Phase 22 - Ed the Ripper

Mobile Suit Gundam SEED ETERNITY

Phase 22 - Ed the Ripper

May 7th, CE 77 - Amazon rainforest, Brazil, South America

The jungle lit up as a green beam rifle blast lanced out from among the trees, into the muddy wreckage of the GOUF, and a thundering explosion threw Dana Barrak's mobile suits back

And then, a moment later, as the sky filled with firepower from within the forest, the red and gold Sword Calamity lunged out of the jungle with its swords lit up.

"Ed the Ripper!" Dana shouted, as she brought the Buster Windam around. "I should have known!"

The Sword Calamity came down with a crash and slammed its swords down onto the Buster Windam's shield, even as the other Alliance mobile suits scrambled to flank the Gundam and all too late, as the rest of Ed's mobile suits burst from the jungle with guns blazing. The Doppelhorn Windams staggered back under the fusillade and one of them pitched over backwards, riddled with bullet holes, as a GINN stomped out from behind the trees.

"It's not like you to go threatening civilians," Ed hissed with a grin. "What's gotten into you, eh?"

The Buster Windam pushed back and threw the Sword Calamity away. "Captain Ross, back into the river, now!" she cried. "All mobile suits, fighting retreat north! On the double!"

"Don't think that'll save you, kid!" Ed roared, and the Sword Calamity charged with another devastating sword swing. "After all..."

Dana whipped around and darted aside as the water parted and Jane Houston's Forbidden Vortex burst forth from the lake's surface with a shimmering pair of blasts from the beam cannons in its forearms.

"You gotta get past her," Ed finished.

Dana snarled in frustration, flung the Buster Windam's railgun up, and fired off a shotgun burst that showered the Sword Calamity and Forbidden Blue with shrapnel and before either of them could stop her, she darted out over the water.

"Andrew, Ground Windams, follow me!" she shouted, and the mobile suits raced off over the lake towards the town.

"Oh, classy," Jane growled, and the Forbidden Blue plunged back under the water. The Sword Calamity vaulted off the shore, over the heads of the faltering Windams, after the escaping Alliance mobile suits.

Battleship Minerva, Atlantic Ocean

"The Gaia's been fitted out with the Chaos's old beam rifle," Roxy explained at her console. The Minerva hummed as its catapults came to life and hurled the Destiny Gundam out into battle. On the screen, Stella nodded. "You're gonna have to fight underwater. Think you can do it?"

"That's not scary," she answered with a toothy grin.

"Damn straight," Roxy agreed. "Out you go."

The catapult fired and the Gaia roared out of the ship's hangar. In the captain's chair, Meyrin took a calming breath and scanned the tactical map. Forty mobile suits approaching from the south; naturally, when she was more shorthanded ever.

"Dispar missiles loaded," Chen reported at the weapons console. "We're ready for battle."

"We should let the mobile suits come to us," Abbey added. "There are no warships on the scope "

"Captain, another mobile suit approaching, this one from the north," Burt interrupted. "Sonar caught it; it must be another amphibious model."

Meyrin frowned. Only one that was odd...

The beams lanced out from the horizon and slammed into the DOM Trooper's shield, and Trojan Noiret grunted as the lights flashed around him. Up ahead loomed a quartet of Noctiluca ZAKU Warriors and with the other mobile suits engaged by other enemies, it would be up to him alone to defeat them.

At the DOM's side, the Gaia pulled back behind its shield. "Stella will go underwater," Stella started, interrupted by a bazooka shell from one of the ZAKUs. "Will Trojan be okay?"

Trojan looked up ahead, at the four ZAKUs, all armed to the teeth. "Oh, Trojan will be fine."

The Gaia, apparently needing no more assurance, dove down into the water with a splash; Trojan jammed the controls to the left as one of the ZAKUs let loose a blazing shot from a heavy "Barrus" cannon. A second ZAKU rushed in close, crouching under its comrades' fire, and then whirled towards the DOM with a beam axe wide open

Instead of connecting, it met resistance as Trojan activated the sabers on the end of the DOM's custom rifle. He batted away the ZAKU's axe and brought the Gigalauncher to bear only for the other three ZAKUs to focus their firepower on him and slam him back behind his beam shield.

"Dammit," he grunted, "I really don't have time for you guys..."

Afterimages rippled across the sky as the Destiny Gundam charged towards its prey, anti-ship sword drawn. The formation of flying and Guul-assisted mobile suits broke their ranks but a GINN on a Guul was not so lucky as Shinn drove his sword through and slashed the mobile suit in half. Up above, a Guul-riding GuAIZ R leveled off its rifle and railguns only for a volley of plasma blasts to come streaking out of the heavens and blow the mobile suit and its subflight system to pieces. A DINN backed away from the group, missile launchers opening; the Destiny darted forward and slashed it in half from the shoulder to the waist.

"These guys are nothing," Shinn growled, as the Destiny turned towards its next target and the ZAFT mobile suits scrambled for cover. Up above, a BABI leveled off its guns and was answered an instant later with a beam cannon barrage from the Vent Savior, which roared by overhead as the wounded mobile suit staggered back and exploded, and the remaining ZAFT mobile suits clawed for distance and threw up a wall of firepower.

Machinegun bullets pelted the Destiny's Phase Shift armor, and Shinn glanced up in time to see a CGUE wheel its Guul around and unleash a storm of missiles on the Destiny. And from below, a GuAIZ rushed up with its beam rifle ready.

