Disclaimer: I do not own, in any shape, way or form, any rights to Muv-Luv franchise and its associated trademarks.

"To find your greatest enemy, it is enough to look into the mirror"

The dark corridor grew bright as a single machine raced through its depths. Seemingly alone, the dark-painted craft became a blur as it dodged turns and slowly climbed towards the light, far, far away.

"Comet-3" The Command Post reported. "You have passed Waypoint Gamma. Time: - 1:35 minutes from previous record."

Inside one of the countless command rooms within Area 51, a group of military officers tensely watched as their latest machine sped through the Halls of Hive, dodging and destroying its opposition in a flash.

Although such tests were carried out in the past, today was particularly special, as the machine was not tested by just any pilot, but one that witnessed the horrors of war personally.

Wilma Bishop confidently stared at the screens, her pitch-black uniform making her visually distinct from the waves of Army Green. The number 2 on Comet flight, Capt. Max J. Grey stood on her right, silently observing the progress as well.

"You're in awfully good mood m'am." He whispered.

"Only two days, and he pilots it like he always did it." She whispered back. "Just as expected out of Yuuya, he always delivers."

Within the cockpit of his F-22 EMD Phase II Raptor, Yuuya grunted as a gush of G-force slammed into him despite the best efforts of his suit. He stole a glance at top left corner of his HuD. The positioning icon remained nearly flawlessly on-centre even as he pulled tight turns and pushed the airbreaks to their limits.

Say what you will about the ATSF project, but this thing could fly.

As he passed another waypoint, the sides of the Hall begun to crawl with shapes – first indistinct, but then clearing into a visible shape of Tank-class BETA. As if on cue, several of the dropped from ceiling, out for his blood.

"Not today you cheeky fucks."

The Raptor effortlessly outran the falling creatures, its back rack rising as two remaining AWMS rifles came to life and churned Tanks into a clunky salsa with several expertly-paced salvoes. Pulling Raptor into a tight turn, Yuuya pushed into the last leg of its flight, as sunlight begun to shine from the proverbial end of the tunnel.

That didn't mean the BETAs were willing to part with him that easily.

Angry-red Tanks begun to drop from ceiling like bats, their hands, legs and mouth outstretched as they lunged at lone Raptor. But none managed to even come close, as they were either outmaneuvered and left to fall to their deaths, or gotten an express date with a 36mm bullet.

"Command Post to Comet-3, final waypoint reached, simulation end." The voice from HuD commented again, as the view around Yuuya begun to disintegrate into lines of code, before blinking and returning to natural vision – showing Yuuya the landscape of Nevada's salt lakes from high above.

"Analysis completed." The voice continued. "The overall time has been reduced by 6 minutes. No damage suffered to the craft. Congratulations Lieutenant."

"Comet-3 roger. Returning to base."

The Raptor instantly turned on its back, before beginning to lazily cruise back to the Area 51.

"So, Yuuya" It was the distinct voice of his commander, who had most likely snatched the headset from some poor bridge bunny. "How is it?"

"To be honest, the way how quickly it responds to commands and how much power it can unleash, it's a bit disorienting at first…but once you get that under control and use it, I don't think this machine can be matched. Although from professional Diver standpoint, the lack of any close-quarters improvements over Eagle is a bit disappointing."

"I see. Well, it isn't the YF-23. Although I'm sure we can work something out. Oh, and you have further tactical training with Infinities this afternoon. Have fun."

Yuuya could only sigh. His commander would never change, would she?

1420, Nevada Desert

"Infinity-2, 3, you're too far away!" Yuuya cursed his luck as he went over the same portion of JIVES simulation again. "You're creating too big of an opening for Tank-class to come through!"

"They can't latch on to us anyway." Leon retorted. "And this way, we can deal with Destroyers faster!"

"Idiot. The Destroyers are small fries. While you're busy shooting them, either Tank- or Grappler-class can sneak in and kill you. And because you rushed out, your partner won't be there to help you! This isn't your precious anti-TSF training!"

