Phase 15 - Feeling

Mobile Suit Gundam SEED TWILIGHT

Phase 15 - Feeling

March 4th, CE 77 - Earth Alliance Hannibal-class land battleship Bonaparte, Republic of Karelia, Russia

The mechanics watched in silence as Harris sent Kyali sprawling with a devastating blow to the face.

"Who the hell do you think you are, releasing a prisoner without authorization?!" Harris roared, as Kyali crawled back to her feet. "After all the work we went through to make that capture!"

"You're an evil man!" Kyali shot back, rising back to her feet. "You would've done to her what you always do to me! I was right to save her!"

Harris glanced at the soldiers flanking her. "Take her back to the maintenance bed chamber," he ordered. "Obviously you have much to learn about obeying your superiors."

The soldiers yanked Kyali away. Tupolev watched them go tiredly for a moment, and glanced back at Harris. "Are you going to continue using her?" he asked.

Harris heaved a sigh. "We don't have much choice right now," he said. "If the Minerva attacks again, we'll need every gun we can get. But we'll definitely have to discipline her." He cast a dark glance through the doorway Kyali had been taken through. "This will not happen again."

"I understand," Tupolev said with a nod.

"Get everything back up to speed," Harris instructed. "Our prize was stolen from us, and I'm not going to let that go without a fight."

Battleship Minerva, Republic of Karelia, Russia

Emily blinked in surprise and disorientation to the cheers that greeted her as she emerged from the Twilight's cockpit in the hangar of the Minerva. She looked around wearily, finding the mechanics cheering and the pilots rushing towards her. Viveka was the first to reach her, and the first thing Emily felt was pain as her sister aggravated the wounds and bruises with an enthusiastic hug.

"Oh God, Emily, I'm so sorry, I'll never let that happen again!" Viveka cried, tears in her eye as she wrapped her sister in an unshakable embrace. Emily glanced over Viveka's scarred shoulder at Shinn as he approached, his eyes dim and his face somber.

"I-It's alright," Emily said tiredly. "I survived..."

"But that's still something you shouldn't have had to go through," Shinn said quietly. Emily looked into his crimson eyes and saw more pain there than he was letting on she wondered how many old wounds of his own this incident had opened. "So I'm sorry I failed to "

"It's okay," Emily interrupted. "Really..."

Shinn watched her a moment and said nothing more.

"Bridge, we've got Emily secured," Athrun said into his headset. "Send down a medical team." He looked back at Emily. "It's good to have you back."

Emily smiled back weakly. "I still wanna rescue the Strike's pilot," she said. "It's the Extended from Murmansk. She saved me."

"Attacking that ship again is too risky," Abbey's voice protested from the headset.

"Well, the Phantom Pain can't go unpunished," Sting shot back.

"The first order of business," Athrun interrupted, as the medical team arrived, "is to make sure you're okay." He gestured to the stretcher. "So let's go find out."

March 5th, CE 77 - Earth Alliance Hannibal-class land battleship Bonaparte, Republic of Karelia, Russia

The Plexiglas dome of the maintenance bed muffled the screams, but no matter how loud they were, they mattered little to Harris Meyers as he watched Kyali writhe in agony inside her maintenance bed. He glanced over at the technicians the stimuli they were introducing into the chamber had the effect of recalling in her mind the traumatic memories associated with her block word, the same memories that returned when he spoke her block word but this time the maintenance bed was no escape. He recalled that she had gotten lost and, to use a phrase, "disappeared" at one point during her time on Lodonia Island, before she was moved to Althea Crater. The memory of being lost and alone had produced the block word and clearly, it still held sway.

The lead technician glanced over warily at Harris. "Colonel, is this really necessary?" he asked. "I know she has discipline problems, but the more stress you inflict on her, the less stable she'll be."

Harris's eyes flashed darkly. "I have other things in mind to drive my point home," he said, "but by the time I'm done with her, she will know better than to defy me."

The technician blanched. "I hope you're not thinking of that again, sir," he protested. "The stress that causes "

"Is your problem," Harris cut him off. "I may well just send her back to Althea once we reach Moscow anyway. Her tactical utility and the combat data she's collected on the Strike aren't worth these incidents." He reached over his shoulder to activate the intercom. "Tupolev, what's our ETA to Moscow?"

