Phase 45 - The Stars Will Shudder

Mobile Suit Gundam SEED ETERNITY

Phase 45 - The Stars Will Shudder

July 5th, CE 77 - Althea Crater lunar base, the Moon

"We've found him."

The words caught Joseph Copland by surprise and he sat up in his office aboard the Alexandria in Althea Crater's cavernous space dock. "I-I'm sorry...?"

Admiral MacIntyre stared back at him on the screen. "Djibril," he said. "We've found him. We're moving the coordinates to your people now. He's been moving his fleet around the Debris Belt until recently, but now they've stopped." The admiral sat back with what looked like a satisfied smirk. "He tried to take refuge with Admiral Garcia up on Artemis. Didn't work out."

Copland rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "Well," he said, "that makes things easier and harder for us at the same time."

"And it gets worse," MacIntyre said. "His fleet is positioning itself near L5. It looks like he's trying to draw out ZAFT to turn this into a three-way battle. And if that happens, with us not knowing what tricks he has up his sleeve, he'll have the advantage."

"If that's his plan," sighed Copland. "I rather expect him to make some kind of dramatic statement and try to play hero or something."

"He might," MacIntyre admitted with a shrug. "But either way, we'll have to submit to fighting a battle on a field of his choosing. And that means we have to take no chances when we finally crush him. I need you to throw everything into this battle, Joseph. The Minerva. The Charlemagne. Everything."

Copland frowned. "One final roll of the dice to decide the fate of the world?"

"If that's what it takes."

ZAFT mobile space fortress Messiah, Lagrange Point 5

Only the click of machinery could be heard in Messiah's control room as Valentine Sunogachi stared darkly at the strategic map before her. At her side, Kira fidgeted for a moment, as did Admiral Harkill.

"This might just be a feint," Harkill offered.

"Lord Djibril does not feint," Valentine shot back. "This is a trap."

Harkill's brow furrowed. "For who?"

She extended a hand towards the vast sphere of the Earth. "For Meyers and his lackeys. They must mean to draw out the Alliance's fleets and prompt us to launch our own, so that we can destroy each other and leave him to pick up the pieces."

Kira frowned. "So what do we do?"

"We let them gather before us and crush them, together, in one fell swoop." She whirled around dramatically with a wide grin. "They're making it easy for us. Let Djibril have his epic little decisive battle. They all underestimate us and there's nothing they can do to stop the Goliath. Admiral Harkill," she turned again, "gather the fleet around the Rodinia and prepare for departure."

Amaranth. It was a symbol of immortality. How fitting that a Gundam named so would be hers to wield against the Angel of Death.

Unit Zero-Two drifted idly through her bunk deep in the bowels of Messiah. Indeed, the Amaranth was quite a machine. The Stargazer's fine-tuned, highly responsive frame and the Voiture Lumiere system would make it truly a force to be reckoned with.

But she had problems to get over first like her foe's insistence that there was something in her to "save."

What did that even mean? Did Emily von Oldendorf seriously think she could just disable Zero-Two's mobile suit, drag her out of the cockpit, and...what, they would become friends or something? She occasionally allowed herself to wonder just what her life might become if she let that happen. Always, she ran into a wall as she tried to imagine what she would do with herself as something other than a human weapon to enforce someone else's will.

She had been tailored even before birth to be a weapon. The enormous Newtype powers of her genetic mother combined with Coordinator enhancements and punishing training to create her skill and effectiveness. But against this Emily girl, she had been little more than a roadblock.

Life beyond ZAFT. It was impossible to imagine, really. She had been built with only one destiny in mind, and here she was, fulfilling it. The rest of the world had no place for someone with nothing but military skills and no ability or desire to imagine for herself what to do with them. If ZAFT turned her loose, soon enough she would just be someone else's minion. She knew what she was, and she knew well the value of knowing one's station in life.

