Phase 49 - Men of Destiny

Mobile Suit Gundam SEED ETERNITY

Phase 49 - Men of Destiny

July 7th, CE 77 - Debris Belt

Dakar. Casablanca. Gibraltar. Lisbon. Madrid. Barcelona. The list of ruined cities grew ever larger as the ZAKU Goliath approached the Earth. Inside the humming control room, Valentine Sunogachi watched with mounting glee as the crosshairs slid over the city of Marseille on the southern shores of France. There was a Eurasian Federation naval base there; soon it would be just so much wreckage.

"Marshal," the officer in charge spoke up, "our losses are beginning to pile up. The fleet is "

"Pull them in closer," Valentine said with a wave of her hand. "The important part is that we get through the atmosphere. Once we do, they can't stop us."

The officer looked down nervously at his screen. "The enemy fleet is launching its counterattack."

"Then let them," Valentine said, and leaned forward. "Fix the target on Marseille, France, and fire the Armageddon cannon."

Ever compliant, the ZAKU Goliath took aim with the long cannon and launched a pillar of golden light towards the Earth. Valentine smiled as the blast hit home far away, on the shores of the Mediterranean. They would descend, they would carve a path of destruction across Europe and Russia, they would tear their way through East Asia, and they would enter North America from the Bering Strait and lay waste to the nations of Earth. No one would stop them and no one would ever threaten the Coordinators again.

Beams lanced across the black sky as the Vega Freedom and Zulfiqar Gundams did battle. Shinn wove his way through a storm of beam fire from the Freedom's DRAGOONs and fired back with his own beam rifle; the Freedom veered around his shots and fired back with a full burst from its own mounted guns and rifles, and the Zulfiqar lunged out of harm's way, back on the defensive.

"You'll just never understand," Kira snarled, as the Freedom wheeled around and pummeled the Freedom with more beam blasts. Shinn snaked his way through the blasts and returned fire; the two Gundams whirled around each other, a storm of afterimages brewing between them. "If you did "

"Oh, shut the fuck up," Shinn shot back, and the Zulfiqar punctuated its pilot with a volley of beams to the Freedom's beam shield. "Save your excuses for someone who cares."

Kira glowered back as the Freedom pounded the Zulfiqar back with another full burst and showered it in DRAGOON fire. "If you knew what I was doing here, you wouldn't think they're excuses!"

"Like there's any excuse anyway!" Shinn screamed; the Zulfiqar dove through a burst of beam fire and then whirled around to squeeze off a shot from its beam rifle that wiped out one of the DRAGOONs. Kira scowled and fired back with a full burst; Shinn darted aside and dodged the remaining DRAGOONs' furious fire.

"You just don't understand!" The Freedom lined up its guns for another full burst; the Zulfiqar dodged again and shot down another DRAGOON as it did. Kira ground his teeth and tightened his DRAGOON fire around the Zulfiqar, singing its armor with glancing hits. One of them slammed through the Zulfiqar's beam rifle.

Shinn abandoned the weapon, blasted through the barrage, and drew with his sword and with a devastating downward chop, he slashed one of the DRAGOONs in half. Another two lined up behind him, only to be evaporated by the beam wings and then the Zulfiqar charged forward with a hard diagonal sword swing. Kira backed away in surprise and fired back with the two Callidus cannons; the Zulfiqar darted aside amid a storm of afterimages and the blasts passed through nothing.

"You should know, of all people, that this world has to be changed!" Kira cried; the Zulfiqar wove its way through the Freedom's beam blasts. One of the DRAGOONs sliced in behind it; Shinn whirled around to snare it out of the sky with the Zulfiqar's free left hand and crush it, then hurl the broken pieces away. "You should understand what I'm doing here!" The two surviving DRAGOONs arced around and opened fire; Shinn darted over their blasts again, then lunged down between them and sawed them both in half with the beam wings. "I'm paving the way to a new world and if it has to be paved in blood, then so be it!"

The Zulfiqar charged after the Freedom and ducked away from its furious fire. "What the hell could possibly be worth all this slaughter?!"

Kira's eye flashed as he brought his guns to bear. "A world where people like us don't have to fight!"

The Zulfiqar charged forward with a flash of afterimages and sliced both the Freedom's beam rifles in two with one sweeping swing. Kira darted backward and drew a beam saber, then jammed it upward to deflect the Zulfiqar's downward sword blow. The two Gundams glowered into each other's eyes as the sparks flew and their beam wings blazed.

"I think we both know that's a load of horseshit," Shinn snarled, and the two Gundams descended back into battle.

Earth Alliance battleship Charlemagne

Far up ahead stretched the vast hull of the Rodinia. The Charlemagne was almost as long as that massive green warship, but the ZAFT flagship was much more massive and surrounded by its fair share of ZAFT warships and innumerable mobile suits.

Ivan Danilov steeled himself on the Charlemagne's bridge. "All units, commence long-range bombardment!" he ordered. "Accelerate to attack speed!"

The ZAFT fleet shuddered as it opened fire and the mobile suits advanced under a wall of railgun shells, beams, and missiles from their motherships. The Alliance and Resistance mobile suits struggled through the blasts at least until their own warships opened fire, and the two fleets staggered apart as the first salvos claimed their victims.

And then another beam swept through the battlefield, this one from up above. A translucent column of light lanced down from the round dish in the center of Messiah, and Danilov felt his heart drop into his stomach as the NEO-GENESIS array blasted away dozens of ships and hundreds of mobile suits.

"What the how the hell did they fire that thing so quickly?" the sensor officer sputtered.

Danilov ground his teeth as he fought down his own disbelief. "The recharge rate must be faster than we expected." He glanced up at the auxiliary screen. "Admiral Barton..."

The grizzled Resistance admiral in his blue naval uniform glowered back. "We saw it. All units, prepare to pull back."

