Phase 43 - Onigashima

Mobile Suit Gundam SEED TWILIGHT

覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧

Phase 43 - Onigashima

覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧

March 31st, CE 77 - Onigashima, United Emirates of Orb

Brigadier General Michael O'Donnell hated his job.

It wasn't as bad as a deployment to southeast Asia or the Middle East, really. He was stationed in a well-appointed fortress overlooking Orb, and his command gave him ample opportunities to launch air strikes against the Resistance stronghold of Carpentaria. But those opportunities were not ample enough for the good general, and the real war was being fought elsewhere while he was stuck here babysitting an overambitious governor-general.

An overambitious governor-general who, judging by the massive trimaran aircraft carrier coming into port, had far too much freedom already.

Onigashima's cavernous underground warship dock had barely enough room for the Lapis Lazuli and her two escorts, the gate behind them ponderously grinding shut. The observation deck rattled as the gate locked into place, and the ship slowly came to a halt in its dock, the very armor seeming to shudder as it came to rest.

O'Donnell crossed his arms. High Command had been foolish to let Governor Seiran build this thing; and Governor Seiran had, it seemed, been foolish to come here with it. Right off the heels of their skirmish with the Minerva, and with an armada of ZAFT ships Resistance rabble, most likely hovering menacingly over the horizon. Why, if he didn't know better, he would suppose that Jona was trying to get Onigashima destroyed.

But that was a bold move too bold, perhaps. He wouldn't dare. If Onigashima was destroyed, Lord Djibril's suspicions would be aroused, and Orb would be seeing far more of the Earth Alliance Army's olive-green uniform.

Then again, they had brought the Minerva with them.

覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧

Yokosuka Naval Station, Japan, Republic of East Asia

"You will form the tip of the spear," explained Admiral MacIntyre on the Charlemagne's auxiliary screen, with the ship's bridge crew respectfully arrayed around it. "Your ship's firepower will be the point that breaks through the enemy formations, long enough for our other troops to secure footholds. And after that," he shrugged, "you know the rest."

"I understand, sir," Danilov answered. "Afterward, however, I have orders from Marshal Markav herself to engage the Minerva, if it survives. And we have no reason to believe it won't."

MacIntyre nodded in agreement. "You'll have three Destroys and several mobile armors to back you up and tie up their mobile suits. And they won't have much room to run."

"Understood, admiral," Danilov said. "I wish you luck with the further preparations."

MacIntyre smiled back tightly. "We'll need it." He saluted and the screen went dark.

Danilov turned towards the rest of the bridge crew. "Vera, see what you can do about requisitioning us a couple of Euclid units. We'll need nothing less to protect our flanks."

As Vera saluted and headed for the comm console, Danilov turned to gaze out the bridge windows, over the vast panorama of Yokosuka preparing for war. The 376 meter-long trimaran Chrysalis was taking on supplies and fuel in the next berth over, where Admiral MacIntyre was flying his flag. That was the ship that had led the Alliance fleet at the Battle of Antarctica three years ago; it was only fitting that it lead them back to Carpentaria and finish the job for good.

覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧

It was always good to laugh, as Shams liked to remind his dour comrades, and when Sven Cal Bayan and Irene Ramos met, there were usually plenty of opportunities. And Shams liked to laugh. Laughing was good. Therapeutic, even.

For Shams, at least. For Sven, judging by the moderately outraged look on his face, it was not quite having the soothing effect. Maybe he should've tried laughing.

"I just don't understand why you have to be so serious all the time," Irene crooned, her arms wrapped loosely around the quite unhappy officer's waist. "It's unhealthy, you know."

"May I ask why you insist on doing this to me?" asked Sven through clenched teeth. Shams merely chuckled and wished someone as sexy as Irene would hold him like that.

"Because," she purred back, "watching you squirm is the highlight of my day." And with that, she let him go and took a perfunctory step back. "But I guess you want to know about business, don't you?"