Emily von Oldendorf did not appear to know that. Still she clung to the delusion that destiny was hers to control, that the universe would bend, that the pitiless cosmic forces that had arranged her life so far and drenched it in blood could somehow be made to do as she willed. The universe was not like that. The universe was as cold and unfeeling as the vat in which she'd spent her infancy in lieu of a womb. This war was as good a piece of proof as any of that miserable truth.

The world did not bend. But humans did and as she clenched her fists, Zero-Two resolved to teach her meddlesome enemy that lesson, once and for all.

July 6th, CE 77 - Earth Alliance Girty Lue-class battleship Ahura Mazda, Debris Belt

во имя отца, сына и святого духа.

Crayt Markav finished the sign of the cross over her chest and stood back up in her meager office aboard the Ahura Mazda. Of course the Lord would guide her He never steered her wrong but she was not the only one who would need His guiding light.

The world was coming apart at the seams, and the Phantom Pain had so little to show for it. There were blasphemers everywhere, but Crayt willed herself not to lose faith now. The world was not going mad because of her actions; it had been others who had held her back. Now ZAFT had returned and made clear its intent to destroy all creation; now usurpers had taken over in the Alliance's member nations and turned their awesome power against each other; now the Resistance breathed once more, when it had once teetered on the edge of annihilation.

But God had not sent her here to fail. She stared up at the cross on her wall, resolution rising in her chest. He had sent her here with a purpose, to punish the sinful and to pave the way for a righteous new world. He had given her these mystical Newtype powers for that purpose. She would have a taste of the Lord's clairvoyance, so long as she turned that power to the task of enforcing His will.

God had not sent her here just for this. God had not given her the Vishnu, even with that obnoxious name from some heathen deity, to see her fail. God had not turned His back on her.

She would just have to persevere and persevere she would. The world, after all, was mired in wickedness and hopeless depravity. Through her, the Lord would speak and make it right.

The Crusader Gundam was silent as Sven Cal Bayan finished his work on the operating system and sat back for a moment's rest. That irritating inner child of his had been quiet lately. He couldn't decide if that was a good sign or not. Maybe it meant he had, at long last, finally realize the true depth of his hopelessness. It probably didn't help that the Atlantic Federation had put an arrest warrant on his head so if he tried to leave now, he'd just be hunted down and thrown into a prison anyway.

That was an even worse option than trying to hide from the long arm of the powerful. Rotting in a prison cell with only his cheerful younger self to keep him company and remind him of the life he might have led had fortune not intervened otherwise and sent him on this miserable path into the Phantom Pain would surely drive him mad.

He closed his eyes and thought back to the days when he was that cheerful little boy. The likes of Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking had been his heroes. He had actually studied math willingly, no small feat for a boy then his age, because he knew that mastering mathematics was one of the steps he would have to take if he ever wanted to travel out beyond humanity's comfortable cradle and see for himself the wonders of the cosmos. His parents had given him a telescope for his birthday at one point, and as far as he'd been concerned, that was just the greatest thing that had ever happened to him. Saturn was no longer an idea illustrated by photos in books and websites; it was something he could see, something with rings that he could look at for himself, something that existed somewhere out there. And the telescope hadn't satisfied him, so he'd resolved to go there himself someday.

And then came the bombing and the foster care and Murata Azrael and the training, and all that, he supposed, had been stomped out of him. Or at least shoved into the corner of his mind where the little imp of possibility dwelled.

He idly wondered if he could get away. Some people took trips out to the handful of colonies at Mars every once in a while. Maybe if he could squirrel himself away there...surely Djibril or the Atlantic Federation wouldn't think to go all the way out there for him...and he would even get to stand on the surface of Mars...

But that wouldn't happen either. He opened his eyes and found the cold, familiar confines of a mobile suit cockpit. Some people's dreams just didn't come true and besides, what use were dreams if the dreamer couldn't survive?

"So," Shams said awkwardly, "what exactly is the plan?"

