Phase 18 - The Battle of Sagan City

Mobile Suit Gundam SEED ETERNITY

Phase 18 - The Battle of Sagan City

May 4th, CE 77 - Outside Sagan City, the Moon

Emily clenched her fists around the Gundam Eclipse's controls as the Vega Freedom approached. Her last battle with that white machine had resulted in four ruined Gundams but not this time.

The Freedom stopped short and leveled off a series of cannons on its body, and with a flash, the DRAGOONs that had eviscerated the Minerva's Gundams arrayed themselves around the white Gundam. Emily tensed herself for the attack, and the guns opened fire

With that, the Eclipse's beam wings flashed to life, the black mobile suit lunged over the blasts, and it came down with a beam sword hack that slammed against the Freedom's beam shield. The Freedom backed away with another salvo from its mounted guns while the DRAGOONs spread out but the Eclipse darted through the shots and slashed the Freedom's beam rifles in two with one sweeping sword stroke.

The white Gundam flung aside its ruined rifles and charged back with a beam saber, and the two Gundams came together with a crash and a shower of sparks.

"They told me your new machine was a sight to behold," the pilot's voice growled through the cockpit, and Emily blinked as she found herself face to face with a young man with a scarred face and a mechanical eye face to face with Kira Yamato. "I guess that's to be expected."

Emily scowled back and let the Eclipse's engines respond, throwing the Freedom back with a burst of exhaust. The Freedom darted back and fired again with its guns, and the DRAGOONs filled the black sky with beam fire. The Eclipse snaked its way through the fire, the Freedom came down again with its saber upraised, and the two Gundams slammed together again.

Up ahead, five glints of light flickered to life in the black sky, and Athrun Zala clenched his teeth as he caught sight of the one in the lead that golden GOUF, with that loudmouthed pilot at the helm again, no doubt. The ZAKU Phantom and three ZAKU Warriors training behind the GOUF leveled off their rifles and opened fire, and Athrun jammed back the controls to hurl the Justice back towards Sagan City.

The GOUF charged in with its sword upraised and swept after the Justice with furious sword strokes. "Getting in our away again, are you Zala?" sneered Rudolf Wittgenstein as the golden mobile suit pressed the attack.

"I wouldn't quite call it that," Athrun grunted and with a crash, he rammed the GOUF aside with the Justice's elbow, shouldered his way past the golden machine, and speared one of the approaching ZAKUs on a beam rifle blast before they could retaliate. Rudolf snarled in fury and swung back with the GOUF's sword, but caught nothing as the Justice darted away and showered the oncoming ZAKUs with rifle fire.

"Don't think targeting them is going to do you any good," Rudolf said as the GOUF went back on the attack. "We've got plenty more where those came from!"

Athrun slammed the Justice back down onto the lunar surface, ducked beneath another sword blow from the GOUF, and then whipped around the golden mobile suit and fired again to take down the ZAKU Phantom. The surviving two ZAKU Warriors darted back behind their shields as the GOUF forced the Justice back on the defensive with another sword swipe.

"Send them all, then," Athrun shot back. "I won't let you do to Sagan City what you did to Copernicus."

Rudolf licked his lips. "You don't have a choice, Zala."

"I guess it's our turn," grunted Shinn Asuka as the Destiny Gundam roared into battle, with the Gaia at its side. He scanned the enemies ahead only three, the sleek, silver mobile suits that had joined the Freedom the last time the Minerva had done battle with its doppelganger.

The three VaROZ units broke formation and charged with a fusillade of beam rifle fire. Shinn glanced over at Stella, and then flung the Destiny down into the lunar dirt. The three silver mobile suits split up again and Shinn seized the chance to charge straight at the first with his sword drawn and slam its beam shield with an overhead hack. The Gaia skidded onto the ground below, snapped up its rifle, and opened fire to force back the other two VaROZs.

"Weren't expecting a challenge, were you?" Shinn chuckled, and yanked the Destiny back as the other two VaROZs opened fire in defense of their comrade. The first unit fired back with a beam cannon in its torso only to catch nothing but an afterimage as the Destiny whirled up above them and came back down with another sword slice. The VaROZ backed away and the other two opened fire, but Shinn darted through their shots and charged after the first unit, while Stella kept the other two at bay with a storm of rifle blasts.

The first VaROZ charged forward with a drawn beam saber and slammed it against the Destiny's sword just long enough for the other two to line up for a lethal blast on the Destiny's flanks. Shinn jammed back the controls just as the enemies opened fire, and Stella fired back to force the two mobile suits on the defensive. The first leveled off its rifle and fired again, but Shinn somersaulted over the shots and ripped the rifle in two with a downward sword stroke.

