Phase 23 - Beneath the Mask

Mobile Suit Gundam SEED DESTINY

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Phase 23 - Beneath the Mask

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November 17th, CE 73 - Battlecruiser Kasselheim, en route to the Moon

Stella Loussier was utterly baffled. Miki had barged into her room, yanked her out of bed, and quickly gotten her dressed. Before Stella knew what was going on, Miki had whisked her out of her room and into the hallway.

展hat痴 going on? Stella asked uneasily.

的知 taking you out of that room and into the galley, Miki said resolutely, shoving Stella forward. 的t痴 unhealthy for you to be cooped up in there with the Emo Marauder all the time.

...emo? Stella echoed blankly.

Miki shook her head. 哲ever mind, she said, 屠ust come on. We池e getting breakfast.

Stella stared in confusion over her shoulder at Miki. ...why?

展hat do you mean 層hy?樗 Miki said, stopping short. Stella turned around slowly to face her. 展e eat breakfast. Most important meal of the day.

...but...why is Miki making Stella go? Stella asked slowly. Miki paused, searching for words.

的 wanna be your friend, she said, sticking her hand out and smiling. 鄭nd if we池e gonna be friends, it means we do stuff like this.

Stella looked down at Miki痴 hand, and then back up at Miki痴 smiling face.

泥on稚 you wanna be friends? Miki asked, her hand falling, scratching the back of her head awkwardly.

Stella stared at Miki for a moment. ...friends... she repeated. ...like Sting and Auel...

Miki looked aside uneasily. 填h, sure, I guess, she said with a shrug. 鉄o, um...we friends?

Stella was silent a moment, before she smiled. 徹kay...

Miki grinned victoriously. 敵reat! she exclaimed, grabbing Stella by the shoulders and turning her around, pushing her back down the hall. 典hen we can get breakfast! I知 starving!

Stella blinked in confusion as Miki wheeled her into the galley. Across the room, Yun and Gan glanced in surprise at Stella as she drifted into the room.

滴ey, you got Little Miss Recluse out into the light, Gan said, pausing to take a healthy swig of coffee. 泥oes Shinn know about this?

Miki shot a glare at Gan as she pushed Stella towards an empty seat. 展hat do you think? she asked. 適ika痴 probably off trying to get in his pants anyways.

展hat? Yun exclaimed, her eyes widening in horror. 添ou mean we致e got more drama to deal with?

Another door opened; the intimidating shade of Zora Naikov swept into the room, with George not far behind her. She glanced neutrally at Stella for a moment and disappeared into a side room.

的 see you coaxed Stella out of hiding, George said as he approached Miki. He turned towards Stella. 鉄o what do you think?

Stella stared blankly at him for a moment. ...it痴 loud, she said softly. George smiled and glanced at Miki.

添our heart痴 in the right place, Miki, he said, 澱ut let痴 not go running until we know how to walk.

...where痴 Shinn? Stella asked suddenly. George glanced at her.

哲o idea, he said. He glanced over his shoulder and drifted off towards Zora, as she stared guardedly at everyone else. Stella looked back at Miki, confused.

鉄tella wants to find Shinn, she said. Miki blinked.

鉄hinn? Ah, well... Miki sighed in defeat. 徹kay. Just let me get my breakfast. She paused for a moment. 添ou want anything?

Stella stared at Miki for a moment. ...hungry, she said quietly.

Miki grinned, grabbed Stella by the arm, and pulled her towards the kitchen.

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滴e痴 a liability, captain!

Mev Typhoon sat in the captain痴 chair, a piping cup of coffee in hand. Viima stood defensively to the side, clenching her gloved fists. Chris leaned against the wall to the right, watching everything neutrally. From the helm, Mike tried to look like he was just minding his own business.

Mev sat back and took a sip of coffee. 徹f course he痴 a liability, he said. 的f you want to look at it that way, so are you. What痴 your point?

Viima bristled angrily. 滴e has a death mark on his head in the PLANTs! she protested. 典hey sent their best ship after him! They sent FAITH members after him! He痴 not some smalltime punk; he痴 committed treason, and ZAFT is hunting him down! And we池e the ones giving him shelter!
鄭gain, if you want to play the 蘇e痴 an outlaw so he痴 a liability card, the same applies to you, Mev said smoothly. 哲eed I remind you of your little tiff with the Marshall Colony Authority?

