Phase 02 - The Delta Astray

Mobile Suit Gundam SEED DESTINY - Red Planet

Note: Does Orb have a fetish for weird, long names or what? Jeez.


Phase 02 - The Delta Astray


November 15th, CE 76 - Martian Liberation Army destroyer Acidalium, Deimos

"The Fortuna is en route to Olympus Mons, alone," Emmanuel Vargas said, his face emblazoned on the Acidalium's main screen. "I should not have to tell you that this is a golden opportunity to destroy one of the leaders of our enemies."

"I understand, sir," Agnes answered, crossing his arms over his light blue civilian attire, fighting back the urge to scowl. "We'll be there to intercept him."

Vargas narrowed his eyes at the Acidalium's crew. "I expect success, then," he said. "Move out."

The screen went dark, and Agnes bit back a curse, glancing down at Nahe in the captain's seat. "I guess you heard him," he said. "Get us moving."

Nahe leaned forward. "We have our orders," he said, glancing down at the Acidalium's portly helmsman. "Karl, all ahead, full! We have an appointment with Kira Yamato to make."

The Acidalium lurched forward, edging out of its dock on Deimos and arcing up into space, towards Mars. Agnes leaned back against the side of the captain's chair, crossing his arms. Kira Yamato was somewhere out there and this time, the Delta Astray would have to defeat him.

"So I'll have to fight the champion of ZAFT," he said quietly.

"It shouldn't matter so much to you," Nahe said, glancing up at him. "You're the ace of the MLA, Kira is the ace of ZAFT. You're natural rivals."

Agnes looked back out the bridge windows, narrowing his eyes at the planet. "I know," he said. "But all the stories..." He shook his head. "The visitors to the Austral Colony explained to us that Kira Yamato was a great hero in the Earth Sphere. He saved the PLANTs from being destroyed by a nuclear attack, and he protected them during the Junius War as best he could. They said he was a great man, a hero, someone who fought for the side of justice and righteousness, to protect the weak and the oppressed." He shook his head. "So I can't understand why he would come here with ZAFT to oppress Martians."

Nahe eyed him for a moment. "I'd imagine his motivations are more complicated than that," he said. "He fought with the Alliance for a while too. But nevertheless, we have our orders, and it's a chance to take out one of ZAFT's top leaders."

Agnes closed his eyes. "I know." He glanced back down at Nahe. "I'll have to play the Hector to his Achilles again, won't I?"

"Here's hoping you're a bit more successful than Hector was," Nahe said.

"Inform me when we're in range. I'll be with the Delta Astray," Agnes instructed. He cast his eyes back towards the red planet one more time. "And I'll go get those five little gifts we got from Lord Djibril..."

ZAFT Minerva-class battleship Fortuna, en route to Mars

"Captain," the sensor officer said grimly, "a heat signature is approaching from seven o'clock. Comparison with the database indicates that it is probably the Acidalium."

Sitting back in the captain's chair, Lyle put a hand to his chin in thought. "I figured we would be attacked," he said, "but not by them..." He glanced up at the bridge doors. "Then again, Marshal Yamato had predicted this." He took up the intercom. "Marshal, sir, this is the bridge."

"What is it?" Kira's voice answered. Lyle narrowed his eyes at the screen before him.

"The Acidalium's coming up behind us on a combat bearing, sir," Lyle explained. "We expect an attack. Will you be leading the mobile suit squadron?"

"The ace of the MLA would expect nothing less," Kira answered. "I'll sortie and handle the Gundam. The rest of the pilots will deal with the Daggers, and I'll leave the Acidalium itself to you."

"Understood," Lyle answered, "bridge out." He looked up. "Shield the bridge and issue Condition Red. The Acidalium is a fast and well-armed ship I expect you all to stay alert!"

Martian Liberation Army Destroyer Acidalium

Sealing the helmet of his red and orange Orb flight suit, Agnes Brahe settled into the cockpit of his familiar war horse, the Delta Astray Gundam. Toting a beam rifle, a katana, two hastily-added head-mounted CIWS guns, and a shield taken from a Civilian Astray, it was the crown jewel of the MLA's meager mobile suit force and only it could take on the Strike Freedom Gundam.

Agnes glanced across the hangar, at the mobile suits of his wingmen, and opened a channel to the black-painted Lightning Slaughter Dagger. The thin young face of his team's second in command appeared.

"Gard," Agnes said, "you focus on the Fortuna's other mobile suits and the ship itself. Leave the Strike Freedom to me." He narrowed his eyes at the red planet before him, as the Acidalium's hangar doors opened. "That's our battle."

"Understood," answered Gard Dell Hokura with a grim salute. "We'll keep those Impulse units tied up, and if they launch the GOUFs, we'll handle them too."

The Delta Astray shuddered as it locked into the catapult. The pilots from Lord Djibril and the Earth Sphere, armed with the surplus of the Alliance's armies, sent here in part to reinforce Vargas's flailing forces, and in part to spy on the Liberation Army and its think that Vargas would so blindly accept the help of a man like Djibril...

And, Agnes thought bitterly, to think he had sent men such as these...

