Phase 04 - Soaring Minerva

Mobile Suit Gundam SEED TWILIGHT

Note: Being multilingual must be awesome. Unfortunately, I am not, so I relied on the French-speaking skillz of others. Thanks to kishiria (go read her stuff, it's awesome) for the translations. However, not all of the French in here has been properly translated by an actual human being, so that's where this whole "editing" thing comes into play. If you see any French in here that looks like it was culled from, well, it was. I'll solicit the services of someone who actually knows what the hell they're doing later. For now, it's a placeholder.

Although hopefully you won't have any idea what it says anyway.

Phase 04 - Soaring Minerva

February 25th, CE 77 - Earth Alliance Siegfried-class carrier plane Mindanao, Bretagne, France

"It seems we were too late to save Arkady's unit," Ivan Danilov intoned somberly on the screen on the Mindanao's bridge. "However, we are tracking the Destiny and the other mobile suit, confirmed to be a GuAIZ, into a forest. There's probably Resistance troops hiding in that forest."

Sven Cal Bayan crossed his arms, staring at the map for a moment. "That unit is likely the Black Wolf," he said. "They typically operate in Normandy, but the Destiny is not an ordinary Resistance unit, so they may have moved here to intercept the Destiny and provide shelter."

"As I thought," Danilov agreed. "But if they are in a forest, that makes this doubly difficult. The Black Wolf fights best in forests and urban environments. I need not remind you what they did at Zurich."

"Robbing a bank and blowing their way out of the city is not the same as fighting off the Phantom Pain in a full-scale military assault," Sven answered. "We have incendiary bombs aboard the Mindanao, as well as plenty of stocks of napalm, and I'm sure the Charlemagne has similar munitions. We can burn their shelter down around them."

Danilov appeared to recoil at the thought. "We will see," he said. "Before any attack is made, I intend to scope the area out."

Sven paused for a beat. "Understood, sir."

February 26th, CE 77 - Bretagne, France

Emily was afraid that she was going insane as the Destiny Gundam tramped through the forest, the GuAIZ right behind it. She had been cooped up in this cockpit for what seemed like forever, watching the world on screens. And aside from surviving no less than two skirmishes inside the Destiny's impregnable confines, she had not even had much to be excited over.

Excepting, of course, the considerations of her ultimate fate. What would she do? Who would she be? Those were questions she was not entirely sure she wanted answered.

The Destiny shuddered to a halt, the GuAIZ right behind it, and Emily looked around apprehensively. A Strike Dagger in mottled forest camouflage stepped out from the shadows, beam rifle drawn. A fuzzy image of an unshaven man in the Dagger's cockpit appeared on the Destiny's screen, and the Dagger's pilot started up in surprise.

"Mon Dieu! C'est Vermilion!" he exclaimed. "Capitain, qu'est-qu'on faire?"

"Ils sont avec nous, les deux," a female voice answered. "Permittez-en a passer." Emily blinked in surprise as a flash of recognition went through her was that voice who she thought it was?

"Follow me," the pilot said, his voice thick with an accent. The Dagger stepped aside, lowering its rifle, and turned to stomp deeper into the forest. Shinn followed it closely as it rounded a cluster of trees.

Emily looked on in disbelief as the forest opened up, and a sprawling camp appeared before her eyes. Mobile suits and ground vehicles stood all over the compound, standing among a small city of tents, and whatever had been going on there had stopped as the occupants of this hideout all looked up in disbelief at the Destiny Gundam.

"Oh boy," Shinn grunted. "I think I'm famous."

"There are people who think you're the Mahdi," Rau chuckled. "Now that is what I call irony."

"Shut up."

The Destiny sank to one knee where the Dagger indicated the Dagger stalked away before anything more could be said. Shinn glanced back at Emily.

"Nervous?" he asked.

Emily tried to put on a brave face, but both knew that was a doomed effort. Shinn opened the Destiny's cockpit hatch and emerged with a sigh, stretching his arms and deploying the zip line. He turned and offered his hand to Emily as she crawled out of the jump seat.

"We'll stay here," he told her, "and hopefully the Minerva will be here soon. But just stick with me anyways. Not all Resistance soldiers are as, uh, nice as I am."

