort, standing in front of a strange folded winged fighter craft alongside several others in similar outfits, with one, a woman with black hair and slanted eyes, standing directly beside him. Following this was an image of a massive dogfight, involving several of those straight winged fighters, all bearing a striped star roundel, going against several swept wing fighters, all bearing red star roundels. Amongst them, the image of another red star fighter, one that was remarkably different from the others while possessing a pure black color scheme, swept in for the attack.

After that, a landing accident involving a fighter crashing upon a flight deck followed; this led to the pilot being placed on life support in an archaic hospital room while doctors consulted, claiming that he would not live in passing whispers. Then it shifted to the image of the still heavily wounded pilot, now placed into a chemical tank of some kind and wired throughout, being lowered into a storage chamber (for lack of better description), disappearing into obscurity. Amuro himself was just able to depict the words "UNITED STATES NAVY" written on the side of the tank.

Almost instantly, Amuro looked up with wide eyes and shock, while Sleggar just looked on, now having adopted a far more serious expression. His smirk returned after the moment passed however. "Well, now that everything is established..." he began. "I suggest you get some rest, as you're going to need it. At 0800 tomorrow, we're going to do some sims with the Gundams."

Amuro nearly blanched. "But you said..."

"I said a sympathized with you. I didn't say I was letting you off the hook." Sleggar stated. "Like it or not, you have officially become my personal bitch. Don't think I'm not going to make the most of it."

The Lieutenant opened his mouth to protest again, but Sleggar stopped him. "And on that note, through a strange twist of fate, there just happens to be an opening in my unit at this time. One that you and Unit Alpha will fit nicely into; despite your amateur status, you possess great talent in killing Zeeks, and I pride myself in having an eye for that kind of talent." again he smiled, this time dominantly. "So congratulations Lieutenant Amuro. As of now, you're a member of Shrike Squadron."

The look Amuro quickly adapted spoke volumes of appreciation. "One of these days..."

"Yes yes, perhaps. In the meantime though, we've got serious work to do, between your instructing Sayla and I on the Gundams and my getting you broken into the squad." Sleggar stated, before turning around. "So again, better rest up Lieutenant, because you're going busy as hell tomorrow."

The Commander then trotted away, again singing the lyrics to Richie Kotzen's "Soldiers of Sorrow" to himself. As well as completely ignoring the growing rage that was emanating behind him.

Bismark Palace
Zumberg, Zeon, Zeon Empire
June 30, GC 379

Set at the farthest reaches of the galaxy, the planet Zeon was a gleaming emerald cast against the darkness of space. The second planet among a system of four, and initially the only one that could hold human life, it was distinguished by its great size and its unique green tinted atmosphere that glowed eerily when cast against the light of the local sun, also named Zeon, as if the planet had a surreal and supernatural force to it. To many, it was perhaps the most alien world in the galaxy.

At one time, Zeon had been a hostile and highly volatile world, sparsely capable of supporting any life whatsoever, let alone humanity. But that time was long past and the planet had since been properly reconditioned, a feat that the inhabitants took great pride; not only was today's Zeon fully capable of supporting life, but it had long since become a great paradise, noteworthy of its abundant mountains and lakes. It was, to say the least, a symbolic triumph of the original inhabitants, who had even gone as far as to genetically engineer their children, so that they were able to thrive in this once desolate world; combined with other sets of mutations generated from the surrounding environment, these acts would eventually mold the Zeon race into the superhumans they were renowned as today, biological greatness given form. For those reasons among others, Zeon was the capital world of one of the most powerful empires ever conceived.

Thus, it was from here, the ultimate seat of power, that he would address his people.

Standing before his subjects, Emperor Gihren truly appeared to be a god among men. Before him, millions of Zeon were looking upon him with admiration and hope, alongside undying loyalty to their Emperor and belief that they would see him through these troubled times. Beyond them, the Zakus that stood around the crowds, mono-eyes focused squarely on the stage and podium, seemed to gaze upon their liege with subservience, as if reflecting the feelings held by their pilots from within. And even further, past what Gihren's eyes could see, there was the rest of Zeon's population throughout the stretches of the Empire, alongside the great fleets and armies of Zeon's vaunted Imperial Guard, all holding their attention toward the telescreens, all awaiting the words of their great leader.

Outwardly, Gihren was impassive, as if to feign humility before his subjects. Inwardly however, he gleamed over what he saw; infinite subjects looking upon him for guidance and protection, unquestioning and unswerving in their collective gaze. All symbolizing that Zeon well and truly belonged to him now; not the Daikuns, not his inept, uninspiring and quite dead father, but him. And indeed, he would be the one to shape their destiny and raise them to greatness, above even the stars themselves. He would be the one who, by blood and by iron, would have them rule over the cosmos as was their birthright; the same birthright that the Daikuns never recognized and went out of their way to deny them.

Fortunately Gihren saw what that line had refused, understood what they had not. He knew that Zeon was destined to encompass all the galaxy, and that her people, once reviled and hated by all of humanity for their superiorities, would take their rightful place at the forefront of human evolution, the very Master Race that had been spoken of in the past. All he need do was guide them along with a steady hand, which was exactly what he was doing now, as well as what he was about to reassure those before him over.

As the roaring cheers slowly died down, Gihren minutely smiled as he stepped squarely before the podium, dramatically swaying the cape of his crisp black and gold uniform. He then began to speak, his deep, rich baritone voice echoing throughout the cosmos. As if God Himself were speaking to all of Creation. "My people..." he began, his voice low but slowly rising. "Sons and Daughters of Zeon...!"

Already Gihren saw that his audience was captivated. As he expected. "For many ages, we have been a race denied our greater destiny. When our ancestors chose to augment their children in the hopes of building a proud civilization, they became scorned and hated throughout the rest of humanity. When their children sought to gain a place within the galaxy, for which they contributed much of our Fatherworld's resources and population to dedicated service, they became feared and persecuted for their gifts by those they called brethren. And when the next generation chose to embrace masterhood in the hope of expanding this proud nation, those same degenerates threatened war and conquest, to strip the very last ounce of dignity from our ancestors and our world. And though war had been averted at that time, those sentiments among the lowborn of the galaxy had remained, alongside their natural envy to we, the superior highborn."

At that point, Gihren allowed a grin to flourish from his lips. "But now, now everything has changed. At long last the lowborn have gained the battle with Zeon they had long sought; at long last the 'normals' have been given the opportunity to deny us our pride and our glory. At long last the inferiors had gained their war against their superiors..." his grin increased. "...only to realize the grave error of their desires, as they suffer our wrath."

With a broad gesture, he drew his arms outward. "To this day, two years since the beginning of the war, Zeon continues its march to the very heart of the galaxy! Every hour our great fleets destroy countless numbers of warships and mobile suits. Every day our armies free hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of planets from tyranny. And with each step of the way, humanity becomes more and more purified of the lowborn corruption, setting it upon the path to Ascension as prophesied by the great Emperor Gwadan himself. Ascension, from hatred, fear and misery, the very vices mankind has suffered throughout ages. Ascension into true peace and prosperity, the very blessings mankind has sought throughout time."

