Phase 01: The War of Doves
The dove is a symbol of peace. It’s not born with the sharp beak or claws that can inflict a fatal attack, so they say if two of these birds were pitted against each other it would undoubtedly be a long, gruesome battle.
Space was a harsh mistress; while not as unpredictable as the tides and torrents ancient seafarers used to face when Humanity had first started exploring the unknown of their own world, she was no less dangerous. Out in the black it wasn’t ‘dragons’ one had to fear as much as decompression. As with the sea, where peaceful explorers had once braved the dark corners in search for new lands and treasure, they had been followed by the triremes and dreadnaughts of conquerors seeking to do battle with the unknown. Now the unknown has started to fight back.
-CE 71 February 11, prior to the recovery of Songstress Lacus Clyne-
Commander Rau LeCreuset stood with his arms crossed over his long white uniform jacket, chin resting in the palm of his left hand as he silently gazed out the command deck’s main view screen. The rest of the bridge crew of the Nazca Class Battleship Vesalius worked around him, coordinating the fallout from the vessel’s latest encounter with Earth Alliance forces since it returned from the PLANTs. The Vesalius was his flagship, a vessel Defence Chairman Zala personally presented to Rau for years of loyal and obedient service. Standing at the rear of the command centre was a newly arrived brown-haired ZAFT ‘White’ sporting a trimmed goatee; the transfer of his mobile suit team represented another high-ranking officer aboard his ship. While Rau was more evolved than to be petty and territorial at another apparent equal invading his domain, he consciously did his best to overlook it.
“Commander Degas, this is a surprise. Defence Chairman Zala is well aware that my team is more than capable in dealing with the Legged Ship and its one mobile suit, so I find it somewhat interesting that he has assigned your team to the hunt as well. Especially considering you’re without a vessel of your own,” the tall masked man said before turning around to face his counterpart. Pressing off on the metal deckplates beneath him, he floated towards the shorter, similarly dressed officer.
Grabbing hold of the back of a nearby chair to stop his momentum as he approached, he held his hand towards the newcomer.
Commander Degas took LeCreuset’s offered hand to bring him closer before nodding slightly, his expression hardening slightly after the blond Commander’s comment. “There was nothing my team could do to prevent the loss of the Novoselov at L4, Coordinators or no. Five GINNs against a hundred mobile armours are never favourable odds. Nevertheless, Rau, the Chairman is becoming impatient at the reported string of defeats at the hand of that one mobile suit. He fears that once the Legged Ship reaches Halberton and the Earth Alliance’s Eighth fleet there will be no stopping it. My team’s presence here is not a slight on your capabilities, my friend, but more of a method of ensuring success.”The portion of LeCreuset’s face not covered by his white mask appeared to change slightly, almost as if he was questioning the rationale of two of his closest colleagues: Defence Chairman Patrick Zala for doubting the capabilities of his team; the other, Commander Cassius Degas, his alumni from the ZAFT Military College and the closest thing Rau could call a friend – with the possible exception of his mentor, the renowned geneticist Gilbert Durandal. The fact that Degas was here caused more questions than answers.
His expression reverted as quickly as it changed and LeCreuset looked squarely back at Degas. “In that case, Cassius, you may get your chance; my team has been running sorties since the fall of Artemis. Maybe your team will have better luck. Captain Ades, prepare the Linear Catapults for Commander Degas’s GINNs.”Cassius smiled before pushing backwards off the deckplates. “Don’t worry, Rau, you’re still the best, I’m just here to help,” he said while laughing as he moved towards the rear of the ship. “Wish me luck.”
-CE 77 February 13, six years later-
Waking with a start, Cassius looked around the darkness of his cabin aboard the ZAFT Mobile Suit Assault Carrier Daedalus. Sweat beaded on his forehead as he attempted to slow his racing heart. This had been a regular occurrence since the Daedalus left the PLANTs three days ago, destined for Demilitarised Zone between the Earth Alliance and ZAFT to commemorate the past conflicts. While Cassius did mourn the passing of his colleague Rau LeCreuset he hadn’t really thought of him since it was revealed Rau had been responsible for atrocities not only against the Earth Forces, but also against fellow Coordinators during the first war in some deluded crusade against the rest of humanity. That was until the Daedalus left port, and every night since then his sleep had been plagued with phantoms of his past, the atrocities of conflicts gone and premonitions of ones yet to come.
The Daedalus was to meet up with the Earth Alliance Command Ship Ankara and the ORB Union’s Flagship Kusinagi at the demilitarised zone between the Earth Alliance and ZAFT. There, the three delegations would reaffirm the desire for peaceful co-existence and declaration of the end of warfare. Cassius had always seen the irony of the sentiment as all three parties in the treaty were represented by their most state-of-the-art warships in a declaration of never-ending peace.Sitting up in bed, Cassius ran his hands over his face, wiping away the perspiration that had accumulated from the nightmare. These movements caused the form lying beside him to move closer, covered almost entirely by the pale blue sheet with the exception of a mass of long brown tresses obscuring her identity. The form moved slightly before realising the Commander was awake and awoke also. “Cassius…the nightmares again?” a female voice asked softly before opening large brown eyes, still clouded by sleep, and struggling to an upright position while gripping onto the sheet.
Cassius looked down at the woman who returned his gaze, her hair obscuring bare olive skin from view and her small sleep-deprived smile. “Yes, they are becoming more frequent, and always about the same thing, the Archangel, the wars. I fear they may be telling me something, but of what I’m not sure…” Cassius trailed off when he realised the woman sitting next to him was barely maintaining consciousness. “I’m sorry, I woke you again.”Her expression warmed as she placed a hand on his bare arm. “It’s okay, but you haven’t had a full night’s sleep since we left. Maybe you should see Doctor Klazier, maybe get some sedatives?” she suggested nuzzling into his arm as she suppressed a yawn.Cassius turned and looked out the cabin’s only window, out to the blackness of space, the unblinking stars that appeared to stare bleakly back at him. “If they continue I may not have much choice, it would not be good form to have the Commander of the Mobile Suit Wing falling asleep at the controls,” Cassius replied before placing a soft kiss to the crown of her head. The woman appeared to purr slightly, nuzzling into him further while smiling.“Attention all hands, the Daedalus is entering the Demilitarised Zone, and this ship is now at level two battle stations. All mobile suit teams are on standby for any possible threats to the delegation. Commander Degas to the bridge.”
Cassius shook his head before pushing the sheets off him, placing his feet firmly on the floor in the same movement. “Not that I’ll be getting much sleep now,” he remarked dryly while standing. The movement caused him to float off the deck of his cabin. Using the momentum to his advantage, he propelled himself across the room where his white duty uniform hung in his wardrobe. Removing the shirt he slept in before taking hold of the secured metal frame of the wardrobe, he replaced it with a clean white one. Shrugging sleep aside, his female companion struggled with the sheets before joining him over by the wardrobe. The effects of zero gravity were more noticeable on her nude form as she reached for a purple bra and matching set of panties.
Cassius looked over his shoulder as she brushed up behind him, using his position to slow her drift while deftly slipping the straps of her bra over her shoulders and affixing it against her generously proportioned bosom. His gaze was returned with a quizzical expression as she shrugged after securing the garment in place before reaching for her white undershirt. “You always make that appear more difficult than it really should be,” Cassius said before putting on his white pants and black boots as his companion checked her silhouette in the door-mounted mirror. “You try and manoeuvre through zero-G with a thirty-eight-inch bust and not have them get in the way,” she said, poking her tongue out slightly before slipping into her black miniskirt, rolling up matching stockings as she slowly spun in position. Cassius contemplated the situation before shaking his head as he reached for their duty jackets, white for him, dark maroon for her, while she pulled up the zippers on the rear of her long white boots. Pushing the jacket in her direction, Cassius slipped his own on, collecting the twin belts that sat curled on a shelf as he rotated. Affixing his black belt over his white jacket he handed over the remaining white one.Smiling, his companion fixed the shoulder clasp on her jacket before running a hand through her hair; smiling sleepily she nodded towards the door. “Shall we?”
Cassius nodded in affirmation before passing a hand over the door sensor, opening it and allowing them to exit. Pushing back from the wardrobe, they propelled themselves out the door, grabbing the mounted handrail in the adjoining corridor. They shifted direction, heading off towards the command centre for the Daedalus. The two officers used their momentum to traverse the intersecting passageways that honeycombed the internal structure of the carrier. Using the handrail to change direction when required, they passed mobile suit technicians and other pilots who were billeted on the same deck. A majority were in the same drowsy, half-asleep state as the two officers, though not all were as skilled at masking it. These crews weren’t a part of Cassius’s team but one of the five other Mobile Suit teams that were berthed aboard the Daedalus. As a Command Assault Carrier, the Daedalus was designed to support up to five Mobile Suit teams at any one time under the command of a Commander Mobile Suit Wing, a position currently occupied by Cassius, until the Degas Team finished training the ship’s Mobile Suit compliment.
