Phase 32 - Those Who Face Death

Mobile Suit Gundam SEED TWILIGHT

Phase 32 - Those Who Face Death

March 16th, CE 77 - Battleship Minerva, Shatt al-Arab

"Captain, heat signature detected near the river mouth! It's the Charlemagne!"

Meyrin Hawke felt her blood freeze as the words registered in her mind and the image appeared on the auxiliary screen. There it was, that hulking behemoth, the Charlemagne, the warship that Lord Djibril had built to destroy her Minerva. She had hoped they had disappeared for supplies, or repairs, or to fight somebody else, or perhaps God had simply erased them from existence as an act of mercy to the Minerva's beleaguered commander, but there it was before her, guns ready, spoiling for a fight.

"They're launching mobile suits," Burt added nervously from the sensor console. "Captain..."

Meyrin swallowed her fear and willed her blood to thaw. The captain showed no fear. She squinted up ahead, stretching her Coordinator vision as far as it would go. A huge seaport sprawled over the waterway, which lay between the Minerva and its gargantuan foe. "Roxy, issue Condition Red and launch our mobile suits. It's time for our rematch with that thing."

The humming of the Strike Noir's engines was something of a comfort to Sven Cal Bayan as his mobile suit sailed into battle, with Shams' Verde Buster and Mudie's Blu Duel on his flanks. Even so, he had to remember what this battle would be. If they could destroy the Minerva here, so much the better but Captain Danilov did not appear to be counting on it. All they had to do was force the Minerva out to sea. If they strayed further inland and traveled to the Pacific through Iran and Pakistan and India, then Crayt Markav's brainchild, Operation Judgment, would have to be scrapped. Too many resources had gone into this operation to cancel it now.

"Sven," Shams' voice broke into his thoughts, "shouldn't we bring some more pilots with us against the Destiny? We've never brought it down with just the three of us."

"Are we weak...?" mumbled Mudie.

"We don't need to bring it down this time," Sven answered. "We just need to force them out to sea. For the three of us, that means we have to keep the Destiny busy so it can't interfere with Captain Danilov's maneuvers."

"Yeah, because we've been so great at forcing them to do stuff before," Shams sighed. "Whatever you say."

The Destiny Gundam was somewhere up there, but Sven was confident that if his goal was merely to contain it and not destroy it, victory would be his.

"I'm telling you, I have no idea how to command mobile suit teams," Emily said with a sigh. The Twilight streaked forward with Aza's Jet Dagger L on its flank and a BABI and two Guul-mounted GuAIZ Rs. Emily had a sneaking suspicion that they would be the first to die.

"We cannot sit behind the lines and watch you fight them alone," Aza insisted.

Emily frowned in the Twilight's cockpit. Well, I don't want you to die either...

"Commander," the BABI's pilot spoke up, "I've got the enemy count up. Two of those hovering Windams and six black Windams flying."

Six...? Is it those two? Emily squinted up towards the shimmering sands, where the crimson Windam was storming forward with the second ground-borne Windam and the six flying Dark Windams arrayed behind it. She glanced over at Aza's meager squad how could those machines compete against Phantom Pain Windams?

The answer never came, as instead the Dark Windams opened fire, and the two flying units came roaring forward. The Twilight lunged aside as Aza's squad broke formation Emily ground her teeth as the familiar Slaughter Windam and IWSP Dark Windam shot by her. An instant later, she swung up the Twilight's beam shield to deflect a beam volley from the rest of the Dark Windams, all equipped with Jet Strikers and a moment later, the Ground Windams added to the volley.

"Aza, get back!" Emily cried, slamming the Twilight into the ground and ramming the first Ground Windam with her Gundam's shoulder. Even as it fell back, the red Windam came whirling around her, beam saber drawn and the moment she blocked its saber blow with her shield, a whirling beam boomerang came streaking out of the heavens, nearly taking the Twilight's head. "What ?!"

The IWSP Windam landed with a crash, pelting the Twilight with Gatling rounds an instant later, the red Windam surged forward, throwing the Twilight back. Emily backflipped her machine, lunging into the air, only to have the Slaughter Windam attack with a beam saber hack she barely dodged.

Missiles and beam rifle blasts filled the sky as the Twilight clawed for distance. Emily willed down the panic she couldn't fight these eight machines alone, but neither could she let Aza and her team be slaughtered, as they surely would

More missiles and more beam shots lanced around her but an instant later, Aza's Dagger L came down in front of the Twilight, deflecting a blast with its shield. "We will protect you!" came someone's voice Emily looked up in surprise to see the two GuAIZ Rs around her, beam rifles and railguns blazing. "Get out of the middle!"

