Phase 03 - The Angry Ghost

Mobile Suit Gundam SEED DESTINY

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Phase 03 - The Angry Ghost

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October 3rd, CE 73 - ZAFT Eternal-class cruiser Deliverance, Debris Belt

The master office of the Deliverance was silent as the news streamed in.

Sitting behind the desk was the white-uniformed Rau Le Creuset. The eyeholes of his distinctive mask flashed, catching the reflected light of the FAITH emblem on his uniform's lapel, as he watched the words scroll by on the screen before him.

It was truly amusing. First the Atlantic Federation擁t was the Atlantic Federation, of course預ttacked Armory 1 and made off with the Chaos, Gaia, and Abyss Gundams. The Minerva and the remaining Savior and Impulse Gundams had attempted to retrieve them, but the mysterious blue warship that was carrying its prizes away had proven too resourceful, and had evaded them and escaped in a heated skirmish in the Debris Belt. And now...this.

Standing behind him were two other FAITH members, clad in the flamboyant red uniform of ZAFT's top academy graduates. One was a young woman, watching the screen with piercing vermilion eyes, twinkling with delight at what she saw. Her hand was clutched by a young man who needed no introduction.

Rau glanced at the young man. "Kira," he said quietly, smirking, "we will need to launch to ensure that this all goes according to plan."

Kira Yamato stiffened for a moment. "Will Athrun be there?" he asked, just as quietly.

Rau regarded the young man in the ZAFT uniform and the FAITH insignia on his chest with interest. The woman glanced at him as well, and began to rub Kira's arm affectionately.

"Would Athrun and his friends let this happen without trying to stop it?" Rau asked rhetorically. Kira looked down in defeat.

"Don't worry," the woman added soothingly, cupping Kira's face in her hands and gazing lovingly into his eyes. "This time you will defeat him."

"Valentine..." Kira murmured, a hint of a blush rising to his cheeks. She pulled away as Rau spoke again.

"ZAFT is sending the Voltaire, the Rousseau, and," he glanced in amusement at the screen, "the Minerva. The Atlantic Federation has dispatched troops from Arzachel Crater, but they have no hope of making it in time."

Kira looked back at the screen, his face darkening for a moment.

"This is the right path, Kira," Valentine said gently. "This is the only way to destroy those who wish to fight and harm us."

Rau nodded soberly. "Perhaps you should go check on the Freedom," he suggested. "This will be a difficult battle."

Kira duly saluted and shuffled out of the office. Valentine glanced down at Rau, who smirked back.

"Will they be able to pull this off?" she asked, gesturing to the screen.

Rau chuckled. "Sato and his men will defend their falling gravestone to the death," he answered. Valentine looked down at the screen again.

"Junius 7," she said with a hint of approval. "Dropped by Coordinators who supported Patrick Zala, the greatest anti-Natural politician to ever rise in the PLANTs." She nodded with a tacit smile. "I do believe the Naturals will never forgive this."

"Of course they won't," Rau replied coolly. "They will not forgive this. They will go to war again." He sat back, still smirking. "And this time, we won't make any mistakes."

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ZAFT battleship Minerva, en route to Junius 7

The noise cut through the usual din of the mobile suit hangar, and the mechanics stopped their work to stare at the scene unfolding before them.

With a resounding smack, Shiho Hahnenfuss delivered a healthy slap across the face to Shinn Asuka. Shinn stumbled to the side before a shocked Lunamaria caught him and helped him steady himself. Off to the side, Rey Za Burrel watched impassively, one hand on his hip and the other hand loosely holding his helmet.

"I knew you couldn't do it," Shiho snarled. "You got three men killed today."

Shinn stared back at her, fury flashing in his eyes. "Your pilots got killed too!" he screamed back. "What the hell are you getting on my case for?!"

"I'm punishing you for your failure," she snapped back. "I'll be punished for mine. But until then, as your commander, I'm punishing you."

