Phase 17 - Sixteen-Year-Olds of War

Mobile Suit Gundam SEED TWILIGHT

Phase 17 - Sixteen-Year-Olds of War

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

The Twilight Gundam slammed down onto the ground with a crash as the Alliance mobile suits made good their escape, sinking to one knee as the cockpit hatch swung open. The pilot descended to earth on the zip line, leaping down into the snow and rushing towards the burning wreckage of the Strike Gundam.

Emily von Oldendorf stared in shock into the gaping, smoldering hole that was once the Strike's cockpit. Kyali had been there, only moments ago, on the cusp of surrender, an inch away from being saved...and then

She fell to her knees and sobbed.

Nearby, the Destiny Gundam landed as softly as a mobile suit could. Shinn watched Emily crying in the snow, heedless of the biting cold and the snow collecting on her back. That was where Kyali and Emily had met in the cold, in the snow.

The emotions were too intense he looked away, struggling to keep himself steady by the pulsing point of agony. He felt his own agony again, standing in the snow, crying and screaming over lost friends lost friends that his power had been unable to save. It was a pain he had struggled to save Emily from but once again, he had failed.

"That's another promise I couldn't keep," he said, closing his eyes. "What good are these powers...?"

He glanced up into the sky, where the Alliance mobile suits were in full retreat, and the demoralized Minerva seemed to be in no hurry to stop them. He looked back down at Emily, and opened the Destiny's cockpit hatch. The cold was there to greet him like a slap to the face, but he ignored it as he activated the zip line.

The memories were all too painful as he approached the sobbing girl in the snow. He saw visions of himself in Antarctica, on the bloody first day of Cosmic Era 74, on his knees before the wreckage of the Kasselheim. He shook his head Stella had been the one to give him the strength he needed to leave their graves and escape the battlefield. Now it was his turn to be strong.

Shinn said nothing as he pulled Emily up by the shoulders and guided her towards the Destiny.

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

Harris Meyers landed with a thud on the gantry next to the silent Aegis Gundam, as the Bonaparte wrenched its way forward through the snow. Tupolev was there to greet him with a grim salute.

"What a failure," Harris growled, not bothering to return the gesture. "We lost more mobile suits and we couldn't even scratch those damned Gundams." He glanced up bitterly at the Aegis. "It doesn't really matter if I survive encounters with the Minerva if I've got nothing but my survival to show for it."

"Now that you've had to sacrifice Kyali, what will you do?" Tupolev asked. "We're still out of range of Moscow."

"Dammit, we should have gone west from Murmansk and not south," Harris grumbled. "There are bases in Scandinavia that could have helped us. Maybe even Svalbard."

"It's too late for that now, sir," Tupolev put in, as the two officers headed down the gantry while the mechanics took over around the Aegis. "I think it's safe to say that the Twilight's pilot had an attachment of some kind to Kyali. It's likely they'll return for revenge."

Harris heaved a sigh. "The Minerva would not be above that," he agreed. "We'll have to play defense."

"But sir," Tupolev continued, "without Kyali and without the mobile suits we've lost in prior engagements, our fighting strength is considerably lower."

"I don't need Kyali to beat the Minerva," Harris snapped. "I'll launch personally when they attack again. For now, pull us back and give priority to the mobile suit repairs."

"Yes sir."

Gregory Hayden emerged from the cockpit of the Sword Calamity with his helmet in his hand, yanking open the collar of his black Phantom Pain flight suit with an airy sigh. Another battle behind him another failure to defeat the Chaos and Abyss. He glanced around the hangar, noticing that there were fewer and fewer of the familiar black Dark Windams.

But the Strike was missing.

Hayden glanced over at the approaching mechanic. "Has the Strike come back yet?"

"Oh, it's not coming back, sergeant," the mechanic answered with a shrug. "The Twilight had it on the ropes, so the colonel shot it down to keep it from being captured."

Hayden blinked in disbelief, almost letting his helmet slip from his grasp. "Shot it down? You mean he killed the Extended?"

