Phase 14 - To Do What is Right

Mobile Suit Gundam SEED DESTINY

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Phase 14 - To Do What is Right

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November 1st, CE 73 - Athens Naval Installation, Greece, Eurasian Federation

展hat do you mean 層e池e going to wait?!樗 Sting screamed.

He stood on the Girty Lue痴 deck, staring furiously at Neo. Auel was at his side, looking just as outraged. Lee was nearby as well, and the crews working feverishly on the Girty Lue痴 repairs stopped their work to stare in surprise.

的 mean what I said, Neo said, one hand on his hip condescendingly. 典he reports indicate that the Minerva has returned to Port Said. We have no hope of attacking a base of that size by ourselves. We will have to try a different approach to get Stella back.

滴ow can you say that?! Auel shouted. 展e池e not leaving her behind!

的t痴 too dangerous to leave her there! Sting added furiously. 典hey値l tear her apart!

As Neo stood there, calmly weathering a storm of verbal abuse from Sting and Auel, Lee looked away. He remembered his encounter with Stella on the Girty Lue痴 deck at Yokosuka Naval Station. She was a simple, kind little girl who liked the sea. She had no business being on the battlefield at all, let alone as a prisoner.

He looked at Neo. 鼎olonel, he said, 鉄ting and Auel raise valid points. We have to do something to get Stella back. If we leave her in ZAFT痴 hands, then ZAFT will know much more about the Extended than they would have had they just discovered Lodonia.

Neo glanced distastefully at Lee. 鉄o now you池e on their side too? he asked scornfully. 擢ine. I値l get a carrier and some mobile suits. We値l go after them. He scowled. 釘ut don稚 hold your breath.

Lee didn稚 miss a beat. 的 never do.

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

Shinn had become a fixture in the Minerva's sickbay; every moment he had to spare was spent at Stella's side, though she was rarely cognizant enough to realize he was there. She had calmed down by now, but this was hardly good news; she was dying. Even Shinn could see that. At nights, when the medical staff ushered him out of the sickbay and all but injected him with tranquilizers to make him sleep, Shinn spent his nights going over the information ZAFT had obtained about the Extended until Rey finally got irritated enough to swiftly force a sedative down his throat and knock him out.

The nurses were frantic when Shinn entered the sickbay; Stella's vital signs were dropping. Shinn looked around in a panic; the head doctor shouted orders to the medical staff. At the center of the commotion, Stella lay deathly still; Shinn痴 eyes widened in disbelief. She couldn稚 be taken from him; not now.

Shinn couldn稚 bear to watch them jabbing Stella with needles and injecting chemicals into her; he turned away and tried to shut out the sounds. Once again he felt the pressure; Stella was afraid, but this was a vague, confused fear, as if she was sure that there was something around her to be afraid of, but she wasn稚 sure what.

Shinn waited painfully until the medics had stabilized her condition. He approached cautiously, as the medics cleaned everything up, frustrated.

鉄hinn... she whispered, cracking open her eyes to stare painfully at him. 鉄hinn...said he壇...protect...Stella...

Shinn felt his eyes fill with tears. 的 know, Stella, he choked out.

Stella痴 hand took his weakly. 鉄hinn...promised...

Shinn looked into her eyes; the light in them was fading away. Her eyes were slowly being surrounded by dark rings; her breath was still shallow and labored.

的知 sorry, Stella, he whispered, on the verge of tears. 釘ut...but I don稚 know what to do.

...Shinn... she breathed. She closed her eyes and laid back; Shinn痴 eyes widened in horror, but a moment later he realized that she had simply gone to sleep.

鉄hinn, one of the nurses said gently, taking him by the shoulder and pulling him away from Stella痴 bed. 添ou should leave. We値l need to perform surgery to keep her stable.

展hat? Shinn asked with a gasp. The head doctor turned from a cabinet, as he donned a pair of surgical gloves.

展e致e been ordered to keep her as stable as possible for as long as possible, he explained. 的 wouldn稚 be able to explain the specifics right now. However, for Stella痴 sake, I値l have to ask you to leave the room for the operation.

Shinn glanced back hesitantly at Stella, before he looked down sullenly at the floor and ducked out of the room.

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Athens Naval Station, Greece, Eurasian Federation

Neo Roanoke was shaken out of his sleep by the sound of explosions. He donned his mask and staggered up to the window of his room aboard the Girty Lue耀moke was rising from the ship. He angrily activated the intercom to the bridge. Lee was already there, looking stressed.