Emily shivered as the horrible rumors from her days at Heaven's Base returned from the depths of her memories. She took Shinn's hand, crawled out of the cockpit, and gratefully stretched her muscles back into natural and human positions.

There were a handful of soldiers gathering at the foot of the Destiny as Shinn and Emily descended on the zip line.

"Cachez le Gundam et le GuAIZ! Vite, vite!" someone shouted, as soldiers in camouflage ran around the Destiny and GuAIZ.

"Jeez, and I didn't take French in school," Shinn grumbled. His and Emily's feet hit the ground, and Shinn stepped forward to meet the soldiers arrayed before him. "Bonjour. I'm guessing you already know who I am, so I'll just say that I appreciate your assistance."

"Nous sommes heureux a vous voir, Monsieur Asuka," one of the soldiers answered, leading the others in a sharp salute.

"Yeah, I didn't get any of that," Shinn said, hesitantly returning their salute.

"Retourne-toi a votre travail," the familiar female voice said again. "Il ne parle pas Français. Je parle avec lui." The voice's owner emerged from inside a nearby tent

Emily blinked in disbelief as she came face to face with a woman that had clearly seen better days. Her left harm had been replaced from the shoulder down with a skeletal mechanical one; her left side and right shoulder were painfully scarred; the black tank-top and pants were covered over by military web-gear and a pair of pistols strapped to her legs; cherry-red hair framed her face, pushed away by a hand clad in a fingerless glove

But Emily could focus on nothing else but her face. One eye was covered by a black eyepatch, but the remaining green eye could belong to nobody else but

"Viveka...?" she asked quietly.

The woman paused in surprise, turning her remaining eye on Emily and staring at her for a moment. That lone eye widened in disbelief.


It was Shinn's turn to blink in surprise as Viveka closed the distance in a run that seemed like a leap, throwing her arms around Emily and Emily was quick to follow.

"Oh my God, Emily, it's really you! I thought I'd never see you again! Oh God, how'd you get here? Did Shinn bring you here?"

"Wha Viveka what's going on?" Emily sputtered. "What are you doing here? What happened ?"

Viveka pulled away from Emily far enough to look at her. "We'll deal with that later. God, I'm so glad you're alright!" She squeezed Emily in another hug. "Oh, Lord, I can't believe it..."

"Um, 'scuse me," Shinn spoke up, "but would you mind telling me what's going on?"

Viveka glanced at him out of her good eye and blinked again. "Oh! Sorry," she said, standing back up and keeping her natural hand on Emily's shoulder. "Well, the Wings of Light himself, huh? Most people call me Black Wolf, but for a guy like you, I guess a proper introduction is in order." She gave a melodramatic bow. "Viveka von Oldendorf, the Black Wolf of Normandy, at your service."

Shinn tried not to focus on the sweeping view he now had of her cleavage. "Uh, thanks," he said. "I'm guessing you and Emily are related or something?"

"Of course we are!" Viveka exclaimed, straightening up and yanking Emily closer to her. "I'm her sister!"

Shinn glanced between the two of them and absently wondered whether there were any milkmen involved.

"Did you bring her here? How'd you get her? Oh man, I can't thank you enough " Viveka went on. Shinn held up his hand to stop her.

"Um, it's okay," he said, "I'll explain it later."

"Well, the important thing is that Emily's my little sister," Viveka continued, smiling down at Emily and Emily nervously smiled back. "We were separated a long time ago and now we're together again and now that we are together again, I'm not letting this little brat out of my sight ever again!"

"Wait, what am I?" Emily asked meekly. Shinn decided not to say anything more and stuffed his hands into his pockets.

"So," Viveka said, "the Minerva radioed one of my guys and told them that they're on their way. They didn't give an ETA. So you just hang out here and we'll take care of you, and send you on your way when they get here. Okay?" She yanked Emily towards the tent she had come out of. "Now, I have a sister to get to know again!"

Shinn blinked as they both disappeared inside the tent. "Okay..."

"Isn't it good to be back with the rest of the herd?" Rau chuckled, emerging from behind the GuAIZ's leg.

Shinn scowled at him and headed back towards the Destiny.

