Phase 40 - The Ones Left Behind

Mobile Suit Gundam SEED TWILIGHT

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Phase 40 - The Ones Left Behind

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March 28th, CE 77 - Battleship Minerva, ZAFT Carpentaria base, Australia

A crash of grinding metal rang through the air as the dry-dock gates opened, and the Minerva rose ponderously into the sky. Standing on the outer observation deck, Emily watched as Carpentaria shrank in the distance. Most of the ship's crew had memories of this place預nd now, so did she.

The destination this time was to the east, in the long-suffering island nation of Orb. Meyrin had recounted for the unfamiliar among the crew a brief history of the nation, as a favorite battleground for the Earth Alliance and ZAFT throughout the war-torn recent years of the Cosmic Era. Invaded and occupied by the Atlantic Federation in CE 71 for its mass driver, which was destroyed by Orb's defiant leader in the fighting; set free as an independent nation under the Seiran family's direction after the Valentine War, only to be invaded again in a massive strategic feint by ZAFT to relieve pressure on its allies熔nly to see that invasion utterly broken by the Alliance's unstoppable new Destroy Gundam; and now it was the Protectorate of the United Emirates of Orb. Nobody pretended that Orb was still an independent nation now; it was fully under the Atlantic Federation's control, and possessed a no-longer-so-secret base that was responsible for numerous raids on Carpentaria. It would have to be dealt with.

That, of course, was the Minerva's specialty.

Emily glanced over her shoulder. There was nobody else on the deck, but she could nonetheless feel a pulsing sense of anger and regret. There were numerous such pulses on the ship, but the one she felt now had the immediacy and familiarity of Shinn Asuka. She knew the outline of his story預 boy in Orb, deprived by invaders of his family, joining ZAFT and following his destiny no matter what twists and turns it took傭ut she could not relate to the turmoil he felt. Her home had made no pretenses at being a home.

There was another fulcrum for those miserable feelings aboard the Minerva, however, and that came from Athrun Zala. A storm of emotions was churning in him預nger, guilt, regret, longing, determination, resignation, fear預nd his story she knew not so well.

Knowledge, perhaps, she lacked, but that did not mean she could not try to understand.

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Earth Alliance battleship Charlemagne, Indian Ocean

"I am putting Captain Bayan in charge of the mobile suit team," explained Danilov on the Charlemagne's bridge, with Vera, Sven, and Monique around him. "I will split our MS complement into two forces; one with the task of engaging the enemy, the other with the task of defending the ship. We will be spearheading the Phantom Pain's effort in Typhoon, under the direct command of Field Marshal Markav, and our target will be the Minerva, which is sure to appear at the battle."

Sven crossed his arms. "Is the Crusader project at Daedalus on track for completion?"

Danilov glanced over at Vera, who consulted her clipboard. "Not in time for the operation, no," she replied. "The engineers still consider the beam wing system too unstable for combat use."

"What a shame!" sighed Monique, throwing a mock-consoling arm around Sven's shoulders. "Denied a chance at glory!"

"The Noir will suffice," replied Sven. "Do I have any special orders?"

"We only need you to tie up the Minerva's mobile suit team," responded Danilov. "We'll take care of the rest. If at all possible, shoot them down, but if all you can manage is to keep them busy, that will do as well."

"How frustrating," Monique sighed with a dismissive wave. "Condemned to merely occupy them! Surely a man of your singular talents should be doing more in our great little scheme here."

"I would appreciate it if you would keep your commentary to yourself, lieutenant," Danilov answered with a glare. "You will be under Captain Bayan's command, after all."

"With all due respect, Captain Danilov," Monique said with a wave, making clear that she intended to express not even that, "I'm here on Crayt's orders."

Danilov narrowed his eyes and took a menacing step towards her. "So long as you're on my ship, you're under my command, as per Atlantic Federation military protocol, no matter who put you here or you report to. Is that clear, lieutenant?"

Monique's lips twisted in a scowl for a moment. "Of course, sir."