鏑ee! What the hell was that?! Neo exclaimed. Lee looked tiredly at him.

鉄ting and Auel just launched, he said.

WHAT?! Neo screamed. 鉄top them!

典hey致e already blasted their way out, and they池e threatening to shoot down any mobile suits we send after them, Lee responded. Neo growled in rage, pounding his fist against the wall.

展hat the hell do they think they池e doing?! he snarled. Lee paused for a moment.

典hey said they池e going to rescue Stella, Lee said.

Neo blinked in disbelief for a moment.

典hose fools! he exclaimed. 典hey can稚 get her out of Port Said! They won稚 even get close! What were those idiots thinking? He slammed his fist against the wall again. 展e can稚 launch anything to pursue them?!

哲o sir, Lee said, 渡one of our mobile suits are operational.

Neo stared out the window furiously.

How the hell did they get so rebellious...?

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Mediterranean Sea

哲eo痴 gonna kick our asses for this when we get back, Auel warned; the Abyss Gundam streaked along the water, with the Chaos flying next to it. Sting glanced warily at Auel.

鉄ince when did you care what Neo thinks? he asked with a smirk.

的 don稚, Auel said, sounding slightly offended. 的 mean, I知 totally on your side with this. But, y談now, he痴 still gonna be pissed.

哲eo can go to hell, Sting snorted. 的f he isn稚 gonna do anything to get Stella back, then we will.

笛ust fair warning, Auel said. 鉄o what痴 our plan?

添ou attack the Minerva underwater, Sting instructed with a hint of authority. 典he Abyss is designed for that. I値l distract their mobile suits in the air.

釘y yourself? Auel asked, arching an eyebrow.

的値l manage, Sting said dismissively. 笛ust make it quick. Get onto the Minerva, find Stella, and get out.

徹kay, Auel said with a sigh. 擢uck, Neo should be the one doing this. Stella always thought he壇 protect her.

的f Neo won稚 protect Stella, we will, Sting said. Someone will protect her. She痴 owed that much. Auel glanced inquisitively at Sting. 添ou remember, on Lodonia, don稚 you?

滴ow could I not? Auel growled, clenching his fists around the Abyss痴 controls.

展e both remember, Sting hissed. 鉄he was just an innocent little girl, all she wanted was to be hanging out by the sea, she just didn稚 want to die...so they took her and...you remember, that night, don稚 you?

Auel痴 face darkened. 的 know, he said dourly. 鉄he was gone for six months, and when they brought her back... He trailed off.

典hey raped us, Sting snarled. 典hey took us, they violated us, they altered us. I won稚 forgive them for it. Someday I値l pay them back for it.

Auel glanced at Sting. 展hat do you mean?

Sting clenched his teeth angrily. 添ou remember, he said, 殿ll the training, all the classes, all the surgeries and therapies. I remember. They turned us into their little war machines, and there痴 nothing we can do about it now. The most we can do is stick together and wait until the time comes when we can fight back against the bastards that did this to us.

Auel said nothing.

填ntil then, Sting said, 努e have to stand by each other. It痴 the only way we値l ever eventually be free and get to lead the lives we want.

哲o we can稚, Auel said quietly. Sting glanced at him in surprise. 的 mean...we池e Extended.

鉄o? Sting asked.

展e値l never stop being Extended, Auel added. 展e値l always have it, we値l always have the modifications and the block words. We can稚 leave it behind.

哲o, we can稚, Sting agreed solemnly. 釘ut we値l make the most of our lives anyways, even if we are Extended. No asshole with a bucket on his head will control us forever.

Auel smirked. 的 like the way you think, Sting.

Sting smirked back. 湯Course you do. Now let痴 go rescue Stella.

The Abyss and the Chaos took off.

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

The wailing alarm was cutting into Shinn痴 mind like a knife as he strapped himself into the Core Splendor痴 cockpit, not even bothering with his flight suit. The bridge reported that two mobile suits were approaching; Shinn silently swore to himself that he would protect the Minerva at all costs. He could not let Stella die.

鉄hinn Asuka, Core Splendor, going out!

The Force Impulse formed in the night sky and took off towards the horizon before the Savior Gundam and GOUF Ignited had a chance to launch. Shinn glanced over his shoulder distastefully at them; two FAITH members hanging over his head.

Far ahead, inside the Chaos, Sting narrowed his eyes at the Impulse.

