Phase 10 - The Men in the Shadows

Mobile Suit Gundam SEED - Soldiers of Old

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Phase 10 - The Men in the Shadows

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July 6th, CE 73 - Orb Raiders dreadnaught Megami, Palo, Leyte Gulf, the Philippines

The best way to describe Commander Nakajima, it seemed to Cagalli, was 田raggy. He had the look of a mountain more than a man, scarred and lined from years of service on the high seas. His ship, the Aegis-class battleship Akamaiou, had laid anchor off the coast of Leyte Island, and taken a lifeboat to the shore, where he now stood on the otherwise idyllic shore to cast his imposing shadow over the diminutive Cagalli, with a squad of M1 Astrays standing guard along the beach, all sporting the Athha family痴 crest on their left shoulders.

Cagalli did her best to remain as regal and upright as her opulent uniform demanded in the shadow of Commander Nakajima. After all, there was business to conduct.

添ou said you managed to acquire fifteen M1s, she said, casting a glance over the Akamaiou, its deck and hangars loaded down with mobile suits. 釘ut I only see thirteen.

典wo of them didn稚 have all the parts needed, Nakajima explained, crossing his titanic arms, 都o we cannibalized them for parts. He looked back at Cagalli. 滴owever, I don稚 know how our allies on the mainland are doing.

Cagalli looked out bitterly over the ocean. 典hey池e probably fighting for their lives, she said. 釘ut we can稚 go anywhere until we finish the repairs.

鄭nd even then, Nakajima added, 妬t would be nigh-impossible to break through Orb痴 defense perimeter, even if the Akamaiou joined you. We would need an invasion fleet, at the least. And we don奏 have one.

Cagalli crossed her own arms. 的 can稚 just sit around and let them die, she insisted. 展e致e still got over two dozen mobile suits. We can still fight.

Nakajima studied Cagalli痴 face for a moment. 鉄ometimes, he said guardedly, 鍍he only course a commander can take is to have faith in his troops. He took a step back. 的 am sure that our comrades in Orb will find a way to survive and escape the Seirans crackdown. In the meantime, it is best for us to lie low and gather our strength. There is nothing we can do that would help them. He paused. 泥o you have orders for us, Your Highness?

Cagalli looked back at the towering officer grimly. 典ake the Akamaiou out into the Pacific, and find an island without too many people where you can drop anchor and wait. I知 going to postpone the attack until after the Seirans stop hunting people down.

鄭s you wish, Your Highness, Nakajima said, saluting sharply and turning back towards the lifeboat. Cagalli looked back out towards the Akamaiou.

So much work, it seemed, was going to waste.

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Orb Navy Aegis-class battleship Yatenkou, Molucca Sea

Captain Ian Lee seemed to be a competent officer, Todaka supposed. He certainly didn稚 fit the oft-feared mold of an arrogant, megalomaniacal Atlantic Federation officer with little to no regard for anything other than his career to the contrary, Lee seemed willing to discuss that less-than-stellar performance at Leyte Gulf, where the stereotypical Atlantic Federation officer would have blamed someone else for it.

Still, Captain Todaka couldn稚 help but wonder if this man hadn稚 had some part in the invasion of Orb during the Valentine War. It remained a bitter pill to swallow although the politicians might easily forget who occupied their country two years ago, Todaka was a man of the military, and military men did not forget their defeats.

He thought ahead bitterly to the impending battle. If he could get along with Captain Lee and Admiral Tapang, so much the better, but that still raised the shadow of the Orb Raiders themselves. How could he fight them when they had thrown back an Equatorial fleet and an Archangel-class battleship, while stuck in the sand and trying to patch up the holes the Orb Navy had left in their hull? They were a formidable force, to be sure.

And they had the princess holding aloft their banner. Todaka痴 heart sank at the thought that he would find himself in battle with Cagalli Yula Athha. She was certainly no strategist, she was certainly no politician, and if the combat video of the Strike Rouge was any indication, she was only a mediocre mobile suit pilot. But she had significance, and that was what brought Todaka pause. She was the last important member of the Athha family, the last one with any kind of political connection or importance. Without her, Uzumi Nara Athha and his ideals would be dead forever.