Shams watched with glee as Sven seemed to twitch in irritation. "That was why I originally called."

She waved her hand dismissively. "I'm sorry to say that I don't have much more to report," she sighed. "The last interesting thing to pass through my sight was something about moving a 'Zero-Two '"

"Zero-Two?" Sven echoed. "You mean there's another one of these things?"

Shams looked back and forth between them. "Hang on, what? I'm missing something."

"It's below your pay grade " Sven started.

"Technically, my darling little Sven, it's below all of our pay grades," interrupted Irene, aggravating the silver-haired pilot even further with a finger on his lips. "And technically you have absolutely no authority to be sending me out on a reconnaissance mission, especially one of an extended duration, and technically you owe me big for this because I have had it with that rotten bastard."

"Whoa there," Shams said with a nervous chuckle, "okay, more than I wanted to know."

"I'm thinking a candlelight dinner and a walk on the beach," she went on with a wicked grin. "At dusk, we "

"The mission, Irene," Sven groaned.

"Anyways," she went on, looking over at Shams, "the short version is that that little Angel of Death you guys keep running into is apparently the result of a secret Eurasian weapons program. Turning a Newtype into a highly-trained mobile suit pilot. Sort of their answer to the Extended."

"I knew she was a freak!" Shams exclaimed gratefully. "Man, I feel better. Now if you could only explain what the hell Shinn Asuka eats for breakfast..."

"This Zero-Two, though, is a little more troubling," Irene continued, this time fixing Sven with a no-nonsense look. "As near as I can tell, the backup for this thing was Unit Zero-Two, a clone of the mother. And the clone was captured by, uh," she sarcastically scratched quote marks into the air, "'pirates.'"

"Pirates," echoed Sven.

"Pirates with known contacts to Oliver Wellington," Irene added with a smirk.

"So ZAFT has this clone," concluded Shams. "So what?"

"So, that means that ZAFT now has access to an inordinately powerful Newtype," Irene finished, "and so does the Resistance." She shrugged. "And we don't."

"Which means we will potentially have two human superweapons to deal with, instead of just one," Sven added. "Thank you, Irene. Continue with your observations and, if necessary, ensure that Director Oldendorf does not attempt to destroy any evidence of this program. We need all the information we can get."

Irene pursed her lips. "You mean I'm not done yet?" She threw her arms around Sven a second time. "Darling, when do I get my reward for all this injustice you so pitilessly inflict upon me?"

Shams only grinned as Sven squirmed. Laughter was a wonderful thing.

覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧

A squad of Ground Windams in dull olive green stomped out of their Osprey VTOL transport, bound for one of the Spengler-class carriers that would carry them to Carpentaria. Grey watched them march by on one of Yokosuka's many observation decks. This battle was going to be epic, and it had been rather strange to see the gaggles of new recruits excitedly looking forward to going into the fire. He was, so to speak, a veteran; he would be among the first ones in, and most of the rookies would be the ones to mop up and fill in the gaps.

That would be ugly, because while even mobile suit combat in a simulator was exciting in an entertaining way, mobile suit combat in actual combat where it was more than possible to die was not. The first sortie had been fun enough, against outdated mobile suits and outgunned guerrillas, but then the Gundams arrived and suddenly the war was no longer fun. Suddenly people were dying. People who he had seen earlier that day. People who were his colleagues and friends.

Well, they would have to learn that for themselves. And as always, they would have to learn that the hard way. There was no other way to learn.

覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧

Battleship Minerva, Pacific Ocean

"What do you mean 'mechanical failure?!'" snapped Abbey, glowering up at the auxiliary screen on the Minerva's bridge. On the screen, Commander Argus looked nonplussed and merely shrugged.

"Exactly what I said. We encountered a minefield and some of my ships' scale systems have been damaged. I'll have to send them back." He tipped his cap. "My apologies, of course."

"Argus, you're a crucial part of our plan!" protested Meyrin. He merely shrugged again.

