Phase 02 - Wings of Satan

Mobile Suit Gundam SEED - The Power to Protect

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Phase 02 - Wings of Satan

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October 4th, CE 71 - Earth Alliance base on the edge of the Atlas Mountains, Sahara Desert, Africa

It was a mighty armada. Five Lesseps-class and fifteen Petrie-class land battleships sailed across the desert sands, and each ship's deck was loaded down with armies of waiting mobile suits. More mobile suits charged forward among the sands, and the air was filled with ZAFT fighters and helicopters and even more mobile suits. And standing on the deck of this massive army's flagship was the Freedom Gundam, staring forward impassively, waiting.

Arrayed two miles before the ZAFT force was an enormous Earth Alliance base. The Alliance troops had entrenched themselves in the rock on the edge of the Atlas Mountains, and had created a fortress bristling with guns and packed with military hardware of their own.

Kira Yamato stared forward apprehensively at the waiting enemy through the eyes of the Freedom. He was in command of this army揺is job was to capture this base, the final stronghold of the Earth Alliance in the PLANT-allied African Community, and pave the way to a lightly-defended Alliance naval base, whose destruction would completely remove the Alliance from ZAFT's terrestrial African ally. Behind him, he had hundreds of mobile suits and thousands of ZAFT soldiers and crew傭efore him, he had hundreds of mobile suits and thousands of Alliance soldiers and crew. He would lead his men as the generals of old did羊iding at the head of the battle, in shining armor, plunging headfirst into the same inferno as his soldiers. And before him, the Alliance troops were hunkered down, patiently waiting for the ZAFT forces to enter their range.

Kira looked back, at his soldiers. The mobile suits themselves were perfect warriors葉heir faces betrayed no fear, only a steadfast determination to reach the battlefield. The soldiers inside were battle-hardened veterans who knew no fear, and knew instead how to fight and win.

Unfortunately, he thought as he looked back at the enemy, the enemy was just as battle-hardened and fearless.

All further rumination was cut off as the Alliance's artillery opened fire. The shots splashed down into the sand in front of the charging army. Kira narrowed his eyes葉he Alliance troops weren't aiming to hit. Sure enough, another salvo thundered forward, and this time the flying shells took down several BuCUEs and ZuOOTs.

The army pressed on undeterred, and Kira sucked up his breath. It was now or never.

鄭ll troops, he called. Before him, the Alliance forces fired off yet another salvo, and missiles came swarming in. The attack was beginning.

The Lesseps the Freedom was riding on quaked under a missile hit. Kira furrowed his brow.

鼎harge!

The word had barely left his lips before everything started going to hell.

The Alliance troops before him opened fire with a salvo the likes of which Kira had never seen. Hundreds of canisters slammed down in front of the charging mobile suits, and as Kira realized too late what was going on, a pall of smoke rose over the battlefield, obscuring everything. Kira opened his mouth, hoping to order his men to open fire before it was too late, but a volley of beam fire and missiles slammed head-on into the ZAFT units.

Kira watched in horror as a hundred pilots died simultaneously.

鼎ommander Yamato! someone shouted, through the roar of battle. 展hat are your orders?

Kira took a breath and steeled himself.

鄭ll mobile suits advance at full speed! he shouted.

The Freedom took off with a blast.

For a few moments, there was nothing but smoke, but then the smoke parted and Kira could see before him the enemy base, guns blazing. He cut down a handful of missiles with a burst of CIWS fire and stormed through the smoke towards the base.

Down below, the Alliance's Strike Daggers opened fire on the charging Gundam with their beam rifles, and Kira sent the Freedom diving towards the sand. He returned fire as the Freedom twisted through a maze of beams, aiming for the Daggers' heads.

Kira gasped in surprise as the Daggers expertly deflected the Freedom's shots with their shields. They turned their firepower on an approaching squad of BuCUEs, and a moment later there were five more dead ZAFT pilots.

That wouldn't have happened if...

A sinking feeling of realization hit Kira, as a powerful artillery shell simultaneously hit the Freedom, knocking it out of the air. Kira shook his head and opened fire with a full burst from the Freedom's weapons, aiming again for arms and legs and heads

And the Strike Daggers dove out of the way, letting the Freedom's shots fly by harmlessly. Kira fired again, but again the Strike Daggers dodged, and their combined firepower brought down another ZAFT mobile suit squad in a fiery blaze.

They...they'll keep killing...unless...

Kira squeezed his eyes shut. He couldn't! Those Alliance pilots had families of their own! They were fighting on the wrong side, they were killing, but for that they didn't deserve to die!

