Phase 12 - Stella Loussier

Mobile Suit Gundam SEED DESTINY

Phase 12 - Stella Loussier

October 29th, CE 73 - Port Said Naval Base, Egypt, Muslim League

Shinn Asuka was determined to spend his day of shore leave alone, and nothing Lunamaria or anyone else could say would change his mind. She barely had a moment to catch up with him; he was already decked out in his light gray civilian clothes, checking the fuel tank of a sleek red motorcycle near the gate of the Port Said base.

"Shinn!" Luna called; Shinn looked up with a hint of annoyance at her. "Are you sure you don't want to come with us?"

"Who's 'us'?" Shinn asked warily, turning back to the motorcycle and kneeling down next to it, peering into its innards.

"Meyrin, Vino, Yolant, and me," she said. Shinn stood back up.

"Heine's not coming? Is he too good for us all?" Shinn scoffed.

"He's probably off hitting on Shiho," Luna grumbled. "I don't know what they're doing. But are you sure you don't want to come with us?"

Shinn said nothing for a moment. "Where are you going?"

Luna blinked. "To the city," she said confusedly. "Why, where are you going?"

Shinn climbed onto the motorcycle and glanced at her. "Out."

He moved to drive off, but Luna caught his arm first. He looked back at her, wondering where her concern was coming from.

"Why are you being like this?" she asked. "I mean, you're usually all distant, but this is getting out of hand. What's wrong?"

Shinn looked away. Luna was his friend, whether he liked it or not; he couldn't lie to her all the time.

"That Newtype stuff, about perceiving emotions and all," he began.

"You're still on about that?" Luna asked. "Forget about it, Shinn, it's not real."

Shinn looked back at her with a hint of sorrow in his eyes. "Yes it is."

He revved the engine and took off.

The gyroheli kicked up a cloud of dust as it landed; inside its cockpit, Rey glanced around. This was the island he'd been told to go to, but the person who had told him to come here was nowhere to be found.

"Punctual as always, Rey," a voice Rey knew all too well said. From the shadows emerged a tall figure in a black leather trench coat, with an upturned collar around his long blond hair. Rey's eyes widened at the masked face.

"Rau!" Rey exclaimed, hopping out of the gyroheli's cockpit and throwing his arms around Rau Le Creuset in delight.

"It's been a while, Rey," Rau said with a smile, patting Rey on the back. "I never saw you at Carpentaria."

Rey let go of Rau and looked away sullenly. "My duties on the Minerva and watching over Shinn left me with no time to spare," he explained. Rau chuckled, sliding his gray-gloved hands into his trench coat's pockets.

"Of course," he said. "Taking care of our little Newtype is a fulltime job." He glanced across the ocean, towards the Minerva in the Port Said dock. "You are aware of the Minerva's next assignment, correct?"

Rey shook his head. Rau smiled.

"Across the Mediterranean," he said, nodding in the indicated direction, "on the island of Lodonia, in the Ionian Sea, there's an abandoned Earth Alliance installation. Some ZAFT pilots found it, but an Alliance warship forced them to retreat. The Minerva is going to be sent in to take out the enemy ship and investigate this installation."

"Yes sir," Rey said promptly, saluting. Rau smirked.

"Ensure that Shinn's Newtype senses are sufficiently sensitive for this little experience," he said. "Every Newtype has to go through it at some point. He will be no different."

Rey wavered for a moment; Rau smiled. "Yes sir," Rey finally answered.

Rau turned and looked out at the Minerva.

"It's all for the sake of our little Newtype boy," he said sardonically. "Everything will change, because of him."

The motorcycle was going as fast as it could, but for Shinn Asuka, it wasn't fast enough. Nothing could take him away fast enough from the Minerva, from Heine, from Shiho, from that damned Newtype stuff. He refused to look back; he could not let it haunt him.

He was a Newtype, he was special, he was superior to everyone else, he could understand all their pain and suffering, but he didn't want any of it. A part of his soul had died when his family had died at Orb; now that void was being filled with the grief and suffering of everyone else. He wanted to fight to protect what remained that he still cared about, but now he had even the deaths of his enemies working against him. He had behind him an insufferable squadron commander, a friend who didn't know when to stop prodding him, another friend who was pushing this Newtype theory down his throat, and a new commanding officer who was, at best, a monster. There was nothing left for him to protect; there was no reason for him to fight.

