Phase 17 - Fallout

Mobile Suit Gundam SEED DESTINY

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Phase 17 - Fallout

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November 8th, CE 73 - Boomtown III, Lagrange Point 2

In a word, she was a bitch.

Shinn Asuka was almost impressed with the surly distrust he was met with by the motel receptionist. The sagging skin, the thick glasses, the narrowed eyes, and the curled-up, waxy-looking hair made for the very portrait of unfriendliness.

"It's $50 a night, one person," she half-snarled, half-grunted. She cast a distasteful glance at Shinn's companion. "You'd better not be trying any of that, either."

Shinn blinked. "What? No, I"

The woman's glare cut him off.

"Well," he continued, "all I have is PLANT"

"Won't take it here," she interrupted stoically. "Pay in Atlantic Fed money." She narrowed her eyes. "Dollars, kid. None of that PLANT stuff."

Shinn blinked again. "But the exchange office is closed!" he protested.

"Take it or leave it," she answered sourly.

Shinn glanced over his shoulder uneasily at his companion, who returned his gaze with the usual lifeless stare. He returned his attention to the crabby woman at the desk.

"Look, I've got enough to make $170 or $180 at the exchange rate," he offered. To prove his claim, he produced a sizable wad of PLANT currency, at which the woman looked suspiciously.

"Fine," she said after a moment's thought, plucking the wad from Shinn's hand in its entirety and drawing a sputter of protest from him. There was some clicking and whirring and buzzing from her positively ancient-looking computer, and she tossed a key with a white plastic tag at him. "607, sixth floor."

Shinn backed away and turned around, picking up his suitcase, pausing to cast an irritated glance over his shoulder at the receptionist. "Stella, I got us a room."

Stella Loussier stared back, her blank gaze broken by her slow nod. Shinn offered his hand, and she took it and uneasily let him lead her deeper into the building.

All the while, the sour receptionist regarded them with a scowl, and the moment they'd left, sneered, "Kids," and went back to work.

Once the elevator doors had closed, Shinn set down his suitcase, took Stella's other hand, and looked her in the eyes.

"Are you sure you're okay?" he asked.

"Shinn..." she murmured, blinking and shifting uncomfortably under the gaze of his crimson eyes.

"I mean it," he continued. "If there's a problem, I'm taking you to the hospital, and you're not going to stop me."

"...okay..." she answered quietly.

Shinn studied her face for a moment. "You don't look okay," he said at last. "And you're shaking." Stella looked away awkwardly, and Shinn sighed. "Well, the first thing we need to do is get you some rest."

"...what about Shinn?" she asked, looking back at him. At last Shinn managed to smile.

"I'll be okay," he answered, "but I'm more worried about you." He sighed again, and let go of her hands. "I hope the Impulse and Gaia will be okay where we left them."

There was silence again. Shinn started the elevator.

Stella opened her mouth to speak, and Shinn blinked, arching an eyebrow and casting a quizzical glance at her.

"...why did Shinn save Stella?" she asked at last. "The white one and the red one were on Shinn's side...but...Shinn stopped them."

Shinn smiled and took her hands again. "I promised you I'd protect you," he responded. "Rey and Luna were going to hurt you, and if they had, I wouldn't have been able to live with myself knowing I had let them."

Stella looked away again. "But..."

Shinn pulled her into his arms and stroked her head gently. "Don't worry about it," he said soothingly. "You left the Alliance willingly, I left ZAFT willingly. We just took some of their property with us."

"But Sting and Auel...Sting and Auel will want Stella to come back," Stella went on.

"Let them," Shinn interrupted. "If they come after us, we'll take them on. I won't let them hurt you." The door opened, and Shinn led her out and down the hall.

"...but... she began, trailing off helplessly.

"Just get some sleep," he told her, as he opened the door to their room.

Shinn and Stella blinked at the peeling paint, a layer of dust, and decaying wood.

Across the room, the table collapsed.

"I paid two hundred credits for this?!" Shinn exclaimed. He heaved a sigh. "Well, try to get some sleep"

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Night had fallen on the colony of Boomtown III, and as such, Stella and Shinn were huddled together in a single ratty bed with broken springs, a shredded mattress, and tattered, paper-thin sheets. Stella had managed to fall into a fitful slumber, but Shinn had not yet done so. Instead he stared up at the ceiling, the adrenaline still trickling through him.

He closed his eyes, and he could see it all over again. The Gaia Gundam fought desperately against Lunamaria's red Gunner ZAKU Warrior and Rey's white Blaze ZAKU Phantom. Luna's ZAKU forced the Gaia on the defensive; Rey pounded it into the dust and raised his beam rifle for a triumphant finishing blow

And then the Force Impulse was there to deflect the beam with its shield, and a moment later, he saw himself cripple Rey's ZAKU.

