Phase 46 - The ZAKU Goliath

Mobile Suit Gundam SEED ETERNITY

Phase 46 - The ZAKU Goliath

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

"Admiral Alvarez reports the first line is holding steady," one of the soldiers reported.

Robert Meyers sat in his chair in the Pentagon's command room and stared in what almost seemed like annoyance at the banks of screens before him. "So that's what those 'Immortals' were." MacIntyre glanced inquiringly at him. "We found references to an 'Immortals Regiment' in some of Vasserot's messages, but we hadn't been able to find out what exactly they were in time for the battle."

MacIntyre turned his attention towards the screen, where a force of some of the Phantom Pain's most expensive and successful machines were brutally assaulting the front lines of the fleet. So far, the combined fleets of the Earth Alliance's former member nations and the Resistance were holding their own but they weren't making much progress and Lord Djibril had six Destroy Gundams waiting in the wings. The Minerva would have to take care of them.

He sat back. "Movement around L5?" he called.

"Nothing, sir," another man answered. MacIntyre's brow furrowed.

"There's been no contact from Romeo 7 either," he rumbled. "Meyers "

"I would hardly expect a report so soon," Meyers scoffed. "They probably only just arrived. Negotiations like this take time."

"Even so, they should have at least checked in."

Meyers waved a hand. "I see no reason for concern at this point. They will do their job so that we can do ours."

MacIntyre glanced involuntarily over at Seri.

Battleship Minerva, Debris Belt

Yet another Drake-class destroyer went up in flames, but Meyrin Hawke merely noted in the back of her mind as her ship's third warship kill of the day as the Minerva plunged through the opening in the Phantom Pain's lines. Perhaps this would be the breakthrough they were looking for

Instead, the Minerva suddenly swerved to starboard to avoid a blinding pair of positron cannon blasts. Meyrin looked on with a frown as the columns of light dissipated to reveal the dark and curved hull of an Archangel-class battleship before her.

"That's the Beelzebub," Abbey started. "It survived this far?"

Yes, the Beelzebub, the Phantom Pain warship that had led Field Marshal Markav's effort to destroy Hyderabad for not turning over a prominent Resistance leader. Meyrin remembered that well. The Resistance had marked that ship for death.

"This far," she said, "but no further. Chen, charge the Tannhäuser. Malik, I'll leave the evasive maneuvers to you. Flank speed."

The Minerva rattled as the engines roared to life and the winged warship circled around its legged opponent. Meyrin cringed as the Gottfried cannons opened fire and forced her ship to dive off course before the Tristans could respond and when the two battleships circled around back into position, the Tristans could only score a glancing blow off the Beelzebub's laminated armor.

"Missiles, incoming!" Burt cried.

"CIWS, fire!"

Bullets tore the attacking missiles out of the sky and Meyrin clenched her fists around the captain's seat's armrests. The Archangel-class had twice the firepower of her own ship but she had speed, and she knew how to use it.

Sword met sword and sparks ripped across the black sky as the Zulfiqar and Crusader Gundams did battle. Shinn darted to the right just as the Vanguard Gundam lunged up behind the Crusader with a pulsing blast from its beam cannons; he ducked again as the Artemis attacked from behind with a backhanded beam saber swipe. But the Crusader barreled through between them both and dropped down for another furious swordfight.

"What happened to you guys?" Shinn sneered. "You used to have pretty tight teamwork. Now you're like a bull in a china shop."

The Crusader slammed the Zulfiqar back with a hard horizontal swing. The Artemis darted up into the Zulfiqar's path, beam saber pulled back for a lethal stab, but Shinn dove out of harm's way before the blade made contact. The Vanguard opened fire again; the Zulfiqar wove its away around the shots and backed up with a blazing long-range cannon blast to separate the three Gundams.

"Quit running!" Sven barked, and the Crusader charged forward with another sweeping swing of its sword. Shinn whirled away again and jammed his sword upward to deflect the Artemis's beam saber, then darted to the right and dodged a salvo from the Vanguard.

Undaunted and with afterimages flying around it, the Crusader hefted its blade and charged after the Zulfiqar with a scream from its pilot. Shinn ground his teeth as he swung the sword down and his Gundam rattled under the blow.

With a blazing trail of exhaust in its wake, the Aurora Gundam elegantly spiraled down into battle in its sleek mobile armor mode and wove its away around a storm of firepower. Down below, a squadron of Dark Windams backed away as they fired shells and beams at the charging red machine but it veered away from their blasts, abruptly transformed, and blasted back with its plasma cannons to blow two of the Windams away before they could react. The survivors split their formation only to be torn apart as the Celestial Justice Gundam descended from above, and two more Windams vanished in the onslaught.

The Aurora surged forward and drove the eight survivors back but then they turned tail and fled as more beams lanced into their ranks from behind. Viveka glanced over her shoulder and smirked at the sight of a force of Resistance mobile suits moving in, weapons ready.

