Phase 02 - Vermilion

Mobile Suit Gundam SEED TWILIGHT

Phase 02 - Vermilion

February 23rd, CE 77 - Denmark Strait, North Atlantic Ocean

The Windam raced off over the ocean, rocketing away as fast as its pilot knew how to command its engines to carry it. Inside the Destiny Gundam, left in the Windam's wake, Vermilion watched the stolen machine take off.

A familiar feeling raced trough his veins, up his nerves, and into his brain. He turned it over in his mind fear. He could feel fear.

He thought back to the feeling from Reykjavik, the feeling of fear, the feeling of being discovered, touched by something not understood, and thus, feared. Now he felt her terror radiating from within the Windam's armor, as a thousand thoughts and memories and strands of knowledge converged into one terrifying name.

Vermilion couldn't help but smile. His reputation preceded him.

A nickname is forever, I guess.

He shook his head, donned his sunglasses, and took off after the Windam.

"Motherfucking Christ!" Shams screamed. "Thirty seconds, that took! Thirty fucking seconds!"

Sven suppressed the urge to roll his eyes as the Strike Noir staggered through the air, heavily laden with the maimed and smoldering Blu Duel and Verde Buster in hand. Shams would be complaining about his ignominious defeat at the flashing, beam cannon-equipped hands of the Destiny Gundam for some time, it seemed which was all the more incentive to quickly get them landed and out of his hair.

He peered up ahead at a massive, dark shape looming among the clouds; with a flick of his wrist, he opened a transmission with the object.

"Carrier Mindanao," he said, "this is Captain Sven Cal Bayan of the Phantom Pain. Do you copy?"

Up ahead, the gray form of a six-engine Siegfried-class carrier plane dipped down from the clouds. The hangar bay in its nosecone yawned open.

"This is the Mindanao, Captain," a tired voice answered. "Ready to receive you."

Sven's screens flickered to life, and the face of a nondescript, square-jawed man in the brown uniform of the Earth Alliance Air Force appeared before him. "Evening, Captain Bayan. I'm Captain Williams, commander of the Mindanao. I think I can see already what it is you need."

"While these two get repaired, I'll need three mobile suits," Sven answered. "Two IWSP Windams and a Lightning Windam. The stolen Windam contains important data that we must not allow to fall into enemy hands."

"Well, I can route the request back to Heaven's Base or Dublin " Williams started.

"No," Sven cut him off. "Your mobile suits. I have no time to wait for reinforcements to fly in from a base."

"But Captain " Williams protested.

"No time," Sven interrupted. "Get me those Windams, captain. I'm requisitioning them under my authority as a Phantom Pain officer. We cannot allow that stolen unit to escape."

Williams let out a defeated sigh. "Yes sir," he answered. "It will take time to fit the Windams for combat."

"Then get to it," Sven answered. "The Destiny Gundam is loose out there."

North Atlantic Ocean

It was almost too terrifying to think.

Of the baffling vortex of thoughts swirling around in the bubbly soup of Emily's brain, the realization that she had only a marginal idea of how to operate a mobile suit was the most prominent, among those that consciously occurred to her. She recalled that there was a difference between mobile suits made for Naturals and for Coordinators that one was far easier to operate than the other, and her survival for this long was probably partially attributable to this being a mobile suit designed for a Natural such as herself. But what did it matter? They would find her anyway, and they would send real pilots after her, and they would kill her

Determinedly and desperately, she shook her head. What good would it do to panic over it all again? Right now she had to survive.

But how, she wondered, could she survive when faced with the jackboots and guns of the Phantom Pain? They were the finest soldiers of the Earth Alliance, handpicked by Lord Djibril and Field Marshal Markav, trained and honed and disciplined into the most terrifying soldiers the world had seen. The personal army of Lord Djibril had its hounds on her heels who could survive that? Only he, the man with the Destiny Gundam, the shimmering angel of destruction that had saved her from certain death, could face them in battle and live to tell the tale indeed, even succeed, and have formidable tales to tell. But she could not do what the Destiny Gundam had done. She could run around the world and still never outrun the Phantom Pain.