Undaunted, the VaROZ abandoned its ruined weapon and pounded the Destiny's sword with a saber hack, and Shinn frowned as the image of a brown-haired girl in a ZAFT Red's flight suit flickered onto his auxiliary screen.

"Of all the people to show up here," she snarled, hatred dancing like fire in her eyes, "it had to be you, you traitor."

Shinn smirked back. "I have a way of doing that."

The girl scowled in hatred and the VaROZ flung the Destiny back with a shove and charged.

Shuddering from the thunderous death of a skewered ZAKU Phantom, the GOUF Ignited with Rau Le Creuset at the controls whirled around, sword in hand, for its next victim. Rau scanned the space around him for signs of human life and found five more but only three mobile suits in front of him.

"Using the same tactics again, are you?" he chuckled, and the GOUF vaulted up into the sky as a Gunner ZAKU Warrior blasted away the ground beneath Rau's feet. The surviving Blaze and Slash ZAKU Warriors charged after the GOUF only for Rau to lunge back down towards them, sword in hand, and saw in half the first. The second wheeled around with its beam Gatlings leveled off but instead, the GOUF shot out its left-hand heat rod and whipped it through the ZAKU's waist, ripping the mobile suit in two.

Rau turned his eyes towards the space where he felt two human presences and let loose a salvo from his beam guns. A moment later another Blaze ZAKU Warrior flickered into existence, beam rifle raised; Rau ducked beneath its shots, slammed it in the back with a kick, then swept down to slice it in half. He seized the ZAKU's fallen beam rifle, turned again, and smirked.

"Don't think you can get away like that," he admonished and with a pulsing trio of beam blasts, he fired into the spot where another ZAKU was hauling a large gas canister and a small Mirage Colloid device, and blasted them all apart with a burst of fire. "Of course," he added as the wreckage rained down around him, "far be it from me to stop a slaughter like this," he turned the GOUF's monoeye towards the next group of attackers, "but I'd hardly be playing my character properly if I didn't."

Up above, another Gunner ZAKU Warrior leveled off its cannon for a sweeping blast, and a Slash ZAKU Phantom swung out its beam axe and charged for battle. Rau grinned back and dropped the GOUF into a combat stance to await its oncoming foe.

The DOM Trooper rattled as it skimmed along the ground, a cloud of dust billowing in its wake. Trojan Noiret glanced up towards the black, star-studded sky just in time to see a pair of blazing lights, the sapphire wings of the Eclipse and the white armor of the Freedom, as the two Gundams clashed above the moon.

That, of course, was Emily's problem. Everyone had told him not to even think of engaging the Freedom. He would get torn apart, they said. Leave it to Emily. She would take care of it.

He clenched his fists around the controls in frustration. Of course, leave it to her, leave her on her own.

Trojan jammed back the controls as a beam barrage from up ahead broke him out of his reverie, and he fired back with his custom beam rifle. As the four ZAKUs up ahead broke ranks and returned fire, Trojan pulled back just long enough to arm the Gigalauncher's bazooka instead of the beam gun. The ZAKUs swept in

Instead, Trojan ducked beneath their blasts, whipped around, and fired the Gigalauncher's fragmentation shell to his right, where the ZAKUs had begun their attack. The shrapnel ripped through something, and a moment later, a mauled Slash ZAKU Phantom flickered into existence, next to a towering gas canister

"Gotcha!" Trojan shouted, and pitched the DOM forward as the ZAKUs turned their fire on him again. The damaged ZAKU shuddered to a halt Trojan seized the chance to blast through it with his rifle and punch through the canister, to wipe them both out in a fiery blaze.

He pulled back behind his beam shield as the remaining ZAKUs furiously opened fire. He might not be able to fight the real monsters here, but at least he could do the grunt work down here until she was ready to let him join her.

Earth Alliance battleship Charlemagne, en route to Sagan City, the Moon

"So there they go," muttered Ivan Danilov, leaning forward in the captain's chair on the Charlemagne. "Sensor officer, any word on enemy casualties?"

"Nothing confirmed yet, sir. Preliminary estimates are that they've lost about eight mobile suits."

Vera frowned. "Out of a force of, what, a hundred?"

"Probably more. It's a start. As long as they aren't able to land any forces to conduct another gassing." He sat back and stroked his chin thoughtfully. "And we're in position to intervene if necessary."

"If necessary," Vera repeated, and shifted uncomfortably. "Sir, nobody is going to authorize us to intervene. Not without attacking the Minerva as well. You know Command won't see it your way."

Danilov fixed his eyes on the flashes of light far ahead, where the Minerva was fighting off the ZAFT forces. Defending a city. A city full of Naturals and, probably, Coordinators. All Alliance citizens. Doing his job for him while he sat here and pondered the ramifications of shooting them in the back as they did so. He pushed down that twisted feeling in his stomach, that he was on the wrong side. That feeling had never served him well before.