Leon annoyingly clicked his tongue as he slashed another Grappler to pieces with his knives. It has been almost a week since the Comet flight begun its evaluation. During this time, the remaining two F-22 models were brought online, and it was decided that it would be the best if Comet flight could join them in Raptors for the training.

However, as the Colonel was required to attend various boardroom meetings with both other officers and designers, it mean that the ones manning the machines would be Captain Grey and his wingman…Yuuya Bridges.

And to be honest, he was starting to be a little sick of their preaching.

"We move out" He paused as he chopped one too-greedy Tank "Because we know each other and trust to match up with us. Or are you implying that the trust between teammates is irrelevant?"

"Lieutenant Bridges implies no such thing." Several Grapplers exploded as another Raptor swopped in between him and Yuuya, firing full auto from all four guns. "However, he makes a valid point of questioning your confidence…unfounded confidence. It's one thing to play hero when everyone needs it, another to keep your place in ranks and not get killed…like, right now."

As if to punctuate Max's words, collision alarms rang out in Leon's cockpit. "From behind!?"

With lightning quick movement, the Raptor turned around to face a charging Destroyer-class. Applying full thrust to its engines, the machine revolved on one leg, narrowly side-stepping the creature…however, the leap in the firerate proved fatal and several Tank-classes almost immediately jumped all over the Raptor – their greedy mouths supposedly ripping off armor and joints, which JIVES represented by rapidly decreasing the Raptor's performance. No sooner, a well-aimed strike to the cockpit by a Grappler rendered Leon 'KIA', in spite of Yuuya's nearly instant intercept.

"Well" The captain said. "That's it for theory. Now let's put that into practice."

It had been well after noon when Infinities returned to base for a little resupply, while their newfound "instructors" begun to lecture Infinities on the missteps.

"Here-" Max continued as he reviewed one the guncam's footages on hastily arranged viewing screen in one of the waiting rooms. "By dodging that Tank in this direction, you came too close to that Grappler. Your dodge of it was not the best choice either – although a small hop like that will not get you target by a Laser-class, it may not normally be enough to actually dodge Grappler's claws.

Guylos McCloud solemnly nodded. "What was the best bet then?"

"A rapid horizontal dash to the back will usually suffice, if you have enough space. Alternatively, you can always try to block it. According to the manuals, a Strike Eagle's arm should be able to withstand the blow without much damage, a Raptor shouldn't be that different. If you're forced into a really tight quarters, you might not have a choice but to do so. Continuing." The footage now moved to the point where Guylos and Leon separated. "Here you separated while covering 1st Lt. and Sharon, to gain more ground right? But with regular number of the BETA, this won't work as you simply create too many openings for them to pass through. "

"We had managed to divert Tank-classes away from objective however."

"And gotten Leon over there killed. Trained pilots are worth more than all the BETAs in the world Mr. McCloud."

"But then-" Leon chipped in "when are we supposed to gain initiative?"

"You don't get it do you?" Yuuya piqued in. Momentarily, the stares of Infinities begun to focus on him; it was not a nice feeling, but he could live with that. As much as he disliked Leon he was not about to botch his given assignment. So he felt he could rub it in a little bit if it made a point about fighting BETA that Leon would remember.

"BETAs are nowhere near human. They almost always have the advantage, they do not suffer from low morale, do not depend on conventional supplies, they do not tire. They do not balk at casualties and will continue to advance until either you or them are destroyed." He sharply glared at Leon to hammer the point home. "Taking the initiative works with humans. Not with BETA. This isn't about glory. Everyone: you, your comrades; has to do their part not to win, but to survive. Then you can start gaining experience and decide on what method of suicide know as heroism is the most fitting for you. "

"Really now Bridges; take Japan for example" Leon's own eye narrowed. "Their own troops, unless situation is dire prefer to close in on the enemy, and press the advantage. Their soldiers don't flinch from carrying out charges or taking point. Partially because that's how their doctrine works, but also because all Japanese pilots trust each other. They don't doubt can he keep up with me? Because he either can or they will all die."

