Phase 03 - The Man With the Key

Mobile Suit Gundam SEED TWILIGHT

Phase 03 - The Man With the Key

February 25th, CE 77 - Earth Alliance battleship Charlemagne, Heaven's Base, Iceland

"This is Docking Control," the operator's voice came through on the speakers. "All units clear. Charlemagne is free to launch at your discretion."

Sitting back on the bridge of his titanic warship, Ivan Danilov suppressed a smile. "Acknowledged. Charlemagne, move out, engines at fifteen percent!"

The sprawling warship shuddered as it disconnected itself from its fuel tubes and attachments in the dry-dock. The Charlemagne slowly pulled up into the air, multiple levitators activating to push the vessel towards the sky. Danilov watched the world slowly descend as his ship lifted off.

"Captain, we've reached 500 meters," Vera reported, from her station beside the captain's chair. "Ready to launch."

"The Resistance probably has the stolen data by now," Danilov said. "Our orders are to track down the Resistance unit that intercepted the data and destroy it." He glanced towards Vera. "Our ship and crew the finest the Phantom Pain has to offer. Engines to maximum, set course for Bretagne!"

The Dark Windam locked into place with a crash, filling the hangar with a bone-jarring echo.

"Jeez," someone muttered, "take it easy, will ya? These things are fragile."

Standing on the gantry at the controls for the Charlemagne's mobile suit hangar crane, 17-year-old Grey Saiba cast a sheepish grin at the mechanic in question.

"Sorry," he answered, brushing chestnut hair from his blue eyes, "but it's my first deployment. Excited and all."

"Yeah, well, treat your MS like that and you ain't gonna have a second," the mechanic answered, trudging off down the gantry. Grey shrugged and glanced across at the second mobile suit brace next to his. The second Windam's cockpit hatch opened, and the shock of blonde hair and sparkling green eyes signaled the emergence of 17-year-old Merau Seraux, rubbing the side of her head in annoyance.

"I see you're done," she grunted. "Not so loud next time, eh?" She straightened the cuffs of her jet black Phantom Pain uniform. "The ensign might come down and yell at us."

"Ah, hell with that," Grey laughed. "First deployment, Merau! Are you not pumped for this? All those months of putting up with those jackasses at Volkov Crater will finally pay off, starting now!"

Merau regarded him with a skeptical glance as she headed down the gantry, Grey in tow. "Eh, a deployment's a deployment," she said. "We have a job to do, and we're going to do it. That's how I'm looking at it." A thin smile crossed her lips. "And your lousy experience at Volkov had as much to do with you as it did your instructors."

"I swear, they were trying to bring me down!" Grey insisted. "I did not rate that badly on the Chemical Warfare exam! And my pilot aptitude tests were great!"

Merau smiled knowingly as she took a right, angling for the officer's mess. "Well, actual mobile suit combat is a lot different from a simulated paintball match with some out-of-practice instructor. Remember when they flew in Captain Chevalier for that surprise training match? He kicked your ass so hard I hear they're still finding pieces on the proving ground."

"I thought we agreed not to talk about that anymore," Grey complained.

"Besides," Merau went on, "just because we're Phantom Pain officers doesn't mean that we're invincible. We're going after the Minerva, after all and that ship has the Destiny on it. I don't know about you, but those clips we saw in Combat Operations were pretty scary."

"They can't be that lucky all the time," Grey insisted. "You'll see. We'll take 'em down."

Merau allowed herself only another knowing smile. "Yeah," she said, "we'll see."

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

"Six mobile suits in one day!" Shams Coza cackled as he strode down the halls of the Mindanao behind Sven. "Man, I don't have to feel so bad now, eh?"

Sven ignored Shams with expert ease. "I expect you to be with us on our next sortie," he said, partly speaking more to Mudie than Shams, "and next time, we'll need to work out a plan to fight the Destiny. Going head-to-head against it is suicide."

"If you say so," Mudie sighed.

