Mobile Suit Gundam SEED DESTINY - Red Planet
Phase 03 - Suffering Servants
November 16th, CE 76 - Amazonis Planitia, Mars
The black and silver Murasame sliced over the rusty Martian landscape, wings extended in mobile armor mode. Inside the cockpit, sans flight suit, sat Omega Suzuki; arms crossed, one leg draped over the other, watching grimly as the Fortuna far up ahead began launching mobile suits. One of those machines pricked his consciousness with a familiar sting, and he saw the blue flash of the Strike Freedom leaping out into the fight.
"There you are, Kira Yamato," growled Omega. He took the controls, arcing the Murasame up into the air. "I owe you a favor, Kira. You and that whore of yours. I hope you haven't forgotten."
The Murasame transformed into its mobile suit mode, its eyes flashed, and it darted forward towards the Fortuna.
"Why the hell are we only fighting a static defense?" muttered Gary as his Blast Impulse set down onto the sands of Mars. Juarez's own Blast Impulse landed next to him, followed by a team of bone-white DOM Troopers. Kara's Force Impulse hovered above them with a second team of DOMs, all of them turned towards the approaching Elysium.
"This was the marshal's plan," Kara shot back. "We stay here and let the mobile suits come to us."
"Enough you two," interrupted Juarez. "Frederick, you join Kara and her team on the counterattack. We'll handle whatever gets through."
In his ZAFT Red flight suit, Frederick Lane looked positively thrilled. "Yes sir. Under Commander Guinness' command."
Juarez's eyes flicked back towards the battlefield, where the approaching mobile suits— all of them Murasames, of course— began launching mobile suits. "Incoming. Kara, get moving."
Kara's Force Impulse rocketed forward, spiraling gracefully over the missiles while the five DOMs following her ducked beneath them. The two Blast Impulses and the remaining four DOMs opened fire with their CIWS, cutting the incoming missiles out of the sky, as the battle began once more.
Crashing together and showering Mars with sparks, the black Murasame and the Strike Freedom clashed with beam sabers and furious beam blasts, fencing their way over the dusty Martian surface. The Murasame brought its saber down with a crashing overhead swing, blocked just in time by the Freedom's own blade. The Murasame surged forward, pelting the Freedom's armor with CIWS bullets.
"You have a lot of nerve to act like you haven't done anything wrong, Mr. Hero!" snarled Omega. The Murasame stabbed forward with its saber, forcing the Freedom to jet aside. Kira raised his saber to swipe at the Murasame's exposed arm— but an instant later, the black mobile suit backflipped over his saber blade, whirled around, and smashed the Freedom in the face with a scything kick. "To act like you aren't at fault!"
Kira clenched his teeth, jetting backwards and slamming his Gundam down onto the dust. "You know we did everything to help you...!"
"Help me?!" The Murasame charged again, forcing the Freedom back, and went rocketing after its white-armored adversary with a series of furious saber swipes. "After all the therapies and experiments and tests, you want to tell me that you tried to help me?!" The Murasame brought its saber down again, sparks flying against the Freedom's blade. "That is a laugh!"
Kira narrowed his eyes as the Murasame whirled around him, and he swung around to deflect another saber swing. Omega Suzuki had, in truth, never been meant to survive this long. He was a mistake— a mistake that would need correcting.
Martian Liberation Army Izumo-class battleship Elysium
He pushed himself too hard.
That was Howard's assessment, as usual, as he watched the black Murasame do battle with its mighty foe. Colonel Suzuki always pushed himself too hard, and this fight would probably tax him enough to force a retreat sooner or later.
Howard glanced ahead at the Fortuna, which was holding steady above the battlefield, as though awaiting orders. The mobile suits would have to duke it out first, he surmised, before the ships made any moves. The Elysium had the firepower to take on the Fortuna, but not the speed, and there was always the threat that the modular Izumo-class might start losing pieces from a well-placed hit.
