Phase 05 - Kira Yamato

Mobile Suit Gundam SEED ETERNITY

Phase 05 - Kira Yamato

April 13th, CE 77 - Lagrange Point 4

Two sets of wings. Eight DRAGOONs. Plasma cannons. Magnetic coating. Beam wings. Its eyes burned bright and gold, its opulent blue wings spread and let loose a pair of wings of cold blue light, and with a roar of its mighty engines the Vega Freedom Gundam charged into battle.

"I've been expecting this battle for a long time, Minerva," intoned Kira Yamato as he watched the winged warship launch its complement of mobile suits. "Now let this be the only time we meet!"

With that, the Freedom launched its DRAGOONs and went on the attack.

The battle began with the Abyss firing off a punishing barrage of beam cannon blasts straight towards the Freedom, but Kira effortlessly whirled around the shots with a storm of afterimages in his wake. The eight Gundams split up, the Twilight and Destiny activated their own beam wings, and the Minerva's mobile suits let loose another volley of firepower

"I should have known you'd show up!" Athrun roared, and the Infinite Justice charged with a furious saber swipe. Kira jetted backward and ducked beneath the Justice's next swing. "Attacking civilians and shooting down innocent people!"

The Freedom flashed up behind the Justice, and as Athrun whirled around Kira pummeled the Gundam with a ferocious storm of DRAGOON fire. Kira glanced over his shoulder, at the crimson Savior lining up to fire, and turned one of his DRAGOONs on Viveka instead.

"Fancy seeing you here, Kira!" cackled Rau Le Creuset, and with a crash the Legend Gundam activated its DRAGOONs and showered the Freedom with beam fire. Kira wove his way through the blasts and returned fire with a full burst from his Gundam's plasma cannons, Callidus gun, beam rifles, and railgun slamming every shot into the Legend's beam shield and hurling it back. "And I'm pleased to see you've grown stronger under Valentine's hand!"

Shinn broke through the fire with a scream and swung his anti-ship sword at the Freedom's waist, only to come up with nothing as the white Gundam jetted back and left only an afterimage behind it. Kira fired back with his railguns to punch the Destiny back just in time for the Chaos to drop in, open fire with its beam rifle and come up empty as the Freedom dodged again. The Gaia came whirling in next from behind, its own beam rifle leveled off but the Freedom somersaulted over it and systematically pounded the eight Gundams with fire from his DRAGOONs.

"It will take more than that to defeat my Vega Freedom!" he snapped. The Twilight lunged up behind him, beam saber ablaze but its killing slash passed through only another afterimage, and the Freedom rocketed up to safety. Kira furrowed his brow as the Abyss lined up for another barrage behind him

Before the blue Gundam could attack, Kira ripped it to pieces with his DRAGOONs, blowing off both its arms, both its guns, both its shoulder shells, both its legs, and its head. As Auel screamed in surprise, he jerked back the controls and readied his Callidus cannon

A moment later, the Freedom lunged up into the Abyss's path and slashed out its Callidus cannon with a blinding horizontal swipe. The built-up energy in the cannon exploded, the cockpit filled with shrapnel, and the line from the Abyss went silent.

"AUEL!" Sting screamed, and with a roar of its engines, the Chaos Gundam charged towards the Freedom. "You son of a bitch! You son of a bitch!"

The Freedom somersaulted effortlessly over the Chaos as the remaining Gundams opened fire, and this time Shinn closed in with a scream. The Freedom whirled around and pounded the Destiny's beam shields with DRAGOON fire, and then darted aside as Shinn forced his way through anyway with a furious sword swing. The Legend moved in next, a javelin drawn in its left hand, and it came down with a downward diagonal slash but Kira darted to the side and filled the black sky with afterimages as he took off and let loose another storm from his own DRAGOONs.

"And you!" Kira snarled, and turned his guns on the Legend. "You abandoned me! Like they all abandoned me!" He focused his DRAGOON fire on the Legend. "I guess you really weren't committed to changing the world, you lying bastard!"

Rau Le Creuset answered with a laugh and swarmed his DRAGOONs around the Freedom only to see the Freedom's own DRAGOONs methodically pick his out of the sky with pulsing beam shots. "I'm afraid I've just found a better person to do that than you!" he laughed. "After all," the Freedom closed in, "you are a person who shouldn't exist!"

The Legend darted to the side as the Freedom pounded it with DRAGOON fire. An instant later, the Savior rushed in from behind.
"Gotcha!" Viveka screamed, and leveled off her cannons

An instant later, the Freedom somersaulted up and let loose a devastating barrage of plasma cannon and beam rifle fire to blow the Savior's cannons apart. Viveka screamed in shock as the Savior shuddered under the blow, just before the DRAGOONs swept in and blasted off the Savior's limbs and head. Kira leveled off his rifle to finish off the red mobile suit

"No you won't!"

