Phase 30 - Sword of the Faith

Mobile Suit Gundam SEED TWILIGHT

Note: You know what would be really cool? If I had found a bunch of information about SEED FRAME ASTRAYS out there on the seething mass of the Internet. Unfortunately, I didn't, so I'm gonna have to take a stab in the dark at Xist Elwes' personality, based purely off the impression I've gathered of him from his character art on the official site. But hey, a stab in the dark has a slight chance of being accurate, right? Right?

Also, I seem to have had a fan of my previous fanfics in Poland. So, if you're still there, hi Polish reader; and, sorry I don't know your language.

Phase 30 - Sword of the Faith

March 16th, CE 77 - Battleship Minerva, Fortress Akre, Akre District, Kurdistan

Like a thousand times before in a thousand ports across the world, a great cloud of dust rose up as the mighty Minerva climbed into the air. The storied red wings spread under the hull, and with a roar from its engines, the winged warship began to move. Down below, with its own attendant cloak of dust and sand, the Compton-class land battleship Saladin, painted in mottled desert camouflage, rumbled forward as the two vessels arced towards the blistering desert. It only promised to grow hotter as the Minerva pushed south. And so the wise stayed indoors, which was exactly why Emily was standing on the Minerva's interior observation deck, staring at the empty desert landscape.

The interior observation deck was a popular site for the crew, but today Emily noted that the only other person there was Shinn Asuka. And that immediately brought an understated blush to her face dashing, brilliant Shinn, the hero of the Resistance, the man who was best at protecting her, even as she fumbled across the battlefield and discovered what seemed to be a hidden second self just beneath the surface. It was like he had been there before a comforting thought, since that meant she was not alone.

"Gerhardt von Oldendorf," Shinn started, blinking as he noticed Emily flinch at the sound of his name. "I don't think I need special powers to say that there must be something up with you two."

Emily stared out the window for a second. "I guess you would have issues with your father too if he sold you to a top-secret weapons program."

Shinn answered with a shrug. "The worst thing my dad ever did was take away my video games for a month." A pause. "I was hoping you could shed some light on him for me, but I guess you don't have too many memories of him?"

"Not too many that I'd like to remember," Emily murmured. Shinn nodded, leaning heavily against the railing.

"Viveka said that you had a habit of disappearing for a weekend or two because of illness," Shinn continued. "Do you remember that?"

Of course she did whole weeks stood empty in the calendar of her past, devoid of memories. "They told me I was sick," she said quietly, "and I couldn't remember otherwise."

She glanced over at Shinn, seeing him leaning back in thought, staring pensively at the ceiling. Perhaps he understood what she was going through of course he understood. But the velvety aura of deep thought surrounded him like a fog, veiling his emotions and leaving only silhouettes behind. Perhaps that was something all Newtypes who knew themselves and their powers well enough did and made her wonder if she was an open book to everyone else with eyes to read.

"Well," Shinn went on, "your father is on the moon, last I heard. So hopefully you won't have to see him again."

Emily turned that thought over in her mind. The shadowy specter of Gerhardt von Oldendorf could haunt her dreams, but she could force herself to take solace in Shinn's words. Gerhardt was a bureaucrat what would he have to do on a battlefield?

Of course he'll find you, the pessimist in her spoke up. You're his angel of death.

"I have a nickname now," she murmured. Shinn glanced over at her inquiringly. "The Angel of Death."

Shinn blinked again, taken aback. "The Angel of Death?" he echoed. "Well, that's ironic..."

Emily sighed. "It's not something I can get away from, is it?"

The traitor Asuka shrugged again. "I haven't."

She returned her thoughts to her hawk-nosed father. His angel of death? Emily thought back to her new moniker, and found an answer to that pessimist's voice.

"Well then," she began, "if that's the case, then I won't be his angel of death. I'll be the Angel of Death." She glanced at Shinn again.

"Works for me," he answered with a shrug.

"For the last time," Yolant said with a tired sigh, "I'm not writing a script to make the Savior play the Transformers theme song when it transforms."

Leaning against the gantry railing in front of the slumbering Savior Gundam, Viveka could only heave a sigh of her own and glance over at Athrun, arms crossed next to her. "You guys have no sense of humor about these things. I know Auel is programming the Abyss to give other mobile suits the finger..."