"I'm afraid it's out of my hands, captain," he replied. "And with that, I'll have to go before anyone intercepts our transmission."

The screen went dark, and Abbey slammed her fist down onto the edge of the comm station with a curse. "Goddammit, how are we going to pull this off without backup?" she growled. "That son of a bitch told us..."

Meyrin put her head in her hands for a moment, mind racing. Not all was lost, she supposed, but it would be far tougher. At least Argus's armada had already drawn out much of the naval squadron defending the base, and there was no way they could return in time to stop the Minerva if it attacked. And on the bright side, the Minerva had mobile suits that could substitute for a full attack force, as long as they worked quickly.

There were far too many ifs in the equation for Meyrin's liking, but it would have to do. "We can still pull this off," she said, straightening up and looking over at Abbey, "but we're going to have make some changes. We'll split up the mobile suit team and let them soften up the base, and then crack it open with the Tannhäuser and go from there."

"On our own?" answered Abbey. "Captain, we can't handle an entire base of that size ourselves. Our mobile suits would be overwhelmed."

"But," Meyrin said with what she hoped was a reassuring grin, "we have the crazy ace Newtypes. And they don't."

It was not a good plan, but it was all they had. And that, she silently reminded herself, would have to be enough.

覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧

"Y'know, my first school looked kinda like that," Viveka said.

Sitting in the Minerva's computer room with Onigashima's blueprints spread out before him, Athrun cast a skeptical glance over his shoulder at Viveka, leaning on the back of the seat.

"Okay, so I might be exaggerating a little," she added with a shrug, "but seriously, it was a freaking fortress. At the top of a hill, surrounded by huge walls on all sides. Rumor had it that it used to be a prison." She glanced down awkwardly at Athrun. "And where did you go to school?"

Athrun frowned for a moment. "Copernicus. Then, December 1."

"What, just military training?"

"There was a war going on. I had to become a soldier."

She eyed him carefully for a moment, before leaning down next to him. "But did you want to be a soldier?"

"I could put the same question to you," replied Athrun.

"Yes, well, I was the rich and stifled daughter of a jackass bureaucrat," she answered, "and then I got captured by the Phantom Pain and you know how that story goes." She shrugged again. "I can't say I always wanted to be what I am now, but at least I put myself here through my own choices. Can't you say the same?"

Athrun frowned again and returned to his work. Viveka merely shook her head and turned her back towards him.

"You know," she said grimly, "I don't know why I'm still bothering."

覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧

Emily heaved a sigh on the Minerva's external deck. It was far away from the eye of the storm, but not far enough.
The airlock door opened with a hiss, and Emily glanced over her shoulder as Shinn and Stella emerged onto the deck. Stella went bounding up to the railing, grinning at the dazzling sight of the sun lighting up the ocean. Shinn came to a stop next to her, hands thrust into his pockets.

"Your sister and Athrun are having an episode in there," he said, nodding over his shoulder. "Is that what you're doing out here?"

"Something like that."

Shinn let out a sigh of his own and turned towards Stella, leaving Emily alone with her thoughts, which she turned towards the tempest of negative emotions pulsing somewhere around the ship's computer room. She had spent too much time away from her sister. Viveka was still as energetic and vivacious as Emily remembered, but with hideous injuries and scars and now, in the middle of a fight, Emily could detect so much more. Frustrated that the man for whom she had such uncontrollable feelings for was so unreceptive and dense; but more insidiously, it felt like it was starting to turn inward and grow tendrils of self-reproach, as though she were starting to wonder if it was her fault that Athrun didn't seem interested. Because of the mechanical arm, the scars, the missing eye. Because she wasn't whole. Because she didn't feel whole.

Emily truly hated to think that her sister actually felt that way about herself, but what could she do? Once she turned over the contours of her sister's feelings in her mind, she found the similarities in herself. And that was what was truly maddening about this power; she could never be sure which feelings were her own and which belonged to someone else.