Emily swallowed the fear, because somebody would have to die. "Aza, you deal with those two ground machines," she said, "and I'll deal with these flying ones!"

The Twilight took off with a roar, dancing around beam volleys and charging towards the six flying Windams.

"Sixteen Jet Windams, eight Doppelhorn Windams, and four Buster Daggers," Viveka counted, and even through the tinny voice from the Infinite Justice's cockpit speakers, Athrun could hear the boredom dripping from her voice. "If I didn't know better, I'd say they were insulting us."

Athrun grimly surveyed the enemies. A squadron of Jet Windams in the sky, supported by two squads of Doppelhorn Windams and a squad of Buster Daggers on the decks of the three land battleships below nothing insurmountable, but formidably arrayed nonetheless. Viveka had the skills to back up her boasting, but...

"You hang back and bombard them from afar," Athrun instructed. "I'll take care of them up close."

"You always hog all the fun," shot back Viveka.

The two Gundams rocketed apart as the Buster Daggers opened fire the Infinite Justice went spiraling down towards the sand, and half of the Jet Windams broke off to follow, the rest arcing after the Savior. Athrun pulled up as the Justice skimmed low over the desert surface, beams ripping up the sands below an instant later he slammed on the brakes, whirling around with his beam blade alight to saw one of the Windams in half. Even as his foes turned to face him, he shot down a second with a rifle blast to the back and as they opened fire, he took off again behind the cover of his beam shield.

The Windams whirled around themselves as another volley of beam blasts came sailing upon them from behind, where they found the Savior in mobile armor mode streaking out of the sky, the other half of the Windam squad racing after it. The crimson Gundam somersaulted backward, transforming in midair and showering the Windams with plasma fire and then whipping around to shoot down another.

Athrun glanced over his shoulder as the mobile suits below began to fire an instant later, he slammed the Justice's Grapple Stinger into a Jet Windam's chest, and yanked the crippled machine into the path of the Doppelhorn Windams' shells, letting them destroy their own comrade; and with a crash, he kicked the ruined mobile suit down towards the deck of the attacking landship.

"If we can clear off those ships' decks, then we can attack," Athrun grunted. "Viveka! Gain some distance!"

Rocking and shaking, the Chaos Gundam took cover behind its shield as a hurricane of missiles came slamming into it. Sting squinted through the smoke a formation of Jet Dark Windams, supported from below by Doppelhorns and from afar by a squad of Lightning Windams.

"I never cease to be amused by the rabble that Lord Djibril believes can defeat us!" cackled Rau, his Legend Gundam plunging effortlessly through a wave of beam fire and returning it in spades from the Legend's DRAGOON units. "Surely you will understand someday that mere mobile suits will not stop the wheels of destiny!"

"Quit your babbling and fight, Mr. Bucket," Auel shot back. The Abyss spiraled up through a barrage of artillery shells and pounded back a beam salvo of its own, forcing the Jet Windams to pull back behind their shields.

Sting deflected a salvo of shells with his shield, pulling back behind the smoke. "We're getting nowhere like about some brilliant ideas, Rau?"

Inside the Legend, Rau grinned at the favor to his ego. "We'll try Attack Pattern Chi," he said. "Auel, assume formation!"

"Oh, go assume yourself," snapped back Auel, even as the Abyss pulled up next to the Legend. Sting came down in front of them both, beam rifle ready

All three Gundams were forced apart by a concentrated volley of beam fire from the Jet Windams. Sting narrowed his eyes at the attackers, firing back and managing to pick off one of them.

"Well well," he grumbled. "They're getting smarter."

"Then we will have to pare their numbers enough to give us another opportunity," Rau answered. "Sting, the weapon pods "

"I know!" Sting growled, as the Chaos plunged back into battle.

"So, I see the Devil's Swords are back!" snapped Shinn as the Destiny Gundam sailed into battle, drawing its sword with a graceful flourish.

Across the field, inside the Strike Noir, Sven tensed for battle. "The Gaia, a GOUF Ignited, and the Destiny," he grunted. "Mudie, you and I will close in. Shams, support us from afar."

The Verde Buster snapped its rifles into position as the Blu Duel and Strike Noir charged. Shinn tightened his grip on the Destiny's controls, plunging in between them and separating them with a downward sword hack.

"Stella, stay back!" Shinn cried; the Destiny swerved to the side as the Noir and Blu Duel opened fire, taking cover behind its beam shield. The Gaia and GOUF opened fire from afar, showering the two mobile suits with beam fire only to be forced apart by a volley from the Verde Buster, which then switched its sights to the Destiny with a punishing railgun salvo.