"And he'll use it every chance he gets," Athrun added. "Will we be able to get any upgrades at Carpentaria?"

Yolant leaned back himself against the rail, rubbing his temple wearily. "I hope so," he answered. "Abes drew up some plans, and I guess there's a guy at Carpentaria who's got some new toys for us too." He glanced over at the two mismatched Gundam pilots. "Doctor Freeman or something like that."

"Oh, the guy who killed those Alliance soldiers with the crowbar," Athrun said with a nod. "I remember him."

"Yeah, well, getting to Carpentaria will be the fun part," Yolant sighed. "The Charlemagne disappeared off Burt's scopes not too long ago. That isn't a good sign."

"We'll have to handle them at some point," Athrun pointed out. "If we can do it with the Saladin around, maybe we'll stand a better chance. They can always overwhelm us with sheer numbers."

"We'll have to take care of the upgrades before your little jaunt to Lodonia, anyway," Yolant continued. "Breaking through those defenses wouldn't be easy by any stretch of the imagination."

Viveka cast a dubious glance towards Athrun. "Are you sure we'll find something about Emily's past with the Eurasians there?"

Athrun's eyes darkened pensively. "We'll find something there," he answered.

Compton-class land battleship Saladin, al-Anbar Province, Iraq

The war room of the Saladin was dimly lit, adorned only with a battle-torn red, white, and green flag of Kurdistan on the wall facing the door. Inside the main chair, Karda al-Imad sat back with a sigh, Rajan al-Raqeeb standing before him.

"Your objections are noted, captain," Karda said, rubbing his beard thoughtfully, "but we are not going to drag the Minerva into a goose chase against the Husam al-Din. We set out to escort them to the Shatt al-Arab. If we have to fight Nasir along the way, we will; but if we don't, we won't."

Rajan stiffened almost imperceptibly. "You know what those bastards will do, commander," he protested. "You know they cannot be trusted. They attacked Kirkuk only two months ago!"

"We are not here to drag the Minerva into a local feud," Karda countered. "They were chased from the field by one of those in Novorossiysk and Chiao Xu will cut off our supply line if we were to force the Minerva to destroy a fellow unit of the Resistance."

Rajan opened his mouth to speak, but thought better of it. "Very well, sir. But I still believe Nasir will attack us along the way. He and his people are not above such barbarity."

Karda silently received his salute and watched him leave, mulling over his words.

Lesseps-class land battleship al-Muntazar, Ramadi, al-Anbar Province, Iraq

So many options, and none of them were good.

Karim al-Nasir sat on the bridge of the al-Muntazar as it glided forward over the sands of the mighty Syrian Desert. The threats of the Phantom Pain's shadowy assassin still rang loud in his ears to see all of his people burned away in nuclear fire, to see the some of the greatest tombs and shrines of Islam swept off the map...and yet to avoid such a fate, he had no choice but to do the bidding of infidels.

"Sir," one of his officers said quietly at his side, "at the very least, we should evacuate the families in Baghdad. If the infidel does not keep her promise, our people..."

"I agree, Mahmoud," Nasir said with a nod. "We shall send them to the safe house in Al Habariyah."

"But the danger remains," another officer protested. "We are dealing with Misa Tsunomi. She is a black-hearted witch who will slaughter our children. What shall we do?"

And unfortunately, Nasir knew, he had a point as well. Tsunomi would hunt down and slaughter the caravan in the desert, of that he had no doubt; and if she discovered that the Baghdad slums under his militia's protection had been evacuated, she would likely turn her warheads on the tombs and shrines and the safe house.

"At either road's end, we face death," Nasir said, sitting back somberly. "The Prophet would advise us to protect the ummah at all costs, even if we must throw ourselves upon our swords in battle."

The officers nodded gravely.

"We will attack the Minerva and the Kurds, as instructed," Nasir concluded, "and God willing, protect our people."

"Yes sir!" the officers cried.

Nasir sat back and prayed that he was right.

Earth Alliance Hannibal-class land battleship Damascus, al-Anbar Province, Iraq

"Okay, Xist, what the hell are you doing?"

