Phase 30 - Unit Zero-Two

Mobile Suit Gundam SEED ETERNITY

Phase 30 - Unit Zero-Two

May 22nd, CE 77 - Banadiya, Libya

It was upon her before she knew it.

The Gundam Eclipse let out a bone-jarring screech as a wave of beam fire slammed against its beam shield. Up above, the Providence ZAKU spiraled gracefully out of the clear blue sky and pummeled the Eclipse with another volley of beam fire. Emily shook her head, but the image would not go away the picture of her mother, her pale, thin face smiling at her from the bed where she spent her days. The mother who loved her. The mother who she knew, churning in the deepest pit of her heart, was sitting inside that gray mobile suit.

The same mother that had died almost ten years ago.

Emily fought back tears as the Providence ZAKU attacked again. "It can't be," she whispered, and the ZAKU sent her reeling with yet another beam barrage. "It can't be you!"

Up above, the Murasame slithered its way out of the net of beam fire cast by the CaZEL's shoulder-mounted beam guns. "What the hell are you doing?!" Coniel snapped. "This is a battlefield! Pay attention!"

Emily flung the Eclipse down below the ZAKU's beam fire, but the gray mobile suit followed her flight path with expert precision.

"This pressure," she groaned, "it's like her...!" She backed away as the ZAKU hurled another storm of beams at her. "It can't be!"

My little angel, her mother's quiet, warm voice murmured from the darkness of her memory. She squeezed her eyes shut and shook her head but the ZAKU stormed forward to ram the Eclipse, send it reeling back again, and shower it with beam fire.

"Emily!" Coniel shouted. "Wake up, you idiot!"

The Murasame abruptly rattled and went staggering back under a heavy blow to its shield from the CaZEL's beam sword, and the white and black mobile suit went back on the defensive under beam fire from the CaVAL down below.

"If I'd known you were going to react like this, I'd have let her off the leash sooner!" Varder cackled, and the CaZEL turned towards the reeling Eclipse. "Now, this is the end for you, Angel of Death!"

Emily ground her teeth and struggled to regain control but the ZAKU's fire and the horrible pressure rippling out from the cockpit kept her willpower at bay. That was her mother in that mobile suit but her mother was dead. But that feeling, the feeling of peace and safety, the feeling of having a parent who actually loved her

The CaZEL slammed its blade down onto the Eclipse's beam sword and sent the black Gundam reeling, just in time for the ZAKU to whip in from behind and level off its DRAGOONs. Emily darted aside and left a trail of afterimages, leaving the CaZEL to slash through them uselessly but the ZAKU would not be tricked and rocketed after her.

" can't be her!" Emily cried, and brought the Eclipse around again with trembling hands. "You can't!"

Now that he had a chance to look at it up close, Trojan Noiret had to admit that the towering ZAKU Ranger could certainly intimidate. A gigantic rail cannon hanging over its right shoulder, a ZAKU Phantom torso on its forward hull clutching a beam rifle, two larger hands with three claws, a massive hovercraft assembly on its back...

And it had friends. Four ZAKUs all on Guuls, hovering around the Ranger in a defensive pattern. And then they all opened fire, and Trojan slammed back the DOM's controls and sent his mobile suit backpedaling behind its beam shield.

Trojan gritted his teeth as a storm of missiles slammed down around his humming mobile suit. "Well," he snarled, "you might have a bunch of guns, but I've got speed!" The DOM darted to the right as the ZAKU Ranger's beam cannons opened fire, and an instant later he flung the mobile suit aside again to dodge a blast from a Gunner ZAKU Warrior hovering overhead. And then the Blaze ZAKU Warrior lunged in from behind, beam rifle blazing; Trojan whirled around and sliced at it with the beam sabers on his custom rifle, only to see the enemy back away and let the blades sear by harmlessly. And then the Slash ZAKU Warrior showered him with beam bolts and drove him back further.

Trojan jammed back the controls, then reared back and fired a bazooka shell straight into the sand in front of him. A column of dust burst up from the ground and the DOM Trooper burst through, vaulted over the Gunner ZAKU's furious blast, leveled off its weapons at the ZAKU Ranger, and opened fire

...and Trojan felt his jaw drop as the blasts smashed harmlessly against a translucent, shimmering barrier around the monstrous machine. Up above, a Blaze ZAKU Phantom on a Guul opened fire and forced the DOM back onto the ground, and the Ranger whipped around to face its diminutive foe.

"Beam shields don't work that way," he grunted, and then the Ranger's beam cannons let fly with another burst that drove the DOM back further. "Oh, wonderful, does this mean I have to get close?"

The ZAKUs above him backed away and opened fire, while the Ranger leveled off its beam cannons again.

"Fine," Trojan growled, "close combat it is!"

The CGUE shuddered to a halt in the dust on the city edges, and Rau Le Creuset cast a wary glance skyward. Two more BABIs circling like hawks, waiting for their opportunity but the Desert Dawn's ground-based mobile suits, even with their obsolescence, were putting up a decent enough screen of firepower. Nearby, the guns of a transformed ZuOOT boomed and forced the two BABIs to veer off course.

Rau stretched his senses towards the sky, towards that spot where ZAFT's new arrival was fighting. So powerful and a little similar to Emily, but she was her own person and she had to be a clone as well. Not if Emily's real mother had already died.

The BABIs swept down towards the city, spitting machinegun rounds; Rau lunged into the air, beam sword blazing to life, and slashed one of them in two before it could react. The other swerved away and banked back up into the air, traced by fire from the Desert Dawn, and Rau sailed back down to the ground with a satisfied smirk.