He glanced over at Mudie in the Ahura Mazda's decidedly sullen crew lounge. She shrugged. "I dunno. But we're getting our meals from Djibril's loyalists, so..."

Shams sighed as he leaned against the wall. "What a clusterfuck..." He shook his head. "I mean, it's not like we're gonna win this war or anything now. So why stick around?"

"And where do you suggest we go?"

"I have an idea," he said, and glanced around furtively. "The Junk Guild takes people from pretty much any background, no questions asked. They don't really care. By the same token, if you turn out to have some business with someone else, they may or may not go to bat for you. But if we were to keep it all on the down-low..."

Mudie arched an eyebrow. "You think we can be junk techs?"

"Well, we'd be alive." He raised a finger. "And, they occasionally schedule supply runs and stuff out to far-flung colonies. And by far-flung, I mean, like, Mars. Who's gonna follow us out there?"

She remained skeptical, but looked away all the same. "How would we even get there...?"

"That's what I'm trying to figure out," he said. "But we have to go. We can't stay here forever. It's a sinking ship. And..." He shook his head one more time. "And I think we deserve better than that."

Mudie frowned and stared up at the ceiling ruefully. "Do we...?"

Althea Crater lunar base

The door slid shut and Athrun Zala heaved an exhausted sigh. So much work to do, so little time to do it. Viveka slumped on one of the seats nearby, equally drained.

He glanced through the windows on the hangar's observation deck and his eyes settled on the Judgment Gundam. He pushed down the anger bubbling in his veins. He had to keep that locked away, lest it rush to the surface now and make him do something rash. Rau Le Creuset was a cunning and skilled opponent, and the Judgment Gundam was specifically designed to maximize his abilities. He would need all his own strength to win all his strength, and probably some help.

As though on cue, Viveka followed his line of sight and settled on the Judgment herself. "So, what exactly is your beef with him, anyway?"

Athrun leaned forward. "You remember my friend, Kira?"


"Rau is the reason why Kira and I are no longer friends." He bowed his head; these were the memories that hurt. "Kira was the result of a project by some unethical geneticists to create a perfect Coordinator. Between that and the stress from fighting in the Valentine War, he snapped, and Rau manipulated him into joining ZAFT. It drove us apart. He blamed me for killing someone important to him."

"Did you?"

Athrun shrugged. "A shuttle was passing through the battlefield and Rau tricked me into shooting it down. We'd killed friends of each other's at some point earlier in the war, but I had thought we were past that sort of thing." He shook his head. "Kira became his little enforcer. And during the Junius War, he's...the one who killed Cagalli."

Viveka frowned. "So how come you're not going after him?"

"Because," he said with a bitter smile, "for all the bad blood I've got with him, Shinn's got worse."

"What happened to him?"

"Everything. The Freedom Gundam accidentally killed his family during the invasion of Orb in the Valentine War. Then it killed the group of space pirates he'd been hanging out with after he'd deserted ZAFT. And then..." A painful bolt of emotion flashed across his eyes. "Then he killed Lacus Clyne.

Viveka looked away. "So that's what happened to her."

"She wasn't the same after he left," he explained. "She went onto the battlefield at Solomon's Sword and tried to convince him one more time to come back. He killed her. Blew her away without a second thought. And..." He waved his hands sadly. "And here we are."

"And this is all Rau's fault."


"Well then," she said, "I hope you aren't expecting me to just sit back and watch."

Athrun smiled again. "Of course not."

Stella Loussier stared curiously at the silent Shinn Asuka as he drifted through their cabin with a ream of data from the Zulfiqar in hand. He blinked at the familiar feeling of being watched and looked up at her. "What is it...?"

"Shinn is acting weird lately..."

He looked back down at the page. "Am I?"

"Shinn is being all sad."

"I thought I was always like that."

"This is different." She frowned thoughtfully. "Is Shinn still gonna be here when the war's done...?"

