Author Note: Sorry this took so long. Evil RP forum, it just sucks away the time sometimes. Oftentimes. Hope you enjoy the events, especially you Revan, since you specifically asked for them. Archangel, if you're still reading this, I'll have that grave scene you asked for next chapter. So look forward to it.

Oh yes, for those of you who may be confused, Kindred Cant is merely Latvian from Google translate, with both the order of letters and order of words reversed, and all the little special accents taken off. I'll usually try to make it kind of obvious what is being said by the context of the situation, but if you care to take the time to parse out a translation of your own, you may find some amusing or interesting comments now and again.

xxxx

New Eden, Himalayan Foothills, old Nepal territory, May 1st, early afternoon

It felt good, getting back in the field, Ryan mused to himself. Good to get away from the politics back home, the false smiles and the propoganda events that he'd been invited to constantly, as a celebrity war hero... at least of the momentary variety. His slog out of the deep green along with the other survivors of that recon expedition was getting to be pretty old news nowadays, especially with the big fracas at Heaven's Base eating up the public's attention. Not every day that the Eddies made a balls out effort to destroy a base, and were kicked out on their butts, after all. Of course, it wasn't nearly so clean cut as that. He'd gotten the skinny on the real battle from Rachel, after a unexpectedly emotional email asking if she was all right. She was fine, and her unit mostly intact as well, but it had still sounded like absolute hell, a near run thing rather than the sound thrashing the official news made it out to be.

But what else was new? After all, one of the Eddie Executors... Kira Yamato himself... had been leading the surprise attack. Ryan hardly knew anything about Mobile Suit combat, but he still knew the name Kira Yamato. Who didn't? And everything he'd ever heard about Kira Yamato, even before he'd become an Executor, had suggested that fighting on the opposite side of a battle from him was a quick and easy way to get your ass royally stomped into a bloody pancake! It made him glad he'd never been tempted to take the glory boy route of Mobile Suit training. The Eddies were bad enough on foot, but at least their super elites were generally so tied up in the biggest battles that they didn't have time to muck around in the infantry war. Generally so, anyway. A icy shiver ran down Ryan's spine, despite his environmentally controlled armor. He'd met the other Executor face to face in an infantry setting after all. And he still carried the emotional scars of that encounter. He probably always would.

That was probably why his thoughts had lingered on Rachel... Gunnery Sergeant Glass... he tried to remind himself sternly. Commander of a Titan class super-heavy Tank, serving in the European theatre, out of Heaven's base. One of the greatest tank aces currently serving the USN. Someone who went into combat inside the most powerful non-warship ground vehicle in the USN's vast arsenal. Who was more than capable of taking care of herself in almost any conceivable situation. Who was also his girlfriend. Or his lover. Or something more complicated than either of those things, somehow. He liked her. He more than liked her, even though they'd barely had a few weeks together up in the SECs while on shore leave rotation. And she seemed pretty fond of him too. And that was a problem. Because he couldn't stop thinking about her. Couldn't stop worrying about whether she was in trouble or not, even though there wasn't a damn thing he could do to help her, most likely, even if they were serving together. He had it bad... and for a tin-can jockey, of all people...

"Gunny?" A voice across his tactical comm snapped him out of his half miserable, half rosy contemplations of how badly he'd falled for a girl who would probably sock him in the jaw if she ever learned he was zoned out while worrying about her on active duty. It brought him back to the here and now. He was in the troop compartment of one of the new Hunter class Gunship-Transports, along with Dud and Spyro and two FUNs... FUcking Noobs... fresh outta Boot Camp. The other 5 guys in the new Forlorn Hopers squad, a mix of mostly veterans from other squads that had been decimated by combat casualties below the point of viability, rode in a second Hunter Gunship off to their right rear flank. Another six Hunters, with 3 more full strength squads from his new Company, Kappa Company of the 502nd Mechanized Infantry Assault Regiment, completed the rapid response flight.

A pair of Goliath heavy transports were trailing them several klicks back, the massive dropships each capable of carrying three platoons of infantry or a single platoon of armored vehicles, under escort by another six Hunters. The two types of VTOL transports were becoming very popular, especially in the Asian theatre, which was choked with jungles that were impassable to even the hardiest ground vehicles in many spots. Both were built along similar lines, a boxy fuselage ending in a blunt nose, like the tip of a shoe, with the two main thruster/VTOL engines mounted just aft of the cockpit, with a second pair mounted at the base of the tail boom, and a swivel mounted thruster-rotor at the end of the tail. Hunter's were about 10 meters long by 4 wide and tall, and had enough room for 4 crew and a half squad of Vanguard armored infantry, in addition to substantial armaments. The Goliaths were about five times the size of a Hunter, and much slower and less well armed.

They weren't the fastest things in the air by any means, especially compared to the new Eddie Aerospace Superiority Mobile Armors, the Freyrs, but they were durable and agile, able to land in even the roughest terrain and provide accurate fire support against most types of Eddie ground vehicles and support emplacements. The ones in Ryan's Fast Response Team were equipped with dual rocket pods mounted on the forward thrust-wings, a chin mounted gatling beam cannon, and a pair of side door mounted dual 15mm Flamberge mounts with huge drum magazines for long term fire support and suppression tactics when deploying infantry. The half squad of infantry could even contribute their own firepower, as long as they were careful about shooting over or around the door gunners.

"This is Rico. What can I do for you, sir?" Ryan replied, shrugging his shoulders to settle himself, a nearly tectonic action in the new Vanguard powered armor. Lieutenant Johann "Crackers" Knackers was a guy Ryan had plenty of time for. Though not as experienced as Ryan himself, the Lieutenant was definitely keyed in to the needs of his troopers, and had privately given Ryan permission to keep both Spyro and Dud in his squad, despite orders from Regimental Command to split up the veterans among as many squads as possible, to dilute their experience amongst the many FUNs that made up the majority of the rebuilt Regiment. That made good strategic sense, but tactically speaking, splitting up the well greased killing machine that the three of them were together would only heighten the chances that they wouldn't survive the hairy combat to come. Nothing personal, but fuck the FUNs... maybe once they survived a battle on their own, then they'd be worth getting to know and mentor for the future.

"Recon 8 has disappeared from the monitors. No distress calls given, but we're vectoring to check it out regardless. Snap to, Gunny, we may find ourselves in the shit here soon." Knackers answered tersely.

"Roger that, LT." Ryan replied, his mouth suddenly feeling a bit dry, and his bowels a bit loose. Being a veteran meant you weren't supposed to feel intimidated by the thought of going into battle, but so far, Ryan hadn't felt any particular lessening in his pre battle apprehension, despite his experience. If anything, the repeated encounters with the Eddies and other weird shit had just shown him how fucked up things were likely to get, and any sane man would be shaking in his powered armored boots! Perhaps it was just this theatre... and not even this theatre, this operation area. This was the Himalayan Foothills, and High Command was pretty damned sure the Eddies had at least a major base somewhere up in the mountains, if not a whole fucking city. THE fucking city, if the rumors were right. The one that would end the war if they could take it.

So they'd been funneling in Recon teams and scouting expeditions to search the area for quite some time. Ryan had made himself briefly famous during one such expedition's tragic loss. And that FUBAR Mission was far from out of the ordinary. Fully 78% of all recon teams sent to explore the foothills never returned. Most never even reported contact with enemy forces... they just fucking disappeared into the deep green, and were never heard from again. Those who did come back were invariably the ones who were working zones already confirmed to be clear of enemy forces, checking for infiltrators, near the base of the foothills, where they merged into the jungle plains that led out to the ocean a few hundred miles away. But being deployed to scout out anything more than about 1000 meters above sea level was considered to be a death sentence in the Himalayan Operation zone.