It had all happened so fast. ZAFT had launched its 1st Combined Fleet to the Moon, to destroy the Earth Alliance痴 Arzachel Crater lunar base, and at the head of the fleet charged the new ZAFT battleship Minerva, its eagerness for battle contradicted by the dour feelings of the crew. And on the moon waited for them the combined Alliance forces, counting among their numbers Stella痴 previous mothership, the blue-painted Girty Lue.

And then the fleets met, and all hell broke loose. Shinn soon found himself ignoring orders to attack specific targets, as he couldn稚 find those targets熔r they were destroyed before he could reach them. He blindly charged forward into the battle, shooting down whatever came at him; he threw himself to the dubious auspices of fate.

And finally, he had seen Rey and Luna team up to attack the Gaia. And before he knew it, he had Rey痴 ZAKU Phantom crippled. And then whatever form of order there had previously been to the battle was lost. Everything instead became a blur of memories that ultimately led up to now. He had seen his own Impulse drive its beam saber into the cockpit of Heine Westenfluss's GOUF Ignited; he had seen himself target and destroy the bridges and engines of ZAFT warships; he had seen himself wipe out whole ZAFT mobile suit squadrons as they tried to stop him; he had seen Stella defeat handily defeat Luna...

Shinn let out a quiet sigh and hugged Stella tighter.

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Battlecruiser Kasselheim, outside Boomtown III

迭educe thrust to 20%. All hands, ETA is thirty seconds. We値l take it to them hard and fast.

The darkened bridge of the battlecruiser Kasselheim was abuzz with the noises of an impending raid. In the captain痴 chair sat the grizzled, weathered, muscular form of Mev Typhoon, giving out the orders.

溺ike, he continued, glancing at the helmsman, 澱ring us in a bit closer. I don稚 want to make the mobile suits or the fighters travel far. And keep an eye on the heat scopes. Let me know if anything out of the ordinary shows up." He moved his glance to the weapons officer. 添un, be ready to fire at anything that looks suspicious. Mev sat back contently. 鉄end out Zora痴 GuAIZ and George痴 CGUE first, he added. 滴ave Miki and Chris cover them in close, and Gan from afar. I don稚 want anything to find us too soon.

添es sir, answered the communications officer. 敵eorge, Ice, you two go out first. Miki, Chris, Gan, cover 粗m.

敵ottfried One through Four, start up, Mev ordered. 鏑oad Helldart launchers One through Fourteen. Activate the Igelstellungs and Valiants, on the double.

添es sir, Yun acknowledged. 敵ottfried One through Four on standby, Helldart launchers One through Fourteen loading up. Igelstellungs and Valiants activated. All weapons on standby.

天iima, Mev went on, turning to the Kasselheim痴 executive officer, 妬s this the place?

Viima Somara looked out at the port of the colony. 添es sir, she answered after a moment痴 observation.

敵ood, Mev replied. 泥rop the sensor masking. Zora, George, move in. Gan, give 'em a covering shot. All other mobile suits stand by. Gottfried One through Four, aim at the space gate and prepare to fire. He narrowed his eyes behind his sunglasses. 鏑et's have some fun. Full speed ahead, open fire!

The Gottfried cannons fired and their shots smashed into the port.

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Boomtown III

Shinn and Stella snapped awake at the distant sound of explosions.

展hat痴 that...? Stella murmured, huddling closer to Shinn. He clambered out of bed, pulling Stella with him, and rushed to the cracked, grime-encrusted window.

There was the sound of explosions...and machineguns...and beam weapons...

典hose are... he began.

Before he could finish, a blast of fire incinerated a couple of buildings across the street, and threw Shinn and Stella to the floor, ripping off the wall in front of them. And in the new opening the blast had made, the distinctive white armor of a CGUE appeared.

典hat痴...! Stella gasped. Shinn clenched his teeth in fury.

纏AFT is attacking?! he snarled.

The CGUE turned its monoeye on the room痴 two inhabitants, and both stopped short, watching tensely. Shinn narrowed his eyes, interposing himself between the ZAFT mobile suit and Stella. This CGUE痴 head had been modified with a pair of CIWS, and it was carrying a beam rifle taken from a GuAIZ and a heavy laser sword Shinn had seen on the CGUE DEEP Arms. It raised the ignited sword up into view, and its monoeye flashed.

At last, it turned its monoeye forwards and stomped off down the street. Shinn and Stella let out their breath, and Shinn looked at her over his shoulder.

敵et your things, he said. 展e池e getting out of here.

The run to the abandoned industrial district in which the Impulse and Gaia were hidden was long, and probably going to intersect the path of the attacking mobile suits more than once. Together, they attempted to cross the street, only to be blocked by the CGUE they had just encountered slamming down, deflecting a beam shot from some unknown source with its shield, and firing back with its own beam rifle. There was a thunderous explosion, Shinn threw himself over Stella to protect her, and before both of them knew it, machinegun fire was peppering the street and the CGUE. The white ZAFT mobile suit lurched up into the air and fired its shield Vulcans, and a moment later, a bullet-riddled assault helicopter smashed down into the street and exploded.

