Phase 06 - Learning to Fly

Mobile Suit Gundam SEED TWILIGHT

Note: With apologies to Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Couldn't resist.

Phase 06 - Learning to Fly

February 27th, CE 77 - Earth Alliance Siegfried-class carrier plane Danube, Warsaw Air Base, Warsaw, Poland

"Danube, all units standing by. Timing is yours; runway is clear."

The operator's voice went silent on the bridge of the Danube as the mighty warplane edged into position on the runway. Reinhardt glanced from the captain's chair at the passenger's seat, where Lieutenant Colonel Kenta Shoyou was stretched out, arms crossed, grinning wildly.

"We're going to make history, boys and girls," Shoyou said. "Captain, let's go."

"Aye, sir," Reinhardt answered. "Danube, take off and proceed to cruising altitude!"

The Danube lurched forward, racing down the runway, and lifted off with a roar from its engines. Shoyou sat back and relished the feeling as the Danube rose into the air, its nose tilting towards the sky. Too much time spent on the ground in Warsaw but finally he was back in the air, back in his element, and soon enough, he would have a chance at immortality.

The Danube edged up into the air and slowly leveled off at cruising altitude. Shoyou glanced over at the communications console.

"Comm, send out a message to the Marseille base," he ordered. "Have them scramble a squadron of Skygraspers to come up on the Minerva from behind. We'll cut that ship in two."

Reinhardt blinked. "Sir, the message from the Charlemagne specified that they were coming in from the Minerva's rear," he protested. "Shouldn't we leave that to them?"

Shoyou sniffed contemptuously. "I don't want the Phantom Pain taking credit for this," he scoffed. "Those black-shirted mongrels think they're good enough to sacrifice the lives of us in the regular forces. This is our chance to prove them wrong, captain."

Reinhardt glanced uneasily towards the direction the Minerva was in, somewhere beyond the horizon. "Understood, sir."

"I'm going down to check on the Raider," Shoyou said. "Trust me, captain. Today will be a glorious day indeed."

Earth Alliance battleship Charlemagne, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany

"That's funny," the sensor officer muttered. He glanced over at the navigator next to him, and they both studied the radar screen for a moment.

"That is funny," the navigator agreed. "Looks like a squadron of fighters coming out of Marseille."

"Yeah," the sensor officer agreed, pausing to throw a few switches on his console. "Heat signatures are Skygraspers. Looks like it's the 137th."

"And their bearing," the navigator agreed. "They're headed for..." He trailed off, and turned towards the captain's chair. "Captain, sir, there's a squadron of Skygraspers coming out of Marseille, heading for the Minerva."

Danilov was at the sensor console in a heartbeat, where he found a cluster of dots moving across the radar screen, towards the approximate location of the Minerva.

"The Skygrasper unit is hailing us," the communication officer added. On the main screen, the young face of a man in an Earth Alliance flight suit.

"Salut, Captain," the man said. "2nd Lieutenant Renault of the 137th Skygrasper Mobile Suit Support Squadron. We thought we should check in with you before we carry on."

"Why are you in the air at all?" Danilov asked, looking none too amused. "You're headed straight for the Minerva."

"I understand, sir," Renault answered. "My unit was scrambled on request of Colonel Shoyou on the Danube. He wanted us to attack the Minerva from behind."

"Shoyou," Danilov growled. "He must be one of those soldiers..."

"Are you countermanding Colonel Shoyou's order, sir?" Renault asked.

"No," Danilov answered, hands on his hips in disgust. "If Colonel Shoyou wants to take on the Minerva without our help, then let him do it without our help." He offered the Skygrasper pilot a shrug. "Good luck, Lieutenant, and keep your wits about you. The Minerva is no pushover."

"Thank you, sir," Renault said, returning the salute. "I'll pass your regards on to Colonel Shoyou. Renault out."

The screen went dark. Vera stepped up next to Danilov as the captain seethed.

"Is it wise to just let them go like that, sir?" she asked. Danilov shook his head.

"Helm, flank speed," he ordered. "If we hurry, we might be able to catch them."

