Phase 12 - When Soldiers Die

Mobile Suit Gundam SEED - Soldiers of Old

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Phase 12 - When Soldiers Die

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July 11th, CE 73 - Orb Navy Aegis-class battleship Yatenkou, Manila, the Philippines

The Yatenkou quaked as another volley of missiles pounded down into the water around it. Todaka scowled as he clutched the armrests of the captain痴 chair, steadying himself as smoke and fire flashed around his beleaguered flagship. The Orb fleet, the Equatorial fleet, and the two Atlantic Federation ships all had numerical superiority, but when their enemy was as maneuverable and well-armed as the Megami, numerical superiority just meant more targets.

釘ring the ship around! Open fire on my mark! Todaka shouted. The ship rocked again, but slowly ground forward through the water, as a barrage of missiles slammed into the ocean around it. 擢ire! The Yatenkou痴 main cannon boomed, sending a volley of shells streaking up into the airbut once again, the Megami slipped past without a scratch, returning fire with a hail of CIWS fire that pounded the Yatenkou痴 armor.

鉄ir, the Shishiki is reporting critical damage! one of the deckhands exclaimed. Todaka glanced over at the pummeled Kuraokami-class as CIWS fire from the Megami shredded one of the Shishiki痴 own CIWS guns.

泥ammit, he snarled. 徹rder all heavily-damaged units to retreat! All other ships and mobile suits will continue fighting!

He looked back up at the Megami the Princess was getting feisty.

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Athrun Zala felt his muscles ripple with tension as the missiles pounded against the Justice Gundam痴 shield. He squinted through the flashing smoke, catching sight of his foe the Diablo Gundam charged forward, beam rifle blazing.

哲ot that way! Athrun snapped, hacking the cloud apart with his shield and squeezing off a shot of his own. The Diablo batted it aside with its shield, but that was all the time Athrun needed to hurl a beam boomerang down at the Diablo.

的 don稚 think so! Jack screamed, throwing his shield back into position. The impact sent the Diablo staggering back the Justice caught its boomerang on the rebound and charged again, beam cannons blazing. The Diablo ducked down towards the city, letting the Justice痴 blasts sear overhead. 添ou池e mine!

The Diablo swung its rifle back up and fired a shot skyward Athrun clenched as teeth as he sent the Justice hurtling out of the way, leveling off his own rifle and firing back. Inside the Diablo, Jack痴 eyes widened in disbelief as the Justice痴 rifle shot pierced the Diablo痴 rifle.

泥amn you! Jack screamed, hurling his sparking beam rifle up at the Justice. Athrun swatted it aside with his shield the Diablo tore a beam saber out of its recharge rack and charged, saber raised high.

泥amn! Athrun grunted. The Justice dove aside as the Diablo tore past, bringing its saber down with a vicious overhead slash. The Diablo whirled around, and a blaze of machinegun fire lanced out from the Diablo痴 shield Athrun痴 eyes widened in shock as the bullets shredded his beam rifle and sent what was left spiraling down into the city to explode.

滴e痴 got CIWS guns in there too?! Athrun exclaimed. The Diablo opened fire with its beam cannons Athrun cut the Justice痴 thrusters, plunging back down towards the city, and drew both of his beam sabers, connecting them at the ends. The Diablo followed, beam saber raised Athrun immediately reactivated the engine, stabbing forward with one end of his double saber. The Diablo swung its saber to the side to parry Athrun brought down the other end on the Diablo痴 shield with a crash.

添ou can稚 get away! Jack shrieked. 的値l tear you apart! I値l tear you apart!

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The street quaked as the Strike Noir peppered it with beam blasts, standing tall in an intersection and blasting away viciously at the copse of trees where the Aile Strike Gundam was hiding. Inside, Mwu grunted in annoyance as the Strike staggered back under the hail of beam shots.

典his guy痴 not holding anything back, he muttered. 展ell, two can play at that game!

The Strike Gundam lunged aside, squeezing off a beam rifle shot. The Strike Noir somersaulted over it, but that was all the time Mwu needed to rocket along the street and shower the Noir with another volley.

The Strike Noir ducked behind a skyscraper and fired a rocket anchor into it. Sven narrowed his eyes the Strike Noir yanked on the anchor cable, ripping the superstructure apart and sending the tower toppling over. Mwu痴 eyes went wide in disbelief, as instinct kicked in and he sent the Strike hurtling along the street to safety. The building came down with a bone-jarring crash, throwing a massive cloud of dust and debris into the air; the Strike dropped to one knee as chunks of steel and concrete slammed against its shield.

Mwu peered anxiously through the cloud to find the Strike Noir standing amid the rubble, eyes shining brightly.

展ell, aren稚 you subtle, Mwu growled. The Noir drew both of its pistols and fired again the Strike lunged into the air to dodge the shots and return fire. The Noir took off, pistols blazing, somersaulting up into the Strike痴 face. Mwu blinked in surprise an instant later, the Noir sent him spiraling back towards the ground with a punishing roundhouse kick to the face.

The Strike skidded to a halt in an intersection as the Strike Noir landed down the street. It drew a pair of swords from its wings, igniting beam blades on both of them.

展hat痴 this? Mwu grunted. 典his guy痴 crazy

The Strike switched to its own saber, and stood firm as the Noir raised its swords and charged.

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的 can稚 shake them! Cagalli cried, as the Strike Rouge spiraled through the air with three Slaughter Daggers hot on its heels. She whirled around to take aim with her beam rifle, but more blasts came at her instead, forcing her back behind her shield. 泥ammit!

Inside the lead Slaughter Dagger, Ramon glanced at his wingmen. 滴e痴 not going down, he muttered. 釘ill, Martin, flank him! He can稚 block us from three angles at once!