鉄hinn! Stella gasped, as he pulled her to her feet. 鉄hinn's bleeding!

Shinn looked down at his arm, finding a cut on his shoulder and blood trickling down his arm. 的t痴 no big deal, he said dismissively. 鼎ome on, we need to get out of here!

He took her hand and was about to lead her through the street when there was another explosion.

展hat the hell is going on...? Shinn murmured, looking around in the colony痴 artificial sky. A Strike Dagger belonging to the colony痴 defense force was skewered on a beam shot, and exploded in midair預nd a white painted GuAIZ flew by overhead. 鉄hit...Stella, let痴 go!

Shinn and Stella raced across the street as another helicopter was shot down above them and hurtled towards the street. They dove for cover, and the helicopter slammed into the street and exploded.

泥ammit, Shinn growled, 鍍here痴 still another nine blocks to go... He looked up, in time to see another Strike Dagger explode. 鼎ome on!

Shinn and Stella took off down the street again.

They managed to put eight more blocks behind them without stopping, and the dilapidated factory in which the Impulse and Gaia had been hidden was in sight. A Strike Dagger collapsed down into the street in front of the two, and Shinn instinctively grabbed Stella and leapt into a nearby doorway, just in time to hide from the Strike Dagger痴 explosion. And then there was a crash as a mobile suit came down, and Shinn glanced out from around the corner at the new arrival.

展hat the濫

A GINN High Maneuver II towered over the remains of the Strike Dagger.

的s ZAFT attacking this place or what?! Shinn exclaimed. In the sky above the GINN HM II, a 105 Dagger fired a beam shot that drilled through another Strike Dagger and a helicopter, wiping out both. 鄭 Dagger too...they must be pirates or something...

The GINN took off, shooting down another helicopter with its beam carbine, and Shinn and Stella took off running again as the helicopter plowed into the building they had been hiding in. There was another explosion in the sky, and before they knew it, a shower of missiles was plummeting towards them. Shinn leapt in front of Stella, who let out a frightened scream as the missiles came closer

And suddenly there was another mobile suit there. The imposing form of the 105 Dagger fired its CIWS at the missiles, destroying them in midair.

Shinn seized Stella's hand and pulled her towards the factory.

鼎ome on! he yelled. Shinn and Stella rushed into the factory as beam shots smashed into the street they had just been standing in.

In the factory, Stella and Shinn scrambled over fallen debris towards the darkened corner in which their Gundams hid. They disappeared into the Force Impulse and Gaia, and the flash of the mobile suits eyes filled the smoky remains of the factory. With another flash, the Phase Shift activated, and the Impulse stood.

徹kay, Shinn said, 渡ow let痴 figure out what痴 going on.

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Battlecruiser Kasselheim, outside Boomtown III

鉄o, Kika, what池e the kids up to in there? Mev Typhoon asked with unusual casualness. Kika looked down at her displays for a moment.

鼎hris, what池e you guys doing in there? she asked into her headset. A disgruntled young man痴 voice answered, underscored by machinegun chatter and explosions.

的知 kinda busy right now, he growled. Kika groaned unhappily.

釘ut Chris, come on, the captain just asked me what you池e doing and濫

敵o ask someone else then! Chris Machonheiler snapped from the cockpit of his 105 Dagger. 的 almost got shot down just now!

擢ine! Kika huffed, pressing a handful of buttons on her display. 敵eorge, what are you guys doing in there?

There was a bit of static from George Morrison痴 CGUE before he answered. 展e have to go through the colony militia before we can get to the warehousing district, he responded. 鏑ooks like it痴 on the opposite block too.

鄭ny sign of those two Gundams? Mev asked. Another pause.

哲o, George responded. 鏑ooks like all we値l get this time is some more supplies. Mev furrowed his brow in irritation.

溺ike, bring us around to the other end of the colony, he ordered. 添un, keep the weapons ready. I doubt we鼠l get to the other side for free. The Kasselheim rumbled as the engines angled to carry the ship over the colony.

Now then, Mev thought as he sank back, let痴 see if those kids really did come here.

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Boomtown III

展here should we go? Stella asked quietly. The Gaia, if it was possible, seemed sheepish as it hid behind Shinn痴 Impulse.

典here aren稚 many places we can go, Shinn answered, as the Impulse peered around a broken edge of the wall at the battlefield. Outside, another Strike Dagger was picked out of the sky by a beam shot from the GuAIZ. 的 suppose we could try to get out through the central shaft, he continued, flipping through files in the Impulse痴 memory, 澱ut we壇 have to fly up there and someone would see us... Stella watched uneasily as Shinn worked intently in the cockpit of the Impulse. 溺aybe we could try to get out through the colony wall...but we壇 need something to break it open...dammit. He looked up at last. 的 don稚 see any other way. We池e gonna have to fight.

