Chapter 1: Grim Reality

Editors Note: This is the draft that I use for the Fan Fiction of the Week. The Fan Fiction is written by Dragoon Swordsman.

Author’s Note: I own nothing save Alex Strassmeier and his comrades

Heliopolis, 25 January, C.E. 71

“I’m within two kilometers of Kaohsiung Spaceport, where the fighting has been intense for days.” The man on the screen wore a flack vest; wise of him, since the background image featured a ZAFT ZGMF-1017 GINN. “ZAFT forces began their attack several days ago, and from what I’ve been told, they have nearly taken the spaceport.” The reporter looked grim. “With Kaohsiung taken, the only mass drivers left to the Alliance will be Victoria and Porta Panama.”

Too bad for them, the dark-haired youth watching the report thought sourly, though no sign of his thoughts touched his hawk-like features. They attack Copernicus, then have the nerve to blame ZAFT for it? Bastards.

Alex Strassmeier shook his head in disgust. While his sympathies were firmly with the PLANTs (he had some highly placed relatives there), he had little use for ZAFT, or rather for its leader, Patrick Zala. He had learned some time ago that Zala wanted to outright exterminate the Naturals, not something that would put him in a good mood. He regarded those who let their genetic profile dictate their actions with unmitigated contempt.

“Hey, Alex!”

Alex turned, running a hand through his space-black hair. “Tolle, Miriallia,” he greeted coolly. “Something up?”

Miriallia Haw nodded. “Professor Kato wants to see you,” she said.

“Did he say why?”

Mir shook her head. “Just that he needed you.” She wondered about that. At seventeen, Alex was almost a year older than she was. He was also significantly taller, and his blue eyes always reminded her of ice crystals. It was common knowledge that he was a second-generation Coordinator, but few cared. (A notable exception was Kuzzey Buskirk, a classmate of theirs who distrusted Coordinators in general. Alex did not hold it against him.)

Tolle Koenig wrapped an arm around her shoulders. “We’re supposed to grab Kira, too. He’s doing something for the Prof; don’t know what.” Kira Yamato was another classmate, and a first-generation Coordinator, though Alex was the only one privy to that.

“Something to do with Morgenroete, I’ll bet.” Alex shrugged. “I’m doing something similar; can’t say what.” In fact, his work had nothing whatsoever to do with Morgenroete. Rather, it was a contingency plan he and a few friends had come up with after Zala showed his true colors. Not that he intended to tell Mir or Tolle. “I’ll be along shortly.”

“Got it. See you later.” Despite Alex’s coolness, Tolle and Mir considered him a friend, as did Kira and another of their classmates, a young man named Sai Argyle.

When they were gone, Alex checked inside his long black jacket. Concealed within was a pocket computer, a knife…and a high-caliber auto pistol. With his background, he had long ago learned not to take foolish chances. Given that he was open about his genetic profile, Alex knew perfectly well that Blue Cosmos might try for him, however unlikely that might be in Orb Union territory.

Lastly, he opened his wallet: a moderate amount of cash, mostly Orb currency, but also some from the PLANTs, as well as (Alex shuddered at the thought) the Atlantic Federation; an I.D. card that he used to get into Morgenroete; a driver’s license… and a photo of him standing with a white-haired youth of the same approximate age.

Alex stared at the picture for a long moment. Yzak…


Sai Argyle looked up as Alex entered the lab. “Hi, Alex. What kept you?”

“Had some things to take care of,” was the reply. He did not elaborate, to no one’s surprise; Alex Strassmeier was the most private person any of them had ever met. He glanced at the door, spotting someone he had not seen before. “And who’s that?” He nodded at the blond girl leaning next to the door.

Kuzzey shrugged. “She’s a guest of Professor Kato’s; apparently she was told to wait here.”

“I see.” Alex studied the newcomer. About a head shorter than he, amber eyes, a mop of blond hair under a beret… Where have I seen her before? He was certain he had seen her face somewhere, but he could not figure out were.

Then it clicked. Cagalli Yula Athha, the chief representative’s daughter. Well, well, well, what would the Lioness of Orb be doing in a place like this? Interesting. Alex understood most people would not have recognized her, but he had more reason than most for paying attention to Orb’s inner workings.

Kira, meanwhile, was examining a program Sai had supplied. “It’s an analysis of some kind,” he said.

“Probably something to do with Morgenroete,” Tolle said.

Cagalli ignored them completely, focusing on the young man watching her. Who is he, and why is he staring at me? She did not know what to make of him, but he was more than a little disturbing.

The next hour was uneventful enough. Tolle and Kuzzey worked with a frame that looked suspiciously like the innards of a mobile suit cockpit. Kira, Sai, and Mir fiddled with a series of programs, with little effect; Kira speculated that it was a wiring problem. Alex divided his time between helping them and surreptitiously watching Cagalli, who grew progressively more irritated.

“If we could just get past this wiring problem, we’d be fine,” Kira was saying, a peeved note in his voice. He looked over his shoulder. “Alex? Any ideas?”

The other Coordinator shook his head. “Not at this point, I’m afraid.” He started to turn away, then froze for a split second as a buzzing sounded in his ear. He glanced around the room to make sure no one had noticed, then nodded to himself. “Strassmeier,” he subvocalized.

“Alex, it’s Lia,” a female voice said. Lia Ramius was one of the key players in their secret project. “We’ve tapped into the colony’s computers, and there’s trouble.”