Out of nowhere, the Infinite Justice shouldered the ruined Savior to the side and deflected Kira's shots with its beam shield. A moment later, Kira darted backwards and rocketed up as the Twilight stormed forward with its saber. The Legend opened fire with its DRAGOONs Kira tore them out of the sky, dodged a salvo of beam rifle shots from the Chaos and Gaia, and then ducked again underneath another sword stroke from the Destiny.

"Is this guy unstoppable?!" Emily groaned.

The Destiny roared up after the gleaming white mobile suit, and Shinn's eyes went dull as the seed fell. "Just 'cuz you're machine's better doesn't mean I'm not going to kill you!"

Battleship Minerva

"The Abyss and Savior got totaled!" Roxy cried. "Auel's not responding! They're getting torn apart!"

Meyrin sat in the Minerva's captain's seat, staring in disbelief as her warship's Gundam complement was systematically torn to pieces by a lone mobile suit. Was this the power ZAFT had built at Mars?

"Heat signature approaching!" Burt cried. "Captain !"

Too late Meyrin nearly fell from her seat as a shimmering red beam slammed into the Minerva's prow and wiped out the Tannhäuser and Isolde. She looked to the ship's starboard side in disbelief at the blue-trimmed shape of another Minerva-class ship rising from the darkness.

"Where that come from?!" Roxy exclaimed.

Abbey's eyes went wide in recognition. "Mirage Colloid!"

"Three mobile suits approaching! Model unknown!" Burt added.

"Captain, we've lost the Tannhäuser, the Isolde, ten missile tubes, and two CIWS emplacements on the starboard side!" Chen put in.

"And our maneuverability has probably been reduced," Malik finished. "We have to retreat!"

Meyrin forced herself to remain calm. She had not come this way as the Minerva's captain just to see another ship in the line blow her out of the sky. "Malik, best possible speed, evasive maneuvers! Chen, arm whatever weapons we've got left and prepare for combat! Roxy, get somebody to go handle those incoming mobile suits!"

She turned her eyes towards the blue-trimmed clone of her own ship and ground her teeth.

You may have new toys and new tricks, but we've learned a thing or two here...

The Legend Gundam shuddered as the Vega Freedom took off its left arm at the elbow with a sweeping beam saber blow. Rau ground his teeth and moved in his last two DRAGOONs only for the Freedom's own DRAGOONs to tear them apart with a storm of beam fire. He leveled off his rifle just in time for the Freedom to dart up over his head, and before he could react the Freedom's DRAGOONs ripped away the extremities from the Legend's body and hurled the broken mobile suit away.

"I'll end this right now!" screamed Kira, and the Freedom came roaring down, beam saber raised

Instead, the Twilight was there to jam its blade into the Freedom's path and deflect the blow, and Emily surged back with a scream to throw the Freedom back. Kira lunged up over the Twilight's head and forced it back on the defensive with a wave of beam fire. A moment later, the Destiny was there, anti-ship sword flashing down the Freedom swept to the side and took aim at Shinn's exposed back.

"Like hell you will!" roared Athrun, and with a crash the Infinite Justice slammed into the Freedom and threw it to the side. Kira jetted back and kicked upward to knock the Justice off course, and his DRAGOONs swept in for the kill but the Destiny charged back up into his face with a scream from its pilot.

"I haven't forgotten!" cried Shinn, and he slammed his sword down onto the Freedom's beam saber. "I'll never forget! I'll kill you!"

The Freedom's DRAGOONs swarmed in around the Destiny and forced it back.

"And I haven't forgotten about you," snarled Kira, "but first !

With that, the Freedom whipped around and deflected a saber strike from the Justice, and with a crash he pounded the Justice's beam shield with his DRAGOONs. The Justice darted aside, just as the Twilight stormed up through the fire with a saber swipe of its own. Kira jetted to the side and let the DRAGOONs push the Twilight back on the defensive, and with a shout he descended back down towards the Justice. "First I'll take care of you!"

"That son of a bitch got Auel," snarled Sting, hands trembling around the Chaos's controls as his Gundam sailed into battle alongside the Gaia. Up ahead were three silver mobile suits, vaguely reminiscent of ZAFT's GuAIZ and CGUE, with long wings stretching off their backs. Sting stared up at them all with fury bubbling in his veins. "We'll take care of them and then "

He went silent and the Chaos and Gaia darted apart as the three silver mobile suits opened fire. One of them charged forward with a blast of exhaust and pummeled the two Gundams with beam fire, as the other two fired shining red beams from cannons embedded in their torsos.

"Stella! Flank this one!" Sting shouted, and lifted off the Chaos's gunbarrels with a burst of exhaust

An instant later, both of them vanished in thundering explosions, and the other two enemies roared into the battle with drawn beam sabers. The Chaos threw itself backward to dodge a beam saber swipe but the second gray machine ducked in from behind, and the Chaos shuddered as the second machine sliced off its left arm and leg with a crash.

"Dammit!" Sting shouted. "Where "

The first machine leveled off its rifle for a killing blow, but the Gaia lunged into the way to deflect the shot with its shield.

"Sting! Get back!" Stella cried but too late, as the third machine rushed into the fray and joined the second in pummeling the Chaos with beam fire. "Sting!"

