Phase 15 - Soldier of Sorrow

Mobile Suit Gundam SEED DESTINY

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Phase 15 - Soldier of Sorrow

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November 3rd, CE 73 - ZAFT battleship Minerva, Port Said Naval Base, Egypt, Muslim League

Armed ZAFT soldiers were there to greet Shinn when the Impulse landed in the Minerva痴 hangar. Shinn did not bother resisting when they handcuffed him and led him away; he did not care. The crew he passed stared in disbelief at him as the guards led him through the hallways, towards the captain痴 office.

He passed Rey; Rey watched Shinn walk by impassively, and Shinn didn稚 spare Rey a glance. Rey was the Chairman痴 soldier; he would not understand.

The guards ushered him into Talia痴 office; Talia was there, behind her desk, with Arthur standing behind her. Shinn was led into a chair; the guards took their places at the door.

Talia glanced disdainfully at them. 的 won稚 be needing guards, she said. She looked meaningfully at Shinn. 鉄hinn returned, after all.

The guards shuffled out. Talia glanced up at Arthur. 鄭rthur, I値l have to ask you to leave as well.

釘ut濫 he sputtered.

Talia痴 glare cut him short; he hung his head and disappeared outside. The door closed; Talia looked back at Shinn.

Shinn stared at her like a man convicted to death. He knew he had broken ZAFT military law and committed treason, but he didn稚 care; at least he had given Stella a chance to live, a chance to find a way out of her bonds as an Extended, a chance to be the kind and gentle girl Shinn had met in Port Said, and not the angry, frightened monster Shinn had fought at Armory 1, and in the Debris Belt, and on Junius 7, and in the Indian Ocean.

Talia sat back. 展hy did you do this, Shinn? she asked at last.

Shinn stared back for a moment. 的 didn稚 want Stella to die, he said simply. Talia looked away in annoyance.

徹f course you didn稚, she said. 的 won稚 bother asking how you found out about the Chairman痴 orders concerning Stella. She sighed again. 添ou are aware that returning a prisoner of war without authorization is considered treason? Shinn nodded. 鄭nd you are aware of the punishment for treason? Another nod.

典he Chairman痴 no better than the Alliance, Shinn snarled, his face beginning to darken with rage. 摘veryone in ZAFT was horrified because the Alliance was treating Stella like a tool. That痴 what the Chairman was going to do too.

Talia closed her eyes. 添es, she said. 添ou池e right.

Shinn blinked in surprise.

展hat the Chairman was going to do was wrong, Talia said. 的 understand why you did what you did. I understand why you gave her back to the Alliance, and gave her the chance to survive, instead of letting her die. She sighed again. 釘ut what you did was also against ZAFT military law, and you must be punished still. She paused. "Did you do this to strike at the Chairman?"

Shinn blinked again, taken aback by the question. His confused look prompted Talia to elaborate.

"I will be honest, Shinn," she said, sitting back and looking Shinn in the eyes; he almost seemed to shiver under her gaze. "Something about you has changed, and I believe I know what it is. The Chairman has been stuffing your head full of ideas about Newtypes, has he not?"

Shinn sputtered in surprise. "Wha揺ow did you know about that?!"

"I'm the captain of this ship," Talia responded coolly, "and I'm obligated to know what goes on aboard it." She paused. "As I was saying, the Chairman has been stuffing your head full of ideas about Newtypes. And since then your skills as a pilot have skyrocketed; all of the sudden you are a hero in the PLANTs. I'm going to connect the dots, then, and say that perhaps you are indeed a Newtype."

Shinn looked away uneasily.

"Unfortunately, I'm not omniscient," Talia continued. "So I'd like an answer." She paused again. "This won't go on any records. I just want you to answer me."

Shinn looked back at her again, suspiciously.

"Do you want to be a Newtype?" Talia asked.

Shinn said nothing; Talia rubbed her temples in frustration, fighting off a mounting headache.

