Phase 29 - The Rogue Hero

Mobile Suit Gundam SEED DESTINY

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Phase 29 - The Rogue Hero

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December 11th, CE 73 - Near the Marshall Colony, Lagrange Point 3

The machineguns weren稚 a problem溶one of them could do anything to the Gaia or Force Impulse Gundams Phase Shift armor. The Strike Daggers pursuing from the colony weren稚 even a problem預lthough they had beam weapons, they were so old and outdated that the Gaia and Impulse could easily just outrun them.

However, as Shinn and Stella emerged into what Shinn guessed was the middle portion of the Marshall Colony痴 defense ring, the formation of Strike Daggers and warships arrayed before them suggested that there might indeed be a problem.

Even as the Strike Daggers swarmed, Shinn cast a furious glance over their shoulders at the ships that had launched them. Two Drake-class cruisers and a Nelson-class battleship溶othing major. But getting past the mobile suits was the first part.

The Impulse slalomed between a volley of beam shots and fired back, taking down one Dagger at once. The rest pulled back behind their shields; Stella rocketed over their heads, shooting down another with a well-placed beam rifle shot. Some of the Daggers broke off to pursue the Gaia; Shinn grunted in frustration, pulling back behind a CIWS burst, as the rest followed him.

展e don稚 have time for this! he screamed. The Daggers charged; Shinn switched to his beam saber and charged back, and before the Dagger pilots could do anything to stop him, he had already sliced three Daggers in half at the waist. The Daggers pulled away with a beam rifle volley, forcing Shinn to dive through their blasts and switch back to his rifle. Another Dagger rose up behind him, beam saber at the ready祐hinn swung around to face it

Before it could fire, the Gaia took it down with a beam rifle shot to the torso. Shinn swung around again, shooting down another Strike Dagger as he dodged another beam shot. The Daggers pulled back again, regrouping and opening fire again. Shinn痴 eyes flashed; the Impulse and the Gaia dove aside, returning fire and spearing another two Daggers.

展e have to get back to the ship! Shinn shouted, as the Impulse took cover behind its shield and took off over another volley of beam blasts. The Gaia jetted to the side and fired back with its beam cannons, taking down two more Daggers; as they turned their fire on the Gaia, Shinn swept in to spear three more mobile suits on beam rifle shots, and before they could fire on him again, he drew his saber and cut down two more. The Daggers finally pulled back; Shinn glanced over at Stella. 鏑et痴 go, before they get back here!

The Gaia took off without a word, storming towards the ships; Shinn grunted and took off after her.

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The GINN High Maneuver II rattled under the force of another Dagger痴 explosion, and Miki glanced over her shoulder at the Kasselheim. It hadn稚 taken any catastrophic damage yet, but it wouldn稚 be long before it did.

The sensors shrieked; Miki looked back up with a yelp of surprise and barely deflected a Dagger痴 beam rifle shot with her shield, pulling back and returning fire. The Daggers swept in around her; she looked around nervously for an escape path

A moment later, two of the Daggers vanished in a blaze of fire, and Zora痴 GuAIZ burst from the smoke, spewing beam rifle shots at the remaining Daggers. They pulled back again, clawing for distance, but not before Zora痴 GuAIZ managed to score two more kills with its extensional arrestors.

展hat are you doing?! Zora exclaimed, pulling up protectively in front of the GINN HM II and glancing back at it. 撤ay attention!

The GuAIZ took off into the battle; Miki scowled and turned her beam carbine on another Dagger, dodging its fire in the process. Her shots slammed uselessly against the Dagger痴 shield; another beam rifle shot took it down, and Gan痴 GINN Assault dropped into the battle, wielding its own carbine.

溺iki! Come with me, we致e got problems! Gan exclaimed. Miki blinked in surprise.

展e don稚 already?! she shot back; a beam rifle blast tore across space in front of her, and she instinctively jetted backwards and fired back, catching an attacking Dagger off guard and wiping it out. Miki痴 eyes lit up in delight. 的 got one!

哲ever mind that! George痴 voice interrupted insistently. 鏑ook to the Kasselheim痴 starboard side! We致e got more company!

