Phase 07 - Friends

Mobile Suit Gundam SEED ETERNITY

Phase 07 - Friends

April 16th, CE 77 - Battleship Minerva, Arnhelm Colony, Lagrange Point 1

"Well," Meyrin said with a start, "that's pretty cool."

Rotating and flickering on the Minerva's auxiliary screen sat the schematics of a sleek mobile suit with the face of a Gundam, studded with verniers and two large thruster blocks on its back, with beam wings, a long rifle, and a segmented razor-edged whip on its left arm. By her side, Shinn and Athrun looked up at it in approval.

"Emily's lucking out," Athrun said. "I see they took seriously the combat data we sent them."

Meyrin shrugged. "Not that they had a choice one way or the other," she said. "But they don't have the nuclear engine or the core components to finish it. So we'll still have to get to Terminal first."

Shinn crossed his arms. "The Alliance has been poking around here, hasn't it," he started, and glanced up at Burt on the sensor console.

"I guess," Burt said with a shrug. "Arnhelm isn't sharing much, but I've heard rumors over the comm of an Alliance warship squadron that keeps passing close by."

"If they were going to attack, they would have done so already," Meyrin said thoughtfully. "Even after we got here. There may not be any enemies there."

Athrun glanced out the bridge windows, where the Minerva was still missing its starboard Tristan cannon. "Let's hope so."

Emily steeled herself while brushing her teeth for the coming barrage as she felt Viveka saunter through the door of their bunk. Here it comes...

"So I hear someone's been hanging out with boys all day," the red-haired woman crowed, and Emily sighed and focused on a molar.

"Yes, Viveka, I spent all day with boys," she said. "Are you jealous or something?"

"I dunno. Should I be?" cackled Viveka as she threw her arms around her sister. "So? Tell me."

Emily gave up this particular battle as a lost cause. "They're a couple of kids about my age and they pilot mobile suits for Arnhelm and the Resistance," she said. "One of them is named Trojan and he showed me his Green Frame."

"His what?"

"Mobile suit, you pervert." Emily paused to spit a mouthful of foamy toothpaste into the sink.

"Well excuse me for thinking that a guy named Trojan showing you his 'Green Frame' was a little suggestive," scoffed Viveka. Emily opened her mouth to ask what that was supposed to mean, but then her cheeks flashed red as the connection made itself for her.

"Viveka, I'm gonna kill you if you say that around him!"

"What, you're interested in him?"

"N-No!" Emily sputtered. "I mean, he's cute, but he's kind of a dork." She paused to rinse and rolled her eyes at her sister's laughter. "Besides, the last thing I need in my life right now is a boy."

"Right," Viveka said with a grin, "'cuz none of them compare with the illustrious Shinn Asuka."

Emily ignored the bright blush on her cheeks. "Besides," she went on, "Trojan's not the only person I met here. I met someone else too, called Lily."

"Oh, so you swing both ways?" Viveka laughed.

"No!" Emily pursed her lips. "She's, like, thirteen or something. And I don't like girls that way!"

"Then what's so special about her?"

"She's an Extended."

They both fell silent for a moment as the implications filtered through Viveka's mind. "An Extended," she said. "You're sure?"

"Extended have a certain kind of pressure around them," Emily said quietly. "It's hard to explain but she's definitely an Extended. And, uh, she likes me. A lot. I think."

Viveka stared in the mirror at her sister's face. "So what are you going to do?"

Emily closed her eyes and thought for a moment. "We're leaving soon," she said, "so hopefully this will take care of itself."

She thought back to the last Extended she had met. Lily didn't seem to have a caretaker. Maybe she had broken free...or maybe she had found her caretaker after all.

"It's scotch that's almost half as old as you," Roxy explained with a smirk as she poured half a glass of the amber liquid out for Sting in the Minerva's crew lounge. "The older it gets, the better it gets." She raised her glass in the air. "So. Welcome back."

Sting took a sip and immediately felt like someone had set his throat on fire. "I still don't know how you drink this stuff," he grunted between coughs.

"Lightweights, all of you."

Sitting back with his drink and fearing the next sip, Sting merely swirled it around in his glass. "Thanks for the drink, though, even if it is killing me."

"It's what I do," Roxy said with a shrug.

"So how come you're staying out of the colony?"