Then, with perfect timing, Gihren lowered his head and grasped the sides of the podium, feigning exhaustion. "But hold no illusions, my people. Our great task remains ahead of us; until our enemies are completely defeated, until the Zeon Cross shines over the entire galaxy, our war will continue onward. I know many of you are weary of this, to which I understand; Zeon is not a nation built upon war. For over three hundred years we had maintained peace, content to build our civilization in the far reaches of the universe and to leave the lowborn to their own worlds and endeavors. If not for the death of Emperor Zorin at the hands of a lowborn assassin, that peace would surely have lived to this day, preventing the galaxy much destruction and bloodshed."

And from there, he rose again to his full height. "Unfortunately, such peace was not to be, and so we are left but with one choice: to fight on until victory is obtained! Thus, I call upon you, my brothers and sisters, to maintain your stand; do not falter, do not compromise, instead focus your strength at those who have wronged us for generations! Bring about your anger and your sorrow, hone and wield them as you would a sword, and force our enemies to submit before you! And continue onward until our banner waves upon the very center of the galaxy, ensuring that all of the universe belongs to Zeon!"

As one great voice, the people roared before him, showing that their Emperor's words had indeed reached their ears and punctuated their minds. Again Gihren smiled. "And above all else, let your voice cry out, until the stars echo with our might!" and so he raised his fist into the air and finally called out. "SIEG ZEON!"

"SIEG ZEON! SIEG ZEON! SIEG ZEON! SIEG ZEON!" the crowd cried out the ancient rally call, first uttered upon the Empire's very formation, with their own fists raised into the air and their own hearts filled with fervor. Gihren could only smile triumphantly at this; truly this was the closest any man could come to Godhood.

Yet in spite of his outward attention, he did not fail to detect the violet haired woman in the white gown, standing several meters behind him in the darkened corridor he had entered from. And though his face was turned away, he also did not fail in detecting how his sister, Princess Miharu, was showing grave concern.

Federation Midway-class fleetcarrier Ark Royal
Jericho System, Middle Rim
June 30, GC 379

All at once, the tunnel of flashing light ended with the Ark Royal reverting back to sub-warp speed. With certain grace that seemed uncharacteristic for such a large craft, the grey hulled fleetcarrier cruised through space, straight toward the brown and blue world ahead of it, which shone brightly against the light of the local sun. Those who looked out through the Ark's bridge or any of the nearby portholes took that light as a sign of welcome.

"Jericho Control, this is Ark Royal, ready for docking maneuvers." Kikka spoke over the local channel, looking out at the bright colored world with a smile. It had been a long twelve day journey from Shangri-La, one initially hampered by Char's attack, but now she could breathe a sigh of relief as Jericho II laid in front of her.

"Ark Royal is cleared to dock." the female controller on the other end replied. "Activating guidance beacon to Central Harbor."

"Lock on." Mirai commanded to the helm, where a fully recovered Katz worked the controls.

After a few button pushes, Katz nodded that they were ready. "Systems locked. Switching to autopilot...now."

From his position, Bright could only watch as data poured into the Ark's guidance system, steering her to the planet with utmost precision. Nodding with satisfaction, he looked back at the front screen, where the planet continued to grow closer and closer. "Jericho you have control."

"Affirmative Ark Royal. Enjoy the ride, and welcome to Jericho II." the controller replied from the other end, sounding as though a smile had touched her own face at seeing the carrier's approach.

At that, Bright leaned back and relaxed, as he and his bridge crew had no more to do now. "Ark Royal confirms."

Slowly, the Ark Royal continued its approach toward the planet, coming close enough for the bridge crew to depict mountains, seas and cities lining its surface. Alongside these and civilian traffic, several more Star Force vessels, identifiable by their telltale dark grey and navy blue hulls, could be depicted coming and going around the planet, ranging from Eurymedon-class cruisers to one or two larger Actium-class battlecruisers. The crew watched in awe as three such warships, a single Actium and two Eurymedons, ascended past the planet's atmosphere and moved into space, passing by the Royal before jumping to warp speed; obviously a long-range patrol. And as if to compliment these ships, several Guncannon teams, also painted in the Federation standard grey and navy, flitted to and fro around the planet and the surrounding space, performing more intermediate patrols. One team even flew up alongside the Royal as she passed, from which the lead suit waved toward her bridge, and then sped off to parts unknown.

Continuing on at a stable speed, the fleetcarrier soon passed into Jericho II's atmosphere, beginning the reentry process. Bright recalled there being a time, in which man journeyed into space in craft little bigger than a modern day worker pod, where reentry was considered a perilous act and a necessary evil; where astronauts had to make the most precise calculations, as well as the loudest possible prayers to God, in order to make it through a planet's atmosphere and perform a safe landing. In the Galactic Century however, reentry was more like an everyday thing that anyone hardly thought over, as modern day humans had long grown used to the process of bringing one's starship down onto a planet; hell, it was safe enough that aboard a large enough ship, one could move around unrestrained while reentry was underway and not worry over any potential harm. It also helped that the Royal's gravity plating was set to automatically adjust in the wake of reentry, as well as to deactivate when the ship fully entered the planet's own gravitational zone.

A few moments later, the flames and the vibrations died away, allowing the crew to gaze out and behold the surrounding blue skies, along with the spanning surface below. Stretched across the otherwise rocky and mountainous landscape, Jericho II's capital city of New Torrington was nothing less than a true metropolis of tall buildings and modern day advancement, the only city of its kind on the entire planet and perhaps the entire sector. And right next to it was the aptly named Central Starport, which had long since been converted from civilian to military usage and would now serve as the Royal's harbor for her stay.

As Central came more into view, Mirai thought she saw something peculiar. "Magnify." she ordered, causing the forward display to just that over the base, displaying lines of Star Force warships laid out in the various ports. The XO raised an eyebrow. "That's a large garrison for a world like this."

Bright only shrugged. "Jericho II is the only major hub in this sector, so a defense force that size would make sense."

"Either that or they're just stopping here before the big fight somewhere else." Ryu piped in from his chair. Both Mirai and Bright wondered about that.

Soon enough, as the Royal drew into its selected bay, reducing its descent to a crawl before nestling in. Landing struts from the ship and moorings from the bay extended to keep the ship balanced on the ground, and after a slight rock later, the Royal completed its docking. The ship was now officially at port.

After the final checks were complete, Bright activated the intercom from his chair arm console. "This is the Captain. We have docked. Aside from those on duty, all aboard may disembark at their leisure. Over."

Deactivating the intercom, he noticed the collective glance from his bridge crew, to which he nodded to their unspoken question. Thus, with their captain's permission, they quickly set about shutting down their stations, already looking forward to their shore leave.

However, before Kikka could disengage hers, she tapped at her headset. "Captain, there's a message coming in, marked Priority One." she reported, before turning to face Bright, who was just about to leave himself. "It's meant for you."

Bright ignored the growing discomfort as he retook his seat and engaged the holodisplay.

"I don't like it." Amuro stated as he looked up toward the three Gundams, glowering a strange mixture of disgust and annoyance.

"Really? I think Unit Alpha looks pretty good." Sleggar replied with a shrug. "But if you don't like it, you can have Astonaige put another..."

"No, I mean I don't like the whole idea, 'sir'." Amuro responded sharply, turning to look over at his new CO, twelve days in the making. "Look, I know you and Lieutenant Sayla have been 'officially' assigned Unit Beta and Unit Gamma for the time being, and I get that you two are aces..." he waved a hand up at the dormant mobile suits. "But this is taking it too far!"