"Currently inestimable, sir," Tupolev answered. "A blizzard cropped up near Lake Onega last night. We'd have to either go around that or wait for it to pass, and right now we have no reliable information on how long either would take."

Harris cursed under his breath. "I see," he said. "Get us past Onega as soon as possible, then, and we'll figure out where to go from there."

Battleship Minerva, Republic of Karelia, Russia

"A taser probe, I see," the head doctor said quietly, as he examined Emily's wounds, particularly the metal probe embedded in her side. Emily winced as the doctor gingerly removed it, replacing it with a well-bound bandage. "The taser is designed to deliver an incapacitating and painful but non-lethal electric shock. I'm not surprised that was their method of choice." He set the bloody probe aside as the nurses finished the remainder of her bandages. "It doesn't look like there's anything permanent, but you certainly need to rest."

Emily nodded wearily, as Viveka, sitting at her side, hugged her again. "At least they didn't do anything worse than that," she sighed.

"I don't advise any mobile suit piloting for a few days," the doctor continued. "You need to recuperate at least long enough for the penetrated skin to scab up."
Emily looked up painfully. "The Alliance pilot was the one who saved me," she said quietly. "I have to go back for her."

"Not like this you can't," the doctor protested.

"I can't leave her behind," Emily answered.

"We'll worry about it later," Viveka cut her off. "You can't do anything right now until you rest."

"The enemy land-ship is heading south towards Moscow," Burt reported on the Minerva's bridge. "But there's a pretty nasty storm near Lake Onega that might slow them down."

"They're probably trying to get in range of friendly units," Abbey said, crossing her arms and leaning against the mapping console. "But we have our captured pilot and machine back, so this isn't a battle we necessarily need to fight."

Meyrin glanced up at her. "It is," she said quietly. "Would we be the Minerva if we didn't take the opportunity to destroy a Phantom Pain unit?"

Abbey shrugged. "I suppose not."

"The land-ship's course seems to be taking them close to Lake Ladoga," Burt added. Abbey glanced up at the map on the main screen.

"The closest base is the St Petersburg Regional Air Base," she said. "But they seem to be heading for Moscow."

"Either way, once we push them up against the lake, they'll have nowhere to go," Meyrin said. "The Hannibal-class can't operate on water."

"But we still need to get to Carpentaria," Abbey protested. "The longer we take "

"I know," Meyrin cut her off. "But I think we can afford to take a long enough detour to destroy a unit that tortured one of our own." She narrowed her eyes at the horizon, where the enemy land-ship was waiting out there, somewhere. "There are some people who call us the proof of God's justice. I think what the Phantom Pain did to our pilot deserves a little demonstration of that."

Abbey nodded reluctantly. "Understood."

Although he was not a man known for his vices, it was an unwritten rule aboard the Minerva that the galley's meager kitchen was Athrun Zala's domain. He had long ago dazzled his crewmates with a theretofore unknown culinary prowess that put his skills in high demand among a crew that was mostly used to freeze-dried camping food; "military rations" that were often accused of being recycled mobile suit parts; or instant ramen that required boiling water to be edible, but could never be made appetizing. When pressed about it, Athrun would sheepishly explain that he learned to cook with the Orb Raiders, in order to break the tedium during their long stay in the ruins of Heliopolis although few people were willing to jeopardize any chance of his services.

As such, Athrun had decided to hole himself up there for the morning. It was his judgment that after enduring the electric shocks and the truncheons of the Phantom Pain, Emily at the very least deserved some better food than a Styrofoam cup full of instant ramen and boiled water that hadn't quite mixed right, and so Athrun had set to work with what little he had to feed her what he deemed a proper meal. And as such, he was surprised to find Stella in the kitchen with him.

It was another unwritten rule, he reflected absently, that Stella wasn't allowed in the kitchen because nobody felt safe with her around open burners, knives, and boiling water. He could still remember an incident from CE 74 that had involved all three and ended with an awkward visit to sickbay.

"Be careful, Stella," Athrun warned, glancing over his shoulder as he found her going through the utensils. "You remember what happened that one time..."

