Phase 34 - A Soldier's Duty

Mobile Suit Gundam SEED TWILIGHT

Phase 34 - A Soldier’s Duty

March 18th, CE 77 - Battleship Minerva, Persian Gulf

Emily tensed as though struck by a fist, whirling around to face the masked man. "How do you ?"

"There is nothing that can be concealed from a mind that wants to know badly enough," Rau cut her off with a chuckle. "It was not mere chance that led you into the cockpit of a mobile suit, but destiny. You were meant to be there."

"What are you talking about?" Emily asked.

"What I'm talking about, dear Emily, is something called Project Evolution," laughed Rau. "Do you not remember your father's deep ties to the military? Surely you do; the generals and admirals who visited his home, and their cold soldiers' eyes boring holes into your skull."

Emily shivered as instead of the soldiers, she saw her father, most terrifying of all, throwing her to the ground on the night her mother died and ordering her to be quiet.

"And surely there are gaps in the calendar of your memory," Rau continued. "Don't you want to know what happened?"

"How do you know all this?"

Rau grinned. "I do my homework." He continued with a laugh. "But are these really the questions you want to ask? I'm sure you want to know even more urgently...what are you?"

Emily's guarded but no less disbelieving stare was all the prompting Rau needed.

"A military project, based around mysterious mental powers that made their user an unstoppable force on the battlefield. A bureaucrat with much to gain and little to lose. Remove the ethics and this equation leads to you." He turned his hidden eyes toward the sea. "You were the culmination of a project to harness your mother's latent Newtype potential. Your sister was the first attempt, but ended in failure. So here you are." He grinned. "They gave you power, to change the world if you so desire. To remake it any way you want."

"I don't want to change the world," Emily started.

"Of course you do!" laughed Rau. "Are you really happy with a world in which the Phantom Pain can slaughter civilians with impunity, and the Resistance that was born to stop them fights among itself instead? You would have fled in Murmansk long ago if that were the case. You want to change the world or else you would not be here. So you will have to learn to use that power."

Emily blanched and turned back towards the airlock. "I don't believe that."

"You will," Rau chuckled as she left.

Earth Alliance battleship Charlemagne, Persian Gulf

It was not the callous orders she gave that made Ivan Danilov hate Crayt Markav so much. From a certain perspective, even the orders he gave were callous. It was that damned religion of hers.

"The Manhattan will be sacrificed to delay the Minerva," Markav explained. "In the meantime, Captain Fujikawa on the Senegal will move into position. He has a special weapon to soften the Minerva up before the fleet moves in for the kill."

"Is the Manhattan receiving any support?" Danilov asked.

"No need," responded Markav with an imperious wave of her hand. "They are a sacrifice. God demands sacrifice from all of us, captain."

Danilov paused, beginning to feel sick. "Marshal, it is not a sacrifice on our part "

"If God could sacrifice His only son for our sake, we can sacrifice some Navy regulars for His," Markav answered. "They go to a better place than this anyway. God rewards His soldiers."

Danilov said nothing; what more could be said?

"Keep the Charlemagne on the Minerva's rear and pressure them into our trap," Markav instructed. "When the fleet engages, sweep in behind them, and together we will crush them. Phantom Island, out."

The screen went dark, and Danilov sat back with a sigh. He glanced over at Vera, still looking disturbed by the marshal's words.

She turned around at the feeling of being watched. "Captain," she started awkwardly, "are we going to support the Manhattan anyway?"

"My hands are tied now that the marshal is involved," Danilov answered. "I can't ignore her orders."

Vera glanced towards the sea again. "Even orders that are evil...?" she asked quietly.

Danilov closed his eyes. "Especially orders that are evil."

"Captain, we need to file a complaint with the president's office," Vera went on. "Lord Djibril is the only one with the clout to rein in these abuses."

Danilov suppressed his laugh. Corruption at the top could not be solved by complaining to the top. "This isn't a problem that an internal review will solve," he said. "For now we must endure. We will follow the marshal's orders and continue driving the Minerva into our trap."