Nevertheless, Colonel Suzuki was one of the few things the MLA still had going for it in this horrible war. He was an undeniably talented mobile suit pilot and a keen tactician, and with the Coordinators of the Austral Colony so uncooperative, withholding their brilliant Voiture Lumiere technology, the MLA had to take what blessings it could get.
And through it all, with a fleet of surplus ships and weapons from the Earth Sphere, Howard could not shake the feeling that they were just pawns on a chessboard, moved by a faraway hand.
Missiles exploded around the Blast Impulse as the Murasames raked the ZAFT line with another hail of firepower. Inside the Impulse, Juarez ground his teeth. The other mobile suits were holding up well enough, and Kara's unit had moved ahead, but the Murasames had the advantage of speed.
One of the Murasames swept down, beam cannon blazing towards the Impulse. Juarez narrowed his eyes, letting it approach until the moment when his instinct screamed— and then the Impulse vaulted into the air, somersaulted, and blasted the attacker out of the air with a sizzling beam cannon blast.
The Impulse landed with a crash, where Gary's Blast Impulse allowed it an impressed nod.
"Not bad," he grunted. "Show-off."
Juarez flicked his eyes towards the remaining attackers. "Stay sharp. We can shoot down a couple more like this."
Beam sabers clashing and sparks flying, the Strike Freedom and Murasame pounded each others blades in a furious swordfight over the Martian sands. Kira searched anxiously for an opening— even under Mars' gravity, he couldn't reliably maneuver the DRAGOONs, and deploying them just to get them shot down was a waste.
"You're holding back!" cried Omega, the Murasame charging forward with a saber stab. Kira narrowed his eyes, angling the Freedom's railguns towards the ground and firing. A column of sand and dust billowed up in front of the attacking Murasame— giving Kira the chance he needed to somersault over the black mobile suit's head. He whirled around, saber ready for a killing blow— only for the Murasame to lunge out of the dust and stop his swing with expert precision.
Kira ground his teeth. "Another problem for me to tie up, huh," he grunted; a moment later, he fired the Freedom's thrusters and surged his machine forward, throwing the Murasame back. It floundered for a moment— before a bone-jarring crash rang out as the Freedom rammed its jet-black opponent with its shoulder.
Omega screamed in pain in the Murasame's cockpit, and a trickle of blood slid from the corner of his mouth. He tore off his mask—
At the sight of his enemy's bloody, pulsing face, Kira grimaced. The wounds were as bad as ever, and the flashing eyes burned in pain and fury.
"You did this to me, Kira Yamato!" he snarled. "You wanted a Newtype, but you weren't willing to use yourself, so you made me!"
The Murasame faltered for a moment, then transformed and rocketed into the sky, dropping a constellation of combat flares behind it.
Kira stared after his retreating foe, wondering if this really was his fault.
ZAFT Minerva-class battleship Fortuna
And so ended another abortive battle with the Martian Liberation Army. On the Fortuna's bridge, Lyle cast a heavy sigh. The Martian Civil War was marked by these short, unimpressive skirmishes. There were few professional soldiers at Mars, and almost all of them were to be found in ZAFT. The rest were colonists and miners, converted into ad hoc military forces to provide bite for the threats of their political leaders; and the majority of them were Naturals, unskilled, unruly, unsuitable. It was all so degrading to treat this charade like war; even the Earth Alliance, with its superior training and weaponry, made for a more formidable opponent than this Martian rabble.
He itched for a real battle, but the best of the MLA were not to be found in these minor skirmishes. Only during the planned final assault on Deimos, he suspected, would he get anything close to a real war.
"The mobile suits are returning, sir," reported Grigori from the mobile suit deck console. Lyle sat back, watching disappointedly as his ship's mobile suit complement returned— including the splendid Strike Freedom.
Yes, the Vice Marshal deserved a better fight than this as well. Everyone in ZAFT deserved better. Disgraceful as these soldiers were, they were not ZAFT's real enemy. They were not the ones who had shot the PLANTs out of the sky.
And ultimately, to the Coordinators and their avenging sword of ZAFT, they had nothing to answer for.