"I went with Shinn earlier." She glanced around conspiratorially. "It's not a good place to be. You know about Arnhelm, right?"

Sting steeled himself and took another sip. "Sort of."

"It's a refugee colony," Roxy explained, "but with a twist. Jeremiah is basically the military dictator here. He offers the refugees food, medicine, and shelter; the refugees keep their mouths shut and let him do as he pleases. It's why there's a Resistance base here. He gets supplies from Chiao Xu, and most of them go towards his private security force."

"So we're basically dealing with a small-time Lord Djibril," Sting groaned. "Wonderful."

"Yeah, but there wasn't anywhere closer. Not if we wanted to go to the Moon and risk passing by Arzachel or something."

Sting leaned back in his chair and stared ruefully at the ceiling. "What is it about this war that brings out the worst in human nature?"

Roxy smiled bitterly. "Oh, they always do that."

Drifting in the hangar in front of the silent Gaia Gundam, Matt Abes glanced tiredly between the Gundam and the pilot. Fortunately, Stella had fairly incontestable skills on the battlefield...because off it, she was sort of a loon.

"Everyone's counting on Stella," she whispered, staring into her Gundam's darkened eyes.

"That's right," Abes agreed, "so we've got to keep the Gaia in top condition. You remember how to recalibrate the OS?"

"Stella can do it," she mumbled, and moved down towards the cockpit hatch.

Abes scratched his head with a tired sigh. Shinn had given up long ago on trying to change this part of her existence and had instead accepted it as simply who Stella Loussier was, after the Alliance's intervention. It was a little sad. She always meant well and she carried out her tasks as best as she could, but she was almost impossible to communicate with, and only Shinn ever really seemed to understand exactly what she was getting at.

But of course Shinn and Stella understood each other so well. Stella had been what had driven Shinn to desert in the first place.

Abes pushed those thoughts from his mind. They never did any good. Look what they had done for Vino and Yolant, after all. The ghosts of a war that was already over were never worth entertaining.

Instead, he quite resolutely turned and headed towards the gantry. He would probably have to go yell at Arnhelm's mechanics again.

April 17th, CE 77 - Earth Alliance battleship Charlemagne, Lagrange Point 1

Ivan Danilov sat uneasily in the Charlemagne's captain's chair as he listened to Joaquin and Whittington argue over the comm. Three Phantom Pain field officers with five warships between them was really just a recipe for trouble...especially since one of them was the irascible Colonel Joaquin.

"First of all, Colonel Whittington," snarled Joaquin, "they won't all be killed. Not if we broadcast the surrender warning. And if the refugees are too stupid to head for shelters they deserve to die. And second, a few thousand refugees is a small price to pay for destroying the Resistance and depriving ZAFT of an ally."

Whittington scowled on the screen. "I'm rather surprised that you aren't off fighting them yourself, colonel. Aren't they supposed to be our focus?"

"On the contrary," Joaquin said, with what Danilov thought was a downright evil grin, "intel suggests that the Resistance's leadership is in preliminary talks with ZAFT. Best destroy them now, while they're weak and disorganized, while we pick off the ZAFT units and prepare for the final thrust against Messiah. And that's why I'm here. If we have to destroy the Arnhelm Colony, then so be it. That's better than what ZAFT would do with it."

With a disgusted snort, Whittington cast a pleading look toward Danilov, but the Charlemagne's captain could only squirm uneasily. Joaquin did have a point. The Resistance's space fleet was formidable but manageable, and ZAFT's apparent strategy was time-consuming to counter but likewise manageable. But what if they joined forces and worked in concert?

Well, not likely, according to the intel from L4. ZAFT units had attacked and heavily damaged the Minerva at the DSSD's Troya Station. If the Resistance and ZAFT were mulling an alliance, that wasn't going to help...or else the Minerva was bait, or about to go rogue.

"Colonel Joaquin," Danilov spoke up, "I still vote for exercising caution. We will accomplish nothing but inflict losses on ourselves by storming the colony now."

Joaquin arched an eyebrow in annoyance. "Odd that a man who commands a ship like that would vote for caution."

Danilov frowned. "All these guns don't make a difference," he answered, "if you don't know when to shoot them, and when to keep them quiet."

"It's going to kill that 'Angel of Death' bitch, you know."