“What’s the story, Commander?” boomed the thick New Zealand accent belonging to a black haired man with a broad, chiselled face and intense, dark eyes. His olive skin bore tattoos the likes of which the commander knew belonged to his original Natural heritage. His mountain of a frame seemed to be standing watch over a smaller Caucasian pilot who seemed to be too engrossed with the nearby maintenance hatch. Cassius shook his head as he neared, trying to gauge just what they could be accomplishing. Both were ZAFT ‘Reds’, marking their elite training at the ZAFT Military Academy and both were also the other members of Cassius’s team. Chief Warrant Officer Telmura Kawana and Technical Specialist Liam O’Connor were also two of the biggest tricksters in the entire ZAFT Military. Currently they had been engaged in a prank war with the pilots of the 921st Support Squadron, and had the alert not be called they probably would have been able to get their current objective completed unseen.Cassius took hold of the handrail to stop, placing his boots on the deck panels below, eyeing the small multi-tool that Liam failed to hide within the fold of his jacket. “What have I told you boys; any deck on the ship except the one I sleep on,” he scolded before reaching into the hatch to remove a small inconspicuous black box. “A frequency remodulator? I expected more from you.” Handing the box back to Liam, he turned back to Telmura. “Tel, I know as much as you do. Head down to the lockers and get suited up. We don’t know what might happen during the talks,” Cassius replied before turning to his brunette companion who had come to a stop beside him. “Janissary, go with them, I’ll join you when my business is complete with the captain.”
First Lieutenant Janissary Jensen nodded and turned to the other two members of Cassius’s team, grinning. “Come on, boys, let’s get ready, and no I won’t hold your hand this time, you’re both old enough to know what goes where.” Without allowing them the opportunity to respond, she pressed off the deckplates and proceeded towards the locker room allocated to the team. Liam followed, chuckling to himself as he followed the team’s executive officer.Telmura paused briefly in front of Cassius to provide an informal nod while appearing offended before proceeding after her. “Hang on, Ex, what if we have questions?” he replied half-heartedly before letting out a deep booming laugh that seemed to echo through the ship. Cassius shook his head, smiling slightly before pressing off the deck and heading in the opposite direction towards a nearby lift. While he waited for the lift car, he could still hear his team joking and taunting each other as they headed to the rear of the Daedalus.
When the doors opened at the rear of the Daedalus’s expansive Command Deck, Cassius stepped out onto its sterile black-and-white surface. The Daedalus Class was designed to bridge the gap between the Nazca Class Fast Battleship and the Gondwana Class Supercarrier with the design aesthetic of the newer Minerva Class Battle Carrier that was quickly filling the ranks of the ZAFT military. Armed with an impressive array of weapons and carrying twenty mobile suits and three catapults meant the ship was quite capable of autonomously responding to a situation quickly and deploying a large amount of firepower onto it if necessary.Cassius had spent considerable time on the Daedalus since her launch shortly after the Second Bloody Valentine War, preparing the vessel and mobile suit teams for a war he hoped would never come. It never sank in just how large the command section of the ship was as it was responsible for both running the ship and coordinating the movements of other ships and hundreds of mobile suits. Pressing off the deck panels, Cassius moved towards the front of the bridge, passing a pair of large holographic tables responsible for Fleet Operations. Ahead of him stood a black-uniformed officer resting an arm against the back of the captain’s chair. The officer was watching news reports being relayed from the PLANTs on the ship’s main communication screen; like most of the recent news broadcasts, the mood was sombre.
“Once again with the hour’s top story, unrest is growing within both the PLANTs and on Earth as members of the radical religious sect known as The Heralds conduct a series of protests in capital cities throughout the Earth Sphere. This current spate of protests is in response to the conference between representatives of the PLANTs’ Supreme Council, the Earth Alliance, and the ORB Union at the neutral Stargazer Station scheduled to start tomorrow. A number of these protests have become violent and clashes with police and security forces are becoming commonplace. While no official statement has been released from the respective governments, military forces within the Earth Sphere have been put on alert…”“There is always something,” Cassius mused as he crossed the bridge to come to a stop next to the grey-haired officer who turned when Cassius took hold of the Captain’s chair to stop his momentum. “Commander Degas, reporting as ordered.”
Captain Arthur Trine, former executive officer of the Minerva, acknowledged the ZAFT White that addressed him, nodding slowly as he did so. “I am not sure how this will affect things. This isn’t a hostile nation, it’s a religious group with influence throughout the Sphere. I fear how this will turn out.” The captain’s English accent touched on each word that left his lips, giving it a degree of sophistication it didn’t naturally possess. Cassius nodded as the main communications screen reverted to black as the vessel neared the Demilitarised Zone and the large station known as Stargazer, which was under the stewardship of the Kingdom of Scandinavia. The sensor displays reported that the Ankara and the Kusinagi were nearby, each taking up position opposite the Daedalus. “It was always easy before, Captain; during the wars we knew who our friends were and who our enemies were.” Pausing for a second, the Commander gave a small smile. “I take it, Captain, that my summons was not to discuss current events?”Arthur turned slightly as if he had forgotten something before nodding. “Oh, of course, Commander, you have been requested to join the delegation to Stargazer Station; it seems someone on the official party has become ill and you have been requested to take their place.”Cassius nodded once more. He had preferred to stay aboard the Daedalus, particularly in this potentially volatile situation, but he had to make do. “But why was I chosen? I mean, I am no one special.”
The doors at the back of the Command Deck opened, depositing a pink-haired woman wearing the robes of the PLANT Supreme Council Chairman and a brown-haired member of FAITH wearing a white uniform, who proceeded towards the two officers. “On the contrary, Commander Degas, you have fought beside and against most of the members of the conference. Your tendency to follow your moral compass, instead of blindly following orders, makes you ideally suited to join us,” stated the FAITH member as the two reached Cassius and Arthur.“Chairman Clyne, Commander Yamato, it is a pleasure to be in your company again,” Cassius replied as the bridge crew saluted the head of the PLANTs, noticing that the chairman’s small pink electronic Haro companion was not with them. “Captain Trine, I am ready to head over to Stargazer Station now,” Chairman Lacus Clyne said, smiling broadly, as she always did while in the public eye. As the PLANTs Supreme Council Chairman, it was her job to inspire confidence, particularly in a period of uncertainty. Arthur bowed respectively. “Of course, Chairman Clyne, the executive shuttle is prepped and ready for your departure in the launch bay.”Lacus nodded, causing the mass of pink hair to bounce slightly as the movement rippled down its full length. She turned to Cassius. “Commander, would you do the honour of piloting us to Stargazer Station?”The Commander nodded in return. “I would be honoured to do so, Chairman. I will meet you in the hangar; there is one thing that I have to address before we leave. If you will excuse me.” Bowing slightly to the Chairman and then saluting Commander Kira Yamato and Captain Trine, Cassius left the bridge.
Deep in the underbelly of the Daedalus, in the Degas Team’s pilot ready room, the three remaining members of the team were in the process of changing into their flight suits. The room bore the same Spartan feel all ZAFT vessels had with one exception, the large black Greek letter omega on the main wall opposite the door. The symbol was the unofficial insignia of Degas’s Team, which was also known as the Crimson Harbingers, a name they gained during the course of two wars.
Janissary Jensen unbuckled her maroon service jacket, placing it in her allocated locker next to her purple-and-white flight suit adorned with the same black unit insignia over the left breast. As she turned to remove her white t-shirt, she stole a glance at the broad-shouldered, muscle-bound form of Telmura stepping into his orange flight suit. Shaking her head slightly, she suppressed a chuckle, before pulling her undershirt over her head and placing it in the locker.“Something titillating cross your mind there, Ex?” Telmura asked, pulling the uniform over his frame; the flight suit seemed to bulge in places where the fabric was stretched across muscle and adipose. Janissary shook her head once more before unzipping her miniskirt. “Just marvelling at how you are able to squeeze into that flight suit every time,” she replied, stepping out of the skirt, leaving her standing in only her boots and underwear.Telmura laughed heartily before checking the seals on his suit. “I have a knack of getting large things into small holes. I’d show you, but you keep rejecting my offer.”Janissary looked up with a bemused expression while unzipping the back of her boots, “Remember, Mr Kawana, I have seen you in the shower post mission, suffice to say, I have been unimpressed,” she mocked before finishing the task.“You forget, Tel, the Commander and the Ex are already playing that game,” Liam piped in while laughing, grabbing his helmet from the shelf at the top of his locker, red flight suit clinking as he hadn’t connected the straps and buckles. Telmura shook his head slightly before looking over to the busty female Mobile Suit pilot, who had turned her back to him while donning her skin-tight under suit, causing something to cross his mind. Shaking his head, the Maori dismissed the thought and resumed changing.
