Phase 48 - A Time for War

Mobile Suit Gundam SEED TWILIGHT

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Phase 48 - A Time for War

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April 5th, CE 77 - ZAFT Carpentaria base, Australia

Athrun and Meyrin walked respectfully by the side of Joseph Copland as he strode along the gantries overlooking the Minerva in Carpentaria's dock. He was lined and old and the years had taken their toll on him, but he still possessed the dignified step of a statesman.

"The space booster is stored in Woomera, in South Australia," he explained. "It's probably the worst place for you to launch from, but the use of the Minerva's positron cannon should make it possible." He glanced over at Meyrin. "As you can probably guess, we want you in space after the battle at Heaven's Base. We have plans for following up on the Heaven's Base assault with attacks on Alliance installations on the Moon. The Vedlow Fleet has been drawing ships away from Althea Crater, one by one, for the better part of a year. The time is ripe for an attack."

Meyrin cast a surprised glance at Athrun. "Althea?"

"To target the Alliance's deepest, darkest secrets."
Athrun and Meyrin shared a look. The Resistance's space forces were certainly more competent overall than its Earthbound forces, but that did not necessarily mean as complicated and sweeping an operation as taking Althea Crater could be pulled off without a hitch. The Resistance in space was still fractious and uncooperative.

"Woomera is protected by the Uhlenbeck," Copland continued. "They aren't ZAFT remnant, if that helps, and their commander has assured me that the booster is in perfect working order. You'll have to get back to Australia from Iceland for it, but in the wake of the Heaven's Base battle that should not be exceptionally difficult."

"As long as we win," Athrun added.

Copland's visage darkened. "Yes," he agreed, "as long as we win."

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The wind caught the still-proud flag of ZAFT flying from the top of the Carpentaria dock, and Auel regarded it with mild disdain. That was the flag and the name for which Argus's troops had tried to kill him, and everyone else on the Minerva.

It had been the flag of his enemy as an Extended, but he had never felt all that much enmity towards them. He figured he wasn't all that different from them, really, since he too had been biologically altered to produce a human that was, so to speak, better. They were his enemy, he killed them, and he had no remorse for it, but neither did he feel any particular hatred for them. They were just the enemy. They were there to be killed. If he screwed up badly enough, they would kill him and that hadn't happened yet.

But now he had a particular dislike of them. It didn't help that this time they were supposed to be on his side, but the idea of the friend of one's friend being one's own friend was lost on the Resistance, and after three years of watching the best laid plans go up in smoke because someone was stupid and petty, that came as no particular surprise to Auel Neider. People were stupid anyway.

What annoyed him the most, he supposed, was that he knew in his bones that without the Minerva, without the Gundams, without him, the ZAFT remnant and the Resistance would be nothing. It was the Minerva that had drawn the Alliance's attention so much as to commit a whole fleet to its destruction at Hormuz. It was the Minerva that did the most visible damage and served as the symbol of the Resistance. If ZAFT's bitter, stupid veterans didn't like that, well, tough. This was a war and the bitter, stupid veterans' bitterness and stupidity had to take a back seat.

He knew as well that it was silly to think of the ZAFT remnant as an enemy. Their commander was still on the Minerva's side, and as long as their commander still controlled his troops, they would all just have to get along.

But they were stupid. People were stupid, and always did the stupidest thing, and that meant Auel had to wait for them to do it.

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"It's okay, Stella," Shinn explained with a weary smile as he watched Stella meticulously clean out her fish's tank. "We're gonna be fine. We always are."

Stella stared at the algae-encrusted paper towel for a moment. "But everyone's always sad."

Slumped on Stella's bed with a glass of rum in hand, Roxy offered a shrug. "He has a point. For all the drama you guys get into you eventually pretty much get over it." She nodded over her shoulder. "Athrun and the Bionic Woman did."

"I know." Shinn glanced tiredly between them. "I'll probably feel better after Heaven's Base. Meyrin said something about Althea Crater, though, so that might be...dramatic."

"Althea Crater? The hell we going there for?"

Shinn looked at Stella for a moment, and felt relieved to see her absorbed in changing the filter. "Copland says the Alliance will be sorely off-balance after Heaven's Base, assuming we win. Not a chance that they'll see it coming, and if we do take Althea we would be in control of some of the Alliance's dirtiest of dirty little secrets." He shrugged. "I guess it's to give us a better negotiating position to end the war."

