Phase 42 - Cagalli's Sword

Mobile Suit Gundam SEED TWILIGHT

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Phase 42 - Cagalli's Sword

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March 30th, CE 77 - Battleship Minerva, Pacific Ocean

"It appears we will be on our own for approximately thirty minutes," announced Rau Le Creuset as the Legend Gundam rose into the air, flanked by the Twilight, Chaos, and Abyss. "Until our other pilots arrive, we will have to split our forces. Emily, you will come with me and keep as many of those mobile suits away from the ship as possible. Sting, Auel, you will hang back and provide a second line of defense."

"You're gonna take on, what, sixteen mobile suits all by your self?" scoffed Auel. "Without dying?"

Rau fixed him with a chilling look. "Seventeen mobile suits. The enemy may have submersible forces as well," he went on, "so you will have to prove your boasting of your professed skill at underwater combat."

"Yeah, yeah," Auel sighed.

"We'll take care of whatever you miss," Sting added. "Just don't miss too much."

The Chaos and Abyss peeled off, leaving only the Legend and Twilight cruising forward. Emily scanned her enemies anxiously. The majority of the mobile suits seemed to be Windams, with black replacing the standard Windam's blue, all equipped with Jet Striker packs. Between their formations were a few of those transforming Murasames. And

Emily squinted. The mobile suit in the formation's lead was gleaming gold, flashing with reflected light in the setting sun, wings spread and eyes glowing. It looked almost like the old Strike Gundam from Shinn's training regimens, but the Strike had not been covered in gold and

"Emily," Rau cut in, "you will deal with that golden mobile suit. I will deal with the ones around it."

"By yourself?" Emily sputtered.

"The Legend has sufficient firepower, but the Twilight is faster. Break formation and engage."

The Legend spiraled around the Twilight and took off low over the ocean. Emily looked back up at her golden foe and swallowed.

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Orb Takemikazuchi-class supercarrier Lapis Lazuli

"How disappointing," Jona said with a sigh. "I see our Hero of Justice was among the operatives the Minerva sent to Aube."

From the captain's chair, Tanaka glanced over at the governor-general. "If they break through, we can scramble the rest of the mobile suit wing," he said, "but the Lapis Lazuli's mounted defenses will not be sufficient to stop one of those mobile suits."

"You worry too much," replied Jona, waving his hand. "We have the Makabe and Itsukushima with us too. And their Phase Shift armor might be able to stop 250mm rounds, but I doubt they can do it without rattling around whoever is inside."

Tanaka looked convinced, but Jona sat back with a grin. Mara seemed to be marking that black Gundam, the Twilight the Angel of Death as her prey this time around. So that would be fun to watch.

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"Okay," Emily said, letting out her breath and willing herself calm. "You're just a gold-plated Windam. I can take you."

The golden mobile suit lunged up into the air and showered the Twilight with beam cannon fire. The Twilight darted aside, activating its beam wings and rushing up towards the enemy. It somersaulted over her head, whirling around as the Twilight did the same. Emily saw her chance, leveling off her rifle and squeezing off a shot

...only for a beam shot to come sailing right back at her, singing the Twilight's left-hand shoulder armor.

"What?!" The Twilight rocketed skyward again as the golden machine opened fire. "What kind of reflexes ?!"

The golden machine raced up after the Twilight, firing again. Emily ground her teeth and lunged to the side, flanking the golden mobile suit and firing three more shots.

This time, she saw it clearly as her blasts simply bounced right back at her, plowing into her beam shield.

"What the ?!" she cried, driven back by the golden machine's return fire. "You can deflect beams?!" The golden mobile suit rushed in again, a beam saber drawn in its left hand, and forced the Twilight back with a furious saber swipe. "Well that's no fair!"

The golden mobile suit charged again, beam rifle blazing. Emily somersaulted over its head, whirling around and this time drawing her long-range cannon. The golden mobile suit turned just as she pulled the trigger and her shot went sailing back over the Twilight's head.

"Oh, you can stop that too?!" Emily wailed. The Twilight ducked aside again, pummeled back by more fire from the golden machine. "There has to be some way to damage you!"

The Twilight backed away, leveling off its rifle and long cannon and opening fire, but once again the blasts came blazing back at her, forcing her aside. The golden mobile suit charged with another volley of beams, before it holstered its rifle and instead drew a shining beam saber.