The Fast Response Teams, like the one Ryan was in right now, were High Command's response to this demoralizing state of affairs. Loitering a few klicks back of the leading edge of the contested zone in their VTOL formations, the FRTs were linked to specific recon groups by constant comms and vital sign monitors. If the recon team got into trouble, the FRT was to charge forward and come to their rescue. Unfortunately, the Eddies generally killed the Recon teams before the calvary could come riding over the hill. Not only that, but they often killed the recon team, and dragged their bodies away, and fucking VANISHED as well! Even with less than 120 seconds of lag time between distress call and FRT arrival. Usually all they found was a bunch of bloodstains and a few jacked up pieces of weapons and armor. Which was pretty demoralizing as well.

Especially to Rico, Spyro and Dud. They all knew who was out there, cockblocking the recon efforts of several entire CADs. It was the insano-monster freak of an Executor and his private goon squad of cannibal pygmies and psychotic apes and zealot guerillas. And that chainsaw-flamer asshole. And the Blue Haired Praetorian. It was absolutely no surprise to any of them that most of the Recon teams never even got off a single cry for help, or anything beyond a few hoarse screams as they were butchered like sheep in a pen. The last thing any of them wanted to do was encounter that bunch of maniacs and psychopaths again, since it was very unlikely they would escape with their lives twice. But duty called, and there was no way to avoid it... they'd all practically begged to be returned to the front line after their tour as demonstration soldiers up in the SECs. Karma was a real bitch though, getting them redeployed to this fucking hell-hole of a Zone...

"All right, listen up." Ryan said across the all squads channel. As a Gunnery Sergeant, he was the senior NCO for the entire Platoon in this FRT. His voice was dry and tight, and left absolutely zero room for doubt about how serious he was. "We're about to drop into the deep green. Recon 8 has fucking vanished. Officially MIA, but we all know they're fucking wormfood, so let's not sugar coat this. We're going into a hot LZ against an unknown number of extreme capable of enemies. Trust nothing but the buddy next to you. Watch the trees, the bushes, behind you and in front of you. If it ain't wearing blue, shoot first, throw a grenade second, and call in an airstrike third. Then ask questions if need be. Or more appropriately, if those 3 things didn't work, get down on your knees and pray, cause you'll be in the afterlife real soon. Keep it tight, boys and girls. Whatever took out Recon 8 is probably still in the area."

"We are so fucked." Spyro commented over a private channel between the 3 of them. "That scythe toting lunatic is down there and we're just gonna go merrily tromping into a fresh ambush zone? This is a job for Mobile Suits, not soldiers! Or preferably tactical nukes!"

"Makes me wish I'd chosen a safer career path." Dud agreed in a deadpan tone. "Like taste testing vials of radioactive nuclear waste."

"What I just said to everyboy goes triple for you guys." Ryan replied grimly. "Spyro, I want you to burn the entire fucking forest down if a leaf even twitches the wrong way. And if you chuck a grenade or three into every suspicious shadow, Dud, I won't be bitching at all. And remember to keep eyes up on the fucking trees. Those black eyed pygmies just LOVE dropping down from above. I ain't ending my day as a extra rare stake at some Cannibal's victory party!"

And then there was no more time for pep talks or grim joking, as the Hunter formation reached the general grid location where Recon 8 had disappeared. Like almost all of the operation zone, it was hilly terrain carpeted with dense Edenite jungle, the foliage thick enough to deflect even most squad level weapon fire over more than ten or twenty meters. You could spend an hour emptying ordnance at a section of the treetops and barely clear enough away to see to the forest floor, or the sky, depending on which side of it you were on. The Deep Green, as it was called with grim forboding by most veterans, was even worse than the ocean in terms of hiding what went on below its surface. Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on your personal level of courage and sense of duty, there were many ridgelines and rock outcroppings in the area as well, the distant relatives of the massive line of peaks that dominated the horizon to landward.

These upthrusts of granite and limestone blocks formed breaks in the treeline, like deep pits in green turf, and gave the Hunters a place to deploy them so they could investigate the area on foot. Which was practically horror movie logic in the eyes of most veterans. In the Deep Green, the Eddies owned the land, and wandering around looking for trouble, even in Vanguard power armor, was a good way to shorten your life expectancy. However, it was also your duty, and duty could not be reasoned with, by logic or otherwise. Procedure dictated using Sky-Hooks, macro-cables that could lock to the back of your Vanguard suit to lower you to the ground at a safe rate, for deployment into zones like this, but that was horror movie logic too. Nobody worth their salt wanted to be dangling like a big blue fruit from a cable while being lowered into a potentially hot LZ!

In Ryan's opinion and those of most veterans, what was the point of Power Armor if you didn't make use of the Power as well as the Armor? Their Hunter swooped into a clearing made by a wavecrest-like ridge of granite, gently sloped with broken ground and boulders on one side, and sheer like a cliff for over thirty meters on the other side. VTOL engines howling and raising up a small cloud of dust and debris, the Hunter settled into a more or less steady platform about 5 meters from the ground. Ryan stepped out the side door and plummeted towards an area of what he hoped was flat ground, Combat Shield raised and Pulverizer auto shotgun already sweeping for targets. The impact was heavy, metal crunching against crumbling and powdering stone, but the Vanguard armor handled the drop like it was little more than stepping off a high curb.

Hydraulics and shock absorbers hissing, Ryan displaced and found cover behind a nearby boulder, as Dud and Spyro crunched down behind him, followed by the other troops in their Hunter, befoe the Gunship pulled up and away to provide perimeter cover so the other could swoop in to disgorge its own troops. Crouching down behind his boulder, Ryan kept his eyes and sensors sweeping the treeline, since the Hunters weren't exactly stealth baffled, if the enemy was in the area, they'd have heard them coming. Whether they would stick around for dessert after the banquet of Recon 8 was another story. And Ryan so dearly wished he hadn't meant those terms literally, but this wasn't his first time coming to back up a recon team. And coming too late.

After Lt. Crackers and the others had all gotten down safely, with only a few FUNs managing to trip and fall on landing, and nothing came howling out of the woods to massacre them, Ryan made his way over to the Lt for consult on what they should do next. Once again, doctrine called for them to split up into squads to canvas the area in the most efficient manner possible, but in the Deep Green, splitting your unit for less than dire necessity was just like offering yourself on a plate for the Eddies if they were in the area. "So how do we play this, Lt?" Ryan asked bluntly, falling into the devil's advocate role expected of most senior NCOs when working with junior level officers, however likable. It was odd how he found himself adopting the attitude he'd always wondered at when a line trooper. "Recon 8 is deader than doornails by now. Do we still pretend like this is a rescue mission?"

"Lets not upset the FUNs until we have no other choice, Rico. Until we know for sure, we act like we're here to be the white knights coming over the hill. Though that doesn't mean we throw caution away either." Snacker replied thoughtfully. "The general pattern of the enemy in this area is to strike and fade. But from what you've told me about them from your prior experience, trusting them to hold to a pattern would be stupid. You and your Squad on point. If you can think of a way for the FUN's to get some experience on point, do it. But survival is always our highest priority, so don't be afraid to sideline them if you get that nasty feeling down your spine."

"Sir, I've had that nasty feeling down my spine since we took off from the FOB. This is the Deep Green. Everything is an enemy here." Ryan replied darkly.

"True words, but they don't change what has to be done, do they?"

"No sir, they don't. Alright, let's get this done." Ryan acknowledged with a grimace. In a matter of seconds he had his squad moving out, with 3 meter seperation between each of them, on all axes, left-right and front-back. The Eddies were famous for their ambushes, and he'd prefer to have as few of his squad caught in the killzone as possible. He considered putting FUN 1 on point to give him some seasoning, but in the end he had Spyro do it instead. If they found Recon 8 and no bad guys showed up, he'd put the FUN's on point on their way to the evac point, because hopefully then the danger would be lessened to merely "extreme".