"Karim, take your men around," Athrun cut in. "Up ahead "

A wall of beam fire rushed out of the darkness. Athrun and Viveka darted aside, but several of the Resistance mobile suits disappeared in the blaze. Athrun bit back a curse as the black skies lit up with a storm of beam fire from a charging Destroy Gundam.

"Oh, of course," Viveka muttered. "Now you come out and play."

"Leave this thing to us," Athrun instructed. "Get around it. Viveka, come on."

The Justice and Aurora rocketed forward. The Destroy ticked its Aufprall Dreizhen cannons to the side to follow the two Gundams, but its blast caught nothing; next it unleashed a hail of missiles as it backed up, and the two Gundams darted apart under a protective screen of CIWS fire.

The smoke blew apart and Viveka frowned at the sight of the Destroy once again this time standing tall in its towering mobile suit mode, hands open, eyes shining.

"We've never used these new machines against a Destroy," Athrun said, and licked his lips. "Should be interesting."

The Destroy opened fire; the Gundams rocketed apart and went on the attack.

"Oh shit," muttered Trojan Noiret as the Green Frame Kai shook.

Up ahead loomed a team of four hulking Euclid mobile armors. Trojan cringed at the sight and he imagined the twelve Dark Windam pilots from the Charlemagne in formation behind him were doing the same but Lily seemed preternaturally delighted.

"Y'know, I helped kill a couple of these things at Terminal, remember?" she gushed. "And now I have an even cooler ride! This'll be a piece of cake."

"There are four of them, Lily."

"I know!"

The Twilight Cortana rocketed ahead despite Trojan's sputtering. He glanced over his shoulder at the dozen Dark Windams behind him. "Um, Joel, was it? You guys hang back here and wait for us to make an opening."

The former Phantom Pain pilot smirked. "If she doesn't get you killed first."

"Yeah, that's the fun part," he sighed, and the Green Frame Kai took off, hefting a Gigalauncher in its left hand and its custom rifle in its right.

Up ahead, the four Euclids had broken their formation to surround the Cortana from all sides and shower it with beam fire. Lily fired back with the red Gundam's DRAGOONs, but as usual, the blasts did nothing against the positron reflectors. Trojan took his opportunity to lunge into the battle with a shout and pummel the nearest Euclid with bazooka shells; the mobile armors broke ranks again and whipped around to shower him with beam fire and force him back on the defensive, but the pause was long enough for Lily to back away and set herself up to return fire with the long-range cannons.

"You have to have a plan when you fight these things," Trojan groaned. "You can't just charge in headfirst!"

"Well, planning is your job!" Lily shot back. The Euclids charged and let loose a storm of missiles; the Cortana backed away, CIWS blazing, and the Green Frame lunged up over it and opened fire again.

He could feel them approaching. They may yet be too far off for some Newtypes, but not for Rau Le Creuset and his years of experience and fine-tuning of his senses. A vast knot of hatred and excitement, much larger than he'd expected perhaps Valentine had been wise enough to hide the bulk of her forces for this final confrontation but it was all approaching the battlefield. Obviously Valentine meant to make a statement.

Which was all just as well, because Rau needed a good opportunity to arm the ever-despairing Angel of Death with a tool to realize her destiny. But first, she would have to find that Unit Zero-Two girl and learn the hardest lesson of all in this cruel and vicious Cosmic Era: nobody could really be saved.

The Judgment Gundam whirled into battle on its own with its DRAGOONs blazing, Rau having long since left Stella to Riika and Courtney ostensibly to go "hunt down one of those Destroy units." And he supposed he might indulge on one of those along the way, but he had more important matters to settle and chewing up one of Lord Djibril's toys would simply have to be a nice fringe benefit.

Up ahead, a Drake-class destroyer loomed in his path but the DRAGOONs flashed to life and rained beam fire onto the short warship, ripping it apart. Rau slid past as the warship exploded and turned his sights deeper into the fleet. Lord Djibril's flagship was somewhere out there, but the Blue Cosmos leader's taste for ostentation had been defied by his hasty flight from Daedalus Crater. He would have to be found elsewhere.

In the meantime...he glanced upward at a squad of Dark Windams approaching from above. The DRAGOONs lashed out again and sliced them to pieces amid a storm of beam fire. One of the Windams slipped through and rushed down from behind but the Judgment simply turned and blew it away with a beam rifle blast through the cockpit.

The sky lit up with beams again, but not from the Judgment's DRAGOONs. Rau turned in surprise and found a set of mobile suits with the faces of Gundams staring him down.

"Ah, so you're those 'Immortals' the Alliance soldiers were chattering about," he said with a smirk. "This should be interesting."

The Gundams charged and Rau grinned as he went on the counterattack.

"Alright! Ready!" Auel screamed. "Move your asses!"