The CGUE charged in, sword raised only for the Destiny to whip around and slam it hard in the torso with its knee. As the silver mobile suit reeled from the blow, Shinn slammed his left-hand palm cannon into its chest, fired a round through the mobile suit's torso, and then flung it down towards the GuAIZ. The green mobile suit backed away behind its shield as the CGUE exploded and Shinn seized his chance to fire a blast from the long-range cannon, drill it straight through the GuAIZ's cockpit, and blow the mobile suit apart.

"Shinn, the sea !" Lily started, and Shinn turned his eyes towards the water

The familiar feeling of danger jolted up his spine and he threw the Destiny back just in time for the ocean's surface to burst upward. A green mobile suit lunged out of the foam, whirled around in the sunlight with a long weapon drawn, and brought a blade crashing down against the Destiny's sword

"The Abyss?!" Shinn exclaimed.

The eyes of the green and orange Proto Abyss flashed pink as it ground the beam blade tip of its lance against the Destiny's sword, and Alec Ladd flashed a wild grin.

"Fortune really is on my side these days," he chuckled. "First we trash the Azores base, then we run into the Minerva, and then I get to fight the Destiny itself!" The Proto Abyss surged forward and flung the Destiny back. "And I've got a few tricks up my sleeve I'm just dying to show you!"

Shinn ground his teeth as the Destiny pitched backwards. "I've just about had it with all these crazy motherfuckers I keep having to fight..."

The Proto Abyss charged, lance tip blazing. "Then let me be the last!"

Amazon rainforest, Brazil, South America

Sparks danced across the waters of Lago Anori as the Buster Windam's beam saber deflected the Sword Calamity's blades. Edward Harrelson yanked back the controls to dodge the Buster Windam's lethal saber swipe at his mobile suit's waist, then pitched forward again to avoid a barrage of beams from a Ground Windam streaking in from behind.

"Roberts, now!" Dana shouted.

The Buster Windam slammed a railgun shell into the Sword Calamity's face and backed away, and the Ground Windam charged in for the kill

Instead, twirling around on one foot, the Sword Calamity brought its swords together and sliced the Windam in half at the waist in one elegant blow. The bisected mobile suit vanished in a flash of fire; Dana yelped in pain as the red mobile suit lunged out of the flames and came crashing back down onto the Buster Windam with a furious barrage of sword blows.

"Major Barrak!" Ed laughed, as the Buster Windam strained. "Was that supposed to hand you victory? You insult me!"

"Pretty mouthy today, aren't you," Dana snarled back; the Buster Windam unloaded its missiles into the Sword Calamity at point-blank range and darted back. Ed hacked apart the smoke and cringed as he saw the Buster Windam and its mobile suits pulling towards Anori

...and then he smiled as four of the buildings in the city exploded upward, and two Dagger Ls, a GuAIZ R, and a Strike Dagger stood up from within the city and opened fire, and one of Dana's Ground Windams succumbed to the blasts with a thundering explosion.

"Always be prepared, I always say," laughed Ed but he stopped short as Dana and her mobile suits wheeled around and charged into the town, straight towards the attacking mobile suits and the citizens.

"Always be prepared, huh?" Dana shot back and the Buster Windam pointed its railgun down towards the city, as the Ground Windams fired back at the attackers and forced them to duck behind their shields. "Then let's see you adapt." She threw a switch on the console. "Manaus, Contingency Plan 4A." She gave Ed a stern look. "I'm sure you know what that means, as a former Alliance soldier."

"You wouldn't dare," Ed shot back.

"They're sending it as we speak," answered Dana, "so you have a choice to make, Ed the Ripper."

The Forbidden Blue's trident plunged through the smoke of the last Doppelhorn Windam's blasts and stabbed clear through the mobile suit's cockpit. The mobile suit fell to its knees; Jane yanked the trident out of the Windam's shattered torso, then whipped around and swung it horizontally right through the neck of another Windam rushing up from behind, ripping its head clean off and knocking the entire mobile suit to the ground. Jane stomped forward, twirled the trident over the Forbidden Blue's head, and rammed it down into the fallen Windam's cockpit.

A third Windam lunged up from the trees, beam rifle ready but instead of landing a hit, the beams veered off course as they reached the Geschmeidig Panzer armor, and with a crash of machinery the Forbidden Blue whirled around and slammed the left-hand shield's extended claws into the Windam's chest, then pulled them free and backed away as it staggered forward, into the dirt.

Jane turned her eyes to the north, where the rumbling had suspiciously ceased and her eyes went wide in disbelief as she caught sight of the Sword Calamity, standing on a small island in the lake near Anori in front of Dana's Buster Windam and its Ground Windam escorts, all with their weapons pointed at the town.

"That filthy little bitch!" Jane cried. "What does she think she's doing?!"

"Stay back, Jane," Ed warned. "She's serious." He clenched his fists around the Sword Calamity's controls. "This is a new low for you, Major Barrak. Usually you're better than this."

On the screen, Dana Barrak scowled. "You have no one to blame but yourselves for making us stoop to tactics like this. Now, exit the mobile suit, hands up. We have questions the first of which being about that Gundam that landed here overnight."

"You're in no position to go demanding my surrender," Ed shot back.

"And you're in no position to be testing my patience," answered Dana, "so that just leaves us stuck. And Contingency 4A is in effect. So," she narrowed her eyes, "what'll it be?"

