Chapter 17: Reunions

Pacific Ocean, near Orb Union, 23 March, C.E. 71

It really was a shame, Alex decided, that the drubbing they had given those submarines at the Strait of Malacca eight days earlier had not given the Zala team pause. True, he had not held out much hope, but it would have been nice if Athrun had taken the warning and spared them the annoyance.

Annoyance is right. They were facing four Gundams on Guul subflight platforms with three Gundams of their own. Kyle, Chris, and Hiro were on the Valkyrie’s forward deck playing armored gun turret, leaving Alex, Brian, and Kira to take the fight to the enemy with their flight-capable machines.

At least they are pretty much ignoring our ship, Alex thought grimly. With their proximity to Orb, Athrun had apparently decided that attacking the Valkyrie was a waste of effort and power, so his team was focused on the Archangel.

“Time to change that,” Alex muttered. Predictably, Yzak was concentrating on the Strike; though he hated to admit it, the white-haired pilot’s facility for carrying a grudge was very nearly equal to Daniel Bartlett’s. “Brian, cover me.”

“Roger that.”

Smiling grimly, Alex angled his machine toward the Duel. See how you like this, Cousin.

From Athrun’s perspective, the battle was going well. The black ship’s machines had done little so far, and the Strike was for the moment pinned to the legged ship’s deck.

The Duel’s movements caught his eye. “Yzak, don’t be reckless!”

“Shut up!”

“Try to aim for the engines,” Athrun continued, ignoring Yzak’s insolence. “Nicol, flank them on the port side!”


Athrun followed his own directive, targeting the legged ship’s port Igelstellungs. If it goes down, he thought, then cursed as the Scorpion flashed past, throwing off his aim. Knowing that a Gundam was far more of a threat than some machine cannons that could not hurt him anyway, he shifted his aim, or tried to. The transformable machine was maddeningly agile.

“What’s with this guy?” A hurried series of laser blasts missed completely; Kilgore repeatedly paused for a split second in front of the Aegis’s optics, seemingly as a taunt.

“Nice try!” Forgoing his weapons completely, Kilgore slammed his machine into Athrun’s, throwing the Aegis off balance, then darted away again.

“Blast it!” Athrun fired a burst from his thrusters, stabilizing his machine, then looked warily for his opponent. The old fighter pilot adage, “Lose sight, lose the fight,” held true for mobile suits as well, and Athrun had no intention of losing.

Archangel/Valkyrie, Bridge

Murrue gripped the arms of her command chair as the Archangel shook wildly. “Damage report!”

“Igelstellungs Four and Five are hit, ma’am!” Sai responded. “Sealing bulkheads!” The ship shook again as he spoke.

“Direct hit on the starboard levitator,” Chandra reported. “It was the Blitz’s lancer darts.”

“Buster approaching from above!” Tonomura sang out.

Dearka’s attack was considerably nastier than Nicol’s. The Buster’s anti-armor shotgun, orders of magnitude more powerful than lancer darts, struck the Archangel’s port side, taking out a good-sized chunk of their CIWS.

“We can’t take much more of this,” Murrue said grimly. “Lia, what about you?”

“They’re ignoring us for the most part,” Lia said. “Since we’re so close to Orb, Zala probably decided we were a pointless target.”

“I agree, Captain,” Natarle said. “Commander Strassmeier has made no secret of his intentions, so they’d have to know that the Valkyrie will no longer be a threat when it reaches Orb.”

Which did not help them very much. “Is there anything you can do?” Murrue asked.

“Some. Brian’s keeping the Aegis busy, and Alex is going after his cousin.” Lia grimaced. “That’s all, I’m afraid.”

“It’ll have to do,” Murrue said, looking down into CIC.

Natarle nodded agreement, then turned to Mir. “Tell Ensign Yamato to target the Guuls,” she ordered. “He is to ignore the Duel; it’s clear Strassmeier will be taking Joule personally.”

Lia overheard, and acted of her own. “Target Lokies on those Guuls,” she said crisply. “Focus on the Buster; if we can take it out, their only ranged attack that could really threaten either ship will be the Aegis’s Scylla.” Then to her helmsman, “Increase speed to flank.”

“Yes, ma’am!”

Open sky

“Hey there, Yzak,” Alex called. “Looks like you’re in trouble. Again.”

The Duel immediately stopped its attack on the Strike. “Buzz off, Alex. It’s time for him to pay!”

Alex shook his head sorrowfully. “You take things way too personally, Yzak.” His machine slammed into the Duel, knocking it away from the Archangel.