"Shinn," she said, "most people have nothing to do with Newtypes and haven't even heard of them. You won't be able to get help about it from anyone else. No one else will be able to explain things to you." She looked back up at Shinn. "You could go ask the Chairman, but you know he'll just tell you that you're special and in order to stop suffering, you have to follow him and fight his war for him. And you know you'll get the same answer from Rey. Is that what you want?"

Shinn remained silent. Talia sighed again; he was such an enigma. He fought harder than soldiers who had lost their families at Junius 7 during the Valentine War, but he had no reason to fight. There had to be a reason for him to fight; he had to be fighting for something.

"I don't want to be a Newtype," Shinn said at last. Talia allowed herself a small smile; progress at last.

"Nobody who knows what a Newtype really is wants to be one," she said. "Was this, then, your way of getting back at the Chairman for telling you about Newtypes and making you aware of it?"

Shinn looked at her with anger in his eyes. "I just didn't want Stella to die," he said. "So I gave her back to the Alliance. I didn't want to make some big philosophical statement. I just wanted her to live."

"They'll just make her fight again," Talia pointed out. "If that's the life she's going to live, then why did you want her to go back?"

Shinn narrowed his eyes at Talia. "If she stayed here, she would die for certain," he answered, an unusual calm in his voice. "If I gave her back, there was a chance she'd live, and get out of the Alliance, and be happy and live the way she wanted to. I'd rather take the chance than let her die and wonder how it all could have been different." His eyes darkened. "I did that once before. I'm not going to do it again."

Talia sighed once again; this was likely the best progress she would ever make with Shinn. She sent for the guards again. 添ou値l be in the brig until we...work out the details, she said. Shinn stood up; the guards led him out, and once they had left, Talia pounded her fist against the wall in anger.

泥amn you, Gilbert! she growled. 添ou池e going to destroy this boy!

She looked away and closed her eyes sadly.

I don稚 want to kill him for this...but it may be the only way to save him from leading a life like Rey痴...

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November 4th, CE 73 - Atlantic Federation battleship Girty Lue, Athens Naval Base, Greece, Eurasian Federation

"We're going to space next," Sting said to Auel as they both sauntered through the corridors of the Girty Lue. "Or so I've heard from the rest of the crew. I guess ZAFT's going to attack the Arzachel Crater base and the brass wants us to be there to stop them."

Auel snorted dismissively. "The brass wants us to do everything," he muttered. "Let's go check up on Stella."

Sting shrugged as Auel veered off towards the maintenance bed room. "She's probably still asleep," he said. "After all"

They both stopped short as they rounded a corner; they were on the observation deck, overlooking the humming Athens Naval Base. Ian Lee was there, leaning against the rail, his back turned to Sting and Auel. A piece of paper was clenched in his hand.

"That's the captain," Auel said carefully. Sting slowly approached him; Lee turned and glanced over his shoulder at them, almost indifferently, saying nothing.

"Captain," Sting said uneasily, "what are you doing here?"

"And what's the paper for?" Auel asked, pointing. Lee glanced down at it, and then turned around to face the two pilots.

"My family lives in the Atlantic Federation," he began uneasily, "and I haven't heard from them since the Junius 7 colony drop. I'm in the Special Forces, so I'm used to not hearing from them for a long time. But this..." He trailed off, his voice quavering with an unusual amount of emotion, and he held up the paper wordlessly. Sting took it from his hand and began to read, Auel reading over his shoulder.

Before long, both of their eyes had widened.

"Your family..." Auel began.

"...died in the Junius 7 drop?!" Sting finished.

Lee's silence was all the confirmation they needed.

"We should've done something!" Auel exclaimed. "Anything! We could have stopped that thing!"

Lee looked inquisitively at Auel.

"We didn't have any equipment," Sting protested.

"So?" Auel yelled. "We could've shot the thing with the ship or something! Maybe then his family wouldn't have had to die!"

"Auel" Sting began.

"Goddamn Neo!" Auel shouted, pounding his fist against the railing. "He should've let us do something!"