Viima sputtered angrily. 典hat痴 different! she exclaimed. 典hey framed me and forced me into exile!

鄭nd who said that痴 not the case with Shinn? Mev asked. He glanced down at Mike. 展hat do you think?

Mike sighed, partly because he had just been dragged into the conversation. 滴e痴 a kid, he said with a shrug. 鉄till has some growing up to do, but he痴 not that bad. He turned his chair around to face Mev. 添eah, he痴 got the Minerva all over our asses now, but he痴 also capable of chasing them off himself. Net result, more excitement than we池e ever used to, but it's not like our profession is for those of delicate constitution anyway.

鄭re you really going to keep taking that chance, captain? Viima asked. 滴e may be a good pilot, but he痴 dangerous!

徹nly to the people who piss him off, Mike put in with a shrug. 滴e and Stella are damned good pilots, and they致e got a couple of Gundams. You don稚 just find Gundams anywhere.

鼎aptain! Viima exclaimed. 纏AFT sent the Minerva specifically to track down Shinn! Now that they know he痴 here, it痴 only a matter of time before they send enough troops to finish us off!

Mev stood up and slowly turned to face Chris. 添our thoughts? he asked.

Chris was silent a moment. 滴e does his job, he said indifferently. 典hat痴 all I care about.

Mev turned to face Viima again; she sighed in frustration.

添ou were there, Viima, when we made our deal, Mev said. 滴e would work for us, fight for us, and help us. In return, we would provide him with a home. He has worked for and fought for and helped us. Shall we break our contract without good reason?

Viima stormed out of the bridge in disgust. Mev sat back down indifferently.

釘ut still, captain, Mike spoke up hesitantly, 努e can稚 rely on Shinn to hold the Minerva off all the time. Like Viima said, sooner or later ZAFT will send more troops after us. What will we do when that happens?

Mev sat back and draped one leg over the other.

展e will let fate answer that question.

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November 18th, CE 73 - Battlecruiser Kasselheim, en route to the Moon

The Impulse痴 OS was finally recalibrated. Shinn closed up the cockpit panels with a sigh and climbed out of the cockpit. The Impulse was what made him worth something; it had to be at its best.

鉄o, a voice that Shinn was growing all too accustomed to began jovially, 塗ow壇 you get this thing?

Glancing down the gantry, Shinn found Kika drifted towards him. He glanced up at the silent Impulse.

滴aven稚 I told you enough about me? he asked uncomfortably, grabbing another pull-bar and taking off down the direction Kika had come. She watched him go for a moment, huffed indignantly, and hopped up into the corridor over his head, drifting down headfirst in front of him and stopping him.

鉄top being all pissy, she said with a grin. 的知 trying to be friendly.

Shinn tried to go around her; Kika righted herself and stopped him again.

的 mean it, she said, her smile fading. 添ou池e never going to last in the world if you池e all pissy and shut off.

Shinn looked away in annoyance. 的 don稚 need to go wearing my heart on my sleeve, he said scornfully. Kika shook her head.

展ell, at least try to be a little more receptive, okay? she asked. She paused, finding him still not answering her, and smacked him upside the head.

Shinn sputtered in surprise, staring angrily at her. 展hat the hell was that for? he demanded.

典o make you pay attention, she said sweetly. 哲ow talk to me. That痴 how this whole 祖onversation thing works.

的 don稚 like it, Shinn said resolutely, skirting around her and taking off down the corridor again. Kika heaved a sigh and righted herself.

Shinn continued down the corridor towards his room alone, shaking his head. Kika was interested in him, but he didn稚 know why; she was relentless in her efforts to pry into him and get to know him better. He wondered if she had some kind of ulterior motive. She was friendly, and she didn稚 seem to be trying to hurt him or cause him problems, but that didn稚 answer any of his questions.

He blinked in surprise as he saw Stella and Miki coming down the corridor towards the door of his and Stella痴 room.

鉄hinn! Stella exclaimed, rushing towards him and hugging him. Shinn looked at Miki in confusion.

的 took Stella out to get breakfast, Miki said sheepishly, scratching the back of her head awkwardly. 滴ope you don稚 mind.

Shinn looked back questioningly at Stella. 溺iki痴 nice! Stella exclaimed happily. Shinn blinked again and looked back at Miki; she shrugged back.