Shinn growled, every muscle in his body straining not to leap out and tear Shiho apart. Shiho cast a withering glare at him, which he returned with just as much intensity. At last, Shiho turned away in disgust and stormed off, and Shinn watched her go, rage crackling in his eyes. Vino opened his mouth to speak nearby, but Yolant quickly stopped him.

Rey stepped forward, stoically as ever. He stepped in front of Shinn, taking his attention.

"Shinn," he said. "While I agree with Commander Hahnenfuss that you must suffer consequences for your actions, I also agree that she was out of line." He paused. "Nonetheless, the fault of this battle's outcome does not lie entirely with us. We were against a formidable strategist and excellent pilots." He put an easing hand on Shinn's shoulder, and Shinn felt some, but not all, of his anger disappear. "I will talk to the Commander and straighten this out for you."

Rey left without another word, and Shinn snarled an ugly word under his breath.

"Just let it go," Luna tried to console him, but Shinn wouldn't hear any of it and marched off in the opposite direction. Luna watched him as he stalked out of the hangar and heaved a sigh.

She looked over at Vino. "Well, I suppose your jobs got easier," she said sullenly. Vino looked over at the mobile suits, noticing the six empty spaces in the Minerva's hangar. It wasn't even worth trying to find the ZAKUs' wreckage or the pilots remains in the Debris Belt預nd with the nature of the Minerva's new assignment, they had no time to go hunting for bodies.

"I guess so," Vino agreed with a quiet sigh. The mechanics began to disperse back to their jobs.

"Do you need any help?" Luna asked. Vino glanced at Yolant, who shook his head.

"We should be able to manage," Yolant said. "What machines did come back came back without a whole lot of damage. I guess you're free to go."

"Alright," Luna said with a frown. She turned and strode off in the direction Shinn had gone, and Yolant looked over at Vino as they drifted over towards Luna痴 ZAKU Warrior.

"I can't believe it," Vino said, shaking his head. "I was just talking to Dale, like, two hours ago."

They landed up against the ZAKU's chest and Yolant sighed and shrugged.

"It's war," he said quietly. "We'd best not think about it for now." With that he took up a tool and ducked into the ZAKU's cockpit.

Vino sighed again and got to work.

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Djibril Manor, Vermont, Atlantic Federation

The billiards room was silent, and its various occupants settled in chairs around the room with pipes and glasses of wine in hand, as one man rose to speak.

"In truth," began Lord Djibril, looking around dramatically at the senior leaders of Blue Cosmos around the room, "I was shocked to hear the news. How did this happen? Why? Who is responsible for this?"

"No need for such theatrics, Djibril," someone spoke up in annoyance.

釘ut those theatrics are what is important, Djibril went on. 徹nce Junius 7 hits the Earth, the people will be asking those very questions. How did this happen? Why did this happen? And, he turned back towards the room痴 occupants, who is responsible? He rose to his full height. 典he people will be asking those questions, and gentlemen, we will have to be the ones to give them the answer.

展hich is...? one of them men asked. Djibril suppressed the urge to roll his eyes謡ere they really this dense?

鼎hairman Dullindal is hard at work already, trying to assure the nations of the world that this is not the doing of the PLANTs, another said warningly.

釘ut who will listen to Dullindal when Junius 7 finally strikes the Earth and thousands of people are blown away? Djibril countered. 的n their grief and despair, they will want answers, they will want someone to blame. And who will they blame? The Junk Guild? The moon? Or... He trailed off and smiled. 典he Coordinators?

The men listened with interest as Djibril continued.

典he people will want a culprit for this calamity, he went on. 展e will blame the Coordinators. They have already filled the sky with such enormous things that threaten to drop down on our heads every day, and they have fought us and bear ill will towards us already. It will be easy to lead the world to hate those abominations once more. And with the world united in their hatred of Coordinators, we will swoop in to lead them, and finally we will destroy those monsters in the sky.

的t sounds like a good plan, one of the men agreed with, as the others murmured their assent. Djibril smirked victoriously, thanking the good fortune of having idiots for associates.