"Eagle Maneuver!" Sven's voice barked through the crashes of war; the Noir and Blu Duel spread out on either side of the Destiny, and Mudie hurled a trio of Stilettos at the notorious Gundam. They exploded still far from their target, throwing up a pall of smoke Shinn grunted in surprise as a flurry of beam blasts pummeled his shield and drove him back. And an instant later, the Blu Duel and Noir tore through the smoke, curving upwards like an eagle's wings and delivering a searing beam volley that tore dark scars into the Destiny's shoulders and arms.

"What the hell is this ?!" Shinn started cut off an instant later when the two Gundams came down with a crash, the Noir sliding in behind the Destiny and yanking its right arm, anti-ship sword and all, to the side with a rocket anchor. The Blu Duel swept in, beam saber upraised

"Not fast enough!" roared Rajan al-Raqeeb, as his GOUF slammed into the fray and stopped the Blu Duel with its beam sword in its left hand. "And now !"

He too was cut off when a shimmering beam blast blew his beam rifle out of his right hand he looked up in shock, only to find the Verde Buster there, beam cannons raised. A moment later, the Blu Duel surged forward, beam saber flashing to life and stopped only by the GOUF's shield.

Shinn pushed down his frustration. "Stella, take care of him!" he yelled. "And as for you...!"

The Destiny yanked hard on the Noir's rocket anchor, pulling it forward, and Shinn whirled around with his palm cannon ready and an instant later, he forced the cannon forward to deflect the Noir's left-hand beam blade.

"Mudie, disengage and prepare for Lion Maneuver!" ordered Sven. "We will have to remove one of these troublesome pests..."

Earth Alliance battleship Charlemagne

"The Minerva has the edge over us in terms of speed," Danilov muttered to himself, studying his foe intently as both ships circled each other like sharks. "But we have the advantage of firepower..."

"They're not as maneuverable as a fighter, sir," Vera pointed out. "And we can fill the entire sky with fire if we have to."

Danilov leaned forward, straining to see the Minerva's bridge tower and perhaps steal a fleeting glimpse into the face of his opponent. That captain had the guts to ram four Storm Eagle cruise missiles into his ship, even though the Minerva was missing nearly all of her weapons; that captain had the insight to open fire on a rapid solution at Poljarny to cripple Admiral Stone's fleet before anyone knew what hit them; but that captain could not break the laws of physics.

"We'll play some Pong with the Minerva, then," Danilov said, sitting up. "Starboard and Centerline Gottfrieds, target the space to the Minerva's port and fire all guns!"

The Charlemagne hurled an army's worth of firepower at the Minerva, and predictably, the winged battleship ducked to the side. Danilov grinned.

"Port and Centerline Gottfrieds, target the Minerva's starboard! Do not hit them!"

Once again the Charlemagne's guns roared, forcing the Minerva to swerve to the side. The winged warship fired back with its own beam cannons, but the last-minute evasion had thrown off its aim and the return salvo sailed wide of the Charlemagne.

"Helm, bring us around! Centerline and Portside Gottfrieds, fire again! Fire across their bow! Do not hit them!"

The Gottfrieds blazed again, lancing a storm of firepower just in front of the Minerva's prow. The ship sank low beneath the blasts, and Danilov smiled, imagining their new arc through the air plunging down into the seaport.

And true to form, with a gut-wrenching screech, the Minerva plowed through a massive cargo crane that crashed down onto the ship's port wing and dragged it towards the ground.

"Captain, the Minerva's speed just dropped in half !" the sensor officer exclaimed.

"Do we go in for the kill?" asked Vera. Danilov shook his head.

"They'll expect that and have their guns pointing straight at us. Sledgehammers, fire!"

The Charlemagne quaked as a hurricane of Sledgehammer anti-ship missiles took off from the missile ports. Danilov narrowed his eyes.

"CIWS, target the Sledgehammers and destroy them! Helm, drop our altitude by 150 meters emergency dive!"

The captain felt every rivet of his ship groan in protest as his massive warship gunned down its own missiles, casting a veil of smoke over the battlefield. The Charlemagne ducked down as gracefully as a 700-meter-long ship could do so, and an instant later the Minerva's bellowing return salvo seared by, safely over the Charlemagne's tower.

"Gottfrieds, target the ground around the Minerva in a 550-meter spread and fire!"

Obediently and mercilessly, the Charlemagne poured firepower into the ground, raising terrifying columns of smoke and fire as the Minerva struggled its way through fallen, ancient machinery.

Danilov watched tensely as his foe tore its way loose.

I need to get inside your head, captain of the let's see what it will take.