"This is Agnes Brahe," he said, turning his eyes back to Mars. "Delta Astray, launching!"

"We've fought this ship before," Kira said as the Strike Freedom streaked forward, flanked by three Force Impulse units. "Frederick's GOUF team is standing by to launch at a moment's notice should anybody get past you, but I'll leave the Daggers to your team, Juarez." He narrowed his eye at the approaching enemies. "I'll handle the Delta Astray."

The Strike Freedom rocketed ahead, as Kira armed his two beam rifles. The Delta Astray, the red and white champion of the MLA, with those damnable wings of light...Kira scowled as he thought back to the last foe he had battled with wings of light. The Delta Astray would make good practice for defeating the Destiny.

The Delta Astray opened fire with its beam rifle inside the cockpit, Agnes ground his teeth as he watched his adversary effortlessly spiral around his shots and deploy its DRAGOONs.

"I guess you don't want to lock swords!" Agnes snapped. "We'll see if you can keep it that way! Activating the Voiture Lumiere!"

The Delta Astray's beam wings came to life as the red Gundam jetted around the Strike Freedom's DRAGOON blasts, drawing its sword with its right hand and bringing it down with a crash onto the Strike Freedom's beam shield. Kira grunted as the Strike Freedom rattled, hurling the Delta Astray back and firing after it with his rifles. Agnes ducked around the shots, squeezing off a volley of return shots with his own rifle.

"To think Mars has a weapon like this..." Kira growled. "Your little special effects can't fool me!"

The Strike Freedom lined up for a full burst, showering the Delta Astray with beam fire and pummeling its shield. Agnes cursed as the Delta Astray rattled, and he took off with a trail of afterimages, lunging through another web of beam fire and deflecting a point-blank railgun blast, to bring his sword back onto the Strike Freedom's beam shield.

"Draw your sword and fight like a man!" Agnes cried, surging forward with the full power of the Voiture Lumiere behind him. "If you really are Kira Yamato, you can fight me even like that!"

Kira's eye flashed as he rocketed into the Delta Astray's face, sending it reeling back with a kick to the face, and lined up for a killing beam rifle blow. Agnes took off before Kira could fire, showering the Strike Freedom with rifle blasts. Kira swarmed his DRAGOONs around the Delta Astray, but once again it slipped out of its sights, streaking down and bringing its sword down a third time onto the Strike Freedom's beam shield.

"You always make me expend more effort..." Kira grunted, holstering his rifles and drawing a beam saber in his Gundam's right hand. "Sooner or later you'll regret it!" The Strike Freedom stabbed forward with its saber Agnes parried the blow with his shield, leaving the two Gundams locked together, glowering into each other's eyes.

"Are you really the hero of the Earth Sphere?!" Agnes snapped. "The man who saved the PLANTs and stopped the war?! And you came here to oppress the people of Mars?!" The Delta Astray slammed the sword into the Strike Freedom's saber, sending it reeling back. "I don't believe that!"

The Delta Astray stabbed forward with its sword Kira scowled and smacked the blade wide of his machine's body with his beam saber, and then brought the saber down for another blow. Agnes jammed his shield into the saber's path, before forcing the saber aside and swinging back with his sword.

The Strike Freedom backflipped out of harm's way; the DRAGOONs swarmed, and the two Gundams charged again.

Juarez ground his teeth as the Lightning Slaughter Dagger before him pummeled his Force Impulse Gundam with another punishing railgun shot. A Lightning Striker railgun shot lacked the velocity to puncture his Phase Shift armor...but that was no reason to let the thing hit him.

"At the very least, you guys are good practice for the pilots on Earth!" Juarez cried, as the Impulse whirled around a second railgun shot and fired back with its beam rifle. The Dagger darted aside, letting its shield absorb most of the blow and squeezing off another railgun shot. The shell slammed into the Impulse's left shoulder, sending the Gundam reeling. "Dammit...!"

Inside the Dagger, Gard Dell Hokura bit back a smile as he watched the Gundam stagger underneath his blows. The thing was not dead yet and until it was, he could not celebrate.

"The railgun can only knock you around," he said, switching the gun over to his left hand, "so let's fight you like this!"

The Dagger drew a beam saber with a flash and charged, and before Juarez could react, it had already stabbed through his own beam rifle and destroyed it in a blaze. Juarez desperately drew his own saber and swung it down to block Gard's second horizontal swing, leaving the two mobile suits only glowering uselessly at each other.

"I wouldn't mind a little support," Gard said, "but this will have to do!"

The Dagger surged forward with a burst from the Lightning Striker's engines, and Gard leveled off his railgun for a punishing blast. The Impulse threw its shield up to block the attack, sending it hurtling backward as smoke embraced it.

"I'll have to get rid of that cannon you're packing first," Juarez growled. "So let's see if you're as good a swordfighter as you are a marksman!"

The Impulse charged, ducking aside as the Dagger fired its railgun again, and came down with a crash to kick the gun out of the Dagger's hands. Gard immediately followed it up with a saber slash that landed hard against the Impulse's shield.