Ed curled his fingers around the Sword Calamity's controls, heart and mind racing; across the lake, Jane ground her teeth in anger as she watched the scene unfold

And then, an instant later, the trees snapped open to the town's north, a flash of blue light filled the air, and the Gundam Eclipse roared into battle with its beam sword active. It lunged down towards the first Ground Windam at the town's edge and slashed it in two amid a cloud of afterimages; four of the remaining Windams turned their guns to the sky to fire back at the black Gundam, but it foiled their blasts with another blur of illusions and rushed back down towards the water's surface, then charged again.

"The Midnight!" Dana shouted; the Buster Windam wheeled around, beam cannon ready

"Emily, that one!" Ed cried, and the Sword Calamity fired off a blast from its Scylla cannon to keep the Buster Windam off-balance. "Take it down, now!"

The Eclipse whirled down to the ground and cut another Ground Windam in half. It skidded to a halt on its feet and turned towards the Buster Windam

Dana's face contorted into a scowl. "Whiskey Four, deploy the weapon! All units, pull back over the lake!"

"You're not getting away that easy!" Emily cried, and the Eclipse lunged after the retreating mobile suits. Ed moved to follow, but a moment later the sensors beeped; he glanced down at the radar, his blood ran cold, and his eyes shot up towards the sky.

"Son of a bitch," he whispered, and then jammed his hand onto the comm button. "Everyone, get away from Anori NOW!"

Emily glanced over in surprise and then the world lit up.

Atlantic Ocean

Another DINN went down in flames, sparks flying from a hole in its chest, and as the wounded mobile suit exploded Lily turned the Vent Savior around, in time to face a pulsing red blast from a Gunner ZAKU Warrior on a Guul high above. She threw the Gundam into a dizzying dive, with the ZAKU straining to keep up; at the last second, she slammed on the brakes, grunted painfully as the G-forces hit her, and whipped the Vent Savior around with a beam saber in its left hand. The ZAKU pulled up but too late, as the Vent Savior ripped it in half with a saber blow to the waist.

She glanced over her shoulder as machinegun bullets rattled against the mobile suit's armor; an instant later she flung the Vent Savior to the side as a GINN OCHER and a standard GINN shot by, both on Guuls, the latter toting a bazooka. It wheeled around and fired off a round that slammed into the Gundam's shield.

"I wish Emily was here," Lily grumbled, and she scanned the skies for a sign of her attackers through the smoke. The regular GINN burst through the smoke with its sword raised high the Vent Savior lunged up to slam the GINN in the chest with its knee, and then with a thundering crash, Lily kicked the mobile suit away and speared it through the cockpit on a beam rifle blast. Up above, the GINN OCHER came roaring down with a heavy axe in hand; Lily darted aside as it brought the blade down and shot the mobile suit down with a blast to the back as it passed.

The sensors squealed and Lily yanked the controls back to avoid another volley of firepower this from a GuAIZ R, another DINN, and a Blaze ZAKU Warrior far overhead. She fired back with a wall of plasma and beam fire and claimed the DINN with a puff of fire that sent the defeated mobile suit spiraling into the sea, and the other two broke ranks and returned fire.

"Well," Lily told herself, as the mobile suits arced around for another pass, "at least I'll have a cool kill count to brag about."

Fighting underwater was no fun.

That was the foremost thought in Stella's mind as she watched twelve mobile suits advancing towards her and towards the Minerva's stern, behind her. The water churned as the Minerva dumped a dozen torpedoes in and they streaked out from behind the Gaia, towards the oncoming ZAFT mobile suits. Three of them claimed the three GINN WASPs swimming forward near the surface but the rest sailed past their targets, the five GOOhNs and four ZnOs that boasted much greater handling underwater, and Stella sighed in disappointment. That meant nine torpedoes zooming around, searching for targets.

"Well," she sighed, "I'm still going to win."

The ZAFT mobile suits closed in and unleashed a hail of their own torpedoes. Stella flung the Gaia to the side and let them pass, then arc back around towards her. The nine mobile suits filled the water with phonon maser fire. The Gaia dove down beneath the blasts, letting them slice through the mobile suits' own torpedoes, but three of them survived the inferno and drove after the Gaia. The ZAFT machines broke ranks, and four of them headed for the Minerva ...

...and, with four thundering explosions, four of the Minerva's active torpedoes struck home and blew them out of the water.

The ZAFT machines dove to avoid the remaining torpedoes and Stella seized the chance to lunge up towards the ZnO in the lead. It swiped at her furiously with its claws, but too late; Stella dropped the Gaia beneath the blow, then lunged forward, raised the Chaos's rifle, and drilled a phonon maser shot of its own straight through the ZnO's cockpit.

A GOOhN burst through the smoke and charged towards the Gaia, masers blazing. Stella pulled back behind her shield and scanned the water behind her where another of the Minerva's torpedoes was wheeling around towards her. She burst forward towards the GOOhN, then veered off-course to the left and the torpedo on her tail plowed straight into the GOOhN's chest and blew the mobile suit apart.

Undaunted, the three surviving mobile suits broke ranks. The two GOOhNs charged straight for the Gaia; the ZnO broke off and headed towards the surface and the Minerva. Stella licked her lips as the two ungainly machines barreled towards her and with a burst from the engines, she slid the Gaia in between them, and then turned as fast as the water would allow to blow one of them to pieces with the phonon maser. As the second GOOhN floundered in the shockwave, Stella rammed her knife into its back and kicked it into the deep and then turned to follow the ZnO.

