Phase 26 - The Deep and Lonely Sea

Mobile Suit Gundam SEED ETERNITY

Phase 26 - The Deep and Lonely Sea

May 14th, CE 77 - Battleship Minerva, Atlantic Ocean

The first thing to greet Emily von Oldendorf as she wearily stepped out of the Eclipse's cockpit was a bone-crushing hug from Viveka. Other than the bruise her sister's mechanical arm was going to leave on her back, it did leave her with a nice warm feeling of kinship. Something she had found herself missing and something she was surprised to see she was so happy to have again.

"Next time you go running off into the Earth's atmosphere on your own," Viveka admonished, "don't land so goddamned far away."

"R-Right," Emily squeaked as her sister let her go. "What did I miss?"

The triumphant look on Viveka's face said it all.

"Um, congratulations?"

"Why, what were you up to?"

Emily's eyes fell towards the floor. "I'll tell you later." She looked back up at the feeling of Athrun approaching, and tried not to blush at the little flutter that stirred in Viveka. "How come the Justice wasn't out there?"

"It got trashed up in space," Athrun said, and paused to give Emily a hug of his own. "Glad to have you back, though. We were a bit shorthanded for a while."

The Minerva's hangar rattled as the catapult swung open to receive the DOM Trooper, fresh from a patrol run outside the ship. Emily smiled nervously at the storm of excitement rippling out from inside the green mobile suit's cockpit.

"I guess I was missed," she mumbled, and smiled back at Athrun and Viveka. "I should go say hi. He was probably pretty obnoxious without me."

"Who, Trojan? All he really did was sulk." Viveka's smile faded. "Are you okay, Em? You seem distracted."

The roaring fires of Anori and the haunting words of Rau Le Creuset echoed in her mind. She shook them out. "I'm fine," she said, "I'm just going to go say hi to the others."

Emily made a quick escape down the gantry, leaving behind Athrun and Viveka, and the latter glanced nervously at the former. "Well?"

Athrun turned his gaze towards the CGUE Assault, as it settled into a corner of the hangar. "I'll deal with it," he said.

"And now we've got five mobile suits again," Roxy said with a grin. "It's like the good old days again."

"No it's not," Meyrin interrupted, and leaned forward to peer at the strategic map. "We've got to get to Gigafloat. We're running out of mobile suits." She glanced up towards Burt. "IFFs in our course?"

Burt was silent for a moment as he consulted the scopes. "Alliance ships on maneuvers in the South Atlantic. Gigafloat is a thousand kilometers off the Kenyan coast. The fastest route from here would be overland in Africa, into the Red Sea, and through the Bab-el-Mandeb."

"And not that one," Abbey added, and pointed at the map and the blinking dots of the Alliance's major bases in sub-Saharan Africa. "There are too many bases along the strategic sea routes, and we're in no condition to go fighting our way past a base."

Meyrin's heart sank. Through the Red Sea would run them by the Alliance's mighty naval base at Socotra; through the south would run them by South Africa and Madagascar and the full power of the South African Union; through the Mediterranean would force them to pass the unassailable fortresses of Gibraltar and Suez; circling around the Cape of Magellan and heading the other way would take too long...but as she studied the strategic map, there was still cause for hope. Alliance forces were heaviest along the coast and in Egypt, and the base at Gibraltar meant passage by sea into the Mediterranean was impossible, but that dusty, impoverished, forgotten wasteland of Mauritania...the Alliance had left a chink in Africa's armor.

"We'll travel through the Sahara," she said at last, to the surprise of her crew. "It's all desert. The Alliance doesn't bother patrolling it. We'll pass through the Saharan countries, swing south, follow the Nile to Ethiopia, cross the Horn of Africa, and turn south into the Indian Ocean." She glanced down at the helm. "Malik, plot us our course."

Her crew got to work and Meyrin sat back, forcing down the unease creeping up her spine. Africa was well protected in some areas, but the Alliance had written off others, and the vast sweep of the Sahara was home to those Resistance fighters who could stand the sweltering heat. The Minerva could find friends there.

They would have to, she mused, because the world was filling up with enemies.

