Phase 28 - Angel of Nightmares

Mobile Suit Gundam SEED ETERNITY

Phase 28 - Angel of Nightmares

May 20th, CE 77 - Earth Alliance battleship Charlemagne, Gulf of Sidra, Mediterranean Sea

"Minerva still moving southeast at flank speed, captain," the sensor officer reported. "Our mobile suit units have engaged the enemy."

Ivan Danilov sat back with a satisfied smirk. "Then all is going as we planned. Helm, maintain course and speed; weapons control, open fire at will once we enter range. It doesn't matter if you hit them or not, as long as you drive them in front of us."

In the observer's chair off to the side, Gerhardt von Oldendorf skeptically arched an eyebrow. "Drive them where, captain?"

Danilov smiled tightly and gestured up towards the tactical map at the blinking green oval of the Charlemagne, the little winged icon of the Minerva, the North African coast...and the green dots of seven Alliance Navy warships lying in wait at Benghazi. "Hounds to the hunters, Director Oldendorf."

Gerhardt remained unconvinced. "You're going to let the Alliance Navy have the honor of destroying the mighty Minerva?"

"I don't care who does the job as long as it gets done."

"That's not what I'd expect to hear from a Phantom Pain officer."

"I am no ordinary Phantom Pain officer."

Gerhardt settled back into his chair with a smirk. "I can tell."

Vera stepped forward into the tension. "Captain, intel from Major Ngyuen in Benghazi, reporting increased movements by the Desert Dawn. They may be moving to attack the warships in port."

"That would be complicating," Danilov said with a sigh, and glanced towards the communications console. "Connie, send out orders to the naval squadron in Benghazi. Intel says desert guerrillas are on the move in the city. Tell them to move out of ground attack range immediately."

"Yes sir."

Danilov glanced back up at the map. His mobile suits descending like vultures onto the crippled Minerva, his ship bearing down like a bull and hurling a storm of firepower after it, and the Minerva charging straight into the jaws of his trap...everything was falling into place.

But they had survived traps like this before.

The Destiny Gundam ducked beneath a sweeping sword stroke from the Crusader Gundam and jetted backwards, wings of light blazing, with the pilot inside glowering at his agile foe. The Crusader followed up with a long-range cannon blast that sent the Destiny scrambling for cover; it fired back with its own cannon, only to see the Crusader arc gracefully over the blast and storm in close for another swordfight.

Shinn jammed the controls back and barely dodged the swing, then rushed towards his nimble adversary and slammed his sword into the Crusader's beam shield. The dark Gundam reeled for a moment and Shinn leveled off his cannon but the Crusader slapped his shot aside with its beam shield and charged in again, and the swords crashed together.

"Persistent today, are we," he growled.

The Crusader surged forward again and flung the Destiny back. Shinn rocketed up over his enemy's head and leveled off his cannon again, but his blast caught nothing but afterimages, and he threw the Arondight up to deflect another punishing strike from the Crusader's sword. The Crusader swung its sword again, aiming for the Destiny's waist; Shinn jammed his sword into its path and deflected the blow with a bone-jarring crash.

Inside the Crusader, Sven Cal Bayan fought to keep his eyes off the switch to activate the Psyco System. It was power but it had a price but it was power...

Beam bolts sliced through the air as the CGUE Assault danced amid the storm of firepower offered by a squad of Jet Dark Windams. Inside, Rau Le Creuset glanced back at them, whipped around, and showered them with machinegun bullets but they merely broke their formation and kept up their stream of firepower.

"Not the ideal form for this battle to take," he grunted, and the CGUE Assault lunged away from another salvo of beam fire, "but I suppose it will have to do..."

The CGUE whirled around again and let loose another wave of machinegun fire. The Windams darted around it and opened fire; Rau darted to the right, letting the blasts sear by, then leveled off his machineguns and fired again. The Dark Windams rocketed apart, but one was too slow, and Rau smirked tightly as the machinegun bullets shredded it and sent its flaming wreckage spiraling into the sea.

"That's a start " he began.

The CGUE rattled and Rau grunted in pain as he was slammed into the left-hand side of the cockpit. He turned in surprise, only to find an IWSP Dark Windam on the attack, smoke curling from its overhanging cannons and with mobile black mobile suits on the way.

"Mess with one and the whole hive is stirred up," he snarled, and the CGUE rattled again as more shells slammed into its shoulder shields. "I'll have to lead you into the city to make this work..."

Emily grunted in pain as the rattling rang in her ears. These Alliance mobile suits were getting irritating.

Up above, the Gale Strike Gundam hefted its swords and charged down on the attack, and with a series of crashes, it slammed its blades down against the Eclipse's beam sword. Emily seized her chance as the Gale Strike reared back for another blow and ducked beneath its legs but before she could follow up, a beam blast and a railgun shell shot by in front of her. An instant later the Regen Duel dropped in on top of her, standing atop a sub-wing unit and spewing firepower after the black Gundam. Emily wheeled around, sword in hand, but the Regen Duel darted back just as a yellow beam coursed through the battlefield and sent the Eclipse reeling behind its beam shield. The Hail Buster flickered into existence on the left side and fired again; Emily rocketed back, drew the Eclipse's beam rifle with her left hand, and opened fire

Instead, the Nix Providence lunged into the way atop a sub-wing, a sparkling barrier lit up from its oversized right shoulder, and the Eclipse's beams went bouncing away harmlessly.

