Phase 26 - The Friend of My Friend

Mobile Suit Gundam SEED DESTINY

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Phase 26 - The Friend of My Friend

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December 4th, CE 73 - Atlantic Federation battleship Girty Lue, Lagrange Point 2

"We'll have to fight Stella," Auel said quietly.

He sat in the cockpit of the Abyss Gundam, his hand still over the switch to close his visor. He glanced across the hangar at the Chaos預t Sting.

"Of course we will," Sting answered, just as quietly.

"Then what will we do?" Auel asked anxiously. "We can't kill her."

"We'll fight her," Sting said with a hint of authority, "and we'll see what happens."

He glanced meaningfully at Auel; Auel nodded uneasily and looked across the hangar, as Neo climbed into the cockpit of his Windam.

"And what about Shinn?" Auel asked, glancing back at Sting.

"Same thing," Sting said with another shrug. "We'll just have to wing it and hope for the best."

The Abyss stepped onto the starboard catapult. Auel scowled at the sight up ahead; there was a colony with an asteroid attached to the nearer end, and in front of that colony, a ship that Sting and Auel knew all too well.

典he Kasselheim, as it痴 called, Neo began with his usual sarcastic cheer, 塗as some spiffy new engines. However, we have some spiffier new Windams, and we池e going to go take them for a test drive. While we池e at it we値l try to capture Stella.

Auel clenched his fists around the Abyss痴 controls葉hat fucking Neo always had to take things lightly.

鄭uel Neider, Abyss, he growled, launching!

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Battlecruiser Kasselheim, Lagrange Point 2

Shinn cracked his knuckles as the Impulse Gundam warmed up. Bogey 1 was back揺e paused and shook his head, realizing that he was still using ZAFT痴 designation for Stella痴 mysterious blue mothership. But it didn稚 matter. The Chaos and Abyss Gundams would be back...and so would Neo.

鉄hinn, Kika痴 voice interrupted. Shinn glanced down at his screen; Kika smiled at him. 鄭re you sure you池e okay?

Shinn looked away awkwardly. 的 told you, he said quietly, 的 have to fight for Stella痴 sake.

釘ut will you be able to? Kika asked. Shinn looked back at her, trying to look confident.

泥o I have a choice? he asked back.

Before Kika could answer, he cut the transmission and stepped onto the catapult.

泥on稚 overdo it, Shinn, George warned, as his CGUE moved into position behind the Impulse. 典hey致e got those new mobile suits, the Windams.

Shinn scowled up at the thin sparkles of light up ahead. He could feel Neo痴 presence, and with a sickening feeling of realization, he could feel two more familiar presences...but they didn稚 feel right, somehow.

A blaze of beam shots slashed through space towards the Kasselheim; the ship lurched and slowly heaved out of the way of the blasts. Shinn痴 eyes flashed.

鉄hinn Asuka, Impulse, going out!

The catapult fired and the Impulse rocketed out of the hangar with a flash of exhaust. Shinn clenched his teeth耀omewhere out there, Neo was coming for him.

典hey have more mobile suits, he grunted, scanning over the elusive Bogey 1痴 ranks. They had the Chaos and Abyss, plus Neo痴 purple Windam, six blue and white bazooka-toting Doppelhorn Windams, and ten Dagger Ls. He glanced back at the Kasselheim and felt a surge of energy rise through him as the Gaia took off.

的t痴 your friends, Shinn said quietly to Stella, as the Gaia fell into formation next to the Impulse, 妬sn稚 it?

Stella nodded slowly, staring forward at the Chaos and Abyss.

鉄ting...and Auel, she murmured. Shinn looked back at them.

的 don稚 want to fight them, he said grimly.

Stella looked at him. 典hey don稚 wanna fight Shinn, she added softly. Shinn blinked in surprised and looked back at her.

典hey what? he asked in disbelief. Stella returned her gaze to the charging Alliance mobile suits; Shinn grunted in frustration and gunned the booster. 展ell, he muttered to himself, 的 know one of you I want to fight!