But the Minerva was still there, on the side of justice. And Ivan Danilov would not overlook that.

"Command doesn't have to see it my way," Danilov said finally. "Helm, full speed to Sagan City. It's time we tangled with the big bad wolves of ZAFT."

Sven Cal Bayan slammed his fist into the wall of the locker room as he put on his flight suit. It was all getting to be too much.

Captain Danilov's orders were clear. The Charlemagne would eliminate the ZAFT forces currently attacking Sagan City. Fine. But the Minerva was there too, and Captain Danilov's orders on that had been clear too.

He sighed and mopped back his hair. The Minerva. His enemy, the ship he had to defeat, because it had handed him so many defeats and cost him so many comrades and subordinates. Now he had the Crusader Gundam, the machine with which he knew he could win and he couldn't use it. Captain Danilov's orders were, after all, clear. So long as ZAFT was carrying out attacks like this, the Minerva was not their enemy.

But that was not what every fiber of Sven's being thought, and while his mind could understand the principle of enemies of his enemies becoming friends, the rest of him the part that burned in impotent fury when the Destiny sent him spiraling away empty-handed and exulted at his victory at Arnhelm that part didn't care.

He closed his eyes and pushed it all from his mind. At the very least, he had other things to do in this battle. Yukiko had holed up on the observation deck to observe the battle. That would be child's play to exploit. One stray beam.

Sven snapped on his helmet and shut the seals before the child could speak up. He could not afford distractions now.

Battleship Minerva

Rattling under a near miss from a Laurasia-class frigate's guns, the Minerva plowed ahead with its CIWS blazing and missiles bursting into fiery clouds around the ship's sloping prow. Meyrin watched the enemy ship's lime-green hull through the smoke and flames, as the enemy ship wheeled around with its guns swiveling to face the Minerva.

"Captain, Nazca-class approaching at five o'clock," Burt spoke up from the sensor console.

Meyrin eyed the Laurasia for a moment and saw her chance. "Tristans, target the Laurasia to port and fire!"

The Minerva sent out four blazing green beams that smashed into the Laurasia's dorsal surface and blew off most of its large weapons. Meyrin sat back and turned her attention towards the auxiliary screen, where the Nazca was angling its guns for a counterattack.

"Malik, descend!" The Minerva groaned as it veered down towards the surface and the Nazca's shots sizzled by overhead. "Roxy, send Lily to finish off that Laurasia before it comes about! Malik, turn us back around; Neidhardt missiles, prepare to fire!"

Up ahead, the silver Vent Savior shot by with a burst of exhaust and poured plasma cannon fire into the crippled Laurasia's center, and with a thundering explosion, the ship cracked in two. The Minerva swung its prow around as the Nazca above pulled up, beam cannons blazing

"Incoming fire is too thick!" Malik shouted. "We're not going to get through "

"I will!" Lily's voice cut in from Roxy's console, and with a flash, the Vent Savior spiraled up through the Nazca's barrage, fired back, and ripped off its portside beam cannon.

Meyrin leaned forward. "Tristans, target the Nazca's centerline and fire!"

Sparks rained down into the lunar dust as Rau's GOUF strained in a sword lock with a hulking DOM Trooper, beam saber blazing. He glanced over the DOM's head, finding another two ZAKUs with another invisible pair, tugging a gas canister after them. He tightened his grip on the controls.

"Heaven knows where you got all this nerve gas in the first place, Valentine," he grunted and with a crash, he slammed the GOUF's knee into the DOM's chest, then vaulted up into the sky, charged forward, and slammed his sword directly into the point between those two invisible human presences. Abruptly the towering canister materialized, along with the two ZAKUs and a ruined Mirage Colloid device. Rau rocketed upwards and ripped the canister in half, and watched with satisfaction as a red cloud of gas billowed out. He threw the GOUF back as the ZAKUs angrily opened fire, shrouded in red vapor. ZAFT included a bright red dye in their nerve gases to allow troops to see leaks in storage, and the canister contained a mechanism to remove the dye in intentional releases but it made for a nice effect that he almost wanted to admire, if not for the fact that he was being shot at.

The DOM came streaking in from behind with its Gigalauncher leveled off; Rau whipped around one foot and brought his sword up through the DOM's shoulder, ripping off its left arm. The wounded DOM staggered away to let a Slash ZAKU Warrior attack instead, pounding the GOUF's sword with its beam axe. Rau ducked away from the blows he glanced to the side and slammed the GOUF down to one knee, just in time for a Blaze ZAKU Warrior to send a volley of beam rifle shots blazing over his head. The Slash ZAKU leveled off its beam Gatlings; the GOUF sprang forward, sword blazing, and sliced the ZAKU in half.

