Phase 11 - A Series of Sacrifices

Mobile Suit Gundam SEED TWILIGHT

Phase 11 - A Series of Sacrifices

March 2nd, CE 77 - Murmansk, Russia

The word "Extended" planted itself in Emily's brain and spread sickening black tendrils of horror through her as she stared after the corner the black van had retreated around. An Extended an artificially modified human being meant to serve solely as a weapon but that girl, those vivacious eyes, that glowing smile...

"H-How...?" she murmured.

Shinn closed his eyes sadly. "I suppose you're too much of a neophyte right now to sense it," he said. "Extended exert different pressures on a Newtype's mind than regular humans, because their brains and emotional makeup have been altered so much. The only way I can describe it is that it feels like a distorted version of a normal human." He shook his head. "That was the pressure I was sensing from that girl."

" can someone like her " Emily started helplessly.

"Be an Extended?" Shinn finished. "You'll have to ask the Alliance. I've lived and worked among Extended for four years, and I've risked my life more times than I can remember protecting one. And I still can't figure out why they make the Extended so human. They must have no souls."

Emily looked down brokenly at the snow, where the scattered remains of Kyali's snow angel were still visible. "She...she was like me..." she murmured. "But someone like Extended..."

"I was hoping we wouldn't run into an Extended for a while," Shinn added. "Your powers aren't very well developed so far. I was hoping we could dodge this bullet until you were more experienced, but I guess fate had other ideas."

Emily barely heard him, staring down into the snow.

Battleship Minerva, Poljarny Inlet Naval Installation, Russia

The look in the eyes of Aleksandr Pegodin was not one to be crossed as his grim visage appeared on the Minerva's main screen. On the bridge, Abbey looked up in surprise from her clipboard, standing by Roxy's console.

"Admiral," she started, offering a salute, "what is it?"

Pegodin quickly returned it. "There is a problem," he said. "Long range radar shows an Alliance fleet steaming out of Svalbard. The likeliest target in their path is Poljarny."

"An Alliance fleet out of Svalbard...?" Abbey repeated. "How many ships?"

"Thirty, so far," Pegodin answered. "The commander appears to be Bartholomew Stone. Intel says that he served in space for a while, before being transferred to Earth and inducted into the Phantom Pain to command its surface forces." He shook his head. "This base has one Aurora spy plane. We sent it on a recon pass over the fleet, and the ship that is probably Stone's flagship is towing a massive container in the water behind it. There's no telling what's in it."

"I understand," Abbey said dourly. "Captain Hawke is indisposed right now, but I'll pass the message along at once." She paused perhaps it was not her place to say, but say she would anyway. "Although I am confident that we will remain and donate our forces to Poljarny's defense."

Pegodin blinked. "Perhaps Captain Hawke " he started.

"I've served under Captain Hawke's command for three years, admiral," Abbey interrupted. "I have no doubt that our Gundams will be defending Poljarny again. What is the ETA for Stone's fleet?"

Pegodin consulted something on his end. "They should arrive tomorrow morning, although the Aurora was unable to get accurate information on their speed."

"Then that simply provides us more time to prepare," Abbey said. "We will be ready for them, admiral."

"The gunbarrels are up by point-six percent," Auel noted tiredly as he stared at the display in front of him. "Now where does that fall on the Sting Oakley Bell Curve 'o Acceptability?"

Sitting in the cockpit and tinkering with the Chaos Gundam's operating system, Sting paused to take a healthy swig of coffee. "I can do better," he said, clicking the coffee cup shut and balancing it back on the top of the cockpit display. "The whole mobile weapon pod system is limited by the dexterity of my input, but that's no reason not to make it as responsive as possible to my limitedly-dexterous mental commands."

"If you say so," Auel sighed. "This must be why I got the Abyss. It's just a bunch of fucking beam cannons."

"Hey, don't go bashing my Chaos," Sting answered. "I'd be stardust if it weren't for this thing."

Auel scoffed and glanced out of the Chaos's cockpit, across the hangar. "I see they got the Twilight repaired."

Sting glanced up from his cockpit display. "Yeah, Vino spent the night attaching a new M2000GX, after Emily got the first one trashed against that Raider unit."

Auel scoffed again. "That was FUBAR," he grumbled. "I still don't understand how she hasn't gotten shot down yet. Being a Newtype doesn't let you just figure out how to pilot mobile suits with no prior experience. Not after we had to bust our asses learning how to pilot these Gundams."

Sting paused a moment as he adjusted a dial. "Athrun said that she seems to be relying on instinct," he pointed out. "But mobile suit piloting skills are not something you know instinctually. So there must be something else about her."

"Other than Jesus fucking Christ pulling for her, apparently," Auel snorted.

"I guess so," Sting agreed. "Run the diagnostic code on the gunbarrel guidance program again. I think I finally got it."

"That's what you said last time," Auel sighed, taking up the laptop again.

