Phase 39 - Ghost Army

Mobile Suit Gundam SEED TWILIGHT

Note: I should add here that I altered Phase 47 of my DESTINY rewrite in a way that should evince itself by the end of this chapter. For some reason, every time I did, the website I was updating refused to display it. Alas, even in the future nothing works.

Phase 39 - Ghost Army

March 26th, CE 77 - ZAFT Carpentaria base, Australia

"You don't really have to follow me around," laughed Emily, marching down the tarmac with Isaac hot on her heels. The morning sun beamed down on them, tempered only by a gentle ocean breeze, as the ZAFT soldier caught up with his ward.

"No, really, I do," Isaac protested. "Like, orders."

Emily heaved a sigh. "If you say so. Why would anyone hurt little old me?"

"Well, if you aren't a Coordinator, for starters..."

At that, Emily frowned. "No, I'm something else," she said.

"See, thatís the problem," Isaac answered. "If you're not a Coordinator then they probably won't like you. Heck, even if you were a Coordinator, it'd be iffy. We've got some jerks here." He shrugged nervously. "Patrick Zala is a pretty popular name around here. Coordinator supremacy has its friends. I guess I can't blame them, but I wish they'd at least remember not to shoot at the people who are on our side."

Emily cast a dour glance around the tarmac. The hatred simmering under the surface all over the base had been souring her mood throughout the Minerva's stay in Carpentaria. It did not help that she had her own angst to deal with, but at any rate, she had determined that wherever the hatred was hottest was probably where Shinn Asuka could be found.

"Well," she said, "I wasn't with the Minerva back then."

"Doesn't matter," replied Isaac with a shrug. "You're with them now. They switched sides in the middle of the Battle of Solomon's Sword, and Asuka deserted in the middle of the Battle of Arzachel Crater. They blame those two for costing them the war." He shrugged again. "But, uh, the good news is not everyone hates you."

"How comforting."

"Seriously, the Angel of Death is kinda popular around here."

The Angel of Death pursed her lips and wondered what her mother would think of that.

Falling into position with a bone-jarring crash, the Chaos Gundam went silent as the final addition was made. Mechanics scurried around the slumbering titan as a crane lowered an armor plate over the Chaos's left hand.

"Two 'Solidus Fulgor' beam shields," the lead mechanic said, glancing back at Sting, Auel, and Stella on the gantry, "just like on the Destiny. You can still carry the RG30 if you want, but you don't really need to and it would slow you down a bit anyway."

"It will do," Sting said with a wave. "Thanks for everything, Conner. We appreciate it."

Conner merely shrugged. "Yeah, well, next up on the docket is the Gaia. What does Spacey over there want?"

Auel snickered as Stella stared back with a blank face. "We're just looking to get these two fitted for underwater combat," Sting answered for her, waving at the Chaos and Gaia, "so Auel doesn't have to bitch about always being alone."

"Fuck you!" Auel shot back.

"We'll do what we can," Conner said, consulting a laptop, "but, uh, they didn't really design the Chaos and Gaia for amphibious combat, so there's not much we can do besides, like, waterproofing."

"I understand," answered Sting, "but we need amphibious capability. Auel pretty much had to defend the ship from the entire Alliance aquatic squadron at Hormuz, and we can't really afford that again."

"What, you lack faith in my godlike abilities?" Auel scoffed.

"Think of it as hedging your bets," Conner said absently. "Look, Sting. I can't promise you a whole lot. We can't really make the Chaos and Gaia good at amphibious combat. We can only make them adequate at it. The rest you'll have to make up for with skill and luck. And since we don't believe in luck, well..."

"Do what you can," instructed Sting. "We came too close to losing everything last time, and I'm not letting that happen again."

To the untrained eye, it looked like a giant mess of red and green dots and tangled arrows on a green wire-grid map. And to the generally untrained eye of Meyrin Hawke, that was more or less what the Minerva's map screen looked like; but with concentration, it turned into something else.

"Something else" being a disaster.

