Phase 08 - Thunderclap

Mobile Suit Gundam SEED DESTINY - Red Planet

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Phase 08 - Thunderclap

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November 22nd, CE 76 - ZAFT Eternal-class cruiser Deliverance, orbit of Mars

Davis held back a smile. The test was passed.

"Authorization code received," he said, straightening up in his seat. "Launch will commence in six hundred seconds." He glanced down at one of the bridge crew. "Broadcast the warning message to all ZAFT and ZMA units. We are to evacuate our forces as far as possible from the Austral Colony." He turned his eyes out the bridge windows, towards the approaching mobile suits from the Austral Colony's meager space fleet. The ZAFT ships were already moving to intercept, their own mobile suit forces sallying forth to meet the threat, and Davis reckoned that they would be enough to at least hold the tide back.

He glanced back down at the planet below. The evacuation order was already going out and, if the tactical map was to be believed, some scattered ZAFT and ZMA units were already starting to pull out. The blast had a shorter radius thanks to the thinner Martian air, but it would be more than enough to destroy the colony.

Davis sat back with a sigh and waited for the launch.

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Charitum Montes, Mars

Kara ground her teeth and glanced at the auxiliary screen again as she parried the IWSP Slaughter Dagger's sword blows.

"Why are we retreating...?" she growled. "Did we not make a breakthrough?"

The evacuation order made no explanation, and Kara shook her head, watching the Dagger come at her again.

"If it's an order..."

With a crash, the Force Impulse lunged forward and rammed the Dagger with its shield, throwing the black mobile suit back on its heels. Kara vaulted into the air and planted a high kick on the Dagger's face. She launched the Impulse into the sky and whirled around to escape

In the Dagger below, Waid shook his head furiously and fixed the retreating Impulse with a glare. "The hell you're running away?!" He leveled off the IWSP pack's cannons and opened fire. "You ain't going anywhere, bitch!"

The shells flashed by the Impulse and Kara whipped around, shield ready to block the next salvo. Kara snapped up the Impulse's right arm, firing a combat flare down into the Dagger's face. As the blinding light flooded the battlefield, she turned again and took off with a roar from the Force Silhouette's engines.

"There must be a plan to this," Kara muttered, eyes scanning the battlefield for a sign of hope. "We can't have failed..."

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"Evacuation," snorted Gary even as the Slaughter Dagger before him drove its sabers down onto the Excalibur's blade. "This is what you get for relying on those Naturals!"

With a shout, Gary flung the Dagger back with his sword and vaulted into the air. The Slaughter Dagger lunged after him, and Vanfeldt let out a sadistic cackle.

"Going somewhere!?" He charged in close with another pair of saber swings, barely blocked by the Sword Impulse's Excalibur. Gary clenched his teeth, waiting for an opening as though he had time for that and charged forward to pound the Dagger's sabers with a powerful overhead swing. The Dagger faltered beneath the blow and Gary seized his opportunity.

Vanfeldt let out a furious scream as the Impulse dropped an earth-shattering kick onto the Dagger's chest and sent it flying back down towards the colony. With a blast of exhaust, the Impulse rocketed into the sky, out of the fight.

"Gary," Kara's voice started, and Gary cast a surprised glance at the auxiliary screen. "What the hell is going on? Why are we getting an evac order?"

"Hell if I know," he muttered back. "And why do they want us as far away as possible? What, are they going to nuke the place from orbit?" He looked down at the ZMA troops below, scorn rising through his veins. "Those damn ZMA troops..."

Kara was silent for a moment. "Rendezvous point is ten clicks south. We should find Juarez."

"Oh, he'll be making his own fun," Gary growled, as the two Gundams took off.

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The Blast Impulse shook as the Dagger before it rained beam saber blows down onto its javelin, and Juarez bit back a curse as he planted the mobile suit's feet in the Martian dust. Ten minutes was not much time to get very far away from this place, so he would have to leave now if this damn Dagger would let him.

