"A space colony was destroyed…her Highness will not be pleased." The Endra-class' captain said unhappily. There were precious few Natural space colonies, and while the Sovereign had nothing against Coordinators in particular, she feared that if the Coordinators were allowed to gain sole control of space, the whole of Humanity would pay the price for it.
"At the very least sir, the whole population seems to have escaped to safety." A subordinate said.
"That is small comfort. They'll have no choice but to go back to Earth, given the nature of Orb's neutrality. At the very least, the destruction of the colony due to a ZAFT military operation will be a disaster to Zeon-PLANT relations, and even more so for PLANT-Orb relations." The captain sighed before barking out new orders. "Our mission's been completed, so prepare to move out once we re-orient our current position."
"Captain, we're picking up a signal from somewhere nearby."
"What kind of signal?"
"It appears to be a standard civilian distress signal, most likely from a disabled civilian escape pod."
The captain sighed; this mission was becoming increasingly complicated. Originally their orders were to observe and assess ZAFT's performance in their capture operation, as well as to capture one of the Alliance Gundams (the existence of which had caused quite a stir in Deikun City) if possible. But naval protocol demanded that all Zeon Navy vessels to assist civilians in distress, mission secrecy be damned.
"Can we find it from here?"
"Negative sir; between our own Minovsky Particle interference and ZAFT/Alliance N-Jammers, plus the heat radiating from the ruins…"
"Have Lieutenant Banagher launch immediately. Have him locate the source and report on the situation."
Banagher slowly flew through the debris field, searching for the source of the signal, all the while unhappily contemplating the ruins of Heliopolis. Heliopolis was an O'Neill cylinder, and very much resembled his old home colony in Side 1, and even more uncomfortably, his current home in Side 3. He pushed the morbid thoughts aside and moved his Jagd Doga behind a piece of debris as he spotted the disabled escape pod and more importantly, the Gundam beside it.
He narrowed his eyes as he spotted the additional equipment strapped to the Gundam; they weren't there when he had watched that Gundam in action during the battle in Heliopolis.
"Is that Gundam designed to be equipped with a variety of equipment for various situations?" he mused, even as the Gundam grabbed the pod and took it elsewhere. Pondering for a moment, he stealthily moved his Jagd Doga to follow. After several minutes of flight, he hid behind another piece of debris with a gasp: the Gundam had taken the escape pod to a ship, and not just another ship: it was a virtual carbon copy of the so-called Trojan horse, the White Base.
"The White Base…is this supposed to some kind of joke?" he asked rhetorically and not for the first time he thought that the whole situation was very much like the Battle of Side 7 back during the Universal Century's One Year War. As the Alliance Gundam entered one of the hangars, Banagher nodded before returning.
Two hours later, Ensign Aki was shadowing the Archangel while creatively hiding behind several dummies and pieces of debris. Lieutenant Banagher wasn't the only one who noticed the similarities between recent events and the Battle of Side 7, and the captain in particular was certain that they were headed for the nearby Eurasian asteroid fortress of Artemis, which was another uncomfortable parallel to the Universal Century, seeing as both Heliopolis and Artemis were in the same general location as Side 7 and Luna II were in the Universal Century.
And so, she had been ordered to escort them to Artemis while avoiding detection, as the captain feared that ZAFT would ambush them (and thus endanger the civilians aboard) en route to the fortress. Which was easier said than done of course; once they had left the bulk of the debris field behind them, she had to make creative use of dummies and what few pieces of debris there were to avoid detection.
Thankfully though, ZAFT didn't seem to be pursuing, and so she amused herself by sending enticing mental images to the Newtype aboard the Alliance vessel. The Newtype didn't seem to have full control or awareness of his abilities, and as such could only respond by communicating a sense of annoyance and displeasure, to which she responded with amusement. However, all good things must eventually come to an end, and even as Aki began to think she just might finish this mission without having to fight, she sensed another Newtype, one with a definitely hostile mentality, even as her unit's sensors picked up another vessel outflanking the Archangel and moving to overtake and cut off the vessel before they could reach the relative safety of Artemis.
"Of course…" she muttered as she quietly manoeuvred her unit to a safer distance. "…I just had to hope this would go off without a hitch."