Entering the jungle was stepping into another planet. Pictures, even 3D simulations, never seemed able to do it justice. Light levels dropped precipitously, until even at midday the jungle floor was like dusk, and in some spots, black as a cave. Creepers and vines and foliage and bushes of all sorts blocked your path and hung down from above like cobwebs in a dusty old attic. Except these cobwebs might be full of acid, or studded with mono-sharp thorns coated in 2 step poison, so named because of how long it took to kill you. And that wasn't even counting the plants that tried to wrap round your arm or throat like a python and crush you to death. Or the ones that might shriek like a dying child, and reveal your position to every predator in a five klick radius. Or the ones that slowly mindfucked you, made you feel sleepy or relaxed or itchy, and made you wanna get out of your suit... just for a little bit.

The ground was mushy underfoot, and soggy branches snapped and clung like dying fingers with every step, his armored greaves sinking almost ankle deep into the loam with each stride. Moving silently was impossible, and the royal blue paintjob applied to most Vanguard suits made stealth all but impossible anyway, so Ryan concentrated more on not putting his foot into a sinkhole, and keeping sight of his squadmates, rather than evading notice. He was no expert on the jungle noises, despite several excursions into the Deep Green, he still had no idea what 90 percent of the creatures making noises were, and figured he was probably happier that way. Not all the Fauna of New Eden was monstrous and homicidal, but enough of it WAS that it generally wasn't worth your time to do anything but shoot first.

Despite the tension making the seconds feel like hours, in a relatively short span of minutes, Spyro exclaimed in disgust over the comm, holding up one hand to indicate a stop to investigate, and Ryan was pleased to see the FUNs, as well as the rest of the squad, quickly hunkered down into defensive positions to watch all angle, even above and behind. Clearly the FUNs had picked up on the veteran's taut mood, and figured that if even the Gunny and the old boys were on tiptoe, then they ought to be doubly so. It was a good attitude. It might even keep some of them alive, if the Eddies were still around. Ryan moved up to stand beside Spyro, surveying what his buddy had seen and making a similarly disgusted grunt in response. They'd found Recon 8. What was left of it.

The Recon team hadn't even had a chance. Most of them had died without even getting off a shot. Most had died within a few seconds of combat starting, probably before they even got a good look at their attackers. Most had died instantly, with fang-tipped arrows through their helmets or hearts, or crushed to tinfoil and paste under the blow of a Were-Ape powered PS mace, or with plasma blast holes in their chestplates. Most died quickly. But not all. A few had been ripped limb from limb, or had their heart's torn from their chests by a human sized hand. One had been flung through the air by a backhand fist who's imprint was molded into the abdominals of the Survivor armor, striking a low hanging branch about four meters up and being impaled there. At least one more had been hamstrung from behind and then carved upon like a pit roasted boar, ribs hacked through from the back as the chest cavity and abdomen were plundered of their contents in a gory mess. It was difficult to tell if it was just one, with how dismembered and... gnawed upon... the piles of armor and limbs were.

Ryan could hear several of the FUNs throwing up into their armor, a nasty process considering they would be sealed in that armor and vomit for at least another thirty six hours, but after a while you got used to it. You could get used to anything. Even horror like this. This wasn't a fight, it wasn't even a massacre. This was humans being hunted like beasts, for fun, for sport. For food. Spryo kept up a constant low stream of bitter cursing as he slowly went around and started pulling the corpses into a pile, looking for Ident tags to be taken back for the families. And because he wasn't about to leave the bodies for the animals. Cremation was all the dignity that they could offer the poor bastards now.

"Jesus H. Christ..." Lt. Snackers hissed as he picked through the pitiful battlesite alongside Ryan. "This isn't war, this is just murder! It evil, what this is! What sort of monsters..."

"The worst kind." Ryan cut his superior off grimly, picking up a fragment of armor that had been chewed up by what looked like a chainsaw. He knew who'd done that. "Human ones." Ryan tried not to look at the ones who'd been ripped apart or punched through. He knew who'd done that too. And the less he thought about him, the better.

"Bloody cowards, hitting and then running away..." One of the FUNs growled through a throat raw from vomiting.

"This is not the face of cowardice." Ryan corrected the man sternly. "Hate them for what they do, but don't belittle them for how they do it. They set a good ambush, Recon 8 walked right into the killzone, and that was all she wrote. These men and women were killed face to face, hand to hand... bare hand to hand in some cases. This is not cowardice. This is psycopathy. This is bloodlust."

"Gunny's right. This is awful shit, but it ain't like they planted a booby and blew them all up, then preyed on the survivors." Lt. Snackers pointed out gruffly. "These assholes ain't afraid of nothing, least of all us. They ain't strike and fading at all. They're prowling. Marking a territory. Hunting for the next warm meal. They left because they were done and wanted to find the next fight, not because they were scared of us. I mean, look at that guy up in the tree. Poor bastard. But he was PUNCHED up there. And not by no Were-Ape either. Man who can do that, barehanded, to a soldier in Survivor armor? That's a man I never wanna meet, cause he sure ain't scared of nothing human. Nothing human at all. All right ladies and gents, we've found Recon 8. Once we flame the bodies, we do one last sweep and then we head for evac."

It was during the last sweep, while the piled boies and bits of bodies were slowly congealing into a melted, ashy-lump under the caress of Spyro's Inferno Combi-weapons double flamers, when one of the FUNs called out. "EDDIES IN THE TREES!" The young woman shrieked across the comms, almost ear burstingly loud with her pitch, and everybody hit the dirt and scrambled for cover. Luckily, most Edddie trees were about as solid a firestop as one could ask for, able to take even a heavy plasma burst without burning through, as long as you were sure there was't anything lurking in the branches waiting to eat your face off. Power armor or not, a soldier's best friend and defense on any battleground was always a solid piece of good cover.

Ryan swept the foliage above their heads with his sensors, several other veterans, Lt. Snackers included, doing the same, but it seemed in this case the warning was meant in the general case, rather than the specific. "Eddies in the Trees" was shorthand for enemy contact, simply because in the Deep Green, the Eddies often WERE in the trees, at least to start out with. Especially the nimble little pygmy bastards and Were-Apes. After ten to fifteen seconds, when no bursts of plasma beams or flights of fang tipped arrows came sailing out of the gloomy jungle, Ryan edged out of his chosen tree stump cover and low crawled across the loam to the soldier who'd called the warning, intending to chew her out for the false alarm. Nerves were tight for everyone, but calling out enemy contact with no enemies to be had was a bad habit to get into.

However, upon reaching her position, Ryan found himself instead patting the young woman on the shoulder in admiration, both of her senses and her restraint. There was someone... and in the Deep Green, there was generally only us and them... slumped against a tree about five meters away from their outer perimeter. They hadn't been there a minute ago, when Ryan had swept this section of the perimeter himself. The person wasn't quite in view, being halfway around the bole of a tree, but their wooden armor was plain to see, as were the hints of intricate detail on their surfaces under his low-light high magnification lenses. Given how on edge they all were, he wouldn't have been surprised if the FUN had put a burst of Flamberge rounds through the Eddie, rather than just calling contact, but maybe this FUN had a head on her shoulders.

If the Eddie was a scout or a lookout, then firing at them would just alert the rest of the group that had to be waiting nearby. Though it boggled Ryan's mind that they could be this close to an Eddie troop without the natives knowing about them and being all over them like sweet on honey. After a tense few moments of study though, in which the Eddie didn't seem to stir at all, and Ryan began to think that something definitely wasn't right about this. "Sir, I've got a confirmed enemy outside the perimeter. Stationary. Inactive. May be hurt or incapacitated. Decorated armor, might be someone with some rank. Call the play?"