The Dagger charged at him and swung its saber towards the Impulse's waist; Juarez parried the blow with the tip of his javelin and knocked it aside, and then stormed forward with a burst of exhaust to ram the Dagger with his right shoulder.

Gard snarled a curse and staggered back, before deflecting another javelin blow with his shield. He raised his saber for a counterattack

Instead, the Blast Impulse roared into his Dagger's face and brought down its javelin, slicing off the Dagger's right arm at the shoulder and right leg at the knee. The mauled Dagger floundered without one of its legs, and Juarez rammed it to the ground and took off into the air.

"There you are," Kara's voice filled the cockpit with audible relief. "Rendezvous is ten clicks south. Do you have any idea what's going on here?"

Juarez consulted the tactical map for a moment. "Only that the ZMA blew it on this one," he said. "Are we just scuttling for home or what?"

Gary cast a hateful glare down at the ZMA troops, scrambling for distance from the Austral Colony. "Everyone sure is in a hurry..." He glanced up towards Juarez. "There must be some plan we don't know about."

At that, Juarez closed his eyes and breathed a sigh. It was either that, or they were giving up...and that was not what he wanted to hear.

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Sparks flew as the Delta Astray and Strike Freedom slammed their blades together, struggling for supremacy. The Delta Astray surged forward with a blaze of afterimages and hurled the Freedom back with its katana, before descending for another blow. Kira scowled and slapped its sword aside with his beam shield, lining up for a killing stab to the cockpit; the Delta Astray parried the blow with its shield, leaving both mobile suits locked together again, glowering.

"Not that I ever did have time for you," Kira snarled, "but I especially don't now!"

"What's wrong, Yamato?!" Agnes cried, and lunged over the Freedom's head. Kira whirled around to deflect a sword blow aimed at his back. "The battle's not going like you thought it would?!" The Delta Astray skirted around the Freedom and spun around for another swing at the Freedom's waist, barely deflected by Kira's beam saber. "You should've known better than to underestimate the Austral Colony!"

Kira clenched his teeth. The warhead was beginning atmospheric reentry. If he was going to survive, he had to get away at top speed starting now.

The Freedom abruptly broke off its swordfight with the Delta Astray and launched itself into the sky. Agnes furiously leveled off his beam rifle and opened fire, but the Freedom effortlessly dodged the blasts and rocketed to safety.

Agnes pounded his fist on the console, watching the Freedom escape. What the hell was he doing?

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Martian Liberation Army corvette Acidalium

"What do you mean, 'pulling out?'" Nahe sputtered on the bridge of the Acidalium. "We didn't destroy that many of them. What the hell are they planning?"

"All we've verified is that they're pulling their forces back," the soldier on the auxiliary screen reported. "The ZAFT troops seem to be moving towards a point ten clicks south of our location. The ZMA troops are just moving back in a large ring."

Nahe sat back uneasily in the captain's seat. Were they planning a siege? The ZMA troops had been unable to make any exploitable gaps in the Austral lines, and the ZAFT troops were too few to do it themselves but if this was turning into a siege, why move their lines so far back? And the Austral space fleet had launched its attack on the ZAFT and ZMA ships in orbit. How could they expect to lay siege to the colony without the orbital approaches secure? It would be child's play to drop reinforcements or launch orbital attacks if the Austral fleet gained supremacy here.

"What about the Freedom?" he asked suddenly.

"Freedom is moving south at maximum speed," the sensor officer reported. "All units reporting in that combat has ceased."

Nahe stroked his chin thoughtfully. Was ZAFT giving up? Was the Austral Colony on the brink of victory?

Something flashed red from the sensor console, and the surprised voice of the operator snapped him out of his thoughts. "Heat source detected. There's a missile heading for the colony from planetary orbit."

"What one missile?" Nahe asked. "What do they expect to do with "

His blood froze as he turned his eyes towards the sky. Yes, there was one missile approaching and there was only one reason ZAFT would launch a lone missile at the colony.

