Phase 24 - Convergence

Mobile Suit Gundam SEED ETERNITY

Phase 24 - Convergence

May 10th, CE 77 - ZAFT mobile space fortress Messiah, Lagrange Point 5

"Here it is, sir," the gruff chief mechanic said as he came to a stop on the gantry, overlooking one of Messiah's sweeping mobile suit hangars. "GSX-401FW Stargazer, reassembled."

With a clack of boots on metal, Kira Yamato landed gracefully in front of his entourage of officers and mechanics, and straightened up to survey the monster before him. Gleaming white from a fresh coat of paint, eyes dark, standing tall and proud over everything else in the hangar, the Stargazer stared out at them with all the majesty of a king.

Kira frowned at the white mobile suit with a Gundam's face. "That was fast. We only even captured it about a month ago."

"Time flies when you're having fun," the mechanic answered with a grin. "We've figured out the Voiture Lumiere system. In its present state, it spreads a thin sail of light inside that big ring and uses a purpose-built laser to start moving. It starts out slow but can accelerate pretty much indefinitely. Good for deep space travel, not so good for combat, but," he called up a tablet, "we've got some technicians working on that too. We suspect the Nightfall includes a military version of the Voiture Lumiere, but how the Resistance got their hands on it, we haven't a clue."

Memories arose of that Gundam Kira had fought at Sagan City, the one his troops had taken to calling "Nightfall." The one that had fought him to a standstill as his troops were mowed down by Resistance and Alliance forces that were prepared for it this time.

His blood burned at the thought of her. He had been made to be the perfect Coordinator, but she...yes, she was something even worse. Something that had no place in his new world. The world of Newtypes and progress and understanding had no room for someone whose purpose of existence was merely to destroy.

There could be no Angel of Death in the new world that Kira would create. He clenched his fists around the railing.

"If the Stargazer itself is done as a study object," he said quietly, "then when you come up with the military version of the Voiture Lumiere, I want this mobile suit refit. For combat."

The chief blinked. "For combat, sir?"

"As soon as you can. I'll instruct the technical division to draw up blueprints." He turned towards Kayla, the lone person among the knot of officers and mechanics in the ZAFT Red uniform. "And Kayla, we're going to have to select a pilot. We have some research to do."

He thought back to that girl in the Nightfall, that Angel of Death. Even she, after all, had a creator and everything that was created could be destroyed.

River barge Rio Purus, Amazon River, Brazil, South America

The waters of the Amazon rolled lazily past as the Rio Purus led the way down the winding river. The waterway was alive with not only wildlife in the waters but more barges and vessels on the surface, taking advantage of the Amazon's width to carry goods thousands of kilometers inland. And every so often, an Alliance missile boat would speed by and ramp up the tension among the fighters aboard the barge.

On the barge's deck, Emily felt herself tense as one of those missile boats rumbled by and threaded its way through a throng of smaller boats. That was the third one today. The Alliance expected something.

"It's not out of the ordinary," someone said, startling Emily, and she turned to find Edward Harrelson emerging from the pilothouse. "They have missile boats going up and down the length of the river." He waved a hand towards the east. "You'll see. In Belém they've got dozens of those things in dock."

Emily smiled wanly. "Should I blow them all up while we're there?"

"If you wouldn't mind." He hopped down next to her and let out a big sigh as the missile boat disappeared around a bend. "I hope you're not still blaming yourself for what happened at Anori."

Emily blinked. "But but if I hadn't "

"Yeah, see, you are," Ed interrupted. "Stop it. It's not your fault." He crossed his arms and cast his glance down the river. "I've fought against that woman for two years. She's never done anything like that before, but other Alliance officers have. I bet they've been ordered to be more forceful against us." He shrugged. "It draws the lines pretty clearly for you, I guess."

The memories drifted up of allies turning on each other and cities laid waste. Emily cringed. "I guess."

Ed arched an eyebrow. "You guess?"

"Well, it's not like the Resistance is any better," she said with a sigh. "Always turning on each other, going after civilians, putting their own interests first..." Emily shrugged. "I don't think the lines are very clear."

"They're clear enough for me," replied Ed. "Unless you've been meeting Resistance fighters who are also conducting genocide." He paused and studied the young Natural girl's face for a moment. "Y'know, moral relativity is all well and good in those muddled gray cases where it really could go either way. But some things are really very clear."

Emily stared uncomfortably at the water, and Ed heaved a sigh and headed off around a corner.