"What?!" Lee asked, taking Auel by the shoulder and looking at him. "What do you mean?"

"Neo ordered us to go out and gather information," Sting explained. "We got sucked into the fight once we got out there, but we were ordered not to support the demolition work or anything."

Lee turned slowly to look at Sting. "You were ordered, by Neo, not to help them break up Junius 7?" he asked, deathly calm.

Sting nodded, suddenly feeling nervous.

Lee looked down the hallway towards Neo's office, fury burning in his eyes.

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

"Shinn."

Shinn looked up at the sound of Rey's voice, staring ruefully at him through the bars of his cell. Rey watched him impassively for a moment.

"What do you want, Rey?" Shinn asked at last, returning his gaze to the wall.

"Why did you return Stella, Shinn?" Rey said. "You will be executed. You committed treason."

"So?" Shinn asked. "The Chairman was going to let her die."

Rey stiffened. "She would have died anyway."

"If she had stayed here she wouldn't have had a chance," Shinn said quietly, glaring at Rey. "I gave her a chance. It's better than nothing."

Rey was silent for a moment. "You will die, then," he said. "You will not be able to create a world where you don't have to suffer."

"I don't need the Chairman to do that!" Shinn snapped. "The Chairman is full of it! Rau was right, Newtypes have to suffer! And I don't want to be one!"

Rey blinked in surprise. "Rau...?"

"Yeah, Rau," Shinn said, getting up to face Rey. "I met him in Carpentaria. He told me all the things about Newtypes that you and the Chairman never told me; how much I have to suffer, how much I have to sacrifice, all for a fairytale world where I still have to suffer!"

Rey said nothing, surprised by Shinn's reaction.

"What do you think it means to be able to perceive everyone else's emotions?" Shinn exclaimed. "You think I can just sit here bearing all this suffering towards some unknown future?! I don't know if this new world you have in mind is even worth fighting for! All I've done is suffer, having to fight enemies whose fear I can feel! I thought you were a Newtype, Rey! Have you forgotten that?!"

Rey glared back at Shinn. "The Chairman had faith in you, Shinn, that you could be the one to build his new world, that you'd be the Newtype that would decide the war and become the protector," he said carefully. "I had faith in you, Shinn, that you would be the one to build the Chairman's new world and do for the world what I cannot. You had a future, Shinn; I do not. But now you are robbing yourself of your future."

"I don't want a future where I have to live with the knowledge that I could have protected people and didn奏," Shinn snapped back.

Rey narrowed his eyes at Shinn, taking a careful breath. At last he turned and marched away.

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

The door to Neo Roanoke's office opened; Neo glanced up from his computer terminal, finding Lee striding into the room with a piece of paper clenched in his hand.

"What is it?" Neo asked disinterestedly.

Lee dropped the paper on Neo's desk. He glanced over it.

"Your family died in the Junius 7 drop," he read. "My condolences. Do you want bereavement time?"

"I want an answer," Lee growled. "You ordered the pilots not to support the demolition work. Why?"

Neo looked up calmly at Lee. "Those were my orders. It wasn't our place to support them."

"They were being torn apart by those GINNs!" Lee exclaimed. "We could have helped ZAFT and held them off! The Orb Raiders were there too! We were all trying to stop Junius 7! If we had just joined forces we could've defeated the GINNs quickly enough to break Junius 7 up! Why didn't we?!"

"The reasons are complicated," Neo said. "Those were Lord Djibril's orders."

"Lord Djibril's orders?!" Lee shouted. "To hell with Lord Djibril! Our job is to protect our people!"

Neo slammed his hands on the desk, standing up.

"Junius 7 had to fall!" he yelled back. "The reasons are complicated! Don't question that which you do not understand!" He scowled. "Powerful forces were at work to make sure that thing fell! Djibril wanted that thing to fall! Now we've got a war and he's got an excuse to wipe out the Coordinators!"

"And you were complicit in this?!" Lee shot back. "You just let it happen?!"