There was a long silence over the comm net, a good two or three seconds as Lt. Snackers obviously warred between his duty as an officer, which was to collect as much intel as possible on the enemy, and his instincts as a front line trooper, which told him to shoot first and worry about intel later. Of course, he was an officer, and that meant suborning your better instincts at times, in the name of orders. It didn't SEEM like a trap, but then again, the good ones never did until it was too late. "Play is recovery. But stay sharp." Snackers finally answered.

"Like a razor, sir." Ryan assured his Lt. "Dud, with me. Spyro, FUNs, overwatch. If anything even twitches towards us, shoot first, but don't shoot me in the back. I'll fucking haunt you if you friendly fire my ass." With that warning given, and a moment to gather his nerve and clench his bowels, Ryan stepped out of cover, Combat Shield to the fore, his whole body braced behind it in anticipation of drawing fire. Dud move out behind him, grenade launcher twitchy in his fists, loaded with smoke and lobo grenades to throw shock and awe into any planned eddie ambush team. The lobo anti-Newtype grenades were rare and expensive, and not normally issued, but there were some benefits to having had 15 minutes of fame, and Ryan had a few contacts in the supply corp, and could usually get his guys the stuff THEY needed, not just the stuff high command SAID they needed.

Nobody shot at him, no ululating Were-Apes dropped out of the boughs above, no shark-faced pygmies with eyes like black marbles popped out of the underbrush to hamstring and eviscerate him, and no screaming crystal scythes turned his marrow to water before completing the thin scar that traced the front of his neck. It was almost an anti-climax, and Ryan cursed the way his limbs almost trembled with relief inside his armor. Just cause the Eddies hadn't ambushed him yet, didn't mean they wouldn't soon. Or that something else nasty might just decide to try to have him for lunch anyway. In the Deep Green, everything was an enemy. Learning and accepting that truism was the first step to becoming a veteran in the Asian theatre.

After what felt like hours of slow step by step progress, shoulders hunched and legs braced at every second in anticipation of an attack that never came, Ryan reached the slumped over shape of the Eddie. "Oh fuck me..." Dud gasped from behind him, putting voice to what was screaming through Ryan's thoughts. He knew that armor. He'd seen it up close before, draped across his own back. he'd seen that blue hair before, though the face half covered by it was so badly beaten up it was almost impossible to recognize the female Praetorian who'd saved his life from the madman Executor. Her features were caked in blood and bruises, and she was plainly unconscious, perhaps even dying. Her armor was beaten to hell and back too, the Borealite plates cracked and splintered under impacts that Ryan didn't want to even contemplate.

"We need to get out of here, right NOW!" Dud grated, barely keeping his nerve as he swung his grenade launcher around jerkily, expecting a confrontation with the man from his nightmares at any second.

"Not without her." Ryan found himself saying.

"Fuck the intelligence, man, that's HIS fucking girlfriend! We take her, we're ALL FUCKED." Dud snapped back, panic making him testy.

"This ain't about the intelligence. This is about honoring a debt." Ryan snapped back, as he knelt down and began checking the limp Praetorian, first for signs of life, and after finding those, for signs that she could be safely moved. "She wouldn't be out here like this if HE was anywhere nearby and in condition to do something about it. And if we just leave her, the animals will get to her a couple minutes after we leave the area. This much blood on her, gotta have predators coming from miles around. She saved us, Dud. She saved as all, and she didn't have to either. We can't just ditch her and run, no matter what kind of trouble it brings. I ain't that kinda man, and neither are you. Now go find some stuff to make a stretcher. She needs real medical help, soon..."

xxxx

New Eden, Himalayan Foothills, old Nepal territory, Memento Mori camp, May 1st, Late evening

"WHAT DO YOU MEAN, 'GONE'?" Frost bellowed, his enraged scream seeming to shake the very limbs of the trees above and around the biovac area until it sounded like the trees themselves were shaking in fear of his wrath. Before the diminuitive figure standing in front of him could elaborate on his unfortunate news, Frost swung a fist around and punched the Kindred in the side of the head. Bone crunched like eggshell under a bootheel, and blood and mashed brains gouted in the flickering light of the victory bonfire that had been dug in a pit in the center of the camp. All but decapitated, the Kindred's small body toppled sideways, spraying the assembled ranks of Mori standing a few feet away with dark red gore.

His body still clothed only in the merest tatters of his clothing, and his flesh lean and spare because of the vast energy expenditure regenerating from his Vamp caused wounds had caused, Frost paced back and forth like a starving ghoul, his eyes aglow with red light from the biolume cells drinking in the flickering light of the fire. None of the Mori would meet his hellish gaze, not even One Tusk or Espadon. Those Mori with the sense to recognize a dangerous situation, and the sanity to want to avoid it, including most of the Wendigo, had skulked into the treeline as soon as Frost had strode out of the gloom, after reviving in his crushing tomb of rock and portaling free a few minutes prior. Only the Kindred had stayed en mass, and not because most of them wanted to either. They were as terrified of Sevan Sveid's homicidal wrath as any, perhaps even moreso than most, for to them, his anger was an expression of divine fury, the displeasure of the GUM, the God Under the Mountain, made manifest!

Espandon hadn't become tribal chief just because he was tougher, meaner and stronger than most of his kin, but also because he was wilier and more cunning as well. He knew that Sevan Sveid... the God of Death... would not take well the news that Sevan Aveis... the Woman of Death... had gone missing, and might even potentially be dead or captured by the Oosen. So he had made sure it was not him who made this report, but one of the more junior Kindred from the ranks of the Hunters. A sensible precaution, in the scope of things, Espadon thought to himself, as he licked the arterial spray from his chin absentmindedly. Not that Sevan Sveid's bloodlust and maniac anger seemed to be particularly sated by the sacrifice, but then, placating the emissary of the GUM was not an exact science. Only Sevan Aveis could do it reliably, and she was unfortunately gone, and that was the root of the problem.

The tattooed man known as Revv, one of the other Praetorians that had joined the Mori, and the senior "human" now that Sevan Aveis was missing, opened his mouth to try and reason with the irate Executor and took a step forward, reverence obvious in every motion. Espadon approved of Revv, almost as much as he approved of Sevan Aveis. Few of the normal humans properly regarded Sevan Sveid with the awe he deserved, at least until it was too late, but Revv, like the Kindred, could obviously see that Sevan Sveid was far more than just a man, he was the hand of a God upon the world, shaping it according to the whims of a power beyond mortal ken. Espadon approved of Revv, but he didn't have much respect for the man's sense of timing or prudence. Trying to speak sense to Sevan Sveid was a dangerous proposition at the best of times, and right now it was...

Revv's body flew halfway across the camp, his heavy Borealite assault armor breastblate cracked clean in half around the crater-like imprint of Sevan Sveid's fist, as an ear battering, wordless shriek of fury silenced every predatory beast for miles around. The Praetorian hit the ground hard and bounced, tumbled, and finally rolled, limbs flopping bonelessly, and lay still. Espadon's keen senses could hear the man grunting for breath through at least two or three broken ribs, and the taste of blood on the air grew pleasantly stronger. The sizzle of meat and the smell of roasting pork from the victory bonfire, where the day's harvest of steaks and chops and legs, along with the lesser cuts of meat from four legged beasts were slow roasting, all but made Espadon's stomach growl with hunger. He met the eyes of Lance and several others, and inclined his head just ever so slightly towards the downed Praetorian. Espadon approved of Revv, but that just meant he would be proud to honor him with the process of ceremonial ingestion, should the Praetorian be terminally weakened by his error in judgement.