Alex frowned minutely. “What kind of trouble?”

“According to what we’ve found, Morgenroete is building mobile suits for the Earth Forces.”

“Mobile suits?” Alex repeated. “But Naturals can’t pilot such machines. Not without a severely upgraded operating system, anyway.”

He could almost see her wince. “Maybe they’ve found a way around that. There are five prototypes here, plus a new warship to carry them. As far as I can tell, only our machines can stand up to them; nothing ZAFT has can do it, that’s for sure.”

“Wonderful.” Alex swore under his breath. So much for neutrality. “That explains one thing that’s been puzzling me for the last hour.”

“What’s that?”

“Chief Representative Athha’s daughter, Cagalli, is leaning against a wall about five meters away from me.” He gave the princess a narrow glance, which she returned almost challengingly. “I’ll bet she’s come to see for herself; by all accounts Cagalli Yula Athha is anything but stupid. Hotheaded and impulsive, yes. Stupid, no.”

Lia sighed. “Figures. Look, Alex, you’d better keep an eye on her. The last thing we need is for the Princess of Orb to be caught up in a ZAFT attack.”

“ZAFT? Are you sure?”

“Positive; we’ve I.D.’d two ships, a Nazca and a Laurasia.” His friend took a deep breath. “The Laurasia is the Gamow, nothing special. The Nazca, on the other hand…” Lia paused. “It’s the Vesalius.”

Alex swore again. “Of all the ZAFT commanders in space, it had to be Rau Le Creuset. All right, get everybody aboard the Valkyrie ASAP, Lia. When I give the signal, launch. The code is Ragnarok.”

“Roger that. Be careful, Alex.” There was a click as she disconnected.

Alex forcefully resisted an urge to slam his fist into the nearest wall. Simply great. Morgenroete is building mobile suits for the Earth Forces, the Chief Representative’s daughter is here to check it out, and to top it off, it looks like we are about to go toe-to-toe with Rau Le Creuset himself.

As far as he was concerned, the only difference between Rau Le Creuset and Patrick Zala was that Le Creuset was creepier. Both men, in their own ways, disgusted him: Zala by his unreasoning hatred of Naturals, and Le Creuset with his evident lack of anything resembling a moral compass; the man clearly believed in the philosophy of the ends justifying the means. And I am related to one of Zala’s inner circle. This could get complicated.

Despite his iron self-control, some of Alex’s thoughts must have shown on his face, or so he judged by the way his friends were looking at him. “Are you okay?” Kira asked.

Alex quickly shook it off, his poker face sliding back into place. “It’s nothing; don’t worry about it.” The others went back to their work, not sure if they had all been hallucinating.

Cagalli, however, thought otherwise. She had not missed the way he froze, however briefly, when he received the call. You know more than you are letting on, don’t you? Are you with the Earth Forces, or ZAFT, or what? It did not occur to her that he was, in some ways, connected to both, but she would not have cared even if she had known. Either way, you are trouble.

Then it happened. A concerted attack by three GINNs shook the colony. “A meteor?” Sai wondered.

Alex shook his head. “A ZAFT attack. Morgenroete is building mobile suits for the Earth Forces, and Rau Le Creuset is here to collect them.” Ignoring his friends’ looks of surprise (and Cagalli’s look of suspicion), he reached for the door with his left hand; his right suddenly held a pistol. “Come on.”

The seven youngsters emerged in an emergency stairwell. Dozens of people were already on it, clearly trying to get out as fast as possible. A few looked taken aback by Alex’s pistol, but he ignored them, reflexively scanning for any threats.

None presented themselves, though Cagalli was beginning to feel like threatening him herself. How do you know it is ZAFT? Are you in on this or something? The more she saw of the mysterious Coordinator, the more suspicious she became.

“What’s going on?” Sai asked, bewildered. Is Alex, right? Are we under attack?

“We’re under attack by ZAFT! Some of their mobile suits have entered the colony!” Kira and his friends gasped, and Cagalli’s eyes narrowed, but Alex did not even blink. “You’d better get out, too!”

Kira and the others started for the exit, but Cagalli ran off in the opposite direction. Seeing this, Kira ran after her. Is she crazy? He doubled his pace, peripherally aware of Alex close on his heels. He did not bother to question his friend’s action; Alex never did anything without reason, he just usually kept that reason secret.

“Kira! Alex!” Tolle called.

“I’ll be right back!” Kira yelled back; Alex did not respond at all.

Ahead of them, Cagalli raced down the seemingly dead-end corridor. If we are really building mobile suits for the Earth Forces… Father, how could you? She grimaced at the thought of the young man from the lab. And how did he know it was a ZAFT attack? There was only one conclusion she could draw. He must be a ZAFT agent. Which means he is involved in the attack.

That was when Kira caught up with her. “What are you doing? It’s a dead end here.”

“Stop tailing me!” Cagalli snapped. “Better get out of here and hook back up with the others.” She glared at Alex as he came to a stop near them. “And what do you think you’re doing?” she demanded.

Even if he had wanted to, Alex would not have been able to respond; at that moment, another explosion rocked the corridor, blowing Cagalli’s hat off.

Kira blinked in surprise. “You’re…a girl?”

She glared at him. What did you think? “Yeah, what did you think I was? Let us hear it!”