典hen it is agreed, he said, consciously injecting a sardonic edge into his voice to quell any thoughts of argument. 展e will take shelter and wait until this catastrophe passes. And we will rise from the dust and lead the world, and destroy the Coordinators once and for all.

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ZAFT battleship Minerva, en route to Junius 7

"He didn't live up to our expectations."

Gilbert Dullindal glanced across the room at Rey. Somewhere along the line Rey had changed back into his red uniform, and stood stiffly in front of Gilbert's closed door.

Gilbert had manipulated the Minerva's battle plan to put Shinn in charge of a mobile suit team, but the entire plan had gone to hell quickly, and when all was said and done six ZAKU Warriors, three of which had been under Shinn's command, had been transformed into six fields of charred wreckage. And the retreating blue warship had managed to slide by without so much as a single scratch to any of its mobile suits.

Of course, it had to work that way, and Gilbert knew it. That was why the Atlantic Federation Special Forces had been allowed to steal the Chaos, Gaia, and Abyss in the first place, and that was why Gilbert had essentially informed the commander of that blue ship of the Minerva's plan through a secret frequency. ZAFT couldn't be allowed to get too powerful, after all, or else their plans would never be realized.

Or at least, that's what they all said. To Gilbert, the loss of the Chaos, Gaia, Abyss, and those six ZAKU Warriors were simply necessary sacrifices for a greater good. But Rey was bearing news that he seemed to think threatened their plan.

"I wouldn't worry, Rey," Gilbert said calmly. "Newtype powers are not brought out by the flick of a switch. We will have plenty more opportunities."

"Yes sir," Rey agreed, his voice clipped. Gilbert glanced at him amusedly, before looking back out his window at the stars.

"Our plan is getting started sooner than expected," he continued. "Junius 7 wasn't supposed to be dropped until the anniversary of the Bloody Valentine next year. I guess Sato and his men couldn't wait." He sat back. "Rau...what are you planning?"

Rey stiffened at the mention of Rau's name.

Gilbert looked back at Rey. "At any rate," he went on, "I trust you know what to do?"

"Yes sir."

Gilbert smiled.

"Then it's time to get the gears of destiny working."

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October 4th, CE 73 - ZAFT battleship Minerva, en route to Junius 7

When Shinn entered the crew lounge, he found Lunamaria sitting on one of the couches, far from everyone else, seemingly lost in thought. After getting his customary soda out of the vending machine, he popped the top open, took a sip, and looked back over at her.

He knew she had been shaken up by the abrupt ends of the two rookie ZAKU Warrior pilots, Shou and Dale, at the hands of the Chaos Gundam. But they were soldiers. They were disciplined to handle this. Shou and Dale had joined up knowing that they'd be sent out into battle and could die at any time. Shinn was certainly not happy that Bogey 1's mobile suits and that damnable mobile armor had wiped out six comrades, but they had been trained to push aside the deaths of comrades and focus on their jobs. Had that training been so poor as to fall apart when death actually took someone?

For a moment he considered going over to talk to her, but doubts immediately sprung up in his mind to stop him from anything like socialization. Luna was a walking bag of emotion葉he last thing Shinn wanted was for her to start sobbing and making a scene. If she was off brooding in the corner, at least she was being quiet about it, and Shinn preferred it that way. A pang of guilt struck him as his conscience fought back, but with practiced discipline Shinn fought it down. He reasoned with himself that Luna would probably rather be alone to think about what had happened.

His conscience, not to be outdone, played its trump card and Shinn was met with a familiar uneasy feeling lurking below everything else, that feeling of guilt in a twisted and omnipresent new form. Sighing resignedly, he got up and slowly made his way towards Luna, begrudgingly giving in to his conscience, while every other part of him recoiled in horror at what he was about to do.

"Luna," he said quietly as he neared her, "are you alright?"

Luna looked up at him in surprise. "Shinn," she murmured. "Um, yes, I'm fine."

Shinn arched an eyebrow, unconvinced. "And that's why you're sulking over here all by yourself?

Heaving a sigh, Luna looked away again. Of course Shinn, even dense and socially ignorant Shinn, would be able to read her.