"My rifle !" Gard started. "That's not the only gun I have!"

The Dagger surged forward again, pushing the Impulse back, and seized the beam carbine off its right leg to open fire. Juarez pulled back as the beam blasts slammed against his shield.

"At least I'm getting somewhere," he growled. "Let's go!"

"I never tire of fighting you ZAFT guys!" cackled Vanfeldt Ria Lindsay as his Slaughter Dagger charged in with a beam rifle barrage towards the faltering Force Impulse Gundam with Gary Talon at the controls. "You always put up a fun fight before dying!"

Inside the Impulse, Gary flashed a feral grin. "Don't get too cocky!"

The Impulse jetted forward, pounding Vanfeldt's shield with beam blasts and forcing him to break off, covering himself with a spray of beam fire from his own rifle. The Impulse's alarms wailed Gary threw the Impulse aside as a flash of sky blue and pink came streaking out of the inky sky, and curved back up to the Sword Slaughter Dagger, which caught its beam boomerang as it charged with its Schwert Gewehr drawn.

"He only has a beam rifle and two CIWS," intoned the Dagger's pilot, Hoskin Gira Sakato, even as his own Dagger came down with a punishing sword slash that tore the Impulse's rifle in two. "And now he only has two CIWS. Engage him at long range."

"But it's not as fun without beam sabers!" Vanfeldt shot back, even as his Slaughter Dagger showered the Impulse with beam shots and forced it on the defensive. "Aw look, he's running away!"

Hoskin narrowed his eyes as he stowed his sword in favor of his beam carbine. "Not likely. Do not pursue."

The Impulse whirled around, deflecting beam shots with its shield as it stormed forward.

"You guys shouldn't have underestimated me!" Gary cried the Impulse lunged up towards Vanfeldt's Dagger and brought its saber down against his shield with a crash.

"What the hands off, buddy!" Vanfeldt shot back, sending the Impulse reeling with a punishing kick to the chest and following it up with a spray of beam blasts.

Hoskin's Dagger charged instead, sword drawn. "Pin him down and I'll finish him off!"

Gary's eyes flicked towards the charging foe. "Like hell you will!"

The Impulse backflipped over the Sword Dagger's killing slash, stabbing its saber down to saw the sword in two just above the hilt. Hoskin whirled around, eyes wide, and drew his beam saber just in time to block the Impulse's second strike from behind.

"Well-played," Hoskin grunted. "Vanfeldt, open fire!"

The Slaughter Dagger charged with a barrage of beam blasts, and the Impulse took off again.

The sky lit up with bullets as Kara pulled back in her Force Impulse unit, pummeled by a wave of Gatling bullets from the hulking IWSP Slaughter Dagger above her. "Shit, they separated me from Juarez and Gary...!"

Inside the IWSP Dagger, Waid Rabby Nadaga grinned triumphantly. "I've got him pinned, Sars! Do it!"

Up above, Sars Sehm Ellia's Launcher Slaughter Dagger leveled off its Agni cannon to open fire

"I don't think so!" Kara cried with a flash, the Impulse jetted backwards just as the Agni's blast flashed by, and she went back on the offensive with a wave of beam rifle shots.

"We can't pin him with just machinegun shots!" Sars exclaimed as his Launcher Dagger dodged the counterattack. "You're the one with the close-range equipment!"

"And bigass swords are the spice of life!" Waid agreed, as his Dagger drew its anti-ship swords with a flash and charged. "You're mine!"

The IWSP Dagger came down with a crash, slamming both of its swords against the Impulse's shield. And as the Impulse rattled, Kara glanced aside in disbelief as a second shot from the Launcher Dagger's Agni vaporized her beam rifle.

"Cute, but it'll take more than that!" Kara snapped, firing the Impulse's thrusters and throwing the IWSP Dagger back. With a crash, she drew her beam saber and knocked the Dagger's left-hand sword from its grasp. The Dagger brought down its right-hand sword to block the Impulse's saber

"Now, Sars!" Waid screamed.

The Launcher Dagger lined up for a killing blow, but a moment too late the Impulse kicked off the IWSP Dagger's Gatling shield and lunged back, letting the blast sear between itself and its foe, and charged again to slam its saber down against the Dagger's sword.

"I'll knock him back!" Sars cried, as the Launcher Dagger opened fire with a pair of missiles, slamming them into the Impulse and driving it back behind a billowing cloud of smoke.

"And I'll take his head!" roared Waid, charging in with his sword drawn back only to find nothing there.

Up above, the Impulse charged down towards the Launcher Dagger instead, saber held high.

Martian Liberation Army Destroyer Acidalium

Even surrounded by flashing fire and smoke outside, Nahe Hershell could not be fazed by the power of the Fortuna as it swung around to meet his small crimson vessel, its fearsome Tannhäuser cannon rising from within.

"The enemy is deploying its positron cannon," the sensor officer started, shooting a worried glance towards Nahe. "Captain "

"Pull us up over their firing arc and prepare the beam cannons!" Nahe ordered. "We'll rake over their topside in one pass!"