ZAFT submarine supercarrier Aristotle, Atlantic Ocean

The Aristotle was as silent as submarines could be, and it was these moments of silence that made Camwell appreciate his job as a submariner. Few other weapons of war gave their operators a chance to simply think and, sequestered in a metal tube almost a kilometer from the ocean's surface, a man often had nothing but his thoughts and his task to keep him company.

Camwell stood on the conn and watched with annoyance as the crew went about their tasks. Nine hundred meters down and blazing on silent drive at flank speed through the Atlantic Ocean, with the reactor humming at nearly one hundred and five percent. Nothing on sonar or the periscope. Just the Aristotle at top speed in the mighty Atlantic.

But so had Captain Hatias ordered. After all, the Aristotle had to navigate the Strait of Gibraltar and pass by what had once been ZAFT turf, but now sat under the flag of OMNI Enforcer. It was the only feasible route into the Mediterranean, where the Minerva was surely headed, and the silent drive would make it work.

Camwell clenched his fists in frustration. Gibraltar. He had been stationed there once, briefly, during the Valentine War, as a junior officer aboard a ship that called its mighty fortress home. It was one of ZAFT's rightful bases, won by the blood of Coordinators...and here they were, passing it up.

It would be child's play to unleash a full spread of torpedoes, sink the ships where they sat in dock, and surface with a barrage of missiles and mobile suits. They had the silent drive. They had the element of surprise. They had boldness, for God's sake, the sheer audacity it would take to bomb the Rock, the castle door of the Mediterranean, into oblivion. But once again, Captain Hatias demurred when glory and imperative called.

It made his stomach churn. They would pass Gibraltar in a few days, and Camwell knew not what he would do as their opportunity passed them by on the surface. Why the captain wanted to ambush the Minerva in the Mediterranean was a similar mystery, but Camwell had his own doubts about that. There was little good reason, really, for the Aristotle to go hunting the Minerva with all that important strategic work to do.

And there were the other possibilities as well...the ones he wanted even less to consider.

With a heavy crash, the battle-worn Proto Abyss fell back into place in the Aristotle's yawning mobile suit hangar. From his place on the gantry, Alec Ladd watched tiredly as the mechanics started reloading the M68 cannons. His battle against the Forbidden Blue had been taxing; he had worn down the ammo container to its last salvo of shells.

And it had been taxing in other ways as well. The Alliance's White Whale deserved that fearsome reputation of hers.

The sting of failure still shot through his bones. After all that, Willard's detachment was so much rusting wreckage under the water's surface, and the Aristotle had gotten away only by the skin of its teeth. The Amazon River remained in Alliance hands. The whole thing had just been a waste of ZAFT's too-few lives.

He glanced up at the Proto Abyss's stern face and wondered if perhaps that hadn't been a good thing. The city in flames, the Alliance carpet-bombing the locals, ZAFT determined to target not just the docks and the river mouth but the civilians along the this point, it was hard to tell who was the bad guy.

Alec's blood burned at the thought. Wars never had a shortage of bad guys, but a war without a good guy...that was just pointless slaughter. And that was the worst kind of war of all.

May 15th, CE 77 - Athens Naval Installation, Greece, Eurasian Federation

The Earth Alliance Navy was the composite naval fighting force of the great powers that made up the Earth Alliance. And with the Phantom Pain at the top of the Alliance's military hierarchy totem pole, an enterprising Phantom Pain officer would have the best the world had to offer among his choices of naval officers, crews, and equipment.

Of course, mused Ivan Danilov bitterly, we're all supposed to be the best.

The captains of seven warships of the Earth Alliance Navy sat before him in a small elliptical conference room, all eyes locked on the officer who technically outranked them. It had taken a lot more of that Phantom Pain pulling of rank than Danilov had liked to get them here, but if his plan worked, nobody would care.

