Phase 21 - Rules of Engagement

Mobile Suit Gundam SEED TWILIGHT

Note: If you can spot the Twin Peaks reference, you just might be awesome.

Phase 21 - Rules of Engagement

March 9th, CE 77 - Earth Alliance battleship Charlemagne, Volgograd Oblast, Russia

"Marshal," greeted Ivan Danilov with a sharp salute on the bridge of the Charlemagne, "I must say I'm surprised you're here, but nevertheless, welcome aboard the Charlemagne."

Crayt Markav returned Danilov's salute distractedly and glanced out the bridge windows. "There is a loose end here that I wish to confirm," she said, "and is such that I must confirm it for myself, in person. I'm sure you understand."

"Of course," lied Danilov.

"I understand you have been exercising caution in your pursuit of the Minerva," Crayt continued. "That is probably tactically wise, but Lord Djibril has flooded my office with angry messages demanding that you be bolder. Caution does not play well with either Djibril or the public."

"I understand, ma'am," Danilov said, "but neither Djibril nor the public have to actually fight the Minerva "

"That has never stopped politicians from meddling in the affairs of soldiers before," Crayt said, stepping forward and crossing her arms. "I will lead your next attack personally, but the ship is yours until then. The Minerva has some interesting pilots," she smiled, "and I'd like to meet them."

Battleship Minerva, Volgograd Oblast, Russia

"If we don't do something about the Charlemagne," Meyrin warned, sitting back in the Minerva's captain's chair, "then they're going to follow us all the way to Novorossiysk. And if our goal there is to save the Resistance forces there from the Alliance, I don't see how dragging the Charlemagne in with us helps."

On the ReHOME, the Professor sat back, wreathed in cigarette smoke. "So what do you want to do about it? Last time you guys tried to fight them, it didn't go very well for either of you."

"That ship seems less designed for ship-to-ship combat and more as a mobile fortress," Abbey pointed out. "So we'd need a much larger force than what we've got now to assault it."

"I don't want to assault it," Meyrin said. "I want them to go away. So we need to distract them somehow and tie them up, while we slip off to Novorossiysk."

"You'd need an army to do that too," the Professor pointed out.

"Roxy, bring up a list of known Resistance units around Volgograd Oblast," Meyrin instructed. "There's got to be someone here who could slow them down. If it's really necessary, I think we can stop and attack them preemptively."

"There's Colonel Chekhov's brigade," Roxy droned, pausing for a shot of rum. "In Volgograd, the city. Bunch of crazies, though. Says they took in some of the Nokhchiin Guardians after they got all exploded in '76."

"Well, we're getting close to Volgograd," the Professor said, "so if that's what you want to do, you'd better decide quick."

"Then that's where we'll land," Meyrin answered. "We'll take stock and meet with Chekhov," she sighed, "and hope he's not one of those Resistance leaders."

The CGUE leapt out from behind a battered, ruined office complex, brandishing its machinegun the Twilight Gundam whirled around, and Emily squinted as the CGUE pummeled it with bullets, before plowing through the shots and running the gray ZAFT machine through on the Twilight's beam saber. Instinct screamed as she threw the Twilight's beam shield up to defend an instant before a quartet of shells slammed into it, driving the Twilight back through the asphalt.

"Not giving me a break, are you...?" Emily murmured, scanning the streets and finding a ZuOOT charging towards her, smoke curling off the barrels of its overhead cannons. A pair of GINNs wielding machineguns were jogging in next to it, supported from behind by a 105 Dagger. The Twilight charged, ducking around the Dagger's beam blasts and picking it off with a long cannon blast. The ZuOOT fired again the Twilight blocked the shells with its beam shield, lunging down from the ground out of the smoke and ripping the ZuOOT in two with a saber blow, and following up with a pair of fluid strikes to the supporting GINNs.

"Why am I fighting GINNs and stuff...?" she asked idly. "Shouldn't I be fighting Windams?"

"There's only so much the Windam can do," explained the voice of Shinn Asuka. "Against different kinds of mobile suits, you have to be ready for anything."

