Phase 02 - Hearts of Soldiers

Mobile Suit Gundam SEED DESTINY

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Phase 02 - Hearts of Soldiers

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October 2nd, CE 73 - Near PLANT Armory 1, Lagrange Point 4

On the bridge of the Minerva, Talia narrowed her eyes at the ship before them. It certainly looked like an Earth Alliance warship, giving strength to the gnawing sense of fear growing in her stomach.

"So that's their mothership," Gilbert observed quietly.

"Input its data as Bogey 1," Talia ordered. "Shield the bridge and prepare the Tristans."

The Minerva痴 bridge sank down into the darkened battle bridge below, with three extra consoles arrayed before them. Arthur drifted to the left-hand console as Gilbert sat back expectantly.

Up ahead, the purple mobile armor slipped into Bogey One痴 spacious hangar. The enemy battleship began to withdraw, firing its CIWS emplacements as the Minerva痴 missiles came streaking in.

溺eyrin, Talia began, 田all back the mobile suits. Malik, engines at maximum. Prepare for pursuit!

The Minerva痴 engines rumbled in acquiescence, and the guns roared to life. 的solde, target the ship痴 engines! Disable it! The Minerva痴 triple-barreled Isolde cannon rose to life and swiveled accordingly. Fire!

The shots went streaking out into space, and three puffs of fire rose up around the retreating battleship傭ut none of them hit.

Aboard the Girty Lue, Lee glanced over his shoulder as the bridge door opened and Neo drifted back onto the bridge.

"Sorry about that," he said. "I got carried away."

"The enemy battleship is continuing to pursue us!" one of the bridge crew exclaimed. Neo glanced up at the screen.

"It looks like a fast ship," Lee observed dourly. "It could be trouble."

The Girty Lue quaked as a trio of shells went off around it. Neo grunted as the ship rattled.

"Detach both the propellant tanks and detonate them!" he shouted, as the rattling subsided. "Detach them with the arms if you have to! At the same time, raise our bow by 15 degrees, engines at maximum! Dazzle the bastards!"

Back on the Minerva, the enemy battleship began to move away, rising above the Minerva's blasts.

鄭 piece of Bogey 1 has broken off! Burt exclaimed. The bridge crew stared in surprise as the retreating ship痴 two long arms detached and drifted towards the Minerva.

Talia's eyes widened in horror. 滴ard to port! she shouted. 鉄hoot them down!

The Minerva痴 two Tristan cannons opened fire, but before they could hit, the two arms and their attached fuel tanks exploded, blinding the Minerva with a dazzling fireball and rattling the ship to its core. In his seat, Gilbert grunted and gripped the armrests as the ship rumbled and shook.

迭elease anti-beam depth charges! Talia ordered. 鉄tand by for attack! Burt, can you find them?!

鉄earching, Burt answered uneasily. Talia squinted through the fireball, trying in vain to find the battleship with the eye alone. 釘ogey 1, distance: 7500 to port and rising!

典hey got away, Arthur murmured. Talia sighed in disappointment and looked back at through the smoke and fire as it faded away.

鼎lever, she said quietly. She glanced back at Gilbert.

Talia paused as she studied his face. Gilbert seemed to be almost smiling傭ut this was hardly something to be smiling about. ZAFT痴 secret experimental mobile suits had just been stolen by what could very well have been the Earth Alliance, and their mothership was now escaping. What was so amusing about that?

She pushed it to the back of her mind. It would have to wait羊ight now, retrieving those three prototypes was the top priority.

鼎hairman, she said, turning to face him, 鍍his ship will continue the pursuit of Bogey 1. You may not have a chance to disembark anytime soon.

Gilbert smiled back at her with that damnable smile. 泥on稚 worry about me, captain, he said reassuringly. 徹ur main concern is the retrieval of those three units. His smile became something of a devious smirk. 釘esides, what better way to inspect the great battleship Minerva than on its first assignment?

Talia turned her seat back around to face the bridge window. 摘ngines at maximum, she said, pointedly ignoring Gilbert壮 last remark. 鄭ll hands are to go to Condition Yellow. We will pursue Bogey 1 at maximum speed. She turned back dutifully towards Gilbert. 典he Minerva is a fast ship, but Bogey 1 has gotten a considerable head start on us. Perhaps you should take the opportunity to rest before we enter combat again.

Gilbert arched an eyebrow, but nodded assent anyways and stood as the bridge raised back to its original position. Once the bridge was locked in place, the doors opened, and Gilbert left without a word.