It was meant to be a development of the ZGMF-X13A Providence Gundam, and standing on the gantry before its gaping cockpit hatch, Rau had to admit that "development" was a fairly kind word in regards to the Legend Gundam. It was clearly little more than an upgraded version of the Providence, with a new configuration for its DRAGOONs, a more orthodox arrangement for its beam sabers, and the addition of those handy beam shields. Although he had no doubt that he could easily wreak havoc with this machine in space, he had his doubts over how effective it would be on Earth. The manual had said that the DRAGOON units' beam cannons were usable under gravity, if not the all-range units themselves, but only an actual combat sortie would tell.

"At long last," he chuckled, as he sensed the burning presence of Athrun Zala approaching, "I finally get my hands on the Legend Gundam." He glanced over at Athrun with a smile. "I was originally slated for it in CE 73, but let's just say that didn't work out as planned."

Athrun's eyes flashed vindictively. "Why are you here?" he snapped. "What's your motive?"

Rau only laughed. "Athrun, you wound me. Must you be so cruel to as assume that every action I take is attached to an ulterior motive?"

"Your Godforsaken life has been governed by ulterior motives," Athrun shot back.

"Godforsaken," Rau repeated with a grin. "You remain as eloquent and insightful as ever, young Zala."

"You're the one who nearly destroyed the world. Don't cry about how you got the short stick."

"Athrun, Athrun, I only showed the door for the world," Rau said. "It was the world that nearly walked through it. Kindly refrain from blaming me for all human failures, please."

Athrun scowled. "Answer my question. What are you doing here? You can't manipulate any of us into being your little attack dogs, like you did to Kira."

Rau smiled back. "Who says I have to?"

Athrun's eyes flashed, and he stalked away.

"You're back," Abes said as he glanced down the gantry, at Shinn and Emily as they emerged from the biting cold. Next to Abes, in front of the silent Gaia Gundam, Stella's eyes lit up in joy.

"Shinn!" she exclaimed, rushing over to him. Shinn hugged her with a smile.

"What'd I miss?" he asked. He glanced over at Abes, and the grimness within him wiped Shinn's smile away.

"An Alliance fleet out of Svalbard, bound for Poljarny, is what you missed," Abes said. "Admiral Stone is allegedly in command, and they've got some kind of giant container with them. Lord knows what's inside it."

"Well, we had to fight to set this place up," Shinn said, shoving his sunglasses back into his pocket. "Guess we'll have to fight to keep it standing, too."

"Shinn's not scared," Stella piped up. "Shinn's never scared!"

"And that's why sometimes I think Shinn is crazy," Abes deadpanned. He glanced over at Emily. "Now would be a good time to start tuning the Twilight. The Alliance fleet's ETA is sometime tomorrow morning."

Emily glanced up numbly at Abes. "Okay," she murmured, slipping by him and heading towards the Twilight. Abes glanced after her in curiosity.

"What's wrong with her now?" he asked.

"We...ran into an Extended in Murmansk," Shinn said grimly. "It's not sitting well with her." He sighed heavily. "I tried to save her from terrible things happening to her, but it looks like terrible things are going to happen to her anyway."

"It's war," Abes pointed out. "Terrible things happen to everyone."

"I know," Shinn sighed, "but...I'm starting to wonder if I did the right thing by bringing her in."

Stella hugged him tightly from the side. "Emily is our friend," she said, "so we have to protect her."

Abes shrugged. "Stella's logic wins again," he said. "Stella, we should get back to work on the Gaia."

Stella nodded and let go of Shinn, turning back towards her Gundam. Shinn glanced towards the Twilight, and wondered if he had been right.

"Y'know, you really need to be more sociable or something."

Athrun glanced up from his angry brooding in front of the Infinite Justice, and found a metal hand on the railing next to him. He followed the skeletal artificial arm up to Viveka's face, and blinked at her.

"When I was little and the tutors made me study history," she went on, "they made me study a war in Vietnam in the 20th century. And they made me watch a documentary about the soldiers who came home after fighting it. How a whole bunch of them were homeless and deserted by the country they fought for, how they turned into bitter, angry shells of men." She looked at him warily. "That's what you're reminding me of."

"...sorry," Athrun offered with a shrug what was he supposed to do about it?

"So stop it!" Viveka exclaimed. "Jeez, dude, I know you have a hate-on for the Masked Phantasm over there, but lighten up a bit. If you forget to act like a human, you start turning into the Phantom Pain." She leaned back against the railing and sighed. "Why are you in the Resistance anyway?"

Athrun smiled bitterly. "I've been in the military since I was fifteen," he answered. "Fighting is the only marketable skill I have anymore."

"Don't be so melodramatic," Viveka grumbled.

"No, really," Athrun answered. "I joined ZAFT after the Bloody Valentine. When I was sixteen, I went from ZAFT to the Three Ships Alliance, then the Orb Raiders. After Solomon's Sword I went into the Resistance." He shrugged again. "Fighting is what I do."

Viveka glanced over at him. " were in the Orb Raiders?"

She blinked in surprise as Athrun's whose visage darkened apparently she had struck a nerve. "Yes," he said, before she could speak. "I was in the Orb Raiders."