To punctuate his point, a shimmering yellow beam came streaking out of the heavens the Twilight somersaulted over it, and Emily spotted a Buster Dagger amidst the skyscrapers, leveling off its cannon for another blow. She drew her beam rifle and picked it off with a single shot, before whirling around to duck under a BuCUE's railgun blast and spear it on another rifle shot.

"But," Shinn added, "if you really want to fight Windams..."

The sky lit up with beam fire as a quartet of Slaughter Windams came shrieking out of the sky, beam rifles blazing.

"I was just asking," Emily groaned, taking cover behind her beam shield and firing back. The Windams scattered the Twilight lunged up into the air, activating its beam wings to saw two of them in half. As they exploded, she whirled around to take down the third with a beam blast to the back, and as the fourth came charging towards her, she narrowed her eyes. "It's not this easy for real."

With a crash, she planted her saber into the Windam's cockpit and watched it collapse towards the ground and explode.

"I think that's about it for today," Shinn said with a sigh, as the screens went dark and the Twilight Gundam's cockpit yawned open. "You're getting better at negotiating the urban environment."

Emily emerged onto the gantry with a sigh as the simulation software shut down, glancing tiredly over at Shinn. "I wonder if I'll be able to make a difference..." She shook her head. "I couldn't even save Kyali..."

"Do you want to continue fighting?" Shinn asked, leaning against the rail next to her.

"I have to," Emily answered, glancing around the hangar. "The Minerva is my home now...and I have to protect it."

Shinn's face flickered for a moment in pain. "You don't have to feel that way," he warned, "and you shouldn't feel like all you can do here is fight." His eyes darkened. "I used to think that way, and I wound up not being as powerful as I thought I was."

Emily thought back to Lowe Gear's words, and looked away awkwardly. "How come you care so much about me?"

Shinn looked back at her. "Why shouldn't I?"

"Y'know," Auel Neider began tiredly, slumped on one end of the table in the crew lounge, "most people are a little too concerned with the relative nutritional value of that stuff to be eating it so enthusiastically."

Across the table, with a Styrofoam cup of piping hot instant ramen, Stella looked up blankly with a tangle of soggy noodles hanging from her mouth. "But Stella's hungry..." she started.

"It's either this or these microwavable sandwich pastry things," Sting pointed out with a shrug, staring down at his own aforementioned microwavable sandwich pastry thing. "Since apparently we can't get Athrun to cook for us every day." He glanced at Stella. "Besides, if she can eat this stuff without thinking about how it'll solidify her arteries, more power to her."

Auel sighed as Stella happily slurped up the rest of the noodles and giggled at the errant drops of soup. "They're stopping in Volgograd," he said. "Maybe we can pick some stuff up there? I dunno. What's good in Russian cuisine?"

"Vodka," Sting said. "But you tried that and didn't like it."

"Well excuse me for not having a liver that can process spent nuclear fuel rods."

"Why are we stopping...?" Stella asked, looking up from the soupy remnants of her ramen.

"We're trying to shake that enemy ship that's been following us," Sting said. "Trying, at least."

Stella paused for a moment. "Will we have to fight...?"

"Probably," Auel answered.

Silence reigned as Stella glanced aside. "...Stella hopes Emily's okay..."

Volgograd, Volgograd Oblast, Russia

Colonel Chekhov could only be described as a man in the context of ancient legends that routinely described mythical gods and kings and warriors as having proportions and bodies unheard of by modern science. To all others, he was less of a man and more of a fortress with legs. The towering Colonel Chekhov, swathed in camouflage pants and a dark blue bridge coat, adorned with a scar on his left cheek, looked down neutrally at Meyrin Hawke, Abbey Windsor, Gai Murakumo, and the Professor under the shade of a tent on the outskirts of Volgograd, surrounded by mobile suits and armored vehicles belonging to Chekhov's forces.

And, Meyrin noted, it was hard to deny that she felt very, very intimidated.