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"So what do you think of the youngsters?" Shams asked, leaning against the console with crossed arms while Mudie sat at the controls. On the screen before them both was a battle currently raging in the simulator, between Ensigns Grey Saiba and Merau Seraux. Two Dark Windams had destroyed all of each other's weapons except their beam sabers, and now stood on a pockmarked desert surface, locked in a swordfight.

Mudie shrugged. "They're alright."

Grey's Windam feinted right and then swerved left, slipping past a saber stab from Merau; instead, Merau whirled around, drawing what seemed to be her trump card預n anti-armor penetrator went sailing from the Windam's hand, embedding itself in the left shoulder of Grey's Windam and blowing its arm off. The stricken mobile suit staggered back under the smoke, and Merau went charging forward with another killing stroke熔nly for Grey's Windam to burst out of the smoke, duck under the blow, and take Merau's Windam's left arm with a sweeping slice of his own.

"Now if only they could pull this sort of thing off in actual combat," Shams sighed.

"They're alright," repeated Mudie with another shrug.

"Yeah, well, kicking each other's asses in a simulator fight isn't the same as actual combat," answered Shams. "You can't really die doing this, for one."

"If you're good enough, you won't die in actual combat either."

"Ah, but that's the catch, huh?"

Grey's Windam took another stab through its right shoulder, searing off most of its armor傭ut with his opening clear, he took the head from Merau's Windam with a sweep of his saber. Merau thrust her entire mobile suit forward, slamming it into Grey's machine, and brought her saber down through the Windam's right leg, sawing it off at the knee. The wounded Windam toppled to the side傭ut not before Grey brought his own saber down, slashing it through both legs of Merau's Windam and bringing her machine crashing down as well.

Mudie threw a switch on the console. "Enough. Simulation ended."

The screen went dark, and the two simulation pods creaked open to release their exhausted occupants. Mudie sat back with crossed arms.

"I guess if we do this enough, they should be okay?" Shams asked.

"They'll die anyway," replied Mudie. "That's how it works on the battlefield."

Shams eyed the two young pilots as they greeted each other預nd probably accused each other of cheating, judging by the wild gestures. "Should we not be training them as well as we can? So they'll have as a good a shot at surviving as they'll ever get?"

"Are you going soft on me, Shams?"

Shams shifted his weight awkwardly. "Ah, never mind."

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Vladivostok Naval Station, Primorsky Krai, Russia

Admiral Aleksandr Romini was the commander of the Eurasian Federation's mighty Pacific Armada. His fleet had a storied history as the force that patrolled the Pacific Ocean on behalf of a series of faraway emperors in Moscow, with the bustling, polluted port of Vladivostok and the long, winding veins of the Trans-Siberia Railway as their only links to civilization. Like his command, the admiral himself was forged of stuff sterner than most. Only a strong man could have survived the infernos of the Valentine War and Junius War, in submarine combat in the northern Pacific against the marauding naval forces of ZAFT.

And so, as Crayt Markav sat back in her shuttle on the tarmac of the Vladivostok base, she pondered the future as she had arranged it, and Admiral Romini's place in it. The admiral was sending two fleets of his Pacific Armada to Yokosuka, to join the growing 6th Combined Surface Fleet. Over five hundred ships and almost four thousand mobile suits, not counting the seventy still in orbit and ready for a quick drop, would sweep down upon Carpentaria and transform it from an enemy stronghold into an Alliance beachhead. The Requiem cannon and three Destroy Gundams would blast open the enemy lines, allowing Alliance forces to spill out into the countryside and retake all of Australia. Surely the Minerva could not stop this.

There were still loose ends that needed attending, of course. The Charlemagne had not yet arrived at Yokosuka, but it was on its way, and the fleet was gathering. So long as nobody got a bright idea and attacked Yokosuka, the plan could begin flawlessly. And even if the Minerva and its Gundams stopped the Destroys, they could not stop the Requiem.