的 can稚 believe we have the Chairman here with us! Arthur exclaimed as soon as Gilbert had left. 的 never would have imagined we壇 have such an honorable assignment!

Talia cast a sidelong glance at him, but shook her head and stood up. 鄭rthur, I値l leave the ship to you until we encounter Bogey 1 again, she said. 的値l be in my quarters. Keep the ship running at Condition Yellow and have the mobile suits prepped. Contact me if anything comes up.

添es ma誕m, Arthur answered with a salute. Talia turned and left the bridge with a sigh.

As if she needed Gilbert around anyways.

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Atlantic Federation battleship Girty Lue, near Debris Belt

Stella had finally stopped crying. Sting sighed in relief擁t was about time.

滴ey doc, he called softly, 堵imme some blues.

The technician looked up, arching an eyebrow. 填sually you like rock, he observed. Sting shrugged.

鼎alm my nerves and all, he answered, laying back and closing his eyes. "I had a long day."

From his spot leaning against the wall near the door, Neo Roanoke smirked. The maintenance pods were specifically designed to soothe the combat-frayed nerves of the Extended with all sorts of calming stimuli. Their fragile nervous systems could not handle the stress of battle without something to pacify them afterwards, and instead of their commanding officer calming them down personally, the Alliance had chosen this machine to do it for them.

Stella had required extra attention after Auel痴 block word stunt had left her helplessly sobbing and clutching herself, as if the very air around her was out to kill her. Neo always found her overreactions rather irritating, but he also couldn稚 bring himself to be annoyed with someone who was always so damn happy to see him. Stella still had tears on her face, but she seemed to be sleeping now, as was Auel, and Sting seemed not too far from peaceful slumber as well. Now that they were calmed down, there was nothing interesting going on, and so Neo quietly excused himself and returned to the bridge.

Lee was waiting when he returned.

的t appears our intelligence was right about those new units, he said gruffly. He gestured to one of the screens. 鏑ook.
Neo settled into his chair as the data scrolled by. He smirked again and glanced at Lee.

鄭 ground combat unit, a general-usage DRAGOON prototype, and a new high-performance amphibious design, he read. 鄭nd you said this was a waste of time. Lee looked back at him.

展hat about that ZAFT battleship? he asked dubiously. Neo looked out the bridge windows, at the specter of the Debris Belt before them. 泥o you think they値l pursue?

的 don稚 know, Neo answered, 殿nd so I will proceed on the assumption that they will. Lee nodded in agreement, and sat back.

滴ow are they? he asked. Neo settled into his chair and sighed heavily.

典hey池e all sleeping peacefully, he said, still smirking. 的t seems Auel used Stella痴 block word on her, though. That might become a bit of a nuisance.

Lee frowned indignantly. 泥oes Headquarters really believe we can use pilots like them, who have to be returned to their cradle every time something happens?

典hey池e better than the last group, Neo said with a shrug. 鄭t least they can follow and carry out orders.

摘ven so, I still don稚 like it, Lee muttered. 典heir conditioning isn稚 infallible. They might start betraying us, like the last group.

Neo chuckled again. 添ou池e just bitter it was your ship they bitched up in the process.

Lee sighed dismissively, and Neo crossed his arms expectantly.

典here痴 nothing we can do about it anyways, he went on. 摘verything痴 under experimentation. The pilots, the mobile suits, this ship...the world. Lee glanced at him inquiringly. 鉄oon everything will be remade...under our name.

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ZAFT battleship Minerva, near Debris Belt

Shinn watched from near the vending machine as Lunamaria excitedly told what she liked to call 塗er first war story. Though it was really just her perspective of the raid on Armory 1, she told it as a harrowing adventure that two of the Minerva痴 mobile suit pilots, a pair of wide-eyed rookie ZAKU Warrior pilots by the names of Shou and Dale, were eating up as if she was a ZAFT veteran.

Shinn couldn稚 help but snort in amusement as she got to the part of her story where she actually started fighting, and sipped his coffee as he listened.

泥id you really fight against a mobile armor with gunbarrels? Dale asked excitedly. Luna nodded, and Shinn found himself amused again由ey and Shiho had been the ones to actually 吐ight against it, if their brief skirmish with that purple machine could really be called a fight.

釘ut you should致e seen Shinn! Luna went on, causing Shinn to blink in surprise, and giving him an uncomfortable feeling of foreboding about the forced socialization Luna was sure to put him through. 的t痴 too bad you were stuck on the Minerva, or else you would致e seen it too! He was awesome!