The survival instinct rose within her. She could not die like that. The world was vast, and for all the accolades and glories that Djibril and his cronies had heaped onto the Phantom Pain, they still had not destroyed the Resistance. Chiao Xu still lived. The Minerva still sailed. Even in Djibril's homeland of the Atlantic Federation, there was violence and guerilla activity and terrorist attacks. The Phantom Pain could be eluded.

Her survival instinct compelled her to fumble around the cockpit for a map. After some searching, it duly appeared on the screen before her she found her Windam cruising southeast, away from Iceland, towards Ireland. But she would find no refuge there although the world was liberally peppered with military bases for every branch of the Earth Alliance armed forces, Ireland was the site of Dublin Air Base, which kept watch over the whole of the North Atlantic. And it was well within striking distance of the sprawling naval strongholds of Belfast and Scapa Flow, and even Heaven's Base could extend its arm here as well. These were the sorts of things one learned while living and working in Heaven's Base, and now these fragments of knowledge burned like matches into her brain. Was there no escape?

The survival instinct focused her on Ireland's western coast, where she found an array of islands. She could never hide there she was but one little girl, and if she left the relative safety of her stolen Windam's armor, she would be exposed to far more than just mobile suits. At least if she died in the Windam, they could not rape her. That had to count for something.

The islands might have been meaningful to someone else, but they were not to Emily. The letters came together merely as words that produced sounds that died in her throat for want of the courage to be voiced. She glanced nervously over her shoulder at the Windam's rear-view camera only the inky, briny sea lay behind her, covered by a sentinel of thick clouds. The storm was following her, it seemed, but the Phantom Pain was nowhere to be found.

They were always nowhere to be found.

Her trembling hands clutched the controls, and she shifted her course south, towards something called the "Aran Islands." She squeezed her eyes shut and prayed that nobody would find her there.

Inishmore, Aran Islands, Ireland

The Destiny Gundam settled into the cover offered by a towering cliff over the ocean, and similarly, Vermilion settled back into his cockpit seat. Huge boulders, towering even over the Destiny, could provide him further cover from the eyes of the Phantom Pain, at least until he was ready to attack.

And with that, he keyed in a frequency and opened up a transmission.

A few moments later, the static was replaced by the bleary-eyed face of a girl with braided red hair and bloodshot blue eyes. She groaned and straightened out her rumpled camouflage-patterned shirt.

"Rise and shine, Roxy," Vermilion said, almost chuckling.

"For fuck's sake, it's five in the morning," she grumbled. "Don't you sleep?"

"And miss out on a chance to piss off our vice-ridden operator girl? I think not. Patch me through to Meyrin."

"If she's awake," Roxy muttered.

"I am awake," another voice shot back. Vermilion suppressed a smile as a woman and it felt strange to just think of her as a woman in a blue ZAFT overcoat stepped into the field of view. Even on the tiny screen, he could see her trembling hands brushing back the magenta-hued hair from her thin, young, fragile face. "What's going on?"

"The data has been smuggled out of Heaven's Base," Vermilion said, "but there have been some...complications."

"Complications?" Meyrin echoed. "What could possibly be going wrong now?"

"Lots of things," Vermilion answered. "Murphy's Law allows no exceptions."

'Well, what is going wrong?"

Vermilion's faint smile disappeared. "Hakim got into the base well enough," he explained, "but he never made it out. He press-ganged somebody there to carry the data out in a stolen Windam, and according to the girl he saddled with our prize, he blew himself up to cover her escape."

"Oh, jeez..." Roxy sighed.

"I encountered this girl in the Windam and fought off the Alliance troops on her tail," Vermilion continued. "But she got spooked and took off, and I'm following her now. The Devil's Swords mobilized to take her down, and I have no doubt that they'll be back for another go. I'm waiting here to ambush them when they do assuming everything works out right." He paused. "And there are...other complications as well."

"Other complications?" Meyrin echoed. "Like what?"

"It's a Newtype affair," Vermilion said shortly. "I'll report back soon."

He threw the switch and ended the transmission, peering towards the horizon. The fear was out there again, a tiny puff of emotion on the horizon...but it was getting bigger.

Well, this time we'll see if you're still inclined to run away...