No, the Requiem was the closest thing the Alliance had to the power of God. Nothing could compare to the might of the Lord, but so long as the Phantom Pain wielded the Requiem, they could call upon the shadow of His light, and smite their enemies all the same.

"Marshal," the pilot called from the cockpit, "we've been cleared for takeoff, destination Yokosuka."

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Orb Spengler-class aircraft carrier Minashiro, Pacific Ocean

The Minashiro was officially a gift from the Atlantic Federation to its long-suffering Protectorate of Orb to aid in its defense from the vicious beasts of the Resistance, but the truth was that the Atlantic Federation was simply transforming Orb into a large garrison for patrolling the Pacific and bottling up ZAFT in Carpentaria. And Commodore Mara Saraba, standing on the ship's bridge as it slid forward through the calm blue waters, had no doubt that the Atlantic Federation had other designs as well, on its larger allies. That would be just like them. The world was all a game to them預 zero-sum game.

She glanced around the bridge. Intelligence claimed that the great Resistance battleship Minerva was on a course for Orb territory用robably intending to at long last deal with the base on Onigashima.

The captain was Lieutenant Commander Yamada, a narrow-faced man with the Navy who had seen action in both wars in the past seven years. It seemed to be his lot in life to go plunging headlong into generally certain doom, and to somehow come out of it alive, if not successful. But those were the officers on whom one's life depended, and so it paid to choose the best.

"Commodore," said Yamada, stepping up briskly next to the black-clad woman, "I must confess I'm uncertain that just the Minashiro can take on the Minerva. They didn't get their reputation for nothing."

"The Governor wants us to give them a nice welcome," Mara replied with a grin, "as only my girls know how."

Yamada arched a graying eyebrow. "If you say so."

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Battleship Minerva, Pacific Ocean

It was faint, but it was unmistakably familiar, flickering in the distance. Standing on the Minerva's outer observation deck, Emily gazed out to the horizon, where somewhere over it lay a handful of warships pulsing with life. They were too far away to make out distinctly, except for one預nd that one she recognized as Isaac Kenner.

Well, he was a mobile suit pilot, so he had a good enough reason to be hanging around as part of a battle group. So it was not as though he was simply stalking her.

Now, alone with only the quivering flames of life around her consciousness, she had time to contemplate預nd to compare.

On one hand, she had Isaac Kenner; younger than herself by a year, she had learned, and full of the eagerness of youth. She almost saw in him a shade of herself; a pilot who had thrown himself into the fight even though he felt fear, because he had friends and comrades who needed him, and their need was more important than his fear. As it had turned out, he had two years' worth of training and experience and six months of direct combat experience to his credit. But even so, he radiated youth, inexperience, openness. The world was a show and he was an unbiased observer. He had possibility before him. And with openness came innocence, and looking up to someone. Emily did not quite know how to feel about the way Isaac seemed to look up to her預s though in her lay an example of how one should live, what one should do.

And, as she remembered that she was still only sixteen herself, she felt profoundly strange at thinking of Isaac as "full of the eagerness of youth."

On the other hand, she had Shinn Asuka, the one who had taken her youth in the least romantic way possible. He himself was young by any normal standard, and yet he was more than anything a man. He had walked the winding trails of hell and emerged with steel in his spine. He knew pain, he knew loss, he knew war, he knew perfectly well how alone one could feel with the powers of a Newtype. And yet he had learned to weather it all, and預t least for those without the senses幼ould deal with it all inscrutably. He was learned. He was wise. He radiated age, experience, wisdom; and the doors of possibility were closed to him. He was what he was. He was, if anything, the one who Isaac should have been looking up to, because in Shinn Asuka was the power to endure the slings and arrows of life.

On one hand, the innocence of her life with her mother; on the other, the knowledge and security she knew she needed.

Emily blushed. If she put it that way, it sounded like she was choosing which one she wanted to date.

