Phase 10 - FAITH

Mobile Suit Gundam SEED DESTINY

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Phase 10 - FAITH

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October 20th, CE 73 - The White House, Washington DC, Atlantic Federation

典his is impossible.

Lord Djibril stood in the Oval Office, looming over Joseph Copland痴 shoulder, glowering at the screen on his desk. Flashing across the screen was the combat recordings of ZAFT痴 Impulse Gundam against the Earth Alliance痴 Phantom Pain unit in the Indian Ocean. It was impossible to follow; the thing moved in a blur.

典his is why I had my doubts, Djibril, Copland said gravely. 典he Coordinators are powerful, regardless of what you or anyone else says about them.

哲onsense, Djibril scoffed. 的t痴 only one mobile suit. He strode out towards the middle of the room. 鄭nd besides, he continued, 努e are already developing mobile suits and mobile armors that far surpass anything that one mobile suit can do.

典his is the mobile suit that destroyed the Zamzazar at Orb, Copland protested. 的t defeated Colonel Roanoke痴 Windam as well. It痴 not to be trifled with. This thing痴 pilot is a hero in the PLANTs.

鄭ll the more reason to kill him, then, Djibril said with theatrical flair. 展e shouldn稚 let the PLANTs have any heroes. They shouldn稚 have anyone to rally around. His face twisted into a scowl. 典hey have their beloved Chairman Dullindal anyways.

鄭nd what do you think will be able to stand against a mobile suit with a pilot this skilled? Copland shot back. 典he Girty Lue unit has been unable to destroy it after four engagements. It destroyed the Zamzazar; will the Gelzuge bring it down?

徹f course not, Djibril sputtered. 展hat will bring it down is our next generation of mobile suits. Once we start mass-producing the Windams, that Impulse will go down in flames.

典he war will not be won by churning out mobile suits, Copland countered. 展e tried that in CE 71. It only worked partially, and only because ZAFT wasn稚 prepared to fight an enemy with mobile suit forces. We had the Archangel to distract ZAFT then, too. We don奏 anymore.

展e don稚 have to, Djibril said, turning to face Copland with a devilish smile. 纏AFT has plans in the works to attack our Arzachel Crater base. My intelligence sources confirm it. They are still in the preliminary planning stages; we can mass-produce the Windams in secret at Arzachel, and when ZAFT arrives, we will unleash our new dogs of war on those insufferable sheep and tear them apart.

添ou take too many gambles, Copland said disapprovingly. Djibril turned, looking out the window dramatically.

笛ust start producing the Windams at Arzachel, he said. 鄭ll in due time, you will understand.

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ZAFT battleship Minerva, Indian Ocean, en route to Socotra, Yemen

Once again, Shinn found himself on the deck of the Minerva, staring at the ocean, lost in thought; however, there was no Gilbert Dullindal around to accost him. All there was this time was the cool breeze of the ocean.

There was also, Shinn noticed, Lunamaria. She opened the hatch and stepped out awkwardly onto the deck, fully aware that Shinn was there.

的 see you池e back on your feet, she said, offering a polite smile as she came up to his side. 典hat痴 good.

Shinn shrugged indifferently, still staring at the ocean. Luna looked at him helplessly; he wasn稚 even looking back at her. He wasn稚 betraying any emotion; Luna wondered how he could stand masking himself all the time.

展hy did you snap like that? she asked suddenly. Shinn blinked and looked at her. 的 mean, you ramped the Impulse痴 thrusters up way too far. You could致e killed yourself.

Shinn stared at her for a moment, wondering if she壇 understand. He doubted she would; she was full of emotions, but they were all positive emotions. It seemed like she never had to deal with negative emotions.

He chose not to answer her, and returned his gaze back to the ocean.

典ell me, Shinn! she insisted. 的 don稚 want you to do that again! Next time you might not just black out!

Shinn looked back at her again. He closed his eyes and turned around, leaning against the rail.

滴ave you heard of something called Newtypes? he asked quietly. Luna blinked.

哲ewtypes? she echoed. 哲o.

典hey池e supposed to be like psychics, the next step in human evolution, he explained. 典hey can perceive emotions and see the future and whatnot.

鉄o? Luna asked bluntly. 展hat痴 that got to do with you?

摘veryone seems to think I知 a Newtype, Shinn said. Luna blinked for a moment, before she smiled and laughed.