Phantom Island, Strait of Hormuz, Indian Ocean

The blizzard of dots and figures on the massive main screen of Phantom Island's command room were largely meaningless to Crayt Markav as she stood with arms crossed, watching the pulsing mass of information writhing on the screen before her. The Minerva was in battle with the Charlemagne and General Abdulmalik at the Shatt al-Arab. Abdulmalik was irrelevant he could be sacrificed in good conscience. And it was irrelevant whether or not the Charlemagne inflicted any heavy damage on the Minerva, so long as it was forced into the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz, where Phantom Island could fall upon it and slam down the hammer of God.

Ivan Danilov had turned out to be something of a disappointment anyway. He had shown promise as a naval tactician in space during the Junius War and the years after it, but no soldier of God could shrink from his duty the way Captain Danilov had in Volgograd. The enemy was damned already there was no need to show them any mercy here, when God would show them the ultimate justice in a place far worse than Earth.

"Marshal, Rear Admiral Havilland reports that his fleet is assembled," came O'Brien's voice from somewhere to Crayt's left. She shrugged indifferently. "Everything is ready, ma'am."

"Not quite," she interrupted. "Surely there is another unit available to soften up our friends on the Minerva before they stumble into our trap."

"The Manhattan is still in dock at Dubai, ma'am," answered O'Brien. "Captain Martinez radioed in a few hours ago. He has no pending assignments outside of patrolling the Persian Gulf."

Crayt turned that thought over for a moment. If she sent the Manhattan to harass the Minerva, they would probably be destroyed for their troubles. Well, no matter if God could sacrifice His only son on the cross for all humanity's sake, then Crayt Markav could sacrifice some Earth Alliance Navy regulars on the battlefield for His sake.

"Order the Manhattan into the Persian Gulf to harass the Minerva until they reach Hormuz," Crayt said. "We will batter the Minerva with relentless blows until they stagger into our trap."

Beams filled the sky as the Infinite Justice Gundam corkscrewed through the Windam squadron's field of fire, letting their beams sear by and leveling off its own beam rifle for a return volley. Athrun ground his teeth as the instinct of danger warned him an instant later, he swept a barrage of CIWS fire to his right, cutting down a pair of anti-ship missiles. And even as the missiles exploded, the Justice rocked from a trio of bazooka shells to the left.

"Dammit, there's more !?" Athrun started, whipping around to return fire with his beam rifle. The Windams rose up around him, pummeling the Infinite Justice with beam volleys and searing jagged scars over its armor.

The Justice backflipped out of the gauntlet, and with a crash, slammed its Grapple Stinger into the cockpit of the Windam directly below it; Athrun yanked the Windam up into its comrades' field of fire, letting their beams shred their own wingman to pieces. With a crash, he hurled the broken mobile suit back at the remaining Windams they jetted apart, spreading out to flank the Justice and force it on the defensive with its beam shield.

The three Windams broke off as a plasma volley tore through their field of fire, making way for the Savior Gundam as it rammed its way into the fray.

"Athrun!" cried Viveka. "You alright?!"

"Never better," grunted back Athrun. "We're getting nowhere fast. Ideas?"

The two Gundams jetted apart as the Windam team resumed its barrage, supported this time from the ship below. Athrun squinted at the ground-borne foe; a Hood-class land battleship, still with Doppelhorn and Lightning Windams on its deck.

"You leave these three to me," Viveka instructed, "and go kick that landship's ass. 'kay?"

Immediately, the Savior charged at the three Windams, and then abruptly pulled up, luring the Windams higher into the sky after all. Athrun shook his head, wondering where his choice had gone, and charged instead towards the Ramallah as it ground through the sand. To the side, he could make out another Hood-class charging into the fray as well but one behemoth would have to work at a time.

"First of all, to stop you !"

The Justice plunged down beneath a barrage of firepower, pumping beam rifle shots into the sand and raising a cloud of dust and flame. The Ramallah stalled in the mess as the sand parted beneath it, pitching forward and throwing three of its Windam passengers off its deck. Athrun ignored them, plunging through the smoke and spearing the Ramallah's bow Gottfried cannon with a beam rifle blast. A pillar of smoke rose in front of the ship's bridge tower Athrun seized his chance, tearing forward and detaching the Fatum-01.

With a roar of engines, the Fatum opened up and rocketed forward, plunging into the Ramallah's hull at the base of the bridge tower. The Justice itself flipped over the wrecked bow, landing on the twisted deck with a crash and deflecting artillery shells from the surviving Doppelhorn Windams with its beam shield. The Fatum ripped through the Ramallah's base, wrenching itself free through the ship's stern and arcing up into the sky. The Doppelhorns turned their fire on it an instant later, the Justice was upon them, tearing down two of them with one backhanded beam blade slash. The last two Doppelhorns turned their fire back on the Justice

...just in time to be torn in two from behind by the Fatum, which flipped over the Justice's head to reattach to its back. Athrun cast a grim glance around the Ramallah's flaming wreckage, and vaulted back into the air.