"Welcome back, sir," Kayla said with a smile as Kira alighted on the Fortuna's hangar gantry. "The ship is unscathed and our mobile suits are safely aboard."
"Then we can go back to Messiah," answered Kira, heading off deeper into the ship with Kayla in tow. "When we return, I have a favor to ask of you."
"Access the Messiah main computer, on my credentials, and find me whatever information you can on Unit Zero-Three." Kira narrowed his eye. "I have to know how much longer it's going to be a problem."
"I understand, sir," Kayla replied, "but he ran off so quickly..."
Kira frowned. The battle had not lasted long; Suzuki had overexerted; sooner or later he would go too far and give Kira the opportunity he needed to finish off the twisted remnants of an experiment gone wrong.
"Well, we have bigger concerns anyway," Kira went on. "Have you heard from Messiah about Operation Jack of Diamonds?"
"No sir, we're not allowed to discuss it over long-distance channels."
Kira mentally smacked his forehead. ZAFT and the ZMA had so many schemes in motion that he couldn't keep track of them all. Being a commander was really not his forte.
And yet this one was, by the Martian Civil War's measure, a mind-boggling endeavor. It was no less than the conquest of the Austral Colony, the mightiest fortified location on the Martian surface, and ZAFT was committing twenty warships and almost two hundred mobile suits to the operation. The Austral Colony consistently turned out the MLA's best soldiers and equipment; take it and Vargas's days would be numbered. Or so the officers had told him. Schroeder was eager to add the Austral Colony to his list of conquests, and— if the intelligence was correct— it was the home base of the Acidalium and its Delta Astray.
Which, of course, meant another battle with the Hero of Mars.
The report was filed and the mechanics had no need for him, so for Gary Talon, there arrived one of those feelings that covered most of a soldier's time— abject boredom.
It was hardly what he had expected when he signed up for ZAFT— and ZAFT, not the ZMA— and graduated from the cramped new military academy on Messiah. The life of a soldier was one of boredom, punctuated by the occasional rush of battle. For other soldiers it might be a nerve-wracking dance with the shadow of death, but not for Gary Talon. He was too good, he assured himself, to get shot down by mere MLA rabble.
That itself added to the boredom. He knew the Earth Alliance would put up a stronger fight than this in the Earth Sphere, but he could hardly wait to see it for himself. The MLA was not a challenge. They were miners and engineers, not soldiers, and only the sons and daughters of the Austral Colony offered a real fight.
He ran a hand through his hair and alighted on the Fortuna's hangar gantry, scanning the hangar with a sweeping gaze. His disassembled Impulse unit lay off to the starboard side, where the mechanics were running stress tests on its various connectors. At least he didn't have to put the thing together in midair while under fire, like the original pilot had to do.
Not that he couldn't do it, of course. There was much that Gary Talon could do— if only he had a chance to prove it.
Martian Liberation Army destroyer Acidalium, orbit of Mars
"We're lucky we just lost an engine block," said Nahe, his voice filling the Delta Astray's cockpit as Agnes guided it into the Acidalium's hangar. "But I really don't see why you had to go down to the surface."
Agnes pursed his lips. "I'll fight Yamato how I choose, Nahe."
On the cockpit screen, Nahe waved his hand dismissively. "Yeah, well, don't forget about us," he added. "Once you're aboard we'll head for the Arm of God. They can deliver a new engine block there and we can get repaired. Fortunately that's the only critical thing we need done."
"And Djibril's men?"
"All back aboard, although their machines were roughed up."
Agnes sat back and let out a sigh. His poor ship was still smoking from the loss of its starboard engine, but there had been no deaths among the crew and only a handful of wounded, so all in all the skirmish had not been a total disaster.
He narrowed his eyes at the baneful memories of his gleaming foe. It had just been a mitigated disaster.