"So," said Rau Le Creuset in the barge's pilothouse, peering up at a GPS map, "the passage at Santarém will be difficult. The river's course forces us to pass close to the city."

The pilot glanced over anxiously at Rau. At the other end of the room, Jane glanced up at the map herself and shrugged.

"It's nothing we haven't done before," she replied. "The station at Santarém is usually pretty lax anyway." She glanced up ahead, then over at the pilot. "Raul, signal to the other barges. Missile boat is clear. Return to flank speed."

The barge rumbled as its engines came back to life. Rau paused and studied the face of the woman that ZAFT feared as the White Whale the undefeated ace of underwater combat, the one that dozens of ZAFT pilots had sought, only to be destroyed when they eventually found her.

"I must say," he spoke up, "I'm surprised that you've got such an organized operation here. After ZAFT retreated, I had heard you were reduced to hiding out in the jungle."

Jane glanced over skeptically at the masked man. "No more inglorious than what you've been up to, I'm sure."

"But you gave up a lot when you defected," continued Rau. "A commissioned officer in the Alliance, an ace pilot with a clear path to promotion and prosperity..." He shrugged. "Not many people in this world are willing to forgo those pleasures for," he waved a hand at the river, the grimy boats on it, the world around them, "principles."

"Are you saying I made a mistake?"

"Not at all. I'm simply remarking on your unusual career choice."

Jane stared into the river and the jungle beyond it, teeming with life. "What was I supposed to do?" She turned her eyes back towards Rau. "Anyway, it should be pretty obvious why I'm here. But you, Mr. White Knight of ZAFT, that's more interesting to me."

Rau smirked back. "I'm afraid my tale is a bit less prosaic than yours. I was simply left behind, and in my time in ZAFT, I developed a few enemies within ZAFT enemies, which, as luck would have it, survived Solomon's Sword and took over the leadership. So," he shrugged, "here I am."

"And you said I gave up a lot?" chuckled Jane.

"Oh no, Ms. Houston," Rau said with a laugh of his own, as he reached out with his senses to find Emily near the barge's bow, flickering with anxiety. "It all depends on how you look at it."

Belém Air Base, Belém, Brazil, South America

Brigadier General Bradley Kenneth gave the impression of an overgrown drill sergeant, with his bald head, thick dark aviators, black mustache, and the cigar that was seemingly a permanent fixture between his teeth. In Dana Barrak's mind, that called up the unpleasant memories of basic training, and that made it even worse to be stared down under the general's unrelenting glare.

Especially after that training had failed her.

"Command is pleased about what happened at Anori," Kenneth rumbled. "It's a tactical success, I guess. Now Kirisaki and his men can't use it." He arched a bushy eyebrow, and Dana idly considered telling him that the incident had spun out of control. But desperation in an Earth Alliance field officer was not smiled upon. "But suffice it to say," the general continued, "there will be none of that in Belém. This is no little fishing village. It's one of the busiest ports on Earth."

"I understand, sir."

The general sighed heavily and sat back in his desk chair. "The Volturno arrived in Macapá earlier today," he went on. "Commander Liberman is bringing reinforcements. And he's bringing Rena Imelia."

Dana blinked in disbelief. "Rena Imelia? The Sakura Burst, here? General "

"Yeah, they're serious," Kenneth said, "and they're probably aiming to destroy the city too." He scowled around his cigar and glanced out his office window. "I keep telling them my strategy needs time and civilian support, but..." Kenneth shook his head. "Well, if they want to destroy the city, there's probably nothing we can do to stop it. But we are soldiers of the Earth Alliance Army, and we're better than that." He gave Dana a hard look. "Right?"

Dana swallowed the lump in her throat. "Yes sir."

May 11th, CE 77 - Battleship Minerva, Atlantic Ocean

"We would feel much better if you could send mobile suits," explained the dark-skinned man on the auxiliary screen, through his scraggly beard and disheveled hair. "The Minerva's mobile suits joining us in battle would be a big morale boost."

Meyrin frowned. "I know, Enrique," she said, "but like I said, we only have four mobile suits left. And the fifth is somewhere in the Amazon."

"Alright," Enrique said with a sigh, "then this is how it'll be." He replaced his face on the monitor with a wire map of the winding Amazon River. "The Ripper and his team are heading upstream. We're launching an attack on Belém when they arrive. We, uh, have our own reasons for that. Your pilots will be able to slip through in the confusion and get out to sea." Enrique reappeared. "But we'd feel better about our chances in all this if we had your assistance."