"They wouldn't..." he started, a cold sweat beading on his forehead. "Shoot it down! Karl, turn the ship around! Activate the CIWS! Don't let it "

Nahe said no more as the warhead detonated and the world went white.

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A horrified scream sliced through the air in the Delta Astray's rattling cockpit. Agnes Brahe struggled to keep control over his floundering mobile suit, buffeted by the shockwave and losing armor at an alarming rate. He struggled to keep the Voiture Lumiere going at full throttle, trying to move ahead of the shockwave but the blast had claimed most of the Delta Astray's extremities and it was all he could do to keep the thing functioning at all.

"No!" he screamed. "I won't die here!"

Agnes hurled the Delta Astray's smoking remains towards the ground and squeezed his eyes shut. The world shook as everything was swallowed by blinding white light, but the Delta Astray slammed into the ground and for Agnes, all was dark.

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ZAFT Minerva-class battleship Fortuna, orbit of Mars

Everything had stopped.

Harkill stood on the Fortuna's bridge, staring down in disbelief at the planet Mars. A brilliant flash of light had flared up on the planet's surface, right where the Austral Colony was or, had once been. He had seen the Deliverance launch something, but had not known what it was until now. As the reports filtered in of a nuclear attack on the Austral Colony, wiping it out in one blow and securing victory for ZAFT and the ZMA, even the Austral space fleet had stopped fighting. In fact, as he glanced back up at their ships and mobile suits, Harkill noted that they seemed to be retreating. And just as well, because now they were the last of their kind.

He looked back down at the planet. They had intended to capture the colony and unlock its technological secrets, but it was only so much scrap metal now. There was no longer a point to that.

Harkill shook his head to clear away the shock. They had won, and they had removed the Austral Colony and its defending forces from the war. So what if it took a nuclear warhead to achieve it? The war with the Alliance would be ten times as brutal, and the collective heart of ZAFT would need to harden now if it was to carve for itself a place in the Earth Sphere.

The admiral stood up straight. "Get me General Arnhalt," he ordered. "His troops will be responsible for the aftermath. We are picking up our own forces and moving on to our next objective."

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ZAFT mobile space fortress Messiah, orbit of Mars

For a moment, the Austral Colony registered brighter than the Sun. A moment later, there was nothing just a crater, and smoldering wreckage, under a flattened mushroom cloud and a great swath of radioactive fallout.

It was, in a way, beautiful.

Valentine broke into a grin as she watched the cloud begin to collapse and disappear on Mars. Messiah was far from the battlefield, but even she had felt those million lives vanish down below. Kira had done well. He would do what was necessary when ZAFT returned to the Earth Sphere, of that she could be certain. The world would not change and the Coordinators could not find a place in it unless they made themselves something to be feared and respected and with Kira at the head of their army, holding their standard aloft, willing to visit upon the world whatever horrors it took to force it to change, there was no way they could be defeated.

Valentine glanced up with a grin at the image of Wilhelm Schroeder on the main screen. He had clearly just gotten the word of Austral's destruction, and he looked thoroughly stunned.

"This" he began quietly, "is certainly a shift in policy." He shot a sidelong glance towards Valentine. "After sending Vice Marshal to browbeat me over my troops not living up to the Corsica Treaty, he goes and does this?"

"I understand that this looks like hypocrisy to you, President Schroeder," Valentine said with a smooth grin, "but you must understand our precarious position. The Austral Colony was a menace to us and to you. After all," she smirked, "when we leave you in charge of the Martian Sphere, you wouldn't want to have them clawing at your legs, would you?"

"Of course not," scoffed Schroeder, "but a nuclear weapon ?"

"It's as you told Marshal Yamato. Nobody here has signed the Corsica Treaty," Valentine replied, and her eyes sparkled with delight. "There are no rules for a war on Mars."

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Orville Raclyffe went over his options in a panic, sitting trembling at his desk in his bunk with several of his coconspirators in a close circle around him.