What Amuro was gesturing at was obvious enough, even to those in the hangar who were unable to hear the young junior Lieutenant's outbursts: the three Gundams were now painted in their own individualized and very non-regulation colors. Unit Alpha was now colored pure white with red highlights, Unit Beta was painted dark blue with gold and red highlights of its own, and Unit Gamma was painted in crimson with black highlights. Compared to their earlier standardized grey schemes, the Gundams were far more striking as well as visually distinguishable from each other; obviously they were mobile suits piloted by aces, or at least two of them were.

Beside the change in colors, each unit also held the personal insignia of its pilot on their left shoulders, with Beta displaying Sleggar's red eagle emblazoned over a golden 'S', and Gamma holding Sayla's silver hawk over the enlarged 'A'. For Unit Alpha, as Amuro hadn't possessed a personal sigil of his own, Sleggar had decided to make one for him: a red tinted 'A' with a highly angular and pointed shape, the two "lines" that formed either end crossing on the right and forming the complete "letter" toward the left. The Commander had claimed that it was meant to reference to Amuro's 'unique' first name and not his Gundam's designation, and that while it was somewhat 'plain' for his personal tastes, it otherwise worked. Even so, he still gave Amuro the option of altering it if he wished, just like the color scheme.

The changes were made no sooner than when High Command had "officially" assigned Unit Beta and Unit Gamma to the two Shrike pilots over a direct line of communications with Earth; in fact, they were the first orders out of Sleggar's mouth as soon as the transmission ended. To Amuro, it was no different than, if he remembered the term right, "highway robbery", more so due to the fact his Gundam had not been spared. Naturally, the younger and lower ranked pilot was very put off. "These are not model kits, Commander! You can't just change their colors around like that!"

"Are you telling me what I can and cannot do again, Lieutenant?" Sleggar stated, casting the 'evilest eye' on Amuro in the process.

Amuro noticed and quickly straightened his collar. "No sir. I just wanted to, ah, remind you that these are military machines, and that while the Zeon love their suits in outlandish color schemes, it's entirely inappropriate for Star Force units..." he then added with hesitance. "...even if High Command allows it."

"I see." Sleggar lightened up, deciding to play along. "In that case Lieutenant allow me to explain: as strange as it may be to splatter bright colors on a military machine, there's a certain psychology to it."

Before Amuro could reply with a snappier comeback, Sleggar pressed on. "In the ancient world, warriors would often paint their armor, their uniforms or even their very bodies in vibrant color, as well as adorn them with different types of markings and insignia. In practice, this left them with little camouflage and made them easy to distinguish, but in return it gave them a far greater advantage: their colors acted as a visual warning to their enemies, proclaiming their status as elites and that they were not to be contended."

Again Amuro opened his mouth to reply, but Sleggar didn't allow him. "Over time, that practice died out and gave way to an emphasis on concealment, but here in the Galactic Century, with the battlefield not being limited to a terrestrial setting, such practices are no longer necessary. The Zeon were the first to understand this, and so allowed their aces to paint their Zakus in custom colors; a doctrine that has been so successful, that the Federation is now emulating it."

"But it will make me easier to identify." Amuro finally got a word in.

Sleggar only shook his head. "You pilot a one of a kind prototype, bagged ten Zakus in your first real battle, and you went head to head with the Red Comet and lived. Like it or not, you're an ace yourself now, and the Zeeks will recognize you regardless of your disposition, so you might as well live it up."

He then gestured back at Unit Alpha. "Besides, you have to understand the effect you will have in battle with this. If the Zeeks pick you out of the fold, one of two things will happen: the first is they will engage you, thereby taking some of the pressure off the 'regular' Guncannon pilots, or they will evade you, thereby allowing you to pass and perform your mission with less hindrance. Either way, you make it easier for our side to win."

Amuro could only frown at this, finding no way to argue back. "Okay, fine, I get it." he then thought for a minute. "But of all the colors you could have picked for Unit Alpha, why white?"

Sleggar looked back up at the Gundam and shrugged again. "I thought the Gundam would look good in white."

"It looks horrible!" Amuro nearly bellowed.

"I disagree, but it's your suit and I did give you permission to change the color, so long as it's tasteful." he then smirked as Amuro opened his mouth again to respond. "And no, you can't change it back to grey, as that would be tasteless." Sleggar stated with finality, causing the disgust on his subordinate's face to double in intensity. He simply smirked back.

The Commander then looked over at Unit Beta and Unit Gamma. "Besides, red, white and blue have always been a set. Haven't you ever seen Macross?"

Amuro just looked even more confused. "What's a 'May Cross'?

Sleggar sighed. He was seriously getting tired of that. "Literally before your time, Lieutenant."

Again Amuro recalled that image of the child and the tank from twelve days ago. He said nothing more, at least until a new voice entered in. "Is Amuro giving you a hard time again Commander?"

Both turned to see Fraw Bow walk up to them, moving past the few remaining technicians and mechanics as she did so. Even after twelve days, Amuro still had trouble recognizing her, as she was now wearing a grey Star Force uniform herself, complete with her blue epaulet tabs displaying the single stripe and double diamonds of a Lieutenant Junior Grade.

"Of course not Doctor Bow. He's been on his best behavior since I came down here." Sleggar replied to the Ark Royal's new Chief Medical Officer, who had taken the post four days ago after glowing recommendations from the surviving medical staff. Even Bright, after seeing her work, could not deny that she knew her trade.

Fraw laughed. "I've known Amuro for a while now and I've never seen him on his best behavior." she ignored the glare Amuro cast to her in turn. "And you can call me Fraw. I don't like being too formal."

"Alright Fraw. And don't worry, it's nothing serious." Sleggar replied, gesturing back up at the Gundams. "The Lieutenant and I just disagree on Unit Alpha's new coat."

Fraw looked up at the white Gundam and shrugged. "I think it looks good in white."

"See?" Sleggar shot back to his subordinate. Amuro just barely resisted the urge to make a certain time honored gesture in response.

Fraw then looked over toward Unit Beta, reflecting upon the insignia on the left shoulder and remembering what it referenced. "If I may ask Commander..." she began. "How did you become the Eagle of Arcturus?" Amuro looked up as well, showing his own curiosity.

Sleggar smiled a little. "Managed to survive Arcturus for one," he replied. "And kill a whole slew of Zeeks along the way."

"Sounds more like a product of luck than skill." Amuro replied.

The Commander thought about that. "Probably was, but it's still a kickass nickname, and it's always fun to hear the Zeeks call it out in sheer terror." he then looked toward Unit Gamma. "But if you want real skill, then Sayla's one you want to hear about. She's a whole different story compared to me."

"Was she at Arcturus too?" Fraw inquired.

"No, Arcturus happened before her commission. She was, however, at Riah, and that's also where she made a name for herself." Sleggar replied. "In fact, it was her first deployment."

"Riah?" Amuro's eyes widened a fraction at the name. "Her first battle was Riah? And she survived?"

Sleggar glinted back at Amuro with utmost seriousness. "Not only survived, but also made ace in..." he said. "...by shooting down twenty-four Zakus singlehandedly."

Now Amuro was really taken back. "Two squadrons!?" he stammered. "How is that even possible!?"

Fraw looked at Amuro with confusion. "Why is that a big deal? You shot down ten in your first battle."

"I was in Unit Alpha though, whereas she would have been in a Guncannon." Amuro looked as incredulous as could be. "I've heard of Guncannon pilots that have shot down as many as six, maybe nine Zakus..."