典hat痴 ridiculous, she said. 鼎ome on, Shinn, you池e just an ordinary Coordinator. You池e good at what you do and all, but that doesn稚 make you a step higher on the evolutionary ladder.

Shinn looked over at her. 的t doesn稚?

添ou池e a human being, Newtype or not, she said. 添ou eat food, you drink water, you sleep, you breathe, you bleed when you池e cut, you cry when you池e sad, you laugh when you池e happy. That痴 all there is to it.

的 guess so, Shinn said noncommittally, looking away. 典hat痴 all I want to be. He closed his eyes. 的 don稚 want to be the future or a Newtype or anything. I just want to be an ordinary person.

Luna looked out at the sea. 的 don稚 think any of us are ordinary people right now, she said forlornly. She looked back at Shinn and smiled again. 釘ut we can try to be who we want to be after the war. Isn稚 that why we池e fighting it?

Shinn stared at the floor again. 的 guess so, he repeated.

Luna sighed and leaned against the railing. 展hat are you going to do after the war, Shinn?

Shinn looked at her a moment. 展hat am I supposed to do? he asked.

Luna looked back at him with a smile. 溺ost decorated war veterans are supposed to find a nice girl and get married and have a bunch of kids.

Shinn blinked, a faint blush rising to his cheeks. 的 don稚 want that, he muttered, looking away. Luna tried not to giggle.

展e have to have something we want to do after the war, Luna said, looking back out at the ocean again. 徹r else we値l forget what we池e fighting for.

Shinn stared at the floor and said nothing. He could hear Rey again, telling Shinn that he had no future. He closed his eyes shamefully; for Shinn Asuka, there might be an 殿fter the war, but for Rey Za Burrel...

Shinn leaned back against the rail, looking back at Luna. 的知 more worried about what happens now, he said. 的 can worry about what I do after the war when the war is over.

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October 21st, CE 73 - Socotra Naval Installation, Yemen, Muslim League

The Minerva lumbered into port at Socotra Naval Installation, under the direction of ZAFT痴 allies in the Muslim League. Sitting on the bridge, Talia watched as the Minerva backed slowly into the dock.

Socotra Naval Installation was an enormous fortified island off the coast of Yemen, on the southern edge of the Arab peninsula. Nearby was the entrance to the Red Sea, where the Minerva and its two Vosgulov companions would have to sail in order to reach the Suez Canal, and the bitter battle being fought there.

The Minerva shuddered as it slid into place in the dock; Talia left the final directions to Arthur as she settled into the bridge chair.

She did not have long of a wait. A short while later, the bridge doors opened, and a tall, brawny man in a ZAFT Black Shirt uniform strode in, with two Green Shirt guards by his side. Talia rose as he offered a quick salute and handshake.

展elcome to Socotra, Captain Gladys, he said, shaking her hand vigorously. 的知 Joachim Radul, the ZAFT liaison to the Muslim League. I僧 glad you宋e come.

展e had a little tangle with the Alliance in the Indian Ocean, Talia said disdainfully. 典he Saint Augustine and a quarter of our mobile suits were lost.

鉄o I致e heard, Radul said grimly. 哲evertheless, the reinforcements you致e brought with you will be of great help. The Earth Alliance has captured the Suez Canal with the help of a Separatist movement within the Muslim League; they have requested our assistance in retaking the canal. He paused. 纏AFT has dispatched me with the land battleships Desmond and Bagley. I値l be on the Desmond; we値l go with you to make up for the Saint Augustine and help you retake the canal.

Talia glanced down at Arthur. 展hen we will be departing, then? she asked. Radul checked his watch.

溺y men will be ready to depart at dawn tomorrow, he said.

天ery well, Talia said. 填ntil then. She saluted; Radul saluted back and excused himself. Talia turned to face the bridge. 鄭rthur, go back over the combat checks. We still have work to do.

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Atlantic Federation battleship Girty Lue, Indian Ocean

Night had fallen; the Girty Lue痴 bridge was silent, as all eyes stared at the screen.

的 wonder what they池e trying to prove with this little venture, Neo Roanoke commented with a sarcastic smile, sitting back.