Shinn Asuka grunted in frustration as the Destiny's anti-ship sword strained against the Proto Abyss's lance. The green mobile suit flung itself back from the Destiny and let loose a blazing barrage of beam fire; Shinn ducked down towards the water and then took off with a cloud of afterimages around him, and began to feel some sympathy for the Alliance soldiers that had always been on the receiving end of the Abyss's bombardments.

The Proto Abyss charged forward and slammed its lance down again, and Shinn pulled back beneath the blows, then jammed his sword forward to spoil a slash from the Proto Abyss. Alec chuckled approvingly as the sparks flashed around them.

"Glad you're putting up a worthy fight, Asuka," he said. "I'd hate to think I'd come all this way for nothing."

Shinn glanced up over the Proto Abyss's shoulder and caught two Slash ZAKU Warriors on Guuls roaring over the amphibious Gundam's head, towards the Minerva. "Yes," he muttered, "a real shame."

And then, he flung the Proto Abyss back with a hard swing of the sword, lunged up between the two ZAKUs, and cut them both in two at the waist with a lightning-quick spin that sent the sword sawing through both mobile suits. The Proto Abyss let loose a storm of beams that sent the Destiny back on the defensive.

"Pretty cocky for a guy whose allies are getting torn to pieces," Shinn scoffed. The water churned as the Minerva lifted off, far below. Alec glanced down at it watching the ship head north with a satisfied smirk.

"So is that how it is," he grumbled as he checked his console. "Well, Asuka, it's been fun, but don't think we're done."

The Proto Abyss threw itself backward, transformed, and plunged into the water. Shinn blinked in surprise and scanned the sea for signs of an attack but beam fire from above caught his attention instead, and with an unsatisfied growl, he flung the Destiny back into battle.

The world shook as one of the Noctiluca ZAKU Warriors died in a fiery blast, and Trojan Noiret whipped his DOM Trooper around to face the remaining three. They all closed in, weapons blazing just long enough for the DOM to crouch below the blasts, ignite the sabers on its rifle, and slash another one in two.

"Getting sloppy, guys," Trojan chuckled as he turned to deal with the remaining two. They darted apart and leveled off a beam rifle and a bazooka; Trojan jammed the controls back and absorbed their fire with his beam shield. The two ZAKUs closed in again with a blaze of fire; Trojan fired back and then slashed the first ZAKU's bazooka in two, then whipped around and deflected a beam rifle blast from the second. The first charged again with a beam tomahawk in hand and sliced down onto the DOM's beam shield; the second slid around the DOM and leveled off its rifle for a killing shot

"Gonna have to do better than that!" Trojan shouted and with a shout, he raised the DOM's Gigalauncher and squeezed off a beam rifle shot that drilled its way through the second ZAKU's chest and blew the mobile suit apart.

The first mobile suit surged forward and threw the DOM back, and it expertly darted around the DOM's beam blasts. It ducked beneath a beam rifle blast, then darted forward and hurled a grenade into the DOM's face. Trojan yanked back the controls with a yelp and activated the beam shield, but the concussion from the grenade sent his mobile suit reeling and then the smoke parted and the ZAKU charged in for the kill.

"Oh, an ace, are you?" muttered Trojan and an instant later, he charged forward with the beam sabers on his rifle lit up, and stabbed forward to catch the ZAKU's tomahawk. He flung the weapon side, sending it spiraling into the surf and then he darted back, raised the Gigalauncher, and pounded a beam through the ZAKU's cockpit.

As the fireball thundered before him, he glanced up towards the sky, stained as it was with the dark puffs of mobile suits shot down by the Vent Savior and Destiny, and scowled. A diversion that hadn't even been worth it on its own merits.

And, as he cast a quick glance to the west, she was still somewhere out there.

Battleship Minerva

"Enemy mobile suits retreating south," Burt reported at the sensor console. "But the radar is showing another wave of mobile suits inbound, from the southeast."

"Another wave, huh," muttered Meyrin as she looked up at the tactical map. To the north lay an archipelago of islands off the coast of Brazil. "Are they trying to drive us...?" She pointed up at the map. "Roxy, what are those islands there?"

Roxy consulted her console for a moment. "Uh, Fernando de Noronha. Says they belong to Brazil."

"Inhabitants?"

"A few Alliance Navy personnel at a radar station. Couple thousand otherwise. But," she added, and called something up on the auxiliary screen, "I'm sure you'll all be interested in this."

Meyrin frowned at the sight. "'Dispatch from Resistance cell in Vila dos Remedios,'" she read, "'new large submarine of apparent ZAFT origin sighted north of Fernando de Noronha. More information to come.'" She glanced back at the map. Those ZAFT mobile suits weren't trying to destroy the Minerva not here, in open ocean. They were trying to drive it, north, into the archipelago and the arms of that submarine.

"Captain," Abbey spoke up, "Fernando de Noronha is not far from the Natal port, and the newswire has had some Alliance warships in dock there for the past week. We can turn this trap on whoever set it."

"And ZAFT appears to be banking on staying hidden," Meyrin agreed. "Roxy, if those Alliance Navy personnel at Noronha sent out a call for reinforcements from Natal, how quickly could they arrive?"

Roxy shrugged. "I dunno. An hour?"

"Good enough. Malik, set course for Fernando de Noronha, flank speed. Let's have the Alliance do us a favor for once."

Amazon River, Brazil, South America

The hum of the Buster Windam's engines over the rolling Amazon was soothing. Distracting. Dana Barrak sat back in the cockpit seat with a heavy sigh and savored the feeling, at least as much as river navigation in a mobile suit would allow.