The Daggers rocketed apart as they approached a skyscraper. Cagalli watched them go tensely and roared straight for the tower. The Daggers opened fire again; Cagalli sent the Rouge into a nosedive, careening down towards the street and pulling up at the last second to skim along the street, firing back up at the Daggers. They dodged her shots expertly and returned fire, sending shards of glass and steel raining down the Rouge.

滴e痴 heading for the river, sir! Martin reported, as the Daggers formed up again. Ramon ground his teeth.

滴e must be trying to get to the enemy ship, he said. 的ntercept him at the bridge!

Bill and Martin痴 Daggers rocketed up overhead, as Ramon descended into the city, beam rifle blazing. Cagalli made a hard left at an intersection, arcing around another high-rise and diving into a mushrooming dust cloud. She glanced down at her infrared displays, but the sunlight had warmed everything infrared displays would be useless.

的知 going to need more firepower, she grunted, guiding the Rouge through the dust and around the dim shapes that she assumed were buildings. 敵otta get to the Megami

The dust vanished in a moment Cagalli yelped in surprise as she found two of the Daggers standing tall on a bridge in front of her. Before she could dodge, they opened fire, and the Rouge shuddered as its beam rifle was torn from its hand.

泥ammit! Cagalli shouted. 溺y rifle! The Strike Rouge took off over the Daggers heads they backflipped into the air and joined their comrade, firing after her.

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撤andacan Oil Depot?! Yzak read angrily from the digital map on his cockpit display. 鄭n oil refinery?!

Beam shots lanced by the Duel Gundam as Yzak crouched behind his shield. He looked back up towards his attacker the Blu Duel stalked forward, beam guns raised.

展ell, fine, Yzak snapped. 擢ollow me, asshole!

The Duel Gundam sprang to its feet, unleashing a hail of missiles. The Blu Duel stood back, firing away with its CIWS guns to cut them down. Yzak turned and rushed into the oil depot, ducking beneath a pipeline and whirling around to face his adversary. One wrong move in here might ignite a firestorm but his enemy was just as much at risk as he was, so ideally that would even the odds.

Inside the Blu Duel, Mudie glanced around at her surroundings. It was a 21st century oil refinery and if there was still flammable material in the tanks, a resourceful fighter would be able to create an inferno that no Phase Shift armor could resist for long.

Yzak drew his beam saber the Blu Duel did likewise, and lunged forward, saber raised high over its head. The Duel fell to one knee and stabbed forward with its own saber, but the Blu Duel parried the blow with expert precision, ramming the Duel with its shield and sending Yzak stumbling back. The Blu Duel stepped back, firing a railgun shot that slammed into the Duel's shield with a nerve-wracking flash of fire.

"Are you crazy?!" Yzak snapped. "You'll set off all the oil!"

Mudie looked up over the Duel's head hanging perilously over it was a huge tank, hopefully full of oil. The Duel charged towards its foe, beam saber raised, passing right under the tank.

"Fool!" Mudie snapped; the Blu Duel squeezed a shot off into one of the struts connecting the tank to a tangle of pipes overhead. The tank pitched downward, ripping open from the force of the blow and spilling thick black oil onto the Duel Gundam.

"What the !" Yzak shouted the Blu Duel hurled three objects from its left-hand shoulder armor, wedging them into the ground at Yzak's feet. Before he could react, they exploded and the Duel was engulfed in flames. "Shit! He ignited the oil!"

The Blu Duel took a prudent step back as the Duel staggered backward, flames curling up off its armor. Yzak looked around in panic, wracking his mind for a solution to a flaming mobile suit

The Pasig River loomed behind him. Yzak threw his burning mobile suit towards it. Mudie frowned at her fleeing foe and raised her beam gun, but the now-empty oil tank came crashing down from the vibration of the Duel's harried footsteps, blocking her shot. The Duel leapt towards the river, spiraling in midair to try to quell the flames, and splashed into the water.

"Dammit," Mudie hissed, scanning the riverbank for the spot where the Duel would return. "Well, he can't get far. Not after all that fire damage."

On the riverbed, Yzak breathed a momentary sigh of relief. The fire had gone out as he drowned it in the river, and the oil had sloughed off his machine's blackened armor, rising to the surface. He whirled around underwater and looked up the Blu Duel was looming at the river's edge.

"Now you've pissed me off," Yzak snarled. He gunned the booster, and the Duel Gundam lunged out of the water, igniting its beam saber as soon as it was clear and with a tooth-jarring crash, Yzak brought his saber down on the Blu Duel's shield. "You're not gonna fool me again!"

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A hail of empty cargo crates came smashing down around the Aegis Gundam as Andy struggled to put some distance between himself and Barbosa痴 Dark Dagger team. The Dark Daggers were firing on empty cargo containers, toppling over as much debris as possible in the crowded port to try to pin the Aegis down. But Andy would have none of that he couldn稚 be fooled that easily.

The Aegis squeezed off a beam rifle shot as it darted past another heavy crane, toppling it over in front of the Daggers. As they skirted around the heavy machinery, Andy leveled off his rifle and fired again, blowing off the right arm of one of the Daggers. It staggered back under the blow Andy ticked his rifle to the side and fired again, blasting the Dagger out of the sky.

適ingston! Barbosa shouted. His own Dagger ducked the debris from Kingston痴 Dagger, firing back at the Aegis with its beam carbine. 泥ammit! Keep on him, Carlos! I値l hit him from behind!

Barbosa痴 Dagger rocketed up over the port machinery, firing down from above with its own carbine. Andy cut the Aegis痴 thrusters and ignited his beam saber, waiting for Carlos痴 charging Dagger and swinging his saber into its waist, sawing it in two as it passed.