Shinn blinked in surprise and looked back up at her again. "Wha of course I will, Stella. What made you think I wouldn't?"

She smiled back. "Good."

The thought bounced around his mind of just what Stella would do without him. Had they broken the psychological conditioning that would have shut her down without him? Had she learned enough to take care of herself and function in the world on her own if need be? Surely someone would watch out for her, but...

He sighed as he looked back at the page. Reason enough, he supposed, to get rid of Kira Yamato: otherwise, the world would never be safe for Stella.

The Marduk Gundam clanged as the hatches on the shoulder shells slammed shut. Auel Neider sat back with a sigh on the gantry. It carried lots of guns, sure, but reloading this thing was usually something of a pain. But at least it could've been worse. His mobile suit didn't have a bunch of micromissile tubes to refill, one by one. Sting had bitched up a storm about that one.

He looked back at the Marduk with a tired sigh. He'd been here before, on the eve of some major battle that would decide the fate of the universe or whatever. Then again, every battle sounded like it was going to be the one battle to end them all and it turned out there were a bunch more after it that had to be fought too.

But this one seemed different. Maybe it was because this time the target was Lord Djibril. Auel thought back idly to those days of his own in the Phantom Pain, where he'd allegedly been doing Lord Djibril's bidding. It had never really felt that way. As far as he knew, he'd always just been following Neo's orders, until it became clear that Neo Roanoke did not have the interests of his three Extended at heart.

Captain Lee had. And that was why he was here.

That was why Sting was here too, and that, he'd said, was why he was going to stay here after the war. Someone would need to keep an eye on the Extended. Protect them from the depredations of others. Make sure they were given a chance to have a life beyond the Alliance's control. At the very least, they would have special needs that perhaps no one else but a fellow Extended could understand.

Auel blew out an airy sigh. That sounded like a pretty decent way to spend your life. Maybe it was what Lee would have wanted.

The door to the captain's office aboard the Charlemagne slid shut. Erin felt the shuddering in her heart; she had never spoken to the Charlemagne's captain except in the briefest and most professional of instances. But this...

Ivan Danilov leaned forward on his desk. "I understand you've been having something of a moral struggle lately."

Erin swallowed. "Y-Yes sir."

"Well," he said with a smile, "I'm no stranger to those." He gestured for her to speak.

"I...I feel like I'm...betraying everyone back home, by doing this," she said. The words came easier this time perhaps because she didn't so desperately fear his judgment. "I...heard about what happened, at Volgograd. And I thought it was just stories the Resistance made up, but then we came here and I saw..." She trailed off, and he nodded in understanding. "And back home...they don't know about this."

"I would wager they do," Danilov interrupted. "It's been all over the news."

"But they're going to look at me," she protested, "and think I'm some kind of traitor."

"A traitor to what? To the Phantom Pain?" He waved a hand. "Loyalty is only as noble as what you are loyal to. I learned that lesson over many months. When this war is over and you return home, you won't return as a war criminal. You will return as someone who saw that she did wrong and did something to make it right."

Erin sank back in her seat. "Will my father see it that way...?"

"If he's a man whose esteem you should value, he will."

"That's...what everyone has told me."

"Because it's the truth. Besides which," he leaned back in his own chair, "how your father feels about you is nowhere near as important as how you feel about yourself."

Erin looked down grimly. "I know, sir. I just...need guidance."

Danilov rubbed his chin thoughtfully for a moment. "In that case," he said, "I order you to do what you feel is right."

She looked back up with a small smile. "Yes sir."

Emily von Oldendorf had claimed the Minerva's interior observation deck as her own personal brooding cocoon. Rau Le Creuset supposed that at some point she expected to emerge like a butterfly, with beautiful wings of determination and purpose. It was a nice metaphor, of course, but the metamorphic cycle tended to break down if one cut off the cocoon and stomped on it.