"Major," Andrew's voice said quietly, "was that really necessary?"

Dana clenched her teeth. "Above your pay grade, lieutenant," she answered, "but suffice it to say that dropping a fuel air explosive is always a last resort kind of option for an Alliance officer."

"I understand, but still...incinerating an entire town..." He shook his head. "There's gonna be retaliation for this."

"Of course there will."

"And we don't know how headquarters will react "

Dana cut him off with a harsh laugh. "Oh, headquarters will be happy enough," she said bitterly. "We just fried a Resistance stronghold off the map. Kirisaki will feel it, in the loss of a safe haven, supplies, that stuff. And we probably killed a bunch of his men, with the shockwave if nothing else." She shrugged. "Sucks, but it's the truth."

She shook her head. It was, of course, her fault it had happened at all. Anori had one inlet from the river into the lake; she had let that inlet be cut off by Harrelson's men, forcing them to fight for their lives on the lake. And then the Midnight had shown up, and if she and her men were to survive well, Anori had to go.

At least it could be rationalized away. The thought of incinerating a few thousand people still churned inside her, but at least there were rationalizations.

"Alert Manaus that we're returning," she told Andrew, "and to expect a retributive assault by Ed the Ripper's men."

Anori, Amazon rainforest, Brazil, South America

The stench of flames consuming everything before them filled the air and made Emily fall to her knees and retch before the kneeling Gundam Eclipse.

But that wasn't so bad because it meant she didn't have to look at the giant flaming crater in the middle of what had once been a town.

Ed shook his head sadly and mopped back his sweaty hair. "I don't know what's gotten into her. She never would have done something like this before." He glanced over his shoulder at a somber Jane. "And since when could an O-4 order an attack like this? When I left it had to be O-6 or higher."

"They changed that, after the Junius War," Jane explained quietly. "Greater tactical latitude for commanders dealing with..." She shrugged. "People like us." Jane stepped forward and knelt down next to Emily. "Hey, you alright?"

"I-I didn't mean for this to happen," Emily whispered. "I didn't..."

"Of course you didn't," Ed said with a solemn look. "This isn't your fault. We should have taken her out sooner. I didn't anticipate her going this far." He looked back up towards Anori, towards the flames still raging at the lip of the crater. "Though I guess I should have."

"To speak truthfully," interrupted another voice, and they all turned to find Rau Le Creuset striding into view, "the only person at fault is this officer you were fighting." He came to a stop next to Ed and looked on impassively towards the destruction. "Although in purely military terms, this is to be expected. A guerrilla movement must be fought by either public relations or overwhelming force." He gestured down towards the flaming town. "As you can see."

"Well," Ed sighed with one last shake of his head, "we're going to have to do something to retaliate against this. Can't just let her fry a city off the map without answering for it."

He turned and headed towards the edge of the town, and Jane gave Emily's shoulder a reassuring squeeze before she got up to follow.

Emily closed her eyes. "I didn't know they were going to do that."

"The Alliance is always crueler than you think," Rau said quietly. "Always." He extended his hand. "Let's get up and hide the Gundam."

ZAFT submarine supercarrier Aristotle, Atlantic Ocean

"Now reaching periscope depth, captain," the diving officer reported, and Nathaniel Hatias turned on his heel towards the comm officer.

"Signal coming in now," the comm officer added and a moment later, Nathaniel saluted the bearded man in the purple ZAFT uniform on the screen. Commandant Kovetz of the Lagash underwater supply base was a stickler for military protocol but in all fairness, that was how he had kept up the sanity of his men, let alone breakneck production of war materiel and absolute secrecy, for three years at six kilometers below sea level.

"Commandant Kovetz," he greeted, "you'll be pleased to know that the Aristotle has been running well. Your men built us a fine boat."

"It had better," Kovetz said sardonically, "since I devoted twenty percent of my base's construction capacity to it. What is the meaning of this message?"

"Reconnoitering is complete. My AWACS DINN units just returned with a full profile of the Alliance bases along the Amazon River. ZAFT forces could do a great deal of damage to Alliance military forces along the river, but we would need to destroy their first base at Belém, at the river's mouth and there is no way the Aristotle will be able to navigate the river. Thus, I am requesting reinforcements."

Kovetz stroked his beard thoughtfully. "At the moment I can only spare Commander Willard's unit, although at a later date I can send additional reinforcements."

"That will be more than perfect," Nathaniel said. "All we need to do is take out one base at Macapá and the other at Belém, and the river will be wide open for later travel, for about eight hundred kilometers inland."

"Sounds like you've thought this out, captain. Very well. We will send Commander Willard to your location at flank speed. Lagash, out."

The screen went dark, and at Nathaniel's side, Camwell glanced over in surprise. "You didn't say anything about the Minerva."

Nathaniel merely shrugged. "He would have emptied Lagash to come fight them, and our trap would have been for nothing. They're heading north as we speak, Camwell. Recover Commander Ladd and run through the final checks for combat."

As Camwell turned towards the rest of the conn to start handing out orders, Nathaniel looked back at the darkened screen.

Besides which, he thought, I can't have men like him breathing down my neck.

May 8th, CE 77 - Manaus Air Base, Amazon rainforest, Brazil, South America

The black uniform of the Phantom Pain sent chills down Dana Barrak's spine, and it didn't help that she had gotten no sleep the night before. Not when she could lie awake all night, staring at the ceiling and remembering what she had done to Anori echoing through her head.