"I can't believe this!" Barbosa screamed. "Every pilot?!" The Dagger leveled off its own carbine, firing back, but the Aegis ducked down into the port machinery to escape.

"Now it's a little fairer!" Andy chuckled, expertly guiding the Aegis among the girders. "Come and get me, buddy! I'm not the Desert Tiger for nothing!"

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The street below the Buster Gundam's feet disappeared in a shower of concrete and a cloud of fire and smoke as Dearka's foe, the hulking Verde Buster, pummeled the street with blasts from both of its beam rifles. Dearka ducked behind a building, but the Verde Buster, from its vantage point atop an office building, poured firepower into Dearka's momentary hiding place, shredding the superstructure and threatening to send the building crashing down around them.

"This guy's insane!" Dearka exclaimed. "Is he trying to bring the whole city down on me?!"

The Buster lunged out of its hiding place and squeezed off a shot from its beam cannon at the top of the tower where the Verde Buster stood but the shot sailed under the Verde Buster's feet as the newer mobile suit vaulted into the air, deploying bayonets at the ends of its beam rifles and came down into the street with a crash, right in front of the Buster.

Dearka stormed forward as the Verde Buster reeled from the shock of the landing, and sent his foe sprawling with a bone-rattling punch across the face. He reared back for another blow, but the Verde Buster recovered and charged back at the Buster, leveling off one of its bayonets for a killing stab.

"You're mine!" Shams shouted, as the Verde Buster closed in.

"I don't think so!" Dearka shot back. The Buster leapt back to its feet and unleashed a full volley of missiles right into the Verde Buster's face at point-blank range, sending both mobile suits staggering away from each other.

Dearka rounded a corner, coming face to face with two Strike Daggers. A devastating punch across the face sent the Dagger sprawling, and Dearka quickly seized its beam rifle and pumped a shot into the fallen machine's torso before it could react. The second Dagger backpedaled behind its shield, passing under a monorail track Dearka shot the support columns out, bringing the track down on top of the Dagger with a crash. With a satisfying grin, Dearka marched his machine over to the crushed machine and picked up its rifle too, pulling it out of the arm that protruded from the wreck.

"That's better," Dearka said, hefting both of the beam rifles and turning to face the direction he had come from. "Now let's find that bastard with the shiny rip-off of my machine."

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Another bridge came down with a crash as the Strike Noir ruthlessly hacked its way through the streets of Manila, chasing the retreating Aile Strike Gundam. Sven narrowed his eyes at his fleeing foe the Strike was trying to avoid inflicting massive property damage, but that would be his undoing.

Sven targeted the buildings along the sides of the streets with his CIWS guns, opening fire and sending a hail of broken glass and concrete down on the Strike. As the buildings crumbled, the Strike slammed on the brakes, whirling around in midair with its saber drawn. Sven cut the thrusters, bringing both of his swords down with a crash, digging two deep grooves into the Strike's shield.

"Those things won't last forever," Sven grunted. "Not with the mass behind my swords."

The Noir swung its left-hand sword again, but the Strike's beam saber was there to block it. Before Sven could react, the Strike Gundam fired the boosters in the Aile pack, throwing the Strike Noir back on its heels. As Sven struggled to regain his balance, the Strike charged, beam saber raised the Noir barely ducked underneath the Strike's blow, and plowed into the Strike with its shoulder.

The Aile Strike staggered back, threw its beam saber up to deflect the Noir's follow-up sword slash, and took off backward again. Sven fired up the booster to pursue, returning both of his blades to the Noir Striker's wings.

"There's more than one way to bring you down," Sven growled, "and your Phase Shift can't block everything."

As the two Gundams passed under another overpass, Sven fired both of his hand anchors into the bridge's two support columns. Tearing the bridge off its supports, the Strike Noir hurled the massive slab of concrete straight at the intersection that the Aile Strike was approaching. The Strike ducked to the side but the Noir was there to cut off the escape route with its beam guns, forcing the Strike back to the ground as the bridge plowed into the street, throwing up an immense pall of dust.

The Strike Gundam, beam saber in hand, charged straight at the Noir only for Sven to draw his blades and block the attack.

The Strike Gundam, it seemed, was living up to its reputation.

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"Megami!" Cagalli shouted, as the Strike Rouge streaked through the air, with three Slaughter Daggers in hot pursuit. "This is Cagalli! I need support; I'm heading for your position, ETA 120 seconds!"

Miriallia's image on the Rouge's screen quivered as the Megami took a near-miss missile hit. "You'll have to specify, ma'am," she answered. "We've got our hands full too."

The Strike Rouge spiraled out of the way of a volley of beam shots, ducking down and hooking around a skyscraper. "A weapon would be nice!" Cagalli grunted, glancing hurriedly at her pursuers as they diligently arced around the tower after her. "They took out my beam rifle and my bazooka went dry!"

"All we can have ready is the Grand Slam sword," Milly answered. "Unless you want to wait for another weapon, you're going to have to make do with that."

"Fine!" Cagalli shot back the Strike Rouge ducked between a pair of towers, rattling as the Aile pack's wings scraped painfully against the sides of the buildings. "Just have the thing ready! These guys are gonna tear me apart!"

The Strike Rouge burst out of the shadows of the skyline, deflecting a pair of beam shots with its shield. In the cockpit of his own Dagger, Ramon frowned as he saw the Megami in the distance, under fire and approaching fast.

"He's heading back to the ship," Bill said. "Is he trying to retreat?"

"Or rearm," Martin added. "Orders, sir?"

Ramon flashed a feral grin. "This is our chance to prove the power of the Phantom Pain!" he cried. "Martin, you take the mobile suit; Bill, you and I will attack the ship!"