"I did what I had to," Neo said, "or else I would have faced dire consequences. Lord Djibril does not take kindly to people bucking his orders." He scowled again. "I did not just 'let it happen.' I was forced to 'let it happen.' Those were our orders. Welcome to the Phantom Pain, Commander."

Lee gave Neo a furious glare and stormed out of the room.

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

The cell door opened; Shinn glanced up disdainfully at the guards as they motioned for him to stand. They led him out of the brig; Shinn no longer cared where they were taking him, and said nothing, letting the guards cuff his hands and pull him along.

He blinked in surprise as the guards ushered him into Talia's office. Talia was there, behind her desk, staring almost ruefully at the screen of her computer terminal. Arthur stood by her side, making no attempt to hide his astonishment and staring slack-jawed at the screen. She looked up as Shinn entered.

"Shinn," she said, "take a seat."

Shinn sat in the chair she had put him in before; he watched carefully as Talia looked back in disbelief at the screen.

"I have some mail about you from the Chairman," she said, looking at him. "Heine and Shiho sent reports to him about your incident with Stella before I could. Allow me to read you some of it." She glanced back at the screen. "'Due to the accelerating pace of the war and the increasing difficulty of the Minerva's missions, by order of the Supreme Chairman, Shinn Asuka is to be cleared of all treason charges and returned to active duty immediately.'"

Shinn's eyes widened in disbelief. "He pardoned me?!"

"He pardoned you," Talia said, looking back at him sternly. "Not just pardoned you, he wiped your slate clean."

"Wha謡hy?!" Shinn exclaimed.

Talia scowled at the screen. "Because the Chairman favors you," she said. "Nonetheless, I am bound by orders to free you and clear you of all charges." She motioned to the guards; one of them hesitantly came forward and unlocked Shinn's handcuffs. "As per my instructions, you are to return to your usual duties at once."

Shinn stared at his freed hands in disbelief, and then looked back up at Talia, utterly at a loss. "But"

"Those are my orders," Talia cut him off. "Return to your quarters."

Shinn stared at Talia for a moment, before he sullenly saluted and left the room.

"But why would the Chairman pardon him?" Arthur sputtered helplessly. "He broke the law and he's not being punished?"

Talia sat back, staring thoughtfully at the screen, ignoring Arthur.

"Captain...?" he asked meekly.

Talia wasn't listening.

If death isn't an option, and neither is becoming what Gilbert wants him to be, then there's only one choice Shinn has left...

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November 5th, CE 73 - Atlantic Federation battleship Girty Lue, Athens Naval Base, Greece, Eurasian Federation

Eurasian Federation mechanics were hurriedly attaching a massive booster to the stern of the Girty Lue. The ship had been ordered to space posthaste; ideally, the monstrosity they were strapping onto the back of the ship would help them get there.

The cacophony of the work could be heard deep inside the ship, in the briefing room, where Neo was standing, while Stella sat in front of him, staring blankly at the dark screen.

"Don't pay any mind to the noises," Neo said. "It's just the workers working on the ship."

"...okay..." Stella said quietly.

Neo glanced at the screen and pressed a few buttons; an array of blueprints appeared on the screen. Stella blinked at them indifferently.

"This is a new unit currently under construction by the Atlantic Federation special forces," Neo explained. "GFAS-X1 Destroy. It's three times the size of a normal mobile suit and designed to take out multiple mobile suits squadrons and battleships. It requires a pilot with expanded piloting and processing abilities to maximize its potential. You have been chosen to pilot the first unit."

"...Stella...the pilot...?" Stella asked, blankly staring at the screen. "But...it's scary..."

"You have to," Neo said, "or a scary thing will get you."

Stella looked at Neo slowly. "But...but Neo didn't protect Stella..." she murmured.

Neo paused, looking confusedly at her. "What do you mean?" he said, forcing himself to be gentle. "Of course I will."

"...but Neo didn't," Stella said. "Shinn did..."