的t痴 the combiner, he growled.

典he bastard who took Stella! Auel exclaimed. 的値l tear his fucking head off!

典hat痴 my job, Sting said quickly. 添our job is to get her back.

Auel paused for a moment. 迭ight, he said resignedly. 添ou have fun, then. The Abyss transformed to its mobile armor mode and dove underwater.

Inside the Impulse, Shinn raised his beam rifle, aiming at the Chaos Gundam. He sneered at his opponent.

添ou won稚 lay a finger on the Minerva, he snarled. 的値l make sure of it!

The Chaos fired a storm of missiles; Shinn scowled and cut them down with a CIWS burst. A cloud of smoke rose up in front of him; the Chaos dove through it with a beam rifle barrage, pounding its shots against the Impulse痴 shield. Shinn cursed under his breath and dove to his right, dodging the Chaos as it stormed forward, its beam claws ignited. As the Chaos turned back towards the Impulse, the GOUF charged towards the Chaos with its beam sword raised.

哲ow I致e got you! Heine cried. Sting glared back at the GOUF.

哲o you don稚! he shouted. The Chaos fired its booster, diving up over the GOUF痴 head; Heine痴 eyes widened in disbelief

The GOUF shuddered as Sting sliced its right arm off at the shoulder and right leg at the knee. With a final kick to the side, the GOUF went tumbling into the ocean.

滴eine! Shiho exclaimed; the Savior darted across the sky in mobile armor mode, opening fire on the Chaos. Sting twisted out of the path of its shots and fired back with a beam cannon barrage of his own; the Savior transformed to mobile suit mode to deflect the Chaos痴 shots with its shield.

展here did he come from?! Shiho grunted as the Savior rattled. She raised her beam rifle to return fire, but the Chaos showered missiles on her before she could pull the trigger. As she cut the missiles down with her CIWS, she saw Shinn charge at the Chaos, beam rifle blazing.

添ou won稚 touch Stella! Shinn screamed, ramming into the Chaos with his shield and forcing the Chaos aside. The Chaos slammed the Impulse in the stomach with its own shield and boosted away, firing its beam rifle.

鉄hinn! Shoot at him from below! Shiho shouted, as she transformed the Savior back to mobile armor mode. She took off into the sky, lining up for a shot from the Savior痴 cannons

The Savior rocked violently as a flurry of beam cannon shots blew off its cannons and one of its legs, knocking it out of the sky with a trail of smoke. Shiho stared in disbelief at the water as the Abyss Gundam burst out of the ocean, shoulder shells open.

鄭uel! Sting shouted. 添ou池e supposed to be attacking the Minerva!

典hey closed off the port! Auel yelled back; he opened fire with a beam cannon blaze on the Impulse, as it dove out of the way. 的 guess we値l both take out that combining motherfucker!

Sting fired off another missile salvo; Shinn snarled under his breath, glancing over his shoulder at the Savior as it splashed down helplessly in the water. He dove towards the ocean surface, dodging the Abyss痴 beam shots and letting the Chaos痴 missiles slam into the water.

添ou damned Alliance bastards! Shinn screamed, twisting out of the way of another volley from the Abyss. The Abyss charged in, beam lance drawn back; Shinn kicked it in the face before it could swing, but up above the Chaos dropped in on him with beam saber drawn. Shinn deflected its saber stroke with his shield and drew his own saber, swinging back葉he Abyss痴 lance blocked his saber blow, and the three mobile suits were left helplessly pushing against each other.

滴e痴 not budging! Auel shouted.

展e can稚 keep this up forever! Sting shouted. 典he base will be sending more mobile suits soon!

The Impulse jetted away from the Chaos and Abyss and charged again.

添ou go after Stella! Sting shouted. 的値l take him on!

The Chaos boosted towards the Impulse, brandishing its beam saber; both mobile suits met in a shower of sparks. The Abyss turned and rocketed towards the dock, wielding its beam lance. Shinn narrowed his eyes at the Abyss.

的 won稚 let you! he shouted.

The Impulse somersaulted over the Chaos痴 head, kicking it in the back and knocking it towards the ocean. Shinn fired the Impulse痴 booster at maximum, drawing his beam saber back. The Abyss turned around in surprise; Shinn screamed, and the Impulse slammed into the Abyss with its shield, knocking it forward and into the water. He raised his saber for a killing blow; the Chaos dove into the fray and blocked Shinn痴 finishing swing.