“It’s good to see that my personal life is the topic of discussion,” called a voice from the doorway, causing those inside to turn towards Cassius standing there, “and here I was thinking I wasn’t popular.”Telmura and Liam laughed at the comment before moving on to check each other’s suits for any tears or potential flaw points. Janissary, her skin suit only pulled up to her hips, leaving her waist and torso bare to show off olive skin and clad in only her purple bra, pushed off the deck, floating towards the Commander. “You look in no hurry to change,” she stated grabbing his arm to stop her momentum.Cassius looked down at Janissary, his expression hard, almost emotionless, with the exception of a slight sparkle to his eyes. “I’m joining the delegation,” he said before looking over to the other members of the team. “This issue with The Heralds is concerning; I’m not sure if they are bold enough to try and disrupt the conference, but considering the trouble they are raising throughout the Sphere I don’t want to take any chances. I want this team, as well as the Ongary Team, on standby in the tubes ready to launch the moment anything appears suspicious. No doubt the Earth Alliance and ORB are doing the same, so I don’t want this vessel to be unprepared.”
The team stopped what they were doing and snapped to attention. “Understood, sir,” their collective response brought a smile to Cassius’s face. “Just remember, I’ll be over there as well, so if you lose contact with the delegation, I want you to come get us,” he said looking once more to Janissary. “What, and risk my team?” Her quick reply was almost rehearsed, softened by the broad smile. Telmura and Liam laughed together. Cassius tousled Janissary’s hair playfully.“Commander Degas, please proceed to the Launch Bay; the executive party is ready for departure,” echoed from the ship’s intercom system.
Cassius smirked at Janissary’s comment before pushing away on the deck towards the open door; “I’m serious, now.” Exiting the room, Cassius, with his back still to the corridor, informally saluted the team. “Good luck.” Janissary turned back towards Telmura and Liam, who stopped mock wrestling once they realised she was watching them. Her expression mirrored the one Cassius had, softened by a cheeky grin “Okay, you two stop that and get ready; just because the Commander isn’t here doesn’t mean you can goof off.”Telmura looked oddly back at the team’s executive officer. “But, Ex, we always act like this, even when the Commander’s here.”Placing the palm of her hand against her face, Janissary let out a defeated sigh, “Of course, why would you act any differently around me?” Laughing at the familiarity in their routine, Janissary continued to dress into her flight suit, managing to squeeze herself into the snug form-fitting outfit.
Cassius paused a compartment down from his team’s wardroom as other pilots moved past, heading for the launch deck or their own wardrooms. Like any Mobile Suit Team Commander, he didn’t want to leave his team in the midst of a potential crisis, but there were instances where one didn’t have a choice. A ‘request’ from the head of the PLANTs was one of those times. He was confident Janissary could handle things; it wasn’t the first time he had left her in charge but that didn’t diminish his concern. Shaking his head, Cassius pressed off the grey deck panels and headed towards the launch bay.
The double doors of the launch deck opened for Cassius, admitting him to the cavernous expanse that comprised most of the hull of the Daedalus. Paired along the room stood rows of unpowered Mobile Suits being attended to by technicians or their individual pilots: ZAKUs, GOUFs and GuAIZ neatly arranged in their respective teams stood at the ready to be deployed at a moment’s notice along the outer edge of the hangar bay. Most of the machines sported their factory colours; some bore specialist colours or insignias but few had complete unique schemes. Not all teams had the autonomy let alone the veteran status that Degas’s team had. Sitting on the deck of the Launch Bay was one of the small executive shuttles that were usually seen transporting personnel between installations, not in the launch bay of an Assault Carrier. Under normal circumstances, the Daedalus would have docked with the station to offload the delegation, but with the current situation it was deemed safer to have each ship taking up position at a separate designated point away from the station.
Cassius shook his head; this was the goal of groups like The Heralds, not to do damage or take innocent lives but to disrupt routine. Sighing slightly the Commander crossed the launch bay towards the shuttle as tech crews performed last minute pre-flight checks. Nearby a flight-suited ZAFT Pilot was on the same trajectory, flight plan clipped to a board under his arm.“Commander Degas, sir,” the pilot said, noticing the officer approach the shuttle. “Sir, I was unaware that you were joining the delegation. I’m Warrant Officer William Sterges, sir, and I’ll be your pilot.”The Commander nodded slightly as the two approached the exterior hatch of the shuttle. He wasn’t aware that a person could snap to attention in zero-G, at least do so and not spin because of it. “Last-minute replacement,” he replied, taking a step inside the open hatch and placing a hand against the pilot’s hardened chest plate. “But you won’t be my pilot; the Chairman would like someone a little more experienced at the controls.”Sterges looked back at him despondently. “But, sir, it’s the Supreme Council Chairman! I’m never going to get a chance to shuttle her again.” Cassius had to feel sorry for the young pilot, to be told at morning briefing that he was going to pilot the executive shuttle only to have a senior officer swoop in and take the job, but orders were orders. “I’m sorry, kid, but there will be another time, it’s nothing personal,” he remarked, smiling in an attempt to take the sting off the change of plans. He took the flight plan off the pilot before fully entering the shuttle, sealing the hatch and leaving the young pilot still outside looking mournful.
Turning around, Cassius took in the passenger cabin on the shuttle. The craft was so small there was no separation between cockpit and passenger cabin that was present in larger transport craft. Seated in informal groupings appeared to be a who’s who of ZAFT’s elite. Chairman Clyne sat beside Commander Yamato, while Colonel Andrew Waltfeld, a veteran mobile suit pilot and aide to the Chairman, sat nearby, a mug of coffee in one hand as he read over a number of reports that occupied the seat next to him. The trio were accompanied by a number of attendants and advisers who were required for the three-day conference on the station. The presence of the two pilots on-board didn’t mesh well with Cassius. Both were more than qualified to pilot a Class 5 shuttle, so why request the Commander away from the Daedalus. Clearing his throat, Cassius forced himself to smile. “Sorry for the delay, Madam Chairman, but we are ready to depart.”Lacus looked up at Cassius and nodded. “Very well, Commander, then let us leave.” Cassius bowed formally before pushing off the deck and proceeding towards the single forward-facing chair that was positioned at the pilot’s station. Dropping into the chair, he slipped into the restraints and powered up the craft’s engine. Opening a channel to the Daedalus, Cassius placed the pilot’s headset over his left ear, thumbing open the channel. “This is Liberty 7 to Daedalus launch control, we are ready for launch.” “Confirmed, Liberty, tech crews are moving the shuttle to the launch tube as we speak, ETA of launch three minutes.”Cassius nodded in confirmation, “Understood, Launch Control, slaving pre-flight computer to your command, Liberty 7 out.” A faint succession of thuds could be heard as a magnetic articulator arm took possession of the shuttle and moved it to the port linear catapult.
As the small craft did not require the linear catapult itself to launch, the normal procedure of locking the spaceframe to the catapult shuttle was bypassed; the articulator arm simply held them in place until clearance from the tower.“Liberty 7, course laid, ready for launch, the Henry Mobile Suit Team to proceed to the starboard launch bay for immediate departure,” echoed through the cavernous hangar as the shuttle’s engines increased in power, readying it for launch.Cassius looked down at his control panel as red icons quickly changed to green as the Daedalus went through final launch procedures. Once the entire panel was green, the Commander pressed a series of keys on the keypad in front of him, detaching the articulator arm. He activated the small craft’s engines, propelling it into space.
As the small executive shuttle departed the port linear catapult and away from the Assault Carrier towards the slowly rotating Stargazer Station. From the starboard catapult, a pair of ZGMF-1000 ZAKU Warriors launched, the permitted escort for the PLANTs Supreme Councillor and her retinue.
Leaning back in his chair, Cassius manipulated the controls gingerly if the craft strayed from it trajectory. “I do have to say, it's convenient that the Daedalus was on shakedown when it was, especially considering the mechanical problems that have befallen the Eternal,” Cassius said as the spoked construct that was Stargazer Station loomed in the main viewscreen. His comment caused his passengers to stir slightly, but for the most part their expressions remained unchanged. Lacus turned to Waltfeld who nodded slightly; Kira simply smiled.
“Commander, it was a little more sinister than simple mechanical error,” Lacus stated, her voice retaining its pleasant softness despite the nature of her words. “Three days before departure, Terminal discovered a credible threat that the Eternal’s primary engines had been sabotaged and would detonate if we took her out of dock. The decision was made at the last minute to transfer to the Daedalus while engineers attempt to verify the threat,” Waltfeld continued, his expression hardening as if stressing the severity.