"First of all," Meyrin began, pushing aside the intimidation, "thank you for meeting with us on such short notice. I realize it must be difficult to move here undetected."

"The Alliance's presence is minimal in Volgograd," Chekhov explained with a thin smile. "We have been able to amass a considerable military force here." He paused. "I presume you have some connection to the Resistance's leaders, so if you would please enlighten me as to what it is Chiao Xu is up to..."

"He wants to start moving units to Carpentaria to marshal a force for attacking Heaven's Base," explained Gai. "Your unit is undoubtedly on that list."

Chekhov frowned. "That would mean abandoning our fight against the Alliance here."

"Chiao Xu's strategy calls for a decisive strike to destroy the Alliance's government," Gai added.

"What we need right now, though," Meyrin added, "is your help in distracting the Charlemagne. We need to get to Novorossiysk to help the Resistance units there, but if we have the Charlemagne on our tail when we get there, it'll be dangerous. So we need your help to tie them up here."

Chekhov scratched his chin. "Against a unit like that, it will be difficult," he mumbled. "I have 120 mobile suits, thirty-three artillery pieces, twenty-seven helicopters, 163 armored vehicles, and about 4500 infantry. I am unsure what I can do while preserving those numbers for action at Heaven's Base."

"We just need to damage them enough to keep them from following us," Abbey put in.

"But such an attack would surely cause reprisals," Chekhov protested.

The Professor chuckled. "A Resistance leader who doesn't fight for fear of being shot at isn't much of a Resistance leader..."

Chekhov purpled. "My men are Chechens," he growled. "They have fought for generations to be free and will not run away." He looked back at Meyrin. "Very well, captain. We have a deal."

Meyrin held back a sigh of relief. "Thank you, colonel," she said, casting a glance at the Professor. "And I'm sure your men will not disappoint."

Earth Alliance battleship Charlemagne, Volgograd Oblast, Russia

The noise mattered not to Crayt Markav, watching impassively from the bridge as the Charlemagne eased into the docks in Volgograd's sprawling river port. The ship shuddered as it fell into place, and Crayt cast her forbidding eyes over the grim tableau of the city of Volgograd.

She was out there. Something would have to be done about that. It had been a mistake, a sin, for that child to have even been conceived but there was no going back now. The only way to end this problem was while it was still small while she could still be killed.

It is a special kind of misfortune, she thought venomously, that you should have been born into such a world and such a life...but the world will not be cleansed until your kind are nothing more than dust. She scowled. And to think that such power lies at the fingertips of Rau Le Creuset... She was unsure of just how much Rau knew of the font of wrath lying in his reach, but she had no doubt that he was, at the very least, on the scent and sooner or later he would realize just what power Project Evolution had conferred upon that pathetic little girl.

Crayt glanced over her shoulder, finding Captain Danilov approaching. "Captain," she said quietly as Danilov saluted, "do you remember Gilbert Dullindal's speech about Newtypes?"

"Yes ma'am," he answered dutifully. "It was right before Solomon's Sword."

Crayt hid her scowl. "What if I told you that Gilbert Dullindal was not the first person to notice people with such powers but that research on the beings now known as Newtypes has been going on for almost twenty years?" She glanced back at Danilov. "Would you believe me?"

"I-I would have no reason not to," Danilov started.

"Ignore that I am your commander," Crayt added. "If I were just a person on the street, would you believe such a claim?"

Danilov paused uncomfortably. "I would be hard-pressed, ma'am."

Crayt looked back out towards Volgograd. "Then imagine, if you will, captain, a child born in the year CE 61." She paused, glancing again at Danilov. "A tumultuous time, if you may recall. The nations of Earth were in the middle of an arms race, as the PLANTs grew restive and violent. The world was clearly edging towards war, but it was also clearly in no mood to wage one. All eyes were turned towards the future." Another pause. "Such would be a fine time to establish a clandestine weapons program.

