Phase 06 - Replaceable

Mobile Suit Gundam SEED - Soldiers of Old

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Phase 06 - Replaceable

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June 28th, CE 73 - Orb Raiders dreadnaught Megami, Leyte Gulf, the Philippines

It was something of a menial task, Yzak mused, but as he maneuvered the Duel into position next to an empty patch in the Megami痴 hull, he figured that his trusty machine was best to put to use helping repair the damage. The less time they had to spend wedged in the sand, the better. So to that end, the Duel was serving as an impromptu crane, swinging a replacement panel of hull armor into place. Down below, Murdoch held his arms up the mechanics descended into the gap between the panel and the ship痴 superstructure to reattach cables and pipes inside the armor. There wasn稚 much for Yzak to do in this stage of the armor replacement, so he sat back to wait.

Down below, Murdoch directed his men with consummate skill, and for their part, his men worked with artistic precision as they reconnected the maze of lines in the Megami壮 armor. Yzak did have to admit that Murdoch could put a number of ZAFT痴 technicians to shame and ZAFT痴 technicians were the ones with the beefed-up DNA. But what did a nicer set of genes really guarantee? It was still incumbent upon the one with the improved genetics to make the most of that increased potential. After all, it had largely been Naturals who had built his very machine and, Yzak had to admit, even two years later, it was still holding up relatively well. Coordinators might have invented the mobile suit, but Naturals could play that game too.

Did it matter anymore whether someone痴 genes had been altered before birth? Yzak was no longer sure. The war had found a painful way to teach him that, improved genetics or not, every combatant was a human being. Dearka had figured that one out first.

Of course, Yzak did like to think that Dearka had better reasons to desert ZAFT than wanting to sleep with the Natural girl.

His thoughts turned towards the Natural girl in question. He had only barely been able to piece together her story from what Dearka told him Miriallia Haww had lived on Heliopolis when she and her friends swept up aboard the Archangel and became part of its crew. Athrun had killed her boyfriend in battle in the Marshall Islands, during the fateful fight where Dearka was captured and Athrun supposedly destroyed the dreaded Strike. And although, as Dearka put it, 都he struggled with it, she managed to hold up this long. The hardened soldier in Yzak was quick to point out that Miriallia was but one of millions of girls across the Earth Sphere to lose their boyfriends in war, so nothing made her case so special.

But, he noted, the hardened soldier never pointed out that Yzak was but one of millions of men across the Earth Sphere to lose their mothers in war. Funny how that worked.

That was why he was still fighting, though, wasn稚 it? To have a little corner of the world where he wouldn稚 have to know that kind of suffering again, where people who wanted no part in the world痴 wars could ride out the storms and live their lives as human beings should? It was hard to remember that when he found his ship jammed into the sand on a deserted, war-torn island, feverishly repairing damage before anyone could come bother them, surrounded by the rusting wrecks of long-ago wars. And it was even harder to believe that Cagalli Yula Athha, who always had to go to someone else for guidance on her own revolution, would be able to guide Orb through the troubled political waters of the Cosmic Era. Her father had tried to do that and the whole thing ended in an occupation. Yzak thought that the point was to avoid being occupied.

But was that any reason to stop fighting? Apparently, it hadn稚 been reason enough for Miriallia.

徹kay, lower it in and we値l weld the panel in! Murdoch痴 voice shouted. Yzak looked down below the mechanics had gathered on the scaffolding around the empty spot of replaced armor. Yzak pushed the panel into place, and the mechanics moved again.

He rubbed at the scar on his face. Still a good enough reason to fight.

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Sai found himself truly grateful for Andy痴 coffee-brewing skills. He had been up for nearly thirty-six hours in the Megami痴 engine room, recalibrating the computers after an unlucky hit had scrambled them and forced the engine room technicians to wing it on thruster outputs. Only after he had descended into the engine room痴 labyrinthine computer system did he realize just how complicated it was and he began to see why it had taken them months to finish this thing. Only Andy痴 espresso had kept him from keeling over.