泥amn you both! Shinn screamed. 展hy won稚 you die already?!

鄭uel, are you alright?! Sting shouted. Auel grunted angrily as the Abyss righted itself. 展e値l both take out the combiner and then we値l get Stella!

典his asshole is DEAD! Auel screamed, charging at the Impulse with his lance drawn. Shinn narrowed his eyes at the Abyss as it stormed towards him.

The Impulse kicked the Chaos痴 arm aside; Sting grunted in surprise as the Chaos went staggering back. Shinn charged through the opening right into the Abyss痴 face. Before Auel knew it, the Impulse had rammed him again with its shield, throwing him back again.

The Chaos dropped in with its beam saber raised; Shinn deflected its blow and kicked it in the stomach, sending it back again.

滴e just won稚 fall! Sting growled as he regained his balance. He glanced anxiously over his shoulder; there were mobile suits launching from the base.

展e池e not done yet! Auel cried; the Abyss charged with a beam cannon volley. Shinn leapt over its shots, dodging the Abyss痴 finishing lance thrust, and charged at the Abyss痴 exposed back. Sting launched a volley of missiles at the Impulse, cutting it off; Shinn charged instead at the Chaos, swiping at it with his beam saber as he chased it into the air.

展e池e not leaving yet! Auel shouted, firing a beam cannon volley after the Impulse. 展e won稚 leave until we get Stella!

Missiles and machinegun fire began to pelt the Chaos and Abyss; inside the Chaos, Sting grunted in surprise, pulling away from the Impulse behind his shield.

典hey launched reinforcements, he growled. 泥oes this mean we... He shook his head. 展e can稚...but we have no choice!

He glanced down at the Abyss as it pulled back behind its shoulder shells.

鼎ome on, Auel! he said. 展e池e going back!

What?! Auel exclaimed. 釘ut we didn稚濫

的 said come on! Sting shouted. 展e値l just die here, and that won稚 help Stella at all!

The Abyss took two more missile hits before it rocketed off towards the horizon. Sting gave the Impulse a final glare and took off after the Abyss.

Inside the Impulse, Shinn watched the Chaos and Abyss retreat, breathing heavily.

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Djibril Manor, Vermont, Atlantic Federation

Lord Djibril was furious.

He stood in his screening room, clenching his fists furiously, staring at the screen and the face of Neo Roanoke upon it.

滴ow could you let one of our Extended get captured?! he shouted. 摘specially a Class III like Stella! Do you have any idea how much modification went into her?!

添es, Lord Djibril, Neo said tiredly. 滴owever, the Minerva captured her and it痴 in Port Said right now.

擢ool! Djibril roared. 展e can稚 let ZAFT have any information about the Extended! God knows what they値l do with it! And this is even after you let them get to Lodonia, and get away! Incompetent fool!

鏑ord Djibril, Neo began, 的 was stopped by factors outside my control濫

泥on稚 give me that! Djibril cut him off, with a furious sweep of his hands. 添ou were amply supplied! You had a next generation mobile suit, you had three ZAFT prototypes, and you had six Special Forces mobile suits! Ten mobile suits against the MinervaFIVE! Must you make me regret finding you and rehabilitating you, Phantom Pain?!

Neo clenched his teeth angrily.

迭ecover Stella at once! Djibril shouted. 纏AFT already has the lab at which we produced the Extended! They cannot be allowed to have a live Extended as well! Recover her IMMEDIATELY!

鏑ord Djibril, Stella is as good as gone! Neo protested. 鉄he痴 on a ZAFT ship deep inside an enemy base! We壇 have to mount a major campaign to be in any position to recover her!

Djibril purpled. 添ou incompetent fool! he roared. 哲o Extended is 疎s good as gone! Have you any idea how much work goes into even a Class I Extended?! Stella took fifteen years to fully develop and mature! And even then, she required enough modification and indoctrination to make her a Class III! We can稚 replace Extended the same way we can replace regular cannon fodder! Extended take time to cultivate! We cannot allow even one to be 組iven up! Now recover her at once!

Neo gritted his teeth. 添es sir, he said resignedly, saluting. The screen went dark.

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November 2nd, CE 73 - ZAFT battleship Minerva, Port Said Naval Base, Egypt, Muslim League

The infirmary door closed, and Shinn glanced disdainfully over his shoulder. Once again the nurses had kicked him out, though he figured this time they had just gotten sick of him. He knew they wouldn稚 let him back in, so he sullenly decided to head back to his room.