Danilov looked back at the fleet before them, at the massive ZAFT carrier, at the hulking form of Messiah behind them all, beam shield shimmering amidst the battle. "We don't have time for complicated maneuvers, admiral," he said. "Try spreading out the fleet's formation, so that they can't take out as many of us in one hit. We can't afford to retreat again."

Barton's brow furrowed. "We have no choice, Captain Danilov. We have no countermeasures against such a weapon "

"Then move us closer," Danilov interrupted. "Move as close as you can and engage the ZAFT warships at point-blank range!"

At that, Barton blinked in disbelief. "At point-blank have you gone mad? At that close range we'll not last long against that fleet!"

Danilov fixed his eyes ahead on the ZAFT flagship and the sinister fortress it protected. "We'll last longer than we will against the NEO-GENESIS," he snapped, "and we might just take a few of them with us!"

"Already it's all going to pot, huh?" asked Sting Oakley with a bitter grin as the Fujin Gundam roared ahead, with the Kali and Marduk Gundams right behind him and an army of Alliance and Resistance mobile suits still advancing even through the ZAFT fleet's bitter fire. Auel lunged up in front of the advancing Gundams to deflect a volley of beams with the Geschmeidig Panzer system; Sting and Stella darted out from behind him to fire back at a squad of incoming ZAKUs and tear them apart before they could react.

"Figures they'd fuck things up right out of the gate," Auel grumbled.

Sting switched over to a wide frequency. "Alright, listen up! The warships are being held back by intense fire so all units, move forward and start making some holes! Anyone who breaks through attacks that big green ship next!" He clenched his fists around the controls. "Move out!"

The mobile suits roared forward and the ZAFT units backed away in surprise as a devastating wall of firepower slammed into their ranks. Sting launched the gunbarrels forward to pry open a hole in the ZAFT lines; a squad of Gunner ZAKUs backed away and leveled off their cannons to stop him, but the Kali Gundam vaulted into their ranks and tore one of them in half with a backhanded saber blow. The rest scattered, clawing for distance and the Fujin's gunbarrels blew them out of the sky.

Another squadron of mobile suits moved in from above at least until the Marduk Gundam opened fire with its beam guns and wiped out half of them in one attack. The rest fell back under fire from the advancing Alliance and Resistance mobile suits. Sting recalled his gunbarrels and scanned the battlefield briefly, looking for an opening.

"Hey," a voice he recognized somewhere in the back of his mind piped up, "you weren't going anywhere without us, were you?"

A whole squadron of Resistance mobile suits fell into formation next to the Fujin and Sting blinked in surprise at the sight of a blue and white Windam with an Aile Striker pack. Gregory Hayden smiled grimly on the auxiliary screen.

"You're still alive?" Sting sputtered.

"Should I not be?" Hayden asked back. "Besides which, I think we've got bigger things to worry about." The Windam pointed up ahead, at the oncoming hulk of a Laurasia-class frigate and a squadron of mobile suits on its flanks.

"Oh, that's easy," Auel sneered. The Marduk rushed forward and unleashed a blazing salvo from its beam guns that raked across the warship's hull and sent it shuddering back, wreathed in flames. The Kali lined up behind the Marduk for a volley of beam sniper rifle blasts; two of the mobile suits up ahead exploded.

Sting glanced past the enemies, towards the massive ZAFT flagship. "Alright then, Hayden," he said, "we're leaving this shit to you. Watch our backs."

Hayden smiled back. "Of course."

The Fujin, Kali, and Marduk charged down into the fray, and Auel deflected the frigate's blasts with his Geschmeidig Panzer as the three Gundams rocketed by. Some of the surviving mobile suits turned to pursue, but Hayden and his troops fell upon them immediately, and Sting, Stella, and Auel slipped past on their way towards the flagship.

The Judgment Gundam soared down through the chaos of battle towards the ZAKU Goliath, still advancing relentlessly towards the Earth. It had already wiped out several cities, and obliterated dozens of warships and hundreds of mobile suits that had tried to stop it. Chatter from the Atlantic Federation forces seemed to indicate that they were trying to repair the Requiem and find enough Forbidden-derivative units in space to deploy the Geschmeidig Panzer and try to simulate the relay points. But that would be useless anyways, because the Goliath's shimmering beam shield could only be pierced by another beam shield.

And luck of lucks, the Judgment had two.

Rau Le Creuset examined the battlefield for the presences he needed. There was Emily's intense pressure, growing ever closer; down below were Valentine and that other point, close enough for his own fine-tuned perception to detect. They would have to coax Zero-Two out of hiding, but as long as he was close by to guide Emily in the right direction after the inevitable occurred

But...then there was that other pressure. Rau glanced over his shoulder. Athrun.

You're still too late... He immediately opened a channel to the Eclipse and only the Eclipse. No sense letting those other two loose ends in on this. "Emily, Zero-Two is inside that thing," he said.

Emily took a deep breath. "I know. We have to get her out." She frowned. "Who's the other Newtype in there?"

"Sunogachi," answered Rau. "She's not important. Remember what I told you." The Judgment moved in alongside the Eclipse, the Green Frame Kai, and the Twilight Cortana as they descended towards the Goliath. "Remember Anori, Emily. Remember what we talked about."

She blinked down at the Goliath. "Wh-what does this have to do with it?"

"Everything," Rau said. "That machine is power. More power than any of us have. And you know what I told you about power. It's a means to an end. And that thing," the Judgment pointed down at the ZAKU Goliath, "is a most powerful means."

Emily frowned. "What are you saying?"

"I'm saying that you will have the power to change all of this, if you were to have power over that machine."

" want me to capture it?"

"Think of what you can do with it," Rau insisted. "Think of what changes you can bring. You can destroy the entire ZAFT fleet singlehandedly. You can destroy the Phantom Pain yourself. If you don't trust Robert Meyers, you can destroy him."