The engine computer room痴 door slid open with a hiss Sai glanced over his shoulder, and blinked in surprise as Lacus Clyne entered, holding a box of something.

的知 sorry to interrupt, Lacus said, handing over the box, 澱ut Commander Bartfeldt asked me to bring you something to eat. He tells me you致e been in here for a long time.

Sai blinked again and rubbed his eyes. 鄭ll day, he grunted, opening up and finding the usual rations as well as a Thermos that smelled like it was full of more of that wonder-working coffee. 典hanks, I僧 gonna need this stuff.

添ou need not work yourself so hard, Lacus added, as Sai took a sip of the wonder drug and sighed contentedly. 展e will need you again on the bridge if we池e attacked while we池e waiting here.

Sai shook his head. 敵otta do something, he said. 的 only have a few hours of work to go and I don稚 want to be useless. He glanced back at her. 笛ust because I知 not a Coordinator doesn稚 mean I can稚 get stuff done.

Lacus blinked back. 展hether or not you池e a Coordinator or a Natural makes no difference, she answered. 釘ut I wouldn稚 want you to jeopardize your health working so hard.

Sai smiled and took another sip of coffee. 的致e done stuff like this before, he said with a tired shrug. 的値l be okay.

Lacus did not appear convinced, but nodded nevertheless. 鏑et me know if you need anything, she said, putting a tender hand on his shoulder. 添ou don稚 have to do everything.

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Atlantic Federation Archangel-class battleship Mephistopheles, Philippines Sea

The scene was an ominous one. On one side of the room was an array of control panels, manned by white-coated technicians. Behind them stood a number of officers. Ian Lee glanced over at the imposing, cross-armed form of Rico Barbosa, looking on with bemusement. A step or two in front of them, Alison and Peterson were looking across the room. Lee could sense Alison痴 anxiety; he knew what problems she had with this idea, but Rico Barbosa was a Colonel in the Atlantic Federation Special Forces they couldn稚 very well say no. Arrayed over their heads was a screen, depicting a Jet Dagger L standing on a rocky shore, with an armada of dots in the sky, heralding an approaching mobile suit force.

On the other side of the room, strapped into a simulator chair from which emanated dozens of cables, Jack O辿ara sat in terror, staring at the steely officers.

鼎olonel, Alison said, turning to face Barbosa, and as Lee noted restraining herself, 鍍he system is almost ready for demonstration.

的 hope it痴 all you tell me it is, Major, Barbosa said with a cocked eyebrow.

鄭fter our trials, we will begin work at Lodonia on a system that can be used by regular troops, Peterson added, 殿nd we will be able to surpass Coordinators in reaction time, reflexes, spatial awareness, and decision-making skills, as you are about to see. He glanced at one of the technicians, who nodded. 典he system is ready.

典hen let痴 begin, Barbosa said.

Alison visibly steeled herself. 鄭ctivate the Psyco System, she said.

Lee felt his stomach turn.

The lights flickered on Jack痴 eyes went wide with pain, his muscles rippled with tension, and he let out an ear-piercing scream. On the screen, the Dagger took off, storming towards a squadron of ZAFT mobile suits. The mobile suits opened fire, but with the grace of a dancer, the Dagger slipped through openings in the barrage and returned fire in one fluid motion, picking a DINN out of the sky as it did.

迭eaction time is averaging at .102 seconds, one of the technicians said. 滴eart rate and pulse are registering green.

The Dagger struck again, cleaving a GINN standing on a Guul in two with a beam saber. It pushed off from the Guul, directing the subflight platform into another DINN and taking it down with a thunderous blast. Barbosa nodded with approval.

鉄ystem operating at 20% intensity, the technician said. 的ncrease output?

敵o to 30%, Peterson instructed.

Lee watched Alison carefully as she stared in a mix of pain and fury at the boy in the chair ahead of her. Jack was writhing in agony, his face fast reddening, his eyes wide and bloodshot, his body taut with the tension of a man in pain as he furiously worked at the simulator壮 controls. The straps holding him down were already starting to give way.