The Abyss Gundam opened fire with its shoulder shells; Shinn and Stella darted away from the beam blasts and returned fire with their beam rifles, but the Abyss deflected their shots with its shells and fired back with its chest cannon.

鉄hinn! Stella! Chris痴 voice shouted, as his 105 Dagger spiraled into the fray and opened fire with its beam rifle. 泥istract the Gundams and Windams! We値l take care of the Daggers!

The Chaos dropped in with a beam rifle blast; Shinn and Stella pulled back behind their shields, and Shinn scowled up at the Chaos as it leveled off its rifle for another shot.

滴ow are we supposed to distract them?! Shinn snapped, pushing the Gaia aside as the Chaos fired.

典he mines! Zora yelled, as her GuAIZ rocketed over the Chaos痴 head and fired at the oncoming Daggers. 鏑ure them into the mines!

Shinn glanced at the porous asteroid attached to the end of the Neo Shanghai colony. He snarled a curse under his breath and took off towards it with Stella in tow.

鉄tella, he said quickly, 努e値l have to fight in a close space. Will you be okay?

Stella nodded slowly, and Shinn glanced anxiously over his shoulder.

Inside the Chaos, Sting scowled as he rocketed after the retreating Impulse and Gaia.

泥agger squadron, you handle the pirate MS, Neo痴 voice ordered. 鏑ee, you handle the ship! Chaos, Abyss, Windam squadron, we池e going after the Gundams!

添es sir! the Windam pilots chorused; the Windams took off after Neo痴 purple Windam. The Abyss slid into formation next to the Chaos as they both followed.

鉄tella痴 going to fight us, Auel said quietly.

鄭nd we値l wing it, Sting instructed him.

At the mouth of one of the mine tunnels, Shinn turned and watched the Alliance mobile suits approach.

典hey fell for it! he exclaimed in surprise. 展hat are they planning?

The Abyss痴 shoulder shells swung open for another attack, while the Windams leveled off their guns for a barrage of their own. Shinn shoved the Gaia deeper into the mines as the Alliance mobile suits opened fire.

滴e痴 smarter than I thought, Neo grunted. 擢ollow him into the mines! His Windam took off towards the asteroid.

展e値l have to split up, Shinn said quickly as he and Stella retreated further into the mines. 釘e careful in here, Stella!

The Gaia vanished in another direction. Shinn dove into the darkness, swiveled around, and clenched his fists around the Impulse痴 controls, anxiously waiting.

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敵ottfried, fire!

The Girty Lue痴 Gottfried guns blazed; across the battlefield, on the Kasselheim, Mev Typhoon scowled.

溺ike, dodge it! he instructed. 添un, get the weapons ready! We値l fight this one ship-to-ship!

鼎aptain, Chris says the Impulse and the Gaia have led some of the Alliance mobile suits into the mine! Kika exclaimed, looking anxiously over her shoulder at Mev.

敵ood, Mev said. 典ell Chris to keep the Alliance Daggers busy. We値l take on the mothership.

On the Girty Lue痴 bridge, Lee watched impassively as the Kasselheim swung around for a return barrage of its own. The missiles streaked forward.

的gelstellungs, shoot them down! Lee barked; a storm of CIWS fire picked the Kasselheim痴 missiles out of the black sky. 溺ove in and hit them at close range!

The Kasselheim turned again and began to pull away, towards the colony. Lee scowled. 泥on稚 let them escape! Disable their engines!

On the Kasselheim痴 bridge, Mev gripped his armrests tensely and watched the Girty Lue carefully.

添un, fire the Valiants! Now!

The Kasselheim痴 Valiant railguns fired; Lee痴 eyes widened as the railgun shells streaked past his ship and exploded, surrounding the Girty Lue in fire and smoke.

撤ull up! he ordered. 敵ottfried five and six, fire on the last known vector! Don稚 let them hit us!

The Girty Lue痴 Gottfrieds tore apart the fireball and blazed past the Kasselheim; Mev stood up.