“Perhaps you two could wait on arguing until we are no longer in danger of being blown to bits,” Alex suggested mildly. “And Kira, you’re wrong; there is a way out in this direction. As I said, Morgenroete is building mobile suits for the Earth Forces, and at least two of them are in this direction.” He staggered yet another explosion shook them. “In any case, we no longer have a choice; that blast cut us off.”

Kira nodded. “Right, let’s go!” He grabbed Cagalli’s hand.

“Let go of me, you jerk!” Despite her words, the girl did not resist.

Factory district

Lieutenant Murrue Ramius, Earth Forces, was in a bad position. Three of her people had already been killed in a firefight with ZAFT commando-pilots, and she herself was running low on ammunition. This is ridiculous, she thought, blasting yet another green suit. How did they find out?

Alex, Kira, and Cagalli burst out onto the catwalk above. Cagalli took one look at the mobile suits on the floor and sank to her knees. “I knew it,” she moaned. “The Earth Forces prototype mobile weapons… Father, I knew you betrayed us all!”

Alex grabbed them both and yanked them down, just as Ramius fired on them. “Do you think you could draw even more attention to us?” he hissed at Cagalli; voice even colder than usual. “There might have been two or three people in the colony who didn’t hear you…maybe.” Without waiting for a response, he got to his feet. “Come on, the shelter is this way.”

They reached the shelter easily enough, only to run into another problem: it was full. Completely.

Kira closed his eyes in despair. “What do we do now?”

Alex hid a grimace. I guess I have no choice. “Kira, head for the shelters in the left block. I’ll get the girl out.”

His friend’s eyes widened. “Are you sure?”

“Trust me.”

Kira hesitated, then nodded reluctantly. “All right, then. Be careful.” He turned and ran back the way they had come.

Here goes nothing. Alex began running in the opposite direction; Cagalli, though still suspicious, realized she had no choice but to follow. They dodged intermittent explosions -apparently one of the GINNs was using HE rounds in its rifle- and turned down an alleyway. This should do for now.

Alex stopped so suddenly that Cagalli ran into him from behind. “Watch it, you-!”

“Quiet,” he snapped.

She glared. “Who do you think you are? I have-“

Cagalli stopped in mid-sentence at the look he gave her. “I said quiet,” Alex repeated. “I need to think, and I can’t with you jabbering at me.” He glanced skyward. Lia, I hope you are ready. We cannot wait any longer. Since his throat mike had been damaged in the ruckus, Alex brought a wrist-mounted comm to his lips. “Ragnarok, Ragnarok. I say again, Ragnarok.”

“Copy Ragnarok,” Lia Ramius’s voice said. “What’s up?”

“Launch the Valkyrie. I’m in an alley in the factory district with the princess.” Cagalli stared at him in disbelief. “I need you to pick us up.”

“Roger that,” Lia replied. “We’re on our way. ETA: fifteen minutes.”

“Good.” Alex signed off and glanced at his companion. “We have a little time, so you might as well ask some of your burning questions.”

Cagalli blinked, put off balance by his remarks. “Let’s start with who are you, and how do you know who I am,” she said, trying to steady herself.

“Quick and to the point. Just what I expected from the Lioness of Orb.” Alex’s shoulders twitched in what might have been a shrug. “My name is Alex Strassmeier. As for how I know who you are, I am afraid a detailed explanation will have to wait until we are aboard ship. For now, suffice it to say that I’ve seen you before.” He quirked an eyebrow. “Next?”

She blinked again. What is with this guy? “How did you know ZAFT was attacking before we got out of the lab? Are you a ZAFT agent?”

“Hardly. I am a second-generation Coordinator, yes, but that is irrelevant.” Alex gave her a searching look. “Unless Orb policy regarding my kind has changed recently?”

Cagalli shook her head. “It hasn’t, and I don’t care if you’re a Coordinator. What I do care about is how someone could know about the attack ahead of time without being in on it.”

“I didn’t know about it ahead of time; some friends of mine learned of the mobile suits Morgenroete was building here,” Alex countered. “When they spotted two ZAFT vessels, I knew an attack was inevitable. I do have connections to ZAFT, yes, but also some admittedly indirect connections to the Alliance.”

“How can you be connected to both sides without being some kind of double agent?” Cagalli demanded.

“I said I had connections, not that I was with either side,” he said coolly. “I have a relative in ZAFT, and the young lady I just spoke with is the niece of an Earth Forces officer, which puts me in a rather difficult position.” Another minute shrugs. “Further explanations will have to wait; the Valkyrie will be here at any moment.”

Before Cagalli could reply, they had a major distraction. What was left of the Morgenroete factory exploded, raining debris all around the area. The Earth Forces mobile suits they had seen earlier burst out of the rubble: X105 Strike, with Alliance officer Murrue Ramius at the controls, and X303 Aegis, captured by elite ZAFT pilot Athrun Zala.

Alex frowned slightly as the Strike stumbled across the landscape. What kind of OS does that thing have, anyway? Despite its evident superiority, the machine was having trouble with a simple GINN. Then again, if the GINN’s pilot is who I think it is, maybe “simple” is not the right word.

“What’s going on?” Cagalli whispered.

“Watch.” Alex nodded at the scene before them. “If I’m not greatly mistaken, that GINN is piloted by Miguel Aiman, the Magic Bullet of Dusk.”

Just as he finished speaking, the GINN lashed out with its sword, only to have it blocked. Color flowed over the Strike, turning it from a dull gray to blue and white with red trim. Phase-shift armor, Alex thought, watching as the Aegis similarly changed color, gray to deep red.

