Phase 27 - Into the Gates of Hell

Mobile Suit Gundam SEED DESTINY

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Phase 27 - Into the Gates of Hell

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December 6th, CE 73 - Battlecruiser Kasselheim, en route to Lagrange Point 3

典he plan, Mev Typhoon said with some measure of authority, 妬s going to take all of your skills to execute.

The Kasselheim痴 bridge crew and mobile suit pilots were gathered on the bridge, with a diagram of the Marshall Colony on the main screen. Mev crossed his arms and glanced at Viima.

Viima, Shinn noted, seemed unusually subdued. He wondered why, noting as well that he could feel some kind of tightly repressed emotional turmoil coming from her, but he could not figure out why. She gripped a baton tightly and stepped up towards the screen.

典he Marshall Colony is a closed-type O誰eill cylinder colony, she began, her voice quavering almost imperceptibly. "It's a prison colony owned by the Atlantic Federation and maintained by the Marshall Colony Authority, a subsidiary of the Atlantic Federation military, armed with mobile suits and warships enough to protect the colony from all but an all-out military assault. This colony is where the Atlantic Federation's worst criminals are sent." Shinn bristled at the thought. "Our employer wants recorded evidence of dealings that Orb's Seiran family has had with the Marshall Colony," Viima continued. "Information like that would be kept in the colony's information center." She glanced at Shinn emotionlessly. "Shinn and Stella will infiltrate the colony and collect the information."

Shinn tried to ignore the sinking feeling in his stomach. Of course he and Stella would have to do this. They were the soldiers. They wouldn稚 have any fear.

典he Marshall Colony is armed by the Atlantic Federation military, Viima went on, looking specifically at Shinn, though still ostensibly speaking to everyone. "There are battleships all over, donated by the Atlantic Federation Space Fleet, and the colony itself maintains security with thousands of armed and armored ground units and hundreds of mobile suits. The colony is defended by an array of beam cannons on the outside. Although the Atlantic Federation has only armed the Marshall Colony with surplus Strike Daggers, there are still hundreds of them stationed at the colony, so you値l have to use stealth to sneak over to the third block of the colony and enter through the colony wall.

Through the colony wall? Miki exclaimed in disbelief, as all eyes turned towards her. 添ou壇 need a really big cannon to do that!

Viima tapped her baton against the colony痴 schematics, as Mike duly zoomed the screen in on the corresponding section of the colony wall.

添ou can enter on the colony wall in this blind spot, she said, indicating a conspicuous opening on the colony wall. 典he beam cannons are only mounted on the ends of the colony hull, and your mobile suits will be equipped with sensor jamming devices. You値l enter through this sewage outlet. Shinn felt his stomach churn. 典he Marshall Colony Authority doesn稚 check the sewers, Viima said. Shinn silently wondered how she knew that. 典he sewer systems are automated and largely unprotected. Follow the sewers遥ou値l have a map to point you in the right directions預nd come up underneath the colony痴 records repository. Infiltrate the repository and retrieve the desired data, then retrace your steps and make your escape. The Kasselheim will be waiting for you on the edge of the Marshall Colony痴 airspace. We池e bound to attract attention sitting here, so be quick.

的 trust, Mev said, turning to Shinn, 鍍hat your skills shall once again not disappoint.

Shinn nodded dourly.

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ZAFT battleship Minerva, en route to Lagrange Point 3

典hey池e going where?!

Arthur stood in shock on the bridge, staring disbelievingly at the map on Meyrin痴 screen. Talia glanced tiredly at him.

展hat are you talking about, Arthur? she asked. Arthur turned towards her incredulously, looked back helplessly at the screen, and then looked at Talia again.

典hey池e going to the cursed colony! Arthur wailed.

Talia arched an eyebrow. 典he cursed colony? she echoed.

的t痴 true, captain! Arthur exclaimed. He paused and blinked in disbelief at himself, and promptly straightened up. 的 mean...well, I致e heard rumors濫

徹ut with it, Arthur, Talia said wearily.

的t痴 cursed! Arthur yelped in surprise. 典here痴 ships that go there and are never heard from again! Even Junk Guild ships!

Talia blinked, surprised herself. 展hat is this colony called? she asked.

Arthur paused, crestfallen. Talia glanced at Meyrin.

典he Marshall Colony, she supplied quietly.

Talia sat back, recognizing the name. 典hat colony痴 not cursed, she said, trying not to sound like a teacher lecturing a student who didn稚 quite get it. 的t痴 an Atlantic Federation prison. The guards there are keeping anyone from getting too close, and the curse reputation just helps.