The Fortuna's positron cannon opened fire with a blaze as the Acidalium arced up over the shot, plunging towards the Fortuna and opening fire with a pair of beam cannons on either side of the bridge. The blasts dissipated harmlessly against the bigger ship's thick laminated armor, and the Fortuna's Isolde turned to face the charging Acidalium

"Captain, the triple-gun !" the sensor officer started.

"Karl, pull up!" Nahe barked.

The Acidalium wrenched upwards just as the Fortuna's Isolde let loose a trio of shells, lancing dangerously close beneath the red ship's hull.

"The enemy's beam cannons are still tracking us!" the sensor officer wailed.

"Stay calm, Amanda," replied Nahe. "Karl, Maneuver Six!"

"Yes sir!" Karl answered with a grin.

The Acidalium groaned as the ship painfully twisted over the Fortuna, dodging a barrage from the ship's Tristan cannons and inverting over the enemy battleship's bridge. The Acidalium let loose a volley of missiles, lancing down into the Fortuna's CIWS field of fire as the red warship escaped to the relative safety of distance.

"Karl, bring us around on another attack pass," Nahe said. He glanced over at the weapons officer. "Maria, this time your shots are going to have to count! Flank speed!"

Shuddering under the punishing blow of another sword stroke from the Delta Astray, Kira paused only to move his DRAGOONs into position, opening fire and forcing the red and white Gundam back on the defensive, as Kira moved his Strike Freedom Gundam back, beam saber in hand.

"At this rate we'll be in the atmosphere," he grunted as he consulted his displays. "Are you gonna fight me even there?"

The Delta Astray pulled back its katana and charged, deflecting beam shots with its shield. "So we'll take this fight to the surface of Mars!" Agnes roared. "I'd expect nothing less from the hero of ZAFT!"

The Strike Freedom leveled off its railguns and fired Agnes plowed through the shots with his shield and brought his katana down with a flash...only to find the Strike Freedom gone. He snapped his attention up above, finding the Strike Freedom leveling off its guns for a killing blow.

"Even this!" Kira cried, pouring firepower after the Delta Astray as its Voiture Lumiere wings flashed around the battlefield. "So fast...!"

"With all of the times we've crossed swords," Agnes snarled, as the Delta Astray charged again and slammed its katana down onto the Strike Freedom's saber, "I'd think you would have learned by now...!"

The Strike Freedom surged forward the Delta Astray somersaulted over it, whirling around to strike at its foe's exposed back, only to find Kira there to block the blow with his saber once more.

"Do not underestimate my Delta Astray!"

The red and white Gundam's eyes flashed banefully, and with a flash, the Delta Astray's beam wings expanded outward as the Gundam darted through the Strike Freedom's DRAGOON fire, leaving a trail of afterimages in its wake.

"Even the afterimages," Kira growled, clawing for distance as the Delta Astray effortlessly danced around his Newtype weapons. "Too bad the only thing you lack is the same pilot!"

The Delta Astray came storming in close, only to see its killing katana slash spoiled by the Strike Freedom's beam saber. Kira swarmed his DRAGOONs again, forcing the Delta Astray back on the defensive, and turned towards Mars.

"I can survive atmospheric reentry," Kira grunted. "Let's see if the same can be said of you!"

"Without a beam rifle, you have to engage us both at close range!" cackled Waid as his IWSP Dagger pummeled the rifle-less Force Impulse Gundam with cannon fire. "And I'd sure as hell like to see you try!"

Inside the Impulse, Kara scowled through the smoke as she saw the Launcher Dagger line up for a killing blow. "I'm not dying yet !"

The Impulse furiously drew its left-hand combat knife and hurled it up towards the Launcher Dagger, plunging it into the Agni cannon's barrel and blowing the cannon apart. Sars yelped in surprise as his mobile suit rocked and lost its left arm in the blast.

"What the !"

"I'm not a ZAFT Red for nothing, you bastards!" Kara screamed, as the Impulse charged in with its saber pulled back.

"An anti-armor knife?!" Waid exclaimed. "Sars !"

He never finished, as the Impulse lunged up and sawed off the Launcher Dagger's right arm with a punishing saber slash. Waid opened fire to knock the Impulse aside before it could finish Sars off.

"Sars, get out of here!" Waid shouted. "Dammit, you're gonna regret that!"

Kara turned her eyes towards the IWSP Dagger, as its wounded compatriot limped away. "Let's dance!" she cackled, a gleam in her eye. The Dagger charged, sword upraised, and pounded the Impulse with cannon fire as it closed in. An instant later, the Impulse lanced through the smoke with its saber to stop the Dagger's sword blow, leaving the two mobile suits glowering menacingly at each other.

"I gotta say, you're doing better than I thought," Waid began. "But I'm still better!"

The Dagger flung the Impulse away with its sword, seizing its beam boomerang and hurling it after the reeling Gundam. Kara scowled and batted the boomerang aside with her beam saber, charging in and slamming her saber down onto the Dagger's sword again. The Dagger swung its shield up to open fire Kara kicked it skyward and then seized her chance to smash the Dagger in the side with a devastating roundhouse kick.