Shou and Dale quickly found him near the vending machine, and Luna eagerly dragged him over despite his protests.

鼎ome on, Shinn! Luna said. 典ell us about the battle!

Shinn blinked again, looking back and forth between the star-struck rookies and the magenta-haired girl who had dragged him into this.

典here壮 not that much to tell, he tried to begin. 的 just tried to stop them and濫

釘ut you did the midair linkup perfectly! Luna exclaimed. 鄭fter all the times you screwed it up in training濫

滴ey! Shinn snapped. 的t痴 harder than it looks, dammit!

釘ut you did it right in battle! Shou offered helpfully. 鄭nd that痴 when it counts!

Shinn still shot a glare at Luna as he settled back into his seat. 展hose idea was it to launch a mobile suit in pieces anyways? he grumbled indignantly.

鉄o we池e heading after that ship now? Dale asked thoughtfully. 鄭re we gonna try to get those three units back?

添eah, that痴 what I heard from Rey, Luna replied. 釘ut I dunno if the mobile armor will show up again. They池e kinda outdated and all, so I dunno what they were doing using it.

的 can稚 wait until we reach the enemy again, Shou said excitedly. 的値l have some real stories for Dad when I get back home!

The door opened with a hiss, and all eyes turned as Shiho entered the room. Shou and Dale leapt to their feet, saluting, and Luna and Shinn followed, as Shinn tried not to scowl. Shiho returned their salute, but seemed distracted as she headed over towards the lounge痴 computer terminal.

展hat does she want? Shinn grunted.

鉄he痴 looking up...Yzak Jule, Shou whispered uneasily. 鏑ooks like news reports.

滴ey, I remember him, Luna said suddenly. 滴e was in the Le Creuset team, right? Wasn稚 he the Duel guy?

添eah, Dale agreed, 塗e was, like, the only guy on the Zala Team who actually stayed on ZAFT痴 side until Jachin Due.

展hy痴 Commander Hahnenfuss so hung up on him, then? Shou asked. Luna sat back and shrugged.

的 heard she was his subordinate in the Valentine War, she answered. 釘ut I thought he was a fugitive now or something.

Shinn glanced back at Shiho as Luna, Shou, and Dale went back to their conversation.

At last he stood up and left the room.

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October 3rd, CE 73 - ZAFT battleship Minerva, Debris Belt

Talia hated that smirk Gilbert always seemed to be wearing. It was like he knew something that everyone else didn稚, and he wasn稚 about to go telling anyone else, but he was waiting for someone to ask him about it, so he could fire off some preconceived answer that would swell his ego a little bit more.

And that was the last thing anyone needed.

Naturally, Gilbert had been all too happy to pull rank on everyone預nd there wasn稚 a soul onboard who had the sufficient rank to stop him預nd plant himself on the bridge while Talia went over the battle plan with her four ZAFT Red mobile suit pilots and her bridge crew.

釘ogey 1 appears to be entering the Debris Field with the intent to lose us among the wreckage and make its escape, she began authoritatively, half a conscious effort to remind Gilbert that this was her ship and she was in charge. 鼎hanges in the heat signatures of their ship indicate that they are intending to turn around a large asteroid. We will send two mobile suit teams to cut off Bogey 1 from two directions. Rey will command the first team, to follow Bogey 1 and hit it from behind. Shiho will command the second team, to go around the asteroid and hit Bogey 1 from the front. Rey壮 team will be equipped濫

摘xcuse me, captain, Gilbert interrupted.

Talia fought down the urge to hit something. After all, Arthur was the closest thing, and he hadn稚 done anything wrong yet.

添es, Chairman?

溺ight I suggest we have Shinn command the first team?

The four pilots looked in confusion at him, while Arthur sputtered a protest and Talia frowned, trying to ascertain Gilbert痴 motive.

鉄hiho and Rey are more experienced in mobile suit squad command than Shinn is, Talia answered cautiously, eyeing Gilbert carefully. 典he Blast Impulse will be required to hit Bogey 1 from behind, where most of the enemy's armaments will do it little good.

Gilbert narrowed his eyes at Talia, speaking in his usual smooth, persuasive tone of voice, but adding an almost imperceptible edge to his voice that almost quelled Talia痴 will to resist. 典he second team will face a more dangerous position, he countered, slowly and deliberately. 典hey will face all of the enemy's guns and most, if not all of their mobile suits. It would be wiser to send our two best pilots to face it from the front. Besides, he glanced at Shinn, who almost jumped in surprise, 鉄hinn Asuka wears a red uniform, does he not? He should be up to the task.