"Now, imagine this child exhibiting strange powers," Crayt continued. "The reflexes of a Coordinator but the genetic composition of a Natural. An uncanny ability to, so it seems, see the future. Mankind has forever strived to have that power, the power of creatures that today we call Newtypes. Why, it would not be unreasonable to assume that the military would find this child, and recognize the potential that lay in those powers." She smiled. "Such a person would make a fine soldier, no?

"And so, Captain Danilov," Crayt went on, "you can surely imagine a child trained since infancy to be a living weapon, honed and disciplined into a soldier like no other, and then hidden in society, with its training and memories submerged into its subconscious, to be reawakened the day its political and military masters decide to unleash their ultimate weapon on their unsuspecting adversaries. Squirreled away where none will find it, with training and abilities hidden in a body that none would suspect..." Her thin smile flashed feral. "Tell me, captain, if you were looking for such a child...would you think to check the household staff of Lord Djibril?"

Danilov blinked in disbelief. "M-Marshal," he started, "I'm sure you're aware of the intelligence on the Minerva's new "

"I am aware, captain," Crayt said, smiling venomously. "I am aware of everything."

" don't mean to suggest that...that girl is "

Crayt's smile widened just a touch. "Have you wondered how an amateur pilot like her could not only survive in battle against our best, but defeat such seasoned pilots as Kenta Shoyou and Harris Meyers?" She chuckled softly to herself. "Wonder no more, Captain Danilov, and feel no shame for you are fighting the fruits of Project Evolution."

"M-Marshal " Danilov began.

"Established in CE 61, with the goal of cultivating a Newtype super-soldier to counter both the PLANTs and the Eurasian Federation's Earthbound rivals," Crayt went on, her grin turning wicked, "with training and powers submerged in her mind, to more effectively hide her and incubate her until her awakening as the conquering sword of our federation." She turned to look at Danilov. "That is why I am here, captain. To verify your foe and to enlighten you, for after all, Project Evolution was a secret of the highest order in the Eurasian Federation." She turned again, back towards Volgograd. "But she is unstable. Her training and memories cannot assimilate into her mind, with her brain chemistry working as it is now. She was supposed to be in incubation for two more years. She was awakened too soon. Such is the price that she must pay when her very existence is a sin."

Danilov looked out in disbelief at Volgograd as the pieces came together.

"But," Crayt continued, grinning darkly as she stepped closer to the window, "I can feel you out there, Unit Zero-One."

Danilov stared brokenly at Crayt. "You mean, marshal," he said haltingly, "that the Eurasian Federation trained that girl from birth to be a Newtype super soldier, but she escaped their influence somehow and joined the Resistance?"

Crayt only laughed. "My, how that plan has gone awry," she said with a smile. "Have you forgotten the words of the good book?" She looked back out across the city. "'Vengeance is mine; I will repay, sayeth the Lord.'"

Battleship Minerva, Volgograd

"Well, there's the Charlemagne," Burt said uneasily, as the huge heat signature of the Alliance's massive warship pulsed in the Volgograd dock. "They appear to have docked, but I can't tell what they're up to over there...although I can only imagine it has something to do with blowing us up."

Meyrin, the Professor, and the mountainous Colonel Chekhov shared a grim glance. "That ship is extremely powerful," Chekhov warned, "and it has brought some of the Phantom Pain's best pilots to Volgograd. My men are experienced and capable, but they cut their teeth on the Alliance's regular forces." He paused, glancing around the bridge. "Although fighting alongside the Minerva may bring an inestimable morale boost..."

"We'll join you in whatever attack we make," Meyrin assured him. "But if the Alliance knows as little of your presence here as you say, then you have the advantage of surprise, and can sneak in close to the ship and do a lot of damage."

"Besides, as long as the mobile suits do the fighting, the Charlemagne isn't so scary," the Professor added.

Chekhov studied the scene for a moment. "My men can attack during the night," he said. "We do not wish to draw reprisals on Volgograd, but we have sufficient forces to attack the port and be upon them before they know what's hitting them." He glanced at Meyrin. "Provided the Minerva's Gundams are in support."