"How did they ?!" started Sting, and he threw the sparking remains of his mobile suit forward to dodge a finishing saber stab from the second machine. Stella caught the broken Chaos and hurled it aside, then rocketed upward to dodge a finishing stab from one of the silver mobile suits.

"They're fast," growled Stella, as the seed fell before her eyes, "but I'm not going to lose like this!"

ZAFT Minerva-class battleship Fortuna

Lyle watched with satisfaction as the Minerva's starboard Tristan cannon exploded under a well-placed shot from his own ship's Tristans. The red winged battleship shuddered under the blow and banked away, and it let loose a handful of missiles to cover its maneuver but the Fortuna's CIWS emplacements expertly cut them down.

Once again the Vice Marshal had come through, with the master stroke of ZAFT's disposable Mirage Colloid units. They dispensed the Miracle Colloid prisms, they contained the equipment for generating the magnetic field, and they ejected from the ship when their prism fields dissipated. One of those machines had hidden the Fortuna behind an asteroid, lying in wait for the Minerva and one Tannhäuser blast had been good enough to deprive the red warship of its main weapon. Clearly they had no idea what they were up against.

The Minerva swung around and angled its portside Tristan towards the Fortuna. Lyle smirked resisting to the last. "Katherine, evasive maneuvers," he ordered of the ship's helmswoman, and the Fortuna plunged down underneath the Minerva's blast. "Zoe," he continued, and glanced down at the weapon's officer, "target the Isolde on the Minerva's portside wing, and then follow up with the Tristans."

The ship complied, the guns boomed, and three shells slammed into the Minerva's port wing and blew off a chunk of its armor and a moment later the Tristans came pulsing down and nearly blasted the rest of the wing clear off. Lyle frowned. So perhaps the ship's armor had been reinforced.

"No big deal," he said suddenly. "Katherine, move us into position. Zoe, charge the Tannhäuser and we'll finish them off."

With a thundering crash, the Vega Freedom Gundam brought down its saber onto the Infinite Justice's beam shield and hurled the red Gundam back. Athrun clenched his teeth and struggled to regain control but not before the Freedom's DRAGOONs blew his beam rifle from his hand.

"Why are you doing this, Kira?!" screamed Athrun, and he jerked back the Justice's controls to dodge Freedom's DRAGOON fire. "Soldiers are one thing, but why kill innocent people?!"

The Destiny rocketed up from nowhere to pound the Freedom with an overhead sword stroke. Kira jetted to the side and let his DRAGOONs drive the Destiny back.

"He's just a murderer now, Athrun!" Shinn roared. "There's nothing left but to kill him!"

The Twilight came down next with a saber stroke from above, but the Freedom expertly parried the blow and slammed the Twilight in the chest with its knee, and with a flash of light his DRAGOONs darted in to pummel the Twilight and force it back.

"Even as the son of Patrick Zala, you wouldn't understand, Athrun," snarled Kira. The Freedom slammed its saber down against the Justice's blade. "Only blood will change the world. You should know that by now."

Athrun scowled back. "Blood changes nothing, Kira."

"That's where you're wrong!" Kira cried, and with a roar the Freedom surged forward and hurled the Justice away. "Not when you have our power!" The DRAGOONs blazed around the Justice and pounded it relentlessly. "If you're not going to understand..."

The Justice whirled away and the DRAGOONs pulled back.

"Then I'll kill you!"

The sky lit up as the DRAGOONs opened fire and blew apart the Justice's subflight lifter. Athrun screamed as his Gundam reeled from the blow; up above, Shinn and Emily darted apart as the Freedom roared up after them, DRAGOONs blazing.

"Who is this guy?!" Emily cried.

Shinn said nothing but only screamed in fury as he descended on the flashing white Gundam.

"Only one left!" cackled Kara Guinness in the cockpit of her untouched VaROZ mobile suit, as she circled with Gary and Juarez around the lone Gaia Gundam. The Gaia stormed forward, beam rifle drawn, and pounded Gary with beam rifle shots only for Juarez to drop in and activate one of the beam claws on the VaROZ's feet to tear the rifle in two. Kara laughed and leveled off a shot, blowing off the Gaia's left-hand shoulder armor.

"Finally, a challenge!" cried Gary, and with a crash his VaROZ drew a beam saber in its left hand and smacked the Gaia's shield away.

The black mobile suit roared up over its enemies and drew its beam sabers, just as Juarez opened fire and landed a shot on the right-hand side of the Gaia's face. It jerked to the side as Kara followed up with a barrage of her own, and Gary slid in with a triumphant shout from behind with his beam saber raised

Instead, the Gaia twirled its sabers around, caught Gary's blade behind its back, and then threw his VaROZ backward with a blast of thruster exhaust. Juarez and Kara reared back in surprise just as the Gaia slammed both its sabers down onto Kara's beam shield.

"This must be that Extended," growled Juarez.