On the screen, the smug and mustachioed Lieutenant Commander James Liberman looked a lot more pleased with himself than someone complimenting someone else should have looked. "The loss of Anori will undoubtedly be a crippling blow for Harrelson's fighters," Liberman said. "We are impressed with your initiative, major."

Dana gritted her teeth. "Thank you, sir."

"Which is why," Liberman continued, "I'm here to inform you of a new assignment. You'll get your orders soon through the normal communication channels. In the meantime, suffice it to say that you and your battalion will be temporarily reassigned to Belém Naval Station."

Dana blinked in surprise. "But sir, that's twelve hundred kilometers from Manaus. Why are we being moved all the way to Belém?"

"Because," Liberman said with a raised finger and a conspiratorial grin, "we have a plan." Liberman's face promptly disappeared in favor of a map of the Belém area, the mouth of the Amazon, and the nearby ocean. "Our old friends on the Minerva are heading north as we speak, and they probably aim to pick up the Gundam that crashed outside Anori the other day. If that's so, then they'll likely be helped by the Resistance fighters in Belém. There are hundreds, and the local commander has yet to get a handle on the situation. So this is our chance to deal with the problem once and for all.

"Your task is to make sure that Harrelson and his little band bring the Gundam to Belém. If they accompany it, so much the better. The station at Santarém is under orders to let them through without arousing their suspicions. Your task is to leak this information to them, then get to Belém as soon as possible and await further instructions. I will be there tomorrow to explain in full." He arched an eyebrow. "Understood?"

The thought of combat with not just Ed the Ripper, not just the Midnight, but the rest of the Minerva's mobile suits in the streets of Belém was enough to turn Dana's stomach, and she fought down her protests. "Sir," she said, "won't that put the city in danger?"

Liberman waved it off with a contemptuous laugh. "Danger," he scoffed, "nonsense. Belém is crawling with Resistance thugs. Whatever happens to the city will be purifying, not damaging." He drew himself up with an air of finality. "I expect the same quality leadership you showed at Anori to display itself again at Belém, major. Liberman, out."

The screen shut off, and Dana slammed her fist into the table next to it, as images of cities in flames danced through her head.

Battleship Minerva, Atlantic Ocean

"We were working all the time," Stella said with something of a pout, "but now we're done, so Stella wants to go see the sea."

Standing in front of the airlock to the outer deck, Lily blinked in surprise as Stella yanked the door open and went bounding out onto the platform with an excited laugh and then, eyes going wide in wonder, the red-haired Extended stepped out onto the walkway herself and stared out at the vast, rolling field of blue, vanishing into the horizon under the sun and a sweep of brilliantly sparkling water.

"Wow!" Lily exclaimed, and ran up to the edge of the railing to stare out at the ocean. "Holy crap! Is this the sea?"

"Now Lily gets to see it," Stella said with a smile. "It's so pretty."

Both of them fell silent at the sight before them, and Lily looked down awkwardly towards the waterline, where the waves lapped against the ship's hull. "I never got to see anything like this before. I always lived in space. There's no sea up there."

Stella nodded agreeably. "Space is boring," she said. "And cold. And no fun." She stomped her feet on the deck. "But you don't have to float around here." She frowned. "Stella wishes people would stop fighting in it..."

"Fighting in the sea?"

"Yeah," Stella said after a moment's thought. "It messes it all up." She leaned forward and fixed her eyes on the hazy horizon, where the wide-open sky above met the shimmering ocean below. "It's peaceful."

Lily looked towards the horizon herself and thought back to the battle, where she had done well enough in savaging a group of attacking ZAFT amphibious mecha and then looked back at Stella, immersed in the beauty of the sea.

"It's strange having nothing to do," Athrun Zala sighed, from the gantry overlooking the Minerva's hangar as he stared at the scorched hulk of the Infinite Justice Gundam.

At his side, Viveka leaned over his shoulder. "Well, there's always me." Athrun immediately blushed and fumbled for an answer. "Or we could be boring and do it your way and go, I dunno, clean dishes or something."

"I only do that when I'm the one who made the mess."

"Ooh, and he picks up after himself too! What a steal."

Athrun squirmed nervously and fixed his attention on his old mobile suit. "Force of habit. I usually tinker with the OS on that thing or something, but I can't anymore, so I'm going stir-crazy." He shook his head. "At this rate I'm going to build another Haro or something."

Viveka blinked. "Another what?"

"A Haro. A robot I made. For, uh, for Lacus Clyne, when we were engaged."

"You made her a robot for your engagement?"

"A bunch of them."

"A bunch of robots. For your engagement."

Athrun paused and considered how that had sounded. "In my defense, I was, like, fifteen," he said. "And it was arranged. And I liked robots. So..." He shrugged, and tried not to cringe as the memories trickled back through his consciousness. "What, do you want one?"

"That would depend on what the Haro was like," Viveka answered with a smirk.

"It was a little robot ball with limited artificial intelligence, and most of what it had going for it was cuteness." He frowned. "Wasn't my greatest creation, but Lacus appreciated them. I made, like, six or seven."

Silence descended on them both for a moment, as Athrun fought off the recollections. "Even makes stuff for the girl his parents say he has to marry," Viveka sighed melodramatically. "I swear, Athrun, we have got to do something about that self-destructive sense of obligation you've got."

"Oh yes," Athrun agreed sadly, "we definitely do."

The setting sun bathed the Minerva's interior observation deck in orange light and surrounded Auel Neider, lost in thought and wishing he weren't.