On the screen, the Dagger ducked through another barrage of firepower, wiping out two GINNs in one artistic beam saber slash. It ducked aside from a beam blast from a Guul-supported GuAIZ, and an instant later, flung a Stiletto penetrator into the GuAIZ痴 cockpit, blowing the mobile suit out of the air.

滴eart rate just rose to yellow, sir, the technician warned.

典ake us to 50%, Peterson said. 笛ack is capable of far more than this.

Jack let out another shriek, as the Dagger on the screen twisted and spiraled with superhuman grace through the intensifying firepower of its foes. Missiles sailed mere centimeters past its armor as it slithered through a web of machinegun rounds and beam blasts, shooting down a pair of DINNs and another Guul-wielding GINN in the process.

滴e痴 not looking good, Colonel, Lee put in. 撤erhaps we should stop.

的 want to see what this thing can do, Barbosa said conclusively. 鉄o shut up and let痴 watch.

釘lood pressure is yellow, added the technician.

鼎olonel, Alison said, 妬f we push Jack too far, it could kill him.

展e can always replace Extended, answered Barbosa, waving dismissively. 的 want to see how far he can go.

釘ut Colonel Alison protested.

的ncrease output to 60%, Peterson put in, casting a withering glare at Alison. She looked back in horror, and Lee felt his blood run cold as Jack let out another agonized shriek. The Dagger痴 moves became quicker, more frenzied, more precise, as it continued to tear through the ZAFT mobile suits.

鼎olonel, if we go any higher than 70%, he runs the substantial risk of a heart attack, the technician warned.

典hen he runs the risk, Barbosa said. 70%, now.

鼎olonel, this isn稚 necessary! Alison exclaimed. 展e値l kill him at this rate!

摘xtended can always be replaced, Barbosa snapped. 哲ow shut up, or I値l have you court-martialed for insubordination!

Lee eyed the emergency power cutoff switch on the console in front of him, and looked up at Jack, writhing in pain inside the simulator as the Dagger danced through the air on the screen. Another shriek ripped through the air, resonating up and down Lee痴 spine, chilling him to the core.

滴eart rate and blood pressure are red, the technician put in. 鼎olonel, we should stop

的値l push this bastard as far as he値l go, Barbosa. 敵o to 80%, let壮 see if we can push him to 100.

鼎olonel, 80% will kill him! Alison cried.

滴e can handle 80%! Peterson shot back. 的ncrease output by

The screens went dark; the system shut off; Jack slumped forward, his restraints finally giving way, soaked in sweat, coughing and shaking violently. All eyes turned towards Lee, his hand on the cutoff switch.

鼎olonel, he said sternly, 殿s captain of this ship, I must stop this test before it kills a member of my crew.

鄭n Extended is not a member of a crew, Barbosa shot back. 鉄top this nonsense at once and resume the demonstration.

鄭s captain, Atlantic Federation law permits me to take whatever steps are necessary to protect my crew, regardless of whether or not a passenger can outrank me, Lee answered. 笛ack O辿ara is a mobile suit pilot aboard this ship. I will not allow you to kill him with this test.

Barbosa stared furiously at Lee. 天ery well, captain, he said guardedly. 典hen we値l resume this test at a later date.

The Colonel turned and stalked out of the room. Peterson rushed after him Alison took the opportunity to run through the tangle of cables and pull Jack out of the simulator. Lee took a step after her.

敵et the doctor, he ordered over his shoulder to the technicians. He picked his way through the cables and knelt down next to Alison, as she struggled to get Jack upright.

典heythey usedit Jack sputtered, coughing up blood. 展hywhy did they

的知 sorry, Jack, Alison whispered painfully, 的知 sorry, I知 sorry, I shouldn稚 have let them.

溺ajor, Lee said, pulling Jack痴 left arm over his shoulder, 塗e needs medical attention to get his vitals back to normal.

典h-they used it on me Jack murmured, coughing again, as Alison and Lee pulled him to his feet. Lee looked up as the doctor and a pair of assistants filed into the room, heading towards Jack. They handed him over, and Alison followed them out, tears in her eyes.