"I understand," Meyrin answered. "We can send you two mobile suits, and if you're able to destroy enough warships in port, we can come closer and provide fire support. But we're shorthanded too."

Enrique looked disappointed, but nodded anyway. "Alright. I'll let them know." He offered a weary smile. "We'll see you in Belém, captain."

The Destiny Gundam's mighty Arondight sword fell into place with a crash that echoed through the Minerva's hangar, and at the controls to the crane, Shinn Asuka glanced tiredly up at his trusty steed's darkened eyes. The Destiny could still fight, but it had been outclassed by Kira Yamato and by the Devil's Saber and its age was starting to show.

That was a distressing thought, as he looked around the hangar, at all the empty berths. The Abyss, the Chaos, the Legend, the Savior, now the Infinite Justice...and with Emily off on some Amazonian adventure, that left the Destiny and Gaia as the Minerva's defenders. Well, them and the Vent Savior and Trojan's long-suffering DOM.

He glanced down wearily at the tablet Abes had given him the one with his new Gundam, the one waiting to be built in the machine shops of Gigafloat, lazily spinning on a wire grid. A sleek, knightly, thruster-studded ersatz Destiny, tuned to his specifications. The Resistance's technicians had shown great inventiveness in new technology and performance for these Gundams, but not so much in their appearance.

But Gigafloat was on the other side of Africa, and the new Zulfiqar Gundam was yet to be built, so pining away for more power didn't do anything but frustrate him in the present. Another hard lesson of the Junius War.

Shinn looked back towards the empty berth where the Eclipse would have stood. No doubt Rau Le Creuset was milking this opportunity for all it was worth. And Emily was someone who might be receptive to the masked man's ominous message.

He shook his head, and wondered if he had created a monster.

"Really?" whined Auel Neider in the Minerva's crew lounge. "You guys have nothing? Not even, like a GINN or something?"

Slumped on one of the benches, Athrun managed only a shrug. "I don't have a mobile suit anymore either," he said. "Unless you want to try using the Gyroheli."

On the other side of the bench, Sting stared disdainfully into his coffee. "Aren't we going to Gigafloat after this? I don't really like just sitting around with my thumb up my ass."

"No one does," answered Athrun, "but there's nothing we can do. And at Gigafloat we'll still have to run testing and whatnot." He glanced ruefully at the darkened main screen, imagining for himself the images of the ZAFT fleet in space. "Which we don't really have time for..."

"What do you mean?"

Athrun gestured towards the ceiling towards the sky, the stars. "ZAFT can't keep up this kind of guerrilla action for long. Sooner or later the Alliance will break through the shoal zone at L5 and attack Messiah directly. All these attacks, like the one at Copernicus, they're all doing major damage...but sooner or later, ZAFT is going to go for broke."

Auel frowned. "What are they gonna do, throw pieces of the PLANTs at the Earth?" He shrugged. "We have meteor breakers and nuclear weapons. That would never work."

"No, it wouldn't," agreed Athrun, "which is why I'm worried that they've got another idea." He closed his eyes. "A worse one."

Matt Abes scratched his head with a heavy sigh as the crane lifted out the Infinite Justice's nuclear reactor from the Gundam's broken corpse. At least that thing was salvageable, but the rest was now so much scrap metal.

"Man, he's gonna bitch up a storm about this," sighed Viveka, standing next to Abes with crossed arms. "Gonna be all I can do to shut him up about it."

Abes arched an eyebrow. "What do you mean?" Viveka grinned back, Abes blinked, and then he looked back at the suspended reactor. "Did you two finally get together?"

"You could say that."

"Well thank fucking God. That should lower the ambient angst level."

Viveka pouted. "I'm glad you're so happy for us."

The reactor swung slowly from the Justice's gutted body towards the crate nearby, where Yolant was waving up above to lower the machine into place for storage. Abes stood back with crossed arms and a skeptical look. "Guess that's kept you from worrying too much over your sister, then."

"I wasn't," Viveka said, "until Shinn mentioned to me how worried he is."

"The hell's he worried about? She's hanging out with a ZAFT ace from two wars."

Viveka glanced up towards the silent Destiny Gundam. "That's what I'd like to know."