釘ut captain! Arthur protested. 典hey池e even attacking Junk Guild ships! The Junk Guild痴 supposed to be neutral!

展hen has anyone ever cared when anyone is neutral? Talia countered. Arthur paused again, looking defeated.

典hen...what will we do? he asked quietly.

Talia sat back, crossing her arms. 展hat we will do, she began, 妬s follow this pirate ship. Arthur痴 eyes widened in disbelief, but Talia continued before he could sputter another protest. 展e will stay sufficiently far enough away to keep from drawing attention from the Marshall Colony. She glanced at Burt. 溺ake sure we stay on the Kasselheim痴 tail. We will not engage the pirates until after we figure out what they池e doing at the Marshall Colony.

添es ma誕m, Burt answered. Arthur opened his mouth to protest, but no sound came out. Talia put a hand to her chin in thought.

And, she added to herself, we値l see how crazy Shinn has become.

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December 7th, CE 73 - Battlecruiser Kasselheim, en route to Lagrange Point 3

...and with yesterday痴 opening of full-scale military invasion by the Earth Alliance of the Muslim League, the Earth Alliance forces have today successfully seized the Suez Canal...

Shinn glanced tiredly at the television screen in the galley of the Kasselheim. He looked back at Stella, as she happily consumed something that, somewhere in the world, passed for a cup of soup and noodles. Evidently she didn稚 mind that the thing was a stroke wrapped up in a Styrofoam cup. She paused in the midst of eating, with a mess of soggy noodles sticking out of her mouth, and looked quizzically at Shinn.

Shinn smiled at her as she slurped up the surplus noodles and blinked at him.

展hat痴 wrong, Shinn? she asked quietly.

哲othing, he said, shaking his head and turning back to his own Styrofoam cup of death. He stared awkwardly at the off-green watery substance, still wondering how Viima knew so much about the Marshall Colony. His senses pricked up as he felt Kika痴 familiar presence approaching.

鉄taring at it isn稚 gonna make it any healthier, Kika said with a smirk as she approached with a cup of death of her own. Shinn blinked at her and suddenly felt even more awkward as she sat down across from him, regarding him interestedly for a moment. 添ou ready for your big day?

Shinn looked awkwardly to the side. Stella stopped eating, looking lost.

...how come everyone else won稚 help us... Stella murmured.

典hey can稚, Shinn explained quietly. 展e have to sneak in ourselves, or else they would be in danger.

哲othing we池e not used to, Kika added with a shrug. 添ou gonna be okay?

展e値l have to be, Shinn muttered. He glanced up at Kika, paused for a moment, and then heaved a sigh. 滴ow does Viima know so much about the Marshall Colony?

Kika blinked in surprise. 鉄he used to be in the Marshall Colony Authority, she explained. 釘ut she got a little too popular a little too fast and a pissy superior framed her for some kinda scandal and forced her out. We picked her up.

Shinn sat back. 的 wonder if we値l find him, he wondered aloud. He paused again, glancing towards the door.

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The port observation deck was quiet as Mev Typhoon crossed his arms, staring impassively out the windows, out at the Earth as it loomed beneath them.

鄭t the very least, he said, glancing at the figure at his side, 妬n a roundabout way, through Shinn and Stella, you can have revenge.

Viima put her hands on the railing, staring intently at the stars. 的 don稚 want revenge, captain, she said. 的 want justice.

典here痴 a thin line between revenge and justice, Mev said. Viima scowled.

笛ustice, she snorted. 笛ustice is me getting to find the man who destroyed my career, destroyed my livelihood, destroyed my dignity, and cast me out into space with nothing. Justice is me getting to chase him through his own colony. Justice is me getting to corner him and back him against the wall, giving him nowhere to hide, making him feel the same helplessness and terror that he made me feel when he... She trailed off, shaking her head violently, her fists clenching around the rails. 鄭nd justice is me getting to kill him.

Mev regarded Viima impassively for a moment. 展ill you be asking Shinn to find Brigadier General Anderson, then? he asked. Viima stared at the stars for a moment, before she shook her head.

典hat would be wrong, she said. 徹ur job comes first. She scowled. 釘ut should he come along...I certainly wouldn稚 mind.

Mev was silent a moment. 的 apologize for taking this job, then, he said. Viima looked at him in surprise. 的 knew your history and knew the bad blood with the Marshall Colony.