"It was Auel's fault," Stella mumbled. Athrun smiled technically, that was true. "Stella wants to help Emily get better..."

"The doctor's doing that," Athrun said, glancing over at his pot of water as it came to a boil. He glanced around at his ingredients, and sighed unhappily. "I guess we didn't stock the kitchen at Poljarny."

"What is Athrun making...?" Stella asked quietly, as she emerged from the cabinet with a pitcher in hand.

"The end goal is a plate of spaghetti marinara," Athrun answered with a shrug, "if I can find enough pasta. It's better than most of the stuff we could give Emily, and I suppose she deserves it after such a long and terrible day."

Stella smiled slowly. "Stella is glad that Emily's back..."

Athrun glanced back at her again and smiled back. "I am too."

Earth Alliance Hannibal-class land battleship Bonaparte, Republic of Karelia, Russia

The men inside the quiet crew lounge of the Bonaparte looked up in surprise as the door slid open. A moment later, Kyali Sekar was thrown into the room, her arms bound by handcuffs, and stumbled to the floor. The men inside blinked in surprise, before dutifully rising to their feet to salute Harris Meyers on the other side of the threshold.

Three more soldiers entered the room to grab Kyali by the arms, holding her down on the floor as Harris returned the salute. "As you all know, this Extended has been causing us some problems lately," he said, casting a burning glance towards Kyali as she tremulously looked around. "Obviously she has yet to learn what it means to obey her superiors' commands."

"Then, uh, what are we supposed to do, sir?" one of the soldiers asked.

Harris glanced at him, and Kyali's eyes went wide in horror. "We haven't had shore leave in a while," he said, "so I'm sure there's plenty of pent-up emotion running high here." He looked back at Kyali, heedless of her terror. "Consider it a morale boost."

The men glanced at each other, and back at the quaking Extended in their midst, connecting the dots and several of them broke out in grins.

"Harry, you said you wouldn't do this again!" Kyali protested, as one of the soldiers forced her to her knees. "You promised !"

"Perhaps you should have thought of that before you decided to defy me," Harris said, glaring back at her. He looked back up at his men. "Don't break her permanently we may need her again in combat shortly. Just teach her the meaning of the word 'obedience.'"

The soldiers grinned down at their captive. "Yes sir."

The door slammed shut, and Harris turned towards Tupolev, standing at his side. "Have you heard anything from St Petersburg?"

"They told me they have no units to spare," Tupolev said with a sigh, following as Harris started down the corridor. "Either way, the blizzard will force us towards Lake Ladoga. Once we reach the lake, we'll have to face the Minerva whether we have friendly units in support or not."

"I'll sacrifice Kyali if I have to," Harris said with a shrug. "She's been nothing but a disappointment so far anyway."

"Yes sir," Tupolev said, "but General von Schadt won't be happy."

"General von Schadt should have done a better job on her," Harris snorted. "We can always get another Extended anyway. Von Schadt never runs out of subjects in need of testing." He glanced over at Tupolev. "Expedite the mobile suit repairs. I'm sure the Minerva will be looking for revenge."

Battleship Minerva, Republic of Karelia, Russia

The doctor's orders were to rest, and since the captain was still fleshing out a battle plan and the mechanics were still hard at work in the hangar, that left Emily with little to do but follow the doctor's orders. She had food in her, courtesy of the cooking skills of Athrun Zala skills that she was suddenly extremely grateful for and only then had she realized that the Phantom Pain had not fed her during her brief but painful captivity. But now she was surrounded by the laminated armor of the Minerva, and two of the infantrymen who had been assigned to break onto the Alliance land-ship and rescue her had volunteered to stand guard outside her room, should she require the peace of mind of armed protection. She pulled the covers of her bed tighter around herself, but sleep was still a ways off

Stop it!

Emily's eyes flashed wide. Something went shooting up her spine, into her brain a presence, distorted, flickering and quivering, burning with suffering and humiliation. that... her thoughts started, breaking off as the feeling spiked again.

Don't touch me!