"If you don't get us killed first," Shams chuckled.

The bridge doors opened with a hiss of pressurized air, and Williams greeted Sven with a curt salute.

"Captain," Sven said, returning Williams' salute, "I hear we're coming up on the new warship, the Charlemagne."

"We are, sir," Williams said, gesturing out the main window. "In a minute or two, we should make visual contact with her. In the meantime, Captain Danilov has sent you a transmission."

Sven stepped forward, glancing at the communications officer. A moment later, the chiseled face of Ivan Danilov dominated the Mindanao's main monitor.

"Captain Danilov," Sven greeted, providing his own salute. "Congratulations on your vessel's maiden voyage."

"We've got quite the prey," Danilov answered with his own salute. "Captain Williams here informs me that you've been on the scent of the Wings of Light."

"Until recently," Sven said, with only a hint of bitterness. "The Destiny has forced my withdrawal three times now."

"Unfortunate," Danilov intoned with an arched eyebrow. "I'll assume God is trying to tell us not to be too hasty to pick a fight with the traitor Asuka. I advise patience, Captain Bayan. We have units out searching for the Minerva right now as long as we can keep the Destiny and the Minerva separated, he cannot last forever."

"The Destiny is likely carrying sensitive data that was in that stolen Windam," Sven added. "The Windam was disabled on the Inishmore island, but search teams found no body, nor any sign of the stolen data. We must conclude that the Destiny has possession of both."

Danilov sat back, one leg draped over the other. "We may," he agreed. "I'm following the trail you radioed back to Heaven's Base when you returned from your third sortie against the Destiny. It looks like it's heading for the Bretagne region of France."

"The Black Wolf unit is known to operate there," Sven pointed out. "The Destiny may be seeking shelter with them."

"Another prolific prize." Danilov threw a switch on his end. "The 21st Atlantic Patrol Group is near Bretagne," he said. "I'll send word to its commander that the catch of a lifetime is walking into his arms."

North Atlantic Ocean

Emily was still asleep. That was just as well as long as she was sleeping, whatever emotions Shinn could detect roiling beneath her meek exterior were subdued, and the more subdued her emotions, the less intense his own response would be.

Shinn instead settled back into the Destiny's cockpit chair, considering the pressure he still felt from her. That was the one thing that sleep did not subdue Emily's pressure was as strong as ever, twisting and pulsing in the back of his brain. She had power enormous power, power that could change the world.

But he considered the vessel in which that power resided. She was afraid; she was no soldier, and could barely keep the stolen Windam she had never wanted to be anywhere near on its feet. Even now, the faint traces of fear still clung to her presence. He thought back, with no shortage of bitterness and pain, to his own youth, to the days before he knew he had the powers he now used to scare faith in God into or out of the soldiers of the Earth Alliance.

It was an agony all its own to relive the pain in the brutal lens of memory. He could see, now, a panorama of skirmishes in space and on Earth, as he wielded the Impulse Gundam against the foes of ZAFT, launching from that same ship, the Minerva, a lifetime ago. He saw the future or, more correctly, he saw the future as envisioned by Chairman Gilbert Dullindal.

The sparkling violet eyes of a certain timid blonde girl drew him away from the halcyon days of there still being a ZAFT, when the Minerva was the symbol of hope for those who called the PLANTs home, not for those who took up arms against Lord Djibril, no matter who they were. And the shimmering blue eyes of another girl drew his memory in a still different direction.

But that wound was even more painful. Shinn closed his eyes, reaching back in time to feel again the cool touch of Kika Rosemary as he sobbed out all his troubles into her shoulder and shuddered as the accompanying memories returned of the night that her touch had turned electric, and she had surrendered everything she had, to give him one night where they could be one and he would not be alone.

And then, with a wrenching burst of grief and pain, it was gone.