A moment later though, and Espadon had no more time for gastronomic considerations, as he found himself heaved dizzingly into the air, Sevan Sveid's fingers digging into the ropy muscle of his left shoulder, the thumb hooking under the shoulderblade and punching into the meat and muscle beneath. Espadon grinned through the pain, but let his fear show in his eyes, not wanting to taunt or dishonor the Sevan Sveid in what might be his last few moments as chief... or alive. "HOW IS SHE GONE?" Frost demanded, bringing Espadon face to face with him, the Kindred's legs swinging almost three feet off the ground, biting off each word with a ferocity that almost made Espadon want to check his nose to make sure it hadn't been gnawed off somewhere during the question. "The Mouse is MINE! She cannot be GONE! I put her somewhere safe! So where IS SHE?"

Espadon did not attempt to reply in any way. Sevan Sveid didn't want excuses or explanations, nor even answers, despite his questions. He wanted to vent, and any attempt at conversation would merely be seen as an attempt at resistance. And one did not resist Sevan Sveid's fury unless one wished to court death. It was like dealing with certain types of wild beast. When they were infuriated and attacked, if you played dead, they might chew on you a bit, but ultimately they would lose interest after a while and move on. But try to fight back, and they'd maul you long past the point of survival. Blood ran down the Kindred Chief's side, as Frost shook his unresisting form like a ragdoll, thumb punched into the Kindred's shoulder almost to the webbing. "What good are the LOT of you if you can't even keep the Mouse safe when I let her out of my sight?" Sevan Sveid growled, his voice lowering in volume but not threat.

Suddenly the ground and sky inverted, and Espadon realized he'd been tossed aside, as casually as he might flick a scrap of bone from the tip of a finger. His muscles tensed, and he could have flipped and caught himself, bled away the momentum of the landing or otherwise cushioned the impact. He forced himself to go limp instead. No resistance meant no resistance. If the GUM saw fit to claim his life with this fall, then so be it, as it had come at the hands of Sevan Sveid, it was a great an honorable death. The ground was hard, and he landed badly, on one outstretched arm, the forearm splintering and folding back towards the elbow, the backs of his fingers almost touching the joint. Innumerable scrapes and buises and contusions followed as he rolled and skidded through the underbrush before slamming into the trunk of a tree hard enough to leave even a Kindred breathless. The pain was intense, but also revitalizing. He was alive. Not many could suffer the grasp of an enraged Sevan Sveid and say the same.

"FIND HER! FIND THE MOUSE! If any of you come back without knowing where she is, I'll tear you limb from limb and drown you in your own spilled blood and viscera!" Frost roared at the assembled Mori, as he stalked to the victory bonfire and grabbed a roasting leg barehanded from the coals, tearing into the feminine thigh with brutal gnashes of his teeth as he wolfed down the half raw meat with no regard for flavor. He needed to replenish his reserves, or he'd be out looking for the Mouse right then and there. First Deathshriek, now the Mouse herself. He was too careless with the things precious to him! He would never admit it, but much of his anger and fury was directed at himself, not the Mori. He knew she was alive... he could feel it, in the same way he could feel Mr. Abyss thrumming through his veins or Charon in the base of his skull. But that was all he could feel. His anger imploded into sullen brooding as he tore and gnawed at the leg haunch, as the Mori crashed off into the bushes, many of them running full tilt in desperate need to fufill his command. And not just the human ones either.

They would find her. Or at least, they would find where she had been, and where she'd gone to. And then... Frost's mood grew darker. He realized he had no idea how to rescue someone. He'd never needed to in the past. Generally it was others trying to rescue people from him. His fist clenched around the shin of the leg he was eating, pulping flesh and pulverzing bone, dropping most of the ankle and foot into the dirt. It didn't seem like he had any choices left on this one. He'd have to consult with an expert on rescues. He'd have to talk to Yamato...

xxxx

New Eden, Orb Airspace, en route to Nara-Attha City, May 3rd, afternoon

"This isn't... this isn't how I wanted to thank you for saving my life and my friends lives." Ryan said slowly, as he sat across the cargo bay of the armored shuttle from the blue haired Praetorian. He was in full Vanguard armor, every plate polished and scrubbed and even repainted, even though the suit was almost brand new. Even the slice mark from where an Eddie mono-sword had notched his abdominal plating but failed to penetrate had been smoothed over and polished out. He was going to be meeting Brass, with a definite capital B, and so he'd been told to make himself spic and span as much as possible. It was bullshit, the usual political farce and propoganda, but it had been a requirement of being selected for close escort detail of the prisoner. And Ryan felt responsible for her, and wanted to give her at least one face that wasn't entirely hostile to look at. It was the least he could do, given what he owed her.

The Praetorian... her name was Lilia, he'd learned during the intelligence debrief flurries that had followed the monumental act of capturing a living Praetorian, one of the top ranked Edenite warriors... did not respond. She couldn't, actually. She was secured to the bench at the opposite side of the shuttle with enough chains and metal mesh weave straightjackets and buckles and mil-grade plastic straps to restrain a man in full Vanguard armor. A eyeshield visor covered her eyes, blocking her ability to see, while a psy-monitor had been sutured to the side of her head, above her left ear and a shock-collar array hooked up to it, which would jolt her into unconsciousness if she ever used her Newtype powers in any way. A large muffle raised from the collar of her straitjacket kept her from speaking aloud. She could barely even turn her head or twitch a fingertip, just about all she could freely do was listen.

It kind of disgusted him, to see her treated like that, especially since she was still recovering from the wounds she'd had when he'd first found her. Sure, she'd made an amazing recovery in only a few days, healing far faster than she had any biological right to do, but he still felt the full body restraints and sensory deprivation was a bit inhumane. With the psy-monitor and shock collar on, it wasn't like she could use mind powers on anyone, and a simple pair of titanium-steel wirst and ankle cufs would limit her mobility surely. Now if it was her boyfriend, then Ryan himself wouldn't have been satisfied until the guy was encased in a meter of solid ablative plating on all sides... but she wasn't her boyfriend. And that was kind of the point. She was a good and honorable woman, and she didn't deserve to be treated like some psychopathic criminal-monster like this.

But Ryan obviously wasn't the one who got to make the call on that, despite efforts to do so. It was all he could do to leverage his way onto close escort detail, and that only because of his prior fame and orders from Lt. Knackers. The top brass wanted to interview the prisoner themselves, before the formal interrogation got underway. It was irregular, but that was one of the benefits of being the top brass... you got to throw procedure out the window when it suited you. They'd already be doing the interview, except the shuttle had been put into a holding pattern due to some ruckus taking place in the Nara-Attha City harbor, something about a rogue Mobile Armor going on the lam or something... he'd only caught snatches of it over his helmet comm. Apparently some third string Mobile Suit aces had been called in to handle the situation, and made a right bloody mess of things.

"I just want you to know that I'm grateful for how you saved my life. You didn't have to do it, but you stood up for what was right, and faced down death incarnate to do it. I don't know how much I can do to protect you in turn... unlike you, I'm just a grunt. Nobody particularly important. I do got an Uncle in the Stormhounds, so when you're in Orb custody you should be taken care of all right. But I'll do what I can. I owe you, and I don't care if you're an Eddie. You saved me, and thats all that matters, off the battlefield." Ryan felt the shift in the shuttles flight pattern as the wing tilted and they began a curve back towards the city. "I just want you to know, I'm sorry things are turning out like this." Ryan added in a hurry, knowing that any further conversation, even one sided, would be impossible soon.

He hefted the somewhat unfamiliar matte black shape of a 15mm Flamberge LAR, his issue weapon for the escort detail. If anything did go wrong with the prisoner or an escape attempt, it would be better to have a more precise weapon than the firepower hose of his Pulverizer. Especially with Brass around. Still, he felt a little naked without the snug weight of the automatic combat shotgun under his right forearm, and without the reassuring weight of the assault shield hanging off his left bicep and shoulder armor. Time to put the game face on. His faceshield slid down and around from his helmet hood, closing him off from the piped in fresh Orb air. It had also felt odd being in full armor with the faceshield open, and Ryan didn't know whether to feel dismayed or gratified that as soon as his own environment systems kicked in and sealed off his armor, that he felt about twenty percent safer and more in control than before.