Her mother, she imagined, would probably scold her for worrying about mere boys at such a tender age. She had too much living, too much learning to do before she could go giving her heart away. She idly wondered if her mother would call Shinn a "mere boy," but her mother had never been one to trust the tall, dark, and handsome types anyway. They would break your heart, she said; they could give you thrills, they could give you fun, but they could not give you life.

Perhaps she knew that from experience.

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"So how's it going with the Bionic Woman?"

Athrun blinked in surprise at the unfamiliar voice in the cockpit of his trusty Infinite Justice, and looked up to find Roxy leaning against the cockpit door jamb, absently swirling around some ice in a glace of scotch.

Athrun arched an eyebrow. "Uh, there's a reason we don't allow alcohol in the hangar, y'know."

Roxy waved him off. "It's only one glass of scotch. At this point I wouldn't even notice it. And answer my question."

With a sigh, Athrun consigned himself to not getting anymore work done and sat back. "It's okay," he said, "but I don't see why it matters "

"It does when you emo the whole fucking ship up with your issues," Roxy shot back. "And I am quite interested in finding out if that whole episode is over, because if it is, I shall renew my faith in God long enough to thank Him for making you two break up or fuck or whatever it was you did."

"Fine," Athrun sighed, "our episode is over. Happy?"

"Immensely." She took a celebratory slug of scotch. "So what was the problem anyway? I mean, metal arm aside, she's hot, she's into you, she seems baggage-free, what's the deal?"

"I don't like where this conversation is going," Athrun put in, shifting uncomfortably in his seat.

"Okay, seriously, what's the deal? I mean, I don't really want to be on a ship with you being all emo off in one corner and her being all pissed off in the other." Roxy shrugged apologetically. "It's all about morale."

"And by 'morale' you mean 'gossip,' right?"

Roxy heaved a sigh. "Alright, I'll put it this way." She took another sip of scotch, as though to prepare herself. "I've noticed ever since I met you that you seem to not want to get attached to anybody else. Like you did that once and then everybody you were attached to got killed, and you'd rather not go through that again, so you just wall yourself off. Am I on the right track here?"

Athrun said nothing, and Roxy shrugged again.

"All I'm saying here, Athrun, is that the way you're living now isn't really living. Humans are social animals, y'know. You can't get by pretending otherwise."

Athrun pondered that for a moment. "You're awfully concerned about other people's business."

Roxy lifted her half-empty glass in a toast with a smirk. "Hey, it's part of the deal with having friends."

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"The Abyss will continue to be our main unit for amphibious operations," said Rau as he glanced between a clipboard and a laptop on the gantry next to the slumbering Abyss and Chaos Gundams, "but now our amphibious combat capabilities are greatly increased."

"So," said Sting, standing next to Rau and an irritated Auel, "that means Bitchy McWhinypants over here can quit pissing and moaning about having to fight underwater."

"Fuck you, Sting," Auel shot back.

"Focus, please," Rau interrupted. "We will more than likely be doing fighting over the open ocean. We will have to deal with underwater threats. We will need to refine your combat tactics for team-based underwater mobile suit combat. Simply mimicking the Alliance's tactics and maneuvers will not do." He handed over his clipboard to Sting. "On the other hand, underwater mobile suit combat is an entirely different beast from what you're used to." He turned his masked eyes on the two Extended. "But our battle plan relies on you to neutralize all underwater threats, so that the Minerva will be free to maneuver. We are counting on you two."

Auel sniffed contemptuously. "We can handle it."

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Stella Loussier and Viveka von Oldendorf made a strange team.

On a certain level, they should have gotten along well. Both of them were not quite fully human, although they had arrived at that state through different avenues. Viveka had lost body parts and replaced them with lifeless titanium; Stella had lost her mind and replaced it with...lifeless titanium.

Yes, that was what made them so similar in the mind of Shinn Asuka. Both of them were warriors, perhaps not bred for war, but beaten out of their original shapes, twisted and forged into something not bred but made for war.

Which, of course, explained that similarly hardened, similarly tense, similarly coiled aspect to the contours of their presences. It was a strange way to see people, in the form of the shapes of their hearts, the silhouettes of their emotions. But such was the life of a Newtype.