I've shot down way more than that. Sleggar thought, but didn't say.

"...but never two squadrons worth, especially in one fight." Amuro stated with emphasis, before taking a moment to catch his breath. "And it happened at Riah of all places too! That was one of the worst battles of the war; our side won and liberated the system, but still took massive losses over it. Very few survived on either end."

Fraw turned to Sleggar, who just nodded. "It's exactly as he says: Riah was one of the worst battles thus far and very few survived it. Of the Ark's entire contingent at that time, only Shrike Squadron remained afterward, and even we lost two. So you can imagine how big and bloody of a fight it was."

That caused Fraw to pause in thought for a moment, considering the insignia on Unit Gamma's shoulder. "Did the Zeon give her a nickname as well?"

"That they did, especially after they found out she was female" Sleggar confirmed. "They call her the Valkyrie of Riah."

Even Amuro was impressed by that title. Even before the current age, the valkyrie, along with other aspects of ancient Earth mythology, was renowned throughout the galaxy as the warrior maiden who would select those who would perish in battle and see their souls carried to Valhalla. For the Zeon to grant such a title meant that they both respected and dreaded her as an opponent, something that they did not usually do with "lesser" beings. Just who is she?

"There you are!" the voice of Mirai hollered as its owner came stepping up, past the few techs and mechanics in the hangar, to the trio. Her gazed was centered on Sleggar and, as usual, it was not a warm one.

Sleggar inwardly groaned, but kept his aloof expression. "I don't suppose you're here to reestablish our engagement." He took some minor delight in the shocked expressions on Fraw and Amuro at that statement.

"Hardly." Mirai said, leer increasing. "Captain Bright's been summoned by the brass here, and he wants us along for support."

Sleggar arched an eyebrow. "What's so bad about some REMF garrison commander?" he then gestured toward his two younger subordinates again, knowing what they were going to ask. "I'll explain later."

Mirai however knew what that acronym meant. "Because this 'REMF' just happens to be named Wakkein."

The Ark Royal's CAG suddenly became a lot more serious. "As in Admiral Wakkein Grissom, commander of the Second Fleet?" he spoke, clearly taken back. "What the hell's he doing here?"

"I don't know, except that he wants to see the captain and he's brought a large detachment of the Second with him." Mirai said, worry creeping into her voice. "I have my theories for the latter, but for the moment I'm more concerned about the former." her eyes suddenly bespoke of certain warning. "I'm sure I don't have to explain why."

Sleggar nodded grimly. "Yeah, I got you. Alright, I'll follow you." he then nodded back to Amuro and Fraw. "You two better get some R&R as well, because things may get dicey again soon." he said, before following his fellow Commander off the hangar deck.

Fraw took this advice to heart. "Let's go Amuro." she said, taking the Gundam pilot by the arm and leading him away as well.

Before he left, Amuro took one last glance at the three Gundams, specifically Unit Gamma. Though it didn't matter to him at the time, he couldn't help but inwardly remark that, with that shade of red, the Gundam looked eerily similar to Char's Zaku.

Wide. The world before her was so wide. From the openness of the sky to the vastness of the surrounding landscape to the sheer abundance of energy, whether be it generated from plant, animal or human, that filled her senses; all far beyond the capacity of a mere space colony or similar construct. Awesome in its beauty, terrifying in its scope, seemingly infinite as the Void itself. Even the artificial, soulless constructs of Jericho II's largest metropolis, which in itself wasn't as large as most others she had visited, could not take away from the power that she was feeling now. Some would call it God, others would call it Nature. Sleggar, likely referring to some long forgotten Earth "movie", had labeled it the Force.

For herself however, it was simply Life.

Walking along the streets of New Torrington, Sayla continued to look out and reach out to all that was around her, not unlike Alice stepping once more into Wonderland. Tomorrow marked the five hundredth anniversary of Jericho II's founding, and as such there was a large amount of activity in the city and around the entire planet, all in preparation for the festivities alongside usual daily life. Though the scope of the occasion was nothing compared to say, Christmas on Earth or Rose Monday on Zeon, the Jerichoans' anticipation of celebrating history and good times was still enough to bring out life in an otherwise meaningless world. Naturally, Sayla was living it up simply by observing all of it.

Even the vast number of aromas she picked up seemed to be filled with life as well, much to her inner delight. Where she came from, smell was a particularly integral part of society and culture, as the birthing practices of her race ensured each member held a highly enhanced olfactory sense. As such, Sayla was quite capable of detecting individualized scents, hundreds of them at a time even, things that the people around her could never dream of. This in turn gave her a unique perspective that few outsiders could understand. The primary scent that she was picking up now, even among the vast myriad generated by her environment, was perspiration; everyone was hard at work now so that they could party tomorrow, whether be it their normal jobs or the preparations. Penetrating past that wall, she detected an even larger line: heat, cooking food, brewing alcohol, assorted flowers and perfumes, as well as a fair amount of sugar and other "sweets" mixed with dairy and breading. All the traditional scents of a party in the making.

And in the midst of the jubilee in the making, Sayla couldn't help but feel saddened by her being there. Surely it wouldn't be long before the war reached this place as well; Jericho II might not have been the most strategically relevant world in the galaxy, but it was still a Federation world that held a sizeable Star Force garrison. In her experience, that was usually enough an excuse for the Empire to invade and subjugate; in fact, any world that held a sizeable lowborn population was enough to entice the fury of the highborn. That thought alone made her gut twist. Just how much more can Zeon fall, before it drags all of Existence down with it?

She shook her head at the thought; for the time being she wanted to be as far away from the war as possible. Fortunately, she soon found a revenue for it, as she came across a small coffee shop named "Ahab's". Deciding that she could use the refreshment, Sayla quickly entered.

As opposed to the larger franchise coffee establishments she had seen throughout the galaxy, this one was more or less a smaller, privately owned establishment, deliberately modeled after AD era Earth styling. Wood paneling, tanned walls green seats and paint, and an abundance of pictures depicting rainforests. Sleggar would love this place. she thought as she went up to the counter.

Immediately the shop owner, an old man with white hair and a goatee, took noticed of her. "What can I get you?"

"One Ammanan brew with cream." Sayla so ordered.

A few minutes later, the owner came back and presented her a cup, which Sayla took. "It's on the house." he said, much to Sayla's surprise. "Call it a military discount."

Sayla nodded graciously. "Thank you. It looks great." she said as she began drinking, relishing the blend.

"Think nothing of it, it's not every day I get someone like you around here." the shop owner replied as he began washing his hands. "Most of you Star Force types avoid places like this, like you'll get some kind of 'Mid Rim disease' or whatnot."

"That's a shame, because this is very good coffee." Sayla replied. "I don't usually get anything of this quality out here."

"Oh? Let me guess, you're from Earth itself?" the old man said, casting a corner glance at her.

Sayla laughed. "Not even close." she said as she wiped her mouth with a napkin. "Let's just say I don't come from a Federation world."

"And yet that ain't a Zeek uniform you're wearing." the old man replied. "How mysterious."

"So I've been told." Sayla replied, looking at her reflection in the coffee cup. "I have my reasons for joining Star Force, as well as fighting on the Federation's behalf."

"I would imagine." the old man said, as he leaned against the back wall and lit a metal pipe, taking a smoke. "Heh, feels just like yesterday when everyone was just talking about the possibility of war; Federation had its side of the line, Zeeks had theirs, and everyone was waiting to see who crossed it first. I myself had money on the Federation invading Zeon, with Jamitov being in office and all. You could imagine my surprise when the opening shots came in."