Floating before the silent Nebula Blitz, Grey Saiba and Merau Seraux both turned in resignation towards the speaker, and found Travis Alterman drifting up from nowhere behind them with a devilish smirk on his face.

"Kind of pathetic that you two didn't get the job done," he went on with a shrug, "but you'll see. I won't even need the rest of you. There's no way she can handle the Mirage Colloid."

Merau raised her eyebrows. "You know she's a Newtype "

"Horseshit," Travis spat. "Newtypes are just a bunch of crap that that faggot PLANT chairman came up with to scare people. You can blame that shit all you want for getting your asses kicked by a teenage girl, but it doesn't change the facts."

"She's not just a teenage girl, Travis," warned Grey. "We would know. We've fought her before. You're underestimating her."

Travis turned his eyes towards Grey with a wild grin. "Really," he chuckled. "Well, I guess from your point of view, she's good, but..." He laughed and headed down towards the silent Nebula Blitz. "'Angel of Death.' Hah. Can't escape my Nebula Blitz..."

April 18th, CE 77 - Arnhelm Colony, Lagrange Point 1

Lily put on a pensive look as she strode down the halls of the Arnhelm Colony port with Emily. "Well," she said, "I dunno, I've only been here for like a month or so..." She shrugged. "I think we were going to move on soon." But with that, she immediately latched onto Emily's arm. "But you're not gonna leave me behind, right?"

Emily winced. "Err, about that..."

"You wouldn't leave me!" Lily wailed. "It's boring and scary here! Everybody's mean and they make me go on those boring patrols and nobody wants to be my friend!"

"We're not really planning I mean, we have passengers already " Emily started, but Lily rooted herself to Emily's side. "Lily, really, I don't think you can come with us."

"That's not fair!" she cried. "Come on, Emily, we're friends, right?"

Jeez, I just met you the other day, Emily thought testily as Lily dragged her down the corridor. "We're going to leave soon. The Minerva is going to Terminal. Are you okay with that?"

"Yeah! I used to be on Terminal!"

Emily held back a groan. "Why do you want to come with me so badly anyway?"

Lily's face fell with sadness for a moment, and Emily instantly regretted it. "I'm lonely here," Lily said quietly. She perked up. "I'll help out! I got a mobile suit! Come on, I'll show you!"

"Lily, wait a minute," Emily sputtered, as Lily dragged her down towards one of the side passages.

"It's kinda old, but you can't judge everything by its age, y'know?" Lily went on, with a beaming grin. "Come on, slowpoke! It's awesome!"

"So," Rax said, just loud enough to be heard above the din of a mobile suit hangar at work, "what do you think of her?"

Leaning against the head of Rax's blue ZAKU Phantom, Trojan looked away awkwardly. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"I saw the way you've been looking at her, man," Rax said with a grunt. "Don't try to deny it."

Trojan frowned and tried to ignore the feeling of his reddening face. "Well, so what if I was? Are you jealous or somethin'?"

"Trojan, man, I am the exact opposite of jealous." Rax got to his feet and fixed Trojan with a look that brooked no disagreement. "I know you can't really help stuff like this, but seriously. The Minerva's leaving soon. You're probably not gonna see her again."

"I know."

"And even if they weren't, or if you went along or something," Rax went on with a shrug, "well, this is a bad time to go thinking about things like that." He put a hand on Trojan's shoulder. "Seriously. I dunno how many times I've seen it. Two people who make their living by fighting fall in love, and it's only a matter of time before one of 'em dies and the whole thing ends in heartbreak. It's not worth it. Not in this way of life."

Trojan glared. "How would you know?"

"While you were in East Asia training with that Barry Ho guy, I was up here," Rax answered, "watching it all happen. Over and over again."

"And you think if I go after her, she's gonna die?"

"She might," Rax said, "but the one I'd worry about is you."

"Not fuckin' likely, man," Trojan said with a snort, and turned up his nose.

"Yeah," Rax muttered, "the others said that too."

The office was silent for a moment as Lawson and Jeremiah stared down through the windows at the grim tableau of the Arnhelm Colony its murky sky, the crumbling buildings, the gray and desolate landscape. Jeremiah ran a finger up and down his metal cane. He had built this colony up from nothing, filled it with seven million refugees...and now that was all going to change.