He came to a stop at the railing, where Emily was staring out at the grim tableau of Althea Crater's dock as the Resistance fleet prepared for its launch. Nobody knew the details yet, but everyone knew that they were going to fight another battle. A very important battle. Perhaps the last one of the war...or at least the second-to-last.

"What if I can't save her?" she asked quietly. Rau looked down at her questioningly. "What if she won't come with me?"

"Why burden yourself with thoughts like those? Believing in failure will lead to failure."

Emily shook her head. "What if I'm wrong?"

"You're not." He turned towards her fully. "You said yourself you felt the spark of something like your mother within her. You know there's something to work with." He gestured grandly towards the dock. "If you let that go, then you'll have only a world of this to look forward to. Only a world of going from battle to battle, killing people but never changing anything in the world."

Emily did not look convinced, and Rau held back a sigh.

"Consider this a test," he said. "A test by whatever forces have governed your life until now. If you can save this Zero-Two, then you'll know that there is something in this world that can be turned towards good. A sign that the world is not hopelessly lost. But if you can't, then you'll know that everything is beyond salvation. Because what else can this world be if it creates a creature like Zero-Two, someone who has that effect on you, and can only be destroyed?"

Emily looked back up at him. "Is"

"Would you be willing to be magnanimous towards a world that makes you do all this?"

She hung her head. "I guess not."

Rau put a hand on her shoulder. "Then this is your test, Emily. This is the world's test. The only way you'll know whether or not it can be saved."

He smiled as she bowed her head again. A test, yes. One last test.

"I'm sure you've all heard by now that we're going out for a bit," Meyrin Hawke said, to the pilots and as much of the crew as could fit in the Minerva's bridge assembled before her. "So today we'll lay the rumors to rest. We've found Lord Djibril's fleet, and we are going to finish him off." She tapped a point on the Minerva's mapping console. "His fleet's numbers have fluctuated recently, but he's got something in the neighborhood of a hundred warships to call on. We have no idea what nasty little surprises he's got up his sleeve, but we expect to meet our old friends, the mobile armors and the Destroy Gundams." She looked back up at them. "As for Djibril himself...we'll take him any way we can."

The pilots glanced at each other awkwardly, and Meyrin allowed herself a moment to calm down.

"I've shared these concerns with our superiors, including Joseph Copland, and it's only fair I tell you. Since Lord Djibril is cornered and the Alliance's fleet will technically be our allies in this mission, there is a chance that ZAFT may intervene to attack us all at once. We have no intelligence, but I have a hunch and whenever my hunches are about something bad, they're generally right." She smiled briefly. "So you'll just have to trust me."

Abbey stepped forward. "Of course, if that happens, we'll be there to crush them. And end this war for good."

That seemed to resonate with her crew, and Meyrin straightened up. "The fleet departs in two hours. It's time to bring an end to this madness."

Her thoughts drifted back to Reverend Malchio. To Lacus Clyne. To the last time someone with great power had stepped forward to stop a world careening towards the brink.

And I won't let you down.

July 7th, CE 77 - The Pentagon, Washington, D.C., Atlantic Federation

The doors hissed open and every soldier in the room leapt to their feet to salute as President Robert Meyers strode into the command center and up onto the dais, where he had easy access to the vast multitude of screens that would let him watch the final destruction of the parasite Lord Djibril.

At his side, Seri glanced around nervously at the preponderance of bodyguards and the armed soldiers in the dull green of what had until recently been the Earth Alliance Army. And Admiral MacIntyre hobbled into his seat as Meyers stepped forward with a grin.

"We've finally found the criminal Lord Djibril," he said in as booming and commanding a voice as he could muster. "Justice for the children of Althea and for the people of Earth is nearly at hand. I expect all of you to fight to your utmost to protect our shared, sacred homeland. Djibril is a cornered animal and he knows it, and he will not go down without a bloody fight. But we stand on the brink of total annihilation of the Phantom Pain. And we must not let this opportunity pass."