And, Danilov silently hoped, even if they were destroyed in Hormuz, they would take the marshal with them to hell.

"Are you fucking kidding me?!"

Grey and Merau both winced simultaneously as they stepped into the Charlemagne's crew lounge, where they found themselves at the edge of a hurricane of profanities. At the eye of the storm was 1st Lieutenant Shams Coza, who looked about ready to break his cue stick between his teeth. Mudie was on the other side of the table, looking thoroughly bored as Shams began his tirade anew.

"Are you fucking telling me that I can't win this game ONCE?!" Shams cried. "What the fuck is this?! I hit the ball, see, watch me now " He bent over, pulling the stick back with his right hand "and it hits the ball " He thrust the stick forward, smacking the cue ball near the top and moving it barely an inch forward, nowhere near the other balls "AND THAT ALWAYS FUCKING HAPPENS! What the fuck?! It's, like, statistically impossible!"

"Don't blame the laws of probability for your totally sucking at this game," Mudie drawled, before sending the number eleven ball neatly spiraling into the corner pocket.

"GODDAMMIT!" roared Shams, flinging his cue stick across the room

"Hey!" exclaimed Grey, ducking as the stick almost smacked up across the face. Shams blinked and glanced over at the door.

"Oh, uh, sorry," he started. "Oh, you're the two kids who just won't die, huh."

"Well, I came close just now," Grey muttered, standing back up.

"Um, are we interrupting something...?" started Merau. Mudie only laughed coquettishly.

"Just Shams getting his ass kicked."

"Fuck you! I hate this game. We're playing Monopoly next time!"

Grey and Merau edged over to the vending machine, wary of more flying billiards supplies. "So, um, that's the Devil's Spear and Devil's Shield?" he asked quietly.

The door locked shut with a click as Sven sat down to his computer terminal, sitting back and letting the screen flicker to life. Irene was there, but noticeably absent was her Phantom Pain uniform although instead, to Sven's slight relief, she was in an elegantly tasteless evening gown.

"Sorry I couldn't get back to you right away," she breathed, slumping down into her chair. "I swear he has one of these fucking cocktail parties every night."

Sven arched an eyebrow, hoping it would impart his impatience. "I believe you have some information to relay?"

"What, you're not going to wine and dine me first?"

"Not the time to test my patience, Lieutenant."

Irene blew out an airy sigh. "If you insist." She produced a manila folder from somewhere off-camera. "Twenty years or so ago this Gerhardt guy was a lot further down the military bureaucracy totem pole, and he realized that his wife was showing strange powers of empathy and precognition. Like any sensitive 90s kind of guy, he brought in a wave of military scientists to poke and prod her, and realized that he was sitting on a gold mine. They had a daughter, but she didn't exhibit those traits that the mother possessed; so they waited four years, and had another daughter. Sixteen years ago." She grinned. "Hey, just off the top of your head, you know how old Emily von Oldendorf is?"

Sven blinked as it set in. "You're kidding."

"I kid not, Sven baby. Dear sweet little Emily was set up for Project Evolution, designed to take advantage of her powers. So it turns out Gilbert Dullindal wasn't the only one doing research into Newtypes."

"But twenty years before Dullindal's speech..." Sven trailed off. "Was this a high secret?"

"They kept it filed along with the nuclear launch codes and the Prime Minister's favorite pizza joint," laughed Irene.

"Then what went wrong?"

Irene snapped open the folder, scanning it for a moment. "Says here that she progressed very quickly, to the point where her handlers felt confident that she could take down the Freedom and Kira Yamato if given a comparable machine. But she turned out unstable, because her age meant her brain and body were still developing, and you can't really train a ten-year-old to exceed the standards that special forces teams are expected to meet. So Gerhardt, ever the loving and sensitive father, shipped her off to the household of Lord Djibril to be a domestic servant, where it was expected no one would find her, and they would reinforce her training every once in a while."

"Then why was she so unskilled in battle against Shoyou?"

"That's the fun part. She's only sixteen, remember? They were going to leave her in Djibril's household until she was eighteen, when it was calculated that her body and brain would be mature enough for combat service. But our mutual friend the Wings of Light kinda fucked that all up, didn't he?"