Miki glanced over the Kasselheim揺er eyes widened in disbelief. Arrayed in the asteroid field and closing fast were five Drake-class cruisers, two Nelson-class battleships, and an Agamemnon-class carrier, all sporting refitted mobile suit catapults and launching yet more Strike Daggers.

哲o fair! Miki wailed.

Chris痴 105 Dagger armed its beam rifle. 的f this were fair, Shinn and Stella would be back here already! he shouted back. 展e値l just have to make do until they get back!
鼎ome on, all of you, let痴 go! George added, as his CGUE charged towards the oncoming ships. 展e have to hold out until they get back!

Miki gulped nervously and fired the booster. She cast an anxious glance at the Marshall Colony.

Come on, you two...hurry up!

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Atlantic Federation Agamemnon-class carrier James K Polk, near the Marshall Colony

Lieutenant General James Anderson did not fail to appreciate the irony of it all.

A dour, skeletal man in his mid-fifties, he had his hawkish, narrow face turned towards the main monitor on the bridge of the James K Polk, sitting in the captain痴 chair, arms crossed, one leg draped over the other. Ahead of his ship was a small army of mobile suits, a morass of asteroids studded with defensive machinegun turrets, and the embattled pirate battlecruiser Kasselheim.

And on the monitor was an image of the Kasselheim痴 modest bridge. The captain looked to be an immovable rock, but it was not the captain that Anderson was interested in.

天iima, he said, an amused and sadistic smirk playing at his lips, 土ou致e come back.

Even on the screen, Anderson could see Viima trembling with rage. She had grown a little taller and her face looked a little colder...but that body of hers was probably as warm as ever. Anderson chuckled darkly.

鼎aptain Haskell, he said, glancing at the Polk痴 skipper, 登rder the mobile suits to halt and await my command.

The order went out; the Strike Daggers halted in their charge and arrayed themselves imposingly in front of the Kasselheim and its beleaguered mobile suits. Anderson crossed his arms again and smirked. The Kasselheim痴 captain stared impassively at him, while Viima struggled to keep her rage in check.

敵reetings, pirate scum, he said, making a conscious effort to sound melodramatic, purely to offend Viima further. 的 am Lieutenant General James Anderson, commandant of the Marshall Colony. I am here to make you an offer. He paused and smiled sardonically at a furious Viima. 添ou have fought bravely and stupidly. You are now, however, outnumbered, outgunned, and surrounded. You have no choice but to surrender. Do so at once and your lives will be spared. What say you?

鄭re you mad?! a woman on the other hand asked.

哲o way! added another woman.

A blond-haired man stood up and promptly answered Anderson with his middle finger.

The captain sat back, linking his fingers together over his lap. 溺y crew has spoken, he said calmly. He glanced to his left. 鄭nd you, Viima?

Viima stared hatefully at Anderson. 的壇 sooner die than be back at your mercy, she spat.

Anderson scowled揺ow dare they refuse him! And with such vulgar means!

天ery well then, he said stiffly. He consciously forced himself to smirk again. 溺y men will bring you back to me, Viima, and we値l see if you値l still be so resistant.

The screen went dark, and Anderson chuckled.

鼎aptain Haskell, he said, glancing at the skipper again, 徒ill them.

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Near the Marshall Colony

The Drake-class cruiser split apart into a handful of arms of fire, before finally dying in a violent explosion. Shinn snorted in disgust葉hese things weren稚 worth the time. He turned and shot down another Strike Dagger as it tried to sneak up on him, and glanced over at Stella痴 twisting and turning Gaia Gundam.

The second Drake was protected by what seemed to be its Strike Dagger complement. The Gaia slithered through the Daggers ranks, drawing a beam saber and cutting down one of them as she charged. The Drake痴 anti-air Vulcan turret angled to open fire, as the Daggers swept in from behind; the Gaia jetted to the side as the Vulcan turret opened fire, slashing another Dagger to ribbons before it could correct its aim. Stella promptly slashed the turret off and switched back to her rifle, shooting down another Dagger. Shinn swept in to finish the Daggers off with a beam rifle volley, and Stella swung around again, putting a rifle blast through the Drake痴 bridge and another two through the Drake痴 engines. As the ship began to break apart in a plume of fire, the two Gundams took off towards the Nelson.