Emily squeezed her eyes shut, clutching her head in her hands. "That's Kyali...she's...oh my God "

She struggled to cling to rational thought as the agony washed over her physical pain, humiliation, suffering, betrayal, it all pointed to one conclusion. She squeezed the tears out of her eyes, trying to block it out but the feeling was there, crushing every defense she could muster. Was this what she had meant when she asked what more they could do to her? Was this the answer?

Emily grimaced as the pain rippled across her consciousness. To know what was going on just over the horizon, and to think that all she could do was helplessly lie here and suffer as well

Let me go!

Emily doubled over as the sensations strengthened. She cracked an eye open at the sound of the door, finding Stella and Shinn emerging into her room.

Shinn blinked in disbelief at the wall of emotion coming from Emily, and rushed over to her. "Emily! What's wrong?"

Emily clamped a hand over her mouth, cringing as the feeling worsened. "K-Kyali..." she started. "She's "

Shinn's eyes widened in disbelief as the feeling struck him too, and he put a hand to his temple to stay the pain. "Good God," he murmured. "They're seriously..." He looked down at Emily. "This must be why you want to rescue her."

Emily clenched her free hand around the covers. "I...I have to..."

Shinn glanced nervously at Stella. "An Extended isn't like a normal human," he began.

Stella stepped up next to Shinn, looking down pointedly at Emily and silencing Shinn. "Stella doesn't want her friends to get hurt," she said.

Emily looked up painfully at the blonde Extended, staring back resolutely. "Kyali is my friend," she said brokenly, "but she' trouble..."

Stella straightened up. "You should always protect your friends," she said.

Emily looked over painfully at Shinn; he nodded warily, and they both winced at the suffering beyond the horizon.

March 6th, CE 77 - Battleship Minerva, Republic of Karelia, Russia

"If we push them against the lake," Meyrin said, with Abbey, Auel, Rau, Sting, and Athrun around her as they all gazed down at the mapping console on the Minerva's bridge, "then they'll have nowhere to go. If we press the attack and chew through their Windam force, they'll have no choice but to deploy the Strike. From there, Emily can convince the pilot to defect, or if need be, capture the unit."

Abbey glanced dubiously up at Meyrin. "What are we going to do with the Extended?" she asked. "Sting, Stella, and Auel are special cases. Not all Extended are like them."

"Rescuing an Extended from the Alliance is always worth it," Sting said sharply, arms crossed.

"They do terrible things to the Extended," Auel added, glaring. "They're as much victims of the Alliance's cruelty as anyone else. They deserve the same respect."

"It would weaken the enemy ship's fighting strength," Rau put in, before an argument could erupt. "They would be that much easier to destroy."

"If we make another frontal assault, we'll run the risk of coming up against another attempt to capture a pilot," Athrun pointed out. "They seem to have an interest in capturing us as opposed to just plain killing us." He looked back down at the map. "And I'm sure they're expecting an attack, so if we can somehow surprise them, we can interrupt whatever plan they have." He pointed down at a space on the map near the Bonaparte's position. "There's a forest here. If we can lure them towards the ship, and hide some of our mobile suits in the forest, we can flank them or hit them from behind before they realize it."

Meyrin glanced at Athrun, and he wondered if she was looking for approval. "Then Sting and Auel will stay behind with the ship," she said. "The rest of the pilots will hide in the forest and attack when you have the chance."

Earth Alliance Hannibal-class land battleship Bonaparte, Republic of Karelia, Russia

"I hope you've learned your lesson," Harris growled as the soldiers threw a limp and lifeless Kyali back into her maintenance bed. "A normal soldier would have been executed for what you did."

The lid snapped shut, and Harris stormed out the door. Kyali groaned as the calm, misty air of the maintenance pod began to circulate around her. All night they had done whatever they wished with her, and although Harris had ordered them not to "permanently" damage her, she didn't feel as though those orders had been obeyed.

She thought back painfully to the last time this had happened and after it had landed her in the infirmary being treated for all manner of injuries that the head doctor had complained required a gynecologist more than a military doctor, it had resulted in Harris's promise not to subject this to her again. And, she supposed, that was a deal she had broken because she was supposed to be obedient and no longer cause the colonel problems.