"The Minerva's projected course will take it into the Mediterranean near Algiers, and it will move back down over the continent near Tobruk in Libya," he explained, and tapped a baton against the wire grid map behind him. "That time in the Mediterranean gives us an opportunity. We will move the Charlemagne to Malta and force a confrontation with the Minerva in the Gulf of Sidra. Meanwhile, your ships will be docked in Benghazi and they will move in as soon as we've engaged the enemy. We'll back them towards the coast; you'll sweep up from the south and hit them from behind. Classic pincers movement." He tapped the baton meaningfully against his hand. "Any questions?"

One of the officers leaned forward. "If we're against the coast, our backs will be exposed to land-based reinforcements," he protested, "and you know that we don't have the Mediterranean coast entirely pacified."

"I am aware of the threat the desert guerrillas could pose to our plans," Danilov answered, "but we have no intelligence to suggest that they possess weapon systems that could interfere. If we keep the battle far enough from the shore, their weapons won't be of any use. And there are no other Resistance units in the region with heavier weapons." He fixed the officers with a steely gaze. "I want there to be no illusions, gentlemen. You know the Minerva's reputation but even with their mobile suit complement reduced, they will exact a fearsome toll. I should know." He tapped his baton again. "It will be a battle in the truest sense of the word but you are the finest of the Alliance Navy, and if anyone can help me, it's you. Dismissed."

She paced around him tirelessly, heels clicking on the harsh metal surface of the dockyard. Sven Cal Bayan felt his muscles tighten with every step, and the questions rang through his mind. Why hadn't he done what he had planned to do? Why hadn't he taken care of this already? It would have been so easy.

So easy, yes...but he had the taunting voice of Shinn Asuka to thank for this.

"If you won't take the Gamma Glipheptin," Yukiko said studiously, "and you won't submit to Extended treatment, then we are out of options." She fixed Sven with a hard look. "My Crusader can certainly beat the Destiny, but you need an edge to overcome him. He is a dragon most difficult to slay."

Sven ground his teeth hatefully. "I will not consent to being turned into a science project."

"Oh, but you want to defeat the Destiny," Yukiko interrupted. "I know I'm not the only one who's lost something to that Gundam. There's you! You've lost I don't know how many battles, and comrades, and " She shook her head. "No more. If Gamma Glipheptin and Extended treatment are off the table, then we'll just need a third option." Yukiko whirled around with a wide grin on her face. "I've called in a favor from Actaeon Industries. They've been working on a fun new toy for mobile suit combat. You wouldn't happen to recall a unit called the -X117 Diablo, would you?"

From the misty valleys of Sven's memory emerged the image of a heavily modified Dagger L. "Yes. Why?"

"Well, the Diablo carried a special cockpit system called the Psyco System," explained Yukiko, "a system that allowed the pilot to interact directly with the mobile suit. The result was much faster reaction times and better-honed decision-making skills."

Sven arched an eyebrow. "And the downside?"

"If you use it too long, you'll risk mental damage," she smiled, "but I'm sure that won't be an issue for you "
"Out of the question," Sven said harshly.

"Oh, don't be too hasty," Yukiko protested. "Don't you want to get him back? Don't you want to stop him?" The silver-haired pilot twitched as the memories returned, and with them that hateful feeling in his blood. "I know you do. You just need one more bit of power and I have it." She smiled again and Sven felt a chill wash over him. "You have nothing to fear."

Fear. Sven's mind shot back to his battle in space to Shinn Asuka, taunting him for his fear.


"It's pretty fucked up," sighed Shams Coza as the elevator descended with himself and an annoyed-looking Mudie Holcroft aboard. He glanced over at his taciturn companion, finding her face once again unreadable. He knew she had emotions going on somewhere in that pretty little head of hers. Somewhere.

Mudie glanced at him inquiringly.

"Sven's been ignoring us lately," he added.

"Sven always ignores us."

"But this is different. He always at least used to drag us all together to go over tactics or something. Now all he does is tinker with the Crusader and seethe at Nakajima."

Mudie scoffed. "What do I care?"

"Well, he is our boss, and if he goes crazy, we're gonna have to deal with it."

That did not do the trick; Mudie simply stared out in even more apparent annoyance as the elevator slowed to a halt at ground level. Shams heaved a sigh as they walked out onto the dockyard and into the towering shadow of the mighty Charlemagne in its concrete berth at the water's edge.