展e値l have to do this quickly, Shinn grunted, as the Impulse rattled under a hail of machinegun fire. 展e don稚 have time for this shit.

典hey池e afraid, Stella said. Shinn watched the Daggers as they pulled back around the battleship; he almost smirked.

徹f course they are, he agreed. 典hey have nightmares about pilots like us. He glanced at Stella and finally let himself smirk. 鼎ome on, Stella. Let痴 make their nightmares come true.

Stella nodded enthusiastically, and the two Gundams charged. The Daggers opened fire; Stella glanced over at Shinn.

鉄hinn! Get the mobile suits! she shouted quickly, before taking off towards the Nelson. The Daggers raised their rifles to attack, but were forced to defend themselves as Shinn took down three Daggers in as many shots, storming into their ranks. Stella shot by overhead, charging towards the battleship. Its guns turned towards her, ribbons of machinegun fire lashing out towards her, but the bullets bounced harmlessly off the Gaia痴 Phase Shift armor. 添ou aren稚 scary! Stella shouted; the Gaia fired back, wiping out the Nelson痴 ventral turret with its beam rifle. The Daggers desperately tried to turn their firepower back on the Gaia, but Shinn was there to stop them again. Stella drew a beam saber and darted in over the battleship痴 hull, slicing off the upper mandible of its portside catapult in the process. The saber went plunging into the battleship痴 hull, and struck a missile magazine, blowing part of the ship apart. The battleship began to list, its guns still firing wildly; Stella turned her eyes on the bridge and charged, beam saber raised for a killing blow. A Dagger rose up above the ship痴 bridge to stop her預 beam rifle shot from Shinn speared it and took it down in a violent explosion

Stella痴 beam saber plunged into the Nelson痴 bridge. She cut down into the battleship痴 hull and used the Gaia痴 legs to force the molten wound open. Shinn blazed in with a scream and landed three beam blasts into the battleship痴 exposed innards. The ship began to break apart; the Daggers pulled back in shock, and Shinn and Stella whipped around and turned their firepower on the stunned mobile suits, wiping out the remaining machines as the battleship exploded.

The two Gundams took off again, angling towards the Kasselheim.

鉄hit! Shinn grunted, staring ahead at the ship痴 position. It was desperately trying to put some distance between itself and no less than eight enemy warships. The Kasselheim痴 mobile suits were just as desperately trying to keep from getting killed by a small army of Strike Daggers. The Kasselheim couldn稚 fight back, as the enemy ships forced it to continue evading.

鉄hinn! Stella exclaimed. 典hey池e in trouble!

的 know! Shinn shouted back. His hands gripped the Impulse痴 controls tightly, as he felt his entire body burn with determination. The Impulse and Gaia rocketed ahead.

展ill they be okay? Stella asked urgently.

Shinn scowled, his teeth grinding.

典hey値l be okay, he said, his voice tremulous with energy. I値l make sure of it!

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展here ARE they?! Zora shouted, as her GuAIZ went into a nosedive to avoid another squadron of Daggers. She promptly slammed on the brakes, storming back upwards and igniting the beam claws, slicing apart two Daggers as they overtook her. The others wheeled around to return fire, but not before she picked another out of the black sky with her beam rifle.

笛ust concentrate on the battle! George shouted back. His CGUE drew its laser sword and slammed it down through a charging Dagger; another rose to his left, but before it could fire, he turned and perforated it with a Vulcan blaze that sent it spiraling into the darkness, spewing smoke.

Zora痴 GuAIZ swung around again, spearing two more Daggers on its extensional arrestors, but another rose up behind her, beam saber raised. She swung around, only to see a beam rifle shot slam it out of the sky, and Chris痴 105 Dagger dropped down behind her to deflect another beam shot aimed at her back.

展e have to hold out as long as we can, Chris said, his voice as calm as ever.