"They wouldn't have it any other way," answered Meyrin.

"You've outlived your usefulness, Kyali!"

What a sentence. It ran through Emily's mind as she curled up in her bed on the Minerva, trying and failing to sleep, as Abes had suggested she do. She saw instead Kyali's damaged Strike Gundam, held in the Twilight's strong arms and cut down by the Aegis. How could a person be so cruel?

But the cruelty of her fate was matched only by the cruelty of her life of those who had turned her into an Extended in the first place. She thought back to their first meeting, in the snow in Murmansk where Kyali had been merely a strange but otherwise innocent girl, playing in the snow. The rest of the memories were too painful of angry mobile suit duels, of torture and rescue, of the pain of failure.

She thought back to what Lowe Gear had said that Shinn had been at this point before, faced with the painful paradox that he was so powerful, and yet his power could not save those he wanted to protect. And that raised an interesting point what good were these powers if they could not save Kyali?

Emily's mind wandered back to that miserable night spent in this same bed, writhing in agony as she felt Kyali's agony a hundredfold, over the horizon and she tried to wonder who could be so cruel.

"I know I've said it before," Auel said as he sipped a mug of piping coffee, "but when this war's over, you and I are opening a restaurant."

Across the table, Athrun Zala looked down sheepishly at his own coffee. "I'll think about it."

Nearby, Sting and Viveka glanced at each other. "Well, one thing's for sure," Sting said, taking a sip of his own. "Damn good coffee. Is cooking part of the whole 'Coordinator enhancement' thing?"

Athrun smiled sadly, as old memories surfaced. "No," he said. "An old friend taught me everything he knew about coffee. I'll never be as good at it as he was, but at least his legacy lives on."

Auel snorted in amusement. "Living at Heliopolis must put all kinds of crazy complexes in your head. Do you compulsively clean too?"

"Hey, watch it," Athrun answered with a smirk, "or you'll never see that chicken parmesan you liked so much again."

Auel shut up, while Sting snickered and took another sip of coffee. Viveka glanced between them, wondering why Athrun was so closed around her.

Earth Alliance battleship Charlemagne, Volgograd

By no normal measure was the man before her a spy indeed, dressed simply in an understated blue coat, a white shirt, and blue jeans, with a square and nondescript face, he was as simple and unassuming as simple and unassuming came. But that was what made him a good spy.

Crayt Markav crossed her arms as he finished his report and glanced over at Captain Danilov. "I had heard bits of chatter about a Resistance force taking shape here," she said. "I would suppose this confirms it." She glanced out grimly at the city. "And as long as we are here, it would be wise to remove this tumor before it can metastasize."

"I agree," Danilov said, "but we should make our stand outside the city. And we still don't know where specifically the enemy forces are "

"Then we will find them," Crayt interrupted. "Deploy your mobile suit force, and open fire on the city."

The bridge went silent as Danilov's restraint was overcome by his disbelief, and at his side, Vera almost let her clipboard slip from her grasp. "M-Marshal," Danilov said, " want us to attack Volgograd?"

"They will have no choice but to come to us," Crayt said, "where we can easily cut them down in the dock." She scowled back at the city. "The people of Volgograd have been harboring Resistance members. They do not fear us so clearly, they need a reminder."

"Marshal, we would kill thousands of people if we fired on the city," Danilov protested.

"Perhaps you did not hear me," Crayt replied, turning to gaze coldly at Danilov. "Those that do not fear our wrath need to be reminded of how much our wrath is to be feared."

Danilov searched for words. "Marshal, I know you are a religious person," he said. "And this city is full of civilians innocent people "

"I am growing weary of this, captain," Crayt cut him off, glowering back. "This is a war in which there are no civilians. And those who would close their eyes and ears to the sights and sounds of the Resistance rather than fight them have denied themselves the kingdom of God." She turned back towards the city. "So kill them all. God will know His own."

Danilov felt his heart break as he turned towards his men. "Ronald," he said brokenly, looking over at the shocked weapons officer, "we...have our orders." He paused to push down the sickness at what he was about to do. " the weapons on Volgograd."