"How easy do you think it is to kill a FAITH pilot?!" Kara shot back. The Dagger opened fire with its cannons the Impulse ducked around the shells and took off, saber in hand.

Streaking across space and surrounded by beam fire, Gary scowled back at his two black-painted adversaries as they poured blasts after him. The Sword Dagger sent its beam boomerang whirling down towards him the Impulse wheeled around to bat it aside with its saber. That was all the time the Sword Dagger needed the Impulse shuddered as Hoskin clamped his Panzer Eisen anchor down onto the Impulse's arm. Gary's eyes widened in disbelief as the Sword Dagger came flying towards him, beam saber held forward for a killing stab

"Oh, like hell you will!" Gary roared the Impulse swung its arm down, yanking the Dagger wide of its target and slashing its right arm and head off as it passed by.

Hoskin grunted as his wounded Dagger rocked. "Well-played! Vanfeldt, finish him off!"

Inside his charging Slaughter Dagger, Vanfeldt sneered. "Fine, go pussy out!" The Dagger opened fire again. "I'll just have all the fun of bringing back this guy's head on a pike!"

The Dagger came streaking down with a beam rifle blast the Impulse ducked around the blasts and charged back, stabbing through the Dagger's rifle with its beam saber and whirling around to face its foe. Vanfeldt scowled and turned with a beam saber in hand, deflecting the Impulse's killing stroke.

"That wasn't smart of you!" he snapped. "Now let's see how good you are with a saber!"

ZAFT Minerva-class battleship Fortuna

Lyle tensed as the Acidalium came swinging in for another pass. That obnoxious ship had no weapon, it seemed, that could punch through the Fortuna's laminated armor but that was no reason to let it try.

"Enemy ship is closing into attack range," the sensor officer reported.

Lyle frowned. "That ship has the edge of maneuverability over us," he said. "Helm, Helix Maneuver. We'll show them just how maneuverable we can be."

The Acidalium came streaking in, beam cannons and missile launchers blazing. The Fortuna plunged ahead, cutting down the missiles with its own CIWS and letting the Acidalium shoot by overhead

"Helm, ascend!"

The Fortuna groaned as it wheeled up, twisting into a helix and showering the Acidalium with beam fire and missiles. A flash of fire lit up on the ship's starboard side Lyle smirked as he watched the Acidalium lose one of its engines.

"Two hits confirmed! Enemy has ejected its starboard engine!" the sensor officer cried.

Lyle's next words disappeared in his throat as the sky lit up with the flashes of attack flares. He studied the pattern in surprise for a moment.

"A retreat signal...?" the XO began. "Captain "

"Let them go," Lyle intoned. "Marshal Yamato has descended to the planetary surface. Prepare for reentry."

Tharsis Montes volcano range, Tharsis Bulge, Mars

The vast, sprawling surface of Mars filled the Strike Freedom's cockpit screens as the mighty Gundam deactivated its beam shields and went cruising in towards the ground. The rust-red sands and craggy mountains were nothing new to Kira instead, he noted that he was nearing a neutral Martian geothermal plant, centered around the three menacing volcanoes of the Tharsis Montes range.

And, as Kira checked his rear scope, the Delta Astray was still on his tail.

"I don't want to fight through the geothermal plant," he muttered, "but if that's what it takes to get rid of you..."

The Delta Astray opened fire, forcing the Strike Freedom to dodge and fire back with its beam rifles. It switched to a saber as the Delta Astray came charging in, sword drawn back, and slammed it down onto its foe's outstretched beam saber.

"Trying to escape into the volcanoes, huh?" Agnes snarled. "Is that any way for the champion of ZAFT to fight?!"

He glanced to the side as his auxiliary screen flickered to life, with Nahe's irritated face in the center.

"Agnes! What the hell are you doing on the surface?!" he cried.

Agnes threw the Delta Astray back behind its shield as the Strike Freedom flung it backward. "I pursued the Strike Freedom down here. Why?"

"Well, get to friendly territory. The Acidalium took some heavy hits. We'll have to rendezvous elsewhere," Nahe answered. Agnes blinked in disbelief.

"You mean you can't reenter?!" The Delta Astray ducked aside from another attack.

"Try to get to Valles Marineris," Nahe instructed. "You can follow the canyons to Eos Chasma, and they can get you back to orbit."

Agnes glared up at the oncoming Strike Freedom. "Another battle cut short...!"

The Delta Astray jetted backward, firing a combat flare into its winged foe's face, and whirled around towards the vast black chasm of the gaping Valles Marineris rift, taking off with a flash.

Inside the Strike Freedom, Kira squinted in frustration as he watched his foe escape, and backed away as the lights continued to flicker in his face.

"Marshal!" Lyle's voice broke through his cockpit. "Are you alright? Where did the Delta Astray go?"

Kira glanced up into the sky, finding the Fortuna slowly descending high above.

Delta Astray...I'm sure you'll be back.