Sven paused to consider the implications. "Are you saying we have this insane teenage girl in a Gundam shooting down all our aces?"

"Well, when you put it that way..." chuckled Irene. "Really, though, wasn't it a great idea to start giving weapons of mass destruction to emotionally unstable teenagers? Because what's even more fun is that because she's all messed up and got dragged into combat before she was ready, her abilities are naturally developing now. The release of all that adrenaline and whatever else starts churning in your brain kick-started her development. Now she's going to get more and more sensitive, and more and more insane."

A comforting thought if there ever was one, but one loose thread remained. "What about her mother?"

Irene blinked. "What about her mother?"

"What happened to her?"

The blonde lieutenant consulted her folder again. "Says she died of a sudden infection in CE 68. Why?"

Sven sat back, hand on his chin. "Minister Oldendorf would not have allowed his wife's genetic material to simply die. Not if he went to the trouble and risk of having two children with a gravely ill woman simply to produce a child with her Newtype traits."

"Are you saying he cloned her?" Irene asked.

"It's not unheard of," answered Sven. "It would be the surest way to preserve her genetic material and its context. Did you learn of any clones of his wife?"

Irene scanned her folder once more. "No," she answered at last, "but what good would it do us anyway?"

Sven's eyes darkened. "If the Resistance could figure out how to use Emily against us," he said, "then so could someone else."

Heaven's Base, Iceland

Arms dealers and senators were a dime a dozen, but the truly treasured minions were those who served you, and not just your institution. And Lord Djibril had a few of those minions.

Behind him was one such minion, Misa Tsunomi, standing by silently while Djibril took in the view from his cavernous office at Heaven's Base. It was his world and his power, all in the palm of his hands. The best minions knew in whose palms that power rested, and bowed to those hands and no other.

"Misa," Djibril began, glancing over his shoulder, "I trust you took care of it?"

A sharp nod. "Senator Meyers' dossier is on your desk, sir."

Perfection, as always. "And they say Coordinators are the best workers," he chuckled. "Ah well. I can purge the world of its evils, or I can be loved and cherished by the masses, but I can't do both." He shrugged and turned around at last. "I presume Marshal Markav's trap is soon to be sprung?"

"The Minerva is en route in the Persian Gulf," answered Misa.

"And how should I punish the Marshal should she fail?"

Misa blinked in surprise. "Sir...?"

"I'm not a man who likes to dwell on the past," Djibril said airily, flashing a toothy grin. "However, I'm also not one to tolerate repeated failures."

"But sir, I must confess I find it hard to believe that the Marshal's trap could fail," Misa protested. "Even if not all goes as planned, the sheer force of numbers she's could anyone survive against that?"

"Contingency plans are my bread and butter, Misa," Djibril explained with a shrug. "The thing that seems least possible is more often than not the thing you should have prepared the most for. Besides," he turned back towards his sweeping view, "I'm beginning to doubt the wisdom in placing Marshal Markav in command of the Phantom Pain."

Misa's surprised silence prompted him to continue.

"I've always found that those with as strong a faith in God as hers lose their grip on reality," he went on. "On the assumption that God will fill in the gaps they leave in their reasoning. But that's not how it works. God did not sweep down and build this Earth Alliance and drive the Coordinators to exile on Mars; I did. And now, God does not rule this world; I do." He grinned back at Misa. "Humans are gods in their own right, after all."

"Do you believe the Marshal is plotting against you?" asked Misa.

Djibril shrugged again. "She may be, but I trust you will keep me abreast of such developments should they occur. If she is planning something, I imagine it has more to do with her twisted faith than with power or anything else." He waved his hand imperiously. "Let her scheme, if she thinks she can."

"I will report to you if I uncover a plan," answered Misa.

Lord Djibril grinned once more. "Soon this world won't need Marshal Markav, or the Phantom Pain, or Newtypes. Soon we will have order...and after that, what else do we need?"

Phantom Island, Strait of Hormuz, Indian Ocean

"От имени отца, и Сына, и Святого Духа."