Ronald haltingly complied, and Danilov felt the world spin as he watched the Charlemagne's plethora of guns turn towards the city towards thousands of people, staring death in the face and not knowing it.

"Marshal," he said, "this isn't the only way "

"Fire!" Crayt snapped.

Danilov squeezed his eyes shut as the Charlemagne began to fire.

Inside the cockpit of his Slaughter Windam, with a squad of Jet Windams behind it, Grey Saiba looked on in horror as the Charlemagne's triple-barreled Gottfrieds leveled an apartment complex and undoubtedly snuffed out hundreds of lives. He watched and felt as though he was not in control of his own body, as he saw his Windams moving forward, with Merau's squad nearby, stomping through the flaming ruins of the port and into the city where teams of Windams were already toppling buildings and blasting apart streets and murdering people.

Murder. That's what it was. Murder.

"Why...why are we doing this?" Grey asked, his voice trembling, his quaking eyes glancing over at Merau on the side screen. She looked back at him grimly.

"This is how the Phantom Pain fights its battles," she answered. "Nobody will be safe."

"But why...?" Grey trailed off, looking out over the city, as a Windam smashed a building with its shield. "Why do we need to kill civilians to fight the Resistance?!"

"The Resistance moves among the people," Merau answered. She looked around, and Grey could tell that she was trying to hold back her own disbelief that she did not really believe what she was saying. "But...we have our orders from the marshal herself."

Grey looked out at the city, in flames. "I thought this was how the Resistance fought..."

Merau closed her eyes. "It's how humans fight."

The ground quaked as a building came crashing down with a plume of dust and smoke, and inside the Blu Duel, Mudie Holcroft blinked as she caught motion in her peripheral vision. She turned, finding people flooding out of an adjacent building in terror, as the Verde Buster and Strike Noir moved on up ahead. A beam blast came streaking out of nowhere into the crowd, and a hundred people vanished in a plume of fire.

Mudie blinked again, as a Dark Windam stomped closer, beam rifle raised. "Lieutenant," the Windam's pilot said, "why are you stopped? Is there a problem?"

"Negative," Mudie said, shutting the screen off and turning towards Sven and Shams. "What's the point of all this...?"

The Blu Duel took up its position next to the Verde Buster as Sven led his team through the city. "The Minerva will undoubtedly move to stop this attack," Sven said, "so we will intercept the mobile suits they launch, and handle the Destiny."

"I'm sure they won't be happy to see us," Shams answered. "Is it just me or does this all seem like it'll just piss 'em off more?"

"These are our orders," Sven said shortly.

"Yeah, but what do you think of our orders?"

Sven narrowed his eyes at Shams. "It is not our job to judge our orders," he said. "It's our job to carry them out."

Mudie frowned as she caught the instantaneous flicker in Sven's eyes, and looked around at the destruction.

Battleship Minerva

"There was no provocation on our part!" Chekhov insisted, as the Minerva's bridge sank down into its darkened battle status and Meyrin bit back a curse. "None of my units were even near the port when they started firing! But we need to do something here, or else all of Volgograd will be razed!"

"I know," Meyrin answered. "To think they purposely targeted civilians to draw us out..."

"This must be a trap," Abbey put in. "They're targeting civilians to draw us into battle. They must have some kind of plan. This has to be a trap."

"Then we have no choice but to spring it," Meyrin said darkly. "Trap or no trap, I'm not about to let the Phantom Pain slaughter people. Launch the mobile suits! Professor, are you going to send your mobile suits out?"

On the ReHOME, the Professor sat back in her chair. "They're really pulling out the stops," she said, arching an eyebrow. "I'm sure the enemy's MS are after us. Gai suggests keeping the ReHOME's mobile suits back here while the Minerva's MS go out into the city. Canard's machine has an Armure Lumiere shield, so he'd be good on defense. Sound good?"