Then there were only two machines; the Aegis had departed after destroying a pair of artillery trucks with its CIWS. Miguel apparently intended to capture the Strike, but he was having problems of his own. The Earth Forces pilot -more likely Kira, Alex thought suddenly- had managed to overcome the machine’s mobility problem. The Strike charged in, peppering the GINN with a burst from its CIWS and burying a pair of knives in the ZAFT suit, one in the shoulder and one in the neck.

Miguel ejected, leaving his machine to self-destruct and knock Kira and Murrue unconscious, but Alex and Cagalli were no longer paying attention, for the Valkyrie had arrived. It reminded her of a picture she had seen of the Earth Forces’ new warship, the Archangel, except that, aside from its few running lights, it was inky black like the night itself. What is it? Cagalli wondered.

Alex sensed her astonishment. “You see before you the mobile assault ship Valkyrie,” he said.

She realized she was gaping like a fish and closed her mouth. “That looks like the Earth Forces’ new ship, except…I’ve never seen a warship that color.”

“Stealth armor,” Alex explained. “As for the resemblance, we acquired an early version of the plans, never mind how. We didn’t realize those plans were for an Alliance warship, of course.” He covered a wince; a piece of the GINN’s armor had caught him in the shoulder when it exploded, and he was bleeding profusely. “Come on.”

Valkyrie, Bridge

Alex walked onto the bridge fifteen minutes later. Cagalli was already there; when Alex had gone to get his wound treated, he had left her with a young man she had looked directly at without noticing. Everything about him screamed “nondescript”: medium height, medium build, medium brown hair, and eyes; he could have blended into virtually any crowd.

Caught by surprise, Cagalli had stammered an apology, but the young man had merely smiled and shaken his head ruefully.

“I get that a lot,” he had said, shaking her hand firmly. “Kyle Perry. I’m what passes for Alex’s right-hand man around here.”

Kyle had escorted her to the bridge, where she had been greeted by a brown-haired girl. “Welcome aboard, Miss Athha,” she had said with a smile. “I’m Lia Ramius, Captain of the Valkyrie.”

Cagalli had felt even more off-balance there, but Lia had swiftly put her at ease. They had spent several minutes talking, and then Alex had arrived.

“What’s our status?” he asked now.

Lia sighed. “Could be better. Since we are leaving so much earlier than we had planned, we’ve got a lot of rough edges.” She sat in the command chair and brought up a file on her terminal. “We’re well supplied with food and water. The Infirmary is fully stocked, and we’ve got plenty of spare parts.”

“Engines and life support are fully operational,” he noted. “Good thing; we can’t stay here, and I don’t care to breathe vacuum, or freeze to death.”

“That’s the good news,” Lia said. “The bad news is that our only operable weapons are the Gottfrieds and laser clusters. Of our mobile suits, the only one ready for combat is your Stormbird. Not that it matters since the linear catapults aren’t working yet.”

“Wonderful. Anything else?”

“Actually, yes.” An image of three mobile suits appeared on the main screen. “ZAFT got three more of the Earth Forces machines, tentatively identified as X102 Duel, X103 Buster, and X207 Blitz.”

Great, Alex thought, then frowned slightly as something else caught his eye. That guy taking the Duel…he looks familiar. He tapped an enhancement control, studied the image carefully, and felt himself pale in dismay as he recognized the pilot. No… Yzak.

Lia saw, and her eyes widened slightly. She had never seen her friend pale like that. “Alex? Is something wrong?” He did not respond. “Alex?”

Alex shook himself. “Sorry, Lia.” He grimaced, much to Cagalli’s surprise; she had not thought that he could show expression. “We already knew that your aunt was here.” He gestured at another screen, which showed Murrue Ramius working with his classmates around the Strike. They were ignoring the Valkyrie; Lia had taken the precaution of contacting the Strike and assuring them that Valkyrie was friendly. “Well, I now have a problem of my own.” Alex nodded at the recorded image. “The guy in the Duel is my cousin Yzak.”

“Status change!” the fire-control officer interrupted before Lia could respond. “Two heat signatures detected in the main shaft! Checking profiles…” The man stared at his display in disbelief. “A CGUE and a Moebius Zero. Who could that be?”

Alex swallowed a vicious curse. “The Zero will be Mu La Flaga; he’s the only survivor of that unit. As for the CGUE…” He gritted his teeth. “We’ve already I.D.’d the Vesalius, so it has to be Rau Le Creuset.”

Everything happened at high speed after that. Le Creuset blasted his way into the colony interior, followed closely by La Flaga’s Zero. The mobile armor had lost its wired gun barrels, but it still had the center-mounted linear cannon…until Le Creuset sliced the barrel off with his CGUE’s sword. Leaving the impotent mobile armor behind, the masked man made a quick strafing run against the Strike, only to be thwarted by the machines Phase-shift.

Le Creuset started to come around for another pass, but he soon had much larger thing to worry about. A titanic explosion shook the area, and the Earth Alliance Forces Mobile Assault Ship Archangel emerged through the hole it had blasted with its Lohengrin positron cannons.

Alex was the only one not frozen in shock. “This should be interesting.”

Archangel, Bridge

Ensign Natarle Badgiruel, Earth Alliance Forces, stared grimly at the main screen. ZAFT. It must be. She knew perfectly well that only ZAFT would have reason to attack a neutral space colony. What puzzled her was the ship hovering three kilometers away, a ship that bore a strong resemblance to the Archangel itself.