And the other presence, that churning vortex of suffering...well, Emily would have to learn one way or the other that this world was well and truly beyond salvation. And nothing could convince her more than this.

With a resounding crash, the Gunner ZAKU Warrior fired off a pulsing blast from its beam cannon only for the Vent Savior Gundam to effortlessly somersault over the shot and drill a blast of its own through the ZAKU's Guul unit. The ZAKU staggered from the sky and then the Vent Savior was there to blow it away with a plasma cannon volley.

In the cockpit, Lily Thevalley blew out a breath and waited for the next move from the remaining three ZAKUs. A Slash ZAKU Phantom and two Blaze ZAKU Warriors split their formation up and showered the Vent Savior with beam fire.

"Three more," she grumbled, "and then I can go help Emily!" The ZAKUs came screaming in; Lily darted to the left and whipped out a beam saber, and with an ear-splitting shriek, she whirled around and slashed one of the Blaze ZAKUs in two at the waist. The two survivors split up and the remaining Blaze ZAKU let loose a cloud of missiles that sent the Vent Savior spiraling towards the ground for distance, before pulling up and tearing the missiles apart with a CIWS burst.

The Slash ZAKU Phantom dropped in from above with its beam axe blazing and slammed the blade down onto the Vent Savior's shield. Lily grunted in pain as the blow threw her back in her seat, and the ZAKU pressed harder against her.

Battleship Minerva

"The Desert Dawn units aren't enough to fight off this attack," said Meyrin Hawke on the Minerva's darkened bridge. "We need reinforcements if we're going to drive those ZAFT forces off."

On the auxiliary screen, Nathaniel Hatias frowned thoughtfully. "It looks like I'll have about two thirds of my normal complement. About twenty-five mobile suits. We're prepping them as fast as we can."

Meyrin glanced nervously at the tactical map. The real worry wasn't the ZAFT forces; they needed to be pushed back but they weren't making headway anymore.

No, the real worry was that Providence ZAKU that fought like a lion and was thrashing Emily around in front of those two cobbled-together new ZAFT models. That thing had come from the Lesseps-class and Rau had reported in that there was "pressure" coming from it and that was never a good sign.

Sahib Ashman bit back a curse as he ducked into the waterfront warehouse and activated a clanking cargo lift. The whole point of a secret weapon was to keep it secret, and this was not the way he wanted it to be revealed. The Desert Dawn, after all, survived by trickery and cunning and keeping a whole deck of aces up its sleeves. And this little surprise was supposed to be reserved for the Alliance the same Alliance that was surely watching this battle and eagerly counting just how many mobile suits Sahib Ashman had collected over the years.

On the other hand...there was ZAFT.

The cargo lift rattled as it reached the bottom of the shaft, and Sahib stepped into the harsh artificial light with his retinue of bodyguards. A gift from Andrew Bartfeldt, so to speak, completed at great cost to the Desert Dawn, it had started its life as a ZAFT project during the Valentine War. Abandoned in a secret underground hangar and never uncovered by disinterested Alliance occupiers and Junk Guild technicians not clever enough to find their way inside, Andrew Bartfeldt's embryonic trump card had become that of the Desert Dawn. And Sahib Ashman hated it.

After all, the massive Compton-class land battleship once called Dyson and now named Omar Mukhtar was the very antithesis of guerrilla armament. What kind of self-respecting desert warrior tooled around the Sahara in a two hundred and thirty-meter-long tank?

"Zahid," he called out as he ascended the walkway to the boarding catwalk, "you've followed the situation outside, right?"

The lanky young captain of the Mukhtar smirked back. "Shitty as can be, as I saw it."

Sahib ground his teeth and pushed past the younger man. "Activate the elevator and get the ship topside. This day came sooner than I expected."

"Ooh, you mean Omar finally gets to see some action?" Zahid shot back with a grin entirely too excited for Sahib's tastes. "Give me fifteen minutes and everything will be on the move."

Sahib seethed to himself as he marched down the boarding catwalk. If ever the situation for Banadiya became truly dire, we would deploy Bartfeldt's last surprise and bring upon ourselves the full wrath of the Earth Alliance.

He shook his head. Those were not the thoughts of a successful man. Those were the thoughts of a man who was already dead.

The ZAKU Ranger fired its enormous rail cannon and Trojan Noiret thanked his lucky stars he had already gotten out of the line of fire but the shell plowed straight through Banadiya and tore a massive smoking gash in the city, before detonating somewhere in the water. Trojan cringed; he had forgotten that railguns could do that.

Undeterred, the ZAKU Ranger pushed forward and its four Guul-mounted escorts focused their fire on the twisting DOM. The Ranger sent a burst of steam billowing out of the cooling systems on its back and chest, and angled its cannon for another shot.

"Oh no you don't!" Trojan shouted, and the DOM lurched forward, ducking beneath fire from the determined ZAKUs. The Ranger turned enough to fire back at him with its left-hand beam cannon and Trojan sent the DOM into a furious drive to the right but the Gunner ZAKU to cut him off with a pulsing red beam blast. He darted backwards again, then moved away as the ZAKUs honed in their fire and the Ranger edged closer to Banadiya, warming up its rail cannon for another shot. The ZAKU Phantom up ahead leveled off its beam rifle

...and then went reeling as something slammed into its shield and exploded. The ZAKUs backed away and Trojan blinked in surprise as a flurry of rocket-propelled grenades came roaring out of the city. He slammed down the magnification dial and gasped at the sight of bearded, dusky men, weapons in hand, firing up at the Guul-mounted mobile suits.