Crayt Markav rose from prayer just as the door of her office swung open, and she turned to find Monique du Prey blasting into her office with all the subtlety of a tornado.

"Crayt, darling, you're just too kind," she laughed, spitting in the face of any and all protocol to lovingly throw her arms around the Field Marshal. "That Morrigan you gave me is absolutely divine. It makes a Windam look like a brick."

"And I am thrilled for you," grunted Crayt, shoving the lieutenant off. "Is that all you are here for?"

"Well, no," Monique said with a shrug and a pout. "No, I'm actually here to get a question answered."

Crayt straightened her uniform and contemplated retreating behind her desk. "And that is...?"

"You remember that clone that Gerhardt made of his wife?" Monique went on, hopping up onto Crayt's desk and kicking her legs idly like a child. "Whatever happened to it?"

Crayt's eyes darkened behind her shades. "It was on a freighter bound for Althea Crater when the ship was attacked. The clone's whereabouts are unknown."

"I thought so," Monique went on. "Just wanted to make sure all my shit's together. I wouldn't want to taunt Unit Zero-One with falsehoods or anything." A thought occurred to her. "Hey, you want me to capture her?"

"Colonel Meyers tried that once before and it ended disastrously," answered Crayt. "I'm in no mood to repeat that disaster."

"Well, Colonel Meyers was only there because of his father anyway," Monique said airily. "Seriously, you think we could talk her into jumping ship?"

"Just focus on destroying her," Crayt said. "We don't need her."

Battleship Minerva, Persian Gulf

As expected, Oliver Wellington was a bear of a man, and Meyrin was very glad that he was only on the monitor and not standing before her, or else she would feel even more intimidated. He wore a purple ZAFT uniform, stroking his coarse beard thoughtfully as he listened to Meyrin outline her ship's precarious position. He was the commandant of the former ZAFT base at Carpentaria, and if all went as planned, she would be meeting him in person soon enough.

"You wouldn't be Captain Hawke of the Minerva if you weren't getting yourself into trouble somehow, would you?" chuckled Wellington, sitting back in his chair in whatever room he was in, Meyrin could not tell. "We have yet to make a detailed sweep of the area, so I can't say for certain if there's nothing in your path when you navigate the Strait of Hormuz."

Meyrin suppressed a sigh. "We could escape over land, I suppose, but we'd probably have to deal with the Qatar base instead."

"We'll be waiting for you in the Indian Ocean," Wellington added. "I have some men at sea conducting maneuvers and testing a new Mirage Colloid system for surface ships. Reach them and you're home free. Wellington, out."

The screen darkened, and Meyrin sat back with a sigh. Abbey leaned forward against the captain's chair, lost in thought.

"Captain, what if we veered east over Iran?" she asked.

"Tehran Air Base would chew us apart," Meyrin answered. "Or they'd push us down into the Himalayas, and the last time we tried to navigate a mountain range while avoiding detection, we almost lost a wing."

Abbey cringed. That was not fun to remember. "Well, we can get through Hormuz at flank speed," she went on, "but there are a lot of bases we'll be cutting it close to. Dubai, for one."

"We'll worry about that when we get there," Meyrin replied. "We should be able to dart through if we stay at best possible speed."

Meyrin hated not having faith in her own commands.

Emily was beginning to grow disturbed at all the time she spent pensively staring at the horizon on the Minerva's various observation decks. It was as though she was turning into Stella.

Here, however, she had time to come to grips with the terrifying words Rau had spoken to her earlier, staring anxiously at the setting sun. She knew her father had been cruel; she knew her life had gaps that her memory could not fill; she knew that at some point in her past, she had been trained as some sort of mobile suit pilot; but how could that all fit together the way he said it did? Was it really true that she was supposed to be some army's trump card?

And what did it say now that she had escaped her Alliance caretakers, and she was still some army's trump card? She certainly did not want to be a soldier or an ace mobile suit pilot, and yet now she was known as the Angel of Death as his Angel of Death.