His own screams on that agonizing day three years ago still echoed in his ears today as he peered back at Emily. Mayu, Kika, George, Lunamaria, Lacus, all of them, they had all died because he had not been powerful enough to protect them; because he had not used his powers as fully as he could. But Emily had power coursing in her veins, even if she was too terrified right now to use it. And Shinn had no doubt that there were things that Emily von Oldendorf held dear to her heart.

And Shinn Asuka was going to help her protect them.

He keyed in the frequency for the Minerva a risk, to be sure, but he was past caring. Let them find him. Few soldiers would be stupid enough to challenge the Wings of Light to a duel, and if there were any soldiers that stupid out there, Shinn would tear them down where they stood.

"It's 0930, Roxy," Shinn said as Roxy stared at him blearily. "You have no excuse."

"I don't need one," Roxy shot back. "Don't you have anything better to do, like avoiding detection?"

"Well, grown men don't piss themselves when you show up on the battlefield," Shinn replied. "I need Abes."

Roxy huffed indignantly. "Say 'please,'" she insisted.

Shinn arched an eyebrow. "Remember that one night in Amsterdam?" he asked instead.

"Son of a bitch," Roxy grumbled, her face turning red. She threw a switch and raised the intercom somewhere near her mouth, glowering with disdain at Shinn. "Chief Mechanic Abes, the Antichrist is waiting for you on line one."

Shinn sighed and reminded himself to think of some retaliatory nicknames for Roxy. The lined and drawn face of the Minerva's chief mechanic, Matt Abes, appeared a moment later, with Meyrin nearby, clipboard in hand. She seemed to be everywhere but she had to at least look like the captain.

"The Antichrist?" Abes asked skeptically. "To what do I owe the honor of addressing the Prince of Lies?"

"How many sets of spare parts do we have for the Destiny?" Shinn asked.

Abes glanced over his shoulder, towards the corner of the hangar where a dozen mobile suits were kept disassembled and in crates. "We could build three more units in addition to the one you're piloting now," he answered. "Why do you ask?"

Shinn steeled himself. "I want you to build a second Destiny unit out of those spare parts."

Abes blinked in surprise, as did Meyrin. "What?" Meyrin asked. "Why?"

This would be the hard part, Shinn told himself. "It's for Emily," he said. "I have a feeling it'll be useful."

"We won't have many spare parts left for either unit," Abes warned. "And if you're thinking of giving this second Destiny unit to an amateur, we'll probably be needing all the spare parts we can get."

"We can ask the Junk Guild to build more," Shinn said. "Lowe Gear has never let us down before. And until then, I'll just have to be extra careful, won't I?"

"Shinn, what is so special about this girl?" Meyrin protested. "Letting her onto the ship is one thing, but building a unit like the Destiny for her is entirely another."

Shinn's face betrayed wisdom no man his age should have, silencing any further protests Abes and Meyrin could have registered. "I spent the Junius War struggling to learn the nature of my powers as a Newtype," he explained. "At the same time, I tried to use those powers to protect those I cared about. I couldn't do both, and I paid the price for my failure. It's a price no one should have to pay." He glanced back at Emily, still sound asleep in the jump seat. "Emily has that power. Even stronger than mine, maybe. Those powers will begin to manifest, if they haven't already. And she's going to suffer. And she's going to want to learn what those powers are and she'll want to use them to protect what is important to her." He looked back at the screen. "If I leave her on her own, the Alliance will find her, and someone will notice those powers, and she'll wind up no better than an Extended. I can't let someone else end up like Stella. And I can't let someone else go through what I went through not if I can do something about it."

He said nothing more, watching Meyrin and Abes carefully. Meyrin let out a sigh.

"And this second Destiny unit," she concluded, "is the power that you want to give her, to do all that?"

"Exactly," Shinn answered.

Abes scratched his head awkwardly. "It will take a couple of days to assemble it all," he said, "and we'll need to specify the name and Phase Shift coloration to differentiate your unit from hers."