"What the they're gonna get killed!" Trojan hissed. The ZAKUs turned their fire towards the city; Trojan flung himself into their line of fire to deflect their blasts with his beam shield. The ZAKUs split their formation and showered the DOM with rifle fire. "And I thought I was stupid for taking this thing on," he grumbled.

Up ahead, the ZAKU Ranger's three monoeyes lit up with a flash. Trojan ground his teeth as he activated the beam sabers on his custom rifle. There was more than one way through a beam shield.

Flames scattered around the roaring Vent Savior Gundam as it finished off the crippled body of the last Blaze ZAKU Warrior and rocketed up towards the Slash ZAKU Phantom floating overhead. Lily threw the silver Gundam to the left as the ZAKU let loose its beam Gatlings; it whirled around with its beam axe in hand and the blade crashed against the Vent Savior's shield. Lily flung the blade skyward and swung up her beam rifle, but the ZAKU jetted backwards with a burst from its Guul's forward thrusters and slammed it head-on with a missile salvo.

Lily shook her head angrily as she stashed the Vent Savior's beam rifle and drew a beam saber instead. "Oh, you wanna do this the hard way? We'll do this the hard way!"

The ZAKU charged and brought down its axe; Lily swung up the saber to deflect the blow, then stormed forward and rammed the ZAKU as hard as she could with the Vent Savior's shoulder. The green mobile suit staggered back but managed to remain attached to its Guul; Lily drove the saber down towards the green subflight system, but the ZAKU wedged its axe blade into the way and parried the blow safely aside from its target. The ZAKU surged forward; Lily slammed her shield forward to deflect its blow and left the two mobile suits struggling against each other.

"And now," Lily grumbled, "you're just being annoying!"

"Quite a bit of pressure your mother's giving off, little Emily," chuckled Rau Le Creuset as the CGUE Assault twisted its way through the low buildings of Banadiya. "And I see the skill runs in the family!"

Up above, a BABI spiraled down with a spray of machinegun bullets. The CGUE darted to the left as the bullets tore up the dusty road just in time for two men down below to spring out of hiding and fire RPGs up towards the charging mobile suit. It jerked to the right but the second grenade struck home and blew off the BABI's left arm at the shoulder and with a crash, Rau stormed forward and sliced the rest in half with his sword, and landed with a satisfying thud as his defeated foe exploded in midair.

Rau turned the CGUE's monoeye towards the sky. The Providence ZAKU was charging towards the city and the Desert Dawn's meager handful of remaining aerial combat mobile suits was rising to meet it. This would get gory.

And he could hardly wait.

The Gundam Eclipse shook from a furious overhead sword blow from the charging CaZEL. The black Gundam reeled back and drew back its beam sword; the CaZEL ducked beneath its horizontal swipe and slammed its knee into the Eclipse's torso, sending it staggering and making Emily's ears ring.

"Not so tough now that we've got an angel of death, are ya?!" Varder cackled. Up above, the Providence ZAKU lunged up, the CaZEL darted aside, and the gray mobile suit pounded the Eclipse with a wall of beam fire.

"Emily!" a voice rang out and the CaZEL ducked away as the silver and gray CGUE Assault dropped into the battle with a sword slash. Emily snapped her eyes up ahead and found the Desert Dawn's remaining aerial mobile suits charging into the fight, guns blazing. The Providence ZAKU whirled around and its monoeye flashed threateningly at the newcomers. "Emily, you deal with that Providence ZAKU!" Rau barked.

"But that "

"It doesn't matter! Go!"

Emily swallowed the fear and slammed on the booster, darting away just as the CaVAL down below opened fire with its beam cannons. The Providence ZAKU somersaulted up above the Desert Dawn mobile suits, angled its DRAGOONs, and slammed their ranks with a barrage of beam fire. At the center of the storm, a stricken DINN belched fire and spiraled out of the sky with a trail of smoke. The Desert Dawn mobile suits split up but the Providence ZAKU dropped into their formation with another burst of fire, and two more mobile suits vanished in fiery explosions.

Coniel's Murasame burst out of the heavens with a volley of beam fire. "That thing is massacring us!" she screamed. "Emily, move your ass!"

Emily squeezed her fists around the Eclipse's controls and moved the Gundam in. "Stop this," she murmured, "my mother...she would never do this..."

The Providence ZAKU whipped around and pummeled the Eclipse and the Murasame with beam fire. Coniel banked away with a curse while Emily kept going behind her beam shield and pulled back its beam sword.

"You're not her," Emily moaned, and the images of her mother danced before her eyes. She charged down with a scream but the Providence ZAKU, faster than she could see, tossed its beam rifle over to its left hand, drew a beam saber from its shoulder with its right, and swung the blade up to parry her own. The two mobile suits crashed together and stared into each other's eyes.

All at once, the world around Emily came to a stop and the feelings flooded back. Her mother, letting her shed her tears after another upbraiding by her father; her mother, comforting her after the teasing at school; her mother, soothing the pain from one of the scrapes and bruises Viveka had haphazardly supplied; her mother, the parent who loved her...

Her mother, the person sitting in the cockpit of this mobile suit with its monoeye blazing furiously at her.