的 just can稚 get over it, she said. 的 keep telling myself that we池e soldiers and we池e supposed to live with it, but...I don稚 know. It痴 just more than I expected. She looked back at Shinn. 的s the military supposed to dehumanize you so much that you don稚 care when people die?

添es, Shinn answered bluntly. His conscience returned as he noticed a hurt look in Luna痴 eyes. 的t痴 for our own good. We joined up willingly and we fight willingly, but not all of us make it back at the end of the day. If we池e disciplined enough to not care so much, then it痴 easier to accept. He shrugged. 鉄hou and Dale didn稚 seem to mind flying out there. And any of us could have been the ones to die. You and me just got lucky.

Luna smiled. I got lucky. The Abyss was kicking my ass. But you were giving the Chaos and Gaia a run for their money.

Shinn shrugged again, as memories of the strange pressure he had felt while fighting the Gaia returned.

Luna sighed a second time. 的 suppose I値l just have to get over it, she said resignedly. Her eyes lit up for a moment, and she stood up. 滴ey, Shinn, wanna go get lunch?

Shinn blinked in surprise. 填h, well濫

鼎ome on, I know I知 hungry! She grabbed him by the arm and dragged him away before he could protest.

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Atlantic Federation battleship Girty Lue, en route to Junius 7

添ou understand your assignment, then? the tinny voice of Lord Djibril asked, his face a mask of impatience, even on the blurry, static-broken screen. 典his thing must be allowed to drop. In his office chair, Neo Roanoke nodded.

徹f course I do, Lord Djibril, he answered. 迭est assured that my men will be ordered to collect what evidence they can and take out every mobile suit they find. Junius 7 will drop on schedule.

Lord Djibril nodded. 典hen I will leave the rest to you. He frowned. 泥on稚 let me down, Phantom Pain.

Djibril痴 face disappeared, and Neo sat back. The door opened, and Ian Lee stepped inside.

展hat are our orders? he asked, jumping immediately to the point. Neo smirked; Lee was always like that.

展e don稚 have anything that could break Junius 7 apart, he said calmly, 都o we are to go collect evidence as to who and what made this thing move.

Lee stiffened. 鄭ren稚 we going to help stop it?

Neo glanced back at him. 鄭nd how do you propose we do that?

Lee looked away uneasily, and Neo nodded in understanding. 鄭h yes. You have a family in the Atlantic Federation, don稚 you? Lee nodded grimly, and Neo rose from his chair. 纏AFT has dispatched a team equipped to break this thing up into pieces small enough to burn up in the atmosphere. They should be up to the task.

Lee looked unconvinced, and Neo chose not to press the matter.

鄭t any rate, he went on, 塗ave the mobile suits and the Exus prepped, and ready all the weapons. We may be entering combat.

鼎ombat? Lee echoed. Neo glanced back at him again.

的f you were dropping this thing, would you let ZAFT come in here and blow it apart? he asked rhetorically. Lee said nothing, and Neo turned towards him. 摘ither way, the world is about to get a whole lot more hectic. Make sure our three sleeping little angels are ready for action.

Lee hesitantly saluted and excused himself, and Neo looked out his office window at space.

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No matter how sarcastic Neo might have been about them, there was no way in hell Lee could see the three overemotional teenagers before him as anything even remotely resembling angels.

Somewhere along the line, Auel had learned an impressive library of colorful words, and was now making violent use of them as the technicians roused him from his slumber. Sting, on the other hand, wasn稚 bombarding anyone in his line of sight with verbal abuse, but was instead fixing everything in his line of sight with a glare that could have killed lesser men. And Stella was half-catatonic, staring off mindlessly into space as the technicians attempted to get her attention.

Lee buried his face in his palm. He almost missed the biological CPUs; at least they didn稚 talk outside of their mobile suits.