"The Mobius Zero has arrived on the catapult deck…linear catapult voltage is rising…unit stabilized in linear field…launch preparations complete…Lieutenant La Flaga is clear for launch." Miriallia said as Mu's mobile armour moved into launch position and the external doors slid open.
"Roger; Mu La Flaga, Mobius Zero, launching!" Mu responded while bracing himself against the intense G-Forces of launch.
"Good luck, hotshot." A woman's voice spoke to him in his head. While he would normally freak out as a result of hearing a disembodied voice in his head, Mu was by no means stupid. The rather vivid images which had distracted him while overseeing the repairs to his mobile armour…and the sense of amusement that wasn't his own but he had felt over the rather 'enticing' images…someone out there was playing with his and her minds. And now he knew who.
"Do you mind?" he asked, silently casting the thought back even as he manoeuvred to an intercept course for the ZAFT warship to the front of the Archangel. "I'm not averse to some feminine company, but please don't distract me while I'm busy, or especially when I'm flying on the battlefield."
There was a moment of silence before the sullen reply ghosted back. "You can talk to me now?"
"Yes, I can."
"Yeah, sorry about that, but escort duty is rather boring."
"Why are you helping us?" Mu asked bluntly.
"You have civilians aboard; the captain was a veteran of the Battle of Side 5, and he didn't want any more dead civilians during his watch."
"Side 5…you're from the Principality aren't you?"
"If I say yes, will you tell anyone?"
"No…" Mu replied firmly. "…if I said that I spoke telepathically with a Zeon pilot, they'd probably have me committed. But in exchange, would you mind telling me how I'm doing this?"
"Fair enough…" the pilot conceded. "…we're called Newtypes, the next stage of Human evolution, and our abilities are a natural adaptation from living in the environment of space. In addition to telepathy, other abilities of ours include, but are not limited to, faster reflexes and increased spatial awareness."
"I see…well, that explains a few things." Mu conceded, remembering the skills he and his late comrades needed to possess to pilot the famed Mobius Zero mobile armours. "Alright, I'll trust you for now, so would you mind keeping an eye on Kira and the Archangel for me? The kid's a bit inexperienced and…"
"Say no more…" the pilot replied cheerfully. "Just concentrate on attacking that ship to the front."
As she disconnected her mind from Mu's, she turned back to the Archangel, which was steadily firing off ordnance and artillery to keep the captured Gundams at bay. "Impressive…they have a lot of ordnance to spare." She commented. "Though that's not worth much in a Minovsky Particle-rich environment, while their artillery seems to barely have the range to compete with most ship-grade Mega Particle Cannons."
She noted the skill of the ZAFT pilots with approval, seeing that they were up to Zeon standards. The pilot of the Alliance Gundam though, Kira or something, was somewhat lacking, or so it seemed to her, most of his shots going wild or following a simple and easily evaded firing pattern. "Inexperienced brat…" she muttered, thinking Kira was one of those hastily trained pilots, not knowing that the boy had been forced to become a pilot without any sort of military training whatsoever. "…three against one; boy, at this rate you're practically begging for me to interfere."
Rau sat in his command chair and smiled as the Alliance warship finally came into the Vesalius' firing range. "Main cannons prepare to fire…" his subordinate and the Vesalius' captain Ades ordered. "…standby on laser range-finders."
"It's over…" he began to think when he felt something…or someone sneak up on the ship from below. "Belay that, and execute evasive manoeuvres immediately!" he shouted, causing Ades to look at him in surprise, when a crewman said in alarm "We have a mobile armour closing from below!"
"Activate the CIWS…!" he began to order, but it was too late. At that moment, Mu brought his mobile armour up ninety degrees, before launching his gun-pods and having them fire on a single point to at least superficially weaken the armour before he fired his linear cannon, rupturing the Vesalius' main engines. As the Vesalius began to list and lose power, Mu let out a victory shout even as he launched a cable and used it to slingshot his unit away from the stricken warship at high speed.
"Enemy mobile armour has retreated…main power failing…main engines are offline…" the bridge crew reported one after another.