"An Extended!" snarled Kara, and with a savage yell she pushed the Gaia back. "Just a glorified Natural!"

Gary's VaROZ leapt up behind the Gaia with a scream from its pilot and brought its saber down but the Gaia dove to the side and slammed the VaROZ in the chest with a kick as it passed by. Juarez leveled off his rifle and opened fire, but the Gaia darted away and went back on the attack.

Inside the Gaia, Stella clenched her fists around the Gundam's quaking controls and expertly dodged the three VaROZs' beam rifle blasts.

"You must think I'm weak," she grunted, "to think I'd be beaten by something like this!"

Battleship Minerva

As another salvo of missiles plowed into the Minerva's starboard side, Meyrin could only cringe. The opening salvo had crippled her ship's maneuvering engines as well as deprived her of two of her main weapons. She had only a few missile tubes, a few CIWS guns, and one Tristan to work with.

"Captain Hawke," Rau's tinny voice broke in from Roxy's console, "I would suggest an immediate retreat. There is no way we can win this battle like this."

The Fortuna pummeled the Minerva with another salvo of missiles and Meyrin forced down the spike of fear in her chest. "They would follow us," she said, "unless..." She glanced up at Burt's console. "Burt, do an infrared scan of the enemy warship. Check their prow and see if they're charging their Tannhäuser."

Burt gasped in shock. "Affirmative, captain! Heat signature of the enemy warship's prow is white-hot!"

Meyrin glanced back at the bridge screen. "Malik, you're going to have to make this count. Our engines are dying on us." She glanced back up at the Fortuna. "And make sure they don't hit the stern!"

"And as for you!" Kira screamed, and with a crash the Vega Freedom brought its saber down against the Destiny's sword. "You won't get a chance to interfere this time!"

Shinn jammed back the controls, but the DRAGOONs lined up around him for a killing salvo

Instead, an ear-splitting scream sliced through the air, and with a thundering crash the Twilight Gundam slammed head-on into the Freedom and shouldered it aside, giving Shinn the chance he needed to dart upward and out of the DRAGOONs' path. Kira whipped around, saber blazing to life, but his blade slammed against the Twilight's saber instead.

"I don't know who you are," snarled Emily, her eyes dim as the seed burst before her, "but you're not going any farther than this!"

The Twilight leapt up and kicked the Freedom in the face, knocking it back. Kira ground his teeth and swarmed his DRAGOONs around the Twilight, blowing off its shield and beam rifle before it could react. Emily burst out of their web of beam fire and sailed back down towards the Freedom, beam saber raised.

"You're that 'Angel of Death' girl, aren't you?" muttered Kira, and the two Gundams came together with a crash. "How interesting. A little girl born and bred just to be a killer!" The Freedom surged forward and hurled the Twilight back. "And yet you're so powerful!" With a blaze, the Freedom pummeled the Twilight's beam shield with a plasma cannon volley. "I was only the Ultimate Coordinator, but you!" Emily clenched her teeth and pushed her saber forward to deflect the Freedom's killing stroke at her Gundam's waist. "You're the ultimate weapon!"

"Emily! Get away from him!" roared Shinn, and with a crash the Destiny Gundam dropped into the fray with a vicious sword chop. Kira scowled and leapt back, and then his eyes went wide

The Freedom shuddered as it recalled its DRAGOONs, backflipped away from the Destiny's next attack, dropped a combat flare into the Destiny's face, and took off with a burst of exhaust.

Kira keyed on the frequency to the Fortuna. "Lyle, recall the VaROZ team and get out of here now. That Alliance unit, the Charlemagne, is on its way."

On the auxiliary screen, Lyle blinked in disbelief. "But...sir, we've got the Minerva on the ropes. One last push "

"I said retreat," Kira interrupted. "We don't have the strength to take them on. If the Minerva gets away we'll just follow them and finish them off somewhere else. Now do as I say."

As the Freedom rocketed away, Shinn and Emily watched it go with fury and fear swirling in their veins. Emily opened her helmet's visor and mopped the sweat from her face.

The ultimate weapon, huh?

Earth Alliance battleship Charlemagne, orbit of Earth

"Docking maneuvers complete, captain," reported Vera on the Charlemagne's bridge. In the captain's chair, Danilov sat back in satisfaction and glanced at the ship now attached to the Charlemagne's port side. The bright yellow Cornelius-class ship had originally been designed as a support ship for the Archangel-class battleship. The theft of the Cornelius itself had been an unfortunate setback, but only a temporary one because now the class had several new members, including the George C. Marshall that now had itself docked with the Charlemagne.

"Captain Bachmann," he said with a smile and turned towards the screen where the Marshall's youthful captain's face was displayed, "I'm surprised you got here in one piece. ZAFT has brought space traffic all over the Earth Sphere to a standstill."

Bachmann merely shrugged. "We shipped out to Artemis on the 6th, before they had a chance to catch us. That's where we're heading next, once the resupply here is done." He arched an eyebrow. "I take it you're turning all those guns on ZAFT?"