Earth Alliance battleship Charlemagne, Bretagne, France

Climbing into his flight suit was easy enough to be subconscious by now, so Grey Saiba chose to reflect excitedly on all the possibilities of his first sortie as he strapped on his gloves in the locker room. Every Phantom Pain pilot was required to qualify on every Striker pack compatible with the Dark Windam, but his specialty had been on the Aile pack a piece of equipment that, six years after its introduction and armed with six years' worth of upgrades and tweaks, remained easy to learn but difficult to master. And so he would be one of the elite few to ride a Slaughter Windam into battle, and surely the Resistance would have a hard time dealing with that.

He glanced over at Merau as she stood by the locker room door, helmet in hand, waiting impassively for him. "They're going to be firebombing the forest," she said, getting up as they both headed down the gantry towards their machines, "so be careful out there."

"I was in the top percentile," Grey replied. "I can handle them. We're finally getting our chance to fight the Resistance!"

"Well, don't go overboard," Merau said with a shrug. "The Black Wolf unit is out there too."

"The Black Wolf," Grey scoffed. "What's so special about them?"

Merau eyed him skeptically. "They were the ones responsible for the Paris attack," she said. "Made that raid in Antwerp, assassinated the governor-general of the Western Europe district in Metz, robbed that bank in Zurich, stole equipment from the Marseille base, and trashed the base in Calais. They're tough."

"Are they," Grey murmured, intrigued. "Well, they've never seen us before!" He turned towards his own Windam with a confident grin. "Maybe they've beaten up the regulars, but they'll have to do better than that to beat the Phantom Pain! Let's go, Merau we'll show the world what we can do."

Merau sighed in defeat as he bounded off towards his Windam.

Bretagne, France

Sitting awkwardly in a rusty folding metal chair, Emily looked uneasily at the woman that, a lifetime ago, was her sister. Viveka von Oldendorf still had the cherry-red hair, and she still had one of those vivacious green eyes. But so much of her had changed, even only physically most strikingly and jarringly, one of those shimmering green eyes was gone, hidden by an eyepatch that had three prongs of a hideous scar poking out from underneath. She could see another scar on her right shoulder, a third on her left side, and most horribly of all, the tangle of scars that snaked up on the stump of her left arm, where natural flesh and blood gave way to the cold and terrifying metal of a prosthetic replacement.

Emily opened her mouth to speak, but no sound came out.

"What's wrong?" Viveka asked. "Emily...?"

Emily's eyes drifted to the ground. "...what happened to you...?" she murmured. Viveka blinked in surprise and looked down at herself. " don't look the same..."

"Yeah," Viveka said, looking down at her mismatched hands. "It's what happens to people in war, I guess."
"But what happened?" Emily protested. "I haven't seen you in five years..."

Viveka shrugged. "I joined the Resistance in '74," she said. "The Phantom Pain captured me and committed just about every war crime possible during my captivity. The Resistance broke me out and patched me up, and here I am." She closed the distance between them and wrapped her mismatched arms around her sister. "But that's not important. I'm still here and I'm still in one piece, if not with a few new components, so don't worry about me." She pulled Emily's chin up and smiled at her. "What about you? It's been five years. I hope you've been okay."

Emily cast her eyes back towards the ground, as the memories made their inevitable return. "I guess when your father sells you into the household staff of a man like Lord Djibril, 'okay' is sort of redefined," she mumbled.

"They didn' anything to you, did they?" Viveka asked. "'cuz if they did "

"They didn't," Emily answered. "They...they beat me a bit, but..." The glassy eyes of the less obedient servants made their nauseating return in her mind's eye. "They did worse things to other people."

Viveka squeezed her shoulders again. "Well, thank God they spared you the worst of it," she said. "I promise we're not gonna be separated like that again. Dad can't get us like this."

"I know," Emily murmured, "but..." She squeezed her eyes shut. "I don't know what to do..."

Viveka was silent a moment. "How did you get out, then?"

Hakim made his return as well into Emily's memory, only to vanish again in another jarring ball of fire. "A Resistance fighter infiltrated Heaven's Base and, um, kidnapped me...he said there was something special about me. He gave me a disk and packed me into a mobile suit, and I was so scared I fled without thinking...and then Shinn saved me." She looked up pleadingly at Viveka. "But he said there was something special about me too. What could it be? Why is everyone so interested in me?"