The Fujin and Force Impulse Gundams darted apart and the gunbarrels lurched out of the way just as the Marduk Gundam lined up its two Callidus Mk II cannons and fired away. Two pulsing red blasts lanced out towards the Alliance mobile suits clustered up ahead. Most of them darted out of harm's way but a Calamity Gundam and a Blu Duel were not so lucky and vanished in the shots.

"Well, that's two," Sting started. "Let's " He grunted in pain as one of the Aile Strike Es rammed him with its shoulder and threw him back, driving him into his seat. The gunbarrels blazed to life again, but the white and black mobile suit darted away to safety behind its shield and the surviving mobile suits intensified their fire.

"Then we'll have to see if they fall for that again," Aoma groaned; the Impulse backpedaled behind its shield as beams slammed into it relentlessly. "Unless either of you two have another genius idea."

"Hey, fuck you, I got two of them!" Auel wailed.

"Shut up, Auel," Sting interrupted.

The surviving Phantom Pain mobile suits unleashed a storm of beams that sliced past the three Gundams and forced them back behind the Marduk's Geschmeidig Panzer. The bolts veered back towards the Phantom Pain units and forced them on the defensive; a moment later, Aoma lunged out of hiding and squeezed off a beam rifle blast that stabbed straight through the cockpit of one of the Verde Busters and blew it apart.

"There!" Sting shouted. "Auel, deflect the blasts, turn their fire back on "

Instead, a wave of artillery shells pounded into the Fujin and Marduk and knocked them both back on their heels; the Force Impulse ducked away again before the shells could reach it.

"Oh, for Christ's fucking sake," spat Auel, "you aren't supposed to learn that quickly!"

The Impulse circled around the enemy Gundams. "Just get them to fire beams again," she said, "and deflect them back. Kill them one at a time."

One of the Blu Duels lashed out with a flurry of beam gun blasts that slammed against the Impulse's shield; Auel lined up for a wave of fire from the Marduk's own beam guns that sent the Phantom Pain units scattering for cover. One of the Aile Strike Es slipped through the blasts and charged towards the Marduk; Sting met it with a shout and a volley of beam rifle fire.

"Oh my God, it's one of those things!"

Stella turned in alarm at the sound of Riika's voice and promptly cringed at the sight of a Destroy Gundam charging headlong into battle. She flung herself back as the Destroy leveled off its Aufprall Dreizhen cannons and let loose a thundering blast. Riika's ZAKU and Courtney's Proto Chaos dove to the side but the blast washed over several of the Resistance mobile suits behind them and each vanished in a plume of flames.

"Dammit," hissed Courtney, "we can't stop that "

"Stella will deal with it."

The Kali Gundam put itself between the Resistance units and the massive Destroy as it transformed. Riika blinked in surprise.

"Wha what do you mean?"

"Tell the others to go back and break through somewhere else," Stella said.

Courtney arched an eyebrow. "You're going to fight this thing yourself?"

Stella glowered across the battlefield as the Destroy's eyes lit up with a dreadful flash. "Riika and Courtney can stay," she said at last, "but don't die."

Abruptly, the Kali launched itself forward and a beam saber sprang to life in its hand. Courtney and Riika watched the nimble black Gundam go in disbelief, before Courtney shook his head. "All units, fall back and find another point to break through," he barked. "We will support Loussier. Move out!"

Riika cringed as the ZAKU and Proto Chaos rushed after the Kali Gundam. "Are you sure about this, Courtney? We can't take that thing "

"We can't," Courtney said, "but she can."

The hulking Vishnu swept one of its massive arms towards the Eclipse, a huge golden beam saber blazing from an emitter above the wrist. Emily cringed and hurled her Gundam into a tight somersault over the blade but the Vishnu darted forwards to avoid her finishing beam sword stab. The mobile armor whipped around and rained beam fire on the Eclipse; the Hail Buster flickered into existence overhead and fired off a hyper impulse cannon blast, but it landed harmlessly against the shimmering barrier of a positron reflector.

"Even to the last, you resist me, you little sacrilege!" snarled Crayt Markav. "The Angel of Death serves the Lord! Know your place!"

Emily scowled and backed away just in time for the Regen Duel to lunge up in front of her and pummel the Vishnu with a bazooka shell to the face. She whirled around Grey's mobile suit and closed in, but the Vishnu recovered quickly and warded her off with another blaze of firepower.

"Dammit, that reflector !" Merau started.

"Pierce it with beam sabers and blades," Emily instructed. "Erin, you're coming with me!"

The Gale Strike dropped in next to the Eclipse, swords in hand. "A-Alright "

"Don't hesitate!" Grey cried, even as he backpedaled under the Vishnu's furious assault. "This is the bitch that ordered Volgograd!"

