Phase 36 - Ame-no-Mihashira

Mobile Suit Gundam SEED ETERNITY

Phase 36 - Ame-no-Mihashira

June 17th, CE 77 - Izumo-class battleship Amaterasu, near Ame-no-Mihashira, Earth orbit

The Amaterasu quaked as Ame-no-Mihashira's desperate defenders managed to sneak a missile entirely too close for comfort to the ship's hull before the CIWS emplacements sliced it out of the black sky. In the observer's chair, Jona Roma Seiran frowned as the shockwave dissipated. Perhaps that was just a fluke.

In fact, it could only be a fluke, because the fleet that had mustered to defend the Sahaku family's last redoubt consisted only of the Izumo, five Drake-class destroyers, a Nelson-class battleship, two Laurasia-class frigates, and a Nazca-class destroyer and those five Drakes were currently being reduced to four, as a flight of Murasames lanced its way through the ship's defenses and peppered its hull with beam fire.

But Rondo Mina Sahaku was a wily one and those old mobile suits that Murata Azrael had given her were holding up well. Mara would have to dispose of them.

"Well," Jona said with a sigh, catching Captain Matsumara's attention, "I suppose we couldn't have expected Lady Sahaku to go down without a fight."

"She won't last much longer, sir," Matsumara said with a smirk. "The Lohengrins are almost charged."

"Good," Jona said, "then move us "

"Sir, new heat signature detected!" the sensor officer cried. "It's...the Minerva!"

"The Minerva?!" Jona exclaimed. "How "

The rest of his sentence disappeared as the vast shimmering column of a positron cannon's blast slammed head-on into the Drake-class destroyer off the Amaterasu's starboard bow and plowed clear through the ship's hull. The broken vessel exploded with a thundering fireball, and Jona squinted through the flames in disbelief as the faraway Minerva spread its wings and roared into the battle.

"Where the hell did they come from?!" Jona shouted. "I thought they were on Gigafloat!"

"Minerva is launching mobile suits, sir!" the sensor officer added. He blinked in disbelief. "There's...eight of them?"

Jona turned his eyes back towards the battlefield. Gundams or not, the Minerva wouldn't stop him here.

The Celestial Justice Gundam charged into battle in its mobile armor mode, its claws still folded tightly against its body, monoeye sweeping over the battlefield. In the cockpit, Athrun Zala sat back and savored the hum of the mobile suit's engine as he finally returned to the war. He had spent far too long on the sidelines but the Celestial Justice would change that.

He glanced to his right, where Viveka's Aurora Gundam sailed into combat next to him in its own streamlined mobile armor form. She smirked down at him from the auxiliary screen. "Your Gundam still looks like a crab."

Athrun's eyes flicked back over the battlefield. "It will get the job done." He smirked back. "Ready to get back to work?"

Viveka's grin said everything he needed to hear.

The two Gundams rocketed forward and Athrun let loose a blast from the "Typhoon" multi-phase cannon in the subflight lifter's nose. The blast coursed its way through two oncoming white, black, and orange Windams and blew them both apart and before the survivors knew what hit them, the Celestial Justice transformed, slammed into their ranks, and impaled them both on the subflight lifter's two three-pronged claws.

Athrun charged forward with a wave of beam fire and drove back the mobile suits in front of him. They rocketed upwards and struggled for distance only for a wave of beam and plasma fire from the Aurora Gundam to tear them apart and destroy three of them in thundering explosions. The Justice seized its opportunity, rushed towards the staggering mobile suits, and tore them down with another volley of beam rifle blasts. One of the survivors whirled around from behind, beam saber drawn in lieu of its useless rifle only for Athrun to swing around, a beam saber on the Justice's foot blazing to life, and slash the attacker in half.

A flash of gold from far above caught his eye, and the Aurora came down next to him, as the last of the Windams died their fiery deaths.

"The hell's that thing?" Viveka asked, but Athrun felt his stomach turn in recognition.

"The Akatsuki."

"The Akatsuki? I thought you destroyed that thing."

"So did I." He magnified the image and frowned at the image of the golden mobile suit with the old Shiranui pack, and its beam turrets blazing around Ame-no-Mihashira's faltering defenders. But there was no pressure from the cockpit, so this must have been modified for non-Newtypes.

He glanced over at Viveka. It wasn't Cagalli's machine anymore. It wasn't Mwu's, either. It was just an enemy and he would destroy it.

The two Gundams took off together.

An oncoming squadron of Murasames let loose a withering torrent of beam fire, but Rau Le Creuset merely laughed in its face as he deflected it with the Judgment Gundam's beam shield.

"It's good to have one of these at my command again," he chuckled. "Now let's see what you can do!"