"That's fine," Shinn said. "We'll deal with that when I get back. Just get that Destiny unit built and I'll see you soon."

He cut the transmission, closing his eyes and reaching out with the sense he still feared he did not fully understand. There were people out there but he could feel the tiny tinge of fear of the Destiny Gundam. They felt like soldiers.

Consulting his sensors, he found a trio of Earth Alliance warships in the water near Bretagne. They would be an unfortunate obstacle.

He glanced back at Emily again. Well, at least this time she would see what a Newtype was truly capable of.

Earth Alliance Spengler-class aircraft carrier Mikhail Gorbachev, English Channel

"Arkady," the man on the screen said, "it's imperative that you get your squadron into intercept range of the Destiny."

Standing on the bridge of the Mikhail Gorbachev, the thin mustachioed man named Arkady, wearing his blue Earth Alliance Navy uniform, crossed his arms, looking back skeptically at Captain Danilov. "Captain," he said, "in CE 73, I commanded a Spengler-class at Antarctica. I watched Shinn Asuka tear down our Destroy Gundam like a paper doll. I am not very eager to attack him again without significant reinforcements. He has destroyed patrol groups like mine in the past, with minimal effort."

"I understand," Danilov answered, "but if we all cower in fear before the Wings of Light simply because he has the scalps of many of our comrades, God only knows what will become of our world. All you need to do is hold him off there are two Phantom Pain units coming in from behind him, and together, we can all crush him."

Arkady sniffed contemptuously. "Is this an order from the Phantom Pain?"

Danilov smiled back thinly. "I try not to give too many of those," he said. "I commanded a ship at Solomon's Sword, and watched him destroy a whole wing of Exus mobile armors. Captain Bayan has faced him three times already and lived to tell about it. We know what we're up against."

"Then I will commence my attack once the Destiny enters my range," Arkady answered, with a touch of resignation. "But my forces are insufficient to hold him off for long."

Danilov smiled again. "We'll be right behind you, Commander."

Off the coast of Bretagne, France

The fear was back, this time taking the form of both anxiousness over the impending battle and uncertainty of skills. But Shinn had no fears he had detected only a patrol group, and he had sent more than one of those to the bottom of the sea in his day.

He glanced back at Emily as she quivered in the jump seat. "You're scared," he observed. "What for?" He allowed himself a cheeky grin. "Don't you trust my abilities?"

"But they're sending ships," Emily protested. "Aren't they more dangerous?"

Shinn smiled bitterly at the memories of Kika complaining of his propensity for attacking warships with a beam saber. "I've handled ships before. Just hold on back there and this'll all be over with real quick."

The Destiny spiraled down towards the surface of the ocean, skimming in over the water towards the three ships clustered and waiting in the distance. They would no doubt be sending mobile suits, but the Phantom Pain was not known to operate standard blue-water patrol groups so these troops would just be the regulars.

Shinn really did not want to give in to the temptations of ego, but if this was all they were sending after him, with all their past experiences to advise them otherwise, then he had to wonder what in the hell they were thinking. There had to be some other catch to this perhaps a unit was coming in from behind to trap him.

"Hey," Emily spoke up, "what happened to the other guys? The ones who were chasing me?"

Shinn smiled thinly. "Four years I've been doing this and I've finally figured out tactics," he said. "They've tried this move on me before. They put one unit up in front as the sacrificial lamb for me to savage, and while I'm distracted, they move other troops in behind me to cut me off." He shook his head ruefully. "Last time they tried that, there was one survivor. One. For their sake, I hope they're more creative this time, or it's not going to be pretty."

His smile faded as he sensed something else up ahead a familiar presence and a pressure. But he could not identify it and that troubled him.

But there was no point in worrying now because right now, he had a patrol group to mutilate. And so, arming the beam rifle, he took off to do just that.