February 24th, CE 77 - Earth Alliance battleship Charlemagne, Heaven’s Base, Iceland

The phones were ringing off the hook, to use a certain anachronistic cliché, Ivan Danilov mused. The bridge of the Charlemagne was throbbing with activity as the crew readied the ship for launch at breakneck speed. Its first assignment would be to track down that missing Windam the data it had inside was far too valuable to be lost. But that would not be a long assignment, and once that was complete, it could get back to its original mission.

At the moment, however, reports were streaming in about the Windam with a very unfortunate little girl inside. He peered up at the Charlemagne's main screen, as a sprawling map displayed a general curve that led away from Heaven's Base and pointed somewhere towards Ireland. But if she really was foolish enough to continue on that course, she would walk right into the jaws of Dublin Air Base.

Of course, Danilov mused, she did appear to have a guardian angel.

The other report was troubling, to say the least. Captain Bayan's 457th Rapid Response Team of the Phantom Pain, better known and feared as the Devil's Sword Team, had taken off after that stolen Windam, and no less than the Destiny Gundam itself stepped in to defend the stolen Windam. Within seconds, it had disabled the Blu Duel and Verde Buster, and forced the Devil's Saber himself, Sven Cal Bayan, to retreat. Whoever that girl in the Windam was, she was very, very lucky.

Which made Danilov wonder why a satellite pass over the North Atlantic had shown the Windam in question traveling alone.

Were the Destiny and the girl that was in this stolen Windam on the same side? If so, what did they have to gain by traveling alone? Only an idiot would take on the Destiny Gundam without the support of many, many allies and there was a reason why the Earth Alliance was running low on idiots.

Danilov sat back in his chair, rubbing his chin in thought. He glanced to the side as Vera approached.

"Sir," she said, "Captain Bayan reports that he's aboard the Mindanao and he's planning a second attack on that Windam."

"So he's still on the trail," Danilov concluded. "Then I'll leave the pursuit to him. It's only a domestic servant if they can avoid the Destiny, it should not be difficult."

"Yes sir," Vera answered. She glanced out at the port. "The Charlemagne will be ready for launch soon, as well."

Danilov put one leg over another and smiled thinly. "It'll be good to set sail again," he said. "We've been cooped up in dock too long, and I want to see what this ship can do."

North Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Ireland

The Windam jolted as it changed course. Inside the cockpit, Emily cringed she still had not gotten used to piloting this thing. Making it move and shoot was fairly intuitive, but making the ride smooth and using all of the features in the cockpit was not so clear. And the manual had been a huge and mystifying tome whose sheer weight was enough to scare her away and rely on intuition and luck to figure the Windam's functions out.

She looked fearfully at the sky, as it slowly turned from dark to light blue. The sun was coming up ahead she absently wondered how long she had been flying. And inevitably, she wondered where the Phantom Pain was. Surely they would not let her go with that disk in her pocket that felt like lead. But they had not attacked or even appeared, as far as she knew, since the imposing specter of the Destiny Gundam had defeated them. What were they up to?

Panic rose in her at the unknown where were the soldiers that would kill her? Would they drag her to the ground and tear her from her stolen steed? Would they burn her alive in the cockpit? She looked around urgently, but saw only the inky depths of the sea, and up ahead, a mass of land that she numbly guessed was Ireland. Somewhere on that island was Dublin Air Base, and they would surely notice her approach. If there was a way for the Windam to mask itself from sensors and radar, she knew nothing of it and that led only to more fear.

Tears in her eyes were the next step as she realized that she had nowhere to go. She squeezed her eyes shut, cursing herself for not raising a fuss and, at the very least, forcing Hakim to kill her.

But would he have? He had told her that she was somehow important, to somebody but what? Why? Who was interested in her? The Phantom Pain, obviously but who else? The pilot of the Destiny Gundam had fortuitously appeared to save her life was it him?

Her blood went cold at the thought of making a foe of the man with the wings of light. He had many enemies, but not so many of those enemies were still alive.

She struggled to listen to the survival instinct and found the booster, speeding up and heading for the Aran Islands.