Instead, she turned towards Shinn, standing silently next to Stella as she gawked at the sea. Shinn was not so different, consumed by demons of the past. Then again, he could remember it, and didn't have to worry about uncovering horrible things if he went looking back into it.

Her problems or someone else's problems...eventually they just became her problems.

覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧

Onigashima, United Emirates of Orb

The wire-grid map on Onigashima's briefing room screen zoomed in onto the Gulf of Carpentaria, where a nigh-indistinguishable mass of green and red triangles flickered into existence. The red triangles were vastly outnumbered by the green, which wedged in their crimson adversaries into the natural prison of Carpentaria. Even geography conspired against the Resistance, hemming in their fleet between two massive peninsulas; and although their ground forces could escape over the flat country to the south, the Alliance could just easily pursue. Why Chiao Xu thought he could assemble a fleet of three hundred and fifty ships, Jona Roma Seiran could not fathom.

But the problem would soon solve itself. The massive fleet of four hundred ships growing around Yokosuka and Port Moresby would put an end to that.

"No requests have been made of Onigashima," explained General O'Donnell, switching off the screen, "but we have been advised to stay on standby. They may change their minds after the battle. It'll probably be nasty."

"The biggest amphibious assault operation since Normandy," Jona added with an approving grin. At his side, Mara merely grinned back. "What a pity that we can't be there for the fun."

O'Donnell arched an eyebrow at the Governor-General. "It's probably not going to be all that 'fun,' sir. They'll be attacking a heavily-fortified installation. Estimates for casualties are topping out at about 40%."

Jona waved a dismissive hand. "I'm sure they expected it. What about our friends on the Minerva?"

Duly, the screen changed to a map of Onigashima. The green triangles representing Onigashima's meager naval squadron were far to the west and the Minerva was approaching from the southeast.

"That," said O'Donnell, "is a much less optimistic story."

Jona expertly checked his smile.

覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧

April 1st, CE 77 - Battleship Minerva, Pacific Ocean

Talia's office looked much the same today as it did in CE 73, when Shinn Asuka found himself there in handcuffs. Meyrin did not feel that it was her office to decorate or alter; but there was, hanging over the bed, a lone picture. It was a jubilant Lunamaria Hawke, diploma in hand in her ZAFT Red cadet's uniform, arm thrown around her startled sister's shoulder at their graduation.

Meyrin herself, for that matter, was behind the desk with her head in her hands, poring over charts and a bewildering array of information on her computer screen. She glanced up wearily at Shinn as he walked in and settled himself down onto the opposite chair.

"Things not going well?" he asked with a wry grin.

"You noticed." She turned the screen around and pointed at something; Shinn squinted at it, and then blinked in surprise.

"What Onigashima's squadron was wiped out? That was five destroyers. Was this Argus's doing?"

"His are the only ships around here that we know about," Meyrin said, "but his ships are still hanging out to the west. They aren't budging."

Shinn put a hand to his chin in thought. "He said he had to return to Carpentaria because of engine problems, didn't he?"

"And yet apparently his problems weren't so serious as to keep from sinking five destroyers!" She pounded her fists onto the desk, heaving a sigh that seemed to force everything out of her. "I thought the threat of genocide would've been enough to get us all to put aside these stupid grudges!"

There were no death camps in this genocide, of course, Shinn thought bitterly. The bulk of the work had been done by the Requiem three years ago. All that remained was to hunt down and finish off the survivors, and wait for ZAFT's return.

On some level, Shinn wondered if this was his fault somehow. The ZAFT veterans at Carpentaria and elsewhere despised him for betraying them during the Battle of Arzachel Crater; they thought he had cost them the war. Had he? If he had stayed with ZAFT, stayed on this ship, piloted the Destiny for Gilbert Dullindal, would the Requiem have never been fired?