Talia almost scowled back at Gilbert痴 victorious smirk. With the bridge crew staring expectantly at her, there was no simple way to refuse his 都uggestion. However, his suggestion was clearly a foolish one祐hinn, as skilled a pilot as he was, didn稚 have the cool head required for mobile suit squad command. For all she knew, he壇 lead some foolhardy charge that would wind up wiping out half of the Minerva痴 mobile suit complement. After all, Bogey 1 had the Chaos, Gaia, and Abyss, and if they were going to get pushed into a corner, they were sure to use those stolen units預nd if the havoc they壇 wreaked on Armory 1 had been any indication, their thieves certainly knew what they were doing.

But nobody else was going to argue with the Chairman, it seemed. Talia silently cursed Gilbert and nodded slowly and painfully.

"Very well, then," she said, almost growling and making a conscious effort not to glare at the Chairman. "Shiho and Rey will take three Blaze ZAKU Warriors around the asteroid to hit Bogey 1 from the front. Shinn and Lunamaria will take three Slash ZAKU Warriors to hit it from behind." She cast an icy glare at Gilbert.

Gilbert just smirked back.

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Atlantic Federation battleship Girty Lue, Debris Belt

典he plan goes like this, Neo explained, with that damnable smirk on his face. 典hat ZAFT ship is more than likely coming after us at full speed, plunging foolishly into this enormous mess that is the Debris Belt. Fortunately, we are of the Atlantic Federation Special Forces, and have been trained to handle situations like this, whereas those ZAFT guys are a bunch of blowhard Coordinators who think their superior genetics mean they don稚 need to train as extensively as us. Don奏 you agree?

Lee blinked in surprise. 展ell, um, I guess so, he said.

鄭nd being science and formula-driven blowhard Coordinators, Neo went on, 鍍hey値l want to come barging into the debris field after us and deploy their mobile suits to finish us off, like they always do, because they have found that plunging headfirst into something and sending mobile suits to do everything else seems to work against isolated and helpless ships and squadrons.

的s this going anywhere? Lee asked after a moment.

徹f course it is, Neo answered with mock disgust. 典hose ZAFT guys are assuming that we値l pass around the asteroid, try to do a 180 around them and lose them in the debris, and do a full burn towards L1. They池e going off the assumption that we池e renegades and we池e trying to get to a base among all those mercenary-ridden colonies. Their intent is to follow us to the asteroid, launch one mobile suit team after us, and launch another into our path to cut us off.

Lee arched an eyebrow. 鄭nd how do you know this?

At that, Neo痴 smug smirk became a knowing smile.

展e can稚 go giving away all the surprises, can we? he asked rhetorically. Lee looked unsatisfied, but before he could say anything more, Neo resumed speaking. 擢ortunately, we are not trying to get to the L1 colonies, he continued. 鉄o what we are going to do is leave our three spoils of war to wait for the first mobile suit team on the asteroid surface, use the rocket anchor to attach the ship to the asteroid and hide on the opposite side, and at the same time launch a decoy to continue in the path they expect us to take. Then I値l take our Daggers to take care of the second mobile suit team.

鄭nd you池e sure this will work, Lee finished skeptically. Neo sat back and chuckled.

添ou doubt me too much, Lee, he answered with a cryptic smile.

展ell, it is rather odd how you seem to know exactly what that ZAFT ship is going to do, Lee defended himself. 鄭nd you don稚 seem to want to tell me.

哲ow now, Lee, Neo said chidingly, 土ou値l know all my evil secrets eventually. Just be patient.

Lee sighed in defeat. He hated it when Neo got all cryptic.

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ZAFT battleship Minerva, Debris Belt

Shinn didn't like it at all. He looked around the cockpit of the Core Splendor and sighed as the Impulse's catapult elevator rose. Luna's Gunner ZAKU Warrior was already being loaded into the starboard catapult, and Shiho's Savior into the port catapult.

The Chairman had gone out of his way to see Shinn put in charge of one of the mobile suit teams in Captain Gladys' plan. But he certainly didn't feel up to the task容ven in the Academy, he'd never had much more than a basic course in squad command, and he had never had to do it under actual combat circumstances. But the Chairman had insisted, and so Shinn had no choice but to acquiesce, and try to bring the men suddenly under his command home.

"The operation is commencing," Meyrin's voice reported into his helmet. "Shinn Asuka, you are cleared for launch."