展e致e got them dazzled, he said 敵ottfrieds, fire! He clenched his fists as the Gottfrieds rumbled and the Girty Lue lazily rolled out of harm痴 way. 溺ike, pull us closer to the colony. We池e in for a long fight.

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Shinn scowled at the approaching two Windams as they scanned through the darkness of the mine after him. The Impulse crouched behind a piece of heavy machinery in the shadows, beam rifle ready. He counted down a handful of seconds, waiting for the Windams to move into range

The second Windam opened fire with its Doppelhorn Striker before Shinn could attack, blowing the machinery apart and forcing Shinn out of hiding. He pulled back behind his shield; the Windams fired again, raising a storm of loose rocks around the Impulse. The first Windam charged with its bazooka and fired; Shinn ducked underneath the shell and stabbed a beam rifle shot forward. The Windam slapped it aside with its shield and fired another bazooka shell into the Impulse痴 face, sending it staggering back.

泥ammit! Shinn growled. 典hey池e good!

The second Windam fired a trio of shells at the Impulse; Shinn screamed as he jetted aside, and swept into the first Windam痴 face, drawing his beam saber and slicing off both barrels of its Doppelhorn Striker. The Windam pulled back and hurled the ruined pack at the Impulse; Shinn hacked through it with his saber and went reeling back from the resulting explosion. The Windam slammed down and fired its bazooka; Shinn hacked through the smoke to cut the shell down with a blaze of CIWS fire and storm forward, slashing the Windam痴 bazooka in two. The Windam pulled back and drew its beam rifle葉he second Windam fired another volley of shots.

Shinn痴 eyes flashed as he picked the shells out of the air with his CIWS and charged. He ducked beneath the second Windam痴 shots and darted past the first Windam, diving into the second Windam痴 face and slicing its Doppelhorn Striker in two. The Windam abandoned the ruined Striker pack and swung around with its bazooka, just in time for Shinn to lop off the barrel with his saber and kick the Windam in the face, sending it staggering back.

The Impulse landed with a crash as the first Windam caught its comrade. Shinn scowled at the two mobile suits.

泥amn them, he growled. 滴ow did the Alliance come up with such a good machine?

The Windams fired their beam rifles; Shinn jetted to the side as the shots slammed into the rock wall with a burst of fire.

鄭nd it痴 too damn cramped to maneuver in here! Shinn added in frustration, ducking beneath another volley of beam shots and pulling back behind his shield. "What was I thinking, going in here?!" The Windams charged after him; Shinn looked up as a flash of recognition pricked his consciousness.

Immediately, the Impulse lunged back, away from the Windams, drawing its beam rifle. The Windams raised their own rifles; Shinn screamed and fired his rifle up into the ceiling of the tunnel. Rocks went flying, smashing down onto the Windams and forcing them to the tunnel floor. With a final shout, he aimed back down at the first Windam痴 cockpit and drilled a fatal shot through its stomach. The other Windam took cover behind its shield; Shinn痴 eyes flashed as he turned his rifle on the remaining mobile suit, and with one last beam shot, it was all over.

The Impulse turned and took off down the tunnels.

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Neo痴 Windam swept forward, beam saber in hand擁nside the Gaia, Stella tensed and raised the Gaia痴 own saber. The two machines met with a crash.

"You're too dangerous a loose end to keep around now, Stella," Neo grunted; the Windam surged forward, shoving the Gaia back, and swung its saber horizontally, seeking to slice the Gaia in half at the waist. The Gaia threw itself back to avoid the Windam's saber; the Windam charged after the Gaia, and the mobile suits' two sabers clashed in a spray of sparks. "A little girl like you can't be allowed to run around free!"

The Gaia jetted backwards as the Windam brought its saber down again; Stella clenched her fists around the Gaia's controls.