He paused at a corner as he heard the voices of Captain Gladys and the head doctor.

展hat do you mean 壮elf-destructing? Talia asked.

釘ased on the information you provided to me, and my own research in treating Stella, the doctor explained, 的 have determined that the Extended are reliant on a particular person that is demarcated as a 叢sychological benefactor. They essentially control the Extended subject. And it seems as if the Extended are, ah, 叢rogrammed, you could say, to automatically shut down their bodily functions in the event of being separated for too long from their benefactor.

鄭nd that痴 what痴 happening now? Talia asked grimly.

典he 'self-destruct' takes time, so as to provide a window of opportunity for the subject's rescue and recovery, but that appears to be the case," the doctor said.

Shinn痴 eyes widened in horror; he remembered the name Neo.

鼎an you reverse the process? Talia asked.

的t doesn稚 appear so, the doctor said dourly. 典he best we can do is slow the process of organic shutdown, but we can only do this for so long. She will probably die soon; the only way my research shows that we can save her is to give her back to the Alliance and put her back under the auspices of her psychological benefactor.

典hat痴 not an option, Talia said solemnly. 的致e received orders from the Chairman about her.

Shinn felt his blood run cold. Even Gilbert was in on this.

典he Chairman wants her kept alive as long as possible, so that he can use her to justify continuing the war effort, Talia said, with a hint of distaste in her voice that went unnoticed by a horrified Shinn. 滴e is having trouble keeping the Supreme Council behind the war. He痴 planning an attack on Arzachel Crater to finish it all, but support is waning. He believes the Extended would bolster support for the war.

典hen what are we to do about Stella? the doctor asked.

Talia was silent a moment. 泥oes Shinn visit her often? she asked at last.

展henever he has time, the doctor responded. Talia sighed quietly.

泥on稚 tell him, then, she said. 滴e痴 already attached to her; knowing this would only hurt him.

的 understand, the doctor said. 展e値l keep her alive for as long as we can.

Shinn heard no more, as he turned and ran down the opposite way, tears stinging his eyes.

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Atlantic Federation battleship Girty Lue, Athens Naval Base, Greece, Eurasian Federation

The deck of the Spengler-class carrier John Paul Jones was silent. Sting stood defiantly before Neo, glaring at him. Neo had his arms crossed in frustration.

的f you池e going to punish either of us, Sting said challengingly, 鍍hen punish me. It was my idea.

Neo glanced to his left; Lee stood impassively by, watching everything.

展hat the hell were you thinking? Neo asked. 添ou knew you couldn稚 get her back. Even now, we won稚 be able to get Stella back, even with this force; we池e only doing it because I知 under strict orders to do so. What made you think you could pull it off?

Sting said nothing. Behind him, Auel glared pugnaciously at Neo.

Neo shook his head angrily. 添ou should have known, he said, 鍍hat this would be a f濫

No! Lee interjected loudly, drowning out Neo痴 voice. All eyes turned towards him; Neo uncrossed his arms, turning in surprise on Lee. 添ou are too quick to use their block words, Colonel, Lee added, staring resolutely at Neo. 鄭lthough their actions were unauthorized, they also damaged two of the Minerva痴 mobile suits badly enough to ensure that we will not face them in this engagement. This makes our job easier.

Neo glowered at Lee. 的 would致e just erased all their memories of Stella and had done with it if it hadn稚 meant keeping them in the pods for a week, he snapped. 展hy are you siding with them now, Lee?

Lee straightened up. 的 have learned from my mistakes in the past, he said plainly. 的 commanded a ship with Extended on board. I treated the Extended like weapons, just as you do. Their conditioning failed, and they rebelled and nearly destroyed my ship. Now here I am, once again commanding a ship with Extended on board. I will not make the mistake of mistreating the ship痴 mobile suit pilots again.

Neo snarled under his breath and stalked away; Lee glanced at Sting and Auel, staring at him in surprise.

添our actions were unauthorized, though, he added quietly. 的 do not recommend doing it again.

展hy are you sticking up for us? Sting asked warily. Lee turned to leave.

添ou are part of my vessel痴 crew, he explained quietly. 的 will not allow any members of my crew to be abused by anyone, be they subordinates or superiors. He paused, turning around to face them again. 的f you like, you can think of me as your father.