展e need money, she said quickly, shaking her head again. 的t痴 two million Earth dollars. We can稚 pass it up. She looked at Mev. 鄭t the very least, I can arm Shinn and Stella with the best information I can provide. And if they happen to run into Brigadier General Anderson... She trailed off again.

添ou have a lot invested in them, Mev observed with an understanding nod.

典hey better not fail me, Viima said.

Mev looked back at the Earth. 典hey won稚.

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Djibril Manor, Vermont, Atlantic Federation

Few things made Lord Djibril smile, but the image emblazoned on the monitors of his underground communication room was one of them. Towering over him, stretching from floor to ceiling, filling almost every screen, was the GFAS-X1 Destroy Gundam.

的t痴 beautiful, Djibril said absently.

From the laptop screen where his own image had been redirected as an afterthought, Joseph Copland arched an inquisitive eyebrow. 釘eautiful? he echoed. 泥jibril, this thing cost 500 billion dollars. We can稚 keep this war up for long or our economy will be driven into the ground.

典his will end it, Djibril murmured, ignoring Copland. 典his is it...this is the tool...the tool that Azrael searched for but never found...

泥jibril, Copland said, frowning as Djibril stepped towards the screen, mesmerized.

溺r. President, Djibril said, almost dreamily, 土ou need not worry about the Atlantic Federation痴 economy or public opinion. He smiled, and turned towards Copland痴 image.

鄭nd why don稚 I have to worry about our economy or public opinion? Copland asked warily, eyeing Djibril carefully. Djibril flashed a madman痴 smile.

溺urata Azrael was the leader of Blue Cosmos before I took over, he said, his eyes showing a dangerous glint that made Copland squirm uncomfortably in his seat on the other end. 滴e siphoned profits from Azrael Conglomerate into the development of new weapons, new breeds of Extended, new mobile suits, to fight ZAFT and wipe out the Coordinators for good. He got a hold of ZAFT痴 N-Jammer Canceller, he maneuvered the Alliance leadership into building an arsenal of nuclear weapons, and he personally led the Alliance fleet in its final attack on the PLANT homeland. He had all the cards he needed. And yet he failed.

徹f course he did, Copland scoffed. 典he followers of that Clyne girl destroyed Azrael痴 nuclear weapons, and Patrick Zala痴 GENESIS destroyed the fleet. What痴 your point, Djibril?

Djibril痴 smile got a little wider.

鄭zrael made a mistake, he said, 澱ut I have not...I have the perfect weapon now. He turned and looked back at the Destroy. 撤hase Shift, a positron reflector, a nuclear engine, enough beam sabers and beam cannons and missiles to level a city... He spun around to face Copland again. 哲o annoying little girl and her teenage followers can stop this. No naive little boy in a shiny Gundam can jump in and shoot this down before it reaches the PLANTs. No battleship full of young fools and traitors can intervene this time. There will be no stopping us.

泥jibril, Copland began.

Lord Djibril cut him off with an abortive chuckle. 的 will succeed where Azrael failed, he said to himself. 添es, I will be the one to finally destroy you, Gilbert Dullindal. You will not have your new world of Newtypes. I will stop you. I will destroy you.

泥jibril! Copland exclaimed. 展hat痴 wrong with you?

釘uild me five more Destroys, Lord Djibril said quickly, gesturing melodramatically at Copland. 鉄tation them at the Daedalus Crater base. That will be our headquarters, and they will be the sentinels, when we finally launch to wipe those Coordinators off the face of the universe.

Five more Destroys? Copland exclaimed in disbelief. 泥jibril, are you mad? I致e asked my people to give up much for this war, barely two months old, on the heels of a war just as devastating that was barely two years ago, and I can ask for no more! The money that went into this one Destroy could prostrate a nation!

溺r. President, you are from America, Djibril said testily. 展hen have your people ever worried about how much money your military hardware costs?

No one has ever spent 500 billion dollars on a single machine! Copland cried. 泥jibril, this is outrageous!

Djibril turned back towards the Destroy, ignoring Copland痴 protests. 鄭nd as for you, he went on, putting a hand to his chin in thought, 努e must find a way to show the PLANTs how powerful you are. He eyed the Destroy carefully.

泥jibril, listen to me! Copland protested.

Djibril cast a sidelong glance at Copland. 溺r. President, he said, 澱uild these Destroys for me, and you will not have to worry about the war any longer.