Danilov glanced grimly in the direction of L5. ZAFT was out there; his real enemy, not the Minerva, not the Resistance, but the ones who would unquestionably destroy the world, were out there. At long last it had just boiled down to an enemy who was evil.

"That's the plan."

If Sven Cal Bayan had had any artistic appreciation, he would have called the mobile suit before him in the Charlemagne's sprawling hangar a work of art. Built on the successful frame of the Windam with donations descended from the Blitz and Strike, the new mobile suit had everything the Destiny had. An anti-ship sword. A long-range cannon. Two imposing beam wings folded up on its backpack. It had speed and power that the engineers estimated was superior to the Resistance's wings of light. It had to be the finest mobile suit the Earth Alliance had ever produced.

Sven glanced down at the gantry at the sound of someone approaching, and arched an eyebrow in surprise at the sight of a bespectacled young woman in a flowing white lab coat coming to a stop next to him.

She cast him a winsome smile. "You must be Captain Bayan," she said, and extended her hand for Sven to awkwardly shake. "I'm Yukiko Nakajima," and she nodded at the slumbering Gundam, "and I see you've met my baby already."

"Your baby?"

"The GAT-X124 Crusader. My masterpiece." She turned with a loving smile towards the silent mobile suit. "I gave up an art major to pursue engineering, but they never did manage to take the artist out of me. She's beautiful, isn't she?"

Sven idly wondered what it was about the Phantom Pain that attracted crazy people. "As long as it helps me destroy the Destiny and the Minerva."

"Oh, that won't be a problem," chuckled Yukiko. "I'm looking forward to watching you take her for her first sortie." Her lips curled into a wicked grin. "My baby's been cooped up in the hangars and testing grounds too long, captain. I hope you take good care of her."

The dark eyes of the Crusader Gundam stared down at Sven as he nodded silently.

Shams Coza whistled approvingly from the Charlemagne's observation deck as the mechanics unloaded his new Vanguard Gundam from the Marshall's cargo hold. More or less built on the Calamity's frame, it had the quadruped transformation system that irked Shams so, but it also had speed and firepower enough to keep up with the Destiny, perhaps.

Next to it was the sleek and thruster-laden Artemis Gundam, designed for close-quarters combat, and Shams looked it over and found it acceptable as well. At least it would probably keep her relatively safe. He would hate to have to deal with Sven on his own, after all. Shams cast a furtive look towards Mudie, on the other end of the deck, watching impassively as the mechanics unloaded her new machine. Perhaps she approved too.

He glanced over his shoulder as the deck door opened and Grey and Merau drifted in, along with a dark-haired girl that Shams recalled as being one of the new pilots. They stopped in surprise and perfunctorily saluted.

"I hear you guys have some new toys to play with too," Shams said with a smirk. "The Luna Project machines finally came through."

"We won't disappoint," Erin said with more confidence than Shams found convincing. He glanced over at Grey and Merau the two who had at least fought the Minerva's Gundams before and knew what they were in for.

"And I guess you two were there at Carpentaria," he went on. "How'd that work out for you?"

Grey furrowed his brow. "A Zamzazar unit knocked us both out of the sky while we were engaging the Twilight."

"What, like friendly fire?"

Merau crossed her arms. "That would imply that didn't intend to hit us. It clearly swatted us out of its path because we were honing in on its target."

"Now that's just bullshit," Shams started. "In the military code "

"It doesn't matter," Mudie spoke up from the end of the room, and all eyes turned towards her in surprise. "There's only one rule on the battlefield. Kill or be killed." She glanced over at the two young ensigns. "And you two just got lucky."

Shams risked a smirk. "What, the way you did?"

Mudie shot him an angry look and turned her eyes back towards the Artemis Gundam.

"They're too young for this sort of thing."

The words hung in the air for a moment in the quiet bunk aboard the Charlemagne, where Kelly Maynard was drifting quietly through the air. On one of the beds lay Travis Alterman, feet kicked back, hands behind his head, looking bored out of his skull. He glanced at his commanding officer with a shrug.

"So what?"

"They can't possibly be up for the kind of war we're about to fight." Kelly glanced ruefully over her shoulder. "With ZAFT, I mean. They're crazy. All those times they talked about wiping out the Naturals...but this time they mean it."

"All the more reason to kill the fuckers now," Travis answered. "And if the kiddies don't get it now, they will, or they'll be dead. And either way, I ain't complaining."

Kelly was silent for a moment. "Captain Bayan seems to have faith in those two. Saiba and Seraux."

"Oh, Captain Bayan," snorted Travis, "yeah, that guy's nuts. Like he gives a shit. He's got that Crusader now, what does he need the rest of us for?"

"That's not how our army works, Travis."

"Of course it is."

"No, it's not. The Crusader may be advanced but it can't be in more than one place at once. We can. And our machines are specifically tuned to take down the Twilight. We're going to have to work together, and if you can't deal with that," she frowned, "then we'll find someone who can."