The Freedom was rocked again as more missiles came down around it, and Kira hunkered down behind the Freedom's shield. The Daggers returned their attention to him, pouring beam rifle fire onto his shield, and Kira leapt up into the air, desperately dodging their shots.

An errant missile plowed into the Freedom's face, sending the Gundam plummeting towards the ground, and Kira screamed.

There was a seed, and suddenly, everything was clear.

A squad of GINNs was charging towards the Strike Daggers, machineguns blazing, and the Daggers took up their beam rifles to return fire. The Freedom slashed down into their ranks with a storm of beam fire, ripping the Daggers' guns and arms off. The Freedom charged forward towards the base, dodging missile emplacements and spewing weapons fire into the Alliance lines, blowing away mobile suit heads and arms and legs.

"No more of this!" Kira screamed.

The Freedom drew its beam saber and charged again, disarming a pair of Strike Daggers as he stormed towards the base. Gunfire rose to meet him, but the ZAFT forces were right behind him, breaking through the hole the Freedom had torn in the enemy lines, and the battle turned into the insanity of a no-holds-barred mobile suit brawl. Kira himself continued into the base, slicing apart any enemy that rose to oppose him.

A pair of Strike Daggers were standing near a closed-off mobile suit hangar, beam rifles blazing. Kira let out a yell and charged, boosting between them and slashing both their arms off, flying towards the hangar

And a moment later, a massive red blast slashed across the Freedom's path. Kira slammed on the brakes, and the Freedom lurched backwards. An alarm sounded, and Kira threw the Freedom's shield up to deflect a beam rifle shot預nd barely had he done that when a blue claw came flying at him, and only a timely duck saved him. The Freedom landed with a crash, and Kira looked around for his attackers.

"What the...is that the Strike?!"

Standing before him were three Strike Gundams, all three sporting one of the Strike's distinctive Striker packs. Kira stared with an edge of apprehension at them. The Launcher Strike raised its cannon and fired, and Kira leapt up into the air, letting its shot tear by beneath his feet傭ut instantly the Aile Strike was upon him with its beam rifle. Jetting to the side, Kira was suddenly under attack from the Sword Strike, slamming its anti-ship sword against the Freedom's shield. The Freedom went staggering back, and a moment later the Aile Strike charged into Kira's face with its beam saber, forcing it back even further.

"Dammit!" Kira shouted. "They're too fast!"

The Launcher Strike opened fire, and Kira dove to the side, only to have the Sword Strike come down on him with its sword. Barely deflecting the blow with the Freedom's shield, Kira saw out of the corner of his eye as the Aile Strike took aim with its beam rifle. His eyes widened

With a yell, the Freedom leapt up and kicked the Sword Strike in the face, knocking it away. Without a moment to spare, the Freedom smacked away the Aile Strike's beam shot with its beam saber, and boosted upwards to dodge the Launcher Strike's shot. A blast from the Freedom's weapons created a cloud of smoke around the Launcher Strike

And with a single beam saber stroke, the Launcher Strike's left arm and cannon went spiraling away. A powerful kick to the right arm crushed the weapons pod, and with one last kick to the face, the Freedom sent the disarmed Launcher Strike sprawling into the dust.

The Sword and Aile Strikes charged, and Kira leapt above them. He dove down into the Sword Strike's face, kicking the anti-ship sword out of its grasp. With a powerful overhead saber slash, he cut off the Sword Strike's left arm at the shoulder and left leg at the knee, and the damaged mobile suit collapsed to the ground.

Beam shots flashed around the Freedom, and Kira deflected them with the shield. The Aile Strike charged in with its beam saber drawn, and slammed it against the Freedom's shield. Kira grunted as the Freedom rattled, and saw an opening揺e swung the Aile Strike's saber aside with the Freedom's shield, and impaled the Aile Strike's head on the Freedom's saber. A kick to the chest sent the headless Strike stumbling away, and a plasma cannon volley blew off the Strike's arms and Aile Striker. The helpless mobile suit collapsed forwards, and Kira let out a sigh of relief.

"Commander Yamato!" a voice cried. Kira glanced to his left, finding the panicked face of a ZAFT officer. "We have to retreat! We can't sustain anymore casualties!"

"What?!" Kira exclaimed. Casualties? But he had just

The Freedom took off, and Kira gasped in horror. The Alliance forces had charged forward while he had been fighting the Strikes, and Kira immediately recognized many of the attacking Strike Daggers as ones he had disabled葉hey lacked guns or arms or heads, but charged forward anyways with beam sabers or fallen comrades' weapons. Kira stared in disbelief as the soldiers he thought he had taken out of the fight dove back into it.