May 12th, CE 77 - ZAFT Lesseps-class land battleship Eckhart, Strait of Magellan

Humming along at the fastest speed consistent with safety, the Eckhart cut a striking silhouette in the narrow, treacherous channels of the Strait of Magellan. It was a great inconvenience for the Eckhart and its three escorts, the Petrie-class ships Tonegawa and Morgan and the Vosgulov-class submarine Bushnell, to go this far south in order to reach northeast Brazil. But nobody was about to let four ZAFT warships through the Panama Canal, and any attempt to force their way through would probably damage the canal, destroy the locks, and trap the attackers dozens of kilometers inland to die a fairly embarrassing death.

And so, standing on the Eckhart's bridge with arms crossed imperiously as he oversaw the passage, Commander Willard tried to remind himself that patience was a virtue. The Lesseps and Petrie-class ships could make nearly eighty knots on the surface in good seas, but here in the strait they had to cut their speed dramatically. The longer this trip took, the longer he had to risk detection and advance warning for Macapá and Belém and the greater the chance that the Minerva, the tasty fringe benefit of this operation, might slip away.

He frowned as the Eckhart cruised forward. Between the Minerva, the Aristotle, the Alliance troops, and what ZAFT spies were calling "an unusual activity among Belém's Resistance community," this would be quite the battle.

Somewhere down in the hangar was the Destiny Impulse and its vindictive little pilot. Mare Stroud had been the test pilot for the X31S Abyss at Armory 1 when the Junius War broke out and he was gravely wounded during the hijacking. He had spent the war in a hospital bed, and although he had acquitted himself well in battle at Mars, well, pathetic Martian rabble just wasn't the same. Mare Stroud's blood burned for a chance to settle the score with the man who had eventually been chosen as the Impulse's pilot, the man who was now the Resistance's hero. That slight had turned from annoyance to vicious, bubbling hatred. It would probably get him killed, but the point was the damage he could do until he burned out.

For his part, Willard didn't care, but blood feuds had their uses. He would just have to get there first.

ZAFT submarine supercarrier Aristotle, Atlantic Ocean

Camwell scowled through the periscope at the image of another civilian freighter chugging along on the surface. It was a perfect target, lying there atop the rolling ocean without any indication that it knew the Aristotle was lurking beneath the waves. One torpedo was all it would take. One measly little torpedo.

Instead, he glanced up as Nathaniel Hatias stepped onto the conn.

"Another contact, sir," the sonar officer reported. "Maguchi-class freighter. Sending out a civilian IFF."

"Leave it alone," Nathaniel ordered. "Depth back to three hundred meters."

Camwell shook his head in frustration. It had been humiliating enough to quickly pack up the mobile suits at Noronha, slip beneath the waves, activate the silent drive, and flee north to avoid the Earth Alliance the same Earth Alliance they had come here to fight. Half their advantage came from the terrifying reputation of a ship that could appear anywhere, attack with impunity, and vanish into the murky deep, only to do it again somewhere else. And yet they had run away, like little children, at the first sign of an opportunity to demonstrate that even if the Alliance ever found them, the Aristotle would have nothing to fear.

But those Alliance ships had scattered east, after a sonar decoy designed to emulate the Aristotle's engine noise and sonar signature, while the ship itself turned northwest towards its rendezvous with the hard-charging Commander Willard outside Belém. And there they would smash open the two gates to the Amazon River, to let Willard and his men storm into the continent and do what damage they could.

Camwell glanced distastefully at Nathaniel. Surely he would have an objection to that, too.

Because, in the final analysis, that was what it would take to protect the Coordinator nation. Nothing but stark, grisly chaos on Earth, the kind that would really hurt Djibril and his Blue Cosmos cronies. Economic catastrophe, rioting in the streets, internal dissent and intrigue those were the baneful ingredients that made empires fall. ZAFT would simply be here to speed it all along.

Camwell stepped aside as Nathaniel crossed his arms and surveyed the conn. "Captain," he said, "we're going to have to explain why we passed up all these targets of opportunity. We have close to a thousand torpedoes in the holds. There's no reason not to "

"Sure there is," Nathaniel interrupted. "The Corsica Treaty, for one."

"The Corsica Treaty," Camwell sputtered. "Captain, if that treaty was worth the paper it was printed on, we wouldn't be here. It didn't do a damned thing to stop the Requiem, or all the other things that have happened to us."

"No, it didn't," agreed Nathaniel. "The treaty may be worthless, but the moral values and principles behind it if you don't have those, you're just a mindless beast." He glanced meaningfully at Camwell, and the vice-captain felt his blood begin to steam.