Battleship Minerva, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany

It loomed above them, silent and menacing. The second Destiny unit was complete, in all except name, color, and pilot. But those were out of the mechanics' hands, and were the province of Shinn, as he leaned against the gantry railing, staring up at the Gundam's face with Abes, Sting, and Auel next to him.

"Other than name and Phase Shift coloration, the new Destiny unit is complete," Abes said. "Until the pilot specifies a unique name, this one will be Destiny Zero-Two and yours will be Destiny Zero-One." He glanced over at Shinn. "Are you sure she's going to join us?"

"I'm sure," Shinn answered.

"That's nice," Auel put in, "but why are you sure? I ain't buying that 'I'm a Newtype, I just know' shit."

"Deep down, she knows that she has these powers too," Shinn explained. "And the alternative is winding up with the Alliance, where she probably won't be treated as, uh, nicely as we'll treat her." He shook his head. "It's like looking into the past and seeing myself. I want to protect her."

"Isn't that the line you used on Stella?" Sting asked skeptically.

"'The line I used on Stella'?" Shinn repeated, glancing at Sting. "I'm not like that."

"Sure you aren't," Auel snickered.

"I hope you know what you're doing," Sting added, crossing his arms. "I don't want to bury another member of the crew. That's not fun."

"I know," Shinn agreed. "But it's better this way."

A mobile suit pilot.

Emily stared at her reflection in the mirror above her bed and tried to see it in herself. She tried not to recall her hours behind the controls of a Windam she was convinced that pure dumb luck and the providential interference of the Destiny had saved her from being reduced to atoms. The Destiny unit that was being built in the hangar was almost identical, in all except its operating system, to the Destiny unit that Shinn piloted. Could she do with the Destiny what Shinn could do?

She tried to recall the feeling of safety she had felt inside the Destiny, but that feeling had come more from its pilot than the machine itself. Who was Shinn kidding? Could she really be a pilot?

He had said that she had powers, the kinds of powers that a dark-haired man in the PLANTs had told the world about three years ago. Shinn had those powers too the rumors said that those powers were what made him such a skilled pilot. If she did in fact have those powers, then with the power of the Destiny, no one would be able to harm her ever again.

...or would they? Shinn Asuka was mortal, after all capable of weakness, capable of mistakes. Emily had seen it in battle, when it was her who detected an enemy first; and off the battlefield, when she saw in his eyes the scars and demons of a lifetime of pain. Was that what came with these powers? Was it worth it?

And, thinking back to her performance in the Windam, she wondered if it really mattered anyway.

"Captain!" Burt exclaimed. "Detecting a squadron of fighters approaching us from the southwest! It looks like a group of Skygraspers!"

"That didn't take long," Roxy grunted, as the bridge doors opened and Meyrin swept in like a hurricane.

"Skygraspers to the southwest, captain," Abbey said as Meyrin leapt into the captain's chair. "And that's probably not all they're sending either, if the past is any indication."

"Probably not," Meyrin agreed, adjusting her cap. "All hands, go to Condition Red! Deploy the mobile suits!"

Earth Alliance Siegfried-class carrier plane Danube, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany

"The Minerva looks like it's getting ready for combat, sir," Reinhardt's voice came through in the cockpit of the Raider Gundam. "The Charlemagne is doing a full burn to reach the battlefield in time."

"Are they," Shoyou chuckled, clicking his helmet's visor shut. "They'll be in time for our moment of glory, then. Have the Danube hang back for the time being we'll head in first and test the waters."

"Understood, sir." Reinhardt's screen went blank, and Shoyou looked ahead eagerly as the Danube's hangar door swung open. Up ahead, he could see the distant winged form of the Minerva and already it was launching mobile suits.

"This is Colonel Shoyou, -X370 Raider," he called out. "All units, launch!"

The Raider shot forward, and Shoyou broke into a grin.

Battleship Minerva

The alarm was already digging into Emily's consciousness when Shinn opened the door to her room, finding her curled up on the bed, trying to block it out. Shinn narrowed his eyes and stormed in, yanking her up by the shoulders.

"The second Destiny unit is ready," he told her, shaking off the sinking feeling as he looked into her wide and terrified eyes. "Are you ready to fight?"

