July B.W. 0001, Seventh Space War

Four weeks prior to the final operation

Cloud 2, Colony 5

The front has moved back to space. Terrestrial Revolutionary troops were unable to take a firm hold due to their incompetence in land warfare. Others blamed it on Seidel Rasso's chaotic nature, who changed tactics and moods in the blink of a eye. His newest plan is to lure the UNE out into space where his troops have the advantage and they can pick off the ascending ships which are vulnerable in mid-flight. The loyal forces left on the Earth are to be remembered as valiant heroes.

Every trooper of Fifth Para was sentenced to one year of penal service. Ranks were lost, the status of a soldier denied. Now they are but convicts. Led by disgruntled NT-Lieutenant Grahl, who seems to have gotten sentenced to this suicide commando himself, the ex-paras perform mainly the task of cannonfodder. Today they were ordered to do what no other unit with even the slightest shred of honor would ever dream of doing.

XVII Penal Battalion has been tasked with a search and destroy operation. The target: a UNE-friendly colony. Intel suggested that there were still remnants of the Nation's old space fleet holding a bonus HQ has delivered a new experimental weapon, the GA-Cannisterrifle, armed with three cannisters each containing the liquid gas EA1205. Fresh from the labs of Advanced R&D this supreme knockout gas should put the population asleep effectively in a mere five to ten minutes, depending how well the cannisters are shot. They also included the chemical formula, C5H11N2O2P, not that it really ment anything to Kane or his men. All that mattered was that, if it worked, they could capture military strongpoints and overtake the garrison inside the colony without having any shots fired. With some bad luck it'd be possible that some Nates are able to get their gasmasks out, a mild threat to the elite unit that was once Fifth. Still Michel Kane had mixed feelings about the new weapon. Something didn't feel right.

Cloud 2. Most of its colonies were no longer capable of sustaining life as a result from the Sixth Space War. The Colony Reconstruction Plan was put into effect as part of the cleanup operations. This called for most of the still habitable colonies to be remodeled in order to rebuild the damaged ones. One such colony was Colony 5.

Colony 5 was refitted with an central cilinder twenty metres in diameter with support beams every hundred metres on each of the three landmasses. This strengthened the colony so it was able to support the extra weight of a damaged colony next to it without getting torn apart. Currently Colony 9 was attached and awaited repairs.

"""One-Seven-Papa-Bravo, the Nates have discovered us. Daughtress' moving to intercept. All mobile suits; engage the enemy!"""

Liana Haigh bellowed when she led the charge of the penal MS-force, consisting of three outdated Jenice types, on the south side of the colony. A diversion attack to lure away the few escort mobiles that the Nates got stationed on this colony. As lightning both forces engaged each other, giving away the impression of fireflies in a fireworks display. The trap has been sprung.

From the other side, hidden from sight by Colony 9, a vessel slowly drifted towards the northern spacedocks of Colony 5. The small scout ship which was dubbed Mosquito, a Kignus-class vessel, carried the rest of XVII Penal. These are the ones who are going to capture the interior of the colony along with securing the Nate garrison. A lone Jenice carrying the GA-rifle flew past the Mosquito and opened the plasteel outer baydoor of spacedock 3.

The port authority forces were no match for the troopers rushing forward as ants out their hole. Instantly troopers took and held several corridors, controlrooms and elevators. Once cleared they placed and detonated plastic explosives to block all entries to spacedock 3. All but one, the inner baydoor. The prisoners from the port authority sat on their knees, with hands behind their head, facing the wall. Each and every one of them hoping to get through this ordeal alive. Further away a group of men looked at the schematics of the colony.

"And Lt., what's the plan from here?" Kane asked looking up from several blueprints. "Lieutenant?"

Grahl stood by himself shaking and sweating away. He's so busy trying to control his nerves he didn't hear Michel Kane yell at him.

"Goddammit, Lt. Grahl! Get a grip of yourself before I gotta do it for you." He barked before he turned back to the maps, which Flanagan and Cillis still held.

"Hell, is that guy shellshocked or doped up?"