"Captain," he growled, "we both know what this ship was built to do. We both know why the silent drive was developed. There's no ordinary reason for a submarine to carry so many missiles, torpedoes, and mobile suits. A Vosgulov-class would have done just fine. Captain, we were meant to go terrorizing the Earth's oceans. If we leave the civilians out, what, exactly, is so terrifying about us?"

Nathaniel cast a sidelong glance towards his executive officer, and then shook his head sadly. "Camwell," he said with a disappointed sigh, "didn't you pay attention in Military History lecture? Nobody is afraid of us. They just hate us, and want to destroy us all the more." He looked back at the periscope. "And no matter what we destroy, nobody will ever stop."

The captain left the conn with another shake of his head, leaving Camwell boiling with rage.

River barge Rio Purus, outside Santarém, Amazon River, Brazil, South America

A little police speedboat cut its way over the black waters of the Amazon River at night, under the lights of the city of Santarém. On the Rio Purus' deck, Emily watched it glide past with rumbling engines. True to Ed's word, the passage here had taken only a little bit of bribery, and now Ed the Ripper's four river barges and their mobile suits were well on their way to Belém.

She looked up towards the sky, through the moonlight, as the Rio Purus began to pick up speed. The Moon was up there; so was her father. The thought made her blood run cold. Her father had created her to be what she was now. To destroy. But from destruction could come rebirth. So said Rau.

But the destruction still had to happen.

Thinking of her father was no good, so Emily turned her thoughts towards her mother, the parent who had actually loved her the parent who had taught her, with her own passing, that destruction was a hard thing to stand. And what had that destruction created? She could only look at herself spending years as her father's little science project, as one of Lord Djibril's minions, as this Resistance fighter who turned ever more into a puppet, still dancing on the strings for her father even from thousands of miles away.

She thought back to what he had said that she was responsible for her mother's death. And on the face of it, that was ridiculous...but only on the face of it.

Emily glanced down the barge's hull, towards the truck on which her Eclipse rested beneath a tarp. The power, Selene had told her, to end this war. The power to make the world change.

It was dizzying.

May 13th, CE 77 - Heaven's Base, Iceland

"Listen, Djibril," said Lucs Kohler in the quiet observation gallery above Heaven's Base's control room, "we are not joking about this. They gassed Copernicus and now they have this new submarine attacking Alliance forces on Earth. They've blown up colonies and brought space trade to a standstill. I don't understand why you want to wait to strike Messiah."

In his plush armchair with his imperious black cat on his lap, Lord Djibril fixed Kohler with an exasperated look. "Have you read the last dispatches we got from our agents on Mars?"

"Yes. Why?"

"Then I'm sure you'll recall the battle at Deimos," Djibril continued, "where that Beelzebub Array Vargas put so much faith in was used. It could not break through Messiah's beam shield. Thus, we have no reason to suspect that the Requiem cannon could do the same. And therefore, I will not risk lowering the Mirage Colloid protection for the relay points to make a useless gesture."

Kohler sputtered in confusion. "Then why not send the Space Force?"

Djibril waved a hand contemptuously. "You've seen the charts. The shoal zone is too dense for a fleet action." He shook his head. "Had I known it would present such a problem, I would have had that shoal zone cleared long ago. But my strategy is decided. We will chip away the ZAFT fleet until Messiah can do no more but sit at L5 and starve. Sooner or later they will emerge. They must. Sunogachi can't keep a bunch of hateful, angry people cooped up in a graveyard forever. And when they do," he grinned viciously, "we will pounce."

"And you're willing to take the political heat for this?" Kohler asked.

"Political heat," scoffed Djibril, "every day we're destroying another ZAFT unit. Every day brings some form of success. It's merely a matter of holding everything together until ZAFT has no troops left. Then Messiah will have to emerge and we can finish the Coordinators off for good. Besides which," he smirked, "as long as ZAFT is running around slaughtering people, it helps our cause anyway. The case that Coordinators are evil beings out to destroy us is remarkably easy to make when they go actually trying to destroy us."

Kohler fidgeted in his seat. "This is a fine line you're walking, Djibril," he mumbled. "It would be better if you could find a way to smash them in one blow." He gave Djibril a pointed look. "After all, there's still the Resistance to worry about."

Lord Djibril turned his eyes out towards the control room of Heaven's Base, and the black-clad soldiers hard at work below. "You must have the stomach for what we're doing, Lucs," he said at last. "Our blue and clean world demands nothing less."

Battleship Minerva, Atlantic Ocean

It was something of an open secret that Stella Loussier was only a mediocre dancer.