The Judgment Gundam's eyes flashed and the two pods on its back lifted off and roared into the battle. They both deployed a large, beam gun-laden DRAGOON and four of the smaller models each; the whole set roared forward and surrounded the Murasames with a net of beam fire. The King DRAGOONs that had launched their smaller compatriots sent pulsing red blasts into the enemy's ranks, forcing them to break formation only for the smaller DRAGOONs to sweep in and rip them apart with a wave of green beam fire.

Rau glanced upward, where another squadron of Windams was charging from above7/30/11. He grinned back, ticked the Judgment back, and let loose a salvo of his own from the beam guns on the Judgment's shoulders, torso, and hips. The beams drove the Windams apart and picked two of them out of the sky and then the DRAGOONs swarmed in to claim another two Windams.

The three survivors ducked away only for the Judgment to lunge up before them. Two cannons folded out of its legs at the knees, and with two pulsing red blasts, the Windams were no more. The last survivor charged forward, beam rifle blazing.

"Ah, it's been so long since I've been able to fight like this!" Rau cackled

And with a twisted shriek of torn metal, the Judgment lunged forward, a beam saber appearing in its left hand, and ripped the Windam in half at the waist.

Rau recalled his DRAGOONs with a smile. This machine would do nicely. Nicely indeed. The Judgment turned and roared back into the fight.

"This is so totally bitchin'!"

With a shuddering blast from the three unlucky Windams behind it, the Marduk Gundam spiraled up into the battle, its pilot laughing all the way. Four Windams up above leveled off their beam rifles and opened fire only for the Marduk to effortlessly send their beams flying wide around the battlefield with a flash from the Geschmeidig Panzer armor in its shoulder shells. Auel cracked a grin as he swung the shells up and let fly a storm of beam fire that tore them all apart.

"This is the fucking most awesome thing I've ever done in my life!" Auel cried. "Holy shit! Best day ever!"

Another salvo of beam shots rained down around the remaining mobile suits. Four Murasames shot by, followed by the four gunbarrels of the Fujin Gundam in hot pursuit, each of their double-barreled beam guns blazing. The Murasames broke ranks and tried to flee; the gunbarrels pursued. One of them came arcing around towards the Marduk only for the Fujin Gundam itself to drop into its path and blow it away with a beam rifle blast.

"Auel, there's a destroyer up there that's moving to flank Mina's fleet," Sting said. "You wanna go kill it?"

"Do I!" Auel exclaimed, and the Marduk rocketed away. Up above, a Drake-class destroyer was moving into position around a beleaguered Laurasia destroyer in Sahaku's dwindling fleet. Auel licked his lips and charged forward, towards its unprotected starboard flank.

Four Windams rose up to meet him with a wall of beam fire; Auel sent it flying with the Geschmeidig Panzer, but the Windams merely moved in closer.

"Fools," he said, "you can't stop me with that!"

The Marduk backed away and swung up its shoulder shells, and the two flaps on either side of the "Callidus Mk II" cannons opened up. The Windams backed away, appearing unsure of what the Marduk was about to do.

"That's right, kids!" Auel screamed. "Say goodnight!"

With a blinding flash of light, the Marduk sent forward two pulsing red beams. The Windams vanished in front of them, and the blasts plowed clear through the attacking Drake and with that, the broken warship disappeared in a plume of fire.

Auel let out a satisfied breath. "God damn has it been too long," he sighed, and scanned the battlefield for his next victim.

A beam shot drilled its way clear through the cockpit of an oncoming Windam and blew it apart. Its wing mates stopped short and scanned the battlefield for their attacker and far away, standing on a piece of debris, the Kali Gundam cocked its sniper rifle to the side and blasted away the next Windam. The survivors darted away, but Stella smiled at her handiwork all the same and hopped off the wreckage. The Windams caught sight of her

Instead, a beam blast from above took down another Windam, and the survivors looked up to find the blue and off-white Zulfiqar Gundam floating above them. Its beam wings flashed to life, it drew a sword from its backpack and lit up the blade...and in the cockpit, Shinn Asuka smiled a little at the bolt of fear that went streaking through his enemies.

"That's right," he said, "I'm back!"

The Zulfiqar charged with a blaze of afterimages. The Windams broke formation and fired back, only for the Kali to remind them of its presence with a beam blast through one of their number. The Zulfiqar came down with a crash and chopped one of the Windams in two; another one slid in from behind, only for Shinn to whip around and slash it in half with his sword. A third ducked aside and leveled off its beam rifle only for the Kali to lunge into its face and tear it apart with a backhanded beam saber blow. The two Gundams darted apart again as another wave of beam fire sliced between them.