One of the Space Force's officers stepped forward. "Sir, the fleets are nearly in position. Djibril's forces are solidifying their defensive line."

"And what of L5?" MacIntyre spoke up.

"Nothing so far," the officer said. "And there's been no report from Romeo 7."

"My emissary is likely just reaching Messiah," Meyers said. "There's nothing to worry about, gentlemen." He stepped forward to resume his speech. "Today, ladies and gentlemen, we enter history. Forces of the Expeditionary Fleet commence the attack!"

ZAFT mobile space fortress Messiah, Lagrange Point 5

"Alright," sneered Valentine Sunogachi as she came to a stop by her chair in Messiah's control room, "what the hell is this?"

The screens showed an Earth Alliance shuttle worming its way through the dense shoal zone of Lagrange Point 5. "It's showing an Atlantic Fed IFF," one of the Black Shirts explained. "The pilots say they're carrying ambassadors to discuss an alliance, and those fleet movements we've seen in the Debris Belt. And," the officer swallowed, "peace negotiations."

"Peace negotiations?" Valentine echoed. She glanced at her side, where Kira looked decidedly disturbed. "Who gave them the idea we're interested in peace negotiations?"

"We, um, asked them the same thing," Admiral Harkill spoke up. "They told us they were willing to offer Lord Djibril's head as a goodwill gesture. Something to show that they're not interested in destroying us."

Valentine stepped forward, brow furrowed. "We've heard that before." She turned towards the Black Shirt. "Destroy them."

The officer waved towards one of the men at the control panels and a moment later, a pair of beams lanced out from Messiah to slice the approaching shuttle in two, and it vanished in a crackling inferno.

And with that, Valentine Sunogachi turned around with a sweep of her cape. "No more games. Admiral Harkill, take command aboard the Rodinia. Send out the orders to the special units up ahead. We have waited long enough." She smiled. "It's time."

Battleship Minerva, Debris Belt

The lights of Lord Djibril's warships lit up far in the distance and the mobile suits began to stir. The bridge of the Minerva fell silent with sick anticipation. Off to starboard, the refit Agamemnon-class carrier Queen Victoria, Admiral Barton's preferred flagship, edged ahead to lead the formation as the Resistance's fleet sailed into battle. The Alliance's fleets stretched out on their flanks, converging on the one point where Lord Djibril had chosen to make his last stand. And up ahead, Meyrin could see the silhouettes of six Destroy Gundams coming to life. Of course he'd brought a few of those to play with. Of course.

Then again, the Atlantic Federation had a few of its own, and Meyrin Hawke had always wanted to see what happened when two Destroy Gundams fought each other.

"Attention all warships of the Resistance," Joseph Copland's voice boomed through the speakers, and all eyes on the Minerva's bridge turned towards the auxiliary screen, where Copland could be seen in his chair on the Alexandria's bridge. "We have fought long and hard for the day when we could finally destroy the Phantom Pain and bring peace and freedom to our world. That day has come. He will throw every terrifying weapon left at his command against you and you will face the desperate resistance of a cornered animal with nothing left to lose. But we are not alone in our battle and we have justice on our side." He pointed forwards. "All units, begin our operation and end this war!"

Meyrin steeled herself as the ships and mobile suits began to move. "Minerva, all ahead, full!"

Of course they would be here to stop them.

The explosions blazed around the Zulfiqar Gundam as Shinn Asuka spiraled into battle with a shout and a blaze of fire from his beam rifle. Far down below, the Crusader, Vanguard, and Artemis Gundams split up, as did the squadron of Dark Windams behind them. The Windams broke ranks and continued on ahead; the Vanguard lined itself up for a barrage of beam fire, the Artemis joined in, and the Crusader darted forward, sword in hand and afterimages flickering. Shinn flung his own sword up to deflect the blow.

"Loyal to the last, I see," he said. Sven Cal Bayan glowered back.