Miki痴 GINN HM II shot by with Gan痴 GINN Assault, both taking cover behind their shields and firing back with their carbines. Zora dove over their lines of fire, squeezing off a pair of beam shots to take down two of the five pursuing Daggers. Another three rose back up to fire, and Zora was forced back on the defensive.

展ell, it won稚 be much longer! she grunted back at Chris, as the shots slammed against the GuAIZ痴 shield.

典hey値l be back soon! Miki cried, even as the Daggers effortlessly dodged her beam carbine blasts. 展e just have to keep fighting!

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Atlantic Federation Agamemnon-class carrier James K Polk, near the Marshall Colony

On the bridge of the Polk, General Anderson chuckled, watching as the Kasselheim痴 mobile suits desperately tried to defend themselves, and the ship desperately tried to avoid getting hit.

典hey池e not going down easily, Captain Haskell grunted. 擢ire another beam cannon barrage at their bow! Force them to stop, and we値l let the other ships tear them apart!

Anderson watched the four green bolts lance out towards the Kasselheim, and as expected, the Kasselheim dove down under the blasts and kept going. He smiled as the other ships cut off its escape path, forcing it to turn back towards the fleet. Even if it opened fire now, its position was helpless葉he combined firepower of the eight Marshall Colony warships would crush the power of this cobbled-together pirate scrap heap.

Anderson, to that end, held up his hand again. Haskell ordered the mobile suits and ships to cease fire, and the battlefield went silent as the Strike Daggers surrounded their prey. The screen flickered to life, showing the bridge of the Kasselheim once again, and Viima still glowering at Anderson痴 smirking face.

哲ow you have been forced into a corner and once again fought down, Anderson began, crossing his arms and draping one leg over the other again, sitting back amusedly. 擢acing imminent death and having been demonstrably outgunned and outmaneuvered, what do you say now to our offer?

Viima stepped forward before Mev spoke. 添ou can go to hell, Anderson, she snapped. 展e won稚 give you the satisfaction of taking us prisoner.

The Strike Daggers raised their beam rifles threateningly at their quarry.

的s that so? Anderson asked, arching an eyebrow, smirking deviously.

Viima痴 hateful stare was all the confirmation he needed. Anderson glanced at the Kasselheim痴 captain.

的 abide by the decision of my executive officer, he said calmly, staring back stoically at Anderson. 展e will see you in hell, General.

Anderson chuckled once again, shaking his head. 鉄tubborn to the end, I see, he said. 展ell, if that痴 the way you want it to end, so be it. Captain Haskell濫

He never got to finish. Immediately behind and above the Polk, the rearguard Drake was speared on a quartet of beam shots and torn apart in a vicious explosion. The shockwave rocked the Polk, throwing Anderson forward and nearly out of his seat.

展hat was that?! he demanded, seizing the armrests of his seat to steady himself.

典he Chattanooga, sir! one of the men called out. 鉄he痴 gone down!

What?! Anderson shrieked. 典here's nobody else out here! What the hell hit it?!

滴eat sources detected! another man exclaimed. 典wo of them, approaching fast! But these濫

展hat are they?! Captain Haskell demanded, rising back to his feet angrily.

典hey池e Gundams!

Anderson痴 face went white. Gundams?! he echoed incredulously. He turned his disbelieving eyes towards the debris field that had once been the Chattanooga. The screen image zoomed in; Anderson felt his blood freeze.

敵ood God, that痴 the Impulse! a voice cried. That痴 Shinn Asuka!

Inside the charging Force Impulse Gundam, Shinn let out a scream. The seed burst in his mind痴 eye; his eyes went dull, and he opened fire again.

鄭ttack them! Anderson screamed, his eyes wide. 溺obile suits! Shoot them down! Now!"

The Strike Daggers abandoned the Kasselheim痴 exhausted mobile suits and charged to defense of their motherships. Shinn snorted disgustedly.

典hey池e scared too, Stella observed quietly. 典hey池e scared of Shinn.

The Impulse rocketed ahead. Shinn scowled at the charging Daggers.