Every draw was a defeat as far as he was concerned. He knew that draws defaulted to ZAFT in this war, because ZAFT and the ZMA together had the resources to outlast the MLA. Meanwhile, Agnes could only watch as the army he reluctantly fought in was whittled down, while Vargas poured ever more resources into that damned Beelzebub Array of his. "It will change the course of this war," he had said; Agnes would believe that if he saw it. And in the meantime, every draw he forced and every defeat he suffered from Kira Yamato only served to push the inevitable back, by an ever-decreasing amount of time. There was never enough time, and for all his Delta Astray's power, he could not buy enough of it to save the war for Mars.
The Delta Astray settled into its berth and the Acidalium's hangar doors began to ponderously shut. Agnes closed his eyes as his faithful war mount came to a rest, imagining the gleaming Strike Freedom and wondering when he would fight it again.
November 17th, CE 76 - Martian Liberation Army Izumo-class battleship Elysium, orbit of Mars
The writhing mass of hideous scars on the infirmary bed painfully cracked open a bleary, unfocused eye, and at the sight of his broken, gasping superior, Commander Howard could only sigh. Such were the hopes of the Martian Liberation Army in this war.
"You overtaxed yourself again, sir," Howard began, trying to strike the balance between speaking discreetly over his commander's ragged breaths. "I would suggest that you accept the medicine that Major Thomas's department offered you."
Omega squeezed his eye shut and groaned. "It will give me a few weeks of normalcy," he grunted, "and then kill me. How do you know the war won't be over by then?"
Howard frowned. "How could it possibly go on longer?" He glanced around nervously. "Sir, Deimos' defenses are falling at an alarming rate, and there is disturbing activity around the Austral Colony. ZAFT and the ZMA are preparing their endgame strike, and we are on the defensive everywhere. This war cannot possibly last longer than another month— and when the drugs wear off you aren't guaranteed to die."
Omega snorted in disgust. "Almost a reason to turn it down itself," he snarled. "Look at me, commander. Are you saying I should survive worse than this?"
"If the war is lost, sir," answered Howard, "you will never have an opportunity for revenge."
At that, Omega was contemplatively silent for a moment, only the sound of his hoarse breathing filling the infirmary. "I will require another mobile suit, if I'm to do anything like gaining vengeance," he replied. "That Astray Mars Jacket. I will need it." He looked up again at Howard, and the dour commander felt a chill rush down his spine. "Set course for Ceti XIII. We have an appointment with Major Thomas."
Martian Liberation Army Headquarters, Deimos
It was just south of the massive Argyre Basin on the surface of Mars, and this rugged, ruthless mountain chain was the site of the mighty Austral Colony. It was undoubtedly the largest and most powerful of the two dozen or so surface colonies on Mars' rusty landscape, and that made it a target in this war.
Fortunately, it was well-defended, with not only craggy mountain terrain but a powerful mobile suit garrison and heavy fortifications. And that, mused Emmanuel Vargas in his office on Deimos, would have to make the difference— because sooner or later, and most likely sooner, ZAFT would attack the Austral Colony.
Vargas thought back to his perennial rogue officer, Agnes Brahe. The hotheaded young Coordinator made no secret of his disdain for Vargas and the MLA, but the Delta Astray could not take on ZAFT all by itself. And yet, loathe as he was to admit it, Vargas knew that he lacked the firepower and weapons to hold off ZAFT on his own. He needed the Austral Colony, and he needed Agnes Brahe, and he needed that damned Delta Astray.
Emmanuel Vargas hated to need things. Needing things, after all, put one under the control of something other than oneself, and in politics— and especially in war, the exceptionally violent version of politics— it was never good to be under the control of something other than oneself. The Austral Colony would have to be dealt with, and if he could glean its technology first, so much the better.
He glanced over the latest report on the Austral Colony's pride, the Acidalium. Defeated yet again in battle by the Fortuna, currently en route to the Arm of God for repairs. But of course. Agnes and his men were good enough to not be killed by the Strike Freedom, but they weren't good enough to defeat it— and that, in this war, was unacceptable.