The Slaughter Daggers split up. Cagalli watched nervously as she approached the Megami, the central catapult doors opening up.

"There's no time to land," Milly instructed, "so we're launching the sword on the central catapult! Be ready to catch it!"

A beam blast nearly took off the Strike Rouge's head Cagalli jetted backwards, glancing to the side, and opened fire with her CIWS on Martin's Slaughter Dagger as he came cruising in with a volley of beam shots. The Dagger spiraled aside, putting itself between the Megami and the Strike Rouge, beam rifle leveled and ready to fire. Overhead, the other two Daggers were approaching the Megami.

"We're being attacked!" Milly exclaimed. "Ma'am "

"Launch the sword!" Cagalli snapped.

The catapult fired. The sword came streaking out of the Megami's central catapult, blade pointed forward. Martin glanced over his shoulder quizzically, and his eyes flashed in horror

The Strike Rouge's Grand Slam sword stabbed through the Slaughter Dagger's back, ramming its way through the cockpit and impaling the Dagger on the blade. The Strike Rouge somersaulted over the stricken Dagger, yanking the sword out of the dying Dagger's torso, and charged towards the other two.

"Commander!" Bill exclaimed. "I've lost contact with Martin "

He glanced to the side, and never had time to scream as Cagalli cleaved his mobile suit in two with her sword. She whirled around as the vivisected Dagger exploded behind her, turning her eyes on the last Dagger.

"I don't believe it!" Ramon cried, as the Strike Rouge charged with an upraised sword. "Two pilots, that quickly?!"

The Slaughter Dagger backed away, firing its beam rifle. Cagalli deflected the shots with her shield, ducking under Ramon's second volley, and slashed his beam rifle in two. Ramon abandoned the ruined weapon and backpedaled, drawing his beam saber.

"Come on, you bastard," he growled, "let's do this the hard way!"

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The Justice Gundam rocked as the Diablo Gundam brought its saber down again onto the Justice's shield. Already the blackened lines of near misses with their beam sabers scarred the two Gundams, but so far the damage was merely cosmetic and Athrun's patience was wearing thin. He couldn't afford to sit here and spar with the Diablo all day the others needed him throughout the city.

The Diablo attacked again, this time cleaving off the Justice's left-hand beam boomerang. Athrun cursed as the boomerang dropped down into the sea, and swung back with his own double-saber, slicing off the Diablo's two beam cannons. The Diablo backed away, its severed cannons throwing sparks, and opened fire with its shield-mounted CIWS guns again but this time, Athrun stormed through the hail of bullets, stabbing forward with his saber, and only a timely parry saved the Diablo from destruction.

"I can't keep doing this forever," Athrun grunted. "So I have to finish you off quick!"

The Justice Gundam surged forward, driving the Diablo back. It flailed its free arms and legs wildly, and knocked the Justice's shield from its arm, but with a scream, Athrun roared forward and managed to sever the Diablo's left arm at the elbow, sending its shield spiraling into the water.

The Diablo responded by firing its own engines, throwing the Justice back, and before Athrun could react, the Diablo had severed the Justice's left leg below the knee. Athrun drew back, cursing, but his persistent foe charged after him.

"No more of this shit!" Athrun snapped. "Something has to give!"

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Orb Raiders dreadnaught Megami

"Captain! Enemy fleet is beginning to retreat!" Chandra exclaimed from his station on the Megami's bridge.

"Shall we pursue?" Neumann asked from the helm.

Murrue stopped herself from letting out a sigh of relief. The Orb and Equatorial fleets were pulling back with heavy damage, but the Mephistopheles was still blasting away from behind them as tenaciously as ever, and something had to be done before the Mephistopheles scored a hit.

"We can't effectively target them when they're like this" she muttered. "Neumann, can you turn us around?"

"Not without them following," Neumann warned. "We'll have to try something fancy to get them off our tail."

Murrue glanced up in frustration at the pursuing warship. "An Immelmann turn!" she exclaimed. "Neumann! Can you do that?"

"In this thing?" Neumann echoed. The Megami rocked under another near miss from the Mephistopheles. "Maybe in a Spearhead, but it would be hard in a battleship! We'd have to reprogram the engine regulator computers to give us enough thrust to push straight up!" The Megami rocked again, this time as missiles exploded around the ship amid a hail of CIWS fire. "And we'd be inverted too!"

"That's what I'm hoping for!" Murrue replied. "We'll shoot back with all of our dorsal weapons, and maybe we can bring him down that way!"

The Megami banked to the starboard side to dodge another Gottfried volley. "Then somebody's going to have to reprogram the engine regulators," Neumann answered. "I can't do it from here."

Sai abruptly stood up from his station near the back of the bridge. "I'll do it." He glanced over at Neumann. "Feed me all the information. I'll be back in a minute."

Before anyone could say anything, Sai was already out the door.

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As the very floor on which he ran shook, Sai briefly wondered whether he had just lost his mind, racing down the corridors of a warship in battle, and heading for the engine room to reprogram the engines, in order to perform an antiquated aerial dogfighting maneuver that hadn't been widely used in combat since World War I. But that was his job, and damned if he wasn't going to do it.

Sai rounded a corner, and again the Megami shook, throwing him to the floor. He grunted in pain as he started to get back to his feet. A hand was there in front of him to help him up he looked up at its owner, and blinked in surprise as he found himself face to face with Lacus Clyne.

"What are you doing out here?" Sai exclaimed, scrambling back to his feet. "It's dangerous out here!"

Lacus steadied herself against the wall as the ship quaked again. "I don't think it's safe anywhere," she answered. "And the same could be said of you. Where are you going?"