Cassius was aware of the secret organisation that was founded during the First Bloody Valentine War, involving the crew of the Archangel; he was also aware of how widespread its influence was.“Pardon me for asking, but there isn't an ill member of the delegation, is there?” he asked as his instruments informed him of the presence of a shuttle from the ORB Union, with its accompanying Murasame Mobile Suits approaching the station from the other side. Cassius had expected to see the Earth Alliance shuttle by now, escorted by a pair of Windams, but for some reason they were nowhere to be seen.“That would be correct, Commander, but in this critical situation, it’s imperative to be surrounded by those we can trust,” Lacus replied, running a hand through her pink tresses as the shuttle neared the station.“I take it then, the Captain was made aware of this? I mean, he is a member of Terminal.” Cassius turned back to the controls, slipping his headset back over his ears. “Stargazer Station, this is the PLANTs delegation, requesting permission to dock. Repeat, this is the PLANTs delegation requesting permission to dock.”“It was the Captain who recommended you,” Kira replied as the radio burst into life. “Confirmed, PLANTs party, your designated docking port is Blue 27,” came the Nordic-sounding communications officer. “Stay on this channel for further updates, enjoy your time on Stargazer Station.”Cassius pressed forward on the control column, propelling the shuttle towards the open hangar bay.
The small green shuttle touched down on the deck of the modestly sized hangar, decorated in the same muted blues and greens of a ZAFT warship. The ZAKU Warriors stepped onto the deck, headed for charging stations specifically built for them. As they moved away from the airlock it closed, filling the cavity with oxygen. Once the bay was pressurised, the hatch on the shuttle popped open as pressurised gas vented from exhaust panels as the shuttle adapted to the change from vacuum to atmosphere. A lone man, dressed in ceremonial robes of the Kingdom of Scandinavia, approached the shuttle, flanked by a squad of Scandinavian military personnel and surrounded by journalists of the Sphere’s various media outlets.Cassius pushed back on the moulded cockpit chair; he could see the approaching entourage. He hated media circuses. It was one of those things where he was glad he was just a soldier with no aspirations of political office. He felt sorry for his passengers as he cycled open the internal door. Abandon hope, all ye who enter here, he thought as his passengers started to move in their seats.
“Thank you, Commander, that was a smooth flight. Let us hope the conference goes as smoothly,” Lacus said as she stood, fixing her robes of office, attire that greatly differed from what she wore during her time as the Songstress. Despite the weight of the office they represented, they didn't diminish her youthful confidence. “But now it is time for us to front the media.” Kira and Waltfeld both nodded, standing once Lacus was settled and ready. “Commander Degas, will you join us?”Cassius briefly considered fabricating an excuse to avoid the media and to stay on the shuttle, but in the presence of the best pilots in ZAFT rendered any excuse he may have concocted redundant. Nodding reluctantly, the Commander motioned towards the hatch. “After you, Madam Chairman.”
At that point, Lacus's demeanour changed. Her face softened and her eyes glinted; this was her public face, the one she wore when the eyes of the world were upon her. While Cassius wasn't aware of the mental state of the Chairman or whether this was simply a façade, one used when she was the mouthpiece of a corrupt or deranged Chairman, used to legitimise whatever agenda they had. This time, however, she was the Chairman and had used that same public persona to prove that she was up to the task. She faced Kira, who smiled supportively, and Lacus smiled in return before turning to face Cassius and Waltfeld. “Let’s get this over with.” The two officers bowed slightly before parting to allow the Supreme Chairman to move past them to the hatch.
Due to the size of Stargazer Station and its rotation, the station possessed artificial gravity. While it was sufficient to allow normal movement, it was still slightly less than on Earth. Waltfeld stepped down the steps that comprised the interior of the hatch, flanking Lacus, with Kira behind them followed by their aides and attendants. Cassius rounded out the group as they crossed the deck approaching the media throng. By the time the delegation had reached the Kingdom of Scandinavia’s representative, Cassius was seeing spots due to camera flashes. The representative bowed respectfully and after a period of time he stood upright. “Greetings, Chairman Clyne; welcome to Stargazer Station. I am Fredrick van-Leeuwen and I am the administrator of this fine facility,” the tall stereotypical Nordic man stated, his expression warm and welcoming as he extended his hand in greeting.
Lacus took the proffered hand and shook it, pausing briefly for the cameras to take their front-page photo. “Thank you for this warm welcome, Administrator,” the pink-haired leader replied as the administrator shook hands with Kira and Waltfeld. As the round of introductions continued, Lacus stepped towards the grouped journalists, softening her time-hardened features. “Hello, everyone, I would like to thank you all for coming today, your being here proves you believe as strongly about peace as we do.” She smiled broadly as she had back when she was utilised as a spokeswoman.Kira turned to face the administrator as Lacus fielded questions from the reporters. “Mr van-Leeuwen, have the other delegations arrived?” he asked, looking over the grouped reporters as Lacus performed before them.The administrator nodded, stepping closer. “The ORB delegation has arrived, the Earth Alliance delegation is behind schedule, they are reporting slight engine trouble on their shuttle, but they should be here by the time of the signing.” As if on cue, the doors to the hangar deck opened once more, depositing a young blonde woman in the white uniform of the ORB Union's Chief Representative, accompanied by a blue-haired man wearing an ORB Admiral's uniform, along with their allotment of attendants.
Both Kira and Lacus smiled before moving through the reporters, heading towards the newcomers as Waltfeld stayed and answered questions posed by the media. Cassius hung back, closer to the shuttle than the media, but close enough to render assistance if required. A moot point considering that he didn't have the time while aboard the Daedalus to requisition a sidearm.
“Lacus! Kira!” the ORB Chief Representative exclaimed as she ran over to them, stopping after a few steps when she remembered who she was and the realisation that the media was present. Her cheeks gained a red tint from embarrassment and she took a moment to compose herself. Now, appearing more formal, she continued to cross the hangar deck. Once the two parties met, they engaged in a formal greeting for the benefit of the media.Shaking his head, Cassius observed the exchange between the heads of both ORB and the PLANTs. This wasn't an exchange of foreign dignitaries, but one of close friends. The openness that wasn't impacted upon their positions, not as opposing Heads of State, but one of a reunited family. It was times such as this that Cassius couldn't help but realise just how young the two leaders were. Both women were only in their twenties yet they managed to conduct themselves with a level of maturity unseen in most people twice their age.
While on the station the representatives of ORB and the PLANTs continued to talk, the Earth Alliance Shuttle neared the station, flanked by a pair of Windam Mobile Suits. It was obvious that the mobile suits where struggling to keep pace with the much slower shuttle. “…Confirmed, Stargazer Control, this is the Earth Alliance Delegation continuing on course. The First Minister again wishes to extend his apologies for the delay. We should be docking shortly, Earth Forces One out,” remarked the pilot of the white shuttle before he removed the headset, as thick red globs floated through the open hatch that separated the cockpit and the passenger compartment. When they connected with a surface, they reverted to puddles, staining whatever they touched. Looking through the door, the pilot saw four floating bodies, the source of the red globs, each with a series of corresponding holes in their torsos, as well as six armed figures dressed in pressurised ORB blue flight suits. These apparent interlopers were standing near the main hatch as the body of First Minister Anderson floated into view, his face still bearing the signs of surprise and betrayal when his attendant-turn-assassin fired the silenced pistol. “Rest well, Minister Anderson, your death was unfortunate but you did get in the way. Soon you will be joined by Lacus Clyne and Cagalli Yula Zala!”
The pilot retook possession of the silenced automatic pistol that was tapping against the cockpit window and wiped it down with a cloth. “The Bringers of Light and Darkness will reward us for our services today,” he remarked before flicking a series of switches, bringing the shuttle on its final approach with the station while donning his blue ORB issue flight helmet.
On board the station as Lacus and Cagalli posed for photos, their respective military attendants quickly joined them as the other delegates moved into the corridor to prepare for the conference. They were soon approached by Administrator van-Leeuwen who pressed a hand to the earpiece he was wearing. As he walked, he muttered something to the operator at the other end, nodding as he spoke. Pausing slightly, he faced the two delegations. “Chairman Clyne, Representative Zala, I have received word that the Earth Alliance delegation has arrived. Minister Anderson reports he will not be long,” the administrator reported before motioning for them to join him in the corridor. The two delegations merged into one mass with both heads of state flanking the administrator; while most of the reporters stayed in the hangar bay, a handful followed the delegations.