On the screen was a collection of dim shapes on the water and in the air; it was a fleet from the South African Union, steaming steadily towards the Muslim League痴 major naval installation on the island of Socotra, off the coast of Somalia. By all standards, the fleet was enormous; thirty Spengler-class carriers, escorted by almost two hundred smaller ships, and dozens of heavy cargo planes overhead, all filled to bursting with mobile suits. It all comprised the majority of the South African Union痴 military might; it was all rumbling steadily towards Socotra. Even if its mobile suits were largely outdated Strike Daggers, the men on the Girty Lue couldn稚 see how one naval base, belonging to a nation with subpar military might, could hope to stand up to such an armada.

鉄ocotra is where the Minerva went, isn稚 it? Lee observed.

Neo nodded. 鄭nd the Minerva had three submarines with it as well. Auel sunk one of them, but the other two managed to get away. He rubbed his chin thoughtfully. 釘ut what are they trying to prove?

典he South African Union resents the Muslim League and the African Community both for taking territory, Lee offered. 展e池e already invading the African Community. I suppose they池e trying to take revenge on the Muslim League, then.

鄭nd, of course, the Minerva is there, Neo added. 的 guess bringing President Copland the Minerva is the best proof one can get of why the South African Union is worth keeping in the Alliance.

鉄hall we support them, then? Lee asked. Neo smirked.

哲o, he snorted amusedly. 展e値l watch the Minerva chew them up and spit them out.

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October 22nd, CE 73 - ZAFT battleship Minerva, Socotra Naval Installation, Yemen, Muslim League

Shinn yelped in surprise as a deafening roar and a violent explosion threw him out of his bed and onto the floor. He scrambled to his feet, eyes wide, and looked at Rey.

Rey was already at the intercom, staring at Meyrin痴 bleary, frightened face.

展hat痴 happening?! Rey asked, calm as ever, as the Minerva quaked.

的 don稚 know! Meyrin exclaimed; behind her, Talia rushed onto the bridge, her hat in hand and her collar not yet buttoned up. 鉄omeone is attacking!

敵o to Condition Red! Talia shouted. 鄭ll mobile suits, prepare to launch! Arthur, what the hell is going on?!

Rey shut off the intercom and looked back at Shinn. 敵et dressed, he said curtly, turning towards the closet.

Shinn threw on his uniform in record time, sprinting out of his room with Rey and towards the mobile suit hangar. It was dawn and the sun was just beginning to rise outside; trails of smoke wafted up from the Socotra base, and Shinn paused as the Minerva rocked again, nearly throwing him and Rey off their feet.

典his is a major attack, Rey murmured, steadying himself against the wall. Outside, Rey and Shinn watched as an olive-brown GINN belonging to the Muslim League fired up into the air with its machinegun; a beam shot from above blew off its right arm, and before it could react, another blast pierced its chest and destroyed it.

鼎ome on, Rey said, grabbing Shinn by the arm and pulling him forward. 展e値l have to help them fight back.

Shinn and Rey reached the hangar as quickly as they could; already, Shiho痴 Savior Gundam was being loaded onto the catapult.

展hat the hell is going on?! Shinn shouted at Vino, as Rey sprinted towards his ZAKU Phantom.

的 don稚 know! Just get in the Impulse and shoot whatever looks like a Dagger! Vino answered, pushing him towards the Impulse痴 catapult.

Shinn leapt into the Core Splendor痴 cockpit, not bothering to waste time climbing into his flight suit. He strapped himself in; his fingers flew over the controls, as the elevator began to rise and the fighter came to life.

溺eyrin, he said, as her timid face appeared on the screen, 努hat痴 going on?!

典he Earth Alliance is attacking, she said hurriedly. 典hey池e everywhere, and the Muslim League is requesting our help!

填nderstood, Shinn said quickly, moving to cut the communication.

展ait! she exclaimed; Shinn blinked in surprise. 笛ust...just be careful this time!

溺eyrin濫 Shinn began.

笛ust promise you値l be careful this time! Meyrin pleaded.

Shinn watched her carefully for a moment; she stared back with shimmering, teary, blinking eyes.

鄭lright, Shinn said at last. He looked out ahead as the Impulse痴 catapult activated. 鉄hinn Asuka, Core Splendor, going out!

The Core Splendor lurched forward; Shinn narrowed his eyes at the battle ahead as the Core Splendor lifted off.