添ou goddamn assclowns better have a motherfucking good reason for goddamn fucking waking us up, you fucking bitch! Auel screamed, pointing vindictively at Lee. But Lee was a disciplined soldier who fought down the urge to beat Auel back into his precious slumber with a metal pipe and turned to the lead technician, who was clearly struggling to maintain order.

典hey池e just a little cranky, the technician explained.

Really, thought Lee sarcastically. 添ou can get them under control enough to get their flight suits on and get out in their mobile suits, right? he asked tiredly.

徹f course, the technician answered. 典his is nothing. You should致e seen them when we brought them out of the lab. Harrison is still learning how to walk again.

Lee decided not to dwell on that, and allowed himself a sigh. 鄭s long as they池e ready, he grumbled.

He glanced towards Sting. Sting had let some of the intensity of his death glare fall away, but he still looked unhappy to have been woken up. Lee had heard somewhere that Sting was the least conditioned of the three Extended aboard the Girty Lue揺e had been physically and mentally enhanced, and he still had a block word and some mental conditioning, but he had been the least unruly of the three in their development. Auel had taken a bit more conditioning, and Stella had necessitated being turned into a near-vegetative simpleton. Somehow, of the three, Lee was the least negative towards Sting, but that was probably because he was about as close to being a decent soldier as any of the three Extended were ever going to get.

Nonetheless, Sting still looked supremely pissed. Lee sighed again.

滴ave them ready as soon as possible, he instructed. The technician saluted dutifully, and Lee excused himself. As he returned to the bridge, his mind wandered.

We won稚 be doing anything...dammit, Neo. What are you planning?

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ZAFT battleship Minerva, en route to Junius 7

Talia Gladys stared ruefully at the man sitting across the table from her. He was gleefully using his rank to get whatever the hell he wanted on the Minerva, and there wasn稚 a damn thing she could do to stop him.

Hopefully the people would soon grow tired of Gilbert Dullindal痴 pretty face and vote him out of office. He certainly had Talia痴 vote against him.

典alia, he said, interrupting her thoughts. He raised an eyebrow in curiosity, gazing amusedly at her over a bottle of water. 添ou池e being awfully distant. When she simply fixed him with a solid glare, he smiled. 展as our parting that bitter?

的 told you I壇 never forgive you for it, she growled. 鄭nd I知 a woman of my word.

Gilbert laughed airily, and Talia silently wished she had a bazooka to introduce his pretty head to. 鄭nd I told you that it was all necessary and you were just overreacting to it, he answered.

Talia bristled and rose to her feet, fists clenching. Now he壇 crossed the line. 敵oddammit, it was never necessary and you knew it! You knew what you were doing to him!

Gilbert frowned in annoyance. 典alia, you know as well as I do that anyone who seeks to change the world has to have someone to do the dirty work.

滴e was EIGHT YEARS OLD! Talia screamed, her eyes flashing. 添ou made an attack dog out of an eight year old child! Are you happy, you monster?!

Gilbert sneered. 添ou were always too attached to him, Talia. You knew all along what I had planned for him. Ever since we learned of his potential, you knew what I would be doing with him.

Talia nearly threw her chair at him, and only the last remaining scraps of common sense that had not retreated in fear of her anger stopped her. 典hat壮 because I have something called a conscience! Something you would do well to find one day, you bastard! She scowled at him. 的 told you I wanted a child, and we found him. He needed a family to love him. We were going to be his family. But you took him away, and turned him into your little assassin, and now I don稚 even recognize him anymore! Did you molest him too?! How many times did you scar his mind before you were done?!

Gilbert scowled right back at her. 滴e showed Newtype potential, he snapped back, 殿nd you were going to let it go to waste with piano lessons and summer camp and the same public education every other self-important suburban child would be getting. Newtypes are superior humans. They deserve better than bored underpaid teachers and monotonous piano lessons. I simply gave him what he deserved.

Talia痴 eyes flashed in fury. 滴e did NOT deserve to be your lapdog!

滴e is a respected member of ZAFT, Gilbert shot back. 滴e graduated in the top percentile of the ZAFT Academy, and he痴 a ZAFT Red now. He痴 the second-in-command of this very warship痴 mobile suit squadron. He commands the respect his powers as a Newtype deserve. He never would have had this respect if I had left him in your care.