Martian Liberation Army Izumo-class battleship Elysium, orbit of Mars

"Another draw for the Hero of Mars and the Ultimate Coordinator," chuckled Omega Suzuki as he stood on the bridge of the Elysium, gazing down at the planet below and the Acidalium smoldering in orbit. "I'm sure Vargas won't be pleased."

Howard shifted uncomfortably in the captain's chair. "Acidalium is setting course for the Arm of God orbital elevator. What will we be doing, sir?"

Omega paused for a moment, regarding the planet. "Take us in over Amazonis Planitia. The levitator should be more than adequate. We'll take a crack at the Fortuna as they're leaving Olympus Mons." He chuckled again in spite of himself. "We're going to have quite a time against them. I hope the other pilots are up for this."

"With just your Murasame? You're going to take on Yamato?" Howard asked, blinking in surprise.

"I have a few cards in my favor," Omega said with a shrug, "and it's been tuned up enough. Besides, the Technical Division still hasn't finished that Astray Mars Jacket yet, and since Mr. Brahe down there won't share the wealth of his Voiture Lumiere drive, I'll just have to make do." He turned to leave. "Have us in Amazonis Planitia and in combat position within five hours. I'll be squeezing a few more drops of performance out of my Murasame." He grinned back at the image of Mars before him. "Marshal Yamato is still a human being, after all."

ZAFT mobile space fortress Messiah, orbit of Mars

The sprawling main control room of Messiah featured a single chair with a desk in its center, before a titanic window out into space beyond. And before that window stood the woman around whom this army revolved the savior, the leader.

Valentine Sunogachi regarded the image before her. Her fleet was growing in orbit already, she could see the empty hulls of warships yet to be fully constructed, patrolled and defended by their completed and crewed compatriots. Her army was growing, and its ranks would be buttressed by conscripts from these Martian colonies once this war was over. Mars would always be her stronghold she could always return here and find a position of strength.

Although she could not deny that a major step in securing that foothold lay in destroying Emmanuel Vargas first.

She turned at the feeling of an approaching human presence, and faced her ZAFT Black-Shirt-clad adjutant with a gleaming FAITH emblem on his chest. Orville Raclyffe dutifully saluted as he caught the eye of his leader.

"Commander Ehrmacht's special team is assembled as per your request, ma'am," he intoned. Valentine glanced back out the window, where the hull of an Eternal-class cruiser was taking shape. "Their mothership has not yet been finished, so in the meantime they will be stationed aboard the Nazca-class destroyer Herschel. Commander Ehrmacht estimates that the mission will take a week to complete, at the least."

Even through the icy military formality, Valentine could detect her adjutant's distaste for the commander in question she knew that Commander Ehrmacht's intimate relationship with his own second-in-command was something of a sore spot, but that had not deterred Valentine from promoting them both to FAITH. It helped to have powerful swords at one's disposal, and in the grand equation, she could not really bring herself to disapprove of a romantic relationship with a subordinate anyway. Irony of ironies.

"Marshal Yamato should return soon from Olympus Mons," she said, casting her eyes towards the dark bulge on the surface of Mars, where her knight was meeting with her fitful ally. "I can think of no brushfires he would intervene in after meeting with Schroeder." She glanced back at Raclyffe. "What about the Nova II siege?"

"Admiral Harkill reports that his forces and the ZMA troops are advancing inch by inch, but he believes that Nova II will be a hallway-by-hallway battle."

So much killing. Surely that would be fun. Valentine turned her eyes back towards Mars.

"And the Goliath?"

Raclyffe smiled imperceptibly. "48 percent complete, with 29 of one hundred ZAKU Drones assembled and the Hellfire at 37 percent. We're well on schedule, ma'am."

Valentine smiled herself. Just a little longer, Kira, she thought, and we will be king and queen.

Olympus Mons Colony, Tharsis Bulge, Mars

"Marshal Yamato, on behalf of the entire Zodiac Martian Alliance, welcome to Olympus Mons!"

Kira reached into his memory of state functions to force a smile as he shook the hand of the miserly Wilhelm Schroeder, the mustachioed man with a glimmering mane of blond hair and the smile of a con artist. Indeed, Kira could sense at his side Kayla shifting uncomfortably at this detestable figure and looking nervously at the preponderance of armed guards in the conference room.

"It's good to be in a setting where people aren't shooting at me," Kira said, as the two men took their seats. "I trust the siege at Alba Patera is going well?"

"Every so often a missile comes down near us," Schroeder said with a shrug, "but Alba Patera will surrender yet. The rats have no escape."

"Yes, well, on that note," Kira started, sitting back and fixing the President with the chilling gaze of his red mechanical eye, "I must admit to some concerns as to how you're going to treat those 'rats' when they do surrender. I just got back from the battle at Event Horizon. Your men were beating the colony's surrendered leaders. I've told you countless times to obey the Corsica Treaty's provisions when it comes to prisoners."

"Marshal," Schroeder said with a nervous chuckle, "with all due respect, nobody at Mars has signed the Corsica Treaty "

"That makes no difference to me," Kira interrupted, flashing an annoyed glare. "Vargas has an entire hive of propagandists who take those images and turn them into recruiting drives in the MLA's colonies. We don't need that. We can't convince enemy colonies to surrender peacefully if they've got those images in their heads."