Shinn eased the motorcycle off the road, onto a rocky outcropping overlooking the ocean. It was a peaceful, calm spot, jutting out into uninterrupted nature. Shinn popped out the kickstand and got off, wandering towards the edge and looking at the ocean.

The sound of a girl humming caught his attention; he glanced to his left.

There was indeed a girl on another outcropping not far from Shinn. Shinn looked at her in surprise. She was certainly attractive; she was dancing and humming to herself, her long white skirt billowing around her, her blonde hair flowing in the breeze. Shinn smiled; that was the sort of peacefulness he had left the base to see.

He looked back at the ocean; he'd spent the past few days fighting for his life, fighting and feeling the death he was incurring. And he was still fighting. Everyone was suffering.

Shinn blinked as he realized that the girl wasn't humming anymore. He looked over, but she was gone, and Shinn realized with a sinking feeling what might have happened. "Don't tell me she..."

He looked over the edge; sure enough, the girl was down there, kicking and thrashing in the water.

"She doesn't even know how to swim?!" Shinn exclaimed. He threw off his jacket and shoes and leapt over the edge.

Shinn was barely in the water before he started kicking towards the drowning girl. She was already sinking; Shinn seized her by the waist and tried to kick back to the surface, but she continued to thrash in his arms.

His eyes widened in disbelief as he felt a familiar sensation in the back of his mind. He felt terror, distorted somehow—he felt exactly the same as he did when he fought the Gaia Gundam.

It can't be, he thought. She can't be any older than me! It can't be!

The girl was still struggling in his arms; Shinn narrowed his eyes at her.

Stop struggling! he thought angrily, trying to keep clear of her arms and still pull her back to the surface. At last he managed to maneuver himself behind her, grab her underneath the arms, and kick as fast as his legs could carry him back to the surface.

They broke the surface of the water; the girl screamed in terror, and Shinn absently wondered how she still had enough air left to do so. She struggled to get away from him, and Shinn winced in pain as her fingers slashed across his face, drawing blood and filling the cuts with stinging seawater. He persevered, struggling with her as she tried to get away, pulling her towards the shallows; growing impatient, he picked her up by the armpits and dragged her up into shallower water.

At last, with his strength taxed, he fell to his knees, gasping for breath. The girl was panting and gasping for air, her eyes still wide, and both of them were soaked to the bone.

"Idiot!" Shinn shouted. "What the hell were you thinking?! Do you want to die?!"

The girl looked at him in horror; Shinn blinked, and a moment later, his ears were split by a piercing scream of terror.

The girl fell backwards into the water, staring with horrified eyes at Shinn.

"Stella doesn't wanna die!" she shrieked, backing away from Shinn.

"What—" Shinn started, struggling back to his feet. The girl got back to her feet, stumbling back towards the sea, away from Shinn.

"Stella doesn't wanna die!" she screamed. "Stella's scared!"

"What's wrong?!" Shinn shouted, following her. "Nobody's going to—"

"Stella's scared!" she screamed again, staggering back towards the sea and threatening to go back under the surface.

Shinn lunged at her, seizing her by the waist and pulling her away from the ocean. She thrashed again, trying to break free from Shinn's grasp, but Shinn held her close despite her struggles.

"Stella doesn't wanna die!" she cried, clawing at Shinn again. "Stella's—"

"It's okay!" Shinn shouted back. "You're not going to die!"

The girl blinked again, falling silent.

"You won't die!" Shinn repeated. "I'll protect you!"

Shinn felt her relax in his arms and collapse against him; he let out a sigh of relief, looking at her disbelieving face.

"You'll...protect...?" she asked quietly.

"Yeah," Shinn said breathlessly, "I'll protect you."

"But—" she started.

"Just calm down," Shinn cut her off. "Don't worry. You'll be fine."

She seemed about to speak again, but let out her breath and collapsed again into Shinn's arms. Shinn grunted as he hoisted her back to her feet.

"Come on," he said quietly, "we should find a way back up onto the cliff."

The girl stared at him blankly for a moment. Shinn flipped his soaking hair out of his face and rubbed his cheek testily, wiping the blood off his face.