“You’re one to talk!” Yzak shot back, sending an ineffective railgun slug at the Stormbird.

“For your information, cousin mine, there is a qualitative difference between a war wound and an abduction.” Alex dodged his cousin’s fire almost effortlessly. “For you to even consider such a comparison tells me that you are perilously close to losing your wits.”

“Shut up!” Forgetting Kira entirely, Yzak drew a beam saber and charged the Stormbird, snarling all the way. He drew back for an overhand strike…

And then everything changed.

A mobile suit appeared seemingly out of thin air between the two combatants. Pure white, it bore an unmistakable resemblance to the Blitz, although its profile was narrower. It had the distinctive Trikeros system, and the way it had popped out of nowhere proved that it had Mirage Colloid.

The biggest surprise came when the mystery suit’s pilot spoke. “Stop it, Yzak!”

Alex and Yzak both froze in their tracks. They knew that voice. It was a voice neither had heard in years, though they had always believed its owner still lived. The speaker was someone dear to both, someone who had vanished three years before.

“Yzak, what’s wrong?” Athrun asked; it was, to put it mildly, unusual for Yzak to suddenly stop in the middle of an attack.

“Alex, what’s going on?” Murrue and Kira asked simultaneously.

Neither was able to answer.

The white mobile suit turned to face the Archangel. “Sorry,” the pilot said. A visual appeared on the bridge’s main monitor, a girl of about sixteen, with space-black hair and ice-blue eyes. “I guess my arrival caught everyone by surprise.” She smiled. “My name’s Andrea Strassmeier.”

Murrue Ramius felt her jaw drop. “You…you’re Alex’s sister?”

“It’s her, Aunt Murrue,” Lia said, more than a little shocked herself.

“Hi, Lia,” Andrea said cheerfully, then looked at her brother’s machine. “Come on, Alex. Aren’t you happy to see me?”

Alex finally found his voice. “Y-Yeah, of course I am. Andrea…” Even now, with the evidence right in front of him, he was having trouble believing. Is it really you, Sis?

Andrea laughed. “I don’t blame you for being shocked.” She then turned to the Duel. “And you, Yzak, need to calm down,” she said in a remarkably astringent tone. “So that Kira guy gave you a scar. So what? Alex lost his arm to a shark; did he go bonkers when he recovered?”

“I…” Yzak was not sure how to respond to that. “I’m glad…you’re alive.”

She laughed again. “We’ll have plenty of time to catch up.” She returned her attention to Murrue. “Lord Uzumi sent me out when he heard who was approaching Orb waters. He wants both ships to dock at Onogoro Island, along with the ZAFT mobile suits. He knows his daughter is on the Valkyrie,” she added.

“Of course, we’ll come right in,” Murrue said, feeling like she was in another world.

“We’re coming, too,” Athrun said. “There’s a lot that needs to be cleared up.” He smiled. “Besides, there’s no way I’d try to keep Yzak from something like this. He’d probably kill me.”

“You’d better believe it,” Yzak said, though he was not sure he meant it.

Andrea grinned. “Follow me, then. I’ll guide you in.”

Docking facility, Onogoro Island

Alex had returned to his ship before they entered Orb waters, and now he sat in his usual place on the bridge, staring fixedly out the forward viewport. Even though he had heard the voice, he still could not quite believe it was his sister in the white mobile suit.

No, that was not quite right. He did believe it; it was just that he was afraid of being wrong. If this turned out to be a hoax…

Stop it, Alex told himself firmly. You have always known she was still alive.

“So, you’ve finally found her.”

He looked up. With her normal post superfluous (since they had no mobile suits deployed), Cagalli stood next to Alex’s chair. “And where I least expected to,” he agreed. “I should have expected it, though; Andrea’s not the kind of person to just sit there and wait to be rescued.”

She smiled. “You think she stole that mobile suit?”

He snorted. “I do not for an instant believe its resemblance to the Blitz is a coincidence, so yes, it seems likely. Which lends credence to my original story.”

“Come on. I believed you the first time.”

Alex waved that away. “I know that; I was talking about Lieutenant Badgiruel.”

She bent down and gave him a quick kiss, ignoring the huge man behind her. Cagalli had been a little nervous when Kisaka caught her holding Alex’s hand, but the bodyguard had merely smiled knowingly. She still wondered just what was behind that smile, but it was not a major concern now.

“I know,” she said.

“Docking now,” the helmsman interrupted.

Alex stood. This was something he had been waiting for a long time. “All right,” he said, his voice noticeably less steady than usual. “Let’s go.”