Which, Todaka mused grimly, meant it made all too much sense why the Seirans were sending him after her.

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National Defense Headquarters, Onogoro Island, United Emirates of Orb

Everything was getting far too tangled for Jona Roma Seiran痴 liking. Originally, it had been a relatively simple matter. There had been one Atlantic Federation battleship pursuing the flagship of Orb痴 wayward princess well, that was a relatively small matter, and as long as the Atlantic Federation merely barked up the tree without trying to climb it, that could be dealt with. However, the Equatorial Union then decided to throw in its two cents, and one of its major combat fleets. Now, Jona had his ambassador in New Delhi trying to smooth things over and maybe get them to call back their fleet. And Todaka and his meager expeditionary force were steaming gallantly through Indonesia, driving towards what was looking to be a diplomatic as well as military battlefield.
Unato Ema Seiran, it seemed, was even more displeased with the way this was all shaking out. The miserly Chief Representative was hunched over the war room table, studying maps that charted the recent movements of all parties involved. Everything had converged a few days ago on Leyte Gulf, but as it turned out, that had gone wonderfully wrong.

添ou know, we値l have a hard time keeping major military actions secret from the public, Unato growled. 鉄omehow the video will get out, or someone will see the battle, or something.

的t doesn稚 matter, Jona answered. 展e can couch it in the context of our ongoing war with the Athha loyalists, and when people ask us why we kept it under wraps, we can spout our usual line about operational integrity.

釘ut this involves two sovereign nations, Unato responded, 登ne of them being the Atlantic Federation. We can稚 wave that away with a PR magic wand.

展ell, we won稚 have to, Jona shot back. 典he Atlantic Federation knows that it can稚 do anything to destabilize us, because out of Orb痴 four remaining noble families, the Seiran family is the only one that shows any inclination towards protecting their interests in Orb. They know full well that the Sahakus only want to play them against some other superpower.

Unato looked back down at the map, looking none too pleased. It wasn稚 too much of a concern to Jona, though, as he watched his anxious father carefully. Unato could worry all he wanted about the reactions of the public or the other countries involved, but all Jona was concerned with was threading the needle between fighting the Orb Raiders and provoking a war with the Equatorial Union or the Atlantic Federation. And there was still the Oceania Union to worry about as well right now the Orb Raiders were in the Philippines, in the Equatorial Union痴 territory, but if they turned their ship south and slipped into Indonesia, they would be in the Oceania Union痴 territory, and that raised the specter of ZAFT interference.

Jona tried not to turn up his nose at the mere thought of ZAFT sticking their monoeyes into Orb痴 business. The Orb Raiders had to be stopped, and soon.

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July 7th, CE 73 - Atlantic Federation Archangel-class battleship Mephistopheles, Sulu Sea

滴is efficiency was down by 21%, Peterson grumbled, poring over screens full of combat data from the Diablo痴 last sortie. 展e can do better than this.

Standing stiffly by his side, Alison cast a stony glance at her subordinate. 的t痴 good enough, she said. 展e池e not going back to Lodonia to ask for another Extended, because we pushed Jack too far and killed him.

Peterson shot back a glare at Alison. 展e can稚 have any successful tests if we aren稚 willing to push his boundaries. He turned his glowering eyes back towards the screen. 典he Psyco System is our ticket out of the basement on Lodonia, and it will help the Earth Alliance overcome ZAFT once and for all. I will see to that. Nothing will stop that.

Alison said nothing, cautiously watching her smoldering subordinate. What cost would have to be paid for Alfred Peterson to ascend the ranks of the Atlantic Federation痴 science corps?

添our ambition is not worth Jack痴 life, she said quietly.

Peterson turned angrily on her, his eyes flashing. 溺ajor, he answered, his voice quiet and simmering, 笛ack O辿ara is an Extended. They are not human beings. They are tools.

笛ack is not Alison began.

添our sentimentality is misplaced, Major, Peterson snapped. 展e are still at war. And in war, sacrifices must be made. Jack is but one of them.

展e are not at war, Alison sputtered.