"So," she started, with Rau standing silent next to her, "let me get this straight. We're supposed to take this entire fleet, make it invisible with Mirage Colloid, take it out through the south Pacific, around the Cape of Magellan, up the Atlantic, and straight into Iceland, with no problems whatsoever?"

"That would be the gist of it, yes," agreed Rau.

Meyrin rubbed her throbbing temples. "Okay. So what would you do?"

Rau suppressed the urge to grin, instead offering the sober military assessment born from experience. "I would do what the Resistance is doing now and wage a sustained guerrilla war," he answered. "The only two ways to counter it are to either win the support of the populace through which the guerrillas must move, or kill everyone so that the guerrillas have no populace through which to move. It is difficult to win the support of the populace when you are a foreign invader occupying their homes, and even the Phantom Pain would be hard-pressed to kill everyone."

"But that's why we're doing all this," Meyrin said, sweeping her arm over the map. "A long guerrilla war winds up killing civilians for every combatant."

Rau merely shrugged. "Civilians die either way. If Chiao Xu was not willing to tolerate that, he should not have fought this war in the first place."

Meyrin hated it when the people with bad news were right.

Stella Loussier moved with stunning efficiency.

It was one of the many things Shinn noticed about her as she diligently cleaned out her pet fish's tank. Every move she made was tailored to use as few muscles as possible, to expend as little energy as possible. It explained her slow, quiet, passive nature and those bursts of unfathomable energy and coordination when she was angry or scared. Her training as an Extended had taught her how to conserve every calorie for those times when she would need to fight with the strength of dozens of men. And so, when she was not on the battlefield, every moment was budgeted and measured in terms of energy spent.

Shinn Asuka found that profoundly disturbing.

He had occasionally wondered whether or not Stella was really "retarded," as Auel had so artfully put it. His limited knowledge of the Extended tended to indicate otherwise that a Class III like Stella would have been the most profoundly altered, the most extensively trained, the most deeply militarized. Perhaps it was the case that instead of being "retarded," she was actually as intelligent as anyone else but so much of her mental faculties were devoted to budgeting and measuring and estimating her energy that she seemed almost catatonic to everyone else. It explained, at least, how she could seem so normal when she was fighting when she was using all that stored-up energy.

And that was even more profoundly disturbing.

The tragedy of Stella Loussier was that if that was true, then even though she was free from the Alliance, even though she was where she wanted to be, she was still living life as an energy-measuring machine, constantly saving strength for spasms of battle.

That might let her take down ten Alliance Marines in hand-to-hand combat, but it was no way to live.

Standing on the gantry overlooking the Minerva as it entered the last phase of its repairs, Athrun Zala kept his back to the rest of Carpentaria. He had enough memories locked up here, and even though memories were all that remained of Yzak and Dearka and the others, he had no desire to be haunted. After all, that was the point that she had made.

He glanced to the right, where Viveka was leaning over the railing, peering down at the recuperating warship. "I still find it kinda hard to believe."

Athrun arched an eyebrow. "That we use giant robots to fight our wars?"

"No no, that I've spent the past month or so hanging out on the Minerva with my sister. I thought I would never see her again." She smiled grimly. "I guess there are still happy endings to be found in the world."

"I guess."

Viveka cast a sidelong glance towards her dour companion. "And what does your happy ending look like?"

"I don't think about happy endings," answered Athrun.

"Oh come on, you have to think of that." She nudged him in the side with her elbow the mechanical one, as Athrun winced.

"I don't really want to tell my life story again "

"It's not about your life story," she interrupted. "That's all the past. I'm talking about the future. Maybe it'll be as shitty as the past was, but maybe it'll be better. Isn't that worth fighting for?"

Athrun glanced down bitterly at the Minerva the flagship of ZAFT, the pride of the Resistance. "This war isn't about securing a better future," he said. "It's about securing a future, period. We can worry about what the future holds when we get there."

"Isn't that enough of a reason to fight even harder for a better future?" Viveka asked.

Athrun was silent for a moment, studying her battle-scarred face. "As a Coordinator, I don't have a future," he said, "but as a person..." He shrugged. "We'll see."