“We’ve broken into the colony interior,” Chief Petty Officer Arnold Neumann reported.

Jackie Tonomura spoke up next. “Morgenroete’s been destroyed! The Strike has been activated! No, it’s in combat!”

“Oh, great,” Badgiruel muttered. “What about the ship ahead of us?”

Dalida Chandra listened intently to his earpiece. “We’re receiving a transmission from Lieutenant Ramius,” he said. “She says that vessel is a friendly.” He frowned in surprise. “She says her niece is commanding it.”

The ensign raised her eyebrows in surprise. “Her niece?” she repeated.

Chandra started to reply, hesitated, then touched a control on his board. “That ship is hailing us, ma’am.”

Badgiruel frowned, then shrugged. “Put it on.”

A cheery-looking girl of sixteen appeared on the main viewer. “This is Lia Ramius, Captain of the mobile assault ship Valkyrie,” she said. “Can we offer assistance?”

The Earth Forces officer felt her eyes widen. She is only a teenager. How did someone like that wind up in command of a warship? And how did they get a warship in the first place? The fact that this girl was the niece of an officer Badgiruel respected carried a lot of weight in her mind, but still…

She cleared her throat. “We would be grateful, but I have to ask, how did someone as young as you clearly are end up in command of a warship? For that matter, how did you people get such a vessel in the first place?”

Lia shrugged. “I’m a first-generation Coordinator, and my parents are with the Junk Guild.” She glanced briefly over her shoulder. “Target Lokies on that CGUE,” she said crisply, then returned her gaze to Badgiruel. “I’m afraid we’re nowhere near fully operational, but our defenses can handle a single CGUE without a problem.”

The girl’s confidence was certainly justified. Even as the Archangel’s crew watched, the Valkyrie’s CIWS -laser clusters, Badgiruel realized in amazement, not Igelstellungs- forced Le Creuset to fly a dizzying evasive pattern. A CGUE was capable of handling Igelstellung fire, but Rau Le Creuset knew perfectly well that his machine stood no chance at all against energy weapons.

Then the Strike intervened, in the form of a 320-millimeter hyper-impulse cannon. One shot did more than discourage Le Creuset; it vaporized the CGUE’s right arm and blew a large hole in the colony wall. Knowing that he was beaten, at least for now, Le Creuset took advantage of the opening and made his escape.

Badgiruel sighed with relief. “Take us in for landing and brace yourselves for gravity.”

Archangel, hangar

It was a very strange group that gathered in the ship’s hangar. Most of them were, of course, Earth Forces personnel: Lieutenant Murrue Ramius, Ensign Natarle Badgiruel, and the Archangel’s bridge crew, along with Petty Officer Kojiro Murdoch and his mechanics.

Three people had come over from the Valkyrie: Murrue’s niece Lia, Alex Strassmeier, who creeped out several people with his seemingly emotionless demeanor, and Cagalli Yula Athha, who had decided that trying to hide her identity any longer was pointless.

Last were the young civilians Murrue had detained. All of them were more than a little nervous; not that any of the crew blamed them. They had just found themselves caught up in a war they had only heard about in news reports.

A third officer joined them. “My name is Mu La Flaga,” he said, saluting, “of the Seventh Orbital Fleet, at your service.”

Murrue returned the salute. “Lieutenant Murrue Ramius, attached to the G-weapon project. I’m a crew member on this ship.”

“Ensign Natarle Badgiruel,” the younger woman said, saluting as well.

“An honor to meet you,” La Flaga said. “Who’s in charge here, anyway?”

Badgiruel looked grim. “The Captain and the other senior officers were welcoming the new G-pilots in the gallery when we were attacked,” she said, shaking her head. “They were killed in the bombing; therefore, I believe Lieutenant Ramius is next in command.”

Murrue did not like that prospect at all. “The Captain? It can’t be…”

La Flaga winced. Ouch. “Anyway, please give me permission to come aboard. The ship I was assigned to engage the enemy and was downed.”

She jumped a little. “Oh, of course; permission granted.” Recovering, she nodded at Lia. “This is Lia Ramius, my niece. To be honest, I do not know exactly what she is doing here, but I expect we’ll find out soon enough.” Murrue laid a hand on the girl’s shoulder. “You should know that she’s a Coordinator.”

“Really?” La Flaga smiled. “Don’t worry about me. I don’t care what your genes look like.”

Lia smiled; Mu La Flaga, she found, was impossible to dislike. “Okay.”

The pilot turned to Kira and his friends. “And who are these?”

“They’re a group of students from a technical school here,” Murrue said. She nodded at Kira. “For some reason, he, along with those two,” she gave Alex and Cagalli a curious look, “was in the factory district during the attack. I brought him aboard the Strike, and he fought off a GINN with it.” Badgiruel inhaled sharply. “His name is Kira Yamato.”

“I see.” La Flaga regarded Kira curiously.

Kira frowned. “What is it?”

The ace raised an eyebrow. “You a Coordinator, too?”

Kira hesitated, then nodded. “Yes.”

Two things happened at once: four soldiers with automatic rifles took aim at Kira, and Tolle promptly got in their way. Kuzzey, Sai, and Mir looked alarmed, but before anyone else could react, a cool voice spoke up.

“I believe you’re aiming those guns at the wrong Coordinator,” Alex said, speaking for the first time since coming on board. “If you’re that worried, I think I am a more…appropriate target.”