"You'll...protect Stella," she murmured. Shinn blinked, looking back at her. "But...Neo said...he'd protect Stella..."

"We should get back up on the cliff," Shinn said, taking her by the shoulders and leading her towards the edge of the shallows.

"Neo said he'd protect Stella," the girl murmured, "but...but Neo didn't protect Stella..."

"Is that your name?" Shinn asked, looking over his shoulder at her. "Stella?"

The girl stared at him a moment, before she nodded slowly. Shinn took her by the shoulders and led her along the shallows.

"I'm Shinn," he said.

"Shinn..." Stella repeated blankly.

Shinn looked up at the cliff. There was a slope that they could climb up and get them back to the road; however, Shinn had no idea where Stella had come from, or where to take her back to once he got back to his motorcycle.

"Where's your family, Stella?" he asked, looking back at her as he led her through the shallows.

"...Stella doesn't have a family," she answered blankly. Shinn nodded solemnly and helped her up onto the banks.

He paused, glancing at her foot; there was a long, bleeding cut on her ankle. Shinn stopped her before she could go any further and ripped the edge of his shirt off, tying it around her ankle. She stared at the improvised bandage for a moment, and then looked back at up at Shinn; he smiled back.

"Come on," he said. "We can climb up the slope and get back to the road."

Stella stared blankly at him. "Shinn...protected Stella..."

Shinn took her hand and led her towards the slope. She stared blankly at him as they both walked up the rocks.

"Where should I take you once we get back up there?" Shinn asked. Stella blinked at him.

"Neo didn't protect Stella," she murmured.

Shinn looked back at her, wondering why she was so hung up on the idea of being protected. He remembered the pressure he had felt from her; he wondered if it could really be possible, if this could really be the Gaia's pilot.

"Why didn't Neo protect Stella?" she asked suddenly, grabbing Shinn's shoulder and looking up at him.

"He wasn't here," Shinn said. He led her back up to the road.

Stella stared blinkingly at Shinn.

Sting and Auel sat at a thin metal table in a small cafe, open to the air and the cool ocean breeze. Sting was working diligently at a laptop; Auel was looking annoyed as he sat with crossed arms, staring at the passerby on the street.

"There's no sign of her in the city," Sting grumbled, closing his laptop. "Goddammit, how can she manage to get lost like this?"

"This is Neo's fault for making us take her," Auel snarled. "She would've been safer if we'd left her in the pod."

Sting rubbed his temples in frustration. "Where could she be?"

"She likes the sea," Auel put in scornfully. "Maybe she's there."

Auel and Sting looked at each other for a moment.

"Oh shit," Sting groaned.

"Shit is right," Auel said, standing up. "Come on, let's go. She might not have drowned, yet." Auel hurriedly swept Sting's belongings into his knapsack, as Sting paid the tab. "You know," Auel said, as they rushed out of the cafe and towards Sting's car, "Neo's never gonna let us off for this one?"

Sting leapt over the door and into the driver's seat as Auel jumped in. "She's gonna get us killed one day," he grunted, turning the key.

The car sped off with a screech of tires.

Normally, Shinn would not have been exhausted climbing up a slope. Unfortunately, he had also had to half-drag Stella with him, and that made the task much more difficult. And so, at the top of the slope, next to the road, Shinn panted for breath, wiping the sweat and seawater from his brow. He looked at Stella; she stared back at him with big watery magenta eyes. He shook his head, spraying water everywhere; Stella started to giggle.

Shinn looked back at her, confused; she giggled and shook her head as well; water went everywhere, like a dog shaking itself dry.

Shinn smiled and took her hand, leading her along the road.

She can't be the Gaia's pilot. It's impossible.

"I've got a motorcycle up there," he said, pointing. "I can take you back to the city if you want."

Stella stared blankly at him.

They returned to Shinn's motorcycle; he took a moment to put on his shoes and handed Stella his jacket. Stella stared at it, and then looked back at Shinn. He draped the jacket over her, wondering why she seemed so slow and confused, and climbed onto the motorcycle. "Come on, it won't hurt you. I'll take you back to the city."

Stella reluctantly climbed on and wrapped her arms around Shinn's waist. He glanced over his shoulder at her; as usual, she stared back at him blankly.