Emily snaked her way through the beams and charged in and then swung her beam sword up to deflect the Vishnu's shimmering blade. "I will annihilate all of you!" Crayt shrieked. "All of you! All of you will understand the might of the Lord!"

"You've got a pretty fucked up god!" Grey shot back, and the Regen Duel punctuated him with another bazooka shell that clipped the Vishnu's shoulder. The mobile armor flung the Eclipse back and its positron cannons lit up; Emily lunged to the left and the other three Gundams scattered amid the Eclipse's afterimages as the two Lohengrin cannons blazed to life.

With a scream from its pilot, the Gale Strike lunged up behind the Vishnu, swords raised high. The mobile armor whirled around, beam blade shining to life, to deflect the two blades but then the Hail Buster slammed it in the back with another beam cannon blast. Crayt hurled the Gale Strike away and turned again but the Eclipse was there, beam sword blazing, and the blades clashed again in a shower of sparks.

"None of you will survive!" Crayt snarled. "None of you, and especially not you, Angel of Death!"

Emily scowled. "I don't have time for you."

"You don't have a choice!" Crayt shot back. The Vishnu surged forward and drove the Eclipse back; Emily rocketed away in a blaze of afterimages and the beam cannons flashed to life again.

The Pentagon, Washington, D.C., Atlantic Federation

Robert Meyers sat up in surprise at the soldier's words.

"A whole bunch of contacts from Lagrange Point 5," the man said. "Heat signatures are consistent with ZAFT, but there are twice as many as intel estimated."

At Meyers' side, MacIntyre blanched. "Twice as many? But how? We've been tearing their fleet apart for months!"

"They've been hiding their true numbers in the shoal zone, where we wouldn't be able to observe them," Meyers said with an approving smirk. "Sunogachi is more cunning than I thought."

"Meyers, we still haven't heard from Romeo 7," MacIntyre protested. "And it's been far too long to assume that they're simply in negotiations. If the ZAFT fleet is setting out, we have to assume the worst "

"Their first target will be Djibril, the man who cost them their homeland," Meyers said with a dismissive wave. "That makes us allies, if only temporarily. And once they reach the battlefield and see the kind of power we have, they'll think twice."

MacIntyre looked back at the screens. "Sir, ZAFT is not going to be reasonable. They gassed Copernicus, even though Copernicus had nothing to do with the Earth Alliance "

"But that's just it," Meyers said with a confident smile. "From their perspective, it makes perfect sense to attack targets like Copernicus. The Alliance's advantage over ZAFT stems from its size and capacities. ZAFT was simply targeting those." He gestured at the screen. "Now they're walking onto a field of battle where their advantage is nullified." And with that, he got to his feet. "Inform Admiral Dougherty that it's time to release the Destroys."

The admiral glanced disbelievingly at Meyers. How he could remain so calm in the face of a ZAFT fleet that was twice as big as reported was going to have to be a mystery for the ages, as he looked back meaningfully at Seri over his shoulder.

Earth Alliance Girty Lue-class battleship Ahura Mazda

"Red Line is holding position," one of the bridge crew reported.

"Tell them to move up further," Stone ordered. "Keep the pressure on the enemy. Keep them attacking. Waste their numbers."

Lord Djibril leaned forward in his chair as the explosions flashed outside the Ahura Mazda. The Immortals were holding up alright; the Destroys were stemming the enemy's tide; the fleet was taking losses, but inflicting just as many. But the façade was developing cracks. The Charlemagne was making a breakthrough at one point, the Minerva at another.

The Charlemagne. Djibril frowned as bitter memories surfaced. Perhaps if he'd chosen someone more ruthless than that marshmallow of a man, Ivan Danilov, then all of these problems might have been headed off.

"Admiral, Green Line is requesting reinforcements," another bridge officer spoke up. "And the Beelzebub is reporting damage against the Minerva."

Admiral Stone looked inquiringly towards Djibril. "We don't have reserves, sir. If we're going to reinforce someone, we'd have to weaken one of our lines somewhere else."

"This is a battle to the death," Djibril answered. "We have nothing to spare. And nothing will be spared for victory."

The bridge officer glanced at his console in defeat. "Y-Yes sir."

Djibril wrinkled his nose as more explosions boomed outside and rattled the Ahura Mazda. So many sacrifices, so many things this battle would cost him. The Immortals would be damaged, even if they came out of this battle seasoned by actual combat. His fleet would no doubt be diminished. He would still have to take Daedalus, still have to reestablish his authority, still have to retake control of the forces he was now destroying, all before ZAFT threw its own plan into action. He silently cursed Robert Meyers for putting him in his position. All of civilization stood naked before ZAFT, and here he was doing battle with the very army he had built to protect it.

"Sir," Stone said quietly, "we should begin withdrawing into the Debris Belt. We can lure the enemy after them and take them out ship-to-ship."

Djibril nodded silently.