The question hung in the air of the Damascus' crew lounge for a moment, as Xist Elwes glanced up at the young woman in the desert-camouflaged Alliance uniform, standing over him with coffee in hand.

"Oh, hi Cherie," he said, gesturing down at the laptop on the table in front of him. "Just doing a little 'opposition research,' you might say."

Cherie bent down to peer at the screen, raking her brunette ponytail out of the way. "You have, like, twelve articles open on that 'Angel of Death' chick," she deadpanned.

"Yeah. Ooh, this one has pictures!" Xist eagerly clicked on one of them, bringing up the Phantom Pain file photo of a depressed-looking orange-haired girl with bright and fearful green eyes. "Hey, she's kinda cute..."

"That's sick, Xist," Cherie said. "She can't possibly be legal."

"N-Not like that!" sputtered Xist. "Like, in the way your little sister is cute! Jeez, what, you think I'm some kind of pervert?" He sat back and chose another article. "Besides, we're gonna have to fight her anyway when we go up against the Minerva, so we might as well know who it is we're dealing with. And Intel hasn't really told us much."

Cherie sighed heavily, sitting down next to him. "And you'd think they would, since there was that Phantom Pain unit that attacked them at Akre," she added, "but I guess they don't want to share."

"Yeah, they're kinda dicks over there," Xist agreed. "Oh hey, more pictures!"

Heaven's Base, Iceland

Lord Djibril was an excellent judge of character. It was not that he was particularly interested in the a person's details of character rather, that his station in life demanded that he be able to pick apart someone's person and judge how they could be used, how they could be dangerous, what they were after, what they feared.

Of course, given his line of work, this put him in contact with people who were truly unsavory. It was not that they were outwardly so disgusting indeed, to a man, they worked hard to cultivate an image of refinement and high culture. Instead, it was under the glossy, finely-polished surface that the ugliness was waiting.

That, it appeared, was the case with Prime Minister Bryan Manuel of the South African Union.

Outwardly, he was refined, dapper, elegant, and intelligent but inwardly, he was a fairly repulsive relic of the past. Clearly he had taken the politics of Blue Cosmos a little too far, applying Djibril's contempt for Coordinators as flaunting the natural order to race relations. And it was almost stomach-turning to listen to him expound on his theory that the Africans who inhabited the overwhelming majority of his country were genetically predisposed to their impoverished and miserable fate.

Rubbish, of course, and all of it, because those at the bottom of the social ladder were placed there for their own failures. But Lord Djibril was not here to discuss politics and philosophy and race with this stunted little homunculus he had more pressing concerns.

"Prime Minister Manuel," Djibril said warily, reclining back in his office chair. "Before we finish our business here, I have a request to make of you, as the President of the Earth Alliance."

Manuel seemed to perk up in his seat. "Of course."

Djibril tapped a side button on the desk, and his office's main screen flickered to life with a sprawling map of the Persian Gulf. "Field Marshal Markav is organizing an assault on the Minerva in the Strait of Hormuz. Over two hundred mobile suits will be involved. However, we have taken our chances with the Minerva before, and between eight mobile suits, two hundred works out only to twenty-five each." He gave a wicked smile. "And I'm sure you understand that we would like to be as overwhelming as possible."

"Shall you be requiring a fleet from the South African Union, then?" asked Manuel.

"The 6th Fleet shall be sufficient," Djibril said airily. "Twenty ships and 160 mobile suits should prove overwhelming enough." He fixed Manuel with a dubious gaze. "Provided the 6th Fleet meets expectations."

"L-Lord Djibril," Manuel started, "the 18th Fleet was ill-prepared in that battle at Socotra, and that was back in CE 73, when ZAFT was "

"Just dispatch that fleet, Mr. Prime Minister," Djibril interrupted, "and we can finally rid ourselves of the Minerva."

Battleship Minerva, Al-Anbar Province, Iraq

Meyrin had never realized it before, but with miles and miles of sand dunes stretched before her, she finally understood the desert was really freaking boring.