Stella nodded slowly, and Shinn sighed. 笛ust try not to overdo it, he warned. 的 don稚 know when we値l get to rest again.

The two pilots looked out at the battlefield.

鉄o we値l just shoot at whoever shoots at us, he finished. 徹kay? Stella nodded again, and Shinn smirked. 敵ood. Let痴 go.

The remains of the factory exploded outward as the Impulse leapt into the air, the Gaia right behind it.

Across the battlefield, the CGUE痴 monoeye turned to watch them. It gestured towards them with its shield, and the attacking mobile suits broke off their attack and roared after the two Gundams.

Inside the Impulse, Shinn bit back a curse. 鉄tella, you break open the shaft. I値l cover you.

The Gaia raced off into the sky, firing its beam rifle and beam cannons at the shaft in the colony sky, and the Impulse darted between the incoming mobile suits and the Gaia, firing its CIWS. Shinn narrowed his eyes at the attackers. A CGUE, a 105 Dagger, a GINN High Maneuver II, a GuAIZ, and a GINN Assault Type...great...

The Impulse took aim with its beam rifle.

的 won稚 let you go any further!

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ZAFT battleship Minerva, near PLANT airspace, Lagrange Point 5

The ZAFT 1st Combined Fleet had at first fared well in its attack on the Earth Alliance's Arzachel Crater lunar base. ZAFT mobile suits had managed to force their way relatively far into the base itself, and the Alliance's subpar Dagger Ls had put up poor resistance. Then the Alliance unveiled its new Windams upon the attackers in the depths of the base, beating back the ZAFT forces, launching a stunning counterattack on the ZAFT fleet, and forcing the fleet to withdraw before they lost anymore.

And of course, the most stunning news of all was that the famous Shinn Asuka had betrayed his people.

Chairman Gilbert Dullindal was not a happy man when the reports came in. He had been counting on a ZAFT victory at Arzachel to finally cripple the Earth Alliance. Now the citizens of PLANT were outraged, and the citizens of Earth even more fervent to finish off the Coordinators for good.

However, what disturbed him more was the report of the Impulse痴 pilot, Shinn Asuka, attacking his comrades and then escaping with the Gaia謡hich had not too long ago been itself stolen by a ship that was undoubtedly under the command of the Alliance. And to top it off, he'd carved a path out of the battle for himself and Stella, and this path had ended up running through the ZAFT fleet, and in particular through Heine Westenfluss.

And so, as what was left of the ZAFT 1st Combined Fleet staggered back into PLANT airspace, Chairman Dullindal stood on the bridge of the Minerva, with several of the pilots and crew who had known Shinn closely. The crew痴 attention was riveted on one the main screen.

Lunamaria痴 ZAKU Warrior fired its Gunner Wizard痴 beam cannon, and the Gaia barely managed to evade熔nly to be met with a hail of missiles from the Blaze Wizard of Rey痴 ZAKU Phantom. Rey's ZAKU slammed the Gaia into the lunar surface and landed to finish the Gaia off.

And then the Impulse was there.

Luna looked forlornly at the screen, once again watching her comrade lay waste to Rey's ZAKU. She glanced at Rey, who scowled as the Impulse dismembered his mobile suit. Not far from Rey, Shiho Hahnenfuss crossed her arms, watching impassively葉he Savior had been nowhere near the Minerva at the time, and had not been able to assist Rey's ZAKU in time.

鄭fter the Impulse disabled Rey痴 ZAKU, Talia continued, pressing a button on the console at her side, 鉄hinn battled and destroyed the Galileo and her mobile suits. He then took out Heine's GOUF Ignited and disabled Lunamaria's ZAKU, before the Impulse and the Gaia escaped the battlefield." She glanced up distastefully at Gilbert. "Your orders, Chairman."

Gilbert stared for a moment at Talia. 典he Impulse is an important piece of military hardware, he said at last. 展e can稚 afford to lose it after we致e already lost the Chaos, Gaia, and Abyss.

"But Chairman!" Luna blurted out. "What about Shinn?"

Gilbert cast his eyes towards her, while Rey sent a withering glare her way. "Shinn will have to face the consequences of his actions." Several of the bridge's crew cast their eyes downward, knowing what that meant. "But for now, I want this ship to focus on retrieving the Impulse. I've sent the Von Braun after them and plan on freeing up another vessel." There were shocked expressions around the bridge. "However," the Chairman continued, "I would feel better knowing that this ship is at the head of the fleet."

Talia gazed up quizzically at Gilbert. "You want me to command a squadron, Chairman?" she asked dubiously. Gilbert nodded, and Talia blinked in surprise.

"This is a fast ship, as are the Nazca," Gilbert explained. "I believe you will find the Impulse quickly. And the Impulse left the battlefield with the Gaia葉his is a potential opportunity to recapture them both." He cast a furtive glance at Luna. "And we can deal with Shinn when we find him."

"We'll get right on it, Chairman," Talia said hesitantly, saluting.