Lee, left behind, got back to his feet, staring back at the simulator; the blood and the sweat left on the metal panels. Jack痴 screams rang in his ears, as did Barbosa痴 words.

'They can be replaced,'" he repeated.

"I知 sorry, sir?" one of the technicians.

Lee picked his way out of the cables. "Nothing," he said. "Shut this system down and never use it again."

"But sir " the technician began to protest.

"That痴 an order," Lee snapped.

He stormed out of the room.

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Onogoro Island, United Emirates of Orb

In the back of his mind, Jona questioned the wisdom of sending Captain Todaka to fight the Orb Raiders. The man certainly had credentials during the Earth Alliance invasion in CE 71, it had been Todaka痴 ship, battered and cratered and spewing smoke, that had put up the fiercest resistance against three Danilov-class destroyers when they tried to move in towards an errant Orb ship full of refugees, giving the civilians time to escape. Afterwards, from his smoldering vessel, he guided a small fleet of civilian ships, brimming with refugees, across the oceans and back to Orb. Who could argue with that?

But there was also no denying that he was also more loyal to the Athhas than the Seirans and the last remaining Athha of importance was the very person Todaka was being sent to fight.

Well, he reasoned, he can either be a servant of his country, or a traitor.

Jona crossed his arms, gazing out from the control terminal over the tableau of Todaka痴 fleet. Five Aegis-class battleships and seven Kuraokami-class cruisers, all loaded down with Murasames and M1 Astrays, were waiting to launch. The Megami had managed to destroy four Aegis battleships, but it had come away badly damaged. Now, intelligence put it in the Leyte Gulf of the Philippines, repairing all that damage. Even to a man as relatively unversed in military strategy as Jona, this was the obvious chance to finish them off. They were stuck in one place as they repaired the damage; they were on the defensive; nothing could stop Orb from bringing down its forces to crush the rogue princess痴 knights once and for all.

But, of course, there was a problem.

"Captain," Jona said, to the image of the wary man in the crisp white and blue Orb uniform on the screen, "although your objective is straightforward, there arecomplications."

"There are?" Todaka asked. Jona suppressed a smile as he detected Todaka痴 forced naiveté.

"The Atlantic Federation has sent a ship after the Megami," Jona explained, "and the Equatorial Union has dispatched a fleet as well." He smiled pithily. "So you壇 best hurry if you want in on the action."

"But sir," Todaka protested, "what should we do if we encounter the Atlantic Federation ship or the Equatorial fleet?"

Jona shrugged. "Everyone wants to destroy that ship," he said. "Your job is simply to capture the princess and return her." He gave another smile. "That is why we致e got a battalion of marines aboard your flagship, is it not?"

"Yes sir," Todaka said, a hint of defeat in his voice. "I just want to confirm the parameters of this mission, so we don稚 accidentally spark an international incident of some kind."

Another shrug from the smiling emir. "Look before you shoot," he said. "I look forward to seeing our princess safe and sound."

Todaka saluted, and the screen went dark, as his fleet set sail.

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Orb Raiders dreadnaught Megami, Leyte Gulf, the Philippines

With another patrol behind him, Athrun Zala let out a sigh as he guided the Justice Gundam towards the Megami. They would be here for a couple of weeks at least although the damage was being repaired quickly, that suicide squeeze against the Orb fleet had been costly. And they still had to worry about that Archangel-class as well as the odd stirrings of what looked like a surface fleet passing through the nearby Surigao Strait. At this point, it could be anything a bunch of fishing boats, a training exercise, a ceremony of some kindbut that didn稚 take the edge off Athrun痴 nervousness.

The Justice banked down towards the Megami痴 open starboard hangar, slowly coming to a halt on the deck. A moment later, a Murasame went rocketing out of the center catapult to take Athrun痴 place in the patrols. Athrun watched it sail into the orange twilight sky as he parked the Justice in its usual hangar brace and opened the cockpit hatch.