He blinked in surprise as he felt her steel herself. "Not until we get Zero-Two out."

"Well, of course "

"And when we do," Emily said, "I'll just destroy that thing."

Rau felt a chill run down his spine. "What do you mean?"

The Eclipse pointed down at the Goliath as it wiped out an oncoming warship and a squadron of Alliance mobile suits. "The only thing that machine can do is destroy," she said. "And you said it yourself, Rau. It's not about what you destroy. It's what you build in its place."

"That's true," Rau replied, "but first you have to destroy "

"I've got something else to do first," Emily said and with that, the screen went dark and the Eclipse roared forward, with the Green Frame and Cortana hot on its heels.

Rau stared after her in disbelief. It's not about what you destroy, it's about what you build how on earth did she get to that conclusion?!

He snapped his attention to the right and flung the Judgment Gundam back as a wave of beams shot past and then the pressure returned to his mind as the Celestial Justice and Aurora Gundams transformed and came to a halt in front of him, beam rifles trained on the Judgment.

"So," said Athrun Zala, fire in his eyes, "what happens when the puppeteer's strings are cut?"

Rau's eyes darted back and forth between the two Gundams between him and the one charging down towards the Goliath. She had rejected him? Rejected his way forward?

But he turned his senses back towards Zero-Two, the twisted, shriveled heart still beating inside the iron walls of the ZAKU Goliath. No, she hadn't rejected him. She just had yet to realize how right he was. But she would, once reality struck her in the face. And in the meantime...

"I see you brought your little girlfriend," he sneered.

Viveka von Oldendorf scowled back. "If you thought my little sister was going to take over that thing and demolish the planet, you sure didn't know her that well."

"Besides, don't you know?" Athrun added, menace dripping from his voice. "Nobody controls the Angel of Death."

Rau grinned back. "Indeed. And I hope you remember that, Athrun, for when she finally breaks. When she finally realizes that she can't save that little clone. Because when she does, the whole world will pay the price for its crimes."

"I think you underestimate her strength," Athrun shot back.

"And I think you underestimate mine," answered Rau.

The Aurora and Justice opened fire; the Judgment darted aside and launched its DRAGOONs, and the three Gundams charged at each other amid a hail of beams.

The Zulfiqar rattled as the Vega Freedom Gundam pummeled it with a head-on railgun blast. Shinn hacked through the smoke just in time for the Freedom to fire its two Callidus cannons. Shinn threw the Zulfiqar back, but one of the shots still burned past the right side of the Zulfiqar's head, leaving a smoldering scar. He lunged up as the Freedom fired again with its plasma cannons, letting it catch only afterimages, and then came back down with a hard overhead sword swing.

"A world where Newtypes use their powers for good," Kira growled, "a world where our sacrifices were worth it! Why don't you understand that?!"

Shinn charged forward after the reeling Freedom, then darted aside to dodge another Callidus and plasma cannon salvo. "Alright, fine! What's worth all these 'sacrifices,' huh?! Tell me!" The Zulfiqar stormed in with another hard sword swing, but the Freedom jammed up its saber to block the blow.

"A world of Newtypes, where our powers foster understanding and control!" Kira answered. "A world where everyone has to feel what we feel when people die!"

"Is that why you're killing everyone?!" Shinn flung the Freedom forward with his sword. "That's just an excuse! If you really were after a world of Newtypes, you wouldn't be doing it this way! You're just enabling a psychopath!"

"No! You're wrong!" Kira screamed back, and the Freedom ducked beneath the Zulfiqar's furious sword blow. It swung its saber up to slice off the Zulfiqar's left leg at the knee but an instant later, the Zulfiqar itself whirled around to slam the Freedom back with yet another sword swing.

The Freedom wheeled around with its plasma cannons and railguns deployed, but instead the Zulfiqar reared back and flung both its beam boomerangs down into the Freedom's face, and the whirling blades sliced off the plasma cannons and the Callidus cannons as they arced around. And then the Zulfiqar was there again to bring down its sword onto the smoking Freedom's beam saber as the boomerangs spiraled away into the night.

"You're wrong!" Kira shouted and his eyes went dull as the seed burst before them. "My new world won't be like that at all!"

"Your new world, huh?" Shinn shot back. "What makes you think the world belongs to you?!"

The Freedom surged forward and threw the Zulfiqar back. "I don't see you trying to improve the world!" The white Gundam barreled forward and pounded the Zulfiqar in the face with another railgun salvo. "All you've done is run around and killed people, in the name of a Resistance that you know is as bad as its enemies! What were you going to do after you'd killed Djibril?! Run away and hide?!" The Freedom spiraled around one of the Zulfiqar's sword blows and brought its saber up in a backhanded swing that tore a smoldering gash in the Zulfiqar's chest. "That would be just like you, wouldn't it, Traitor Asuka?!"

"At least I haven't been killing the wrong people!" Shinn screamed back, and the Zulfiqar smashed its sword down into the Freedom's saber, sending it reeling. Kira angled around for a kick with the Freedom's left leg to knock the Zulfiqar off balance; instead, Shinn slammed his open left hand onto the limb and blew it apart below the knee with a palm cannon blast. "Which is more than I can say about you!"

Kira darted away with another railgun blast and hefted his beam saber. "You never did understand the concept of necessity, did you?"

Shinn pointed his sword combatively at the Freedom. "And you never understood the concept of humility."

"You're wrong," Kira snarled back. "Wrong about everything. And especially about me "

"I don't give a fuck if you feel bad about what you've done," Shinn interrupted. "You still did it."

That seemed to strike a chord and Kira took a moment to bury a surge of emotion. "How I feel isn't important," Kira said. "What is important is what I leave for the future." The Freedom blasted forward, saber held high. "Which is something you'll never do!"

Battleship Minerva

"Deeper into the Debris Belt," Meyrin ordered, even as the Minerva shook under exploding shells from the pursuing Fortuna. "We're going to need wreckage around us."