"Relax, Floyd, we'll manage without him." Kane shrugged and looked over the map. "Like it or not gentlemen, this will be a search and destroy mission. We move in, take out all enemy forces –" Here Kane interrupted a second and glanced at the prisoners. Were they to be considered enemy forces or not? Have them shot or let go? "- and shift back to the Mosquito for a quick extraction. Sergeant, you take ten men into the central cilinder, smoke out any resistance and take and hold the Colonial Climate Controls." Kane switched to Cillis "Son, stay here with Grahl. If he does anything crazy, you've got my permission to shoot him."

Kane ascended to the cockpit of the Jenice via the retractable rope. Using the open hatch as a podium he issued orders to the troopers.

"Men, from this moment on you all wear your gasmasks. I need four volunteers to defend the perimeter alongside Cillis. Flanagan's squad will secure the cilinder and the rest will follow on me. Got that?" He paused for a moment and looked around the group of troopers "This is search and destroy, men, use extreme prejudice!"

The group of troopers swarmed out in three different directions after the go-word has been given. A trooper of Kane's group overrode the controlpanel of the inner baydoor and a hail of incoming fire erupted as soon as the doors opened. The port authority managed to alert the UNE troops after all. Light armoured reconnaissance vehicles outfitted with either a heavy machinegun or rocketlauncher along with seemingly every Nate soldier available had taken up position around the entrance.

"LARV's!" One trooper yelled upon viewing the fierce resistance ahead, another one yelled to deploy smoke. Kane motioned his Jenice forward and flew overhead the UNE troops and drew their fire away for a second from the inner baydoor. It gave his troopers enough time to throw their smoke grenades and envelop the enemy in a thick gray fog.

Blinded by the smoke the Nates stopped their fire. Infantry's ordered to move forward into the grey cloud and locate the enemy. Corporal Larsson is one of them. Difficulty to breathe and an irritating feeling in his eyes hindered his ability to act. Slowly Larsson started to perceive shapes in the insubstantial mass, humanoid features. Humans with rifles.

Quite weird shape for a gun… He thought. Each step he took became slower, more quiet. The beings started to take on more form. Behind him a pair of boots copied his exact moves on the same rythm, invisible and unhearable to Larsson. Wait! That's no gun, that's an RP-

Before he could yell out to his comrades something covered his mouth forcefully, at the same time a sharp cold object touched his jugular from the other side. Then Larsson knew he was being pulled down by a man behind him and felt the bayonet cut deeper into his throat. Last thing he realised was a large amount of blood pouring down his gullet, a feeble taste of iron was left in his mouth.

"Nothing personal, buddy." The trooper whispered in his ear while he cleaned his bloodied knife on Larsson's vest. Then he moved swift and silently ahead towards his next kill.

Out the giant cloud smoky spikes flew out, each uncovering a nasty explosive tip on the head, on direct course to several LARVs. "RPG! RP-GAAAHK…" One such LARV-commander tried to warn for in vain before he was killed by a direct hit in the munitions storage of his vehicle.

J-14 fragmentation grenades were thrown like snowballs, as explosion after explosion tore through the UNE ranks causing massive panic and a breakdown in the chain of command. Remaining Nates were mercilessly cut down by the full automatic assaultrifles carried by the troopers.

As the smoke cleared the Jenice had already moved onward in an effort to lure out other UNE forces as well as to scare all civilians into the shelters. The troopers grouped back together and followed their leader towards the populated area, already preparing themselves for urban house-to-house combat.

Ten minutes into the mission and already nine men dead and a dozen wounded. Kane never got used to it that so many died with each confrontation. And since it was a penal battalion it meant no replacements; after a few operations like this his former unit would be decimated. Again his heart cringed. His train of thought was interrupted by the flashes of an explosion outside the colony windows. As he looked up he saw a Daughtress fly by pursued by a Jenice. A few moments later another explosion occurred and the Jenice changed its course towards a new target.

Kane turned on the radio in his cockpit and contacted Flanagan "How's it going on your side, Floyd?"

"""Pretty good, almost no opposition. We've deployed the flamethrowers in the narrow corridors and we'r- Fry those slimeballs!-"""

"Flanagan! Do you copy? Floyd, answer me, dammit!" Kane yelled upon hearing the fighting in the background.