As he docked the Impulse痴 parts and formed the Force Impulse, Shinn scanned the battlefield. An imposing fleet of the Earth Alliance lay arrayed before the island of Socotra; the fleet was attacking mostly with aging Strike Daggers, but the Muslim League痴 mobile suits were mostly surplus GINNs that ZAFT had sold to them, and were having a difficult time against the still-superior Strike Daggers.

The Impulse痴 eyes flashed; Shinn charged into the fray with a scream.

The attackers had come prepared with a cadre of Jet Dagger Ls; Shinn charged at them, firing his beam rifle and taking one of them down before the others could attack. He winced as the feeling of death returned again, but shoved it aside with sheer willpower; he had to suffer, like Rey had said, in order to create a world where he wouldn稚 have to suffer. The Dagger Ls split up; Shinn charged after a squadron as they went streaking down towards the Minerva.

The three Daggers split up; Shinn dove beneath the bazooka shot of the first and shot the bazooka out of its hand, diving underneath it as it floundered for balance. He dove back up into the air and kicked the beam carbine out of the second Dagger痴 hand, then deflected the third痴 shot with his shield. He dove away as the three Daggers backed away; the second drew its beam saber and charged.

泥on稚 do that! Shinn shouted. 笛ust give up!

The Dagger swept in to attack; Shinn smacked its saber arm aside with his shield and pierced its torso with a beam rifle shot. The Dagger collapsed towards the ocean and exploded; Shinn dove up into the air, growling. 的 warned you!

The other two Daggers swept in with their beam carbines; Shinn dove beneath both of them and shot them both down. He turned away from the blasts and found the Jet Dagger Ls storming towards the island, firing missiles at the mobile suits on the ground and attacking the Muslim League痴 olive-brown DINNs. Down below, Luna痴 red ZAKU fired its beam cannon down at the beach and the Strike Daggers parachuting onto it; two of them were blown away, but more mobile suits were there to fire back at her, forcing her back along with the Muslim League GINNs.

More Dagger Ls came streaking towards Shinn; he dove backwards, firing his beam rifle and taking cover behind his shield. Two Daggers went down in flames; Shinn charged at them, hoping to catch them off guard, but one of them fired a bazooka shot that knocked his beam rifle out of his hand. Drawing his beam saber instead, he dove into their ranks and managed to slash one in half before the other two could dodge.

鉄top fighting us! Shinn shouted at them, as he wheeled around a second time to face the remaining Daggers. The Daggers charged, opening fire and forcing Shinn back. 泥ammit!

The Savior shot by overhead, delivering a plasma cannon volley that wiped out two more Daggers; the majority of the attackers peeled off to follow the Savior. Shinn pulled back behind his shield as the remaining Daggers opened fire again.

Minerva, Meyrin, Blast Silhouette! Shinn shouted. He charged into the Daggers faces one last time; he caught two of them off guard and cut them both in two, but the survivors pulled back, firing again and forcing him to pull back again.

The Blast Silhouette came rocketing up into the air; Shinn ejected the Force Silhouette and shot it down with his CIWS, blinding the Daggers in front of him, and attached the Blast Silhouette. As gravity began to pull the Impulse down, Shinn fired a storm of missiles into the Daggers ranks, and clenched his teeth as he watched four of them collapse towards the ocean in flames.

The Blast Impulse landed on the water; Shinn fired the thrusters, and the Impulse rocketed forward, skimming over the water痴 surface as the Daggers tried to stop him. He darted out of the path of their shots and fired his railguns back up at them, disarming two of them and forcing the others to pull back. Before they could return Shinn痴 fire, the Muslim League痴 DINNs and the Savior Gundam swept in to attack.

Shinn darted across the water, arming the Blast Silhouette痴 weapons, and looked across the battlefield at the enemy fleet, as it poured firepower into the base. The closest target was a destroyer on the perimeter of the battlefield, firing away at the Minerva; Shinn fired at the destroyer痴 hull with his beam cannons, slicing through it in one blow; bursts of fire tore it apart, and Shinn winced as the feeling of death once again returned in spades.

的 can稚 let it slow me down now, he grunted, as the water rocked from the destroyer痴 explosion. He took off towards another ship, a carrier this time; it fired back with a beam cannon on its bow, but Shinn darted aside and perforated the carrier痴 bow with railgun shells. The top of the bow section exploded; Shinn fired the booster and jumped up onto the carrier痴 deck, firing both beam cannons into the ship. As the ship began to list, he raised one cannon and blew away the bridge tower, and then leapt off and took off again, as the carrier exploded as well.