添ou池e insane! Copland sputtered. 添ou can稚 expect me to build you five more Destroys! That would cost two and a half trillion濫

添ou concern yourself too much with money, Mr. President, Djibril snapped. 典his war will not be won if you fear for the stability of your bottom line. Build these Destroys, and the war will be won. Of that I can guarantee. He turned back towards the screen again. 展e cannot attack ZAFT in space until they are driven off the Earth, he murmured to himself. 鄭nd we cannot let ZAFT continue to have allies. He paused. His eyes flashed in delight. 徹f course...their terrestrial allies...the Muslim League. He turned to Copland. 溺r. President, he said. 鉄end the Destroy to fight the Muslim League. He flashed another madman痴 smile. 鼎hairman Dullindal will see just how powerful the blue and clean world can be.

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December 8th, CE 73 - ZAFT battleship Minerva, en route to Lagrange Point 3

The room was dark and quiet. That was the way it had to be.

The time had come. Ruumari sat up in the darkness, clenching his fists as he crawled out of bed as quietly as possible. The Minerva wasn稚 going to attack the Kasselheim葉he Minerva wasn稚 going to attack the traitor. But they were already in range, and Ruumari would not let this opportunity pass him by.

He glanced at Aoma as he dressed, pulling his belt around the long ZAFT uniform shirt. She was still asleep, peaceful as ever, totally unsuspecting.

鉄orry, Aoma, he whispered. 展e can稚 go together this time.

He opened the door, slipped through into the corridor, and shut it behind him, as Aoma barely began to stir.

The Minerva was eerily silent as Ruumari traveled down the corridors to the locker room. This was good, though. He couldn稚 have anyone stop him. He wasn稚 technically supposed to be launching...but he could not let this opportunity slip away. Captain Gladys was being too cautious. The only way to bring down the traitor was to fight him.

Ruumari slipped into the locker room without event and climbed into his flight suit. He risked a glance around the hangar and found no one in any position to stop him. He silently, stealthily made his way to the inert Blast Impulse. He alighted against the boarding gantry and felt himself trembling. He looked up at the face of his slumbering machine.

The Blast Impulse stared back reassuringly. Ruumari smirked; the traitor would die today. He had trained for this day. Nothing would stop him now.

He ducked inside and shut the hatch, and with a flash of green from its eyes, the Blast Impulse came to life.

On the bridge, Meyrin Hawke felt her eyelids grow heavy, and wearily glanced at the digital clock jammed in the corner of her display. She had another fifteen minutes until her shift ended. She glanced dimly over the displays and yawned.

Something on the screen beeped. Meyrin cracked an eye open in mid-yawn, surprised, and glanced over the display. Her eyes widened in surprise as she realized that the Minerva痴 portside catapult was activated, and someone was launching through it. A system inquiry later, she found herself staring in shock at Ruumari痴 determined face.

展hat? she began.

泥on稚 stop me, Ruumari snapped.

The Blast Impulse launched. Meyrin looked helplessly out the window, as the rest of the bridge crew began to realize that something was wrong. The Blast Impulse rocketed out of the Minerva痴 portside catapult.

的s that Ruumari?! Burt exclaimed, getting up out of his seat and watching the mobile suit race off into the darkness. 展hat the hell is he doing?!

的 don稚 know! Meyrin cried. 滴e launched before I could stop him!

Burt cursed under his breath. 鼎all the captain, he said. 典his値l get ugly.

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Battlecruiser Kasselheim, en route to Lagrange Point 3

Shinn Asuka cracked his knuckles as the Force Impulse Gundam warmed up. There was a mobile suit approaching傭ut there was only one. It was strange; Shinn was suspicious.

展e値l launch you first, Shinn, Kika explained, eyeing him carefully as she spoke. 鉄end for reinforcements at your discretion.

迭oger, Shinn answered mechanically. He willed away all distractions揺e was entering combat now. He couldn稚 afford to be distracted. He curled his fists around the Impulse痴 controls. 鉄hinn Asuka, Impulse...going out!

The Impulse took off with a flash; Shinn narrowed his eyes at the black panorama of space around him, with the Earth hanging below him. He curved the Impulse around lazily over the Earth, igniting the boosters. The approaching mobile suit was coming from behind the Kasselheim祐hinn turned and took off, blazing by the Kasselheim's bridge tower and storming towards the darkness, broken only by the Moon.

"Shinn," Kika's voice added. "We're picking up a ship too."

"What kind?" Shinn asked, feeling his heart begin to sink. Surely it wasn't...