"We'll have to reduce our speed," Abbey warned.

Meyrin shook her head. "Negative. Stay at flank speed."

Down at the helm, Malik blinked. "Wha flank speed, while navigating the Debris Belt ?"

"You're not the Minerva's helmsman for nothing, Malik," Meyrin said. "This is where it counts."

Malik stared down at the helm for a second and then took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Yes ma'am."

Abbey frowned. "What are you planning?"

"That ship has all the same strengths and weaknesses we have," Meyrin said. "It's as fast as we are, it has the same armaments, the same sensor suite but it doesn't have the same crew." She glanced up at the auxiliary screen, where the Fortuna was still blithely charging after the Minerva, guns blazing. The Fortuna's Tristans opened fire; the Minerva nosed under a piece of debris and let the blasts slam into the wreckage above uselessly. "So, if they want to fight a war on our turf, let them. It's still our turf."

Abbey stared skeptically at the Fortuna's image. "Assuming they're as inexperienced as you think. And that's their second-in-command's flagship. He wouldn't have chosen a bunch of greenhorns."

"No," Meyrin said, "but he didn't choose the best there are. All ahead full, Malik. Chen, keep the weapons ready to fire on my mark."

She closed her eyes for a moment as the Minerva plunged into the Debris Belt, followed by relentless fire and the blue-trimmed Fortuna. Talia, Luna, if you two can hear me, help me out, she thought. Let me be what they say I am.

Stella Loussier clenched her fists around the Kali Gundam's controls as she sped into battle with the Fujin and Marduk Gundams and with whatever Alliance and Resistance mobile suits and warships had managed to force their way through the ZAFT lines. The two fleets had melted together into an undifferentiated melee that would hopefully keep NEO-GENESIS from firing. The battle was on a knife's edge now. Surely they wouldn't want to go frying their own troops.

At least, that was what Sting had said. Stella had her doubts. A lot of people didn't seem to mind blowing up their friends. That was what made them evil, or, one of the things, at least.

The three Gundams darted apart from a salvo of beams and let their escorts return fire. Stella turned her eyes up ahead, towards the gigantic green warship that the Alliance troops said the ZAFT troops were calling the Rodinia. It made little difference to Stella. She had to destroy it.

The Kali pitched forward and fired at the oncoming ZAFT mobile suits with its beam rifle. One of them was speared through the cockpit on a blast, but the rest broke formation and pulled back, a wall of beam fire lancing out towards the Gundams. Auel unleashed a full salvo of beam blasts to drive them further back, and blow up a couple more.

"All we have to do is destroy the weapons," Sting said, "and then the Charlemagne can blow it away."

"As long as we can reach the fucking thing!" barked Auel, and the Marduk shuddered under a hail of beam fire. "Dammit, these things are everywhere!"

"Stella will deal with them." And with that, the Kali vaulted forward with a beam saber blazing to life in its left hand. Up ahead, a squad of ZAKUs backpedaled and began to fire; the Marduk silenced their guns with a flurry of beams, and the Kali lunged down into their ranks and ripped one of them in half with a backhanded beam saber swipe. The other three brought their guns to bear on the black Gundam; the Fujin's gunbarrels lanced into the fight and destroyed another. Stella danced through the two survivors' beams and shot one of them down with a beam rifle blast to the cockpit and the last backed away in apparent terror, only to be sliced in half by the Marduk's beam naginata.

"Alright," Sting said, "Auel, you cover us both. I'll take the starboard side. Stella, you take port." He narrowed his eyes at the massive Rodinia. "Go!"

Up ahead loomed the ZAKU Goliath, and Emily immediately cringed at the sight of it swatting an entire Euclid mobile armor aside like a fly. There were dozens of mobile suits surrounding the red monstrosity now, but Emily felt no human presences from them, and decided that they must be yet more automated units. But these sleek, slim, winged versions of the ZAKU Warrior, colored in black with blazing green monoeyes, were so much more nimble and moved with the kind of precision and timing of DRAGOONs.

Emily armed the Dragon's Fire and charged ahead, with the Green Frame Kai and Twilight Cortana on her flanks. The three Gundams darted apart as the ZAKU Drones up ahead opened fire; Emily swung up the Dragon's Fire launcher and fired, and the blazing blue beam swept through three of them at once and disintegrated them all. The Green Frame shot down another, and the Cortana's DRAGOONs lashed out to take down another two.

The survivors rocketed back into formation and went on the attack. Emily jammed on the brakes and deployed her beam shield, just in time to deflect a beam salvo. The Green Frame and Cortana took cover behind their own beam shields; the Drones charged again, rifles blazing.

"Okay, so they are just really big DRAGOONs," Emily muttered.

"What but those are whole mobile suits!" wailed Lily. The Cortana shuddered as a storm of blasts slammed into its beam shield.

"Cover me!" Emily shouted and the Eclipse rocketed forward with a storm of afterimages flickering around it. The Green Frame and Cortana leveled off their guns and opened fire; the Drones broke ranks, but the Eclipse was upon them to sweep its glowing Dragon's Tail heat rod through two of them. The rest quickly backpedaled; the Eclipse darted upward and blew another two away with the Dragon's Fire, then rocketed to the side and left a blurry wake of afterimages.

Far ahead, the ZAKU Goliath marched on, and Emily grimaced as she fought her way through the Drones. So much to go through, and they still had to drag Zero-Two out...

The battlefield flashed as the Judgment Gundam's DRAGOONs darted to and fro, spewing beams at the Celestial Justice and Aurora Gundams. Athrun ground his teeth in frustration as he swatted the blasts aside with his beam shield, lined up his rifle, and fired at the Judgment's main body; the gray and blue Gundam ducked to the right and fired back a full burst from its mounted guns that sent the Justice careening off course.