"You're sure they couldn't change the meeting time?" he asked suddenly, and glanced at Lawson. The hawk-nosed man could only shrug.

"You know how ZAFT is these days, admiral," he answered. "Practically think they run the Earth Sphere now."

Jeremiah scowled. "Then why do they even want to meet with us?"

"I'm not sure," Lawson said, "but I have a theory on that. Perhaps they want to use the Resistance as a distraction to cover their own operations. It's not as though the Alliance would pass up opportunities to finish off Resistance forces in space or on Earth."

For a moment the only sound was Jeremiah tapping his cane tiredly against the floor. "In either case," he said, "the Alliance would attack us. As allies of ZAFT or just potential allies of ZAFT."

"A no-win situation for us."

"Well," Jeremiah replied, "to an extent." He waved a hand over the colony. "The Resistance was destroyed on Earth. It won't last long in space. Even with ZAFT around, the Alliance will not be long in finding and destroying Terminal and depriving ZAFT of a potential ally in the Earth Sphere. Our supply lines from Chiao Xu are about to be cut, most likely. So," he glanced up at Lawson, "we'd best hear them out, shouldn't we?"

Lawson smiled thinly. "And on that note, the Avicenna is due to arrive tomorrow."

Jeremiah sat back. When the smoke cleared, after all, it would pay to be on the winner's side.

ZAFT Minerva-class battleship Fortuna, Lagrange Point 4

With arms of fire stretching out from the colony's hull and ripping pieces of it off into space, the Gagarin City space colony shuddered under the unstoppable fire of the Fortuna. On the darkened bridge, Lyle watched from the captain's chair as the colony writhed as though in pain. One of the mirrors had been blown off, and that was throwing off the colony's rotation. One more shot would pierce through and sever the axial shaft and once that was broken, the colony would begin to collapse.

Lyle glanced over his shoulder, towards the bridge doors. The Marshal rarely watched these actions for himself. Lyle and the rest of the crew knew why because his heart was sick at the slaughter.

But that was just like the Vice Marshal of ZAFT. Kira Yamato was a good man, a saintly man, far better than even the Coordinators who exacted their just and proper revenge and brought balance to the scales of justice as they swept the Earth Sphere up in terror. He had sympathy for even these vermin Natural, sympathy they did not deserve. He had steeled himself to do what the Coordinator nation required, but his heart was too kindly to feel nothing at the sight of it.

The colony rumbled as a Tristan salvo blew off another mirror. Gagarin City's hull was riddled with holes from missile and Isolde shell impacts. Lyle narrowed his eyes.

"Tannhäuser, lock onto the target and...fire!"

The Fortuna sent forth a shimmering column of positron energy that plowed through the colony's openings. Gagarin City began to crumble as the axial shaft snapped in two and Lyle sat back and watched with satisfaction as the rotating colony began to break apart.

The Vice Marshal may have sympathy for you parasites, he thought with a smirk, but I sure don't.

They were dying. There were six million people in that colony and they were all dying.

Sitting at his desk in the bowels of the Fortuna, Kira clutched his head with his mismatched hands and struggled to keep his sanity above the rolling waves of horror. Six million lives were vanishing from the vast plane of human consciousness. Six million lives, at his order. They were dying, in a cloud of fear and confusion and regret. They were dying and they had done nothing wrong. They were dying and it was his fault

He shook his head and groaned in pain. He thought of Valentine. It was necessary. The world needed shock and horror and mountains of corpses, like it had never seen before. The world needed to be so crippled it could not mount another war even if it didn't learn its lesson from this one. The Coordinators needed to be made safe, so that they could evolve into a better society worthy of Fllay's death in case the Naturals did not.

The door slid open and Kayla blinked in surprise as she stepped into the room. "Sir, are you alright?" she asked and rushed to his side.

"It's fine," Kira growled, through clenched teeth. "It's okay. It's just..."

Kayla studied his haggard face for a moment. "Captain Markus has just finished the destruction of Gagarin City."

"I know," grunted Kira. "I know."

It wasn't supposed to be this way, thought Gary Talon as his VaROZ sped back home from the abortive battle at Gagarin City. A small colony militia and an equally small Alliance garrison had sallied forth to fend off the ZAFT forces, but against three VaROZ units and four DOM Troopers all by piloted by ZAFT's best, they had been nothing. And then the Fortuna had meticulously blown the colony cylinder apart, and now the ship's mobile suits were speeding home and leaving behind the wreckage of a colony and six million corpses.