"""Sorry, Sir, but I think we just found their CCC. I'll report back once we've secured it. Flanagan out."""

As they walked down the road in a secure formation the troopers encountered little to no resistance. XVII Penal moved between the tall buildings as a flock of locusts, one trooper after another jumped towards the next doorway or narrow alley in front of them to seek cover while they slowly advanced on the UNE Garrison. Once and again shadows moved past hastily shut windows and occasionally a pot-shot was aimed at the invaders. The worst they have to be afraid off are rocks and small furniture which is thrown by civilians.

"Are you insane, woman? Get to the shelters before you're killed!" A trooper yelled to one such stonethrower with two children. "And get your kids out of here."

Soon after several sharp whistles are heard and a trooper fell down riddled with bullets. Seeing his comrade fall down, radioman Sims roared out almost instinctively: "SNIPER!"

Upon yelling all hell broke loose. From seemingly every window gunbarrels appeared spewing out metal death. The ambushed soldiers jumped for cover behind parked cars, doorsteps and everything that could be used as a shield. XVII Penal is pinned down in a narrow bottle-necked street, taking fire from elevated positions and several gun emplacements placed in the display windows of the local shops. Under a hail of returning fire Sergeant Sheen barked orders to every capable trooper. "Roodsy, fall back two buildings! HEDGEHOG FORMATION! Medic, take care of the wounded-" He lifted his head from the butt of his rifle, to face the medic, only to find a civilian crawling behind some rubble. A mother and, what appeared to be, her baby. "DAMN! Get those civvies outta here!"

Trooper Fonsa, with sharp mongolian features and a nasty cut above his left eye, sprung as fast as lightning from his cover. Slinging his rifle over his back while he doubletimed it to the people in need. Dodging passing bullets, shrapnel and falling dirt he reached the ones in need. But when Fonsa crossed eyes with the woman and saw her baby, he tried to turn back and run for cover. As he did he slipped over rubble on the ground and struggled to crawl back up. Sheen saw the terror in Fonsa's eyes when the woman raised the baby above her head and screamed on the top of her lungs "FOR THE EARTH!"

A blazing explosion lighted up briefly before smoke filled up the spot where Fonsa and the suicide bomber stood. Chunks of dirt and rock showered down in the street.

When Sergeant Sheen came back to his senses he found himself against a wall under debris and pieces of poor Fonsa. He felt the blood on his hands when he realised he's unable to get up. A gaping wound, where his spleen used to be, prevented him from doing so. In front of him the slaughter continued. Must warn thewarnMajor

With waining strength Sheen was able to crawl to the body of radioman Sims, who didn't survive the explosion, nearby. He reached for the radio and managed to swing the receiver on his shoulder. As he lowered his head down on the same shoulder as the receiver Sheen tried to contact Kane.

"One-Seven-Papa-Bravo. Major… Come in- This… is an emergency!"

"""Sims, is that you? What the hell."""

"It's Sergeant Sheen, Sir. Sims is dead. Ambushed… Many casualties- They're all around us! Need assistance…"

"""I've got my hands full! Can you hold out?"""

"Broken Arrow, Sir… Broken Arrow!" Sheen managed to blurt out before he finally succumbed to his injuries.

On the other side of the colony near the UNE Garrison HQ Michel Kane sat baffled in his Jenice mobile suit. Broken Arrow; he thought; That means they're almost overrun and Kane scowled and cursed in his cockpit as he turned his MS around to face the centre of the colony. He ignored the soldiers on the ground whose bullets ricocheted of the MS' armor. "Damn it! I was hoping not to use this."

Slowly he pulled up his targeting handle which brought the GA-rifle to bear on three preset targets inside the colony. Kane hesitated for a brief second before he ignored the bad vibe and squeezed the trigger. It was one of the few times where he took the shot with his eyes closed. Since the start of the mission he couldn't shake this weird feeling about the new weapon.

As if guided by unseen hands the three gas cannisters followed their trajectory. One went almost entirely to the north side, the second one to the south side and the last one went for the dead centre of the colony. Choreographed by the internal timers the GA-cannisters exploded as if three geisers just erupted. In a matter of seconds the brownish water evaporated into caramel-coloured clouds of gas which drifted towards the three landmasses, slowly consuming everything until a thick layer of brown mist covered the ground. The fighting died off in the following ten minutes.