Yuuya clenched his fist. Leon was doing it again. "The same pride has also prevented the Japanese from withdrawing around Yokohama, and suffered massive casualties as result. I'm not saying you don't need pride, but you need to know when."

Both Keith Blazer and Max worriedly looked between their subordinates, as the air became visibly electrified. Even Guylos shifted in his seat uncomfortably.

"…Heh." Yuuya let out a sigh. "Since you either choose, or simply can't understand what I'm talking about, I'll let us work that out in practice."

"Oh?" Leon's eyebrow arched. "Go on, Professor."

Yuuya just smirked.

Several hours later, Nevada Desert

"…But you know, I didn't expect Wildy to actually go along with it" Max commented as they sat in the cockpit of his Raptor. "4 vs 2 annihilation mission…seriously, you want our honor to be that badly mauled?"

"Wildy seems confident in that we can win. And so do I." Yuuya replied as he had his targeting systems slowly scan the small ravine where they were hidden. Although it was unlikely that it would pick up any targets, given the F-22's stealth capacity.

In the aftermath of the discussion, Yuuya proposed that the whole group would hold impromptu vs exercises. The Comet flight (specifically him and Max) would go up against the Infinities. The only conditions were the total annihilation of the enemy.

Surprisingly, Colonel Bishop readily agreed, as did Base Command. Yuuya had a distinct feeling that both were related.

He squinted his eyes, and the TSF automatically begun to augment the display as the camera lenses focused. Somewhere several kilometers above the ground, flew a spread out formation of Infinities. Yuuya scoffed; he wondered which bright idiot at Dreamland figured that black of all colors would be good one for camouflage. Well, it wasn't – even at night, it was a pretty bad color scheme, and made you stand out for miles…triple so in the desert.

"I have a visual confirmation on the targets. Doesn't look like they know we're here." He tagged and uploaded the Raptors to the element's own tactical net, so that Max could notice the as well. Truly, the wonders of shared communications and laser-based uplinks were limitless.

"Still pretty spread out, are they…? Hmm that gives me an idea, Yuuya" Max's face broke into a grin on the HuD. "Wanna hear it?"

The lock-on alerts blared inside Infinities cockpits as the machines were directly targeted. Keith Blazer cursed as first shot narrowly missed his cockpit, although a few still managed to hit his arm, painting it bright red.

The two Raptors were charging from a small ravine, not lifting from the ground, their position made rather obvious due to trailing dust clouds.

"Here they come!" He shouted at his squadron as it instantly shifted into half-moon intercept formation. "Close in on the and surround them! Then we'll just pound them to dust."

"I think they're pissed" Yuuya observed as three Raptor's rapidly closed in on them firing.

"And whose fault is that? Stick with the plan."

"Yes sir".

The trio of Raptors descended like hungry bird of preys to circle their opponents. Even though the encirclement wasn't completed, it still left the Comet element only one route of escape, which was exposed from both flanks.

But Comets took it anyway. The jump-jets swiveled and aimed at the ground in typical fashion that indicated upcoming jump, and fired. And almost immediately, a cloud of dust blasted into Infinites face. Without thinking, both pilots twisted their machines around on the ground, kicking up even more dust, before falling in to the left.

"T-the dust!" Sharon shouted surprised. "They're using dust to their advantage!"

Alerts blazed in Guylos' craft as both OPFOR Raptors closed in on him through the dust. Without wasting his time, he deployed both PB knives, while deploying his back arms forward with their deadly payload. A close barrage of 36mm rounds forced Raptors to separated and alerted his allies – but with chaotic visibility, it wasn't possible for them to aim without risking friendly fire.

He parried the first blow, before pulling a tight 180 degree swing, exposing his enemy to back weapons which already swung back; but the enemy did not press forward.