By now a formation of Daggers had realized what Shinn was up to and was storming back towards the fleet after him; Shinn glowered up at them through the smoke from the broken carrier as it sank. The Daggers opened fire; Shinn darted aside, firing back with his beam cannons to take down two more Daggers, and he swept in behind one of the Alliance destroyers to prevent the Daggers from firing. He fired both beam cannons into the destroyer痴 stern, blowing apart its engine, and the ship lurched forward in the water. Shinn darted aside again, firing his beam cannons into the Dagger squadron痴 ranks and taking down another pair of Daggers.

鉄hit, Shinn grunted, racing backwards as the Daggers shots splashed into the sea in front of him. 典hey池e everywhere!

A Dagger toting a bazooka swept in over the water, firing a swarm of missiles; Shinn cut them down with a CIWS burst and blasted the bazooka out of the Dagger痴 hand with his railguns. Another Dagger swept in as well with a beam carbine; Shinn saw his opening and charged between them, drawing his beam javelins, and with a shriek of metal torn like paper, sliced both mobile suits in half. Replacing his beam javelins with the beam cannons, Shinn took off again, aiming for a small destroyer and blowing it apart with a single beam cannon shot. The Daggers fired again; Shinn blazed along the water, dodging their shots. The Muslim League mobile suits were starting to push back the invaders at the beach; however, the Alliance forces were still too overwhelming.

Shinn resolved to provide enough of a distraction among the fleet to allow his comrades time to regroup; he fired a beam cannon shot into another destroyer痴 hull and stormed up to it, slicing it open with a beam javelin and blasting into the ship痴 hull. He tore open the ship from the inside, ripping his way out through the ship痴 center and landing on the water with a crash and a blast of exhaust. He took off again, deflecting a Dagger痴 beam shot with his shield.

鉄hinn! he heard Shiho痴 voice shout. 鉄hinn, where are you?!

鼎over me! Shinn cried, blazing along the water and dodging more beam fire from above. 的値l distract the Alliance troops here!

展hat?! Shiho exclaimed; overhead, the Savior deflected a beam shot and shot down the attacking Dagger. 鉄hinn, are you濫

笛ust cover me! Shinn yelled. The Blast Impulse wheeled around and shot down another Dagger with its beam cannons, and then darted to the side, blowing another two Daggers out of the sky with its railguns. 鉄hit, he grunted as the Impulse rocked; the Daggers swept in, beam carbines blazing. Shinn pulled back, firing missiles, but the Daggers kept coming. One of them slid in behind the Impulse; Shinn gasped in disbelief as it raised a beam saber in triumph

The Dagger froze as a long metallic whip curled tightly around its arm. The whip flashed bright red and snapped the Dagger痴 arm off; an instant later, something flashed past the Dagger, slicing it in half, and it exploded. An orange blur slashed into the Dagger痴 ranks, cutting down two of them, and the rest pulled back. Shinn stared in shock at his rescuer.

The mobile suit was bright orange, faintly resembling a ZAKU; this machine, however, had its shield on its left forearm, with a long double-bladed beam sword in its right hand, and a black and white flight pack on its back. It turned to face Shinn; Shinn saw a stylized black, white, and red letter H on its shield, and the insignia of FAITH on its left shoulder.

The unknown mobile suit pulled back next to Shinn.

鉄o, a voice said, 土ou池e the Impulse kid.

展ho are you? Shinn asked quietly, watching the orange mobile suit suspiciously.

The Savior stormed in with a plasma cannon blast, and three Dagger Ls exploded in midair. 鉄hinn, who is this?! Shiho demanded. The orange mobile suit straightened up to look at the Savior.

的 will introduce myself after the battle, Commander, the pilot said coolly. 迭ight now we have more important things to worry about!

The orange mobile suit took off, brandishing its beam sword, and charged at the Daggers; Shinn grunted and took off as well, blazing along the water. He fired his beam cannons at a pair of Jet Dagger Ls trying to take off from the open launch hatches of another carrier; the shots drilled through the Dagger痴 chests; they exploded, blowing open the carrier痴 hangar bay. Shinn leapt into the opening and pounded a beam cannon salvo into the carrier痴 innards; he blasted his way out as the carrier exploded.