Earth Alliance Spengler-class aircraft carrier Mikhail Gorbachev, English Channel

"Take the Jet Windams and keep him contained, Chang," Arkady's voice echoed through the Windam's cockpit. "The Doppelhorn Windams will support you from the ground, and I'm going to keep the ships back. The Charlemagne and another unit will be arriving soon."

Inside the lead Jet Windam, the thin young ensign in charge of the Gorbachev's mobile suit complement saluted sharply as the screen went dark. The carrier's thirty-six mobile suits were taking off twelve Doppelhorn Windams made a long-range, rocket-assisted leap from the carrier's deck to the Bretagne coast, while the remaining twenty-four Jet Windams prepared to lift off under Chang's command. All of this was against one enemy unit...but that one enemy unit was capable of brutalizing a whole mobile suit regiment, 144 suits and all, and walking away with only minor damage to its paintjob.

Needless to say, Chang was a little nervous.

"All we need to do is contain the enemy unit," he told his even more nervous men. "Phantom Pain units are on their way in to trap the Destiny from behind." He tried not to shiver as he spoke his foe's fearful name. "Until then, we will do our duty. Move out!"

The Windams lifted off with a roar, easing out of the Gorbachev's cavernous hangar and into the air. Chang glanced around the sea was still calm, bright and blue in the light of a clear and beautiful sky. It was a good day to die, he supposed but that would not happen today. The Destiny Gundam would finally go down today.

"That's weird," one of the pilots mumbled. "Sensors aren't picking up anything. Neither is radar."

"We had positive intel that the Destiny is heading here," Chang insisted. "Keep your eyes open "

He never saw the beam that killed him.

The Destiny Gundam rose like the devil from the depths of the ocean, sending water and Mirage Colloid particles flying, beam rifle still poised for the kill as the remaining Windams scattered. The Destiny picked off two more Windams before taking off for the coast, just as the wreckage of Chang's Windam hit the water.

"Jesus! He's so fast!" one of the pilots screamed.

"Get around him!"

"The afterimages !"

Three more Windams went down in flames as the Destiny rocketed towards land along the surface of the water, its slick, wet armor shimmering in the sun and blinding the remaining pilots as they struggled to keep up. Inside the Destiny, Shinn Asuka allowed himself a thin smile as he somersaulted up onto the beach and whirled around, opening fire and picking off another Windam.

"There's Doppelhorns over here too," he grunted, backing away behind his beam shield as the Windams clumsily returned fire. "They're pulling out all the stops, I see."

The Destiny somersaulted into the air and took off again as the Doppelhorn Windams opened fire. Their first salvo streaked harmlessly by the Destiny, but that did not assuage Emily's fears as she watched the shells explode in the distance.

"Wait! What about those ones on the ground?" she asked pausing only as the Destiny lurched, dodging another volley of beams from the Jet Windams as they finally arrived.

"We'll worry about those later," Shinn grunted. The Destiny ducked aside from another volley from the Doppelhorn Windams, diving backwards and picking another Jet Windam out of the sky. One of the Windams came charging towards him, beam saber drawn Shinn rocketed into its face, planting a beam rifle shot into its torso as he passed by, turning as it exploded and drawing his sword.

An explosion flared up on the beach, as the Doppelhorn Windams scattered and one of their own went down. With a crash, two more Windams fell to their knees, their cockpits crushed, and another mobile suit spiraled into view. A flash of recognition shot up Shinn's spine

A white GuAIZ stood tall in the sunlight, picking off a fourth Doppelhorn Windam with its beam rifle and deflecting the return fire with its shield. Shinn's eyes went wide in disbelief as he felt the same pressure again

The Destiny's screen flickered to life Emily blinked in surprise at the image of a blond-haired man in a mask, swathed in a black leather trench coat and sporting a sinister grin, appeared before her.

"Well!" the man said. "The mighty Shinn Asuka has finally arrived!"

Shinn's eyes flashed in fury. "You!"