"Good," Gilbert answered. "I'd expect nothing less."

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Boomtown III, Lagrange Point 2

The GuAIZ fired its extensional arrestors, and Shinn lurched backwards to avoid them傭ut the moment he did, the CGUE came driving in, its laser sword pulled back for a killing blow. Shinn threw his shield to the defense, and cursed as the Impulse rattled under the blow. And to his left the GuAIZ was aiming with its beam rifle, while the GINN HM II, the GINN Assault, and the 105 Dagger angled for the Gaia. 泥ammit! he shouted, lurching back to avoid the GuAIZ痴 beam shot. He fired back, and dodged again as the CGUE attacked again with its sword. Shinn boosted up into the air, firing a handful of beam shots at his opponents. The GuAIZ took three shots to its shield and stormed in, firing its beam rifle, and at point-blank range dropped in with a slash from its beam claw. Shinn deflected the blow with the Impulse痴 shield and dove backwards, fighting for distance and showering his foes with CIWS fire.

泥ammit, he growled again. 鉄tella! Hurry up with that thing! These guys are good!

The CGUE attacked again with its laser sword, and Shinn growled in frustration as he took the attack on Impulse痴 shield. The GuAIZ rained CIWS fire on him as the CGUE stormed in for a second strike. This time the blow sent the Impulse reeling, and Shinn struggled to regain control預nd then a scream cut through his cockpit.

鉄hinn!

Shinn snapped his attention behind himself, and his eyes widened as the GINN HM II slammed its sword against the Gaia痴 shield, knocking it backward and then the 105 Dagger raised its beam rifle towards the Gaia痴 torso...

Then Shinn saw the seed.

Shinn took off towards the Dagger, drawing a beam saber. The Dagger turned in surprise預nd in an instant, Shinn sliced through the beam rifle, destroying it. The mobile suit lurched back in surprise, drawing a beam saber of its own, and dove down towards the Impulse.

Shinn narrowed his eyes at the approaching mobile suit, boosted over its head, and with one fell swoop, slashed off the mobile suit痴 left arm. It swung around for another slice, but Shinn deflected the blow with his shield, and in one more move, stabbed the Dagger cleanly through its head. And in one last blow, Impulse delivered a punishing kick to the Dagger痴 chest, sending it plummeting out of the sky.

鉄hinn... Stella murmured, as the Impulse rose up towards the shaft.

釘reak this thing open so we can get out of here! Shinn shouted, as he returned the beam saber to the Force Silhouette and drew the Impulse痴 beam rifle, slamming a shot directly against the GINN HM II痴 shield and sending it staggering back. The GuAIZ and CGUE fired back with their own beam rifles, and the GINN Assault added a beam rifle shot as well, but Shinn deflected the beams with his shield. He fired back, clipping the GINN Assault's shoulder and sending it stumbling out of the sky. The GINN HM II came roaring up in its place, sword drawn, and slammed down against the Impulse's shield with a forceful blow. Shinn scowled at his new opponent, and the faces of the GINNs at Junius 7 flashed through his head. He stabbed back with his own beam saber, slicing forward at the apparition, and the GINN HM II caught the blow on its shield.

The GINN Assault, the CGUE, and the GuAIZ fired up at the Gaia.

"Stella!" Shinn shouted, as he thrust forward and forced the GINN HM II away. "Look out!"

The Gaia lunged to the side just in time as the beam shots smashed against the shaft. A cloud of fire and smoke rose out of it as the entire colony rattled, and the shaft sprouted smoke and steam as it threatened to collapse.

"Let's go!" Shinn shouted. The Impulse and Gaia dove into the new opening and took off. Down below, the GuAIZ, CGUE, GINN HM II, and GINN Assault followed.

Inside the shaft, the Impulse and Gaia slithered among the countless tethers, support struts, and little bits and chunks of metal that seemed to serve more as annoying obstacles than anything relevant to the colony. Shinn kept a close eye on the Gaia as he weaved through the impromptu obstacle course.

"Stella," he called, "how are you feeling?"

Stella gave an affirmative murmur that sounded like "okay," and Shinn opened his mouth to continue speaking.

The chatter of machineguns interrupted him, and he cast an irritated glance behind him, finding the GuAIZ and CGUE rattling away with their CIWS. He growled between clenched teeth. "Stella, go on ahead. I'll keep them busy."

The Impulse flipped around and cut the thrusters, and the surprised GuAIZ and CGUE lunged aside to avoid a volley of beam shots. The GINN HM II took the shots on its shield, but the GINN Assault wasn't so lucky, and with three consecutive shots, Shinn scored a hit and blew off the GINN Assault's right leg, and another shot took the GINN Assault's beam rifle and shield out of the picture as well. At last, Shinn drew a beam saber and charged forward, seeking blood

And just as suddenly, the GINN HM II was there, its shield extended to deflect the blow. He took the subsequent follow-up sword strike against the Impulse's own shield and lunged forward, forcing the GINN HM II aside as he dove towards the GINN Assault, but his killing slash only managed to cut off the right arm at the elbow. Nevertheless, the GINN Assault pulled back, and Shinn slammed down victoriously on the shaft floor, turning his attention to the GINN HM II. He glanced around, finding the GuAIZ and CGUE nowhere in sight, but before he could do anything about that, the GINN HM II was upon him again, sword upraised. Shinn narrowed his eyes, seeing an opening as his foe charged in.