Earth Alliance Siegfried-class carrier plane Mindanao, North Atlantic Ocean

"Captain," Williams protested as Sven climbed into the Strike Noir, "I still think we should at least ask Dublin for support. The Destiny is out there. Even a pilot like you can't beat that thing without an army or two behind you." He fidgeted nervously as Sven fastened his restraints and donned his helmet. "Dublin could scramble a wing of Skygraspers "

"All I need to do is destroy that Windam," Sven said. "It would be too much effort to capture it if the Destiny intervenes again, but it won't be so much effort if we destroy it." He closed his visor. "Your participation is appreciated and protests noted, Captain. Now please step aside I am going to launch."

Captain Williams resignedly saluted and scurried down the gantry before it was retracted. Sven cracked his knuckles and eased the Strike Noir forward. He glanced over his shoulder; a pair of Windams sporting Integrated Weapons Striker packs and a single Windam with a Lightning Striker pack stared back at him.

"Hernandez," Sven began. "Find a suitable position to use the Lightning Striker's electromag cannon and support us from afar. Johnson and Petrov, you will take out the stolen Windam."

"Yes sir," Johnson answered from his IWSP Windam, "but what about you?"

Sven narrowed his eyes. "The Destiny Gundam is in the area." All three men gasped in horror. "I will handle him. All we need to do is destroy the Windam; we do not have sufficient forces to engage the Destiny." The Strike Noir stomped forward as the hangar door yawned open. "Commence operation!"

Inishmore, Aran Islands, Ireland

The sensors beeped insistently as the radar screen flickered to life. Emily was intuitive enough to understand a radar screen, and felt herself go numb with fear as she saw four dots rapidly approaching the center of the screen. She desperately searched the skies they were coming from the northwest.

Inside the Strike Noir, Sven frowned at the Jet Windam as it dipped down towards the ground and landed with a crash, stumbling forward with unsure footing. The pilot still did not appear to know what she was doing but there was no sign of the Destiny Gundam either, and that was troubling.

"Hernandez, set up for long-range support," Sven instructed. "Johnson, Petrov, begin your attack."

The three Windams arced off to carry out their orders, while Sven cut the thrusters and landed on the shore, watching impassively. Johnson and Petrov's Windams came down with a crash and advanced towards Emily's grounded Windam.

Emily's eyes flashed in horror as she saw two Windams, armed with huge backpacks and terrifying weapons, stomping towards her with murder in their soulless visors. She tried to push the Windam into a run, but the IWSP Windams opened fire with their beam rifles only survival instinct compelled her to slam on the brakes, stopping the Windam from walking into a fiery death. She wheeled the Windam around and put the shield between herself and the enemies, just as they fired again and pounded shots against the shield.

"I can't do this!" she screamed. "I'm not a pilot!"

Johnson glanced over at Petrov's Windam. "She's just supposed to be a slave or something," he said. "This'll be like a fish in a bucket."

Petrov's Windam holstered its rifle and drew an anti-ship sword. "Then let's get this over with," he said. "Before the Wings of Light show up."

The Windams took off, moving to flank Emily's Windam from both sides. She screamed in fear and yanked back on the controls, sending her Windam backpedaling as Johnson's Windam opened fire again. Emily wheeled her Windam around to face it, leveling off the beam rifle and firing back.

The shot went sailing wide, but a flash of energy and a tiny voice of warning shot up her spine, and she turned to face Petrov's Windam, firing as it charged in close, sword upraised.

Petrov jerked his Windam to the left, abandoning his attack. "She's just getting lucky!" he snapped. "Distract her!"

Johnson's Windam charged, drawing the beam boomerang from its shield. "Now!" He sent the weapon hurling forward, its beam blade igniting with a flash.

Emily shrieked in fear and threw her Windam forward, barely pulling the Windam's body out of the path of Johnson's boomerang. She raised the beam rifle to fire, and poured beam shots after it, knocking it out of the air.

The Windam shuddered and staggered forward, thrown towards the ground by a thundering blast, and Emily looked back, finding the Windam's Jet Striker pack gone and Petrov's IWSP Windam standing triumphantly with sword raised. It advanced forward for a killing blow.