"Don't think your battle here will be an easy one, Asuka," he snapped. "You may win but we are all under orders to fight to the death. You will lose so many ships and so many soldiers that your victory will taste as bitter as defeat."

Shinn smiled back. "I've heard that before."

The Crusader flung its foe back; the Vanguard fired, the Artemis lanced in with a beam saber in hand. Shinn parried the blow with his sword and took off, afterimages flying, as the Crusader and Artemis gave chase.

"Up ahead, Drake-class with a reflector," Courtney Hieronymus warned as the Proto Chaos sped forward into battle. A formation of mobile suits moved up behind him, with the Kali and Judgment Gundams and Riika's blue Blaze ZAKU Phantom in the lead. "And mobile suits "

"Watch out!" Stella shouted, and shouldered the Proto Chaos aside just as a wave of shimmering red beam fire lanced through the formation and four mobile suits disappeared in a blast of fire. The survivors broke their formation and returned fire, and up ahead

"Those are Gundams!" Riika cried.

The black sky lit up with flashes from the eyes of another squadron of mobile suits. Up ahead sat four Verde Buster units, their beam cannons extended; another squad of black and red Calamity Gundams had formed up behind them with their own cannons at the ready. And from their flanks emerged two more squads of Blu Duel units, charging forward with a hail of beam bolts.

"Break formation! All units, defensive fire!" Courtney barked, and the Proto Chaos launched its gunbarrels. Rau flung the Judgment Gundam forward and let loose a full burst of beam fire that broke the enemy's formation but they rapidly returned the fire in spades and drove him further back.

"Those things are being piloted by Extended," Rau said. "Djibril must be "

"There's more!" Stella shouted, and the Kali Gundam dove down below a blazing red beam blast and up above sat a squadron of Strike E units, with a Launcher Strike E at the lead and leveling off its Agni cannon for another blast. Stella fired back to break up their formation but three Aile Strike Es came charging down with a wave of beam fire between them to force her back on the defensive.

"Courtney, Riika, leave these to us," Rau instructed; the Judgment fired off its DRAGOONs. "Push through to the fleet. We will open a path. Stella!"

The Kali rushed up next to the Judgment and the two Gundams roared forward, answering the Phantom Pain mobile suits' volleys with a salvo of their own.

Sailing into battle with the hum of the Celestial Justice Gundam's engines echoing in his brain, Athrun Zala's eyes darted around the battlefield. Up ahead, a Nelson-class battleship lumbered forward, guns blazing. A squad of Resistance mobile suits rushed in from both sides; a trio of CIWS emplacements tore a GINN apart, but a Dagger L managed to get close enough to blow up one of the turrets with its beam carbine. A squad of white and blue Windams emerged from underneath the ship to rip apart the remaining three mobile suits.

"And here we go!" cried Viveka.

The Aurora Gundam blasted forward and pounded the battleship's prow with blasts from the plasma cannons. The warship bucked backwards as missile stores exploded; the Aurora spiraled up through the flames, quickly transformed, and smashed another volley clear through the battleship's hull from overhead. The dying warship vanished in a fireball that fried two of the Windams; the other two rocketed out of the blast and lined up behind the Aurora

...and then Athrun wiped them both out with a blast from the beam cannons.

"Oh yeah, them," Viveka said with a smirk. "Thanks."

Athrun nodded up ahead. "They spotted a Destroy up there that we'll have to kill before Buckley's fleet can make any progress."

"Well, no time like the present. Let's kick its ass!"

"Ramura, move back!" shouted Aoma Vedlow as the Force Impulse Gundam shook and beams slammed against its shield. "Fire support from afar!"

As Aoma's mobile suits scrambled for distance, the Marduk Gundam flung itself up in front of them to deflect a storm of beam fire with its Geschmeidig Panzer system. The Fujin darted out from behind the blue mobile suit and launched its gunbarrels, sending them blazing up ahead. The mobile suits ahead backed away behind their own shields, but their relentless fire did not cease.