Emily stared back at him. He wanted her to fight; but what was he thinking? She wasn't Shinn Asuka she couldn't be the kind of ace he was.

"I can't," she protested, pulling herself out of his grip. "I...I can't be what you think I am!"

"Shinn, hurry up!" someone shouted outside. "There's another unit, and it's got mobile suits!"
Shinn growled under his breath. "Then you're going to have to decide pretty quickly," he told Emily. "It would be better than just hiding in here."

Shinn took off out the door and rushed down the hall, leaving Emily behind to curl herself up again and shiver in fright.

"So the golden girl isn't coming?" Abes asked from the gantry as Shinn raced up to the Destiny's cockpit.

"Get the Zero-Two ready anyway," Shinn instructed, throwing himself into the Destiny's cockpit. "What are we looking at?"

"Squadron of Skygraspers and a Siegfried's worth of mobile suits," Abes reported, glancing over his shoulder as the Chaos Gundam stomped up to the Minerva's starboard catapult. "If you've got any special equipment requests, make them now and make them fast. We don't have much time."

"I've got all I need," Shinn said, fastening the restraints. "Get clear; I'm going."

Abes took off down the gantry as Shinn shut the cockpit hatch. The mechanics pulled the loading gantry away and the Destiny Zero-One stepped forward, eyes flashing.

Shinn glanced over at the silent Zero-Two nearby, as the mechanics worked to prepare it for battle.

She'll have to, he told himself.

The Zero-One stepped into the central catapult, Phase Shift coming to life. Shinn glanced at the Zero-Two one last time.

"Destiny, you're all clear," Roxy said. "Timing is yours."

Shinn glared out ahead. The enemy was out there, and until Emily made up her mind, it was all on him.

"Shinn Asuka, Destiny Zero-One, launching!"

"Colonel, it's the Wings of Light!" one of Shoyou's wingmen cried, from one of the six Raider Full Spec units flanking the jet-black Raider Gundam. Inside, Shoyou's grin flashed feral.

"Wonderful! The Destiny Gundam will make a fine trophy for the EAAF!" he cackled. "All units, engage the Minerva's mobile suits at will! The Wings of Light are mine!"

The Raider rocketed ahead of its comrades, opening fire with its Ahura Mazda cannons and taking aim at the Destiny. Down below, the legendary Gundam's beam wings came to life with a flash, and the Destiny ducked aside the Raider's shots with a cloud of afterimages in its wake.

Shinn returned fire with his beam rifle, glancing back at the Minerva. "This thing looks like it's after me," he grunted. "Athrun! I'll leave the rest of the MS to you!"

"Fine, go have fun without us!" Sting shot back. "Auel, we'll take care of those Skygraspers!"

The Chaos and Abyss peeled off, while the Infinite Justice and Gaia put themselves between the Minerva and Shoyou's charging troops. Shinn took off over the Raider's head, with the black mobile suit following in mobile armor mode, spitting beam cannon shots after the Destiny.

"Running away?!" Shoyou laughed. "Is this the traitor Asuka?!"

Shinn whirled around, drawing his anti-ship sword and bringing it down with a crash. The Raider lurched aside, spiraling out of harm's way and transforming into mobile suit mode. Shoyou sent his Mjolnir hammer hurtling forward the Destiny somersaulted over it, but before Shinn could follow the move up, he ducked aside to avoid another wave of beam blasts from the Raider.

"Dammit," Shinn grunted. "This guy..."

The Raider brought its hammer back around Shinn took the blow to his beam shield, wincing as the entire Destiny rattled painfully, and fired back with his beam rifle. The Raider lunged over the shots and transformed back into mobile armor mode, retracting its hammer and attacking again with its Ahura Mazda cannons. The Destiny somersaulted over the charging Raider again, but before Shinn could attack, the Raider flipped over and squeezed off two more blasts, pounding them against the Destiny's beam shield.

"This guy is the one they were calling the Messiah?" Shoyou chuckled. "I'll cherish this day, Gundam! Now die!"