Shinn glanced up at the source and caught sight of the vast hull of a Nelson-class warship storming forward, guns blazing. He glanced over at Stella; she nodded, and the two Gundams roared towards the approaching vessel. The Kali darted between the blasts and squeezed off shots from its rifle, blowing away machinegun turrets and missile tubes on the ship's hull. Shinn ducked through the shots with a cloud of afterimages around him and swept down onto the ship's dorsal side. The double-barreled beam cannon in front of the bridge ticked up towards him; he slammed the sword straight through it and ripped it in two, then whirled around again, drew the long-range cannon, and blasted the bridge tower away.

The Kali lunged up from behind the Zulfiqar and pumped beam blasts into the warship's exposed interior, slashing through the missile stores and the reactor, and the two Gundams darted away again as their prey burst apart in flames.

With afterimages rippling across the black sky of space, the Gundam Eclipse rushed forward towards a faltering squadron of Murasames. Emily swung down into their ranks with a flash and tore two of the machines in half with her beam sword. The survivors veered away from her, but one was too slow and the Eclipse embedded one of its anchors into its body, then yanked it closer and cut it in two.

Emily whipped around to deflect a flurry of blasts with her beam shield and then stormed forward towards the attackers overhead. They too tried to wave off at the last second, but the Eclipse rushed forward to saw them both apart with its beam wings, then dart up over the return fire from the surviving Murasames.

"They're panicking," Emily muttered, and swung around to face the charging mobile suits again. They opened fire; Emily rocketed over their blasts and angled the black Gundam towards its next target the imposing hull of an off-white and gray Izumo-class battleship. Already the positron cannons on either side of the ship's engine block were gaining energy, and the whole thing was pointing towards Ame-no-Mihashira and was yet unopposed.

Emily ground her teeth and charged forward, the Murasames still giving chase. The Izumo threw up a wall of CIWS fire that bounced harmlessly off the Eclipse's Phase Shift armor. She glanced over her shoulder; the Murasames were still there

And amid a cloud of flashing afterimages, she darted to the side just as the Izumo's Gottfried cannon opened fire. The Murasames tried to pull up, but one was blown apart in the blast and the second one shuddered as Emily slammed an anchor into its side, then whipped around and smashed the Murasame into the Izumo's dorsal Gottfried cannon. The battleship bucked wildly under the blow; Emily flung her Gundam through the flames, swept down next to the ship, and slammed the Gundam's left hand into the positron cannon to deliver a palm cannon blast.

The broken battleship threw sparks and finally snapped in two amid a bone-rattling explosion. Emily backed away and scanned the black skies for her next target.

It was simply unbelievable.

The cockpit of Rondo Mina Sahaku's customized Gundam Astray Gold Frame Amatu was silent as Mina herself stared in shock at the flailing fleet of Jona Roma Seiran. In a matter of minutes, the Minerva had completely turned the tide of the battle.

No...the Minerva and those Gundams of theirs.

They moved like hunting birds descending on their prey. That firepower, that speed, that maneuverability...she glared down at the Earth. How could Malchio have assembled this kind of technology, while she was stuck up here on Ame-no-Mihashira, rotting and waiting for an opportunity that she might not even be armed enough to seize if it ever emerged?

A shriek from the Amatu's sensors brought her back to reality and she flung up the Okitsu-no-Kagami beam shield unit to deflect a beam blast from an oncoming pair of Windams. They split up and showered her with beam fire from both flanks; the Amatu backed away behind its shield, then charged at the one on the right, somersaulted over its head, whipped around, and slammed both its back-mounted claws around the mobile suit's chest. The second Windam moved to flank the Amatu and open fire only for Mina to whip around again and shove the captive Windam into the beam's blast. She kicked the broken machine towards its comrade to let it explode and as the Windam reeled, she burst through the smoke and rammed forward the Okitsu-no-Kagami's beam blade straight into the second Windam's cockpit and destroyed it.

Mina backed away with a sigh and looked over the battlefield. Perhaps this wasn't so bad, really. One battleship and eight high performance mobile suits were in position to make her ambitions a great deal easier than they'd ever been before.

"Lady Sahaku," a voice spoke up, and Mina glanced over the portly captain of her own ship, the Izumo, "we've intercepted a transmission from the Seiran fleet. They're retreating."

Mina smiled. "Excellent. Direct our friends to an open bay aboard Ame-no-Mihashira. We have introductions to make."

Izumo-class battleship Amaterasu

Jona Roma Seiran trembled with rage as the Amaterasu raced away from the battlefield with what remained of its allies. Eight ships, this little debacle of an assault had cost him, including two of his precious Izumo-class battleships. Forty percent of his mobile suits destroyed. The carrier Itsukushima obliterated by a single positron cannon blast. The Minerva had screwed him over again.