"Fine, fine, point made," Travis said with a laugh. "But I'll tell ya now, don't let anyone get in my Nebula Blitz's way. It's been a long time since I've had a good fight." He grinned. "And there's nothing I'd like better."

Battleship Minerva, en route to Lagrange Point 1

"So," Roxy said loudly on the Minerva's darkened bridge, "wanna hear how fucked up we are?"

Sitting in the captain's chair, Meyrin shot as furious a glare as she could manage up at the inhibition-free comm officer and managed to silence her. She glanced over at Abbey. "What are we looking at?"

Abbey slumped over her console in disbelief. "Damage to the ship: Tannhäuser lost, Isolde lost, starboard Tristan lost, all starboard missile tubes and ten on the port side lost, five CIWS emplacements lost." She ran a hand through her hair. "The Legend, Chaos, Abyss, and Savior are beyond salvage. The Justice has lost its subflight lifter. The Gaia got away with moderate damage, and the Destiny and Twilight had only light damage. We have a total of four functional mobile suits, one of which is severely limited now." She looked back at Meyrin. "We're going to have to get to Terminal, immediately."

Meyrin pinched the bridge of her nose, feeling a headache coming on. "Terminal's too far," she said. "That ZAFT ship retreated because the Charlemagne had arrived in orbit. They'll probably be after us too. We have to stop someplace closer."

"Like where?" Chen asked. "There's only neutral colonies and Alliance bases in the entire region. If we're not going to Terminal, our only other option is Barnacle "

"And that's all the way at L3," Malik added. "We're closest to L1. Maybe there's something there."

"There is," Meyrin said quietly. "There's Arnhelm."

The bridge crew went silent as that name sank into their minds. Meyrin squeezed her eyes shut and figured that a headache was the least of her worries now. Driven to the specter of docking at Arnhelm for repairs...that was almost as bad as taking her chances with that ZAFT ship or the Charlemagne. Of all the favors to have to call in...

"Well," Abbey said haltingly, "the good news about that is that they enough discipline over their men to keep them from attacking us."

"Yeah, really good discipline," Roxy scoffed.
"If any of you know of some shadow port or something that I don't know about, now would be a great time to speak up," Meyrin shot back. "Otherwise, we have no choice. Malik, set course for the Arnhelm Colony."

She sat back as the Minerva's engines painfully rumbled to life and hoped that it would all be quiet.

I know we were going to finish it together, but at least the Stargazer will survive this way, he had said. Just get out of here, and survive, and

Selene McGriff closed her eyes and brushed away the tears. Sol had not deserved that fate. ZAFT had gotten their hands on the Stargazer...but Sol was right. Selene had the Stargazer's schematics and research data on a flash drive, safe in her pocket. She had the knowledge and expertise. If anyone could rebuild the Stargazer from scratch as there was no longer any other option then it would be her.

But Sol...he had wanted to see it complete. He had delighted in "teaching" its AI. He had promised her that one day they would watch together as the Stargazer took off for its endless mission.

Instead, she had to "just get out of here, and survive."

She opened the door to the ship's hangar and looked around at what had become of the Minerva's famous Gundams. Four of them were damaged beyond repair, by the looks of it; the other four seemed salvageable, and they were the ones the crew was working on most feverishly.

Just get out of here, and survive, and

Selene rubbed the side of her head for a moment. In normal times, she would have never thought of doing this...but these were no longer normal times. Opposing violence didn't mean ruling it out. And in a war like this, pacifism only aided those who were thirstiest for blood.

She caught one of the mechanics' arms as he drifted by, and brought herself face to face with a dark-skinned young man. "Excuse me," she said, "I know I'm technically just a passenger, but I'd like to help with the repairs."

The mechanic stammered in surprise. "Err, well, do you have the background "

"It's alright," another voice cut in, and an older man drifted up to the gantry and hopped over the railing. "She's from the DSSD. She was an engineer on the Stargazer." He turned towards her and gestured towards one of the mobile suits on the far side of the hangar. "That machine you rode in on earlier, the Twilight. Its pilot could use a hand on the diagnostics. Can you do that?"

Selene followed his gesture down the hangar and found the Twilight Gundam.

"I'll get right on it," she said, and pushed off for the Gundam that had brought her here. After all, she'd never had a chance to properly say thanks.

Shinn Asuka hated it when the memories returned. They always returned in a rush, and never in a way that made sense. A sensory overload of suffering. He felt the pain again on that smoking hillside in Orb, surrounded by his family's mutilated bodies; he felt it again in Antarctica, grieving before the wreckage of the Kasselheim; he felt Lacus Clyne disappear. Kira Yamato had returned. The man who had taken so much from him now had so much more power more power than Shinn had, power enough to nearly take everything from him again.

At his side on the interior observation deck, Stella looked up towards the Earth. "The Freedom was stronger this time," she murmured.

Shinn clenched his fists around the railing. "Don't worry about it, Stella. I'll still protect you."

"But who will protect Shinn?"

That he didn't know. "We just need to get to Terminal," he continued. "We can take care of things there."