This would have been news to Stella, of course, because dancing ranked up there with looking at the sea and caring for her trusty freshwater fish among her favorite things to do. But, as Shinn Asuka idly watched her twirl like a ballerina on the Minerva's wide-open exterior deck, excellence in form and technique never was her motivation in the first place.

She had tried to get him to dance with her once. Shinn decided not to dwell on that.

"You know Stella," he spoke up, catching her attention, "when this whole war is over, we could sign you up for dance lessons."

Stella stopped dancing with a confused look. "Dance...lessons...?"

"Yeah. They'd teach you how to dance in all kinds of different ways. Would you like that?"

The blonde Extended girl looked down at herself, still baffled. "Stella can dance already..."

Shinn shrugged. "It would be something to do."

That was even worse, ultimately, because Shinn had given no thought to what they would do after the war. It depended in part on how the war ended. And he certainly didn't know how this war would end, or even how he wanted it to end. At this point he simply assumed that it would be something to escape, not to end.

That, he realized, was a horrible way to look at war.

Stella seemed to catch the breeze and twirled away towards the center of the platform. Shinn watched with a tired sigh, and wondered what she would want to do.

Athrun Zala watched in a kind of horrified awe as Roxy Bannon dug through her liquor cabinet and then popped back out with a tall and unmarked bottle. She whirled around with the most evil grin Athrun had ever seen on a human face.

"This, my friend," she said, "is absinthe. Powerful stuff. Knock you flat on your ass for, like, ever. Books have been written on this stuff. Songs. Plays. Poems. It is the muse in liquid form. It will transport you to a completely new kind of fucked up."

Athrun stared apprehensively at the bottle. "'re giving it to me?"

"Well, only a little." She held it out. "If this doesn't help you get Emily's sister in the sack " She trailed off as she noticed Athrun shift his weight awkwardly, and that evil grin on her face managed to get a little more evil. "Oh, you didn't."

"Um "

"You devil!" squealed Roxy, and she smacked him on the shoulder triumphantly. "So you finally did the deed! How was it, player?"

"Err, we didn't actually " He stopped and tried not to think about how red his face was turning. "We're, uh, waiting until we can be nice and far away from uh, from Shinn and Rau and Emily."

Roxy blinked. "Why would you oh," understanding dawned, "oh, yes, that would be weird."

"Very weird."

"Well anyways," Roxy clapped a hand on his shoulder, "thank God you two are finally together. That should bring the sexual tension around here down a few notches."

Athrun frowned. "That's what everyone is saying."

"Yeah, well, you two have been making googly eyes at each other long enough." She swung around and stashed her bottle of absinthe back in the cabinet. "Besides," she went on, "now you're a little more like an actual human being. How does that feel?"

"Different," Athrun said after a moment's thought, not particularly liking where she seemed to be going with this.

Roxy laughed and led him back outside. "There may be hope for you yet."

Kids these days.

Meyrin Hawke found it rather odd to find that thought running through her head, as she watched Trojan and Lily pore over the Minerva's mapping console and its wire-grid display of the northeastern coast of Brazil. It was moments like these that made her forget she was only nineteen herself but most nineteen year olds didn't command warships and stare down grizzled enemy officers three times her age.

Either way, it was a little cute.

"I would send you if I could," Meyrin spoke up, catching their attention, "but we still need mobile suits to protect the ship." She smiled reassuringly. "Shinn and Stella will punch open a path from Belém. It's what they do."

Lily looked decidedly unconvinced and Trojan shrugged indifferently. Meyrin turned the chair back towards the bridge windows and sat back with a heavy sigh and a heavier heart.

Her thoughts turned towards the Amazon, towards the great muddy river where Emily and Rau were presumably on their way to Belém. And yet that would be a hectic battle. Alliance units converging on Belém, a ZAFT unit to the south charging up the coast, and nobody knew where the Aristotle was hiding. And Ed the Ripper's units heading down the river, with Enrique's troops ready to strike...Belém would be a mess when this was all done.

And amid that all, she fixed her thoughts on the masked phantasm of Rau Le Creuset. He had always been an enigma, but the mask had served to simply add to his mystique in ZAFT. He had taken command after Chairman Dullindal's death at Solomon's Sword.

Shinn's words rang in her mind. But a ZAFT soldier, doing what any loyal ZAFT soldier would do and yet, he started the Junius War? The same war that wiped out the Coordinators?

Meyrin frowned and turned the thought over.