The Green Frame Kai rattled as the one of the Euclids blasted by. Trojan flung the Green Frame to the side and lit up the beam sabers on the end of the rifle as the mobile armor arced around for another pass, beam cannons blazing.

"Dammit, these things won't sit still long enough!" he groaned, and then darted aside again as a second Euclid tore past. Up above, the Twilight Cortana took cover behind its beam shield as the other two Euclids pummeled it with beam fire.

"Emily killed two of these things at Terminal! We can do this!" wailed Lily.

The Green Frame rocked as a blast slammed into its beam shield and sent it reeling. "Yeah, well, that was Emily," Trojan grumbled. "We have to separate them before "

Another wall of beam fire lanced across the battlefield but this time from the other direction. Trojan blinked in surprise before he instinctively hurled the Green Frame to safety and just as a shimmering column of red energy slammed head-on into one of the Euclids and sent it tumbling backward. Lily looked around the battlefield frantically for the source of the blast.

"Oh," she said, "holy shit."

Flanked by a small army of blue and white Windams and a handful of warships was a hulking Destroy Gundam, transforming into its mobile suit mode. Its eyes lit up with a flash and the beam cannons blazed to life to ruthlessly pound the four mobile armors and sent them reeling. And before the closest one could react, the Destroy rushed forward with a beam saber lighting up on its wrist and gutted the Euclid from nose to tail.

"They're, um, on our side, right?" Lily asked nervously.

"I think so," answered Trojan. "They said the Atlantic Fed fleet had a few of these too, but, uh," he shook his head, "what say we just, y'know, get out of the way all the same?"

As the surviving three Euclids struggled for distance against the advancing Destroy Gundam, the Green Frame and Cortana slipped past effortlessly and rocketed towards Djibril's fleet.

Shuddering under the combined fire of the Aurora and Celestial Justice Gundams, the Destroy backed away and let loose a storm of beams from its circumference cannons. The Aurora elegantly whirled its way through the blasts and slammed the Destroy in the face with a burst of plasma cannon fire. The positron reflector's shimmering barrier deflected the blow but with the colossus distracted, it was child's play for the Justice to sweep in close and slash out the Destroy's chest cannons with a beam blade-assisted kick.

"Only one of these things," Viveka sneered. "I'm almost insulted."

Bitter memories of a time long ago when he'd fought a lone Destroy rushed back to Athrun's mind. "Don't let your guard down," he instructed. The Destroy unleashed a swarm of missiles from its backpack; Athrun backed away and fired a flurry of CIWS bullets into the missiles, blasting them apart. Viveka seized her opportunity to dash in close and plunge a beam saber into the Destroy's face, wipe out its entire head, and then saw off the mobile suit's right shoulder before she scrambled back for distance.

The wounded Destroy spewed another storm of beams from its remaining weapons, but this time Athrun easily negotiated a way through. The Destroy lit up the beam saber on its left wrist and swung it wildly towards the Justice; Athrun ducked beneath the blow, then rushed in close and severed its arm at the elbow.

"I'll draw its fire," he said, "you aim for the cockpit!"

The Justice backed away and launched the subflight lifter off its back. The unmanned machine arced off in one direction, the Justice's main body in another. The maimed Destroy split its fire after the two targets

...and then it went silent as the Aurora Gundam darted in and slammed its beam saber straight through the Destroy's cockpit hatch. The mobile suit shuddered; Viveka backed away and watched it explode with a satisfied smile. Up above, the Justice reunited with its subflight lifter and dropped back down next to the Aurora.

"I never get tired of that," Viveka said with a sigh.

Athrun scanned the Justice's instruments. "Good, because there's five more of those things. Let's go."

The flaming hulk of a Nelson-class battleship finally gave out and disappeared in a thundering explosion. Three Resistance warships, a Laurasia-class frigate and two Drake-class destroyers, moved forward with an accompanying screen of mobile suits. Lord Djibril's fleet was faltering. It was only a matter of time.

Inside the humming Judgment Gundam, Rau Le Creuset grinned at his panicking opponents. The further south the battle went, the more the Extended piloting these things lost their cool.

The three remaining Calamity units lined up their guns and opened fire, and Rau went back on the defensive as he recalled his DRAGOONs for recharging. The Verde Busters added their fire to the mix and drove him upward, right into the jaws of the waiting Blu Duels. He snaked his way through the beam gun fire and lit up a beam saber in the Judgment's left hand, just as one of the Blu Duels descended on him with a blade of its own. The beams clashed; Rau flung the Blu Duel aside and then threw up his beam shield as beams from the Calamity units slammed home.

"I imagine these things cost you quite a pretty penny, Djibril," Rau grunted; the Judgment danced through the beams again. "But money is no substitute for real power!"

Eyes flashing, the Judgment lined itself up against the attacking mobile suits and let loose a storm of fire from the mounted guns. Most of the enemies made quick escapes; one of the Verde Busters was caught on a beam through the chest and vanished in a blaze. The Judgment backed away behind its beam shield as the remaining mobile suits intensified their fire.