"We'll go over our options again," the gravely voice of the Thales' captain began. "They used a nuclear weapon at Austral. They're not fucking around. They want this war over. Once it is, all our forces will be back at Messiah and we'll be outnumbered and outgunned no matter what we do. And Sunogachi and Yamato's reputations as the leaders who won this war will be complete." He glanced down at Raclyffe. "That's about it."

"Who knew that she'd go this far," someone muttered. "Crazy bitch."

"We have to make our move," Raclyffe said, cutting off the conversation before it could start. He could already feel a headache coming on. "Immediately. I need you all ready within forty-eight hours."

Quiet gasps came from every man present. "Forty-eight hours?" one of the officers sputtered. "Raclyffe, are you sure "

"Of course I'm sure," Raclyffe said, rising from his chair to his full, imperious height. "Now that Sunogachi has proven willing to use even nuclear weapons to end this war, the fighting will get more intense. But it will also be over quickly. The Austral Colony was the last MLA stronghold outside of Deimos with significant strength, and the MLA is evacuating other outposts and moving troops to Deimos. Both sides are anticipating a decisive final battle, and although I don't know what Vargas is up to, I can assure you that he won't last long. He'll be up against the entire ZMA and all of ZAFT, and he's backing himself into a corner. And once the war ends, we will lose our last chance to knock Sunogachi out of her leadership position."

"Raclyffe," the Thales' captain said with a start, "we might have lost that chance already, to be honest. This is going to have to be a hostile takeover no matter what."

"Exactly," said Raclyffe with a quiet sigh. "So all you, be ready to move at my word, and we will seize the element of surprise while we still have it."

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Martian Liberation Army headquarters, Deimos

"Well," Admiral Keller said softly, "that was unexpected."

Emblazoned on the main screen of the Deimos control room was the terrifying image of what remained of the Austral Colony. By now it was nothing more than a smoldering crater, strewn with wreckage. There had been over a million people in that colony, including its defenders. Now they were gone.

Emmanuel Vargas stared with some measure of concern not for the people there, of course. They had opposed him, and he would have reduced that colony all the same in due time. What concerned him, however, was ZAFT's action. Clearly their patience for this war had run out. They had tried a conventional attack, but the ZMA troops on which they relied proved incompetent, and ZAFT had sent too few troops to take the colony themselves. And if they couldn't take the colony for themselves, well

Vargas glanced at Keller. "You said the Beelzebub Array would be ready for frontline use in twenty-four hours?"

"Yes sir."

"And our fleets won't be gathered until at least sixty hours from now?"

"Right."

At that, Vargas turned back towards the screen. He had to figure out how to hold ZAFT off for another three or four days. After that it made no difference. With the Beelzebub Array, its positron reflectors, and the full MLA fleet gathered in one place, it would be child's play to lure ZAFT and the ZMA into a decisive battle and crush them in one fell swoop.

And in the meantime, the recovery crews surreptitiously dispatched to Austral would keep him occupied

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Solis Planum, Mars

The ZMA had organized a series of rockets to get the ZAFT troops and many of its own back into space. Some mobile suits had enough thruster power to hurl themselves into space on their own, but others did not, and Kira insisted on accompanying his troops into space.

He watched as they attached themselves to the chemical rockets that would take them to orbit. They were exultant, victorious, thrilled that through an ingenious application of a nuclear weapon, they had destroyed a hated enemy. Vice Marshal Yamato had saved the day again.

He hated it.

Kira had not expected the warhead to do as much damage as it did. His head still throbbed at the feeling of a million people, vanishing all at once, right before his eyes. It had been bad enough to feel the PLANTs and their inhabitants destroyed almost three years ago. Now, with better-developed senses, the horrible agony of what he had ordered seared his mind.

He cast a nervous glance towards his troops, watching them head back into space. They were so satisfied by the battle's outcome, he almost wondered if they had hoped to destroy it rather than capture it in the first place. That had certainly been Kira's intent. Who knew what technological wonders had just been burned away in nuclear fire? And the joy they found in their enemy being wiped outwhat was that supposed to mean?