Gary shook his head. It was supposed to be for a cause. For justice. For something true and righteous. ZAFT was coming back to take justice for what Lord Djibril and his cronies had done with their Requiem cannon. They were coming to set things right.

But this was just like at Austral. ZAFT had done to Austral what Blue Cosmos had done to the Coordinators, and now it was ZAFT's entire strategy. He knew the necessity that the Alliance's advantage of vast resources included its massive civilian population, and ZAFT would have to cripple that if they were to cripple the Alliance and secure the Coordinators' existence. What, then, was the problem? This was militarily sound. This was what they had brought upon the Coordinators. An eye for an eye.

Right?

April 19th, CE 77 - Arnhelm Colony, Lagrange Point 1

"Okay," Emily said with more nervousness in her voice than she wanted, "what is that?"

She floated on one of the observation decks of Arnhelm Colony's massive spaceport, with Trojan and Lily at her side. Together they all stared out into the space around the dock where the lime-green hull of a Laurasia-class frigate could be seen pulling into the port.

"That's not one of ours," Trojan said thoughtfully, "and I don't recognize it as a Resistance ship." He glanced at Emily. "Do you?"

"Not at all."

Lily squeezed Emily's arm. "What's going on...?"

"This could get bad," Emily warned, and looked over apologetically at Trojan. "We were attacked by ZAFT forces before we came here. They're our enemy. If that ship notices us in the dock and decides to attack, there will be a battle here."

"And all the refugees would be in danger," Trojan murmured. "Oh, Jesus Christ...Emily, we've got to do something."

Emily looked back down at the port. The Minerva had been moved to a different bay, out of sight from the bay where that Laurasia ship seemed to be touching down...but that was no guarantee of anything. The Minerva was still badly damaged and short four mobile suits. A fight here would wreck the spaceport and endanger the entire colony. Seven million lives suddenly pulsed around her, stronger than ever.

"Well," Emily said quietly, "I'd better get back to the Minerva." She tried to smile reassuringly at them both. "Donít go doing anything dumb."

As she took off down the hall, she turned her eyes back towards the Laurasia frigate.

Not yet...

"The Avicenna is probably a ZAFT vessel," Rau explained as he drifted into one of the side seats on the Minerva's bridge. "If my recollection is accurate, it was one of the ships that went to Mars. The IFF code would confirm it."

"No mistake. It's definitely ZAFT," Burt said from the sensor console. "Captain, what will we do?"

Meyrin settled into the captain's chair. "I don't even know what they're here for." She glanced up at Rau, and the masked man took the hint.

"My first guess is that ZAFT is meeting with Jeremiah, probably to discuss terms for an alliance of some sort. I doubt Chiao Xu would reach an agreement with ZAFT that did not guarantee our safety, but ZAFT may be looking to pick off individual Resistance leaders and bypass Chiao Xu. The Earth-side Resistance has been shattered, so if ZAFT can splinter the space-side Resistance, then Chiao Xu is irrelevant."

"If that's the case, then we need to get out of here," Abbey said.

"If that's what they're up to," Rau answered with a shrug. "It seems likely, since they only sent the Avicenna. If they were here to pick a fight, they would have sent more ships."

"But if they had Jeremiah on their side..." Meyrin sat up. "Recall our crew back to the Minerva, and be ready to leave at a moment's notice."

ZAFT Laurasia-class frigate Avicenna, Arnhelm Colony, Lagrange Point 1

Vermin Naturals, everywhere.

Captain Amos dusted off his ZAFT Black-Shirt uniform compulsively and straightened up. The Naturals in charge of this colony were due aboard his ship any moment, and he had his orders straight from Marshal Sunogachi. Win the allegiance of enough Resistance leaders and the Resistance would be neutralized as a threat and then they could be disposed of at ZAFT's leisure. Amos would certainly look forward to that part.

Amos glanced out the bridge windows. Marko Jeremiah had every reason to accept ZAFT's officer. If he didn't, it would be child's play for the Avicenna even the Avicenna, a lowly frigate of the obsolete Laurasia-class to blow the colony apart. Amos almost hoped that Jeremiah would in fact be that stupid.