"Oh, what do I care," he grumbled. "Crazy bastard will just get us killed anyway."

Mudie whirled around on her heel, her eyes wide and furious. "Nobody is going to kill me," she snapped. "Nobody."

"What Mudie "


And with that, Mudie whipped around again and stalked away, towards the ship. Shams stood behind and stared after her in confusion.

The docks of the Athens Naval Installation shuddered as seven warships edged out of their berths and towards the sunlit horizon. The briefings had been quite clear; they were part of the plan, on their way to Benghazi, Libya, to lay a trap for the Minerva. The ship at the lead, the Spengler-class carrier Clausewitz, turned its bow south. The six destroyers and frigates surrounding it did likewise. And then the water went white and the seven ships of Captain Danilov's plan set off for Benghazi.

From his vantage point on the observation deck above the waiting Charlemagne, Grey Saiba could see the ships slowly fading into the horizon. He wondered how many of them would survive.

And, with the battlefield turning towards another war-torn city filled with innocent civilians, he had to wonder what he would be called on to do there.

He glanced over at Merau, leaning against the railing and staring tiredly after the moving vessels. He wondered if she was thinking the same thing. And then there was Erin, on the other side, looking almost as troubled.

At that, he wondered what could possibly be on her mind, but she preempted him. "Didn't the Minerva get by a fleet even bigger than this at Hormuz?" she asked wearily.

Grey looked back out towards the departing squadron. "Yeah."

"Then why are we trying this again?"

"The captain has a different plan this time," Merau explained, "and the Minerva has fewer mobile suits. We can make this work."

Erin frowned. "It didn't the last time."

Grey leaned forward against the railing and stared out past the ships, past the port, into the glittering ocean. It would have to work because he didn't know how much more of this he could take.

A heavy truck bearing the half-disassembled form of a mobile suit rumbled by on the wide dockyards of the Athens base. With his disgust at it all only barely hidden, Travis Alterman stifled a yawn and mentally navigated the path up ahead, through a thicket of workers, machinery, and vehicles, towards the steady stream of supplies winding its way towards the Charlemagne.

At his side, Kelly Maynard spared a quick look around. "We're leaving soon, you know," she said, "so you can quit looking around like a caged animal, ready to spring."

"Soon ain't soon enough, dear," Travis said with a wave. "I've only gotten two good sorties in since we got assigned to this rust bucket. I think I'm entitled to bitch a bit."

"I think differently," Kelly shot back.

"I know you do."

Kelly turned up her nose. "Is that all there is to you, Travis? Really? You just want to fight?"

Travis shrugged and shot back a toothy grin. "One way or another I'm goin' to hell," he said, "so I might as well enjoy the right, baby."

Kelly stomped off in disgust, and Travis stood back with a smirk, watching her go. Yes, that was all there was to him just a beast, looking for its next kill.

But, as he looked back towards the Charlemagne, that was all there was to him and that's why he was here.

Captain Danilov had his plan to destroy the Minerva. Well, good for him; they would see if it would work this time. But until then, destiny would have to keep its eye on him.

As the door hissed shut behind him, Ivan Danilov willed away his nervousness. Phantom Pain officer he might be, but not every officer of any branch of the Alliance military was simply asked for by Grand Admiral MacIntyre.

The old admiral turned towards Danilov with an unreadable look on his weathered face, the sun missing his face as it struggled through the openings in the blinds of his office window. He looked so old. Perhaps that was war did to its combatants. Grand Admiral MacIntyre was as old as the Cosmic Era and this war-torn century had seen no shortage of wars.

Admiral MacIntyre tiredly returned Danilov's crisp salute. "I hope you take care of those men I loaned you, Danilov," he said with a wan smile as they shook hands. "There aren't a whole lot more where they came from."

"If anyone in the Navy can do it, it will be them," Danilov answered. "What did you want to see me for, sir?"

Admiral MacIntyre sat back behind his desk. "I've been reading some of your reports lately, captain," he said, "and I'm starting to get a better appreciation for the kind of man you are." He fixed Danilov with a stern look. "A man one wouldn't expect to find in the Phantom Pain."