"What a positron reflector?!"

The alarms screamed and an instinct of danger flashed up her spine; Emily whipped around, beam sword in hand, and swung upward just in time to deflect a downward saber slice from the crimson Nebula Blitz. It kicked forward into the Eclipse's chest with a crash; Emily darted aside to avoid its beam fire, and then roared upward to avoid a salvo from the Regen Duel. And an instant later, the Gale Strike was upon her again with another string of sword blows.

A bazooka shell slammed into the Gale Strike and sent it staggering away amid a cloud of smoke; Emily seized her chance to duck out of the crossfire and catch her breath, and down below, skimming over the ocean's surface, Trojan's green DOM Trooper leveled off its Gigalauncher and rifle for another beam salvo at the five Alliance mobile suits.

"I can't believe you're taking them all on yourself," Trojan muttered and up above, the five Alliance Gundams broke ranks and scattered again as the Vent Savior shot through their formation in mobile armor mode, plasma cannons blazing.

"Yeah," Lily chimed in, "haven't ya ever heard of teamwork?"

Emily scanned the skies quickly as the enemies charged at her again. "If they're all focused on me, they're not focused on anything else," she grunted and threw the Eclipse back into the fight.

"So here we are again, little Extended girl!" cackled Shams Coza as the Vanguard Gundam bore down on the agile Gaia, beam cannons blazing. "I've been looking forward to this!" The Vanguard charged forward, leveled off its ram cannons, and slammed a salvo of shells into the Gaia's face to send the black Gundam reeling towards the sea. "Got a lot of aggression to take out, y'know!" Shams grinned and pounded another salvo into the Gaia and then the Artemis lunged forward, beam rifle leveled off

Abruptly, the smoke ripped apart and the Gaia's splintered shield crashed head-on into the charging Artemis. Mudie flung the ruined shield aside with a snarl only to find the Gaia blasting over her head, sending the Vanguard staggering back under a hail of beam rifle fire.

"Gotta be difficult, don't ya, bitch?!" Shams shouted. The Gaia darted to the left as the Vanguard spewed back a storm of firepower; Shams jerked to the right and fired the Vanguard's rocket anchor forward, but the blades caught nothing but air as the Gaia ducked beneath the blow, then backed away as the Artemis filled the sky around it with beam fire.

"Quit mouthing off and keep her disoriented!" Mudie snapped. "I'll deal with this!" The Artemis roared up after the Gaia, spitting beam fire.

"Who pissed in your coffee this morning?" Shams shot back, and he leveled off the beam cannons to drive the Gaia back. Mudie closed in with a shout and a beam saber drawn in her left hand

The Gaia whipped around, a saber of its own drawn, and the two Gundams crashed together with a shower of sparks. Shams lined himself up for another blast; the Gaia kicked off its foe's chest and rocketed away as the blasts seared past.

"Mocking me, are you...?" Mudie snarled as she rushed past the black Gundam.

Battleship Minerva

The Minerva rattled as the Charlemagne's missiles erupted under a hail of CIWS fire, entirely too close to the ship's hull. Meyrin clenched her fists around the armrests. The Charlemagne wasn't trying to shoot them down; it was trying to push them somewhere. But with a kilometer's worth of warship and well over a dozen Gottfried cannons blasting away behind them, there wasn't much choice but to press forward and hope they could punch through whatever would show up in front of them.

The Minerva shook again. "Chen, fire back with the Tristans and Parsifals!" The ship pitched downward as a wave of Gottfried fire flashed by overhead. "And increase power allocation to the heat management systems!"

Abbey cringed as the ship quaked under another near miss, and a stray Gottfried blast seared the ship's port wing. "If they hit us with a barrage like that, laminated armor isn't going to do a thing."

"Then they'll just have to not hit us," Meyrin shot back. The ship rumbled again and Meyrin grimaced at more blasts pounding against the ship and this time they were railgun shells, the Charlemagne blasting away with its Valiant railguns.

If we can reach the shore...

Benghazi, Libya

Flashes of fire and the rumbling sounds of battle echoed out from the hazy distance. Standing outside Coniel's warehouse, Sahib Ashman cast an anxious glance out towards the horizon. The warships in Benghazi's port had left at top speed and sailed into the Gulf of Sidra; he could still pick out the vague black shapes of their hulls on the horizon, waiting for the Minerva to close in. The trap was obvious. And it would be impossible to change course now.

But, he mused as he looked back towards the warehouse, the Alliance still seemed unaware of one thing. Coniel pulled herself up from the floor on a ladder and got back to her feet.

"Sixty-eight mobile suits total," she grumbled. "That's including those worthless ZuOOTs you insisted on buying."

"Nothing with that many guns attached to it is worthless," Sahib answered, and looked back out to sea through a pair of binoculars. The Alliance squadron was in position, and on the deck of the Spengler-class carrier, he could see mobile suits emerging.