“Administrator, I do have to admit that since the Kingdom of Scandinavia took ownership of this station you have done considerable things with it,” Waltfeld stated as the entourage headed towards the central point of the station. The party passed work crews and military personnel from the Kingdom of Scandinavia, either on patrol or working on access panels.Fredrick nodded almost as an instinct. “Thank you, Colonel Waltfeld, since the Armistice forbade any military assets from any of the warring factions in the demilitarised zone between the PLANTs and Earth, the Eurasian Federation had little choice but to cede the station to us. This station has become a neutral meeting point and trade hub for both sides to meet in peace. In the last three years since taking ownership, we've been converting it into a deep space telescope. It should be operational within a week or two.”“But doesn’t commanding this station in a strategic location such as this make it a prime target in the event of future hostilities, especially now, considering that you’re turning it into a telescope?” Cassius asked as the group neared an intersection. “You would think that, but the Kingdom of Scandinavia takes our neutrality very seriously. We do not involve ourselves in outside issues; ZAFT and the Earth Alliance both accept that, that was the reason why we were chosen to take custodianship of Stargazer Station.” Cassius nodded, it seemed a simple enough response. “Are you concerned that with all this publicity this conference is getting that this station will be a target for the Heralds, since they seem to be opposed to the notion of peace in the Earth Sphere?”
Fredrick laughed softly. “You should have been a reporter, Commander. But no, I’m not concerned about The Heralds. The Kingdom of Scandinavia has already publically denounced those lunatics; you’ll find this Station to be the most secure site in the entire Region.” An explosion occurred on the opposite side of the station, causing it to shake violently, ending the administrator’s reply. The lights dimmed momentarily before red emergency lights activated, bathing the station in an unnatural hue as klaxons started wailing urgently. A nearby console exploded, showering sparks on the technicians who were working on it. “You know, I almost saw that coming,” Cassius remarked dryly as the military personnel of each delegation instinctively moved into position around the two heads of state, alert for possible threats, despite the fact none of them appeared to be armed.
Fredrick ran his hands over his robes before approaching a nearby operational communications panel. “This is Administrator van-Leeuwen to Station Operations, what just happened? Have we been attacked?”“Administrator, there has been an explosion outside Docking Spoke One; it appears to be the Earth Alliance Shuttle. It…it just exploded, sir. Docking Spoke One is not responding to communications and medical teams are en route; station integrity has not yet been compromised, but our rotation has slowed. It appears that First Minister Anderson and his party are missing.”“This is terrible news,” Lacus said softly, placing a hand over her mouth while turning towards Kira, if only to shield her expression from the onlookers. “The First Minister was the one who championed this peace conference; he’s been pushing this for months.” Cagalli was equally concerned, placing a hand on the arm of her military attaché and husband, Admiral Athrun Zala. “I know his positive stance on Coordinators made him unpopular within his own government, but this is more than a little extreme,” the blonde ORB leader remarked, bowing her head slightly.
Fredrick ran a hand over his face, which had gained an ashen tint, much like the faces of the rest of the delegations. “I understand, keep me appraised, van-Leeuwen out.” The administrator turned to face the gathered representatives, attempting to put on his best liaison façade. “Chairman Clyne, Representative Zala, for the time being I suggest that you accompany me to the Central Command Centre. It’s very secure, you’ll be very safe there.”Both Lacus and Cagalli nodded at the administrator’s suggestion before he motioned for most powerful women in the Sphere and their entourages to follow him. “We will get to the bottom of this whole situation soon enough.”
As they walked, it was obvious the atmosphere of the station had changed. It had gained a charge of almost palpable uncertainty that ran the length of the station; its pulse was now running to the cadence of red emergency beacons. Athrun placed a supportive hand on his wife’s shoulder as the group was marched deeper into the facility. “This seems far too convenient, it is too similar to tactics used by ZAFT Special Forces during the wars to cause an explosion outside a secure station and then sneak in during the confusion.” His comments caused a stern expression to creep onto Lacus’s soft features. She turned towards her former fiancé. “I can assure you that ZAFT had nothing to do with this.” She appeared as if she had been visibly wounded by the ORB Admiral’s words. Cagalli turned to face her ZAFT counterpart, deep concern etched on her face. “No one is suggesting that, Lacus; we all know that since you were elected Supreme Council Chairman that the PLANTs are better for it…”“But they said the same when Chairman Durandal took charge and extremists still dropped Junius Seven despite his reforms,” Lacus interrupted the ORB Chief Representative, looking away once it was obvious she was affected by the topic of conversation.
“Now is not the time to assign blame, our first priority should be getting to a more secure location,” the administrator stated as the party neared the large double blast doors connecting the outer docking ring with the inner command section of the station that was built around the large radio telescope. He turned to those reporters who were still with the delegations, taking photos and recording the personal exchange of the two heads of state. “Ladies and gentlemen, beyond this bulkhead are secured facilities. Please proceed to the conference centre and information will be made available to you when we have it,” he said before motioning to a nearby detail of guards who were manning the security checkpoint to escort the reporters away. The detail sergeant attempted to corral the throng of reporters back down the corridor they had come from while dodging the battery of questions being fired at him by repeating the administrator's statement that all will be revealed when there was something to reveal.The delegations continued deeper into the station, passing concerned technicians running diagnostics on station systems, ensuring that the nearby explosion hadn’t compromised the station’s integrity. Squads of guards, pistols on hips and lead by blue-uniformed officers, moved with purpose, headed to designated checkpoints highlighting the change from the public outer ring of the station from the military controlled centre.
Fredrick appeared to slip back into liaison façade mode as the group passed a bank of interior-facing windows which looked out onto the large dish that comprised the deep space radio telescope currently housed within its protective storage cradle. Its laminated skin of connecting hexagons sitting beneath a smaller focusing lens caused everyone in the delegations to shudder.“The Stargazer Array, when completed, will be the largest, most accurate radio telescope in the Sphere. It will also facilitate more accurate communications with the Martian Colonies,” Fredrick stated, acting as if the reactions of the delegations weren’t a concern.“GENESIS,” both Lacus and Cagalli murmured softly, the word itself bringing up vivid images of both Bloody Valentine wars.Fredrick stopped when he heard the two heads of state and turned to face the delegations. “Technically, that is a correct assessment; when the Kingdom of Scandinavia took ownership of the station we discovered the cradle and main mirror in a half-completed state. It would seem that the Eurasian Federation was attempting to build a GENESIS-type weapon of their own following the First War but had to abandon it for reasons we don’t know. As the mirror comprises eighty per cent of the internal structure of the station and the weapons power plant also powers the station, we would have had to have removed two-thirds of the station’s structure to disassemble it.” He turned to face the two leaders, however his gaze fell primarily on Admiral Zala. “From our research we discovered that before the GENESIS device was repurposed as a weapon by former Chairman Patrick Zala, this system was developed for purely scientific methods; its main component is a large focusing dish, which we have reverted back to serve as the main focusing array for the telescope.”“So the Kingdom of Scandinavia is literally beating swords into plough-shears,” Athrun commented dryly, impressed, if not entirely convinced; Fredrick nodded in affirmation. “In a way, yes. We hope that using a weapon of mass destruction for the peaceful advancement of humanity will bring about a greater understanding and properly secure humanity’s survival.” The administrator motioned for the group to continue towards the central command centre.
The group was continuing along unmarked corridors when a squad of four armed guards approached. These guards were dressed in battle fatigues and body armour of the Kingdom of Scandinavia. Each guard was heavily armed, especially when compared to other guards they had passed. “Sergeant, what is the meaning of this? No request for an armed escort was called...”Before the administrator could continue to protest, the detail’s sergeant drew his service pistol and fired. As the gunshot subsided, Fredrick staggered slightly, grasping at the ever-growing red patch over his abdomen on his otherwise blue robes. Lacus gasped as the administrator fell to his knees, slumping to one side. Athrun and Kira stepped in front of the Supreme Councillor and Chief Representative, creating a barrier between the two and the security team. Before the administrator had hit the deck, Cassius was at his side, cushioning the administrator's fall while trying to stem the course of bleeding. The sergeant motioned towards Colonel Waltfeld, gesturing with his pistol towards the others as his squad remained in position, wearily eyeing some of the most powerful -- and dangerous -- people in the region. “Colonel Waltfeld, over there with the others, and be quick about it,” he demanded. The Desert Tiger remained defiantly where he was, glaring at the guards in open challenge. “Colonel, now is not the time of heroics,” Athrun scolded, moving closer to Cagalli as Kira did likewise to Lacus.Andrew growled menacingly before reluctantly moving to join the others, his stern gaze never leaving that of the sergeant. The sergeant nodded slightly in affirmation, the grip on his pistol tightening. “While you have been helpful in the advancement of humanity, the Bringers of Light and Darkness have decreed this to be the time for your meddling to end,” the sergeant proclaimed, raising the pistol and aiming it squarely at Lacus.