"Hey, Shinn," started Viveka, glancing awkwardly over her shoulder at Stella while she stared blankly at the slumbering Gaia, "uh, what is your secret to having a conversation with her?"

Shinn smiled knowingly. "Think like her."

Viveka blinked disbelievingly. "Uh. Think like her, you say."

"Yeah." He gestured towards the blank-eyed Extended. "She's not really too different from the rest of us. She wants to be loved. She wants to have fun. She doesn't want the people she loves to suffer. She just has weird ways of expressing it."

"Shinn," she answered, fixing him with a stare slightly unnerving when it came from only one eye, "she's retarded."

Shinn merely shrugged. "Just be nice. She's complicated.

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After three years in the Minerva痴 command chair, Meyrin Hawke had learned to dislike surprises. In her line of work, surprises were more often than not of the unpleasant variety and with three years worth of instincts on which to call, she already had a gnawing feeling in the pit of her stomach that one of those unpleasant surprises was on its way.

At least Abbey agreed, poring over the map console behind the captain痴 chair and pondering a massive swath of ocean between Australia and Orb. Onigashima was somewhere around there, but its precise location was difficult to ascertain and it didn稚 help that the island, from the outside, looked like any other. There was a reason the base was secret.

Meyrin leafed through the file about Onigashima, frowning at its paucity. There was another reason this base was secret.

A thought occurred to her, and she glanced up at Roxy痴 console, where the red-haired comm officer was absently toying with a bottle cap. 迭oxy, there are groups affiliated with the Resistance in Orb, aren稚 there?

Roxy blinked and turned her attention toward her console, rifling through the database. 填m...sort of, she started. 典here痴 a network of Orb underground resisters against the Seiran government. They aren稚 connected to the Athha family, and they don稚 really tend to have much to do with us. Mostly they just do terrorist stuff. Blow up cars, attack police stations, stuff like that.

典hey might be able to fill out some information for us, Meyrin said. 鄭t least give us an idea of what to aim for.

Abbey glanced up from the map console. 展e would have to contact them first, she warned, 殿nd I doubt anybody has told them that we池e coming.

典hen we can sneak some people in to meet with the Orb resistance. Meyrin glanced back towards the sea. 徹nce we figure out what we池e up against, we can send Argus痴 force to swing by the base and draw out its forces, and pull them out to sea while we attack the base itself.

滴ow can you be so sure the Orb resistance will want to work with us? asked Abbey. 展e would be attracting a lot of unwanted attention, and the government will undoubtedly crack down in our wake.

泥o they have a better choice?

At that, Abbey was silent, and Meyrin sat back.

Well, hopefully they値l see it that way too.

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鉄o we致e hooked the big fish, I see, cackled Mara as she crossed her arms on the bridge of the Minashiro. The Minerva was far ahead, its bearing and speed suggesting that it did not yet know it had been found. And Mara Saraba did appreciate keeping her targets in suspense.

Yamada glanced at the commodore across the bridge. 展hat do you want the ship to do?

Mara waved her hand. 適eep the Minashiro back. I値l go with my team and our six Murasames, and I値l leave the Windam team here.

展ith your team? echoed Yamada. 鄭re you sure? They can be rowdy

展hen one of your men is in charge, maybe, Mara chuckled, 澱ut I have them figured out. It痴 all about knowing how to use their peculiar talents.

Yamada arched an eyebrow at the commodore. 展ell, it痴 your call. Will only four Windams be enough to defend this ship, though?

的f you keep the Minashiro back far enough, it won稚 matter, Mara said with another airy wave. 鼎ome on, captain. Let痴 have some fun.

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Battleship Minerva

The alarms wailed as Meyrin leapt into the captain痴 chair, the bridge already sliding down below into combat configuration. Ten approaching shapes, all of them appearing to be the Murasame, Orb痴 latest transformable mobile suit. That would be par for course they were bound to notice the Minerva sooner or later.