"Oh, fine," Emily groaned, "that wasn't working anyway!" She stashed her own rifle, drawing a saber of her own, and clenched her fists around the controls as her adversary came charging in.

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With beams crisscrossing the sky, only Rau Le Creuset could make sense of the ever-shifting ground of battle and dive through the net to safety, pursued by a squad of Windams and another of Murasames. There had been four squads of four to begin with, but two had broken off to attack the Minerva, and unfortunately, Rau reflected, he was not Ares.

"Hey, uh, Commander Facemask," Auel put in, "you're doing kind of a shitty job here keeping them away!"

Rau tightened his fists around the Legend's controls. "I could say the same to you, Auel," he answered. "Just keep them away from the Minerva. Make yourself a target."

"Fuck you," Auel shot back, and the screen went dark.

The Legend drew a beam javelin in its left hand, vaulting over the Windam squad's combined beam rifle volley and then darting aside as the Murasames added their own volley. He would need to get some distance to answer their firepower in spades, like he and they expected.

One of the Windams endeavored to deny him that luxury, rocketing into his face with a drawn beam saber. Rau smirked; he could play that game too, expertly blocking the Windam's saber strike with his javelin. The Windam surged forward, trying to throw him back, but Rau seized the opportunity to pound the Windam's left flank with his machine's right knee, rattling the pilot inside just enough time for the Legend to rear back and spear the Windam through the chest with its javelin.

"It's always good to draw first blood," Rau chuckled as the Windam exploded. The remaining mobile suits pulled out around him, clawing for distance and giving him the space he needed to drive them all further back with a blistering volley from his DRAGOONs.

The Windams and Murasames pulled apart again, angling around for another pass, and Rau grinned with anticipation. Let them come. They couldn't stop him. Nobody could.

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"So Emily's playing with Goldilocks over there and Commander Facemask is doing a shitty job," groaned Auel, "which leaves us with, what, eight mobile suits?"

"Quit your bitching," Sting shot back. "Attack Pattern Nu!"

The Abyss pulled up, rearing back for a storm of firepower, only to be met by a withering salvo of beams and missiles from the Windams. The Chaos struggled to reach its starting position, but the Murasames circled it like hawks, forcing it back with a volley of their own. Sting snapped up his rifle to return fire, but the Murasames immediately split up and effortlessly dodged his blasts and came arcing around again, spewing fire and driving him back even further. He glanced over to the left, where the Abyss was being pounded back under a hail of fire from the Windams.

"Dammit, I can't get close enough!" Auel snapped. "What the hell?!"

"Don't you just hate it when they go and get smart?" muttered Sting. "Auel, try and get clear so we can give this another shot!"

The Abyss rattled under a punishing missile barrage, and Auel furiously hacked through the smoke with his lance, only to be driven back by another wave of beam fire. "I'm trying!" he yelled. The Windams spread out again, rifles raised. "Goddammit !"

Sting's eyes narrowed as he saw his opportunity. The gunbarrels lifted off, darting back behind the Chaos and slicing down with a flash to cut down one of the Windams with a blistering flurry of beam shots. The remaining three Windams lunged aside as the gunbarrels pulled up and returned to the Chaos.

"I always have to save your ass," Sting chuckled.

"Oh, fuck you!"

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Battleship Minerva

"ETA is about fifteen minutes if we don't run into trouble," Athrun's tinny voice said through the bridge's speakerphone. "If we do run into trouble, well, that I don't know."

Meyrin felt her gut wrench. Fifteen more minutes with only half her forces available. "If you get into trouble, call in Sting or Auel. They're closer."

"Roger. Athrun, out."

The line went silent and Meyrin sat back nervously. That enormous carrier and its two Aegis-class escorts were just sitting on the horizon, obviously just waiting and watching. They weren't moving. Meyrin hated that. At least if her enemies were moving especially moving towards her and firing at her she had a clear idea of what was going on, and that made decision-making easy.

"Captain, we're going to have to remain stationary until Athrun can get back aboard," Abbey pointed out. "If those ships open fire "

"They aren't doing anything right now," Meyrin interrupted. "And as long as we can keep the situation the same for another fifteen minutes, then they shouldn't have any reason to act."

Abbey arched an eyebrow skeptically. "That's a gamble."