"Well, yeah," the mechanic answered, shrugging again. "I don't know of anyone who has survived a beam saber through the cockpit, so yeah, she's probably dead." He glanced towards the Strike's empty spot in the hangar. "Bummer, too. Once you had her held down, she gave pretty good head "

Hayden rushed past the mechanic, eyes wide, struggling to ignore the feeling of horror welling up in his stomach. His memory shot back in time to an incident wherein a female Earth Alliance soldier had been captured by a cell with the Resistance, and repeatedly gang-raped, and left for dead. When she was rescued, Hayden had watched the live news coverage and her empty, lightless eyes still burned holes into his soul. That had been the final straw that had compelled him to join the Phantom Pain, to rid the world of such evils, to ensure that nobody else would have eyes like that.

Now he saw that soldier again, with the dull eyes, the empty shell of flesh robbed of humanity and spirit. But this time, her captors wore not the fatigues and robes and coats of the Resistance, but the terrifying black uniforms of the Phantom Pain.

He who fights with monsters, Hayden remembered brokenly, should look to it that he himself does not become a monster...

Hayden forced down his tears.

I'm not a monster. I'm a good soldier. I obey my commander. I fight my enemies. I protect my homeland. I'm not a monster! I

He looked back up at the empty spot where the Strike Gundam was, and remembered the rest of the quote.

...and when you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.

He squeezed the tears back again.

I'm not a monster!

Battleship Minerva, Republic of Karelia, Russia

"People die in every war," Rau observed quietly as he guided the Legend back into its hangar brace on the Minerva. "And no one knows how to stop it." He shrugged, as the Legend shuddered and fell into place. "It never ceases to amaze me how these people can suffer so much and still be so blind to the truth that makes them suffer."

On the gantry, nobody had the voice to speak as Shinn emerged from the Destiny with a sobbing Emily in his arms. Viveka was there almost instantly, but could only look down helplessly at her sister.

"Is there something I can do...?" she started.

"I'll take her back to her room," Shinn answered. "I think we'll just have to leave her alone."

Emily could do nothing but sob as Shinn pulled her away. On the gantry, Athrun stepped up next to Viveka, glancing over at Abes as he watched Shinn and Emily disappear around a corner.

"I guess we shouldn't be too surprised," Abes said quietly. "The Extended are valuable to the Alliance. They wouldn't let us capture one without a fight."

"Shinn brought her in so he could protect her from her powers," Athrun murmured. "But..."

"It's not Shinn's fault," Viveka insisted. She shook her head. "It's the Phantom Pain."

In the bowels of the ship, Shinn arrived at Emily's door with the sobbing Twilight pilot in his arms. Although he knew that right now there were more important things to do, somewhere in the back of his mind, he felt a touch of awkwardness as he carried Emily into her darkened room, helpless and limp. Trying to turn the light on was an impossible task, and the door slid shut behind him, so he tried to put her down on what he presumed was her bed as gently as possible.

His own failures were there in Emily's broken, shimmering eyes as she looked up desolately at the Newtype ace, grabbing his sleeve hopelessly.

"Don't..." she whispered, tears streaming down her face. "Don't...leave me alone..."

"Emily " Shinn began.

"I just don't want to be alone!" Emily wailed, and buried her face in Shinn's chest. "I...I failed her!"

Shinn crushed his memories and ignored his own voice echoing in his ears, putting his arms around the brokenhearted Gundam pilot and letting her cry herself to sleep.

Normally, Meyrin noted as the Minerva's bridge slid back up into its usual, brightly lit position, it was more lively up here. The typical condition of the Minerva's bridge was an exhibition of the crew's multitasking skills, in which Roxy would have struck up a conversation with Burt and whoever else was around. But this time the bridge was silent, save for the sounds of the bridge equipment and the dim humming of the Minerva's engines.

"Well," Roxy said quietly, staring down at her console. "That didn't go very well, did it?"

Abbey leaned back against the back of Roxy's seat. "We destroyed a number of their mobile suits," she said. "And we've collected data on their expertise at maneuvering a land-ship in combat. Their fighting strength will be diminished in the next engagement."

"But that's not what we came here to do," Meyrin said.

Abbey glanced down at the floor. "No," she agreed, "it's not."