"Contact made with Arzachel, sir," Matsumara spoke up. "They've agreed to send us reinforcements. Vice Admiral Mathis is already on his way."

"Very well." He looked back out towards space, at the wreckage of his fleet and the glimmering dot of Ame-no-Mihashira in the distance. He was on the cusp of wiping out the last challenger to his throne and yet here they had to show up, with new Gundams, to wreck everything. He needed no Newtype senses to know his men were reeling from the counterattack.

The Amaterasu rattled as one of its mobile suits returned the Akatsuki, most likely. Mara would most likely have some choice words for him for his decision to retreat, but he'd really had no choice. At least this way they could reinforce and come up with a better plan of attack to deal with those damned Gundams.

He scowled at the faraway station. No doubt Rondo Mina Sahaku was exultant with this unexpected victory. But she would not be so for long.

ZAFT mobile space fortress Messiah, Lagrange Point 5

"Well," said Valentine Sunogachi with a start, "that was unexpected."

The video before them looped back on itself on the holographic screens of Messiah's vast control room. At Valentine's side, Kira Yamato cringed at the images of what looked like new Justice and Destiny Gundams tearing effortlessly through the Alliance forces. The Vega Freedom Gundam had outmatched them before, but this would be trickier.

"And the Minerva docked at Ame-no-Mihashira, you say?" Valentine asked skeptically.

The officer in front of them nodded. "They escaped Gigafloat just minutes after it exploded. And," he withdrew his tablet from under his arm, "intel just picked up an Alliance fleet setting out from Arzachel. Their trajectory points them towards Ame-no-Mihashira."

Valentine frowned at the screen, then looked over at Kira. At her unspoken prompting, he dug back into his memories of Orb.

"The Sahaku family controls Ame-no-Mihashira," he explained. "It was supposed to be an orbital elevator, but the rival Seiran family took over after the Valentine War and held up construction to cripple the Sahakus. So this might just be Orb internal feuding using Alliance military hardware."

Valentine stared off thoughtfully in the direction of the orbital platform, and Kira took the opportunity to look back at the footage of those new Gundams. The new Justice, with those claws and that enormous speed, and the new Destiny, that seemed upgraded in every way...the dragons he would have to slay. They would stand between him and destiny. He knew it. He and the Vega Freedom would simply have to be better.

It would do well enough in battle, he supposed. As long as he could separate them and deal with them both individually, he could do it. And he would have to, because no doubt they would try to stand against the ZAFT fleet, against Messiah, against the Goliath, as it descended to Earth to do its bloody work. It was...what he would have done.

Kira shook his head and swallowed the knot of horror welling up in his throat. Kira Yamato of six years ago would be standing against the ZAKU Goliath, but Kira Yamato of six years ago was dead and in his place stood a man who would burn heaven and hell to the ground to make the world change.

And if the Goliath couldn't change the world, then there wouldn't be a world left to change.

An eerie silence hung over the observation deck overlooking the dock where the Fortuna was being prepared for its next sortie. It had been quiet of late aboard Kira Yamato's flagship, as the ZAFT fleet switched from attacking civilian targets to fending off the encroaching Alliance forces. The Alliance Space Fleet had grown since they had last met in size and in strength.

That made it all just more exhausting for Kara Guinness, because it meant they were beginning to lose the initiative. Few things were more frustrating than the thought that they had come all this way back to the Earth Sphere just to lose.

She glanced over to the side, where Juarez Recardo was staring down at the Fortuna with crossed arms.

"What's wrong?" she asked.

Juarez shrugged. "What's always wrong," he said. "You saw it, didn't you?"

"Saw what?"

"The Goliath."

So that was the problem. Kara arched an eyebrow. "What about it?"

"Well, you know what they're going to do with it. They're going to send it to Earth and have it wipe out cities and stuff."

Kara frowned. "So "

"So," Juarez cut her off, "I'm not sure I'm cool with that."

It was this argument again, the same one they'd been having off and on for the past month. And Kara suspected he was winning, because even her own lust for revenge was beginning to dim as the realities of war set in. Perhaps he'd been right and they really should have stayed at Mars...

...or perhaps not. "The Resistance is about to lose the war, y'know," she said. "We need all the advantages we can get."

"But killing innocent people isn't an advantage for us. It's just...y'know, evil."

Kara crossed her arms and silenced the part of her that was starting to agree. "If the Naturals didn't want a war like this," she said, "they shouldn't have let it come to this in the first place."

Juarez waved a hand at the Earth. "You know, the fact that there is a Resistance that's been dedicating resources to protecting Coordinators from Blue Cosmos kind of puts the lie to the belief that they were all somehow responsible for the Requiem. It's not like they haven't suffered too. So when we send the Goliath to Earth, we'll be punishing the wrong people."