Sayla inwardly sighed. So much for not thinking about the war. "There has always been a desire on the part of Zeon to conquer the galaxy; even as far back as its days in isolation, much of her subjects cried out for war against the Federation and all others. The Daikuns spent much of their time dousing out those fires while trying to maintain peace with the EF. Gihren simply reversed that policy, which is one of the reasons I'm in this uniform."

The shop owner let out a 'heh'. "That's all true. Zeeks never did like the notion of we 'lowborn' running things." he thought for a moment. "Not that we have much to defend ourselves with. 'Normal' humans have been gumming up the works since history was first recorded; hell, we changed the entire calendar around to get away from those bad ol' days. And yet three hundred years into the future, we still keep making things worse."

Sayla looked back with peculiarity. "So you think things would be better under Zeon?"

That made the shop owner laugh. "Not a chance. To me, it doesn't matter how much stronger, faster and better in bed the Zeeks are compared to people like me; human's human. If that weren't the case, then we'd be hearing stories of Gihren walking on water or feeding the poor with just five loaves and two fish."

Needless to say, Sayla's stomach turned at that comparison. "I would appreciate it if you didn't compare Gihren to that particular man."

"Heh, sorry." the old shopkeeper sighed. "Still, it's an interesting paradox; no matter how 'superior' we humans can become over each other, the fact that we're all still human remains our greatest flaw. So long as that remains, we will always be stuck in this rut."

"Perhaps." Sayla replied. "All the same though, it's precisely because of that factor Zeon will lose this war."

The shopkeeper looked at her curiously. "You sure about that? Last I heard, they're winning by a large margin."

"All too sure." Sayla replied simply. "To me at least, the ability to acknowledge one's self as 'only human' isn't a flaw, but strength. It allows 'mere' mortals to acknowledge their mistakes and move passed them, improving themselves spiritually and physically, all without removing any notion that they may make more mistakes to better themselves from." she continued after taking another sip. "Only mortals are capable of such strength, while so-called Gods, in all of their 'perfection', continue to wallow in their arrogance, never learning until too late that they had been surpassed."

Her gaze quickly narrowed, recalling the image of her much hated enemy. "Since his claiming the throne, Gihren has come to see himself as a God, and all of Zeon has willingly followed him as his worshippers. He, and by extension the rest of the Empire, believes himself to be infallible, incapable of making even the smallest mistake. And yet because of that belief, he has made so many..." Such as letting Casval and I slip through his fingers. "...but has learned nothing from them."

She then took another sip of her coffee, this one a longer one. "Rest assured, it will be the mortals of the galaxy, not the immortals of Zeon, that will in the end be triumphant. It is only a question is when and how."

The shopkeeper considered that for a moment, before nodding. "Seems like you got it all figured out." he surmised, finding no room, nor wish, to argue. "More coffee?"

"Please." Sayla responded, before handing back the mug. The shopkeeper then went back and began making another batch, allowing Sayla a moment to herself. She quickly reflected on everything she had just said, before once more turning her special power toward the life forces outside and around the planet; all additional reasons why her proclamation would come true, hadto come true.

And if not by Thy will, nor the Federation's... she thought, while flexing her fingers. ...then by mine shall it be done.

Regardless of his best efforts to do so, Bright could not keep the nervousness from welling up in his gut as he, Sleggar and Mirai all walked down the hallway of New Torrington Base's command center. By outward appearance, he certainly didn't look nervous; instead he looked every bit the officer and gentleman he was supposed to be. He walked in standard military stride, with his head up in the air and his shoulders relaxed. His uniform, while well worn, was all in regulation order, once more complete with commissar cap and greatcoat. And as if to indirectly support that image, both Mirai and Sleggar had also deigned to wear their own commissar caps, further presenting an air of professionalism among the trio.

And yet even so, Bright was still nervous as hell on the inside, feeling more like a condemned man making his way to the gallows than a Star Force Captain about to meet an Admiral. Not there was much difference between an Admiral and an executioner, he reflected.

Soon enough, the trio approached the outer office, where the Admiral's secretary, a young, bookish looking brunette, signaled them in immediately. Thus, with much reluctance, the three officers entered the sanctum as soon as the door slid open. Seconds later they approached the center desk, taking quick note of the figure standing behind it, who was turned away and looking out the large window that made up the entire back wall of the office. Knowing that the figure had detected their entrance, Bright and his compatriots snapped to attention.

"Captain Bright Noa reporting as ordered sir." he sounded off, doing well to keep his tone even but direct, as well as his eyes glued straight forward. "With me is my XO, Commander Mirai Yashima, and my ship's CAG, Commander Sleggar Law."

An uncomfortable few seconds past before the figure finally spoke up. "I recall only sending for you, Captain."

Bright just managed to force back the urge to gulp. "Forgive me Admiral, but I thought you would like to observe my senior staff as well." he replied. "I can dismiss them if you intended for a private meeting, sir."

For whatever it was worth, the figure visibly shrugged, not even bothering to consider the suggestion. "I suppose it doesn't matter. You would have had to fill them in after the meeting anyway. At ease." with that, the officer turned around to face the three.

Now in full view, Admiral Wakkein Grissom, commander of Star Force's Second Fleet, looked every bit the part of his rank; in fact, he was almost a prime stereotype of it. His uniform was more or less standard, but with rank tabs that displayed three stripes and three diamonds each, as well as a "fruit salad" of medals and ribbons across the left side. The head that came with that uniform was just as "upper brass" looking, specifically of the "cold and stern" variety; it held a notably thin structure with each of its individual parts being neither too large nor two small, while a crop of short cut blonde hair laid across the top of it, arrayed in a widow's peak. The Admiral's most discernible feature was his eyes, which possessed the hardness of a combat veteran mixed with the all too common dour and humorless nature seen on higher ranked commanders, whether they be Star Force or Imperial Guard.

And as those eyes remained firmly fixed on Bright, the captain could clearly seen disdain behind them, causing his gut to tighten. He knew the exact reason for that disdain, just as he knew exactly where this meeting was going to go. Sleggar and Mirai were also quick to take notice, though only Sleggar knew the things Bright did.

Waving his arm, Wakkein tapped a few switches on his desk, causing the holodisplay to activate and show a holographic map of the region around the Jericho System. "About five days ago, one of our listening posts in the Bacchus System picked up a transmission from the Zeon High Command." he said, eyes still dead set on Bright. "The transmission was a mobilization order for Zeek forces in the Masada Sector, in which they were to organize a taskforce and send them right here to Jericho. In turn, the taskforce is to be commanded by this man..."

A moment later, an image profile of a bald and goateed Zeon dressed in an Admiral's uniform. "Admiral Aiguille Delaz, commander of the Zeeks' Fourth Fleet as well as one of Gihren's personal lapdogs." he continued. "By our estimates, the taskforce is set to arrive here in approximately five days. For this reason, it has fallen to the Second Fleet to ensure this outpost remains in Federation hands."

"If I may ask Admiral..." Mirai spoke up. "Why are the Zeeks investing such a force, as well as their prominent commanders, in a side line base like this one? Surely there are more integral worlds to the Federation out there."