The Destiny Gundam rocketed out of Shoyou's path, dodging another blast of beam fire and roaring through the air, leaving a cloud of afterimages behind it. The Raider reverted to mobile suit mode, opening fire with the dual beam cannon on its left arm, but the Destiny dodged again, and Shoyou's shots caught nothing but afterimages.

"So you're human after all!" Shinn snapped. "Let's see how many more mistakes I can get you to make!"

The Destiny opened fire with its long beam cannon and its beam rifle, aiming to catch the Raider's shoulders, but Shoyou sent his machine into a dizzying drop and squeezed back a beam cannon shot.

"Those special effects aren't going to trick me!" Shoyou screamed. "Go down!"

Battleship Minerva

Meyrin felt a little better about her chances with the great ZAFT ace Rau Le Creuset sitting in the bridge chair to her right. She vaguely recalled it as being the chair that Gilbert Dullindal had occupied during the Minerva's unexpected maiden voyage which gave Meyrin a sense that there was some irony at work here. But there were more important things to worry about here.

"Athrun reports that the mobile suits are holding," Roxy said. "Sting and Auel have the Skygraspers."

Ahead, framed by clouds and smoke, the Danube loomed against the blue sky, waiting patiently.

"Only the mobile suits are attacking," Abbey observed. "That plane isn't moving at all."

Meyrin glanced as surreptitiously as she could at Rau. He caught the glance and smiled. "They must be trying to keep us occupied," he put in. "The Charlemagne was approaching as well, if I recall?"

"It is, at twenty-five kilometers," Burt reported.

"Then they must be trying to tie us up until the Charlemagne arrives," Rau said.

"Which means we need to beat these guys before they get here," Meyrin concluded. "Let's attack that plane that should do the trick."

"We aren't as maneuverable as they are," Abbey warned.

"But we're the one with the levitator," Meyrin answered. "Chen, load all missile tubes with Parsifal missiles and prepare the Tristans and Isolde! Even if we just hit them once, that should force them to retreat!"

"Readying the weapons," Chen answered.

"Malik, prepare to close in!"

"Man, I hate these things," Auel grunted, as the Skygraspers closed in. "They're too damn small."

"Yeah, well, we've got the edge on them in maneuverability," Sting pointed out. "Here they come!"

The Chaos and Abyss rocketed apart, and the Abyss immediately let fly with a beam cannon barrage that forced the Skygraspers to break formation. They returned fire with beam cannons mounted on turrets, and Auel grunted in surprise as the shots slammed against the Abyss's shoulder shells.

"What the they have mobile suit-grade beam cannons, too?!" The Abyss fired back with its Callidus cannon, but the Skygraspers banked around the shot and came storming in again, pelting the Abyss with machinegun fire. "I thought these things were just Spearheads on steroids or something!"

"They were designed for the Strike!" Sting answered; the Chaos deflected a volley of beam blasts with its shield and lunged aside as three Skygraspers roared through the air. "They have an anti-MS secondary role! We need to keep them away from the Minerva!"

The Skygraspers wheeled around, firing again, and Auel somersaulted over them as they passed by. He whirled around to fire his solid cannons back at the three fighters, but they broke formation again and returned fire with a volley of missiles, pushing the Abyss back. The Skygraspers lined up for another beam cannon volley

The Chaos lunged into the path, blasting back with his beam rifle and forcing them to break off again.

"The Abyss can't keep up with them!" Sting said. "You hang back and do fire support!"

"I ain't gonna sit on the sidelines!" Auel snapped. "Go!"

The Chaos roared into the air, beam rifle blazing as the Skygraspers lined up for another run. As they returned with their beam cannons, Auel opened fire with a beam cannon blast of his own, pounding a shot through one of the Skygraspers and blowing it apart.

"Ha! Gotcha, motherfucker!" The Abyss ignited its beam lance and charged. "Let's get in close there's nothing they can do there!"

Beams flashed around the Infinite Justice as it brought its boomerang blade down onto the shield of a Jet Windam. The Windam threw the Justice aside, leveling off its rifle for a killing blow instead, Athrun ripped the rifle in two with a beam blade-assisted kick. The Windam jetted backwards, unleashing a storm of missiles Athrun cut them down with a CIWS burst and lunged above the smoke, forcing the Windam back with a volley of beam rifle blasts as the Windam's two comrades came roaring in.