He never had any memory of going from the bridge to one of the external hatches. All he ever knew was that he was suddenly outside the ship, and a girl in a white flight suit was running toward him. Andrea Strassmeier practically tackled her brother, wrapping her arms around him in a fierce embrace.

Alex hugged her back, tears running freely down his face. “It’s really you,” he whispered. “I was afraid it was somehow a trick.”

“I know,” she whispered back. She looked up at him. “But I’m back.”

He pulled away slightly, just enough to get a good look at her. Andrea had grown at least fifteen centimeters since he has last seen her. Her hair was longer than he remembered, running down to midback, and the way she moved suggested that she had at least kept in shape.

Or the bastards who kidnapped her forced her to stay in shape, a corner of his mind added, but he ignored it.

Anyone who looked at Andrea Strassmeier could see that she was closely related to Alex, but there was one major difference. No one except Cagalli would have called Alex handsome; his angular face had been compared by more than one person to a bird of prey. His sister, though… While there was a pronounced resemblance, Andrea’s face was not quite as angular. In simple terms, she had gone from merely pretty to stunningly beautiful.

Whoever wins her heart is either the craziest man alive, or the smartest, and the luckiest. He looked up at the sound of footsteps “Hey, Yzak!”

Yzak did not care what else was going on. He did not care that he was within shouting distance of the Earth Forces’ newest warship. It did not matter that he had just been interrupted to take down the Strike. He did not even care that he was in tears, and that not only his teammates but the Earth Forces soldiers, including Kira Yamato, could see it.

He had his family back, and that was all that mattered.

Andrea broke away from her brother to embrace their cousin in turn. “Great to see you, Yzak. Miss me?”

Yzak returned the embrace, thinking in the back of his mind that they looked ridiculous. “Too much. When we heard what happened…”

“Say no more, Cousin,” Andrea said. She looked back over her shoulder, spotting Lia, Kisaka, and Cagalli. “And there’s the princess-” She broke off, staring, then burst out laughing. “I don’t believe it! You gave her Mom’s necklace?”

Alex blushed. “Uh, yeah. You remember, Mom said I should give it to whomever I thought would wear it best…”

Yzak laughed. “So, you gave it to the princess of Orb.” He punched his cousin’s shoulder. “And you told me there was nothing romantic going on!”

“There was nothing romantic then,” Alex retorted in a pained tone. “At least not consciously; it wasn’t until she briefly vanished that I was able to sort out my own feelings.”

“Yeah, sure.” Alex winced, hearing that tone. Yzak was having an “I told you so” moment, and he was guaranteed to milk it for all it was worth. “So, you’re the princess,” Yzak went on, apparently deciding to spare his cousin any further embarrassment…for now.

“Don’t call me a princess,” Cagalli snapped, but then she smiled and shook Yzak’s hand firmly. “Alex’s told me a lot about you.”

“I’ll bet he has.” Yzak nodded to the other girl present. “And you’re Alex’s Junk Guild friend?”

Lia smiled. “That’s me. Lia Ramius, Captain of the Valkyrie.” She started to say more, but then she looked past Andrea’s shoulder, and her face lit up. “Mom! Dad!”

Yzak watched her go. “You have weird friends, Alex.”

“Tell me about it.”

Kira almost collapsed from sheer exhaustion when he released the Strike’s zip line. The battle outside Orb had been short but fierce; if Alex’s sister had not intervened, it could have gotten a lot nastier.

“Kira!” Predictably, Flay had appeared at his side. “Are you all, right?”

He smiled at her. “Just tired. I’ll be fine.”

“That’s good to hear.” Athrun Zala came up to them, his friend Nicol Amalfi in tow.

Kira let Flay help him to his feet. “Athrun. It’s… it’s good to see you again.” He looked away. “I wish…”

Athrun held up a hand, stopping him. “It’s all right, Kira. I understand why you did it.” He looked over at the other dock, where Yzak was talking with his cousins. “Maybe Strassmeier’s sister can get your Earth Forces friends to see the error of their ways.”

Kira blinked. “I thought you’d just want them dead.”

“I did, at first.” Athrun shrugged. “But then I heard from two different people, Lacus and that princess, that you were being treated well. That kind of…gave me hope that maybe they weren’t like the rest of the Earth Forces.”

“They aren’t,” Kira assured him. “Captain Ramius held us at gunpoint at first, but it was because we’d been exposed to classified Earth Forces technology.” Athrun nodded; even though they were on opposite sides, he could not blame her for that. “Anyway, when she learned that you and I were friends, she let me use disabling attacks on your machine.”