"The Minerva," Kika answered gravely.

Shinn scowled in frustration. They were always there.

"Is it Rey...?" he murmured. He closed his eyes, trying to reach out with his senses, whatever they were, and find this new presence. He felt something hot and pulsing, but it wasn't Rey. It wasn't Luna or Shiho either...so it had to be one of those new Impulse units.

"But why would they send only one?" Mike asked on the Kasselheim's bridge. Shinn opened his eyes and peered through the Impulse's telescopic sights, and sure enough, the Blast Impulse Gundam was storming determinedly towards him.

"We'll have the other units standing by," Mev said authoritatively. "Shinn, figure out who this enemy is and try to force him off yourself."

Shinn nodded. "Roger," he answered, and cut the transmission. He couldn't have them distracting him葉his one seemed different.

Up ahead, inside the Blast Impulse, Ruumari Star scowled at the magnified image of the charging Force Impulse Gundam.

"There you are, traitor," he snarled, ramping up the boosters to maximum. "You can't get away from me now."

Inside the Force Impulse, Shinn blinked in surprise as the presence changed擁t grew hotter, like he was holding a burning coal, something that was burning him even as he intended to throw it at someone else.

Is this...hatred? he wondered. The Blast Impulse came into visual range.

"I'll take you down today!" Ruumari screamed; the Blast Impulse fired a full burst from its beam cannons, railguns, and beam rifle. Shinn grunted in surprise as the Force Impulse jetted out of harm's way. The Blast Impulse fired again with its beam cannons, and Shinn dove away from the shimmering beam blasts in a burst of exhaust.

"He's all alone!" Shinn growled, as the Blast Impulse released a salvo of missiles. "What's this guy up to?!" He pulled back behind his shield as the Blast Impulse opened fire.

"Come back here!" Ruumari shouted, firing the booster to give chase. "I've trained for this day!"

The missiles came streaking in; Shinn narrowed his eyes at them and peppered their ranks with a CIWS burst, wiping them out. He burst through the smoke and stormed up towards the charging Blast Impulse with a beam rifle shot, forcing Ruumari aside as he deflected the shots with his shield. The Blast Impulse released another volley of missiles.

"Dammit," Shinn grunted, "he's getting better." The Force Impulse pulled back with another CIWS salvo.

"I'm not done yet!" Ruumari yelled, taking off after the Force Impulse.

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"It's like Shinn never left," Shiho muttered under her breath in frustration, rubbing sleep from her eyes as the Savior raced forward. Behind her, the two ZAKUs and Aoma's Sword Impulse formed up, and Shiho sat back, staring disdainfully at the dim points of light that were the Kasselheim's engines exhaust trails. There were other flashes of light near the Kasselheim由uumari had obviously already caught up with the pirates.

"I apologize for this, Commander," Aoma began awkwardly.

"You're not the one who has to do the apologizing," Lunamaria added tiredly, stifling a yawn with the back of her hand. "He is."

"Shiho," Talia's voice interrupted. Shiho glanced wearily at the screen, finding an equally irritated-looking Talia in the captain's seat. "Don't engage the pirates," she ordered. "Just bring Ruumari back here."

"Roger," Shiho answered. The screen went dark, and Shiho sighed in annoyance. "What the hell is that kid thinking...?"

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"Who the hell are you?" Shinn screamed, as the Blast Impulse Gundam fired another full burst at him. He dove above it and fired back with his rifle, but the Blast Impulse ducked aside and opened fire with its beam cannons.

"I won't let you go!" Ruumari shouted; the Blast Impulse hurled something down at Shinn, and he widened his eyes and blocked it with his shield. A moment later, he stared in disbelief at the Folding Razor knife sticking out of his shield.

"You have got to be kidding me!" Shinn exclaimed, as the Blast Impulse dropped down on him, beam javelin ignited. The Force Impulse backed away, ducking aside from one javelin swipe and twisting away from another. "You're attacking Phase Shift with an anti-armor knife?! Are you nuts?!"

"DIE ALREADY!" Ruumari shrieked; he hurled his ignited javelin at the Force Impulse. Shinn narrowed his eyes at it, drawing his beam saber and smacking it aside at the beam tip. The Blast Impulse charged again, remaining javelin in its left hand, but Shinn caught its downward blow with his saber, and the two machines pushed against each other helplessly.

Shinn's eyes widened as he heard the pilot scream. "You goddamned traitor!" his enemy shrieked. "Die already! DIE ALREADY!"