As the bisected ZAKU exploded, Rau whipped around to face the remaining ZAFT machines but another blaze of beam fire tore up the lunar ground around him. He pulled back behind his shield and scanned the skies in time to see the Proto Gaia and Proto Savior up above, charging into the fight.

The Gundam Eclipse's engines hummed as the mobile suit wove its way through the Vega Freedom's furious DRAGOON fire. Emily seized her chance to lunge through an opening in the barrage and slam her sword down onto the Freedom's beam saber. It backed away and swung for the Eclipse's head; Emily smacked the blade aside and swung down again, stopped only by the Freedom's beam shield. The white Gundam shoved her sword aside and charged for a lethal stab Emily jammed back the controls, grunted painfully at the sudden change in g-forces, and then jammed her sword down to spoil the Freedom's blow.

"I wasn't expecting this kind of fight," Kira Yamato said quietly, and Emily scowled up at his mismatched eyes.

"You didn't think I would just let you do this, did you?"

"You'd better. We're going to create a better world out of all this."

The Eclipse surged forward with a blast from its engines and hurled the Freedom back. "By gassing people to death?!"

In response, the Freedom backflipped away and showered the Eclipse with firepower. Emily threw her Gundam through the openings and rocketed back up towards the Freedom for another vicious swordfight. "You don't have any room to be talking, Angel of Death," Kira shot back, and Emily clenched her fists angrily around the Eclipse's joysticks. "I would have thought someone like you would be all about what we're doing. We're going to create a world where what you do isn't necessary."

"Well," Emily grumbled, "yeah, if you kill everyone, then there won't be anyone left for me."

The Freedom flung the Eclipse back. "It's not like that. It's something bigger." The Freedom pointed its saber at the Eclipse combatively. "Come on. You were bred to be a living weapon for a bunch of corrupt politicians. I know that. You know that. What are you doing fighting on that world's behalf?"

Emily took the opportunity to glance around the battlefield and find a handful of red clouds rising up from the lunar surface. "Then what do you call this?"

"This," Kira cried, as the Freedom charged forward and the two Gundams locked blades again, "is the only way to create a better world!" The Freedom whirled around the Eclipse; Emily turned and slammed her sword up against the Freedom's saber. "People only change when they have no choice. That was how I learned to pilot mobile suits. That was how you survived this far, wasn't it? And I can sense it from you. The pressure. You're a Newtype, like me, something more than a Coordinator." The Freedom rammed its knee into the Eclipse's torso; it swept down and only a quick strike from the Eclipse's beam shield saved Emily from the Freedom's sweeping saber stroke. "We're going to create a world where it's safe for people to become Newtypes. If we have to slaughter millions of people to do it, then so be it. The world we'll get will be worth it all."

The Freedom roared in for another blow but Emily sent the Eclipse diving to the side, rocketed back up behind the Freedom, ducked through its DRAGOON fire, and brought down a crashing downward sword hack against the Freedom's beam saber. "Nothing's worth killing millions of people!" she shot back. "If you want this to happen, you're going to have to go through me!"

Kira scowled. "That's what I thought." The Freedom surged forward, swarmed its DRAGOONs, and went back on the attack.

"Get out of our way!" screamed the VaROZ pilot as its saber slammed against the Destiny's anti-ship sword with a shower of sparks. "This is more important than you!"

Shinn grunted as the VaROZ shoved him away. "I thought you guys would come back here looking for more than just vengeful slaughter."

"What do you know, traitor?!" shrieked the VaROZ pilot, and with a crash it brought down another overhead swing onto the Destiny's sword. Shinn backed away from the next swing, then rushed in close to ram the VaROZ with his shoulder but before he could finish it off, the other two VaROZs opened fire with their rifles to force the Destiny back. The Gundam landed with a crash and skidded to a halt next to the Gaia.

"This could be going better," Shinn grumbled. "Stella, another squad inbound. They've got a canister "

He cut himself off and the two Gundams lunged apart as the three VaROZs attacked again. The first one charged with its beam saber held high.

"Stella, the gas !" Shinn shouted.

The Gaia vaulted over the other two VaROZs and charged. They whirled around and leveled off their own guns; Shinn ground his teeth as he surged forward, throwing the first VaROZ aside, and sent a long-range cannon blast spiraling up towards the two VaROZs. They darted aside, but not before the Gaia plunged into the oncoming ZAKUs' ranks with a shining beam saber.

The first VaROZ sprang back to its feet and forced the Destiny back on the defensive with a furious saber hack. "Don't you dare try to take this from us!" the pilot screamed. "Not after everything else has been taken!"