"Shoot it down!" Ades roared, but was countermanded by Rau.
"We're withdrawing! Issue the retreat signal!"
"Commander, we have a high-energy reading detected from dead ahead!" a crewman shouted in panic.
"Engines to full…" Rau shouted with a wave of an arm. "…evade it!"
Its auxiliary engines burning bright, the Vesalius barely dodged, but took serious damage along the starboard side from the Archangel's positron barrage. Seeing the damage, Mu clenched a fist triumphantly even as a thought ghosted in from the Zeon pilot. "Not bad at all old man."
"Who are you calling an old man?" Mu complained. "That's Lieutenant Mu La Flaga to you little girl."
"Sorry, but in that case it's not little girl either: it's Ensign Aki Kamaitachi…uh oh. Hang on your friend is in a bit of a tight spot."
Aki smiled somewhat cruelly as she launched her funnels; just moments ago, the conformal shielding on the Alliance Gundam had failed causing the pilot to break and flee as another Gundam closed in with a pair of beam sabres drawn.
"This is the end!" Yzak shouted, as he swung his sabres…only to shout incoherently as the Duel shook violently as yellow beams blew off its arms at the elbows.
"What?" Dearka said in surprise just before more beams blew off the Buster's head and missile pods, along with the Blitz' right arm.
"Damn it…we have to retreat, Yzak, Dearka!" Nicol shouted, piloting the Blitz towards the blinded Buster and dragging it back to the Gamow with the Duel flying close behind.
As she retrieved her funnels and flew back to her ship, Aki smirked and flashed a victory sign as she heard Yzak spitting out oaths like melon seeds over the ZAFT channel. Elsewhere, Mu chuckled at the Zeon pilot's antics and said "Right back at you ensign: not bad at all."
Meanwhile on Earth, three girls chatted animatedly with each other as they walked down a hallway in Morgenroete's central facility in the Orb Union. They were the so-called 'Astray Girls': Asagi Caldwell, Juri Wu Nien, and Mayura Labatt, and they were wondering what was so important that they were being called in on what was supposed to be their day off from training and testing.
To their surprise, there were only a few people in the facility, including Senior Engineer Erica Simmons, who was standing on a raised and stepped platform beside a large, rectangular container speaking with a blonde-haired man wearing the standard Morgenroete uniform, though strangely enough the man was wearing sunglasses indoors.
"Oh good, you finally got here." Erica said, noticing the girls and turning towards them, the blonde man doing likewise. "What you're about to hear is not to leave this facility, do you understand?"
"Yes ma'am." The three girls chorused as the security doors were closed, though that wasn't unusual given the sensitive nature of much of the work going on in the facility.
"Good…" Erica said, nodding. "…I'm sure that you've heard rumours that the Principality of Zeon has its own mobile suits which can be piloted by Naturals. And I'm here to tell you…that those rumours are correct."
As the girls gasped in surprise, Erica continued. "The mechanical systems of their units are actually deceptively simple, and surprisingly advanced, so much so that computer control is not needed to the same degree as ours are. We're already working to try and reverse-engineer the technology, but it will take some time to refit our existing units. Until then, you'll be working with a new set of simulator programs, after which, well…in any case, allow me to introduce to you Lieutenant Quattro Bajeena from the Zeon Mobile Suit Corps."
At this, Lieutenant Quattro stepped forward and nodded, removing his sunglasses as he regarded the three girls.
"Once your units have been refitted with the UC AMBAC system, he'll be overseeing your practical training and with that said…" she broke off as she pulled out and pressed a remote which slowly opened the container beside them. Most of the people present gasped at the sight of the mono-eyed, crested, red and maroon mobile suit which stood in the container.
"…MS-06S Zaku II Commander Type. An outdated mobile suit by current standards, but in its day this unit was a feared force on the battlefield. Especially these colours…from what I hear, these were the colours of Zeon's legendary 'Red Comet' Char Aznable." Turning to Quattro, she asked "Is there any particular reason why you have his colours, lieutenant? Was he a friend of yours, perhaps?"
Quattro smiled a wintery, but friendly smile before he put his sunglasses back on. "Well yes, I suppose you could say I was good friends with Char."