"Who...?" Shinn murmured. He jumped in surprise as the Blast Impulse pulled back for another full burst, and Shinn sent the Force Impulse into a backwards dive, avoiding the blasts. The Blast Impulse rose to attack, beam rifle pointed down at the Force Impulse.

"FOR ZAFT!" the Blast Impulse's pilot screamed; the Blast Impulse fired, only to see Shinn deflect the shot with his shield and fire back, spearing the Blast Impulse's rifle. Ruumari abandoned the ruined weapon with a snarl as it exploded, and charged again with his javelin.

"Goddammit," Shinn grunted, pulling back as the Blast Impulse took furious swipes at him with its beam javelin. "What the hell is with you?!"

"I'll kill you!" Ruumari screamed back. "I'll kill you and prove myself to the world! I'll bring your head back to Chairman Dullindal! Just watch!"

The Blast Impulse charged one last time; Shinn narrowed his eyes as time began to slow

A beam rifle shot coursed between the two Gundams. Shinn's eyes widened in surprise, and the Blast Impulse slammed on the brakes. A moment later, there was a blur of red smashing into the side of the Blast Impulse, knocking it aside. Shinn gasped in disbelief.

The Savior Gundam floated between the two Impulses, beam rifle pointed at Shinn.

"Stand down, Shinn," Shiho ordered. "We're bringing him back to the Minerva."

"What?!" Shinn exclaimed. Rey's white ZAKU Phantom and Luna's red ZAKU Warrior dropped in and seized the Blast Impulse's arms.

"What the hell are you doing?!" Ruumari shrieked, glowering at the ZAKUs. "Let me go! LET ME GO!"

"Get him back to the Minerva," Shiho ordered, glaring over her shoulder at the Blast Impulse. "He's got a hell of an ass-kicking coming to him for this."

The two ZAKUs took off with the thrashing Blast Impulse. Shinn looked back in shock at the Savior.

"We're not here to fight you," Shiho said coldly. "This time."

The Savior transformed into its mobile armor mode and rocketed away before Shinn could say anything else.

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Battlecruiser Kasselheim, en route to Lagrange Point 3

The Impulse had returned, and was settling back into its usual spot in the Kasselheim's hangar, but Shinn didn't feel like coming back out.

Shiho's words still rang in his mind. "We're not here to fight you," she had said. "This time," she added. And then, in a flash, the Savior had taken off.

He heard the Blast Impulse's pilot screaming at him, calling him a traitor. Shinn sat back in his cockpit seat, staring at the top screen.

Am I really a traitor...? he thought.

He had left ZAFT behind, that was true...but he'd done it because it had seemed like the right thing to do. No, it was the right thing to do. He couldn't abandon Stella. He couldn't let his friends kill her. He couldn't let them hurt her. He had promised her. He had promised to protect her. He couldn't let her die.

He saw Mayu's severed arm on the Onogoro hillside in CE 71, and squeezed his eyes shut. He would never let that happen again. Not to Stella. He had failed once, but never again...

Shinn opened his eyes slowly, remembering Rey. Rey had promised him a new way, a new path, a mission, a purpose in life to fight and create some new utopia where he wouldn't have to fight, because there would be peace. True peace, not peace that existed because of both sides' mutual exhaustion.

But Rey's way hadn't been the right way for Shinn. Rey's way would have led Shinn into more suffering and torment than he could handle. Rey's way meant going back on his promise to Stella, abandoning her. Rey's way meant that someday, it might be Stella's burning, mangled corpse he would be staring helplessly at. That was unacceptable.

Rey would have pushed him harder, if he could have. Of that, Shinn had no doubt由ey wanted to turn Shinn into a super-soldier Newtype that answered only to Chairman Dullindal. Shinn couldn't do that. He couldn't forget about Stella and his family, he couldn't turn his emotions off and become the omniscient battlefield god Rey and Gilbert had wanted him to be.

Shinn glanced around on the Impulse's screens, at the panoramic view of the Kasselheim's hangar. Here he had a home. Here he had friends. Here he didn't have to suffer and be told that his suffering was the result of some magical power that he had no choice but to keep bearing. And here he wasn't being told that in order to ease his suffering, he had to fight and suffer even more so that at some indeterminate date in the future, there might be a magical utopia where he could be at peace. He closed his eyes again. Kika had promised him that.

"We're not here to fight you," Shiho had told him. "This time."

Shinn opened his eyes again and scowled.