"Oh, but I think introductions are in order," the man cackled. Shinn glanced over his shoulder, spiraling aside from another beam volley and shooting down two more Windams in the process as they flew by. "After all, I don't believe I've met that charming young lady you have crammed in the back of your cockpit."

"Who is this, Shinn?" Emily asked, pointing at the grinning man with the mask.

"He's the devil!" Shinn snapped.

"Oh, not quite," the man laughed. "Allow me to introduce myself, young lady. I am Rau Le Creuset."

The fury in Shinn's eyes stopped Emily from saying anything else he whirled around and shot down yet another Windam as it tried to sneak up on him.
"Of all the people to die that day, you cheated it?!" Shinn snarled. Down below, three more Doppelhorn Windams fell to Rau's beam rifle as he somersaulted over their heads. "After all you did?!"

"I wouldn't cast aspersions if I were you," Rau chuckled. "You have more important things to worry about."

Shinn snarled a curse, returning his attention to the Windams and blowing two more out of the air as they came streaking up behind him, sabers drawn. "Millions of people would still be alive if it weren't for you!" he shot back.

"The same could be said of you, traitor Asuka," Rau countered. "You need all the allies you can get right now!"

Shinn scowled again, whirling around to shoot down his thirteenth Windam.

"He's taken down over half the force!" one of the Windam pilots cried.

Aboard the Gorbachev, Arkady grimaced as the remains of the latest dead Windam hit the water. His men were being torn apart but where was that damned Phantom Pain?

"Commander, we're not going to last much longer against him!" the Gorbachev's captain protested. "We've got to pull out while there's still mobile suits to protect us!"

"Danilov said they'd be arriving soon!" Arkady growled. "Where is he!?"

The Destiny smashed two more Windams out of the air with its anti-ship sword.

"All ships, pull back!" Arkady ordered. "Order the mobile suits to retreat!" Another explosion on the beach signaled the end of the eighth Doppelhorn Windam. "And that GuAIZ...what's going on here? Is this the Black Wolf?!"

The Windams peeled off in desperation, pulling back behind their shields, but not before Shinn brought down three more with a rapid-fire beam rifle burst. He switched back to his sword, lunging down towards the surface of the water and charging straight towards the destroyer on the Gorbachev's starboard side.

"Hang on," he told Emily. "This'll be rough."

"Everything you've been doing is rough," Emily mumbled.

The Destiny drew its sword back for a killing blow. The destroyer's guns boomed, but the Destiny skirted effortlessly around the shells and slammed its sword down into the ship's main gun, ripping through a missile magazine and blowing the bow of the ship to pieces. Even as it began to tilt forward into the water, Shinn crushed the bridge with his sword, and then whirled around to catch two more Windams with his long range cannon.

On the beach, Rau cackled maniacally as the GuAIZ backflipped over a charging Windam, stabbing down below with its beam claws and slicing the Windam in two. Even as that Windam died, he wheeled around to shoot down two more Windams.

The last one drew its beam saber and charged, holding the saber out in front of it in a suicide drive. Rau flashed a feral grin the GuAIZ ducked down under the Windam's saber, running the Alliance machine through with its beam claw, and casually walked away as the dissected Windam exploded.

Shinn somersaulted off the sinking remains of the destroyer, cutting down another Windam with his beam wings. The final two Windams closed in together, beam rifles blazing. A flash of white energy crackled across the air the Destiny charged forward, lengthening its beam wings, and sawed through both Windams at the waist.

"Commander, our mobile suits !" the Gorbachev's captain cried.

"I saw it! Retreat at maximum speed!" Arkady screamed.

A wave of beam blasts from the beach slammed into the second destroyer, ripping off its main gun and piercing its bridge. On the beach, Rau smirked as his GuAIZ's beam rifle surgically sliced the destroyer apart in the water, sidestepping desperate CIWS bursts and missile volleys.