"Better get ready." He said through the external comm, as if she could do anything about it. "We'll be landing soon."

xxxx

Orb, Nara-Attha City, Orb Defene Force Command Bunker, main strategium, 1 hour later

Cagalli wasn't sure what she'd been expecting, exactly, when she'd been informed that the USN had managed to capture a senior Edenite warrior-commander, and that this particular warrior-commander happened to be the second-in-command and rumored lover of Frost himself! She'd never imagine Frost as capable of having a lover or an executive officer, or even seeing the need for them. The bastard just took whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted it, whether it was sex, lives, or materials, regardless of how willing or unwilling other people were. What did someone like that, a monster like that, need of administrative and command assistance? What did a loathesome BEAST like him need a steady and loving relationship for? It didn't make sense to her. It flew in the face of everything she knew of Frost, everything she'd experienced of him. And who... or what kind of person... could possibly LOVE Frost?

So maybe she'd been expecting another Frost, a female Frost, frothing mad and cloaked in an aura of bone chilling malevolence, someone who could identify with the twisted urges and psychopathic ideals of the most evil person she'd ever had the misfortune of encountering. In that expectation, the blue haired young woman, maybe five years younger than Cagalli herself, that sat chained and straitjacketed, strapped and buckled to a sturdy metal chair where the briefing lectern usually stood, flanked on either side by Vanguard armored troopers with weapons at the ready, failed to satisfy. There was definitely something striking about her, and not just her physical beauty, which was considerable even with the faint markings of her injuries, and even slightly reminiscent of Lacus's slender, almost elfin grace in the lines of her forehead and jaw and nose.

But she didn't make Cagalli shiver or convulse involuntarily just by being in the same room, and though there was a challenging fire in the blue haired woman's eyes, it didn't burn like hellfire and promise damnation to all who met her gaze. Cagalli wasn't sure whether she should feel relieved, disappointed, or confused. Of all the people she would have pictured as Frost's second... of all the woman that she might have envisioned as Frost's lover, abhorrent as that idea was... this blue haired Praetorian fit neither image in any way. Cagalli realized she had stopped to stare when Athrun gently nudged her from behind. However unlikely her first impressions of the Praetorian were, they couldn't argue with hard military intelligence, which pegged this young woman as the de facto commander of the Edenite group known as the Memento Mori, and one of the senior commanders of the Edenite war effort in the Asian Theatre.

Durandel had already arrived a short time before, along with a train of aides and advisors, and Cagalli avoided looking at the man she detested with only slightly less force than she did Frost. Things were even more strained than usual between them because of the recent events in the Harbor, where the Vulcanis, a new Orb Mobile Armor, had been destroyed just an hour or so previously by USN sanctioned pilots, though not without causing great damage to the harbor facilities and ships within the harbor. Damage that could have been avoided, in Cagalli's estimation, since the pilot of the rogue mobile armor, its primary developer, one of Morganroete's brilliant young engineers, had been close to surrendering on her own due to Cagalli's diplomatic efforts, before Gil's goon squad charged in and ruined everything. Now her city, or at least a part of it, was in flames once again, and all so Gil could throw his weight around and show the "decisiveness" of the USN.

Even meeting the honorable Solar Knight, Roland Beckett, who had strugged even during the battle to take the Vulcanis and its pilot alive, doing his best to talk her down despite the risk in doing so, couldn't buoy Cagalli's spirits much. There was so much that was good and admirable about the USN, things exemplified by Knight Beckett, but still, the core of the USN was rotten and broken, and as long as Gil stood as Solar President, nothing would change that. But there were more pressing concerns to deal with right now as well. When Gil had revealed that he was planning a informal interview of their prized captive before turning her over for thorough interrogation, Cagalli had been quick to muscle a space for her and her advisors on the interview panel, and had also brought in the Stormhounds to be the primary interrogators. Even Gil couldn't argue with their qualifications for such a job, and she didn't want the Praetorian disappearing up into space where only Gil would ever know what secrets they pried out of her.

Or for that matter, Cagalli at least had a measure of control over how the Stormhounds persecuted their interrogations, and was generally confident in their ability to balance the need for information with the need to preserve human dignity and respect human rights. The Stormhounds would ask hard questions, and they might even ask them forcefully, using modern psychological and medical based interrogation methods, such as sedative drugs to put the captive in a receptive state of mind, but the young woman's life and health would never be in danger. With FEAR's butchers at his command, and who knew what sort of other shadowy organizations at his beck and call yet, Gil would assuredly stop at nothing to pry open the secrets of the Praetorian's mind, and wouldn't care what sort of mess was made of her body and spirit in the process.

The Edenites were Cagalli's enemies, there was no doubt of that. This woman, this Praetorian in particular, was her enemy twice over, by being an Eddie warleader and by being the proxy of Frost. But Cagalli had turned a blind eye to atrocity and abuse too much in the course of this war, and though her resolution now could never heal the scars of the past, at least it might prevent new injuries in the future. She was determined to do right by this woman, however much personally she might not want to. Her imprisonment and interrogation would be conducted with full respect for all conventions of war, as would the imprisonment and interrogation of all future Edenite prisoners of war, if Cagalli had any say in the matter, and she intended to have EVERY say in the matter. Nothing less would suffice for Cagalli's conscience.

The interview panel was relatively small, just her, Athrun, Ramierez as her chosen advisor, with Gil, Martin Dicosta, and a withered old prune of a man she thought was one of the top directors of FEAR, along with of course plenty of secondary aides, assistants, guards and assorted command staff that no political or military leader could really do without. Once everyone was in place, and briefing documents listing what they knew of this woman, her activities and history, and any other pertinent info their intelligence services had thought prudent, the interview was ready to begin. At a nod from Gil, one of the Vanguard troopers standing at port arms behind the Praetorian stepped forward and released the muffle-collar that had been restricting her ability to speak. A small chill raced down Cagalli's spine when she saw the sneer of contempt and disdain on the young woman's face. Next to her, she heard Athrun's hand tighten on his cane in identical reflexive response. That was definitely a look she'd learned from Frost, and even the echo of it was enough to be uncomfortable for those who knew the man himself.

"This is an informal interview of the Arboreal Praetorian Lilia, known as Yggdrasil's Valkyrie." Durandel announced, his lion-like eyes focused on the captive, drinking in every particular, studying her as he might an exotic beast that could potentially be dangerous to him. "You will not be under any duress." He glanced aside at Cagalli before continuing. "Neither will you be punished later for refusing to cooperate now. However, if you do cooperate now, we may be able to make things better for you during your time in our care. You must realize that the end of the war is close, and that your people stand no chance of victory. Your information could spare many lives by allowing us to focus on defeating you militarily, rather than simply crushing your entire nation beneath our bootheels. Something we are quite capable of doing."

"Better yet." Athrun cut in levelly. "We might be able to negotiate a conditional surrender once we know better how your forces stand in comparison to ours. Prolonging the war will only lead to tragedy and loss for hundreds of thousands, if not millions, on both sides. Why fight a war that cannot be won, if offered agreeable terms?"

"Smuj sanasaj, saskei edni!" Lilia snapped back with a glottal snarl at Durandel, a simple curse, though a severe one by their standards, as the Kindred could eat just about anything, and so something truly inedible and toxic was pretty damned disgusting, and she enjoyed his confusion at being unable to understand Kindred idiom. "And you too, Athrun Zala." She added, looking at the man she'd named. "The Edenites are far from beaten, and surrender has never been an option for my people. Not as long as the USN exists as it does now. We've hurt you more than you've hurt us... if our numbers were equal, it'd be you people begging to not be crushed by us."