The Providence ZAKU flung its quarry back, then jetted upward, backflipped over the heads of a charging pair of Desert Dawn mobile suits, and effortlessly shot them out of the sky. Emily blinked away the tears as she felt them die as she felt her mother, inside that thing that was killing them.

The Murasame came barreling out of nowhere and rammed the Eclipse aside just as the ZAKU opened fire. "Emily, what in God's name do you think you're doing!?" Coniel snapped. "If you're not going to fight, then get the hell out of here!"

She shook her head and struggled to clear the image. "But that thing's pilot "

"I don't care if it's Lacus fucking Clyne, do something before it kills us all!"

Emily guided the Eclipse back into the air and cringed as another of Coniel's comrades went down in flames and the old memories of peace washed over her.

ZAFT Lesseps-class land battleship Arrhenius

"Zero-Two's reaction speed and precision are exceeding expectations," Eli Esram noted with a satisfied grin. He glanced over at the Arrhenius's nondescript captain. "I'd say she's doing well."

Captain Haverson scowled at the thought. "For a kid."

"Oh, but she's not just any kid, Haverson," Eli corrected with a wagging finger. "She's special. Our very own Angel of Death, even. You know that."

"That doesn't mean I'm not going to find it weird that our little superweapon is a teenage girl."

Eli chuckled and turned back towards the bridge windows. "Well, that might be weird," he admitted, "but the results speak quite eloquently for themselves. Look at her. She's torn those guerrillas apart. Give her enough time and she'll raze the whole city and the Minerva with it."

Haverson cleared his throat. "Speaking thus," he said, "scouts reported strange seismic activity around the city."

"Seismic activity? Here?"

"Some kind of vibration from underground. They have no idea what it is but Banadiya was Andrew Bartfeldt's old headquarters, and Bartfeldt was known to hide things up his sleeve to surprise his enemies. If those guerrillas got into his HQ, they might have a bomb or something. And they did say the Aristotle is somewhere around here..."

Eli paused and considered that. "Pull the Arrhenius back and ask the Seraphim to do the same," he said, "and order our mobile suits to be ready to make a quick escape if need be. I'll not waste the Ranger and Zero-Two on whatever tricks these Resistance rats have, and we'd best draw them onto more favorable terrain before we finish them off anyways." He grinned over at Haverson. "Don't you agree?"

"Something like that, sir."

Banadiya, Libya

Lily Thevalley groaned in pain as the Slash ZAKU Phantom above hammered her poor Vent Savior again and again with furious beam axe blows. It stormed forward and flung her back with a bone-jarring downward swing; the Vent Savior floundered in midair.

Shaking her head, Lily snapped her eyes back up towards the charging mobile suit and saw her chance as it lined up for another overhead swing. It brought the axe down again but this time, the Vent Savior ducked to the left, then whirled around and swept its saber through the ZAKU's waist, and with a thundering explosion, the deed was done.

Lily let out her breath and scanned the skies for her next opponent. Emily was somewhere over the city, but closer to her was a hulking gigantic hovering thing with a huge cannon, and four ZAKUs mounted on Guuls. And standing against them with only a few far-off Desert Dawn mobile suits for support was


The Vent Savior immediately transformed and charged down below, spewing plasma cannon volleys. The ZAKU Ranger turned in surprise and hurled a wall of beam fire up at the incoming mobile suit, forcing it off course.

"Lily!" Trojan exclaimed, and the DOM Trooper paused its fire long enough to dodge a return volley from the flying ZAKUs. "This thing is beam-shielded, help me kill it!"

Lily managed to smirk back even as the ZAKUs spiraled out around her. "Getting yourself in trouble again, huh? Where would you be without me?"

With a resounding crash, the Providence ZAKU slammed its foot up into the Gundam Eclipse's chest. Emily cringed as the blow slammed her back into her cockpit seat; and then the ZAKU charged forward with its saber held back for a final stab at the Eclipse's chest. She yanked the controls to the side and ducked away as the ZAKU shot past but it fired back with a storm of beam fire from its DRAGOONs.

"Emily, stay close to it!" Rau's voice ordered; up above, his flailing CGUE Assault parried a pair of sword blows from the two beam swords in the charging CaZEL's hands and went staggering back. "It can't use the DRAGOONs that way!"

Emily snapped her gaze back towards the ZAKU, back on the attack. Close to this thing meant more of that pressure and those memories

The ZAKU gave her no choice as it roared forward with a bone-jarring downward hack. Up above, the CGUE ducked beneath a horizontal slash from the CaZEL, then dropped down towards the ZAKU with its sword upraised.

Emily's eyes went wide as the ZAKU whirled around, jetting backwards at the same time, then whipped up its saber and slashed off the CGUE's right arm as it passed. And then it swung around again and sent a blazing volley of beam fire down into the falling mobile suit. Rau slammed the controls to the side, but the blasts still ripped through the mobile suit's left side and robbed it of its remaining arm, its backpack, and its left leg. Rau grunted in pain as shrapnel filled the cockpit and the CGUE fell with a billowing trail of smoke.

"Rau!" Emily cried but the CaZEL was there to slam her back with a sword blow.

"Going somewhere?!" Varder cried. Emily steeled herself for the next attack, only to find the Murasame barreling out of nowhere, and with a crash, it shouldered the CaZEL aside, then darted upward and showered the green mobile suit with beam rifle fire.

"Emily, you deal with the gray one!" Coniel shouted.