Stella drifted around him and put her hands on his shoulders. "Stella will be okay," she started quietly, "but Shinn is sad..."

"That's nothing new."

"Shinn shouldn't be sad all the time." She looked back up at the Earth, at the blue waters that looked so calm from so far away. "It makes Stella sad..."

Shinn closed his eyes. "I know, Stella. I'm sorry." But it won't change, he thought, until I've destroyed him.

"You know," Athrun muttered quietly, and Viveka glanced down at him on the Infinite Justice's chest by its cockpit hatch, "he used to be my friend."

"The guy piloting that white mobile suit?"

"Him." Athrun stared forward with a hurricane of emotion churning within. "He was the guy who commandeered the Strike and used it on Heliopolis six years ago. We were best friends."

Viveka studied his haggard face for a moment. "Were?"

"He killed his sister and Lacus Clyne," Athrun said with a resigned wave of his hand. "We're not friends anymore."

"Then what happened to him?"

At that, Athrun cast a hateful glance across the hangar at the ruined hulk of the Legend Gundam. "You asked me once why I have a problem with Rau," he said. "That's why. Rau was the one who drove us apart and turned Kira into..." He floundered for words for a moment. "Whatever the hell he is now. I don't recognize him anymore."

Viveka glanced skeptically across the hangar. "How did he do that?"

"I don't know. I guess he blamed me for killing someone important to him. Or something." He shook his head. "My best friend would not have ordered that attack on the DSSD or attacked civilians or any of the stuff that ZAFT is doing now. And I have Rau to thank for that."

"Athrun " Viveka started.

"But he won't get to pull off whatever it is he's planning now," Athrun went on. "Not while I'm here."

So, you've grown stronger. All very good. You'll do well.

Rau Le Creuset drifted through his bunk with a grin, pondering the changes to his calculations and the exciting possibilities offered by this new information. Kira Yamato's Newtype powers had strengthened, and he had a new, more powerful, more destructive Gundam. On the downside, he was lost to Rau's machinations but that made him useful in a different way. No, a man like him would never be useless.

He would be useful now, not as a tool of his own but as a tool for someone else. He turned his thoughts to the flickering presence of Emily, somewhere around the hangar. Kira Yamato had been the Ultimate Coordinator, the supreme expression of the Cosmic Era's greed and cheapening of human life. Kira Yamato's creation had fed on the lives of his less than perfect brothers and sisters. The Cosmic Era had turned human life into a waste product for the creation of a genetic superman that perfectly embodied the will of a rich customer and an obsessed scientist.

But Emily...she was different. She was the supreme expression of the Cosmic Era's lust for blood, its will to destroy. Only an era that craved weapons to secure a world where it could pursue its perfect mastery of nature would create something like her...and it was her, and not Kira, who made the ideal vehicle for his plans.

Yes, Kira had not been the most ideal after all, and had Rau known that earlier he would have focused on finding Emily while she was at her most malleable. Rau had never quite stamped out the need for dependence in Kira, and that had given Valentine an opening to twist Kira away from him because Valentine evoked in him the same feelings as that Natural girl, and there was no way Rau could have done that himself.

Emily, though...she was even better suited to this than Kira. Kira had led a fairly idyllic existence until fate found him at Heliopolis; Emily had not. In the final reckoning, Kira was not intended by his creators to be a tool for others' ambitions; Emily was. He would lose some of the irony in the Cosmic Era's great symbol of greed falling from his grasp...but the specter of the Angel of Death riding the wings of Armageddon to deliver judgment was just as good.

Rau Le Creuset smiled as he turned over Emily's presence in his Newtype's mind. She did not quite understand that yet...but with Kira Yamato and Valentine and ZAFT and this war and her own past and that other presence he sensed, far away, pulsing inside the armored shell of Messiah...she would,

"So," Roxy said, "how ya feeling?"

Strapped down in an infirmary bed and swathed with bandages, Sting Oakley groaned as intelligently as he could.

"What happened...?"

"Chaos got trashed by those three silver machines," Roxy explained with a shrug. "Abes says there's no salvaging it, but we're heading for Arnhelm for repairs and maybe they'll have a mobile suit to let you borrow." She glanced over her shoulder. "Doc says you'll be out here soon, anyway."

Sting glanced across the infirmary at the bed where Auel was strapped down with an oxygen mask over his face.

"And him...?"

"Abyss got totaled by the Freedom," said Roxy. "He's got a concussion and a bunch of lacerations. He's gonna be there a while, but he'll be okay." She looked back at Sting. "And at least we're not being tailed."

Sting almost sneered. "Thank God for little things." He looked down at himself. "I don't believe it. I...failed."

"Hey now, none of that, or I'll get to Doc to make with the Bring-Down Blue," Roxy spoke up. "Besides, y'know that upgrade for your mobile suit you were always bitching about? You're, like, guaranteed to get it now."

"Wonderful," Sting muttered, and covered his eyes with his free hand. "So I just have to rot here and think about how I got my ass kicked until we get to Terminal."

"Well, you could," Roxy agreed with a shrug, "but there's probably better ways to spend your time. Just saying."