Earth Alliance battleship Charlemagne, Dubai Naval Station, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

It was called Operation Typhoon, and from his place by the screen in the Charlemagne's briefing room, Ivan Danilov could see that by any measure it was a stupendous scheme. The titanic 6th Combined Surface Fleet would come crashing down on the Gulf of Carpentaria, deploying in a line ten kilometers long to hedge in the Resistance's fleet and trap their forces at Carpentaria. The mobile suits, followed by the armor, followed by the infantry would sweep onto the beach, clearing out the enemy's air defenses first of all. The ground forces would pull back to their beachheads

"And when our forces are clear," Marshal Markav explained, "Daedalus Crater will open fire with the Requiem cannon."

Danilov frowned. That was what made it so stupendous. It would all take such incredible timing and coordination, moving the Requiem relay points to exactly the right locations and firing at exactly the right moment to hit the Resistance forces at Carpentaria and not, say, a city in western Australia. And then the chaos would be used to launch an orbital drop of two mobile suit battalions, hidden in the Debris Belt over the course of a month, landing behind enemy lines and raising all kind of hell while three Destroy Gundams pounded and twisted the front line until the rest of the army found an opening.

The Destroy Gundams. Danilov hated the Destroy Gundams. From a purely military perspective, they were devastatingly effective; their positron reflectors let them shrug off firepower that could stop entire battalions; they had enough guns to return the fire in spades; with defense and firepower combined, they could simply plow through defenders and tear gaping holes in enemy lines. As long as their flanks were protected by more nimble machines, they were unstoppable.

From every other perspective, however, they were perhaps the most dramatic symbol of Alliance military power in the world. They were feared, yes but more than that, they were hated. They destroyed cities without regard for who was an enemy and who was innocent; they towered over everything as sheer expenditures of money, sheer examples of power. They were easy to hate.

The plan was precarious. There were so many ways it could go wrong. And yet perhaps it might end this war and for that, Danilov had to hope.

Sven Cal Bayan did not understand women.

He had come to this conclusion after meeting the dreaded Transylvania Viper, Monique du Prey, who was now sprawled across a bench in the Charlemagne's crew lounge, wearily watching as Mudie once again humiliated Shams on the pool table. She was one of those Phantom Pain soldiers who had joined only for the thrill of the battle and the even greater thrill of killing. And for that, Sven realized, he found her disgusting.

It was not the killing itself that disgusted him. That was only a necessary part of the battle; soldiers couldn't get up and shoot you in the back if they were dead. But too much attachment to the thrill of the hunt and the rush of the fight led to mistakes, to losing sight of objectives, to doing stupid things like giving the enemy a sporting chance. This was not sport, this was war, and the important thing was not to have a good time but to achieve one's objectives.

That seemed to be an ongoing problem with the Phantom Pain, though. The Phantom Pain had two informal criteria for its recruits: that they were either bloodthirsty enough to kill lots of people, or skilled enough to dominate the battlefield. It was a happy day when those two traits combined in one person, and clearly the Phantom Pain preferred to err on the side of skill and not bloodlust but people like Monique du Prey always found their way in anyway.

Well, he reminded himself, there was no sense worrying about it. She did her job, and if she happened to really like it, so much the better. All that mattered was achieving the objectives.

"What the hell are those things?"

Standing on the Charlemagne's deck with Merau, Grey pointed across the Dubai base's dry-dock towards a pair of mobile suits standing tall beside a hangar, one with a huge backpack and the other with a tall crest on its head. Merau squinted at them for a moment.

"Oh, those. The Nero Blitz and Rosso Aegis. I hear they're going to be part of Typhoon."

Grey frowned at the two mobile suits. "I don't suppose they're for us," he said.

"'course not. We're the newbies, we always get the leftovers."

The wind kicked up a cloud of sand across the base, and the yellow dust rose up like a blanket over the hangar. Grey tried not to sigh.

"I can't be the only one wondering what the point of this all is. I mean, we have the Minerva trapped in Hormuz, they're on the ropes, their Gundams are all damaged, and they still got away. Are they gods or what?"