Shinn scowled back and hefted his sword as the VaROZ came in for another swordfight.

With a groan of straining metal, the Infinite Justice whipped around beneath the golden GOUF Ignited's furious sword swipes. Athrun scanned over the space where the presence felt strongest and squeezed off a beam rifle blast

Up ahead, a fireball tore out of nowhere and Athrun backed away with some satisfaction as another gas canister erupted into flames and smoke.

Rudolf turned around with a scream and slammed his sword down onto the Justice's beam saber. "How are you doing that!?"

Athrun tapped the side of his helmet. "Newtype."

"Don't talk to me about Newtypes!" shrieked Rudolf, and the GOUF flung the Justice away. "Don't tell me that bullshit! Acting like you're something more than me!"

Athrun jammed his saber up to deflect a blow from the GOUF. "I never said that," he answered, "but now that you mention it "

The GOUF rushed forward and slammed the Justice back. Athrun jammed the controls towards the rear, letting the Justice dive beyond the reach of the GOUF's sword. Rudolf snarled a curse and charged forward anyway, and the GOUF's left-hand heat rod snaked out towards its foe only for Athrun to lunge forward and slash it in two, and then bring down his saber onto the GOUF's sword.

"Don't think you're clever bringing up that Newtype horseshit," Rudolf hissed, and Athrun frowned at the hatred glittering in his eyes.

"Never listened to Chairman Dullindal's speech, did you?"

The GOUF roared forward again. "There is nothing in the Earth Sphere superior to the Coordinators!" Rudolf shouted. "That is why we must secure our existence, by destroying the Naturals who threaten us constantly! Why don't you understand!?" The GOUF rained sword blows onto the Justice's saber. "I will make you understand!"

ZAFT Nazca-class destroyer Caernafon

Tension buzzed in the air on the Caernafon's bridge as Glasgow squirmed in the command chair. The Minerva had already taken down the initial strike squads despite their Mirage Colloid. He could not fathom how that could be possible. Nobody had sensor equipment capable of locating something surrounded by an active Mirage Colloid system right?

In the adjacent chair, Leons Graves glanced over with a frown. "They're doing better than I expected."

Glasgow leaned forward. "We're wasting our time," he growled. "Graves, I'm going to send out the rest of the gassing squads, with the full complement of containers."

"Inadvisable," Graves answered, to Glasgow's annoyance. "We won't have any leftover for the next phases."

"Dammit Graves, there's not going to be a next phase if this keeps up," Glasgow shot back with a furious gesture towards the front. "We can always be resupplied again."

Graves looked skeptically towards the battlefield. "That's a risk "

He said no more as a thundering shockwave slammed into the Caernafon and nearly threw him from the chair. Glasgow turned his bulging eyes to port and froze in disbelief as he caught sight of the fireball that used to be one of his Laurasia frigates.

"What the hell was that?" Graves grunted as he staggered back to his feet. "Glasgow "

"Commander!" the sensor officer cried. "New warship with hostile IFF appearing at 6 o'clock! An Agamemnon-class carrier, launching mobile suits!"

"What?!" Glasgow cried, and turned his eyes towards the tactical map where, sure enough, a warship was spewing out mobile suits into his fleet's rear. "That's impossible!" He whipped around, heart racing. "Divert half the forces to deal with the Agamemnon! Order the Lothar Meyer to unload the rest of the gas canisters and send the mobile suits forward with them! I don't care if we run out! Get two ships to protect them! We are going to finish the operation!"

"Commander," Graves spoke up, "why not call for the Fortuna? It's been sitting outside the battlefield just waiting."

"They're to enter battle only on the Vice Marshal's order," Glasgow grumbled, "and he's...busy." The ZAFT officer clenched his fists as his flagship rattled. "How the hell did they even sneak up on us...?"

"Now this is more like it!" cackled Lily as the Vent Savior spiraled through a Laurasia frigate's furious barrage of beams and railgun shells in mobile armor mode. She stopped short and yanked back on the controls as a Blaze ZAKU Warrior lunged up before her and unleashed a swarm of missiles. The Vent Savior shook as the missiles slammed home. "Hey dammit, no fair !"

The ZAKU plunged through the smoke, beam tomahawk upraised but Lily seized her chance to jerk the silver mobile suit to the right, letting the ZAKU catch nothing with its blade, and before it could follow up she transformed the Gundam into its mobile suit mode, speared the ZAKU through the cockpit on a beam rifle shot, and took off again.

"Lily," Roxy started through the cockpit speakers, "frigate on point to port give it some pain!"