"The engine room!" Sai answered. "I have to reprogram a computer!" He glanced down the hallway. "Come with me, it's too dangerous to wander around the halls in battle!"

Sai sprinted back down the halls as the ship seemed to stabilize, with Lacus in tow, and ducked through a bulkhead into the Megami's cavernous engine room. The noise and heat were stifling Sai beat his way through a cloud of steam and arrived at the nearest computer terminal, keying in the line to the bridge.

"I'm in the engine room!" he exclaimed. "Neumann, send me the new values!"

One of the side screens began to flash with values, and Sai set to work. "A ship like this isn't meant to perform an Immelmann turn," Neumann warned. "You'll have to manually trigger the thrust sequence from down there. I'll let you know when. I'm counting on you."

"Yeah, no pressure," Sai answered.

"What are you trying to do?" Lacus asked, holding on to the back of Sai's chair as the ship took another near miss.

"Roll the ship up over the enemy's head and attack from above," Sai explained bitterly. "And if I screw this up, the thrust sequences will tear the engines apart!" He shook his head. "Why did I volunteer to do this?! I'm not a Coordinator, I can't do this!"

"Now is not the time for doubting yourself," Lacus pointed out. Sai glanced in exasperation at her calm as ever, even as she sweated and waited in the stifling engine room.

"I'm not Kira," Sai said.

Lacus put her hands comfortingly on his shoulders. "No," she said, "you're Sai." She pressed a kiss to his lips, and turned his eyes back towards the screen.

Sai finished the reprogramming with flushed cheeks and reconnected the line to the bridge.

"Neumann, are you guys ready yet!?" Sai snapped. "It's hot as hell down here!"

On the bridge, Murrue glanced at Neumann and nodded.

"We're going to invert the ship," he said, "so buckle up! Initiate the sequence on my mark!"

Sai glanced at Lacus; settled into the chair next to his, watching him patiently as he seized the final switch.

Neumann grimaced. "Now!"

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Atlantic Federation Archangel-class battleship Mephistopheles

"Sir, they're leveling out!" the Mephistopheles' weapons' officer, Ronald, exclaimed from his station on the bridge. Lee frowned as he watched his foe cease its desperate evasive maneuvers what were they planning?

"Prepare for evasive maneuvers," he ordered. "What are they "

Lee's words died in his throat as the Megami suddenly veered up into the sky, and its dorsal armaments flashed to life. Gottfried blasts, railgun shells, and missiles slammed mercilessly into the Mephistopheles' armor as the Megami executed a ponderous half-loop over the Mephistopheles' head, raining firepower on it from above.

"Evasive action!" Lee roared. "Hard to port!"

"Impossible, sir!" the helmsman, Jason, protested. "Engines are losing power! Levitator is not responding!"

The Mephistopheles began to lose altitude, plunging towards the sea. Lee scowled as his ship was torn apart around him, and glanced back furiously at his foe as it slowly reoriented itself.

Well played

He looked back at his crew as they struggled to stay in their chairs.

"All hands, brace for impact!"

The Mephistopheles plowed into the sea, smashing its way into a sandbar. The bridge crew was thrown out of their seats as the ship finally halted in against the sandbar, half-submerged in the surf.

Lee painfully got to his feet to survey the damage. The Mephistopheles' engines were a smoking ruin, and the right leg and the wings had been smashed apart. The ship was in shambles and its armaments were long gone.

Murphy, bloodied and bruised, crawled out of the darkened CIC and adjusted his cap. "Captain," he said, "we've lost main power. Auxiliary power is online, but it won't hold. The main reactor has been damaged, and it might blow. The levitator is down and the armaments are not responding. We're dead in the water, sir."

Lee rubbed his bruised shoulder and glanced around the darkened, ruined bridge.

"Give the order, then," he answered, "to abandon ship."

As Murphy disappeared back into the CIC, Lee glanced towards the Diablo Gundam, high overhead. He reached down to his belt his sidearm was still there.

Lee determinedly stalked off the bridge.

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Manila, the Philippines

Ramon brought his beam saber down with a scream onto the Strike Rouge's shield, throwing it back. Cagalli ground her teeth as she struggled to regain control of her machine, but not before Ramon's Slaughter Dagger swooped in, swinging his beam saber at the Grand Slam sword clutched tightly in the Rouge's left hand and slicing the blade off just above the handle.

"The sword!" Cagalli cried, as the blade went spiraling into the ocean, leaving her with only a useless handle. "Dammit!" She abandoned what little was left of the sword and pulled back, drawing one of the Strike Rouge's beam sabers.

"I'm in the Phantom Pain, you bastard!" Ramon roared. "The best of the best! You can't beat me!"

The Dagger rushed forward, saber upraised Cagalli swung back to deflect Ramon's deathblow with her own saber, but the force of the blow left the Rouge's arm rattling. The Dagger plunged forward, and with a crash, severed the Rouge's right arm at the elbow.

"Shit!" Cagalli screamed, as the Dagger brought its saber around for another blow. "Gotta do something "

The Dagger brought its saber down. "Gotcha!" Ramon barked in triumph. Cagalli jammed her shield in between the Rouge's exposed side and the Dagger's saber, blocking the blow she forced the shield forward with a kick, disconnecting it from the Rouge's arm and thrusting it forward to throw the Dagger back. Ramon threw the shield aside in frustration, turning his eyes towards the damaged Strike Rouge

Instead, he could only scream as the Strike Rouge slammed an Armor Schneider combat knife into the Dagger's cockpit, crushing him in a gruesome shower of blood.

Cagalli jammed the knife up into the Dagger's torso, piercing the reactor, and threw the mobile suit aside. It plummeted down towards the water, where it finally exploded and Cagalli breathed a sigh of relief.