擢ather? Auel echoed. Lee gave them a curt salute; Sting blinked in surprise and returned it. Lee glanced at Auel; he saluted as well, and Lee allowed himself a small smile.

添ou池e not normal soldiers, he said. 鉄o I can稚 treat you like normal soldiers. He turned again to leave. 展e will likely be reaching Port Said soon. Go prepare your mobile suits.

迭-Right, Sting said, watching as Lee walked away.

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ZAFT battleship Minerva, Port Said, Egypt, Muslim League

Rey found Shinn on the Minerva's deck, staring angrily at the setting sun. He was giving off waves of anger and frustration and helplessness; Rey steeled himself and approached.

鉄hinn, he began.

Shinn glanced back at him and returned his gaze to the sun.

鉄tella痴 going to die, Shinn said quietly. Rey came up beside Shinn, and noticed the streaks of tears on his face, over the three scars Stella had left.

的t is inevitable, Rey said calmly. 滴uman beings cannot withstand so much modification after they have been born.

典hat doesn稚 make it right, Shinn snarled. 摘veryone痴 just going to let her die.

展hat else can be done? Rey asked. Shinn curled his fists angrily around the railing.

添ou didn稚 hear, then? Shinn asked, finally glancing back at Rey; Rey eyed Shinn carefully, noticing the hatred burning in his eyes. 典he Chairman痴 already heard that Stella痴 on the ship.

Rey痴 face did not betray his surprise, or the warning bell going off in the back of his mind.

典he Chairman wants to use Stella for propaganda, Shinn snarled. 典he only way to save her would be to give her back to the Alliance, but they池e just going to let her die. She痴 been forced into the war against her will, she痴 a human weapon who never wanted to go out and fight, she痴 so gentle and harmless when she痴 not scared, but the Chairman would rather let her die so that he can escalate the war than let her live.

的f she went back to the Alliance, she would just end up fighting again, Rey pointed out.

鄭t least she would get to live! Shinn shouted, turning to face Rey angrily. 鄭t least she would have a chance! She won稚 have any chance if she dies!

He stared angrily at Rey for a moment and turned back towards the sun.

溺y family died because I couldn稚 protect them, Shinn growled, gripping the railing furiously. 哲ow Stella wants me to protect her. Should I just let her die, Rey?!

Rey stiffened. 展e are soldiers, Shinn, he said. 的t is not our place to judge the Chairman壮 actions.

Shinn turned his blazing eyes on Rey, and for a moment, Rey almost felt his blood chill.

典he Chairman relies on you, Rey continued. 添ou will be the one to create his new world. You must trust his judgment.

Shinn turned around in fury, staring at Rey with burning eyes. He was trembling with rage, but couldn稚 bring himself to speak. At last he turned and ran away, into the ship.

Rey watched him go, his face impassive.

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The infirmary door opened with its familiar hiss; with her back to the door as she worked, the nurse on duty sighed.

釘ack again, Shinn? she asked. 的t痴 so late.

She turned around; Shinn slammed his arm into her stomach, and she slumped against him into unconsciousness. Shinn set her down against the wall and set to work untangling Stella from the jungle of IV tubes and wires attached to her.

鉄hinn... she murmured. Shinn looked at her face; she was truly dying now. Her body was deteriorating; she was sweating and trembling, her eyes were dim and unfocused.

的t痴 me, Stella, he said, touching her cheek gently. 的知 getting you out of here. I値l take you back to Neo.

...Shinn...said he壇...protect...Stella... she whispered painfully.

的 know, Stella, Shinn said, tears in his eyes. 的知 taking you back to Neo. He felt a burst of pain rising up in his heart, but forced it down with sheer willpower. 的t will make you get better. I値l protect you.

Stella said no more, but she was still alive; Shinn finished unhooking her IVs and lifted her up in his arms. She was limp and languid; Shinn looked at her face in pain for a moment. A fire of determination rose up through him; he narrowed his eyes and took off out of the infirmary.

The halls of the Minerva were eerily silent in the middle of the night, as Shinn sprinted towards the hangar. In the midst of a military base belonging to a friendly nation, the Minerva痴 own security forces were taking a break, as were the exhausted repair crews. Nonetheless, Shinn took the most secretive ways he could think of to the Impulse痴 hangar. He could not afford to be caught; he would not be stopped.