的 won稚 let you, he growled. The Daggers opened fire; Shinn dodged their shots effortlessly. The white energy cracked through the air before him as he fired back, taking down Dagger after Dagger as they desperately tried to evade. I won稚 let you, he growled again, twisting around to catch two more Daggers, diving through more beam fire all the while.

The Daggers stormed around the Impulse, but three more were taken down by a trio of beam shots, and the Gaia Gundam roared into the fray with another beam barrage that shot down three more Daggers. The Daggers desperately tried to turn their fire on the Gaia, but the Impulse opened fire again to take down two more Daggers.

鉄tella! I値l leave them to you! Shinn cried.

迭ight! Stella answered with an emphatic nod, even as she dove through beam fire and returned it just as ferociously. Shinn turned his burning gaze towards the warships as they slowly arced around to turn their fire on the two unstoppable Gundams.

添ou, he snarled, taking off towards the first Drake-class. 添ou won稚 touch them! He drew a beam saber, plowing through the Drake痴 frenzied machinegun fire. Two Daggers rose up to stop him; he tore through them effortlessly with his saber and stabbed it into the Drake痴 bridge; mimicking the move Stella had used, he forced open the wound with the Impulse壮 legs and deposited a barrage of CIWS fire into the Drake痴 innards. The ship snapped in two like a twig, broken on a massive fireball that Shinn didn稚 bother to watch as he took off for the next Drake.

On the bridge of the Kasselheim, all was silent as everyone stared in disbelief at the two rampaging Gundams.

鉄hinn...he痴 unstoppable, Yun murmured in disbelief.

...he came back, Kika whispered, holding herself, trembling.

Shinn screamed again inside the Impulse, tearing down another Dagger as it tried to protect the second Drake. The Impulse streaked past the Drake痴 starboard side, dipping its beam saber into the hull and slicing a long gash along the ship痴 side. As he approached the engines, he somersaulted up, over a desperate flurry of machinegun fire and missiles, and slammed his saber down through the Drake痴 bridge. With another yell, he charged forward and ripped his saber into the Drake痴 engines. The ship began to break apart into an enormous fireball; Shinn darted away, angling towards the Polk.

On the bridge of the Polk, Anderson was glued to his seat in horror.

滴e took out two ships with a beam saber! Haskell exclaimed.

He痴 not human! Anderson screamed.

鉄hoot him down! Haskell roared. 泥on稚 let him get close!

The Polk痴 high-energy beam cannons flashed to life; Shinn snarled in disgust and switched to his beam rifle, easily spearing the starboard turret on a beam rifle shot. He slammed down onto the ship痴 hull and pumped beam rounds into it, drawing out plumes of fire as he hit ammunition stores and fuel tanks. The Strike Daggers roared in; a blaze of beam shots from the Gaia and the Kasselheim痴 mobile suits stopped them. The remaining Marshall Colony warships tried to pick off the Impulse on the Polk痴 hull, but succeeded only in further damaging the carrier. Shinn dodged a web of beam fire as the Daggers desperately tried to protect their commander, and came to a halt in front of the carrier痴 bridge.

I WON探 LET YOU HURT THEM! Shinn shrieked.

The Impulse slammed its beam rifle through the Polk痴 bridge windows and fired輸nderson screamed as he vanished in a green blaze of beam fire. Fire began to rip apart the Polk痴 bridge tower; the Gaia pumped a volley of beam shots into the ship痴 hangar, slicing through the thin rear walls and piercing the reactor. The ship cracked in two with a thunderous explosion, and the two Gundams pulled back, daring the Marshall Colony forces to continue attacking.

The Daggers pulled back desperately, and the ships began to retreat.

Shinn scowled after them.

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ZAFT battleship Minerva, near Lagrange Point 3

The bridge of the Minerva was silent. All eyes were glued to the main screen, where the smoke and flame and wreckage from the battle were still fresh. The outcome was obvious葉he five remaining Marshall Colony warships and their shattered mobile suit force were clawing for distance, racing away in terror from a cobbled-together pirate battlecruiser, five beleaguered mobile suits...and the two most fearsome military weapons that they could have fielded.