Lily paused for a moment to regain her bearings and then flashed a grin as she caught her target. "On it!" The Vent Savior transformed and charged again, danced around the blasts from the enemy warship. The crosshairs passed over her target the Vent Savior let loose a burst of beam fire that plowed through the Laurasia's prow and blasted out its bridge. Lily jammed back the controls and pulled the Vent Savior into a steep climb. "Minerva, all yours!"

A thundering wave of Tristan fire sizzled by underneath the Vent Savior and slammed through the Laurasia's center, and vast arms of fire ripped the warship apart in a shuddering explosion.

Lily glanced up at an oncoming ZAKU only to see it speared from the side by another beam blast, and a Dagger L and a GuAIZ R shot by overhead. "What the ?"

"Those are the Ortygia's mobile suits, remember?" Roxy cut in. "Leave them alone and get back here mobile suits to starboard!"

"Hold your horses," grunted Lily as she wheeled the Vent Savior around and rocketed back into the fray.

Rau Le Creuset grinned with excitement as he locked blades with the nimble, crimson Proto Gaia, its beam saber blazing. The Proto Savior whirled in from behind, beam rifle ready; Rau vaulted into the air to dodge the blast and took off with a burst of exhaust, as the two prototypes spewed fire after the retreating GOUF. It landed with a crash and Rau grunted as it skidded to a halt and then the cloud of dust parted as the Proto Gaia swung in with its saber shining.

"Emily's little enemy, aren't you," he muttered, and then threw the GOUF back to avoid the Proto Savior's beam blasts. "At least you're a worthy enemy " He frowned as another presence appeared nearby, ducked under the Proto Gaia's saber swing, and lunged back again and then opened fire with his left-hand beam guns to eviscerate the ZAKU he knew was hiding with a gas canister behind the curtain of Mirage Colloid. A thundering explosion ripped into view and Rau watched with satisfaction as the two prototypes stopped short to watch.

An instant later, the Proto Gaia was upon him again and the two mobile suits traded swings. The Proto Gaia darted aside; the Proto Savior lined up for a punishing plasma cannon blast that forced the GOUF back on the defensive, and Rau grinned back at the two charging Gundams.

"A skilled opponent, I'll give you that," he chuckled, "but I'm still winning!"

The beam sword flickered as it met the Vega Freedom's beam saber. In the Eclipse's cockpit, Emily ground her teeth as another blow was spoiled by the Freedom pilot's skillful swordsmanship and she flung the black Gundam back to dodge another preternaturally precise volley of DRAGOON fire.

"If you won't stand aside, then I'll just have to move you aside," Kira warned, and the Freedom fired off another salvo from its cannons. The Eclipse darted through the blasts, streaked back down, and dove back into another swordfight with the white Gundam. "We didn't come back to let you stop us."

"Then what did you come back for?" Emily shot back; the Eclipse slammed down its sword onto the Freedom's blade, and the two Gundams rattled from the blow. Emily glowered down at the white Gundam

A jolt of pressure shocked her consciousness, emanating from the man inside the Freedom's armor. She blinked in disbelief as Kira's presence colored itself in: steely determination, icy resolve, a current of anger...and somewhere in there was buried remorse, horror, sorrow, hopelessness.

She struggled for words as the sparks flew from the locked blades. "You...even you know..."

Kira's eye flickered with emotion for a moment. "What?"

"Even you know that this is evil," Emily said, "and..." Her memories flashed back to Copernicus and that haunting cloud of death; her blood ran hot and the Eclipse surged forward. "That's even worse! You're doing this and you know it's evil!" The Eclipse flung its white-armored enemy back with a furious swing. "Then you're just a monster!"

"I told you what we're here for!" Kira shot back. "We're here to secure "

"That's all just words!" Emily cut in, and with a crash, the Freedom and Eclipse descended back into a furious swordfight as the Freedom's DRAGOONs danced around the dueling Gundams. "Not even you believe them!"

Kira's eye flashed with fury. "You're wrong!" The Freedom slammed back the Eclipse's beam sword and went back on the offensive with roaring engines and blazing DRAGOON guns. "My cause is not like that!"

With a blazing saber, the Freedom stabbed forward towards the Eclipse's cockpit; the black Gundam whirled around, dancing through the DRAGOON blasts, and came back down with a sweeping overhead sword stroke against the Freedom's shield. Kira backpedaled behind his DRAGOONs; the Eclipse snaked its way through and the two Gundams returned to fencing.

"You say you're trying to build a world of Newtypes, and then a Newtype calls you out on what a lie that is," snapped Emily, "and then you reject it when someone achieves the understanding you said you wanted!" The Freedom swung for the Eclipse's head; Emily parried the blow with a swift counterstrike. "You're just mad because I can understand you and I can understand what a monster you are!"

"You don't understand anything!" Kira screamed; the saber came down again, the sparks flew, and the Gundam's eyes flashed.