"If they're going to fight out over sea, it is," Coniel shot back. "Final tally is twenty-five mobile suits capable of flight. That Spengler can carry thirty-six, and God only knows how many the Charlemagne is packing."

"We have the element of surprise."

"They're not going to be that surprised. They outnumber us two to one at least."

"Fine odds for the Desert Dawn." Sahib lowered his binoculars. "You may not remember it, but my men have fought mobile suits armed only with RPGs and dune buggies. Quit complaining and get your forces ready to attack. If we're lucky we can soften up those warships before the Minerva hits their line."

Coniel scowled and turned back towards the warehouse. "You know, you didn't win that battle against the Desert Tiger," she snapped. "The Archangel did."

Sahib shot her a glare. "I said get moving."

A missile streaked by far too close for comfort to the CGUE Assault's head as it pitched through the air with a squadron of heavily armed Dark Windams on its tail. Rau ground his teeth in frustration as another round of shells slammed into the CGUE's shoulder shields and he frowned as he caught sight of cracks starting to appear in the armor.

"They were empty anyway," he grunted, and whipped around in time for one of the IWSP Windams to charge down towards him, anti-ship swords upraised for a finishing blow. Rau jammed the controls back, the CGUE Assault roared backward with a blast of thruster exhaust, and the Windam's swords sliced down through the CGUE's two shoulder shields only to find that the CGUE had ejected its shields, and with a crash it drew a beam rifle taken from a GuAIZ and drilled a shot straight through the Windam's cockpit.

Rau scanned the skies for his next target but before he could react, his instinct screamed within him and he threw up the CGUE's right arm...just as a railgun shell slammed into its shield and shattered it like glass. The CGUE rocketed away from a storm of beam fire from the other Windams, as a Lightning Dark Windam on a sub-wing roared into battle with its electromag cannon leveled off.

"Pulling out all the stops, I see," he grunted. The other Windams fired again, forcing the CGUE on the defensive; Rau switched his rifle to his left hand and with a flourish, he drew the heavy laser sword, a prize from an abandoned ZAFT machine, from its rack on the mobile suit's backpack and lit the blade up. "Well, two can play at that game..."

The Nix Providence shrugged off another wave of plasma cannon blasts to its positron reflector and fired back with the beam cannons in its composite shield; up above, the Vent Savior darted to its left to avoid the blasts. And that was all the opening the Hail Buster needed to materialize again and fire off a pulsing blast towards the Gundam Eclipse. The black Gundam flung itself to the side and then the Gale Strike came down with both its swords.

"And now you're mine!" roared Travis, and the Nebula Blitz charged in from behind with its beam saber lit

Instead of landing a blow, a bazooka shell slammed into the red mobile suit from below and threw it off course. The Eclipse jerked back for a moment, then slammed the Gale Strike in the face with a lightning-fast roundhouse kick and rocketed over the charging Regen Duel's blasts. Kelly scanned the seas below and found the green DOM Trooper skate past, smoke curling from the end of its Gigalauncher.

"Where the hell did he come from," Travis snarled; the DOM opened fire again, forcing the Alliance mobile suits on the defensive.

"Forget about him," Kelly ordered. "Push the Midnight higher, out of the DOM's range."

The Vent Savior, not to be forgotten, showered a volley of plasma cannon blasts down onto the Alliance Gundams. Kelly whipped around and activated the positron reflector to deflect them all. The Vent Savior charged in, beam rifle blazing; the Nix Providence darted to the side, just in time to let the Nebula Blitz lunge into the silver mobile suit's path and slap it aside with a heavy saber blow, before charging again after the Eclipse.

Stella Loussier flung the straining Gaia Gundam downward, just below a withering barrage of beam fire from the charging Vanguard Gundam. The pale blue mobile suit pulled up and redirected its fire towards the sea; the Gaia darted to the side and fired back with its beam rifle to force the blue mobile suit back but no sooner had the Vanguard pulled back than the Artemis lunged into the Gaia's path. Stella jammed the controls back, but too late the Artemis flung a trio of Stiletto anti-armor penetrators into the Gaia's face and sent its foe reeling towards the ocean.

"I won't fall that easily," she snarled; and as the Artemis closed in with its beam rifle raised, she lunged forward and tore it in two with a quick beam saber stroke. The Artemis slammed its knee up into the Gaia's chest, then pounded it with a hard kick to the face; Stella rocketed up and shook her head, her ears still ringing from the blow. The Vanguard followed with a wave of beam fire.

The Gaia ducked beneath the Vanguard's fire, engines roaring angrily; Stella grimaced at the sound and hoped her aging machine would hold out. The Artemis whipped around, beam saber in hand; Stella flung her own blade up, and the two Gundams crashed together with a shower of sparks.

"Just like Neo," she grunted, as the Artemis drove her inexorably back. She glanced over her shoulder and found the Vanguard lining up for a lethal blast to her back. "Won't leave me alone!"

With a hard crash, the Gaia knocked the Artemis back, then whipped around and squeezed off a beam rifle blast that tore through the Vanguard's rifle and blew it apart. The Artemis charged with a sweeping horizontal saber stroke; the Gaia whirled around again to deflect the blow, then took off over the two Gundams' heads.