"Stella!" he cried. "Watch out these guys are tough!"

Nearby, the Gaia Gundam opened fire with its beam rifle on three Raider Full Specs in mobile armor mode, all carrying huge sub-wing units laden with beam rifles of their own. One of the Raider Full Specs charged at the Gaia, spitting beam fire Stella lunged down beneath it, drawing a beam saber and stabbing upwards to slice the Full Spec's sub-wing in two. The Raider Full Spec seized both of its beam rifles and abandoned the ruined sub-wing to its fiery death, reverting to mobile suit and whirling around to open fire on the Gaia. Stella effortlessly ducked aside from the shots and took off again, raining beam fire on the three Raider derivatives.

"You aren't scary!" Stella snapped. The first Raider charged in with a beam rifle blast Stella switched back to her saber and ripped the Raider's left-hand rifle in two. An instant later, the second Raider was upon her, and sent its own sub-wing screaming forward towards the Gaia

...only to be cut down in midair by a beam rifle barrage from the Infinite Justice. Athrun Zala descended from the heavens with a scream, ramming the second Raider aside and following up with a beam rifle volley that blew the Raider's right-hand beam rifle from its hand.

"Keep them away from the Minerva!" Athrun shouted. "Leave these to me! Get the Windams!"

"Will Athrun be okay?" Stella asked, even as the Windams poured beam fire after her.

"Don't worry about me," Athrun grunted. "Hurry!"

The Gaia took off towards the Windams, switching back to its beam rifle and ducking aside as the Windams opened fire again.

Battleship Minerva

The Minerva quaked as its CIWS shot down a Windam's missile that had gotten a little too close for comfort. Gripping the rails painfully, Emily watched the smoke fade around the Minerva. She could see the shimmering wings of the Destiny Gundam as it did battle with the blindingly-fast Raider Gundam. The Raider had a huge hammer, and although the Destiny was so far able to avoid it, the margin for error was rapidly diminishing.

Another missile went down with a blaze of fire. Emily watched the Chaos Gundam leap up to stop a beam shot from one of the Skygraspers, and return fire, forcing the small white fighter to peel off and claw for distance. As the Chaos took off after its prey, Emily idly wondered what the Minerva's crew really thought of her especially since there was a perfectly operable mobile suit waiting for her in the hangar.

The feeling of obligation was strong, but that didn't stop her from putting her head in her hands and trying not to cry. They all wanted her to be a soldier, but how could she be a soldier if she was so afraid?

On the bridge of the Minerva, Rau sensed her anxiety and smiled.

"Tactically speaking, this would be a great time for Emily to unexpectedly leap into the fray," Shinn grunted, as the Destiny spiraled out of the way of the Raider Gundam's relentless beam volleys. "But if she won't, I guess I'll have to find some other way to kill you!"

The Raider charged Shinn leveled off his long beam cannon and opened fire, but the Raider ducked around the blast and continued charging. Shinn lunged down under the Raider as it snapped at him with its claws, letting the black machine pass through the Destiny's afterimages.

"Damn you!" Shoyou snapped. "Die like a man!"

The Raider whirled around, reverting to mobile suit mode, and brought its hammer down with a crash. The Destiny skirted to the side, and the Raider's hammer plowed through only an afterimage. Shoyou ducked to the side to avoid the Destiny's long cannon shot, taking off overhead.

"How could the Resistance have such powerful weapons?!" he snapped. "We are the Alliance! We command the resources of the entire Earth Sphere!" The Raider transformed again into its mobile armor mode, opening its claws with a flash and snapping again at the Destiny. Shinn went hurtling back behind his beam shield as the blasts slammed against the translucent barrier.

In the Destiny, Shinn grunted as the Raider took off again, raining beam fire on the Destiny as he ducked around his enemy's shots.

Come on, Emily, make up your mind...

The Abyss unleashed a wave of beam cannon blasts on the five Skygraspers as they arced around for yet another pass. The Skygraspers broke formation, but the one on the far left was too late and went down in flames as a beam blast blew off its wing and tore open its fuselage.