Of course not, he knew. Even if the PLANTs still stood, he would have been fighting on behalf of a system that would have destroyed Stella and his own ability to choose. He would have been a mere weapon. At least he knew that now, piloting the Destiny for the Minerva and the Resistance, he had come here by his own choices. His own choices that had cost the lives of so many of his friends...

"Shinn," Meyrin said suddenly, "what do you think Argus is up to?"

Would he really attack the Minerva? Isolated units might do so, but would a ZAFT White-Shirt in charge of three Vosgulov submarines and four land battleships really be so foolish? It was a sixth of the ZAFT Remnant's forces he had under his command.

"I think he's just putting on a show about how pissed he is about having to work with us," answered Shinn. "I would really be surprised if he tried anything serious. Grunts might take swings at me, but Argus is a ZAFT officer."

"Yes, well, at the same time, Argus is a ZAFT officer," Meyrin replied. "God, this job is hard enough without our allies being a bunch of idiots."

Shinn shook his head and wondered if that was his fault too.

覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧

Gunshots rang out on the outer deck as Emily emerged from the airlock, finding herself for the second time interrupting somebody's target practice. This time it was Viveka, ruthlessly riddling a paper target sheet with bullet holes. She paused only to glance over her shoulder and shrug at her sister.

"Um, are you okay?" Emily started, punctuated by the crack of a gunshot.

"Do I look okay?" Viveka asked back.

Well, she had her there. Emily cautiously made her way around as her sister emptied the clip and tossed the empty handgun down.

"You know, you should learn to do this," Viveka said. "You never know when you'll have to open somebody's face up nine millimeters."

Emily pursed her lips. "Okay, really, what's wrong? Is this about Athrun?"

Viveka simply seethed for a moment, and Emily pondered just dropping it altogether, before her sister finally let out a deep sigh. "It's about a lot of things," she answered, and shook her head. "Don't worry about it. I'll be fine."

At that, Emily could only frown skeptically. "You don't feel like you'll be fine."

"Oh yeah, you can do that," grunted Viveka. "Well, if that case, if there's no keeping secrets from you," she turned around, "can you tell me just what the hell is going on in Athrun Zala's head? Why I can't get through to him?"

Really, Emily couldn't quite see what her sister saw in Athrun in the first place. Then again, she was starting to wonder what she saw in Shinn, the Minerva's other churning whirlpool of angst and haunting demons, so perhaps, she supposed, she had no room to talk.

"The only thing I really feel from him," she answered, pausing to choose her words carefully, "is regret. Lots of regret. And frustration, and self-loathing." She shrugged. "He's not happy."

"I know that," Viveka groaned. She put her head in her hands and sighed again. "Look at me, pining over a boy. You'd think I'd be past that." She flexed her mechanical arm, for a moment regarding the quiet hum of moving actuators. "Way past that."

Emily ran a hand through her hair and glanced out awkwardly towards the sea. Her own problems, she decided, would have to wait.

覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧

"I'll be fine on my own, Stella," explained Athrun on the gantry, standing with Stella and Abes next to the slumbering Infinite Justice. "I know what to expect with this one."

"Okay..." Stella said quietly, looking completely unconvinced.

"She does have a point, Athrun," Abes added. "You'll have no choice but to engage at close range, which is always risky. Especially since we'll be quite outnumbered."

Athrun glanced down at the laptop in his arms, the golden Akatsuki glowing on its screen. "I have to beat this thing anyway," he said. "It's personal. I can't leave this country without knowing that at the absolute least, they can't defile her symbol like this anymore." He narrowed his eyes at the Akatsuki's shiny face. "I can't let Cagalli be turned into a tool for the Seirans."