"It is. We have to take a risk."

Abbey looked unconvinced, but said no more, and Meyrin returned her attention to the three ships on the horizon. If any of them were going to make an attack, it would be those two Aegis cruisers. They could be disabled by a strong hit by both Tristans and the Isolde on the central superstructure but Meyrin would be just as happy if they left.

If only it actually worked that way.

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Orb Takemikazuchi-class supercarrier Lapis Lazuli

Jona never liked being second-guessed, but it was usually a good thing to be so. Sadly, he had discovered, he was not infallible.

Right now, Tanaka was standing over the Lapis Lazuli's map screen, not appearing very pleased with the situation. A few of their mobile suits had been destroyed already, and none of them had gotten very close to the Minerva. There was no telling when the Minerva or its mobile suits might turn on the ships, and the Aegis-class cruiser did not have a grand track record with anti-mobile suit combat. Perhaps, Jona wondered idly, this idea wasn't quite as good as it had seemed.

Well, no matter. The Lapis Lazuli could always retreat, and if all else failed, it had Mara's Akatsuki for protection.

"Governor," Tanaka started, "my advice as a military officer is to attack immediately. A speedboat has been detected approaching the battlefield. It's probably carrying the remainder of the Minerva's pilots."

Jona smirked back. "Captain, there's a lot going on here that's above your pay grade," he said. "Suffice it to say that we've got no intention of destroying the Minerva here." He gave Tanaka a conspiratorial grin. "We're putting on a show."

Tanaka looked back at the Minerva dubiously. "This is a risky show to put on, sir," he said. "We are still part of the Earth Alliance. We are still the Minerva's enemies. Why assume that they'll only stop where you want them to?"

"Because," Jona said with a raised finger and a grin, "they will not be here for long."

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With two Windams and one Murasame destroyed, Rau was feeling rather pleased as the Legend wheeled around on its remaining foes. The Windams seemed to be backing away, but only just and there were still those three Murasames to deal with as well.

"I should expect no less from Jona Roma Seiran," Rau chuckled. The Legend rolled aside languidly as the enemy machines opened fire again, and the Murasames split up, showering the Legend with missiles and beams as the Windams closed in for the kill. "And yet you expect so little from me!"

The Legend darted forward, driving both Windams apart. They whirled around, rifles leveled off for a shot at the Legend's exposed back only for the DRAGOONs to angle towards them and blow them both out of the sky. An instant later, the Legend burst up through the smoke, filling the sky with beams and forcing the Murasames back on the defensive.

One of them transformed with a flash, drawing a beam saber and charging in with blade held high. Rau grinned as his chance presented itself as the Murasame brought down its saber, the Legend's left arm lanced out to seize the Murasame by the wrist. Rau yanked it forward, leaving the mobile suit at his mercy. The remaining two Murasames opened fire in hopes of freeing their comrade only for the Legend to kick the captive machine in the stomach, knocking it upward, where it was speared by its own comrades' shots.

Rau smirked over at the two survivors as the dying machine fell towards the water and exploded. "Really should be watching where you shoot," he chuckled.

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The Chaos Gundam shook as a volley of missiles came slamming into its armor, and Sting grunted and struggled to see through the smoke and fire where four Murasames were still circling him like sharks in the water. He could only operate the gunbarrels for so long on their batteries, and even with improved battery life, there was only so much maneuvering they could do to avoid being destroyed.

One of the Murasames darted out of the formation, transforming and drawing a beam saber. Sting saw his chance, swinging the Chaos bodily underneath the Murasame as it made a furious saber jab. As it passed overhead, he whirled up behind it and blew it apart with a single beam shot and before the stricken mobile suit had even exploded, its comrades were pummeling him with more beam fire of their own.

Now reduced to three, the Murasames backed away, showering the Chaos with missiles. Sting threw his machine towards the ocean, pulling up at the last second to let the missiles drown in the water only for the Murasames to nearly knock him into the sea himself with a concentrated barrage of beams.

"Dammit, Auel! Where are you?!"

The surface of the sea erupted upward, and with a crash of metal the Abyss Gundam lunged out of the water and opened fire with a burst of its own. Two of the Murasames veered upward to safety, but the third was not so lucky and disappeared in a cloud of fire and smoke.

"And now I'm saving your ass," Auel snickered.