It was these moments, when the Minerva was plowing forward through empty landscape and there was no fighting to be done and no orders to give, when only the rumble of the Minerva's mighty engines could be heard, that Meyrin hated most because these were the moments of introspection. These were the moments she could look up at the darkened auxiliary screen and see in it her dimmed reflection, swathed in the captain's coat and topped with Talia's white peaked cap. Surrounded by Talia's crew, sitting in Talia's chair, these were the moments when she had to face that fact.

But what kind of captain doubted herself? Talia Gladys had been but the first captain of the Minerva, and with every port the storied vessel dropped anchor in, the news would spread that a nineteen-year-old girl with pretty blue eyes was in command of the warship that made soldiers fall to their knees and pray. Surely her accomplishments on the battlefield could attest to her stewardship of this vessel and that which it symbolized after all, it was under her hand that the Minerva had grown so fearsome that the Alliance sank untold sums of treasure and toil into the construction of that behemoth Charlemagne. A single unit that could spur the forging of a weapon that mighty was formidable indeed.

Of course, that was all the work of the Destiny Gundam. To be sure, the other pilots had their own accolades if the memories of that uncomfortably intimate stop in Havana were any indication, Athrun had his fair share of fans with remarkably few inhibitions but it was undeniably the glittering Wings of Light that made the Minerva so fearsome. So Meyrin found herself back where she started, with the dimmed reflection of the little girl playing captain looking down on her.

Well, that could be countered easily enough. Meyrin Hawke did not need to hear the news channels concocting new nicknames and breathlessly relating her exploits to their viewers. Once this war was done, the captain's coat and hat would return to the closet from whence they came, and Meyrin Hawke would let this chair lie empty, as it should have when its first captain died.

But that was later, and not yet. Right now, there were duties to be fulfilled, and the dim reflection of the little girl playing captain would just have to wait.

"That thing isn't scary," said Stella Loussier, crossing her arms and staring crossly at the screen before her.

Next to her, Athrun and Viveka could only glance dubiously at each other. The screen of the Minerva's computer room was flickering with images of a demonstration video the Earth Alliance Army had released to the press of its formidable new Ground Windam, undergoing trials in the punishing Kalahari Desert of Africa. Of course, an Alliance propaganda video would naturally overestimate a given unit's capabilities, and there was little reason to take the specs the Alliance had released alongside this video at face value, but video was much more difficult to fake. Against a spread of targets that tried to simulate actual combat conditions, the three orange-painted Ground Windam units performed well. They skated along the burning sands like ZAFT's DOM Trooper, expertly whirling around their slower foes and shredding them to pieces.

Not that Stella found that scary, of course.

"I notice they didn't put it up against a BuCUE or something," Viveka pointed out. "But hell, we can all fly, what do we care?"

"If they can show that thing to the press, they must be already in the process of deploying it," Athrun answered. "Which means we might have to deal with it on the way to Carpentaria."

"Stella could beat that thing," asserted Stella. "Stella's not scared."

"You're never scared," Viveka sighed, leaning wearily against the table.

Stella nodded enthusiastically. "'cuz Shinn is always here," she added. "Stella doesn't have to be scared...'cuz Shinn will protect her."

At that, Viveka could only offer a cheeky smirk. "Must be nice," she chuckled, pausing to elbow Athrun in the ribs. "How come you can't be more swashbuckling and sexy, hero-boy?"

"For starters, I'm not crazy," came Athrun's seamless reply. "Now let's get back to work."

It was becoming very annoying, Rau mused as he sat back comfortably in the chair of his room, to be held at gunpoint by his allies more often than his enemies.

The man holding the gun this time was Shinn Asuka, and the look in his blood-red eyes bespoke far more than just a desire to show off his shiny new Glock 25. And so, with a sigh, Rau loudly closed the Legend's sprawling manual and turned to face the crimson-eyed intruder.

"If you really want to get my attention, Shinn, you don't need to go pointing guns at me," he chuckled. "You might put an eye out or something."

"I prefer having something on hand with which to kill you should you get a little too uppity," shot back Shinn. "I have questions, and I'm willing to bet your life that you have answers."

Rau arched an eyebrow behind his mask so after three years, Shinn had finally learned that the tongue could be as sharp as the sword. "And how, pray tell, would you get those answers from me if my life is the wager?"