"And you Extended," Rau sneered, "are no substitute for a Newtype!"

Emily shivered as the Gundam Eclipse quaked under the relentless blows of the Vishnu's beam guns. Between the positron cannon and the overwhelming firepower, this thing was like a miniature, much more maneuverable Destroy Gundam and it was starting to rattle the three ex-Phantom Pain pilots she was temporarily calling her wing mates.

"Grey, Merau, pull back and bombard it from afar!" she instructed.

"But that reflector " Merau started.

"It doesn't matter! Just knock her around! Erin, you're with me!"

The Vishnu answered with a wall of beam fire. "Don't think those little tricks will destroy me!" Crayt Markav roared, and the Vishnu took a furious swipe at the Eclipse with its beam blade, but caught only flickering afterimages. "I have power that none of you can ever hope to have!"

Grey lined up a blast from the bazooka and pounded a shell into the Vishnu's face, sending the whole mobile armor reeling. "Oh, shut up!"

The Eclipse charged forward and its heat rod glowed an angry red, with the Gale Strike in close formation behind it. The Vishnu wheeled around on the two charging mobile suits; they broke formation just as a column of red beam fire lanced out towards them. Erin rocketed forward with a shout and brought her swords down onto the Vishnu's blazing beam blade and then the Eclipse lunged up from behind the Gale Strike, heat rod glowing, and swept the razor-edged weapon down through the elbow of the Vishnu's left oversized arm.

Crayt snarled in fury and swatted the Eclipse aside with the remaining oversized arm. The Gale Strike darted away and the Eclipse made its own escape amid a swirl of afterimages; the Vishnu answered with a wall of beam fire, and two shining yellow beam swords sprang to life in the Vishnu's two conventionally sized arms.

"Pride is a sin," Crayt growled. "The worst of sins. The devil's own sin. God will have no mercy for you, that I promise you."

Emily curled her fingers around the Eclipse's controls. "I'd be more concerned with what's going on in this world if I were you, lady."


With a triumphant grin, Sting Oakley wheeled the Fujin Gundam around and brought its knee straight up into the chest of one of the oncoming Verde Buster units. It staggered under the blow, then reeled again as Sting brought the other leg around to slam it in the back. And as the Verde Buster struggled to recover, he quickly blew it away with a beam rifle blast through the back and out the chest.

Up above, the Force Impulse Gundam backpedaled from the Calamity unit in front of it, then darted to the left as the Calamity fired a pulsing blast from its Scylla cannon. The heavier machine wheeled around on the nimble white and blue foe

And then it vanished in a blaze as the Marduk Gundam fired its Callidus Mk II cannons and swept the Calamity off the battlefield, along with one of the Aile Strike Es and one of the Blu Duels. Auel snapped his attention upwards and backed away behind the Geschmeidig Panzer as the surviving Verde Buster combined its rifles overhead and slammed him back with a blast to the center.

"Oh, come on!" he snapped. "Hold still!"

The Verde Buster split its rifles apart, snapped the bayonets into position, and charged. Auel tensed and lit up the beam naginata, readying himself for a fight

Instead, something plowed into the charging mobile suit from above and blew it apart. Auel blinked in surprise and looked up and there, flanked by a squadron of Windams, a Euclid mobile armor came blasting into the fray. The Phantom Pain mobile suits broke their formation and scattered, but their blasts were useless against the Euclid's positron reflector.

"Oh yeah," Sting started. "They have those too."

"So, wait, they're on our side for once?" Auel sputtered.

The Force Impulse pointed with its shield towards the dark shapes of Lord Djibril's fleet in the distance. "Quit chattering! We have work to do!"

"Oh, pull the stick out of your ass," Auel grumbled.

The Fujin and Marduk followed as the Impulse rocketed towards the enemy ships. Sting glanced over his shoulder again for once last look at the Euclid blasting away at the Phantom Pain mobile suits. That would certainly take some getting used to.

Shuddering under a relentless rain of saber strikes, the Destroy Gundam finally swept outwards with both its arms and the beam sabers blazing off its wrists. The Kali Gundam backflipped away, a saber of its own in hand, and Stella glowered at the monster before her. Riika and Courtney had moved ahead, so she would have to catch up with them but first...

"You're just like Neo," she hissed. "You make your pilots think they're safe." The Destroy surged forward with a wave of firepower that slammed against the Kali's shield and drove it back. "You make them think you'll protect them."

The Destroy stabbed forward with its right arm; Stella darted to the side, then rushed in close and tore a long gash over the Destroy's chest, knocking out its chest cannons. The Destroy brought its arm around again, eyes flashing furiously; the Kali ducked down and severed the Destroy's left leg at the knee along the way, then roared backward to safety as the circumference cannons opened fire again.