"Because Commander, despite your opinion, Jericho II is one of those integral worlds." Wakkein answered staunchly. "It may not look like much, but Jericho is the only large scale basin in this entire sector; if the Zeeks get their hands on it, they'll not only gain full control over the sector, but they'll also have a launching pad into neighboring ones. And if they take those over, they'll be on their way toward conquering the whole Middle Rim."

He then looked back toward the map. "And so, it is up to us to stop them before they gain that much ground."

Bright did not like the sound of that. "With all due respect, as well as gratitude for your sharing this sir, what does all have to do with us?" he asked, even though he knew his head had just inched even closer to the chopping blocking. "We're on direct orders to return to Earth as soon as possible, and are scheduled to depart in the next two days."

"I am very much aware of that Captain, which is why I'm giving you new orders." Wakkein replied. "As of now, you can consider yourselves reassigned to the Second Fleet and this world's garrison." he continued regardless of the near gapes. "Assuming you survive, you may continue on to Earth after the battle, win, lose or draw."

Almost stammering, Bright responded. "But sir, our orders came directly from Admiral Revil..."

Wakkein's gaze quickly intensified. "Admiral Revil is not here Captain. I am." he quickly placed both hands on his desk. "Don't think for a damned minute I'll let you repeat that stunt at Arcturus. This time, you will follow orders, and you will stand the line, or God and Heaven help me, the Zeeks will be the least of your problems."

Bright knew better than to argue with that. "Yes sir."

Seeing that answer, Wakkein quickly leaned back. "If I had it my way Captain, I would have stripped you of your command the moment you landed and given the Ark Royal to someone who doesn't run at the first sight of Zakus..."

The captain again did well not to argue, though it took every ounce of restraint to hold his tongue in check. Sleggar, on the other hand, looked ready to reach out and strike the Admiral so hard he'd go flying out that back window. You sanctimonious bastard...!

"...Unfortunately, I don't have any able bodied and able backboned commanders on hand." the Admiral sighed, as if disappointed. "As such, I'll allow you to keep your ship, but don't get the wrong idea." again his eyes gazed directly into Bright's. "I don't care if you do have COMSTAFO backing you up, you're still a coward and a disgrace to me Noa. Paraphrasing a certain historical figure, I would rather have the Zeeks in front of me than people like you behind me." he then backed off. "So rest assured, I will be watching you every step of the way, and I will kick your ass from here to the Galactic Center if you so much as hint at going out of line. Is that understood?"

At that, Bright again let out an automatic response, managing to keep his feelings and a certain open wound in check. "Yes sir."

"Good. Operational briefing will be held tomorrow at 0800." Wakkein finished. "Now get out."

"Sir." Bright sounded off, then throwing in a salute, Sleggar and Mirai doing the same. Then all three turned away and exited just as promptly as they came in.

But not without Sleggar clasping his hands behind his back and extending his right hand middle finger just as he himself left. Wakkein noticed but ignored it; after all, the last thing he needed was to have one of the best pilots in his muster thrown in the brig before the big battle, especially when said pilot's very name terrorized Zeon to no end. He still made a mental note to repay the infraction later on, however.

"So there I was..." Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Eledore Mauris, Shrike Eight, continued in dramatic fashion to the young and large busted brunette next to him. "With two Zeek warships and god knows how many Zakus directly ahead, shooting at me and my squadmates. With nothing to lose, I ditched my cover and dove into the fight..."

"Only when the Commander ordered us to charge." Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Job John, Shrike Nine, spoke up from across the table. Already he was getting a migraine from his wingman's over the top narrative.

"And you were the last to ditch your asteroid." Ensign Kiki Rosita, Shrike Five, added from beside Job, looking just as bored and annoyed.

"And only because Lieutenant Karen threatened to shoot you herself if you didn't." Ensign Michel Ninorich, Shrike Six, also tagged on from beside Kiki, his head resting against hand as he awaited the next round of drinks.

"Hey, do I interrupt you guys when you're telling the stories!?" Eledore shouted back to his fellow pilots and comrades-in-arms, who simply looked away and tried their best to ignore him. That was good enough, so Eledore continued. "As I was saying, I ditched my cover and dove into the fight. Almost right off the bat three Zakus come at me..."

"You mean one." Job nonchalantly spoke up again. "The other two went after me and Lieutenant Karen respectively."

"Fine. One." Eledore replied tersely to Job's comment before turning back to his clearly captivated audience. "Anyway, the Zeek's coming right in, trying to get me at point blank with his axe; I just barely deflect the first blow with my shield and shot back with the vulcans..."

"Which missed, even at that range." Kiki pointed out.

"...only for the bastard to move to the right and go after my side. Fortunately I managed to swing my beam rifle around in time and fire..."

"...and miss again..." Job added.

"...thereby causing the Zaku to fall back. As luck would have it, that put him right in the sights of my cannons, and with the first round I blew off its head..."

"Right leg." Michel corrected.

"...and with the second round I punched through the cockpit..." Eledore started to growl in growing annoyance.

"Because it banked into it." Job replied.

"...and one moment later, there was nothing left but atoms." Eledore finished with an air of pride in spite of his comrades' constant badgering. "I ended up bagging three more Zakus like that before the battle ended."

"Again, you mean one more." Job corrected again. "The Commander got the other two you're thinking of."

"Damn it, do you bastards ever shut up!?" Eledore bellowed in response.

Despite the constant criticism, the brunette was clearly starry eyed. "Wow, Lieutenant, that was awesome!" she replied, entirely enamored. "Not every day we get real aces in a place like this!"

Eledore smirked in turn. "Yeah, well, despite how I made it sound, it's not all fun and games kid." he said, wrapping his arm around the Ensign's chair. "There were times I thought I was going to buy the colony, so to speak..."

"Would this be one of them?" a voice spoke up from behind, potential violence in its tone. Eledore didn't need to see the combined looks of dread on the other patrons to know who was standing behind him; he already recognized the voice and its ire. Turning around, he saw a very put off redhead, Lieutenant markings on her shoulders and collar, looming over him with death and destruction in her eyes.

"Karen...!" Eledore stammered. "It's...It's not what you think...!" the response came in the superior officer taking Eledore's head and slamming it into the table. The young brunette, knowing what was about to happen, quickly slipped away from the table before she got caught in the epicenter.

"That's Lieutenant Karen to you, playboy!" Lieutenant Karen Joshua, Shrike Seven, growled with increasing vehemence. "Should have known I'd find you trying to get your hands on some skirt the moment we touched down!" she then quickly brought Eledore's now bruised head up and stormed away toward the bar counter.

"Wait, Karen! I wasn't doing anything!" Eledore called back as he got up and raced to the bar counter himself, leaving the other three Shrike pilots alone. At least until Sanders, who had come in with Karen, came over to them.

"And this, kiddies, is why relationships between Star Force personnel are technically forbidden." Sanders stated as he sat down. "Not that I'll ever figure out the attraction between those two."

"Well, this war has caused stranger things to happen." Job replied, just as the next set of drinks arrived for the remaining three. Sanders also signaled the waitress and ordered a Palau Boilermaker. After taking a drink, Job continued. "Besides, it's not like this sort of thing doesn't happen; I'd even wager half the fleet was shacking up, regulations be damned."

"Not me. I already have a girlfriend." Michel proclaimed proudly.

Kiki rolled her eyes. "Ah yes, BLT..."


"Whatever." Kiki replied dryly as she took a drink herself. "She's going to dump you in the end, so why bother?"