"That's the fun part," Shinn answered, no trace of fun evident in his face. "Now let's get to the point, shall we?"

Rau shrugged airily. "And how might I be of assistance, Mr. Asuka?"

The question was hardly out of Shinn's mouth before Rau knew what it was. "What do you know about Emily that the rest of us don't?"

Rau grinned back like a wolf. "Nothing that she doesn't know, I assure you "

Shinn interrupted him with a blow to the head with the pistol's barrel. Rau glared up in annoyance at him, but merely smoothed out his hair and rubbed the pain away. Pesky little brat, that would be bruising soon

"I'm not in the mood for your bullshit," snarled Shinn. "Talk."

Rau merely sighed obviously Shinn would not be stonewalled, and it did appear he could be temporarily defused with some half-truths. "Frankly, Mr. Asuka, your little girlfriend is as much of an enigma to me as she is to you. My sources have little more than what you know of her already that she was some manner of experiment that has obviously gone awry, that her powers earned her special scrutiny and training by the military. If I were to chance some speculation, I would guess that her training regimen was combined with Extended technology to submerge all those soldierly skills and hide her in plain sight as a bureaucrat's daughter." He threw in another shrug. "Not much more than you know, so there was no need to hit me."

"There's always a need to hit you," Shinn fired back. "What if I don't believe you?"

"Well, you are the one with the gun here," Rau said. Technically, of course, Shinn did not know these things that Rau was withholding, but it was nothing that he could not figure out on his own. "And I'm afraid that's all I can do for you, Mr. Asuka."

Rau could see in Shinn's eyes the argument over whether or not to stay and spray the masked man's brains across the wall, but the charitable or foolish angel won and Shinn stalked away, his mind a furious tornado of violent thoughts.

Rau, for his part, simply sat back and smiled. The best battles were the ones won without firing a shot.

Emily von Oldendorf had seen many things that had left her speechless, but the sight before her had stolen her words for all the wrong reasons. Standing tall and proud, with the gantry lowered to accommodate motion, the Abyss Gundam had its arm lifted, with its middle digit raised in a most conspicuous salute.

"Yes!" came Auel's triumphant cry from inside the cockpit. "It works!"

Standing next to Emily on the gantry, Sting could only bury his face in the palm of his hand. "Ah yes, the mighty flipping of the bird. Truly a combat necessity."

"Hey, fuck you, Sting!" Auel shouted, leaping out of the cockpit. "This isn't the fucking Tomb of the Unknown or something! I can have some fun!" He pointed vindictively at Emily. "Emily, you're impressed, right?"

Emily stared back up at the Abyss's outstretched arm for a moment truly a stupendous sight, to see something as imposing as a mobile suit acting so childishly. "It's, um, hard to find words," she offered.

"Ha!" roared Auel, pointing again at Sting. "See?!"

"Yeah, well, it's hard to find words while you're watching an auto accident too," Sting shot back.

"You're just jealous!" fired back Auel. "I bet Emily wants this script! Right?"

"N-Not really," Emily answered, to a crestfallen Auel. "I'd, um, rather not provoke my enemies if I don't have to "

"Now come on!" Auel wailed. "This isn't provoking them! It's stating your superiority in clear and undeniable terms!" He gestured up towards the Abyss's darkened eyes. "I mean, it's one thing to have a Gundam flying towards you with its guns all warmed up and murder in its eyes; but it's another thing entirely to see that Gundam flying towards you and it's giving you the finger! That's, like, sublime! It's how you know that you're truly and totally fucked!"

Emily considered that image for a moment. "I think I'd rather let my reputation do that," she answered.

"Besides, I think we're all a little more concerned with not getting killed in combat than making obscene gestures during combat," Sting added.

"Well that's 'cuz you suck," Auel concluded, crossing his arms defiantly. "Anyways, just you wait. I have way more scripts planned than just this one. Like that pelvic thrust one "

"Oh hell no," Sting groaned. "You are not programming the Abyss to do pelvic thrusts."

"It's my Gundam!" replied Auel.

"Knowing you, you'll start humping fallen MS and that's just wrong," Sting continued. "You freak."