Sting took a moment to catch his breath. "What happened to the Windams?"

Auel shrugged. "Killed two of 'em, I think the other two are retreating."

At that, Sting turned the Chaos towards the surviving two Murasames. "Then it's a bit more fair."

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Sparks showered the Twilight as it locked sabers with the Akatsuki, beam wings flashing in the setting sun. The Akatsuki surged forward, whipping back its saber and stabbing forward towards the Twilight's cockpit only for Emily to bring her own blade up hard, knocking the Akatsuki's beam aside and leaving the two mobile suits locked in midair again.

The Akatsuki charged again, throwing back the Twilight with sheer momentum and leveling off its two high energy cannons. Emily ground her teeth and somersaulted over the blasts, before bringing up her saber again to block another blow.

"There's gotta be some way to damage you," she groaned, even as the Akatsuki pressed down against her saber and pushed her back. "Maybe the beam saber "

Instead, the Akatsuki threw her back and fired again with its high energy cannons. This time Emily deflected the blasts with her beam shield, and fell back as the Akatsuki stormed towards her again. It lunged forward with another saber stab only for the Twilight to somersault over its head. As Emily whirled around for the killing blow, the Akatsuki thrust its shield into the saber's path, and with a crash brought down its own saber on the Twilight's beam shield.

Emily furrowed her brow as the Akatsuki pressed her back. Beam weapons wouldn't work, except maybe the beam saber if only she could try it.

The Akatsuki charged again, pushing her back and rushing forward with its saber held high.

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Battleship Minerva

The hangar echoed with screeching metal, and on the hangar floor, Vino winced as the sound grated at his eardrums. He whirled around, just in time to find a ZAFT standard speedboat go squealing from the catapult bay into the hangar, with Athrun determinedly yanking on the helm to drag the boat into a lazy, slowing spin.

Vino watched in mild surprise as the boat rocked to a stop. "And, uh, how did you guys pull this off?"
Athrun was already sprinting towards the gantry where the Infinite Justice waited. Viveka hopped down next to Vino and shook her head.

"He caught a wave, rode it up the incline in front of the portside catapult, and jumped it in here." She shrugged. "What can I say? Guy's got the touch."

Vino shook his head as Viveka, Shinn, and Stella made for their own machines. Leave it to Athrun Zala to make the most stylish of entrances.

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The sky lit up with beams from below, and Emily snapped her attention to the right as a torrent of firepower pounded the Akatsuki. All of it went bouncing off the golden armor, but it pulled back behind its shield nonetheless so perhaps that armor could be overwhelmed.

Instead, the Infinite Justice roared into the fray, beam rifle drawn. Inside the Justice, Athrun's eyes flashed in fury and dulled as he saw the familiar golden armor silhouetted as the seed burst behind it.

"It is," he snarled, "you son of a bitch, it's the Akatsuki!" The Justice lunged up into the sky, whirling over a barrage of cannon blasts from the Akatsuki and igniting one of its leg sabers. "You rebuilt the Akatsuki!"

The Justice fired its anchor, embedding it into the Akatsuki's right shoulder, and with a thundering crash the Justice dragged itself down and pummeled the Akatsuki with an earth-shattering kick that smashed the Akatsuki's shield like glass.

"That machine is not yours!" he roared; the Akatsuki drew its rifle, only for Athrun to slice it in two with a furious saber swipe. "This country is not yours!" The Akatsuki drew back, drawing its cannons, but Athrun cut them in half with another saber blow. "She is not yours!"

Emily watched in disbelief as the Justice descended on the Akatsuki and battered it with a ruthless succession of saber blows.

Where did all this come from...?

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Orb Takemikazuchi-class supercarrier Lapis Lazuli

"Governor," Tanaka said with a nervous look in his eye, "now I suggest that we retreat."

Sitting in the Lapis Lazuli's command chair, Jona couldn't help but agree. The Minerva's remaining four Gundams had launched and were now turning their firepower on the mobile suit team's survivors. And the Infinite Justice was ferociously dominating the Akatsuki. Obviously their tactics would need a shift.

"I agree," Jona said at last. "Recall our mobile suits and set course for Onigashima."

Tanaka blinked as the order went out. "But sir, we would lead them straight there "

Jona merely grinned.

"Sir," Tanaka protested, "I don't understand what's going on here."