Danilov frowned. "Sir...?"

"Specifically," MacIntyre continued, "I've read the reports on your actions in Volgograd." He arched an eyebrow. "And your actions in Sagan City." He tapped his cane on the floor quietly, cutting Danilov off as he opened his mouth. "Let's not bullshit each other, captain. I know the difference. In Volgograd you had Marshal Markav breathing down your neck, and in Sagan City you were left to your own devices. And you chose two different paths. So," he gestured towards the black-uniformed man, "let's hear your side of the story."

Danilov blinked. "I-Is this some kind of investigation for a court-martial, sir?"

"That depends on what you have to say. Let's hear it, captain."

Silence hung in the room as Danilov processed it all and struggled to find his words. "I...I don't really know what you're getting at, sir," he said at last.

MacIntyre leaned forward. "I want to know what kind of man you are, Captain Danilov," he answered. "The man at Volgograd looks like something of a toady, following the boss's orders even though we both know what the boss's orders were." He waved a hand dismissively. "But the man at Sagan City is totally different, passing up a shot at his quarry, letting them get away " he smirked at Danilov's shocked expression, " and lest you forget, captain, I've been in this business my whole life. I know what it looks like when you intentionally let your target escape." He smiled enigmatically. "So. There's two different men at work in these events. I want to know which one is Captain Danilov. The man who follows evil orders, or the man who follows his own moral compass." The admiral sat back again, expectation hovering in the air. "So?"

Silence again and Danilov swallowed his unease. "My moral compass, sir, has often failed me."

"Happens to the best of us."

"But sir, I don't understand what this is all about. Forgive my impertinence, but I don't always have superior officers questioning my character."

MacIntyre turned away with a heavy sigh. "No, probably not." He paused for a moment, and Danilov could see the gears of his old mind working in his eyes. "You've been deployed this whole time, so you're probably not in on the political gossip, and I trust you know better than to go blabbing about this." He looked Danilov in the eye, and the old captain felt a chill run down his spine. "This war is going to end, soon. And it won't be pretty. The politicians are mobilizing to force Djibril to bring an end to this. Whether it's by attack or negotiation, they've had it. And there's going to be changes around here."

"But the next election in the Atlantic Federation isn't for another year," Danilov protested. "How "

"Nobody said anything about elections."

"Then...a coup?"

"Call it what you like. The point is, the political leadership will be changing. Which means the potential for conflict." He leaned forward again, and this time there was no mistaking the edge in his voice. "I need to know, captain, so I'll ask it one more time. Which man are you? And whose side would you be on?"

Battleship Minerva, Atlantic Ocean

Meyrin Hawke had always enjoyed geography. The interplay of ancient, natural forces and human agency to create politics, economies, cultures, histories, all of it appealed to that meticulous nature that had gotten her selected to oversee the Impulse Gundam's complicated launching process so long ago. And now, after three years in the captain's chair, she understood just why she hadn't been chosen to sit there in the first place. The captain of this ship could not be too worried about details. Not when she had to invent strategies on the fly and leave the details for others to work out.

But these were the moments where she felt comfortable in command. Hunched over the Minerva's mapping console at the back of the bridge with a wire-grid map of Africa before her, here she felt that confidence on its way back.

The Minerva would have to travel over land in Mauritania and Algeria, and it would have to slip by the Alliance and local police's presence on the Mediterranean coast. But there were plenty of holes there, and the cluster of population centers along the coast ensured that there were always Resistance fighters in position to help if need be. And if it came to blows, the Sahara was wide and unforgiving.

She frowned at her plotted course and undid the second leg of it. A message had gone out to the leader of a major Resistance cell, staying on the Atlantic coast in Mauritania. They would have to discuss their strategy; for now, she expected to have to enter the Mediterranean somewhere in western Algeria, travel over the ocean, and then reenter the continent somewhere to the east. The city of Benghazi was teeming with Resistance fighters. Perhaps that would make a good destination.