Shinn charged down towards the Gorbachev with a scream, slamming his sword through one of the side hangar bay hatches and tearing his way into the ship's mobile suit hangar. Down below, mechanics and guards fled in terror, but Shinn paid them no mind instead, he activated the long range cannon and fired it into the ship's midsection, pulling the beam up through the bridge. Arkady vanished with a scream the Gorbachev shuddered as its reactor gave way, and fire began to consume the wounded warship.

With a blood-curdling shriek of torn metal, the Destiny wrenched itself out of the Gorbachev's hangar and somersaulted onto the beach, watching impassively as the Gorbachev finally exploded and sank.

Shinn's eyes flashed furiously the Destiny whirled around, pointing its beam rifle straight at the GuAIZ's cockpit.

"Now then, Rau," he said, "kindly explain to me how so many good people could die at Solomon's Sword, but you could con your way back to life?!"

Rau grinned back. "I'm surprised, Shinn. Your life has been governed by cheap twists of fate why should it be so shocking that mine was merely preserved by one?"

"Don't give me that shit," Shinn snapped. "Athrun told me all about you. I know what you were doing in the Junius War, so give me a reason to think that you won't do it again with this war."

Rau chuckled again. "Look at my machine, dear boy. Who can change the world with this? Even such a magnificent weapon as yours cannot change much. No, I'm afraid this time I'm just trying to stay alive." His grin darkened. "Perhaps I do have some evil scheme up my sleeve, but I certainly wouldn't be able to put anything of the sort into motion like this. Call me the defanged lion, if you like."

"Then why shouldn't I just kill you right here?" Shinn snarled. "Stop all your evil schemes before you can start them, and save millions of people from deaths that you would orchestrate?"

Rau's grin did not even flinch. "Because you're all alone in enemy territory, the Minerva is nowhere to be found, and you'd have to explain to your little lady friend there why you had to kill me." He eyed her amusedly. "I'm sure she's quite interested."

Shinn glanced back painfully at Emily, finding her eyes full of fear and confusion.

"Seeing as how you are all alone in enemy territory, it would not behoove you to shoot your allies," Rau continued, "and right now, I am the closest thing you've got to an ally."

"You're no ally to me," Shinn shot back.

"Then where are your allies?" Rau asked, still grinning. "Has Athrun Zala finally gotten so good at hiding from the truth that he can conceal himself now? Or perhaps your Extended friend is lying in wait somewhere nearby, ready to pounce on you as soon as she deems you to be in danger? I'm afraid you don't have any allies here except for me. And even you will have to accept that you cannot do everything, Shinn. Until the Minerva does arrive, you will need to rest and recuperate somewhere and I know where that 'somewhere' is."

"You think I'm going to trust you? After all the backs you stabbed in the Junius War to get the world to almost destroy itself?"

"If I was lying about everything I've said so far," Rau answered, "then why am I here? Would I not be with the Earth Alliance, reaping the benefits of my association with Lord Djibril as I carry out his genocidal orders? And yet, as you can see from my machine and my dress and my actions, I am no friend of Lord Djibril. As soon as Blue Cosmos was victorious, I was cast aside. So Fate has thrown us into the same trench and in the interest of surviving the enemy army's coming onslaught, it would be wise for us to point our bayonets at the men on the other side, and not at each other." His grin flashed feral again. "After all, there will plenty of time for that afterward."

Shinn ground his teeth, glaring at the masked man on the screen.

"Who is this, Shinn?" Emily asked, half-hiding behind the cockpit seat and peering out from the jump seat.

"I am just a man with a vision," Rau said. "No more impressive than all the other men with visions in this world. But Mr. Asuka here does not appear to think much of my vision." He shrugged. "If your friend wants to hold grudges and be stubborn, I suppose that's his prerogative, but it would not be terribly wise."
"You're just going to stab me in the back," Shinn said, the defeat evident in his voice.

"Now why would I do that to a man who haunts the dreams of Earth Alliance soldiers all over this Earth Sphere?" Rau laughed. "There are friendly forces nearby. Shall we depart?"