"That's why you work for me," Jona answered, and glanced down at the auxiliary screen on his armrest, where Mara's angry face flickered into existence.

"Why are you ordering a retreat?!" she snapped. "Just launch the rest of the mobile suits! We can take them out!"

"You're getting your ass kicked, dear," Jona said with a shrug. "Discretion is the better part of valor."

"The hell it is!" The image flickered for a moment as the Akatsuki took a particularly brutal hit. "All I need are some reinforcements "

"Let's just stick to the plan, Mara," interrupted Jona, "and our plan calls for you to still be alive. So get back down here before I have to do something embarrassing, like pulling rank."

Mara ground her teeth and the screen went dark; up above, the Akatsuki shot a combat flare into the Justice's face and made its escape.

Jona sighed as the tattered remains of the strike force came limping back to their mothership. Good help was so hard to find.

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March 31st, CE 77 - Yokosuka Naval Station, Japan, Republic of East Asia

Lord Djibril scowled. Good help was so hard to find.

He sat before a scattering of the wealthy, reclusive industrialists who bankrolled Blue Cosmos. They had all declined positions within the Earth Alliance government, preferring to manipulate it through their various defense manufacturing and contracting companies. But they were so lacking in a grasp of the big picture that Djibril had to wonder how they had reached the tops of their organizations in the first place. They all sat in plush chairs in the observation deck of Yokosuka Naval Station, towering over the sprawling complex where the Earth Alliance's 6th Combined Surface Fleet was taking shape. Djibril at least had Misa standing behind him, just over his shoulder mainly because he just liked watching his associates squirm in the steely Extended's presence. Little pleasures you took them where you could get them.

"The reason we need to decisively destroy the Resistance, gentlemen," Djibril continued, also grateful for his faithful plushy black cat currently nesting on his lap because it was far better company than these nitwits, "is that the ZAFT fleet is likely on the move. One of our long-range satellites, Sentinel VII, has gone silent. It is not a malfunction; its last recordings indicate that it was destroyed. The MLA was defeated some time ago and left nothing to stop ZAFT from rearming. We must take the risk at Carpentaria and try to sweep the Resistance off the board, because the ZAFT fleet will not be so easy to destroy."

Across the way, Duncan Mockelberg looked unconvinced. "They've only been out there for three years," he said, "and they've been spending almost all of it fighting Vargas. How much progress could they have possibly made?"

"It was the ZMA that did most of the fighting," pointed out Bruno Azrael. "Either way, I've seen Sentinel VII's last recording. It was shot down by a beam. The only group out that far out that would have any interest in destroying all of our long-range satellites is ZAFT."

Celestine Groht, on the other hand, looked unimpressed. "So, let them come. They've only had three years to rearm, and have not had nearly the same resources we've got. And our troops will be fresh off the momentum of crushing the Resistance, while theirs will have spent three months on spaceships."

"Djibril," said Azrael, "he does have a point. Vargas' last messages indicate that ZAFT's strength is still a fraction of ours. And most of the PLANTs' population was killed, which cripples their technological edge. We have little to fear."

Djibril's expression darkened, and the four industrialists around him went silent. "Gentlemen," Djibril said, "do you recall that skirmish at L4 a week after the Battle of Solomon's Sword, around Armory 1?"

"Yes, the one Admiral Stone led," Mockelberg answered. "What about it?"

"The ZAFT fleet gathered around Armory 1, which had been untouched by the Requiem. That place was the storehouse for Gilbert Dullindal's most fearsome projects and prototypes."

"We captured Armory 1," said Groht with a dismissive wave of his hand. "All we found were some old prototypes, one-off pieces of junk that were useless to our technicians."

Apparently, Djibril mused bitterly, they did not remember. "We only captured Armory 1 after the ZAFT fleet had removed the things of value," Djibril replied. "They allowed us to capture those old prototypes, but there were other things there that we did not capture. We do not know what they are." He frowned. "And that, gentlemen, is why ZAFT remains dangerous."

After all, thought Djibril, if they could build something like Solomon's Sword, what else could they build...?

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Lieutenant General Hans von Schadt was not a man known for his tactical prowess or battlefield achievements. Like much of the Phantom Pain's senior officer corps, he was a political appointment, appeasing the wealthy von Schadt family in the Eurasian Federation and helping secure the support of the malleable President, Carl Schtorzmann. The downside of this was his singular lacking in military skill.