"It will do," Meyrin said. "Attention Minerva squadron, your job is to get out there and stop the Charlemagne. Sink that ship if you have to," she narrowed her eyes, "but it's not getting away with this!"

The Twilight Gundam landed with a crash next to the Minerva's other Gundams, all arrayed before the Minerva and the ReHOME, weapons in hand. Emily glanced towards Volgograd, burning and melting under the guns of the Phantom Pain.

"Those bastards," Sting snarled, as the ReHOME's Blue Frame Second L launched and landed in front of the yellow Junk Guild ship. "This is unforgivable."

Gai's grim face appeared on the screen. "Athrun, Shinn, we'll entrust the forward combat to you. We'll be back here to protect the ships." He paused as Canard Pars' Dreadnought H landed heavily nearby. "Canard has a lightwave shield that will be quite useful in defending the ships."

"I'm sure the Minerva is their ultimate objective," Canard added soberly, "so we'll have plenty of action to ourselves."

"Get going, you guys!" Lowe interrupted, as the Red Frame drew its sword anxiously. "Before they do anymore damage! Jeez!"

The Infinite Justice turned towards the rest of the Minerva's machines. "You heard him," Athrun said. The Gundams took off.

"I can sense her," Shinn added, his eyes flashing angrily. "It's Markav. The commander of the Phantom Pain."

"Crayt Markav?" Auel echoed. "What the hell is she doing out here?"

"Ordering a massacre, it looks like," Sting snarled. "Even for them, this is low."

"It's a truly evil person who would do this," Athrun agreed.

Rau smirked. "Good and evil are subjective," he said.

"Shut up, Rau," Shinn snapped. "Chekhov reports that his troops are engaging the Phantom Pain. So let's go!"

Emily shook her head, trying to shut out the suffering, and took off.

Earth Alliance battleship Charlemagne

Danilov tried not to imagine he could hear the screams of the dying and soon to die as he watched Volgograd burn before his eyes. Crayt Markav stood silhouetted against the flaming city, arms crossed, with a wild grin on her face. Danilov blankly wondered how she could be so happy when she was watching such horror unfold before her.

"Was this really necessary, marshal?" he asked quietly. Crayt glanced over at him with a smirk.

"The Resistance has such dashing figures as Chiao Xu and Shinn Asuka," she answered. "We cannot compete with their charisma, and so we lose the public's support, because the people are fickle and will throw their hearts to whoever sets them aflutter." She looked back at Volgograd. "But we have far more firepower, and even if the wings of light captivate the public's imagination, they will fear us when we train our guns on them. And I intend to make them fear once more."

Danilov paused, choosing his words. "Marshal, that would...that would run the risk of angering people and inciting them to fight us," he started.

Crayt merely laughed. "Oh, you see, captain, that is a common mistake." She gestured to the burning city. "If you do not apply enough force, then yes, the people will believe that you can be overcome, and your slings and arrows will only anger them. But if you apply enough force, destroy enough territory, kill enough people...then all will understand the lengths to which you will go to crush dissent, and none but the most foolish will risk your wrath." She turned. "Now then, I have business to attend to in this city. We have caused enough damage to make the beginnings of our statement the battle will doubtless cause more, and I'm sure we'll have further occasions as well. I am launching in the Euclid."

"...yes ma'am," Danilov said quietly.

Crayt swept off the bridge, leaving the broken Danilov behind.

The Strike Noir tramped forward, beam pistols in hand, amidst the smoke and fire and rubble of Volgograd, with two squads of Dark Windams behind it. Staggered reports were coming in of the Resistance forces in the city beginning to fight back against the Phantom Pain attackers so much the better, as their objective had been to lure this force out.

And yet, as Sven Cal Bayan cast his eyes around the city, he had to suppress the feeling of sickness at what was happening.

The Noir's sensors screamed Sven vaulted into the air as a beam blast tore into the ground beneath him, landing with a crash behind the crater. He looked down the street

Standing in the intersection, flanked by its comrades, beam rifle extended, stood the Destiny Gundam.

To be continued...