釘urt, can you find their mothership? she asked as the bridge locked into place.

的t痴 a Spengler-class, several kilometers out, answered Burt, 登ut of our range. It looks like they池e staying put.

典hey池e learning, Abbey said with a smirk. 鼎aptain, will we pursue?

Meyrin studied the sea before her for a moment. If only the Murasames were attacking, then that left the Minerva little to do except fend them off if they got too close and let the mobile suits duke it out themselves.

摘ngage the mobile suits, she instructed, 殿nd let the ship make the first move. She sat back and stared out over the horizon, steeling herself for a fight.

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Emily swept her eyes over the controls of the Twilight Gundam. It was largely the same, but there were differences under her Gundam's figurative hood, and new weapons and, of course, the only way to really know if they would work was to use them.

"Emily," Shinn's voice interrupted through the speaker, "how is the Twilight handling?"

"It'll do," she answered, priming herself for battle.

Up ahead were four Murasames, all in their sleek flight mode, and none of them bearing the standard black-on-white colors. They broke formation, two of them veering skyward and the other two veering towards the sea.

The Twilight and Destiny darted apart as the Murasames opened fire, pulling back behind their beam shields. A Murasame in green and black came barreling in towards the Twilight, beam cannon blazing; Emily lunged aside, leveling off her rifle, only for the Murasame to twirl out of her sights. Another Murasame, this one in red and white, pummeled her Gundam with a barrage of missiles, while a third came streaking in from behind

The white bolt flashed, and Emily whirled around to snap the Twilight's leg up and kick the Murasame's nose, knocking it skyward. She pulled back her Gundam's left hand for a killing strike only for the Murasame to rocket upward. The green Murasame charged in, transforming to its mobile suit mode with a blur of moving parts.

"So that's how you want to do it?" Emily grunted, somersaulting over the charging Murasame's head and whirling around for a killing beam shot. Instead, another beam saber came down through her rifle, and with a crash the Twilight went reeling from a kick by the red Murasame. The green one leveled off its own rifle only for the Twilight to snap its left arm up. A wired, four-pronged claw blasted out of the Twilight's armor, lancing up to seize the Murasame's rifle by the barrel and with a hard yank, it tore the rifle loose and hurled it into the sea.

Emily grinned in the cockpit. "I knew that thing would come in handy." The Cat's Tail came crashing back into place, and the Twilight took off over its enemies heads, the sky alive with beam fire. She glanced across the battlefield, to where the Destiny was in battle with the fourth Murasame, painted in red on black and returned her attention to the other three.

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"Alright, there's only four," Sting began in the Chaos's cockpit, cruising forward with the Gaia and Abyss on its flanks. "I got an idea. Auel, transform and go in the drink."

"What? Why?" Auel groaned.

"Just do it." Auel muttered an obscenity, but the Abyss snapped its shoulder shells shut and plunged into the ocean. Sting moved a couple of meters to his left and glanced over at the Gaia. "Okay, Stella, you stay back with that sniper rifle. I'll go in close."

"But will Sting be okay?" protested Stella only for Sting to smirk back at her.

"I'm always okay."

The Chaos took off low over the water, deflecting blasts with its shield as the Murasames opened fire. It veered to the right as the two of the Murasames broke off to chase it, the other two continuing straight ahead towards the Gaia. The first two Murasames immediately let loose a volley of missiles, pounding into the water around the Chaos and throwing up a column of water and smoke.

Sting swept to the side as one of them came darting through the fog in mobile suit mode, beam rifle drawn, and fired back only to see the transforming machine deflect his shots with its shield and dart back into the sky. The other Murasame brought down its own rifle, forcing the Chaos back into the open air with a volley of its own.

"Alright," grunted Sting, "let's try something else!"

With a flash, the Chaos's missile launchers opened up, sending a battery of warheads streaking through the air. The Murasames expertly picked them from the sky with a CIWS barrage, pulling back behind their shields

"And now it's my turn!"