Silence enveloped them again, and Kara glanced furtively at the blue planet below. So many people down there, and so many of them would know what hell the Coordinators had known...and again, Kara had to push down the part of her that wondered if they really needed to know.

Ame-no-Mihashira, Earth orbit

Sitting across the table from the imperious Rondo Mina Sahaku, Meyrin Hawke felt the two emotions of intimidation and disgust dueling for primacy in her heart at the sight of the elegant and mysterious scion of the Sahaku family. She was on Mina's turf this time all in the Resistance knew that Ame-no-Mihashira was the dark castle in which they were all better off not setting foot if they could at all get away with it. And yet the only other stronghold in space for the Resistance now was Terminal, and they were too far away.

And...well, Malchio had given his word to her that the Minerva would assist them. And Meyrin would not let him down.

"Nobody is going anywhere until Jona's fleet is dealt with," Mina said firmly. "I'm sure you understand, Captain Hawke."

"Of course," Meyrin answered. "Will we have free use of the facilities?"

Mina arched an eyebrow. "Do you doubt my hospitality, captain?"

At Meyrin's side, Abbey clenched her fists. Meyrin shot her a quick glance. "Of course not, Lady Sahaku," she said. "But we have other missions we need to carry out in space, so we can't stay here indefinitely."

Mina tilted her head back. "Very well. But as I said, nobody is going anywhere until Jona is disposed of."

The Minerva's captain and vice captain shared a look. Even when Rondo Mina Sahaku asked them for a favor, she made it feel like the other way around.

Even after all these years, Shinn Asuka still felt his stomach turn at the subject of Orb.

This wasn't the Orb of Uzumi Nala Athha, either. Uzumi's Orb had been a technocratic but ultimately too idealistic place, where the Atlantic Federation wouldn't value the Kaguya mass driver enough to pick a fight over it and the war was something that happened to other people. It had been a place of illusion, from the gaudy spectacles of its polished and tightly designed cities to the madness of its foreign policy. And that had all wound up getting his parents killed. The anger might have faded, but forgiveness was still to come.

But this place, Rondo Mina Sahaku's August Pillar of Heaven, was something else entirely. This was the symbol of an entirely different kind of Orb. Growing up, the distant and imperious Sahakus had always been the family that most closely controlled Orb's military. They had been the ones to transform Ame-no-Mihashira into a space fortress as the Valentine War began, and as Lowe had explained once, it was their glory-crazed scion Ghina who had tried to ensure Orb's dominance by eliminating competitors in the mass driver business.

Thinking of Gigafloat let him to think of Malchio, and that brought a pang of sadness to his heart. Once again, Orb found a way to hurt him.

Shinn drifted in front of his silent new Zulfiqar Gundam in the Minerva's hangar, as the mechanics looked it over after its first battle and cooed appreciatively at the Gundam's innards. He certainly wasn't going to risk setting foot on a Sahaku's turf. Gai had disposed of Ghina years ago and left the Sahaku family in the hands of his much more cunning and patient sister, but she was still of Orb and Shinn wasn't yet ready to deal with Orb again.

"Had fun out there, I take it?" grumbled Trojan Noiret as he drifted through the hallways of Ame-no-Mihashira. At his side, Emily merely shrugged and looked around anxiously. The ubiquitous blue-gray and black uniforms of the old Orb military and the cold stares of their wearers were putting her on edge. At Terminal the worst the crew had done was ignore her; here, in the mysterious citadel of someone she wasn't sure the Resistance truly counted as an ally, she felt something far worse.

"Lowe said he was building a new machine for you either way," she said. "You just have to be patient."

Trojan frowned. "Easy for you to say."

Emily put it out of her mind as they rounded a corner and emerged into an observation corridor stretching over one of the station's many cavernous hangars. Down below, amid a small army of M1 Astrays and Murasames, stood a dozen Raider Gundam Full Spec units and a Sword Calamity in garish blues and reds. Emily frowned at the sight of the mobile suits as she came to a stop against the railing.

"Lady Sahaku sure has a lot of those things," she mumbled. "I thought Ed was the only one with a Sword Calamity."

"The Alliance built three during the Valentine War," Trojan explained. "Ed took one. Rena Imelia took another. And they gave the third one to the Sahakus. They built a few more after the war, but that one," he gestured at the bulky mobile suit, "is an original."

Emily studied the silent machine for a moment. The Sword Calamity was a machine that required a special kind of pilot and Emily had been feeling the warped presence of clones on this station.

"So," she said uneasily, "what other dirty little secrets does Lady Sahaku have around here?"