Shinn narrowed his eyes at the space ahead as the hatch opened and the catapult activated.

"Shinn Asuka, Core Splendor, launching!"

The Core Splendor took off with a flash. Behind it came the Blast Silhouette and the Impulse's two components, and Shinn quickly linked them up around the Core Splendor to form the complete Blast Impulse Gundam, feeling more at ease about the procedure now that he had done it before, with the armor of his familiar steed around him. Behind him, the Minerva launched Luna's red ZAKU and Shiho's Savior.

Shinn sat back and waited as the mobile suits launched. His mind wandered back to the battle at Armory 1擁n the midst of combat, he had seen the Gaia freeze, and it had floated in the sky motionlessly for a moment. He had tried to take it down, battle instincts kicking in, but the Chaos was there to defend the Gaia...and then the Gaia took off, and Shinn could have sworn he had heard a girl screaming.

The whole incident had given him feelings he had thus far been too distracted to worry about, but now, waiting for the mobile suits to launch, he realized that he couldn't identify what he had been feeling. All he knew was that he didn稚 like it.

"The mobile suits have launched," Meyrin announced, interrupted his thoughts.

"All units, assume formation and move out!" Talia ordered.

A round of acknowledgements from the pilots filled Shinn's ears, and he moved the Blast Impulse into position to move around the asteroid. Luna's Gunner ZAKU Warrior and three green-painted Slash ZAKU Warriors fell into formation behind him, and they took off with a burst of exhaust.

Shiho's face appeared on Shinn's monitor for a moment, and she gave him an unforgiving look. "Don't screw this up," she said coldly, and then her face disappeared.

Shinn glared back at the screen. He furrowed his brow and clenched his fists around the Impulse's controls.

"I'll show you, you bitch," he growled under his breath.

The mobile suits continued onwards around the asteroid, weaving their way through the shattered debris of what seemed to have been a colony.

"Man," Luna sighed. "My asteroid field simulator marks weren't very good."

"Don't get distracted," Shinn said tersely, his eyes flicking around the debris field.

"I know," Luna answered defensively. She smiled. "Don't talk like Rey. You'll throw me off."

Shinn glanced back down at his instruments. "We're 1100 from Bogey 1," he observed quietly. "But they're not attacking or changing course..."

"What are they planning?" Luna murmured. Shinn glared ahead, trying to think.

Why aren't they changing course...? What are they doing?

And then there was a blast. Shinn turned, and reflex took over as he deflected a beam shot with the Impulse's shield.

"What the"

Beams were everywhere, and in moments, one of the ZAKUs had been destroyed. Shinn dove back to dodge the debris.

"Dale!" Luna screamed, her ZAKU moving towards the smoldering remains of Dale's machine. Another burst of beam fire forced her back, and she grunted as the ZAKU shook.

"Commander!" one of the pilots shouted. "We can't see them! Orders?!"

Shinn clenched his teeth. "Spread out and return fire!" he shouted. From behind us?! How?!

A moment later, he could see one of the Chaos Gundam's gunbarrels dart by, firing a beam cannon shot that Luna's ZAKU barely dodged. Shinn raised the Impulse's beam rifle and fired, but the gunbarrel darted off again unscathed.

The gunbarrels turned their attention to him, and reflex again took over as Shinn snaked his way out of the net of beam fire. Immediately he had the Gaia Gundam upon him, its beam saber drawn, and he boosted upwards to dodge the attack.

"Commander!" one of the ZAKU pilots cried. "I can't hit them! They're too"

A wordless scream and a burst of static filled Shinn's ears, and he glanced to his left, finding an explosion, and the Abyss Gundam holding its beam lance victoriously over its head.

"Dammit," Shinn growled. "Pull back! Pull"

He paused, looking down at the screen as his communication system beeped. His eyes widened at what he saw.

"A decoy?!" Luna exclaimed. "Shinn! Rey and Shiho"

"I know!" Shinn cut her off. "But we've got our own problems here!" He swung around and fired the Impulse's beam rifle at the Gaia, but a shot from one of the Chaos's gunbarrels pierced the rifle, and Shinn abandoned it before it exploded. Grunting in frustration, he pulled back. "Luna, Shou, pull back! They're too"

"Commander!" Shou screamed. Shinn snapped his gaze to his right, and his eyes widened in disbelief as he watched the Chaos dive underneath a beam barrage from Shou's ZAKU. An instant later the Chaos fired, drilling a shot through the ZAKU痴 cockpit, and Shou was gone in a blast of fire.