Roxy raised her eyebrows. "They wanna end the war by talking? To the guys who wanna exterminate all Coordinators?"

"It's better than what we have been doing, I guess."

"Shinn," Roxy said, sitting up, "this is ridiculous, really. You can't just talk to Blue fucking Cosmos. They don't believe in talk. You're lucky if it ever even occurs to them to ask questions when they're shooting."

"Do we have a choice?"

"Hell yes. Keep fighting. Talking is fine, for people who wanna talk, but not everyone wants to talk, and the only way to deal with them is to kill 'em."

Shinn closed his eyes and thought. She was right, of course, and he was under no illusions that anyone could talk the Alliance into submission. He glanced up at Stella, and remembered why.

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Emily stared into the sea and understood why Stella always found it so calming. The breeze lilted around her and seemed to wash away anxiety itself, if only for a moment and that moment was good enough until the next one.

War was war, and it was silly to get so worked up over one death in it. Millions of people had died in the wars of this bloodstained decade of the Cosmic Era, and undoubtedly most of them had died for as foolish a reason as had Isaac. In fact, she herself had probably killed hundreds, if not thousands, by now. What was she so upset about

She felt her blood freeze as her train of thought came to a screeching halt. Something was out there, tugging at her senses, weighing on her mind. She turned her eyes to the north, where the sea disappeared into the sky at the hazy horizon. There was pressure out there, like the pressure she felt from people but amplified, like a crowd. But how could that be? If there was a crowd of people out there, then the only explanation for it was

Rau pulled up behind her in a jeep and leapt from the seat. "Emily, do you feel that?" He pointed towards the horizon.

"Yeah, but what is it?"

The masked man stepped up next to her and peered into the distance for a moment. "That is an Earth Alliance battle fleet. There is no question. Djibril has finally decided to make his move."

Emily's eyes went wide in disbelief, and she snapped her gaze back towards the horizon. "A fleet?! But how?! Wouldn't we have known?"

"Evidently not. There's only one place a fleet that big could plausibly be headed." He glanced over at Emily. "We should inform Wellington." Both of them rushed to the jeep, and Emily struggled to swallow the knot of fear rising up her throat.

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Earth Alliance battleship Charlemagne, Arafura Sea, Pacific Ocean

His blood was rushing through his veins now, and Ivan Danilov felt the fire of a soldier on the eve of battle burning in his gut. It was good to feel this way, better than the anxiety gnawing at him over Lord Djibril's portentous words. Ivan Danilov had not been bred for the halls of politics; he had been bred for the heat of battle.

He glanced around the Charlemagne's bridge, at his able crew. They were veterans of the Alliance and the Phantom Pain; they had been the bridge and CIC crew of the Mephistopheles, before its untimely demise. Vera had served on a warship that saw action at Orb in the Junius War, and had survived the inferno to take command after the captain was killed. He knew they were competent no, more than competent, they were the best the Phantom Pain had to offer.

And, as he turned his memory back towards the battles of the past, they deserved their credit. The Minerva was a formidable foe and although the Charlemagne could not yet say it had vanquished the winged warship, nor could Danilov say that the Minerva had decisively defeated his own vessel. They had luck and a clever captain, but now came the ultimate test of the Minerva's luck.

The Alliance fleet was approaching the mouth of the Gulf of Carpentaria. There was no escape for the Resistance. The Mirage Colloid had been deactivated by now as the microscopic prisms blew away in the wind, but it was too late to make a difference. Even if the Resistance's spotters caught sight of the approaching armada, they could not possibly get their fleet out in time and just in case they tried, a third of the fleet was rounding the other side of New Guinea and approaching through the Torres Strait. Once the forces linked up and descended upon Carpentaria, the Resistance's fleet would have no choice but to fight and die in their home port, and the land forces would have no choice but to flee into the continent...with the Alliance's invasion force right on their heels.

It was going to end the Resistance as a creditable fighting force on Earth. Danilov could not see how this battle could do anything else. Chiao Xu had been a fool to concentrate so much strength here, knowing that no matter how strong his army became the Alliance would be still stronger. But foolishness in the enemy was a virtue, and Danilov was more than happy to take it.