Merau shrugged. "Their luck will run out sooner or later. We just have to be persistent."

"Persistently sacrificing human beings?"

"Everyone's luck runs out eventually."

Grey crossed his arms with a scowl. "Do we have to wait for the Angel of Death to make a mistake?"

"Are you still thinking about her?"

"I wish she'd never opened that comm channel." He glared up at the sky. "I didn't want to see her face. And now I know that whenever I fight that thing, I know the face of the person who's piloting it. It's a lot easier to destroy mobile suits when you only have to see the mobile suit's face and not the pilot."

Merau sighed. "You're going to have a much easier time in this war if you learn to stop thinking about it."

Djibril Manor, Vermont, Atlantic Federation

"A decisive battle is not how you win a guerrilla war, Djibril," protested Lucs Kohler, seated with a handful of the rich old men who controlled Blue Cosmos in the solarium of Lord Djibril's sprawling estate. "That's not how these wars are waged."

Djibril suppressed the urge to scowl. Kohler had served briefly in the military, seen action in a skirmish with Latin American terrorists, taken a leg wound, and been honorably discharged. That was technically more service to his name than any of the other Blue Cosmos financiers had to theirs, but it was also not terribly impressive either way. Getting shot in the leg by a terrorist did not make you an expert on military matters.

Nevertheless, he had a point. "That would be true typically," Djibril said, "but we do not face a typical solution. The guerrillas are marching out to meet us in a decisive battle. We can crush them all when they are gathered in one spot."

"I doubt that's the full extent of it," groused Bruno Azrael from Kohler's side. "It's certainly not what I would do were I in charge over there."

"And what would you do?"

An evil gleam that Djibril had seen before in the eyes of the man's sons flickered for a moment. "I'd gather the forces for a decisive blow while keeping even more out in the countryside. Draw in the Alliance, give them a victory they think ends the war, lie low for a bit while they start disbanding their army, and then strike back with a vengeance when their defenses are lowered."

"Ridiculous," scoffed Alwin Ritter, president of Norfolk Shipyards, seated across the table. "They aren't that widespread."

"Are they not?" Azrael asked back. "It is difficult to estimate a guerrilla organization's numbers by its very nature."

"Gentlemen," Djibril interrupted, "our goal at Carpentaria is not to end the war in a swift and decisive blow. It is to turn the Resistance from a legitimate threat to a minor nuisance. There are scarier things out there and we don't need Chiao Xu and his Minerva buzzing around our heads in the meantime. If we want to eradicate the Resistance down to the last man, we could certainly do so...but Iím sure the specter of a returning ZAFT fleet will convince them that we are their only hope for salvation."

Kohler arched a whitening eyebrow. "You're gambling that they hate the Coordinators more than they hate us?"

"That's why we're attacking the former ZAFT base of Carpentaria," answered Djibril. "The Coordinators in the Resistance will be gathered there, as will the Coordinators that comprise the ZAFT Remnant. Kill them there and when the rest of them return with the ZAFT fleet, they will be all that is left, practically speaking, of the Coordinator people. Then we can exterminate them."

"The Resistance does have a knack for finding enemies other than us to fight," Azrael agreed with a shrug. "Usually it's each other."

"Exactly, gentlemen," Djibril continued. "They may be ignorant savages, but they have their uses. And I intend to employ them to the utmost."

Ritter frowned. "What could ZAFT have in its clutches that is so bad? They are hiding out at Mars. What can they do out there, with a handful of frontier colonies?"

"We don't know all of the toys that Dullindal dreamt up before he died," Kohler pointed out. "I'm sure they've got something terrible in store."

At that, Djibril scowled.

Something terrible indeed...

ZAFT Carpentaria base, Australia

"And you told us they had a bar," snarled Roxy Bannon as she stalked down the tarmac towards the Minerva, an apologetic Athrun and a weary Shinn on her heels.

"Well they did when I was last here," Athrun protested. "But, I mean, I can see why they might close it if the homeland got shot out of the sky."

"Oh, hell, like nobody here would've sought solace at the bottom of a bottle."