Abes glanced down the gantry awkwardly, at another Gundam standing silently nearby. "Yeah, well, you can't let it control you either," he said. "I know memories and symbolism are all you have left of the Orb Raiders, but the Orb Raiders aren't the only thing you have left." He gestured sweepingly towards the rest of the ship. "You've got us. We have Coordinators and Naturals and Extended here, and we've got our rough edges and our tensions, but the important thing is that we've spent the past three years fighting together. We're a team of our own now, just like they were and you're part of us, just like you were part of them." He crossed his arms. "Now, I don't really want to get involved in all the drama around here, but at the same time I would rather you knock it all off. You've been like this for as long as you've been here; Viveka has just made it unavoidable. You need to get your head on straight, or else who knows what you'll turn into."

"It's not that simple," Athrun protested. "I can't just sweep aside my entire identity. For all my life I was told by my father to fight for my people. He turned out to be a madman, but I thought I had found the cause I needed to fight for when I joined Lacus and Kira and Cagalli but that was all gone, just like that." He shook his head. "I can't just leave it."

"But we're Athrun's friends..." Stella started, not looking as though she totally understood the conversation but certainly understanding when she needed to affirm her friendship.

Abes studied the brooding young Coordinator for a moment. "I'll put it for you like this, then," he said. "In training, they told us that sometimes we would get machines that were damaged beyond repair. And it would suck, because we'd have no choice but to scrap it or cannibalize it. But they told us to look for opportunities in those cases, for salvageable parts or the chance to build something entirely new." He shrugged. "It's terrible that you lost everything at Solomon's Sword. Shouldn't happen to anyone. And you shouldn稚 forget about them. But this," he gestured out towards everything around them again, "is all new. The slate's clean. You can start again fresh."

Athrun looked back down towards the Akatsuki's image, and glowered at its shining armor.

"Not yet I can't."

覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧

Rau Le Creuset would have almost been proud. The Minerva's crew had been hand-picked by the ZAFT high command, consisting of enough talented young recruits and a corps of experienced commanders to give them orders. Much of that crew had survived the Junius War, and now it was part of what made the Minerva so formidable in battle. And as a former ZAFT officer himself, well, he couldn't help but feel a twinge of pride, even for its nervous captain and haunted pilots.

Mostly, he mused, because that made them useful, and if there was one trait Rau Le Creuset valued, it was usefulness.

He stood with arms crossed in the interior observation deck, gazing out over the Minerva's sloping hull and towards the horizon. Onigashima was waiting there, but Onigashima was probably not going to be much of a challenge to the Minerva's experienced pilots. Especially not after Commander Argus had destroyed their naval detachment. The island's rocky surface could stop lots of things, but it would be hard-pressed to stop the mighty Tannhäuser.

And yet Argus had chosen not to aid his erstwhile comrades' attack, but had instead chosen to plant his fleet in between Onigashima and Carpentaria, such that if the Minerva wanted to return to Carpentaria after the battle, it would have to go through Argus's fleet.

Of course Captain Hawke could not see it coming. She understood intellectually that she and her ship were hated among ZAFT veterans, but she did not understand in her heart and that, Rau knew, was the true mover of mankind. And it was clear to a sober-minded, experienced strategist like Rau that Argus was setting up an attack of his own. He had the forces and he had the hatred, and hatred merged with power could do fearsome and foolish things.

And that would not do. Not at all. Not while the Minerva and its pilots and its Angel of Death were still useful. And not while the clock was ticking.

覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧

"Man, our part of this plan sucks," sighed Auel, leaning heavily against the gantry railing and watching as Sting reloaded the Chaos' CIWS ammunition. "Figures that Shinn and Emily get to go smash up the base."

"It's a giant rock," Sting pointed out. "They'll have a hard enough time breaking it open before they can do any smashing." The Chaos' CIWS compartment swung shut, and Sting finally let go of the crane controls, heaving a sigh and running a hand through his hair. "I wonder what we're going to do after this. Probably go back to Carpentaria, huh?"

"Oh, that'll be fun," Auel snarled. "Get shot at by our own allies and have to hole up inside the ship again. What could be better?"