He turned his thoughts towards the massive piece of machinery hovering serenely nearby the moon of Deimos. The Beelzebub Array was a risky gamble, the center of his strategy— but it could be knocked out by a preemptive strike at any time. Security was extraordinarily tight, but Deimos' defense line was falling piece by piece, and soon they would have no choice but to settle down for a siege— and if it came down to a siege, ZAFT and the ZMA, who controlled the rest of the Martian Sphere, would win.
Vargas glanced over the grim tableau of Mars. If all went well, Brahe and his minions, and the uncooperative Austral Colony, would not be necessary for much longer.
ZAFT Minerva-class battleship Fortuna, orbit of Mars
"We're going to be busy while in dock, sir," said Carlos Morales, the ZAFT officer in the black uniform who served as the Fortuna's executive officer. He handed off a tablet to Lyle in the captain's chair, and glanced out the bridge windows as the Fortuna edged towards Messiah's cavernous warship dock. "We've had reports of minor leaks all over the ship. They were patched up ad hoc, but we'll have to fix them up properly. Our last repair job was not up to standard, apparently."
"Apparently," agreed Lyle, eyes scanning over the tablet screen. "But we'll have to postpone some of these things, like the engine overhaul." He turned his eyes up towards Morales. "We're going to the Austral Colony after this. Don't get too comfortable."
Morales nodded. "We'll be ready, captain," he said. "Have all the ships been confirmed?"
"Not yet," was Lyle's reply, as he tossed the tablet back to Morales. "We'll have to get in touch with Commander Svante." He shook his head in disgust. "They're going to rely on ZMA troops to provide most of the manpower."
"The ZMA?" Morales echoed, making no effort to hide the contempt in his voice. "Why? They're incompetent."
"Meat shields, Morales." Lyle waved a hand towards Messiah's dock, where three Nazca-class destroyers were already visible and swarming with repair units like ants over a corpse. "Evidently High Command does not want to waste our own men's lives if we can waste the ZMA men's lives instead. Our job is to provide flagship facilities for Admiral Harkill and his staff, and the Vice Marshal will lead our troops on the field."
Morales snorted in what Lyle guessed was amusement. "Then we don't really need the ZMA, do we?"
Lyle shrugged. "The Vice Marshal insisted."
Another shrug. "I don't like that the second-in-command of our entire army insists on fighting in the field, when he should be leaving that to lower-ranking soldiers. It's courting disaster."
Morales was quiet for a moment, as the Fortuna glided forward. "Well, be that as it may, sir," he said, "he wouldn't be a very inspirational leader if he just gave orders from here, or from Messiah." He glanced back up at the captain again. "And I doubt he'd be happy as a desk general either."
Lyle thought back to the Vice Marshal's haunted look. "Would he..."
Messiah. It was such a fitting name.
A name dreamed up by Chairman Dullindal for this gargantuan fortress, but a suitable name nonetheless. Messiah was the center of ZAFT now, the headquarters, the home for the last remnants of the Coordinator nation that Lord Djibril had so cruelly shot out of the sky. The Coordinators had assembled from themselves and from the last scraps of ZAFT an army, a glorious army that could conquer nations. There was no room anymore for "civilian life," not here, not at unforgiving Mars— and not while vengeance was yet to be had.
That was the thought that sustained Kara Guinness as she wandered the teeming halls and sweeping bays of Messiah. The families that had survived the Requiem blast had gathered here, but most families— including her own— had perished. But amid the anguish and loss, there was always Messiah— and the promise of its return to the Earth Sphere, bringing with it the avenging army of ZAFT and the ghosts of the slain Coordinators. They would have vengeance; they would have justice.
But justice wouldn't bring her parents back, now would it? The gruel of vengeance was starting to get thin.
She glanced over her shoulder as Juarez rounded the corner outside the observation deck on a pull-rail. "Hey," he said, coming to a rest next to her at the railing. "You okay?"
"Something like that," she answered, putting her head in her hands.
Juarez arched an eyebrow. "Something like that, huh."
"I'm sorry," Kara said with a sigh, "it's just..." She waved her hand wearily at everything before them. "Frustrating." She turned back towards Juarez. "We've been here for almost three years, Juarez. And...well, and I've been running on adrenaline and anger the whole time." She shook her head. "When are we going back? When will we get this all over with, so we can all move on?"