A moment later, the Aurora rocketed down into the Judgment and drove it back on the defensive with a torrent of plasma cannon shots. Rau whipped around on the red Gundam and opened fire again; the DRAGOONs pelted the Aurora with beam fire and Viveka bit back a curse as she backed away behind her beam shield.

"It's funny," Rau Le Creuset said with a chuckle. "You two aren't that different from me, really "

"Don't waste your breath on that horseshit," Athrun snarled. The Judgment wheeled around on the Justice with another beam salvo; Athrun scowled as one of the beams claimed his rifle. He flung the useless weapon away before it exploded, drew both his sabers, slammed them together at the ends, and charged forward with a sweeping swipe from his double-bladed saber. The Aurora backed him up with another salvo of plasma cannon blasts as the Judgment backed away. "I'm not the one acting like I have the right to pass judgment on the world!"

The Judgment charged back with a beam saber of its own blazing alight in its hand, and the two Gundams met with a crash of blades and a shower of sparks. "Oh, but I have every right!" Rau roared. "These fallen creatures will never come to their senses on their own, after all!"

"So you complain that the world used you and threw you away, then you do the same to others?!" Athrun snapped. The Justice surged forward and flung the Judgment back; the Aurora lunged up from behind, beam rifle ready, but Rau quickly whipped around and sawed it in two, then drove the Aurora back with a point-blank full burst to the beam shield. He turned again and brought down his saber to deflect the Justice's horizontal blow towards the Judgment's waist. "You're nothing but a hypocrite!"

Rau merely shrugged. "I use the tools I'm given, little Athrun. And there's some delicious irony in it all anyway!" The Judgment backflipped over the Aurora as it took a swing with its own beam saber at the gray Gundam's exposed back; the DRAGOONs swarmed in and drove both mobile suits apart. "The Cosmic Era, that time in history when humans reduced each other to refuse and weapons, destroyed by its own grandest creations!" The Judgment rained beams on the Justice and Aurora with its mounted guns. "They dared to create an Ultimate Coordinator, and now their hubris returns to destroy them; they dared to create an Angel of Death, and now they face a force they could never control!" He grinned malevolently. "And then you two, standing here, trying to stop me as though I'm the one you should be worrying about!"

"Jesus, you are nuts," Viveka grumbled.

"You've had your run," Athrun said, "and now it's time for you to answer for your crimes."

Rau smiled back. "Then come and claim your justice, Athrun."

The Justice and Aurora raised their sabers and charged.

"You think you're going to build a world of Newtypes?!" screamed Shinn Asuka, as the Zulfiqar stormed in close and slammed the Vega Freedom back with a hard horizontal sword blow. Kira lunged over the next one, then came back down with a hard kick to the Zulfiqar's head with its remaining leg. It lined up for a railgun blast; the Zulfiqar darted aside, then rushed in again, and the Freedom jammed its saber upward to deflect the sword blow. "You think you can build a better world just by killing people?!"

Kira glowered back. "The only way people change is when they're forced to, by enormous suffering, at enormous cost!" The Zulfiqar flung the Freedom back and charged again. It raised its railguns only for the Zulfiqar to charge and slash them both in two. Kira stabbed forward with his sword and tore another gash into the Zulfiqar's chest. "That was how I learned to pilot mobile suits. That was how you learned to use your Newtype powers. That was how your friend Emily survived. So why should the rest of the world be any different?!" The Freedom drove its knee up into the Zulfiqar's chest and sent it reeling back. "The world only makes sense when you force it to!"

The Freedom closed in with its saber drawn back for a final blow but Shinn suddenly darted away and quickly deployed the long-range cannon. Kira jammed the controls to the right, but not before the cannon fired and a coursing red blast slammed into the Freedom's left shoulder and blew away the entire arm. Kira charged forward with a shout and brought his saber down into the Zulfiqar's left elbow, and with a burst of fire, he severed the Zulfiqar's arm at the elbow and destroyed the long-range cannon in a blaze. Shinn burst through the smoke and brought down his sword, but the Freedom's saber was there to block the attack.

"The world only makes sense when you force it to, huh?" Shinn asked, eyes dull as the seed fell before them. "That's pretty funny, coming from you." Kira narrowed his eye in anticipation. "Because if it weren't for you, my world would still make sense!"

The Zulfiqar flung the Freedom back with its sword and went back on the attack.

Earth Alliance battleship Charlemagne

The Charlemagne trembled as one of the Drake-class destroyers off the starboard bow snapped in two and exploded. Up ahead, the Rodinia fired back with no less than eight powerful Tristan cannons and the blasts raked across the fleet and tore another destroyer out of the sky.

"Captain, our fleet is getting decimated," Vera spoke up. "We can't even maneuver them anymore "

"Those Gundams will break through," Danilov said. "We've got to give them more time. Gottfrieds, Valiants, intensify power, now!"

The Charlemagne rumbled as the Gottfried cannons and Valiant railguns came to life and hurled a wall of firepower into the oncoming ZAFT forces. Two warships buckled under the blow and a dozen mobile suits vanished in the inferno, but the rest emerged with negligible damage. Another storm rushed out from the Charlemagne's weapons, but this time the ZAFT units skirted around the blasts and held their ground.

"Danilov," one of the Alliance officers sputtered from the auxiliary screen, "we're getting torn apart! We can't " The screen went dark and Danilov cringed as he saw another Alliance warship explode out of the corner of his eye.

The weapons officer sat up at his post. "Captain, Lohengrins are ready to fire "

"Not yet," Danilov said. Come on, Gundams...

A thunderous explosion claimed one of the jet-black ZAKU Drones as the Gundam Eclipse ran its beam sword through the nimble mobile suit's waist. The black Gundam snaked its way through a hurricane of beam fire and charged towards another knot of Drones up above. The mobile suits darted apart but the Twilight Cortana was there to pummel them with blasts from its DRAGOONs, and two shots from the Cortana's long-range cannons wiped out three of the Drones at once.