哲ot bad, Asuka! the orange mobile suit痴 pilot remarked amusedly. 的 can see why you won the Order of the Nebula! Up above, the orange mobile suit used its glowing whip to slash a Dagger in two; it swiveled around and fired a storm of tiny beam bolts from its right arm at another Dagger, blowing it out of the sky and sending it crashing in flames into the ocean.

The Savior skimmed in along the water in mobile armor mode, shooting down a pair of Daggers as they moved in to attack Shinn. 泥on稚 be too reckless, Shinn! Shiho yelled. The Savior rocketed into the air, transforming back into mobile suit mode, and shot down another Dagger with its beam rifle as it pulled up into the air.

Shinn took off over the water again, diving towards another destroyer, and shot through its hull in the stern with his beam cannons. As the destroyer broke into two pieces, he slipped into its wreckage, diving beneath a storm of missiles from the Daggers. They were intensifying their defense of the fleet; in the meantime, the Muslim League痴 DINNs were beginning to rally a counterattack. The sun was rising high; Shinn darted out of his hiding place, shooting down a pair of Daggers as he raced along the water.

Another light destroyer exploded; the orange mobile suit burst out of the flames, beam sword held high, and shot down another Dagger with another beam gun volley. It stormed forward towards the fallen Dagger痴 wingman, slashing it in half with its glowing whip, and took off again.

Shinn fired a beam cannon volley into the air to shoot down another Dagger as he raced towards another destroyer. The destroyer turned its gun on the Impulse; Shinn darted to the side, dodging its desperate shots, and fired a railgun volley to blow its main gun apart. He fired a pair of beam cannon shots into its bow and leapt up, landing on the destroyer痴 deck and pumping two more shots into its hull.

The ship began to explode; Shinn took off into the air, shooting down two more startled Dagger Ls. He landed with another flash of exhaust and took off along the water, glancing up at the sky. The Muslim League痴 mobile suits were making full advantage of the chaos the Impulse was causing among the ships; another destroyer buckled under a barrage of missiles and machinegun fire from a DINN squadron, and the vessel burst into flames as it slid lifelessly into the water.

Shinn took aim at yet another destroyer, but a moment later, the ships began to fire flares into the air; Shinn narrowed his eyes as he realized they were signaling a retreat. A moment later, Meyrin痴 face appeared on his screen.

鉄hinn, she began quietly, looking fearfully at his sweaty, haggard face. 典he Alliance fleet is retreating, Shinn. You can come back to the Minerva now.

Shinn let out his breath and wiped the sweat from his brow. The Alliance ships were desperately trying to turn around, as the mobile suits fled; the Blast Impulse turned and rocketed back to the dock.

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The Blast Impulse returned to cheers from the mechanics in the Minerva痴 hangar; Shinn uneasily guided the Impulse to a rest and lowered himself to the hangar floor on the zip line. Immediately he was surrounded in a surge of bodies.

典hat was incredible, Shinn! Vino exclaimed, falling all over himself to reach Shinn. 添ou took out seven ships!

的t was amazing! Yolant added, throwing his arms victoriously around Shinn.

Shinn took it all in blankly; he had just done his job.

The crowd parted, and Yolant and Vino let go of Shinn, for a man in an orange ZAFT flight suit with the FAITH insignia on his chest. He pulled off his helmet and shook his head, his orange hair flying; he stepped towards Shinn, extending his hand.

撤leasure to meet you, Shinn Asuka, he said, smiling disarmingly. 的知 Heine Westenfluss. I致e been assigned to the Minerva by the Chairman.

典he Chairman? Shinn echoed.

添es, Heine answered. 添ou gonna shake or what?

Shinn sputtered in surprise and hastily shook his hand.

的 can see your reputation is well-deserved, he said, taking a step away and tucking his helmet under his arm. 擢ighting like that will win the war.

Heine saluted; Shinn saluted back after a moment痴 hesitation, and Heine turned and walked away. Shinn let out his breath, and as the mechanics began to disperse, Vino leapt in front of him, eyes alight in excitement.

典hat was incredible out there, Shinn! he said. 添ou値l have to win another Order of the Nebula!

Shinn waved them off and headed for the locker room.

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擢AITH? Talia echoed in disbelief.