The Resistance's fate was sealed, but the Minerva...that was the question that Danilov set before himself. Would they wriggle out of fate's grasp once again? Would they perish with their allies?

Danilov glowered at the horizon, beyond which lay Carpentaria and his once and future foe. Survivors or not, they would not be the victors.

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Crayt Markav knelt in the Charlemagne's master office, head bowed, lost in thought and prayer. She beseeched God for strength, because strength was what she needed. Strength was necessary to destroy Rau Le Creuset and Unit Zero-One, the precocious little girl that she feared was fast becoming Le Creuset's latest pet killing machine.

Yes, Le Creuset. Hatred filled her for the man who dared to play God in a world that may have turned its eyes from the Lord but still felt His wrath and justice. This world was full of sin and depravity. Its people toyed with God's creations and dared to make themselves over in their own image. The blasphemous Coordinators fancied themselves gods, and with their science made their own pitiful mockeries of the Lord's good works. They had to be defended from Coordinators, from Naturals who would side with them, from Naturals too caught up in their own petty desires and sins to see what was truly going on. It was not chance or converging social forces that brought about this blood-soaked decade of the Cosmic Era; it was God.

Nobody understood that but Crayt Markav. It was God who destroyed Junius 7, God who brought forth the Cyclops System and GENESIS, God who rained fire on Orb, God who dropped Junius 7, God who spoke and smote through the blazing light of the Requiem. And now, with the fleets and armies of the Alliance crashing down upon the unsuspecting Resistance, it was God who made them all the tools of His vengeance. And only Crayt knew. Humanity could be so much better than this, but it had to be reminded with fire and blood.

"От имени отца, и Сына, и Святого Духа," she whispered and crossed herself. "I will bring You glory."

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"I trust you two have finished the simulator regimen already," Sven intoned with a menacing glare. Standing over the pool table with cues in hand, Shams and Mudie glanced up warily at him. "If you have time to screw around "

"Give it a rest, Sven," Shams shot back, and returned his attention to the four ball perched near the side pocket. "I've almost got this..." He took his shot, and let loose a hurricane of epithets as the cue ball sailed wide and bounced off the rim of the table. "Oh, fuck me! Not again!"

"I don't know why you keep playing this game when you suck so hard at it," Mudie laughed.

"Shut up! I swear to God that shot should have gone in! This table is fucked up or something!"

Sven glowered at both his wingmen. "We are on the eve of a major operation. We do not have time to play your games."

"Sven," Shams said with a sigh, sparing his nominal commanding officer a tired glance, "I know human interaction and sociality is a mystery to you, but seriously, it's called stress relief. Try it."

"We don't have time for "

"Try it." And with that, Shams returned to the game already in progress and sent up another tornado of curses when Mudie sank the ten ball into the corner pocket.

Sven scowled at the two of them and wondered if he really did need to rely on them.

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Intelligence was a wonderful thing sometimes, mused Grey Saiba as he watched the main screen in the crew lounge. The Minerva had been attacked by some of its allies among the ZAFT remnants the other day, and Orb's governor-general had had the good sense to run several reconnaissance flights by the site of the battle. They had captured the footage now playing on the screen of the Twilight Gundam in action, eviscerating mobile suits with the talons on its fingers and spattering its armor in blood. It was gruesome to watch, but it could have been worse, and Grey did not mind too much. After all, those guys were ZAFT and they were so low that they would shoot at the backs of their own allies. They deserved it.

At his side, Merau shivered as the Twilight put its hand through a GINN's chest. "It's changed. She's gotten better."

"Well, just don't let her get close to you," Grey answered.

"Oh, yeah, easier said than done. Look at the way that machine moves. If she wants to get close to you, she will, and there's not a damn thing you can do about it."

Grey saw his enemy's face again from that horrible battle at Volgograd. Was he really supposed to accept being so powerless to stop her?

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The Morrigan Gundam's cockpit was alive with hysterical laughter. Monique du Prey sat in the cockpit seat, watching on her mobile suit's main screen the intelligence footage of the Twilight in battle against its own allies. The precision and brutality were completely new for the Resistance's little angel. It was clear as day, and just as Crayt had predicted: poor little Emily was going nuts.

"This is gonna be fun!" Monique cackled. "Silly little girl, you shouldn't be playing war like this! You're gonna get hurt!"