“Lacus told me that,” Athrun said. “It’s not the sort of thing a Blue Cosmos fanatic would do.” He frowned. “But why did that XO go along with it? I’ve heard she’s pretty by-the-book.”

Kira shrugged. “She said it would be to their advantage if we recaptured the Aegis.”

“That makes sense,” Athrun agreed. He blushed suddenly, remembering that they were not alone, and turned to Flay. “I apologize for my rudeness; I shouldn’t have ignored you.” He held out his hand. “I’m Athrun Zala of the Le Creuset team. This is Nicol Amalfi, same team.”

She smiled. “Flay Allster, and don’t worry. You and Kira haven’t seen each other in years except on the battlefield.”

Cagalli was right, she is no Blue Cosmos operative. “That’s no excuse, but I’m glad you understand anyway.” Athrun glanced again at Andrea. “I have a feeling that she’s going to drop a major bombshell.”

“Yeah,” Nicol agreed. “That machine of hers looks a little too much like my Blitz to be a coincidence.”

Kira nodded soberly. I think even Lieutenant Badgiruel will have to question the Earth Forces’ motives. “So, how have you been, Athrun?” he asked, changing the subject. “Last time I saw you; your father had recalled you to the PLANTs.”

Athrun shrugged. “Not much happened until January of last year. It was about then that I got engaged to Lacus.” He nodded at the robotic bird that landed on Kira’s shoulder. “It’s also when I gave her that first Haro.”

“Yeah,” Kira agreed. “She told me you built those.”

“I joined ZAFT about a month after the Bloody Valentine,” Athrun went on. “I was assigned to the Le Creuset team right after I graduated, last September. There wasn’t much going on though, not until Heliopolis, and you know as well as I do what happened after that.”

Kira nodded again. “It probably won’t matter,” he said. “If that girl confirms Alex’s story, and I think she will, then I don’t think we’ll be with the Earth Forces for much longer.”

“If even half of what he’s said is true, it’s a whole lot worse than anything ZAFT has done,” Flay agreed.

Athrun sighed. “I hope you’re right. I really hope you’re right.”

“Man, what a crowd,” Mu muttered.

More to the point, it was several crowds. Alex, Cagalli, and Colonel Kisaka were talking with Yzak Joule; as Mu watched, they were joined by Yzak’s teammate Dearka Elsman. Kira and Flay had met up with the other two Le Creuset team pilots, Athrun Zala and Nicol Amalfi; Kira’s expression as he finally had a chance to talk with his old friend spoke volumes.

Mu, Murrue, and Natarle had been left alone at first, and then who should show up but the Captain’s brother.

“It’s good to see you again, Murrue,” Michael Ramius was saying. “When I heard about Heliopolis, well…”

“I know what you mean, Mike,” Murrue said. “Admiral Halberton said the same thing when we met the Eighth Fleet.” She hugged her brother, then waved at her two companions. “Two of the Archangel’s officers, Lieutenant Natarle Badgiruel, XO, and Lieutenant Commander Mu La Flaga.”

Michael shook their hands, smiling. “It’s an honor to meet the Hawk of Endymion.” He nodded to the brown-haired woman at his side. “This is my wife, Naomi.”

“Mom! Dad!”

The three officers stepped back almost in unison as Lia Ramius seemed to explode into their midst, trapping each of her parents in a brief but enthusiastic hug.

“I’m so glad you’re safe,” her mother whispered. “I knew you could take care of yourself, especially with Alex out there, but I couldn’t help worrying.”

“Mom, you always worry,” Lia said, giving her another hug.

Natarle stepped forward. “You knew about Strassmeier’s sister, correct?” Both Junkers nodded. “Forgive me, but I have to ask: Is his story true? Was his sister abducted by our forces?”

Michael Ramius sighed. “Andrea and Lord Uzumi will explain in greater detail, but for now…” Another sigh. “It’s true. There is a great deal about the Earth Forces that you do not know. Some of it…” He trailed off, shaking his head, then looked at his sister. “Murrue, if I’d known then what I know now, I would have done everything I could to stop you from enlisting.”

Murrue stiffened. He did not say that sort of thing lightly.

“You don’t have to take my word for it, either” he continued. “There is someone else here, whom I believe you know well.” Michael looked toward a far door. “And if I’m not greatly mistaken, there he is.”

None of the officers could conceal their shock. They knew who it was, all right. They had met with him barely a month before, only then he had worn the uniform of an Earth Forces rear admiral.

Murrue could not help staring. “Admiral… Admiral Halberton?” She could not believe it.