The look in Trojan's eyes made her regret asking. "You don't want to know the things I've heard about this place," he said, and together they headed back down the corridor.

It was almost a strange feeling of kinship that went coursing through Lily Thevalley's blood as she and Stella stared in open disbelief at the sight before her. Standing on the deck in matching blue and white Orb flight suits were four identical faces, all with the same light blue hair and lightless gray eyes. A fifth one stood off to the side in an Orb uniform. An officer waved at the mobile suits behind them, and the four clones saluted in unnaturally perfect sync and then pushed off towards the machines.

"Who are they...?" Lily started, and the fifth clone turned around with a blank expression.

"Minerva pilot," he said, and Lily blinked at the bizarre way he said even that. "We have not been introduced. I am Four Socius." He offered a short bow.

Stella frowned. "Four?"

"I am the fourth clone produced in the Socius series."

Lily's stomach turned and she glanced awkwardly at Stella and even Stella looked a little put off. "You're a clone?" Lily asked.


The two Extended both shared another look. Lily had always heard rumors of creepy things going on at Ame-no-Mihashira, but that feeling that she was looking at someone like her still squirmed inside her soul.

A contented sigh drifted through the Minerva's internal observation deck as Viveka came to a stop against the railing. The last time she'd been in combat was that battle in Terminal all the way back in late April. And between injuries and a lack of mobile suits to go around, she had spent the rest of her time rotting on the Minerva.

Well, not exactly rotting. She glanced over her shoulder as Athrun made his way onto the deck. There had been some positive developments.

Athrun landed next to her with a satisfied look on his face. "Those new Gundams did better than I expected."

"Oh, yeah, totally bitchin'," Viveka agreed, and paused for a quick kiss. "So was it just me or did I see a golden mobile suit out there?"

"No, you did," Athrun said, the look of satisfaction fading. "I guess I didn't destroy it enough at Orb."

Viveka frowned. "Is it gonna be a problem?"


"N-No? Really?"

Athrun shrugged. "I told you. Cagalli's dead. And I destroyed that mobile suit once already." He looked out the observation deck windows, out over the Minerva's prow, out into space. "I'll just have to be more thorough this time." He paused. "But there is one little loose end I have to tie up as long as we're here..."


He gestured out towards space. "The man leading that fleet. He was Orb's de facto leader while I was with the Orb Raiders. He hunted us down trying to force Cagalli into a political marriage with him. So as long as we're here and he's the guy on the other side of the battlefield..."

Viveka grinned. "I see."

Roxy Bannon victoriously lifted a bottle of something into the air. "To kicking ass and taking names!"

On the other side of the table in the Minerva's crew lounge, Sting and Auel particularly Auel both looked hesitantly at their own bottles, then nervously followed suit and downed the whole thing. Sting managed to swallow it all without coughing, but Auel let out one little sputter. Nonetheless, Roxy looked pleased. Their training in the ways of imbibing appeared to be going well.

"So," she said, "how were the new Gundams?"

Auel stared into his empty glass and shrugged. "Other than completely fucking awesome?"


"I wouldn't say that too loud if I were you," Sting said. "I saw the way the mechanics at this place were eyeing our new hardware. Not sure I like it."

Roxy blinked. "Oh, yeah, them," she said. "Bunch of bastards."

"What, why?" asked Auel. Roxy poured herself another drink.

"Okay, you know how Orb's internal politics used to work, right? Nice normal elected government balanced with five noble families?" Two nods of understanding followed. "Well, Rondo Mina Sahaku is the head of one of those families. Jona Roma Seiran, better known for his day job as the Governor-General, is the head of another. The others, they're all dead. But Mina's been up here conspiring to take over Orb herself for a long time," she shivered, "and in the course of all that scheming, she's gone to some...unsettling lengths, we'll say."

Sting arched an eyebrow. "Unsettling, how?"

"I'll put it this way," Roxy said. "If you see a guy with sky-blue hair and gray eyes walking around, don't be surprised if you see him turn up in a lot of other places. Like there's more than one of him or something. 'cuz, well," she shrugged, "there is."

Sting and Auel glanced between each other. "She's cloning people?"

"She's got cloned Combat Coordinators up here," Roxy finished, "and if you aren't careful, she's going to add to her collection."

Ame-no-Mihashira's master observation gallery was silent but for the conversation of two figures strode along the windows and their spectacular view of the Earth and space.

Mina cast a furtive glance at her companion. That mask made it impossible to decipher Rau Le Creuset's emotions. Mina hated that. It meant he could hide something, something very important and Rondo Mina Sahaku hated having things hidden from her.