“Not if I have something to do with it.”Cassius launched himself up from his crouched position, lunging at the sergeant. His left hand clamped around the sergeant’s dominant wrist, his right hand pressed against the elbow pressing upward. An audible crack immediately followed by a pained scream as the arm was bent to an unnatural angle. Despite this injury, the sergeant refused to relinquish the weapon as the two struggled for control of the firearm. Another guard pulled his pistol from its holster and took aim at the scuffling men. Before he could pull the trigger, Athrun removed and threw a small dagger from a concealed sheath underneath his belt. The blade arced through the air, piercing the guard’s wrist to the haft. The pistol skittered across the deck as he dropped it in favour of clutching the seeping wound in his hand. He swore profusely as Athrun delivered a stiff punch across the jaw, dropping him to the deck. Before the two guards that remained standing could react, a loud peal of thunder echoed down the corridor as Andrew lowered his prosthetic arm, smoke wafting from the tip of its concealed shotgun. One of the guards crumpled to the deck, blood streaming from the jagged open wounds to her abdomen.
Cassius pulled downwards sharply with his left hand, forcing the sergeant’s torso after it; the Commander brought his knee up to meet it with a fleshy thump that loosened the guard’s grip on the pistol. Wrenching it away, Cassius flipped the pistol in his hand, checked the breach for a loaded cartridge, pointed it at the sergeant and squeezed the trigger twice before turning to face the remaining guard who quickly assessed the situation before turning on a boot heel and started running for their life. He stopped and turned back towards the group, drawing a cylindrical grenade from his armoured vest. Before he could prime the trigger, a gunshot sent him to the deckplates. Andrew looked at Athrun who shook his head, he was still unarmed, and then over to Kira who was the same. Cassius shrugged; while he did have a pistol, he indicated he had not fired it. The group paused for a moment before turning to see Lacus, her hands still tightly gripped around the previously discarded pistol; her hands were noticeably shaking as her wide blue eyes locked on the body that still lay crumpled on the deck, blood pooling behind his head from a wound just above his right eye.“I…he had a grenade, I never wanted to ever have to use one of these things,” Lacus murmured, the last remnant of her innocence now lost as the reverberation of the gunshot subsided. Kira approached her slowly, taking her into a supportive embrace as she quickly dropped the weapon as if it was burning her hands.
As Kira comforted a visibly distressed Lacus, Cassius policed the equipment belonging to the downed guards while Athrun restrained those who were still alive with their own field restraints. Colonel Waltfeld kept a watchful gaze on the scattered technicians who had taken refuge behind access terminals and conduits.
Cassius attached a machine pistol to his belt while handing the remaining three to Athrun, Kira and Waltfeld. As they checked the pistols for ammunition, the sound of hurried footsteps heralded the arrival of a detail of security guards along with medical personnel. Athrun and Waltfeld wearily eyed these newcomers, unsure as to whether they were additional hostile forces.“Is everyone alright?” asked the naval officer who was with the guard’s in a rich Nordic accent before directing resources to tend to wounds or properly restrain the assassins. “I am Commander Verna, executive officer of Stargazer Station. We deployed from the Operations Centre as soon as internal sensors detected the gunfire; I’m just glad we arrived before anyone else was wounded.”Athrun kept the gaze of the Commander. “We could have used you five minutes ago, Mister Verna,” the agitation seeping into his voice.Verna bowed slightly. “My apologies, Admiral Zala, it took some time to verify the identity of the security detail, to prevent another incident like the one you just dealt with.”He then turned to Lacus and Cagalli. “Madam Chairman, Madam Chief Representative, I would suggest that you put on some of the protective body armour, at least until we can ensure there are no further threats.” The commander’s recommendation sounded more like an order. Both heads of state nodded reluctantly as their aides assisted them into the bulky, uncomfortable combat vests, stripping them of unnecessary equipment and handing it to the other members of the delegation. Waltfeld turned to the commander. “Do we know how many Heralds are on the station?” he asked while sliding the receiver back on the pistol to load a fresh clip. The commander shook his head.“At this point we can’t say, this squad was the first to attempt something overt; though now that they have failed, more cells may activate.” His voice retained an even tempo despite the harshness of his words as he looked at the bodies that the guards were moving out of the way.Cagalli struggled with the ill-fitting body armour before pushing Athrun away, “In that case, we should continue to the Operations Centre, it should be the most secure point on the station so we can assess the situation and call for backup.”
Athrun turned to the others, his normally calm expression returned to cover the concern in his voice. “Cagalli’s right, we should keep moving, we’re too vulnerable in this corridor.” The others agreed before continuing towards the Station’s Operation Centre, the new security escort ringing the delegation with Cassius and Athrun taking point and Kira and Waltfeld bringing up the rear, pistols drawn, searching for more threats as their shadows trailed them down the corridor.
Suspicion, ignorance, prejudice, the dark emotions directed at those who can be loved. If love is the brightest light, then are these emotions created from the shadow it casts? Things that are different, things we don't understand, differences that foster anxiety, leading to hatred, and ultimately...confrontation
Janissary fidgeted in the cockpit of her custom purple-painted ZMGF-1000 ZAKU Gunner. She had always been convinced that the designers of this mobile suit intentionally built the cockpit of the ZAKU to be two square centimetres smaller than its GuAIZ counterpart; however, that was not the main reason for her discomfort. She looked over at the mission clock on her control console; ten minutes. It had been ten minutes since Captain Trine had ordered the Degas and Ongary teams to their mobile suits when the Earth Forces Shuttle exploded and Janissary could only watch through up-linked cameras as the situation worsened.“Holly, you’re telling me that comms to the station are down?” she asked while checking for the fifth time the Gunner's deuterium power levels.The blue-haired communications operator shook her head, her green side cap perched between high pigtails. “No, ma’am, what I'm saying is that comms to the station are being jammed at the source,” Ensign Holly Spiers replied, her pale skin almost pallid at the notion; this was her first deployment out of the Academy.Janissary smiled reassuringly. “You’ll be okay, Holly. Captain, what was the last thing we got out of the Station?”
The bridge monitor changed from the Combat Information Centre to the Main Bridge, focusing on Captain Trine. “Leftenant, regrettably the last radio transmission we picked up was a report of enemy activity operating within the station and that internal security forces were on top of the situation. While communications to the station are being jammed, we are getting garbled transmissions from the Kusinagi and the Ankara. They are at combat readiness and external cameras are reporting that they are preparing to launch their mobile suits. We will do the same.” Gone was any of the panicked pitch changes that were commonplace on the Minerva's communication logs. Captain Trine was now a veteran, having learnt a great deal from his former commanding officer when he brought the crew together following the crippling of the Minerva at the hands of the Archangel.
Janissary smiled before nodding. While ZAFT had always possessed a rank and grade structure based primarily on the Atlantic Federation, Arthur’s continued use of old Eurasian Federation terminology always brought a smile to her face. “Understood, Captain, the Degas team is ready for launch.” Janissary checked the monitors that sat below the main viewscreen to the helmeted heads of Telmura and Liam, who both nodded while completing their pre-launch checklists. “The Ongary team is also ready for launch,” First Lieutenant Lachlan Ongary reported, his red-helmeted head tilted slightly as he checked the instruments of his obsolete GuAIZ Command Type.Trine nodded, while locking his command chair in place. “We have not received a request for assistance from the Station, so your priority is to protect the Daedalus. Both teams launch, and may fortune smile upon us.”The bridge camera returned to focus on the CIC, with Holly’s face filling the screen. “Degas Team, Ongary Team, proceed to the catapults. First Lieutenant Jensen, the Degas team will be launching first.” Janissary nodded before moving her mobile suit towards the port linear catapult. The custom-painted ZAKU shuddered slightly as the launch shuttle was locked into place. Panels retracted alongside the launch tube as articulation arms mounted the ZAKU Gunner’s primary weaponry to its frame, a high-velocity beam rifle and sabre pack. Ahead of her, the linear catapult extended from the exterior of the launch tube and gained their characteristic gold colour as magnetic capacitors started spinning up.
“ZAKU Gunner, course locked. Lieutenant Jensen, you’re clear to go,” Holly reported as Janissary primed the power cells of her mobile suit as the display on her launch control console changed from red to green.Once the three red primary icons on her console had turned green, Janissary pressed down on the accelerator pedal, powering up the main engines of her mobile suit. “Janissary Jensen, ZAKU Gunner, launching,” she reported as the catapult shuttle propelled the one-man suit into space. Over the comm line, she could hear the rest of the team launching behind her, Telmura in his ZAKU Brawler and Liam in his ZAKU High Mobility. As the three mobile suits fanned out to create a perimeter the five machines of the Ongary Team joined them.