It was a lot to digest. People being massacred, battles being fought, separation from comrades. The more he found out about what had happened since he had fallen unconscious at the fight at Terminal, the less he wanted to stay awake. Ten million people had died at Copernicus. ZAFT was escalating the war. Now their forces were appearing on Earth and causing the same havoc there that they were bringing to space.

If only he hadn't lost the Abyss. If only he hadn't been powerless, unconscious, out of the fight. That was not how he worked. Auel Neider did not just sit there and sleep while important stuff happened. And he was still powerless, still without a mobile suit, still stuck on the ship with nothing to do but heal and wait. What kind of existence was that?

He looked down at his hands, where the scars were beginning to fade, thanks to those cool Extended healing capabilities. But even those were a mixed blessing, because it was power he didn't really want. And yet it was power he wanted to use, even though he didn't want it; but he couldn't use it because he didn't have the weapons through which it worked. It was a mess, and it made no sense, and Auel hated it when things did that.

And then there were the other problems. Emily and Rau had landed somewhere else, far inside the South American continent, and there was no practical way the Minerva could reach them. The best they could do was hover outside of some city at the mouth of the river and wait for the two of them to make their way out of the jungle. At least they had landed among friends but still, powerlessness, and waiting.

Nothing got under Auel Neider's skin than being powerless and waiting.

ZAFT supply base Lagash, Central Pacific Basin, Pacific Ocean

It towered above them all in one of Lagash's many cavernous hangars, standing patiently as the mechanics swarmed over its body and made the final adjustments. The Destiny Impulse Gundam had proven almost as formidable in battle as the Destiny itself. It was a fine machine. It would do well.

It would have to, anyways, thought Commander Willard bitterly. After all, it would have a difficult battle before it.

Lagash was alive with activity. The base on the bottom of the Pacific Ocean was served by a huge submersible capsule, which could detach from the base, stealthily slip to the surface to deploy or receive warships, mobile suits, and aircraft, and then slide back into the murky depths to return to Lagash. It was one of the more impressive creations of ZAFT's ever-ingenious engineers, and, standing on one of the surface capsule's many gantries overlooking the Lesseps-class land battleship Eckhart in its berth, Willard couldn't help but feel some pride and some sorrow, at leaving this cocoon of ZAFT's achievements to go mingle with the stunted Naturals.

But that would be a formidable task as well. Destroying an Alliance base and then fighting their way up the Amazon River, decimating Alliance military forces along the way, and bringing all economic activity on the river to a halt hardly a petty skirmish. This was the stuff of campaigns.

At his side, Commandant Kovetz heaved a sigh. "We will send reinforcements once you have broken past the river's mouth," he said. "Probably on the order of two more Petrie ships and two more Vosgulovs. But with other projects around the world, it will be difficult, and you will have to make do with limited resources."

"I understand, sir," Willard said with a nod. "With the Aristotle's help, we'll have no problem smashing Belém and Macapá. That alone will give us control of all river traffic trying to reach the sea. And that will let us strangle much of South America's economic activity. They'll be on their knees in a matter of weeks." He gestured towards the mobile suit being lowered into the Eckhart's hangar. "Besides, we have a trump card."

The click of heels on the metal surface caught their attention, and they turned to receive a blond-haired man in the smart uniform of a ZAFT Red saluting.

"Mare Stroud, reporting as ordered, sir," he said.

May 9th, CE 77 - Anori, Amazon rainforest, Brazil, South America

Jane Houston sipped gratefully at a piping cup of soup, sitting up against the sturdy trunk of a tree on the edge of the jungle under the black night sky. They were still within sight of Anori and the giant crater that sat in its center. The flames were dying down, and as they did, the smoke began to dissipate but the sight beneath the clouds was no less heartbreaking. Not when it looked as though a huge hand had scooped up the center of the town, and flattened everything else with sheer concussive force. Slumped on a hilltop overlooking the town, she could see the campfires the survivors were kindling, and the spots of the town still burning, illuminated by the occasional light of a mobile suit at work.

All that, from one bomb.

She glanced up at the sound of leaves underfoot and smiled as Ed slumped down next to her, his own cup of steaming soup in hand. "Well," he sighed, "that was a clusterfuck."

"It was," Jane agreed, "but..." She shook her head. "Have to move on."

"Have to move on," Ed said quietly, and swallowed a slug of soup with a hungry slurp. "Speaking of," he continued, "heard back from Luiz a couple hours ago. He's got a new apartment in Manaus. Good for intel." Jane arched an inquisitive eyebrow. "Says he's heard that the Minerva is nearing Fernando de Noronha. If they get past Natal, they'll have a clear shot for the Pará coast. Which means," he nodded off into the jungle off towards the silent, waiting Gundam Eclipse "they'll be able to pick them up."

Jane sipped at her soup for a moment, thinking. "Don't suppose they could get any closer...?"

"Oh, hell no," scoffed Ed. "If Belém didn't get to them, Macapá would. They probably can't even approach the coast too closely." He swallowed more soup, and Jane frowned at the troubled look on his face. "Luiz also said that he caught some supply planes packing up Barrak's battalion. The flight path his men traced out has them going to Belém."

"Sounds like a trap."

"Definitely. But if the Minerva can't get past Belém, we'll have to bring Emily and Le Creuset and the Gundam over there to the river mouth and try to get them through. And," he glanced around anxiously and lowered his voice, "if Barrak and her men are there, we really can't pass that chance up, can we?"

Jane looked back down at Anori and the black pit in its center. "No, we can't."