She cast a wary glance around the battlefield for any signs of allies. The Megami was cruising ominously over the bay, with the smoking, hulking ruin of the Mephistopheles smashed up against a sandbar behind it. The enemies seemed to be beginning to retreat and the enemy fleet had already done that, racing for safety in the outer reaches of the bay.

She glanced back towards the city had they won?

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Dearka landed with a crash and a pall of dust atop a skyscraper, with an anxious glance over his shoulder. Across the street, standing tall at the top of another tower, the Verde Buster clamped its beam rifles together and fired a pulsing red beam blast at the tower the Buster had alighted on. Dearka lunged off his perch, landing on his shoulder on a next-door building, and squeezed off a pair of return shots with his two stolen beam rifles. The Verde Buster vaulted out of harm's way, landing on yet another skyscraper.

"Hopping around on top of buildings is gonna get one of us killed," Dearka grunted, as the Verde Buster opened fire with a volley of missiles. The Buster returned fire with its beam rifles, blowing the missile volley out of the air. "And it's not gonna be me!"

The Verde Buster fired again with its beam rifles, adding a shot with its beam cannon and railgun Dearka leapt off another skyscraper as its top disappeared in a plume of fire. He fired back with his own beam rifles, only to see the Verde Buster dodge again.

Dearka narrowed his eyes and dropped both of his beam rifles, switching to the Buster's high-energy rifle, and pounded off a blazing yellow shot into the top of the skyscraper that the Verde Buster was about to land on. The top of the skyscraper crumbled in a cloud of smoke and pulverized concrete as the Verde Buster landed. The newer mobile suit lost its footing, vanishing as the skyscraper began to collapse.

"Gotcha!" Dearka roared victoriously; the Buster leveled off its high-energy rifle at another tower and fired at its base, knocking the massive building to the side with the force of the explosion. The Verde Buster crashed down to the street, surrounded by the wreckage of the first building. It painfully got back to its knees and looked up

Dearka allowed himself a self-satisfied smile as the second skyscraper smashed down on top of the Verde Buster.

"That's one way to take care of an enemy," he chuckled. The Buster stepped back and glanced around the battlefield the enemy appeared to be retreating anyway. "Guess I better be heading back"

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Mwu found himself dodging flying train cars and trees and anything else that the Strike Noir could get its rocket anchors into as he sped through the streets of Manila. The city was rapidly running out of buildings to knock over, and Mwu could swear that if he didn't know better, the Noir's pilot was trying to provoke him into doing something stupid in order to prevent more wanton property damage.

He glanced up ahead, at a three-tiered stack of monorail tracks they looked heavy enough to pin the Noir, or at least ward it off from a closer pursuit. He engaged the Aile pack's booster, throwing it momentarily ahead of the Noir and that was all the time he needed to whirl around and shoot out the tracks' supports, sending them crashing down towards the street.

The Strike Noir ducked gracefully between the collapsing bridges, but as it turned its eyes back towards the Strike, it found itself facing down another beam volley. The Noir ducked aside again, but the beams smashed into the side of another building, bringing down huge chunks of concrete on top of the Noir. The newer machine staggered aside, putting its arms up to block the blow, but the monorail tracks came down with a crash next to it, throwing it to the ground. The rest of the building gave way with a pall of smoke, and the force of the collapse shook loose more debris from the building across the street, bringing it all down towards the Noir.

Sven narrowed his eyes at the falling skyscraper; the Noir lunged to the side, barely dodging the collapsing debris, and came down with a crash onto its knees. Sven leapt back to his feet and whirled around but the Strike Gundam was already taking off.

He scowled as the dust enveloped his machine, backing away as the debris pummeled the Noir. The Strike Gundam was still as good as ever.

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Dust and smoke was drifting between the quickly dwindling forest of skyscrapers that made up Manila as Yzak clashed with the Blu Duel. His more advanced foe somersaulted backwards, switching from a beam saber back to its two beam guns, and showered the Duel with beam blasts, cutting a number of deep scars into the Duel's blackened Assault Shroud armor.

The Duel ducked behind the sturdy bole of yet another skyscraper, and backed away as the Blu Duel began to puncture it with a flurry of beam shots. Inside her own machine, Mudie glanced over her screens the battle was taking a turn for the worse. She would have to finish this enemy off quickly.

Keeping one beam gun blazing at her enemy to pin him down, she hurled her last three Stilettos into the base of the building, where they exploded with a roar. The building began to topple over towards the Duel Gundam.

Inside the Duel, Yzak cursed as he saw his hiding place come crashing down towards him. He glanced through the wreckage, finding the Blu Duel standing on the other side, beam guns raised, watching coldly.

"You can't beat me like this!" Yzak screamed. The Duel vaulted up into the air, straight towards the skyscraper. Yzak swung his shield up in front of him, firing the booster. The Duel plowed shield-first through the skyscraper, smashing out the other end, and before the Blu Duel down below could react, Yzak followed up with a railgun shot.

The Blu Duel ducked, and the shield streaked by over its head. Mudie raised her guns to return fire again, but an ominous noise from behind her cut her off

Mudie whirled around, eyes wide in disbelief, and deployed her shield to stop a second skyscraper as it came down on top of her. The Duel landed with a crash as the tower collapsed onto its foe, blasting the machine with a cloud of debris and dust.

Yzak glanced across the battlefield for signs of life there were none. The Duel turned and took off.

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"Son of a bitch! You get back here!" Jack shrieked, as the Diablo Gundam roared after its fleeing foe, beam saber drawn back for an overhead slash. Athrun narrowed his eyes at the pursuing Gundam the battle was coming to an end, and the Megami was looking to make a swift retreat as its battered enemies struggled to regroup, so he would have to finish off the Diablo soon.