填m, okay, Shinn said blankly.

添ou shouldn稚 keep her cooped up in there all the time, Miki added, crossing her arms, trying to look authoritative and failing because she was about a foot shorter than Shinn. 的t痴 not healthy.

鉄tella痴 been through a lot of things that aren稚 healthy, Shinn said, arching an eyebrow inquisitively. Miki paused, and then sighed in defeat, looking down at the floor.

釘ut still, she began, and said nothing more.

溺iki is Stella痴 friend, Stella said earnestly, looking at Shinn. Shinn smiled back.

的 know, it痴 okay, he said. 的 guess you need friends too.

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Atlantic Federation battleship Girty Lue, orbit of the Moon

Standing on the bridge of the Girty Lue, Neo stroked his chin in thoughtfully, reading the reports as they scrolled by on the screen. In his chair, Lee read them as well.

鉄o Stella痴 a pirate now, Neo said conclusively.

鉄o the rumors say, Lee put in. Neo sat down in his chair and sighed.

典his will complicate things, he said. 典he Minerva痴 attacked that pirate ship once, and they池e gearing up to do it again.

的t痴 not a fast ship, Lee added. 展e would be able to catch up to it.

展e would, Neo agreed gravely, 澱ut that kid in the Impulse beat us once before. He壇 probably do it again. He scowled. 泥amn you, Shinn Asuka.

滴e痴 a formidable opponent, Lee said with a hint of approval. 的 see why ZAFT wants to take him down.

Neo stood up. 展e値l follow the Minerva, and see how they fare, he said. 泥epending on how they do, we値l sweep in and take a stab at those pirates again. He glanced at Lee. 適eep the Mirage Colloid up and follow the Minerva.

添es sir, Lee answered neutrally.

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November 19th, CE 73 - Battlecruiser Kasselheim, near Copernicus, the Moon

Shinn Asuka sighed as he zipped up his flight suit. The Kasselheim had almost made it to Copernicus without event, both within and without, but the Minerva had finally caught up with them. The Minerva was back; here, in front of Copernicus, the Kasselheim and the Minerva would duel once again. Rey was back; Shiho was back; Luna was back. He would have to face them again.

"Hey, Shinn," Gan said as she closed the seals of her helmet. "Pay attention."

Shinn glanced at her with an arched eyebrow.

"We have a plan this time," George said as he closed his visor. He went over to a screen on the wall and activated it; a panorama of Copernicus and the space around it appeared. "The ship is heading for the ruins of a colony that was destroyed in the Valentine War and crashed onto the lunar surface. We'll go play with your friends there."

Shinn nodded mutely and strapped his helmet on. He turned and entered the hangar without a word, strapping himself into the Impulse's cockpit.

He closed his eyes; they were back again. He would have to fight Rey again, listen to his screaming accusations, defend his friends again.

Shinn opened his eyes; the Impulse stepped onto the catapult.

"Shinn Asuka, Impulse...going out!"

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Inside the Blast Impulse, a twisted scowl slithered onto Ruumari Star's face.

"That traitor will die today!" he shouted, firing the Blast Impulse's booster.

"Ruumari!" Shiho shouted from the Savior. "Don't break揚oddammit, what the hell is his problem?!"

"Aoma and I will keep an eye on him," Luna offered from her ZAKU. "Since we know he'll be after Shinn."

"Roger," Shiho answered in annoyance. "Rey, you and I will go after the other mobile suits. The Rutherford's mobile suits will attack the pirate ship."

Rey nodded silently, his face dark with hatred. Shiho looked back wearily at the Kasselheim, as its mobile suits had launched. She hoped that someone would take Shinn down this time揺e was engendering too much hatred and drama to be alive any longer.

Inside the Force Impulse, Shinn magnified the image and found the Blast Impulse rocketing towards him as fast as its thrusters could carry it. He glanced up ahead, finding the wreckage of the colony nearby. The Blast Impulse fired its weapons at him; Shinn dodged easily and took off towards the colony.

"Stop running!" Ruumari shrieked, blasting off after the Force Impulse.

"Ruumari! Stop!" Aoma shouted. "He's leading you into a trap!"

"Like he cares," Luna snorted disgustedly; her ZAKU and the Sword Impulse took off after the Blast Impulse.