Naturals. What did they need Naturals for? The Resistance was full of them, and look where those inferior creatures had gotten themselves now. Lord Djibril had crushed them on Earth. Were the ones in space supposed to be any better? It would be like the ZMA all over again.

He shook his head. Then again, the ZMA had always been meant to fight the Martian Civil War in ZAFT's stead, and it had been their incompetence that forced seasoned Coordinators to risk their lives on the battlefield. Here, if Marshal Sunogachi's plan went as intended, these Resistance creatures would just be meat shields as ZAFT did its work, and they would be dispatched in due time.

The bridge doors hissed open and Amos forced himself to salute the hard-bitten old admiral and his hawk-nosed adjutant in that damnable Earth Alliance uniform. "Welcome aboard the Avicenna, Admiral Jeremiah. We have much to discuss."

Earth Alliance Nelson-class battleship Tripoli, Lagrange Point 1

"No doubt about it, colonel," said Jackson, the Tripoli's dependable captain. "ZAFT IFF code checks out. It's not Resistance."

Whittington's countenance darkened as he considered the implications. "Command said this could happen. ZAFT has been sending out feelers to other Resistance units and places like this, and intel suggests that Chiao Xu is in negotiations with Sunogachi." He stroked his chin thoughtfully. "No chance they're on a humanitarian mission?"

Jackson snorted. "'Humanitarian' is the last word I would use to describe ZAFT lately, sir."

"True." Whittington studied the image on the screen before him. The Laurasia frigate was backed into the port, its bridge facing out into space. One good salvo to the ship's prow would turn it into nothing more than a giant smoldering obstacle for whatever Resistance forces were inside colony. And the Minerva had showed up here too. Technically, once the Minerva had showed up here he already had probable cause to launch an attack, and now that a ZAFT unit was here duty practically demanded it. All Phantom Pain and Alliance Space Force units were to destroy any ZAFT units they encountered on sight.

But there were still seven million refugees in there.

Earth Alliance Archangel-class battleship Lucifer, Lagrange Point 1

Colonel Joaquin's exultant laughter filled the bridge of the Lucifer, and the harsh old man whirled around in triumph towards Ortega.

"No more dawdling!" he cackled. "Ortega, get our mobile suits ready for immediate sortie. Contact the Tripoli and Charlemagne and inform them that we're moving in."

Ortega shifted awkwardly. "Colonel, shouldn't we confer with them first ?"

"Danilov and Whittington are too soft-hearted for this sort of thing," Joaquin snarled. "We have the Minerva still licking its wounds and we have a ZAFT unit there now. We've wasted too much time observing and waiting. The time to act has come."

The bridge doors slid open and all eyes turned towards another figure stepping into the room. Only a black, round mask with a single green eye in its center stared back from the man in a customized black, blue, and white Alliance flight suit.

Joaquin grinned in recognition. "There you are, ND. I trust you overheard?"

The masked man straightened up and saluted. "Of course, sir."

"The Raigo will perform well, I'm sure, and the Hyperion Gs will be necessary to storm the colony and make a breakthrough. Take the Sumbullet equipment." Joaquin turned back towards the bridge windows, where the Arnhelm Colony spun lazily in the distance. "Just because ZAFT is back doesn't mean the people should go welcoming the Resistance. Make an example of them, you hear me?"

ND HE did not miss a beat. "Yes sir."

Battleship Minerva, Arnhelm Colony, Lagrange Point 1

As the bridge went dark and slid down into its combat position, Meyrin did her best to ignore the growing headache. First this ZAFT ship appeared, now the Alliance was on its way. "Burt, enemy count."

"Judging by the heat signatures, we're looking at the Charlemagne, a Nelson-class, two Drake-class, and an Archangel-class," Burt answered. "They're all launching mobile suits."

Meyrin glanced over at Abbey. "And Arnhelm's security force?"

"About a hundred mobile suits, three Drake-class destroyers, a Laurasia-class frigate, and a Nelson-class battleship. All pre-refit."

"Well, shit," Roxy put in. "Whaddya say we hightail it out of here?"

"No," Meyrin said firmly, "we're obligated to help, and we would have to fight our way through anyway. Roxy, have our pilots gotten a hold of some mobile suits yet?"

Roxy frowned at her display. "Yeah, but only from another Resistance outfit that was docked here. They're not gonna make up for the Gundams."