“It’s been a while,” Halberton said, coming over to them. “Surprised to see me?”

Natarle moistened suddenly dry lips. “Admiral, with all due respect…” She took a deep breath. “What is going on here?”

“All in good time, Lieutenant.” Halberton raised his voice, making sure all present could hear him. “Chief Representative Athha would like to meet with all of you, to explain the highly unusual situation.” He met Athrun’s gaze. “Including you and your teammates, Commander Zala.”

Athrun nodded sharply. “We’ll be there.”

“Good.” Gesturing for those assembled to follow him, Halberton led the way out of the docks.

Athha residence

This should be interesting, Alex thought. Cagalli’s father wants to meet with a gaggle of Earth Forces soldiers, independents, and four ZAFT pilots. Unusual, to put it mildly.

Andrea caught his eye and smiled reassuringly. “It’ll be fine, Alex.”

“She’s right,” Cagalli said softly, squeezing his hand.

He squeezed back. “Thanks, both of you.”

Given the size of the group, they met with the Chief Representative in a large conference room on the ground floor. A long table dominated the center of the room, with small computer terminals inset directly in front of each chair. One wall featured a large viewscreen.

Lewis Halberton and Andrea Strassmeier moved to flank the tall, dark-haired man at the table. “Welcome, all of you,” Uzumi Nara Athha said, standing to greet his guests. “I apologize for any confusion this may have caused, but as I am sure you will agree, the situation is unique.”

As he spoke, Uzumi assessed the somewhat ragtag assembly. The Archangel officers (who had been joined by Ensign Arnold Neumann) looked understandably confused. Kira Yamato, the youngest (whom Uzumi knew a great deal about indeed), was less nervous than he might have been, probably because of his close friendship with Uzumi’s daughter.

The ZAFT pilots were more of a puzzle. Athrun Zala, as befitted a team commander, had no expression beyond polite interest. Nicol Amalfi seemed fascinated by his surroundings, while Yzak Joule was naturally focused on his cousin almost to the exclusion of all else. So was Dearka Elsman, though clearly for different reasons.

And then there were the two from the Valkyrie. Lia Ramius, of course, stayed near her aunt. Alex Strassmeier, though, was another matter entirely. Uzumi suppressed a smile at the sight; Alex might have been hard to read, but Cagalli was not, and she was not even trying to disguise her possessive attitude toward him.

Besides, she is wearing Elena Strassmeier’s necklace, Uzumi thought. Klaus, you may have been right about how your son would have reacted, but they fell in love anyway.

“Unique is right, sir,” Murrue said. “First Alex’s sister appears out of nowhere, literally,” she added, recalling the Mirage Colloid effect. “Then we find Admiral Halberton here, in Orb uniform. That tells me that something was going on within the Alliance.”

Uzumi nodded. “Correct.” He nodded at the girl next to his chair. “And Ms. Strassmeier’s story is where it begins.”

Andrea took the floor. “As some of you know,” she said, sounding oddly like Natarle Badgiruel, “three years ago, I was kidnapped by an Atlantic Federation special forces unit.” She gestured to her brother. “Alex was also a target, but he was able to escape.”

“So, he was right,” Natarle said softly.

The girl nodded. “I was taken to a secret base in the Aleutian Islands. When I woke up -they’d hit me with a stun gun- they told me I was to be part of something called the ‘Combat Coordinator’ project.”

Neumann frowned. “Combat Coordinator?” he repeated.

“It was a project to counter ZAFT’s mobile suit corps,” Andrea explained. “Since, with a very few exceptions, Naturals can’t pilot mobile suits without a special OS. So, we were brought in. Basically, it involved a combination of psychotherapy and drug treatments, to make us ‘obedient.’ “

“Bastards!” Yzak hissed.

Andrea gave him a stern look. “Yzak, remember that no one on the Archangel had anything to do with what happened.” She smiled at his expression, a mixture of anger and chagrin. “Anyway, unfortunately for them, it didn’t work, so what they had was a bunch of angry Coordinators.” She smiled like a shark. “While it took me a lot longer to escape, I did quite a bit of damage on my way out.”

“I’ll say you did,” Mu said. “What is that thing, anyway?”

She brought up an image on the wall screen. “GAT-X210, the Specter. Like the Blitz, it’s designed as a special ops unit. Its equipment is identical, except for this.” She indicated the left arm. “Instead of the Gleipnir, it has an energy-draining claw, intended for capturing enemy machines.”

Uzumi gestured to Admiral Halberton as Andrea moved to join her brother and cousin. “This is where the admiral’s story begins.”