Emily turned her eyes towards the Providence ZAKU, just in time to watch it shoot down a Jet Dagger L. It turned slowly towards her, monoeye flashing to life, daring her to come closer. It snapped up its beam rifle

...and an instant later, the ZAKU went surging skyward as the air filled up with beams, missiles, and machinegun rounds. Emily looked around frantically and found a new force of mobile suits sailing in over the city ZAFT mobile suits, their fire aimed at...the other ZAFT mobile suits...

With an abrupt crash, the green and white body of the Proto Abyss dropped into the fight and slammed its lance down against the Providence ZAKU's shields, driving it back.

Inside the CaZEL, Varder broke into a wild grin. "So the Aristotle's really betrayed us, huh?!" he cackled. "A whole nest of traitors waiting to die! Zero-Two, engage!"

The Providence ZAKU surged forward; the Proto Abyss stabbed forward with its lance, but the ZAKU deflected the blow skywards with its saber, then lopped off the lance's blade and left the Proto Abyss with a useless red staff. The green mobile suit backed away with a volley of beam fire and hurled the lance's remains away. Up above, the Murasame soared down into the battle with a beam volley that drove the Providence ZAKU back.

Emily flung herself back into the way as the CaZEL gave chase and smacked it aside with her beam sword. She whipped around to face the Providence ZAKU again only to find it once more on the attack.

The pressure intensified. The memories became vivid and the world around her began to fade. Her mother's voice echoed in her head, drowning out the lingering presence of her father.

Keep being my little angel...


All at once, Coniel's Murasame slammed into the Eclipse from the side and a moment later, the Providence ZAKU's beam saber plunged into the Murasame's cockpit. The world returned in a rush as Emily felt a familiar presence disappear on the edges of that enormous pressure in front of her and the Eclipse reeled as the dying Murasame exploded.

"C-Coniel," she whispered. Up above, the ZAKU turned its monoeye towards her. " killed her..."

The ZAKU snapped up its beam saber and charged.

Emily's eyes lit up in rage. "You killed her!"

The ZAKU charged, but the Eclipse was ready, and the two mobile suits' blades slammed together in a shower of sparks.

ZAFT Eternal-class cruiser Seraphim

Captain Evers frowned thoughtfully as he watched the battle proceed on the Seraphim's bridge. The Aristotle had not sent its entire mobile suit complement. Perhaps not every pilot on the ship had decided to defect with Captain Hatias or perhaps they were keeping units in reserve for another wave.

The latter was the wiser assumption, and Evers sat back stiffly in the captain's chair. Plus there was that "seismic activity" the Arrhenius had warned about, in a region not known for any seismic activity.

The ground shook again this time from the ZAKU Ranger slicing another shell through Banadiya. At least it was performing well, and Zero-Two was exceeding expectations...but that still left the other conventional mobile suits, which were being steadily chipped away. At this rate, to keep up the attack, they would need to send the Seraphim's full complement, and Evers was trying to avoid that.

"It looks like we have them trapped," chuckled Eli Esram on the auxiliary screen. Evers glanced up in annoyance.


"I suggest we move our ships in closer and commence bombardment of the town. The Ranger is doing perfectly fine, but it still needs to fight past those last few little gnats buzzing around its heels."

Evers arched an eyebrow. "The Aristotle just launched reinforcements, commander. The prudent thing to do would be to pull back and scrounge up some reinforcements of our own."

Eli waved a hand dismissively. "Between the Ranger and Zero-Two, they won't be able to stop us. All we need to do is move in and provide the heavy firepower they need to finish this city off for good." He grinned. "The Minerva and the Aristotle, captain. Opportunities like this don't come along every "

"Commander," a voice on the Arrhenius spoke up, and Evers blinked as another faint rumble picked up a rumble that was getting louder. "New seismic activity detected. It's getting stronger, and it's focused on the ridge to our east."

Eli frowned. "An earthquake, here ?"

He was cut off as the ridge exploded upward. Evers clenched his fists around the captain's chair's armrests and turned his eyes towards the pillar of dust rising into the air and then a wave of beams and shells lanced out of it and slammed into the Seraphim's laminated armor.

"What the hell is that?!" Evers barked. "Sensor, identify!"

"Heat signature matches a Compton-class landship, sir!" the sensor officer answered. "Mobile suit reactor heat blooms detected!"

"They had a landship in there?!" Eli exclaimed. "How?! I thought they were just guerrillas!"

Evers snapped his eyes back towards Banadiya and fixed them on the crumbling gray structure of Andrew Bartfeldt's old headquarters. "The Desert Tiger," he murmured. "He always had a trick up his sleeve. And popping up a land battleship out of the terrain in the middle of the desert..."

"Compton-class is launching mobile suits, sir!" the sensor officer added. "Orders?"

Evers straightened up. "Deploy the Seraphim's remaining mobile suits to defend the ship. Send word to Commander Ehrmacht to get back here at once. We have no choice but to retreat." He glared up at the auxiliary screen and Eli's disbelieving face. "Commander Esram, we're going to have to try a new strategy."

Eli shook his head in shock. "They were hiding under us the whole time..."

Varder slammed a furious fist down onto the CaZEL's console as the report came through. "I almost had you!" he snapped, and fixed his glowering eyes on the Eclipse as it traded blows with the Providence ZAKU. "Damn it, hold still!" He leveled off the beam cannons and opened fire but the Eclipse danced around his shots and kept its focus on the ZAKU.

"Varder! What the hell are you doing up there?!" Lilith snapped. The CaZEL landed hard next to the dusty CaVAL, both mobile suits' monoeyes looking towards the swordfight up above. "You got the report! We have to get back to the ship!"