Viveka watched him carefully, as tears appeared in his eyes and he squeezed them away, and decided to say no more.

"Welcome back, 007!" Roxy laughed, as Shinn tiredly strode into the Minerva's crew lounge. Roxy was sprawled out on one of the chairs, with a fifth of Smirnoff in hand. "How many star-struck girls threw themselves at you to ravish at will today?"

"You're never going to let me forget about that little incident in Aruba, are you?" Shinn sighed as he headed for the vending machine.

"Your face was as red as Athrun's Gundam!" Roxy cackled. "And she had that tattoo on her "

"Okay, stop," Shinn cut her off, yanking a can of soda out of the machine and cracking it open. "Whenever a foreign babe comes to me looking for some lovin' with the wings of light, I can always count on you to make fun of me for it."

"Somebody's gotta do it," Roxy shot back. "So how was Murmansk?"

Shinn took a swig of soda and sighed. "God must reserve a special hatred in His heart for Newtypes. We ran into an Extended." His eyes darkened. "It shook Emily up. I was hoping she'd be able to get more acclimated to her senses before we ran into any enemy Extended."

Roxy arched an eyebrow. "What's the difference between the ones on this ship and the ones the Alliance still has the leash on?"

Shinn sighed again and leaned against the wall. "Extended give off a weird kind of pressure to a Newtype," he explained. "It's like listening to someone speak through a distorted microphone. But with the ones on this ship, I've been around Stella for four years, and I've been around Sting and Auel for three. I'm used to their pressure. It's when a new Extended that I haven't been around shows up that I start feeling pressure."

"Okay," Roxy said, "but won't Emily just go batshit over anything, at this point in her, uh, Newtype career?"

"The Extended's Phantom Pain caretaker was there too," Shinn replied. "Where there's an Extended and a Phantom Pain officer, there's probably a Phantom Pain unit. And we're not exactly keeping a low profile here." He shook his head. "She's not ready to fight an Extended. That aura...she'll have to recognize it."

Roxy was quiet a moment. "Maybe you could fight the Extended," she offered.

"I'll have to," Shinn sighed. "And she was just a little girl who liked the snow..."

Roxy sat back and downed the rest of her drink. "Well, keep telling stories like that," she said, "and we'll never run out of reasons to fight."

March 3rd, CE 77 - Earth Alliance aircraft carrier Actium, Poljarny Inlet, Russia

"There it is, admiral," the Actium's captain said, with no shortage of excitement evident in his voice. "They haven't launched their fleet yet."

"They will," Bartholomew Stone said, scanning over the enemy arrayed before him. Very few modern ships, he noted instead their fleet was made up mostly of AD-era naval warships, vessels that had long ago been antiquated and decommissioned, but apparently never destroyed. He picked up the intercom.

"...sir, is that an Arleigh Burke-class?" the captain asked, stunned. "These are pre-Cosmic Era warships, admiral. I saw some of these in my Naval History classes at the Academy. Are they serious about this?"

"I suppose it would be in the interest of charity to at least offer them a chance to surrender," Stone chuckled, "rather than trying to use this fleet of museum exhibits against us." He picked up the intercom and threw a switch. "Attention Resistance stronghold of Poljarny," he said, "this is Admiral Bartholomew Stone of the Phantom Pain. We are here with a fleet and mobile suits to crush you, once and for all. But as we look upon your antiquated weapons and your hopeless position, we are not without hearts and so we offer you this one chance, to surrender now and keep your lives. Otherwise, we will be merciless in sending you to the bottom of the inlet.'

Stone looked on in surprise as one of the enemy destroyers signaled back in Morse code, "go fuck yourselves."

"Um, sir, I think they're saying no," one of the bridge crew stammered. "The enemy ships are launching."

Stone only smiled. "Someone in that fleet has guts," he chuckled. "I will enjoy watching my men pull them out of him."

"Admiral," the comm officer spoke, "message from the Bonaparte."

The screen came to life with the face of a young man in the uniform of a colonel in the Phantom Pain, with the Alliance's standard-issue black overcoat. He offered a sharp salute.

"Admiral Stone," he said. "Colonel Harris Meyers. Your message received."

Stone smiled again. "Excellent," he said, returning Harris's salute. "I understand your unit is outside Murmansk, and within striking distance of Poljarny. How you managed to stay under their radar I can only guess, but my fleet is in the inlet right now."

"So I heard," Harris answered. "The entire base is waiting for you, sir."

"This time we have a Destroy Gundam," Stone chuckled.

"But sir, they have the Minerva," Harris countered. "The Minerva eats Destroy Gundams for breakfast."

"They have yet to face a Destroy piloted by a graduate of the reformulated training regimen," Stone scoffed. "Either way, the more firepower we can bring to bear on Poljarny, the better. Use your unit to launch a diversionary strike and split their forces. Just to be safe, see if you can lure the Minerva's mobile suits away. Keep them busy while I soften the Resistance fleet up and then set the Destroy loose on them. The Destroy will be unstoppable."