As he climbed out of the cockpit and pulled his helmet off, he glanced over at the machine next to his, the Strike Rouge. His eyes fell upon the lion symbol on its shoulder, the emblem of the Athha family. All of the Orb Raiders' mobile suits carried this emblem, but it was the sigil of the Athha family it was Cagalli's emblem to bear.

But with that emblem came the burden of carrying on her father痴 policies, her father痴 dreams, her father痴 nation. Athrun believed in Cagalli痴 cause, but he tempered it with realism not acknowledging the facts before you could be dangerous. And that realism told him that if Cagalli was truly going to maintain Orb痴 armed neutrality and trading rights without the nations of the former and probably future Earth Alliance coming back for another invasion, she would have to be one damned good negotiator. And Athrun knew that Cagalli was no savvy politician, able to disarm the ferocious eagle of the Atlantic Federation without firing a shot and make weapons of words. That was the forte of Jona Roma Seiran, not Cagalli Yula Athha.

Cagalli herself climbed out of the Strike Rouge痴 cockpit, much to Athrun痴 surprise, and one of the mechanics waved to her from the hangar floor. She gestured back and glanced up in surprise herself at Athrun.

"You池e still here?" she asked, taking a step towards him. Athrun shrugged, leaning against the rail.

"I don稚 have anything else to do," he said, "and my shift on patrol is over." He blinked at her grease-smudged red shirt and green cargo pants. "You池e fixing the Strike Rouge?"

"Yeah," she answered, sounding frustrated Athrun did not have to guess that something was not going right. "The mechanics know the inner workings of that thing better than I do, though, and they池e too busy putting the ship back together. So I致e been trying to figure it out myself." She glanced back distastefully at the silent Rouge. "I think I see why they needed a Coordinator to put that thing together now."

Athrun smiled dimly; Kira Yamato had been no mere Coordinator. "Even we find these things baffling sometimes," he chuckled. "Especially since they told us in training to just think of them as big tanks on legs and let the mechanics puzzle the insides out." He got up off the railing. "I can help you if you want."

Cagalli looked back over at him. "I guess," she said, turning and heading back into the cockpit. Athrun squeezed himself in next to her, settling as best he could into the cockpit seat and realizing that Cagalli had adjusted it for her own height, which was not quite the same as Athrun痴.

"It shouldn稚 be too different from the Aegis," he said, as the familiar OS startup screen appeared on the main display. "This is just a Strike made out of spare parts, after all."

"As long as you don稚 try Mwu痴 method of fixing it," Cagalli grumbled. "I致e been cursing at it for half an hour and it didn稚 do anything." She shook her head. "I can稚 believe we got into this mess."

Athrun glanced up at her guardedly, not wanting to be the one to say, "I told you so."

"We should have never tried to go to Orb and fight through that fleet," she said, scowling bitterly. "How could I have been so stupid?"

"You can稚 see the future," Athrun said, looking back down at the screen. "All you can do is act on what you know from the past, and hope the future turns out the way you want it to." He shrugged as he set to work recalibrating the OS. "It痴 not like I had planned beforehand to defect to Orb during the war. And it痴 not like I knew that it would work out the way it did."

"But I知 supposed to be in charge here," Cagalli protested. "Everything I do affects everyone who follows me."

Athrun shrugged again that was true. "But," he answered, "we池e still willing to follow you."

He looked up at her, and offered a thin smile. Cagalli sighed quietly, and Athrun went back to work.

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Equatorial Union Spengler-class aircraft carrier Sukarno, Surigao Strait, the Philippines

Admiral Tapang crossed his arms as he studied the map. On the adjacent screen, Ian Lee sat waiting in the captain痴 chair of his ship, the Mephistopheles. Tapang noted that there was another man, in a black uniform, standing next to the captain, looking annoyedand, Tapang added mentally, he wore the markings of an Atlantic Federation colonel.

"The enemy is a smart one," Tapang said at last. "Satellite passes and Intel flights say they致e wedged themselves into the sand at such an angle as to allow themselves full access to their guns, and a full field of fire against any attackers from the sea." The admiral pointed at the map. "They池e not far from the former town of Palo. They値l be a perfect target, if we move properly, but they鼠l be far from helpless as well."