Heine Westenfluss stood before her on the bridge of the Minerva, in his red uniform with the shiny emblem of FAITH on his lapel; in his hand he held a briefcase and a pair of identical emblems. At his side, Shiho stood in equal disbelief.

擢or both of you, he said, offering one of the badges to Shiho. 添ou have both been appointed to FAITH.

釘-But why? Shiho sputtered, taking the box in her hands and staring at the badge with wide eyes.

展hy does the Chairman want us both in FAITH? Talia asked, staring sternly at Heine.

Heine stared back for a moment. 的 am only carrying out the Chairman痴 orders, he said stiffly. 的 am not in a position to judge his actions.

哲obody is, Talia muttered scornfully under her breath.

添our assignments remain the same, Heine continued, a hint of a smug smile playing at his lips. 殿s does this ship痴 mission. My orders are to join the Minerva crew for the duration of this ship痴 tour of duty and assist you in your missions.

Talia watched him for a moment. 天ery well, she said carefully. 典hen under my authority as this ship痴 captain, as well as under my authority as a member of FAITH, I will expect you to defer to my judgment and act under my orders.

Heine blinked in surprise, caught off guard. Talia fought down the overwhelming feeling of satisfaction at having hit Gilbert痴 attack dog where he least expected it幽eine would still be around on the ship, and that presented a danger.

She clipped her FAITH badge onto her uniform and turned around. 鄭rthur, tell the crews to hurry with the repairs, she said authoritatively, before Heine could say anything. 滴eine, you are dismissed.

Heine ground his teeth angrily, and saluted rigidly, before he stalked out of the bridge. Shiho watched him go in confusion, and then looked back down at her FAITH emblem.

鼎aptain, she began uneasily, 妬f I知 in FAITH too, does the same apply to me?

Talia nodded. 鼎ontinue to command our mobile suit team as you always have, Heine included, she said. 鄭nd keep an eye on Heine.

Shiho saluted. 添es ma誕m. She excused herself, and Talia slid into the captain痴 chair, her face darkening.

Gilbert...what are you trying to do now?

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Shinn had tried to escape to his room, but that had proved futile; sooner or later, Lunamaria had ushered him out into the crew lounge, and with escape now impossible, Shinn sat in boredom as people around him gushed over his performance in battle; Rey sat nearby, watching Shinn carefully. Shinn did not feel like the messiah that everyone was treating him as; all he had done was his job, protecting the Minerva, and he had simply done so by attacking the Earth Alliance fleet.

The pilots jumped to their feet and saluted; Shinn blinked and glanced over his shoulder. Shiho and Heine were walking into the room; Shinn wearily got to his feet and saluted as well. "What's all this?" Heine asked, arching an eyebrow at the scene. He looked over at Shiho.

"I'm the commander of this ship's mobile suit team," Shiho explained. "I enforce discipline among my subordinates."

"Discipline?" Heine echoed. "What do we need discipline for? We're Coordinators, we don't need discipline!" He motioned towards the three pilots. "Come over here, all three of you."

Rey, Shinn, and Luna stepped forward. Heine's eyebrow arched again.

"We're all ZAFT Reds! How about that?" He nodded to Shinn and turned to face Lunamaria, smiling charmingly. "And how do you do, Miss?"

Luna blinked in surprise, a hint of a blush rising on her cheeks; Shinn watched Heine carefully.

"What's with all the tension?" Heine asked, gesturing to the three pilots. "See what happens when you discipline your team too much, Shiho? How can we hope to work together on the battlefield if we have such a hard time standing together in the same room?"

"But Commander Westenfluss" Luna began. Heine cut her off, shaking his head.

"None of that 'commander' crap," he said. "I'm Heine, you're Luna, Shiho's over there, there's Rey, and that's Shinn. That's how we're going to be. We're a team; that's what sets us apart from the Naturals." He turned to face everyone. "The Naturals need discipline, to keep themselves focused. We're better than that. We're the Coordinators; we're superior."

Shinn felt a sensation of discomfort rising through him as Heine spoke. Just what he needed預nother thing to make him special.

"The last thing we need is to be building walls around each other," Heine continued. "We have to get along off the battlefield in order to be effective on the battlefield."

"Of course," Shiho answered, with a hint of a glare at Heine.