Meyrin sat back, trying to push out the emotions. She was the captain, after all and while her pilots might be busy feeling sorry for themselves, she could not, because all eyes turned to her for decisions. Their plan to capture the enemy's Extended had failed, but the Phantom Pain would still have to answer for what they had done.

"We're still gonna attack, right?" Roxy asked, looking up.

"We don't necessarily need to " Abbey began.

"We're the Minerva," Meyrin interrupted. "If we're the bringers of justice that everyone says we are, I'd say that land-ship deserves to be brought some justice." She narrowed her eyes at the deep tracks in the snow below. "I don't believe anyone would forgive them."

"Forgiving them is God's job," Burt spoke up from the sensor console. "But I wouldn't mind arranging the meeting."

"Then how do you intend to destroy them?" Abbey asked.

Meyrin followed the tracks towards the horizon. "We'll come up with something," she said. "But as for the Aegis...I'll leave that to Emily."

The crew lounge was quiet as Athrun emerged and headed towards the vending machine. That was not much of a surprise, however this ship had recently rescued a pilot from the torture chambers of the Phantom Pain, only to watch the soldier who had facilitated that rescue get gunned down by her commander. It was hard to feel cheerful under such circumstances.

Sting and Auel were slumped on opposite sides of one of the couches, staring blankly at the ceiling. Even to Athrun's senses, he could tell that they were taking the Strike's destruction difficult knowing that it was one of their own who had been in the cockpit, treated and killed so ruthlessly. Three years after meeting them, he still had only an incomplete picture of their pasts but they did not seem inclined to share, and so Athrun made no attempt to pry.

He cracked open his soda with a sigh. Auel glanced up at him.

"Is that what was supposed to happen to us?" he asked suddenly, drawing looks from Athrun and Sting. "Fight on the battlefield until we stop being useful, then get killed?"

Athrun took a measured sip of soda. "The Alliance doesn't view its Extended the way it views even its regular soldiers," he said. "To them, you guys aren't much more than parts of the mobile suits they give you."

Sting's eyes darkened. "Neo would've done it," he muttered. "If he had judged us as impediments to Lord Djibril or his little 'revenge on the Coordinators' plan, he would've killed us without a second thought. He tried to kill Stella more than once."

"But Stella had already deserted," Auel said. "I meant before that..."

"He would've done it anyway," Sting answered. He glanced up at Athrun. "I guess it's not something you could understand if you're not an Extended."

"It is," Athrun said darkly, as the memories returned of his father, standing above him with handgun in hand, demanding to know the whereabouts of the Justice and Freedom, after already putting one bloody hole in his son's shoulder and threatening to do it again. "My father would have killed me if he'd had the chance."

"Your father?" Sting echoed. "Why?"

"I was in ZAFT, and my father was the chairman of the National Defense Council," Athrun explained. "Eventually he became Chairman of the PLANT Supreme Council. He sent me to track down the Freedom, using the Freedom's sister unit, the Justice. I decided that I couldn't arbitrarily kill people on the battlefield just because he told me to, but I tried to go back and reason with him anyway. He was beyond reason. He shot me." He glanced back at Sting and Auel. "So I can understand how you feel."

"Harsh," Auel said.

"On the other hand," Athrun went on, "since we all know how it feels to be shot at because someone doesn't find you useful anymore..." He glanced back at the two Extended. "Then we should have no problems in the next battle."

"Newtypes can transcend violence and bloodshed; they can transcend war," the silken voice of Gilbert Dullindal said. "We cannot bring back those already dead, but we owe it to ourselves, and to our children, and to the children yet unborn, to strive towards this ideal."

The voice mocked her. It reached her ears from the void, an empty plane of suffering and darkness. Was that what it meant to be a Newtype? To suffer, and know only suffering, buttressed by the bitter sting of failure to use those powers that could be at once so formidable and so helpless?

Emily stared forward emptily, even though there was nothing to stare at. The voice of the Chairman of the PLANTs still rang in her ears mocking her with higher ideals and transcending human suffering and power and protection and understanding. The abilities of a Newtype had given her only power and what good was that power if it was useless to protect people? She was supposed to see the future, but the future had eluded her. Was it her fault, for not seeing it?