"And leave an opportunity like this?" Varder growled.

"It's not worth it! Let's go, we can get them some other time!"

Varder pounded his fist down on the console again. "It's always 'some other time!' How many more times will we be delayed?!"

The CaVAL turned back towards the retreating ZAFT ships. "It doesn't matter. There won't be a next time if we don't protect the ship. Now let's go!"

With a burst from its engines, the CaVAL darted off towards the ships. Varder glowered up at the sky and the Eclipse up above. "I won't be denied again," he growled, and threw a switch. "Zero-Two, return to the Arrhenius."

The Providence ZAKU parried a blow from the Eclipse, backed away, fired a combat flare into the black Gundam's face, and then leapt around and rocketed off back for home. Varder spared his reeling opponent one more hateful glare, and then vaulted into the air after his retreating allies.

Athens Naval Installation, Greece, Eurasian Federation

Mirage Colloid was a wonderful thing.

It, after all, was what had hidden the Aurora spy plane that had circled above the battlefield of Banadiya, high enough overhead to hide the sound of its suppressed engines, and it was the reason why Gerhardt von Oldendorf could eagerly watch video so soon of the battle between Banadiya's grubby little Resistance warriors and the ruthless butchers of ZAFT.

No doubt the Alliance officers would be intrigued by the Desert Dawn's apparent possession of a formidable mobile suit force and a land battleship. Perhaps the Alliance would be sweeping through what was left of Banadiya soon enough. But "soon enough" was not soon enough for Gerhardt von Oldendorf, and instead he fixed his attention on one little skirmish in particular.

The Providence ZAKU, as Intelligence had described it, fought with unnatural speed and precision. It destroyed most of the Desert Dawn's remaining aerial mobile suits; it fought the mighty jet-black Gundam the Alliance had codenamed "Nightfall" to a standstill. At long last, he had answered the riddle. No doubt Lord Djibril would be all over this.

But that wasn't the important part. A clone of his late wife was still only that, and shortened telomeres would ensure that her usefulness would expire sooner than was optimal. But Emily...

Well, he mused delightedly, if you can pass this test, then you can do anything.

Banadiya, Libya

Deep, black gashes had been torn into the cityscape of Banadiya. A handful of fires were still raging around the detonation sites. Wreckage littered the streets and ruined mobile suits dotted the city.

From her place one of the jeeps in Sahib's convoy, Meyrin Hawke cringed at the sight and the acrid smells of smoke and death. Another city laid low by the Minerva's presence.

Sahib seemed to read her thoughts. "It's not as bad as it could've been," he spoke up. "Not like Murmansk or Volgograd."

Meyrin frowned. "That doesn't make me feel any better."

"Feelings aren't what's important here. What's important is figuring out our next move." He sat back with a heavy sigh and crossed arms. "We are going to have to evacuate Banadiya. Now that we've had to reveal the Mukhtar and our mobile suits, the Alliance will be sure to send a force to destroy us. We'll have to be out of their range by the time they do."

The Omar Mukhtar. That had been something of a surprise. Meyrin wasn't quite sure how to feel about her allies keeping secrets from her, but it had worked out for the best this time.

Sahib glanced over at the jeep's third passenger. "And you?"

Nathaniel Hatias shrugged. "We didn't sustain any damage. But if both of you are going into the continent's interior, we cannot follow."

"Go to Gigafloat," Meyrin interrupted. "In the Indian Ocean. It should be off the coast of Kenya by now. Ask for Reverend Malchio and tell him I sent you there."

Sahib frowned. "They'll be a target."

"They're always going to be a target."

"And how do you propose he gets to the Indian Ocean? Suez?"

"Leave that to me," Nathaniel said with a confident smile. "They can't stop what they don't know is there."

"And as for us," Meyrin continued, "we'll head south along the Nile and pass by the Horn of Africa."

That was a stupid plan, she knew. It would take them far too close to the major base in Khartoum for a heavily damaged ship with three mobile suits to its name. But it would have to do.

She glanced back at the city. As long as they didn't run into that thing again...

The first thing Stella Loussier sensed as her consciousness clawed its way back to life was the familiar antiseptic smell of the Minerva's infirmary. She cracked open an eye, winced at the light flooding through and then felt relief wash over her at the sight of Shinn Asuka's smiling face.

"Welcome back," he said.

Stella groaned and closed her eyes again. "What...happened?"

"You got wiped out by that thing with the giant railgun."

"...the Gaia...?"

"Yeah. Totaled." He put a comforting hand on her shoulder. "Sorry."

Stella fought down the urge to cry. The Gaia was gone? Now how would she fight? How would she protect her home and her friends?

"The good news is you're going to be okay," Shinn continued, "and we're going straight to Gigafloat. Where they're going to build us new Gundams. Okay?"


"Now," he went on, "you just get some rest. We'll be alright."

She looked back up at him again. "Is...Shinn okay?"


"And...and Emily?"

Shinn's smile faded away. "Just get some rest," he said.

Stella slumped back again and decided to do just that, and as she drifted back to sleep, Shinn straightened up, checked his own bandages, threw on his coat, grabbed his crutch, and made for the door.

Athrun Zala hated the way his memories came back in one massive emotional flood. It was hardly fair, after all; didn't give him a sporting chance to avoid brooding and becoming miserable.