"Potential, yes," agreed Rau, "but potential is nothing without proper guidance. Poor little Emily has the unenviable position of having been blessed with enormous talent and sharply-honed skills, but never was she given a purpose for which to employ them."

"Yes, that's a curious thing about her," Mina said. "I always took the Angel of Death to be a more fearsome and driven figure than that little girl down on your ship."

Rau smiled. "Lady Sahaku, you sell her short. There is plenty of passion and drive within her. Fate simply hasn't tried the right keys yet."



Mina frowned and glanced out the windows, over the blue planet below. "I must admit, I'm curious as to what she could do if she had purpose." She paused. "A master, if you will. A guiding hand to steer her in the right direction."

Rau's smile remained. "So am I."

"But I don't suppose she'll leave the Minerva..."

"Oh, heavens, no. Not with her sister and her friends still there." He came to a stop in front of Mina with a dramatic swirl of his coat. "No, Lady Sahaku, I'm afraid you'll have to content yourself with watching from afar. Emily is, after all, her own person."

Mina looked away in annoyance. "I suppose."

"And if I may say so," Rau added, "I most certainly believe that her destiny will take her to far grander places than the halls of power in Orb." He gestured towards the Earth. "After all, there's always business for the Angel of Death."

Mina glanced back towards the masked man and tried to hide her shudder.

June 18th, CE 77 - Earth Alliance Agamemnon-class carrier Henry Clay

"Of course, Governor Seiran," said Vice Admiral Kevin Mathis in as soothing a voice as he could muster. "I have twenty warships and two hundred mobile suits with me. And you've already inflicted significant damage on the defenses at Ame-no-Mihashira."

"Be that as it may," Jona Roma Seiran said, his irritated face flickering on the auxiliary screen, "I don't want to take chances."

Mathis arched an eyebrow. "Are you doubting my men, governor?"

"Not at all, admiral. It's simply as I said. I don't want to take chances."

Silence reigned between the two men for a moment, before Mathis raised a hand. "Well, two things should set your mind at ease, then," he said, and the first of those things drifted up next to the admiral's chair. "I assume you know of the Moonlight Mad Dog, Captain Morgan Chevalier?"

Morgan crossed his arms and stared skeptically at the screen. "By reputation," Jona said uncertainly.

"And the other thing," Mathis said, with a nod to Morgan. "I've been in touch with Daedalus Crater. The Phantom Pain and Lord Djibril want to get this sideshow at Ame-no-Mihashira over with as quickly as possible. Once our fleets rendezvous, I'll head over to your flagship for a face-to-face meeting, and we'll go over our plan." He smiled. "It has some parts I think you'll like."

Earth Alliance battleship Charlemagne, Habilis mass driver, South African Union

The sun dawned bright and relentless over the mighty Habilis mass driver, the light glittering on the blue surface of Lake Victoria. It was a picturesque sight, really, and Ivan Danilov felt a little bad for the local wildlife that he was about to go ruining their morning with a liftoff.

He sat back into the chair as his crew went over the final launch procedures. For all the preparations, their orders were simply to fly to the Moon and dock at Althea Crater. And that was what made his gut churn.

Althea Crater, he knew well, was where the Earth Alliance manufactured its Extended. And "manufactured" was really the best word to describe the process. He had seen firsthand the kind of training and modification that went into the Extended and the images still never failed to disturb him.

Alliance High Command wanted him at Althea as part of a vast strategic feint to trick ZAFT into moving a portion of its fleet towards the lunar base. Then the Charlemagne would oversee the deployment of gargantuan weapons like the Destroy Gundams to wipe out the ZAFT forces. With the ZAFT fleet out of action, the path would be clear for the Alliance Space Force to converge on Lagrange Point 5, fight its way through the shoal zone, wipe out Messiah, and finish off the Coordinators once and for all.

There was such a chilling finality to it all. Ame-no-Mihashira was about to be destroyed as well. Soon only Terminal would be left to stand against the Alliance in space, and after that...

Danilov sat back and decided to think about that later. After all, there was a launch to supervise.

Sven Cal Bayan had hoped the rattling launch of the Charlemagne would shake the ship enough to dislodge the insistent voice of his younger self and the echoing words of Yukiko Nakajima from his mind. They had both been harrying him ever since the Charlemagne had left the latter at Socotra and traveled to the Victoria base.

"You're going to have to put aside everything to maximize the unit's potential," she had said. "The Psyco System will work best if you surrender your mind completely to it. Don't resist it at all."

And yet if he did that, he'd be wide open for the psychic depredations of his great foe.

The self-sacrificial thing doesn't really suit you, the child piped up. It's not like you're sacrificing yourself for something noble. You just don't want to die.

Shut up, he shot back.