"Now then," Heine went on, "with formalities out of the way, we'll have to get down to business." He glanced at Shiho. "I will be the new second-in-command of this ship's mobile suit team. Sorry Rey, you've been knocked down a peg."

Rey was impassive as he nodded.

"We are still heading to the Suez Canal," Shiho said. "Despite Captain Gladys and my appointments to FAITH, and Heine's presence, our mission remains the same."

Heine looked over at Shinn. "I look forward to seeing you in action again, Shinn."

Shinn hesitated a moment. He already hated Heine. "I won't disappoint."

Heine smiled.

"Of course you won't."

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October 23rd, CE 73 - Atlantic Federation battleship Girty Lue, Red Sea

"What do you mean we're not going to Suez?!" Sting shouted.

They were on the mobile suit deck; Neo stood on the gantry to the cockpit of his Windam, arms crossed, with Lee at his side and Sting standing in front him. The mechanics stopped their work, watching tensely the fight that was sure to break out.

"I mean exactly what I said," Neo answered calmly. "We've been ordered to pass by the Suez Canal and ambush the Minerva in the Mediterranean Ocean."

"But they're going to the Suez Canal!" Sting protested. "They're going to fight there, you even said so yourself! Why aren't we going to fight them there?!"

"Because they kicked our asses the last time," Neo shot back. "We're going to wait, and restore our strength; then we will attack the Minerva when they are weakened from fighting at Suez."

"That damned combiner beat me once!" Sting growled. "I'm not going to let it go without a fight!"

Neo scowled.

"We have been ordered to ambush the Minerva in the Mediterranean. We will obey those orders." A shadow fell over his face. "After all, we all have to make up for your failure."

Sting's eyes went wide; Lee started forward.

"Colonel, that was unnecessary," he growled. Neo snorted in disgust.

"It always is with you, Lee," he snapped back. "You're too damn soft." He turned to leave. "Take him back to his maintenance bed."

"I didn't fail..." Sting murmured, falling to his knees, clutching his head in pain. "I can't fail..."

Neo disappeared down the gantry; Lee growled to himself and went to Sting's side.

"I can't fail," Sting murmured, his eyes wide and bloodshot, his entire body trembling. "If I fail...then...I'll..."

"Your defeat in the Indian Ocean was not your fault," Lee said, trying to help Sting to his feet. "You didn't fail."

"I didn't fail," Sting repeated quietly. He was shaking violently; Lee struggled to get him back on his feet, and glanced at the mechanics. Two of them moved in to help Sting up. "I can't fail...if I fail, then...if I fail, then I..."

"You didn't fail," Lee repeated. "The Colonel is displeased with the results of the battle, but the results were not your fault. You did your duty as best you could."

"If I fail," Sting murmured, as Lee and the mechanics dragged him down the gantry. "If I fail...if I fail, then..."

The mechanics tried to move him, but Sting refused to walk; Lee tried to keep Sting on his feet.

"Then they'll kill me!" Sting shrieked, collapsing to his knees and pounding the gantry in anguish.

Lee looked up at the door Neo had left through, and scowled.

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October 25th, CE 73 - Socotra Naval Installation, Yemen, Muslim League

The two Vosgulov submarines had already launched; the Lesseps-class land battleship Desmond and the Petrie-class Bagley were already waiting at the harbor mouth. All that remained was for the famous Minerva to launch.

On the bridge of the Desmond, Joachim Radul had a glass of red wine in hand as he watched the Minerva lumber out of port.

"So they're coming with us after all," he said to himself. "Even after the battle the other day, and the FAITH appointments."

"Of course they are," the Desmond's XO said. "They're crucial to the Muslim League's success there."

"They're rookies, though," Radul countered. He took a sip of his wine. "So they've fought a few battles against the Alliance, and that kid in the Impulse took out a mobile armor and a bunch of ships. That's not the kind of battle they're heading into."

"What do you mean?" the XO asked. Radul sighed.

"They're about to run right into the face of two enemies who truly, thoroughly, completely hate each other. Something far scarier than the Naturals and Coordinators. The Separatists would rather die than let the Muslim League control what was once Israel; the Muslim League would rather die than let them have it back. The Separatists and the Muslim League will do anything to each other in battle. The Minerva's crew has never seen anything like this." He took a second sip. "They're going to find out what war is really all about."

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To be continued...