添ou must be insane, Shinn, Talia murmured, shaking her head.

At her side, Arthur stared in open-mouthed shock at the Impulse, as it turned and headed back towards the Kasselheim. 滴e...he took out all those forces...

展e had no idea what an opponent we were up against, Talia said dourly, sitting back, putting one hand to her chin in thought. 哲ow we do. She glanced back at Arthur. 的 think it would be prudent not to attack them right now.

滴e and the Gaia took them all out, Arthur mumbled disbelievingly. 的s he...is he human?

At her console, Meyrin stared fearfully at the Impulse, watching it return to the Kasselheim. Shinn could take on whole armies in a machine like the Impulse and win; he was determined and angry and bound to protect the Kasselheim. Now he was terrifying. If he had never been frightening before, when he was with ZAFT, when he was on the Minerva...then he was terrifying now.

She looked back down at her console and tried not to cry.

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Atlantic Federation battleship Girty Lue, near Lagrange Point 3

The thing was enormous, heavily armed, even more heavily armored, and impossible to stop.

Sitting back in the Girty Lue痴 left-hand bridge chair, Ian Lee had to wonder why the Alliance even needed something like the Destroy Gundam.

It had wiped out the city of Kandahar today. It had already wiped out Islamabad and laid waste to several mobile suit divisions of the Muslim League. It seemed as if nothing they had could stop the massive machine from mowing down their forces and leveling their cities. Such a monstrosity, of course, could only come from Lord Djibril. Only Lord Djibril would be callous and melodramatic enough to create a 56-meter mobile suit that could shoot down warships from nearly seven hundred kilometers away, that had twenty mobile suit-grade beam cannons lining its backpack, that had a positron reflector that could easily shrug off the combined kinetic and beam firepower of an entire army.

笛ust imagine how much damage it would have done if Stella had been the pilot, Neo snorted dismissively from his seat. Lee glanced at him and returned his gaze to the screen.

鉄tella wasn稚 meant to pilot that thing, Lee said. 鉄he would have performed poorly. It is against her nature to pilot something like this.

Neo cast a dark glance at Lee. 滴er nature would have been easily overcome, he snapped. He glanced back at the bridge crew. 鉄tatus of the pirate ship.

典hey池e retrieved their mobile suits and set course for Earth, sir, one of the bridge crew answered.

Neo sat back and crossed his arms. 典hey池e heading for Earth, he said, 努hich means they値l be entering the atmosphere. That would be the best time to attack.

的t would also put us at unnecessary risk, Lee countered. Neo sniffed indifferently.

鄭t any rate, he went on, 努e値l let ZAFT make the first move. With any luck, we値l be able to catch the Minerva with its pants down and finish it off for good, and get something out of this.

Lee looked back at the screen, and the soulless green eyes of the Destroy Gundam glowered back at him.

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Battlecruiser Kasselheim, en route to the Earth

Shinn almost refused to come out of the Impulse痴 cockpit as the mobile suit finally locked into place in the Kasselheim痴 hangar. He could sense the eyes of the mechanics and their incredulity, staring almost fearfully at the unstoppable Gundam that had saved their lives. The mobile suit痴 Phase Shift faded away, its eyes darkened, its armor pitted and blackened with even more battle scars, and the Impulse Gundam at last came to rest. It seemed to let out a tired sigh as it was locked into place...but its job was done.

Shinn reluctantly opened the hatch, pulled off his helmet, and stepped out into silence.

The other mobile suits were docking; Shinn took off down the gantry, angling for the locker room, hoping that he could get to the lockers and change and slink off to his room before anyone could bother him. He rounded a corner

Kika was there to greet him, floating silently near the locker room door, staring almost fearfully at him. He looked back at her; she opened her mouth, as if to say something, but no sound came out. Shinn debated for a moment whether he should speak himself, but she finally broke the silence before he could.

...you came back, she said at last.

Shinn glanced away awkwardly. 徹f course I did, he said. 展hat did you think I would do?