"Gotcha!" Auel roared, triumphantly crushing the Skygrasper's cockpit with his lance as it staggered by. The Skygraspers turned to attack again the Chaos lunged up into their line of fire and squeezed off a beam rifle shot that ripped through the Skygrasper on the far right, blowing it apart in a thunderous fireball.

"We don't have time for this shit!" Sting barked. "If we don't hurry this up, that giant Phantom Pain ship will get here, and then we'll be fucked!"

Auel let fly with a volley of solid cannon shots at the Skygraspers as they raced for distance. The Skygraspers returned fire with their beam cannons, but the two Gundams blocked the shots with their shields, falling back and answering with their CIWS guns.

"Y'know what would really help? That little bitch Shinn picked up!" Auel snapped. The Skygraspers fired again the Chaos slapped their shots aside with its shield. "I knew he didn't know what he was doing!"

Sting grunted as the Chaos shook under a volley of missiles. "Either way, we're running out of time!"

Battleship Minerva


The red-haired guerrilla with the mechanical arm turned at the sound of her name as she raced down the halls of the Minerva, on her way to the bridge. She turned at the observation deck and found Emily there, gripping the rails in terror and looking at her with wide, fearful eyes.

Viveka blinked in surprise. "What the hell are you still doing here?" she asked. "Why aren't you fighting?"

"I-I don't know what to do!" Emily protested. "Everyone wants me to be a soldier "

"To hell with being a soldier, they want you to earn your keep!" Viveka snapped. "Can't you see we're under attack? If Shinn Asuka says you've got what it takes to be a pilot, then that's good enough for me! Get out there he's not going to let you die and I won't either, but that's all gonna be moot if you don't go!"

"But "

"None of that shit! I'm going to the bridge to see what I can do!" Viveka cut her off. "Do you want to die here or not?"

Emily blinked in disbelief as her sister raced off for the bridge. She looked back out towards the battle, and saw the Destiny.

"Damn these guys!" Athrun snarled as the Raider Full Specs' beam rifles pounded a relentless barrage against the Infinite Justice's beam shield. "They're tough!"

One of the Raiders charged at him, spewing beam blasts from its Ahura Mazda cannons. Athrun saw his chance, ducking around their blasts and sawing off the Raider's right arm and wing with a beam-bladed kick. He whirled around to open fire on his foe's exposed back, but an instant later the second Raider clamped its claws down onto its wounded comrade and took off for the Danube.

"Dammit," he grunted, wheeling around to face the remaining Raider. It opened fire with two beam rifles Athrun ducked aside from the shots and leveled his rifle off to return fire.

Nearby, Stella screamed as she charged towards one of the Windams, beam saber drawn. The Windam answered her saber with its own, slamming the blades together with a crash an instant later, Stella threw the throttle wide open and sent the Windam staggering back, just long enough to slice off its right forearm with her own saber. The damaged Windam pulled back behind its shield as its comrades covered it with beam rifle fire.

"They're not so scary!" Stella snapped, somersaulting around the Windams' beam rifle shots and firing back with her beam cannons.

More beam shots ripped through the battlefield, and Stella glanced towards them in surprise, as four more Windams rocketed by her. She swung her beam rifle around towards them, only to be forced back by more shots from the two Windams in front of her.

"Minerva!" Stella cried, deflecting the shots with her shield. "They're coming!"

"Shinn, they sent another squad of Windams!" Athrun's voice barked through the Destiny's cockpit. "Can you hit them?"

The Destiny rattled as the Raider pummeled its Phase Shift armor with machinegun rounds. "I'm gonna have to!" he shouted. "Dammit, Emily "

The Raider roared up into the Destiny's face, hammer held high. Shoyou cackled in delight as he brought it down with a crash Shinn desperately deployed his solid shield into its path, and grimaced as the shield was shattered like glass and the Destiny was sent careening towards the ground. "Dammit! That hammer !"

"Shinn!" Athrun shouted.