"But the numbers are not equal, or even close to it." Ramierez pointed out diffidently. "The Edenites are the strongest fighters I've ever faced in battle. I'm scared shitless every time I step into the field against you guys. But however much I might fear for my life, I don't fear for our victory. We have you in a vise, a vise called being surrounded and outnumbered, and we're going to crush you in it, regardless of how spirited you are and how unpalatable the thought may be. You can hurt us. But you'll never beat us. And what's the point of causing pain when victory is impossible? Surely it would be better to negotiate and save lives in a conditional surrender. Or do you just revel in the slaughter, like your boyfriend?"

"It depends on who I'm slaughtering." Lilia retorted with a glare over at Durandel. "The Praetorians and Custodians have nothing bad to say about the forces of Orb, and few truly bad things to say about most of the USN forces for that matter. We understand that your populace has been decieved and misled by corrupt and evil leadership. Few of us take any joy in killing you people. But people like him, and that horrid scientist next to him..." Lilia tossed her head at Durandel and Roanoke. "I'd tear out their throats with my teeth and fill their living bellies with hot coals, and laugh while doing it. You've seen what they've done to us. You know what they think of us. Surrendering to them, conditionally or otherwise, is to lay our necks on a chopping block. I do not revel in slaughter, much as Zach might wish me to. I do revel in bringing justice to the evil and distorted, those who would use the world, and all the people in and of it, for their own gain and amusement."

"Then how can you justify not killing Frost when you have the chance? You share his bed don't you?" Cagalli spat, her face twisted with disgust at the thought. "As far as evil and distorted go, there is no one worse than him in all existence!"

"His bed and far more than just that, Queen Cagalli Zala-Attha. Zach is a far more complex being than you are capable of understanding." Lilia snapped back, uncowed and unashamed of her association with him. "I am his, and he is mine. Whatever you may think of him, and whatever you may think of me for being with him, our relationship is no less close and absolute then yours and Athruns. Why do you feel no guilt for loving a man who's father almost destroyed the world?"

"Because blaming Athrun for the sin of his father is stupid. He had no control over his father's actions. He couldn't have stopped him, even though he tried his best! Patrick Zala had already gone mad and been warped to the point where only genocide would suffice for him." Cagalli answered tightly, laying her hand on Athrun's knee below the level of the desk and squeezing slightly in assurance.

"Exactly." Lilia agreed, surpising Cagalli. "Blaming a son for the sins of his parent is stupid and pointless and bigoted. So why do you feel its okay to do so to Zach, who was twisted and corrupted, against his will, by his own 'Father', Doctor Borander? It wasn't like Zach... or any other BCPU... volunteered for that horror of a life! I don't deny that Zach does horrible things, and has commited many crimes, including the most base of atrocities which sicken me to think about them. And he has no remorse for his actions. He enjoys them. I know that. I acknowledge it. I don't like it. But I also understand... I DARE to understand... that Zach was MADE the way he is, by the sins of his parent. So why does Athrun get to shake off the sins of his father, while Zach, who even KILLED his own father for what he did, is condemned to be seen as an eternal monster with no possibility of redemption?"

"We're getting off topic here." Durandel pointed out somberly. "The details of your personal life, and private relationship with the Executor Frost, do not particularly interest me or my military. In terms of crimes, I am more interested in those behind the Blue Monday attack, of which you must surely know. Destroying a civilian colony, with hundreds of millions of innocent men, women and children aboard... how can you call me and my administration corrupt and evil without tarring your own leadership with the same brush?"

"We haven't gotten off topic at all." Lilia answered with a sneer. "Zach and I do not acknowledge the 'leadership' you speak of. Kunai's actions are as horrible to me as they are to you. More horrible still is the actions of Yggdrasil, who must have known that the attack was aimed at the wrong colony, and gave no warnings. Blaming us for the sins of those we cannot control and do not approve of... for all that he was my first mentor and friend after the Disaster... is not justified. When Zach learned of Blue Monday, he attacked and hospitalized Kunai and Alex. When Kira learns of it... as he must have by now... I almost shudder to think about what will occur."

"So are you saying that you are not under the authority of Garden City?" Dicosta piped up, arrowing in on an interesting tidbit of Lilia's answer. "That you do not acknowledge them and vice versa?"

"I am a Praetorian. Our Order is based in Garden City, but our responsibility is all of New Eden, and all Edenites who live upon it. We acknowledge no authority other than our own morals and the leadership we personally choose. Most of the Order has chosen to fight for Garden City against the tyranny and genocide of the Oosen. But that was an individual choice, not an order from on high. I've renounced any claim to authority over me Garden City may think it has, I serve a higher and purer calling now."

"Frost's enternal conflict is a higher and purer calling?" Cagalli retorted sarcastically. "What justice is there in promoting war for war's own sake?"

"Zach's vision of the future is brighter and purer than any of you could understand. War is coming, a war beyond anything humanity has ever fought amongst itself. If we're not prepared for that war to the utmost, then humanity itself is doomed. The Black Ghosts are coming, from the deep abyss. A divided, peaceful humanity has no chance of suvival. Only a united humanity forged in conflict stands any chance at all. In that at least, I can find no fault with Zach's plan. His execution is certain to be flawed... he's been so badly warped by his life that its easy for him to lose sight of the future in the pleasures of the now. But that's what I believe I'm here for. At first I wanted to redeem him. To fix him. To cure him of his tortured existence." Lilia answered darkly, before her voice lightened into a sort of fond wistfulness.

"I realize that such selfish goals are impossible now. He cannot be redeemed. He cannot be saved. Zach is evil. His actions are reprehensible. Remorse is a foreign concept to him. Pity and compassion, at least in the ways most people would define them, are beyond his ability to feel. Zach is evil, but he is also necessary, humanity's best hope for the future. He is also the man I love, and the man who loves me. I cannot cure him... but I can treat his illnesses. I can calm his rages. I can curb his excesses. I can balm his hurts, the ones which drive him to hate and kill and glory in bloodshed. I can suffer, with him and for him, in a way no one else can. My calling is not in support of his eternal conflict. My calling is Zach himself, and forging from his eternal conflict the bright future for humanity that he wants but cannot express through his madness. Nothing could be higher and purer than that."

"This woman is quite mad. What point is there in future discussions?" Roanoke intejected with a raspy snort of disdain. "She will seek any justification to canonize her personal feelings for a man we all know is a plague upon humanity. Raving about monsters from the abyss, hell spawned demons of imagination coming to destroy us all... she is plainly unhinged, probably by association with the object of her devotion. Suffering from megalomania, delusions of grandeur and sociopathy."

"I'm just crazy enough to be able to look at the truth when it presents itself to me without clouding my judgement with my own desires." Lilia shot back contemptuously. "I've stared into the abyss, and it's stared into me. Maybe I am contaminated by the experience. Maybe I'm becoming sick and twisted myself. My friends sure seem to think so. Kira sure seems to think so. But I can't let that bother me or hol me back. I NEED to do this. If I don't, no one else will. Believe me or ignore me, make up your own minds. But if Zach's future doesn't come to pass, then NO future will come to pass."

"So are you saying that there is no possibility of surrender? That you will do eveything possible to prolong this war indefinitely, until we're all so bogged down in destruction and hatred that we only care about fighting the war for the war's sake?" Ramierez challenged fiercely.

"Something you learn early on with Zach is that there's ALWAYS a possibility for ANYTHING. He's chaotic far more than he is evil, and he never fails to surprise me each time I see him. Let's entertain the possibility then. What kind of terms would you offer? What kind of future do the Edenites have under a USN victory?" Lilia responded with equal fervor. "And don't forget, I've seen your labor camps and death camps, and how you treat captured Edenites before..."