It was something of a shame that Project Evolution had to end this way. Emily was a phenomenal pilot, and the footage of her eviscerating her ZAFT attackers was almost a work of art in Monique's eyes. And even if she was on the opposing side, Monique felt fire race through her veins at the thought of doing battle with her. The Resistance had few pilots worth a damn, but here was one for the ages.

Monique sat back and grinned, watching the Twilight crush its foes. Such cruelty and force in the way it drove its clawed hand through an enemy machine's cockpit, and drew it out splattered in blood and guts...it was almost beautiful. The supreme expression of what a mobile suit was supposed to do. It made her wish that the Morrigan had those claws and reinforced arms, to wash itself in the blood of its vanquished enemies too. Surely she lived up to that moniker of hers.

But she was still there, and the battle was yet to begin and Monique looked forward to it with her blood running hot.

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ZAFT Carpentaria base, Australia

Shinn Asuka hated to be around panicking people, because panic had a way of rubbing off on a Newtype. And Oliver Wellington, right now, was panicking.

Of course, so was everyone else. The main control room of the Carpentaria base was a mess of people screaming orders and information at each other, and Wellington, despite his stony expression, seemed to be on the verge of joining them in the frenzy. Shinn cast an awkward glance at Athrun, and neither of them looked confidently towards the commandant.

"I don't know how we could have missed this," Wellington said at last, and Shinn thought he heard a waver in the commander's gravelly voice. "A whole fleet. It's huge. Gotta be well over two hundred ships. They're crossing Arafura and Torres and they have our entire fleet pinned down in the gulf now."

Athrun studied the strategic map for a moment. "It looks like we're getting our decisive battle one way or another," he said, and glanced over at Shinn. "What do you think?"

What Shinn really thought, of course, was that there was no way in hell the Resistance would win against numbers like that. But stranger things had happened in this war and the Carpentaria inhabitants did have the advantage of defending a position instead of attacking it.

Shinn closed his eyes and felt Emily's presence near the Minerva. Judging from the knot of fear he felt pulsing in her, he figured she knew what was coming. And judging by the spreading cloud of dread, the word was getting out.

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Rau Le Creuset was a student of military strategy, and for that, he had to tip his hat to Lord Djibril and his generals.

The strategic map was spread before him in the Legend's cockpit. The Alliance fleet was steaming through the Arafura Sea and the Torres Strait, and already positioned to keep the Resistance's fleet bottled up in the Gulf of Carpentaria. It was huge, judging by the wave of pressure emanating from it. Spotters estimated it to be almost three hundred warships alone, plus well over a hundred troopships and support vessels, and an unknown number of submarines. And it had a great armada of aircraft on its heels, lifting off from airbases in New Guinea and Indonesia, converging unmistakably on the Carpentaria Base. It was the largest amphibious operation since Normandy, centuries ago, and such a fleet would not set out if it was not sure that it was going to end the war.

Not only that, but Rau had to give credit to Djibril and his officers for the genius of it all. The Resistance's plan had been to secretly move a massive fleet to the doorstep of the enemy's stronghold and pummel it into submission; and yet here was the Alliance, doing exactly that, and with the geography of the Gulf on their side as well. This would all be very gory.

That, however, was good, as Rau glanced in the direction of the Twilight and the pilot inside. Emily was coming along nicely. The manifestation of her previous training had made her unstable, and unstable minds were open to manipulation and suggestion. There was still much work to do with her, of course; he had only just implanted in her head the idea that her power was something to be cultivated and used for more than just protecting the Minerva from its foes. But Rau knew that his time was running out, and he needed a successor to carry on his work. The Cosmic Era could still be brought down. Emily would do it differently than he would, with brutality and raw power instead of quiet manipulations behind the curtains. But it would be done. She could do it. She had the power. She was the Angel of Death. Rau simply had to convince her to adopt that mantle, truly and completely, and the whole world would burn.

He idly thanked Gerhardt von Oldendorf. That ambitious Alliance bureaucrat had created the Angel of Death indeed, but he had made that fatal mistake of trying to control her. Nobody controlled the Angel of Death. Death took those whose time had come.

Emily just needed reminding, and with a wolfish grin, Rau knew he was closing in on victory.