Meyrin sat back in one of the seats with a heavy sigh. All this, just to get the ship past Suez and Socotra. But soon they would stop being on the defensive. She looked up ahead, at the hazy horizon of the Atlantic Ocean. Soon they would turn this war around. Before it went out of control.

"It's been pretty quiet here, really," Viveka explained as she strode down the Minerva's hallways with what Emily found to be an odd spring in her step, Trojan bringing up the rear. "Sting and Auel woke up."

"I know," Emily mumbled, "I, uh, met them earlier." A string of obscenities from a game of Uno gone wrong echoed in her head. "I guess they're feeling okay now?"

"Okay enough to bitch at each other over board games," Viveka answered with a shrug. "So how was your little jungle adventure?"

Emily squirmed at the memories. "Uh, could've been better."

"We heard about Anori," Trojan said, and put a comforting hand on her shoulder. She smiled back weakly and pushed out the images of a town reduced to a crater.

"At least you got them back for it," added Viveka. "And Ed the Ripper can take care of himself, really. I bet all we were doing there was getting out of his way."

Her thoughts drifted back to the other vivid memories of her time in South America the memories of Rau Le Creuset at the crater's edge, the hand he had offered, the path to which he had pointed. She looked back at Viveka and Trojan, and knew that she could never tell them about that. They would never understand. They could not understand her, herself. More and more, it felt that only Rau Le Creuset really understood her and her condition in life. Even Shinn and Athrun, even with those nightmarish pasts of theirs...well, at least they had chosen their destinies.

Viveka glanced warily at her sister. "You okay, Em? You haven't really been the same since you got back."

Emily closed her eyes and shook her head. "I'm fine," she lied, and thought back to Anori.

ZAFT Eternal-class cruiser Seraphim, Agadez Region, Niger

The sand rippled under the force of the levitator and the engines. The sinking sun lit the sky like fire as the desert's colors slowly faded into darkness. But for the ship's engines, all was calm and still on the settling sands of this edge of the mighty Sahara.

On the bridge of the Seraphim, Varder Ehrmacht suppressed a scowl. Sameness, everywhere. How the Naturals could live in an environment like this was beyond him.

He turned his mind back towards his mission. Crossing this barren wasteland was necessary, because somewhere out there was the Lesseps-class land battleship Arrhenius. And the Arrhenius had its secrets and those secrets needed nothing less than the added protection of a FAITH unit. They would rendezvous north of here, at the dismal little army outpost of Madama, and turn those handful of Alliance soldiers into guinea pigs for their new weapons.

And somewhere to the north would be the Minerva.

Varder fought down the urge to break something again. Defeating him at every turn, trashing two of his mobile suits, humiliating him in front of the Vice Marshal...all by some little girl with a Gundam.

But there was good news. The Minerva's mobile suit complement had been badly reduced. And the Arrhenius's unit would prove to be a surprise. And there was the Seraphim's new mobile suits, and the training, and the toll the Alliance would likely take as the winged warship made its way across Africa.

He tightened his fists as the sun slipped beneath the sands.

May 16th, CE 77 - ZAFT submarine supercarrier Aristotle, Atlantic Ocean

"Surface contact, one o'clock," Camwell muttered to himself as he peered through the Aristotle's periscope. "Maguchi-class, flying Red Cross and OMNI Enforcer flags."

He glanced over his shoulder on the conn. Captain Hatias wasn't here; he was still back in his bunk. He had specifically left the conn to his executive officer. Whatever the ship did, it would have to be on his command.

Camwell looked back through the periscope. The Alliance usually chartered civilian vessels to act as hospital ships. Even the Resistance tended to simply leave them alone after all, wounded soldiers were soldiers out of the fight, and that was good enough for a ragtag bunch of guerrillas.

But ZAFT was no band of guerrillas. They were an army for a people who still were prey to their genetic inferiors. They had spent too long defending the moral high ground, and it had cost them everything. Even now, some of ZAFT's men did not understand that. But the ones who did it was on their shoulders, to strike back, to protect the seed from which their people might grow back.

Camwell turned towards the weapons console. "Fire control, load torpedo tube one and plot a solution. Target is the surface contact at one o'clock. Fire when ready."