"But Neo lied," Stella went on. The Destroy leaned forward and its Aufprall Dreizhen cannons came to life and then the Kali plunged in between them and slashed them both in half. The Destroy lurched back, long enough for Stella to snap up the beam rifle and fire through the missile launchers. Two thundering explosions ripped apart the Destroy's backpack; the maimed mobile suit reeled as the blast ripped off its left arm at the shoulder, and it staggered forward with as much firepower as it had left. "And so do you!"

The Kali launched itself forward and plowed through the Destroy's desperate fire with its beam shield. The colossal mobile suit brought its right arm around, beam saber shining but with a scream, Stella slid underneath the blade, then chopped the arm in two. As the Destroy stumbled backward, she lanced down towards the chest and stabbed her saber into the cockpit. The Destroy threw sparks and doubled forward as though in pain; she tore the saber up through the chest, then whipped around and pumped rounds from the beam rifle into the breach.

The Kali Gundam backed away behind its beam shield as the dying Destroy finally exploded, and Stella scowled down at the flames.

"You don't protect anyone."

And with that, the Kali turned and took off, back into battle.

Shinn Asuka let out his breath as he swung up his sword to block the Crusader Gundam's ferocious downward blow. The Zulfiqar rattled under the strain; he surged forward to fling the Alliance machine back, then darted upwards himself as the Vanguard opened fire. And then the Artemis was upon him with a beam saber; the Zulfiqar slammed its foot into the Artemis's torso and knocked it back, but before Shinn could follow up on the strike, the Crusader was back in his face with another heavy sword swing.

"You can't be serious," he breathed and the Crusader surged forward and drove the Zulfiqar into another furious swordfight.

"Nothing else on this battlefield matters," Sven snarled. "Not Djibril. Not Meyers. Not ZAFT. Your battle is with me."

"Not even your wing mates?" Shinn shot back; the Zulfiqar shook as the Crusader brought down its sword again. Shinn yanked back the controls to dodge another blow and then snaked his way around beam fire from the Vanguard. The Artemis lunged in behind him, beam saber ready; he smacked the blade aside and dove out of harm's way as the Crusader gave chase with a furious sword slash. The Vanguard moved in for another salvo behind the Artemis and Shinn narrowed his eyes

An instant later, the Crusader surged forward again and Shinn jammed his sword up to deflect its blow and then he shoved the Crusader aside and fired a quick blast from his long-range cannon, straight at the Artemis. Mudie yelped in surprise and then Shams lunged into the way to shoulder the Artemis aside. The blast seared by the Vanguard and ripped off most of its left side; the right-hand cannon melted under the heat and sent the rest of the mobile suit spiraling away, spewing smoke.

"Shams!" Mudie screamed and then turned back towards the Zulfiqar in rage. "You bastard "

And then the Zulfiqar blasted past the Crusader and with a shriek of twisting metal, it brought its sword down onto the Artemis, ripping off its head, its right arm, its left leg, and its entire backpack. He slammed the mobile suit's sparking remains aside with a heavy kick, then whipped around and swung his sword upward, just in time to deflect the Crusader's attack.

"I guess that answers that," Shinn muttered.

"One of us is going to die today, Asuka," Sven growled, "and I no longer care who."

Shinn scowled right back. "I can tell."

The Crusader flung the Zulfiqar back with its sword and fired its Agni Kai cannon; Shinn whirled around the blast with a cloud of afterimages and the two Gundams charged at each other again.

Earth Alliance battleship Charlemagne

Ivan Danilov tightened his grip on the armrests of his seat as the Charlemagne shook from a missile detonation entirely too close to the hull. Djibril's fleet was pulling back into the Debris Belt. Djibril might get away, and his fleet would gain the upper hand against the bulky and unwieldy formations attacking them. But the weapons were ready and somewhere in that fleet was Djibril's flagship.

Up ahead, a Drake-class destroyer emerged from behind a wrecked warship hulk but the Gottfrieds came to life immediately and tore it to shreds. Another ship emerged from the other side and managed to pelt the Charlemagne's vast hull with Vulcan rounds, before the Gottfrieds turned on it too and ripped it in half. Danilov frowned as the Charlemagne plowed ahead, with Djibril's ranks scattering before it and the ship's own mobile suits joining the Resistance's forces in between the vessels. Djibril would not get away this time.

"The Alexandria is calling in, sir," the comm officer spoke up. "They're sending us four more ships and another five squadrons of mobile suits. They want us to lead a breakthrough."

"Then lead we will," Danilov said. "Signal to Harrison's team to tighten their formation around the ship. We will break through the center, and find Lord Djibril." He furrowed his brow. They would have to before that rising feeling of dread in the pit of his stomach got any worse. "All hands, all ahead, full!"