"You know," a voice said, and Emily whirled around in surprise to find Shinn Asuka emerging onto the deck from the airlock, "it's hard to brood when everybody else can feel you brooding from a mile away."

Emily blushed and turned her eyes back towards the sea. "Sorry..."

"We'll live," Shinn answered with a shrug, coming to a stop next to her.

Emily glanced over at the man known by so many intimidating nicknames. Had he chosen to live this way? She had not chosen to be a soldier, but he took so naturally to combat and fought not only with the skill and precision of experience, but of a man whose purpose was fulfilled at the end of that massive anti-ship sword.

", I have a question," she started. Shinn glanced inquisitively at her. "Did, choose to be a soldier?"

The traitor Asuka looked back towards the sea again and shrugged. "Sort of."

"Sort of?"

"It's only the past," Shinn said, with a wave of his hand. "It's not that important."

Emily pursed her lips. "It is to me."

Shinn studied his protégé's face for a moment and sighed. "All you need to know is that I lived in Orb and my family died during the first invasion," he said. "And the only place for an orphaned Coordinator to go was ZAFT. So technically, I chose to be a soldier, but my other choice was to be hunted down and killed by Blue Cosmos." He scowled contemptuously at the horizon. "So a whole lot has changed, huh?"

"Did you choose to fight for the Resistance?" Emily asked.

Silence reigned for a moment. "Yeah," Shinn finally agreed. "I guess I can't bitch about that. Why do you ask?"

Emily buried her face in her hands. "I was...thinking about my father...and what he wanted me to be." A pause, and she shook her head. "I don't want to be this."

"I thought you were going to be the Angel of Death and not his Angel of Death," Shinn said.

"But I don't want to be either," protested Emily.

Shinn considered her for a moment and shrugged. "I never wanted to be the 'traitor Asuka,'" he replied. "But people kept calling me that anyway. So after a while I just stopped caring."

"Is that what I'm supposed to do?"

"Well, it's better than worrying about it. If you're not going to change it either way, then who cares?"

That was hard to argue with. But was it really a choice if the second option was unacceptable?

Emily leaned forward on the railing and wondered if it was worth it to stop caring.

Reloading the Abyss Gundam's various solid projectile weapons was a boring task, but it had to be done. And so, Auel Neider stood at the mobile suit crane controls, tiredly guiding another set of shells into the Abyss's right-hand shoulder ammo compartment. Necessary, perhaps...but still boring as all hell.

Auel glanced over at the sound of footsteps on the gantry, finding Stella wandering towards him, blank-eyed as usual. "Hey Stella," he said, turning back to his work. "What are you doing out here?"

"Stella's bored," she answered, before rearing back for a gargantuan yawn.

Auel glanced away and tried not to yawn himself. Stella was far too much of a child for Auel's patience, and though he was more than willing to protect her as though he needed to, he thought he was not so willing to try to carry on a conversation with her. Athrun, he could handle, broody and boring as he was; Sting, well, that asshole would be lost without him; Shinn was tolerable; Roxy was insane to drink as much liquor as she did, but unless he had been drinking heavily beforehand, she was otherwise intelligible; Rau and Viveka were alright as well. But Stella just tried his patience, and it made him feel a bit guilty because other people managed to get along with her without clenching their teeth in frustration.

Auel glanced back at her again, finding her staring pensively up at the Abyss's face.

"What is it, Stella?" he asked, kicking himself as he did.

"Is Auel mad?" she replied, after a few moments' pause.

Auel turned his eyes back towards the controls, switching the shell set to the left side of his trusty Gundam. "I'm not mad, I'm just tired," he said wearily. "Why do you ask?"

"Stella wants all her friends to be okay," came the reply.

In her own way, she still cared. "Well, I'll go take a nap after I'm done with this," he said, "but you shouldn't worry about us, Stella. We can take care of ourselves."

Stella paused for a moment, in search of words. "That's what friends do," she answered.

"Ow ow fucking ow!"

Abes glanced over from the gantry into the Savior's cockpit, where Viveka was doubled over in pain and clutching her left arm.

"What is it?" he asked. Viveka cursed a bit more before glancing back up at him.