"But I won't go back!" Stella shouted; the two Gundams closed in, the Vanguard spewing firepower. "Not to you!"

The Destiny Gundam rattled under a relentless string of sword blows from the furious Crusader. Shinn grimaced at the anger radiating from inside the Alliance machine; he was fighting like a man possessed. But he knew as well what else anger could do.

The Destiny flung itself back and then vaulted over the charging Crusader's vicious horizontal sword swing. Shinn whipped around and ducked beneath the Crusader's long-range cannon blast; the Crusader turned, eyes blazing, sword in hand.

"Well," grunted Shinn, "this is new."

Across the way, seething inside the Crusader Gundam's cockpit, Sven ground his teeth. "This is another pointless battle, Asuka," he said. "You're trapped now."


As if on cue, the boom of artillery rumbled out of the horizon and an instant later, tall white columns of water rushed up around the Minerva. Shinn's eyes went wide in surprise; naval gunfire coming from the southeast, from his hand slammed down the magnification switch and he felt his jaw drop at the sight of Alliance warships and mobile suits on the horizon.

"If you surrender " Sven began.

"Who said anything about surrender?" Shinn shot back, and the Destiny pointed its sword combatively at the Crusader. "You've still got to take me down, and so far your track record isn't looking very good."

Sven's face darkened and he raised a hand. "Then so be it."

He slammed a hand down on something on the Crusader's console and an instant later, Shinn's eyes went wide at the strange feeling rippling out from the Crusader's innards. Sven gasped in apparent pain, the Crusader's eyes lit up and the Gundam charged with its sword drawn back.

Earth Alliance battleship Charlemagne

"Move your ships in closer, Commodore Aguilar," Danilov instructed. "If we can force the Minerva into a small box of ocean, their maneuverability won't be able to save them."

"In theory," grumbled Aguilar. His screen went dark and Danilov sat back and swallowed the tension in his throat. The Charlemagne had scored a handful of glancing blows so far, but the commodore's squadron had been far more ruthless and the mighty Minerva's prow was cratered with shell impacts. And three dozen Jet Windams hovered over the horizon, ready to move in.

"In theory, yes," mumbled Danilov. He glanced over at Vera. "Send out the order to our MS units to space the Minerva's mobile suits out farther from the ship. We don't want them to move in and intercept our attacks." He turned towards the fire control station. "Ronald, tighten fire vectors. No more driving; it's time to make our kill."

The Charlemagne rumbled as it plunged into battle, and Danilov sat back with his steely gaze fixed on the Minerva.

Now, Captain Hawke, let's see what you'll do...

ZAFT submarine supercarrier Aristotle, Gulf of Sidra, Mediterranean Sea

"Surface contact, captain. Seven warships deployed in a line facing northwest." the sonar officer exclaimed on the Aristotle's conn. "Additional mobile suits detected."

Nathaniel and Camwell shared a look. The Alliance's trap had sprung shut.

"There's no way they can survive this," scoffed Camwell. "They're outnumbered fourteen to one." He scowled at the monitor as the Minerva shuddered under a storm of artillery shells. "It's too bad we'll be denied our trophy, though."

"Yes," Nathaniel mumbled, eyes fixed on the screen. Outnumbered fourteen to one. A gigantic warship on its tail and seven more moving in from the front. Its mobile suits scattered and unable to intervene.

"Captain, more mobile suits detected," the sonar officer spoke up. "Twenty-five units detected. They're broadcasting different IFF signals. They look like they're Resistance."

"Twenty-five mobile suits against an armada like this?" Camwell snorted. "They're either brave or crazy. Probably both."

Nathaniel blinked in surprise and glanced up at the tactical map. Twenty-five mobile suits streaming out of Benghazi, attacking into the rear of the Alliance's lines. Their formation broke apart, with most attacking the surface ships but a precious few moving out into the battle. But the Alliance still had overwhelming force. Would this work?

Because if it didn't, then only a miracle would save the Minerva.

I don't need to rethink whose side I'm on, Captain Hawke reminded him from the ghostly depths of his memory. You do.

Emily yelped in surprise as a bazooka shell slammed head-on into the Gundam Eclipse's chest and sent her mobile suit reeling. The Gale Strike plowed through the smoke, swords raised high; Emily swung back with a hard blow against the Gale Strike's swords that drove the white mobile suit back.

Trojan and Lily had gone off to protect the ship as the shells fell and the Alliance's noose tightened. It was just as well; against these five Gundams, they were only getting in her way. But, as she flung the Eclipse aside to dodge the pulsing yellow blasts of the Hail Buster's impulse cannon, she was beginning to wonder if that hadn't been a mistake.

The Eclipse rattled and threw Emily forward; she shot a glance over her shoulder and found the Nebula Blitz there, with the huge two claws on its back firmly clamped around the Eclipse's chest. Inside the red mobile suit, Travis Alterman laughed triumphantly.

"Leaving yourself open like that? Bad form, angel chick!" The Nebula Blitz's engines flashed to life and drove the two mobile suits forward. "A mistake like that will cost you, y'know!"

"Finally!" cried Erin, and the Gale Strike came roaring down with its swords pulled back for the kill. "Time to end this!"