Instead, a barrage of shots repainted his knee block and side thrusters.

"Infinity-3, suffered extensive damage to Right block. TSF has been disabled. Cease all movement."

That made one down. The Comet TSFs raced out of the subsiding cloud, swiftly dodging the fire from Infinity-1 as they went. But just as they took off, the remaining two Infinities regrouped and begun pursuing their targets.

Now enjoying the advantage in height, the other Raptors effortlessly dodged the shots . But rather then return fire, the units begun to withdraw.

"They're not pressing the advantage?" Leon whispered. Now that's unusual…normally Yuuya would be after us like a dog. What is he planning?

"Don't give them the chance to rest!" Infinity-1 chided as he joined Sharon and Leon in the formation. "We still have an advantage over them! Keep your distance and mark targets!"

"It's about the time, right?" Yuuya questioned his partner, who nodded. "Let's roll buddy."

The Comet Raptors swiftly fell out of sky as their boosts were cut, before fired again, sending the rocketing towards approaching Infinity formation. Paint bullets flew by millimeters, and few even hit, but none of the hits managed to score serious damage.

Suddenly, the two Raptors separated. As one Infinity machine begun to track it on a new trajectory, the other opposing Raptor rapidly closed in, before pulling into a rapid deceleration as it boosters swung forward, unleashing a barrage of 120mm shells, before breaking off. As both machines moved out of the way, Sharon was finally able to acquire a concrete lock over the other's Raptor jamming, and took the chance to pursue it. Before the others could back her up, Yuuya swooped in from the skies, blocking the way.

"Hold it right there pals. Your opponent is gonna be me."

Sharon grunted as G-force pounded into her despite the protective Reinforced Suit. The targeting scope trailed millimeters behind her target, and no matter what she did, the enemy machine hung just before it, as if mocking her.

Suddenly, the machine flew in a straight line, and targeting computer finally acquired a solid firing solution. As a long been alerted her, Sharon pushed forward on the throttle, not about to miss this chance.

But Max had already foreseen it.

His machine banked upwards, before cutting back the throttle and opening air brakes for seconds, before closing them again. The Raptor jerked, and in a single fluid motion hopped backwards behind stunned Sharon.


A barrage of 36mm rounds hit her from behind, painting black Raptor red.

"CP to Infinity-4. Direct hits to entire back section and jump-jets. Damage destroyed your TSF. Cease all movement."

A streak of angry bullets cut the sky as last two Infinities chased after Yuuya.

"You're getting annoying, Bridges!" Keith shouted.

"I'll take that as a compliment sir." He grinned as he pulled into a tight turn and dashed at an angle to both machines, responding to their barrages with a salvo of his own. There was a brief curse and Yuuya noticed how one of the Raptors dumped its AMWS.

"Is that you Leon? You still move like a cow. Aren't your Jap ancestors meant to have a saying about this?"

"Fuck. You." Leon seethed on the comms. "Like you can talk."

"How about you come over here and fight me, instead of dancing like a little bitch? Or is that all you Yellows can do?"

One of the Raptors charged at him, it's PB knives drawn.

"Dammit Kuze! He's provoking you, you moron!" Yuuya smiled. He had one chance now. Only one chance to finish this match.

not yet…not yet…NOW!

His own Raptor charged straight into Leon, Yuuya's mech left leg curled. Gaining altitude, he dropped it on Leon, slamming it into his armor before switching to full jump.

"Oh Fuck." Keith said.

F-22A was meant to possess a supercruise ability –that is, to reach Mach speed without usage of afterburners. And that it did – so when afterburners were set to maximum for even a moment, it meant that Raptor was really fast.

Faster than any human could react, or for a computer system to acquire lock.

The last think Keith saw before his eye sensors were painted red was a black blur.

"CP to Infinity-1. Critical damage suffered. Cease all movement."

Yuuya was beginning to feel tired as he pushed his TSF to the limit as Leon's Raptor continued to stick to his tail. Both of the back AMWS kept firing, but no bullets hit. Whatever he might think of Leon, that man wasn't a bad pilot.