"I guess our little friendship caused some problems after all," another voice added. "I'm sorry." Emily looked around, and felt hands on her own, as Kyali Sekar's voice drowned out the platitudes of Gilbert Dullindal.

"I-I couldn't save you..." Emily started, her eyes welling up with tears again.

"Oh, I dunno," Kyali's voice answered. "You were nice to me. And because you were nice to me, it made me do the right thing and rescue you from those guards. I dunno if I would have done that before I met you. So don't feel too bad."

"That's not what I wanted to do," Emily protested. "I wanted to use my power..."

"Well, now I'm finally free," Kyali said. "So thank you, Emily."

Emily looked around, as the image of the man that had wrought this on them both flashed into her mind, and her blood ran hot. "I...I'll kill him, Kyali! I won't let him get away with this! I can still do that! I promise!"

"Don't beat yourself up over it " Kyali started.

"No! can I sleep at night knowing that I let him get away? I'll avenge you! My power can still let me do that!"

Kyali heaved a sigh, and Emily felt the hands leave hers. "Well, if you insist," she said. "I'm glad I met you...but Shinn will protect you now."

"Kyali...!" Emily began.

The empty realm of suffering melted away, and Emily awoke to find herself in the arms of the man Kyali had said would be her protector. She looked up with a blush, finding Shinn Asuka there, watching her carefully.

"Wha Shinn!" Emily exclaimed, scuttling out of his arms. "Were you what are you doing here?"

Shinn straightened out his coat. "You asked me to stay," he said. "You didn't want to be alone."

The memory trickled back, and Emily suddenly found herself grateful that it was too dark to see her face. "S-Sorry..."

"You reminded me a lot of myself," Shinn continued, shaking his head. "But..." He shook his head. "Will you be well enough to fight?"

Emily nodded. "I...I want to fight," she said. "I don't want my power to be useless."

Shinn smiled bitterly. "Then we'll leave the Aegis to you," he said, "and you can do what you have to."

March 7th, CE 77 - Battleship Minerva, Republic of Karelia, Russia

Morning had broken, and the Minerva was abuzz with battle preparations. In the hangar, the mechanics were hard at work on the ship's complement of mobile suits, going so far as to crack open a container of spare mobile suit weapons, including armaments that Emily had never seen before armaments that Shinn immediately began lecturing her about. For now, Shinn had disappeared to work on the Destiny, leaving Emily standing before the silent Twilight, with Viveka at her side.

The Twilight was being fitted with a massive cannon that Shinn had identified as the "Barrus" heavy particle cannon. What Emily took it to be was a giant bazooka that fired a big beam. Shinn had provided a more technical definition, but Emily could already guess that in the middle of battle, all she would care about would be the giant beam it could fire. And that was good enough.

"You sure you don't want any help out there?" Viveka asked.

"I'm sure," Emily answered, staring up determinedly into the silent eyes of her Gundam.

"Athrun will be okay without me to baby-sit him," Viveka continued. "But if you say so..."

"I promised Kyali that I would take that guy down and make him pay," Emily answered. "So I have to fight him."

"I know, but he was good enough to capture you the first time and start this whole mess."

"He won't."

Viveka said no more, looking back up at the Twilight. Emily crossed her arms, trying to think of a plan. Her combat footage was still relatively embarrassing and that was against a conflicted pilot who was literally asking to be shot down. If she was going to defeat the Aegis, she would need to be smarter on the battlefield and that meant she'd have to trip up a Phantom Pain pilot.

She sat back to think, but could only remember his haunting words.

Shinn looked up sadly at the dark eyes of the Destiny as he loaded the CIWS guns. Stella was by his side, watching him silently.

"Is Shinn okay...?" she started.

Shinn sighed. "Emily shouldn't forgive me," he said. "After all that's happened to her...I'm no better than that Phantom Pain guy."

"But Shinn's not scary," Stella protested.

"I dragged her into this war and now look what's happened," Shinn went on. "What kind of person am I?"

Stella wrapped her arms lovingly around Shinn. "Shinn is protecting his friends," she said, "like he always does."