The Justice pitched down towards the water, approaching the site of the Mephistopheles' wreckage, with the Diablo in hot pursuit. Athrun whipped around, beam saber drawn, and brought it down with a crash against the Diablo's saber. "I can't afford this anymore!" he snapped, surging forward and throwing the Diablo back with the force of his swing. "So go down!"

The Diablo fired back with its CIWS guns, as it engaged its own booster to match the Justice's attack. Athrun tried to take cover behind his shield, only to remember that his shield was somewhere at the bottom of the bay in the meantime, the bullets bounced off his Phase Shift armor as he backed away.

"I've got you now!" Jack shrieked the Diablo Gundam blasted forward, beam saber drawn back for a killing charge.

Athrun's eyes flashed, as the seed fell before his eyes he saw time slow and seized a chance

The Diablo charged forward, saber extended Athrun ducked to the side, slashing its arm off at the elbow with the upper end of his saber, and then bringing the lower end back up to cut into the torso and the subflight lifter. The Diablo's backpack exploded, sending a rush of fire and debris into the shattered cockpit and, belching fire and a plume of smoke, the Diablo collapsed down into the wreck of the Mephistopheles.

Athrun breathed a sigh of relief, deactivated his beam sabers, and took off for the Megami.

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Atlantic Federation battleship Mephistopheles

Lee painfully got back to his feet in the broken corridors of the Mephistopheles as water began to pool in the lower parts of the ship. The vessel's remains were sliding off the sandbar and into deeper water the crew's window of opportunity to escape was running out, as was his.

But, he thought bitterly as he clicked off the safety of his pistol, there was still something he needed to do first.

Lee staggered through the hallways, heading for what was left of the main hangar. The ruined Diablo Gundam had crashed there, so that was where Alison MacIntyre and Alfred Peterson were likeliest to be if they weren't dead yet. Surely neither of them would simply leave Jack O'Hara where he was Alison would want to save him, and Petersonwell, he'd want something else.

Lee shoved aside a smashed access hatch and picked his way into the hangar. The floor was buckled and water was freely seeping in, slowly rising as the ship slid off the sandbar. The Diablo Gundam, sure enough, was slumped on one side of the hangar, missing both of its arms and with a huge gash torn into its torso. There were two figures near the melted cockpit hatch Lee rushed closer, and his eyes flashed angrily as he caught sight of Peterson with a gun pointed at Alison, as she knelt next to Jack's grievously wounded body.

"You have been nothing but an impediment to the Psyco System project!" Peterson roared. "Your sentimentality has cost us everything!"

"He's not just a weapon, Alfred!" Alison shot back.

"Enough of this!" Peterson snapped back. "You goddamned traitor! I'll kill "

A gunshot rang outbut not from Peterson. A moment later, he slumped off the Diablo's broken body and into the rising water, a bullet hole in the side of his head. Down below, Lee holstered his sidearm and moved to climb up the Diablo's right leg.

"Don't!" Alison shouted. "The Diablo's going to blow! Get out of here!"

"Then what are you staying up there for?!" Lee demanded.

Alison looked down at Jack's body, and Lee could see the pallid face and glazed eyes of a dead soldier. He looked back at Alison.

"Somebody has to survive," she said, just loud enough for Lee to hear, "so that they can tell the story."

Lee stared ruefully at her for a moment and then, he straightened up, offered her a sharp salute, and turned to run back to the access hatch.

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The Aegis ducked underneath a towering set of cargo containers, dodging the vicious beam blasts of its Dark Dagger L opponent. Inside the Dagger, Barbosa cast a frustrated glance towards the wreckage of the Mephistopheles.

"He got beaten after all," Barbosa snarled. "Dammit! This has all gone to hell!"

Within the stacks of crates, the Aegis whirled around, beam rifle raised. Barbosa opened fire first, blasting at the crates and bringing them down on top of the Aegis. The Dagger vaulted into the air and took off towards the Mephistopheles. Barbosa frowned at the tiny orange shapes of lifeboats, bobbing helplessly in the sea as their disheveled occupants struggled to row them. He magnified one of them, and found the grizzled captain, Ian Lee, standing tall and shouting orders.

"They've seen some important military secrets," Barbosa muttered to himself, scowling hatefully at Lee. "So I'd better not leave any survivors."

Down below, Lee looked up in disbelief as he saw Barbosa's Dagger hovering overhead. It raised its beam carbine towards the lifeboats

"Never turn your back on a tiger!" someone screamed.

The Aegis Gundam blasted out of the port in mobile armor mode, ignited all four of its beam sabers, and slashed off the Dagger L's limbs with a flash, clamping onto the dismembered Dagger from behind.

"What!?" Barbosa screamed, thrown forward in his seat.

"See ya in hell, buddy!" Andy laughed.

The Aegis fired its Scylla cannon through the Dagger's cockpit Barbosa screamed as he vanished in the blaze. The Aegis released the dying mobile suit, letting it drop towards the water and explode in midair. The Aegis transformed back to its mobile suit mode, and took off, arcing towards the Megami.

Lee watched it go, and glanced back at his ship, as it slid into the water and disappeared beneath the surface.

At his side, Murphy took off his hat, holding it over his heart. "It was a fine ship," he said quietly.

Lee watched it impassively, and could only nod as the Orb Raiders made their escape.

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Manila, the Philippines

As the sun set over the demolished remains of Manila, the battlefield was quiet. The towering sentinels of a few mobile suits still lingered in the area, looking for comrades. The John Paul Jones had deployed a squad of Dagger Ls to search the battlefield, but so far, they were having no luck.