"W-where's your lecturing now, mutt?" Leon panted as he struggled to keep up with Yuuya. No matter how close he got to that man, he just wouldn't give up and slipped away again. "You were always good at being jerk."

"Me? You're the one who keeps rubbing it in my face that being Japanese is so damm awesome. But like everyone from that place, you can't do shit by yourself, and never thank for the help!"

"Hahahaha. You're just as ignorant as all the people who give you the hard time. You think I have it easy? But at least I have the back bone to accept who I really am. Unlike you. And that's your problem!"

Leon kept lecturing him as he kept up with Yuuya and begun to close in. Yuuya cursed and pulled his TSF into a tight reverse, but Leon was faster. His blows landed quick and fast. Catching up the slowing TSF as it just begun to air-break, he pushed it down.

Yuuya twisted his controls, but to no avail. Almost all TSFs had an automatic reply to high-speed large impact – mainly that they would freeze up. It was meant as a both anti-fall and anti-collision mechanism to limit the damage joints would suffer when two machines flew into each other at "non-lethal" speeds, or when inexperienced pilots fell into the ground.

Of course, the risk that the failsafe would active in BETA dogfight meant that for most combat-ready machines, the mechanism was linked to both central gyros and speedometers. When the machine became too unstable in flight or begun to stall, the controls would begun to get sluggish, until completely locked out. The theory behind this was that it prevented pilots from pulling into turns or position that would cause the TSF to fall or stall in flight.

However, in this particular case, Leon used that to his advantage, putting Yuuya in a position where his TSF computers temporarily froze his controls. Capitalizing on that, he pushed his machine down, causing Yuuya to crash-land.

Leons' Raptor landed above him, his knives held backwards. Truly, the sight was more evocative of a warrior ready to execute his hated enemy, than a "friendly" spar.

"At least I…" Leon breathed. "Have the pride to acknowledge who I am. Because that's what it comes down to, isn't it? Your own petty revenge on the Japanese. But you will never be American. ..and the longer you keep shitting on your linage, the more people will hate you. After all…if a man does not even trust his own birth, how can he himself be trusted?"

"And you know what's your fault? You talk too damn much."

As if to punctuate Yuuya's words, a burst of 120mm rounds slammed into Leon's TSF from behind it, rocking it as massive paint capsules burst, splashing bright red liquid over the cobalt paint.

'CP to Infinity-2. Critical damage suffered to cockpit block. Your TSF has been destroyed. Cease all movement."

Leon sat shocked in his cockpit. This was impossible. It simply wasn't possible that Sharon would let herself be beaten in such a short span of time…!

"…Do you get it now, Leon?" Yuuya's voice was only framed in the resentment that he was used to. It sounded more…resigned, but somewhat amused. It reeked of pity. "Just now…you fought to stick it up to me, and prove that I was being wrong. Your commander was right – I provoked you to break formation. And I knew that it would work; otherwise I would have never proposed such operation. Anyway" he shook his head "As long as you continue to fly with such a pride for your motivation, you will never be able to defeat the BETA." Yuuya's golden eyes hardened "Your idiocy will one day commit everything to ruin. Mission, squadron and yourself. As long as you don't realize this, you're useless to us."

The other Raptor got back on its feet, before jumping away back to the base.

"Why don't you think about that for a while?"

Far, far away, Wilma Bishop smiled as the command of Nellis Military Base and Area 51 silently started at the video feeds. She had to admit, Yuuya's idea was nice, hammered the point they were trying to make and most of all – it gave her enormous satisfaction wherever the Green's nose was just a little bit scrubbed.

Undoubtedly now, Anderson would get his political ammunition for continuing Orbital Diver program, and make the TSF competition changes that Army command was mulling since early 90s. All in a days of hard work.

"Even so…that must have hit close to home for him…maybe I should get a gift basket or something…?"