"No!" Emily screamed she backed away and fired back with the Windam's beam rifle, forcing Petrov to back away behind his shield. Fumbling for weapons, she launched both of her Windam's shield-mounted missiles, sending them slamming into the ground near Petrov's Windam.

"Oh, for Christ's sake!" Johnson complained. "Hernandez, are you ready yet?!"

Johnson was answered by a blazing shot from a ridge behind Emily's Windam. It sliced through her Windam's right leg, blowing it apart. Johnson grinned and opened fire with his Gatling gun, blowing off the Windam's right arm and ripping its armor apart. Emily screamed as her dismembered mobile suit slammed to the ground, and Johnson leveled off his Gatling

The next thing anyone knew, a beam blast came slicing out of the heavens and severed the victorious Windam's left arm. Johnson's Windam staggered back, scanning the sky for its attacker

"Good God!" Petrov screamed. "The Wings of Light!"

The Destiny Gundam charged.

"Leave him to me!" Sven barked. The Strike Noir lunged into the air from the beach, swords drawn, blasting up towards the Destiny. The dreaded Gundam activated its beam wings with a flash and somersaulted over the Strike Noir's head in a blur of afterimages. The Noir whirled around, only to be met with a devastating roundhouse kick to the face that sent it spiraling towards the ground.

The Destiny turned, its wings shimmering in the early morning light, as the Windams opened fire with their guns. The shots slammed uselessly against the Destiny's Phase Shift the Gundam snapped its beam rifle into position and opened fire, forcing the Windams on the defensive.

"Jesus Christ!" Johnson screamed, as a beam nearly took off his Windam's left leg. "Hernandez, do something!"

"I can't get a bead on him!" Hernandez shot back. "The wings "

"Just shoot him!" Petrov roared.

The two IWSP Windams opened fire again the Destiny darted aside from their shots, letting them pass harmlessly through afterimages, lunging towards the ground. Johnson's Windam charged, thrusting its sword forward

The Destiny Gundam held up its hand, flashing with light, stopping the sword cold and with a hideous shriek of twisted metal, the Destiny drew its massive anti-ship sword and slammed it through the Windam's cockpit.

Yanking the sword out of the cockpit and turning as the Windam died its fiery death, it flashed its eyes at the remaining Windams.

"He took out Johnson!" Petrov shouted.

More beam shots sliced through the battlefield the Destiny ducked aside as the Strike Noir sprayed the battlefield with beam pistol fire. Petrov opened fire as well, showering the Destiny with cannon fire and skirting to the side to flank the winged Gundam, while Hernandez squeezed off a shot that streaked by the Destiny's head.

"Petrov, close in! I'll distract him!" Sven barked. The Noir fired its pistols again, while Petrov drew a sword and charged at the Destiny's exposed back

The Destiny dug its right foot under the severed arm of Johnson's Windam, propelling its Gatling shield into the air and over its head. The shield landed with a crash in the Destiny's left hand, and an instant later, it whirled around and opened fire at point-blank range into the charging Windam's cockpit, where Petrov died with a wordless scream and a spray of blood.

The dead Windam slumped to the ground, riddled with bullet holes, where it too exploded, and the Destiny tossed the shield to the ground. Another shell from the Lightning Windam came streaking in as Sven opened fire again the Destiny vaulted into the air, activating its long cannon and firing a blast that ripped down through the air, plowing through the Lightning Windam's cockpit and ending that threat with a thunderous explosion. The Destiny raised its anti-ship sword and charged towards the Strike Noir.

"Dammit!" Sven snarled. "He tore them apart too!" The Noir drew both of its swords and put them in a cross to deflect the Destiny's powerful overhead hack. The force of the blow nearly forced the Noir to its knees, but Sven backed away and leapt into the air, over the Destiny's head. The Destiny whirled around, sword raised, and swung it horizontally to slam into the Noir's left-hand sword, nearly knocking it from the Noir's grasp.

Sven backed away, but the Destiny followed. The Noir cut its thrusters, lunging into the Destiny's face with swords upraised the Destiny thrust its own sword forward to parry Sven's blow, and with a harrowing crash, smashed its shoulder into the Noir's face to throw it back. It kept coming with another devastating sword blow that Sven barely blocked with his right-hand sword, and then another follow-up blow that once again almost knocked away his left-hand sword.