Viveka said nothing again Emily felt her heart sink. The world was after her, and the most terrifying soldiers in history were chasing her down and although she could take refuge behind one of the most dreaded men in the Earth Sphere, she was rapidly feeling less and less safe. Shinn Asuka was a name that sent chills through great swaths of the human race, but he was not a god the Wings of Light could not cover everything.

"Well, he seems to be pretty set on protecting you," Viveka said, "so I should thank him for that, at least." A mischievous smile crossed her lips. "He is kinda cute. He didn't make a pass at you, did he?"

Emily immediately blushed. "Wha we're not no he didn't!" she sputtered. "He saved me from the Phantom Pain!"

"Well, that just makes him more dashing and handsome then, doesn't it?" Viveka laughed. She glanced towards the tent's opening as she heard footsteps outside, and let Emily go. A thin young man in a camouflaged uniform and flak jacket ducked into the tent, out of breath.

"Capitain! Le radar reporte qu'il y a des ennemis qu'approchent de l'ouest, suivant le Destiny!"

"Des ennemis? Merde!" Viveka exclaimed. "Alertez les troupes a preparer pour la bataille. Je sors bientôt." The soldier rushed out of the tent; Viveka turned to face Emily as she seized a blue bridge coat from her own chair and threw it over her shoulders. "Listen, Emily," she said, "it looks like your Phantom Pain pals are back. So we're gonna have to find someplace safe for you to stay while we go fight."

Emily looked out into the forest, finding the armored vehicles and soldiers and mobile suits starting to move. "I'll stay with Shinn," she said quietly. "He'll...keep me safe."

Viveka glanced towards the Destiny Gundam, kneeling among the trees. Shinn was on the cockpit hatch, unsuccessfully attempting to speak French with one of the soldiers at the Destiny's feet. "That's true," she said. "If any mobile suit is going to walk away from this battle, it'll be that one." She looked back at Emily and hugged her again. "Just stay safe, and I'll see you again when this is all done."

"I know," Emily murmured.

"I mean it, Emily," Viveka went on. "we're not getting separated like that. Never again."

With one last hug, Viveka buttoned up her coat and rushed out of the tent.

Earth Alliance Siegfried-class carrier plane Mindanao, Bretagne, France

"Our mobile suits are designed to operate as a team," Sven explained to Shams and Mudie as the Strike Noir stomped towards the Charlemagne's central catapult. "As such, the Verde Buster can cover the long-range weaknesses of the Blu Duel and Strike Noir, while the Blu Duel and Noir can cover the Verde Buster's close-range weaknesses. That is how we will operate to bring down the Destiny."

"If you insist," Shams said with an arched eyebrow. "I don't think he's gonna fall for it."

"He is a wily one," Mudie agreed with a sadistic smirk. "So powerful..."

Sven threw a switch, bringing up Williams on the Mindanao's bridge. "Captain, we'll launch with the Windam squadron. Once we do, we will be needing the Mindanao's incendiary munitions. Time your attacks with the Windams' bombing runs and the Charlemagne."

"Aye sir," Williams answered, after the briefest of pauses. "But without a skeleton guard of mobile suits, we'll be vulnerable."

"The Resistance units will be too busy fighting off the Charlemagne's forces to stop you," Sven assured him. "Today we will finally wipe out the Black Wolf. Commence operation!"

Bretagne, France

"Okay," Viveka said grimly, her battered face emblazoned on one of the Destiny's side monitors as the mighty Gundam came to life. "Here's the situation. Some really huge Phantom Pain ship and a Siegfried are on their way here from the west. We can fight 'em in the forest, but it'll be ugly. I have twenty-three flight-capable mobile suits, fifty-five ground-pounders if you include that masked guy in the GuAIZ, eleven tanks, nineteen other armored vehicles, and eighteen pieces of artillery, including twelve of those friggin' ancient Dvina surface-to-air missiles and three batteries of Patriots. What do you think?"

Shinn fastened his restraints and glanced back at Emily as she huddled into the jump seat. "You want brutal honesty or delusional optimism?"

"The former, if you'd be so kind," Viveka answered. "Lives are in the balance and stuff."

"We're screwed," Shinn answered. "No offense, but some of your equipment belongs in a museum, not on a battlefield."

"Hey, we're pretty good at shooting down MS with those missiles," Viveka protested.

"Yeah, when they don't see it coming," Shinn pointed out. "I'll take the flying MS with me into the air and we'll cover you from there."