Shinn smiled sadly and tried to believe her.

Frustration was not an emotion foreign to the mind of Rau Le Creuset. When one's own body was slowly decaying thanks to the defective cloning process that left his DNA missing forty years' worth of telomeres, frustration was an understatement to describe the feeling of helplessness. And when one's own mortal coil was rotting away, it was hard to get irritated by much else.

As such, Rau Le Creuset could not properly describe himself as frustrated by the almost entirely blank file before him but he was certainly annoyed. It was his custom, when plying the databases of the world's knowledge, to accumulate those facts and figures in the form of notes in a blank word processor file and right now, with hours' worth of research on the person of Lorelei von Oldendorf, that file was looking as blank now as when he had first started it.

The picture was sparse, but it was a start. Lorelei von Oldendorf, Rau concluded, had spent her unfortunately short life in poor health. Married off to Gerhardt while still young, despite her illness she had two children. And that struck Rau as odd even in a Cosmic Era where medical science had all but eradicated the notion of disease from the face of the planet, it was strange for someone with health so poor to be bearing children. Pregnancy remained stressful and, as Rau noticed from his notes on sisters Viveka and Emily, the two had been born four years apart. Unless Emily was an unintended child, it meant they had been forced to wait four years for Lorelei to be healthy enough to carry a child again. And Lorelei had died when Emily was seven years old.

Rau sat back in his chair, thinking. Emily was the child who exhibited the stunning powers of a Newtype although an impressive pilot in her own right, Viveka was of ordinary Natural stock. She had been born first, the Newtype girl second what did that mean? Surely it meant something. Rau Le Creuset would dismiss nothing until it had proven itself to lead nowhere possibly useful.

Emily was the second-born to a woman in no physical condition to be bearing children; Emily was the Newtype; Emily was the one to be shipped off to Lord Djibril...surely this was all connected somehow. But how was the question.

Rau smiled as he felt a spike of anger from somewhere on the ship. Emily was angry. Emily would join the attack on the enemy land-ship, and destroy the Aegis Gundam or die trying. And that, Rau supposed, was where he would see her true abilities.

And nothing was more fun than getting to the truth.

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

"Receiving a transmission, sir," the comm officer reported. Tupolev and Harris looked up from a sprawling digital map of northwestern Russia, and saluted as the grizzled face of Captain Ivan Danilov.

"Colonel Meyers," Danilov said, returning their salutes. "I hear you've been tangoing with the Minerva."

"'Tangoing' would be putting it charitably, Captain," Harris said grimly. "They have cost me numerous pilots, as well as my Extended test subject."

Danilov seemed to flinch at the mention of the Extended, but Harris ignored it. "So I've been told," the Charlemagne's captain answered. "Our repairs are finally complete, and we've just launched from the Vilnius base. We're doing a full burn to reach your location."

Harris glanced at Tupolev, who shook his head somberly. "We're expecting an attack within the next twenty-four hours," Harris said. "We managed to capture one of the Minerva's pilots, but she escaped with the help of my Extended subject. In a subsequent battle, the Extended was killed."

"I've been briefed already," Danilov answered. "Emily von Oldendorf, and the Twilight think a teenage girl with no experience shot down the Sky Samurai." He shook his head. "Approximate ETA is within the next thirty hours. I realize that leaves you vulnerable, but do your best to approach the Baltic borders and get closer into our range, so we can support you."

Harris narrowed his eyes. "Captain, we are soldiers of the Phantom Pain," he said. "We will not run from the Minerva, not least of all because that little girl in the Twilight destroyed our Extended."

Danilov sighed. "At least hold out long enough for us to arrive, then," he said. "The Charlemagne's mission is to destroy the Minerva. If this next battle will be their last, it is only fitting for us to have a role."

"We shall see," Harris said darkly.

Battleship Minerva, Republic of Karelia, Russia

The mobile suit pilots stood arrayed around the mapping console on the bridge, with Meyrin standing in front of them, over an elaborate digital map of the northern coast of Lake Ladoga. Everyone with Newtype powers to sense it could detect the anger and determination rising from Emily, who stood with arms crossed over the display, looking as though she wanted nothing more than to climb into the Twilight and tear the sky in two.