"You know, these things were enough of a pain in the ass when there was only one of each," Sting snarled.

Up ahead, a team of Verde Busters, Blu Duels, and Calamities lined up for another blast and then another squad of Strike Es launched themselves into the fray from above. Auel yelped in surprise and jammed back the controls as a Sword Strike E took a furious swipe at him with its anti-ship sword; he lit up the beam naginata and stabbed it forward to deflect the next blow.

"Back the fuck up, asshole!" he shrieked, and flung the white mobile suit away. He lined up for a blast from the beam guns, only for the other mobile suits to open fire. "Oh, come on !"

The Fujin's gunbarrels raced up towards the attackers and showered them with missiles and beams. "Jesus fucking Christ...Auel! Move back and charge up the Callidus IIs! I'll box them in!"

Emily von Oldendorf considered it very odd that she had a squadron of Dark Windams and three Alliance Gundams following her into battle, looking to her for leadership, as though she had any idea what she was doing out here. Trojan and Lily were there too, but at least they knew better than to look at her as if she was the boss.

"Emily, up ahead," Trojan cut in, and the Green Frame Kai pointed with its custom rifle. Emily followed the gesture and frowned at the sight up ahead. A hulking mobile armor twice the size of a mobile suit, with huge positron cannons on its shoulders and equally huge arms, in addition to two normal-sized arms, and banks of thrusters instead of legs. And then there was that presence from inside...

"Ah," she said, "you again."

"Uh, friend of yours?" Lily started.

Emily switched the frequency. "Grey, there's a mobile armor up ahead. Leave it to me."

Grey frowned. "You're ditching us already?"

"That mobile armor has Crayt Markav in the cockpit." Grey and his other pilots all blanched. "So, leave her to me. Trojan, Lily, you go with them."

"Wait a minute, you're not doing this alone, are you " Lily started.

"I'm not going anywhere," Grey spoke up. "Markav was the one who ordered the attack on Volgograd. This is personal."

Emily opened her mouth to protest, but the look in his eyes stopped her and the Hail Buster and Gale Strike didn't appear to be waving off anytime soon either. "O-Okay...Trojan, Lily, you go on ahead. We'll be fine." She turned her eyes back towards the hulking mobile armor ahead. "We've just got some business to take care of first."

Earth Alliance battleship Charlemagne

"Drake-class up ahead, sir, eleven o'clock," the sensor officer said.

Danilov narrowed his eyes. "Portside Gottfrieds, target and destroy."

The Charlemagne plowed forward into the heart of an advancing warship squadron. The mobile suits scattered like flies as the Resistance forces swarmed in from the Charlemagne's massive swirling wake, and the vast black warship's portside beam cannons came to life with a flash. In a moment, a flurry of green beams plowed through the offending warship and tore it to pieces in a fiery explosion.

"Keep up the pace," Danilov ordered. "Push them back. Allow them no breaks."

A trio of Windams rushed in towards the Charlemagne's bridge, only to be torn apart by the ship's CIWS emplacements. A squadron of Resistance mobile suits moved forward

And then, an instant later, they all disappeared amid a blazing green wall of fire, and then the boxy hulk of a Girty Lue-class battleship flickered into existence. Danilov tensed.

"Helm, descend, forty-five degrees!"

The Charlemagne groaned in protest as its prow dipped down and the ship ducked below another salvo from the attacking battleship. The black warship fired back and forced the smaller, nimbler ship off course, and the Charlemagne swung around ponderously towards its foe.

"Reinforcements from four o'clock, captain," Vera spoke up just as a Laurasia-class frigate and a Nelson-class battleship joined two Drake-class destroyers in peppering the Girty Lue-class's hull with firepower.

"Then leave that thing to them," Danilov said. "Helm, return to course. Target the center of Djibril's fleet."

He turned his eyes ahead, back towards the ships in the middle of Lord Djibril's advancing fleet.

To be continued...