The ground shook as a mobile suit threw off its camouflage tarp, and Emily looked on in surprise as a black four-legged mobile suit with what looked like three heads stomped by. She realized in disbelief that inside this thing was Viveka.

"You've got my baby sister in there, Asuka," she warned. The Kerberos BuCUE Hound turned its main monoeye on the Destiny with a flash. "You take good care of her, you hear me?"

"I'm not a baby," Emily protested quietly.

"I saved her from the Devil's Swords," Shinn said with a shrug. "What makes you think I'd let her get hurt now?"

Next to the Destiny, Rau's GuAIZ rose to its feet, activating its monoeye with a flash.

"The Phantom Pain's pilots are no pushovers, and AD-era military weapons are ill-suited to modern warfare," he warned. "Commander Oldendorf, your interests may be better served by retreat."

"Hell no," Viveka snorted. "They'd never let us go, and we didn't get our scary reputation by running away anyway. Let's go kick some ass."

"You've gotta be kidding me," Grey exclaimed as the Slaughter Windam sailed forward. "Merau, look at this. They've got guys with RPGs down there."

"So they do," Merau agreed, as her own IWSP Dark Windam fell into formation next to Grey's machine. "The poor man's anti-MS weapon, as it were."

"If they're that desperate, this will be over in no time," Grey chuckled.

"RPGs are still dangerous," Merau pointed out. "The light's flashing. Let's move!"

The two Windams joined the rest of the Charlemagne's jet-black complement as they banked down towards the forest. Tracer fire was quick to respond, but the bullets were of no consequence to even the Windams' armor as they rocketed down into battle. Grey leveled off his beam rifle down below, an antiquated-looking tank in green and yellow camouflage emerged from the trees, its main gun booming.

"Here we go..."

The Windam squeezed off a beam rifle shot, slamming it into the ground just in front of the tank and blowing it over onto its top. The Windams came down with a crash and stalked forward into the woods, even as enemies somewhere in the darkness opened fire on them.

"Move ahead and clear out mobile suits and armored vehicles," the squad commander barked. "Ignore the foot soldiers for now; the second wave will take care of them."

"Yes sir," Grey and Merau answered, plunging forward. Merau's IWSP Windam opened fire with the cannons on its IWSP, knocking down a cluster of trees and lighting a fire along the wreckage of a smashed APC.

Deep in the forest, Shinn narrowed his eyes at the images of the Windams overhead, focusing on the missiles mounted underneath their Jet Striker packs.

"They've got incendiary weapons," he said, glancing over at Viveka's BuCUE Hound. "They're gonna light this whole forest up."

"So I thought," Viveka agreed. "You go take care of the ones in the air. We'll handle the ones down here."

"If you say so," Shinn grunted

The Destiny's eyes flashed and the Gundam lunged into the air, with twenty-three ragtag, forest-camouflaged mobile suits lifting off behind it. The remaining mobile suits and armored vehicles, along with a swarm of ground troops wielding all manner of firearms, tramped forward towards the booming sounds of the guns.

In the Destiny, Shinn glanced back at the mobile suits following him into battle, and to his dismay, found only a handful of BABIs, a squadron of DINNs, and a few Jet 105 Daggers and Dagger Ls; hardly something with which he could reliably repulse the power of the Phantom Pain. Even the Siegfried, with what looked like regular EAAF Jet Windams, would be able to outmatch them.

"I don't need to tell you that this'll be bumpy," Shinn said to Emily.

"I'll be okay," Emily mumbled back.

Shinn's eyes flashed as his enemies came into range. "Good."

The Destiny activated its beam wings and took off with a flash.

"There he is," Sven intoned as the Strike Noir pitched forward, beam pistols in hands, flanked by the Blu Duel and Verde Buster on sub-wing units. "Remember our plan."

"If it works," Shams snorted. The Verde Buster fell back, activating both its beam rifles and snapping its bayonets into position. The Blu Duel and Strike Noir rocketed ahead, opening fire on the Destiny. Inside the shimmering machine, Shinn narrowed his eyes, ducking aside from their blasts. The Strike Noir and Blu Duel closed in, with the former switching to its beam blades and the latter drawing a beam saber as they both moved in for the kill. Shinn somersaulted effortlessly over their heads but then the sense kicked in, and he sent the Destiny jetting to the left, just dodging a beam cannon blast from the Verde Buster.