Shinn glanced around tiredly as Athrun tried to explain that Carpentaria's officer lounge had never really been that great anyway because they insisted on importing their beer from the PLANTs and Coordinators made terrible beer. He had been to Carpentaria once before as well, where he had met Kira Yamato.

His blood boiled. Kira Yamato. Ace of ZAFT. He did not bear the deep and personal wounds Athrun bore from his rivalry with Kira; he did not have to deal with the betrayal of a friend. He could despise Kira and do his utmost to destroy him with a clear conscience, because Kira had taken much from him.

Of course, Kira was still alive. Shinn could feel, deep in his bones, that his enemy still drew breath. The rumors had it that ZAFT was at Mars, soon to return with a rebuilt fleet and a vendetta for the Alliance, for Earth, for Naturals. Surely, Kira Yamato would be there in the thick of the fighting.

"Anyways, there's really no towns left around here," Athrun continued as Shinn resumed listening to the conversation, "so I'm afraid you'll just have to make do with your already illustrious stash of inebriating beverages."

"Bah! Nothing I have right now is strong enough to knock Shinn out so I can rape him."

"What?!"

"Kidding!"

Soldiers at drill were a bizarre sight to watch.

Bizarre, at least, to Emily von Oldendorf, who had no experience of military discipline and had, much to her surprise, survived a few battles with disciplined soldiers without the benefit of the same discipline. In truth, she was not entirely sure what marching in nice neat straight lines had to do with fighting wars. Marching in nice neat straight lines was only a way to get quickly and horrifically killed on the battlefield which, she guessed, was why nobody actually did it on the battlefield.

"Why are they doing that?" she asked, glancing over at her side, where Isaac was watching the drilling soldiers with a mixture of amusement and sympathy.

"They're infantry," he explained. "So when they're not actually training, they're doing stuff like that. For discipline."

"Discipline?"

"It's how they get you to run across a field and get yourself shot at, because nobody in their right mind would do that on their own."

Emily considered the soldiers, as the entire block of them abruptly turned at their commander's order, swerving bodily to the left and tramping off in a new direction. "I've never gotten discipline like that before..."

"It sucks," declared Isaac, with what Emily took to be the pain of experience.

"I must not be a soldier, then," Emily said with a smile.

"Well, not in our way," Isaac admitted. "Doesn't seem to have slowed you down or anything, though."

Idly, she wondered if her way into battle was the cheater's way only to remember that instead of having to do push-ups in the mud, she had to ponder whether or not her father had killed her mother to turn her into a military project. So in that sense, she had gone through that discipline enough discipline to turn her into something better.

If only she could remember it.

Onigashima. Island of demons.

Meyrin Hawke had heard of this island before, as the location of an Orb military base. The base had been slated for closing shortly before the Valentine War, and the two subsequent invasions of Orb had interrupted any plans to reopen it; but now, with the Junius War three years past, the ruling Government-General of Orb had decided to reopen the base after all, now stocking it with Alliance units.

And what a difference that made.

"These guys," explained Oliver Wellington in his spacious office, to Meyrin, Abbey, and Rau before him, "are causing us all kinds of grief. They run air raids on the whole eastern seaboard of Australia from this base, and we're going to have to neutralize them if we're going to get any fleets out of here into the open ocean."

"Yes," Abbey agreed, "but a whole base, on our own...?"

"We can send a combat group with you," Wellington offered. "But we can't afford to spare too much, because we need to keep enough defensive forces here to deter any preemptive strike by the Alliance. I'm sure you understand."

"It wouldn't be the first time we've taken on a whole base ourselves," answered Meyrin.

"The island itself is not very big," Wellington went on, "but the whole thing is honeycombed with caverns and a lot of it is underground. That positron cannon of yours might help here. We need it at least incapable of launching air strikes on us."

"They have the advantage of fortification," warned Rau. "If your intelligence is accurate, we would have to effectively wipe the island off the map."

Wellington shrugged. "If that's what it takes."