Shinn glanced over his shoulder, finding the Blast Impulse charging after him. He boosted up towards the wreckage and looked around tensely. The wreckage was enormous, clearly ideal for a mobile suit battle, but it would take all of his skill not to fall victim to the same trap he was leading the ZAFT suits into.

Ruumari fired another full blast that Shinn easily ducked under. The blasts slammed into the colony wreckage, and something began to explode; Shinn used the explosion as a cover to escape into the debris. Ruumari shielded his eyes and landed with a curse, looking around furiously.

"Stop hiding, you traitor!" he snarled. "Come on out! You're in here somewhere!" He raised his weapons to open fire.

The Sword Impulse slammed down in front of him, pushing his beam cannons back down. "Stop it!" Aoma shouted.

"What the hell are you doing?!" Ruumari screamed back. Luna's ZAKU landed to his right.

"You're just going to make things worse," she said wearily. "We'll have to find him ourselves." The ZAKU turned and cautiously began to walk towards the wreckage.

Ruumari scowled and took off over the Sword Impulse's head, diving into the debris.

Shinn narrowed his eyes at the Blast Impulse and dove out from behind cover, firing his beam rifle. The Blast Impulse lurched back behind his shield, but not before a beam blast from the Force Impulse blew its beam rifle out of its hand. Ruumari cursed and fired back with the Blast Silhouette's weapons.

"Go to hell, traitor!" he screamed. "I'll take you down one way or another!"

Shinn dove beneath the Blast Impulse's shots and rocketed up into its face. Ruumari pulled back, drawing the Blast Impulse's beam javelins, and charged again; Shinn scowled and drew a beam saber, and the two Impulses slammed together with a crash.

"All those ZAFT troops you killed! I'll take revenge for them all!" Ruumari screamed. He tried to kick the Force Impulse in the stomach; Shinn caught the blow with his shield and kicked the Blast Impulse in the face, sending it staggering back. Before Ruumari could recover, he slashed the beam javelin in half; Ruumari threw the sparking remainder of one javelin away and charged with the remaining half.

Shinn narrowed his eyes and kicked the beam javelin out of the Blast Impulse's hand傭efore it could react, Shinn severed the Blast Impulse's right arm at the elbow, and knocked it to the ground with a kick to the chest. Shinn raised his saber for a killing blow

A pair of beam boomerangs came slicing down at him; Shinn cut them both in half and looked up in surprise. The Sword Impulse came flashing down towards him, anti-ship swords upraised. Shinn ducked aside from their blow and kicked the Sword Impulse in the stomach, knocking it to the Blast Impulse's side. He switched to his beam rifle and raised it, but a beam cannon blast smashed into the ground before him, and he leapt backwards in surprise. A red Gunner ZAKU Warrior landed with a crash in front of the two Impulses, pointing its beam cannon at the Force Impulse.

"Not today, Shinn," Lunamaria said, glaring at Shinn. "Aoma, get Ruumari out of here before he blows an artery."

The Sword Impulse took off with the damaged Blast Impulse. Shinn narrowed his eyes at Luna's ZAKU.

"Why'd it have to come to this, Shinn?" she asked. "Weren't we friends? Didn't that mean anything to you?"

"That's why I told you not to get in my way," Shinn said harshly. 的 promised you I wouldn稚 hurt you. Don稚 make me go back on that promise.

Luna flinched at his words, but held her ground. 展ould you really? she asked. 展ould you throw away our friendship, forsake the times we had together, and kill me, just to protect Stella? I don稚 believe you would.

The Impulse raised its beam rifle and pointed it at the ZAKU痴 chest. Shinn scowled.

泥o you want to bet your life on that, Luna? he asked.

Luna痴 eyes widened in disbelief. 添-You池e serious! she exclaimed.

鏑unamaria, get back! a voice screamed; a beam blast came down in front of the Impulse, and Shinn rocketed away as Rey痴 ZAKU Phantom slammed down between Luna痴 ZAKU and the Impulse. The ZAKU Phantom raised its beam rifle and opened fire; Shinn pulled back behind his shield.

迭ey! Luna exclaimed. 展hat are you濫

的f you won稚 take him down, I will! Rey snapped. 敵o back to the Minerva!