Emily merely sighed as the argument began anew and turned to slip away.

Compton-class land battleship Saladin, al-Anbar Province, Iraq

"If all goes to plan," reported Tekman as Karda stepped onto the Saladin's bridge, "we should reach the Shatt al-Arab in thirty-six hours."

"If all goes to plan," repeated Karda, settling into the captain's chair. "And if we have no unexpected company along the way. The Husam al-Din has reportedly been scurrying around in those slums of theirs. I hope that doesn't mean they're looking for a fight."

Tekman shifted uncomfortably. "Well, if they are," he said, "surely no less than the Minerva could help us defeat them."

"The Minerva isn't here for our local disputes," Karda answered. "We will have much to do against the Alliance here anyway. I am anxious of the whereabouts of that large warship that was pursuing the Minerva before it arrived in Akre."

"That thing peeled off their trail in Turkey somewhere," reported Tekman, "but beyond that, we can't say. We have more pressing matters here to attend to anyway. A recon drone reported that there's a caravan moving through the desert from Baghdad it might belong to Nasir."

Karda's eyes darkened. "It had better not," he said. "Abdulmalik is on his way too. We have no time for this." He settled back into the chair. "I suppose either way, though, we can expect much from the Minerva and their little Angel of Death."

Earth Alliance Archangel-class battleship Witch's Hammer, al-Anbar Province, Iraq

One dot, moving west from Baghdad, across the desert moving into the path of two dots, moving south from Akre; and approaching three dots, moving east from all meant things were going as planned.

"It looks like Nasir took our instructions to heart," the sensor officer reported, as Misa stood on the bridge with arms crossed, watching the radar screen intently. "A heat signature matching that of a ZAFT Lesseps-class is moving directly into the Minerva's course, and Abdulmalik's forces are moving in as well."

"Shall we join the attack, Colonel?" asked Randall from the captain's chair.

Misa studied the map for a moment. "Lord Djibril ordered only a test of the Minerva's strength," she answered, "and our mobile suits are not yet back at full strength. So we will wait. Pull the ship back for observation, and we will see whether our little soldiers are up to the task we have given them."

Sanders stepped up next to her, fixing his dull dark eyes on her. "That girl in the Twilight is no ordinary Natural, Colonel," he said. "She fought too well. She was able to read my moves, even when I had the Mirage Colloid active. But she has only been with the Minerva for a month at most, and can't have learned this all from the Destiny's pilot."

"Djibril told me that there was something unique about this little angel," answered Misa. "We will have much to report." She glanced over at the captain's chair. "Randall, get me a link to Satellite XK7, and order them to exchange the nuclear warheads for reentry warheads. Target that caravan in the desert." She turned back towards the map, her eyes cold. "The Phantom Pain leaves no witnesses."

Battleship Minerva, Al-Anbar Province, Iraq

"Hey look, Emily's in the news again!" laughed Roxy, as she brought up an article on the auxiliary screen. "'Angel of Death kills 250 in nighttime raid.'"

In the captain's chair, Meyrin wrinkled her nose. "She didn't do that..."

"Yeah, well, they report, you decide," scoffed Roxy. "They're really working overtime trying to scare the bejeesus out of people about her."

"Well, it's comforting to know that we can make people soil themselves," Burt spoke up. He paused as he glanced down at his display for a moment. "Captain, I've got something on infrared. A heat signature of a Lesseps-class landship, coming at us at flank speed."

Meyrin glanced up warily at the main screen as Burt dutifully magnified the view, and found indeed a Lesseps ship streaming through the desert sands, its deck loaded with mobile suit and helicopters, the sand around it swarming with tanks and armored vehicles.

"That thing's on an attack bearing," Abbey started. "What the hell is this? Captain "

The auxiliary screen flickered to life, showing Karda's craggy face, his brow furrowed. "Captain Hawke, that's the landship belonging to the Husam al-Din," he warned. "They mean to attack, of that we have no doubt."

"I thought they were a Resistance unit," Meyrin started.

"That flag appears to mean nothing to them today."

With friends like these... she groaned inwardly. "Minerva, Condition Red! Prepare the mobile suits for battle!"

To be continued...