Yuuya sighed, as he let the cool streams of water wash down along his body. It was a long day and he was dead tired – and so this single, cool shower would probably be the last nice thing he would do today.

And probably the only one.

"After all…if a man does not even trust his own birth, how can he himself be trusted…?"

He scowled at that. Some part of his of course knew that Leon was not without reason, and that a lot of his hatred towards the man was irrational.

But Yuuya simply couldn't agree with him. He refused to go down from the path he had chosen for life, nor would he ever accepted begin who he was.

But just sometimes, he had to ask himself: Was it worth it?

Because if he wasn't Japanese, and Americans refused to see him as one of them, then who was he?

"Child of the two worlds huh?" he bitterly though. "Floating in a void from one cause to another…I suppose, in a way, that's a life to, but is it really worth my effort? Shades of grey goes only so far…people who declare themselves to one cause in particular will always have more friends than drifters like me…But then, if I abandon my path in life then I will be just like…that man…"

Yuuya gritted his teeth. He hated this feeling. Thinking about his ethnicity always induced this pathetically esoteric-something lingo that he absolutely couldn't get out of. And especially after he just lectured a bunch of test pilots on pride. The irony is probably drowning in its saliva by now.

" …Its not wrong to be stubborn. But, I can't stand stubbornness for stubbornness' sake. This isn't about your past Yuuya, it's about you being afraid to acknowledge yourself. There's nothing wrong with having many sides to you…but I guess, that's too much to be expected out of you."

He punched the wall in anger as he tried to forget this one memory…his last conversation with Sharon. Despite him muddling up the details to Vincent, Yuuya remembered that day well…too well, in fact.

Back then…he wondered if Sharon wasn't simply being right for a change. Even before he signed up for the Space Force and met Max or Colonel, he considered that.

But he simply rejected that when he found her with Leon.

He felt so…humiliated back then. And then, it led to anger. Not a passionate outburst, but a seething, lasting hatred, that colored everything he thought of.

Yuuya sighed as he turned off the water tap. Letting Leon's petty taunts get to me when I started it…Jesus, I'm fucking pathetic. If Wildy saw me like this, she's probably rape my sorry ass and toss it into nearest rubbish bin."

The life went on, and as long as the there were BETA to kill, there was a hope he could make himself more productive than engage in semi-philosophical bull over his own identity . What do tomorrow, do after tomorrow as Spark would say"

Well, at least no-one so far had forced him to work with the Japanese, and his commanders had the better sense then to press the subject.

Here's to hoping, it won't change, right?


"White Fang 5 to White Fang 1! My left engine is his, I can't-" The rest of the sentence was cut off by a sharp buzz that made one Yui Takamura wince. "This makes fourth…"

A small circle of the Japanese Imperial Royal Guards stood their ground, a mixture of Type-00s and Type-94s blasting and slashing away at their inhumane foes. BETA corpses piled-up around them and barrels grew white-hot, becoming seemingly the only illumination in the vast, underground cavern.

"This is White-Fang 3. Numbers 6 and 7 have been lost. We're unable to fix the wire to Central Command. Receiving no communication for any allied units."

"Damn it…Is this the furthers we can go?"

"W-white Fang 4 to One! We're detecting massive seismic flux…it seems like an incoming Destroyer charge!"

Yui clicked her tongue. It seemed like fate offered her a chance to fight through to another day, yet denied her the prize she was after.

"Listen up!" She resolutely shouted into the squadron's comms. "We will now commence a general retreat. Units 4,8,11 and 12 will follow 3. Me and 2 will be the rear guard. The plan is as follows – as the Destroyers approach us, group led by 3 will fire explosive rounds at curved trajectory in-between them! Then me and Shimazu will fire directly at front of BETA phalanx. If successful, it should scatter the Destroyers. The Shiranui group will then use this to escape into the Drift-95 and enter Shaft 14 and proceed to withdraw. We will cover!"

It took less than seconds for pilots to grasp her strategy.