"Those soldiers from before...!" groaned Emily, as her Twilight Gundam reeled under a punishing artillery barrage from the IWSP Windam. "I won't !"

She went silent as the smoke parted and the Slaughter Windam was there, seizing the Twilight by the head with a crash of metal. The yelp of surprise hardly registered in her own ears before Emily found herself being dragged by the head through the sand, pushed forward by the Aile Striker's thrusters. And just as she swung the Twilight's leg up to plant it in the ground and gain some control, the Windam tossed the Twilight into the air and then slammed it in the back with a roundhouse kick that rattled Emily's brain.

"What the ?!" she started, only to cry again as the IWSP Windam pounded the Twilight back into the sand with an artillery barrage. "Are you two just toying with me?!"

The Slaughter Windam leapt into the air, beam rifle leveled off, but Emily backflipped the Twilight back to its feet, lunging back into the sky and firing back. The two Windams were undeterred, returning her fire in spades and nearly knocking her back to earth.

"That was just playing dirty," Emily grunted, rubbing the side of her throbbing head. The two Windams rose up into the air, flanked by two more on either side and leaving Emily to anxiously scan their ranks, hoping that someone would leave her an opening.

Instead, the Windams snapped their rifles up to let loose a winnowing salvo of beam blasts, searing through the air and nearly taking off the Twilight's head. Emily rocketed her machine upwards the Windams adjusted their aim, and the Slaughter Windam switched to its beam saber and charged, with shells from the IWSP Windam tearing by over its head.

Emily switched her rifle to the Twilight's left hand, drawing a beam saber with her right, and steeled herself for a swordfight but the IWSP Windam's beam boomerang was there instead to saw her rifle in two. She pulled back behind her beam shield, only to be pummeled with more beam blasts from the Jet Windams. And an instant later, only an instinctual jab upwards with the beam saber saved her from the Slaughter Windam's downward slice.

"I can't keep doing this forever, or " Emily started again, only to be interrupted when the Slaughter Windam slammed its knee up into the Twilight's cockpit hatch, sending the shockwaves rattling through the cockpit and down her spine. As her ears began to ring, she looked up, just in time to watch the Windam rear back and send her flying with a kick to the chest. And an instant later, the IWSP Windam's railguns were blazing again, knocking her out of the sky.

The Slaughter Windam came charging in, beam rifle out again and leveled, out for blood. Emily narrowed her eyes

An instant later, the Twilight leapt back into the air and chopped the Windam's rifle in half. The Windam staggered, its pilot clearly surprised as its rifle sparked and exploded; and a moment later, Emily added to the surprise with a punishing kick to the back of the head.

The Jet Windams opened fire again, this time in support of the IWSP Windam as it came streaking in, swords upraised, but the Twilight deflected the blow with its beam saber. Emily clenched her fists around her Gundam's controls time to regain some initiative.

"Their formation is still tight and defensible from all sides," observed Rau, even as his Legend Gundam swatted beam blasts out of the sky. "If we can break them apart " He cut himself off and forced the Legend into a dive, dodging a wave of beam fire. "As I was saying..."

"Fuck this! I'll take care of it!" shouted Auel. The Abyss lunged up from below, shoulder shells opening, and let fly with a torrent of beam fire and Auel could only curse in frustration as the Windams pulled apart, letting the beams pass between them, and returning the fire tenfold.

"We're never gonna get through them like this," grunted Sting, pausing to shoot down a handful of missiles. "Unless somebody pulls off some really fucking awesome flying..."

"I am not one to rely on that," Rau answered. He scowled as the Windams ahead began to advance, intensifying their beam barrage. "Sting, Auel, Attack Pattern Rho!"

"Oh, I hate that one!" Auel groaned. The Abyss took up its position above and behind the Legend. "Go!"

The Abyss snapped open its shoulder shells, abruptly letting fly with a punishing return volley that forced the Windam squadron apart and behind their shields. An instant later, the Chaos and Legend went rocketing forward, beam rifles blazing as they slid by underneath the Abyss's field of fire. The Windams turned their fire on the two approaching Gundams they immediately broke off, rocketing away in opposite directions. A moment later, Auel pummeled their ranks with a beam volley of his own, taking down three Windams in the crossfire.
"Dammit, that was all?!" he snapped, shielding himself as the Windams fired at him again.