典hat痴 not worth what you致e done to him! Talia snarled. 滴e痴 an unfeeling monster, and it痴 all your fault! You couldn稚 let him be! You saw some little trait in him and you had to bring it out and let that one flower blossom, even if you had to dig up the whole damn garden to do it!

哲ewtypes will not be brought about by sitting through piano lessons and public education, Gilbert snapped. 典he great men who changed the world were not idle little boys

典hat's what he was supposed to be! Talia yelled. She pounded her fists against the table furiously. 滴e was a scared little boy who needed a family, and what he got was a trainer!

典hat痴 what a Newtype needs, Gilbert answered.

典o hell with your Newtypes! Talia screamed. 的 wouldn稚 care if he was a three-headed alien from Mars! I値l still never forgive you for what you致e done to him!

添ell and scream all you want, Gilbert said with a sigh, sniffing condescendingly. 添ou still can稚 change any of what I致e accomplished. All you can do is sit here and pitch a fit.

Talia glowered at him, and silently vowed that one day she would make him pay.

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的 just can稚 believe Junius 7 is moving.

The crew lounge had typically been quiet since the Minerva痴 defeat in the Debris Belt, but Vino痴 words met a particularly unusual measure of silence. He and Yolant were sitting on a couch with Meyrin. Lunamaria had taken a nearby chair, while Rey and Shinn remained standing...and of course, Shiho was nowhere to be found.

鄭ll those people who died there, Meyrin said softly, looking sadly at the ground. 鄭nd we have to... She trailed off, unwilling to finish.

展ell, maybe it won稚 be so bad, Yolant offered, drawing looks from his companions. 的 mean, the Earth is home to a lot of Naturals, and the Naturals have been the source of all our problems...

The looks he was getting from his friends stopped him from saying anything more.

鄭ll the people who died there...that痴 like their gravestone, Meyrin went on, almost whispering. 的 hope濫

展ell, we can稚 let it fall, Luna interrupted, heedless of what Meyrin was saying. 摘arth is our mother planet, and we can稚 just turn our backs when it needs our help. Meyrin glanced awkwardly at her sister, keeping her mouth shut.

添eah, Vino agreed, clenching his fists determinedly. 摘ven though we live in the PLANTs, we have to do our part too.

Shinn sniffed indifferently, unnoticed by the others. Meyrin glanced up at him. He quietly moved away, and Meyrin watched him carefully, as did Rey. Neither noticed Rey痴 watchful gaze as Meyrin just as quietly slipped away after him.

Shinn was resolutely leaving the lounge, his customary soda in hand, and Meyrin watched from the door, debating with herself whether she should say something. 鉄hinn! she exclaimed suddenly, surprising herself and Shinn. He turned around, arching an eyebrow inquisitively at her. 填m, are you okay? she murmured, a blush rising to her cheeks.

Shinn regarded her coldly for a moment. 的知 fine, he answered shortly, turning on his heel and disappearing around a corner before she could say anything more.

Meyrin found herself wanting to chase after him and strike up a conversation with him, but quickly perished the thought, knowing it would be futile at best. Shinn was hardly one for conversation, or, really, interaction of any kind. But earlier she had seen him and Luna having lunch熔r, more accurately, Luna blathering on while Shinn sat there looking thoroughly robbed of his appetite. Surely if Luna could make any progress in cracking the emotional rock that was Shinn Asuka, Meyrin could too.

She returned to reality at the sound of footsteps, and promptly saluted as Shiho Hahnenfuss brushed past. She saluted back, but was most definitely distracted by a sheet of paper she was reading as she entered the lounge. Meyrin surreptitiously glanced at it over Shiho痴 shoulder, and found herself puzzled.

The name 添zak Jule sounded familiar...but from where?

She looked back at the corner Shinn had turned and disappeared behind. A tiny smile crossed her face用erhaps she壇 just found an excuse to go talk to Shinn after all.