"Like what?"

"Oh, I dunno. Sleeping. Eating. Masturbating. Whatever you guys do with your off time."

Sting glared. "Fuck you."

"Oh, so you're into the hot nurse thing, huh?"

"S-Shut up."

Roxy grinned victoriously and put a hand on his shoulder. "Well, seriously, you got your ass kicked in an aging mobile suit against three new, modern, high-performance machines. You're still alive and so are we. Don't worry about it."

Sting looked away in frustration. "Easy for you to say."

Emily looked up in surprise at the feeling of a human life approaching her battered Twilight's cockpit hatch. True to type, there was someone there Selene, the woman she had rescued from the battlefield at Troya Station, landing deftly on the open hatch.

"Hi," she started with a smile. "The chief mechanic said you needed a hand with the diagnostics?"

Emily paused for a moment. "You're the one I brought in from the battlefield."

"Yeah. Glad to meet you face to face." Selene put her hand forward for an awkward handshake. "You know, you're not so scary for an Angel of Death."

"I get that a lot." Emily waved a hand tiredly at the Twilight's console. "This thing has me all confused."

"I'll take a look," Selene offered, and they switched places. Emily turned around and watched as Selene settled herself into the Twilight's cockpit seat and got to work.

"Why are you helping us?" Emily started. Selene glanced up at her in surprise.

"Shouldn't I? Earn my keep and all."

"But it's not really a problem that you're here."

Selene looked back down at the console, and Emily frowned at the tinge of sadness to her presence. "I was told to survive," she said, "and out there you guys came close to getting killed. And besides," she looked back up with a sad smile, "when we sent out that distress signal, to be honest, I didn't expect anyone to answer it. But you did." She returned her attention to the console. "So while I'm here, I'll help you out. I don't want to contribute to a war, but if both sides are going to try to destroy the world, I guess sitting on the sidelines doesn't really help that."

Emily looked down at her and felt the resignation from her. "But you weren't researching weapons."

"You saw the Stargazer in action. It was built for exploration, but it made for a formidable weapon and it might've escaped if the energy had lasted." She paused to rub her eyes. "And there are combat applications, I suppose. But," she looked back up at Emily, "it's a great power. A combat application of the Voiture Lumiere would make you just about unstoppable on the battlefield, but you'd have power and...well, that means you have to be careful with it."

"I know," Emily said quietly, "all about having power."

ZAFT Eternal-class cruiser Seraphim, en route to Lagrange Point 5

"In my professional opinion," said Commander Hayes of the Seraphim's crack marine contingent, "we've gotten all we can from this guy."

Standing in a harshly-lit interrogation room deep inside the Seraphim, Varder and Lilith looked down in distaste at the bound and beaten Sol Ryuune L'ange, slumped in a chair with blood streaming from his battered face, Hayes standing ramrod-straight nearby.

"He was the Stargazer's test pilot," Varder grumbled. "He should know more. Maybe we just haven't forced it out of him yet."

"Preliminary analysis of the documents we seized says no," Lilith said. "He was the test pilot and he was responsible for inputting data into the AI, but he may not really know anything we don't already have."

"We did capture the Stargazer prototype and the contents of Troya's computer core," Hayes pointed out. "All things considered, we don't really need him."

Varder, Lilith, and Hayes exchanged meaningful glances, and then the green-haired man stepped up in front of Sol and drew a handgun from inside his uniform.

Eyes catching the dull glint of metal, Sol looked up with a smirk. "You'd kill a fellow Coordinator?"

The click sounded through the room as Varder removed the safety. "No use for a race-traitor. Nothing personal, though."

"Then go ahead," Sol said with a harsh laugh. "Kill me."

As Varder put the gun to his head, he smiled.

At least Selene got away.

The gunshot rang out.

Arnhelm Colony, Lagrange Point 1

The paper fluttered back down to the desk from the white-gloved hand that held it, and with a grunt, the man behind the desk in a medal and ribbon-studded dark blue naval uniform sat back. He glanced at the officer before him, the hawk-nosed man in an old Earth Alliance uniform with the collar tabs of a major.

"And they agreed to it?" the older man asked with a tinge of annoyance in his voice.

The major nodded. "How could they not? Between that ZAFT ship and the Charlemagne they would've been destroyed outright if they'd gone anywhere else."

The old man stroked his chin thoughtfully. "I don't like having the Minerva here, Lawson. They attract attention, and we've only kept this place secure by avoiding scrutiny."

"I agree, sir, but we couldn't have very well told them no. Not without risking our supply lines from Chiao Xu."

"Chiao Xu," muttered the old man, "damned fool. But you're right." He glanced back up at Lawson. "Do you think they would object to our practices?"

"Undoubtedly, but the purge will have to take place anyway. We can't afford to let the agitators have their way." He smirked. "I'm sure Captain Hawke and her minions will be too busy to worry about us anyway."

The old man slowly got to his feet with the help of a cane. "One can hope," he muttered.

To be continued...