With a scream from its pilot and a blast of water, the Abyss Gundam lunged up into the sky behind the two Murasames and sliced them both in half with its lance.

"Ha! Two kills!" Auel cried.

Sting rolled his eyes. "Stella's playing with the other two. Let's go tidy up, eh?"

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Orb National Defense Headquarters, Onogoro Island, United Emirates of Orb

"That didn't take long," muttered the officer in charge. At his side in the Headquarters' control room, Jona cast him a dour glance. Colonel Soga was known for his exacting standards on mobile suit pilots, and two of them getting killed by one blow from behind was not exactly up to par.

"Relax, colonel," Jona said with an airy wave. "Two kills for a mildly clever surprise attack isn't that bad. And they're kind enough to show us their new weapons, too."

Soga remained unconvinced, but Jona returned his attention to the screen. Mara's red-on-black Murasame was putting up a valiant fight against the mighty Destiny. That was just like her, and of course she would probably find a way to come back although whether or not her Murasame would return with her was another question entirely.

A thought occurred to him. "Colonel," he said, glancing over at Soga, "get me Major Kadosawa. Tell him I'm activating the Kin-Iro, password Blue Two."

Soga blinked in surprise. "The Kin-Iro? You're releasing it?"

Jona grinned. "The commodore gave me a gift the other day," he said, "and I think it customary to return the favor with a gift of my own. Don't you agree?"

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Surrounded by smoke and fire flashing through the sky, the Savior plunged through the flames with its beam shield alight, a Murasame right behind it with beam rifle drawn. The Savior whirled around, deflecting a blast with its shield and lunging into the Murasame's face to punch it aside. It snapped up its rifle to return fire only for the Savior to kick the weapon skyward.

The Murasame backed away, drawing its beam saber with a flash. It charged forward behind its shield, knocking aside the Savior's rifle with its shield and rearing back with its saber only for the Savior's beam shield to block the saber, and with a crash, it swept up its plasma cannons and blew the Murasame out of the sky.

Inside the cockpit, Viveka smirked at the falling wreckage. It was always nice to play with new toys.

She glanced to the side, where the Infinite Justice and Legend were doing battle with the two remaining Murasames. It was something of an overstatement for the Legend, which was filling the air with beam cannon blasts and forcing the Murasame to desperately dodge everything thrown at it. So she turned her crimson machine towards the Justice and took off.

Not that he'd need her, of course.

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Beam saber in hand and engines at maximum, even that was not enough to satisfy Mara as her Murasame groaned in protest, thrown into another death-defying drop. The Destiny followed with its sword drawn and beam wings spread, and brought its sword down with a crash that the Murasame barely dodged.

"I guess I can only do so much against you like this," grunted Mara, as the Destiny charged again and only a timely saber stroke deflected its blow. "But even still !"

The Murasame surged forward, knocking the Destiny's sword aside only for the entire Gundam to dart out of harm's way. It whirled in again from behind, nearly sawing the Murasame in half at the waist. Mara wheeled around, beam saber raised, only for the Destiny to ram her machine in the chest with its shoulder.

The auxiliary screen flickered to life as Mara lunged up over the Destiny's killing sword stroke. She glanced irately at the smirking face of Jona Roma Seiran, looking far more amused than he had any right to look.

"Having fun, I'm sure?" he chuckled.

"I'm rather busy, dearest," she shot back, dodging another swing.

"I'm sure," Jona said, "but I'm afraid as governor-general, I must order you to retreat. Can't go having my Phantom Pain attaché getting herself killed, now can I?"

Mara grinded her teeth. "If you send me reinforcements "

"Now now, dear, none of that," Jona said with a wag of his finger. "I have a better idea anyway. Retreat and return the Minashiro to port. You gave me a present the other day, and I do believe it's customary to reciprocate."

Her scowl turned to a smile. "Your point is made." She threw another switch on the console. "All pilots, return to the Minashiro!"

The Murasame leapt above one last sword stroke, and it transformed and arced up into the sky.

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To be continued...