“Now, Lachlan, it’s just how we practised, avoid the Daedalus’s fields of fire and keep the distance between units constant,” Janissary reminded over the active comm line as the Ongary team fell into position within the perimeter. Lieutenant Ongary nodded. “Understood, Instructor; you heard her, get those positions sorted, this isn’t the first time we have done this.”Janissary felt her cheeks redden. While Lachlan held the same rank she did, the Degas Team was attached to the Daedalus to train the inexperienced mobile suit teams for the possibility of another war so she was technically his superior, at least temporarily. However, she was still getting used to being referred to as an Instructor. To the young Lieutenant the title conjured images of decrepit old warhorses like her instructors at her time in ZAFT’s ‘Top Gun’ Military Academy. While Chairman Clyne continued to promote that the future of humanity was one of peace, the Commander in Chief, Admiral Yzak Joule, was of the opinion that it was smarter to prepare for a war that never came than to be caught unprepared. Janissary inspected the radar display in the centre of her control console and smiled when the green dots representing the Ongary Team assumed the correct positions for a seven-suit perimeter. “There we are, much better. Ongary Team, well done.” Her remark caused the team to sit up straight in their cockpits before they continued to scrutinise static-filled radar screens for potential threats to the ship. The lieutenant switched to a private channel with the head of the Ongary Team. “Lachlan, you haven’t been keeping up with the drills, have you? I know Commander Degas wouldn’t stand for such sloppiness.” Lieutenant Ongary nodded, his expression sullen. “I understand, Instructor Jensen, it won’t happen again.”
“Sorry to interrupt, Lieutenant, but I’m getting some very weird readings,” Liam reported. As his headshot appeared to scrutinise the various readings his suit’s enhanced sensor suite collected before he relayed those images to the other suits and the Daedalus.
“What’s going on, Specialist?” Janissary asked as her mobile suit shifted its beam rifle from one hand to the other. “I don’t know, but my instruments are picking up a lot of erratic electronic trace signatures coming from the station, something is not right over there.”
“And we still can’t break through the jamming frequency?”
Liam shook his head. “The transmissions are being jammed from the source. Even if we could get through they would have no way of responding.” The left arm of his mobile suit pointed towards the station. “Their antennas have been sabotaged.”
The mobile suits drifted in to maintain relative position to each other and the Assault Carrier; their cameras were locked either on the station, or on the identical lines being drawn opposite them.Stargazer Station continued its rotation unaffected by the situation occurring around it before a plume of debris jetted out from the side of the stations encompassing docking ring. The debris was comprised primarily of internal structural material as well as the smashed and damaged remains of a blue ORB shuttle and a pair of Murasame mobile suits. To the horror of the ZAFT pilots, scattered through the debris was a number of blue and white uniformed ORB soldiers, none of which were wearing pressure suits or emergency breathing apparatuses.
“I don’t think that was an accident,” Janissary commented before checking the engine status of her mobile suit, switching them from idle to hot active. “You think it could be the Heralds?” Lachlan asked his helmeted expression looked concerned, causing Janissary to remind herself that the Ongary team had just graduated from the ZAFT Military Academy, this was the first time they had actually seen a situation like this.
Janissary shook her head, “At this point, we don’t know anything, except something very bad has just happened. Captain Trine, I am requesting permission for the Degas team to board the station and retrieve Chairman Clyne. With all that is going on I would feel a lot better if she wasn’t on the station.”The bridge camera shifted to the main bridge, alert klaxons softly wailed in the background and it was obvious the bridge had been lowered. Arthur’s expression spoke volumes, “I concur, Leftenant, I will contact the Kusinagi and the Ankara on the emergency frequency, but be careful; they might be thinking the same, the last thing I want is an intergalactic incident with friendly fire accidents. From your position, were there any survivors from the explosion?”
Janissary checked her cameras a second time before shaking her head, “I can’t tell from this distance, but it might be a good idea to send the Douglas Team with some shuttles to at least retrieve the bodies for ORB.”
The captain nodded before issuing the order for the Douglas Team to launch, “Good luck Leftenant, we will remain on this frequency, but we may lose contact the closer you get to the Station.”
Janissary switched over to the Degas Team frequency, noticing that both Telmura and Liam’s mobile suits had already switched to full power. “Okay boy’s we know what we have to do, so let’s do it.” The three mobile suits pulled away from the perimeter, the gaps made by their departure were quickly filled in by the Ongary team changing position to compensate. “At least they don’t perform the same mistake twice,” Janissary muttered before keying open the team channel, “Liam find us a place to get aboard, I don’t trust the docking bays, they may be booby-trapped.”Liam fiddled with his controls, searching schematics and blueprints for anything that could be used as an entrance if supplied with the appropriate amount of force. “There are twelve engineering inspection hatches located on the main hull of the station, six on the docking ring, six on the main operations section; their normally used for EVA inspection duty; as such they’re not exactly the most secure lock to break.”
“You saying you can get us in kid?” Telmura commented as his mobile suit hefted its laser minigun from one hand to the other as the three machines neared the station. “That is what I’m saying, once we get close enough I should be able to hack into the stations internal systems and open the inspection hatch,” the tone in the young tech specialist’s reply made him sound insulted by the insinuation of the chief warrant officer.
“Very good Mister O’Connor, once we are in range, would we be able to pick up the stations internal RF communications?” Janissary asked as the suits approached the periphery of the station, its grey surface contrasted the sterile black starscape behind it. The suits cast long shadows over its rotating superstructure as they approached.
“As long as they haven’t encrypted them we should be able to,” Liam replied before his fingers danced over one of the additional consoles in his cockpit, hacking through the station’s firewalls and uploading intrusion software into the stations main computer.
As the three mobile suits hung in position, with Janissary and Telmura covering the otherwise preoccupied Liam, men clad in vacuum sealed EVA suits exited an inspection hatch a short distance away from the trio; all of whom were dragging large cylindrical objects behind them. These vacuum sealed men fanned out carefully along the outer hull and raise the cylinders, pointing them towards the three mobile suits.
Alarms wailed within Janissary’s cockpit as her radar screen detected the launch of a series of projectiles heading directly towards the team, turning her suit towards the source of the disturbance she saw the anti-mobile suit missiles rocketing towards her team. “Incoming,” she called before activating her thrusters to maneuverer out of the way. Telmura did likewise, Liam, however, was still preoccupied with the task to hear her warning. Shaking her head, Janissary pressed down on her suits control surfaces, sending it towards Liam’s suit and into the path of the small barrage. Once she was close enough she pushed Liam’s High Mobility Suit out of the way before turning her arm mounted shield towards the rockets and braced herself.
A burst of laser fire cut the space between Janissary and the missiles as Telmura opened fire with his laser minigun, destroying most of the projectiles, the remainder were easily evaded. Janissary moved her machine over to the source of the attack, her expression hardening as she observed suited men struggling to get a second volley prepared. Flicking a switch on her control stick, she activated her ZAKU’s head mounted machine guns, taking a millisecond to track her targets; she depressed the trigger, sending rounds normally intended for light armoured vehicles slamming into the terrorist’s unarmoured bodies. In rapid succession their suits were ruptured and their bodies decompressed. The Lieutenant stole a moment to scan the surface of the station for any additional targets before returning her weapons to hot-standby mode.
“Looks like we have a way in,” she commented pointing at one of the access hatches that remained open, she then keyed open a private channel to the Tech Specialist, “Liam, you have got to keep paying attention to your surroundings, you can’t get bogged down on the one task and ignore everything else.”“Sorry, it won’t happen again,” Liam replied meekly; sinking into his cockpit chair as the three mobile suits moved towards the open hatch, landing on the exterior surface of the station. A series of thuds followed as the machines activated their magnetic footpads, securing them in place.
The chest of each of the three mobile suits opened, allowing the team access to the surface of the station. With the aid of thrusters packs Janissary, Telmura and Liam moved towards the open access panel, each clutching their respective weapons tightly in gloved hands. One after the other, the three climbed into the airlock, Telmura being the last in pulling the hatch closed behind him.Janissary pointed towards an access panel silently, instructing Liam to get to work while the three pressed down with their momentum to stand on the ‘floor’ portion of the airlock. The Tech Specialist uncovered a small computer from his wrist and removed a long thin cable from its side, inserting the pin into the terminal in front of him. “Thankfully this kind of terminal isn’t as secure as the ones controlling the exterior hatches; I guess because it’s a closed system, they didn’t expect someone to want to hack into it,” Liam commented while the fingers of his opposing hand danced over the small keypad, uploading a localised intrusion program to the terminal.
Once the program was uploaded it only took a moment for the locked control surface to light up, red ‘denied’ icons replaced by green ‘granted’ ones, “There we are,” Liam remarked, raising his hands in triumph before cycling open the airlock, allowing the team access to the interior of the station.