"But Marshal, we're fighting a war," Schroeder protested, the nervous smile fading. "Political animosities run deep, and many of the ZMA's soldiers know friends and relatives who lost their lives due to MLA violence, and "

"I didn't come here for excuses, President Schroeder," said Kira. "I expect my own men to comply with the provisions of the Corsica Treaty. I expect yours to do the same. I'm losing my patience for this sort of thing. Should you fail to do so, you may find our alliance in worse shape than it was before Event Horizon fell."

Schroeder blinked unhappily for a moment. "Is this a threat, Marshal?"

"It's a choice."

"Marshal, you must understand the bind I am in. It's so difficult to enforce a decision like this "

"I don't seem to have a problem with it," Kira said. "If you can't do it on charisma, do it through military law. Either way, do it. We can't bring Mars back to its prewar industrial strength with these incidents in the public memory. We'll have a hard enough time of it as it is."

Schroeder paused for a moment, and Kira sensed him mustering up his courage. "Marshal, with all due respect, why are you fighting this war so...cleanly?" Kira arched an eyebrow. "Your concern with a low casualty count and as little damage to Martian industrial capacity as possible is...strange. This is a war, Marshal, and we must win it by destroying the enemy's ability to wage it. Why are you...why are you holding back, Marshal?"

The answer, of course, was that Mars was intended by Valentine to become the new Coordinator homeland during its war on the Earth Alliance. But it would not do well to tell Schroeder that. "You will have to take that up with Marshal Sunogachi," Kira said. "I came here for one thing, Schroeder, and so far I'm not getting it. Are you, or are you not going to strictly enforce the Corsica Treaty's provisions among your soldiers?"

Schroeder swallowed hard for a moment. "Of course we will, Marshal."

Kira smiled. "You're a wonderful human being, President Schroeder."

The east wing of Olympus Mons' sprawling Presidential Palace was where Kara Guinness stood, leaning tiredly against one of the ornate marble pillars that interrupted the otherwise sweeping view from one of the palace's many gaping balconies, looking out over the panoramic vista of the colony and, through the massive transparent dome overhead, over the dead mountains and plains of Mars, from the towering vantage point of Olympus Mons.

Kara barely restrained the urge to spit on the floor. "I've had enough of those stupid ZMA dicks trying to get me in bed." She glanced up at Juarez, as he stood with arms crossed, impassively taking in the view of Mars. "Did you see what they were doing in that bar? Officers, all of them, and they were just about taking turns groping me!"

"You wanted a malt liquor that badly," Juarez said with a shrug. "Either way, killing an officer of the army that's technically on our side would've caused a major diplomatic incident. And the Marshal has enough of those on his hands."

Kara sneered. "And where's Gary?"

Juarez paused to bury his face in his hand. "He stayed behind to 'take in the atmosphere,' as he put it."

"Oh, so he's off boning those female petty officers that were fawning over him when we left," Kara snorted. "Just because he's a Martian..."

"What, you jealous?" Juarez asked with a cheeky grin. Kara kicked him in the side of the leg in annoyance.

"Of course not! If I want a man, I can do a lot better than him." She glanced to the side irritably. "I hate this place. I hate Mars. I hate waiting out here and fighting all these vermin Naturals like this. How much longer will it take until we get to go back to the Earth Sphere and fight the people we should be fighting?"

Juarez's smile vanished. "I wouldn't mind staying, actually," he said quietly. "There's no Blue Cosmos here."

Kara's eyes flashed in anger. "When we get done with the Earth," she said darkly, "there won't be a Blue Cosmos there either."

Noctis Labyrinthus, Valles Marineris, Mars

The gaping Valles Marineris rift system was one of Mars's most prominent features, the largest such canyon in the solar system. The four thousand-kilometer-long fissure in the Martian surface was home to a number of small outposts and a handful of larger colonies, but the difficult terrain made it unfeasible for wide-scale instead, it was a battleground, the dividing line between ZMA and MLA territory on the planet. The canyon itself was a no man's land, littered with wrecked mobile suits and weapons, and patrolled heavily in some parts by the opposing armies.

The Noctis Labyrinthus, on the other hand, was undoubtedly ZMA territory...and a ZMA training course, at that. And that made it fairly dangerous to most pilots. But Agnes Brahe was no ordinary pilot, and the Delta Astray Gundam was no ordinary mobile suit.

Inside his red and white war horse, Agnes eyed the approaching enemies carefully. A squadron of ZMA GINNs, with a CGUE at their head, flying on their own power in the reduced Martian gravity. Clearly they were on patrol...but a handful of grunts could not stop the power of the Voiture Lumiere.

Even as his Gundam plunged into battle and dodged a wave of machinegun rounds, Agnes thought bitterly back to the battle he had just escaped. Kira Yamato, the hero of the PLANTs...was he really here to do evil?