Next time, he thought, eyes afire with determination, you'll get your fight.

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ZAFT battleship Minerva, orbit of Earth

"One week, solitary confinement," the flak-jacketed guard said as he locked the door to Ruumari's cell. Ruumari was sulking furiously on the cot inside as the door locked with a slam. The guard turned and shook his head. "I've been putting way too many pissy MS pilots in here for unauthorized launches," he sighed. He glanced at Lunamaria as she stared ruefully inside the cell, leaning against the opposite cell door. "Can't you kids get drunk and get into fights like normal soldiers?"

"We don't hold liquor very well," Luna answered with a shrug. "If he starts shrieking about the traitor, just get some headphones or something." She stood up with a sigh. "Sorry about all this. Commander Hahnenfuss gave him a good beating when we got back, and Captain Gladys didn't hold back either, so he should be pretty sedate for a while."

"We've got those tranquilizers your little redhead friend gave us," the guard said, peering into the cell at the fairly battered Ruumari. He still had a big purple bruise on his cheek, and a nice black eye developing over his right eye. He would look like death warmed over in the morning. "Do we have permission to kick his ass if he gets too uppity?"

"No," Luna said with another shrug. She smiled encouragingly. "But I'm sure we could all overlook a slap or two." She turned to leave. "I have a report to file, but they left me to be responsible for him, so I'll be back later."

"We'll survive," the guard said resignedly as Luna left.

In the hallway outside the brig, Luna heaved a sigh and shook her head.

"It is like Shinn never left," she muttered.

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December 9th, CE 73 - Office of the PLANT Supreme Council Chairman, PLANT Aprilius 1, Lagrange Point 5

It was huge. It was unstoppable. It was the perfect weapon of mass destruction.

Gilbert Dullindal sneered up at the master screen of his office. On it, there was footage of the Earth Alliance's terrifying new Destroy Gundam, rampaging across the territory of the Muslim League. Already it had annihilated an entire city, and there was no telling when熔r if擁t would stop.

"Damn you, Djibril," Gilbert growled. "This is absurd."

On the screen, a brave熔r stupid柚uslim League GINN leapt gallantly into the air, heavy sword drawn and raised above its head for a killing stab, as it sailed back down towards the Destroy's head.

Gilbert knew how this scenario would end. The PLANT news crews had very little footage of the Destroy in action, so they had been tastelessly and relentlessly looping the same four or five clips all day, and Gilbert had seen this valiantly foolish GINN vault into the air for a heroic deathblow more times than he could count. Once again, it leapt upwards, sword upraised. Once again, gravity reclaimed it and it swiveled its sword around for a killing stab.

And once again, the Destroy casually擁f giant fifty-meter mobile suits could be casual葉ilted its head back and blew the GINN away with a mouth beam cannon blast. It had been kind of comical at first, in a sadistic way, but now it was just getting damned annoying.

The GINN's sword landed in the dirt with a crash. Gilbert shook his head.

The thing had a positron reflector shield, the same kind on the Alliance's Zamzazar, which had deflected the Minerva's Tannhäuser at Orb, and the same kind that had made the Gelzuge unstoppable at Cyprus until the Freedom Gundam had taken it down. Nothing, it seemed, could punch through a positron reflector. Only ZAFT's two best pilots, in two of ZAFT's best Gundams, could break through the defenses of those mobile armors and take them down.

Djibril had created an unstoppable superweapon that was going to tear the Muslim League limb from limb, and they could throw everything they had at it, but nothing would stop it. And it would not be long before they turned this weapon on ZAFT. And the Oceania Union was collapsing, meaning that an attack on Carpentaria would be on the horizon, and after that, only Antarctica remained. ZAFT's beachheads from Operation Spear of Twilight were crumbling. ZAFT was losing control of the Earth.

Gilbert wondered if this was how the plan was supposed to go. He looked back towards the screen.

"Well," he said quietly, "it's not all lost yet." He turned and opened a drawer in his desk, and slid a disk into his computer terminal. He turned around, and the image of the Destroy on the master screen vanished. Instead, it was replaced by a massive set of blueprints.

A green latticework image of his newest weapon appeared above him. The twisted green monoeye of the ZGMF-X6000 ZAKU Goliath stared back down at him. It was almost 150 meters tall. It had a beam shield designed to protect a fortress. It had a cannon capable of leveling a city in one shot. It had DRAGOONs. It had enough weapons to devastate the entire Earth Alliance and keep going.