Without waiting for Luna痴 answer, the ZAKU Phantom drew a beam tomahawk and hurled it at the Impulse. Shinn batted it away with his shield and fired back with his beam rifle; the ZAKU Phantom ducked aside from the Impulse痴 shots and fired back.

添ou couldn稚 turn me into a Newtype super-soldier, so you値l kill me instead?! Shinn screamed, taking off over Luna痴 ZAKU as Rey痴 ZAKU skimmed over the lunar surface. 的s that how it痴 going to be, Rey?! I値l kill you too if you make me!

Rey scowled and fired back with his beam rifle; the Impulse ducked beneath the ZAKU痴 shots and raised its rifle to return fire. A moment later, it lurched to the side to dodge a beam cannon blast from Luna痴 ZAKU Warrior.

展e won稚 take your actions lightly, Shinn! Luna shouted; she fired again, and Shinn ducked beneath another blast. 展e won稚 let you be just like that! What you did is too serious!

Shinn growled a curse under his breath and pulled back behind his shield as Rey showered the Impulse with beam rifle fire. He dove behind a pile of wreckage; Rey痴 shots slammed uselessly into the wreckage, and a pall of smoke rose over the battlefield.

鉄top running, Shinn! Rey shouted, landing with a crash. 鉄top running and face your destiny!

The ZAKU took off with a beam rifle shot; Luna痴 ZAKU Warrior followed it up with a beam cannon blast, and behind another piece of colony wreckage, the Impulse dove away from an exploding piece of ruined machinery.

添ou have no choice! Rey cried, as the ZAKU Phantom leapt into the air and released a swarm of missiles on the Impulse. 添ou can稚 escape yourself! You are a Newtype! Accept it!

哲ot if it痴 just going to make me suffer! Shinn shouted back, cutting down Rey痴 missiles with a CIWS burst. He fired off another rifle shot to force the ZAKU back and lunged back into the wreckage.

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Zora bit back a curse as her GuAIZ rattled, beam blasts pounding against its shield. She ignited the beam claw and stabbed forward as her foe made the mistake of slackening its fire only to come crashing up against her enemy's shield.

The Savior Gundam, it seemed, was a far tougher foe than she had thought.

George's CGUE dropped in from above with a devastating overhead slash the Savior rocketed aside and opened fire with its beam cannons again, putting George back on the defensive. As he did, he returned fire with his shield-mounted Vulcan guns, but the bullets bounced harmlessly off the Savior's crimson armor.

"That Phase Shift armor must be pretty cool stuff," George grunted the CGUE ducked aside again as the Savior returned fire with its beam rifle. Zora charged, beam claw raised high, but the Savior somersaulted over her head. George stopped it from firing at the GuAIZ's back with a beam rifle blast, and Zora wheeled around, activating her extensional arrestors to clamp onto the Savior's rifle and tear it free, hurling it into space.

The Savior answered by firing its beam cannons, forcing Zora to dive over the blasts. George's CGUE charged again to distract the unstoppable red machine, ramming it with his mobile suit's shoulder. The Savior drew a beam saber from its own shoulder and brought it down with a crash on the CGUE's shield.

"Well, whoever this guy is, he earned his wings," George grunted. "He's not in FAITH for nothing!"

"Shinn's going to be the death of us," Zora snapped. "Distract it, and I'll hit it from behind!"

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Beam rifle shots slammed into the wreckage around him, followed by another storm of missiles. Taking cover behind his shield, Shinn dove aside as a beam cannon burst tore across the battlefield. As more wreckage began to explode, Shinn saw the repaired Blast Impulse Gundam slammed down onto the lunar surface.

添ou goddamned traitor! Ruumari screamed. 添ou sold us out to the Naturals at Arzachel!

He fired another beam cannon burst; Shinn dove aside again and took cover behind the wreckage. Ruumari followed with a scream; another beam rifle shot tore towards the Force Impulse, and Shinn deflected it with his shield. The Sword Impulse Gundam blasted into the fray with its combined anti-ship sword and swung towards the Force Impulse. Shinn batted its blade aside with his shield and pulled back.

迭uumari, stop chasing him! Aoma shouted. 滴e has the upper hand!

敵o to hell, Aoma! Ruumari shrieked. 的値l tear his head off!