"The enemy land-ship is trying to turn towards the west," Meyrin began. "At the same time, a guerrilla unit in Vilnius indicates that the Charlemagne's repairs are complete and the ship is on its way here to support the enemy land-ship. We didn't fare too well against them in our last showdown, so it would be in our best interest to avoid another such battle." She pointed down at the map, at the blinking icons representing the Minerva and its ground-borne foe. "If we attack now, we can force them off course and push them up against the lake. Once we hit the shore of the lake, they'll have nowhere to go." She glanced up at Rau, Athrun, and Shinn, as though seeking validation, and Shinn nodded almost imperceptibly. "Athrun, Viveka, and Rau will focus on defending the Minerva. Sting, Auel, Shinn, and Stella will attack the land-ship's remaining mobile suits." Meyrin glanced surreptitiously at the remaining pilot. "And Emily will engage the Aegis."

"Just be careful," Viveka warned. "He captured you once already."

Shinn's eyes darkened once again with experience, Meyrin guessed. "Don't let your anger deceive you into doing something stupid," he added.

Meyrin shut the mapping console off, pushing down the rising maternal instinct to protect her crew. One of their own had been stolen and made to suffer. She knew this was the course that Talia would have taken no black-coated murderers of the Phantom Pain would see the sunset today without knowing the wrath of the Minerva.

"We need to attack now in order to force them off course and into the lake," Abbey spoke up. "Captain, we should get going."

"I agree," Meyrin said. "Pilots, prepare to launch. Roxy, shield the bridge and issue Condition Red." She hopped down into the captain's chair as the pilots filed off the bridge. You Phantom Pain barbarians are not torturing any of my crew ever again.

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

"So there they are," Harris muttered, sitting back in the cockpit of his Aegis Gundam as its Phase Shift flashed to life. "Tupolev, what's your judgment on their movement?"

"It looks like they're trying to cut off our route west of Ladoga, and force us up against the lake," Tupolev answered. "I don't see any other way but to turn towards the lake."

Harris nodded soberly. "They probably think we're off balance now that we've lost the Strike," he said. "And the best defense is a good offense."

"This ship avoided major damage from the Minerva last time," Tupolev added. "We can do it again."

"Then I'll lead the mobile suit force out," Harris said. "Above all, do not let the Minerva inflict too much damage. We're still too far from Moscow to be worrying about it."

"Understood." Tupolev's screen went dark, and Harris sat back, easing the Aegis forward across the hangar floor. He glanced over at the Strike Gundam's empty brace what a failure she had been. Unable to follow orders, bested in battle by an untrained teenage girl, openly seemed the only thing Kyali had been good for was providing some of the Bonaparte's crew with a reminder of the pleasures of the flesh.

"I'll have to correct one more mistake of yours, Kyali," Harris growled, as the Aegis came to a halt. "Harris Meyers, Aegis, moving out!"

The Twilight Gundam lurched out of the hangar, "Barrus" cannon in hand, and Emily clenched her gloved fists around the controls as the G-forces slammed into her again. But that would not stop her the Aegis was somewhere out there, and she had promised to make that man pay. If she could not save Kyali, she could at least remove from the world the man who had been heartless enough to make this all happen.

"If you need any help," Shinn started, "then don't hesitate to call one of us "

"I'll be fine," Emily said.

"This is something Emily must do on her own," Rau added, with that sinister smile of his. "It is best to let her take care of the Aegis."

Shinn and Athrun replied only with distasteful glares.

"MS team, we've got the enemy land-ship on visual," Roxy interrupted. "Looks to be about twenty-something mobile suits, plus the Aegis." She paused. "And the land-ship's turning to engage the Minerva."

"Then let's get this operation started," Athrun said. "Shinn, we'll take care of the Minerva the land-ship is all yours."

"Roger," Shinn answered. "Emily "

The Twilight rocketed forward before Shinn could say anything else, and in the cockpit, Emily narrowed her eyes at the approaching Aegis.

I'll make you pay...

The Twilight charged.

To be continued...