"Commander Yamato!" the officer shouted. "You can't stay there! We're pulling back!"

Kira swallowed a lump in his throat and the Freedom took off for the leading Lesseps as it pulled back. In a flash, he landed on the deck and demanded a report on the situation.

"The Alliance forces counterattacked!" the officer exclaimed hastily. "They let most of our mobile suits pass right by and brought the fight to" He was cut off by a scream, and Kira's eyes widened as a Strike Dagger missing its right arm預 Strike Dagger Kira had disabled様anded in front of the Lesseps' bridge and slashed it out with a beam saber.

Kira stared at the Dagger, shocked. He had disabled it. He had taken it out of the battle. But it had returned, and now those ZAFT troops on the bridge of that ship were dead, because Kira had not killed the pilot of that Dagger.

An alarm went off, and Kira turned. He gasped in astonishment as he found the damaged Sword Strike charging at him with its anti-ship sword drawn and held in front of it. He tried to move, but shock had paralyzed him, and all he could do was stare.

The anti-ship sword plunged into the Freedom's chest, and everything went black.

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October 4th, CE 71 - Nazca-class destroyer Pythagoras, Lagrange Point 5

Captain Cummings was not a man given to the flashy drama of a mobile suit battle揺e was a straight-laced student of tactics, whose favorite weapons were the ones that got the job done, not the ones that looked the prettiest doing it. As a result, he had been rather annoyed with the shiny, sparkly new units that some of the soldiers had called "Gundams." Mobile suits in general had annoyed him as well, but they had also chewed through the Earth Alliance's Mobiuses like wet tissue paper, and that was hard to argue with.

Captain Cummings nevertheless found himself supremely annoyed as his excited bridge crew, for lack of anything else to do, chattered on about the mobile suit simulator battle they had just witnessed.

Unfortunately, the Pythagoras had another seventeen hours of waiting ahead of it, hanging in space, doing absolutely nothing, because someone in the docking bay control room had snarled the docking order into something confusing and frightening and left several dozen ships hanging in space doing absolutely nothing for the better part of a week. So, one of many victims of an administrative mess, Captain Cummings had decided to watch the simulator match anyways as his ship waited in the far-flung territories of space outside Jachin Due.

They had seen the Freedom lead a powerful ZAFT army against an Earth Alliance base in Africa. It had awed them all with its consummate skill擁t killed not a single soldier as it stormed across the battlefield, aiming instead for its enemies' armaments and main cameras, and disarming its foes with incredulous precision. It had gone up against three -X105 Strikes, armed with all the combat data ZAFT had collected on the Strike to date. Three Strikes, all armed with the weapons packs that had made the Strike so versatile, working together to play off each other's strengths and cover each other's weaknesses. It had been a team that would've taken down almost any other pilot, but the Freedom had defeated them all handily.

But it had still failed.

The men were starting to figure out why, but Cummings already knew. The Freedom hadn't killed a single soldier預nd that was why it had failed. It had assumed that disabling and disarming mobile suits would remove from their pilots the will to fight預nd this had only been a simulation. In real combat, pilots of mobile suits so quickly and easily disabled would be humiliated, and some of them would renew the battle any way they could.

Cummings sat back and wondered if this new pilot was really worth the trouble after all.

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The lights came back on, and Kira Yamato gasped for breath. It had just been a simulator謡hy was he like this?

He staggered out of the mobile suit simulator and looked around. The ZAFT soldiers in the room were staring in surprise at him.

"Do you understand why you failed?" a voice asked him. Kira looked over, and found Valentine standing there, her arms crossed, her face neutral.

Kira looked away in shame. He opened his mouth to speak, but couldn't bring himself to say the words.

Valentine cast a glance around the room, and the soldiers milling about began to disperse. She approached and uncrossed her arms, putting her hands on Kira's shoulders.

"You can't just disable mobile suits anymore," she said, gently and sternly at the same time. "You have to start killing your enemies."

"I can't do that!" Kira protested, looking up at her, not caring that there were tears forming in his eyes. "I can't run around the battlefield and kill people! You're asking too much of me!"

"Kira, you saw it yourself," she responded. "Those mobile suits you disabled came back and attacked your allies. That Strike came back and attacked you after you had disabled it. People don't lose the will to fight just because you disabled their machines. Taking away the weapon doesn奏 take away the hatred that makes you use it." She tilted his face up to look into his eyes. "You can't protect anything like this."

Kira opened his mouth to speak again, but again couldn't bring himself to say anything.