"He has the advantage now!" Sven growled. "I can't take him one on one!"

The Destiny came down with another punishing sword blow, but Sven fired the thrusters again, lunging into the air and arcing away over the beach.

The Destiny landed slowly, watching the Noir retreat again, and deactivated its sword. It stomped over to Emily's crippled Windam.

Inside, Emily von Oldendorf was huddled in the cockpit seat, clutching her shoulders in terror as she saw through a hole in the cockpit hatch the cold eyes of the Destiny Gundam. The one still-functional cockpit screen barely flickered to life, and the eerie red eyes of Vermilion appeared again.

"We meet again," he said. "That's the second time I've saved you. I hope it's clear that I mean you no harm."

"Y-you're with the Resistance," Emily managed.

Vermilion risked a smile. "You could say that," he said. The Destiny came to a stop at the foot of Emily's ruined Windam. "But I'm not what's important. I'm going to offer you, instead, a chance to join us, in the Resistance."

Emily's blood froze. "I can't do that!" she wailed. "They'll kill me!"

Vermilion arched an eyebrow. "What were they trying to do just now?" he asked. "However you got swept up in all this, the Alliance isn't going to have much mercy on you if they catch you. And if you're running through the world on your own, without any friends to rely on, you're going to get caught. At least with us, you'll have strength in numbers."

Emily said nothing, staring fearfully into the thin young face, scarred three times over and with eyes partially hidden by sunglasses. She felt another jolt of energy rush up her spine.

"I don't want..." she began. "...I'm afraid to be...with the traitor Asuka..."

Vermilion smiled sadly. "You don't have to fear me for that," he said. The Destiny extended its hand.

Emily stared down at the outstretched appendage for a moment, before she climbed out of the Windam and into the Destiny's hand.

The Destiny lifted her from the broken armor of her wrecked Windam to the Destiny's cockpit. The hatch swung open.

Emily looked down apprehensively at the offered hand of Shinn Asuka.

"To some people, I'm a traitor," he said, "but to you, I'm a friend."

Emily looked back into his crimson eyes, as the light of the rising sun played across them and illuminated the scars of a lifetime's experiences in them. Once again, the energy went up her spine, and a thousand voices in the back of her mind cried out in protest as she took his hand and stepped into the Destiny's cockpit.

The hatch swung shut behind her, and a moment later, the Destiny Gundam took off with a flash of exhaust.

Earth Alliance Siegfried-class carrier plane Mindanao, North Atlantic Ocean

"Disgraceful," Sven grunted to himself, as the Strike Noir cruised towards the Mindanao, "but I would suppose this confirms that the girl and the Destiny are working together."

He glanced up ahead, finding the Mindanao cruising towards him with its hangar ponderously swinging open. He keyed in the ship's frequency, and was greeted by Williams' annoyed face.

"I see it didn't go well," he intoned.

Sven expertly held his venom in check. "I have three Slaughter Windams on their way here from Heaven's Base," he answered. "I will resupply here and sortie again to confront the Destiny."

Williams blinked. "Are you nuts, Captain?" he asked. "That's the Destiny Gundam. It's got Shinn Asuka in it. Shouldn't we get more reinforcements?"

Sven cast an annoyed glance at Williams as he eased the Strike Noir onto its landing approach. "You insisted that we not face the Destiny with anything than less than an army's firepower," he said. "We do not have time to assemble an army. Three Slaughter Windams and the Noir will have to suffice. I am going to resupply aboard the Mindanao and immediately take off once the Windams arrive. Be ready to receive me."

He cut the transmission before Williams could say anything snide and scowled. Five mobile suits, that Destiny had taken down...and it wasn't even twenty-four hours yet

North Atlantic Ocean

Shinn gazed down at the disk in his hand for a moment. Hakim had died to get him this disk, and this girl. He looked back at the jump seat, where Emily von Oldendorf was huddled, her arms around her knees, still shaking with fear. But the fear was beginning to subside as she looked around the Destiny's cockpit, feeling safer within its Phase Shift armor.