Juarez glanced over his shoulder himself and fixed Kara with a grim look. "Maybe you've noticed," he said, "but not too many people here want to move on."
"Why? How can we live like this?"
"What else do we have left?"
Kara heaved another sigh and rubbed her forehead painfully. "I know," she said, "I know, but..."
"I miss my family too," Juarez said quietly, "but I have to let go. Or else it will consume me and when the fighting is done, I won't even remember why I fought." He shook his head. "That's just slaughter. It's no better than what Djibril did."
Kara eyed him carefully. "Isn't that what we're fighting for? Justice?"
"Justice would be killing Djibril and his cronies," replied Juarez. "But war on the Naturals themselves...just because Djibril launched one genocide doesn't justify genocide in response. And besides," he gestured around him, towards the fleet, towards Messiah, "it won't bring anyone back. It won't bring anything back."
They gazed together towards Messiah's beam shield assembly, the shield that embraced and protected their temporary home. It was always and ever would be temporary— not least of all because it seethed with anger, with frustration, with despair. Even an army of angry, vengeful soldiers could not stew in that rage forever.
"I just can't wait out here much longer," Kara murmured. "Fighting all these Martians, sulking out here in exile..."
"Our exile won't last forever," Juarez replied, putting a comforting hand on her shoulder. "We'll return. We'll have justice, no matter how. Until then, we have to endure," he waved a hand at the ruddy planet below, "that."
Kara glowered down at Mars, towards the faraway bulge where she imagined the Austral Colony to be. "Yes," she agreed, "endure."
It was cold. Kira never understood why Valentine kept it so cold in here.
The sprawling command center of Messiah featured a raised dais, with a high-backed chair, a desk, and a massive window dominating the wall and allowing a sweeping vista of outer space. Valentine stood at the middle of the room, arms crossed, eyes fixed on the vast, growing, seething mass of the ZAFT fleet under construction.
Kira knew her before even entering the room, by her sinuous, dark, smoldering presence. The intoxicating flame that felt like Fllay— except richer, livelier, burning hotter. It sent chills up his spine even as the Fortuna docked, and it clawed at his brain as he stepped onto the dais.
Valentine snapped her fingers, and a series of thin gray panels slid down around the dais. Kira glanced around in surprise— this was new. Evidently Valentine had done some remodeling.
"Alone at last," she purred, whirling around with a grin on her face and lust glittering in her eyes. "Welcome back, Kira."
They met with an electrifying kiss, the kind with the passion of absence and longing behind it— the kind that Kira most craved. Valentine pulled away from him before the lust overwhelmed them both.
"Not yet," she whispered. "Not here." She led him instead towards the window. "We don't want our troops to get suspicious."
"We'd only be two of many," replied Kira, quashing the urges for the time being. "That rule against fraternization and inappropriate relationships among the troops hasn't exactly been followed to the letter, you know."
"Oh, I know," Valentine said with a smirk. "Let them indulge, to a point. The last thing I need is my troops raping and killing each other." She rested her head against his shoulder with a wistful sigh, her eyes drifting shut. "Can you feel it, Kira?"
A shiver went up his spine as he sensed something strange about his lover. "N-No..."
"I guess you aren't sensitive enough yet," she went on. "Well, give it time." She extended a hand towards the window, and towards the warships and their swarming crews beyond. "Feel it. Feel them. All that anger and despair and hatred." She turned towards Kira again, a wicked grin on her lips. "That's power."
"As long as they don't abuse it," added Kira, thinking back ruefully to the soldiers at Event Horizon.
"Use it or abuse it, it's power," Valentine continued. "It's our power, Kira. Our power to remake the world." She put a hand over his heart. "We'll make a new world. A better world. We'll sweep away the warmongers and barbarians and make it worth all of the sacrifices."
Kira looked out towards Mars, and felt the presence of Fllay.
To be continued...