Emily furrowed her brow at the sight of the charging mobile suit and with a flash of light, the Eclipse's Voiture Lumiere system blazed to life. The Nebula Blitz lost its grip and went flying and with a devastating upward blow, the Eclipse smacked the Gale Strike aside and then rocketed upward to dodge a furious blast from the Hail Buster.

The Eclipse whipped around to face the black mobile suit; the Hail Buster vanished from sight, replaced by the Regen Duel firing its bazooka. And up from behind lunged the Nix Providence, beam saber ignited

An instant later, a beam blast lanced between the two mobile suits and drove the Nix Providence back and a Murasame roared by in mobile armor mode, before arcing upward and showering the combatants with more beam fire.

"What the is that the Resistance's reinforcements?" breathed Emily, as she seized the chance to catch her breath. The Alliance Gundams pulled back in surprise as the Murasame pounded them with beam fire. And on the auxiliary screen appeared the grim, dusky face of a girl Emily's age, with a look on her face that brooked no disagreement.

"So, the Angel of Death," she said. Up above, a BABI, a DINN, and a Jet Dagger L fell into formation around her, and the four mobile suits arced around for another pass at the surprised Alliance Gundams. "Fighting five high-performance Alliance mobile suits on your own. Tell me, are you crazy, or just stupid?"

Emily frowned. "Nice to meet you, too."

The girl glanced at her wingmen. "Break formation!" she barked; the four mobile suits snapped apart as the Alliance Gundams opened fire again. "The name is Coniel," she said, "now get back in the fight and draw their fire with that fancy Gundam of yours!"

Emily swallowed hard and plunged back into battle.

The CGUE's left-hand shield shattered under a punishing blow from a Jet Dark Windam's bazooka, and Rau grimaced as he watched the shards fall into the sea. The other shields could be sacrificed, but he was going to miss that one, he knew.

The CGUE ducked down beneath the Windam's next shot and closed the distance with a roar of thrusters. The Windam backed up; its comrades opened fire to box the CGUE in. Rau licked his lips as he saw his opening, slithered through the blasts, and speared the first Windam through the cockpit with a beam rifle blast and as it exploded, he whipped around to face a second Windam, dropping in from behind, and drilled a shot through its chest as well.

Another wave of beam fire kicked up and the CGUE dove for the sea, then pulled up and skimmed along the water's surface under a hail of beams. The Windams closed ranks and intensified their fire; the CGUE shuddered as missiles detonated entirely too close to the mobile suit's armor and sent it reeling towards the water.

Rau jammed the controls back up and the CGUE struggled back into the air where it was surrounded by another wave of beam fire. He fired back with his own rifle, but the Windams merely staggered their formation, the front row deflecting his blasts and giving time to the second row to hurl back a salvo of their own.

"So you're learning," Rau snarled. "King Leonidas would be proud."

The Crusader Gundam's blade crashed against the Destiny's Arondight, and the latter mobile suit went reeling towards the sea. Shinn struggled to regain control but the Crusader was there again and it was all he could do to jam his sword into its path to block its next blow.

"I hate that you're making me use this," snarled Sven, and Shinn blinked in surprise at the furious, fearful quiver in his voice. The Destiny rattled as the Crusader brought down its sword again. "And I hate that you've dredged up this weakness in me!"

Shinn grunted as the sword slammed down again. "Now that is not my fault," he growled.

"And now," Sven went on, "I have to fight this system as well as you!"

The Crusader rammed itself into the Destiny and sent Shinn flailing back and with a shriek of broken metal and a painful shudder, it sliced off the Destiny's left leg at the knee. Shinn jammed open the thruster and rocketed away, but the Crusader sent two beam boomerangs after it instead and before Shinn could react, the whirling blades claimed the Destiny's right shoulder armor, the boomerang attached, and ripped two long, smoking gashes into the armor.

"This system is what it will take to defeat you," Sven snarled, "and if it comes at the cost of the walls that keep me who I am, maybe you're not worth killing!"

"Dammit," groaned Shinn, "once he draws blood..." He yanked back the controls and barely dodged another sweeping sword strike but an instant later the boomerangs came whipping back from behind. Shinn threw the Gundam towards the sea and leveled off his long-range cannon; the Crusader dropped in from above with a crash and sliced the barrel in two before he could fire, then slammed its sword against the Destiny's blade and sent it staggering back. It gave chase with a roar of engines and a storm of afterimages, and the two Gundams' swords crashed together again under a hail of sparks.

Shinn blinked in surprise as another feeling washed over him and the knot of fear pulsing in the Crusader's cockpit suddenly flashed to life like a sickening star. Something seemed to crack around the center of Sven's presence, and a moment later a thousand voices rushed into Shinn's consciousness and the world itself grew fuzzy.

"Get out!" roared Sven, and with a tooth-rattling crash, the Crusader smacked the Destiny away and went back on the attack.

"The more you fight, the more annoying you get!" snarled Shams Coza, as the Vanguard rumbled and showered the Gaia with firepower. The Gaia danced through the beams and charged, just in time to smack the Vanguard back with a hard beam saber swipe. The Artemis dropped in from behind with a saber stab; the Gaia whipped around and flung its beam rifle into the Artemis's face, and the exploding weapon drove back the green and white Gundam long enough for the Gaia to escape into the air.