"So," sighed Ed, "what do you think?"

The yawning void in the center of Anori stared back at them both and sent a chill down Jane's spine. "That's some fourteen hundred kilometers of river, Ed," she said at last. "We'd have to pass Manaus and the station at Santarém. And that's just if we want to move the Eclipse to Belém. If the rest of us are going too, it's that much more difficult. We can't sneak ten or fifteen barges full of mobile suits past Manaus and Santarém."

Ed nodded solemnly and stared down into his soup for a while. "Well," he said, "we can't take the whole force, but we can take a dozen mobile suits or so. That would be about...three or four barges, I guess. And I can get in touch with Enrique in Belém. They have mobile suits too, and I'm on good terms with Enrique." He turned his eyes back up towards the darkness, where the Gundam that had brought so much trouble blazing down into the Amazon with it was waiting. "Can't keep her here forever anyway. She'll draw too much attention."

Jane followed his gaze for a moment. "She doesn't still think this is all her fault, does she?"

"Oh, hell, course she does. We tried talking her out of it, but she must be one of those 'shoulder the burdens of the world' types." He shook his head and swallowed some more soup. "Teenagers. Give 'em a giant robot to pilot and they think they gotta change the world with it."

"Really, Mr. 'Hero of South America,'" Jane chuckled, with an elbow to the ribs for good measure.

"Hey, I'm not a teenager." He shrugged. "'sides, I like that nickname better."

The stench had lifted, the flames were dying down, the smoke was vanishing into the air but the devastation remained, and Emily von Oldendorf idly wondered if she should be thankful for the night's darkness, for hiding the real reach of destruction from her eyes.

Rau Le Creuset stood over her shoulder as she sat and stared into the gaping crater in the middle of Anori. "I suppose there's a lesson for us in here," he said quietly, catching Emily's attention. "If you want to use your power, you have to accept the consequences."

Emily blinked at him. "I didn't want this to happen at all."

"Of course not. But you used your power anyway, to intervene in the battle and the enemy bombed this town." He shrugged, and Emily stared at him sadly. "It's the unfortunate truth. Power is used upon a world that does not accept it passively. There are reactions, results, consequences. For everything." He paused, seeming to consider something. "Even me."

"What do you mean 'even you?'" Emily asked quietly, and Rau stuffed his hands into his pockets.

"I'm not unlike you, to tell the truth," he said. "It's not a story I like to tell..." Emily looked at him inquisitively, prompting him to continue. "I'm a clone of a man who sought immortality through a genetic replica of himself. But I was defective, and the man standing before you now was born with the DNA of a forty-five-year-old. I am prey to diseases and conditions that no man my age should be concerned about. All because of one man's selfish dream to create out of a human being a tool to satisfy his own desires.

"I know what you are going through because I have experienced it myself. Our fathers both created us to be tools mine to be a genetic vessel for his own immortality, yours to be a perfect weapon. But in the course of my creation, I was made a Coordinator and by some genetic chance, I developed Newtype powers as well. I realized that despite my being human refuse of a decadent world, a world so needing to be remade, I had the power to make it happen."

He withdrew a small bottle of pills from his pocket. "But my time is short. I have the DNA of a seventy-eight-year-old man. Only my Coordinator genetic enhancements have kept me alive and functioning to this extent, and even that must be supplemented with drugs. I cannot live to see this project to fruition." He stuffed the bottle back into his pocket, and smiled down at Emily. "But you can."

Emily blinked up at him. "What project?"

Rau swept out his arms towards the crater before them. "Everything must burn before it can be set right. Ancient peoples understood this, this fact that we of the modern age have forgotten. Fire cleanses. Destruction brings creation." He stepped in front of her and turned around, silhouetted by the flames. "This town's tragedy is a perfect example. Anori has been obliterated by the Alliance but think of what can be done with this opportunity. Remember that we saw but a sleepy little hamlet, crumbling buildings, little evidence of the great wealth of other people and places on this continent. But that is gone now. And something new can be made.

"Think of the world that way, Emily. You know this world is corrupt to its core. You've seen it. At Murmansk, at Karelia, at Volgograd, at Novorossiysk, at the site where Argus attacked us, at Copernicus. Even you and I are proof. No world that will right itself and correct its mistakes would go so far as to create us. A defective clone discarded in one man's quest for immortality? A human weapon built and trained since birth to serve the will of others?" He gestured towards the sky. "And do you remember Kira Yamato, the man you fought at Sagan City? You must not forget about him. Because he was the result of a project to create a perfect Coordinator, one that perfectly expressed the traits it was designed to express one removed from that last vestige of our original nature, the mother's womb."

Emily stood up. "If everything has to burn, then that means everyone has to suffer like this," she said, with a wave towards Anori. "How is that right?"

"I never said this way would be easy, Emily," Rau said with a smile. "This is why I said that this place holds a lesson. You intervened in the battle to drive off the Alliance troops. And drive them off you did but at the cost of the town, because a consequence of your intervention was the Alliance commander's feeling threatened enough to drop a fuel air explosive on Anori. That's the consequence. People get hurt when you use your power. It's the same for all of us for anyone who has ever entered battle and killed or wounded somebody else. Think of all those times it's happened over your career on the Minerva, at your own hand." He brushed past Emily with a shrug and headed off into the darkness. "And the most important thing," he added, "isn't what you destroy. It's what you build in its place."

Rau Le Creuset vanished into the shadows, leaving Emily alone to stare into the dark crater.

To be continued...