ZAFT battleship Fortuna, outside Sagan City, the Moon

In the Fortuna's captain's chair, Lyle frowned up at the auxiliary screen, where the bearded face of Glasgow was raging from the Caernafon's bridge.

"What do you mean you haven't gotten the order yet?!" Glasgow bellowed. "We're being slaughtered here, captain! Where is Marshal Yamato?!"

Lyle shifted uncomfortably. The truth, of course, was that Marshal Yamato was all wrapped up fighting the Resistance's new Gundam. This wasn't a totally bad thing it kept the new Gundam from attacking other targets but that left Lyle under strict orders to remain on the battle's fringe and await orders, or a catastrophe that demanded his immediate intervention.

He leaned forward and decided that this was the latter. "I will send mobile suits "

"Captain!" the sensor officer cried. "New enemy warship at three o'clock! Heat source "

They all fell silent as a pulsing red beam plowed clear into the starboard side of one of Glasgow's Laurasia frigates and blasted it apart with a thundering explosion. Lyle scanned the skies in disbelief and caught sight of something among the stars

"That ship," he snapped, "identify it now!"

The vast black warship unloaded mobile suits and let loose another withering barrage of beam fire. Lyle frowned as he watched the salvo catch one of the hidden gas teams near the ground and another red cloud puffed up over the lunar surface.

"Heat signature confirmed! It's the Charlemagne!"

Lyle sat back, feeling like he had been punched in the gut. "Then...inform the Vice Marshal. We may have to retreat." He glowered over towards the Caernafon.

Shinn Asuka blinked in surprise as a wave of beam fire ripped apart one of the ZAKUs up ahead and tore apart the gas canister it was holding. The three VaROZs darted away in surprise and then the Crusader Gundam rocketed into the fight, beam rifle blazing. The Vanguard and Artemis followed with a salvo of their own and the VaROZs pulled back behind their beam shields, as another ZAKU fell to the barrage.

"What the hell is this?" Shinn started. He backed away with the Gaia at his side, as the Crusader and its two allies savaged the ZAKUs.

"Are they...helping?" Stella asked quietly.

"I can't tell," Shinn answered, "but let's get back in case they aren't."

The Destiny vaulted up into the air with the Gaia and backpedaled as the ZAKUs crumpled under the Crusader's blows. Shinn blinked in surprise as an image of a young man with silver hair appeared on his auxiliary screen.
"Don't think we're on your side now, Shinn Asuka," Sven Cal Bayan warned with a scowl. "Don't ever think that."

Shinn arched his eyebrow. "Of course not." The Destiny's eyes flashed as it and the Gaia slipped away.

The wreckage of another destroyed warship came pounding down onto the surface, and through the smoke Athrun watched carefully as Rudolf's golden GOUF struggled to stay on its feet.

"There's no way you can stop all these forces," Athrun warned. "If you surrender to us, we'll show you the mercy you won't get from the Alliance."

Fury flashed across Rudolf's face. "Mercy?!" he screamed; the GOUF roared forward with its beam sword at the ready. "You mean to tell me you're going to join forces with those subhumans against your own people?!"

Athrun jammed his saber forward to stop the GOUF's sword stroke. "You haven't been my people for a long time."

"Traitor!" Rudolf screamed, and the GOUF surged forward. "Mark my words, Zala; you will regret kowtowing to the Naturals! They don't want to coexist; they want to destroy us! And you'll hand us all to them, and we'll be destroyed, and maybe then you'll understand why your father put us on the right path!"

At that, Athrun felt his blood run hot as the GOUF charged forward; he slammed back the golden with a hard saber swing, ducked against its counterattack, and then lunged up with his saber to plant the blade through the mobile suit's chest.

"It's a shame you had to be so blinded by rage," he shot back, as the GOUF's monoeye went dark, "but I'm not letting you follow the path my father wanted."

Rudolf's bulging, fearful eyes flickered with hatred. "The blood of our people will be on your hands! Never forget "

The GOUF exploded, Rudolf vanished, and Athrun gritted his teeth as the shockwave rattled the Justice. He glanced up through the smoke, and saw another ZAFT warship go down in flames before the Charlemagne's unstoppable firepower. And he felt Kira out there, his frustration and fear growing with each passing second. Emily would take care of him. And in the meantime, he glanced back down at the golden GOUF's wreckage.

"Well," he said quietly, "I can do better than that."

The Gundam Eclipse came down with a scream and an upraised beam sword onto the Vega Freedom, and the white Gundam desperately parried the Eclipse's relentless sword blows. Emily hurled her Gundam to the right to dodge the Freedom's point-blank cannon salvo, and then threw it back into the enemy's face to avoid the DRAGOONs. As the two blades met again, she stole a glance over the white Gundam's shoulder and caught sight of the Marseille III freighter the one where those invisible mobile suits were gathering, apparently to get their poison gas.