"There's so many of these damn things!" Lily wailed. The Cortana rattled as blasts slammed into its beam shield.

The Green Frame squeezed off a shot that speared a Drone through the chest but two more rose to take its place and drive the Green Frame back. "Emily, we're not getting anywhere like this!" shouted Trojan.

Emily's eyes flashed with frustration as a burst of beam fire cut her off. "In that case..."

The Eclipse charged forward; the Drones fired back, forcing her to weave her way through the shots. Undaunted, the Eclipse barreled through their salvos and stormed down towards their tightening ranks.

"I'll even the odds myself!"

A storm of white energy erupted in the Eclipse's cockpit and a moment later, dozens of the remaining Drones turned their guns on their wing mates. The Eclipse plowed through the inferno and angled for the ZAKU Goliath as the Drones descended into shooting at each other.

Back in the Cortana, Lily blinked in disbelief as their problem rapidly took care of itself. "She...she can do that?" She immediately put on a pout. "No fair! How come I can't do that?!"

"Come on," Trojan said, "you can bitch at her for it later!" The Green Frame and Cortana took off after the Eclipse, charging towards the imposing ZAKU Goliath in the distance.

Athrun Zala grimaced as one of the Judgment Gundam's Knight DRAGOONs claimed the Celestial Justice's right leg just above the knee. He rocketed forward anyway and launched one of his anchors forward to snare the Judgment's beam rifle, then yank it out of the gray Gundam's grip. Rau bit back a curse and warded the Justice off with a web of DRAGOON fire just in time for the Aurora Gundam to sweep in and chop off the Judgment's left leg at the knee. The Judgment responded with a searing barrage from its mounted guns that blew off the dodging Aurora's own left leg at the knee and entire left arm.

"Ah, so the failed Oldendorf sister would like to play too!" Rau snarled, and the DRAGOONs lashed out at the crimson Gundam. Rau whirled around, beam saber in hand, and swatted aside the Justice's own saber strike from behind. "I'd think you should be more worried about little Emily!"

"She can take care of herself!" Viveka snapped back.

"Really now!" Rau cackled; he drove a knee up into the Justice's chest, then spun around to pummel the Aurora with beam fire. The red Gundam ducked between the blasts and closed in, and with a hard backhanded saber blow, it slashed out the Judgment's chest-mounted Callidus cannon. Rau darted to the side as the Justice charged up from behind with a saber stab and showered the two Gundams with DRAGOON fire. "I've been spending quite some time recently making sure that she can't!"

"Yes, that's what you do, isn't it?!" Athrun snarled. The Justice launched its Fatum-02 subflight lifter skyward; the machine spread its wings and claws and darted down towards the Judgment with a burst of beam fire. "Always spreading your misery around, as though nobody else in the world has to suffer the way you do!" Rau spiraled away from it; the Aurora charged up towards him, but he batted aside its saber blow, then turned to deflect another attack from the Justice. "Always bitching about how the world used you, while you use other people! While you turn them into monsters!"

Rau grinned back even as he dodged the fire from the subflight lifter and the Aurora. "Kira Yamato was always a monster, Athrun Zala!" he laughed. "All I did was throw his true nature into the light!"

The Justice charged forward and slammed the Judgment back with a hard horizontal saber blow. "He was never a monster until you got to him!" Athrun screamed. The subflight lifter came whirling down with snapping claws at the Judgment's back, and Rau jetted from side to side as the flying machine gave chase. "He was compassionate and he knew right from wrong until you came along!"

"Oh, that was hardly my doing!" Rau shot back. "All I did was take an aimless man and give him purpose! It was Valentine who turned him into what he is now!"

"Excuses!" roared Athrun, and the Justice rammed its shoulder hard into the Judgment's chest. Rau fired back with the mounted guns and tore away flaming chunks of the Justice's armor but then the Aurora slammed into the Judgment from the side and threw it off. The DRAGOONs rushed in to attack, but Viveka spiraled her way through the blasts and then slashed off the beam cannon embedded in the Judgment's remaining knee. Rau turned his guns towards her, but the subflight lifter intervened with a storm of beam fire that drove the Judgment back.

"Believe what you want, Athrun," Rau said, "but the truth is the truth!" He backflipped over the Aurora's plasma cannon fire and answered it in spades. As the Aurora backed away, the DRAGOONs went to work and then the Judgment itself barreled forward and slashed off both the Aurora's plasma cannons. The smoldering stumps exploded; the Aurora went reeling; Rau closed in for a killing blow

And then the Judgment stopped cold as the Justice threw itself into the way and slapped its saber aside with a quick counterattack. The Judgment staggered back and drew a beam saber in its left hand just in time for the Justice to sever its left arm at the elbow with a lightning-quick beam blade-assisted kick.

Rau flung the Judgment back with a burst of fire from the DRAGOONs and mounted guns, forcing the Aurora and Justice apart. "Even if you kill me here, your victory will be meaningless!" he cried. "The instant Emily realizes she can't save that little clone of hers, none of you will be able to stop her!"

Viveka scowled back as she closed in, saber blazing. "Then you really don't know her!"

With a final shudder, the Marduk Gundam lined up its guns for a punishing full burst of firepower. The beams slammed through an oncoming squadron of ZAFT mobile suits and tore them to pieces. Auel smirked with satisfaction as his allies streamed through the breach, and he turned the guns towards their flanks to ward off the ZAFT units trying to close their line.

Up ahead loomed a handful of ZAFT warships and behind them was the massive Rodinia. Already it was bringing its guns to bear again on the Alliance and Resistance fleet. A Nazca-class destroyer moved up to attack; Auel deflected its blasts with the Geschmeidig Panzer, but the Marduk began to strain under the pressure of redirecting such powerful bolts.