"Awfully long-lived, you are," grumbled Mudie, "but your luck will run out sooner or later!" The Artemis lunged up after the Gaia; the black Gundam drew its second beam saber and descended into a furious swordfight with the Artemis. The Vanguard leapt up from behind, cannons leveled off; the Gaia skirted to its left, forcing the Artemis to duck as the Vanguard opened fire.

"Very cute!" Shams snapped. "Get back here!" The Vanguard roared after the Gaia; it backflipped away, over the Vanguard's stream of fire

An instant later, Shams yelped in surprise and yanked back the controls. Up above, the Gaia had its beam cannons folded down and rained fire down on the blue Gundam. The Artemis vaulted up over the Gaia's head, saber blazing; the Gaia flung itself back to avoid the slash and charged back into its swordfight.

"I thought these things were supposed to lose their tempers and get sloppy," Shams grumbled as he scrambled for an opening.

Mudie ground her teeth as the sparks flashed around her. "Apparently we have the one Extended that's decided to be different. Now shut up and cover me."

Shuddering under a hail of missiles, the DOM Trooper slalomed its way through a forest of explosions and towering columns of water, and Trojan bit back a curse at the sight of a mobile suit snaking its way towards him. He whipped around, lighting up the beam sabers on the end of his rifle, and blasted through the mist to take by surprise a white and blue Jet Windam. The Alliance mobile suit reared back, beam rifle in hand; Trojan took the opportunity to speed in low under its blasts and slice it in two.

He whipped around at the sound of more fire and ducked away behind his beam shield; up above, another squad of Jet Windams bore in on him with rifles blazing only to break formation and dart aside as Lily's transformed Vent Savior blasted through their ranks.

"You'd think with reinforcements, this would be going easier!" she snapped, and the Vent Savior sped back into the sky with the Windam squad on its tail.

Trojan blew out a sigh and turned again this time towards another Windam streaking in low over the sea towards the Minerva's exposed ventral side. He threw the DOM forward and let loose a salvo from the Gigalauncher's beam cannon; the Windam darted aside and two more appeared from above to cover it as it pulled back. Trojan jammed back the controls and, sorely wishing his machine could fly too, took cover behind his beam shield.

Gonna need a miracle at this rate...

Battleship Minerva

Another shell found its mark on the Minerva's cratered hull and the ship shuddered under the blow. Meyrin peered up ahead through the smoke, at the line of Alliance warships pummeling the Minerva with missiles and artillery and at the Desert Dawn's mobile suits, struggling to break through against an equal number of Alliance Navy Jet Windams holding them back. Sahib simply had too few mobile suits.

The Minerva shook and broke her out of her thoughts. "Portside missile tubes seven, eight, and nine are inoperative!" Chen reported. "We've only got eleven launchers left!"

A wave of green firepower from the Charlemagne seared by and clipped the Minerva's starboard wing. The ship rattled under the blow and began to pitch downwards.

"Malik, course correction! Ascend, forty-five degrees!" Meyrin shouted. Malik yanked back the helm and the ship began to climb but at far too shallow an angle.

"It's no good," Malik grunted, "levitator power isn't rising."

"What are the lines damaged?"

"The levitator is getting power," Abbey spoke up, "but we're straining the reactor. We've got to divert energy from the laminated armor."

Meyrin glanced up at the auxiliary screen where the Charlemagne was barreling after the ship. Cutting power to the heat systems would leave the ship vulnerable, but the reactor was beginning to fail. They had gone too long without major repairs. At this rate...

"Alright," Meyrin breathed, "this is what we'll do. Heat management systems at 75%; remaining power to the Tristans "

A blinding light flared up to the ship's port side, and Meyrin knew before Chen said so what had happened. "Portside Tristan is hit!"

Abbey pounded a fist on her console. "New plan, captain!"

"Yes," Meyrin agreed, and wondered what her chances were of breaking through the center. "Roxy, contact Sahib, now!"

Arcing gracefully through a storm of firepower, Rau Le Creuset's CGUE Assault wormed its way closer to the shore as the Dark Windams poured fire after it. One of them lunged up from behind, beam rifle leveled off; Rau swung the CGUE around and sawed through its waist with his sword, then darted away as the remaining mobile suits opened fire.

He spared a glance back at the Minerva. "Breaking through the center, are you?" he grumbled. "Good luck with that." He blinked in surprise as something else touched his senses, and he glanced towards the water. "But there are others here too..."

The incoming fire reclaimed his attention and he sent the CGUE into a steep dive. The Windams spread apart and intensified their fire; Rau jerked back and skimmed along the water's surface, edging closer to the coast.

"In the meantime," he said, as the Windams sharpened their aim, "I'll have to do something about you..."