鉄hou! Luna shouted. Her ZAKU was buffeted by a beam volley from the Abyss, and she dove backwards.

典hree ZAKUs in ninety seconds, Shinn growled, dodging a beam saber swipe from the Gaia. He glared at the mobile suit before him. 添ou bastards! He lunged forward, kicking the Gaia in the face, and pushed off it in the same move, deploying the Blast Impulse痴 two beam cannons. The Gaia recovered and jetted out of the way before he could fire, and Shinn was back to dodging. 鏑una! Follow me! We池e pulling back!

The ZAKU and the Impulse took off, diving into a wrecked piece of a colony and racing through a long straight tunnel.

典hey were killed, Luna murmured to herself. 的 was just talking to them and濫

敵et a hold of yourself! Shinn snapped. 典hey told us this would happen! Now we池e going to make them pay!

Luna paused for a moment before she nodded, and Shinn looked ahead at the end of the tunnel.

展e値l brake at the end of the tunnel and split up, Shinn said tensely. 添ou take the Abyss. I値l take care of the Chaos and Gaia. Luna nodded again. A beam shot struck the wall next to them, and Shinn grunted, glancing back. The Gaia and Chaos were coming up behind them, beam rifles blazing. 敵o on ahead! Shinn instructed. He cut the Impulse痴 thrusters and flipped it upside-down, firing off the beam cannons and railguns at once. The Chaos and Gaia raised their shields to deflect the blows, and Shinn took off again before they could recover.

Bursting out of the tunnel, Shinn immediately found Luna痴 ZAKU diving desperately away from a beam cannon volley from the Abyss. One of the shots blasted Luna痴 beam rifle out of her hands, and she dove behind a piece of wreckage to avoid the second volley. Shinn growled and fired a salvo of missiles at the Abyss, but beam fire from the Chaos and Gaia forced him aside, and he fired back with a beam cannon barrage of his own.

泥ammit, he grunted, raising the Impulse痴 shield to deflect the incoming shots. 的知 not gonna let you bastards get away with this!

With a yell, the Impulse charged.

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The Exus shook from the shockwaves of an explosion as a beam bolt pierced the third ZAKU Warrior壮 chest and destroyed it, but Neo Roanoke brushed the rumbling off and concentrated his gunbarrel fire on the white ZAKU Phantom. He could sense a distinctive pressure葉his kid was no ordinary grunt. But Neo was no ordinary grunt either, and despite being in a mere mobile armor, the Phantom Pain would not be so easy to defeat.

The red Gundam came rushing in, firing its beam rifle, but Neo twisted out of the way and sent one of his gunbarrels storming forward with a barrage of beam cannon shots and ignited beam sabers. The red Gundam raised its shield, but the force of the speeding gunbarrel knocked it backwards, its shield arm forced upwards. Neo grinned victoriously and fired the Exus痴 beam cannons for a finishing shot

And then that damned white ZAKU was there to deflect the blasts and fire back. Neo growled in frustration and dodged with a burst of thruster exhaust.

泥ammit, he hissed. 笛oe, Miller, all of you, take the Gundam. I値l deal with the ZAKU.

添es sir! the six Dark Dagger pilots answered enthusiastically. The six black mobile suits arced off and opened fire on the beleaguered red Gundam, while the Exus spiraled away towards the ZAKU.

典ime to end this, kid in white, Neo snarled. The gunbarrels opened fire again, and the ZAKU dove out of the way of every shot, but Neo smirked and fired a storm of missiles.

The ZAKU twisted gracefully out of the missiles path and fired its beam rifle into the asteroid repeatedly, releasing a spray of rocks around the battlefield. Neo grunted as the Exus was hammered by stray rocks, but the mobile armor kept going, and Neo watched furiously as the ZAKU and the Gundam raced away.

鏑ee! Neo shouted. The face of the Girty Lue captain promptly appeared on the monitor. 擢ollow us, full speed, and we値l sink that damned ZAFT ship for sure!

添es sir, Lee answered. The Girty Lue痴 engines came to life, and Neo sneered.

泥aggers, he ordered, 吐orm up around me! We池e taking those bastards down!

The Exus recalled its gunbarrels, the Daggers assumed formation, and the mobile weapons took off with a flash.

Neo clenched his teeth, his eyes on the ZAKU.

You aren稚 getting away that easily, kid...