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Shiho Hahnenfuss was no fool; she knew she had changed. Her few remaining friends said she had grown colder, more single-minded, and more thoroughly ingrained into military discipline. But she didn稚 care. Most of her old teammates had died at the Second Battle of Jachin Due, but the one that was the most important, at least in Shiho痴 heart, had "merely" gone missing in action. Of course, 杜issing in action meant 電ead but not confirmed dead. And if it wasn稚 confirmed, that meant there was still hope.

Yzak Jule had made himself all but impossible to track. Shiho had to give him credit there; if he didn稚 want to be found, then he really didn稚 want to be found. So far all of her information showed that Yzak had deserted at Jachin Due. In December of CE 71, Ezaria Jule had been sentenced to death for 鍍reason and 努ar crimes迫charges that Shiho, personally, had her doubts about. Nonetheless, the people of the PLANTs had been shocked when word got out that the Duel Gundam had broken onto Aprilius 1 and literally began to tear the PLANT apart in search for Ezaria. In the end, Ezaria had still been killed, right before the Duel壮 eyes, and the Duel went on a rampage that the Justice and Buster Gundams had to come out of nowhere and stop. And when all was said and done, the Duel, Buster, and Justice had escaped, the world media had coined the phrase 敵undam, and Yzak Jule had once again vanished.

Other than that, however, all Shiho had to go off of was rumors, which said anything from Yzak shacking up in the Marshall Islands as a homicidal pedophile to him committing suicide in a colony in the L2 area. And Shiho had her doubts about almost all of them, particularly the ones involving child molestation. Yzak hated kids.

She glanced at her watch. The Minerva was set to reach Junius 7 in five hours. The pilots were to report to the briefing room in three. This left Shiho with two hours to continue her search for Yzak Jule, sifting through hundreds of news reports and stories. She cracked her knuckles, glancing ruefully at the crew lounge痴 other inhabitants. Two of the younger mechanics were blathering incessantly about Junius 7, while Lunamaria was nodding excitedly.

Rey caught her eye and he glanced indifferently at her. Shiho almost shivered由ey was such a departure from his teammates. Unlike the almost frighteningly energetic Lunamaria and the angry antisocial Shinn, Rey seemed to be completely disconnected from emotion. Nothing could rile him up揺e had even taken on blazing gunbarrels in the heat of battle with his usual calm, professional demeanor, hardly breaking a sweat against clearly superior all-range weaponry. Shiho could certainly appreciate professionalism, discipline, and a cool head, but Rey was a rock, in battle and out, and that made Shiho feel uncomfortable.

She silently wondered how Rey had managed to get this detached. But soon her thoughts drifted back to Yzak, and she returned her attention to the computer screen before her.

Someday she would find him. Someday she would meet him and convince him to come back to ZAFT. Someday she would be in his arms, gazing into that beautifully scarred face of his. And she was waiting.

Filled with determination, she set to work.

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Atlantic Federation battleship Girty Lue, en route to Junius 7

鏑ooks like a giant jellyfish.

Sting Oakley glanced over at Auel with an inquisitive facial expression. He looked back at Junius 7, on the monitor of the Girty Lue痴 crew lounge.

Actually, it did kind of look like a jellyfish, but Sting wasn稚 about to admit that.

笛ellyfish... a voice repeated quietly. ...fish...sea...Stella wants to go to the sea.

Sting looked back at Stella, who was sitting on a couch and staring blankly at the screen.

展e can稚 go to the sea right now, Stella, he said slowly, knowing Stella would probably still fail to understand a good half of what he said. 展e池e in space.

...space... she echoed. She looked over at Sting, and then back at the screen. 展hy is the jellyfish falling on Earth? Stella doesn稚 understand.

Sting glanced back at Auel, who shook his head. 泥on稚 do it, man, he warned. 添ou池e just setting yourself up for a headache.

展e池e going to find out, Sting said, heedless of Auel痴 warning. Stella stared at him with unblinking eyes.

...oh, she answered at last, and resumed staring at the screen.