Cagalli looked at him in surprise. What is he thinking?

Lia, however, knew exactly what he was up to. Do not do this, Alex. Please. “That can wait-” she started.

Alex just glanced at her, and she fell silent. “Not only am I a second-generation Coordinator -unlike Kira, whose parents are Naturals- but I am related by blood to a member of the PLANT Supreme Council,” he went on as if she had not spoken.

His words had the effect he had intended. The soldiers shifted their aim to cover him, and Badgiruel looked at him through suddenly narrowed eyes. “Which one?” she asked softly.

He met her gaze without expression, his eyes cold as ice. “One of the most radical: Ezalia Joule. She’s my aunt, to be exact.”

What? This kid is Ezalia Joule’s nephew? Badgiruel took a step closer. “Then why should we trust you?” she demanded. “For all we know, you could be a ZAFT agent, especially if you’re related to someone like Joule.”

Alex did not even twitch. “As I told the princess,” a gracious nod at Cagalli, “I find myself in a difficult position. Lia, as you know, is the niece of an Earth Forces officer. On the other hand, not only am I related to one of Patrick Zala’s cronies, but one of your machines -X102 Duel, I believe- was taken by my cousin Yzak.” He gave one of his minimalist shrugs. “Whether you trust me or not is your affair; my main concern is getting out of here alive.” Another nod at the princess. “And getting her out alive, as well; the last thing I need to do is antagonize Orb’s Chief Representative.”

“Again, why should we trust you?” the ensign repeated.

“Because he’s my friend,” Lia finally burst out. “I don’t care if he’s related to someone on the Supreme Council; he’s not like Zala, that’s for sure.”

Murrue winced at the exchange. “That’s enough,” she said, bringing the debate to a halt. “Lia, I trust your judgment, so we’ll take a chance on him.” She looked at Alex. “We still have to be careful; you understand.”

“Of course,” he replied. “If you were willing to trust me without reservation, you’d be a fool.”

Cagalli, however, was far from mollified. Learning that Alex was related to Ezalia Joule had left her more convinced than ever that he was a ZAFT agent, whatever Lia thought. How can you pull something like this off? You have got everyone around you convinced that you are on their side. She vowed right then and there that she would expose him.

When she learned that there was nothing to expose, her attitude would change dramatically…

Vesalius, Bridge

Six men watched a recording of the encounter with the Earth Forces machine inside Heliopolis. Rau Le Creuset wore the white uniform of a ZAFT Commander, along with his distinctive metal face mask. Next to him was a man in standard gray: Fredrik Ades, Vesalius’s commanding officer. Also, three men in green, ace pilot Miguel Aiman and his cohorts Olor and Matthew.

A teenager in the red uniform of an elite pilot floated a little apart from the others. Athrun Zala, the most senior of the four who had captured the G-weapons, was the son of the current Defense Committee chairman…as well as the best friend of Kira Yamato, who had bested both Miguel and Le Creuset.

Kira, he thought. Was it really you there? Why are you helping the Earth Forces? And what was that black ship? Even though the mysterious warship had opened fire on his commander, Athrun somehow doubted that it was an Earth Forces vessel. The Alliance could have hidden one such ship at Heliopolis, but two? Unlikely, to say the least.

“You really saved my hide by bringing this back, Miguel,” Le Creuset was saying. “Without this as proof, I’d have been a laughingstock for allowing my unit to be damaged by an Earth Forces mobile suit.”

There is more to it than that. “Sir, I don’t think it was just Earth Forces technology that stopped you.”

“What do you mean, Athrun?” the masked man asked.

Athrun sighed. “When I confronted that Earth Forces officer on the Strike, there was another person there, a teenager.” He looked away. “I recognized him.” He sighed again. “Kira Yamato, a first-generation Coordinator.”

“So, you know him.” It was not a question.

“Yes, sir.” Athrun swallowed hard; this was more difficult than he had expected. “We went to school together in Copernicus. We…we were the best of friends. I don’t know why he’d be helping the Earth Forces, but…”

Le Creuset nodded. “But you’d like a chance to convince him of the error of his ways.” He considered. “Very well. You may participate in the next assault. However, if you can’t persuade him…”

“Then I’ll shoot him down myself.” I am sorry, Kira. I have my duty.

Ades frowned. “Sir, we only have three GINNs. If Athrun’s going along-“

“I’ve already thought of that.” Le Creuset smiled. “We’ve finished with the data extraction, so he can take that captured mobile suit, the Aegis.” He nodded at the imagery of the Strike. “It has other advantages, as well. Imagine, one Earth Forces mobile suit against another.”

Vesalius’s captain considered that, then shrugged. Whatever works. “There’s still one problem, sir. What is that black ship, and what’s it doing in Heliopolis?” He brought up an image of the mysterious warship. “Its CIWS appears to consist of lasers, rather than machine cannons, and, judging by its similarity to the legged ship, it was designed to carry mobile suits.”

“I don’t believe it is much of a threat at present,” Le Creuset replied. “For one thing, I do not think it is an Earth Forces vessel, even though it opened fire on my CGUE. Also, it clearly is not fully operational; if it were, it would have attacked with something far more lethal than mere point defense lasers.” He shook his head. “No, we’ll concentrate on the legged ship for now.” He looked back at his pilots. “While Athrun deals with the Strike, Miguel, Olor, and Matthew will attack with D-package weaponry. That should be more than enough to take care of them.”