Shinn tried not to sigh; he revved the motorcycle's engine and took off down the road.

Stella was trembling; Shinn made his way down the road, feeling thankful that it was deserted, because he and Stella were both still soaking wet and Shinn couldn't think of a convenient method of them both getting dry.

"Where do you want me to take you, Stella?" he asked, glancing over his shoulder at her. Stella said nothing; Shinn repeated his question, but Stella remained silent.

"Stella...Stella should find Sting," she said quietly.

"Is Sting your friend?" Shinn asked. Stella blinked.

"...yeah," she said after a moment, not seeming to understand Shinn's question. He blinked at her in confusion, unable to figure out what was wrong with her. "Stella has to go back to Neo..."

"Who's Neo?" Shinn asked. Stella blinked at him again.

"Neo..." she murmured. "Neo...Neo takes care of Stella," she said blankly. "But...Neo didn't protect Stella..."

Shinn rubbed his cheek again, and wiped the blood off on his sleeve. He would probably have a scar where she had cut him, but he could deal with that later. He squinted up at the end of the road; it ended in a huge suspension bridge that stretched towards the city.

"Where's Sting, then?" Shinn asked, glancing over his shoulder at her. Stella stared back, wide-eyed.

"...Stella doesn't know..." she mumbled. Shinn sighed quietly, returning his eyes to the road. Stella didn't seem to know anything.

Stella was silent for a moment.

"Why did Shinn protect Stella?" she asked suddenly. Shinn blinked and looked back at her in surprise.

"Why shouldn't I have?" he asked back. "You were in trouble. It was the right thing to do."

Stella stared at Shinn for a moment; she smiled and hugged him tightly. "Stella likes Shinn," she said quietly.

Shinn blinked in surprise, blushing faintly as Stella hugged him. He glanced back at her one more time; for the first time since he'd met her, she looked happy.

He shook his head, smiling himself, and took off down the road.

ZAFT battleship Minerva, Port Said Naval Base, Egypt, Muslim League

"Lodonia Island," Arthur read uneasily, glancing between his clipboard and Talia's increasingly irritated face. "Site of an unidentifiable installation, abandoned by appearance and protected by an Earth Alliance Spengler-class carrier and a full complement of Dagger L mobile suits and Spearhead fighters. Discovered during the night by a pair of AWACS DINNs, but the Daggers attacked and forced them to retreat before they could gather any further information." He glanced up at Talia as he paused nervously. "Our orders are to destroy the enemy carrier and investigate the installation."

Talia sat back. "Who are these orders coming from?" she asked.

Arthur consulted his clipboard. "The Chairman himself, ma'am."

Talia closed her eyes in exasperation. "Of course they are," she scoffed. "The Chairman seems to delight in giving us orders." She glanced back down at Arthur. "Are we getting any support?"

Arthur once again consulted his clipboard. "No ma'am," he said, "we will be expected to take out the carrier and the mobile suits on our own."

Talia snorted in disgust. "Because we have Shinn," she said. "Of course. That makes perfect sense." She glanced down at the FAITH badge on her uniform's lapel. "Well, under my authority in FAITH, I could bring another ship with us."

Arthur read the next handful of lines and suddenly looked very crestfallen; Talia arched an inquisitive eyebrow at him.

"The Chairman has ordered that the Minerva take this assignment alone," he said sheepishly, "so as to lower casualties and increase the speed of the operation."

Talia stared ruefully at Arthur for a moment.

"The Chairman—" Arthur began.

"To hell with the Chairman!" Talia interrupted angrily, causing Arthur to squeak in surprise and back away. "The Chairman will get us all killed if we listen to him!"

"But the Chairman ordered—" Arthur started; Talia's flashing eyes cut him short again.

"There has to be another ship around here that we can bring with us to fight," she said. "I am not going to turn Shinn into an attack dog." Arthur blinked in confusion. "Arthur, find us an escort to take with us. I don't care if Shinn has taken out ships singlehandedly before; he is a human being, and even if the Chairman is not willing to respect that, I am."

"But we were the only ZAFT ship to survive the battle at the Suez Canal," Arthur protested meekly. Talia groaned, rubbing her temples in frustration.

"I understand," she said resignedly, standing up and crossing her arms, glaring out the Minerva's bridge windows at the horizon of the Mediterranean Sea. "You're dismissed, Arthur."