"Understood, sir," Harris said.

Stone smirked. "I'm looking forward to seeing your Extended in action, colonel."

Harris smiled back. "She won't disappoint, admiral. Meyers out."

The screen went dark again, and Stone grinned up ahead at the approaching Resistance fleet. "All units, commence operation!"

Earth Alliance Hannibal-class land battleship Bonaparte, Murmansk Oblast, Russia

The locker door slammed shut, and Harris Meyers looked on impassively, arms crossed, as his Extended zipped up her gray and purple flight suit, helmet in hand. She glanced up at the young colonel apprehensively.

"This is your first mission since the Alta incident," he said. "I'm sure you understand that you must not fail."

Kyali Sekar nodded nervously. "Or you'll take away the Strike..."

"You're lucky to still have it," Harris said sternly. "Headquarters wanted to send you back to Althea."

Fear flashed through Kyali's eyes, but she crushed it Harry never liked it when she was afraid. She put her helmet on anxiously and closed the seals.

"I just have to fight," she said. "Right?"

"Attack until ordered otherwise," Harris said. "I will be in the Aegis." He stood up. "Let's go."

The two pilots emerged into the sprawling hangar of the Bonaparte, where the pilots of the ship's contingent of mobile suits were coming to life. Harris rode up the zip-line into the cockpit of the towering Aegis Gundam, settling into the cockpit seat and shutting the hatch. He cracked his knuckles and flipped on the squadron frequency.

"We're going up against the Minerva today, ladies and gentlemen," he said ominously. "I expect to see a hell of a fight out there." He glanced up at the hangar ceiling. "Open the main hatch."

Battleship Minerva, Poljarny Inlet Naval Installation, Russia

"A land-ship?!"

Meyrin looked on in disbelief as the image of a Hannibal-class land battleship, approaching Poljarny from the south and launching mobile suits, flashed into view on the Minerva's main screen. She struggled to force down the shock a captain had to deal with unforeseen contingencies.

"Intel had nothing on this," Abbey growled from her spot next to Meyrin's chair. "I thought it was just the fleet in the inlet!"

"They must have been hiding out nearby," Meyrin said. "Shield the bridge and go to Condition Red."

"We have to do something about that ship," Abbey insisted, as the bridge sank down into its combat position. "Pegodin deployed most of his forces forward to meet the fleet."

"But that's only one ship," Meyrin murmured, reaching back into the library of past experience. She shook her head. "Order the mobile suits to intercept this unit. If we're lucky, we can take it out quickly and get them back to the battle at hand."

"This will be your first major battle, Emily," Shinn's voice said grimly, as Emily started up the Twilight Gundam and wrapped her blue overcoat tighter around herself. She glanced over at him, pulling on a pair of brown leather gloves best to stay warm, she told herself. "Up until now it's just been skirmishes. This one will have hundreds of mobile suits on either side. Just stick with the rest of us and we'll tell you what to do."

"Alright," she said nervously. The Twilight shook as the Twilight stepped onto the catapult.

"Twilight, this is the bridge," Roxy's voice cut in. "Launch vector is clear. Timing is all yours."

Emily braced herself time to go back to war.

"Emily von Oldendorf, Twilight, taking off!"

The Twilight lunged forward, and Emily ground her teeth as the G-forces threw her back in her seat. At last, the Twilight eased up into the air, and she arced around to point her Gundam to the south, where a second Alliance force was approaching. She fell into formation next to the Minerva's other Gundams, glancing up at the fearless Destiny as it cruised forward.

To be as fearless as the man inside it...Emily shook her head. Now all she could do was hope that the instinct would be back.

"Sergeant," Harris's voice said, filling the cockpit and the ears of its pilot, "take a team of Dark Windams with you and try to hit the Minerva itself in the port. The Sword Calamity is well-equipped for that role. The Minerva was damaged by the Charlemagne and the late Colonel Shoyou let's see if we can't inflict a little more."

Inside the black-painted Sword Calamity, clutching a Windam's beam rifle and cruising forward on a sub-wing unit, Sergeant Major Gregory Hayden flashed a grin and narrowed his green eyes at the base ahead. "Understood, sir," he said. "Fourth squad, follow me the warship Minerva is our target!"

The Sword Calamity banked down, with four Jet Dark Windams in formation behind it. He struggled to push the memories of his grueling training to qualify on this damn Gundam at Volkov Crater behind him finally, he was going to prove that he could fight in this thing. He keyed open the viewfinder and magnified the image of the majestic Minerva in dock helpless and alone.

"Sergeant," the squad's commander said, "what will we do about the Minerva's mobile suits?"

"Colonel Meyers will keep them occupied," Hayden said. "We'll hit the mothership, and get it incapacitated before anyone can stop us. And while we're there, we might as well inflict as much other damage as we can." He grinned. "This is the moment I've been waiting for, men! Let's go!"