"They'll be expecting that again, as well," Rau murmured, dodging incoming fire in the Legend. "We'll have to switch..." He glanced over his shoulder. "Attack Pattern Iota!"

With alarms wailing and the whole mobile suit frame shaking, Shinn squinted through the smoke at his opponent, the Strike Noir, its railguns still extended. The Noir brandished its blades and charged Shinn ground his teeth, swinging his sword into position to block the Noir's blow

...and an instant later, the Destiny rocked as the Verde Buster pummeled it with railgun shells. The Destiny drew its beam rifle in its left hand, only to have it blown away by a railgun volley from the Noir. And a moment later, the Blu Duel slid in from behind, beam saber raised for a killing slash

Instead, with a piercing scream, Stella's Gaia Gundam came rocketing out of the sky to ram the Blu Duel aside with its shoulder. The Blu Duel whirled around, beam saber drawn, only to find the Gaia upon it with its own saber, nearly taking off the Blu Duel's arm.

Inside the Noir, Sven bit back a curse. "Shams, keep firing at the Destiny; we'll lure that GOUF into range!"

The Verde Buster obediently let fly with another beam salvo again, pounding the Destiny's beam shields. Shinn narrowed his eyes, firing back through the smoke with his long-range cannon but instinct cried out a warning and he swung his sword to the side, barely deflecting the Noir's blades as it came plunging back into the fray.

"Raqeeb! I'll handle this one, you deal with the other one!" Shinn shouted.

"With pleasure!" cried Rajan, his GOUF rocketing into the air with its sword drawn. It charged towards the Verde Buster, expertly dodging its beam cannon shots. "You're a long-range model, but if I get close " He swung its sword up for a killing blow

In the Verde Buster's cockpit, Shams could only grin. "Gotcha!"

And with a flash, the Verde Buster ignited its right-hand heat bayonet and slashed off the GOUF's right arm at the shoulder. Rajan's eyes went wide, and he whirled around, swinging up his left-hand beam guns only to see the Verde Buster slice off his left arm at the elbow. Shams grinned and leveled off his left-hand rifle, and Rajan al-Raqeeb disappeared in a ball of fire.

Down below, swords locked with the Strike Noir, Shinn felt his blood run hot as Rajan's essence vanished from his consciousness. "I knew I shouldn't have " He fell silent again as the Noir surged forward, pounding the Destiny with a kick to the head and swinging in for a killing sword stroke. Shinn deflected the blow with his own sword, forcing the Destiny's strength into the counter-blow and sending the Noir hurtling back. "Dammit...Stella! Are you alright?!"

Battleship Minerva

"Charlemagne is 600 to port and rising!" cried Burt as the Minerva quaked. Meyrin ground her teeth as the missiles exploded unnervingly close to her ship's hull was this captain trying to defeat her or just toy with her?

"Raise our altitude to 1100 and prepare the Tannhäuser," she ordered. "Chen, even if we can get up to their level, we'll only have a moment "

She was cut off as the Minerva dove suddenly, lurching forward and ducking down towards the ground as a wave of Gottfried fire ripped by overhead. Meyrin looked up in disbelief, finding her ship driving back into the port and its rusting, twisted machinery.

What is this guy doing?!

"Malik, pull up !" she cried, too late as the Minerva plowed through the wrecks. A towering, decaying crane buckled under the impact, and Meyrin felt her heart stop as it came crashing down onto the Tannhäuser's hatch.

"Missiles, captain!" Burt cried the CIWS responded automatically, but in shock, Meyrin noticed too late that several of them were blocked by wreckage, and the Minerva groaned in protest as a dozen of the Charlemagne's missiles slammed home.

"Dammit...they're trying to trap us first!" Abbey cried. "Damage report!"

Meyrin glanced up at the sky, where the Charlemagne was waiting.

You haven't seen a bit of me yet...

"So Iota was a bust too," grunted Sting, the Chaos quaking under a wave of beam fire. "Hey Phantom of the Opera, anymore brilliant ideas?"

Inside the Legend, Rau frowned at yet another sarcastic nickname from one of the Extended. "They're fighting defensively...not interested in offense, only in keeping us contained..."

The Abyss lunged down into the fray, spraying the sky with beams and shell fire and forcing the Dark Windams to break formation behind their shields. "There we go!" snapped Auel. "Now "

The Windams immediately formed up again and pummeled the Abyss with a wall of firepower. Rau gritted his teeth, spiraling into the fray to return fire in spades and drive the Windams back again.

"We need more units," he said. "Sting, the gunbarrels!"