"They're here" White Fang 2, Shimazu Kurou, noted.

"All units, fire on my command!" Yui yelled, as her yellow Takemikazuchi reloaded its guns.

"Destroyers coming in at 1500 meters. Multiple BETA flanking!" 3 reported.

"You're clear to use secondary guns to suppress the flankers. But do not fire at the main target!"

"Destroyers at 1000 mark!"

"NOT YET!...950…900…Fire! All units fire!"

At her command, the 120mm guns of Japanese TSFs howled, ejecting their lethal payload. Traversing the distance in seconds, the shots begun to fall amidst the charging horde, which spread through the sea of BETA like tsunami through a clam beach.

The high-explosive shells were not great against Destroyers – although powerful, they simply lacked the penetration power to break their carapace. But that would have mattered only if Yui chose exterminate them. As rounds flew in between the BETA, they detonated into ground, kicking-up plumes of dust, rock and occasional stream of blood. The Destroyers wobbled as the ground beneath them suddenly stopped being solid, which Yui and her wingmate utilized to fire more 120mm shells underneath them. A series of explosions rocked the BETA, throwing them up and down like helpless toy trains.

"NOW! The way is clear! Break through!"

The Shiranui squadron instantly raced forward, raising into flight just above to immobilized Destroyers, and out-of-reach for other BETA, while the final two Type-00s made sure that none would get too smart to change that. As Yui's blood-stained machine begun to withdraw, she breathed a sigh of relief.

Getting to 3000 meter mark within a simulation with no support and only 50% losses was a good result.

And that devastated her all the more.

It seemed like no matter what she did, the Imperial forces just couldn't win.

"Even though we managed to improve the Shiranui Mk. 1-C…even its' power can get us only so far and we just don't have the resources to spare to mass-produce the Takemikazuichi…even if command agreed to it."

As much as she loathed to admit it, Japan was reaching the end of the line.

As the simulation broke apart around her into streams of code and pixels, she tightened the grip on her control sticks.

"Despite everything we lost…we have no more leverage against the BETA then when we started…Before long, we will either have to beg for help, or loose…"

And no matter how she wished it to be otherwise, she knew it would most likely occur within her life time.

But what would it take for the world to help Japan? Europe was in even worse situation, and despite being sympathetic, it simply did not have resources to spare. Rest of Asian block was worse-off than Japan, and she didn't even want to think of what kind of outrageous demands those UFC rascals would demand.

And then, there was America.

Yui scoffed. American help was rarely worth anything. It took years for them to even deploy their orbital corps to war, as if America was in a world without BETA at all. Yui figured that such kind of help was both unneeded, and wouldn't likely be given anyway, unless havens itself would fall on that nation.

She had absolutely no idea how correct that curse would be.


It looked more like a doughnut then a space station.

A ring with arms connecting to a main central shaft, the station was nearly 600 meters in diameter and 200 in "height". It's inside? A dozen of maintenance tunnels, miles of capable, sensor nodes, communication matrixes and computers. But most of all, dozens of ballistic missiles, most of which were nuclear-tipped.

The SHADOW – a system of satellites built around Earth at geosynchronous orbit, it was meant as Earth's first line of defense. The numerous satellites, linked together via datalinks to numerous space telescopes and spy satellites, could detect arriving Hive core units from the Moon (or theoretically, Mars or other planetary body as well), and launch nuclear missiles to blow them off-course. It was an invisible shield meant to stop the situation on Earth from getting even worse.

Too bad it was built only after BETAs had arrived on Earth in force.

Regardless, now that it existed, the network was one of the most crucial defense systems for all mankind. As such, it was nominally under the control of United Nations Space Command, which ensured that all nations received appropriate "coverage" from the satellites. However, as most nations simply did not have the resources to build or maintain those stations, it meant that in practice, the construction, and operation, of SHADOW fell to the shoulders of few specific nations.

Such as the United States of America.