Warning bells went on off in the back of Neo's mind, as the possibility presented itself that Stella was no longer dependent on him葉hat Stella was no longer under his control. He willed the horrible thoughts away.

"You have to pilot the Destroy," he said, gentle and firm at the same time. "I want you to."

Stella looked indifferently at Neo. He sighed, resolving to stick her in the maintenance pod and erase her memory after the battle at Arzachel.

"But...it's scary," Stella protested quietly. "Stella doesn't wanna..."

"You have no choice, Stella," Neo said, frustration mounting. "Otherwise something scary will get you, and Sting and Auel, and me too."

Stella just stared at the blueprints on the screen. Neo groaned in frustration, smacking his helmeted forehead, and stalked out of the room.

Stella stared at the blueprints.

"...Shinn...will protect Stella," she said.

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ZAFT battleship Minerva, approaching the ZAFT 1st Combined Fleet

The Minerva streaked across space, discarding its booster as it broke through the Earth's atmosphere, and angled towards the Moon. Already, a tiny cluster of lights indicated the position of ZAFT's 1st Combined Fleet, the fleet that the Minerva was to join in its attack on the Atlantic Federation's Arzachel Crater base on the Moon. The Minerva would make it in time for the attack, provided they didn't encounter anyone along the way.

As she glided down the corridors on the pull-bar, Lunamaria looked around and realized how accustomed she had been to gravity. Lack of gravity was disorienting, and created numerous mishaps with her skirt. Deciding not to dwell on the day's battery of embarrassments, she turned towards the hangar, the last possible place where Shinn could be.

He was in the Impulse's hangar, in the Core Splendor's cockpit, working furiously. He had a scowl on his face, twisting the three scars that Extended girl, Stella, had left there. The noises of his work filled the air. Luna approached him hesitantly, still unaccustomed to seeing him after the incident the other day.

Shinn glanced at her as he worked. "Do you want something?" he asked, returning to his work. Luna looked aside uneasily.

"I was just wondering how you were doing," she said awkwardly.

Shinn continued working without speaking for a moment. "Shouldn't you be worrying about your own mobile suit?"

"I took care of the tune-ups this morning," she said, "before the ship went into space." She looked around uncomfortably, and pulled herself closer to the Core Splendor's cockpit, taking hold of the edge of the fuselage. "Shinn..."

Shinn kept working, ignoring her. Luna blinked in surprise; there was anger in his eyes, but it was marked by a strange isolation, like he was totally separate entity from everyone else on the ship. He wore ZAFT's uniform, he had their genes, he used their weapons, but he was not a ZAFT soldier. And now, sitting in the cockpit of one of ZAFT's newest and most advanced military weapons, he looked more isolated than ever.

Luna shook her head. "Shinn," she said, "why did you do it?"

Shinn stopped his work and looked at her. "Why do I have to explain it to everyone?" he asked. "Stella would have died if I hadn't taken her back."

"I know," Luna said, "but..." She looked away. "You were protecting her...weren't you?"

Shinn looked back at the Core Splendor's cockpit panel. "Yeah," he said, "I was."

Luna looked back at Shinn. "But was she more important than us?" she asked suddenly. "Would you rather fight to protect her than us?"

Shinn glanced back at Luna. "Don't say that," he said.

"But who's more important, Shinn?" she continued. She paused, as a new thought occurred to her. "Would you protect her on the battlefield? Would you fight us to keep her safe?"

Shinn looked back down at his instruments. "I gave her back to give her a chance to live," he said. "Whatever happens next is what happens next, but at least she has a chance. And I'm going to take that chance."

Luna looked sullenly at the hangar floor. "Would you kill us to protect her?" she asked quietly.

Shinn was silent a moment. "No," he said. Luna looked up at him in surprise. "I don't need to kill you or Rey or Shiho to keep her safe."

"...what about Heine?" Luna asked uneasily. Shinn scowled.

"Heine has it coming anyways," Shinn snarled. "Psychopathic bastard. He's just the Chairman's lapdog anyways."