The Blast Impulse fired again; Shinn ducked aside, and the blasts tore into a heap of ruined machinery. As the wrecked machines began to explode, the Force Impulse jumped into the air and dislodged a massive shaft from the colony痴 mirrors from its grave in the lunar dust. Shinn kicked the shaft down towards the Blast Impulse; Ruumari desperately raised the Blast Impulse痴 shield, and grunted in pain as his mobile suit rattled under the impact. With a scream, he threw the shaft aside with sheer brute strength, and turned his eyes towards the Force Impulse

An instant later, he screamed in pain as the Force Impulse delivered a devastating kick to the Blast Impulse痴 chest. The Blast Impulse went flying back, slamming Ruumari into the cockpit, and as his helmet cracked open and blood burst out, his eyes closed and he faded into unconsciousness.

迭uumari! Aoma shouted in disbelief. The Sword Impulse landed in front of the fallen Blast Impulse, and turned towards the Force Impulse.

Shinn narrowed his eyes; the Sword Impulse fired its beam rifle again, but Shinn skirted to the side and knocked down another metal shaft. The Sword Impulse cut the shaft in half with its anti-ship sword and fired back up at the Force Impulse祐hinn clenched his teeth and used the Force Impulse痴 foot to pull up a wrecked piece of machinery, blocking the beam shot. As the machine began to explode, Shinn kicked it back down into the Sword Impulse痴 face. The Sword Impulse staggered back; Aoma grunted and abandoned her beam rifle as it sparked ominously, and hacked the fireball apart with her swords.

The Force Impulse was upon her instantly with a kick to the Sword Impulse痴 face. The Sword Impulse stumbled backwards; Shinn kicked it in the stomach, and Aoma grunted as the Sword Impulse crashed to the ground. She swung her shield up to deflect Shinn痴 finishing beam rifle shot, and jumped up into the air over his head to shower him with CIWS fire.

的 don稚 care who you are! Aoma cried. 的 won稚 let you hurt my friend!

A cloud of missiles slammed into the ground around the Force Impulse as the Sword Impulse landed with a powerful overhead sword slash. Shinn dove away from the Sword Impulse, looking up anxiously into the black sky. The Nazca-class was descending on the battlefield, pouring missiles and beam cannon fire into the wreckage. It was spewing smoke and flames, and covered in ugly scars and burns. Shinn pulled back behind his shield, as the Sword Impulse seized the fallen Blast Impulse and took off again.

Shinn glanced over his shoulder, finding another metal shaft behind him. He dove backwards and leapt up; with a shriek of metal, he kicked it down towards the Nazca. The ship turned its guns on the falling metal shaft, but it was too late葉he shaft smashed lengthwise onto the ship, crushing the guns next to the bridge. The Nazca began to list towards the lunar surface. Shinn charged有una痴 ZAKU Warrior and Rey痴 ZAKU rose on the side to open fire. He ducked through their shots and fired his beam rifle.

The Nazca痴 bridge exploded祐hinn took cover behind his shield as the rest of the ship began to meet a fiery death. He landed on the lunar surface with a slam; the ZAKUs landed nearby.

滴ow many more of your old comrades will you kill, Shinn? Rey asked callously. Shinn scowled back.

滴owever many it takes for you to leave me alone, he said back.

Rey痴 face twisted into a hideous scowl, and the ZAKU Phantom charged, drawing a beam tomahawk祐hinn痴 eyes narrowed at the approaching mobile suit. They met with a crash; the ZAKU Phantom slammed its tomahawk down against the Impulse痴 shield.

Shinn screamed; the Impulse used its shield to force the ZAKU back, and with an angry yell, Shinn raised his rifle and drilled a shot through the ZAKU痴 left shoulder. As the ZAKU痴 left arm spiraled away, Shinn charged and slammed the ZAKU with a kick to the face. The crippled ZAKU staggered back; Luna痴 ZAKU caught it before it could collapse.

In the sky above, flashes of light split the darkness; Luna looked up at the Minerva痴 signal flares, and then looked back at the Impulse.

She scowled and took off with Rey痴 defeated ZAKU. Shinn watched them go impassively.

At last, he turned and stomped off towards the city of Copernicus.

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Atlantic Federation battleship Girty Lue, near Copernicus, the Moon

Sting Oakley nodded as he watched the Impulse leave the battlefield, on a screen in the Girty Lue壮 crew lounge. At the very least, that Shinn guy knew how to fight.