Meyrin turned her eyes towards the map before her. A tiny island, two kilometers along its longest axis, studded with gun emplacements and missile launchers and secret hangars and an underground submarine dock, it was the perfect platform for launching a merciless series of air strikes. It would have to be cracked open with the Tannhäuser, likely more than once, before any real damage could be done.

"Like I said, we can send a detachment with you," Wellington went on. "Our intelligence is sketchy, however, so you may need to confirm it yourselves before you do anything."

Meyrin glanced over at Rau; he merely shrugged.

"If you can keep them hanging off to the side, out of range," she said, "then that should be sufficient." She turned her gaze towards Abbey next, who nodded approvingly. "I want to scout the area out first for myself and see what we're up against. Maybe we can use this detachment to draw some of their forces away."

"And take on the base yourself?"

Meyrin shrugged herself. "It's what we do."

It was a mystery to Sting Oakley why so many people on this base were so angry.

He knew that there were reasons, of course; many of the personnel on this base were ZAFT veterans of the Junius War, and they had watched the Alliance blow their homeland out of the sky with the Requiem cannon. He too had watched that terrible spectacle and knew that something tragic had happened. But how could he really sympathize? His home for as long as he could remember had been Lodonia...and that was a place he did not mind seeing demolished.

He winced at the memories. The block word no longer controlled him, but it still reminded him of its presence. The Alliance and Neo Roanoke left a cruel legacy. But, he reminded himself, they had also given him power, with the expectation that none of their leashes would ever break. They had broken, and now Sting Oakley was a free man.

And that had been his home. He had no country, nor any memories of his days before Lodonia. He was not even sure if there were days before Lodonia for him.

He stood in the hangar outside the Minerva, watching the technicians at work. They were upgrading the Gundams, in anticipation of more ferocious battles later in space.

The memories of outer space were mostly those of Althea Crater and the Girty Lue, punctuated by the Minerva's occasional sojourn into the starry sky. But they were better memories than could be found at Lodonia or Althea, because he was able to put his power to use for a cause of his choosing, with comrades of his choosing, in service to a commander of his choosing. The power to choose one's own fate was compelling enough to even make him grind his teeth and fight down the fear that rose in his heart on hearing that damned block word.

He glanced back up at the Chaos. They did not have much planned in the way of upgrades only a pair of beam shields, a modification to the beam rifle, a pair of combat knives, and enhanced maneuverability but it would be enough. He needed only that much to offer his strength to the Minerva to his friends, to his home.

Anything less, after all, would be failure.

The Twilight Gundam had new armaments. That was always a boon, Emily decided, because she had long ago discovered that it was the combination of old tricks in new ways that kept her alive at the end of the day. Sitting in the Twilight's cool cockpit with Viveka leaning against the cockpit's door jamb, she watched half in boredom as the mechanics closed the panel on her jet-black war steed's right forearm. They had hidden two claw-tipped "heat rods" in there, which they told her could be extended for hundreds of meters and had the power to deliver a punishing electric shock complemented by a pair of beam sabers on the rear skirt armor and razor-tipped combat claws on the fingertips. And to differentiate the Twilight from the Destiny in visual scans, its beam wings now manifested themselves in a chilling, icy blue.

So, her Gundam evolved. Did she as well?

"I haven't seen your fanboy around these parts," remarked Viveka, grinning down at her sister. "Did you finally get bored with him?"

"Isaac said he had work to do," Emily answered, steeling herself for the coming heckles.

"So, what, you're just gonna leave the little runt hanging?"

"It's not like that," started Emily, already knowing it was futile.

Viveka waved her natural hand dismissively. "Poor little sister, doesn't know how to break a heart properly."

"If it's anything like breaking bones, you could probably teach me."

"If only," Viveka said with a wistful sigh. "No, breaking a heart is a much more delicate procedure. I got pretty good at it after I ran away. Now, do you want this to be a clean break or what?"

Emily squeezed her eyes shut. "Can't we do this without breaking anything?"

"Not with the looks he's been giving you."

As she heaved a sigh, Emily turned her thoughts toward her trusty companion for her stay at Carpentaria. His infatuation was painfully easy to read even without any Newtype senses, but he meant well and Emily wanted nothing to do with the business of breaking hearts. So perhaps that was what was different about her now she was someone to be loved, to be wanted, to be cherished.