River barge Rio Purus, Amazon River, Brazil, South America

The Rio Purus turned lazily through the murky waters, changing its direction south to follow the bends of the river and its adjoining canals. To continue north would take them to Macapá, some three hundred kilometers north of their intended destination. This little sojourn would have to end in Belém.

Leaning tiredly against the pilothouse and getting thoroughly sick of rivers, Emily stared out wearily towards the waters until Jane Houston swung out of one of the lower hatches.

"Might wanna get outta sight," she said, and pulled Emily inside. A moment later, the river churned as another missile boat sped by, and Emily watched it go with a frown.

"There sure have been a lot of those."

"We're getting close to Belém." Jane ducked outside, looked around, and flashed a thumbs-up. "Though they've heightened patrols anyways in the last few weeks." She glanced over at Emily and frowned. "What's wrong?"

"N-Nothing," Emily stammered, "I'm just, um, just tired."

Jane arched an eyebrow skeptically. "Well, you'd better get some rest. The fighting at Belém will be pretty intense."

"I know."

The White Whale turned and headed for the camion where her Forbidden Blue slept. Emily watched her go. She knew the story: the White Whale, the Alliance's amphibious mobile suit combat expert, sent to destroy the AWOL Edward Harrelson but ended up joining him instead once she understood or was made to understand why he had left. She had thrown away a nice promotion for love and justice. Ed's fighters loved her, for that and for her cheerful demeanor.

Emily looked back towards the pilothouse. What would Rau say to that?

"Say that again, Enrique," ordered Ed, arms crossed, with an impassive Rau Le Creuset at his side.

Enrique nervously mopped back his tangled hair. "We caught sight of a ZAFT squadron coming up the coast," he said, "and projections of their course have them coming straight to Belém. The Minerva has stopped to the north of the city, between here and Macapá. And there's the Alliance reinforcing the base, they must be on to us, and " He cut himself off and shook his head. "Ed, I don't know if we can do this."

"Come on," scoffed Ed. "I'm Ed the Ripper. The hero of South America. I'll find a way."

"But four ZAFT warships and the full force of an Alliance combat unit!" sputtered Enrique. "Twelve mobile suits aren't gonna make that much difference!"

"The Angel of Death pilots no ordinary mobile suit," Rau interjected. "She will do her job, of that you can be certain."

"We can use this to our advantage," added Ed. "Think about it. Alliance units all lined up to deal with us, and they get attacked by ZAFT? All we need to do is punch open a path through the chaos." He frowned. "But Belém is gonna suffer for it..."

"That's my worry," Enrique answered. "We'll destroy the city in the crossfire."

"Not if you're careful," Ed replied, "and not if you use the enemy's fighting to your advantage." He slapped his knee as he stood up. "You're a professional, Enrique. You know what to do. Those ZAFT goons probably have no idea what they're getting into."

Enrique looked skeptical. "If you say so. We'll be waiting."

The screen went dark and Ed stood back with a heavy sigh. "Jesus, ZAFT too...I never thought Belém was that fucking important." He glanced over at Rau. "And since this is ZAFT we're talking about, for all I know they're going to demolish the city on purpose.

"Of course they will," answered Rau. "I understand this plan. They wish to cripple the Alliance's economy and diminish its strengths against ZAFT. It simply calls for massive civilian death."

Ed glowered down the river, towards the city over the horizon. "Well, they'll have to go through us first."

Rau smiled back. "Of course."

Belém Air Base, Belém, Brazil, South America

Lieutenant Commander James Liberman leapt to his feet in the Belém base control room, eyes wide at the strategic map.

"That can't be right," Liberman growled. "Where the hell did they come from? How did they get this far without being attacked? What the hell were they doing all the way down the coast?"

At his side, Rena Imelia glanced up at the map with disdain. The Resistance's troops in Belém, plus Ed the Ripper's barges on the river, and now the sighting of four ZAFT warships closing in from the south. "Well, commander," she said, "it looks like you'll get that city-leveling battle you wanted."

"Thank you for reminding me, lieutenant," Liberman snapped back.

Rena frowned distastefully and looked at the map again, fixing her attention on the four river barges. Ed the Ripper was on one of those barges with his crimson and gold Sword Calamity. The machine and the man that had bested her here, once before, cruising into her grasp once again. The man for which she had repeatedly turned down promotions, so that she might get another assignment like this.

But the real target...that was the other Gundam running around with Ed the Ripper these days.