And those memories came flooding back indeed at the sight of the muscular Alec Ladd, hesitantly shaking Athrun's hand. A man in that green uniform of ZAFT's ground forces, but a man of the old ZAFT the ZAFT that Athrun Zala had willingly served. The ZAFT that had standards and morals, the ZAFT that stood on the moral high ground and defended it from the savages of Blue Cosmos.

But that ZAFT was as dead as those whose faces now swept back into the pit of his consciousness.

Alec arched an eyebrow. "I'm surprised I didn't see you out there, Zala."

"No mobile suit," Athrun answered with a shrug. Alec cracked a smirk.

"Really now. Big bad Gundam finally got totaled?"

"That was a while ago."

The brawny ZAFT pilot crossed his arms. "You know," he said, "I think I'm starting to understand you bunch of traitors." Athrun frowned, but Alec went on before he could speak. "Ran off from ZAFT because of some moral conflicts with your orders or whatever. I guess I couldn't appreciate that until it happened to me."

Athrun thought back to his old comrades to Yzak and Dearka, pushed away by his father's racist megalomania; to Andrew Bartfeldt, who joined a singer and a handful of rebels to stop a war gone out of control; to himself, lying on the floor before his father and realizing just how far gone he really was.

He cracked a smile of his own. "Welcome to the right side, Mr. Ladd."

All told, it wasn't too bad a set of injuries. Some cuts and bruises from shrapnel hits, but only one had required stitches, and the Coordinator advanced healing would take care of that.

Standing outside the infirmary, Rau Le Creuset flexed his uninjured arm with satisfaction and threw on his long coat. All well and good, because he had more important things to worry about than damage to his treacherous body.

Unit Zero-Two. That was the name he had heard from his contacts about this mysterious little newcomer in ZAFT's forces. Even distracted by Emily and her vastly superior machine, Zero-Two had taken down fifteen mobile suits. Rau could only imagine her in a contemporaneous machine; the destruction she could wreak, the things she could accomplish...

But there was a catch. She was a clone. Still young, perhaps. If she had been cloned as a backup of Lorelei von Oldendorf's genetic material, then she couldn't be any older than Emily. But she was a clone and in addition to that inconvenient little fact, Rau idly wondered if other changes hadn't been made to her DNA, as long as it was there. As far as he knew, Lorelei had been a Natural but she was also in no condition to be a mobile suit pilot, so something in the clone of that frail and sickly woman had to have changed.

And there it was. Unit Zero-One had run off and joined the Resistance, so here was Unit Zero-Two. Zero-One had become a perversion of what she had originally been intended to be; Zero-Two would realize what her predecessor had failed to achieve. At least as the smaller minds imagined it.

But a clone could only last so long, as Rau painfully knew. He glanced in the direction where Emily's presence pulsing, twisting, churning with emotions was strongest. The world, after all, had room for only one Angel of Death.

Shinn came to a stop outside Emily's door to find Viveka leaning against it tiredly. She glanced up at him and shrugged.

"If you're here to talk to her, it's not happening. She's not talking to anyone. Just sitting in there crying."

Shinn blinked. "What happened?"

"All I can get out of her is something about our mother." Viveka shook her head. "Has she snapped or something? She knows our mother's gone."

That pressure that enormous, blinding pressure that had shot through the battlefield. Shinn suddenly swallowed anxiously.

"That...during the battle," he stammered, "there was this new enemy, with an enormous pressure."

"A Newtype thing?"

"Yeah. And it felt funny, distorted, like it was a clone." The pieces of the puzzle edged closer together. " said your mother had Newtype abilities, right?"

Viveka shrugged. "I guess. I never paid attention to that sort of thing."

Shinn looked past her, towards Emily's agonizing presence, and tried to keep the knot of fear from climbing up his throat.

May 23rd, CE 77 - ZAFT Lesseps-class land battleship Arrhenius, Al Qadarif, Sudan

"Brainwaves are stable at optimal levels," the technician reported. "Zero-Two is ready for another sortie."

In the cramped and darkened room, Eli Esram stared forward at the examination chair where sat Unit Zero-Two, in her billowy white gown with that preternaturally serene look on her face. Evidently she bore a strong resemblance to that girl the Alliance had taken to calling the "Angel of Death." There were other relations too a genetic scan had revealed the telltale signs of Coordinator modification but Vice Marshal Yamato himself had handed him this assignment, and had remained tightlipped about the mysterious girl's details.

Nonetheless, it was quite clear to Eli what was going on here. Zero-Two would be ZAFT's little angel-killer. Even in the inferior Providence ZAKU, she had fought the Midnight to a standstill and, had it not been for that damned landship's interference, would have destroyed it.

That landship. That was a sour note. All it had done was chase off the Arrhenius and Seraphim, but that was vexing enough. The Aristotle and the Minerva gathered in one spot for the taking, but it was not to be. They would have to try something else.

But that was Commander Ehrmacht's job right now. Instead, Eli fixed his attention back on the silent Zero-Two. The things that Chairman Dullindal had called Newtypes were still ill understood, but Eli could certainly say he had never seen brainwave activity like this before. Whatever a Newtype was, Zero-Two was a powerful one.

Eli stepped forward, hands behind his back, and looked over at the technician. "What did you find on the memory scan?"

The technician handed him a printout. "Lots of brainwave activity in the previous sortie. The EEG reader picked up a lot of unexpected surges and dips, like she was mentally interacting with some other Newtype."

Eli blinked. "They can do that?"

"No idea, sir. Research on Newtypes is almost nonexistent. We're messing with something we don't understand."