The Chaos flashed its eyes and launched its gunbarrels with a roar, snaking them down into the fray to slam the Windam formation with fire from its flanks. As the mobile suits broke ranks to defend themselves, Auel and Rau lined up on Sting's flanks, firing a withering beam salvo to prevent the Windams from straying too far. The gunbarrels claimed one Windam before it could deflect the shots with its shield and with a crash, Sting gleefully opened fire on the panicking prey with his beam rifle, sniping down two more before they regained their composure and pulled back.

"And that leaves us with ten of these bastards," Auel groaned, struggling to break their formation again with a beam volley. The Windams refused to budge, this time concentrating their fire between the Gundams to force them apart. "Well, it's a start..."

Shinn had to admit that this time the Devil's Swords had outdone themselves. The Strike Noir made for a fearsome foe at close quarters, while the Verde Buster pummeled it from afar.

The Verde Buster lined up for a beam cannon volley, but instead unleashed a torrent of missiles. The Destiny waved its hand imperiously, veering the weapons off course only for the Strike Noir to seize the opportunity, lunging into the Destiny's face and knocking it backwards with a kick to the chest. And too late, Shinn realized that he was back in the missiles' path just as they began to slam into the Destiny and drive it back.

Shinn hacked apart the smoke with his sword, biting back a frustrated scowl. An instant later, the Noir was behind him, and with a crash it wrapped both its anchors around the Destiny's arms, yanking them apart and exposing the Destiny's torso.

"Haven't you tried this trick before?!" snapped Shinn

The fatal beam blast never came, however, and the Destiny instead found itself staring down another set of missiles from the Verde Buster. Shinn clenched his fists around the Destiny's controls as his Gundam quaked under the blast the Phase Shift armor would protect the machine from damage, but the pilot...

The instinct was there again, and with a mighty tug, the Destiny ripped the Noir's anchors loose from their sockets. Shinn quickly whirled around, sword ready, only to catch empty air and the Noir came crashing down on him again. And this time, the Verde Buster lined up its beam cannons

"No you don't!"

Instead of a finishing shot, the Verde Buster went reeling back as the Blu Duel slammed into it, thrown backwards with its beam saber still active. Shinn looked up in surprise, finding the Gaia there, beam saber raised, eyes shining, and he needed no Newtype senses to tell that now Stella was pissed.

As the Gaia charged to take on the Blu Duel and Verde Buster, Shinn returned his attention to the Noir.

This is more like it!

The beams and missiles from the Karbala filled the sky as the Infinite Justice and Savior corkscrewed through the firepower, aiming for the Windams surrounding it in the sky and on its deck. Viveka risked a glance over at her companion's elegant machine naturally, he was not even bothering to use his beam shield, simply slapping shots aside with the boomerang blade.

"Well, this one we can take down together," she said with a grin. "You ready?" Athrun merely nodded, and Viveka turned her eye towards the Karbala. "That's what I like to see!"

The Justice rocketed down towards the sand, skimming in low over the surface and drawing fire from the Windams on the deck. The airborne mobile suits kept their focus on the Savior, and that was all Viveka wanted. The Savior transformed into its mobile armor mode and blasted towards the Karbala at maximum speed, plowing through missiles and corkscrewing through desperate beam shots. The Windams broke ranks to avoid a collision an instant later, passing between them, the Savior transformed again and blew three of the Windams out of the sky with a rapid beam volley before the rest could respond. And as the surviving three Windams pulled back behind their beam shields, the Savior went plunging towards the Karbala.

The Karbala struggled to divert its fire between the two Gundams, but the Savior fired back with its plasma cannons, punching through the ship's starboard Gottfried cannon and blowing it apart. The ship rocked, its guns falling silent for a moment all the time Athrun needed to lunge up from the sand and destroy the bow Gottfried with his beam rifle. The Windams struggled to turn their fire on the Justice, but it vaulted off the smoldering bow and blew out the bridge with a backhanded slice. And as the ship continued to grind forward with its engines at maximum speed, the Savior landed with a crash on top of the smoking bridge tower and poured firepower into the base of the ship's hull.

The two Gundams returned to the sky as arms of fire claimed their prey, and turned their eyes towards the Windams.

Shuddering under the blows of its enemies, the Twilight Gundam staggered towards the ground, firing back into the sky with its long-range cannon and taking cover behind its beam shield. Emily's eyes darted around the battlefield she was running out of options, and those Windams were staying awfully far back.

Her thoughts came to a screeching halt and her instinct took over, backflipping the Twilight out of harm's way and an instant later, the crimson Ground Windam shot by underneath her, beam carbine leveled off. It whirled around to spray the Twilight with beam fire and the second Windam came streaking in from behind, beam saber drawn. The Twilight vaulted into the air, and then ducked aside as the Dark Windams overhead opened fire again.