In one fluid motion, he snapped around and sliced off the GINN HM II's right arm at the shoulder and right leg at the knee. A final kick to the torso sent the wounded mobile suit careening backwards, and with a victorious flourish, he snapped his beam saber into a killing stance.

Then Stella's scream cut through his cockpit again, and then, as quickly as it had started, it ceased. Shinn's eyes widened in horror, and, the fallen GINN HM II forgotten, he lunged up into the shaft, holding his beam saber before him to slice through anything in front of him.

"Stella!" he cried. "Stella!"

The Gaia was ahead of him, slumped lifelessly, Phase Shift down, supported by the CGUE. There was something against the small of the Gaia's back, but Shinn couldn't tell what預nd before he could go any further, the GuAIZ appeared out of nowhere, halting him with its extensional arrestors, and suddenly there was gas in the cockpit.

Shinn grunted helplessly as he drifted into darkness, and the Impulse slumped to the ground before its foe.

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Atlantic Federation battleship Girty Lue, near Boomtown III

"Interesting," he said. "Very interesting."

On the bridge of the Girty Lue, Neo Roanoke watched amusedly as the silver GuAIZ and CGUE dragged a deactive Force Impulse and Gaia into the hangar of the Kasselheim. The Girty Lue sat calmly behind its Mirage Colloid shield, and Neo chuckled softly, tapping his arm.

典hey池e powerful for a pirate gang, Ian Lee remarked stoically.

Neo cast a glance over at the helmsman. 典ake us in closer, but not too close. They致e got the Gaia and that combining one, so it痴 safe to assume that they致e got Stella too.

鉄hall we attack? Lee asked from the captain痴 chair. Neo put a hand to his chin in thought.

哲o, he said at last. 的知 sure they captured Stella in a state of unconsciousness. She wouldn't let herself be captured. We値l wait until she痴 back on her feet.

釘ut we can稚 just let them get away, Lee added. 展e have to do something.

徹f course, Neo agreed. He paused, eyeing the screens. 典here痴 a patrol group nearby. Two Drake-class and one Nelson-class. All equipped with Dagger Ls. Hail them and tell them to intercept this ship. Tell them we値l be coming up from the rear. Have the mobile suits standing by. He smirked. 典ime to see if they really are so tough.

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Battleship Kasselheim, near Boomtown III

"Well, well," the voice said sardonically. "So Sleeping Beauty awakens."

Stella looked up in a daze, finding a great deal of darkness with a little bit of light. The haze of knockout gas was still clinging stubbornly to her brain, scattering her wits. She blinked at the dim outline of a person in the room with her.

"So," the voice went on, "lessee here...Stella Loussier. Wanted for theft of RGX-03 Gaia, return to Atlantic Federation Space Forces. Bounty of $500,000." There was a pause. "Hmm. You look hotter in person."

Stella blinked at the sound of something hitting something, and the man to whom the voice probably belonged grunted in pain.

"Ow! What was that for?!"

泥o you have to hit on everything female, snapped an offended-sounding woman痴 voice, whose owner Stella had not seen anywhere, 登r is there some kind of criteria?

徹h yeah, sure, the man shot back, 殿fter you were making all those kissy-kiss noises at that Shinn guy濫

Stella gasped sharply, cutting off both speakers.

鉄hinn! she whispered. 展here痴 Shinn?

展ha...? the man grunted. 滴ey, look, you喪e still a prisoner濫

展here痴 Shinn?! Stella repeated, this time sounding less patient.

填m, Mike, I think she痴 getting pissed, the woman interjected nervously. The man shrugged it off.

泥on稚 worry about it, he answered. 鄭nyways濫 Before he could finish, Stella lunged across the darkened space of the cell, grabbed the man by the neck, and slammed him roughly against the wall, staring into startled eyes.

Where is Shinn?!" she demanded for a third time.

滴-Holy shit! the man stuttered. 敵an! Get her off me!

WHERE IS SHINN?!" Stella screamed, twisting her hands around the man痴 throat and driving from him a loud cough.

The woman attempted to pry Stella loose, but a flailing slash from her nails was all it took to drive the second assailant back. Stella returned her glowering gaze to the man, forcing him back into the wall.

A moment later, the cell door opened, showering Stella in light, and before her eyes could adjust, she壇 been thrown to the floor and someone had thrown a pair of handcuffs around her wrists. She struggled in vain against them, but her thrashing ceased as the light was broken by a towering figure.