"So have I, and I am horrified by them. Those responsible will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. In all likelihood they will be executed for crimes against humanity, if I have anything to say in the matter." Cagalli answered resolutely, looking pointedly at Durandel as she did so. He failed to rise to her bait, as usual, so she went on. "Orb never had a quarrel with New Eden. Admittedly, we could have reached out to you more, and more officially, but we never had an issue with you being our neighbors I am to blame for these failings, as is the Kurenai administration. We allowed internal USN politics to occupy too much of our time and attention, and lost sight of our duty to the Edenites as fellow humans with an identity of their own. As a result, we helped, inadvertantly, to escalate matters until war was the only option. For that I can only apologize, though I know it will never be enough."

"As you say, its not the USN itself that is your enemy." Athrun picked up from his wife. "With the proper change in leadership and administration, and a campaign to bring the public to terms with the reality of the Edenite nation and Edenites themselves, I see no reason why we could not live in harmony with each other. At least as much harmony as was enjoyed by the nations of Earth and Space prior to the eden Disaster anyway, or prior to the construction of the PLANTs and the birth of Coordinators. The populace of the USN is by and large satisfied with living in space now, and with Red EDEN, we do not lack for the resources required to expand and comfortably exist in space indefinitely. We have only a psychological need for the Earth, New Eden, not a physical one. And that psychological need could easily be satiated through peacetime commerce and tourism."

"We have no designs on your sovereignity." Cagalli took the fore again. "We don't care how you govern yourselves, or what use you make of New Eden for your populace, as long as you are willing to consult with us on matters that may possibly concern us. We are not interested in war reparations, or indentured servitude, or economic and political restructuring and sanctions. We'd ask for mutual military treaties and limits on military technology and weaponry, especially things like nanoweapons and WMDs. We'd probably also need treaties, or at least public understanding and governable laws, on your Psychic abilities, especially when interacting with other nations."

"Sounds idyllic." Lilia replied with a faintly sad smile. "It sounds just like the sort of relationship we always wanted with the rest of humanity. Before you sent your clandestine forces to kidnap our citizens for experimental subjects, and declared all Edenites and those changed by Green EDEN to be non-human, with as much right to existence as toxic medical waste, that is! You paint a pretty picture, Cagalli. You describe an honorable world, Athrun. But you only speak for Orb. I want to know what the USN plans. I want to know what HE plans." Lilia nodded ferociously at Durandel.

"Once I imagined a world without Edenites, or tainted by Green EDEN." Durandel replied slowly, and carefully. "I realize now that such a world is an impossibility. So I must face reality. Wiping out the Edenites and repopulating the Earth is impossible. Earth cannot be redeemed from New Eden. What is done cannot be undone. Fighting to achieve the impossible is no better than fighting for fighting's sake. This planet is a pestilential hellhole, and an enormous money sink. You Edenites are welcome to it, as far as I care now. Still, I cannot in good conscience end this war without a formal settlement from your people. Blue Monday cannot be forgotten. Over five hundred million civilian casualties, cannot be forgotten. That's more than the entire population of New Eden, twice over."

"You want my terms, and plans? I will lay them out for you. I require the surrender and disarmament of the Edenite military forces, including the Praetorians and all affiliated militia units. You may keep whatever civilian security forces you may have. Your military and political leadership will be forced to step down, permanently retire to seclusion or be imprisoned, as judged on an individual basis. Some may be executed for their war crimes. Economic reparations will be negotiated in a fiar manner that will see your people out of debt in a decade or two, and will not impoverish them in doing so. There will be no forced labor or death camps, underoversight from Orb, or a USN agency of your chosing. New Eden will become a branch state of the USN, a protectorate at first, but with the future option of being a full member nation, alongside Orb, the PLANTs, Luna and the Second Earth Colonies."

"So we'd have to rely on the USN... who often hate and fear us... for protection from the Oosen that may hate and fear us?" Lilia laughed bitterly. "That sounds more like the sort of terms I was expecting. So we'd be a conquered nation, with a foot on our neck, reliant upon the good graces of people who do not live with us or near us, or understand us, and who may envy and fear us for our genetic differences, for protection from terrorists and criminals, while in economic and political bondage to them. Doesn't that sound familiar to anyone? You Coordinators especially? Anyone here a student of modern history? How long do you think it would take for an "unsanctioned" terror group like Blue Cosmos to show up and start causing trouble? One year? Six months? You must think we're idiots."

"I cast no aspersions on your intelligence. Merely your ability to win a war against us." Durandel answered coldly. "I acknowledge your parallel, but its the best I can reasonably offer, given the disparity in our military strengths. I see no reason to bow down and make a compromise when I have the upper hand. And regardless of your past momentum, we have ALWAYS had the upper hand in this war. With the lesson of the PLANTs and the Valentine Wars to teach us, I know we can avoid a repeat of history with New Eden. But even a harsh surrender surely must be better than taking this war to its bloody and inevitable conclusion? With my plan, you will eventually recover, and prosper. Without it, it will be centuries, if ever, before the Edenites even regain a national identity at all. We will purge the planet with MAIDEN and rebuild from the ashes, despite the hideous expense."

"Heh, well, this has been amusing and enlightening in equal measure." Lilia told them. "I'd say negotiations have broken down, but we were never really negotiating in the first place. Some of us were spouting golden ideals and papering over the cracks in the reality of the situation with hope and dreams... something I can respect at least. And others are showing that no matter what happens, they intend to see the Edenites crushed and broken and helpless. I don't know why I expected any different. You don't need to be a Latent, or Yggdrasil, to see how the USN will always be the Oosen, as long as Gilbert Durandel is around. So now what? Does the torture begin now? You'll have to try to pretty hard to impress me. A night in the sack with Zach is more gruelling than any torture I think you can bring to bear."

"Orb does NOT condone the torture of prisoners of war, and you are being held in Orb." Cagalli said with brittle clarity. "Especially we do not torture pregnant women. Even if they are pregnant with the child of a monster whom I hate more than any other living being." The look of shock on Lilia's face as Cagalli made that announcement, from data that had been collected on the Praetorian when she was being fixed up by USN doctors after being brought in by the USN fast response team, was almost enough to stir a vindictive streak of pleasure in Cagalli's mind, before she ruthlessly quashed it.

"Heh. Hehehehehe. HA! HAHAHAHA!" Lilia started to laugh uncontrollably, beginning with a low chuckle, before bursting out into peals of amusement that almost made Cagali flinch. It was just the sort of irrational, inexplicable laughter as Frost had. "Pregnant am I? With child? Zach's child! And that's whats holding your hand back from putting me through the wringer? Such cheap nobility. Such empty righteousness! But I'll take it nonetheless. I'm not too proud for that. So I carry within me the seed of the future, do I?" Lilia's cheeks were stained with tears, but Cagalli could not tell whether they were tears of joy, as expected of a new mother, or tears of madness.

"You realize what this means, don't you?" Lilia said softly, chewing back a giggle that sent a chill down the spine of everyone else present. "Zach is coming for me. He will find me. Nothing can stop him. So you'd better take good care of me, for your sakes. You don't want to him to discover that you've endangered his child. He's still getting used to being in love... to be a father and then have it snatched away? I shudder to think of what he would do to you. And you should shudder at what I would do to you..."

"Threats are pointless from a person in your position." Durandel said neutrally. "For as long as you remain in Orb, you need not fear for your maternity or health. But we will have the information we desire from you, one way or another, Praetorian. You will tell us where Garden City is, and why we cannot find it now, and all the military details my commanders desire. I'm willing to let Her Majesty's dogs have a go at you first, in the name of civility, but I am still Solar President by the will of the people. The knowledge in your head is critical to the peaceful future of humanity. I will have you broken open to get it, if you make me. And I don't care what parts of you have to be damaged, destroyed or removed to do it. So think about that while you deal with Orb. If you do not cooperate with them, you WILL cooperate with me."

"I look forward to the time when Zach has your heart in his hand, saskei edni." Lilia smiled sweetly, chillingly at him.

"This interview is concluded. Take her away..."