"You ever dropped a wrench or something on your arm?" she asked back. Abes shrugged.

"All the time. Why?"

"Well, maybe you can't understand because your arm is made of flesh and bone and not metal," she explained, "but it's a lot worse than just a bruise or something when it makes your arm fucking vibrate!"

Abes tried to laugh under his breath and not out loud. Unfortunate as her infirmity may be, it was still funny, and damned if Matt Abes was going to fail to laugh at that which was funny. "Such a thought will see me through the next time I stub my toe or pinch my finger or something."

"Very funny, asshole," shot back the elder Oldendorf sister as she loosed her death-grip on her shoulder. "I hate it when that happens."

"Y'know they use stem cells and stuff to grow clones of parts like arms," Abes said, turning back towards the Savior with a laptop in hand. "And they have surgeries and drugs that can reattach the nerves. How come you went with the metal one?"

"Best I could get on short notice," Viveka answered. She paused, flexing the mechanical fingers in front of her. "Besides, I can't complain too much. I mean, I have the meanest left hook in the world now."

"Remind me to bring you to my next bar fight, then," Abes drawled. "Did you load the CIWS yet, or did someone else?"

"Athrun did."

"Athrun did? He fixes your mobile suit now?"

Viveka laughed, with only a hint of bitterness. "Most guys give their girlfriends flowers or chocolate or something to show that they care. Not Athrun Zala. He fixes my Gundam for me."

Abes blinked. "Wait, girlfriend? I don't keep up with the drama around here, but when did this happen?"

"It didn't," grumbled the red-haired girl, her voice disembodied as she reached back behind the Savior's cockpit seat. "I chewed him out for being an emotional recluse, and he proved me wrong by continuing to be an emotional recluse." A sigh drifted out from the rear of the cockpit. "I mean, three years on and he still acts like it's all his fault that the Orb Raiders were wiped out."

Abes scratched the back of his head awkwardly. "Look, I don't want to get myself in the middle of your little love story, so I'll just say this," he sighed. "Athrun Zala is a soldier above all else. He's been taught since he was a little kid that duty is everything, and that it's expected of him to abandon his own emotions and bow to a greater cause than himself. So he's just not going to give up on his old friends."

Silence was all that came back from the cockpit for a moment, before something clanged behind the cockpit seat. "Goddammit!" Viveka yelled.

"Now what?"

"It does this when I bang it against something metal too! Ow!"

Abes merely smirked to himself. "Cloned parts don't do this, is all I'm saying," he chuckled.

"Fuck you!"

March 19th, CE 77 - Earth Alliance Onogoro-class aircraft carrier Manhattan, Persian Gulf

How was a soldier supposed to approach a suicide mission?

That was the question on the mind of Lieutenant Commander Cruz Martinez, captain of the Manhattan as it sliced forward through the waves towards a fateful encounter with the Resistance's pride and joy, the Minerva. He could tell what was going on here. He was a sacrificial lamb, with emphasis on the "sacrificial" part, intended to slow the Minerva down while the Phantom Pain moved the final pieces into position for its death trap for the Minerva in the Strait of Hormuz. Marshal Markav had not even bothered to sugarcoat that reality nor had she shown any restraint in using her full authority as the commander of the Phantom Pain to send him on this mission.

He had been underway for two days now and he had spent his time thinking. Military history showed him a wealth of examples of men who went into combat knowing that they would not come out alive. But the dreaded kamikaze pilots of the Empire of Japan had a reason to die their war was going poorly and they were convinced that to die for their emperor was the greatest of all things they could do.

What was his sacrifice going to do? He would buy time for the Phantom Pain to finish setting its trap in Hormuz.

It was very humbling to know that you were being sent to die not for your country, your cause, or your people, but because somebody else needed to move some pieces into place.

"Captain, the Minerva is two hours out," the sensor officer reported. "The MS deck reports that all units are ready."

Martinez held back a sigh. Even if he had to die, he would certainly go down fighting.

"Send the mobile suits out on the Four Wings formation," he ordered, sitting back and draping one leg over another. "Begin the operation."

To be continued...