"Aye sir." And moments later, the telltale rumble of the torpedo tube firing rattled through the ship. Camwell returned to the periscope

...just in time to watch the ship above snap in two amid a column of seawater and fire, and seconds later, the broken ends of the ship vanished beneath the waves. He smiled grimly and pushed out of his mind the thoughts of injured soldiers. Injured or not, they would heal, and they would threaten the Coordinators again, just as the Alliance always did. He could not allow that. Not when so little remained already.

"Camwell," a voice broke into his thoughts, and he turned around to find a furious Nathaniel Hatias on the conn. "I don't recall authorizing you to deploy weapons."

Camwell turned up his nose. "I am following our orders, sir." He waved a hand airily. "A hospital ship is an enemy asset all the same "

"You torpedoed a hospital ship?!" Nathaniel barked, and closed the distance between them both in two steps. "A hospital ship?! Full of wounded soldiers and civilian contractors?! What the hell is wrong with you, Camwell?!" He whipped around, eyes wide with rage, towards the weapons officer. "You did you know this?!"

His anger softened a bit at the disbelieving look on the weapons officer's face. "A-a hospital ship...?" he repeated quietly.

"Captain," Camwell interrupted with an icy glare, "allow me to remind you of our orders." He drew a piece of paper from inside his uniform, tapped it, and began to read. "'The Aristotle will move at captain's discretion and attack any and all targets of opportunity, including shore installations, military vessels, civilian vessels, and vessels ordinarily protected by international law.'" He arched an eyebrow. "'International law is to be considered null and void. All targets that can be safely targeted must be engaged and destroyed to the greatest extent possible.'"

"Camwell," Nathaniel snarled, "I am the captain of this vessel. Not you. If I tell you to leave civilian targets alone "

"Our orders," cut in Camwell, "come from a higher authority."

He turned away and went back to work at the periscope, leaving Nathaniel to clench his fists in anger and curse himself for leaving the conn.

"Sir, our heading," the navigator started. Nathaniel nodded painfully.

"Continue on your present course," he answered quietly, and returned his eyes to Camwell and Captain Hawke rose like a wisp of smoke into his thoughts.

Battleship Minerva, Atlantic Ocean

The sky was lit up in brilliant colors as the sun sank down into the ocean's hazy horizon. It was, Emily mused, nearing twilight. Her least favorite hour.

She glanced over her shoulder as she felt the telltale pressure of Shinn Asuka emerging onto the external deck behind her. She hadn't yet spoken much to him about her time in South America. She hadn't yet spoken much to anyone about it.

"So I see the Eclipse held up pretty well," he said quietly as he came to a stop next to her.

"I guess."

Shinn eyed her suspiciously. "I'm sure you and Rau took care of each other?"


"You know," he said, "I don't think I've ever told you what it is he was up to before he found his way to us."

Emily frowned. "He said he was a ZAFT officer in the wars."

"That's one way to put it." Shinn looked up towards the sky. "What did he say to you?"

"H-He told me..." She trailed off and thought back to just what he had said about the necessity of destruction. "He told me about his past."

"And what did he say?"

Emily glanced awkwardly at Shinn, finding his emotions as unreadable as his face. "That he was a clone, and his genes are defective, and he's dying. And..." She paused. "And that he wanted me to change the world for him, because of that."

Shinn was silent for a long moment, before he glanced down grimly at Emily. "Do you remember the Junius 7 colony drop?" She nodded. "And you know that the ones who carried it out were terrorists loyal to Patrick Zala." Another nod. "But where would they get flare motors and high performance mobile suits if they didn't have a well-placed connection within ZAFT?" He eyed the young Newtype carefully. "It was him."

"Wha what do you mean?"

"Rau Le Creuset gave them the supplies they needed to carry out the Junius 7 colony drop."

Emily stared in shock. "What you mean he did that?"

"Yes." Shinn turned towards her, his eyes cold. "That's what he means when he talks about changing the world. He wants to change it, alright by destroying everything in it."

Emily turned haltingly towards the ship, towards the dim pressure of the masked man within its hull. "He helped carry out Junius 7...?"