Which, as she thought about it, was a little embarrassing.

"Well, if it makes you feel better," Viveka went on, "the problem's going to resolve itself in a couple days. We're leaving soon."

"I should at least say goodbye to him," answered Emily. "He's been nice to me."

"Sister dearest," laughed Viveka, "you're gonna have to get used to this if you want to ever leave the ship. Having a reputation has its drawbacks."

Emily turned that thought over in her mind bitterly. Another way she had changed.

March 27th, CE 77 - Earth Alliance battleship Charlemagne, Indian Ocean

Ivan Danilov remembered this spot. Deep in the Indian Ocean, this was where he had first encountered the Minerva, as an observer in the Eurasian Federation Navy, watching the ship that was then ZAFT's flagship tearing through an Atlantic Federation patrol group. Things had changed by now, he supposed after all, now he was in charge of his ship but they had not changed much. Somewhere under there was the rusting hulk of an Atlantic Federation carrier, disintegrating beneath the mighty blue waters, the corpses upon which the Minerva and Shinn Asuka built their reputations.

The Charlemagne sliced through the air above the waves, gliding northeast towards the South China Sea, its destination the sprawling Yokosuka Naval Station at which a massive Alliance fleet was gathering. The Charlemagne would form the tip of the Phantom Pain's spear in this tremendous scheme, the flagship from which Marshal Markav would personally direct the battle. They had responsibility for the Destroy units, while Daedalus Crater the space headquarters of the Phantom Pain would fire the Requiem cannon to tear a hole in the enemy lines. At least they would be necessary.

And on the subject of necessity, he glanced across the bridge at his faithful first mate, examining the navigator's latest course correction. Vera Wilson was a dependable officer, and dependability was the most important thing to Captain Danilov. Other soldiers could perform spectacular feats in mobile suits, or smother grenades with their own bodies to save their comrades' lives, but it was the soldiers who showed up and did their jobs that made the whole machine keep rolling towards its destination. The heroes deserved their accolades, but heroes had a pesky way of dying in the middle of their heroics and dead heroes were no good to Captain Danilov.

On the other hand, he was beginning to wonder now if all he had were dead heroes.

The air was tense as Sven caught sight of none other than Monique du Prey sauntering onto the Charlemagne's outer observation deck. She shot the taciturn Alliance officer a wicked grin, coming to a stop on the railing next to him.

"Fancy seeing you out here," she chuckled. "Did the mechanics kick you out for some fresh air or what?"

Sven crossed his arms. "My tasks for the day are complete."

"Great! Wanna go hit the bar?"

"No."

Monique's lips curled into an exaggerated pout. "You're no fun. What's up with you, anyway? War's supposed to be fun!"

Sven cast a sidelong glance at the Transylvania Viper. "We must be as prepared as possible to face pilots like those on the Minerva."

Monique's eyes lit up. "Oh, speaking of them," she started with a grin, "you wanna hear a little secret about that Angel of Death of theirs?"

"I already know about Project Evolution," Sven cut her off. Monique blinked in surprise.

"What? How?"

"Intelligence assignment. Lieutenant Ramos does her work well."

Monique smirked back. "Tsk tsk, Captain Bayan! You're not supposed to be ordering intelligence missions as an MS team leader. One might take that to be a breach of protocol!"

Sven held in check the urge to snap back with a caustic retort. "It was for the greater good of the Phantom Pain. The more we know about our enemies, the easier it will be to fight them and identify weaknesses."

"Ah, I see, always have to be one step ahead, huh," laughed Monique. "So I don't suppose you'd be interested in the Crusader project, then..."

Despite the entreaties of his better judgment, Sven cast a wary glance towards the cackling pilot.

"They're building you a new unit at Daedalus, dear," she drawled, draping herself around Sven's shoulders to purr enticingly in his ear. "A new Gundam, in fact. With beam wings. The fruit of years of Alliance research on the Destiny. And I'm so jealous."

Sven bristled at her touch. "I was not informed of this."