An instant later, the Blu Duel was back, beam saber raised high for a killing blow. Shinn thrust his beam shield into the Blu Duel's path, blocking its saber but then the Strike Noir came down with a crash from the other side, forcing Shinn to deploy his other beam shield, blocking the Noir's swords.

"Shit!" Shinn grunted. The Verde Buster lined up behind the Destiny, beam cannons leveled off, and Shams grinned victoriously

Emily's eyes went wide as something sliced across her consciousness a feeling she had never known before, a feeling of danger. The rest came naturally; "Shinn!" she cried. "Behind you!"

Shinn snapped his attention to the rear-view camera, and sent the Destiny into a dizzying backflip as the Verde Buster fired, lancing a pulsing red beam into the space the Destiny had occupied, as the Blu Duel and the Noir backed away.

"Dammit!" Shams growled. "We had him!"

"Press the attack!" Sven ordered, swinging in with sword upraised. "Mudie, close in!"

The Blu Duel swung in, saber extended Shinn whirled around, switching to his anti-ship sword and sending the Blu Duel reeling back with a devastating downward hack.

"Damn him!" Mudie grunted, struggling to retain control of the staggering Blu Duel. "So powerful..."

The Strike Noir edged in behind the Destiny, swords upraised Shinn narrowed his eyes at the attacker and darted around with a diagonal downward slash, forcing Sven to throw his Gundam back again before he was sliced in two. The Verde Buster opened fire with a volley of missiles Shinn glanced at them and smile

"I was wondering when they'd do something that stupid," he grunted. The Blu Duel came charging in from behind the Destiny somersaulted over Mudie's head, and Emily gasped in disbelief as the missiles came streaking towards the Destiny...

...only to veer up as the Destiny gestured towards the Blu Duel and Noir. The two Gundams rocketed apart as the missiles came down around them, and the Noir picked them out of the air with a CIWS burst.

"My missiles!" Shams exclaimed. "How the hell did that happen?!"

"He can recalibrate and reorient enemy missiles," Sven said. "Attack him with unguided munitions!"

"Being so difficult!" Mudie snapped, taking off towards the Destiny. She stabbed forward towards the Destiny's cockpit with her saber the Destiny effortlessly parried her blow with its sword and charged forward, kicking the Blu Duel back in the process and nearly knocking it off its sub-wing.

Emily squeezed her eyes shut as the Destiny plunged back into the fight.

Grey's jet-black Slaughter Windam expertly ducked as an armored car on the ground to the Windam's left opened fire with the turret-mounted cannon on its top. Grey grinned and whirled around, firing his beam rifle and blowing the vehicle apart with a thunderous explosion.

"Merau, I just took out some old armored car, for Christ's sake," he complained, scanning the battlefield for more attackers. Small arms fire rattled against his Windam's armor he glanced at the flashes of assault rifle muzzles from behind a cluster of trees, and effortlessly wiped them out with another beam rifle shot. "Are you sure these guys are so tough?"

Nearby, Merau's IWSP Windam put a volley of Gatling gun shells into the armor of a tank as it desperately plowed forward, its main cannon booming. Merau easily sidestepped the shells and smashed the burning tank underfoot. "There's gotta be more than this," she insisted.

A GINN in forest camouflage colors lunged out from behind another cluster of trees, leveling off its machinegun, with a ZuOOT bringing up the rear behind it. Grey took a step back, bracing himself behind his shield as the GINN opened fire and an instant later, Merau cut them both down with a winnowing volley of beam rifle shots.

"This is too easy," Grey snorted. "I was hoping for a challenge "

Another wave of beam blasts answered him, and only instinct saved him as he took the shots to his shield. Merau took a step forward, covering Grey's Windam with her Gatling shield, only to pull back behind the shield as the beams focused on her.

A pair of trees came down with a crash, and with a flash of its monoeye, the black Kerberos BuCUE Hound emerged.

"What the hell is this?" Grey muttered. "Some kinda mutant BuCUE?"

"It's a high-end ZAFT ground model," Merau said, narrowing her eyes at it. "Be careful."

Inside the BuCUE Hound, Viveka von Oldendorf narrowed her eye at the two Dark Windams standing before her. "Jean," she said, "vous prenez les autres en avant. Je contrôlerai ces deux."