With a start, he thought back to Valentine and what she had told him in Messiah's control room. Yes, ZAFT's soldiers were filled with hatred and anger. This exultation as they marched victoriously home from the smoking crater was a taste of that feeling, and the Austral Colony's inhabitants had been fellow Coordinators. What would it be like when they returned to the Earth Sphere and turned their guns on the ones who had actually destroyed the PLANTs and the Coordinators?

It's our power, Kira, Valentine's voice reminded him from the depths of his memory. Our power to remake the world.

Kira swallowed and closed his heart. If this power was his to wield, and if this was what it would take to make a world worthy of Fllay's sacrifice, then so be it. He would burn it all down, and from the ashes pull something better.

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Gary Talon was silent in the cockpit of his battered Sword Impulse unit as it rode up to space on the wing of Kara's Force Impulse. He cast a wary glance back towards the planet's surface, and for a moment he imagined he could see Austral Colony's smoldering ruins.

He had grown up at Olympus Mons. They had always had something of a rivalry with Austral, but it had never been as violent as this and he never thought he would witness the nuclear annihilation of his hometown's perennial rival. And yet this was, as far as he understood it, part of the plan for ZAFT's return to the Earth Sphere. For ZAFT, this war had nothing to do with the petty rivalries and politics of Martian colonies. It was, he realized, a testing ground for the brutality they would set loose in the Earth Sphere.

Idly, he wondered just how much he would take part in those horrors. He figured he'd have a lot to do with it. It wasn't as though he had any particular liking for the Naturals. He knew what they had done, and although he didn't feel the pain of losing his homeland like Kara and Juarez had, he knew all the same that the Earth Sphere's Naturals were a different breed from those at Mars.

But the Austral Colony had been populated by Coordinators. That was the whole point of their genetic caste system. And yet ZAFT had descended upon them as though they were just Naturals, and slaughtered them, and destroyed them all with a nuclear weapon, and rejoiced over it now.

Gary glanced over at Kara and Juarez's mobile suits and suddenly began to dread their arrival in the Earth Sphere.

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ZAFT Minerva-class battleship Fortuna, orbit of Mars

"The Austral Colony's space fleet looks to be heading towards Deimos," the sensor officer reported. Lyle nodded and turned the captain's chair up towards Harkill.

"Admiral? Shall we pursue?"

Harkill shook his head. "If they're heading for Deimos, let them. We'll mop them all up later. Our next objective is Deimos, and Vargas." He activated the tactical map, calling up a display of the area around Deimos. "I don't know what he's planning. He's got some kind of giant satellite, and he's gathering his entire fleet around the moon. But look," he gestured at the map, "he's just gathering his forces into one place. He's backing himself into a corner."

Lyle studied the map for a moment. "He must have something special planned. Maybe with that satellite. Does Intel really not know what it is?"

"Your guess is as good as mine," Harkill grunted. "Current theory is that it's some kind of additional power supply system, judging by all those solar panels. It doesn't look like a weapon of any sort. But I guess we'll see."

"Either way," Lyle said with a nod of agreement, "at least now we're doing what we should've done at the outset of this war."

Harkill stayed silent and looked back down at the Martian surface.

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"Congratulations on the battle, sir," Kayla said with a prompt salute and what Kira knew was a sincere smile as he returned to his office.

Kira offered what he could for a reassuring smile of his own. "Thank you, Kayla." He drifted towards his desk chair. "Do you have the casualty reports yet?"

"Among our own, we have thirteen dead, seven wounded," she said, "and among the ZMA there are probably about five hundred dead, two hundred wounded."

Kira breathed a sigh out through his nose. The wounded usually very quickly became the dead in a battle on the inhospitable Martian surface. "At least our troops came out mostly intact," he said, "but the ZMA paid a heavy toll today."

Kayla shifted uncomfortably. "Admiral Harkill blames that on the ZMA troops' incompetence. They did not seize the initiative at several key points in the battle, forcing us to resort to a nuclear weapon to remove the Austral Colony from the war and complete the operation's objective."