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At the flickering feeling of her sister standing in the Twilight's cockpit hatch, Emily glanced up and caught a reassuring smile from Viveka.

"So, guess our time off here is getting cut short," she started, and behind the smile, Emily could feel the nervousness. This battle would be unlike anything either of them had fought before.

"I guess."

Viveka leaned forward. "You're not still thinking about the last fight, are you?"

"How could I not?"

"Listen Em," Viveka started, reaching over the cockpit console to put a reassuring, if mechanical hand on her sister's shoulder, "you don't have to worry about it. They deserved it. And," she gestured at the Twilight's cockpit, "is this really what our father had in mind for you? Did he want you to be some superhero for the Alliance's enemies? Weren't you supposed to be his soldier, not his opponent?"

Emily glanced up tiredly. "If it were that easy I wouldn't have a problem with it." She shook her head. "It's...I'll deal with it. Don't worry about me."

"I'm going to anyways." Viveka pulled Emily closer for as much of a hug as she could manage over the Twilight's console. "Just don't forget that I'm still here for you, Em."

Emily smiled back and struggled to put her mind at peace.

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"You ready for this?" asked Sting as he worked the controls of the ammo-loading arm, reloading the Chaos Gundam's CIWS for the battle ahead. He glanced over the gantry at Auel, and watched him merely shrug.

"It's another battle. Whatever."

"Yeah, but it's not the one I thought we were gonna be fighting." Sting glanced to the side, towards the north where the Alliance's fleet was on approach. The announcement had cast a chill over all of Carpentaria, and now the base was alive with frenzied preparations for a battle that most people, deep down, knew was likely to end in defeat. That was the kind of battle Sting hated most the kind that nobody expected to win. And Sting hated self-fulfilling prophecies...but it wasn't as though he could ignore the reality of the situation either.

"Oh, whatever, we'll kick their asses here or we'll do it at Heaven's Base," Auel said with a sigh. "What, you think we're gonna lose?"

"Of course we're gonna lose. We wound up destroying a fifth of the ZAFT remnant fleet, remember? And, well..." He shrugged. "Do you think the Resistance can fight the Alliance in a straight battle and come out on top?"

"Then we'll do it."

"We aren't that awesome."

Auel sniffed contemptuously and looked away, and Sting turned his attention back to the Chaos. Perhaps what he really hated about all this, he mused, was the unmistakable stench of failure.

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It would be merely another battle, Athrun Zala struggled to remind himself. He had lived through these sorts of confrontations before. He had survived Jachin Due; he had survived Solomon's Sword; he could survive this.

Striding down the gantry with his work on the Infinite Justice complete, he stopped by the Savior, and the frustration bubbling out of its cockpit. He could survive this battle; her, on the other hand...

"So," he began, poking his head through the cockpit opening and drawing Viveka's startled attention, "need help?"

Viveka blew out a sigh and hopped out of the Savior's cockpit. "Fine, you fix it," she grumbled. "Get my settings file back for me."

Athrun cracked his knuckles and set to work. The OS of the Second Stage units had a nasty habit of resetting all of their custom settings after major software work, from things as mundane as speaker volume to things as critical as weapons control schemes, but they were easy enough to restore for a Coordinator who knew an obscene amount about software anyway. He glanced up at Viveka. "You're nervous."

Viveka shrugged. "I've never fought in a battle like this before," she said. "I don't know what to expect."

"'Everything to go wrong' is a good place to start."

"That's not encouraging." She glanced down awkwardly at him. "You don't look too concerned."

"I've done this before," replied Athrun.
"Well, then don't you die on me out "

"Don't say it," Athrun snapped, shooting her a glare. Viveka sputtered in surprise. "Yes, I've done this before. That also means on the eve of a giant battle, I've had friends promise me that they won't die the next day. Then they went and died the next day."

Viveka blinked at him. "Don't tell me you're being superstitious."

"I'm not. I'm telling you that I don't want to think about that anymore than I have to." He let out a sigh. "I'm sorry, I'm just more stressed than I look."

Silence reigned in the Savior's cockpit for a moment, save for the tapping of keys, before Viveka bent over the mobile suit's console and captured Athrun's attention with her hand on his chin. "Okay," she said, "I'll put it like this. You aren't going to die out there. And neither am I. However the battle goes." She smirked. "That better?"