Luna looked over awkwardly at Shinn. "You aren't going to betray us again, are you?" she asked quietly.

Shinn looked at her; Luna felt a chill run through her body, staring into Shinn's cold, unforgiving eyes.

"Don't make me promise, Luna," he said quietly.

Luna sighed sadly and turned to leave; she turned as she felt something touch her hand, and she blinked in surprise as she found Shinn holding her hand, looking at her with as much gentleness as she could ever remember him conveying.

"I'll never hurt you," Shinn said solemnly, "no matter where I go. I'll promise you that much."

"Shinn..." she murmured. Shinn offered her a sad smile.

"You're my friend, Luna," he said. "I'm not going to drag you into my life's problems too."

His smile disappeared and he returned to work on the Core Splendor; Luna drifted away, watching him in amazement.

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November 6th, CE 73 - Office of the Supreme Chairman of the PLANTs, PLANT Aprilius 1, Lagrange Point 5

"He's a traitor!" the voice of Heine Westenfluss roared through the speakers of the videophone. "It's an outrage that he should still be alive!"

"Traitor he may be," Shiho Hahnenfuss shot back scornfully, "but we at least need him to help us at Arzachel! After that we can deal with disciplining him!"

"Shoot that traitor NOW!" Heine shouted.

Gilbert sat back, listening disinterestedly as Heine and Shiho argued through his videophone. He knew pardoning Shinn was an action the PLANTs could never know about; nothing could be allowed to spoil Shinn's image as the new Athrun Zala, the new boy hero of the Coordinators. Obviously it was already generating controversy on the Minerva, but they would have to put the differences aside. There was too much resting on the outcome of the battle at Arzachel for the Minerva crew to be squabbling now.

"I pardoned Shinn because the Minerva needs talented pilots," he said carefully, interrupting Heine and Shiho's shouting match. "Shinn's breaches of military law are indeed grievous, but our need for skilled and experienced pilots right now is more grievous. Shinn cost us important intelligence, but he is still an important asset."

"He's a traitor, Chairman!" Heine protested. "He undermined our intelligence by giving back that prisoner! God knows what else he gave to the Naturals!"

"Shinn only cared about giving back Stella to save her life!" Shiho exclaimed. "He would have no reason to leak other intelligence to them! He just wanted Stella to live!"

"Enough!" Gilbert interrupted, glowering at them both. "Both of you will return to duty and fight at Arzachel tomorrow. After the battle, we will deal with disciplining Shinn for his actions. Dismissed." Without bothering to receive their salutes, he cut the transmission and sat back in his chair, a foul mood festering within him.

Rey...where did you go wrong?

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November 7th, CE 73 - Near Arzachel Crater Lunar Base, the Moon

Inside the cockpit of the Force Impulse, Shinn looked around indifferently at the armada of ZAFT mobile suits steadily driving towards the Atlantic Federation's Arzachel Crater base. The majority were older models; at the head of the attack force, however, were squadrons of ZAFT's gleaming new ZAKU line. Behind them cruised a fleet of over a hundred ZAFT warships, led by the Minerva and a massive carrier ship called the Gondwana. Ahead of the ZAFT forces was the Arzachel base, protected by an enormous fleet and a swarm of Alliance mobile suits.

There was the faint pressure of Stella Loussier deep within the thousands of people in front of Shinn. He narrowed his eyes and forced his fear away with sheer willpower; whatever happened next, he would have to give himself over to fate. There would be no other choice.

"All ZAFT forces," the imposing voice of the Gondwana's commander rumbled, 徹peration Anvil will commence now. All forces are ordered to attack the enemy base and go through their defenses. You have your homeland to your backs and your enemy in front of you; the battle is in your hands now.

The mobile suits began to boost towards the enemy; Shinn looked up ahead. Stella was waiting there for him; his destiny was waiting there for him.

Shinn steeled himself and fired the Impulse痴 booster.

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To be continued...