But Emily's red-tinted face was there again to remind her that this was not mere disobedience she had done what was right. Now Emily was home, and that was what was important.

Kyali held back her tears and wondered what Emily was up to right now.

"You missed it," the mechanic in charge of the Sword Calamity said with a satisfied sigh as he plopped down onto a chair in the crew lounge. Gregory Hayden glanced up at him from his coffee.

"Missed what?" he asked, arching an eyebrow. The mechanic grinned.

"That Extended's been causing trouble, so the colonel handed her off to us to, y'know, teach a lesson to," he explained. Hayden suddenly found his coffee unappetizing as he guessed where this was going. "I tell ya, man, she's kinda crazy, but get that uniform off her and she's a piece of ass."

"I see," Hayden coughed, looking away awkwardly. He was a good soldier. He would not question his superior.

"So where were you?" the mechanic went on. "You missed out on some pretty good snatch, even if ya did have to share it."

"I was, uh, busy," Hayden said. He was a good soldier. He would not question his superior.

"I could've lived without all the screaming," another crewman added wearily. "Gave me a headache."

"Yeah, well, Lieutenant Burns found a way to put an end to that," the mechanic chuckled.

Hayden stared down determinedly at his coffee. He was a good soldier. He would not question his superior.

"I kinda hope we didn't break her too badly," the mechanic continued. "We might need her if the Minerva attacks again."

The soldier laughed. "We didn't have Corporal Cordova in there," he said. "If he was there, she wouldn't be able to remember her name."

Hayden squeezed his eyes shut. He was a good soldier. He would not question his superior.

Battleship Minerva, Republic of Karelia, Russia

"Emily," Viveka's voice asked, echoing inside the cockpit of the Twilight Gundam as Emily strapped herself in, "are you sure about this?"

Emily looked up determinedly at her sister. "Kyali saved me," she said. "And...I can't let them do that to her again." She shook her head. "I won't. I'll save her."

"But this soon after you got back? Are you sure you're up to it?" Viveka went on.

"What were they doing, anyway?" Auel asked, as he clicked the Abyss's seat restraints into place.

Emily, Shinn, and Athrun gave him a look he blinked in surprise and said no more.

"Be careful out there," Shinn added, glancing over at the Twilight. "They may try to capture you again. Make sure you keep away from the Aegis."

"Emily is crucial to this plan anyway," Rau said, with his ubiquitous smile.

"Mobile suit team, this is the bridge," Roxy interrupted. "Captain Hawke would like a word."

Meyrin's face appeared on the mobile suits' screens. "Sting and Auel will stay behind with the Minerva," she said Emily blinked and noted that Meyrin looked more determined than usual. "The rest of you will proceed forward under Athrun's direction to a forest along the enemy ship's course. Wait there until nightfall, and we'll move forward to draw the enemy in. Once they swallow the bait, Athrun's team will attack from behind. Emily will be responsible for attempting to capture the Strike."

"Understood," Athrun answered. "Sting, Auel, we'll leave the defense of the ship to you."

"Have fun freezing your asses off," Auel chuckled.

The Twilight shuddered as it stepped into the portside catapult. Emily narrowed her eyes determinedly as the catapult swung open. She had left Kyali behind, and they had punished her but that would not happen again.

"Twilight, you're clear," Roxy said.

Emily clenched her fists around the controls. "Emily von Oldendorf, Twilight Gundam, taking off!"

Earth Alliance Hannibal-class land battleship Bonaparte

"Still no response from Moscow or St Petersburg," Tupolev said grimly from the captain's chair on the Bonaparte's bridge. "And the Minerva looks to be speeding up."

Harris put a hand to his chin in thought. "I guess they figure the time is now to make the kill," he said. "They must think we're off balance from having our prize wrenched from us."

"The mobile suits are ready to sortie," Tupolev said, "and this ship is capable of taking on the Minerva as well."

Harris glanced at him dubiously. "This ship?" he repeated. "I'm not so sure, Yuri. The Bonaparte's position is always on the ground, while the Minerva can freely move throughout the air."

"The Charlemagne damaged them," Tupolev pointed out. "We can do the same."