"You've done it before," she said. "You did it to protect the Legged Ship."

"But I" Kira began. Valentine silenced him with a glare.

"You can't protect anyone if you refuse to kill," she said firmly. "You're strong, Kira, but you have to start using your strength."

She stood up and walked away, leaving Kira sitting alone on the edge of the simulator.

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"You have an interesting way of getting Kira to see things differently," Rau commented in his darkened office. He gazed through the shadows at Valentine, seated not far away. "Of course, you realize that in actual combat, most pilots would be too put off by the Freedom's precision to go fight again after he disarmed them?"

Valentine smiled back. "Well, Kira doesn't need to know that, and he壮 not swift enough to figure it out even if he wanted to anyways," she said coolly. "Besides, doctoring that Strike data was fun. And I'm sure the crew didn't mind either."

Rau eyed her carefully. "You're having entirely too much fun with this," he observed with a smirk. "Who would've guessed you'd turn out to be such a sadistic little thing?"

"Of course I'm having fun with this," Valentine said, grinning. "He's clay in my hands. Given enough time, I could turn him into anything."

的sn稚 that the point?

徹f course it is.

Rau chuckled. 的 thought you were annoyed with that, oh, how did you put it? 腺ucket of angst, I believe you called him.

Valentine shot him a look. 的 changed my mind, she said tartly. 滴e値l be more than adequate for our needs.

展ell, we wouldn稚 want you going too far too fast, Rau answered with a smile. "He's been receptive so far, but we don't want to push it."

Valentine glared back at him. "And here I thought it was time to up the ante."

Rau cocked his head to the side quizzically. "Up the ante?" he echoed. "Aren't you taking this all a bit too quickly? We don't want him breaking on us and running back to Lacus Clyne."

"I know how far I can push my luck," Valentine answered with a self-assured smile. "Provided your end of this little scheme works out the way it's supposed to, this should get all our plans moving nicely." She allowed herself a half-sweet, half-sadistic giggle. "Call it a necessary risk."

Rau was not amused. "And what, pray tell, is this risk you think is so necessary?"

Valentine stood, still smiling. "I can't go giving away the big surprise, now can I?" she asked chidingly. "You worry too much, Commander. I know what I'm doing."

"One can hope," Rau sighed dismissively. "I'll just have to trust you won't screw up whatever it is you're going to do."

Valentine grinned victoriously and opened the door. "Then I guess it's time to go raise the stakes."

She left without another sound, and the door closed behind her. Rau sat back, ensconced in the darkness, alone with his thoughts.

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The bridge doors opened, and Kira felt a burst of cold air in his face. Someone had announced over the shipboard intercom that he was supposed to report to the bridge, but no one had told him why. Resigned to fate, he found himself on the bridge now. The captain's chair was turned away, the captain himself staring out the bridge windows.

"So," the captain spoke, his chair turning enough for Kira to see his face in profile, "you're the new pilot."

Kira went to attention and saluted before he realized what he was doing. At this point it was a habit.

Captain Cummings rose from his seat, turning around to face Kira, and saluted back slowly.

"I watched your simulator match earlier today," the captain continued, staring steadily at Kira and putting his hands behind his back. Under his unrelenting gaze, Kira felt uneasy. "I've been meaning to question you as to what I saw there."

Kira opened his mouth to speak, but the words never came out. Cummings continued to stare at him.

"Your skill and precision against enemy mobile suits, even if they were only simulated, is uncanny," Cummings went on. "You attacked and disabled thirty-four mobile suits in three minutes. You also defeated three -X105 Strike units, specifically programmed to cover each other's weaknesses." He paused, and Kira sensed the words that came next. "And yet you were still destroyed. Why?"

Kira tried to speak again, but once again the words did not come.

"You only disabled them," Cummings finished authoritatively. "You didn't kill anyone."

"I shouldn't kill people if I have the power to," Kira spoke at last. Cummings stared inquisitively at him.

"Then why are you a soldier?" he asked.

Kira's eyes fell.

"A soldier's job is to kill those who threaten his home and his people," Cummings continued, his stance bringing him a firm gaze down over Kira. "You would be a powerful force on the battlefield, truly capable of protecting the PLANTs and doing your job as a soldier, if you would actually kill your enemies. That is a soldier's purpose."

"I don't want to be just a weapon," Kira protested, looking back up at the captain. Cummings' face did not change.

"Of course not," he answered. "But as long as you're here, your job is to fight and kill. You can't protect anything if you refuse to kill anyone."

Kira looked away, unable to answer. "I don't want to be a monster," he said quietly.