"Reconnu," came the answer. Behind her, a handful of mobile suits with a Dagger L at their head, and a cluster of armored vehicles surrounded by soldiers, rushed forward. Inside his Windam, Grey scowled at the charging troops, raising his beam rifle

"I don't think so!" Viveka snapped the BuCUE lunged forward, slamming head-on into the Windam and throwing it back. The troops and mobile suits rushed past as Merau turned her guns to focus on the more immediate threat in the BuCUE but too late, as Viveka leapt off the fallen Slaughter Windam, spiraling through the air and landing on its feet out of the line of fire. The BuCUE's beam fangs snapped to life and the four-legged machine charged at Merau's Windam.

"It's so fast!" Merau shouted, deflecting the BuCUE's beam blasts with her shield. She ducked aside as the BuCUE lunged towards her, beam fangs ready, and whirled around for a killing blow but already the BuCUE had turned and dove aside to dodge Merau's follow-up shots.

"Fast, maybe!" Grey snapped, as the Slaughter Dagger charged, beam rifle blazing. "But not invincible!"

Inside the BuCUE, Viveka ground her teeth as the beam shots nearly smashed into her machine. She converted the BuCUE to tank mode, peeling away and leading the Windams after her. "Toutes troupes, ramene en arrière dans la forêt!"

"Impossible! Le feu s'est étalé aussi loin!" came the answer. Viveka cursed under her breath as she wheeled around to face the Windams again.

The GuAIZ rattled as a bazooka shell plowed into its shield, and Rau grunted as his trusty GuAIZ threatened to outright topple over. He tried to activate the dual claw, only to find that the impact had smashed the circuits connecting his cockpit controls to the beam claws another wonderful design flaw he could thank ZAFT for.

"This machine is simply too old," he grunted, ducking aside and squeezing off a beam shot back at the bazooka-wielding Dark Windam that had robbed him of his shield's functionality. The Windams effortlessly blocked his blows, and Rau cursed as he watched the looming form of the Mindanao up ahead launch another volley of missiles into the forest. "And everyone else will be smoked out at this rate...I think I see why Mr. Asuka was never the strategist."

The Windams charged forward, opening fire with their beam rifles. Rau pulled back behind his shield, grateful that at least the anti-beam coating was still working, and returned fire with his beam rifle. Again, his shots landed only against the Windams' shields or nothing at all, and he absently and bitterly reflected on the truth of his statements when he had told Shinn that he could do nothing with such an outdated machine.

The bazooka-toting Windam lunged forward, leveling off its bazooka for a killing blow Rau took a step back and deployed his extensional arrestors, ripping the bazooka from the Windam's hand. Before he could follow the strike up, however, he was forced back on the defensive by more beam fire from the Windams.

A familiar feeling went shooting up Rau's spine as he sent the GuAIZ backpedaling into the forest. "Well," he told himself with a grin, "I need only hold out a little longer..."

Earth Alliance battleship Charlemagne

"Communications, get me the commander of the Mindanao," Danilov barked. The Charlemagne was plowing forward, spewing beam fire and missiles into the forest below, and the Black Wolf unit was, sure enough, unable to stop the onslaught. Sneak attacks and guerrilla raids were where the Wolf ruled, but conventional warfare was the forte of the Phantom Pain.

Williams appeared on the main screen, seated in the Mindanao's captain's chair. "Captain Danilov," he said in surprise, offering a salute. "What is it?"

"You're getting too close to the battlefield," Danilov warned. "Be careful. We have friendly units down there."

Williams was crestfallen. "But sir, I'm under orders from Captain Bayan to press the attack "

"I'm countermanding Captain Bayan's orders," Danilov interrupted. "Get back to a reasonable altitude before you get yourself killed." He glanced over at his own bridge officers. "Fire Control, increase intensity of our own fire to Pattern Delta. Captain Bayan is too reckless." He looked back at Williams. "Be patient, captain. We have them trapped, and nothing short of a miracle will save them now."

"Shinn! What are we going to do?!" Emily exclaimed.

The Destiny lunged down between incoming strikes from the Blu Duel and Strike Noir, leaving only a trail of afterimages for the two mobile suits to bisect.