Athrun nodded with the others, but he had his doubts. He knew perfectly well that Kira could not possibly have had any training in mobile suits, and yet his old friend had defeated Miguel Aiman and Rau Le Creuset with barely any effort.

Could he do the same to me? Athrun wondered, then shrugged mentally and followed Miguel off the bridge.

Valkyrie, Bridge

Despite its strong resemblance to the Archangel, Valkyrie’s internal arrangement differed markedly. This was most noticeable on the bridge, which was designed more along the lines of a ZAFT Nazca-class destroyer. Alex and Lia had settled on that design because they both favored the large tabletop display.

The two of them stood with Kyle, Cagalli, and fifteen-year-old Brian Kilgore, a blond, green-eyed native of Maius City who had earned the nickname Desert Rat due to his relatively small size, his ferocity when cornered, and his inexplicable fondness for sand. Cagalli still distrusted Alex, but she found Brian impossible to dislike. Naturally, it made her even more determined to expose what she persisted in believing was a ZAFT spy in their midst.

“Once we’re clear of Heliopolis, we’ll have to rely on stealth and guile,” Lia was telling her aunt over the comm. “Valkyrie’s armor is radar-absorbent, she’s fast, and the engines are specially shielded so that the thermal signature can only be detected from directly behind.”

Murrue nodded. “And since few of your weapons are operational, you’ll need that speed. What about mobile suits?”

Brian pressed a key, transmitting the appropriate file to the Archangel. “We have five, all based on early plans we found of your machines; we didn’t know they were being built for the Earth Forces, of course.” A hologram appeared above the display, a winged mobile suit, blue and white with red trim. “MBF-X108 Stormbird, Alex’s personal machine. It has a 57-mm beam rifle with attached grenade launcher, two beam sabers, two head-mounted machine cannons -all our mobile suits have those- and a 300-mm plasma cannon. The anti-beam shield is far different from any other in existence. Instead of deflecting beams, it absorbs them, channeling the energy into the Stormbird’s battery.”

La Flaga whistled. “Nice trick.”

A heavier machine appeared next, one with an olive drab core and tan head and limbs. “Kyle’s MBF-X109 Devastator. Like the Buster, except that it has a shield. Main weapons are a 60-mm beam rifle, 75-mm gun launcher -it can pull off the same combo tricks as the Buster- and two each beam sabers and missile pods.”

Next was a sand-yellow suit. “This one’s mine, MBF-X304 Scorpion. It has the same sort of beam rifle as the Stormbird, minus the grenade launcher, as well as a pair of sabers. Like the Aegis, it is a transformable, but instead of turning into a giant claw, it gains increased speed and maneuverability in space. Its main benefit, however, is in atmosphere, were, thanks to its scale system, it can ‘swim’ through water or sand, making it perfect for ambushes. While in this mode, its only weapon is the Stinger, a high-energy dual beam cannon.”

A fourth mobile suit, eerily like the Blitz. “MBF-X208 Shinobi. A near-copy of the Blitz; the only real differences are the addition of a mine dispenser and increased range for the Gleipnir.” Brian changed the display one last time, to a flaming red machine. “MBF-X112 Inferno. Same rifle and sabers, plus a vacuum-adapted flamethrower. Not much to say there.”

“Sounds like you have an effective force,” Murrue said approvingly, smiling at her niece.

Lia winced. “Unfortunately, the only machine we have ready for action is Alex’s Stormbird; all the others are still working up. Besides which, we don’t have the linear catapults online yet.”

“I understand. Kira’s agreed to pilot the Strike for us, so we can handle ourselves.” Murrue shook her head ruefully. “Though if the Aegis turns up, he’ll be using disabling attacks only; it seems that the young man who shot me is Kira’s best friend, one Athrun Zala.”

“I’ve met him,” Alex said, earning yet another suspicious look from Cagalli. “He’s not a madman like his father, I can tell you that.”

“I’ll keep that in mind. Archangel out.”

The princess stared at Alex, wondering why on earth the Earth Forces people trusted him. That Kira guy is one thing, but Strassmeier…he is related to one of Patrick Zala’s inner circle, he knows Zala’s son personally…can’t they tell he would have to be ZAFT?

To her annoyance, Alex appeared to read her mind. “I know what you’re thinking,” he said mildly. “How can someone related to one of Patrick Zala’s inner circle be helping an Earth Forces ship?” He did not wait for an answer. “I know perfectly well you think I’m a spy, but that means truly little. I have no love for the Earth Forces, but ZAFT is just as bad now. Put simply, Patrick Zala is a homicidal madman whose goal is nothing more and nothing less than the death of all Naturals.” A derisive snort. “I have no use for people who let their genetic profile dictate their actions.”

“So, you’re willing to fight against your own family?” Cagalli shot back, clearly not believing him.

Alex raised an eyebrow. “Do you agree with everything your relatives do?” he asked in a deceptively calm tone. “Zala isn’t my only point of disagreement, as it happens; Aunt Ezalia is trying to make Rau Le Creuset into some sort of folk hero back home, and there’s no one in ZAFT who deserves it less. I know; I’ve met him a few times, and I can tell you that the only way he’s different from Zala is that he’s creepier.” His shoulders twitched. “As regards fighting my own family, I certainly have no intention of killing Yzak, whatever Badgiruel might want.”