Halberton cleared his throat. “Last month, while you people were still mucking about in the desert, I did some digging of my own. Commander Strassmeier’s story about his sister dovetailed all too well with some other things I had heard. So, naturally, I made some quiet inquiries.” He shook his head. “I found more than I ever wanted to know.”

“What was it, Admiral?” Murrue asked softly.

The admiral clenched a fist. “That the Earth Alliance…is nothing more than a front for the terrorist organization Blue Cosmos.”

There was a collective gasp from the Archangel’s people, but the ZAFT pilots were anything but surprised. “That explains how they were able to get that nuke onto the Roosevelt,” Athrun said bitterly.

“It does indeed, Commander,” Halberton agreed. “At any rate, I found out exactly what happened after the Mandelbrot Incident. It wasn’t pretty, to put it mildly.”

“So that’s why you chose to desert?” Murrue asked softly.

Halberton snorted. “I would likely have done so eventually, but I wasn’t given time to consider; I was looking into things that were none of my business, you see. To make a long story short, the high command tried to purge me, only to find that the entire crew of the Menelaos was on my side. We sought refuge with Orb, and Lord Uzumi was kind enough to help us out.”

“Where’s the Menelaos now?” Mu asked.

“Docked at Ame-no-Mihashira. As you know, Orb does not have much of a space fleet, so an Agamemnon-class battleship is an unbelievably asset.”

For a long moment, there was nothing but silence as those assembled mulled over what they had just heard. The Zala team, of course, were in no way surprised, except perhaps at the news that the Alliance had tried to purge its best space commander.

The Archangel officers, on the other hand, found themselves faced with a serious dilemma. What they had just learned made even Natarle Badgiruel sick, but at the same time they were Earth Forces soldiers. They had all given their loyalty; desertion, even though it was starting to look like the only choice, came extremely hard.

Kira finally spoke. “I agreed to pilot the Strike so that I could protect my friends,” he said, giving Athrun an apologetic glance. “I enlisted when they did so that I could continue to protect them, but this…” He shook his head, then turned to his fellow officers. “If the Earth Forces are just a front for Blue Cosmos, then I can’t remain with them. Maybe they had let me go on for a while, but the moment I outlived my usefulness, they would kill me. I won’t give them that chance.”

“Kira,” Murrue said softly.

The Coordinator turned back to Uzumi. “Sir, I don’t like to fight, but if Orb could use a mobile suit pilot, I’m available. If I must fight, then I want it to be for something I believe in.”

Mu La Flaga stood. “I’m with the kid. There’s no way I can continue to fight for the Earth Forces, not if it helps a bunch of slimeballs like Blue Cosmos.”

“I have to agree with Commander La Flaga,” Murrue said. “If the truth about the Alliance was enough to get the Admiral to desert, then I shall follow.”

“I agree as well,” Natarle said. “In light of what I have learned here, I cannot in good conscience continue to serve the Earth Alliance.”

“I’m in, too,” Neumann said.

Uzumi nodded gravely. After what he had heard from Halberton and Kisaka about these people, their reactions were about what he had expected. “I realize that this is exceedingly difficult for all of you. Turning your back on your homeland is never easy. Indeed, if you had found it easy, I would not be able to trust you.” He raised an eyebrow. “What of the rest of your crew?”

“They’ll likely go along,” Murrue said. “The student volunteers for sure; with the exception of Flay Allster, they’re all from Orb anyway.”

The Chief Representative frowned. “George Allster’s daughter?”

“She’s also Kira’s girlfriend,” Cagalli said. “She’ll go wherever he goes. Bet on it.”

Uzumi nodded, satisfied. “Very well, then.”

Kisaka stood. “Those of you who chose to join Orb’s military will be promoted, and we will assign additional crew to the Archangel,” he said. “Your current crew will remain with you unless they specifically request reassignment.” He looked at Kira. “We do, however, have another job for you. Since Orb is not at war with anyone at present, your first assignment will be to help in the development of our new mobile suits, and in the training of their pilots.”

Kira nodded. “I can handle that. What do you need?”

“Thanks in part to the G-weapon project, we have the technology to produce mobile suits superior to anything short of those original prototypes,” Kisaka explained. “Unfortunately, we haven’t yet been able to produce an OS that our people can use.”

“So, you need me to come up with an OS that will let Naturals pilot mobile suits,” Kira said, nodding again. “I’ll do what I can.”

“That is all we could ask.” Kisaka looked over at Alex. “We would like your assistance, as well.”

Alex shrugged. “We have to earn our keep somehow.”