"The Phantom Pain isn't going to stop us anymore than you will," Kira warned. "I won't let anyone stop us. Certainly not something so twisted as you."

Emily curled her fingers around the Eclipse's controls and thought back to what he had said before. "And what makes me so twisted?"

"Everything about you!" Kira snapped, and the Freedom pressed its blade harder against the Eclipse's sword. "You were created to be nothing more than a mindless fighter! A human weapon! A "

Emily seized her chance to activate the Voiture Lumiere and throw the Eclipse forward, sending it rocketing past the bewildered Kira. She jammed the controls up as he belatedly brought his DRAGOONs to bear; the Eclipse roared down towards the Marseille III below. A pair of ZAKUs rose to oppose her; she sliced through them both with her beam wings and slammed her sword down into the ship's engine blocks. The Freedom charged after her with its beam saber drawn only for the Eclipse to whip around with a horizontal slash to deflect the Freedom's saber, and Emily slammed the Eclipse's left-hand palm cannon into the ship's engine block and poured fire from the Palma Fiocina into the wound.

"I don't know why everyone thinks they have a right to tell me what I am," Emily said as she watched the Freedom and its disbelieving pilot. "Besides, a weapon's only as good as what you use it for."

The Marseille III split in two and Emily rocketed to safety as the blast tore it apart and swept the Freedom away.

ZAFT Nazca-class destroyer Caernafon

A current of ice ran through Glasgow's veins as he saw the Lothar Meyer break apart and saw the fire spilling out of its innards incinerating all that gas and most of the dozen mobile suits gathered around it. The Caernafon's bridge fell silent, until it was rocked again by the destruction of the fleet's second remaining Nazca ship.

"Well," Graves said quietly, "that kind of fucks us over."

Glasgow leaned forward. "Are you telling me that sixty percent of my task force was destroyed here, and our entire gas store?" He slammed his fist down onto the command chair's armrest. "Comm! Order all units to retreat at once! Maximum speed!"

Graves glanced up skeptically. "Marshal Yamato won't be "

"Damn Marshal Yamato!" Glasgow roared. "This operation is a failure! Get us out of here!" He wheeled around on Graves with rage burning in his eyes. "And you! Where were your vaunted strategies this time, when it mattered?!"

"I don't see why you're blaming me," Graves shot back. "I did my job; your job was to provide the protection."

The ZAFT commander angrily whirled back towards the front and watched as the Caernafon swung around to make its escape.

Battleship Minerva

"Well," Roxy said as the shockwave rattled as the Minerva, "this is new."

In the captain's chair, Meyrin Hawke looked up at the grizzled man on the auxiliary screen the man in the black uniform of the Phantom Pain.

"I must say," he said sardonically, "you're not what I was expecting in the captain of the ship that's given me so much trouble."

Meyrin arched her eyebrow and touched the visor of her peaked cap. "What's the purpose of this transmission, captain...?"

"Danilov," the man supplied. "The purpose is simple. Take a look at your tactical map. About half of the surviving ZAFT fleet is in full retreat; the other half is trapped here with no escape, and is currently about to get completely wiped out." He sat back. "Now, as I'm sure you're aware, I'm under orders to destroy you on sight. But I think we can agree that this ZAFT force is the greater threat, and its escaped survivors need to be eliminated. So, if I were to not see you..."

"How do I know you aren't going to chase us down anyway?" Meyrin responded.

"You don't. And I make no guarantees. So," Danilov smirked conspiratorially, "consider this a head start."

Meyrin eyed the man on the monitor carefully for a moment. "Don't think you're going to have it easy if you find us again."

"I'm sure. And, before you go," Danilov broke into a sportsman's grin, "would you care to indulge me and tell me the name of my adversary? Fair is fair, after all."

Memories returned in Meyrin's mind of the massacre at Volgograd but if this was the same captain, then the same captain who had ordered those shots was the one ostensibly giving her an avenue to escape this battle and offering to finish off the ZAFT forces remaining. And once she got away, the Minerva could easily hunt down the remaining ZAFT ships of this task force and then slip away into the Debris Belt. The man in command at Volgograd couldn't be this same man.

And yet here he was, asking for the name of his adversary. Asking for the name of this ship's captain.

"Hawke," she said at last.

Danilov smirked back. "Then I look forward to our next battle, Captain Hawke."

The screen went dark, the tension on the bridge rippled, and Meyrin glanced back at the main screen. "Roxy, recall our mobile suits and inform the Ortygia. Malik, after the retreating ZAFT ships. We have a mission to complete."

To be continued...