Shinn regarded Rau venomously for a moment, before lowering his beam rifle. "Fine."

Rau smiled. "Good to see you've come to your senses. Let's go."

Earth Alliance battleship Charlemagne, Bretagne, France

The bridge was silent as the wreckage came into view. Pieces of what looked like what might have once been the Mikhail Gorbachev floated over the water, along with the burnt-out wrecks of dozens of Windams. Vera could not hide her disbelief as she surveyed the debris, scanning the seas for any sign of the 21st Atlantic Patrol Group.

"The...the Destiny did this?" Vera murmured, glancing over at the captain's chair.

Danilov sat back, studying the wreckage grimly. "There were reports of another mobile suit," Danilov said, "but they indicated that they thought it was a GuAIZ. So this is probably mostly the doing of the Destiny."

Vera turned her disbelieving eyes back towards the destruction. "And...he's done this before?"

"We were too slow in getting here," Danilov said. "So these men laid their lives down for nothing." He stood, stepped forward, and gave the ruins a somber salute. "This is the approximate territory of the Black Wolf, however. So it seems we'll be bagging the whole crowd this time."

Vera tore her eyes away from the wrecks. "If the Black Wolf unit is nearby, the Minerva may be as well," she said. "Shouldn't we wait for reinforcements?"

"Waiting for reinforcements was the death of these men," Danilov said, grimly gesturing to the ruined warships. "The Black Wolf Unit is extremely talented at using AD-era military machinery for guerilla strikes and close-combat brawls. But they are not so great at fighting against a strategy-minded foe with conventional tactics. We have the forces to do exactly that and that is what I intend to do." He turned back towards the bridge windows. "Find the Destiny with a long-range radar sweep and satellite information, and then follow them. We have dead comrades to avenge move it, people."

Bretagne, France

It felt rather odd to Emily, who had been in a flying mobile suit for some time now, to now be in one that was literally jogging down an empty highway with a white-painted GuAIZ, both making a beeline for a forest looming in the distance on the Destiny's telescopic cameras. But Rau's GuAIZ could not properly fly, and evidently Shinn did not see fit to haul it through the air.

She looked over at Rau's GuAIZ as it stomped along next to the Destiny, its monoeye trenchantly fixed forward. The man inside had some mysterious history with Shinn, but she could not tell what. But, as she looked back at Shinn, if there was some evil behind that mask, she was sure that Shinn would protect her. He had fought through four battles to protect her thus far.

She still wondered why Shinn seemed to dislike Rau so much, though. Clearly there was bad blood and, as she thought back to the scraps of history she knew about the traitor Asuka, she recalled that the handful of bedraggled husks of humans that called themselves ZAFT veterans the Phantom Pain had not yet hunted down all of them, and they made for some of the Resistance's fiercest fighters held a special hatred in their broken hearts for the Wings of Light. But she could not remember why. Perhaps this man was one of those wizened veterans...but if so, why was he helping them?

Shinn broke her thoughts off by glancing over at the GuAIZ and reluctantly opening a transmission.

"I was wondering when you'd call," Rau said with a smirk. "What is it?"

"What are you doing here?" Shinn asked pointedly.

"I'm here on Resistance work. There's a fairly famous unit operating in this area. Once we get into that forest, we'll be in the territory of the Black Wolf."

Shinn blinked in surprise. "The Black Wolf? You've been working with them?"

"For a few days," Rau answered. "They were the closest unit when I went looking for Resistance forces to lend my helping hand to."

"I'm sure they appreciate it," Shinn sneered. He glanced back at the girl huddled in the jump seat. "Emily, did you hear that?"

"Yeah," Emily answered, "but will we be safe there?"

Shinn looked back towards the forest, its trees dominating the horizon. "The Black Wolf is one of the most feared Resistance units in Europe," he said. "We'll be safe."

Emily looked back at the GuAIZ, and wondered who Rau Le Creuset was.

To be continued...