"Neo said he'd protect me..." she murmured; the Windam charged, loosing a hail of CIWS fire on the Gaia. The bullets bounced harmlessly off the Gaia's Phase Shift armor. "But...Neo didn't protect me..." she whispered to herself, deflecting the Windam's beam saber stroke with her shield and pulling back. The Windam followed with another horizontal slash that Stella used the Gaia's shield to deflect. "And now..."

The Windam roared up over the Gaia and swung back down, beam saber raised for an overhead hack. Stella's eyes flashed angrily.

"Neo's trying to kill me!" Stella screamed; the Gaia surged upwards; inside the Windam, Neo blinked in disbelief

The Windam shuddered and staggered backward as the Gaia delivered a scything kick across its face. Neo grunted in pain as he was thrown back inside his mobile suit, and struggled to regain his balance. He pulled back and drew his beam rifle, but an instant later the Gaia cleaved the rifle in half with its saber.

"Dammit!" Neo snarled, jumping over the Gaia's head and drawing his saber again. The Gaia took off after him and swung its beam saber wildly after the retreating Windam. "How did she get this rebellious?! Not even Sting and Auel have attacked me!"

"Neo's trying to kill me!" Stella shrieked, boosting up into the Windam's face and kicking it in the stomach. "Neo LIED!"

The Gaia brought its saber down; Neo swung his own forward to parry her blow, and the two mobile suits were stuck pushing against each other.

Neo scowled inside the cockpit of the Windam.

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"Shit, they keep coming!" Shinn grunted angrily as another Windam fired its bazooka at him in the mine tunnels. A second Windam lined up for a volley from its Doppelhorn Striker祐hinn whirled around to fire his beam rifle at the Windam's Striker before it could fire, blowing it apart in a violent explosion. The disarmed Windam staggered forward painfully祐hinn leapt backwards to avoid a bazooka shell from its comrade and fired again, spearing the wounded Windam on a beam shot through the torso.

As the Windam was torn apart in a thunderous explosion, Shinn stormed up into the other Windam's face, drawing his beam saber, slicing the Windam's bazooka in two, and kicking it backwards. The Windam drew its beam rifle, but Shinn stormed forward to slash it in half as well. The Windam drew back祐hinn charged after it, beam saber pulled back for a killing blow, and the Windam drew its own saber. The mobile suits clashed, and Shinn grunted in frustration as the Windam deflected his saber with its own.

The Windam surged forward, swinging its saber towards Shinn. He ducked beneath the blow, saw his opening, and lunged forward, driving his saber into the Windam's stomach.

"These things are incredible," Shinn breathed as the impaled Windam exploded. He turned and headed back down the tunnel, switching to his beam rifle. He could see the light of the stars twinkling up ahead, and thin green lines of beam fire ripping the sky apart.

A volley of beam shots ripped apart the rock as Shinn exited the tunnel, and he rocketed up out of the smoke, holding out his shield to deflect another volley of beam cannon shots. He skirted to the side as a red energy cannon blast smashed into the asteroid with a violent explosion.

Up ahead, the Chaos and Abyss Gundams loomed in front of him.

"That's the Impulse," Auel said quietly, scowling at the Gundam as it floated against the asteroid surface.

"We have no choice," Sting said grimly. "Shinn, for Stella's sake, you'd better survive."

The Chaos's eyes flashed, and the gunbarrels lifted off with a blast of exhaust. Shinn's eyes widened in surprise as the gunbarrels darted around him, and he took off to avoid a gauntlet of beam fire. The Abyss leapt up over the Chaos's head to fire a round of beam shots out of its shoulder shells. Shinn blinked in surprise as they seared by him and slammed into the rock face harmlessly.

"They're not shooting to hit me!" Shinn gasped, blinking at the two Gundams, as the Chaos fired towards him with his beam rifle and forced him closer to the asteroid. "Are they trying to box me in?!"

"Dammit, go back in the mine!" Sting shouted as he tried to lead the Impulse back into the tunnels with his beam blasts. "We don't want to fight you!"

"What?!" Shinn exclaimed. The Abyss fired a storm of beams at the Impulse, forcing it to retreat along the rock face.