"No one wants to," Cummings answered. He took a couple of steps closer to Kira. "Patrick Zala wanted to protect us all, but he went too far and became a monster himself. But I am not a monster. Neither are you. No one aboard this ship is a monster. We are all simply doing what we believe is right揺ow can you be monstrous for doing that?"

Kira looked at the floor. Cummings was right.

The captain returned to his chair. "I understand you defected from the Three Ships Alliance," he said.

"Yes sir," Kira answered sullenly. He knew where this was headed.

"I can hear Lacus Clyne speaking through you," Cummings observed. "It's not healthy for a soldier to be fighting her way." He sank back into his chair. "Even if you don't wish to kill in battle, others will, and either way you will be surrounded by death. Miss Clyne is a kind and gentle person, but she expects too much out of the world."

Kira opened his mouth to protest, but caught himself before the words could come out. Cummings arched an eyebrow at him.

"It will take time," he said, "but you won't be so naive forever."

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October 5th, CE 71 - ZAFT Nazca-class destroyer Pythagoras, Lagrange Point 5

"FAITH?"

The term bounced around through Rau's mind. FAITH had been Patrick Zala痴 attack dog corps during the war, a secret detachment set above the normal rules and regulations of ZAFT that could essentially do whatever the Chairman wanted them to do. Rau himself had been considered for it, but Patrick had died before the shiny badge ever found its way onto Rau痴 uniform預nd the last thing Eileen Canaver would be doing was making FAITH appointments. Now, however, talking over a cell phone with Gilbert Dullindal, the term and all its connotations filled Rau痴 mind with glee.

The glee disappeared when Rau remembered that Gilbert Dullindal was not the Supreme Chairman. For a moment, he wondered if Gilbert also remembered that he was not the Supreme Chairman.

擢AITH, Gilbert repeated, his voice broken a moment by static. 的知 just a Councilor but I think I can make it happen.

徹nly the Chairman can appoint people to FAITH, Rau pointed out carefully, trying to ascertain the ways this idea could backfire. Every avenue of disaster led to two more葉his was insane. 添ou may be friends with the right people in the Defense Council, but they can legally do only as much as you can, as far as FAITH is concerned.

鏑egally, Gilbert said. 徹f course, you致e done plenty of things already that are of, ahem, dubious legality.

The N-Jammer Canceller immediately came to mind. Rau snorted dismissively. 典hat was a different situation. I had Patrick Zala above me, and he was more than willing to untie the leash. Canaver is not so trusting. We have to be more careful with her耀he doesn稚 trust me, and it probably won稚 take long for her to stop trusting you too.

鄭gain, I can still make it happen, Gilbert continued. 鄭nd I will. Our plans will be hampered severely if you池e stuck in Canaver痴 plans for ZAFT. She wants to downsize the whole thing as a goodwill gesture to the Naturals. You might be in the crosshairs of that, and if you get discharged, our plans will run into some considerable problems.

鉄he knows better than that, Rau said. 的知 a war hero. The people adore me. She wouldn稚 dare touch me擁t would be political suicide, and she needs all the support she can get right now. There are still people in the streets howling for the Naturals' blood. Discharging me would galvanize them.

Gilbert was silent. Rau ran the idea through his head友AITH meant he could get his way with anyone, ordering people around on the basis of 鍍he Chairman痴 instructions. And if all went as planned, in a few months he technically wouldn稚 be lying in saying that he had the Chairman痴 authorization.

If all went as planned, of course.

釘e careful about it, Rau warned. 添ou池e taking a big risk here.

的 know, Gilbert said. 釘ut Canaver still trusts me. I値l not pass up an opportunity like that.

Gilbert hung up, and Rau sighed, closing his cell phone. He stared at the phone for a moment, lost in thought. FAITH was a symbol of the elite, of someone special.

A smile spread over his face.

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Standing in front of the mirror, Kira still found himself unable to fathom the sight of himself in his red ZAFT uniform.

Athrun had said it went to the top graduates, but Kira had graduated from nothing. Athrun had said it was worn by the best, by the elite, by those who were above everyone else. Tears stung his eyes as he remembered the artificial wombs in the Mendel colony. He was above everyone, but he didn't want to be.

His ruminations were cut off by the wail of the alarms; Kira knew all too well what an alarm was, and looked around in a panic, trying to figure out what was going on.

"All hands, Condition Red is issued," Captain Cummings' familiar voice announced over the intercom. "Hostile forces detected en route for the ship. All pilots stand by in your units."