Michel let out a sigh of relief as he sank down in his chair. It looked like it worked after all, but their job wasn't over. The surviving troopers rose from their positions to check out their own dead and wounded. Some moved forward to unarm the unconscious UNE soldiers.

Medic Rast scowled as he's busy with applying a field dressing on a nasty gunwound on a trooper's shoulder. It's rather difficult to do this simple procedure in this brown fog with a dampened gasmask visor.

"Damn it, Doc! That freaking hurts." The trooper yelled through his clenched teeth. "It burns!"

"Don't be such a baby, Colleck. And keep still."

"It doesn't feel like a normal gunshot, Rast. I'm feeling sick, can't breathe and I'm shivering like crazy. On top of that I got cold sweat. Is that -AARGH- that normal?"

"That's weird, probably just shock." Rast muttered, more to himself than to Colleck, while he searched his backpack for morfine and pulled out a vial. He turned back to Colleck only to find him unconscious and automatically laid two fingers on the neck to search for vital signs. "Hey, wake up. This is no time for-" The vitals are gone.

In the meanwhile Michel Kane had moved his Jenice so that it kneeled on its right leg and used the left arm as a lift to the ground. He walked across the open road, pistol in hand and gasmask over his head, towards the UNE Garrison building. It's eerily quiet. The six guards that were stationed outside the gates had collapsed like sacks of potatoes, no sign of struggle to stay awake, not one that tried to grab his gasmask. They fell asleep peacefully, their mouthes cramped in a faint smile. The GA did its job in earnest. Then the walkie talkie on his belt started making noise.

"This is Kane, what's up?"

"""Sir! We've got a situation. They're all dead.""" The voice sounds panicky. It's Rast.

"What? Explain yourself, Rast. Where are you?" Kane growled while he kept walking towards the gate of the Garrison. Something gnawed at the back of his head, that bad feeling about the GA. He needed to inspect the soldiers. If it really was the gas, then he is responsible for this. This is way beyond war crimes. It's genocide.

"""Corrick bought it, Sir. They all did! The Nates… Even our wounded. We- they made us use nerve gas!"""

Nerve gas…

After having searched for a pulse on all six of the bodies, Kane had to agree. His head started spinning, making it hard to think sober. Words hastily came out as he ran back to his cockpit.

"All dead- How…This can't be real-"

"""High Command set us up!"""

Maybe it's not too late, maybe the air can get filtered. Flanagan must have captured the CCC by now. He could pull it off! Michel looked up in the sky and focused on the part of the central cilinder where the CCC would be located.

"Floyd, come in! Listen to me. It's imperative that you filter the air ASAP. Override the security measures, and start pumping in the oxygen from the emergency tanks."

On that same moment the middle part of the central cilinder exploded, lighting the sky bright orange with fire. Because of the zero-gravity in the centre the debris fell down, upwards and sideways; all around. Fire consumed the remaining pieces of the central cilinder but without gravity it looked as if the fire was alive, hopelessly trying to get a hold of something.

"Don't do this to me… Floyd!" Michel Kane screamed out as he fell to his knees "Not here, not like this…"

And now it sank in what he did. What the SRA did. All those lives rendered expendable because they weren't considered Newtypes. Even he and his men are just tools of Seidel Rasso, ready to be thrown away at the snap of his fingers. Kane unknowingly committed mass murder for that madman. He dragged his men into this; this sheer madness. If only he hadn't tried to save that girl, all of this wouldn't have happened. Flanagan would still be alive. He and his men could have died for a cause worth it, instead they met their end while accomplishing one of the biggest war crimes in this conflict. The guilt is just too much.

What have I done…

He looked to the pistol still in his hand and for a second the embrace of death seemed the best way out of this hell. Just a short pain. Kane knew he could never make up for what happened. He cursed himself while tears welled up in his eyes. Even through the rubber layer of the gasmask the cold steel barrel made his temple twitch. The pistol cocked, eyes closed and a final apology was said. The second it took to pull the trigger seemed to last forever.