"No she won't!" Michel stammered, almost violently. "She said she'll wait for me to the end of the war!"

"Right, like that kind of promise has never been made before." Kiki said with a wave of her hand.

"At least it's better than having some high school crush!" Michel nearly hollered. "Especially one on a superior officer, who obviously has no interest!"

That pushed a button, as Kiki looked like she was about to pummel her wingman into the floor. However, before she could reach out with her arm, Job waved a hand. "Children, children, please. Not while I'm still sober and conscious."

Remembering that Job was senior to both of them, Michel and Kiki quickly backed down and chose to simply look away from the other. Sanders himself supposed it was natural as the two next to him were the latest round of "newbies" to grace Shrike Squadron, taken fresh from the Academy not long after Riah. Obviously they had a lot of growing up to do, even if they had seen their fair share of battles up to this point. At the very least they were all talented pilots, such that they had all made ace status, though their kill numbers were nowhere near his, Karen's or Shiro's, and even less so from Sayla's or the Commander's. Either way though, it didn't detract from the notion that Shrike Squadron was the best of the best.

That's when Job noticed something. "On that end, where is Commander Shiro? Didn't he get off the ship?"

Sanders shrugged. "I didn't see him, though I doubt he's still on the ship. He's probably wandering around the city right now; you know how planet-huggers are."

Michel took that in stride. "You think he's going to pawn that weird pocket chrono?"

"Hell no!" Kiki nearly shouted. "He never even takes that off! It's like his last remaining memory of Valentine I or something."

Michel looked at Kiki curiously. "Do you even know how the Commander got it?"

Certain fury entered into Kiki's eyes as she turned to face, as if Michel had just accused Shiro of a heinous crime. "That was only a rumor...!" she almost bellowed. "There's no way in hell Commander Shiro would...!"

"Alright, that's enough." Sanders stated, quickly putting out the fire before it got out of hand. "That isn't something that needs to be discussed here. Understood?"

Quickly realizing that there was no room for argument, both pilots nodded hesitantly. After that point, silence reigned throughout the table for some time, conveniently just as the latest newsfeed came in. Almost every bar patron turned to watch as the all too expected bad news played out.

"...confirmed, that as of 1453 hours Standard Time, forces of the Gjallarhorn Regime, augmented by Zeon reinforcements, have invaded the home system of the Cryse Hegemony. While reports are still coming in, it is being reported that Gjallarhorn's Regime Guard is advancing with impunity against Cryse forces, with many believing it is only a matter of time before they reach the Hegemonic homeworld. There is currently no word on the whereabouts of Hegemon Kudelia, who has rumored to have fled from the capital under directive from Fleet Admiral Orga..."

"This war is never going to end, is it?" Michel let out, signaling the thoughts of everyone at the table, if not the rest of the bar.

Terry only sighed. "Oh, it will end Ensign." he said, before taking a drink. "It just won't end the way any of us want it to."

Once more, silence reigned.

Federation Midway-class fleetcarrier Ark Royal
New Torrington Base, Jericho II, Middle Rim
June 30, GC 379

"It's the first planet we've been on in a while..." Ensign Kai Shiden complained, leaning tiredly against the side of one of the many Guncannon Troopers in the Ark Royal's hangar, while Hayato continued to work from the open cockpit. "And you spend the first hour of shore leave working on your suit." he stated with a near disgusted tone. "Can't you see anything wrong with that?"

"There's nothing wrong with making sure one's mobile suit works properly." Hayato shot back as he continued typing on the holographic keyboard in front of him; holographic interfacing was standard equipment on MS and most other military machines. "If you want to get off and wander around, then don't let me hold you back Kai."

"If I did that, you'd be at this all night; in fact, you'd still be at this by the time we depart." Kai replied with a wave of the hand. "It's no wonder you never got properly laid at the Academy."

Hayato cringed at the thought. "Forgive me for concentrating on studying instead of trying to nail every girl I came across." he replied sarcastically. "Not that you got far on that yourself. From what I heard, you weren't exactly 'popular'."

Kai only shrugged. "As the saying goes, you can't blame a guy for trying. And it wasn't like I struck out all the time." he then turned serious. "But really, you can't stay like this Hayato. It's unhealthy, on top of borderline obsessive."

That's when Hayato stopped typing altogether. "Look, I just want my Guncannon to work the next time we go up against the Zeeks, alright?" he looked down in near anger. "Damn Zakus can already outmaneuver our suits; god knows they have so much over us. So I'm trying to make my unit more responsive; it'll give me some compensation anyway."

"Sounds like one of my exes." Kai commented dryly. He then held his hands up in surrender. "But that's beside the point. I know why you're doing it Hayato; what I don't understand is you're doing it now." he gestured outward. "We're on a Federation world for god's sake! The last thing we're going to be doing here is shooting at Zakus. Unless you count the ones in the arcade games."

"Really?" Hayato inquired. "I remember a point in history where that attitude was abundant; specifically when a certain country laid the bulk of its navy to anchor in a place called Pearl Harbor. Do you know what happened?"

Kai rubbed his head. "No idea. History isn't my strong suit."

"I figured." Hayato replied dryly. "At some point, my ancestors launched an attack on Pearl and decimated it. The same people that claimed the last thing they were going to be doing was 'shooting at Zeros' soon found themselves in that position, all the while their ships sank around them."

Kai felt the urge to rub his eyes next. "Your point?"

"My point is I don't want to take chances. After all, how do we know the Zeeks aren't going to hit this world?" Hayato inquired.

"Because it would be a waste of their sweet time?" Kai countered.

The other pilot was not convinced. "Right, just as Shangri-La was a waste for them." he then got back to work. "As I said, I'm not taking any chances, and neither should you."

"Whatever." Kai stated. "This is all just to one up Lieutenant Amuro anyway."

Again Hayato stopped, and though he didn't say anything at first, Kai knew he struck a chord. "What are you saying?"

"I'm more attentive than I look." Kai replied informatively. "I've noticed that, ever since we saw Unit Alpha's battle footage from Shangri-La, you've been working around your Guncannon more and more. When you weren't going through sims, you work to tune up your suit just like you're doing now, if not going over Zaku battle data." Kai then smiled. "If I didn't know any better, I'd say you have a certain envy."

Anger started to wash over Hayato's eyes. "All that bastard has is a better mobile suit." he growled almost threateningly. "If I had a Gundam for myself, I could probably take on the Red Comet too!"

"Yes, you keep telling yourself that." Kai replied, before turning away. "In the meantime, I'm going to go into town, have a few drinks, maybe even get some late night company. You just keep sitting there, believing that all those mods to your Guncannon will help you beat the new guy."

"Get the hell off my suit Kai!" Hayato bellowed, his anger finally out and about.

"Very well, I'm gone." Kai said, as he jumped off the Guncannon's open palm and onto the nearby zipline, which lowered him toward the floor. "But it still wouldn't kill you to go out and have a good time yourself!" he called out, before moving to the nearest turbolift.

Hayato simply spat and went back to work again. As he did however, his mind became filled with the image of Unit Alpha and its pilot, causing Hayato's eyes to narrow in disdain. No way in hell I envy that bastard. he thought. He's just a nobody with a better suit. That's it. Nothing more.

"I want to go back to the ship." Amuro whined as he strode down the overly active streets with Fraw leading him on. "Is that too much to ask for?"