"Well, you can't know everything, dear captain," Monique giggled. "But that's why you've got to survive this coming battle. So I can see it in action."

ZAFT Lesseps-class land battleship Monterrey, ZAFT Carpentaria base, Australia

"Commander Argus," intoned Commandant Wellington, his eyes narrow and tone brooking no disagreement, "your personal feelings are secondary here. This is an order."

Standing on the bridge of the Monterrey, Commander Argus seethed for a moment, before he dutifully straightened up and saluted. "Yes sir."

The screen went dark, and Argus whirled around on his heel with a furious snarl. Wellington's orders were clear: follow the Minerva out to sea, descend upon Orb, and act according to her instructions. Her plan to destroy the Orb base on Onigashima was simple enough, using Argus's armada of one Lesseps, two Petrie-class ships, and three Vosgulov submarines, to draw out Onigashima's defensive squadron, whereupon the Minerva would sweep in with its Tannhäuser to crack the base open and destroy it.

Taking instructions from the Minerva. From those traitors. No, this would not do at all.

Maddock glanced up from the captain's chair as Argus approached. "So we are to support the Minerva," he started.

"So says the commandant," snarled Argus. "But the commandant has always been clouded and distracted by politics, and it can only be politics that has him agreeing to support those race-traitors." He turned again, glowering out the bridge windows at the dry-dock where the Minerva's final checks were taking place. "This is intolerable. They betrayed us once, why should we trust them now?"

"Will we be ignoring our orders, sir?" Maddock asked.

Argus eyed the Minerva's dry-dock for a moment and smirked. "No, we'll obey," he said. "In our own way."

Governor-General's Residence, Onogoro Island, United Emirates of Orb

The office of the Atlantic Federation Governor-General of the Protectorate of the United Emirates of Orb was a sprawling place, now dimly lit, with its owner standing towards the massive window that dominated the back wall and looked out over the teeming capital from the secure heights of Onogoro Island. Three years ago this country had been laid waste by an invading ZAFT army, thrown back only by the might of the Alliance's Destroy Gundam and all pretenses of sovereignty had collapsed amid the smoke and rubble. The Atlantic Federation had ceded their tropical trophy rather quietly after the Valentine War, exhausted as they were but now it was different, and they had rolled into Aube on the wheels of victory. This time they were here to stay.

And their Governor-General, of course, was the symbol of their occupation.

The office door opened to admit a blonde woman in the black uniform of the Phantom Pain, and slid shut behind her.

"I see you've returned, commodore," the governor said. "I trust the matter is all taken care of?"

"Sahaku escaped again," came her reply, "but your uncle Fuji was not so lucky." She dumped a round object swathed in cloth onto his desk.

"And what's that?"

"His head."

The governor sniffed. "How barbaric. Shall I place it on a pike at the city gates?"

The woman smiled back. "You always reject my gifts."

"Well, when I tell you to bring me the heads of my enemies, I'm not being literal, Mara. You can even leave their heads attached to them for all I care." He turned again as Mara strode up next to him around his desk. "Now there's only one. Rondo Mina Sahaku, ensconced on Ame-no-Mihashira with her army of pretty boys and rejected prototypes."

"She'll be a tougher nut to crack," warned Mara. "She's a Resistance leader now. She has their protection. And Orb's space fleet is still not yet up to speed."

"Always at the beck and call of the Alliance as it is," agreed the governor. "For now I will settle for isolating her. In time, we may yet convince Djibril to deal with her for us."

Mara grinned. "Wouldn't that be nice."

"The Sahaku family has no place in my future Orb," the governor continued. "None of the other families do. Not even the rest of my own family does. We've spent too long trying to deal with all the bickering between these ancient houses. They need to be sacrificed."

"Setting yourself up as dictator, I see," chuckled Mara.

The governor smiled back. "I will make Orb strong once again. That is what I have always done."

"So what shall we call you?" asked Mara with a smirk. "Emperor Seiran I?"

"Oh, nothing too regal," chuckled Governor-General Jona Roma Seiran. "'President' will do."

To be continued...