“Alex?” It was Hiro Nakamura, the dark-haired pilot of the Shinobi. “We’ve got one of the linear catapults working, so you can take the Stormbird out.”

Alex hesitated, then nodded. “Good. Thanks, Hiro.” He turned to leave, calling over his shoulder, “Lia, whatever you do, don’t fire the Gottfrieds; the last thing we need right now if for the colony to come apart around us.”

Lia nodded. “Be careful.”

“Always am.”

Heliopolis, colony interior

Three GINNs blasted their way into Heliopolis, one equipped with a particle cannon, the others with heavy missile launchers. They were accompanied by one of the stolen G-weapons, X303 Aegis, a far more powerful unit than all three GINNs combined. Opposing them was a pair of warships, Archangel and Valkyrie, and their attendant mobile suits, the Earth Forces’ X105 Strike, with Kira Yamato at the controls, and Alex Strassmeier’s X108 Stormbird.

Miguel Aiman studied his readouts, frowning. Where would that extra mobile suit come from? Shrugging, he keyed his comm. “Olor, Matthew, take the Earth Forces ship; forget the black one for now. Athrun, see if you can talk some sense into that friend of yours. I’ve got the other machine.” His pilots acknowledged, and he moved for the Stormbird.

Athrun watched the Strike carefully. Different equipment this time. An anti-ship sword, a grappler, and a beam boomerang. He raised an eyebrow. Give the Naturals credit; they obviously do not want a repeat of last time. He brought up his own radio. “Kira, Kira Yamato! It’s you, aren’t it?”

Kira froze. He had known this was coming, but that did not make it any easier. “Athrun. Yeah, it’s me.”

“What do you think you’re doing?” Athrun demanded. “Why are you in an Earth Forces machine? How could you side with the Naturals?”

“I’m not siding with the Naturals; I’m protecting my friends!” Kira shot back. “Why are you with ZAFT? Why did you attack a neutral colony?”

The Aegis’s pilot frowned. Is he that naive? “Because this is where these things were made; the Earth Forces made Heliopolis a target.”

Alex took a cannon blast from Miguel on his shield and fired a burst from his CIWS, nicking the GINN. Sounds like this guy’s been blinded by his father’s propaganda, he thought in disgust. I think it is time to give Kira a bit of support. “It would appear that the last few years have caused your brain to atrophy; the Athrun I met in Aprilius would never have said something that stupid.”

Athrun’s eyes widened. That voice…Alex Strassmeier? Yzak’s cousin? “Strassmeier? What are you doing here?”

“Avoiding your father’s madness,” Alex responded, just as the Archangel’s main guns opened, blasting through Olor’s GINN and into the colony shaft. Not good. “I find myself in a difficult position. As you know, your teammate Yzak Joule is my first cousin. On the other hand, one of my closest friends, a first-generation Coordinator, is the niece of Archangel’s commanding officer.”

“So, you’ll fight against your own family?” Athrun snapped.

Alex shook his head. “I’ve already had this argument,” he said, “and I don’t see it as fighting my own family; I have no intention of killing Yzak if I can avoid it.” Miguel fired again, and he dodged again; the beam impacted on the remains of a factory. “In any case, there isn’t the slightest possibility that the Orb government was involved in this, and Rau Le Creuset knows it.”

Miguel charged him, determined to end this. “I’ve got you now!” He fired his cannon yet again.

Alex blocked the shot, grimacing. Guess I have no choice. “Try this, Miguel,” he said. Taking careful aim, he fired his beam rifle, catching the GINN dead center. Miguel did not even have time to scream.

“Miguel!” Athrun shouted. He dove at the Stormbird, firing repeatedly. “You’ll pay for that!”

“Athrun, stop!” The Strike was suddenly there, brandishing its Schwerht Gewehr antiship sword. “We’re just trying to protect our friends!”

“They’re just using you!” Athrun protested.

Alex snorted. “Oh, please. The acting-Captain on that ship is a senior-grade lieutenant; not exactly an upper-echelon type. Besides which, the friends Kira is referring to are a bunch of college students who got caught up in this through no fault of their own.” He took a beam on his shield. “Also, they’re orb nationals, and you know as well as I do that Orb openly welcomes Coordinators.”

Athrun did not get a chance to respond. Matthew had just suffered the same fate as Olor, but his launchers had survived. The missiles impacted on the colony shaft; combined with damage suffered earlier in the battle, it was enough to bring Heliopolis to the point of collapse.

Archangel and Valkyrie were able to weather the buffeting wins and escape under their own power. The two mobile suits, with their less powerful thrusters, were not so fortunate. Stormbird at least was able to keep its orientation stable; had the Strike been in Aile mode, Kira would have been able to do the same. As it was, he was blown out, tumbling end-over-end.

Athrun stared in horror. “Kira, no!” Then, he too was blown out through a gaping hole in the colony wall.

Author’s note: And so, begins the author’s first foray into Gundam SEED fan fiction. The author apologizes for the awkward beginning; the author is still feeling the author’s way into it. The author will try to make future chapters better. Not to worry, Kira and his friends will appear a lot more; this chapter was largely a setup for the author’s new characters.

As for pairings, The author can guarantee that the author is going to annoy some people: Cagalli/OC, Athrun/Lacus, Kira/Flay. The pairs were inspired by the author’s fans.

This story will, with a few changes, (some of which are obvious in the first chapter), follow the official storyline until the first visit to Orb. Then things will get very strange indeed.