"They don't have to. Go to Condition Red. Malik, get the engines warmed up. Chen, get whatever weapons we have functional ready for combat. Burt, keep an eye on the Avicenna. Hopefully that captain has enough sense not to go taking shots at us with the Alliance breathing down all our necks, but they might be idiots." She scanned the tableau of Arnhelm's spaceport and the drifting wreckage outside. The things we have to do to get to Terminal...

Emily strapped herself into the Twilight Gundam's cockpit and closed her visor as the Minerva shook and the catapult fired. Athrun's Infinite Justice Gundam rocketed out into space, without its Fatum flight pack but it was a mobile suit, it could still function, and it would have to do. Emily glanced up at the auxiliary screen.

"Shinn, what's going on? Where are the others?"

"They borrowed mobile suits from Arnhelm," Shinn said. "But those are just mass production models. They're not gonna be able to keep up with us, so it's mainly you and me who will have to take care of all the really nasty stuff. Got it?" Emily nodded. "Alright. Shinn Asuka, going out!"

With a burst of exhaust, the Destiny Gundam rushed out of the ship, and Emily took her place on the catapult next. She reached out for a moment with her senses, where the familiar presences were there was Trojan, somewhere in the port, swirling with anxiousness and probably bringing his beloved Green Frame to life. And not too far away was the telltale distortion of Lily Thevalley, who seemed to be spoiling for a fight. She had been so anxious about seeing Emily in combat, and so proud of her own mobile suit...

"Emily, you're clear," Roxy said, and Emily turned her eyes back out the Minerva's catapult.

"Twilight Gundam, launching!"

Earth Alliance battleship Charlemagne, Lagrange Point 1

"Arnhelm Colony is sending out mobile suits," the sensor officer reported. "Our surrender message has been disregarded."

"I thought so," Danilov grunted, and picked up the intercom. "Captain Bayan, the Crusader is finally getting its chance to shine. Begin launching our mobile suits."

"Yes sir," Sven answered.

"And before you go," Danilov added, "tell your men to be careful. That colony has seven million refugees on it. Under no circumstances are you to damage the colony or attack civilians. Your targets are restricted solely to Resistance and ZAFT combat units. Understood?"

Sven arched an eyebrow dubiously. "Even if they retreat into the colony?"

"Especially if they retreat into the colony."

"That will make destroying them very difficult, and costly to our own forces." Sven frowned. "We will not target the refugees, but I can make no guarantees of their safety."

"I understand. Get going. Bridge, out."

Danilov pushed down the intercom and swallowed the growing lump in his throat. With Joaquin charging into the fray and Whittington and himself reluctantly following, all after the damaged Minerva, some Resistance stragglers, and an isolated and outgunned ZAFT unit, things were about to get ugly on the Arnhelm Colony.

"Charlemagne, all ahead, full!" Danilov barked. "Flush out the warships in the space dock with smoke missiles!"

Danilov is too weak, Sven thought bitterly as he closed his helmet visor. The Charlemagne shook as its catapults fired and it sent a squad of Dark Windams hurtling into space. The Crusader's turn was coming soon, and then he would see what Yukiko's masterpiece could really do.

"Attention all units," he said, "on Captain Danilov's orders we are to limit damage to the colony as much as possible. Limit your targets to Resistance and ZAFT units."

On the auxiliary screen, Shams frowned. "What, even if they go inside?"

"Even if they go inside. We are to avoid civilian casualties as much as possible."

Mudie scowled in annoyance. "Making our job more difficult, is he...?"

"Those are his orders. See that they're done." Sven cut the line and sat back, as the first of those Luna Project machines went roaring out of the hangar.

Off to kill more civilians, are you? taunted the child's voice.

Not now, Sven shot back. I am about to enter battle and you will get me killed.

He shoved down the child before it could open its mouth again and focused on the Crusader's sleek, minimalist cockpit and its smooth panoramic screen as he guided the Gundam onto the catapult. This Crusader Gundam had been built to destroy the Resistance's champions. It was more than a mobile suit it was a symbol of the Phantom Pain's hopes to turn the tide of this damned war. And it was his.

He steeled himself as the catapult locked into place.

"Sven Cal Bayan, Crusader Gundam, launching!"

To be continued...