A mountain of a man stood in the doorway. The woman helped the other man to his feet as he coughed from Stella痴 death-grip, and two more men with rifles stood behind the tower of muscle that loomed above her.

鼎aptain! the woman exclaimed. 展hat濫

He raised a hand, and she fell silent. He continued to stare down at Stella, and she squirmed uncomfortably under his gaze.

鉄o, he spoke, his voice less of a voice and more of a rumble. 鉄tella Loussier.

He regarded her for another moment. At last he turned towards the man and woman who had been talking to her earlier. 溺ike, Gan. Come with me.

The two figures left the room quickly and quietly, and the tall man pulled her to her feet and unlocked the handcuffs. He stared down at her for a moment, and Stella felt herself go cold.

At last, he turned and left the cell. He spoke quietly, too quietly for Stella to hear, to one of his underlings, and a moment later, a weak-looking Shinn appeared and was tossed into the cell. The door slammed shut.

Shinn came to a stop in Stella痴 arms, and he grunted quietly. 鉄tella?

鉄hinn! Stella exclaimed, squeezing him in a hug. 的s Shinn alright?!

Shinn grunted again. 展hat happened...? he murmured. Stella, though still refusing to relinquish her hold on him, pulled away enough to look at him.

...Stella doesn稚 know, she murmured. 釘ut...why does Shinn look sick? She touched his face, staring nervously at his flushed cheeks, and touched the three scars beneath his left eye.

的 guess it was that gas, he mumbled. 鄭re you okay?

添es, Stella answered reluctantly. 釘ut...it's scary... Shinn looked around slowly at his surroundings.

的 guess we池e onboard the ship of those pirates we were fighting, he mumbled. He brought a hand to his head and groaned. 敵oddammit, how'd we end up like this..." He glanced back up at her. "Don't worry," he added, before she could say anything. "I'll be fine." He sighed and looked at his surroundings again. "I wonder what they want with us."

Stella huddled closer to him. ...scary...! she whimpered. Shinn rubbed her shoulders affectionately and smiled at her.

泥on稚 worry, he repeated. 的値l protect you.

But I wish I knew what I was protecting you from...

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Junk Guild transport ship ReHOME, near Boomtown III

鉄o this is the infamous Mad Typhoon Gang.

On the bridge of the ReHOME, Lowe Gear whistled, impressed. 典hat痴 a helluva ship, he added, leaning forward to squint at the battlecruiser's hull. "Hot damn, are those Gottfrieds? Where壇 they get those? Somewhere nearby, Kisato Yamabuki shivered in fear.

的 hate pirates, she grumbled. 典hey池e scary! Did we have to sell them parts?

徹f course we did! It壮 not like we喪e getting money from anywhere else! Lowe exclaimed. 鼎ome on, they池e not that bad. And if we didn稚 have pirates we wouldn稚 be able to make nearly as much dough as we do now!

典hey offered us a lucrative rate, added Liam Garfield, from another chair. Kisato cast annoyed glances at Lowe and Liam. "Also, since our encounter with the Darkheart Team, we have been in need of funds, and must turn to, ah, less than commendable avenues of obtaining them."

典he worst they値l do is pinch you and croon at you, the Professor interjected from the right-hand chair. Kisato glared at her next, and the holographic projection of George Glenn in the left-hand chair gasped in indignation.

典hey wouldn稚 do that to my number-one fan! he exclaimed, leaping to his feet and pointing skyward. Kisato arched her eyebrow at him and sighed.

In his own console, Liam blinked. 的t appears they are increasing their list of requests, he spoke up. All eyes turned questioningly towards him. 的 suppose some of their units were damaged in some previous engagement. Fortunately, they are also providing an increased offer for payment, so we should not need to negotiate much over that.

Lowe drifted over to read over Liam痴 shoulder, and whistled again. 展ow, we池e gonna be loaded after this one! he exclaimed. 典wo whole Igelstellungs and ammo? What壇 they do?

展ell, we致e almost docked! George announced happily. 鉄hall I give them a call?

哲o! Kisato snapped. 添ou scare everyone you talk to.

George looked downtrodden. Liam sighed and tapped a handful of switches.

鄭nyways, Lowe went on, 的 think we have濫

A shrill warning alarm bleated through the air, cutting Lowe off. All eyes turned towards the Professor痴 console, from which the alarm was issuing. The Professor arched her eyebrow and smiled mysteriously.

展ell, well, she began. 鄭n Alliance patrol group. Looks like they came fully loaded with mobile suits, too. Thirty at least.

Kisato squeaked in fright. 典-Thirty mobile suits?! she exclaimed.

展here the hell did they come from?! Lowe demanded, clenching his fists. 泥ammit, I知 going out in the Red Frame!

迭ight! George exclaimed enthusiastically, leaping up and pointing dramatically at the dim specks of the enemies far ahead. 迭ed Frame will launch and fend off the attackers! We will stay behind here with the pirate ship!"