“Speaking of Alex’s operation,” Yzak said, “just how did they get the kind of resources they needed to build a warship and five mobile suits?” He quirked an eyebrow at Alex.

The other shrugged again. “Well, the Junk Guild helped some since Lia’s parents are members. Still, I admit to being a little puzzled at how some parts appeared right when we needed them. It happened too many times to be a coincidence.”

“That would be my doing,” Uzumi said.

All eyes turned to the Orb noble in shock. “Say what?” Yzak blurted.

“Father, are you saying-” Cagalli could not finish.

Uzumi smiled at his daughter. “Come now, Cagalli. Your attachment to Commander Strassmeier is obvious to all but the willfully blind. I don’t think you have any reason to complain.” Cagalli blushed, and the Chief Representative nodded at Yzak. “You heard correctly, Mister Joule. I arranged for much of the resources he needed, though I do not know how he obtained the PSA technology. Orb has to date been unable to duplicate it.”

Alex looked uncharacteristically sheepish. “No, we stole that ourselves.”

“That’s my brother!” Andrea chirped.

Athrun frowned. “But why? Why would you lend covert assistance to a group like that?”

Uzumi sighed. “Though my personal sympathies lie with the PLANTs, particularly in light of recent revelations about the Earth Forces, I must confess that I share many of Strassmeier’s suspicions about your father, Commander.”

The ZAFT soldier closed his eyes briefly. “I wish I could blame you, sir, but I can’t. My father is not exactly known for moderation. I do not think he wants all Naturals dead, but I can understand why someone would think otherwise. And since I’m aware that Alex has no intention of harming the PLANTs…”

Uzumi nodded. “You see the position I find myself in. While I still live, Orb will never align itself with the Earth Forces, but we cannot at this point lend our support to the PLANTs, either. Giving aid, however covert, to someone like Alex Strassmeier, was the best we could do.”

“I understand, and I will so inform the Supreme Council,” Athrun said.

Uzumi stood. “I believe that concludes any official business. Commander Zala, you may make use of our own comm facilities to file your report; I understand a Vosgulov-class submarine lacks the needed equipment, and this would be faster than returning to Carpentaria.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“You may also rest here for a time, so long as you maintain a low profile.” Uzumi smiled. “If nothing else, I believe some of you have some catching up to do.”

The now-former Earth Forces officers started to file out, followed by the ZAFT pilots, Andrea Strassmeier, and Lia Ramius. Alex moved to follow, but Uzumi’s upraised hand stopped him.

He turned. “Sir?”

“I have some additional matters to discuss with you, Commander,” Uzumi said. “Cagalli, if you and Kira would remain as well.” The two exchanged puzzled looks but complied.

They did not start right away. Uzumi had called for a couple more people, and Alex’s eyes narrowed when they arrived. He recognized them instantly: Haruna and Caridad Yamato, Kira’s parents. What is going on here? Alex had known they were Orb citizens, but it was odd that the Chief Representative would know them.

Haruna’s expression was difficult to read, but his wife was another matter. The instant she saw Kira and Cagalli sitting side by side, she looked almost dismayed, as though this was something she had hoped would never happen.

Kira’s eyes widened. “Mom? Dad?”

“Lord Uzumi, what is going on?” Caridad asked, sounding afraid of the answer.

Uzumi seemed to hesitate. “We can no longer hide the truth,” he said softly. “As you can see, the children have met.”

Alex’s eyes, already narrow, shrank to icy crescents. ” ‘The children have met’?” he repeated softly. “Is this about what it sounds like?”

Uzumi nodded. “Kisaka told me of your quest, and how you hoped to receive help in Orb.”

“Yes,” Alex said slowly. “I take it you have some information?”

Another nod. “I know exactly what happened to the twins you seek.”

“And they are?” Alex said when the Chief Representative paused.

Uzumi shot a glance at Haruna Yamato, got a resigned look in return, and finally answered. “Kira Yamato is the Ultimate Coordinator, and Cagalli is his sister.”

The resulting silence was profound. Alex had been convinced for a while that Kira was the Ultimate Coordinator, but it had never occurred to him that Cagalli might be the other twin. Now, though, as he looked at them, he was struck by the resemblance. Allowing for the obvious gender differences, they are almost identical. Why didn’t I see it sooner?

The twins themselves were in shock. Kira and Cagalli had felt connected since they had first met, but they had never thought they might be related.

Kira finally looked at his parents. “Mom? Dad? Is it… is it true?” They nodded mutely. “Why… why didn’t you tell me?”