Sting hated it when Auel had a point. Wellington could keep hold of some discipline over his troops, but how far did that go? It would have to at least extend to battle because when the Minerva joined the attack on Heaven's Base, as it surely would, the plan wouldn't work if there were Resistance troops on the field shooting at anyone but the Alliance.

"Well," Sting said, choosing his words carefully, "they're professionally-trained soldiers. They're better than a lot of what we have." He glanced ruefully at the slumbering Chaos. "And if they can end this war, well, I'll take 'em."

Auel snorted in disgust. "They're not gonna end the war, Sting," he said. "They're gonna just change it."

覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧

Hart Senate Office Building, Washington DC, Atlantic Federation

"Andrew," began Senator Meyers, seated in his shadowy office with his hands folded on his desk, gazing sardonically across at the awkward junior senator from Mississippi, "quite frankly, I would have expected you to be strongly in favor of this spending measure. It means billions more for the Pascagoula shipyards."

Truly, Robert Meyers hated dealing with novices, especially novices within his own party who had yet to realize that the halls of political power were no place for integrity. Senator Andrew Kauffman certainly had yet to learn.

"Majority leader, many of my constituents are coming home in body bags," he protested. A flicker of sympathy entered his eyes. "And some of them are winding up in body bags without ever having left home at all."

"Such is war," shrugged Meyers. "For our plan to work, we must bide our time and endure the fighting for a while longer. And I admit that it is difficult to strike the right balance between sounding too enthusiastic and not sounding enthusiastic enough, but strike that balance we must anyway, as appropriate public cover." His expression darkened. "You know what will happen if we don't."

"But sir, I just can't believe that very many people are going to believe that President Vasserot is selling us out to Lord Djibril's administration," protested Kauffman. "And our case for impeachment "

"Senator," Meyers said, with the unstoppable voice he so often used on the Senate floor, "we're really not in a position to vacillate here. Vasserot is a puppet of Lord Djibril, and we have the twin trump cards of nationalism and the heavy burden this war has placed on our federation. We have been fighting a war almost continuously against an ever-shifting opponent for seven years, and even if the public fears the Resistance and its terrorism, their opinions can still be manipulated. And they must be manipulated." He risked a paternal smile. "All I need to know, Andrew, is whose side you're on."

Kauffman looked taken aback. "Y-Yours, sir."

Meyers' grin widened.

"Perfect."

覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧

April 2nd, CE 77 - Onigashima, United Emirates of Orb

"Minerva has entered sensor range!" called out one of the operators in the Onigashima control room. Standing in front of the command console, O'Donnell scowled at the image on the screen before him. The Minerva was plowing through the early morning sky, heading straight for his base.

"All mobile suits, prepare to launch and intercept," he ordered. "What is the Governor-General doing?"

"The Lapis Lazuli is making ready to depart, sir," another operator reported. "Shall I hold?"

Damn it, he's trying to abandon us here!

"I will deal with this myself," he replied. "All defensive emplacements, activate and fire at will!"

O'Donnell whirled around and stalked out of the control room. It was time for a talk with the Governor-General.

覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧

The Infinite Justice rocked as the catapult flung it out over the ocean, before the thrusters took over to carry the mobile suit into the air. Inside, Athrun narrowed his eyes at Onigashima, far ahead. The giant aircraft carrier that was harboring the Akatsuki had docked there. He would drive it out.

He glanced to the side, watching the Savior fall into formation next to him. So she's going to help me after all, he thought.

Up ahead, the island began to come alive as Dagger Ls and Windams took up their positions or rose into the air to meet the attackers.

Abes' words echoed in his head that he had a chance to start something new. But only after he had finished what remained of the past. That mobile suit was meant for Cagalli. She had been destroyed; now, as Jona Roma Seiran desecrated her memory with her own sword, Athrun Zala would have to put an end to it.

Then, he thought, glancing again at the Savior, I can explain it to you.

The Justice rocketed towards Onigashima.

覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧覧

To be continued...