As a mainly American initiative, the U.S Space Command was responsible for de facto construction of all installations, and the maintenance of the most of them – the only real exception were the satellites positioned above the former USSR, whose government had categorically denied any sort of "Western interference" over the protection of their homeland, never mind the fact that they had almost no resources to spare to maintain said objects. Luckily though, the Soviet military command had a little more sense, and at least managed to strike a deal with the U.N to manage the satellites for them.

Not that the maintenance was really such an impossible task – in reality, most of the time it meant a routine resupply of on-board cruise missiles, checking targeting systems and status of CIWS installed on-board. Nothing really serious, but something that in itself was meant to be done often – and only the U.N and U.S had the ability to operate nearly indefinitely in Space.

And so, the crew of the Space Shuttle Endeavour slowly, patiently and methodically worked around the surface of the vast station.

Technically, each station was tactically independent, ran by its own OS rather than any human operator. This was done to ensure that even if contact with ground was lost, the SHADOW would continue to operate. As concerns such as "impartiality" and "security" became apparent in space industry, the systems were modified to be completely closed – they could not have been tampered through re-programming, and they could easily override any manual controls given by would-be human operators on board. With this, the SHADOW became a truly impervious, impartial and sleepless guardian.

But there were ways.

After all, if boulders would clog up the river, it would have the change the course. Similar, if one knew how SHADOW satellite was built, it was possible to manually restructure the very switchboards that made the system. It wasn't hacked into, broken into or even destroyed. It was changed. A simple change, replaced modem and different connection of cables made sure that equation of 1.11123968.8 came back to central computer as 1.11123968.9

And that, made all the difference.

The crew of Endeavour worked silently. They all knew their appointed task, and knew that while space was silent, the radio sphere was not.

As a lone astronaut mounted back the last panel, he gave a universal "thumbs up" sign to his partners at a station 12 meters ahead.

The final changes were done.

The golden anti-sun screen hidden the man's face as he stared into the depths of Creation itself, cursing the existence of such monstrous enemy, and begging his God for forgiveness that he would never receive.

The SHADOW satellite 10-AB would now process incoming target coordinates in 1 hour, 45 minutes longer than normally.

The SHADOW shield was cracked.

Right above District Columbia, United States of America.

More than 600000 people were now at the mercy of fate.






Author's Note: Man, did that take me long to write. Well, there we have it, the latest chapter. We're now getting to the first major Wham! I spent a lot of this episode (maybe even a bit too long) trying to draw up the relationship between Leon and Yuuya. The way I see it, they are in a way opposite – Yuuya is in complete rejection of his Japanese side, while Leon has some pride in it, and while Yuuya seems like jerk, Leon is at least vaguely likeable. But at the same time, Yuuya can realize that's he being wrong, while Leon is being stuck in his thinking. The dogfight idea that Yuuya had was meant to be less of score settling, and more of Yuuya demonstrating that he learned to adapt, and that Leon, if he and his teammates have to as well, that is if they are to be useful. Hence why Max was the one actually making the kills. Of course, Yuuya kinda lacks distance to himself here, so he's still hung up about the taunts and then gets hung up about being hung up. It's a self-sustaining system! Man, I'm too proud of that.

Well, and I wanted an excuse for Raptor's to beat the shit out of each other.

Also, because some of the anime-only viewers might wonder: Infinities are not OCs. They are Total Eclipse characters that come in a long way down the plot and are rather relevant to Yuuya's past. Since we're doing his past first, they came up now.

That said, Maximilian J. Grey, Wilma Bishop and Alice are my OCs. Along with current SecD, CIA Director and et al in White House.

In case of anyone wondering, yes, Max is higher-up then Yuuya in military hierarchy, by virtue of being longer on active service than Yuuya. Not that you could tell since he is not completely normal…well, neither is Wilma.

Next-up: Infinities actually do get useful, Washington goes *poof!* and world wonders if not to collect on some old sins. It's a Stage of Apocalypse.