"As a matter of fact, it is." Fraw replied as she continued to walk. "We don't know how long it will be before we stop on another planet, so as your doctor, I insist that you spend your shore leave accordingly."

Amuro sneered in annoyance. "And who the hell made you my doctor?"

"Captain Bright did, when he made me the new CMO." Fraw replied evenly.

"But you have the same rank I do!" Amuro nearly shouted, gesturing toward the rank pips on Fraw's uniform.

"According to Star Force regulations, I have 'unilateral authority in all matters regarding the health and safety of the crew', regardless of rank." Fraw answered, before casting a corner smile at Amuro. "And seeing as you're now part of the Ark's crew, that includes you."

The Gundam pilot could only glare as Fraw gestured toward a nearby marketplace. "Come on, it won't hurt you to get out once in a while Amuro." she said, as she turned and wandered into the market, looking over the various wares and food items. She was especially interested in the types of native fruit that were being sold from one stand.

Instead of joining her, Amuro only stood by and shook his head; at the very least Fraw was no longer overwhelmed by the death of her parents. Sure, Amuro could still sense some grief underneath the surface pleasantness, but otherwise the Ark Royal's new Chief Medical Officer had fit into her new job rather well. And as a bonus, it also gave a reason to stay aboard the Ark as opposed to getting off here on Jericho; for better or worse, Amuro appreciated that much.

Deciding to wait for her, Amuro leaned up against the side of the building, arms crossed and keeping watch as Fraw went about the various stands. Even if he lost sight of her, he could still depict her presence from the rest of the crowd, so it wasn't like he would lose her. Not that Fraw wasn't capable of taking care of herself.

Time seemed to pass by from there, as Amuro continued to gaze out at the marketplace, while his special sense picked up on the surrounding area and all the citizens going about their business. It was more or less a normal scene, no different in scope than what he had felt before in similar environments on Shangri-La or Earth. Over that period however, Amuro started to feel something was off with everything.

Trying to determine the source of his discomfort, Amuro felt himself peer up toward the sky, which was starting to move into twilight as the Jerichoan sun set over the horizon. As such, the sky wasn't entirely dark, but the stars were beginning to make their appearances in the soon to be night sky, which Amuro's eyes could just barely see. All the while his special senses detected something more ominous among that plain.

Suddenly, Amuro nearly jumped as he saw a beam of light fall from the sky and slam into the world around him, causing the ground to crack open and flames to spill out. Peoples screams soon began to fill his ears, while his eyes beheld those around him disintegrate into the light, vanishing completely. From there, he felt the rest of the world soon white out...

"Amuro?" Amuro heard his name and felt Fraw shake his arm, causing him to return to reality. "Are you okay Amuro?"

The Lieutenant quickly blinked his eyes, remembering where he was and what he was doing, and then shook his head. I must be more tired than I thought. "I'm fine Fraw." he said as he turned to march off.

For a moment, Fraw only watched with certain concern in her eyes. However, when she realized there was nothing wrong, or at least nothing perceptibly wrong, with her companion, she quickly raced up to join him.


Author's Notes: Hello again. I know this chapter came out very late (my last update was February), but as said before, my main focus is Code Geass Megiddo and that updates for this story would be infrequent. Not that I don't enjoy writing it of course. Anyway, this is obviously my twist on the White Base's visit to Luna II in MSG, though if it weren't for Wakkein, and the fact the planet itself is named Jericho "II", it would have probably been hard to make that connection.

Moving along, as you all likely figured out, yes Unit Beta and Unit Gamma are essentially painted in (UC) Titans and Char Aznable colors respectively. Blue has always been Sleggar's trademark color, even in the original series, and if there's anyone besides Char that warrants piloting a red Gundam, then Sayla is the one. Unit Alpha itself is now painted in the RX-78's "Rollout" colors (minus the grey parts), and thus can at long last live up to its title as the "White Mobile Suit". And finally, for their respective personal insignia, Amuro's has his trademark red A, Sleggar's is based on his own original emblem (at least from Mobile Suit Gundam side materials) and Sayla's is Char's OYW emblem.

Following that, for anyone that cares, this is the Shrike Squadron layout:

EFSF 105th Mobile Suit Squadron
Nickname: Shrikes
Garrison/HQ: Midway-class fleetcarrier Ark Royal
Motto: Aduentes Fortuna Juvat ("Fortune Favors the Bold")
Pilots/Units Attached:
First Team
CDR Sleggar Law - Shrike One - RGX-780 Gundam "Unit Beta"
LTJG Sayla Mass - Shrike Two - RGX-780 Gundam "Unit Gamma"
LTJG Amuro Ray - Shrike Three - RGX-780 Gundam "Unit Alpha"
Second Team
LCDR Shiro Amada - Shrike Four - RGC-605 Guncannon Stormer
ENS Kiki Rosita - Shrike Five - RGC-601 Guncannon Trooper
ENS Michel Ninorich - Shrike Six - RGC-601 Guncannon Trooper
Third Team
LT Karen Joshua - Shrike Seven - RGC-603 Guncannon Hellfire
LTJG Eledore Mauris - Shrike Eight - RGC-601 Guncannon Trooper
LTJG Job John - Shrike Nine - RGC-601 Guncannon Trooper
Fourth Team
LT Terry Sanders - Shrike Ten - RGC-608 Guncannon Buster
ENS Hayato Kobayashi - Shrike Eleven - RGC-601 Guncannon Trooper
ENS Kai Shiden - Shrike Twelve - RGC-601 Guncannon Trooper

Additionally, here are the Federation ships that appear in this chapter:

Actium-class battlecruiser - Star Force's main battlecruiser class, taking on the role of the Magellan from the first series. In design, it's essentially based on the Ra Cailum, though they naturally look more "futuristic". As with the Magellan in the original series, Actiums are high profile starships, given out to more-than-able commanders or VIPs in need of flagships. They're not quite as fast as Zeon's Rewloola battlecruisers, nor do they hold as much raw firepower (holding only four beam cannons to the Rewloola's seven), but they're still the most effective battlecruisers/command ships in Star Force. Each one can hold up to twelve mobile suits (one squadron).

Following along my theme of Star Force ships being named after AD era naval battles, the Actium-class is named after the Battle of Actium from the Final War of the Roman Republic.

Eurymedon-class cruiser - Essentially the backbone warship of Star Force, taking the place of the Salamis-class from the original series. As one can expect, they're based around the Clop-class cruiser, and like the Actiums they're meant to be more futuristic looking than their UC base class. Similar to Zeon's Musaka-class cruiser line, Eurymedons are designed to be used in large numbers and for a variety of mission roles; for that purpose, they only have a meager pair of beam cannons for heavy firepower, though this allows them to carry additional beam phalanxes for AA defense. Compared to the Musaka, they're more heavily armored and can take a greater volume of punishment, but as a result are not as fast as their Zeon contemporaries. Along with that, they each carry a total of six mobile suits apiece (two teams).

In terms of namesake, the Eurymedon has the privilege of being named after twobattles, both fought on the Eurymedon River in ancient Greece: one between the Delian League and the Achaemenid Empire in 466 BC, and the other between the Roman Republic and the Seleucid Empire in 190 BC.

And finally, like I did with Megiddo, I created a space on the Gundam Fanon Wiki for MSGA (see author's profile). I'm not sure if I'm ever going to do much with it, but it's there all the same. For the moment it has character and mecha listings, as well as an (incomplete) timeline of the Galactic Century era for all you curious readers out there.