"What part of it don't you understand?!" Auel shouted back. "Get back in the mine so we can't fucking find you!"

Shinn pulled back behind his shield as the Abyss took swipes at him with its beam lance. The Chaos's gunbarrels barred the way with a volley of beam fire祐hinn slammed on the brakes, but immediately the Abyss rammed into him and forced the Impulse back, seizing it by the arms and pushing it towards the rock.

"You're just lucky Stella likes you!" Auel shouted. "Or else I'd tear your fucking head off!"

"That's why you're letting me go?!" Shinn exclaimed.

The Chaos swept in, beam rifle raised. "Stella won't come back to us of her own free will," Sting snapped, "so if she's going to stay with you, we're gonna make sure you take care of her!"

"Now hurry up and get your ass out of here!" Auel snapped. "You're gonna blow our cover!"

The Chaos fired; Shinn's eyes widened in surprise as the blast seared by the Impulse and slammed into the rock behind him. As the smoke cloud surrounded them all, the Abyss let go of the Impulse, and Shinn jetted back down towards the tunnel.

Auel and Sting stared tensely at the cloud for a moment. Behind them, three combat flares went off, signaling a retreat祐ting and Auel glanced at each other, before the Chaos and Abyss turned and took off back towards the Girty Lue. In the tunnels, Shinn watched them go in disbelief.

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ZAFT battleship Minerva, en route to Lagrange Point 2

Rey had an idea that Aoma was coming long before she showed her face on the hatch of his ZAKU Phantom, but that didn稚 make him any happier to see her. As she alighted on the hatch and peered warily inside the ZAKU, Rey sighed quietly to himself and stood up, crawling out of the ZAKU痴 innards and staring disdainfully at Aoma.

展hat is it? he asked gruffly. Aoma blinked in surprise and fumbled for words momentarily.

鼎ommander Hahnenfuss sent me to tell you濫 she began.

典hat we won稚 attack the Kasselheim, Rey finished harshly, glaring at her. 的 know. He turned to delve back into the ZAKU痴 interior and make her leave.

Aoma blinked helplessly. 填m, she started awkwardly, 努hat are you doing in here?

Rey glanced in dismay over his shoulder. 的知 adjusting the ZAKU痴 operating system, he said curtly. 的s there anything else?

Aoma glanced aside awkwardly. 的...I guess not, she said. 的知...sorry for bothering you.

She pushed off the ZAKU痴 hatch and disappeared around a corner. Rey rolled his eyes and returned to work.

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Battlecruiser Kasselheim, Neo Shanghai Colony, Lagrange Point 2

...they didn稚 want to fight... Stella murmured.

She stood on the Gaia痴 open hatch, staring at the hangar doors, holding her helmet loosely in one hand. Shinn alighted on the hatch next to her and took her by the shoulders worriedly.

鄭re you alright? he asked. Stella looked at him slowly.

...Sting and Auel...didn稚 want to fight... she said quietly. ...they池e Stella痴 friends...

的 know, Shinn said, offering a smile.

...did Shinn fight them? Stella asked suddenly, turning to face him. Shinn blinked in surprise.

典hey...they pretended to, Shinn said haltingly, 澱ut they told me to hide in the mine.

Stella smiled slowly. ...Sting and Auel are Stella痴 friends, she said, ...so they won稚 fight Shinn.

Shinn smiled back awkwardly. 的 guess not, he said, wondering what else there was to say.

...Shinn won稚 hurt them, will he? Stella asked, looking back at him with wide, earnest eyes.

Shinn opened his mouth to answer, but something stopped him. Stella wanted her friends to be safe, and while her friends were his enemy, there was no reason that Shinn could not extend to them the same charade of combat that they had extended to him. They weren稚 like normal soldiers葉hey knew that Stella cared about him, and didn稚 kill him because of it.

Maybe that was what made them 摘xtended.

Shinn smiled back. 的 won稚, he said.