"I'm getting really sick of this!" screamed Lily Thevalley as she guided the transformed Vent Savior in between the furious fire of the Windams protecting the Alliance naval squadron. One of them darted to the side and lashed out with its right leg just as the Vent Savior passed, and with an ear-ringing crash, the silver mobile suit tumbled out of the sky. Lily yelped in surprise, transformed the machine back to its mobile suit mode, and took off before the remaining Windams could follow up but another one forced her back on the defensive with a blazing beam cannon volley from behind. "And that's just cheating!"

Up above, the Windams formed up again and opened fire; Lily knocked them out of formation with a plasma cannon volley, but they simply put the formation back together and shot at her again.

The Vent Savior rocked and Lily snapped her attention downward just in time to see the warships below launching missiles, and some of them twisting towards her. "Oh, they wanna play too, huh?!" She pitched down towards the warships but stopped short as the Windams threw a curtain of beam fire in her path. "Hey no fair!"

More missiles and bazooka shells pounded the Vent Savior from above and forced it off course. Lily glared up at the sky, and the second squad of Jet Windams swooping down towards her.

"Jeez, you guys are everywhere!" The Vent Savior darted to the side as the Alliance forces attacked again and went spiraling back down on the defensive.

Stella jammed her beam sabers up in a cross over the Gaia's head, just in time to catch the Artemis's sweeping downward hack. Sparks flew for a moment, before the Artemis lunged forward and smashed its knee into the Gaia's torso. Stella grunted in pain as the force slammed her back in her seat and an instant later, she had to throw the mobile suit towards the sea as the Vanguard lined up behind her and opened fire.

"You just don't give up," Stella grumbled, and then ducked again under the Artemis's furious horizontal slash. She took off low over the ocean surface and fired back at the pursuing Alliance mobile suits with the Gaia's beam cannons, but the blasts impacted uselessly against their beam shields, and their return fire forced her back into the air to weave her way around the shots.

The Artemis vaulted into the air, saber held high over its head. Stella cut the engines and whipped around as the Artemis came back down and with a resounding crash, the Gaia's left leg lanced out to slam the Artemis's torso and send the Alliance mobile suit reeling. The Vanguard forced the two mobile suits apart with a volley of beam fire; Stella rocketed up over its head and fired from above to drive it back.

"The ship," she breathed, "I have to protect it!" The Gaia shuddered under a near miss from the Vanguard and she turned her attention back to the Alliance Gundams with a scowl.

With a scream of rage from its pilot, the Crusader Gundam slammed its sword down hard onto the Destiny's Arondight. Shinn groaned as his ears rang under the blow; Sven was fighting like a man possessed, and the tornado of jumbled emotions whirling around from his presence was not helping in the slightest.

And then there were those jolts of intuition arcing across his consciousness. The shreds of memories and the wisps of identity...he saw a telescope in a boy's hands, he felt the familiar pain and strain of military training, and the pangs of something buried deep but not deep enough

The Crusader was upon him again and with a crash, it sliced off the Destiny's left arm at the elbow. Shinn shook his head, but the visions would not go away and he struggled to look past them long enough to dodge another sword blow from the Crusader.

"I felt you in my mind, Asuka," Sven snarled. "Tell me what that was." Silence answered him, and he pounded the Destiny's blade with his own. "Tell me!" He stormed forward and slammed his sword down over and over again onto the Arondight. "Tell me!" The sword came down one last time and blasted its way through the Destiny's sword, sending the ruins clattering down towards the sea. Shinn backed away.

"Those walls you mentioned," he snapped back, "they weren't there. You put them there. And whatever the hell your mobile suit is doing to you took them down." He swallowed hard and hoped this wouldn't end badly and, as though to prove the point, he had to fling the sparking Destiny back to avoid yet another swing. "So now I know. Under all that bluster is a victim."

Sven's eyes flashed in rage and Shinn winced at the white-hot ball of fury. "You don't know anything about me!" he roared. Shinn jammed back the controls but the afterimages swarmed; the instinct raced up his spine and he jerked the Destiny to the side

...and an instant later, the Crusader brought down its sword in a powerful overhand swing, and the Destiny's beam wings, its head, and its entire right arm went spiraling away. Shinn screamed in pain as the sparks flew and the shrapnel sprayed out and, belching smoke and sparks, the Destiny's eyes went out and the Gundam plummeted into the ocean.

"No," Sven growled, hands trembling as he watched the carnage, "no, not yet, not 'til I see the body!" He drew the Crusader's Agni Kai cannon and leveled it off, and fought through his blurring vision to aim the weapon. "Not yet! Not 'til I'm sure you're dead!" He blinked furiously at his clouding sight. The walls around him quivered and cracked. "Not...not while you know...!"

The walls came down, all went dark, and the Crusader collapsed into the water.

Inside the humming Gundam Eclipse, Emily's eyes went wide at the feeling from across the battlefield. She snapped her attention in its direction but a moment later, beam fire from the ever-persistent Nix Providence reclaimed her attention. She flung the Eclipse downward, ducked under the combined fire of the Regen Duel and Hail Buster, then swatted aside the charging Nebula Blitz's beam saber and backflipped over the Gale Strike's horizontal scissoring sword swipes.

"Shinn," she breathed, "what happened to him?"

Up above, dodging fire from the Hail Buster, Coniel shot Emily an angry look. "The hell are you sitting there for? Draw their fire!"