Shinn felt his muscles ripple with adrenaline as the Destiny Gundam sailed into battle with the Gaia at its side. Up ahead, he recognized the bright red armor of an Aegis Gundam unit old, perhaps, but probably tuned up enough to meet modern standards in mobile suits. And he had made the mistake of underestimating foes before it was not one he would make again.

"Let's do this the way we always do," Shinn told Stella, arming the Destiny's beam rifle. "I'll distract him, you get behind him or flank him."

"Understood," Stella answered. Shinn smiled in battle she was the ferocious berserker he knew he didn't have to protect.

The two Gundams raised their beam rifles and opened fire as expected, the Aegis showed increased agility as it ducked around the shots, whipping its own rifle up to fire back. Shinn glanced over at the Gaia. "Stella, go!"

The Gaia took off Shinn charged forward, roaring in close and switching to his anti-ship sword. He brought it down with a scream the Aegis ducked away, igniting a beam saber on its right foot and bringing it up for a killing slash

"I don't think so!" Shinn snapped he pounded the saber aside with his sword and brought it around for another slash, but as he let the sword fall, the Aegis jammed its shield into his path, stopping his blow cold.

The Gaia slid around the Aegis, beam rifle leveled off, but the Aegis snapped its own rifle up to fire first. Shinn surged forward with a blast from the Destiny's thrusters, throwing the Aegis back.

"Forgetting someone?!" Shinn roared the Destiny activated its beam wings with a flash. "Stella, reverse roles! Distract him and I'll take him out!"

"Understood!" Stella answered the Gaia blasted into the Aegis's face with a rocket-assisted shoulder ram, switching to its beam saber and bringing it down with a crash on the Aegis's desperately-raised shield. Shinn whirled around the Aegis in a blur of afterimages, sword raised high for a killing blow, but before he could land it, the Aegis whipped its rifle around to open fire and force Shinn on the defensive.

"Not bad for a pink Gundam," Shinn grunted, spiraling around for another attack. "But if you're that Phantom Pain bastard from Murmansk, then I'll take you down here!"

A volley of beam blasts came flying out of nowhere, and with a yelp of surprise, Emily slammed on the Twilight's brakes, throwing herself back into the cockpit seat as the shots seared by in front of her. She scanned the skies for her attacker something in the overcast sky glinted in the scant sunlight, and a roar of engines split the air.

"What is that?!" she exclaimed. Overhead, a white and black mobile suit with the face of a Gundam and a winged, black and red backpack came streaking out of the heavens, beam rifle and shield in hand.

Inside the Aile Strike Gundam, Kyali Sekar sized up her foe. A black Gundam that looked similar to the famous Destiny but she would not fail. She knew what would happen if she did.

The Strike opened fire Emily yanked her machine to the side, dodging the Strike's fire, and deployed her beam shield as the Strike trained its gun after the dodging Twilight. She grunted in frustration as the Strike's blasts slammed against her shield no more of this. She couldn't hide behind this shield forever studying her own combat footage had been embarrassing enough. The Strike Gundam charged, beam rifle blazing Emily's eyes flashed as the white bolt split the air

With a crash, the Twilight Gundam jammed its right leg forward, stopping the Strike cold with a punishing kick to the stomach. As the Strike floundered, Emily followed up with a devastating butterfly kick with the Twilight's left leg to the side of the Strike's head. The white Gundam went reeling, and Emily silently thanked Shinn for teaching her to use the Twilight's martial arts programming.

Her eyes went wide as a strange sensation passed through her. Pressure, pushing against her mind...but it felt strange, unnatural. She looked at the Strike in fear was this sensation coming from there?

The Strike managed to regain its balance Emily shook her head. She could not let the fear return she snapped her rifle up and opened fire. The Strike deflected her shots with its shield, drew its beam saber and charged.

"A beam saber..." Emily breathed. "I can fight like that too!"

The Twilight seized its right-hand beam boomerang, the saber blade flashed to life, and Emily brought it down with a scream, just as the Strike swept its own saber horizontally towards the Twilight's waist, and the two Gundams came crashing together.

"So, Viveka," Athrun said, as the Infinite Justice pounded a volley of beam blasts into the shields of the oncoming Jet Dark Windam squad, "how do you like the Savior?"

Up above, the Savior in mobile armor mode shot down towards the second squad of Windams, beam cannons blazing. The Windams pulled back behind their shields with a flash, the Savior transformed into mobile suit mode, its V-fin catching the subdued sunlight, and snapped its beam rifle up to shower the Windams with more fire.

"You sure know what a woman wants," came the answer. "I'd kiss you if you weren't all the way over there."

Athrun expertly ignored the second comment. "It's one thing to fight Windams," he said, pausing as the first squad of Windams returned fire. He somersaulted over the shots and fired back, pounding more blasts into their shields and scattering the mobile suits. "It's another to kill them."

"Then let's get to that!"

The Savior lunged forward, beam cannons pouring firepower into the Windams' ranks. They returned fire with a wave of missiles, but the Savior cut them from the sky with a volley of CIWS bullets. Viveka flashed a grin as she reverted the Savior back to mobile armor mode, taking off with a blast of exhaust and raining beam shots down on the beleaguered Windams.