At that, Kira glanced up warily at his faithful aide. He knew the real point of Operation Jack of Diamonds. It was his test, to make sure that he had the mettle to do even what was undeniably evil, in service of a greater goal and a worthy cause. And he had passed that test. And what did it do but help that Austral's destruction brought this distracting little war one step closer to its end?

"Kayla," Kira began carefully, "I know that Austral was the enemy, but never forget what I did today. I did something evil."

"Wha sir, your order brought victory!" Kayla sputtered. "The Austral Colony was destroyed "

"Exactly it was," Kira said. He fixed his aide with a grim look, and she shrank back under the gaze of his electronic eye. "How old were you when Junius 7 was destroyed?"

"T-Ten, sir."

"Then you remember," Kira continued, "how outraged and hurt the Coordinators were to see it happen. Blue Cosmos and the Earth Alliance destroyed an entire PLANT with a nuclear weapon. But they only killed a quarter of the people that my order killed today." He sighed again. "Kayla, don't forget that I just did the same thing Blue Cosmos and the Earth Alliance did to Junius 7. It was evil when they did it. It was evil when I did it."

For a moment, Kayla was silent, searching for words. "Sir," she said at last, "there'sthere's just no comparison between what we did here and what Blue Cosmos did. The Austral Colony was an enemy. The colony was a military installation that had to be destroyed. And" She paused, as her voice seemed to leave her. "And we would be evil"

Kira closed his eyes. "Yes," he said, "we would be evil. We will be evil. We will do all this and more in the Earth Sphere."

"But they deserve it!" Kayla protested. "After what they did to us "

"That makes no difference," Kira cut her off. "What's wrong is wrong."

Kayla seemed to shrink back in defeat, and for a moment Kira felt sorry for even starting this conversation. "Thenwe're evil too, sir?"

There was an answer to that. Kira hated it, but it was the truth and it was the only thing he had left. "The evil we're fighting can only be defeated if we become evil ourselves," he said. "We have to do terrible things, Kayla, here and at Earth. We have do things that our descendents will condemn us for. But we have to do them anyway, because that is the only way to create a world where we can have descendents and have them living in a peaceful world, a better one than the world today." He looked her in the eye and felt his heart harden again. "This is our cross to bear."

Kayla stared at him, desolate and brokenhearted. "Are you carrying that cross too?"

Kira smiled grimly. "More than you know."

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Charitum Montes, Mars

The fallout was still a problem, but the space suits kept it at bay as a platoon of MLA infantry combed the ruins of the Austral Colony for some sign of life. The lieutenant in charge watched it all from the launch that had carried them here. Arms crossed, she glanced over her shoulder at the two stretchers already containing their two finds. They were two pilots that had been assigned to the Acidalium. There had been no survivors from that little red ship, and it had lost three pilots two in battle and one to the nuke but these two had survived, thanks to what the lieutenant could only describe as dumb luck.

"Ma'am, we've found something," one of the soldiers' voices crackled through over the speaker. She threw a switch and leaned forward towards the microphone.

"What is it, Towers?"

"It looks like that red and white mobile suit, the Delta Astray," he replied. There was a pause for a moment, and a sound of wrenching metal. "Well, it was. Thing's as totaled as totaled can be. Doesn't look like even that beam wing system survived."

"Then leave it," the lieutenant ordered. "If not even the Voiture Lumiere system survived, then the pilot is probably dead too."

"Actually," Towers responded, "I don't think so. We detected body heat in there. Maybe it's just a really fresh corpse, but I've got a couple of men checking it out." There was another pause. "Son of a bitchI can't believe it. Ma'am, the Delta Astray's pilot survived."

The lieutenant's jaw dropped in shock. "What how?"

"Looks like he buried himself in the sand, face-first, and protected the cockpit with the rest of the machine." A pause. "He's out cold, though. Probably a concussion. We're bringing him in."

"Understood. Kappa, out."

The lieutenant switched the microphone off and leaned back, quietly regarding the desolation. Whoever that man was, he was in for a rude surprise when he woke up.

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To be continued...