Memories of the Archangel came flooding back; Kira fell to his knees, squeezing out the tears and trying to squeeze out the pain. He saw Fllay again; he saw himself fighting with Sai again; he saw Major La Fllaga, Captain Ramius, Lieutenant Badguriel...the faces, the names, the emotions came back in a rush.

"Kira!" a voice shouted, breaking him out of his thoughts. Before he knew it, he found Valentine pulling him to his feet, shaking him brusquely. "Snap out of it! We're supposed to be launching!"

"W-What's going on?" he stammered as Valentine let him go.

"Blue Cosmos sympathizers got hold of an Earth Alliance battleship squadron and some mobile suits, and they're coming this way! We need the Freedom out there!" Valentine said, grabbing his hand and pulling him out of his room. "This is your chance to protect people, Kira; you said you wanted to protect us, didn't you?!"

"Y-Yeah," he started, "but"

"But nothing!" she interrupted, turning to glare at him; Kira felt his blood run cold under her merciless gaze. "You said you wanted the power to protect your world! The Commander told you how you could truly protect your world; you have to go out there and wipe out those Blue Cosmos bastards to protect us! The Freedom is the power you have to do it; now get out there and do it!"

Kira felt a chill wash over him as he stared into Valentine's glittering, determined eyes; Fllay had had those eyes.

"If you won't fight, then I will," Valentine said, turning and storming down the hallway.

Kira watched her go helplessly. A strange, sick feeling took hold in the depths of his heart; he hesitantly started after her. He couldn't let her fight; he had to protect her.

He had to protect her, like he had to protect Fllay.

The pain welled back up inside him; he struggled to force it back down, and rushed to the Pythagoras's mobile suit hangar.

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Rau smiled darkly as Valentine, decked out in her ZAFT Red flight suit, as she drifted up to the Providence's cockpit hatch.

"I think I understand your big surprise," he said with a chuckle. "Still, leaking intelligence to Blue Cosmos seems a bit beyond your forte."

"I'm not just a little girl, Commander," Valentine shot back with a sardonic smile. "But you have to stay out of this, or else it won't work."

"What are you trying to do?" Rau asked, his smile fading. He already had an idea, of course, but it never hurt to double-check.

A hint of a shadow grew over Valentine's face as she inclined her head just slightly. "Well, that's another big surprise," she said.

Rau smiled back. "Consider me out, then," he answered. "I trust this plan of yours will work."

Valentine pushed off from the Providence's hatch, and Rau closed it, still smiling. He had Valentine all figured out; and more importantly, this would be a vastly more interesting sortie than he thought it would be.

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Kira emerged from the Pythagoras's ready room in his red ZAFT flight suit; he remembered it from the suit Lacus had given him when he had stolen the Freedom in the first place. Now he was in the red of a ZAFT ace again, but in vastly different circumstances.

Kira looked up, and his eyes fell upon a GuAIZ, on whose cockpit hatch Valentine was standing with a mechanic, painted in the most terrifying colors he had ever seen. The GuAIZ was painted black, with random-looking, thin, jagged streaks of white over its armor; a painfully schizophrenic color scheme that ignored vents and hatches as bolts of virginal white tore over fields of sinister black.

Kira ripped his gaze away from the terrifying mobile suit and looked over at his own dull-gray, deactive Freedom. He made his way to the hatch and slipped into the cockpit, unnoticed, and closed the hatch before anyone else could bother him.

The Pythagoras's hangar was packed with mobile suits, mostly refugees from other ships; the hangar personnel evacuated to safety as the hangar doors opened, and far in the distance, Kira could see three Earth Alliance Nelson-class battleships and dozens of Strike Daggers approaching.

The mobile suits, mostly GINNs with a handful of GuAIZs and CGUEs, launched one by one; at last, Valentine's intimidating GuAIZ launched out of the catapult. The deactive Providence glanced at the Freedom.

"Kira," Rau said authoritatively, his face appearing on Kira's screen, "you launch ahead of me and take the lead in the mobile suit teams. I'll hang back here by the ships and mop up whatever you miss."

"Y-Yes sir," Kira stammered. The Freedom stepped into position on the catapult.

Kira felt his heart sink as the linear catapult activated, flashing green.

"Kira Yamato," he began, feeling a lump rise in his throat, "Freedom...going out!"

The catapult fired; the Freedom launched.

Rau watched the Freedom speed into the distance, and smiled.

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By the time Kira had reached the front of the mobile suit squadron, the Blue Cosmos renegades had already attacked. Kira's ears were already filled with the angry demands of ZAFT officers, and the insistent pleading of Earth Alliance officials that these forces were strictly renegades, in no way affiliated with the Alliance. Kira ignored it all; whoever they were, he had to protect the ship. He had to protect Valentine.