The Delta Astray put its sword through the center of a GINN as it broke formation, its own sword in hand, and whirled around to saw in two a second GINN as it came up from behind. The remaining ten GINNs backed away with bursts of machinegun fire, as their CGUE commander pelted the Delta Astray with Vulcan fire. The Delta Astray effortlessly dodged their shots, firing back with its beam rifle and picking a third GINN out of the sky with a burst of fire.

"You're just small change," Agnes growled, dancing around the shells and bringing his sword down through a fourth GINN's waist. The fifth came streaking in from behind, sword upraised Agnes twirled his katana around to stab it directly into the GINN's cockpit, and hurled the wounded mobile suit at its compatriots, claiming a sixth GINN in the blast.

It seemed natural, he supposed, that he should be the rival of Kira Yamato. The Hero of Mars had to fight for his people, but how could that hero fight when he felt such doubt?

The Delta Astray cut down a seventh and eighth GINN with a volley of beam rifle blasts, before charging in close to cut down the ninth, even as the CGUE desperately pursued. The remaining three GINNs backed away in horror, only to watch Agnes cut down the tenth with a beam rifle shot. The last two GINNs lined up for a killing shot, as their commander drew its sword

The Delta Astray darted between them, its beam wings flashing to life and sawing both GINNs in two. And as the CGUE brought its sword to bear, Agnes slapped the blade aside with his shield and impaled his silver foe on the Delta Astray's katana.

"Is this what you wanted to bring to Mars, Kira Yamato?"

As the gutted CGUE collapsed towards the canyon floor to explode, the Delta Astray sheathed its katana and turned to take off into the black maze.

After two hours of agonizing talks that primarily focused on strategy, Kira Yamato was once again certain. He hated Wilhelm Schroeder.

Now the Vice Marshal of ZAFT stood on an adjoining balcony outside the guest quarters, where Schroeder had "generously offered to allow his esteemed guests to lodge for the night," and he could only glare out over the nighttime landscape of Mars and the massive sentinel of Olympus Mons. He could sense Kayla approaching, and glanced over at her perfunctorily as she emerged onto the balcony.

"Um, Marshal, sir, President Schroeder's aide asked me to give you the latest charts on Alba Patera " she began, trailing off as she noticed Kira's tired mien.

"So, do you detest President Schroeder as much as I do?" he asked quietly, as Kayla came near. She blinked in surprise, and Kira could sense her fumbling for an answer. "Be honest. I certainly made no secret of it. Did you not like his cologne or something? I sure didn't. Smelled like vinegar."

Kayla glanced aside with a blush that even Kira could see in the low light. "I'm sure he'll do as you asked, Marshal," she began.

Kira sighed in disappointment. "We'll see," he said. "I think it helped that I made no bones about how I felt about it. He's kinda dumb, but he can pick up on hints when you make them obvious enough." He sighed again. "Did you check my messages?"

"Yes sir," she answered. "Nothing new since 1500 hours."

Silence reigned for a moment, as Kira regarded Kayla's flickering presence. "Do you have friends on Messiah?"

Kayla blinked in surprise again, before nodding slowly. "Y-Yes sir..."

"Then I'll give you the day off when we get back," he said, with a helpful smile. Kayla's eyes went wide.

"Sir? I you mean ?"

"We've been hopping from battlefield to battlefield since August," Kira went on, "and I know the feeling. There's someone on Messiah I'd like to see as well." He looked back at his dutiful and surprised assistant. "And as long as we're out here, we should cherish what we've still got." He closed his eyes pensively. "This war will end soon, but Vargas won't go down without a fight. So take the time you have. We're gonna have a lot of fighting to do."

"Yes sir."

Kira looked up towards the sky, where Messiah was serenely drifting in space, somewhere up there.

Don't get too lonely up there without me, Valentine.

November 16th, CE 76 - ZAFT Minerva-class battleship Fortuna, Amazonis Planitia, Mars

"Course has been set for orbit, sir," Lyle said from the captain's chair, looking up at Vice Marshal Yamato as he sat back in the observer's chair next to the sensor console. "We can accelerate to escape velocity on our own power over Amazonis Planitia and return to orbit. We should be back at Messiah in about ten hours."

Kira sat back, satisfied. "Barring any unforeseen obstacles, of course," he added.

"Of course," Lyle agreed with a smile. "Fortuna, engines "

"Sir, we have something!" the sensor officer interrupted frantically. "A heat signature matching an Izumo-class battleship, coming in from eleven o'clock!"

Lyle looked up in disbelief. "Put it on camera!"

Even before the image materialized, Kira narrowed his eyes as the familiar pressure appeared, and the face to match it showed itself.

"Is that the Elysium...?" the communications officer started.

Kira stood up, fists clenched.

"So our friend Suzuki is back," he growled. "Lyle, scramble the mobile suits. I'll be going out as well."

"Yes sir! Condition Red is issued! Shield the bridge!" Lyle cried, as Kira went sailing out the bridge doors and heading for the hangar.

Kira ground his teeth as the pressure throbbed in the back of his mind. Omega Suzuki, the masked ace of the Martian Liberation Army, was no doubt spoiling for a fight.

So you came hunting me after all, Unit Zero-Three...

To be continued...