"This world is broken!" shrieked Crayt Markav as her sputtering Vishnu, sparks flying from its maimed left arm, poured beam fire after its four nimble adversaries. Emily glowered down at the bulky mobile armor as she wove her way between the beams and left a brilliant streak of afterimages in her wake. "And you, little Zero-One, you are the ultimate sin!" The Vishnu swung its remaining large arm and its blazing golden beam saber towards the Eclipse; Emily swung back with her own beam sword to stop it cold, then darted away before the Vishnu could fire again. "There is only one God in this world and He does not "

"Oh, get off it already!" Grey shouted and then the Vishnu lurched as a bazooka round slammed into the Vishnu from the side. "I'm pretty sure your God wasn't cool with what you did to Volgograd either, you crazy bitch!" The mobile armor whirled around and fired back but that left the Gale Strike free to dive in and slice off the Vishnu's other large arm between the wrist and elbow, then rocket away before it could retaliate.

"How dare you arrogant little worms try to stop me!" Crayt snarled, and backed away behind a wall of beam fire. "I am here on a far higher mission than any of you can imagine!" The Vishnu shuddered as the Hail Buster pounded it with another beam cannon blast; it fired back with its two Lohengrin cannons and forced the Alliance Gundams apart. "You fools can never defeat God's will!"

The Vishnu lined its guns up to fire again but then it lurched back as the Eclipse darted in out of nowhere and ripped the cannons out of its chest with a backhanded sword stroke. It brought both its arms around, yellow beam swords blazing to life but the Eclipse merely jetted backward and then sliced them both off at the elbows.

"We're not up against God," Emily shot back, "we're up against you."

Crayt's face twisted in fury. "You truly think you can escape the Lord, Zero-One?! You never will! You will be hunted by "

She went silent and her image vanished from the screens as a yellow beam plowed through the Vishnu's chest. Emily flung her Gundam backwards as the stricken mobile armor exploded and glanced up in surprise at the Hail Buster, its beam cannon still extended.

"I was getting sick of her fucking sermons," Merau said with a shrug.

"W-We really can't go back now," Erin murmured.

"Oh, why in the hell would we want to?" groaned Grey.

Emily breathed a sigh as she sat back in the Eclipse's cockpit seat and checked the sensors. That had been an obnoxious distraction, but in the meantime, the battle seemed to be going well enough. Djibril's fleet was falling back, the Resistance and Alliance forces were pressing forward, she could still feel her friends out there in the battlefield

But there was something else too, and she snapped her attention towards the Moon. Something else so many other lives how did they get out there

"Everyone, move!" she screamed, and fired the thrusters.

And then a vast column of light lanced out from the mass of approaching human presences. It swept through the battlefield, through the warring fleets. Dozens of ships and hundreds of mobile suits writhed and disintegrated in the blast; Emily's eyes went wide and her face went white as thousands of lives blew away like dust. She turned her gaze back towards the knot of hatred and fury crawling ever closer to the battlefield. It had always been there at around Lagrange Point 5, but now it burned hotter with the rippling current of anticipation underneath it all. The Eclipse's sensors caught sight of something an asteroid, surrounded by rings and Emily's jaw dropped.

"Wh-what the hell was that?!" Grey exclaimed. "That wasn't the Requiem "

"It got ships from both sides," Merau said. "It was something else."

Emily stared ahead in horror. "'s them."

"For generations," boomed the voice of Valentine Sunogachi, "you Naturals have threatened us Coordinators with annihilation." Emily tore her eyes from the approaching fleet and put them on the auxiliary screen, where the Marshal of ZAFT sat in a darkened control room, much different and much smaller-looking than the one that was evidently on Messiah. "When we were the slaves of your earthly nations, you forced us to rely on you for food and crushed underfoot our pleas for independence and justice. When we broke our chains and claimed our rightful freedom, you threatened us with death for our people and destruction of our habitats. When we defended ourselves, you pointed nuclear weapons at us and tried to extinguish us from civilization. When someone punished you for your sins, you returned them to us a hundredfold. When you had defeated us on Earth, you destroyed our nation in space. And when you had annihilated our homeland and our people, you drove us, the survivors, into exile."

"What are they doing...?" Erin murmured.

"We clawed against the uncaring void of space and the harsh surface of Mars for our very survival," Valentine said, "and now we have returned, to bring justice to this world. You have not tasted the bitter swill of persecution and destruction. You have not known what it is to have your civilization erased in the blink of an eye. You have not known what true suffering means. But starting today," she put on a sinister smile, "you will."

"Oh my God," Grey started. "Look at their fleet. Maximum magnification."

Emily zoomed in the image and felt her blood freeze in her veins.

"Let us mark this day for remembrance," Valentine said with a grin. "For today is the day your world comes to an end."

The words echoed everywhere, but Emily kept her eyes fixed in horror at Messiah, at the approaching ZAFT fleet and at the terrifying shape of the ZAKU Goliath.

To be continued...