Inside the Infinite Justice, Athrun shook his head as Viveka gleefully ran circles around her foes' desperate attacks. Perhaps he was just jaded, but flying a Gundam wasn't that fun.

One of the Windams charged towards the Justice, beam rifle blazing. Athrun narrowed his eyes at it and charged back, igniting his boomerang blade. The Windam slammed on the brakes, throwing its shield out in front of it with a crash, Athrun slammed his blade into the Windam's shield, driving it back with sheer momentum.

"This is only the Phantom Pain," Athrun grunted, as the Windam fell back under cover fire from its comrades. "You're nothing."

"Sergeant, picking up two mobile suits!" the Fourth squad's commander cried. Inside the Sword Calamity, Hayden consulted his scopes

A moment later, a hurricane of beam blasts slammed into the ground in front of him. He and his Windams slammed on the brakes, scanning the skies for his attacker.

In front of the Alliance mobile suits, the Abyss Gundam twirled its ignited beam lance over its head and pointed it vindictively at the waiting Sword Calamity and Windams.

"That's one of the Minerva's Gundams!" the commander exclaimed.

"It's only one," Hayden snorted. "All units, spread out and attack!"

The Windams jetted apart as the Sword Calamity leveled off its beam rifle. Inside the Abyss, Auel only smirked.


The Abyss snapped open its shoulder shells, pounding off a salvo of shells that sent two of the Windams down in flames, smashing into the ground with a pair of blazing fireballs. Hayden's eyes widened in disbelief the Abyss charged, and hacked through the Sword Calamity's rifle in one stroke from its beam lance.

"Damned Gundam!" Hayden snarled, backing away and drawing his anti-ship swords. "Pull back and open "

A beam shot lanced out of the heavens, punching through one of the Windams and blowing it apart in midair. Hayden glanced up in disbelief at it a moment later, the Sword Calamity rocked as the Abyss pounded it with another volley of shells.

"Sergeant, we have to pull back!" the commander shouted. "We can't "

An instant later, the Chaos Gundam dropped into the Windam's face and tore it in two with a beam claw-assisted kick across the torso. It turned as the last Windam exploded, flashing its eyes at the lone Sword Calamity.

"The whole squad, that quickly," Hayden snarled. "Who do you think I am?!"

The Chaos opened fire the Sword Calamity skirted around the shots, brandishing its swords and charging in.

Inside the Legend Gundam, floating ahead of an oncoming squad of Jet Dark Windams, Rau Le Creuset smiled amusedly. That primordial urge for destruction had not been well sated in the GuAIZ but now he had something far more suited to the task of killing people.

The Legend activated its beam cannons and fired, forcing the Windams apart. Rau grinned and charged, following up with his beam rifle. One of the Windams responded with a volley of missiles Rau cut them out of the sky with a CIWS burst, plowing through the smoke and charging on with another volley of beam blasts.

"Impressive," he chuckled, as the blasts slammed against the Windams' shields and forced them back. "This Gundam will serve me well."

The Windams charged again with another missile volley Rau only laughed, blasting them apart with another CIWS volley and charging back. One of the Windams swept in close, beam rifle blazing

With a flash, the Legend drew a beam javelin from its left leg, igniting the blade and slicing it through the Windam's rifle. The Alliance mobile suit staggered back, abandoning its ruined rifle and switching to its beam saber

Cackling all the way, Rau came down with a crash and sliced his beam javelin through the unsuspecting Windam, grinning as it exploded.

"Impressive indeed," he said, peering through the smoke at the remaining Windams. "Even with three years in the grave, Gilbert, you continue feeding me these wonderful toys!"

The two Gundams came together with a crash, and inside the Twilight Gundam, Emily grimaced as her machine rattled under the impact. "This Gundam...I have to stop this thing somehow..." She wracked her brain for a battle plan this Strike Gundam didn't appear to be carrying much more long-range weaponry than a beam rifle. Perhaps she could take it down from afar?

The Strike never gave her a chance to continue that train of thought, surging forward with a blast of exhaust from its Aile Striker pack and throwing the Twilight back. Emily struggled to keep control, and swung her saber up into the Strike's path, blocking its blow with a crash. The Strike charged forward anyway, pushing the Twilight towards the earth below.

Emily snapped the Twilight's long-range cannon up into position, squeezing off a blast that forced the Strike back on the defensive. She charged up, saber in hand, retracting the cannon, and slammed her saber down into the Strike's outstretched blade, sending the white Gundam reeling.

Inside the Strike, Kyali shook her head angrily as her mobile suit scrambled for distance. "This guy..." She threw a switch on the side console. "Bonaparte, send me the Sword Striker!"

The Twilight charged in, saber raised the Strike stabbed back, and Emily yelped in surprise, racing to parry the blow with her own saber. The two Gundams crashed together the Strike sent the Twilight staggering back with a lightning-fast kick to the face. Emily shook her head as the Twilight tumbled backward, and fired the thrusters to regain her balance.