A moment later, flashes of light flared up around the destroyer's hull and the Fujin Gundam's gunbarrels swarmed around the ship, peppering its hull with beam blasts. The mobile suits struggled to keep up, but the Fujin's gunbarrels tore black gashes into the Nazca's hull just in time for the Alliance and Resistance mobile suits to focus their firepower on it and shred it in a relentless crossfire.

Auel glanced up ahead and charged through the opening as the Nazca exploded. "There we go!" he shouted. "There's a breach! Move your asses, people!"

The Marduk roared forward, beam naginata flashing to life, and charged down towards the exposed Rodinia as the fleet inched forward.

Beam saber met anti-ship sword as the sparking Vega Freedom and Zulfiqar Gundams battled their way across the black sky, afterimages flickering around them. Shinn brought his sword around in a hard uppercut that sent the Freedom staggering back.

"You come here and bullshit me about some 'better world' you want to make," he snarled, "and then you have the nerve to lecture me about sacrifices!" The Zulfiqar brought down another bone-rattling hit to the Freedom's saber. "What the hell do you know about sacrifices?!"

The Freedom jetted back from the Zulfiqar's next swing, then rocketed down into its face for a stab towards its cockpit. The Zulfiqar somersaulted to the right and then gave the Freedom a hard kick to the face to knock it back. Shinn charged forward, sword upraised, but the Freedom managed to bring its saber around in time to block the blow.

"I know enough " Kira started.

"The hell you do!" Shinn roared. "I'm the one who's been sacrificing, because of you!" The Zulfiqar used its sword to fling the Freedom back, and went on the attack again. "You took my parents from me, you took Mayu, you took Kika, you took Mev and George and all the rest, you took Lacus so what the hell have you ever lost?!"
The Freedom ducked down as the Zulfiqar swung again, then charged up and tried to bring his saber around through the Zulfiqar's exposed back. Shinn whipped around, sword in hand, to deflect the blow.

"I've lost someone important to me too," Kira shot back, "and that's why I'm doing this!" He surged forward and pushed the Zulfiqar back in front of him. "To make sure she didn't die for nothing!"

Shinn's eyes flashed with fury. "So you'll just kill everyone because someone you cared about died?!"

"You're wrong!" shrieked Kira, and the Freedom hurled the Zulfiqar back. Shinn maneuvered his sword up to deflect another saber strike. "It's not like that!" The Freedom kept up its attack. "I'll make a world where we can be together again!"
"Oh, so that's what this was all about!" Shinn shouted back. "You're just crazy!"

Kira's eye flickered with rage. "Shut the hell up!"

"Because if there's one thing you taught me, you crazy son of a bitch," Shinn went on, as the Zulfiqar and Freedom circled each other and threw sparks, "it's that you can't bring back the dead!"

ZAFT Minerva-class battleship Fortuna

"Missiles, sir!" the sensor officer cried.

Lyle tensed in the captain's seat. "CIWS, shoot them down!"

The Fortuna's CIWS emplacements tore the Minerva's missiles out of the inky sky, and the blue and gray warship shook as the projectiles prematurely detonated. So much of this wreckage was still fresh that infrared sensors were of no use in here. But the Minerva had run away into this vast mess.

At the XO's station, Morales leaned forward, a hand thoughtfully rubbing his chin. "Maybe they have a trap out here...?"

"There's no way they could have set one up out here," Lyle said with a dismissive wave. "This wreckage is too new."

"But we're out of our element, sir," Morales protested. "They've been here for three years, and the Debris Belt was always the Resistance's turf."

Lyle scowled ahead at the wreckage, eyes darting back and forth for any sign of the Minerva. "We won't let a bunch of Natural rejects and race-traitors best us here," he said. "Not with the Marshal depending on us. Sensors, find them and lock on. They won't get away again."

The Kali Gundam skimmed along the vast surface of the Rodinia and elegantly dodged a furious storm of beam fire from ZAFT units overhead. A GOUF Ignited dropped down into the Kali's path, beam sword shining to life; the Kali's saber deflected the GOUF's blows with expert precision, just long enough for the Fujin Gundam's gunbarrels to lance across the battlefield and tear the GOUF apart.

Stella plunged through the flames and leveled off her beam rifle at the Rodinia's row of portside Tristan cannons. The first one ticked towards her, but too late; the Kali opened fire and speared the cannon on a pair of blasts, blowing it apart. The next one opened fire; Stella vaulted off the ship's hull and destroyed it as well, and the third and fourth fell victim to other Alliance and Resistance units' fire as they were distracted by the nimble black Gundam.

"Portside is open!" she shouted. "All units, get back!" She threw a switch on the Kali's console. "Danilov "

Ivan Danilov nodded grimly. "All units, clear out from Rodinia now! Requiem X2 fire!"

The Alliance and Resistance units scattered and Stella backed away...just as a blazing column of golden light erupted from the Charlemagne's massive prow. The shimmering beam plowed through space and smashed into the Rodinia's disarmed port side, then drilled its way out the starboard stern. The Rodinia bucked as though hit with a fist, flames and smoke began to rush out of its catapults and battle scars and then the massive ship fell back and vanished in an explosion that rattled Stella's teeth.

"And that," Auel said with a satisfied grin, "is the end of that!"

"Not quite," Sting said, and the Fujin pointed beyond the flaming wreckage as it recalled its gunbarrels.

Beyond them all lay Messiah, its own beam shield still lit. Stella narrowed her eyes at it.

"All units, continue the advance," Danilov ordered. "Our next target is Messiah!"

The Judgment Gundam's DRAGOONs blazed through the black sky and hurled a wall of firepower into the charging Celestial Justice and Aurora Gundams. One of the blasts claimed the Aurora's right wing and sent the red mobile suit spiraling off course; Rau turned the Judgment's mounted guns on it, but before he could fire, the Justice's subflight lifter rushed into the path and drove him back with a storm of beam fire.