"This data," Shinn said quietly, "is about an attack on the Resistance's stronghold in Carpentaria. So it's very important that we get this to the leaders of the Resistance." He glanced back at Emily again. "Do you know anything about the Phantom Pain?"

Emily shook her head haltingly. "I-I was a domestic servant in the living quarters," she murmured, squeezing her eyes shut at the thought of her days there. Shinn nodded gravely, looking back to the Destiny's forward screen.

"That's not surprising," he said. "The Phantom Pain is very secretive." He reached for a switch somewhere on the console that Emily could not see. "At any rate, I guess an introduction is in order."

The screen next to Emily flickered to life, and she found herself face to face with a red-haired girl leaning on a console, with a supremely bored look on her face. She arched an eyebrow as she cast her blue eyes towards the shivering girl in the Destiny's jump seat.

"Roxy," Shinn said, "get me Meyrin."

"Uh, okay," Roxy answered, pointing, "but who's that?" A devious smile crossed her lips. "You're not bringing a girl home, are you? You sly dog! Where did you "

"No," Shinn cut her off, glancing back pointedly at Emily as she tried to hide the spreading blush on her face. "Roxy, meet Emily von Oldendorf. Our newest recruit, as it were."

Roxy regarded Emily for a moment. "She looks utterly terrified."

"Yeah, well, getting chased by the Phantom Pain will do that to you. Where's Meyrin?"

Abruptly, another girl in a blue bridge coat emerged, putting on a peaked white cap over her magenta-haired head. "Is this the girl you were talking about earlier?" she asked.

"This is Emily von Oldendorf," Shinn repeated, gesturing to her over his shoulder. "Hakim sent her off with our prize, which I've got in my pocket right now. She'll be our latest recruit."

"I see," Meyrin answered. "Welcome to the Resistance, Miss Oldendorf." She looked back at Shinn. "Where are you?"

Shinn paused to consult his map. "North Atlantic, passing Saint George's Channel. We may have to change our rendezvous point I doubt the Devil's Swords will let me get away that easily." He glanced at the map again. "And we're awfully close to Dublin. Weird that they haven't sent anything. But I shouldn't be too far out now."

"Okay," Meyrin responded. "We're cutting the transmission, then, before anyone intercepts. Good luck."

The screen went dark, and Shinn sat back with a thin smile. "She's getting more like a captain every day," he chuckled.

"The Minerva...?" Emily asked. "Is that where we're going?"

"It's where we're trying to go," Shinn replied. "Although your Phantom Pain friends might have something to say about that." He settled back into the cockpit chair. "Either way, it'll be a few more hours before we rendezvous, and somehow I doubt you've slept much. So you might want to try doing that. I'll wake you up if anything happens."

"Alright," Emily murmured, curling up and turning away in the jump seat.

Shinn watched her reflection in the cockpit monitor as she drifted off to sleep. The pressure was there again in her mind, coming from her, the tiny voice that warned him of power below this meek exterior.

Is she even stronger than me...? he wondered.

He glanced over his other shoulder, at the horizon that the Destiny was leaving behind, at the green sea under the sickly cover of a storm that dropped biting rain on the Destiny as it sailed forward.

Well, he told himself, I'll get her back to the Minerva...and I'll protect her.

Hernandez, Johnson, and Petrov had been only Earth Alliance Air Force pilots, without the extra training and discipline of the Phantom Pain, Sven told himself as he eased the Strike Noir into formation with the three Slaughter Windams. These men were the cream of the Earth Alliance's crop surely they would be able to at least scratch the Destiny.

The four mobile suits formed up as they cruised in low over the choppy seas. Wilcox, Rosenthal, and Everett would have to do better, at any rate, because Shinn Asuka was no normal opponent.

"The Destiny has probably gotten a hold of the data in question," Sven said. "It may have the girl who stole the Windam as well. Regardless, we must stop them both before they can relay their stolen data to the Resistance." He glanced over the three Slaughter Windams. "It took out the other members of my team, and destroyed three EAAF Windams as well. So I expect you all to be on your toes."

"Yes sir!" the pilots chorused.

Sven narrowed his eyes up ahead. The Wings of Light were somewhere out there, but he would not be shamed a third time.