"But—" Arthur began to sputter, looking down at his clipboard helplessly.

"You're dismissed, Arthur."

Arthur yelped in surprise, saluted, and scurried out of the bridge. Talia stared ruefully across the Mediterranean, in the general direction of the next port the Minerva would come calling in.

Gilbert...I won't let you do to Shinn what you did to Rey.

Port Said, Egypt, Muslim League

Wind and sun had combined to do a partial job of drying out Shinn and Stella as they sped down the seaside roads. Now Shinn was coasting into the city, still feeling damp but not as badly as before. Stella was silent, staring blankly at everything around them, as Shinn entered the city.

"Where should we start looking for Sting?" Shinn asked, glancing over his shoulder at Stella. She stared back. Shinn glanced around at his surroundings; up ahead, the traffic was grinding to a halt. He could see the olive-brown uniforms of the Muslim League's ground soldiers up ahead; he narrowed his eyes, wondering what was going on.

Stella stared fearfully at the soldiers; Shinn eased the motorcycle out of the flow of traffic and coasted down a side street, hoping to avoid them. He knew he still had his ZAFT identification, which would easily get him past any security the Muslim League troops were setting up, but Stella was just a girl he'd rescued off the coast.

Shinn's heart sank as a trio of soldiers emerged in the road, ordering him to halt. He came to a stop as ordered; the three men gathered around him, rifles drawn.

"Security check," one of them said. "Identification, please."

Shinn uneasily handed over the card in his wallet; the soldier blinked at it for a moment and looked back at Shinn. He handed the card back; his two companions both glanced meaningfully at Stella.

"She'll have to come with us," the leading soldier said, gesturing to Stella as she stared fearfully at them. Shinn glanced over his shoulder at her.

He paused, as he saw terror in Stella's eyes. She stared in horror at the soldiers; they glared back at her.

"What's this all about?" Shinn asked, dismounting the motorcycle and interposing himself between the lead soldier and Stella.

"There have been reports of Alliance agents in the city," the soldier said. "She has no identification; she'll have to come with us for questioning."

Shinn looked back at Stella. "You think she's a spy?!" he asked incredulously. "She's just a little girl! Who the hell told you she's a spy?!"

The other two soldiers raised their rifles, jabbing Stella off the motorcycle; she gasped in horror as one of them grabbed her by the arm to pull her away.

"Shinn!" she cried; Shinn clenched his teeth angrily and glared back at the leading soldier.

"Let her go!" Shinn shouted. "I've been with her all day, she hasn't done anything wrong!"

"We can't verify that," the soldier said, "so we must—"

He never said anything more; Shinn swept the legs out from underneath him, seizing his rifle and bashing him in between the eyes with the stock. The soldiers pulling Stella away turned in surprise; Shinn darted at them, smashing one of them in the side of the head with the side of the gun. The last soldier raised his own rifle, but never managed to fire a shot; Shinn lunged at him, diving past him, and took him down with a heavy blow to the back of the head. He dropped the rifle on the soldier's body and looked at Stella. "Let's go," he said, "before they wake up."

Stella watched numbly; Shinn pulled her back onto the motorcycle and took off.

"Shinn," she murmured, as Shinn wound his way through side streets and alleys, "Shinn protected Stella..."

"You can't be an Alliance spy," Shinn said. "It's impossible. There's no reason for them to question you."

He resolutely stared at the road; she couldn't be an Alliance spy, she couldn't be the Gaia's pilot, it just wasn't possible. The pressure he had felt from her was a fluke; he had to have misinterpreted it. Stella was too gentle and confused to be a soldier.

He glanced back at Stella again; she was smiling.

She couldn't be a soldier.

"Whoever did this," Sting said, surveying the three unconscious solders, "sure knew what they were doing."

Auel crossed his arms, looking at them from his spot next to the car. "Maybe it was Stella."

Sting stood up and cast a wary glance down the street. "They're looking for Alliance spies," he said dourly. "We'd better hurry up and find Stella. She won't last long on her own."

They both climbed into the car; Sting drove carefully down the side streets, heading back towards one of the main roads.

"What if somebody said her block word?" Auel said with a hint of foreboding in his voice. "Maybe they found her and took her in somewhere."