This was how it had been ever since that battle at Gigafloat. The voice in the back of his mind endlessly taunting him, Yukiko forever prodding him towards the edge of the abyss, and worst of all, that miserable feeling that the little kid was probably right. They were returning to space. He would be able to see the stars, uninhibited by the Earth's atmosphere and the polluting lights of the planet. He would be on the doorway of his oldest dreams.

But he was not that little boy anymore, and that was the one thing his sprightly younger self didn't understand. Sven Cal Bayan had ceased to exist a long time ago. He knew he still wanted to reach out, leave this forsaken world behind, and go off into the universe in search of something newer and better or whatever was out there. But that would not happen. The Phantom Pain was his life now, and without its comforting routines and demands, he would scarcely know what to do with himself.

The little boy didn't understand that his battle was already lost. And Yukiko didn't understand that if he let himself go into the Psyco System, he would lose the last defenses that would keep out Shinn Asuka another man who wouldn't understand.

Nobody would understand. They never did. He closed his eyes and tried to focus on the shaking as the Charlemagne rocketed into space.

Washington, D.C., Atlantic Federation

Grand Admiral James MacIntyre felt like a very, very small man.

It was not easy to make the admiral feel this way, and it had never happened before in the presence of this man, but MacIntyre felt it still as he fidgeted with his cane in the darkness of a dingy apartment on the impoverished eastern side of Washington, D.C. He felt out of place as it was, having eschewed his glorious white uniform for the least conspicuous civilian clothes he could manage, but it was something about the dominating figure of Joseph Copland that made him feel insignificant in comparison. Whatever had happened to the former President of the Atlantic Federation must have been amazing.

Copland leaned forward. "Every one of my subordinates is going to ask me this question, James," he said. MacIntyre's eyes darted towards the steel-faced woman standing over Copland's shoulder, arms crossed, one of her hands clutching a pistol. "Between the two, we have a greater moral imperative to fight ZAFT than the Alliance."

MacIntyre swallowed the feelings. "Yes," he said, "which is what makes this such a risky endeavor."

"But they're going to want more," Copland said. "And this scheme of yours won't work if I have to go blabbing it to every soul in the Resistance who asks."

"No, it won't," MacIntyre nodded, "which is why you're going to have to be the leader that you say you are, and convince them that the Resistance simply has to attack Althea Crater."

Copland hung his head. "I still can't believe you're doing this, James."

"Times change. The Earth Alliance is about to destroy the Resistance, and once it has, it will destroy ZAFT, and then what force will there be to impose change for the better?" He swept an arm out. "I don't need to tell you this, Joseph, but you know the politicians in Washington won't force an improvement. They'll go along with Djibril in the end, because Djibril is the one with the power. But we finally have a chance to knock both of these evil forces out of the world, and we have to take it before it goes away."

"And you think the world will rally around Meyers once he shows all of Djibril's evil secrets from Althea?" Copland asked.

"It won't," MacIntyre said. "In my opinion, Schtorzmann and Manuel will stick with him to the end. But Djibril can't survive losing the Atlantic Federation and the Republic of East Asia. And he can't bring them both to heel while simultaneously keeping his grip on power in Eurasia and South Africa, and while destroying the Resistance and ZAFT."

"Then you're starting a civil war."

"If our plan goes right and we destroy Djibril and the Phantom Pain first, then there won't be one but this plan only works if the Resistance fills in the gaps." He leaned forward. "I know I'm asking the world of you, Joseph, but if this doesn't work, there won't be a world left for you."

Copland studied MacIntyre's old, leathery face for a moment and then sighed. "I know, James," he said. "I will do my part. But the risks in this game..."

"I'll put it this way for you, then," MacIntyre said gravely. "Whatever world we create from our actions here can't possibly be worse than the world Djibril will create."

"Or the world Sunogachi will create."


Copland sat up. "Then we have a lot to do."

June 19th, CE 77 - Izumo-class battleship Amaterasu, orbit of Earth

The Amaterasu rumbled as its engines came to life and the bow edged towards the distant form of Ame-no-Mihashira. In the observer's chair, Jona Roma Seiran sat back with a scowl. So his victory last time had been stolen by the Minerva. Fine. Now he had reinforcements and a trump card.

He scowled at the thought. Having to go begging to the Alliance Space Force for help because the big bad Minerva had torn his fleet apart...well, he would answer that humiliation here. Rondo Mina Sahaku would never bother him again.

"Governor," Matsumara spoke up from the captain's chair, "all our ships are in position, and Admiral Mathis is reporting the same."

"Very good," Jona said, and leaned forward in anticipation. "Launch our mobile suits. Target: Ame-no-Mihashira. Begin the attack."

To be continued...