Janissary turned to the others, unslinging her snub-nosed battle rifle and pulling back the charging handle, loading a round into the chamber, Telmura did the same with his assault rifle before nodding he was ready. Liam disconnected the cable from the terminal, retracting it back into his wrist computer and unclipped the machine pistol from his belt, checking the magazine before nodding also.
“We know our orders so I will be brief, we have to locate Chairman Clyne and return her to the Daedalus,” Janissary commented before feeding a thin fibre-optic camera down into the interior corridor; checking for any potential hostile movement. When she was convinced the coast was clear, she signalled to the other two, before jumping through the open hatch into the station proper; scanning the corridors with her rifle as Telmura and Liam joined her.
“What about the Commander, and the rest of the delegation?” Liam asked as Janissary motioned for the trio to proceed down a corridor that identifying markings inferred a direct route to the interior of the station.
“Chairman Clyne is the highest priority, kid, and besides, we only have the three mobile suits, it’d get rather cramped if we extracted the others as well. Don’t worry about the Commander, he’s pretty resourceful, and he can take care of himself,” Telmura replied before taking the rear guard position, covering their backs. Janissary raised her left hand, closing it to a fist to silence the team, before she breathed into the teams private channel, “Just focus on hacking into the station comm channels so we can find the Chairman, leave the logistics of everything else to me; now move out.”
As one fluid motion, the three mobile suit pilots moved out, heading deeper into the station.
Large blast doors opened for the two delegations, admitting them finally to the apparent safety of the Command Centre of Stargazer Station, the twelve uniformed personnel manning stations inside turned towards the two heads of state and snapped to attention.
“Chairman Clyne, Representative Zala, you will be safe here, every member of this command crew is a vetted member of the Scandinavian Elite Guard,” Commander Verna stated as the officers saluted Lacus and Cagalli before returning to their duties, coordinating security teams in an attempt to counter the Herald’s incursion to the station.
“Commander what efforts have been made to recover the bodies from the ORB Hangar?” Cagalli asked abruptly, her eyes still stinging from the news that her countrymen were killed when the hangar was explosively decompressed.
The station commander took a step towards Cagalli and lowered his voice, “Representative Zala, please let me extend the condolences of the Kingdom of Scandinavia to the ORB Union for the deaths of your personnel following this cowardly attack, if there is anything we can do, please let me know.”
Cagalli accepted the apology mutely; she had been briefed on what had happened to the ORB Union shuttle in transit to the command centre.
“Thank you for your sympathies, Commander, what I want to know is what is being done to recover the bodies of my people?” Cagalli remarked stepping away from the group to rest her hands on the interior railing.
“Commander, is there a way we can get a message out to those ships? No doubt they will want to know we are safe,” Athrun commented while trying to console his wife.
The station commander looked to the communications station as if to gather the response, the technician shook her head, “I’m sorry sir, our external transmission antennas have been sabotaged; we have no lines out.”
“There has to be a way to get a message out,” Kira remarked leaning on the interior railing.
As the leaders of ZAFT and ORB debated the situation, Cassius took a step between them. “Why don’t we use the ZAFT shuttle?” his suggestion silenced the room before everyone turned towards the White.
“How do we know that the ZAFT shuttle won’t share the same fate as the ORB one, or even the Earth Alliance one?” Verna asked moving away from the stations situational display.
Cassius thought over the question, assuming the first response he had of ‘It hasn’t exploded yet,’ wasn’t particularly appropriate. Before he could reply, Kira stepped forward.
“Aside from the two Mobile Suit pilots we didn’t leave anyone in the hangar, who could have potentially sabotaged the shuttle, as the Commander was our pilot.”
“Brother are you suggesting that we brought the Herald that killed my people?” Cagalli called, visibly pained at the suggestion from the FAITH member.
Athrun turned to his wife, taking her in his arms, “Cagalli, we don’t know what happened in the hangar, Kira isn’t suggesting anything,”
“So how do we know it hasn’t been compromised as well?” she asked when she finally calmed down; however her cheeks were still flushed.
Cassius shrugged, “It hasn’t exploded.” The grouped leaders looked at the commander with sceptical expressions, “What I mean is that either the Herald agent that was tasked with destroying the shuttle has already been incapacitated…or isn’t even on the station to carry it out.”
“The problem is that there is no way we can remotely access the ZAFT Shuttle from here, we’ll have to get someone to access the shuttle locally,” Verna remarked, “And they would need to know the shuttles access code to do it.”
The grouped dignitaries argued between themselves about who should go before Cassius stepped forward and removed the acquired machine pistol from tucked into his belt. “I’ll go.” The commander’s remark silenced the delegation. As the most powerful people in the Earth Sphere starred at him like he had grown a second head, Cassius began to feel somewhat self-conscious of his suggestion, before regaining his composure. “I’m the obvious choice, I’m the most expendable person here.”
Lacus frowned before stepping towards Cassius, placing a hand on his shoulder when she stood in front of him. “Commander, no one is expendable. If we start believing in that one person’s life is worth less than another, then we are no better than the Heralds who attack us now.”
The Supreme Commanders comment caused Cassius to smile. “That may be, but we both know that I’m still the best choice. I’m just a soldier,” Cassius accented this by pulling back the charging handle on the appropriated machine pistol he carried, “And besides, I know the access code to the shuttle.”
Cassius then grinned and turned to Kira, “Look after the Chairman, I shall not be long.”
Verna approached a nearby emergency locker and removed a walkie-talkie from its docking station. Powering up the device and handing it to Cassius, “You’ll be able to appraise us of your progress, but we cannot determine if the Heralds have broken our encryption as we are currently fighting their incursions into our mainframe.” Verna paused before holding out his hand, “Good luck Commander.”
Cassius shook the extended hand before turning towards Lacus who nodded approvingly. Smiling slightly the commander approached the blast doors, “I’ll be in touch,” he remarked before crossing the threshold and back out into the station.
“So we have a plan as to how we are going to find Chairman Clyne in a station of this size?” Telmura remarked as the Degas team crept down corridors in an attempt to avoid coming into contact with either Herald terrorists or Kingdom of Scandinavia ground forces who might misinterpret the three ZAFT pilots as part of the invading force.
“You know, I wish we could contact the Scandinavians and tell them why we are here instead of skulking around like we are doing something wrong,” Janissary remarked before coming to a stop at a junction to peer around the corner.
“Technically we are doing something wrong as we are armed foreign nationals who have forcibly boarded a military installation belonging to another sovereign power,” Telmura replied coming to a crouch behind the lieutenant. Janissary looked over her shoulder to the Maori pilot, her deadpan expression causing him to grin. “Well you did ask.”
Janissary rolled her eyes before removing her flight helmet and attaching it to her belt after she retrieved her headset from within.
“And to answer your question, I haven’t quite figured out all of the details, but it is falling into place.” Janissary turned to Liam who seemed to be feverishly inputting commands into his wrist computer. “Do we have access yet?”
Liam shook his head, “Not yet, there seems to be a second party also in the system hacking in as well. I’ve been able to follow them in but the Scandinavians are actively putting up a fight.”
The lieutenant scowled, “Well keep at it, no doubt the Commander and the others would have taken the Supreme Chairman somewhere secure, we just need to find out where. Having comms to them would also be helpful.”
The tech specialist looked up to the interim team leader and grinned. “I’ve managed to isolate the current Scandinavian RF signal, transmission will be impossible as we don’t have a native radio to acquire the encryption package, but we will be able to listen in.”
Telmura slapped the tech specialist on the back before like Janissary removed his helmet and headset. “Nice work, kid.”
Liam’s cheeks flushed slightly before sharing the frequency modulation with the other two.
Slipping the earpiece over her ear, Janissary cycled to the native channel. “Let’s see what the locals have to say.”
“…I’ve reached the outer ring without incident, I’m moving on the hangar now...”
Janissary looked up at the other members of the team, “Is it just me or is that the Commander?”
“It sure sounds like him,” Telmura replied before removing the clip from his rifle to inspect it for dust and reinserting it.
“What’s he doing on the Scandinavian radio?” Liam asked before running a series of counter-insurgency programs to attempt to circumvent local security protocols.
“Well he is a very resourceful man,” Janissary replied before turning to face the others, “That is also a question to add to an ever-growing list of questions, but at least now we have a destination. No doubt Cassius would know where the Chairman is.”As the group headed down corridors directing them to the hangars, Liam kept looking over his shoulder, “But which hangar is the Commander heading for?”
Janissary paused momentarily, “Don’t question, just follow.” Before quickly moving on.
Cassius moved silently down long, otherwise abandoned corridors as alert klaxons had restricted loyal Scandinavian personnel to their workstations. That fact greatly assisted the Commander as it meant that anyone out wandering was a Herald.