"Getting there," Athrun answered.

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The air rang and the hangar floor shook as the Gaia's shield snapped back into place on the mobile suit's slender arm. Shinn watched, arms crossed and leaning against the railing, as Stella worked on her machine as diligently as she did on her fish tank. He had no worries about her in the coming battle, of course. She could always handle herself, and for as much as she wanted to be protected, he had to admit she didn't really need it.

"Are you gonna be okay, Stella?" he asked.

"Stella will be okay." She spared him a glance and a reassuring smile. "Shinn shouldn't worry."

Shinn smiled back as she returned to her work. He felt like a fool, as though he, the almighty Newtype, should have seen this coming. What use was this power to see the future when he couldn't use it when the future so desperately needed to be seen?

He turned his attention to the north. The Alliance fleet's disposition was yet unknown, and Wellington's men suspected that it was hiding itself with Mirage Colloid systems. But Mirage Colloid could not hundreds of thousands of people from the senses of a Newtype, and it was his, Athrun's, Emily's, and Rau's testimony that had convinced Wellington to throw the base on its highest possible alert. The Resistance's fleet was in the middle of its preparations to put to sea now it would have to do battle in the Gulf of Carpentaria's confines. It was the Resistance's own plan, expertly turned against them and still Shinn could not shake the feeling that there was something else to this scheme.

He glanced back towards Stella. He may not have been worried about her, but that did not keep him from worrying.

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She will be our angel of death.

The voice entered her head in her idle moments, and whenever it did, Emily shook her head and cleared away its stabbing reminder. But that made no difference; it would return again, when she was on the verge of forgetting, that her father had made her into what she was today and the more she fought to be free of his shadow, the deeper she was sucked in.

The pilots had been instructed to sleep in their machines' cockpits tonight, in case the Alliance's attack began early. Emily stretched out with her feet atop the Twilight's half-folded-down console. Her loyal steed's cockpit seat made a singularly uncomfortable bed, but it would have to do and if nothing else, the seat could be folded back.

She will be our angel of death.

But she had to remember the words of her sister, of Shinn, of Rau that she was not their angel of death. She was her own, and always would be. She was still Emily von Oldendorf, not Unit Zero-One. She used the power the Alliance had given her against them, just as she would in the coming battle. She knew whose side was right, that even with all the horrors of the Resistance the Phantom Pain was still worse. The electricity searing her body and Kyali's death searing her soul, the horrible massacres in Murmansk and Volgograd and Novorossiysk...yes, there was no doubt who was the real evil in the world.

She will be our angel of death.

She would not. She told herself, she knew her friends knew that, now she just had to believe it herself.

Emily glanced around the Twilight's cockpit. At Hormuz she had fought that woman and her white mobile suit, that had supposedly been meant for her as the apex of her father's scheming and training. But now she had a different Gundam, one with shimmering wings of light and blinding speed, one that she could use to fight the Alliance's cruelty and tyranny. She had her own life, her own friends, her own power.

So why didn't she believe it?

She will be our angel of death.

Emily closed her eyes and waited for sleep to take her.

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April 6th, CE 77 - ZAFT Carpentaria base, Australia

The sun had dawned bright and malevolent in the sky. The morning fog had vanished almost as quickly as it had come, and now on the horizon were the dozens of dark shapes that could only be the battle fleet of the Earth Alliance.

In the Twilight's cockpit, staring out the Minerva's open portside catapult, Emily swallowed the knot of fear in her throat. She was surrounded by allies, both her friends from the Minerva and Resistance troops who now stared a massive Alliance fleet in the face and could not possibly be so stupid as to turn their guns on each other. Not now, not with this looming before them.

The enemy fleet's commander had begun to broadcast a message ordering Carpentaria's surrender. Carpentaria had responded with a volley of artillery fire, splashing down into the water before the approaching warships. Now the enemy's mobile suits were rising from the decks and the warships were closing in.

Roxy's face appeared on the Twilight's auxiliary screen, and she flashed a cocky grin. "Twilight, you're all clear. Kick some ass out there, will ya?"

Emily smiled back and took the Twilight's controls.

She will be our angel of death.

"Twilight Gundam, Emily, launching!"

The catapult fired, the engines roared, and the Twilight Gundam roared into the sky.

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To be continued...