"You'll see!" he cackled, as the beams seared the Justice's armor. The subflight lifter spiraled through the blasts and fired back, but the Judgment easily dodged and then deflected a saber stroke from the Justice. "She'll break down, at long last, and the whole world will finally understand the depths of its crimes!"

The Justice snaked its way through the DRAGOON fire and descended into another swordfight with the Judgment. "For a Newtype, you sure do have no idea what humans are like!" Athrun shot back.
"And I suppose you're going to defend these worthless creatures?!" The Judgment surged forward and drove the Justice back.

"Just because you have no future," Athrun answered, "does not mean the rest of us don't!"

Rau ground his teeth and bit back his fury. "Funny, coming from you," he said, "because you don't have a future either!" The Judgment slammed the Justice back, then darted aside as the subflight lifter came darting in. He whipped around and the DRAGOONs were there to rip it to shreds in a storm of beams. Athrun blinked in disbelief and then the flames burst outward and the Judgment stormed through, beam saber held high for a killing stab

"Forgetting someone?!"

And then the Aurora was there to lunge into the way and sever the Judgment's right arm at the shoulder. Rau jammed back the controls in surprise; Athrun shoved the Aurora aside and charged forward.

"You're wrong, Rau!" he roared. The Judgment's mounted guns fired, blowing away chunks of the Justice's body. "I have a future!" Rau reared back, stunned, as the Justice closed in. "And it starts today!"

And then, with an ear-splitting screech of twisting metal, the Justice plunged its saber into the Judgment's battle-scarred chest.

The two Gundams pitched back, pouring sparks and smoke. Rau began to laugh in the cockpit as the Judgment Gundam failed around him and then, as it finally disappeared in a thundering inferno, Rau Le Creuset died with a maniacal cackle.

Inside the Aurora, Viveka's eye went wide in disbelief.


A wave of horror swept over her. He couldn't be dead; he'd said they had a future; he had plans; he had

Something emerged from the flames...and Viveka couldn't help but smile. There floated the Justice, blackened, cratered, missing its right arm...but still in one piece.

And inside the ruined cockpit, surrounded by shrapnel and drops of blood, Athrun Zala sat back with a smile of his own.

"You don't understand!" shrieked Kira Yamato as the Zulfiqar and Vega Freedom Gundams battered each other's blades. "I'll bring her back! I'll meet her again! I'll say everything that I left unsaid! It will all be worth this!"

Shinn scowled back. "You insane fucking fool "

The Freedom surged forward and knocked the Zulfiqar back. "You think I haven't suffered because of all this?!" Kira screamed. Shinn winced at the torrent of emotions flooding out of the crippled Freedom's cockpit. "You think I can't feel it when I kill these innocent people?! You think I look in the mirror and don't see a mockery of everything I used to be?!" The Freedom brought down its saber with a crash. "But when it's all done, I'll have made a world that will be worth this!"

Ratting under the blows, the Zulfiqar took its chance to jet backwards and then rush forward again with a hard horizontal swipe that sent the Freedom reeling. "So that's all this was about, huh? You wanted one last meeting with that person you cared about?" The Zulfiqar charged back into a swordfight with the Freedom, sparks and afterimages rippling around them. "And what about the people who can't do that?! Did that ever matter to you?!"

"It'll be a world for everyone!" Kira cried.

"Everyone who's left!" Shinn shouted back.

The Freedom darted away from the Zulfiqar and set itself up for another charge. Shinn backed away with a blast from the engines as the Freedom closed in, then swatted it away with a hard sword blow.

"No more of this," growled Kira, his natural eye twitching with fury and stress, "I've wasted enough words with you! If you're going to get in the way of this, I'll destroy you!"

Shinn brandished his sword as he and the Freedom circled each other. "Then bring it on!" The Zulfiqar and Freedom rocketed apart, and Shinn charged forward with a scream, sword held forward for a final stab.

Kira looked up furiously at the charging Zulfiqar, ready to dart aside and run the machine through with his saber. But instead, his eye widened in disbelief as he saw an image, a figure blocking the way between himself and his foe, eyes holding nothing but sadness.


The image vanished—Shinn screamed—

The Zulfiqar slammed its anti-ship sword through the Vega Freedom's cockpit.

Kira Yamato vanished and Shinn grimaced as he slammed the sword to the hilt through the Freedom's chest. The ruined mobile suit sputtered once before its eyes faded and then, finally, it disappeared in a thundering fireball. Shinn screamed as the force slammed into the maimed Zulfiqar head-on...and the world went dark.

The ZAKU Goliath smashed through another Euclid mobile armor and fired another blast from that giant rifle into the Earth. Emily put the thought of all those people below out her mind. If she was going to stop that thing and rescue Zero-Two then there could be no distractions. Not even for that.

"Uh, hey Emily, those black ZAKU things are starting to come back after us," Lily spoke up.

"Let them. They'll get destroyed in the crossfire," Emily answered. Her eyes darted over the battlefield. She could feel the pinpoint of Zero-Two's presence somewhere down there, next to that other presence that Rau had told her to ignore. But was she inside the Goliath? How would they get in there? They'd have to pierce the beam shield, but

"Hey, what's it doing now?" Trojan started.

Emily zoomed in the image and caught sight of a hatch in the ZAKU Goliath's chest swinging open. Something shot out something silver, something shaped like a mobile suit.

All at once, it sent a massive pulsing wave of green energy her way. The Eclipse, Green Frame Kai, and Twilight Cortana darted apart to let the blast sear by. Emily fixed her eyes on the mobile suit. That thing she recognized it the Stargazer. The Stargazer, sporting a beam wing array and a pair of binders that held six DRAGOON units. The Stargazer, toting a huge double-barreled rifle. The Stargazer

...with Zero-Two inside.

On the other side of the battlefield, Unit Zero-Two lifted her eyes towards the Angel of Death and the Amaranth Gundam charged into battle.

To be concluded...