添ou think so? Peterson shot back. 添ou think that the Coordinators aren稚 having this same conversation in the PLANTs? You think that there will truly be peace? If you do, then you are mistaken. War will come soon enough, and when it does, we will have to be ready. We will not condescend to another stalemate with the Coordinators and the Psyco System will make sure that we will be victorious.

Alison glared back at Peterson for a moment. 典he war is over, she said, 殿nd instead of preparing for a war you insist is inevitable, it痴 better to spend your energies trying to avoid it.

Peterson scowled back. 典here is no sense avoiding the inevitable, Major, he replied. 哲ever.

Peterson stormed out of the room. Alison looked back down angrily at the screens, wondering whether he was right.

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July 8th, CE 73 - Orb Raiders dreadnaught Megami, Palo, Leyte Gulf, the Philippines

The Megami shuddered as the engines came to life. Standing on the observation deck, Yzak watched tensely as the ship came to life, kicking up a cloud of sand and dust as it finally began to move. The ship lurched forward, spraying sand across the beach, and with a final roar of engines, lifted free from the beach and rose into the air.

Yzak heaved a sigh of relief as she felt the ship痴 deck tilt back, the Megami slowly pulling itself into the air. They could finally move again and that meant they could get back to business.

He turned away from the deck and headed back towards the hangar. His work was far from complete, and he doubted that the forces that had attacked them here earlier would let them go so easily.

Somewhere, as he strode down the halls, he imagined that Dearka was off harassing Milly. But that was what he usually did, and by now, Yzak no longer cared. He was a soldier; he had to have control. All he wanted was for this revolution to work out the way it was supposed to, so that he could pack himself off somewhere where nobody could bother him again.

He remembered his mother痴 death, bitter and cruel, once again. Causes were a rather empty thing to fight for, he had found, which made it even more ironic that he was fighting for one now. He tried to reconcile the two thoughts by telling himself that this cause he was fighting for was one of expediency at heart, he was fighting to be left alone. He had invested so much energy and time in fighting for ZAFT, and ZAFT had turned around and killed one of the few people who mattered to him in the world. Now he was investing so much energy and time in fighting for the Athha family, and yet the specter of this cause somehow turning around and betraying him was always there as well.

At the very least, he knew that he was necessary. He was one of the best pilots Cagalli had at her disposal she certainly couldn稚 afford to lose him.

He shook his head and sighed. Worrying about causes always seemed to end badly.

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鄭t least we池e moving again, Miriallia sighed, slumped into a chair in the mess hall with her hand propping up her chin. 展hich means I don稚 have to listen to Filipino radio stations for fourteen hours a day.

徹r patching up holes in the hull, Dearka added.

They both glanced out the nearest porthole, watching the island of Leyte pan by underneath them. Neither had any idea where the ship was going, but at least the thing was airborne, so nobody had to panic about being attacked in the sand again, and nobody had to pray that once again their foes would be miraculously unable to hit a stationary target.

滴opefully we値l be able to get away from those other ships, Milly added. 的 don稚 know how much longer we can keep fighting them. Last time we got lucky.

添eah, well, you致e got nothing to worry about, Dearka said. 的値l die before I let this ship go down.

Milly blinked at him. 泥on稚 do that, she said. 的t痴 not worth it if we all can稚 come home.

典hat doesn稚 change anything, Dearka answered. 的知 never going to be able to go back to the PLANTs. This is my home now, and hell if I知 going to let you get hurt in it.

Milly studied his face for a moment and sighed again. 展e池e all in it together, she said, 殿nd we all have to protect each other. She offered a smile. 鉄o no more of this 選値l protect you until the end stuff. We池e all doing that.

Dearka grinned back. 典here痴 no being dramatic with you, is there?

徹f course not, Milly laughed. 哲ow be a good boy and eat your dinner. We have a long day ahead of us tomorrow.

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July 9th, CE 73 - Orb Raiders dreadnaught Megami, Panay, the Philippines

The scene was a grim one. Spread out on a huge map of the Philippine islands, Murrue scanned the archipelago for the Megami痴 approximate position, over the island of Panay. They were heading northbut so was the great collection of their enemies.