"Another unit...?" Emily murmured, glancing down at her scopes. "This guy has reinforcements?!"

The Strike charged, beam saber held high.

Earth Alliance aircraft carrier Actium

"The Charlottesville is reporting heavy damage, admiral," one of the bridge crew exclaimed. "Her skipper is giving the order to abandon ship."

"It's only a Fraser-class," Stone said dismissively, sitting back in his chair. "No great loss of firepower."

"Indeed," the Actium' captain agreed, "but for such old vessels, they're putting up quite a fight."

"The ground forces are reporting heavy resistance from enemy MS, armor, and infantry," the crewman added. "He's requesting another barrage from the fleet."

"Tell him we'll send something even better," Stone said. "What is the status of our Destroy unit?"

Another crewman consulted his console. "Destroy unit Lambda 1 is fully operational and ready to sortie, admiral."

The captain glanced over at Stone. "Isn't it a bit soon to be deploying that thing?" he asked. "The Resistance forces can't hold out forever."

"I'm not going to wait that long," Stone answered. "Contact Svetlana and tell her to get the Destroy moving! We'll draw the Resistance forces away from the base! Target is Murmansk!"

The Gaia rocked as the Aegis Gundam brought its blazing yellow beam saber down onto Stella's shield. She scowled in frustration, firing the thrusters and sending the Aegis hurtling back no Gundam would beat her here. She whirled around with her beam saber, bringing it down with a crash on the Aegis's shield.

"That won't beat me!" Stella snapped.

"Stella, back off!" Shinn shouted. Stella instinctually jammed the Gaia's controls back an instant later, the Aegis changed form in a flash, transforming into its mobile armor attack mode and swiping furiously at the Gaia with its four beam sabers.

The Aegis jetted aside as Shinn's shimmering Destiny came down with a devastating overhead sword blow. It squeezed off a Scylla shot at the winged Gundam Shinn smacked it aside with his beam shield, charging after the Aegis as it changed form again and stabbed forward with a beam saber.

Shinn's eyes flashed. "First mistake," he growled, as the Aegis rushed forward

The air went white with energy as Shinn brought his sword back up, slashing through the Aegis's right arm at the elbow and letting the saber arm sail wide of the Destiny.

"Never assume your enemy can't see the future!" Shinn roared.

With a sickening crash, the Destiny slammed the Aegis square in the chest with a devastating kick, sending it spiraling out of the sky. Shinn retracted his sword and returned it to its rack, drawing his beam rifle and glancing over at the Gaia.

"Emily might be in trouble," he said to Stella. "We'd better go find her."

The two Gundams rocketed away with a flash.

The Windams quailed as another storm of beam fire brought thinned their ranks by one. Its pilot cackling all the way, the Legend Gundam burst through the smoke and leveled off its beam rifle at the remaining two Windams. They pulled back with a shower of beam rifle blasts Rau merely laughed and ducked around their shots with expert ease.

"Merely against these things..." he chuckled. The Windams took off with a flash, splitting up Rau grinned as one of them whirled around him "Too late!"

The Legend pitched forward, somersaulting over the first Windam's desperate beam volley, and stabbed its beam javelin down into the Windam's cockpit. The black Alliance machine died in a blaze Rau smiled and opened fire with the Legend's DRAGOONs, angling them backward and blowing apart the second Windam as it leveled off its rifle for a killing blow.

"And to think you were the cream of Lord Djibril's crop," he laughed.

The Legend flashed its eyes and took off.

"Only Windams," came Athrun's determined voice, "you're nothing!"

Filling the sky with exhaust, the Infinite Justice somersaulted gracefully over the beam blasts of the Windams. He came down in front of the first Windam, slicing in two with a scissors kick strengthened by both of his leg beam blades. Even as the Windam exploded, he lunged out of the smoke, firing his Grapple Stinger anchor forward to snare the next Windam's beam rifle, and with a crash, he yanked the rifle from his foe's hands and sent it spiraling towards the ground.

The Windams pulled back, the remaining two covering their outgunned comrade as it drew its beam saber. Athrun charged through the smoke, dancing effortlessly over their beam shots, igniting his boomerang blade. With a scream, he swept down into the second Windam, slicing in two at the waist as it desperately tried to stab forward with its saber.

"Don't they train you to use sabers?!" he snapped, leaping up over the dying second Windam and spearing the third on a beam rifle shot.

The last Windam turned to flee Athrun narrowed his eyes, snapping up the Grapple Stinger and firing it forward, digging into the Windam's back. He yanked the anchor back, impaling the Windam on the beam blade, and impassively let his dead opponent fall to an explosive end.

"Viveka," he said calmly, glancing across the battlefield, "what's going on over there?"

Across the way, Viveka flashed a wild grin as the Savior rocketed through the air. She glanced over her good shoulder, slamming on the brakes as the Windams chased after her. The Windams overshot her she transformed the Gundam into its mobile suit mode and tore two of them from the sky with a pair of devastating plasma cannon bursts to the back.