滴e sure kicked ass, Auel observed from his place on one of the couches, slathered across its length with a bottle of water. Sting glanced at him for a moment and shrugged.

鄭t least it痴 not our asses he痴 kicking, Sting said. 的 guess Stella痴 in good hands.

Auel glanced at him, puzzled. 展hat, you池e giving up already? he asked.

徹f course not, Sting answered, crossing his arms and looking steadily at the screen. 釘ut... He trailed off and shook his head.

釘ut what? Auel asked, sitting up. 的 thought we were going to pay them a visit inside Copernicus.

展e are, Sting said. 釘ut...well, we want Stella to be safe, right?

添eah, Auel said hesitantly, casting a sideling glance at Sting. 展hy?

展ell, if she痴 not gonna be around us, Sting said uneasily, 鍍hen I guess this guy, Shinn, he can take care of her.

Auel glanced at the screen, and then back at Sting. 的 guess so, he said.

Sting took a step back. 鄭t least one of us gets to be happy, he said. He glanced over at Auel. 釘ut our turn痴 coming too.

Auel smirked back. 泥amn right it is.

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ZAFT battleship Minerva, near Copernicus, the Moon

的t痴 funny, Luna said in the infirmary of the Minerva, arms crossed, staring down at the unconscious Ruumari. 滴e looks so peaceful when he痴 had his lights knocked out.

She glanced at Aoma; she was sitting on the bed next to Ruumari痴, her uniform shirt draped over her legs, with an icepack over a large and painful-looking purple bruise on her right shoulder. She glanced painfully at Ruumari and sighed.

滴e痴 gonna get himself killed, she said with a sigh. 的 don稚 know why he痴 like this.

滴e told you, Luna said, glancing neutrally at her and then looking back at her. 滴e wants to prove himself.

Aoma blinked and looked back at Luna. 滴e wants to prove himself?

添ou two were stuck on Maius 5, right? Luna asked. 滴e wants to prove that he痴 worthy of being a ZAFT Red. She paused, and then smiled amusedly. 典hough I知 not sure who he痴 trying to prove himself to.

Aoma blinked again in surprise at Luna痴 amused look, and looked at Ruumari, blushing. 展ha謡e池e not like that!

展hatever, Luna said with a dismissive smile. She uncrossed her arms. 的 have work to do, so give me a holler if you need help getting him to put his bib on.

Aoma sighed dejectedly as Luna left.

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Battlecruiser Kasselheim, Copernicus, the Moon

Unlike New Haven, even from the vantage point of the Kasselheim痴 port observation deck, Copernicus was beautiful. There were twinkling lights everywhere, forming an eerily beautiful panorama across the mottled gray surface of the Moon.

George stood on the observation deck with Zora, staring down at it all. Zora crossed her arms and glanced at George.

展hat are we doing here? she asked. George glanced back at her.

填pgrade the ship痴 engines so we can stay ahead of the Minerva, he said.

典hat痴 not what I meant, Zora said, shaking her head. 的 mean about Shinn.

George arched an eyebrow and looked back at the city. 天iima wants him gone, he said. 釘ut she hates newcomers anyways.

的 know, Zora said. 滴e痴 a good pilot, but he痴 got too much baggage with him.

展e all have baggage, George said. 添ou have your fair share too.

釘ut the Freedom Gundam has never come after us because I知 here, Zora answered, looking at George. 典he Minerva is only chasing us because Shinn is with us. If he were to leave, then the Minerva would stop chasing us.

George sighed heavily. 撤oor Shinn, he said. 徹n one side, he痴 got Kika, who wants to be his friend. And on the other, he痴 got Viima, who wants him gone. Hasn稚 he done a good enough job as a pilot for us?

的知 not denying his skill, Zora said, crossing her arms and looking back out at the city. 鄭ll I知 questioning is the wisdom of keeping him around on this ship.

典here痴 questions to be had of the wisdom in pretty much everything, George said, shrugging.

Zora was quiet for a moment. 鄭re you going to take him out into the city? she asked. George nodded. 的s there a dark side to Copernicus too?

George stared grimly at the city. 鉄hinn will have to learn. Wherever there痴 light, somewhere nearby, there痴 going to be a shadow.

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To be continued...