The Destiny deflected Shoyou's killing beam cannon volley with its beam shield and took off again. Shinn glanced towards the four Windams streaking towards the Minerva and swung his beam rifle up to open fire, but an instant later, Shoyou smashed the rifle out of the Destiny's hand with his hammer.

"My rifle!" Shinn snapped. "Who is this guy?!"

The Destiny took off, wings flashing as he fired back with his long cannon. Shoyou pursued with a beam cannon volley, cackling all the way.

"Is this how the traitor Asuka fights his battles?!" he laughed. "Run all you want, and I'll still shoot you down!"

Battleship Minerva

"Move it, people!" Abes' voice roared as he gestured impatiently from his spot on the Destiny Zero-Two's gantry. "Shinn just lost his rifle! Get it ready no, the BAR73/S! That's the BAR71XE and it's not compatible!"

"We only have the disassembled parts!" the mechanic down below shot back. "The other BAR73/S is on the Zero-Two!"

Abes glowered up at the dormant Zero-Two. Shinn was wasting parts on this girl. "Then take the rifle off the Zero-Two and get it "

Abes whirled around in surprise as he heard footsteps on the gantry, and blinked in disbelief as he saw Emily running down the gantry, towards the Zero-Two's open cockpit.

"What the hell is she doing?!" the mechanic exclaimed. "Is she "

"Are you launching?" Abes asked.

Emily glanced over her shoulder at Abes as she stopped at the cockpit hatch. "Don't take the rifle!" she said. "I'll go out!"

Abes stopped himself from sighing in relief as he turned back towards the mechanics on the floor. "Clear out! Zero-Two is launching!" He started down the gantry. "Get the gantry out of the way! Call up to the bridge!"

Inside the Destiny Gundam Zero-Two, Emily willed the sickening feeling of fear away. If Shinn Asuka could take off and fight and not feel fear, then so could she and if she didn't want to die, it was what she had to do.

"Windam team approaching!" a voice on the bridge called out. "Captain! They have anti-ship missiles!"

"Get the CIWS ready!" Meyrin shouted. "Are there any MS free to intercept?"

Emily swallowed painfully she did not want to die.

"I'll do it," she said.

All eyes on the bridge turned in surprise towards her image on Roxy's console.

"Let me go," Emily added. "I think I can do it."

"You think?" Roxy sputtered. "What, you only think "

"Not the time for that, Roxy," Meyrin cut her off. "Miss Oldendorf, there's a squad of Windams approaching us. Nobody except you is in position to stop them so we're counting on you."

Emily forced down another wave of fear this was no time to panic. "Then I'll handle them. Let me go out."

"I'll leave you to Roxy, then," Meyrin said. "Good luck."

Roxy arched an eyebrow at Emily, who tried not to let the fear inside of her show. "Do you know what you're doing in there?"

"Sort of..." Emily mumbled. "Shinn made me read the tech manual "

"Well, fine then," Roxy interrupted. "Step forward onto the catapult. Timing is all yours launch when you're ready."

The Zero-Two shuddered as it locked into the catapult. Emily swallowed her fear again as the Zero-Two slid out into the catapult deck, and the door yawned open. Already she could she the puffs of fire and smoke from the other mobile suits she was heading out into a war zone.

"This is Emily," she said, wincing as she heard her voice trembling as much as her body was. "I'm launching!"

Emily ground her teeth as she felt the force of the catapult slam her back into her seat, and grimaced as the Zero-Two rocketed forward. She cracked her eyes open, and found herself flying forward, straight into the face of the oncoming Windam team. With a scream, she opened fire with the Zero-Two's beam rifle only to see the Windams scatter and go on the defensive.

"Emily?" she heard Shinn's voice exclaim. She glanced around desperately in the cockpit, finding Shinn's face on one of the auxiliary screens. "You finally launched?"

"Wha Shinn! Where are you?" she cried.

"No, go after the Windams!" Athrun's voice cut in. "Shinn will be fine!"

Beam blasts flashed around the Zero-Two, and Emily shrieked in terror as she looked back at the Windams charging after her. She wheeled the Zero-Two around and fired back, but the shots went sailing wide, and the Windams didn't even bother putting up their shields as they fired back.