All it needed was a Newtype.

Gilbert smiled.

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Battlecruiser Kasselheim, Lagrange Point 3

The intimidating bulk of the Marshall Colony rose terrifyingly over the screen as the Kasselheim approached. It was a massive closed-type colony, as they had said. It was surrounded in asteroids and space junk of varying sizes蓉pon a closer look, the asteroids were studded with gun emplacements and missile launchers. The largest had small docks and battleships, and even mobile suits standing on the asteroid surfaces. Everything else was space junk, the remains of all those who had come too close. The place was a fortress.

"Why aren't they attacking?" Mike asked, glancing back at Viima.

"They don't want to give themselves away," she answered. "They'll only attack if you get within a certain range, and even then, they'll wait for provocation."

Mev Typhoon sat back in the bridge chair. "We'll send the Impulse and Gaia in at midnight," he said. "Mike, Yun, find us a good place to launch them."

"In all this debris?" Mike muttered under his breath.

"It's an order!" Yun shot back. "Shut up and do it!"

"Well, look at all this shit!" Mike complained.

"There must be a hole in the defense somewhere," Yun grumbled.

"At HES-88," Viima interrupted. Mike and Yun looked back at her in surprise. "They'll be shutting the defenses down at midnight for software maintenance."

"You sure?" Mike asked, arching an eyebrow. Viima glanced back at Mev; he nodded.

"It's a routine maintenance schedule. If they haven't changed those schedules since I left, HES-88 will be down tonight. Take us there," she said, turning and glancing at Mev again.

He stared forward resolutely. "If you don't want to be on the bridge" he began.

"I'll stay, captain," she said. She turned around and glared at the Marshall Colony. "I have to."

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"It's scary," Stella murmured, staring fearfully out the porthole of her room as the defenses of the Marshall Colony slid by.

Miki peered disdainfully at them. "Well," she said, "they all look like machineguns and railguns, so you should be okay." She smiled. "You've got the Gundam after all."

Stella continued to stare at the gun-studded asteroids outside.

"Relax!" Miki said, grabbing her by the shoulders and grinning. "You're a way better pilot than us and you've got a way better machine! And you'll be with Shinn, and you know how much ass he kicks! You two will be fine!"

"...Shinn..." Stella murmured, looking slowly at Miki. "...will Shinn be alright?"

"Well," Miki said, "that's what you're there for. He can't watch his back all the time. You've gotta protect him."

"...protect...Shinn?" Stella repeated. Miki nodded excitedly.

"Yeah," she said, "bring him back home safe. That's your job." She flashed a toothy grin. "'kay?"

Stella was a silent a moment, before she offered Miki a tiny smile and nodded.

"...okay."

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"For Christ's sake," Shinn moaned, staring out the port observation deck at the Marshall Colony's morass of defensive emplacements as the Kasselheim passed by. "Aprilius 1 didn't have this much security." He heaved a sigh. "Getting through here is gonna be a bitch."

At his side, Kika shrugged and offered him a nervous smile. "Well, we're heading for a hole Viima said will be in their defenses when we launch you," she added. "That helps, right?"

"Until we have to get back out," Shinn said dourly, "and I doubt they'll let us fly back out the same way." He shook his head. "This won't be easy."

Kika said nothing, looking at the Marshall Colony defenses. At last, she turned towards Shinn, putting her hands on his shoulders. He blinked in surprise at her.

"Shinn," she said, "be careful out there."

"Wha謡hat do you mean?" Shinn sputtered.

"You're gonna be all on your own in there," Kika said. Shinn blinked again, noticing the strange amount of concern he could see in her face. "We won't be able to help you. Just be careful. I..." She trailed off, as if searching for words. "I don't want to lose you."

"...Stella will be with me," Shinn began awkwardly. Kika sighed and hung her head in defeat.

"You're so dense, Shinn," she sighed. She looked back up at him. "Come back to me alive."

"I" Shinn began.

"Promise me!" Kika cut him off, shaking him by the shoulders.

Shinn stared into her eyes. He could see something there that he couldn't quite understand, but knew it was something important. He put his hands on her shoulders.

"I promise."

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"Okay, kids," Mev Typhoon's tinny voice said through the Impulse's speakers. "It's showtime."

"The HES-88 defense field is deactivated," Viima added. "You have five minutes. Get going."

Shinn tightened his grip around the Impulse's controls as the Gaia Gundam took off. It was now or never.

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

The Impulse took off with a flash.

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To be continued...