It did not look good. The Archangel-class and the surface fleet that had attacked them at Leyte Gulf were in the South China Sea, to the northwest, heading north along the same general bearing as the Megami. Meanwhile, there was another warship heading through the Strait of Luzon, to the north, coming down into the Megami痴 range. And there was yet another fleet, this one carrying the IFF code of the Orb Navy, driving through the Sulu Sea to the west. All of their courses, if accurately projected, were taking them towards the island of Luzonwhich was exactly where the Megami was headed.

Andy scratched his head tiredly as he stared at the map from his chair on the side of the bridge. 展ell, this is bad, he said. 的f we head east, then that Orb fleet and that Atlantic Fed ship in the north will be able to follow us. And if we head west, we値l go right into the jaws of our friends from Palo.

Standing anxiously in the middle of the bridge, Cagalli looked frustrated. Every way they turned, they would somehow face enemies.

展e just keep running, she growled. 典here痴 got to be some other way of dealing with this!

鏑ike what? Andy asked.

展e値l have to deal with them at some point, Murrue pointed out. 展e won稚 be able to meet with other loyalists if we致e got someone on our tail the whole time.

展e have to fight, Cagalli insisted. 徹therwise they値l just keep chasing us.

Andy sat back, draping one leg over the other, looking back pointedly at the map. 徹kay, he said, 殿nd where do you propose we make our gallant stand? We喪e screwed if we do it on the open seas.

Cagalli studied the map fervently. The giant city of Manila jumped out at her, and she pointed at it. 典here, she said. 典hat痴 deserted, isn稚 it?

Murrue peered at it for a moment. 的t痴 deserted, she said, 澱ut we have no hope of getting there before they do. So we won稚 be able to set a trap or something.

鄭nd that means it値l just be urban combat, Andy added. 展hich is going to be dangerous as hell.

的t痴 better than nothing, Cagalli said. 鏑et痴 fight them in Manila. We値l be able to take out their mobile suits and maybe some of those ships, too. She glanced at Andy, seeking unspoken approval.

He shrugged. 的t値l be risky, he said. 徹nce you get into urban mobile suit combat, there痴 not much you can do in the way of tactics.

Cagalli looked back at the map. 典hen we池e going to have to win, she said.

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July 10th, CE 73 - Equatorial Union Spengler-class aircraft carrier Sukarno, South China Sea

典here certainly are a lot of us, chuckled the eerie masked man in the black Atlantic Federation uniform. Standing on the bridge of the Sukarno, Tapang narrowed his eyes at the tableau before him. An elaborate video conference displayed across the Sukarno痴 bridge the images of Captain Lee and Colonel Barbosa, aboard the Mephistopheles; Captain Todaka of the Orb Navy, aboard his flagship, the Yatenkou, with twelve other ships behind him; and now, Colonel Neo Roanoke of the Atlantic Federation, aboard his own ship, the John Paul Jones. It was, all told, getting to be a formidable fleet, with twenty-seven warships steaming towards Manila Bay after the fleeing Megami. Surely, with that many ships and nearly three hundred mobile suits, they would have to fall.

典he rats are running out of hiding places, Neo continued. 典hey can稚 outrun us, and it looks like they池e going to make their final stand in Manila. So let痴 be ready for some urban combat.

Tapang winced. He would have to disturb the graves of his ancestors, it seemed.

哲ow then, Neo continued, 都ince there are all so many of us, it would do us all some good if we were to get along, don稚 you agree? He grinned dubiously at Tapang and Todaka. 鄭dmiral Tapang and Captain Todaka, you two have the most ships, so we値l have you drop anchor off the coast and shell Manila until the Orb Raiders come out. Captain Lee, you can finish off their ship. The rest of us will take care of their mobile suits, and with any luck, they値l all be toast by the end of the day. Sound good?

No objections were forthcoming from Tapang. It was the Orb Raiders, after all, who were choosing to make Manila the site of their final battle.

鄭lright then, Neo said. 鉄et course for Manila.

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Atlantic Federation Spengler-class aircraft carrier John Paul Jones, South China Sea

The bridge was silent as the John Paul Jones slid quietly into Manila Bay, with mobile suits standing atop its decks in the moonlight. Captain Todaka壮 fleet was right behind the John Paul Jones. Admiral Tapang痴 fleet was already waiting several miles off the coast of Manila, as was the Mephistopheles. It was all coming into place rather well.