"Then we'll have to find out," Sting said. He blinked and looked up ahead.

A red motorcycle passed by up ahead; on it was a boy with black hair, but sitting behind him, staring blankly at him, was the familiar figure of Stella Loussier.

Sting didn't wait for Auel to say anything; he took off after the motorcycle, following them closely. On the motorcycle, Stella looked slowly over her shoulder.

"Sting..." she murmured. Shinn glanced over behind him, and pulled over to the side of the road.

"That's Sting?" he asked, helping Stella off onto the sidewalk. Sting parked next to the sidewalk; Stella nodded slowly as Sting and Auel approached.

"Stella," Sting said. "We've been looking for you. Let's go back."

Stella looked hesitantly at Sting, and then back at Shinn.

"You said you had to go back with him," Shinn said. He looked into Stella's wide eyes.

"...but...Stella will miss Shinn..." she said quietly. Shinn smiled.

"I'll come see you again," he said, "after the war's over."

Stella stared blinkingly at him. "After...the war's over...?"

Shinn took her hand. "I promise."

"...promise..." Stella stared down at his hand in hers. "Promise..."

"Come on," Auel said, taking her by the shoulders. He blinked in surprise. "Why are you all wet?"

"She was drowning," Shinn explained quietly, looking up at Sting and Auel. "I saved her."

Sting gently pulled Stella away. "I see," he said. "Thank you." He looked back at Stella. "We should get going."

"...okay..." Stella murmured quietly, as Sting led her back to the car. She looked over at Shinn.

Sting ushered her into the car; they drove off without a word. Shinn watched them go, the pressure still on his mind.

"It's not possible," he told himself as he got back on the motorcycle. "She can't be the Gaia's pilot. She's just a little girl."

He scowled as he headed off into the city.

ZAFT battleship Minerva

Shiho was working on the Savior's operating system when he arrived, unannounced as always. She looked up disdainfully as Heine Westenfluss hopped off the loading gantry and onto the Savior's hatch.

"So this is where you hide out," he said with a sarcastic smile. "It's not good to be hiding from the rest of your team."

Shiho cast him a weary glance. "I have work to do on the Savior's OS," she said, hoping he would pick up the hint.

He didn't. "That's why we have these mechanics running around everywhere," he said, gesturing to the green figures down below. "Like that kid with the orange hair. What's his name? Wino?"

"Vino," Shiho corrected, looking back down at the Savior's instruments, but knowing it would be futile to work with Heine distracting her.

"Well as long as I'm here, I want to be able to get along with my teammates," he said, taking on a somewhat offended air. Shiho glared up at him this time.

"Getting into pissing contests with Shinn won't help, then," she said distastefully. "I normally don't do this, but on this issue I will side with Shinn. Your actions at the Suez Canal were uncalled for."

Heine scowled. "This is war," he said. "Our entire purpose of being here is to kill enough Naturals to convince the rest to leave us alone."

Shiho returned to work, scowling. "They already think we're out to destroy them," she growled. "Let's not give them anymore reason to believe so, alright?" She sat back, glaring back up at Heine. "At any rate, we are only here because the Alliance declared war on us and we are fighting back. We are not here to wipe out the Naturals."

Heine sniffed the air dismissively. "You're too narrow-minded, Shiho," he said. "Who's been the source of all our problems? The Naturals. The Naturals declared war on is in '71. The Naturals nuked Junius 7. The Naturals used that damnable Cyclops System on us at Alaska. The Naturals nuked Boaz. The Naturals tried to nuke us after the Junius 7 drop. When have we ever been the aggressor?"

"Exactly," Shiho said. "We're never the aggressor. So us massacring Naturals makes us no better than Naturals massacring us."

Heine snorted disgustedly. "Attitudes like that will get us all destroyed," he snarled, as he hopped back on the gantry and stalked away.

Shiho sighed in frustration and got back to work.

Atlantic Federation battleship Girty Lue, near Port Said

The office was dark, except for a single light from a single screen; the shadows fell eerily over Neo Roanoke's masked face as he read with interest the words ticking by on the screen.

Well now...I guess our little ambush for the Minerva will have to be scrubbed, he thought amusedly. A wicked smile spread over his face. This is much more interesting.

To be continued...