The words echoed through her mind.

Everything must burn before it can be set right.

"'Marduk,'" Auel read wearily from Yolant's tablet. They stood with Sting and Vino in the Minerva's hangar, peering at the design for what was meant to be Auel Neider's next mobile suit. And at the very least, it still looked like the old Abyss, despite the generous boost in its firepower.

"Named after a Babylonian god of water and magic," Yolant explained. "There was a theme, you see."

"I do see."

Sting stared thoughtfully at the design for a moment. "So, what, we just piece them all together at Gigafloat and that's that?"

"Sort of," answered Vino with a tired sigh and an even more tired look. "Gigafloat has factories. They can prefabricate the pieces. We already have the design, and it's not like we're demanding some new technology or something, so they can get this done pretty quick. Especially with Gigafloat's big crews."

"Besides," Yolant added with an arched eyebrow, "I would've thought you guys would enjoy your time off."

Sting and Auel glanced at each other. "When there isn't shit to do, sure," Sting said carefully, "but we're both still necessary." He waved an arm out towards the empty mobile suit berths. "We used to be out there, in the fight, helping out. Now we have to sit here and wait while someone else assumes all the risk."

"And," Auel said with a grin, "why should they get all the fun?"

Yolant glanced skeptically down at the tablet again. "You guys have the weirdest idea of fun I've ever known."

May 17th, CE 77 - Nouadhibou, Mauritania, Africa

Nouadhibou was a graveyard.

Under the pale moonlight and calm, clear night skies, the dusty rat hole of a city on the edge of the African continent could be described no other way. It was a monument to the dead.

And the reason for that was strewn all around the city, in the murky waters around the peninsula on which it rested. For centuries, Nouadhibou had been the dumping ground of choice for shipping companies eager to get around costly deconstruction and environmental regulations for their decommissioned vessels. And the local officials had been corrupt and pliant enough to accept virtually any scrap of metal on the seas for the right price. The governing forces in faraway Nouakchott and farther-away regional governments had tried to clear away this phantom fleet, but business boomed for Nouadhibou's officials and now over five hundred ships of every class and size imaginable disintegrated in the brown, oily waters of the city.

It was this quality that attracted the guerrillas.

Sitting in the back of a dune buggy driven by two of his well-armed bodyguards, Sahib Ashman glanced out towards the water, and the forest of rusting ships. These were the places the Resistance called home: the forgotten places, the cracks in the Earth Alliance's iron edifice, the graveyards, the places nobody thought to look. Almost none of these old scrap heaps were structurally sound or habitable; those that were, however, were teeming with Resistance equipment and fighters. No one would think to check inside that forty-year-old freighter for guerrillas; and thus, nobody would ever find the sixteen fighters and their gear, stashed inside the bridge and quietly waiting for the smugglers.

Sahib turned his eyes back towards the city, slowly fading into the distance. The fishing industry here had been decimated, but the city's one hundred thousand miserable but determined residents continued to find ways to survive. It was for them that he kept up this dangerous business, and it was among them that he could feel at home. They were like him, in their own way, fighting one of the most inhospitable environments on Earth to eke out a living. It was like the desert; he took what was offered, made something out of nothing, found his place in the crevices his enemies had forgotten.

But, as he turned towards the horizon, towards the western shore, his thoughts turned gloomy. Guerrilla warfare was easy compared to what was coming.

"The Minerva will be here in the morning," he said quietly, catching the attention of one of his bodyguards. "They're going to want our help crossing the continent."

"Isn't that what we do best, sir?" the driver asked with a smirk.

"Don't get cocky, Muhammad," Sahib shot back. "Just because you haven't been caught yet doesn't mean you're invincible." He glared back out towards the horizon. "Our operations have been so limited lately..."

"But sir," the other guard started, "we've been shepherding our resources for a day like this. If the Minerva calls in our help, the Alliance won't know what hit them."

Sahib sat back with a tired grunt. Three years of work, it had been but was it really coming up to this? Was the Minerva's arrival in North Africa really what he had worked so hard to see?

"Well," he grumbled, "if they get here, that is."

To be continued...