Nothing. Absolutely nothing. The gun failed, that's SRA weaponry for you. Disappointed Michel Kane looked at the gun and noticed that the bullet got jammed, half in the chamber and the other half in the magazine. A sign?

Half an hour, forty minutes later. The surviving troopers returned to the Mosquito, dragging along their dead and wounded on improvised stretchers or the shoulder of a comrade. Among them Michel Kane stumbled guiltstrikken and defeated, feeling hopelessly lost in the sea of people and corpses. At the ship NT-Lt. Grahl was nervously pacing up and down the hangar and came to a sudden stop when he saw Kane approaching. A disdain grin of success against the Nates grew on his face, whatever was over him in the beginning of the mission had completely dissappeared. A few metres behind the main group a lone scout came running to catch up. He stopped near Kane and had to bend over, with his hands on his knees, to catch his breath.

"Sir. No survivors in any of the shelters. The gas creeped in somehow. I'm sorr-"

"I really didn't think you had it in you. Kane." Lt. Grahl yelled across the hangar, interrupting the scout. "Another colony cleansed of UNE vermin. Good job! You might be a Newtype after all."

Something snapped inside his mind when he heared the word 'Newtype'. Mass murder as a justification of Rasso's laughable ideology? The same man that sentenced him and his men to this place to die no doubt. Don't these people care one bit about the lives of innocent people? Kane cried out his disgust, rushed forward slamming Grahl against the hull of the Mosquito. He burrowed his elbow deep into Grahl's throat. "What was that? Good job? You bastard!"

Michel Kane loosened his grip only to punch him hard in the stomach. Crawling on hands and knees Grahl tried to order for help. But all in vain, the soldiers listen only to their own commander and watched indifferently to the beating. And Grahl realised that too when Kane's boot swooped up three times plowing into different parts of his body.

"You knew all along! Didn't you Newtypes have the guts to do it yourself? You don't even want to see what you're responsible for."

The group of troopers, gathered around the two, split into two sides to let Kane pass, who dragged Grahl along by his hair. They stopped at the inner baydoor which was still open from the beginning of the mission, the colony interior still covered in the caramel-coloured mist. Grahl refused to look, so Michel Kane forced him to with a chokehold. With his one free hand he screwed off the filter of Grahl's gasmask, who in turn started to whimper not to.

"Look. Look at it, damn you! Is this what Rasso's Spacenoid Independence is all about in the end? We kill our own. And we were dumb enough to believe and fight for that garbage. Here, take a closer look!"

"No, Kane! Please-GAAKH!"

Grabbing Grahl, who was coughing and begging frantically for his life, by his collar and belt, Kane hurled him into the colony interior. He fell on the slope and rolled down at amazing speed. Kicking and screaming, trying to grab hold of something, Grahl dissappeared in the brown fog. Michel Kane yelled at him on top of his lungs. "Twenty million colonists dead. Fifty of my boys are gone. All because of me, of what I did, yet the dead intervened when I tried to kill myself. But I bet they'll be more than happy with your miserable life!"

As Grahl rolled down the steep hill across rocks, dirt and branches, Kane aimed his pistol. This time the earlier jammed bullet flew out alongside with eight of its brothers and helped to put an end to the screaming as well the life of NT-Lt. Grahl.

"For the glorious cause of the Revolution!" He couldn't have yelled it more sarcastic, more resentful. Finally Michel could relax, Grahl's execution could never make up for what happened here today but it was a step in the right direction. He turned his attention to an already freaked out Cillis and motioned him closer by.

"Cillis, my boy. Take some men and go to what's left of the CCC. Gather the dead, we leave no man behind."

Behind them, in one of the small corridors a voice laughed. It sounded wounded but still victorious. "My radio gets hit in the crossfire and everyone assumes I'm dead. Have some faith in my skills, Mitch."

Mitch. Only one man called him that way. It can only be Kane turned around and stared his adjudant in the eyes as he and his team stumbled through the doorway. "Floyd, you're alive! You're hurt bad?"

"Bah. Cuts and bruises, a cracked rib or two..." Flanagan showed his left hand, a bloodied handkerchief wrapped around it, and laughed. "… and two fingers lying around here somewhere. Relax, it's nothing a year's worth of R&R can't fix."