"Aren't we always," Eli muttered, and looked back at the page. "If we could tell what the enemy pilot's brainwaves were like, we'd have something to work with."

The technician sat back wearily. "Kaplan has a theory on that, sir," he started. "They gave us Zero-Two as a way of countering the Midnight. Maybe there's some kind of connection between them."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, rumor has it that the kid piloting the Midnight is some kind of Alliance Extended project gone wrong or something. Maybe Zero-Two is a prototype or something."

Eli pondered that for a moment and studied the girl in the examination chair. "Do we still have our intelligence dossier on her?" The technician handed her a sheaf of papers, Eli flipped through it momentarily, and then he stepped towards the chair.

"Zero-Two? Are you awake?"

Lightless eyes stared back at him. "Yes sir."

"Good." He held out the papers. "I'm assigning you some reading. Before your next sortie, know everything possible about your enemy, pilot of the mobile suit codenamed Midnight." He smiled. "You're going to kill the Angel of Death."

Zero-Two stared emotionlessly at the papers for an instant.

"Yes sir."

ZAFT Eternal-class cruiser Seraphim, Al Qadarif, Sudan

With the map spread out before them, Evers watched with mounting nervousness as Varder Ehrmacht eagerly pointed out the elements of his next attack plan on a wire-grid map of the northern half of Africa on the Seraphim's mapping console.

"If they're going to Gigafloat," he said with an emphatic tap on the icon nestled off the Kenyan coast, "then they'll have to pass down through the Horn of Africa. Only way they can get by Socotra. And we took out two of their mobile suits in this past battle, so with any luck, we'll be up against only three of theirs."

Lilith arched a skeptical eyebrow. "If we incapacitated the pilots, if they don't get more mobile suits somewhere, and if they don't call in reinforcements from some Resistance group we don't know about."

Varder waved it off. "We're in good shape here, since the Minerva has to worry about the Alliance too. Now," he scrolled the map up northeast, "if they head towards Turkey, they'll be going by that gigantic black Alliance ship that kicked their asses last time. If they head east from Banadiya, they run into the Alliance's forces in the Levant. If they head west, they just sit in the desert and wait to be killed by something else. They're heavily damaged and we dealt so much pain to the Banadiya port that they can't possibly hope to get repairs there. So," he tapped a finger on Gigafloat's icon again, "they have to be going here."

Lilith and Evers shared a skeptical look. "We don't know about the Resistance's bases," Evers offered. "There may be somewhere else they're headed."

Both of them almost shivered at the angry look in Varder's eyes, but he composed himself before they could speak. "If you've got any other ideas, then go ahead and share with the class," he said instead, "but I say they're heading southeast. And I say that here," he tapped a finger on the Ogaden Basin, "is where we can set our trap."

Battleship Minerva, Banadiya, Libya

The Minerva shuddered to life with a rumble that took far longer than Meyrin Hawke would have liked. The wounded warship pushed itself into the air at least Abes' repairs to the levitator were working and over the mauled city of Banadiya.

At the city's edges, the Omar Mukhtar turned its hull towards the west, and Sahib Ashman's dusty face appeared on the auxiliary screen.

"This is where we part ways, Captain Hawke," he said with a nod. "Now that we've revealed all our dirty little secrets, we need to get away before the Alliance arrives."

Meyrin frowned. She would have liked an escort down to the Ethiopian highlands... "Where will you go?"

"We have a safe house in the High Atlas mountains."

At her console, Abbey blinked in surprise. "That's all the way in Morocco."

Sahib showed them both a knowing grin. "We are the Desert Dawn, ladies. I'd like to see the Alliance follow us across the desert." He sat back as the Mukhtar began to move. "It's been an honor. Mukhtar, out."

The screen went dark, and Meyrin watched the Mukhtar begin to grind its way into the desert. For her, the path ahead was south through Sudan, past Khartoum, into the Ethiopian highlands, out through the Ogaden and Somalia, into the Indian Ocean.

Now they just had to get there.

At least she could get by now without bursting into tears. That was an improvement.

Curled up on her bed and her face streaked with tears, Emily stared desolately at the wall in front of her. It was her mother in that mobile suit. She had felt it. Not really her mother...but that girl with the Newtype signature of her mother, the one that gave her those memories and that feeling of peace.

What was she doing there? Had ZAFT done to her mother what the Alliance had intended to do to Emily herself? That was impossible. Nobody could turn Lorelei von Oldendorf into a soldier. That was why she, Emily, had been born.

The memories drifted back. Emily saw herself again, a little girl, sobbing in her mother's arms. She had come home with a less than satisfactory report card and Gerhardt's wrath had avalanched down onto her. It wasn't her fault, she protested; multiplication was hard, history was boring, the other kids talked to her in class and distracted her, the teacher was mean

Gerhardt had disagreed with a slap, buried her in a furious fusillade of angry words about her irresponsibility and laziness, and then sent her to her room, but Emily had taken a detour and wound up in her mother's room. And Lorelei listened patiently as her daughter cried and buried her stinging face in the sheets and railed against the injustice of the world as only an eight-year-old could.

And then, once the tears had ended, she had said mostly the same things to her that her father had said but she said them in a way that made Emily know, in the most unshakable depths of her heart, that her mother still loved her no matter what the grade was on her history test.

There was no way that could have been turned into a killing machine.

When the comforted eight-year-old Emily had decided at last to do as her father had said and go to her room, her mother had let her go with the reminder that she would always be there to help her.

Emily blinked away the tears.

To be continued...