He could not fail again.

Images of the mobile suit simulator flashed back into his mind; he saw the Strike plunge its anti-ship sword into the Freedom's chest; he saw the Strike Daggers, all missing heads and arms and legs, still cut down the advancing ZAFT troops. "You can't protect anything like this," Valentine told him gently.

The Freedom moved possessively in front of Valentine's GuAIZ; Kira felt himself tense as her face appeared on the screen.

"Kira," she said softly, "you don't need to worry about me. I can take care of myself."

Kira backed away, feeling as though he had offended her; he fixed his attention straight ahead at the Blue Cosmos renegades.

Arming the beam rifle, he swore not to let them do to Valentine what Athrun had done to Fllay.

The Strike Daggers opened fire; Kira watched a Dagger twist towards him, beam rifle raised; the Dagger's shots bounced off the Freedom's shield, and Kira aimed his beam rifle at the Dagger.

He couldn't pull the trigger.

He'll die! Kira heard himself protest. He may be wrong but that doesn't mean he should die!

"The people who wish to harm them will keep coming back unless you kill them, Rau reminded him sternly.

I don't want to be a monster!

The Strike Dagger was struck down by another beam shot, and Valentine's GuAIZ dropped in next to him.

"What's wrong, Kira?!" she asked urgently. "Didn't you come out here to fight?"

Kira managed to nod mutely, feeling disconnected from his body.

"Then fight!" Valentine's face disappeared, and her GuAIZ took off into the battle. He watched dumbly as her GuAIZ ducked under a Dagger's wild saber swing; a moment later, the GuAIZ's extensional arrestors tore into the Dagger's cockpit; Kira didn't want to think of what that did to the pilot. The explosion of blood bursting out of the Dagger's shredded cockpit was all he needed to see.

Beam shots flashed around him, and Kira backed away, hiding behind his shield as more Daggers came storming in, backed up by one of the battleships. The ZAFT mobile suits began to fall one by one as the battleship's blazing guns supported the Daggers; Kira continued to back away behind his shield. To his right, he saw Valentine try to attack the ship, but she was pelted by machinegun fire and forced back. The Daggers swarmed over her, and she gunned the booster to escape. Kira's eyes widened as another machinegun round knocked her shield arm aside, and a Dagger swept in for the kill.

An instant later, the Freedom was there to deflect its rifle shot.

"Kira!" Valentine exclaimed.

In the cockpit, Kira wasn't listening; he gasped for breath, hunched over the Freedom壮 controls.

YOU KILLED NICOL! Athrun痴 voice screamed, rippling with hatred.

He saw everything again; the Aegis and the Strike battled in the Marshall Islands, dueling to the death.

Just because you池e a Coordinator, snarled Fllay壮 voice, her words twisted with malice.

The battleship with Fllay痴 father onboard exploded into a blazing fireball.

You are the only child that was successfully created by it!" Rau痴 voice cackled with sadistic glee. "You are his son, and exist thanks to the countless sacrifices of your siblings!"

The Freedom dove into the Battle of Alaska to protect the Archangel.

Attacking won稚 soothe the hurt! Lacus痴 voice cried.

Heliopolis broke apart; the four GAT-X Gundams stolen by ZAFT escaped.

Of course I don稚 know! Rau痴 voice laughed again. Humans only know what they think they know!

The Strike Gundam痴 Armor Schneider went plunging into the armor of the LaGOWE.

Kira! Athrun exclaimed again. I was aiming for Rau, but

The Dominion痴 escape shuttle exploded.

It痴 not your fault, Valentine痴 voice reminded him. It痴 Athrun痴 fault.

Kira threw back his head and screamed.

The seed burst in his mind痴 eye; he looked up and saw the Justice Gundam floating before him, beam rifle upraised.

ATHRUN! Kira shrieked, his eyes blazing. The Freedom痴 wings snapped open; the Freedom took off, drawing its beam saber. The Justice backed away, firing its beam rifle; snarling in fury, Kira twisted around the shots and stormed towards the Justice, slamming his saber against its shield. ATHRUN! I鱈L KILL YOU!

Off to the side, Kira saw the Buster Gundam combine its rifles and fire at him; he spiraled out of the shot痴 path, and a moment later saw the M1 Astrays of the Three Ships Alliance charging at him, with the Strike Gundam and the Strike Rouge at the lead; the Kusanagi, Eternal, and Archangel hung back, firing at him.

Kira screamed in rage and charged at the Three Ships Alliance.