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The Blast Impulse rattled, and Shinn swore under his breath as the Gaia came storming in for another saber slash. Swinging back with the Impulse痴 beam javelin in his right hand, Shinn followed it up with a beam cannon blast from his left, but the Gaia dove out of the way, and the Chaos came diving in with its own beam saber.

敵oddammit! Shinn shouted, swinging his shield up against the Chaos痴 saber stroke and boosting away. 泥on稚 you bastards DIE?!

The Gaia rushed in for another attack, but Shinn immediately stopped it with a roundhouse kick to the face. He swung the javelin back for a killing blow, but the Chaos痴 gunbarrels were there to shower him with missiles and force him back.

鉄hinn! Luna痴 voice screamed. Her ZAKU came spiraling down, firing its beam cannon back at the pursuing Abyss. 迭ey and Shiho are being chased back to the ship!

Shinn glowered at the Abyss as it responded to Luna痴 beam cannon shot with a chest cannon shot of its own. Luna痴 ZAKU dove to the side as the shot slammed into a piece of colony wreckage, and the debris began to explode. Luna痴 ZAKU lurched as she yelped in surprise, and the Abyss charged in for the kill, beam lance raised. Shinn tried to fire a beam cannon shot to defend her, but the Chaos and Gaia interrupted with their own beam rifle fire. Shinn grunted under the blows and watched wide-eyed as the Abyss went in for the kill. 鏑una!

Luna痴 ZAKU drew its beam tomahawk and hurled it at the Abyss. The charging Gundam stopped short to deflect the weapon, and Luna responded with a beam cannon shot that the Abyss barely dodged. Shinn dove up above the Chaos and Gaia, firing a beam cannon blast down at them, and charged towards the Gaia, drawing the beam javelin again.

As he charged towards the Gaia, for an instant he was aware of something. There was something there, a flickering sensation in front of him, some kind of pressure

The Impulse shuddered as the Gaia bombarded it with CIWS fire, and Shinn shook his head. The Gaia charged in, beam saber raised, but before it could strike, Shinn rocked it with a powerful kick to the chest, sending it reeling. He raised his javelin to finish the fight, but the Chaos dropped in before him, its own saber raised. Behind it, the Gaia boosted up overhead, angling its beam cannons for a potshot from above.

Shinn narrowed his eyes. 鉄top getting in my way! he shouted.

A moment later, the Impulse smacked aside the Chaos痴 saber swipe and slammed its feet down onto the Chaos痴 shoulders. With a yell, Shinn boosted up off of the Chaos痴 shoulders and rocketed up into the Gaia痴 face, and the beam javelin and beam saber clashed in a hail of sparks.

More beam shots from the Chaos痴 gunbarrels forced the two Gundams apart, and the Impulse twisted aside as the Chaos roared back into the fray with a furious beam saber stab. Shinn narrowed his eyes at the Chaos, dodging another beam burst from the gunbarrels.

鉄hinn! Luna shouted. Shinn risked a glance towards Luna痴 ZAKU, just in time to see it fend off a lance stab from the Abyss with the ZAKU痴 beam tomahawk. The ZAKU dove behind a piece of wreckage, kicking it into the Abyss痴 face and blowing it up with a beam cannon shot. 鉄hinn, the Minerva is under attack! We have to go back!

鉄hit! Shinn growled, dodging a barrage from the Chaos and Gaia. 展e can稚 just go back with these guys around! He returned fire with his railguns and beam cannons, and snarled in frustration as the Chaos and Gaia dodged and resumed fire.

典here痴 gotta be something we can use to distract them! Luna exclaimed, as the Abyss stormed in again.

Shinn ducked beneath blasts from the Chaos痴 gunbarrels and spiraled up out of the way of the Gaia痴 beam cannon shots. He blinked, and found himself near a piece of debris more or less the size of the Minerva, and immediately he was struck with an idea.

鏑una! he shouted, dodging again as the Chaos and Gaia went back on the offensive. 敵et over here!

Luna痴 ZAKU rolled out of the way of a beam barrage from the Abyss and jetted towards the Impulse as it showered the Chaos and Gaia with missiles.

釘last that thing! Shinn shouted, pointing at the wreckage. Before the Chaos, Gaia, and Abyss could react, the Impulse and ZAKU opened fire on the wreckage, their shots searing past the three stolen Gundams. With a thunderous roar, the wreckage exploded, and the three stolen Gundams struggled to protect themselves, as the Impulse and ZAKU made good their escape.

鉄hiho and Rey lost their ZAKU Warriors too, Luna said quickly. 鄭nd they were fighting that mobile armor and six Daggers!