"We値l take the front position," the colonel said dismissively. "The Mephistopheles is far more maneuverable than your ships, Admiral."

Tapang narrowed his eyes. "My men will not sit on the sidelines, colonel," he said. "We致e also received word of a fleet launching from the United Emirates of Orb. Intel believes that this ship is their target the situation is becoming more snarled as the hours wear on."

Lee glanced angrily at the colonel. "Admiral," he said, "I must second the colonel痴 idea. Our ship is better designed to take on such a vessel as theirs, even if theirs cannot move. And we will need your fleet to provide support. We should get this operation concluded before the Orb fleet arrives."

"Agreed," Tapang said with a nod. "Very well, captain. My fleet will take up position around Palo to cut them off should they try to escape. And we will leave the ship itself to you." He paused. "My men are armed only with Strike Daggers and a few Dagger Ls, so I do not know of what help my mobile suit force will be."

"It will be help enough," Lee assured him. "As long as you can provide fire support and keep the enemy forces penned in, we will be able to finish them off."

The colonel flashed a feral grin. "We have a special weapon," he said, "that will make minced meat of them. Don稚 interfere."

The screen went dark. Tapang shook his head Captain Lee was agreeable enough, but this new officer looming over his shoulderthat was a different story.

"Captain," Tapang spoke up. The Sukarno痴 captain turned. "Set course for Palo, flank speed. We have a rebellion to crush."

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June 29th, CE 73 - Atlantic Federation Archangel-class battleship Mephistopheles, Leyte Gulf

The Dark Dagger L slowly came to life, the Jet Striker pack locking into place on its back, bazooka in hand. Inside the cockpit, Rico Barbosa glanced over at the shadowed form of the Diablo Gundam. The Extended, Jack O辿ara, was standing on the gantry in front of it, with Alison and Peterson speaking to him.

Barbosa scowled, thinking back to the demonstration, and how everyone had leapt in his way. Something strange was going on here there was too much emotion over a single Extended. High Command would be annoyed, but Barbosa supposed that this was one of the problems of using Extended some people who didn稚 know any better got too attached to them. And it was always a mistake to get attached to anything during war.

Barbosa glanced across the hangar, at his three accompanying Dark Dagger Ls. They were the best the Special Forces could currently spare, but they would be good enough after all, no pilot made it into the Special Forces without having some skill of their own.

"Carlos, Oliver, Kingston," he said. The faces of three grizzled, bronzed Special Forces veterans appeared on his screen. "Remember what I said about the Extended. We池e going to have a full report for High Command, whether the caretaker likes it or not."

The three men nodded, their screens going dark. Barbosa looked back at the Diablo, as Jack climbed inside and shut the cockpit.

"Simulators are one thing," he said, "but a real battlethat痴 where the fun really begins."

The Dark Dagger positioned itself on the starboard catapult of the Mephistopheles.

"Barbosa unit, moving out!"

The catapult fired, and Barbosa grinned as the Dagger went rocketing into the pink morning sky.

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Orb Raiders dreadnaught Megami, Leyte Gulf, the Philippines

"Shit, shit, shit, get moving, guys!" Dearka screamed as he raced down the hallways, two Murasame pilots and Yzak in tow. "There痴 a whole fucking fleet bearing down on us!"

Poking her head out of her room, Milly rubbed sleep out of her eyes and stared blinkingly at Dearka. "There痴 what?"

"A fleet!" Dearka cried, pausing just long enough to grab her by the shoulders. "Fifteen surface ships, plus that Archangel-class that was bugging us earlier!"

"A fleet?!" Milly echoed in disbelief. "What how did they "

"That doesn稚 matter!" Yzak snapped. "Go to the bridge! Dearka, come on!"

The two pilots took off down the hallway. Milly rubbed her eyes again, before seizing her uniform and running out into the corridor, heading for the bridge.

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To be continued