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December 5th, CE 73 - Neo Shanghai colony

的t痴 a big colony, the man said, 殿t least thirty million people. They致e got mobile suits and everything.

Shinn found himself in a bar, stingy and dark and smoky, deep within the Neo Shanghai colony. George was next to him, both of them in a dark, secluded booth, listening to the silent bar as a single man, gaunt and ghostly-looking, spoke slowly and spookily to the patrons.

典hey say it痴 a holdover of that old colony craze in the 30s, the man went on, pausing to take a liberal swig of beer. 添ou guys remember it, right? When all those colonies started settin up crazy governments 創 shit?

There were murmurs of agreement. Shinn tuned them out. George stared calmly at the speaking man.

典his place, they call it the Marshall Colony, the man went on, leaning in, as if he was a little boy at a campfire. 典hey say the Atlantic Fed helped start it up as a prison or somethin like that. But it痴 crazy there. Another pause for more beer. 哲ow, I dunno how much of this is true and how much is bullshit, but I hear things about this colony.

添ou hear things about every colony, someone snorted. 展hat痴 your point?

展ell, this one痴 different, the man said with a hint of defensiveness. He looked around melodramatically. 的 hear it痴 full of monsters.

溺onsters? something echoed. 溺an, what the hell are you drinking?

的知 serious, the man said, 妬t痴 full of monsters. Another pause, another swig. 笛ust let me finish He straightened his collarless jacket and cleared his throat. 哲ow, I知 not too sure about it all, but the rumors say that about twenty years ago, the Atlantic Fed started getting ready for a war against the PLANTs, and they realized that as they stood, the Naturals would致e gotten their asses kicked, right? A few nods answered him, though some faces seemed less than pleased. 的 mean, no offense or anything, but...well, anyways, the man continued awkwardly, 鍍hey set the colony up as a prison, for all their worst criminals, the guys that got 25 to life, you know, the rapists and murderers and shit. More beer. 釘ut they wanted to have some guys to fight the Coordinators, so they started doing these creepy-ass experiments on the prisoners, turning little children into super-soldiers, shit like that. He paused. 的 even heard they壇 just take kids they thought would make good subjects out of their homes and kill the families, and make it look like a random murder-robbery. And then they壇 find some guy, accuse him of doing it, and ship him up to the colony too.

釘ut the Marshall Colony ain稚 an Atlantic Fed colony anymore, someone countered.

展ell, that's what they said, the man answered with a shrug. 釘ut they still secretly send weapons 'n' shit up there all the time. It's still a bigass prison.

鄭nd what does that have to do with this job you池e bragging about? someone asked.

Shinn and George glanced meaningfully at each other.

的知 gettin there, I知 gettin there, the man groused. 哲ow just listen. Heard about this from the Kingfish, you know him. Someone, didn稚 say who, wants proof that the Marshall Colony痴 been dealing with the United Emirates of Orb. Some heavy shit.

Shinn scowled at the name.

徹rb? someone asked in surprise. 展hy would they be dealing with a shithole like Marshall?

滴ow the hell are you supposed to prove that they致e been dealing with Orb? another person asked. 典hey got the whole colony on lockdown.

的 dunno, the man said with a shrug, 澱ut whoever this guy is, he wants that info. He痴 willin to pay two million Earth dollars for it.

Various people spit their drinks out in shock.

典wo million? someone exclaimed incredulously.

Shinn and George glanced at each other again. George stood up and stepped into the light.

摘xcuse me, he said loudly, catching everyone痴 attention, as he strode towards the ghostly-looking man. 的 couldn稚 help but overhear something about two million Earth dollars.

展hat, you gonna take that job? the man asked, staring disbelievingly at George. 添ou fuckin nuts, man?

添es, I intend to take that job, George said calmly, 殿nd I壇 like more information about it.

展hat? the man exclaimed. 展hat makes you think you can do this?

George allowed himself a small smile. 的 have a friend, he said, 努ho should be quite up to the task.

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To be continued...