Emily threw herself back into the fight and charged towards the Hail Buster. It winked out of existence, replaced by the Nix Providence and its beam-spewing hip-mounted DRAGOONs. The Eclipse lunged to the right, only to have to throw up its beam sword to deflect the twin downward sword hacks of the Gale Strike. And an instant later, the Nebula Blitz leapt up from behind and leveled off its Trikeros

Then the world shook.

Emily vaulted out of the trap and turned her eyes towards the source and in disbelief, she watched the Alliance's surface ships crack in two, one by one, and vanish between towering plumes of water and flame. The survivors struggled to turn away, but each in turn something underwater rose up to snap them in two and send their flaming remains beneath the waves.

"What the...are they being torpedoed?" Coniel muttered. "Who?"

The answer came with another column of water. A huge winged form burst out of the sea and mobile suits rocketed out of its innards on vertical linear catapults and Emily blinked in disbelief.

"That giant ZAFT sub," she murmured, "the one from Belém..."

Coniel's Murasame moved in next to the Eclipse. "Friend of yours?"

"N-Not exactly." Emily watched in shock as the ZAFT mobile suits broke formation and opened fire on the Alliance units, tearing them apart with the element of surprise in their sails. "Are they helping us or just taking an opportunity...?"

Coniel glanced around the battlefield for a moment and heaved a sigh. The dead could be mourned when the job was done. "Either way, I don't intend to stick around long enough to find out. Help me fish survivors out of the sea and then we'll get your ship to safety."

Earth Alliance battleship Charlemagne

Ivan Danilov could not believe his eyes.
There, lancing through the sky, was a full squadron of ZAFT BABI mobile suits. With lethal precision, they tore apart the stunned and demoralized Alliance forces regular and Phantom Pain alike. And down below, pummeling the Charlemagne with missiles, was that massive shape that Intel had identified as the submarine that had attacked the Azores base.

Here, in the Mediterranean. They would have had to pass either Gibraltar or Suez to get here. Both were in Alliance hands. How?

"Captain," Gerhardt spoke up, startling him, "it looks like you've got a wildcard on your hands."

Danilov shook his head and cleared away his shock. The attack was beyond salvation but he could still escape with the surviving men and his ship.

"Connie, message to all units," he said. "Retreat to Malta, maximum speed."

He cast one last look at that massive ZAFT submarine. Were they defecting to the Resistance, were they joining forces with the Minerva, were they simply seizing an opportunity to hammer the Alliance?

Or was there a lesson to be learned here?

ZAFT submarine supercarrier Aristotle

The conn was deathly silent as the sonar officer logged his report. Nathanial Hatias watched approvingly as the Charlemagne, its mobile suits, and the tattered remains of the Alliance Navy's Windam force clawed for distance under the cover of smoke and combat flares. So his little intervention had done its job.

He turned at the sound of a click and blinked in surprise as he stared down the barrel of a gun. He glanced up at the man holding it, and almost grimaced at the fury in Camwell's eyes.

"I hope you know how many regulations you're violating with that thing, Camwell."

"My violations are nothing compared to yours." He scowled and waved at the rest of the room with his free hand. "After all, I'm not the one who's passed up opportunity after opportunity to pursue our mission. I'm not the one who's defied direct orders from Marshal Sunogachi. I'm not the one who's been too weak to do what we all know is necessary to protect our people." He fixed his glare back on Nathaniel. "And I'm not the one who just extended a helping hand to a boatload of race traitors."

Nathaniel was motionless. "You were there too, Camwell, when Captain Hawke told us who need to rethink which side we're on. And I've been doing just that."

Camwell twitched. "So so you really are a traitor."

"A traitor to what? To the people who want to bring the same grief to the Naturals that they brought to us?" He shook his head. "Right and wrong remain right and wrong no matter where you stand."

"Yes, they do," Camwell said, "and from where I stand, I can understand now understand how weak you are, how mistaken Command was to put you in charge of this ship." He looked around the conn. "Summon the master at arms, with his sidearm. Pursuant to emergency procedures, I am declaring Captain Hatias unfit for duty and relieving him of command. Put him in the brig."

The conn was silent.

"Well?" Camwell snapped. "Get to it!"

Nobody moved.

"You think I was the only man to rethink the ethics of ZAFT's mission?" Nathaniel asked. He glanced around the conn himself. "You know, the Naturals view us as inhuman enemies. Things to be controlled, and failing that, destroyed. But you," he shook his head, "you're just the same."

Camwell purpled in rage and swung his gun up. A shot rang out

...and, eyes wide, Camwell pitched backward and landed with a thud.

Nathaniel blinked in disbelief and turned around to find the Aristotle's weapons officer standing at his post, a smoking pistol in hand. He awkwardly shoved it back into his uniform and lowered his eyes.

"I-I'm sorry, sir," he said, " know what he did..."

Silence hung in the air heavier than the stink of gun smoke and blood. Nathaniel glanced down at Camwell's body with a sigh, then back up at the weapons officer.

"I see we all decided to bring loaded weapons to the conn today," he said at last, and turned around again. "Comm officer, get me a line to the Minerva. We have a lot to discuss."

To be continued...