The broken form of a mobile suit's hand shot up from beneath one pile of wreckage, much to the surprise of one of the patrolling Daggers. It came down with a crash atop the wreckage, and a moment later, shuddering and throwing off dust, the Strike Noir rose from the ruins. It was in a pitiable shape, dented, scarred, and battered, looking as though something had been chewing on it.

"Lieutenant Bayan!" the Dagger's pilot exclaimed. "Are you alright?"

Inside the Noir, Sven rubbed his bloodied head and glanced at his cracked and useless helmet, lying in pieces at his feet. It had probably saved his life, but damned if it didn't hurt.

"What's the situation?" he asked quietly of the Dagger's pilot.

"The enemy escaped, sir," the pilot answered, "and the fleet has suffered over fifty percent casualties. The Mephistopheles went down too. We're excavating the Blu Duel and the Verde Buster as well it looks like they're alright too."

Sven grunted in acknowledgment and glanced over at the shadowy form of the John Paul Jones in Manila Bay.

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Atlantic Federation Spengler-class aircraft carrier John Paul Jones, Manila Bay, the Philippines

It was an odd sight to find nearly three dozen orange-colored inflatable lifeboats, packed with disheveled, soaking, miserable crewmembers from the fallen Mephistopheles, clustered around the starboard bow of the John Paul Jones. But it was worth saving what crew they could after all, they had fought well against a dangerous opponent, and could offer valuable information towards fighting that opponent again. And of course, it would look very bad to simply leave the crew of the Mephistopheles to the vagaries of the sea.

Neo Roanoke thus stood on the John Paul Jones' flight deck, arms crossed, watching as soldiers and crew helped the Mephistopheles' survivors out of their wretched boats and below the carrier's deck. They would be debriefed in good time.

He smiled as he watched one soldier pull Lieutenant Commander Ian Lee aboard. Neo stepped forward, and Lee offered a weary salute.

"I regret not being able to address you as captain of a ship anymore, Colonel," Lee said ruefully.

Neo returned Lee's salute with a casual grin. "Oh, you lost one ship today, captain," he said, "but that's quite alright." He led Lee away from the rest of his crew, striding before him confidently on the flight deck. "We're building a new class of battleship at the Arzachel Crater base, the Girty Lue. And we're in need of a captain."

Lee blinked in shock. "But, sir, you're offering me a new command after I had my old one shot out from under me?"

"You were resourceful and innovative enough to survive having your old command shot out from under you," Neo said with a shrug. "Not many officers in the Atlantic Federation can say the same." He turned to face Lee, the Cheshire grin still on his face. "This new ship will be quite superior to your old one, and I guarantee, you will not be so poorly equipped again." His grin flashed feral. "Not when you're in the 81st Autonomous."

Lee's jaw dropped in disbelief. "Y-You want me to be in the "

"The assignment of a lifetime," Neo answered. "What do you say, captain?"

Lee glanced back ruefully at the pillar of smoke still rising from the sandbar that marked the grave of the Mephistopheles.

"Very well, sir," he said. "I'll do it."

Neo grinned and clapped a hand on Lee's shoulder. "Excellent!" he said. "Welcome, Commander Lee, to the Phantom Pain."

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Orb Raiders dreadnaught Megami, Philippine Sea

Sai Argyle wearily trudged back to his room aboard the Megami, rubbing his temples and fighting in vain to stave off a headache. Even after the ship slipped out of Manila Bay and made its escape over the island of Luzon, Sai had remained on an agonizing ten-hour shift to sweep the Megami's wake and its projected course for enemy ships that might need avoiding. Now he was heading for his bunk, and as much sleep as he could get.

As he rounded a corner, he found Lacus Clyne passing by, her arms full of tools that the mechanics would undoubtedly be needing. She glanced over her shoulder at him, and offered him a sweet smile, before disappearing through another doorway. Sai smiled back weakly, even though she wasn't there. He thought back to her words and her kiss in the sweltering engine room.

The thought could not help but cross his mind that he might just be Lacus's crutch, her way of dealing with the pain that Kira Yamato had left behind in his death.

Then again, he was Sai Argyle, not Kira Yamato, and that had been good enough for her.

Sai headed back to his room. If that was good enough for her, it would be good enough for him.

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The Megami had taken its fair share of hits, but this time, the battle had been of its choosing and in terms of damage to the ship, that had made a world of difference. Even in the darkness of night, illuminated only by the stars and the moon, and from his post on the open-air deck, Athrun could see that the damage was not particularly heavy and if anything, the new scars on the ship's armor served more as a testament of the mauling it had just gone through, and the mauling it could inflict.

Athrun glanced over at Cagalli, as she stared thoughtfully at the shimmering moon and its attendant field of stars.

"I guess we got lucky," she said.

Athrun smiled wryly. "We have a way of doing that," he answered. Cagalli offered a bitter smile of her own.

"We'll have to postpone the revolution again," she sighed. "We have more repairs to make now, and I guess it wouldn't hurt to make sure they aren't still on our tail."

Athrun glanced back at the dim shape of Luzon, far to the west in the Megami's wake. "After that battle, I don't think they'll be bothering us for a while." He turned back towards Cagalli. "Besides," he added, "at least we added to our reputation."

Cagalli did not smile. "We've put this off for too long," she said, "and every day that we wait and get distracted, the Seirans get stronger and do more damage to Orb." She curled her fingers angrily around the railing. "We have to get our country back."

Athrun followed her gaze, finding her looking south, towards her homeland. He put a hand on her shoulder; she jumped in surprise and looked over at him, and he offered a sheepish smile. "We will," he said. "Your father died for Orb. And we're going to save it."

Cagalli smiled back, and returned her eyes to the south, towards Orb.

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End