"I'm kicking ass," she laughed, as the remaining Windams whirled around to dodge her follow-up attacks, "that's what."

The remaining Windams came streaking in, beam rifles blazing. Viveka took cover behind her shield, clamping the Savior's beam rifle onto its rear skirt armor, as the Windams' beam blasts pounded against the shield.

"Viveka," Athrun said, "what are you doing? Viveka "

"Watch and learn, hero-boy!"

The Savior drew both of its beam sabers with a flash, and charged forward before the two Windams could react, sawing them both in half at the waist. And as casually as a Gundam could look, the Savior glanced over its shoulder at the Infinite Justice, as both Windams collapsed towards the ground and exploded.

"Impressed?" she asked, as the Savior switched back to its beam rifle.

"A little," Athrun admitted with a shrug.

"A little?" Viveka echoed, as the Savior turned towards the battlefield. "That sounds like a challenge!"

"Bastards!" roared Hayden as the Sword Calamity quaked under a shell volley from the Abyss Gundam. "You can't punch through my armor with that!"

"Sting! The sub-wing!" Auel shouted down below.

"I've got it!" Sting answered a beam blast came soaring out of the sky, puncturing the Sword Calamity's sub-wing unit.

"What ?!" Hayden cried. "They double-teamed me!"

The Sword Calamity kicked its ruined sub-wing towards the Abyss. Auel cut it out of the sky with a beam cannon barrage as the Sword Calamity landed staggeringly. Hayden looked up as the sensors wailed a moment later, he threw his machine back as the Chaos came down with a crash, beam claws ignited. It followed up with a volley of beam rifle shots the Sword Calamity backflipped over them and returned fire with its chest cannon.

Sting deflected the blast with his shield, letting the momentum drive him back through the ground. "Auel!"

The Abyss Gundam leapt up above the Chaos, shoulder shells flying open, and let loose with a beam cannon and Callidus cannon barrage. The Sword Calamity threw itself towards the ground, landing hard on its shoulder with a crash and leaping back to its feet. Hayden's eyes flashed furiously as he drew the Sword Calamity's beam boomerangs, sending them both hurtling towards the two Gundams

"You think we haven't seen that before?!" Auel screamed, showering both boomerangs with beam cannon blasts and blowing them out of the air.

"This guy's not half-bad," Sting said, as the Abyss landed heavily next to the Chaos.

"Yeah, well, he's only half-good too," Auel shot back. "Let's go!"

"The Sword Striker!" Kyali cried, glancing to the side at the sight of the Sword Striker-laden Skygrasper streaking into battle.

"Corporal!" the pilot shouted. "Sword Striker, on target! Release on my mark!"

The Aile Strike took off Emily watched in surprise, wondering if it was retreating. She glanced to towards the approaching Skygrasper reinforcements? The Twilight whipped its beam rifle up to open fire, but a moment later, the Skygrasper fired off a volley of beam cannon blasts, forcing Emily back behind her beam shield.

"What the is it changing equipment?!" Emily exclaimed. She dug back into her memory of mobile suits the Strike Gundam was the first mobile suit able to switch specialized equipment at will in combat. "A sword?!"
The Aile Strike ducked the Twilight's beam rifle blasts, ejecting its Aile pack and shield, and linking up instead with the sky-blue Sword Striker pack. The Skygrasper ejected a sub-wing unit underneath its fuselage, and the Sword Strike Gundam landed with a crash on it, stowing its beam rifle on its rear skirt armor and drawing the massive Schwert Gewehr with a flash.

Kyali grinned. "Nothing like a big sword!" she cried. "Here I come, Gundam!"

The Sword Strike charged, brandishing its Schwert Gewehr. Emily yelped in surprise and took off backward as the Strike took sweeping swipes at her with the enormous sword.

"How do I beat that thing?!" she shouted. "The Arondight !?" Shinn's lecturing was there to remind her not to use the anti-ship sword unless she knew what she was doing with it which, in this situation, was the long way of telling her not to use it. "How can I fight this thing with just the saber?!"

"Done already?!" Kyali laughed. "Stop running, Gundam! I wanna play!"

The Twilight whirled around, saber in hand the Strike charged, sword in hand, and the two Gundams came together with a crash.

Inside the Twilight, something beeped. Emily glanced up at the auxiliary screen, where Shinn's grim face appeared on the right-hand screen.

"Emily," he said, "break off from that thing. We've got a problem."

"I'm kinda stuck," Emily protested, as the Strike put all its momentum behind the sword and sent the Twilight hurtling back. "What's wrong?"

Emily never heard Shinn's answer, as instead, the ground quaked. Emily looked frantically towards the inlet as a tower of smoke rose up from the dockyard. A flurry of beams broke out of it, spearing an entire squadron of Resistance mobile suits in midair and blowing them apart and the ground shook again as something emerged from the smoke.

"That," Shinn said, "is what's wrong."

Across the battlefield, wreathed in smoke and fire, the sky lit up with a baneful flash from the eyes of the Destroy Gundam.

To be continued...