Emily awoke fearfully to the insistent voice of the traitor Asuka. She looked around in surprise the storm was even stronger now, and Shinn looked tense, ready for battle.

Feeling the panic once again returning, she looked at the Destiny's displays, and sure enough, there were four mobile suits approaching from the west. She cast a panicked look at Shinn.

"Wha are you going to fight them?" she exclaimed.

"Of course I am," he answered. "Why wouldn't I? Now hold on tight, this'll get bumpy."

The Destiny whirled around, cutting its thrusters, eyes flashing, waiting in the driving rain for its charging attackers. Up ahead, inside the Noir, Sven frowned.

"Fan out and attack from all sides," he ordered. "Newtype he may be, but he can't be in four places at once."

Inside the Destiny, Shinn smirked as he watched the Windams split up, two of them aiming to flank him and the other talking off overhead. "Are the Phantom Pain's pilots as good as they say they are...?"

The Destiny ducked towards the sea as the Windams opened fire, and squeezed off a shot at the uppermost Windam. Inside, Wilcox let out a curse and took the shot to the Windam's shield, driving him back. Everett's Windam swept in from the side, while Sven opened fire with his beam pistols. The Destiny ducked between the shots and fired back at Everett and Sven, forcing them back. Rosenthal attacked next, but the Destiny effortlessly ducked past him.

"I'll close in! Cover me!" Sven ordered the Strike Noir drew its swords and charged towards the Destiny.

The Windams spread out again, firing with their beam rifles as the Destiny expertly dodged their shots and drew its anti-ship sword. Shinn brought the sword up to block the Noir's twin sword strikes, knocking it back.

"There's so many!" Emily wailed.

"This is nothing!" Shinn answered.

The Windams swept around to fire again, but Shinn ducked under their shots and thrust his sword up, nearly catching the Noir in the chest. Sven swung back with his right-hand sword, but Shinn thrust his own sword into the way, knocking Sven's blade wide, and with a crash Shinn delivered a punishing kick to the Noir's stomach.

"Dammit!" Sven growled. "Mindanao, close in and launch your remaining machines! We'll overwhelm him!"

"But Captain, that's the Destiny " Williams began.

"Do it!" Sven roared.

Shinn frowned as he felt a twinge of rage from the Noir, and the faint tint of anxiousness from over the horizon. Reinforcements were on their way, he guessed.

"Looks like they're calling for backup," Shinn muttered, glancing over at Emily. "I'd say it's about time we finished up this little game. Hang on!"

"Everett, move in behind him!" Sven shouted. Everett's Windam looped around the Destiny, leveling off its beam rifle

"No you won't!" Shinn screamed.

The Destiny activated its beam wings with a flash, slicing Everett's Windam in two and sending both halves to a fiery death in the ocean.

"The Wings of Light!" Rosenthal cried. "Captain "

"Take him down!" Sven snapped. The Windams opened fire, but the Destiny fouled their blasts with a flurry of afterimages, taking off over their heads. The Windams drew their beam sabers, charging in close, but Shinn knocked them both away with a winnowing horizontal swipe from his anti-ship sword. Sven charged in from behind, but the Destiny whirled around to block his overhead slash, and then parry a second strike from his left-hand sword. The Windams closed in Shinn sent them clawing for distance with his beam wings.

"Flank him again!" Sven shouted. "He can't use the wings that way!"

The Windams took off around the Destiny, while Sven surged forward, swords upraised. Shinn scowled as a white bolt of energy ripped through the air, seeing his opening

With a crash, the Destiny kicked the Noir square in the torso, sending it tumbling down into the water. An instant later, the Destiny whirled around, slamming its sword through the waist of Wilcox's Windam and sending him to a wordless, screaming death. And as it followed through on its swing, Rosenthal's Windam swept in, beam saber drawn Shinn brought his sword down onto the saber with full force, smashing through the arm and ripping the Windam in two.

As Rosenthal's Windam exploded, Sven took off, glaring over his shoulder at the shimmering wings of the Destiny Gundam.

Shinn deactivated his sword and glanced at Emily. "See?" he said. "Piece of cake."

Emily said nothing, staring at the pillars of smoke left behind as the Destiny rocketed away.

To be continued...