"I can't hit them!" she cried. "Shinn "

"Don't panic!" Shinn exclaimed. "Stay calm and let your instincts take over!"

The Windams fired again Emily fumbled around the left-hand control stick, activating the Zero-Two's beam shield an instant before the shots slammed against it. "I-I can't! I don't have those "

"You did when you were in the Windam!" Shinn snapped. There was a crash from something on his end. "Now do it again! These guys aren't even the Devil's Swords!"

Emily forced down the fear and took off, guiding the Zero-Two around to the Minerva's starboard side. The Windams followed, only to see one of their comrades ripped out of the sky by a CIWS burst. Emily felt herself seize up in fear as the Windams fired again and once again, true to Shinn's word, instinct jerked her hands to the side, sending the Zero-Two out of harm's way, and just in time for a pair of shimmering beam blasts from the Minerva to blow another Windam out of the sky.

"Come on, Emily, fight them!" Roxy snapped. "We can't do all the work here, or they'll tear us apart!"

One of the Windams charged in close, switching to its beam saber and raising it high. Emily shrieked in terror, squeezing her eyes shut and jamming the left-hand control stick forward. The Zero-Two activated its beam shield and swatted the Windam's saber aside Emily's eyes snapped open as she felt her right hand swing the Zero-Two's beam rifle up and fire.

The Windam disappeared in a fireball, and Emily's eyes went wide. Something horrible raced up her spine her blood went cold as she felt something disappearing, something being ripped out of its proper place and thrown away. She stared in horror at the Windam's smoking wreckage falling towards the earth the pilot long gone. The feeling of emptiness of death was this what a Newtype felt?

"Emily!" Shinn's voice cried, slicing through her thoughts, just as the Windam lined up for a killing shot above her. "Fight through the feeling!"

Emily screamed in terror, throwing the Zero-Two back as the Windam opened fire, barely ducking past its beam blast.

"Don't let the feeling stop you!" Shinn shouted.

"I-I...I killed him!" she wailed. "I killed him!"

"Yeah, now do it to the other one!" Roxy put in.

"Shut up, Roxy!" Shinn roared, with enough force to silence even the red-haired comm officer. "Emily, stay with us! Fight through it! You can get through this!"

"I-If I kill the other one " Emily started. "I can't!" She swung up the Zero-Two's rifle and opened fire on the remaining Windam, forcing it back behind its shield and blowing its beam rifle out of its hand. "This...this feeling! What's this feeling?!"

"Don't let it stop you!" Shinn repeated. His image was broken by static for a moment, before his flashing crimson eyes returned. "You can get through it!"

The Windam drew its beam saber and charged. Emily's eyes went wide as she watched time slow in front of her the Windam sent its saber hurtling forward, towards the Zero-Two's waist a bolt of white energy tore through the air in front of her

With a flash and a scream from its shuddering pilot, the Zero-Two somersaulted over the Windam, letting its beam saber slash catch nothing but air. The Windam whirled around for another blow just in time for the Zero-Two to drive its left-hand palm cannon into the Windam's cockpit.

The Windam died in a thundering blast of fire. Across the battlefield, Shoyou snarled furiously as he watched the last Windam in the team explode.

"Dammit," he growled. "They have a second Destiny unit and everything! Intel had nothing on this!"

"Colonel, our mobile suits are reporting damage!" Reinhardt protested. "If we keep this up "

"I know!" Shoyou snapped. "Goddammit...all units, retreat!"

The Raider took off with a roar, angling back towards the Danube with its comrades not far behind. Shinn watched it go in surprise for a moment, before glancing back at the vortex of emotions radiating from the Destiny Zero-Two. He guided the battle-scarred Zero-One towards it, wincing at the intensity of the emotions its pilot was throwing out.

"Emily," he began, "they're retreating. Good job." He paused and tried to force down the feeling of regret as the monitor displayed only the girl's tear-streaked face, eyes clamped shut. "Are you alright, Emily?"

Emily opened her shimmering, teary eyes, looking painfully at Shinn.

"I'm sorry," she murmured, "but...I don't want to be useless."

To be continued...