On the other hand, he was the commandant of the Althea Crater base and oversaw the Extended program based there, which made him important either way. And, being one of those political appointments herself, Crayt Markav supposed that she had no real grounds to criticize the good general. He was not really very good, but he was good enough.

"I understand, marshal," General von Schadt answered. "Three Extended will be on a shuttle to Earth by nightfall. Will anything else be required of Althea Crater?"

"No," replied Crayt, "just send us those Extended. Yokosuka, out."

She sat back tiredly as the screen went dark. So much to do to build up an army.

A crash outside her office caught her attention, and she glanced out the window as the workers unloaded a towering Destroy Gundam from the four Osprey VTOL planes that had been necessary to carry it from Heaven's Base to Yokosuka. Two more were hovering in their air off the coast.

The war would be over soon: of that there was no doubt.

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Battleship Minerva, Pacific Ocean

The bulkhead rattled as Athrun Zala brought his fist down on it, right as Viveka had the misfortune of walking into his bunk. There were data sheets and photos of that golden mobile suit, the Akatsuki, scattered everywhere.

And he was pissed. Boy, was he pissed.

"There's only one way past the Yata-no-Kagami," he grunted, ignoring Viveka's presence as he dove back into his work, "but I have to get close " He looked up at her, and in an instant, Viveka saw clearly what happened when Athrun Zala reached his limit. "What is it?"

"Uh, you've been in here all day," Viveka answered. "Are you coming out or what?"

Athrun glanced back down at the storm of papers around him. "I'm busy," he protested. "It's personal."

"I can tell." She sat down cross-legged in front of him. "So here's an idea. Let me help out."

"The Savior won't do any good against the Akatsuki," replied Athrun. "Only the beam sabers will damage it, and my machine has more sabers than yours."

"Yeah, well, your machine has beam sabers coming out the ass and I'm gonna help anyway," Viveka said. "Why did you get so angry to see it?"

Athrun fixed her with a look, but one touch of her emotions and he was convinced that he couldn't bluff his way through. "The Akatsuki was Cagalli's mobile suit," he explained. "After she died, one of my comrades piloted it at Solomon's Sword, where he died as well. It has a lot of...sentiment wrapped up in it." He clenched his fists. "And it's being used by the Seirans, the ones we spent all that time fighting. So, well, that should make it clear."

"Perfectly. So are you going to come out and eat or what?"

Athrun blinked. "I have to "

"Rhetorical question." She sprang to her feet and yanked Athrun up and towards the door.

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Emily hated it when someone else's torrent of emotions overwhelmed her own, and right now the storm could be traced back to Shinn Asuka, brooding on the outer deck. She approached him warily, not knowing what the problem was until he glanced tiredly at her and shrugged.

"Sorry," he said before she could speak.

She came to a stop next to him. "It's okay. What happened?"

Shinn cast a bitter glance over the horizon, in the direction of Orb. "It's a long story."

Emily shifted uncomfortably. "I know your family was killed."

"At Orb, yes," Shinn answered, "but there's more." He waved a contemptuous hand towards the horizon. "I visited the memorial here during the Junius War with one of my friends. She's dead now too. I fought over these waters against an Alliance mobile armor with my commander. She's dead now too. I fought with another friend and comrade. He's dead now too." He turned his eyes south, where lay Antarctica. "And that way there are more dead friends. And one of them is particularly special. So," he turned back to her, "you could say that I've come to a reunion and found myself all alone."

"But you're not alone," Emily protested. "All of us are here too."

"I know. And that doesn't help." He shrugged and crossed his arms. "They're people who meant different things to me, and gave me different things than anyone on the Minerva. Different relationships. Different emotions. I can't forget. And every time I come back to this part of the world, I feel it all again."

There was far more to this, Emily guessed, than he was letting on. But if he wanted to keep some secrets, then she certainly couldn't force them out.

Instead, she leaned against the railing and pondered the parts of the world where she had left parts of herself. Where she had buried her fear with Kenta Shoyou, her innocence with Kyali, her own self in the bloody dust of Novorossiysk...what was left to leave behind? She looked over at Shinn again. Was that what she was destined to turn into? A sad old man in a young body, counting his dead friends?

Not at all, she promised herself. She would have to be something different.

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To be continued...