The Angel of Death. Emily von Oldendorf. The intel dossier was already committed to memory and the Testament was as responsive and fast as it would ever be. This ZAFT force was a new dimension that scrambled Liberman's calculations, but Rena's goal remained the same.

Ed the Ripper and the Angel of Death, she thought venomously. A little whirlpool of killing.

May 14th, CE 77 - ZAFT submarine supercarrier Aristotle, Atlantic Ocean

"Things will be hectic," Nathaniel said grimly on the screen as Alec Ladd closed the seals of his helmet in the Proto Abyss's cockpit. "Resistance units in the city are starting to get active. That may make your job easier or harder, depending on what the Resistance does."

"What they always do, I guess," Ladd grunted. "Shoot at us."

"Well, you can do something about that," Nathaniel replied. "Destroy the base and whatever military units you encounter. Do not target the city or the civilians. Be the bigger man, Ladd."

Ladd arched an eyebrow. "That's in direct violation of our orders, sir."

"I don't care."

"Camwell will."

"He is not in command." Nathaniel fixed Ladd with a stony look. "We're not going to be barbarians, commander. I will hold my fire on the city and restrict it to the base. I expect you to do the same, on your honor as a soldier of ZAFT."

Ladd smiled back and saluted. "Nothing's more sacred, sir. Proto Abyss, Alec Ladd, heading out!"

ZAFT Lesseps-class land battleship Eckhart, Atlantic Ocean

The hangar doors swung open with a crash and the cockpit screens of the Destiny Impulse came to life, the magenta Phase Shift armor following suit. Closing the visor of his ZAFT Red flight suit's helmet, Mare Stroud sat back and savored the hum of the Destiny Impulse's engines. Measly Martians had been only an appetizer. Here, on Earth, fighting the Naturals that had destroyed his homeland this was more like it.

And somewhere on his way was that man.

Mare's blood boiled in his veins. Shinn Asuka. The smart-assed little kid who had taken from him the honor of leading ZAFT's forces into battle in their finest achievement to date, the nimble and renewable Impulse. Shinn Asuka, the traitor who had thrown away their nation for some Extended whore. Shinn Asuka, the man who had stood in the spotlight, made the Impulse, his Impulse, famous not as a symbol of ZAFT but as a symbol of treachery against ZAFT. Shinn Asuka, the walking sin against the Coordinators.

Shinn Asuka, on his way on shimmering wings of light, speeding south from the Minerva's position south of Macapá.

Mare turned his burning eyes towards the wide blue sky and rolling waves before him. The Aristotle and Bushnell's mobile suits were already in battle with the Alliance, and the Resistance was in the fight as well. Shinn Asuka and his little Extended were on their way.

He stepped forward with a crash. "Mare Stroud, Destiny Impulse, launching!"

The Destiny Impulse lunged out of the Eckhart's hangar, and the beam wings came to life with a flash.

Battleship Minerva, Atlantic Ocean

"Here we go," sighed Abbey as she glanced up at the tactical map. "Enrique jumped the gun."

"I don't blame him," Meyrin said. "Not with all this firepower bearing down on him." She glanced over at Burt. "Keep me posted on enemy numbers. If they fall far enough, we will intervene and open up a path for our mobile suits ourselves. Chen, charge the weapons, except the Tannhäuser."

She looked back at the map. Alliance and Resistance units duking it out in the city's eastern outskirts; Alliance and ZAFT troops in battle on the northern edges; both fronts slowly grinding backward into the city center. Belém would be destroyed.

Unless, of course, Emily had anything to say about it...

River barge Rio Purus, outside Belém, Brazil, South America

The sound of explosions had the whole crew out on deck, looking with amazement towards Belém and the towers of smoke already rising from the city.

"Goddammit, Enrique, too soon!" Ed shouted. "We were supposed to attack as we passed the port!"

"Too late for that now," snapped Jane, "let's get going before anyone notices us. I'll lead the attack on the port myself."

Ed ran a hand through his hair in frustration. "Then I'll go into the city and help Enrique's men." He turned. "Emily, Rau, you force your way through, do as much damage as you can, and get the fuck out of here. Been a pleasure, but this is where you get off." He extended his hand towards Rau for a quick handshake, then towards Emily for a hesitant one. "I'm pulling for you."

"Th-Thank you," Emily stammered.

"Let's go," Rau said, and nudged her towards the Eclipse, "before the barges are attacked."

Emily cast one more glance back towards Belém and sprinted for her mobile suit.

To be continued...