Auel sighed and buried his face in his hand. 的 seriously don稚 get it, he groused. 展hy is she so brainless when we池e not?

Resisting the urge to throw the verbal jab Auel had set himself up for, Sting instead sighed. Auel knew perfectly well why Stella was a near-vegetative simpleton and he and Sting weren稚傭ut he had never accepted it. Auel had never truly gotten over the idea that he was an Extended. Sting was well aware of what had happened to him, but Auel was in denial, and according to the technicians, only time would heal that wound.

And Sting really hated that stupid cliché anyways.

"So what happens if it hits the Earth?" Auel asked suddenly. Sting glanced at him, and found that Auel actually looked curious as to the consequences of Junius 7's impact.

"A nuclear winter," he answered shortly, looking back at the screen.

"A what?" Auel asked, blinking.

"Nuclear winter is when there's so much dust in the sky that it blocks out the sun and turns the Earth cold," Sting explained.

"Oh," Auel said quietly. He too looked at the screen. "So are we going to stop it?"

"No," Sting said crossly. Auel blinked again and glared at Sting.

"Why the hell not?" he asked. "If we don't, then everyone on Earth will"

Sting immediately clapped a hand over Auel's mouth, and his eyes widened in surprise.

"How many times do you have to be reminded not to say that damn word?!" he snapped, casting a meaningful glance towards Stella. Auel glared back and violently removed himself from Sting's grasp.

"Okay, okay, sorry," he grumbled. "Either way, my point still stands. Why aren't we gonna stop that thing?"

Sting glanced back up at the screen. "We don't have anything that could break it up."

Auel glared at the screen himself. "Well, we have to do some"

"Sting," Stella spoke up suddenly. Sting and Auel glanced in surprise at her. "Will everyone die?"

Auel and Sting blinked and looked at each other.

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ZAFT battleship Minerva, near Junius 7

The bridge was silent as Junius 7 loomed before everything. In the captain's chair, Talia Gladys tensed羊egardless of how she felt about Chairman Dullindal, he effectively had this entire ship, not to mention the entire Earth, as a shield. She would have to perform her duties to the best of her ability, and Gilbert would simply have to survive it all. Otherwise, the crew of the Minerva and the people of Earth would die, and they were not to be dragged into her affairs.

She gripped the armrests of her chair harder. A sneaking suspicion was welling up deep inside her, towards Gilbert's unruffled countenance. The implications of Junius 7 hitting the Earth were staggering預 politician like him should have been biting his nails. What was he up to?

"Captain," Arthur spoke up nervously, breaking her reverie. "The Voltaire and the Rousseau report that everything is proceeding on schedule. What are our orders?"

Talia looked out at the imposing mass of Junius 7. "Launch our mobile suits to support the Voltaire and Rousseau in positioning the meteor breakers."

Arthur saluted and turned towards Meyrin's console, and Talia sat back uneasily.

"The Voltaire and Rousseau should be up to the task," Gilbert commented. "We will simply be"

"Captain!" Meyrin exclaimed urgently. All eyes turned to her as she stared disbelievingly at her screen for a moment. "The Voltaire reports its mobile suits are under attack!"

"Attack?!" Talia echoed incredulously. She turned around. "Burt, give us a visual!"

A few moments later, gasps went up around the bridge from all except Chairman Dullindal.

"Those are GINNs!" Arthur exclaimed in shock. "Are they"

"Coordinators," Gilbert finished grimly. "Captain. We must work quickly before the Earth Alliance finds out about this."

Talia nodded in dour agreement. "Meyrin, order all mobile suits to change to combat equipment. Our primary objective now is to protect the meteor breakers and let the Voltaire and Rousseau's mobile suits get them into position."

"Yes ma'am!" Meyrin answered nervously.

Talia narrowed her eyes at Junius 7, and the tiny puffs of fire and lances of green beam shots around Junius 7痴 falling remains. She glanced back up at Chairman Dullindal. He was as calm and unperturbed as ever.

Something was amiss.

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To be continued...