Harris shrugged. "I suppose. Order the Windam teams to prepare for combat. I'll head out myself shortly. It looks like the Minerva is spoiling for a fight."

The Savior came to a stop in the clearing, and together, the six Gundams knelt to the ground of the forest to wait. Inside the Twilight, Emily glanced around at her allies the Destiny and Gaia on her right, the Legend to her left, the Infinite Justice and Savior ahead of her. They would all wait here for the enemy to pass by hopefully, no one would notice six Gundams lying in wait in the forest in the meantime. The Gundams extended wires out to each other for direct communication.

"Are you sure you'll be okay, Emily?" Viveka asked, scanning her sister's face worriedly. "It's pretty soon for you to be out here "

Emily's eyes flashed as she felt the pain of feeling Kyali suffer beyond the horizon. "I'm going to save Kyali," she said, with more determination than she had ever known herself to possess. "She's the one who took out my guards and helped me escape. I can't leave her behind." She shook her head. "Not if they're going to do that to her..."

"Do what to her?" Viveka asked.

"Don't," Athrun said quickly. "You don't want to know." He glanced around at the other Gundams. "We'll ambush the enemy ship from behind. Emily will handle the Strike we'll take care of the rest."

"Stella and I will shoot down that Aegis unit," Shinn added. "It's not snatching anymore of us off the battlefield."

"Just stay away from its front when it enters mobile armor mode," Athrun advised. "If it gets its arms around you, you're in trouble." His eyes darkened. "Trust me."

"Shinn will protect us," Stella said confidently.

"I'll try," Shinn added, decidedly less confident.

"The enemy ship is approaching," Rau interrupted. "Shall we begin?"

The Bonaparte's main guns had moved forward, leaving the tracks behind them clear for a squad of Windams to stand or kneel with beam rifles drawn, covering all approaches to the ship. The whole vessel rattled as it crunched its way forward

Something on the stern of the ship exploded. The Windams turned in surprise, finding one of their own reduced to a cloud of debris. A wave of beam shots came streaking out of the forest to the Bonaparte's starboard side, picking off three more Windams from the ship's hull before the rest could take cover behind their shields

A moment later, the Gundams charged.

On the Bonaparte's bridge, Harris turned in shock towards the screen, as it showed the Minerva's Gundams emerging from the forest and attacking.

"An ambush?!" Tupolev exclaimed. "All guns, prepare for defensive combat! Get the CIWS online!"

"Shit, they tricked us!" Harris snarled. "I'll go out in the Aegis! Damned Minerva!"

Outside, in the cockpit of the Twilight Gundam, Emily narrowed her eyes at the Bonaparte as its mobile suits began to fire back. "I'll get you out of there, Kyali! I promise!"

The mobile suits began to lift off a squad of Jet Dark Windams came streaking up towards the Twilight, beam rifles drawn. The Twilight lurched to the side, opening fire with its beam rifle and scattering the Windams. They circled around, firing off a volley of missiles Emily drew back and cut them down with a burst of CIWS fire. The Twilight lunged out of the smoke, squeezing off another rifle shot to spear one of the Windams through the cockpit, blowing it apart.

"That's one!" Emily cried, ducking below the Windams' return fire. "I don't have time for you!"

The Twilight fired back, just in time for a wave of beam fire from the Savior Gundam to smash two of the Windams out of the sky. The remaining Windam turned in desperation, only to find the Destiny there, slashing it in two with its anti-ship sword.

"Emily! Attack the ship!" Shinn instructed, as the Destiny switched to its beam rifle.

Emily turned towards the Bonaparte as it struggled onward, CIWS rounds and beam shots lancing from its hull into the sky. A familiar presence flashed into her mind as she charged, and the Twilight dove to the side just as a shimmering red beam blast went searing across the sky.

Up ahead, the Aegis Gundam transformed back into mobile suit mode, drawing its beam rifle and charging.

"There you are!" Emily screamed, her blood running hot. The Twilight took aim with its beam rifle, opening fire

The shots landed against a shield, but it was not held by the Aegis. Emily's eyes went wide in disbelief, as she found the Aile Strike Gundam there, shield in hand.

Inside, Kyali stared back with teary eyes.

To be continued...