Emily glanced to the side, finding Aza's battered Jet Dagger L rocketing back into the fray alone.

"Aza, what happened to your squad...?" started Emily.

Aza's dour face said all that needed to be said. "Those two ground machines..." she growled, casting a rueful glare towards them. Emily looked back down at the two Ground Windams as they formed up and showered the two flying mobile suits with beam fire.

"Well, let's take them down together," she said, "and then we'll handle the flying ones!"
The two mobile suits rocketed apart, returning fire and dodging the blasts from overhead. The Ground Windams lined up for a beam barrage, only to be forced apart by return fire.

"The one in the red is a better pilot," Emily grunted, "so I'll distract you first!"

The Twilight darted down towards the red Ground Windam, forcing it to pull up and skate aside. As it did, the Twilight whirled around with its long cannon, firing down into the sand at the Windam's feet and billowing up a cloud of dust. She whipped around again, training her rifle on the second Ground Windam. It ducked aside from her shots and swung around behind the black Gundam, leveling off its carbine

A beam came slicing out of nowhere, blowing off the Windam's right arm at the shoulder. It whirled around, finding Aza's Jet Dagger L charging into the fray with its own carbine raised

And then a beam shot plowed through its chest, destroying it in a flash of fire. Emily's eyes widened in shock as the flickering flame disappeared and as soon as it did, her blood ran hot.


The Twilight took off with a flash, arcing down towards the red Ground Windam, still with its carbine victoriously raised. It turned to face the new foe the Twilight skirted around its blasts and whirled behind it, ripping both of its arms off with a pair of palm cannon blows.

A wave of beams nearly took down the Twilight from above, and with a scowl, Emily took off back into the sky.

Earth Alliance battleship Charlemagne

"The Minerva appears to have taken damage to its positron cannon," reported Simmons, the sensor officer. "They've shaken themselves free."

"Fire control, another salvo. Force them back into the port machinery," answered Danilov, and sat back to watch as the Charlemagne threw another wall of firepower into the Minerva's path. It ponderously swung its broken prow towards the ground, smashing through a warehouse and rattling low over the port yards.

"Captain, we're losing mobile suits," Vera warned, her hands tightening at the XO's panel. "Those Gundams are making headway, and Abdulmalik has lost most of his forces. Are we going for the kill yet, sir?"

"The most we need to do is force them out to sea," Danilov said. " Any further damage at this point is a luxury." He glanced over at Ronald, at the fire control station. "Let's see if we can't "

"Captain! The Minerva !"

Danilov fell silent, looking up through the bridge window to find the Minerva climbing up into the air in a lazy, painful loop and it was already almost inverted, hovering over his ship's hull. The Minerva's guns angled down

"Hard to port!" Danilov roared. The Charlemagne lurched to the side, groaning in protest as the Minerva opened fire, and the massive warship escaped damage with only a few feet to spare only to instead go smashing into the rusting machinery of the port below.

As the Charlemagne shuddered to a halt, Danilov looked back up at the sky, where the Minerva was driving through the air, launching retreat flares...and heading out to sea.

Danilov risked a smile.

Phantom Pain, Strait of Hormuz, Indian Ocean

It was approaching. Yes, it had entered the Persian Gulf, and it was heading south, passing Bahrain. Yes. Perfect.

Crayt Markav tried not to grin triumphantly as she watched the blinking symbol for the Minerva heading inexorably southeast on Phantom Island's sprawling tactical map. They were headed straight towards the Strait of Hormuz. Danilov had done his job.

"Marshal," O'Brien said from somewhere to her right, "Danilov reports that he believes he disabled the Minerva's positron cannon and inflicted some damage to it, although he says that he has not confirmed most of it."

"So the prey is wounded first," remarked another voice. Crayt needed not look over to feel the approaching presence of Monique du Prey, airily waltzing into the command room and not bothering with any sort of protocol in the presence of high-ranking officers. "That is sort of unsportsmanlike..."

"Lieutenant, this insolence " started O'Brien, face lined in anger. Crayt waved him off.

"Lieutenant du Prey can do as she pleases. She is a professional soldier."

Monique promptly stuck her tongue out at O'Brien, who purpled in rage.

"The Manhattan should be in range soon," Crayt continued, ignoring the seething mass of outrage to her right and the childish glee to her left. "Havilland's fleet will stay with Phantom Island, and the Charlemagne will bring up the rear to trap them."

"Sounds like a plan," chuckled Monique.

Crayt only flashed a feral grin. "God needs no arrow to do His will. Only us."

To be continued...