Uzumi answered for them; Haruna seemed unable to speak, and his wife was in tears. “There was a great deal going on at the time,” he said. “Your birth parents had just been killed in a Blue Cosmos attack. To my knowledge, only two of Ulen Hibiki’s colleagues survived, Mikhail Coast, and Alex’s father, Klaus Strassmeier.”

Alex’s lip twisted. “I spoke with Coast when I began my search, three years ago. He’s a ZAFT pilot now; we ran into him at Junius Seven.”

“It was decided that the twins would be separated, in order to keep them safe,” Uzumi continued. “Accordingly, Kira was adopted by the Yamato’s, while I took Cagalli in myself.”

Haruna finally spoke. “We had hoped to keep these events secret, though Lord Uzumi said that we wouldn’t be able to forever.”

“But why didn’t you tell us?” Cagalli burst out. “Why did we have to be kept in the dark?”

Alex took her hand. “Cagalli, would you tell a little kid he’s the product of some insane medical experiment?”

“It would have been better if the secret had never been revealed,” Caridad Yamato said suddenly. She glared at Alex through her tears. “If you hadn’t gotten involved, this would never have happened.”

He exploded out of his chair. “How dare you!” he hissed. “I can understand keeping it from them temporarily; as I said, telling that story to a little kid would be crazy. Ultimately, though, they had an absolute right to know, and you were obligated to explain it the moment they were capable of understanding.” When all three Yamato’s flinched, he forcefully reigned his voice in. “Don’t get me wrong. I have no doubt that you love Kira just as you would if he had been your son by birth. Still, that does not change the fact that he needed to know, eventually.”

“Alex is right,” Uzumi said. He laid a hand on his daughter’s shoulder. “I intended from the beginning to tell you when you were old enough. Your friend’s quest merely accelerated that.” He looked at Kira’s parents. “And even if Alex hadn’t gotten involved, it would have gotten out eventually.”

Haruna squeezed his wife’s shoulder. “He’s right, Caridad, And so is Strassmeier. Kira and Cagalli have a right to know the truth.” He looked at Kira. “I won’t blame you if you’re angry, Kira. Just remember what your friend said. We love you just as if you were our son by birth.”

Kira nodded slowly. “I know.” He rose and embraced his parents. “It’s hard, but I understand.”

His sister agreed. “When Alex told me about his search, I never thought I was one of the people he was looking for.” She froze briefly as another thought occurred to her. “Father, if Kira and I are siblings… what am I?”

Uzumi smiled. “You, like your brother, are a Coordinator. While you were not removed from your mother’s womb, as he was, you did undergo the more standard treatments.”

“Though whether the word ‘standard’ can be applied to Coordinator technology in the first place is an open question,” Alex said wryly. He looked up at Uzumi. “Sir, one more thing. Why were you so ready to help?”

“It’s quite simple, though few are aware of it,” Uzumi replied. “Did your father ever tell you about his time as an exchange student in Orb?”

Alex frowned. “He mentioned it, but not very often…” He trailed off, an arrested expression on his face.

Uzumi nodded. “Exactly. I knew your father well. Indeed, one reason I covertly aided you was because of a promise I made, long ago. Klaus asked me to look out for you, should anything happen to him.”

“That explains some things,” Alex said slowly.

“More than you realize,” Uzumi said dryly. “When the engagement with Yuna Seiran fell through, I actually suggested a match between you and Cagalli.” The princess blushed at that. “Your father, however, warned me that you would not react well to something like that.”

Alex snorted. “My father was undoubtedly exaggerating. My opinion of arranged marriages is no secret and never has been.”

“That is precisely what he told me,” Uzumi agreed. “In any case, it appears to be a moot point.”

Alex raised an eyebrow. “So, you’re not objecting to my relationship with Cagalli?”

“On the contrary, I was delighted when I saw you together.” Uzumi smiled. “I recognized your mother’s necklace.”

“Somehow, that doesn’t surprise me.”

Haruna stood, Caridad and Kira with him. “If you’ll excuse us, My Lord.”

“Of course.”

Cagalli followed her brother out. Alex started to move, then paused and looked back at Uzumi. “Just one more thing.” He hesitated. “I want to thank you, for taking care of Andrea. That is a debt I can never repay.”

“There is nothing to repay,” Uzumi said. “I could not leave anyone in such a state, let alone the daughter of an old friend.”

“Still, if there’s anything you need…”

Uzumi smiled. “Make Cagalli happy. That is all I ask.”

Alex grinned, came to attention, and saluted in the ZAFT manner. “You got it,” he said, and departed.