Lowe rushed out of the bridge, and the Professor looked down at her console.

鉄o, she said, smirking at the operator on the other end, 努e池e going to dock and send the parts you requested over. And be sure to give us a tip.

展hat?! the operator shrieked. 鄭re you nuts?! There壮 three Alliance ships with thirty mobile suits heading right towards us and you still want to dock?!

The Professor chuckled. 鉄ure, why not? she answered. 添ou guys better be ready.

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Battlecruiser Kasselheim, near Boomtown III

The alarms roused Stella and Shinn from their half-slumber, and both were momentarily blinded as their cell door opened. A pair of hands grabbed them by the arms and hauled them out into the light.

展hat the hell do you think you池e doing? Shinn yelled, as he was pushed against a wall. A moment later he found himself staring down the barrel of a pistol held by a woman in a dull green overcoat.

轍uiet, she growled. 添ou池e coming with me to the bridge.

She dragged the two young pilots through the halls, ignoring the surprised stares and questions of passerby, and shoved them roughly through a pair of double doors that led them drifting into the bridge.

鉄hinn Asuka and Stella Loussier, Viima said gruffly. 敵ive them what they want and they値l leave us alone.

典hey池e more interested in the mobile suits, Mev corrected. 撤ilots can be replaced. Gundams can稚.

釘ut that doesn稚 explain why their force is so small, Mike put in, staring intently at the fast-approaching fleet. 的f they were really looking for those things, there壇 be more troops.

All eyes turned to the approaching ReHOME as it ponderously swung in to dock.

的 see they池e still trying to dock, Mev observed calmly.

的 tried to tell them not to! Kika protested. "They won't listen! Those stupid junk techs are insane!" Yun let out a shriek of fright.

添ou mean those crazy bastards are trying to dock in the middle of a battle!?"

鉄top them! Viima shouted. 添un, shoot a missile past them or something! We can稚 do this in the middle of an attack!

哲o, Mev cut in, leaning forward. 鼎ontinue as planned. Launch whatever mobile suits are still operational. He glanced over at the ReHOME and watched as the left-hand arm of the ship opened up, and a red-and-white mobile suit with a large flight pack on its back and a large sword on its side came hurtling out.

釘ut captain, Mike protested, 鍍hree of our mobile suits are still being repaired! We can稚 fight thirty Daggers with two mobile suits! And there壮 still those three ships to worry about too!

At last, Mev turned towards Stella and Shinn, who were still being held at gunpoint.

鄭nd as for you two, he went on, ignoring Mike, 努e値l see if the Alliance is willing to pay what they said they would.

典hat痴 why you captured us! Shinn yelled. Mev returned his gaze to the approaching fleet. From the hangar the GuAIZ went flying out.

$500,000 for Miss Loussier isn稚 something to pass up, he said. 釘e quiet and we won稚 hurt you.

Shinn interposed himself between Stella and Mev. 哲o! he shouted. 添ou池e not turning her in!

Shinn was interrupted when a pistol butt smacked him across the face. He staggered to the side, and Stella let out a squeak of fright. She grabbed him by the shoulders, pulling him back to his feet, and he glared at Viima.

"I don't care if you hit me," he snarled, glowering at Viima. "You can do your worst to me. But if you hurt her, I値l濫 He caught himself and glanced at Stella.

She raised her pistol again, but Mev caught her arm.

"No, Viima," he said quietly. With that, he released Viima's arm and turned to face Shinn. "You'll what?" he asked rhetorically.

Shinn glowered at him, not breaking his gaze. Mev regarded him for a long moment熔utside, the CGUE launched.

的 wonder, Mr. Asuka, Mev went on, carefully eyeing the angered young Coordinator, 努hat will you do for her? Are you willing to fight for her?

He turned away, and Shinn said nothing.

的値l cut you a deal, he went on. 的t is evident that the Alliance is picking a fight. So, you fight for us, bolster our forces, and we値l let you two go. He turned his gaze towards Shinn. 泥oes that appeal to you, Mr. Asuka?

Shinn glowered death at Mev. 添ou池e going to hold Stella hostage, he concluded furiously, 殿nd make me fight to save your asses.

的t痴 better than your other option, Mev pointed out sardonically. Shinn glowered at Mev for another moment. 的 suggest you hurry up and choose, Mev added. 的f you don稚 give me an answer soon, I値l answer for you, and I doubt you'll like the one I choose.

Shinn and Mev remained locked in a staring contest. At last Shinn looked away, shutting his eyes in shame. 擢ine, he growled.

鄭lright then, Mev said conclusively. 迭emember our deal, Mr. Asuka. Viima, if you壇 be so kind as to show Mr. Asuka to the hangar...

Viima gave Shinn an icy glare, grabbed him by the arm, and hauled him out of the bridge. Shinn tossed a helpless glance over his shoulder, finding Stella looking forlornly at him as the bridge door closed.

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To be continued...