Shinn raced into the Impulse痴 hangar, shutting the access hatches behind him. He paused at the side of the Core Splendor痴 lift, his fingers flying over the catapult痴 manual launch system. Once he had it configured, he leapt into the Core Splendor痴 cockpit and started it up, Stella still in his arms, curled up against him.

鉄hinn...will protect...Stella... she murmured.

典hat痴 right, Shinn said gently. 笛ust hold on a little longer.

The intelligence reports had said that Bogey 1 had docked at Athens; Shinn would take Stella there under a white flag. The Core Splendor shuddered as the lift rose; by now the Minerva crew was beginning to wonder why the Impulse was launching, but it was too late to stop him now. Shinn refused to be stopped; he would deliver Stella back to the Alliance, no matter what the cost.

The lift stopped; the catapult activated; Shinn narrowed his eyes.

滴ang on, Stella, he whispered.

The Core Splendor took off with a roar.

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展hy is the Impulse launching?! Arthur cried in a panic, standing on the Minerva痴 bridge and watching helplessly as the Force Impulse Gundam formed in front of the Minerva. 鼎aptain! What痴 going on?!

Talia stood at the back of the bridge, her uniform collar still unbuttoned, watching as the Impulse took off. Shinn was leaving; Stella was undoubtedly with him.

Maybe, she thought ruefully, this is for the best.

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Shinn watched his sensors carefully; there was an object that looked like a carrier up ahead. Down below, he could see the Chaos and Abyss Gundams standing on its deck. He closed his eyes; there was pressure down there, a pressure he had felt before. He mentally crossed his fingers, praying it was Neo. He keyed in the most general frequency he knew, and broadcast it to the carrier.

摘arth Alliance carrier, he said, his voice quavering as he looked at Stella, 的 have Stella with me. Clear a path for me.

On Shinn痴 screen, the face of a masked man in a black Alliance uniform appeared. Shinn blinked at him.

哲eo... Stella murmured.

Neo stared at Shinn emotionlessly for a moment. 添ou have Stella, he said. 添ou are returning her?

Shinn nodded wordlessly.

典hen what are your terms for giving her back? Neo asked carefully. Shinn glanced at Stella again.

鏑et me leave once I致e given her back, Shinn said. Neo stared at him for a moment; Shinn stared back. He could not be unnerved now; he silently prayed that Neo would accept the deal, for Stella痴 sake.

天ery well, Neo said simply. The screen went dark.

The Impulse landed and crouched on the deck of the Alliance carrier; Shinn opened the hatch, holding Stella, and looked down at the deck. Armed Alliance soldiers were everywhere, staring expectantly at him. Down below was Neo, watching Shinn carefully. Shinn steeled himself and lowered himself on the zip line, holding onto Stella tightly.

Neo approached Shinn slowly. Shinn stared back at him carefully.

展ait, Shinn said; Neo paused. 的...I want you to promise me...that you値l protect her. Neo began to walk towards Shinn again; he backed away, holding Stella possessively. The soldiers raised their rifles. 撤romise me! Shinn said, glaring at Neo.

Neo paused a moment. 的値l promise you, he said. The soldiers let their rifles fall.

Shinn looked at Stella. 哲eo's here, he said. 滴e値l make you get better.

...but...Neo...didn稚 protect...Stella... she whispered.

Neo took Stella from Shinn痴 arms gently. He backed away a step and looked down at Shinn inquisitively.

的 never would have expected you to come, he said.

Shinn glanced forlornly at Stella. 典ake care of her, he said. He turned to return to the Impulse; he blinked, pausing in surprise, as he was suddenly blocked by two more figures.

Shinn痴 eyes widened in surprise as he found himself face to face with Sting and Auel.

添-You池e! he began.

典he Impulse痴 pilot! Auel exclaimed. 的t痴 you! The guy who was with Stella in Port Said!

添ou池e Alliance soldiers! Shinn said disbelievingly.

Sting interposed himself between Shinn and Auel. 添ou seem to be Stella痴 knight in shining armor, he said. 典his is the second time you致e saved her life. He paused, and extended his hand. 典hank you.

Shinn stared at his hand for a moment and shook it uneasily. Sting wordlessly stepped aside, pulling Auel with him; Auel glared suspiciously at Shinn.

Shinn returned to the Impulse痴 zip line. He looked over his shoulder at Stella; she stared back at him. Shinn痴 eyes filled with tears as he jumped back into the Impulse痴 cockpit and took off.

The Impulse took off into the horizon. Stella watched it go.

...Shinn...

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To be continued...