Standing on the bridge with arms crossed, feeling rather pleased with his handiwork, Neo watched Tapang痴 fleet and the Mephistopheles carefully. They already had their guns pointed towards the empty, haunting towers of the Manila skyline. It would be quite a battle, Neo supposed the mobile suits would have to fight among a forest of skyscrapers that would force them all into vicious close-quarters combat.

He glanced down at the John Paul Jones deck. The deactivated Strike Noir stood at the ship痴 prow, just behind its beam cannon array, staring ahead stonily at the outline of the city. Sven, Shams, and Mudie would finally have a chance to prove just how powerful they were after months of hunting down insurgents and a brief stint during the Black Sea War, he had no doubt that they were itching for a fight.

As for the Mephistopheles, Neo paused to ponder its captain. He was a competent officer; very competent, in fact. He would make a fine addition to the Phantom Pain.

Neo filed that idea away for later. Right now, he had a battle to look forward to.

鼎olonel, the John Paul Jones captain said, stepping up next to Neo with a clipboard in hand. 摘TA for the enemy warship is nine hours.

Neo pursed his lips. 典hey won稚 arrive until morning, then, he said.

鉄ometime around 0830, if their current speed and trajectory are constant, the captain answered.

展ell, that痴 no big deal, Neo replied with a shrug. 典hey can稚 go too far in that time. And whenever they show up, we値l be waiting for them. Go inform the pilots.

The captain saluted and shuffled off. Neo looked back out at Manila, and grinned. One way or another, he was going to get quite a show.

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July 11th, CE 73 - Atlantic Federation Spengler-class aircraft carrier John Paul Jones, Manila Bay

The Strike Noir came to life with a flash, its Phase Shift armor activating to give the pallid machine its dark and intimidating colors. Inside the cockpit, Sven Cal Bayan closed the visor of his helmet and cracked his knuckles. Two years of fighting insurgents in various hotspots around the world, and three days of fighting the Muslim League in the Black Sea War, had brought him to this.

At first blush, the mission looked like a simple one. The Orb Raiders were deploying their mobile suits into the giant urban jungle that was abandoned Manila. The Atlantic Federation, the Equatorial Union, and the Orb Navy were deploying their fleets close to the city, guns at the ready. The Mephistopheles was spoiling for a fight with the Megami. And the mobile suits were filing into the concrete jungle to hunt down their Orb Raider adversaries. But this battle promised to be a ferocious close-quarters melee in which only the skilled or the stupendously lucky would survive.

The John Paul Jones came to a halt in front of the Manila port. The Verde Buster and Blu Duel stepped out onto the starboard hatches.

鉄ven, Neo痴 voice said. Sven glanced emotionlessly at the screen. 典his one is going to be hairy. I trust you値l be able to operate on your own in the city.

添es sir, he answered. He glanced down at the Verde Buster and Blu Duel. 鉄hams, Mudie, all units will be on their own.

鄭wesome, Shams answered. 鏑et痴 get this shit over with.

The Verde Buster and Blu Duel vaulted off the hatches, taking off towards the port. Sven narrowed his eyes at the city and took off.

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Orb Raiders dreadnaught Megami, Manila, the Philippines

溺an, Dearka痴 voice grunted through the Justice Gundam痴 speakers. 典his is gonna be fun. Look at all those mobile suits.

展e know how this値l work, Andy said. 鄭thrun, Cagalli, and I will lead the Murasames in the air. Yzak, Dearka, and Mwu can handle the ones on the ground. I知 sure you can handle yourselves in the city, right?

敵uess we have no choice, Mwu said with a shrug. 鉄tay on your toes, boys and girls, this値l be like fighting in a labyrinth.

Athrun clenched his fists around the Justice痴 controls, as the Orb Raiders six Gundams stood tensely on the bank of the Pasig River. Up ahead, the Mephistopheles loomed over the Manila skyline, and dozens of mobile suits charged forward over the skyscrapers. Dozens more were dropping down into the city, armed to the teeth.

展ell, he told himself, 鍍his is our final standso it痴 now or never.

The Gundams took off.

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To be continued