Kika said nothing; instead, she pushed off the wall and threw her arms around Shinn. He blinked in surprise and tried to sputter out a protest, coming up against the opposite wall, as Kika gripped him tightly.

笛ust...don稚 do that again, she said, squeezing her eyes shut again. Shinn tried to pull her far enough away to look at her; instead, she pulled herself back and looked up at him with teary eyes. 泥on稚 make me think I致e lost you.

適-Kika濫 Shinn began awkwardly.

添ou could have died, she interrupted.

的 could always die, Shinn countered, trying to get her to relax her grip. 展e both know that.

釘ut this was different! Kika protested. 添ou were...you were inside that colony, far away, too far for us to help you...and... She paused, searching for words. ...and you came back to us, she finished. She looked up at him, the tears gone. 添ou came back.

Shinn looked away again. 的 promised you, didn稚 I? he asked uneasily.

Kika finally smiled. 添es, she said, 土ou did. Shinn didn稚 look back at her; she sighed quietly, and touched his face. He looked back at her in surprise; Kika seized her chance and kissed his lips.

Shinn sputtered in shock, his face red, and Kika could only giggle at him. She smiled at him one last time and let him go.

哲ow go take a shower, she said, tousling his sweaty hair playfully. 添ou stink.

She headed back down the corridor, and Shinn watched her go, baffled.

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December 12th, CE 73 - ZAFT battleship Minerva, orbit of the Earth

The observation deck was silent, its windows filled with a breathtaking panorama of the Earth. Rey Za Burrel stood before it all, arms crossed, staring down coldly at the scene. Far below was a cherry-red streak of light葉he Kasselheim was entering the Earth痴 atmosphere on a thick off-white ballute.

The door opened, but Rey already knew that Aoma was entering the room.

展e池e going to enter the atmosphere soon, she said meekly. Rey did not bother to turn around; that would only encourage her.

的 know, he said coldly.

展e should be in the crew lounge, she added.

Rey said nothing. She paused awkwardly; Rey imagined that she was looking around, for a cue of some kind.

Finally, she closed the door behind her and approached him slowly.

...was Shinn your friend? she asked suddenly.

Rey kept his emotions outwardly in check, but inside, he felt himself go tense. Shinn had been his friend...or something.

鉄hinn was a colleague, he said frigidly, 努ho was too weak.

Aoma came up next to Rey at the railing. 釘ut...was he your friend? she asked. She gazed at him nervously; Rey saw her out of the corner of his eye, and cast a dour, token glance at her.

的t is of no importance, he said with finality. 鉄hinn Asuka is our enemy. We will fight him and destroy him.

Aoma looked awkwardly down at the Kasselheim. 的s that what you really think? she asked.

There was the briefest of pauses. Rey looked down at the ship. Shinn was on that ship.

添es, he said.

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Carpentaria Base, Australia, Oceania Union

The screen had the dour face of Horatio Vandemant, Chairman of the National Defense Council, emblazoned across his front. He had his hands linked in front of his desk, staring emotionlessly ahead.

添ou understand your orders, then? Horatio asked.

徹f course, the man on the other end answered, slathered in a big easy chair, feet propped up on his desk, toying with a lighter. The scant light from the flame failed to reach his face, illuminating only his ZAFT ground uniform. 典he pirate battlecruiser Kasselheim is arriving on Earth. Follow them to the first place they dock and attack them, and capture the traitor Asuka and the stolen Impulse Gundam. He paused. 摘asy. Another pause. 的知 on the Alighieri, ready to go, so on and so forth. I get it.

的 expect success, then, Horatio said stiffly. 典he Red Claw Team will not fail us, I presume.

徹f course we won稚, the man answered snidely. 鄭nd with that I bid you goodnight, Chairman. He tapped a switch with the toe of his boot, and the screen went dark.

The man remained silent for a moment, staring at the flame on the lighter.

鉄hinn Asuka, he said quietly. 典raitor Asuka. Orb Marauder. Impressive nicknames you致e racked up for yourself, kid. A pause. 添ou値l be a fun one, no doubt about that.

He blew the flame out, and the room went dark.

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To be continued...