鉄hit, that makes it ten against four, Shinn grunted. He looked up ahead, and could already see the flashes of fire and beam shots surrounding the Minerva. 敵oddammit...what a mess.

鉄hinn, Luna said suddenly, looking over at him worriedly. Shinn arched an eyebrow at her. 鄭re you, um, are you alright?

典his isn稚 the time for that, Shinn said crossly. 添ou worry about not getting your ass shot off, I値l worry about mine.

Luna stared at him for a moment before she nodded slowly, and Shinn glanced over his shoulder. The three stolen Gundams were probably following, but he couldn稚 see them.

He narrowed his eyes.

That pressure...what was it?

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"Minerva, give us some cover!"

The Savior dove backwards, avoiding a beam carbine blast from a Dagger L and storming forward with a shot of its own. The Dagger deflected the shot with its shield and boosted out of the way, and another opened fire with its own back-mounted cannons and beam gun, knocking the Savior away. Shiho growled a curse, firing back with the Savior's plasma cannons as she regained control over her mobile suit.

The Minerva's CIWS guns screamed to life, showering the battlefield with bullets, and the Daggers pulled back behind their shields. Rey's ZAKU stormed in to finish off a Dagger, but the mobile armor's gunbarrels opened fire, cutting him off. Shiho raised the Savior's beam rifle, only to see a Dagger drop in and slice it in half with a beam saber.

"Where are Shinn and Luna?" Rey asked, calm as ever even as the mobile armor surrounded his mobile suit with beam shots.

"Meyrin! Shinn and Luna, where are they?!" Shiho snapped as she drew one of the Savior's beam sabers and charged.

"They're on their way!" Meyrin exclaimed nervously, her voice quavering as the Minerva took another hit. "Shinn reports they lost their three ZAKUs!"

"I knew putting him in charge was a bad idea," Shiho growled. One of the Daggers charged in again, and Shiho deflected its beam saber with her own. The Dagger surged forward, throwing her back with a kick to the face, and she barely managed to engage the booster and dodge the follow-up stab. "Dammit! Are these guys Coordinators or what?!"

"They're well-trained," Rey observed stoically. His ZAKU took a quartet of beam shots to its shields and fired back, but the mobile armor's gunbarrels darted out of the way and resumed their attack. "If they are renegades, they certainly are not ordinary ones."

The Savior rocketed up over the heads of a pair of charging Daggers, raising its beam saber to drop down on them, but shells from another pair of Daggers knocked the Savior aside, and Shiho went back on the defensive.

"Goddammit, where the hell is"

"Out of the way!"

A trio of beam cannon blasts tore across the battlefield, and the Daggers dove aside as the Blast Impulse Gundam and Lunamaria's Gunner ZAKU Warrior burst into the fray.

"We probably brought some company," Luna warned as her ZAKU shook under a shell blast from a Dagger. "The Chaos, Gaia, and Abyss ambushed us back there!"

"We can't keep this up," Rey said, as his ZAKU dove out of the way of a beam saber-sporting gunbarrel. "They outnumber us and our advantage of surprise is gone."

"Minerva, we need to pull back!" Shiho shouted. The Savior rattled as beam fire slammed against its shield, and she growled and fired back with the Savior's plasma cannons. The Daggers twisted out of harm's way, and she snarled a curse.

Across the battlefield, inside the Exus, Neo smirked as he saw the ZAFT mobile suits pulling back.

"Daggers, they're pulling back!" he shouted. "Press the attack and we'll finish them off with the ship!"

"It's too late," Lee's voice interrupted. Neo glanced at him in suspicion耀omething was wrong. He could see it in Lee's lined, hardened expression耀omething was dreadfully wrong. "We've got a problem. You'll have to return to the ship immediately."

"Can't it wait?!" Neo muttered as the Exus recalled its gunbarrels. "We've got these guys on the ropes!"

"Colonel," Lee said grimly, "Junius 7 is falling onto Earth."

Neo blinked behind his mask, staring at Lee in surprise.

Already...?

"Daggers, return to the ship!" he ordered. The Daggers broke off and followed the Exus as it rocketed towards the Girty Lue. Neo released the signal flares to order the three stolen Gundams to retreat, and settled back uneasily into the Exus's cockpit seat.

It's sooner than I expected...

He looked across the Debris Ring, over at the Earth.

I suppose the world's going to be remade sooner rather than later, then.

A smirk tugged at the corner of his mouth.

Well, I guess this little war of ours is about to get a lot more interesting.

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To be continued...