Viveka's static-broken image appeared on one of the side monitors. "Shinn, all my men are dead, dying, or running head-long from the battlefield," she said. "We're toast. Backup plan?"

The Blu Duel lunged into Shinn's field of view he smashed its saber aside with his beam shield and sent it plummeting towards the ground with a scything kick to the face.

"Little busy now," he grunted. The Destiny ducked beneath the Strike Noir's beam blades and took off, dodging the Verde Buster's beam cannon shots. "But at any rate, don't you worry, the tide will be turning shortly."

Down below, in the cockpit of her Kerberos BuCUE, Viveka ground her teeth. Cute as Shinn might have been, Viveka hated it when people got cryptic on her, and while she was in the middle of a fight to the death with the Phantom Pain was not the best time to be getting cryptic either.

The BuCUE lurched forward, beam fangs deployed inside the IWSP Windam, Merau ground her teeth and ducked to the side, spraying the BuCUE with Gatling fire. Viveka cursed and tried to throw the BuCUE into the air by its front legs, but the merciless Gatling bullets ripped out both front legs and the Kerberos Wizard's left head, sending the mobile suit plunging into the dirt with a crash.

"Perfect!" Grey cackled. "Now let's kill this guy and get on with this!" The Slaughter Windam leveled off its beam rifle at the fallen BuCUE

And then something came spiraling out of the heavens, severing the Slaughter Windam's arm at the elbow. Grey yelped in surprise, backing up in disbelief as another mobile suit came down with a crash, illuminating the clearing with a flash of its cold green eyes.

Viveka looked up at her savior the red armor, the V-fin and dual sensors, the crest...

"The Justice!" Merau exclaimed.

"That bastard!" Grey snapped. "He hit me "

The Infinite Justice Gundam snapped its beam rifle up into position and opened fire, forcing both Windams back behind their shields.

"You can't fight like that!" Merau protested, backing away. "Go back to the ship! I'll cover you!"

"What?!" Grey yelled. "My first sortie "

"Go!" Merau shot back. With a crash, her IWSP shouldered Grey's Windam back and sent it staggering towards the edge of the forest. She backed up herself, before turning tail and ducking under the Justice's shots.

The Justice lowered its rifle and looked down at the maimed BuCUE.

Rau's GuAIZ shuddered as a beam blast landed against the mobile suit's left shoulder, blowing off its entire left arm.

"At least I wasn't using that arm," he grunted as the arm crashed into the ground. He backed away, returning fire, but the Windams again ducked aside from his shots and blew off the GuAIZ's right arm as well, sending it toppling to the ground. Rau smiled as the Windams approached

...because the moment they did, a torrent of beam blasts slammed into the ground in front of them, throwing them back. The Windams retreated, and Rau grinned as the imposing forms of the Abyss and Gaia Gundams slammed down in front of him. The Abyss let loose a full blast from its beam cannons, sending the Windams scattering. The Gaia opened fire as well, and the Windams backed away behind their shields, before breaking ranks and fleeing.

"Perfectly done," Rau chuckled.

A new wave of missiles came slamming into the Strike Noir as it came rushing in towards the Destiny, sword upraised. Shinn smiled as the missiles were followed up by a volley of beam rifle blasts, and the Chaos Gundam dropped into the battle with a beam claw-assisted kick.

"Shinn, who are they?" Emily asked urgently.

"They're on our side," he said. "Happy face on now, you're about to make some new friends." The Destiny opened fire with its long-range gun, forcing the Verde Buster back.

"Reinforcements?!" Shams snapped. "Those can't be what I think they are!"

The Chaos trained its rifle on the Verde Buster, forcing it back as it launched another salvo of missiles at the Blu Duel and Strike Noir. Shinn somersaulted up over the Chaos and took off, turning towards the Mindanao as it came roaring in for one final pass.

"They're gonna hit us!" Emily wailed. "Shinn "

She fell silent as a quartet of green beam blasts came slicing like lightning from the heavens, plowing into the side of the Mindanao, blowing off its wing and pounding through the bridge tower. The smoldering remains of the plane went plowing into the forest below, belching fire and smoke. The Charlemagne ceased fire, as did its mobile suits, and all eyes turned to the sky.

Shinn smiled.

"Right on time," he said.

Overhead, silhouetted against the sun, the Minerva sailed into battle.

To be continued...