The M1s opened fire; shrieking in fury, Kira slithered between their shots and fired a full burst, slamming into five of the M1s and wiping them out. He dove away from more beam rifle fire and picked off another M1 with his own rifle; he drew his saber again and slashed two more M1s in half. The Buster fired its missiles at the Freedom; Kira cut them down with a CIWS burst and screamed in anger; the Strikes and the Justice opened fire on the Freedom, but Kira dodged their fire, zeroing in on the Buster as it desperately tried to combine its guns and fire

I鱈L KILL YOU ALL!

The Freedom痴 saber plunged into the Buster痴 torso. Kira kicked the Buster away, and it exploded; Kira charged towards the Strikes next.

I鱈L KILL ALL YOU TRAITORS!

The Strikes backed away, diving apart as Kira split their ranks with a beam saber slash. The M1s opened fire as well; Kira cut down another squad with another full burst.

The Strikes fired again; Kira slapped their shots away with his saber, and shrieked again as he charged. The Strikes pulled back, and Kira fired the Freedom痴 plasma cannons; an M1 Astray was there to take the blasts for the Strike Rouge.

Blasts and missiles from the ships poured in; Kira turned his dull, feral eyes on the Kusanagi. He screamed in rage and charged towards it. The Gottfrieds fired; Kira rolled out of their way and sliced the dorsal cannon in half. As the ship was buffeted by the explosion, Kira pulled back, diving through fire from the M1s, and fired a full burst into the ship痴 hull; the railgun shells pierced the bridge windows. Charging at last, he plunged his saber into the engine block, fired his plasma cannons into the ship痴 core, and backed away.

As the Kusanagi exploded, Kira sliced two more M1s in half and charged at the Strike Gundam.

The Strike raised its beam rifle, but Kira was there to slice it in half; the Strike drew its beam saber, and the Justice came storming in from behind the Freedom; Kira痴 blazing eyes flashed

Drawing his second beam saber, he ignited the blade to block the Justice痴 beam saber; his right-hand saber swung at the Strike. With a harrowing scream, Kira swung the Freedom around 360 degrees, slashing the Strike痴 head off with the left-hand saber and severing the right arm at the elbow with the right-hand saber. And with a final kick, Kira forced the Justice away and charged at the Strike, plunging both sabers into the Strike痴 cockpit.

As the Strike exploded, Kira charged towards the Archangel, brandishing both beam sabers.

YOU LIED TO ME! Kira shrieked, diving between the Archangel痴 Gottfried blasts and plowing through its CIWS fire and missiles. I鱈L KILL ALL YOU LIARS!

The Freedom thrust both of its sabers into the Archangel痴 bridge; Kira fired another full burst into the Archangel痴 engine blocks; as the engines exploded and a fireball consumed the ship, Kira swung around to bisect another M1. The remaining M1s charged; Kira pulled back, letting loose another round of volleys to wipe them out.

The Justice, the Strike Rouge, and the last M1s pulled back as the Archangel exploded. The Freedom sheathed the sabers. The Sword Striker pack's abandoned anti-ship sword drifted by; the Freedom sheathed its remaining saber and took hold of the sword, igniting its blade; its eyes flashed.

IT担 ALL YOUR FAULT! Kira screamed, as the Freedom charged up towards the Eternal. EVERYTHING IS YOUR FAULT!

The Strike Rouge stood in his way; Kira somersaulted over its head, slashed its Aile pack and its head off, and sliced it in half at the waist; the Strike Rouge exploded, and Kira moved on towards the Eternal. The last three M1s rose to challenge him; Kira cut through all three of them with the anti-ship sword.

EVERYTHING IS YOUR FAULT BECAUSE YOU BETRAYED ME!

He saw the Eternal痴 bridge; he dodged the fire from the METEORs and the Justice; he stabbed the sword into the Eternal痴 bridge, shrieking.

"I'LL NEVER AGAIN...!"

Slicing into the rest of the ship, Kira went screaming down into the Eternal痴 hull. He burst out with a cloud of fire surrounding him, and charged towards the Justice.

ATHRUN!

The Justice backed away; Kira shrieked in fury; the anti-ship sword plunged into the Justice痴 chest

With a flash of fire, the Eternal exploded.

Kira pushed the Justice away; it drifted towards the debris of the Eternal and exploded.

Kira stared with dull, furious eyes at the wreckage of the Justice.

Across the battlefield, inside her GuAIZ, Valentine watched with glee as the Freedom floated among the desiccated remains of the Blue Cosmos renegades.

It had all gone perfectly.

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To be continued...